Rosemary Focaccia

A very belated happy new year! For 2012, one of my resolutions was to bake bread. I should have made the other resolution to remember to BLOG! Thankfully, I have been baking bread and photographing the adventures, so now I have a backlog of wonderful recipes to share with you.

Why a resolution to bake bread? Well, quite frankly yeast has always scared me. I mean, it’s a living thing that comes in a packet and you have to wake it up using the perfect temperature of water. Too hot or too cold and you’ll kill it along with your recipe. So I have stayed away from yeast. But having tasted some amazing home made bread, I decided this was the year I conquer my fear of yeast and enjoy all the delicious bread it has to offer.

For new years eve, we were invited to a fancy pot-luck dinner and I decided that it would be the perfect occasion to try making some focaccia. Rosemary focaccia to be exact. I found this recipe from a fellow blogger: and decided to give it a try with one of my favorite sous-chefs, Rose.

Here are the ingredients for 2 loaves (which is a lot of bread, but it will freeze well!):

  • 5 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 tsp instant yeast (as opposed to “active dry”)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/2 c olive oil
  • 1 3/4 cups warm water

I want to take a second to talk about the glory that is instant yeast. Especially if you are a new bread baker as I am, instant yeast takes a lot of pressure off. Remember how I was saying that you have to get the water temperature perfect in order for yeast to activate? Well, with instant yeast you just mix it right into the flour and add the water later. Even if it’s all the same, it feels nicer.

Ok so the process is actually pretty simple. All it takes is A LOT of flour and some patience. Oh, and you probably want a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. That makes life much easier when dealing with this quantity of dough (and it comes with a convenient dough hook). Put the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and rosemary in the bowl. Turn the mixer to stir just to combine the dry ingredients. In order to cut down on dishes, I used the dough hook the entire time, but you could start with the paddle if you wanted. I would change to the dough hook right here though.

So now we’re up to the water part. It says “warm water” and in most recipes it gives you the temperature, but really how many of us are going to sit with a thermometer in a cup of water to make sure it’s the right temperature? Think of it this way… the temperature it asks for is approximately 105ºF. If the normal human body temperature is 98.6ºF, then you basically want the water to feel slightly warm to the touch. Too cold to take a shower in, but too warm to brush your teeth with. “Lukewarm” if you will. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly pour 1 cup of water, followed by 1/2 cup olive oil, and finally the last 3/4 cup of water. Increase the speed to 4. You’ll notice the dough will become a ball and begin to be kneaded by the dough hook. Knead using the dough hook for a couple minutes, then turn the dough out onto a floured surface. 

Now it’s time to knead by hand. In order to knead:

  1. Use the heel of your hand to press and stretch the dough
  2. Fold the dough that you’ve stretched back over itself
  3. Rotate the dough and repeat
  4. Add flour as needed

Here’s a video on kneading in case that made no sense Now, I said add flour as needed. As you’re kneading you will notice that after a few minutes it will feel as if there is no flour in your dough anymore. It gets sticky. When this happens add some more flour. A cooking instructor told me that bread dough will take as much flour as it needs and then when it’s ready it will stop absorbing the flour. Knead by hand for about 5 minutes, or until dough is stiff, but pliable. The way to tell this is to make an indentation in the dough with your finger, it should spring back up easily. Place ball into an oiled bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place (like the kitchen) for 1 1/2 hours until at least doubled in size. Watching dough rise is one of my favorite parts of the process because it really feels like magic. Trust me, it will bring out the little excited kid in you.

Place pizza stone in oven and preheat to 450ºF. It’s important to heat the pizza stone with the oven, otherwise the heat from the oven could crack it. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can use a baking sheet turned upside down in the oven, but still preheat the oven with the baking sheet inside it. Punch down the risen dough to remove the air (this is also pretty entertaining). Divide the dough in half, cover one half with a clean towel and flatten the other half into a disk. Repeat with other half.  If you have a pizza peel, put some corn meal or flour on it and place the disks on there. If you don’t have one, just place them on a cutting board or other surface. Cover both disks and let rise for 1/2 hour. 

Using your finger, poke deep indentations around the top of each loaf about 1/2 inch apart. Drizzle loaves lightly with olive oil and another 1 tsp of dried rosemary. Place onto pizza stone. Bake for 10 minutes at 450ºF and then reduce temperature to 375ºF for another 20 minutes. At the end of these 20 minutes, remove bread from oven and brush with egg wash made of 1 egg yolk beaten with 2 tsp of water. Sprinkle with coarse salt and return to oven to cook for another 2 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving. The texture of this bread was amazing and really tasted like the best focaccia you’ve ever had.

Since we were bringing it to a potluck, we put it back in the oven at 200 to re-warm it and served it with some olive oil. If you need to store it overnight, wrap it in tin foil and place in a zip lock bag. Freeze like this or leave it out at room temperature for up to 3 days. Don’t refrigerate it because that will dry it out.

This might seem like a lot of steps, but it was actually pretty easy and the results were so much better than any store bought focaccia because it was so fresh! This recipe would also be super easy to modify with any flavors you like. The original blog post actually has a bunch of variations at the end.

I hope you have added bake more bread to your resolution list! Let me know what you make!

Spiced Pumpkin and Tahini Soup

When it starts to get cold (and snowy) out, nothing is more hearty and comforting than a piping hot bowl of soup. On Friday we purchased some pumpkins for carving but only ended up using one, so I decided to see what I could do with the other one. I started off by roasting it, because I figured it would be easier to work with that way.

