We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

French Bread - Baguettes and Filled Loaves

by Michelle

"I feel like a Tom Robbins book: "...and in her 50th year she fell in love with a KitchenAid mixer, a vintage Wolf Range, and renewed her commitment to a bubbling batch of 13 year old sourdough starter!"" — Juliette

   What I have learned about baking bread after nearly twenty-five years of practicing the art can be summed up in one word: relax - not everything has to be so precise. Yes, baking is a science, but with bread there is some leeway. As a rule, I forgo altering ratios of ingredients for cakes and cookies, but I have discovered that the process for baking bread is quite forgiving as long as I do not error in adding too much flour. There is an oft repeated adage that fish and guests stink after three days. Not so with bread dough. The amiable, go-with-the-flow dough will accomodate you and your schedule, provided there is room in your refrigerator to keep it as a contented guest for up to a week, until you are ready to shape and bake loaves.

   You might say, well that's all great, but I can buy tasty artisinal loaves at my local bakery. Why would I want to make bread at home? To that question I would respond, I buy a lot of bread from my friendly, local bakery, too. However, after long hours sitting in front of my laptop, I like to participate in an activity that is fun, engages the senses, and yields amazing results. Baking bread is a creative endeavor open to a variety of sweet and savory interpretations. I also like the fact that I can complete other tasks around the house while the dough is resting and rising. It's a multi-taskers dream come true.
    My sister, Linda made a living as a baker for many years. My sister, Juliette currently makes her living as a baker of artisinal breads and pizzas. I make bread because I find it relaxing and for the pride I feel when I see the beautiful loaves cooling on the kitchen table. I also appreciate that my baking brings joy to my friends and family.
   If you were to ask my sisters and me what is alive and happy in our refrigerators, we would all three shout, "Sourdough!" Juliette does not add any extra yeast to her breads (by the way, all the gorgeous loaves are Juliette's in this post), using the natural leavening in the sourdough as the basis for her breads and pizza dough. Sourdough is low glycemic index because the fermentation process rids the flour of a lot of starch and sugar - basically the yeast eats it. It is also acknowledged that sourdough is easier to digest for people with wheat issues because the fermentation process breaks down the various components of the grain. Commercial yeast was invented simply because it is FASTER, and faster bread is just not as good because there is not enough time for flavor development.

   Over the years, the three of us have continually shared our baking knowledge to help build each other's skills, such as this excerpt from an e-mail that Linda and I received from Juliette, "I am finally getting the hang of the baguettes. The technique that is finally working for me is to flatten the dough out by pressing firmly with my hands into a rectangle. Fold the short ends in like a letter. Pinch the seam, cover, and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Press it out again but not much and gently, and repeat the folding. Seal the seam. At this point you will have a fat little blob of dough. Working from the center and out, with the seam down, extend the dough until it is the length you want. You may have to let the dough rest again during this process for the gluten to relax. When the cylinder of dough is even and smooth place it in the baguette pan, and tuck the ends under. Let rise until almost double. Fifteen minutes or so before baking remove the protective cover off the loaves and let them dry out just a bit. A drier surface makes the slashing easier."

   A big step forward in making bread, that we wrote about in the pizza dough recipe, is incorporating resting periods called autolyse into the dough making process. The resting periods allow for the flour to absorb the water. The goal is to make a sticky dough that has developed long strands of gluten. After the dough has risen, it is more pliable and easy to shape. For such little effort, autolyse yields great flavor and texture.
    In the recipe below, we provide directions on how to bake a great loaf (with added yeast) from beginning to end in one session. If you want to make the dough, bake later in the week for convenience, and to build more complex flavor, here's how Juliette does it, "After you have finished the dough, remove the hook and let it rest in the mixer bowl for 15 minutes. Then divide the dough - in half for stuffed loaves or into four even pieces for baguettes. Place each in lightly oiled bowls or disposable plastic containers (that are large enough for the dough to expand). Let sit at room temp for fifteen minutes then put in the fridge for 24 hours (or longer; up to a week). When you pull the dough balls out of the fridge you can start shaping (and filling) them immediately. You can leave the loaves to proof until doubled. Make sure your loaves are slashed well to accommodate the "oven spring" when doing a "cold" bake. To make the crust slash easier let the loaves sit without covering until the surface starts to dry out a bit. Make sure you get a lot of water into the oven for the first 15 minutes."

