Tag Archives: kids

ALMOND COCONUT BARS

[Inspired by this blog, which you ought to check out.  Rachael’s writing is addictive & she’s rather swell in person, too.]

This post is a little behind.

Normally, I post on Fridays.
But that was not to be this week.  The confluence of
end-of-the-semester business,
start-of-holiday-season events,
and the regular to-do list
did me in.

Of course, I recognize
that the problem
of not posting your blog
on the day to which you (and your readers)
are accustomed
is a first-world problem.

I think all of my problems
(if you can really call them that) fall
into that category.  I am committed
to being cognizant of that
as close to
all-of-the-time
as possible.

It’s easy to lose perspective in this mad-cap world.

My parents’ anniversary was also this week.  Or would have been.  Or something.
Verb tenses get so messed up
when someone dies.

December 8, 1967.
That was a long time ago.
My mom was twenty.
My dad was twenty-five.

They were little.  Younger than I am now
and so good-looking.

Weren’t they just?  If they don’t look
very excited to you,
there’s a good reason for that.

It was only the third time
they had ever met.
I know, right?
Arranged marriage & whatnot.

There’s actually a very fascinating
longer version
of the story
in which my mom
rejected some other dude

(and thank goodness she did, or
somebody we know
would not be sitting here right now)

but I am saving the longer version
of the story
for my book.
So you’ll just have to wait for it.

There are a lot of things
I miss about my dad.

The scariest thing about losing someone
when you least expected it
is that you live in fear
of forgetting
what they looked like
and smelled like
and the sound of their voice
saying your name.

Luckily I have that.
In a forty-second clip
from our trip to India
which we took
a month before he died.

Sometimes I just listen to it
over and over again
and cry.

And then I usually cook something—
(that’s my solution to every problem, really)
something he would like
something he would want to eat
something he would be proud of me making.

These almond-coconut bars were his favorite.
He had a knack
for waking up from his nap
(he used to take the most epic naps)
just as these suckers
were ready to come out of the oven.

He liked to eat things
PIPING
hot.  I don’t know how he did it.

I wish he were here
to sneak some now
and say, “Don’t tell your mother”
while winking conspiratorially.

I keep waiting
for him to show up
even though I know
he won’t.

ALMOND COCONUT BARS

1 ½ cup graham cracker crumbs*
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 T sugar

1 egg
¾ cup light brown sugar
½ cup shredded coconut (recipe calls for sweet, if substituting unsweetened, bump up the sugar)
½ cup chopped almonds
¼ cup flour
1 T. cream or milk
1 tsp. vanilla

pan: 9 inch square
oven: 400˚

Combine the first three ingredients to make the crust—press into the bottom of the pan and bake for 5 minutes.

While the crust is browning, beat the egg until foamy, then beat in the brown sugar.  Stir in the remaining ingredients and spread the mixture over the hot graham cracker layer.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the center is firm to the touch.  One caveat: check the bars at the 15 minute mark.  Because ovens vary so much, the tops of your bars may brown before baking time is up.  If that’s the case, simply cover the pan with foil for the remainder of baking.

* Yes, you can buy them pre-made but they vaguely resemble sawdust.  If you have a food processor, it couldn’t be easier to make your own crumbs.  Second easiest: sealable plastic bag, rolling pin, energetic child.

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FEELIN’ KINDA SUNDAY: VEENA’S CHEX MIX

Please forgive me for lapsing with my posts this week, but to make it up to you, I’m letting ya’ll in on a coveted family secret: the recipe for my mom’s incredibly addictive Chex Mix.

Often surfacing around the holidays, this stuff has long been a staple at holiday parties & in college care packages, one of the many things my mom makes which always forces the question, “Oh my god, did you put crack in this?”

I tried my hand at this goodness for the first time the other night and was pleased to find that I was able to replicate her magic pretty easily in my own kitchen.  In a few days, I get to see my mom, spend my twenty-seventh birthday with her and Jill, eat through Thanksgiving, even sleep late if I wish.

There are many, many things, both big and little, for which I am grateful, but today I’d like to acknowledge you, reader of this blog.  Little did I know when I launched this blog just over six months ago that I would “meet” so many kind and generous folks, that so many of you would be interested in what I have to say about food and living joyfully in the world, that many of you would be willing to share your stories, ideas, recipes, & genuine enthusiasm with me.

