Archive for Frugal Gourmet

Breakfast Cookies

breakfast cookies

I’ve always been enamored with eating cookies for breakfast. After all, muffins aren’t much better; they’re basically cake without the frosting. If people can make healthy muffins, could a cookie be far?

The trouble is, most breakfast cookies have all the butter and sugar, but the whole grains are an afterthought. And then healthy cookies are disappointingly doughy.

When I saw this recipe on 101 Cookbooks, it sounded too good to be true. No added sugar? Vegan? 100% whole grain? No copout substitutes (like vegan buttery spread or Ener-G Egg Replacer)? It’s rare that a recipe with one of these attributes is delicious.

I’m happy to report that you can feel good eating these cookies for breakfast. Each cookie is crazy high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants. There’s a macaroon-esque chewiness, crisp edges, and cakey interior. The heartiness of the oats, richness of the coconut, and brightness of the fruit play well off of each other. My only complaint is that these crumble easily. Oh well, just think of it as soft granola.

The recipe is also highly customizable. Feel free to clean out your cupboard. You can use raisins (because you went on a healthy shopping spree and to your dismay, they became hard pellets), flaxseed meal (because there’s only so much you can sprinkle on oatmeal every morning), and applesauce (because the jar’s starting to look lonely after you dabbled in low-fat baking a while ago), but feel free to use any dried fruit (or chocolate chips), nut meal, and puréed fruit (even mix in a little nut/seed butter, such as tahini).

Breakfast Cookies
Adapted from Nikki’s Healthy Cookie recipe on 101 Cookbooks

Makes 3 dozen cookies

1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup flaxseed meal
1/3 cup coconut, finely shredded and unsweetened
heaping 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup raisins

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F, racks in the lower and top thirds. Line two baking sheets with foil and grease with oil.
  2. In a large bowl combine the applesauce, vanilla extract, and olive oil. Set aside. In another bowl whisk together the oats, flaxseed meal, coconut, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the raisins.The dough is a bit looser than a standard cookie dough.
  3. Drop firmly packed dollops of the dough, each about 2 teaspoons in size, an inch apart, onto the baking sheet. Bake for 12 – 14 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown.

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Blueberry “Cream Cheese” Bread Pudding

No matter how many times I make bread pudding (it’s so easy you can do it every day), I’ll never get tired of it. The crusty edges, the oozing center. And you don’t have to be ashamed about eating it for breakfast.

Here’s a simple bread pudding with summer blueberries. I thought cream cheese would go well in it, but I wanted to keep it healthy and substituted Greek yogurt. It’s a lazy person’s cheesecake, but in no way does it taste like a slacker’s dessert.

blueberry bread pudding

Blueberry “Cream Cheese” Bread Pudding

Inspired by Emeril Lagasse

Oil, for greasing pan
8 slices day-old crusty bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
4 large eggs
1 cup Greek yogurt* (recommended brand: Fage)
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups milk
2 cups blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease an 8×8-inch pan with oil.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, yogurt, sugar and vanilla until very smooth. Stir in milk and add the bread and blueberries. Let sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake until the pudding is set in the center, about 55 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes. Bread pudding is best hot out of the oven, or refrigerated after a day.

*To make Greek-style yogurt, put 2 cups of plain yogurt in a strainer lined with cheesecloth, a coffee filter, or a paper towel (made without bleach). Place the strainer over a large bowl and drain in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, or until the yogurt is as thick as sour cream. Makes 1 cup.

Related links:
Nutella bread pudding recipe

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Avocado Cake

The first time I tried avocado in a dessert, it was in a milkshake at an eclectic restaurant. I loved avocados; I loved sugar. Why not? Then my cousin pointed out, “Ew! You’re going to drink pure fat!” By the time the shake came, I could only muster a sip. My mom, ever the good sport, finished it for me.

avocado popsicle

Ten or so years later, I encountered an avocado Popsicle at the New Orleans farmers market. By now I knew that avocados were common in Southeast Asian and Latin American desserts and wasn’t grossed out. This Popsicle was like ice cream on a stick; it was refreshing on that blistering day.

avocado cake

When my aunt recently visited me, she brought along gifts: Harbor Sweets chocolate, Trader Joe’s freeze-dried mangosteens, lettuce and avocados. (She was just being practical with the veggies.) That avocado was getting softer by the day, and like all surplus food, I had to turn it into dessert. I almost went with avocado pancakes, but they’re savory. So I went with this tender cake from Accidental Hedonist. As Kate says, “Done correctly, it’s a cake that can sit with pride next to your zucchini bread or pumpkin cake.” It doesn’t taste gross, but it’s faintly vegetal in a good way, like carrot cake.

