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Everyone should learn how to make bread. I’m not being an idealist on this. It is a chief form of sustenance for many of course, but it is also a deeply meditative undertaking when you get yourself into it. There are repetitive motions to sink every strand of your awareness into, astute measures, risings to patiently wait for and monitor, that universally smile-inducing warm smell… Whole body, whole mind, loaves of bread. We all have the ability to bang it out; just a simple awakening to its powers is perhaps necessary. See where I’m going with this?

I’ve winded down to a bit of vacation time currently, it’s true —publishing this one from somewhere in Costa Rica, hopefully out in the surf at this point *waves hello*—, but deadlines, actual scheduled work, and loose ends abounded before an obligatory rum on the rocks found its way into my hot little hands by the ocean. I didn’t really know which of the umpteen-jillion things on my list I was supposed to finish first. So I did something that wasn’t on my list, or rather something that I didn’t know was on my list just yet. I made bread. (And listened to some 90s/early 2000s R&B).

Walking into any kitchen in any capacity to make bread with whatever equipment available is completely badass to me. Providing basic sustenance on a whim = a life skill supreme. Some of the coolest people I’ve met in my life were serious bread bakers and eventually I figured out why. I started to appreciate what the practice offered when I had to make it every day at a restaurant I worked at for a time. There is a slowness that you have to learn how to appreciate when you make it. It was such a non-stop-work-all-the-time period of my life (an aside: that is still actually a thing), but the small responsibility brought me some serious calm and quietude. So it was then, here I am now; hands in the flour working it all out.

This recipe from Kim Boyce is completely simple to remember. Focaccia is generally considered a good beginner’s bread undertaking. Equal amounts of whole grain and plain/softer flour, packet of quick yeast, fat pinch of salt, glugs of olive oil and whatever flavour/textural components you’re feeling at the moment. Easy.

I went very classic with this. Caramelized onions become the flavour salve of dreams in cool weather, going on everything to make it instantly better. Fresh thyme is easily my favourite herb, so it’s always poking out of some spot in the fridge, and I generally enjoy the crunch-surprise of seeds in almost everything bread-related (bagel memories, guys). Other ideas: dried figs, olives, roasted bits of squash, fried sage leaves, concord grapes if you still have them around, walnuts, a firm blue cheese (drizzle the whole thing with honey at the end-oooooh man), dabs of harissa and almonds etc etc.

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spelt + seed focaccia with caramelized onions + thyme
very lightly adapted from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain
serves:
makes a large rectangular focaccia 
notes: 
If you want to age the dough a bit for a hint of sourness/more depth, tightly cover the dough after the first rising and place it in the fridge. When you’re ready to bake it, remove from the fridge well in advance so that the dough can come to room temperature and then follow through with the second rising and baking steps.

1 package quick rise yeast (2.25 teaspoons)
1 tsp raw honey (or natural sugar)
1.5 cups whole grain flour (I used spelt)
1.5 cups light spelt flour (or unbleached all purpose)
1 tbsp flaky/sort of coarse salt (I used Himalayan pink salt)
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp olive oil + extra to grease the bowl
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
big handful of raw sunflower seeds
1 onion, peeled and cut into half moons
splash of sherry vinegar (optional)
coarse salt

Grease a medium-large bowl AND a large baking sheet with some olive oil. Pro tip: place a sheet of parchment on the baking sheet too to prevent heart-wrenching bread sticking (guess who forgot to do that..). Set both the bowl and the baking sheet aside.

In a large bowl, or the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the packet of yeast, honey/sugar and 1 1/4 cups warm water. Stir them together. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes or so. The yeast should bubble a bit, seem foamy on the surface and bloom.

To the yeast mixture, add the flours, salt and 2 tbsp olive oil. Mix it all together to combine.

