Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bread Custard with Raisins and Dried Cranberries

Don't waste food. That's what my grandmother always told me. I took that simple idea to heart.

When we go out to eat, I bring home what we don't eat. Especially the bread. Why let good bread get thrown away? And if you're in the grocery store, and you see a loaf of marked-down white bread, buy it and you'll be able to make a dessert that's as easy-to-make as it is elegant looking and delicious.

Bread Custard with Raisins and Dried Cranberries

Unlike traditional bread puddings, this dessert is designed to come out of the pan.

Yield 4-6 servings

Time 30 minutes preparation, 60 minutes baking


2 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup + 1 teaspoon sugar
6 slices white bread
1 tablespoon dark raisins
1 tablespoon golden raisins
1 tablespoon dried cranberries
1 tablespoon whole raw almonds, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon sweet butter, melted


Soak the raisins and cranberries in the cream for an hour or overnight.

Pre-heat the oven to 350. Toast the bread in the oven for 4-5 minutes on each side until lightly toasted. Set aside.

Heat 1 teaspoon of sugar in a nonstick skillet over a low flame. Add the chopped almonds. Stir frequently until sugar begins to melt. After the almonds have been coated with the melted sugar, remove from the pan and chop on a cutting board.

Make the custard-base by using a fork to beat together the eggs and sugar. Add the cream with the raisins and dried cranberries. Stir well.

Put water into a small bowl. Taking 2-3 slices of toasted bread at a time, dip the bread in the water for a few seconds. Carefully squeeze out the water and tear the bread into pieces and drop into the custard. Mix well.

Instead of using a standard baking pan, use a 9" round take-out container. Why? Because the thin, aluminum-sided take-out container is flexible and that makes removing the bread custard easy.

Paint the inside of the take-out container with melted butter. Pour in the custard-bread mixture. Put into a water bath (1" of water in a pan larger than the take-out container).

Bake for 30 minutes, remove from the oven. Sprinkle the caramelized chopped almonds on top of the custard. Loosely lay a piece of aluminum foil over the custard to prevent the top from burning before the custard is set

Return to the oven for another 15 - 30 minutes. The custard is done when you touch the top and it only slightly jiggles (shouldn't be "wet"). Then remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

When cooled, the custard will shrink slightly allowing for easy removal from the pan. Place one hand on top, flip it over, and carefully remove the cake from the pan. Place a plate on the bottom and flip it over.

Serve warm dusted with powdered sugar or topped with whipped cream or ice cream.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ramen Noodles with Farmers' Market Fresh Vegetables & Kimchi

I've been trying to convince my sons that ramen is good for them. They're both living on their own. They are serious about eating healthily and keeping to a budget. They keep down their costs by avoiding processed foods and fast food joints. They shop at Costco and buy in bulk.

Which is why I've been trying to get them to think about ramen. A package costs under $1.00 and if you make your own soup and add farmers' fresh vegetables, you'll have an economical, nutritious meal.

The problem is when they were kids they ate lots of Cup O'Noodles and Instant Ramen with hot water flavored with artificially flavored soup packets. In no way am I talking about that.

Tracking down a better kind of ramen takes a small amount of work. The local supermarket may only have Top Ramen which is ok but not preferred. If you live in an area with Asian markets, you'll find a wider selection of brands. In Los Angeles, we have Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and (my favorite) Korean markets where there are so many choices there's a ramen aisle.

Look for ramen noodles that don't use MSG or artificial ingredients. And throw away the powdered soup packets.

For the soup you can use any homemade stock you like: chicken, beef, or pork. I like making a sauteed vegetable stock. Throw in cooked chicken, raw shrimp, or a sliced hard boiled egg and you have a deliciously satisfying meal that costs pennies.

Ramen Noodles with Farmers' Market Fresh Vegetables & Kimchi

You can use just about any vegetable, meat, or seafood you like. Kimchi adds a nice crunch and the heat is delicious.

Yield 4 servings

Time 30 minutes


2 packages ramen noodles, discard the soup and flavor packets
1 carrot, washed, peeled, cut into pieces 1/2" square, 1" long
4 radicchio leaves
1/2 medium yellow onion, skins removed, roughly diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
8 shiitake mushrooms
1 ear of corn, kernels removed
1/4 pound string beans, strings and ends removed, cut into 1" lengths
10 cups water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2" piece of fresh ginger, peeled, cut into thin strips (optional)
1 cup kimchi, cut into thin strips
Sea salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil


Drizzle the olive oil seasoned with sea salt and pepper on a large saute pan. Saute the vegetables except the kimchi until softened and lightly browned. Add 6 cups of water and simmer for 20 minutes until reduced by half. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add soy sauce.

In a large pot, boil 4 cups of water. Add the ramen noodles and cook uncovered for 5 minutes or until al dente. Stir frequently to prevent the noodles from sticking together. Reserve 1 cup of the noodle water. Strain the noodles and add to the vegetables and broth.

Taste and add the noodle water if more liquid is needed.

Serve in bowls with chop sticks and spoons.


