Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fresh-Herb Flatbread

This flatbread recipe began with an unscheduled visit to the old Goose Bay Cannery in Rivers Inlet. The cannery ceased operation in 1957 but the building complex remained. The site functioned as a fishing lodge for a period after that, but that venture closed and the site seemed destined to end up as just one more crumbling historic ruin. 

Enter a group of Burnaby, B.C. firemen who purchased the cannery ten years ago and have given the place a new life. Some Vancouver, B.C. firemen joined the group and I believe the ownership has now expanded to 27 members. The new owners undertook an impressive rescue and restoration project, both structural and cosmetic. The visible exterior changes range from restored boardwalks, new piling, a covered ramp to a huge concrete floating dock, roofing and siding repair and fresh paint everywhere you look. The visible improvements barely hint at the energy and effort involved in restoring the cannery complex.

We arrived at the site late in the day, an impromptu stop following a waterside photo shoot of the cannery. We accepted an invitation to tie up and tour the site (thank you, Ray and Tom) and join a group of visiting firemen for dinner. My small taco salad-for-two was a puny contribution to the meal as we dined on scrumptious Firehouse lamb burgers, tiny red potatoes, fresh sweet corn and a giant Caesar salad. At least our box of red wine was a welcome last-minute addition to the menu.

How could we say thank you for such generous sharing? - with a little home cooking, of course. The visiting firemen filled their day with fishing and hiking, and had their entire trip menu well planned in advance, though their meal schedule seemed more… well, random and spontaneous. Flatbread was a perfect choice since fresh bread works, either as an anytime appetizer or snack or accompanying a meal. Pull it apart, dip a chunk in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and it’s heavenly. Slather a sliced baton with butter if that’s your thing. Eat a wedge plain and let the flavorful herbs shine in every bite. Cut a square and slice it horizontally to use for a sturdy, flavorful Panini base. Try a savory bread pudding. The possibilities are endless.

I formed four flatbreads using a basic pizza/focaccia dough recipe plus flavored olive oil and a bouquet of mixed herbs. Pitted Kalamata olives topped two of the loaves, an impulsive last-minute addition. We had to sample one loaf, ostensibly to check the timing and to taste-test before sharing. Success! The bread smelled heavenly, its fragrant aroma perfumed the galley and our entire end of the dock. As for the taste, well we ate the whole thing... slice by slice... one after another... until it was gone. No adjustments required on timing or ingredients.  

The three remaining loaves, still warm from the oven, were enthusiastically received by a few of the sailboat crew. As I walked away I heard them debating whether to enjoy them right away with a glass of wine, or wait and share them with the rest of the guys when they returned from fishing. We left the dock at dawn the next morning, before anyone else stirred, so I don’t know if the flatbread was a hit or a miss. I’ll assume the best; after all, who can resist fresh bread? At least I never saw any bread chunks floating in the saltwater.

Flatbread with Fresh Herbs

yields 4 small loaves

2 pkg (1/4 oz each) dry yeast
1 ½ cups warm water (abut 115 F)
1 tsp sugar
1 ½ cups AP white flour
1 ½ cups semolina flour
1 tsp salt
2 TB herb-floavored extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup assorted fresh herbs, chopped (I used oregano, thyme, parsley)
Additional all-purpose flour as needed
More flavored olive oil and any toppings of your choice (optional) 

In a mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the sugar and the AP flour. Beat vigorously for 1 minute. Dough should be the consistency of a thick cake batter.

Cover lightly with a damp tea towel and let rise in a warm spot until bubbles and lightens, usually 30 to 40 minutes. 

At the end of 30 minutes, stir dough and add the semolina flour, salt, and flavored olive oil. Mix well. Place dough on a floured surface and knead well for about 8 minutes, adding just enough additional AP flour as needed to keep dough from sticking. Form the dough into four balls. At this point, you can freeze the dough for later use or make it into flatbread immediately.

Roll or press a dough ball into an oval about 1/2 inch thick. If dough resists, let it rest for a few seconds, then continue shaping. Each ball should make a 12-to-13 inch flatbread. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet; brush lightly with seasoned olive oil and add any optional toppings. Prick here and there with a fork to minimize gas bubbles. Repeat with remaining dough balls - you will need a second prepared baking sheet. Let the loaves rest until dough lightens a bit.
Bake in the middle of a preheated 450 degree F oven until top and bottom crusts are golden brown. Remove to a cooling rack

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Chicken Coconut Curry Soup

...ferry boat inspired.

 “Ferry boat food”. Does the phrase bring to mind crowds of passengers, all impatient and queued up in long lines, waiting to slide cafeteria trays down stainless steel ledges, ready to pick up bland, fast-food, carb-loaded meals? Ugh, not my thing. Well, adjust that image to include some new additions to the familiar fare of eggy breakfasts or lunches featuring burgers ‘n fries (poutine perhaps?).

This recipe was inspired by a bowl of soup enjoyed on a trip between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island (Tsawassan to Nanaimo) earlier this year. Who would have thought that ferry food would ever be considered “inspiring”?! This soup was almost too good to share more than a taste with RL, but I relented and welcomed his ingredient analysis. This would be a tempting recipe challenge to work on during our travels afloat.

While I don’t have the recipe for that original bowl of soup, this version scored high with taste testers in my galley. The various ingredients play nicely together, a surprise with some assertive items like ginger, cayenne, curry and garlic involved. No single flavor dominates, but they all have a role. By itself the Chicken Coconut Curry Soup is delicious, but don’t skip the Coconut Rice – it makes the dish something special. 

Chicken Coconut Curry Soup
Serves 2

1 plump, skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut in slivers
1 generous Tablespoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon oil
1 Tablespoon butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons Garam Masala
1 Tablespoon curry powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optional)
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled & grated
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 Tablespoon liquid honey
1 cup chicken stock
1 can coconut milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Optional toppings: shredded flat-leaf parsley, basil, mint and
3 to 4 chopped green onions (green & white parts)

Serve with Coconut Rice (recipe below)
and some extra hot sauce for anyone who likes fiery flavors

For the soup:
1.   Cut the chicken into narrow slivers, roughly 1.5 to 2-inches long. Toss with cornstarch to coat completely; set aside.
2.   In a large skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion, celery and carrot and cook until the onion is translucent.
3.   Stir in the Garam Masala, curry powder, cayenne pepper (if using) and ginger; stir for a minute or two until fragrant.
4.   Add the honey, chicken stock and coconut milk and mix together until smooth. Cook for several minutes; taste and adjust seasonings. Lower the heat until the soup bubbles at a low simmer.
5.   Add the cornstarch-coated chicken pieces and cook to just heat through but still moist and tender. The liquid will thicken slightly.
6.   Ladle into bowls and top with green onions and shreds of parsley, basil and mint. Serve with Coconut Rice alongside, or spoon a mound of the rice into each bowl.

Coconut Rice
Serves 4 to 6

1 cup rice (I use Jasmine or brown Basmati)
2 cups water
¼ cup coconut milk
pinch of salt (optional)
¼ cup sweetened shredded coconut

Cook rice as indicated on packaging, substituting the ¼ cup coconut milk for ¼ cup of the water. Add the shredded coconut at the end or cook it with the rice, either way works fine.

You will have more rice than needed for the soup. I make extra on purpose to have some available for breakfast or a late night snack. Warm 1 part milk or coconut milk with a handful of raisins. Add 2 parts coconut rice plus a sprinkle of sugared cinnamon and heat or microwave to warm through. Scatter some slivered almonds on top and enjoy.   

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