Rosemary Semolina Bread with Sea Salt from Seattle’s Macrina Bakery

Macrina's Bakery Rosemary-Olive Oil-Semolina Bread

Last Saturday I spotted a sample table in the wine section of Wegmans and made a beeline for it. When I arrived, a nice man asked me if I’d like to try a couple of wines with a slice of chocolate bread. I couldn’t think of a more fantastic idea at 10 in the morning. Yes please, I said. One of the wines, a grenache, was quite nice, and while the bread, a cake-like quick bread, was a little bland, I liked the idea of pairing wine with chocolate bread.

The folks at Wegmans were on to something. If the bread had been less sweet and textured more like a yeast-risen bread, could it possibly be topped with a cheese — maybe a soft, honey-infused chévre — and served with wine as a festive Valentine’s Day hors d’oeuvre?

Immediately reminded of Metropolitan Bakery’s chocolate and cherry bread, I set to work scouring the internet to see if anybody had taken a stab at recreating that loaf at home, an exercise I undertake every six months or so. That recipe, I’m afraid, is still under tight lock and key. It’s conspicuously absent from the cookbook, as well. For good reason, I imagine.

Without delving into too much detail, I combined a few recipes, slapped together a nice-looking dough, threw it in a hot oven, and waited anxiously while promising smells wafted from the oven. Unfortunately, the resulting loaf, although edible, was nothing worth sharing. It was good. I found myself eating slice after slice in fact, perhaps hoping each next slice might taste better, but each did not. Chocolate bread, I’m afraid, would not make it to this year’s Valentine’s Day table.

Alas, maybe forcing chocolate into a savory bread was weird anyway. It was time to get back to basics. Time to try a more natural combination of flavors. Time to break out the rosemary and sea salt and olive oil and share with you all a most delectable bread recipe, one I can say with the utmost confidence will not disappoint. I eat slice after slice of this bread not because I doubt its deliciousness but because I can’t hold myself back. Olive oil makes this bread super moist, but it’s the presence of semolina flour, an ingredient I am only just discovering, that gives this bread such a unique texture and flavor. The owner of Macrina Bakery, Leslie Mackie, to whom we can thank for this creation, says it best: “Semolina flour gives the bread a hearty texture but also a kind of creamy, almost corn-like flavor.” A salty, crusty exterior moreover makes the bread irresistible.

It’s perhaps not as dreamy as chocolate bread, but it’s far more delicious, and in the event that a romantic dinner for two materializes in my kitchen next Tuesday, it will make an appearance. Happy Almost Valentine’s Day Everyone.

Semolina flour is sometimes labeled as “pasta flour.”
Semolina Flour

Macrina's Bakery Rosemary-Olive Oil-Semolina Bread

Failed chocolate bread, rising:
chocolate bread, rising

Failed chocolate bread, baked:
chocolate bread, baked

Rosemary semolina bread mixed (left) and risen (right):
dough, just mixed (left) and risen (right)

shaping the loaf

loaf, ready for the oven

Macrina's Bakery Rosemary-Olive Oil-Semolina Bread

Rosemary Semolina Bread
Source: Bon Appetit via Seattle’s Macrina Bakery & Cafe
Yield = 1 very large round

1 3/4 cups warm water (105°F to 115°F), divided
1 tablespoon active dry yeast (measured from 2 envelopes)
2 1/4 cups (about) unbleached all purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
2 1/2 cups semolina flour (pasta flour)*
2 teaspoons fine-grained sea salt
Additional semolina flour
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, divided

1 teaspoon coarse-grained sea salt

1. Place 1 1/4 cups warm water in medium bowl; sprinkle yeast over and stir to blend. Let stand 5 minutes to soften. Whisk to dissolve yeast. Add 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour; whisk until smooth. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature (about 75°F) until bubbles form and yeast mixture has more than doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.

2. Whisk remaining 1/2 cup warm water, olive oil, and rosemary in large bowl to blend. Using rubber spatula, mix in semolina flour and 2 teaspoons fine-grained sea salt (dough will be very dry). Stir in yeast mixture. Work in 3/4 cup all purpose flour. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth, adding more all purpose flour by tablespoonfuls if sticky. Let rest 5 minutes. Knead until dough springs back when pressed with thumb, about 8 minutes.

3. Lightly oil large bowl. Transfer dough to bowl; turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Transfer dough to lightly floured surface. Flatten dough into 18×12-inch rectangle. Starting from 1 long side, roll tightly to form 2 1/2-inch-diameter, 20-inch-long log. With seam side down, shape log into ring, inserting 1 end into second end; smooth seam. (Note: As you can see from the photos, I did not make this shape. If I had, my ring would have been massive. I opted to just coil into one mass. Next time, however, I might even divide the dough in half and bake two simple boule-shaped loaves.)

4. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Sprinkle sheet with additional semolina flour. Transfer dough ring to prepared sheet, reshaping as necessary to form smooth circle. Sprinkle with 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds, pressing lightly to adhere. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let bread rise at room temperature until almost doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 400°F. Remove plastic wrap from bread. Using sharp knife, cut 1/4-inch-deep slit all the way around top of loaf. Spray bread lightly with water. (I did not do this — I don’t own a spray bottle.) Sprinkle with 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds and 1 teaspoon coarse-grained salt. Transfer to oven. Bake bread 15 minutes, spraying lightly with water every 5 minutes. (I did not do this either, again because I do not own a spray bottle.) Continue to bake without spraying until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, about 30 minutes longer. Transfer bread to rack and cool completely.

*Semolina flour is available at specialty foods stores, Italian markets, and some supermarkets.