Thank you.  It has been, and continues to be, a privilege.

VEENA’S CHEX MIX

½ box each, corn & rice chex cereal

1 cup assorted nuts and/or pretzels

1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted

¼ cup Worcestershire sauce

1 T each: garlic powder, dried chives, & dried parsley

1 tsp. each, salt & black pepper

oven: 235°

In a large metal bowl, toss together the cereal, nuts, and/or pretzels.  In a separate and much smaller bowl, stir together the melted butter, Worcestershire, and spices.

Pour the butter mixture over the cereal, using a spatula to make sure all the pieces are evenly coated.  Bake the mixture in the bowl for an hour, stopping to stir every fifteen minutes.

After an hour, turn off the oven and let the mixture sit overnight.  Store the mixture in an airtight container—it will keep well for several weeks.

SOUR CREAM PANCAKES

There’s a magnet on my fridge that says “Eat one.  Eat five.  Eat as many darn pancakes as you want.”

pancakes & strawberries

Can I get an “amen?”

My dad used to make me pancakes on weekend mornings; they belong on a very short list of things he could make better than my mama.  He had the patience for pancakes, never rushing them to be turned, never over-browning them the way I do at times in my eagerness to build up a stack.

Until I sat down to write this blog, I hadn’t consciously connected my own pancake-making habits with the tradition my dad started.  There’s often a “bigger” breakfast made in the Blue Jean Kitchen over the weekend, simply because we have the time.  But more often than not, pancakes are what hit the table.

Normally, I just do a “throw the right stuff in a bowl and get it to the right consistency” kind of gig, but when I saw this recipe in Cook Book Club feature of the March 2009 issue of Gourmet, I knew I’d have to put it in the pancake rotation.  And Lorrrrd am I glad that I did!

This recipe is so easy to make (you can use the blender! come on now!) and yields light, airy, tangy pancakes.  Sour cream may seem like a strange ingredient, but trust me on this one: perfect if you have some leftover from garnishing quesadillas or topping baked potatoes.  Last time, I didn’t have quite enough, so I stretched the sour cream a bit by adding plain yogurt, and the pancakes still turned out beautifully.

If you’re craving breakfast but pancakes aren’t your gig, we’ve got a few other things to offer.  Might I suggest having breakfast for dinner tonight?  I know my dad would approve.

sunday morning

BRIDGE CREEK HEAVENLY HOTS
Adapted, slightly, from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham

The original recipe suggests making silver-dollar sized pancakes, which are fun and adorable but can also be a pain in the ass.  Don’t worry, these taste good at any size.

3 eggs
¼ cup + 2 T cake flour*
2 cups sour cream
3 T sugar
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt

2-3 T butter, melted

Preheat the oven to “warm” so you can store the pancakes while working through several batches.

Simplicity at its finest: whisk the eggs by hand, then add the rest of the ingredients and blend well.

(You can also just dump everything into the blender and press a button.  Very convenient if you’re only half-awake.)

Melt the butter in the microwave or in a tiny saucepan on the stove.  Heat a griddle or frying pan on medium-high heat, then brush with melted butter to grease the surface.

Using a spoon or small measuring cup, spread batter onto the surface, either for one larger pancake or two smaller ones.  When the top of the pancake(s) are full of bubbles, flip and cook them briefly on the other side.

Repeat until the batter is all gone.  Serve with maple syrup, powdered sugar, fresh fruit, you know, they’ll pretty much taste good any way you serve ‘em.

*If you don’t keep cake flour on hand, you can make your own with all-purpose flour & cornstarch.  Place 2 T of cornstarch in the bottom of a one-cup measure.  Fill the rest of the way with all-purpose flour, then sift the mixture several times to aerate.

