Category Archives: Food & Recipes

The Great Toaster Oven Experiment: Focaccia

Continuing with alternative baking methods/bread, I decided to attempt focaccia. Spoiler alert: not perfect, but perfectly acceptable in a pinch.

In my search for a suitably-sized vehicle, I discovered that out of the dozen or so bread/loaf pans accumulated in decades of marriage — this not being the first for either of us, though that may not explain the excessive number — only one actually fits in the toaster oven.

Dimensions, for anyone else who is oven-less, or wants to give this a try (the rest of you can enjoy a short snooze):

  • Length: Exterior including handles 9.75″/25 cm; interior 8.25″/21 cm
  • Width: Exterior 5″/12.25 cm; interior 4.25″/11cm
  • Height: 2.5″/6.5 cm

Ingredients

(Dough)

  • 1 cup warm water (not too hot; you don’t want to cook the yeast)
  • 1 teaspoon dry yeast
  • 2- 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon (more or less) extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

(Topping)

  • 12 pitted olives, Kalamata or Castelvetrano, as you prefer, sliced
  • 1-2 tablespoons EVOO
  • 1-2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • Kosher salt or fleur de sel

Method

  1. Place warm water in a bowl. Sprinkle the dry yeast, stir and let it dissolve for about 10 minutes.
  2. Add 2 cups of flour and 1 tsp salt to the bowl and stir. The dough will be sticky.
  3. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes. Add more flour as needed. Shape dough into a ball.
  4. Pour a little olive oil into your bowl, add the dough, and roll it around until it’s lightly coated.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm area until doubled, approx. 1 1/2 hours. (First rise)
  6. Punch it down, knead into a ball, return to the bowl, cover with plastic and let it rise in a warm place until doubled. This takes about 45 minutes. (Second rise)
  7. Pour a small amount of olive oil into your loaf pan and spread it around to coat the inside.
  8. Once the second rise is finished, punch it down lightly, transfer it to the loaf pan and let it rest for 10 minutes.
  9. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the dough. Sprinkle with chopped rosemary and add the olives on top. Let it rise uncovered for about 25 minutes. (Third rise).
  10. Using your fingertips, press indentations into the surface of the dough. The oil will pool in the indentations. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt
  11. Bake at 450 degrees F (230C I think?) for about 15-20 minutes. Mine began to burn at 20 so keep an eye on it!
  12. Serve warm with more olive oil. Adding garlic and herbs (oregano, rosemary, thyme) to the oil is even better.

How to MacGyver Oven-less Baking

Wanting to take advantage of an overabundance of fresh tomatoes, I had a pizza craving yesterday. I could have ordered one, but a) take-out pizza around here is less than stellar, b) I only wanted a small portion for lunch, and c) I was mostly in the mood to bake and we don’t have our ovens yet. (Ah, the endless joys of home remodeling.)

One option would have been the grill but I didn’t feel like a massive post-lunch cleanup and preferred something quick and easy. Solution: the toaster oven. I was also curious to see if other items like cookies or baklava could be baked in it.

Step 1: Divide a pizza dough recipe by 25% to make a quantity that might fit in the toaster oven. Caveat, this is not my favorite recipe, which is best made 2-3 days ahead, but it was ok in a pinch:

  • 1 cup bread flour (sorry, MacGyvering did not allow time to convert to grams)
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • Heaping 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
  • Approximately 1/4 cup warm water

Method

  • Mix dry ingredients in a medium-large bowl
  • Add most of the olive oil, retaining a small amount in reserve
  • Add about half the water, and begin mixing everything together
  • If dough is too dry/crumbly, add more water a little at a time until it comes together. Likewise, add more flour if the dough is too soggy.
  • Dump dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it forms a ball.
  • Spread remaining oil around the inside of the bowl, add the dough, and roll the dough around until it’s lightly coated. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to rise for 1 hour.
  • After the dough has nearly doubled in size, punch it down lightly and shape it into a rectangle on an aluminum foil “tray” that will fit in your toaster oven.
  • Pre-bake the crust at the hottest temperature (mine only heats to 450F) until golden brown.
  • Remove from toaster oven and add toppings. I used a light layer of (more) olive oil, then sliced tomatoes, chopped fresh basil, and scattered bits of Boursin cheese because that’s what I had in the fridge.
  • Return to the toaster oven and continue baking until cheese is melted and everything is cooked. You can blast it on the “toast” setting towards the end to help brown the crust.

