Meat Free Mondays – French Toast

You’ve got to give credit to the French. Even their toast is fancy.

French toast is one of those things that’s easy to make, but with just a few little tweaks it can be transformed from the pedestrian to the profound.

For this recipe, I used this fabulously simple French bread recipe I discovered last week. I like the way the slices are smaller and roughly oval in shape than traditional, box-shaped French toast.

I also cut down some of the calories and fat by using skim milk and egg whites, rather than whole milk and eggs. That also made it a little lighter and crispier.

Finally, the biggest and most significant difference is topping it with confectioner’s sugar, whole butter and real maple syrup, as opposed to the maple-flavored syrup most commonly found in the breakfast aisle of your supermarket. I’ve already published one tirade on this travesty, so I won’t repeat myself.

Let it suffice to say that 100% real maple syrup is to a commercial “syrup” what swimming in the sea is to dipping your feet in a motel swimming pool. One can be life-transforming while the other is usually disappointing and possibly dangerous.

By the way, in France, they don’t call this dish “French Toast” or even “Our Toast”. They call it “pain perdu”, which means “lost bread,” probably referring to its usually being made with day-old bread that is beginning to go stale.

I used fresh French bread and it was epic. The exterior was crispy and sweet and the interior was almost creamy.

French Toast

8 slices French Bread, about 3/4″ each

2 Eggs, beaten

1/2 cup Skim Milk

1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract

1 TBS Vegetable Oil

1/2 TBS Whole Butter, plus more for topping

Confectioner’s Sugar

100% Pure Maple Syrup

1. Put cast iron pan over a medium heat and let it get hot. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and vanilla.

2. When pan is hot, add oil. When oil gets hot, add the pat of butter and swirl around in the pan. Both the oil and the butter add lubrication to the pan, but the butter adds flavor to the French toast. Don’t let the butter get too browned or else it could give a burnt taste to your food.

3. Dip the bread rounds in the egg mxture and allow it to soak up some of the liquid, then place in the hot pan, being careful not to splash yourself with the hot oil. Cook until golden brown on one side, about 1 minute, then flip over and cook until golden brown on the other side.

4. Transfer to a plate. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar. Garnish the plate with some sort of fruit, such as a fanned strawberry or sliced bananas.

Serve French toast with unsalted butter and the syrup on the side, both preferably at room temperature if you can remember to take them out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before service.

There are so many variations on French toast that it’s almost like a personalized dish. Some people add cinnamon, nutmeg or even salt to the batter while others stuff their French toast with fruit purees, whipped cream or even peanut butter.

In the New York City area, it is sometimes common for Jewish-Americans to use challah bread leftover from the Friday Sabbath dinner to make French toast on Sunday morning.

When I worked in restaurants, I would always use Pullman loaves sliced extra thick — sometimes called Texas toast or Greek toast — and then cut them on the diagonal after frying them on the skillet so they would look more attractive on a breakfast buffet.

However you make it, French toast is a great way to turn an average morning into a special occassion.

French Bread Pizza

Have you ever had this experience? You see something and you instantly say, out loud, “That’s what I want.”

This is what happened to me a few days ago when I saw this posting for French Bread Pizza by one of my favorite bloggers Mom Makes …

I’ve gone on record many times about my love for pizza, and I’ve written about so many, most recently just a few days ago. Maybe I should change this blog title to “Budget Pizza Blog”!

What can I say? I love pizza.

When I was growing up, I used to love Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza. They were a special treat in our house, and with five kids you had to stake out the kitchen as soon as my Mom arrived home from the grocery store or else you would be stuck making English Muffin pizzas. Yecch!

These didn’t last long in the McCullough household

The Stouffer’s products were cooked in the toaster oven, which used up so much electricity that you could run outside and watch the little wheels on the electric meter spin furiously every time you turned it on. 

Although I haven’t had a Stouffer’s FB pizza in probably 25 years, I remember them being pretty good. But this homemade version is incredible.

The difference is the homemade French bread. It’s an extremely simple recipe, but it transforms this pizza into something sublime. Plus this recipe yields two loaves of French bread, so there’s enough for garlic bread, French toast or just a warm loaf of fresh baked bread to share.

Since my wife isn’t into pepperoni, I made two different versions —  one pepperoni and one veggie. But you can top these with anything you want.

