One way to salvage stale bread

Mrs. Homegrown here:

So I bought a baguette this week, which caused Mr. Homegrown to grumble with hurt indignation. His homemade bread is better than any store bought, it’s true–but he hadn’t baked in a few days, and I wanted to make caprese sandwiches. However, my plans went awry and the baguette went stale.  Oh, the shame on my head! Just where did we put out our supply of sackcloth and ashes?

However, tonight I salvaged the bread by making it into Melba toast (?) or rusks, maybe (?).  I have a fondness for hard, blandish cracker breads like this. You can pile an amazing amount of dip-like-substances on them, and as I’ve said, I could live on chips and dips.

I have to admit that for anyone who’s ever made croutons, this recipe is a little “Well, duh”– but, nonetheless:

All you have to do is slice the stale bread up into reasonably thin slices. Lord knows my slices vary in thickness quite a bit. Thinner is easier on the teeth.Very thin would be exquisitely crunchy, but mine are never very thin because I am both uncoordinated and lazy. Baguettes make perfect rounds, but you could chop up larger loaves into bite size squares.

 I like to make these out of bread so far gone it could not be sliced the next day. You know that thin line between salvageable and brick? That’s what this recipe is for. I think there are better things to do with only slightly dry bread–like making bread salad, for instance. See below.

Then I use a garlic press to add garlic juice to some olive oil–maybe one or two cloves to 1/3 cup? It doesn’t really matter, because this is a very loose process. I put the bread slices in a big bowl and drizzle the garlic oil over them and toss them about until it looks like all the slices have been well greased. This usually means I add some more olive oil. I like lots of oil, but I’m sure it would work fine with less. It would also work fine with no garlic.

Finally, I toss the greasy bread with lots of salt and pepper. And yes, of course, you could use all sorts of herbs and spices at this point. Whatever takes your fancy.

The bread goes on a cookie sheet into a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes to a half hour. I’m not sure about the timing because I just check until they look done. “Done” means they’re brown, but not black, and have gone dry and hard as rocks.  Timing will vary by how stale the bread is when you begin, fresher bread taking longer. Thinner slices dry out faster than thicker ones.

Not so wild about melba toast? I don’t have tested recipes on hand, but google up “bread salad” or “panzanella.” This is basically just pieces of stale bread tossed with basil and tomatoes, lots of olive oil and a touch of vinegar. It can be jazzed up with cucumbers or olives or hard boiled eggs or whatever is on hand.

Also, I just saw this recipe for cold bread and tomato soup at the Awl. Haven’t tried it, but it looks interesting.

What do you do with your stale bread?

Help Us Choose a Grain Mill

At the Huasna Valley wheat farm I blogged about yesterday, they have a grain mill made by a company called All Grain Mills out of Utah. What the farmer liked about this company is that the mills they make have stone wheels instead of steel. Steel burrs can heat up and destroy the enzymes in the wheat. Furthermore these All Grain mills are considerably less expensive than other ones I’ve seen. I’d like to know if any of you readers have one of these All Grain Mills? If so, please leave a comment. I’m also interested in recommendations for other mills.

And I can’t help but comment on the aesthetics of the All Grain Mills. The company’s website is so bare-bones it’s almost hip (promising in my opinion when you’re looking for pre-interweb technology). And that fake wood paneling reminds me of my childhood:

Sonora Wheat at the Huasna Valley Farm

Ron Skinner

I had the great privilege this week of visiting the Huasna Valley Farm in California’s central coast run by Ron and Jenn Skinner whose visible joy is infectious. The Skinners grow Sonora wheat, an heirloom variety brought to the Southwest by the Spanish.

Sonora wheat is well suited to dry desert and Mediterranean climates. It produces a cream colored flour that was historically used for tortillas and posole. The Skinners served us some Sonora whole wheat biscuits that tasted as light as white flour but with a rich and complex flavor.

Jenn Skinner

To fight weeds (the big bugaboo of wheat farming) the Skinners plan on introducing Black Medic (Medicago lupulina) a leguminous plant that will fix nitrogen and out-compete unwanted weeds. The tall stalks of Sonora wheat will allow the medic to grow far below the seed heads. This is in contrast to conventional wheat farming with its short varieties and heavy reliance on herbicides. Norman Borlaug, the father of the “green revolution” used Sonora wheat to create Sonora 64, an early green revolution wheat. Ironically, as we face an uncertain energy future, we may have to go back to the original Sonora wheat as it performs better in organic circumstances and needs less water than modern wheat varieties.

