Wednesday, March 7, 2012

French Toast with Meyer Lemon Curd and Berries

In the past year or so I've discovered that I love brunch. I know that shouldn't take much discovery, but I'm not a big breakfast person (read: I prefer to sleep in than make breakfast) so I never used to think much about brunch. But that has all changed. Last weekend I had two wonderful brunches. The first was leftover herbed goat cheese tart with a light salad, but that's not what this post is about (I'll post about that in the next couple days). This is about the heavenly combination of French Toast with Meyer Lemon Curd and blueberries. Yes, blueberries aren't exactly in season... But sometimes when it's 70 degrees outside it's hard to remember that it's March and I crave blueberries.

This post owes much to Mitch, my wonderful boyfriend. I had Meyer lemons and wanted to make all this for brunch, but there were a few key issues. No butter, no eggs, no bread, and no blueberries. Before I even rolled my lazy self out of bed on Sunday, Mitch went to the grocery store to pick up my missing ingredients. I'm a lucky girl.

The meal turned out great. Meyer lemons make a wonderful lemon curd, since they're a little less tart and therefore require less sugar. I like to avoid that sour mix feeling where you have the right amount of flavor, but you need so much sugar to counteract the sourness that it makes your mouth pucker. (I also avoid drinks with sour mix - mix simple syrup and lemon or lime juice and it's so much better! )

Another fun addition to the lemon curd is orange flower water. A teaspoon of it adds a subtle floral aroma to the curd. It doesn't stand out - you'd never notice unless you knew - but it rounds out the floral nature of Meyer lemons beautifully. If you have extra lemon curd, and you don't just eat it with a spoon, make some meringues and serve with whipped cream and lemon curd and maybe some berries for an extremely elegant desert.

As for French Toast itself, I like to keep it simple. No sugar, since the topping is sweet, and not too heavy. I can never decide whether I like thinly sliced bread or thick slices better, but thin is certainly easier to cook correctly. With big thick slices, I bake them to finish them off. There's nothing worse than undercooked French toast with that gooey, slimy interior. Yuck. I always cook my French Toast all the way, so it has a custardy feel without any slime.

The blueberries are optional. Substitute blackberries, raspberries, or strawberries and it would be just as good. Warmed up frozen blueberries would be good too.

French Toast with Meyer Lemon Curd and Berries
Serves 4

4 eggs
3/4 cup whole milk (or half and half if you want to be indulgent)
a pinch of salt
8 relatively thin slices of bread (choose good quality artisan bread - it really makes a difference)
1 teaspoon of butter
1 cup Meyer Lemon Curd (see recipe below)
1/2 cup blueberries (or other berries)
Powdered sugar for dusting, optional

Beat together the eggs, milk, and salt in shallow bowl. Add the bread to the bowl and turn a few times to soak it fully. Let it sit for at least 5 and up to 20 minutes.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter in the saucepan. Add as many slices of bread as will fit without touching, and let them cook without moving for about 3 minutes, or until browned on the bottom. Turn and cook the second side for 2 minutes or until fully cooked an brown. Keep warm in the a warm oven until the other pieces are finished. Repeat the process of cooking the French toast until all the bread is used up.

Serve the toasts with a large dollop of lemon curd and some berries. Dust with powdered sugar if you like.

Meyer Lemon Curd
Makes about 1 cup

1/2 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice (takes about 4 lemons)
zest of 2 Meyer lemons
scant 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
a pinch of salt
6 tablespoons of butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon Orange Flower Water (optional, but delicious)

Beat the lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, and eggs together with a whisk in a stainless steel bowl. Place the bowl on top of a saucepan of simmering water, and whisk the mixture until it begins to thicken, about 5 minutes.

Add the butter and Orange Flower Water and let rest for 30 seconds. Using a wooden spoon, stir quickly to incorporate the butter. When all the butter is melted and incorporated, remove the bowl from the heat. Allow to cool, covered with wax paper or plastic wrap.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Six Months of Food

You may have noticed a 6 month hiatus in my blogging. The blog-free period started around the time work got crazy late last summer. Blogging takes a lot of time and effort, and it can be hard to find the energy when you're working hard every day. I would come home and have just enough energy to cook and eat -- certainly none left over for writing. Either that, or I would finally have dinner on the table but it's already 9:00, so there was no way we were waiting to take pictures before eating.

