Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer's Bounty of Roasted Vegetables

Back in the '80's ratatouille was all the craze. Blame it on Julia Child and her success at getting our attention to great French fare. A vegetable stew that was making good use of summer's bounty, a boon to vegetarians and could do triple duty as either an appetizer with French bread, a side dish or an entree. Making good use of eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini, basil, herbs de provence, onions, tomatoes...the method varied from throwing it all into the pot at once, or as Julia taught us...slowly adding each vegetable to cook to its peak and yet maintain its integrity. We thought we were so cool, cooking like we were in Provence! It was okay to me, not something I was feigning for since I really don't like eggplant but hoped putting it in the ratatouille would make it more appealing. It didn't, but would it be ratatouille without it? Probably not. It was always just a bit too wet for me. The vegetable combination seemed to merge into a squishy, wet affair that as a side dish was just okay. My guests always raved about it, and I, the grateful hostess, took bows for my culinary prowess...even though I had doubts about the star studded quality of the dish. Something was off to me.

Fast forward to today, and over the last couple of years I have fallen in love with roasted vegetables. Let me clarify this! I don't mean grilled, I mean roasted! Grilled vegetables are great, don't get me wrong, but there is a difference I get from roasting that grilling doesn't achieve. I can adequately remove a lot of the moisture from a roasted vegetable, concentrate the flavor of the vegetable and still get a little char on it. I can better marry the combinations than I seem to be able to with grilling, but that may be a fault of the cook and not the method. I am not a grilling maven. The other thing I have done is combined cooking methods to round out the dish. I blanch harder to cook vegetables before roasting such as carrots and saute easy to burn veggies such as baby/knob onions, mushrooms and garlic cloves before folding into the finished dish.

There are some rules:

..Treat the vegetable you are adding with enough finesse to bring out their flavor to the fullest potential. That being said, don't roast green beans and carrots together, you get the picture. Almost any vegetable can be roasted, i.e., wedges of cabbage, asparagus, root vegetables, summer squash, bell peppers, a variety of onions, etc.
..High heat is a must to allow the vegetable's liquid to evaporate and create a bit of char or caramelization. This is what intensifies their flavor
..Spread the cut vegetables on sheet pans with shallow sides. This allows the radiant heat to move across the vegetables, something you cannot achieve as well in a pyrex or ceramic dish with high sides. Make sure that the vegetables are not stacked but in one layer to prevent steaming. You may need to do this in batches depending on how many sheet pans you have, how many racks in your oven(s) and how many ovens you have.
..Don't cut the vegetables too small, and cut them in uniform sizes. A nice chunk maintains its integrity at high heat and can stay in the oven longer to rid it of some moisture and when it shrivels it is still a nice bite.
..Salt liberally, this makes a major difference but don't over pepper.
..Don't shy away from combining cooking methods. If you need to blanch, do so. If you need to saute, have at it. You will achieve a better balanced dish texturally, with a more pleasing taste in the end.

You will need: Sheet pans (I cover my sheet pans with silicon liners or something similar because caramelized veggies will stick)
Preheat oven to 425º
Yield: A nice platter for 4-6 people as an accompaniment

Your choices vary and are personal, eggplant is extremely popular so feel free to use it, what follows is what I like in the summer, in the winter I cleave to root vegetables.

4-6 Bell peppers in a variety of colors if presentation is important - chunked
2-3 zucchini - diagonally cut into 1"
2 yellow squash - diagonally cut into 1" pieces
3 large carrots - diagonally cut into 1" pieces
1 bunch of asparagus - cut spears into thirds
2 pints mushrooms - halve or quarter depending on size
4-6 bunches of knob onions or two cups of pearl onions - trim knobs of greens, or peel pearl onions after blanching
1 head of garlic - peel cloves
Extra virgin olive oil
White Balsamic Vinegar
Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
Fresh herbs: Rosemary, Thyme, Parsley
Optional Parmesan Cheese - shaved

In a large bowl toss bell peppers, zucchini and squash in 2 T olive oil and salt and pepper till well coated. Spread on sheet pans that have been lightly oiled, or covered with silicon liners. Sprinkle with fresh herbs of choice. Roast in oven until done to your taste. This can vary from 30 minutes to 45 minutes. Rotate pans halfway through cooking. When done remove and let come to room temperature.

