Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bread Pudding for All Seasons

In my last post, I wrote about a bread pudding recipe that I had discovered at a cooking class I had recently taken. I am happy to share it with you here.

When polling friends and colleagues, I have found that bread pudding is one of those items you either like or don't like. Growing up, I never really understood it. Like other things, I turned up my nose because hey, why would you want to eat soggy bread?! Little did I know at the time that it contained everything that made it delectable -- buttery bread, sugar, cream and other healthy and/or decadent ingredients. Boy, was I missing out!

My first foray into bread pudding was courtesy of one of my cooking idols, Ina Garten, of "Barefoot Contessa" fame. Her version, like most of her recipes is full of flavor. Her suggested bread is croissants (stale, so as to soak more of that creamy custard). It's also easy and is one of those recipes that you can make for easily make dinner parties or for your weekday family dinner. Cut open those croissants, lay them in your baking dish and pour in the custard, let it rest and then bake it off. How easy is that?!

This recipe is equally as easy and is versatile enough to use at any time of the year. The version below is used with brioche and dried apricots. However, you can easily substitute with another bread or your favorite fresh or dried fruits. Try blueberries or raspberries in summer. Or try cranberries or apples or pears for the holidays.

As for preparation, this version uses individual ramekins, which makes for a lovely presentation at your party or dinner table. You can just as easily use a large baking dish, however.

I have made bread puddings that require a bain-marie (water bath). Usually that method provides for more moisture in your oven, and thus yields a moist pudding. The beauty of this recipe is that it does not require that extra step and does not sacrifice the luscious texture of the finished product.

You don't really need a topping, but if you want to put this over the top, a simple creme anglaise would be great. A shortcut I learned at the cooking class is to take a pint of Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream, let it melt and then drizzle on top. It was delicious this way and your guests will never be the wiser!

Let me know how you like this recipe by posting a comment or two. Happy Baking!

Dried Apricot Bread Pudding
(Adapted from Chef Linda Steidel, Purcell Murray)
(Serves 6)

8 oz. (approx. 1/2 loaf) brioche or challah
1 Earl Grey tea bag
1/4 c. dried apricots, cut into pieces
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 c. milk
1-1/2 c. heavy cream
3/4 c. sugar
1 t. grated orange zest
1/2 t. grated lemon zest
1 t. vanilla

Powered sugar for dusting
1 pint vanilla ice cream, melted

1. Cut bread into 1-inch cubes, yielding approximately (4) cups.

2. Soak apricots in 1 cup hot water with tea bag. Let stand 10 minutes, or until soft. Remove tea bag. Strain apricots and discard liquid.

3. In a large heatproof bowl, whisk together eggs, egg yolk, 1/4 c. of milk, until blended.

4. In a medium saucepan, bring the cream, remaining 3/4 c. of milk, sugar, zests and vanilla to boil. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Gradually pour the hot liquid over the egg mixture, whisking constantly (to prevent scrambling of eggs). Pass the egg mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl. Gently stir in brioche and soaked apricots, being careful not to break-up bread. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours or overnight.

5. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter (6) 6-oz. ramekins.

6. Spoon brioche mixture into prepared cups. Bake 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

7. Melt ice cream. Pour cold melted ice cream over warm bread putting and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Cooking in Style

Have you ever wished you had a Chef's kitchen -- complete with Bosch, Gaggenau or La Cornue ranges with 6-8 burners, three ovens, two sinks, and the highest end cookware to complement it?! Well, I know a couple of people with exceptionally stylish kitchens, but they're too far away for me to enjoy them very often. However, I have found a great location for cooking classes in a stylish environment and with every type of high-end appliance to whet your appetite.

The Purcell Murray Culinary Lifestyle Center is located in Huntington Beach, CA. They are distributor of premium kitchen and bath products in a gleaming and breathtaking 9,000 square-foot showroom, open by appointment only. http://www.purcellmurray.com/

Their approach to cooking combines learning delicious seasonal recipes while using the latest in applicance technology. The Center coordinates group or private culinary classes in the day or evening featuring a stable of professional chefs and industry professionals (from Williams-Sonoma or chefs with their own private cooking/catering companies). The Chefs prepare, cook, demonstrate and present wonderful meals for the audience of eager appetites.

