Olive Bread

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My first experience with yeast was not using it, even though I was supposed to. I’d followed a recipe in the Betty Crocker Boys and Girls cookbook, except not really. It was my thing to do when I was 11-12 years old, to get up early on Sundays and bake some kind of coffee cake.

I chose a recipe for yeasted cinnamon buns that morning, but when it came time to the yeast, being that I didn’t know what is was, I ignored it. I also noticed this kneading thing, which seemed like it would take too long, so a win-win for me.

Until my mother came downstairs and I proudly announced that I’d made these buns, and would she do the honors of removing them from the oven. Well she almost dropped that baking dish. What should have been cinnamon buns were round, heavy bricks. And then I learned about yeast.

When I started teaching myself to cook, I learned how to bake bread by following recipes. When you do it on your own, there’s no fear, even though I have memories of my mother not even letting us walk through the kitchen if she had bread rising. Heck, we were hardly allowed to exhale.

But it seemed pretty easy to me, a few ingredients, some kneading, and I even walked around my kitchen while my breads rose. It’s just not hard to bake bread.

Then a cookbook entered my life called Supper Club chez Martha Rose, which was published in 1988. This book wasn’t extraordinary by any means, but it was a fun read, because it was Martha Rose Schulman’s actual experience with her supper club in Paris that she started in 1983 after she moved to France from Austin, Texas.

Her supper club menus are organized by months, which I love. Some menus reflect her love of Texas, but most all as a Francophile, a lover of Mediterranean flavors. But what got my attention was what she did with her yeasted breads. She added stuff to them!

I’d always made whole-grain bread, because I believe that bread should be nourishing, not just pretty. But when I first saw pesto bread in her cookbook, it was my Hallelujah moment! It was Martha Rose Schulman that changed my life with bread baking. And I’ve never looked back.

So for all the years my husband required bread, for all of the years I catered, and was a private chef, I put stuff into the breads I baked. It could be nuts, it could be grated zucchini, tomato paste, onions and cheese, or chili powder.

Ms. Schulman also had country bread with olives in her cookbook, and today I’m making my version of olive bread for you.

Olive Bread

2 ounces warm water
2 teaspoons yeast
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
8 ounces whole milk, warmed
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
Extra white flour, for kneading
5 ounces mixed olives, drained

Place the water in a large, warmed bowl and add the yeast and sugar. After the yeast softens stir the liquid, then set aside.


After the yeast bubbles up, about 5 minutes, add the warm milk. Then add 1 cup of white flour and whisk well.

Cover the bowl and place in a warm place for one hour. Meanwhile, chop the olives coarsely and make sure they’re free of any liquid; set aside.

Add one cup of whole wheat flour to the slurry, and whisk or stir in well.

Place a generous amount of white flour where you’re going to knead, and remove the dough from the bowl. Begin kneading the bread, using only as much flour as needed. Knead for about 5 minutes. The dough should be smooth.

Grease the bottom of a large clean bowl, put the dough in it, then turn the dough over so the top is coated in the grease. Place this bowl, covered with a towel, in the warm place for 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the chopped olives where you knead, then “pour” the dough over the top. Using only a little flour as necessary, gently force the olives into the dough until they’re evenly incorporated.


Form a ball with the dough and place it on a greased cookie sheet. Set it in a warm place for 15 minutes, then put it in the oven.

Bake the bread for at least 25 minutes. Times and ovens vary. If you want to check on the internal temperature using a thermometer it should be at 195 degrees F. Anything much less than that and the bread will be doughy on the inside.

Let the bread cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

I served the bread with a soft goat cheese; the slices can also be toasted first before serving.

If you love olives, this is a great bread. And it goes so well with cheese and charcuterie.

Crêpes

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I’ve had a love affair with crêpes since I was a little girl, which is when I learned how to make them. I would make a “stack,” sprinkle a little white sugar on them, and eat them just like that for breakfast.

My first introduction to crêpes was when my mother made Crêpes Suzette. My French friend Stéphane from My French Heaven gave me some interesting factoids about this fabulous, flaming dessert and crêpes in general!

♥ Crèpes Suzette is a recent thing: In the early 1900’s, Edward VI was having crêpes in a restaurant on the riviera. The chef had flambéed Grand Marnier with them. Edward asked the waitress what it was but she didn’t have a name for the dish. So the king asked what her name was, which was Suzette. They have been called crêpes Suzette ever since.

♥ As for savory crêpes, they are an ancient specialty from Bretagne. They are made with black wheat and are called galettes. Only the sweet ones can be called crêpes.

