Garlic basil focaccia


DSC_0616Focaccia sounds like an enigmatic lover. It’s the kind of romantic name that would roll off my tongue after going easy on the wine, when in the throws of passion I’d utter in a husky femme fatale voice and say ‘oh focaccia my love, I have killed Valentino to be with you forever’ or something idiotic like that.. except Focaccia isn’t some  chivalrous lover, it’s a chivalrous carb form, a wondrous bread if you must. A sort of flattened bread, slicked with olive oil and a treat to end all treats. Much like focaccia the lover, you’d want to take this bread back to bed with you.

Wonderful as it is, I decided to up the ante by adding in hints of garlic and basil, seeing that harsh winters were not too kindly with my basil plant I decided to experiment with focaccia and the results were nothing short of magnificent. It was delightful and not too overwhelming. The best part however, was that it was easy to make.

Not too fussy and without too many ingredients

DSC_0475Flour, sugar, yeast, salt, olive oil, basil and garlic.. also water which I forgot to picture.

DSC_0477Chop the garlic and basil not too fine.

DSC_0478we begin with the garlic part of focaccia and I do this by making some garlic oil. I didn’t want to put bits of garlic in my bread as I want the garlic flavors, but not too pronounced. Heat some olive oil in a pan or vessel of choice.

DSC_0480add in the chopped bits of garlic

DSC_0485let the oil heat up slowly sizzling the garlic

DSC_0486slowly as the oil heats the garlic will start oozing its flavours.

DSC_0487like so..

DSC_0488and when it just starts turning brown you turn off the heat because they will keep getting darker in the hot oil.

DSC_0489at this moment when the oil is really hot you also add in the chopped basil

DSC_0490 the basil will sizzle with the garlic and you’d wonder why this aroma has never been used for creating incense sticks.

Leave it to cool and start with prepping flour for the bread.

DSC_0491sugar into a cup

DSC_0493followed by warm water

DSC_0494followed by sprinkling of yeast. leave it to proof for about 10 minutes and enjoy the proofing show from afar without disturbing it please.

DSC_0495Use a big bowl or vessel of choice for the initial mixing of the flour. here is the flour in question.

DSC_0497sprinkle in the salt.

DSC_0498and mix and create a crater of sorts in the middle. This is where our liquid items will go i.e the yeasty water and the oil, and speaking of the oil..

DSC_0499aha!! it has cooled down and now we just have a small task at hand.. we need to get rid of these bits of garlic.

DSC_0500I use chopsticks, but please feel free to use fingers, spoon, fork.. it’s your oil.

DSC_0501chopsticks are efficient. this is in essence very good aromatic and strong-smelling garlic oil with a hint of basil. here is where I realized I need MORE BASIL!!

DSC_0502Back our yeasty water. see how well it has foamed.

DSC_0503Water into the flour

DSC_0504Garlic basil oil into the flour and get a mixing

DSC_0505mix with yer hands until it all just comes together.

DSC_0511you need space for kneading.. so dump it on a very very clean surface and start kneading.

DSC_0513I knead by pushing the dough forward and pulling it back. This is where I thought would be a good time to add some more basil.

DSC_0516Basil meet dough. Dough meet basil.

DSC_0517cover and knead

DSC_0518like so

DSC_0519and like this

DSC_0520keep kneading to form a smooth ball. I worked on this dough for about 10 minutes. It gives you serious muscles but if you’re not a fan of working out then by all means use your muggle gadgets.

DSC_0525Now this dough, like any other yeast dough needs to rest. I used the same bowl from the initial mixing and poured in some oil, because we do not want our lover to stick do we?

DSC_0527coat the entire dough with the oil and you can see that it’s a beautiful soft dough.

DSC_0528Cover and let rest for at least 1-2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size. If your house isn’t warm enough it might take longer but don’t fret.. it will get fatter.

DSC_0530there!! so big, so beautiful. Flecked so daintily with basil.. sigh!!

