Thursday, January 29, 2015

Doughnut Bread Pudding

My beloved late mother, Denise, used to stop at Krispy Kreme every now and then on our way to school and pick up a few dozen doughnuts for my class and the teachers at the small private school I attended in Charleston, SC. I always admired her spirit of generosity and especially enjoyed the raspberry filled jelly doughnuts hot from the case. The year before last, when Thanksgiving and Chanukah coincided, I thought it would be fun to draw inspiration from this childhood memory and make a bread pudding that would evoke the flavors of the best jelly doughnut you could imagine - and jelly doughnut bread pudding was born.

This is not a light recipe. I don't recommend it for every day. When you do give it a try, however, you'll not regret it. Just make sure you have plenty of guests to help you finish it. If you are stuck with leftovers, they won't last long. As we say in the South, "Lead us not into temptation, for we shall find it ourselves."

Jelly Doughnut Bread Pudding
Serves 10
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes


1 dozen stale (a few days old) glazed doughnuts (Krispy Kreme if you can find them)
4 eggs, beaten 
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 cups half and half
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. allspice
1 10 oz. jar seedless raspberry preserves
1/2 pint fresh raspberries, carefully washed
zest of 1 lemon, divided (1 tbsp. reserved for garnish)

Special equipment: Roasting pan filled with 1/2 inch of water (bain marie)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with the roasting pan and water.
Arrange doughnuts into a greased baking dish. Whisk together sugar, salt, spices, half and half, lemon zest, and eggs. Pour over the doughnuts and allow to soak into the pastry for 10 minutes. 
Place on the center rack of the oven into the bain marie and bake for 45 minutes - 1 hour or until set. 
Place the jar of preserves in the microwave (without lid) and warm on medium for 1-2 minutes until a consistency that will drizzle. Drizzle over the bread pudding. Garnish with fresh raspberries and reserved lemon zest.

Allow to cool 10 minutes before serving. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner... or Lunch

Julia Child always said that the mark of a good cook is a perfectly roasted chicken. Who am I to disagree? While I love a basic roast chicken with simple sides, a recent lunch guest is well-known for his fondness of Middle Eastern food. Since I had a chicken in the refrigerator, I decided that I'd treat it like a blank canvas. I studied a stint or two in the Middle East and pulled some inspiration from kosher eateries in Jerusalem while paying homage to some classic French techniques. The result was pretty terrific.

Butterflying the chicken (taking out the backbone and roasting flat on a sheet pan) cuts the the cooking time almost in half. Just a few assists from the produce drawer and spice cabinet made for a pretty memorable afternoon of food. If you decide to give it a go, don't be married to the flavors and vegetables I have included here. While they're tested and work just fine, I'd suggest you take a look at what you have on your counter and in your icebox. Chances are it will be similarly delicious with a little love and attention.

Middle Eastern Rubbed Roast Chicken
Serves 4
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes

1 3-4 lb. chicken, backbone removed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. lemon zest
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. allspice
pinch nutmeg

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. In the bowl of a small food processor or mortar and pestle, combine all ingredients and pulse or grind until coarsely pureed by thoroughly combined. Rub all over both sides of the chicken and set bones side down on a rimmed baking sheet.

The chicken, carved into quarters, over the quinoa.
Roast at 400 degrees for 40-45 minutes until an instant-read meat thermometer reads 160 degrees in the thickest part of the breast or slightly higher in the thigh. Take care not to overcook, as the breast meat will become dry.

Allow to rest for 10 minutes before carving into quarters. When serving, drizzle with the natural resting juices.

Serve over roasted vegetable quinoa, which conveniently cooks up in the same time as the chicken in the same oven at the same temperature.

Roast Vegetable Quinoa
Serves 4
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 acorn squash, cut into wedges and seeds removed
1 large red onion, peeled and cut into wedges
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water or chicken stock
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped

In a large bowl, toss eggplant chunks and onions with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. On a half sheet-pan, roast the acorn squash wedges for easy peeling, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook quinoa according to manufacturer's instructions in a rice cooker or by bringing 2 cups of water or stock to a boil. When boiling, add quinoa and garlic and turn heat to medium low. Cover and cook 15-17 minutes until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy. Set aside.

