In L.A. Halloween is the earliest we start to see Fall. For me it is also when I start looking to gather my family and friends together. There is no better way to get people together than a warm cup of soup and a comfort sandwich. So when the kids start collecting candy, I start making soups.
A soup and sandwich combo is perfect because it gives me an excuse to get up from the table and not be the only one in the kitchen. I love the idea of inviting everyone into the kitchen to ladle up a bowl of warm tomato soup and help themselves to my Panini bar, to make their own sandwich.
I found and interesting tomato soup mash up with French Onion Soup. It sounded great but had a lot of steps. Unless, it’s a holiday that is not how I want to spend my time in the Fall. I took the lead from Poole’s Diner in North Carolina and made it my own. The best is caramelized onions and the sweetness they add.
In addition to putting out a beautiful selection of meats, cheeses, breads and toppings, for the Panini bar, I also make these Grilled Cheese Roll-ups. They’re super easy and the kids love to be able to grab them and run out the door to Trick or Treat. Don’t tell the kids but I actually put a little bit of Dijon on the bread before it cooks.
I hope you all have a fabulous Fall season and a scary Halloween.
When I go to the farmer’s market on Saturday’s I get a little over zealous buying berries. I buy way more strawberries than I know we’ll use, but I also get a little nuts with the blue, black and little red ones, too. May is our peak month but, here in California, we are fortunate to enjoy beautiful berries all year long. I get really frustrated when my berries go bad before we have a chance to eat them. So now I make jam! Sometimes just strawberry, other times I mix it up. The point is I make a lot of jam!
Making jam is one of those arts that is actually pretty easy. If you make it with lots of love, like I do, it’s a great gift. I have been trying to keep some in my freezer and take it as a hostess gifts.
The basic recipe is always the same, but you can get creative with flavors. You can play around with spices. How about adding some ginger? Then use it as a glaze over pork tenderloin as it’s grilling. Adding a little fresh ground black pepper gives a surprising flavor profile when used in a Croque Monsieur. I sometimes stir in 1 or 2 tablespoons of butter for a creamier texture. If you’re, really, looking to jazz it up, try adding orange liqueur or champagne. Be sure to remove the jam from the heat to add liquor. Just stir in about 1/3 cup, then boil again for about 5 minutes to set-up.
Homemade jam is always appreciated and what can be better than a dab of fresh jam on toast in the morning or even a midnight snack.
Wash and hull strawberries. Give them a rough chop.
Place all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil, over medium heat.
Reduce heat and simmer 30-40 minutes.
Use a brush dipped in water to brush down any sugar crystals on side.
Once jam has thickened, remove from heat. I use a immersion blender to puree it a little.
At this point you can add 1/3 cup of your favorite liqueur (I like Grand Marnier). Just be sure to remove from heat before adding. You may need to bring it back to a boil for 5-10 minutes, if it thins out too much.
Today is National Chess Day. Yes they are talking about the game, but it made me think about a pie I had as a child, when I would go and visit my grandparents, in Georgia. I looked through a few cookbooks and found no less than fourteen recipes for Chess Pie. Five of them are my own family’s recipes.
Folklore of how this pie got it’s name is that a cook on a plantation made up the recipe and when asked what she had made she answered “Just pie”. Because of her thick accent it was misheard as “chess pie”. Of course there are as many versions of how it got its name as there are recipes for the pie.
Another version of the story is that because the recipe has such a high amount of sugar, it is naturally preserved and therefore didn’t need to be stored in an icebox and could be kept in a pie chest. Again chest eventually got slanged down to “chess”. Finally, there is a version that says Chess Pie is really Cheese Pie, an English recipe that is almost identical and is basically a form of cheesecake. I don’t buy this one at all.
If you don’t know what Chess Pie is, it is a custard pie with a minimal amount of cornmeal or sometimes flour in it. This basic pie exists in every region, in some form. Indiana has Sugar Pie and this may even be a precursor to the base of lemon meringue pie. You could even call it a solid pudding in a crust.
This pie hits all the sensory notes. It is at once smooth with a bit of crunch from the cornmeal. The corn meal will rise to the top and form a crust. When I was a kid I loved this pie because it was so sweet and the more sugar the better. Now that I am an adult, I understand the nuances of the flavor and sugar.
Chess Pie, in the south is like Pound Cake and squash soufflé. If you ask a dozen women you will get a dozen recipes for the same item. I even did a spreadsheet to see where the variances are. I really only wanted to make my family recipe but I tried one other, too. They are both very sweet. In our family recipe, the one below, a tablespoon of vinegar is added. It seems to be what cuts the sweetness a bit.
The ingredients of the recipe are basics and you probably have them in your pantry and fridge all the time. Really, sugar, eggs, cornmeal, milk and butter, is all you need. It all comes together fast so, if you do have the ingredients on hand, you can have a fabulous dessert made in about an hour. However, I do recommend that it cool then get refrigerated over night before serving.
You can add different flavors, too. The easiest way is to change out the vanilla for another extract. However, you can add 1 cup of coconut or ¼ cup cocoa powder too. The cocoa powder also cuts down the sweetness.
Just one bite of this pie and I am driving down a red dirt road to my grandparents and catching lightning bugs.
There is a coffee store every 500 yards, on every block. The coffee shelf at your local grocery store has become the coffee aisle and the fact that bakers have been putting coffee in their chocolate recipes for years, is finally out of the darkness. I wanted to find the perfect recipe to encapsulate all I love about coffee and baking, but wasn’t overtly chocolate. Cappuccino Muffins!
I first tried Cappuccino Muffins when my second daughter was in pre-school. One of the Moms brought them in for the Mom’s whose kids were going through transition. At that point in pre-school you start the day with your child and then go sit outside for a while to make sure they can hack it without you. I have to admit, my girls were always independent enough that I could have dropped them off their very first day and they would have been fine. Other Moms didn’t have it so easy and we could hear their kid wailing, waiting for them to come back in. So those perfect muffins, flavored with espresso, and studded with chocolate chips were just what we all needed to settle our nerves and spark conversation.
I had been given the recipe but have searched high and low for my copy and couldn’t find it. Let the recipe testing begin! It was a truly fun day and I might have a mild case of the jitters, from all the caffeine, but I think I came up with just the right flavor and an added perk of espresso cream cheese schmear. I ran out of my instant espresso powder and my local grocer didn’t have it. They did have Starbuck’s Via Instant Coffee in Italian Roast. That worked just fine.
These are great to make ahead and keep on the counter for about a week. You can also make them and freeze them. I would wrap them individually and grab them on the way out the door. By the time you get to work they will have defrosted and be ready to eat. Even better, you can toast them, from frozen, and use a little of the schmear.