Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Baking Class: Foccacia

Let's take a minute to talk about Focaccia.  Focaccia was one of the first things I made when I started working with yeasted doughs, but once I started making pizza it fell by the wayside.  It is similar to pizza dough in process, taste and texture, so I forgot about it once I felt that I had mastered the art of pizza.  And once I had moved on to bagels, sweet rolls, and other yeasted goodies, I had little reason to go back to it.

But there have been times when I have wanted bread but had neither the time nor the inclination to mix the sponge, let it rise, let it rise again, shape it, let it rise, bake it and cool it.  While I still love to make bread and make it often, it's a weekend project and I have to plan for it.  Crackers and bagels are easier and take less time to make than bread, but they are still somewhat labor intensive and I have to plan ahead if I want to make them on a weeknight.

Focaccia, on the other hand, takes little effort and less time than the other yeasted breads I have been making, and what time it does take does not involve a lot of hands-on work.  I mix the dough in a food processor, let it rise, shape it, let it rise again, then bake it, and it can be ready to eat in about two and a half hours.  And that can be easily managed on a weeknight.

This bread has turned out to be my mainstay.  It works as breakfast toast, peanut butter delivery system for lunch or snacktime, and can be served at dinnertime with soup or salad.  I have used it as the base for pimento cheese and for tuna salad, and it is quite good on its own.

The first time I made it I used a recipe I found in Mario Batali's Molto Italiano cookbook.  Once I corrected for the typo that said to add half a cup of water instead of one-and-a-half cups it was decent, but I was not particularly tempted to try it again.  I later found a recipe in Micol Negrin's Rustico, a beautifully written and photographed tour of regional dishes that goes beyond the known specialties of each region and offers lesser-known gems.

As I mentioned above, this dough is mixed in a food processor so it comes together in minutes. The original recipe filled a half sheet and made a batch that was 18 x 13, which yielded 16 pieces.  While that is a great amount for a large group, it was more than I could handle at a time so I adjusted the recipe to fit a quarter sheet and I get 8 pieces per batch, which is just about perfect.

Here is a batch fresh out of the oven on a cooling rack.  You can eat it hot, warm, or at room temperature.  It is delicious any of those ways.

I should mention that it goes soft quickly, and gets stale after a day or two.  If I am being honest, it is only truly fresh and crispy right after it is made.  After that, it works better toasted.  Toasting it crisps up the outside, but the inside stays soft so it is really more that it is refreshing the bread than toasting it.  The slices were too wide for my 20-year-old toaster, but for about twenty dollars I found a toaster with wide slots that does the job.

The original recipe uses quite a bit more olive oil than I do.  If you want a more authentic version, mix 2 tablespoons of olive oil with 2 tablespoons of room temperature water and spread that over the dough before letting it rise.

This recipe truly is fast, easy and delicious.  I make it just about once a week.

Other than the occasional specialty loaf, I have not bought bread in about four years.

Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Makes 8 servings

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp dry active yeast
1-1/2 tsp salt, divided
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided, plus extra for the bowl and pan
Approximately 3/4 cup water at 110-115 deg. F., divided
1 tsp water at room temperature

Combine the flour, yeast, and a teaspoon of the salt in a food processor with the blade attachment.  Let it pulse a few times to combine the dry ingredients.  With the motor running, add about 1/4 cup of the warm water followed by 1 tablespoon of oil, and then enough of the warm water to create a soft dough that forms a ball.  Let the dough process for 45 seconds, then remove it from the processor and shape it into a ball.  Put it top side down in an oiled medium-sized mixing bowl and turn it over to ensure that the whole surface of the dough has been oiled.  Cover the bowl and let it rise until doubled in size, about one hour.

Generously oil a quarter-size rimmed baking sheet.  Place the dough top-side down into the oiled sheet and press it out evenly.  If the dough resists, let it rest for 5 minutes so that it can relax.  Spread about a teaspoon of olive oil over the surface of the dough with your fingers, and then sprinkle a few drops of water on the dough and spread it around over the oil

Let the dough rise for 15 minutes.  Sprinkle about 1/2 a teaspoon of the salt over the dough.  Using the pads of your fingers, make dimples evenly across the top.

Preheat the oven to 475 deg. F. and let the dough rise for another 30 minutes.  Bake the focaccia on the bottom rack of the oven for 20 minutes, or until crisp and golden on the top.  It can be served hot, warm, or at room temperature.

recipe adapted from Rustico:  Regional Italian Country Cooking, by Micol Negrin (Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2002)

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Afghani Squash Casserole

I was looking for something new to offer as a Thanksgiving side dish when I remembered a recipe for Afghani Squash Casserole I had pulled out of the November 2003 issue of Vegeterian Times. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have not had much success with recipes I have found there and I had been always at a little bit of a loss to explain, even to myself, why I continued to subscribe since I had yet to find a viable recipe, I now have my answer.  This recipe rocks! The combined flavors of the concentrated tomato sauce, tangy mint and scallion-flavored yogurt and sweetness of the squash work in harmony to provide a complexity of taste and texture that would make this a memorable accompaniment to the traditional turkey, dressing and yes, even the ubiquitous green bean casserole.

