Mustard in the Custard

2 05 2011

Longtime readers of this blog may remember my penchant for making breakfast strata on Easter.  And other times.  This year was no different.  Again looking to the contents of my fridge for inspiration, ham and cheddar sounded like a delightfully sandwich-y take on the strata.

Speaking of sandwiches, wouldn’t a little mustard be the perfect spice for eggy brunch sandwiches?  Monte Cristo breakfast casserole?  Ok, none of that sounds appetizing.  Let’s just say I put the mustard in the custard and get on with it.

mustard in the custard!

Layers: bread, caramelized onions (I seem to be incapable of making a strata without them), strips of ham, shredded Tillamook cheddar.  Repeat, finish with bread.  Custard: four eggs, two cups of milk, salt, pepper, a big spoonful each of grainy mustard and Dijon, and a few dashes of Tabasco sauce. Let it soak for at least half an hour, bake at 350F for an hour or so, and eat.  Champagne and Bloody Marys make perfect accompaniments.  I probably don’t need to tell you this, but it was so good.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Colored Tiles and Custard Tarts

19 12 2010

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted here.  December is brutal on pastry chefs everywhere.  I figured out that my workday is a solid three hours longer during the holidays than it is in the summer, and lunch breaks are shorter or nonexistent. Naturally, when I come home at the end of the day I’m exhausted, and it often comes down to a choice between blogging or showering and eating dinner.  I don’t think anyone can blame me for choosing the latter.  That said, this is going to be a big post, and I hope it will make up for my absence.

I believe I mentioned that Nick and I took a weekend trip to Lisbon a few weeks ago.  We had a fantastic time, and it makes me wonder what took me so long to visit Portugal.

beautifully patterned tiles

I was struck immediately by how colorful the city is.  I took tons of pictures of the tile-covered and pastel-painted buildings, and I know Nick got at least twice as many.  I’ve put some of my favorites up in a Flickr set, which I invite you to browse.  Compared to the gray of Paris in winter, the sunshine and bright colors of Portugal were just what I needed.

tile-covered building

We flew in on a Thursday night, and after grabbing a cheap cab to our hotel, we whipped out our guidebook in search of a nearby restaurant.  Cervejaria Ribadouro turned out to be just across the street, and was a good introduction to typical Portuguese restaurants.  They had several tanks of live seafood in the front, with market prices by the kilo listed nearby.  In addition to the lobsters, crabs, and cod, the menu had a large selection of meats, most of which were pork.  Nick made up his mind to order the pork with clams as soon as he saw it, and we later learned that this is a very traditional pairing in Portuguese cuisine.  I had the black pork, which was juicy and flavorful.  We started with bread and a stuffed crab, and washed it all down with a couple of big, cheap beers.

The next morning, we began on a quest that would carry us through the weekend: eating as many custard tarts as possible.

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Hot and Cold… and Caramel

22 11 2010

A few weeks ago, Jenni of Pastry Methods and Techniques posed an interesting challenge.  She wanted to play with hot and cold, temperatures and flavors.  I love this sort of game.  Let’s see, cold custard… crème caramel is one of the easiest and tastiest ones I know.  Now how can we warm it up?  This being Fall, warm spices like cinnamon and ginger immediately spring to mind.  (I considered star anise, but upon sticking my nose in the jar, I decided that anise/licorice is a distinctly cool flavor.)  So we have a warm-tasting cold thing, how about a cool-tasting warm thing to go with it?  I think pears are on the cool end of the flavor spectrum, so to speak, but if we cooked them with butter and sugar until they were caramelized and a little sticky?  Then they would be hot, and awesome on top of a creamy dessert.

An autumnal caramel palette

And are they ever!  The spiced crème caramel has an almost pumpkin pie-like flavor, the caramel makes it decadent, and the pears keep it from going overboard.  Personally, I think these would make a great Thanksgiving dessert, as long as you don’t have any die-hard traditionalists at your table.  And maybe even if you do – it’s good enough to change some minds.

I’m very interested to see what other people have come up with in response to Jenni’s challenge, so it’s fortunate that she’ll be posting a roundup of hot-and-cold inspired desserts on December 1st.  Which means you still have time to play along, if you’re so inclined.

