Of ghosts and grapes


If I haven’t visited your blog in awhile, forgive me. I don’t like to read blogs in an RSS reader or on services like Food Buzz. Part of the enjoyment of reading your blogs is to see them in the natural habitat of their original design with all of the pretty colors and banners and ads. I keep a folder of links to blogs I like and I randomly visit when I feel like it. This kind of habit makes for some surprises and some disappointments. The disappointments are blogs that get abandoned for whatever reason. I don’t want to criticize. My blog went abandoned for six months, but I tend to call blogs that seem really abandoned dead blogs.

 Some dead blogs are like ghost ships, plying the waters of the vast Internet. They are there for all the world to see but for some reason, their masters are long gone. One such wonderful blog is the Trans Fatty Blog. This blog was all about real food. To give you a hint of why I liked this blog, just read the about page. He wrote the best about page I have seen. I found this blog through a shared love of sourdough and was so bummed out the blog was already a ghost by the time I found it.

 I used Trans Fatty’s focaccia recipe as a guide. I have always wanted to bake a grape focaccia but I have never seen a sourdough focaccia recipe that made sense to me and I was a little intimidated to start experimenting on my own. I had his recipe bookmarked for a long time and then stumbled back onto it recently. I was a little worried about the huge amount of starter and flour but it turns out it is fine. This recipe is designed to make a giant monster of a focaccia that will feed an army or keep you supplied with bread for days.

 The topping is genius if I do say so myself. I created a mixture that is savory, sweet and salty. Just wonderful!

 The only thing I have to caution you on is to use parchment paper to line your cookie sheet. I saw this instruction and got a little cocky, thinking I knew what I was doing; I used a layer of cornmeal instead. That was last week and my mistake resulted in a focaccia that hermetically sealed itself to the cookie sheet. When I attempted removal, it broke apart. It was still delicious but very ugly. This week, I knew better.


I am submitting this monster sized bread to this week’s YeastSpotting. Click here to enjoy bread baked around the world.


Grape and Blue Cheese Focaccia


2 cups active sourdough starter

1 cup room temperature water

1 tbsp honey

1 tbsp olive oil


2 tsp salt

2 cups unbleached white flour

2 cups stone ground whole wheat flour


1 tbsp olive oil

3 Rosemary sprigs, leaves removed from stems and then leaves roughly chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 quarter cup red or sweet onion, thinly sliced and then chopped in half

1 cup red grapes

4 tbsp crumbled good quality blue cheese


In a large bowl, combine active starter, water, honey and olive oil. Let sit in a warm place covered for 45 minutes.


Add salt, unbleached white flour and whole wheat flour to the preferment. Mix until well combined and a stiff dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead 12 minutes. The dough should be firm and shiny. Form the dough into a tight ball and transfer it to a very large oiled bowl. Let the dough sit covered in a warm place for 5 – 6 hours until doubled.

 Line a 12” x 14” baking sheet with silicone parchment paper (if using regular parchment, lightly oil the paper. This dough sticks as it bakes!). Turn the dough out onto the parchment lined sheet and gently press it into a rectangle to fill the dimensions of the cookie sheet. Let dough rest covered for at least a half hour up to an hour.

 Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Brush or spread 1 tbsp olive oil over the surface of the dough. Top with Rosemary, garlic and onion, making sure dough is evenly covered with these ingredients. Press grapes into the surface of the dough, I do this in neat rows, but a random covering of grapes is fine. Sprinkle blue cheese evenly over the focaccia. Transfer the focaccia to the oven and bake for 25 minutes.

 Remove the bread from the oven and transfer it to a rack to cool completely before cutting into it.