Carefully peel the squash with a paring knife. Cut into 1-inch chunks and toss with eggplant, onions, and seasoning, Pour onto an even layer in the sheet pan and roast 15 minutes. Toss and turn the vegetables to allow the other side to brown. Cook another 15 minutes.

Toss with the cooked quinoa and garlic and adjust for seasoning if necessary. Serve with the roast chicken quarters.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Palmiers with Pesto

One of my favorite older cooking shows hails from the UK. The late great Jennifer Patterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright educated and entertained in a series called "Two Fat Ladies." These distinctly British dames would travel throughout the country and prepare various menus heavy on fat, flavor, and sass. Notoriously unfriendly toward vegetarians and fussy cuisine, Jennifer was especially fond of anchovies and garlic. During an episode on afternoon tea, she created a charming pastry named "Gentlemen's Savory Delights." It's as cheesy dough rolled with mustard, gentlemen's relish (essentially: anchovy paste), and parmesan cheese. I took a page out of her book and developed the delicious treat featured below for a game night.

Jennifer's pastry was a hybrid of a cheese straw-style base and pie dough. I used store bought Pepperdidge Farm puff pastry. Instead of layers of mustard, cheese, and anchovies, I created a broccoli rabe and artichoke pesto bound with pine nuts, almonds, anchovies, and parmesan cheese. I call them palmiers as a nod to the common sweet cocktail dessert, which is loosely named after the French term for a palm branch - well, in my case, palmetto. I think Jennifer would have enjoyed it.

Savory Palmiers with Pesto

Yield: 24 palmiers
Prep Time: 20 minutes + 30 minutes to chill pastry
Cook Time: 17-20 minutes

1 package Pepperidge Farm or other quality puff pastry, thawed
10 oz., by weight, broccoli rabe, rinsed and coarsely chopped (about 4 cups or 1/2 a bunch)
12 oz. artichoke quarters, rinsed and drained
4 large cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
1/4 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 tin, about 2 oz. anchovies, with their oil
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup excellent quality extra virgin olive oil

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli rabe and blanche (briefly boil) for 2 minutes. Pour into a colander and rinse with cold water.

In a food processor fitted with a sharp steel blade, pulse the ingredients for the pesto (all ingredients but the pastry) until evenly combined and almost smooth. It should retain some texture but the nuts, garlic, cheese, and anchovies should be ground small enough not to indicate, "Oh, here's a huge chunk of anchovy!"

Roll the pastry into two 14 by 14 inch squares. Spread each pastry square with half the pesto. Roll the pastry into the middle from either side of the square to form an elephant ear shape and fold over. Chill the pastry for 30 minutes.

Slice into 1/4 inch slices and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees for 17-20 minutes until puffed and golden. Allow to cool slightly and serve with cocktails.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Mixed Berry Shortcakes

When I was little, all the little girls were obsessed with the cartoon character Strawberry Shortcake. She was the Dora the Explorer of her day, I suppose, and it was not until I was in middle school that I first experienced the decadent treat of fresh berries, cream, and light, crumbly cake. I was so charmed by the yummy confection that I requested strawberry shortcake for my birthday cake when I was in 6th grade. Why were alarm bells not going off then?

Inspired by the easiest biscuit recipe ever written, I decided to revisit berry shortcakes as an elevated Southern dessert. With a mixture of fresh and cooked berries, strained sauce, and an easy but elegant topping of honey-whipped mascarpone, these will delight you and your guests with minimal work and fuss. Note that the suggested berries are just that - a suggestion. If you have excellent quality blueberries, blackberries, etc... please, by all means, use them!

