Monday, August 22, 2016

Za'atar Bread!

I went to a family gathering yesterday and saw some cousins and aunts that I hadn't seen in quite a while. It was truly beautiful. We all brought things to eat, and one of the things that I brought was za'atar bread. I don't make this that often but when I do I wonder to myself why I haven't made it in such a longtime; it is so simple and delicious. But before I talk about the actual recipe I suppose I should mention the herb blend itself. Za'atar is a common herb blend all over the Levant, but is particularly common in Lebanon. In it's most common form, it is comprised of thyme, sumac (which gives it it's distinctively slightly sour taste), toasted sesame seeds, and sea salt. But there are many variations; two of the more common also include oregano or cumin. It's usually readily available in any Middle Eastern market. If you are in the Buffalo area you can purchase it at Pete's Lebanese Bakery, Guercio's, or Penzy's on Elmwood. Or you can make your own.

I'm told that in Lebanon this is eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And I can understand why...once you get a taste you'll know too. And as I mentioned, this is so easy to prepare. Normally this is not made with whole wheat dough, but I prefer most things whole wheat/grain these days. Anyhow, you can make your own dough as I did (use any of these super easy recipes), or a store-bought raw dough.

After forming the dough into balls, the next step is to roll it out. I used my siti's (grandmother's) rolling pin which I inherited from my aunt a few years ago. She told me it was from the "old country." Anyhow, roll the dough as large or small or as thick or thin as you like. I rolled these into discs about 8" wide by 1/4" thick. This was to be used to dip into hummus; if I was making it for sandwiches I would have rolled it much wider and paper thin.

Next, drizzle the dough with olive oil and sprinkle a liberal amount of za'atar, and rub it into the dough with your fingers.

After letting the discs rise for a few minutes, bake them--a few at a time--in a hot oven (425F) for about five minutes. I have a pizza stone in my oven which I slide the dough onto. Lacking that, you can use an inverted baking sheet. Either way, it is essential that the oven be pre-heated and that the stone or tray are hot.

Lastly, share the bread with friends and family.

If you'd like additional Lebanese-inspired recipes, click here.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The easiest tomato sauce you'll ever make...

Okay, maybe this isn't the easiest sauce--I generally don't use extreme words such as easiest, best, worst, etc--but it is really easy. And it's really delicious. Basically, after cooking onion and garlic until it is nice and caramelized, you add seasonings and grape tomatoes (diced tomatoes work fine--maybe even better--but I had these on hand so there was no dicing, that's what made it so easy. The sauce itself can be seasoned however you want...add cumin for a more Middle eastern flare, or curry for Indian, but I kept it simple with basil and hot pepper to toss with pasta. This can also be used as a base for braising meat, poultry, fish, or vegetables. Anyhow, the simple recipe is below.

Tomato Sauce (made with grape tomatoes)

Makes about 2 cups

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon basil leaves
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon crushed hot pepper
2 pints grape tomatoes
1 cup water

Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot, then add the onion. Cook the onion, while stirring, for 5 or 10 minutes, or until it is golden brown. Add the garlic and cook another couple minutes. Stir in the sugar, basil, salt, and hot pepper; cook for a few seconds then add the tomatoes. Cook the tomatoes for a few minutes, until they begin to pop. Add the water and stir and cook the tomatoes until they break down. While the tomatoes are cooking mash them with the back of a spoon. Cook the sauce until it reduces and thickens.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Gazpacho (on a plate)

Gazpacho. Is it a soup or salad? Maybe both. Or maybe a sauce of sorts (salsa). It’s interesting, I think, that sauce, salad, and salary all share the same common root, sal, which is Latin for salt. A sauce was originally a form of salted liquid to season foods, and salting is what one did to their lettuce (and other vegetables) to bring out its natural flavors. And the English word salary is said to derive from sal because this is what slaves were often given in return for their back breaking work during Roman times.  But I’m jumping ahead..

