Fun with falafel

I can’t tell you the first time I had falafel but I know that it was love at first taste. And the love affair has been ongoing ever since.

I like any kind too. There’s not a boxed falafel I haven’t enjoyed, and I will go out of my way to get it in stores. Literally. Almost any time I’m in Iowa City, I’ll make a stop at Oasis. Heck, one time I made my family go to Canada (from Montana) to get a falafel dog (and hot dogs, which I also love).

Baked falafel ingredients.

So, it’s not a surprise that when I found a homemade recipe for it years ago, I had to try it. And once again, I’ve been making it ever since.

My tastes have evolved over the years, so it’s probably just my current palate that makes me say this, but I think this time is the best I’ve made it.

It comes from a snarky vegan cookbook that I’ve only made a handful of recipes from and mostly ignored the annoying pleas for using coconut oil, and I’m sure I’ve made other things where I straight up just added real cheese. Not to snark on vegans but, man, cool it sometimes.

So, suffice to say, I’ve amended the original (though mine is still vegan. Until I top it with tzatziki.).

Since I don’t have a good food processor, I used my very wonderful Ninja blender. That made it a little hard to bring the mixture together so I added a little water, and this made the mix look a little like cookies when I finally baked them. But don’t let that fool you, they were still amazing and perfect, and I honestly recommend making them with a few splashes of water even if you have a food processor so they turn out this delightful.

While they’re not as simple as pouring from a box, they are baked instead of fried and still pretty frickin’ easy, and did I mention, amazing?!

These aren’t cookies, but they are savory treats that won’t make you falafel. 😉

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1 (15 oz.) can garbanzo beans/chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 2 T. panko crumbs
  • 2 T. whole wheat flour
  • Chopped parsley, to taste (it calls for 2 T. but I like more)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 t. ground cumin, or to taste
  • 1 t. ground coriander, or to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil, preferably spray

Directions

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spray or lightly coat with oil.

In a food processor or blender, combine the garbanzo beans, onion, panko, flour, parsley, garlic, spices, and a splash of water and blend. Pulse until smooth, adding tablespoons of water as necessary. Once mixed, flatten into about a dozen rounds and place on the lined sheet pan. Spray or brush lightly with more oil.

Bake for about 45 minutes, turning halfway through, and enjoy with tzatziki and pita!

Serendipitous simple spinach swirls

I was not expecting to make this week’s dish, but I just happened to have all but one of the ingredients on hand. So, one Sunday morning before a get-together with friends, I whipped together spanakopita-like spinach swirls.

Spinach swirls ingredients.

And they’re a real Frankenstein’s monster of my previous sheet pan recipes.

I had left over one sheet of puff pastry from the sausage “sandwich” I made earlier this year. I had bought a gigantic block of feta for the chicken meatballs, because it called for the brine too, and had quite a bit leftover. I had the basic idea of what it’d take to make it work from when I actually did make spanakopita. We even just happened to have dill around for some reason, and everything but spinach is a regular pantry item. So, I sought spinach.

While I made this frantically, because as usual I was running late for said get-together, it was super simple and comes together quick. Mine didn’t look as pretty as a similar-ish recipe on the back of the puff pastry box but still tasty.

My only issue is I took the back-of-the-box advice to brush on an egg wash on the dough before baking, which was fine, but it made the swirls stick to the pan, so I wish I had used parchment paper for easy cleanup. Oh, and I probably should’ve strained the spinach a bit. Other than that, simple and delicious.

So simple and so delicious.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1 (10 oz.) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 1 sheet puff pastry
  • ~1 c. crumbled feta (I’d bet a 4 oz. container of crumbled feta would be a fine amount)
  • ½ c. Parmesan, shredded
  • 2 eggs, divided
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Dill, to taste
  • Flour, for rolling pastry dough

Directions

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line a large rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper.

Squeeze out water from handfuls of spinach and place in a large bowl. Add feta, Parmesan, garlic, 1 egg, salt, pepper, and dill to the spinach, and stir well to combine.

Place a small handful of flour on a clean surface, and unroll the puff pastry sheet. Sprinkle with more flour, and then roll out to about 12 inches by 10 inches or so.

Place the spinach mix along the long side of the puff pastry. Roll up like a jelly roll. Cut into about 12 slices.

Place face up on the lined sheet pan.

Mix together the remaining egg with about 1 T. of water. Stir the egg wash on the edges of the puff pastry to coat.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the puff pastry is golden brown, and enjoy!

