Easter Sunday, circa 1967, pre-Easter Brunch at The Loveless Cafe, Nashville TN
That’s me, the tall one with the goofy yellow hat and cat-eye glasses. To my right is my sister Carole, the stormy-eyed tough kid seething in her frou-frou dress (I hate puffed sleeves !) My hand rests on top of baby brother Jim’s head, The Boy, clutching his musical Peter Rabbit (here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail….) To my far left is sweet sister Barbara, demurring, (See, I really like my Easter outfit.)
This Brownie camera shot, no doubt taken by my mom, never fails to make me laugh. And not just because of our dorky of-a-time dress, or the family dynamic the image so aptly captures. It reminds me that sometimes the roots of your vocation are not obvious, but they are there, if you know where to look.
In this case, you’d have to look in that long plastic basket purse I was carrying.
Because it held a bottle of maple syrup.
Well, not this particular bottle, but you get the idea.
You see, I was the ultimate picky eater, and I knew we were going to the Loveless Cafe for brunch. The only thing I wanted to eat—correction, would eat—at the Loveless was a stack of pancakes.
The problem, which I gleaned with horror from a previous visit, was that they served Karo with those pancakes. Ugh. The little pitcher was filled with corn syrup. My stack was ruined.
I was not to be thwarted this time. I ferreted a bottle of the prized maple out of the pantry and tucked it (despite the stickiness risk) into that mammoth purse, which I lugged into church and then to the tables of Loveless. Easter brunch was saved.
Pretty crafty, eh?
And while I grew up hearing and thinking that I was a pain and a hopeless food-hater, someone who lacked a refined palate, or any palate at all, I came to realize that the bottle of maple syrup tucked in my purse told a different story.
It gave a hint that maybe this girl who loved maple syrup knew more about food than she realized. I mean, wouldn’t we all prefer maple syrup over corn on pancakes?
I write this today with those of you in mind who are picky, or have picky eaters in your family. Don’t despair. Inside that person there could be a great cook or chef or lover of good food. It can take time for that to emerge.
Often the things we seem to most reject, are the very things we end up embracing.
Pickiness is just another step along the path.
Today’s recipe makes a simple but delicious bread pudding—sweetened with maple syrup—-but not too sweet. You could spark it with some cinnamon or nutmeg, or add more dried fruit. I kept it basic–maple and vanilla bean, with a handful of sultanas. I wanted the maple flavor to shine through.
Like all bread puddings, it’s a terrific way to use up stale bread. To me, It’s more of a breakfast bread pudding than a dessert, although it could go either way.
I served it warm with some yogurt and bananas (two other things that the long ago picky eater wouldn’t touch!) and an extra drizzle of maple over the top.
MAPLE VANILLA BEAN BREAD PUDDING
3 cups half-and-half
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
1 cup maple syrup
1 cup heavy cream
1 stale baguette, cut into cubes
1 cup sultanas
soft butter, to coat baking dish
Pour half-and-half into a large saucepan. Add vanilla bean. Heat until small bubbles form along the edges, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and allow vanilla to infuse the half-and-half. Scrape the inside of the vanilla bean to get out all the vanilla paste. Stir in the maple syrup.
Place cubed bread into a large mixing bowl.
Pour vanilla-maple mixture over the cubes.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs and cream until well combined. Pour over the cubes.
Add the sultanas. Stir the mixture well.
Coat the bottom and sides of the baking dish with softened butter.
Spoon in bread pudding mixture. Allow it to rest and absorb for 30 minutes.
Bake in the center of a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. The bread pudding will become puffed and golden, and the custard will set.
Serve warm, with fresh fruit and yogurt, and, of course,
a pitcher of real maple syrup.
There’s been quite a bit of buzz in our local food community about Whispering Creek Mushroom Farm. We’ve had limited access to exotic mushrooms, locally raised. Now and then, a few farms devoted primarily to raising vegetables have inoculated logs with shiitake mushroom spores, and sold the tasty results at the market. Even rarer, friends have foraged and found chanterelles they’ve been willing to share.
Now, we have great and frequent options.
Whispering Creek is our first Mushroom Only farm, located in Gallatin Tennessee, just north of Nashville. Back in the fall, I learned about their project. Over the winter, they began selling their goods to area chefs. Now, they are ramped up enough to sell to the public.
For the past two weeks, I’ve had the good fortune to buy their gorgeous Oyster Mushrooms through our Fresh Harvest Co-op.
Don’t these look amazing? Within the oyster mushroom family, Pleutorus ostreatus, there are many members–Blue, Golden, Phoenix, Italian, Pearl…
Each cluster is like a little village, with its own personality.