I can’t tell you exactly how long this takes because you’d have to experiment, but it was maybe 20-30 minutes baking time.

Before
After

Delicious quick lunch with my nonalcoholic Faux Cosmo:

Fill a tall glass with seltzer or sparkling water. Add a splash each of orange juice and cranberry juice. Add the juice of 1/2 lime. Garnish with a slice of lime. Pretty and refreshing!

When Bad Bread Happens to Good Restaurants

I hope this is not a new trend. In recent weeks, Dear Husband and I have eaten at two excellent restaurants with truly inferior bread. What gives??

First up, Toulouse — a lovely French/Creole place in Seattle, where one would expect to find good sourdough or certainly an acceptable baguette. Instead, we got flabby structure and squishy crust; mon Dieu!

Then, last week, a local place on the Oregon coast — the Bay House — which has a relaxing ambiance, superb service, and beautiful food (see below) — with this notable exception. Hey, if it’s too humid, pop the loaf in an oven to crisp it up! I’m tempted to bring my own sourdough next time. Think they’d mind?

At the Bay House, DH’s beet salad starter was a work of art
As was my halibut— those green shapes are pea purée

Bread lovers of the world, unite! And what’s your pet peeve when eating out, dear readers?

Good News Monday: Bonus Round

I don’t know about you, but I could use a little extra good news these days. This story comes from Georgia, so it may be a little biased. (Georgia produces one-third of the pecan harvest in the US: nearly 88 million pounds of pecans from over six thousand pecan trees.) Still food for thought.

Image by Lisa Redfern from Pixabay

Pecans can dramatically reduce bad cholesterol and fat levels

by Study Finds

ATHENS, Ga. — Adding more pecans to your diet can dramatically improve cholesterol and fat levels, leading to better heart health, a new study finds.

Researchers from the University of Georgia find people at risk for heart disease who ate pecans during an eight-week trial displayed “significant” improvements in total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides — which are fats the body stores in cells.

The team saw an average drop of five percent in total cholesterol and between six and nine percent in LDL among participants who ate the nuts as part of their daily diet.

“This dietary intervention, when put in the context of different intervention studies, was extremely successful,” says study co-author Professor Jamie Cooper in a university release. “We had some people who actually went from having high cholesterol at the start of the study to no longer being in that category after the intervention.”

The research team finds these nuts beat out 51 exercise plans designed to lower cholesterol, which reported an average drop of one percent in total cholesterol and five percent in LDL cholesterol.

“The addition of pecans to the diet not only produced a greater and more consistent reduction in total cholesterol and LDL compared to many other lifestyle interventions, but may also be a more sustainable approach for long-term health,” Dr. Cooper adds. “Some research shows that even a 1% reduction in LDL is associated with a small reduction of coronary artery disease risk, so these reductions are definitely clinically meaningful.”

Adding pecans (any way you can) improves health

For the study, researchers assigned 52 adults between the ages of 30 and 75 who were at higher risk for cardiovascular disease to one of three groups. One group consumed 68 grams (about 470 calories) of pecans a day as part of their regular diet. The second group did not add the nuts on top of their normal diet, but replaced other things they ate with the same number of calories in pecans. The third control group did not eat any pecans at all.

At the eight-week mark, participants ate a high-fat meal which allowed researchers to detect changes in the fats and sugars in their blood. Results revealed improvements in the levels of fat in blood among the two pecan groups, while post-meal triglycerides dropped in the group that added pecans. Blood sugar levels were also lower in the group that replaced parts of their usual diet with pecans.