DSC_0531Now retrieve a pan or tin from the abyss of your pantry which you’d want the focaccia to bake in. Oil generously!

DSC_0533Pull your risen dough out of its hibernating vessel. You don’t need to deflate or anything, because we will soon be puncturing its smooth exterior with much-needed dimples.

DSC_0534Plop it on the oil.

DSC_0535and using your fingers, spread it to fit into the pan.

DSC_0537Like so. You only need gently coax it with your fingers and this smooth dough will fit beautifully. If you want a very fat focaccia please use a smaller, less wider pan.. however I like them lovers a bit lean so…

DSC_0539Now we oil it more, because it’s focaccia and it needs the good stuff. be sure to use good olive oil all the way.

DSC_0540Massage in the oil gently.

DSC_0543Cover well with a cling film and let rest again for another 45 minutes or until the dough has visibly risen and puffed up.

DSC_0544like so.

DSC_0546It needs some more olive oil. Don’t be shy and spread on. Don’t forget this is focaccia not some virtuous salad, so spread on the oil and do not feel ashamed.

DSC_0547like so. Make sure all it’s pretty dimples have some amount of oil pooling in it.

DSC_0549scatter some sea salt on top and now it’s ready for the oven.

DSC_0550Time for celebration!! a jubilant slab of exquisite focaccia to be feasted on. devour with your eyes for now and let cool a bit.

DSC_0566while it cooled I brushed some more olive oil because why not?

DSC_0608

There you go!! Dip in some more olive oil and enjoy!!!

The garlic and basil flavors were not overwhelming but very mild and subtle. If you want bigger flavors, by all means increase the garlic and basil amounts.

Ingredients

Strong bread Flour 250g (about 2 cups)

Warm water 200 mls (about 3/4th cup)

Yeast 1 teaspoon

Sugar 1 tablespoon

Salt 1 teaspoon

Basil 10-15 leaves or more for stronger basil flavour

Garlic 1 clove (more if you want a stronger garlic taste)

Extra virgin Olive oil 75 mls (5 tablespoons) + more

Sea salt (optional) 1 teaspoon

Recipe:

Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the chopped garlic until it starts turning brown. Turn off the heat under the oil and add the chopped basil. Let cool. Once cooled discard the garlic and retain the basil.

Mix the sugar and warm water and add the yeast. Let it start foaming on top. It takes about 5-10 minutes.

In a separate bowl add the flour and salt. Make a well in the center and add the yeast water and oil. Mix until it starts clumping together and knead to form a smooth dough. In case the dough is too dry add some more water a little at a time. Knead for at least 10 minutes until the dough is very smooth and slightly springy to the touch.

Let the dough rest in a well oiled bowl for at least 1-2 hrs or until it has doubled in size.

Once the dough has risen, tip it out on a well oiled baking sheet of your choice and spread using your fingers to give it the characteristic focaccia dimples.

Smear some more oil on top and cover with cling film and let rest in until puffed up (about 45 minutes)

Once it’s risen pour some more oil ( about 3-4 tablespoons) on top and let it pool in the focaccia dimples. Sprinkle some good sea salt on top or regular salt or none if you wish.

Bake at 190℃ for 25- 30 minutes or until the top has turned golden and the bread has risen gorgeously.

Let cool for a bit and brush again with some olive oil.

Serve with hummus (see recipe here) or just plain olive oil.

I eat mine with butter 😉

Enjoy!!

DSC_0616

Homemade Pita bread


DSC_0905I ta, you ta, we all scream for pita! ok, this makes no sense but these pillowy pita breads do! No, I haven’t gone completely insane and while you can buy perfectly fine pita breads in the supermarket, they wouldn’t be nearly as good as the ones you make at home. For starters these involve your blood, sweat and tears, or just some sweat or none.

Once you’ve made your own pitas you’d not bother buying one.

After many a failed attempts at baking pitas in the oven, I decided to give it another approach and now I’d want to kick myself for never trying this out.

