afghan home-style naan

not many people realize that our neighborhood has one of the largest kurdish populations in the country.  as a result, many of the shops cater to our kurdish neighbors.  it was in one of these shops that we experienced authentic naan for the first time.  the owner of the shop was so friendly and welcoming that he actually allowed me to go to the back of the shop and watch the ladies shape and bake the bread in a tandoor oven.

we may not have a tandoor oven in our kitchen, but that hasn’t stopped me from making naan at home.  it is such a simple, quick to mix bread dough that it can easily be on the table in couple hours.  the recipe i used was adapted from the classic book, flatbreads and flavors by jeffrey alford and naomi duguid.

the bread is rolled out on a sprinkling of sesame seeds so that they become embedded in the dough.  the dough gets slashed in a star pattern to prevent bubbles from forming.  then it goes into the oven and bakes up very quickly on a hot stone or quarry tiles.

the recipe calls for all whole wheat flour but i used substituted 1 cup of bread flour because i ran short on whole wheat.  even so, the bread is still chock full of whole grain goodness!

the loaves baked up very quickly on the stone in about ten minutes. 

typical of a freshly baked naan, it is spongy and chewy.  the sesame seeds give it a nice crunch and a nutty flavor.

afghan home-style naan
makes 6 loaves
2 teaspoons dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105-115F)
1 cup cold plain, whole milk yogurt
1 cup boiling water
approximately 5 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons safflower or corn oil (i used olive oil)
2 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons sesame seeds
sprinkle the yeast over the 1/2 cup of warm water in a large bowl and stir it to dissolve it.  place the yogurt in a small bowl and stir in the boiling water.  whisk it to combine and allow it to cool to 105-115F.  stir the yogurt mixture into the yeast .  
to make the sponge, stir 3 cups of flour into the yeast mixture.  stir it in one direction for 2 minutes. cover with plastic and let stand for 30 minutes.
sprinkle the oil and salt over the dough and begin adding the flour, 1/2 cup at a time to form a soft dough.  you can do this by hand or in a mixer with the dough hook.  i used the mixer.  knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic and cleans the sides of the bowl (for mixer users) and for the hand kneaders, the dough should not be sticky-this will take about 10 minutes.  place the dough in an oiled bowl to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
place a stone or quarry tiles in the oven and heat it to 450F.  punch the dough down and divide it into 6 equal pieces.  shape each piece into a 4-5 inch disk with a little flour to prevent sticking.  cover with a towel and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.  using the least amount of flour possible, roll the dough out until it starts to stretch.  brush off the flour and sprinkle about 1 tablespoon sesame seeds onto the work surface.  put the dough on top of the seeds and begin rolling it out to a rectangle that is 6″x10″.  turn the dough over.  using a razor or a knife, cut 5 (1″) slashes in a star pattern into the dough-i used a pizza wheel.  place the dough on a well floured peel and slide it onto the heated stone.  bake until it begins to show some golden brown on the top-don’t let it get to dark or the bread will be crispy rather than spongy.  place the hot bread on a rack to cool.  repeat the steps with the other 5 rounds of dough.

holiday cookie round up: wheat cookies

it just doesn’t seem like christmas without sugar cookies.  every year, my girls decorate a batch of sugar cookies to give to their cousins.  it is a bit of a joke, the cookies are some of the craziest, ugliest cookies around!  the royal icing used for decorating is tinted with colors that are vibrant to say the least.  and they aren’t shy with the icing either.  but none of that matters.  they are always well received and a good laugh is had by all.

it just so happens that sugar cookies are one of my favorite cookies.  when i was much younger, a child even, i would look forward to our family trip to my aunt and uncle’s house for christmas dinner.  honestly, it was the cookies i was anticipating.  there were so many to choose from.  each year, my aunt would roll out a batch of bertha’s famous wheat cookies.  while wheat cookies may not sound like something a kid would covet, these were really just sugar cookies made with some whole wheat flour.

my aunt kept it simple.  she would adorn each cookie with a piece of glaceed cherry, some red, some green.

sometimes, simplicity is perfection…

the cookies are easy to make.  i have posted the recipe before and you can find it by clicking here.  the recipe was written down by my late uncle, my mother added the note about not using butter.  however, i made this batch with butter and to compensate for the drier dough, i reduced both types of flour by 1/4 cup.  it worked perfectly.

feeding the monster: chocolate chip cookies

life is getting a little complicated for me.  it seems that i am reaching that age many women dread; you know, that age where you reluctantly reveal the ages of your children.  that age where your joints will ache when you simply think about doing something strenuous or catch the part of the forecast that calls for a drop in temperature.   yup, that’s the one, the one leading to the change, yes, that change.  
what does that mean, you ask.  it means that i can gain weight through osmosis and that you better think twice about cutting off my chocolate supply.   to add the proverbial insult to injury, i also feel a cold coming on, lucky me.  needless to say, i spent the day in the house not venturing any further than the recycling bin in the carport.  a call for comfort food led me to chocolate chip cookies-they were easier to make than a pot of matzoh ball soup.
in my quest for healthier eating habits, i have amassed a small collection of vegan cookbooks by isa chandra moskowitz.  my need of a chocolate fix had me perusing the index of vegan with a vengeance in search of a chocolate chip cookie recipe.  it seems that they have been on my mind for weeks and i needed to get them out of my system.  what better way to do this than to simply eat way too many warm from the oven cookies.  
as a cookbook author, i love reading isa’s books.  she lets her personality show and she doesn’t hold back.  the first sentence of the head note for her chocolate chip cookies reads:  “there’s nothing healthy about these.”  her motivation for this recipe was to simply prove that a vegan version could be as tasty as a traditional non-vegan version.  it worked, she proved her point, and now i needed to prove to myself that i could make some that might be a little less unhealthy for me in my quest to keep the cholesterol level in check.
my first step was to convert the recipe over to coconut oil.  while it wouldn’t have been a bad thing to use a nonhydrogenated margarine, i didn’t have any and had to use what was in my closet-a new, unopened jar of virgin coconut oil i picked up on my last trip to trader joe’s. 

