11 June, 2008

Toast (& Gluten-free Bruschetta)

My favourite week-day breakfast, before I stopped eating regular bread, used to be toast and coffee. Nothing fancy there. Just tumble out of bed, roll into the kitchen, put the water to boil for coffee, and pop a double-slice of bread in the toaster.

I was a little picky about the toast, though. It had to be made from a good heavy, grainy bread that would pick up some strength from being toasted and it had to be dark toast. I like crunch, and it could never really be too crunchy for me. I didn't load it down with butter, either. I liked it dry or with a smidge of butter, peanut butter, or occasionally, jam.

I always wanted one of those antique English toast racks. I figured the English knew a thing or two about how to eat toast. And they weren't having any of those margarine-soaked slices stacked up on a plate, so they steamed themselves into a soggy square that actually turned down in your hand, folding itself shamefully in two. The kind of toast they serve at family restaurants.

Even as a little kid, travelling with family, and looking forward to a rare meal out, I couldn't contain my disappointment when that kind of toast was served. I couldn't eat it, either. To me that toast was the epitome of everything that was wrong with packaged white bread. I figured cremation was too good for it. Just toss it to the dog, if she wasn't too fussy, and bring out the real deal, crisp golden brown slices with a hint of the smoke of the oven, unbuttered, maybe cut diagonally in two, arrayed on the ides of the plate around the eggs, and when I bit into them, gloriously crisp, crunchy, toothsome, perfect.

I still like toast. It helps improve the flavour and texture of gluten-free bread, which tends to the cakey, crumbly, and bland side of the bread spectrum. In other words, most of the commercially prepared gluten-free bread, and even home-made loaves, are a bit of a disappointment. More "memories of bread" than real bread. It's no secret among gluten-free folks that one of the things we would love best is a recipe for a nice loaf of bread. Good toast is probably a close second. Often the toast made with these breads is rather pallid. Bruschetta, a great gilding of toast, and perfect for breakfast or a snack, is almost impossible, because it relies on grating the raw garlic over the toasted surface of the bread, and you need enough strength and structure in the bread to do that.

I have dearly missed brushetta; I loved it for breakfast with deep dark coffee.

Happily, I've discovered I can make a pretty good toast and therefore a good bruschetta with gluten-free bread.

I had a few too many slices for breakfast yesterday, just to perfect the method, you understand.

Yep, it works. And it was darned enjoyable.

For all you gluten-free folks who have been longing for bruschetta, here's my method. I used Glutino Flax-seed bread and it worked well. You might like to experiment and let me know which ones you favour.

For this toast you need a small (or large) cast iron frying pan. Just the thick black ordinary kind. This pan could be your best friend for crusty pancakes, fried tofu, anything that you want extra flavour and crispiness in. It's my favourite pan these days. It might be hard to find in Japan, though. I'd appreciate if any of my readers from there let me know about a source.

Note for campers: this method work for any toast, in the absence of a toaster, and I think the toast is tastier, too. It's got some of that smoky flavour of other camp toast, without the heavy scorching issues.

Put your cast iron pan on high heat and heat it up for a minute, then put in the slice of bread in without using any oil. You need to wait until the toast starts to smoke just a tiny bit. Keep checking until you get used to how fast it cooks. Once the pan is hot it will cook very quickly and you might want to reduce the heat to medium or low. Usually it takes less than a minute a side in a hot pan. Turn it with a fork.

When it's done, immediately put it on a plate and grate a garlic clove that you've peeled and cut in half over one side a few times, to taste. Drizzle on a bit of extra-virgin olive oil and a drift of salt. Eat right away for the crispiest texture. It does tend to get limp fairly quickly. You could try putting finished toast, without the topping, on a wire cookie rack and see if that holds the crispness. I'll try that next time.

In any case, this toast is very good, and about the closest to regular bread I've tried. You could also top it with anything else that makes your hungry heart flutter.

Enjoy the crunch!


Martin J Frid said...

Wow, nice fry pan. Here in Japan it is easy to find classic iron fry pans. Many old shops still carry them, and fancy places like Tokyu Hands in Shibuya, Tokyo or Ikebukuro also have several classic models.

I use one to fry eggs and make omelettes, just a tiny bit of real butter and the magic flavour is there.

And never ever wash it with soap, ok? Just hot water.

vegetablej said...

Fantastic to hear that, Martin. So glad you stopped by with sources in Japan. Thanks!

You're right, of course, about the soap, but I do use a little of my peppermint cleaner in some water and then put it out to dry with no bad flavours or bad effects.

The fantastic thing about these pans is that once they are seasoned by use, you need very little oil to cook things in them, and they require a lot less energy too, as they retain the heat. And they are a snap to clean, whatever method you choose. :)

Ruahines said...