It’s so good that I might substitute puréed avocado for butter in other recipes. It’s kind of healthy too: avocado’s high in omega 3s, vitamin E and fiber. If you’re worried that people will be put off by the green color, just tell them you made a pistachio cake, which sounds far fancier. Trust me, it’s worth saving your avocados for.

Recipe is at Accidental Hedonist
You can skip the walnuts and dried fruit if you wish. To make 20 cupcakes, bake for about 20 min. in a 350° F oven.

Related links:
More Vegetables in Dessert: Heirloom Tomato Cake, Chocolate-Potato Cake, Bean Brownies, Classic Carrot Cake and Potato-Chip Cookies
Gourmet’s Test Kitchen Challenge: Avocado Marshmallows v. Avocado Crème Brûlée
More on my Trip to New Orleans and the Relief Work That We Did

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Save Your Saltines for Chocolate-Caramel Cookies

chocolate-caramel cracker cookies

The last time I hoarded leftovers, everyone must have laughed their faces off.Some people bring home entrées; others take home french fries. I do both and then some, like the time I doggie bagged bread cubes that were meant for the fondue pot. I had the last laugh when I turned them into Nutella bread pudding and made everyone jealous.

It gets even better: the other day I used leftover saltine crackers (from Hill Country barbecue) for chocolate-caramel bars. I’m not one to relish in packaged foods and refined flour, but the saltines are key. I tried a similar recipe with homemade graham crackers, but you really do need a flimsy base to soak up the toffee. A fancy “crust” will only break your jaw. I haven’t gone crackers: these are even surpass the chocolate matzoh crunch that’s become popular of late.

chocolate-caramel cracker cookies

Bittersweet Chocolate-Caramel Cracker Cookies

Adapted from Deep Dark Chocolate by Sara Perry

1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, divided
35 saltine crackers
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
10 ounces premium dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (about 1 3/4 cups)

For topping:
1 cup toasted unsalted nuts, chopped medium coarse or
1/2 cup cacao nibs or
5 teaspoons fine salt (such as fleur de sel or gray sea salt), turbindado sugar, finely ground espresso, pepper, spice blends/rubs

Special equipment: a 10-by-15-inch pan

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). To make the cookies easy to remove, line a 10-by-15-inch pan with a sheet of foil, shiny side up, leaving a few inches hanging over the longer edges. Drizzle 1/4 cup melted butter onto the foil-lined pan, and brush to cover the bottom of the pan. Line the pan with the crackers (don’t worry if there are small gaps).

2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the remaining 1 cup butter and the brown sugar and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, until the mixture forms a thick syrup (248°F/120°C on a candy thermometer). Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the condensed milk until blended. Pour the mixture over the crackers, making sure all the crackers are covered.

3. Bake until the syrup layer bubbles, for 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven, scatter the chocolate over the topping, and allow them to melt for 5 minutes. Using the back of a spoon or an offset spatula, spread the chocolate over the surface and sprinkle with the nuts, cacao nibs, salt, spices, etc. Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, press the nuts into the chocolate. Freeze until the chocolate sets, about 30 minutes.

4. Remove from the freezer and invert the pan onto a clean surface (don’t worry if you lose some nuts from the surface; they’ll be great for topping an ice cream sundae or for adding to cookie dough). Carefully peel back the foil to reveal the soda-cracker underside of the cookies. Using a sharp knife, cut the cookies along the cracker outlines. This is easier to do when the cookies have begun to thaw slightly. Invert and cut the squares into quarters for bite-size pieces or thirds for finger-size pieces.

Buy Deep Dark Chocolate
Buy Deep Dark Chocolate by Sara Perry

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Vegan Valentine’s Day Truffles

vegan chocolate truffles

What do you do with leftover frosting? If you have a little, you can lick it off your finger or spread some on toast. But when I have a whole cup left, I turn it into truffles. Because the filling is too soft to handle at room temperature, I freeze it prior to dipping. When you eat the truffles at room temperature, the filling explodes in your mouth. It’s so good that you’ll want to make frosting just for truffles.

