Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Food: Reunited with Old Friends and a Brief Parting

This is a short little post (though like so many of my posts, it will likely ramble on beyond what could technically be called "short") to let you know that I may be a bit sparse with my postings for the next few weeks. There are a lot of things swirling around in my life right now to which I need to give some attention. I just need wait and see what the view is like when the dust settles. In any case, never fear; I will return with tales of what I've been up to and recipes and musings in short order. This blog has become a home to me and you always come back home eventually.

Until then, please content yourself with the following Artifacts of Comfort and Joy. At least they bring comfort and joy to me if only because they wander into my life so rarely these days.

Nutcracker Sweet Tea is hands down one of my favorite teas ever, and believe me, I've tried a lot of teas in my day. I usually find the teas made by Celestial Seasonings to be a bit...'too much.' Too sweet, too pungent, too...zingy. Despite these experiences, I was lured in by the description of black tea with vanilla extract and cinnamon--so many of my favorite flavors.
And indeed, it is a basic traditional black tea smoothed with a subtle taste of vanilla, a pleasing nuttiness, and just a touch of cinnamon. It's also one of the rare times when a beverage tastes just as good as it smells--I could happily sit here typing away and inhaling the scent of this tea for hours, taking little sips when the mood struck. I drink it black, but it would probably be grand with milk. A word of caution, be sure to remove the tea bag after about 5 minutes or the tea gets too bitter.

Since Nutcracker Sweet is from their "Holiday Tea" line, it's only available during the holiday season. Once I fell in love with it, spotting the first boxes in the grocery store became my personal sign that the holiday season had officially begun. A few years back, I realized that if I stocked up right at the end of the season, I could just stretch my boxes through the spring and summer until the next holiday season rolled around. I did this with a bit of trepidation that the magic and delight of this tea would wear off if it became an everyday commodity, but there was nothing to fear. Love knows no holiday season.

Unfortunately, the past two years, these boxes of Nutcracker Sweet have been even m
ore scarce than usual. Last year, I didn't see any being sold in stores until after Christmas and I was barely able to stock enough boxes to last me through April. This year, I didn't see any at all. I'd been toying with the idea of actually going to the Celestial Seasonings website and ordering a case of the tea (Love, folks, this is love) when I spotted two dusty, lonely boxes sitting discarded on the very bottom of the discount shelf last week at my co-op. Last week! As in April. As in not at all close to the holidays. Where these boxes came from and how long they'd been in the stock room, I have no idea (and I don't really want to know). I'd been checking the shelves of this co-op regularly for months (a few other favorite bagged teas of mine have recently disappeared from shelves, but that's another post), and never saw Nutcracker Sweet in stock. You can be sure I grabbed these two right up, went straight home, and brewed myself a fresh cup. Ahh....Love.

And the other week, a second reunion was celebrated in my kitchen when a friend brought back two bricks of Smoked Cheddar Tillamook Cheese from her recent trip to Portland, Oregon. When the Engineer and I lived in Portland,
we put this stuff in EVERYTHING. In fact, I can't think of a single dish we regularly ate that a healthy handful of Smoked Cheddar Cheese wouldn't make better. Eggs? Check. Pizza? Check. Annie's Mac and Cheese? Check. Stale crackers? Double check. Tillamook Cheese is an Oregon icon. It's fun to wander around their website HERE and a stop to wander around their visitor center, licking fresh ice cream and nibbling on squeaky cheese (cheese curds that literally squeak between your teeth when you bite down) was a requisite part of any trip to the Oregon coast. If you're in the area, I highly recommend stopping by.

This smoked cheddar cheese has a sharply cheddar bite and is literally infused with the hardwood smoke for a truly unique cheese experience. Every bite is like sitting around a campfire. These two bricks are literally and figuratively gold! (That's my one Pun o' the Post. I'll quit while I'm ahead with that one.)

