Archive for ‘Snacks’

April 21, 2008

Salsa Season

It’s finally springtime here in Boston! I no longer fear that we will get another bout of snow, though I know that it’s possible even into May. After a week of sun I officially broke out the capri pants, and I’ve been outside numerous times without a coat. We even have spring flowers blooming, which made me (even though I was running late) stop and photograph them last week.

Along with spring comes my desire to cook lots of fresh, light foods. I love vegetables, and hate winter months here when my options are down to leafy greens and tubers. However, last fall in my culinary class, Leo Romero (chef owner of Casa Romero in Boston) taught us the basic techniques in making homemade salsa. I discovered that salsa is a year-round dish, that can be equally enjoyed fresh when there is three feet of snow outside your window or when it’s 90 degrees outside with 80% humidity. In addition, the ingredients can easily change with the seasons, so you won’t get sick of it.

January 17, 2008

The Graham Cracker, an American Classic

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When I began studying at Smith, my friends and I discovered an excellent breakfast place called Sylvester’s. We learned from their menu that the restaurant is named after Sylvester Graham, Presbyterian minister and inventor of the Graham cracker. Aside from encouraging people to sleep with the windows open, take cold showers, and control their lust, he influenced the food world in a major way.

April 2, 2007

Cheese Crackers

The other day I was feeling munchy, and my kitchen was empty. I had no bread. I had no sauces or leftovers in the fridge. I had just tried to throw together a soba noodle salad for dinner (and unfortunately put too much soy-mirin dressing on it), and I was still hungry. The good thing was, that I knew exactly what I wanted: Ritz crackers. The bad thing was that I didn’t have any (they’re much too expensive to have for casual snacking options), and the stores were already closed (preventing an impulse “non-casual” snack experience, if such exists).

What to do?

Bake them of course! Online I went, searching for recipes. My friend Melissa sent me a couple links, and based off of those and some that I found, I threw together a recipe to try. I decided to abandon the Ritz idea – I knew it would be a while until I would be able to perfect a recipe that tastes and looks like Ritz crackers. Nevertheless, I did have some shredded cheese in the fridge, which was precisely enough to make half the amount of the recipe I had “created.”

They turned out perfect: cheesy, chewy and yet crunchy, and very filling. The filling property I assume came from the massive amounts of butter (I eyeballed it, and probably put in more than the recipe called for) as well as the cheese. You could probably put in any kind of cheese – the recipe calls for extra sharp Cheddar, though I used Emmenthaler. Any kind of strong hard cheese you can find (I’m thinking a Pecorino or an aged Provolone would be good too) will make for a fantastic cracker. I left out the cayenne pepper because I had none, but I’m sure that would add a tasty complexity. Brainstorming for what these would be really good with I’ve come up with an appetizer idea to spread them with a little bit of olive pate, as well as accompanying a tasty gourmet salad. Or, simply snack on them (three or four will be enough to satisfy you!) while you correct your student’s essays analysing pop music as a way to address and discuss racism.

Cheese Crackers

1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups flour, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups cheese
1 dash cayenne pepper (to taste)
Sea Salt for topping (optional)

1. Stir together flour, salt, baking powder, and cayenne pepper.
2. Cut butter into dry ingredients, add cheese, and mix with your hands just until it forms a dough (if you have some small bits of butter not fully mixed in, that’s fine).
3. For best results, let it sit half an hour in the fridge. If you’re impatient, like me, roll it out to about 1/4 inch thickness (ca. 1/2-1 cm) right away and cut out rounds/shapes with a glass or cookie cutter. Place on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake at 400F (200C) for about ten minutes*. Let cool on cookie sheet until you can safely remove them to cool all the way on a rack.

Yield: about forty crackers.

* This is very arbitrary, since my mini oven is for sure not the same as yours. Check temperature and cookies frequently to prevent burning! I took mine out when they were still quite pale, but you could let them brown if you prefer.