An old favorite with a new twist

Sourdough Quiche

If someone were to ask me what my signature dish was, I would probably have to say tomato zucchini quiche. I have been making this dish for years. It has a flaky whole grain butter crust. Sweet tomatoes cooked just until the juices flow. Zucchini sautéed in the pan juices of the tomatoes with herbs. Sharp cheese; it’s a gorgeous creation that I am always happy to serve.
Years ago, I wanted to bake a tart out of the Greens cookbook. It was an unusual tart with a yeasted crust. I made it once and soon forgot about it. I didn’t enjoy the crust and longed for my butter pastry. The tart itself was strangely not delicious. I went back to standard quiche and forgot about this little dalliance.
I planned to bake with my sourdough this week and nervously realized that it was getting late if I wanted to participate in a fun little weekly blogging event that I have become so hooked on. I knew I would need lunch the next day and started to think about that ill fated yeasted crust of the past. I am a much better cook now than I was years ago and I am now the proud owner of a tasty sourdough starter.
Armed the next day with my active starter, Deborah Madison’s updated olive oil yeasted tart dough recipe as my guide and my imagination, I set out to remake my favorite quiche. I wanted a flavorful crust so I added lemon zest and herbs to the dough. After my problems last week with the flaky sourdough rolls, I added the starter on top of the amount of liquid called for in the original recipe. The result was a beautiful silky soft dough flecked with goodies.

I added caramelized onions and fresh herbs to my filling. I have never been able to make my quiche in the 35 minutes called for in most recipes. The tomatoes may be the culprit so I baked the quiche for 55 minutes using a pie crust shield during the last 20 minutes of baking to protect that lovely crust.

The result? Delicious! The crust was moist and herbal under the filling and crunchy at the edges, reminiscent of the sourdough pizza crust I make which has a toothsome quality and a grainy, malted flavor.

The filling was a mélange of different flavors due to the layers of cheese, herbed veggies and custard.

I would like to submit this delicious concoction to this week’s YeastSpotting event on Wild Yeast. Susan usually posts the new submissions by Friday so click here to see what the other talented bakers decided to make this week.


Sourdough Quiche Slice

Tomato Zucchini Quiche with a Sourdough Crust
½ cup active sourdough starter
½ cup room temperature water

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 egg, beaten

½ tsp salt

1 cup unbleached white flour

¾ cup stone ground whole wheat flour

1 tbsp minced chives

¾ tbsp minced fresh rosemary

½ tsp lemon zest


½ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

¼ cup grated parmesano reggiano

1 – 2 tbsp olive oil

5 -6 chives roughly chopped

1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves minced

3-4 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves removed from stems and chopped

Dried basil, to taste

Fresh ground black pepper

¼ red onion, sliced thin

2 small heirloom tomatoes, sliced

1 medium zucchini, julienned

3 eggs beaten

1 cup milk

Paprika for garnishing

Prepare the crust:

In a large bowl, mix together the starter, water, olive oil, egg and salt. Stir in the white and whole wheat flours until combined well. When the dough feels stiff, turn it out onto a lightly floured board. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Use a bench scraper to keep the dough from sticking to the board as you knead. The dough is a little sticky. Form the dough into a smooth round and place it into a greased bowl. Cover with a clean towel and let the dough rise between an hour and an hour and fifteen minutes. Press the dough into an oiled 9 “ pie pan, making sure the sides of the dough are thicker than the bottom and that the dough fills to the top of the pan. Let the dough sit, covered until you are done making the filling.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.


Heat one tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add the onions and a pinch of rosemary and cook until limp and beginning to caramelize (about 5 -6 minutes). Transfer the onions to a bowl. If the skillet seems dry, add a little more of the olive oil. Add the tomato slices and all the oregano, a pinch of the chives and the remaining rosemary. Cook without stirring until juicy but still firm (about 3 -4 minutes). Stir the tomatoes gently so they don’t break up, but the herbs mix in. Transfer the tomatoes to the bowl of onions, being careful not to transfer much tomato juice. The pan should be full of juices and you may not need to add more oil, add the zucchini, the remaining chives, a sprinkling of dried basil to taste and a few grinds of black pepper. Cook the zucchini until just tender but before it browns. Remove the zucchini from the pan and let it cool a little bit.

