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Wednesday
Nov172010

Pumpkin Bread Pudding for Agent Mulder



There aren't many TV shows that have captured my attention. I was a pretty serious LOST fan for the duration of that program, and I've enjoyed a few others, but no show has intrigued me as much as the X-Files. I think this show is magic. I like the mystery, the creepiness, the bizarre plot lines, and the sarcastic, random humor. Mostly, I love the characters.

Therefore, if I were to make my favorite dessert (also a Thanksgiving dessert) for anyone – real or fictional – it would be Agent Mulder.

Neither Mulder nor Scully spends a lot of time eating on the show. They are too busy doing other things – no time for snacks! Mulder, particularly, is rarely seen eating. I always imagined this was because he was so obsessed with finding just where out there the truth really was, that food became an afterthought. Aside from occasional munching on sunflower seeds, Mulder is fueled by pure obsession with mysteries just outside of his grasp, not carbohydrates and protein.

So, when he does sit down to eat, you can imagine whatever he is eating must be pretty darn good. This is highlighted in one Season 3 episode of the X-Files: Jose Chung's Aliens from Outer Space in which Mulder sits down at a diner bar and orders piece after piece of sweet potato pie from the surly looking chef until he has eaten the whole thing.

I would like to reinvent/rewrite this scene minus the sweet potato pie and surly looking chef, adding instead my Pumpkin Bread Pudding and myself (hopefully looking less surly). I imagine it would play out something like this:

Mulder enters the bar and identifies himself.



Orders piece after piece of Pumpkin Bread Pudding, all the while questioning me about my thoughts on extra-terrestrial life.



He eats the whole bread pudding that way.

As a final question, he points at me and asks if I've "checked everywhere" for alien implants, pays the check and leaves.



Now you might be asking yourself (among other questions about how intact my sanity is) can this pumpkin bread pudding really be that good? Good enough to make Agent Mulder pause in middle of his quest for knowledge and eat an entire serving dish full?

Yes. Yes, it is. I discovered this recipe via the Martha Stewart website. I was looking for something slightly different to serve at Thanksgiving dinner. This hits the nail on the head: it satisfies my need for something pumpkin flavored, but with a completely different texture and spin. And there are a couple of fun variations on the pudding that I do that really give it a kick (read: baking with alcohol).

Here's how it all happens:

First, you actually make the pumpkin challah bread that goes into the pudding (not difficult). As I mentioned, this recipe is from Martha Stewart, and I have not changed a thing about it except that I make 4 small loaves of bread instead of 2 larger ones. I usually only end up using two of the four loaves, and I freeze the other two to eat later or give them away as gifts.

What You Need:

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast, (1 1/2 packages)

  • 1 cup warm water (100 degrees to 110 degrees)

  • 3/4 cup egg yolks, (11 to 12 large eggs), plus 1 large egg yolk for glaze

  • 1 tablespoon salt

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil, plus more for bowl

  • 1/4 cup honey

  • One 15-ounce can pumpkin puree

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice

  • 8 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting



  • What To Do:






  • Proof the yeast: Place 1/2 cup warm water in a small bowl, and sprinkle yeast over it. Stir to combine, and let sit until mixture becomes foamy, about 10 minutes.



  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine egg yolks with remaining 1/2 cup warm water. In a medium bowl, combine salt, canola oil, honey, pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. Replace paddle attachment with dough-hook attachment, and add the pumpkin mixture to the mixer bowl; combine. Add the yeast mixture, stirring until combined.





  • Slowly add flour, 1 cup at a time, until all the flour is incorporated into dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and knead the dough by hand for 10 minutes. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.





  • Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, punch down the dough, and then form it into two 8-inch loaves. Place the loaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.





  • While the dough is rising, heat the oven to 350º. Mix remaining egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water. Brush the loaves with the egg glaze, and bake until golden brown, about 50 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack, and serve.




  • And now for the pudding part. I have made a few notes in italics where I have made changes to the recipe.

    What You Need:


  • 3/4 cup golden raisins

  • 4 large whole eggs

  • 1 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 4 cups milk

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted, plus more for dish

  • 2 teaspoons light-brown sugar

  • 5 to 6 cups day-old Pumpkin Challah, cubed

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

  • 3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

  • 5 large egg yolks

  • 1/4 cup dark rum, or more to taste




  • What To Do:




  • Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place raisins in a small bowl, and cover with hot water (I soak the raisins in RUM. Whisky works too). Let soak until plump. Drain, and set aside.





  • In a large bowl, whisk together 4 whole eggs, sugar, and salt. Whisk in 2 1/2 cups milk and 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract. (I add in a little rum or whisky to this mixture - about 3 Tablespoons).





