May 27, 2009

Focaccia for Dinner

One of the facets of baking that I haven't explored much is bread. Bread using yeast to be more specific. There's a certain lore that accompanies bread making that might turn one off to it. Funny that I wasn't nearly as scared to try my hand at it than I was at making a pie crust. But I will admit that I still stand around the yeast bowl when it's activating asking, "Is it working? Did I do it right? Is it foaming enough?"

Focaccia is one of the easier breads to start with. You usually only have to let it rise once and it takes little to no kneading. To put it simply, if I've managed to pull it off, you'll have no problem. We made a batch for dinner recently adding some pizza-like toppings to make it more hearty. Serve it with a salad and you've got an easy dinner. We also had asparagus 'cause I can't seem to kick my farmer's market asparagus habit. It's just too good.

Hearty Dinner Focaccia
focaccia recipe courtesy Ezra Pound Cake
toppings free-styled

Focaccia Dough:
1 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
1 package (1/4 oz) active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 extra virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting

1 yellow onion, carmelized (couple of teaspoons of oil and/or butter needed)
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped kalamata or green olives, or a mixture
feta cheese, sprinkled on to taste
4 cloves garlic, chopped
rosemary, fresh if you have it
coarsely ground black pepper
coarse sea salt

In a large bowl combine water, yeast and honey. Stir to dissolve and allow to activate until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add oil and salt to the yeast mixture. Gradually add the flour using a pastry cutter to gently incorporate. Once the dough begins to form and pull away from the sides of the bowl, dump out onto floured surface and knead the dough for 5 minutes. Form into a ball (dough should be smooth to touch) and place in a large lightly oiled bowl; turn to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm area until doubled in volume, about an hour.

Meanwhile, start a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter. Chop onion into strips and place in skillet. Sprinkle some salt over onions and allow to slowly carmelize in the pan, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes. Onions should be golden brown and soft when finished. Chop tomatoes and olives in half. Mince garlic cloves.

Preheat the oven to 425F. Lightly grease a baking pan. I used a 9x13 pan to create a sturdier crust for the toppings. You can also use a 11x17 jelly roll pan for a thinner crust. Punch down the dough and spread into baking pan of choice. Dimple the surface with your fingertips and distribute toppings evenly over the surface. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and place in the oven for about 25 minutes.



Yeah, this was pretty awesome. Mich thought it needed more salt. I wanted more olives. Jessie said, "mmmmmm. I'm drunk", then nodded off.

May 26, 2009

The only way I would eat Spinach as a kid

When I was a kid, I did not like vegetables. Peas mixed into mashed potatoes and green beans smothered in butter were pretty much the only ones I would eat without wrinkling my nose. However, my mom and my grandma would both make this tasty and hearty dish and I would gobble it up even though it is packed with spinach. I recently remembered to ask my mom for the recipe and I jotted it down in the back of my soup book. When we had an abundance of spinach in the fridge, I finally made it. Here is my moms recipe, from her memory.

Jo's Special (or Joe Special? Not entirely sure)

1 lb hamburger
2 box frozen spinach (I used about 3/4 of a giant tub of fresh baby spinach, and wilted it. I would have liked to have more though.)
1 Onion, chopped
Mushrooms (I used about 12 mushrooms, sliced)
Garlic (I used 3 cloves)
A pinch each of Oregano and Numeg (I used more like 3 pinches of each)
Salt and Pepper to taste
3-4 eggs, beaten (I used 3. If i had used more spinach I probably would have used 4.)
(I also added a dash of Cayenne Pepper and a dash of dry mustard)

Cook burger and onion in a large skillet. Cook spinach. Combine. Add mushrooms, garlic and spices. Saute until mushrooms are cooked to your liking. Let the veggies simmer for a little while, 5-10 minutes, then taste. Add more spice if needed. Add eggs and stir constantly, scrambling the eggs. Once the eggs are cooked, it's ready to eat!


It looks weird, but it is really tasty. I love the combo of the oregano and nutmeg, and eating this reminded me of being 8 years old. Also, super easy to make.

May 22, 2009

How to Cure a Case of the Blues-Baking and Chocolate

I'm so predictable in some ways. When I'm feeling down I put on this CD and bake. It never fails to make me feel better and I hope it never does.

Instead of the usual banana bread recipe that I use, I was feeling something chocolate. I found this recipe on The Sisters' Cafe blog and off I went. Humming and stirring.

Double Chocolate Banana Bread
courtesy of The Sister's Cafe
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups mashed bananas (about 3)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips (I used a 4 oz bar of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate, chopped)

Heat your oven to 350. Spray bottom of 8x4 inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

Beat sugar, eggs, and oil in large bowl at medium speed until combined. Beat in banana and vanilla at low speed. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl (I sifted the flour and cocoa as it gives a lighter batter); beat into banana mixture at low speed just until combined (I just stirred with a spoon here as to not over mix the batter). Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into loaf pan. Bake 60-70 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely on wire rack.

