Sesame Sunflower Wafers


Sesame Sunflower Wafers

Sesame and crunch animate these sensational little snacking wafers. Packed with whole grains and nuts and low on oil, they’re also downright healthy. Which is just another way of saying, “pairs well with a nice, rich cheese.”

I’m not going to lie, it’s more work to bake your own crackers than it is to buy them at the store. Make them just once at home, though, and you’re likely to find the time from now on. After you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to go from zero to cracker in about 90 minutes.

Consider this recipe yet another template onto which you can project your personal tastes. Try different seeds like poppy or caraway. Substitute the whole wheat flour with rye. And imagine the things you can do with spices or some garlic powder.

This recipe yield about 150 2-inch wafers.

Sesame Sunflower Wafers
140g all-purpose flour
140g whole wheat flour
7g baking powder
8g salt
45g raw sunflower seeds
40g toasted sesame seeds
18g sunflower oil
185g water

Weigh flours, salt, and baking powder into the work bowl of a food processor. Weigh seeds into a small bowl and set aside. Weigh water and oil into a third bowl, preferably with a spout, and set aside.

Pulse flour three or four times to mix in the salt and baking powder. Add seeds and pulse briefly three or four times to just break the sunflower seeds up a bit. Add the water and oil all at once and process until dough forms a ball.

Carefully scrape the dough out of the work bowl onto a very lightly floured board. Knead three or four times until smooth and then wrap in plastic. Chill dough in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400º and place racks in the upper and lower third.

Divide dough into six pieces. Working with one at a time and keeping the others covered, roll dough out to 1/16th-inch and cut with a 2-inch biscuit cutter. Use additional flour for rolling only if absolutely necessary as it will both degrade the texture and flavor and make re-rolling the scrap difficult.

Space 1-inch apart on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake for eight minutes, then swap cookie sheets top to bottom, turning them 180º as you do so. Bake for another eight minutes or until crisp with golden edges.

Since there will be more crackers than can be accommodated by two sheets, I stage the second batch onto parchment sheets and slide them onto the pans. It’s okay that the pans are hot for the second batch.

Cool completely on wire racks before storing in an airtight container.

Kitchen Library: Ratio


Ratio (August 29, 2016)

Michael Ruhlman had me at pie crust.

Like a hungry tiger, it senses your fear. The more you fear it, the quicker it takes you down and rends your dreams of delicious pie limb from limb, crunching the bones while you weep into your kitchen towel. At one particularly low moment in my pie making history, I may actually have shed a tear in the kitchen over a crust myself.

But Michael Ruhlman promised, in his book Ratio, to set me free of recipes. He explained it all very neatly one Saturday morning in 2009 on KCRW’s Good Food. French chefs for generations have carried in their pockets cheat sheets, he said. These cheat sheets hold the secrets of all of the finer creations of the French kitchen from béchamel to vinaigrette. These weren’t recipes, Ruhlman insisted. They were, instead, just proportions of ingredients. I bought a copy of Ratio that very day.

A brief pause to say that I did really well at chemistry in school, particularly stoichiometry. Which is of course why I went to art school to study photography so that I could later become a web programmer. But that’s another story. The point is that I was a hungry nerd in need of reliable pie crust. So , naturally, it wasn’t until last summer that I took the leap of faith.

I’ve been cooking and baking since before Reagan forgot about those pesky arms deals. There’s plenty I can whip up without a recipe, and there are other things for which one seems essential. Like pie crust. But recipes were getting me nowhere, and I was desperate for homemade peach streusel pie like Mom used to make. So it wasn’t until the peak of the summer last year that I let go of the recipe and embraced Ratio.

If you’ve not already done the math in your head, that’s correct, the book sat on my shelf for six years before I actually tried one of the non-recipes. To say that my life was forever altered that day, for both the better and portlier, is no lie. Within days, I was trying the other ratios out to see if they actually worked. (It does!) Not much longer after that that I made my own cheat sheets which eventually become the Grimoire.

Love this book though I do, it’s not for the inexperienced. If you’ve never made bread or a sponge cake before, this is not the book to get you started. Other authors do a better job at describing the techniques for beginners. For the experienced cook with a creative streak, though, this book is a godsend. You will be freed from recipes and discover a new sense of confidence to experiment.

Just be sure to order a pair of Sans-a-Belt pants with your copy of Ratio. All of the delicious exploration of non-recipes is murder on the waistline!

Lemon Scallion Garbanzos


Lemon Scallion Chickpeas (August 3, 2016)

Bright lemon juice, pops of pungent scallion, the bitter fruitiness of olive oil, and a heavy hand of Romano cheese raise garbanzos up where they belong. Irresistible when they’re first made, like all things, they improve with time and are best prepared a day ahead.

