Once upon a time, I worked as a pantry chef at a wonderful restaurant in the old section of Oakland called the Gulf Coast Oyster Bar and Specialty Company. It was during the heyday of new restaurants in the 1980's when people like Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower were just starting to influence the food scene. My boss Dan, architect turned restauranteur, hailed from Louisiana and everything about his restaurant vision had to be authentic NOLA and very fresh. He had his poor mother fly in red fish, shrimp and oysters straight from the gulf on a daily basis! I remember the cast iron skillet being on the stove non-stop, ever ready for that spiced, red fish to hit the pan. Boy, we could hardly breathe when the spices started to 'blacken'. This bread pudding hails from that time in my life. It has been on every café menu of mine ever since (Lily's, Alchemy, Wren Café). It is a fond memory of many of my beloved customers so I thought it was about time to share.
Laissez le bon temps roule!
Croissant Bread & Butter Pudding
1 ¾ c heavy cream, extra for whipped cream on top (if desired)
2/3 cup sugar
1 t vanilla
½ t cinnamon
½ c unsalted butter, melted
4 -5 croissants, torn into random pieces (or 4 cups day old bread, cut in to 1” cubes)
¼ cup golden raisins soaked in bourbon until plump (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the croissants in a 9 x 9 square cake pan. Scatter raisins over the top, if using. Whisk together the first 5 ingredients in a bowl. Melt butter on stove top or microwave and add slowly to cream mixture whisking constantly. Pour over bread cubes and allow them to sit for a few minutes to soak up the cream mixture a little bit. There should be enough bread to cover the bottom of the pan and a scant second layer. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10-15 minutes until the custard is set and the pudding is puffed and brown. Cut in to 6 - 8 portions and serve warm or chilled with whipped cream. Raspberries, strawberries and peaches are delicious on top. Feel free to substitute any kind of leftover cake, bread or muffin for the bread cubes. Some of my favorite’s are banana bread, ginger bread, apple-spice cake, cinnamon rolls and brownies! You get the idea!
Flageolet beans are a French kidney bean whose color ranges from a lovely pale green to creamy white. They are usually prepared simply in order to showcase their delicate flavor. My friend Tricia gifted me a pound of these delightfully tender beans as a thank you for my donation of some duck breasts to her cassoulet party that she had in January when I was in Mexico. I am sad to have missed the party but I am happy to have benefitted from the gift of the beans! The flavors in this classic French soup perfectly complement each other and possess a depth of flavor that invites one to pique-nique par le feu. Spread out a blanket, find a friend, open a good bottle of Pinot Noir and voilå—a cozy and deliciously satisfying night at home. Add some good, crusty bread, some olives marinated in citrus and some French feta to make the meal perfection.
Flageolet Bean Soup
2 T good olive oil
*3 slices thick sliced bacon, chopped into 1/2 pieces (I like Dailey's brand)
1 onion, chopped to 1/2" dice
2 carrots, chopped to 1/2" dice
1 fennel bulb, quartered and sliced thinly
3 cloves of garlic, chopped roughly
1 # flageolet beans (from Corti Brothers or Rancho Gordo) soak the beans overnight in water, drain and rinse or do a quick soak...place beans in a pot and cover with cold water, bring to a boil then turn off and let sit for one hour. Drain, rinse and proceed.
1 T fresh rosemary, chopped
1 (14.5 oz) can chopped tomatoes
6 c chicken stock (substitute veggie stock if you like)
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Pour the olive oil into a large soup pot and heat for a few minutes, add the bacon and fry until crispy and browned. Add the onion, carrots, fennel and garlic and cook until soft and golden, stirring often. Add the beans, rosemary, stock and tomatoes. Bring soup to a boil and skim off any foam. Turn down to a simmer, cover and cook for about 2-3 hours until the beans are tender. Taste for salt and pepper. Don't add salt until the end or the beans won't cook. This soup freezes well.
*For a vegetarian version, leave the bacon out and add 1 tsp of smoked paprika.
My father used to say that we were "Black Irish". I always thought that was because my family migrated from Ireland, had olive skin and dark hair, but there are a lot of theories as to where that colorful description came from. My favorite explanation is that in 1588 while trying to defeat the English, the Spanish Armada shipwrecked off the coast of Ireland and the survivors married into Irish society, thus creating a darker version of the traditionally light-skinned, red-haired Irish person. Sounds so romantic!
