Friday, 15 July 2011

Bread bakin' in the heat

I have come to the conclusion that I am a masochist. Just in the kitchen mind you. Who else but a person with masochistic tendencies would decide to bake three trays of focaccia when it's twenty seven degrees outside and thirty degrees inside?
I could have made something summery like potato salad or gazpacho to bring to this BBQ. But noooo I decided to not only bake 18 little focaccia buns for my friend Kate's thirtieth birthday BBQ but also to make a pesto bean dip to be slathered on them as well (the focaccia buns not the party-goers). The buns are pretty great on their own but the dip sends them over the edge - if I do say so myself. At least the white bean and pesto dip requires a minimum of cooking.
This dip is is great with veggies, pitas, crackers, or even spread in a sandwich. You could even make it  vegan friendly by omitting the cheese from the pesto - but that would be a shame as most things are improved by cheese.

Focaccia Buns
Makes 9  - 4 inch buns or 2  loaves

I baked these as buns using my original recipe for focaccia and they turned out a little crispier then I would have liked so I have changed the recipe so that the oven temperature is turned down halfway through baking. Make sure that you don't skip brushing olive oil on the just baked bread as this will also help prevent them from getting to crispy.

3 1/2 cups / 875 ml. All purpose Flour( or 00 Italian pizza flour)
2 tsp / 10 ml Kosher salt
1 1/4 cup / 310 ml warm water
2 1/2 tsp /12 ml dry active yeast
1/4 cup / 60 ml olive oil ( half extra virgin and half regular olive oil) + extra olive oil for brushing
1/3 cup / 80 ml caramelized onion, pitted chopped olives or even chopped dried fruit (optional) - the dried fruit option is great with a cheese plate
1 1/2 Tbs / 22 ml chopped fresh herbs - such as tarragon, rosemary or thyme
Kosher salt (or rock sugar if using dried fruit) for sprinkling ( optional)

  Proof yeast in small bowl with 1/4 cup of the water. Sift flour and salt together in bowl of standing mixer. Add the remaining water and the 1/4 cup of olive oil to the yeast mixture and stir. With the paddle attachment and the machine running slowly add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture. Mix until just blended. Take off the paddle attachment and  attach the dough hook. Knead dough for 5 minutes in mixer. This is a very wet and sticky dough. Don't worry - it's supposed to be like this.
Place dough in a large well oiled bowl and rub extra olive on the top of the dough. Cover with a clean dish towel. Let rise for 30 to 60 minutes or til doubled in size.
Remove dough and place on a clean floured work surface. Lightly knead in olives and herbs(or whatever it is you choose to use) using a plastic dough scraper. Form dough into 8 to 10 balls or a 1 1/2 inch thick rectangle and place on an oiled baking sheet. If making buns make sure that they are placed at least 3 inches apart (you may need 2 baking sheets). Cover tray with a clean dish towel and let rise for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile heat oven to 425 degrees. Uncover baking sheets and using a clean finger make 1/2 inch indents(or dimples) in the dough about 2 inches apart. Brush generously with olive oil and sprinkle with salt if using.  Bake for 10 minutes at 425 degrees and rotate the tray in the oven. Turn down oven to 375 degrees and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes or til golden and the bottom of the bread is a uniform brown. Brush with olive oil and cool. If making a loaf of focaccia let the bread cool for 5 minutes in the pan and then transfer to a cooling rack.
This bread is best eaten on the day it was baked. If you are going to eat it in the next day or 2, keep it wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. Reheat it ,wrapped in aluminum foil, in the oven before serving.

White Bean and Pesto Dip
Makes 2 1/2 cups / 375 ml

This dip is a staple party food at the stately manor of Lord Clarington and The Golden Giddle (sorry that's what my buddy Ashlee has christened my apartment and it kinda stuck). It's crazy tasty and is not only vegetarian friendly but it's uber easy as well.  If you're making this dish in the winter or are really strapped for time you can definetely use jarred pesto. If you do use store bought pesto make sure that the first listed ingredient is basil.

