The Better Way to Eat French Toast

Francesca just had surgery yesterday and while it was a pretty low-key procedure, she was supposed to be out of commission for about a week. We had grand plans to lift her spirits and nurse her back to health, so it was a bit unsettling to find her running around the house this morning and having her drag *me* out of bed this morning. She appears to be the healthiest person in the house right now. That said, we had already promised her a special breakfast this morning so even though she’s doing a terrible job proving she deserves it, we’re committed to french toast and bacon, at least for brunch (oh how we suffer).

 

Look at her... so sick...

 

Right before my birthday this past spring, I spent a beautiful weekend in Dingle, Ireland also pretending I needed to get well. I was thoroughly fake-stressed, and wanted a weekend of complete relaxation to welcome my 22nd year in style so, when the impending time came, I’d be ready to face the real world head-on. I spent the weekend biking, listening to traditional Irish music, and chatting with strangers in cozy pubs, but a large portion of the credit for the weekend’s “healing” powers goes to the Goat Street Café’s French Toast with Brie and Maple syrup. I swear that no combination of flavors has ever sung so beautifully and harmoniously together – they resonate through your heart like music from a particularly good traditional music session, and with similarly strong healing powers (as long as you don’t have an actual illness). You would never think to put these musicians together, but boy can they play. So to celebrate the art of pretending to get well, we’re putting an East Coast spin with Challah French Toast with Brie and Maple Syrup – and we’re adding a trad playlist to play while you eat. Whether you’re recovering from the Tired Tuesdays or post-sleep hunger, I assure you this is just the cure you need.

 

French Toast with Brie and Maple Syrup – The best french toast I've ever had (on The Road Home)

 

And we want to know – what makes you feel better when you’re pretending to be sick? Or do you have any fun spins on traditional breakfast foods? We want to hear all about it!

 

From the Fridge: Spanish Quesadillas

I grew up in a family where virtually nothing was wasted. My mother would save the tiniest sliver of Breyers ice cream that used to come in a square container, and sometimes, oh my God, we’d even take leftovers to amusement parks. I of course wanted those horrible hot dogs rolling around on those metal tubes all day. I often think how almost criminal it is that we have three refrigerators in our house that are so stuffed with food we can’t even see what’s growing in the back of each of them. Yes, I teach cooking classes so there’s always a lot of ingredients needed for classes and testing recipes, but it’s still no excuse for wasting precious food.

 

Spanish-Inspired Quesadillas, featuring Smoke Prosciutto and Iberico Cheese | The Road Home

 

I decided that instead of dreading the monthly clean-out of moldy bits and pieces and the slimy gook from spilled jars, I should stage our own version of Chopped, where contestants are given a handful of secret ingredients and they have to come up with some brilliant dish. The difference of course is that I won’t try to make a four star dinner out of cheese doodles, octopus, gelatin and some sort of spiky fruit. I’m challenging myself to search the freezers and fridges each week for several ingredients and to figure out a dish in one hour. This kind of self imposed contest forces you to use a variety of skills – it could be searing, braising, frying or roasting, or whatever – in new ways and to really work the spices you have on hand.

 

Spanish-Inspired Quesadillas, featuring Smoke Prosciutto and Iberico Cheese | The Road Home

 

Okay I admit, this first week I had a head start. I just finished doing a week of cooking demos on back to school healthy snacks and lunch options on Fox News (link to avocado video) and had great lime jalapeno guacamole left over. I had also had a huge package of 12 inch tortillas from making low fat baked tortilla chips on air. Quesadillas anyone? So I searched the fridge and found perfectly ripe yellow heirloom tomatoes, Iberico cheese and smoked prosciutto (similar enough to Iberico ham). Perfect ingredients to make a Spanish-ish Quesadilla. Here’s the recipe:

 

Spanish-Inspired Quesadillas, featuring Smoke Prosciutto and Iberico Cheese | The Road Home

 

Spanish-Inspired Quesadillas, featuring Smoke Prosciutto and Iberico Cheese | The Road Home

 

Countdown to Thanksgiving 4

pumpkinbacon

 

This Pumpkin Fondue is one of our absolute favorite recipes of all time. We’ve posted this one before, but in light of the demo it on TV the other day, I decided to bring it back from the archives. It’s too important to miss! If your Thanksgiving menu is still flexible, we highly encourage you to check this one out! Scroll down for the recipe and a video of the TV segment!

