Thursday, February 23, 2012

Double Chocolate Bread Pudding

Not only does the Brioche bread that I made yesterday make excellent French toast, but it also makes a wonderful bread pudding.  You can use it in a recipe of your own, but here is one that I find particularly tasty because it is sweet and chocolaty without being cloyingly so. 

Double Chocolate Bread Pudding

1 3/4 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 cup white chocolate chips
¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups cubed brioche bread

Preheat oven to 325°F. Bring cream, 1/2 cup sugar, and milk to simmer in heavy medium saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Add 1 cup white chocolate chips and whisk until melted and smooth. Whisk egg and vanilla in large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in hot chocolate mixture. Cool chocolate custard 10 minutes, stirring often.

Add bread cubes and remaining 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips to custard and toss to coat. Transfer to 1 1/2-quart-capacity shallow oval baking dish. (I used two au gratin dishes.) Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over mixture. Bake until custard thickens and center is just set, about 50 minutes. Serve warm with a drizzle of melted chocolate, cream, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

ABM Brioche

I love a good brioche loaf, but they are hard to find in the immediate area, so when I get a taste for one (and French Toast and Bread Pudding), I whip one up in my bread machine.  Yes, this is a bread machine recipe, and it’s easy, no fail, and absolutely delicious.  The recipe is from One Hundred Bread Machine Recipes by Vicki Smallwood, a must for anyone who takes their bread machine as seriously as I do.

ABM Brioche

1 pinch saffron threads
1 tablespoon water, boiling
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons honey
2/3 cup hot water (100°F-105°F)
5 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
3 ½ cups white bread flour
1 ½ teaspoons yeast

To Finish
1 eggs, beaten for brushing over


In a small bowl, soak the saffron threads in the 1 tablespoon of boiling water for 10 minutes.  In the meantime, place the beaten eggs, honey, hot water, and melted butter in a bowl. Mix well.  Add the saffron threads with the soaking water, stir and pour the mixture into the baking pan of your bread machine.  Mix the salt into the flour and add to the baking pan and spoon the yeast on top.  Set the program to 'DOUGH.'

When the dough is ready (mine takes 90 minutes), transfer it to a lightly floured surface and knead it for 2-3 minutes. (The dough will feel quite soft and silky.).  Shape the dough into a loaf, place into a greased loaf pan, brush with oil, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.  Preheat the oven to 425°F.  When the dough has nearly doubled in size, remove the plastic wrap and lightly brush the top of the loaf with the beaten egg.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.
Transfer the loaf to a wire rack and leave it to cool before serving.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mongolian Beef

I don’t mind grocery shopping, in fact, I rather like it.  I doubt that many people who have not been out of the country realize just how amazing our options are here in the United States when it comes to the mundane task of buying groceries. After spending an extended amount of time in England one year when my husband had a Fellowship to the British Library, the first place I visited upon our return was the supermarket.  I stood at one end and looked all of the way down to the other and said, Wow.  Wow, indeed.  The space, the options, the produce, the meats, dairy, bakery (!), salad bar, food bars, all conveniently located in one place.  But despite the fact that I do enjoy it, my husband seems to enjoy it more, and does nearly all of our shopping.  What’s that you say?  I’m a very lucky woman.  Well, yesand no.  He buys the food; I’m the one who has to figure out what to do with it.  Sometimes that is not easy, particularly when he stumbles upon a sirloin steak sale and comes home with a half dozen of them.  In mid-winter, outdoor grilling is not all that attractive, so I’m constantly on the lookout for quick, easy, and tasty ways to use sirloin.

Here is one recipe that deliciously fills the bill.  Reminiscent of the dish offered at P.F. Chang this can pretty much go from fridge to table in 40-45 minutes.

Mongolian Beef

1 lb. sirloin, patted dry, thinly sliced across the grain
1 small onion, sliced
¼ cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons vegetable oil


1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
½ cup water
1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
3 scallions, sliced diagonally into 2 pieces

In medium-sized bowl, toss steak slices with corn starch until well coated.  Place coated meat into a sieve and shake off excess cornstarch.  Set aside.

To make sauce, combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl.  Heat large skillet or wok to medium-high heart, pour in sauce and heat for 2-3 minutes.  Pour sauce back into bowl; set aside.