“Whether people added them or substituted other foods in the diet for them, we still saw improvements and pretty similar responses in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in particular,” Dr. Cooper explains.

The team says their findings back up previous research which revealed bioactive properties of pecans for possible mechanisms driving the improvements. They added that pecans are high in healthy fatty acids and fiber, both of which contribute to lower cholesterol.

The findings appear in The Journal of Nutrition.

South West News Service writer William Janes contributed to this report.

Quick Bites: Pizza Provençale

We’ve been back from France for nearly two weeks — another post for another time — and have been craving Provençale dishes. This had led to some delicious experiments with tapenade.

Tapenade — like pesto — is one of those basic ingredients worth keeping on hand because you can whip up dinner in no time. The complex flavor adds richness to pasta, fish or chicken (spread a layer on top before baking), or dab it on sliced rounds of crusty toasted bread. Here’s my favorite recipe:

In a food processor, blend: 1 cup pitted brined kalamata olives; 2 anchovy fillets; 1 large garlic clove, roughly chopped; 1 tablespoon capers; 2 tablespoons lemon juice (genius time saver: Minute Maid frozen lemon juice); 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil; 1/4 tsp herbes de Provence; 1/4 teaspoon cayenne; freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Last night I tried it on pizza. Whenever I make this dough (a half-recipe is enough for two large pies) I keep one portion in the freezer for the next time we need a quick meal. The result was somewhere between a traditional pizza and a more labor-intensive pissaladière. Note: You can use nearly any type of crust or even puff pastry if you’re feeling decadent and go more traditional with a rectangular baking sheet.

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 500 degrees F, or your hottest setting.
  • Slice 1 1/2 large yellow onion into thin slices.
  • Prepare pizza pan by oiling it and sprinkling with corn meal. I used a 14″ round.
  • Shape pizza dough (this recipe’s a stand-out).
  • Prebake the dough until it starts to turn light brown.
  • Remove from oven and let cool. Lower oven temperature to 450 degrees F.
  • Spread dough with a generous layer of tapenade.
  • Cover evenly with the sliced onions.
  • Top with a few sliced kalamata olives.
  • Sprinkle with additional olive oil and herbes de Provence.
  • Bake until onions soften, about 15 minutes.
  • Cool slightly, slice, eat. Extra delicious with a glass of chilled Rosé.
Bon appetit!

The Road Trip That Wasn’t

For weeks, I’d been dreading this: several days in Austin to clear out our remaining belongings — we’d sold the house in late March –, sell two cars, close our safe deposit box, and then drive 3-4 days back to Oregon.

Luckily, we were able to accomplish said tasks quickly, ship the boxes instead of loading them into our Titanic-sized, impossible-to-park rental car, and fly back instead. As I’ve often remarked, there is almost no problem that can’t be solved by throwing money at it. (Though, to digress, this apparently hasn’t worked for Bill and Melinda Gates.)

This allowed us time to visit with family and friends and reflect on some of the unexpected pleasures of dining out during a pandemic.

Pandemic Travel 2.0

  • Waitstaff no longer hover over your table, telling you their life story (“Hi, I’m Bruce and I’ll be your server tonight, although I’m really an actor and I’ve written this cool sci-fi script…”).
  • Table spacing makes for a much quieter experience. You might even be able to hear your own conversation.
  • Maybe it’s an illusion, but everything just seems cleaner.
  • Silverware arrives wrapped in a napkin, rather than having been sitting out on the table.
  • Many restaurants have streamlined their menus, so the choices are better thought-out and fresher.
  • People are too far away to eavesdrop.