A galette with ham and egg

A galette with ham and egg

♥ You eat crêpes with apple cider always as they produce a lot of apples there (Bretagne is close to Normandy).

♥ The restaurants where they serve crêpes only are called crêperies. The best ones have a chef who is a Maître Crêpier.

Photo from retagne by Stephane Gabart

Photo from Bretagne by Stephane Gabart

After seeing the above photo, I put Bretagne on my travel bucket list. Besides, I want to one day try the real deal in a crêperie.

There are many different recipes for crêpe batter, and I’m sure they’re all good. The only rule in making the batter for crêpes, to me, is the consistency. Once you have that, you get proper crêpes. If the batter is too thick, you get pancakes, if it’s too thin, you get mush.

Here is a basic recipe for crêpes, whether you’re going to use them in a sweet or savory manner:

Crêpes
makes about 20

3 large eggs
1 1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons oil*
Couple pinches of salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour

Whisk together the egg, milk, and salt together well in a medium bowl. Gradually add the flour, whisking gently but not over-whisking, until it is all incorporated and there are no flour lumps.


Set the bowl aside for at least 5 minutes to make sure it doesn’t thicken. If it does, add a tiny bit of milk or even water to get the consistency back to where it should be.

To prepare to make the crêpes, have a well-seasoned crêpe pan on hand. Mine has angled sides and an 8″ flat bottom, made from steel. I’ve had it for 42 years. I know this, because my mother sent me off to college with the same pan!

Also have on hand some butter, the batter and large spoon (about 1/4 cup capacity is perfect), a spatula, and a plate on which to place the cooked crêpes. I always use a very sturdy but thin, flat spatula to help lift the thin pancakes.

Heat a little dab of butter over medium-high heat in the crêpe pan. I personally prefer butter because of the flavor. You might have to start with about a teaspoon of butter, and subsequently use about 1/2 teaspoon per crêpe.

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Before starting, give the crêpe batter a whisk. Now is the time to test its thickness. Add a little liquid if necessary.

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When the butter is hot, add a full spoonful, or approximately 1/4 cup of batter, to the pan. With the other hand, turn and tilt the pan until the crêpe batter has covered the whole bottom of the pan. Cook for no more than 30 seconds, then turn over gently with the spatula and cook for no more than 10 seconds. Place immediately on the plate by sliding or flipping over.


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The cooked crêpe should be lightly golden, especially on the first side, but not browned. Adjust your burner setting accordingly, keeping in mind that if the heat is too low, the batter will just sit there and nothing will happen.

The pan has to be hot enough to “grab” the batter. If the pan is too hot, it will cause the batter to become bubbly and you probably won’t be able to spread it around. Sometimes the first crêpe is a dud because you must test the heat of the pan, and the batter.

Continue with the remaining batter.
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These crêpes will hold well for a day or two, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator. Then you can use them as you want. They must be brought to room temperature first, or they will not roll or fold without breaking. Even a little heating in the microwave will help make them more malleable.
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Besides some sugar, crêpes are also good with a little jam and some berries!

* When I make savory or sweet crêpes I use olive oil, but if you prefer, you can use a flavorless oil. Also, if you want a sweeter dessert crêpe, you can add a little sugar to the batter.

Sautéed Apple Slices

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These apple slices were sautéed to top a savory dish, namely the chicken breasts served with a bacon cream sauce I made yesterday, shown in the photo above.

Sautéed apples aren’t something you have to have in your repertoire, but once you learn this simple technique, you’ll be amazed at how often you’ll be tempted to do this! Think pork, duck, turkey, foie gras and pheasant.

There are two approaches to sautéed apples. One is savory, which I’m doing today, and the other is sweet, such as for a topping for ice cream.

Any apples will work for this recipe; I used a Rome apple because that’s what I had on hand.

Have everything ready to go at the point you peel and slice the apple. You don’t want the apple to brown before the sautéing step.

Here’s what you need for slices of 1/2 medium apple:

Butter, about 2 tablespoons
Calvados*

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Add the butter to a skillet that is large enough to hold the slices in one layer. Let the butter brown slightly for extra flavor.

Add the apple slices. Salt and pepper is optional.
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Turn over the apple slices carefully and let them brown on the other side.

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Add a generous splash of Calvados to the hot skillet. If the Calvados doesn’t light on fire immediately, shake the skillet a little, and it will.
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Let the Calvados burn down, and cook until the apple slices soften. Then they’re ready to serve.

