Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Got milk, eggs, bread? Make Caramel Apple Bread Pudding

The snow's still on the ground in much of the country, and I'm betting that substantial supplies of the eggs, milk and bread that we all stocked up on are still in many kitchens.

Why not make bread pudding?

My version is sweetened with a layer of caramelized apples. You can use whatever variety of apple you might have on hand. I mixed together a Granny Smith, which retained its texture as it cooked, and a Golden Delicious, which softened into applesauce.

Just about any type of bread would work, too. I had an abundance of small dinner rolls, so I used those. Other options include French bread, cinnamon bread and sandwich bread.

Whole milk will make the richest dessert, but 2 percent would work too. If you only have nonfat milk on hand, you might want to add a tablespoon of melted butter when you whisk together the milk and eggs. (That's what I did.)

I baked the puddings in 8-ounce ramekins. For smaller servings, use 4- or 6-ounce custard cups and reduce the baking time as necessary.

Yield: 2 generous servings (see note)

3 loosely packed cups bread cubes (cut into 1/2-inch pieces)
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
7 tablespoons light brown sugar, divided
1 tablespoon butter, divided
2 apples, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
Whipped cream, for optional garnish

Place bread cubes in a medium bowl. In another bowl, whisk together milk, vanilla, whole egg, egg yolk, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 3 tablespoons brown sugar. Pour over bread; toss to combine completely. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Meanwhile, melt 1/2 tablespoon butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples and cook, stirring frequently, until they soften and begin to brown. Stir in the remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 4 tablespoons brown sugar. Cook, stirring, until the sugar melts and glazes the apples. Set aside to cool completely.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8-ounce ramekins. Stir the bread mixture, then spoon about one-fourth of the mixture into each ramekin. Spoon about one-fourth of the apple mixture over the bread mixture in each ramekin, spreading the apples to make a thin layer. Top with the remaining bread mixture. Set the remaining apples aside to use as a garnish.

Place an 8-inch-square or larger baking dish on the middle oven shelf. Place the ramekins into the baking dish. Pour hot water into the baking dish until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. (The water bath assures that the puddings will  bake evenly.)

Bake until the top of each pudding is golden brown and has puffed slightly and a knife inserted into the center comes out almost clean, about 45 minutes.

Let cool to room temperature, then top with the remaining caramelized apples. If desired, garnish with whipped cream.

Note: This recipe can be doubled or tripled. If making larger amounts, use a 9-by-13-inch pan or a roasting pan for the water bath.

Copyright 2013 by Judith Evans. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Onion soup from the slow cooker

This isn't a fix-it-and-forget-it recipe, at least not in the beginning, but it's an easier way to make a big pot of onion soup.

You'll need to soften the onions on the stove, then cook them for a couple of hours on high in the slow cooker. I stirred in a little bit of tomato paste to promote caramelization and add flavor, a technique I borrowed from a brisket recipe in America's Test Kitchen's wonderful "Slow Cooker Revolution."

Once you stir in the stock, you can cook the soup on high heat for 3 to 4 hours or on low for 6 to 8 hours.

Be sure to buy yellow onions, not sweet onions, which can be watery. You can use chicken stock or beef stock or combine the two, as I did.

By the way, this recipe was inspired by a St. Louis favorite, Famous-Barr French Onion Soup. I got the recipe (and bought the trademark crocks, pictured above) when I worked there as a teenager. I'm providing that vintage recipe at the bottom of this post, complete with my notations for cutting the recipe in half, although I soon learned that leftover soup was something to be welcomed, not avoided.


Yield: 8 to 10 servings

2 tablespoons butter or ghee
3 pounds yellow onions, peeled and sliced thinly
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 bay leaf
1 quart beef stock
1 quart chicken stock
Salt, optional
1 loaf French bread
Grated Swiss and/or Gruyere cheese

If your slow cooker has a nonstick insert that can be placed directly on the stove, set over medium-high heat. Otherwise, use a large nonstick pot. Melt the butter, then add the onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions soften, about 8 minutes. Add tomato paste and black pepper and stir until well combined.

Place the insert in the slow cooker or transfer the onions from the pot to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for about 2 hours or until the onions are golden.

Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon flour; stir until no lumps remain. Repeat with remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Add bay leaf; stir in stock. Cover and cook for 3 to 4 hours on high or 6 to 8 hours on low. Taste; add salt if desired.

