Tuesday, November 24, 2009

one hundred year old gumbo

There's nothing like the combination of food, New Orleans, and other people's obsessions to inspire you. It was on a visit here that I encountered a little gem masquerading as a worn, blue hardback entitled Cooking in Old Creole Days. Published in 1903 by Celestine Eustis, it offered an incredible look into the methodology of Creole cooking and the attitude towards culinary arts in the previous centuries. Despite, or maybe in part due to, a remarkable overtly racist prologue ("as a race, we are certainly not gifted with culinary talent") by S. Weir Mitchell, the book is fascinating from start to finish.
I jotted down a recipe for the most basic dish in the Creole repertoire: okra gumbo. I wanted to see how the traditional elaboration compared to what comes out of my pseudo-New-Orleanian family kitchen. So I followed the "receipt" to the best of my abilities-the ambiguity of it I actually found to result in a fun cooking challenge, allowing me to fill in the gaps with my own knowledge and whims.
And...most importantly...the gumbo was delicious! Chip proclaimed it amazing, and I thought it tasted quite good as well. A fairly easy meal. I do have to say I like my dad's darker, more Cajun gumbo better, but that could just be due to another tradition that dates back hundreds of years: a strong loyalty to your own flesh and blood's roux.

okra gumbo

Put into a saucepan a spoonful of pure lard* and one of flour. Stir it well until it is of a light brown. Chop an onion into small pieces and throw them in. Cut up a fat capon or chicken into small pieces and put it into the saucepan with the flour and lard. Stir it all the while until the chicken is nearly done. When the whole is well browned, add a slice of ham* cut up small. Throw in two or three pods of red pepper*, and salt to your taste. Then add a quart of boiling water, and leave it on the fire for two hours and a half.

During that time you take either a can of okra or the fresh okra, and chop it up a bit. Put it in a saucepan with a little water and let it simmer a quarter of an hour, stirring it all the time. Then add to it either six fresh tomatoes or half a can of tomatoes, and let it cook on a slow fire for an hour, uncovered.

When your gumbo has been on the fire the two hours and a half, you take it off to cool, and skim all the grease off. Then you put it back in the saucepan and add your okra and tomatoes and let it simmer slowly for an hour or until the okra is thoroughly cooked. Serve hot, and eat it with dry rice served in a separate dish.
-Mme. Eustis, Mére.

*for the lard, I used butter. for ham, I used andouille. for the red pepper, I used chile de arbol.

Monday, November 23, 2009

the buckley thanksgiving menu

Roasted Cauliflower and Radicchio Salad

Roast Turkey with Innards Stuffing
Prime Rib
Creamed Corn with Scallions
Potatoes a la Grandma

Cranberry and Vanilla Bean Sorbet
Prune, Almond and Cherry Frangipane Tart

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

butternut squash soup with curried parsnip

We had the best soup in the world at work the other night. Unfortunately, it wasn't this one, but it did inspire this one. It was a similar to a typical lentil vegetable soup, but with a cream base instead of a broth one. And, atop of this already plenty delicious soup were delightfully crunchy cubes of roasted potato.

At home the next afternoon with a squash and daydreams of tiny crunchy squares of tuber, I devised this soup. It's oh-so-delicious, and quite simple and quick. The star anise adds an imperceptible depth and richness to the yummy yummy soup. And the curried parsnips are the perfect garnish, adding a kick of savory heat. Homemade chicken broth if possible, people!

butternut squash soup with curried parsnips

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 in cubes
3 star anise
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 shallots, chopped
3-4 cups chicken broth
1 large parsnip, peeled and diced small
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp curry powder
2 bay leaves

Preheat oven to 375.

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil and add garlic, shallot and star anise. Sautee until translucent and add squash and chicken broth to cover. How much you use will depend on how big your squash was. Simmer until squash is tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss parsnip with curry powder, 1 tbsp olive oil, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Roast until softened but still a tad crunchy, about 10 minutes.

Remove star anise and puree everything else. Thin with broth if desired. Serve with parsnips in the middle and, optionally, croutons.

Friday, November 6, 2009

apple walnut butter cake

We have this amazing cake at work, the most unassuming yet moist and delicious thing you have ever put in your mouth. It was my dad's birthday this week, and so I immediately thought about making it for him. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to collect the recipe, so I had to wing it by piecing together a few different ideas and hoping for the best.

I chose a cake recipe from Bon Appetit, but when I set out to make it I realized it was going to make a teeny tiny sheet of a cake, so I doubled the recipe. Then, when it came out in all of its ugly glory, I knew I would need something to fancy it up, as well as something to go in between the layers. The moist crumb was a red light for a traditional frosting...I know my limits and controlling the wild crumbiness was definitely beyond them.

With my remaining apples, I sauteed an apple butter for a moist middle layer, and then whipped up a glaze to try to disguise what turned out to be the ugliest yet most delicious cake this side of 2009.

apple walnut cake

apple butter::
6 apples
1/2 c packed brown sugar

Juice three apples. Dice three peeled apples. Simmer the juice and diced apples until mixture is reduced to about a third. Add sugar, stir, and cook over medium heat about twenty minutes.

brown sugar glaze::

1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt

Stir all ingredients in small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to boil. Reduce heat to medium; whisk until glaze is smooth, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.


4 cups diced peeled apples (about 4)
2 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, cooled
2 large egg
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter and flour 2 8x8x2-inch baking pans. Mix diced apples, sugar, butter and egg in large bowl to blend. Sift flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt over. Add chopped walnuts; mix thoroughly. Transfer mixture to prepared pans, dividing evenly.

Bake until cake is brown and crusty on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack.

Spread apple butter over one layer and place the other layer on top. Make glaze and pour over top of cake; let cool 30 minutes before serving.

*adapted from Bon Appetit

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

tomate frito

Any grocery store in Spain devotes at least half an aisle to tomate frito, a Mediterranean sauce par excellence. It comes in jars, it comes in briks (cardboard boxes), it comes dried in packets, it comes in any form one could possibly imagine, matched in ubiquitousness perhaps only by American ketchup.