 

pumpkinwithmilk

pumpkinfondue cinderellapumpkin

 

 

 

Pumpkins Stuffed with Everything Good – Our Way

From: Heide Lang, Adapted from Dorie Greenspan

Ingredients:

  • 8 strips bacon (¼ cup shallots may be substituted for vegetarian version
  • ¼ pound stale bread cut into cubes
  • ¼ pound cheese, such as gruyere, emmental, cheddar, smoked gouda, asiago, parmesan, or any combination, cut into ½ inch cubes 
  • 3 cloves of garlic pressed or minced 
  • 1/8-1/4 cup fresh chives or scallions 
  • 2 teaspoons or more fresh herbs (i.e., parsley, rosemary, thyme) 
  • ½ cup dried cranberries (optional)
  • 1 sugar or Cinderella pumpkin weighing about 3 pounds 
  • 1 cup or more heavy cream 

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Sautee shallots until they are crispy (about 15 minutes), or fry bacon until crispy. Set aside.
  3. Combine chunks of bread and cheese, along with dried cranberries (this is optional, but will add beautiful color to the fondue). Season with salt and pepper. 
  4. Add bacon or shallots to the bread and cheese mixture. Combine well.
  5. Add any herbs you choose, along with the chives or scallions, and garlic. Toss well.
  6. Using a very sturdy knife, cut off the cap of the pumpkin, just as you would a jack-o-lantern.
  7. Scoop out the stringy pumpkin and the seeds and generously salt the inside of the pumpkin.
  8. Pack the filling tightly into the pumpkin (there shouldn’t be any air pockets).
  9. Pour in cream until the bread mixture is saturated and there is a bit of liquid on top (but be careful not to have the bread “swimming” in heavy cream).
  10. Put the cap back on and bake until the pumpkin is soft, about 60-90 minutes. Check the pumpkin after 45 minutes to see how soft it is. Continue baking until the ingredients are bubbling and the meat of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced with a fork. Do not let it burn, or the pumpkin will turn black and collapse as it cools. You don’t want all your good work ruined!
  11. Place a large spatula under your creation and move it gently to a beautiful platter.
  12. Serve as a side dish or an appetizer on small plates.

Fig-ure it Out

Like any busy household, we sometimes always have a hard time planning out our meals just so and we end up with a random mishmash of ingredients that were meant for one thing and are now sitting forlornly in our fridge. This week the stars of the show were the figs that we bought for a Fig Cooking School photo shoot and then promptly forgot about, the lone Boursin cheese left over from a three pack meant for God knows what purpose, and the ground beef that had not made it to the TV studio for a Fox News shoot. Using up the ingredients in the fridgermarket can sometimes feel like an episode of Chopped. Which is really frustrating on a weeknight, but hey – it tests our culinary skills and makes us better cooks in the process, right? And besides, we don’t actually have a choice.

 

IMG_4305-zoom-bright

 

 

 

For today’s episode of Fridge Chopped, I present you with Fig-Boursin Burgers. The sweetness of the honey-butter figs marries perfectly with the herbs and onions in the cheese and the meltiness of everything blossoms explosively on a crispy bun. Truth be told this could have been improved with some arugula, but we didn’t have any and running to the store would have ruined the magic. Best of all the whole thing was thrown together in the time span of Francesca’s bath!

 

We’re hoping to bring back this feature on a regular basis because lets face it, we’ve all been there. But for now let me know – what’s the most brilliant thing you’ve ever magically thrown together? Comment below and/or better yet, send us a post about it!

Fig-Boursin Burgers

From: Gabrielle Siegel

Ingredients:

  • 3 figs
  • 1-2 tbsp honey
  • 1-2 tbsp good salted butter, like Kerrygold
  • 1 1/3 lbs ground beef, shaped into 1/3 lb patties (or 4 pre-formed hamburger patties)
  • 1/3 – 1/2 container Boursin cheese (any flavor should work but we used Garlic and Fine Herb)
  • 2-3 tbsp canola oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 buns of your preference (but Brioche would be awesome)

Directions:

  1. Melt butter and honey together in a good medium-small non-stick pan (my favorite is ceramic) over medium-high heat.
  2. Cut figs from top to bottom into 4 slices, and place in pan. Be sure to place end slices pink-side down.
  3. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes, flipping every so often to make sure they cook evenly on all sides. If pan gets dry, add a little more butter. 
  4. Remove from heat and set aside.