Top each bowl with 1/2 a hard boiled egg, thinly sliced

Instead of radicchio use 1 bunch of spinach, washed, whole leaves or roughly chopped

Instead of water, use chicken, pork, or beef stock to make the soup

Add 1 cup raw shrimp, washed, peeled, deveined, and roughly chopped to the soup when you add the noodles and simmer 5 minutes until the shrimp are pink

Top with thin slices of soy sauce marinated, grilled chicken, pork, or beef

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Abruzzo at Il Fornaio, Santa Monica

Everyone should have at least one restaurant where they feel at home. A place where they know the staff, enjoy the menu, and feel comfortable enough to hang out without feeling pressured to order-eat-and-leave.

For us, that's how we feel about the Il Fornaio (1551 Ocean Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401; 310/451-7800) across from the Santa Monica pier. Several times a month we meet with friends, try out as many dishes as we can, have a cocktail or two, drink a little wine, and share a dessert.

For two weeks at the start of each month, Il Fornaio has a Festa Regionale that features a different region of Italy.

During the Regionale, Il Fornaio offers a tasting menu with a sampling from the soup and antipasti menu, one from the pasta course, and a full sized portion from the meat and fish menu. The servings are large enough to be shared by two and the price is just under $30.00.

The gift this month--if you ask for a Festa Regionale passport and have it stamped, you'll receive a special gift--was a package of mushroom risotto. A very nice take-away.

This month's regional menu (September 7-20) features the region of Abruzzo. Located on the Adriatic Sea, in the mid-section of the Italian peninsula, the cuisine includes the vibrant dishes of the south with beautifully ripe tomatoes (La Pummadore A'nsalata) as well as the hearty braised meats (Maccheroni Alla Chitarra & Risotto con Ragu Di Pesce) of the north.

Between the six of us, we sampled most of the menu along with the two regional wines. We had glasses of the lovely Trebbiano d'Abruzzo (Valle Reale, Vigne Nuove, 2008) which went perfectly with the Lobster bisque (Zuppa d'Argaosta al Tartufo Nero). The bisque had the strong flavors of the sea since no cream or potato puree was added. The Trebbiano was also a good companion for the wild arugula salad (Prosciutto Cacio E Pere) topped with a delicate prosciutto, peppered pecorino cheese, and the thinnest sliced pears I've ever seen.

With the lamb chops (Costicine d'Agnello) , perfectly cooked and spread out on the plate like an elegant fan, we had the very nice Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (Cataldi Madonna, 2006).

Our favorite pasta from the menu was the pasta with lamb ragu (Maccheroni alla Chitarra). The braised flavors were deep and rich. The strands of meat were perfectly tender with just the right amount of salt.

Saving the best for last, the icy-cold custard (Semifreddo al Torrone con Punch Abruzzzese) with almond nougat was delicious. To eat the dessert we were given extra long spoons so we could reach across the table and share the plate.

In the competition to eat as much of the semifreddo as possible, the spoons became weapons-of-mass-consumption.

For more posts about Il Fornaio's Festa Regionale check out:
Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad
A Tasting at Il Fornaio, Santa Monica--Trentino-Alto Adige
A Trip to Italy is Just Around the Corner at Il Fornaio--Calabria
Il Fornaio Heads South to Campania for May's Regionale
Il Fornaio Heads North to Lombardia
Abruzzo at Il Fornaio, Santa Monica
Friuli-Venezia Giulia at Il Fornaio

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Perfect Summer Appetizer: Prosciutto with Fig Puree and Cheese

The best appetizers are full of flavor, fun to look at, and, ideally, take very little effort to prepare. Vegetable crudites fit those requirements but they aren't exciting.

A delicious appetizer--albeit one for those without caloric restrictions--is a piece of prosciutto with a slice of triple cream and a topping of fig puree. The key to this dish is using high quality ingredients: Saint Andre triple cream, a good Italian prosciutto, and ripened farmers' market fresh figs.

The prosciutto can be rolled up but leaving it open is visually pleasing. Anyone picking one up will naturally do the rolling themselves.

Delicious any time of day: for breakfast, a light lunch with a salad, or in the evening with cocktails and wine.

Prosciutto with Fig Puree and Triple Cream

Yield 4-6

Time 30 minutes


1/2 pound Italian prosciutto
10 very ripe figs, washed
1/3 pound triple cream


The figs have to be very ripe. Scrape out the inside and discard the skins. Remove any excess fat from the prosciutto. Cut into pieces approximately 3" x 2". Cut the triple cream into small slices.

Place a slice of cheese on each piece of prosciutto, topped with a small spoonful of fig puree. Arrange on a plate. Serve cold or room temperature.


Lightly caramelize chopped almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts and sprinkle a few bits on top of the fig puree

Place the prosciutto with its toppings on a thin cracker or a piece of crisp garlic toast

Instead of triple cream, use a cheese of your choice, ideally a soft cheese

Roll the prosciutto around the cheese and fig puree

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Food Funny

Ok, my mother told me not to play with my food and I took that to heart. But she never saw the video that Lynzee Klingman just posted on her Facebook page.

Using Beethoven's 5th Symphony, the Shanghai Taro Dance Company from Osaka, Japan considers what's for breakfast.

Never was a menu so entertainingly performed. The funny thing is, even though this is a comedy piece, it made me hungry!