Friday, October 29, 2010

The Muffuletta Stromboli


Was it Cajun-Italian fusion confusion? No, more like an off the wall notion that worked, utilizing bread dough and a variety of savory items already in the fridge. Our muffuletta-filled stromboli offered a delicious combination of flavors that played off the contrast between a tangy, salty olive salad and the mellow richness of cheese; all that layered with a smokey, cured meat and snuggled in a roll of fresh bread. The results were even better than anticipated.

Earlier this week I made a full recipe of French bread instead of the usual half-batch. What was I thinking? all that bread for two people! After the dough’s first rise I formed two baguettes for immediate use and put the rest of the dough, almost half a batch, into a covered plastic tub. I popped that container into the refrigerator … and promptly forgot about it.

Three days later I pulled the dough out and wondered,” now what?”. We didn’t need any more bread in the galley, but it seemed a shame to waste it. While the dough came to room temperature, I scanned the contents of the refrigerator. How did so many partially filled jars and bottles accumulate in just five months? And how many could I use up this week, before clearing the fridge for winter?

I grabbed that tub of bubbly bread dough, jars of black olives, green olives, capers, garlic, pepperocini, and roasted red peppers, plus some red onions, sliced meat, assorted cheeses - hmmmmmm. Muffuletta sandwiches came to mind, and so did Italian Stromboli. All right! a combination of chopped savory filling rolled up inside a bread wrapping might work. It would be a muffuletta sandwich baked Stromboli style. Fast forward to the taste test - it was a hugely popular success, with us and our neighbor Trish who was a willing volunteer.

How did it all come together? 

1. The first step was to mix up an olive salad using only the ingredients on hand. I didn’t need any more half-full jars to add to the existing collection, and anyway it was too stormy outside to walk to the store. It would have been nice to have some fresh Italian parsley, carrots and celery to add to the mix, but it tasted just fine without them.

2. Next I patted and rolled out the dough into a rectangle, it’s long side a few inches shorter than my baguette pan.

3. Using a slotted spoon and about half of the olive salad, I spread a thin layer over most of the dough leaving an empty one-inch border all around.

4. Then paper-thin slices of Bauernschinken, a German prosciutto-like cured meat with smokey edges, topped the olive salad. Two rows of cheese, thin slices of mozzarella and provolone, reached across from side to side, looking like pair of fat, yellow suspenders.

5. I had stretched the dough a little too thin, so rolling was a challenge. It took two hands and some coaching from the Capt. to form a firm cylinder, rolled from long side to long side. (Next time I’ll make several smaller rolls) The naked borders were pinched together to seal the roll at each end and along the long seam; my attempt to minimize the leakage of filling and oils.

6. The filled dough rested, covered, in an oiled baguette pan for about an hour, plumping up nicely. Sliced on top like any other baguette and brushed with beaten egg white, it was ready to bake in a preheated 400 F oven for 35-40 minutes.

Notes to self: 
  1. Roll the dough out a bit thicker and create a vent or two to avoid blowouts. 
  2. Make the rolling process easier by creating several individual-sized sandwiches.
  3. Don't ignore the dough for three days. 

Olive Salad Recipe

1 cup pimento stuffed green olives, roughly chopped
1 cup black olives, kalamata or Nicoise or a mix, pitted and roughly chopped
2 Tbs capers, chunked
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, roughly chopped
1/2 cup red onion, scallions or a mix, roughly chopped
6 pepperocini, stemmed, seeded, drained and roughly chopped
1 Tbs garlic, minced
1/2 Tbs dried oregano or basil or a blend of both
a sprinkle of celery seed
a pinch of red pepper flakes
a handful of fresh Italian parsley, chopped, if you have some (I didn’t)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Add all ingredients to a large bowl and mix well. Refrigerate for several hours to blend the flavors. Resist the temptation to nibble, if you can.

What did I do with the rest of the olive salad? 

It could have been a terrific addition to pasta or even topped a pizza, but instead we made mufuletta sandwiches. 

Photo: Guess who ate the open-faced appetizer sandwich...

Photo: ... and guess who went for the fully-loaded, heated muffuletta.