    Burgers & Assembly

    1. Heat a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat, and add canola oil, spreading it around so it lightly coats the pan.
    2. Add burgers, season them liberally with salt and pepper, and cook, flipping often, until cooked to your liking.
    3. Toast buns and place each burger on a bun. 
    4. Spread each burger with 2-3 tbsp of Boursin, and top with 3 fig slices and some arugula if you want.
    5. Admire your handiwork and eat.

    Daily Bread

    After watching HBO’s Weight of the Nation (which you have to see if you haven’t yet) our entire family has decided to go on a health kick. Mom has made a brave (and miraculously successful!) first attempt at cooking kale (see post Friday or so), Francesca has taken up Irish step dancing, Isabella has been dragging me on these miserable runs, and dad has agreed to keep on eating whatever we put in front of him.

     

    Good things are coming your way

     

    But as luck would have it, a week into this health kick, mom was scheduled to teach her famous fried chicken class, with lime creamed corn, buttermilk mashed potatoes with crispy (deep fried) shallots and Jack Daniel’s fudge pie. The foodpocalypse was essentially zooming towards us, with nothing we could do to stop it. The only way for us children to keep ourselves in check was to eat a light dinner, and hopefully only be hungry for a drumstick or so when we got home. So as class time approached, the girls and I ventured out for an evening of Panera (which has healthy options), Froyo (which is not healthy, but is healthier than some things) and nerdy cavorting at Barnes and Noble.

     

    And this is what we found

     

    It was a lovely time, and we actually ended up learning a lot of lessons over the course over the evening. We learned copious amounts about whales, Irish history, graphic design, and not letting the pigeon drive the bus, and we learned how to fail at moderating ourselves at Froyo World (The toppings are just right there for you to take! These people are marketing geniuses!)

     

    Froyo isn't froyo without 5 cherries

     

    But of all the lessons we learned, the best was certainly how much you can benefit from being an indecisive nut. We spent such a long time trying to figure out which option at Panera would maximize health and yumminess, that I felt a bother correcting the lady when she thought I said I wanted tuna on honey-wheat instead of whole grain and had already put in my order. By some miraculous stroke of luck, honey-wheat bread turned out to be so soft, gently sweet and perfect that it has since become my default bread of choice. And since mom’s last post was about butter, what could I do but write a fresh baked bread post to match.

     

    three's a charm

     

    This is the first time I’ve made bread on the blog, so this is going to be a tutorial, not just a recipe. Even if you’re an experienced bread maker, there are a lot of steps that a lot of us just dutifully do, which we ought to try and understand. To begin we have a starter, which is some permutation of water, flour and yeast, as you see above. It actually has little to do with making the bread rise, but instead is mostly about making sure the bread actually tastes like something. The starter we’re making  here is called a sponge, and is made with equal parts flour and water, along with a little bit of instant yeast. As it sits at room temperature for about an hour (or up to 4) the yeast ferments and takes your bread from bland to boss.

     

     

    First, we add instant yeast to the water, and immediately whisk it in to prevent clumping. Following Rose Levy Beranbaum (the queen of Bread) I advise you to almost always use instant yeast, which is more convenient for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it can be activated in room temperature water, not just the 90-100° required by active dry (although that temperature will work too – it’s very flexible – just don’t use super hot or super cold). It is also called rapid rise, leading to the misconception that it causes your bread to rise faster, which it doesn’t. But it is very easy to use, and serves our purposes in almost every case.

     

    It looks icky but trust me it's good

     

    We then whisk in the flour, until we get this nice pasty thing. Rose Levy Beranbaum says that she likes her sponge starters to be more liquidy because the yeast makes more bubbles, resulting in a lighter, more even bread. So that’s what we made. To let the bubbles and flavor develop, we let it sit at room temperature for an hour. We could have gone longer, but I’m impatient. Go until your starter looks at least kind of like this:

     

     

    See all the bubbles? That means it’s alive! If that doesn’t happen, start over/buy new yeast. Cover it tightly while it’s fermenting. It prevents the dough from drying out, and also you get to see the plastic wrap dome up as the yeast releases carbon dioxide. Also note that some the gas will bubble up and pop on the surface. Which means it’s working and is also fun to see. Meanwhile get everything else together. First off, we have crisco…

     

    Don't worry, every fiber of my being is dying right now

     

    …which is usually really bad for you – worse even than butter, which we usually advocate above all else. But in baking, butter can make things harder and drier, which only good when when we want a nice crisp cookie. In this case, when what we were looking for was a moist, soft bread above all else, shortening was the only option. Adding a little bit of fat to the bread tenderizes it, making it soft and addictive, just like you want. And since we’re using it in low quantities, this bread is still healthy and low-cal.

