Wednesday, November 25th, 2015
If your house is about to be filled with a happy, hungry horde of relatives—arriving to celebrate the holidays and fill you house with joy, laughter and uncomfortable nonpartisan political discussions—then you’ve probably already begun the preparations for a Thanksgiving feast. And since the interweb is presently a tsunami of turkey-day advice, tips, recipes, and admonishments (how many brussel sprouts recipes does the world need…apparently many MANY more!), I thought I’d share a new favorite recipe that’s not for gravy but for BREAKFAST! One that is perfect for serving a crowd and yet a bit more impressive than throwing down a cereal buffet. It’s a Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding from The Violet Bakery Cookbook, which is a new and lovely to behold cookbook from Claire Ptak, who was the pastry chef at Chez Panisse and is now the owner of the aforementioned charming bakery in East London. I want to bake every single one of the recipes, not only because they look and sound so ridiculously good —Butterscotch Blondies, Lemon Drizzle Loaf, Chocolate Sunken Souffle Cake— but because someone like myself (who is decidedly challenged in the egg-butter-sugar-oven department) can still make them with ease and pleasure.
When I made this dish, I used day-old chocolate croissants from my local bakery, which worked wonderfully. Feel free to do the same, and perhaps enlist someone else in the house who’s there for a visit…drinking all the good wine…hogging the remote…napping on the couch with your dog and squishing up all the “good” pillows…yeah, that person…make them do it. Or, maybe a better idea, your sister’s kid with a love of baking and a can-do attitude, this would be a great project for them too.
And Happiest of Holidays to You and Yours! Stay sane. Have fun. And enjoy ever minute.
Chocolate croissant bread pudding
Croissants are heavenly things when made properly. In my first ever baking job at age seventeen, I learned to make croissants at the Bovine Bakery in Point Reyes Station, California. For an entire summer I rose at 3:15 a.m. for a 4 a.m. start. Armando (the wonderful baker who trained me) and I would drink a vat of coffee and set to work sheeting the dough and carefully cutting the shapes; triangles for plain croissants and ham and cheese, rectangles for pain au chocolat and pain d’amande, and squares for apple turnovers. At Violet we lack the space for a pastry sheeter (a large machine that rolls the dough out for you in perfect sheets), so I decided not to make croissants when we first opened. A difficult decision, but the right one. You can’t do everything. For a time we bought croissants in and, if any went unsold, they were transformed the next day into this luxurious pudding.
4 chocolate croissants
300g (1¼ cups) heavy cream
900g (3¾ cups) whole milk
a pinch of salt
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
230g (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
50g (⅓ cup) dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa solids), broken into bite-size pieces
Preheat the oven to 180°C/355°F (160°C/320°F convection) and butter a deep 20 by 30-cm (8 by 12-inch) baking dish. Find another baking dish that is large enough to hold your baking dish (you will be making a bain-marie later to gently cook the custard).
Tear the croissants into pieces and place loosely on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven for 10 minutes, turning the pieces halfway through, until crunchy.
Put the cream and milk into a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Add a pinch of salt and the seeds scraped from the vanilla pod along with the pod itself. Place over medium-low heat and just before the mixture starts to simmer, or when it starts to “shiver,” remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, in a clean bowl, whisk your sugar and eggs into frothy ribbons.
When the milk is ready, pour a third of it into the sugar and egg mixture, whisking constantly. Add the remaining milk and whisk in the cocoa powder. Strain the mixture into a bowl or jug. Save the vanilla pod, rinsing it well under cool water and laying it out to dry before adding it to your homemade Vanilla Extract (page 228).
Put the toasted bread into your buttered baking dish, then pour the chocolate custard over it, so that the bread is covered in custard (you will have some custard left over), and let it soak for 30 minutes. Save the rest of the custard for later.
After 30 minutes, add the remaining custard and scatter the chocolate pieces on top. Place the baking dish inside the larger dish and place in the oven. At this point, use a jug to pour water into your bain-marie so that it comes at least halfway up the side of the dish. Check the custard after 30 minutes. Bake until just set.