While the zucchini and peppers are roasting, bring a pot of water to the boil and blanch the carrots for 3-4 minutes. Drain, and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a lined sheet pan, sprinkle with herbs of choice, and roast for 30-45 minutes until tender. Remove from oven and bring to room temperature.

Repeat same procedure with asparagus, except it will be roasted in 9-10 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Take the trimmed onions and peeled garlic and saute in 2 T olive oil over high heat, stirring frequently until softened, and caramelized. Add cut mushrooms to the mixture and continue cooking until mushrooms lose their moisture. When done, toss with 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar, set aside.

When ready to serve, transfer to serving platter, combine all vegetables and sprinkle with additional white balsamic vinegar, and shaved parmesan cheese. Now sit back and bask in the compliments to the chef!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tomato Power

From This...

To This...

To This...

My love affair with tomatoes harkens back to my childhood. Wandering through my Uncle Jimmy's tomato patch with a Mason jar of iced water, a salt shaker and a lazy summer day stretching in front of me I was in tomato heaven. All I had to do was pluck a juicy, ripe beefsteak, find a comfortable seat and take that first bite. POW! Tomato juice dribbling down my chin, arms, fingers didn't stop me from now being able to sprinkle some sea salt onto that expectant inner flesh. With not a care in the world, I ate salted tomatoes and drank iced water, knowing even then that I was a lucky little girl! I would forever be a tomato lover in each and every form.

My first blog was about roasted tomatoes, a way to intensify their flavor and preserve their "shelf life." Lately my interest has been piqued by powders. It started with Matcha Green Tea powder that I have been cooking with and using as a condiment, but that is another blog. Point is, there is power in powder...concentrating its flavor in a condensed version. Bigger bonus yet, is that powder has an indefinite shelf life. So many options!

So, I saw Ruth Reichl make tomato powder on Diary of A Foodie. It made such perfect sense, seems relatively easy and just had a few steps. And so I embarked on another journey into the world of tomato preparation. The big difference between me and Ruth was that if I was going to tie up my oven at 175º for 5-6 hours, I wanted to end up with more than 2 Tablespoons of powder.*

You will need:

20-22 vine ripened tomatoes
Silpat or Super Parchment
Sheet Pans
A Food processor or spice grinder
A fine mesh sieve
An air tight container

Yield: 2.5 ounces or 70 grams*

The process:
You spread thin slices of tomato onto a lined sheet pan, place in a warm oven for 5-6 hours, turning once during the process until thoroughly dried, so that there is no stickiness when you touch them and they peel off the liner. If there is any moisture left in the tomatoes they will not process into powder. It's that simple, and can also be that hard.

Preheat oven to 175º
Line your sheet pan(s)
Slice tomatoes into 1/8" slices
Spread onto the lined sheet pan in a single layer

Place in oven for 5-6 hours, turning to make sure they are thoroughly dry, if not adjust the timing.

I found that on my sheet pans I could fit about 5 medium sliced vine ripened tomatoes. For this particular recipe/exercise I prepared about 20-22 tomatoes in two batches over a 14-16 hour period when I knew my oven was not in high demand. NOTE: When I finished the first batch, I placed them in the food processor bowl and let them sit while the second batch cooked. Big mistake! Once they come out of the oven, process as soon as possible because they will suck up moisture and get a little tacky. I had to return them to the oven for about 45 minutes to dry out again. That was a little annoying, but really doable.