 the recipe calls for regular granulated sugar and the addition of molasses.  well, that sounds easy enough if you happen to have some which i somehow do not at the moment.  even my supply of sorghum seemed to have dried up.  in the closet, i found (from left to right) brown rice syrup, barley malt syrup, sugar beet syrup and honey from our bees.  i went with the honey-a non vegan ingredient.

 the coconut oil will not whip up the way margarine does-it will actually get a little runny if you over mix it.  so take care with the length of time you cream it with the sugar.

the recipe also calls for all purpose flour.  i was a little surprised by that.  i decided that if i was going to eat these cookies, they definitely needed some whole grain.  in place of the 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour,  i used a combination of all purpose flour, whole wheat flour and ground flax seeds.

i didn’t have vegan chocolate chips, and honestly, i don’t know that i would keep them on hand since i do not follow a strict vegan diet.  to keep them tasting a little more like the traditional toll house recipe, i added some chopped walnuts.  unfortunately, the dough came out really dry and crumbly most likely as a result of the whole wheat flour and the flax seeds.  the last minute addition of some soy milk saved the day.

 pressing the tops of the cookies to make more of a thick disk before baking improved their appearance.

 honestly, you can’t tell by looking at them that they are (almost completely) vegan cookies.  the whole wheat flour and the ground flax seeds are barely visible.  i certainly didn’t taste it and i am a little nauseated now having eaten at least 3 of them while they were still warm from the oven…

almost completely vegan chocolate chip cookies
makes 3 dozen cookies

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/3 cup unbleached all purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup coconut oil-preferably virgin coconut oil and solid at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon molasses or sorghum(for the vegan version-honey, for the non-vegan)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips-vegan or non vegan
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped small
1/4 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
preheat the oven to 350.  in a small bowl, whisk together the whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, flax seeds and the baking soda and set it aside.  in a large mixing bowl, cream the coconut oil with the sugar, molasses, vanilla and salt for 2-3 minutes taking care not to let it get to warm.  add the whisked dry ingredients and mix on low speed to combine.  add the chocolate chips, walnuts and soy milk and mix to form a slightly crumbly dough.  using a #40 scoop or a fully filled and rounded teaspoon of dough, form the cookies by gently pressing the top of the dough to flatten it into an even disk.  bake for 9 minutes (if you are using a convection fan, you may have to adjust the time) or until they are slightly browned around the edges.  allow the cookies to cool on the pans for 5 minutes and then remove them to a rack to finish cooling.
and now, it is time for me to step away from the rack…i may never go back to the traditional version; thanks isa!!!

whole wheat loaves: tuesdays with dorie/baking with julia

the last couple of weeks have been a blur.  mom and i traveled to atlanta to visit my daughter.  our days were filled with trips in and out of antique shops and restaurants with a few stops at bakeries and asian markets in-between.  now that we are back in nashville, it is about the same-you name it, if it is an antique shop or a thrift store, we have probably been in there.  needless to say, whether i would have the chance to spend some time at home in my kitchen baking the challenge for this week’s tuesdays with dorie/baking with julia challenge was questionable.

the saving grace, we ran out of bread-an opportunity or an excuse, to get to work and make a loaf of bread.  better yet, it is a simple loaf of whole wheat bread that was quick to mix up in the kitchen aid.  the only note, i did not need all of the flour called for; of the 6 1/2 cups of white and wheat flour that are mixed together, i had about 1/4 cup left over and still had a slightly tacky dough.  once the machine kneaded dough was in the pans, it rose quickly.  word to the wise, this isn’t a good time to run out to the store while the bread rises…

this is why, it rises up real quick and before you know it, it is hanging over the sides of the pan like a drunk on a stool.  but in their defense, i will say that the directions to use an 8 1/2″x4 1/2″ loaf pan may not be the best idea.  if i make this again, i will have to remember to follow my first instinct and use my slightly larger 9″x5″x3″ pans.

looking a little like a plumbers gut hanging over the top of his pants, my loaves baked in the suggested 35 minutes but i took them out of the pans at about 32 minutes and baked them on the oven rack for a few extra minutes.

the next morning, it sliced beautifully and tasted wonderful with a little salted butter.  thanks to our hostesses, michele of veggie num nums and teresa of the family that bakes together.  be sure to check out the tuesdays with dorie page to find the links of all of this week’s participants and see how they did. and if you are interested in baking a batch of this wonderful bread, buy the book or visit michele’s or teresa’s blog pages.  bake on friends!

reliving my childhood

hard to believe it is already the second week of january.  i had hoped to post this sooner but my life got in the way!  when i was growing up, we would go to my uncles on christmas day every year.  all of the family would gather for an informal dinner followed by dessert and then presents.  the best part of that celebration were the cookies that my aunt and uncle would make for us.  one of my favorites was always the wheat cookies.  a rolled sugar cookie with whole wheat flour, they were very simply decorated with just a piece of glaceed cherry.  so simple yet so memorable.  this year, i made a batch with my younger daughter-i rolled and cut, she applied the cherries.

 the original recipe, my mother says it is in my uncle’s handwriting and that she added the note not to use butter.  heed the warning-i tried and it ended up in the trash!  i would also recommend leaving out 1-2 tablespoons of each of the flours and adding them only if needed.  mine didn’t need them and rolled out nicely.

apply the cherries before baking and they will be attached to the cookies, just be sure to blot them if they are wet with syrup or it will leave dark brown splotches on the top of the cookie.