Tomate frito is essentially a slow cooking of tomatoes in a sofrito of the chef's choice. While the packaged version of tomate frito dates only from the 20th century, this puree of 'fried tomatoes' was most certainly being made and used before. Ever since Cortes brought back the first tomato from the Aztecs in the 1500's, it seems likely that cooks combined it with the already popular onion over heat. The first tomato recipes appear in a Naples cookbook in 1692, but the author obtained the recipes from Spanish sources.

Everyone in Spain swears by their mother's (or grandmother's) version, so there are really no definitive rules. I am of the opinion that the simpler the better, otherwise you may as well whip up an Italian tomato sauce. So I keep mine plain-a little onion, salt, and a bit of sugar. Depending on the tomato variety and ripeness, you may not even need sugar. Some people insist on peeling the tomatoes and seeding them, others simply on seeding them, and still others just do a light chop and thrown the tomatoes in, seeds and peels included. I've done it both ways, and as long as you pass it through a food mill, seive, or chinois, I believe it doesn't matter.

As far as uses go, this silky, rich sauce is incredibly versatile. It's featured in typical Spanish dishes, such as tigres (mussels cooked with mirepoix then filled with tomate frito and bechamel before being breaded and fried) and patatas bravas (i love you), as well as infinitely adaptable to any meat or vegetable dish. So hurry-if you live down South you can still grab the last of the season's tomatoes and store some for winter.

tomate frito

5 lbs ripe tomatoes,
small onion, chopped
about 6-8 tbsp oil
tbsp of salt
pinch of sugar

In two 12 inch saucepans, heat oil (enough to cover bottom of pan) over med. high heat. Add half of onion to each pot. Fry until translucent, not browned. Add tomatoes, dividing equally between pots, sprinkle with salt and sugar, and turn heat to low. Cook for 30-50 minutes, until tomatoes are dark red and slightly caramelized.
Blend very well and pass through strainer, pressing to release all the sauce.

Monday, October 12, 2009

brown butter sage pasta

Last Sunday, I was engaged in wolfing down some of my best chicken salad ever when I noticed my poor husband standing off to the side, looking sad and hungry.

I took pity on him and set to the fridge to see what I could rustle up, and it turns out I got a little bit jealous by the time I was finished. We had a couple half portions of frozen ravioli, some butternut squash, some cheese. I pulled some butter and parmigiano out of the fridge, some sage out of the garden, and got to work creating a pretty pantry friendly and delicious lunch. The husband was happy too...he even graced it with one of his Chimays, which he rations out pretty strictly. Honor of honors!

ravioli with brown butter and sage

a serving of ravioli, preferably squash filled
4 tbsp butter
a handful of sage leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
peeled parmigiano reggiano

boil pasta water. heat oil over high heat and lightly fry the sage leaves until crisp; set to dry on paper towels and sprinkle with salt.
melt butter over medium heat. skim off foam and continue to cook. meanwhile, boil pasta according to directions.
when butter begins to smell nutty and turns a brown color, pull it off the heat. toss pasta with butter, plate, sprinkle with salt and liberally with black pepper. top with fried sage and cheese peelings.

Friday, October 9, 2009

a dinner summary:: restaurante akelarre, san sebastian, spain

Sorry for the lack of pictures here....we were so focused on the amazing meal we had at Akelarre two weeks ago that we took no photos, choosing instead to savor every bite of our amazing meals.

Overall, I must begin by saying, this was one amazing meal. I have never eaten at Mugaritz, or Arzak, or Etxebarri, or El Bullí, so this isn't really about recommending one place over the other. All I can say, with every fiber of my food-loving and food-breathing and food-working body is this was worth every penny. The food was exquisite, perfectly timed, perfectly cooked, of incredible quality, and, of course, fascinating.

So let me get down to the details:

The meal started with an amuse bouche: a little box with 4 "candies". The first we were instructed to take all at once, and it turned out to be an oyster encased in a "shell" (get used to the parenthesis...this meal is filled with things that appear to be something other than they are) of black, sandy, crunchy, salty something. Next came a roll of black pudding and crispy wafer. Then a bite-size piece of tuna rolled in crunchy nuts. And finally a powdery "polvorón" of almond and artichoke.

We each got our own tasting menu, sharing the plates. For the first course, B. had the Cold and Hot Crab Salad and its Coral, sitting in what looked a little forest, with a tiny cucumber, she claims an eggplant, and a little "carrot" that was sort of gelatinous and filled with carrot essence, or puree. This crab was the best I've ever tasted, sort of stringy but in the best way that word can be used... I had Little Pearls and Porous of Foie-Gras, Toasted Peanut Bread. A strange translation (from poroso de foie gras) but I don't have a better one; it was a plate of foie gras beads with an airy foie mousse and a thick piece of crispy peanut bread with silky peanut butter.

For the second course, B. had Prawns and French Beans cooked in Orujo Fire, which they brought to the table in a little cauldron and set on fire, infusing these beautiful shrimp with orujo, a liquor made from the pomace of grapes left after wine pressing. These we were instructed to suck the heads of and then dip the bodies in both the green bean puree (again, super silky) and this "soil" of crushed rice and shrimp shells. Amazing. I had Mollusks in the Net of the Fisherman, a challenging dish for someone who barely likes most seafood. However, even I could tell that the razor clams, mussels, shrimp, clams, squidy squids and whatever else was on there (!) were perfect. On top sat a little puffed rice "net" with the cutest little dried shrimp and delicious blobs of dried seaweed.

For the third course, B. had the Wild Mushrooms and Egg Pasta, a slab of impeccable wild mushrooms (enoki, shitake, some other white enoki cousin) with yellow and white "noodles" made by steaming egg whites and egg yolks in noodley shapes. On the side was a dab of deeply flavored mushroom aioli. I had Vegetable Ravioli, four lovely assorted discs of thinly sliced vegetables filled with the cream of each respective veggie: beets, turnips, carrot, and another....and in the center was a little "ravioli" of Iberian ham fat-whoot whoot!

For the fourth course, B. had Red Tuna with Onion Threads and Roasted Peppers. The tuna was gloriously simple, and the red pepper puree that accompanied it was thick and luxurious. There were also "rocks" made of red pepper meringue and a marinated guindilla pepper. I had the Integral Red Mullet with Sauce Fusili. The mullet was crusted with ground up fish bones (yum, for real!) and, as with all the proteins, impeccable. On the side were six little corkscrew shapes of green, white, and brown. They were soy sauce, parsley juice/puree, and garlic juice/puree, fashioned using nitrous something into the shape of corkscrews. Amazing.