Like the rest of America, and the world no doubt, it has been hot, consistently hot this summer. I no longer work in a sweltering kitchen; the one in which I toil these days is an open kitchen. It gets warm but not hot. Yes, it is uncomfortable at times but not the...I hope I make it through this shift without passing out hot...that I was accustomed to. But for that my heart goes out to all my fellow culinarians who are working through those conditions in this hot summer.

With thus said, my house is not air conditioned. Not at all. Speaking with a neighbor recently I commented that I think I’m 1 of like 10 people in the city—ironically, the city in which air conditioning was invented—that didn’t have an air conditioner. He responded by saying I was also probably like 1 of 10 people who didn’t own a car. Neither of these are accurate, of course, but I thought it was funny.

Anyhow, the thought of cooking dinner in my sweltering home kitchen was less than appealing, so before I left the glassed-in air conditioned room which is the fancy grocery store in which I am currently employed, I bought a few things to make an easy dinner. Surveying the shelves that were overflowing with heirloom tomatoes and golden peppers, gazpacho came to mind. But I didn’t want soup, per se, but more of a chunky salad. And as I meandered the produce selection I thought about gazpacho, the recipe of course, but also it’s most foods it grew out of locality and possibly necessity. Use what you have to feed people. 

Gazpacho is a recipe that has been around in various forms for a very long time, but the path to what we know it as today is likely convoluted. It’s said to have existed in Spain for more than a thousand years (possibly Moorish or Arab in origin), but prior to the fifteenth century it didn’t contain tomatoes and wasn’t red (tomatoes are a New World ingredient; they didn’t find their way into European cooking until the 1500’s). It most likely began as a vegetable, garlic, and herb soup that was thickened with breadcrumbs and ground almonds. Or possibly a chunky salad with bread in it to “stretch” the meal and utilize stale bread, not unlike the Italian panzanella or Middle Eastern fattoush I suppose. It’s truly an archaic recipe, a sort of edible archeological dig for food historians. Interestingly, the word soup is derived from the Middle English, sop, or sup, referring to a stale piece of bread onto which broth is poured to give a slight meal some substance. Today—because of the “gluten scare” and other reasons, I suppose—gazpacho is often made without bread. There are no hard and fast rules as to what gazpacho is or should be, but it’s often based on many of the same ingredients from its original versions: vegetables, garlic, vinegar, oil, and sometimes bread.

Tonight for dinner I made gazpacho which was more salad-like than it was a soup. It was delicious and took about 10 minutes to prepare. I ate it with large dollops of guacamole and Greek yogurt, and toasted slices of whole wheat bread and a glass of red wine. And as I sat eating I couldn’t think of abetter or more appropriate dinner to have on a sweltering July evening. Below is how I made this gazpacho salad (pictured above), and below that is a traditional recipe for gazpacho as a soup.

Gazpacho on a plate
Dice one or two large ripe tomatoes, a piece of cucumber, a small onion, a bell pepper, one or two jalapeno, a clove or two of garlic, parsley, and cilantro. Combine everything together in a bowl and add a quarter-cup of virgin olive oil and 2 or 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar. Season with kosher or sea salt and black pepper and mix together. Allow the flavors to mingle for about 5 minutes while you pour a glass a wine or slice some bread or set the table. Eat the salad straight from a bowl or transfer to a plate with other ingredients.

Makes about 4 cups
2 cups diced tomatoes
1/2 cup diced red bell peppers
1/2 cup diced cucumbers
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 hot peppers
2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and pulse until desired consistency. Let stand 10 minutes; served chilled or at room temperature. Optional garnishes include but are not limited to:  diced raw onion, hard cooked egg, parsley, and olives.

Urban Simplicity

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Potato and Black Bean “Burgers” with Cheddar and Jalapeno

Let me just say this straight away...these crispy crunchy burgers are really easy to make and super-delicious. Simply mix everything together and pan-fry them. While I was lap-swimming this afternoon I was thinking of what I should make for dinner and these came to mind...they made me swim faster to get home and make them. I made them burger sized and ate them on a plate with a fork and knife and with other foods like an entree. But they could easily be eaten on a roll like a traditional burger, or made small for a salad garnish or an appetizer with a dipping sauce. And as usual, change up ingredients and flavoring to suit your taste.