Mix the beaten eggs and milk to make your custard.

Assemble quiche:

Put the pie pan on a cookie sheet. This will keep the quiche from dripping all over the oven if it overflows and give you a tray to carry the quiche to the oven. Sprinkle cheddar and then parmesan onto the surface of the crust. Add the veggies on top of the cheese. Pour the custard over the filling. Sprinkle the surface of the custard with sweet paprika. Put the quiche still on the cookie sheet, into the oven where it will bake for 50 -55 minutes. At about 35 minutes, check the quiche. If the crust is looking nice and browned, use a pie crust shield to keep the crust from burning. Ovens vary, so keep checking the quiche every few minutes up to 55 minutes. When the quiche is firm all the way to the middle, it does not jiggle, it is time to remove it from the oven. Let the quiche cool considerably before you dig in. I was too anxious (the quiche was still pretty hot) and if you look closely at my pictures, you can tell the middle of the quiche did not set as well as I would liked it to have. So…. patience, patience!!

Everything smells like Peaches


The stars are in some sort of an alignment today. I know they are. The house smells of freshly baked peaches and we just ate something so incredibly good that I heard an exclamation of “that is the best muffin I’ve ever had!” I am very smugly pleased with myself.
We’ve been going seriously strawberry crazy for the past few weeks. You don’t even want to know how much friendly fire there has been. Strawberries are low in calories and loaded with vitamins and minerals. They are delicious on their own, sun kissed and juicy. But lately, these wonderful gems have been attracting all sorts of fat and calories from the most incredible shortcakes ever with rum scented whipped cream (which didn’t stay in the house long enough for pictures or blog entries, even though we went through five rounds of them), to all manner of breakfast goodies (we’re talking waffles, french toast and any number of variations on pancakes). The strawberries somehow got ahead of the cooking this week. We already had two baskets of them in the fridge when I thought it was a good idea to buy another three pack on Sunday. When I got to the seriously ripe berries today, I saw casualties and it wasn’t going to get any prettier.
Most people’s first instinct in this situation is to make jam or some sort of sauce. I kept thinking about the outrageous scones I ate at a long closed down seaside café years ago. The scones were baked with a layer of fresh bananas, strawberries and peaches. An odd baked good, the scones were a bit mushy from the fruit, but the flavor and freshness of the just baked fruit was outstanding. I was so sad when the café closed down. I have been thinking about those scones for years. It got me thinking that the berries would be good baked into something.
I started looking online for a scone or muffin or quick bread recipe. I found a recipe for strawberry muffins that looked pretty basic. The comments from readers of this website agreed that the muffins had potential but were bland until the person did this, or that, or this other thing or yet another thing. Armed with a dozen suggestions the basic recipe and my usual idea of what ingredients a muffin should contain, I set to work. I realized that I had a peach sitting in a bowl on the counter that was now soft but needing to be used. Once I was done, my recipe had nothing to do with the original recipe.
The house, where ever you go, in any room now smells like freshly baked peaches. The muffins are amazing. The texture is moist for a whole grain muffin, the flavor is almost erotic with the heady scent of spices and the sweetness of the fruit and orange zest. The tops baked high and became crispy when they browned. Yes, I agree. These are the best muffins I have ever had too.
 Peach strawberry muffins 
 2 ¾ cups whole grain pastry flour
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup evaporated cane juice or granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp powdered ginger
¼ tsp allspice
Zest of one orange
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup orange juice
1/3 cup olive oil
½ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup peeled, diced fresh peach
¾ cup diced strawberries
Olive oil spray
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray two six up muffin tins liberally with olive oil spray.
In a large bowl, mix flour, both kinds of sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and orange zest until combined.
In another bowl, mix beaten eggs, orange juice, olive oil, milk, and vanilla extract until well combined.
Toss the fruit into the flour mixture, taking care to make sure the fruit is covered in the flour mixture. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir carefully with a rubber spatula until the ingredients are just combined being careful not to over mix or damage the fruit. Divide the batter evenly between the twelve muffin cups, filling to the top. Bake 25 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the muffins comes out clean.
Let the muffins cool for just a minute and then carefully (don’t burn yourself) remove the muffins from the tins and transfer to a wire rack. (Taking them out of the tins will keep them dry and crunchy). Let them cool a bit. Enjoy warm or completely cooled.