This stew celebrates the flavors of southern Spain but keeps the Irish tradition alive and well by using spring lamb and is served, of course, with potatoes. I recommend pairing this delightful stew with a local Murphys wine called Payaso from Villa Vallecito Vineyards, a blend of spicy Grenache and smooth, fruity Syrah. This flavor profile makes it the perfect wine to drink with this celebratory dish, especially because of Murphys' Irish heritage and the fact that "Payaso" means "clown" in Spanish—around these parts, St. Paddy's Day aka Irish Day has a tendency to get really silly. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
'Black Irish' Stew
2 T good olive oil
4 slices, thick sliced bacon, cut into a 1/2" dice
2 lbs ground lamb
1 med onion, peeled and chopped into a 1/2" dice
6 cloves garlic, peeled an chopped finely
2 t dried, minced garlic (for intensity)
2 carrots, peeled and cut into a rough 1/2" dice
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into a rough 1/2" dice
2 T oregano
1/4 t allspice
1 t ea cumin, coriander, sumac and turmeric
2 c good, fruity but dry, red wine
6 c chicken broth
1 14.5 oz can chopped tomatoes
1 c frozen peas
sea salt & fresh ground pepper
parsley, chopped for garnish (optional)
Heat the olive oil in a large soup/stew pot, add the bacon and fry until browned and crispy. Add the lamb, breaking up larger clumps but leaving small ones for texture, cook until browned. Add onions, carrots, parsnips, garlic and all of the spices. Cook. stirring occasionally until the veggies are softened, about 15 minutes. Add the wine, broth and tomatoes and stir well. Bring to a boil and skim off the foam. Cover and cook on low heat for about an hour until all of the flavors have blended. Right before serving, add the peas. This stew is even better the next day, so make it easy on yourself and make it a day ahead or freeze for longer. Serve with Champ.
2 lbs baking potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 bunches green onions, cleaned and chopped into 1/2" dice
1 c cream, enough to barely cover the chopped onions
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Put the potatoes in a pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook for 20-25 minutes until very tender. Drain and then return to the pot. Cover and continue to evaporate moisture by shaking the pot over low heat for another couple of minutes. Mash the potatoes with a masher by hand, adding the butter and salt and pepper to taste. Put the green onions in a small pan with just enough cream to cover. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Mix into the potatoes and check seasonings, serve immediately.
It seems as though all of my friends and even my sister are getting on the wood-fired pizza oven bandwagon (think Uuni). I think it's great! These small ovens heat up to 900 degrees in about 30 minutes and make everything taste like it came out of a backyard oven in the Tuscan countryside. Pizza parties are a no-brainer...the guests bring a few topping ingredients and the host supplies the dough. (You could make your own but
Trader Joe's has a good one, ready to roll out. You can also buy from your local pizza place.) The possibilities are endless but simple combinations are best. I found two kinds of kale, some arugula flowers and thyme in the garden, added some caramelized onions, roasted garlic, fresh mozzarella and some sliced Yukon Golds for a deliciously different pie. Hang out, watch how quickly it's done, and marvel at the sight of these puffed and blistered discs from heaven.
Caramelized Onion +Potato + Kale + Fresh Mozzarella Pizzetta
1 head of fresh garlic
good olive oil, about 1/4 c
2 small Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced thinly
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 small bunch of kale, torn off the stem and chopped coarsely
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 dz small, fresh mozzarella balls, torn in half
fresh thyme, pulled from the stem
arugula blossoms or other sweet flower, violets would be good (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the very top off of the garlic, drizzle with olive oil and wrap in foil. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour until soft. Toss the sliced potatoes in a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and arrange on a sheet pan. Bake (at the same time as the garlic) for 15-20 minutes until tender. Drizzle some olive oil in a skillet and add the onions, a pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté for about 15 minutes, stirring often, over medium heat until soft and golden brown. Remove from the pan, add a bit more oil and then add the kale. Sauté for about 5 minutes until limp. Assemble all of your ingredients in 'to go' containers for the party. Roll out your dough and brush with olive oil. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of the cloves and spread on the crust. Place the onions over the garlic then the kale. Arrange the potatoes on top and then dot with the cheese. Bake and then sprinkle with the flowers and fresh thyme just before serving. Makes 2 pizzettas.
Avocado toast is fairly ubiquitous these days but I had a version on my last trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico that surprised me. It featured a guacamole-style avocado mash with a crumble of feta cheese and—the shocker—capers! The bread was toasted on the grill which added a pleasant smokiness and rustic simplicity, which I liked. Cutting the toasts on the diagonal is a must according to Adam Rapoport (editor in chief at Bon Appetit magazine). It seems that the sharp points matter when enjoying an open-faced delight such as this! This recipe would work equally well as small hors-d'oeuvres, a plated appetizer and a healthy lunch by adjusting the size of the portion. Try this delicious take and see if you don't fall in love with avocado toast all over again.
2 Hass avocados
2 T red onion, chopped in a fine dice
2 T chopped, fresh cilantro
1/2 of a chile serrano, seeded (or to taste), chopped finely
5 T olive oil, divided (1 T for the mash and 4 T for the toasts)
1 T fresh squeezed lime juice
a pinch sea salt
a few grinds of black pepper
Rustic Italian bread or baguette, sliced thinly (depending on your purpose)
3 - 5 capers per slice
3 oz feta cheese, crumbled
Mash the avocados in a bowl (with a fork) with the onion, cilantro, chile and 1 T of olive oil. Add the lime juice and season to taste with the salt and pepper. (Remember the capers
and cheese are also salty.) Brush the bread slices lightly with olive oil and grill
(or toast in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown). Spoon the avocado mixture on the bread slices, sprinkle with the cheese and place the capers on top.
This recipe comes from my friends at Daiquiri Dick's in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where this appetizer is a frequent favorite on their menu.