Spiced Crème Caramel with Hot Caramel Pears

Warm spices, cold, creamy custard, hot pears and a double dose of caramel make this darn near my ideal Fall dessert. It would be right at home at the end of an elegant holiday meal. As a bonus, it’s completely do-ahead: the custard needs time to chill, and the pears can be reheated in a snap.

For the Crème Caramel:

9 oz. / 265 ml milk (whole is best, 2% is ok, but please not skim)
3 oz. / 89 ml cream
3 Tbsp. Brown sugar
2 Tbsp. Sugar
1 stick cinnamon
2 whole cloves
A few flakes of whole mace, if you can get it, or a few grates of fresh nutmeg
1 piece of crystallized ginger, sliced
A pinch of salt (I used vanilla salt, which is salt with a vanilla bean scraped into it)
3 eggs
½ cup sugar, or thereabouts, plus some water.

  1. Preheat the oven to 330 F / 165 C.
  2. Combine the milk, cream, sugar, spices, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring up to a boil, remove from heat, cover, and let steep 15-30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, put the sugar in a small pan and add just enough water to moisten it. Place over medium-high heat and cook without stirring until it begins to brown. Swirl it gently until it is a deep amber color (or even darker – I like mine when it just starts to smoke). Quickly pour a thin layer of caramel into the bottom of five ramekins. Set aside.
  4. Strain the spiced milk into a blending-appropriate container, add the eggs, and blend until smooth. Pour this custard into the prepared ramekins.
  5. Place the ramekins into a large oven-proof dish. Put the dish in the oven, then fill it with hot tap water until the water level is about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the custard is just set (it should wobble a bit in the middle when jostled), about 30-35 minutes. Cool completely. These can be made up to four days in advance, but keep them covered and chilled.

For the pears:

3 ripe Bosc pears, peeled, halved, and cored
2 Tbsp. / 30 g unsalted butter
½ cup / 100 g sugar

  1. Melt the butter in a medium nonstick skillet. Add the sugar and cook until the sugar starts to melt.  Place the pear halves in the sauce and cook over medium-low heat, turning occasionally, until evenly caramelized. Serve immediately or chill and reheat.

For the dessert:

To unmold the chilled custards, run a thin-bladed knife around the edge. Invert the ramekin onto a plate and shake a bit to loosen. It should come out in a splash of caramel sauce. Top the custards with a warm pear half and a little extra caramel sauce from the pears.

Makes 5 desserts, plus one extra pear half.





Shilling French Toast

2 08 2010

I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to realized that picnic leftovers make excellent breakfasts.  First there was the enchistrata, and now, upon Nick’s insistence, the pile of mini pains perdus.

Mise en place for French toast

He’s asked for this before, but today finally managed to convince me to do it.  And it turns out he was right.  Half a day-old baguette makes the perfect amount of little French toasts for breakfast for two.  I started out calling them “silver dollar French toast,” but it just didn’t feel right.  Who knows what a silver dollar is over here?

Soaking

“Two-euro toast” didn’t sound quite right either.  But yesterday, while picnicking outside the Château de Versailles, Nick found a shilling coin in the grass.  From 1922.  It got me wondering how long it had been lying there, what it was worth when it was dropped…

But most of all, it seemed like a fitting name for the breakfast made of the leftover baguette from said picnic.

Frying

I don’t know the amounts I used, but if I were to venture a guess, it would go something like this: 1 egg, a third to a half a cup of milk, a couple tablespoons of cream, a pinch of sugar, a pinch of salt, and in a last-minute flash of inspiration, a splash of plum eau-de-vie.

I served the toasts with wedges of plum, not purchased for the picnic but could well have been, and slices of crisp oven bacon – having tried it once, I am a firm convert.

Shilling French Toast with Plums

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Breakfast, Stratified

23 07 2010

I’ve written about breakfast strata once before, which is why I declined Nick’s initial suggestion to photograph my process.  But after cutting into and tasting this one, I was reminded how truly awesome a meal it is, and anything I can do to get more people making it is a good thing.