Mixed Berry Shortcakes

Serves 8
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes

2 cups White Lily self-rising flour
1 ¾ cups cold heavy cream
½ cup granulated sugar, divided
1 cup very cold mascarpone
2 tbsp. honey
2tsp. crème de cassis liqueur, divided
3 cups strawberries, diced (divided)
3 cups raspberries, divided
3 tbsp. butter

Combine ¼ cup sugar, 2 cups flour, and 1 ¾ cup heavy cream in a mixing bowl until a dough forms. If the dough is too dry, add additional cream a few tbsp. at a time. The dough should be soft, but not too sticky.

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

On a floured surface, knead the dough 3 times, folding over itself to form layers. Cut out round biscuits to desired size. Lay on a parchment lined-baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Allow to cool on a rack.

Meanwhile, stir 2 cups of each of the berries, 1 tsp. cassis, and sugar together in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook for 10 minutes until softened. Strain the juice through a fine mesh sieve and drizzle the strained sauce on a plate as the base for the shortcake. Mix the cooked berries with reserved fresh berries.

Cut the shortcakes into 3 layers. Toast the cut side of each layer in butter over medium high heat to ensure the cake will not become soggy. Spread the cooked berry mixture in between the layers.

In a separate mixing bowl or stand mixer, whisk the mascarpone with honey and the remaining tsp. of cassis. Whip until combined and fluffy. Top each shortcake with a neat quenelle of whipped mascarpone and fresh berry.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Lowcountry Shrimp and Grits

If you've never been to my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, I hate to be rude, but you're simply missing out. The sights, smells, and food of the Lowcountry come together to create an unforgettable experience. Whether you're there for a few days or a lifetime, the mark that Charleston makes upon you lasts forever. One of our signature dishes is shrimp and grits. Frequently made at home from shrimp pulled from the river right off the neighborhood dock, this simple preparation is quick and foolproof. So long as you use the best shrimp you can find and afford, those little morsels of the Lowcountry will really shine. Everything in this dish is designed to nourish the body and soul. It's home cooking at its best. No need to spend an arm and a leg at a trendy brunch spot to enjoy the flavors of Charleston... make it home and impress your family and friends. If brunch is a Southern sacrament, this is as close as it comes to holy communion.

Lowcountry Shrimp and Grits
Serves 2 (can be doubled, tripled, etc...)
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

12 large shrimp (12-16 count per lb.), peeled and de-veined
2 slices thick cut bacon, diced
4 scallions, sliced thinly, with 2 tbsp. of the greens reserved for garnish
1 cup thinly sliced cremini mushrooms
1 plum tomato, diced
¼ cup dry white vermouth
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup grits
2 cups water
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. salt

1 clove garlic, finely pureed

Begin by bringing the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add salt and stir in the grits and turn the heat to medium. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Whisk in the parmesan, cayenne, and garlic clove. Taste and adjust for seasoning, if necessary.

In a large skillet, render the fat from the bacon. When the bacon is crisp, set aside to drain. Add the mushrooms and sauté until lightly brown. Add the tomato and scallions. Cook an addition 2-4 minutes until the tomato begins to break down and the scallion is softened. Add the shrimp and cook for 3 minutes, tossing with the other ingredients. When the shrimp begin to turn pink, de-glaze with dry white vermouth and carefully flambé. Serve over the grits, garnishing with the crisp bacon and additional scallion greens.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Duck Breast with Brussels Sprouts and Crispy Potatoes

If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's probably delicious. So many home cooks don't take advantage of the wonderful flavor and texture of my favorite poultry. Long gone are the days when we'd have to venture to the country to shoot the mallards ourselves. We can find whole ducks, duck breasts, and other noble game in our grocery stores. While few folks balk at spending an arm and a leg for beef tenderloin, it's rare to see someone spend half the money per pound for yummy duck breast. This recipe can be served plated, as featured here, or family style for as many as you have at the table. The sides are flexible, but the marriage of flavors and textures I suggest do work quite well.

Duck breast is best served rare to medium-rare.
Duck Breast with Brussels Sprouts and Crispy Potatoes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Serves two per recipe (can be doubled, tripled, etc...)