Finally, I contributed to this recipe by making my own pizza sauce. We just have so many tomatoes this year that I was just grateful for another way to use some of them.

French Bread Pizza

For the French Bread

3 cups Bread Flour (or All Purpose flour, but bread flour makes it so much better)

1 TBS Dry Active Yeast

1 TBS Granulated Sugar

1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 1/4 cups Water (Baby bath temperature)

1 1/2 tsp Sea Salt

1. Add water to Kitchen Aid mixer bowl and whisk in yeast. Let stand for a minute or two for the yeast to activate. The liquid will start to get bubbly. Meanwhile, combine the flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Attach the dough hook to the mixer and turn the machine on medium. Add the flour mixture and knead until a soft dough forms. It’s ready when the dough pulls away from the walls of the bowl. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead a few minutes more by hand.

2. Add about 1 TBS EVOO to a clean mixing bowl and spread up all the sides and bottom with a napkin. Add the dough to the bowl and turn so that the outside is covered in oil. This is to prevent a skin from forming. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a draft-free place until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.

3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and carefully press out all the gases. Let rest 5 minutes, then divide into two peices. Using your hands, form each peice into an 18″x2″ loaf. Place onto a baking sheet lined with wax paper and cover loosely with the clean kitchen towel. Let rise until doubled in size, about another 90 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 375F. Carefully remove the kitchen towel and place sheet pan in the oven. Cook about 30 minutes or until loaves are golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool completely on cooling racks.

For the Pizza Sauce

6-8 Homegrown Tomatoes (I used Romas)

2 cloves Garlic

Handful of Fresh Oregano, leaves only (Also from our garden)

1 TBS Balsamic Vinegar

1 TBS Granulated Sugar

1/2 cup Water

2 TBS Corn Flour (or AP Flour)

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1. Remove the tomato skins by blanching the tomatoes. This means submerging them in boiling water for about a minute then plunging them into ice water. The skins will slip right off.

2. Add tomatoes, garlic, oregano, vinegar and sugar to food processor or blender. Pulse until mixture is liquified, then transfer it to a small sauce pan. Place over a medium heat until bubbling, then reduce to a simmer. Cook 5 to 30 minutes over a very low heat. To thicken, turn heat on high and whisk in flour, then reduce heat and simmer about five more minutes to get the flour taste out. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the French Bread Pizzas

1 loaf French Bread, cut all the way through horizontally to make 2 peices

8 oz Fresh Mozzarella, shredded

1 cup Pizza Sauce

Toppings of Your Choice

2 TBS Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese

1 tsp Italian Seasoning

1 tsp Granulated Garlic

1/2 tsp Red Pepper Flake

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Place bread crust side down on a baking sheet and spoon sauce over the exposed surface. Top with toppings, then cover with mozzarella.

2. Sprinkle the parmesan, Italian seasoning, gran garlic and red pepper flake over the pizza. This bonus seasoning makes any pizza taste great, even frozen. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until top is brown and bubbly.

I served this with a small Greek salad, also inspired by Mom Makes’ blog.

 

Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Bananas are one of those things we always like to have around, but don’t always eat.

Consequently, we usually have a lot of overripe bananas lying around.

I hate to waste food, especially bananas. After all, the darker and more overripe they are, the stronger the banana flavor. They may not  be fit for eating by themselves, but they are just perfect for banana bread.

I’m pretty sure I wrote about banana bread before … Oh, yes, here it is.

I’ve made banana bread hundreds of times in all kinds of variations: Mini banana bread loaves, banana muffins, chocolate banana bread. But this time I wanted to try something different.

That’s whenI had an epiphany. What about … wait for it …

Peanut Butter Banana Bread!

I love Reese’s peanut butter cups. What if I made peanut butter cups but in the form of bread instead? And with bananas? Brilliant!

Having never made this before, I was uncertain how it would turn out. I was worried that it might be too dense.

I needn’t have worried because it was delicious. Banana bread, zucchini bread and other flavored breads usually are pretty dense, given that they usually have a lot of oil in them and are leavened with baking sodea or powder rather than yeast.

This also requires them to be baked far longer than traditional bread. These loaves took just over an hour, which meant the oven was on much of the hot summer afternoon, turning the kitchen into a steambath.

