Friday, February 29, 2008

French bread, oh, French bread. How do I serve thee? Let me count the ways...

French bread is one of my favorite things ever. It is so simple yet complex; crusty yet chewy; and delicious both unadorned and ... well, adorned! So imagine the joy (and slight apprehension, which I will get to later) when the wonderful Daring Bakers announced that our mission for February is to make French bread with Julia Child's (deceptively) simple recipe. Upon first inspection of the recipe, I was simply floored by its length and contents. I mean, really, we're going to need canvas? And plywood? Sounds more like an art project, no? And can you blame my slight apprehension? I'm not going to wax poetic too much about it but when you come right down to it, baking is artistic!

Unlike my normal baking/cooking projects, I set out to be uber organized this time. I printed out the recipe (10 pages long, thank you very much!), laid out all the special equipment and ingredients ("mise en place") before I even started. Baking French bread took way longer than my usual baking recipes (think a whole Sunday!), but it was totally worth it because my French breads turned out beautiful! It was Sunday anyway, so during the multiple proofs (or incubation steps, as we call it in lab/geek talk), I just tinkered around the house, reading the paper, watching TV and doing little chores.

I made the mistake of digging into one before it was cooled completely. I mean, it took 2 whole hours to cool and let the crust set, but I was just sooo seduced by the aroma of fresh bread out of the oven. I couldn't resist! The bread tasted good but the crust wasn't as crusty as I was hoping. Fortunately, the second bread that I let cool for the whole 2 hours was much better: super crusty crust and chewy, bubbly middle. Although it isn't a French bakery-standard bread, it comes pretty darn close! And as usual, there are a few hundred DB posts up today. Kinda crazy but oh so worth it to check out! So take a look the creations of my talented friends here!

As the title of this post suggests, how did I serve this divine bread?

1. By itself: So simple and delicious! This may make me sound like a freak, but my favorite part of bread is actually the crust. Whenever I get a loaf of bread, I always attack the ends. Chewy middles are a distant second in my opinion. So the high crust-to-innard ratio of baguettes is a huge plus to me!

2. With butter: Still very simple and oh, so decadent. I think it might be especially yummy if you can get butter from dairy farmers who make small batches of unhomogenized and sometimes, unpasteurized butter as featured in the NYT.

3. With butter and jam: To further bring your taste buds nearer to nirvana, add jam to #2. Not jelly please no! But J-A-M. My current favorite is this awesomely flavorful blackberry jam from Trader Joe's. I just ran out but I'm hoping it's not just a seasonal item...

4. With butter and roasted garlic cloves shmeared on top. Now, THIS is sheer heaven!
Roasted garlic-1

5. As part of a bánh mì: If you haven't tried one of these yummy sammie, you have to try one right now. And I mean, go to a pho place right NOW! Banh mi is a Vietnamese-style sandwich made with baguettes. It is usually made with pork, chicken, pickled carrots, some veggies and cilantro.

6. With chocolate: As exemplified by fellow DBer Tartelette here.

7. With extra virgin olive oil as dip: Droooooolz!

8. With cheese of all kinds: goat, brie, blue, Cheddar. Oh, the possibilities are endless!

9. With Nutella: I suppose Nutella could be considered chocolate. But I think Nutella is just so good it deserves its own category. I really think the USDA should really reserve a place for this delicious hazelnutty chocolatey goodness in the food pyramid. Don't you?

10. As crostini: Sliced thinly, toasted and topped with various yummies like chopped tomato and basil, garlic hummus and pine nuts, roasted tomato puree and sliced mozzarella, etc.

11. For croutons: I've never been a fan of croutons and consider this one to be a bit of a waste of good bread. But hey, I'm sure there are folks out there who beg to differ and can't live without croutons...

That's only eleven of the ways I can think to serve French bread. Care to share any of your own ideas?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I'm baaack!

Imagine the horror that washed over me as I stepped out of Chicago's O'Hare airport this past frigid Monday with no coat on me. Yes, you read that right. NO COAT IN THE HEART OF THE MIDWESTERN WINTER!

After all, I just returned from a luxuriously warm 2-week holiday visiting my family in Jakarta and Singapore for Chinese New Year. I didn't have space in my luggage for a damn winter coat! Not with all the goodies I was planning to bring back from home!

Ok, ok, so it is partially my fault for not thinking ahead, but what do you think? If you were in my position, would you prioritize a stupid coat or the wondrous Asian goodies? Now you tell me!

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