Marinated beans like these are traditionally enjoyed at room temperature. Have I mentioned how they’re perfect for summer picnics and BBQs? You’ll be a total hero to the gluten free vegetarians right off the bat and some sort of food Jesus to vegans if you substitute a tablespoonful of tahini for the cheese.

Now don’t go ruining this edible marvel with canned garbanzos. They’re easy enough to cook from dry, all the more so with a pressure cooker. The difference in texture and flavor is remarkable and completely worth the effort.

Recipe yields enough for three as a main course.

Lemon Scallion Garbanzos
2 cups dried garbanzos
juice of a medium lemon
five scallions, sliced thinly
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, preferably Greek or Californian
1 tsp Greek oregano, crushed finely
a handful of finely grated Romano cheese
salt to taste

If using a pressure cooker, follow your manufacturer’s instructions. Otherwise, soak dried garbanzos overnight in a quart of water in the refrigerator. Simmer for about two hours until tender. In both cases, be sure to salt the cooking water with one teaspoon of salt per quart of water.

Combine lemon juice, scallions, olive oil, and oregano in a bowl and set aside while the beans cook. When the beans are done, drain them and toss with marinade. Add cheese and add salt as needed.

Greek Salad


Greek Salad (August 1, 2016)

An authentic Greek Salad is a revel in summer flavors. Sweet, tart tomatoes, floral cucumbers, and piquant peppers countered by creamy feta and succulent olives. Lacking the adornment of dressing, it relies completely upon your ability to select the freshest and most flavorful ingredients. If you’re not already familiar with your local farmers market, consider this an opportunity to change that.

Speaking of markets, if you live near any significant population of Greeks, seek out their supermarket and get your feta and olives there. Supermarket specimens of each will do, but they lack a certain something. Here in Los Angeles, I stock my Greek pantry at Papa Cristo’s.

In lieu of dressing, have your favorite unfiltered olive oil and red wine vinegar at hand as well as a bit of salt. But use them only on what’s on your plate, and sparingly at that. The idea is to enjoy each bite as an individual celebration of the vegetable. It’s all very Spartan, I’m sure.

This recipe serves four as part of a larger spread, two if just accompanied by bread and wine.

Greek Salad
1 large, ripe tomato
3 Persian cucumbers
1 ripe bell pepper of any color
2 scallions
3 – 5 thick slices of sheep’s milk feta
8 – 12 brine cured Kalamata olives
1/2 tsp Greek oregano

Cut tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers into bite-sized chunks. Trim white parts off of scallions and cut lengthwise into quarters. Thinly slice the green part of the scallion into rings. Lay the majority of the cucumbers at the bottom of a wide bowl and scatter over the scallion greens. Cover with tomatoes, then peppers. Scatter remaining cucumbers around the outer edge and lay on the quartered scallion whites. Scatter olives at the center of the salad and then lay on the planks of feta. Sprinkle over the oregano and eat!

This salad can be made up to three hours ahead and held in the refrigerator, covered in plastic wrap. Wait to add the cheese, olives, and oregano until just before serving.

Chocolate Chiffon Pie


Chocolate Chiffon Pie (August 6, 2016)

My chocolate chiffon pie is the condition to which all chocolate pies aspire. Chocolate velvet upon buttery brown snap crowned by a firmament of vanilla clouds. One could do worse than to be reincarnated as this pie.

Its inspiration is the French Silk Pie as conceived by the iconic Baker’s Square chain of restaurants. More than a few years of my childhood, it replaced birthday cake at my party. Which isn’t to say this is a taste-alike. The original is toe-curlingly sweet whereas mine is practically restrained in the sugar department.

Don’t spare the expense of best quality cream, chocolate, and butter here. These affordable luxuries make a huge difference in the final product. And you certainly deserve it.

This recipe makes a 9-inch pie, enough for eight generous portions.

Chocolate Chiffon Pie
1 recipe All-Butter Pie Crust
70g white sugar
2g salt
430g whole milk
5 egg yolks
22g cornstarch
12g vanilla extract
115g semisweet chocolate chips
200g heavy cream
20g vanilla sugar*
400g heavy cream

Blind-bake and completely cool pie crust in a 9-inch pan.

Weigh white sugar, salt, and milk into a saucepan. Whisk egg yolks in a separate bowl until lightened. Add cornstarch and whisk until smooth.

Heat milk mixture over medium until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat and, while whisking eggs constantly, ladle in about half a cup of the hot milk. Whisking the milk as you do so, add the eggs back into the saucepan and return to medium heat.

Continue whisking constantly with special attention paid to the bottom and edges of the pan to prevent scorching. Cook for a full minute, whisking all along, after the mixture returns to a boil. It should read at least 180º on a thermometer. It will be frighteningly thick. Don’t worry, you did it right.

Immediately pour the pudding into a clean bowl and all the chocolate chips and vanilla. Whisk until the chips are completely melted and smooth. Cover the pudding with plastic wrap pressed right onto its surface and then place the bowl into an ice bath. Park it all in the fridge. Stir every ten minutes and chill to 60º.