Yet, it was totally worth it. While the crumb was dense, the crust was dark brown and sugary, just the way I like it. Slices of this peanut butter banana bread served double duty: perfect for breakfast and also for dessert.

Peanut Butter Banana Bread

1-1/4 cups Granulated Sugar

4 TBS Whole Unsalted Butter, softened to room temperature

2 Eggs

3 or 4 overripe Bananas, mashed

1/2 cup Buttermilk

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

2-1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour

1 tsp Baking Soda

1 tsp Sea Salt

1 cup Chocolate Chips

1/2 cup Chunky Peanut Butter

1. Preheat oven to 350F. In a Kitchen Aid mixer, cream together the sugar and butter until smooth, then add eggs one at a time, then the bananas, then the buttermilk, vanilla and the peanut butter and mix until smooth. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and baking soda.

2. Slowly pour the dry ingredients into the batter and mix just until smoothly blended. Don’t overmix or gluten strands will start to form and the bread will be too tough. At the very last moment, add the chocolate chips and mix just until they are evenly distributed in the batter, about 10 seconds.

3. Generously spray two 8″x4″x4″ bread pans with pay spray. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Pick up each bread pan about 2″ off the work surface and drop them down to release any trapped bubbles, then put the pans on the bottom rack of the oven. Cook about 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

4. Remove from oven and let rest in the pans for about 10 minutes, then invert onto a kitchen towel and place on a cooling rack until completely cooled, about 45 minutes. To store, wrap either in foil or place in a resealable plastic freezer bag.

I love this recipe because it makes two decent-sized loaves: One for eating and one for giving away or brining to work. This peanut butter banana cake wins the gold medal for flavor!

Speaking of gold medals, is anybody else excited about the Olympics, which begin

Remember this from the Beijing opening ceremonies? Wow!

Friday (see what I did there?)? The Olympics are something I rarely think about when they are not on TV, but once they begin I get absolutely captivated by them.

Beijing’s opening ceremonies were jaw-droppingly amazing four years ago. I can’t wait to see how London plans to top that. I’m already planning on making some traditional British cuisine in honor of the games, so stay tuned!

Buttered Scones

True story: My very first day in culinary school, I was in my first baking class and we were learning how to make scones, which is one of the simplest and most basic of all baked products.

My fellow classmates and I were required to make several batches, tasting the finished products as we went along.

Sometime around the middle of the class, I began to feel unwell. I mean, really unwell. Like somebody had stabbed me in the gut with a chef’s knife unwell.

I thought, “Great, I just left my career as a writer to become a chef, only to poison myself on the very first day of culinary school!”

It was only after I got home and had to be rushed to the hospital that I learned that it wasn’t my scones that had poisoned me, it was my appendix, which was on the brink of rupturing and had to be removed during emergency surgery.

I must admit that ever since then, scones have made me a little queasy. But they are one of the easiest and fastest baked products you can make.

Scones fall under the category of “quick breads”, which are breads that don’t need to be leavened prior to cooking. Rather than waiting hours for slower-growing yeast cultures to form air pockets in the dough — like traditional breads — quick breads are leavened instantly by chemical reactions caused by baking powder, baking soda or both.

Other examples of quick breads would include muffins, biscuits and even pancakes, all of which can be made in just a few minutes.

I flavored these scones with raisins, but you also could add frozen or fresh fruit, seeds, nuts or just about anything. Toasted and buttered scones with a little jam on the side make a lovely breakfast and they also go perfectly with mid-afternoon tea.

Scones

1/3 cup Unsalted butter

1-3/4 cup All-purpose flour

3 TBS Granulated sugar

2-1/2 tsp Baking powder

1/4 tsp Sea salt

1 Egg, beaten

1/2 cup Raisins

6 TBS Fat-free half and half

1 Egg, beaten

1 TBS Coarse sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Combine butter, flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Use a biscuit cutter to cut the butter into the dry ingredients, or just use your hands, squeezing the butter and dry ingredients together between your thumbs and index fingers until it all has the consistency of small pebbles.

2. Add the egg, raisins and the half and half and stir just until the dough starts to pull away from the side of the bowl. Then turn out onto a floured work surface and knead lightly a few times adding additional flour if necessary, just until the dough forms. Be careful not to overknead, otherwise the scones will become tough. You want the dough to just hold together.

