Bread Pudding with a Warm, Boozy Hard Sauce

Tags

, , , , , ,

IMG_8999

I am a bread and butter girl through and through.  I’ve mentioned many a time how hungry my brother and sisters were growing up.  There was nothing to eat..well, nothing that we wanted except things like sour, little apples and equally sour oranges.  Taking control of my situation I made countless sandwiches for myself consisting of “brown bread”, meaning whole grain….no white in our house, cold margarine which tore the bread and thick, crisp wedges of iceberg lettuce.  Romaine was unheard of in those dark days.  I scarfed down those sandwiches like there was no tomorrow.  Recently I asked Cynthia what she did.  She couldn’t remember.  Hunger will do that to you.  Tommy crawled out of bed in the middle of the night and stuffed whole pieces of bread in his mouth to stave off hunger pangs and Pamela…well, Pamela simply accepted the state of household affairs and went to any number of friends houses and ate absolutely everything that was EVER offered to her.  In junior high and high school I spent many a night at my friends’ Dana and Ann’s house and it never ceased to amaze me how much food they had and the variety.  The variety!  Ann’s parents were South Carolinians and, as Mama did, set a rather formal table every night.  White linen and lit candles were everyday details.  They always had exotic condiments like real butter and never an evening went by without homemade gravy in a gravy boat.  Vegetables were cooked down until soft and unthreatening, laden with ham and fat and swimming in a salty pool of broth or pot likker.  Good luck at my house.  Mama was never that interested in food so, I don’t know, maybe she forgot that we might hungry.  Maybe she forgot that children need food to grow.  Don’t get me wrong.  They didn’t starve us.  But since Mama didn’t know HOW to cook and didn’t particularly care to learn, we ended up with just about the same dinner every night.  Ground sirloin patties the size of a 50¢ piece, gray all the way through, an iceberg lettuce leaf with a few slices of grocery store tomatoes and a scant serving of white, boiled rice.  And that was when she didn’t burn anything.  That’s just the way dinner was.  We didn’t rock the boat and protest.  That’s the way it was in our house.  And you were expected to contribute to a lively conversation at the table.  Manners were paramount.  When we were called to the table faces had been washed, hair had been brushed and you’d better have shoes on.  Candlesticks were always polished, linen placemats in front of each seat.  And pretty much always fresh flowers.  Just no food!  Or very little anyway.  So we girls spent weekend nights at friend’s houses and tried to watch our manners while filling the bottomless holes in our tummies.   Back at the house I inhaled peanut butter sandwiches, we didn’t have jelly, and a plethora of margarine and lettuce sandwiches.  But at Dana’s house I could count on a warm, gooey grilled cheese sandwich, something my mother had never even heard of.  In her defense, Mama came from a culture that did not include sandwiches.  In her day lunch was a formal, proper meal at the table prepared by invisible hands in the kitchen.  What did she know of chicken salad or cream cheese and olive sandwiches?  Nothing. Nada.  So today I’m still a bread and butter girl.  Or bread and pate.  Bread and a bloody rare hamburger.  And Bread Pudding!  Bread pudding that melts in your mouth.  Cold or warm.  With or without hard sauce.  With or without whipped cream.  For breakfast with cafe con leche.  For lunch with a slice of extra sharp cheddar.  Off a plate or out of the baking dish.  Just give it to me.  I’m starving!  And this is a supreme bread pudding…a glorious bread pudding.  The hard sauce is over the top.  One could easily sneak spoonfuls of the stuff on the sly and claim there was never any made when the sauce pan comes up empty.  Hell.  Throw your head back and shoot it.  Just drink it all.  It’s that good.

IMG_9038

I find bread pudding simply grand.  You can’t go wrong with it.  You can’t.  This recipe serves 10-12 people and, really, the big buy part would be the eggs and cream.  It’s quite the luxurious bang you get out of your buck.  The ultimate bread pudding is made with bread that has a good crust with a soft, light interior.  One day old French bread or brioche is perfect.  For this particular pudding

I used a sweet brioche-like bread, King’s Hawaiian Round Loaf, which worked perfectly.  You don’t want to use any bread that’s too heavy or dense nor would you want seeds but other than that you can mix and match your loaves.  A stale, half loaf of soft whole wheat with five or six left-over dinner rolls would be fine.  You know what to do.  I used blueberries, pears and pomegranate seeds for this pudding but feel free to use the fruits of your choice.  The pomegranate seeds added a welcome tartness but not everyone will appreciate their crisp, chewiness.  Throw in raspberries if you like.  Or white chocolate shards.  Candied pecans would be positively sublime as would naked, toasted, chopped pecans.  The combinations are limitless.  But the basic tenets of bread, eggs, cream, cinnamon and nutmeg are a heady mix when combined and slid into a hot oven.  The perfume of a baking bread pudding will make you feel as though you’ve done your family a good turn.  I got hugs and kisses from my boy James and I’m pretty sure they’ll be lining up in your house to give you thanks, too!

