Tuesday, February 21, 2012

28 by 28: Easy Focaccia Bread

So here I am, finally posting the second recipe in my 28 by 28 series.  (There have been a few bumps in the road, but that's a conversation for another time, another place.)

Anyway, one of my roommates back in college always ordered her turkey sandwiches on focaccia bread in the dining hall.  Misguided little me always wondered why a person would opt for bread with a bunch of junk stuck on the top of it over a much safer-looking French or wheat bread.  When she finally convinced me to try some, I knew that I had been missing out.

I've got to admit that focaccia was one of the more intimidating things on my 28 by 28 list.  My sandwich bread had been a success, but focaccia?  Well, it's just so darn... fancy.  And I'll admit that my ventures in breadmaking have been less than fruitful a time or two.  Much to my relief, this focaccia was a cinch to throw together and has yielded many delicious turkey sandwiches.  (And ham sandwiches, pepperoni sandwiches, and midnight two-bite carb-y snacks...)

This bread is really something to be proud of- it's so pretty and aromatic that you'll be the envy of the lunchroom crowd.  Just don't let on that it's homemade- you might find yourself moonlighting as the office baker.

Adapted from Allrecipes
Serves 12

1 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 (.25 ounce) package instant yeast
1 1/3 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1 tbsp grated parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
pinch of black pepper

1.  In a large stoneware bowl, stir together the flours and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Sprinkle the sugar and yeast into that well. Carefully pour the water into the well. Let stand until the yeast begins to act, about 5 minutes. Pour 2 tablespoons of the oil into the well. Add the minced garlic.  With a wooden spoon stir, the mixture in the center of the bowl. Gradually widen the circle of stirring to take in all of the flour at the sides of the well.

2.  Turn out on a floured surface, and knead just until smooth. Keep the dough soft. Pour 1/2 teaspoon of the oil into a clean bowl. Place the dough in the bowl, turning once to oil the top. Cover. Let rise until doubled, 30 to 45 minutes. 

3.  Punch the dough down. Use 1 teaspoon of the oil to coat a baking sheet, and place the dough on the baking sheet. Gently press the dough out to about 1/2 inch thickness. Drizzle the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil over the top of the dough. Use the handle end of a wooden spoon to dimple the dough at 1 1/2 inch intervals. Sprinkle with the cheeses, rosemary, basil, oregano, and black pepper. Place in a cold oven on the center shelf. Place a flat pan of hot water on the shelf below the bread. Let rise until doubled, 20 to 25 minutes. 

4.  Turn on the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Bake the focaccia for 20 to 25 minutes, or until browned on top. Remove from the pan, and cool on a wire rack. Serve warm.

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Heimburger Bakery Gooey Butter Cake

There exists a hallowed, once-a-quarter tradition at my school called Fat Friday.  And, though you're not allowed to show up in your best "fat day" sweats, it's certainly a good excuse to rock them the next day.

Each Fat Friday, two grade level teams provide lunch for the entire staff.  It's quite a production, with over-the-top decor and entrees, sides, and desserts as far as the eye can see.  It was my turn to contribute this past Friday, and my husband can tell you that I spent about a week fretting over what I was going to bring.

And then it hit me- Gooey Butter Cake.  Now, granted, I'd never tasted the stuff in my life, but a certain recipe comparison post over on Chickens in the Road had me intrigued.  The smell as I was pulling the finished cake out of the oven was hard to resist.  (As in, I hovered over the thing with a fork and butter knife for about five minutes until my husband assured me that, "YES, Lauren, it's going to be obvious no matter where you steal your sample.")

Good man, that one.

Anyway, I made a beeline straight for this dish during our Fat Friday lunch and dug in.  It was worth the wait- sweet, buttery, and rich with the most delicate crust.  It would almost remind you of those stolen spoonfuls of sugar cookie dough from childhood.

As seen on Chickens in the Road, originally appeared in St. Louis Days, St. Louis Nights, a St. Louis Junior League cookbook


1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 350-degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and sugar to prepare the crust. Cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs and starts to cling together. Pat into the bottom and sides of a greased 9 x 9 pan (or a 9.5 inch round pie plate).

To prepare the filling, beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Mix in egg until combined. A bit at a time, alternately add the flour and evaporated milk, mixing after each addition. Add corn syrup and vanilla. Mix at medium speed until well blended.

Pour filling into crust-lined pan. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until cake is nearly set. Do not overcook. Let cool in pan.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Homemade Vanilla Extract

This is another of my Christmas catch-up posts.  (And yes, our Christmas palm tree is still up and decorated in our living room.)

This year, I decided to go with homemade gifts for friends and family.  One of the things I made was homemade vanilla extract.  I had seen several recipes floating around the blogosphere, but felt that most of them called for too low of a vanilla bean to vodka ratio.  After a bit of searching around, I found a site that had a good explanation of extract versus vanilla-flavored vodka.  The gifts were a hit and I have enjoyed using my own bottle as well.  It has a strong, deep vanilla flavor without the added corn syrup and other "extras" in commercial extracts.