  • Butter a 9-inch, 1 1/2-quart ceramic baking dish with sides that are at least 1 1/2 inches high. Sprinkle bottom of dish with brown sugar; arrange half the challah cubes in a layer on top. Sprinkle with half the reserved raisins. Repeat with remaining challah and raisins.





  • Pour the milk-and-egg mixture over the bread, making sure to soak every piece. Transfer baking dish to the oven, and bake until the custard sets and the bread pudding becomes a rich, golden color, 50 to 60 minutes. If bread becomes too brown before filling is set, loosely cover top of pudding with aluminum foil. Allow to cool slightly before serving.


  • (I actually do not always make the rum sauce, as I spike the actual pudding with rum. Sometimes, I just dust with confectioner's sugar and serve with ice cream).

  • Meanwhile, prepare the rum sauce: Combine remaining 1 1/2 cups milk, the heavy cream, and confectioners' sugar in a saucepan; place over medium heat, and heat just until bubbles form around the edges. Remove from heat.





  • Prepare an ice-water bath, and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks with remaining teaspoon vanilla. Slowly beat 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture into yolks, then slowly whisk yolk mixture back into saucepan with remaining milk mixture. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 1 minute.





  • Strain the mixture into a bowl set in the ice-water bath. Stir in rum and remaining 2 tablespoons butter; stir until combined. Let stand until mixture is chilled. Serve bread pudding warm or at room temperature, with the rum sauce on the side.



  • Finito! I really must thank Martha for this recipe. It's a serious winner. Elana recommended, Agent Mulder approved.

    * If anyone wants me to completely geek out and tell the story about the time I met Chris Carter (creator of the X-Files), just let me know. I am more than happy to do so...

    ** All images are property of 20th Century Fox, and I don't mean to suggest that they are mine by including them in this post. It's just funny.

    *** If you'd like to check out the original Martha Stewart recipes, you can click here and here.



    Tuesday
    Nov162010

    A Simple Roasted Turkey Video



    In case you need a written version of the enactment above, here you go:

    What You Need:

    1 12 lb Turkey, thawed

    1 bunch of fresh thyme

    4-5 large sprigs of fresh rosemary

    2 medium onions, cut into wedges

    Unsalted butter

    Kosher salt

    Optional to mix in with the kosher salt: dried herbs like basil, rosemary, thyme

    Low sodium chicken broth to pour in bottom of roasting pan. I never know how much I need, so I buy a box of the stuff, just in case I need more. But I start with 1-2 cups in the bottom of the pan.

    What To Do:

    Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the giblets and neck from the cavity. Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water, and pat dry with a paper towel.

    Stuff the turkey with the fresh thyme, rosemary and onions.

    Tie the legs together with kitchen twine and tuck the wing tips underneath the body to prevent them from burning (Note: I have never been able to successfully tuck the wings under the body).

    Rub the turkey all over with butter. Be careful not to tear the skin. It helps if the butter is at room temperature so that it is soft and spreads more easily. Sprinkle with kosher salt and dried herb mixture.

    Place the turkey in a roasting pan and pour the chicken or turkey stock in the bottom of the pan. Roast the turkey, basting every 30 minutes with the pan juices.

    If the turkey begins to darken too quickly, you can loosely place some aluminum foil over it. You can also add more broth to the pan if it evaporates too quickly.

    Continue roasting until the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees (about 2.5 - 3 hours).

    Transfer the turkey to a carving board, and let it rest for about 25 minutes. You can reserve the pan juices for gravy.

    Also, here is a list of useful turkey links that should help you over this holiday season:

    Whole Foods' Guide to choosing the right turkey.

    Epicurious' Guide to keeping all your limbs and eyebrows intact while frying a turkey.

    If you're in NYC, this is the Greenmarket Guide to available locally raised turkeys.

    Fine Cooking has some great recipes, complete with videos (though none featuring Stella and Carl as far as we can tell....)

    Monday
    Nov152010

    Give an Owl a Cupcake (Van Leeuwen and City Cakes)



    As Thanksgiving approaches, it has occurred to us, that while many of you may love food, maybe not all of you cook. Or bake. So we are taking it upon ourselves to help you find excellent food (in this case desserts) that other people have made for you.

    Now, make no mistake: this is not food that is runner-up to home-cooked/baked fare. In fact, this IS home cooked/baked fare - it's just been done by someone else. And it's better than your grandma makes. Seriously. And I have nothing against your grandma, she's a lovely woman. Tell her I said hi.