More adventures in sourdough

  Flaky Dinner Rolls
Sometimes I have an easy time figuring out how to make a traditional yeasted recipe with my starter. Sometimes I don’t. In this recipe for flaky dinner rolls, I decided I could just replace half of the milk with starter. Sounds logical, right? There is no other liquid in the recipe and the recipe seems pretty straight forward. The problem… is… that when I get a hold of a recipe, sometimes I don’t follow instructions very well. Somewhere between reading the recipe and executing the recipe, I reduced the needed sugar by 1 tablespoon (I figured the wild yeast didn’t need 3 tablespoons of the stuff) and I swapped out a cup of the white flour for whole wheat. I think the whole wheat flour was my undoing. The stuff seems to suck up the moisture!
When I mixed and then began to knead the dough, it was very dry. At this early point in the process, the dough is supposed to be sticky and a quarter cup of flour you have reserved from the total flour called for in the recipe is supposed to be added to the dough one tablespoon at a time until the dough is still sticky feeling but does not stick to your hands. My dough was dry and brittle! Not good! I proceeded to knead in the extra half cup of milk, one painful tablespoon at a time, incorporating the extra flour one tablespoon at a time as my dough alternated from too sticky to dry again. Somehow, the dough was salvaged. I marched on with the next interesting steps.
Interesting I say because next you roll the dough into a rectangle, spread it with softened butter, fold the dough, wrap it in plastic, freeze it, roll it out again, fold it, wrap it in plastic, freeze it, roll it out, roll it up and slice it and bake it. Phew! I managed to use unsalted butter which I think was an error. My boyfriend loved these but something was missing and I think it might be the salt in the butter. Another comment about the butter – make sure you spread it out evenly and you don’t have any lumps. I had lumps. When I rolled the dough, the lumps went bursting through the dough like little yellow geysers (so much for freezing the dough. My butter was impervious to cold).
I had to bake my rolls for an extra five minutes to get the nice browning I wanted. When I pulled the rolls out of the oven they were swimming in butter. In order to avoid scalding myself with butter, I pulled back a bit and managed to burn my arm on the oven door. So be careful when you make these!! They are hazardous. Swimming in butter you wonder? Let the rolls sit in the tins a couple of minutes before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely. The butter miraculously disappears because it gets sucked back up into the rolls.
I had the same problem with these rolls that another baker had. The outer layers were crunchy but the inner layers were soft and bready. I’m not certain if it is the sourdough or if it was me not being adept at making a jelly roll or if my rolls which proofed for 15 minutes longer than the recipe wanted them to, did not proof long enough. If this happens to you, do not be tempted to be childlike and unwind the roll and eat it in ribbons. It isn’t nearly as good as taking a big bite and tasting the crunchy to soft, light textures your mouth will experience with each and every bite.

All in all, I was very happy with these rolls. Next time, I will play with the butter a little. I’m thinking that garlic and herbs or chili powder and onions would make a nice addition.

On Friday July 17th Nick from imafoodblog will be hosting YeastSpotting.  Click on this link to visit his site

Flaky Dinner Rolls

Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine
 ½ cup active sourdough starter
1 cup 1 % low fat milk
1 cup whole wheat flour

2 cups unbleached white flour, divided

3/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons butter, softened (I used unsalted, salted would be better)

Olive oil spray

Mix sugar, starter and milk in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1 3/4 cups white flour and salt to yeast mixture; stir until a dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth (about 5 minutes); add enough of remaining ¼ cup white flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel slightly sticky). Cover dough with a clean kitchen towel, and let rest for 10 minutes.