Whip 200g of heavy cream to stiff peaks. Stir a third of the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate pudding until completely combined. Gently fold in the remaining whipped cream. Pour the finished chiffon into the blind-baked pie shell, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least six hours.

Add the vanilla sugar to the 400g of heavy cream and beat to firm peaks. You can spoon and smooth it upon the chilled pie or pipe it on with a #22 star tip. Whatever’s clever. Keeps in the fridge for three days but is at its best the day it’s made.

* To make vanilla sugar, split a vanilla pod and scrape out the beans into 600-ish grams of white sugar. Blitz in the food processor for one minute then pour into a sealable container with the spent vanilla pod. Or buy it on Amazon with overnight shipping. Patience is cheaper, though.

Cretan Potato Omelette


Potato Omelette (August 1, 2016)

Straight from Crete, this omelette is a mythic meld of crisp, caramelized potatoes and fluffy eggs with a fruity whiff of olive oil. You’ll having ‘em lining up a the gates of Olympus any time you make one.

The potatoes are fried using Joel Robuchon’s fantastical method. It works for full-sized batches of potatoes as well, but you need to stick with wax, not Russet, varieties.

I adore eggs like this at dinner with a nice salad (it’s something to do while you wait for the potatoes to cook!) and a spot of Côtes de Provence. It also has a great friend in Huy Fong sriracha sauce, though I’m sure my Hellenic ancestors roll in their graves when I write it.

Recipe yields lunch or dinner for two, breakfast for three.

Cretan Potato Omelette
1 medium red or white potato, scrubbed clean
sunflower oil for frying
5 eggs
2 tbsp half & half
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp salt

This recipe requires an 8-inch cast iron pan, and there’s no getting around it. While there are many fine manufacturers out there, you won’t find any superior to Finex. A stainless steel skillet of the same size might do in a pinch, but you’ll need to fry the potatoes in something deeper.

Preheat oven to 350º.

Cut potato into 1/2-inch sticks and put into cold pan. Pour in just enough sunflower oil to cover* and place over medium-high heat. When potatoes begin to brown, about fifteen minutes after the oil starts to boil, gently stir with a wooden spoon or tongs, turning them over carefully. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown. Remove immediately to a heat-proof plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt and set aside.

Beat together remaining ingredients until fully combined.

Oh, so carefully, pour out the oil into a heat-proof bowl and wipe the pan clean with a paper towel. Spread the potatoes over the bottom of the pan and then pour over the eggs. Bake for 20 minutes on middle rack or until the center is just set (175º).

Potato Omelette (August 1, 2016)Immediately run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan and turn the omelette out onto a warm plate. I prefer to serve it like this, but if the bottom tears or you simply like it otherwise, just re-invert on another plate.

* If this is more than half the height of your pan, use a deeper one to fry the potatoes to prevent dangerous boil overs.

Green Bean Salad with Crunchy Garlic Dressing


Green Beans with Crunchy Garlic Dressing (July 27, 2016)

After Kewpie mayonnaise and the films of Studio Ghibli, my favorite thing to come out of Japan is S&B Crunchy Garlic Topping. It’s a blend of crisp-fried garlic and mild chilis in sesame oil meant as a condiment for ramen. Much like Old Bay Seasoning, there’s nothing it can’t improve

Here I use S&B Crunchy Garlic Topping to give classic French green bean salad a Japanese kick. Like the original, the keys to success are to cook the beans until tender, dress them while still warm, and enjoy at room temperature.

If you have the time, these are even better made a day ahead. Pop into the refrigerator as soon as they’re done but give them about thirty minutes on the counter before serving.

This recipe yields enough for four.

Green Bean Salad with Crunchy Garlic Dressing
1 lb green beans, trimmed
2 tbsp tahini
1 ts molasses
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 heaping tsp S&B Crunchy Garlic Topping*
1 tbsp sake
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp peanut oil
toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Bring at least two quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat with a heaping teaspoon of salt. Add the trimmed green beans and cover until water returns to the boil. Once boiling, cook the beans until tender but not soft. This will take as little as a minute for small beans and up to seven minutes for larger ones, so check often. Drain and rinse for a minute under cold water. Allow to stand in a colander while you prepare the dressing.

S&B Crunchy Garlic Topping (July 27, 2016)In a bowl large enough to toss the beans, add all of the remaining ingredients except for the sesame seeds. Whisk until smooth, then add the drained beans. Toss gently to coat all of the beans completely.

Cover with plastic wrap and allow to stand on the counter for thirty minutes, tossing every ten minutes or so, before serving. Garnish with sesame seeds.

* Easily located at any Japanese grocery or on the interwebs. Yes, the brand matters. Yes, it’s full of MSG. No, MSG will not kill you.