Potato and Black Bean “Burgers” with Cheddar and Jalapeno

Makes about 8-10 burgers

1 (15oz can) black beans, drained and rinsed
2 medium potatoes, peeled and shredded
1 cup shredded cheddar
2 eggs
2 jalapeno, minced
½ small onion, diced small
½ red bell pepper, diced small
1 bunch cilantro, washed and coarse chopped
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon chili [powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
   canola oil for pan-frying

Place the beans in a bowl, and using a wire whip, mash the beans to a coarse consistency. Add all the remaining ingredients (except the oil, which is for frying). Mix thoroughly, then allow the mixture to rest for about 10 minutes. Heat about ¼ inch of canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Shape the burgers as you place them in the pan, doing this in batches if necessary. Cook for about 10 minutes, turning as necessary. The burgers are done when crispy golden brown, and the centers are hot and cooked. Transfer to absorbent paper to drain.

Urban Simplicity.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Nutella-White Chocolate Cookies

Because sometimes I simply need to go to my happy place :)

Nutella-White Chocolate Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 cup Nutella
¾ cup unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks)
¾ cups brown sugar
¾ cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups white chocolate chips

Preheat an oven to 350F (325F if it is a convection oven).

In the bowl of an upright mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the Nutella, butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar. Start on low, and then turn  to medium. Beat the ingredients until light and fluffy (usually about 5 minutes). Scrape the sides of the bowl, then add the eggs and vanilla extract. Mix on medium another couple minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl again, then add the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Turn the mixer to low and mix for a minute or two, just until everything is combined. Add the chocolate chips and mix until combined. Scoop the cookies onto baking trays that are lined with parchment or have been lightly sprayed with pan release. Leave two inches between the rows of cookies to allow them to spread as the cook. Bake in the preheated oven for about 10-12 minutes, or until set and lightly brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Falafel with Jalapeno!

So I've posted recipes for falafel on many occasions, and this is another variation. I used the traditional recipe and added extra cilantro and parsley and also a couple jalapeno peppers. The outcome--if I do say so myself--is delicious. I ate it over a salad with a cooling yogurt dressing. Anyhow, if you have a food processor making these tasty, crunchy, and healthy little nuggets are about as simple as it gets.  I have a small and really inefficient food processor which was given to me ore than 20 years ago and I am still able to make these simply  in my teeny home kitchen. Like most the recipes I post, this one is not carved in stone; it's more of a guide rather than a blueprint. Other than the chickpeas you really can add or delete whatever ingredients suit you. A printable recipe is listed below, but the method goes like this:

1. Soak chickpeas overnight.
2 Mix them with other ingredients.
3. Grind them in a food processor.
4. Pan-fry them.

Yup, it's that simple. And I bet you can't eat just one (or 4 or 5).

Falafel with Jalapeno

Makes about 2 dozen small patties

1 cup dried chickpeas
3 cups water
½ small onion, diced
1 bunch Italian parsley, washed and chopped
1 bunch cilantro, washed and chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons whole wheat flour
    vegetable oil for pan-frying

Combine the chickpeas and water together in a bowl overnight and leave them at room-temperature to reconstitute.

Drain the chickpeas and discard the water. Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl (except the oil, which is for cooking) and mix. Transfer to a food processor (in batches if necessary) and process until a mealy consistency. Cover and let rest for about 30 minutes.

Shape into patties, preheat about a half-inch of oil in a skillet, and pan-fry (in batches) on both sides until golden and cooked through. Transfer to absorbent paper and serve with taratoor or tzatziki sauce.

And one final note. People often ask me if these cannot be baked rather than fried. And I always answer yes they can, but they would not be the same. They wouldn't be as crunchy crispy. There is, in fact, a chain of restaurants in NYC that specializes in falafel that is baked. They are tasty but not crispy. To prove a point I did a little experiment when I cooked [a half-batch] of these, and I've done this in the past. I measured the oil before and after frying and the amount missing (presumably absorbed into the food) was so negligible it is nearly un-measurable. I of course am not suggesting one to eat fried food everyday, not now and again I think is ok. If the oil is at temperature and clean not that much absorbs into the food. Anyhow, I am not in the medical field so I really do not speak on authority, these are just my observations and this is all that I will say on the subject.