If you’re using a stand mixer: attach the dough hook and knead the mixture for 7-8 minutes, adding more flour if necessary to prevent sticking (I usually add around 1/4 cup extra). Mix until the dough is supple, stretchy and ever-so-slightly tacky. Scrape the dough into the greased bowl, coat it in the oil and cover. Let it rise for 2 hours or until doubled in size.

If you’re doing it by hand: start to knead the dough a bit in the bowl to get it going. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is supple and stretchy. There should be a slight tack to it when you poke your finger into it. Place the dough into the greased bowl and rotate the to cover in the oil. Cover and let it rise for 2 hours or until doubled in size.

Make the caramelized onions: Place the half moons of onion in a small saucepan over low-medium heat. Add a few thyme leaves at this point if you like. Stir them up here and there to promote even browning. The sizzling sound should be like a faint whisper. Keep stirring them here and there, adding splashes of water to prevent sticking if necessary. Once the onions are super soft, brown, juicy, delicious etc looking, add the splash of sherry vinegar, stir it around and remove pot from the heat. Set aside.

Second rise: Empty the dough out onto your prepared baking sheet. Stretch it out to fit the pan, dimpling it with your fingers (so fun). Once it’s all snug and fitted in the corners, cover the baking sheet and let it rise another hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Pre-baking: scatter the thyme leaves, caramelized onions, sunflower seeds and pinches of coarse salt over the top of the dough. Pour the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil over the top as well. Dimple the dough very lightly, allowing the oil to sink into some bits of the dough and slosh around the edges for crisp end-results. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and allow the bread to slightly cool before serving.

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  • la domestique23/11/2012 - 8:19 pm

    I am so with you on the bread thing. It’s easy + so, so rewarding + definitely badass. :) This focaccia looks real good.ReplyCancel

  • jaime @ sweet road24/11/2012 - 9:55 am

    All the ingredients here look delicious, I can only imagine how incredibly flavorful this bread might be!ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth A.24/11/2012 - 11:27 am

    Thanks for the reminder, Laura. It’s one of my long term life goals to become a “real” bread baker. And I am so in need of a little “Whole body, whole mind, loaf of bread” right now. Off to the kitchen…ReplyCancel

  • Kathryn25/11/2012 - 2:04 pm

    This is just lovely – these flavours are perfect and I’m totally loving baking with spelt flour at the moment. That hint of nuttiness just makes me swoon.

    Hope you’re having an awesome vacation!ReplyCancel

  • Katie (The Muffin Myth)26/11/2012 - 3:39 am

    Yummm! Isn’t Kim Boyce the best?! I love this version, and just so happen to have a bag of spelt flour sitting in my cupboard. Thanks for sharing another amazing recipe! And jealous of your time in Costa Rica! We’ve gone there several Decembers and had amazing times, but this year it’s rainy Vancouver and time with family instead. Enjoy the sunshine!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah | offbeat & inspired26/11/2012 - 1:03 pm

    I love the combination of caramelized onions and herbs. This looks delicious!ReplyCancel

  • mince and type28/11/2012 - 9:24 am

    I agree. Everyone should know how to make bread. I’m a big fan of Kim Boyce too! Using whole grain flours is not only healthier but it also tastes better. This looks amazing!

    I’m jealous of your Costa Rica vacation!!ReplyCancel

  • Kathryne29/11/2012 - 1:49 am

    Hope you are clinkety-clinking some rum on the rocks now, Laura. Yeasted bread intimidates me. I should probably get over it.ReplyCancel

  • sarah30/11/2012 - 12:57 am

    Love! So many good things in this bread. I have been putting spelt into everything lately – I love it so much. And caramelized onions! My favorite. xoReplyCancel

  • Art & Lemons03/12/2012 - 5:46 pm

    I’ve had this recipe marked in Good To The Grain for some time. Love that book! Thanks for reminding me I need to get back to my bread habit. I completely agree with you about making bread, it’s the one thing that always comforts and centers me in the kitchen. Cheers to you, enjoy the waves and your time away!ReplyCancel