     

    This is a picture of honey mixed with water

     

    Next we have honey. Sometimes sweet things (sugar, honey, etc.) are added so that the yeast has something to eat and makes more bubbles, but here it’s really just a flavor thing. Before you add all the other ingredients, whisk the honey in with the water so that it’s less sticky, and distributes nicely.

     

     

    Finally we have the flour, which gets whisked with the salt. This means the salt doesn’t get added all at once, minimizing its contact with the yeast (otherwise a lot of the yeast will die, which would suck).

     

     

    We are ready to mix! Whisk the yeast into the honey-water, then add the shortening, flour-salt mixture and your starter. You can begin kneading it by hand, but please consult The Bread Bible for instructions on how to do that. I’ve found that my best results by far come from using a KitchenAid. Using a dough hook, mix the dough on setting #2 for about 1 to 1.5 minutes, until it looks like this:

     

    As you can see, there's little bits of shortening and everything. That's fine.

     

    Then we let it rest, covered, for 20 minutes. This lets the flour absorb the water better, and means our mixing time will shorten. Meaning, among other things, we won’t get impatient and make the bread mix on too high a setting, breaking all the gluten bonds and essentially killing any chance of our bread being edible.

     

    This is a picture of dough about to rise

     

    Then turn the mixer back on and let it mix on setting #4 for about 15 minutes, or until it’s pretty stretchy. Then cut the dough in half, and form it into two rounds, and put on wax paper. Cover with a warm, moist towel, and set to rise in a decently warm place for about 40 minutes. When you’re forming it into rounds, pull the sides out a bit, and then fold them around back, and then tuck the ends under, so the top is nice and smooth, like you see above. Otherwise you can end up with a kind of craggy looking top. Like this silly looking thing:

     

    This is picture of a very silly looking bread

     

    Yours probably won’t look so extreme, because this dough was super dry… but still, lets not take chances. Once the dough has risen, you can either transfer it to a loaf pan, or bake it on its own directly on the baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 350°F convection/375° conventional and let it rise for about another 45 minutes, preferably in a warm area, covering again with a warm, moist towel. You’re ready to bake! A loaf in no pan takes about 25 minutes, while a loaf in a pan can take up to 10 minutes longer. To be on the safe side, insert a baking thermometer into the center. It’s done when it reaches between 190 and 200°F. Let cool for as long as you can stand it (at least 10 minutes), slice, and eat!

     

     

    Please comment if you have any questions. I highly recommend making this bred, whether you’re very experienced or brand new to the process. I think you’ll agree that a slice of this bread is pretty much the best thing since (wait for it…) itself.

    Better-Than-Panera Honey-Wheat Bread

    From: Gabrielle Siegel
    Prep Time: 30 Mins Cooking Time: 1 Hour 30 Mins Total Time: 2 Hours

    Ingredients:

    • Flour
    • Other stuff

    Directions:

    1. Mix the flour
    2. Have Bread
    3. Eat bread

    The Chipwich goes to Finishing School

     

    The other day, over dinner, mom innocently asked Bella and me what our favorite Trashy Junk Food was. On so many levels, that ought to be an easy question for me to spurn: The Omnivores Dilemma is my favorite book, I love the locavore movement, I’m a part-time moral vegetarian, my mom’s a gourmet cooking teacher, and for Heaven’s sake, I write a food blog. On all accounts, I should really be above all that.

     

     

    But, you may find it refreshing to know, food bloggers (most of us) are people too. From Pringles to Flavor Blasted Goldfish, Green Sour Patch Kids to Snickers Bars, memories and flavors came rushing back to me. I remembered the time at summer camp when Nora and I each ate 3 bowls of Cocoa Pebbles for breakfast, or the many Halloweens when I would trade Ellie for all her Reese’s Pieces (after we’d eaten Nathans Hot Dogs wrapped in Pillsbury Crescent Rolls for dinner…). Then, of course, some of these foods  just taste much better than any of us want to admit. Cappuccino Jelly Bellies are almost as good as Tiramisù, and McDonalds French Fries could hold their own at any bistro. We find the Ruffles rrrrrrrrridges completely irresistable, and though many of you may have heard me profess that goat cheese is my favorite food in the whole wide world, I’m sorry to say that is a vicious lie.  I’m just too ashamed to admit how much I love Frosted Flakes.