    First up is Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream. You may remember that they've been featured here before. Well, they are back. And for good reason: SEASONAL ICE CREAM FLAVORS. That's right. In this case, the flavors are Pumpkin and Eggnog. These ice creams are just what you would want after your Turkey dinner to go with that Pumpkin Bread Pudding or Apple Pie (recipes forthcoming later this week). And they are mighty nice by themselves too. I should know, as both flavors barely survived this owl-themed photoshoot because I was eating them as I photographed. Not super-productive, but very, very tasty.

    The pumpkin flavor, tastes exactly like the filling of the creamiest pumpkin pie, and the eggnog flavor is WAY better than real eggnog. It's got a hint of that nog punch (I think the technical term for this is "nutmeg") and something else (whisky?) whipped into a frenzy of deliciousness. You will want to eat it all the time.



    For those of you that want a little cake with your ice cream (and who could blame you?) or just some cake, I have the perfect Thanksgiving cupcake treat: a pumpkin spice cupcake from City Cakes in NYC.



    I can't say enough about the moistness of the cake part of this cupcake. I really hate it when I bite into a cupcake and the thing crumbles in my hands. If all I wanted was a vehicle for frosting (and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that) then I would just eat frosting with a spoon. But I want the whole package. I love cake. Good cake. And I love pumpkin flavor. City Cakes puts these two loves together for me in this fabulous little cupcake with a cream cheese frosting that is the perfect complement to the spice of the pumpkin cake.

    Evidence that the cake holds together:



    When I got the cupcake (OK, I got four) from City Cakes, I thought, hey, I'll just have a bite. Yeah, right. I downed that thing like someone was threatening to take it away from me. And so will your Thanksgiving guests.

    So if you're looking for a dessert that will make your guests happy, or at least keep you out of the kitchen so you can referee the shouting matches between Aunt Emily and Aunt Olga at the dinner table, check out Van Leeuwen and City Cakes.

    * Both wonderful companies have many, many more flavors than the ones I've spoken about here. So check those out too! Pints of the seasonal ice cream flavors from Van Leeuwen are available only in the trucks. You can find out what part of the city the trucks are zooming around by following them on Twitter.

    ** You might want to follow City Cakes too while you're at it - they announce flavors and specials via Twitter.
    Friday
    Nov122010

    A Iaciofano Family Thanksgiving



    Many of you may be wondering (probably not) what it's like in the Iaciofano family household for Thanksgiving. Well, I'm going to tell you. And I'm going to tell the story with recipes.

    First, the cast of characters:

    The Box: also known as our dad

    Marmo: Mom and executive chef of Thanksgiving

    Aunt Emily: a great aunt. She is 96. She is actually not related by blood, but is the wife of my dad's uncle. A few things you should know about Aunt Emily: 1.) She is in perfect health except that she is mostly deaf. So she talks REALLY LOUDLY all the time. And so do we, so she can hear us. 2.) She enjoys calling people "crooks." 3.) See point No.1.

    Aunt Olga: Another "great" - Marmo's aunt. She's hovering somewhere around 90, age wise, and is intensely happy all the time. Which provides an interesting (but which I mean alarming) counterpoint to Aunt Emily's canktankerousness.

    Elana: Me - sous chef. As sous chef, my responsibilities include burning myself (Thanksgiving tradition) on hot plates, and keeping the Box from eating all the food before it's even served.

    John: 'Sup

    First, the menu:



    Not much has changed over the years at Iaciofano HQ for Turkey Day. It's a small holiday - there aren't very many of us, as both our mom and dad are only children. No cousins! No aunts and uncles - like Wally! It's nuts.

    When I was younger and still living at home, the first smell that greeted me as I walked down the stairs from my bedroom in the morning was the smell of onions cooking in butter. That aroma might be one of my favorites. The Macy's Day Parade (this is my favorite balloon) would be on TV, closely monitored by the Box in hopeful, boyish anticipation for Santa's appearance. Marmo would be in the kitchen, like a mad scientist in the lab, with 18 pots on the stove all simmering various wonderful things, including the onions in butter.

    Thanksgiving dinner begins around 1-2pm in our house. Why so early? A few reasons:

    1. Aunt Emily refuses to eat anything after 5pm. This causes a lot of commotion in my family, in general.

    2. Marmo wants to get rid of everyone so we can go do other things. This usually involves either falling asleep on the couch or seeing a movie.

    At around 1pm, the Box fetches Aunty Em and brings her back to the homestead. Shouting begins. Marmo retrieves Aunt Olga (the Box categorically refuses to go get her) and what ensues from this point on is something like witnessing the two parts of a manic-depressive episode with Emily voicing the depressive, and Olga the manic.

