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Monday, August 25, 2014

Focaccia with Roasted Vegetables - Avid Baker's Challenge

August 24, 2014

I've been very lax lately about baking, and I thought I was going to miss this baking challenge too, as it was mid-month and I hadn't done anything about baking bread.  Then I saw that others, including Hanaa herself, the Queen of ABC, were posting their focaccia adventures late, so I decided that I could too--as long as I got it done before September 1.

I've never made--or tasted, for that matter--a better focaccia than Rose's rosemary focaccia in The Bread Bible.  But you have to try new recipes, right?  This one was pretty good, and easy, but it didn't have the big holes, the perfect crust, or the flavor of Rose's.  One trick that this recipe - from King Arthur - had was to drizzle olive oil on the baking pan so that it was absorbed by the bottom of the crust.  I liked that.  And I will say that it was a very well-behaved dough.  After just one 15-minute rest, it stretched out to the sides of the pan quite nicely.

I used zucchini, cherry tomatoes, green onions, and garlic as the roasted vegetables.  Unfortunately, I sliced the garlic instead of leaving the cloves whole.  The result was slices of burned garlic, so I had to spend as much time fishing out those charred pieces as I did peeling and slicing them in the first place.  But the garlic still added some flavor to the oil.
I should have made thicker slices of zucchini.  By the time they were roasted, they were almost translucently thin.

Rose's recipe tells you to dimple the dough with your fingertips.  That technique really helps the dough's texture and makes it thin and crispy in some places.  It's a simple technique, and I would have used it here had I remembered it before now.

Do you know what makes a good, although unorthodox, breakfast?  A big slice of roasted vegetable focaccia and a fresh Colorado peach.  It's enough to make you forget that winter exists.

If you want to make this focaccia, click here for the recipe.  To see the other bakers' versions, go to Avid Baker's Challenge.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Swirl Bread: Avid Baker's Challenge

This bread, another King Arthur recipe, is easy enough to make, but it does require you to make a starter the night before you want to bake the bread.  Rose Levy Beranbaum uses this technique frequently in The Bread Bible, so it wasn't new to me.  I like the technique because, besides adding flavor--the obvious reason to like it--it also has the advantage of committing you to baking bread the next day, so you don't get out of bed and decide to take a walk instead.  Or, more realistically, go back to bed.  

I'll confess that I didn't use all whole wheat flour.  The recipe calls for a mix of whole wheat and white whole wheat flours, and I used about half whole wheat and half AP white, for no reason other than that I didn't have the white whole wheat flour that I thought I had.  The flours are mixed with half milk and half orange juice--the orange juice supposedly eliminating any bitter taste that you might get from whole wheat flour.  It wasn't bitter at all, so the OJ trick must have worked.

After the dough has risen, you pat it out into a more or less rectangular shape.  I suspect that most of the other avid bakers will have a tidier rectangle than mine, but I believe that tidiness is overrated.  

It's then rolled up like a jelly roll, shaped, and tucked into a loaf pan.

I had some errands to run, so I put it into the refrigerator for a few hours so it wouldn't overproof, and took it out when I came home.  It was ready to put into the oven about an hour later.

I love a loaf of bread just out of the oven!  The recipe tells you to tent the bread with foil for most of the baking time, but I took the tent off for the last 15 minutes of baking because I like a browner loaf.

This bread got a very enthusiastic reception from my tasters, especially from my 19-month-old grandson, who devoured two whole slices, a quarter-slice at a time, and calling for, "more, more" after each piece.  I thought it was good, but a little too moist.  It was moist even when toasted.  It reminded me of the kind of bread that you might have, when you were a child, squished into a bread ball and thrown at your younger brother.  If you were that kind of person.  

But I will definitely make it again.  What kind of grandmother would I be if I didn't?  Next time, I'll be a little more parsimonious with the liquid ingredients.  

Thanks for the recipe, Hanaa!  Other renditions can be seen at the Avid Bakers' Challenge blog.  

Monday, March 3, 2014

Mushroom Cheddar Tarts: Avid Baker's Challenge

This is my first foray into the Avid Bakers Challenge (ABC) group.  Thanks, Hanaa!

I'm having my book club at my house next week, and I thought that I'd use these as an appetizer if I liked the way they turned out, but I'm still undecided.

They're pretty good, but I wouldn't say they're amazing.  Easier to make than I thought, but they need some adjustments.

First, I think the proportions of dough to filling are way off.  I made a half-recipe of dough, and I had a lot left over, but didn't have nearly enough filling to use it all.  If I made them again, I'd make the same amount of dough, and the full recipe for the filling.

I rolled out the dough to a larger rectangle than the recipe recommends, but the dough was still much too thick for my taste.  When you eat a bite, you get a big hit of crust and just a bit of filling. And the filling needed something else--onion, garlic, herbs, olives?  Something.

Also, the crust (which I made in a food processor) needed a lot more water to be malleable.  I like recipes that hit the measurements right on the noggin.