Tena koe VJ,
So good to read from you. Kia ora. Glad to be reading from you more often. We are going to make the peppermint cleaner and give it a whirl, cheers for the eco tip.
I just came from the markets, loaded up on our weeks fruit and veges. Tonite I am making pizza, with your sauce as the base, topped with mozzarella, fresh mushrooms, beautiful red peppers, avacado, fresh spinach, and olives - all bought a few minutes ago. I am using fresh made pizza bases I bought, but will attempt my own base sometime. Do you have a recipe for that?
Your last words on the post about your house remind me of an excellent song by loretta lynn, off her very cool album Van lear Rose, appropriately named, This 0ld
House. Also Vj, Tara and I love Ray, his album Trouble and his second one, Till the Sun Turns Black as well. I had to listen to the latter a few times before it started to click, and I find myself now listening to that one more than Trouble. He has been quiet for some time now. I know he is a somewhat dark person, but his music certainly resonates with me, maybe that is why. Kia ora VJ, off to train for my upcoming 6 day adventure into the Ruahines in July. I am getting excited! Have a lovely day.

vegetablej said...


I'm drooling at the thought of all the fresh vegetables. I was spoiled in Japan with everything as close as a bicycle trip away, but here the nearest grocery store is 30 minutes away by car, and me with no car. So far it seems to be hard to get a weekly ride to the store, even if I offer to pay for gas. People all have cars and seem to look askance at anyone that doesn't. They could sure use a ride-share program here.

Now that that's off my chest, I do indeed have a recipe for a pizza crust; I'll hunt it up, but you know any good cookbook will have a reasonable one. The secret of a good crust is not really in the ingredients, though I aways think half whole wheat flour is nice, but in the preparation. You have to knead the dough for about 10 minutes until it becomes very springy and silky before you let it rise. Then you have to stretch it a lot as it tends to want to spring back. Once the tomato topping is on it won't shrink as much. I really think making free-form shapes on cookie sheets are nice, and you can vary the toppings to what everyone wants. Also be sure to brush the tops with olive oil before you put any toppings on them, even the sauce. End your toppings with a shake of salt and black pepper and a generous drizzle of the olive oil again. Dried oregano and basil are nice to sprinkle on top of the vegetables if the sauce doesn't have any; you don't really need them with my sauce. I also like some fennel seeds on top of the crust and olive oil; all the good Italian pizzarias use them.

What training are you doing for your trip? My "training" these days consists of short bursts of using a push mower on two-foot grass. My vocabulary is getting the best workout. :)

Ruahines said...

Tena Koe VJ,
Yes, people and cars are a funny combination. Kiwi's on the whole are the lovliest people one can meet, but behind the wheel of a car, or talking about their cars, a different breed altogether. Americans are much the same. Even though I am a guy, my eyes glaze over and my mind wanders to the mountains when guys start going on about cars. I am lucky to drive a company car, I think it's a Nissan, free gas, and free milage, but who knows how long that will last. Anyway VJ I wish I was in a position to drive you myself!
Please do write the pizza base recipe for me, when you have time to find it. My pizzas turned out so lovely! Gourmet style would not be too strong a word, in my humble opinion. I like the idea of the fennel seeds, but honestly think the oregano and basil is amply covered in the thick rich sauce. I made 3 and the boys, Tara , and I ate 2 plus, and I chowed the rest for breakfast - as I took Charlie on his first ever mountain tramp the next morning. Such a cool day, check it out on the blog.
I am training for the Ruahines really. The up and downs required with a heavy pack are quite severe. So I build up my aerobic base 4 times a week - either on the bike or stair master for 45 minutes to an hour, and lift weights 3 times a week as well. Just to make myself as prepared as I can. 6 days and moving for much of that time can take a toll - though I do build in a "rest" day as well. I used to run quite a bit, but have developed a touch of arthritis in my hip which has ended that. What foods mights you suggest for joint strength?
Sorry to ramble on VJ. It is late here and rarely this quiet so I am taking advantage. I am so glad to read from you more often, and you writing of food again must be a good sign. Kia ora!

vegetablej said...


Thanks for the description of your pizzas, which sound like they were incredible.

I don't know of any particular foods for joint pain, though I think there are some supplements that people take in North America that they say help. Glucosamine, I think it is, but I haven't tried it. I find that when you get the inevitable joint problems (we all get them at some age or another) the best thing is to rest in the acute phase and then stop doing whatever caused the problem and try something else. That's what you have done already. I had to give up running younger than you; I wrecked my knees in my late thirties doing ken-po karate, aerobics, and running. I switched to walking and bike riding, but gave up distance bike riding when I had severe knee problems last year after a long bike ride. I can still jog around town when I have a bike.

Fortunately, weight training seems to be good for everyone as long as you do it sensibly and don't do a bunch of deep squats if you have knee problems. Also avoid straight leg front knee raises like the plague._Very_ hard on knees.

Good luck with your program; your trip sounds like it's going to be great!

I'll leave the pizza crust recipe on your site as I only put gluten-free ones here.

Feel free to "ramble" at will here; I always enjoy your comments!