If you’re a traditionalist for your Irish Soda bread, then this loaf isn’t for you. But for those of you who love a good, chunky loaf of bread that’s warm from the oven in slightly more than an hour, studded with deep, hearty flavor, then feel free to stay a while.
August has descended to show us what it’s capable of setting out. I’ve missed the heat….. and I fully realize how strange that might sound, but here in Minnesota, this summer has been anything but hot. While there are some who may tend towards whining about weather, we often can feel cheated if a summer passes us by without whacking us a good one with it’s expected personality. July’s average temperature was 70° and that’s unheard of in this state. I wore a sweatshirt last month. And pants. Maple trees beginning to turn in July is no one’s idea of Summertime.
Did you know that the origin of the term ‘Dog Days of Summer’, those sultry and hottest days traditionally between early July and early September, were once considered an evil time when ‘the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and frenzies’ ? Really….dramatic, huh? But I suppose in the days before air conditioning…..
Last night there was a spectacular lightning show to our Southeast. The flashes leapt from cloud to cloud, jagged arcs across an edge of the sky that was otherwise clear and filled with stars. I watched from our second floor window to get the best look at the awesome display and on occasion, would turn my eyes away to look at the glittering points of light around me. I was amply rewarded, during this, the time of Perseid, to see one lone asteroid streaking across the sky as lightning continued to flash in the other direction. It was an incredible sight.
I haven’t been blogging about much food, have I? My apologies. We’ve been eating, but it’s been simple fare, really the best kind. Isn’t it wonderful that often the best thing you can do to food is as little as possible? Farmers markets are stuffed to bursting with more fresh fare that imagineable; the deep purple eggplants, rich green peppers and in grand fashion, trucks that are overflowing with sweet corn.
Like the sweet cherry season of early June where I am known to purchase a sack of ruby fruits several times a week, this time of year I will happily eat my weight in sweet corn. Or try to anyway. I’m not shy about indulging and enjoying it, my hopes pinned on being so absolutely tired of it that when it’s gone for the year I won’t miss it much. Until next summer, anyway. There such a joy to biting into that quintessential taste of summer, kernels so juicy that they spray an unsuspecting fellow diner, warm melty butter slicking my lips. I can find means to eat it every single day. Have you ever tried sweet corn, smoked salmon and goat cheese in an omelet?? I highly recommend it. With fresh basil, please.
Our suppers have been simple these days as well, lunches light and refreshing. I’ve been a bit obsessed with these beans, loving the simplicity as well as the taste. I can make an entire meal out of a thickly sliced eggplant, brushed with oil and grilled to a nice char. We enjoyed a spicy, kicky meal of chili-garlic grilled shrimp, another round of Mike’s famous burritos. There was time at the lake, where a simple mix of grilled vegetables made for an amazing side dish. Local tomatoes are starting to arrive. I haven’t felt like there’s been much to blog about because what’s going on in the kitchen here is what should be happening in your kitchen as well, and others too. Very little. Your meal shouldn’t be putting you out, or taxing your energy. There’s a summertime outside, quietly slipping away yet with enough remaining moments to grab in your hands, maybe with a picnic on the side.
How about a nice Tabbouleh style salad to pack up and take along?
By Kate (with some help from The Minimalist)
I 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2-3 c. cooked bulgur
1 c. fresh green beans, steamed with a bit of crunch and diced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated on a microplane (watch the fingertips!)
1/3 c. minced fresh parsley
1/3 c. minced fresh mint
Juice and zest of half a lemon (more if you desire)
3 T. good olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Place chickpeas in a medium bowl and gently mash with a fork or other implement to break down into small pieces. Add in remaining ingredients and drizzle lemon juice and oil over all. Toss to coat and combine. Season to taste and chill for several hours. Stir before serving and adjust seasoning if necessary. Change-up veggies as you please.