The elongated scallop shape of its cap, rather than its taste, gives the oyster mushroom its name. Although, preparing in butter with a little lemon and wine, releases a sweet, subtle anise essence and silkiness that you associate with the bivalve.
Most of the mushroom is edible, and I like to tear it into pieces, rather than use a knife. The woody bits can be made into a stock.
I should note that oyster mushrooms are packed with nutrients: zinc, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, folic acid, Vitamins B-1, B-2, C, and niacin.
Plus ergothioneine, a unique immune-boosting antioxidant.
There are so many good ways to showcase these beauties–in a risotto, entwined in ribbon pasta, scrambled into eggs, or sauteed and piled onto buttery toast. These mushrooms like stocks, fortified wines, and dairy. It’s an easy temptation to give over to dousing them in a pan of heavy cream.
For our Sunday brunch, I decided they’d be perfect cooked then rolled into a crepe.
I sauteed our oyster ’shrooms in butter, with some green onions, lemon zest, Marsala, and thyme. In the end, I tossed in a few knobs of cream cheese–a small but concentrated amount of dairy. It was just enough to melt into the mass and give it more body.
I resisted the temptation to make a sauce to top them. The mushroom saute was rich enough. In fact, it was hard not to grab a fork and just eat them out of the skillet!
Instead, I braised an array of greens, as a bed or base for the filled crepe. That slight bitterness brought balance, and another healthful element.
OYSTER MUSHROOMS IN BUTTER, LEMON, AND MARSALA
1/2 lb. Oyster Mushrooms, brushed clean and torn (or sliced into chunky pieces)
3 Green Onions, sliced
3 T. Butter
1 T. Lemon Zest
Juice of one Lemon
1/2 cup Marsala wine (cooking wine or sherry is acceptable)
1 T. fresh Thyme leaves
2-3 T. Cream Cheese
Melt butter in skillet on medium heat. Add mushrooms and green onions. Saute for 5 minutes–mushrooms will soften and brown on the edges. Stir in lemon zest and juice.
Season with salt and black pepper. Pour in marsala wine and stir well. Mixture will reduce. Sprinkle in fresh thyme leaves. Add the cream cheese, in small knobs, into the mixture. Stir and fold, so that the cream cheese melts away into a creamy mushroomy mass. Add more marsala, or water, if mixture gets too thick.
Remove from heat.
SAVORY CREPE MIXTURE
3/4 cup All Purpose Flour
3 T. Unsalted Butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 c. Milk
1 t. Salt
1 T. Butter–to grease the skillet
Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl, or immersion blender container, and blend very well, for 3-5 minutes. The mixture will seem like cream. Cover and refrigerated for at least 30 minutes–although you can make this batter a day in advance.
Heat your skillet–a 6″ sized pan is ideal. Brush with butter. Ladle a small quantity-3 Tablespoons–into the center, and tip the skillet so it spreads thinly over the surface. The crepe should be thin-thin! It will set up quickly. When the edges are browned, flip the crepe and cook for a minute more. Slide out onto a plate and repeat the process.
if the batter gets too thick, dilute it with a little water–beat well.
This recipe made 10 large crepes (I used a 9″ pan) , but would make 16 small (from 6″ pan)
BRAISED SAVORY GREENS a bed for the mushroom crepes
1 cup Kale, deribbed and chopped
1 cup Baby Spinach, chopped
1 cup Swiss Chard, coarsely chopped
3 cloves minced Garlic
3 T. Olive Oil
1 t. Sea Salt
Red Pepper Flakes–a few pinches
Place all cleaned and chopped greens into a deep pot, along with garlic, olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes. Bring up heat to just under medium. Cover and simmer until greens are collapsed and tender, about 12 minutes.
Lay out cooked crepes onto a work surface. Place a few spoonfuls of mushroom mix at one end and roll. Place into a skillet or casserole dish. Repeat until you’ve used up all the mushrooms. Gently heat crepes in the skillet or in the oven.
Serve over warm bed of braised greens. Garnish with shredded pecorino romano.
What good meal could you make for under five dollars?
Slow Food USA initiated this cooking challenge, one which meshed nicely with our Third Thursday Community Potluck this month. In a rough economy, and an ever-widening “food gap,” knowing how to prepare tasty, nutritious food at an affordable price is a crucial survival tool.
Calling it “The $5 Challenge,” Slow Food encouraged potluck gatherings to share “true value meals.” Last Saturday, 30,000 people allover the country came together to dine on these good dishes, all made with fresh ingredients, and costing less, per person, than an Abe Lincoln. Recipes from these events will be amassed and shared.