To serve, slice the bread about 1/2-inch thick. Arrange on a cookie sheet; sprinkle with cheese. Place under a hot broiler until the cheese melts and starts to brown. Ladle soup into bowls. Top each serving with a slice or two of cheese-topped bread. (Alternately, ladle soup into bowls that can withstand the heat of a broiler. Arrange on a cookie sheet. Top each bowl with bread and cheese. Place under a hot broiler until the cheese melts and starts to brown, about 1 to 2 minutes.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pressure cooker makes quick work of split pea and barley soup

A winter storm seems to be rolling our way, and the forecast I just heard called for sleet or ice or snow -- or perhaps all three. Supermarket shoppers are no doubt responding by clearing the shelves of bread and milk. They'd do themselves a favor if they added a bag of dried split peas, a box of barley and a beef shank bone to the cart.

This recipe is a family favorite that I've made more times than I can count. It's thick, hearty and comforting, perfect fare for February. And it's made in a pressure cooker, meaning that it's ready in less than an hour.

Many split pea soups are flavored with a ham bone or another form of smoked pork. This recipe uses a beef shank bone instead. This soup also contains barley, a healthful grain that stands up well to the super-hot pressure cooker, and parsnips, which provide a lovely sweetness.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

1 meaty beef shank bone
1 cup dried split peas
1/2 cup barley
1 large onion, chopped
2 large ribs celery, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
3 medium parsnips, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Place shank bone in the cooker and fill halfway with water. Bring to a simmer over high heat. With a spoon, skim off the foam that forms. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Close the cooker. Bring to 15 pounds of pressure, then cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes, then place under cold water to reduce the remaining pressure. Remove shank bone; when cool enough to handle, shred the meat and return it to the pot. Reheat if necessary, stir and serve.

Story and photo copyright 2013 Judith Evans. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sour Cream Cherry Pie: creamy, crunchy, deliciously different

Valentine's Day, President's Day, George Washington's birthday -- no matter the holiday, if it's February, you won't go wrong with a cherry pie.

This version is deliciously different. The filling has a lot in common with cheesecake, although this recipe is made with sour cream instead of cream cheese. Cherries are suspended throughout the sweet, creamy filling, and a crunchy, nutty streusel tops everything off. You'll get a variety of flavors and textures in every bite.


Yield: 8 servings

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell 

For filling:
1 cup light sour cream

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 (24-ounce) jar pitted sweet cherries in light syrup, drained, or about 3 cups fresh or frozen pitted sweet cherries

For topping:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup sliced almonds, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Fit dough into a 9-inch pie plate; flute the edges. 

Prepare filling: Combine sour cream, 2 tablespoons flour, 3/4 cup sugar, almond extract, salt and egg in mixing bowl. Stir until smooth. Gently stir in cherries. Spoon filling into pastry shell; smooth top with spatula. Bake on center oven shelf for 25 minutes, covering the edges with foil or a pie shield if needed to prevent overbrowning.

Prepare topping: Stir together 1/4 cup flour and 1 tablespoon sugar in a small bowl. Add butter. Using a fork, two table knives, a pastry blender or your hands, mix until small crumbs form. Stir in almonds. 

Sprinkle almond mixture evenly over top of partially baked pie. Return to the oven; bake until topping is lightly browned, about 15 minutes. 

Let pie cool to room temperature. Pie can be kept at cool room temperature 4 to 5 hours, or it can be chilled.

Adapted from a recipe for blueberry pie by cookbook author Betty Rosbottom.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Quick sausage-shrimp skillet celebrates the flavors of New Orleans

I won't pretend that this quick dish is authentic New Orleans fare -- far from it -- but I was inspired by this month's Mardi Gras celebrations.

As a bonus, this skillet supper is far lower in fat than tradional Cajun food. Spoon this slightly spicy mixture of lean protein and vegetables over brown rice and enjoy any time of year, not just on Fat Tuesday.

The key ingredient is andouille sausage, which is packed with spicy flavor. I used a chicken version from Whole Food's butcher case. You could substitute pork sausage, which is far easier to find, but you'll need to drain the fat after browning the sausage and vegetables. You also can buy links of smoked chicken or turkey andouille, which need only to be warmed. I like to cut them into 1/2-inch rounds and  brown them along with the vegetables.

