Monday, January 30, 2012

Onion Cake


Which is what Dad called it. It's not a cake, it is a giant savory pastry and is amazingly easy to make. I had bought a bag of green onions to make something else that never happened, so I had to use up the lot before they died.

1/2 recipe of the amazingly versatile pizza dough, at least 2 days old
1 large bunch green onions
olive oil

Let the dough sit, covered, somewhere warm, until it has gotten very relaxed and has developed large gas pockets.

Preheat oven to 425.

Slice the green & white parts of the onions thinly and toss with about a half teaspoon of salt. Set aside.

Flour a surface and roll out the dough until it's paper thin. It will be a good 2 feet across. Drizzle generously with oil. Spread the oil over the dough right up to the edges and sprinkle the sliced onions evenly over it. Roll up the dough tightly, then coil it into a circle. Put it on a greased pan and sort of squish it a little flatter. Turn it over a couple times as you squish, to flatten both sides and to get all the surfaces oily. Bake for 15 minutes, turn it over, and bake for another 20 minutes.


1. Do not knead the dough before rolling it out! You will make it seize back up and it will be hard to roll. This dough is really quite rugged. You can flip it over without tearing holes in it even when it is extremely thin, which makes it easier to roll a nice, even, circle.
2. Use fresh onions. Mine were acceptable, but had gotten rather sharp with age.
3. The thinner you get the dough, the better. It will be more tender that way.
4. Don't skimp on the oil.
5. Or the flour when you roll the dough. A certain amount of loose flour helps maintain the flaky structure, as well as prevent sticking to the rolling surface.

This is one of my most favorite foods, ever. The onions are sweet and salty, the bread is crispy on the outside and soft inside, and the layers are good for peeling and eating one by one or for biting right though together. Dad used to make it for things like potlucks and picnics. Without fail, it gives me a relaxed, special-occasion feeling every time I have it. It has not lost its magic in 30-odd years, even though I make it myself now. I made it the winter after I moved here. I took the dough over to Pete & Cynthia's house, and Jej and her family came down from St. Johns and we made a gigantic recipe of onion cakes. Which was particularly fortunate, because that was the weekend of the blizzard and everybody got housebound and we would have starved and been uncomfortable without the onion cakes.

Traditionally this is made with unyeasted dough made of all purpose flour. I think dad mixed green and white onions, too. I can't see that it makes a difference, though maybe the pastry would be a little more tender if it was made with a lower protein flour. On the other hand, the fermentation time both develops the dough flavors and makes it roll out easier, so it may be a trade off between flavor and texture.

I am reliably informed that this is like a Bulgarian thing called banitsa. Clearly, this requires more investigation.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Noodles and greens, noodles and beans


I don't like bowtie pasta. It reminds me of my college cafeteria, a thing which was distressing and, on at least one occasion, traumatic. They served a lot of bowtie pasta. I don't like the name farfalle either. It sounds both prissy and ludicrous.

Elbow noodles, on the other hand, generally make me feel pretty chipper. It's true, I avoid cold macaroni salad, but elbow noodles themselves are not the problem. I just think letting your pasta go cold and mushy and then putting mayonnaise and pickle relish on it is gross. I like elbows. Elbows are what you make mac & cheese out of, and that's a good thing. Mac & cheese was a very special food in my childhood, and I retain great admiration for it. Also, the shape of the noodle itself is enjoyable. If you cook them to the right texture, you can squoosh the air out of the noodle with your lip and cause the elbow to suck itself onto your tongue when it bounces back into shape. I think mom didn't like that aspect so much, but I did. Maybe she just didn't like the fact that having attached a noodle to my tongue, I was eager to display the result to my dining companions. As an adult, I'm sure she was right about that.

I don't actively refuse to eat bowties, it just takes something kind of special to make me thing 'hmmm, I'd like to eat some of those.' That's what was so unusual about this recipe that a friend posted a link to. I got a bit excited about it. Pasta, nuts, greens, beans, garlic, sounds good. Even if the picture did have bowties in it.

1 cup small pasta, like elbow noodles
1 bag Trader Joe's baby arugula
1 large clove garlic, maybe 2, crushed or minced
1/2 can white beans, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon broth concentrate, maybe a smidge less
toasted walnuts
olive oil, salt, pepper

Boil the noodles in salted water, and save about a cup of the boiling water when you drain them.

In a saucepan big enough to hold all the ingredients comfortably, heat up a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Saute the garlic for a minute, sprinkle on a little salt, and put in all the greens. Stir them up until they are wilted and tender, then add the beans, the pasta and the broth concentrate with some of the pasta water. Stir to combine, and then let it heat through. Serve with nuts if you like them.

Points to consider:

1. On a practical level, elbow noodles are about the same size as beans, which makes it easy to keep the pasta to legume ratio constant throughout the dish. This is good for eating, but not as interesting to look at as having something like bowties. I'd rather have my food eat good than look good.
2. On the other hand, the arugula will have an insurmountable tendency to clump up. You will have to take a fork and comb the greens apart a bit in order to eat them with the noodles and beans. You could chop the greens slightly, but somehow that seems...incorrect. I could just be fussing over details.
3. The finished product can be anything from quite dry, almost like a warm pasta salad, to something more like soup, depending on how much liquid you add back to the pot. It's up to you. I made it dry this time, because I want the noodles to be at least semi-solid tomorrow when I take the leftovers for lunch, but if I was pretty sure it was all going to get et at one sitting, I might make it more soup-like.
4. Yes, you want that whole bag of greens. At least. They shrink to nothing, pretty much.
5. The only reason this isn't vegan is because I use chicken stock. You could just as easily use veggie broth.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Hello January...


I was craving this the other day. I saw the Barbara's Spoonfuls at the store and remembered that they are surprisingly tasty.

I'm not a breakfast cereal eater most of the time, because I am a bit lactose intolerant (I'm asian, whaddaya want?) and putting soy milk on cereal is altogether less enjoyable than real milk from a cow. Also, at breakfast, I am generally famished to the point of extreme bad temper, and a bowl of cereal is not going to cut it. I want more fat and protein and less sugar than is in most breakfast cereal, even hippy dippy breakfast cereal. Then there's the cost effectiveness, which is minimal. Good breakfast cereal costs a lot. Lots more than bread at any rate, considering the respective number of servings in a box of cereal and a loaf of  homemade bread.

Usually I eat cereal for lunch or dinner. After breakfast, I find that sometimes I don't want  a heavy meal again for the rest of the day, and cereal fits the bill. I make it more food like by putting fruits nuts and yogurt on it. I used to use regular yogurt, but that was before I discovered greek style.

Why do people think that the 3-squares-a-day thing is so important, anyway? It's not like we evolved eating on a schedule. We snarfed whatever we could find at the time we ran into it, and spent the rest of the time goofing around. Like chimpanzees, in fact. Ever see a picture of a wild chimp that looked out of shape? Not that I'd like to live on a chimpanzee's diet, but I sure wouldn't mind living on a chimp's schedule.

Which is to say that January has not proved as restful as I had hoped. I'm sewing a lot, which I enjoy, but which not only takes up time I might use for cooking, it also does not produce a high volume of stuff that is interesting to look at. I realize that a pile of brown paper bags cut into pattern prototypes is not nearly as fascinating to other people as it is to me, but I wanted to take a minute to say that I have not disappeared. Maybe when I get home, I'll show you my lace knitting samplers.

This is not where I am. I have sneaked away. I'll see you later.