     

     

     

    Your list may not be as bad as the one Isabella and I started (57 favorites, and counting) but I *know* you have foods like this too. The problem is, as I’ve already addressed, we are all so (theoretically) above these foods that it’s kind of embarrassing to buy them. Our twinkies are supposed to come from local bakeries, and at the very least we have to pretend that Paul Newman makes milk’s favorite cookie (although to be fair, Trader Joe Joes actually are way better than Oreos). But that brings me to the other issue. A lot of times, when you go back to your favorite junk foods, they don’t taste quite the way you remember. Duncan Hines brownies have yet to disappoint me, but I swear Funfetti is way sweeter than it used to be. So I decided to begin an intermittent series in which we’ll take our favorite junk foods, and we’ll make them ourselves so they’ll taste as good as we remember (maybe better!), and so we can sort of pretend they’re healthier (they’re not). And because the Good Humor Truck has been tempting me at the playground all summer, I thought we’d start with the Chipwich, my all-time Ice Cream Truck favorite.

     

     

     

    I didn’t want to change it too much – no Rosewater Ice Cream or Dulce de Leche layers or Almond coatings. Those would be delicious, but superfluous. I trust you (and encourage you) to add them on your own if you want, but my goal was to get the satisfaction of the original, while making up for the few things it lacks. For our version, we adapted the New York Times version of the Jacques Torres chocolate chip cookie, which is is the best cookie we’ve ever made or eaten, and to preserve our sanity we filled them with Haagen Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream. I’ll spare you my rant on Haagen Dazs Five, but the little known secret is that Haagen Dazs Vanilla only lists five ingredients anyway, so it’s pretty much like homemade (only way better) but it spares you the stress of the ice cream freezer. And Haagen Dazs is a level of perfection you can’t improve on anyway.

     

     

    Bake the cookies, freeze them, fill them, freeze them, roll them in chocolate chips, freeze them… or at any step along the way just eat them. These taste just like the original, but with a creamier filling, a more buttery cookie, more chocolatey chocolate, and top notes of bourbon from the ice cream. And they strike just the right balance of sweet-but-not-too-sweet, because there’s no HFCS! They’re perfect any time you’re yearning for a summer refreshment with an indulgent, nostalgic spirit. Our recipe is not intended as a replacement – the original will always have a place in our hearts. This is simply the chipwich refined, finally reaching its ultimate potential, grown up to be the best it can possibly be.

     

    Pie Squared

    Ever since the macarons, which sort of represent an excess of streamline and precision, I’ve felt a need to kind of make up for it with something you might actually want to make. I mean, let’s be honest: it’s summer time, the living is easy, why should our sweets be so hard? Besides, last week, my sisters and I ate a half gallon of blueberries that were so good that Francesca has sworn off sweets for the rest of the summer. And they weren’t even from the farmers market.

    In wax paper, served with Yumberry Punch in an old milk jar. Seriously, why even bother otherwise? (Just kidding).

     

    When even Costco’s blueberries take on a sort of magical flavor, you know the time has come to leave delicate pastries and (dare I say) even chocolate behind us, and let summer’s bounty speak (mostly) for itself. And so, when I was flipping through this month’s Bon Appétit and saw a recipe for portable, hand-held “pies,” I was inspired. The only thing in the whole world I like better than pie, is food I can eat with my hands. For as long as I can remember, my vacations have been filled with forkless indulgences – pizza from Pepe’s, burgers with crispy cheese from the Shady Glen Diner, and black cherry vanilla ice cream cones from Pralines. Summer is a time to relax and have fun, not a time to wrestle with those super pesky knives and forks (I mean seriously, you have to wash them and everything…). So not only is a hand pie the ultimate food, it’s about as seasonal as you can possibly get.

     

     

     

    These days, pie is my favorite dessert, but for a long time there was only one pie in the world I would eat, and that was my mother’s blueberry-lime pie, known affectionately in our house as The Best Blueberry Pie Ever. She found the recipe years ago in an old newspaper clipping, which itself cited another newspaper clipping. It’s simplicity perfected – graham cracker crust, mounds of homemade whipped cream, and blueberry-lime filling on top. She’d make it after our  trips to Lyman Orchards, and back in the days when I shunned apple, peach, pecan, key lime and strawberry rhubarb, there was always a place in my heart (and my stomach) for an extra piece of this pie.  I still do shun all other blueberry pies, because nothing compares to this.