IMG_9005

Bread Pudding

yield: serves 10-12

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 11 eggs, well beaten
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds, often found in the produce section at your grocery store
  • 1/2 pint blueberries, cleaned and stemmed
  • 1 15-ounce can pear halves, rinsed and drained, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 12 cups (approximately 1 pound) brioche or French bread, one day old, cut into 1″ to 1 1/2″ cubes
  1. Butter 3-quart baking dish.
  2. Place bread cubes in a large mixing bowl and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl combine sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt.  Mix well.
  4. In another bowl combine eggs and cream.  Add sugar mixture from small bowl and mix well.
  5. Add fruit and vanilla extract to egg mixture, stir well to distribute evenly and pour over bread cubes.
  6. Using a large mixing spoon, gently mix and turn over the bread to make certain all surfaces of the cubes are covered with the egg mixture.  Use the back of the spoon to softly push down the pieces of bread.
  7. Pour into the baking dish.
  8. Cover the surface of the bread pudding with plastic wrap and weight down pudding with a small plate or two.
  9. Set aside for at least one hour or up to no more than overnight for the bread to soak up all the custard.
  10. Preheat oven to 325°F.  Remove plastic wrap from pudding and cover with tin foil.
  11. Place baking dish in a roasting pan or larger baking pan that will allow a water bath half way up the sides of the bread pudding dish.  For the water bath, pour hot or boiling water into the larger baking pan until the water reaches half way up the bread pudding taking care not to splash.
  12. Place the roasting pan with pudding into the oven and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
  13. Remove foil and raise the oven temperature to 350°F.  Continue baking for 45 minutes.
  14. Test the bread pudding to check if it is done keeping in mind the pudding should be a bit firm but moist.  The custard should not be runny.
  15. Remove from oven and EVER SO CAREFULLY remove pudding dish from larger pan and place pudding on a heatproof surface to cool.  Cover loosely with tin foil.

IMG_9031

Boozy Hard Sauce

yield: not quite 2 cups

  • 8 tablespoons, (1 stick), butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons fine rum, bourbon or brandy of your choice.  Taste and add more if you wish.
  1. In the top bowl of a double boiler whisk butter and sugar until well incorporated.
  2. Add both eggs, whisk well and place bowl on double boiler over med high heat.
  3. Continue whisking until you see mixture thickening, about 10-15 minutes.  Mixture will continue to thicken as it cools.
  4. Take off heat, and still whisking, add rum and vanilla.
  5. Serve on dessert plates or any pretty bowl or glass.  Trickle hard sauce over each portion when serving.

Sweet Poached Blood Oranges over Greek Yoghurt Cake

Tags

, , , , , , ,

IMG_8922 Blood oranges.  Succulent, fleshy and juicy blood oranges are such an indulgence that when I saw them I knew in my heart of hearts I had to take them home.  I was at the market Dad and I go to every Saturday morning when I saw them on display front and center.  Although we’re in Florida, blood oranges are not easily found.  Grocery stores never carry them and even farmer’s markets are not wont to make them readily available.  So when I stumbled upon them I doubled bagged and loaded up.  I would figure out what I wanted to do with them later.  Back at the house I let my wander on the different dishes I’d had that included citrus.  Topping the list were two; sweet, poached blood oranges over a Greek cake with yoghurt and homemade rice pudding with nuggets of the fruit in a glossy syrup of blood orange juice.  First I went for the cake.  I have a basic cake recipe that I use often from Susanna Hoffman’s cookbook “The Olive and Caper” which is perfect for showcasing citrus.  It is a simple, dense and satisfying cake which can easily be served by itself in wedges, eaten out of hand and always delights those who share it.  Or it can be topped with fruits, syrup or icing.  Either way it’s a great workhorse in your stable of desserts.  It is one of those cakes which is better the following day.  Later I decided to also candy some smaller pieces of oranges in lots of glistening syrup, make some individual Greek rice puddings and share them with my Greek school classmates.  Next week is our last class of the year and we always bring treats to celebrate the upcoming summer break.  So let’s get to it! IMG_8951 Candied Oranges in Syrup yield: 2-3 cups depending on size of fruit

  • 2 blood or navel oranges, cut into 1/8″ slices, discard end pieces
  • 1 lemon, cut into 1/8″ slices, discard end pieces
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup cool water

IMG_8904

  1. Over medium heat put sugar and water in a medium pot.  Stir until the sugar just dissolves then do NOT stir again or the syrup will form crystals and not turn out right.
  2. Gently slide in orange and lemon slices and softly press down so the fruit is completely covered by the syrup.  If the fruit keeps floating back to the top place a small, heat-proof plate on top as a weight.
  3. Simmer softly for 20 minutes of until the edges of the fruit are becoming translucent.
  4. With a slotted spoon remove fruit and place on a tray lined with parchment paper to cool.  Discard cinnamon stick and set syrup aside to use later.
  5. Line 10″ cake pan with parchment paper making certain to line the entire pan including sides.  Very important so the cake comes out of the pan clean.
  6. Arrange the fruit slices on the parchment paper in the pan slightly overlapping until the entire bottom of the pan is covered.  Remember, this is going to be the top of your cake so make it as pretty as you like.
  7. Set aside until cake batter is ready.

Yoghurt Cake yield: 12-16 servings

  • 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup plain Greek yoghurt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • pinch of salt

IMG_8928

  1. Preheat oven of 350°F.
  2. Combine the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until creamy.
  3. Beat in the egg yolks all at once, then the yoghurt and zest.
  4. In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt together, then sift them into the bowl with yoghurt mixture.  Beat to mix well.
  5. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
  6. Whisk half the whites into the batter mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the edges of the cake are pulling away from the edges of the pan, about 45 minutes.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool.
  8. When the cake is cool, place your serving platter over the cake, invert and unmold it.  Gently peel off parchment paper.
  9. Brush or spoon fruit syrup over orange slices.  If you wish, reserve a bit of syrup to drizzle over individual slices or whipped cream when serving.
  10. Set aside for at least one hour before serving.
  11. The cake will keep for several days, covered and stored at room temperature.