Roll dough into a 12 x 10-inch rectangle on a lightly floured baking sheet. Gently spread butter over dough, making sure there are no significant lumps. Working with a long side, fold up bottom third of dough. Fold top third of dough over the first fold to form a 12 x 3-inch rectangle. Cover with plastic wrap; place in freezer for 10 minutes.

Remove dough from freezer; remove plastic wrap. Roll dough, still on baking sheet (sprinkle on a little more flour, if needed), into a 12 x 10-inch rectangle. Working with a long side, fold up bottom third of dough. Fold top third of dough over the first fold to form a 12 x 3-inch rectangle. Cover with plastic wrap; place in freezer for 10 minutes.

Remove dough from freezer; remove plastic wrap. Roll dough, still on baking sheet, into a 12 x 8-inch rectangle. Beginning with a long side, roll up dough jelly-roll fashion; pinch seam to seal (do not seal ends of roll). Cut roll into 12 equal slices. Place slices, cut sides up, in muffin cups coated with olive oil spray. Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, at least one hour or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 375°.

Bake dough at 375° for 20 -25 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool in pan for a couple of minutes if you see molten butter bubbling around them. Remove from pan, and cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack. Serve rolls warm.

An all natural treat

Almond Cookies

Last week, I dusted off the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book and to my surprise, made the best rye bread I have had.  Such success got me curious for more.  I went back to my library and found my copy of The New Laurel’s Kitchen Cookbook (which was new in 1976, reprinted in 1986).  As I perused the book, I began to remember why I snubbed this book to begin with.  In laurel’s kitchen, food revolves around whole wheat flour, vegetables and cottage cheese.  This book is very crunchy indeed.  I was looking at the small dessert section and noticed the peanut butter cookie recipe.  There was a variation that uses almond butter…very intriguing.   As my eyes scanned the recipe and my brain trotted behind slowly, I came to realize there is no butter or margarine in this recipe.  It only utilizes the fat in the nut butter.  Fascinating!  As I keep reading it dawns on me, there is no refined sugar in the cookies, just honey.  Can you really make a cookie with no saturated fats and no crystallized sugars??  Interesting…

I have been itching to try these for days and finally got into the kitchen to play.  I had just enough almond butter.  Surprisingly, I had almond extract, old but still useable.   My only problem occurred because Mimi staying home all the time equates to Mimi cooking a lot and I was short on honey.  What would happen if I supplemented the honey with pure maple syrup?  I crossed my fingers and decided to find out.  I felt like I wanted something more in these so I decided to add dried fruit, I wanted dried blueberries or dried cherries but don’t have them.  My Boyfriend wanted dried apricots.  Apricots it is!

I have a really hard time making cookies the right size so a recipe that should make between three and four dozen small cookies yielded 23 larger cookies after I adjusted the baking time.  But I bet you don’t mind a bigger cookie do you?  I sure don’t!

So the question is still on the table, can you make a cookie with no butter or refined sugars?  The answer is a resounding yes!  These cookies had a shatteringly crisp crust and a light as air middle.  They were sweet with a creamy mouth feel.  I used chunky almond butter so between the almond chunks and the diced dried fruit, there were crunchy and chewy bits in every bite.  Delicious!!!!!

The trio who wrote the Laurel’s kitchen books should be commended.  They figured out how to cook with natural foods without relying on lots of dairy or refined ingredients for flavor; a very clever and masterful way to cook indeed.

Apricot Almond Butter Cookies

Adapted from The New Laurel’s Kitchen Cookbook

1 cup crunchy almond butter

1/3 cup honey

2/3 cup grade B Maple Syrup

1 egg, beaten

1 ½ tsp almond extract

½ tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

½ cup diced dried apricots

Blanched or slivered almonds for decorating

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, F.

In a large bowl, beat together almond butter, honey and maple syrup.  Beat in the egg and almond extract. 

