Saturday, November 14, 2015

Homemade Honey Graham Crackers

So maybe making homemade Graham crackers isn't on your bucket list.  I get that!  :) But if you're a fan of Graham crackers, like I am (I often pack them to munch on at school), these lovely little biscuits are more than worth the few hours they take to make, and most of that time is unattended. They not only have a fairly short list of ingredients, but they're also really tasty. I would not, however, call them health food, though Graham crackers were originally invented to be just that.
According to a fascinating article in The Atlantic Monthly, Graham crackers are named for their inventor, Sylvester Graham, who may be one of America's first "health nuts." A 19th century evangelical minister, Graham fretted that the meat-rich American diet with its growing reliance on white flour fueled what he thought was its greatest health threat: sexual desire. To ward off those unhealthy desires, he advocated a plain diet of vegetables and whole grains. The original Graham cracker was a tasteless whole wheat biscuit. According to the article, some consider him to be "one of the fathers of the American vegetarian movement." And in fact, the article notes that Graham's greatest contribution to the American diet may not be Graham crackers, but breakfast cereal.  John Harvey Kellogg was a Graham disciple, who developed granola as a "Grahamite cereal."  
A quick look at the ingredients list on a box of 21st century Graham crackers includes "artificial flavor," soybean oil and "DATEM," a dough conditioner that staves off staleness.  This recipe for homemade honey Graham crackers skips all that stuff. I still wouldn't call them health food, though!  The recipe, with just a few tweaks from me, comes from the Good Housekeeping website.

Homemade Honey Graham Crackers

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup almond milk (or whatever kind of milk you prefer)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons honey

Whisk flours, baking soda, salt & cinnamon together and set aside. Stir milk and vanilla together and set aside.  In a mixer, beat butter, brown sugar and honey until light and fluffy, about three minutes, scraping sides as needed.  Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat well.  Scrape down bowl, add 1/2 milk mixture and beat.  Continue alternating flour and milk mixtures--ending with the final 1/3 flour mixture.  Take half of the dough, form into a disk, and roll out to 1/8th thickness between two sheets of parchment paper.  Do the same with the other half.  Place rolled dough and parchment paper onto cookie sheets and refrigerate for an hour.  Remove from the refrigerator and cut into desired shapes. (I used a fluted pizza cutter; you could use a cookie cutter or even a knife.) With a fork, prick the crackers in several places.  Return to the fridge for another 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the crackers out so that they aren't touching--they won't spread much, so they don't need to be too far apart. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, turning the pans half way through for even browning.  This recipe makes several--6 or 7--dozen crackers, depending on how big you cut the crackers. Store well sealed and they'll keep for at least a week. They'd make a great base for some desire-evoking s'mores, though don't tell Sylvester Graham!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Honey-Roasted Cauliflower

Looking for a different side dish for Thanksgiving?  This honey-roasted cauliflower may be your answer! 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Slice a whole cauliflower head into 1/4 inch slices.  There will be some bits of cauliflower that don't stay in tact--that's fine.   Tossed the slices (and extra bits)  with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil so that the slices are evenly coated and place them on the prepared baking sheet.  Sprinkle with about 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly-cracked pepper.  Drizzle the whole shebang with about 3-4 tablespoons of honey.  Roast for about 20 minutes, then pull out, turn the slices over.  Return to the oven for about 20 minutes more.

You can embellish with some red pepper flakes if you like your roasted cauliflower on the spicy side--or add some chopped garlic half way through the roasting to ramp up the flavor.  This is great hot out of the oven, but is also nice at room temperature, too.   I had these with some macaroni and cheese for a mid-week dinner and couldn't have been happier!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Wonderful and Unique Celery Salad-Perfect for Lunch!

