bread

Grilled Pesto and Triple Cheese Sandwich

One of my all-time comfort food favorites is the grilled cheese sandwich. No surprise there. This is my second post on that heavy-sitting delicacy. One of the three cheeses here is my own, a homemade goat cheese. Cheese is easier to make than you'd think. You should check it out. The other cheeses are the cheddar and parmesan leftover from my Pinwheel Loaf. Let's hope that one day I am making all my own cheeses. For now, one at a time. The whole wheat bread is also homemade and I'll probably post the recipe here because the results are well worth it -- depth of flavor and a nice crust. Instead of using pine nuts in the pesto, which come most often from the far end of the world, I used sunflower seeds. They're just as good, cheaper, and they grow closer to home. Use any herbs that are available; pesto is also good with parsley, chervil, and even chives.

Enjoy!

Simple Pesto

• 1 cup fresh herbs of your choice • 3 tablespoons sunflower seeds • 3-4 tablespoons sunflower or olive oil • salt + ground black pepper

In a food processor, grind the nuts coarsely for crunchy pesto or finely for smooth. Add the herbs and half of the oil. Whizz until just blended, then add more oil to desired consistency. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Grilled Pesto and Triple Cheese Sandwich

• 2 slices of bread • couple slices of aged cheddar • small handful parmesan, grated • small handful goat cheese • 2 tablespoons butter

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a pan. Butter each slice of bread. Put one slice in the pan, drizzle with pesto, then add the cheeses and drizzle again with pesto. Top with the other slice of bread, flip and grill until golden brown. Transfer the sandwich to a baking pan and put in the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melting. Eat.

Cheesy Mushroom Pinwheel Loaf

This idea came from my girlfriend, whose mother used to make pinwheel loaves with pepperoni. What gives mine a sharp, salty flavor is the cheese; a mix of strong cheddar and aged parmesan. This is perfect as an appetizer, cut on a board into 1" slices, or for lunch with a crispy salad. I used King Oyster mushrooms because of their meaty texture and taste, but you could use any kind. I can't wait to go foraging for mushrooms this summer. Then I'll be making mushroom pinwheels and other recipes with chanterelles, king boletes, and shaggy manes. Enjoy!

Yields 2 medium loaves

Dough

• 2 cups whole white flour • 1 cup lukewarm water • 1 teaspoon instant yeast • 1 teaspoon salt

Mix the water, yeast and salt together, stir and let sit for 2 minutes. In a large bowl add the water to the flour. Mix with your hands or a wooden spatula until well combined. If too sticky, add a bit of flour. Cover with a plastic and let rise for 2 hours. You can do this step 2-3 days in advance, just put the dough in the fridge once it has risen.

Filling

• 300g mushrooms, thinly sliced • 1 medium onion, finely chopped • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped • 2 sprigs thyme, leaves only • 1/4 cup white wine • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard • 1 cup cheddar, grated • 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated • salt + ground black pepper

On medium-high, heat up 2-3 tablespoons oil in a pan and cook the onions for a couple of minutes until they're golden brown. Add the mushrooms and sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Add the wine, garlic and thyme and let the wine bubble away. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the dijon, cheddar and parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.

Putting it together

Preheat the oven to 450°F. On a floured surface roll out the dough in a large square about 1/4" thick. Evenly spread the mushroom mixture over the dough, roll it into a log and cut it in half. Lay the two loaves on parchment paper on a baking pan. Brush them with olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Score the tops and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Eat!

Simple Poppy Seed Buns

Fresh bread gets people excited before a meal, especially when they know it was made from scratch. Here is a recipe for quick bread that's very similar to the one I use for flatbreads and pizza doughs. When making buns, the important thing is to let your dough rise properly; only that creates the soft, moist texture we all want in a bun. Sugar is added to give the bread that definitive "roll" taste. While everything is out of the cupboard, you might want to make a couple of extra batches. Freeze them just after they've cooled, and next time all you will have to do is pop them into a hot oven for 5 minutes.

The dough should be sticky, but not enough to stick to the bowl when you move it around. Because every flour is different, your dough might need more or less water. Use your judgement.

