The Legend of Sleepy Challah

Last weekend my friends Jennie and Zander came over for brunch. Jennie and I met over thirteen years ago, and some of our best memories have been shared over a good meal. But when we were younger, I thought Jennie’s food tastes were crazy. A life without meat or chocolate? The thought nearly knocked my head off.

But now that some time has passed, I’ve broadened my own tastes and realized that some of the best flavors on earth involve neither meat nor chocolate. In fact, one can live a perfectly pleasant existence without what I consider to be culinary staples. Take this autumnal french toast recipe: it has both sweetness and substance.

After over a decade of friendship, Jennie and I can still happily coexist with our varying palates. With the warm, hearty flavors of a satisfying brunch like this, who couldn’t love the month of October? (Except perhaps poor Ichabod Crane…)

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Pumpkin French Toast:

8 slices challah bread

4 egg yolks

2 cups milk

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1 tbsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Instruction:

  1. On parchment paper-lined baking sheet, toast bread in 300 degree oven for about five minutes on each side. Turn off oven and let bread cool.
  2. Whisk together all ingredients (when they have all been brought to room temperature) except for bread.
  3. Soak challah slices in wet mixture for twenty seconds on each side. Allow excess moisture to drip off and immediately put in buttered frying pan over medium heat. Let toast cook on each side for about three minutes, adding more butter if the pan becomes too dry.
  4. Transfer to oven (still warm from step 1) until ready to serve!

Wet Spiced Maple Pecans:

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 tbsp milk

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup pecans

Instruction:

  1. Bring corn syrup, maple syrup, milk, brown sugar, and vanilla extract to a boil, whisking until smooth. Reduce to simmer and keep on heat for about five minutes.
  2. Toss pecans in spices. Pour syrup mixture over the pecans and toss until evenly coating.

Enjoy pumpkin french toast and wet maple spiced pecans with Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews.

Harry Potter and the Deathly ‘Mallows

The early 2000s were a time of wonderful weirdness for preteens. Maybe you made up a dance routine to Monster Mash in your friend’s basement. Perhaps you rocked a Limited Too pageboy hat on a fifth grade field trip. But I’d bet that the most accurate manifestation of preteen splendor would be your AOL Instant Messenger screen name and password.

While I wavered between Neopets and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Cats themes, my sister was always very steadfast – the username was based on a fearless Shakespearean protagonist, and the password paid tribute to one of the most entertaining characters in literature: Peeves the Poltergeist.

The ghosts were such a phenomenal part of the Harry Potter series, and though their appearances were brief and infrequent, they were always entertaining. Nearly Headless Nick was bizarrely endearing, and Peeves was hilariously pesky. JK Rowling did a wonderful job of making ghosts – in the past classically “scary” figures – into something we all looked forward to encountering as we turned the pages of the Harry Potter books.

Like the fashion and social choices we made as preteens, these meringues represent something stereotypically scary at first glance; but when you actually dive in, they’re actually quite sweet.

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Meringue Ghosts:

3 egg whites

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 oz dark chocolate chips

Instruction:

  1. In standing mixer, whip egg whites and salt until frothy. Gradually add sugar on medium-high speed and whip until you have stiff and glossy peaks.
  2. Pipe egg white mixture onto parchment paper-lined baking tray. Bake in 400 degree oven for about 5 minutes, until meringues are light brown on top. Let meringues cool completely.
  3. Melt chocolate chips in microwave in 20 second intervals, stirring between each interval. Using a toothpick or a small piping bag, pipe two dots onto the meringue as the ghost’s eyes.

Enjoy meringue ghosts with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

Madame Clovery

Over the past 25 years, I’ve learned lots of things from my mother – probably because she’s told them to me again and again (and again and again). The current proverb is to always pay off my credit card in full. When I was 16 it was that not getting the lead in the boys’ school musical wasn’t the end of the world. And when I was a child, it was to at least try what was on my plate at the dinner table; I might be surprised by something delicious.

I’ve always had an aversion to vegetables, particularly the ones that sound particularly heinous, like parsnip and turnip. But – as every mother loves to hear – my mom was RIGHT! Parsnips, when cooked and seasoned properly, are sweet, warm, and autumnally satisfying. Perhaps Gustave Flaubert’s title character in Madame Bovary, who found herself hopeless and in debt, also should’ve listened to my mother. Maybe if she had paid off her credit card in full, the book would’ve had a happier ending…

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Mulled Parsnip Crisps:

8 parsnips

1 tsp ground cloves

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 star anise piece

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup olive oil

Instruction:

1. Using a vegetable peeler, peel thin strips of parsnip “ribbon.”

2. Combine all spices in vegetable and olive oils. Heat mixture for about a minute, then turn off heat to let flavors infuse.