3. Flatten the dough into a 1/2-inch thick sheet using either your hands or a rolling pin, then cut the dough into triangle shapes about 4″ long, placing each on an ungreased sheet pan. Brush each peice with egg wash, sprinkle with a little coarse sugar, then bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from sheet pan and cool.

Scones are transcendent when served immediately while still warm. Another option is to cool them completely, cut in half horizontally and toast in the toaster. Scones are traditionally served with softened butter and a selection of jams.

 

 

Meat Free Mondays – Garlic Bread Vegetarian Calzones

I’ve been working to perfect my calzones recipe lately and after a few calzone disasters, I finally found one that I’m happy with.

First of all, for those unfamiliar with calzones, they are simply pizza that is folded up into itself, sealed and baked. The result is a mouth-watering pocket of gooey mozzarella, tasty tomato sauce and whatever toppings you prefer.

You can make calzones with any pizza dough recipe you would like, but I’ve been making this garlic bread pizza crust recipe that I found on the wonderful blog “Mom Makes” because it is really flavorful and especially delicious.

For the filliing, I wanted to use all vegetables, but I was concerned that they wouldn’t cook soft enough sealed inside the calzone, so I gave them a quick saute ahead of time. The pizza sauce was my super easy and dependable pizza sauce I always make, but since I’m avoiding white sugar, I replaced it with the same amount of honey.

Finally, I used cute little mozzarella ovalini, which are balls of fresh mozzarella that are about the size of a golf ball. I just cut them in half and put a few in each calzone.

But what really makes this recipe something special is making a garlic butter sauce then brushing the calzones with it just prior to baking. It really brought the flavor to an entirely new level and is something I probably will be doing all the time from now on.

Garlic Bread Vegetarian Calzones

For the crust

1 cup lukewarm water (baby bath temperature)

1 TBS active dry yeast (or one envelope)

1-1/2 TBS honey

1-1/2 TBS Extra virgin olive oil

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp granulated garlic

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

2 TBS unsalted butter

2 cloves garlic, crushed

For the pizza sauce

8 oz can of tomato sauce

1 TBS Italian seasoning

1 tsp honey

For the pizza

8 oz Mozzarella ovalini, cut in half

1/2 yellow pepper, ribs and seeds removed, julienned

1/2 red onion, julienned

4 oz can of sliced mushrooms, drained

4 oz can of sliced black olives, drained

1. For the sauce, combine tomato sauce, Italian seasoning and honey in a small pot and heat until bubbly. Turn off and set aside. Meanwhile, saute the peppers and onions, add the mushrooms and olives for the final minute to heat through and set aside. Melt butter in a saucepan, add garlic and cook until the garlic just starts to brown. Turn off and set aside.

2. In Kitchen Aid bowl, combine water, yeast, 1-1/2 TBS of honey and EVOO. Let sit for about 10 minutes until it starts to foam, indicating the yeast has activated. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine flours, salt, garlic powder, basil and oregano and mix together with your hands.

3. Add nearly all of the flour mixture into the yeast liquid — reserving about 1/2 cup for kneading — and blend on medium using the dough hook attachment until a dough ball forms, about three minutes. Sprinkle some of the reserved flour mix onto a work surface then transfer the dough ball and knead adding additional flour mix as necessary until dough is springy and no longer sticky.

4. Grease a clean mixing bowl with about 1 tsp of EVOO and place dough ball into bowl, turning so that all sides are oiled. This prevents a crust from forming as the dough rises. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft free place until dough has doubled in size, about an hour. Punch down and let it rise again if you want, but it’s not essential.

5. Preheat oven to 500F. Knead dough for a few minutes and let rest for a few more. Then cut dough into four peices. Using your hands and a rolling pin, form each peice into a thin circle, about 8 inches in diameter. When all four circles are complete, add a small amount of tomato sauce into the center of each, then a small amount of the sauteed vegetables, then about 3 or 4 ovalini halves.

6. Fold each circle over so that it forms a half moon, then roll the edges in toward the center about 1/2 inch. Use your fingers to pinch closed all the way around. Transfer calzones to greased baking sheets and brush generously with garlic butter.

7. Bake for about 15 minutes or until brown and crusty.

What sort of pizza variations do you like to make? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

 

 

Mediterranean Olive Loaf

In winter time, I like a homemade bread that can stand up to sturdy soups and stews, but not so heavy that it is a chore to eat.

