Whole Grain Naan

Grainy NaanThis Sunday on the way home from swimming, Trish asked if I could make some naan for the dish she was preparing (a special lamb and spinach Indian dish). When she says "naan" she's being generous. I make flatbreads that are closer to a pita than naan.

Well, not this time. I used a basic bread recipe and to cook, I chose my trusty Weber Q because it has a nice cast-iron grill surface. I heated it up to the highest I could, lubed up the grill with spray oil and plopped on my dough discs. They didn't puff up like my usual flatbreads (I usually do them in the oven). About 4 minutes per side gets nice small burn marks and the breads are heavenly. I only made 4 big ones. Here's the recipe I used:

Grainy Naan Dough
water, room temperature, 150 g
honey, 10 g/2 t
olive oil, 17 grams/1 T
yeast, rapid rise, 1 packet
salt, 5 g/1 t
swirl contents until honey's dissolved.
unbleached white flour, 150 grams
grainy flour (I used a 1:1:1 mixture of rye, wheat, spelt), 75 grams
Mix with large spoon until it balls up and then kneed briefly. Let rise an hour or so. Punch down and divide into 4 balls. Press the balls out to about an 8" disc using flour to keep them from getting sticky. Let rest and preheat the grill to the highest setting. Toss the dough on (I can fit about two on my grill at a time). Within a few minutes, they'll be sturdy enough to flip with a pair of tongs. Let cool and serve. Unbelievable.

feedback from the family:
There were 4 breads made from this batch. The thickest one tasted the best. The thinner ones were a little thin and cracker-like but the thicker one (depicted in the image above) was nice and floppy and tender.


Weber Kettle Mod - Cold Smoking: Proof of Principle

cold smokerI have the itch to do some cold smoking. I'm especially looking forward to salmon and trout. Cold smoking is simple; it's simply a process of bathing food in smoke but in the temperature range of approximately 10 deg above ambient to not more than 110-deg-F for a long time (18-24 hours). Therein lies the challenge. Finding a cheap piece of equipment (because I'm frugal) that can maintain a constant low temperature for at least that long is no small trick.

I took an old Weber Kettle I had from the trash and removed the bottom mechanism to permit the bottom vents to stay full open. I hypothesized if I could get the heat source below the kettle (rather than inside), I should be able to waft the smoke into the kettle keeping the temperature inside the kettle cool enough for smoking. In order to keep the cooking surface as far from the heat source as possible, I affixed a Thunderbelly stainless collar to my kettle (the cooking surface is on top of this collar). Then I used my starter chimney and built an 8 briquette fire in it, tossed in some mesquite shavings on top of the briquettes and shimmed it up close to the bottom of the kettle. In this configuration, the heat source is approximately half way in the chimney which serves to deliver the smoke to the bottom vents while most of the heat dissipates to the surroundings.

Monitoring the dome with a thermocouple inserted (with the vent full open), a temperature of approximately 95-105-deg-F (ambient temp 80-deg-F) was achieved for hours! Unfortunately, I could only hold this temperature for ca. 6 hours. Then, I'd have to charge more fuel and this would be annoying in the timeframe required for this process. Overcharging the chimney would likely result in too much heat generated.

This rig needs to be rock stable for at least 18 hours and since it's a long time, it also needs to be nearly maintenance free - I don't want to have to go out in my yard in the middle of the night (to fight a racoon).

In my next attempt, I'm going to use a hot plate and cast iron skillet to smoke wood pieces below the chimney. I'll still use the chimney as my smoke conduit.

A good first attempt, but I'm now waiting to find a hot plate at the thrift store. Keep you posted.


Baba Ghanouj, an old friend.

Baba GhanoujEver make one of those meals that you immediately thought to yourself "why don't we have this more often?". Last night we wanted something simple and made one of our favorites Baba Ghanouj. It's so simple, healthy and we don't have it nearly as often as we should.

I took a medium/large eggplant and baked it on the gas grill until the shell was charred black (my wife started it actually). I took the charry eggplant and, with a potato masher, squashed it and pressed the flesh from it's charred body. The skin was pulled out of the bowl and to the bowl was added salt (1 t) the juice of a lemon, tahini (60 g, 1/4 C), some (nice quality) dried parsely, a couple tablespoons of olive oil and continued to mash away with my potato masher (an Egyptian woman I used to work with did it this way rather than a food processor to get a slightly chunkier texture). Depicted is the result. It was served with warmed pitas and fresh chopped veggies. A lovely Summer meal.