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FEELIN’ KINDA SUNDAY: MOLASSES COOKIES

It’s raining in Memphis, and I may have to make these cookies today.

molasses cookies stacked

Since I work in a Jewish school, today was a half-day for Rosh Hashanah (L’Shana Tovah, ya’ll!), which I decided to take all the way off so I could fly home for a few days. As many of you know, I spent most of the summer here with my mom, writing, blogging, eating her amazing food, and few weeks ago, I realized that I just couldn’t hold out until Thanksgiving to see her again. So here I am. This is a strictly “Mom-visit” weekend, which means I have kept my plans secret up until now so as to avoid the flurry-of-plan-making that inevitably occurs. There are many people I love here, many people I’d love to see, but Veena takes priority. With one exception: these boys.

boys

I’ve written previously about how my sense of family has much more to do with love, proximity, and knowing than about blood and marriage. That’s why I claim John and Henry, my dear friends Kate and Stephen’s twins, as mine even though I’m not related to them in any way, shape, or form. As John put it this summer, I’m their Nishta.

The story of how I came to be their Nishta has very much been on my mind of late. You see, Kate was my teacher in high school. She taught me World Religions as a junior, and my locker was fortuitously located across a narrow hallway from her office. I thought she was so, so cool and lovely and smart and kind and I did what some of my students do for me now, finding every possible reason to ask her a question, to linger after school, to bring her little gifts and notes and read the books that she suggested and work really hard in her class.

It’s a wonder to me, looking back on it, that I didn’t drive her totally nuts. Even more a wonder that we grew to be friends over time, via emails and letters and packages and long talks over chai. I got to know her husband Stephen, who is pretty fantastic in his own right; I got to play fairy godmother for one very magical summer, a role I reprise every time I’m in town. I cannot overestimate the space that her generosity takes up in the file cabinet of memories from that time of my life. Her attention and encouragement, which I know from experience require heaps of patience, gave me a great deal of space and comfort.

Kate can and should be credited with many things: planting the seed for me to be a Religious Studies major, dismantling my irrational fear of poetry, gifting me a first-edition Annie Dillard, and sending me off to college with the excellent advice: “Drink the beer while it’s still cold.” And so I show my gratefulness to the world by reversing the roles, sitting behind my desk while students fill my room after school, reaching out for handfuls of snacks, advice, hugs, love.

As for Kate, well, there’s really no way to adequately thank her and her family for allowing me so intimately into their lives. I mostly just show up with love, joy, and gratitude, as I will tonight when my mom and I go over for dinner. There will probably also be some molasses cookies in tow, and hopefully they will manage to say all of the things that language feels inadequate for.

molasses cookies with milk

MOLASSES COOKIES

These are taken from an NPR story my mom sent me years ago. I had been trying to perfect a recipe for molasses cookies, but quickly discarded my own efforts because this is really the only recipe you need. I’ve bumped up the spice quotient because, well, I’m brown. I like spice!

Plan ahead to make sure you’ll have adequate chilling time for the dough, which you can leave overnight if need be. Also be sure to watch the cookies carefully in the oven—they’ll still seem mushy to you when you take them out, but will firm up when cooling, leaving a perfectly chewy cookie behind. They won’t last long, I guar-an-tee.

ingredients: molasses cookies before baking

3/4 cup melted butter

1/4 cup molasses (grease your measuring cup with baking spray before pouring, it will save you clean-up trouble!)

1 egg

1 cup sugar, plus extra for dipping

2 cups flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 ½ tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. cloves

1 tsp. ground ginger

½ tsp. salt

Combine the melted butter, sugar, molasses and egg in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly before sifting the dry ingredients into the same bowl and mixing again. Chill dough at least two hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375°.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls, then roll them sugar. Place them on a greased cookie sheet VERY FAR APART—they will spread a lot! Flatten each one with a fork, making a cross-hatch pattern to encourage the cookies (can cookies be encouraged?) to promote even spreading.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until flat and dark brown. Cool on racks, as the cookies will be very delicate until they’ve cooled a bit. Perfect with a glass of milk or milk-substitute!

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BUTTERMILK BISCUITS & ZIPLOC-BAG OMELETS

I love breakfast.  A nice, leisurely, tummy-stuffing, weekend breakfast (or maybe brunch, depending upon your sleeping habits).  There’s really just nothing like it; something savory with something sweet, a big steaming mug of coffee, the scrape of fork against plate where the syrup was.  Sigh.  Now I’ve gone and made myself hungry.

biscuit & omelet

Going out for breakfast or brunch is one of my favorite indulgences; I have favored spots in every city I’ve lived in.  I dream about the huevos rancheros at Baby Barnaby’s & the cheese grits at Brother Juniper’s, but when push comes to shove, I’m actually much more likely to make a big breakfast for myself.

