lavash crackers (daring bakers)

This is the first Daring Baker recipe that has not only been from a cookbook I own, but was a recipe that I had planned to make soon anyway. Since football season started a few weeks ago, I’ve made Sunday into a snack day instead of serving an actual meal, which gives me a chance to play around with appetizer and dip recipes that I normally can’t (healthily) work into our routine.

The recipe itself was pretty simple. This is a rare recipe for Peter Reinhart in that it doesn’t require a pre-ferment, so the recipe can be completed in one day. The dough was easy to work with. I rolled it out right on my silicone baking mat, and then just moved the mat to a baking pan to bake it, so I never had to transfer just the sheet of dough.

I think Reinhart’s directions on rolling out the dough are off. I rolled the dough out to exactly the dimensions he recommends, but my “crackers” ended up far too thick. Reinhart refers to the rolled-out dough as “paper-thin” at one point, and mine certainly wasn’t. In the future, I’ll roll the dough out possibly twice as thin, so they’re more like crackers and less like little toasts.

I cheated on the dip. After I made it, I saw in the rules that we were supposed to make something that was gluten-free and vegan, but my pesto dip is based on goat cheese. But it’s so good! I have no regrets on breaking the rules if I get something so tasty out of it.

This challenge was a fun one – I always enjoy making yeast breads, and as I said, I’d been interested in this recipe for a while. The hosts this month, Natalie and Shel, also give directions for a gluten-free version, which I may try for my gluten-intolerant grandmother next time I see her. I’m always on the lookout for good gluten-free recipes.

Lavash Crackers (from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

1½ cups (6.75 ounces) unbleached bread flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp instant yeast
1 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
⅓ to ½ cup + 2 tablespoons (3 to 4 ounces) water, at room temperature
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, sugar, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full ½ cup + 2 tablespoons of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).

4. Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt – a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).

6. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Pesto Goat Cheese Spread (from Gourmet September 2002, but really

4 ounces soft mild goat cheese at room temperature
2 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
¼ cup pesto

Stir together all ingredients with salt and pepper to taste until smooth.

summer rolls

I am not a collector of cookbooks. I do have one full shelf of about twenty or so, but I’m not one to idly buy any book I get excited about. Unless I’m interested in a very good proportion of the recipes in the book, I won’t buy it.

Unless it’s only three dollars, and every recipe has several pictures, and a surprising number of those recipes look good. I recently found a Thai Cooking Step-by-Step book in the bargain aisle and couldn’t pass it up.

The first recipe, and probably the one I was the most excited about, is for summer rolls, rice paper wrappers rolled around vegetables, rice vermicelli, and shrimp. I checked out a few recipes before making them, but most were similar, so I only slightly adapted the one in the book.

Every recipe included shrimp, rice vermicelli, cilantro and carrots. A few also included cucumber and Boston lettuce, both of which I wanted to include. One added mint, one Thai basil, and one preferred Thai basil but offered mint as an alternative. I haven’t been able to find Thai basil (although I haven’t looked very hard), so I used mint the first time I made these. Dave and I both hated the mint. I skipped the extra herbs entirely the second time, just using cilantro, and we much preferred it that way.

I struggled with what to do with the lettuce. I really wanted it inside the roll, similar to spider rolls. I tried it, but it was so bulky that I couldn’t get the summer rolls to make a tight wrap. Leaving the lettuce on the outside was preferable.

I thought the dipping sauce made from the recipe included in the step-by-step book was too pungent. The second time I made these, I used a recipe from another recently-acquired Asian cookbook (but I thought I didn’t buy many cookbooks?), and it was very good.

Admittedly, this isn’t the quickest recipe to put together. I kept thinking it would be pretty fast, since there’s very little cooking. Of course whenever you have to individually prepare fillings and wrappers, there will be a significant time investment. But for such a healthy and delicious meal, it’s worth it to me.

As per Joelen’s suggestion, I am submitting this entry to her Asian Appetizers event.

Update 9.21.08: I made this again and decided the recipe I originally had here needed a few tweaks.  I reduced the vermicelli from 2 ounces to 1.5 ounces and cut all of the dip ingredients in half.  Also, it only took me 45 minutes to make these, so it’s not quite the “significant time investment” that I originally thought.

Summer Rolls (adapted from Fresh Spring Rolls in Thai Cooking Step-by-Step, from the Confident Cooking Series)

Makes 8 rolls

16 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1.5 ounces rice vermicelli
8 rice paper wrappers
½ medium cucumber, cut into matchsticks
1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks
16 Thai basil leaves (optional)
½ cup (0.5 ounces) loosely packed cilantro leaves
8 small leaves Boston lettuce (or 4 large leaves, torn in half)

1. Fill a medium skillet with water and bring to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and the shrimp and cook just until the shrimp are opaque, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and remove the shrimp from the pan using a slotted spoon. Cut the shrimp in half lengthwise. Add the vermicelli to the hot liquid and let set until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the vermicelli from the pan.