The fifth course had B. eating the Roasted Baby Pig with Tomato Bolao and Iberian Emulsion. The pig had the crispiest skin, and it was uber decadent to drag it through its own fat straight to my mouth. My Loin of Lamb Roasted in Live Coal was incredible, as were the black (squid ink) tempura fried veggies alongside.

Next, dessert course one. B. had the most interesting dish: Milk and Grape, Cheese and Wine in parallel Evolution. It was a slab with five little components, starting with a bland looking domino that was basically gelatinous milk and a light grape gelee sort of thing. The flavors got more concentrated and intense the further down the slab we got...a crumbly, powder tart cheese with grapes, a creamy, sweet cheese with ginger jelly and something red, a strong cheese with something encased in a sherry shell, and a gorgonzola ice cream with wafers. Sorry for the ambiguity on that one...we were freaking out over it. The other was Xaxu and Coconut Iced Mousse, a feathery frozen coconut cream with airy frozen creams of goat and cow's milk.

Dessert course two was the Peach in Syrup for me, a lovely white chocolate shaped "peach" that, when cracked open" oozed cold essence of peach, accompanied by a little piece of french toast and a distilled mint water that had the most amazing body in the mouth. B. had Another Apple Tart, which came covered in a piece of edible silver paper with Akelarre written on it. The paper was apple flavored, the writing chocolate. Underneath was a delicious wafer and cream apple flavored dessert.

Finally, there was a little treat box, covered in another piece of edible paper, with chocolates, a candied hazelnut, and who the heck knows what else because we were pretty euphoric by the time this meal was over, two and a half hours after we sat down.

So, a long post that does not do justice to that which it describes. Sorry if I bore any of my usual readers, but I know this will steer someone towards having the same amazing experience I did...so it's worth it.

Viva Pedro!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

gourmet magazine folds

After years of being at the forefront of cuisine and months filled with whispers of trouble, Gourmet magazine has closed its doors.
So sad.
So many questions.
Why? Beyond dismal ad revenues, which could partially be attributed to the economic climate?
Which magazine will step up to be the classic, sophisticated authority on food that Gourmet was? Bon Appetit is nice, but focused much more on trendiness and unambitious, comfortable recipes.
Where will all the talented writers and cooks employed by gourmet go?
Will someone take the name and go independent? Ruth?
I feel so alone...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

how to make instant coffee

Instant coffee has a bad name, and rightfully so. That's why I buy mine when in Europe. Or I get other people to, like my brother, who called me from France and was like "they don't have instant espresso, all they have is this Nescafe" and I'm like "bingo, you got it!" I suppose what I'm trying to convey is that when in a country where coffee means espresso, it's hard to get a bad cup. Really hard.

So I love having it around, because it's just so handy. And sometimes even French press doesn't make that cafe con leche taste just right. Somewhat recently, a friend told me about a trick his Peruvian friends swear by, and I've been doing it ever since. And it produces the best cup of instant coffee, with a foamy top and a perfectly blended body. It basically consists of forming a paste with the instant coffee granules, sugar, and a splash of milk or water. The process is almost as fun as drinking the resulting perfect cup of 'coffee'.

the best instant coffee

this makes a small/normal size cup of coffee depending on where you are from

tbsp instant espresso/strong coffee
tbsp of sugar
6-8 ounces of milk (whole cut with a bit of water, for me)

measure the coffee and sugar out into a cup. splash a tiny bit of milk and mush with spoon into a thick paste. pour steaming milk over coffee, agitating with spoon. drink.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

pumpkin chocolate-chip cookies: a series

From appearances, this may look like another successful baking experiment. But appearances can be deceiving.
My closest friends can tell you about my obsession with pumpkin, and more specifically, perfectly crunchy, chewy pumpkin chocolate-chip cookies. A bakery in town used to make the absolute perfect specimen: 5 inches in diameter, crispy around the edges and top, yet chewy chewy in the center. I ate a whole one nearly every time I was there, stomachache be darned. I never got around asking them how they made these wonders, even though at the time I had already had a few failed attempts to recreate them. And the urgency wasn't there....after all, they'd always be there for the purchasing, right?
Wrong. Out of business. Without ever releasing their secret recipe.
If you've ever tried to make pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, you know that most often (using canned pumpkin) they turn out cake like. Soft. If you're lucky there's a bit of a crunch around the side, but always cakey.
So I spend the better part of every fall wasting a lot of chocolate, flour, and butter trying to figure this out. I've consulted experts. I've read up. I've combed the internet...disappointments all.
They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing...today I set out to try again now that October is on us. Oh, I thought, I'll just up the sugar and fat (butter) and drain the pumpkin and voila...perfect cookies. So I let the pumpkin drain for about a half day over cheesecloth (which did let out about a CUP of liquid!). So I changed the proportions, even starting with the best chocolate chip cookie recipe ever.
The results? Probably my best attempt yet, but still totally lacking. Crunchy, a bit. I could tell they were trying. But still cakey, and not nearly enough pumpkiny zing.
Don't worry. I'm determined to get this right, for pumpkin cookie lovers everywhere. The quest continues...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

all that remains.

Another glorious trip to my favorite little corner of the world, Gipuzkoa and Navarra, España, and I'm left with just memories and a slowly disappearing hunk of generic (and incredibly flavorful) sheep's milk cheese.

Hauled through customs and multiple airports, the cheese is still every bit as delicious as it was when the man behind the counter at Spar Todo Todo cut it from the wheel. So I'm savoring it slowly, whittling away one sliver at a time, and marveling how it can taste so much better than American cheese.

Reason #5,602 to not live here: our default cheese is technically not even food, but a food product.

