Monthly Archives: June 2006

More Toasts – Trio of Bruschette

Bruschetta tipica
Peperonata con mozzarella e pesto
Gorgonzola con miele
A few folks have given me feedback and their opinions about my last post. Most haven’t posted them to the blog so I’ll summarize. As I suspected, one half of the couple in my family who favors what I’ll term as “pasty bread” – so light as not to really be classified as Toast, per se – wrote back about her preference. We did agree about the whole jam and butter thing, though.

Two folks were on the side to try to convince me to buy a toaster oven. While I will acknowledge a greater degree of flexibility for making cheesy, melty things than with a toaster, I think I’ll just stick with the oven in that regard. Toaster ovens were actually banned, along with hot plates, from my university because they are a fire hazard due to the open heating element.Someone did actually set off a dorm smoke alarm when I was there – not me, just for the record – so I don’t really have a great memory of these appliances. Besides, in my wee NYC apartment kitchen we have room for only one major, counter-occupying device and the microwave trumps the toaster oven. So, the toaster is what we’re sticking with for the moment.

However, for the past few weeks, I feel as though we’ve been at a standoff, the toaster and I. It is now playing games with me. The plastic level has done summersaults only once. The latest thing is that it isn’t really toasting. It comes out that pale shade that others favor.
Then, that means I have to double-toast it, which is extra crispy-crunchy, not my ideal texture, but edible. Then, of course, I turned it way up and it charred one of the last pieces of good, farmer’s market bread that I had left. Arrggghhhh!!! Can’t win. Kitchen equipment is not supposed to be this aggravating!
So, for the moment, I’ve decided to go off toast, at least with the toaster. I’m going to use the broiler instead. It’s a bit trickier to get it to just the right shade of golden brown, but I’m up for the challenge. Besides, that way, I don’t have to face my reflexes being assaulted every morning by that wayward lever.
As I was on my toast kick, it made me pull out a few recipes that I had tucked away. With the weather getting warmer, a dinner of various small things, complemented by toasted bread, would make a great entertaining idea (as when a friend of mine and I took some of these things to visit another friend of ours who had just had her first child) or just a wonderful meal al fresco.
Peperonata (my version omits tomatoes and onions usually found in it)
Prep Time: 30-45 minutes
Serving Size: 6-8 adults as appetizer, depending upon size of peppers
2 Red Peppers, cored, deseeded, and cut into quarters
2 Yellow Peppers, cored, deseeded, and cut into quarters
2 Tbsp extra virgin Olive Oil
1/2 tsp aged Balsamic Vinegar
2 small cloves Garlic, minced finely or crushed in a garlic press
1 tsp dried or fresh Oregano
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C, Gas Mark 6). Place peppers in one layer on baking sheet. Place in broiler. Let cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the skin of the peppers is black in some places. You need to watch them carefully to make sure that they do not burn.
This is the trick to peeling the peppers. As soon as you pull them out of the oven, place in a plastic bag and tie the bag shut. Let sit for 15-20 minutes. This will steam the skin off of the peppers and enable you to peel them more easily.
Untie the bag. The peppers will be soft and pliable. Make a slit at the darkest part of the skin. It should have started to lift away from the pepper itself. Start peeling at this point, towards the edges. Making sure not to leave any of the skin behind. Cut the peeled peppers into strips about 1/4-inch wide.
In a bowl, mix together olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and oregano. Add peppers and stir until they are coated with the olive oil mixture. Serve with grilled or toasted bread.
Special Shout-Out: Entertaining Tip
This goes out to my friend Rob, who asked about getting away from his usual proscuitto e melone appetizer:  On large white plate or platter, pepperonta in three or four around the cheese (depending upon how many people you are serving).
In between these, mound thinly sliced proscuitto. Slice small cherry tomatoes in half (if you can find garden-ripe red and yellow ones of various sizes, these would look the nicest) and dot around the rim of the plate in alternating colors.
Place a basket of grilled or toasted bread on the table you’ve brought into your gorgeous English garden and serve to your guests. Drinks of choice would be a lightly chilled, light Italian red wine, bellinis or proscecco. Your guests are sure to swoon over it.
As your main then, you can opt to serve something as simple as a lightly dressed mesclun salad and pasta with pesto. Dessert can be fresh seasonal fruit accompanied by freshly whipped cream. There! Not a melon in sight.
Buon appetito!