Reprinted with permission from The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak, copyright © 2015, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Photographs copyright © 2015 by Kristin Perers
Wednesday, November 4th, 2015
I’m in the midst of recipe testing for my second cookbook—Yes, there will be a follow-up to KEEPERS! My co-author and I are writing a new book of weeknight meals (with a twist…) for Abrams Books, which is a wonderful publisher of lovely books; release date is Fall 2017 so just be patient!—which means that my kitchen is chockablock with ingredients, pots in need of scrubbing, olive oil-stained legal pads filled with scribbled notes, and a refrigerator jammed with Tupperware containing dishes in all states of testing-doneness. It’s a situation, but despite the chaos, I really do embrace the full-immersion of recipe developing because it’s one of the only times where I get to really think about the nature of a dish. How to make it simple, but held-together with solid technique. How to make it unique by playing with the proportions and ingredients, but not adding a layer of novelty or frills just for the sake of making it different. Thinking about what people not only want to really and truly eat after a long day, but ask what they are really and truly are capable of making after a long day. Of course, there’s also the added element of creating dishes that will appeal to a broad swath of people of different ages, locations, sensibilities, dietary restrictions…easy, right? Ha!
Which brings me to my favorite new lunch hack, something I make when I need to turn off the testing-part of my brand and take a break. It’s the Veggie Burger Deluxe…
I’ve made veggie burgers from scratch, even considered coming up with my own recipe, but really, when there is one as good as the California Burger from Amy’s Kitchen (this is not in any way an endorsement…Amy and I have never met!), then, I mean, why bother?
I toast one burger in a skillet with a slick of olive or sunflower oil until warmed through, softened on the inside, and beginning to get crisp around the edges. Top with: Homemade chile-mayo (mayonnaise combined with chopped hot chile or cherry peppers, the kind in a jar that are a bit vinegar-y), pickles, red onion, and avocado wedges. Bun is optional (and perhaps not necessary because this deluxe-topped burger is pretty filling). I’ve also topped it with a generous swath of leftover pesto like the Swiss Chard Pesto from KEEPERS.
The burger does the trick every time—a cooking-hack that is incredibly satisfying and incredibly fast; the “trick” is just to top it with some fresh an homemade ingredients to make it a little more special. I’ve even made it for an afternoon snack when Belle has a late-in-the day activity like ballet class that starts at 6:30pm. That chunk of time between arrival from school and running off to a sport/lesson/rehearsal that I like to call (and you’ll be hearing more and more about this): The Forgotten Meal.
To be a Forgotten Meal a dish must do the following: Be full of protein and good stuff to keep the energy-levels up, more satisfying than a yogurt or a handful of cheddar bunnies, better for your bod than a Hot Pocket, and a pretty good proxy for dinner. A tall order but one we will be tackling in Book Deux!
So stay-tuned for more and enjoy that burger!
Thursday, October 22nd, 2015
There’s frost on the garage roof, my ratty Uggs (the ones I swore I’d never buy) are out of storage, and the neighborhood is bedecked with hearty mums—all of which means only one thing…we’re officially in full out fall!
I’m not sure about you, but this also means I’m craving squash and soup, dark beer and hot toddies, apple crisp and cider donuts. It’s almost automatic that as soon as I pull on that first wooly sweater, I also want to eat roasted butternut squash like it’s my job. Which it kinda is. It’s also a glorious time of year because my CSA is still cranking out some amazing greens, garlic, lettuce, radishes, and beets. So I’m making the most of the late harvest by combining roasted goodies (like that squash), with rustic, hearty salads, dressed with toasted nuts, shaved cheese, and an herbal-garlicy vinaigrette.
For example, this very satisfying combination that I made for lunch the other day…
Big bowl of the following:
Greens: Arugula, spinach, kale; all or a mix.
Nuts/Seeds: Toast walnuts, almonds, pecans (chop roughly) OR pumpkin, sunflower seeds.
Cheese: Use a vegetable peeler to add strips of pecorino, parmesan, or gruyere.
*Roasted Veggie: If you have some sweet potatoes, butternut squash, beets, potatoes, here’s a good time to roast them all up on a sheet pan (with olive oil, salt, pepper, maybe some rosemary or thyme) and save a few pieces for your salad.
Dressing: In a blender combine 1/3 cup of yogurt, big splash of buttermilk, handful of parsley/mint/cilantro/basil (any or a combination), garlic clove, 1 tsp of apple cider or white wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Whirl to combine and while motor is going add a drizzle of olive oil to give it some body. Taste for seasonings. Add a bit of honey if you want it a little sweet.
Place all of your ingredients except the dressing into a large bowl (this is a good time to take out your tongs, the champion of hearty salad mixers, to get everything nicely combined). Drizzle in the dressing until everything is evenly but lightly coated.
Thursday, August 20th, 2015
So here it is, my annual summer vacation photo round-up, featuring our recent family trip starting in Vermont, where we picked-up my daughter Belle from sleepover camp. The photo above is of Belle at The Mad Taco in Montpelier, VT waiting to devour her first Mexican meal in over four weeks…doesn’t she look thrilled to be back in her family’s clutches? (Side note: If you go to Mad Taco be sure to sample all of their house-made hot sauces). From Vermont we took many back roads into New Hampshire, skimming the northern edge of the White Mountain range, before entering northern Maine, zig-zagging past fog-dusted lake fronts and old farms, until we reached our annual rental cottage on St. George’s Peninsula. So come along with me! I will keep the photo montage short, scrappy, and caption happy.
