Ten Deliciously Bready Ideas for Using Your Cast Iron

I love sandwiches, wraps, and more. Putting almost anything between, atop, or inside bread …and toasting it up on a cast iron pan (of course!) makes for a great meal… or just a quick snack. Here are 10 Friday ideas for putting that iron to work for a hot treat.

1. Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Simple: bread, butter and cheese grilled on a hot pan and served with your choice of sauce, or just as is.

2. Inside Out Cheese Toasty. Hot iron meets an outer coat of shredded cheddar and the fried cheese goodness wraps the toasty bready middle.

3. Quesadilla. A hot pan fries up your fillings, then fold a tortilla in half, add some cheese and salsa, and toast to a crunchy finish.

4. Burrito. Fry your veggies. Fry your meat. Wrap tight and toast into a warm, toasty one-hand meal for home on on the go.

5. Panini. A specialty hot press or just an extra pan heated up, the pressed sandwich is great with all variety of fillings.

6. Meatball Sandwich. Orbs of pan-fried meat coated in a warm tomato sauce fill up a toasted bun and leave a delicious mess.

7. Egg Muffin. A fried egg. Some grilled ham. Stacked together and melted with cheese and served on a toasted English muffin is better than the drive thru version.

8. Spicy Chicken Sandwich. Fry up a bit of breaded chicken, smother in hot sauce, and squeeze it into a bun with some crisp lettuce for a worthwhile weekend lunch.

9. Calzone. Pizza dough, filled and folded, crimped around the edges into a sealed sandwich and finished in the oven.

10. Campfire Pie. A couple slices of white buttered bread pinch-seal a bit of hot fruity filling to warm you up around the evening fire.

Iceland: Rotten Like a Shark

It’s Travel Tuesday and digging through my collection of interesting travel pictures I’m reminded of a half-dozen years ago when we went on a ten day family vacation in Iceland.

My goals for that trip were:

Find lots of epic scenery.

Take lots of amazing photos.

Eat lots of interesting foods.

for whatever one photo is worth:

Hákarl is an Icelandic delicacy. Go Google Icelandic fermented shark and you’ll find all sorts of history of this curious dish dating back centuries and linked to the survival of ancient peoples in a harsh and unforgiving land.

From what I recall, Greenland Sharks whose flesh is mostly unpalatable and composed of high quantities of toxic ammonia were buried on the beach and left to rot. When they instead fermented (and the dogs didn’t die from eating the remains that were dug up) they became a food source, and eventually a deliberately crafted one.

Today, Icelanders largely only consume it on special occasions, in particular at a mid-winter festival in small bites and chased by a shot of the local vodka-like drink Brennivín.

We went to one of the spots in the northern part of Iceland where on a small, remote farm the man in the navy blue shirt ran the Iceland Shark Museum (check the link, he’s on the homepage as of me posting this!) where he shared the history of the industry to create Hákarl. He also produces a lot of the volume of the dish.

Most visitors show up to visit the museum and (from what I understand) pay their Euros to enter the museum. This small fee also includes a small cube, roughly half a centimeter to a side, of some mild, tourist-friendly Hákarl on a toothpick and a thimble-full of Brennivín.

The day we went I pulled out my camera and started snapping pictures even as we stepped out of the car. And though I don’t speak Icelandic from what I could tell the man in the red jacket was (best guess) a commercial buyer who had come to investigate some serious samples. The man in the navy blue shirt was slicing off fresh slabs of fermented shark with that knife in his hand and they were tasting it, and me and my camera-nosy-self was snapping happily away.

I looked up and man in the navy blue shirt had extended the tip of his knife towards me and laying across the tip was a sliver of fermented shark roughly the size of my pinkie finger.

Again, I don’t speak the language and I was a total tourist… yet I had intentionally come here for an experience exactly like this.

So… I hung my camera loose around my neck, thanked him, and popped the slab of freshly sliced fermented shark flesh into my mouth.

Delicacies are such for the precise reason that they are best consumed wrapped in story, steeped in tradition, and savoured in small quantities. To me in that moment, the consistency and taste of what I had just eaten was something that I could only articulate by comparing it to what I imagined it might taste like were I to scoop a bit of congealed bathroom cleaner from the bottom of a particularly old bottle and slip in across my tongue.

Six years later I still have that one moment firmly planted in my mind across ten very full days in Iceland.

And I didn’t even get my chaser of Brennivín until half an hour later at the end of the museum tour and a (much milder) cube of Hákarl.