Let’s talk a bit about pitas made in oven. Mine just never came out that good. They would puff up and beautifully brown, but they never had that softness and that cushiony thickness to it. They’d be hard, brittle and crack, unlike these, which can be stuffed with your furniture without as much as a tear.

These were just magnificent, soft, forming beautiful pockets and absolutely delightful. these are so incredibly easy to make that you’d rather make these than drive all the way to buy one.

DSC_0854such simplicity.. I cry. handful of ingredients:Warm water, yeast, high gluten flour, olive oil, sugar and some salt

 

DSC_0855Sugar + water = yeast love. Make sugar the water isn’t hot, or cold. It should be just warm, like warm to the touch. You don’t need any thermometers for this, just a finger.

 

DSC_0856Into the sugary water we add in the yeast. I’ve used the instant dry yeast, but please feel free to use whatever yeast you have handy.

 

DSC_0857Mix and let it be for at least 5 minutes. In which time we can prepare our flour.

 

DSC_0859add salt in the flour and mix it to disperse salt evenly.

 

DSC_0861Make a ridiculous well in the centre of the bowl and pour in the yeasty water. NOTE: the water should be foamy and frothy by now. If the water hasn’t foamed it probably means that the yeast hasn’t activated, in which case throw out the water and start again. make sure the yeast is fresh and the water isn’t very hot.

 

DSC_0862pour in the water

 

DSC_0863and the oil, and start kneading the dough.

 

DSC_0865Of course I didn’t take pictures while kneading the dough, I have but only two hands. I kneaded the dough for about 10 minutes and formed into a somewhat smooth dough ball. It should be slightly springy to the touch and not very dry. I also had to add a bit more water as I kneaded.

I also lightly oiled the bowl so that dough does not stick as it sits to rise. Cover the bowl and let it be in a warm place for an hour until it has doubled in size.

 

DSC_0867Magic!!!! the dough has become puffy and fat and I sort of want to rest my head and sleep on it. Ok, now punch the dough to release out all the air. you heard me, punch it like you’d want to punch your ex, ripping out its entrails and dancing on them… forget that last part. Just punch it ok.

 

DSC_0868Tip out onto a floured surface and make sure you knock out all the air from the dough.

 

DSC_0870form into some sort of geometrical shape, mine looks a rectangle. Make sure it’s evenly thick from all sides and edges.

 

DSC_0871now cut it in equal portions.

 

DSC_0873I ended up having about 8 equal portions, but you could have less, you could have more depending how big or small you want your pita, but I think this was fine.

 

DSC_0876form these into equal sized balls and let them rest on a floured surface. I floured the tops slightly and covered with plastic wrap. let these rise for another 30-45 minutes.

 

DSC_0877Oooooh, these have become fat yet again. No matter how many times I make bread, I can’t keep myself from getting amazed at what yeast does. It’s magic I tell you. Here’s your letter to Hogwarts!

 

DSC_0878Okay, now taking individual rounds, flatten them a bit and using your rolling-pin roll these out to form….

 

DSC_0889These!!!! ok, I admit they could have been rounder but once these have puffed up you wouldn’t care, also as you progress your rounds will keep getting better, in theory and in life. Let them rest for a couple of minutes.

While they are resting, bring out your skillet or in my case a non stick frying pan, and put it on a medium high flame. Let it get reasonably hot and put on the rolled out dough. Flip it after about 20 seconds and after giving the other side 30 seconds flip again and…

 

DSC_0885This!!!! It will rise, it will puff up, you will scream and shriek and you would want to embrace everyone. It actually puffs up. It forms a pocket. this really happens, in your own kitchen!!!!

 

DSC_0886Flip again to let the other side cook and brown a little and look at this little thing. It’s risen majestically. Bow down and pat yourself on the back, for you are now a proud owner of homemade pitas.

 

DSC_0901 DSC_0902 DSC_0890These are different pitas in different stages of puffing.

OK, now the first one would probably not puff up as much as you’d want because you’d still be getting a hang of it, the skillet/pan would be adjusting heat and perhaps your flipping would be either too fast or too late, but believe me, after the first two you’d know exactly what to do and there wouldn’t be a pita that wouldn’t rise. I promise!