   One of my favorite stuffed loaves is a garlic cheese filling. Juliette adores loaves stuffed with dried cherries, walnuts and fresh lemon peel. If you like spicey, her loaves filled with thinly sliced fresh jalapenos, roasted red peppers and crumbly Mexican cheese are fantastic. My daughter's favorite is a baguette flavored with fresh rosemary and olive oil mixed into the dough. Homemade or store bought tapenade and pesto make excellent fillings too. The possibilities are truly endless.
   Stuffed loaves are terrific served as is or embelished with butter. Plain baguettes can be accompanied simply with sweet or salted butter. A special compound butter or flavored dip is a nice touch. In lieu of butter, the bread also tastes great dipped in a combination of fruity olive oil adorned with a hefty splash of aged  balsamic vinegar and perhaps a grind or two of black pepper.

French Bread - Baguettes and Filled Loaves
   This is a versatile bread to serve with salads, soups, pasta or alongside appetizers. The "filled" versions always draw exclamations from guests. Leftover baguettes can be sliced thinly, brushed on both sides with olive oil, sprinkled with parmesan and baked on a sheet in a 400°F oven until crispy, about 15 minutes. The croutons make lovely crackers for a cheese and dip tray or floated on a bowl of soup or served alongside a green leaf salad. Extra loaves freeze well. Wrap cooled loaves in foil and freeze. Defrost at room temperature. To reheat, crisp the loaves in a 350°F oven for about 8 minutes.
   The original recipe was developed by Beth Hensperger, baker extraordinaire, published author of more than 20 cookbooks and columnist for the San Jose Mercury News. Although Linda changed the process along the way, the addition of semolina is unique to Beth's French Bread recipe. The Garlic Cheese filling is from Abby Mandel's Cuisinart Classroom cookbook. I've opened the cookbook so often that pages are falling loose from the spine. Abby passed away in 2008 and thankfully her legacy lives on in her cookbooks and for the many people who enjoy shopping at the Green City Market in Chicago, one of the best farmer's markets in the nation that Abby founded.
   Even though we recommend high-gluten bread flour, the bread can be successfully made with all-purpose flour. For a slightly nutty-flavored bread, you can exchange a cup of whole wheat flour for one cup white flour.

For the Dough, First Autolyse:
2 cups warm water about 110°F
1 cup high-gluten bread flour (King Arthur recommended)
1-1/2 cups semolina flour
Second Autolyse:
1/2 cup warm water about 110°F
1 package active dry yeast (1/4 ounce)
a pinch sugar, honey or agave syrup
1 cup high-gluten bread flour (King Arthur recommended)
Final Mix:
1 cup high-gluten bread flour (King Arthur recommended), plus about one cup more, divided and used as needed
1 Tbsp sea salt
extra-virgin olive oil for bowl to rise dough
semolina flour for dusting pans
For the Garlic Cheese Filling:
(for one large baguette - double recipe, if desired):

1 large garlic clove, peeled
1 large shallot, peeled
3 ounces imported Parmesan cheese, at room temperature
3 ounces mozzarella or Italian fontina cheese, chilled
1/4 cup parsley leaves, packed
1 large egg
For the Glaze:
1 large egg white whisked with 1 tablespoon water for glaze

Optional Special Equipment:
A stand mixer, such as a KitchenAid with a paddle attachment
Impeccably clean spray bottle filled with water
Dough knife
Food Processor
Pastry brush
Long, offset, icing spatula (typically used to lift and decorate cakes)
Instant read thermometer

1. Mixing the Dough: In a large bowl using a whisk or in the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, combine 2 cups warm water, 1 cup bread flour, and 1-1/2 cups semolina flour. Blend in mixer on medium speed until well blended, about 2 minutes. Let rest in mixer bowl for 30 minutes (this resting period is called autolyse). If you live in a dry climate, cover the bowl with a damp dish towel or saran wrap.

