It’s Been A While… Anyone Still Out There?

Geez, it’s been a long time since I posted anything!

As I promised back at the beginning of the year, there are big changes coming to The Filthy Kitchen Blog. I’m still going to be posting my recipes and tasty treats, but I’m also going to start adding more food for thought.

The main reason I haven’t been writing here is that I’m in my last year of college (finally!) and working on my senior thesis. Food means so, so much to me. It’s a huge part of the communities I come from. I plan on going to culinary school after I graduate, but for now, I want to use the academic skills I’ve been learning to focus on where I come from and the food I love. I’m using my senior thesis to focus on the history of gumbo. In doing so, I hope to tell the story of countless black women who, through resilience and ingenuity, created Louisiana’s most well-loved dish. I’m calling it “Darkening the Roux:Black Women and the Rise of Gumbo.”

“Darken the Roux” is an exploration of the impact of black women on Cajun and Creole foodways in America. By tracing the history of gumbo’s many components and incarnations, we are able to place black women firmly at the conception of Louisiana’s most iconic dish. I originally set out to write a history of Cajun foodways throughout southwestern Louisiana. In the course of my research, I noticed many very conspicuous gaps in information. While (predominantly white) authors writing about Louisiana’s culinary history are willing to pay lips service to the fact that blacks have had an influence on the creation of many Cajun and Creole dishes, they are reluctant to elaborate. For instance, we know that okra was brought to the United States from Africa as part of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, but food writers refuse to pinpoint gumbo itself as an African dish. While Louisiana gumbo is evidence of the myriad ways in which cultures have come together and interacted throughout history, its origins and its variations are African and black by nature. In researching black foodways of the American south, I found that nearly all texts exclude Louisiana’s cuisine and its history of black home cooks and chefs. “Darken the Roux” aims to fill in the gaps, and give voice to the black women who have been left out of Louisiana’s rich and colorful culinary story.

Each time I make some progress in writing it, you all will be the first to see it!

Thanks for sticking with me, folks. Here’s to culinary discovery!

Garlic Ring

So I decided to try my hand at baking bread. I’ve made a few conventional loaves of white bread before so I thought I’d challenge myself with some really crusty bread. My two favorite kinds of fancy baguette-type breads are olive loaves and garlic loaves. I had a bunch of garlic laying around in my kitchen so I decided to go for a fave. Baking bread is actually pretty easy. It just takes a decent amount  of time. I think if I didn’t have so much on my plate, with school and work, I’d bake my own bread at least once a week. But for now, lovely loaves like this one will have to remain a special kind of treat.

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Garlic Ring
3 1/3 C all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt (I use a fine grain, non-iodized salt)
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (don’t use instant, or rapid-rise!)
1 1/3 C warm water (about 100 degrees)
1 Tbsp olive oil, plus 1/2 tsp for greasing the bowl
2 heads of garlic, peeled
1/2 C ice cubes, or a spray bottle filled with water

Mix the flour and salt together in a small-ish bowl and set it aside for a second.

Whisk together the yeast and warm water in a large bowl. Wait 30 seconds, then whisk again just to make sure the yeast gets fully dissolved. Next whisk in the olive oil.

Add half of the flour to the large bowl, mixing with a rubber spatula to make a paste. Add half of the remaining flour and mix it in by using the spatula to repeatedly scrape the bottom of the bowl, folding upward. Do the same while you add the rest of the flour and keep folding until all the flour is absorbed.
Cover the bowl with either a clean kitchen towel or loosely with some plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes.

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While the dough is resting, wash you spatula and get ready, because you’re going to do the whole folding thing again, making sure that there are absolutely no dry bits anywhere. Cover the dough again and let it rest for another 10-15 minutes.

Lightly oil a bowl large enough to hold twice the volume of dough you have right now.

Scrape your dough onto a floured work surface. Flour your hands (you really don’t need to flour the top of the dough, I promise), and pat the dough into a rough rectangle.

Sprinkle the garlic on top of your dough. Feel free to chop the garlic… or not. I like big chunks of it, but there’s no shame in spreading the love.

Now fold the narrow ends of your dough in, so that your dough will be folded in thirds (there will be three layers). Turn the dough 90 degrees, so that the seam in facing you, and fold your dough into thirds again.

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Invert the dough into your oiled bowl, cover it with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and let the dough rest for 15 minutes. Then take it out and fold it the same way all over again!

If you need to, lightly oil the bowl again and put the dough back in. Then turn the dough over so the other side of it gets oiled, too. Cover it up, and let the dough rise for 45-60 minutes, until it has doubled in size.

Invert the dough onto a floured surface, then flip it over so that what was once the smooth top of your rising dough is facing up towards you.

Gently round the dough by using your palms to stretch the sides and fold then under. This will shape your dough into a ball. You just don’t want to deflate your dough so be nice!

