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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Gourmet Sandwhich - Grilled Vegetables with Pesto on Artisan Bread

Last month we visited a local bistro. They had a Tuscan style menu and one of the things we ordered was a lovely grilled panini sandwhich. It had grilled vegetables, cheese, pesto and we really enjoyed it. I was quite eager to reverse engineer it and make my very own version of it. So, after a couple of days, I made a fresh batch of pesto, made some strawberry balsamic vinegar and I was on my way. The resultant sandwhich was lipsmacking.

So, this year, when we decided to celebrate my daughter's birthday in the park, and I was trying to come up with a suitable menu, I realized these sandwhiches would be perfect as the main course. Everyone loved the sandwhiches, and I received a lot of compliments. I made around eighty sandwhiches and once you read the recipe, you will realize how easy these are to scale up. So, if you are looking that dish that will wow your guests and won't have you slaving over the stove for hours, this is it!

The following ingredients list is for one ciabatta roll and will provide about 6-8 servings on how large you cut your sandwhiches.

1 loaf of bread (use ciabatta, or garlic bread or rosemary bread)
1/4 cup basil pesto (click on the link to see recipe from another post)
1 tbsp strawberry balsamic vinegar
pepper jack cheese, slices - at least enough to create one layer over the bread
1 large red onion, sliced
1-2 zuccinis/italian squash,  thinly sliced lengthwise
1-2 firm tomatoes, sliced
2-3 tbsp  olive oil (use about 1.5 tbsp to grill the onions and 1.5 tbsp to grill the zuccini)
salt to taste
pepper to taste

The following ingredients list is to make 80 sandwhiches, assuming one sandwhich will be about 3 inches length wise and 2-3 inches width wise. I estimated about 2 sandwhiches per person. However, if you are planning to multiple items like pastas/salads which may be filling along with the sandwhiches, you can estimate about 1.5 sandwhich per adult.

10-12 bread loaves (estimate the number of loaves based on how long and wide the loaf is)
4-5 cups of pesto sauce
plenty of pepper jack cheese, I bought a cheese block and sliced about 1/2 (about 4 cups worth)
1/4 cup strawberry balsamic vinegar
10 large onions, sliced
20 zuccinis, sliced length wise
12 large tomatoes, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil (use 1/8 cup to grill the onions and 1/8 cup to grill the zuccinis)
salt to taste
pepper to taste

Add half of the olive oil over the red onion slices and then grill these on a hot grill, till the onion is cooked, slightly browned. At this stage it gets a sweet tinge. Add remaining olive oil to the zuccini and then grill the zuccini. Let the water from the zuccini evaporate. Slice the bread horizontally into two large pieces. If you want, you can toast the bread in the oven for a few minutes. 

Now, we are ready to assemble the sandwhich. Spread pesto on one the top slice of the bread. Add a layer of cheese on the other bread slice and keep it in a warm oven for a minute till it melts slightly. Drizzle the strawberry balsamic vinegar over the cheese. Next add a layer of tomato slices. Season this layer with a little salt and pepper. Next add a layer of grilled onions, then season that with a little salt and peper. The next layer is the grilled zuccini which also needs to be lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. Then, add back the top layer of the bread with the pesto. Cut the sandwhich into 6-8 pieces based on how large you want the sandwhich to be. Based on the length and width of the bread, I was able to make 8 sandwhiches.

Use the same method when you want to scale up this recipe. Cook the onions and zuccini, slice the cheese and tomatoes. You can make pesto a few days earlier, it stays fresh in the fridge for a couple of weeks and also freezes really well.  Once you have prepared all the ingredients, you can then create an assembly line and assemble all the sandwhiches. Then cut them into appropriate number of pieces.

If you do not have a grill, you can use a hot pan to cook the onions and zuccini. Zuccinis release water as they start cooking, so it will take a bit longer to cook/grill them than the onions. If you are making the sandwhiches a few hours in advance, then make sure to de-seed the tomatoes, so that the sandwhiches do not get soggy from the tomato juice. Also, add a layer of pesto on both side of the sandwhich, so that it stays moist. Also, do not toast the bread if you want it to stay moist.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Poppy Seed Fruit Muffin

This is great breakfast recipe, especially on those morning when you are running late and you don't have time for breakfast. I enjoy baked goods especially muffins. They are the perfect size and you can make a nice batch at a time. Now, I must confess, if you put an assortment of muffins in front of me, I will gravitate to one which has poppy seeds. The black poppy seeds that are used in the muffins add the the perfect texture and just enhance the overall look of the muffin. I love biting into the muffin and finding these little seeds to nibble on. So, I thought, why not make poppy seed muffins at home, which we could eat for breakfast over the week. I did not want to start my day with something very sweet and buttery, so I decided to make a healthy muffin. I have been experimenting with the baking process, cutting back the fat content and replacing it with fruit and this was the perfect time to put it into action and test the results. I used minimal sugar, eliminated the butter/oil and the muffins still came out fluffy and moist. I thoroughly enjoyed this. This is the perfect recipe which lets you indulge in a baked cake without feeling guilty about it. To make  it decadent, add some creamcheese frosting.