And speaking of vegetables ... here in the Midwest in midwinter, good fresh okra is impossible to find. I substituted frozen. I've found that the quality of frozen vegetables varies greatly among brands, and sad to say, the less expensive brands are usually watery and lacking in flavor. I've also found that organic frozen vegetables are usually the best bets.

Yield: 4 servings

1/2 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
2/3 pound fresh andouille sausage, preferably made from chicken (see note)
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 rib celery, coarsely chopped
1/2 large red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 cup chicken stock
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup fresh or frozen sliced okra
1 cup fresh or frozen trimmed green beans
1/2 pound shrimp, thawed if frozen, shelled and deveined
Hot cooked rice
Hot sauce

Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Crumble andouille into the skillet; cook, crumbling it further with a spoon. When the sausage starts to brown, add onion, celery and red pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables soften and begin to brown.

Stir in stock, drained tomatoes, okra and green beans. Reduce heat until liquid simmers briskly; cover and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in shrimp; cover and cook until shrimp is pink and okra and beans are tender, about 5 minutes.

Serve over hot cooked rice, passing hot sauce at the table.

Note: If you can't find fresh chicken andouille, use pork andouille and drain well. Alternately, use smoked andouille links cut into wedges or rounds.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Coconut, almonds, chocolate make a moist bar cookie

When you've offered to bring dessert to a potluck or the office, bar cookies are a great choice. They're sturdy, easy to transport and can be cut into generous pieces or tiny tidbits.

Beyond those attributes, these cookies are buttery and delicious. With their combination of chocolate, coconut and almonds, they're almost like a Mounds candy bar in a pan.

Yield: 32 bars

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar, divided
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup thinly sliced almonds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1 cup flour until well combined. Add melted butter; mix well. Transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Press into the bottom of the pan with the palms of your hands, making an even layer. Bake in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes.

While the crust bakes, lightly beat the eggs with the vanilla in the same large bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup brown sugar, the remaining 3 tablespoons flour, coconut, almonds and salt. Stir until well combined.

As soon as the crust comes out of the oven, sprinkle evenly with chocolate chips. Press the chocolate lightly into the crust. Add small dollops of coconut over the chocolate, then spread into an even layer, disturbing the chocolate as little as possible. Return the baking dish to the oven. Bake until pale golden, about 20 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then cut into bars. (A chef's knife works best.Cut from the sides toward the center, turning the pan as needed.) Let cool completely before removing the bars from the pan.

Recipe adapted from  Mrs. Kolbert's Coconut Bars, published 20 years ago by Gourmet magazine.

Photo and story copyright 2013 by Judith Evans. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Turkey breast in a slow cooker

You don't have to wait for the holidays to enjoy roast turkey. If you have a slow cooker, you don't even have to wait for the weekend.

I happened upon frozen turkey breasts for 49 cents a pound recently and couldn't resist picking up one. This recipe is so good, and so easy, that I regret not buying more than one.

You'll notice that I didn't add any liquid to the slow cooker. The resulting drippings were deeply flavored and made great gravy. In keeping with the easy-does-it theme of this recipe, I used cornstarch to thicken the gravy.

I rubbed poultry seasoning into the turkey, but you can use your choice of herbs and spices. Most supermarket turkeys have been injected with saline, so I advise skipping the salt.

You can also substitute your favorite vegetables and fruits or add them to what I used. Use lemon instead of apple, for instance, or add carrots or even parsnips.

Yield: About 8 servings

1 turkey breast (about 7 pounds), thawed if frozen
Poultry seasoning 
Vegetable oil, optional
1 large onion, cut into large chunks
2 ribs celery, cut into large chunks
1 small apple, cut into quarters
About 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Cut any large pieces of fat off the turkey and discard. Rub seasoning under the skin and in the turkey cavity. If desired, brown the turkey skin in a small amount of hot oil. (My slow cooker's insert goes directly on the stove, so I used that.)

Place onion, celery and apple in an oval 6-quart slow cooker. Place turkey into the cooker, positioning it upright or on one side. Cover and cook on low until done, about 5 to 7 hours.

Transfer turkey to a cutting board. Cover loosely with foil and let sit for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, pour cooking liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Discard the solids left in the strainer. Let liquid sit until the fat rises to the top, then skim off the fat and discard it.