2. After 20 minutes, proof the yeast: In a small bowl or in a liquid measuring cup, pour in 1/2 cup of the warm water. Sprinkle the yeast and the pinch of sugar, honey or agave over the surface of the water. Stir to dissolve and let stand at room temperature until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add activated yeast to mixer bowl; fully incorporate on medium speed for about 1 minute. Add 1 cup flour and blend for 2 minutes on medium speed. Let rest for 30 minutes (this is the second and final autolyse).
3. In a bowl, mix together 1 cup flour and 1 tablespoon salt; add to mixer bowl. Beat 2-3 minutes to make a shaggy dough. Add flour until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, approximately 2 to 4 tablespoons. Dough should be sticky, but pull away from the sides.
4. Kneading: Liberally flour kneading surface with 3/4 cup flour. Push some of the flour to the side, to use as needed. With floured hands, turn dough out on the floured surface and knead for a few minutes, add in reserved flour, as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the surface and continuing to knead until the dough holds it shape, and is still tacky, about 5 minutes.
5. First and Second Rises: Place the dough in an oiled deep container and flip, so the surface of the dough is completely covered lightly in oil. Cover the bowl with lid or plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours. Do not rush. Gently deflate the dough and knead about 6 or 8 times to release the trapped gasses. Cover and let rise again until almost double in bulk, about 60 minutes. This second rise is optional, but it makes for a more developed flavor and slightly better texture.

6. For Garlic Cheese Bread, prepare the filling: In a food processor, using the metal blade, with the machine running, mince the garlic and shallot by dropping them through the feed tube. Leave in the work bowl. Remove the metal blade and insert shredding disc: shred the parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, using light pressure. Leave the cheese in the work bowl. Remove shredding disc and reinsert metal blade. Put the parsley in the work bowl and mince it by turning the machine on and off about 8 times. Add the egg and process the mixture for 5 seconds. Transfer mixture to covered container and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Double recipe if needed for more than one large filled loaf.

7. Shaping and Final Rise: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface to deflate. Grease or parchment-line the 2 baking sheets or baguette pans and dust with semolina flour. Without working the dough further, divide it into 2 or 4 even portions (I usually just divide in 2 and make 2 large loaves - one filled and the other plain. Flatten each into a thin rectangle with the palm of your hand or a rolling pin. If the dough resists, let sit for 5 minutes before continuing. Leave plain or spoon the cheese mixture over the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border on all sides. Pat the cheese mixture into the dough. Starting at the long end, roll each up, using your thumbs to help roll tightly, pinching the seam, as you roll. On both ends, tuck in the inner circles, and pinch the outside edge to tightly seal. You should not see the filling. The tight cylinder should be slightly shorter than your baking sheet or pan. Roll lightly, back and forth and gently transfer, seam side down, to the prepared pans. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until the dough is fully double in bulk, about 1 hour.
8. Baking Off and Cooling: Adjust oven rack to lowest position. Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425°F. Or, if using a baking stone or tiles, preheat the oven for one hour. Remove the saran wrap and let the loaves dry out a little bit while the oven is preheating.
   If using, make an egg wash by combine one egg white with a tablespoon of water and mix vigorously with a fork to combine. Set aside.
   A few minutes before transferring the loaves to the oven, with a serrated knife or dough knife dipped in water, slash each loaf across the top 3 or 4 times on the diagonal, no more than 1/4 inch deep. Continue to dip blade in water in between cuts, as needed to prevent sticking. Just before placing the loaves in the oven, mist the walls a few times with water from a clean spray pump bottle to add moisture to the dry heat. Or, throw a cupful of water on the floor of the oven - BE CAREFUL - the steam can easily burn your hand if you remove your hand slowly. Close the oven door quickly to trap the steam.
   Place the pans on the lowest rack of the oven. Set the timer for 20 minutes. Three times, at 5 minute intervals (after placing the loaves in the oven), open the oven door and spray the loaves quickly to create steam, taking care to protect your hand from burning (do not pull the rack out of the oven). Again, shut the oven door immediately to trap the steam.
   After 20 minutes (stuffed loaves 25 minutes), remove the pans from the oven, remove the bread from the pans, using a long off-set spatula, if necessary, to detach loaf from pan. At this point, you can brush the loaves with the egg wash for a shiny presentation. Return the loaves to the oven and place directly on the rack or tiles. Bake for approximately 10 minutes until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped with your finger, or an instant read thermometer inserted into the underside of the loaves registers 200°F. Remove the loaves to a cooling rack. Loaves are best slightly warm or at room temperature. Yield: 2 large loaves or 4 baguettes

