Aching and Baking

January 30, 2008

"Why do you want a vegan cookie?" "Why did you get the soy chicken salad instead of the chicken salad?" "Soyrizo? You mean chorizo, right?'s made out of what?!"

I know it doesn't make much sense. I love ice cream, chorizo tortas slathered in crema and the lasagna-esque chocolate peanut-butter cookies from Grey Dog, but I also love Soy Delicious with vegan oreos, soyrizo quesadillas and stand by my conviction that Keri's Kreations' chocolate chip cookie is worth badgering my friends in San Francisco to cart over to me if they can't swing by Arizmendi for their hockey puck of a vegan chocolate mint cookie. I believe I need to put this issue to rest once and for all: vegan food can be really good even if (especially if) it isn't peppered with the righteousness and obduracy that accompanies so many of its proponents. Consequently, while I avidly follow developments in bacon, fat-free vegan also features in my regular rotation. I don't generally make much of a point to harp on fat content (why take any joy out of piping hot cheese grits?) but delicious is delicious and if it comes rolled up in a fat-free bundle then that means more for me.

Which leads me to biscotti. I set out to make quinoa cookies, but lacking rolled oats and fielding a thoroughly horrified reaction from the mother upon my suggesting I sift packets of oatmeal to separate out the oats, I needed to change my plan with a quickness. While it is easy to think of biscotti as stale-tasting cookies served up either shrink-wrapped or crammed and crumbling in jars at your local coffee house, I prefer to think on the unfailing sensation of decadence whenever an unrequested crisp little biscotti arrives alongside a cappuccino. Nostalgia won a double victory tonight, for not only did these subtly spicy little crisps trigger fond memories of their predecessors but they have also cemented what was previously a suspicion that coffee should never be served without them. While I am plotting more elaborate ingredient variations, Susan's simple recipe for success continues the trend of fool-proof baking begun by the beer bread. Much as bread is not bread unless there is a dairy product on or in it, coffee is not coffee unless it comes with a cookie.

Ginger Biscotti
adapted from Fat-Free Vegan

I was tempted to maintain the veganness of the original recipe by using a banana in place of the Ener-G egg replacer (an item of which I am fond but not currently in possesion), having done so successfully recently in the service of some apple butter ginger cookies. Fearful of ending up with either mushy or banana-tainted biscuits, I decided to sack up and use an egg and as much water as was required to achieve the desire consistency of dough. If you insist on vegan integrity, use 1 1/2 Tbl Ener-G and 6 Tbl water plus more if needed. Adding the chopped walnuts was a success, and next time I'm going for dried cranberries and a good dredging through some melted bars of Dagoba xocolatl.
1 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp (packed) freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts
2 eggs
6 Tbl water
1 Tbl molasses
1/2 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 350.

Sift together the dry ingredients. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and water.

Gradually add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients followed by the molasses, vanilla and walnuts. Mix well, adding more water just until the dough holds together. It will be sticky

Divide the dough in two and place on a floured surface. Shape each half into two logs about 2" wide and transfer to an an oiled cookie sheet or silicone baking mat, Flatten the logs to about 1 inch high. Bake for 30 minutes.

Take the baking sheet out of the oven and cool the biscotti for 10 minutes (it didn't take a full ten before I could successfully cut into the logs but don't risk breaking them).

Cut the half-baked logs into 1/2" slices on the diagonal.

Place the slices cut-side down on the baking sheet and bake for 10 more minutes before turning them over and baking for another 8-10 minutes.

Remove from oven. They will likely still be somewhat soft in the center but will harden as they cool. And then soften upon being dipped in espresso.