Informally, our Third-Thursday group did the same, although we kept our potluck on its given day, rather than the Saturday, as suggested by Slow Food. In the quest for community—and tasty affordable food—we didn’t think a couple of days mattered. It’s part of our monthly pursuit anyway.
And, serendipity, we had already chosen a “Breakfast for Dinner” theme. That meal provides plenty of hearty, nutritious, and inexpensive dishes: Omelettes, vegetable frittatas, mock souffles, noodle kugels, cheese grits casseroles, and the like.
We know that cooking seasonally, using of-the-moment produce, is far more cost-effective.
In Nashville, fall is in air. Bushels of apples and potatoes are plentiful at the market. With that in mind, I chose to make a batch of fresh applesauce, and my crispy potato pancakes. Both are ridiculously simple, and “cheap” recipes–short on ingredients, but long on satisfaction.
I hadn’t considered applesauce in a long time, although it’s something that I associate, in a pleasant way, with childhood. It was one of the acceptable things that this super-picky eater would deign to let past her lips.
We always had jars of Mott’s Applesauce on the shelf, something my beleaguered mother could count on to spoon onto my plate, and not be met with eyes of abject horror or disgust.
But nothing could be easier than making a pot a fresh applesauce. Core and rough-chop the apples–leave their peels on. Cook them down with a little lemon, brown sugar, and cinnamon–that’s really it. (This could be adapted to a slow-cooker–throw everything into the pot, and let it go all day, while you work.)
The peels mostly dissolve as the apples soften into a chunky sauce, providing flavor, nutrients, and needed pectin to thicken. If you want a smoother sauce, you can run the cooked mixture through the food mill.
Ginger Gold Apples, with their pale green skins tinged with rosy blush, proved to be a good choice. They have a bright, pleasing balance of sweet and tart.
Pommes-de-terre, Aardappelen, Potatoes are indeed the Apples of the Earth! We love potatoes in all iterations.
My potato pancake, or latkes, recipe is gluten-free. Years ago I would add flour, but learned later that there was no need; there’s enough natural starch in the potato to accommodate. Eggs add a little protein, and help bind the crispy shreds together.
What’s not to love about these little potato nests? Crunchy golden brown goodness, with a hint of sweet onion in the mix…they make terrific accompaniments to any meal, breakfast or not.
What I must note about the $5 challenge: it’s an easier one to meet, if you are cooking for a group. (And, likewise, if that group is sharing dishes, in the potluck spirit!)
My big batch of potato pancakes cost just about $5, and fed a crowd. Making 30, that’s almost 17 cents a cake. The applesauce cost less, around $4, and was delicious in its own right, or dolloped onto the potatoes.
But I think that we would all be hard-pressed to consistently create well-rounded meals for under $5 a person, especially if cooking for one or two. And many today have less than that to work with.
I lead a charmed life, and I am grateful for it. I am generally frugal, but have the where-with-all to buy, cook, and enjoy more expensive foods. And that’s fine. But access to basic, affordable good food should be a right, not a privilege. It’s important to share our knowledge, so that people can cook delicious meals using fresh food for themselves and their families.
Have you got a favorite inexpensive dish to share?
6 large tart green apples, such as Ginger Golds
1/2 cup Demerara Sugar
1 Cinnamon Stick
1 Lemon, quartered
Core and rough-chop apples. Place into a large saucepan on gentle heat. Add brown sugar, lemon quarters, and cinnamon stick. Cover and allow apples to cook on slow medium heat, for about thirty minutes. Stir occasionally. Covered, the natural juices will release, condense, and fall back into the apple mixture. The peels will mostly dissolve and add their natural pectin.
Remove cinnamon stick, lemon peels. Serve warm or cold.
Makes about 4 cups of applesauce.
POTATO PANCAKES (gluten-free)
4 lbs. Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 large Yellow Onion
4 large Eggs
2 t. Sea Salt
1 t. Cracked Black Pepper
2 t. Paprika
canola oil for frying
1 T. butter to season the oil (optional)
Shred potatoes (I used the food processor with the shredder attachment.) and place into a large mixing bowl. Finely dice the onion and toss in with the potatoes.
In a separate bowl, whip eggs, sea salt, black pepper, and paprika together. Pour over potato-onion mix. Toss well so that everything is well coated.
Heat a skillet and pour in canola oil, about 1/2″. Melt in a tablespoon of butter, if you’d like to flavor this neutral a bit.
With a slotted spoon, scoop up a small mound of shredded potato mix and place in hot oil. Repeat until the skillet is filled but take care not to crowd. (I fit 4 at a time.) Cook for about 3 minutes—look for crispy brown edges. Wait for the right “brown-ness” before flipping with a spatula.