But now I am more accustomed to my job, and it's time to get blogging again! It's a shame to have made so many great meals over the past months and not post anything about them, so I'll start with a recap of what I've been cooking.

I was still taking plenty of pictures, since I hadn't yet given up on starting to blog again. We have great farmers' markets here in St. Louis, so my summer was defined by trips to the market and meals made from those ingredients. Here are a couple fun examples of the food I made and ate last summer:

Vitello Tonato: Poached Veal with Homemade Tuna Mayonnaise, Perfectly Ripe Tomatoes, Arugula, and Basil Oil

Individual Raspberry and Apricot Sourdough Bread Puddings

Homegrown Sungold Cherry Tomatoes and Lemon Basil - best summer snack ever

Cocktail: Muddled Nectarine, Gin, Thyme Syrup, St. Germain, Lime, Lemon Verbena Garnish

Crawfish, Zucchini, and Lemon Thyme Risotto

 Zucchini and Basil Fritters

Summer Rolls with Vietnamese Style Grilled Pork, Herbs, and Grilled Summer Squash

The farmers' markets stay open well into the fall, so I made plenty of fun late summer/early fall dishes from the market. Some of my favorite ingredients are sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes), sunflower sprouts, apples, figs, cucumbers, and corn.

Harissa Marinated Chicken Skewers with Yogurt, Cucumber, and Paprika Sauce

 Baguette Slice with Fresh Chevre and a Blackberry

Fresh Figs and Goat Cheese - Ideal Picnic Lunch

Sunchoke Soup with Pecan and Radicchio Topping

Almond Gazpacho with Black Mission Figs

Tossed Greens and Herb Salad

 Sweet Corn Bread Pudding with Leeks and Bacon

No more farmers' market, none of that awesome summer fruit... Winter is never the best season for cooking, but there are still plenty of wonderful things to make with winter ingredients. I didn't take as many pictures over the winter, so this will be a smaller sampling. But by now you're probably losing interest in all these pictures of food, so it should be ok.

 Gnocchi Romana and Sauteed Spinach with Preserved Meyer Lemon

Grilled Lamb with Mint Almond Pesto; Haricot Verts; Jasmine Rice

Spanish Tortilla with Bell Peppers

"Lord Chutney": Tomato and Chili Jam with Ginger, Mustard, and Garlic  (served with above Tortilla)

Butter Lettuce, Cilantro, Beet, and Apple Salad with Sriracha Vinaigrette

Watercress and Arugula Salad with Diced Roasted Beets, Soft Boiled Egg, and Orange Vinaigrette

It's still winter, so check back for a few more winter recipes before we transition into springtime (I can't wait - I love spring!). From now on I'll be trying to write on my blog at least once a week. After all, I make way too much good food not to write about it here every once in a while!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Farro Salad with Avocado Dressing, Slow Roasted Tomatoes, Balsamic Red Onions, Fresh Mozzarella, and Microgreens

This hearty salad makes a lovely summer meal all by itself. Served at room temperature, it has a variety of flavors and textures, a beautiful presentation, and plenty of substance. The farro is boiled and coated in mashed avocado, then dished out onto individual plates and topped with the tomatoes, onions, mozzarella, and greens. Another way to do this, which isn't nearly as pretty but is easier if you plan on making a lot, is to cut the tomatoes, onions, and mozzarella into pieces and toss them directly with the farro. 

Roasting the tomatoes and onions takes forethought, but what I like to do is just make up big batches of these tomatoes and onions, as well as other versatile ingredients like basil oil, and then keep them in the fridge until I need them. They are so easy to incorporate into a variety of dishes that they are well worth having on hand. For instance, roasted tomatoes work great with pasta, salad, on toasted baguettes, drizzled with balsamic as a tapa, as an accompaniment to roast chicken or lamb chops, or simply eaten right out of the tupperware (yes, I have done that on a few occasions). So my recommendation is to buy a big bag of super ripe tomatoes at the farmers' market, eat a few of them fresh, and then roast the rest for use throughout the week. Same goes for basil oil (see my other blog posts for ideas) and balsamic red onions (but the farmers' market part is optional; I can't say I taste a difference in flavor in onions).