Taste the cooking liquid. If the flavor is too concentrated, stir in a bit of water or chicken stock. Measure the liquid. You will need 1 tablespoon cornstarch for each cup of cooking liquid. In a small cup, stir together equal amounts of cornstarch and cooking liquid. Pour the rest of the cooking liquid into a saucepan; bring to a simmer. Slowly stir in the cornstarch mixture; cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid returns to a simmer, thickens and becomes glossy. Keep gravy warm while you slice the turkey.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Use a slow cooker for almost-effortless barbecue beef

This is perhaps the best beef I've ever made in a slow cooker -- and it's definitely the easiest.

I came up with the recipe at the butcher counter when I spotted boneless arm roast on sale for $3.99 a pound. I'd never cooked that cut of meat before, so I asked the butcher what would happen if I rubbed the roast with spices and slow-cooked it on a bed of onions. His eyes lit up: "I think it would taste really, really good." His opinion was enough for me to give it a go.

I was planning to stir together my own seasoning rub, but when I got to the spice aisle I saw that the commercial rubs were on sale for $1 each. I picked up a slightly spicy, slightly smoky rub, but you can use whatever you prefer. Even a simple combination of salt and pepper would be tasty. You also can substitute wine or broth for the beer.

After the roast had slowly cooked to a perfect tenderness, I pulled it into strands and added a dollop of barbecue sauce. You can omit the barbecue sauce and use the plain defatted cooking liquid, or you can thicken the liquid and make gravy. You also can slice the roast or cut it into chunks instead of pulling the meat apart. The recipe is that simple, that versatile, and that good.

Yield: About 8 sandwiches

2 large onions, sliced
3/4 cup beer 
About 1 tablespoon mesquite barbecue spice rub
1 (2 1/2-pound) boneless beef arm roast
Barbecue sauce
Pretzel buns or other sandwich rolls

Place onions in the bottom of a 6-quart slow cooker. Add beer. Rub spices into beef roast. Place in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low heat until tender, about 8 to 10 hours.

Remove beef from slow cooker. When cool enough to handle, use two forks to shred meat. If making ahead, cover and refrigerate.

Strain liquid; set onions aside. Let cooking liquid sit until the fat rises to the top, then skim off fat and discard. If making ahead, refrigerate onions and liquid separately. Discard fat from liquid after it rises to the top and hardens.

Return just enough liquid to moisten the beef to the slow cooker or place in a saucepan. When liquid is hot, add beef; heat gently. Stir in barbecue sauce to taste. Meanwhile, reheat onions in another pan.

Spoon beef onto buns, topping with onions if desired.

Note: I froze the leftover beef in a single layer in a plastic bag, which makes it easy to take out just what we need. I froze the leftover cooking liquid in 1/3-cup portions in a muffin tin, then popped out the frozen pucks and stored them in another freezer bag.

Story, recipe and photo copyright Judith Evans 2013. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Pesto-stuffed mushrooms are perfect for a party

I went to a birthday luncheon last weekend at Maggiano's Little Italy. The first course included pesto-stuffed mushrooms, and after one bite, everyone started speculating about how to make them.

Fortunately, the recipe was easy to replicate. I bought a jar of basil pesto, spooned some into a bowl and added chopped parsley (for fresh flavor) and fresh breadcrumbs.  I used medium mushrooms, just the right size for one or two bites, and topped each with a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan.

You can assemble these a few hours before you bake them. Cover them loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

(And don't discard those leftover mushroom stems. You can use them in stir-fries, soups or this moist and lean Bison Meatloaf.)

Yield: About 18

1 slice bread 
12 ounces medium button mushrooms (about 18)
6 tablespoons purchased or homemade pesto
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley 
About 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking dish with nonstick foil or coat with nonstick cooking spray.

Cut the crust off the bread and discard. Whirl the bread in a blender to make crumbs. Measure 6 tablespoons crumbs; discard the remainder, if any, or save for another use.

Wash the mushrooms and pat dry. Carefully remove the stems and set aside for another use. Arrange the mushroom caps in a baking dish.

In a medium bowl, stir together breadcrumbs, pesto and parsley. Fill each mushroom cap with the pesto mixture, mounding it slightly. Sprinkle each cap with about 1/4 teaspoon Parmesan. Bake until the mushrooms are tender and the cheese begins to brown, about 20 minutes.