BEAT (Bacon, Egg, Arugula, Tomato) sandwich

The last bites of the best sandwich–on my own spelt-flaxseed sourdough bread. I’ve always thought the classic BLT was a bit protein-poor–the egg changes that. And what is mayonnaise but egg and fat? I put a thin smear of mayo on the toasted bread, then layered on an egg gently fried in bacon fat, sliced tomatoes, applewood smoked bacon , and arugula. Messy to eat but utterly delicious. You could, of course, not make it open face. Even though I love bread, I love bacon and tomatoes and arugula more, and this style gives me two eating opportunities.

B2 Cookies

Biscoff cookies offered by the airlines are irresistible: crunchy, sweet, spicy. But the ingredients are terrible: sugar, flour, oil. I set out to make a better cookie with better qualities of flavor and crunch. And due to the almonds, these cookies actually contain fair amount of vitamin B2; sesame seeds contain B6 and minerals. These are a variant of Flo Braker’s Pain d’Amandes, i.e. “crunchiest almond cookies” I posted a year ago, but better. (David Leibowitz has a version, too, with twice the sugar.) Hence, B2. These contain less sugar and more flavor, more protein (from the nuts and sesame seeds).

1/2 cup water

1 stick butter (salted or not, you’ll adjust for flavor)

150 grams Turbinado sugar (do not substitute any other kind)

250 grams all purpose flour whisked together with:

1 Tbs. cinnamon, 1 tsp. cardamon, 1/2 tsp. baking soda

8 ounces sliced raw almonds

100 grams hulled white sesame seeds

Boil the water with the butter. Take off heat and stir in turbinado sugar. Add 1/2 tsp sea salt if you have used unsalted butter. Stir in flour (that has been mixed with spices and baking soda). Transfer to a large bowl and stir in sliced almonds and sesame seeds.

Pack mixture into a loaf pan that you have lined with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours (or many days, if you like). It will be like fudge.

When you are ready to bake, preheat oven to 325. Remove dough from plastic and tin and slice thinly (1/8 inch–use a large, sharp knife) and place on cookie sheets. This recipe requires all three of my large cookie sheets on three oven racks. Bake for 10-12 minutes, then remove from oven and let cool until you can turn the cookies (I use a small angled spatula or my fingers). You will see the unmelted sugar crystals sparkle–these help make the cookies so crisp. Put the turned cookies back into the oven and bake another 10-12 minutes. They will become even more crisp as they cool, but are somewhat fragile until then. Mine stay tasty for weeks when kept airtight.

If you like to cook, I predict this method for making crisp cookies and crackers will inspire you. I’ve made many variations of crackers and cookies with different kinds of flour. Used fig jam and reduced the water and sugar. Added flax seeds. I’ve cut out the “sweet”spices and used more salt and savory spices. I’ve made a gluten-free version of the cookies with chestnut flour and even less sugar (100 grams for 50 cookies) because the flour is naturally sweet. Let me know what you discover?!

Almond Pancake for One

This is my new favorite protein-packed breakfast–in under ten minutes.

Combine 1/2 cup almond flour with a pinch each of stevia and salt and 1/4 tsp baking powder.

Mix one egg with 1/4 cup milk.

Combine (gently–don’t beat) the mixtures in a bowl.

Spoon the batter into a hot frying pan. I use clarified butter, but you can use oil, cooking spray, or no grease at all if you have a nonstick pan.

Cook for about five minutes on medium high heat, using a spatula to turn the pancake once the edges are firm and it has puffed a bit.

That’s it!

Serve with a drizzle of maple syrup and/or fruit or preserves. The combination of proteins gives this breakfast staying power. I promise you won’t be hungry again in a couple of hours. You can, of course, flavor the pancake–with citrus rind or essential oil, or almond or vanilla extract. I like it plain. Use any kind of milk, and know that the recipe is forgiving, so don’t stress on exact measurements.

Sugar-free Gluten-free Coconut Macaroons

A taste for sweets is acquired through exposure (just like a preference for spicy food) and thus can also be tamed, by gradually reducing how much sugar you ingest. I routinely cut the sugar in recipes, especially when I see that it is not needed for structure. For instance, a friend recently sent me an apple cake recipe cut from a magazine that called for a cup of sugar to 1.5 cups flour, plus only one egg and a stick of melted butter. It was leavened with baking soda, like a muffin recipe. Whoah! Why make an apple dessert and cloud it with that much sugar? Why not use the sugar for structure? I suggested he reduce the sugar to 1/2 cup, cream it with the soft butter, use 3 separated eggs (i.e. whip the egg whites for natural leavening), reduce the flour to 1 cup, and use baking powder instead of soda. This produced a more refined cake with better nutrition and flavor.