This was the result of about 20-22 tomatoes:

I did not have any luck processing this into a powder with my spice grinder. Number one, there was way too much bulk and would have taken too many small batches. So I used my Cuisinart and pulsed it again and again until it reduced to a powder. It will never look totally fine at this point because it will have to be strained through a mesh sieve to remove seeds, cores, etc. When I was finished this is what the rough product looked like:

Then I passed it through a fine mesh sieve, and removed the "big pieces"

...and the remaining fine powder looked like this...

At this point I put it in a tight fitting jar to keep out moisture
Some things take patience, infinite patience and although this is an easy thing to do, it does require patience. As with most "easy" recipes, any wrong move in any one step screws up the results. Cut the tomatoes too thin and you lose too much, cut them too thick and they take a lot longer to dry. You have to work straight through, making sure the cooked tomatoes don't have a chance to reabsorb any moisture. Passing the processed product through the right kind of sieve yields the fine powder you want.

So now that I have tomato power, here is what I use it for:

Tomato Mayonnaise
Tomato Butter
Tomato Vinaigrette
Tomato Salt
Sprinkle on pasta
Add tomato flavor to soups
Home made pizzas

With the impending bounty of tomatoes that the summer yields, it would seem fitting that this is an ideal way to capture summer in a bottle. In much the same way my grandmother did when she canned and jarred vegetables many many moons ago. It is nice to have in my pantry. Truthfully, I am not sure that I would ever undertake this again, next time I will buy my tomato powder, it's not that expensive. By the end of the preparation, I felt like I was jarring saffron! It was one of those things that sounded like a good idea, and works, but I think the stress, labor, time involved is a bit pricey for me. Glad I did it, may never do it again! Looking forward to biting into juicy vine ripened beef steak, heirloom, Roma, cherry, grape, brown tomatoes all summer long!!!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Weighing In

Here is the problem and it is ongoing. I don't like the Weight Watchers meetings. No offense, but the shared recipes/foods/products are items I would not feed to my dog, seriously. I am not interested in a cake made with artificially sweetened soda. I am not interested in recipes culled from opening 5 or 6 cans. I am not using fat free cheese, fat free salad dressing, or for that matter fat free anything, unless it is fat free in its natural state. I am not seasoning styrofoam substitutes for popcorn with Molly McButter! I also do not buy "diet meals," whether Smart Ones, Lean Cuisine, or Healthy Choice. The ingredients in these foods read like a bomb! I know that Weight Watchers says that you can do this using real sugar, real butter, etc. but that is "expensive" in their points system. Then in the meetings there are all the suggestions for fake foods, and nutsy recipes that are quite frankly not only scary but nauseating. It is only pushing me away. So I am back to the drawing board because if I cannot benefit from the meetings, then why pay to go?

So who the hell am I to fly in the face of the tried and true methods that have led people to so much weight loss success because it is not pleasing to my palate? I am the one who has to find a way to conquer satisfying my palate and keeping most of the things I like to eat off my fat ass. This is for life and a life of eating substitute/fake foods is really unappealing to me. This is why "diets" fail, it is a lifestyle choice/change you are looking for but one you can adapt to the rest of your life.

The other options (I have eliminated any liquid supplemental diets and diets that provide the food because the "foodie" in me could not sustain that) I have considered were:

1...Jillian Michaels - She is the trainer from Biggest Loser. This is a little intense, a little invasive with constant annoying e-mails, a food plan that is not especially creative, and exercises that are definitely high impact which is hard for me. I can substitute, but it throws off the plan. The biggest pet peeve I have with this program is the constant, "upgrade" suggestions and constant "buy this" suggestions. You feel like you may have signed on with a carnival barker! The results are impressive and fairly quick, but I am not sure that level of intensity can be maintained.