Ron shows off the combine.

One of the challenges the Skinners faced in farming just a few acres of wheat was figuring out how to harvest it. Large industrial farms use enormous and very expensive combines. Small and medium sized combines simply aren’t manufactured anymore. Luckily the Skinners found a vintage Allis-Chalmers combine across the road which Ron and his son disassembled and rebuilt.

I bought twenty pounds of Sonora wheat flour and a few pounds of wheat berries and am really looking forward to baking with it. I might even grow my own mini-Sonora wheat field this winter (you plant it here in Southern California in January for harvest around the 4th of July.

For more information on Sonora wheat see:

The Huasna Valley Farm website, particularly their informative newsletters.

Sustainablegrains.org has a Sonora Wheat tortilla recipe.

Slow Food USA has a page on the history of Sonora wheat.

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, join the Los Angeles Bread Bakers to participate in farm visits, baking classes and oven building sessions.

And a special thanks to LABB member Joseph Shuldiner for arranging this trip!

Cornmeal Zucchini Pancakes

  
More things to do with zucchini!
Many of you know Rosalind Creasy, Queen of the Edible Landscape. If you don’t, look her up. She wrote Edible Landscaping, among others. It turns out that she’s not only an amazing gardener, one who makes colors and textures sing, who makes edible gardens more beautiful than any ornamental garden I’ve ever seen, but she cooks, too.  Darn her and her…her…competence!!!
Erik found her Recipes from the Garden at the library and brought it home. This is the first thing we’ve cooked from it, but we liked it a lot. These are savory pancakes that suit for breakfast, brunch, or even dinner. I imagine if you made them without the onions they could be served sweet, with syrup or jam, as a veggie-infused breakfast pancake. 
Note: She calls for yellow zucchini or summer squash, but we used green zucchini.
Cornmeal Zucchini Pancakes
1 1/4 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon of sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup of milk
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 cup of grated zucchini, yellow or green, or yellow summer squash
3 tablespoons yellow bell pepper, diced fine (we skipped this)
3 tablespoons finely chopped onion
Salsa for serving, homemade or store-bought, optional. 
(We just chopped up some red onion and cherry tomatoes and called it salsa, but I think a fruity salsa (e.g. mango) would be really good with this.)
In a big bowl fork together the dry ingredients (the first list). In a smaller bowl mix the wet ingredients (the second list). Dump wet ingredients on top of the dry and mix just until incorporated–Creasy says “until barely moist.”
Cook these like any pancake: in a greased skillet over medium heat until they’re golden brown and the sides are firm. Keep the finished ones warm in the oven while you cook the rest.
They keep well in the fridge. I just ate one for breakfast after rewarming it in frying pan. Still tasty after 3 days!

Tassajara Cookbook

Mrs. Homegrown here:

A quick cookbook review for ya’ll. I’m having lots of fun with the Tassajara Cookbook which I have out from the library. So much fun that I’m considering buying it. Tassajara Zen Mountain Center is a Buddhist monestery here in California. This book is based on their famous bagged lunch offerings for their guests. This means it’s all picnic/finger food sort of stuff. This suits me fine because summer is here, and I like making meals that require chopping rather than cooking, and that keep well in the fridge.

I love the simplicity, the pure pleasure and endless variety, of chips n’ dips, bruschetta, tapas, mezza… I could live entirely on appetizers and finger foods. This is why I like this book so much. Mr. Homegrown is not as happy–he’s a more of a three-square meal a day sort of guy. But he’s surviving, because for now, in the heat, he’d rather scoop up pesto with crudités than break down and cook.

This book is vegetarian, with plenty o’ vegan recipes. It focuses very much on spreads, dips, pestos, tapenades, sandwich fillings–that sort of thing, as well as various composed salads. It also has a large cookie section, which I’ve not allowed myself to explore yet. The tone of the food is cheerfully high end California hippie: healthy, vibrant, and heavy on the nuts. (No, that’s not a California joke!).

I was surprised by all the haters at Amazon when I checked the reviews of this book. The primary objections are that it’s 1) all snacky stuff–to which I answer they should read the cover and 2) that it’s poorly edited–to which I answer it hasn’t bothered me yet. For instance, if the recipe says preheat the oven at the start, and then goes on to say something has to marinate for two hours before it bakes, I’m not going to blow a gasket. I’ll just hunker down and ponder my way out of that deeply confusing situation.

Which fruits and vegetables should I buy organic?

