Friday, March 25, 2011

Spring Forward... To That Nice Weather!

Spring. I love all that it evokes. The trees have little buds on them, my garden is producing beautiful baby lettuces (first time ever!), and the weather is warm with a slight chill in the evening - which seems to be the only time of the year that it does that in Texas. Spring is also when most of our friends and family choose to visit us. We clean off the lawn chairs replacing the leaves and dirt with comfy pillows and side tables with vases of flowers and good reading books. I re-plant my herb garden and shower colorful geraniums all over the dried up flower beds. I even start hanging the laundry out too dry to soak in that fresh spring air. OK, so that last one was out of necessity because the dryer took a dump, but hey, it did get those sheets into the lovely sunshine!

Since I tend to be outside more in the Spring taking full advantage of the weather, my kitchen, in a sense, moves outside too. I will pick and eat from the garden, work on quick meals and drink more sun tea and my desserts tend to be quick and fast. If you live in Texas, you know that the hotter-than-Hades sun is upon you quickly and you only have this small window of opportunity to enjoy hanging out all day in the yard. So I intend to take full advantage and if I need something to break down (dryer) to get those sheets hung or house guests to get my yard cleaned up then so be it! Whatever works - it's all in my flavor or *ahem* favor! I'm jus' sayin'!

Here is one of those quick, stay out of your kitchen recipes. Simple foccacia, which is always my stand by when I have fresh items on hand or left overs in the fridge. I touched base on this in the last post but felt like it deserved a center stage due to it's diversity. It can be made for quick tapas or even as a Friday night pizza replacement. You make the dough and then put whatever you like on it. It can be grilled out back or baked in your oven.

Make it your own Focaccia

Start this recipe 1 hour before you want to eat.

In a large stainless steel bowl mix the following:
4 cups all purpose flour
2 cups warm water
2 Tbs. instant dry yeast
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. salt

Stir them all together until a sticky dough is formed. Cover the bowl with a moist kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm area for about 30 minutes. It should double in size with plenty of air bubbles.

Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead with your hands (and a bit of extra flour if needed) 5-10 times or until the dough forms a ball and is no longer sticky. Divide dough in half and on 2 large parchment-lined cookie sheets (or pizza stone), hand press your dough into a large but not too thin square shape. Of course it can be any shape you want - we're just going for a rustic look here. With your finger tips, gently press down and dimple the top leaving little pockets or indentations all over (this will be to hold the toppings later). Drizzle some really good extra virgin olive oil over the top and let rise for 5 more minutes. While it's rising start thinking about your toppings.

If this is a tapas, you may want halved grapes or dried fruit with some chunks of blue-veined cheese and some toasted nuts. Roasted garlic, sun dried tomatoes and fresh mozzarella are equally good choices. Or how about pears, procuitto and a drizzle of agave syrup for something unique?

If you are doing this for a side on salad you may just want the olive oil, a sprinkle of garlic powder and some fresh herbs. After baked, cut into cubes for lovely croutons or mound the salad right on top of the bread and cut strips.

For a main course check out your fridge. If you have any cured meats hanging out, slice them up and throw them on it. Another one of my favorites is using roasted vegetables. I have even been known to take some cold leftover meatloaf and cube it and throw it on. Be creative and be fast. (Don't want to waste valuable cocktail time, right?)

If you want this to be dessert, bake it up with just the olive oil and when it comes out of the oven, spread some nutella and sliced fresh fruit on top. How about some warm marmalade and shaved chocolate? Do you see where I am going with this?

Make it your own. Take a basic, easy recipe and customize it so that you will have more time to sit and relax and enjoy the nice Spring evenings. Oops! Like Alice in the rabbit hole, I became side-tracked with the toppings and I forgot to tell you how to bake it! Bake in preheated 375' oven for 15-17 minutes or until lightly brown and golden on top. Cool and cut into squares or strips.

Quick Citrus Sangria

In a large pitcher or jug combine the following and let it marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours before serving. Serve over ice.

2 oranges sliced
2 limes sliced
1 lemon sliced
1 peach or stone fruit sliced
1 bottle of red wine (no need to go expensive on this one)
1 can of peach nectar
1 cup of orange juice
1/4 cup of brandy or orange liquor
Top off with sparkling water (If you don't have room in the pitcher for this just top each individual glass off to give a little lift to the sangria)