Sweet simple sumptuous scones

A week late but I found the perfect “I don’t have time for this” sheet pan recipe.

The good news is it’s been another hectic week that meant I also didn’t have a lot of time to make something this week either; the bad news is, well, it’s been another hectic week. Please someone older than me tell me that life gets less stressful eventually.

Since I’m doubtful that someone will reach out to me, I’ll take solace in the fact that simple sumptuous scones exist and help make life worth living.

Lavender scone ingredients.

Lavender and lemon combine to make the perfect airy, floral, summery breakfast.

And as I might have mentioned, they’re fairly simple.

I’m not super picky when it comes to scones, and one of my favorites is Betty Crocker’s, but these had a nice fluffy texture that made it almost cake-like, while not really having more sugar than any other scone. They were a delight, and I’m absolutely sure I’ll make them again. I might even try to change it up and use different flavors, like my favorite raspberry and white chocolate chip.

Three quick notes:

  • The recipe calls for 2 sheet pans. I almost didn’t but decided to trust the recipe, especially since it’s from the the typically trustworthy Epicurious, and I’m glad I did. The scones don’t look so big but they expand, so use 2 sheet pans or bake in batches.
  • It also suggests serving with store-bought lemon curd. While lemon curd is a treat and does go well with the scones, lavender is such a subtle flavor that the lemon tends to overpower it, especially when lemon zest is already in the scones. So, use with that warning or feel free to pass if you love lavender.
  • Lavender made sound hard to come by, but my favorite spice shop Allspice in Des Moines has lavender flowers, and they ship if you can’t get to Iowa’s capital. And, if you don’t want to include them, I’m sure they’d be OK without it, if less exciting.
So delicious they help make bad days better.

Did I mention these were simple and amazing? OK, here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 3 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for light kneading
  • ¾ c. granulated sugar
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 2 t. dried lavender buds (recipe called for 1 t., but like I said, subtle; I also sprinkled just a few on top of each scone for plating purposes and for a bit more taste, but you do you)
  • 1 t. salt
  • ½ t. baking soda
  • 1 ½ sticks butter (preferably unsalted), cut into ¼-inch cubes
  • 1 c. buttermilk, plus more for brushing (2-4 T.)
  • Zest from one lemon
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 T. demerara sugar, or granulated sugar, for topping
  • Lemon curd, optional and to taste

Directions

Heat oven to 425 degrees, and arrange racks on upper and lower thirds of oven. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix together the 3 c. flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, lavender buds, salt, and baking soda. Cut in the butter, using two knives, your fingers, or a pastry blender. Stir in the lemon zest.

Make a well in the dried ingredients and add the buttermilk and vanilla.

Stir slowly to mix. I found a fork worked really well.

Once a shaggy dough forms, turn out onto a floured surface and lightly knead until the dough forms together.

Use your hands to pat into an about 10-inch by 6-inch rectangle. Cut the rectangle in half lengthwise, and then cut each square into four squares. Cut each square into two triangles, so you have 16 triangles of dough.

Divide the triangles between the prepared baking sheets. Brush with the buttermilk and then sprinkle with the additional sugar.

Bake until scones are golden, about 13 to 15 minutes. Enjoy warm or at room temperature with lemon curd, if desired.

 

Everything sucks about these everything bagel crackers

I’ve been wanting to make this week’s recipe for a few years now, ever since I spent a year making breads. Somehow these crackers never made the cut, but I’ve saved the link to the recipe for a time when I had the chance to make them.

Of course, I’ve had opportunities but when you like to make food as much as I do, the list of things you wish to make — while still making time for old favorites — is quite long.

But, still, these are everything bagel crackers. Everything bagels were my first and favorite bagel love.

Everything bagel crackers ingredients. If you dare to make them.

If I’m only getting a single bagel, it will be an everything bagel (with a plain shmear, if you’re wondering). If I’m getting a dozen, a quarter to half of them will be everything. Almost all of the remainder will be one of the toppings from an everything bagel — poppy seed, sesame seed, garlic, maybe onion. I might make an addition of an asiago.

Point is, it’s a little weird I haven’t made these crackers yet.

So, even though I didn’t have a lot of time this week, I love to make bread and I thought this was the perfect week to finally whip together this treat.

It didn’t go well from the start, which should have been a sign.

Most of it was my fault. I had to go get some ingredients so I got off to a late start; it went more slowly than I had anticipated; I misread the directions slightly so I got even more flustered; and it made more of a mess in our already messy kitchen than I had hoped.

