Monthly Archives: October 2011

The imperfect perfect focaccia

I did two things of note this past weekend: 1) I turned in my first graduate school paper and 2) I baked a really ugly but absolutely delicious loaf of focaccia bread.

The fact that these two things were related was something I realized sometime around 4am during a night of fitful sleep, and I honestly can’t remember if it was the paper or the focaccia that was keeping me awake…

garlic and rosemary

But in that half-dreaming/half-conscious state it dawned on me: it’s ok if things aren’t perfect. (!!) Ok, so it’s not actually the first time I have realized that, but I am the type of person who needs to be reminded of it from time to time. I have a little voice inside me – I envision her as a little mini-Elizabeth – that assures me that it’s alright not to be perfect, but sometimes it’s hard to hear her and she has to jump up and down and wave her arms around to get noticed. (That last sentence doesn’t make me crazy, does it? No? Ok good, moving on).

I did notice her though, finally, at 4am. And then I fell asleep. But then I woke up the next morning and decided that I was going to write on this blog about that disastrous-but-delicious loaf of focaccia after all.

focaccia dough

You see, I had been planning to write about it. I had never made one before, and the recipe I found for it sounded so good and fail-safe. I was super excited. But then it got a little over-browned in the electric oven that I am still trying to get used to (why, Seattle, WHY the electric ovens?!) And when I took it out of the oven it was stuck to the bottom of the dish (but I oiled the pan soooo well!) So I had to scrape and shove and cut and force it out.

baking focaccia

And then there it was: bruised and battered on the cooling rack. The focaccia that had been so lovely in my mind that was going to make the perfect blog post. Sigh. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see many food blogs out there that post pictures of ugly, misshapen food.

ugly focaccia

In my past life – the one before I started grad school (oh how long ago it seems, a whole month ago) – I would have just started over and baked another. But I used the precious bit of break time I had allowed myself from working on the aforementioned Very First Grad School Paper to bake this one. And well, you can guess the state I was in and how I reacted when the focaccia over-baked…

A few minutes later though, after I had calmed down, we ate the focaccia. We had it with our dinner – a tasty beet and carrot salad made from fresh veggies we had just bought at the farmers market. And it was good – oh man was it good!

pretty focaccia

It was the furthest thing from a disaster that it could possibly have been, because it was just delicious. It was warm and salty, crunchy-crispy on the outside, fluffy and chewy on the inside. Perfect. Because perfection in food is really about what it tastes like! That’s something else that I sometimes forget – especially when I’m taking pictures of that food and posting them online.

And of course what was really behind it all, all this obsessing over a focaccia, was that first paper. I haven’t drafted an academic paper in over seven years (eek!) and it was difficult. I was unsure. I spent way too much time on it, fretting over those pages for days.

But in the end, I turned it in knowing that I did my best – and that is all I can do. Even if it’s not perfect.

yummy focaccia

Rosemary Focaccia

Adapted from Streaming Gourmet
Makes one 13 x 9 inch loaf

As I already expounded upon, this loaf did not go as planned. In order to keep your focaccia from enduring the same slap with the ugly stick that mine got, I have three words for you: oil, oil, and more oil. Ok that’s five words, but you know what I mean. You really need to oil the bejesus out of the pan – because the thing is that you let the dough rise right in the pan for an hour before baking and it soaks up a lot of the oil during that time. There has to be enough so that some remains to provide the greasing-the-pan action that you need in order to ensure your focaccia loaf comes out clean. But if you fail at this, like I did, take heart in knowing that it will taste heavenly anyway!

Also note: this recipe is written assuming you are using a stand mixer. You can certainly make this focaccia by hand, but will need to adjust for more kneading time.

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 3-4 tbsp more for oiling the pan
  • 4 whole cloves garlic, cracked
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 1 2/3 cup lukewarm water (no more than 100°F)
  • 1 (1/4-ounce) package rapid rise dry yeast
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
  • 2 tsp table salt
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp coarse sea salt (fleur de sel if you have it)

Make the garlic-rosemary infused olive oil first.

Start out by heating 1/2 cup of olive oil, the rosemary sprigs and garlic cloves in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.

Heat until just starting to bubble, remove from heat and allow to sit and cool for 30 minutes. Discard garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs.

Once your olive oil is ready, start on the focaccia.

Stir together lukewarm water and yeast in bowl of mixer.

Add flour, 1/4 cup of the rosemary-garlic infused oil, and the table salt to the mixer bowl and beat with the paddle attachment at medium speed until a dough forms.

Replace paddle with dough hook and knead dough at medium-high speed until soft, smooth, and sticky, 3 to 4 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a fairly heavily floured surface (it will be really sticky). Knead in 2 more tablespoons of flour for about a minute.

Once the dough is even and smooth again, transfer to an oiled bowl and turn to coat it with the oil. Let rise, covered with plastic wrap, at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk – 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Press dough evenly into a generously oiled (don’t forget what I said!) 13 x 9 inch baking pan or dish (I used a casserole dish because it’s all I had that was big enough – other than a cookie sheet, but I wouldn’t use a cookie sheet for this). Let rise again, covered with a kitchen towel, until doubled in bulk – another 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 475°F.

