Fig Focaccia with Maple Balsamic Onions

You guys.  I am fascinated by bread.  It’s like magic.  Really!  Flour (essentially ground up grass, people), water, salt, and yeast magically combine and transform each other into the most basic food there is.  I mean, think about it.  There are as many recipes, flavor profiles, and add-ins as there are people on the planet.  You can go in any direction you want and it’ll still probably turn out delicious.  And yet,  it’s one of the most terrifying things to make… at least the first time.  Yeast is intimidating to a lot of people.  I think it’s fear that you’ll kill it off in the beginning and then do all that work just to pull a dense, flat, flavorless loaf from the oven.

The first bread I ever made was the famous, Jim Lahey No Knead Bread.  You know, the one every food blogger alive has posted about.  It was so simple, and it’s a great way to sort of jump in to bread baking, but you know, only in the ankle deep part of the shallow end of the pool.  It was a great confidence booster when it turned out not just edible, but actually tasty.  So once I realized that I could totally handle this, I started to branch out a little.  I made white bread, and wheat bread, and dinner rolls… And then I discovered focaccia.  Focaccia is like that super fun friend you have that is up for anything.  The laid back one who goes along with whatever and who always has a great time.  Really!  It’s the most straightforward dough to make, but then you can add whatever you want to it, and I don’t think you could mess it up.

Um, Emily?  That kind of sounds like pizza…  I know, and it’s actually like pizza’s cousin.  You don’t usually add as many toppings to focaccia as you would to pizza, but the dough is very similar.  You’re just sort of seasoning focaccia, so you have a bread that will (hopefully) accent your meal, rather than be a meal, like pizza.  Focaccia should be fairly flat, and have a delightfully crispy, crusty outside with a tender, rustic inside.  It’ll usually rise a little more than a pizza-type dough since you’re not weighing it down with as many toppings;  and it’s a more substantial bread since most of the surface area will be exposed and will bake up crusty and golden, unlike with pizza where we cover it with sauce and cheese so the crust is only really crusty on the bottom and the edges.

If you have any inclination at all to get into bread baking, you should definitely try focaccia.  I most often make it very simply with just sliced olives, rosemary, salt and olive oil.   It makes a great appetizer, or addition to your meal – I’ve even sliced it and used it for sandwiches.   I found this particular recipe a couple of years ago when I was looking for something a little more creative for having guests over, and it has become my favorite thing to make to impress people.  The original recipe was for strawberries and maple balsamic onions (a divine combination, you guys.  Divine.), and I have made that several times with excellent results, but figs are in season right now so I substituted them in for the berries.  I actually like the strawberries a little better since they are a little more tart than figs, which I think balances out the sweet onions a little better, but it was still delicious.  I love cooking things like strawberries and figs, etc, in the oven – the flavors get a little deeper, a little more intense, and they get all crispy edges and soft insides… In other words, they get perfect.

So, go forth and knead!  If you’ve never tried a yeast bread before, I encourage you to give it a go.  It’s really pretty simple, and it’s very satisfying to turn that dough up above into this:

And don’t be afraid to get creative with your toppings – I’d love to hear about your favorite focaccia bread, so please share!

 

Strawberry Focaccia with Maple-Balsamic Onions

via Saveur.com

 

1¼ oz package dry yeast

1 cup warm water (100–110 degrees F)

1 teaspoon honey

2½ cups flour

1 teaspoons kosher salt

¼ cup plus 5 Tbs olive oil, divided

1 medium sweet onion, quartered and thinly sliced

2½ teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1½ teaspoons pure maple syrup

1 cup strawberries, hulled and sliced lengthwise into 1/8–inch pieces

8–10 fresh basil leaves, sliced chiffonade

Coarse sea salt

 

Combine yeast, water and honey in a medium bowl; let rest for about 5 minutes, until bubbles form on the top. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and kosher salt; set aside. Add ¼ cup of olive oil to the yeast mixture and stir to combine. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour wet ingredients into dry. Stir well to combine, then turn dough onto a lightly flour surface and knead until dough is smooth and supple, about 10 minutes. Form dough into a ball and place it in a bowl greased with ½ tablespoon olive oil. Cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and let rest until the dough approximately doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Brush a 9×13–inch baking sheet with ½ tablespoon olive oil. Remove dough from bowl and press it into the sheet with your fingers until it touches the edges. Using your fingers, gently press indentations into the dough, all over the surface. Gently brush the dough with 2 tablespoons of olive oil; let rest, lightly covered, until it puffs up slightly, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and caramelized, 15–20 minutes. Stir in balsamic vinegar and maple syrup; let cook until liquid is evaporated, 2–3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly press figs into the top of the dough, then scatter onions and basil evenly across the top. Drizzle remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top and sprinkle with sea salt to taste. Bake until the focaccia is golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before cutting into pieces. Serve drizzled with more olive oil or spread with fresh goat cheese.

*As I mentioned above, I have also used strawberries here.  I really think you could substitute any number of things with outstanding results, so if you don’t have/like figs use whatever you want.