Mother’s Day…celebrate with a pretty Lilly cocktail

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

IMG_8975

There are several thing we moms enjoy receiving on Mother’s Day.  Massages, facials, manis and pedis are consistent winners.  Jewelry is ALWAYS exciting especially when handmade out of macaroni and string.  I have a necklace I treasure made of string and beer can tabs.  A summer bag or cute, strappy sandals are always appreciated.  I think what we all want is the perfect day…you know…the one where everyone is home and getting along.  Dad is happy and sweet to everyone and the kids are cheerful and act as though they’re thrilled to spend the day with Mom and not with their friends at the beach.  It’s the day when moms want to feel a little like a girl again.  Yes, we LOVE, L.O.V.E., opening homemade cards from our children and seeing how excited they get when preparing us breakfast in bed.  But part of the day is the girly thing and that’s where the husbands come into play.  I realize I’m not my husband’s mother; he is quick to point that out as we get closer to Mother’s Day.  But if Mom is running behind the children getting them ready for church, brunch and the beach she’s not relaxed.  Mama doesn’t want to man the grill or mix the cocktails.  Nor does she want to think about what she’ll pack for lunches the following week while standing in line at the grocery store Sunday night.  No.  What she’d really like is to be pampered a bit and not have to lift a finger.  For just one day.  Just one.  Bottles of champagne will bring big smiles as will pretty cocktails.  Even better in the pool.  On a float.  With James Taylor, Jack Johnson or John Mayer singing away in the background on the outdoor speakers.  Those are my thoughts.  So to all my moms, Happy Mother’s Day.  You bring us joy!

How I miss my mom!  Look at her tiny waist, rockin' that one-piece.  She was one phenomenal lady!

How I miss my mom! Look at her tiny waist, rockin’ that one-piece. She was one phenomenal lady.

 

This drink is a marvelous concoction from the book “Essentially Lilly” published by Harper Collins.  It’s a great book on entertaining by our wonderful Lilly Pulitzer, replete with photos of vibrant, brightly colored Lilly prints and fabrics, Lilly’s family and her legendary Palm Beach pool parties.  It’s a fun, fun read.  As she states in her book, if you wish to make this Bellini alcohol-free substitute the Prosecco with either sparkling apple cider or ginger ale.  Also, leave out the sugar.  The fruit puree can be prepared one day ahead of serving, covered and refrigerated.  It will then be mixed with the sparkling wine just before serving.  Mama will be so happy!

Tropical Fruit Bellinis

yield:  4 drinks

  • 1/2 ripe mango, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 peach, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup guava nectar
  • 1/4 cup apricot nectar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 750-ml bottle Prosecco or other sparkling wine
  1. Combine first 5 ingredients in blender and blend until fruit is pureed.  If making in advance, cover puree and refrigerate.
  2. Measure 1/4 cup fruit mixture into each wineglass.
  3. Add 1/2 cup sparkling wine to each glass, stirring gently to combine.
  4. Serve immediately.

Flatbread – it’s not just for happy hour!

Tags

, , , , ,

Flatbread with za'atar, a Middle Eastern condiment made from a mixture of dried herbs, sesame seeds and sumac plus a quick scattering of sea salt.  Divine to munch on with a glass or two of wine and your special someone.

Flatbread with za’atar, a Middle Eastern condiment made from a mixture of dried herbs, sesame seeds and sumac plus a quick scattering of sea salt. Divine to munch on with a glass or two of wine and your special someone.

Of course everyone loves flatbread, that little triangle of flavor, a pretty tidbit to savor while sipping on that weekend glass of champagne.  Well, how about homemade flatbread for dinner?  Now stay with me.  Don’t run away scared at the idea of making dough.  The last two weeks I’ve had major computer problems.  I had to get a new computer and people, let me tell you I LOVED MY DESKTOP.  If I can go from an enormous, gorgeous screen to a tiny 13″ laptop you can pull your big-girl panties up too and rustle up a little dough.  It’s so easy, forgiving and a great way to relax and unwind.  So pour yourself a nice glass of wine and let’s talk.  Here are some things you’ll appreciate about making your own dough.  The most obvious is you know exactly what’s going in AND what’s not.  Have you ever looked closely at the list of ingredients in a loaf of bread at your grocery store’s bakery?  What’s fumeric acid?  Do we really need sodium stearoyl lactylate?  Or azodicarbonamide coating?  I think not.  And don’t kid yourself into thinking anything is baked there.  It’s all brought in baked and frozen then warmed up in their ovens to look and smell good.  Even the frostings for their cakes are trucked in.  The frosting comes packaged in big, plastic buckets.  With a laundry list of chemicals, preservatives and artificial colors that you don’t even think about when you pick up little Taylor’s “Elsa” birthday cake from the movie “Frozen”.  How do I know all this?  Well, I did a little poking around on the computer and Chiquita in the bakery told me the rest.  No lie.  I’m hoping that homemade is looking a tad more attractive to you now.   Many of us don’t have the need anymore to order birthday cakes at the grocery store; I’m just advocating awareness regarding what you’re eating and what you’re giving your precious family.  Shall we move on to taste?

Yellow heirloom tomatoes with fresh rosemary, oregano, garlic and shaved parmesan cheese.

Yellow heirloom tomatoes with fresh rosemary, oregano, garlic and shaved parmesan cheese.

There is nothing…NOTHING that can hold a candle to the flavor of “made at home”.  You know exactly what went into your baked good and how much.  Plus, many bread recipes, this one included, can be played with.  Different flours, the addition of herbs and spices plus the variety of toppings make planning dinner a breeze and, if I may say so, a pleasure.  Let me point out as well that YOU dictate the thickness of the flatbread so if you enjoy thin and crispy you can have it.  Thick and chewy is right at your fingertips…literally!  With meat or without it is your choice.  Here are some combinations we enjoy.

