Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Bars

A lot of my recent meal choices and recipe adventures have been informed by my overstuffed pantry closet. Of course, such shelf-stable abundance increases the chances of Synchronicity when perusing a recipe collection. That’s pretty much the way it was with these delicious oatmeal bars.

These are kind of like a fat and moist oatmeal cookie with lots of chocolate chips and a good, crunchy dose of pecans. The original recipe called for quick-cooking oats, and I stuck with that, simply because there are so many of them. I really think the more tender quick-oats form a better foundation for these bars. Regular oats might be too coarse, crumbly, and harder to palate.

A quick look at the recipe below will reveal how simple it really is, and the resulting treats are remarkably satisfying for as little work as a they require. They are sweet and moist, but still a bit chewy from the oats. Chocolate is always good in a place like this, and I really liked the slightly sweet crunchiness of the pecans (I had some left from making these muffins). You could use walnuts, or no nuts at all, if you prefer.

I was surprised by how good these bars are, and we almost ate the whole pan before I could get photos. They are as satisfying to enjoy as any oatmeal cookie, and, with all that oatmeal, they’re even kind of breakfast-able. Well, I like to have them with my morning coffee, anyway. And my afternoon coffee. And for dessert after supper. I may have to keep my pantry overstuffed with quick oats, pecans, and chocolate chips 

Oatmeal Pecan Chocolate Chip Bars

3 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 ½ cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup butter (2 sticks) at room temperature
2 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup chopped pecans
1 (12-ounce) package semi-sweet chocolate chips (about 2 cups)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with cooking spray, or grease it with butter or oil. Set aside.

2. In a medium-size bowl, combine the oats, flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir together to combine well. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer), combine the brown sugar and butter. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the molasses, vanilla, and eggs until very well combined.

4. Slowly add the oat mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in the pecans and chocolate chips.

5. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared baking pan. Bake at 350 F for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown and set in the middle. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into bars of desired size. Can be served warm or completely cooled. Leftovers, covered tightly, are good for several days.

Makes about 3-4 dozen bars, depending on size.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Rosemary Focaccia

I’ve seen and collected enough recipes for rosemary-flavored flatbread, thought long enough about how I would make it, and imagined vividly enough how it would taste, that I could probably have convinced someone that I make it regularly. I even kind of surprised myself when I realized that I had never made it at all. How something so lively and interesting slipped through my culinary clutches, I will never know.

The good news is that I finally made some. I kept this pretty simple, mostly adapting my pizza dough recipe. I swapped in bread flour for the all-purpose flour to make it soft and puffy and significantly increased the olive oil to make it richer. I also infused the oil with fresh rosemary, added rosemary leaves to the dough, and sprinkled even more rosemary leaves on top of the bread.

While I tried to get rosemary into and onto this bread in as many ways as I could, I also tried not to really overpower it with rosemary. The end result in this recipe attempt was a warm, subtle rosemary essence through each bite of bread. 

This bread is fairly thick and puffy. It works well as a soup accompaniment (especially for this soup!). I think it’s even thick enough to split in half horizontally and stuff with sandwich fixings. You could adapt that thickness to meet your own preferences by stretching the dough more or less before baking.

You could also add other things to this bread, either mixed into the dough (other herbs, olives) or on top, like a pizza (a sprinkling of cheese, caramelized onions). Like any basic flour and water and yeast mixture, there are lots of opportunities improvise your way to customized deliciousness. Let your imagination run wild! You might even become an expert on a few things you’ve never actually done!


Rosemary Focaccia
You could use more rosemary in this recipe if you really want the flavor to burst through.

2 tablespoons rosemary leaves, divided
¼ cup olive oil, preferably extra-virgin
1 cup warm (about 100 F) water
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 envelope)
1 tablespoon sugar
3 ½ cups bread flour (or more if needed)
1 ½ teaspoon fine salt

1. Finely chop about 2 teaspoons rosemary leaves. Set aside. Set aside about 1 teaspoon of the remaining whole rosemary leaves.

2. Warm the olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the remaining rosemary leaves and cook about 3-5 minutes, or until they have sizzled for a while and the leaves turn a dull green, almost brown color (do not burn them). Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. This can be done a few hours ahead of time.

3. Combine the water, yeast, and sugar in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer (or in a large bowl if mixing the dough by hand.) Let stand about 5 minutes or until the yeast is foamy.

4. Strain the rosemary leaves out of the oil. Discard the spent leaves. Add 3 tablespoons of the infused oil to the yeast mixture. Set the remaining oil aside.

5. Add the chopped rosemary leaves. Using the paddle attachment, stir in 2 cups of the bread flour on low speed until the mixture resembles a coarse batter (or stir together with a spoon). Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let stand 15-30 minutes. The batter should have expanded to a puffy mass.