That’s why I love this Mediterrean olive loaf. It has the texture of a good whole wheat bread without the treacly denseness of a pumpernickel or heavy rye. Plus it’s so easy to make.

Mediterranean Olive Loaf

Mediterranean Olive Loaf

There’s no greater cooking pleasure than making bread with your own hands. There’s something for all five senses — sight, smell, sound, touch and taste. Okay, maybe not so much sound, but four out of five isn’t bad!

This loaf is peppered with tiny specks of black olive. I also use the water the olives come packed in to make the loaf a deeper, satisfying grey-brown. And the fennel seed topping gives it just the right hint of licorice flavoring.

Like all breads, you can make this loaf into any shape you want. I chose the rounded ball, but it easily can be rolled into a long loaf, formed into rolls or placed into a traditional Pullman loaf pan. It would be really interesting to try it as a flatbread or even a pizza crust.

"This loaf is peppered with specks of black olive ..."

"This loaf is peppered with tiny specks of black olive ..."

I used medium whole black olives, but you could really use any kind of olive, including kalamata or green olives. Just remember to remove any pits ahead of time.

Mediterranean Olive Loaf

1-1/2 cups lukewarm water (baby bath water temperature)

1 TBS active dry yeast (or one envelope)

2 TBS honey

2 TBS molasses

2 TBS vegetable shortening (or butter)

3 TBS nonfat dry milk powder

1-1/2 tsp sea salt

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup rye flour

6 oz can medium black olives, sliced

1 TBS EVOO

1 TBS corn meal

1 egg, beaten

1/4 tsp coarse sea salt

1/2 tsp fennel seed

1. Pour the water from the olive can into a measuring cup then add enough water to bring it 1-1/2 cups. Heat in microwave until lukewarm, about 15 seconds on high. Pour into Kitchen Aid bowl (or mixing bowl) and whisk in yeast, honey, molasses and shortening. Let let sit until mixture begins to bubble, about five minutes. Meanwhile, combine milk powder, salt and the flours together in a separate bowl.

2. Attach the dough hook attachment to the Kitchen Aid (or just use a wooden spoon). Set to low speed, then slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. When combined, increase speed to medium and mix until dough is formed, about two minutes. Finally, add olives and mix until combined.

3. Flour a work surface and roll out dough. Knead with your hands for a few minutes, adding additional flour if necessary. The dough should be slightly tacky, but not sticky. Grease the bottom and sides of a clean mixing bowl with the EVOO, then place the dough in the bowl, rolling around so all sides are greased. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rest in a warm draft-free place until doubled in size, about an hour. Punch down, then let rise for another 30 minutes.

4. Spray a sheet pan with pan spray then dust with corn meal. Punch the dough down again, let it rest a minute or two, then cut in half with a sharp knife. Form the two loaves into whatever shape you want then place them on the sheet pan. Cover the loaves loosely with the dish towel and let proof about 30 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 375F. Using a sharp knife, make 1/2 inch deep slits every two inches or so, then brush loaves with the egg wash and sprinkle with the coarse sea salt and fennel seeds. Place pan in oven and cook 30-35 minutes. You can tell that the loaves are done when they give a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. Cool loaves on wire rack.

Do you have any favorite accompaniments to winter soups and stews? Why not share them in the comments section below? And thanks for looking at my blog!

 

Sunflower Seed Multi-Grain Bread

The weather has been particularly nasty around here the past couple of days. Since I currently work out my home office, I’ve been trapped in the house with our three dogs as the rain, wind and even snow have rolled through the Chicago area.

It’s days like these that are perfect for bread baking.

The oven warms the whole house and the aroma of baking bread wafts through every room, turning a lousy day into a magical experience. Even the dogs cheer up.

Autumn is perfect for a heavier bread, such as this multi-grain loaf with sunflower seeds. It’s denser than a traditional French baguette or a softer Italian loaf, yet not so heavy as a pumpernickel or Lithuanian rye. It goes perfectly with a bowl of hot homemade soup.

I reverse-engineered this loaf because I’ve had some sunflower seeds lying around that I bought a while ago while on a health kick and wanted to use them up. And they fit really nicely in this recipe. You can leave them out, or substitute walnuts or even raisins.

So when the weather turns nasty outside your house, mix up a batch of this dough, turn on your oven, and turn your day around.