Okay, so I lied. It's not all I'm left with. I have notes from an amazing dinner at Akelarre, which I hope to post for whoever cares (probably sans photo) soon. I also have all THIS which I stowed away in my Chinese store suitcase:

marti's spain essentials:

*bottle of Ribera del Duero (Cepa Gavilán 2006)
*Bela Untza, a basque homemade herb liquor
*pimientos del piquillo
*Principe chocolate filled cookies
*instant decaf coffee
*spanish ketchup
*special pastas from Sandro Desii (flavors: spaghettini with chives and lemon shells)
*guindilla peppers in vinegar
*salsa roquefort
*galletas marias
*dried piment d'espelette and piment d'espelette mustard

sigh. Spain, if you are reading this, I miss you!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

summer vegetable pasta salad: recipe salvage

Okay. So, as soon as you get your breath back, you can see why I had to make this recipe one day after receiving my September issue of Gourmet. A luscious, glorious stack of summer vegetables that demanded my attention and seemed to promise to be more than the sum of its parts.

I succumbed, preparing it for a very special dinner party featuring Vellum, a most delicious wine from Napa Valley. Here is my slightly less stylized and photoshopped version, made with Snow's Bend multicolored summer squash.

Unfortunately, here is a case where beauty just wasn't enough. Perhaps there were too many other delicious items on offer (creamed corn with queso fresco, peppercorn-encrusted NY strips, steamed okra with scallions, ginger and lime), but the veggie torte remained mostly whole in the middle of the table, in its lonely beauty, while we were licking clean the pan of creamed corn.

Fortunately, with a little bit of creativity, I am able to present a usable, delicious recipe that I can fully recommend. I took the remaining torte, chopped it up and tossed it with warm pasta, a little mayonnaise, and some of Alecia's Tomato Chutney, which is a very special condiment made here in Alabama. I crumbled up some leftover queso fresco and lunched on a thoroughly delicious yet ugly plate of veggie pasta goodness.

summer vegetable pasta salad

1/2 recipe yellow squash and bell pepper torte, or sauteed slices of summer veggies
1 1/2 c dried whole wheat rotini or other pasta, cooked until al dente
3 tbsp mayonnaise
3 tbsp Alecia's tomato chutney
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper, or to taste
1/2 c crumbled queso fresco (or mild feta)

Toss warmed veggies, warm pasta, mayonnaise, chutney, salt and pepper. Sprinkle cheese over top.

Monday, August 31, 2009

muscadine sorbet

It's a bountiful month for vegetable harvests, but here in central Alabama, it's a transitional time for fruits. Gone are the blueberries and blackberries of the hot summer sun. Enter muscadines, the untouted, undervalued American grape. Perusing the farmer's market Saturday with dessert on my mind, I saw only cardboard pints of lonely muscadines.

Fortunately, for last month's birthday I received an ice cream maker, and I've been dying to crank it up for a few weeks. I walked away with two pints of muscadines in my hands, dreaming of their transformation into icy refreshment.

Eating a muscadine is fun. First you bite a hole in the thick skin, then you suck out the pulp while extracting the seeds with your tongue. Eating muscadine sorbet, a much simpler prospect, is divine. Once blended, the muscadine skin lends a neon pink-purple hue to the sorbet, thanks to their dark skins. It's actually fairly breathtaking. And the taste is like pure, freezing-cold muscadine essence, which you actually miss a bit when you're managing the skin and seeds and pulp all at once.

I'm sure this will be just one of many future ice cream posts, but it may well end up as my favorite.

muscadine sorbet
2 pints of muscadines, halved and seeded
1 c water
1 c sugar

Heat water and sugar together, stirring occasionally, until clear. Cool.
Blend muscadines in blender for a few minutes at high speed, until totally liquefied. Pass through a fine-mesh strainer.
Whisk half the simple syrup (that's the sugar water) into the muscadine juice. Taste for sweetness, adding more simple syrup if desired.
Spin in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

puerco pibil

Probably everyone's favorite meal from our vacation was puerco pibil (one of the dinners I prepared). Of course, that is an unofficial statement that I pretty much made up, but this tender, deeply spiced pork really stole the show without requiring much effort.

If you can muster up the energy to grab a couple new spices from the store, cube some pork butt, and use your blender, then you can easily prepare an amazing meal for dozens of people at a time. Ever since Chip showed me the special features on Once Upon a Time in Mexico, which include a cooking class on puerco pibil with director Robert Rodriguez, this dish has been a never-fail staple.

It's easy. It will never let you down. And it gracefully accepts whatever you choose to pair with it. This time I prepared some refried black beans, by sauteeing some peppers, onion and garlic with black beans and smashing them. Then I threw some red onions and corn on the grill, whipped out a batch of homemade salsa, and heated up some tortillas.
It was incredible.

puerco pibil

5tbsp whole annato seeds
2t whole cumin seeds
1 tbsp peppercorns
8 whole allspice seeds
1/2 tsp whole cloves

Grind the above in a spice mill/coffee grinder.

2 habanero chiles, stems and seeds removed, chopped
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 tbsp salt
8 cloves garlic
Juice of 5 lemons
splash tequila

Combine the above with the spice mix in a blender, and puree.

5 pounds pork butt, cut into 2-inch cubes

Combine all ingredients in a zip-top bag and mix well. Line a 9x13 pan with banana leaves; add the pork mixture; fold over the leaves to cover, then cover tightly with foil. Alternatively, just wrap the whole thing in a foil packet. Bake 4 hours at 325.

adapted from Robert Rodriguez

Saturday, August 1, 2009

cheddar and black pepper gougeres

c'est time for le gouter somewhere

the gougere as crowd pleaser

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

a boiled dinner party

There are some traditions that make me feel like an outsider in my own land. Cue....the boiled dinner.

We are on vacation up here in Fannin County, Georgia, nestled below the Blue Ridge mountains in our cabin on the river. When the sun sinks below a certain point on the horizon, everyone's mind turns to the night's feast. Cooking for 10-11 people is no mean feat, so we've all been sharing the duties. This particular night we enjoyed a meal that has deep roots in American culture- the boil. There's the New England boiled dinner, the crawfish boil of Louisiana, and then the shrimp boil.

It basically consists of throwing corn, potatoes, onions, and shrimp into boiling water, staggering their drop times so that everything comes out perfectly. For our meal, we added polish and andouille sausage, and I threw together some coleslaw. I admire this as a cultural phenomenon. I admire it as a way to avoid dirty dishes while feeding multitudes. But I couldn't stop part of me from thinking of about a dozen yummier ways to prepare each ingredient. But then I did, because the atmosphere was so jovial and breezy, with nothing to do but dig in and watch the river float by.

