Smokin' Chestnut

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. ~Harriet van Horne

Pecan, Bourbon and Butterscotch Bread Pudding

Whoa to the nelly. This recipe renders me somewhat speechless. First, it’s a DESSERT. I have, like, four desserts on this blog. And while I love a tasty dessert just as much as the next person, I have found in the past year or so that my sweet tooth has dulled considerably. I used to require something sweet to eat after every meal. Now? Give me bacon and leave me alone.

The other problem with making desserts in this house is the number of people that live here. Smash… and me. Polaris doesn’t count because while she would love to help us finish off any dessert I make, she’s the only one who feels that way. That leaves an entire cake/cookies/brownies/cupcakes/BOURBON BREAD PUDDING to ourselves. As it was, I handed over a hefty chunk of this bread pudding to my landlord (with a small container of the butterscotch sauce) because there was just too much for us to finish without despising it in the end (and that would be a SHAME). So she shared it with those she loves and I like to think they loved her in extra portions that day for bringing some of this home.

Because… just… look at it.

It’s a force to behold, a beast to be reckoned with, a power unto itself. Along that same rambling vein, I’d like to nonsensically wax poetic about this dish for a few lines so that thoughts of bourbon-laced butterscotch sauce seep into your very being, just as it seeped through every single serving of this bread pudding. The entire dish is studded with poppy seeds, whose unexpected pop matched perfectly with the pudding’s crunchy top layer and its soft, warm center. And luckily for everyone involved, that salty, buttery, bourbon-y butterscotch sauce yields far more servings than can fit atop each square of bread pudding. So use it wisely, atop pancakes or ice cream (Matthew did this with his favorite lactose-free variety – the sauce keeps for weeks!). Or use it rashly, atop your finger at 8am when no one but your dog can judge you.

Notes: Instead of four cups heavy cream the original recipe called for (gasp, I know, I’ve offended all sorts of bread pudding gods out there but I stand by my decision! and by my lactose intolerant husband), I used two cups of soy milk and one 15-oz. can of full-fat coconut milk and it turned out GREAT.

Pecan, Bourbon and Butterscotch Bread Pudding
lightly adapted from Epicurious
serves 8-10

Butterscotch sauce:
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 (scant) teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)

1 pound day-old artisan white bread, crusts removed if desired, cut into 1/2″ cubes (12 cups)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 cups sugar
5 large eggs
2 cups soy milk
1 15-oz. can full-fat coconut milk
1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
Pinch of kosher salt
3 tablespoons bourbon
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 cups pecan pieces

For butterscotch sauce:
Combine brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, and salt to a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil; whisk occasionally to dissolve sugar. Boil until mixture is syrupy and measures 1 1/3 cups (HA! I like that part of the instructions. Like I knew what amount it was going to be, but I followed the timing and made sure it was syrupy and delicious-looking), about 3 minutes. Remove from heat; add cream and bourbon, if desired (HA! another part that made me laugh. As if bourbon would not be desired…), and stir until smooth. Let cool. Can be made ahead; just cool completely, cover and chill. Can rewarm before serving (but I never did).

For pudding:
Toss bread, melted butter, and 2 tablespoons sugar in a large bowl and set aside. Using an electric mixer or Kitchen Aid, beat eggs and remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar in another large bowl until pale yellow and fluffy, roughly 3 minutes. Add soy milk, coconut milk, poppy seeds, and salt; beat to blend. Place bourbon in a small bowl; scrape in seeds from vanilla bean (reserve bean for another use). Whisk to distribute seeds, then add to egg mixture, whisking to blend well. Pour egg mixture over bread mixture in bowl. Add pecans and toss to coat well. Transfer mixture to a 13x9x2″ glass or ceramic baking dish, spreading out in an even layer. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Remove plastic wrap and bake until top is browned in spots and a tester inserted into center comes out clean, 1 1/4-1 1/2 hours. Serve bread pudding with butterscotch sauce. Cry upon first bite because it’s one of the best (and successful, personally) desserts you’ve ever made.

Roasted Eggplant Salad with Smoked Almonds and Goat Cheese

Summer is officially here. The season of bugs, birds and wildflowers. The field next door has an abundant amount of the latter (and probably former) so I’ve taken to making wildflower bouquets. But during a segment of Nancy and Kristen’s Garden Conversations – a very local segment consisting of just Nancy, Polaris, and me – Nancy urged me to take a few of the flowers she had just uprooted. So I made a mini bouquet of sweet pea and valerian flowers. Aren’t they lovely? One day when we have our own house, I’m going to take a few tips from Nancy’s garden and plant some valerian. There’s just something about them that I love, from their slender height to the flowers that shower you with delicate white petals if you happen to bump into them.