Sunflower Multi-Grain Bread

1-1/2 cups lukewarm water (baby bath water temperature)

1-1/4 tsp active dry yeast (or one envelope)

2 TBS honey

2 TBS molasses

2 TBS vegetable shortening

3 TBS nonfat dry milk powder

1-1/2 tsp sea salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/3 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup rye flour

1/3 cup sunflower seeds

1 TBS EVOO

1 TBS corn meal

1 egg, beaten

1/4 tsp coarse sea salt

1. Whisk water, yeast, honey, molasses and shortening together in bowl of Kitchen Aid and let sit until mixture starts to bubble, about five minutes. Meanwhile, combine milk powder, salt and the flours together in a mixing bowl.

2. Using dough hook attachment (or just a wooden spoon), add dry ingredients into wet ingredients and mix until dough is formed, about two minutes. Then add sunflower seeds and mix until combined.

3. Pour out onto slightly floured work surface and knead for a few minutes to finish dough. Grease the bottom and sides of a clean mixing bowl with EVOO then add dough ball, turning over to coat all sides. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free space until about doubled in size, about an hour. Punch down, then let rise for another 30 minutes.

4. Spray a sheet pan with pan spray and dust with corn meal. Cut dough in half and form into desired shapes (I usually make one round loaf and one long loaf, or you can use bread pans). Place on sheet pan and cover loosely with a dish towel and let rest about 30 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 385F. Use a sharp knife to make 1/2 inch slits every two inches or so, then brush loaves with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Place sheet pan in oven and cook 30 minutes. Cool on racks.

This recipe makes two 1 lb loaves. You can also use it to make about 24 dinner rolls, if you prefer.

What do you cook to warm up a cold, blustery day? Why not share your ideas in the comments section below? And thanks for looking at my blog!

Baking Your Own Garlic Bread

There’s something special about making your own bread for your family, especially this delicious, amazing garlic bread. Not only does it fill your house with a wonderful aroma, but it warms the hearts and feeds the soul of the people you love most.

I love garlic bread, but I don’t love those greasy frozen loaves you buy at the grocery store. Garlic bread should taste like garlic, not fake butter and salt. So I set out to create my own recipe.

I started with a basic French bread recipe. Simple enough. Then I roasted an entire head of garlic, crushed up the nutty brown cloves and kneaded them into the dough. Finally, just before baking, I sprinkled the formed loaves with a generous amount of granulated garlic and coarse sea salt.

The result: Amazing garlic bread that actually tastes like garlic, but doesn’t overpower and goes perfect with any pasta dish.

I chose a pasta recipe I’ve been making for almost 30 years that combines whole wheat pasta with steamed broccoli, Italian sausage and carmelized onions, tossed in a simple combination of extra virgin olive oil and grated parmesan cheese.

Garlic Bread

1 TBS fast-acting yeast (or one envelope)

1 cup lukewarm water (baby bath temperature)

1 TBS sugar

1 tsp sea salt

1 head roasted garlic, cloves removed and crushed

3-1/2 cups all purpose flour

3 TBS vegetable oil

1/4 cup cornmeal

1 egg white

1 TBS cold water

1TBS granulated garlic

1 tsp coarse sea salt

1. Cut the top off an entire head of garlic, drizzle it with a little EVOO, wrap in foil and bake at 350F until soft and brown, about 45 minutes. This can be done up to a day or two ahead of time.

2. Place yeast and sugar in bowl of Kitchen Aid mixer (or mixing bowl) and whisk in water and wait for bubbles to form (about five minutes, it means the yeast is activating). Meanwhile, combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add garlic and oil to liquid and attach bowl to Kitchen Aid, then add about half the flour mix and mix on medium using the dough hook attachment for about two minutes. Slowly add the remaining flour until  the dough is formed, about five minutes.

3. Dust a work surface with flour, then turn the dough out onto the work surface and knead for a few minutes until dough is smooth. Grease a mixing bowl with EVOO, then place dough ball into bowl and roll around until all sides are covered with oil. Cover with a clean dishtowel and let sit in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about an hour.

