Posts Tagged ‘bread’

Perfect use for fresh cheese: Saag Paneer

Saag paneer and freshly baked naan

Saag paneer and freshly baked naan

During our cheese class last weekend, we learned that the queso blanco we made is essentially the same recipe as Indian paneer, the main difference being we used lemon juice instead of vinegar to curdle the milk. Evan and I both love Indian food, so I was really excited to try out this new cheese recipe in a dish I’d never thought I could make at home: saag paneer.

I went to see if my new World Vegetarian cookbook by Madhur Jaffrey had a saag paneer recipe – and as expected, it did. It also had a tamatir paneer recipe – basically a quick tomato and onion curry. I also tried this one since I had an abundance of tomatoes left over after pizza night and it turned out incredibly well — flavorful, beautifully rich in color, and a great highlight for the fresh cheese. I didn’t take any pictures, unfortunately, and Evan was working late so he didn’t even get to have any.

After successfully making the tamatir paneer, I knew the saag paneer wouldn’t be far behind. So I made sure to order spinach in my veggie box this week. The day after it arrived I got to work.

I made a fresh batch of paneer (there’s a recipe in the World Vegetarian book, but I used the very similar queso blanco recipe from my class), and got to work cooking down more than a pound of greens – I didn’t have enough spinach so I also used kale and beet greens since I had them on hand (about 6oz of each of the greens – I imagine you can sub in other greens just as easily as needed).

Once the greens were soft and mashed up to a texture that seemed about right, I added in just a tiny bit of cornmeal (possibly to absorb some of the water?). I cooked up some chopped tomatoes, onion and ginger, added them to the spinach and added some spices (cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, salt). I cooked it all just a few minutes longer and then added the paneer. Five more minutes of gentle cooking, and we were ready to eat.

I also made some fresh naan from a Peter Reinhart recipe. Thankfully I had made a batch a few weeks ago and saved 4 portions in the freezer, so I just had to thaw them out, shape them and cook them quickly in the oven. Sidenote: I love that dough freezes well.

All in all, the dinner took just a little over an hour to make, including making the cheese, and it probably could have even gone a little faster had I been more prepared. We’ll definitely be making this one again.

Rustic Bread Revelations With ‘Crust and Crumb’

Sweet Rustic Bread

Sweet Rustic Bread from the 'Crust and Crumb' recipe

For my birthday, my sister Suzie bought me Crust and Crumb by Peter Reinhart, and I was excited to get started on the delicious sounding recipes. However, the book takes bread making very seriously and has some required reading before starting baking. So I got going on my homework, diligently reading the introduction and first two chapters on ingredients, tools, baking methods and preparation.

I learned about how to check for proper gluten development when kneading, how to determine the right time to put the bread in the oven, how to generate the right amount of steam in a home oven for proper crust development and how to form different types of loaves.

Then I started looking at the recipes to determine where I should start. Since most of the recipes require preferments and multi-day rising and rest times, this involved a bit more planning than I usually put into bread. I decided to start with two types of preferments — a biga and a poolish, and then see what I could do with those.

With the biga, after an overnight refrigeration, I made a simple rustic bread. This bread rose like no other I’d ever seen — an hour after mixing the biga and the rest of the ingredients, it was spilling over the edges of the mixing bowl, so I decided not to let it go for its 4-hour rise time and separated the bread into 3 pieces after less than 2 hours.

The 3 pieces again doubled in size in the next hour or so, and then after I gently shaped the oblong loaves, those rose even more before I put them in the oven.

Though the baking turned out a little uneven since I used two racks, all the loaves were quite good, with the two loaves on the upper rack having a much better crust than the considerably paler and softer loaf that was on the bottom rack for most of the baking time. I thought the air holes inside would be a bit bigger, but there were at least quite a few. I might have needed to be more gentle while forming the loaves. Overall, though, quite a success.

Simple Rustic Bread

Simple Rustic Bread

With the poolish preferment I decided to try a sweet rustic loaf. Peter wrote about having this loaf as a healthier replacement to croissants and other breakfast breads, so how could I really resist. I mixed together the dough, which was very soft, let it rise, and then cut it into wedges. The wedges were so soft that they pretty much became mostly round puddles of dough, so I was worried something went wrong. After a night (or three — I baked 2 batches) in the fridge, my eight little loaves looked even more pathetic, sitting slack on their parchment paper, but I decided to push forward anyway. And am I glad I did!

My rustic sweet breads puffed up immensely in the oven, forming beautiful, browned, crispy loaves with an incredibly open and shiny crumb. The bit of powdered sugar dusted on after baking also added an incredible last bit of sweetness to this only slightly sweetened loaf. The breads looked incredible and tasted at least as good.

Sweet Rustic Bread

Sweet Rustic Bread

I didn’t take a kitchen shot of the beautiful crumb, so here’s one I took at the party I brought them to with my iPhone.