Now cover the dough with a kitchen towel (you don’t need to put in back in the bowl) and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Uncover the dough and gently press it to flatten it a bit (it’s all about timing, trust me). Lightly flour the top of your dough and the fingertips of one of your hands. Use those fingers to make an opening in the center of your dough. Once your fingertips hit the work surface, start swirling your hand so that you can simultaneously rotate the dough, and widen the hole you’ve just made.

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Put some parchment paper on a cookie sheet or a round pizza pan (something that is at least 12″ across). Transfer your dough to that and use both hands to widen the hole in your dough to about 5″ in diameter. Cover with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise for about an hour, until it has almost doubled in size.

About 20 minutes before the dough is done rising, set one rack in the lower third of your oven, and set a second rack right below that one. If you have a cast-iron skillet, set it on the bottom of those two racks.Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. (I will warn you, the point with the skillet is to get it smoking hot. If you have overly sensitive smoke detectors in your house, now might be the time to disable them)
No cast-iron skillet? No problem! I’ll tell you in a second what to do with your spray bottle of water.
Take the towel off of your dough and use either and a single-edged razor, an X-Acto knife, or a pair of scissors to make four diagonal slashes in the outside skin of the very top of the loaf (I’m still trying to figure out the best way to do this).

Place the pan in the oven and then place the ice cubes into the skillet. Quickly shut the oven door and don’t open it for at least five minutes.

If you’re not using a skillet, spray water all over the sides of the oven, creating steam. Quickly shut the oven door. Repeat the spraying five minutes later.

If you use the skillet and ice cubes method, you don’t need to worry about your dough until it’s done baking, 40-45 minutes later.

Set your lovely garlic ring on a rack to cool and then enjoy!

Happy Baking!

Pecans like buttah!

Do you love pecans like I love pecans? Maybe it’s the Louisiana girl in me but I can’t get enough of these rich (and really good for you) nuts. You’ve seen me use them in my banana nut bread, they are the star ingredient in my favorite pie (pecan, duh!), and now I’ve used them to make a wonderful nut butter. Like peanut butter? Try making your own pecan butter. I’ll be honest, it doesn’t taste anything like peanut butter, but I like it a lot better. Making your own nut butter is super easy and only requires one major piece of equipment. If you have a food processor or a blender, you’re golden. This was my first time making my own nut butter and I can’t wait to play around with all kinds of nuts.*

*Note: I’m cracking myself up as I write this because I have the sense of humor of an eight year old boy, sorry y’all.

Pecan Butter

2 C pecan halves (don’t get the salted kind)

2 Tbsp grapeseed oil (I like it because it has such a light flavor)

1 tsp salt

Depending in the size of your blender or food processor, you might have to do this in a couple of batches. I made mine in two batches.

I poured 1 C of pecans in my food processor along with 1 Tbsp of oil and 1 tsp of salt. I then pulsed the ingredients until they were roughly chopped.

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I took a quick swipe of the sides of my food processor’s bowl with a spoon just to make sure nothing was sticking to it. Then I ground the mixture, stopping evry thime it began to form a ball and/or stick to the sides of the bowl. Then I’d scrape down the sides and keep going. In the middle of the process it looks something like this:

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I keep grinding the mixture until it smoothes out and startsto look creamy.

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Then just spoon it into your favorite jar or immediately spread it on your favorite bread. This recipe makes about 8 oz. of pecan butter. You can use this nut butter in any way you would use peanut butter.

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Pecan butter and apple slices is a killer midday snack! Plus, pecans are filled with healthy oils and fatty acids and stuff so you should really try to eat them, like, all the time.

Happy snacking!

 

Fully Loaded Banana Bread

So the holidays were crazy, and while all I wanted to do was bake lots of tasty treats for my loved ones (and put the recipes up here), I found myself running all over the place nonstop. When my roommates and I realized that nobody would be home for Christmas to feed our two lovely cats, we had to call in a favor from our wonderful friend SaraLouise. She took amazing care of our kitties and I wanted to give her an equally great thank you present. But, being super short on time and money, I had to get a little creative.

My kitchen was full of overripe bananas, and I had a bunch of pecans and chocolate chips left over from past baking projects. The solution was simple: MAKE THE BEST LOADED BANANA BREAD EVER!!!

This recipe is super simple and takes almost no time to make. It’s super tasty and you can modify the add-ins any way you want. Don’t like nuts? Leave ’em out! Like coconut? Throw a cup of shredded coconut in! You can add berries, take out the chocolate, switch out the nuts, do whatever makes you happy! But here’s what I made for SaraLouise:

Fully Loaded Banana Bread

2 1/3 C all purpose flour (you could easily substitute a gluten free all purpose flour)

¾ C sugar

2 ½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

2 eggs

4 overripe bananas, mashed (you can use a fork or a potato masher)
1 stick (8 Tbsp) melted butter

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 C pecan pieces, coarsely chopped

1 C chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Mix everything except the nuts and chocolate chips together in a large bowl until fully combined. If it’s easier, you can mix all the dry ingredients together first in one bowl, and all the wet ingredients together in another bowl. Then you can throw them all into a large bowl and mix! I use my electric mixer, but I have fond childhood memories of building my arm muscles while mixing banana bread with a wooden spoon. Once the batter looks nice and smooth, add the nuts and chocolate chips. Stir it all up!