The class we attended a couple of weeks ago was entitled "Upscale Surf & Turf," prepared by Chef Linda Steidel. The menu consisted of:

Spinach-Bacon Salad, Black Pepper Seared Filet Mignon, Caesar Dressing
Crab Cakes, Celery Root Remoulade
Sourdough Bread, Garlic Butter
Dried Apricot Bread Pudding, Powered Sugar

Linda had prepped a lot of the ingredients so we were not involved with the minutae of chopping, shredding, searing, etc. We did, however, benefit from her years of cooking experience and learned shopping and preparation shortcuts, ideas for substitutions in a menu, favorite food products and where to find them at the most reasonable price, plating presentation hints, etc. And all of the cooking was done in this high-tech and wonderfully modern setting, which was surprisingly informal and friendly. In the end we all were given the opportunity to sample each dish.
In the next issue, I will share the recipe for the bread pudding as it was too good not to share.

In the meantime, Happy Cooking

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My Little Canine Carnivore

This post is for all of you dog lovers out there. You know who are -- you dote on your dog's every move like he was your firstborn child. "Isn't he the cutest boy you've ever seen?," you say to the chagrin of your friends and neighbors.
Well, we're that couple and we have a dog that has a very delicate appetite, and one that should make for an interesting (and pathetic) read for all of you out there.

Here's a picture of my little one. Instead of having a baby boy or girl to dote on, we have Oliver, our 3-year old bichon frise. In fact, we just had his third birthday party complete with printed invitations to all of his neighborhood friends. We had (10) dogs, (1) cat and (25) adults there to help celebrate. Three Dog Bakery in Newport Beach catered the cake for all of the pooches as well as their take-home party favors of freshly dipped dog bones.

From the time we brought Oliver home, he has made us think he is human. He has never liked his dog food and when he did eat it, he would never eat the rest of the can. He always preferred a fresh can every day. He eats when we eat and enjoys having company when he eats.

Oliver has a lot of allergies, a sour stomach and a particularly finicky appetite. We have purchased every known type of dog food recommended by veterinarians and friends. Frozen dogfood made organically at Whole Foods didn't even pass the "sniff" test. His best friend, Jesse, a dauschund, eats fresh "muttloaf" from his veterinarian, which we started to give to Oliver. (See photo of best friends, Jesse and Junior.) He liked it at first, and then after we purchased a potpourri of various canine delicacies made by this vet (chicken and dumplings, spaghetti and meatballs, etc.), he decided he didn't like that either.

This past January, his allergies became more severe than usual and we were having an awful time getting him to eat. So, our groomer recommended that we visit a local animal dermatologist. After an allergy test, it was determined that Oliver was allergic to (5) different kinds of grasses, many weeds, some trees; all in all, he was tested positive for (28) different allergies. We said, "He's a dog. How do we keep him away from grass?" Without going into the long saga that continued for a couple of weeks, we tried him on some medication to help ease the allergies. Wouldn't you know -- he was allergic to the medication as well!

So the only other thing we could try was a change in his diet. The animal dermatologist told us that we should start a diet with only the following things (sit down, you'll need it for this menu): buffalo, ostrich, venison and duck for protein; quinoa, oatmeal, turnips, yams and sweet potatoes for carbs and vegetables. Lo and behold, we seem to have struck something that he likes and has curtailed with many of his allergies.

Yes, you read that correctly. I prepare fresh meals for my dog. I go to Whole Foods once a week or more and purchase freshly ground buffalo, fresh buffalo stew meat, frozen ostrich filet, frozen venison mediallions and buffalo New York steak. Venison medallions and the steak are his favorites, but he doesn't like it too many meals in a row. Again, he likes variety.

Here's how he likes it:

A small layer of vegetables (ground peas, mashed sweet potatoes/yams, etc.)
A small layer of heated oatmeal (to warm up the vegetables below)
Diced meat (or any variety listed above)

Heaven forbid, you mix the meat with the oatmeal and vegetables. Like a typical child, he doesn't like his food touching. And thank goodness that I work from home now so that I can prepare these gourmet meals each morning and evening.

Oliver was recently given a gift a book called, "Pup Snacks," along with a bone-shaped muffin tin. Now that I have started this blog, I am going to start making some of the recipes in the book and will share them with you in future blogs.

If you have any canine food stories to share, please leave a comment. Or just leave me a comment about how silly Oliver, Brad and I are!

"Ode to Everything Food" travels for a week to Scottsdale for a meeting. I'll then have (2) days to shop and try some new restaurants and will report back with another travelogue.

Until then, "Eat Well!"