Strata (a fancy word for casserole, if I ever heard one) is a wonderful way to use up any odds and ends you may have sitting around in your fridge or on your counter.  It’s best with day-old bread, and is extremely accommodating as far as flavors are concerned.  Does it taste good with bread?  It will be good in strata.  Will it play well with eggs?  It will make a good strata.  I like to make it a square meal by including meat, cheese, and vegetables.  Some of my favorite combinations: sausage, cheddar, and mushroom; bacon, apple, and gruyère; and serrano ham, caramelized onion, and manchego.

This one was born of an excess of bread and picnic leftovers from Bastille Day.  Namely chorizo.  I also had some leftover enchilada sauce.  And a thing of cream that was about to go bad.  Appropriate cheeses (cheddar and manchego) and vegetables (onions and hot peppers) were procured, and I constructed the dish on Saturday night for Sunday’s breakfast.  Ok, brunch.

I spread the slices of bread with sauce and placed them in a layer in a baking dish.  I topped this with deeply caramelized onions and peppers, followed by layers of chorizo and cheese.  Another layer of sauced bread went on top, and the rest of the vegetables.  I held off on the rest of the cheese for the moment.  Then I whisked together some cream, milk, and eggs and slowly poured it over the top.  (I don’t use a recipe and you don’t need to either – just make enough for the bread to soak up.  It’s ok  if there’s a little extra, but if there isn’t, just whip up a little more custard, or do as I’ve done and pour more cream on top.)  This I covered in plastic wrap and weighted down very gently before letting it rest in the fridge overnight. 

In the morning, I removed the plastic wrap – duh – topped it with the remaining cheese, and covered the dish with foil.  I baked it at 350F for a little over an hour, removing the foil about 45 minutes in so the cheese could get nice and brown.  You’ll know it’s done when it starts to puff up.  Let it cool as long as you can stand.  If you’re like me, this is 15 minutes, maximum, just long enough for it to not burn your mouth when you eat it.

Enchilada Sstrata

And there you have it.  Yes, there’s a bit of time investment and planning ahead, but when the majority of the time is hands-off and the result is so incredibly satisfying, it’s hard to say it’s not worth it.

This particular enchilada-esque strata actually pulled double duty – we ate it for brunch with slices of juicy melon, and again for dinner a few days later with a crisp green salad on the side.  Now I want to make one every week.

On this day in 2008: The Great Duo of Avocado and Shrimp (There’s a kickass gazpacho recipe)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





The Winter Squash Saga, Part II: Dessert

28 10 2008

As I promised yesterday, I’m back today with the winter squash, orange, and sage dessert.  I initially liked the idea of using these ingredients in a dessert because it seemed like more of a challenge.  Sage, in particular, is not usually used in sweets and I thought I could do something interesting with it.

Warm, fragrant, and fuzzy, sage is the freshly laundered blanket of the herb family.

The squash part was easy.  Winter squash-based sweets abound: pumpkin pies, cheesecakes, muffins, and even pancakes feature on menus everywhere this time of year (well, not in the southern Hemisphere, I guess).  In my first restaurant job I was given a recipe for butternut squash flan.  I thought it was a great idea, but the stupid thing never worked right.  My theory was that if we had just put a thin layer of caramel in the bottom of the molds, like you’re suppposed to when you’re making flan aka crème caramel, they would have come out beautifully every time.

The correct way to make crème caramel

So I did just that.  I also reduced the amount of cream in favor of milk (not something you’ll hear me say very often), because traditionally, crème caramel is the lightest of the baked custards and made using only milk and whole eggs.  Plus, I wanted that lighter texture.  I think it balances the richness of the caramel and helps to make more of that delicious sauce you get when you finally unmold the dessert.  I snuck some of the orange butter into the caramel to play up the orange flavor in the squash (I reserved some from the lasagna and puréed it using my beloved immersion blender).

Water baths are not a big deal.

After a short spell in the oven, their custards were ready.  I prefer mine just-set, by which I mean barely holding together.  Feeling pleased with my success so far, I left the custards in the fridge to chill overnight.

“But what about the sage?”  You must be wondering.  In one of those flashes of inspiration, it came to me.

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