Homemade Pita Bread

Pita bread

Pitas 3

Can you even imagine the joy when these pita’s puff up like this?  It’s a wondrous sight.

Pitas 4

Puffed, tender and delicious.  Make some hummus to enjoy or serve with dinner as a flatbread, or stuff with your own fixings.  You will be really happy you tried this.

Before you even read this recipe I have to give you full disclosure that it is copied, in totality, from Deb at Smitten Kitchen.  She has some amazing recipes, all created in her tiny New York kitchen, and if you haven’t visited her website yet, you must.  This is one of those recipes that I didn’t even have to tweak, we loved it.  

 

  • 3 cups plus a scant 1/4 cup (455 grams) all-purpose or bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons (13 grams) fine sea or table salt
  • 2 teaspoons (6 to 7 grams) instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cups (295 grams) water, at room temperature
About 1 1/2 hours before shaping, or for best flavor development, 8 hours to 3 days ahead, mix the dough:
Mixer method: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the ingredients with the paddle attachment just until flour is moistened, then switch to the dough hook. Knead for 10 minutes at low/medium speed. The dough should clean the bowl and be very soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. You can add a little flour or water if necessary, but when I use the weights above, I haven’t found this necessary.
Mix by hand: In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for a scant 1/4 cup of the flour. With a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until all the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together, then sprinkle a little of the reserved flour onto the counter and scrape the dough onto it. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, adding as little of the reserved flour as possible; it’s going to be very sticky. Invert your empty bowl over it and allow it to rest for 5 to 20 minutes, then knead the dough another 5 to 10 minutes, until it’s soft a little sticky to the touch.

Let the dough rise: Scrape the dough into a large oiled bowl. Press it down and coat the top with a little oil too. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark the side of the container at approximately where double the height of the dough would be. Let the dough rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours, or in the fridge overnight (or up to 3 days), until doubled.

Pitas 5

This little ball of dough doesn’t look like much now, but just let it sit for a while ….

Pitas 6

LOOK!  After sitting on the counter for a few hours (you can use it after an hour or so) the dough has more than doubled and ready to be turned into rounds.

To bake pitas in the oven: Preheat your oven to 475°F 20 minutes before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone, cast-iron skillet, or baking sheet on it before preheating. Do not oil the skillet or baking sheet.

Shape the dough: Cut the dough into 8 or 12 pieces. Work with one piece at a time, on a lightly floured counter, with lightly floured hands, shape each piece into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Cover the dough with oiled plastic and allow it to rest for 20 minutes at room temperature.

Pitas 1

If you’ve got a 5 year old around, put them to work.  Stella did a great job forming balls and flattening them for their 20 minute rest.

 

Roll each disk into a circle a little under 1/4 inch thick. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes before baking. Spritz lightly with water while resting.

Pitas 2

I don’t have a spritz bottle, so just brushed them lightly with a water moistened pastry brush.

Bake the pita: Quickly place 1 piece of dough directly on the stone or in the skillet or on the baking sheet, and bake for 3 to 4 minutes (less for small ones, longer for big ones). The pita should be completely puffed but not beginning to brown. The dough will not puff well if it is not moist enough. See how the pita puffs, then, if necessary, spray each remaining piece with additional water before baking.

Proceed with the remaining dough, baking 3 or 4 pieces at a time if using a stone or baking sheet. using a pancake turner, transfer the pita breads to a clean towel, to stay soft and warm. Allow the oven to reheat for 5 minutes between batches. The pitas can be reheated for about 30 seconds in a hot oven before serving.

To cook the pitas on the stove top: Heat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Lightly, very thinly, grease the surface and cook the pitas one at a time. Cook for about 30 seconds, then rotate the dough slightly (about a quarter-turn) and continue cooking for 1 to 2 minutes more. Small surface bubbles slowly grow to larger ones, and then eventually “find each other” merge and that becomes your big balloon pocket. Make additional small rotations if the process stagnates. The entire cooking process for each pita should be about 3 minutes.

Whole wheat variation: For a whole wheat version, use half whole wheat and half white flour, or you can make these entirely with white whole wheat flour — for this last option, you’ll need 1/4 cup extra water.

Mushroom Turnovers

Turnovers 12

One of my old time favourite appetizers, I’m not sure why I haven’t made these lately, but so glad mushrooms needed to be eaten, giving us a bite this delicious.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

  • 1 8 ounce pack cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus 3 tbsp for the mushroom onion mixture
  • 1/2 pound mushrooms, finely diced (should yield about 3 cups once diced)
  • 1 cup finely diced onion
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 egg, beaten

At least 2 hours prior to serving:

in large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer combine the 1/2 cup butter and cream cheese until smooth and well blended.