Food Galore in Sin City - Day 3

Our next day's culinary adventure began at The Wynn Resort, where we dined at The Country Club. This is their restaurant overlooking the $500 per round golf course and their 18th hole green and fountain. Brad didn't know whether to look at the menu or the golf course from our window table. Eventually, he ended up salivating over both. He chose one of the special sandwiches of the day -- Filet Mignon with melted gorgonzola, grilled onions on a thin focaccia bread. He was in heaven and hardly uttered a word the rest of the meal. I ordered their open faced french dip. Normally, you get a large roll stuffed with meat and sometimes onions and cheese. This was served open faced with melted guyere cheese in a soup plate. After the server presented the plate, he poured the au jus over the entire sandwich, which the bread hungrily soaked up. It was a very nice presentation and an excellent sandwich. We declined dessert and I am happy to leave the casino with $376.00 more than I entered it an hour earlier!

Dinner this evening was at Emeril's Delmonico Restaurant at the Venetian. The decor of the restaurant is a bit austere however it was a fitting atmosphere for a proper steak house. The menu, as you might expect, was largely centered on steaks. The appetizers and sides were traditional but with Emeril's twists and it was hard to choose our selections. We each had separate appetizers. Brad had a salad wedge, which was presented very simply. The bacon and blue cheese was a little sparse and I would have preferred a bit more for color and flavor. Brad is very much a simpleton when it comes to vegetables and salads and he was quite satisfied. I had one of the house specialties -- Emeril’s New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp Served with a Petite Rosemary Biscuit. It was outstanding! The flavor and "BAM" from the shrimp was excellent and the four shrimp was a perfect start to the meal. We both enjoyed steaks this evening, which the restaurant lightly seasons with Emeril's own brand of seasoning. Brad enjoyed the bone-in rib-eye, which was perfectly cooked to his request. I had the daily special of a bone-in filet mignon. (After I ordered, I heard the server tell another couple that it was a menu gimmick to get customers to order the bone-in filet. Not the perfect the statement to hear from your server.) My steak was also nicely prepared and presented. We ordered a stuffed baked potato to share with our steaks and again, I thought Brad would finish the potato before the steak. My steak arrived accompanied by delectable and woody grilled mushrooms. We each enjoyed hearty glasses of wine (Neal Family Cabernet for Brad and another Oregon Pinot Noir for me) to accompany our meal. For you wine afficianado's, this restaurant boasts one of the country's largest wine lists you'll ever see. After this meal, we were fully sated of food for the balance of the week.

Las Vegas has recently garnered quite a reputation for their famous restaurants and gastronomic outlets from New York and elsewhere. I firmly believe that Las Vegas has become a destination for people other than those who wish to gamble or have to attend a convention. It can be an ideal destination for those that savor food and wine with their entertainment and travel. But bring along a hefty wallet or a lot of luck on the crap table because you're gonna need it!Here's the initial installements of "Ode to Everything Food." I hope you enjoyed my recent travel adventure as much as I did.

In the next issue, you'll meet my dog, Oliver, a personality-plus bichon frise who has a sour stomach and allergy issues galore. So, I cook daily meals for him. Call me crazy, but he's my baby and it's another food adventure I love to share!

Food Galore in Sin City - Day 2

Our second day at the Bellagio started with fresh crepes at the Bellagio's Palio Pronto. This is also the location for the world's tallest chocolate fountains pouring decadent and copious amounts of white, dark and milk chocolate for their various confections. Another speciality of Palio Pronto is the crepes. They are are prepared in front of you on an extremely hot griddle and it's amazing to see the dexterity of the cooks managing several at a time. The menu selections of crepes include many wonderful sweet and savory options. We settled on a ham and cheese crepe. The crepe was thin, hot and had the ideal amount of filling. It was a perfect start to our day!

Our morning at Bellagio's Spa made us hungry so we headed over to the Venetian Resort and had appetizers at Enoteca San Marco, Mario Batali & Joe Bastianich's casual restaurant overlooking the beautiful Venetian scenery and singing from gondola drivers. We settled on three selections of charcuterie (proscuitto parma, salumi and coppa) and three cheeses. The three condiments were outstanding and atypical of what you normally see with cheese presentations -- truffle infused honey, marinated cherries and spiced apricots. They really complimented the various cheeses and made it fun to try each cheese with each condiment to see the variations we preferred. We also ordered fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with a mild goat cheese, a seasonal delicacy which this Italian enjoyed!