Stir together chopped rosemary and remaining 3 tablespoons garlic-rosemary infused oil.

With a fork, make shallow pin pricks all over the dough, then brush with the rosemary oil.

Sprinkle sea salt over the focaccia.

Bake at 475˚F for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from oven, invert onto a rack and flip over (and pray it comes out smoothly). Eat immediately, if possible!

happy halloween!

Happy Halloween!

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A veggie chili to warm you up

My oh my, it has been getting cold here in the Pacific Northwest! And it is a wet cold – the kind that blows through your clothes and goes straight to the bone. Yes, I know, I’m from Alaska…ok, ok, it hasn’t been THAT cold. It is certainly fall though, and rounding the corner into winter.

autumn tree

I actually love this time of year weather-wise: when it’s cold enough for jackets and gloves and red noses, but it’s not winter quite yet. Crisp, I think it’s called. Ok, so it has been crisp here.

I’m glad we settled that. Because the chilly weather has really put me in the mood for some hearty chili! (I’m so very sorry…but I’m not erasing it) And that is what I have for you today: a filling, homey, good-for-the-soul meal of vegetarian chili and sweet potato biscuits.

bubbling chili

I know there are people out there (you know who you are) who will cross their arms and say that anything that claims to be chili and doesn’t have meat in it just isn’t chili. Well. To those people I firmly stick out my tongue and say, “more for me!” because this chili is delicious.

I listed the sweet potato biscuits in my fall to-do list post a couple of weeks ago, and in so doing created a biscuit-shaped hole in my belly that needed to be filled – and quick. The recipe that inspired the chili has also been on my to-make list for quite a while. During a time in my life when I feel I am able to get very little accomplished that doesn’t have to do with grad school, crossing these two recipes off that list made me very proud indeed!

biscuit cutting

This is also the type of meal that is sure to create leftovers and was perfect for me to take to school for lunch, an attribute I am always on the lookout for these days. The biscuits, orange as they are, are also quite seasonal. Comfort food Halloween dinner anyone?

chili and biscuits

Quinoa Vegetarian Chili

Adapted from Savoring the Thyme
Makes a big ol’ pot of chili

Most of my adaptations to the original chili recipe were to substitute fresh ingredients in for the canned or frozen ones called for. I figured that I should use them while I could! And in fact, this was the last recipe I made with fresh corn before it disappeared from the farmers market. So, if you can use fresh please do, but if you can’t that’s ok – it will still be yummy.

  • 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 2 cups fresh shelled beans (I used cranberry beans)
  • 2 cups veggie stock
  • 1 can organic black beans, undrained
  • fresh corn kernels from 3 ears of corn (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 large tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa

Heat oil in large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and peppers and cook for 5 minutes.

Turn heat down to medium, add garlic, cumin, coriander, oregano and chili powder and cook for another couple of minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients except the quinoa, and turn the heat to high. Allow to come to a boil, stirring frequently.

Then, lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, continuing to stir and taste to adjust seasoning periodically.

Once it’s to your liking, stir in  the cooked quinoa and serve with biscuits (below).

biscuits

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Barely adapted from Orangette
Makes 8-10 biscuits (depending on what you consider a biscuit cutter)

Making these two recipes together requires you to get your timing right. I made my sweet potato puree before I started working on the chili and put it in the fridge to cool. Once I had the chili on the stove and simmering, I set to work on making the biscuits. The timing worked out perfectly for me, but if you have trouble just remember to err on the side of finishing the chili before the biscuits. The chili can stay warm on the stove top and will get even better with time, but there is no replacement for warm, fresh-from-the-oven biscuits!

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp light-brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 6 tbsp chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 cup chilled sweet potato puree (read: approx. 2 medium peeled, boiled, and puréed sweet potatoes)
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 tbsp butter, melted

Preheat oven to 425°, with rack on lower shelf.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.

With a pastry blender (or however you like to do it), cut in the cold butter until mixture resembles coarse meal, with some pea-size lumps of butter remaining.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sweet potato purée and buttermilk; stir quickly into flour mixture until combined (do not over mix – it will still be slightly crumbly).

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead very gently until dough comes together but is still slightly lumpy, five or six times. (If dough is too sticky, work in up to 1/4 cup additional flour.)

Shape into a disk, and pat to an even 1-inch thickness.

With a floured 2-inch biscuit cutter (or whatever circular implement you have on hand), cut out biscuits as close together as possible.

Gather together scraps, and repeat to cut out more biscuits.

Butter or spray an 8-inch cake pan. Arrange biscuits snugly in pan.

Brush with melted butter. Bake until golden, 20 to 24 minutes, rotating once in the middle. Serve immediately!

happy halloween!

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I know she would be proud

Romano beans (otherwise known as Italian green beans) were a newcomer to the farmers market recently. The barrel full of them sitting there, brimming proudly, was irresistible to me so I plunged my hand in and filled up a bag to take home.

I used them to make a side dish called Braised Romano Beans, from Smitten Kitchen one of my favorite food blogs.