An interesting meat sauce

meat_sauceThe past few weekends, we've had friends over for a simple barbecue. Just burgers and dogs on the grill. Fast easy, lends itself to the host actually enjoying the company. But, we found ourselves building up the supply of uneaten smoky-flavored burgers. I put them in the freezer and finally decided to use them.

Although I'm in the school of cooking meat raw in tomato sauce (rather than sauteeing it first), I had to make use of the cooked meat. Unfortunately, cooked burgers can be kind of tough after sitting around. I sauteed a few slivers of garlic (we go easy on the garlic in my home), some chopped onion, my new favorite canned tomatoes, 6 in 1 and tossed in those burgers just cut in half and let it barely simmer for a few hours. I then mashed up the burgers with a potato masher and voila, meat sauce with a subtle smoky hint to it.

We ate it with whole wheat pasta for a robust and flavorful meal. This is what remained of Frankie's portion (we helped a bit).


Kid Friendly Restaurants in Columbus?

Kevin Joy from the Dispatch emailed me today asking about kid-friendly restaurants. Here's an excerpt:

Basically, I'm trying to find restaurants around town that either have:

a) more upscale children's menus
b) healthier children's menus
c) no kids meals at all, but do have, at times, a family clientele...such as the time I saw kids eating sushi at Haiku.

I'd be interested to hear any suggestions, if you've heard stories or had experiences with any of the above. Feel free to forward to anyone that might want to share their two cents.

[upscale children's menu? Hmmm, I'm thinking Kevin doesn't have children]
My general guidelines on dining with a wildly energetic kid are the following:

-Any restaurant that has crayons immediately available is good.
-We try desperately not to go to fast food because there's good stuff out there for just as cheap (still happens on occasion).
-I'm afraid we're destined for noisy places with the kids, because they just can't sit still longer than the time it takes to eat (about 15 minutes if you're lucky, my daughter's now 4).

Our family's picks so far:

1. Believe it or not, Hometown Buffet, is pretty good. It's a chain but their veggies are cooked well, they have an amazing variety of foods, our friends are vegetarians and love it there too, it's rowdy as hell so no one cares if the kid jumps up and runs around. Food is lightly flavored with just s&p (probably) and the kid only costs a dollar per year of age. Good food, cheap, loud, tolerant. Sorry it's not sexier.

2. Maybe not the healthiest fare, but kid-friendly is Pig Iron BBQ (N. High). Crayons at the ready, a nice selection on the kids menu (not just mac 'n cheese, etc.). Good for the adults too! And, they're very nice to kids.

3. Healthier. Whole World Bakery. It's a vegetarian/vegan place on N. High. My daughter loves the hummous platter (hummous and fresh veggies). And we like vegetarian fare too. Pretty cheap, very kid friendly, about $20 for all 3 of us.

4. Haiku (NOT kid-friendly). We ate at Haiku when my girl was about 18 months. We went early so it was ok. But all the hipsters who came in the door avoided our table like E. Coli. It's funny, young people are the least tolerant of children in a restaurant, whereas the older set often look at a screaming child and smirk (I suspect they're relfecting on their past).

5. Sher-E-Punjab we hear is excellent. Vegetarian buffet on Tuesday nights and our friends tell us it's kid-friendly. Haven't tried it yet. Definitely will soon!

6. Cafe Shish Kebab. We went there with another couple and their 4-year old. I hate to stereotype middle eastern-run restaurants, but I'll make an exception here. The waitstaff are always wonderful with children. I don't know why, but every restaurant we've tried is great, the former Turkish Cuisine when it was on High was great, Cafe Istanbul in Easton was kid-friendly (but food was mediocre at times). The cuisine in general is flavorful and beautifully spiced without being to much for the little guys and Frankie's a big meat eater (she eats lots of good food). At Cafe Shish Kebab she loved the donner kebab. Not bad price either.

Add your favorites in the comments or send them to Kevin Joy of the Dispatch (kjoy@dispatch.com).