After some gambling and more shopping, we arrived at Morel's French Steakhouse & Bistro. The restaurant includes French classics and you are immediately welcomed by their iced seafood bar and an impressive charcuterie and cheese bar. The atmosphere is comfortable and the service was formal yet friendly. Brad ordered the Seafood Fettucini, which was loaded with clams, mussels, shrimp and lobster in a garlic & white wine sauce. I enjoyed the Shelton Farms' Chicken, perectly roasted with Meyer lemons in a fennel and olive jus. This was one of the most delectable chicken dishes I have had in a long while. The chicken was crispy on the outside and juicy with every bite. It was presented well with spinach and small roasted potatoes. Wine choices this evening included one of my favorites, a Rex Hill Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Can you tell yet that Oregon Pinot's are a weak spot for me?!

Their dessert menu has an interesting addition. For those of you who are connoisseurs of French pastries, you know that "macaroons" as we Americans know them are not the same. At Morel's, they take the flaky cookie halves and serve them with a variety of fillings. We were given lemon, nutella and a raspberry filling. We enjoyed mixing and matching the flavors and discussing our favorite combinations.

If you haven't seen the production of "Jersey Boys," I highly recommend it. The show tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, from the start of their career to the present day. It's largely a musical and the performances were spectacular. How fun is it to see young and old swaying to the music and everyone enjoying themselves without a care in the world?! Our Frankie Valli was an understudy that evening and he had such a voice that I can't imagine what the main lead would have sounded like. The theater at the Palazzo is new and specifically built for this show. Our seats were in Row Z in the center and they were just perfect. The sound quality was such that you didn't feel that you had spend more to get closer to the stage. An excellent production and evening all around!

Day 3's culinary adventure awaits you on "Ode to Everything Food."

Food Galore in Sin City - Day 1

For my recent birthday, my fiance' and I went to Las Vegas for some rest, relaxation and, of course, good food! We stayed at the Bellagio and thanks to a dear friend, we were upgraded to a luxurious suite on the 36th floor. From the top floor, we had phenomenal views from the living room and bedroom. One of the best parts of the suite was having separate bathrooms -- a plasma and steam shower (to fit four) for him and a plasma and jacuzzi tub for me. I have to say that the suite was among the finest I have seen in my nearly 20-year hotel career, which includes 5-star, 5-diamond resorts. But I digress; let's talk about FOOD!

Upon settling, we headed down to the Gelato Bar in the Bellagio. The selection of the day was Bailey's gelato. Brad, who loves ice cream, immediately pounced on it and ordered a sundae. He had a double of the Bailey's gelato served with hot caramel sauce and paired with Dulce de Leche gelato and hot fudge sauce. He didn't want to overdo it, so he declined the whipped cream! The Bailey's gelato, not a flavor you readily find, was excellent. The two selections was a great mix of flavors with nothing overpowering each other. It was a little slice of heaven to start our vacation.

Dinner our first night was at Olive's, Todd English's restaurant at the Bellagio, which sits on the far wing of the resort and has a lovely view of the dancing fountains. With the 100+ degree heat this evening, we preferred a window table inside. The Mediterranean-inspired restaurant already had a "buzz" going at 6:30PM on a Monday evening. Signature martinis and beautiful glasses of wine were dancing through the room and, of course, we had to join in on the fun. One of their signature dishes is a homemade flatbread and they have many selections of it on the menu. We choose the special of the day with bolognese sauce and freshly shaved parmesan cheese and basil. It came to the table beautifully presented on a pizza board -- hot, crispy and extremely flavorful. This is one dish that I will be working on this fall for home entertaining (and of course, will include in future posts). It was a lot to share, so we then chose to share another entree special of housemade ravioli with ricotta and Italian sausage. I love fresh pasta and this was also another winner. The sauce was milder than the flatbread, however, the texture of the pasta was perfect. For dessert, we chose three varieties of cheese, which we find ourselves enjoying more and more these days. The selections this evening were Humboldt Fog goat cheese, Manchego and Gorgonzola. The condiments and toasted bread were nicely presented with the cheese presentation. We each finished our respective glasses of wine (Cabernet for Brad and an Oregon Pinot Noir for me) and walked it all off through the upscale shopping gallery of the Bellagio as well as by throwing some dice on the crap table.

Come back for more food and our Day 2 restaurant adventures in Las Vegas.