     


     

     

    And so I took the hand pie, and filled it with my best childhood memories. These are ridiculously simple to make. You simply prepare the filling, and roll out store-bought puff pastry while it cools. Cut the puff pastry into nine pieces, place filling on each, and fold them over. Cut designs on each of them (extra points for creativity)…

     

     

     

    Sprinkle them with raw sugar…

     

    Yes I swiped this from starbucks. I fully expect you to do the same ;)

     

    Chill, and bake. That’s it! And unlike some recipes we know, these need no explanation other than the recipe below. Also, with all these Independence Day picnics coming up, I hope you do realize that these are blue on the inside, and that they are positively heavenly with whipped cream and strawberries. Just saying.

     

    Happy 4th of July! And as always, Happy Baking.

     

     

    Blueberry Lime Hand Pies

    From: Adapted from Bon Appétit, July, 2011 and an old, long lost newspaper clipping

    Ingredients:

      Filling

      • 1/4 cup and 3 tablespoons sugar
      • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
      • 1/8 teaspoon salt
      • grated peel of one lime
      • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
      • 1/4-1/2 cup water
      • 2 pints (1 quart) fresh blueberries, rinsed

      Pies

      • 1 14-17 oz package of puff pastry (preferably Pepperidge Farms), thawed in refrigerator
      • 1 egg white
      • 1 tablespoon water
      • 1.5 teaspoons (or about 2-3 packets) raw sugar

      Directions:

      1. In a large saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch, lime peel, lime juice, and 1/4 cup water.
      2. Add 2 cups of blueberries and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, and blueberries are softened, about four minutes. If mixture is thick before it turns dark purple, add the other 1/4 cup of water. Your kitchen should be smelling like my childhood right about now.
      3. Remove from heat and stir in remaining blueberries. Let chill for 15 minutes.
      4. Flour a baking surface, and roll out puff pastry into a 15 x 18 in rectangle. Pepperidge Farm comes in two sheets, so be sure to lay them down next to each other and roll them into one sheet. You’ll create a small seem, but that doesn’t matter because you’re going to fold it over there anyway.
      5. Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut rectangle into 3 columns and 3 rows, creating 9 5×6 in rectangles.
      6. Combine egg white with 1 tablespoon water together, and, working with one at a time, brush the edges (approx. .75-1 inch wide) of  a rectangle with the egg wash. Place 2 heaping tablespoons of blueberry filling on one end, and fold over the other side, so edges meet. Seal edges by crimping with a fork, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat for the rest of the rectangles. If you have leftover blueberries after this, just eat them with whipped cream or ice cream, or waffles, or whatever you want.
      7. Make a few cuts on the top of the pies, and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 375°F (or 350°F on convection).
      8. Brush with remaining egg wash, and sprinkle with raw sugar.
      9. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown.
      10. Cool on sheet for 10 minutes, and then on baking rack.
      11. Serve with whipped cream, strawberries, or nothing at all. Enjoy!

      Strawberry Flats Forever

      One of the challenging things about cooking for large crowds is learning to order the right amount of food to feed, say, 300 people, a talent you’d certainly learn quickly in any restaurant kitchen or you’d go out of business.

       

      There used to be a lot more where these came from... but my daughters ate them all.

       

      But since my joy in life comes from teaching others to cook and I don’t own a restaurant (although I think about opening one all the time), I haven’t quite gotten that skill down. Even if I had it down, it’s really unlikely I would manage to order just the right amount. It’s in my genes to make too much food. It’s the Mediterranean in me – watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding and you’ll understand my views on feeding a crowd. The Romanians on my father’s side were just the same: there was never such thing as too much. If anyone left a family gathering growing up without being totally stuffed, that meant the mothers, aunts and grandmothers in the kitchen didn’t do their job. I’m the same way.

       

      Try this at home.

       

      So as per usual when I was planning for a cooking demonstration at New Haven’s Wooster Square Market last week, our hands-down favorite open air farmer’s market in our area, I ordered way too many organic strawberries to accompany the amazing vanilla-almond custard Gabrielle adeptly made before the crowd.

       

      Strawberries in water - our accidental art piece. People tried very hard to steal these.

       

      When the day was over, we had a flat and a half of extra just-picked, perfectly ripe, sweet, bright-red, wonderfully imperfect organic strawberries. Mark brought the girls down to the market to make an emergency extension cord run (long story) and stayed until we were done with our demo. And when I wondered out loud what we should with so many strawberries that wouldn’t last for days the way supermarket strawberries do, my husband just said two wonderful words: Strawberry Margaritas.

