Garlic Fontina Flatbread

Food Blog May 2013-1256I have a thing about garlic bread.  Achingly soft butter, a scattering of herbs, pungent, sharp garlic paste, spread thickly on sourdough baguette and broiled until the butter bubbles and browns and the garlic takes on a toasty depth; what’s not to love?  I make it in the oven, I make it on the grill, I’ve even tried turning it into a sandwich.  But all too often, the process of toasting leaves the edges of the bread blackened and the crust just too crunchy for my taste.  I want crisp toastiness, but I don’t want mouth-scraping shards of bread shrapnel.

Food Blog May 2013-1233Enter flatbread.  I don’t mean the dry, cracker-like stuff carelessly sprinkled with toppings and served up as an appetizer.  I mean something a little puffier, a little richer, a little cheesier.  A few months ago, I dabbled with a Food Network recipe for Spinach and Cheese Flatbread, and was delighted by the elastic dough that bubbled up into a soft-but-crisp rectangle.  It is chewy and golden, but not quite as sturdy as a pizza dough.  The bottom, slapped against a well-oiled sheet pan, gets just crisp enough to support all but the most ridiculously sized slices (don’t ask me how I know this.  Thank you), so you aren’t left with a square that wilts as you hold it.

Food Blog May 2013-1236As soon as I ate the FN version, I realized this was the answer to my garlic bread dreams.  The dough would be smeared with a loving, excessive layer of garlic-butter-herb-are-you-drooling-yet?-paste, sprinkled with fontina, which melts beautifully and has a mild funk I really enjoy, and baked until crispy toasty nirvana resulted.

Food Blog May 2013-1238My results approached sublimity, and the shortcomings were entirely human error, which seems fitting.  The paste didn’t spread very evenly because this is a soft dough: it threatened to tear when I applied a spatula, so I ended up smearing and dolloping my mixture with my fingers.  You could easily solve this by melting your butter instead of just softening it, and then pouring the mixture evenly over the dough.  Then, because I was afraid the butter and garlic would burn at pizza-cooking temperatures, I was pretty liberal with my cheese application, which meant that the toasty roasty golden color I was expecting didn’t quite happen.  Another minute or two in the oven might have helped, but we were hungry.  A little less cheese might have helped too, but seriously, less cheese?  Totally unreasonable.

Food Blog May 2013-1229Food Blog May 2013-1231Food Blog May 2013-1232In any case, the bread itself was puffy and buttery and decadent.  The garlic loses some of its pungency during baking, but retains that addictive sharpness and bright tingly aroma that makes it so good.  The dollops of butter became dimples of puddly richness that, upon reflection, reminded me a little bit of the center of a really good bialy.  The bottom of the crust is like an old-style pan pizza: golden with burst air bubbles and just oiled enough to leave your fingertips in need of a napkin.

Food Blog May 2013-1251This is a great happy hour snack.  Since it heats up the house, it gives you a great excuse to sit out on your patio, or deck, or picnic blanket, or camp chair.  It pairs well with a crisp, summery wine, and equally well with a frosty pint of beer (or maybe, since, you know, Cinco de Mayo, a classic Corona with lime, or a salt-and-cayenne-rimmed margarita).  You can use any combination of herbs you like.  I chose what was happening right outside my back door:

Oregano – I love the fuzzy leaves on this little guy. Food Blog May 2013-1241

Basil – back in late fall, I relocated a few stalks of basil from the supermarket clamshell container to a vase of water, and instead of wilting, they grew roots!  I shook my head, still in Oregon mindset, while planting them – they would never make it through the winter – but this is Southern California, so of course they did, and are now flourishing.  I’ve read that plucking the blossoms off encourages them to keep producing leaves, so every day or so I faithfully scatter the delicate white blooms. Food Blog May 2013-1244

Parsley – my parsley plant is looking a bit wild these days; it has bolted thanks to the heat. Food Blog May 2013-1246

But if you peer down inside, amidst the sunburned jungle, you can see there are still some stems worth serving! Food Blog May 2013-1249

As for additional toppings, you could add sundried tomatoes or thin rings of bell pepper or even jalapeno to the butter paste if you want to get fancy about it, and it would certainly fare well dipped into a bubbly saucer of marinara, if that’s your thing.  Either way, I think you should make this.

Maybe today!

Are you making it yet?