Guinness Sourdough (Part Two)

Guinness stout has a very distinctive flavour. You either like it or you don’t. I do. My wife could go the rest of her days without another pint and not miss it.

This past Saturday I tried to borrow some of that distinctive flavour for a loaf of sourdough. How? Simply by replacing the tap water in my base sourdough recipe with the contents of a can of Guinness stout.

The first note of that process was simply that the dough was a lot stiffer than my regular recipe. As a bit of lucky timing, I was also short on breakfast bread, and not knowing for sure how if the taste of Guinness sourdough would accompany my morning peanut butter I simultaneously started a batch of white sandwich loafs. I have a pretty good feel for the textures, scents, and proof times of my bread recipe these days, but having an experimental loaf literally side-by-side with a control loaf was an interesting comparison.

In addition to a stiffer dough, the rise time was much longer for the Guinness loaf. Both batches spent the better part of Saturday in the fridge, and overnighted there. On Sunday morning I pulled both out at about 6 am, put the beer bread into a proofing basket and covered, and split my sandwich batch into my two loaf pans. By 5 pm as we were finishing off making our evening meal the sandwich loafs were clearly ready for the oven — almost too ready — and actually starting to creep over the edges of the pans. The beer loaf, on the other hand, needed more time, and I pushed the bake back to almost 9 pm (because I eventually needed to go to bed!) and I think it still could have used another hour of rise.

What is not entirely clear from the photo was that (just like the dough) the baked Guinness bread was darker and richer in colour than the white bread loaves.

And when I sampled this morning my take was actually… meh.

The bread is okay. It’s definitely edible, but my first impression of the taste was that it was a little bitter or even carrying an undertone of burnt coffee.

The crust definitely has an after-taste that lingers. And to be clear, the bread was not burned. In fact, other than only hitting about 80% of what I’d call a good rise, it was perfectly baked and timed out of the oven. The crust was crackly, and the besides cutting through an unfortunate air bubble for my glamour shot, the crumb was not too bad either.

But there was definitely a burnt aftertaste in the crust, and (to a lesser extent) in the softer parts of the bread.

My takeaway from this was to ask myself the simple question: Given that I pay about four bucks for a can of Guinness locally, was it worth the substitution over my basically free tap-water? And sadly, even though I was very excited to try this beer bread this morning, I would have to say …no.

I think I’ll stick to this stout in liquid form for a while longer.

Guinness Sourdough (Part One)

Six months before the pandemic lockdown began, we took one of our last major family vacations. The details of that trip are best left for another day, and another post, but the point is that on a rainy afternoon in August 2019 I found myself touring the Guinness Storehouse brewery tour in Dublin, Ireland.

I’ve got a bit of Irish blood in me, so the trip was one part heritage trip and one part explore Dublin like a tourist trip. The tourist part of me drank a lot of Guinness.

I drank a pint alongside a rich Irish stew and some bread the night before my half marathon and ran one of my best times of the season.

I drank a pint sitting at the bar in Temple Bar Pub, while other tourists stood just outside the door snapping selfies in front of the famous pub.

I drank a pint atop the viewing gallery of the the storehouse tour after learning how to pour, taste, and properly drink a glass of the rich brown stout.

A year and a half later I can confidently claim I don’t go very long without a few cans of the precious brew stocked in my fridge.

So, why not bake a lof of sourdough with it?

As I write this, the following ingredients are hydrating in a bowl on my countertop:

most of 1 can (363g) Guinness Stout
500g white bread flour
12g salt
250g of active sourdough starter

Regular readers will recall that just last weekend I baked an amazing loaf of beer-based sourdough with a can of honey brown lager. The result of this amber ale taking the place of tapwater in my recipe was a rich and flavourful bread that unfortunately seemed to disappear from the counter in less than 24 hours. (I strongly suspect hungry family members.)

A week later, though I’ve only got a regular two-day weekend to work within, I’m repeating my beer bread experimenting with one of my precious cans of Guinness a much darker and richer beer than the honey brown lager from last attempt.

The mixed ingredients are slowly hydrating on the counter as I wait out my gluten-building, hours-long folding efforts, killing the time writing this post.

Compared to the honey brown bread dough last weekend, this batch is considerably darker and smells much more strongly of beer. It gives me hope for a final baked bread that has a more obvious beer flavour.

The next steps will be a long, cool rise in the fridge, a final proof for most of Sunday, and a scruptious bake on Sunday evening … before samples and bedtime.

Tune in Monday for the exciting conclusion!