Urban Simplicity.

Five or fourteen quotes about bread...

So first a couple things. One is that I was likely prompted to post these quotes because (a) I love bread--eating it and making it--and (b) I just came across the photo below which was taken in '08 or thereabouts. That was my first official cargo bike, when I graduated from carrying all sorts of things rather precariously on a "regular bike." I still had a car at the time but didn't use it very often and was testing the waters to see what it would be like to live without one (it's great, by the way). And also, why this photo is relevant to this post, is that it was just a year or so prior that I started this blog. And in the early stages of my blogging I was uncertain as what to name it. One of the names in the ring at the time was "The Biking Baker," because I baked a lot of bread and was gravitating towards going car-free. Ultimately I found the title too limiting, and later settled on the current name of Urban Simplicity. Because of a job change last year I don't have the opportunity to bake bread as often as I once did or as often as I'd like. But as I sit here in a coffee shop typing these words on a beautiful spring morning there is a wonderful and fragrant loaf fermenting and rising on my kitchen counter. That's likely the real reason I was prompted to post these quotes. With this said, if you'd like recipes for all sorts of bread (but mostly made with 100% whole wheat flour), click here. For more in the Five Quotes series, click here.

“No yoga exercise, no meditation in a chapel filled with music will rid you of your blues better than the humble task of making your own bread.”
~MFK Fisher

“Bread is an object of unparalleled worship and decorum. It embodies the full cycle of life and seasons, from the death of the wheat kernel in the earth to the resurrection as a stalk, from its ordeal in the mill to its journey through the oven and its offering at the table. Bread is a part of all major events in many lives, from birth, to betrothal and marriage, to death and resurrection.”
~Bernard Dupaigne

"God made yeast, as well as dough, and he loves fermentation just as dearly as he loves vegetation."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

"I don't preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn't say, "Now is that political or social?" He said, "I feed you." Because the good news to a hungry person is bread."
~Bishop Desmond Tutu

"Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new."
~Ursula K. LeGuin

"A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety."

"There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread."
~Mahatma Gandhi

"We have learned to see in bread an instrument of community between men—the flavour of bread shared has no equal."
~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

"There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine is drunk."
~M.F.K. Fisher

"If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens."
~Robert Browning

"Bread deals with living things, with giving life, with growth, with the seed, the grain that nurtures. It's not coincidence that we say bread is the staff of life."
~Lionel Poilâne

"Bread and water—these are the things nature requires. For such things no man is too poor, and whosoever can limit his desire to them alone can rival Jupiter for happiness."

"Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts."
~James Beard

"Without bread all is misery."
~William Cobbett

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

100% Whole Wheat Bread with White Beans and Flax

I haven't been baking bread as often as I used to for a variety of reasons, but I did the other day and remembered how much I enjoy it. Baking bread, to me, nourishes far more than the body. And it is really easy to do once you master the basics. Thus said, because bread is a big portion of my diet I am always attempting to find a healthier one. Whole wheat flour is a given, but I often add beans to bread doughs as well. A good example of this is my version of Ezekiel bread, which is still the most visited recipe on this blog. In this recipe I used white beans and flax seed. For simplicity I used canned beans. Interestingly, once the dough is kneaded the beans emulsify into the dough and you won't even notice them. But they do offer added richness to the dough, not to mention nutrients. Anyhow, the recipe is below.

Whole Wheat Bread with White Beans and Flax 

Makes 2 or 3 loaves
1 (15oz) can white beans, rinsed and drained 
1 cup water
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast

4 cups whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons vital wheat gluten 
½ cup ground flax seed 
2 cups water 

¼ cup olive oil
3 teaspoons kosher
1 tablespoon instant yeast

Place two bowls side-by-side; one will hold the pre-ferment, the other autolyse. In one bowl combine the rinsed and drained beans with 1 cup water, 2 cups whole wheat flour, and 2 teaspoons instant yeast. Stir it just until combined then cover it with plastic wrap. In the other bowl combine 4 cups whole wheat flour, 3 tablespoons vital wheat gluten, ½ cup flax, and 2 cups water; stir it just until combined then cover it with plastic wrap (take care not to get yeast into this bowl). Allow the bowls to rest at room temperature for about an hour, during which time the preferment will begin it's job multiplying yeast and fermenting flour, and the autolyse will soak liquid, swelling the gluten.