No changing out of your pajamas, no standing in line with your stomach growling, no having to hear “Actually, we’re out of bacon.”

Having friends over for brunch can be a really economical way to entertain, much cheaper than throwing a dinner party.  Plus, everybody loves breakfast!  It’s comfort food at its best.  Throw in some mimosas or Bloody Marys and everyone’s happy.

Okay, enough about that, I know you’re thinking “what the heck is a Ziploc-bag omelet?”  It’s basically the best magic trick I know, making individual omelets in Ziploc bags.  Totally solves the problem of how to fix eggs for a group, since this person doesn’t like mushrooms and this child can’t stand onions.  Plus, it is SO much fun to do—great to do with kids, though we’ve definitely made them with all adults and they had a good time, too.

It’s not just the novelty, though; the omelets actually taste great, and without having to add any fat to cook them.  I’m sure someone out there is terrified by the thought of cooking food in plastic.  If that’s you, you probably shouldn’t try this.

Biscuits are also fun to do with kids—you’re going to get the counter messy anyway, so why not let them enjoy?  Two of my favorite kiddos in the world, Isabella & Antonio, whom I’ve known since they were each tiny babies, are always my biscuit souz chefs when I visit them or they visit me.  We use funky cookie-cutters (lobster or cactus-shaped biscuits, anyone?) to liven up things even more.

There are a million ways to make biscuits in this world; this happens to be my way. I’ve been experimenting with homemade biscuits for as long as I can remember and let me just say, these are really, really good.  I’m from Tennessee; I know a good biscuit when I meet one.

Have great weekend, ya’ll.  And eat something good for breakfast.

BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

ingredients: buttermilk biscuits

4 T each, butter & vegetable shortening (don’t soften the butter)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 T baking powder
1 T sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ cup buttermilk

extra 2 T butter, melted

oven: 425°
pan: heavy baking sheet, jellyroll pan, or cast-iron skillet

Place the shortening and butter inside a large bowl.  Add in dry ingredients—flour, baking powder, sugar, & salt—and, using your fingers, smush (yes, that’s a technical term) until you have a crumbly mixture, with large pieces.  The pieces shouldn’t be too small or too uniform—just no big chunks of fat.

Pour in the buttermilk and mix very gently with your hands (try to remember to take your ring(s) off; I always forget!).  The mixture will seem wet and as if there’s no way it could ever become biscuits.  Do not panic and do not overmix.

Turn the loose mixture onto a heavily floured surface, coating the dough once with flour on both sides before patting it out very gently to about a half-inch thickness.  Even though the dough still may not look completely together, trust me.  That’s how you want them—if you work with the dough too much = hard biscuits.

Using a biscuit cutter (if you are a good Southerner & have one, unlike me) or an upside-down water glass, cut out biscuit rounds from the dough, placing them close together on your baking sheet or in your skillet/pan.

Cobble together scrap pieces to do a second, and if needed, third round of biscuit-cutting.  Brush the tops of the biscuits with half of the melted butter and place them in the oven.

Bake for 15-20 minutes; at about the 12 minute mark, your biscuits should have risen nicely but will look a little pale.  Brush with the remaining melted butter and finish baking.

Serve warm (of course) with more butter, honey, jam, sausage, pepper gravy, etc.  Or, if you are my father-in-law, ribbon cane syrup (ew).

ZIPLOC-BAG OMELETS
(thanks to our friends Vicky & Lois for sharing this years ago!)

This is so simple that I can’t even rightly call it a “recipe”—it’s more like a formula or a magic trick. Every time I do it I’m halfway afraid it isn’t going to work, but it always does!

ingredients:

eggs (2 per person, or perhaps just 1 for tiny eaters) add-ins
Ziploc bags (sandwich-size)
a Sharpie or permanent marker

any omelet add-ins you like:

shredded cheese (cheddar, fontina, mozzarella, Monterey jack)
crumbled/chopped meats (ham, sausage, bacon or a meatless substitute)
chopped veggies (peppers, mushrooms, onions, green onions, spinach, asparagus)*
seasonings (fresh or dried herbs such as basil or thyme, hot sauce, etc)
salt & pepper

First, get a tall pot of water (the kind you’d use to cook a big batch of pasta) filled with water and bring the water to a boil.