"There are only two mantras, yum and yuck, mine is yum." ~ Tom Robbins

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Spices of Life and Chicken Tikka Masala

Adventures in Herbalism by Linda

   Like many American families during the 1950s through the 1980s, our family ate from daily menus that were devoid of ethnic foods from around the world except for some Italian and Mexican recipes. We girls grew up in a fairly rural area of the Central Coast of California, and even the dishes that we made from these sophisticated world cuisines (that we assumed at the time were authentic) were, we were to find out later, mostly bastardized versions of the originals, pandering to the uneducated and rather bland palates of Americans, who are to this day, largely fans of fatty, sweet and salty. The good news is, as we who are interested in food all know, that times have changed for the better. Hallelujah!
   I still remember the joy and wonder I felt on the day in 1977 when I opened the pages of my first copy Bon Appetit Magazine with a chocolate dipped strawberry on the cover. With the proliferation of information thanks to the internet, and the many recipes that have exploded onto the culinary scene, especially in the last 20 years, we sisters have had to opportunity to savor many cuisines from around the world, and also have a hand at trying to replicate many of those dishes in our own homes.
   I began studying herbs and herbal medicine 18 years ago, when I started working in a tiny natural foods store on Oak Street in Solvang, California called Valley Whole Life Natural Foods. Within this small space I began an entirely new journey in life. I not only reaffirmed in a brand new way that what we eat not only matters in terms of our personal health, but that organic farming and sustainable practices are the only way to save our planet from the destruction and degradation that is ongoing at this very moment all over the world.
   I learned that what we buy to eat, and who we buy it from can be a revolutionary act. It is an easy form of activism. We literally vote with our dollars every time we buy something. Our purchase of an item endorses nutritional content, growing methods, kinds of fat contained, additives, preservatives and artificial colorings, as well as the packaging that is used and how far the product traveled to get to the consumer.  

