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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Focaccia

This is a wonderful, delicious bread to make. If you have a stand mixer, it's easy peasy. I love its versatility. I especially love it plain, fresh out of the oven. Once it's cooled, it's great dipped in balsamic vinegar and oil. If you have a panini press, then you can make some of the best sandwiches around with this stuff. And it takes mere minutes of your time to get it going.

Mix together the water, yeast, sugar, oil , and the first batch of flour. Mix on medium-low with a paddle attachment in a stand mixer until the dough is very elastic... maybe 6-8 minutes. It should become very stringy as it becomes more elastic.

Stop the mixer and switch to a dough hook. Add the remaining flour and salt. Knead the dough on medium-low for another few minutes until the dough is smooth. It will still be fairly sticky and will never quite pull away from the bottom of the mixing bowl.

Spray a bowl with oil and mound the dough inside. Spray the top of the dough with oil and then cover with plastic wrap to rise for an hour or until the dough doubles in size.

I kind of forgot about the dough for a bit, so it rose more than double... but it's not really a big deal. I just knocked the dough down and proceeded as normal.

Dump the dough out onto an 11 x 17 inch baking sheet lined with parchment. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil on the top so you can easily spread the dough out. Just use your hands to spread the dough out to the edges of the pan. If it springs back too much, just let the dough sit for a few minutes so it can relax enough for you to spread it out.

Once it's spread out, let it rise, covered, for thirty minutes to get a little puffy. Then, remove the cover and drizzle a little more oil and use your finger to dimple the surface. You can let it go at that or sprinkle your choice of toppings on it before baking. In this case, I used shredded Parmesan cheese, basil, and sea salt, but you can use onions, sun dried tomatoes, garlic, or whatever else sounds good to you.

Bake in a 400 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes, until it is golden brown. Use the parchment to remove the loaf from the pan onto a rack or board to cool. Ideally, you want to let it cool completely before cutting... if you can wait that long! I use a pizza cutter to cut this bread; I think it is the quickest way to get the nicest cuts. This bread can also be frozen and saved for later. I often bake one loaf and freeze half for a later date. You can even reheat this bread in the toaster (be sure it's thawed out first if it was frozen) for that fresh from the oven taste.


Focaccia
Yield: one 11x17 inch flat loaf

1 1/2 cup warm water
1 TBS instant yeast
1 TBS sugar
4 TBS olive oil
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt

Mix together the first five ingredients in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until the dough is very elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Switch to a dough hook and add the remaining flour and salt. Knead another few minutes on medium-low speed until the dough is smooth. It will still be sticky and will never quite pull away from the bottom of the bowl. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and then let sit in a warm place to rise until the dough doubles, about an hour.

Knock down the dough and let it rest for ten minutes. Dump onto a parchment lined 11 x 17 inch sheet pan. Drizzle a little oil on the top and use your hands to spread the dough out to cover the pan. Let dough rise, covered, for thirty minutes until it is slightly puffy.

Drizzle a little more oil over the surface and use your finger to dimple the surface. Sprinkle on any toppings you might like (such as garlic, basil, sun dried tomatoes, Parmesan, etc.). Bake at 400 degrees F for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool before cutting and serving.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

White Fish in Sherry Cream Sauce

If you like creamy sauces as much as I do, you'll need to plan to make this dish as soon as humanly possible. Heck, even if you only are ambivalent about creamy sauces, you'll want to make this... it's just that darn good.

The first time I can recall smelling shallots sauteing in butter was when I was maybe eight and we were visiting friends in Paris. It was like I'd never smelled heaven until that moment. This dish takes it even farther by adding cream sherry and Gruyere cheese to make the tastiest sauce around. I made it with white fish. Pollock, I think. You can make it with any mild fleshed white fish or chicken breasts, if you're not a fan on seafood. If you choose to go the chicken route, just remember it will take longer to cook through than the fish will.

The first step is to saute the shallots and garlic in butter. You don't want the heat so high that they brown; cook them until they are softened. Then, add the flour, stir it into the butter, and then add the milk slowly, whisking continually so that you don't end up with a lumpy sauce.

When the milk is incorporated, add the cream sherry and stir until it just comes to a simmer and is nice and thickened. Remove from the heat and add the Gruyere cheese. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a small baking dish (9x9 or similar), spoon a bit of the sauce and spread across the bottom. Place the fish in a single layer on top of the sauce and then pour the remainder of the sauce over the top. Sprinkle the top with a little paprika for color. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until bubbly and the fish is cooked through.


White Fish in Sherry Cream Sauce
Yield: 3-4 servings

1 lb mild flavored white fish
2 TBS butter
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1 TBS minced shallot
3 TBS + 1 tsp flour
2 TBS cream sherry
1 1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup grated Gruyere cheese
paprika (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a sauce pan, saute the shallot and garlic in the butter until softened but not browned. Add the flour and stir into the butter until a paste forms. Add the milk slowly, whisking constantly to reduce lump formation. Add the cream sherry. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to simmer and becomes nicely thickened.

Remove from the heat and add the cheese, stirring to incorporate. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon some of the sauce into the bottom of a small baking dish (9x9 or similar). Spread the sauce to cover the bottom. Place the fish in a single layer on the sauce. Pour the remainder of the sauce over the fish and sprinkle with paprika for color. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until fish is cooked through.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pumpkin Puree

Well, we can all sigh a breath of relief.. the great canned pumpkin shortage is over. Oh... wait, but I never use the stuff. I never suffered one day by not being able to purchase canned pumpkin from the grocery store during the last year.