  • Kasey05/12/2012 - 2:25 pm

    Kim Boyce is my baking goddess and I must say that I never baked so much as I have since acquiring her book. I hope you had a lovely time in the tropics! Strangely, I’m enjoying the gray days we’re having here…they sure give me lots of excuses to light my favorite candles, stay home and cuddle up with my cookbooks, and bake…a lot. xoReplyCancel

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Judging from most of the American food mags I’ve been glancing at, stuffing, dressing etc. is a bit of a thing on the table of festive gatherings. There are generally no less than 17 recipes for it in any publication’s holiday issue. There are discussions of technique, pre-drying the bread, never actually stuffing it in the bird, the option of using grains instead, the classic celery-sage-onion-butter profile vs. completely new-fangled renditions (olives! fennel! dates!). It’s a flavour-y starch thing that soaks up the goodness of everything else on the plate, so I guess I can understand the passion behind it.

We’ve had Thanksgiving in Canada a month ago already, but no matter. I’m fairly grateful in a general way, so stuffing can certainly be made appropriate at a moment’s notice. I never go with a set recipe for this holiday meal fixture exactly. Like most of the things I make, it’s more of a feel-y approach. If anyone wanted to know what kind of cuisine I specialize in, that’s your answer: it’s feel-y. It’s incredibly easy to complicate the one life you have. A simple, but focused approach with food remains as a bastion of calm in mine.

Here’s two things I keep in mind throughout this decidedly felt cooking adventure: the bread should be really good (actually a defining characteristic of all of the bread in your life) and fat should be applied with abandon (arguably less appropriate at times throughout your life). That’s it, that’s all.

I went a cornbread route on this version. I had never done that before, but my love of this sweet-savoury treat has always been pretty serious. I was dreaming of its slight grittiness made crisp, paired up with smoky-spicy chipotles, sweet potatoes, garlic and some kind of greens. The chard in the garden continues to be prolific, staring me down from its thick rows every time I look out back. The earth is still soft and those perfectly emerald green and crinkly  leaves, with their defining salty bite, just grow taller. Put the little seed down in springtime and the land gives in the most utter sense; with no expectation of what is owed after all this time. A recognition of a love that intense that can just exist in the world makes my eyes go wide. Stating the obvious: I’m thankful for that. Big time.

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sweet potato, chipotle  + chard cornbread stuffing

serves: 4-6
notes: I add some of the cooked chard towards the end of the baking process so that I still get some pretty green bits all through. Also, if cornbread isn’t readily available to you, Bryant Terry’s recipe is one of my favourites (link).

7-8 cups cubed cornbread
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp grapeseed oil, divided (+ extra for greasing/drizzling)
6 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and chopped
1 cooking onion, small dice
1 celery stalk, small dice
1 clove of garlic, minced
3-4 stalks of chard, leaves roughly chopped
1 small sweet potato, peeled, small dice
1-1.5 cups vegetable stock
1 chipotle pepper in adobo + extra adobo sauce (use as much or as little as you want)
juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease an 8 X 11 baking dish, line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Toss the cubed cornbread with 2 tablespoons of the oil, a pinch of the minced thyme, salt and pepper to coat. Place cubes on the parchment lined baking sheet and push into the oven. Bake until bread is golden brown and dried out a bit, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and dump croutons into a large bowl.

Heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the diced onions, celery and remaining chopped thyme. Stir constantly until onions are soft and ever-so-slightly browning, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic. Saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Start adding the chard. Stir the greens around with the other veg until they begin to wilt a tiny bit and turn bright green. Remove from the heat and scrape into the bowl with the bread cubes, reserving some of the chard for a later addition if you like.

In the same saucepan, place the diced sweet potatoes, chipotle + adobo and vegetable stock over medium heat. The stock should cover the sweet potato dices by an inch. Bring to a boil and simmer until sweet potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Mash the sweet potatoes up with the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher so that you have various sized pieces.

