Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Comfort Food Continued

There are many reasons why I am not a skinny cook, but prominent among them is the fact that I love carbs and comfort food.  Mac and cheese.  Hot flaky biscuits dripping with butter.  Mashed potatoes, or more to the point, ANY kind of potatoes.  In case you think I am kidding about that, I will shamelessly tell you about the time we went to Geronimo, a lovely restaurant in Santa Fe.  I perused the menu which looked interesting, but what really intrigued me were the four or five potato side dishes which were paired with many of the entrees.

Yes, I did!  I ordered every single one of those potato dishes for the sum and substance of my meal.  The poor server thought I was a lunatic, but he complied with my request anyway.  That dinner turned out to be both heavenly and memorable, in part because Henry will never let me forget it.  It would be appropriate to include a photo of a potato at this point in my post and I would if I could, but tragically I don't keep them around.  For obvious reasons.

The other thing that sends me into pure pig heaven is bread pudding.  I'm sure this is equivalent to blasphemy but I would choose it over an elegantly composed dessert, fancy French pastry or even chocolate.  I love it for its simplicity and how it makes you feel just flat-out-good.  At least while you are eating it.  You may want to shoot yourself afterwards, but that's a different matter altogether.  We are not going to talk about that here.

I will say this:  if you are going to indulge in bread pudding, then make it the best bread pudding possible.  That means using a good eggy and fattening bread like brioche or challah and making sure there is an abundance of liquid in which to soak it.  Below is my version of bread pudding nirvana.  Yes, it requires a few steps but if you are going to say "screw it, I'm eating it" then this is the recipe for you.


For the bread :
2 round Challah or 2 brioche, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 20 cups)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

For the apples:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Zest and juice of 1 lemon

For the custard:
10 extra-large eggs
5 cups whole milk
5 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon vanilla paste (or extract)
1 cup caramel sauce (recipe follows)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup crushed sugar cubes
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Softly whipped cream for serving, if desired

For the caramel sauce:
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon vanilla paste (or extract)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Divide bread cubes among 2 half-sheet pans and drizzle with the melted butter.  Toss to coat, then bake for 15 minutes or until just golden and toasted.  Remove from oven to cool while you make the apples.

Heat the 4 tablespoons of butter in a large saute pan.  Add apples, sugar, salt, lemon juice and lemon zest.  Saute over medium heat, stirring often, until apples start to soften, about 10 minutes.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs, milk, half-and-half and sugar.  Stir in salt, vanilla and 1 cup of the caramel sauce (recipe follows).  Whisk well to blend, then add bread cubes.  Let sit for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure bread is soaked through.

For the caramel, combine the sugar and water in a heavy saucepan.  Cook over high heat without stirring until mixture is golden and just this side of being overcooked.  Be attentive!  There is a very fine line between caramel which is golden but not quite browned enough and that which is perfect but not burned.  Don't walk away for a minute.  As soon as it reaches the desired color (and aroma - you will smell it if it burns), remove from heat and slowly add the cream, being careful as it will bubble up.  Stir carefully with a wooden spoon then place over medium heat to smooth out.  Add salt and vanilla.  Set aside.

Butter a large baking dish (the one I used was 11-x-17).  Place apples in bottom, then pour bread mixture over, making sure there is enough liquid to come up to the top (if not, add a little more milk or half-and-half).  Combine the crushed sugar cubes, ginger and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the top.  Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place in a water bath.  Bake at 350-degrees for 1 hour then remove foil and continue baking for another 15 - 20 minutes or until golden brown but still slightly "jiggly" in the middle.

Remove from water bath and let cool.  Cover with foil until ready to serve.

To serve, cut into squares or spoon onto plates and top with reserved caramel and softly whipped cream.  Try not to care that you are ingesting enough fat and calories to kill an elephant.  Trust me, you won't care while you are in the stupified state of eating this!