 

DSC_0898Very soon your pita pile will get bigger,

 

DSC_0905and bigger, and now you’re a pro..

 

Ingredients

Lukewarm water: 250 mls (I cup)

Flour( High gluten): 400 gms

Yeast: 1 teaspoon

sugar: 1 tablespoon

salt: 1 teaspoon

Olive oil: I tablespoon

Recipe: Dissolve the sugar and yeast into the water and let rest until the yeast starts foaming. In the meanwhile into a large bowl, add the flour and mix in the salt.

Making a well in the centre of the flour mixture add in the yeast water and the oil and knead to form a soft dough. Depending on the humidity and the flour you might want to add in more water if the dough is dry or add in more flour is it’s sticky.

Once you’ve made a smooth ball it should be slightly springy to the touch, let it rest in a lightly oiled bowl. Make sure to cover it and keep in a warm place for at least 1-2 hours depending on the rising and how warm your place is.

After it has risen it should have doubled in size. Punch it to knock the air out and tip it on a floured surface. Even it out and cut into 8 equal sized portions.

Form them into balls and let them rest again for 45 minutes until they have puffed up and increased in size.

Using a rolling pin, roll them out to form about 1/4 inch thick rounds and let them rest for another 2-3 minutes.

Heat a skillet or a frying pan on medium high heat and place the rolled out dough and after every 20-30 seconds flip it over to evenly brown and puff. After about 2-3 minutes it would have cooked through and formed pockets.

Stuff these pockets falafels (recipe here), hummus (recipe here) and roasted red peppers (here)

Enjoy!!!!

DIY: Make your own Vanilla extract


DSC_0799Vanilla.. this smell defines sheer heaven for me. There is something so soothing about the way it wafts into your being. Vanilla has helped many a boring desserts become something of an urban legend, lent its perfumed fragrance to many a custard, ice creams and puddings and made them that much easier to devour.

Everything that I’ve mentioned above only and only implies to vanilla EXTRACT!! not ESSENCE!! for vanilla essence is vile, disgusting, synthetic and can only bring out feelings of deep loathing and hatred.

This aversion to essence doesn’t come from any food snobbery on my part, but the bad flavour on the part of essence. I have watched many cakes falling prey to its stench. The synthetic flavour of the essence just does not help any dessert.

Vanilla extract is a bit pricey if good, but it’s all worth it. It’s not always easily available, and I say it with good authority for none of the stores in and around my town or even within a few hundred kilometer radius keep anything even remotely resembling a vanilla extract.

My only options are to order it online or make it at home. Of course I stack my pantry with the best extracts I can get my hands on.. you never know when the proverbial apocalypse might strike, and all you’d want to do in those last hours is eat butter and make desserts smelling of vanilla.

But a couple of days back, overcome with a sense of DIY, I decided to make it at home. I know I won’t be able to reap the fruits of this process until a few months from the time I make it, but what the heck? It can sit serenely in a cool dark corner, and one day I will be making desserts with my vanilla extract!! So there!!

The  process is extremely simple.. It’d the waiting that’s a bit hard. YOu need only 2 ingredients.

DSC_0782Vanilla beans, vodka, a clean jar/bottle. try to get the best quality vanilla since the quality of the extract will depend on the vanilla beans you’ve used.

DSC_0783I halved these beans to fit into the bottle. If your bottle is long enough you don’t really need this step.

DSC_0785Split these beans down the middle so as to expose the caviar (vanilla seeds).

DSC_0787LIke so. Take a minute and inhale deep. your kitchen, your hands, your knife, your kitchen shears all smell of divine vanilla.

DSC_0790Put all these split beans into the bottle.

DSC_0792They should fit in without difficulty.

DSC_0793In with the vodka. This can be any generic inexpensive vodka. It’s the beans that matter.