To assemble the omelets, first have everyone claim a Ziploc bag & write his/her name on it.  eggs in a bagThen, using a bowl to help the bag “stand up,” crack two eggs into each one.

Instruct everyone to seal their bags and then smush up the eggs with their fingers.  Kids, naturally, l-o-v-e this part, so they’ll happily manage this step for everyone.

Then, have everyone open their bags back up and throw in whatever accoutrement they desire—just make sure not to overload!  Think in finger-pinches, not handfuls.

Once everyone’s loaded up their omelet-to-be, seal the bag and mix it all up again.

One last step, and this is important (the kids may need help with this one).  Unseal the bag so you can force all of the ingredients down to the bottom, then press the air out through the top and re-seal.

You should have a concentrated band at the bottom of your bag, and no, it won’t look very appetizing, but don’t worry!  I promise you this will taste excellent.

Bring your pot of water down to a simmer—don’t use a rolling boil or your eggs (and bag) will overcook.  Drop the bags into the water, one at a time—they’ll kind of bob up at the top, but that’s why you pressed all of the ingredients down to the bottom. going in the water!

You may need to kick the heat back up on your burner to compensate for the addition of the bags, but at this point, set a timer for exactly thirteen minutes and go about your business.

When that timer goes off, carefully fish the bags out of the water and onto a kitchen towel.  To serve, simply open each bag (there will be steam, so watch little fingers) and slide the omelet onto a plate.  Enjoy!

*If you decide to use asparagus, I recommend pre-cooking it in a little water, either over the stove or in the microwave.

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MAKE-YOUR-OWN HUMMUS

Hummus has become almost ubiquitous on the American food scene in the last few years—and I think this is a good thing. I love hummus; it’s delicious, good for you, and pretty much everybody likes it. It can even motivate finicky kids to voluntarily eat carrot and celery spears (as vehicles for dipping, of course). Unfortunately, ubiquity often leads to mediocrity and such, I find, is the case for poor hummus.

Too many pre-made versions are slimy and unappetizingly pasty; even the stuff that comes out of some restaurant kitchens is seasoned with such a tame hand as to induce yawning. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Now, great people of the internet, is the time for change.

chickpea goodness

If you own a food processor or a blender, out-of-this-world hummus is within your grasp. All it takes is a few (cheap) ingredients and the willingness to taste-test until you get the seasonings the way you like. Hummus is the perfect dinner-party staple because you can make it wayyyyyy ahead of time and, should you make it from scratch, you will impress the heck out of all of your guests.  I like to make a big batch and take it to work on Monday and eat my way through it all week.

A note about fussiness: you can (and should) make this recipe with canned chickpeas—it will still taste MUCH better than the store-bought variety and can literally be done in minutes. However, this is one place where high-maintenance-foodery does prevail. Starting with dried chickpeas instead of canned will take you to a new level of hummus enjoyment. If you’re up for giving dried chickpeas a whirl (added broken economy bonus = they’re even cheaper than the canned stuff!), please do; I promise it will be worth it.

HUMMUS…MAKE THAT REALLY, REALLY GOOD HUMMUS

special equipment: Cuisinart or other food processor, blender (only the heavy-duty kind)

ingredients:

partial components

partial components

1 16 oz. can (approx. 2 cups) chickpeas, a.k.a. garbanzo beans /ceci beans*

2 T tahini a.k.a tahina/tahine**

2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1 tsp. salt (if you soak your own chickpeas, you may need to add more)

½ tsp. ground cumin

juice of 1 lemon

½ cup water (reserve the cooking liquid if using dried beans), more if needed

¼ cup olive oil

optional garnishes—oregano, paprika, or za’tar spice blend
pine nuts (toasted or untoasted)
drizzle of olive oil