Macrina's Bakery Rosemary-Olive Oil-Semolina Bread

rosemary semolina loaf

Cheddar Biscuits + Food52’s Holiday Survival Guide iPad App Giveway

leftover ham & arugula sandwich on cheddar biscuit with mustard sauce

My family is arriving in 6 days, and I cannot wait. It has been too long since we have all been together — too long since I’ve heard my mother declare her beautiful dinner both over and undercooked and in any case ruined; too long since I’ve watched my sister excuse herself from dinner early, singing The Messiah as she curls up on the couch, signaling she is too, too tired to clean up; and too long since I have found myself in the kitchen, dish towel in hand, surrounded by the usual dutiful crew. Family, I love you so much and cannot wait to have you here.

What I’m most looking forward to, however, is not our big Christmas Day feast, but the days following, when the fridge will be stocked with the most scrumptious leftovers, and when out of the freezer and into the oven will go these buttermilk biscuits, the perfect vessel for housing slices of ham or turkey or roast beef, handfuls of arugula, and a slathering of mustard sauce (so delicious, a must-know sauce if you’re serving ham, see recipe below).

The biscuit recipe comes from Food52’s Holiday Recipe and Survival Guide iPad app, which is awesome and which, if you are interested, can be yours, too — just share your own holiday entertaining tips in the comment section below for a chance to win (Food52 is awarding five promo codes to the best entertaining tips, culled from everyone’s blog post comments).

Are you curious about the app? I was, too. Before I downloaded it, I wondered how it would differ from visiting the Food52 website — if many of the recipes in the app are available on the website, why would downloading the app be necessary? I’m probably stating the obvious for many of you, but for any of you app newbies, the difference is all about the experience. After just 15 minutes with the app, navigating from section to section became as natural as turning to my go-to recipe in a favorite cookbook, an experience you often don’t get with a website. Moreover, because the app is designed for the iPad, it’s lightning fast, so navigating from one chapter to another is instant. Truthfully — and I hate to admit it because I love my cookbooks — finding a recipe in the app is easier than finding one in a cookbook. And finally, because the app is a holiday survival guide, all of the content — recipes, videos, event checklists — is holiday specific. In other words, (and again, I’m stating the obvious) you’ve got it all in one place — how to carve a turkey, how to stock your bar, how to plan ahead — so you’re not wasting time jumping from one website to another, bookmarking various pages, printing recipes from this site and that.

I don’t need to tell you all how much I love Food52 — I’ve done it many times in the past (like here and here). I find their video clips to be very helpful. The first one I watched on peeling tomatoes led me to discover Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce (also known as the world’s greatest tomato sauce). The one included below — How to Make Three Minute Gravy — is another goodie.

So, do you have any great entertaining tips? I’ve got one: use the freezer. These biscuits bake beautifully straight from the freezer. No thawing is necessary, just a few minutes more in the oven and you’ve got the makings of the best breakfast sandwich, an irresistible lunch, or a perfect dipper for any wintry soup or stew. Yum.

biscuits, cut, with eggwash

cheddar biscuits, just out of the oven

dough, just out of the mixer

dough and biscuit cutters

Bake these biscuits straight from the freezer — no thawing is necessary, just increase the cooking time by 2 to 3 minutes:

cheddar biscuit, baked straight from the freezer

Are you making a ham this holiday? If so, make this mustard sauce, too. It is so delicious and so simple to prepare — it’s a matter of bringing a few ingredients to a boil and then passing the mixture through a strainer. It’s fantastic for leftover ham sandwiches.

straining mustard sauce

totally delicious mustard sauce

sandwich ingredients

Cheddar Biscuits

Source: Food52

Below is the recipe from the Food52 website, but I encourage you all to read through the comments and questions about this recipe on the Food52 website — I found the comment section very helpful.

Makes 10 to 12 large biscuits

3 1/2 cups minus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt*
9 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cold unsalted butter (use a good brand, like Plugra, with a high butterfat content)
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 3/4 cup buttermilk
1 large egg

*Some people who commented on the food52 website found the biscuits to be too salty. We definitely did not, but if you are sensitive to salt, perhaps reduce the salt to 2 tsp or less.

1. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and put it in the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes. In the meantime, cut the butter into chunks and leave out at room temperature (you want it malleable, but not soft).

2. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat it to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine the chilled dry ingredients, the cheese and the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for a few minutes, until the chunks of butter are no bigger than a large pea – or a small bean. (In the oven, the water in the chunks of butter creates steam, which in turn will creates lovely pockets of air within the biscuits.)

3. Add the buttermilk to the bowl and mix on low just until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured board, dust your fingers with flour and gently knead it a few times. Quickly and carefully pat the dough into a large rectangle about 1/2 an inch thick.

4. Dip a 3-inch round cutter with sharp edges in flour and then cut the biscuits using an even downward motion, without twisting the cutter. Transfer the rounds of dough to the baking sheets, leaving an inch or two of space between them. When you’ve cut the first batch of biscuits, gently pat the dough into another rectangle and cut a few more — discard the dough or add the funky leftover shapes to the baking sheets after the second batch is cut (if you shape the dough a third time, the biscuits will be tough).

5. Beat the egg with a splash of water (if you’re feeling fancy, you can then pass it through a fine mesh sieve to get rid of any clumps of egg white that might burn). Brush the tops of the biscuits lightly with egg wash* and bake for about 20 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the biscuits are a deep golden brown. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets but serve them while still warm!