 

An herbal marriage we enjoy is fresh rosemary, oregano, garlic and lemon or orange zest.

An herbal marriage we enjoy is fresh rosemary, oregano, garlic and lemon or orange zest.

Fresh mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in olive oil, spinach, cooked, drained and chopped, roasted garlic, fresh marjoram and mint leaves and Gruyère cheese.

Caramelized shallots, roasted peppers, crumbled Feta cheese, orange zest, fresh thyme leaves and a drizzle of olive oil.

Fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, Italian sausage (turkey or pork), hot chile peppers.

Ground lamb, a little tomato, some sautéed eggplant and onions, toasted pine nuts, raisins and a pinch of cinnamon.

I chose sauteed mushrooms, fresh marjoram and mint leaves roasted garlic and Gruyere this this flatbread.

I chose sautéed mushrooms, fresh marjoram leaves, roasted garlic and Gruyère for this flatbread.

With a choice of seafood, meat, vegetables and cheeses the combinations are endless. Keep in mind that the flatbreads can be baked with nothing on them but a faint spritz of olive oil and maybe a little sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  From there they can be cut into triangles and used to dip into hummous, eggplant dip or, my favorite, the salty, creamy taramosalata.   Store the cooled flatbreads in a zip top bag with the air squeezed out.  In the following days you can crisp them back up again by placing them in a 300° oven for a few minutes.  If they’re not eaten in a day or two keep them either in the refrigerator or freezer  as they don’t contain any preservatives so their shelf life on a counter is pretty short.  Here’s the recipe for your basic flatbread.  Feel free to play with it.  After you’ve tried it out or now if you feel like it, mix up your flours.  I don’t recommend using all whole wheat because the bread will come out kind of hard and incredibly heavy.  The more whole grain flour used, the more toothsome the final product will be.  Therefore, if soft and fluffy is what you’re after then stick with the all-purpose.  My family and I prefer a crisper, nuttier bread so I typically use 3 cups all-purpose mixed with 2 cups white whole wheat.  When you’re ready to bake them off have your family or friends top their own flatbreads from the topping bar you so generously put together for them.  So have fun with it.  And another glass of wine!

Flatbread

yield: 10-12

  • 1 envelope yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2-1 2/3 cups warm water, no more than 115°
  • 1/2 cup Greek yoghurt
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour plus more to spread or your combination of flours totaling 5 cups
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • olive oil to oil resting bowl and later to spread
  1. Combine yeast, sugar and warm water in a large mixing bowl or stand-up mixer bowl.  Gently mix and set aside for 10 minutes or until foamy.
  2. Add yoghurt to yeast mixture and mix to break up yoghurt.  If using a stand-up mixer use the paddle to mix.
  3. In a separate bowl mix flour and salt together.  Add to the yeast/yoghurt mixture and continue mixing with the paddle if using the stand-up mixer.  If mixing by hand, it will be very wet and sticky but the more you mix the drier the dough will become.
  4. If making by hand continue kneading vigorously until smooth.  If using a stand-up mixer, change from paddle to dough hook and continue kneading for 5 minutes until smooth.
  5. Lightly coat a large bowl with a bit of olive oil, place dough in bowl and turn dough over so both top and bottom are lightly covered with olive oil.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rise for 1 1/2 hours of until at least double in size.
  6. After dough has risen, punch down and divide into 10-12 equal pieces.  Using your hands, and you can oil them if dough is still a little sticky, roll into smooth balls and set aside, covered, for 20 minutes to rest.
  7. Lightly cover work surface with some flour and roll out dough to desired shape and thickness.  Place on baking sheets covered with parchment paper.
  8. Add toppings, or if baking plain flatbreads, drizzle with a bit of good olive oil and a quick scattering of sea salt.
  9. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until barely golden around the edges.  Keep an eye on them if your baking sheets are dark.  They cook WAY faster!

4 Layer Boston Cream Pie Cake…for Brother’s Birthday!

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

IMG_2379

Growing up in my house there were three March birthdays.  Mine came first, early on, thank goodness!  Better presents.  Mid-March is Cynthia’s then towards the end of the month came our precious baby brother, Tommy’s, birthday.  Good Lord, when that boy was born you’d have thought the Messiah moved in!  A boy. A BOY.  My parents had a huge navy pram for him, natch, and Mama would let Cynthia and me take him for walks around the neighborhood.  People, mostly women, would stop, lean waaaaay forward to look inside and exclaim, “Oh, she’s beautiful!  And look at those curls!”  Our little bodies at six and eight would stiffen with rage and indignation as we retorted as angrily as we could, given that we had to exhibit perfect manners at all times, “It’s a HE NOT a she and he’s our brother!”  We positively adored him.  We were completely captivated.  We wanted to feed him, bathe him, change any diaper…even the muddy ones.  A little over a year later our younger sister, Pamela, was born.  Tommy became Cynthia’s baby and Pamela became mine.  The four of us grew up extraordinarily close.  Although at times we fought like cats and dogs in the privacy of our home, in public we protected each other to the end and by whatever means.  We covered up for each other with our parents as well.  For example, no one tattled-taled on another sibling if one had been drinking or partying during school hours.  Heck, no!  All our lives we’ve kept an eye out for each other.  And still do to this day.  Whether I ask Tommy, “Which do you like best?  These sandals?  Or these?” or ask his advice regarding the color of paint I should use in my hallway, he helps me with the same intensity, only thinking of what’s best for me.   Early on he helped me with relationship problems and just recently counseled me with the utmost patience and thoughtfulness through the heartbreaking loss of a dear, 25 year friendship.  He’s not demonstrative in the least but a few sweet words, a fast reminder of our quirky, outlandish childhood is all we need to become grounded and back on track.  He gives so generously of himself.  And that’s all we want.  So this cake might just be the tee-tiniest bit late but instead of two layers I made it four.  In place of pudding in between the layers I made a wildly rich pastry cream with lots of vanilla bean.  And rather than finish it off with an everyday chocolate glaze I crowned this beauty with a ravishing, magnificent dark chocolate ganache.  Because he’s OUR brother!