As for air travel,

  • Fewer travelers = speedier security. They sure want you to keep moving.
  • Nobody seems to worry about liquids anymore.
  • Better filtration = less chance of catching a cold or flu, never mind COVID.
  • Even anti-maskers have to wear one.
  • A discreet cough or two (into your mask of course) and no one will attempt to ask what you’re reading or whether you live at your destination.
  • Fewer travelers = less luggage. For the first time in recent memory, our checked bags were already at the carousel by the time we arrived at baggage claim.

Woo hoo — home sweet (temporary) home in one day, not four. So what if we’ll have to load 17 boxes into our car and lug them to a new (also temporary) storage unit; the kids can sort out our crap when we cross the rainbow bridge!

Photo by Benjamin Suter on Pexels.com

How to Impress a Date

Though long out of the dating “scene”, I thought this was a fun read, courtesy of StudyFinds.org.

James Bond was right! Americans say ordering a martini will definitely impress your date

by Chris Melore Share Tweet

NEW YORK — Will a bad choice at the bar sink your budding romance? Three in ten Americans say they’ve ended a date early because of what their date ordered to drink, a new study reveals.

The survey of 2,000 Americans over 21 who consume alcohol finds the first drink on a date makes a lasting first impression. Sixty percent of men in the poll agree a bad drink order would be a “deal-breaker” for them. Just 32 percent of women, however, said the same.

Top shelf dating advice

Drinks Dating Impressions

Want to win someone over right away? Take a page out of James Bond’s playbook. Three in five said a martini will make the ultimate good impression. The other drinks that leave potential partners impressed include gin and tonics (46%) and Manhattans (45%). Forty-two percent would look favorably on a date who orders a Cosmopolitan or a Whiskey Sour.

On the other hand, the drink most likely to make a bad first impression is a Long Island Iced Tea, with 22 percent saying that’s a dating deal-breaker. With so much pressure on that initial drink order, it’s no wonder over a third (37%) order a “fancy” drink while on a date.

The survey, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Jack Daniel’s, also reveals 62 percent think a person’s drink of choice says “a lot” about their personality. It’s for that reason two in three respondents (65%) think people should order their drink of choice on a first date to showcase who they “really are.”

The results also find four in five (79%) have a “go-to” drink that took them three years of experimenting on average to finally find.

With age comes (drinking) wisdom?

It’s not just about what goes in the drink, though, as 71 percent claim to be experts who know how to prepare their drink “the right way.”

Drinks Dating Impressions

Over half the poll actually consider themselves a “connoisseur” in their spirit of choice, but that wasn’t always the case. The average person “graduated” from low to top-shelf taste at 27 years-old and needed three years to become truly knowledgeable about their favorite spirit.

“Your drink of choice says a lot about your personality and it’s no surprise to us that classic whiskey cocktails have never gone out of style. However our friends choose to enjoy our Tennessee Whiskey, we want them to do so responsibly,” a spokesperson for Jack Daniel’s says in a statement.

The company commissioned this survey in honor of International Whiskey Day and wanted to find out just what Americans love about the spirit. Three in ten named whiskey as their favorite type of alcohol.

When it comes to whiskey-centric cocktails, drinkers say simple is better. Whiskey-colas come in as the top choice for a third of respondents. Whiskey Sours (31%), Irish Coffees (23%), and an Old Fashioned (23%) followed closely behind on the menu.

“Whiskey has always been a staple in any home bar. All of the classic whiskey cocktails that were identified by the respondents can easily be perfected at home and with the seasons changing it’s the ideal time to experiment with new recipes,” the spokesperson for Jack Daniel’s ads.

What We Eat Now

I’m inspired by Marty, of the witty blog snakesinthegrass2014, to revisit the infamous food pyramid.

Pre-pandemic food pyramid:

Healthy Eating Pyramid

Post-pandemic food pyramid:

As my friend D commented the other day, “Covid-19 stands for the 19 lbs we’ve gained.”

How Many Fruits and Veggies Should We Eat?

Harvard study says 2 fruits, 3 vegetables ‘right’ number of daily servings for a longer life

WWW.STUDYFINDS.ORG

For years, the recommendations have been vague and confusing. (What actually constitutes a “serving”?) But this clarifies the “what”, if not the “how much”.

