On 2013′s best dishes and culinary resolutions

Food trends haven’t exactly been at the forefront of my mind this year.

Anyone who follows this blog, reading a bit between the lines, probably has surmised that making baby food constitutes much of time in the kitchen. Yet, a bit of progress was made on the culinary front, with some of it actually paralleling what’s hot with professional cooks.

Fish heads will rise up in 2014, according to CNN’s Eatocracy blog. Talk about everything that’s old is new again. Fish heads, as most of us well know have been used in stocks since humans have been fishing, and the cheeks and eyeballs savored by most cultures that roast whole fish.

Let’s remember, though, that not all fish are created equal in this regard. Salmon, for example, is not one of the species most used in stock. But that didn’t stop me from distilling salmon essence from two impeccably fresh heads this summer. Covered in a previous post, the last of the stock went into a Cioppiono-like seafood stew for December’s cold snap.

Another DIYer darling is hot sauce. While I didn’t get quite that saucy in my own kitchen, pickled chilies are some of my proudest products from this year’s garden. And now that I inherited a food dehydrator, I’m looking forward to making my own crushed-chili blend like the seasoning that my editor has made for several years and is generous enough to share. I’ve been generously sprinkling it on everything from popcorn to tuna salad.

In the dessert realm, parfaits are supposed to make a comeback. I’m not sure how CNN singled out this dessert from the rest. I have to admit, however, that my new favorite also layers fruit and even can contain yogurt. I substituted the latter for sour cream in a recipe for rhubarb upside-down cake, covered in a previous post. The eye-catching results belied the simplicity of its preparation.

Simplicity, I’ve said time and again, is my comfort zone when it comes to baking. That’s why I was so enamored with the idea of flatbread, the focus of this week’s food section. Coincidentally, flatbread also was one of the Washington Post’s top recipes of 2013.

That recipe, unlike the bread featured in A la Carte, contains no yeast. The Post also supplied a surprising tip: Cook the dough on the surface of an overturned wok! The idea of using a familiar pan in a new way is all the more reason to make baking flatbreads my New Year’s resolution.

Basic Flatbread

3 cups (14 to 14 1⁄2 ounces, depending on the flour) sifted, whole-wheat flour or chapati flour (see note), plus more for the work surface

2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil, plus more for the bowl

1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt

In a bowl, combine the flour, oil and salt with scant 1 1⁄4 cups water until ingredients come together into a mass. Let sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes while flour absorbs water.

Lightly flour a work surface. (All-purpose flour can be used for this; if using whole-wheat flour, make sure it has been sifted to remove any large bran particles.) Transfer dough to work surface and knead for about 5 minutes by pushing down on and spreading dough and then turning it over on itself, being careful not to rip dough. It should be smooth and elastic. Form it into a ball and place in a clean, oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rest for 8 to 12 hours.

About 45 minutes before you want to bake, spread out dough on a lightly floured counter and form into 2 logs. Cut each log into 6 equal pieces. You should have 12 pieces of dough that weigh about 2 ounces each; evenly distribute any leftover dough as needed.

Shape each piece into a ball. Let balls rest for 30 minutes at room temperature under plastic wrap.

Place a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat; cover with a lid. (Alternatively, invert a wok over a burner for cooking on underside of wok.)

Liberally flour a work surface. Flatten a dough ball and dust it lightly with flour, then use a rolling pin to roll it out as thin as possible (7 to 9 inches in diameter), rotating disc to keep it even.

When skillet is smoking lightly, gently lift a disc of dough. Place it in skillet and cover immediately. Cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then flip dough. Cover and cook for 30 seconds. (If using an overturned wok, simply place bread on top of wok and flip it when ready.) Breads will bake in 2 minutes and should be blistered and dark in spots.

Remove flatbread and cover with a towel or aluminum foil to keep it from crusting over. (Dot it with butter and fold it in half if you like). Serve warm. These can be made in advance and stored in a resealable plastic container.

Makes 12 flatbreads.

NOTE: Chapati flour is a very finely ground, whole-wheat flour available in Indian markets. If using regular, whole-wheat flour, sift it to remove any large particles of bran.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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