In addition to being a perfect elegant luncheon dish or even (in smaller portions) a nice start to a dinner, this salad makes excellent leftovers.

Farro Salad with, Avocado Dressing, Slow Roasted Tomatoes, Balsamic Red Onions, Fresh Mozzarella, and Microgreens
serves 4

1 cup uncooked farro
Kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
1 very ripe avocado, diced
about 12 roasted tomato halves (see recipe below)
about 1 cup balsamic red onions (see recipe below)
2 balls fresh mozzarella, sliced
1 cup micro greens (I suggest sunflower sprouts--they have a delicious nutty taste and some nice crunch)
1/4 cup basil oil (see recipe below)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the farro and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, and then pour into a strainer and rinse with cold water. The farro should be fully cooked but still have some chewiness to it. 

When the farro is close to room temperature, toss with the salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Add the avocado, and use your (clean) hands to work the avocado into a sort of dressing. You should be squeezing the avocado around the farro, so eventually the farro is all coated. If the avocado is less soft, add a bit of olive oil to complete the dressing.

Arrange the farro mixture on four plates. Build the salad up by layering the tomatoes, onions, and mozzarella slices on top of the farro. Drizzle the basil oil equally on the four salads. Top with the greens, and serve immediately.

Roasted Tomatoes

2 pounds small fresh tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons sugar (add more if the tomatoes aren't sweet)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. Toss all ingredients to coat the tomatoes. Arrange the tomatoes cut side up in a shallow baking dish. Roast for 3 hours.

Balsamic Red Onions

2 pounds red onions, thinly sliced (slice in rings, or slice root to tip--whatever you prefer the look of)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Toss all ingredients together in a shallow baking dish to coat the onions. Roast for 30 minutes or until the onions are soft.

Basil Oil
makes around 1 cup

2 big bunches fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup olive oil, approximately
salt and pepper, to taste

In a food processor, pulse the basil leaves until they are chopped. Start adding the olive oil in a steady stream until the mixtures reaches a texture much looser than a pesto. Adjust the amount of olive oil based on how thick you want the basil oil to be. When the texture is right, add salt and pepper to taste and process for another few seconds or until smooth enough.

Let the oil sit at room temperature for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. After this, basil oil keeps in the refrigerator for 3 days to a week (after this it will still be good, but not as flavorful).

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Birthday Party

I covered the coffee table with platters of food, including the (if I do say so myself) lovely arrangement of Sungold cherry tomatoes, bing cherries, and blackberries on the top left.

People always argue with me when I say that I'm cooking for my own birthday party. They say, "let someone else cook for you this time," like that would be a treat for me. It's a nice thought, but I love throwing parties and I love cooking for lots of people. And, being a bit of a control freak, I like doing all the planning myself.

My birthday was on July 27th, and I ate a wonderful meal at Truffles to celebrate that. On Saturday I had the party, which involved about 15 people, dinner, dessert, and drinks. (I did let Mitch do the music.) I also went to the Cardinals game at 3:00, so most of the cooking happened before the game.  

We had a great time, the food was a hit, and too much of it even got eaten. I was not focused on photography since I was actually enjoying the party, so these pictures are not all inclusive nor are they perfectly composed, but I'm thinking it was worth it. Missing from the photos are: pita bread with tzaziki (Greek cucumber and yogurt sauce), red pepper hazelnut dip, and roasted tomato and walnut dip. Maybe I will dig up some of those pictures and add them later.

Comment if you want any of these recipes and I will write a separate post about it!

Mini Ciabatta Sandwiches with Herbed Pork Tenderloin,  Baby Spinach, and Roasted Red Pepper and Hazelnut Spread 
Deviled Eggs with Smoked Salmon, Chives, and Smoked Paprika

Roasted Figs with Chevre, Bacon, Thyme, and Honey

Smoked Trout Toasts with Chives and Parsley

more of the roasted figs

Cucumber, Canteloupe, and Jalapeno Gazpacho with Jamon Serrano
Lemon Pots de Creme with a Blackberry; Dark Chocolate Jasmine Pots de Creme with a Raspberry

Watermelon Basil Daiquiri, and Cucumber Mint and Lime Vodkatini

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lavender Scented Lemonade

I've already written about my trip to Bald Mountain in Napa, CA in my post about seared prosciutto wrapped scallops, but I didn't mention the lemonade. We had some pretty hot weather while we were there, but none of that sticky heat we are stuck in here in St. Louis (and, as I understand, the whole Eastern half of the country). Still, it was good weather for lemonade. And right out the kitchen door in the rock garden, there was a beautiful, flowering lavender plant all covered in honey bees. Instead of leaving all the good stuff to the bees, I took my scissors out and cut off some fresh fragrant buds to steep in simple syrup.