If you want to try reducing sugar in what you bake, look at similar recipes and see what the standard amount is in relation to the flour. You might notice that European recipes use less sugar. Often you can cut 20% and sometimes as much as 50% as in my example above. When the sugar is reduced, other flavors become more prominent.

Another way to reduce sugar calories is to substitute sugar alcohols such as erythritol and xylitol (a common sweetener in chewing gum because it does not cause tooth decay). Plant-derived sugar alcohols are much more expensive than sugar and they can cause bloating and diarrhea if consumed in excess, but they do not require insulin and thus do not spike your blood sugar. Their flavor is closer to sugar than the sweetening provided by stevia or monk fruit.

These macaroons would be appropriate for folks trying to reduce their sugar calories or counting carbohydrates (each macaroon has about 3 grams of carbs, from the coconut and the erythritol). They taste chewy and rich, and to my taste much better than commercial or other homemade macaroons which contain so much sugar. Other recipes use sweetened coconut and then add even more sugar in the form of sweetened condensed milk. These macaroons are naturally gluten-free.

I like the contrast between the bitter chocolate and the sweet coconut, but the topping is optional. The recipe makes about 25.

6 egg whites

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 to 3/4 cup powdered erythritol, depending on how sweet you like your sweets!

1/2 tsp. almond extract

1 tsp. vanilla extract

8 ounces unsweetened coconut flakes

1-2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

Beat the egg whites with salt until foamy, then add the erythritol and the extracts. Stir in the coconut flakes and let the mixture sit for 20-30 minutes to allow the coconut to be hydrated.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Use a small ice cream scoop (or teaspoon) to make mounds on parchment. Bake in preheated oven 15-18 minutes or until lightly brown. Let cool.

If desired, temper 1-2 ounces unsweetened chocolate (melt, stir, and bring temperature to 110 degrees, then cool to 80 degrees) before drizzling on the macaroons.

Cauliflower Fennel Soup

I’ve only been cooking mostly vegetarian foods for about twelve years. I used to think that all stocks and soups are improved by long cooking–because, for instance, one must cook beef and chicken stock for many hours, until the bones release their flavor and meat falls off the bone. What I’ve learned about vegetable soups is that shorter cooking times are often better. For instance in this Cauliflower and Fennel soup. If you cook it too long, the cauliflower changes and becomes cabbage-y, not necessarily bad, but not as refined as when you cook the cauliflower only to tenderness. Note that you need a Vitamix or other high power blender for this soup. No one will believe it is vegan, because it seems creamy. I’ve stopped adding pepper because I like the pure taste of the vegetables. The soup freezes well. Makes about 7 quarts.

1/4 cup avocado or other neutral vegetable oil. Don’t use extra virgin olive oil in this soup; the high heat destroys its value.

2 medium yellow or white onions, peeled and chopped (I use the food processor)

2 heads of fennel (save the lacy fronds for garnish)

1 large head of cauliflower

water or light vegetable stock

salt (good salt is worth it in this recipe)

parsley (optional: if it’s growing outside, I add a handful.

Clean the fennel by slicing off any brown edges or the bottom and rinsing the heads. Save some of the fronds for a garnish. Chop the rest by hand or in a food processor.

Clean the cauliflower by cutting off any brown pieces and rinsing. You will use the whole thing, including the core and the leaves. This is an economical soup! Cut or break the head into pieces about 2 inches in size.

Heat the oil in a large heavy pot and add the chopped onions. Cook about 5 minutes. Then add the chopped fennel and cook another 5 minutes.

Add the chopped core and leaves of the cauliflower and 4 quarts of water or stock. Simmer another 5 minutes or so.

Finally add the cauliflower florets (and the parsley if you have it) and simmer until a knife pierces the florets easily, about 10 minutes.

Immediately blend the soup, first on low, then on high, in batches the size of your blender. Dump the blended soup into a 11 or 13 quart bowl or a stock pot. If you want to be fancy, you can put the bowl or pot in an ice bath. Once the entire soup has been blended, taste for salt. If you used water, you’ll want to add a couple of tablespoons of salt, but whisk them in one at a time and taste after each addition. If you are freezing some of the soup, you might like to delay adding more stock or water (to save freezer space), but the soup should not be thick! It should be the consistency of half and half.

