The beat goes on….
More jello coverage.
The beat goes on….
More jello coverage.
Every once in a while I crave something that takes longer to make than my craving will last. Focaccia is not one of those things. Yes, you have to wait for the dough to rise and you have to bake and cool it, but so what. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
The main difference, and secret to Focaccia, is that the dough is really wet. When compared to pizza or pullman dough, Focaccia dough is a shaggy mess, with sometimes twice the liquid.
I’ve tried a couple of recipes and I like this one the best. It’s a little sweeter and less dense. I grabbed it from an old issue of Fine Cooking and made some adjustments. Here’s the recipe:
1 lb 9 oz bread flour
2 1/2 cups cold water
7 tsp sugar (1 oz)
3 1/2 tsp kosher salt (1/2 oz)
1 packet instant yeast (1/4 oz)
extra-virgin olive oil
Add all but the oil to a stand mixing bowl. Mix on low with the dough hook until the dough starts to come together and smooths out, about 7 minutes.
Transfer to an oiled bowl large enough to hold the dough when it doubles. Use a dough scraper, you’ll still get it all over your hands, but it helps.
The next step is to stretch the dough in the bowl. You’re going to do this 4 times, so it helps to think about the dough in quadrants at this point. Grab one quadrant edge and stretch it out, then fold it over on to the top. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat 3 times. Add a tablespoon of oil to the top of the dough package and flip it over.
Set the bowl in a warmish spot in your kitchen and let the dough rise to double. It can’t be above 110 degrees or the heat will kill the yeast. I usually heat the oven for 5 min and then turn it off. This provides enough heat to rise the dough without doing any damage.
Line a 1/2 sheet pan with parchment paper and add 3 tbs of oil. Once the dough has risen, scrape it out of the bowl onto the sheet pan. The dough needs to fill the sheet pan, so start stretching it out with the tips of your fingers. If it’s giving you a hard time, walk away for 10 min.
Once the dough reaches all four corners, drizzle 2 tbs of oil and put it back in the warm spot you found earlier. You’re going to have to wait for a second rise. This time, look for the dough to have risen above the sheet pan edge but not drooping over.
Heat the oven to 450 and bake for 15 minutes. Check half-way though to see it it’s baking evenly. If not, rotate the sheet pan. It’s done when the top is a brown and the bottom looks the same. I’ve made the mistake of baking a focaccia with a lightly golden top and a fairly raw bottom. Be sure to check the bottom.
We should talk about toppings. What do you have? This is a common theme, but make this focaccia your own. As you can see by the pictures, I’ve added some sauce (see the previous post), sliced shallots, rosemary, and some cooked sweet Italian sausage.
The only advice I’d offer here is when to put on what toppings. Dried herbs, olives, sauce, anything that can burn during baking, should be added when you dimple the dough, but before it rises in the sheet pan. Sausage, shallots, course salt, nuts, and soft cheeses, should be added just before the dough goes in the oven. Just one rule: don’t add too many toppings.
Once the focaccia is done, let it cool and slice it up. I ate the focaccia here as dinner one night. It’s great along side pasta or soup. Slice it in half for sandwiches. If it goes stale, dice it for croutons. I don’t see that happening though. This focaccia is really hard to keep your hands off of.
I think that one of the best parts of cooking is taking a recipe and adjusting it to your needs. This tomato sauce has to be the easiest on earth, it tastes great, and can be customized to whatever you have on hand.
First things first, this is Marcella Hazan’s recipe. Credit where credit is due, people.
You’ll need the following:
1 can Whole peeled tomatoes - the big one, 28 Oz, or two cups from your garden
1/2 onion, peeled
5 T butter
Thats it. Add the first three into a sauce pan, bring to a boil and then simmer slowly for 40 min.
Break up the tomatoes with a spoon or a masher as they soften.
Taste, season and serve.
It’s important to note that good ingredients count. Anytime that your ingredient list is the same number as the fingers one hand, try to use the bestest and freshest.
I talked about customizing, but I’d try it as described first. But, if you’d like to be adventurous add what you have. Wine? Add it in the beginning so the alcohol has time to cook off. Dried herbs and pepper flakes need time to loosen up, so throw them in the beginning. Add fresh herbs at the end of cooking time about 15 min before it’s done.
If you want to add garlic add it with the onion. Here’s an interesting tid-bit: traditionally, onions and garlic are not used together. Either one or the other. I’ve never heard of that before, so I chose to ignore it from time to time, or all the time. But, if you want to add a little color to the dish, saute them before you add the tomatoes. Hard things need more time to soften, so add them earlier (i.e. carrots, celery).