Sadly, potatoes and corn don’t make the list. However, I remain convinced that the pleasure inherent in eating french fries (“chips” to you in the UK) absolutely prolongs life.

Junk Food Junkies

Need help following your New Year’s resolution to eat healthier food? Move to the UK, where apparently they will do this for you! (You might take this with a grain of salt, except it’s also on the watch list.)

Thanks to TheEnlightenedMind622 blog for another eye-opener.

The U.K. Uses COVID-19 to Justify More Nanny State Junk Food Crackdowns

Bans on ads, displays, refills, and buy-one-get-one-free offers

by SCOTT SHACKFORD 

britishcandy_1161x653

(Composure / Dreamstime.com)

The United Kingdom has been attacking its citizens’ food choices for years and now the government is using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse for a new crackdown.

On Monday, the U.K.’s Department of Health and Social Care announced a pack of new regulations that will be implemented in April 2022 to restrict junk food promotions.

In 2018, London implemented a ban of junk food advertising that was written so broadly that it forbid promotion of all sorts of normal foods (like butter, olive oil, and canned fruit) not because those items were unhealthy but because they had sugar, salt, or fat levels beyond government-approved thresholds.

The U.K. now plans a nationwide ban on television advertisements for what it calls “junk food” before 9 p.m. And that’s not the only new regulation. Also on the list:

  • Retailers will not be permitted to offer “buy one, get one free” promotions (or similar offers) for foods the government deems unhealthy.
  • Retails will not be permitted to display these unhealthy foods for promotioal purposes near checkout counters, near the front of the store, or on the ends of aisles.
  • Retailers will not be permitted to promote unhealthy foods on the entry or landing pages of their websites.
  • Free refills of sugary drinks will be banned at restaurants.

“We know families want to be presented with healthier choices,” said Public Health Minister Jo Churchill. “This is why we are restricting promotions and introducing a range of measures to make sure the healthy choice is the easy choice.” They’re going to make it the “easy choice” by deliberately bringing about economic harm to any competing choices!

The government claims that the British people have an obesity problem—more than 63 percent of adults and a third of elementary school children are overweight. Because the United Kingdom has socialized medicine through the National Health Service (NHS), this means the healthcare costs associated with obesity, which are estimated to be 6 billion pounds annually ($8 billion), are everybody’s problem.

The U.K. government can’t seem to acknowledge or accept the idea that people are voluntarily and willingly making bad choices. This Nanny State mentality means that the government must lay the blame on those who sell or advertise unhealthy food.

“Promotions often appear to help shoppers save money,” the agency explained in its press release. “However, data shows that these deals actually increase purchases of promoted products by almost 20%. They encourage people to buy more than they need or intended to buy in the first place.”

But people always need food. If you buy more food than you “need or intended to buy in the first place” you can usually save it for the future. That is what sales, promotions, and other low-pricing deals accomplish. They allow people to stock up and store food. That’s particularly important when governments everywhere are trying to discourage people from gathering in public places due to the pandemic.

Speaking of COVID-19, even though the U.K.’s food nannyism has been building for years, British officials can’t help but try to use the coronavirus as a justification for their actions: “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the impact that obesity can have on people’s health and health outcomes.”

Snowdon notes that a ban on buy-one-get-one-free promotions could cost the average family more than 600 pounds (more than $800) a year by the government’s own estimate. That means that British officials are trying to deliberately force up the cost of unhealthy foods because they think this will force people to choose healthier alternatives.

But that’s just not what happens. Instead, shoppers will turn to black markets. Driving up the price of sodas in Philadelphia with a special tax, for example, did not affect how much soda that people drank. Lots of people there just avoided the taxes by buying their soda elsewhere.

What will U.K. health authorities do when their latest tactics fail to make people eat better? A cynic might assume they’re already planning out even more new rules that are doomed to fail.