They're much cuter made in individual tart pans than in mini muffin cups, and the flavor is better too (better filling to crust ratio).  I may call it a quiche and have one for breakfast.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Scallop Sauce with Olive Oil, Garlic, and Hot Pepper - Gutsy Cooks Club

My last July recipe--finished, in the nick of time, on July 31, but, alas, not posted until August 1.  Now I'm ready for the August recipes, which look intriguing.

I was so looking forward to this scallop sauce!  I love scallops, and seasoning them just with olive oil, garlic, hot peppers, and parsley, seemed like Italian genius.  Toss them with bread crumbs and spaghettini--genius squared.

But I didn't love the sauce.  Two reasons, one definitely my fault.  First, I was overly zealous with the hot peppers.  I used dried hot pepper flakes, and put in a good heaping teaspoon.  Well, I do love pasta sauces seasoned with hot pepper.  As with so many things, more is not better.  The pepper overwhelmed everything else, including the garlic that smelled so good when it was browning in olive oil.

The second flaw in the sauce was using bay scallops instead of sea scallops.  This happened because the man who volunteered to go to the fish store was on a mission to buy scallops, and didn't think about his choices.  (My fault for not telling him).  When the guy at the fish store asked him, "large or small?", Jim must have looked panicked.  The guy asked him what it was for, and Jim said it was a pasta sauce.  The guy told him confidently that he wanted small scallops.  Reasonable, except that it happens that I don't like bay scallops because it's almost impossible to cook them without turning them into tough white disks.  Even though they cooked for a mere 90 seconds, some of them were still tough, possibly because they stayed in the hot oil even after the heat was turned off.

Which, now that I think of it, leads me to reason #3 for the less than stellar sauce:  I started cooking the spaghetti and the sauce at about the same time, but I shouldn't have started the sauce until the spaghetti was done, or almost done.

It would be better a second time, but I don't have the heart to try it again.


Jim:  I'll give it a 7.  Not great, but pretty good.  It does have too much pepper in it.

Me:  You're giving it a C minus?  I thought you liked it.

Jim:  A 7 isn't a C-.

[Discussion ensued about what the 10-point system was all about, and if one or both of us has been misusing it for years, with Jim pointing out that we might as well have a 5-point rating system if 5 is the lowest grade we're going to give.]

Jim:  OK, then, I'll give it an 8.

Me:  I'll give it a 7.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Roast Chicken with Lemons - Gutsy Cooks Club

You would not want to get gutsy with this chicken recipe.  There are plenty of other recipes for roast chicken that allow you all the creativity in the world, but this one is so simple it's magic:  no basting, no herbs, no stuffing, no butter, no oil, no garlic, no onion.  You need a chicken, a lemon or two, and salt and pepper.  That's it.

This is the chicken all ready to go into the oven.  One lemon, cut in half, is in the cavity.  (The recipe calls for 2 "rather small" lemons, but all I had was rather large ones).  I stabbed each half 20 times with a trussing needle.  That was the most complicated part of the recipe.  You just plot it in an pan, without butter, oil, or even cooking spray.  "This bird is self-basting so you need not fear it will stick to the pan."  That is exactly what I feared, but, indeed, it didn't happen.

You turn it once and, after it's roasted for a while breast side up, you crank the oven up to 400 to let it brown.  Look how nice and brown it is!  Observe those juices in the bottom of the pan!  They make a wonderful little sauce--just pour them out and whisk.

I served with very simple sides:  mashed potatoes and sauteed zucchini and cherry tomatoes with basil and dill.  Anything would work because the chicken is the star:  simple, but perfectly moist and flavorful.  Really, this is a chicken recipe to treasure.

Here is the poor carcass after it's been picked over.  Happily, nearly half of it is left over.


Jim:  "I give it a 9.  Do you want to know why I didn't give it a 9 1/2?  Because I had to carve it at the table and it made a mess.  I wish I could have carved in the kitchen."
Me:  "Who said you had to carve it at the table?  I just said it's supposed to be served right away, no resting."
Sarah:  "Yeah, dad, I think you'd better give it back that half-point."
Me:  "OK, I'm going to give it 9 1/2 to make up for the half-point that Jim unfairly took away from it."
Sarah:  "I'm not going to get involved in this and I refuse to rate it.  Without rating it, I will have to say it's damn good chicken."

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Risotto with Spring Vegetables - Gutsy Cooks Club

I've made risotto before, and it's not really hard--it just takes a lot of stirring.  This time, I followed the directions slavishly, even to the point of using a vegetable peeler to take the skin off the tomato.  It did turn out beautifully, although I'm not sure it was fantastically superior to other efforts that were more slapdash.  Even though we're supposed to be "gutsy," I was rule-following.

There--1/3 cup of carrots and celery; 1/2 cup of peas; one whole tomato; one whole zucchini.  All diced in rather uniform pieces instead of my usual careless chop.

Rule 1 for good risotto:  Use good rice, imported from Italy.  I once bought a big box of faux Arborio (just labeled "rice for risotto."  Penny wise and pound foolish.  It didn't absorb the liquid or become creamy.

Rule 2 for good risotto:  Make sure that every grain is covered with oil before you start adding the liquid.

