Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Baked French Toast

Genetics are an amazing thing. A few weeks ago I reconnected with my beautiful cousin Erin and although it had been 15 years since we'd seen each other, it was as though no time had passed at all. We took our collective kids to Farrell's and the 2 of us danced the birthday songs together and generally made mayhem while aforementioned kids looked away in embarrassment.

The amazing thing is how alike we are. This woman was raised in California's Central Valley while I grew up in Los Angeles. She is a middle child, I'm the oldest. She married and started her family before she was 30: I couldn't get that together until I was almost 40. And yet, we talk similarly - not just the tones, but the words we use. We're built similarly with tallish, athletic frames. And then, there were less obvious connections like that we see things the same way and have like values. We're extroverts who married good, solid men who support and ground us. Maybe it's generational (we're 4 months apart), but our similarities seem to run deeper than that. Some things are genetic, after all.

In any case, Erin and her family were coming to San Diego, so, naturally, I had to bake for them. As they were coming the day they planned to make the 6 hour drive home, I wanted to make sure they were fortified, not just fed. Knowing I wanted to spend as much time with them as I could, not cooking or prepping while they sat waiting, I sought out a recipe for something I could prepare beforehand and enjoy with them. Enter Ree Drummond, aka the Pioneer Woman, and her gorgeous recipe for toasty, cinnamony, pudding-y baked french toast. With some applewood smoked bacon, fresh raspberries and whipped cream, this was hearty, delicious and a sweet treat for our little family reunion.
Before we get into the recipe, let me just say that this one will be making return appearances in our lives, especially around the holidays. I can smell this Christmas morning, or any morning when guests are here and I want a low-maintenance, truly delicious breakfast. (In truth, we ate it as dessert with vanilla ice cream, too. I mean, it is essentially bread pudding!) Next time, I plan to add some blueberries or peaches into the mixture before baking to add my own spin. Or, maybe a cup of pureed pumpkin. Oh, the versions are endless!

If you make this one, let me know how you personalized it. As always, enjoy!

xox,

A.

Baked French Toast

For the Pudding:
1-20oz. loaf brioche
8 whole eggs
2 C whole milk
1/2 C heavy cream
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
2 T vanilla

For the Topping:
1/2 C flour
1/2 C brown sugar
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t sea salt
1/2 C cold butter, cut into chunks

Whipped cream and fresh berries, for serving

For the Pudding: Grease a 9x13" baking pan with butter and set aside. Cube the bread and drop into the pan.

Crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk in the milk, cream, sugars and vanilla. Pour over the bread. Cover the pan tightly and put into the fridge overnight.

For the topping: Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture is pebbly. Store in the fridge until use.

Preheat the oven to 350 and place the pudding on the counter. Sprinkle the topping over and place into the pre-heated oven for 50-60 minutes. Let cool about 15 minutes and spoon out portions, topping with berries and cream.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Oh, la la! A Showstopping Dark Chocolate Tarte


Why does everything sound fancier in French? Eh bien, que faire? C'est vrai et c'est ca.

In any language, everyone needs a go-to, trusted, not-too-much-work-but-exceedingly-fabulous recipe in her repertoire. Because you never know when you might decide at the last minute to invite guests over and they may be people you love, or at least that you'd like to impress. Really, anyone you're inviting into your home deserves to be loved and impressed, non?

This tart from Lori Longbotham's Luscious Chocolate Desserts is one I've made several times, always with delectable results. The first time I made it was for new friends in Richmond (I'm talking to you, Vogeleers and, then, the next day, Goldins!). Then, I made it for a party last holiday season (Kaspers!). When one of Jeremy's best friends from high school and his new wife (go, Durans!) invited us over to their house for dinner for the first time as a married couple, I brought the tarte. And, last weekend, when we had Jeremy's favorite work friend and his gorgeous family (you know who you are, Duncan family) over for dinner, well, you know the rest.

I know I tell you lots of recipes are easy, but this one truly is simple and turns out when you follow the directions. It may be wise to weigh the chocolate to make sure you have the correct amount, but I always fudge a little extra in and it comes out well. The greatest thing about this show-stopper is how unfair the ratio of unbelievably delicious it is against the amount of work it takes, and how very well that works to your advantage.