Gradually stir in the flour until just combined.  Gently knead in a bit more flour only if it is too sticky to handle.  Shape into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Turnovers 3

I love the way this dough feels, so soft and supple that it is also very forgiving.

Turnovers 4

Any type of mushroom works with this recipe, but we were happy to put these Crimini mushrooms to good use when friends cleaned out their fridge prior to a trip.                            Thanks Keith and Jean!

 

Meanwhile, in frying pan over medium heat, melt 3 tbsp butter and saute mushrooms and onions until tender, stirring occasionally.  Allow to cool, then stir in the salt, thyme, sour cream and 2 tbsp flour.

Turnovers 5

I love these silicone cutting boards for food like onions, garlic or meat.  When it goes in the dishwasher I don’t have to worry about my next item smelling funky or carrying germs.

Turnovers 6

Cook just until the mushrooms have released their moisture, and the pan dries out a bit.

Turnovers 7

Cut your dough ball in half, and work with 1/2 at a time, keeping the 2nd ball wrapped.  On a floured work surface roll out dough to about 1/8″ thickness and cut out circles (my cutter is about 2 1/2″ across).

Turnovers 8

Turnovrs 9

When you pinch the edges together make sure you can easily do so, otherwise remove a bit so the turnovers done burst.

 

Onto one half of each dough circle place a tsp of mushroom mixture. Brush edges of circles with some of the beaten egg, fold dough over filling.  Do not overfill or they will burst during cooking and you will lose all that flavour.  With a fork firmly press edges together to seal.  Place on cookie sheet, either non stick or with parchment or silicone lining.  Brush with remaining egg yolk and prick the top with the tines of your fork.

Turnovers 10

These freeze really well (before cooking).  Once you have pierced the tops of the turnovers, put tray in freezer until the turnovers have frozen solid.  Carefully remove and store in air proof container in deep freeze until ready to serve.  Brush with egg wash right before baking, and allow them to bake a little longer.

Bake for 13-15 minutes @ 425, until golden brown and glossy.  Remove from the oven, and allow to cool (if you can) before serving.

Turnovers 11

Brushed with an egg wash prior to hitting the oven, you will be rewarded for the task by the aroma filling your kitchen.  It won’t be easy to wait for them to cool before biting in.

Thai curry with duck breast

Thai duck curry 2

Flavourful Thai curry with plenty of vegetables and just a few slices of duck breast – serve with a handful of noodles.

We just got home from three weeks in Mexico, and that always makes me turn to Asian dishes in the kitchen.  Well, that and the old comfort foods like roasted chicken and mashed potatoes, which are always a family favourite.

Thai curries come together very quickly, and are very easy if you take a few moments to get everything ready first.  This is one of those recipes that works more like a guideline – we made this for dinner for two, but double it up for a group.

Cook noodles according to the package directions and set aside.

Duck breast is really easy to cook, and not something to be intimidated by.  I don’t know why I didn’t take a moment for a photo doing this …. maybe next time.  Score the fat on top of the desk breast lightly, not through to the meat.  Set in a cast iron skillet (or non stick if you don’t have cast iron) and gently heat on med/low so the duck fat can release and the top gets nice and crispy.  Every stove top is different, so just watch yours.  When it has reached that golden layer of crispy goodness, flip it over and cook until preferred doneness.  170 degrees is the golden rule, but if you prefer medium rare, go a little less.  Whatever temperature you desire, make sure to remove it from the heat and allow it to sit and rest – distributing the juices evenly.

While the duck is cooking – slice and set aside the vegetables you have chosen.  The only thing that is important is that you separate the vegetables based on how long they take to cook.

Heat a saucepan, add some peanut oil (or any neutral oil with a high smoke point).

Saute one onion until soft, then add:

  • 2 tbsp Red or Penang curry sauce
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp thinly sliced Thai red chili pepper
  • 1 tsp galangal (minced if you can get it fresh, powder if not)
  • 1 tbsp lemongrass (minced if you can get it. fresh, powder if not)

Stir until the curry is fragrant – just for a minute or two.  Add 1 can of coconut milk and 1 cup of stock (chicken or vegetable).  Add the vegetables, and as soon as they are lightly cooked, but still crisp remove the curry from the heat and stir in the holy trinity of Thai curries ….

  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp raw sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
Thai duck curry 1

Without the duck breast you’ve got a perfect vegetarian dinner.