Serves 12 - 16 (this recipe can be easily halved)

For those of you who are attentive, you may remember that I posted a recipe for bread pudding some time ago.  For those of you who missed it or who care, here's the link:

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Plugs + Liz = Not Good

This has not been my week for electrical devices.  First it was the washing machine which wouldn't start and flashed a "DL" error message at me.  A little internet sleuthing determined something was wrong with the door latch and I should unplug the machine to let it reset.  Great, except getting to the outlet behind the tightly-wedged-into-a-very-small-area washer and dryer proved to be a challenge.  I finally managed to accomplish it, but not without a small electrical shock when I touched the wrong part of the cord and also disconnecting the dryer from the outside vent. 

Then it was my laptop.  C'mon, give me a break.  It completely froze and the only thing I knew to do was let the battery run down and hope it would re-start.  In the meantime, I purloined Henry's so I could work in the interim.  I finally got mine up and running, only to find Henry's laptop had crashed and burned.  This was not shaping up to be anything good.

Fortunately a phone conversation with my computer goddess (Leann Woody, I bow down in your honor) resulted in my removing the battery (who knew?) and re-setting the thing.  Ha, what a trick and one I fear I will have to resort to often.

Then the washing machine went AWOL again.  Sigh.

We decided to embark upon one of our marathon walks to escape our "anything with a plug" woes.  Strapped on our camelbacks, laced up our walking shoes and hit the road.

This is how it ended two hours later:

After several months of no rain here in Atlanta, the skies opened up.  Now understand, we needed the rain, but not when we were on foot about 4 miles from home.  Really?

So we did what any reasonable people would do.  Sloshed our way back, hit the shower, put on warm dry (repeat DRY) slouch clothes (for me that means an old pair of chef's pants) and made a big batch of rosemary pine nut popcorn.  Henry took his into the mancave along with a beer and the remote and I sat down at my now-working laptop to blog. 

There are worse ways to spend a rainy Sunday.  Even if the dryer is back on the fritz and we have no way to dry those wet clothes!


For the rosemary oil:
1 cup canola or other vegetable oil
6 large sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 cloves garlic, crushed

Place all ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat and warm for about 20 minutes to let flavors infuse.  Make sure to warm it gently and do not let it boil or sizzle.  Remove from heat and let stand, covered, overnight.  Strain into a clean jar and refrigerate.  It will keep for several weeks.

For the popcorn:
7 tablespoons rosemary oil, divided
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Copious amounts of Kosher salt

Place 3 tablespoons of the rosemary oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add popcorn and cover.  When kernels start to pop, shake pan over heat so as not to burn the popcorn.  When popping slows, remove from heat immediately to prevent burning.

Pour the popped kernels into a large bowl.  Add pine nuts and drizzle with remaining rosemary oil.  Add Parmigiano Reggiano and salt to taste.  Toss well and add more salt or cheese if needed.

This would normally serve between 4 -6, but we pretty much managed to scarf it all up between the two of us.  Hey, we deserved it after that wet walk, right?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Will Bake for Eggs

We have already discussed the fact that I would likely sell my sons in order to get my hands on some farm fresh eggs (well, not really guys, but you get the idea) so I won't go into that again.  If you want to refresh your memory about the subject, here is the post:

My mom brought me up right, so I do have a few principles.  One is that if you are in a restaurant and the kitchen sends out a freebie, you have to eat it.  All of it.  Even if you hate it (I'm reminded of the time someone lavished sweetbreads upon us) or if you are on a diet or if you are stuffed to the gills.  Those are the rules in Lizworld.  Poor Henry knows this all too well, largely because I am a short hitter and will usually pawn it off on him.  He doesn't complain too much, though.

The other rule is that when someone gives you a gift (like farm fresh eggs), it is necessary to reciprocate.  Henry's colleague once again bestowed a dozen upon us last week, so I headed for the kitchen.

That was the easy part.  More difficult was trying to decide what to bake.  Cake was out since I made that marble cake for him a couple weeks ago.  It was also complicated by the fact that Henry wasn't going straight to the office the next day, so whatever I made would have to hang out in his car for a couple of hours.  That ruled out anything with chocolate or pastry cream, unless I wanted to ruin someone's car with melted chocolate or kill them with spoiled eggs.  I didn't think that would win me any points however, or guarantee additional fresh eggs in my future.

