Tuesday, April 28, 2009

DIY: Pita Bread

This post was originally published on May 4, 2007

On these beautiful spring days, it's tough deciding how to spend the mornings: head outside and weed among the daffodils or throw on an apron and get floury in the kitchen? Here's a quick bread recipe that lets you do both--Pita! With a relatively rapid rising time (30 minutes) you can have the satisfaction of having your hands in both dough and dirt in the same morning.
Just be sure to use that nail brush in between!

Pita bread is something my family has been making for as long as I can remember. They are so fun to make and puff up nicely, leaving a hollow center to fill with grilled chicken, veggies or whatever you desire. They are pretty amazing just warm from the oven with a drizzle of olive oil.

Here's my favorite hummus recipe, in case you need an accompaniment for your pitas!

Wimbush Family Pita Bread

1 tablespoon yeast
1 ¼ cup warm water

1 teaspoon salt
3- 3 ½ cups flour

Dissolve yeast in water for about 5 minutes in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add salt and 1 ½ cups flour and with the dough hook, beat to make a batter. Add additional flour until a rough, shaggy mass is formed. Knead 8 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Add more flour if it is too sticky.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into six pieces for large pitas or ten for smaller. I make all sorts of sizes to suit different snacks and meals. Form dough into balls, then flatten with a rolling pin into ¼ inch thick discs. Try and keep an even thickness as this is what helps them ‘puff’.

Let rest on the floured surface 30-40 minutes until slightly puffed.

Preheat oven to 425F.
With a large spatula, flip the rounds of dough upside down on to a b
aking sheet. Bake 10-15 minutes until light golden. Stick around for the first five minutes of baking when the pitas perform their magic and puff up from flat pancakes to proud, four inch high pitas.

These store for up to two days well wrapped or frozen for three weeks.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Reminiscing over Italy and the sandwich that came of it.

If you were to rewind ten years back you would find me eagerly stepping off a boat on a rainy April morning onto Italian soil. Six weeks of backpacking in South East Asia had left me ravenous for some good, crusty bread and I knew I wouldn't have to look far. An apparent dependency on all things yeasty had surfaced amidst the many bowls of perfect Pad Thai and sublime Nasi Goreng, and despite my love of those flavours, I couldn't help but dream about the focaccia and calzone of 'the Boot'.

I had arrived in Brindisi via a flight to Turkey and a boat from Greece and to me, this port town had it all going on. No, there was no Ponte Vecchio or Trevi Fountain, but I quickly found all I needed- a bakery.
It had just opened it doors for the day and the shelves were stacked high with the most knee-weakening array of Italian specialties I could have ever hoped to see. This small-town Canadian girl nearly swooned at the perfectly dimpled Focaccette al Rosmarino, fruit and nut studded Cantucci and Biscotti, rustic peasant Pagnotta and perfect Grissini.

I don't remember all that I purchased, but it was way more than I could possibly eat for breakfast. Standing at a small bar, I washed everything down with a perfect café and the gruff yet efficient clerk wrapped up the leftovers in brown paper and string for me, rations for the long train ride to Roma.
The rain soaked me as I walked the nearly deserted streets, but I barely noticed. My belly was happy and so was I.

I was to stumble upon a market a little later in the day and again satiate my bread-lust with a roasted vegetable-laden focaccia and a sausage-stuffed panini--both of which today's immense sandwich reminded me of.
I guess that is why we took this little trip back in time; flavors have a strong tendency to transport one back to a certain spot, no matter how many years have passed. How amazing that memory fails, but taste buds do not!

I finished my gastronomical feasting for the day with a lemon gelato and another coffee before heading to the station to catch my train. Brindisi had been good to me and the rest of Italy awaited.

Ciao Brindisi Panini
serves 2

1 Italian sausage, grilled, sliced lengthwise
2 slices slab bacon, cooked, or Pancetta
4 slices Provolone
1 red pepper, quartered and seeded
1 zucchini, sliced lengthwise into four
4 thin slices of lemon
1/4 red onion, sliced into 4 wedges
olive oil
Two crusty bread rolls, Ciabatta or 'petit pain'

Preheat grill.
Combine red pepper, zucchini, lemon and red onion in a bowl with a generous splash of olive oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and grill everything until soft and cooked. The lemons will only take a few seconds on either side.
Reduce the heat of the grill to low.
Slice buns in half, brush generously with olive oil and grill slightly. Pile all ingredients onto the bottom two buns and place the top bun on the pile. Yep, it will look gigantic!
Grill in a panini press until cheese is melted OR, if you are like me and don't have a panini press, simply wrap a brick with tinfoil and place it on top of the two sandwiches on the BBQ. You will need to flip the panini once if you are doing this.