Place all ingredients except olive oil in food processor or blender. Process until smooth, adding water as needed until desired texture is reached. Check the hummus’ taste and add extra garlic, salt, or cumin accordingly. Finally, with the processor or blender running, pour in olive oil.
Transfer to bowl and garnish with any of the options listed above. Goes excellently well with pita chips (storebought or homemade), crackers, and any kind of cut vegetable.

hummus with veggies

*If using dried, you’ll need to soak your beans overnight and then cook them for an hour before making your hummus. The chickpeas will double in amount, so if you want to end up with 2 cups, you only need to soak 1 cup of beans. Cover them with room temperature water and allow to soak overnight. You can stash them in the fridge at this point if you’re not planning to use them right away. Drain off the soaking liquid and transfer to a medium saucepan, covering with fresh water. Bring the mixture to a boil and allow the beans to simmer for an hour or until soft. Drain the beans but RESERVE THE COOKING LIQUID! Save it to thin your hummus; it will add more flavor than plain water.

**Tahini is a sesame seed paste most often used in Middle Eastern food. You may need to go to an ethnic grocery store for this, but it’s actually become readily available—check the “International Foods” aisle of your regular grocery store or call around to more foodie-inclined locations. Once you’ve opened it, keep your jar in the fridge for months. Like natural peanut butter, you’ll need to stir it when using again.

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FRESH FRUIT PIZZA

strawberries on cutting board

I hope it’s not just me. I hope that all of you, no matter where you might be, are seeing strawberries this gorgeous in your grocery store or farmer’s’ market. They are so lovely and flavorful, I can’t resist buying them! But that’s okay, because at least down here, they’ve been remarkably affordable, even the organic variety (strawberries are one of those recommended “best to buy organic” items). So, given the availability and seasonality of this particular item, we’ll be featuring a little four-part ode to strawberries here at Blue Jean Gourmet. Starting with dessert, of course!

One caveat, though: making this fruit pizza may leave you feeling a bit like a charlatan. Why? Because, not to toot my own horn too much, but this looks hella impressive, right?

easy to make AND impressive

Right. So imagine, if you will, taking this impressive fruit pizza to a summer potluck or dinner at your mother-in-law’s house and the “ooohs” and “ahhhs” and “wows” you will invariably receive. Are you imagining? Are you? Because here’s the secret about this dessert: it is dead simple to make.

I know the concept of fruit pizza has been floating around for some time, and you may have had the misfortune of encountering a sketchy version made with big tubes of refrigerated dough & canned fruit or drowned in chocolate & marshmallow fluff. But don’t be alarmed! This one is elegant and not too sweet, perfect for summer months. You can even make the crust & filling ahead of time, adding the fruit and (optional) glaze just before serving.

Fresh fruit is obviously the star of the show, so make sure that you buy good-quality stuff. I recommend erring on the side of firm when making your selections, so that the fruit will hold its own. Buy whatever is seasonal and looks scrumptious—I’ve made this with nectarines, peaches, kiwi, apple, mango, & all kinds of berries.

almost any kind of fruit will work

blackberries are very photogenic, don't you think?

This is also the perfect dessert to make with and serve to kids. Little hands can help press the dough, spread the filling, and arrange the fruit. Having a slumber party? Get the kids going in the kitchen; divide up the dough and let each child make his or her own mini-pizza. Hey, it’s healthier than most midnight snacks!

Last but not least, I recommend this dessert as a great choice for diabetics or anyone cooking for a diabetic. You can easily substitute Splenda for the sugar in the crust & filling, and use sugar-free fruit preserves for the glaze. I did this for my friend Aisha’s dad at his birthday party, and he loved it.

Coming next in our Strawberry Parade–a fresh, easy strawberry salad, strawberry-basil margaritas, & homemade granola with fresh strawberries.

Tell us, how do you like your strawberries this time of year?

FRUIT PIZZA

oven: Preheat to 375°.

pan: Round or rectangular baking sheet

crust: 1 ½ cups flour
2 T. sugar
2 T. milk
½ cup oil (canola is fine, I’ve also used safflower)
zest of 1 lemon & 1 orange, finely chopped (use the fruits’ juice for the glaze)
½ tsp. salt

Mix all ingredients by hand and press out onto a baking sheet, about 1/4 inch thick—you can do a traditional circle shape, a free-form oval, or a rectangle. Part of the appeal is the rustic look, so don’t worry about it being perfect. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown around the edges. Cool completely before topping.