Scrape the batter into a greased loaf pan and bake for 55-60 minutes. I cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of my pan. This’ll help the bread to come out much easier. The best way to test if your banana loaf is done is to stick a knife or a skewer into the center and pull it out. If the knife/skewer comes out clean, you’re good to go!

Banana Nut Bread

Let this puppy cool for at least 10 minutes before you dig in.

This loaded banana bread makes an excellent gift. It’s also fun to keep to yourself, but try not to inhale it all in one go. Again, customize this any way you like. To make this recipe vegan, sub 1/3 C coconut oil for the butter, and use the flax seed egg substitute I detailed in some of my previous posts. As always, I’d love to hear any of your modifications or questions.

Happy Baking!

 

Humankind/Noodlekind, vol. 1

I believe that there are few things in the world more perfect than a hot bowl of noodle soup. The Grand Canyon? The Pyramids? The laughter of a child? Nah, give me ramen or give me death.

My teensy-weensie, slightly all-consuming obsession with the noodle has led me to ramen shops all over the city. The one I find myself running to the most is Strings Ramen in Chinatown. I love this place for it’s oh-so-convenient location, and it’s stellar food. You can find it about a block west of the Cermak-Chinatowm redline stop. Since I live close by, I’m here all the time.

I normally order the tonkatsu ramen: a beautiful, smoky pork broth with duck and pork belly, and springy noodles that hold on to their form texture for dear life. Add a soft-boiled egg, and we’re in business!

Strings Tonkatsu Ramen

My boyfriend often gets the oden ramen: a shoyu (soy based) broth, filled with chunks of chopped pork belly and an amazing assortment of skewered fish cakes, tofu, and vegetables. This ramen is simply amazing. The only reason I don’t order it more often is that I can never finish it all. And there’s nothing sadder to me than wasted ramen.

Strings Oden Ramen

So if you’re ever in the Chicago area and find yourself craving a good bowl of noodles, give Strings a try!

2141 S Archer Ave
Chicago, IL 60616

 

Happy dining!

Happy New Year!! 2015 is bringing a lot more than just cookies!

I’M BAAAAACK!

Hopefully absence has made your hearts grow fonder. The end-of-semester/holiday blitz had me out of the bloggosphere for a while but I promise, nothing will stand in the way of The Filthy Kitchen Blog in 2015. Check back tomorrow for the first in a steady stream of pies, breads, cakes, and casseroles, as well as mini profiles of all my favorite kitchen items, restaurants, and food publications. I’m on a mission, as always, to master vegan and gluten free baking, but I’m also trying to beef up my technique. I’ll be keeping you all in the loop through all my successes and failures (hopefully there won’t be too many disasters).

Thanks for sticking with me, folks!

Happy baking!

Kiddie Snacks, All Grown Up

Remember vanilla wafers from when you were a kid? They were perfectly bite-sized and crispy, and golden. They were this heavenly balance between a sugar cookie and a shortbread cookie. At least that’s how I thought of them. They were my favorites! My mom used them as ingredients in so many desserts. Encountering these tasty little treats as an adult led me to realize just how much excess crap get put into vanilla wafers. Like most things you can find in the cookie aisle of your local grocery store, these cookies are pumped full of preservatives and dyes and unnecessary chemicals. I don’t know about you, but that kinda grosses me out. So I decided to make them from scratch, using ingredients I can pronounce and easily identify. And you know what? It’s not hard to do. The cookies I made tasted just as good as the ones I love as a kid.

Nilla Wafers from Scratch

1 cup all purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

2 Tbsp vanilla extract

4 Tbsp melted butter, cooled)

2 egg yolks

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together the vanilla, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large bowl until they’re well combined. Add the melted butter and whisk until everything is smooth.

Add the egg yolks and whisk until everything is combined and you can’t see any clumps of egg. You want to make sure the butter you use isn’t too hot or you’ll end up with scrambled egg in your cookie and nobody wants that.

Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until there are no dry spots left. The dough will stiffen up as everything comes together.

Roll the dough into teaspoon-sized balls and flatten slightly onto a cookie sheet lined with foil of parchment paper. Obviously, you can make these bigger, but a teaspoon measure will give you cookies that are the same size as the store-bought.

Bake your cookies for about 12 minutes, until they start to turn golden-brown around the edges. I rotate the pan after about 6 minutes to make sure everything gets baked evenly. You can let you nilla wafers cool in the pan. They’ll harden up as they cool and you’ll get that nice airy, crispy texture that the store-bought cookies have.

You can eat these by themselves, or use them in various desserts. I love using them in banana pudding. Like I said, they taste just like the vanilla wafers you can buy at the store, only without all the weird added chemicals and preservatives.

Happy Baking!