Skin-on Magret of Duck, Scored in cross-hatch pattern
Brussels Sprouts, Sliced
1 Shallot, Sliced
Pinch Red Pepper Flakes
Dried Morels and Porcini Mushrooms, Soaked
2 tbsp. Cognac
1 potato, sliced thinly
2 tbsp. butter, divided
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste

Season the duck with salt and pepper. Place skin-side down in a cold pan and turn the heat to medium. Ensure there is total contact between the fatty skin and the pan. Allow the fat to render 10-15 minutes until very crisp and brown. Turn the heat to medium high and allow to finish cooking on the flesh side, turning to allow the sides of the duck to brown, as well. Total cooking time will depend on the thickness of the duck. The target temperature is 125 degrees. Allow to rest 5 minutes before thinly slicing.

For the last 10 minutes of the duck cooking, season the potato slices with salt and pepper. Sauté in the rendered duck fat until crisp and golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towel and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Arrange decoratively on a warm plate.

Meanwhile, melt the 1 tbsp. of butter with 1 tbsp. of olive oil in a skillet. When sizzling, add the shallot and Brussels sprouts. Season with salt, pepper, and crushed red chili flakes. Toss to coat with the fat and sauté over medium high heat until just tender but still bright green. Serve alongside the duck and potatoes.

As a garniture for the duck, reconstitute 4 or 5 morel mushrooms and 4 or 5 dried porcini mushrooms in hot water. This should take about 15 minutes. In a pan, heat the remaining butter and oil. Slice the porcinis but leave the morels whole. Sauté in the butter and olive oil until slightly browned. Add the cognac over high heat and carefully flambé.

Serve the duck sliced thinly over the Brussels sprouts, alongside the crispy potatoes, and garnish with the mushrooms.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Getting Back in the Habit

It was been way too long since I've posted on these pages. It's not that I haven't been cooking, but for one reason or another, I haven't thought to share. There are no excuses, and Julia Child would want me to "never apologize, never explain." Well, for better or worse, I'm back! Here is a recent culinary victory to get myself back in the habit of sharing my experiences in the kitchen and dining room with y'all, my dear readers.

The story behind these cupcakes is very much "cuisine de l'opportunité" in the sense that I had some over-ripe bananas that needed to be put to good use and it has been months since I indulged my sweet tooth. I have a standard banana bread recipe, but since a few friends were coming over, I decided to do something a little more decadent for dessert. Essentially, I added mashed bananas to a standard cupcake recipe and fiddled with ratios until I got it right. Cream cheese frosting is by far my favorite, so I decided to add Nutella because... well, I am not sure you ever need a reason to justify the addition of Nutella. In any case, the resulting recipe produced cupcakes that satisfied guests to the point that folks were walking out the door with to-go bags. Since I'm all out of cupcakes, I figured I'd share with you how to make them for yourself. You won't be disappointed.

Banana Cupcakes with Nutella Cream Cheese Frosting

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25-30 minutes
Yields 12 cupcakes

For the Cupcakes:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 ½ cups mashed ripe bananas (3 or 4 bananas)
½ stick melted butter
1/3 cup canola oil
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce

Pre-heat your oven to 350°F.

Sift the flour together with the baking powder and baking soda to combine. With a whisk or hand mixer, mix the eggs, vanilla, sugar, mashed bananas, melted butter, oil, and applesauce until evenly combined.

Carefully fold the wet mixture into the flour, being careful not to over-mix. When the mixture just comes together, divide evenly into a paper-lined muffin tin. Roughly ¼ cup of batter per cup will yield a dozen cupcakes.

Bake at 350°F for 25-30 minutes until a skewer or cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

For the Nutella Cream Cheese Frosting:

1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened completely
1 stick butter, softened completely
1/3 cup Nutella or other chocolate-hazelnut spread
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Optional: 6-8 vanilla wafers, coarsely crushed

In the bowl of a standing mixer or mixing bowl, cream together the cream cheese, butter, Nutella, and vanilla until smooth. With the mixer on medium speed, fitted with the paddle attachment, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth. Chill for 20 minutes before filling into a piping bag or frosting with a butter knife or offset spatula.

Garnish with crushed vanilla wafers.