I missed the opportunity to post this in time for Thanksgiving, but it doesn't have to be a once-a-year Thanksgiving-only dish. It is a great way to take advantage of the abundance of winter squash at this time of year, and it could hold its own as the main dish for any evening meal served over couscous, rice or noodles.

The recipe as written calls for 4 cups of spaghetti sauce. Not being sure what that meant and not wanting to use a prepared sauce, I made a quick version of my Tomato Garlic Sauce and proceeded from there. The cinnamon and cloves married well with the thyme and basil. This would make a delicious pasta sauce on its own (on which more later).

Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Makes 6 servings

2 lbs winter squash, peeled and cut into 2-1/2-inch cubes
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3 14-oz cans crushed tomatoes (or 1 28-oz and 1 14-oz cans)
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1-1/2 cups plain yogurt
1 tsp dried mint, plus extra for garnish
1/4 cup minced scallions, plus extra for garnish

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium high heat.  Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add the tomatoes, thyme and basil and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Add the cinnamon and the cloves and continue to cook until the sauce is thick, about 30 more minutes.  This can be done up to 3 days ahead.

Combine the yogurt, mint, scallions and about 1/4 of a teaspoon of salt in small bowl and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 deg. F.  Mix the squash together with the remaining tablespoon of oil and season with salt and pepper.  Spread out on a foil or parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes, until just tender but not too soft.

Arrange the squash in a serving dish and spread the tomato sauce over it but do not completely cover the squash.  Layer the yogurt spread over the tomato sauce and garnish with scallions and mint.

Adapted from recipe found in Vegetarian Times, November 2003

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Friday, November 16, 2012

Cottage Pie

What is the difference between Cottage Pie and Shepherds' Pie?  Short answer:  the kind of meat you use. At least if you are in the UK, where the recipe seems to have originated.  Traditionally, a cottage pie is made with beef and a shepherds' pie is made with lamb.  Both were made utilizing leftovers from the Sunday roasted meat and vegetables.  Here in the states, however (at least in my memory), shepherds' pie was introduced using beef, so shepherds' pie is what we called it.  And that is what I called it when I first wrote about it in this post.

But now that I know the difference, I am calling this dish Cottage Pie.  For reasons that are irrelevant to this post, I made a 4 or 5-pound pot roast over the weekend, thinking I would freeze half of it, but I am embarrassed to say I did not have enough room for half of a pot roast in my freezer (and there you have the reason after all).  So I chipped away at it all week and still had half left by the weekend.  What to do with the leftovers?  I thought about soup, but a chance encounter with a rutabaga at the Green City Market changed my mind. I thought about mashing it and that thought led to adding potato, and from there it was a short hop to cottage pie, and an even shorter hop led to my decision to add cheese to the potato-rutabaga mash.

I am quite proud of my achievement on this dish.  The vegetables are tender but still firm and the meat becomes melt-in-your-mouth tender.  The rutabaga lightens up the potatoes and keeps the cheesy topping from taking over completely, but it has that rich buttery flavor and texture that you want in a mashed potato topping.

And as much as I have always enjoyed this dish with ground meat, it becomes transcendent when you use leftovers.  I think I will be adding too much meat to my roasting pot more often just so I can keep making it this way.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Makes 6 servings

2 TBSP olive oil
1 carrot, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 oz pot roast, chopped
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 TBSP fresh chopped herbs (thyme, rosemary, etc.), or 2 tsp dried
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup port or other rich red wine (or broth, or water)

3 medium yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 medium rutabaga, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
whole milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F.

Heat  the oil over medium heat in a large skillet.  Add the carrot and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the celery, onion and garlic and cook until tender, approximately 5 more minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

Add the beef and the peas and cook until they are heated through.  Add the herbs and parsley, stir them in, and remove from the heat.  Adjust seasoning as required.

To make the potato and rutabaga topping, combine the chopped potatoes and rutabaga in a medium saucepan and fill with just enough cold water to cover the vegetables.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until a knife slides easily into both the potato and the rutabaga.

Drain the vegetables and return them to the saucepan and place it back over the low heat.  Mash them well, adding enough milk to bring them to the desired consistency.  Add 1 cup of the cheese and the butter and stir to melt them into the mixture.  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

Place the cooled meat mixture into a 2-quart round or 8 x 8-inch square baking dish.  Add the wine, being sure that the liquid does not rise more than halfway up the mixture.

