My husband works hard. He oversees accounting markets from Boston to Atlanta. He travels incessantly.
He’s very good about bringing home those tiny shampoos and body washes from the hotels he stays at.
I like the tiny shampoos and body washes (especially the Bliss products, courtesy of the W hotels).
But I really like the bread.
When my husband goes to New York, he always stops at Penn Station and one of the Zaro’s Bakery locations there. He usually comes home with challah and rye, which we polish off in a matter of days.
But last week he outdid himself. He came home with a huge Zaro’s bag filled with five — five! — loaves of New York’s finest.
There was raisin-studded challah, oatmeal-studded multigrain, a thick sourdough round, rye (of course) and a dense loaf of walnut-raisin.
“Wow,” the boys intoned. “Look at all that bread.”
Now, I love breakfast toast and lunchtime sandwiches made with first-rate bread. But with this largess, I wanted something different. Something special. Something for each loaf that would showcase its individuality and the artistry that went into making it.
Here’s how our week played out:
Monday: French toast for all! We beat 3 eggs, 1 cup milk, 1 teaspoon sugar, the zest of an orange and healthy dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg in a pie plate. Then we cut the challah and the walnut-raisin loaves into thick slices, soaked them in the egg mixture and fried them in a nonstick skillet until toasty. The challah French toast was puffy and tender, with an almost souffle-like consistency. The walnut-raisin had more body to it, with a firm crumb and yeasty, wheat-y aroma. A very special breakfast — more so when topped with organic maple syrup, fresh strawberries and bananas.
Tuesday: Rye bread pudding. Using Molly Wizenberg’s recipe for butternut squash and cheddar bread pudding as a guide, we tossed 2 cups of cubed, butternut squash with olive oil, salt and pepper, then roasted it on a rimmed baking sheet in a 400-degree oven until tender (about 20 minutes). While the squash roasted, we browned 1/2 pound of sweet Italian sausage in a skillet and drained it on paper towels. Then we tore the rye bread into pieces until we had 5 cups. We whisked together 4 eggs, 1 cup milk (you can use 2 percent, whole or half-and-half), 3 tablespoons dry vermouth, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, salt and pepper in a large bowl and added the bread. We let it sit for a good 15-20 minutes so the rye would soak up as much liquid as possible. We greased a 9-inch baking dish, spread half the mixture in the dish and topped it with the squash, the sausage and 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese. Then we put the remaining bread in the dish and added another 1/2 cup cheese. We sealed everything up with buttered foil and baked our pudding at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. We removed the foil and baked it an additional 20 minutes. It emerged puffed; spiced from the rye’s carraway and the sausage’s fennel; and sweet from the butternut squash.
Wednesday: Sourdough crostini. We mixed 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, 1 minced anchovy fillet, 1 minced garlic clove, the zest of 1 lemon and half of its juice in a bowl. We tasted and seasoned with salt and pepper, then set the mixture aside. We cut thick slices of our sourdough round, placed them on a baking sheet and drizzled them with olive oil. Then we toasted the bread for 7-10 minutes in a 400-degree oven (just until it started to dry). We removed the bread and cooled it. When we could touch the slices comfortably, we slathered on the ricotta mixture, drizzled on some more olive oil, and broiled the bread for 1-2 minutes, until the cheese began to turn golden. Some of us ate the crostini with a shrimp and watercress pasta. Others made a meal of sourdough alone.
Thursday: Multigrain croutons. We cut thick slices of Zaro’s multigrain loaf into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces and tossed them with grated Parmesan cheese and a black-truffle olive oil we got from Sur la Table. We spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and popped them into a 350-degree oven for 7-10 minutes, until they were slightly dry. We cooled them (they crisp as they sit), then tossed our luscious croutons with a salad made of romaine, red peppers, tomatoes and red onions.
“Oh my gosh. I’ve never had croutons like these,” my husband said.
That’s because you’ve never used bread like this.
I say my man scraps his other markets and starts traveling to New York alone. I can buy tiny shampoos and body washes anywhere. But a retail loaf of Zaro’s bread?
If he doesn’t head to NYC, it’s just a state of mind.