Sep 042012

Kentucky bourbon French toast with bourbon-triple-berry coulis and bourbon whipped cream

There’s something I discovered about The Hubs’ family last year: they really love bourbon. And really, they have a point: there is something extremely compelling about the scent alone that evokes all sorts of warm and woodsy mental images.

So, last summer, there was a family reunion out at one of his relative’s houses in Kentucky, just on the outskirts of bourbon country. We took some time to visit the Maker’s Mark distillery, which was the point at which I discovered The Hubs’ and his dad’s mania for good bourbon. I kind of fell in love with the stuff myself: I could pitch a tent in the aging room with all the barrels and live there quite happily for years, methinks. I wouldn’t need food or water or anything else in particular, really: I could just live off that aroma.

So here’s where my dirty little secret about bourbon comes in. I don’t particularly like to drink the stuff. I really, really wish it tasted as good as it smells, but for me it’s just like Scotch in that I’ll happy sniff up that aroma all day but wouldn’t think about, say, drinking it straight. The lone exception is the time my parents and I found ourselves in the midst of a twenty-car pile-up on the freeway between Phoenix and Tucson in the middle of a giant you-can’t-see-six-inches-in-front-of-your-face dust-storm known as a haboob, narrowly escaped death and/or serious injury three separate times, and somehow managed to get out of that version of hell without a scratch. Once we got home, you bet your ass I poured myself a generous helping of Maker’s straight-up. But I digress.

You may be wondering how I am able to enjoy the scent so much when you can burn your nasal passages pretty well when you go in for a sniff. I learned this trick at the Maker’s distillery: put your nose in the glass and then inhale through your mouth, not your nose. This has allowed me to enjoy that amazing aroma to my heart’s content and has been especially helpful during my pregnancy, since it’s not really cool to drink massive quantities of bourbon when one has a bun in the oven.

Cooking with bourbon is ideal for someone like me: it burns off that ouch-burning alcohol but leaves the warm, vanilla-y, woodsy flavor behind in whatever you add it to. So when I discovered at the end of August that September is National Bourbon Heritage Month and that someone had compiled a list of recipes that used bourbon, I got really excited. I wasted no time planning out the first of our forays into a bourbon-soaked menu, and this amazingly delicious breakfast was the result. We’ll see how long we’re able to keep this up, since the end of my pregnancy is going to mean the end of cooking for a while, but hopefully we can get another couple of recipes made before that happy event!

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Aug 292012

A whole, plated savory bruschetta tart

When it comes to cooking, sticking within limits can be so boring. If you’re ever in the mood to pull out a stop or two and make something the likes of which you’ve never had before, this savory tart is an excellent choice.

I first came across this recipe in a book that we received as a wedding gift. I can’t recall what first possessed me to try it; perhaps it was the description (it used to be served at the author’s Napa Valley restaurant) or the ease with which this could be fit into a dinner-party menu. Either way, I’m extraordinarily glad that I tried it: while I don’t make it terribly often, it’s been firmly set in my repertoire ever since. So much so that for my last birthday (my 30th), I decided not to go to a restaurant and to make this for dinner instead.

Savory bruschetta tart

So don’t be intimidated by the eggplant (this recipe introduced me to the veg), the method (my first-ever dip into deep-frying), or the unusual presentation: this is a dish whose bright, fresh flavors are welcome at any occasion!

Savory bruschetta tart

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Nov 032007

When Cory and I arrived in Florence, one of the first things I noticed on menus at local restaurants was tomato and bread soup. I had never heard of it and honestly was thinking, well, something close to “ew.”

But then there was Il Latini, the renowned restaurant that hasn’t lost its local charm despite its fame (which I have already described in my Panna Cotta entry). Since it was our last night in Tuscany and we had finally found the Florence restaurant of our dreams — the restaurant that we had literally stumbled across, having gotten lost in the streets in our quest for food — I decided to branch out and try some of the truly local cuisine. Even though we were offered many, many delicious options for our primi, I ordered the pappa al pomodoro.

Basil, pre-soup!
Nikon D50

As soon as the waiter set the bowl down in front of me all of my previous expectations evaporated. I had been imagining something much like American tomato soup, thin and watery with an assertive salt flavor. Instead I was served a hearty, thick, delicious soup with deep tomato and bright basil flavor. Its texture on the tongue is like no other soup I’ve ever had. Cory, with his singularly amazing gnocchi, was something akin to jealous.

Bread, thinly sliced before going in the soup
Nikon D50

So, unsurprisingly, Cory and I started looking for a way to duplicate this soup experience when we got back to the States. The William-Sonoma Florence cookbook had disappointing results (which is a cautionary tale to American cooks that what we consider to be aromatics like celery and carrots will never ever stand a chance against plenty of fresh basil), and I was almost beginning to despair until I remembered that in the front window of Il Latini a TV was playing a tape of the international media coverage the restaurant had gotten — and they had played a clip of Rachel Ray’s $40 a Day. Feeling slightly dirty (to put it delicately, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Ms. Ray), I hunted down the episode online, and lo and behold, she had their recipe!!! Cory and I cooked it together, and it was everything we remembered and brought back wonderful memories of that night in Florence.

Soup in progress
Nikon D50

So if you can’t make it to Florence yourself, at least do yourself this favor and make this soup. It’s so representative of how Italians can take something most Americans would throw away (stale bread), add it to a couple of fresh, simple ingredients, and create something warm, delicious, and satisfying.

Tuscan tomato and bread soup, finished and topped with fresh basil
Nikon D50

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