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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

2015 Kitchen Experiment #2 - Coconut Bread Pudding

      I'm tired of throwing away stale bread. I don't want to make croutons with it because I don't use them that much, but I've heard in many circles that bread pudding is the way to go. What stopped me in the past is that it seemed hard to make, so this time I did my due diligence and researched an easy way to recycle the loaf of Cuban bread that laid abandoned on my kitchen counter.
     A quart and a half of milk, a bag of flaked coconut, a cup and a half of sugar and a little almond extract later, I had an enormous bread pudding with a mild but comforting flavor, an airy dough and a lot of warm coconut. I extended the experiment by producing two toppings- a Limoncello whipped cream and a caramel rum sauce. The whipped cream was good enough to eat by itself, but it married beautifully with the coconut in the pudding. What I couldn't predict was how that caramel rum sauce would turn the bread pudding into an A-list star.
     I fought for my cause and accomplished my task: I saved the bread!

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Monday, January 12, 2015

BLT Prime

     On Christmas day, John and I usually get all decked out and have our traditional brunch in Miami Beach. This year, we had to modify our plans. After a Christmas Eve dinner party and a candlelight church service, sleeping in was just a given, and by the time we were done unwrapping presents and playing with our new toys, the brunch window at our favorite place had closed. Nothing left to do but venture into uncharted territory.
     Upscale restaurants are adopting the practice of offering a prix fixe menu for those of us without upscale paychecks who enjoy the pleasures of fine dining. BLT is such a place and, spoiler alert, this meal was a very nice cap to an already blessed Christmas. They start you off with a small plate of amuse-bouche-sized crustinis with chicken liver paté. If you're mildly hungry when you arrive, this delicate prologue will rev up your appetite.
     But they don't stop the teasing there. The paté is followed by their signature Gruyere cheese popovers served with whipped unsalted butter and a shaker of sea salt. These are crispy balloons that exude fragrant steam when you puncture them. Inside, the dough is mixed with the cheese in such a way that you can't tell where one ends and the other begins. Apparently BLT is so proud of these, they come to the table with the recipe printed on a signature card.
     For our first course, we both had the butternut squash bisque with spiced cream and pumpkin seeds. Spicy is usually a deal-breaker for me, but this time I caved. It was thick, luxurious, velvety and addictive. It was hard to make the expected polite pauses between spoonfuls.
     For the main course, John ordered the Tomahawk ribeye cooked medium with a fun sweet potato allumette  (shoestring cut). The steak was a show-stopper. It actually does look like a weapon... or a dinosaur limb.
     It was cooked slightly under medium but it was tender and caressed by a salty, cherry-infused 'jus' that enhanced the natural meat flavor. Coupled with a Victory Prima Pilsner brew, it was what some would call 'a man's meal'.
     I had the roasted Delmonico with bone marrow chimichurri and roasted rainbow carrots. My steak
was not as tender as the Tomahawk and also slightly under medium but well-flavored. The mixed-in bone marrow made the chimichurri earthy and robust, a fine companion to such a respectable cut of beef.
     We tried both dessert options, the Buche de Noel with eggnog ice cream, and the caramel pecan tart with brown butter ice cream and Bourbon sauce. The Buche was notably second rate and the eggnog ice cream a blunt disappointment. The flavors couldn't have been further from the expected. It was a beauty though, bedazzled with gold-covered pecans.
   The caramel tart was much more satisfying, and the brown butter ice cream kept the promise in its name. All elements combined into a lovely package, and the Bourbon was the perfect ribbon to tie it all together.
     Generally speaking, I enjoyed discovering this restaurant which is located in a splendid setting, Miami's Trump National golf resort. I strolled down the sweeping marble hallways, gazed upon the rolling greens from the classic colonnade-lined porticos, breathed in the rarefied air of affluence in the wrap-around terraces evocative of those on Mediterranean villas.
     The only cloud over the radiant landscape of this evening was a misunderstanding in the reading of the prix fixe menu. It lists the Tomahawk ribeye as one of the three main course options. However, when our bill came, there was a substantial surcharge for the choice. Nowhere on that menu is this surcharge clarified, at least not that we could see. We're big fans of the prix fixe menu whenever it's offered, but in the future we will be more careful and ask more questions.  Lesson learned.

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

2015 Kitchen Experiment #1 - Pane Tostato Italiano

     Do people still get fruitcakes for Christmas? I haven't received one in a long time, but I remain hopeful. Where others look at them as doorstops or sandbags for severe rain events, I see an opportunity for brunch greatness. I gave this experiment an Italian name because fruitcakes remind me of panettoni, and 'Italian French toast' sounds geographically confusing.
     Other than the fruitcake, the ingredients and preparation are the same as for any other form of French toast, but when placed in the griddle, the heat releases the fragrance and sugar of the raisins and other miscellaneous fruit, and the result is a tender, tangy yet sweet slab of bread. Butter is optional but not necessary, believe me. I chose to serve it with roasted pecan syrup. I'm still smacking my lips as I write!

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