1  18 oz. /540 ml can of white beans
Juice of 1/2 lemon
pinch salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup / 60 ml olive oil
1/4 cup / 60 ml basil pesto, preferably homemade

Rinse beans under running water in a colander and drain. Place beans, salt, and half of the lemon juice into a food processor. Saute garlic in 1 Tbs of olive oil in a small pan til it just starts to turn golden. Add garlic to bean mixture and puree. With the machine on slowly add olive oil to bean mixture. Taste and adjust lemon juice and salt as needed. For an extra smooth texture, push the bean dip through a fine mesh sieve (optional).
Mix 1/4 cup /60 ml of bean mixture to pesto in a small bowl. Place the rest of the bean dip in a serving dish. Add pesto-bean mix in  a blob on one side of the dish. Run a knife through the pesto mix giving the dip a marbled effect. Refrigerate til cold and garnish with a small basil leaf or two.

Right now gardens and farmer's markets are overflowing with fresh herbs and pesto is a great way to use them. Now in our household, while we don't technically have a garden, I still reap the rewards of one. What we do have is a back porch with flower pots, buckets and recycling boxes filled with herbs and 5 foot tomato plants. I'm not the one who tends them, Gideon is the one with the green thumb, but making dishes like this truly make me appreciate our little patch of outdoor space in the city.

Basil Pesto (a.k.a. Pesto Genovese)
Makes 1 1/2 cups / 375 ml

This recipe makes more than enough  pesto for the dip. Pesto will keep for a day or two in the fridge with a thin layer of olive oil floating on the top but it's best eaten right away. Extra pesto can also be frozen minus the cheese.

2 cups / 500 ml  basil leaves washed and tightly packed
1/4 cup / 60 ml pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, minced or rasped (grated)
1/3 cup / 80 ml olive oil
2/3 cup / 160 ml  parmesan, freshly grated ( none of this pre-grated stuff!)

Puree all ingredients except parmesan in a food processor till smooth. Scrape down the sides of the food processor as needed. Add parmesan and buzz till smooth. Enjoy on pasta, sandwiches, pizza, toothbrushes (well maybe not the last one......).

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Picnics and sailboats! Yay it's summer!

Summer to me, is a time for al fresco dining. The more I can be outside during these few months of summer the happier I am. Now dining on a patio is definitely awesome-good times, but a picnic! A picnic is where it's at! Eating on the grass under the trees, everything just seems to taste better.  Now sure, there can be bugs trying to get in your food and it can be a pain in the ass hauling all of that food and drink to a park or beach but once you're there you can't help but want to eat every meal of the summer that way. 
A riverside picnic in Montreal

Bixie Bikes!
Atwater Market
  This past weekend Gideon and I went to Montreal for a quick getaway to celebrate our anniversary. I have to be honest when I tell you that most of our weekend was spent eating and or buying food. It was glorious. Though we did dine in some fantastic restaurants such as Au Pied du Cochon and Cafe Ferreira, one of the highlights for me was definitely the day that we rented some bixie bikes and road by the water's edge to the Atwater Market. At the market we purchased some fantastic Quebec cheeses, some nitrate free coppa and chorizo, some local strawberries and cherry tomatoes, an olive baguettine(a mini baguette), some Lindt chocolate(that surprisingly we were too full to eat!) and a few bottles of beer. One refreshing thing about picnicing in Quebec is that you're not glared at or arrested for having a beer or some wine with your meal.
  Atwater Market is a fantastic indoor and outdoor market offering beautiful fresh produce, flowers, cheese shops, butcher shops, bakeries, a fresh pasta joint and tons more. The specialty food stores had stuff I've read about but have never seen in Toronto. I saw essence of violet, which I'm still regretting not buying. Although I'm not sure what exactly I would have made with it. I bought Fee Brothers Cocktail Bitters there, which you can't get in Ontario. Fee Brothers make all sorts of weird and wonderful flavours of bitters such as rhubarb and even celery! I'm definitely going to be adding a dash of the celery bitters the next time I mix up a pitcher of Bloody Caesars.Visiting there as a tourist might make you wish that you had a kitchen in your hotel room - or maybe that's just me! 