*At this point you can stick your prepared pan in the freezer. Once the biscuits are frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag to store. When you are ready to bake, there is no need to thaw the biscuits. Just bake them straight from the freezer. I had to cook mine about 3 minutes longer when baking them from the freezer. And I did apply the egg wash before freezing them — worked beautifully.

Mustard Sauce

In my family, this mustard sauce is as essential as the ham on the holiday table. It’s another one of those sauces your guests will want to bathe in.

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons dry mustard
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream

1. Place a strainer over a medium-sized bowl (able to hold about 2 cups of liquid). Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil while monitoring closely and stirring often. As soon as the mixture comes to boil, pour it through the strainer into the bowl. Let cool, then cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge.

leftover ham and arugula sandwich on cheddar biscuit with mustard sauce

Pumpkin Bread

cut loaf of pumpkin bread

Everyone and their mother has a recipe for pumpkin bread. This happens to be my mother’s recipe — not sure where it originates beyond her — and it is incredibly delicious. Made with oil not butter, the batter comes together in minutes. I mixed mine the night before baking, and used mini loaf pans because, well because, I think they’re cute, and I suppose because I’m getting excited for the impending homemade-gift-giving holiday season.

What else can I say here? Like many of you I suspect, I am consumed by all things pumpkin at the moment…can’t stop dreaming about pumpkin muffins, cheesecake, soup, lattes, fritters, gnocchi, gnudi, yadi yadi yadi. Tis the season! If you don’t have a recipe for pumpkin quick bread up your sleeve, this one is a winner. Happy fall!

pumpkin bread

pumpkin bread batter

pumpkin bread

Pumpkin Bread
Yield = 2 standard loaf pans or 5 mini loaf pans

Mini loaf pans can be purchased here.
Disposable loaf pans can be purchased here, too.

2 c. sugar
1 c. canola oil
4 eggs
16 oz. canned pumpkin (not pie filling)
3/4 cup water
3 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. table salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves (optional — I didn’t have any so didn’t use any)
1/2 tsp. nutmeg (or less — I used about 1/4 tsp.)
1/2 tsp. allspice (optional — I didn’t have any so didn’t use any)

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease loaf pans with butter or non-stick spray.

2. Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat sugar and oil together until blended. Add eggs one at a time mixing after each addition. Add pumpkin purée and water and mix until blended.

3. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and allspice. Add to the mixer and mix only until just incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pans.

4. Bake for about an hour (if using standard loaf pans) but start checking for doneness after 45 minutes — the loaves are done when center springs back when touched. Note: When using the small pans, the loaves should be done in under 45 minutes. I started checking after 30 minutes, and the loaves were done after about 35 minutes (or maybe a minute or two longer…lost track of time.)

I love these disposable mini loaf pans, too. They are so pretty! Wonderful for gift giving. I actually baked the loaves in my mini pans before transferring them to the disposable pans — I was thinking this would be less messy —but…oopsidasies, the disposable pans are a wee bit smaller than my non-disposable pans. I kind of had to squeeze the baked loaf to get it to fit. It worked out fine, but next time I’d just as soon bake the loaf in the disposable pan. That’s what it’s for after all, right?

pumpkin bread as gift

pumpkin bread

Cinnamon Rolls — Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day Style

cinnamon rolls

I had no expectations for these cinnamon rolls. I’m still in disbelief in fact about how incredibly delicious they tasted. I mean, I knew the brown sugar and butter and pecans slathered in the pan and rolled into the dough would create a cinnamon roll affect, but I didn’t expect the dough itself — just a standard bread dough (water, flour, yeast, salt) — to have that enriched brioche-like flavor. How could a no-butter, no-sugar, no-egg, no-milk dough yield a nearly perfect if not perfect cinnamon roll? That’s a question perhaps better answered by all of you experienced bakers out there. I’m stumped. Replete, content and stumped.

I made this recipe on a whim. I had already baked off 3 smallish loaves of bread from my batch of Artisan Bread in Five dough — the master recipe yields 4 loaves — and I wanted to try something new. In the preface to the book’s Sticky Pecan Caramel Roll recipe, the authors note that the recipe works — and works well — with their standard boule dough, and so I went for it. And I’m so glad I did. Oh man were these good. I don’t know how an enriched-dough could improve the flavor, but I’m curious. As soon as I recover from my sticky bun binge, which might take a few more weeks, I’m going to give the ABin5 brioche dough a go. I’m already looking forward to that happy morning.

If you like this recipe, check out the ABin5 blog. Oh my, this monkey bread looks fabulous. And here are some other ABin5 loaves I have tried:

Traditional Boule
Cinnamon Swirl Bread — an absolute favorite
Partially Whole Wheat Boule
Broa — Portuguese Corn Bread – not sweet corn bread but bread with cornmeal

cinnamon rolls

cinnamon rolls

The Master Recipe: Boule
Adapted From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François
Yield = Four 1-pound loaves. Recipe can be doubled or halved

3 cups lukewarm water
1½ T. granulated yeasts (1½ packets)
1½ T. kosher or other coarse salt
6½ cups (29.25 oz.) unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method

Mixing and Storing the Dough
1. Warm the water slightly: It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100ºF.

2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a five-quart bowl, or preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or food-grade bucket. Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve. (I added the yeast, then the flour and then the salt on top of the flour to avoid killing any of the yeast, but apparently this is unnecessary.)

3. Mix in the flour: Add all of the flour at once, measuring it with dry-ingredient measuring cups, by gently scooping the flour, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula; don’t press down into the flour as you scoop or you’ll throw off the measurement by compressing. Mix with a wooden spoon. If necessary, reach into your mixing vessel with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don’t knead! It isn’t necessary. You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. Dough should be wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of the container.

