Using quality canned meat can save a lot of time when cooking meals. In emergency situations, meal preparation needs to be quick and easy, which is why so many of us have a small fortune worth of MREs. Personally, I don’t find MRE’s to be a great value – more of a necessary option. They are often high in salt, fat, and dumped carbs such as corn starch. This is one of the main reasons that I focus on home food production and easy meals. In this blog, we look at the art of focaccia bread and some options for making a complete meal in very little time.
Generally, focaccia is a yeast bread and if you have the time, go for it. However, there are versions that do not require yeast. Going yeast-less is – to me – an essential step forward in food production for prepping. There are two reasons for this. First, yeast bread takes time to rise, and often rise again after punching down. The second reason is that you need a warm spot with even temperature and warm water for the yeast to do its job. Those two factors may not always be possible and yeast-less bread remove those obstacles from meal prep.
The Many Options
Focaccia is such a versatile bread. It should be crispy on the bottom and soft on the inside. One of its strengths is that it pairs well with so many ingredients that you can literally shape the bread to fit the meal – Sweet, Savory, rich, spicy, etc. In fact, focaccia can be so simple that you see it on menus in some of the fast-food pizza places as rectangular pizza loaded with cheese, sauce, and toppings. However, that does not mean it needs to be unhealthy – just that it is simple.
The Basic Focaccia Recipe
2-cups of flour – feel free to use all-purpose flour or mix it up. If you have concerns about consuming glutton then consider potato flour, rice flour, etc. You have a lot of options for flour. I encourage you to experiment. In fact, think about national foods – Italian, French, etc. Once you choose your flour, add herbs such as basil, oregano, and others to create a perfect base for foods.
2 teaspoons of Baking Powder – NOT baking soda. This recipe does not call for yeast, so the baking powder will help it to fluff up a bit.
1 teaspoon of salt – additional salt for the crust if so desired – A coarse sea salt works well for the crust.
1 tablespoon of oil – generally olive or canola oil works well, but you can also use flavored oils, such as garlic oil. You can change the entire taste of the bread by switching oils so consider that when you decide what you want to pair the bread with. For example, a little tarragon oil if pairing this with fish. You can also omit the salt and water and use heavy broth as the liquid. A rich beef broth is amazing when making a savory bread.
1-cup of liquid – water is usually used, but you can find a nice ratio of milk and water, teas, broth, etc.
¼-1/2 cup of dry cheese. Most recipes call for Parmesan cheese, but I prefer Asiago or a blend of dry cheeses.
Spices and herbs – These are optional, and you should choose them so that they match whatever you are cooking.
Making the Basic Dough
Sift all dry ingredients (minus the cheese) together in a large bowl. You can add the water to the dry mixture or the dry mixture to the water. Whichever way you go, do so in a large mixing bowl. If you have a with a dough hook, these work well. I find that the standard hand-held mixers to be not strong enough to handle dough. A wooden spoon works great to mix things into a loose dough and then you can fold the dough into itself with lightly greased, clean hands. The dough should form into a ball easily without sticking to everything.
Baking Your Bread
Bake the focaccia in a 9×13 inch greased pan. You can opt to use other pans and even a cookie sheet or cast-iron skillet in a pinch.
- Heat the oven to 425°F
- Use the same oil as in the bread to grease the pan.
- Roll the dough ball in oil so that you can work with it without it sticking. Add the dough to the pan. It is important that the dough be flat and fill the pan’s bottom. Start from the center and work the dough outwards towards the corners. Do not tear the dough or stretch it so thin that holes occur. The dough should be one piece that is around ½ inch thick. You can also lightly roll the dough with a rolling pin to help and then add it to the pan.
- Season – sprinkle your seasonings on the top of the dough. Bake for 20-minutes and then add the cheese to the top. Continue to bake until the cheese takes on the slightest of golden tones. Remember that the bread is hot and will continue to cook for a bit after you remove it from the oven. Well-baked focaccia is crispy on the bottom and moist and fluffy on the inside.