You can probably use any frosting as the base, but ones with a high percentage of chocolate will melt in your mouth. I used Cook’s Illustrated‘s vegan ganache frosting. If you eat the truffles fresh, I swear no one will be able to detect the tofu. After a couple days, there is a slight spicy/beany flavor, but these are still some of the best truffles I’ve ever had.

These truffles require tempered chocolate, a process that involves heating, cooling and stirring chocolate. It’s laborious and virtually impossible to do without a thermometer. Fortunately, Alice Medrich developed a cheater’s method: Melt the chocolate at a low temperature and forget about the technical stuff. It requires chocolate that’s already in temper (one that looks smooth and glossy, not one with white streaks because it’s been sitting in your car).

This Valentine’s Day, make these vegan truffles or the simplest cream truffles ever (That recipe goes like this: Heat up cream. Pour over chocolate. Eat.).

Vegan Chocolate Truffles

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated and Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies

For truffle filling:
10 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (about 1 2/3 cup)
1/4 cup hot brewed coffee
2 tablespoons boiling water
1/4 cup light coconut milk
2 ounces silken tofu (recommended brand: Morinu)

For coating:
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (about 1 1/3 cup)
2 ounces extra chocolate, in 1 or 2 chunks

Special equipment:
Electric mixer
Melon baller scoop or a sharp knife
2 large sheet pans
Heatproof glass bowl with a 2 1/2- to 3-quart capacity
Instant-read thermometer
Rubber spatula
Roasting pan or large baking pan at least 2 inches deep

Make filling:

  • Set a medium bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Place the chocolate in the bowl, and pour the hot coffee and boiling water over the chocolate. Whisk until smooth, then add coconut milk and whisk until incorporated.
  • Blend the chocolate mixture and tofu in food processor until smooth and combined, 10 to 15 seconds, scraping down bowl once or twice.
  • Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until cool and texture resembles firm cream cheese, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. (If the mixture has been chilled longer and is very stiff, let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.)
  • With an electric mixer, beat the mixture at high speed until fluffy, mousse-like, and it forms medium stiff peaks, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.
  • Spread the mixture into a shallow pan and freeze until firm enough to scoop, at least 3 hours.
  • Have ready a bowl of hot water, a melon baller, a sheet pan lined with wax paper, and the firm filling. Dip the melon baller into the water and wipe dry. Scoop out a scant 1-inch ball of the filling. Set on the prepared sheet pan and repeat with the remaining truffle base. If you don’t have a melon-baller, use a sharp knife to cut the base into little squares. Roll each piece between your fingers until it resembles a ball.
  • Freeze the filling again until firm, about 1 hour.

Temper chocolate:
Tempering chocolate involves a sequence of heating, stirring, and cooling that stabilizes the cocoa butter and ensure that the chocolate becomes snappy and shiny. This method works only if it’s followed carefully. First, start with a fresh bar of solid chocolate. It should still be in temper if it’s glossy rather than gray or dull. The trick is to melt the tempered chocolate gently, so the temper isn’t destroyed. This method can’t be used for chocolate that is out of temper; been melted to an unknown temperature; or looks dull, spotted, or gray.

Use good chocolate, not chocolate chips or coating (which aren’t really chocolate). Don’t work in a hot room. Don’t let any moisture touch the chocolate. Don’t try to rush the process with extra heat, and DO chop the chocolate as finely as directed. Make sure that the inside of the bowl, the spatula, and the thermometer stem are clean and dry. Whenever you take the temperature of the chocolate or the water, wipe the stem clean and dry with a paper towel.