To roast the pumpkin you first need to cut it in half and remove the seeds and stringy innards. The easiest way to do this, I’ve found, is to start as if you’re carving a pumpkin, by cutting around the stem and removing it. Without the stem all you need is a heavy duty knife and with a little muscle you can halve it easily. Scoop out the seeds and set aside in case you want to roast them later. The pumpkin I had was a medium sized one, so I cut it into quarters, sprayed it with some Pam, and put it in the oven in a cake pan filled with 2 cups of water. I roasted it at 450 degrees for 40 minutes. 



I had found a recipe from the NYTimes for a carrot and tahini soup that seemed intriguing especially since I had a LOT of tahini still in my fridge from last month’s baba ghanoush (there’s no way to buy tahini in small quantities.) So I decided to create a spiced pumpkin and tahini soup, which I’ll be sharing with you now. If you have a dutch oven that sits in your kitchen taking up a lot of space and being really heavy, this is the time to use it!

I love spice so I started off by sauteing 1Tablespoon minced garlic and 2 medium diced onions in a bit of Tunisian Harissa olive oil until onions became translucent. If you don’t have a spicy olive oil, don’t worry, you can make up for it with this next step. The spice blend for the spiced pumpkin soup:

  • curry powder
  • cumin
  • cayenne pepper
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • chili powder
  • garlic salt

 As you know, I never measure my spices, but I was most generous with the curry powder, I probably used 1 teaspoon of that and 1/2 teaspoon of the cumin, garlic salt, and chili powder. I went easier on the cayenne and crushed red pepper flakes because I have a tendency to add way too much heat to dishes. You can always add more spice later, but it’s really hard to take it away. Stir spice blend together with onions and garlic over medium heat until onions get very soft and spices are well toasted, about 5-7 minutes. 

In the mean time, your pumpkin should be ready to come out of the oven. This medium sized pumpkin had a lot of flesh so I used half for the soup and reserved the other half for some ginger pumpkin muffins I’ll be making this week (I diced and pureed the pumpkin using an immersion blender and put it in a Tupperware in the fridge). To prepare the pumpkin for the soup, scrape the skin off the pumpkin and cut flesh into cubes. Don’t worry about the size of the cubes, you’re going to puree everything together at the end anyway. My half pumpkin yielded about 4 cups diced flesh. If you don’t have pumpkins laying around your house, you don’t need to go out and buy any (unless you really want to). You can easily substitute canned pumpkin puree which can be found in the baking aisle of any supermarket. Add pumpkin to pot and stir to coat with spices. Add 4 cups canned chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you want to make this dish vegan). Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until pumpkin is completely cooked. 

Turn off heat and use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth. Also, if you don’t have an immersion blender you can puree the soup in a normal blender or food processor. But, really, if you don’t have an immersion blender by now, please go buy one! They’re like $30 and are such a great kitchen gadget — so much easier to clean and handle than either of the alternatives. At this point you’ll want to taste your soup for spice level. It should be a little spicier than you want it to end up because you’re about to mellow out the flavor. Add 1/3 cup tahini and puree until incorporated (your soup will become lighter at this point, and you’ll be able to tell when all the tahini is evenly mixed in).

And that’s really it. What you end up with is a really hearty, but healthy soup with a complex flavor profile and a nice lingering heat on the back of your tongue. I served the soup with a drizzle of tahini and some chopped pistachios which added a nice salty crunch. You can add toasted pumpkin seeds for the same effect.

I hope you enjoy the soup as much as I do. It’s really filling and would be great with some crusty bread. This recipe makes a lot of soup, so you’ll definitely have leftovers. I’d say it could feed 4 or 5 as a main course, or more as an appetizer.

Better Bites: Broccoli Cheddar Smashies

One of my best friends from high-school called mashed potatoes “smashies” and I think that’s an appropriate title for this dish because these are not your average potatoes… they’re playful, they’re filling, and they’re healthier than they look.

I invented this dish on one of those “use whatever’s left in the fridge” nights.  Basically, I had gotten a bunch of potatoes from the farm share and didn’t have too much else left in the fridge. What I did have, though, was a convenient steam in a bag broccoli with cheddar sauce. Here’s the full ingredient list:

  • 12 small-medium russet potatoes
  • Garlic
  • Green Giant Valley Fresh Steamers: Broccoli Cheddar Variety
  • Greek Yogurt (I use Fage 0%)
  • Garlic salt
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Shredded Cheddar Cheese (I use Weight Watchers Mexican blend)
  • Hot Sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot)
Because I was not in the mood to spend a lot of time on dinner and because peeling tiny potatoes is a pain in the neck, I just rinsed and scrubbed the potatoes very well.
Next you want to cube the potatoes so they’re all equal sizes (the smaller you cut them, the faster they’ll cook). My trick to getting flavorful potatoes and not munching on chunks of garlic is to add 2-3 cloves of minced garlic with the potatoes to a pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Cook until potatoes are fork tender (meaning you can easily put a fork into the potato), drain, and mash!
In the mean time, cook the broccoli and cheddar sauce according to package directions. In order to keep the broccoli from overcooking, I recommend microwaving it for the least amount of time it says on the bag. Add cooked broccoli and cheddar sauce to the potatoes along with 1/2 c Greek Yogurt, 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese, garlic salt, cayenne, and hot sauce to taste.
I like to use Greek Yogurt instead of milk and butter in potatoes because I like the tang it adds to the potatoes. You could also use fat free sour cream if you didn’t have yogurt on hand.
And that’s it! You can feel free to season according to the way you like your baked potatoes… since essentially this is a play on a loaded baked potato in smashie form! You could add grilled chicken, chives, bacon bits, whatever you want! The results will be delicious.