4. Punch down dough, knead for another minute or two, then let rest five minutes under the dishtowel. Use pan spray to grease a baking sheet then sprinkle the cornmeal onto it. Cut the dough into two halves and use a rolling pin to form each half into a flat rectangle about 5″x18″. Roll up tightly, beginning with the 15 inch side. Pinch the edge of the dough into the roll to seal well and place on baking sheet.  Make 1/4-inch slashes across the top of each loaf about every 2 inches. Brush with cold water and let loaves sit uncovered in a warm, draft-free place until doubled, about an hour.

5. Preheat oven to 375F. Whisk together the egg white and 1 TBS water, then brush the loaves with the egg wash. Sprinkle each loaf with granulated garlic and coarse sea salt, then bake 35 minutes. Remove to cooling racks.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Meat Free Mondays – Black Bean and Roasted Corn Chowder

Of roux, Gravy Master and bread bowls.

You and I need to have a serious talk. About roux.

Roux is a thickening agent made out of any kind of fat and any kind of flour. The two are whisked together to make a thick paste and cooked until the flour taste is gone. When roux is added to a soup or sauce, the flour and fat granules abosrb the liquid, resulting in a thicker, denser product.

Black Bean and Roasted Corn Chowder

Black Bean and Roasted Corn Chowder in a Bread Bowl

You can make a slack roux and tight roux (ie soupy or stiff), blonde roux and brown roux (ie light or dark), depending on what you are making with it. The proper proportion of roux is 2 parts fat to 3 parts flour.

For today’s recipe, I made a tight, dark roux out of vegetable shortening and all-purpose flour. It cooked it until it was just short of burning because I wanted it very dark.

I wanted the chowder to have the caramel color and denisty of a good gumbo, even though it obviously is not a gumbo because it lacks any kind of meat protein, file (pronounced FEE-lay, a thickening agent made out of ground young sassafrass leaves), or okra. I got pretty close, but I still had to add a few drops of Gravy Master, a magical meat-free chef’s secret liquid used to darken soups and sauces.

Bread bowls are a great way to increase the “wow factor” for when you make soups and stews. They are surprisingly easy and inexpensive to make. I made a simple rye bread dough and formed it into small round loaves. After the bread was cooked and cooled, I hollowed out the loaves and brushed the interior with EVOO and returned them to a 350F oven for 15 minutes. The oil forms a kind of seal that keeps the soup from oozing out when you fill it.

For this recipe, I used the last of the Farmers Market corn, which I soaked in water for about 30 minutes then grilled in the husk for about 20 more minutes, then cut from the cob when it cooled. This gives the corn a nice smoky flavor. But you could use canned corn kernels.

Black Bean and Roasted Corn Chowder

30 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups cooked corn kernels

2 TBS EVOO

1/2 white onion

2 carrots, peeled and diced

1 celery stalk, diced

1/2 green bell pepper, diced

2 serrano peppers, ribs and seeds removed, diced

1 jalapeno pepper, ribs and seeds removed, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 TBS cumin

1 TBS chili powder

4 cups vegetable stock

2/3 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup all purpose flour

Juice of 1 lime

1/2 TBS fresh thyme (or 1 TBS dried)

Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

A few drops of gravy master (ssshh, that part’s a secret!)

1/4 cup cilantro leaves (for garnish)

Fat-free sour cream (for garnish)

Tortilla chips (for garnish)

To build the roux, heat the vegetable shortening (or butter) in a sauce pan just until melted. Whisk in the flour until it forms a tight paste, then continue whisking until it turns a dark, chocolatey brown. This will take about 10-15 minutes. Set aside.

In separate pot, heat vegetable stock. When boiling, quickly whisk in the roux and continue whisking until liquid tightens significantly, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, put a soup pot on the fire. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, stir in onions, carrots, celery and all the peppers and cook until onions translucent, about 10 minutes. Add beans, corn, garlic, cumin and chili powder and stir together. Add thickened vegetable stock, bring to boil, then reduce to simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add the lime juice and thyme and adjust color with Gravy Master, if necessary. Season with S&P to taste.

To serve, ladle into bread bowl, sprinkle with cilantro leaves, top with dollop of sour cream and a single tortilla chip.

What are some of your favorite meat free recipes? Why not share them in the comments section below? And thanks for looking at my blog!

The Mystery of Foccacia Bread

One of the things that inspired me most to become a chef was bread.

Bread is alive. It eats, it breathes, it grows, it changes shapes. I was drawn to the mystery of how all those things happened.