Rotate in the pan, as needed, so that the ‘cakes brown evenly.
Place cooked potato cakes onto a metal grid to drain, (or paper towels).
Note: As the mixture sits, some of the water from the potatoes will release into the mixture. This is not a problem. Continually stir, lifting out each mound with the slotted spoon, leaving some of that liquid behind.
Makes about 30 crispy potato pancakes
Shopping in haste I grabbed a bag of self-rising flour off the shelf instead of all-purpose. That error slipped unnoticed until I got home, and started unsacking the groceries. Argh. I don’t use self-rising flour. I have an attitude of disapproval towards it. Its ready-blend of salt and baking powder can get you into trouble.
I’m one of these control freaks–I prefer to put in my own quantities of leavening. As needed.
And, I’ve seen the tragi-comic results when self-rising is mistaken for all-purpose. I recall the layers of a certain multi-tiered wedding cake gone awry, at the hands of such an ingredient mispick.
Convinced that she was working with all-purpose, our baker Tonya added the baking powder and soda that her recipe called for. Super-leavened, the batter sputtered and foamed over the cake pans in rolling waves, forming strange baked stalagmites on the oven floor.
Nonetheless, it was not worth it to return the unwanted bag. I decided to see how I could use the nefarious flour. (Hint-Hint! If you have good recipes, tell me about ‘em!)
And then, I remembered some friends talking about Tammy Algood’s “Two Ingredient Biscuits.”
” It’s so simple and good, it’s crazy. Just 2 Cups of Self-Rising Flour and 1 Cup of Heavy Cream.”
“Yep, that’s it.”
Not counting, of course, the pat of cold butter and deep amber ribbon of sorghum you'll want to put on the biscuits, all hot-n-tenda from the oven.
Mixing up the dough should go quickly. Don’t overwork it. The trick to light biscuits is a light hand.
And, a wet sticky hand.
You could hand-form the shapes, or glob them, “drop biscuit” style, off the end of a spoon, right into the baking pan. I like to get out the rolling pin and give the dough a couple of turns to smooth and slightly flatten the surface, before I cut the rounds.
I don’t roll thin. Think Thick. Big Hot Biscuits is what its all about. As you cut the rounds, place them in a buttered cake pan, their sides touching. And, don’t worry about ‘em being perfectly round. I like a wonky-shaped biscuit. It seems honest.
A hot oven is key. Have it preheated to 450 degrees. If you like, (and I do!) slap a little sliver of butter on top of each biscuit before you put ‘em in the oven.
In less than 20 minutes, you’ll have fat, fluffy biscuits, ready for whatever fixin’s you like. Guess I’ll have to reconsider my anti-self-rising stance.
Biscuits connote The South, picnics, country ham, big breakfasts, sweet butter, sorghum. Have you tasted (or cooked with) sorghum? I’ve taken a fancy to this syrup only in recent years. Not to be confused with molasses,(a by-product of cane sugar) sorghum results from cooking down the cane of same-named plant. It’s flavor is distinctive: strong, but not overbearing; caramel sweet with a somewhat minerally edge.
And a gorgeous amber pour.
TWO INGREDIENT BISCUITS
2 Cups Self-Rising Flour
1 Cup Heavy Cream
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Measure flour into a mixing bowl. Pour in cream and quicky mix together. This will form a mass. If it seems too dry, add a little slug of milk or cream—the wetness of the dough actually helps steam up the biscuits!
Pat dough ball onto a lightly floured surface, and with the gentle pressure, roll out the dough—but not thin–about 1/2″ thick. Cut into rounds–at least 2″ in diameter—and place each biscuit in a greased round cake pan.
Let the biscuits touch, as you place them side by side in the pan. Biscuits bake up taller and more tender when they touch, “shoulder-to-shoulder.”
Optional: place a sliver of cold butter on top of each biscuit before you put the pan in the oven.
Bake for about 15 minutes. Tops (and bottoms) will be browned, and the biscuit interior will be white and fluffy.
Serve immediately, with butter, sorghum, honey, blueberry preserves…
Makes 8-12 biscuits.
I love my cast iron skillet. Sturdy, even-tempered, versatile: it does all the saute and fry work you need on the stove top, ( incomparable for crusty country-fried chicken) and it does equally well in the oven ( key to crisp-edged jalapeno-cheddar cornbread).
Or, as in the case of this frittata, it can pull double duty, moving seamlessly from stovetop to oven. And then, as a serving vessel, right to the table.