Make it less, make it more; vary the bulgur to chickpea ratio according to what you desire for your salad. Add more chickpea, less grain, or reverse it. When making a salad like this, the idea of having uniformity is pleasing to the eye and makes it easier to consume, hence the microplane for grating the carrot and the step of breaking down the chickpeas. It isn’t necessary though. As per any recipe with fresh herbs, personal taste prevails. Add more if you like, or less.
I’ve been holding out on you, but not on purpose.
I’m guilty of thinking that somehow giving you a simple recipe as a means to serve frozen corn might just bore you to death. Really, it isn’t anything superbly fancy, but right about now, as we are staring down the summertime bounty of vegetables and with fresh corn season coming quicker than a May thunderstorm, I think it’s time to share the love. Especially since I enhanced the dish with my current love- bulgur- and made it a couple thousand times better.
I don’t even know when it was that I came across this method on Kim’s blog, but I was immediately transfixed and had to try it. Which I did, and which I almost regretted because I could barely think of anything else. Now I need to share it with you.
I simply call it Brown Butter Corn. How easy is that? You take some good butter and heat it in your pan until it’s toasty and brown, add in frozen corn and cook it until it’s tender and delicious, maybe tossing in a handful of fresh basil, or rosemary, or thyme and a seasoning of sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Pile it on your plate next to your main course and you’ve elevated your meal slightly from the humdrum to the hubba-hubba. (wow, did I just say that?)
Only this time, with a container of my current whole grain love all cooked and ready in the fridge, this side wasn’t just about the nutty and toasty, it was far better. Copious amounts of fresh basil really sent the flavor sky-ward. And with a perfectly cooked piece of Mahi-Mahi as an accompaniment, alongside an effusive smiling husband (and a kid-free evening), it quickly became one of those meals that sends shivers through you, making you slow down, smile more, sigh often and think “When can we have this again??”
Brown Butter Corn with Bulgur
4 T. good quality butter
1 pkg frozen corn, shaken in a wire sieve to remove any ice or frost- NOT rinsed!
1-2 cups cooked bulgur
Fresh herb of choice- basil, rosemary and thyme all work well
Salt and fresh ground pepper
Heat butter gently in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s darkened and smelling toasty, add corn (it will sizzle!!!) and quickly stir to combine. Allow to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often. Add in bulgur and fresh herb, stir to combine and heat through. Season with salt and pepper.
The simplicity of this dish is ridiculous. Even without the bulgur it’s delicious, and the variation of vegetables that you could use is astounding. I think of fresh summer squash, a julienne of root vegetables, diced eggplant or even a mix of greens. Sub in another grain for the bulgur- like farro, another of my current loves- or add in wild rice, red rice or a mix. I’ve loved corn and rice mixed together since I was a little girl, but there is something about the browning of the butter that makes it so much more elegant. Watch out though! The butter slips easily from ‘browned’ to ‘burned’ and once that happens, you need to throw it out and start over. ‘Burned’ butter corn, I’m thinking, isn’t all that appetizing. Heat it gently and stay close by. And by all means, DO NOT rinse the corn! The butter is scalding hot when you add the vegetable, and if there is water on it, the likelihood of bad splattering is quite high.
Seemingly a whole lifetime ago, I worked for five years in the office of a wholesale bakery and I have to say, the smell of yeast has been and still is one of my most favorite smells of all. I loved walking through the production area in the early afternoons as the baking staff began their daily preparations; I loved standing by the enormous mixing bowls as hundreds of pounds of bread dough, pungent with the scent of yeast and flour, spun and smacked around inside. It was a happy day indeed when my boss would inform me that they would be making test batches that day because I knew he would be bringing me endless samples of warm bread to critique. And the best perk was free bread for the taking- crispy baguettes that snapped when you broke them, showering golden shards of crust everywhere, tangy sourdoughs, pillowy stirato loaves, rustic wheat breads and a mouth-watering marble rye that was my favorite sandwich loaf. The best lunch I could indulge myself in was a sliced baguette spread with a little of their scratch aioli and a few slices of salty ham. I was in carb heaven. I still miss the amazing bread, and it’s been a very long time since I last walked through those doors. I can buy the loaves in the grocers, and the flavor is still good, but I miss the experience of picking up a loaf off the rack that was only hours out of the oven, ethereal in it’s taste.