(if you're wondering where the other pieces of bread are, I ate them. for dinner. don't judge me)

The end result turned out great! I wish I had taken it out of the oven a little sooner. I forget that banana bread is always better when left undercooked in the middle as it will finish cooking quite a bit once you've pulled it out, it's the magic of the loaf. It was still damn tasty though. I am glad I made the bittersweet chocolate substitution. I think it left it with more of a rich dark chocolate taste rather than a sweet one. Yum. This recipe is a keeper.

May 21, 2009

Refreshing, Delicious and Beautiful

Recently, V has got me dabbling in White Wine. I remembered I had a recipe for a white wine sangria I found for another friend of mine and decided I should make some for a BBQ we had last weekend. I don't remember where the original recipe came from, and we used different fruit, so here is MY White Sangria recipe!

White Sangria:

6 cups Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc (I used Pinot Gris I think)
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1 cup white grape juice
1 blood orange, sliced and quartered
1 grapefruit, sliced and quartered
1 apple, cut in chunks
a dash of fresh mint, diced
1 cup citrus flavored sparkling water

In a large pitcher or other container, combine the wine and sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the remaining ingredients, excluding the sparkling water, and mix well. Place the pitcher in the refrigerator and let the sangria sit for at least 1 hour (and up to 4 hours). The sangria will sweeten with time, so the longer it sits, the better. Just before serving, stir in the club soda. Serve over ice.

This was the perfect drink to sit outside with, bubbly and refreshing and tasty without being too sweet. We ran out so fast, I wish I had doubled the recipe. I will for sure make this again!

My second time making this, we used different fruits. I think the best combo is Apples, Strawberries, Nectarines, and Blood Oranges! oh and Pineapple! Tried grapes but they just sink to the bottom!

May 15, 2009


Pie crust is one of those legendary things that sounds harder to make than it is. I was scared of them for years and avoided making any pie that wasn't our family's apple pie, as that one has a crust you make in the pan and don't need to roll out. But once you make a pie crust from scratch it's like riding a bicycle. You'll never go back to being that loser with training wheels. I sat myself down with a recipe and a rolling pin last summer to see if I could master the skill and from then on out, I was unstoppable.

One of my favorite things to make with pie crust is quiche. The best thing about quiche, aside from the pie crust making, is you can throw just about anything in a quiche. Once you've got the basic formula down, you can freestyle quiche to your heart's content. It a lot like soup that way.

Here's one I made the other day with asparagus and an orange bell pepper.

Asparagus and Bell Pepper Quiche
Crust from Molly Katzen's Sunlight Cafe
Filling freestyled

Pie Crust:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick of unsalted butter, COLD
3-5 tablespoons of milk or water (or buttermilk or cream)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. You can also use a food processor throughout this process if you have one (I don't-boo). Take the butter (and seriously people, as cold as you can get it) and incorporate with a pastry cutter until the mix is in pea-sized crumbles. Be careful not to overwork this as the butter will melt and get soft and it will affect the flakiness in the end. Add 3 tablespoons of liquid and mix until just combined. At this point if the mixture is too dry and not coming together, add a little more liquid. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and shape into a ball. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin until it is about 1/8 of an inch thick. Carefully transport it to a pie pan and trim any edges. You can make a pretty fluted edge or leave it a sloppy mess, either way it tastes good!

1 bunch of asparagus
1 medium bell pepper
5 eggs
1 cup whole milk
4 large slices of havarti cheese
3 tablespoons stoneground mustard (I used a spicy version)
Seasonings of your choice, I chose s&p, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, rosemary, dry mustard

Chop asparagus and pepper into 2 inch pieces. In a pan over medium heat saute your veggies until they are softened but still have some crunch, throw some s&p in the pan while you're at it, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Spread the mustard evenly on your assembled pie crust. Lay the slices of cheese in an even layer over the mustard. Throw the sauteed veggies over the cheese and arrange in an even layer. Beat eggs, milk and seasonings with a whisk until incorporated. Pour over the veggies and carefully place in the oven to bake for about 30-40 minutes. This can vary a bit so be sure to check the quiche often. You want the middle to be pretty firm when you wiggle the pie plate.

So quichey.

May 12, 2009

Cheese and bacon are always good

A few months ago, V made the most delicious corn chowder ever, and we kept saying "next time we will do this and this and this and it will be even more amazing!" I had a hankering for something rich and creamy and cheesy and delicious on a cold day last week, but we could not quite nail down the recipe that had been used before. I took a look through The Big Book of Soups & Stews, and decided to make this:

Cheddar Chicken Corn Chowder

3 slices bacon, diced
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped (We used the whole pepper)
2 cloves garlic, minced (We used 3)
3 cups chicken stock or broth
1 1/2 cups unpeeled cubed red potatoes (We used 3 small-medium ones)
1 1/2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen (We used frozen, and a little more than 1 1/2 cups)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
2 cups cubed cooked chicken breast (We used 2 small breast fillets, poached them in the broth and shredded them instead of cubing them)
1 cup seeded, peeled, chopped tomato (I bought a jar of diced tomatoes instead of whole, oops)
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (We used white cheddar, closer to a cup)
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large Dutch oven, over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp. Transfer bacon to a plate, leaving 1 tablespoon drippings in Dutch oven. Make sure you don't eat all the bacon while you cook the rest of the soup. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add Stock and potatoes and bring to a boil. If you choose to poach the chicken like we did, add the chicken in at this point as well, so it will cook in the broth. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in Corn.