    For example, if you ask Emily how she is, the response is, "Eh, well I'm still here." While if you ask Olga, you will get a bright-eyed (manic gleam in the eye), "I'm grrrreat!" Kind of like Tony the Tiger.

    Traditionally, Aunt Emily has always brought over the antipasto.This is an Italian term for a bunch of appetizers, usually consisting of cured meats, cheeses, olives, roasted peppers, and when my Uncle Harry was alive, chopped chicken livers, which even as a little girl, I LOVED. Sometimes there's even some jumbo shrimp cocktail thrown in there. Random, but tasty.

    The turkey itself is a HUGE point of contention in our house. My mom and I both like turkey – we actually enjoy the taste of it. Everyone else hates it. And we get a lot of jokes, mostly from the Box about when the Lasagne is going to be served. Or the spaghetti...on and on. Aunt Emily complained so much that she gets her very own dinner – hens! This year we are all tempted to fry a turkey – a feat we have never before attempted. Please warn the fire department, but we do have this, just in case:



    Anyway, all safety hazards aside, I've included a few recipes - the ones I think are highlights. I hope you enjoy them, try 'em out, make 'em better, or whatever. Next week we'll have specific turkey instructions along with some fantabulous desserts.

    Marmo's Sweet Potatoes With Apples

    What You Need:

    4 large sweet potatoes

    1-2 peeled, cored and sliced apples

    Brown sugar (your judgment)

    Butter (again with the poor judgment)

    Heavy whipping cream (and one more time)

    What To Do:

    Put your sweet potatoes in a large pot and fill with water to above the level of the taters. Cook on the stove for about 45 minutes until tender. You may need more than 45 minutes - pierce them with a sharp knife to test for tenderness.

    Drain the taters and when they cool, peel the skins off.

    Coat a large baking dish with butter. Slice the potatoes horizontally (so they are like little orange hockey pucks) and cover the bottom of the dish with about 4-5 slices of potato. Sprinkle a healthy amount of brown sugar and dot with a a healthy amount of butter. Add the apple slices on top of that. Repeat these layers until you reach the top of the baking dish. Add about 3 tablespoons of cream (or your best judgement - you really can't mess this one up).

    Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Try to baste with the juices that settle at the bottom of the dish.

    Another hot one is the Cauliflower. The Box claims he doesn't like this, but he usually asks for thirds, sooo....

    Gratinée of Cauliflower

    What You Need:

    6 Tbsp unsalted butter
    4 cloves of garlic minced
    4 ounces of thinly sliced prosciutto
    Florets of 1 large cauliflower cut into ¼ inch slices
    2 Tbsp flour
    1 ½ cup heavy cream
    Pinch of cayenne pepper
    Salt and pepper
    1 ½ cup grated swiss cheese
    ½ cup chopped parsley

    What To Do:

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes.  Stir in the prosciutto and cook two more minutes.

    Add the cauliflower and cook just until it begins to lose its crispness - about 3 minutes.

    Stir in the flour and then the cream. Blend well. Season with cayenne, salt and pepper. Heat to boiling and remove from heat.

    Pour the cauliflower into a baking dish.  Top with cheese and parsley.  Bake until the top is lightly browned and bubbling – about 30 minutes.

    Serve immediately.

    Cranberry Sauce

    *I have to confess to liking the Ocean Spray variety that comes out of the can in one big cylinder that you can slice. But making your own Cranberry Sauce is shockingly easy. Here is how I do it:

    What You Need:

    12 ounce bag of cranberries

    1/2 cup of honey

    2-3 T firmly packed brown sugar

    2 three inch cinnamon sticks

    6 whole cloves

    1/4 tsp grated nutmeg

    3/4 cup water

    Optional: orange zest

    What To Do:

    In a saucepan, combine the cranberries, honey, brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg and water and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes or until the cranberries have burst and the mixture is thickened. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and let it cool. Can be made 2 days in advance, covered and chilled.

    Cranberry Relish

    What You Need:

    1 orange – cut into chunks
    1 apple – cored and cut into chunks
    1 bag of cranberries
    1 cup of sugar
    Zest of one lemon

    What To Do:

    Put everything in the food processor and pulse.  Taste for sweetness.  You may need to add a little more sugar.  Enjoy!

    As for dessert, the Apple Pie and Pumpkin Bread Pudding recipes are forthcoming. But we have a special presentation of those for you, so you will have to wait until next week.

    Thursday
    Nov112010

    Del(icious) Posto (A review of Del Posto)



    Two reviews this week people.  Elana's birthday celebration continues... this time, we loop in Mom and Dad who want to treat Elana for dinner.  Luckily, I get to come as well.