Drop spoonsful of the mashed potatoes and rutabaga evenly over the beef mixture and then spread it out, making sure that it reaches all the way to the sides of the dish.  Sprinkle the remaining half cup of shredded cheese evenly across the top.

Bake at 350 deg. F. for 50 minutes.  The beef mixture should be hot and bubbling.  If desired, place under the broiler for 2 minutes to brown the potatoes.

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bean Stew (Lubiya)

As a counterpoint to the Chilean pumpkin stew that was such a disappointment to me, I thought I would share something I found much more to my liking.

I found this recipe for Bean Stew (Lubiya) in Habeeb Salloum's Classic Vegetarian Cooking from the Middle East & North Africa.  I got a copy of the book years ago, leafed through it briefly, and stuck it on the shelf where I am sorry to say it has languished until a few years ago when I took it down and leafed through it so I could mark any recipes that interested me.  I believe I tagged three out of the hundreds of recipes offered.

Back on the shelf it went.  Until a couple of weeks ago, when I was looking for something different to do with navy beans.  I don't know why I decided to look there instead of the books I usually use.  Perhaps that is specifically why I did decide to look there, now that I think about it.  I was looking for something different.

And I found it with this dish.  The flavors are clear and bright, with a flavor profile that is different from the usual bean dishes that I usually make.  It made for a refreshing change that spiced up my lunch rotation.  I will be making it again.

And once I had the book down off the shelf again, I went through it to see if there were any other recipes that might appeal.  I am pleased to report that there are now many tabs sticking up to mark recipes that I plan to try.  A win-win situation all around, if you ask me.

A note of interest (possibly only to me):  when I did an online search for Lubiya I discovered that it is usually made with black-eyed peas, which a absolutely detest.  Had the version in this book called for those instead of white beans, I would never have made it.

Home Cookin Chapter: Beans and Vegetables

Makes 4 servings

1 cup dried navy beans, sorted and rinsed
2tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onions, chopped
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 small chili, finely chopped
1 cup stewed tomatoes
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon allspice
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of saffron
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Place the beans in a pot and cover with water by 2 inches over the beans.  Bring the pot to boil, then lower the heat and cover.  Simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until the beans are tender.  Check periodically and add water as needed.

While the beans are cooking, heat the oil over medium heat in a skillet and cook the onion for 10 minutes.  Add the garlic, cilantro, and chili and saute for another 5 minutes.

Add the onion mixture, tomatoes, and spices to the beans and bring it back to a boil.  Lower the heat to medium and cook for another 30 minutes.  Add the lemon juice and remove from the heat.

Can be served hot or cold.

from Classic Vegetarian Cooking from the Middle East and North Africa, by Habeeb Salloum (Interlink Books, 2000)

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Thursday, November 08, 2012

Chilean Pumpkin Stew with Corn and Beans

This is a dish that I will most likely not be making again, I am sorry to say.  I am especially sorry to say it because the recipe came from one of my favorite bean cookbooks, Jay Solomon's Lean Bean Cuisine.  It is the first recipe I have tried from the book that did not wow me.

To be fair, it may not be the fault of the recipe.  The herbs and spices that flavor this dish is a combination that I have discovered does not suit my palate.  Dishes that have a high proportion of paprika (without some kind of acid for balance) translate to a mustiness on my palate.  While there was nothing particularly wrong with it, it did not overwhelm me.

I am surprised that I didn't like it more, given how much I like all of the individual ingredients.  I will not make this again, but I will certainly make other dishes with these ingredients.  I will just flavor them differently.

If this recipe looks good to you, though, I would say it is worth trying.  Chacun à son goût.

A note on the beans:  You can cook them (as I always do these days) using the no-soak method I wrote about here.
Home Cookin Chapter: Beans and Vegetables

Makes 4 servings

1 cup cranberry, anasazi, or pink beans, soaked and drained
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 tablespoons paprika
4 large tomatoes, cored and diced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups peeled, chopped pumpkin or butternut squash
1 cp corn kernels, fresh, frozen or canned

Place the beans in a saucepan, add plenty of water to cover, and cook  for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, until the beans are tender.  Drain, reserving  1-1/2 cups of the cooking liquid, and set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil and add the onion, garlic, and paprika and saute for about 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and seasonings and cook for about 10 minutes more, until the mixture is a thick pulp.  Add the beans, reserved cooking liquid, and squash and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender.  Stir in the corn and return to a simmer for a few minutes.

Serve the stew in bowls with rice on the side.

from Lean Bean Cuisine, by Jay Solomon (Prima Publishing, 1995)

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (
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