My first breakfast in Maine is always a variation of the above: A bowl of jersey milk yogurt (like blueberry, raspberry, or strawberry-rhubarb) from Swallowtail Farm and Creamery, raspberries from a front yard-stand down the road, granola from Good Tern, which is a fantastic small co-op in nearby Rockland, and some kind of blueberry crisp or compote. This concoction is best eaten while figuring out the day’s plans (“should we go swimming in the quarry?” “take a walk on the rocks?” “visit the used bookstore?” “take out the paddleboard?” “play Stratego?” “read a book?” “how about we do nothing!?”)
Normally we make a stop in Portland, Maine on our way up north, but this year our itinerary changed, which meant I didn’t get a chance to have breakfast at 158 Pickett Street Cafe—a place that I love and have documented with the unbridled passion of a Rolling Stones groupie—for the best bagel on the northeast seaboard. But luckily my mom drove our normal route, and did me a solid by picking up a paper bag full of Pickett Street’s “everything” bagels and a container of their addictive sweet chili cream cheese. I used both to make a tomato and egg sandwich. Thanks mom!
Oysters. Lobster Roll (served with a side of melted butter and mayo). Steamers. All from a tiny lobster shack called McLoon’s, located just around the cove from our house. You fill up on crustaceans that are literally pulled up from the dock right outside their kitchen door, cap it off with a slice of blueberry pie, then topple home from rock to rock on the water’s edge. It’s possible that we ate at McLoon’s more than once in a day. We may have gone there a lot. Do you blame us? It has officially joined my list of favorite restaurants in the area, along with Primo in Rockland and The Slipaway in South Thomaston.
The aforementioned roadside berries. We’ve been lucky to that our visits Maine usually coincide with wild blueberry, blackberry, or raspberry season, and every year I look forward to driving by the one home that sells pints and quarts of sweet wild raspberries on a card table in their front yard. Pro-tip: Always buy two quarts when you stumble on a card table laden with wild berries, one to eat in the car ride home and one for eating on top of yogurt, pancakes, salad, ice cream, and this…
A raspberry sandwich, using up those roadside berries that didn’t get devoured in the car, and inspired by a recipe from a story about the Cotswolds that I worked on while an editor at Saveur magazine: Crusty baguette slathered with butter, topped with a layer of ripe berries (squished down ever-so-gently so that they don’t roll off with the first chomp), a drizzle of maple syrup, and a squeeze of lemon. It’s weird. It’s wonderful.
We eat a lot of salads in Maine. There’s just such an amazing bounty of farm stand vegetables, organic co-op produce, local cheese and yogurt, and other treats, that the easiest, most satisfying lunch is always an enormous salad. Like the above, made with all local ingredients from places like Morning Dew Farm: Arugula, raw corn, grated beets and carrots, pea-shoots, shallots and feta, topped with a creamy vinaigrette made with Milk House raw milk yogurt-apple cider vinegar-mustard-and maple syrup.
Here’s another nod for finding and using as many local food products as possible, like the (above) fresh churned butter from Smiling Hill Farm. This stuff was so rich, salty, and nutty, it was like eating a hybrid of parmigiano-reggiano and butter. I cooked with it for practically every meal.
Most nights after dinner found us at the Harjula’s ice cream truck, which is parked alongside a farmer’s field that slopes down to St. George’s River. We’d be feasted upon by skeeters while waiting to order our cones filled with scoops of deer-caribou-bear-moose tracks, but it was worth it.
Besides the nightly cone, Belle and Conor also had more than a few root beer floats (seen above at the Rockland Lobster Festival, an annual event that I go to grudgingly because I always come home cranky from the heat of the midway and smelling like a corn-dog dipped in diesel fuel and lobster sweat). Clearly the “summer diet” (aka a total relaxation of rules in regards to the consumption of soda, ice cream, sweets, hot dogs, french fries, grilled cheese, etc.) was in full effect.
I love the Good Tern co-op in Rockland, and also the co-op in nearby Belfast, because they’re always stocked with jars of local pickles, notions, sauces, cheese, cured meats, smoked fish, and such. To end our midday meals, I would place the jars on the table for everyone to help themselves and make a little “digestive” pickle plate. I am a firm believer in the power of pickled and feremented things to help with digestion. Seen above are: Fermented gingered carrots from Thirty Acre Farm, truly delectable homemade dills from Vermont Pickle, pickled beets from Gracie’s Garden, hot sauce from some dude named Chip, and feta from Pineland Farms.