Yields 10-12 buns

Ingredients

• 3 1/4 cups whole white flour • 1 1/2 cup lukewarm water • 2 teaspoons salt • 2 teaspoons instant dry yeast • 2 tablespoons sugar • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds

In large bowl mix the flour, sugar, poppy seeds, and salt. Stir together the yeast and water and let sit for a couple of minutes. Add the water to the flour and mix with your hands until smooth. If too dry add a couple drops of water. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place (in the oven with the light on is a good spot) for 1-2 hours or until it has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Take the dough out on a floured surface and cut it in 12 equal buns. Work them gently to give them a round shape. Place them on a floured baking tray and let sit for 10 minutes. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, or until golden brown on the suface. Serve hot.

Rosemary Popovers

I got a recipe for popovers from my girlfriend's family cookbook, but I had to tweak it five times before the things came out right. They just wouldn't pop! So now we have over thirty popovers, most of them flat and living in the freezer. Don't worry, they'll get eaten. The important thing is that I now have a functioning recipe and that every future popover will rise to the occasion and do justice to its name. A popover is an eggy bread made of four ingredients; eggs, milk, flour and salt. Quite simple, eh? It is definitely simple and easy once you have a good recipe to work with. For plain popovers, which are great with jam, just discard the rosemary. For cheesy ones add grated cheddar. For smaller ones use a smaller muffin pan. If you have a popover pan it's even better.

Makes 6-8 popovers

Ingredients

• 1 1/2 cup of white flour • 1 1/2 cup of milk • 3 eggs • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Grease and flour a muffin pan. In a bowl whisk the eggs and milk together. Add the flour, salt, and rosemary. Whisk everything gently until smooth. Pour in the molds to about 3/4 full and bake for 20 minutes, then turn down the oven to 350°F and bake for another 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.

Irish Brown Soda Bread

Last year I started baking my own bread. I'd had a couple of books on the subject, but never made good use of them because I assumed that homemade bread was rather tricky and time-consuming. After I made a couple of loaves, my mind changed on the matter. I just wanted to make more and more. It's key not to get discouraged after the first couple of loaves you bake. Like any other craft, trial and error  lead to improved results. Rising times, folding, knowledge of your oven (all ovens cook differently) are all things you'll have to learn and practice.

Most of the breads I make are yeast-based, but I also like the Irish classic: soda bread. Soda breads are easier to make and can be prepared in less time - an hour if you're in full throttle. If you've never made bread, soda bread is a good starting point; and if you are really interested in baking your own bread, the most useful bread book I have is Bread.

Instead of buttermilk you can sour some milk by combining the milk (1 1/2 cups) with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and letting it stand for 5-10 minutes.

This recipe makes 1 medium loaf. Use stone ground wheat flour if possible.

Ingredients

• 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour • 3/4 cup all-purpose white flour • 2 teaspoons baking soda • 1 teaspoon salt • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Mix together both types of flour, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the center of mixture and pour in the buttermilk. Stir everything until smooth. I use my hands but you can use a wooden spoon. If the dough is too dry, add some buttermilk. Make a flat round disk of about 1" thick and put on a floured baking sheet. Cut a "X" in the middle. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Let it cool on a rack.

Blueberry Banana Bread

I've been eating this bread since I was a kid. I got the recipe from my Mom only last summer and never tried it until recently. My mother could open up a bakery and make a fortune because when it comes to cookies and desserts, she knows what she's doing. There's never a crumb left. What makes this banana bread so moist is the yogurt and the addition of blueberries. It's a very simple recipe that you could complete with 15 minutes of prep, plus 20 minutes to bake. This blueberry banana bread recipe will make 8 small or 4 large loaves. Enjoy!

Ingredients

• 2 cups white flour • 1 cup ripe bananas (2) • 1 cup blueberries • 1 cup sugar • 1/2 cup oil • 1/2 cup plain yogurt • 1 teaspoon vanilla • 1/2 teaspoon salt • 2 eggs • 1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven at 350F. Grease your loaf pans. In a stand mixer or a bowl, beat together the sugar, oil, bananas, yogurt, vanilla, eggs and salt. A little at a time add the flour. Mix thoroughly. Once incorporated, add the baking soda. Gently fold in the blueberries. Pour into molds. Cook for 20-25 minutes (35-40 larger), you want them still moist inside.

Serve for breakfast or as a dessert with ice cream.