2...The South Beach Diet has a lovely menu/recipe suggestions and allows for some interpretation from an imaginative cook. There are no meetings that you have to sit through, no weigh-ins, and although being accountable is important, the meetings always have members who are ahead of you or behind you and someone is getting dragged down. It gets old. This plan makes you accountable to yourself. It is also a plan you can live with and a life style change that is palatable. But above all else it is beautiful in its simplicity without being austere and it is not fat free! It is a nutritional program that can be both indulgent and slimming, and that is proven. But again, they struck a chord with my pet peeve and lived up to carnival barker standards when you went online to look at support tools. These people don't know when to stop! You get the feeling you are just a mark using their online tools. I have to give kudos to Weight Watchers in this regard because their website doesn't do that.

3...Weight Watchers Online! No meetings, you weigh yourself and use online tools only. This is familiar to me, I would still track points, measure, weigh, etc. I could eliminate the meetings. There is a lot of support online, no side show barking, but still a lot of crutches, a lot of administrivia and I am wondering if I need to be more independent, move beyond these "crutches" grow up and adopt the lifestyle now, make it an unconscious choice.

These were the three contenders for me. The problem is that I know statistically those who follow WW and attend meetings, and use online tools have a higher rate of success. I just am ready to shed the gizmos, crutches, blah blah blah that are designed to reassure you that you are not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of fat ass compadres out there struggling and succeeding because they not only buy into the concept but they continue to buy in and pay and pay and pay.

Funny thing is I didn't pay anyone to get out of shape, so if I agree to change the way I do things I should be able to figure this out without paying anyone...except perhaps my gym, which is ongoing anyway. Bottom line, whatever you decide on is something you have to do know, like just do the damn thing...for success both short term and long term, so it has to be something you like, enjoy and can live with...sorta like a marriage.

I think for now, I may stop blogging about this, and just do it! We'll revisit this at some point in the future. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Full Disclosure - How To Survive/Live With Weight Watchers

I need to lose weight, and I have great respect for Weight Watchers, but more than that for a cook/foodie, nothing is off the menu as long as you allow for it, and track how it impacts the amount of food you are allowed. It takes planning but it can be done. I like the program because it has absolutely cutting edge tools on the internet that help you track your activity, and intake. In addition there are blogs you can read, community groups you can relate to for chatting and exchanging ideas, success stories and mistakes. Do I have to tweak some of my favorite dishes? Absolutely, but every cook prides themselves on some degree of creativity and I am no exception. I intend to use my blog to track my progress the weekly weigh-in I need full disclosure!

Here is what I have to work with: An initial weigh-in that allows me to establish goals, most of them are in small increments of 5%, 10% etc. and are rewarded along the way. Printed tools to track progress, suggest meal planning, encourage you to move your lard ass off the couch with reasonable goals of walking a 5K marathon in about six (6) weeks. The weekly meetings are chaired by a WW leader who has successfully used the program to lose a significant amount of weight, and kept it off successfully. Each meeting gives you the opportunity to weigh-in, share your successes or frustrations and engage in a discussion on the topic of the week. The team leader has a lesson plan of sorts that guides the discussion. That's it in a nutshell, except that as the weeks progress you receive new and refreshing information to add to your library of WW guidelines. Also, there are usually some really big losers in the group who have dropped major pounds so you know it is possible. For me, this is crucial because I am at heart a very competitive person. But at its core, it is sort of like playing golf, the person you really need to beat is yourself!

All of the food is measured in "points" and you get a weekly allocation based upon a set of questions regarding current weight, lifestyle and activity. These points will diminish as your weight reduces, but hopefully you will increase your activity level and balance most of it out as you also grow to eat smarter. Consensus of opinion states that you actually eat more on a program that emphasizes fruits, vegetables and high fiber foods. Hunger is not one of the problems on Weight Watchers. It is a discipline, but one you have to learn to live with to be successful.