       

      Perfect.  Mark never uses many words, but what he says always matters. And that was certainly true on Saturday.

       

      I always tell the girls – and they’ve heard it so many times growing up it’s practically in their DNA – that most things in life worth experiencing – having children, a great career, friendships – require hard work and dedication. But on rare occasion that isn’t really true. Sometimes miniscule effort can bring pure joy in a ridiculously short period of time. Strawberry margaritas are like that. And the amazing thing is that you don’t have to buy Tezon Añejo to get that joy, unless of course you want to be beyond overjoyed in which case, go ahead, buy the top shelf stuff. But for us it was a warm lazy Saturday afternoon and I didn’t feel like buying great tequila, so I used what we had in the house, which was entry-level.

       

      Jose Cuervo... cheap, but seriously sufficient.

       

      I’ll give you the specific recipe, but it is really better to remember the simple ratio for margaritas. You’ll want to be able to do this at the drop of a hat. Think thirds: one third a cup each of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice* in the blender. It’s that simple.

       

       

      This is almost everything that goes into them.

       

      Add a tablespoon or two of sugar if you have a really sweet tooth (otherwise leave it out) and ½ cup of ice if you want them to be slightly less strong… so you don’t get too too lazy afterwards.

       

      Just seconds away...

       

      Blend well and add a cup or so of ice, and voila! the perfect, simple margarita.

       

      So pretty... and it tastes so much better.

       

      So sit back and relax. Enjoy the fruits of your minor labor the way Mark did on Father’s day as he sipped perfection in a glass. Cheers!

       

      Colander of Strawberries

       

      Strawberry Margaritas

      From: Heide Lang

      Ingredients:

      • 1/3 cup triple sec
      • 1/3 cup tequila
      • 1/3 cup lime juice
      • 1 ½ cups fresh, preferably fresh picked organic strawberries
      • ½ cup ice (optional)

      Directions:

      1. Place all ingredients in a blender and mix on high for 30 seconds, or until thoroughly blended. 
      2. Serve straight or on the rocks, depending on whether you added ice to the blender.  Feel free to double or triple the recipe depending on your thirst and size of the crowd!

      Easy as Cake

      Mom and I once took this great class on canning in Chestertown, MD. It was, in fact, extremely educational and highly inspirational. But somehow we clearly missed the memo that you’re supposed to can your fruits and vegetables and not your…  sometimes foods.

      This is clearly not a fruit or a vegetable, but it's so much better...

      You see, today was Francesca’s fake birthday, so her class could celebrate her turning six exactly two months before she actually does, and I was assigned the task of the red velvet cupcakes (I know, we’re so typical, but at least we use the best red velvet recipe ever). But since it was early in the morning, 9:30 I believe, I wasn’t thinking straight and I joyously underestimated the momentous quantity of batter a doubled version of this recipe can make. Twenty-four servings of cake, you see, is not the same as twenty-four cupcakes. And so rather than face seventeen kindergarteners with a pile of cupcakes the size of Mount Everest, I decided to keep the excess and get creative. I started with the classic cake-in-a-cup I’ve wanted to try for so long. And while it was fun (and in my mind ever so clever, which I can say because I didn’t come up with it), the only oven-proof mugs we had were white, and oh so opaque. I knew that if I covered the top with frosting, nobody would ever get to see the beautiful red we love so much. Because seriously, what’s the point of using a whole bottle of food coloring if nobody gets to see it?

      Doesn't it kind of look like a sundae?

      And then I remembered. Tucked away in the next room was a huge box of Ball’s Canning Jars. I bought them to use as drinking glasses in my suite next year, but if I’m going to take ownership of the glasses, certainly nobody would object to me baking a little cake in them first, would they? And thus the canned cake was born. (Question – does anyone know why it’s called canning when it’s clearly done in jars?) These cakes are pint sized, which seems to lend itself perfectly to large individual servings. Any smaller would be sad, any larger would take a millennium to bake.

      To make these fill the jars up approximately 1/3 with batter and then just bake them for approximately 35-40 minutes. (The original recipe called for 30 minutes for a normal cake layer in a pan. You can bake these with any kind of cake you want, but remember to add 5-10 minutes to cooking time, and monitor them closely because it may vary by cake). And they’re fine to put in the oven because canning jars are made to be boiled! Just don’t dip them in a pool of ice water when they come out of the oven and you shouldn’t have to worry about cracking. Then just fill the last third with whipped cream or frosting and screw the top back on for nostalgic effect. The end. As easy as cupcakes, and so much easier than pie.