And if you manage to get your hands on some Tillamook Smoked Cheddar, one possible manifestation of your riches could be in the form of my For-Real Sandwich Loaf.
My thought behind this loaf was to take the sandwich prep out of...um...making a sandwich, and just put all the typical sandwich ingredients in the loaf. That way, if I'm crunched for time in the morning because I forgot it was Recycling Day or I fell asleep in the shower completely by accident, I can just cut off a slice and call it lunch.

Dang, I just realized that I never posted my recipe for basic, non-sourdough bread to this blog, which is what I used for this recipe. Oh, well, I'll do an abbreviated version of the recipe here and describe it in detail another time (see what I mean about this post no longer being technically 'short'?!). In any case, if you don't want to use my recipe, or if it's confusing, feel free to use any bread dough you like and just add the cheese, spinach, and sausage when I say to in my instructions. (PS if you don't eat meat, just leave out the sausage and this would make an excellent cheese loaf!)
Summer Sausage Cheese Loaf (a.k.a. For-Real Sandwich Loaf)

For the poolish (starter):

1/2 cup (4 oz) water
1/2 tsp dry yeast
3/4 cup (4 oz) flour

In a medium sized bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water, add the flour, and mix these all together really well--about 100 strokes. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit on your counter overnight or about 12 hours. It will rise and fall, but ultimately it will about double in size and the surface will look really bubbly.

For the bread dough:

2 1/2 cups (20 oz) water
1/2 tsp dry yeast
5-6 cups (26-31 oz) flour
1 Tablespoon sea salt
1-2 cup spinach
3 c cheese, shredded (alternatively, shred half and cut the other half into strips. Add the strips at the same time you add the sausage)
2 10-oz summer sausages (or chorizo, un-cut salami, or any other hard sausage)--cut into long strips

Dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the poolish and mix until slightly frothy. Add in enough flour until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes just to bring the dough together. Cover with the upturned bowl and let rest for 10 minutes.

Create a well in the center of the dough and add 1/3 of the salt. Fold the dough on itself and add another 1/3 of the salt. Fold again and add the last of the salt. Knead dough for 10 minutes. Cover with the upturned bowl and let sit for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, clean the spinach and cut it into small pieces about the size of your thumb. Steam it slightly (I microwaved it on High for about 30 seconds). You want it wilted, but not complete mush.

Knead the dough for about 5 minutes more. As with the salt, add the cheese and spinach in batches and knead until they are evenly spread throughout the dough. The dough will get a bit wet and you might have to add more flour than normal. It's ok if it feels a bit wet, but it shouldn't be sticky or gummy to your hands.

Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for about two hours or until doubled in size.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface without deflating it. Divide it into two pieces and set aside one piece. Pat the remaining piece into a long rectangle with the shorter end closest to you (in other words, lay the rectangle out like a portrait rather than a landscape image). Lay half of the sausage strips like rungs on a ladder across the width of the dough. Lightly press the strips into the dough. Roll the dough away from you, making sure that the strips stay positioned so that they roll up in a spiral rather than all clumped together. Place loaf in an oiled loaf pan. Repeat with second half of the dough.

Allow dough to rise until the surface of the dough just clears the rim of the loaf pan--about an hour. Preheat the oven to 450-degrees. When the loaves are ready, pat the surface with a bit of flour and cut three diagonal slashes about 1/2 inch deep. Spray the tops with water and put in oven. During the first five minutes of baking, quickly spray water a few times into the interior of the oven and on the surface of the loaves. Bake for 20 minutes and reduce heat to 400-degrees. Bake for another 20 minutes until the surface is a nice caramelized golden color and the loaves sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

Let cool and enjoy! Slices are best when toasted.


ljmax said...

I've enjoyed your blog for a while now...don't go away for too long! And now I want some of that tea...mmmm.

Emma C said...

Shucks, ljmax, your comment made my day! :)

Angelina said...

I don't eat meat, but on the strength of that idea, I think you could write a cook book!