This recipe comfortably serves 12, is truly rich and needs no other accompaniment than freshly whipped cream. In fact, even when the whipped cream melts in the 85 degree weather, it adds a nice contrast to the dark chocolate. If you're reading my little blog and haven't made anything yet, please make this. Consider it a bonding experience between you and me. I'm sharing my secret weapon recipe with you. Je vous adore. Fo' real!

xox, 

A.
 

Lori Longbotham's Perfectly Simple Dark Chocolate Tart(e)
Serves 12

Crust
1/2 C powdered sugar
1/4 C toasted walnuts, cooled
3/4 C flour
1/4 C best quality cocoa powder (I used Dagoba this time, but love Valrhona equally well)
1/4 t salt
1/2 C cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 350.

Process the sugar and walnuts in a food processor or blender until the walnuts are finely ground. Add the flour, cocoa and salt and process just until blended. Add the butter and pulse just until the mixture starts to come together. 

Press the dough into the bottom of a 10" tarte pan and prick all over with a fork. 

Bake 15-18 minutes until the crust begins to pull away from the edges of the pan. Let cool while you make the filling. 

Filling
14 oz. 60% chocolate, chopped
6 T unsalted butter
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 C sugar
1 t best quality vanilla extract

Cocoa powder for dusting

Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler or in a heat proof bowl over simmering water. Remove the bowl from heat and whisk in the sugar and eggs until blended. Whisk in the vanilla. Pour the filling into the warm crust.

Bake 12 minutes or until the filling is set around the edges, but still a bit jiggly in the center. The top of the tart may look blistered. That means you've done it right. 

Remove the tarte from the pan and place on a plate. Dust with cocoa and serve with freshly whipped cream. 
Not the best shot, but you get the idea!
 




Friday, August 1, 2014

A Job, a Birthday and a Bowl of Cherries

Summer Cherries. My favorite!
“Life, a good life, a great life is about "Why not?" May we never forget it.”
Danielle Steel, Happy Birthday 

Wow. It's Friday at 5:00pm and we have not spoken all week. I miss you!

No recipe this week as I've been doing a lot of prepping and interviewing for Marketing Director positions. Cross your fingers for me! Next week, though, we'll have all kinds of treats so stay tuned.

In other news, I will turn forty four this weekend. Yes, I did just spell that out because, HOLY MOLY! I'm FORTY FOUR. Yowza. Let's see, where did I think I'd be at 44? When I was a teenager, I thought I'd be running a film studio a la Sherry Lansing. In my twenties, I thought I'd be a rockstar yogini like Seane Corn. In my 30s, all I wanted was to become a mother, which, thank you God, I did.

Now that I'm almost halfway through my 40s, naturally and perhaps predictably, all I want to be is ME. Plain old, sugar-loving, Type A, party-throwing, big sister, wife, mommy, daughter, ME. I want to be true to myself. To be vulnerable enough to tell someone when they've hurt me (you know, if I know them). To be strong enough to say no when the request really is too much to take on. To be kind enough to forgive those who trespass against me, especially myself. I want to be a stellar wife to Jeremy and to stay grateful that I get to be Lulu's mom. I want to mend fences and build new ones. But, mostly, I just want to be solid enough in who I am that rather than worry about saying the right thing or doing the right thing become able to say and do something.

My friends reading this will giggle because so much of my life I've seemed confident, even boisterous, but those few of you know that deep beneath that good posture is a little girl who's not so sure of herself. This year, I want to let myself be.

That's all for this week. Please feel free to blame my birthday for any overdoing it this weekend. Enjoy. It's summer! And my 44th birthday (faint).

Much love and many thanks for being on this journey with me.

xox,

A.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie

There is really a lot going on in the world today and so much of it is hard to swallow. Perhaps that's part of being a baker: making the swallowing a bit sweeter and easier to do. It doesn't hurt that it's quite pleasant to have the homemade scent of just-baked cookies wafting through the house. 

For all the fun things I bake, the one thing I make every single week (just ask my family) is chocolate chip cookies. Sometimes I make them with rye flour, or sometimes they're all chocolate, but, my go-to hero recipe comes from Jessica Seinfeld's most recent cook book "The Can't Cook Book." Let me tell you, this recipe is easy (apparently Mrs. Seinfeld's kids whip these up on their own) and downright delicious. Her recipe incorporates whole wheat flour for body and a combo of baking soda and baking powder for a reliable rise.