A nice alternative to the creepy-crawly-in-your sandwich dilemma of picnicing (sure - it's a word) was offered to me recently by friends Alize and Robb when they invited a few of us sailing on their boat "Margie's Mink" (they didn't name the thing and apparently it's bad luck to change the name of a boat). I was a little busy leading up to the sailing trip and unfortunately I didn't have time to actually cook. Alize and Robb supplied some refreshing and tasty salads and the rest of us brought various snack foods and stuff to throw together a sandwich with. I love that picnics ( or "yachting adventures") are often potluck affairs and that finger foods are usually the name of the game. Picking at cured meats, interesting cheeses and some fresh fruit is such a lovely way to eat when it's hot out. 
Me eating tasty baguette - notice the peanut butter M&M's in the left hand corner. Ssssooo good! (photo taken by Lauren Williams as my camera battery had died )

Lauren, Gideon,"Margie's Mink", Robb and Alize
Tequila Caesars or Te-kill-ya Sneezers

If you're bringing this cocktail picnicing I suggest bringing it in a giant mason jar or thermos and forgetting about rimming the glasses. Individual mason jars are cute too. If you don't want your drinks to get too warm  or too watery from melted ice ( and you have some time on your hands ) you can replace some of the ice cubes with frozen clamato cubes. Thisrecipe can also be also be used to make Virgin Caesars by omitting the Tequila and upping the hot sauce and Worchestershire a bit.

Makes 1 1 Lt(4cup) Pitcher which makes 4 drinks

6 oz. / 180 ml gold Tequila
1 tsp/ 5ml Valencia Mexican hot sauce or chipotle hot sauce( you can use more or less depending on your taste)
4 big dashes of Worcestershire sauce( 4 dashes of celery bitters if you have it would also be tasty)
Zest of 1/2 lime
Juice of 1/2 lime
Pinch celery salt (or fancy-ass smoked salt could be cool)
A few grindings of fresh black pepper
1 1/2 Tbs./ 22 ml horseradish, grated(preferably fresh)
3 1/4 cups/ 800 ml Clamato
Celery salt (or again maybe a fancy smoked salt might be nice) to rim glasses
4 Lime wedges
Mini pepperettes, celery stalks, skewered olives, skewered baby gherkins, or pickled hot peppers are all great garnishes for this drink

Mix first 8 ingredients in a 4 cup(1 Lt) pitcher. Add Clamato and stir. Rub the rim of 4 - 12 oz.(310 ml) glasses with a cut lime. Dip the rims of the glasses into a shallow dish filled with celery salt. Fill glasses with ice and top with Caesar mix.  Garnish with a lime wedge and any of the other garnishes that you might like!

Monday, 13 June 2011

FIRST post!!