Last minute thoughts:
  1. Slices are best eaten warm, but they were still tasty when covered and heated briefly in the microwave.
  2. This was easy using my bread dough, but it would work using a tube of packaged dough - in case of an appetite emergency, you understand. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Foolproof French Bread

Bread, homemade and still warm from the oven, mmmmmm mmmmmmm, it’s pure delight. Fresh bread is near the top of my list of comfort foods. Just the thought of a buttered slice triggers hunger pangs, as I recall the taste, the contrast of the crisp, crunchy crust with the light, airy center.  Oh megayum! Sourdough boules, No-Knead Dutch oven wonders, French baguettes, Italian rustic loaves, Walnut levain… the list goes on and I love them all. So it’s no surprise that the moment we arrived at the boat on Friday I whipped up a batch of bread for our my (almost) immediate consumption. I explained to the Capt. that the scent of baking bread was my contribution to freshening up the interior. He just shook his head and opened some portholes and hatches. I'm sure he wanted to share the tantalizing aroma with the rest of the dock.

The recipe, French Bread My Way, is from a treasured paperback copy of Entertaining Recipes for Cabins, Condos and Cottages by Pamela L. Thomas, and has become my favorite go-to solution for quick, reliable results. The dough is forgiving, easy to work with, and welcomes a variety of flavor additions such as herbs, garlic, olives, shredded cheese, etc. Flavor away if you like, but I think it’s terrific without any extras. Well, that's no extra flavorings but I do enjoy my slice with a slather of butter and a sprinkle of chunky sea salt on top.

And why am I posting this recipe now, after all these years? Well, Mom phoned and asked for the recipe and I thought others might like it too. The 1990-98 Thomas cookbook is out of print, but I might buy a second copy from one of the online resellers. Again, why? just because it’s full of interesting commentary and good recipes, many from older Jr. League cookbooks across the country. I would enjoy a copy in my home kitchen as well as in the boat galley.

Based on French Bread My Way

from Entertaining Recipes for Cabins, Condos and Cottages, by Pam L. Thomas

2 Tbs  yeast                           2 1/2 cups warm water (100 F)
1 Tbs  salt                             6 cups AP unbleached flour
2 Tbs  sugar                           1 egg white, beaten

1. Place the yeast, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl and blend. Slowly add the warm water, stirring, until the yeast, salt and sugar are dissolved.  
2. Add 1 cup of flour at a time, mixing well with a wooden spoon after each addition. [I use a whisk for the first 3 cups of flour] 
3. Turn the dough onto a countertop or breadboard dusted with flour and knead well for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the texture smooths out. 
4. Place the dough back in the mixing bowl and cover with a tea towel dampened in hot water. Let it rise until doubled in size [1 to 2 hours depending on kitchen temperature]. 
5. Punch the dough down gently and give it another knead or two.
6. Cut the dough into 4 pieces and shape into long, thin loaves. [roll on the counter, then hold the loaf in the air with one hand and squeeze it with the other hand, lengthening it. You want it about an inch shorter than your pans. Twist it a few times for a rope effect. 
7. Place in a baguette mold [or use bread pans] sprayed with PAM or greased with shortening. 
8. Do the same with the remaining three loaves. 
9. Cover with a dampened tea towel and let rise again in the pans until they are the size you want them to be, usually less than an hour.
10. Now slash tops diagonally with a sharp knife or razor blade and brush with the beaten egg white. 
12. Place pans in a preheated 400 degree oven with a small pan of water beneath the bread pans. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until well-browned [and the interior temperature is 190-200 F]. 
13. Remove from oven and remove from pans, allowing to cool on a baking rack before slicing... if you can wait.

If you aren’t going to eat all of them right away, wrap in foil and place in the freezer. When ready to reheat, unwrap and place in a 350 oven for 10 minutes. This makes 4 good-sized baguettes.

A rough baking schedule might look like this: 
15 min       Ready supplies
30 min       Mix and knead
1 -2 hrs      1st rise
45 min       Shape, 2nd rise and preheat oven
30 min+     Bake at 400 conv. Switch pan positions midway.

Additiional notes to consider:
1. The original recipe calls for a lot of yeast, but it works. You get fresh bread with a good flavor in four hours or less.
2. The bread is best eaten within a day or two, or frozen for later use. It dries out as the days pass.
3. Even dried out it makes terrific panzanella salad, or croutons for salad or soup, or toasted bread crumbs to top mac ‘n cheese or roasted vegetables.
4. This dough has made some tasty breadsticks and sausage rolls too.
5. Too much bread? make a half recipe for 2 large or 3 skinny loaves.

10/30/10 note: OR  divide the dough after the first rise and hold in the fridge for a few days. See the next post for one idea. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Brussels Sprouts Rock!

What’s happened to Brussels sprouts to make them so delicious? Those nasty, foul smelling, evil tasting little pseudo-cabbages of my childhood have been replaced by tasty morsels of pure delight. No really, they’re becoming my favorite Fall vegetable, right up there with kale, peppers and sweet corn.