After an hour or so, combine the ingredients from both bowls into the bowl of an upright mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the olive oil, salt, and tablespoon of yeast (add the yeast and salt on opposite sides of the bowl). Knead the dough on medium speed for about 10 minutes. Place the dough in a lightly oiled container, cover it loosely, and allow to ferment for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in bulk. Deflate the dough and allow it to ferment an additional 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and cut it into 2 or 3 pieces. Shape into loaves and place into lightly oiled pans. Loosely cover the loaves with plastic wrap and allow to ferment for 30-60 minutes, or until double in size and when gently touched with a fingertip an indentation remains.

Bake the breads for about 30-40 minutes, adding steam to the oven a few times (either with ice cubes or a spray bottle) and rotating the breads every ten minutes. The breads are done when they are dark brown and sound hollow when tapped upon. Remove the breads from their pans and allow them to cook on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

 Urban Simplicity.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Garlic and oil are all you need sometimes…

Because this dish, or similar variations of it, is so easy to prepare, I'll begin without ceremony. Peel a few whole cloves of garlic. You can crush them if you like, but it is not necessary. Place them in a small skillet with a bit of olive oil. It's important that the pan and oil be at room temperature, not hot. This goes against everything a chef is taught, but it is essential to this dish. Place the skillet over a low flame and just let it be; let it rest there a few minutes. It will take a few minutes for the garlic to begin to bubble, but that's ok. This is good, actually. If it begins to bubble too quickly the flame is too high and the garlic will cook too quickly. By cooking the garlic low and slow you are drawing out its flavor into the oil; you are also removing much of its harshness.

Many of you know that I cook for a living. And I've been fortunate enough to cook in many different venues. My latest gig—for the past year—has been cooking in the prepared foods department of a grocery store. A co-operative and very fancy store, but nonetheless, still a grocery store. And it is busy. Really busy. Everything we cook is in extra large batches. Unlike restaurants and clubs that I've worked, where food is often cooked or served a plate at a time, here it is cooked in large batches, to be later sold. For lack of better words, in my current position I function as a production cook, or as friends and I once referred to, a bull cook. So for this reason, sometimes I have to cook slow, simple, and small. At least for myself I do.

I was surprised, but also glad, that when I mentioned to my son that I was going to make pasta with vegetables for dinner he asked if he could help. So as the garlic slowly cooks, turn and baste it in the olive oil every couple of minutes while you prep whatever vegetables you have. When the garlic is golden brown and very soft, remove it from the pan but reserve the oil. The oil is bursting with flavor. Mince or mash the garlic and set it aside. Transfer the oil to a larger skillet.

Sometimes—often—I forget, or at least take for granted that I am a good cook. I've been doing it so long it is like second nature to me. From my start as a restaurant cook, while a teenager, cooking came easy to me. And this is what I remembered today while showing a young cook at work today how to hold a knife properly as he fumbled with the large sharp tool, and again tonight as I cooked dinner with my son. Cooking is a gift that was given to me at a young age, and one for which I am grateful.

While my son diced an onion I looked in our fridge and wasn't surprised to see the absence of food. In the same way an auto mechanic drives a jalopy, I really do not like to grocery shop. I put it off to the last minute, and I even work in a grocery store. But I did find a half of bell pepper, a couple heads of broccoli, a handful of spinach, and a half-dozen or so of sun-dried tomatoes. So my son and I chopped them together.

Vegetables cooked in this manner—with twice-cooked garlic—are delicious on their own, but when tossed with pasta and cheese they are even better. So before you start to cook the vegetables put a small pot of water on to boil.

