Monday, June 18, 2012

Introduction and Focaccia recipe

Thanks for reading.  I enjoy cooking but often tell myself I don't have the time or energy to cook after work.  We would order take-out food several days a week and spend as much time waiting to get it as it would take to make any number of things ourselves.  My wife and I had a child about three months ago, and we're making as much of our own food as we can both to save money and to better understand where what we eat comes from.

This blog is meant to catalog some of the recipes I have tried and will try; some of these are old favorites that I've been making for years and some will be brand new.  I'll talk a little about some of the equipment we have as well, as we have a lot of marginally useful kitchen tools.  I'll talk about where I get what I use; we live outside of Boston, Massachusetts, and get our food from Trader Joe's, Costco, Stop and Shop, Shaw's, Super 88/Hong Kong Market, and sometimes Whole Foods.  I'll look at nutrition for some of the dishes, but in a very informal way.  I'll try to give some tips and shortcuts when I'm more familiar with the food I'm making, and think about how to improve or streamline dishes I'm making for the first time.  

Since the title of this blog is "Cooking Experimentation" I should start with something that was an experiment.  I found this recipe for focaccia and gave it a shot.  The website where I found it is, and I saved it to my computer as a PDF file.  It's easy to do on a Mac, when you select "print" there is a PDF option in the bottom left of the print window.  I like to do this because in the past I have found recipes on the internet that I've loved, but then haven't been able to find again.  Any recipes that pass muster are now saved as PDF files so I don't have to look for them.  Take a look at the recipe before you go any further; the first step when you cook anything should be to read the recipe beginning to end.

The first stumbling block I came upon in the recipe was the amount of yeast to use.  I purchased a 2lb package of yeast at Costco that comes in a large bag, not in envelopes as the recipe calls for.  I set out to find out how much yeast is in a packet of yeast and was confused by the terminology on the package I had.  There are many types of yeast, and I have Fleischmann's Instant Dry Yeast.  The equivalency websites have instant yeast, dry yeast, active dry yeast, instant rise yeast, and every permutation of "instant" "dry" and "yeast" without actually putting them together in that order.  The Fleischmann's website made it tricky to find the answer but I finally found it: 1 packet of yeast = 2 and 1/4 teaspoons instant dry yeast.

Of course, I didn't realize the recipe said teaspoons until after I had poured 2 tablespoons into the mixture already, and did my best to scoop most of it out.  I probably used twice as much yeast as the recipe calls for in the end.  A website told me that too much yeast can give the bread a - get this - yeasty taste, but using a little more in this recipe didn't hurt the flavor.

Most of the flavor of the bread comes from the spices added to the top, but I don't have Spice Islands brand Italian spice mix.  I used the spices hanging around the kitchen, and didn't really measure how much of each I used.  I sprinkled the bread with thyme, oregano, tarragon, granulated garlic with parsley, fresh ground pepper, Himalayan pink sea salt (from Trader Joe's), and a little bit of crushed red pepper.  I used Trader Joe's 100% Italian Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil to drizzle over the top, and I went over the 2 tablespoons called for in the recipe on purpose; I used around 3 tablespoons.  I used Trader Joe's unbleached white flour, and grated parmesan cheese instead of shredded.

I used a meat thermometer to get the water to between 120 and 130 degrees F, but I had to estimate a bit.  The thermometer's lowest temperature is 140 degrees F, but the intervals between 10 degree notches were uniform so I was able to approximate.  It's important for the water to be warm for the yeast to react, but not too warm because it may kill the yeast.  Yeast is a living organism and gives off carbon dioxide as it feeds on the sugar in the recipe, which is how the bread will get its airy texture.

Dough hook

We have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, the same model as this KitchenAid KSM150PSWH Artisan Tilt-Head Stand Mixer, and I used the dough hook (seen above).  It made it very easy to add all the ingredients and let the machine do the work.  I kept it on the lowest speed and added flour as necessary to keep the dough from being too wet.  Depending on the recipe dough should be dry or wet, but this was my first time with this recipe and I had to follow my instincts a bit.  Instinct told me more flour, so I added a few pinches until the dough stopped sticking to the bowl.  I also had to stop the mixer a couple of times to turn the dough and stir it around to ensure even mixing.  I love the mixer, it makes everything so easy.

I followed the rest of the recipe exactly as it states, allowing the bread to rise for 30 minutes before sprinkling the herbs and preheating the oven.

I sprinkled the pan with flour to keep the bread from sticking.  Here it is just before going in the oven:

The pan I used came from The Pampered Chef (, which is a concept akin to a tupperware party.  You order discounted kitchen equipment from someone who acts as a host for the party, and the host gets an even bigger discount on their purchase.  They have good stoneware at the Pampered Chef, and we decided to buy this rectangular pan rather than a round pizza stone.  You can still make pizza in a rectangular pan after all.  I've read conflicting things about preheating stoneware such as this, and for this recipe I did not warm the stone.  We've made pizzas a lot using this stone, and it often takes longer for the bottom of the pizza to cook while using it.  When I made this bread I moved the oven rack down to below the center of the oven, around 1/3 of the way up the oven. I baked the bread for 34 minutes (the recipe says 30-35) and I think it came out great.  

I didn't take a picture when it came out of the oven, so this picture of the frozen bread will have to suffice.  This is 1/6 of the original; I cut the bread into six pieces when it cooled and froze four of them.  Today I ate my first defrosted segment and the bread was just as good after a little time in the toaster oven.  The bread came out pretty good, but I think without the herbs and seasonings it would be a little bland.  Nevertheless, I'm keeping the recipe for future use.  

This blog and many others are listed on Globe of Blogs

No comments:

Post a Comment