I have recently come into some free time and have decided to (finally) create this blog. This little guy has been floating around in my subconscious for some time now. I was trying to figure out just what kind of Blogue Culinaire I wanted this to be. First I decided what I didn't want it to be. This is not going to be a forum for slamming restaurants. There are definitely enough of those out on the web-er-net. It's also not going to be a blog that just follows the newest and hottest of restaurants.
 Damn Tasty is a place to share recipes I've created or that inspire me. It's also a place to discuss food politics, favourite restaurants and bars. The recipes here, for the most part will be fairly casual, homey food. I love to go eat at fine dining restaurants and have an eight course meal with wine pairings, but.....that's not my everyday style(who's is it really?).
I LOVE to entertain! Whether it's one or two close friends over for some BBQ or a 50 guest holiday brew-ha-ha. I'm happiest when my house is full of people (well - as long as they leave at some point). This past weekend my husband Gideon and I entertained a few times. We were also lucky enough to be guests on our friends' sailboat (more on that another time).
The week end started with a giant granola fest at my place. Contrary to what you might think this was not an opportunity for my sister Ariel and I to play hackey sack while listening to Phish. We actually made granola. Now I haven't always been a fan of granola. Growing up in the 80's with hippie parents all I really wanted for breakfast was Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Fruity Pebbles. Actually getting my hands on the stuff was nearly impossible. Maybe on our birthdays my little sister and I would be "lucky" enough to take home a box. But times have changed and the idea of sugar-laden, artificially flavoured and coloured  pellets are just not that appetizing any more.
The first time I made granola was with my friend Sarah. Sarah is often my baking partner, especially come December. This past Christmas she gave me a bag of granola that BLEW my mind. It was nutty, fruity,toasty and not too sweet. This ain't no Harvest Crunch. Gideon and I finished it in 2 days. After that bag disappeared I insisted that the next time she made granola it be with me as I had to know her method. It seems that this granola recipe inspires that sort of coming together. I ended up giving away jars of the stuff as gifts and Ariel insisted she come over to learn the ways of the kick-ass granola.
 I was almost out of that first batch I made with Sarah and so I gave Ariel a call. Now, when Ariel was younger she would sometimes request that I teach her how to make a dish. I would gather the ingredients, write out the recipe and Ariel would often get distracted and I would finish the dish. But we're all grown up now and Ariel has found a new love for food and the joy in making it. She chopped dried fruit, toasted nuts, stirred pots and filled jars and now we both have so much granola we don't know what to do with it all.

Kick Ass Granola

I like to double, triple or even quadruple this recipe and make different flavours. My favourites so far are: red fruit (dried cherries, dried currants and cranberries), tropical fruit (powdered ginger, dried pineapple and dried mango), tree fruit (dried apple, ground cinnamon and dried apricot). Of course you can use whichever combo of dried fruits and nuts strike your fancy. A dried fig and sliced hazelnut one would be nice for a Mediteranean brekkie. Next time I'll definetely be making that one. This granola is outstanding with yogurt and fresh fruit (or even defrosted fruit in a pinch). It's pretty damn good with milk too!

Makes approximately 17 cups(4.25 Lt) of granola

1 1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 cup pecans (or any other nuts you love), chopped
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
3 Tbs. flax seeds, ground
1/3 cup maple syrup or honey
1/3 cup agave syrup
1/3 cup butter (or coconut oil or other vegetable oil)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
generous pinch salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon or ground ginger (optional)
12 cups rolled oats
2 cups dried fruit, chopped (obviously if you're using raisins or currants leave them whole)

Preheat oven to 375degrees. Toast almonds on a baking sheet till just golden, approximately 5-10 minutes. Place almonds in large mixing bowl. Toast chopped pecans on baking sheet for approximately 10 minutes or until golden. Add pecans to almonds in mixing bowl. Pour coconut onto baking sheet and toast in oven till just golden. Stir coconut every 2 minutes to ensure even browning. Remove the baking sheet from the oven when coconut is a little underdone as it will continue to toast in the hot pan. Add coconut to nuts. Toast pumpkin seeds in the same manner as coconut and add to the mixing bowl. Add ground flax seeds.
Cook butter, agave syrup, maple syrup and salt in a small pot sitrring constantly over medium heat till butter is melted and the liquid is fairly homogeneous. Take pot off of heat and add vanilla and spices (optional). Let syrup mixture cool till just warm. Place oats in a large mixing bowl (I quadrupled the recipe the last time and had to mix it in a stock pot) and toss with most of the syrup mixture till just moist and a bit sticky. Pour oat mixture onto a few baking sheets - the oat mixture shouldn't be more then an inch thick on the baking sheet. Drizzle the remaining syrup over the oats. Place in oven and bake, stirring occasionally till lightly golden.
Pour hot oats into large mixing bowl (or stock pot) and add the dried fruit and the nut mixture. Toss and let cool.

Store in airtight containers - giant mason jars are always nice.