Pour the sweet potato mashy-chunky bits and stock over the cornbread, greens and other vegetables. Stir gently to combine. Spread the whole mixture into the greased 8 x 11 baking dish. Drizzle a bit of oil over the top if you like. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown. If you’ve reserved some of the chard, scatter it over the top with about 10 minutes left of baking.

Serve hot.

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  • Kathryn15/11/2012 - 6:23 am

    Woah…the flavours in this sound intense (in the best possible way). Stuffing is always my favourite part of the meal and this may well be making an appearance on our Christmas table this year. Totally love it.ReplyCancel

  • Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar15/11/2012 - 9:09 am

    Yes please! What a delight.ReplyCancel

  • thelittleloaf15/11/2012 - 9:51 am

    This sounds absolutely gorgeous. I’ve never been to a Thanksgiving meal but this year some American friends have invited us over and asked me to bring a dish! I might try making my own cornbread then turning it into this…delicious :-)ReplyCancel

  • erin15/11/2012 - 10:57 am

    Swiss Chard never ceases to amaze me- it is always there, ready to be eaten. I love the spin you’ve put on stuffing and I do have quite the obsession with sweet potatoes/chipotle.ReplyCancel

  • jaime @ sweet road15/11/2012 - 11:48 am

    Yes yes yes! This is what I like to see… combinations of Thanksgiving dishes all thrown into one! The cornbread, the stuffing, and the sweet potatoes. It all gets mixed up on the plate anyways, so why not purposefully and masterfully cook it all together?ReplyCancel

  • Becs@Lay the table15/11/2012 - 6:26 pm

    It looks incredible – I love stuffing though probably wouldn’t put chipotle in it for a traditional british roast dinner but I could definitely imagine serving it with something else!ReplyCancel

  • Kasey18/11/2012 - 9:38 pm

    I love that you describe your cooking style as ‘feel-y.’ The best cooks I know are ones who cook with feeling – pinch here, a handful here, whatever’s fresh from the market…Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday and while I look forward to a feast, I do appreciate vegetable-packed side dishes. This sounds just perfect!ReplyCancel

  • Leah Sienkowski22/11/2012 - 3:19 pm

    Currently in the oven for Thanksgiving dinner. Pumped.ReplyCancel

  • […] Sweet Potato, Chipotle, + Chard Cornbread Stuffing […]ReplyCancel

  • Michael Phelan26/11/2013 - 2:42 pm

    This looks just lovely for thanksgiving. Besides the cornbread, any thoughts on what elements of this dish could be made in advance? Could I bake it for the first 25 minutes with the foil on the night before and then put it in the oven uncovered for the final 20 mins just prior to serving? Perhaps the whole thing would end up too dried on.
    Any thoughts or advice you have would be appreciated. Either way, thank you again for your inspired blog and lovely recipes.ReplyCancel

    • Laura Wright28/11/2013 - 11:15 am

      Hi Michael, I would definitely assemble the whole thing in the baking dish the night before and then refrigerate it. Bring it to room temperature before baking the next day.
      -LReplyCancel

  • […] with Chimichurri and Bacon // Brooklyn Supper Maple-Glazed Carrots // Brooklyn Supper for Babble Sweet Potato, Chipotle, and Chard Stuffing // The First Mess Corn and Oat Bread (Gluten-Free) // Dolly and Oatmeal Perfect Mashed Potatoes // […]ReplyCancel

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I’m struggling with how to begin this post since my head has been a bit of a jumble this week. I’m trying to fathom certain things while feeling a surge of awe visiting me now and again from simple experiences–turning the volume up beyond reason in the car during twilight hour drives is a good example. Another one: this film in its entirety. One more: I loaded fresh batteries and film into a much-neglected old camera last weekend and whoa! The thing works.

