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Since I have been given the responsibility of baking bread at work, I have become quite enamored by the process. From the smell of blooming yeast to the lugging of industrial-size mixing bowls to the feel of the dough as you roll and shape it–bread baking has become a welcome part of the day. This, coming from someone who abhorred scales and measuring cups, is quite the transformation. I realize that, though baking–especially breads–is a science, there is a lot more wiggle room and opportunity for creativity than I had always believed.

That being said, I made whole wheat focaccia using this recipe from Anne Burrell on Food Network. I followed it almost exactly, except I substituted one cup of whole wheat flour for one cup of all-purpose.

1 3/4 cups warm water
2 1/4 tsp (1 package) active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for coating and drizzling
2 Tbsp fresh herbs, chopped (I used oregano, rosemary, and thyme)

Combine the warm water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Put the bowl in a warm place until the yeast is bubbling and aromatic, at least 15 minutes.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, 1/2 cup olive oil and the yeast mixture on low speed. Once the dough has come together, continue to knead for 5 to 6 minutes on a medium speed until it becomes smooth and soft.

Transfer the dough to a clean, lightly floured surface, then knead it by hand a few times.

Coat the inside of the mixer bowl lightly with olive oil and return the dough to the bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, at least 1 hour.

Coat a sheet pan with the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil.

Put the dough onto the sheet pan and press to fit the size of the pan. Turn the dough over to coat the other side with the olive oil. Continue to stretch the dough to fit the pan. As you are doing so, spread your fingers out and make finger holes all the way through the dough.

Put the dough in the warm place until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour. While the dough is rising a second time, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Liberally sprinkle the top of the focaccia with flaky sea salt and lightly drizzle a little oil. Scatter herbs on top and bake the dough until the top of the loaf is golden brown, about 20-30 minutes. Remove the focaccia from the oven and let it cool before cutting and serving.

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Notes: this recipe actually made for better croutons than they did bread. Though it wasn’t bad, there was a lack of depth of flavor that I probably could have achieved had I let it ferment for longer (or used a different recipe). All in all, it was a fun weekend project, and I still have a bunch left over in the freezer for whenever the need for croutons arises.

4 slices bacon, cut into lardons
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 3/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat
1 onion, medium dice
5 cloves garlic, minced
6 oz white wine (I used Pinot Grigio, from a box. Don’t judge)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
1 15-oz cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
15 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves

1. In a large pot, over medium heat, saute the bacon lardons until crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove from pot and drain on paper towels.
2. Combine flour with salt and pepper and dredge the chicken thighs in the flour mixture.
3. Working in batches, add chicken thighs to bacon fat and cook 2-3 minutes each side. Remove from pot and drain on paper towels.
4. Add onion and garlic to the remaining bacon fat and saute until soft and translucent, about 6-7 minutes.
5. Pour in white wine and reduce by 2/3.
6. Add chicken broth, tomatoes, beans, thyme sprigs, and bay leaves.
7. Bring to a boil, reduce to a low simmer and stir in the reserved bacon lardons.
8. Nestle the chicken thighs into the pot and cook for 45 minutes, or until cooked through and tender.
9. Serve alone or over brown rice.

Notes: flour became very very dark (just shy of burnt, really, but thankfully the end result did not taste carcinogenic!), next time omit the flour step and simply season the chicken and sear on both sides. Flour is nice for thickening, but I think, given the length of cooking time, the stew will still thicken nicely. Also, no flour will make this dish gluten-free.

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One of my go-to salads is marinated zucchini. I’ve done it before, and I didn’t invent it, but I’m on my way to reinventing it. Here’s attempt numero uno:

1 medium zucchini, thick julienne (wide tooth blade on a mandoline)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp evoo
1/2-1 small garlic clove, grated
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tsp fresh thyme
3/4 tsp cumin
1/4 cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water and drained

Combine all ingredients and allow the salad to marinate anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours, depending on how tangy you like it.

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