  • Cut 8 ounces of chocolate into pieces the size and shape of matchsticks, or chop it into small pebble-size pieces (you can also do this in batches in a food processor). Put the chocolate in the bowl and set the bowl in a roasting pan. Set the extra two ounces of chocolate chunks aside.
  • Pour hot tap water (120° to 130° F) into the roasting pan until it reaches just above the level of the chocolate in the bowl. Let sit for 5-6 min., or until the chocolate around the sides of the bowl begins to melt. Stir with a rubber spatula until the chocolate pieces are sticky and are begin to form together. There will be barely enough melted chocolate to accomplish this.
  • Remove the bowl of chocolate from the roasting pan, and replenish with hot tap water. Put the bowl back in the pan and let sit for 2-3 minutes. Begin stirring with the spatula, turning the sticky mass over and over. Keep stirring (it may take 5 minutes), spreading the chocolate against the sides of the warm bowl and scraping it off as it melts. Don’t replenish the hot water; it’s still warm enough.
  • When 3/4 of the chocolate is melted, check its temperature. If it is less than its maximum temperature of 90° F for dark chocolate (88° F for milk chocolate or white chocolate), continue to stir. Remove the bowl from the warm water as soon as the chocolate reaches the maximum temperature, even if it hasn’t melted entirely.
  • Wipe the outside of the bowl dry. Stir the chocolate for at least 30 seconds, to equalize the temperature and melt any remaining pieces. The chocolate is now melted and still in temper. Use it for dipping immediately.
  • If you accidentally exceed the maximum temperature, even by only a couple of degrees, the chocolate will probably be out of temper. Keep the bowl out of the roasting pan. Add the reserved chocolate chunks and stir until the temperature of the melted chocolate falls below the maximum (90° F for dark chocolate, 88° F for milk chocolate or white chocolate). The chunks will not be entirely melted, but the chocolate will be back in temper.
  • To test it, smear a dab of chocolate, 1/16-inch thick, on a small piece of wax paper and put it in a cool place in the room or in the refrigerator. If the smear begins to dry and set within 5 minutes in a cool place or 3 minutes in the refrigerator, it’s back in temper. Remove the chunks and refrigerate for 10 minutes, then reserve for reuse. Stir the chocolate thoroughly before dipping. If the smear still looks wet and shiny, continue to stir the chunks of chocolate in the bowl for 2 to 3 minutes more and test again. Repeat until the chocolate is in temper.
  • Stir the chocolate occasionally as you work with it. If it cools or thickens too much, set the bowl in a pan of water only 2 degrees warmer than the maximum temperature for the chocolate (see above), and stir until the chocolate is rewarmed.

Coat truffles:

  • Line another sheet pan with wax paper.
  • With your right hand (left if you are left-handed), fingers together and slightly cupped, scoop a large handful of melted chocolate into your left hand. Rub both hands together to coat them with a thick layer of chocolate. Try not to coat your fingers. Quickly pick up a frozen center with your left hand and roll it gently between your hands with a circular motion and as little pressure as possible, just long enough to cover it with a coating of chocolate. Add chocolate to your hands as necessary.
  • Set the truffles on the other prepared sheet and let harden.
  • Truffles keep at room temperature, in a well-sealed container, for one week.

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Lazy Banana Pudding

banana pudding

Just because it’s hot and sticky outside, it doesn’t mean you can’t make dessert. Especially one that doesn’t require the oven or stove.

This dish is as much a function of the weather as it is the economy. Sure, stone fruits and berries are in season, but my local supermarket was selling cherries for $6.99 per quarter pound. So I’ve been buying bananas instead. When I found free organic vanilla wafers at a street fair, I immediately thought of banana pudding. Instead of making custard though, why not use yogurt?

The result was a little tangy, but it was entirely worth the two-minute effort. You really don’t need a recipe (Layer yogurt with cookies and sliced bananas. Refrigerate. Eat.), but here’s approximate amounts.

Effortless Banana Pudding

4 cups plain or vanilla yogurt (see note)
60 to 70 vanilla wafers
4 to 5 organic bananas, sliced 1/4-inch thick

Line the bottom and sides of a 10-inch pie pan or a wide 1 1/2- to 2-quart dish with wafers.

Layer with half the yogurt and bananas. Put another layer of wafers on top, and repeat with the yogurt and bananas. Save a little yogurt and cover the top of the bananas completely, to prevent browning.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

Note: Because the bananas and wafers are sweet, you don’t want the yogurt to be loaded with sugar. I prefer plain yogurt and flavor it to taste (1-2 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract). Seek out a high-quality plain yogurt, or else it will be grainy and very sour. I don’t like Dannon, Axelrod, La Yogurt, Stonyfield (the low-fat variety), and Trader Joe’s. Wallaby and Brown Cow are more mild.

