Monday, February 15, 2010

Comfort Food

Ah, reality.  As much as I would like to stay immersed in my jet lag and the musings of my trip, life intrudes. Sigh.

My mom (you've read about her here before - she's the one who loves to cook, entertain her friends and drink lots of wine) called me the other day to tell me she has to have a root canal.  Apparently she went to her dentist, got diagnosed with an abcess of some sort or another and ended up with an appointment (in very short order) with some specialist who told her it would cost $1,100.  AND, she would need to spend an additional $1,000 later for a crown.

Henry and I don't normally intrude, but this didn't sound right.  To make a long story short, we got her to cancel the appointment (which was scheduled for this morning) and re-routed her to our dentist (that would be Jerry Richman here in Atlanta).  He's painless and he rocks ... well, as much as a dentist can.

He immediately started her on antibiotics, subscribing to the theory that the infection needs to be under control before any oral surgery.  What were those other folks thinking?  Additionally, he told her the cost would be closer to $800 and he could probably do a post-procedure for $200 which would eliminate the need for an expensive crown.  And also, he will work out a payment plan with her.  Thank you, Jerry.

I write this for two reasons.  First, I am just outraged at the people out there who are willing to take advantage of the elderly.  That is NOT okay.  And second, it gives me the opportunity to post a recipe for something I dearly love.  That would be baked custard.

I know, I know - it isn't trendy.  It isn't on anyone's radar screen.  You can't find it in any restaurant that I know of.  But to me, it's the ultimate comfort food.  It's what Mom always made for me when I was sick.  It's why I made it tonight, so she will have something silky smooth and wonderful to gently slide down her throat when she will be able to eat little else.

I use Mom's recipe, which is basically the same one that my friend Scott Peacock published in his wonderful book "The Gift of Southern Cooking."  I love what he says about it - "This classic Southern dessert is rarely made these days, which is unfortunate because it is a refreshing and simple and delicious dessert.  When I was growing up, Gertrude Moore, who cooked for our family, made this egg custard regularly.  Its sweet nutmeg flavor is one of the most wonderful and powerful taste memories of my life."

The next time you are casting about for some complicated dessert recipe, stop short and make this instead.  I can't think of a better "feel-good" food.

EGG CUSTARD  (From Scott Peacock's "The Gift of Southern Cooking")

6 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Place eggs in a mixing bowl and stir until just mixed.  Add sugar, salt and milk and mix to blend.  Strain through a fine-meshed sieve then stir in nutmeg and vanilla.  Divide evenly among eight 6-oz. custard cups. Put the cups into a deep baking pan and fill halfway up the cups with hot water.

Bake for 30 minutes or just until custards are set.  They should still be "jiggly" in the middle.  Remove from the hot water bath and let cool.  Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled.

Yield:  8 servings

Obviously there are very few ingredients in this recipe, so you want to make sure you are using the best quality possible.  That means YOU HAVE TO GRATE THE NUTMEG YOURSELF.  Do not use the pre-ground stuff - I am adamant about this!

When I worked with Scott at Watershed here in Atlanta I made the apple cake which is still on the menu to this day.  It called for THREE fresh nutmegs, grated by hand.  I still have scars on the knuckle of my right thumb to prove it.  But, he was right.  It made all the difference.  It makes all the difference in this custard recipe, too.  Just do it!

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