I’m not alone in my enthusiasm, SeriousEats named Brussels sprouts their “2009 ingredient of the year”.  FraternityKitchen noted their surprising popularity as a stealth veggie this week. I have yet to follow the lead of adventurous chefs and foodies who put these little darlings on pizza, though that might be an interesting experiment. No, I enjoy sprouts as a side dish extraordinaire. Oven roasting is my favorite cooking method, requiring minimal effort and producing maximum flavor. It's always a bonus if there are leftover sprouts for me to enjoy for lunch the next day, or as a snack anytime.

I had a moment of potluck panic in September, and roasted Brussels sprouts came to the rescue. Lagoon Cove Marina hosts an afternoon Happy Hour during the cruising season. They serve prawns and everyone else brings an appetizer to share. Every afternoon… except when it’s different, like a special evening when there’s a dinner potluck. Drat! I was ready for appetizers, but it had been almost two weeks since a grocery store visit. The boat pantry didn’t have enough of any single item to feed a crowd. It was an uneasy feeling, offering Brussels sprouts to a crowd of strangers, uncertain if anyone else would enjoy them. Not to worry, my baking dish was empty long before most of the other sides and salads were finished. Who would have guessed that Brussels sprouts were so popular?! Or do you think it was the bacon?

We enjoyed this dish again last week when Graham joined us for dinner. This time I checked in advance, did he like Brussels sprouts? He reminded me that they had always been his favorite vegetable and I was the one who was the reluctant eater. Well not anymore, oven-roasted Brussels sprouts now top my delicious veggie list.

Oven-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Potatoes and Bacon
Adapted from The Best of Fine Cooking: Side Dish 2007

1 to 1 1/2 Lb small Brussels sprouts
1 to 1 1/2 Lb small red potatoes
6 medium shallots, or a handful of tiny red onions, peeled
3 or 4 slices thick, smoky bacon
3 Tb olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 Tb butter, melted
2 Tb lemon juice (balsamic vinegar could substitute, but would change the flavor )
zest of 1 small lemon

  1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
  2. Wash the Brussels sprouts, trim the bottoms and remove the outer leaves. For tiny sprouts, cut an X in the stem to facilitate even cooking; for larger sprouts, cut in half from top to bottom.
  3. Wash the potatoes and cut into chunks about the size of the sprouts. (I sliced the tiny taters in half and chopped the slightly larger ones into quarters.)
  4. Cut the shallots into quarters (or the red onions in half).
  5. Slice the strips of bacon crosswise into 1/2-inch chunks.
  6. Pile the sprouts, potatoes, shallots and bacon into a large bowl; splash on the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss until everything is well coated. Pour into a 10x15 Pyrex baking dish and place in a preheated 450 F oven. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until the sprouts are browned and the potatoes are tender.
  7. While the vegetables are roasting, melt the butter and add the lemon juice and zest.
  8. Remove from the oven and pour the lemon and butter mixture over the top. Toss well and serve immediately.
Note: in an emergency, bags of frozen baby sprouts are a reasonable substitution. They do add more liquid to the dish, which can inhibit browning. It would help to slightly precook the bacon and potatoes to help them crisp up a bit more, without the risk of overcooking the Brussels sprouts. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Awesome Sticky Buns

Morning menu: Pecan sticky buns, fresh fruit, sweet smokey bacon and a smoked salmon frittata.

MMMMM, waking up to the scent of baking sticky buns is heavenly, but since I am the designated baker that is only a dream. The next best thing might be pulling a pan of uncooked buns from the refrigerator to pop into a cold oven, sitting down with a cup of tea to enjoy the tantalizing aromas wafting out of the oven, and then savoring a sticky bun or two. That's pretty heavenly too, and all that before 60 minutes have passed. All the preparation happens the day before, so breakfast or brunch is effortless. Now that's a schedule this cook enjoys!

The recipe has been a favorite for years, with family and friends alike. These sticky buns also head my list of baked goods that work well as trading items to swap for fresh seafood, to say thank you for a really good moorage assignment, or to enjoy just because. If you have a demanding sweet tooth you could drizzle some thin icing over the top. RL and niece Hilary prefer their sticky buns topped with ice cream, for breakfast no less, but I enjoy these treats without adornment. Warm, fragrant, and oh so tasty.  

 Awesome Sticky Buns
Adapted from the Best of the Best from Alaska Cookbook; selected recipes from Alaska’s favorite cookbooks. The recipe is credited to Admiralty View BandB, Juneau, AK in Favorite Recipes from Alaska’s Bed and Breakfasts.