3. Strain oil and toss parsnips in the mixture.

4. Spread chips evenly on baking sheet and bake at 350 for 6-8 minutes – until edges are golden brown. Remove and allow to cool and crisp up for several minutes.

Enjoy mulled parsnip crisps with Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

Grimm’s Dairy Tales

This week I’ve been working on a freelance piece about avoiding surface cracks in cheesecakes. Blessedly, the life of a food writer requires testing subject matter at home. And while this prospect seemed very appealing at the start, heaps of batter and billions of calories later have left me feeling a bit worse off than when I started. This same fate befalls anyone who reads “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” Those who are looking for a breezy encounter (as these tales are portrayed in Disney films) end up feeling very weighed down.

Like the tales of these Brothers Grimm, cheesecake – despite its unfailing heaviness – has endured the test of time. But by portioning into these individual ramekins, you will serve up something closer to the Disney versions – sweet, light, and always a happy ending.

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(Pumpkin Cheesecake Terrines)

Crust:

3 ounces chocolate graham crackers

4 tbsp. salted butter, melted

Instruction:

1. Pulse graham crackers in food processor until fine crumbs. Remove blade and add melted butter, mixing until mixture has “wet sand” consistency.

2. Pack even amount of mixture into ramekins, pressing down with fingers to make an even and compact layer.

3. Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove and let cool.

Cheesecake filling:

12 oz. cream cheese

3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree

1/4 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

2 whole eggs and 1 additional yolk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup heavy cream

Instruction:

*Note: All ingredients should be brought to room temperature before beginning!

1. In standing mixer, beat cream cheese, gradually adding in sugar. Add pumpkin, vanilla, and salt, and eggs (all gradually, and at medium-low speed). Finally, add heavy cream and beat until mixture is completely smooth. (You may need to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a silicon spatula.)

2. Pour mixture evenly into ramekins with cooled crust. Create water bath by placing ramekins in roasting pan and pouring boiling water halfway up the sides.

3. Bake for about 45 minutes at 325 degrees – centers should still wobble slightly. Pull out of the oven and leave in water bath on stovetop for about 45 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and cool for another 45 minutes. Finally, transfer ramekins to refrigerator to chill for about two hours. (At this point, you can optionally add your mousse layer – see below.)

(Optional)

Bailey’s cream cheese mousse:

8 oz. cream cheese

1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree

1/4 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1/2 packet gelatin

1/4 cup water

1/4 Bailey’s

Instruction:

1. Whisk together sugar, salt, and gelatin. Bring water and Bailey’s to a boil and pour immediately over dry ingredients, whisking until dissolved.

2. In standing mixer, beat cream cheese and pumpkin puree. Until smooth. Gradually add gelatin mixture in on medium-low speed. Pour over cheesecake right before the refrigeration phase. Chill cheesecake ramekins for several hours, allowing gelatin to solidify.

Enjoy individual pumpkin cheesecakes with Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

All’s Well That Blends Well

In keeping with the Shakespeare theme on the blog this week, I turn to another tale of deception, confusion, and general mayhem. In All’s Well That Ends Well, hidden elements surprise and delight the audience at every turn.

The plot is reminiscent of the old TLC show “Trading Spaces,” in which two couples traded homes and work with a designer to makeover one room. Each episode could produce feuds and deceit, clashes between designer and couple, attempts to pump the carpenter for classified information. Ultimately, though, as in Shakespeare’s beloved play, everyone reconciled at the end of the drama.

Though I primarily watched “Trading Spaces” for Genevieve’s hippy coolness or Frank’s quirky baldness, I did pick up on several real points. For example, color can set the mood of a room, and perhaps even evoke a feeling. The same can be true of color in cuisine. I associate warm orange with Bryn Mawr in November, leaves crunching, a cinnamon scented candle lit, an extra warm blanket shared between snugglers (usually my dog and me). This autumnal puree’s hue makes it a bit easier for me to be abroad this autumn, because I can think about all of the things I love about home.

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Puree:

3 parsnips

5 carrots

1 onion

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup apple cider

Salt to taste (up to 1 teaspoon)

 Instruction:

1. Peel parsnips and carrots; chop them (and onion) roughly. Over medium-low heat, sauté with lid on until all vegetables are tender.

2. Pulse vegetables with cinnamon in blender, gradually adding in cider. Season with salt, if necessary. For a completely smooth texture, pass through a strainer, pushing the lumps through with the back of a ladle.

Enjoy this autumnal puree with William Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, and check in at warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!