By LAURA S. MEYN
SUMMER GRILLING SEASON is in full swing, but while most backyard chefs are giving their favorite meats and vegetables a turn over the coals, one Valley couple is grilling something a little different: bread.
Tony and Maxine DeToro, the vibrant couple who opened Great Harvest Bread nearly five years ago, are actually following in the Italian tradition of bruschetta -- grilled bread -- but with a twist. According to Tony, when their franchise first suggested grilling Great Harvest's delicious Spinach Feta bread, "My wife came up with adding tomatoes when we found out how great the combination was last year at home. ... We also made a great combo by adding fresh mozzarella cheese to the tomatoes."
And in their typical interactive mode, the couple recently shared the idea with customers by not only telling them -- but also by setting up a tent outside the store and serving up free samples.
Tony, who dons a chef's hat for such cooking demonstrations, said that grilling bread is easy and the stakes are low: "If you leave a slice on the grill too long and burn it, you just toss it and put on another slice. After all, it's not a steak."
How to get started? "I prefer slicing it rather thin for grilling, like slightly less than 1/2 inch," said Tony. Brushing it with olive oil or herbed dipping oil is the next step. "The flavor is enhanced with whatever type of dipping oil you've chosen, especially if it's a more basic bread other than Spinach Feta or, say, Asiago Pesto," he said. "Brush (the oil) on liberally and put the brushed side down to be grilled. While that side is grilling you brush the face up side with the same oil and then flip it over after about 3 to 31/2 minutes. It's just right when you can see the grill lines seared in the bread."
Of course, the DeToros don't limit themselves to bread when grilling.
"Max and I love barbecue," said Tony. "I can eat barbecued chicken every day, and I make a killer sauce. She also enjoys fresh vegetables brushed with olive oil, set on aluminum foil and grilled along with our entree."
While Tony seems to man the grill, Maxine is the source of a lot of bread-inspired recipes that have evolved indoors. "Max has come up with other ideas that she always shares with customers," he said. "For example, we have a good french toast recipe using our Cinnamon Chip bread. It's an easy way to bake a breakfast for overnight guests or slumber parties with kids."
"My wife has cut up Asiago Pesto and Oregon Herb as well as Sourdough, sprinkled it with olive oil and garlic powder and sometimes some salt and pepper, layered them on a cookie sheet, and broiled them in the oven for fantastic croutons," he added.
Customers are another source of great-tasting ideas. "One customer pointed out how our Oregon Herb makes a great stuffing," said Tony. "I had a customer come in and tell us that she puts the [Spinach Feta] bread in a blender and pulverizes it into soft bread crumbs and claimed it makes the absolute best coating for chicken, pork chops, or veal."
In fact, the Great Harvest chain has had so many recipes swapped back and forth among store owners and customers that it has published the Bread Lovers' Cookbook, filled with such recipes. It's sold in the stores for $8.
Tony says that the best thing about running his own bakery is interacting with his employees and customers; he enjoys those days after production when he and Maxine work at the counter together. Of course, being able to take home fresh bread is also a bonus for this self-described "food freak."
"I've always been interested in cooking," said Tony. "I come from a big family. We never had any luxuries, but at mealtime we always ate well and there was always plenty to go around."
Customers at Great Harvest, with its friendly banter and free slices of fresh bread, will no doubt come away with the same feeling.
GRILLED SPINACH FETA BREAD WITH FRESH TOMATOES AND MOZZARELLA
1loaf Spinach Feta bread
Herbed or plain olive oil
Fresh tomatoes, sliced
Mozzarella cheese, shredded
Heat grill. Cut Spinach Feta Bread into 1/2-inch slices. Brush one side with oil, place oiled side down on hot grill, then baste top side with the same oil. Grill bread for about 3 minutes, until lightly grilled, then flip on other side for additional 3 minutes. While grilling second side, add a slice of fresh tomato and top with a sprinkle of shredded mozzarella cheese. Once both sides are done, remove from grill and serve open-face or top with another grilled bread slice and serve as a sandwich.
Makes about 14 open-face appetizers or 7 sandwiches.
3cups purchased Open Pit barbecue sauce
5tablespoons (packed) brown sugar
11/2tablespoons lemon juice
11/2tablespoons Tabasco sauce
2tablespoons chopped garlic in water
1teaspoon garlic powder
1/2medium onion, finely chopped
2tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
11/2teaspoons liquid smoke
1/4cup chili sauce.
Combine all ingredients in large bowl, whisking to blend well. Taste and adjust brown sugar and seasonings.
BAKED FRENCH TOAST
Start preparing this recipe the day before you plan to serve it.
1cup brown sugar
1/2cup (1 stick) butter
2tablespoons corn syrup
1cup chopped pecans
1loaf Cinnamon Chip or Old-Fashioned White bread, sliced or cut into chunks
1teaspoon vanilla extract
1teaspoon ground nutmeg
11/2teaspoons ground cinnamon
Dash of salt
Cook first three ingredients over medium heat in a small saucepan. Pour into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half of pecans. Cover with half of bread. Sprinkle with remaining half of chopped pecans and place remaining bread on top.
Whisk eggs, milk, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt in large bowl to blend. Pour over the bread-pecan mixture, cover and refrigerate overnight.
Remove french toast from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove cover from french toast. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until lightly browned.
*For a simple variation: Combine 3 to 4 eggs with 1/4 cup of milk, 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract, and 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Whisk well. Cut Cinnamon Chip or Challah bread into 1/2-inch slices, dip into mixture, and cook until golden brown on a hot lightly buttered skillet.