Crazy Toaster Aerobatics

I know I’ve been a bit remiss in keeping up with this blog lately.Rather that give some drawn-out excuse about it, I’ll just be brief and blunt. My job is in transition and I just haven’t had the time or creative energy to put into writing. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped thinking about food or great things I could write about, I just didn’t make that leap to actually doing anything about it.

Which brings me to today’s topic: Shopping for a new toaster. You know how it is, appliances start to die, they don’t work as well, the handle flies off every time it pops up when the toast is done. O.K., maybe that last one hasn’t happened to you, but it’s been going on in my kitchen for a few months.

After the first time it happened, I jammed the plastic part onto the metal lever and that seemed to work for a while (sort of like taping things together), but the flying plastic aerobatic act started again this past week.It’s not the most appealing thing to face in the early morning. Dealing with random, unexpected, airborne objects at6:30 a.m., when I’m trying to fix my breakfast, sort of puts a taint on the whole day.

It is possible for me to live without this kitchen accessory. I didn’t have one when I lived inItalyand fared pretty well, but I have to make a confession:I love toast. I love to bite into that crisp, crunchy (usually buttery w/ a hit of sweet jam slathered on it) interior, saving the dark brown, super crunchy exterior for the next taste.

Proper Toast is not something that’s barely changed color or texture, as some in my family might tell you. These are also the folks who will eat the first patch of wan, limp pancakes, so I guess I shouldn’t be too harsh on them. That means I can get the ones that come out when the griddle is hot and ready to make nice golden brown ones.

Toast and I go way back. Peanut Butter Toast in high school.Cinnamon-sugar toast as a child – a special weekend treat. Tunafish salad on toasted whole wheat on a really rainy day. The British staple, cheese on toast. Yes, you might say that we have a bit of a history.

When I worked in financial services in London, I had the craziest hours, often not returning back to the group house I lived in until after the off-license in our neighborhood had closed for the evening (basically post-11:00 p.m.). If I saw those shop lights dimmed, that was not a good sign. I was usually completely drained by that time so the fact that we always had bread and butter in the house (this was England, after all), meant that I could at least fix myself a slice of toast prior to conking out for the evening, only to begin my draining routine again several hours later.

I can’t say I lost any weight on my “toast at midnight-ish” diet, but my love affair for a slice of bread cooked to a high temperature, changing it from flabby to firm, has remained. For me, a weekend morning isn’t the same without a slice of great, farmer’s market bread, toasted a golden brown, with a light coat of great butter and a thin layer of organic, locally-produced fruit spread smeared on it.

Anyway, so the point was that I decided that I can’t take it any more after the plastic part decided to execute a maneuver worthy of Cirque du Soleil the other day. So, I went on line to the usual places to go explore getting another toaster. I looked at high and lower end housewares stores and all the usual places one might go when looking for appliances.

Like any consumer, I didn’t want to commit to the first thing that I saw. How expensive could an ordinary toaster be???? Well, as I found out, I could easily have spent several hundred dollars on one if I wanted to, all this for a TOASTER, something to make warmed-up, crispy bread.I started suffering from sticker shock. Why so much for a simple machine?

I’m not asking for much. I just want it to be able to hold bread, have a pop-up/eject bottom so that I don’t have to wait until smoke comes out and the fire alarm goes off to know that maybe it’s starting to burn. I also want it to handle bagels as well. Oh, and it should have a removable crumb tray for those rare times, I’ll actually think about cleaning out the toaster.

It doesn’t need to make designs on the bread, have flowers, cook eggs at the same time, or color coordinate with my home décor. I just want it to make toast.So, disheartened by my research on line, I decided that I didn’t have the energy to pursue this any more. I thought it best to wait until the toaster really did conk out for good to replace it.In the meantime, I’ll just work on my early a.m. reflexes and hope that the plastic part doesn’t head towards my face.

Buon appetito!