     As my knowledge started to grow about the supplements that we carried on our shelves at the store, I had the epiphany that most of the ones that were the most effective for me and our customers came from plants. It just makes sense doesn't it? If a humans or animals didn't need plants, we could all just eat dirt, right? Plants transform minerals in their bodies and create the pigments that are rich in phytonutrients, healthy fats, that living beings can assimilate in order to create vibrant health.
   What I further discovered is that the most ancient cuisines have always known and recognized this. It seems obvious to me why these cuisines have wonderful and protective herbs as the base for their delicious dishes. Our ancient ancestors it seems had knowledge that onions, garlic, ginger, parsley, cilantro, chiles, turmeric, rosemary, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, mint, fenugreek, coriander, cumin, lemongrass, galangal, and the list goes on and on, were not only the flavor components of so many delicious dishes, but that they are vital for health. Herbs not only give the mouth a tantalizing flavor profile, but they protect specific organ systems in addition to acting as vital antioxidants for the entire body. Many herbs have antiviral and antibacterial properties as well. Asian cuisines, especially Indian food is a great example of the use of these herbs.
   San Jose, California is truly a cultural melting pot. When I moved there in 2001 and started working for Whole Foods Market, I for the first time in my life, found myself exposed to an environment that was in a word, multicultural. The Bay Area abounds with people from everywhere on the planet in addition to eateries serving cuisines from all over the world. I was in daily contact with people from different cultures. In my own store, with its overwhelming abundance of spices and herbs from around the world, amazing fruits and vegetables, and natural products of every kind, I started to try cooking dishes that I was introduced to by new friends, and even men that I dated, being unattached romantically for the first time in a very long time. 
     One such relationship introduced me to the joys of cooking Indian food at home. I met a younger, exotic and very handsome man who introduced himself to me on the supplement aisle when I was working one day, and he asked me out. His family had come to the United States when he was just 13 from the Punjab region in Northern India. His family was a blend of Sikh and Hindu heritage, and his version of remaining true to his different dietary dictates that conflicted between the two religions on the subject of eating meat, was to be vegetarian on Tuesday and Thursdays, to appease his Hindu mother. Then he would allow himself to eat meat the rest of the week which was in keeping with his days growing up in the Punjab, where meat is a part of the traditional diet and was eaten by his father.
   During the two years that we spent time together off and on, we discovered that we loved to cook together. We spent many pleasant evenings listening to his favorite music from India and he tutored me in the art of making Paneer (cheese from cow's milk) for Palak Paneer, to cook a spicy cauliflower curry, and to grill up a tantalizing Tandoori chicken. He also taught me how to make my own chapati which are called roti where he was from. From him I learned the great trick of chewing on a cardamom pod after dinner to freshen the breath and help as a digestive.
   In the end it turned out that he had been less than truthful about his marital status, and was in fact still in an arranged marriage that he previously had assured me was long over, and we parted ways, leaving me much the wiser about other aspects of Indian culture.
   A couple of weeks ago, Michelle and I were craving Indian food, so we whipped up a feast of Chicken Tikka Masala, Palak Paneer (using paneer we made earlier in the day) and we made homemade roti. The house was filled with the heady aromas of garlic, onions and ginger cooking with garam malsala and other spices. We happily dined al fresco on a beautiful evening in Sonoma county under the ancient oak and very old Gravenstein apple tree that shade my deck. A carved statue of the elephant god Ganesha presided at the head of the table as we enjoyed the meal with a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc that was made from grapes grown just down the road.
   Michelle and I made a comic toast to the Punjabi bad-boy who had taught me how to make such wonderful and nourishing food. We bowed our heads like the generations who have gone before us, and gave thanks for the abundance of food shared with family. And in my heart, I gave silent thanks for the partaking of herbs that share their earth magic and blessings to all who seek and eat. I also gave a thankful wink and a nod to cultural diversity.

Chicken Tikka Masala

   Chicken Tikka Masala is a wonderful make ahead meal. Interestingly, it is the most ordered restaurant dish in Britain. Store in the refrigerator for up to three days and reheat gently before serving. It also freezes well, so we always double the recipe and freeze half. Grilling the chicken over a charcoal fire lends a pleasing smoky flavor to the finished dish. We like to serve the Chicken Tikka Masala with Palak Paneer and roti to soak up the delectable "gravy". The Masala would also be delicious served over basmati rice. This recipe is based upon Grace Parisi's, James Beard Award-Nominated author and Senior Test Kitchen Associate for Food & Wine magazine.

For the marinade:
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
1-1/2 tsps ground cumin
1-1/2 tsps ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground tumeric
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2-1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, lingering fat removed and discarded
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:
2 Tbsps plus 1 tsp of ghee or oil
1/4 cup blanched whole almonds
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1-1/2 Tbsps garam masala
1-1/2 tsps pure chile powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 28-ounce can Muir Glen® Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes
pinch sugar
1 cup heavy cream

1. To make the marinade: In a large glass or stainless steel bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cayenne and turmeric. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the marinade, turn to coat, and refrigerate overnight.
2. Prepare to grill over a charcoal fire: Instead of using lighter fluid, we prefer employing a charcoal chimney to light the coals. When the coals are ready, after about 20-30 minutes, remove the grate and dump the coals into a pile on the side of the grill. Replace grate. Place the marinated chicken in the middle of the grill, turning as needed, until cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Alternatively, cook the chicken on a gas grill, or in the oven under the broiler (about 8-inches from the heat), turning once or twice, until cooked through, about 12-15 minutes.

3. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and cut each thigh into large bite-size pieces.
4. In a small skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of ghee or oil. Add the almonds and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer the almonds to a plate and let cool completely. In a food processor, pulse the almonds until finely ground.
5. In a large enameled cast-iron pot, such as a La Creuset, heat 2 tablespoons of ghee or oil until melted and hot. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garam masala, chile powder and cayenne and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes and juices, pinch sugar and season with salt and pepper. Cover partially and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Add the cream and ground almonds and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes longer. Stir in the chicken; simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, and serve. Yields: 4 servings

Palak Paneer - Spinach with Indian Cheese

This recipe is essentially Creamed Spinach Indian-Style. It is a speciality of the Punjab state in Northern India. We like to serve this delicately seasoned side dish with Chicken Tikka Masala and Roti.

Palak Paneer - Spinach with Indian Cheese

   In this particular dish, it is much easier to use defrosted frozen spinach than fresh. For guests, we use heavy cream, but for everyday cooking, milk or half and half can be substituted. Various recipes use different spices, such as ground coriander and garam masala, in addition to minced garlic and a finishing squeeze of fresh lemon juice. The dish gives you room to experiment.

2 large tomatoes peeled, seeded and diced
1/3 to 1/2 pound paneer, cut into bite-size cubes
1/2 to 1 cup oil for frying
2 Tbsps ghee or oil

1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1/4 to 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
1 Tbsp grated ginger
2 10-ounce bags frozen spinach, defrosted and drained
2 Tbsps all-purpose flour mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water
1/3 to 1/2 cup heavy cream
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


1. To peel the tomatoes: Place a saucepan, 3/4 full of water, over high heat and bring to a boil. Cut a shallow X over the bottom of the tomatoes. Carefully transfer each tomato to the boiling water and let cook for 30 to 60 seconds until the peel starts to curl. Remove to bowl to cool, or run the tomatoes under cold water to quickly cool and to remove the peel. Core the tomatoes, dice and set aside.
2. To prepare the paneer: Heat oil in a high-sided pan to prevent oil spattering you or the stove. When hot, lightly fry the cubed cheese until lightly golden brown, about 2 minutes. Remove cheese from oil and let drain on a paper towel lined plate.
3. For the spinach: Heat the ghee in a pan or large skillet over medium heat until hot. Lightly fry the spices and ginger until fragrant - 1 to 2 minutes. To the pan and the spinach, stirring to incorporate.
4. Add flour and water mixture along with heavy cream. Season with sea salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate. Let it cook for about 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add diced tomatoes, leaving seeds behind, and cook for another few minutes. Add paneer. Cook for another few minutes and serve. Serves 8.

Paneer - Indian Cheese

by Linda

   You can buy ready-made paneer at a well-stocked grocery store, but it is easy and fun to make at home. The cheese is dense and crumbly. It’s typically cut into cubes and served fresh with a sprinkle of finishing salt, a few grinds of black pepper and a drizzle of plain or flavored olive oils.
   Alternatively, the cubes are fried in hot oil for a couple minutes until lightly golden and added to curries and vegetable dishes like Palak Paneer. The cheese is equally delicious tucked into a sandwich or wrap. Finally, the cheese is also used in various desserts. From appetizers to desserts, the uses for paneer are practically endless. The cheese will keep nicely in the refrigerator for about a week and also freezes well. Defrost completely before using.


   Most recipes call for whole milk, but the rumor is (according to some recipes) that 2% milk is a suitable substitute. The curds for the cheese are created by adding an acidic component once the milk begins to boil. The acid can be lemon juice or vinegar or another milk product such as yogurt or buttermilk.
   Traditionally paneer is made without salt, but we prefer to add sea salt for a subtle flavor boost. You can also add flavor and visual appeal by adding a mix of dried herbs to the milk such as mint, crushed coriander and cumin seeds.

