February 29, 2008

Not so flat flatbread

Well, it may not be flat, but it sure tastes delicious and was a cinch to make. This bread is great for dipping, and along with hummus (recipe provided below) and a few veggies, makes a great snack or light meal.

However, the topping is flavorful enough that the bread can stand on its own. The topping was inspired by a sudden craving for zatar (or za'atar), a Middle Eastern spice blend usually composed of sesame, thyme and/or oregano, salt and sumac. Not having any sumac lying around, I faked it and simply brushed the top of the bread with olive oil and sprinkled it with sesame seeds, sea salt, dried thyme and oregano.

Why it turned out so puffy, I'm not sure- it may be that I didn't roll it flat enough, or I let the loaves overproof during their second rise. Probably both of these factors contributed to the bread rising dramatically in the oven. But as with most baked goods, it's the taste that counts.

This is my entry into Bread Baking Day #7, hosted by Chili und Ciabatta.
Update: See the roundup here!

Not So Flat Flatbread
Makes 8 small breads.

2 cups whole wheat flour (I use white whole wheat)
1 package (2.5 tsp) yeast
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cups hot (~120 F) water
2.5-3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
2 tsp salt

olive oil
dried thyme
toasted sesame seeds

1. In a large bowl, mix whole wheat flour, yeast, and sugar.

2. Add hot water and olive oil, and stir vigorously for about 1 minute, until mixture is smooth.

3. Add white flour, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well between additions, until you have a shaggy and soft, but homogeneous, mass. Towards the end, you'll have to use your hands to incorporate the last of the flour.

4. Let dough rest, covered, for 20 minutes. Use that time to prepare a clean, floured surface for kneading.

5. Sprinkle salt on dough. Knead for 8-10 minutes, adding flour as necessary to prevent sticking, until salt is evenly distributed, and dough is smooth and soft.

6. Let dough rise in a warmish place until doubled in size (This only took 45 minutes for me- there's a lot of yeast in this recipe).

7. Place baking stone*** on lowest rack in oven, and preheat to 450 F.

8. Turn dough out onto floured surface. Gently press dough out into a flat circle, then divide into 8 portions. Cover and let rest for 5-10 minutes.

9. Working with one portion at a time, roll out into a thin, approx. 6 x 8 inch rectangle. If dough doesn't want to stretch and keeps springing back when you try to roll it, cover and let it rest for another 10 min.

10. Once all pieces have been rolled out, place on peel or well-floured cutting board, cover and let rise for 20 minutes, until they're slightly puffy.

11. Working in batches of 2 or 3 (depending on the size of your baking stone), first either dimple the loaves with your fingertips, or flour the handle of a wooden spoon and press onto bread to make 3 or 4 lines (see photo above). Then brush the tops of the loaves with olive oil, and sprinkle on toppings.

12. Slide loaves onto baking stone and bake for 6-8 minutes, until loaves are just golden on top. Cool completely on rack.

***If you don't have a baking or pizza stone, bake loaves on greased or parchment lined baking sheets on middle rack in the oven. This may require a little longer baking time.


1 garlic clove, minced or put through garlic press
1 15-oz can of garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
3 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp plain yogurt
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup water
2 tbs olive oil
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 tsp cumin
dash cayenne pepper

1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients except olive oil. Process until smooth.

2. With processor running, drizzle in olive oil in a thin stream through the food chute.

Variation: Roasted Red Pepper Hummus- Add 1/2 to 1 roasted red pepper, roughly chopped, along with other ingredients in step 1.

Makes about 1.5 cups. Store covered and refrigerated.

February 23, 2008

"Working" in Half Moon Bay

The beach at Half Moon Bay

The thing is, most archaeologists (though there are many exceptions) become archaeologists because of the fieldwork - the excavations, the surveys, working outdoors-- hands-on research. We generally do not enter this profession to work in cubicles all day, which is what I've been doing for the past 4 months straight. So I was thrilled when I finally got sent off to do some fieldwork, in the Bay Area no less. But alas, it was not to be- the project got postponed at the last minute, and the fieldwork canceled.

But this wasn't a total disaster- I got to spend a few lovely days in Half Moon Bay, about 20 miles south of San Francisco, and the surrounding area.