The fish that you’re able to source on the midcoast of Maine is so spectacular and fresh, that I eat as much as I can, including for breakfast. Above is flour dusted filets of sole, sauteed in browned butter (see aforementioned Smiling Hill Farm butter) and then drizzled with lime juice and tamari. I served it over sushi rice topped with microgreens from Morning Dew Farm and ripe avocado. If I could eat this ever day for breakfast I would.
And last but not least, here is Miss Maeve, my college roommate’s little girl who joins us along with her family every year for a visit that is crowned with our annual pie-eating contest (where everybody wins because you’re stuffing your belly with pie and you don’t have to use utensils). My friend always spoils us with multiple pies from Two Fat Cats Bakery in Portland, and this year she brought a sour cherry pie that was a sweet-tart-juicy fantasy between two crusts. Oh Maine, I miss you already.
Wednesday, August 12th, 2015
I just returned from our annual trip to Maine—where, among many other delights, we picked wild berries, swam in the salty waters of a granite quarry, consumed probably one too many lobster rolls (if that’s possible), ate ice cream cones from a roadside truck in front of one spectacular sunset after another, kayaked between lobster boats and buoys, and spent afternoons spying on a local osprey nest—and I will be sharing some of my favorite photos and food finds very soon; but in the meantime, I thought I’d pay brief tribute to the beginning of tomato season. One of the consolations of returning from a wonderful, soul-satisfying vacation is knowing that a tomato orgy will be waiting…
The first haul from my CSA was magical and epic, and since you may also be dealing with a large quantity of heirlooms, beefsteaks, sungolds, and the like, I thought I’d share by TOP 3 favorite ways to eat a summer tomato and here they are:
1. BLT. I really don’t have to elaborate on why this is #1, right? But since you asked, I like mine on toasted white Pepperidge Farm bread. Yes, it’s gotta be Pepperidge Farm. Hellman’s mayo on both slices, followed by the ripe and juicy tomato slices first, fresh ground pepper on top of the tomatoes, then several strips of very crisp bacon (center cut, thick slices if possible), top the bacon with a couple of leaves of butter leaf lettuce, and then the BONUS layer…a slice or two of sweet, bread & butter pickle. Trust me.
2. A deluxe-raw-summer-vegetable sandwich which can start off as just a lazy/vegetarian’s close cousin to the BLT (layer slices of fresh tomato on generously buttered toast, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with a vinegar of choice and very good olive oil) but then reach new levels of deliciousness if you are so inclined: Perhaps you have some pesto in the fridge (which I try and always have during the summer), use that as your condiment, or if things are getting crazy, add it to softened butter and slather that on the warm toast. Also, if you have a spare ear of corn in the fridge, cut off the kernels in sheaths, layer it on the tomato (yes, raw), sprinkle it with lime juice and perhaps some sriracha. From there keep going: Sliced radishes, a slice of sharp cheddar, smashed avocado…some variation of this raw tomato-veg sandwich is basically what I eat for breakfast every morning during tomato season.
3. Next, is a fresh tomato One-Bowl Summer Spaghetti. We did a simple no-cook version in KEEPERS that is perhaps the most satisfyingly quick and delicious summer weeknight meal you can whip-up:
In a large bowl, add several chopped tomatoes (about 3 large or the equivalent) along with their juices, add 2-3 minced garlic cloves, a handful of torn basil leaves, 3/4 pound fresh mozzarella (I like the tiny balls you can find in the store, but you can also cut a large ball into cubes), several glugs of good olive oil (summer is when I always invest in a bottle of high-quality olive because I use so much of it for dressing salads and raw vegetables, you don’t want the drecky stuff here), a handful of pitted black olives (this being optional), and salt and pepper to taste (be generous with the salt since the tomatoes and pasta will absorb all of it). Let the tomato ingredients comingle while you cook a box of spaghetti (or your preferred pasta, cavatappi is also a good option for all the folds and ridges), and then place the drained, still hot pasta directly on top of the tomatoes. Toss to combine (tasting for more salt and adding more olive oil if you think it needs it) or if you’re bringing the along to a BBQ or picnic, keep it untossed until ready to serve. I also like to drizzle some really good balsamic vinegar on my serving.
*OK, and a bonus dish worth making is the tomato-zucchini gratin recipe also from KEEPERS. Tomatoes and summer squash baked with garlic and olive oil and topped with parmesan breadcrumbs…then eaten with a salad or over pasta or grains. It’s a wonder.