1 gallon organic whole milk
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, or 1 quart buttermilk, or 4 cups fresh plain yogurt
1-1/2 tsps sea salt
cheese cloth or impeccably clean muslin cloth

1. Bring milk to a boil over medium to medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching. Stir constantly once the milk is hot. When the milk boils, stir in the fresh lemon juice (or buttermilk, or yogurt). Keeping the milk on the heat, stir continuously and gently to help the milk curdle. Once the mixture has coagulated, the curds will be floating in the whey. Remove from the heat. Let sit for about 10 minutes.

2. Line colander with muslin or two layers of cheesecloth and place in the sink. Pour curds and whey through colander. If you like, you can run some water through the curds. Let the whey drain. When cool enough to handle, bring up the sides of the cheesecloth, twist, tie and place bundle into smaller strainer to let drain for about 30 minutes (place weight on top to further increase drainage.)
3. Transfer the bundle to a rimmed plate. Place another plate on top of the cheese with weight to flatten the cheese for another 30 minutes. Remove top plate and weight. Refrigerate.
4. When ready to use, remove cloth and proceed with final preparation. Paneer is wonderful cut into bite-sized pieces, fried and added to curries and vegetable dishes or eaten plain.

Roti - Indian Flat Bread

By Linda

   Flat breads, such as roti, chapati and naan are typically eaten with every Northern Indian meal. Roti and chapati are usually made with whole-wheat flour and naan with white flour. Naan is also typically softer and more doughy. Naan is topped with various types of seeds (white or black sesame, poppy, nigella, pumpkin or sunflower), chopped garlic, a variety of herbs, or all in any combination. All that adorns roti and chapati is perhaps a light brushing of ghee.


   No special skills are needed to make this unleavened quick bread. This recipe is a combination of recipes from "Flatbreads and Flavors" by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, and "Indian Food Made Easy" by Anjum Anand. For extra assistance watch this instructional video by Manjula.

2 cups all-purpose flour or 2 cups whole wheat flour, sifted to remove flakes of bran, and more as needed
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup warm water, or more as needed
melted ghee, optional


1. In a medium size bowl, mix together flour and salt. Make a well in the center and add the warm water. With one hand, mix together until the mass gathers into a dough. You may need to add a little extra water or flour to make a kneadable dough. (Flour will absorb different amounts of water, depending on its age and the humidity in the air.) Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes. Cover with
plastic wrap and let stand for 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours.

2. Divide the dough into 10 pieces. Roll into balls and then slightly flatten. To roll out, lightly dip a ball into flour to coat both sides. Roll out, without flipping over. Lightly flour surface, and rolling pin, as necessary to keep the bread from sticking. Roll into a thin 6-inch round. The best way is to roll in one direction, turning the dough a quarter circle at a time to achieve a round shape. If you have enough counter space, roll out each dough in the same manner, without stacking the rolled-out breads. Cover with plastic wrap, or a damp kitchen towel.

3. Heat a non-stick pan or a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the griddle is hot, toss a roti from one hand to the other to remove any excess flour, and place it in the pan. Turn the heat down to medium. Cook until it begins to change color, and there is a few patches of golden circles developing on the bottom - about 30 seconds. Turn the roti over, cook again for another 20-30 seconds until bubbles start to form on the surface, begin pressing along the edges lightly with a spatula. The bread should start to balloon. Gently, keep working the spatula around the circumference, so the roti continues to balloon across its entire surface.
4. Alternatively, you can puff the roti by removing the slightly browned bread and placing it directly over an open flame of a gas burner using tongs. It should puff immediately. Let it sit on the flame another few seconds until dark spots appear, and then flip so the opposite side can cook as well.
5. Remove the finished roti from the skillet or gas burner to a towel lined basket or plate. If you like, brush with melted ghee. Stack and cover the roti with the edges of the towel to keep them warm and soft. Cook the remaining breads, in the same manner, stacking the breads as they finish cooking and brushing with ghee. Roti can be reheated, wrapped in foil, in a medium oven for 5-10 minutes. Yield: 10 thin round breads