When you are ready to serve the soup, reheat it gently (don’t boil it too long), possibly with more liquid if it is too thick. Garnish with a swirl of cream or extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of minced fennel fronds or chopped parsley or chives.

Double Chocolate Double Crunch No Bake Tart

I wanted a dessert I could make well ahead of a dinner, and also one that featured both white and dark chocolate, plus hazelnuts. The results of my brainstorm are a tart shell that remains stable at room temperature for more than a month, and once filled, a tart that can be refrigerated for up to three weeks. The shell is candy like, the filling is a simple ganache which could no doubt be gussied up with liqueur or other flavoring or decorated with raspberries or strawberries. I’m going to give you a range for the crust ingredients because you might want to make tartlets or cookies with the extra and you might like a thicker crust or your pan might be 9 or 10 inches in diameter. One issue I had when cutting the tart (8″ serves 12) is that when the crust is thinner (as in photo above) the side can break off. This didn’t happen all the time, but it did happen, and I haven’t figured out how to fix it other than making a thicker crust which to me is not as aesthetically appealing. (Update: the last time I made this I put the crust only on the bottom of the springform pan, using 2 ounces each of chopped hazelnuts and crisp rice, plus 5 ounces of white chocolate. I expect to be able to run a knife around the perimeter of the springform to release the tart–which is really more like candy. You can pick up a piece like a bon-bon.)

For the crust, coarsely chop 8-10 ounces of toasted, (preferably skinned), hazelnuts and combine with 2-4 ounces of crisp rice cereal. I used Trader Joe’s rice cereal, and I wanted a slightly more salty crust, so I added a few grinds of sea salt. Melt 8-10 ounces of good quality white chocolate (made with cocoa butter) and stir in the nuts and rice crisp. See the first photo.

Press the sticky mixture into a straight-sided springform or tart pan (8″-10″ again, I’m giving you a range) that you have not only greased but also lined the bottom with greased parchment. Use a glass to very firmly press the mixture against the sides and to the bottom of the pan. You have about 25 minutes before the chocolate hardens. This is sticky work, so grease your fingers and be patient.

For the filling, I use a 50/50 ganache of half 72% bittersweet chocolate and half heavy cream. I heat the cream and chopped chocolate in a microwave for one minute, then stir (and perhaps heat again for 15 second intervals) until smooth and well combined. 8-10 ounces of chocolate and cream will fill an 8-10 inch tart shell. Chill the tart before unmolding so that it is firm and easier to handle.

Once the tart is filled it needs to be refrigerated for longer storage, but it’s also fine held at room temperature for 4-6 hours. I think it tastes better when it’s not so cold. I think it could also be frozen, but the components are so stable and easy to make ahead, you don’t need this extra step. Total work time is less than 20 minutes!

Pizza

After more than forty years of baking pizza, I’ve come to believe in these key methods: 1)Let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator; 2)Use parchment paper under each pizza; 3) Put the cheese UNDER the sauce (thanks, ATK); Bake one pie at a time on a pizza steel at the bottom of a 500 degree oven.

Six 12″ pizzas:

Combine 1 3/4 cups warm water with 2 tsp dry yeast–let sit until yeast dissolves (5-10 minutes) whisk in 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil.

In a food processor fitted with the dough blade, combine 600 grams of bread flour or all purpose, plus 25 grams of spelt (or white or regular whole wheat). The high protein bread flour makes the crust chewy and the spelt adds flavor. (To transform all purpose flour into bread flour, add 30 grams of vital wheat gluten and 30 grams of barley malt powder to 540 grams of all purpose) Add 5 grams of salt (a scant teaspoon) and process until blended. With the machine is running, slowly pour in water/yeast/oil mixture, and process until the dough comes together in a ball. Let rest 15 minutes. Process again until the dough is smooth. Place the dough into an oiled bowl and cover, then let it rise in the refrigerator at least 8 hours and up to 24.

Place the baking steel on the bottom rack or on the bottom of the oven itself. Remove the other racks from the oven so it’s easy to maneuver. Preheat to 500 at least 1/2 hour before you start to bake.