Beers and Tears (of joy)

January 24, 2008

I have a lot to cover. I know I said that San Francisco's luscious pastries, damn fine coffee and superlative pizza would have their day(s) and they will. I think. But right now I am motivated by the mad ecstasy of warm carbs to share with you as quickly as possible the method by which you too might experience the singular joy of warm bread at midnight. I don't do yeast these days, though I have before and hope to once more. The primary reason why I have not attacked my old standard, Cuban Easy Bread, is because whenever I read a recipe directive to "place dough on floured surface" I immediately cringe at the thought of placing a precious lump of dough on any surface of my kitchen, floured or no. So until I have a nice wood countertop to flour to my heart's content and clean with boiling water and oil with oils, yeasty bread will have to wait. Hence beer bread. Beer bread is an infinitely satisfying amalgam of quick bread and yeast bread, requires practically no effort or baking talent and acts as a stellar vehicle for whatever fixins for which you might be jonesing (though fruit probably wouldn't work too well as filler, stick to savory). Though it lacks the satisfying crisp crust of a veritable loaf, it toasts brilliantly and possesses the chewy elasticity of a kneaded bread. The ineffable delight of oven-fresh bread is one I discovered at school, lurking in the kitchen waiting with a ladle of butter/salsa/peanut sauce for loaves oozing with jalapeno-jack to come out of the oven, marveling at the occasional emergence of foccacia, challah, sourdough, witnessing the regenerative power of sizzling crumbs and learning that carbs consumed standing up and in good company are not ones to be counted.

Whole Wheat Beer Bread
from a recipe from Farmgirl Fare

When I first made beer bread I used all-purpose flour and included chives, caramelized shallots, sundry herbs and sharp cheddar cheese. The result was nothing short of delicious, but after trying out this whole wheat version I think that the hint of beer that lingers in the bread weds more successfully with the darker wheat flavor than with regular flour. A note about the beer: though recipes recommend using an Irish Pale Ale, I used a darker brew. The resulting taste is definitely heavier on the beer side of things so if you would prefer something that has a better chance of skating by unnoticed on the AA buffet table, use a lighter beer. Also, this bread has a tendency to get a bit soggy after being wrapped in foil. This can be countered either by toasting individual slices or popping the whole loaf into the oven at 200 degrees for a few minutes until the top dries out. Finally, a layer of cheese on the top of the loaf pre-baking can't hurt.
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbl granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbl baking powder
1+ cup grated cheese of your choice, sharp cheddar works well
14 ounces beer (or 12 ounces beer & 2 ounces water)
Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine flour, sugar, salt, herbs and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Slowly stir in beer and cheese and mix just until combined.

Spread in a greased 8-inch loaf pan, brush with egg glaze and bake about 45 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean.

Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool 10 more minutes.


January 15, 2008

I don't presume to suggest I have enough of a readership at the moment to render an unannounced absence of such length "inexcusable" exactly, but it is certainly not good in terms of its reflection on my professions of dedication to homaging. I'm not trying to make excuses but the past two months have been rather tumultuous. One day after the last post our little Tory started a new job, a development which had several effects. One was to cut the fromaging down to one day a week (the busiest day no less), thereby making extensive research and lingering behind the cheese counter near impossible and putting the "cheese of the week" feature in jeopardy. I know that is a flimsy excuse at best, but I hope to apply myself with gusto to making up for the dearth of dairy on this site. Another effect of newfound employment was a schedule that hardly allows for eating, let alone chefery or invetigating. While the wilds of Astoria undoubtedly hold a few gems, I haven't been able to convince any of my coworkers to try out Sarajevo Fast Food and the bodegas enticing me with hastily scrawled signage advertising tortas do not deliver. Such are my paltry excuses, which add up to "whine whine whine I'm tired whine whine."

This isn't to say I've been entirely inactive. I did make a thoroughly aesthetically disastrous batch of spice cookies, an even tastier cakier version of my peanut butter cookies (more syrup, less sugar), tried some stellar Brooklyn locations (top runners Lucali and the Soul Spot), uncovered some chickens named Patrick in Chinatown, pigged out on Taster Matt's irrefutable masterpiece sinker: farfalle ala canned salmon as well as an inspired mushroom bread pudding, found what I'm going to deem the best place to get tasty cheap fake meats, and whipped up many a masterful batch of cheese grits. All of this plus San Francisco adventures when we return...after I get some more sleep.