My weigh-in day is Wednesday, and I have decided my blog entries will be on Tuesday night. So, how do I think I did this week? I tracked, I have a few issues that I need to address, but at no time have I not stuck to my program. One of the tenets of the program is to eat from the food groups in a minimum quantity: fruits/vegetables, milk, whole grains, lean proteins,
liquids, healthy oils, daily vitamin/mineral supplement, activity and limiting sugar and alcohol. I have some adjustments to make in the daily vitamin/mineral category and because I drink soy milk I bought light soy milk for the first time and it is vile. So I may have to sacrifice points to drink a regular soy milk. No big deal! I will occasionally drink a glass of wine with dinner, but I am trying not to imbibe daily until I have made significant progress.

I have purged my pantry of all cold cereals (thanks to Kellogg's blase attitude about bugs in the box) so I am relegated to oatmeal, fresh fruit and yogurt and those are pretty much no brainers. But some mornings I crave savory, hot breakfasts with eggs, toast, etc. You can easily blow 20 points if you are not careful. So my creation includes egg whites, sauteed veggies, fresh fruit and a slim bagel...looks pretty good, huh?

Well cooked vegetables are my friends. I love to roast veggies, and roasted asparagus is not "diet" food, it's the way I prefer to cook it. And how pretty and delicious it looks!

Lean proteins are simple if you stick to fish and chicken, but boredom will set in, for variety I brined and grilled a loin of pork. It was great for salads, tacos, sandwiches, etc. Brining it yielded a succulent and flavorful pork loin.

So tomorrow when I weigh in we will see how my Chicago Kitchen supported my efforts to stick to this program for the requisite time to get to my ideal weight and then challenge myself to maintain my weight, still turn out creative dishes and not throw in the towel of boredom.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My Beautiful Daughter Ashley Robin

I have taken this opportunity to brag about my beautiful daughter! In an age when so many of our children, despite all of our efforts, take the wrong path...the gods shined upon me and blessed me with Ashley Robin! I can't take credit for anything she has accomplished, I just bask in the pride that I have for who she is and how she has grown. Graduating from college only proves that you can graduate from college. Graduation does not prove that you may have learned anything except how to accumulate enough credits to get a degree. For Ashley, talented girl that she is, her journey to her BA was circuitous, difficult, plagued with obstacles, doubts and financial dilemmas. Welcome to the world every college student faces, huh? Some weather the storm and finish in the requisite four years, others take longer and still some just drop out for a myriad of reasons. The longer you take to find your path in college the more it becomes clear that you need to direct your college education to some career/academic goal. Just doing the BA/BS is not enough, what then?

She doesn't have all the answers, but she works regularly on her focus, direction and goals. But more importantly, she communicates with me, and for that I am eternally grateful and I cherish her thoughts, conversations and company with all my heart. She continues to keep me in the loop of her life, and it is a very warm, comfortable and loving place. She will be a wonderful mom someday, a loving, attentive and entertaining wife and if the gods continue to shine upon me, I will bear witness to the next chapter in her life's journey.

Thanks for indulging a proud mom!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Touring The Food Blogs

I can't let the month of March pass me by without sharing some of my thoughts on food. We all know that there are more food blogs out there than a lot of people think are necessary, but screw them! I half-heartedly maintain my blog because it can be a creative outlet for me to test my skills of organization and creativity. No one has to read it! This blog is for me and I think many of the other bloggers feel the same way. Yes... it can be a venue for business, advertising, etc. and that is fine, but thanks to technology it is whatever you want it to be. Post every day, three times a day, post once a month or every other month so far there are no blogging police!

Before the sun sets on March, I decided to tour some of the blogs I follow and see what inspired a lot of people this month and share those bloggings with you. So here goes:

Blue Kitchen posts regularly, I recently enjoyed reading about a familiar recipe for Matzoh Crack. What is great about this recipe is that although it can be kosher for Passover, it is just a great sweet/salty snack that doesn't need to be limited to the Passover season nor people who celebrate Passover seders. This stuff is great, addictive and can be tweeked to your liking by substituting different nuts and or toppings. The method is the genius here, so check it out.