You can mix dry herbs into the dough if you’d like or other seasonings. Some recipes call for hot pepper flakes and salt for the top. You can go much farther with this. If you want peppers in your bread, sauté them in a pan with a tad of butter until they wilt. You can also oven roast them if you love that bit of char.
Tomatoes, peppers, olives, fruit slices, and other vegetables go well when mixed into focaccia dough. Just make sure that whatever you add to the dough has lost its water. For fresh vegetables, sauté` until they release their water and the strain them. You want your ingredients to be drier than they are wet. Too much water and the bread will not bake correctly, and it will be doughy.
Dry foods such as sun-dried tomatoes and olives are amazing. Herbs such as dill and fennel also work well. The sky is really the limit.
Beyond the Basic Bread
When prepared with thought, focaccia can almost be a meal on its own. To that end, you want to think about how to balance what you put into the bread to make a complete meal. The bread takes care of the starch and you now need to add protein and vegetables to the mix. At my table, I love focaccia as a base layer to something wonderful. You can use fajita or taco filling to top focaccia as it comes out of the oven. It is quite wonderful with homemade chili ladled over it.
- Chop a medium onion, a couple of bell peppers (or other sweet pepper,) and a few tomatoes, into bite-sized chunks. You want about 2-cups or a little more of the raw vegetables.
- Peel and dice 2-5 (or more) cloves of garlic. I usually use about four large cloves of garlic, but then I love it.
- Make your dry seasoning mix – ½-1 teaspoon of cumin powder, a good dash or three of chili powder, a large pinch of dried oregano, a dash of red pepper flakes, and two good pinches of coriander. Adjust the volume of these herbs and spices to suit your taste. You can go blazing hot with tobacco or hot sauce or keep it mild.
You will also need 1-cup of liquid that may be wine, beef or pork stock, chicken stock, maybe even beer.
Step 1. Open a can or two of Wertz Homegrown beef or pork. Do NOT throw out the liquid.
Step 2. Measure the liquid in the canned meat and top it off with whatever type of liquid you are using. You need ½ -1-cup of liquid. Start with ½ cup of liquid and add more as needed at the end. Add this to a medium stock pot or dutch oven.
Step 3. Turn the flame to medium or medium/low and combine the liquid, raw vegetables, and seasoning mix into the pot. Stir to incorporate and let the mixture come to a high simmer. As the vegetables start to soften, add in the meat from the can. I break it up with a fork or knife so that it is in bite-sized or smaller pieces.
Step 4. Cook on medium or medium/low heat until the vegetables are tender, and the mixture thickens. If the mixture is too watery, use a roux to thicken it.
Step 5. Thicken with a roux as needed. A roux is two tablespoons of flour (use the same type of flour that you used in your focaccia.) and two tablespoons of butter. Mix the two until they form a uniform paste. You can add this to the mixture one tablespoon at a time. The flour will help to absorb some of the liquid and the butter will give it a rich flavor.
If there is a lot of liquid in the pot and the vegetables have cooked, you can ladle it out. Generally, if this is the case then the heat is too high, and the vegetables have cooked before the liquid can evaporate. It might also be that the vegetables had a lot of water in them and diluted the mixture. Either of these scenarios is easy to correct in future batches.
Dinner is Ready
When the bread is ready, and the meat mixture is thick, dinner is ready. Add to this a side or salad and you have a wonderfully complete meal.
There are so many variations of what you can make with these two recipes. Changing the spice mix changes both the bread and the meat. You can go Greek with olives and feta or German with pulled pork and sausage. You can also use sour cream and make the meat mixture into beef stroganoff. You might go more Italian with a thick tomato filling as you would use in lasagna. This is one of the reasons I love these simple recipes for bread. From there you can use foods that are in season and on-hand. Save the MRE’s for later and in the meantime enjoy good homecooked meals.
David Stillwell is a lifelong naturalist with a background in healthcare and biology who lives in the heart of wildfire territory in Northern California. Prepping for him is a way of life and necessary on a daily basis. He focuses on food production and agriculture and grows 80% of what he consumes.