4. Allow to rise: Cover with a lid (not airtight) that fits well to the container you’re using. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approximately two hours. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period, but fully refrigerated dough is less sticky and is easier to work with. So, the first time you try this method, it’s best to refrigerate the dough overnight before shaping a loaf.

If you want to make standard boules, continue with step 5 here.

Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls

1 1/2 lbs. of pre-mixed dough (recipe above)
Note: My portion of dough weighed 1 lb 12 oz., so the recipe is relatively flexible in this sense. I did have to whip up a little bit more butter-cinnamon-and-sugar filling, however, to compensate for the larger surface area.

The Caramel Topping
6 T. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
30 pecan halves (I crushed up my pecan halves, but feel free to leave them whole if you wish)

The Filling
4 T. salted butter, softened (I used unsoftened)
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (I did not use)
1/2 cup chopped and toasted pecans (I did not toast)
Pinch of ground black pepper (I did not use.)

1. On baking day, cream together the butter, salt and brown sugar. Spread evenly over the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan. Scatter the pecans over the butter-sugar mixture and set aside. (Note: I experienced terrible spillage, which resulted in a burnt oven floor. Soooo, if you have a pan with high sides, that might work best. Otherwise, place a pan (disposable or not) on the rack below your pan to catch the spillage.

2. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1.5 lb piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. (Note: I didn’t really do this. I simply placed my piece of dough (Which was a little bit larger than 1.5 lbs.) on my work surface and stretched it out into a rectangle.)

3. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a 1/8-inch thick rectangle. As you roll out the dough, use enough flour to prevent it from sticking to the work surface but not so much as to make the dough dry. If the dough is being stubborn, let it sit for 20 minutes, then come back to it with the rolling pin.

4. Cream together the butter, sugar and spices. Spread evenly over the rolled-out dough and sprinkle with the chopped nuts. (I had to make a little bit more of this mixture to cover the surface area of my dough.) Starting with the long side, roll the dough into a log. If the dough is too soft to cut, let it chill for 20 minutes. (Note: My dough was very soft, but I was too impatient to chill it.)

5. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. With a serrated knife, cut the log into 8 equal pieces and arrange over the pecans in the prepared, with the “swirled” edge facing upward. (Not sure what the “swirled” edge means — they were both swirled as far as I could tell?) Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest and rise 1 hour. Note: I basically just let my rolls rise for 20 minutes. As soon as the buns started filling up the pan, I popped the pan in the oven.

6. Bake buns about 40 minutes or until golden brown and well set in center. While still hot, run a knife around the inside of the pan to release the caramel rolls, and invert immediately onto a serving dish. If you let them sit too long, they will stick to the pan and be difficult to turn out.

cinnamon rolls

Pizza Margherita, Homemade Tomato Sauce, Homemade Ricotta

classic pizza margherita

Oh my gosh, I have so much deliciousness to report to you all, I don’t know where to begin. I suppose it all started last week after Food 52 reminded me of Marcella Hazan’s widely adored tomato sauce recipe and the NY Times reminded me of the pleasure of eating fresh ricotta cheese, a delicacy (a nonentity, really) in my neck of the woods. And then I remembered seeing a Barefoot Contessa recipe for homemade ricotta cheese on Gwyenth Paltrow’s blog, which reminded me of a different GP entry about homemade pizza, all of which has led me to so many wonderful discoveries this week. Is your head spinning?

Let me summarize:

1. Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce is every bit as delicious as everyone has claimed. I’ve never had success making tomato sauce. Never. I had accepted that jarred sauce tasted better than anything I could produce at home. That is until this past Tuesday, when I dipped my wooden spoon into my pot of gently simmering tomatoes, lifted it to my mouth, and tasted the freshest, lightest, most delectable flavors. And I have been smiling ever since. For all of you food bloggers, I know this is nothing revelatory. But friends, family, and any of you out there who have tomato sauce making fears, rest assured that you, too, can cook like an Italian grandmother. This sauce is gold.

2. Thanks to discovery #1, I’ve finally made a classic pizza margherita at home. One of my all-time favorite spots for thin-crust pizza is 2Amys in Washington D.C., which serves an incredible pizza margherita topped with a most memorable fresh tomato sauce. 2Amys Pizza was my first thought after tasting Hazan’s sauce. Now, I’ve accepted that until I build my wood burning oven, I’m not going to achieve a restaurant quality crust at home. But I no longer have an excuse for not making pizza margherita. This sauce is so damn good. I credit nothing other than the sauce for producing the pizza that emerged from my oven today. It was one of the best. Less is more is the key here: a thin layer of this sauce topped sparingly with fresh mozzarella cheese and a sprinkling of fresh basil out of the oven does the job. Yum yum yum.

3. Making fresh ricotta cheese at home is as easy as the Barefoot Contessa’s latest book promises. And it is SO delicious. I made myself nectarine and fresh ricotta bruschetta for lunch today. It was heaven. And then I remembered one of my all-time favorite pizza combinations — nectarine with basil and reduced balsamic — and made a variation of that for dinner. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to spread what’s left of my fresh ricotta on a toasted bagel and top it with one of my CSA tomatoes. I’m really living it up here.