Chocolate chip cookies are the pinnacle dessert. Vanilla and chocolate with a teeny salty finish, there really is nothing better. Tender, soft and melty on the inside, it has the most perfect little crunch as you take a bite. And then another. And another. And so on.

I bake these big. They turn out splendidly either way, but I like a big cookie because you get more gooey center that way. These are so good and so easy, they may just become a weekly tradition for you!

Chocolate Chip Cookies
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temp
1 C brown sugar (I use dark brown)
1/2 C sugar
1 egg
1 t vanilla
1-1/4 C white flour
1 C whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 t kosher salt
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
2 C chocolate chips (or one 10-12 oz. bag. I use Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Chips for a larger but not too large bite of chocolate)

Preheat the oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment. Set aside. 

Beat the butter until smooth, about one minute. Add the sugars and beat again until the mixture is fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and blend just until incorporated. Add the vanilla and do the same.

Pour the dry ingredients over the batter and beat until incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips. 

Drop the dough by tablespoonsful (I use a small ice cream scoop like this one) onto the cookie sheet and bake for 12-14 minutes, until the edges are browned but the centers are still soft. You can always underbake chocolate chip cookies if you prefer the gooier center, as I do. In that case, bake them 11-12 minutes and pull them out. 

Enjoy the yummy scent and unbelievable perfection of a warm, freshly baked chocolate chip cookie!
Dough.

Fresh from the oven.

Mine!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Peach & Rhubarb Love Pie


Has anyone else experienced the magic of watching their dad become the most amazing grandfather ever? For those who have, they know that there is nothing that restores the heart like watching your parents with your child(ren). It's amazing. Profound, even. I find myself awed by the parent my dad was and enchanted by the childhood my parents gave me that I couldn't see from this perspective. Because when my little girl runs to her G Pops and throws herself into his arms, it's a parallel to the nights Dad came home and Erik and I ran to the door to greet him, throwing ourselves about him. When he tosses his grandbaby in the air and roughhouses with her and I hear her raucous giggling and shouting "More, G Pops!",  I'm transported to the summer days when my dad taught me how to properly throw a frisbee ("it's in the wrist!"), or the afternoons he coached my soccer teams, or the early morning surf-and-splash sessions at Topanga followed by peanut butter and jelly on the a warming-in-the-sun wet towel.

If you know those moments, you know how heartbreaking it would be to hear your dad was sick or injured, as we did a few weeks ago. Dad fell, cracking his head and breaking a few ribs. OUCH. He had been with us in Solana Beach only a few days before, tossing that little girl around in the pool. My dad is larger than life. He rides a motorcycle and surfs regularly at 66. He manages rock bands and travels the world. He drives down to SD for the day, flies to Taipei (where Erik now lives) for a couple of days just to meet his baby grandson. This is not the "sit on a blanket and read to the grandchild" kind of grandfather. He's a bongo-boarding, jetset, wild-and-crazy, never-gonna-stop guy.

Thank goodness for my youngest brother Adam who was there (and has been ever since) every step of the way, driving him to the doctor, making sure G Pops wasn't overdoing anything - which is a mighty, mighty feat. True to his nature, he was going nuts just "resting" by the second afternoon, resisting Adam's help and basically acting like one of his grandkids. This man was re-planting the garden on day 3 and back on is motorcycle a week later, cracked ribs and all. UGH.

What can a devoted Daddy's Girl do? Well, y'all know me by now, so, I won't keep you in suspense: I baked. Dad's favorite is apple pie, a throwback to my mom's cooking and those fabulous organic, home-grown hippie days in sun. Did I ever tell you we had a little farm in our backyard in Beverly Hills? My parents were so committed to fresh food, they grew it where most people were putting in pools and tennis courts. Anyhow, back to the Love Pie. Dad loves rhubarb and it's peach season, so, it seemed only natural to combine them and toss them into my special cream cheese pie crust - a crust that is the ONLY pie crust recipe you'll ever need. Most can't place exactly why they love this pie crust, but they will most certainly tell you it's the best pie crust they've ever had. Thanks, Rose Levy Beranbaum, for so many compliments over the years and thanks, Dad, for buying me this book!

