Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Basic Focaccia, and a Lot of It

Yesterday I pulled out an older cookbook on the shelf (Five Brothers, A Year of Tuscan Cooking by Piero Selvaggio) and came across this basic focaccia recipe and decided to give it a try. It's not an all-day affair; it can be made in a few hours. It came out really well -- nice and golden, tasting of olive oil and coarse salt. It paired well with the pork chops I made as an entree. I've made focaccia lots of times before, but I think this one is my favorite. It made A LOT of bread; I think I'll have to freeze some or let it stale and make a panzanella with it this weekend. Not in the directions, but I preheated the oven with a pizza stone on the lowest rack setting for a good 30 minutes before putting the pan in to bake. I think this gave a nice bottom crust; golden and not too crisp. I think this recipe is very versatile and can be modified in lots of ways. Freshly chopped rosemary and garlic? A bit of saffron added to the warm water? Some warm curry spices added to taste like naan bread? How about adding a tablespoon or so of pesto to the dough? Anywhooo... here's the recipe, with my comments and changes noted.)

Basic Focaccia

5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (plus more if needed)

2 teaspoons table salt

2 cups warm water (105° – 115° F)

1 package active dry yeast (I used instant, 2 ¼ teaspoons)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

additional oil for drizzling

coarse salt for sprinkling

In a large bowl, combine flour and salt; set aside. In another bowl, combine warm water with yeast; stir. Let stand until yeast has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Whisk in olive oil. Add yeast mixture to flour. Using an electric mixer, mix on low speed about 2 minutes or until well combined. Remove dough from bowl; place on lightly floured surface and knead until a smooth ball of dough forms. (I completed the mixing with the machine and had to add about an extra cup of flour; it must be the weather here. Note: a wetter dough is better than a dryer one.) Place dough in oiled bowl; cover and let rise 1 to 1 ½ hours or until doubled. Generously oil a 17 x 13 inch baking sheet. Place dough in pan; press and stretch dough evenly with oiled fingers to fill pan. (It was a bit tight, so I covered it 10 minutes and gave it a rest; when I came back it spread out perfectly to fill the pan.) Pierce dough with a fork at 1 inch intervals; drizzle lightly with olive oil. Cover dough with a kitchen towel and let rise about 45 minutes or until doubled. Sprinkle with coarse salt.

Preheat oven to 450° F.

Bake about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Place on a rack to cool. Serve as is or top with herbs and other flavorings.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Easiest, Tastiest Cinnamon Bread -- Ever!

I know, Iknow. You see that kind of recipe title a lot, the best, whatever, "ever!" but this really is incredibly delicious and easy to put together. I came across a blog called Closet Cooking yesterday. Kevin had made this cinnamon bread a couple weeks ago, and since I am trying to use up a lot of pantry items around here, I gave it a try. Replacing the buttermilk was a cup of sour milk (ewwwhh) plus a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. After a brief time it was ready to use. If you make this, try to give the eggs a warm-up in a bowl of lukewarm water. One comment on the batter brown-sugar-cinnamon layering: I wish there were a bit more batter. Trying to spread wet batter over a layer of dry sugar-cinnamon is a challenge, but I used my mini offset spatula and spread it out to the sides as evenly as possible. The end result? Delicious! Second day was even better. No kidding. Very moist with intense cinnamon flavor. No butter needed, but it wouldn't hurt. Can't wait to finish this loaf so I can make another. Here's Kevin's recipe, with noted modifications. After removing from the oven I let it cool in the pan 20 minutes, then covered it with a small sheet pan, inverted it out of the pan, then turned it back over onto a rack to cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap until the next day, if you can wait that long.

Thank you, Kevin, for the great recipe.

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter (room temperature)(unsalted)
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup buttermilk (used sour milk and 1 tblspn lemon juice)
1 cup (light ) brown sugar
2 heaping tablespoons ground cinnamon

1. Mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
2. Cream the butter and sugar in another bowl.
3. Beat in the eggs, salt, vanilla and lemon zest.
4. Mix 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
5. Mix 1/2 of the buttermilk into the wet ingredients.
6. Mix 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
7. Mix the remaining buttermilk into the wet ingredients.
8. Mix 1/3 the remaining dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
9. Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl.
10. Pour 1/3 of the batter into a greased 9x5 inch loaf pan.
11. Pour 1/3 of the cinnamon mixture on top.
12. Pour 1/3 of the batter on top.
13. Pour 1/3 of the cinnamon mixture on top.
14. Pour the remaining batter on top.
15. Pour the remaining cinnamon mixture on top.
16. Bake in a preheated 350F oven until a toothpick pushed into the center comes out clean, about an hour.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Early Morning Video of Moon Setting over Mountains

The wind kept us up all night, so we got up and watched TV until about 5:30, at which time the moon was setting over Mt. San Jacinto. So I took this little video to capture the moment. I just wish I knew how to use the video features better!