The most fragrant purple basil freshly picked from my garden, a treat I have my brother-in-law to thank. Thanks Mr. T!
tomatoes and basil

Making tomato sauce:
making homemade tomato sauce

Straining homemade ricotta through cheesecloth:
homemade ricotta

Homemade tomato sauce and fresh ricotta cheese:
homemade ricotta and tomato sauce

Sauce approved by a silent and contemplative kitchen assistant:
Ella eats pasta

unbaked margherita pizza

Classic pizza margherita:
classic pizza margherita

classic pizza margherita

Nectarine and ricotta pizza with fresh basil:
nectarine and ricotta pizza

nectarine and ricotta pizza

Recipes
Marcella Hazen’s Tomato Sauce
Note: I watched the video on Food52 on blanching tomatoes, which I found to be helpful.

For the Sauce:

2 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes, peeled (see video on Food52 for guidance)
5 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
Salt to taste

1. Place the prepared fresh tomatoes in a saucepan, add the butter, onion, and salt, and cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until it is thickened to your liking and the fat floats free from the tomato.

2. Stir from time to time, mashing up any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and correct for salt.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Source: The Barefoot Contessa via Goop
Serves: Makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen (or don’t) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth. Save the whey — you can make bread with it. Use the ricotta immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days.

Classic Pizza Margherita
Dough yields 4 pizzas serving 3 to 4 people total

1 recipe pizza dough (follow instructions here)
1 recipe tomato sauce
fresh mozzarella cheese
fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly after pizza is removed from oven

Nectarine and Fresh Ricotta Pizza
Dough yields 4 pizzas serving 3 to 4 people total

1 recipe pizza dough (follow instructions here)
1 recipe Homemade Ricotta Cheese (recipe below)
1-2 nectarines
olive oil
fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly after pizza is removed from oven

Homemade Ricotta
Source: The Barefoot Contessa via Goop
Serves: Makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen (I don’t dampen — I just line my sieve with cheesecloth) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. (I tend to like mine on the thicker side but some prefer it moister.) Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days. Note: You can use the whey to make bread and other things — don’t chuck it.

nectarine and ricotta pizza

Whole Roasted Garlic

Whole Roasted Garlic

Have you ever roasted a whole head of garlic? And then squeezed the sweet, soft cloves over warm French bread? And then sprinkled the spread with a bit of sea salt? It is so delectable.

Never did I imagine eating a head of garlic in one sitting. Nor did I imagine serving a head of garlic to each guest at a dinner party. It sounds ferocious. But roasting garlic whole in foil pouches with a few fresh herbs tames its bite, mellowing and sweetening its flavor, transforming it into a butter-like purée almost as tasty as salted bone barrow… yum yum yum.

Before I go any further, I have to share with you a beautiful blog, The Garden of Eden, recently launched by my friend Darcy Eden. It’s fresh and fun and filled with yummy recipes, fashionable finds and overall fantastic style. One of her posts was already picked up by Bon Appetit. Take a look — I know you’ll have fun with it!

Whole Roasted Garlic Spread on Warm Bread

Garlic & Oregano

Whole roasted garlic is a wonderful topping for warm bread but there are other uses as well: puréed and stirred into mashed potatoes; spread onto pizza; whisked into salad dressing.

Foil Pouches

Whole Roasted Garlic

Yield = How ever many heads you would like
Note: I make one foil pouch per head of garlic, but you probably could throw a couple of heads together in one pouch and have fine results.

1 head garlic
few sprigs of thyme (I used oregano here because I had no thyme on hand, but thyme is preferable)
olive oil
kosher salt

For serving:
French bread
nice salt

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cut off the very top portion of the head of garlic to reveal a few cloves. Place garlic on a sheet of aluminum foil (large enough to wrap around the garlic in a little pouch). Nestle the herbs around the garlic. Drizzle garlic with a touch of olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Pour 2 T. of water around the head of garlic — you might want to curl up the sides of foil before doing so. Wrap the foil up into a beggar’s purse or pouch making sure the foil is sealed.

2. Place in the oven (directly on the rack or on a baking sheet) and roast for 1 hour. Remove pouches from oven and let cool briefly or tuck right in, taking care while opening the packages as steam might come pouring out.

3. Spread the garlic on warm bread; top with a pinch of salt.

Whole Roasted Garlic Spread

Nectarine Pizza with Fresh Basil and Reduced Balsamic

I ate this whole pizza tonight. All of it. By myself. Not one slice remains for me for my breakfast tomorrow. I tried to refrain. No dice. So, if you’re still in summer-bathing-suit mode, avert your eyes.

This combination is so good. I believe the original, a pie hailing from Paso Robles where the dear friend who introduced me to this creation had just vacationed, called for peaches, but nectarines are a fine substitute. I’ve used an herbed goat cheese here with some Parmigiano Reggiano but I think some fresh ricotta or buffalo mozzarella or mascarpone or all three would be a nice substitute (or addition?) for the goat cheese. The Parmigiano, I think, is a must.

Fresh basil or some sprigs of arugula sprinkled on the just-baked pizza is key. It needs that hit of freshness as well as that bite from the reduced balsamic. Yum yum yum yum yum. Just don’t burn your balsamic. I did. Twice. Oiy. It’s really annoying. Really try not to do that.

Gosh, I don’t know what else to say. This is delicious and summery and fun, and I think you should make it.

Nectarine Pizza with Fresh Basil and Reduced Balsamic

Each pizza serves 1-2 people

pizza dough (recipe below)

Toppings For 1 pizza:
olive oil for greasing
cheese: fresh ricotta, buffalo mozzarella, goat cheese, mascarpone, whatever you like
1 nectarine, sliced thinly, (not paper thin)
shavings of fresh Parmigianno Reggiano
fresh basil

Reduced balsamic:

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1. Place balsamic in a small sauté pan. Turn heat to medium high. Let simmer until reduced and noticeably thick — watch it like a hawk. If it burns, it’s ruined. There’s no salvaging burnt balsamic. Err on the side of under reduced. It reduces more than you expect as it’s cooling. Remove from heat.

