Wednesday, October 27, 2010

You Get What You Get

You don’t get to choose your birthday—you’re born when you’re born, and that’ll be the day and month that you’re supposed to celebrate for the rest of your life. More importantly, your birthday dessert options will more than likely be influenced by your season, so you’d better like it.
In this part of the world, winter birthdays get peppermint, chocolate, nuts, and other generally produce-free desserts. That’s me, a December baby. Spring gets citrus and carrot, maybe some coconut. Summer is a jackpot with all the fruit-based desserts you can imagine: berries and stone fruits coming out of your ears. And fall—fall is a great time for dessert: apples and pears, pumpkins and other squashes, cinnamon and nutmeg.
My dad is a fall baby and he loves bread pudding. So this year I decided to make him a pear raisin bread pudding from Chuck Williams and Kristine Kidd’s new cookbook, Cooking at Home. I swapped raisins for cranberries, and made a bourbon sauce and whipped cream to go with it.
It’s the first recipe that I’ve tried out of the book, and I’ll try more. They do a nice job of setting the stage for recipes: what’s a pudding, good ways to change the recipe. And the pages are well laid out—each step in the recipe lines up with the ingredient so it’s easier to read as you go.
I hope my dad is happy with his fall birthday desserts, because that's what he gets. I certainly enjoyed making this one. And eating it.

Pear Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce
From Cooking at Home, Chuck Williams

7 T unsalted butter
4 firm pears, peeled, cored and sliced
1 cup brown sugar
1 t cinnamon
4 day-old baguettes cut into 1/2 inch cubes, about 12 cups
¾ cup raisins
6 eggs
1 t almond extract
¼ t nutmeg
1/8 t salt
4 cups half-and-half
1 pint heavy cream, whipped
Bourbon Sauce

  • Butter a 9x13 inch pan.
  • Sauté 4 T butter, pear slices, ¼ cup brown sugar and cinnamon in a large frying pan until soft, about 8 minutes.
  • Melt the remaining butter. Spread half of the bread cubes into the pan, and brush with half the melted butter. Layer the pears on top of the bread. Sprinkle with raisins. Cover with the remaining bread cubes and brush with the rest of the melted butter.
  • In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until blended. Whisk in ½ cup brown sugar, almond extract, nutmeg and salt. Add the half-and-half and mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture evenly over the bread and pears.
  • Cover the pudding with waxed paper and weight it down with another pan, let stand for 10 minutes so all the bread soaks up the egg mixture. Remove the pan, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, up to overnight.
  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove plastic and waxed paper. Sprinkle the top with ¼ cup brown sugar and bake for an hour. Remove from oven and let it sit for 10 minutes. Slice and serve with unsweetened whipped cream and bourbon sauce.

Bourbon Sauce 
½ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
½ t kosher salt
5 T bourbon
5 T cream
  • Heat all the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and the sauce is slightly thickened. About 6 minutes.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Texas Ed

The last time I was outside of an airport in Texas was December of 1996. I was in a hurry to drive from the Grand Canyon in Arizona to Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida, and Texas was a long state. I saw Highway 10, the mechanic’s shop where my Hyundai was diagnosed but not fixed, and a motel room in San Antonio.

This weekend, however, was a different story. Eleven irreplaceable friends and a reason to celebrate would have been more than enough. But I also went for two jogs along the lake, drank beer outside, was referred to as Ma’am, felt the sun like I won’t feel in Seattle again until next July, had chile rellenos, bought cowboy boots, and began my education in Texas-style BBQ.
Mixed meats—that’s always a good place to start. We had brisket, two kinds of ribs, smoked turkey, and sausage. It was all slow cooked, smokey and tender, then slathered with habanero BBQ sauce. Not too spicy, not too sweet, not too thick, and totally irresistible in a way that made me want to sponge it up with whatever I had on the plate. The meat, the bread, the potato salad, the coleslaw, all candidates to sop sauce.  

I will say that next time I’ll use a different strategy for the sides. I’ll skip the beans, potato salad, and green bean casserole and go straight for the coleslaw and pickles. The cold and cleansing vinegar was a nice pause as I moved through my itinerary of meats. And they may have been the only vegetables I ate all weekend.

I still remember how big Texas is from my drive back in '96, and I know I just saw a sliver of it this weekend. But it exceeded my expectations and I will go back. If for nothing else than to continue my education.

Congratulations Todd and Monja! Thanks for everything!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hard Cider Companion

I went to the Ciderfest wanting to find my favorite local cider. Instead, I walked away with a new-found allegiance to Eric Bordelet—a cider maker and sommelier from Normandy, France.

I did taste some great local ciders (Westcott Bay, Finn River), but Bordelet’s Brut Cider was without a doubt my favorite, and that of my cider-tasting companions. It was caramely—not caramely-sweet but caramely-roasted—and complex. The bubbles were tiny, and there was just the right amount of them. And upon tasting, we immediately launched into a discussion about what foods it should be enjoyed with.

So last night for dinner, inspired by my quest to make a meal that should be eaten with Bourdelet’s Brut, a gallon-sized ZipLoc bag full of fresh tarragon from my friend’s garden, and a great butternut squash panzanella that I had at Smith last Thursday, I made (and ate) the following. It's excellent with hard cider, and would be a nice meal with a rustic terrine.

Delicata Squash with Fried Bread, Tarragon, and Escarole
Serves two.

1 medium delicata squash
8-10 large escarole leaves
4 slices crusty bread
¼ cup toasted pecans
½ cup fresh tarragon leaves
¼ cup olive oil, plus more for cooking
1 t champagne vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 T currants, soaked in warm water

  • Cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, and cut ¼ inch slices to make crescent moons. Toss them in olive oil, spread them out on a baking sheet, and roast at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until soft. Remove from oven, sprinkle with salt and cayenne.
  • Soak the escarole in cold water for about 10 minutes, drain and dry, and tear into bite-sized pieces.
  • Tear the bread into pieces. Heat 3 T olive oil on medium-high in a large skillet. Add the bread and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bread is crispy with some browned edges, but not smoking. Remove from heat and toss with salt.
  • Mix ¼ cup olive oil, vinegar and mustard to make the vinaigrette.
  • Toss all the ingredients and serve.