Last night's pot roast was delish, and tonight I'll shred the leftover meat, mix it with the yummy, tomato-y sauce and serve it over soft Mexican rolls. Can't wait!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Italian Pot Roast

This is an easy pot roast to throw together, and it always comes out great. I've made this several times before, but now that it's so hot, I decided to do some of the prep steps outside on the Weber's side burner. That way, there's not smoke or odors left wafting through the house. Here's what I did.

I took a beautiful chuck roast (half price from Fresh & Easy!), seasoned it well with kosher salt and cracked pepper, a bit of granulated garlic; browned it
really well in a bit of olive oil. That goes into the crock. Not mentioned in the original recipe from Everyday Food is a quick deglazing and reduction using a dry red wine. I like to do this because it adds another layer of flavor to the sauce. Added to that is an onion, cut into eighth wedges; canned tomatoes and juice, baby potatoes, fresh rosemary from the garden and some halved garlic cloves. That's it. Eddie set up a table outside with a utility extension cord, and that's where it cooked, on HIGH setting, for six hours.

Ideally, in the past I've separated the meat and vegies from the sauce and then used a fat separator to remove the excess grease. Sauce, meat and veg can be stored separately in the fridge overnight. Then put it all back in the crock, heat it up in the oven on a low heat and it comes out meltingly tender and so savory. We may just have this tonight right away and hopefully there'll be leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Here's the recipe, with my as-made notes added.

Italian Pot Roast
Serves 8 | Prep time: 15 minutes | Total time: 6 hours 15 minute


1 tablespoon olive oil

1 can whole tomatoes in purée (28 ounces)
1 ¼ pounds small white potatoes (scrubbed)
1 large onion (cut into 8 wedges)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried and crumbled)
3 pounds beef chuck roast (trimmed and halved crosswise)
red wine
6 garlic cloves, halved
coarse salt, granulated garlic and ground pepper

1. With a sharp paring knife, cut 4 slits in beef roast; stuff slits with half the garlic.
(I used some granulated garlic with the salt and pepper and just threw the garlic on top and around the meat in the crock.) Generously season beef with 1 ½ teaspoons salt, some granulated garlic and 1 teaspoon pepper. In a large skillet, heat oil over high heat, swirling to coat bottom of pan. Cook beef until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. (This is where I deglazed with half a cup or so of red wine, scraped up the fond, and reduced it by 75% and then poured it over the meat.)

2. In a 5-quart slow cooker, combine beef, onion, potatoes, tomatoes (with purée), rosemary, and remaining garlic. Cover; cook on
high setting until meat is fork-tender, about 6 houors (do not uncover while cooking).

3. Transfer meat to a cutting board; thinly slice, and discard any gristle. Skim fat from top of sauce. To serve, divide beef and vegetables among bowls; generously spoon sauce over.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Perfect Birthday Cake for Eddie

I recently came across a blog called Culinography, which featured Dorie Greenspan's "Perfect Party Cake," which I recreated for Eddie's birthday on Monday. I like cakes that can be made in stages, ahead of time, and this one fit the bill. The two cake layers were made, cooled and wrapped on Sunday; the creamy, white and lemony buttercream was made Monday in the afternoon. After briefly chilling the frosting in the fridge (it's starting to heat up here in the desert), the cakes were halved, then the layers spread with briefly warmed-up seedless raspberry preserves and buttercream, and the top and outside got the remaining frosting, which I smoothed with a warmed mini offset spatula. I took Culinography's suggestion and topped it off with raspberries. We had a big slice after dinner at Roy's of Hawaii in Rancho Mirage. I know it's gone corporate in recent years, but I love that place. The food is always superior, and the service is tops.

So here's Dorie's recipe as it appeared in Culinography. I'll be making this one again. I can see adding different flavors to the cake batter and buttercream. How 'bout Framboise in the cake with a chocolate buttercream? Hmmm? Sound good?

Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
4 large egg whites (I used extra-large eggs)
1 1/2 cups sugar (I used "vanilla" sugar)
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract

1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites (I used extra-large eggs)
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves warmed gently until spreadable

Making the cake:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.

Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.

Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch - a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (I wrapped the cooled cake layers in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature overnight. They can be frozen up to two months).

Making the Buttercream:
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. (I have some carpal tunnel problems, so this was quite a chore. Next time I'll use a hand mixer!)

Remove the bowl from the heat. Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.

Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate - just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly. (I thought it needed a brief chilling to firm up a bit, as it was warm in our kitchen that day.)

Assembling the Cake:
Using a sharp, serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. (The trick is to never let the knife go more than about a third of the way into the cake. Once there, keep turning the cake and sawing, and you'll come to the beginning point without making a wavy cut.)

Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. (I used a regular offset spatula to spread and smooth out the buttercream, with the aid of a turning cake stand. Once smoothed out, I switched to a mini offset spatula, heated it in some hot water, dried it, and got a nice professional finish.)