About a month ago, we completely ran out of celery, that eternal staple of the American vegetable bin. For the next few weeks, I bought celery every time I was in a store, which is why we wound up with three big celery bunches of celery in the bin. What can I say? I must have unconsciously vowed to never be without celery again!  Our celery boom sent me searching for celery-rich recipes and I'm glad I found this one at Bon Appetit, which uses other staples we often have like almonds and dates. It's a perfect salad to take to work for lunch:  it has a bit of protein from the almonds and Parmesan cheese, a bright flavor and it won't stink up the office (or office kitchen).  The original recipe did not call for honey.  I think the additional honey softens the lemon juice and adds oomph.

Unique Celery Salad
8 celery stalks, thinly sliced on the diagonal.
1/2 cup roasted unsalted almonds, coarsely chopped
6 dates, coarsely chopped  
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt 
freshly ground pepper
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
3-4 shavings of Parmesan cheese per serving

Toss the sliced celery, almonds and dates in a bowl.  In a small jar with tight fitting lid, shake lemon juice, honey and olive oil together until well combined.  Pour on top of salad and toss to coat evenly.  Sprinkle on salt, pepper and red pepper flakes and toss again.  Taste and correct seasoning.  Put a few shavings of Parmesan on each serving.  Makes about 4 lunch servings.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Rich, Delicious Pecan Caramel Squares

This recipe came recommended from Pat C., a dear friend, honey (and honey bee!) enthusiast, and community volunteer extraordinaire.  We first met Pat at Hollow Oak Land Trust meetings and reconnected with her as volunteers at the B.F. Jones Memorial Library in Aliquippa.  She's a marvel!  The original recipe is from Martha Stewart, whose recipes are the epitome of perfection. Yet--couldn't help myself--I fiddled with the recipe a bit.  For starters, I halved it, figuring it wouldn't be good for my hips to keep a 9x13 pan of these around for too long.  I also skipped the granulated sugar in the original recipe, figuring the brown sugar and honey were enough sweetness.  I also added a bit of vanilla extract to the cookie base just because. And finally, I cut them a bit smaller, which makes them less like bars and more like squares.

These were a big hit for dessert at our weekly Monday night dinner at my parents' house. I think my dad may have had three of them that night!  My sister said they would make a great cookie swap recipe-they're unique, pretty, and yummy!  Everyone took some home. Thanks for the recipe, Pat!

Pecan Caramel Squares
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/8 cup plus 1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup pecan halves
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush an 8x8-inch baking pan with melted butter--or spray with oil. Line with parchment paper, leaving a slight overhang on all sides. Butter or spray parchment.

Beat the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in salt. Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing until fully incorporated after each addition. Continue mixing until dough begins to come together in large clumps.

Press dough about 1/3-inch thick into prepared pan.(I used the base of glass to press it in firmly.) Pierce the dough with a fork. Chill until firm, about 20 minutes. Bake until golden brown, 20 to 22 minutes.  Reduce oven to 325 degrees. Cool base completely.

When cookie base is cool, place filling ingredients (including pecans) in a saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat; pour filling into the cooled crust. I fiddled with the pecans a bit to make sure they covered the whole cookie base.

Bake until filling bubbles, about 20 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool. Once cooled, carefully use the parchment to lift the cookies from the pan to a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to cut into 1-by-1 -inch bars. This recipe makes about--I don't know--about 16 squares?  Store well wrapped at  room temperature for up to 1 week.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Little Honey Almond Apple Hand Pies

These nice little hand pies are adapted from a recipe for mini pop tarts on the National Honey Board's website, which has as great variety of honey-related recipes. I did some fiddling with the recipe by adding a few thin slices of apple to the almond/honey filling and making them round instead of square.  Check out the original recipe for some great variations that include one for dark chocolate and another for spicy habanero (no lie!). 

Little Honey Almond Apple Hand Pies
For the pastry:
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 (about) tablespoons ice water

1/2 apple, peeled and very thinly sliced.  Toss with 1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup almonds
1/4 cup honey  
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt

For top of pastry:
pinch of sugar, optional

Whisk the flours and salt together. Cut in the chilled butter until it's the size of peas. (I did this in a food processor with a few quick pulses and then transferred it to a bowl.)  Sprinkle the olive oil over and toss to coat the flour as best you can.  A tablespoon at a time, sprinkle the water over the mixture, tossing with a fork and then, if you need a third tablespoon, your hands.  You want a firm by pliable dough that isn't too over worked (but don't be afraid to tell it who's boss!).  Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for 30 minutes.  

