November 7, 2018

Dear friends,
The aroma made me nuts. That’s the only explanation I can think of for buying $16 worth of bread for two people Friday. Two carb-restricted people.

I can’t remember how I found The Brimfield Bread Oven on my iPad, but when I showed Tony a photo of the bakery’s brick oven, he reached for his coat. We were off to Brimfield. The last time we had crusty, brick-oven bread was in September in France. That oven was 200 years old. The Portage County oven was built just a couple of years ago, but it is no less effective.

The Brimfield Bread Oven looks like a French boulangerie. Burnished, brown loaves in a variety of shapes are stacked higher than your head on wire racks that face you as enter. There are batards, baguettes, boules and substantial, crisp loaves studded with black olives. There are loaves crusted with seeds and soft Pullman loaves and sandwich buns in plastic sleeves.

Genevieve and Jud Smith raised more than $20,000 on Kickstarter to help open the bakery — why did no one tell me?! — in 2016. Jud learned serious baking techniques at The Great Lakes Baking Co. in Hudson and the King Arthur Flour Bakery in Vermont, where Genevieve joined him to study pastries.

I bought a croissant for Tony, a cookie for me, a big loaf of sourdough Kalamata olive bread (made only on Fridays) and an equally big loaf of white sourdough with a killer crust. The breads were $6 and $5 respectively and tasted incredible.

The Smiths advise patrons to call ahead to reserve favorites. The breads and pastries on hand vary throughout the day as the brick oven cools. High-temperature items are baked first and cool-temperature items last. There are a few tables in a connecting room where customers can sip coffee, tea, beer or wine and nibble croissants, scones and cookies. Pizzas are available from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

We did our best, but the olive bread alone took us three days of toast, sandwiches and snacks to polish off. On day two when we hadn’t touched the other loaf, I knew I had to use it or lose it. Because it was slightly stale at that point (criminal, I know), I turned it into bread soup — really, really good bread soup.

My soup, variations of which are common in many cultures, is a comforting winter bowlful of chicken, mushrooms, onions and provolone cheese cushioned with pillowy-soft slices of bread. Everything is drenched in chicken broth. It is like a savory bread pudding, and — maybe this is the carbs talking — is one of my favorite things in the world to eat.

The preparation is so easy that the soup almost qualifies as fast food. If you use good-quality rotisserie chicken and canned broth, you can make the soup in minutes, simmer it for a while longer, and let it bake while you do other things.

Save these directions. If you visit Brimfield Bread Oven (www.brimfieldbreadoven.com), you’ll probably leave with too much bread, too.

CHICKEN-MUSHROOM BREAD SOUP

6 tbsp. butter
1 1/2 cups rough-chopped onions
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
Pinch of grated nutmeg
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt, fresh-ground pepper
6 cups chicken stock or broth
2 cup cubed cooked chicken
6 thick slices (at least 1 inch thick) crusty bread
6 oz. chopped provolone cheese

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large, deep skillet. Sauté onions and mushrooms over medium-high heat until both have softened. Add nutmeg and white wine, crank heat to high and boil until reduced by half.

Season mushroom mixture with salt and pepper. Stir in chicken stock, partially cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in chicken and simmer 5 minutes longer.

After adding chicken, toast the bread in a toaster and butter one side of each slice with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Arrange three slices in the bottom of a deep (4 to 5 inches) casserole dish large enough for the three slices to fit in a single layer. With a slotted spoon, transfer all of the onions, mushrooms and chicken from the broth to the casserole, covering the bread evenly. Scatter half of the cheese cubes on top. Top with remaining three slices of toast and the rest of the cheese.

Ladle the broth over the layers in the casserole dish. The broth should barely cover the top layer. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until the bread is swollen and puffy and the top is golden brown. To serve, scoop out with a large spoon. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
French onion soup; chicken fricassee with white wine, apples, potatoes and shredded cabbage; sugar-free pumpkin pie; Szechuan stir-fry sauce; chicken and mushroom bread soup.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Cheese panini with peppers and onions at the Eye Opener in Akron; Nashville hot chicken and coleslaw at the Parkview Nite Club in Cleveland; chicken shawarma sandwich and hot tea at Continental Cuisine in Fairlawn; a Jane roll and edamame from Sushi Katsu in Akron; and an egg roll and beef with tangerine peel at Szechuan Gourmet in Kent.

THE MAILBAG
From Susan R.:
(Regarding last week’s newsletter), the easiest way to cook polenta is Paula Wolfert’s oven method at https://www.finecooking.com/recipe/oven-roasted-polenta. Thanks for your newsletter. I always enjoy it.

Dear Susan:
What could be easier than combining corn meal and water in a pan and shoving it into the oven? No stirring! Thanks for bringing this recipe to my attention.

From Martha K.:
I’m pretty confident you subscribe to Epicurious newsletters, but in case you missed it, here’s a nifty polenta recipe and easy prep method. Google: oven polenta with roasted mushrooms and thyme.

Dear friend:
No, I don’’t subscribe to the Epicurious newsletter. I’m afraid if I read any more recipes or food tips my head will explode. Only partly kidding. Thank you, though, for this baked polenta recipe, which Epicurious got from the October issue of Bon Appetit magazine. I like the lagniappe: “…if you’re feeling indulgent, top with a little heavy cream mixed with a finely grated small garlic clove.” Oh, yeah.

From Alix:
Your dinner party experience reminded me of what I did last year. I called a friend and said, “Let’s have a dinner party.” We were on! We are two widows, 60- and 70-ish. We ordered beautiful invitations, a lovely centerpiece and dry cleaned the gorgeous tablecloth. We had 12 guests that had all been friends for at least 40 years. There was PLENTY of conversation. So glad we went through with it.

I still love to entertain and am actually planning a Christmas cocktail party for my neighbors. One of my guests jumped on the train and had a really lovely dinner party on a winter night. Maybe this kind of entertaining will come back but I doubt it.

Dear Alix:
I think the younger generation, with their energy and stamina, are the only ones who can save this kind of entertaining. I won’t hold my breath.

From John, Norton:
I am retired and I never, never recall ever going to a dinner party. Would not be interested at all.

I never recall my parents going through this to have a dinner party. Ok, relatives very very rarely came over for a turkey dinner but that is it.

My aunt told me years ago that slaving in a kitchen to fill others’ mouths is slavery. Plus they are often not grateful. I am a bachelor and would never be interested in a dinner party. Some of my aunts, after years of kitchen slavery, told me decades ago that company are people with nothing to do, and they come over to your house and do it, for long hours. My aunts tried to eliminate it as best they could. And they did.

Dear John:
Well, alrighty.

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