Thursday, February 26, 2009

Recipe Geek: Spicy Turkey in Lettuce Cups

Recipe Geek is a new feature in which I pick random recipes which I haven't made before and test them and report on the results. The recipes will generally be taken from magazines, the newspaper, or the internet. I'll include a link to the recipe but won't cut and paste the whole thing into here.
This week's entry/entree, Spicy Chicken in Lettuce Cups, appeared in the Whole Foods magazine. I picked it because I like chicken in lettuce cups but have never made it at home. Also, I had some ground turkey in the freezer.
I prepared it more or less according to the recipe. I used ground turkey instead of chicken, and left out the green onions - I had some chives I was going to use instead but they had gone bad. Other than that I didn't make any substitutions.
It was pretty straightforward - much less problematic than meatballs. Ginger, red bell pepper and garlic were chopped up and briefly sauteed, then the turkey was added and broken up while it was cooking. When the turkey was done, the remaining soy sauce/broth/cornstarch mixture was added, followed by cilantro, sesame oil and a smidgen of red pepper flakes. I didn't have the proper type of lettuce so i just ate it on a bed of mixed baby lettuce.
Anyway, it was pretty good but not quite as tasty as some of the restaurant versions, which are a lot sweeter and richer and probably contain MSG. You could probably add a little bit of plum sauce to mimic the taste of the restaurant versions. The green onions would've added some zip too, but since I'm not a huge onion fan I didn't miss them very much.
It's pretty healthy, easy, and tasty, so it's a keeper. Plus, it's a lot cheaper than going to P.F. Chang's!
OK, it's time for me to go swim now. Stay tuned for the next installment of Recipe Geek.

Friday, February 20, 2009

lazy biddy bread recipe

Unfortunately for my waistline, I'm a bread maniac. There's nothing that tastes better than bread fresh from the oven, but I rarely baked it since it took too long and inevitably left me with too much bread. About a year ago I bought a book called "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg. They've developed a method where you mix up a master batch of bread dough and store it in the fridge. It's a pretty wet dough so it mixes up easily with just a large spoon. No fancy stand mixer required (although I still want to get one!). When you want to bake bread, take out a piece of dough and shape it, let it sit for an hour or two and then bake it. There's no kneading involved, so it really is about as easy as using a bread machine, and the results are a lot tastier.
The key to the recipe is the high water to flour ratio. This enables the gluten to develop more easily without any kneading. Other food writers have published similar high hydration recipes, but this one is the easiest. The dough is baked in a hot (450F) oven on a baking stone. It can also be used for pizza dough, calzones, foccacia, etc. The bread is somewhat dense, with great flavor and a very nice crust. I usually just use the master recipe but have also made the semolina and rye bread variations.
The question that I've gotten is whether it's really "5 minutes a day" Well, not exactly. There's a lot of resting and baking time in there, but very little prep or cleanup time. I wish that all the syntheses I do in the lab were this quick! It takes about 5 minutes to mix the dough. After that you let it sit at room temperature for two hours. At that point you can take some out and bake it, and/or pop the whole bowl in in the fridge. When you make the bread, you pull out a ball of dough (usually 1 lb, or 1/4 of the master recipe) and shape it. This takes a minute or two. Then it rises for a while. When it's ready to bake, slash a few slits in the top and put it in the preheated oven. So the actual "active time" really is about five minutes on the days you make the dough or bake a loaf.
When I get my fancy stand mixer, I'll go back to making breads that need a lot of kneading, but for now I'm pretty happy with my lazy bread.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Missy's Macadamia Nut Cookies

A few weeks ago, Missy was rapidly approaching the old biddy milestone of her 40th birthday. She dropped hints that some Mexican wedding cookies would be a good gift. Mexican wedding cookies are buttery nut cookies which I make every year at Christmas. I use walnuts but they also taste good with pecans. They're also known as Russian tea cakes or snowballs. Over the years, I've tweaked the recipe slightly by using a bit of rice flour in place of regular white flour. By lowering the gluten content slightly,the cookies are more buttery and have less of a raw flour taste. They also spread a bit more while baking.
Missy loves macadamia nuts and I wanted to do something special for her birthday, so I tweaked the recipe some more. I'm still partial to the walnut ones, but the macadamia nut ones got raves from Missy and also were a hit as a valentine's day present.
As an added bonus, you can mix in the nuts with your hands. Since the dough doesn't contain any eggs, you can even lick out the bowl when you're done.
One of my cats is obsessed with butterfat. She goes ballistic whenenever I make these. I have to chase her out of the kitchen. The last time I made them, I caught her sitting on the counter next to the cookies with a guilty look on her face.

Missy's Macadamia Nut Cookies
1 cup (two sticks) butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rice flour*
1 1/2 cups finely chopped macadamia nuts
1 cup powdered sugar for rolling the cookies in

Preheat oven to 350F and lightly grease two cookie sheets. Cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy and well blended. Stir in flour and rice flour and blend well. Add nuts and mix. You can do this with your hands if you want. Shape the dough into walnut sized balls and bake 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned. After the cookies have cooled, roll them in powdered sugar and store in an airtight container.

*if you don't have rice flour, just use a total of 2 cups flour.


I'm a big fan of just about every dairy product out there. I'm also a big fan of edible kitchen science experiments. Knowing that, my friends J and K offered me some kefir grains so that I could make my own kefir.
I was mostly ignorant of kefir at that point. It's a cultured milk product similar in taste to yogurt or buttermilk. It differs in that the bacteria and yeast that help culture the milk live in a matrix of protein, lipids, and sugars. These are known as kefir grains. The grains, which look like little pieces of cauliflower, grow over time and sometimes split off new colonies. J and K's colony had grown and produced a new bud. They brought it over on a cup of milk, and also brought me a cup of the final product.
To make kefir, you put the buds in some fresh milk and let it sit on the counter for a day or two. I usually put it in a small bowl and cover it lightly with plastic wrap. The bacteria and yeast need some oxygen so it's a good idea not to cover it too tightly. When I remember, I also swirl it around once or twice to help the colony get fresh nutrients. The milk thickens and turns into kefir. Once it's done you can store it in the fridge. When you want to make more, fish out the buds and put them in fresh milk. My bud was about the size of a grape when I got it two months ago. Since then it's doubled in size and split off two grape-sized buds.
The kefir tastes a lot like buttermilk and can be used in recipes calling for buttermilk or yogurt. I eat it on cereal or in smoothies. I like it because not only is it cheap, it's also a good way to finish those gallon containers of milk before they go bad.
Nutritionally, it's similar to milk but has a lot of helpful probiotics. Since the bacteria digest the lactose, it's supposedly more easily digested by people who are lactose intolerant.
Here's the wikipedia link if you're interested in learning more about kefir