Sunday, January 31, 2016

Parmesan Seed Crisps

I love cheese!  I do not discriminate - I love all kinds of cheese from a nice sharp cheddar to a rich triple crème brie to a pungent Roquefort.  I have almost never met a cheese I didn't like.  When you combine a good Parmesan and some crunchy seeds and toast them together to make a thin cracker-like crisp - well, what's not to love?

These crisps are a tasty accompaniment to a glass of celebratory champagne or an artisanal cocktail.  Or all alone when you need a savory snack to munch.  Make smaller versions and toss them in a Caesar salad in place of the traditional croutons for a modern take on an old classic.  

Substitute Romano cheese for the Parmesan cheese and chopped nuts for the seeds or add additional spices to mix it up and create different tastes.  The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.  Once you try these cheesy, crunchy crisps you will want to make more.

Parmesan Seed Crisps
Yields 12, 3-inch (8 cm) crisps

1 cup (80 g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon (10 g) flax seeds
1 tablespoon (10 g) chia seeds
2 tablespoons (8 g) raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
freshly cracked pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350℉ (180℃).  Line 2 baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.  Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Sprinkle a thin layer of the cheese mixture about 3 inches (8 cm) in diameter on the lined baking sheet.

Bake for 7-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden.  Allow to cool for a few minutes before carefully transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store crisps in an air-tight container for up to four days.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Sweet and Sour Lentil Soup

When I worked at the bakery in Palo Alto there was a man named Helmet who made soup for our daily lunch service.  All of his homemade soups were delicious, but his Sweet and Sour Lentil was a favorite not only with our customers, but with the staff.  I often think of that soup when the weather is cold and blustery outside.  I wish I had asked for the recipe.  

The ownership of the bakery has changed and I have no idea what became of Helmet so I decided to try and re-create the soup from memory.   I do know Helmet used dried apricots for the ‘sweet’ and red wine vinegar to create the ‘sour.'  With that knowledge and a little trial and error I think I got it right or at least pretty close.

Much of what I learned about the pastry world came from the owner, my boss and friend, Kelly, shown above with a much younger me in the background.  We worked hard, but it was fun and satisfying as nothing puts a smile on a person's face like someone holding a beautiful cake.

I am a firm believer that homemade stock is the secret to a really flavorful soup.  My sister, Michelle, and brother-in-law, Matt, host a large Thanksgiving gathering each year.  Since there are a lot of people to feed they cook more than one turkey, some in the oven and some on the grill.  I am the lucky recipient of the turkey carcasses each year which provide me with the bones to make a good supply of rich homemade stock.  

I find chopping vegetables therapeutic.  Since this is a rustic soup there is not need to be super precise  cutting the vegetables a rough chop is fine.

Sweet and Sour Lentil Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2-3 stalks of celery, chopped
2-3 carrots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
6 cups (1 1/2 quarts/1 1/2 liters) chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade
1 cup (250 ml) water
1 lb. (16 oz./454 g) lentils
1/2 cup (95 g) dried apricots, chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or a heavy stockpot.  Sauté the onions, celery and carrots until soft.  Add the garlic and stir a minute or two until fragrant.  Add the chicken/vegetable stock and water, bring to a boil.  

Add the lentils and boil gently for 35-40 minutes until the lentils are tender.  With ten minutes left for the lentils to cook add the chopped apricots.  When the lentils are done remove from the heat and add the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt if desired.