bread

have you ever had a tomato?

I totally stole this picture. It's completely gorgeous and I couldn't resist. Click it to see the original. (Thanks, Rebecca!)

Unless you’ve gotten a farm fresh, peak of season one, preferably of an heirloom variety–my wager is that you have not.

Inspired by Season with Reason, and by the smell of ripe tomatoes that smack you in the face when warm days turn into warm nights, I made a sort of panzanella (that’s bread  & tomato salad for you ‘what the what is panzanella?’ lot).

Panzanella is best made with juicy, perfect heirloom tomatoes and leftover rustic bread. But when you have juicy, perfect heirloom tomatoes you can use leftover hot dog buns and it will still be delicious. Which is what I did.

Three hot dog buns, charred on my cast-iron grill, sat to dry out while I whipped up 1T olive oil, 2T sherry vinegar, 1t grainy mustard, 1/2t tomato paste, 2t honey, salt and pepper. Then I tossed in a menagerie of tomatoes either halved, quartered, chopped–whatever needed to happen so that they’d all be roughly the same size. I tossed them with 2T minced cilantro, a chiffonade of baby romaine (about 2 handfuls), and 5 minced calamata olives. Then, I folded in the bread, chopped. A simple, lovely, easy dinner for two: the tomatoes were sweet and tart, the charred bread added a bit of crunch and smokiness while the dressing gave a tang bolstered by the tomato paste that lended a lingering deep tomato flavor to complement the bright, fresh, herbiness of the salad.

But, as Rebecca (of Season with Reason) said, the time for great tomatoes fades fast. So find a farm stand, stat. You’ll thank me.

making your own bread is totally fun.

But it’s far more trouble than it’s worth.

So here’s the thing–about a year and a half ago I decided I was going to start making my own bread: dinner rolls, sandwich loaves, anything full of yeasty, sourdough goodness.

In an effort to really DIY it, I read up on how to develop my own starter, the organic way most bread-makers cultivate yeast. In brief: flour and water is mixed and left to sit for several days in a warmish spot. Often, sugar is introduced to encourage the natural yeast to take hold. The method I used replaced the sugar by substituting a bit of fruit juice for part of the water.

It seemed to be going really well. According to the books, I had the right color, the right viscosity and the aroma was graduating nicely. When my starter was finally ready to make bread, I went about kneading and resting and folding and rolling–whatever the master bakers said I should do. Unfortunately my efforts were always in vain. The bread ended up dense or took so long to rise that by day three, I just didn’t care anymore.

After so many failed attempts, I stuck my Tupperware of starter in the back of my refrigerator and glared at it with disgust and shame whenever it came into view.

Cut to Fourth of July weekend, 2011. I was planning a Banh Mi party–cause what better way to celebrate the birth of our nation than with a sandwich stemming from the French colonization of Vietnam?–and decided that I wanted to make my own demi-baguette. 

Side-note: did you know that demi-baguette can also be referred to as ‘batard’ (that’s French for bastard). In truth, batard is also a little flatter than traditional baguette, but I digress…

I pulled out my starter a few days prior & coaxed it back to life. I made a practice round using both starter and active, dry yeast–not great, but with a little extra time to rise, they could be perfect. Upon further research, I found that Vietnamese-style baguette uses both rice flour and wheat flour. Since the rice flour’s intention is to impart a crisp exterior, giving way to the tender chew within, I vowed to incorporate some into the next batch.

The day came. A huge batch was blended. A huge batch was kneaded. A huge batch was left to rise. A gorgeous, aromatic pillow of dough was punched down and left to rise again. Then, a division into twelve rounds and a short rest. Finally, the shaping, the last rise, the marking and the baking, complete with salt water steam.

The result:

Gorgeous, no? Those are the rolls we picked up from the closest open banh-mi shop in the neighborhood.

My rolls, though super delicious, rose out instead of up and were far too dense to compare to the airy chewiness that a Viet-baguette should be. Basically, they cracked when I tried to slice them. The ones we picked up weren’t right either–more Italian hero than French baguette; but, you take what you can get.

My conclusion: unless you have a stand mixer, making bread isn’t worth the effort. The amount of dusting flour it takes to knead by hand incorporates far too much flour into the finished bread. Maybe it was the atmosphere, maybe my hands are too warm to knead, but I think more likely, bread just wasn’t any good until God or somebody invented the dough hook.

On a lighter note, Hodgson Mill Active Dry Yeast is the shizz.

by the whey

Remember that yogurt I made?

From all the things I’ve read, I’ve deduced that the whey byproduct of making yogurt is really a product unto itself. Most simply it seems that whey can be used in any application as a substitute for buttermilk. I decided to test this theory by making something with which my waistline is all too familiar: cornbread.

Here, I need to take a minute for a very important message: If you are making cornbread with yellow cornmeal, then you are doing it wrong. If you are making cornbread with more than 2T of sugar, then you are making dessert. Please, please only prepare cornbread with white cornmeal and with an appropriate amount of sweetener. Thank you.

served with asparagus sauteed with creminis and minced country ham and sliced tomatoes

Ok, so here’s the confession. The whey gave my cornbread a lift and a tenderness heretofore unseen by my noble cast iron. Dare I say it was the best cornbread I’ve ever had? No, b/c I’ve had a freaking lot of cornbread–far too much to recount every best; but it sure was damn good.

So now, I never have to buy yogurt again & quite possibly, I’ll not have to buy buttermilk either. Color me stoked!