In a bowl, blend flour and milk. Stir into soup. Increase heat to medium-high and stir until thickened, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add bacon, tomato, cheese, salt and pepper (and chicken, if you choose to cook it beforehand and add it in, as the recipe calls for originally).) Simmer, uncovered, until flavors are blended and cheese is melted, about 15 minutes longer. If it doesn't seem thick enough, you can add a dash more flour, which we did.

We ate this soup with a big loaf of rosemary bread that I found at Whole Foods which was super tasty. The soup turned out really delicious. Perfectly creamy, the bell pepper added a nice bit of crunchiness, and the tomato, though it was a little saucier than the recipe called for, was delicious. If I make this again, I will make sure and use tomato chunks instead of diced saucy tomatoes from a can. Sometimes I am just lazy and did not feel like trying to peel and de-seed a fresh tomato. I think I would like the fresh tomato addition with the cheesiness. The soup was so pretty and colorful too!



May 11, 2009

Lemon/Lime-Not just for Sprite anymore

After Cinqo de Mayo we ended up with 2 leftover bags of lemons and limes. There was no way I was going to be able to drink enough cheap beer to mow through all of those before they calcified so I decided a citrus dessert was in order. With a little bit of research and a little bit of kismet I came across a recipe for Lemon Lime Cookies via Culinary in the Desert. At first I didn't think much of these cookies but let them sit overnight so all that icing can soak in and man! So lemon-limey, so refreshing, just perfect. I brought what wasn't consumed upon the roomies discovering these to a Naked Ladies party and they were a hit there too!

Consensus: make these ASAP.

Lemon Lime Cookies
Source: Culinary in the Desert

For the cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tablespoon fresh grated lemon zest
1/2 tablespoon fresh grated lime zest
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon vanilla

For the glaze

2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon fresh grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh grated lime zest
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

To prepare the cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, beat together butter, sugar and zests until creamy. Beat in egg, vanilla and juices. Gradually mix in flour just until combined.

Using a tablespoon cookie scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Place into the oven and bake until edges are golden, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cookies cool for 2 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

To prepare the glaze

In a medium bowl, whisk together confectioners' sugar, zests and juice until smooth. Spoon over the cookies and let set for about an hour to firm up.

Makes about 24 cookies.



May 4, 2009

Stir, Stir, Stir-Shiitake and Asparagus Risotto

Well, it's true what they say about risotto, it requires a whole lotta stirring. Mich and I are not very patient cooks but I'd say we pulled this one off without a hitch. It helps to have a glass of wine in hand. I picked up some shiitake mushrooms at the Farmer's Market last week intending to try out a sublime sounding slow-cooked pork recipe that my dear friend Jenn sent to me. But between work and packing to take off for a 3 day weekend in rainy CA, I didn't have time to pull that off. So using the rest of the bunch of asparagus we ate with the chicken parm and the shiitakes, I thought, hey, ho - risotto. And what a lovely idea it was.

Shiitake Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto
Adapted from May 2003 Gourmet via

5 cup chicken broth
1 cup water
1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into pieces (I used a tad less than this)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 stick unsalted butter
3/4 lb shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
1 small onion, finely chopped (I used 4 large shallots instead)
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used pinot grigio as that's the stuff I like to drink)
2 oz Parmesan cheese

Bring broth and water to a boil in a large soup pot. Prepare a bowl with ice water. Throw in chopped asparagus and cooked until slightly tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from pot with a slotted spoon and put in the ice water bowl to stop the cooking process. Keep the broth simmering over low heat, covered.

Heat oil and 1 tbsp of butter in a large soup pot over moderately high heat. Saute mushrooms until browned and soft, about 4 minutes, season with salt and pepper (I threw in some thyme too) and remove from pot to a small bowl.

Put 2 tbsp of butter in the same pot and saute the shallots until soft. Add rice to the pan and coat with butter, stirring, about 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring until absorbed, about 1 minute.

Ladle in 1 cup of the simmering broth, stirring, until all is absorbed. Continue this process until most all of the broth is absorbed and your rice is soft and creamy, about 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup of cheese, remaining butter (I skipped this part), and salt and pepper. Add asparagus and mushrooms back in and let stand, covered, for about a minute. Serve with remaining cheese on the side.

Stir stir-drink drink

Eat eat-drink drink

I have to say this turned out pretty outstanding and was still delicious the next day for lunch. Some of the asparagus had too much of a crunchy texture but I think that's due to my dumbass not trimming them down far enough. Well worth all the stirring!