An hour or so before you want to bake, remove the bowl from the refrigerator and cut the dough into six pieces. Press or roll out each pizza on a piece of parchment paper dusted with flour. (Just using a pizza peel to move the pizzas into the oven was too tricky for me; sometimes the dough stuck to the surface and wouldn’t slide.) I press, then let the dough rest for 5-10 minutes, then use a rolling pin to get the dough thin enough, to roughly 12″ rounds or rectangles. (I tried the “gentle” method of cutting the dough into six individual pieces for the refrigerator rise and then patting and pulling in order not to deflate the air bubbles, but my recipe and method produce almost as many air bubbles with much less fuss, and anyway I prefer that the middle of the pizza have a thin crust.) Cover the pizza dough with shredded Italian cheese. (I like Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio which contains shredded fontina, asiago, parmesan and provolone–all more flavorful than mozzarella–and without cellulose, a wood pulp fiber added to other packaged shredded cheeses to prevent clumping.) 12 ounces will cover six pizzas, although you could use more.

Then use an angled spatula to spread marinara sauce on each pizza, yes, OVER the cheese in the center, leaving a 1/2 inch to one inch rim. This gives the cheese a chance to bond to the dough (including the edges) and prevents it from slipping off when you take a bite after it is baked. Putting the sauce on top also allows some of the moisture in the marinara to evaporate, intensifying the flavor. You could put basil leaves under the sauce, too (as in the photo above) but I think fresh basil tastes better scattered on the pizza AFTER baking. Use between 24 and 28 ounces of sauce on the six pizzas. You can also let the pizzas rise for another 15-20 minutes, or you can start baking as soon as they all have been covered with cheese and sauce. The extra rise makes makes the edges (especially) more puffy.

Since you’ve put each pizza on a separate piece of parchment, it’s easy to slide each one onto the baking steel into the preheated 500 degree oven. A pizza peel or a rimless baking sheet works well to slide the pizzas on and off the steel. Bake about 11-13 minutes–the edges should be brown, and if you lift the bottom of the pizza, the bottom should be brown too, although it won’t be as brown as the edges. The other pizzas will be fine waiting to bake.

A pizza steel will last forever. Since I put one in my convection oven, I no longer have to rotate cookie sheets when baking cookies to avoid burning the ones on the bottom rack. I leave the steel in the oven, because it’s heavy and also because it makes the oven more efficient by holding heat.

Better (and Very Easy) Sour Cream Chocolate Cake

I used to work in a restaurant that sold Maida Heatter’s Sour Cream Chocolate Cake, always sitting on the bar so that everyone could see it. It was the most popular dessert and I liked it too. Years later I created my own version of it–made in a food processor–using less sugar and far less effort. The batter takes 10 minutes to put together, the cake takes 20 minutes to bake (while you clean the kitchen and make the frosting) and the whole thing is ready in an hour. If you know anyone who uses cake mixes, please give them this recipe. I can’t guarantee results if the ingredients are not weighed, though, so maybe also give them a scale.

Better Sour Cream Chocolate Cake

All ingredients should be room temperature.

1 ½ sticks of unsalted butter  (6 ounces)

¾ cup sugar (5 ounces, 140 grams) (I whir Turbinado in a blender until it’s finely ground and sometimes use that for extra flavor.)

2 large eggs

¾ cup sour cream (5 ounces) 

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 ¼ cups all purpose flour (5.3 ounces, 150 grams) Bleached flour makes an even more tender cake.

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (1.5 ounce)  (You can use all natural, half natural and half alkaline-treated if you like, or all alkaline-treated (“Dutched”).

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

roasted cocoa nibs, optional, 2 Tbs., for sprinkling on unbaked cake

Cream butter and sugar in food processor (or mixer) until fluffy, about a minute. Add  eggs, then sour cream and vanilla, process briefly after each addition until smooth, scraping the sides often. Then add dry ingredients which have been sifted or whisked together, and process again for 30 seconds. Spoon into two greased and floured (I use Baker’s Joy) 8” pans and level the batter. Bake for about 17-20 minutes at 350 degrees or until tester comes out clean and cake just begins to shrink from the pan. (In my convection oven, the cakes are done at 17 minutes.) Let cool for a few minutes, then turn out on racks.