Although conventional bananas are safe to eat, they contain far more pesticides than American-grown fruit, and are possibly killing off songbirds.

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When life gives you milk…make cheesecake

ricotta cheesecake

I recently inherited a gallon of organic milk and wanted to finish it before it went bad. Drinking it was out of the question. I dislike the taste of plain milk so much that I eat my cereal dry. And why would anyone want to ruin a perfectly good cookie by dunking it in milk?

Not one to waste anything (not even bread cubes), I turned this milk into “ricotta cheese.” Real ricotta isn’t made from milk per se. It’s actually a by-product of other cheeses. Whenever you make cheese, you have the solids (curds) and leftover liquid (whey). The liquid is usually thrown out, but if you re-heat it, you have ricotta. Hence its name, which is Italian for “re-cooked.” You can make a good approximation at home though by heating milk with an acidic ingredient. And poof, that gallon of milk reduces down to a sizable four cups.

Fresh ricotta makes the supermarket tubs seem like spackle in comparison. It’s refreshingly tart, like sour cream. Rather than having a uniform grittiness, fresh ricotta has giant, billowy curds that you can eat while still warm.

Of course I had to make this cheese into dessert, so I used Lidia Bastianich’s torta di ricotta recipe and added some mix-ins. For a dessert, this cheesecake has relatively little sugar and fat but lots of protein. It’s even Passover-friendly, if you use nuts for the “crust” and matzo meal for the flour. The texture is light and fluffy if you like that sort of thing, but I like my cheesecake creamy and dense. If I were to make this again, I would add the eggs whole, instead of whipping the whites separately.

Fresh Ricotta Cheesecake

This cheesecake is light and fresh, with its soufflé-like texture and bright, citrus-accented flavor. If you like your cheesecake dense, try blending whole eggs with the sugar.

Adapted from Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Bastianich and The 1997 Joy of Cooking

Start to finish: 3 days (includes making the cheese and chilling the cheesecake)
Active time: 2 hours

Ingredients:
Softened butter and fine dry bread crumbs (wheat germ, crushed cereal, or finely ground nuts can be substituted) for the pan
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (chopped almonds are a good substitute)
1 Tbsp diced candied lemon peel
1 Tbsp diced candied orange peel
2 Tbsp coarsely chopped dark chocolate
1 Tbsp flour
3 cups firm, homemade whole-milk ricotta cheese, recipe follows (If using store-bought cheese, place 3 1/2 cups ricotta in a cheesecloth-lined sieve and place the sieve over a bowl. Cover the ricotta with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or up to one day.)
5 large cage-free eggs, separated
1 tsp vinegar or lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt (a heaping 1/4 tsp if using unsalted ricotta cheese)
Grated zest of 1 large lemon
Grated zest of 1 large orange
1/2 cup heavy cream or whole milk

Special equipment: food processor

Brush an 8-inch spring form pan with enough softened butter to coat lightly. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the butter to coat generously. Shake out the excess crumbs. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small bowl, combine the nuts, lemon peel, orange peel, chocolate and flour. Set aside.

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, blend the egg yolks, sugar and salt until pale yellow. Add the drained ricotta, lemon and orange zest and process until smooth. Combine the cream or milk.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and vinegar or lemon juice with a hand mixer until they form firm peaks when a beater is lifted from them.

Add the chocolate-nut mixture to the ricotta mixture and pulse in the food processor once or twice, just until combined.

Add about one fourth of the egg whites to the ricotta mixture and gently stir with a large rubber spatula. Pour the ricotta mixture over the rest of the egg whites (you’re really supposed to add the egg whites to the top of the ricotta, but who wants to dirty another bowl for mixing?) and gently fold the mixture, using a large rubber spatula to scrape from the bottom of the bowl up and over the top. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is golden brown on top and the edges are set but the center jiggles slightly when the pan is tapped, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Cool the cake completely before removing the sides of the pan. Serve the cake at room temperature or chilled for at least 6 hours.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Adapted from Michael Chiarello and Italian Food Forever

Start to finish: 1 hr and 10 minutes

Makes 4 cups

Ingredients:
1 gallon whole milk
1/3 cup vinegar (I like the taste of cider vinegar)

Special equipment: cheesecloth, thermometer

Heat the milk in a large, heavy, non-reactive pot until it reaches 185 degrees F, or until the milk makes popping sounds and barely simmers. Be sure to stir the milk frequently with a rubber spatula and cover the whole pan bottom to prevent scorching. (Warning: the heating process can take 40 minutes if you start with cold milk from the fridge.) While the milk is heating, rinse a large piece of cheesecloth or muslin with cold water, then fold it so that it is 6 or more layers, and arrange it in the sieve or colander placed in the sink.