2. Place a rice paper wrapper in the hot liquid and leave until softened, about one minute. Remove it from the water and place it on a work surface. Place 4 shrimp halves side-by-side in center of wrapper and top with 2 basil leaves, 1 tablespoon cilantro, a few carrot and cucumber strips, and a small amount of rice noodles.

3. Fold up bottom 2-inch border of wrapper over filling. Fold left, then right edge of wrapper over filling. Roll filling to top edge of wrapper to form tight cylinder.  Lay each roll in a leaf of lettuce and place on a serving platter.  Serve with dipping sauce.

Summer Roll Dipping Sauce (adapted from Nouc Cham in Corinne Trang’s Essentials of Asian Cuisine)

1 tablespoons granulated sugar
1.5 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup lime or lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients. Let stand for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to come together.

baba ghanoush, falafel, hummus

Oh my gosh, this was such a great meal. I had something similar at a restaurant a while ago when Dave and I stopped for lunch in Syracuse’s university area. I got the vegetarian combination plate, which included hummus, falafel, baba ganoush, pita, and I think tabbouleh. I was trying to recreate that fantastic meal at home. I forgot to make tabbouleh this time, which was fine because this was plenty of cooking as it was.

I took the easy way out and made all Cooks Illustrated recipes. The hummus is their recently published Restaurant-Style Hummus recipe, which has gotten some great reviews. I thought it was really good, although I don’t know if it was that much better than any other hummus I’ve made. But – then I made it again a few weeks later with beans I cooked myself and Oh.My.God, that was so good. I had no idea it would make that much of a difference.

Other than that lunch in Syracuse, this is the only baba ghanoush I’ve ever had. You’re supposed to grill the eggplant until it’s completely soft and smoky, but grilling isn’t an option for me, so I had to use the oven. I still thought it was really good. It reminds me a lighter, more vegetal hummus.

The falafel was my favorite part of the meal. Shocking, I know, that Dave and I both liked the deep-fried food the best. Also, this was my first experience with dried chickpeas, and I loved them. The same funky shape as canned chickpeas but absolutely hard as rocks.

There’s some overlap between these three items – tahini or chickpeas showed up in everything – but they still have very distinct personalities. Tabbouleh would have been a nice light contrast, so I’ll have to remember that next time. And I can’t wait until next time!

(I’ll talk about the pita in my next post.)

Baba Ghanoush, Oven Method (from Cooks Illustrated July 2001)

CI note: When buying eggplant, select those with shiny, taut, and unbruised skins and an even shape (eggplant with a bulbous shape won’t cook evenly). We prefer to serve baba ghanoush only lightly chilled. If yours is cold, let it stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving. Baba ghanoush does not keep well, so plan to make it the day you want to serve it. Pita bread, black olives, tomato wedges, and cucumber slices are nice accompaniments.

Bridget note: Cooks Illustrated has grilling methods for this recipe as well, but I don’t have a grill, so the oven it was.

Makes 2 cups

2 pounds eggplant (about 2 large globe, 5 medium Italian, or 12 medium Japanese), each poked uniformly over surface with fork to prevent bursting
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 small clove garlic , minced
2 tablespoons tahini paste
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil , plus extra for serving
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil, set eggplants on baking sheet and roast, turning every 15 minutes, until eggplants are uniformly soft when pressed with tongs, about 60 minutes for large globe eggplants, 50 minutes for Italian eggplants, and 40 minutes for Japanese eggplants. Cool eggplants on baking sheet 5 minutes.

2. Set small colander over bowl or in sink. Trim top and bottom off each eggplant. Slit eggplants lengthwise and use spoon to scoop hot pulp from skins and place pulp in colander (you should have about 2 cups packed pulp); discard skins. Let pulp drain 3 minutes.

3. Transfer pulp to workbowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Add lemon juice, garlic, tahini, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; process until mixture has coarse, choppy texture, about eight 1-second pulses. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper; transfer to serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap flush with surface of dip, and refrigerate 45 to 60 minutes. To serve, use spoon to make trough in center of dip and spoon olive oil into it; sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Chickpea Fritters-Falafel (from Cooks Illustrated’s The Best International Recipe)

The chickpeas in this recipe must be soaked overnight; you can not substitute canned beans or quick-soaked chickpeas because their texture will result in soggy falafel. A wire spider comes in handy here when cooking the falafel. Serve the falafel in lavash or pita bread with lettuce, pickled vegetables, and chopped tomatoes or cucumbers, or as an hors d’oeuvres with tahini sauce as a dip.

Makes 20 falafel

6 ounces dried chickpeas (1 cup), rinsed, picked over, and soaked overnight in water to cover by an inch
5 scallions, chopped coarse
½ cup packed fresh parsley leaves
½ cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
3 medium garlic cloves (about 1 tablespoon), minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 quarts vegetable oil, for frying
1.Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 200 degrees. Drain the chickpeas, discarding the soaking liquid. Process all of the ingredients except for the oil in a food processor until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping down the bowl as needed. Form the mixture into 1 tablespoon-sized disks, about ½ inch thick and 1 inch wide, and arrange on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. (The falafel can be refrigerated at this point for up to 2 hours.)