Friday, July 24, 2009

piment d'espelette

Fall is looming...at least in my mind. I don't know what that means for you, but for me it means deliciously painful pangs of desire to travel. I still had one special momento from my September trip to my favorite grocery store in the world: a jar of Espelette pepper puree. As often happens, I'd been saving it for a special occasion, but since I hope to go back in a couple months I decided to make a regular old lunch a trip down memory lane.
Piment d'Espelette is a unique pepper from the French Pays Basque that is a culinary legend. It's a beautiful, longish red pepper with a perfectly piquant bite. It has been a culinary specialty of the village of Espelette since it found its way to France in the 1500s. It has the same AOC protections as champagne, as well as a festival in its honor in late October. The most celebrated appearance of the Espelette pepper is in piperade, a pepper stew of sorts. But it is included in chocolates, hams, as decoration, dried and ground into powder...just about every way you can imagine. The puree I brought home was so beautifully bright and amazingly tasty...perfect on my eggplant sandwiches and even more perfect slathered on some bread with a hard sheep's milk cheese. It's definitely earned permanent place in my return suitcase.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

the staple salsa

It's the height of summer, and if you are growing your own tomatoes and have more than two plants, chances are you've got more than you know what to do with. Allow me to present....the best salsa ever! It's easy, requiring merely a bit of broiling in the oven and a food processor. Seriously, I no longer search for new incarnations--this is the condiment equivalent of a soulmate.

It's exactly what you hope to taste every time you try a new salsa. It boasts a deep, layered flavor profile, thanks to the roasted vegetables and hint of cider vinegar. When I make it, I find the full amount of jalapeños to be a bit much (and I love spice). I still like to use three jalapeños, though, because the pepper/onion/garlic mixture saves beautifully in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, making it easy to make a bastardized version with just raw tomatoes.

roasted jalapeño salsa

about 10 medium tomatoes
3 jalapeños, stemmed
half a white onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cider vinegar

Broil tomatoes and jalapeños about 6 minutes, until darkly roasted. Flip and roast another 6 or so minutes.
Turn oven to 425. Roast onion slices and garlic on a bakin sheet, stirring every couple minutes, until brown and wilted, about 15 minutes.
Pulse the jalapeños, onion, and garlic, until moderately finely chopped. Scoop into bowl. Coarsely puree the tomatoes and their juices. Combine the tomatoes with about half the pepper mixture, the salt, and the vinegar. If needed, add water to thin. Taste, and if desired add more pepper/onion.

-adapted from Gourmet

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

pea ravioli

One of the more desirable effects that motherhood has, at least on me, is that it makes you a bit more creative in the kitchen. Your baby's preferences set up parameters that must be followed: no eggplant, sparing with the salt, finger friendly food only, please. And the challenge of presenting vegetables in a fresh, exciting way is definitely in the forefront of my mind. I don't feel like a meal is complete for Buckley unless there's something green (or yellow, or purple, or red). And we do meat at most once a day, leaving lots of space for other food groups.
This pea ravioli was a hit, both with mom and baby. Pureed peas are transformed into a portable, not-as-messy packet of deliciousness by some boiled wonton wrappers. Buckley ate them plain; I topped them with a quick cream sauce. You can finish them however you like, but make a ton--they are delicious, quick to cook, and freezer friendly.

pea ravioli

1 package wonton wrappers
16 oz green peas, frozen or fresh
3/4 c grated parmesan
1 large shallot, diced
splash of red wine vinegar
olive oil

If using frozen peas, boil in salted water until tender.
Process with shallot, parmesan, red wine vinegar. Drizzle oil with motor running until a smooth consistency is reached, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Place a small spoonful of peas in the middle of each square. Lightly trace around the edges with your finger, dipped in a small bowl of water. Seal edges, pressing out any air bubbles.
That gives you ravioli; from there you can fold over the point and twist the edges inwards for tortellini, if desired.
Boil for 3-4 minutes in salted water.

Monday, June 15, 2009

porcini e mozzarella

What do you do with a $4 mushroom?
It's a question that most people never face. And, technically, I brought the situation on myself. I mean, I did buy one and a half porcini mushrooms (total: $6) in a fit of excitement at the market.
Since my budget only allowed a small bit of this fungal treasure, I decided to keep it simple. The fresh mozzarella was on sale, too, so I grabbed a ball.

In need of a six o'clock snack to a) go with our cocktails and b) tide us over until a 9 o'clock dinner, I thought of the mushrooms. I sliced them oh-so-thinly, placed torn mozzarella on top, and sprinkled lemon thyme, salt, and freshly ground black pepper over the top. A drizzle of olive oil and a trip under the broiler later, we had an amazing little snack of just-tender porcini and blistered mozzarella. Best mushroom ever.

Porcini e mozzarella

1/8 lb porcini mushrooms (1 large or 2 small)
1/2 c fresh mozzarella
1 tsp lemon thyme leaves
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat broiler. Slice mushrooms vertically into thin slices. Arrange on oven proof plate. Tear mozzarella into pieces and lay over mushrooms. Sprinkle thyme and seasoning; drizzle with olive oil.
Place under broiler until golden and bubbly.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

how to make chicken and impress people

My opinion of chicken tenders changed the day I learned the secret of a certain House of Chicken.
Although the quality of chicken and the items you choose to bread it with do count for something, what really makes a tender, savory chicken finger is a brine. A salty solution that you employ as a sort of marinade, a brine can be composed of many different ingredients. It soaks into the meat and has a tenderizing as well as flavoring effect, although it is much more pronounced in a thinner cut of meat. In this particular method however, the secret/only ingredient is...pickle juice! I favor Claussen, or a similar flavored dill.
Let the chicken soak in the juice for a day, an hour, whatever you have to spare. Then flour, egg wash, and coat it in a crumby mixture of your choice. One day, I had just the ends of a baguette, so I supplemented with toasted, ground pecans and grated parmigiano. Needless to say, plain old breadcrumbs don't really do it for me anymore.
I don't deep fry the chicken; I usually just have about a half inch of oil in the pan. It also helps to put a lid over the pan when the chicken is cooking, so you don't burn the outside before you cook it through.