 

 

Naan Bread

Soft and supple, yet crunchy bits.  Homemade naan can never be totally authentic without a tandoori oven, but you can come pretty close!  I love the feel of this dough, and always make enough for leftovers, they heat up really well.

onion naan 3

naan 5

Just look at the way they puff up in my cast iron pan!

INGREDIENTS

For Dough

  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup water lukewarm
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg large
  • 1/4 cup yogurt plain
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder

Other

  • 12 tsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp butter melted
  • 2 tbsp parsley chopped

 

  • Heat the oven to 200 F degrees.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the yeast, sugar and water. Lightly whisk it all together, then let it sit for about 5 to 10 minutes or until the yeast dissolves and starts to foam.
  • To the same bowl, add the oil, yogurt, egg and whisk well. Set aside.
  • To the bowl of your mixer, combine the flour with the salt and garlic powder. Add the yeast mixture and mix for a couple minutes, until the dough comes clean from the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, add a bit more flour, starting with a tablespoon at a time. The dough should be nice and soft but not sticky.
naan

Your dough should feel soft and smooth, but not too sticky.

  • Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover it with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Turn OFF your oven, place the bowl inside and allow to rise for about 30 minutes to 1 hour or until doubled in size. I use this trick all the time to speed up the rising time. Mine only took about 40 minutes, so the time depends on your yeast and your environment.
  • After it rises, cut the dough into 12 equal pieces and shape each piece into a small ball.

naan 1

naan 2

These little dough balls are so soft and supple, they roll out beautifully.

naan 4

onion naan 1

This variation included slivered green onions, we loved it.  Don’t worry about the making the dough balls round, as long as it fits in your pan, and you can handle it, it works!

 

  • Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and add about 1 tsp of olive oil. Roll out one ball at a time until it’s about 1/3 inch thick and about 5 inches in diameter. Add the piece of rolled dough to the hot skillet and cook for about 1 minute, the skillet should be very hot, so you’ll see bubbles forming as you cook the dough on the first side. Flip the dough and cook the other side until the bottom is golden.

onion naan 2

naan 3

  • Repeat with remaining dough until all of the pieces are cooked. Keep the naan covered in a towel so that it doesn’t dry out. When all of them are cooked, brush each one with the melted butter and garnish with some parsley.
naan 6

Keep these covered and warm until ready for service.

Have you checked out the website “Jo Cooks” ??  She has some amazing recipes, and this is where I got this one from, I felt the texture was amazing, but I added just a bit more salt and some garlic powder.

Spanakopita

spanakopita

These little pockets are a great addition to a Greek dinner, or perfect served as appetizers.

 

I loved making these little pockets of deliciousness.  Once I got into the rhythm of the folding and rolling it went quite quickly and they were fantastic.  The recipe came from Food Network, Mary Sue Millikin and Susan Feniger.  My only addition was the fresh dill.

 

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 pounds spinach, washed and drained
  • 1 bunch scallions, white and green parts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp fresh dill
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 to 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 pound filo pastry sheets
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large saute pan, add half of the spinach and saute until spinach wilts, tossing with tongs, about 2 minutes. Remove spinach and squeeze out excess liquid, then chop roughly. Repeat with remaining spinach, using 1 more tablespoon of olive oil. Pour off any liquid from the pan, and add remaining olive oil. Add scallions and saute until soft, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the spinach to the scallions, along with the parsley, dill, salt and pepper. Cook over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove from heat to cool. (This part can be done ahead and kept refrigerated).
  2. Stir the feta and as much beaten egg  as needed to moisten the cooled spinach mixture.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Brush a baking sheet with some of the melted butter.
  4. Unroll the filo dough on a flat surface and keep it covered with waxed paper and a damp towel so it doesn’t dry out and become brittle. Using a sharp knife, cut the filo into 3 by 11 inch strips, and recover with the towel. Use a pastry brush to brush a strip of filo with melted butter. Place a small spoonful of spinach filling 1 inch from the end of the pastry. Fold the end over the filling to form a triangle, then continue to fold up the strip in triangles, like folding up a flag. Continue with remaining strips of dough, placing filled triangles on the baking sheet and keeping them covered with a towel until all are ready to bake.
  5. Brush the triangles lightly with butter, then bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden and crisp. Serve hot. (These may be frozen before baking, layering waxed paper between layers of triangles to keep them from sticking. Bake frozen triangles an extra 10 minutes.)
spanakopita 1

Start with a healthy “dollop” of the spinach mixture, then start folding over into triangles.

spanakopita 3

I quickly discovered that using a healthy amount of the filling made better triangles.

spanakopita 4

spanakopita 5

Ready for baking or at this point you can freeze them for serving later.  Bake from frozen.