6. Sprinkle the salt over the dough. Add about ½ cup bread flour and knead in with the dough hook (or stir in with a spoon). Continue kneading at medium-low speed, adding enough of the remaining flour to make a soft, slightly sticky dough, about 10 minutes. (Or turn out the dough and knead in the remaining flour by hand.)

7. Form the sticky dough into a ball and place it in a large bowl coated with cooking spray. Spray the top of the dough ball and place a sheet of plastic wrap on top. Cover the bowl with a towel and let stand at least 1 hour. The dough should have doubled in size. (You can also refrigerate the dough overnight. Bring to room temperature before continuing.)

8. Gently deflate the risen dough and shape into a new ball. Cover and let rest about 5 minutes. Stretch and shape the dough into a flat disk, square or oval as desired. I made mine about 10-inches square and 1-1 ½ inches thick. You can stretch it as thinly as you like. Place on a baking sheet that has either been greased or sprayed with cooking spray or lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat (my favorite).

9. Preheat oven to 350 F. Let the dough rise about 30 minutes. Gently poke the dough all over to create dimples. Brush the remaining infused oil over the top of the dough. Sprinkle with the last of the rosemary leaves. Bake 30-40 minutes or until lightly golden on the outside. If your dough is thinner, you may want to bake a shorter time.

10. Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack. Enjoy slightly warm.

Makes about 6 servings.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Corn and Tomato Pie

My life is way busier than when I first started this journal, but I still have the strong desire to make the longer-prep recipes that keep my skills sharp and, better yet, are delightfully delicious. Occasionally, I actually get a chance to tackle one of these recipes, getting excited all over again about cooking and, more importantly, getting excited about the results.

Now, I’m not going to say the effort I made toward this Corn and Tomato Pie was perfect. As usual, it was pie crust that got me down. The pastry I attempted needed some help and I didn’t allow myself enough time for fiddling, so I punted and used a store-bought model from my friends at Pillsbury. (We’re not really friends.)

Anyway, this savory pie is kind of a quiche that’s stuffed with corn, preferably freshly cut from a freshly-harvested fresh cob (although frozen will do) and tomatoes at the peak of their very own delicious ripeness. I didn’t have quite enough large tomatoes (from my garden!) for this recipe, so I filled in the gaps with halved cherry tomatoes (also from my garden!)

This pie just bursts with the sweet, ripe flavors of these beautiful garden vegetables. The corn is a bit chewy, and, while tomatoes are naturally extra-juicy, they are well-balanced by the other ingredients in the pie’s filling, so they don’t make it soggy or mushy. There’s just enough egg and cheese to hold the filling together, so it cuts into fairly clean wedges, especially when you consider that they’re trying to hold together corn kernels and beautifully sloppy ripe tomatoes.

I always get excited about a dish like this, and each time I make one, I vow to make such dishes more often. Now that I’ve gone through this one at least a bit mindfully, I think I can see how I can approach this recipe, and others like it, with more efficiency, better planning, and perhaps a bit of advanced preparation. Until I can turn such ideas into something functional, however, please don’t judge me for using store-bought pie dough. Judge me based on what’s on the inside: the luscious late-season combination of sweet corn and succulent tomatoes. Yum!

Corn and Tomato Pie
Adapted from Eating Well magazine, July/August 2010

You can use an equivalent amount of halved cherry tomatoes in place of the sliced tomatoes.

Pastry for a single crust pie
3 large eggs
1 cup milk
½ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
¾ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Roll out the pastry to about a 12-inch circle. Loosely drape into a 9-inch pie pan. (Use a deep dish pan if you have one.) Gently press into the bottom and up the sides of the pan, being careful not to stretch the dough.

2. To blind bake the crust, take a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to cover the whole pastry. Spray it with cooking spray. Cover the pastry with the foil, spray side down. Cover the foil with pie weights. Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and the weights and set the pie pan on a rack to cool at least 10 minutes. (You can cool this up to an hour.)

3. To make the filling, combine the eggs and milk in a medium-size bowl. Whisk together until very well combined. Whisk in the salt and pepper.

4. Sprinkle half of the cheese on the partially baked pie crust. Layer half the tomatoes over the cheese. Layer the corn and basil over the tomatoes. Layer the remaining cheese over the corn and then the remaining tomatoes over the cheese. Pour the egg mixture over the top of everything.

5. Bake the pie at 400 F for 45-55 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean and not coated with undercooked egg. Let cool on a rack at least 20 minutes before serving. Leftovers can be covered and refrigerated. Reheat individual servings in the microwave.

Makes 8 servings.