Friday, August 15, 2008

The Essence of Garlic Bread

I got the ultimate compliment the other day - the gourmet cook of my family, my Uncle Frankie, asked me to show him how to make the cheesy garlic bread I made at Christmas. His cooking is among the best I've ever eaten, so I was totally flummoxed that he needed me to demonstrate something so simple to him - but he and my Aunt Shirley insisted that his garlic bread was not very good and that my 6 year old cousin actually complained about it being bitter.

Well! Who am I to refuse, especially when they showed so much sincerity by bringing me a loaf of bread and cheese as well?

The secret, as with any other culinary effort, lies in the ingredients. You can make decent food with limited skills and great ingredients (like me!), but you can't do much with great skills if you don't have good ingredients.

The foundation of a slammin' garlic bread is, of course, fresh, crusty bread. I prefer Italian because it's more substantial, but French is just as yummy, and twig-thin baguettes make great hors d'oeuvre finger foods.

Next is the butter. It's absolutely essential. Margarine is far inferior. You want to place thin slices of butter on the bread and try to conver the entire upper surface - otherwise, you'll have garlic bread that is yummy on some spots and bland in others. Beware of using too much (oil galore!) or too little (dry bread is not yummy).

If you're in a pinch or you need to cheat a little, Lactancia makes a decent garlic butter. If you're a pro, you can try to whip up your own by putting some chopped garlic and/or herbs (like tarragon or basil) in a blender or food processor with your butter. *A word to the wise: fresh garlic is often too strong or bitter for children's palates. If you're cooking for kids, be very light-handed with garlic, or use a little garlic powder instead.

If your butter is unflavoured, sprinkle the seasonings on top of the butter - that gives them something to stick to. Always be conservative and light-handed, because you can always add more if you think it's not enough.

Lastly - the best part! - there's the cheese. If you're particularly picky, shred the cheese yourself. I'm lazy, so I normally use those bags of shredded cheese from the supermarket. I like to get one with cheddar, for flavour, and mozarella, for the stringy yumminess. The "Tex Mex" kind with jalapeƱo adds an extra kick. Always top it with some freshly grated parmesan (the powdery stuff in a box really take away from the texture), because it's tasty and it browns beautifully. And if you want it to look even more impressive, sprinkle some dried herbs on top.

Broil it in an oven until the cheese bubbles and browns - keep a close watch though, because it burns quickly. Make sure you eat a sorbet or have some breathmints on hand afterwards!

Not mine but Martha's - mine are so good they rarely last long enough for a photo!

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