The amazing inside of the sweet rustic bread

The amazing inside of the sweet rustic bread

I also tried one of the pizza dough recipes from the book. Since the recipe for the poolish preferment ends up making a ton of the gooey mixture, I wanted to see how much I could make in the few days that it would be good. The pizzas turned out very well, with a chewy, New York-style crust that browned nicely, stretched extremely thin when shaping, and supported the pizzas well. Unfortunatley, I didn’t take any photos — we were so hungry we gobbled the pizza right up! And Evan and I both agreed that while it was a good pizza, it just wasn’t as light and fluffy and flavorful as the pizza dough recipe I’ve been using from The New Vegetarian Epicure.

In all, though, an awesomely successful week in bread making for me. I learned a lot about making bread in the process, too, and even the Montreal Bagels I made last weekend, which I’ve been making for nearly a year now, were better because of my new knowledge.

Thanks for the gift, Suzie!

Rescuing a Bread Disaster

Whole wheat bread

Monday night I decided to make a loaf of no-knead bread. I’ve made this simple and delicious bread many times and for some reason it always turns out differently — I don’t know if I’m just not consistent with how I’m making it, or switching up the flours as I sometimes do has more of an effect than I thought it would, but this bread looks and cooks differently each time, though it always ends up tasting good.

Well, Monday I really messed up. I was mixing the dough together from memory and doing it quickly, and I forgot — wait for it — the yeast. This bread only has four ingredients — flour, water, salt and yeast — and I managed to forget one!

Worst of all, I didn’t even realize until the morning, so after sitting out all night on my counter, my dough was just a gluey, saggy and wet lump. I wondered if I could just add some yeast in after the fact and tried to mix in the quarter-teaspoon the recipe calls for. After letting it sit awhile, it seemed that the yeast had just settled into one area of the dough and was just creating bubbles in a small area, not throughout.

Still, the dough had an interesting consistency, and I thought that it could possibly be saved, so I decided to look up recipes that use a preferment mixed in with more flour, yeast and water to create a richly flavored bread, and I came upon a rustic bread recipe that used similar proportions of ingredients for its preferment.

So with my unintentional preferment of 2 cups bread flour, 1 cup wheat flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of flaxseed meal, 1 5/8 cups water and 1/8 teaspoon of yeast added after the fact, I added 2 cups bread flour, 2 cups wheat flour, 1/2 teaspoon of yeast, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1 1/2 cups water and mixed it all together.

I ended up with a huge amount of dough, and I had trouble working with it on my small counter, but after a good amount of kneading and some extra flour (the preferment was much wetter than it should have been), I had a nicely textured and very elastic dough.

I let it rise for about two and a half hours, folding it twice during that time, then split it in half and formed two loaves, which I let rise for another hour and a bit.

I was encouraged by how much the bread was rising and I felt like it would turn out pretty well once I baked it. When I put it in the oven at 450 degrees on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal, I didn’t expect the loaves to continue to grow quite as much as they did. I ended up with two giant loaves that fused together a bit. I took them out after 35 minutes, when they looked nicely browned and the crust had a nice thump to it.

The bread softened a bit when it started to cool, so maybe I should have cooked it another few minutes, but the loaves looked great and when we cut into them they had a decent texture — a few large air bubbles, a thin and crispy crust, and a pretty robust wheaty flavor.

Bread cross section

The air pockets seemed to congregate near the top of the bread

I’m glad what looked like a bread disaster turned out to be a big bread success. It was one of my prettiest and most delicious simple loaves. I’ll definitely be trying something similar again. And with a proper preferment, I’m sure I’ll get much better air bubbles throughout the loaves.

wheat bread

Even More Incredible Veggie Burgers and Buns

I love a good veggie burger and have posted about them frequently — whether it’s been cooking them or eating them — but until a couple of days ago, I hadn’t yet mastered the art of making buns. Well, everything changed with the help of a recipe I stumbled across in the New York Times. I had a good feeling about it since it was from one of my favorite LA restaurants, Comme Ca, and when I made these, I was not disappointed.

I could tell from when I started working with the dough that the buns would be light and airy, and as the dough rose, I got more and more excited.

burger buns

I also started preparing my veggie burgers. I modified the black bean burger recipe I’ve been using for a while to incorporate ingredients I had around, including squash and mushrooms, and I cooked the squash, mushrooms, onions and garlic before combining them with the black beans and making the patties to enhance the flavors.

Everything turned out really well, and I served the burgers with avocado, sauteed onions, lettuce, ketchup and mustard. I think I’ll be making these again soon (like possibly this weekend).