All it asks in return is to be kept wiped clean and well-oiled.
Maggie found this one for me at an antique/junk shop. It was in excellent condition–balanced, right heft in the hand, no warps, flaws, or rust. Although it had been long out-of-use, it was already seasoned. It didn’t take much to clean it up, “reseason” it, and bring it back to life.
Well-cared for, it could last a lifetime. Or two.
Sometimes, it gets lost towards the bottom of my pots-and-pans drawer, a mammoth hodge-podge of stainless steel, enamel, and glass. And I forget to use it!
But, I’ve put my trusty cast iron to work for today’s recipe: a frittata, versatile as the skillet in which it’s cooked.
For our brunch, I used swiss chard, green onions, and basil, all fresh-picked from my front yard garden. I wanted to include roasted potatoes, and thought they would make a tasty crust-like base for the dish.
It’s a simple plan. While your potato slices are roasting brown and chippy in the oven, you saute the chard and onions, and whip up your eggs. Once the chard is ready, you’ll line the bottom of the skillet with the potatoes, and layer the savory greens on top.
Pour the beaten eggs and scatter the caramel, nutlike gruyere shreds over the mixture. Begin cooking the frittata on the stovetop, but you’ll finish it off it the oven. In the time that the frittata sets, you can put together a zippy basil-green onion gremolata.
The Gremolata? It came almost as an afterthought. I had picked a few too many basil leaves, and had a couple of extra green onions sitting out on the counter. I had a lemon out for iced tea. All the ingredients were staring me in the face–waiting.
I didn’t want to make a full-blown pesto—just a bright, extra flash of flavor for our dish. With their combination of sweet herby greens and lemon zest, gremolatas accomplish that easily. You can imagine its versatility, too. (grilled fish, baked chicken, pasta, potatoes..)
When it comes to any style of eggs, Bill tends to be a ketchup guy. But, he was able to set aside his love of Heinz for the bright change-up that this brings.
SWISS CHARD-ROAST POTATO FRITTATA
1 large or 2 med. Baking Potatoes
1 bundle Swiss Chard, washed and chopped–stems and leaves separately
a few fresh Basil leaves, chopped
1 small Onion, diced
a shake of Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere Cheese
a few grindings of Black Pepper
9″ cast iron skillet (or one that can also go into the oven)
Slice potatoes thin. Brush with olive oil and lay out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place into a preheated 375 degree oven and roast until slices are browned–about 12-15 minutes.
On medium heat, warm olive oil in your cast iron skillet, and saute chard stems and onions together, about 7 minutes. Stir in chard and basil leaves. Season with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Saute another 2-3 minutes, until leaves collapse. Remove from skillet and place into a work bowl.
Potato slices should be brown. Remove from oven and arrange slices on the bottom of the cast iron skillet. (Keep oven on, however.) Spoon cooked chard over the potato layer.
Beat eggs well with a little salt and pepper. Pour over chard and potatoes in the skillet. Top with grated cheese.
Cook the frittata covered on the stovetop until almost set—edges will be slightly brown but the center a little wiggly–tis takes about 8 minutes.
Finish the frittata in the oven–another 5 minutes or so. The egg mixture will be set, and the cheese will be browned and bubbly.
BASIL-GREEN ONION GREMOLATA
1/2 cup Basil Leaves rough chopped
2 Green Onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 T. fresh Lemon Juice, plus 1 t. zest
Salt and Pepper to taste
Mound the chopped basil and green onions together on a cutting board, and cut them up together–just a few chops. Put into a mixing bowl and add olive oil, lemon juice, zest, salt and pepper. Stir well. Allow the flavors to develop and taste for acid and salt. Spoon over sliced frittata.
While I’m not big on resolutions, I decided to begin this year by making an effort to use up Good Things that I had in my pantry: Good Things, before they go Bad.
Too often I have been overly enthusiastic about a product, purchasing, for instance, too much stone ground wheat flour, only to have it turn rancid on the shelf because I didn’t do the bread baking I had envisioned. Or, I’ve been too protective of a product, like a spectacular bottle of reserve extra virgin olive oil, that I “saved” for special use, only to find it months later pushed to the back of the pantry, it, too, gone south.
So, when I was casting about my kitchen last week for a Sunday brunch treat for us, I realized that I had all the Good Things on hand to make this appealing strata:
Tomatoes from the 2009 canning season—–It’s 2011, what are you waiting for?
A bag of cubed bread in the freezer———No Time Like the Present
Fresh Mozzarella from a New Year’s purchase—Use It Now or Lose It
Summer Pesto——That’s why you put it up!
