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The Txting Chf: Quick Garlic Bread for Tweens

Recently, the following text appeared on my phone:

“Garlic bread. Should I just make garlic butter and spread it on the bread and then bake it? If so, how do I make the garlic butter? :D

While I’m used to getting weird food questions and recipe requests from friends this was a new country heard from–my brother, WonderTwin1, who generally doesn’t know enough about cooking to muster a reasonable question in the first place. Interesting.

Of course, about a week before this particular text, WonderTwin1 started his new job manny-ing for a family on New York’s Upper West Side: three tween boys to corral, and on some occasions, feed. This is amusing on several fronts, but most immediately because WonderTwin1, unlike his brother WonderTwinA, can’t really cook. Garlic bread question notwithstanding, though, I’ve gotten far fewer frantic calls than I expected to…

But it’s early yet, and I’m hoping that WT1 will be able to give me a little bit more notice next time he needs to know the best way to reheat sliced flank steak (quickly, with some sort of sauce, and hope that your tweens are hungry and have good teeth) or easy garlic bread directions. I’ll spare you the txt version of the recipe I came up with on the fly, but here’s a slightly more formalized one in case you have a bunch of hungry boys fresh from soccer practice and are looking for some garlic bread.

Basically, we’re making a quick beurre composé, aka compound butter, aka butter with flavorful things smooshed into it. Here, garlic and herbs take the day, but the sky’s the limit. If you don’t want to make a full loaf of garlic bread, still go ahead and do the full batch of butter. It’s something that you’ll find any number of uses for… saute some spinach with it, or take a pat and rest it atop a hot steak… or even some of that sad leftover flank steak. Garlic butter will make ANYTHING better.
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A Taste of the Mediterranean: Catalan Bread with Tomato

So, yes, recently Mr. T and I returned from a wee vacation in Spain with the rest of the family T. And, while there was allegedly internet access (via “dongle”), it wasn’t all that reliable and there were so many other pressing things to do… playing with adorable the niecelet, conquering castles, eating tiny fish, and, uhm, sitting on the beach, sitting by the pool, etc.

In any case, though, how about a lovely little snack for when you’re not doing any of those things, but would like to be? Direct from Spain–or Catalonia, depending on where you are and who you ask–and far more than the sum of its admittedly humble parts. This is one of those, “really, this is going to be tasty?” recipes. I mean, at it’s most basic, it’s just a piece of toast with garlic and tomato smushed into it.

Doesn’t sound that all that appealing, really. But it is. Crunchy bread; hot, pungent garlic; sweet, juicy tomato. It’s really got everything–particularly when you opt to lay on a few olives or bits of anchovy. Even better!

As with all simple things, this one really depends on the quality of your ingredients. You want a nice, big, end of season tomato that, hello, tastes like a tomato. A nice, knarly-looking heirloom that might just be a bit too soft for salads? Perfect.

Your bread should also be beyond reproach–a nice simple country loaf will do fine. Avoid sourdough. Use the finest salt and olive oil that you have, and if you’re going to garnish with anchovies or olives (and I suggest that you do) for lord’s sake use good ones.

The below recipe is for two slices of bread. Obviously, this can be multiplied several times over with ease, and the finished slices could be cut into smaller pieces for a cocktail ‘do and that would be totally bueno. Just remember that they shouldn’t sit around too long. The bread should still be warm and the tomato should only penetrate so far. There’s no magic in cold, soggy bread; so serve them up as you make them with sunshine and panache.

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On Bread & Crumbs: Be Ye Thrifty, Not Cheap

American sandwich bread is gross. One look at the ingredients will tell you why, and it’s usually number three on the list. No, it’s not the random chemicals and preservatives–though we do not approve of them either–but the sugar. Or, in most cases, the high fructose corn syrup. These suspect loaves could, however, be sweetened with cane sugar and I’d still be up in arms.

REAL basic bread, like from a bakery and not the “bread” aisle, does not have sugar in it. You can taste the difference. Mr. T, with his refined European palate (or, really, his hate of sweet where there should be none) was quick to point this out when we first began to cohabitate, and shopping habits were adjusted accordingly.

While we usually have some bagged bread on hand in the refrigerator in case of a toast emergency (if you’ve ever lived with someone from the UK, you’ll know that toast emergencies are SERIOUS crises), it’ll have no sugar in it. Hard to find? Mais oui, even at Whole Foods.

In any event, though, that the majority of our bread is of the bakery variety–much, much tastier, but also quicker to go stale. I suspect that the sweetness, or lack thereof, has something to do with this. Sugar, being hygroscopic, holds onto moisture, so sweeter bread probably helps bread stay softer, longer. See also: gross chemical preservatives.

So, what to do with all that good, expensive bread that’s gone stale? (This is what’s called “burying the lede, kiddies.) Call forth your inner thrifty French housewife and make breadcrumbs! This is very exciting for your inner thrifty French housewife, because she loves to gratinee things, bind things, and generally improve whatever it is she’s making with the crunchifying, stickifying power of the breadcrumb.

Thanks to our habit of having decent bread in the house, I now also have a nice big zip-t0p bag full of breadcrumbs in the freezer. Whenever I find a rock-hard bit of baguette or somesuch loitering around the kitchen, I just chop it up, whizz it in the food processor, and add it to the bag. I dip in surprisingly often, sifting bigger crumbs to top casseroles or gratins, and the finer bits to stick meatballs or meatloaf together.

Viva la breadcrumb!

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