 

Five years old at Happyland kindergarten.  Sweet boy, sweet days!

Five years old at Happyland kindergarten. Sweet boy, sweet days!

Although this cake is definitely old school I thought I would crank it up by making my favorite vanilla cake but if you’re short on time or energy a boxed mix is just fine.  If you choose a boxed mix then a few simple additions will make it even more luscious.  In place of oil use butter.  Replace water with whole milk, add an extra whole egg, a teaspoon of good vanilla extract and continue to follow the directions on the box.  While the cake cools make the pastry cream.  I use this recipe from Epicurious by Chef Lou Jones.  I must say the directions state that the cream thickens in about 1 minute but it took mine roughly 5 or 6 minutes to thicken.  Other than that it was pretty much on target…I wanted to eat it out of the pot.  The perfume of the vanilla in the kitchen was absolutely heady and intoxicating!  I spread it in between the layers of cake then refrigerated it.  I covered it with the chocolate ganache the following day.  Uhh!  Sweet Jesus, but it was gorgeous.  I studded the top with fresh strawberries that had been given a shiny shellac job with the help of a small paintbrush and melted passion fruit jelly.   I’m so glad it turned out to be the perfect birthday cake!

IMG_2384

Pastry Cream

yield: about 3 cups

  • 2 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

 

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup milk, egg yolks, 1/3 cup sugar and cornstarch.
  2. Transfer the remaining 1 3/4 cups milk to a heavy, medium-sized saucepan.  Scrape in vanilla seeds from bean and add the pod.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 cup sugar over, letting sugar undisturbed sink to the bottom.  Set pan over moderate heat and bring to simmer without stirring.
  3. Whisk hot milk mixture, then gradually whisk into egg yolk mixture.  Return all to saucepan over moderate heat and cook, whisking constantly until pastry thickens, about 1 minute. (Took me a few more minutes but nbd.)
  4. Remove from heat, discard vanilla pod and whisk cream until smooth.
  5. (At this point I covered 3 layers of cake each with 1 cup of cooled cream, assembled the cake stacking the layers leaving the top of the 4 layer cake bare but well covered with wax paper.)
  6. Transfer to a bowl and press plastic wrap directly onto surface.  Chill until cold, about 4 hours.  Pastry cream can be made ahead and refrigerated, wrapped well with plastic wrap on the surface, up to 3 days.

IMG_2390

Chocolate Ganache

yield: about 2 cups

  • 9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon liquor, such as orange flavored, Armagnac, brandy, rum
  1. Place chocolate in a medium-sized bowl.
  2. Heat cream to just before boiling point.
  3. Pour hot cream over chocolate bits in bowl and whisk vigorously until smooth.
  4. If using, stir in liquor until completely incorporated.
  5. Allow to cool slightly before pouring over cake.  This works best on a chilled cake.

 

If you are decorating the cake with berries wait to place them on the cake a few hours before serving it so the fruit stays fresh.  Heat up a bit of clear jelly in the microwave and with a small paint brush spread the liquid jelly on the bottom or cut side of the fruit.  The jelly will act as your “glue”.  Carefully paint the jelly on the top and sides of the fruit to give it a glossy finish.  If the heated jelly starts to thicken while you’re working with it, it can be warmed up again in the microwave.

Happy Greek Easter!

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

IMG_8847_2

Xristos Anesti, everyone!  This past weekend was Orthodox Christian Easter and for the first time in a very, VERY long time I wasn’t cooking.  We had accepted the gracious invitation of a family we’ve known for many years from the Greek church.  The bulk of the cooking had been taken off my shoulders!  I decided to bake my sweet potato bread but instead of loaves I would shape the bread into rolls.  My thought was a faintly sweet, tender bite of bread would be a delight with salty, garlicky lamb.  I used my favorite recipe, Bill Neal’s, from his book “Biscuits, Sweetbreads and Sweet Potato Pie”.  I posted the recipe for the loaves back in…wow!  Three years ago.  Anyway, the recipe remains the same, however, I found in baking rolls rather than  loaves it is imperative that one use light-colored baking sheets.  I have two darker ones and no matter how I played with the positions of those pans and the temperature those rolls came out a tad bit darker on the bottom than I would have liked.  Dad will be eating the darker rolls for some time!  We arrived at the party with many kisses and hugs and the joyous salutations of “Xristos Anesti!” followed by the response of “Alithos Anesti!” resounding all around us.

Xristos Anesti from the Carras family!

Xristos Anesti from the Carras family!