Cornbread with Flaxseed

Cornbread with flax seeds(click on the image for a better view)

I must confess, my favorite cornbread, until now, has been Jiffy. But, recently, I bought some corn tortilla chips with flaxseed embedded in them and just couldn't forget them. Grainy, corny and I absolutely love flaxseed. Like flavorful, nutty sesame seeds. So the other night, I began to formulate a cornbread recipe that would be, hopefully, as tasty as Jiffy with a bit more grain to it.

The cooking method is pretty critical, even with the Jiffy mix. The cornbread mixture is cooked in a 9" cast iron pan that's been preheated in a 450-deg-F oven and in the last few minutes of that preheating time, I add some reserved pork fat (ca. 1T). The hot pan guarantees a good oven spring and a killer crisp crusty cornbread.

So here's the basic recipe. I look forward to having fun with this basic recipe like adding corn or cheddar, etc. Enjoy.

Dave's Killer Cornbread with Flaxseed
1. Preheat oven to 450-deg-F and place a 9" cast iron pan in there during the preheating.

2. Ingedients:
coarse cornmeal, 1 C
unbleached white flour, 1 C
flaxseed, 1/4 C
sugar, 2 T
baking soda, 1/2 t
baking powder, 2 t
salt, 1 t (5 grams)

milk, 2/3 C
vegetable oil, 1/4 C
egg, 1

3. Prep
Mix dry ingredients, mix liquid ingredients, dump wet into dry and blend until just mixed and let rest about 10 full minutes. Add some fat to your preheating pan. Remove hot pan from oven (place on potholder, it's wicked hot) and dump in rested batter. Don't worry about leveling it out. Place in oven and bake about 15 (until golden on top) minutes. Remove from oven and invert pan to place the hot cornbread on cooling rack. Allow a good 15 minutes to cool and dig in. Yum.


House of Fiber or an Alternative Style Chili

Chicken, black bean, corn chiliIf you want to be a chili purist, go dice your sirloin in perfect 1/4" cubes and find out the rest of the specifications of "real chili", but, like anything, even perfect purists' chili, can get boring.

For some time, we've been having pearled barley simmered in stock and lightly seasoned as an alternative to rice on the side. The other day, while buying some pearled barley, I accidentally bought fast cooking pearled barley (Quaker brand). Not quite the same but it had a neat sounding recipe for a chicken chili on the back. I modified it a bit, spicewise, and it was pretty darn good. I just can't resist corn and black beans together.

Chicken, black bean, corn and barley chili
Onion (1 med. chopped) and garlic (1 clove slivered), sauteed in olive oil, 2T
Ancho chili powder, 2t
chicken (about 2 C chopped, leftovers, cooked)
cumin (fresh ground), salt, pepper to taste
black beans (14 oz. can not drained)
corn (15 oz. can not drained)
tomatoes, ca. 15 oz, fresh or canned
quick cook pearled barley
water to desired thickness

I put in everything except the barley and let gently simmer for 2 hours. During the last half hour, I added the barley. Then served topped with tortilla chips and cheddar (ran out of sour cream, would've been a nice topping).


Whole wheat pasta?

whole wheat pasta?Let's not go into details, but simply say the family's trying to get a bit more grainy and a bit more fiber into the diet, and hopefully without using supplements. We're eating lots of veggies with dinner, some meat's been substituted by veggies and legumes and I think we're doing well without losing much of what we genuinely like to eat.

The newest addition to our diet recently made its premiere appearance the other night. Whole wheat pasta; 5 g fiber compared to 2g fiber/serving for regular durum dry.* We served it with a tomato sauce in which had been cooked sweet italian sausages.

Results? I don't know. I think I need another taste (tonight). It was definitely noticeable and I wasn't immediately thrilled. The texture is nearly the same as regular durum pasta but the taste was definitely ... can't quite describe it but .. more. A lot like the difference between bad white and wheat bread. Not that regular durum is anything like white bread but the comparison is about the same. Anyone else have any opinions on trying this type of pasta?

I think next we'll switch back to regular pasta and bulk up the fiber using greens and beans like Lisa's Pasta Dish (scroll to bottom of post).

*This reminds me of Nancy Silverton's concern of unbleached white versus wheat flours in breadmaking when it comes to the health benefits. She says unbleached white has fewer natural components because of the processing but is enriched with vitamins, whereas whole wheat flour contains much more of the grain, but the added components (germ, husks, etc.) are not as bioavailable and pass through. So, the two may be similar healthwise and the benefits of the switch between durum and whole wheat pasta may be moot.