March 19, 2007

I’m feeling a bit nutty…

Here is another edition of my series “A Glimpse into Other Blogs.” This one is David Lebovitz’s blog. David lives and works in Paris, after having spent many years working, among other employers, for Alice Waters’ restaurant Chez Panisse. His humorous and informative blog on living and baking (as well as cooking) in Paris is a wonderful read. During the holidays he posted a recipe on mixed nuts, that I have adopted and love. It is the quintessential snack of bars and cocktail parties in many cultures, including both the US and Germany. Although there are differences (Germans tend to shy away from sweet and salty and stick to their favorites like “Erdnuss Flips,” which are deliciously unhealthy peanut-butter-flavored puffs) these nuts seem to appease both taste buds, perhaps due to the spices involved.

Of course, I have to admit that I liberally changed and added ingredients to fit the contents of my kitchen “pantry” (i.e. the nuts in my bread box, the sweet syrups in my cupboard, and the spices in my spice rack). In my version of the recipe I replaced maple syrup with a mix of sugar beet syrup and honey. Instead of cinnamon (and the second time I made it along with cinnamon) I added cumin, which added a very interesting spice to it. I experimented with all kinds of nuts, including pecan, walnut, peanut, almond, and cashew, and both times they were received very well: the first time I made it I ate the whole bowl myself, the second time I made a lot more and my friends gobbled them up at the birthday party I took them to.

My version becomes quite sticky – I believe David uses less syrup than I do – but no one complained about that as they ate the delicious snack. It’s a very simple recipe to make with rewarding results. Just try it for yourself at your next dinner party and see how much your friends will ooh and ah (that is, if any of it survives your munchies!).

February 15, 2007

Let’s have a date!

Last year during spring break, I visited my sister and her husband. My brother-in-law introduced me to the wonders of dates that week. I’d always associated them with figs, a fruit I have a not-always-loving relationshp with, and so I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered the wonderful sweetness of dates. This creamy, naturally sugary fruit that tastes like a confection a professional baker would take years to perfect was in fact developed over thousands of years by mother nature herself. It was also the inspiration for a song the three of us recorded later that year, which will simply be called the “Date Song” and is full of awful puns, and equally painful intonation.

There are different varieties of dates, and I have to honestly say I don’t know which ones I’ve had and which are better than others. However, these organic Jordanian medjool dates (which is also the variety grown in California) I found on sale in my local Edeka grocery store a few days before I left for the States. I was on the anti-jet-lag diet – which includes days of “feasting” and “fasting” and trust me: this one doesn’t diet, much less fast, so shopping in the evening of my fasting day in preparation of my feasting day took a lot of self control – and I could not give up these jewels. There were only six in the box, but they were deceptively inexpensive to be as good as they ended up (and organic on top of that). Fasting did not mean I couldn’t eat, it just meant I had to eat much less. So I ended up on what Germans call the “FDH Diet”: “Friss die Hälfte” (transl. “Eat only half,” though it is somewhat a joke because the verb “fressen” refers to how animals eat, not humans).

In any case, by the time I got home these huge, juicy dates were calling to me as I put away my groceries. I knew I had polenta with bacon and eggs to look forward to in the morning (stay tuned), but I couldn’t resist these sweet temptations any longer. I took out one of the dates from their box, cut off a piece of baking chocolate, and replaced the date pit with a slice of nature’s other fantastic dessert*. The bitterness of the chocolate is completely masked by the sweetness of the date, and makes for the perfect natural energy bar (in fact, that’s where my brother-in-law got the idea). Perfect for a long night of lesson planning and packing!

And, if you’re curious, my jet lag was almost non-existant. Does thie mean the diet worked? Who knows, it could have been influenced by many different factors. I do know that I won’t be feasting and fasting before I go back. I’d rather enjoy my last few days here as much as possible.

*The candied espresso-bean-sized objects in the middle of the picture are actually caramelized cocoa beans. The idea is similar to espresso beans, though I have to say I like espresso beans more. In my opinion they don’t hold up to baking chocolate in dates, though if you want something crunchy to go with the soft fruit I recommend them.