Food Blog May 2013-1255 Garlic Fontina Flatbread

adapted from Food Network’s Spinach and Cheese Flatbread

For the dough:
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (it should feel just slightly warmer than body temperature when you dip your finger in to test it)
2 ¼ – 2 ½ cups bread flour
1 tsp salt (I like coarse sea salt)
1-2 TB olive oil

 

For the toppings:
8-10 cloves garlic, minced (about ¼ cup in all)
1 stick very soft butter (1/2 cup)
2 TB each chopped fresh parsley and basil
1 tsp chopped fresh oregano
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1-2 cups grated fontina cheese

 

  • Sprinkle the sugar and yeast over the warm water, stir gently to combine, and set aside to proof for 5 minutes or so.  The yeast will begin to bubble and smell like warm bread.
  • In a large bowl (I use the bowl of my electric stand mixer), combine 2 ¼ cups of flour, the salt, and the olive oil, and whisk together briefly.  The olive oil will create little streaks of moistness, like barely dampened sand.
  • Once the yeast mixture is bubbly, pour it into the flour and mix with the paddle attachment or a wooden spoon just until a sticky dough comes together.  Then, if you are using a stand mixer, switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed for about ten minutes.  If the dough is still relentlessly sticky by minute six, smearing tackily across the sides of the bowl and schlopping stubbornly on the bottom, add an additional ¼ cup flour to make it more manageable.  If you don’t have a stand mixer, plop your dough out onto a floured board and knead by hand.
  • After about ten minutes, the dough should be smooth and elastic, though still fairly sticky.  That’s okay.  That stickiness will keep it moist and supple and lovely.
  • Place the dough – more or less sticky as it is – into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Set it aside in a warm place until doubled.  This may take about an hour and a half, but my kitchen was about 80 degrees on the day I made this, so it only took mine an hour to puff triumphantly.
  • Gently deflate the dough and let it rest for ten minutes.  Then, stretch and spread it carefully on a well-oiled baking sheet.  If it stubbornly snaps back against itself and refuses to form a nice rectangle, let it rest another ten minutes and try again.  The gluten needs to relax a bit after all that rising work it has done.
  • When you have the shape you want, cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel and leave it to rise again for half an hour, until it has doubled yet again.
  • While the dough rises, preheat your oven to 450F and prep your toppings.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the butter, garlic, herbs, and red pepper flakes into a chunky paste.  I haven’t added any salt here, because the cheese is salty, but if you are a sodium fiend sprinkle in some salt to taste.
  • Approach your risen dough with caution: you may be able to smear on the garlic butter paste with a spatula, but you may have to carefully coat the surface with just your hands.  It will depend on the texture and elasticity of your dough.  If it won’t spread the way you want and you get frustrated with it, microwave the paste for a few seconds until the butter is melty, then pour the mixture on instead of smearing.
  • Top your buttered dough with an even sprinkle of cheese, keeping in mind that where the cheese completely covers the buttery garlic paste, not much toasting will occur.  I’ll leave determining quantities and coverage up to you and your preferences.
  • Place your topped flatbread into the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes, until the edges of the dough are puffed and nicely browned, and the cheese has turned golden and sizzles.  Let it cool on a countertop for 5-10 minutes, just to let the cheese cool from molten temperatures a bit, then slice and serve.

Food Blog May 2013-1252

 

Parsley Pie Crust

Food Blog January 2013-0412

I’ve never been one to start at the beginning.  Stories require backing up and wait- wait- let me explain who that was.  Dreams are recalled near the end, and only slowly do the initial details return.  Directions often skip a step or come in fuddled order.  I don’t know whether this is a consequence of a disorganized brain, or whether it’s a signal of confused genius (hah!).  The Odyssey, with its in media res trope, was an enormity to my teenage brain when I first encountered it during high school.  What a wonderful way to present information, and how validating and revelatory it was to find out that this was a classical method!

So it was no big surprise that, when facing the first week of my dough challenge, I couldn’t start at the beginning.  Ruhlman arranges Ratio with doughs first, true, but he seems to traverse the category in a solids-to-liquids order.  Bread comes first, pate-a-choux closes the chapter.  To me, this was even more intimidating than the idea of tackling dough at all.  Bread is something I want to build toward, not race into headfirst.

I flipped ahead in the book to take on my own personal Waterloo: pie crust.  Supposedly “easy as.”  But I’ve never found it that way.  My crust is somehow tough AND crumbly.  It collapses, it sticks, it refuses to roll in a smooth circle, it requires patching and crimping and pressing and it’s just easier to buy Pillsbury.  But now I’m in it, and I’ve got to conquer this thing.

Despite this personal beginning, it wasn’t enough for me to just make a pie crust.  You guys have probably all made pie crust.  How boring would it be for me to just report on the quiche I made?  At the end of the pie crust section, Ruhlman lists a number of alternatives and additions.  Ground nuts, cracked peppercorns, a dusting of spices, parmesan cheese?  I had never considered this.  I had to try it out.