    The day starts off a little shaky for me.  I'm still feeling the effects from Friday night's festivities at Luzzo's and Whisky Town.  And it's Sunday.  In addition, it's late in the 4th quarter and the Jets are getting worked by the Lions (the Lions!).  On top of that, I'm receiving frequent phone calls from my parents - "We're near the statue of liberty and should be there soon, are you ready?" "Where are you?" "What is all that noise?"  "You're at the bar!?"

    Loving Italian parents will always treat you like you are 5.  The flip side of that coin?  They are treating for tonight's dinner at Del Posto.  Oh, and somehow, Rex, Sanchize and the rest of gang pulled out a miracle in the motor city.  Things are looking good!

    Pops picks us up in Hoboken and drives us to the spot.  Del Posto sets a heck of a first impression.  The doors are opened for us, coats are taken, "welcome signor"; the works.  The interior is impressive.  A marbled tile center floor with rich wood floors and panels to the side; soaring ceilings; grand staircases and pianos; the waiters all in jacket and tie.  But any appearance of hoity toity-ness is quickly dismissed by the warmth of the staff.  Very friendly and accommodating.  The way it should be.

    The family decides to go for a tasting option which works like this:  Each person gets to pick their own Antipasti and Secondi, and we can order two different Primi's for the four us.

    Before our orders, however, Del Posto starts you off with some great "snacks" to get things goin' - extremely thin polenta wafers with salmon spread and fried prosciutto and escarole balls.  Two completely different, yet, wonderful treats.  These don't last long with this crew.  The snacks are accompanied by various assortments of breads, with some sweet butter and lardo to smother on should you so choose.  Both are quite rich (particularly the lardo) moist, and perfectly salted; just a healthy hint. (See top picture for details).

    The Antipasti sets the bar even higher.  Elana orders the Roasted Autumn vegetables with Robiola Sformato & Truffled Hazelnuts.  Generously, the birthday girl allows me to sample this.  I'm glad i do.  It is absolutely wonderful.  The truffles and the vegetables form a perfect marriage.  Neither takes over but, together, they are unstoppable.  My Antipasti, the Vongole Marinate with Fried Roman Artichokes & Minted Farro Dressing, is similarly excellent.  The 'choke is flaky and delivers a great salty and natural taste.  But even combined with the clams, it never gets too salty.  Again, simply magnificent.



    The two Primi's agreed upon: the Pumpkin Cappellacci with Brown Butter and the Spaghetti with Dungeness Crab, Sliced Jalapeno & Minced Scallion. (Side Note - Dad loved saying "Dungeness Crab" over and over.  Not sure why).  The Cappellacci was superb.  Thin, homemade pasta, injected with pumpkin and sweet potato, served in dried sage and brown butter.  Do I really need to say any more?  I didn't think so.  The Spaghetti, while perhaps a bit more predictable in its taste, is very well made.  The tomatoes and crab made a nice contrast vs. the sweetness (literally and figuratively) of the Cappellacci.



    For my Secondi, I order Slow Baked Lamb alla Puttanesca & Garlic Tatsoi.  And the fact that the lamb was slow baked shows - easily the most tender and delicious lamb I've ever had.  The spinach, tomatoes, and garlic load this dish with punch.  Elana gets the Seared Duck Breast, Apician Spices, Savor alla Francescana & Lovage - probably the dish of the night/week/month/year.  It is slightly salty, yet creamy and fatty (thanks to the foie gras).   It took all the reserve I had not to high five my sister after eating this.  What an absolute treat.



    Dessert is also tremendous.



    And, ah yes... the bathrooms.  I found the bathrooms to be great here.  Granite counter tops, triangular folded toilet paper, and wonderful smelling soaps.  I could have had a cocktail party in here. I mean any time you get your own private bathroom, it's a special thing.  You don't have to make eye contact with strangers or be on your best behavior.  No, sir.  Instead, feel free to take that extra glance in the mirror or contemplate the necessity of that pesky, 2nd button from the top. The world is your oyster.  And, hey, look at the sign!  It's like they knew I was coming in there.



    A note about the service: it is perfect.  In addition to being extremely courteous and helpful, they are very knowledgeable.  Each dish comes with a small explanation. Wine orders can be made perfect through the advice of their sommelier.  But there is no arrogance here. It's a pleasurable experience.

    So, when all is said and done - Del Posto delivers.  Expensive, yes.  But once in a while, you deserve to spoil yourself.  And this is the place for it.

    Movie Equivalent - The Dark Knight