Today I was feeling a little under the weather, and frankly getting out of bed made my head ache, but I didn't want to waste away the day. I was too sick to go out and do anything exciting, but I had a sudden urge to bake (very rare), so I decided to make some focaccia bread. I didn't realize it at the time, but at the end of the baking/cooking process, I had recreated 3 methods I experienced along my food travels, from Italy, France and JMU.
As I was making the focaccia dough, it reminded me of the summer I spent abroad in Florence and the many chefs I met along the way. One in particular who was standing in and noted my quick hands while kneading the dough came to mind. He was one of the first chefs who saw talent in me before I saw it in myself. I remember going to class one day as he was giving some students a private lesson and when he came out to talk to me, he forced me to try some aranciata. They were small balls of risotto mixed with cheese and fried, a quintissential Italian snack found all over the country. His passion for food and teaching others has been influential to me since then, even though I hadn't realized it. Today, I rolled out my dough and remembered cooking classes at Apicius with Kerri and all the kids from WSU who spent the summer with us. It was an amazing experience and feels like only yesterday.
Here is the dough after I kneaded it, in an oiled bowl ready to rise:
I took a side shot so you can note how much it rose:
This is after an hour or so of sitting at room temp:
And from the side...
I wanted to use the focaccia as a building block for a sandwich and immediately recalled a simple but delicious one my sister, Pegah, and I had tasted in France while we were traveling a few months ago. It was a simple grilled chicken sandwich, but of course being France, the bread made it delicious, as well as its horseradish mayo, which brings a delightful kick to every bite. As I got out the chicken breast to grill up for the sandwich, I remembered classes with Tassie while I was still attending JMU.
For one of the very first lessons, she prepared some chicken breasts, seasoned simply with some salt and pepper and seared over a high flame in a good amount of olive oil. Seems easy enough, but I have found that the kosher salt gives the chicken a very nice crust and keeps the juices locked inside.
So there I had it... one simple chicken sandwich that was made using my influences from Italy, France, and Virginia. Looking at it may not show its history or how it came to be on my kitchen counter in Poughkeepsie, but with every bite, I remember the people I've met and the travels I have had before coming here to the greatest culinary school in the world.
Here are some more pictures of the process
I made some herb/garlic infused extra virgin olive oil to add an extra layer of flavor:
Before being baked:
Golden brown and delicious, or GB&D as Alton Brown would say:
I do love a good crust:
Here's the sandwich I made:
Try the horseradish mayo on your next chicken or steak sandwich instead of mustard, the flavor is intense and wonderful. I find light mayo works better than regular, just mix one part prepared fresh horseradish with 2 parts mayonnaise (or less horseradish if you want just a hint of spice). Enjoy!