Stratas are simple. They are mock souffles, and lend themselves to myriad variations. The bread makes them somewhat sturdy, and therefore you can make rather sizeable ones. Once, one of our Third-Thursday Potluckers, Jen, brought a stunning Tomato-Goat Cheese Strata in an 10 qt. Le Creuset pot that was absolutely dreamy—deep, custardy, with a tomato essence that just tasted of summer. It was the hit of the wintertime potluck dinner!
On a chilling January afternoon, a taste of summer would be most welcome.
And, on this chilling January afternoon, my skillet filled with the tastes of summer. Ah, the acid-candy sweetness of my Brandywines and Lemon Boys. The peppery bite of Genovese basil.
I reminded myself that this is one of the true joys of canning tomatoes—-the first time you crack open the jar in winter. There, red-gold in your hand, are all those sweet aspects of summer-on-the-vine.
It transports you out of the winter drear into the tangle of an August garden.
I would have made my strata like Jen’s–with goat cheese. The tanginess that it imparted was terrific. But, some delectable Buffalo Mozzarella packed in liquid, stored in my fridge, was not going to remain delectable for long. It was begging to be used, and would be a creamy asset to this strata. Spoonfuls of my summer pesto would give the mild cheese pizzazz.
Very quickly, the baking vessel fills with glistening layers. You can even make the strata to this point, and refrigerate it overnight to bake fresh in the morning. It’s that easy!
But, the best part awaits you—-when it emerges puffed and beautifully browned from the oven. And, I promise, an airy scoop of this strata will bring last summer’s garden to this winter’s plate.
1 medium Onion, sliced thin
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 can (16oz) Tomatoes and Juice
3 cups Cubed Stale Bread
4-6 oz. fresh Mozzarella
4 T. Pesto
1 cup Half-and Half
Cracked Black Pepper
9×13 casserole dish or 1 qt. size souffle dish
Heat a skillet, add olive oil, and saute onions and garlic until translucent. Add chopped tomatoes and their juice and continue to simmer. Season with salt, black pepper, a dash of red pepper flakes, if you like. When the sauce has cooked for about 10 minutes, remove from heat and stir in the stale bread cubes. Stir until all the bread is coated with the tomato mixture.
In a bowl, beat eggs and half-and-half together until blended. Whisk in a little salt and pepper.
Coat a casserole dish or souffle ramekin with olive oil. Spoon in a layer of tomato-bread mixture. Top with a layer of sliced mozzarella. Spoon some pesto over the mozzarella. Repeat the layering.
Carefully pour the egg mixture over the tomato-cheese layers. You can poke through the strata with a fork, or even a chopstick, to make sure the mixture gets through the layers.
Place into a preheated 350º oven and bake until puffed and golden brown—about 30 minutes. Serves 4
Dramatic, but daunting. The ideas we have about souffles, these grand poofs, these amazing gastronomic feats of egg magic, are indeed lofty. Unreachable. With the risk of failure seeming so great (oh no! deflated! defeated!) souffles are the stuff of the Cordon Bleu, the men in towering toques, reserved for the creme-de-la-creme.
But making a souffle is really not as mysterious or difficult or time-consuming as you might believe. Mais non, mes cheres. A French woman assured me of this.
A mother of three, Francoise has lived in many places around the world, due to her husband’s job. During her two years in Nashville, Francoise worked with us in the Culinary Arts Center at Second Harvest. We had fun cooking together, and I would ask her about the kinds of meals that she liked to make for her family. I was stunned when she told me that a favorite dinner was cheese souffle.
“It is so simple, my daughter often makes it,” she said.
Her daughter was fourteen at the time.
Noting my wide eyes and dropped jaw, she smiled. “I’ll give you the recipe.”
Inspired by Francoise (and her daughter!), I made her cheese souffle. It was a dream, and all negative thoughts about the dish vanished.
Today, I had some fresh spinach from the market, and a lone leek snatched from Gigi’s garden. I also had a small piece of Comte’, an artisanal cheese crafted in the Jura Mountains of France. It is similar to Gruyere, but creamier. It was one of Francoise’s favorites; when I saw the cheese at the store yesterday, it made me think of her. And, Souffles!
A souffle recipe is very adaptable, and with a little preparation, you can transform kitchen staples–eggs, butter, milk, cheese–into something savory and cloudlike.
The flavor base of all souffles is a roux, expanded with milk into a thick white sauce, or bechamel. To this, you add whatever vegetable saute or puree you would like. As I write this now, I’m imagining a roasted artichoke souffle or puree of asparagus, come spring. Hmmm.