So I turned to my favorite old stand-by, Honey-Pecan Bars.  You can whip these up in a flash and they are always a hit.  The base is a buttery shortbread-like crust which is then adorned with a rich, gooey pecan topping.  Oh, and in addition to being delicious and addictive, they can withstand a short seige in a warm car!

HONEY-PECAN BARS   (adapted from Martha Stewart's Cookies)

For the crust:
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
3 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

For the topping:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup good honey (I used Fireweed)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 cups pecan halves
1 tablespoon vanilla paste*

Preheat oven to 375-degrees.  Line a 13 x 9-inch baking pan (preferably with squared edges) with heavy duty foil to overhang sides.  Grease well with butter or cooking spray and set aside.

In electric mixer, cream butter, brown sugar and salt until light and fluffy, scraping down bowl several times.  Add flour, one cup at a time until incorporated.  Continue mixing until dough forms large clumps and starts to come together.

Sprinkle mixture into prepared pan and press down to form an even layer (a fondant press is good for this task).  Chill until firm, about 20 minutes.  Place in preheated oven and bake until just barely golden, about 15 minutes.  Transfer to a baking rack to cool and reduce oven heat to 325-degrees.

For topping, place butter, brown sugar, honey, granulated sugar and heavy cream in a saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, then stir constantly with a wooden spoon until mixture is smooth and homogenous, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and stir in salt, pecans and vanilla.  Pour over the cooled crust.

Bake until topping starts to bubble, about 10-12 minutes.  DO NOT OVERBAKE.  (Trust me, I know this from experience.  If you do, the filling will turn hard and gluey and won't be at all appealing.  As I am known to say, less is better here).  Transfer to a baking rack to cool completely.

When cool, lift out using the foil "handles" and transfer to a cutting board.  Remove foil and cut into 24 squares.

Don't refrigerate these (try not to store them in a warm car, either).  They will keep for up to a week in an airtight container.

Yield:  24 squares

*If you don't have vanilla paste, pure vanilla extract will be just fine.  Just don't use imitation vanilla, okay?

I was a good girl and managed not to eat any of these before I got them packaged up.  Of course I went to Leon's Full Service for lunch on Sunday and managed to eat a fair share of fries with smoked tomato mayonnaise.  Oh, Liz!

One final note:  unless you love these, or love baking them, DO NOT bring them to a potluck or any sort of recurring event where you will be asked to bring something at a later date.  That's because once you introduce your friends to these, they will never want you to bring anything else.  You can trust me on this one also!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sayonara, Summer!

Bye-bye sweet basil!

Summer in Atlanta, where did you go?  I realize I just returned from New Orleans where it was really hot and steamy, but what happened here?  Suddenly it's cool in the mornings, there are different varieties of birds at the backyard feeders and it's completely dark by 8pm these days.  There was even a sharp-shinned hawk with a freshly-killed squirrel out there today (yikes - I'm keeping a close eye on those little white dogs of mine).  Hold on!  I'm not ready to let go of fresh, sweet corn, vine-ripe tomatoes, dinner on the patio and casual outdoor grilling.  Stop already!

Nonetheless, autumn is quickly approaching and I realized I had better get my act together and harvest what was left of the basil I planted last spring before it keeled over.  There was a lot of it.  Enough to keep me in pesto until spring comes around again and I can plant a brand-new crop.

I adore pesto.  I love its versatility.  You can throw it over a block of cream cheese (or better yet, herbed garlic cheese) and you have an instant appetizer.  Smear a little goat cheese on a baguette slice, top with pesto and maybe a roasted cherry tomato half and run it under the broiler for a delicious snack.  It has a wonderful affinity with salmon (preferably King) and it's delicious with grilled chicken as well.  My favorite dish, however, is a bowl of whole wheat penne tossed with pesto and some leftover grilled chicken. The idea may be ordinary, but the taste is not.


(Note:  these are basic proportions.  Adjust as you see fit, depending upon the amount of basil you have and whether or not you want more or less garlic, pine nuts, cheese, etc.)