And a note from my husband:
I would stress the importance of using a decent quality, neutrally flavored, multiply-distilled and filtered vodka in this recipe. You don't want the coarse, rubbing-alcohol/plastic bottle flavor of cheap vodka overpowering your vanilla. While higher quality is better, you needn't buy Grey Goose. As a rule of thumb, if it's not something you would make a martini with, you don't want to use it in this recipe. If you're unsure, any decent liquor store clerk should be able to direct you to a bottle with the required characteristics.

The extra effort and expense is well worth it - you don't want to waste 6 months making something that ends up tasting like lighter fluid. You'll wish you spent the extra $5.

Adapted from VanillaReview.com

1 oz extract-grade Madagascar vanilla beans
1 cup unflavored vodka (I used Smirnoff.)

1.  Cut the beans in half lengthwise with a sharp knife.  Scrape out the caviar (seeds) with a butter knife and place in a glass bottle.  Cut the bean pods into 1-inch pieces and add to the bottle.

2.  Pour in vodka and cap tightly.  Shake bottle vigorously a few times a week for 2 months.

3.  You can begin using your vanilla extract at the 2-month mark.  Flavor will continue to strengthen over the next 4 months.

*  You may choose to strain out your vanilla pieces at the six-month mark, although I opted to leave them in.

I ordered the bottles from Specialty Bottle.  I chose the Woozy line so that I could use these dripper inserts.  I bought my beans from Ebay to save some cash, and had personalized labels printed at My Own Labels.  The actual labels say "Merry Christmas from the XXXXX family" at the bottom, but I Photoshopped our name out for blogging purposes.

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Broccoli-cheddar soup is one of my favorite meals to prepare on those especially frigid winter nights. You know, when the temperature gets down to, like, 50. (Hey, I'm a Texan after all!)

My first foray into making broccoli-cheese soup was less than successful. The cheese separated, leaving us with a bowlful of broccoli chunks and cheese-sand. Appetizing, eh? I've since learned my lesson- the secret to a smooth soup is adding the cheese bit by bit over medium-low heat. Crank it up, and you've got a recipe for disaster.

This simple-but-flavorful version originally hails from Allrecipes, although I've made several adaptations. Namely, halving the butter.

You're welcome.

Adapted from Allrecipes
Serves 3-4 as a main course

2 cups chopped broccoli florets (about 1 large head of broccoli)
3/4 cup thinly sliced carrots
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups milk
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (buy the block and shred it yourself)
Dash red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine broccoli, carrots, and chicken broth in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. Melt butter over medium heat in a medium pot. Add onion and cook until translucent, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook one minute. Add flour and stir to combine with onion mixture. Cook for one minute, stirring constantly.

3. Pour broccoli, carrots, and reserved cooking liquid into pot with onion mixture. Stir to combine. Add milk and heat until piping hot but not boiling. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add shredded cheese a little at a time, stirring after each addition. Remove from heat once all cheese has melted. Serve with crusty bread or crackers.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Maple Pecan Fudge

So I'm a little behind the times. Yes indeed, there are a few Christmas posts I haven't gotten around to yet. Sort of like the Christmas tree that's still gracing my living room.

Yes, in February. Don't judge.

Anyway, my parents spent some time in Canada a few months ago and became enamored with maple flavor. (They even brought me back some maple syrup and maple spread, which is the bees' knees if you weren't aware.) As soon as they got back into the States, my mom started talking about replicating some maple fudge they tasted on their trip.

Lucky me, she shared. :-) And I'll tell you, this stuff is delicious. It didn't last long around our house and I'm looking forward to trying it again soon.

From Mom

2 TB and 1/2 tsp unsalted butter, divided use
1 c pure maple syrup, preferably dark amber
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 1/4 cups sugar
2 TB light corn syrup
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1/4 tsp pure maple extract, optional

Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil that extends over the sides, then butter the foil with the 1/2 tsp butter. Set aside. (You can actually wait till later to do this while it is cooling.)
In a 3-qt. heavy saucepan over medium heat, cook the maple syrup, cream, sugar, corn syrup and salt until the sugar dissolves, stirring gently and constantly with a wooden spoon just until mixture comes to a boil. After it begins to boil, place a buttered thermometer in the pot; cook without stirring until the mixture reaches 238 degrees. (It takes a while to start boiling, 5-10 minutes.)
Remove the pan from the heat and place on a rack to cool; add 2 TB butter but DO NOT STIR. Let the syrup cool to 110 degrees. (May take up to two hours.)
Once it reaches the desired temperature, add vanilla and maple extracts and beat with a mixer. (I use my hand held mixer.) Beat until the fudge loses its shine and lightens in color and becomes much thicker. (About 10 minutes) Once thickened, work quickly to stir in pecans and pour into prepared pan. Avoid scraping the sides of the pot to avoid grainly fudge.
After it has set, remove the fudge from the pan by lifting out the aluminum foil; invert and cut into 1-inch squares.
* After it reaches 238 degrees, you can transfer the mixture into a metal bowl of a stand mixer, and let cool to 110 degrees. Continue as above. Avoid overmixing.
I can watch it better using a handmixer.
**Make candy only on a clear, low humidity day or it will not set up.

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