Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onions and Blue Cheese Focaccia

Have you ever made focaccia? It's kind of a cross between a Sicilian bread crust and flat bread. The bread is made just like any other yeasted bread, and involves rising time, punching it down, and a second rise. Unfortunately, I do not get to make it as often as I would like, but recently I had the time to make it, and create a very seasonal focaccia pizza!

The dough is super easy to make, and more importantly, can be flexible to your schedule. I made the dough in my KitchenAid mixer (though I am sure you could do it in a food processor), and let it rise for about 4 hours, instead of the 2 hours instructed in the recipe. The reason for this being that my home is a little cooler, and I was gone during that 4 hour period. After arriving home, I stretched out the dough to fit a cookie sheet, placed it on it, and let the dough rise for a second time, which lasted about 2 hours.

I decided to top the focaccia with some seasonal veggies, including butternut squash and caramelized onions. I lasted put on some Great Hill Blue Cheese from Marion MA. If you have never tried Great Hill Blue, you definitely should. The cheese is terrific with a great balance of flavors that is not overpowering to first time blue cheese eaters.

After about 30 minutes, which seemed like an entirnity due to the delicious smells coming from the oven, I had myself a beautiful focaccia pizza! The crust and toppings tasted amazing together, and I will definitely be using this recipe again.

Rosemary and Olive Oil Focaccia Bread
Adapted from Flour Cookbook

1 3/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 tsp active dry yeast
3 1/2 cup All Purpose flour
1 1/4 cup bread flour
3 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbs sugar
3/4 cup olive oil- I used less on the top of the focaccia as it seemed like a lot.
2 Tbs Rosemary, roughly chopped- I used Thyme as that is what I had on hand

Combine the water and yeast together in the bowl of a standing mixer, and allow the yeast to start to dissolve, about one minute. Add the flours to the yeast mixture, 1 tsp of the salt, and sugar and turn the mixer on low, allowing the dough hook to bring the whole thing together. When the dough is a shaggy ball slowly drizzle 1/2 cup of the olive oil into the bowl. Continue to knead the dough with the mixer until it is a smooth ball - 4-5 minutes on a low speed. When the dough is smooth, turn the dough ball into an oiled smooth bowl. I use the same bowl- just take the dough ball out, spray with olive oil, and place back in. Cover the bowl with a lightly oiled piece of plastic wrap and let it rise somewhere warm (70-80 degrees) until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. For a cooler house, the rising will take longer. Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a 10"x15" cookie sheet spread with cornmeal. Stretch the dough until it fills the cookie sheet and poke it with your fingertips. Brush the top of the focaccia dough with the 1/4 cup of olive oil (I used less) and sprinkle the salt and rosemary (sage) on top. You can put toppings on it now if you would like, or bake plain. Bake the focaccia at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown and puffed.


Boston Brunchers at ICO Bar

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to dine once again with the Boston Brunchers for their 1 year anniversary at the Island Creek Oyster Bar in the Fenway neighborhood. Once again, the brunch was outstanding, the company fabulous, and the swag unreal!

A little background; The Boston Brunchers are a group of hungry eaters, bloggers, and tweeters who have monthly meet-ups at various brunch spots around Boston and the great Boston area. The group is typically given a sampling of a brunch menu at that specific restaurant, and later some members of the group may choose to review the experience. This benefits both the restaurant and the brunch eaters of Boston because everyone knows exactly what to expect at each restaurant.

Onto the dirty details! The ICO Bar generously hosted 40, that's right, 40 brunchers on Sunday and provided a delicious meal for all! We started with a choice of three available cocktails, followed by some house made pastries, and lastly finished off with a choice of brunch entree. The menu was as follows:

Bloody Mary- regular, extra spicy, or house
Red Beer- ICOB pilsner with homemade sangria
McCarthy's Crossing- Pear Brandy, Spiced Honey, Rose Vermouth, Bubbles, and Lemon

Pastries- blueberry muffins, doughnut muffins, cinnamon rolls, croissants, citrus scones, and raspberry coffee cakes

Main Course:
House Smoked Salmon with bagel, chive cream cheese, pea greens
Cinnamon French Toast with caramelized apples and toasted walnuts
House-made Baked Beans with slab bacon and a fried egg
Ethel's Lobster Roll with kettle chips, Cole slaw and on a rosemary roll

With a menu like this, it was certainly hard to choose what to eat. Thankfully, everyone that I ate with loved to share! My cocktail choice was the McCarthy's Crossing as it had sounded super unique, and I LOVED it! I am typically not a brandy lover, but the flavors of the drink melded so well together that I couldn't even tell that there was brandy in the drink. I tried both the citrus scone and cinnamon roll during the pastry round, and while I loved both, I happened to really like the citrus scone as it was refreshing yet sweet. Lastly, for the main course, I split my dish with Taryn, and we shared both the baked bean dish and the lobster roll. Both were outstanding! I only wish the baked bean dish had an additional egg so that there was more yolk to mix into the beans! Overall though, I would most certainly go back to ICO Bar. The food was great, service terrific, and restaurant decoration amazing!

Thank you to Boston Brunchers, ICO Bar, and all involved for hosting such a wonderful meal for so many to share! Thank you to the sponsors of our SWAG bags which included many wonderful and fun gadgets, books, and foods! To see the full list, check out the Boston Brunchers website.


Healthy Habits Kitchen

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Healthy Habits Kitchen in Wellesley. Healthy Habits is a small business that operates as a meal prep kitchen where busy families can come and put together, or just choose, meals that are guaranteed to be cooked in 30 minutes or less. All meals are designed to be less than 400 calories a serving; sides excluded, and are verified by a resident nutritionist.

I had heard about businesses like Healthy Habits before, specifically, Dream Dinners, but have never actually participated in the programs. Personally, I could never justify the cost for a meal, when I would only be cooking for two people. Healthy Habits has very reasonably priced meals though, which quite frankly, was surprising given the ingredients they use. They use produce from local farmers, and meats that contain no antibiotics, hormones, etc.

When visiting HHK, the owner spoke about the origin of the business, why she thought it would work, and most importantly how they captivate and keep regular customers. After her talk, I was hooked! I think it's a fabulous idea to have the option of having a home cooked meal, with all of the tedious slicing, dicing, and marinating already complete for you.

Let's get on to the good stuff though- the food! Healthy Habits fed a group of us a meal that they would have on a menu for folks to purchase on a regular basis. We tried root beer float pork, salsa chicken, quinoa salad, and dark cherry chocolate cookies. I was pretty skeptical, but after trying all of the food, I was impressed! It was all very tasty, and my favorite was actually the quinoa salad. I think it was the vinaigrette and veggies that really sold me.

I left HHK with a meal of turkey pumpkin chili to make when I had a chance. I have not tried it yet, but am anxiously waiting! The beauty of all of the foods that HHK sells is that they are all prepackaged in boxes that can immediately be put into the freezer.

I highly recommend Healthy Habits Kitchen for busy families, or anyone for that matter!