Sprinkle on cocoa nibs (1 Tbs. per layer) before baking or frost with sour cream ganache (or both):  Whisk 9 ounces of room temperature sour cream together with 9 ounces of melted chocolate (any kind; I use 72%; fewer cocoa solids create a softer frosting and sweeter taste.) If you use 72% and want the frosting sweeter, you can add a bit of stevia. To melt chopped chocolate in microwave, use high power for one minute, then stir and heat again at 15 second intervals until stirring melts all of the chocolate. Flavor with a few teaspoons of brandy or liqueur if you like. Or fill the cake with apricot or raspberry or blackcurrant jam, then frost.

Cake tastes best room temperature but keeps best in the refrigerator. It tastes especially delicious with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Makes twelve 3” cupcakes. Fill paper liner between 2/3 and ¾. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

Gluten-free variation with chestnut flour:

Whir all dry ingredients except sugar and nibs in blender with 1/4 tsp xanthan gum as a first step, then dump into a bowl and follow recipe as written. Reduce sugar to 3.5 ounces to compensate for the sweetness of the chestnut flour.

Fresh Tomato Soup

The farmers’ markets are loaded–some vendors are even discarding bruised or overripe tomatoes. This pains me! In my experience, vendors are willing to sell cheaply or even give away what they can’t sell. I’ve seen them dump produce at the end of the market. If you have ripe tomatoes, too many to eat raw, here’s a simple and completely delicious recipe. I peel the tomatoes by cutting out a small cone at the core and placing them in boiling water for about 40 seconds. The skin will come off easily. The habit of peeling comes from my mother; she also peeled cucumbers, potatoes, and apples, disliking bits of skin in her teeth. But I know people who never peel their tomatoes.

For about two pounds of tomatoes (cut into big chunks), use 1/2 pound peeled onion–any kind–yellow, red, white–cut into 1/2 inch chunks. Combine with 4 tbs. butter (salted or unsalted, you’ll correct the seasoning later). You can use olive oil if you must. Simmer on low for about 40 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then blend until smooth. Don’t seed the tomatoes! The seeds will dissolve during the blending, and they add flavor and nutrition. That’s it. Add salt to taste. The soup freezes well.

Of course, the flavor and ripeness of the tomatoes will affect the soup. Imagine this taste of summer on a cool fall day–with a grilled cheese sandwich.

Buckwheat Hazelnut Cookies

(adapted from Tartine 3, makes about 2 dozen)

The first time I make a recipe, I follow it exactly. Actually, I thought the Tartine recipe (which calls them sables) was wrong when the finished dough resembled butter, and the baked cookies looked like puddles instead of disks, but could a fancy bakery and Chronicle Books not have tested, not have proofread? In fact, the cookies did turn out greasy. They also didn’t resemble the photo in the book. Somewhere along the line, a typo, a mistake. So yes, I think the recipe was wrong. In any case, the second time, I used less butter and increased the flour and they were excellent. They are gluten free and not too sweet. I simplified the procedure, too, by using already toasted hazelnuts, and only the food processor. Just be aware that you should not grind the nuts fine, you want texture in the cookie. These come together quickly and are buttery and the citrus taste is subtle.

150 grams toasted hazelnuts (I use Trader Joe’s)

120 grams buckwheat flour (I use Pure Living Sprouted Buckwheat Flour)

160 grams unsalted butter (or use salted butter and omit the salt, below)

½ tsp. fine sea salt

100 grams coconut sugar (the second time I used turbinado, also nice)

2 large egg yolks

Zest of one lemon

Zest of one orange

OR shortcut to substitute for the zest: about 12 drops of citrus essential oil—I used tangerine.

Put the hazelnuts and half the flour in a food processor and pulse until pebbly. Do not grind fine. Dump into a bowl and whisk in the rest of the flour. 

In the empty food processor, whip the butter until creamy, then add the sugar and the salt and process until smooth. Add the egg yolks, scraping down the bowl, and process again. Then add the nuts/flour mixture and pulse only enough to combine. If necessary to keep from grinding the nuts pieces too fine, remove the mixture from the processor and combine by hand.

Place the dough on a long (16”) piece of plastic wrap and shape into a 14” log. (I did not make it evenly round, you’ll see from the photo; I kind of like the squarish–call it artisanal, call it handmade–shape.) Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to two days. 

Preheat oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Cut the dough into coins (i.e. slice somewhere between ½ and ¼ inch pieces) and place 1 ½ inches apart on the parchment. Bake for about 15-16 minutes, rotating the sheets if necessary to bake to an even brown.