Amounts? About 2-3 oz of other vegetables; 2-3 tsp of herbs; 2-3 fl oz of wine.
Heart Healthier version? Use olive oil. This will have the biggest impact on the taste of the sauce, as the butter provides a huge flavor profile.
Either way, this sauce is versatile and adaptable. It’s a blank canvas on which create what ever you like. Mistakes really can’t be made here, just use stuff that you’d normally see in another tomato sauce.
Puree’s are a simple technique. Versatile too. You start with raw, hard vegetable and you turn them into a creamy, silky smooth unctuous treat. Serve them straight up or add liquid for a soup. Home made baby food? Ok.
The process is simple: simmer vegetables until they are tender, run them through a food processor or blender, strain, dry, season, and serve.
I’ve used carrots for this post, and am just going to make a straight puree.
Prep the vegetables into fairly similarly sized pieces. They don’t have to be perfect, you’re going to puree them in the end. If you have clean trimmings, this is a good use.
You can simmer the vegetable in stock, or cream, or water as I have done here. If you’re making a soup, I suggest stock. Cream makes for a very rich puree - good for a side dish.
The main idea here is that you need to simmer the vegetables until they are completely soft. Totally tender. Mucho mushy.
Once the vegetables are soft, strain them, reserve some of the cooking liquid and place them in a food processor or a blender. Blend until smooth. If you find that you’re having trouble getting the puree started, add some of the cooking liquid.
At this point, the puree is pretty smooth. If you want to guarantee the smoothest of smooth purees, run it through a strainer. I have a chinois, so I used that. Push the puree through the strainer with a ladle.
If you are using the puree as a side, add it back to the pot over low heat to dry and reheat. If you’re using the puree in a soup, the drying part isn’t totally necessary.
Taste and season. If you are so inclined, finish it with a pat of butter. Taste it first though, you’d be surprised how tasty and ‘round’ purees taste with just the proper seasoning.
Important note: Potatoes and other starchy vegetables don’t react well to blenders or food processors. The high speed mixing really develops gluten and you wind up with gluey potatoes. What you need to do is follow the steps above, but instead of a food processor, run the potatoes through a food mill or a ricer. I have been told that you can put the tender potatoes in a stand mixer, but only while they’re piping hot. I haven’t tried it, but I totally trust the source.
Sometimes you just gotta roll the dice.
Well, sort of…
Here are the results of the Jell-O mold competition I entered.
All things made possible by design genius Ben Light.
Let me tell you first that making consomme is a huge pain in the ass and parts of the process are kind of gross. If that doesn’t turn you away, let’s go.
A friend of mine and I entered a Jell-o competition.
I swear this is going somewhere.
Anyway, a friend of mine and I entered a Jell-o competition. Thinking outside of the box, we decided to enter meat jello. I figured we could add gelatin to stock, firm it up, and mold it to our liking. That would have worked, but I thought that aesthetically, the clearer the better. That meant making a consomme.
A consomme, according to Larousse Gastronomique, is “Meat, poultry or fish broth served hot or cold as a soup course…”, and “True consomme is clarified both by careful preparation, without stirring or boiling rapidly, and by boiling with egg whites before straining.”
The short of it is that stock or broth needs to be filtered to create consomme. The classic way to do this is to combine egg whites and ground meat to form a raft. As the stock and raft mixture is brought up to a simmer, the proteins coagulate forming a very tight net that traps all of the particulates within. The consomme is simmered very gently so as to not break apart the raft and knock all the trapped cloudiness back into the liquid.
I had already made the beef stock (4 qt) so I was ready to add the raft ingredients: ground beef (1.5 lb), egg whites (6), mirepoix (8 oz), bay leave (2), parsley stem (4-6), peppercorn (10-15), chopped tomatoes (8 oz), and white wine vinegar (2 tbl). The last two aren’t your typical soup base ingredients. Their purpose is to add acid to help solidify the raft.
Here’s the trick with consomme: everything needs to be combined cold. Put it in the fridge the night before if you have time. At the least, an hour or two rest in the chiller is called for.
Once all of the raft mix is together add 1 qt of the stock.
Combine everything and add to the rest of the stock in a stock pot. Here’s a little tip - I did this twice the other day, once in a tall stock pot, and once in a Le Creuset dutch oven. The Le Creuset worked better. It was easier to ladle out the consomme out of a wider pot than a taller one.