I still love really good bread and for a long time I routinely spun loads of flour, water and yeast in my bread machine, so much so that I managed to effectively kill the thing outright, but I’m happy to have gotten my money’s worth. Since then, which was quite a while ago, I haven’t made a lot of bread from scratch despite having the time and the desire for it. I experimented with this amazing no-knead bread and loved the rich dense crumb and tangy flavor, but I am plagued with a ‘Must Have It Now’ mentality sometimes, and this just doesn’t work well with the patience and time required for a good loaf of scratch bread. There are some high quality artisan bakeries in the Twin Cities, including my old employ, and for a short trip in the car I can pick up a few loaves of bread to indulge myself in, but what I really need to do instead is lose the impatience inside of me and buckle down to make myself a good loaf on a regular basis.
On a recent trip through the library, I came across the publication of a local group called The Saint Paul Bread Club. I barely hesitated before slipping the slim book off the shelf. It’s basic and fundamental, nothing glossy or fancy, just page after page of bread recipes from a local group of passionate bread bakers, along with plenty of insider tips and hints to making better breads at home. After a few perusals and some thought to the first loaf to try, I rolled out of bed on a particularly gloomy morning after a simply pathetic night’s sleep and all I could think about was the smell of yeast, a warm glowing oven and the taste of a fresh warm loaf. The weather promised everything from rain to an eventual accumulation of upwards of 6″ of snow. It instilled in me both a bluesy melancholy, and a fierce need for the routine of baking, the rhythmic kneading and the promise of carbohydrates.
This loaf contained bulgur and millet and I had both on hand. Bulgur is cracked and parboiled wheat and really simple to use- it requires little else but a soak in hot water. Millet is a hulled, wheat-free cereal grain- the outer husk is removed leaving tiny yellow balls. Millet requires cooking, but this recipe didn’t make any mention of pre-cooking the grain so I didn’t, and it plagued me on whether or not this would result in a tooth-cracking slice. It didn’t.
This recipe started with a sponge- honey, warm water and yeast were whisked together until foamy, then stirred with whole wheat flour, bulgur, oil and salt and allowed to sit until all puffy and fragrant. I mixed in the bread flour and millet, and pretty soon was faced with a coarse hairy blob of dough, and tiny grains of millet popping all over the kitchen. It seemed like hours before I stopped feeling their little hard knobs under my feet, even with obsessive sweeping. But the magic of kneading kicks in- and magic it is- taking a rough and craggy blob and transforming it into something smooth, elastic and uniform, dotted with the tiny yellow points of millet and smelling alive and warm.
The rest is your basic bread instructions; rise until doubled, punch down and allow another rise (which I skipped for time purposes) shape the loaves and place in a pan, rise to double again and then bake. I won’t bore you with instructions.
And somewhere along the way, amidst all this tactile interaction and flour/yeast transformation, a tiny sliver of light knifed through me, lifting the melancholy, driving it far away. Was it the nap I took during the first rise? Maybe. It likely was something else altogether; the bread making lifted my spirits, even with the late winter storm blowing hard outside and the yeast saturated me with it’s own little charm. It could have been the workout I gave my arms and shoulders as I kneaded, driving a much appreciated blast of endorphins into me, or it could have been the fact that a hands-on loaf of bread is a thing of beauty. It transports you back to a simpler time, before cellophane loaves were the norm, where you watch a few pantry staples work a magic trick right before your very eyes. It’s nearly impossible to bury yourself in the blues with that happening in front of you.
And the taste….well, that’s enough right there to lift your spirits. This loaf was moist, a nice dense crust and crunchy little bites of millet throughout. It made awesome toast too- to me, the best indicator of a good bread. I’m thinking that I need to buy this little bread book.
(recipe after the jump)