Category Archives: Brunch

Clafoutis


IMG_0032

Cherry Clafoutis

What is it? Here’s all you need to know: it is easier and more delicious than a pancake and will change the way you think about summer fruits (and maybe some other stuff like pears and apples and chocolate and hazelnuts and…?). I don’t think there is a consensus on the “classic” clafoutis, but from my research, I think it is either made with cherries or pears. Because they are in season and recently been reasonably priced, I made mine with cherries, but rumor has it that peaches and other stone fruit work really well, and I think that a combo of apricots and blueberries might be utterly amazing.

The most difficult part about making a clafoutis is hefting the cast iron skillet in which it is made in and out of the oven. You could probably make it in another kind of baking dish, but why? A cast iron skillet is something you should have in your kitchen at this very moment, hopefully out and showcased on the stovetop, ready and waiting for your next delicious creation. So here is how you do it:

Preheat your oven to 325.
Drop a knob of high-quality butter (try something other than store brand and you will be happy you did) into the skillet and, using your impeccably clean hands, smooth out all along the bottom and up the sides.
Whisk together in a large mixing bowl:
3 room-temp eggs
1/2 C whole milk (maybe half and half, if you feel like it)
1/2 C sugar
Dash of vanilla or almond extract
Pinch of salt
2 TBSP melted butter
1/2 C of flour (I used cake flour, but I think all-purpose is just fine)
The mixture should be smooth and lump-free when you finish (you don’t want any bits of dry flour). I think it’s best to let this sit for a bit while you prepare the fruit, so I make the batter right off the bat. Note: the batter will be thin; somewhere between crepe batter and pancake batter.

Next, prepare your cherries or other fruit. On the amount, I just eyeball it. You want enough to cover the bottom of your skillet nicely without being too crowded. You should probably have enough to that you can snack on while you are prepping them, too. You don’t have to do anything to them besides pit them. There is enough sugar in the batter to sweeten them up and I don’t really see any point to messing with them any further than that. Pitting is a drag and an mess, but just get through it – I know there are devices and tricks for doing this, but honestly, I see no point. You know where the pit is and you just need to get it out with your hands. If you’re making this for someone you want to impress (mother-in-law, love interest, professional chef), you might want to try out a cherry pitter or one of these tricks, but this clafoutis will look and taste just as good if your cherries are little mangled.

Remix the batter to make extra sure that there are no lumps, then pour into the buttered skillet. Then, evenly distribute your cherries over the top and pop into the oven immediately. Bake for about 20 minutes and, depending on how even your oven is, turn it halfway to encourage consistent browning. In total, it should take 35 to 45 minutes. You want the batter to puff and brown lightly, but watch that the edges don’t get too overdone. The middle will remain somewhat loose and custardy, so don’t freak out if it looks a little underdone in the center. That’s one of the best parts. =)

Do you need one more parting shot to clafoutease you?
Ha! My sweet friend Pari will love this.

IMG_0030

Clafoutease

Savory Bread Pudding


Savory Bread Pudding With Mushrooms, Leeks, and Canadian Bacon

This dish started with an inspiration from a restaurant here in Chicago that has since closed. Good thing I took good notes during the few times we had breakfast there! The versions they offered were leek, ham, and Gruyere, as well as one with tomato, bacon, and Cheddar. I think the combinations are really just up to your imagination and your tastes.

The base is just the same as any breakfast casserole or strata that I would make – stale or day-old bread cut into cubes, then soaked in a custard mixture. For these, I wanted to make individual servings in ramekins, so I cut the cubes of bread on the small side so that they would be easy to stuff into the dishes. The custard mixture is about one cup of milk (or half-and-half, if you are in a more celebratory than healthy mood) to three eggs. Depending on the amount of bread you have, you can increase or decrease the amount of custard mixture – just make enough to soak the bread completely. Season with salt and pepper as you would scrambled eggs.

I got a little carried away with ingredients, but I just couldn’t resist. I started with some leeks (one large or two small), rinsed them thoroughly (they have a considerable amount of grit since they grow in sandy soil), and cooked them in some olive oil until they began to soften (a little kosher salt helps this process along). I removed those from the pan and sauteed some sliced cremini mushrooms in butter in the same pan, adding a little salt again, along with some freshly ground black pepper and fresh thyme leaves (thyme and mushrooms is one of my favorite combinations). In addition, I had some Canadian bacon on hand that I really wanted to incorporate.

The best way to bring this all together is to cube your bread into a large mixing bowl, pour over the custard, and mix with your hands. That way, you’ll be able to tell if you made enough custard to soak the bread. You can always whip up a little more egg and milk to add to it, if it seems too dry. Then, mix in your vegetables and/or meat and/or cheese in the same manner (hands) to make sure you evenly distribute – just make sure you let anything you precook to cool a bit before adding it to the mix. I used shredded Gruyere here, along with some Fontina that I needed to use up – make sure you add a nice little handful to the top before you put the bread pudding into the oven for some added browned goodness.

If you bake in (buttered) ramekins, place them on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake at 350 until golden and bubbly (about 20-30 minutes, depending on your oven). If you bake in a (buttered) casserole (like a traditional breakfast strata), it will probably take a little longer; browned and bubbling is the goal.

Battle Soufflé


 

I get it.

Soufflés are scary.  They are.

Pop culture ruined the soufflé for us with images of deflated cooks serving deflated dishes to deflated guests. Well, I am here to change that. Contrary to public opinion, soufflés are easy, delicious, and do not need to be perfect. However, the world (and the French) have made us American home cooks believe that we are merely setting ourselves up for failure if we try to make a soufflé of any kind. Here’s the best advice I can give you on this matter:

1. Practice on your loved ones. The pizza delivery man is only a phone call away.

2. Follow a good recipe to a tee the first time (the Joy of Cooking has several). Once you are comfortable with the technique, add variations to your heart’s content.

3. All of the ingredients you put into the soufflé taste good together, so even if it isn’t perfectly beautiful, it will be delicious.

The pic above is a souffle I made with Gruyere cheese and frozen spinach, which turned out quite well, I must say, in spite of being a little overcooked. I find savory soufflés more appealing that sweet ones, but anyone who knows me will not be surprised by this. Try making one for a weekend lunch and serve it with a mixed green salad dressed with a simple vinaigrette. A chilled, crisp, un-oaked Chardonnay would be a most welcome accompaniment.

Feel free to post questions here before you start. Knowledge is power in battle soufflé.