Pizza Dough
Adapted from Todd English’s The Figs Table
Makes four 8- to 10-inch pizzas (Serves 1 to 2 people per pizza, dough freezes beautifully)

¼ cup whole wheat flour
3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 2/3 cups lukewarm water
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons active-dry yeast
2 teaspoons olive oil

1. Place the flours and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. (Or knead by hand. I have not had luck making this in the food processor — the engine starts smoking after about five minutes.) Combine the water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl and let sit for five minutes until the mixture bubbles slightly. Add the olive oil and stir. With the mixer on low, gradually add the oil-water mixture into the bowl. Knead until the dough is firm and smooth, under 10 minutes. The dough will be very wet and sort of difficult to work with. I liberally coat my hands with flour before attempting to remove it.

2. Divide the dough into four balls, about 7½ ounces each. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. (Be sure to oil the parchment paper.) Place two balls on a sheet. Lightly rub the balls with olive oil, then cover loosely with plastic wrap. The dough is very sticky and wet, so, be sure to coat the balls or the plastic with oil. Let the balls rise in a warm spot until they have doubled in bulk, about two hours.

Note: This dough freezes beautifully. After the initial rise, punch down the dough, wrap it in plastic and place in a Ziplock bag. Freeze for several months. When ready to use, let sit at room temperature for about an hour, then proceed with rolling/topping/baking.

3. To roll out the dough: Dab your fingers in flour and then place one ball on a generously floured work surface. Press down in the center with the tips of your fingers, spreading the dough with your hand. When the dough has doubled in width, use a floured rolling pin (or continue using floured hands if you are skilled at making pizzas) and roll out until it is very thin, like flatbread. The outer portion should be a little thicker than the inner portion. Note: If the dough is being very stubborn, let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes. In this time, the gluten will relax, and the dough will be much easier to work with.

Baking:

1. Preheat the oven to 500ºF. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper or grease lightly with olive oil. Place rolled out dough onto parchment paper or greased pan. Drizzle dough with a little olive oil and with your hand, rub it over the surface to coat evenly.

2. Cover the dough with a layer of cheese — mozzarella, goat cheese, ricotta mascarpone, whatever you wish. Arrange one layer of sliced nectarines or peaches on top of the cheese. Sprinkle the fruit layer with fresh Parmigiano Reggiano. Place pizza in your very hot oven and bake for about 10 minutes or until the crust is slightly brown and the cheese is melting.

3. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with fresh basil or arugula. Drizzle with the reduced balsamic. Slice and serve. Yum.

Homemade Focaccia + Roasted Red Pepper & Arugula Sandwiches

Next time you are invited to a potluck picnic, volunteer to make sandwiches. And then make these. You will be loved forever. I promise.

Roasted red peppers, arugula and an herbed goat cheese* is a particularly nice combination at the moment but later in the summer, when the tomatoes are peaking, a classic Caprese salad on this homemade focaccia will be a huge hit.

I have been making this focaccia recipe since it was printed in Fine Cooking magazine over six years ago now. It’s credited to Peter Reinhart and, like all of his recipes, is very precise. But unlike many of his recipes, which seem to begin days in advance of baking time, this one is just an overnighter and only takes minutes to prepare. It’s particularly easy if you have a stand mixer but Reinhart provides detailed by-hand mixing instructions as well. Make it. It’s a winner for sure.

I learned something, too, about roasting peppers while preparing for this picnic: Patience pays. I roasted these peppers as I usually do — on a parchment-lined sheetpan under the broiler for about 15 to 20 minutes or until evenly blackened — and steamed them as I usually do — in an aluminum bowl covered with plastic wrap. But instead of rushing the peeling, charring my little fingers in the process, I waited to peel till the following morning. It was a breeze. From here on out, I will roast, steam and peel 24 hrs. in advance … rrrrrigghhht.

* Note: I whipped a log of honey-goat cheese from Trader Joe’s with fresh basil and about 1/4 cup of crème fraîche (for texture), which made a delicious spread. Any herb or combination of herbs would be nice but I definitely recommend whipping the goat cheese with a little bit of milk or yogurt or something of the sort to make spreading easier.

Homemade Focaccia
Source: Fine Cooking March 2004
Yield = one sheet pan

Notes: If you don’t have a mixer, follow the instructions on the Fine Cooking website for mixing by hand.

1 lb. 9 oz. (5-1/2 cups) unbleached bread flour
2-1/2 cups cold water (about 55°F)
2 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. granulated sugar (1 oz.)
2 tsp. table salt or 3-1/2 tsp. kosher salt (1/2 oz.)
1 packet (1/4 oz.) instant yeast (also called quick-rise, rapid-rise, or fast-rising yeast)
10 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt or kosher salt for sprinkling

Mix the dough:

Coat a bowl large enough to hold the dough when it doubles in size with 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Transfer the dough to the bowl and rotate the dough to coat it with the oil.

Hold the bowl steady with one hand. Wet the other hand in water, grasp the dough and stretch it to nearly twice its size.

Lay the stretched section back over the dough. Rotate the bowl a quarter turn and repeat this stretch-and-fold technique. Do this two more times so that you have rotated the bowl a full 360 degrees and stretched and folded the dough four times. Drizzle 1 Tbs. of the olive oil over the dough and flip it over. Wrap the bowl well with plastic and refrigerate it overnight, or for at least 8 to 10 hours.