I nearly always serve this chicken with a green salad for lunch, and an additional side if we're having it for dinner. The nasturtiums are blooming vibrant orange and yellow in the garden, so of course they were included. If you've never had a nasturtium, they are edible flowers that have a spicy finish, much like arugula. I prefer to pair them with milder salad greens. They're oh-so pretty perched on a salad, and baby Buckley was almost as excited as I was to be munching on flowers.

chicken fingers

chicken tenders (or breasts)
pickle juice, to cover
1 c breadcrumbs
1 c toasted, coarsely ground pecans
1/2 c grated parmigiano
3-4 eggs
1 c flour

Marinate chicken in pickle juice for thirty minutes to one day (the longer the better).
Season flour and place in a shallow bowl. Add a few tablespoons of water to eggs and whisk. Stir breadcrumbs, pecans, and cheese together in a separate shallow bowl. Dredge chicken through flour, shaking off excess, then eggs, shaking off excess, then crumb mixture.
Heat 1/2 inch vegetable oil over high heat. Fry chicken on both sides until cooked through.

Friday, May 29, 2009

tea for two

We walked down to the Mediterranean Foods Market near our house to marvel at the whole lamb ($99), selection of pita, jarred vegetable spreads and spices. Partially inspired by our friend Alex, we walked away with some new tiny tea glasses, which are the perfect size for a sweet glass of mint tea.

For some reason, there is not really a tea culture in the United States (unless you count sweet tea for Southerners-I don't). In Britain, you get Earl Grey, with lemon or sugar. In many countries, heavily spiced black tea with copious amounts of sugar and milk is ubiquitous. Here, we have a lot of choices, but no national cup per se.

Green tea is good, especially for health-minded people entranced by its potential antioxidant-related benefits. Heavily sweetened, minty green tea is better, especially for people in it mostly for taste. Taken with the morning paper and a Digestive, it's pretty close to heaven.

mint tea

2 c filtered water
2 green tea bags
1 bunch of mint
2 tbsp sugar

Bring water just to a boil. Pour over tea bags, mint, and sugar; let steep for two minutes. Remove tea bags, but leave mint. Stir well and enjoy.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

roasted chickpeas, or, the perfect supper

Often the clock has struck ten by the time I return home from work, smelling like a million-dollar meal but with an empty stomach. There's never time to cook up a true dinner; nor do I want one at this hour. If there's nothing waiting on me (husband, what?), I sometimes reheat leftovers. More often, however, I treat myself to what seems to me to be the most perfect supper one could ask for. Little nibbles that go perfectly with a late-night newspaper, an Orhan Pamuk masterpiece, or a slow-moving art house movie.
My balanced meal consists of toasted nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds), a hunk of some mild sheep's milk cheese, crackers (if I'm lucky, this kind), a gin y tonic prepared á la fuego negro, and some roasted chickpeas. Nothing I ever put in my mouth past nine p.m. really makes me happier. Except when I'm in Europe and most of what I eat goes in after nine. I hope you have little meals of pleasure like this. I also hope you've had roasted chickpeas, because they're much different than their raw cousins. If not, here you go.

roasted chickpeas

1 can chickpeas, drained (or dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and simmered until tender)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne

Combine all ingredients. Roast in 400 degree oven until crunchy, about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

zucchini-carrot muffins

A perfect morning is a good muffin paired with a strong cup of black coffee. But allow me to be a bit picky here....I'm not referring to just any muffins (or any coffee, for that matter, but that's a whole other tirade). I'm talking about newborn muffins still steaming from the oven.
I'd like to make a case for homemade muffins here. They're so much better than any you can buy around town. You don't get that processed taste that you do when muffins come from mixes, designed to withstand days on a shelf. No...homemade muffins are something much more ephemeral.
Which brings me to my second point: making muffins at home is actually an exercise in time-saving convenience. Muffins (and many other breads) freeze beautifully; a sojourn in the oven is like a fountain of youth. They emerge steaming and ready to inhale. The following is an excellent muffin, as well as a peaceful and delicious way to put dying squash and root veggies to their rest. It is adapted from a Joy of Cooking recipe that I beefed up to my taste. The first time I made them, I followed the book's version, using all white flour, copious amounts of sugar, and only one veggie. Smeared with some nice butter, they were amazing amazing amazing. But I just felt not so good about starting my day with a muffin-shaped piece of cake. So this is the slightly more healthful and just-as-delicious version. Bon appetit!

zucchini-carrot muffins

3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 c sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups zucchini, grated and squeezed of excess moisture
1/2 c carrots, grated
1/2 c sultanas

Whisk together dry ingredients through cinnamon.
Blend sugar, eggs, oil, vanilla and salt in a large bowl. Stir in dry ingredients. Fold in carrot, zucchini, and sultanas.
Scrape batter into greased muffin pan. Bake at 350 until bread pulls away from sides, about 45 minutes.

*adapted from Joy of Cooking.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

penne with prosciutto and peas

What started out as a lunch without hope turned delicious pretty quickly.

I had pulled out some frozen canned tomatoes to thaw, with the thought of throwing together a quick pasta dish. Then, I remembered I wanted to use some of the larger arugula leaves in the garden. On my way back inside, I snagged a handful of mint after I remembered the frozen peas we almost always have on hand in the freezer. Buckley, our 15-month-old girl, loves them, and they are handy for last-minute delights such as pea soup, fava-pea puree, and mashed-potatoes with olive oil and peas.

The canned tomatoes went back in the fridge for another day, and out came leftover cream, parmesan and two lonely slices of prosciutto from the weekend's festivities. All of a sudden, I had the makings of a pasta dish I actually wanted to partake in. The rich creamy pasta has bursts of green and rich pink strips of prosciutto.

The arugula, however, really stole the show. Its peppery bite, enhanced with bright lemon flavor, gave each forkful new life. I regretted not picking more; when I finished it, I settled for squeezing the lemon over the top of my remaining pasta.

penne with prosciutto and peas

3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 c frozen peas, blanched
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 slices of prosciutto
1/3 c parmesan
3/4 c cream
3/4 c whole milk
1 tsp chopped mint
8 oz whole wheat penne pasta
handful of arugula
1/2 lemon

Melt butter and olive oil together over med. high heat. Add shallots, then peas. Season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, add penne to boiling water to cook.
After a few minutes, add one slice of chopped prosciutto to the peas. After one minute, add the cream and milk and allow to simmer for a few minutes until slightly thickened. Add the parmesan, stir in the chopped mint, then season to taste.
Toss penne with sauce mixture and serve on heated plates. Top with thin strips of uncooked prosciutto and arugula that has been tossed with salt, pepper, and juice from 1/2 lemon.