Romano Beans

It was delicious and simple, befitting these Italian green beans. And it reminded me so much of my grandma. Not because she ever made them for me. I’m not sure if she ever ate this bean in her life. It’s because it was just so quintessentially Italian – just like she was. I love being reminded of her, because I love thinking about her. She passed away 6 years ago this month and was one of my favorite people.

She never prided herself on her cooking, at least that I remember. But as seems to be typical of Italian grandmothers, she was of course a good cook just by virtual of her heritage and upbringing. And food is a big category of my memories about her. I remember her cookies and her meatballs and sauce – delicious. After she passed away, my mom sent me copies of a bunch of her favorite recipes with notes scrawled all over the pages.

Mirepoix

On the other hand, I also remember the boxes of stale cereal that she used to send to us in the mail that she would buy on sale and save up for months before shipping our way. My mom would always remind us when we got these boxes that Grandma lived through the Great Depression! We never ate them, of course, but it is so funny and endearing in hindsight.

She also loved sweets. There was a famous time that I visited her and we ate a ridiculously large box of Russell Stover chocolates between the two of us. She got scolded later, because it actually really wasn’t good for her health at that point to eat that much fat and sugar, which she of course knew. But by god, she wanted those chocolates!

What she did pride herself on was how smart, political, and tenacious she was. She did a lot for her community. She was on more councils and boards than I could ever keep straight, and she was the first woman ever on her town’s school board. She encouraged me, pushed me every chance she got, to do well in school, to go to college, to write, to do great things with my life. She expected it of me.

She wrote me letters. Thin pages of paper covered with her slanting cursive. Often she would enclose newspaper articles about writers, scholarships, colleges. And just as often coupons for things like shampoo and deodorant – I mean, she was still a grandma after all.

As a teenager  I sometimes found her overbearing (what isn’t overbearing to a teenager?), but luckily by the time I got to college I realized how special she was and visited her as much as I could. As I look back now I see her as one of the strongest influences in my life. 

letters

Unsurprisingly, I wish I would have had more time with her. Written more letters back. Asked more questions.

One of the last times I visited her – I have to think she knew, or thought, that her time was short. She told me to take all her old books that I had always spent so much time with whenever I visited – English major and aspiring writer that I was. Volumes of Shakespeare, an old set of classics, poetry. She wanted me to have them all, so that they would continue to inspire me.

We packed up boxes and boxes of them together and shipped them back to my tiny studio apartment in DC. I’ve moved with them six times now, sometimes cursing their weight, but never once thinking of giving them away. They are my most prized possessions. They are the physical embodiment of her hopes and dreams for me. At least that’s how I like to think of them.

books

I know she would be proud of me for going to graduate school, and for planning a career that encourages and helps people to read. I think she would not have been so sure about my love of the more “domestic arts” of cooking and baking that she eschewed for the most part. But then again, if I served her these green beans she would probably change her mind…

Braised Romano Beans

Braised Romano Green Beans

Barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes 4-6 servings

This dish is simple, but full of flavor – like the best Mediterranean food is.  You could pair it alongside pasta that is simply dressed with olive oil or butter and salt and pepper. It would also go well with fish. These green beans are a bit tougher than their more common counterparts so this isn’t a dish to make when you’re in a hurry to eat. Save it for a night when you can simmer it for a good 40-45 minutes. Take the time standing there in front of your stove to think of someone you love – and if they’re still with us, give them a call after dinner.

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup carrot, diced
  • 1 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup ripe tomatoes, with their juices, chopped (you can remove the skins if you want, I didn’t bother)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds Romano beans
  • 1/2 cup water

Heat oil in a deep skillet. Add celery, carrot and onion and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables barely begin to brown, about 25 minutes.

Add garlic and rosemary and cook until fragrant, 2-3 minutes.

Stir in tomato paste and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until mixture is well combined, about 5 minutes.

Add beans, setting them in pan all in one direction. Add 1/2 cup water. Bring to a simmer.

Baste the beans with the cooking liquid a few times, season with salt to taste, and then reduce heat to low. Cook gently, partly covered, turning beans in sauce from time to time, until beans are very tender, about 40 minutes.

Adjust seasoning and serve immediately. They also make delicious leftovers. Enjoy!

grandma

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Looking forward to fall

So, this graduate school thing is really heating up (ironically, as the weather outside is drastically cooling down! we turned our heat on for the first time this weekend) and it has kicked my you-know-what this first week. I’ve also gotten a cold, as luck would have it. As a result, I didn’t cook anything of note this past week.

I do want to share with you, however, some lovely fall recipes that I have bookmarked. Some of these I have made and can heartily recommend, some have been on my list for ages, and some for just a few days. Those that I haven’t made, I have every intention of making at some point over the next few months. At. Some. Point…

fall leaf

If you are looking for things to cook or bake this fall, I hope you will give one of these a try. And if you do, make sure to tell me about it!

Fall dishes I’ve made and would happily make again:

Dishes I’ve yet to make, but would love to get to this fall:

I may not have managed to figure out, by the end of this first week, how to have a real life while going to grad school, but I promise I will! And when I do, I will be right back here with something delicious to talk to you about.

UW

Thanks for understanding, friends!

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