Caleb Troughton is a web developer/techie kind of guy who is very passionate about food and quite an accomplished cook. I say this because he will tackle anything if it piques his curiosity or offers a challenge. His blog, Food Goes In Mouth, is on temporary hiatus because he is taking a unexpected "retirement" in China. I guess you could call it "retirement" since he is not even 30, but he's figured it all out and I am sure when he finds his Asian legs he'll be blogging again. He won an award not too long ago for a lamb burger, and the recipe is killer! It's a Lamb Slider w/Arugula Gremolata and Gorgonzola Mayonnaise This is not just another burger but worthy of your attention.

I love Greek yogurt and for a while I was hooked on Fage, but always complained about how expensive it was. And then I had a epiphany! I lined a sieve with some paper towels, poured in a large container of plain yogurt, placed that over a bowl and set it in the fridge overnight....voila! In the morning I had thick, rich, creamy Greek-style yogurt at a pittance of the price of Fage. To further punctuate my genius, Mark Bittman writes about this exact same thing. Here is how he recommends you proceed with not making yogurt from scratch, but creating some Greek-style yogurt. If you love the thick and creamy stuff you will know you can successfully substitute it for sour cream on a baked potato, dollop it onto soups, or make Ina Garten's tsaziki There's a myriad of uses, I love it simply topped with honey and blueberries in the morning.

The Easiest Best Scone Yet appeals to me. I love scones but a lot of the recipes call for heavy cream, which is not always in my fridge, but I do keep buttermilk because of it's versatility for cooking. She's In The Kitchen hit it out of the park with this recipe for me, especially because it uses nutmeg and lemon zest and of course it is really easy to substitute for other flavor profiles such as orange, cranberry, etc. The simplicity of procedure and the outcome with a superior scone is worth the try!

Everyone knows I am a java addict, but when I don't feel well I cannot drink coffee. That's a barometer for knowing that I am under the weather. The elixir of my dreams when I am sick is Chai Tea, or I head to the nearest Starbucks and get a Chai Soy Latte. Long have I looked for a home recipe and The Sprouted Kitchen has provided one! This recipe for Spicy Chai Latte makes perfect sense and I won't have to leave the house feeling bedraggled on a hunt for a Chai Soy Latte. I would of course substitute the dairy milk for soy milk since I don't drink dairy milk, but I will have to stock the muscavado sugar which I am sure makes a big difference. This is on my permanent save file!

Eric Gower pens a blog that marries his skills in Asian cooking/seasoning/travels as both a writer, teacher and private chef. His blog has really good information such as "Cooking With Cast Iron" or knife sharpening, cooking with citrus flavors, etc. Many of these are in video format. I check in to his blog from time to time to learn something and I always leave with good ideas. Check out The Breakaway Blog and steal some of his really good ideas!

I love food as most food bloggers do, but Italian food has a special place in my heart. More than any other cuisine, I will shove all other excursions aside when good Italian food is the option. Northern, Southern, peasant, or fine dining...I don't discriminate. What is it about Italian food that makes us all Italian? They say that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, well I am Italian when I dive into a plate of Italian food! The Italian Chef is one of my favorite sites for inspiration. Many of the recipes are not heavy handed, but a simple, straightforward approach and bursting with flavor. One of my favorite Italian meals is lasagna, but I have gotten into the habit of hand rolling my lasagna. The Italian chef has a version of Hand Rolled Lasagna which is a wonderful Spring dish and the other one is Spaghetti alla Carbonara, I do use pasteurized eggs so that I don't worry about salmonella. Peruse this site and I am sure you will find authentic Italian dishes to add to your repertoire. Mangia!

I can remember as a child pulling taffy in my mom's kitchen with my big sister. It was melt-in-your-mouth wonderful and probably tasted better because we built up so much anticipation while we were pulling it. Today's delight in candy is myriad and although I don't make my own truffles, I do crave a salted caramel. David Lebovitz has a delightfully sweet/salty recipe for Salted Butter Caramels that has that quintessential quality that home made candy delivers. It tastes so good because you use primo ingredients and the anticipation lends to the final delight when you pop one in your mouth. Kudo's to David, you will love the finished product!