Cook’s Note

Variation: Butter a 9 by 13 inch baking pan, and spread 6 sheets of filo, brushing each with butter, on the bottom. Spoon the spinach filling over the filo, then cover with 6 more sheets of filo, buttering each sheet. Score the top 3 sheets with a sharp knife. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until top is golden, let stand 15 minutes, then cut into squares and serve warm.

Creamiest Hummous

Hummus 1

Drizzle the finished hummus with your best olive oil and a sprinkling of paprika.  A few toasted sesame seeds would be a great addition also. (I just didn’t think of it until I looked at my photos!)

  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas or 1 1/2 cups (250 grams) cooked chickpeas
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice (1 large lemon)
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) well-stirred tahini
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons (30 to 45 ml) water
  • Dash ground paprika, for serving

 

DIRECTIONS

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the tahini and lemon juice and process for 1 minute, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl then process for 30 seconds more. This extra time helps “whip” or “cream” the tahini, making the hummus smooth and creamy.

Add the olive oil, minced garlic, cumin, and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the whipped tahini and lemon juice. Process for 30 seconds, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl then process another 30 seconds or until well blended.

Open, drain, and rinse the chickpeas. Add half of the chickpeas to the food processor and process for 1 minute. Scrape sides and bottom of the bowl, then add remaining chickpeas and process until thick and quite smooth; 1 to 2 minutes.

peeled chickpeas

I know, you are thinking “what goof peels chickpeas?”  Me.  Especially after Stella raved about the creamiest hummus she’d ever had.  At 5 years old, this girl knows food.  After that, how could I not peel my hummus.  After all, even if it takes you 20 min to peel that can of chickpeas, haven’t you ever wasted 20 min on something less interesting??

Most likely the hummus will be too thick or still have tiny bits of chickpea. To fix this, with the food processor turned on, slowly add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water until you reach the perfect consistency.

Taste for salt and adjust as needed. Serve hummus with a drizzle of olive oil and dash of paprika. Store homemade hummus in an airtight container and refrigerate up to one week.

Hummus 2

We served the hummus today with fresh vegetables as well as                                                            lightly seasoned and toasted pita wedges.

 

I heard a rumour that hummus made at home could be creamy, dreamy & simple, but every time I tried it I was less than satisfied.  Sure, it was tasty …. but dreamy?  No.  So I hit the blogs looking for a trick, and “inspired taste” provided it.  Look up the blog – Adam and Joanne have some amazing photos and descriptions, plus tips for cooking your own chickpeas and many other great ideas.  I’ve made this recipe a few times now, exactly as written (except that I am that weirdo that doesn’t mind a 10 minute mindless activity like skinning chickpeas).

Hummus 3

A few days later, my grand daughters Sloan and Stella were here, asking for a snack …. when I produced the vegetables I got a look ….. “Well Nana ……..do you have any of that amazing peeled chickpea hummus left?  Could we please have some of that too?”                                                       That, my friends, is how foodies are born.

Grilled Cauliflower & Shrimp with Romesco Dipping Sauce

Cauliflower & Shrimp with Romescu

Grilling the shrimp in the shell protects them from the searing heat of the barbecue, and is definitely worth doing.  Serve this as an appetizer and nobody minds getting in with their hands!

 

romescu

Go ahead and make a big batch of this, it goes really well with any cooked fish or chicken dish.

Romesco Sauce:

  • 1 jar (300 mL) roasted red peppers , including juices
  • 1/4 cup prepared tomato sauce
  • 3 tablespoons almond butter or 1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Romesco Sauce: In blender, purée together red peppers including juices, tomato sauce, almond butter, vinegar, paprika and cayenne pepper until smooth. Season to taste with salt, if needed.  Transfer to small saucepan, and set aside.

  • 1 head cauliflower , cut in large florets
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 450 g unpeeled jumbo shrimp (21 to 25 count)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 bunch green onions

Shrimp and Vegetables: Plunge cauliflower pieces into boiling salted water for just about 2-3 minutes, and then immediately drop into ice water bath.

This can easily be turned into a vegetarian dish by omitting the shrimp, just use an assortment of vegetables.

In bowl, toss together shrimp, oil and remaining salt.

Thread shrimp onto metal or soaked wooden skewers. Place shrimp and cauliflower on greased grill over medium-high heat; close lid and grill, turning once, until shrimp are pink and cauliflower is charred, about 8 minutes. Add green onions during last 3 minutes of grilling.

Heat Romesco Sauce, stirring frequently until warm, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve cauliflower, shrimp and green onions on large platter with sauce on the side for dipping.  Add some crusty fresh French bread and you’ve got a great appetizer!