3. Heat the oil in a 5-quart large Dutch over medium-high heat to 375 degrees. (Use an instant-read thermometer that registers high temperatures or clip a candy/deep-fat thermometer onto the side of the pan.) Fry half of the falafel, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as needed to maintain 375 degrees, until deep brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet using a slotted spoon or wire spider and keep warm in the oven. Return the oil to 375 degrees and repeat with the remaining falafel. Serve immediately with the sauce.

I’m out of town right now, eating truffles and drinking wine. I’ll be back next week to catch up on comments and other blogs!

two dips


This post comes too late. Two days ago, everyone was planning their snacks for the Superbowl. Today, we’re recovering from overeating, overdrinking, and how did the Giants beat the Patriots? But I think these dishes have their place on any day. Now that I’ve tried them myself and can attest to their success, I offer them to you.

First, a dip for crudite that is healthy and tasty. I am not one to sacrifice flavor to make low-fat dishes; I’d rather eat less of great food than more of subpar food. But if I can get great flavor and good nutrition in one dish, I won’t complain. Most dips use mayonnaise and sour cream as a base – two foods that are almost pure fat. This dip uses pureed cottage cheese as a base, plain yogurt for acidity, and a (relatively) small amount of mayonnaise for tartness. The star of the show is sundried tomatoes, with garlic singing backup. It was a really great dip – I was surprised that we ate that whole plate of vegetables.


The other dip I have to offer is a chemical-free queso. My favorite queso recipe used to be 8 ounces of Velveeta + 1 can of condensed cream of mushroom soup + 1 can of Ro-tel tomatoes. However, I am now adverse to processed foods. Why eat “cheese product” when I can eat cheese? So I set out to make queso reminiscent of my favorite recipe, but without the processed ingredients. It was easy cheesy. (Heehee.) Same taste, real food. Gotta love that.

If you want to add interest to your vegetables, or enjoy chips with spicy melted cheese goodness, but don’t want to compromise your health, you have two new options.

Sun-dried Tomato Dip (adapted from epicurious)

Makes about 2 cups

4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
¼ teaspoon salt
12 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
1 cup cottage cheese
1/3 cup plain yogurt
¼ cup mayonnaise

Place garlic in dry skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until spotty golden brown. Remove peels and discard. Mince garlic in food processor with salt. Add tomatoes and process until chopped. Add cottage cheese and process until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and process to blend. Season with salt. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill.)

Serve with vegetables.


Makes about 2 cups

The jalapeno could be added with the tomatoes, or with the butter. I wasn’t sure how spicy the dip would be without it, so I waited until the end to add it.

Cheddar adds flavor but can be grainy when melted. Monterey jack cheese melts smoothly.

1 tablespoon butter
1½ tablespoon flour
1 cup milk
1 (10-ounce) can Ro-tel diced tomatoes and green chiles, undrained
2 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
2 ounces Monterey jack cheese, shredded
¼ teaspoon salt
1 jalapeno, minced

Melt butter over medium heat. Once it foams, whisk in flour. Whisk constantly for 1 minute, then gradually whisk in milk. Bring mixture to boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes and chiles and bring to a simmer. Add remaining ingredients. Stir until cheese melts. Serve with tortilla chips.

eat your veggies (roasted onion and bacon dip)


There are those people who love vegetables. They want nothing more than a big plate of perfectly steamed broccoli or braised Brussels sprouts. My husband is like this, and so is my mom. These people are lucky.

I don’t hate vegetables. If they’re cooked just right, I find them pretty darn edible. But I’m always more interested in the starch or meat parts of a meal. The vegetables are just there to make me healthy.

Unless, of course, you dip the healthy vegetables in some bacony, sour creamy, mayonnaisey dip. Then I’m on board.

This dip is based on roasted onions and bacon. I love caramelized onions, and roasting did the trick, and at the same time filled my kitchen with the homey smell of cooking onions.

The recipe is originally from Cooks Illustrated, but I’ve adapted it substantially. The original needed more bacon, more salt, and some mayonnaise. Also, the original called for chives, but I had green onions around instead.

Even with all the changes I needed to make, it made those veggies a whole lot more appetizing!

Roasted Onion and Bacon Dip
Makes about 1½ cups

3 medium yellow onions, unpeeled
½ tablespoon olive oil
6 slices bacon, cooked crisp and drained, crumbled
2/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons scallions, chopped fine
½ teaspoon table salt
Ground black pepper

1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet or with aluminum foil; rub foil with oil. Cut onions in half crosswise (along their equators). Cut an X, about 1-inch deep, in the root and stem ends. Place onions cut side down on baking sheet. Roast until dark brown around bottom edge, about 30 minutes. Transfer pan to rack; let onions rest for 5 minutes before peeling off the pan. Let onions cool, then peel and chop fine.

2. Mix all ingredients (including onions) in medium bowl. Serve immediately or chill.