Tuesday, May 1, 2012

While You're Waiting...

Daily bread with tube steak, mustard and relish. 

For millions of families the world over, each day begins with a simple ritual: making bread.
 Although not a part of my family's life, nor even a skill usually practiced by men, bread-making is a rite I've come to embrace. I'm not certain where I learned to do it, but by the time I was living on a commune in Oregon (1970) I'd acquired enough skills to be the official bread man. Later, during a long summer in Sitia, Crete (1975), I'd watch the matriarchs or their strong young sons tote groaning boards of fresh-shaped dough to the communal bakery every morning and wish I spoke enough Greek to offer my help.
During the years I lived in Hoboken, New Jersey (1978 - 2006), I shelved my desire to bake, largely because an excellent stone-fired bakery was just three blocks away. And then in the 1990's, Panera arrived in NJ, and with it, terrific sourdough. Why, I'd wonder every time I bit into a Panera roll, would anyone want to do this themselves?
And then, in 2002, came active celiac disease and my bread world fell apart.
Setting an eggplant afire. See below...
My saga from then is old news to readers of this blog. 

What's new is how I've lately joined the international bread club. I begin each day at the oven, baking a simple and delicious loaf.
I never thought I'd be here. In the early months of making GF breads, the shear volume of ingredients and tools wore me down. By the time I'd dragged out and measured all those flours, and tapped and scooped and weighed and mixed, I'd think, "What the ##@!", and shove everything deep into a drawer, determined to use rice crackers for my grains instead of complicated, finicky and not-very-good bread. But then I'd walk past a Panera or Marie's in Hoboken, and I'd Jones for bread, and rush back to the kitchen to try one more time.
Fast forward: I've finally got all the kinks out, and come up with bread mixes (and techniques) that are not only ridiculously easy but challenge even such great bakeshops as Marie's. I batch-prep large quantities of flour and parcel it out in baggies, thus saving the daily agony of extensive mixing and clean-up. One baggie of flour + 1 cup of warm water, a few minutes of stirring and shaping with a spatula (freeform is the only way to go with bread, in my opinion), and I pop that puppy into the oven. Baked and cooled in 2 hours. I've got fresh bread for lunch.
After a few minutes in the flames.
If the stars stay aligned, the cash holds out, and the county building inspector, zoning board and health inspector agree, I'll be selling these mixes soon. Some of you already know this, and are waiting for production to begin. I'd like to post a photo of the space I'll be inhabiting, but the lease is not yet signed so I don't have access. But I'm tired of putting nothing on this blog, so I'm writing this and uploading one of my favorite summertime BBQ recipes: Smoky eggplant dip.
Totally scorched. What wonders lie within!
This is not something you need bread to enjoy, though it is far better with a few rounds of pita. It works well with corn chips, shreds of leftover chicken, a side dish for anything Mediterranean or an unexpectedly good condiment for burgers. And if you think you already have a great eggplant recipe, well, you should try this anyway. Or at least look at the photos. It's not daily bread, but it is great food that you don't have to wait for.
Smoky Eggplant Dip
1 medium eggplant 
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 TBLSP fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
An armload of dry hickory, apple or oak branches (or/and) Mesquite-spiked charcoal - about 3 dry quarts - NOT e-z lite
Tinfoil, paper bag, BBQ tools
Under the charcoal lies the cooked yet perfect flesh
Using a charcoal grill or fireplace, build a small wood fire. DO NOT use lighter fluid. If you are using charcoal add the briquettes to the flames. When the charcoal catches or the wood fire begins to burn down, drop the eggplant directly onto the hot coals. Toss sticks onto the fire so that some flame and smoke are generated. It's good to cover or partially cover the eggplant with hot coals. Turn the eggplant or move the hot coals so that all external aspects of the vegetable (or is it a fruit???) are fully charred. 
When the eggplant is black all over and quite deflated-looking, remove from the heat and place on aluminum foil. Allow to cool slightly, wrap in the foil to prevent drips and place in the paper bag. 
Naked. Ready for the blender.
When cool enough to handle remove from the bag. Peel away and discard all the burned skin. You may need to scrape some of the juicy pulp from skin shreds. If it is brown or golden it is good - if it is black it should be thrown away. 
Skewer the garlic and roast over hot coals until it is blackened and soft. Press or pound to reduce to a pulp.
Put eggplant shreds and garlic pulp into a food processor with the olive oil. Process to a paste. Add lemon juice and cumin and blend until very smooth. Salt to taste. Serve immediately.
Leftovers are even tastier! This dip is best if heated to just above room temperature. A microwave works fine for this purpose. 

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