It’s fair season, ya’ll. You know what that means. It’s the one time of year we can get our fried food fixes, go to a petting zoo, and walk around admiring 80 pound heads of cabbage, all in one place.
The Tanana Valley Fair in Fairbanks is a small operation, but it’s usually the talk of the town and the destination the first two weeks of August. There are usually a handful of vendors selling tchotchkes, a small section of rides like the tilt-a-whirl and a 10 seat ferris wheel, a couple stages where live performers are playing music or hypnotizing teenagers, art and ag exhibits, and the terrifying slingshot thing that shoots people unnaturally high in the air. Sure they’re strapped in but I get queasy just looking at it.
My food destination at the Tanana Valley fair is an Airstream trailer. Yes, my friends, an Airstream. My first Talkeetna Spinach Bread experience was several years ago. I went to the fair and saw people walking around with cheesy, spinachy, garlicky bread slathered with hot sauce. I saw so many people eating it and commenting on how delicious it was, I finally stopped a person mid-bite to ask where I could get some. The kind stranger pointed me in the direction of the Spinach Bread sign around a couple corners. At that moment, I was united with my spirit food.
Their homemade whole grain bread is made with spent grain and it crisps up nicer than any wheat bread I’ve ever eaten, with the inside staying chewy. The thick slice of bread is covered with spinach, a blend of cheeses, and roasted garlic and broiled until the cheese melts and the bread is warmed. If it came down to a last meal, I’d request this spinach bread. And cold fried chicken. And my mom’s pimento cheese.
Every year since that first experience, I go to the fair and get it for lunch, for dinner, and to take home to bake on a later date. They have other food that is equally delicious, I’m sure. I’ve also heard people comment on the Blueberry-Rhubarb Crisp but I can’t steer clear of the spinach bread. The lovely ladies working there were generous enough to let me take pictures. Thank you girls for allowing me to take pictures and for feeding my spinach bread habit yet again this year!
If you’re ever in Alaska, I cannot recommend Talkeetna enough. It’s a quirky and lovely small town (with fewer than 1000 residents) with nice art and beautiful scenery. It’s about half way between Anchorage and Denali and well worth the visit and stretch break. The Spinach Bread Airstream is reason enough to visit.
I wanted to make something this week that resembled the spinach bread from that little trailer. This merely resembles it; I have no idea what their secret ingredient is, but I don’t have it in my kitchen. I used the Settlement Cookbooks recipe for whole wheat bread. The direction have you make a starter, for lack of a better word. It’s almost the texture of pancake batter, maybe a little thicker.
You let it rise for 3 hours, add more flour and that’s when it starts to resemble bread dough. Instead of adding nuts, I added cold, cooked quinoa because 1) I wanted the bite of a whole grain and 2) I had some leftover in my fridge. We haven’t brewed any beer at our house lately, so spent grain was out of the question. I think cooled, cooked barley would work well, too. That’s just speculation.
This recipe makes a lot of bread dough that rises very high. I formed a little over half of the dough into a ball and cooked it in my 4 qt. Le Creuset . I wanted it a little flatter so it would be a good base for the spinach and garlic. I put the rest of the dough in a loaf pan and cooked it alongside the dutch oven.
- 1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and halved (2 cloves set aside)
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil or neutral oil (I used grapeseed oil)
- 1 9 oz. bag of spinach
- 1 cup mozzarella, shredded
- 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 loaf of Whole Wheat-Quinoa Bread (Whole Wheat bread recipe above--add 1 cup of cooled, cooked quinoa in place of the nuts in the recipe)
- pinch of salt
- Siracha or hot sauce of choice
- To make garlic oil: Heat oil and garlic halves over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cloves just start to brown and are slightly cooked. Remove from heat.
- Roughly chop fresh spinach.
- In a separate pan, add cooked garlic halves (from the oil) and 2 Tbsp. of the garlic oil. Add spinach and cook until just wilted. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Once spinach, garlic, and garlic oil have cooled, add contents of pan into a bowl. Add cheese and 1 Tbsp. more of the garlic oil and mix well. Set aside.
- Take a loaf of the whole wheat quinoa bread (recipe above) and cut it in half as if you were cutting a cake to frost between the layers. Next, cut each of those layers in half. You should have 4 pieces of bread.
- Flip the slices over so the crust is on the bottom and the inside of the bread is facing up.
- Crush two cloves of garlic with the back of a knife and rub a cloves against each slice a bread. Discard.
- Evenly spread spinach-cheese-garlic mixture on the bread slices.
- Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or until the crust of the bread crisps.
- After 25 minutes, turn on the broiler and broil until the top is brown and bubbly.
- Cut slices into thirds and serve warm with your favorite hot sauce.
- **Reserve the rest of the garlic oil in a sterilized mason jar or bottle for later use on salad, breads, or pasta.