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Kitchen Experiments: Sometimes They Turn Out All Right

This entry is part of a series, RdJ»

French Bread, Great for Stuffing

Early in the day I began to think about what to fix for dinner. I hit on the idea for stuffed peppers, which is a family favorite and one which we hadn’t had in ages. Somehow, working in the garden has me thinking about all sorts of special dishes we haven’t tried in a while!

There was only one small problem: Dental appointment. I didn’t think I’d be interested in eating anything for dinner. Still, I didn’t want to disappoint PJ. So once the evil guy with the jackhammers and tongs nice Doctor was through torturing me adjusting my gumline around my shiny, new implant, I headed over to Costco to get some basic, bulk supplies. Fortunately all the nitrous oxide had worn off, so my driving wasn’t bad. No worse than usual, anyway. The oral surgeon’s office is only five minutes from Costco, which improved my odds of arriving safely, even in Austin traffic.

As I was pushing the cart around, ignoring all the shiny new electronics and stuff I would want (but shouldn’t have), I still mulled over how to fix a nice dinner for Paula Jo. When I came to from my reverie, I found myself staring at a package of bread.

Not just any bread. A bag of six demi-baguettes. That’s when the idea hit me: Stuffed bread!

There are two general approaches to a dish like this. You can make dough, put the stuffing in, then bake the whole thing. Or you can get a nice-sized piece of bread at the baker’s, make a filling and proceed from there. With these beautiful loaves staring back at me, only the second strategy had any appeal.

I scooped up the bread, rushed through the rest of the store and headed home. Oh, I saw this lovely, reduced-fat sliced Swiss cheese there too, so I included that even though it wasn’t on the shopping list. I mean hey, if you let a shopping list restrain your creativity, then I bet you were one of those kindergarteners who only colored inside the lines. (Budget, Schmudget.)

French LoavesI stopped by my favorite grocery store, HEB. We had the ground beef and most everything else I would need, but I wanted some sausage. Bulk sausage. And I know HEB makes a nice breakfast sausage, sold in one-pound rolls.

I was pleasantly surprised when I got to the breakfast meats case. HEB has recently added several new flavors of bulk sausage, including chipotle, chorizo and more. That presented me with a quandary, though: Which one, which one? So I grabbed three, including sage (PJ’s fave) and regular. I figured I’d make the decision about who plays at game time.

By this time the drug-induced euphoria was winding down, so I checked out and headed home for some pain meds and a short nap. (I heartily recommend a short nap, if you can squeeze one in. Especially after somebody’s been mucking about in your mouth while wearing hobnail boots and wielding assorted implements of torture.)

Once I was up, refreshed and ready, I began preparations for dinner. I got a pound of hamburger and the chipotle-flavored sausage out, and snagged a can of petite diced tomatoes out of the pantry. I found an opened bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau in the drinks chiller, and I took down some red pepper flakes, powdered ginger, tomato-chipotle bouillon, and baharat from the spice cabinet. I chopped half a yellow onion and a couple stalks of celery to add aromatics to the mix.

I sautéed the sausage, beef and veggies until the meat was well browned and the onion was translucent, approaching caramelized. I used about a third of a cup of wine to deglaze, then continued to cook over medium-high heat. In went the tomatoes, undrained, and a bunch of seasonings. I went light on the pepper flakes and the baharat, as PJ is still a bit zest-challenged. I included a couple teaspoons of dried Italian herbs, and finished with a couple tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro leaves. I cooked until the liquid had mostly disappeared, to concentrate the flavors.

Meanwhile, heated the oven to 375° F and then cut the tops off of two of those beautiful demi-baguettes, about 1/3 of the way down I scooped out all the insides, leaving only about a half inch of crust all around. I threw the insides away. (If you believe that, then maybe you’d be interested in purchasing my personal copy of the original Texas Constitution?) I lined the small bowls of bread with sliced Swiss cheese, then I filled each with generous portions of the filling. I used a slotted spoon to keep the liquid to minimum; didn’t want soggy bread! I topped with more Swiss, then the bread top.

Bread Bowl

I wrapped each meal tightly in aluminum foil and popped them into the oven for 20 minutes or so, until the cheese had thoroughly melted. After a few minutes of cooling it was time for dinner.

And what a tasty dinner it was! Some olives and pickles on the side, and iced tea, and we had a great meal. PJ thought it was a bit spicy, but I reminded her that, if she didn’t stretch her zest muscles she’d never get stronger. Me, I thought it was flavorful and fairly mild, although it did have a bit of a zing by the end.

This experiment was a big success, and I know it would work in a full French or Italian loaf too. That would be a nice idea for a party: Make a couple big loaves (you’ll need to scale up the filling), slice them into serving portions and add some garnish or something. One such loaf would also feed a family of four, I think.

I’ll try several variations in the near future. I’ve still got four baguettes left! Besides, I know where to get more…

Enjoy the (All Trial, No Error Stuff Bread) Heat!

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