The recipe below is truly an easy one. It's a little waiting for the crust to harden in the fridge, and a little rolling out the dough, and a little prepping the fruit, but it's not complicated and will turn out a delicious result. Dad cut it up at the lunch table, everyone dipping their forks into the same plate for some reason (because, that's family?), and gobbled the sweet, fresh, Love Pie all up. Sure, it was good. But the best part was seeing a smile pass across my dad's tense face. He'd been talking out the side of his mouth from the rib pain, but all of a sudden, he just relaxed, SAT DOWN and ate. And that was worth the waiting and the rolling and the prepping and the driving to LA from San Diego. That moment, when he enjoyed what I made for him, as I enjoy what he made (and still makes) for me every day of my life, was worth it all.

xox,

A.
Peach & Rhubarb Love Pie
Makes One Pie

Cream Cheese Crust from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Pie & Pastry Bible
makes enough for a double-crusted deep dish pie
12 T butter, cut into cubes and frozen 30 minutes
2 C flour
1/4 t salt
1/4 t baking powder
4.5 oz. cream cheese, cold and cut into 4-5 pieces
2 T ice water
1 T cider vinegar

Peach & Rhubarb Fruit Filling
5 large peaches, peeled and sliced into wedges
5-7 stalks rhubarb, chopped into 1" pieces
2/3 C brown sugar
1/2 C flour
4 T cornstarch
1 T lemon juice
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t almond extract
 
Butter a 9" deep dish pie dish and set it into the fridge.

Make the pie crust. Mix the flours & salt in a food processor, about 30 seconds. Add the cream cheese and pulse 6-10 times, until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the frozen butter and pulse until the butter is in pea-sized pieces, about 8-10 times. Add the water and vinegar and pulse another 3-6 times, until the mixture starts coming together. It will still be in bits, though.

Divide the dough into halves and place each half into its own plastic bag. One at a time, knead each mixture from outside its bag until each holds together in one piece. Then, form the halves into 2 discs, cover in plastic and refrigerate 45 minutes.

Make the fruit filling. Pour all the fruit ingredients into a bowl, toss with a plastic spoon until the fruit is coated and set into the fridge until your crust is ready.

Preheat the oven to 425 20 minutes before baking and set your rack on the bottom level.

Roll out the pie crust, place in your pie dish. Fill with fruit mixture and cover with the second pie crust. Crimp the edges - this is a reeeeally juicy pie, so, make sure your edges are firmly together - and slice 4-2" openings in the top crust to let some steam escape during baking.

Bake the pie 45 minutes, but check it at 30 to make sure the edges aren't burning. Cool at least 3 hours before cutting. It will still be warm. Soften some vanilla ice cream about 10 minutes before serving and prepare the experience a little summer heaven!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sweet & Salty Caramel Sauce

Well, hello, Party People! As we come upon our nation's day of independence - an excellent reason for a day off - we see all kinds of berry desserts in flag formations complete with genoise or chiffon cake and whipped cream. This one from Martha Stewart might just be the original, but this one from Smitten Kitchen is nearly perfect and photographed expertly or dessert queen Ina Garten has one, too. Since these recipes are so awesome, so delicious, I just had to share something different with you. I've been working on sauces lately and my greatest challenge has been caramel. The thing about caramel is that sometimes it can get overcooked resulting in a candy-like consistency or it can get undercooked resulting in decent flavor but a buttery color that is just too light. Don't you want your caramel sauce to have a nice, brown sugar-esque color, taste of butter, sugar and salt and pour perfectly? Yeah, me, too. It's not easy (for me)!

Fun fact: did you know that there are many, many versions of caramel sauce that are named Liquid Gold? When I was breastfeeding, that term had a whole different meaning, but I can see how it fits a good caramel sauce. Elusive, pretty and deeply rewarding in flavor, the maker of a good caramel may just feel as though she has struck gold right there in her All-Clad 4 quart pot. Not that you need this particular pot and I am not paid by advertisers or anyone else to blog (at least, not yet!), but, I make everything from sauces to brownies to pasta in this pot. I recommend it highly.