Increase heat in skillet or wok to high, add oil, and allow oil to heat.  Add the beef and onion all at once and cook, stirring until the beef is browned and onion translucent.  Pour the sauce into the skillet and simmer until all is heated through, reducing to desired thickness.  Add the green onions and cook an additional minute, or use them to garnish the top.  Serve with rice.  Makes two ample servings.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

TRADER JOE'S Chocolate Filled French Toast - Product Review

Trader Joe’s knows what they’re doing.  From their colorful eye-catching displays, to their equally colorful eye-catching employees, to their clever store ad dubbed Fearless Flyer, they know a little something about luring people into their establishment.  Of course luring people is one thing, keeping them is another.  I was recently lured in by a paragraph in their latest Flyer on a new-to-me product called Chocolate-Filled French Toast.  Brioche dough, dark chocolate?  I am there!   Struggling to find it amongst the morning buns and pain au chocolat, I snagged a worker in a Magnum, PI shirt and pleaded for directions.

Oh, honey! he exclaimed, rolling his eyes, Follow me!   He crooked his finger over his left shoulder motioning me to follow, and I did.  In true Vanna White fashion, he spread out his arms at the spot in the dairy case where the product was located, winked at me and said, You will love it.

Having read a variety of reviews – not all of them favorable – I wondered.  Frankly I couldn’t imagine how one could possibly go wrong with this combination, so I gave it a try.  It was wonderful! (This is not a paid endorsement, by the way, I’m only too happy to spread the word when I stumble across deliciousness that is so easy to prepare.)  Crispy on the outside, custard-y on the inside, with the perfect amount of melted chocolate made this a real winner.  The secret here is to make certain that the product stays in the freezer until your oven has come up to the right temperature.  I used a countertop convection oven that, conveniently, beeps at me when the temperature is correct.  Pop it in directly from the freezer and then leave it in until it has puffed slightly.  I found that an additional five minutes in the oven yielded perfect results.

Thumbs up on this one.  I will definitely be back for more!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Design Muse

I love this picture.  I spotted in it the window of Tuesday Morning years ago and had to have it.  It spoke to me.  I can’t say that about a lot of things, but this thing certainly did.  I had no place to hang it, so hung it on an existing nail over my desk where I could see it every day.  From there it made its way above the bed in our bedroom where I continued to love it, and now it will take its place over the fireplace in our new home.  It is around this picture that I am designing an entire room. There is just something about it, something Old World, exotic, posing questions, tempting exploration, and urging travel that keeps me loving it even to this day.

I’ve never designed a room around a picture before, so it is presenting a bit of a challenge.  Coming from a house where every room is bold in color, I’m ready to embrace the quietude of neutrals: rich chocolate, pale amber, serene green.

The paint will be Benjamin Moore’s Palm Desert Tan.  I chose by color and not by name, but I find it quite fitting.  It looks beautiful behind the picture, goes perfectly with the carpeting, and nicely compliments the sofa and few accessories that I have chosen thus far.

In my old age I went for sturdy and practical in the sofa.  I’ve recently been watching Nate who strongly suggests people buy sofas with no pattern.  So true.  Take it from one who bought floral furniture ten years ago that if you do, you will live to regret it, and grow to hate its limitations.  Think of the many ways in which I can change up this sofa over time.  It will go with pale blue, sage green, yellow, tan, turquoise, earth tones, sea tones, prairie tones, the combinations are endless.

This trunk will serve as the coffee table.  It is 36 x 20 x 20.  It will store a plethora of goods and not be so room dominating as to have people doing the crab walk just to navigate around the thing. (Yes, yet another lesson learned.)

The rug that you all helped me to choose here has arrived (I did go with #2 and couldn’t be happier), is in place, and waiting patiently for the table and chairs.  I’ll keep you posted.

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Browned Butter Crinkles

I am a nut for a frosted cookie.  My favorite cookie of all time is the unassuming holiday cut-out cookie with the frosting on top.  So, while paging through Wendy Paul’s cookbook the other day, this recipe jumped off the page.  A sugar cookie (another fave) topped with frosting, and not just any frosting, but one in which browned butter is used.  This, I thought to myself, had to be a winner.  It is!  Alone the cookie is delicious, but when topped with this complex and delicious-tasting frosting, it is a work of art.