Finally, what would a blog written on the advent of Easter be without some ode to lamb. I know we referenced the lamb burger, but it is so simple to roast a boneless leg of lamb and it is so delicious. It is Spring and it is the season of lamb. I found that The Reluctant Gourmet Blog has a nice little treatise on roasting a boneless leg of lamb as well as information on different types of lamb. There are good instructions here but the dish is simple to prepare with a little prep. I tweaked this dish by adding about 1/2 cup of chopped parsley, I buy it boned and butterly it and make sure that I remove some connective tissue and after stuffing with the ingredients in the recipe, tie it up nice and tight. Leftover lamb makes a superlative sandwich with dijon mustard, I cannot say enough about it. I hope you enjoy!

So there are my musings at the end of the month as we "march" into Spring. I had a lot of fun trying to summarize some of these wonderful recipes and even more fun sharing them with you. Long live the food bloggers, they contribute so much to the food that emerges from The Chicago Kitchen!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Goldilocks Bread Pudding

Bread pudding is the quintessential comfort food. All warm and redolent of cinnamon, spices, raisins, custard and sugar, it makes the ideal breakfast food. It very often reminds me of french toast with its "custardy" personality, so it is great for breakfast and brunch. Sometimes however, it is one note perked up with a "rum sauce" or "whiskey sauce" and that is okay, I just opt for the pudding itself to be able to stand alone with a good mix of flavors and textures. Sometimes it's too smooth, sometimes it's too sweet, like Goldilocks I was always looking for "just right." So here is my attempt to find the "just right" bread pudding...

I generally keep some variety of dried fruit: raisins, apricots, pears, peaches, mangoes which are flavorful and pack more of a punch in their dried form. For this version of my bread pudding I chose raisins, dried pears and combined them with orange and lemon zest, and the Granny Smith apple is for added moisture and flavor. I still kept some traditional flavor with the addition of extract and the expected spices. In my humble opinion the most important ingredient in bread pudding is the bread! For this recipe I chose an artisan bread that found at Whole Foods called "Seeduction." This bread has poppy, sunflower and sesame seeds and quite frankly it is not one of my favorites but ended up being perfect for the bread pudding. It lent a textural quality to the bread pudding and it merged well with the custard. It makes the bread dominate and not the custard. There are usually three types of milk in my fridge: soy, almond and buttermilk. I chose the almond milk to make the custard, and then topped the dish with sliced almonds as a complement and for added crunch. The serving you see is topped with toasted coconut (more crunch). I hope you enjoy this recipe it is addictive, flavorful, moist and has a great texture...and a little vanilla ice cream doesn't hurt either!

3 cups of bread (my choice was the grainy Seeduction bread from Whole Foods)
1/2 c raisins
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and chopped
1/2 c of dried pears, chopped
zest of one orange
zest of one lemon
3 oz sliced almonds for the topping

The custard
3 eggs
3 cups almond milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. nutmeg
dash of cayenne pepper

The Method

In a large bowl combine the bread, fruit and zest. In another bowl combine the ingredients for the custard and whisk until well blended and sugar is dissolved. Pour the custard over the bread mixture and combine thoroughly, and let the mixture rest until a lot of the custard has been absorbed by the bread. You can place this in the refrigerator overnight and bake in the morning, or let it rest and marry for at least 2 hours.

Oil/butter a a rectangular baking dish (13 x 7.5) and pour the mixture into the dish and top with the sliced almonds. Bake in a preheated oven at 350º for 50-60 minutes, and it should be "just right!"