DSC_0796Admire your handiwork. Slap on a sticker mentioning the day and date you made it and store in a cool dark place.

DSC_0799This picture was taken mere hours after steeping. Make sure the vodka is poured in generously. Don’t be stingy with the alcohol and make sure you drink the rest.

I’d be updating almost every week with the changes in the extract.

Ingredients

Vanilla beans (4-5) or depending on how big your jar/bottle is

Vodka (nothing expensive)

a glass bottle/jar

How To: Split the vanilla in the middle to expose the vanilla seeds. Put these into your glass bottle and top it vodka. Make sure the bottle cap is on tight. Store in a cool dry place, away from any direct sunlight. A pantry or as in my case some space in the bookshelf works best.

This extract will take anything from 3-4 months before you can use it, and the best part is that you can keep replenishing it as you use it. Just keep adding vodka.

 

Roasted Red Peppers : How to


DSC_0654What can I say about roasted peppers, except that they are divine. They’re the equivalent of a food poetry. They bring to life anything they are added in. Their subtlety of flavour livens up even something as meagre as a stale slice of bread. It’s like the rhyming word which makes a verse all the more interesting.

The slightly smoky, charred flavour is harmonious with almost everything.You can add this to a sandwich, throw it in a bowl of pasta, puree into a soup or just drizzle it with olive oil and serve as a side dish. This is guaranteed to brighten your table, your mood and your food. Also it’s really easy, and you could do this in a matter of minutes.

You don’t need a whole list of ingredients, except perhaps some peppers. You can roast any pepper of your choice, I’m doing red peppers, but you can go ahead with whatever suits your preference and your colour of the day. yellow, orange, green.. whatever coloured pepper is available.

I’m a stove top girl, when it comes to roasting peppers. You could just as easily pop this in a hot oven, but for me, this technique is better suited since it’s charred and burnt evenly on all sides.

DSC_0637Place the pepper on stove top like so. The flame should be high enough to not only roast it but blacken it.

DSC_0638Time for tong action!! You really do need a tong for this. keep rotating on all sides until it’s seriously blackened. Leave no side even a bit coloured, including the tip. You really need to blacken up these babies.

DSC_0642Once it’s coal-black, lose no time and put the peppers in a ziplock bag and seal it. This step makes it easier to take the skins off, and makes these peppers juicy. Let them be in the ziplock for at least 15 minutes, and you can get on with your life till then.

DSC_0651See!! I wasn’t kidding about roasting them to a nice shade of Hellish black. These peppers have had their 15 minutes in the ziplock, and it’s time to reveal the divinely delicious peppers that have metamorphosed into food poetry.

DSC_0653You need to get your hands dirty, and you won’t even complain. Just peel the skins and they will come off real easy. I do not like to be too fastidious with the skinning process, since a bit of charred remain is desirable, as it’s the bits of charred skin that gives these peppers their characteristic smoky flavour.

DSC_0656This is what I as talking about. Lipstick red but tastier, aromatic, jewel bright and oh so delicious. Just de-seed them before serving, also a few seeds don’t hurt nobody..

There are millions of serving suggestions:

-tear into shreds, drizzle some olive oil, crumble some feta and eat.

-tear them and throw into a bowl spaghetti lightly drizzled with olive oil and parmesan

– add it to your sandwich and watch the flavour go up a hundred notch

– puree along with some sour cream, salt and garlic and make a delightful pasta sauce.

– add it to your hummus, and make an electric red coloured bowl of greed.

Once you’ve made these at home, you wouldn’t want to buy an expensive jar of roasted peppers. It’s an easy process and it’s so much better when you do it yourself.

—–

Recipe: On a medium high flame of your stove top place the peppers and keep turning them every 30-40 seconds until they are all evenly charred. Make sure to roast the tip as well.

Once you’re satisfied with the colour, place in a ziplock bag and seal it. Let these peppers sit for 10-15 minutes.

Finally just peel off the charred skin, making sure some skin remains to ensure a smoky flavour.

De-seed before serving.

Enjoy!!!!