Heat the skillet with the garlic-oil, this time over medium-high heat. If you are using onions and peppers (and why wouldn't you) add them to the skillet when the oil is hot. They should sizzle when they hit the oil. Toss and turn the onions and peppers in the hot oil, then lower the heat to medium and cook them until they are lightly browned. This will bring out their rich natural sweetness. While the onions and peppers cook add some pasta to the pot of water, assuming it has come to a boil. Cook the pasta about 8 minutes, or until it is just under-cooked. Italians refer to this as al dente.

It was nice spending the few minutes it took to prepare this dish with my son. He's a college student in his early twenties and is always busy, and I'm often busy simply because it is in my nature. I sometimes think I have too many interests. Rather than turning on the radio, as I often do when I cook at home, I left it silent, and we cooked and talked.

When the pasta is sufficiently cooked drain it and set it aside. And if the onions and peppers are nicely browned, add whatever other vegetables you may be using to the pot along with the mashed and cooked garlic. I also added a good pinch of crushed hot pepper because I like things a little spicy. Stir everything in the oil, onions and garlic to coat everything in flavor and then add some liquid to the pan. You can keep this vegetarian by adding water or vegetable broth, which I often do, but tonight I wanted the added richness of chicken broth. So I added about a cup of broth to the pan along with a pinch of sea salt.

Adding chicken broth does a couple things. The first is obvious; it helps to cook and steam the vegetables. But it goes beyond that. When the broth reduces it concentrates, which translates into flavor. It also temporarily emulsifies with the olive oil and creates a sort of viscosity to the dish. A richness that would not be possible with water.

So when the vegetables are cooked to your liking, and the broth has reduces enough, add the cooked pasta. Gently fold the pasta into the other ingredients and allow it to cook a little. The pasta will absorb flavors from the rest of the ingredients. Remove the pan from the heat, fold in a little Parmesan or Asiago cheese, reserving some to sprinkle on the top.

My day today wasn't great. Nothing big happened or didn't happen. I was just one of those days. I rode my bike pre-dawn in the rain and it was gloomy most of the day. It was really busy at work. I felt stressed and my feet hurt. But relaxing at home and cooking slow and small with my son with very basic ingredients is really what I needed. And now, as I sit in a cafe a few blocks from my house, drinking a beer and tapping out these words on a keyboard, the sky has cleared and the sun is setting beautifully. And I remember—again—that life is good. Tomorrow is another day, and I get to start over.

Urban Simplicity

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Savory Oatmeal!

Savory Oatmeal!

Yup, you heard me...oatmeal is not just for breakfast any longer. Quick and delicious meals can be made savory with oatmeal, too. But I'm jumping ahead as I often do.

Let's first talk about the difference between rolled oats and steel cut oats. Rolled oats are whole oat groats that have been husked, pre-steamed, and then rolled flat. This makes them much quicker to cook, but also yields a more mushy finished product. Steel cut oats, on the other hand, are simply whole oat groats that have been cut into two or three pieces by large steel blades, hence the title “steel cut.” Both rolled and steel cut oats are said to offer the same health benefits, which are many, but the downside to steel cut oats is that they take a lot longer to cook, sometimes as long as 30-40 minutes. The plus side, though, is that the finished product offers a more distinctive consistency, less mushy, more crunchy and nutty. The consistency, in my opinion, is akin to a short grain rice...creamy but at the same time the grains stay distinguishable, not mushed together. For this reason, I recommend steel cut oats in any savory recipe.

This said, there is a very simple way in which to cook (or pre-cook) steel cut oats. The ratio t cooking steel cut oats is 1-to-3, meaning for every cut of oats you will need 3 cups of water. Simply combine the water and oatmeal in a suitably sized pot. Bring it to a boil and allow it to cook for about 30 seconds. The shut of the heat, cover the pot, and allow it to rest for at least two hours. It is that simple. I'll often do this before I retire for the evening and when I wake in the morning there is a pot of cooked oats on the stove. Or I may start the oats and allow them to rest while I am out running errands. The best part is that you can make more than you need at the moment and refrigerate them in portions, simply reheating as necessary.