My dream house (only somewhat joking)

Crazy beach house

Pigeon Point Light House
State of the art at its time, and the tallest lighthouse on the California coast when it was constructed. From the Park Service webpage: "Its five-wick lard oil lamp, and first-order Fresnel lens, comprised of 1,008 prisms, was first lit at sunset, November 15, 1872. The lens stands 16 feet tall, 6 feet in diameter, and weighs 8,000 pounds. Although the original Fresnel lens is no longer in use, the lighthouse is still an active U.S. Coast Guard aid to navigation using a 24 inch Aero Beacon."

Whale skull

Newt Crossing!

One of California's many haunted historical landmarks, Moss Beach Distillery.


February 17, 2008

Fat Bottomed Cupcakes

Baking is one of my favorite pastimes, but it does have its downsides. For instance, I find that clothes that once fit me perfectly are now growing tighter and tighter. Hmm...

Add to the constant surplus of baked goods (and a lack of self-control in the face of said surplus) the fact that I now spend 9 hours a day sitting in front of a computer, and things aren't looking too good for my health. So I now have a rule- of everything that I bake (bread excluded), a good 75% must be brought to work and shared with my coworkers.

On the more healthy side, recently LA experienced some glorious, summer-like, almost hot weather, and so we took a nice long bike ride on the beach. I know my native land (the Midwest) is experiencing some frigid weather right now, so I shouldn't rub it in...but I will anyway.

So warm...

Where am I going with this? Oh yes. My coworkers probably think I'm a little weird for bringing so many baked goods to work, but I don't get any complaints, and anything I leave in the kitchen gets consumed in a matter of hours. I am even getting special requests. One of my coworkers wanted black bottom cupcakes for her birthday. Now, this is going to expose my ignorance, but I had never heard of, let alone eaten, let alone baked a black bottom cupcake before. And their name makes me think of the Queen song "Fat Bottomed Girls". But how could anyone resist something that is essentially a chocolate cupcake with a glob of cream cheese in the middle?

There were a few bumps on the road to black bottoms. The filling, which is cream cheese, chocolate chunks, sugar, and egg, was quite liquidy and did not sink in lumps into the center of the cupcake batter as it should have, but rather spread out into a layer on top of the batter. Chilling the filling for 30 minutes didn't help at all. I wonder if I added too much liquid, or if a longer chilling time would do the trick? Piping the filling into the middle of the cupcakes might work, but only if the chocolate chunks were omitted.

I used this recipe, making both mini and regular sized cupcakes, and while the results were delicious and got raves at work, I couldn't help but feel that they could have been a little better...obviously once I solve the cream cheese problem, but I also think they could be more chocolaty, and a little richer. Maybe next time I'll use my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe, and simply add a cream cheese filling.

February 3, 2008

Greek Mountain Tea

I've been in a very nostalgic mood lately, and I blame it all on this tea. I brought it back from Greece this summer, and it's been sitting in my cupboard ever since. I finally brewed a pot this weekend, and now I can't get memories of Greece out of my head.

Greek mountain tea (tsai tou vounou) is made of the dried flowers and leaves of the ironwort plant (sideritis), and is reputed to be good for whatever ails ya- digestion, respiratory problems, anxiety, you name it. It's available everywhere in Greece- and it's cheap, too. I got this huge bag at a supermarket chain in the Peloponnese for less than 1 euro (~$1.50).

The use of ironwort in the Mediterranean as an herbal remedy goes back thousands of years- Dioscorides, a physician born in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) in the 1st century A.D., mentions the plant in his work De Materia Medica, a pharmaceutical encyclopedia.

The tea came in a huge bag of whole dried stalks. Not knowing how much to brew, or what part of the plant you use (flowers? leaves? the whole thing?), I crumbled up a few buds and steeped with a cup of hot (just off boiling) water. The resulting tea was bright, floral, lemony and herby-- tasting, strangely, exactly the way the Greek countryside smells in the spring and summer. I love it.

It makes an nice evening brew, as it's caffeine-free and very soothing. One of my fellow archaeologists on the project I worked on this summer used to brew up some iced mountain tea in a water bottle and bring it out to work- I'll have to try that too.

I've never seen mountain tea for sale in the U.S., but I imagine you might find it at some Mediterranean or specialty stores. Or, failing that, there's always the miracle of the internet.