1 pkg yeast                                                          6 Tbs butter, melted
¼ cup warm water, 110 F                                      1-3 Tbs sour cream
1 cup milk, scalded                                               1 cup + extra brown sugar
¼ cup sugar                                                          Chopped walnuts or pecans
¼ cup shortening (I use butter)                              More butter
1 tsp salt                                                              Cinnamon
3 ½ cups flour, sifted, divided                               Raisins or dried cranberries (or both)
1 egg

The day or night before
Soften the yeast in warm water; set aside. Combine the milk, sugar, shortening and salt; cool to lukewarm. Add 1 ½ cups flour to the milk mixture; beat well. Add yeast and egg, stirring well. Gradually add the remaining flour to form a soft dough, kneading well. (If I'm on the boat and not using a stand mixer, I divide the dough into two balls for easier kneading.) Place the kneaded dough in a greased bowl; turn once to grease the surface. Cover and let rise until doubled (1-2 hours). Punch the dough down and divide it in half. Let the dough rest while you prepare the caramel topping.

Mix together the melted butter, sour cream, 1-cup brown sugar and nuts. Divide this mixture in half and spread evenly in the bottom of each of two  9-inch cake pans (round or square).

Roll half of the dough out into a rectangle shape; lightly butter the dough and cover with the extra brown sugar, cinnamon, dried fruit and nuts. (I tend to go heavy on the filling!) Roll up from the long side, cut into 8 or 9 pieces and put the pieces, cut-side down, in one of the  prepared pans. 

Repeat with second ½ of the dough and the second pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let the buns rise overnight in the refrigerator.

Photo: fresh from the fridge and ready for the oven

The next morning:
Take the buns out of the refrigerator and put them on a rack in the center of a COLD oven. Turn the oven on to 350 F (the buns will continue to rise as the oven heats up) and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the buns are a deep golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.

Optional frosting drizzle
Mix powdered sugar with a tiny bit of milk or juice to make a syrup-like icing. Swirl over the top of the buns as they cool.

To serve
Let the sticky buns rest for a few minutes. While the buns are still warm, put a large plate upside-down over the top of the pan. Quickly turn over, tap the cake pan’s bottom to loosen things up and slowly remove so the caramel can ooze down over the buns.

OR keep the buns in the pan as they cool on a rack, scoop them out as you need them and reheat in the microwave before serving.

Photo: Who ate the sticky buns before I could grab a good picture?!

1) I have NOT tried freezing the  pans before baking, but it seems that after a day’s defrost in the fridge they should do just fine... It works for pizza dough.
 2) Square or rectanglar pans are more storage-efficient than round ones; cut 9 rolls instead of 8 to maximize the space.
3) Dental floss is terrific for slicing rolled dough into clean, even pieces that don’t scrunch up like they do when you use a knife.
4. They tend to dry out after a couple of days, so eat them quickly - not that this is ever a problem! OR use smaller pans with fewer buns in each one. Hold them in the refrigerator for several days, baking a small batch each morning.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Popcorn with Chopsticks

Chopsticks, a multi-purpose kitchen tool

"What are you doing? no, Why are you doing that?" is a frequent query when I'm caught indulging in my favorite snack food. Me? I'm eating popcorn with chopsticks. It's all due to niece Hilary, and I thank her weekly for the inspiration.

It's obvious I'm eating popcorn, my favorite snack food and occasional meal substitute. The chopsticks? well, using them... 
   1. keeps the butter off my fingers, and the keyboard or cellphone or book or...
   2. slows down my consumption rate, since it's pretty much one kernel at a time nibbling
   3. helps hone my chopstick-using skills, which need improvement so I'm not embarrassed at Asian restaurants by continually dropping tasty morsels. 

Popcorn is a popular comfort food, a versatile snack choice that can be either sweet or savory. Just for fun I googled "popcorn recipes" and wow! 1,950,000 hits were reported. I checked out the first link and was amazed at the variety of of flavors I'd never considered. 193 sweet recipes ranged from Almond Butterscotch Popcorn to Yummy Yogurt Popcorn... there must be a lot of popcorn fans with a sweet tooth. Only 72 savory recipes were listed, Bacon Cheese Popcorn to Zesty Popcorn. They really didn't need to go beyond that first offering, bacon and cheese and popcorn all in the same bowl. The actual site and recipe didn't thrill me, but that recipe idea is worthy of a trial batch. 

Sweet kettle corn may have a huge following, but for me the best bowl of popcorn is brimming with buttery, salty puffs that are topped with parmesan-from-the-can. Now I can add some bacon bits and even try flavored salts for a Saturday taste test extravaganza. Bacon Parmesan Popcorn, yum! I'm not claiming healthy food status here, just tasty, easy snacking on a gray, drizzly Seattle afternoon.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...