1 cup fresh basil leaves (washed and dried), packed
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
Kosher salt to taste
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted and cooled
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place basil, garlic and salt in the bowl of a food processor and grind to a paste.  Add pine nuts and cheese and pulse to blend.  With machine running, slowly pour in olive oil until mixture becomes smooth.  Taste to adjust seasonings.

Yield:  approximately 1 1/2 cups

A couple of things:

For my favorite meal, cook up some whole wheat penne until just done but still al dente or "to the bite."  Drain pasta, reserving at least 1 cup of the pasta water.  Return penne to the pan and add a generous dollop of pesto and toss well.  Add enough pasta water to thin it out a bit.  Throw in some sliced leftover chicken if you have it and toss over medium heat until the whole thing is heated through.  Taste to adjust seasonings.  Easy enough?  (And yes, I have made this for company!)

One of Andy's old friends has always refused to eat anything green (he's now in medical school, heaven help us).  He loves my pesto, though!

If you hate pine nuts, you can always substitute toasted walnuts (or pecans, if you live in the south).  I, however, prefer to stick with pine nuts.  Don't skip the step of toasting them, either in a skillet or in the oven.  It adds a significant depth of flavor.

You can freeze your pesto as long as it is wrapped well.  When ready to use, just thaw in the refrigerator for a day before using.  Pretend it's summer.

Stocking up!


Yes, I have been absent from this blog for about a week.  Sorry about that.  In case you were wondering, I did not eat myself into oblivion and suffer the consequences.  I wish.  Nope, I was in New Orleans to lend support to Andy (my eldest son) as he participated in his first power lifting competition.

Talk about a step outside of my usual world.  His, too.  It's like being admitted to a club where you don't quite belong but you find yourself there anyway.  Let's just say there were a lot of tatoos.  And it ended up being a v-e-e-e-r-y long day as we were there for 14 hours.  So much for my plans for dinner at Herbsaint that night.  So much for dinner, period.

But, I wouldn't have traded the experience for anything.  He decided to go for it and break his record of a 475-pound deadlift.  He went for 500 AND HE DID IT!  A personal best.  Congratulations, Andy!

Practicing in the gym (he's also dropped a ton of weight since this photo was taken).
Hmmmmm - maybe I should try some serious power lifting!

I'll get back to the business of blogging about food and posting recipes later this afternoon.  For the moment though, I just had to be a proud mom!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Recipes From Home

I can't count the number of times people have said to me, "Liz, you should write a cookbook."  Usually I will just smile and nod and say something along the lines of "well, maybe one of these days" but the truth is, I have already published a cookbook.  Well, sort of.

Sometimes it takes a major event to shake you out of your lethargy and get your ass in gear to tackle those projects you keep procrastinating over.  For me it was a second bout with breast cancer (no worries, I am fine now) and that compilation of recipes I kept meaning to assemble for my kids.  No drama intended, but when you wonder if your days are numbered, you think about what you want to leave behind.  For me, that meant my favorite recipes.

So, I did it.  I gathered up all of my favorites,  typed them into my computer, made up a table of contents, wrote an introduction and (voila!) Recipes From Home was produced.  I even managed to compile an extensive index of which I am quite proud, particularly since it was done without the assistance of a computer (I couldn't figure out how) and laboriously created by hand, much of it accomplished on a very long flight to California. 

Now in case you are thinking you can go to and order the thing, let me give you the bad news.  You can't.  Oh no, this is just about the most homespun book you will ever encounter, only slightly more professional that the stuff your six-year-old brings home from school.  I print it out here at home and slide it into a looseleaf binder.  It's as basic as you can get.

That said, it is a work of love and a gift from my heart.  Initially it was intended only for Andy and Eric, however I quickly realized that it makes a great gift for those who mean the most to me.  As I wrote in 2004, "if you have received a copy of this book, it really does mean that you are a part of our family."  That still holds true today.

The genesis of Recipes From Home began on a boat in Crystal River, Florida.  We were there with our dear friends, Stephen and Mark, for a weekend visit.  Stephen decided we should do a sunset "cruise" so we loaded up the boat with wine and cheese and hit the river.  In the middle of the solitude on the water, my cell phone rang.  It was Andy.  "Hey Mom, how do I roast brussels sprouts?"