In another bowl, mix together the flour, salt, baking soda and diced dried apricots.

Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until well incorporated.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Drop the cookie dough by generous rounded tablespoons.  The cookies should be walnut sized.  You should get about 23 cookies.  Decorate with 2 – 3 slivered almonds or 1 blanched almond.

Bake the cookies for 15 – 16 minutes until lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to cool for a couple of minutes on the pan.  They will be very soft at first.  Transfer the cookies to wire racks and cool completely.

The new social mood


You really don’t want to know my opinion about who is to blame for the ongoing recession we are in.  All I know is that I saw it all coming.  I saved diligently when the American savings rate was plummeting to zero.  I didn’t buy an overpriced house in the most ridiculously overpriced market in the country.  I didn’t buy things that I didn’t need.  I drove my old car for seventeen years and when it could no longer pass a smog check; I dove into my savings to fund the purchase of a new car to keep myself debt free.  I feel like I was one of the good guys – a cheap bastard who did not take advantage of the greed and stupidity that was running rampant for nearly two decades.  So you would think I’d be bitter and angry to be a victim of the economy, laid off from a work place that I called home for seventeen years.  I saw it all coming.  It was no surprise to me.  I am thankful that my foresight caused a nest egg.  I am thankful that my hard work and years of service gave me the gift of severance pay.  I am thankful that I already have good habits.

During the past few months there has been a noticeable shift in social mood.  Whereas people used to make a point of boasting about the house they bought, the clothes they bought, the trips they were taking, the new car they were shopping for, etc, etc, now it is alright to talk about paying off your bills, putting off purchases, saving money and getting bargains.  It is so okay that advertisements are beginning to acknowledge this new austerity. 

To go along with this change, I noticed a shift in the articles in the food and lifestyle magazines I read.  Food articles changed from telling us how to make the most lavish meals for our next extravagant party with our enormous social circle to showing us how little a meal costs to make for our family.  Yes, even Bon Appétit magazine is putting a frugal price tag on the food they want us to cook. 

I don’t really think it is only about a dollar amount.  Here are some truths about food:

  1.  Restaurants are a treat not your personal chef
  2. Food cooked from scratch is cheaper and healthier than processed or premade food from a grocery store.
  3. You are responsible for what goes into your body:  put your life into someone else’s hands or do your own cooking and know what your food is all about.
  4. Money saved by eating at home can be used wisely to make better quality food at home.

That being said, use your splurges at a restaurant as your muse for eating quality food at home.  If there is something you love, learn how to cook it.  If there is something easy that you lazily go out to have, there has got to be a better and less expensive way to make it at home.  Here is a ridiculous example:  A favorite German style restaurant of mine in town has a wonderful chef who makes the most amazing food at dinner time.  His lunch menu is a bit lazy.  Sandwiches, served a la carte for a pretty good profit.  People go there for the atmosphere.  What is the biggest waste of your money on his menu for lunch?  Smoked salmon on D’Angelo bakery pumpernickel rye bread with onions and capers with a pickle on the side.  $11.95.  You can order a side of German Potato salad for $4.95.  Today, I did myself a favor.  I bought  wild caught king salmon for $13.95 for 12 oz.  This much salmon will make this sandwich at least six times over, maybe more.  (Instead of sandwiches, the leftover salmon will likely make many more meals of eggs or pasta).  D’Angelo bread is about $6 a loaf at the local foodie store but I made another round of sour corn rye for pennies.  I topped the sandwiches with a few cents worth of slivered red onion and capers.  Mark Bittman’s How to cook anything contains a recipe for mustard potato salad that is to die for.  I made this salad in 15 minutes.  It was fabulous.  What? You still have a job you say?  How can you eat like this when you are so tired and busy?  This kind of food packs well and comes together in minutes, make it tonight and pack it to work tomorrow.  You will eat better than if you went out for fast food.

So what did I really want to say after this long convoluted rant and rave?  Just this:  Eat like a king, clean up like a maid.

The end.