But not all hope was lost. After all, these were topped with “everything.” It’d all work out.

And initial signs indicated it’d be OK. The first few that crisped at the edges got taken out a little early while the rest baked, and after slight cooling, they tasted pretty good.

Then, when I was putting them away, my spirits got totally crushed and I’ve vowed to get revenge on this recipe if it’s the last thing I do (OK, not really, I’m just feeling dramatic.).

The parchment paper lining, I thought, made for an easy way to wiggle the crackers into a Ziploc bag for safe storage.

But when I poured, all of the topping mix just came right off the crackers and sunk to the bottom of the bag.

The only thing that made them good sat in a layer so so so far away from the crackers. I could have saved the effort of brushing the crackers with oil and carefully sprinkling on the topping mix, and instead just dumped them on some plain wheat crackers.

A second batch was placed more carefully but it only salvaged a couple of poppy seeds. Plus, who wants to make crackers that have to stay right-side up for their toppings to stay on?

Ugh.

As for the crackers, they were merely OK. The salt stayed on, which meh. Mostly, I made it work by pouring the topping mix onto hummus and then scooping up everything hummus onto plain wheat crackers.

If you’re still brave enough to make this recipe after my rant, and not dissuaded, I do have two thoughts to make it work. First, mix the everything topping mixture *into* the cracker dough, or do most of it in the dough and sprinkle on some, and then *press* it into the dough with wax paper or more parchment paper. Second, just do it all on top, but *press* it into the dough.

Me, I’m just going to hit up an Einstein’s or make the mix and put it on something else.

They look pretty good, sure. But if you turn them upside down, that topping just slides right off.

Here’s what I did, mostly following a recipe from The Chew:

Ingredients

For the crackers

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 2 t. sugar
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 ¼ c. water
  • 5 ½ T. olive oil (plus more for brushing if you put the topping mix on top)

For the topping mix

  • 2 t. dried minced onion, or onion flakes
  • 2 t. dried minced garlic, or garlic flakes
  • 2 t. poppy seeds
  • 2 t. sesame seeds
  • 2 t. Kosher salt
  • 1 t. caraway seeds (optional)
  • 1 t. fennel seeds (optional)
  • 1 t. black sesame seeds (optional)

Directions

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Line two large rimmed sheet pans with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix together the flours, sugar and salt. Stir in the oil and water. Mix together until well incorporated. (Add the topping mix here, if desired.) Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead to combine completely, without overworking the dough.

Divide the dough into three discs and cover two with plastic.

Roll one disc at a time to ⅛ inch thickness, and then cut into 2” pieces. (The recipe says to cut into triangles but TBH, I couldn’t figure out how to make discs make triangles of that size without a lot of effort. I thought at first cutting like a pizza but they were too big.)

Transfer the pieces to the parchment paper-lined sheet pan. (Here’s where I misread. The recipe has you do this in batches so you do one disc, bake, then the next disc. I missed that, but I’d rather get it done quicker by fitting it all on 2 sheet pans and baking at the same time.)

Repeat with the next two discs.

Just before baking, brush the triangles (or whatever) with oil and top with topping mix. PRESS into the dough.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until crispy.

Let cool completely, and try to enjoy!

Reflections on perfect pairings

This week’s recipe comes courtesy of my cousin’s husband’s family, whatever that relation is called. It melds the flavors of sweet and spicy, a combination I would have been skeptical of and probably never tried if my cousin hadn’t brought it to a recent family gathering.

But I loved the bourbon pecan recipe so much I asked her to pass it along.

Bourbon pecan ingredients; yes, I buy cheap whiskey.

As I made the recipe for the first time this week, it got me thinking about perfect pairings.

One of the more joyous things about growing up is seeing the people you love find their love. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s been wonderful to see the family grow to include these new people into our lives, and marvel as they put up with all of us, especially when we get together.

This is true throughout my immediate family, where my mom, dad, and oldest brother, found partners that complement them so well, and fit them to a T. But it’s also been true for much of my extended family, as well.

And, of course, it’s the case with my cousin Stephanie who shared this recipe and who married her sweetie 10 years ago this summer, just weeks before I met my own sweetie.

Since around that time, the Crippes clan has been trying to have regular get-togethers. At each, our family of foodies has shared our favorite recipes to try to impress one another.

Stephanie is overly kind in praising my contributions (her mom, Sue, however, deservedly gets credit), so she was especially pleased at how much I enjoyed this bourbon pecan recipe.