Want the rest? You’ll have to visit the site.

Mrs. Homegrown here:

My recent post about tomatoes reminded me that I needed to post this–I’ve been meaning to for a while.  The Environmental Working Group’s 2011 Shopping Guide has a listing of foods most contaminated with pesticides, and those least contaminated: the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. Keeping this list in mind help you make choices as to where laying out the big bucks for organic–or growing your own–is going to make the most sense.

Tomatoes don’t appear on either short list, but they do appear as #34 on the EWG’s ranked list of 53 fruits and veggies, #1 being the most pesticide-laden (apples) and #53 being the least (onions). So tomatoes are sort of middling contaminated.

I should note the EWG wants to make it clear that you should not necessarily flee screaming from the Dirty Dozen. This is about awareness, and choices. From their FAQ:

  Should I stop eating celery or blueberries or other produce items on your Dirty Dozen list?

No, that has never been the Shopper’s Guide message. We would certainly recommend produce from our Dirty Dozen list in lieu of other, less-healthy foods or snacks, like fat-, sugar- or additive-laden processed products. But with the Shopper’s Guide you can have all the benefits of eating more produce while substantially reducing dietary exposure to pesticides.

Shop well, and prosper.

Easy to Make & Delicious Fermented Veggies

Inspiration hit at Camp Ramshackle and I finally made fermented vegetables. I loosely followed the Golden recipe from The Versatile Vegetable by Miranda Barrett and Colleen Pollard with cabbage, golden beets, carrots, celery, ginger, lemon and garlic. I omitted the Granny Smith apple because every person/book I consulted said use only the freshest apples and my stash had been sitting for quite some time.
I made a stop at Culture Club in Pasadena and spoke with super helpful Elaina who set me up with a Pickl-It jar, some Caldwell’s Vegetable Starter Culture and some guidance (reiterating to use only the freshest apple).
I shredded up the vegetables, stirred in the starter and left the vegetables to ferment for ten days. When I pulled the jar out and popped the lid, I had a brief flash from the Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life when the Grim Reaper visits the farm house to inform the dinner guests that they died from the salmon mousse. I told my family I loved them and took a forkful. A delicious forkful and then other. I live to tell the tale.
I am enjoying the last of my first batch and plan on starting another. I even brought some for a camping dinner for friends on Santa Cruz Island. I’m happy to say not only did all the dinner guests survive, they also thought it was delicious.

Our favorite way to cook zucchini

It’s that time of year again.

Put aside those zucchini bread recipes and try this instead.

This recipe–or technique, rather– sounds too simple to be good, but it really works. As one friend said of the dish, “It tastes like there’s a lot going on, but there’s not.”

All you’ve got to do is shred your zucchini up on the large holes of your kitchen grater. Saute the shreds in an uncovered skillet with lots of olive oil and some chopped up garlic, until there’s no water in the pan, and the volume of the zucchini is reduced by about half.

This transforms the zukes into a savory, glossy, succulent mush. Maybe that’s not the most elegant way to phrase it, but it’s the best I can do. Yes, it does have a baby food texture, but it’s really, really good, so you don’t care.

I can’t begin to tell you quantities–we’ve never measured. Just guesstimate. It will work. The one rule of thumb I can offer you is that you will lose about half the volume of the zucchini through cooking, so grate up more than you think you can eat.

The central idea here is to cook off all that water. This can’t be emphasized enough. That’s what makes this dish taste good. The zucchini will release a lot of water as it cooks–at least ours does, because it’s very fresh. Older zucchini may be more dry. So keep it simmering at a good clip, stirring occasionally, until the water bubbles off.

Saute until there’s no water pooling at the bottom of the pan. Until you start to run the risk of browning the zucchini. Then take it off the stove. Add salt and pepper to taste.

How long will this take? It varies by how much zucchini you’re cooking, and how wet it is, how deep the pan is, etc., but for a general guideline, when we shred up one big boy, enough to fill a 11″ skillet, it takes 20-30 minutes to cook it down.

Starting out…
Reducing…
Done.

Note: This year we’re growing a type of zucchini called Albarello di Sarzana (Little Tree of Sarzana) from…as usual…Franchi. We’re really liking it. It’s a pretty, light green, spotted squash, and the leaves have silver patterning on them. But more important that looks, it’s tasty, and seems to be resistant to powdery mildew.

ETA: Love all the recipe suggestions we’re getting in the comments! Please do tell us how you like to cook zucchini.