Monday, April 13, 2009

slowest food

I didn't start my garden because of the Obamas. I didn't start it because it's newly hip to grow your own food. I didn't even start it (solely) to be more eco-friendly.
It was actually an accident.

We moved across the hall in our apartment building in February. On a routine attempt to spruce up the place (an endeavor that stretched our move-in time to about three weeks), I turned my attention to the back yard, which was covered in leaves at least a foot deep. A few forceful swipes revealed, however, more than I ever could have wished for.
Underneath this leaf bed, apparently untouched for at least a dozen years, lay black gold. Compost, that is. Our lazy ex-neighbors had unwittingly been cold composting, a process that involves leaving your brown and green organic matter in a pile and doing nothing. It takes much longer than the high-maintenance composting you hear about, but it's a heck of a lot easier.
So, here I am, food lover and cook, with a plot of land made solely of highly fertile material. Feeling guided by the hands of fate, I started the process in my own makeshift way. I gathered gardening tools from my neighbor's neglected collection, ordered my favorite vegetables in seed form, and bought some lime and a bag of compost just in case.

After a month and a half of gardening, these pictures you see are what I have. So far, the only things I've reaped are some herbs (because I bought parsley, sage, rosemary, lavender, chives, and thyme in plant form), arugula, and green garlic. After eating a deliciously simple soup of green garlic for lunch today, I decided this food blog was the perfect place to post about my gardening experience. After all, hopefully many of my meals will be coming from the garden in a few months. So far I've planted potatoes, garlic, peppers, jalapeños, fava beans, zuchinni, kale, carrots, beets, frisee, bok choy, escarole, microgreens, rapini, fennel, tomatoes (four varieties:brandywine, black cherry, red zebra, and san marzano), edamame, mache, radicchio, turnips, thai hot chile, strawberries, red sail lettuce, okra, and a ton of herbs.

Already I've found that it's so addictive. I'm out there everyday, looking for new weeds to pull, trekking back and forth to the hose on the other side of the building, and, who am I kidding, just staring lovingly at my little plants.

In the left corner, those monstrous plants are my potatoes. To their right you can see little green shoots coming out of the ground-this is green garlic, the immature leafy part of a garlic bulb. They are delicious, in soups, mixed with creamy cheeses, and atop pasta. What's more, you can cut them a few times and they'll keep growing back.

simple green garlic soup

3 c homemade chicken broth
4 sage leaves
2 tbsp chopped green garlic
chopped parsley
2 slices of toasted bread

Bring chicken broth to a boil with sage leaves. Remove leaves and add green garlic, salt, and pepper to taste. Cook five minutes, at a simmer, then add toasted bread drizzled with olive oil to a bowl, top with soup and a pinch of chopped parsley.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

mint simple syrup

It was a perfect spring Saturday. We had just returned from the botanical gardens, where we had a delightful picnic among the irises, the hot minestrone just the right temperature for the cool breezes that came along every once in a while. We walked down the sidewalk and the sun began its afternoon descent, letting its light go orange against the clouds. It was still a bit warm, and the cool cocktail in our hands, a fresh mixture of Rangpur gin, mint simple syrup, mint leaves and lime juice was the perfect accompaniment for the porch and the smoky salted almonds.
And that's why you should keep some of this stuff in your fridge.

mint simple syrup

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 bunch mint

Combine water and sugar over med. high heat. Stir occasionally until sugar is completely dissolved (don't boil). Take pan off heat, add mint and let it steep overnight. Strain mint and refrigerate syrup.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

a mutt of a meal

I really didn't think much of this dish as blog post while eating it. I was more focused on how delicious it was-the sticky noodles providing the perfect counterpoint to the crispy tofu, and my mouth set slightly, pleasantly aflame. While preparing it I paid no mind to cultural accuracy or technique, so I'm pretty sure this is the home-cooked equivalent of American Chinese food, a sort of bastard meal. And it's pretty in its own pale way, but the true strength of this dish is in its flavor. The heat lurks quietly behind the deliciously melded flavors of garlic, ginger, and soy. It's a very comforting meal, nothing fancy about it. A recent article that featured a similarly culturally orphaned dish made me think that maybe this little noodle mutt was worth sharing.


3 onions
2 minced garlic cloves
1 tsp minced ginger
2 chiles de arbol, torn
sticky rice noodles
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice vinegar
sriracha to taste
1 lb tofu, in large cubes
frying oil
1/2 c. chopped green onions

Heat oil and fry tofu until golden. Set aside to drain.
Saute onions in a little oil until soft. Add garlic, ginger, 1/4 cup green onions and chiles, and saute until soft and fragrant. Season with salt.
Meanwhile, bring water to boil and prepare rice noodles.
Place onion mixture into food processor and blend until smooth. Add soy sauce, vinegar, and sriracha. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Mix noodles, sauce, and tofu. Top with remaining green onions.