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Cherry Berry Cobbler

I wanted to call this “Odds and Ends Cobbler” but I didn’t want to put anyone off with such a strange name.  The recipe I used was originally called “Blueberry Cobbler”, but since less than half of the fruit I had was actually blueberries, I didn’t really think that made much sense.  (Side note: All the blueberries came from my bushes!  Yay for summer fruit!)  I had a carton and a half of Rainier cherries, a handful of raspberries from the yard, a pint of strawberries from the farmer’s market, and a fair sized bowl of blueberries that I had recently picked.  My recipe called for 30 ounces of blueberries, and I ended up with 28 ounces cobbled together (No pun intended.  Oh, you know you want to laugh at that.) from my various shopping/picking excursions.  I was very happy with the recipe… It was easy to put together and the biscuits were amazing.  The cinnamon sugar on top gave them just the perfect amount of sweetness and crunch, and I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be eating some version of this pretty regularly for the next several months.

Oh, by the way, I’m now totally into instagram.  Join me, it’s awesome.

 

Blueberry Cobbler

Cooks Illustrated Cookbook

Filling:

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

pinch ground cinnamon

pinch salt

6 cups (30 ounces) fresh blueberries, rinsed and picked over, or equivalent of whatever fruit you have.

1 1/2 teaspoons grated zest and 1 tablespoon lemon juice

 

Biscuit Topping:

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons stone-ground cornmeal

1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/3 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

For the filling, stir the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt together in a large bowl.  Add the berries and mix gently until evenly coated; add the lemon zest and juice.  Mix to combine. Transfer the berry mixture to a 9 inch glass pie plate or 8 inch square baking dish, place the plate on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the filling is hot and bubbling around the edges; about 25 minutes.

For the biscuit topping, whisk the flour, cornmeal, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl to combine.   Whisk the melted butter, buttermilk and vanilla together in a small bowl.  Mix the remaining sugar and cinnamon in another small bowl and set aside.  One minute before the berries come out of the oven, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined and no dry pockets remain.

Remove the berries from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees.  Pinch off 8 equal pieces of biscuit dough and place them on the hot berry filling, spacing them at least 1/2 inch apart so they do not touch.  Sprinkle each mound of dough with the cinnamon sugar.  Bake until filling is bubbling and the biscuits are golden brown on top and cooked through, about 15-18 minutes.  Cool the cobbler on a wire rack before serving.

My Fruitful Yard

Remember when I asked you all for advice on what this plant was?  I thought (hoped!) it was blueberries, and many of you concurred.  Well guess what?  We were right!

I checked up on them today, and I found these little guys popping up all over them.  I have 8 good sized bushes, and they’re all putting on what looks like a bountiful crop of fruit… I see a summer full of crisps, pies, and cobblers on the horizon, and I for one can’t wait.   I also have several of these guys peeking out:

And I’m letting my cilantro run wild in the hopes of collecting some coriander seeds – although I may give in to my inner OCD person and cut it down if it gets much bigger.  It’s almost as tall as I am, which is a little wild looking.

I know many people are enjoying the fruits and such that are slowly making their way into the grocery stores and farmer’s markets – what are you guys’ favorite springtime treats?  Me, I love strawberries more than almost anything – they’re my favorite fruit, right behind peaches.  I know I’m going to be overrun with berries before too long, so do you all have any suggestions for what I can do with them?

Garden of the Future?

forlorn winter garden

The lovely folks who previously owned our home were serious gardeners.  Serious.  In our front yard there are herbs of all kinds, greens (arugula, spinach, kale, and several as yet unidentified varieties), strawberries (!!!), eucalyptus, azaleas, hydrangeas, etc.  There are concord grapevines in our side yard, and in our backyard almost a quarter acre of garden.  Of course it’s pretty forlorn looking now; I mean it is the dead of winter (if by dead of winter I mean 62° and sunny).  Anyway…I have a lot of planning to do if I want to live up to the expectations of my new abode.  I have big plans for peppers, tomatoes, corn, okra, squash, and melons.  Problem is I don’t know all that much about it.  I did pretty well with my tomatoes last year – I did grow a 14 ft tall cherry tomato plant (for real!), and a 1 lb 9.2 oz tomato, but I didn’t have to plan anything to do it.  I mean I stuck those suckers in the ground, watered them regularly, fertilized them semi-regularly, and picked them when they were ripe.  It’s probably not as complicated as I think, but I’m still a little intimidated by the thought of a garden with so many different plants.  And grapes??  How in the world do you take care of them?  Apparently it’s kind of complicated and you have to prune them back just so in order for them to grace you with a crop.

Oh, who am I kidding?  I’m so excited I can hardly stand it.  It’s going to be a lot of work, for sure, but the rewards will be Awesome.  With a capital “A”.  I’m hoping to can, freeze, pickle, or otherwise preserve a significant part of my crop so that I can cut down on my grocery bill and enjoy the fruits of my labors through next winter.  Wish me luck!