Enjoy possibly the best sandwich you have ever had.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day

Today I am over at SimpleMom talking about eating in season. Come find out why this is important and pick up two recipes for seasonal spring tarts!

While you are over there, be inspired to do your part for Earth Day by reading SimpleMom's 40 Ways To Go Greener At Home.

Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 20, 2009

One For the Babies: Sweet Potato Pancakes

By now you know that if I discover something great, I'm going to share it with you, and so here is a find for all the new or soon to be mama's out there! My latest and greatest haunt is Nurture-Baby, an adorable site all about making your own baby food.

I know, you probably think I've got that area pretty much covered, I mean, how hard is it to make a puree, right? But since my kids are so frustratingly picky, I'm more than open to new mealtime suggestions and Nurture Baby has provided some fresh fodder for under the high chair!

Broken down into categories such as 'recipes', 'nutrition' and 'techniques', this site is a thorough resource for homemade baby food. I love how the recipes are categorized by the babies's age and guess what? the photos actually make the dishes look appetizing! Not easy to do when the subject is, hmm, brown mush!

Noah and Mateo gobbled up-and I mean inhaled-these Sweet Potato Pancakes.

We're pancake fiends around here, so I knew I had to try this recipe.
Thank goodness it makes a generous batch because they were sooo good! Think: pumpkin pie pancakes (psst! I think they should be renamed) thanks to the spices, sweet potato puree, brown sugar, and melted butter. Maple syrup complemented them wonderfully, but they really need no dressing up and were perfect finger food for Mateo.

Danny and I scarfed these pancakes for breakfast the next day, so this recipe is by no means just for little ones! I recommend thinning out the batter with an extra 1/4 cup of milk or so and cooking them on a medium-low heat to ensure they are cooked through.

Eager for another success, Noah and I baked up a batch of Banana Oatmeal Cookies and were rewarded with delicious soft cookies that we couldn't stop eating. Reminiscent of banana bread, these healthy cookies make a huge batch and are sure to please the somewhat critical playgroup gang.

I'll be recommending Nurture-Baby to all my friends with new little ones--maybe they will stop pestering me for those baby food tutorials!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Everyone's Friend:Yellow Butter Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Frosting

(Thank you to those who wrote and sent their love over the past few days. I am working through some personal stuff right now, but please don't mistake my tone in this post for flippancy--humour is simply my way of working through things.)

* * *

Believe me when I say I really wanted to come back with a healthy, non-dessert recipe, but the truth is I've been living off of these cupcakes for days.

You know what else is the truth? After a few days away from keyboard, I start to miss blogging--and I especially start to miss all of you. That's why I'm back already; I couldn't stay away.

I got through the busy weekend pretty well, thanks to a lot, and I mean a lot, of Cadbury mini eggs. Well, it wasn't all smooth sailing, there was that minor mishap on Easter Sunday morning when we were getting ready for church. In my ever-present battle against Noah's dry skin, I grabbed what I though was his moisturizer and liberally-yes, even hastily-applied it all over his arms, torso and face...only to discover seconds later that it was my moisturizer with a hint of sunless tanner.
What ensued afterward was an encounter with a washcloth so thorough, it left us both more than a little hot under the collar.
That stuff streaks like nobody's business.

OK, so it's a little late to be bringing you Easter treats, but you must look past the mini eggs and focus on The Perfect Cupcake: Yellow Butter Cake with Dark Chocolate Frosting. This one is Martha Stewart all the way and there is simply no need to mess with it. She's serious when she says it's a crowd-pleaser; it's a combination so classic and homey that no one can resist. I've certainly demonstrated that I can't.

The duo also makes one heck of a layer cake. I'm giving directions for both cake and cupcakes. Both recipes are from The Martha Stewart Baking Handbook, one of my favorite baking cookbooks. (Psst! If you don't own it yet, you can purchase it via the Amazon link on my sidebar. Yay!)

