Thursday, 8 March 2012

Finally... Focaccia! (and Other Food Fare)

A few weeks ago, I had planned on baking bacon and cheddar biscuits, and parmesan focaccia. And though Top Chef: Texas ended last week (yay, Paul!), it was definitely time to get back into my own kitchen and reconvene my pseudo-regular weekly Wednesday night cooking ritual. I unfortunately didn't have any usable bacon and so the universe more or less made the decision for me to go with the focaccia. My recipe and process, which I crossed between Elise's ,Tyler Florence's and Terri McCarrell's respective recipes, also made the perfect sandwich (read: minute snack vehicle) for turkey and melted Italian cheeses.

To start things off, microwave about 1 c water for about 40-50 seconds. Let it cool down for a bit and get out a packet of yeast. By the time you find the yeast, your water should be cool enough to test: dip your finger in the water; if the water is tolerably warm, it's at the right temperature to activate the yeast. In a mixing bowl, put in 1/2 c the microwaved water and add the packet of yeast and a tablespoon of granulated sugar. Give this all a stir and allow everything to sit for at least 3-5 minutes.

When the yeast mix looks a bit bubbly and has grown in volume, it's time to create your focaccia dough. With the standing mixer on low speed (and using the hook attachment), add 1/2 tsp salt dissolved in 1 tbsp water, followed by about 1/4-1/2 c at a time all-purpose flour, just until the dough starts pulling together; in total, you should need about 2.5-3 c flour. Increase the mixing speed as the flour continues to incorporate into the liquid; when your the dough starts pulling away from the sides of the bowl, slowly drizzle in about 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. Continue to let the hook knead the dough until it shapes itself into a ball.

Take the finished ball of dough and coat it in a bit of olive oil and get some plastic wrap onto the bowl. Leave this is in a warm, draft-free environment to allow the dough to rise for at least half an hour or longer so that the dough has enough time to about double in size. As you can see in the above photo, I set my doughs right on top of the heater.

As the dough is rising, gather the ingredients you plan to add onto the dough and get your oven preheating at 350°F. In addition, prep your baking dish by coating the surface with olive oil and then dust it with cornmeal. Turn out the dough in the bowl onto your baking dish and spread this out until you get an even thickness throughout (it should come out to about 1/2"). Lightly coat the surface of the dough with olive oil (dabbing it on with a paper towel works well for this) and then plastic wrap the dish and allow the dough to undergo a second rising.

After about 10-15 minutes, uncover the plastic wrap and add the focaccia's signature depressions by simply poking the dough; add onto this your ingredients. I added about 1/2 c shredded parmesan cheese (the bagged stuff; not the cheese that comes in a bottle), a sprinkling each of garlic powder and dried Italian herbs, and a small drizzling of even more olive oil. Bake this on the lower oven rack for about 15-20 minutes; for a slightly chewier taste, bake this for only 10 minutes. Then, cue the tv magic music...

And voilà, you're focaccia's ready to eat! Actually, after the bake time was up, I wasn't satisfied with the colouration of the focaccia's exterior and so I broiled it (still on the lower oven rack) for about 3-5 minutes until I got the golden brown crust I had expected. Do be careful at this stage; not only do you want to not burn yourself, but you also don't want to burn the focaccia and have to start all over again.

If you can handle it, wait for the focaccia to cool down slightly before slicing into it. Using a bread knife or any other serrated knife (you don't want to depress the bread and flatten it accidentally, especially with the pressure of a blunt blade), cut out a wedge of bread. Check out the height on this one, as well as the slightly moist texture.

Delicious on its own, I really wanted a focaccia sandwich. So, I sliced the bread in half and piled on thinly sliced turkey and a generous helping of mixed and shredded Italian cheese. This then went into the microwave for about 45 seconds so that the cheese could have time to melt. Once finished cooking, I then immediately topped this off with the top slice of focaccia.

And yes, it was that good that I made a second one. Judgement free zone here, I hope. :-P

Before signing off for the night, I do want to note to relatively recent food fare experience I've enjoyed of late. The first took place this past Sunday at Marilyn's. She and her husband, Mark, had invited me over for Sunday brunch (another great thank you if you're reading this!!) and made a beautiful frittata that included sausage and sweet bell peppers.

Accompanying the frittata were a quickly Denison-esque red bouquet of pomegranate juice with sparkling water; fresh radishes; and slices of tomato with olive oil, salt, freshly ground black pepper and green onion. And of course, I can't forget the toast!

And today, I went on another round of Columbus's Dine Originals Week, this time catching up with one of my foodie colleagues, Jennifer (and another thank you to you, too, if you're reading this!!). We returned to The Oak Room at the Granville Inn and rather enjoyed their three-course menu selection for only $10 each. For the first course, we had a velvety smooth red pepper cream sauce which definitely worked to counter the rather chilly Thursday weather.

For our second course, we were invited to choose two items from a selection of 8. As you can see above, Jennifer chose the Mozzarella and Roasted Tomato Flatbread, and the Chintz Room Chicken Salad. As part of our conversation, I learned of Jennifer's childhood connection to this particular chicken salad which had specifically been available at the Chintz Room, the dining area of the Lazarus department store. Much like our Detroit-based Hudson's which had first been sold to Marshall Field's, Lazarus was merged with Macy's. If I remember correctly, I always went for Hudson's dining area's gooey chocolate chip cookies.

Not meaning to repeat something I've already tried, I went for the Fedora Chopped Salad and the 1/2 Classic Reuben. As it turned out, I tried the salad at last season's Dine Originals Week (that time with chicken) and this time around, it was exceptionally well-dressed, leaning slightly to the sweeter side. As for the reuben; simply put, it was one of the best I've ever had the chance of eating.

For dessert, we were served the House Made Cookies, from The Chef's Table Wine Shop & Gourmet-to-Go. With a bit of a surprise. this particular serving was the perfect ending to a great lunch, and light years better than the cookies we had the last time around. And on this note, I sign off for the night. For the entire photo album of this tridium of experiences, click here.

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