Let me tell you a story. It’s short, don’t worry. N wanted to try out Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread method after being given My Bread a while ago. But it requires 12-18 hours on the first rise, in a warm, draft-free place (optimal temp: 72F/22C). In Oregon, that’s impossible 354 days of the year. And we don’t have a light in our oven, nor a ‘warm’ setting (which would probably be too warm anyways).
So the fix? N is brilliant: a lamp in the oven! So he grabbed my reading lamp from the office, clipped it in the oven, and set about testing the temperature. It seemed to be just about right, maybe even a little on the warm side. Then, a few days later, I was making a baked shrimp with feta and olives. I was on the phone with N’s father, on Bluetooth, stirring the sauce while chatting away about school while the oven preheated. (You can see where this is going…) All of a sudden, smoke began billowing out of the oven. I open the door and started screaming, “FIRE! FIRE!” The lamp is completely aflame, giving me the middle finger from the oven. I grab our fire extinguisher (thank you, Landlord!), and aim it at the fire (the source, not the flames), but nothing comes out. “It doesn’t WORK! AAAAAH!!” Mind you, I’m screaming, but also laughing, and N’s dad is completely, frantically confused on the other end of the line. I toss the fire extinguisher at N to deal with, while I start evacuating the dogs, and uncovered foods (as there were little pieces of burnt plastic ash floating through the air). I finally, curtly tell N’s father that I will call him back soon.
That was months ago. Today, we finally scraped out the last of the molten plastic. And we did it all over again– sans le feu (minus the fire). N covered a 40 W lightbulb with foil, and plugged it into an automatic timer set for 30/40 intervals (30 minutes on, 40 minutes off). A 20 W bulb would work better, but we haven’t found one yet. It runs across our dials, so we can’t turn on the oven without dealing with the lamp in the oven. And there, he let the first loaf of bread rise for 16 hours.* Delicious! The crust is deep and dark and crusty, and the inside is super moist, almost sticky, with deep air holes and pockets. The flavor is mildly sweet, and slightly milky. It’s fantastic.
And then there is the Cooper Mountain Reserve 2008. I’m not sure how this ended up in our wine collection. Did N buy it? Did I buy it? Was it a gift at my recent graduation party? Regardless, we popped it open and tried it with the fresh baked bread. Cooper Mountain is an organic and bio-dynamic vineyard, so you’ve got that to begin with. Secondly, 2008 is legendary for being a great pinot noir year in Oregon. Combined? Cooper Mountain produced a classic Oregon pinot noir. Aged in French and American oak (I’m guessing), it has the typical vanilla flavors of an Oregon PN, with the ripe front berry and mellow finish. I think the oak (more French than American?)is almost overpowering, but N disagreed (my tongue has been a little skittish lately), but I also think it’s an excellent introduction to Oregon PNs. I just mailed a friend of mine in West Virginia two Oregon bottles, and almost wish I had included this one as a third– it would make a great lesson on Oregon pinot noir methods. 3 1/2 stars out of four.
*Another note about Jim Lahey’s method: he suggests baking the bread in a Le Creuset dutch oven or cast iron or enamel pot. We happen to have the right size Le Creuset (5 1/2 – 6 1/2 qt.). But mental note: remove the plastic knob on the lid before putting it in the 425F oven. Stuff it with foil, and it works just fine. Mark Bittman did an article on Jim Lahey and his method, check it out here.