Then there are the birds. I haven’t been able to snap a very good shot of the male prairie warbler that frequents the kitchen window almost every morning, flitting about and admiring his reflection, but I was able to capture a Carolina wren that was rooting around in the window box. She kept popping her head up, then hopping around, then diving down below. It went on for a while, then she left (which is when I realized my camera settings were not properly set). The originals were severely underexposed but I made the most of it and I’m happy with the end result. Mostly because she looks so cute!

Oh, but you wanted a recipe? Well, then. Allow me to introduce to you one of the best eggplant recipes I’ve had in a very, very long time. We’re partial to a spicy sausage stuffed eggplant recipe but this blew that dish out of the water. Unfortunately, Matthew has been traveling all week and was unable to partake in this most excellent dish, but there are leftovers. Which I may or may not decide to share with him when he gets home…

Overall, it’s a simple dish. Dice the eggplant, bathe them in a smoky, tart marinade then roast them for roughly 40 minutes. The smell that comes out of the oven while they’re roasting is intoxicating. When they’re done roasting you’ll have some of the most perfectly caramelized eggplant pieces I’ve ever seen. Add a splash of lemon juice and soy sauce, mix in chopped parsley and smoked almonds then top with creamy goat cheese and tiny scallion coins.

And suddenly you’re looking at a vegetarian masterpiece. It’s rich and decadent without feeling heavy; the flavors absolutely sing in your mouth. Perhaps like an aria. Yes, I just compared this recipe to an aria, as if I had any idea what I’m talking about. Just make it!

Roasted Eggplant Salad with Smoked Almonds and Goat Cheese
from The Kitchn
serves 4

2 large eggplants, about 2 pounds (I used 4-5 baby eggplants since that’s all the grocery store had)
Kosher salt
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
4 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
Juice of 1 lemon, about 2 tablespoons
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 cup parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup smoked almonds, roughly chopped
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled and divided
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut eggplant into one-inch cubes and place in a large bowl. Lightly toss with kosher salt and let sit while you make the marinade.

For marinade, combine olive oil, cider vinegar, honey, smoked paprika and cumin into a bowl. Whisk to combine. Gently blot away any moisture that has beaded up on the eggplants (I did not have to do this). Pour marinade over eggplant and toss to evenly distribute, then add chopped garlic and toss again.

Spread eggplant out onto a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in the oven and roast for 40 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to ensure even cooking. Remove from oven and let cool slightly on countertop. In large bowl, combine lemon juice and soy sauce. Add eggplant, parsley, smoked almonds and half of the goat cheese.

After plating, top with remaining goat cheese and chopped scallions. Best served with bread and a serious love of eggplant.

Shrimp in Green Sauce

This recipe? WOW, easy. Also, this recipe? We made it for St. Patrick’s day. The gorgeous green colors were perfect!  I meant to get this recipe out closer to that holiday but I am human, which means I’m busy and I procrastinate, which means I post recipes whenever I want.

However! This dish works anytime, including on those non-holiday workdays when you’ve not nothing in your kitchen except for a bag of frozen shrimp (hidden away in the depths of your freezer), a bunch of parsley and some scallions in danger of going bad (I won’t tell anyone if they’re not perfectly fresh) and some white wine (this is a staple in our kitchen).

Shrimp in Green Sauce
from Serious Eats
serves 4

3-4 cloves garlic
1 bunch parsley
3 scallions
1 jalapeno (seeded if you don’t like spicy, seeds left in if you do)
1/3 cup olive oil
sea salt
1/4 cup white wine
1 Tbsp water
1 lb large, peeled, deveined shrimp

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. To your food processor, add garlic and pulse. Then add parsley (remove hard stems, soft stems are OK), roughly chopped scallions, jalapeno and whirl until combined. Stream in olive oil and pinch of salt and press that processor one more time until the ingredients twist together in a symphony of awesome. Basically – BLEND IT ALL.

In an 8×8 (or 9×10, in my case) glass/ceramic/oven proof dish, combine the pulsed ingredients with the shrimp, wine, and water. Stir to combine then bake in the oven until shrimp are pink, 8-10 minutes. Serve over your favorite carbohydrate – this day, ours happened to be a hearty chunk of bread.