Monday, March 16, 2009

the ultimate irish lunch

I love meals that appear when you are absolutely sure you don't have anything to eat. A lonely leek here, leftover buttermilk there...et voila. This soup is deliciously simple and flavorful--just leeks, potatoes and garlic, really. A good, homemade broth can make all the difference. If you've never made your own, it's time you do.
Probably the best thing about this meal is the appearance of fresh bread after a mere 45 minutes. The soda bread comes together in a snap, and after the soup is made you can pull it out of the oven to enjoy. For those who have never enjoyed irish soda bread, it's sort of like the bread version of a scone. You can substitute whole wheat flour at a three to one ratio if you'd like.
Now to what must be glaringly obvious...potatoes, irish bread, green soup. Yes, this is probably the unintentionally best-timed post I have ever made....happy st. patrick's day!

potato leek soup

5 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 leeks
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp olive oil
chicken or veggie broth, pref. homemade

Cut leeks in half lengthwise, then slice fairly thin. Rinse in bowl of cold water. Dry leeks, then saute them in olive oil over med. high heat. When they begin to soften, add the garlic. After a couple minutes, before garlic browns, add the potatoes and chicken broth to cover. Simmer until potatoes are tender, 15-25 minutes.
Transfer mixture to blender, and puree completely. Add broth to desired thickness, season with salt and pepper.

irish soda bread *
3 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450°F. Mix dry ingredients in large bowl.Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk. Stir, adding more buttermilk if needed; the dough should be soft, but not wet or sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead just enough to bring the dough together. Turn it over and pat it into a round loaf about 1 1/2 inches high.
Place on a baking sheet and cut a cross into the top of the loaf with a knife. Cut fairly deeply into the bread, being sure to cut all the way to the edges; this helps the bread to rise properly.
Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 400°F and bake for another 30 minutes or until done. To test, tap the bread on the bottom. It will sound hollow when done.

*from the art of simple food, by alice waters

Saturday, March 14, 2009

leek pizza

It's funny how altering something just a bit can change its character entirely.
I'm not even including a recipe with this post, because it seems almost identical to a previous one. But I will tell you how I made it, because it was just heavenly. When my husband and I took our first bite, we just kind of looked at each other. I was secretly lamenting the smallish size of the pizza, and I'm sure he probably was just enjoying the party in his mouth. Typical.
The pairing of grilled green onions and romesco sauce is a classic one, so when both show up in your fridge, you take action. In this case, I used the pizza dough recipe from Bottega restaurant in Birmingham. The romesco sauce had a little more heat to it than the one I previously posted, which is easily accomplished by throwing in a couple more dried peppers. To make the pizza, I just cut the leeks, washed and dried them, then tossed them in olive oil, salt and pepper. Then I threw them under the broiler until they were all soft, and some were turning crispy dark brown. Then all you have to do is spread the romesco on the dough, add the leeks, then dollop with some goat cheese (which, ideally, you have combined with some seasoning and chives). Bake on high heat and die! (because it's so good, not because of some horrible kitchen accident.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

vegetarian chili

Slow-cookers are a bit perplexing. If they were as great as some of their hard-core fans claimed, surely they would have taken over the world by now, right? The truth is, they do have their downsides. As far as easily replaceable appliances go, they are rather large. There's the whole lifting the top issue, too- removing the lid adds hours to cooking time, and for taste and touch cooks like me this can be maddening.
But there are times when you just have the urge to dump your dinner ingredients and run. In this scenario, the slow cooker becomes your somewhat unsophisticated home chef. He knows the basics, the rudimentary yet satisfying home-style foods that can be just what you want. Just give him some time and space, and come back to something entirely different than what you left.
This is a chili that I adapted from an internet recipe. The barley transforms into something reminiscent of ground beef, making the bean stew oh so luscious and hearty. We ate it straight up the night I "made" it, then froze leftovers which were later reincarnated in the form of a chili cheese tofu dog.

vegetarian chili

* 1 onion, chopped
* 3 cloves garlic, minced
* 1 1/2 c. beans, dried (i used black, kidney, and garbanzo)
* 28 oz. tomatoes, diced
* 1 c. corn, fresh or frozen
* 1 c. barley
* 4 c. water
* 3 tbsp. chili powder
* 1 tbsp. cumin
* 1 jalapeño, diced
* 1 tsp. coriander
* 1 tsp. unsweetened chocolate powder
* Cayenne, to taste
* Salt, to taste
* Fresh ground pepper, to taste
* Grated cheddar or pepper jack cheese (optional)

The night before you want to eat, boil a cup and a half of dried beans in water for 5 minutes. Drain the water. Soak the beans in water overnight, discarding the soak water once during that time and again when you finish soaking.

(If you are using canned beans, just start the morning of the day you want to eat chili and drain and rinse your beans.)

The morning of the day you want chili for dinner, combine all ingredients except for salt, pepper, and cheese in a crock pot. Set the crock pot on low and cook for at least 7 hours. When you get back, taste your chili and adjust spices, salt, and pepper as necessary.

Serve with grated cheese.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

bread pudding a la snickers

Bread pudding has been going around here like an epidemic.
Both of my parents made it over Valentine's Day weekend, so Chip and I enjoyed a few leftover snatches of cold white chocolate berry bread pudding and a cocoa powder version. Needless to say, that only whet my appetite for the real thing, fresh out of the oven.
A fortuitous trip to Nashville left me with a lovely loaf of quickly staling brioche that needed to be dealt with. It was the perfect opportunity to not only create a deluxe bread pudding, but to get this long-hibernating obsession with the Snickers flavor profile out of my head.
I wasn't sure about the insertion of nuts into a bread pudding; usually I side more along the mushy/melty side (i.e. raisins, chocolate chips, etc). However, their crunch was quite delightful. The singularly most luscious custard I have ever had is adapted from a Joy of Cooking recipe, and topped with the dulce de leche it gets sent into orbit. This dessert is pretty amazing.

bread pudding a la snickers

loaf of brioche, cut into small cubes
1 c heavy cream
3/4 c sugar
1/8 tsp salt
12 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 egg
2 egg yolks
2 c whole milk
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2 cup salted or honey roasted peanuts
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup caramel sauce

Bring the cream, sugar and salt to a boil. Remove from heat and add the chocolate, letting it sit for a few minutes, then whisking until smooth.
Whisk together the eggs, yolks, milk, and vanilla. Whisk in the chocolate, then stir in the bread cubes. Let them stand for about 2 hours, for maximum deliciousness, stirring occasionally. Stir in chocolate chips and peanuts.
Preheat oven to 325, butter a 2 qt baking dish, and bake in a water bath until firm, about 55 minutes. Let cool a bit, then drizzle with warm caramel sauce.

caramel sauce

2 tbsp water
1/2 c sugar
1/2 stick butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

In a saucepan stir sugar and water over medium high heat until clear. On high heat, boil the syrup, covered, 2 minutes. Uncover and continue to boil until syrup begins to darken around the edges. Stir until it turns a deep amber color. Remove from heat and add butter, stirring, then cream, stirring, then vanilla and salt.
Refrigerate any leftovers.