1.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 tbsp wheat bran
2 tsp black poppy seeds
3 tbsp flax seed powder
1-3 tbsp milk, if required
oil/butter to grease the muffin tin (I used the oil spray)

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Sieve together the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon a couple of time to aerate it and keep it aside.  In another bowl, whisk the eggs and vanilla essence together, till the eggs are nicely mixed and frothy. To this add the mashed bananas and apple sauce and mix well. Then add the brown sugar, ground flaxseed and mix. To these wet ingredients mixture, add the sieved dry ingredients a little at a time and incorporate them in. Then add the wheat bran, and poppy seeds. At this time, check the consistency of the batter. If you drop a spoonful, it should fall easily. If it seems a bit thick, thin it out with a little milk. Add about 1 tbsp at a time and thin it out to a consistency that when it falls it create a ribbon.

Fill your muffin tin and bake for about 20-30 minutes till completely baked. Use a sharp knife or a toothpick and pierce the center. If it comes out clean, your muffins are ready. Let the pan cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes and then it will be easy to remove the muffins.

When baking, try to avoid overmixing ingredients once you start adding the dry to the wet ingredients. So, mix just enough to incorporate the dry ingredients and make the batter. Fill each muffin mould to about 1/2 or 3/4 level. Leave enough space for the muffin to rise. To see more tips regarding baking, see the tips added to different baked recipes.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Artisanal Garlic Bread

We enjoy trying different kinds of bread. I will often pick up a different kind of bread in the grocery store. The local bakery sells a large variety of artisanal bread from the ever fragrant rosemary bread to a spicy jalapeno bread. The last time I was in, they had a bread tasting and I was able to taste the variety they offer. One of the breads that I tasted (and ended up buying) was a beautiful garlic bread. It had cloves of garlic embedded in it and it was just delicious. Since I have been enjoying baking breads off late, I decided to make the garlic bread. I had seen a recipe on a local tv show and thought I would try it out.  I must say it turned out very good.  This is a wonderful bread recipe.

Homemade bread or a bottle of homemade jam is a wonderful gift idea.

1 bulb garlic
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
about 2.5 to 3.5 cups bread flour
1 tsp to 1 tbsp salt (to taste)
some corn meal (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Slice one end of the garlic so that the cloves are slightly exposed at their base. Do not slice the stem end of the garlic bulb, else all the cloves will separate out. Pour about 2 tbsp olive oil over this. Then wrap the garlic bulb in some aluminium foil and bake for about 30 minutes. Towards the end of the baking process, bake the garlic bulb uncovered for about 5 mins.The cloves will be lightly browned, soft and will have a sweet flavor to it. Once the garlic cools down, squeeze the cloves out.

Dissolve 1/4 tsp of yeast in one cup of warm water and keep aside for 10 minutes. The water will become slightly frothy.

To this water, add 1 tbsp of olive oil and salt. Now, add a little bread flour at a time till the dough comes together. The resultant dough should be smooth and not sticky. It should also not be too dry or tough. When I made the bread I ended up using about 2 and 3/4 cups of bread flour. It will vary based on how dry the atmosphere is.

The most important part in bread making is the kneading process.  So, the easiest method is to use a food processor with a steel blade (used for chopping) to mix and knead the dough. Or you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook. This will take just a couple of minutes to knead the dough till it's smooth and gets a shine.

However, you can also knead the dough by hand. If so, knead it for about 10-15 minutes and form a smooth ball. Then, coat the entire dough ball with a little olive oil and keep aside in a bowl. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and set aside. Allow it to rise till it doubles in size. This may take a couple of hours depending on the ambient temperature.

After it has rise to twice the size, punch down the dough and knead the dough into a smooth ball. Insert and fold in the baked garlic cloves into the dough randomly as you shape the dough into a ball.  Then, let it rise again so that it is double in size. This will take about 45 mins to an hour.  Before baking, sprinkle some cornmeal on the pizza stone or baking sheet. Then transfer the dough ball onto the cornmeal.  Make a couple of slashes (in a plus sign) on the top of the bread before baking it. This will prevent it from spreading sideways during the baking process. 

Bake the bread on a baking sheet or pizza stone for about 20 minutes, till it is well browned.  To check if the bread is done, tap on it. It will sound hollow when completely cooked.

The temperature of the water should be around 110 F or lower. Do not over heat the water else the yeast will die. The easiest test is to dip a clean finger into the water and if you can easily hold it in the water for a couple of minutes without scalding your finger, then the water is at the right temperature. Even room temperature water is okay. It may take a bit longer for the yeast to develop, however it will not kill the yeast. Sprinkling corn meal on the baking sheet or pizza stone will help in getting a crisp crust on the base of the bread. It also makes it easy to slide the dough onto the baking sheet and slide it off when it's done.