And that is the secret to amazing lemonade. Fresh lavender steeped in the syrup. Of course, you can try other herbs too. Rosemary works in the same way. Basil is good, but you don't want to cook it all, so you can just stir in strips of basil leaves.

But back to lavender. If you grow it, of course use it fresh, when the buds are not yet opened. Also pick off some of the flowers that already budded and set them aside for garnish. To really make it pretty, I like to slice a lemon really thin and put in the lemonade at the end.

One more thing: ALWAYS use fresh lemons in lemonade. And in everything. Just keep a bag of lemons in the fridge. Seriously, that bottled pre-juiced stuff is more expensive and tastes like plasticky vinegar, compared to the tart fragrance of fresh lemons.

This lemonade is an elegant and delicious thirst quencher on a hot summer's day. And if it's getting further towards evening and it's still lemonade weather, a splash of vodka is just what this lemonade needs.

Lavender Scented Lemonade
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons dried lavender, or small bunch of fresh sprigs
3 or 4 cups cold water
1 cup lemon juice, approx.
1 lemon, thinly sliced, for garnish
fresh lavender flowers, for garnish

Heat the sugar and water to a simmer so that the sugar dissolves. Stir in the lavender, remove from the heat, and cover. Let the syrup steep for 20 to 30 minutes, then strain the lavender out and let it cool completely (you can stir in ice if you want, just reduce the water accordingly.

Stir together the syrup, the water, and the lemon juice. Taste and adjust the sugar and lemon to your taste. Fill a pitcher one third full of ice, add the lemon slices, then pour the lemonade over the ice and lemons. Top with the flowers.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tomato, Avocado, Arugula, and Mozzarella Salad

After "Bacon Day" at Infuz, I needed a light dinner. Turns out there's really only so much bacon you can eat in one day before it becomes too much. So I got home and put together this salad as dinner. I had a ripe avocado, some tomatoes I got from the Tower Grove Farmers' Market, a couple balls of mozzarella, some arugula, and a lot of basil. I figured all those together plus dressing would be a good meal. Because of the richness of the avocado and mozzarella, this salad can hold its own as a main course. (Of course in smaller portions it can also be a side dish or an appetizer.)

I decided to use the basil not as whole leaves or chopped bits, but as basil oil. For those of you who read this blog regularly, you will notice that I have been using a lot of basil oil recently. That is because it is delicious, easy, versatile, and keeps for about a week in the fridge. Also because I recently bought Skye Gyngell's book A Year in my Kitchen (surprisingly, this is not about the trials and tribulations of a poor woman trapped in her kitchen for a year, as the title might lead you to suspect--it's actually just a cookbook organized seasonally). Her book uses a lot of basil oil, which is what got me going on basil oil.

To round out the dressing, I added some balsamic reduction. If you don't already make balsamic reduction, try it out. Especially with cheaper and newer balsamics, reducing it by simmering in a small pan for about 10 minutes can really add to the flavor by concentrating it.

I also make a different version of this salad as any easy lunch at work. I just pack a big tomato, an avocado, a mozzarella ball, a ziplock baggie of herbs from my garden, and mini tupperware of oil and balsamic dressing. Take everything out, cut it, and arrange it on a plate. I love this type of lunch--it's healthy, filling, fresh, and feels like summer. On top of all that, it's very easy to get together in the morning--a huge benefit for someone like me, who is definitively not a morning person.

*A note on tomatoes: If you can help it, never refrigerate a tomato. It ruins the texture and can harm the flavor as well.