Remove from the milk from the heat and add the vinegar. Stir gently just to mix. The curds and whey will begin to form immediately. The whey looks like cloudy water underneath a mass of thick white curds on the surface.

Working from the side of the pot, gently ladle the whey into the prepared sieve. Go slowly so as not to break up the curds. Finally, ladle the curds into the sieve. Lift the sides of the cloth to help the liquid drain. Resist the temptation to press on the curds. When the draining slows, gather the edges of the cloth, tie them into a bag, and hang the bag from the faucet. Continue to drain until the dripping stops, about 15 minutes. If using the ricotta for cheesecake, drain until it is firm and crumbly, about 30 minutes. Store the ricotta in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

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One Person’s Trash is Another’s Nutella Bread Pudding


Nutella bread pudding

When eating out, I am notorious for bringing home every piece of uneaten food. I’ve asked waiters to wrap cranberry compote (what else will go with leftover pumpkin pancakes?) and the bread basket. This weekend, I took home leftover bread cubes from the fondue at Artisanal. If you’re paying for quality, why let it go to waste?

Laugh all you want, but if you threw that bread in the trash, you would have missed out on Nutella bread pudding. It’s like baked French toast with swirls of chocolate. Bread pudding is perfect for stale artisanal bread, the kind that’s marked 50% off at the end of the day (although white sandwich bread will do). Hot out of the oven, you get the contrast of a jiggly, spongy bottom and a crunchy, crouton-like top. Bread pudding is also divine cold, in a cold pizza/morning hangover type of way. Not that I would know.

In New Orleans, my friend Erik spent a grueling night scrubbing burnt bread and custard off a pan because we didn’t use a water bath. At the risk of offending Erik, I never use a water bath for bread pudding at home. I like the crusty edges.

Not only is this recipe a delicious way to clean out your pantry (I used soy milk and leftover Nutella babka), but it’s low in fat, too.

Nutella Bread Pudding

Adapted from Emeril Lagasse and Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

Oil, for greasing pan
1/4 cup Nutella
8 slices day-old crusty bread or Nutella babka (about 4 cups when cut into 1/2-inch cubes)
4 large eggs
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups milk (soy is fine)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease an 8 by 8-inch square pan with oil.

Spread Nutella on four slices of bread and top with remaining pieces of bread. Cut the sandwiches into 1/2-inch cubes.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla until very smooth. Stir in milk and add the bread. Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake until the pudding is set in the center, about 55 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes. Slather the top with more Nutella, if desired. Bread pudding is best hot out of the oven, or refrigerated after a day. Microwaving it makes it rubbery.

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Don’t try this at home: Desserts on ice

cilantro granita topped with blueberry sorbet

Don’t you hate it when cookbooks, magazines and blogs have lovely pictures of food that you can’t make at home? I assure you, not everything I make is pretty or delicious. I only reserve the best recipes for this blog, but now I’ll take you into my mishaps through this new column: Don’t try this at home. I won’t post the recipes in the recipe index because they’re so bad, but sometimes you can learn as much from your mistakes as your successes.

A while back, I received a free sample of True Blue blueberry juice. The name implied that it’s 100% pure blueberry juice. It was a great concept and tasted like real berries, but it was made from blueberry and grape juice concentrates, plus added sugar. It might as well been called “reconstituted blueberry-blended cocktail.” The selling point was also the antioxidants, but you have to drink two cups of juice (220 calories) to get the same amount of antioxidants as 1/2 cup of blueberries. No thanks. I’d rather eat a pint of blueberries for the same amount of calories and get the extra fiber. And if I’m thirsty, I’ll just drink water.