So there's some pretty cool stuff coming up on Under the High Chair that you'll just have to see to believe. Yep, more super cool giveaways, a pancake the tastes like pumpkin pie, and...An Announcement. Ohhh.

I'll give you a hint: what do you get when you combine a Pregnancy, a Pen and a Publisher?
Find out soon and don't bother to try and drag it out of me, my own mother doesn't even know!

Yellow Butter Cake

Makes two 9-inch cake layers or 24 cupcakes

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans

1 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cups sugar

4 large eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9-by-2-inch round cake pans; line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter parchment, and dust with flour, tapping out excess; set aside. FOR CUPCAKES: Line two standard 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners.

Into a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until combined after each addition. Divide batter between the prepared pans, and smooth with an offset spatula.
For Cupcakes: divide the batter evenly among the prepared cups so that each is about two thirds full.

Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until cakes are golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. (20 min. for cupcakes) Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 20 minutes. Invert cakes onto the rack; peel off the parchment. Reinvert cakes and let them cool completely, top sides up.

Frost with Dark Chocolate Frosting

Chocolate Frosting

Frosts one 9-inch layer cake
or 24 cupcakes, generously.

24 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa powder

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon boiling water

3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

Pinch of salt

Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water. Turn off heat; stir occasionally until chocolate has melted completely, about 15 minutes. Set bowl on countertop, and let chocolate cool to room temperature, 25 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine cocoa powder and boiling water in a small bowl; stir until cocoa is dissolved.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, confectioners' sugar, and salt on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add melted chocolate; beat on low speed until combined, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in cocoa mixture.

To frost a layer cake: Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes to make level; brush off crumbs. Place four strips of parchment paper around perimeter of a serving plate or lazy Susan. Place the first layer on the cake plate, and spread top with 3/4 cup of frosting. Place the second layer on top, bottom side up, and spread top with 3/4 cup of frosting; repeat process with the third layer. Place the remaining layer on top of the third layer, bottom-side up; insert a dowel into the center of cakes if necessary. Spread entire cake with remaining frosting.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


If you take the usual packed schedule of Easter, add a birthday brunch and a wedding shower, you have my agenda this weekend. Toss in a sick computer to the mix, and it makes for a few days of difficult blogging.
On top of things, my family and I are both celebrating the birth of a new baby and mourning the death of an uncle this week, and so I'm sure you'll understand why I'm taking a brief hiatus from UtHC and all my favorite online haunts.

Miss me.

Happy Easter.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Nine Easter Brunch Ideas

Gathering with friends or family for bunch any day is always special, but there is something about a brunch on Easter weekend that I especially love. It might even be my favorite holiday event. Why? Maybe it's because it is one holiday where there is no last minute scramble for gifts, no turkey to take up all the space in the fridge, and no tacky red and white decorations. (respectively, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Valentine's). I'm also a sucker for spring flowers-bulbs of any kind-and the abundance of chocolate everywhere sure doesn't hurt.

This year we're invited out for brunch, so I'm not cooking, but I am contributing some Lemon Poppyseed Madeleines and Current Scones. Neither recipe, I am just now noting, are available to you on this blog. I am such a slacker!
Please accept these suggestions in their stead. Most of these breakfast/brunch favorites can be easily transported and would make a lovely hostess gift if you are not entertaining at home, but rather brunching out.

Let's start with bagels, shall we, because the kind of brunch I want to go to is one that has a bagel and lox bar. You know the kind I'm talking about: a mountain of smoked salmon or lox, lemon wedges, chopped fresh dill, cream cheese, capers, sliced red onion and beautiful, plentiful bagels.
Fortunately these freeze well, so you can get the real work out of the way a week or so in advance. Serve lightly toasted.

For those who prefer the sweeter side of a brunch...

Guaranteed to keep the children happy...

For the dedicated baker or the early riser...

For the planner... this recipe is great because it can all be assembled the night before. In the morning just pop it in the oven, make coffee and whip the cream!

On the savory side and using seasonal ingredients...

If the perfect muffin is your ideal way to start the day, then here are two easy recipes. The hardest part? Deciding which kind to make.