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* You don’t have to use Calvados to flambé apple slices, but it is a wonderful booze to have on hand. It’s an apple brandy, very potent, and has a lovely apple flavor. It’s from the Normandie region of France.
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If you don’t have it on hand, use a brandy, cognac, Armagnac, or even a dry vermouth.

note: If you want sautéed apples for dessert purposes, simply add some brown sugar to the butter in the first step. Let the sugar dissolve, then sauté the fruit. This will work really well with apples and pears, as well as with bananas, such as in bananas foster. For the flambé step, use a liqueur instead that will compliment your recipe. You can also add cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, if that works with the recipe you’re using.

A Zucchini Pancake Challenge

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For a significant part of my life I can honestly say that I worked tirelessly to get people into the kitchen to make home-cooked meals. It makes so much sense from an economic standpoint, as well as for health and wellness reasons. Home cooking is generally less expensive and healthier than meals eaten out or worse than that – purchased as fast food.

But novice cooks are often overwhelmed with the idea of cooking without having a specific recipe in front of them. Especially women, in my experience. As a result, often food goes to waste, which defeats the purpose of home cooking.

Cooking at home is work, let’s face it. You need to keep your pantry stocked. And if you believe in fresh food, you need to make grocery lists and shop often.

But the most important thing in my mind, is to be creative in the kitchen without having recipes. A scary sounding proposition if you think that cooking is difficult.

Home cooking is not difficult. In fact, it’s way more fun than being a chef in a restaurant kitchen, in my mind, because you can make whatever you want on a daily basis, to suit your tastes.

Certainly prepping skills are good to know, as well as cooking techniques. But what I’m talking about is creating your own dishes based on what you have on hand. That way there is no waste.

Take zucchini. It’s September right now in the US, and zucchini, a summer squash, is still growing in my garden and readily available at grocery stores.

Sure, you can bake zucchini bread and muffins, but that’s not something that’s nourishing. I’m talking savory zucchini pancakes – a lovely vegetarian option, or a fabulous side dish to protein.

If you want an exact recipe, check out my squash and corn pancakes from last summer. It’s a little more involved, but there is a recipe.

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So the following is a guide to make your own zucchini pancakes. Put your personality into your own recipe. Season as you like. You’ll know when the texture is perfect when the batter is similar to breakfast pancakes – although breakfast pancakes with lots of grated zucchini! Take the challenge and see what you come up with. No recipe allowed!
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Zucchini Pancakes

Eggs, whisked
Zucchini, grated
Liquid of choice
Onion, diced
Chile peppers, diced (optional)
Parsley, chopped
Salt
Garlic pepper
Thyme (optional)
Flour
Butter

First, whisk your eggs in a large bowl. I used 2 extra-large eggs. Grate your zucchini and add it to the eggs. I used a medium-sized zucchini.

Prep your aromatics. I chose onion, red chile peppers, and parsley. Here’s how I chopped the chile peppers.

Then add the liquid to the batter, only about 1/3 cup, and the seasonings. You can use any herbs, spices, or even pesto!
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Give everything a stir. The mixture should look similar to this.
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Begin adding flour, about 1/3 cup at a time. Don’t stir the flour in completely, just fold it in well enough to see if more flour is needed. These savory pancakes are not going to be as tender as breakfast pancakes, but we don’t want them tough and rubbery, either.

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Just add enough flour to bind all of the ingredients. Then stop. I didn’t use more than 1 cup of flour.
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These are not supposed to be big doughy pancakes with a little bit of zucchini. These are zucchini pancakes.

Heat a skillet or griddle over medium heat.

Add a generous amount of butter to the skillet, and then, when it’s almost browned, add spoonfuls of batter. Take the spoon and flatten the pancakes gently. If they’re too thick, there’s a risk of them not being cooked through.

After a couple of minutes, turn them over and cook for another couple of minutes.

If you’re unsure of the total amount of time required to cook these through, break open the first pancake and look at it. If the middle is still doughy, as this one is, then the pancakes need to be cook longer.
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Ideally, the outsides of the pancakes should be crispy and golden brown and the insides soft, but not raw.

Serve the pancakes warm. They’re delicious with a little dab of butter or even a little sour cream. Or simply, on their own.

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I served these spicy zucchini pancakes with a tomato salad, but my husband enjoyed the pancakes as a side dish. They also reheat very well.

Ideas for other options:

Shallots/garlic instead of onions
Green onions/chives instead of onions
Bell peppers/roasted red bell peppers instead of chile peppers
Other vegetables included like corn
Cilantro instead of parsley
Grated potato/summer squash along with the zucchini
Chopped walnuts/pecans
Whole wheat flour instead of white
Olive oil instead of butter

If you haven’t attempted savory pancakes like these before, and follow through on them without a recipe, please tell me about it. I love to see how you did. Because trust me, it will work!