Madras Curried Chicken With Jasmine Coconut Mango Rice

I love Indian curry, it has a depth of flavor and a complexity that is both a taste sensation and comforting. My first curried dish was prepared by my Aunt Mattie. She traveled the world with my Uncle Warren who was a Cultural Affairs Officer for the State Department from the 50's through the 70's. She soaked up the culture of every country they lived in and visited, bringing that exposure to her dining table in true epicurean fashion. She prepared a curried chicken dish that I vividly remember, served it with jasmine rice, naan bread and a bevy of condiments including: raisins, ground peanuts, toasted coconut, chutney...there may have been more but to my young and inexperienced taste buds these stand out in my memory.

Indian curry can range from mild to explosively hot, its heat doesn't just sear the throat but can cling to the roof of your mouth, inflame your gums and its heat can stick to you like epoxy. In my adaptation I used a combination of Sun Brand Madras Curry and a hot curry from The Spice House in Chicago, judiciously blending the hot with the mild in careful proportions. If you can handle hot Indian curry, go for it but beware!

In the following recipe I made a paste in which I marinated the chicken and once the paste is made the recipe remains easy and straightforward. Toward the end of cooking this dish I added a pint of grape tomatoes to add a little acid bite, and sliced zucchini for bulk and when finished I stirred in some chopped fresh mint. I serve this over a Coconut/Mango Jasmine Rice and have also included that recipe in another post. Many of the condiments that would traditionally adorn an Indian curry and in the rice such as coconut, raisins and dried fruit.


6 Boneless and skinless chicken thighs, chopped into bite size pieces
The paste:
1 1/2 T Madras curry powder
1/2 T. Hot curry powder
1 t. ground cinnamon (rounded)
1 t. ground cardamon
1 t. ground coriander
1 t. dry mustard
2 t. paprika
1 t. salt
1" piece of ginger
2 garlic cloves
1/2 of medium onion, rough chopped
2 T. tomato paste
1 t. sesame oil
6 T. canola oil
1/4 c. chicken stock

Place the spices, ginger, garlic, onion, tomato paste, oils and chicken stock in a blender and thoroughly blend into a paste in which you can coat the chicken. If it needs thinning add a little more stock, but don't make it soupy. Toss the chicken in the paste and blend well, refrigerate for 1 to 3 hours.

The vegetables:
1 red bell pepper cut into 2" strips
1 yellow bell pepper cut into 2" strips
1 medium to large onion, cut in half and sliced into 1/8" strips
2 cups lite coconut milk
1/2 to 1 cup chicken stock
1 large zucchini
1 pint grape tomatoes
2 T. chopped/minced mint
1/2 cup chopped scallions (green part)

The Procedure

Heat a deep sided non stick pan over medium high heat and sear the chicken, marinade and all for about 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently. To the pan add the chopped bell peppers and onion and continue to saute for 2-3 minutes. Add the coconut milk and chicken stock, lower heat to medium low and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

While this is simmering, prepare your rice.

After 15 minutes toss in the grape tomatoes and sliced zucchini and continue to simmer for 5 minutes, remove from heat and cover the pan until the rice is done. When ready to serve, stir the mint into the chicken curry, plate and scoop rice over the top adding condiments of your my case I dressed it with chopped scallions

Jasmine Coconut Mango Rice

2 cups lite coconut milk
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup chopped dried mango
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1 1/2 t. salt
2 T canola oil
2 cups Jasmine Rice

Place all ingredients (except the rice) into a 2 quart non stick sauce pan with a tight fitting lid, stir to combine and bring to a low boil. Add the rice, return to low boil, stir well and lower heat to a slow simmer and cover and continue to cook for at least 15-17 minutes. The rice to liquid ratio is increased because the coconut, and dried fruit will absorb some of the liquid, slow down the cooking time and you have to adjust for that. Some varieties of Jasmine rice cook in as little as nine minutes, some longer. The variety of Jasmine rice I use generally cooks in 9 minutes but with the addition of other dried ingredients, the total cooking time was 15 minutes for perfection.. This rice is fragrant, slightly sweet and the perfect accompaniment to a spicy curried dish.