Happy brunching everyone and remember, everything must be served with a side of bacon!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

WFD? Pizza Quattro Gusti (four flavors)

After months and months of putting up with my current refrigerator randomly freezing items out of spite, we've broken down and purchased a brand new one. For some of you this may not be such a big deal, but for us, it's our first official appliance purchase. Ever. Until now we've made do with family cast-offs and the generosity of former landlords and friends.

We try not to be big consumers; if something is broken or needs replacing, we don't run out and buy the item brand new. There's always someone around who wants to upgrade or is moving into a furnished place and generally, if we come and get the washer/stove/whatever, it's ours for the taking. So far this has worked in our favor...until this renegade fridge came along.

Too long I have endured solid yogurt, rock-hard berries, and frostbit greens. Too long have I spent extra money for fresh seafood--only to have it frozen in my refrigerator before I get a chance to cook it. I was due for a brand new appliance and that's what I got.

It arrives tomorrow.

Who knew that shopping for a fridge would open my eyes to all the possibilities that I never considered as options? Suddenly I needed a built in Britta drinking water system--how do I get by without one? And it sure would be handy to know the exact temperature of my fridge displayed digitally for me at all times. How about a beeper that goes off when the door is left ajar? I do that ALL the time, it drives Danny nuts.
Oh well, for now I'll just have to content my self with a fridge that 'just' keeps things cold--not frozen. Although if anyone hears of a second-hand version of this model looking for a good home, I've got dibs on it. I would love the glass door. That is the coolest.

So, I've been cleaning out my old fridge in preparation for the switch. I don't want a pile of items just sitting around on counters for extended periods of time while the new fridge is installed and starts cooling. (Apparently you can't plug it in for THREE HOURS after it arrives?? Help!)
As usual I have dozens of small leftover items that need finishing off to fully empty those drawers: half a stick of Chorizo, a teeny block of feta, a tired bundle of asparagus, a rind of Parmesan; those items and many more were the inspiration behind this pizza.

If you can call it inspiration. More like desperation.

I made a batch of Jamie Oliver's pizza dough, rolled it out onto a cookie sheet, divided it into four quadrants and proceeded to disguise my fridge odds and ends as pizza.

Guess what? It rocked! Everybody ate it--even the baby, who particularly loved the soft cross of crust that divided the pizza. Clockwise from top left the flavors are:

  • Chorizo, Olive & Mozzarella
  • Spinach, Egg, Fresh Garlic & Feta
  • Bacon, Plum & Cheddar
  • Asparagus, Cippolini Onion & Parmesan
I'm passing on the pizza dough recipe, because I like it a teeny bit better than my other one. It was softer and the bottom colored beautifully. I like a dark, crispy pizza underside. If you haven't gathered from this post, pretty much anything goes for toppings.

Pizza Dough

Adapted from Jamie at Home

this recipe will make 2 11x15 rectangle "Pizza Quattro Gusti". You can make one for dinner and freeze the other ball of dough for another night, or make tons and enjoy the leftovers.

7 cups
white bread flour
1 Tablespoon sea salt

2 Tablespoons dry yeast

1 tablespoon raw sugar

4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 1/2 cups lukewarm water

Sift the flour and salt onto a clean work surface and make a well in the middle. In a large measuring cup, mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork, bring the flour in gradually from the sides and swirl it into the liquid. Keep mixing drawing larger amounts of flour in, and when it all starts to come together, work the rest of the flour in with your clean, flour-dusted hands. Knead until you have a smooth springy dough.
Place the ball of dough in a large flour-dusted bowl and flour the top of it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm room for about an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

Now remove the dough to a flour-dusted surface and knead it around a bit to push the air out with your hands - this is called punching down the dough. You can either use it immediately, or keep it, wrapped in plastic wrap, in the fridge (or freezer) until required. If using straightaway, divide the dough up into as many little balls as you want to make pizzas - this amount of dough is enough to make about six to eight medium pizzas.
(or two huge rectangles)
When you are ready to fire the pizzas, crank the oven up to 500F. Dust your work surface with a little flour, punched-down dough and divide in two. Roll out dough into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick.
Grease a cookie sheet generously with olive oil and spread out your pizza dough on it, using your finger tips to push it into the corners.
Trip a 1/8 inch strip off of one long and one short side of the rectangle and lay these in the shape of a cross in the middle of your pizza.
Top with your four flavors of choice and place pizza in preheated oven. Bake for about 10-15 minutes until the dough is golden brown.


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