Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter brunch, or day-drinking for Jesus

I love the cozy warmth of Christmas Eve, and our family’s annual July 4th lobster bake at the beach, and the childlike excitement that I still feel on my birthday. But without question, my favorite food holiday is Easter, thanks to Easter brunch.

Brunch is the Holly Golightly of meals: Effortlessly sophisticated. Charmingly boozy. Sleeps past 9:00 am and rolls out of bed looking fabulous. It combines the best of breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktail hour, and dessert into a sweet and savory gastronomic extravaganza that lasts for hours. Anything goes at brunch. Bacon? Quiche? Ham? Yes, yes, and yes. Cake at the same time? Of course! Mimosas? Obviously. Day drinking is required business at brunch.  

Brian and I have been hosting Easter brunch since we got married, and every occasion holds a memory that I’ll never forget. Like the year I nearly lost a layer of foot skin when I dropped a spatula-full of 400-degree stuffed French toast onto my bare tootsies. Or the time my buddy Jon brought this creepily delicious Rice Crispy Treat lamb:
Since there’s something inherently lazy and decadent about brunch, it requires a lazy and decadent starring meal. At our house, the star of brunch is bread pudding.
Bread pudding is really just glorified French toast, but there are many reasons why bread pudding wins the breakfast battle every time: It can be prepared entirely the night before; it cooks in the oven in a single pan, eliminating the need for over-the-griddle tending; the custard fully soaks into the bread and always cooks completely; it can be served warm or cold; and it tastes better. You know what? Just stop making French toast altogether.
Bread pudding also lends itself well to rich and delicious accessorizing. This year I paired it with caramel-bourbon sauce and homemade whipped cream. So good, so easy. It’s truly an instance where the finished dish is much, much bigger than the sum of its parts.
Let’s say you’re hosting your brunch at 10:30 am on Sunday and want to serve bread pudding with caramel-bourbon sauce and homemade whipped cream.
First you’ll need:
½ dozen eggs
Milk (I used 2%)
Vanilla Extract
White sugar
A loaf of cinnamon swirl bread
Brown sugar
Light corn syrup
Pint of whipping cream
One nip of bourbon
On Saturday afternoon:  
Make the caramel-bourbon sauce (recipe slightly adapted from Epicurious) by melting and whisking 6 tablespoons of butter, 1 cup packed dark brown sugar, ½ cup whipping cream, ¼ cup light corn syrup, and ½ teaspoon of salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and allow to boil for one minute without stirring it. Pull it off the heat and add 3 tablespoons of bourbon. Pour into a glass container, like a mason jar, and cool for a while on the counter before covering and putting it into the refrigerator.
Pour the rest of the whipping cream and ¼ cup of white sugar into a glass bowl and beat it with an electric hand mixer until it becomes whipped cream. Cover and put it into the refrigerator.
Make the custard for the bread pudding (recipe adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book) by combining 6 beaten eggs with 2 ¾ cups of milk, ¾ cups sugar; and 2 tablespoons of vanilla. Cover and put it into the refrigerator.
Right before bed on Saturday night:
Place the slices of the cinnamon bread into a single layer on cookie sheets to let the bread dry out overnight.
At 8:00 Sunday morning:
Break the pieces of now-dry bread into chunks and put into a greased 9x13 baking pan.
Pull the custard mixture out of the fridge, whisk it a little, and pour it over the pieces of bread. Stir it around and push the pieces down to make sure all the bread gets wet. Cover the pan and put it back in the fridge.
At 9:30 Sunday morning:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the bread pudding for 35-40-minutes, until it’s puffy and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let it set on the table until it’s time to serve.
While the bread pudding is in the oven:
Warm and loosen the caramel-bourbon sauce by placing it (in its glass container) in a bowl or pan of hot water.
To serve:
Scoop out a large spoonful of the bread pudding, drizzle with the caramel-bourbon sauce, and top with a dollop of whipped cream.
Oh dream maker, you heartbreaker. Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Whey pancakes and Grade B syrup

I drove behind this truck in late March. Oh, New Hampshire.
I am now the kind of person who makes pancakes out of the whey that’s leftover from home cheese making. I’m eagerly waiting for my hipster card to arrive in the mail.

My inability to dump a perfectly viable food down the drain sent me on a Google search for whey recipes that didn’t involve whey protein powder and promises of bulging neck muscles. (Naturally, my largely cheese- and chocolate-based diet has already given me a rock-hard physique).

I found these whey pancakes from King Arthur Flour, and to make them even stranger, I added some green food coloring in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Alarmingly, Chloe was totally willing to eat green food without question, which is something we’ll have to work on.

The pancakes came out tasty and super moist, even if they did look like little green alien Frisbees. The only issue: I didn’t sift the flour and baking soda together, but just dumped it into the bowl and stirred—children crying wildly that they're starving can make you do wacky things. This oversight resulted in an icky, crunching lump of baking soda in two of the bites. I didn’t know my mouth was capable of twisting into such a wretched shape, but that’s what an unexpected hit of a baking soda landmine will do to you.

Speaking of maple syrup (OK, we weren't, but c'mon, pancakes), last weekend was New Hampshire Maple Weekend, which opens up the state's sugar shacks to the maple syrup-crazed public. Nerd that I am, I’ve had this year's Maple Weekend on my calendar since last year's maple weekend, because I just can’t seem get enough of watching clear sap drip slowly into a bucket.

Maple weekend also alerted me to a food scoop: The maple industry wants to re-grade syrup to eliminate names like “Grade A” and “Grade B” and instead categorize maple syrup based on its color. Because even though Grade B implies dog-food quality, Grade B syrup is actually darker, tastier, and the favorite of true maple lovers.

So go forth, make some cheese, save the whey, cook some pancakes, and get busy smothering them with Grade B syrup.

Whey pancakes
Recipe from King Arthur Flour’s The Baking Sheet Newsletter
2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose or Traditional Whole Wheat Flour or a combination of both
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc. (I used two of sugar, but I bet maple syrup would be better)
1 teaspoon baking soda (Sift this mofo if you know what’s good for you!)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups whey
2 large eggs
2 to 4 tablespoon vegetable oil
Mix the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
In a smaller bowl, beat together the whey, eggs and vegetable oil.
Blend the liquid ingredients with the dry for about 20 seconds.
Scoop by 1/4-cup measures onto a hot, buttered griddle, cook, and enjoy.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My dad, master of the healing arts

“I got a shot a whisky for ya!” my dad announced a few minutes after we arrived at his house for a St. Patrick’s Day dinner of corned beef and cabbage. I was in the middle of coughing my brains out to a soundtrack of Irish music so jaunty I half expected Michael Flatley to come leaping out from behind the kitchen curtain.

I was still recovering from a terrible chest cold that left me hacking like an old man every time someone made me laugh. My dad’s solution? A shot of Tullamore Dew Irish whisky, which certainly helped to clear up my chest (and maybe put a little hair on it, too).