Our quiche would have a parsley crust.  Coincidentally, this made my experimentation a perfect candidate for submission to Weekend Herb Blogging.

(I started with parsley, and then I started imagining adding lemon zest, and big particles of cracked black pepper, and then I realized that I just wanted some of the herbed buttermilk biscuits I so heralded when I made them for my Bittman project.  Biscuits are in our future, friends.)

The ratio for pie dough – at least this one – is 3, 2, 1.  Three parts flour, two parts fat, one part water.  This is by weight.  The problem here is, despite my desire to conquer this beast, and despite the impressive (read: verging on ridiculous) collection of kitchen tools I’ve amassed over the years (pot sticker press, anyone?), I don’t have a kitchen scale.  That makes it hard to work in weights.

Food Blog January 2013-0385

Fortunately, though he advocates it persistently, Ruhlman provides the general weight range for a cup of flour, so I worked with that.

Every pie crust recipe I’ve ever read, Ruhlman’s ratio included, calls for the water to be ice cold.  I get this: you want the fat to remain cold during this construction phase so it can melt and leave flaky pockets as it bakes.  Ice water keeps things frosty.  I decided to skip the ice cube middle man and stuck my water in the freezer for a few minutes.

Food Blog January 2013-0396

Usual procedure here: cut in the butter, add salt (and parsley, in this case), incorporate just enough water to bring things together, form into a disk and refrigerate to firm the fat back up.  Then you can roll out, fill, and bake.

Food Blog January 2013-0398

Food Blog January 2013-0401

That all sounds pretty simple, but somewhere in there things tend to go wrong for me.  This crust was (relatively) easy to work with.  It didn’t disintegrate, it didn’t melt, it didn’t even crack in too many places.  I think playing with biscuit and cracker doughs this past year accustomed me to the feeling and delicacy required to not destroy a circle of dough.  It was barely moist and not exactly elastic, but it did have a bit of give.  It baked to a lovely golden color, the flecks of green were intriguing and special, and the quiche that rested just wobbling between its sturdy walls was delicious.

Food Blog January 2013-0407

But the crust was tough.

I can assume a few reasons for this.

1.) It’s possible my ratio was off.  Because I didn’t weigh my flour, I may have had too much or too little in the mix.

2.) More likely, I overworked the dough.  I pressed and kneaded and folded until the dry bits at the bottom of my mixing bowl were willing to play along, and perhaps I was too insistent about that demand for inclusion.

Food Blog January 2013-0408

Like everything else, it seems pie crust needs a revisit to get it right.  The feeling of the dough between my fingers is familiar, but I have to learn its textural intricacies.  How much water is just enough?  How crumbly can it be and still hold together?  How much of the dryness do the fat and water absorb while the wrapped disk rests?  Without another attempt or three, I won’t know.

But it tasted good.  It crunched against the quiche and while it didn’t shatter at the slightest fork pressure, it did have that dryness against the teeth you expect from crust.  The parsley contributed a grassy freshness and made the flavor more complex, especially the following day.  I could see this working similarly well with dill, or thyme, or maybe even marjoram, all of which pair nicely with broccoli and mushrooms.

Onward, then.

Food Blog January 2013-0417

Broccoli mushroom quiche with parsley pie crust

(The quiche recipe is my mom’s.  I’m sure she got it from somewhere, but I don’t know that she even knows where anymore.  I’ve changed very little here, though her version usually contains bacon instead of mushrooms)

Crust:

1 heaping, lightly fluffed cup of flour (or 6 oz., if you’re doing this properly)

1 stick (8 TB, 4 oz., etc) butter, cut into 16 or so pieces

2-4 oz. very cold water

Pinch salt

2 TB chopped parsley (or dill, or oregano, or marjoram, or thyme… whatever you like best, I expect)

Filling:

1 cup small broccoli florets

6-8 crimini mushrooms, sliced thinly

¼ cup green onions, diced

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

4 eggs

1 cup milk

1 ½ cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese

½ cup grated swiss cheese

First, make the pie crust.  Measure out your water and put it into the freezer while you assemble your other ingredients.

In a bowl, combine the flour and butter pieces.  With your hands or a pastry blender (I always use the pastry blender – I hate the too-dry feeling of slowly crusting flour on my hands), cut the butter into the flour until it is pea-sized chunks and smaller.  Add the salt and herbs and combine gently.

Dribble in some water – 2 oz. to start with – and combine.  If the dough really isn’t coming together, add more water.  When you can press a few teaspoons of the dough between your fingertips and it stays together, turn the whole mass out onto a floured board and work lightly to bring it together into a disk.

Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and stow it in the fridge for half an hour or so.

When the dough disk is cold and firm, bring it back to your floured board and remove the plastic wrap.  Roll it out, moving a rolling pin (or wine bottle) in a few strokes straight away from you and back toward you only.  Avoid diagonal movements.  The dough will become a long oval.  Then, flip the dough over and turn it 90 degrees so you are facing a fat, flour-drenched oval instead.  Roll again, still moving the rolling pin straight away from and back toward you.  Repeat this process until you have a rough circle an inch or two larger than the diameter of your pie plate.

Lightly roll half of the dough around your rolling pin and drape it loosely into the pie plate, unrolling as you go, letting the crust settle into the dish.  Trim, crimp, or fold over any dangling edges as aesthetically as you are able.

Set aside (or perhaps return to the refrigerator?) while you make the filling.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Heat some olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  When it is shimmering, add the mushrooms and give them a good stir, taking care that as many as possible have contact with the bottom of the pan (that is, don’t leave them piled atop one another if you can help it).  Then leave them alone for a good five minutes, or until they begin to develop a golden crust.

While the mushrooms are getting golden, steam or microwave the broccoli florets until they are just crisp-tender and still very bright green.  Set them aside.

Turn your mushrooms and let them sizzle for another five minutes or so.  When they are golden on both sides, turn the heat down to medium and add the onions.  Cook until soft and translucent.  Toss the broccoli in the pan, then add salt and pepper to taste.  Mom often adds tarragon or marjoram at this point as well – start with ½ tsp and see what you like.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

While the vegetables cool, beat the eggs and milk together.  Add a dash of grated nutmeg, if you like, or some cracked black pepper.  As the quiche bakes, this will become a lovely firm custard.

To assemble, fill the pie crust with the vegetables, spreading them in an even layer.  Gently pour the custard over the vegetables.  Toss the shreds of cheese together and spread them evenly across the top of the filling.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the cheese is golden and the quiche has puffed in the middle.  If it’s not puffed yet, it’s not done.  The ingredients will be cooked through, but when you cut into it you will find a disappointing watery layer at the bottom.  Give it another few minutes.

With the center puffed and the cheese sizzling, remove the quiche from the oven and let it sit for 5-10 minutes so the cheese can solidify a bit and doesn’t string all over when you try to cut through it.

Slice and serve. Food Blog January 2013-0418

Bars and Biscuits

Thyme for our herbed biscuits

Last week’s reflections were a bit morose: the thoughts of a person overwhelmed and trying to settle into some kind of groove.  Because while too deep grooves can become ruts, no groove at all just leaves us… squares in a hipster-filled world?  Not just squares, but squares tipping and zig-zagging confusedly over an unfamiliar landscape trying to dig a corner in here and there.  New home, new job, new routine, and no chances to explore yet.

All that has changed.  Shallow wheel marks dig in behind us.  Our adventures have begun, and they began (don’t be offended) with booze.

Last Friday, our dear friend J. appeared at the door, bearing duty-free Japanese whiskey from his time in Tokyo, and a phone full of bar recommendations from an associate.  After a quick tour of our new digs (you guys have a backyard?!), we set off into the night and ended up at Oldfield’s Liquor Room on Venice, where J. bought me a pre-birthday cocktail called the Blonde Comet.  Bourbon, crème de peach, fresh grapefruit juice, and angostura bitters.  I’m not much of a bourbon gal, but the name was too good to pass up.  I like to think of myself as something of a blonde comet every once in a while… The drink was tasty.  Strong, but tempered by the freshness of the grapefruit and the stem of fresh mint they plunged in as a garnish.

We caught up over this first round and then decided to explore further.  A quick amble down the street brought us to Bigfoot West, but it was so crowded and loud inside that not even the promise of creative whiskey cocktails could entice us.  We were back in J.’s car and rolling toward Santa Monica.

We ended up at The Daily Pint, where it smelled like peat and old shoes and yeast, and the impressive chalkboards full of beer options and the seemingly endless whiskey and scotch menu made J.’s and N.’s eyes shine suspiciously.  I got (don’t laugh) a pint of Spiced Caramel Apple Ale that was neither as sweet nor as fruity as it sounds.  J. and N. got something peaty and boggy and fiery, and I only needed a whiff to know I wasn’t interested.  We settled ourselves in at a tall table next to the pool and shuffleboard stations.  You must know this: I don’t like beer.  When I have to, I will settle for the fruitiest, sweetest, most un-beer-like option I can find, and when I do, I like it to be ice cold so it doesn’t have a chance to taste as much like beer as I know it’s going to.  As we sat and chatted and laughed, time passed and my beer warmed.  Where it tasted like yeast and carbonation to begin with, as it came to room temperature the flavors got rounder and deeper, and by the time I was sipping the last half inch or so in the glass it did have some spicy apple flavors to it.  I’m not sure I would order it again, but it wasn’t a bad beer, and the company and high energy atmosphere made it a good experiment.

