Sunday, August 21, 2011

Miscellanea: Sicilian Caramelized Onions and Homemade Pita Chips

Last month, my family came to visit. My father, who has recently been getting back in touch with his Sicilian roots, is a wonderful cook and I'll admit that I've always been a little daunted cooking for people who cook really well. At any rate, we decided to have a barbeque, invited a few close friends, and I cooked...for three days. This was certainly the most cooking in which I have ever engaged for a single event. Because the attendees to our barbeque ran the gamut of dietary concerns and preferences, I wanted variety. And variety there was. The menu (aside from the meat, which we left to my dad to grill):

  • homemade roasted peppers
  • Sicilian caramelized onions
  • homemade pita chips
  • tabbouleh
  • Amish slaw
  • Chorizo salad
  • watermelon and fresh mint salad
To keep this blog post short and sweet, I'll only blog two recipes (the ones that are hyperlinked have been blogged before).

First, the pita chips. My dad wanted to help me in the kitchen (something toward which I am usually averse), but for the sake of father-daughter bonding, I set him up with a bunch of pita bread, a knife, a small bowl of olive oil, and brush. Then I basically followed this recipe. I used whole wheat and regular pitas, and made a batch without parmesan for a dairy-free guest.

The onions are from a cookbook that appears to be out-of-print, or at least no longer available from Amazon (only used). Dad loved them.

Sicilian Caramelized Onions (from Simply Pasta and Italian (Parragon, 2003)--p. 42)
(Serves 4--you'll want to double the recipe if making it for a barbeque)

12oz baby or pickling onions (I used "Pearl" onions)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 fresh bay leaves, torn into strips
thinly pared peel of 1 lemon, cut into short, thin, sticks
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp honey
4 tbsp red wine vinegar

Soak the onions in a bowl of boiling water--this makes them easier to peel. Using a sharp knife, peel and halve the onions.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the bay leaves and onions to the skillet and cook for 5-6 minutes over med-high heat, or until they are well-browned all over.

Add the lemon peel to the skillet with the sugar and honey. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly caramelized.

Add the red wine vinegar to the skillet (be careful---watch for spitting!). Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring, or until the onions are tender and the liquid has almost disappeared.

Transfer the onions and serve at once.*

*I served mine chilled...and they are great. This also means you can make them ahead. :)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Pie for Mikey

This came in over Facebook from Simply Recipes.

It is a beautiful tribute video for Mikey, the husband of Jennifer Perillo

What I love about the video, in addition to the beautiful and touching thoughts from the online food community, is the beauty of the process. For me, there is much comfort to be found in the making of that takes time, commitment, and concentration. This video captures it beautifully.

Grief is also a process, as the saying goes. But it isn't just rhetoric. I just hope Jennifer feels the warmth of community as she cooks in grief's kitchen. And someday, the sun will re-enter the window as she makes Mikey's favorite pie, and she'll know he's smiling as she takes it out of the oven.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Experiments in Granola

Reb's Granola
It is rare when I find something to be outrageously expensive (like a small box of granola for $9) that I decide to go ahead and make my own. I usually just go without. The other morning, however, I was determined to make my own granola because I had a recipe from one of my favorite books (The Craft of Baking), and a whole cabinet full of various nuts and dried fruits which I needed to empty.

Is it hard? No. Is it time consuming? Yes. This explains only a SMALL fraction of the markup, I assure you.

I doctored the recipe a bit, so we can say it is largely based on the original with a few modifications. Anything I modified or added is in italics.

Reb's Granola (based on Karen DeMasco's "Toasted Nut & Honey Granola")

  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 2 1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil*
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinammon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Spread coconut on a baking sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, 5-7 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to a bowl.

In a second bowl, combine oats, hazelnuts, and almonds. Spread mixture on baking sheet (use the same one as for the coconut) and bake for 12-15 minutes. Stir every five minutes.

While toasting oat mixture, in a large bowl, whisk together the oil, honey, brown sugar, vanilla extract, cinammon, and salt.*

Remove oat mixture from oven, and immediately add it to the oil mixture, folding it in with a spatula to combine well. Make sure all the dry ingredients are dampened. Spread this mixture on the baking sheet in an even layer and return it to the oven to bake for 20 mins. At five minute intervals, stir the granola to make sure the granola on the edges spends some time in the middle of the pan. You may need to bake it for longer if your granola is still wet.

Remove from oven and let it cool to room temperature on a rack.

Toss cooled granola with cranberries and toasted coconut, and transfer to an airtight container.

*With the first batch I made, I misread the instructions and only used 2 tablespoons of grapeseed oil (forgetting the 1/3 cup). This explains why my wet mixture wasn't viscous and instead was glumpy:

This turned out not to be an issue, however. The heat from the freshly toasted granola melted the mixture and it spread fairly evenly throughout the granola when I mixed it. My second batch (see "Variations on a Theme" below), I used the prescribed amount of oil and all the ingredients mixed smoothly. This time, however, it took longer for the granola to "dry" in the oven and I suspect I could use less oil (more than 2 tablespoons, but less than 1/3 cup AND 2 tablespoons).

Variations on a Theme:
Second batch made with pecans and macadamias, subbed maple syrup for honey, and no cinnamon.

It is completely worth the effort (roughly 40-45 minutes of baking and stirring). This may turn into a weekly endeavor.