For my part, I’m just delighted that when she tried it, she thought of us and decided to share. Candied pecans coated in a cayenne spice mix might at first blush seem like they’re going to clash, but trust me, it’s a match made in heaven.

Soooooo good.

Here’s what we did:

Ingredients

  • 3 oz. bourbon (2 shots, or 1/4 cup+2 tbsp.)
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. Angostura bitters
  • 1 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 T. vegetable oil
  • 1 lb. pecans (4 cups)
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin

Directions

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Simmer the bourbon to reduce it by half (3 T.). It happens relatively quickly so I kept a heat-proof measuring cup by the pot to keep checking it didn’t boil down too much.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar, bitters, Worcestershire, and oil. Add the warm bourbon. Stir until sugar is nearly dissolved; the nuts will take care of the rest of dissolving if you’re not sure.

Separately, in a large pot, blanch the pecans for 1 minute in boiling water and drain. Add to bourbon mixture and toss, and then let it stand for 10 minutes.

Then, spread the candied nuts on a large rimmed sheet pan, pouring the remaining marinade over them. Bake for 30 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes.

When the nuts are crisp and lightly browned and the liquid has evaporated, turn nuts into a clean bowl.

In a small bowl, combine the cayenne, salt, pepper, and cumin and mix well. Sprinkle the spice mixture over the nuts while tossing them.

Turn out onto a clean non stick or foil lined cookie sheet to cool. When cool and dry, store in an airtight container, and enjoy!

The recipe that convinced me to cook with tofu

I discovered the joys of tofu as a college student trying Thai food for the very first time. But I could never really figure out how to cook the tofu so that it came out like the wonderful pad see-ew or Pad Thai I got at restaurants. If I’m honest, I still haven’t mastered it.

So, instead, I’ve found an alternative way to make tofu that tastes amazing, has a million uses, and yes, even works in noodle dishes. That’s right; it’s baked tofu.

Baked tofu ingredients.

The thing is frying tofu just right is very difficult, but baked tofu is about impossible to mess up.

Plus, it comes pre-flavored with the saltiness of soy sauce and the spiciness of sambal oelek. Oh, and there’s wine. And that, combined with time, is about all it takes to transform the flavorless, spongy soy protein into something that is good enough to eat by itself.

I couldn’t even tell you where I initially found the recipe, but I know the blog post similarly raved about the ease. And frankly, I think I added the sambal oelek. I just know that I make it often enough, and it’s easy enough that this is the first time I’ve written it down.

My favorite uses for it are for spring rolls, stir fry (but keep it separate, otherwise it absorbs the liquid), and simple vegetable wraps. But options are endless as long as you have the delightful base.

I used these little guys to make *both* spring rolls and stir fry this week. Yum!

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1 (18 oz.) container tofu (extra firm is preferred but firm will work in a pinch)
  • ¼ c. soy sauce
  • ¼ c. white wine (or water, or cooking sherry)
  • 1 heaping T. sambal oelek (usually found in the Asian section, or Sriracha will work in a pinch)
  • 1 T. sesame oil (optional)
  • Canola oil

Directions

Open and drain the tofu. Then, press it to drain more of the liquid for at least an hour. I’ve worked out a system where I use the sheet pan as the catch for the excess liquid, then place an upside-down rounded plate on top of the sheet pan, put the tofu on the plate, and then use a heavy lid like for a Dutch oven or another plate with a weight on top to press the tofu. (This can also be done a day in advance, and store the drained tofu in a Tupperware.)

Once the tofu is strained, cut it into 15 to 20 long slices. Again, I use the overturned plate to do my cutting so I don’t dirty more dishes.

Heat the oven to 325.

Then, mix together the soy sauce, wine, sambal oelek and sesame oil, if using.

Rinse and dry the sheet pan, and then coat it with canola oil. Place the slices of tofu on the sheet pan in a single layer. Brush on about half of the soy sauce mixture, and let sit for 5 minutes so the tofu absorbs most of the flavorful liquid, Turn over the slices carefully, and brush the remaining sauce on the other side. Let it absorb into the tofu for another 5 minutes. It’s OK if not all the liquid absorbs.

I usually spray with a little more oil because I’m paranoid it’ll stick.

Bake the tofu for 15 minutes, take out of the oven, and *carefully* flip over the slices. Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until nice and browned and the liquid absorbed. Let cool slightly, and enjoy!

Extra Post: Let’s celebrate Casimir Pulaski Day

So, I didn’t make this recipe recently, but I couldn’t resist a Polish post to celebrate Casimir Pulaski Day.