Tomato and Mozzarella Foccacia

Tomato and Mozzarella Foccacia

Even after studying the scientific facts of bread, and memorizing lists of what each ingredient adds to the equation, and reporting on bread faults and what causes them, I’m still filled with a sense of wonder about the whole process.

I understand how it works. I just like to think about why it works because it’s beautiful and magical.

Baking bread is one of my favorite things to do. I’ve written before about how I wish more people would bake their own bread, and how easy and rewarding it is. The aroma of baking bread fills your house with goodness.

So when I came across a recipe for focaccia bread — an oil-rich Italian flatbread that is a relative to pizza — on the wonderful Hungry in Milwaukee blog, I knew I had to try it.

Foccacia dough is stickier than other bread doughs

Foccacia dough is stickier than other bread doughs

Focaccia dough is stickier than most bread doughs I usually work with. It reminded me of coffee cake dough with its tacky texture.

The inclusion of a sponge starter — a little bit of yeast, water and flour made the night before that helps foccacia to get a running start on fermentation — means it will have holes of various sizes, rather than than uniformity, when you cut it open. I like that.

But the real attraction for me is that you can pack foccacia with cheese, olives, onions, tomatoes, you name it, and it is strong enough to not only hold everything together, but stand up to the flavors and not let them overpower the bread.

A side note: Normally I can find sun dried tomatoes at one of the local grocery stores, but for whatever reason there weren’t any this week, so I made my own oven-dried tomatoes. Just cut some plum tomatoes in half, use your finger to pull out the seeds, salt them, let them drain face down for about an hour, then flip them over and roast them in a slow (200-225F) oven for several hours. The result is a tomato with a highly concentrated flavor, perfect for this recipe.

Sun Dried Tomato and Mozzarella Foccacia

Foccacia sponge

1/16 tsp active dry yeast

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup plus 3 TBS all-purpose flour

Combine yeast and water and let rest 5 minutes. Then add bread flour and stir. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature 12-24 hours. Sponge will become thick and bubbly.

Foccacia

1-1/4 cup plus 2 TBS water

1/2 cup EVOO

Focaccia sponge

1-3/4 tsp active dry yeast

2 TBS plus 3/4 tsp corn meal

3-1/3 cup all purpose flour, more if needed

1 TBS sea salt, plus more for sprinkling over loafs

4 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2″ cubes

4-5 sun dried or oven dried tomatoes, slightly rehydrated, rough chop

1 tsp dried thyme

1. Combine water, 1 TBS EVOO and sponge in bowl of Kitchen Aid mixer (or mix in bowl with wooden spoon if you don’t have one). Combine yeast, corn meal and flour in another bowl. Using dough hook, mix on low and slowly add the flour mixture to the wet mixture.

2. Add the salt and increase speed to medium. Mix until dough starts to pull away from the walls, about 6-8 minutes. Add additional flour if dough is too damp.

3. Pour TBS of EVOO into a clean mixing bowl, then use a napkin to spread the oil throughout the bowl. Turn the dough out into the bowl, then cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let it sit undisturbed in draft-free, warm place until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.

4. Gently dust a counter with flour, then turn dough out onto counter. Acting as if the round has four sides, fold the edges of the dough toward the center. Sprinkle a little more flour on top, flip the dough, then return it to another clean, greased mixing bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let double in size again, about an hour.

5. Measure out 1/4 cup EVOO, then pour evenly into two 9″ cake pans and swirl around so that the bottoms and walls are completely covered. Dust the counter again, turn out the dough again, then use a knife to cut into two equal halves. Place the halves in the cake pans then cover with a clean dishtowel and let rest about 5 minutes.

6. Use your fingers to poke holes in the dough and fill each hole with a cheese cube or sun dried tomato. Cover the pans with the dishtowel and let rest about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425F.

7. Just before putting the dough into the oven, brush with EVOO and sprinkle liberally with thyme and salt. Bake on center rack for 30 minutes, then move to lower rack for the final 5 minutes to form a crisp bottom crust. Remove from pans and cool on racks.

You can play around with different cheeses and herbs — cheddar and rosemary are a good combination — as well as vegetables, such as carmelized onions or olives. Foccacia is great on its own, or it goes well with pasta. I served mine with a gemelli in red sauce with grilled Italian sausage.

What bread recipes do you love to cook? Why not share them in the comments section below? And thanks for looking at my blog!