Regarding savory applications, once the oats are cooked simply treat them as you would any other cooked grain; add whatever ingredients you prefer. In the instance to what is in this photo (what I had for dinner last evening), I caramelized some diced onion, then cremini mushrooms and brussels sprouts along with garlic and hot pepper. Then I added slivers of sun-dried tomatoes and a splash of wine. And after mixing in and reheating the oatmeal I topped it with feta and asiago cheeses.

The sky really is the limit with this. While I've yet to add meat or fish to an oatmeal recipe (as I don't eat much meat at home) it likely would be delicious. My next recipe I plan on using vegetable broth in place of the water for a more full-flavored experiment. And I'm sure leftover oatmeal recipes will make excellent patties...mixed with an egg or tow and a bit of lour then pan-fried. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it...

Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Cooking like it's summertime...ratatouille avec le bouillon

So a couple things. One is that I am not the perfect shopper nor am I the perfect cook, but generally I do not shop for "summertime produce" when it is not summertime. But these days I work at a grocery store...a cooperative and somewhat fancy grocery store but nonetheless still a grocery store. And one of the benefits, as an employee, is that we are allowed to take bruised or damaged fruits and vegetables, gratis (what is not taken by employees is donated to local organizations). So this is how I came upon the possession of most of these vegetables. I can still remember the look on my co-worker's face as I squat and rummaged through the box of unsalable produce and muttered to myself..."It looks like ratatouille for dinner tonight." With this said, this is an exceedingly easy but delicious recipe. I added broth and tomato sauce to make it saucy enough for pasta, but it is delicious with or without the added broth. What's great about this recipe is that it can be eaten hot, room temperature, or--in the summertime--chilled. As usual, this recipe is not carved in stone...add chicken or seafood or whatever other vegetables or seasonings that you prefer or have on hand. It's delicious, healthy, and will make you think of the summer.

Ratatouille with Broth

Makes about 4 cups
¼ cup olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and diced
1 medium bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 small eggplant, diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon whole fennel seed
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, bell peppers and garlic; sauté for 5 minutes over medium heat, or until they begin to brown. Add the zucchini and eggplant; sauté 5 minutes. Stir in the salt, basil, fennel, crushed red pepper, tomato sauce, and broth. Bring to a boil, then lower it to a slow simmer; cook for about 30 minutes, stirring as needed. If it becomes too dry add more broth. Serve over pasta or rice, as a side dish, or as a dip with toasted bread. Like a soup, this recipe tastes better the second day.

Urban Simplicity.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Salmon with Potatoes, Lemon, and Avocado

This recipe is based on the same technique as a previous's a sort of stove-top steam/roasting. By turning the heat low and covering the pan with a lid it creates a sort of oven/steamer, which not only draws the flavors out but also caramelizes (concentrates) them. As usual, this recipe is not written in stone, rather than a blueprint it should serve more as an idea. Mix-and-match ingredients that you like. You won't be sorry...and you'll only have one pan to wash.

Salmon with Potatoes, Lemon, and Avocado

Serves two.

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 small salmon fillets
1 Yukon Gold potato, sliced
1 onion, peeled and sliced
4 small cloves garlic
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon crushed hot pepper
4 slices lemon
½ avocado, peeled and sliced

Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Place the salmon in the pan, and then arrange the potato, onion, and garlic around the salmon in a single layer. Season with the salt and hot pepper. Cover the skillet and lower the heat. Cook for about 5 minutes. Remove the lid. Turn the potatoes and onions but not the salmon; leave it in the same position. Lay the lemon slices on the salmon and vegetables. Cover the skillet again, and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove the lid, lay the avocado on the salmon and vegetables, shut off the heat and allow to rest for a couple minutes. To serve, gently turn the salmon over (which will be nicely caramelized), transfer it to plates or a platter, and arrange the vegetables and lemon around the salmon.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

l'asperge et le chou-fleur poêle

So a couple things. Firstly, despite this recipe's fancy French name, this is really easy to prepare...and healthy and bursting with flavor. This recipe is actually a cross between two techniques. The first, poêle, where foods are cooked with no liquid in a covered pot and basted with butter (poêle is the French word for stove), and the second, aglio e olio, which is Italian for oil and garlic, which are two of my favorite ingredients. Nearly any food can be cooked this way--slowly steamed and cooked in oil and it's own juices--but the key here is slow. If the heat is too high the food may burn before it is cooked, or at the very least will not draw out their natural flavors. And yes, leave the garlic cloves whole and onions cut into big them this way will impart the dish with richness and they will literally melt in your mouth.