Browned Butter Crinkles

2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
3 egg yolks
1 ½ teaspoon soda
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/3 cups flour

Beat the butter and sugar together. Add the egg yolks and salt. Then add the soda and the extract. Fold in the flour. Stir until combined. Form balls the size of walnuts. Chill dough balls for 1 hour in the refrigerator. Dip the top in sugar. Press flat with the bottom of a glass and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350° F for 8-10 minutes until the edges are lightly golden. Remove from oven and let the cookies stand for 1 minute on the cookie sheet. Remove to a wire rack and cool completely. Frost with browned butter frosting.

Browned Butter Frosting 
1 stick butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar
½ cup heavy cream or more desired consistency

In a small skillet, brown butter over medium heat until golden brown flecks appear. Butter will become a little foamy. Stir now and then to make the butter cooks evenly. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add powdered sugar, vanilla and cream. Beat on medium high until a creamy texture to your liking forms. Spread onto cooled butter crinkles.

Look at those delicious flecks of browned butter in the frosting.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Salmon Wellington

It’s always a great day in St. Louis, when that doyen of cooking, Helen Fletcher, guests on the local CBS affiliate’s Great Day St. Louis morning program, one that has become a daily addiction.  Her book The New Pastry Cook will make your mouth water with every turn of the page.
When I saw Helen make Salmon Wellington one morning, I knew this was a recipe custom-made for my husband, my live-in salmon chef (he is currently writing a book of salmon recipes of his own creation).  According to Helen, The recipe for the Salmon Wellington is based on one that Marlene Sorosky, a food writer I have long admired, developed long ago.  Like Helen, we too admire Sorosky and, also like Helen, we decided to change up her version a bit by using a leek and mushroom filling.  Not that we don’t love artichokes, quite the contrary, but I am passionate about leeks, even going so far as to grow them in the garden every year.  
Below is Helen’s recipe from her wonderful website called The Ardent Cook.  Follow the link to see her very informative step-by-step pictorial on how to put this dish together.  At the bottom of this page is the recipe for the leek filling that we used.
Mushroom Artichoke Filling
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
8 ounce can artichoke quarters, coarsely chopped
1/2 small onion, diced
1/2 pound mushrooms
2 tablespoons Maderia
Salt and Pepper to taste
Remove the stems from the mushrooms by cutting or de-stemming.  Slice the mushrooms.  Then coarsely chop.  Set aside.
Melt the butter in the saucepan.  Sauté the onions and artichokes until slightly browned.  Add the mushrooms and Madeira and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid is evaporated.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Remove to a bowl and chill.  Can be made the day before assembly if desired.
Line a perfectly flat plate with film with letting it extend on both sides.  Place the salmon on the film. Salt and pepper the fillets.  Divide the filling between the fillets.  Place one portion of filling on top of one fillet, pressing somewhat to compact it and make it fit the entire top of the fillet.  Wrap the film around the salmon and freeze at least overnight.
The puff pastry comes in sheets that are rolled.  Roll the pastry out 18 inches long cut it into two 9 x 9 sheets.
Place one fillet, filling side down, on one piece of the pastry.  If the puff pastry is too big, trim it so not more than 1 inch overlaps when both sides are folded.  Fold one end over the salmon.  Brush excess flour off pastry.  Egg wash the edge of the opposite side. Fold it over to overlap the other.  Brush excess flour off.  Make two cuts in the shape of a triangle on the top piece of puff pastry and remove it so it won’t be so bulky (see the photo).  Egg wash it so it will stick to the other piece. Fold it over.
Repeat with other side and fold over to enclose salmon.  Turn the package over and with a very sharp knife, lightly score the top in a cross hatch design.  Do not go through the pastry.
Glaze the top of the pastry with egg wash.  After glazing all, go back and glaze again.  Freeze overnight.
DO NOT THAW. It is important these be frozen hard so the salmon doesn’t overcook before the pastry gets done.    Place on a baking sheet in a preheated 375 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes.  Let rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving.  Serve hot.
To make leek filling:
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
4 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced
8-ounce package of mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
Pinch of Old Bay Seasoning
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup whipping cream

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium-low heat. Add leeks; sauté until tender, about 7 minutes. Set aside.  Melt 2 tablespoons butter in same skillet and sauté mushrooms until golden.  Add leeks to mushroom mixture, slowly pour in cream and simmer until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and Old Bay. (Creamed leeks can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)

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