The house was perfect. Open and spacious it sits on the water with a sparkling, inviting pool in the back.  The children played games and jumped in and out of the pool while the adults relaxed under an enormous tiki hut savoring cocktails and Greek music.  The ceiling fan under the fronds of the tiki hut not only kept us cool but seemed to waft the distinct aroma of garlic and lamb to tease us through the afternoon.  Most of the crowd there had observed Lent eating no meat at all so our hosts treated us to bits of Greek style grilled chicken and grilled sausage from Cyprus interspersed with ears of grilled corn on the cob redolent with Greek herbs and swathed with melted butter.  Oh, but it was heaven on earth!  Off in a shady corner was the guest of honor slowly turning on the spit, only making a sound when it’s juices hit the hot coals below it.  Yes.  It was a whole lamb.  Gorgeous and browned I had to hold myself back from trying to sneak a little crunchy corner.  But I tried, people, oh yes, I tried.  All I could do was almost burn my fingertips…and try to practice patience.

The Easter lamb.  Underneath but not shown was a spit with Kokoretsi, a Greek delicacy of lamb organ meats rubbed with Greek herbs, salt and pepper.  Fabulous!

The Easter lamb. Underneath is a spit with Kokoretsi, a Greek delicacy of lamb organ meats rubbed with Greek herbs, salt and pepper. Fabulous!

When at last it was ready two or three men hoisted the arm of the spit on their shoulders and carried the lamb off to be carved after it had rested for 15 minutes or so.  The ample dining room in the house held the table which almost groaned under the weight of all the homemade dishes.  Emerald green salads lightly tossed with fresh lemon juice and good Greek olive oil sparkled like jewels.  Platters of crisp, golden Greek style potatoes peeked out of lacy veils of oregano and black pepper.  The trays of Greek cheese and spinach pies in crisp, buttery phyllo flanked by bowls of cold, tart tsatziki  and feta went on forever.

IMG_8846

And my rolls didn’t look bad, if I do say so myself.  Dessert was, again, homemade.  Galaktoboureko, a creamy custard, pudding encased in a pillow of phyllo saturated with a light, sweet, sugar syrup.  I was delirious!  The table was glorious and splendid.  The day was positively magnificent.  We caught up with old friends and made new friends as well.  We are truly blessed!

Remoulade’s Got Me Stoked

Tags

, , , , ,

 

IMG_8813

Wow, was last week great, or what?  The week ended with a brilliant Easter day here in south Florida.  I didn’t cook.  Jimmy, ever so generously, took us all to brunch.  James ordered Crab Benedict which got me to thinking THIS week about crab….and remoulade sauce.  Homemade remoulade sauce.  And not some chemical-laden, jarred mayonnaise with a bunch of dried up, processed herbs and spices thrown in.  NO, I craved the mile-long list of ingredients remoulade from the likes of Craig Claiborne and Julia Reed sitting alongside Pat Conroy’s crab cakes.  Lee Bailey’s recipe is also lovely but his makes up 6 cups.  A little more than I need on this spring day!  Easy and quickly made, the sauce does require quite a few components but I’ve got to tell you, you probably have all the ingredients in your pantry and refrigerator.  I ate my weight in remoulade during the late 70’s in New Orleans.  I was living in Atlanta and I was so lonely and lost.  Those were bad…BAD years for me.  Since I worked with Delta I would fly to N’awlins any chance I could and stay with a dear, sweet ex-neighbor from midtown Atlanta.  His partner had up and left him for a richer man so Tommy put in for a transfer to New Orleans and got it.  We spent countless nights depressed and unhappy, losing ourselves in bourbon and gorging ourselves with the freshest of local seafood.  Every time I left I was still a sad mess but I always welcomed the incredible escape of that city and its celebrated cuisine.  Remoulade is spicy and the heady mix of ingredients will play in your mouth hard and long.  It’s heaven!  And it stays fresh in the refrigerator for a good week as long as you are diligent making sure your knives, cutting board, food processor and blade, etc. are spotless before using.  Don’t skimp on the lemon and vinegar as those two ingredients also help to prevent bacteria.  Furthermore it’s not just good with seafood.  How about a BLT on a pretzel roll slathered with remoulade?  Oh, and the tomato is a tart fried green tomato.  Mercy!  This recipe is from Julia Reed’s book “Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns and Other Southern Specialties”.  You’ll love it!

IMG_8804

Remoulade Sauce

yield: about 2 cups

  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup prepared horseradish
  • 1/4 lemon, seeded and cut up including rind
  • 1 bay leaf, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons Creole mustard
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Place the yolks in a blender or food processor and blend for 1 minute.
  2. With the machine running, add the oil gradually in a thin stream until the emulsion is thickened.
  3. One at a time, add the remaining ingredients and process until well blended and the lemon rind is finely chopped.
  4. Transfer the sauce to a covered container and chill for at least 2 hours.
  5. Note: This should be enough to toss with a pound and a half of medium to large shrimp.

Make Ahead For Easter – Guava Cream Cheese Flan, yeah baby!

