Every weekday morning, I hopped out of bed, excited and raring to go to culinary school. Coming to Northwest was a huge motivator, and even if I was completely exhausted or something was bothering me, one of the last thoughts floating in my head as sleep took over was always “I can’t wait to learn tomorrow!”
Now that school is over and I have a little time off before work starts, I wake up, feeling incredibly lazy. While it’s nice to think “I can do absolutely anything I want today!” it’s equally daunting. I’m not used to having so much free time and also think “What am I going to do today that isn’t going to feel like a waste? I need to get some work done!”
Lately I’ve been filling my days with cooking at friends’ houses, volunteering, working here and there at Changes, reconfiguring the blog, working on recipes, and even cleaning my own home. I tried really hard to be a clean, organized worker at school, but friends and family know it’s bad when I actually stop thinking of creative projects and scrub the grit between tiles on my shower’s walls.
Mornings can be difficult for me because I do silly things when I’m hungry. My brain pretty much shuts off and it takes forever for me to make a decision or get something done. What’s worse is that if I get really focused while working on something, sometimes I forget make time for breaks to eat, resulting in a dazed state of confusion where I’m also too tired to cook, which is why I work really hard at having something to chew on every 3 hours or so.
There’s a great bakery (MIX) by Changes that I often would visit in the mornings before work. They have these huge, pillowy sheets of focaccia for about $2 and I made a habit of getting off the bus a stop early, wandering in, and walking up to the store while eating directly from the giant piece of bread. No hands required!
Italians are food geniuses. Making bread at home is a perfect and inexpensive breakfast food solution for myself and many others. Wake up, throw ingredients in a bowl, go back to bed while the dough rises, throw it on a pan for a second rise, poke, stud with food bits, bake, and eat! There’s barely any kneading involved in today’s recipe, which is great for those friends of mine who can’t be bothered. This bread is so easy that a zombie could make it, because that’s what I am in the morning sometimes. Focaccia is not for real ones, though. They’re only interested in eating people.
While it can be both a bread or a cake, it says on Wikipedia that “In ancient Rome, panis focacius was a flat bread baked in the ashes of the fireplace. The word is derived from the Latin focus meaning “centre” and also “fireplace” – the fireplace being in the centre of the house.” Whether or not it’s 100% true (this is Wikipedia, after all), I figured out how to pack this bread with energy, and am just happy that this easy treat helps me regain my focus so I can get back to work.
This basic recipe is so easy to hack and modify to suit your own tastes, and adding cheese, nuts and seeds for added protein are great ways to have a healthy snack on the go.
Flippin’ Easy Focaccia Bread
Feeds 4 hungry humans or 2 starving morning zombies
1 tsp dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
1 tsp sea salt or table salt
1 tbsp olive oil (if you have extra-virgin, the good stuff, use it!)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp flax seeds (or better yet, ground flax seeds)
About 1 tbsp each of vegetable oil and olive oil for oiling
Pick a few internal bread flavours, like dried chili flakes, freshly torn rosemary, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, chives, scallions, small chunks of cooked potato, nuts, seeds, caramelized onions, or soft cloves of roasted garlic (the garlic will smoosh into the dough and lightly scent it).
Also pick a few treats to stud the bread with, or sprinkle on top, like chopped artichoke hearts, olives, sliced grapes, kosher salt, grated cheese (especially parmigiano reggiano!), capers, or more garlic, nuts, seeds and fresh herbs. Oh my!
1. Add the yeast to the water in a small bowl; let it sit and dissolve while you get everything else ready.
2. In another, larger bowl, get the flours, salt, and any internal flavouring agents stirred together.
3. Add the water with the yeast and 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and stir everything with a hardy wooden spoon until it forms a dough. Now you have 2 options: Continue to stir with the spoon if you’ve got some hardcore muscle going on, to incorporate the rest of the flour bits at the bottom of the bowl, or scrape the spoon off and start kneading in the bowl, just a few times to incorporate the flour. The dough should be a little moist and stick to the bowl, because it will be deliciously soft!
4. Cover the bowl with saran wrap and let it sit in a warm place for an hour while it rises and doubles in size. On top of a fridge, or on top of a gas stove that has a pilot light on works if you have something else to do, like sleep or cook.
5. After an hour, move your oven racks so one is on the bottom and one is near the top, and preheat your oven to 400°F. Use the veg oil to coat a baking sheet. Use your oil-covered hand to gently scoop the dough out of the bowl. Flatten it slightly, pour on the rest of the olive oil, and use your fingers to poke indentations all over the dough and spread the oil around. The veg oil helps to keep the bread from sticking and makes it nice and crispy. The olive oil on top has a lower smoking point (and doesn’t touch the hot metal pan) and adds flavour!
6. Cover the dough loosely with saran wrap and let it rise for another 20 minutes in a warm place while the oven heats up and you take a power nap.
7. Cover the focaccia with your topical ingredients. Sprinkle it with herbs, grate on some cheese, stuff cloves of garlic or grape bits into the dents, go wild. Just don’t serve it to any Italians who believe in simplicity and authenticity.
8. Bake the dough on the bottom rack for just over 10 minutes or so, depending on your oven, until golden, and a thermometer reads 200°F.
9. Sometimes when it’s just about ready, I crank the oven up to BROIL and move the bread to the top rack for about 30 seconds to make the cheese crunchier and get the nuts on the bread nice and toasty.
10. Let the bread cool on a rack for a few minutes, then dig in!
Notes: When serving focaccia with a meal, pick a few simple flavours that complement it well. If you’re having steak for dinner, a hint of garlic and rosemary is a good call.
Of if you’re not in the mood to cook other things to go along with it, do what I did (see left) and find some way to cook it on top of the bread.
If you’re serving it as a family-style appetizer plate to guests, there are a lot of great little sides that they can scoop onto them and eat like bruschette. It’s a good way to get people to eat their veggies, and you can have fun slicing the bread nicely, or tearing it for a rustic look, making it perfect for dipping.
Knowing how hot your oven is, or how to eyeball whether or not food is done is very helpful. My oven has a fabulous tendency to burn things so I often set it just a little lower than required, and double-pan baked goods, which means to get another pan of the same size stacked right underneath the one I’m using. That tiny bit of air between them provides a little insulation buffer between the direct heat that normally touches the pan and heats up the food.