Tomato, Avocado, Arugula, and Mozzarella Salad
serves 2 as a whole dinner, or 4 as a generous appetizer

3 or 4 small very ripe tomatoes, or 2 or 3 large very ripe tomatoes, sliced
1 ripe avocado, sliced
1 bunch arugula, washed
2 balls of mozzarella, sliced
1/4 cup basil oil (see my chilled tomato soup recipe for directions)
3 tablespoons balsamic reduction (not reduced too too much), or 2 tablespoons aged balsamic traditzionale
salt and pepper

Spread the arugula out on a large platter. Arrange the tomato slices, avocado slices, and mozzarella slices on top of the arugula. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle the basil oil and balsamic reduction over top of the salad. Serve immediately, at room temperature.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bacon Day at Infuz (Best Job Ever)

For those of you who don't know, I work at a digital agency called Infuz. One of the many reasons it is awesome is Summer of Random, which is basically a whole summer of completely random and never expected events that range from elegant (champagne cocktail party) to fun (magic show) to kind of creepy (clown and mime). But a couple days ago was the random day to top all (so far)--BACON DAY. Mosaic Modern Fusion catered a whole day of bacon. First came a breakfast that easily convinced me it was a good idea to have two breakfasts. 

Breakfast Menu (with my notes):

Bloody Mary Bacon Salad, Heirloom Tomato, Celery, Pickled Carrots, Bacon Vodka Dressing
This was a pretty solid tomato salad--not mind-blowing, but solidly good. I always love tomatoes at breakfast, whether in a salad or as the roasted tomatoes typical in English breakfasts.

Pig in a Hole: Bacon Toast, Farm Egg, Bacon Hollandaise, Pea Shoots
I only had a bite of this, but yum! Bacon hollandaise might be one of the better foods created. The bread was Companion Bakery brioche bread, I believe. The eggs had good flavor, but were cooked a little more than my liking. All in all, a delicious dish!
Duroc Bacon and Brown Sugar Grits, Caramelized Apple
This was my favorite. (Confession: I have been eating the leftovers for breakfast the past two days.) The salty bacon contrasted perfectly with the sweet apple, and the grits were creamy and delicious. It was sweet but not overly so. If Mosaic ever starts serving brunch (or if they do at another location already?), this ought to be on the menu.

Bacon and Corn Pancakes, Smoked Maple Syrup
Again, only had a bite, but as good as it sounds.

Bacon "Infuz'd" Melon
This one was a little weird. The melon was good, but the texture was slightly changed since they used a compressor to infuse it. And as much as I love bacon, I'm not sure it goes with melon. That said, I wouldn't have had it otherwise for Bacon Day. It's kind of awesome that even the fruit had bacon in it.

And there was plain bacon as well, in case we needed more. Which clearly we did, since it was on everyone's plates.

For lunch, we were also treated to five amazing bacon dishes. I was not as prepared with my camera, so you'll have to wait and see if pictures get posted on in the next few days. But I can tell you the menu.

Truffle Bacon Soup, Crisp Speck, Pea Shoots
This was delicious. It was a white soup, I'm guessing potato thickened though I'm not sure. It was subtly flavored with bacon and truffle oil. I didn't notice any speck, so I wonder if that was left off after the menus were written.

Pork Belly BLT, Heirloom Tomatoes, Bibb Lettuce, Spicy Bacon Mayo
Not my favorite. I love pork belly, but this was a little too tough to bit for a sandwich, which led to some messes. The tomato was good, as was the lettuce. The mayo was good, but not very spicy. (I feel a little bad critiquing this, since it was such a treat to have all this food, but I'm doing it anyway. If anyone from Mosaic is reading this, know that I absolutely loved the whole thing, despite a few minor critiques!)

Bacon Confit Potato Salad, Malt Bacon Dressing, Soft Quail Egg
I'm not a big potato salad fan, so this didn't speak to me. The egg was good, and for a potato salad the whole thing was good.

Bacon Bolognese, Linguine, Shaved Parmesan, Fennel Pollen
Yum!!! Great bolognese. I didn't notice the fennel pollen, but it wasn't necessary for the dish.

Bacon Rice Crispy Treats, Salt Caramel
Turns out bacon is a perfect addition to rice crispy treats. It adds that salty, fatty goodness that they otherwise lack. Great dessert!

So, are you all jealous? It was, after all, a pretty awesome surprise. For once in my life, I am not craving bacon--I've had enough for the week. Watch for salads in the next couple days.