Tags

, , , , , , ,

IMG_8722_1024 In the days before Easter Mama always prepared one of her two signature dishes, flan.  Hers was always beyond perfection.  There were never any offensive bubble holes and, without fail, a generous amount of caramelized syrup.  I’ve told y’all before…that woman could.not.cook.  Dinners were a consistent disaster, everything was burned to a charcoal briquet level on one side.  Her solution to that problem?  Serve the dinner burn side down and no one will ever know!  That, coupled with the fact that my little sister Pamela knocked her glass of milk over just about every night, made for stressful dinners round our dining room table.  Mama just wasn’t into eating or cooking and assumed everyone else felt the same way.  But her Sunday roasts and flans were spectacular triumphs.  The dessert was always the traditional egg, milk and vanilla flan, her mother’s recipe.  In recent years many have ventured into additional flavors such as mango, coconut, guava and other Caribbean tastes.  Mama stuck with what she knew.  I find a guava cream cheese flan is easier due to the changed instructions.  For my mother’s traditional version the eggs are beaten until smooth but as lightly as possible so as not to create unsightly holes when the custard is baked.  Whereas a flan with cream cheese can be made in a food processor or blender.  The addition of the fruit and cream cheese produces a dessert much denser, almost a cheesecake in texture, and no holes.  It’s rich and creamy, just perfect for a holiday.  The fact that it needs serious chilling time in the refrigerator makes for a splendid do-ahead last course. IMG_8734_1024

Guava Cream Cheese Flan        yield: 1 10-inch round serves 8-10

  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1 8-ounce block cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 14-ounce pack guava paste, cut into pieces
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Love having fresh guavas in the kitchen.  Their perfume is positively heady!

Love having fresh guavas in the kitchen. Their perfume is positively heady!

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. To a food processor or blender, I think the blender works best, add 1 cup sugar, milk, cream cheese and guava paste.  Blend until smooth.  Add the eggs, vanilla and salt and pulse until the eggs are completely broken up and incorporated into the cream cheese mixture.
  3. Heat 1 cup of sugar in 10″ round cake pan melting slowly over medium heat.  Do not stir as that will create sugar crystals and you want a smooth syrup.  Gently swirl the melted sugar, covering the bottom and sides, until the syrup turns a golden brown.
  4. Place round cake pan in a bain marie, a bain marie being a pan with hot water for slow, even cooking.  The water in  the bain marie should come up about 3/4 of the side of the cake pan.
  5. Bake for about 50 minutes then remove from oven.  Cool in bain marie.  The flan will continue cooking in the hot water.
  6. When completely cool remove cake pan from water, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours.  I chill mine overnight and often a couple of days in advance of serving.
  7. When ready to serve have a serving dish or platter with a good-sized lip to catch the syrup that WILL come flying out.  Holding the flan with one hand use the other hand to firmly rap the sides of the custard loosening it.  You’ll see the flan come away from the sides of the baking pan.  Cover the top of the flan with the platter and over your sink QUICKLY invert the custard.  The flan should flop right onto the platter followed by the syrup.  If you’re not accustomed to doing this, the transfer from baking pan to serving platter can be done hours in advance when you’re not pressed for time and no one is watching.  Cover the flan with plastic wrap and place back in the refrigerator to stay cool until ready to serve.

Turkish Street Food…Borek!

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

The "Grand Bazaar" of Ayvalik, Turkey

The “Grand Bazaar” of Ayvalik, Turkey

I’m crazy about middle eastern and mediterranean flatbread.  I’m even happier when they’ve been stuffed with a surprise or two.  Eight or nine years ago, on one of our vacations in Greece, we took a quick side trip to Turkey.  From our island of Lesvos it’s only a short ferry ride away.  Not to segue from this delightful recipe but if you should ever have the opportunity to take a ferry outside of the continental US you ought to take it.  Ferry rides are a wonderful way to really see how your temporary neighbors live.  On our way to Turkey the boat was filled with people, of course, and cars.  Lots of cars.  But on the return trip the cars were gone and in their place were refrigerators, patio furniture, a rainbow of comforter sets all still in their clear, plastic storage bags.  Pallets of fruits and bundled up cardboard boxes as far as the eye could see.  Truly, it’s a great way to see a little slice of local life.  Anyway, after a few hours on the water we safely arrived and disembarked.  We had been told there was a “Grand Bazaar” and we took off to find it.  Just steps before us the bazaar opened up to a beehive of activity with children running, some playing, some on urgent errands, shopkeepers hawking their wares from their stalls and a colorful topping of headscarves on the women shopping for their family’s lunch and dinner.  The cacophony of sounds was exhilarating; music blaring, people yelling at the top of their lungs, dogs barking and always the call to prayer over loudspeakers.  It was great!  We walked a while and stumbled across a table where a man and a woman were selling borek, the ubiquitous Turkish street food.

Fold, flip, wrap.  She made it look so easy!

Fold, flip, wrap. She made it look so easy!

Borek is a thin, thin round sheet of dough or flatbread that is stuffed with a combination of greens and cheese or meat, any concoction you wish.  The filling is place in the middle of the dough, pinched closed and tossed onto something that looks like a convex steel drum or upside down wok  griddle.  The borek blisters to a gorgeous golden brown on the outside while the filling cooks on the inside. Different than our’s here in the States; often they are folded when finished then wrapped in wax or parchment paper.  The corners become chewy while the flat outside bubbles up to a crispy flavor-fest.

Oh, how I would love to have two of these stoves.  One for the kitchen and one poolside!

Oh, how I would love to have two of these stoves. One for the kitchen and one poolside!

The dough requires no yeast or sugar, it’s just flour, salt and water.  The resting time is blessedly short so if you feel like rattling around the kitchen on a Friday night after a couple of glasses of wine and still have dinner ready in and hour or so you can.  And think of the fillings…good gracious!  The combinations are limitless.  I’ve made the classic spinach and feta but tonight I’m also preparing potato and onion with a little Aleppo red pepper flakes added. Borek are so gorgeous and easy, not to mention forgiving.  The secret, if there is one, is to let the dough rest sufficiently and then take your time rolling it out super thin.  I mean SUPER thin.  Perfect for a picnic…a ballgame…or under a tree, downtown, with the one you love.  It’s pretty sexy food.  Yeah.  I think you’ll really like it.  Just do yourself a favor and, if you decide to throw them together, resist the temptation of leaving the dough too thick and, also, try not to overload the borek with your filling.  They’re supposed to be flat. To that, let me add, if your filling is spinach and feta, you can heap on the spinach as it will wilt to next to nothing as they cook.  But if you go with potato or ground meat scatter with a light hand. This recipe comes from the book entitled “Savory Baking from the Mediterranean” written by Anissa Helou.  Not only is this recipe brilliant but so is the book. I hope you enjoy it.  That’s what it’s all about!

