A List of Nouns (featuring Thick/Flatbread with Rosemary, Grapes, and Blue Cheese)
I am surrounded by recipes. They’re on my shelves and my mailboxes- both snail and virtual, on display at checkout counters, printed on the containers of food I buy. They’re on my hard drive and in my office drawers, they’re on little scraps of paper in the bottom of my purse.
It’s not surprising of course; I cook for a living. But recipes play a more powerful role in my life than just being tools of my trade.
A recipe is a glimpse at the nonpareil of who I could be.
It’s like thumbing through a glossy fashion magazine, bored with adverts for expensive creams or unappealing nail polish colors, you stumble onto one page and see her there. The 6’ tall, 100 pound model, with chestnut curls falling around her creamy white skin, a peachy flush on her cheeks and lips as red as marinara. Playfully swinging her feet in the most spectacular boots, she embodies what life should feel like—easy and free, the world at her fingertips! The absurdity of the magazine fades away as you see your own potential. You could be that powerful in those boots! Anything is possible! ANYTHING.
That’s what a recipe does for me. It makes me feel possible. A recipe introduces my potential to my floundering, assailable self. And, once or twice I’ve actually stood in front of a recipe and conducted the knife on my board with the heat in my stove to produce an esculent symphony.
But only once or twice.
Because I am a woman with insurmountable expectations.
I have convinced myself that mastering a recipe the first time out will solve all my problems the same way I believe that buying a new pair of boots will bring ultimate happiness.
That’s quite a lot of power to give a list of nouns.
The fact of the matter is that many things go into creating a masterpiece from a group of ingredients and instructions on a page.
You have to coordinate reading comprehension with organization and memory. I have days when I can’t get one of these skills to work, let alone all of them together. I’ve been a professional cook for over 25 years and I can’t tell you how many times I go back to the recipe and see I’ve left something out.
There are also circumstantial issues that recipes don’t take into account, things like regional climate, humidity, and altitude. What about the temperature of your oven? Or the heat from your burners? It’s easy to forget that the chemical reactions in cooking can be influenced by the kitchen’s environment and equipment.
The biggest obstacle when working with a recipe is that you believe you’re staring at a static list of ingredients, when in reality, you’re looking at a group of constantly shifting, developing components. Fresh August tomatoes or nectarines can’t be compared to those found in January. THEY AREN’T EVEN A LITTLE CLOSE. But your recipe doesn’t know what month it is. What about the cayenne in your pantry? If it’s been there for 12 years, it’s not going to light your tongue up the way a freshly ground spice would. Was your fish caught this week or was it sent frozen on a journey halfway around the world before it wound up in your skillet? What was the Ph balance in the soil where that asparagus grew? Were those cows fed grass or corn? When was that lettuce pulled from the ground? There are no two identical circumstances to compare recipe testing.
Maybe that’s why it’s so exciting to me.
Because, for as many times as I have beat myself up for failing, the possibilities for success are endless and the learning curve infinite.
I am not a recipe writer so much as an explorer.
I was recently cleaning out the inbox that gets a ton of recipe blasts. There was a grouping from Food and Wine that included a rosemary flatbread with grapes, blue cheese, and honey. I barely finished the title before I was off to the store to buy ingredients. There was just something that clicked for me, a harmony I had never considered. I followed the recipe exactly and squealed when I lifted the cheesy dough disk out of my oven. I waited a moment for it to cool and then breathlessly took a bite.
It was awful.
I mean, the combination of toppings was spectacular, but the bread, fresh out of the oven, tasted stale. The chew had none of that toothsome snarl that good flatbread has. It was dry and rubbery as though I’d made the dough with adobe and pencil erasers. I double-checked my flour’s expiration date, but it has another year to go. I returned to the recipe, which didn’t have any telltale signs of failure in it. Maybe I was just having an off day. Or maybe this was something I could spend some quality time working on.
It took me four attempts before I got what felt right, a more pillowy bread texture than traditional flatbread or pizza dough would bring. Adding a bit of dairy (in the form of dry milk powder) softened and sweetened the dough just the way I wanted. This thick/ flatbread brings cushiony support to roasted grapes and cheese. Top it with a hearty grind of black pepper and it’s got everything I need to welcome the cooler months of fall.
Thick/Flatbread with Rosemary, Grapes, and Blue Cheese
- ¾ cup warm water (not hotter than 110 degrees)
- 1 ½ teaspoons yeast
- 2 tablespoons dry milk powder
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons fresh chopped rosemary
- 1 cup grapes, sliced in half (I used red, green, and purple seedless grapes)
- 1 cup blue cheese
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Combine water with yeast, milk powder, and sugar. Let sit for 10 minutes to wake the yeast up (it will start to froth which means it’s alive and happy).
- Put the yeast combination into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook and slowly add the flour, salt and rosemary. Knead for 10 minutes.
- Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for an hour.
- Punch the dough down, recover, and let rise for another hour.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Punch the dough down again and then flatten it with your fingers or a rolling pin onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. It will rise in the oven so I like to get it as flat as I can, an approximate 11”-12” disk.
- Press the grape halves in whatever pattern you like into the dough, cut side down.
- When the oven has heated, bake the bread for 10 minutes. Take out and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cheese. Bake for another 3 minutes.
- Let cool and then drizzle with honey.
I think this is best eaten immediately, but you can prep it up to the point of proofing the dough twice and prepping the toppings. Then all you have to do is roll it out, top it with stuff, and bake right before serving!
And here is me making this bread on KATU’s Afternoon Live. But be warned… I take a different route with this bread on tv. It’s worth watching (but follow my recipe more than my actions). Click on the pic below.