Filling: 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream

You can easily do this by hand, but use a stand mixer if you have it. Whip cream cheese until fluffy (if employing elbow grease, use a spoon for this part). Add sugar and mix until well blended. Finally, pour in the cream and whip until thick (at this point, switch to a whisk). It may take a minute or two for the mixture to set up, but it will thicken very quickly, all at once! Spread mixture evenly over cooled crust.

Topping: Any sliced, fresh fruit

Have fun with this part! The whole idea of this dessert is that the fruit speaks for itself, so let it show off a little. You can go for concentric circles, like I have here, but you can also just chop up the fruit and sprinkle on top; it’s going to taste just as delicious. If you have a tiny sous chef helping you, arranging the fruit to form a face or a flower or a star can be a lot of fun. Heck, that could be fun even if there aren’t any kids in the picture!

Glaze (optional): ½ cup apricot preserves or orange marmalade
juice from the lemon & orange you zested

Heat all ingredients a small saucepan, stirring well. Simmer for 2-3 minutes until the mixture has thinned. Spoon over fruit.

the glaze adds a nice sweetness & gooey-ness

the glaze adds a nice sweetness & gooey-ness

you'll wow 'em with the finished product!

you'll wow 'em with the finished product!

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CHAI & FRENCH TOAST

Thank you, thank you everybody! You have made Blue Jean Gourmet feel so welcome here in the wide, woolly blogging world. We appreciate your readership, your enthusiasm, and your recommendations. Please, keep it coming!

In an attempt to make it easier for you to keep up with Blue Jean Gourmet, we’ve added a few new features:

1) At the bottom of every post, a “Share/Save” button which enables you to pass posts along using virtually any internet service imaginable.

2) An email subscription service! Click on the sidebar link to subscribe to Blue Jean Gourmet updates–you’ll receive an email informing you of new posts. We won’t sell your email address or spam you, Scout’s honor.

For those of you who would just rather bookmark BJG & check in with us periodically, we promise to keep to a regular Tuesday/Friday posting schedule, with the occasional tidbit thrown in on odd days. Okay, that’s all for logistics. Onto the food!

I love breakfast. I LURVE it. Yummy yummy sweet and savory, syrupy, fruity, salty, crunchy, goodness all around. So please note that you will likely see a disproportionately high number of breakfast & brunch recipes around here– hope that won’t be a problem. Ha!

Also, my photographer, Sonya, happens to be obsessed with French toast. She is quite the connoisseur, so I took it as high praise when she called this the best French toast she’d ever had. Score!

french toast deliciousness

There’s nothing particularly magical or secret about this recipe–I think the keys are, as always, quality ingredients and good technique. First, I always use challah for my French toast. Challah, if you didn’t already know, is a Jewish egg bread, similar to brioche. Traditionally braided, this bread is eggy and airy and perfectly suited to French toast-ing.

Since I started working at a Jewish school, challah has become part of my weekly life. We celebrate Kabbalat Shabbat, the beginning of the Sabbath, here at school on Fridays. The blessing over the challah and wine (or grape juice for school purposes), is the parent tradition of the Christian sacrament of Communion.

Challah can easily be found in the bakery of your local grocery store, but if you know of a specialty baker in your area, give them a try.
challah!
In addition to the traditional sliced & browned-in-butter (hungry yet?) recipe, I’m also including a more decadent baked version. It’s actually almost a bread pudding, so be aware that it’s not for the faint of heart!, but what I love best about it is that you can make the whole thing the night before & then pop it in the oven in the morning. Great for kids to help make, too, because they can whisk together the liquid ingredients and then smush bread cubes down into the gooey custard.

Serve either kind of French toast with fresh strawberries, which are SO GOOD right now. Other possible toppings include: blueberries, bananas, chopped, toasted pecans or almonds, maple syrup, powdered sugar. Serve with a side of bacon* and Mom will swoon. Who wouldn’t?