Shape the focaccia:

Remove the bowl of dough from the refrigerator and start shaping the focaccia 3 hours before you intend to bake it (2 hours on a warm day). The dough will have nearly doubled in size. Cover a 13×18-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat and coat the surface with 2 Tbs. of the olive oil.

Gently slide a rubber spatula or a dough scraper under the dough and guide it out of the bowl onto the center of the pan. The dough will sink beneath its own weight, expelling some gas but retaining enough to keep an airy gluten network that will grow into nice holes.

Drizzle 2 Tbs. of the olive oil on top of the dough. (Don’t worry if some rolls off onto the pan; it will all be absorbed eventually.)

Dimple the entire dough surface, working from the center to the edges, pressing your fingertips straight down to create hollows in the dough while gently pushing the dough down and out toward the edges of the pan. At first you might only be able to spread the dough to cover about one-half to three-quarters of the pan. Don’t force the dough when it begins to resist you. Set it aside to rest for 20 minutes. The oil will prevent a crust from forming.

After letting the dough rest, drizzle another 2 Tbs. olive oil over the dough’s surface and dimple again. This time, you will be able to push the dough to fill or almost fill the entire pan. It should be about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. If it doesn’t stay in the corners, don’t worry; the dough will fill the corners as it rises.

Cover the dough loosely with oiled plastic wrap, put the pan on a rack to let air circulate around it, and let the dough rise at room temperature until it’s about 1-1/2 times its original size and swells to the rim of the pan. This will take 2 to 3 hours, depending on the temperature of the room. Thirty minutes before baking, heat your oven to 475°F.

Bake the focaccia:

Just before baking, gently remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle a few pinches of sea salt or kosher salt over the dough. Put the pan in the middle of the hot oven and reduce the heat to 450°F. After 15 minutes, rotate the pan to ensure even baking.

Check the dough after another 7 minutes. If it’s done, it will be golden brown on top and, if you lift a corner of the dough, the underside will be golden as well. If not, return the pan to the oven for another 1 to 2 minutes and check again.

Set a cooling rack over a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment (to catch drippings). Use a metal spatula to release the dough from the sides of the pan. Slide the spatula under one end of the focaccia and jiggle it out of the pan onto the rack. If any oil remains in the pan, pour it evenly over the focaccia’s surface. Carefully remove the parchment or silicone liner from beneath the focaccia. Let cool for 20 minutes before cutting and serving.

Roasted Red Peppers
Yield= However many you want
(Estimate about 1 pepper for every 1 to 2 people)

red bell peppers

1. Preheat the broiler. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper for easy cleaning. Alternatively, grease the sheetpan with a little bit of olive oil.

2. Cut peppers in half lengthwise. Remove stem and seeds. Place peppers cut side down on sheet pan. Broil for about 15 to 20 minutes or until evenly charred.

3. Place peppers in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Steam until completely cool — overnight is ideal. Use peppers for salads, sandwiches, pasta salads, etc.

Do you love roasted red peppers? Here are some other ideas for using them up.

Herbed Goat Cheese

There are many ways to make a yummy herbed goat cheese. This is what I did: I whipped a log of honey-goat cheese (delicious on its own) from Trader Joe’s with fresh basil and about 1/4 cup of crème fraîche (for texture), which made a delectable spread. Any herb or combination of herbs would be nice but I definitely recommend whipping the goat cheese with a little bit of milk or yogurt or something of the sort to make spreading easier.

Overnight French Toast

Overnight French Toast

I’m a real sucker for any sort of breakfast carb, especially when I’m out to eat. Challah French toast. Lemon-ricotta pancakes. Blueberry-cornmeal hotcakes. You name it. If it’s floured, fried and dripping in syrup, it has my name all over it.

Like the mussels, these are dishes I rarely make at home. Laboring over a fickle griddle is one deterrent for me. Timing is another. It’s nearly impossible to get enough pancakes and French toast and waffles out at the same time to serve everyone at once.

And you know what? I’m sort of tired of reading this line in recipes: “Place finished pancakes on a plate in a 200ºF oven to keep warm while you finish cooking.” We all know that after 20 minutes in a 200ºF oven, warm soggy disks are what remain. These foods are best eaten hot off the griddle. It’s a quandary for sure.

The solution? Well, I don’t have one for pancakes. But I do for French toast: Bake it. And start it the night before. This is the easiest French toast you will ever make, and I believe it’s one of the best, too. It’s crisp on the exterior and moist but by no means soggy on the interior. It emerges from the oven piping hot yielding enough, at the very least, for four eaters.

This recipe hails from the November 2000 issue of Gourmet — oh Gourmet how I miss you — and is a nice one to have in your file. Father’s Day is right around the corner … this might be a nice treat for everyone involved.

Just out of the oven, baked French toast:
Overnight French Toast, Out of the Oven

Overnight Baked French Toast

Serves 4 to 6

1 (13- to 14-inch-long) loaf of soft-crust bakery-style Italian bread*
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 2/3 cups whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla
3 tablespoons sugar
*Notes: My mom uses “Toasting White” (Pepperidge Farm, I believe). My aunt uses a dense bakery-style loaf of Italian bread, which is what I’ve used here — density is key. I like both breads with this preparation, however.

Accompaniments: maple syrup, berries and powdered sugar if desired

1. Cut about six to eight — enough to fit your pan — one-inch-thick diagonal slices of bread.

2. Generously butter one side of each slice and arrange slices, buttered sides up, in one layer in a buttered 13- by 9- by 2-inch glass baking dish, squeezing them slightly to fit if necessary.

3. Whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla and 1/4 teaspoon salt until combined well, then pour evenly over bread. Chill, covered, until bread has absorbed all of custard, at least one hour and up to one day, depending on bread.

4. Preheat oven to 425°F. Bring mixture to room temperature and sprinkle bread with sugar.

5. Bake, uncovered, in middle of oven until bread is puffed and top is golden, 20 to 25 minutes, or longer — make sure it’s nice and golden on top or it will be soggy in the middle. Serve immediately with fruit and syrup and powdered sugar if desired.

After a night in the fridge, the bread absorbs all of the liquid:
French Toast, unbaked

Champagne & Oysters + Solvang, Los Olivos, Los Alamos, Los Angeles Get Away

oysters

Our great eating adventure 2010 began at home with champagne and oysters. Oh champagne and oysters! Is anything more celebratory? I suppose you have to like oysters. Champagne is a given. The last time Ben and I had champagne and oysters together was at Balthazar, the morning after we wed, nearly five years ago now … ahhh memories.

Anywho, last Friday, we commenced a little long weekend getaway with a dozen and a half oysters, a bottle of Piper Hiedsieck, a wedge of Tomme de Savoie, Marcona almonds, a beet salad, and grilled flatbread topped with grapes and a wee too much cheese. It was a fun little spread.

The following morning we headed north to Solvang stopping first in Los Angeles for dinner at Ganda, a Thai restaurant reviewed in the March issue of Saveur by James Oseland, the magazine’s editor-in-chief. Apparently Oseland, on a recent visit to LA, went to Ganda five days in a row for the pla duk pad ped, or crispy catfish — catfish dry-braised in galangal, Kaffir lime leaves, and an abundance of spices. He declared the dish his favorite thing to eat in LA. Strong endorsement, si or no? Well, while I can’t see myself going to Ganda five days in a row for pla duk pad ped, the dish was delicious, and Ganda didn’t disappoint. I could eat that food all night long.

Now, where I can see myself going five nights in a row is a little place called Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos, CA. Full of Life Flatbread is not dissimilar to my favorite restaurants, Bar, in New Haven, CT, and Pizzeria Mozza, in Los Angeles. What can I say? Ben and I basically fell in love over a thin-crust white clam pizza, and when a restautant offers this very pie, never are we happier. But FLF offered more than just a delectable white clam, bacon and leek flatbread. Our appetizer — a grilled asparagus and chanterelle salad tossed with prosciutto, wilted frisée and Parmigiano — couldn’t have been more delicious; neither could the wine, a local Grenache, nor our sausage, onion and cheese flatbread. Yum yum yum.

You’ve all seen Sideways, right? Well, if you visit these parts, you can do the whole Sideways tour if you’d like, stopping at the various vineyards, tasting rooms, restaurants, attractions, etc. The only Sideways spot we came close to experiencing was the Los Olivos Cafe — where Miles drunk dials his ex-wife Vicki — located in the heart of Los Olivos, an adorable town with a great lunch spot — Panino — and some great tasting rooms and shops.

Los Olivos, Los Alamos, Buellton — I can’t say enough about the whole Santa Ynez valley. It is a beautiful part of the country. Ben and I have visited the area three times now and discover new must-try spots every time. If you are looking for a wine country get away but can’t fit Napa into your budget, consider this area. It is a blast. Apparently there’s a dude ranch in the area as well. We’ll have to scope that out next time.

By the way, we stayed in a great hotel, Hotel Corque. A little photo tour of our long weekend continues below:

cheese plate

oyster

flatbread

beet salad

Piper

In Los Angeles, we stayed at the Buky House, a wonderful Bed and Breakfast located in the La Brea (maybe?) neighborhood of the city.

buky house

ben and bebeka

Downtown Solvang. We had fun cruising the streets. So did the bebeka.

Solvang

There are a ton of bakeries in Solvang each offering many Danish specialties. We particularly enjoyed the kringle and cheese danish at Olsen’s on Mission Drive.

Solvang

For lunch both days we picked up sandwiches, once at The Chef’s Touch in Solvang and once at Panino in Los Olivos. There are several nice patches of grass in Solvang as well as countless vineyards with rolling hills perfect for picnicking.

bebeka

ben and bebeka

Full of Life Flatbread in Los Olivos. Amazing restaurant. Only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A must-try spot if you are vising this area.

Full of Life Flatbread

Aebleskivers. Another must-try spot is Arne’s Famous Aebleskivers in Solvang. Arne’s is a dine-in restaurant but you can also purchase aebleskivers — pancake like donut holes — drizzled with raspberry jam and sprinkled with powdered sugar right from a walk-up window on the street. They are delicious.

aliskiver

ableskivers

Los Olivos. A beautiful little town with great tasting rooms, shops and restaurants.

Los Olivos

Panino

Tasting Room

Bridlewood Winery. Bridlewood is located in Santa Ynez. It is beautiful — a perfect spot to picnic. They only have one rule: If you picnic on their grounds, you have to drink their wine. Fair enough. We bought a bottle of Grenache to enjoy with our sandwiches from Panino. It was a beautiful afternoon.

Vineyard

Vineyard

root 246. On Monday evening, we ate at root 246. We kept it simple, splitting a caesar salad topped with a poached egg to start and sharing the burger and a Mexican flatbread as our entrées. Everything was fabulous. root 246 is a must-try spot as well.

root 246

Finally, we headed home, stopping in Los Angeles to meet a dear friend for lunch at Cafe Midi and dessert — some amazing cookies — at Milk. Isn’t Harry adorable?

Harry