Once you’ve created your base, it’s time for egg magic! Beating the yolks into the cooled bechamel mix helps form a rich custard. And beating the whites into soft wavy peaks is the trick to expanding that custard into a cloud.
A light hand is needed for folding the whites and custard together, but it does not have to be perfectly mixed. Some traces of white are bound to remain–it’s not a big deal.
Do remember to have the oven preheated. And, you’ll enjoy the crust made from the breadcrumbs and grated parmesan on the sides and bottom of the souffle. When it’s time to serve, be sure to scoop out some of the soft interior with the crusty edges.
Francoise also told me, “You must wait for the souffle, but it will not wait for you.” Patience is a factor, and yes, the souffle is best enjoyed right out the oven. But, no worries gathering everyone to the table. They will be eager to see your triumph, and dig their spoons into the savory ethers.
SPINACH SOUFFLE with LEEKS and COMTE’ CHEESE
4 Eggs, separated
4 Tablespoons Butter, plus 1 Tablespoon Butter
2 T. grated Parmesan
2 T. Breadcrumbs
1 Leek, sliced
1 clove Garlic, minced
4 T. All Purpose Flour
1 cup 2% Milk
2 c. chopped fresh Spinach leaves
1/2 c. shredded Comte or Gruyere cheese
1/4 t. each Salt and Pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 2 qt. souffle dish or casserole with 1 T. (or so) butter, and dust with grated parmesan and breadcrumbs.
In a saucepan, melt 4 T. butter. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Saute leeks and garlic for two minutes, until soft and translucent. Stir in flour and cook the mixture like a roux.
Slowly pour in the milk, and continue cooking until it becomes a thick, glossy white sauce. Stir in spinach and cook until the it is collapsed throughout the mixture.
Remove from heat and stir in the shredded cheese. Allow to cool somewhat before beating in the egg yolks, one at a time.
In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. The whites should be stiff, but smooth, pliable—not chunky or granular. ( This happens if they are overbeaten.)
Add a couple of dollops of whites to the spinach mixture to lighten it.
Then, using a spatula, fold the spinach mixture back into the remaining whites in a gentle circular motion, until well incorporated.
(It’s okay if a few streaks or tiny lumps of white remain.)
Spoon into prepared souffle dish and bake in the center of the over for about 30 minutes.
Serve immediately! Serves 4.
It’s been a busy-busy two weeks since we last gathered at Good Food Matters, what with The 10-10-10 Wedding and all related pre-and-post preparations and festivities. I confess, part of it is a blur, a whirling happy extended dream sequence of flickering lights and flowers, dotted swiss organza, families, friends, more families, beautiful food, brilliant toasts, divine cake, crazy soulful dancing,
from which I’m only now awakening.
To be sure, I couldn’t have dreamt a lovelier occasion.
I figure my thirty years of working with food, catering countless receptions, was all for this moment. Friends and colleagues came together to help create a gorgeous event. So much love. So much gratitude.
In the midst of all the planning for the Big Weekend, I had decided to host a farewell brunch, especially for those who were traveling, on the morning after the wedding party.
I know what you’re thinking–what was she thinking?
But when you are a recovered caterer planning your daughter’s wedding, you feel invincible. You believe you can do anything. And, you know that you can do just one more thing. You think, Hey, it’s no big deal…Just a few people for bagels and schmear, a little fruit salad, maybe a quiche or two…
Towards the end of the wedding evening, as people were leaving, many with the same parting words, “I’ll see you at the brunch tomorrow!” it was clear that a much larger get-together was looming. And, in my rhapsodic mother-of-the-bride blur, it dawned on me: “What was I thinking?”
My, my. It would be a righteous early morning.
With the help of Bill and houseguest Carissa, we put together a pretty nice spread. One of the things I whipped up was this caramelized onion tart. Yep, whipped it up. You can too. It was much loved at the brunch of 35 guests; not a speck left. I didn’t (get to) eat any, but the word was Sublime, I was told.
I’ve recreated it today, so that you and I could enjoy it. And, guess what? Ours is even better! Because I found the delectable Chanterelle mushrooms at a discount (from $24 lb. to $16 at Whole Foods! sounds obscene, but you only need $4 worth) I decided to treat us. We deserve it!
The tart combines all those elements that create Umami, the “fifth taste,” savoriness.
There’s gruyere cheese, with its salt, and milky caramel richness. Onions cooked down to almost candy. Background herbal notes from fresh thyme. Little bites of sharpness from coarse grained mustard. And, finally…the chanterelle. Hmmm. Golden trumpets that need just a hint of heat and butter to become sultry sirens of umami.