Last but not least, a Mom-worthy beverage. Now not to get all snobby and fist-shaking, but this is not the drink of my people. It may be tasty, yes, but far from authentic. The real deal is strong, spicy, milky, and a little sweet. While it may require a trip to buy some items you don’t use regularly, I promise your purchases won’t go to waste as you’ll want to make this again & again. It’s a great way to “dress up” any breakfast or brunch and also works well as a dessert accompaniment.

No matter what you cook or eat or are served this Mother’s Day, I hope it is full of love & joy. Thank goodness for mothers, especially mine.

CHALLAH FRENCH TOAST
serves 4

This one’s light & airy, the recipe below much denser & more intense.

1 loaf challah, sliced approx. 1-inch thick
3 eggs
¾ cup half-and-half or milk (I recommend the former)
¼ cup sugar or honey
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible)
butter for the pan

foamy butter Cut about 1 T of butter into a non-stick skillet over medium heat. While waiting for the butter to get foamy, whisk together the liquid ingredients in a shallow pan (one less bowl to clean!)

Dunk two slices at a time into their French toast “bath,” turning once. Allow them to sit only a minute on each side, before draining the excess liquid and moving them to the buttery pan. Cook approximately 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Serve warm with accompaniments. french toast taking a soak

BAKED FRENCH TOAST
serves 4-6

I first encountered a recipe like this in a cooking class with Rebecca Rather, a Texas pastry chef. Since then, I’ve seen lots of recipes like it, but this is my version.

1 loaf challah, cut into appox. 1-inch cubes
6 eggs
1 ½ cups half-and-half, heavy whipping cream, or milk (or some combination thereof)
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

optional: I like to add in 1 tsp. of almond extract or 1 tsp. of Amaretto. You could also throw in 1 tsp. of orange liquor (Grand Marnier, Triple Sec, Cointreau) if you have some around. Remember, decadent is the theme here!

PAN: 13×9 or 9×9

Grease the baking dish, then arrange the challah cubes on the bottom. Whisk together liquid ingredients, then pour over bread. Use your fingers (very fun for kids!) or the back of a spoon to ensure that all of the cubes are soaked thoroughly. At this point, cover the whole thing and stick in the refrigerator for at least an hour or up to overnight.

When you’re ready to bake, heat the oven to 425. Bake for approximately 35-45 minutes, or until golden brown. If you’re interested, you can create a crème Brule effect with your baked French toast—when it’s done baking, sprinkle a few tablespoons of sugar on top (you can include cinnamon if you like) and turn your oven to “BROIL.” Watch closely for the sugar to bubble and caramelize, but make sure you rescue your toast before burning takes place!

Cut into squares and serve with accompaniments.

TRADITIONAL INDIAN CHAI cup o tea
serves 4-6

You’d be surprised, you can probably find all of the stuff you need for this recipe at your local grocery store—all these spices can be found with the baking things, and if they have an “International Foods” aisle, you can get authentic loose-leaf tea there. Should you be up for a trip to the Indian grocer, I recommend it—spices will be much cheaper.

4 cups water
4 T black loose-leaf tea (Brooke Bond or Red Label are Indian brands; Lipton will work, too!)
2-3 generous slices fresh ginger
1 cinnamon stick
1 T whole or 1 tsp. ground cloves
1 T ground cardamom
1 tsp. anise seeds (not star anise)

1 ½ cups milk (the tea will obviously taste richer if you use whole or 2 percent)
½ – ¾ cup sugar, depending on your preference (or you can leave the tea unsweetened & let guests sweeten their own cups)

Bring the water to a boil, adding the tea & spices. Allow to boil vigorously for about 4 minutes before turning the heat down and adding milk and sugar. Stir gently and allow the milk mixture to heat up before straining into a teapot or individual cups.

*TIDBIT: I started cooking my bacon in the oven, under the broiler, and it has changed my life for the better. Lay the bacon strips (mmm, bacon) out on a broiler pan—no need to pre-grease! Slide the whole thing into the oven and turn your broiler on “low.” Depending on oven strength, it will take about 8-10 minutes, but watch closely so you don’t burn your bacon. What I love about this option is that it’s no-fuss and all the grease drips down into the bottom pan so you can dispose of it or save it in a jar in the refrigerator like I do (because pork fat just makes things better).

baaaaacon

before

after

after

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