The completed veggie burger with cheese, lettuce, sauteed onions and avocado

The completed veggie burger

Asparagus and Cauliflower Gougère with a Beet and Grapefruit Salad

Gougere with Asparagus and cauliflower

The gougère right out of the oven

Friday night I decided to try something new. I didn’t really know what at first, but as I was flipping through my Vegetarian cookbook, I came across a recipe for a mushroom and cauliflower gougère. I didn’t have any mushrooms, but I did have some asparagus, so I decided to try my own version of the recipe.

The recipe came together quite quickly. I made the dough, which includes a generous amount of butter and cheese, and spread it around the sides of a cake pan. Then I quickly cooked up some onions, cauliflower and asparagus with some pureed tomatoes, thyme and rosemary, and put the mixture in the center of the dough. It went in the over for about 40 minutes, and it puffed up like crazy. The dough doubled in size, but by the time it reached the table just a few minutes later it had lost some of its airiness.

Gougere with Asparagus and Cauliflower

The gougère on the table, slightly deflated

The gougère was quite decadent. The dough was creamy yet fluffy, and the vegetable filling balanced out the richness of the dough. I also thought it looked quite beautiful — and the asparagus made for a nice colorful addition. I thought it turned out even prettier than the photo in my cookbook since it was more colorful. I was also surprised that this was relatively easy to make. Including the beet, grapefruit and goat cheese salad I made, everything took about an hour and a half.

Beet, grapefruit and goat cheese salad

Beet and Grapefruit Salad - taken on my iPhone

Since I started getting my LOVE Delivery veggie boxes, I’ve been getting a lot of beets, and I find that I absolutely love cooking with them. I was a little intimidated when I first was faced with cooking beets since I’d never cooked one before, but just simply roasting them and then peeling them is about all you need to do.

This salad was particularly tasty and it looked very pretty, though the warm beets did start running a bit in the dressing when I moved the plates.

Recipe: Beet, Grapefruit and Goat Cheese Salad


  • 1-2 beets
  • 1 small grapefruit
  • 1 small shallot
  • red wine vinegar
  • olive oil
  • lemon juice
  • goat cheese


You’ll need about half a beet and half a small grapefruit per person.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash the beets and wrap in foil. Put the beets in the oven for 40 minutes. They are done when you can easily pierce them through the foil with a knife. (You can roast beets in advance and keep them in the fridge.)

Unwrap the foil and allow the beets to cool until you’re able to peel off the skin with a paring knife. Cut the beets in half and then create quarter-inch thick slices.

Peel your grapefruit and cut it in half. Slice those halves into quarter-inch thick slices, removing any seeds.

For the vinaigrette, finely chop the shallot and place it in a small bowl. Pour in red wine vinegar until the shallots are just about covered, and let them sit for at least 10 minutes. Add olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

Alternate the beet and grapefruit slices in a line on your salad plates. Spoon a small amount of the vinaigrette over the salad and top with some crumbled goat cheese.

New Baking Adventure: Rye Pretzels

On Monday, my friend Laura sent me a recipe for Rye Pretzels she saw on, and I knew immediately that I wanted to try it out — I even had all the ingredients on hand! It took me a whole two days to get around to it, and I’m glad I decided to try this one sooner rather than later.

Making pretzels reminded me a bit of making bagels, since there was rolling and shaping involved, as well as boiling before baking. It all went surprisingly smoothly, too. I was worried at first since the dough seemed like it might be a bit dry, but after it rose, it was soft — and it got huge! When it was time to start rolling out the pretzel shapes, the dough was really easy to handle, and the pretzels came together really quickly and nicely.

Pretzels before cooking

Pretzels just shaped and ready to be boiled and baked

Once they were shaped, I boiled them in water with baking soda in it, and let them dry a bit on a towel before sprinkling them with sea salt and putting them in the oven. The rye flour gave them a beautiful dark brown color, and I drizzled on a little butter once they came out of the over to make them glossy and give them some extra flavor.

Rye Pretzels - Hot Out of the Oven

Rye Pretzels - Hot Out of the Oven

And boy, did these pretzels have flavor! Between the rye, honey, sea salt and butter, they were unlike any other pretzels I had, yet still had that wonderful slightly chewy texture and nice thin crust. I ate one almost right out of the oven and brought the rest to Evan’s office for everyone working late.


Special Pretzel Delivery! They were still warm when I got there.

I’ve always been a fan of soft pretzels, but these were far and beyond any soft pretzel I’d ever had at the mall or at a football game. I love making things like this that are really a special treat and something you can’t get on a regular basis. Next time I’ll roll the dough out a little thinner so the holes in the pretzel are bigger — I underestimated just how much they would continue to rise.