Since I grew up in Illinois, there were two extra holidays we got each year. They were Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (of course in the Land of Lincoln, we celebrated the 16th president individually), and Casimir Pulaski Day.

Pulaski isn’t celebrated much outside of Illinois, but he was a Revolutionary War hero from Poland and is credited as a founder of the U.S. cavalry. And he seems like a pretty cool and worldly dude.

Usually I try to make something each year to celebrate my Polish roots and celebrate the Illinois holiday. This year I didn’t have my [expletive deleted] together to get something Polish together in time for today’s holiday.

Fortunately, I made bialys a few years ago in my previous life as a newspaper reporter, and the little not-bagels are made on a sheet pan.

Bialys, a tasty Polish treat

So, here’s a little recipe extra for lyal readers:

Ingredients

For the starter or polish

  • ½ c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 c. water
  • ¼ t. active dry yeast

For the bialy dough            

  • 1 starter
  • 1 ½ c. warm water
  • 2 ½ t. active dry yeast (or one package)
  • 1 ½ T. honey
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 ½ t. salt
  • 3 c. bread flour
  • 1 c. all purpose flour

For the bialy filling

  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 T. oil
  • 2 T. poppy seeds
  • Salt, to taste

Directions

The night before you plan to make the bread, make the starter before going to bed. Stir together the flour and yeast. Mix in the water until a sticky dough forms. Cover and let rest overnight.

When ready to make the dough, mix together the yeast, water and honey. Let the yeast activate for about 15 minutes. Then, add the starter, olive oil, salt, all-purpose flour and about 2 c. of the bread flour.

Turn out on a floured surface, and knead, adding in the remainder of the bread flour as necessary. Knead for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Place dough in a large bowl that has been coated with oil. Over with oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a cool place for about 2 hours.

Once dough has about doubled in size, punch it down in the bowl and then divide it into about 20 even pieces. Roll each dough piece into a ball and then stretch out to about a 3-inch round. Place round on floured baking sheet and indent around the middle, leaving about a 1-inch lip around the edge. Repeat with remaining dough pieces, leaving enough space in between dough rounds so the bialy can rise a second time.

Cover with oiled plastic wrap or a tea towel and let rise for about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

During second rise, mince garlic and chop onion. Pour oil into large cast-iron skillet and let warm over medium heat. Once hot, add in onions and garlic and cook for a few minutes before turning heat to medium low. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until caramelized. Once browned, remove from heat and add in the salt and poppy seeds.

Once second rise is complete, add ½ to 1 T. of the filling into each of the bialy indentations until it’s all used up. Place baking sheet (or sheets) into oven and cook for 12 to 15 minutes. Enjoy warm and with cream cheese!

Nachos for everyone!

I wasn’t sure about this week’s recipe for a lot of reasons.

First, are they nachos or chilaquiles? Second, I wasn’t following any real recipe, so I had no idea the amounts to use or how long to bake it. And that meant I had no idea if it would turn out well.

So, it was a good thing I decided to try it out on some friends.

Sheet pan nachos ingredients.

As for the name, eh, whatever.

Fortunately, it was too easy to fail, and they turned out great. Frankly, I think part of the reason there’s no recipe for sheet pan nachos — or no need for one anyway — is it’s all about what you like best. I even saved a little side to be onion-free so my onion-hating friend could still enjoy this snack.

That means that while I will lay out below what I did to make this treat for friends, there’s no reason you have to do the same thing. For instance, I used fake beef seasoned with taco seasoning, but you could use shredded chicken or skip the meat altogether.

Yummy loaded nachos

I’d say the recipe below offers a good guide on how much of each item to add, but again, maybe you don’t like cheese as much as me or you’re another onion-hater. So, you do you, but in case you have the same tastes as me, here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1 (15 oz) party-size bag tortilla chips
  • 1 lb. prepared and seasoned taco meat (1 lb. meat of your choice and 1 package of taco seasoning of your choice)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 2 (15 oz) cans black refried beans
  • 1 (16 oz) jar salsa
  • 3 c. shredded Mexican cheese.

Directions

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, spread the tortilla chips onto a large sheet pan with sides (about 15 ½ x 12 inches). Full disclosure, I reserved some of the chips so I could use those to scoop up any extra food left behind, but you can spread them all.

Top with the beans, meat, peppers and onions, salsa, and finally top with the cheese.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the other ingredients are warm. Let cool slightly and enjoy with friends!