IMG_8692

Borek – Stuffed Turkish Flatbread yield: 4 whole hand pies For the dough:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading and shaping
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the filling:

  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, PLEASE use a good quality feta and crumble it yourself
  • 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups fresh spinach, finely shredded (I use more…about two large handfuls before shredding)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  1. Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Gradually add just over 1/3 cup warm water to the well, bringing in the flour as you go along.  Knead to make a rough ball of dough.
  2. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface.  Knead for three minutes.  Invert the bowl over the dough and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.  Knead the dough for about 2-3 minutes more to make a smooth, firm dough.
  3. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball.  Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, mix together the cheese and parsley.
  4. Sprinkle a work surface and rolling pin with flour.  Roll out a ball of dough to a circle about 12 inches in diameter, lightly sprinkling with flour every now and then.  (I have to tell you.  I had a hard time with that.  Mine were about 9 or 10 inches in diameter and they came out beautifully!)  Sprinkle a quarter of the spinach over half the dough.  Cover the spinach with a quarter of the cheese mixture.  Fold the dough over the fillings to make a half circle. Prepare the remaining boreks in the same way.  Heat a nonstick griddle or frying pan over medium heat.  Transfer the boreks, one or two at a time, to the hot griddle or pan and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side, until lightly crisp and golden.  Transfer to a serving plate and brush lightly with melted butter.  Serve immediately.  (I cut mine in half before serving.  The boreks are easier to handle and look prettier.)
The waters off Ayvalik, Turkey.  Perfect to sit  and munch on gozleme...just let time go by.

The waters off Ayvalik, Turkey. Perfect to sit and munch on borek…just let time go by.

BOOM! GOAT CHEESE CHEESE CAKES TOPPED with LEMON CURD AND FRESH FRUIT

Tags

, , , , ,

Strawberry, sour cherry and blueberry.  Oh, baby!

Strawberry, sour cherry and blueberry. Oh, baby!

The twang and tang combination of goat cheese and cream cheese is a fusion that will send your taste buds to an ambrosial rapture.  I’m crazy about legitimate, bona fide cheesecake, I mean, who isn’t?  My wish is for the tartness of the lemon and cheese to shine through the batter followed by the slightly sweet after glow of a lemon curd topping.  I want my filling somewhat dry, almost crumbly, with a hint of bite…as a proper New York cheesecake would be.  A cloyingly sweet and gummy cheesecake with a soggy bit of canned fruit topping sitting on a synthetic vanilla wafer is a recipe for disappointment.  This recipe will make your heart sing.  Pleasing to the eye, these tiny cakes end up looking like little jewels and because they’re bitesize…well,, hey, portion control! The marrying of goat cheese with cream cheese jacks up the flavor.  The sweet but tangy lemon curd pairs beautifully with both cheeses and the fresh fruit acts like a foil cutting through the tartlet’s richness.

IMG_8618_2_1024

I happened to have homemade lemon curd on hand, which is always lovely, but if you’re short on time or don’t wish to fuss with it store-bought lemon curd is perfectly fine.  It can be found in the grocery store along side the jellies and jams. It does add a surprising contrast of flavors but the lemon curd really acts as a “glue” in order to hold the fresh fruit in place.  And, of course, choose your favorite fruits that boast deep, rich colors.  Blackberries would be gorgeous.  If you’d like to add a glossy to shine to the bites, a quick painting of heated jelly with have your treats sparkling.  If you like more of a matte finish, a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar is lovely.  But either way this dessert is a bad-ass pleasure! Let me know what you think.

Goat Cheese Cheesecakes with Lemon Curd and Fresh Fruit

yield: 40 mini-cakes

  • 1 6-ounce bag lemon cookies, crushed into crumbs.  I use Pepperidge Farms brand.
  • 8 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-1 1/2 cups lemon curd
  • fresh fruit for color, your choice
  1. Pre-heat oven to 375°.
  2. Place 40 mini size baking cups, paper or foil, on a cookie sheet lined with tin foil.  Spray cups lightly with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Place 1 level teaspoon of cookie crumbs on the bottom of each sprayed baking cup.
  4. Use your fingertips or even a muddler from your bar to press down on the crumbs.  This is your crust.  Set cookie sheet aside.
  5. In a large bowl beat the cheeses together until light and fluffy.
  6. Add the eggs and beat well followed by the sugar.  Beat well.
  7. Add lemon juice and vanilla beating well after each addition.
  8. Scoop batter into baking cups filling 2/3 full.  I use a 1 1/2″ melon ball scoop.
  9. Bake 15-17 minutes keeping a watchful eye.  Each oven is different and these can cook quickly.
  10. Cool in baking cups and refrigerate 6 hours to overnight.
  11. Prior to serving top with 1/2-1 teaspoon lemon curd, to your taste
  12. Top lemon curd with fresh fruit.
  13. For a glossy finish heat 3 or 4 tablespoons of jelly in microwave until dissolved, 10-15 seconds.  Use a small pastry or paint brush to cover fruit with jelly.  Re-heat jelly if necessary as you work.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 391 other followers