Why? Because I still have more pumpkin puree than I can use thanks to an over-abundant crop a few years back and the yearly jack-o-lantern. By the way, if you've never tried pumpkin pie made from pumpkin puree that hasn't been tormented in the pressure canner, you are missing out. To be honest, I simply can't eat pumpkin pie made from canned pumpkin. If you think there isn't a difference, compare eating frozen green beans to canned green beans.

I rest my case.

Now, if you're starting to feel like your house looks like this pumpkin field, then you need to convert that crop into orange gold! It's easy, especially if you have a food processor.

First, Cut the pumpkin in half. Cut out the stem and blossom end and discard it. You can see my dog, Stella, here suddenly decided that what I was doing was way more interesting than trolling for dead bugs and crumbs.

Once you've split them apart, Use a large spoon to scrape the insides out. Now this is a jack-o-lantern pumpkin, and a very mature one at that. See how stringy it is? It still makes a fine pie, but if you want the creme-de-la-creme, then you need to buy (or grow) the small pie pumpkins. Also, you may want to save the seeds to make toasted pumpkin seeds!

Once the insides are scraped out, place them face down on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet.

Tuck the edges of foil up around the pumpkin. It doesn't have to be a tight seal or anything, but you want to keep them from drying out too much while baking. Place the baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for one to two hours, depending on the size of your pumpkins.

Be sure your pumpkins are very tender before removing them from the oven. I use a cake tester to see how done they are. Obviously, the skin is always kind of tough, even when the inside is well done, but you can still gauge their doneness pretty well by poking them. If in doubt, let them cook a little longer. Overcooking is waaaaay better than under cooking them here. Let them cool completely at room temperature before moving on to the next step.

When they are cool, use a large spoon to scrape the now tender flesh out of the skin. You'll end up with a shell that can easily be discarded.

Look at that gorgeous color! Pumpkin out of a can never looked that good! See how fibrous it is at this point? If you only want to use this for pumpkin bread, you could simply stir it to break up the fibers a bit and call it good. If, however, there's a chance you want to make pumpkin pie or some such thing, then you need to puree it. And, I mean, puree it good. I hate pumpkin puree that's not smooth.

Here's where a food processor comes in handy. You can use a blender, but you have to use a lot more water and let it drain a lot longer. Working in batches, puree the pumpkin flesh with enough water to allow it to process very easily into a very smooth puree. Then pour the puree into a cheesecloth lined colander to drain. I use four layers of cheese cloth to be sure I don't lose any of that wonderful puree.

Let the puree sit and drain for a few hours. I find it helps to stir the puree from time to time. When it is dry enough to allow it to "stand-up" in pointy ridges, it's ready for the last step.

There are two main ways to freeze the puree. You can use freezer containers or zip top bags. I have used both. The zip top bags are nice because they thaw very quickly and stack fairly well in the freezer. The freezer containers stack even better and don't ooze at the seams when they thaw. Dang, but things just aren't made the way they used to be.

I usually freeze two cups together since that covers most of the recipes that I use. Oh, and, yes... that's a 2007 you see in the upper corner of that frozen puree. That's what so great about this stuff, especially if it's frozen in the baggies. Provided you are careful to get all the air out of the bag before you freeze them, these things will last for years without any freezer burn!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fried Cornbread

I've made these things for a long time, ever since I first learned how to properly deep fry food when I first lived in the South back in the early nineties. I think it's kind of funny that after all these years, the other night was the first time it ever dawned on me to use a portion scoop to make them. Previously, I dropped the batter from a spoon and always ended up with a nice free-form look to them.

The portion scoop makes a really nice, beautiful globe of fried goodness. I suppose it makes them look like hush puppies... which I guess technically they are. I'm not sure any true Southerner would call these hush puppies, however. In my experience, hush puppies are much more dense than these balls of fried cornbread.

I made them two different sizes the other night. What you see in the above picture is the larger size. The 2 tablespoon portion scoop made large 2-bite balls that took a good while to cook all the way through and were a little more dense. The 2 teaspoon portion scoop made perfect single bite nuggets that weren't quite so perfectly shaped, but ended up much lighter and almost fluffy inside. The smaller ones also cooked much more quickly, which was good for me since I am very impatient.

Make them whatever size you want, just be sure that you don't have your oil heated too hot or the outside will get too dark before the inside is completely cooked. There's nothing worse than having a gooey-inside piece of fried cornbread. To be sure they're cooked all the way, stick an instant read thermometer inside and look for a temperature above 175 degrees F.

Mix together the wet ingredients. I used creamed corn I had put up in the freezer, but you can certainly use canned cream corn.

Then mix together the dry ingredients. Yellow cornmeal is a must here to get that gorgeous yellow hue in the finished product. Fry for 2-5 minutes (depending on their size) in oil that is between 330 and 360 degrees F. I like to start with the temperature on the high side so that after I add a few blobs of batter, the temperature is still high enough to get a good crust on the finished product.

Fried Cornbread
Yield: approximately 20-40 pieces, depending on size

1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1 cup creamed corn
2 TBS melted and cooled butter
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup diced onion

Mix the dry and wet ingredients separately and then add the wet to the dry mixture. Stir thoroughly. Drop by the spoonful (2 tsp to 2 TBS) into hot oil (approx. 330 to 360 degrees F) and cook until golden brown and cooked through. To ensure they are completely cooked inside, use an instant read thermometer to check for a temperature over 175 degrees. Let cool slightly on a paper towel before serving.

NOTE: Smaller pieces will have a lighter, fluffier texture than large pieces, which is simply a matter of personal preference. If you want an even lighter, fluffier end product, add a little more milk so that the batter is a little looser; this allows for quicker expansion when the batter hits the hot oil, leading to a lighter cornbread.
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