Asparagus and Cauliflower Braised in Olive Oil
(l'asperge et le chou-fleur poêle)

¼ cup olive oil
1 pound asparagus, trimmed
½ head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into six pieces
6 whole garlic cloves, peeled
¼ teaspoon crushed hot pepper
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the remaining ingredients to the pan. Cover the skillet with a lid and lower the heat. Cook the vegetables for about 15 minutes very slowly. Every few minutes remove the lid and turn them in the oil. If the asparagus cooks too quickly remove it to a plate while the cauliflower, onions, and garlic brown. Transfer all the ingredients to a serving platter and serve hot or at room temperature.
Urban Simplicity.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Falafels au Curry!

So I'm not sure what made me think of this, but I did. I love curry, and I also love falafel. So why not put the two together. I googled it, and of course it is already a thing. Somewhere there are purists shaking their fists at me right now, but the outcome overrides this as these crunchy little morsels are addiction delicious. They are delicious as a sandwich, on a salad, or straight up. Traditional taratoor sauce is a great accompaniment (here's some recipes), but so would yogurt-cucumber sauce, or whatever you happening to be craving. Anyhow, the easy and delicious recipe is below.

Curried Falafel
Makes 2-3 dozen falafel.

1 pound dried chick peas
8 cups water
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons curry
1 tablespoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon crushed hot pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons flour (optional)
Oil for frying

Combine the chickpeas and water in a bowl, cover it with a lid or plastic wrap and leave at room temperature overnight. The next morning, drain and discard the water.

Combine all of the ingredients, except the flour and oil, in the bowl of a food processor. Process the chickpeas until a coarse paste. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and knead in the flour. Cover and allow to rest about 15 minutes. Then scoop the falafel and shape them into small balls or patties.

Fill a pot with a couple inches of vegetable of peanut oil. Heat the oil to about 325F. Carefully fry the falafel for about 5 minutes, in batches if necessary. Remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with absorbent paper.

Serve with tahini or yogurt sauce, or other favorite. Eat as a sandwich, salad, or as is.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Faites Simple...

"Faites simple." (Make it simple)
~ Auguste Escoffier

I really believe that I'd be hard pressed to find anyone that didn't agree in that often keeping things simple is the best way to go, and not just with cooking but with most things. Though this time I am speaking of cooking. I made these carrots as a side dish tonight with pasta and chicken cacciatore. The carrots, I think, were the best part of the meal...braised and basted in olive oil with onion, garlic, and hot pepper. Here's the recipe...

Braised Baby Carrots

This is so simple and it can be done with nearly any vegetable. But the reason it works especially well with carrots is that they are a hard vegetable and they are also naturally sweet. So when you cook them with the onions, garlic, and hot pepper, they begin to caramelize and the end result is sort of sweet and spicy. Anyhow, this is how to prepare them:

Cut the tops off the carrots and peel them; discard or compost the tops and peels. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the carrots and shake the pan a little to coat them with the oil. Lower the heat and cover the pan and cook the carrots for a few minutes. Then remove the lid and add a small sliced or diced onion. Cover the pan and cook a few more minutes. Then remove the lid and add a clove or two of minced garlic, as much crushed hot pepper as you'd like, and a pinch of kosher salt. With the pan uncovered, continue to cook the carrots along with the other ingredients, taking care not to burn the garlic. If the onions and garlic brown too quickly, add a couple tablespoons of water to the pan. Then cook the carrots until the water evaporates. The dish is complete when the carrots are soft and flavorful. The entire process will take about 10 minutes.

Urban Simplicity.