Hoping to rid myself of 32 pounds of juice (aren’t you proud that I carried it all to my door?), I boiled down several cups into a concentrated syrup. I wanted to see if it was possible to make sorbet only out of fruit juice. Since sorbets are 25-30% sugar by weight*, and the juice only had 12% sugar, I reduced it over several hours. Then I added a little lime juice to brighten up the flavors. After I froze everything, an unappetizing syrup leached out from the sorbet. It was a tell-tale sign that it had too much sugar. Either my calculations were wrong, or the liquid kept evaporating as it cooled. Also, the sorbet didn’t taste like blueberries anymore. It was astringent and drying, like grape juice. So no, you can’t make sorbet only out of fruit juice, for reasons that I’ll get into later.

While the sorbet sat in my freezer (who wants to eat sticky, fast-melting sorbet?), I made another frozen dessert from Florence Fabricant’s shiso granita recipe in the New York Times. I substituted one bunch of leftover cilantro, since it’s a close cousin of shiso. After I froze it, it looked as appetizing as wheatgrass juice. It tasted like Mexican salsa gone bad. Plus, it wasn’t sweet enough.

Here I had two desserts: one with too much sugar and one with too little. Voila, I combined them and made them semi-edible. I wouldn’t recommend that you do the same though.

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t put cilantro in dessert. Ever.
  • Don’t boil fruit juice for long periods of time. The delicate flavors will disappear, while the less desirable ones will get stronger.
  • If you want to make sorbet out of fruit juice, you need to add sugar rather than boil it to death.
  • Liquids evaporate as they cool. If you measure one cup of hot liquid and think, “Perfect! That’s the right amount!” you’ll have considerably less when you actually use it.

*Source: San Francisco Chronicle

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Pickled Watermelon Rind to Make in a Jam

sweet pickled watermelon rind

It’s ironic that two ways of preserving food are also synonymous with “difficult.” If you’re in trouble, you’ll say you’re in a pickle or in a jam. Making pickles, however, is easy. My dad can’t boil pasta, but he can make pickled cucumbers and radishes with soy sauce and cilantro. Let vegetables sit in vinegar, salt and/or sugar, and you’ll have a snack to fall back on whenever you’re, er, in a pickle.

Since the summer brings a surplus of watermelon, I used leftover rind that would have gone to the trash. The rind is edible, as long as you peel off the tough skin. By itself, it’s akin to cucumber.

There’s several methods for pickling watermelon rind, some which call for buckets of salt. I chose a vintage Joy of Cooking recipe, because it has sugar instead. The finished product resembles extra crisp, tart apple pie filling. It’s great by itself, but it can also accompany yogurt, ice cream, pancakes, pork chops and hot dogs (finely mince the pickles to make a sweet relish). It’s so good that you might want to buy watermelon just to use up the rind.

Canning and preserving gets a difficult rap because most recipes call for sterilizing the jars and creating a vacuum seal. I use ordinary glass jars and don’t worry about removing the air. The acid, sugar and salt act as natural preservatives, as long as the pickles are left in the refrigerator.

This recipe may be my cheapest one yet. The watermelon rind is essentially free and so is the recipe (I found the book on a giveaway shelf).

Sweet Pickled Watermelon Rind

Adapted from The Joy of Cooking Standard Edition (1973)

Makes about 5 quarts

Rind of 1 large watermelon, about 5 quarts
7 cups sugar
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon

  1. Cut the watermelon rind in strips before peeling. Remove the green skin and pink flesh. Dice into one-inch cubes.
  2. In a large pot of boiling water, parblanch the rind for about five minutes, or until it can be pierced with a fork. Do not overcook. Drain and set aside in a large bowl.
  3. Bring the sugar, vinegar, cloves and cinnamon just to a boil. Pour the syrup over the rind, making sure the rind is covered. Let stand overnight.
  4. Strain out the syrup into a large pot and reboil. Pour the syrup over the rind. Let stand overnight as before.
  5. On the third day, sterilize several glass jars and lids by boiling them for 15 minutes. Arrange the jars sideways, allowing the water to flow in. Using tongs, remove the jars and lids. Allow to air dry on clean paper or cloth towels.
  6. Pack the rind into the jars. Boil the syrup again and pour over the rind till overflowing. Seal and store in the fridge.

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