All the while I’m forgetting things, trying to peel myself away from the news here and there, waking up SO early and maybe drinking a bit too much coffee most days. My mind is floating in and out of dreamy-spacey and obsessively interested. Daylight savings/the entire world has thrown me for a loop and I’m slow to admitting defeat.

I’ve been reading so much news in general and when you feel a distinct geographical separation from everything, your heart-mind seems to rise to the occasion as an appropriate response. There’s a tendency to forget about your dependence on others and what they reflect back in your life. Beauty and goodness become cloudier concepts when you read about the trials of others that aren’t so entirely other. They become questions with no answer, but a prevailing will to get back to a place of familiarity seems to rise.

A preoccupation with trying to eat as many healthy/immune boosting foods as possible has bubbled up. This concern is creating its own little foggy space up there, but proving to be a worthy detachment strategy. I’m going on a little trip soon and I’ll be damned if I come down with something that has me sniffling on the beach. An hour doesn’t pass without thoughts of what leaf, seed, herbal tincture-thingy, protein source I’m going to eat next, which is admittedly silly but on it goes. Green juices, this unbelievably restorative hot detox drink from Elenore, vegetables galore and herbal teas have been in constant rotation. I’m usually wholesome on the meal and snack choices tip, but this has become a rather sincere endeavor.

So eventually I got to tangling up some of my favourite vegetables in another effort to de-jangle myself on all fronts. I didn’t totally plan on sharing this, but we loved it so much that I just felt compelled to. This slaw is lovely to lay eyes on with all of its fall colours, wispy shreds and crunchy bits. Cruciferous vegetables have always been some of my favourites. The light spiciness of raw cabbage and brussels sprouts is so pleasing here, their crinkly leaves soaking up an incredibly zippy and fresh ginger dressing. The idea was to kind of bathe a bunch of crunchy leaves and seeds in something that suggested the flavour of spicy ginger tea. There’s shaved fennel and pears too, detectable shreds of parsley for a bitter peppery note and a big scatter of warm and toasty sunflower seeds.

An overflowing bowl of the spicy-sweet with rioting colours in the hands, big awe for the world at large in my heart. Hope you’re all keeping well and taking care of each other.

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fall vegetable slaw with hot + sweet ginger dressing
serves: 8-10
notes: I might veer towards thicker shreds if you need to hold the slaw for a bit. I went super thin (as you can see) and the dressing saturated the salad way quick so we ate it up. I use a Japanese mandoline (pro tip: a Benriner is the only one worth your hard-earned money) for all the slicing/shredding, but some good knife work will carry you through if need be.

dressing:
1-2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
juice of 1 lemon
2-3 tbsp honey or agave nectar
pinch of cayenne (as much as you want)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil

slaw:
1/2 head red cabbage, cored and shredded
1/2 lb brussels sprouts, shredded
2 kale stalks, stems removed and finely sliced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
10 sprigs of parsely, leaves sliced
1 small fennel bulb, halved, cored and shaved thin
1 semi-ripe bosc pear, cored and thinly sliced
1/3 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
salt and pepper

Make the dressing: combine all of the ingredients in a blender and flip to high for 30 seconds. Taste for seasoning and set aside. If you don’t have a blender, whisk the finely minced ginger, lemon juice, cayenne, salt and pepper together to combine. Slowly drizzle the grapeseed oil into the ginger mixture while whisking until thoroughly mixed.

Toss all of the slaw ingredients except for 2 tablespoons of sunflower seeds with a a good amount of salt and pepper. Pour the ginger dressing over top and mix with your hands to combine. Scatter remaining sunflower seeds over the top and serve.

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  • jaime @ sweet road08/11/2012 - 2:17 pm

    The variety of ingredients here makes a beautifully colorful dish, especially for winter!ReplyCancel

  • Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar08/11/2012 - 2:24 pm

    Beautiful salad, as always! Great flavour combo!ReplyCancel

  • Elenore Bendel Zahn08/11/2012 - 2:41 pm

    Laura Laura Laura <3

    You have such a gorgeous shining heart it´s blinding!
    Be kind to yourself and see that all that fog might have something absolutely great to show you…
    I am very happy to see that I piece of me is keeping you company, my darling!