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      Behind the Scenes

      The slate hides behind the scenes while we wait to shoot.

      It would be very pretentious for me to call myself a film buff, since that would imply I actually know something, but at the very least I’m a bit of a film junkie. I was blessed to grow up minutes from the most amazing video store in the whole world (seriously) so my childhood summers were full of movies. Before I realized how bad I am at acting (which took frighteningly long), I dreamed of being in one. I know every little girl dreams of putting on sparkly costumes, being on a red carpet and feigning surprise when she wins an Oscar, but I always thought being behind the scenes looked like more fun than all those things. When I was eight or so, my parents got me The Santa Clause on VHS, and a featurette at the end described how tough it is to make movies because, just like Santa’s Elves, filmmakers do so much work behind the scenes. It looked wonderful. And it is.

      Sofia, our Cinematographer, sets up the camera

      In this featurette, Bernard the Elf says filmmaking is full of waiting around. To a degree he’s right, but that’s a bit misleading. There may be a lot of time when the camera’s not rolling, but from what I can tell, it’s never dull. So much happens between takes:

      Alex B. and Sofia (Camera) tinker with the 5D

      This camera is a work of art in and of itself

      Cyrus (Actor) stretches and warms up

      Cyrus, or

      Isabel (2nd Assistant Director) plays Jenga, so the actors have a perfect half-completed game every time

      Our actors were brilliant jenga players. Brilliant. In one take, Cyrus turned the whole thing around, when it was almost entirely stacked up. It blew my mind.

      Alex L. (Director) takes a break…

      This was not typical

      (just kidding)

      … and I get to do my dishes! Ok, I know it sounds like I’m starstruck and trying to make this sound like more fun than it is, but from mistakes and mishaps – broken microphones and rogue ringtones – to last minute requests (I was the only person on set in possession of nail polish remover), to the quiet, exhausted thrill of finding the best takes at the end of the day, the process is full of awesome, exciting extremes.

      It's just like in the movies...

      But you didn’t come here to learn about film, you came to learn about food, and I’ve hijacked your time (sorry) (it’s for your own good, you know), so on to more important things. Cooking for the Cast and Crew was the most rewarding adventure I’ve had had since beginning college. Cooking for 15 people, no matter who they are, teaches the arts of efficiency and flexibility like nothing else, except perhaps making a movie. One actor turned out to be lactose intolerant, so I coordinated Banana Pancakes against dairy-free scrambled eggs, Cream of Broccoli Soup against dairy-free scrambled eggs, Bread and Butter against dairy-free scrambled eggs… you get the picture. Then, I needed to have dinner ready an hour early, and my puff pastry was still frozen, so I rearranged the recipe for  Caramelized Onion Squares with Blue Cheese so that the onions would be ready just as the puff pastry finished defrosting. Then, when I didn’t make nearly enough Caramelized Onion Squares I tossed an emergency salad to stretch dinner farther. As I cooked, I realized that these challenges weren’t unique to this job, or even to catering. Cooking nearly always comes with setbacks. This was just like throwing a dinner party.

      ––

      I remember a party where mom and I planned shrimp for dinner, only to find out, upon their arrival, that our guests kept kosher. Another time, on Thanksgiving no less, somebody (certainly nobody writing this post) pureed the mashed potatoes beyond recognition. But we found Salmon for our friends, and the mashed potatoes still tasted fine. And luckily, behind-the-scenes mishaps make great stories. Most importantly, they make the end – meal, party or film –  so much more satisfying. A lot goes into a finished product, just like Bernard the Elf said. But now I know, as I always suspected, that’s part of the fun.

      See how much they're enjoying that soup? That's because I made it.

      Of course, it never hurts when people thank you profusely and ask you for your recipes afterwards. Below is the recipe for Caramelized Onion Squares with Blue Cheese, my favorite of the day. It can be used as an appetizer, or as a main course aside a nice tossed salad (plan on 5-6 squares per person). Either way they’re addictive.

      Below that you’ll find some final pictures of the shoot. And here is a link to the film itself [Rated PG for brief tobacco references], appropriately titled The End.

      ––

      Also, a big Thank You to Alex for inviting me on set, and to the entire cast and crew of The End for letting me join you on this project! You were all so much fun to work and talk with, and such a joy to cook for.

      Yoni, producer, works out technical issues over lunch.

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