Want to try this for yourself? Check out the recipe at

An Anniversary Dinner: Soup, a Savory Pie and Chocolate Almond Cake

November 3, Evan and I celebrated our third anniversary. It seems that each year before this one, November 3 has been a hectic day full of lots changes. On our first anniversary, I moved out to Budapest. Evan was already there, and I was joining him to live there for a couple of months before we went to London. On our second anniversary, we started to move into our apartment in LA. We didn’t finish the move because my parents’ dog, Murray, died that day, so we went to spend time with my parents. This year didn’t have any of the fuss of the years before. Evan went to work, I stayed home and worked, and I decided to cook us a nice dinner so we could just enjoy each others’ company at home.

I turned to my trusty New Vegetarian Epicure cookbook and found a nice seasonal meal of butternut squash and pear soup, chard and fennel pie, and one of Evan’s favorite desserts — a chocolate and almond cake with a layer of raspberry preserves.

Butternut Squash and Pear Soup

Butternut Squash and Pear Soup

The soup was quite simple — I cooked a butternut squash and a sweet potato in some vegetable stock and water until they were tender. Then I sauteed 4 pears and 1 onion in some olive oil. Once everything was tender, I blended it all together and added just a touch of cream (it would have been fine without it, but it was a special occasion). The soup was nice and sweet and hearty. I would definitely make it again.

A Slice of Chard and Fennel Pie

A Slice of Chard and Fennel Pie

Our main course, the chard and fennel pie, was a bit time consuming to make because I had to make a dough, let it rise, make the filling, put together the pie and bake it, but it was worth it. The doughy crust was nice and light and bready, since it was a bread dough and not a pastry crust. The contents of the pie blended together really well, with the chard adding a deep green color, the cooked fennel adding its slightly anise taste, and feta cheese adding a nice amount of bite and salt. It also looked quite nice (and could have been even nicer had I been a little better at handling the dough), and it sliced beautifully. It also held up well as leftovers, both hot and cold, for quite a few days.

Chocolate Cake with Almonds and Raspberry Jam

Chocolate Cake with Almonds and Raspberry Jam

The cake was a favorite I’d made once before. I did have to make it twice since on my first attempt I didn’t fold in the egg whites quite enough and the cake became a strange consistency and had some white streaks through it. But on the second try, the cake turned out perfectly — it wasn’t too flat, I was able to slice it in half easily (though not exactly evenly), and we even dusted the top with powdered sugar. It’s a great cake that isn’t as rich as it looks, has a slight crunch from the almonds, depending on how well you grind them, isn’t too sugary, and is just a really nice finish to a meal.

I actually made the cake again this week for a holiday party. It’s a recipe that Evan’s parents got as a handout for a department store selling some sort of kitchen gadget. They didn’t buy the gadget — and don’t even remember what it was — but they have used the cake recipe. I haven’t made many cakes from scratch before, and it does take some effort, but this one comes together really well. Here’s the recipe…

Gateau Chocolat-Amande


  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 4 eggs separated
  • ¼ cup cold coffee (I often don’t wait for the coffee to cool, and have used both regular and instant coffee)
  • ½ cup finely ground almonds
  • ½ cup unsalted butter (8 tbs or 1 stick)
  • 1 Tbs. Triple Sec
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • Raspberry preserves,
  • Powdered sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter, line, and flour a 9” round cake pan

2. In a double boiler, combine and melt together the 4 oz. of chocolate and the ¼ cup of cold coffee

3. When the chocolate is melted, whisk in the ½ cup of unsalted butter, one tablespoon at a time. When the butter is absorbed, whisk in ½ cup of sugar. Allow the mixture to cool.

4. While the chocolate mixture is cooling, separate the 4 eggs and grind the ½ cup of almonds.

5. Whisk the egg yolks into the cooled chocolate mixture one at a time. Fold in the ground almonds, the 1 Tbs. Triple Sec and the 1/4 cup flour.

6. Whip the egg whites until stiff and then fold them gently into the batter. (This is the hardest part to get just right. You need to make sure everything is incorporated, but you don’t want to over-mix. Thankfully, if the egg whites fall a little too much when you incorporate them with rest of the ingredients, the cake will still turn out ok, just a little thin. We’ve put the raspberry preserves on top instead of cutting the thin cake in half, and it still tasted delicious.)

7. Turn the completed batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake in the middle of the pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes. The cake is done when it springs back to the touch, and it will be moist in the center.

8. Unmold the cake and allow it to cool on a cooling rack. When cool, split the cake into two layers.

9. Arrange the bottom layer on a serving plate and spread it with a layer of raspberry preserves. Top with the second layer of cake. (The original recipe says “thin” layer of preserves, but you can judge the thickness that you’d like — we tend to put on quite a bit).

10. To serve: Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with confectioner’s sugar. Use a doily or a cake rack to make a design if you wish. (You’ll want to do this just before serving since the cake absorbs the powdered sugar quite quickly)

The cake will keep well refrigerated, though its taste and texture will become a bit richer as the preserves get absorbed by the cake.