Rule 3 for good risotto:  Add hot liquid about a half-cup at a time, stirring until the rice absorbs the liquid.

Rule 4 for good risotto.  Stir like a maniac.  Stir all the time.  Make sure the rice doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.

When rice is almost done, add butter and parmesan off-heat.  Stir some more.  Serve.  It's good stuff.  This version had zucchini, onions, carrots, celery, peas, tomato, and shredded basil.  It tasted healthy and fresh.  But you could add almost anything (and that's where the gutsiness would come in).


Jim:  9.  I like it a lot.  It's really good, but it doesn't have that element of surprise that would make me go even higher.  (Clearly, Jim wants the cook to be gutsier.)

Me:  9 1/2.  I love risotto, so I'm inclined to give it a high number anyway, and I thought this was perfectly made, if I do say so myself.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Panzanella Salad with Olive Oil Bread - Gutsy Cooks Club

Waverly Root speaks none too fondly of panzanella: "A poor man's lunch," he calls it, "salad dressing on bread, producing a sogginess which accounts for its name (litlle swamp)." Mr. Root and his palate notwithstanding, panzanella is one terrific lunch. Basically a Tuscan bread salad with oil and vinegar, what else it contains depends upon who is doing the cooking. Tuscans call panzanella a cold picnic dish, with the ingredients put together at the last minute, the bread soaked in water at home, the tomatoes and cucumbers simply picked from the vines as needed. But one Roman source describes it as a first course served in large families to fill everyone up before the more expensive second-course dishes are put on the table. Tony May, the owner of Sandro's, Pailio and La Camelia, three Italian restaurants in Manhattan, says the dish is also called pane molle, which means "soft bread."...Earthy and satisfying, panzanella is, at the same time, cool and refreshing. In "The Food of the Western World," Theodora FitzGibbon talks about the anchovies, chilies, basil, garlic and capers it contains by never mentions tomatoes, except as a garnish. Other recipes call for onion, cucumber and celery. On calls for spring onions rather than yellow of red onions. Mr. Fiorti uses both green and red peppers...The proportions vary from cook to cook. Some use vast quantities of olive oil--six ounces to a half pound of bread--while others use only two ounces for a pound of bread. In fact, panzanella is a salad designed to be made with leftover, stale bread and whatever of the other ingredients are available. Italia bread--purists insist it must be Tuscan bread--is also indispensible, though there have been recipes suggesting the substitution of whole-wheat bread or rye bread for those who are not fortunate enough to have easy access to the comactly textured Italian, or even French, country loaves.
---"Panzanella, a Salad Perfect for Summer," Marian Burros, De Gustibus column, The New York Times, June 21, 1986 (p. 52)
Marcella Hazan's version of panzanella is pretty classic, although her recipe soaks the bread in pureed tomatoes, not in water, and she flavors it with a paste of anchovies, capers, and garlic.  Unless you make your own bread (from her recipe, naturally), you have to broil the bread to give it substance.  Otherwise, it will turn to mush.  I did make her bread, so I didn't bother toasting it under the broiler.  It didn't get soggy, but I do wish I'd toasted it.  I think the salad--very good as it was--would have been even better if the bread had had some crunch.

There are some fussy steps to making this really pretty easy salad.  Of course, there's baking the bread, but that's not really essential.  Then there's the onion routine:  swish sliced onions in cold water, drain, repeat, drain, repeat.  But you know what?  These were the mildest onions I've ever tasted--with onion flavor, but no onion bite.

Then there's the step where you mash capers and garlic together.  The only hard part is finding the mortar and pestle.  (You're supposed to mash a few anchovies too, but I declined).

One of three tomatoes is supposed to go through a food mill.  I don't have a food mill, but my little immersion blender worked just fine.

Olive oil, red wine vinegar, the caper/garlic mixture, and chopped yellow bell pepper, at the bottom of the serving bowl, just waiting to receive the other ingredients:

And the bread cubes are mixed with the pureed tomato.  They are supposed to soak up the tomatoes for at least 15 minutes.  I worried that they'd be soggy, but they weren't.  Obviously, that would be a problem if you used kleenex bread.

They're so pink they almost look like shrimp.

All the ingredients, just waiting to be mixed.

And the final salad.  Delicious with lemon-and-herb grilled chicken.  A very simple concept and full of flavor.  If you really balk at the idea of baking your own bread, you can certainly buy some country-style bread, use it on the second day, and broil it a bit.  If you don't want to soak the onions, use some nice spring scallions.  But go ahead and try it.


Jim:  9.5.  I really liked it.  And it's a salad, which I'm not usually that crazy about.

Sarah:  Oh, I don't know.  It's very good, and I might give it a 10.  But you can't give everything a 10, can you?  So maybe I'll give it a 9.  No, a 9.5, like Dad.

Marie:  Very fresh-tasting, and I love the idea that it's just a poor person's dish made from some things that you grew and some stale bread.  I'll give it a 9 because I think I'd have liked it better if I'd toasted the bread first and it had been a little crunchy.