While dough chills, set the oven to 400 degrees. Place the almonds on an ungreased cookie sheet and put them in the oven.  Remove them from the oven when it reaches 400.  Chop the almonds in a food processor--the more finely you chop them, the more gooey the filling will be. Combine the almonds honey, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl.  

When dough has chilled for 30 minutes, roll out on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8th inch thickness (as thin as you can!).  The olive oil in the dough should make it fairly pliable.  Cut dough into 2 1/2 inch rounds. (I used a  beer glass.) You should get about 8 rounds from the first roll.  Place half of the rounds on the cookie sheet, top with about a tablespoon of almond/honey filling and two or three thin apple slices.  Place a dough round on top of the filling, pressing to cover the filling.  Use a fork to seal the top dough round with the bottom. Then use the fork to gently poke a few holes in the top of the pastry. Repeat with remaining pastry rounds.  Roll dough out again.  You should get at least two rounds and maybe four from this one.  If you like, you can brush the hand pies with water (or milk or half and half) and sprinkle with a little sugar.  

Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry has browned at the edges and is firm to the touch.  Cool on cookie sheets.  Makes about 10 hand pies.  

Robert and I each had two for dessert--and I'm just now noticing that another one has gone missing--a clear Robert endorsement!  They're not very big--but if we want to be honest with ourselves (and we do--well, at least most of the time), then one hand pie is probably what the daily portion-per-human should be. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Amazing Greek Beans with Honey and Dill

This recipe for Greek baked beans with honey and dill is adapted from a Martha Rose Shulman recipe at the New York Times.  She offers a range of health-conscious recipes that are always big on flavor.  These are unlike any baked beans I've ever eaten.  The honey, vinegar and dill in the recipe combine with the beans and tomatoes to make a rich, hearty dish that goes great with some chewy bread.  The beans are baked for an hour and 30 minutes in the oven, which makes them quite creamy, not mushy.  It's a meal in itself, but this also makes a good side dish, too!  Instead of diced canned tomatoes that Shulman's recipe calls for, I used tomatoes that Robert cooked down into a sauce and canned. the result, I think, is a more tomato-y dish. Our dill had run its course in the garden, so all I had dried.  It did the trick, though I'd imagine fresh dill would be heavenly.  Shulman's recipe doesn't call for Parmesan cheese, and it's possible this addition makes them decidedly less Greek then.  We like the salty meatiness the cheese adds.

Greek Baked Beans with Honey and Dill
1 pound great northern beans (or other white bean), soaked in a large bowl of water overnight (or see recipe for quick soak method)
about 1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium red or other sweet onion, chopped
6 cups stewed tomatoes (or 1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes)
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons tomato paste (could skip if you use the stewed tomatoes)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dried dill (or to taste)
about 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Quick soak bean prep: If you forgot to soak beans the night before like I often do, you can place them in the pot and cover with several inches of water.  Bring to a boil and boil for about 3 or 4 minutes, then turn off the pot, cover, and let the beans soak in the hot water for an hour. Drain.
Place the soaked beans in a dutch oven or other oven safe pot. Add water to cover three inches above the beans.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes.