If you make your pastry up ahead of time, and keep it refrigerated, it rolls out easily—and thin.
I learned this trick a long time ago–rubbing the mustard into the dough adds another layer of flavor.
Eggs and Half-and-Half comprise the custard. If you find the cheese called Comte, try it! It is as complex and wonderful to use as Gruyere.
CARAMELIZED ONION-CHANTERELLE TART
1 c. All Purpose Flour, sifted
1 t. Salt
6 T. Butter, chilled, cut into pieces
3-4 T. Ice Water
later: 1 T. coarse grain mustard
In a food processor fitted with the pastry swivel, pulse together the flour, salt, and butter. Add water–3 Tablespoons to start–and pulse until the dough gathers into a ball. Add another Tablespoon of water if necessary.
Wrap the dough ball in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour
—but does well to make in advance, and refrigerate overnight.Roll out dough on a flour-dusted surface until round, thin and pliable. Place into tart dish (I used a 12″ tart pan) and press onto the sides.
Coat surface with 1 Tablespoon Coarse Grain Mustard. Refrigerate until
ready to fill.
1 Tablespoon Butter
4 medium Onions, sliced lengthwise
a few sprigs of fresh Thyme leaves
2 cups Half-and-Half
3 large Eggs
1 c. shredded Gruyere cheese
Cracked Black Pepper
4 oz. Chanterelle Mushrooms, sliced lengthwise
Melt butter in a deep skillet on medium heat and slowly saute onions until soft, slightly browned, and very sweet. This may take fifteen minutes.
Season with salt and black pepper. When cooked, stir in the fresh thyme leaves, and place into a small bowl. In the same skillet, melt another tablespoon of butter and gently stir the sliced chanterelles until they are butter-coated, soft, and golden. Remove from heat.
Beat eggs and half-and-half together until well blended–no trace of egg yolk remaining.
Bring out the tart shell. Sprinkle a layer of shredded gruyere on the bottom.
(about half of what you have) Spoon in all the onions. Pour in the egg mixture. Place pieces of cooked chanterelle all over the top, along with the remaining gruyere.
Place into a 375 degree oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown, and mixture is set.
Delicious warm, or room temperature. Serves 8-10.
When my daughter Madeleine was nine years old, she gave me an electric waffle iron for Christmas. This always makes me smile to think about, because, waffle lover that she is, the iron was really as much a gift for her as it was for me.
In those days, mornings were hectic. I would get Madeleine off to school, then race to the cafe, or the catering kitchen, so we reserved waffle making for Sundays or special occasions. I can remember numerous birthday slumber parties followed by big birthday breakfasts. I’d set up my work station, and the girls, a bit bleary-eyed from all-night Twister, giggly Truth or Dare, or a staged production of “Murder, She Wrote” would shuffle into the kitchen as I turned out waffle after waffle after waffle.
Waffle making diminished after Madeleine went off to college. The trusty iron, with drips of batter permanently annealed to its sides from overzealous pours, got relegated to the stove’s bottom drawer. Whenever she was home for the holidays, though, I’d rifle through the collection of cookie sheets and pot tops, and resurrect the maker.
Waffles had become part of a homecoming tradition.
Even in recent years. Bill would ask, “Why do we only have waffles when Madeleine is here?” I’d have to smile and shrug.
That waffle iron began showing its age, and got rather “tippy.” One of the feet had broken off in an accidental nudge off the counter. At some point, the hinge mechanism had sprung, so it was a balancing act, trying to level the iron, prop the lid, and pour the batter. Eventually, waffles would mercilessly stick, and after a twenty year run, we retired the iron.
But the tradition? No way! A new waffle iron appeared under our tree a couple of Christmases ago, courtesy of the waffle-loving girl. And, because today is that girl’s birthday, I’ve made some waffles—easy, healthy, delicious—for all of us.
Happy Birthday Madeleine!
These waffles are embellished with some butter, yogurt, and strawberries in syrup
HONEY BUCKWHEAT WAFFLES
1/2 cup Buckwheat Flour
1/2 cup Unbleached White Flour
1/2 t. Baking Powder
1/2 t. Salt
1/4 t. Baking Soda
1 large Egg
1 c. 2% Milk
2 T. Vegetable Oil (I used Olive Oil!)
1 T. Plain Yogurt (Greek Yogurt is extra nice!)
1 T. Honey
Regular Waffle Iron, heated
Maple Syrup, or
Strawberries in Syrup
Sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the egg with milk, yogurt, and honey. Add this to the dry ingredients, stirring so until well combined. Do not overbeat.
Spoon onto heated waffle iron and cook.
Makes 6 luscious waffles.