    Be well, shine, thrive and love. So much love.
    EReplyCancel

  • janet @ the taste space08/11/2012 - 3:18 pm

    This looks fabulous! I agree, I have been embracing more and more veggies this month and I love the colourful nature of this slaw. It reminds me a bit of my detox salad with broccoli and cauliflower and sunflower seeds with an autumn twist. :)ReplyCancel

  • la domestique08/11/2012 - 3:47 pm

    Yum- I love a nice crisp slaw, and this one is full of so many great ingredients! I too have been completely discombobulated lately, and nothing seems to remedy it. Last night I walked a block right past the bus station without noticing, so deep in thought, and had to turn around and double back to catch my bus. Bonkers!ReplyCancel

  • Eileen08/11/2012 - 4:15 pm

    Cabbage, kale, and pears–hooray! This has to be one of the most autumnal salads ever. :)ReplyCancel

  • Jeanine08/11/2012 - 4:45 pm

    Those pear slices — so pretty! So creative, I love all of these different colors and textures… so creative…ReplyCancel

  • Kathryn08/11/2012 - 5:25 pm

    I seriously, seriously love slaws and I totally adore the flavours in this. I hope it helped to de-jangle you :)ReplyCancel

  • Lena09/11/2012 - 6:05 am

    This is just beautiful! All those colors together. I can help but thinking that some toasted peanuts would be great on this. And now I cant get this slaw out of my head, until I make it myself.ReplyCancel

  • Kathryne09/11/2012 - 10:26 am

    Can’t stop shaking my head at the beauty of this post, Laura. Love every little thing about it.ReplyCancel

  • Julia Marks09/11/2012 - 10:38 am

    Wow. What a beautiful and exciting salad.ReplyCancel

  • […] fall vegetable slaw looks ah-mazing! I will kiss you if you make this for me. […]ReplyCancel

  • […] the house, wrapped up tightly in a blanket. (Why a lemon so early in the morning? Well, thanks to Laura, I have very quickly become hooked on this drink.) Perhaps it was the cool air that slowed my […]ReplyCancel

  • sarah10/11/2012 - 12:02 am

    Lovely! This looks so delicious, what a great bunch of flavors.
    And, loved your thoughts here. There is just too much to process! Some days I don’t think we were made for all this information. ‘There’s a tendency to forget about your dependence on others and what they reflect back in your life. Beauty and goodness become cloudier concepts…’ I’ve been working this out, too. xoReplyCancel

  • Lindsay11/11/2012 - 2:12 pm

    I love your writing and how you phrase your current state of mind so eloquently. Reading your blog is such a treat and I always look forward to a new posting with anticipation. This slaw looks delicious! Looking forward to trying that dressing :)ReplyCancel

  • Ana Cooks12/11/2012 - 10:40 am

    More than your wonderful recipes, i’m even more in love with your shots. Great photography!
    Thanks for the inspiration!ReplyCancel

  • […] Fall Vegetable Slaw with Hot + Sweet Ginger Dressing – from The First Mess […]ReplyCancel

  • […] De salades de chou sucré-salées, coupées très finement. […]ReplyCancel

  • Judy King15/11/2013 - 4:46 pm

    This sounds delicious! I have been playing around with raw brussel sprouts in a variety of ways because I have never learned to enjoy them cooked. I was just thinking that the sweet and sour dressing my mom made for a wilted salad sounded like my next experiment, but your ideas of adding some ginger and fennel sounds even better! Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • […] dressing is adapted from this recipe from The First Mess blog (it is gorgeous, check it […]ReplyCancel

  • […] this Fall Vegetable Slaw just made my mouth water with it’s use of fennel and […]ReplyCancel