So, anyway, like any good sugar addict pastry lover, I was reading the Tartine Cookbook and found this gem of a recipe at the back of the book. I tried it. Roughly 4 times. And it's been good each time, with caveats. Like I said, sometimes it's too thick, sometimes too runny. I'm getting there. But each time I've made it, it has been superb in flavor. We've discovered that the faster we use it, the better. So, if you're having ice cream at your soiree this weekend, whip up a batch before the guests arrive and keep it on the counter until you serve it. That way, even if it's not perfect, it'll seem perfect.

Sure, you could do that thing where you put a can of sweetened condensed milk in the slow cooker for 8 hours, but this sauce is heaven. It will wrap itself around your tongue, melting there and cause a reverie on your taste buds. Why did it take me so long to tell you that? Because that's how patient you'll need to be if you want to be successful at this sauce.

Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson, I did my best to do your thorough and most helpful instructions and recommendations justice, but I very highly recommend to my readers to buy the Tartine books (again, not paid to endorse. Just LOVE them) and use them. Daily, if you can.

xox,

A.
Tartine's Caramel Sauce
2/3 C heavy cream
1 t vanilla extract (their recipe calls for 1/4 of a vanilla bean, scraped. Take your pick.)
1-1/4 C sugar
1/4 C water
1/2 t salt (Tartine's recipe calls for 1/4 but I wanted a saltier caramel. Again, your choice.)
2 T light corn syrup
3/4 t lemon juice
4 T unsalted butter, cut into chunks

Warm the cream & vanilla extract or bean in a heavy saucepan until just before it boils. Reduce the heat to low to keep the cream warm.

In your 4 quart stock pot or other medium-to-large heavy saucepan/pot, combine the sugar, water, salt and corn syrup and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the mixture is at a boil, cook it without stirring until the mixture is amber colored, 5-8 minutes. You really kind of have to stand there and watch every second. One second the mixture will be clear, the next, yellowish and then, all of a sudden, it takes on that brownish tint. Remove it from the heat immediately as it continues to cook from there.

Carefully and slowly add the cream. The photo in step 4 above does not show how vigorously the cream will cause the mixture to boil up, creating hot steam and lots of caramel drama. Keep stirring until it all calms down and then whisk until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice. Let sit for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, take out the butter and cut it into chunks if you have not already done so.

When the 10 minutes is up, add the butter one chunk at a time, stirring completely after each addition.

The caramel sauce will keep in a sealed jar in the fridge for up to a month, but, like I said, if you use it right away, it'll do that melty fresh thing on your tongue. Can't beat that. For real.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Berry Bran Buttermilk Muffins

These are also known as Alliteration Muffins around my house - for obvious reasons!

This week I've been having fun with my Fannie Farmer cook book. It all started when a friend asked me for a great banana bread recipe and, like a reflex, I grabbed my trusty old paperback FF and sent it right off.
Then, I took a tour through the recipes in the quick bread and muffins sections and found a solid recipe for bran muffins that I could toil with. Listen, I know not everyone is a bran muffin fan. But, when you bake as much as I do, it has to at least have a pretense of being healthy every once in a while. My favorite bran muffin is Il Fornaio's delicious and huge beauty filled with walnuts and dried fruits. Working from the fruit angle and not wanting to add additional fats, I added some fresh berries we had cut up in the fridge and used half buttermilk rather than all milk to add a twang. These came out beautifully which attests to a fabulous and foolproof Fannie Farmer (more alliteration!) recipe - one you can mess with and still turn out a delicious morsel.

If you like bran muffins, you'll love these. If you're not usually a fan, you'll find yourself pleasantly surprised. And, if you, like me, are a mom looking for some healthy treats for the fam, you, and they, will gobble these up.

Happy eating!

xox,

A.

Berry Bran Buttermilk Muffins
1 egg, beaten
1/2 C milk
1/2 C buttermilk
2 T melted butter
1 C bran
1 C whole wheat pastry flour
3 t baking powder
1/3 C sugar
1/2 t salt
1-1/2 C berries of any kind

Makes 10-12
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 18-22 minutes
Soak the bran in the egg, milks and melted butter 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 and line your muffin pan with butter or pop in muffins cups.

Add the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt to the bran mixture and stir gently until incorporated. Fold in berries. Spoon into muffin pans, distributing the batter evenly. Muffins cups will be almost full.

Bake 18-22 minutes until nicely browned. Spread with butter and jam and gobble away.

These will keep about 2 days covered on the counter or freeze them and eat up to 3 months later.