While beans cook, saute the onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil (not the whole 1/4 cup!) until they begin to caramelize. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.  When the beans are ready, drain them and return them to the pot.  Add the remaining olive oil, onions, tomatoes, bay leaf and honey.  If using canned tomatoes, add water enough to cover the beans.  Stir everything together and bring to a simmer.  Cover the pot and place it in the oven. Bake for an hour, stirring regularly and checking to see if they need more water.  Remove from the oven and stir in the vinegar, tomato paste if using, and salt & pepper. Cover and return to the oven for about 30 minutes more until the beans are tender but not mushy.  Remove from the oven, fish out the bay leaf and stir in the dill.  Let the beans sit covered for about 15 minutes.  To serve, top the beans with a few tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese per serving and enjoy with some crusty bread.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Homely Celeriac Becomes Beauitful Co-Star in Beet Salad

Trimmed but not yet pared celeriac from the garden

Robert grew a patch of celeriac (also called celery-root) in the garden this year.  A 2006 NPR story by vegetable expert Jack Staub calls celeriac "the unsung frog prince of winter vegetables." It is not a pretty root--but it can be a delicious addition to fall and winter fare and it is remarkably versatile. Staub describes its flavor as a cross between celery and parsley, which is apt.  Celeriac can be boiled or roasted--essentially treated like you would any root vegetable.  But unlike most root vegetables and winter squash (potatoes, turnips, parsnips, etc.) it's also great raw, which is how I used it in this salad with another root crop: beets. 

The original recipe comes from a 2004 Gourmet Magazine article, available at Epicurious. Some reviewers of the recipe claim this salad made beet lovers out of beet haters.  A few reviewers also complain that the recipe is a lot of work. The beets are roasted for about an hour and there is a fair amount of chopping involved.  The result of that effort, though, is a unique and tasty salad that's also good for you!  Since we have a bunch of celeriac still growing in the garden, I'll be looking for more ways to use it as fall unfolds. Stay tuned!

To save time, you may be tempted to skip roasting fresh beets and instead use canned.  I think that would result in a just fine salad, but the roasting takes the flavor to another level.  You might also be tempted not to cut the vegetables into matchsticks, opting for a rougher, if quicker, chop of some kind.  That might also work, but I think the time spent on cutting into matchsticks makes these two root vegetables great co-stars and is worth the few minutes it takes.  A sharp knife (thanks, Robert!) is very helpful for this recipe!

I, of course, added honey to the dressing--and humbly suggest that the honey should earn a best supporting ingredient award. Scroll past the salad photo for the recipe!

Raw celeriac turns a lovely pink when paired with roasted beets in this salad.
Celeriac & Beet Salad
4 medium beets, top greens trimmed off and beets well-washed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound celeriac, trimmed and peeled 
1/4 to 1/3 cup chopped red onion
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley 
Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Place beets on a piece of foil large enough to enclose beets entirely.  Drizzle the 1 tablespoon of olive oil over beets, sprinkle with salt and wrap the foil around the beets.  Place package in a pan in case the packet leaks and roast the beets for about an hour--or until they're completely tender.  Remove the beets from the oven and let them steam in the package until they're cool enough to handle.

While the beets roast, slice the celeriac into matchsticks about 1/8 inch thick and 1 or 1 1/2 inches long.  You can save time by cutting the celeriac into thin slices, stacking the slices and then making the matchsticks.  Place the cut celeriac and chopped onions into a bowl &  drizzle the honey over them.  Toss with your hands so that the honey coats the matchsticks.  This will prevent the celeriac from browning too much while you wait for the beets to cool. Place the lemon juice, oil, salt & pepper in a jar, secure the lid tightly, and shake the bejeebers out of it to emulsify the dressing. (You could also do this in a small food processor.)  Pour the dressing over the celeriac and toss to coat.  Cover the bowl while you wait for the beets to cool.  When the beets are cool enough to handle, slip the peels off and cut them into matchsticks. Place them in the bowl with the dressed celeriac.  Toss and watch the celeriac turn into a lovely pink color.  If you're serving right away, taste for seasoning (may need more lemon juice or salt or pepper--or honey!) and then sprinkle the parsley on top.  I think this salad benefits from sitting around a day to let the flavors meld.  Can be served cold or at room temperature.

If you want to guild the lily--or make a bigger salad--you could add an apple also sliced into matchsticks.  A tablespoon or so of grated ginger would also be nice.  Other variations could include orange juice instead of lemon juice with a teaspoon or so of grated orange peel to boost the flavor.

This recipe makes 8 servings.