Bring everything to a simmer over low heat while stirring. If you don’t stir, the meat will stick to the bottom of the pot and burn, leaving you with scorched soup. The raft will start to form at around 165 degrees. Once it starts getting thick, stop stirring and turn the heat down slightly.
Watch the raft. You need to poke a hole in the top to let steam escape. Do it too soon and nothing will happen. Do it too late, and, well you really can’t because the raft may rupture on its own. This happened to me once - it was like a soup earthquake.
Simmer for 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Check back periodically to make sure that it’s still at a simmer. If the heat’s too high the bubbles will break the raft apart. Too low and the bubbles won’t push up on the raft, forcing particulates to get trapped in the raft.
The last step is to ladle and strain. Move the pot off heat and ladle quickly into a strainer lined with damp cheese cloth. I’m not saying it’s a race, just don’t take a smoke break. If you have a chinois, this is the perfect time to break it out. I don’t have a pic here because it was a two handed operation and I didn’t want to stop.
I wasn’t able to get all of the consomme out of the pot without risking breaking the raft apart, so you’re probably going to leave some behind. Not that big of a deal because you will be left with a brilliantly clear, amber colored liquid that has excellent mouth feel.
I suggest you make quite a bit and freeze it. This is not a weekly activity.
Someone recently asked me how I cook bacon. I replied, “in the oven.” This wasn’t met with surprise, and I can’t imagine that it’s much of a revelation to other bacon lovers either.
I can’t remember when I started bakin’ bacon, but I probably saw it on a cooking show. I bet it made sense at the time, so voilà, now I cook bacon in the oven.
You need a couple of things: a sheet pan, a baking rack and maybe some aluminum foil. I say sheet pan and not cookie sheet because the lip on the sheet pan is extremely important in keeping the bacon fat in the pan and not on the oven floor. Lay out the bacon, trying to keep all of the pieces separate, and put it in the oven. If you like, you can line the bottom of the sheet pan with aluminum foil to catch the fat, as I did here.
Important note: put the bacon in a cold oven; then set it to 350. You want to slowly raise the temperature so you can render out the fat, leaving flat, crispy, relatively fat-free bacon. And if that last bit was true, pigs would be running scared.
I’ve tried the lay-the-bacon-out-on-a-frying-pan-and-hope-it-doesn’t-curl method. Guess what? It curls. So, in an away-game situation where I don’t have a sheet pan, I just dump all the bacon in the frying pan, cook slowly, and constantly move it around. Just completely skip the part where you try to fight the natural tendencies of proteins to shrink when heated. You end up with crispy, curly, fatty, but tasty bacon.
Bacon is good.
Update: It seems that I have erroneously sourced the origin of my bakin’ bacon. It has been brought to my attention (by my mother) that while growing up, the only way bacon was cooked was in the oven.
I mentioned this topic briefly in an earlier post: after you cook meat, you need to rest it. Internal juices need to redistribute throughout the meat, and if you cut prematurely, they will run right out onto the cutting board. You’ve seen this on just about every cooking show since the beginning of time.
More times than not, we’re instructed to rest under the cover of aluminum foil. This drives me absolutely bonkers. We have spent precious time preparing, seasoning, brining, drying, and cooking the meat. We have developed a delicate crust that is brown and delicious. Now we want to cover it up and destroy it by steaming the outside of the meat. That’s what you’re doing when you “tent” with foil - destroying it.
My point is this: do not cover meat while it rests. I know you’re thinking, “it’ll get cold”. Trust me, it won’t. You’re not going to let it rest that long. Sure, if you leave a chicken breast on the cutting board for half an hour, it’ll get cold. We’re not talking about defying the laws of physics here.
The general rule for resting is this: rest for 1/2 the cooking time, up to 1/2 hour. If a pork chop takes 6-8 min per side, then only rest for about 7 minutes. If you roast a turkey for 4 hours, then rest it for 1/2 hour (don’t rest more than a 1/2 hour). There is enough heat in the meat to: 1. raise the temperature a degree or two (carry over heat that I’m sure you’ve planned ahead for), and 2. keep the meat hot until it’s ready to serve.
If you want to get technical about it, you should rest on a rack - like your cookie cooling rack. It’s unfortunately named, but it does the job. You can use the foil here, underneath the rack, to catch any drippings.
Rest, uncovered, and keep the integrity of your meat intact. All the cool kids are doing it.