Hence, the book.  You may not be able to obtain a copy of it, but I am happy to share some recipes with you on this blog.  Here is one of my favorites.

LIME VODKA (adapted from Nikolai's Roof in Atlanta)

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup spring water
2 cups freshly squeezed lime juice
1 quart good vodka

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan over high heat.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally until sugar is completely dissolved.  Remove heat and let cool slightly.

In a large bowl or container, combine sugar mixture, lime juice and vodka.  Stir well, then pour into a container large enough to hold the mixture with room for expansion.  Freeze.

Yield:  a little more than 1 quart (or enough to make a lot of people quite tipsy)  Go Henry.

Due to the alcohol content, it will not freeze completely.  When ready to imbibe, pour into shot glasses and shout "NASTROVIA!" then either chug it or sip it slowly.  Either way works.  Just don't imbibe too much of the stuff or you will seriously regret it the next day!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I Hate to Cook (Book)

Growing up as an only child had its benefits.  I never had to share ANYTHING and didn't have to fight for the biggest cookie or that last piece of cake.  Don't be jealous, though.  There was a dark side.

That would be the fact that my parents were nomads and we moved around a lot.  I counted once, and I think I attended 13 schools in all.  It would have been nice to have a sibling to rely on, but that wasn't my reality.  I had to drop myself into new situations and make new friends time after time.  You get pretty adept at it, eventually.

I found refuge in books.  More pointedly, in my mother's cookbooks.  I read them cover to cover, then typed up fantasy menus on my dad's old manual typewriter.  Those menus included stuffed jumbo shrimp and chopped chicken livers.  (Hello, what 9-year-old thinks about stuff like that?  They should have locked me up when they had the opportunity).  I can't remember what I included for dessert, but it probably revolved around chocolate mousse or baked alaska.  C'mon, this was the sixties.

Mom had two paperback books that I read repeatedly because I thought they were hysterical.  The author was Peg Bracken and the books were titled "The I Hate To Cook Book" and "The I Still Hate to Cook Book."  Peg Bracken was hilarious and most of her desserts involved Irish coffee.  Drink your dessert?  I'm down with that!

Fast forward to 2010 and suddenly her first book is in vogue again (remember what I said in the Pittsburgh cookie post about how everything old becomes new?)  Check out the recent article about it in the New York Times:,%20canned%20soup&st=cse

Once I read the article, I beat a path upstairs to the attic and unearthed Mom's battered copy of the book (yeah, I ripped it off years ago and it somehow managed to survive our move and elude the trash bin).  I couldn't help myself - I HAD to make the Hootenholler cake.  With a name like that, how can one resist?

But before I give you the recipe, I have to preface it with some of her pithy comments.  This is about bringing food to a potluck dinner:

"A word of advice on how to handle yourself when a Potluck is being planned.
Beware of the entree.  The entree is usually the most trouble, as well as the most expensive.
So never volunteer for it.  Instead, volunteer somebody else.
Ethel, would you make that marvelous goulash of yours? you can say.
The other ladies will probably join in - it would be rude not to, espescially if
they've ever tasted Ethel's goulash.
While Ethel is modestly dusting her manicure on her lapel, you can murmer
something about bringing ... bread."

Need I elaborate further about why I adore Peg Bracken?


1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
3 beaten eggs
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup seedless raisins (I used sultanas, or white raisins)
2 cups chopped pecans
1/4 cup bourbon (I used Jack Daniels)

First, take the bourbon out of the cupboard and have a small snort for medicinal purposes (Peg's words, not mine).

Now, cream the butter with the sugar and add the eggs.  Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg and add it to the butter mixture.  Then add the milk.  Now put the baking soda into the molasses and mix ut ip and add that.  Then add the raisins, nuts and bourbon.  Pour it into a greased and floured loaf pan and bake at 300-degrees for two hours.

This cake will keep practically forever, wrapped in aluminum foil, in your refrigerator.  It gets better and better if you buck it up once in a while by stabbing it with an ice pick and injecting a little more bourbon with an eye dropper.

Serves 8 - 10

More bourbon?  You go, Peg Bracken!  If only  you were alive today so we could follow your blog!