It was almost midnight when J. asked if we wanted a snack.  He was thinking, he said, hot dogs or pastrami.  I’ve been experiencing some cognitive dissonance when it comes to our new location – scoffing when I see patrol cars that say LAPD on the side: what are we, in a movie or something? – grinning with disbelief as I pass Warner Brothers studios on my drive home from work – but something about that night made me remember where we were.  I just knew he was thinking of Pink’s.  Did I want to go to the little stand with the most famous hot dogs in the state?  Yes.  Yes I did.

At almost 1am, as my contacts screamed and the almost-responsible-adult inside me withered and gave up, we were standing in line with at least 30 other people, waiting for a hot dog. 

 

 

 

I got a New York dog – traditional hot dog topped with a sweet onion sauce – and added shredded cheddar cheese.  N. and J. got Chicago dogs, loaded with lettuce, tomato, and pickle.  We sat at a crooked little table and took in the space: dozens upon dozens of signed celebrity photographs who had visited Pink’s, some of whom had given their names to a hot dog.

 

Well, N. and J. took in the space.  I took in my hot dog.  It was fantastic.  The skin was taut and crisp and snapped between my teeth.  The onion sauce was thick and sweet with hints of caramel, like the best sweet and sour sauce you’ve ever tasted, and the cheese, though it could have been melted more, added a nice mellow counterpoint to the meat and the sauce.  Delicious.  And it made me feel like a kid: I was back to the nights in high school when, after band competitions, we used to go to Denny’s and order chili cheese fries and chocolate milkshakes.  Those were the days before we knew heartburn was real…

There really is no logical transition I can make to this week’s Bittman, aside from the lame play on the White Stripes song I provided as the title of this post, so let’s stop pretending and just talk about biscuits.  And let’s not take our sweet little time about it.

85. Herbed Buttermilk Biscuits: Combine 3 cups flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 4 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 tablespoon thyme leaves.  Use your fingers to rub in 1 ½ sticks of butter until the mixture resembles small peas.  Add 1 cup buttermilk and stir until just combined.  Drop large spoonfuls onto a baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees until golden, about 15 minutes. 

With measurements and oven temp clearly provided, I had very little to guess about or change in this recipe.  Because I was using lemon in other parts of dinner, I decided on the spur of the moment to add a teaspoon or two of lemon zest to the dough to see what would happen.  You could probably change up the herb used, add cracked black pepper or flaky sea salt, or even add finely chopped raisins.  I wouldn’t change the buttermilk, though, as the tang it adds is entirely necessary.  I even got excited tasting the raw dough, with a slight crunch from the salt and a suggestion of sweetness from the tiny bit of sugar.

The bowl of dough produced 15 biscuits.  I put nine on my greased baking tray and the other 6 on a plastic-wrap-lined plate in the freezer for another occasion.  After 15 minutes in the oven, they were browned on top, slightly crunchy around the outsides, and knee-waveringly fluffy inside.  Quash your fears about the amount of butter here: it really makes a worthwhile textural difference.  It doesn’t hurt the flavor either – these were rich but light, and the buttermilk and lemon zest added intriguing sourness that brightened the mixture and made them more interesting than your standard dinner biscuit.

We ate these – no, that’s not right – we wolfed them down alongside grilled chicken sausages and grilled planks of zucchini wrapped around a mixture of goat cheese, lemon juice, thyme, parsley, and pepper.

It was delightful.  And here’s the delicious secret: if you end up with some leftover goat cheese mixture, and you whip in some honey, and then if you happen to split one of those fluffy delightful biscuits down the middle and perhaps toast the open sides in a toaster oven or under the broiler for a moment, and dollop a hefty tablespoon of the sweetened goat cheese on top, and eat it, you have the most delightful little end-of-summer breakfast biscuit you’ve had in years.  And if you’d been out late the night before and perhaps chased some whiskey with a hot dog, a sprinkle of extra salt in the goat cheese filling would make this a quite decent hangover breakfast too, as a cure for excessive adventuring.

Next week we settle more comfortably into this lovely little groove we’re making for ourselves: another restaurant, another Bittman, another decade(!), of our new little lives.