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Michelle's Basil Pesto

by Michelle

   I planned to name this post Eat, Pray, Love Pesto. In the end, I decided against jumping on the marketing orgy surrounding the highly anticipated movie's release (... or did I?). I will be at the movies later today superimposing my own desire for adventures in Italy, India and Bali, over those of Elizabeth Gilbert's recorded experiences in her popular book. And, yes, engaging in a passionate love affair with Javier Bardem is part of my fantastical daydream thanks to the excellent taste of the film's casting director. 
   Way back when, I visited Italy during my 19th year. I bought expensive leather pants in Firenza, sipped a Bellini at Harry's Bar in Venezia and ate stracciatella gelato on the famed Spanish Steps in Roma after throwing three coins into the Trevi fountain. After reading, Ms. Gilbert's much loved book, I fervently wished I had visited Napoli to gorge on amazing pizza. Thankfully, we make pretty tasty pizza at home, so I can tide myself over until my three wishes are granted to return to the country that oozes exquisite taste in all things edible (and non-edible).  
   I suppose that is one of the reasons I love cooking at home. I can get a glimpse of other cultures from my own kitchen, experimenting with flavors from around the globe until I can set foot in the streets of Mumbai or peddle a rented bike around Bali.

After I returned from my three month tour of Europe, I joined a hi-tech rep firm based in Scottsdale, Arizona. One of the partners, who definitely enjoyed the finer things in life, asked me, shortly after I joined the company, what I knew about wine and seafood. Not much, I said. To which he replied, that will change. And so it did. The firm entertained out of town visitors often and I found myself dining in the very best restaurants, trying new foods and learning about wine under Harry's tutelage.
   The very first time I tried pesto, naturally I was with Harry, in a restaurant very similar to that in the movie "Big Night". In other words, very traditional, with a waiter that was actually Italian speaking with a heavy, charming accent. The first bite was heaven, but by the last few bites, my impression was that the dish was heavy. The flavors got a little bogged down because of the liberal use of olive oil.
   Over the years, I experimented with ratios until I found a combination of garlic, oil and lemon that worked for my palette. Pesto is now a mostly guilt free pleasure that is easy to make and store. Elegant enough for company and simple enough for weekday dinners. My daughter loves it and she refused to eat anything green for years. Pesto was the gateway herb to the magical land of greens.
   I often whip up a batch on a Sunday afternoon, storing it in the refrigerator, in preparation for an easy pasta dinner at the end of a hectic work day. The pasta works well on its own or as a foil for fish, shellfish, or chicken. Sometimes I include additional vegetables, like carrots and green peas. Other times not, but I find myself consistently garnishing a bowl of pesto pasta with sliced marinated tomatoes. I like the fresh element. However you choose to serve it, I think you'll enjoy it too.

Michelle's Lighter Basil Pesto

   This pesto is lighter than its traditional counterpart and is superb tossed with a pound of linguini, sautéed vegetables and poached shrimp. Garnish with halved cherry or pear tomatoes marinated in balsamic vinegar, sea salt, cracked black pepper and a small spill of extra-virgen olive oil. Instead of adding pinenuts to the pesto with the rest of the ingredients, I prefer to sprinkle the finished dish with lightly toasted pinenuts or walnuts for an added crunch.
   Use the pesto as a flavor booster for spreading on sandwiches, dressing a pizza crust, swirling into soups, or embellishing a simple marinara.

4 ounces fresh basil leaves (about 3 cups, packed)
6-9 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper freshly ground
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (about 1 medium lemon)

1. Using the steel blade in a food processor, mince garlic by dropping each clove through the feedtube while the machine is running. Scrape down sides of bowl and add freshly washed, dried and destemmed basil leaves. Process until minced. Scrape down sides of bowl again. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth.
2. Transfer to jar with lid and cover until ready to use, or refrigerate for up to a week, applying plastic wrap or a thin film of olive oil directly on the surface. If you plan on freezing the pesto, mix-in the grated cheese after the sauce is defrosted. Yield: About 1 cup

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