Almond Joy Brownie Bites

My taste for chocolate has evolved exponentially since childhood. The candy bars I loved back then—Kit Kat, Snickers, Mounds and Almond Joy were some of my favorites—all fall a little flat now that I have experienced fine, artisan chocolates. After you develop a palate for high quality, single-origin chocolate, it’s tough to go back. But occasionally, nostalgia sneaks in and makes me crave a taste of yesteryear, and that’s what happened when I had to reach past a jar of unsweetened coconut to get to my go-to brownie mix.

Why couldn’t I turn my brownies into a play on an Almond Joy candy bar, I thought, but with an elevated presentation and more texture? I reached for almonds, too, and had only one dilemma—how to incorporate the coconut so that it didn’t get lost into the brownies. I didn’t just want the flavors of an Almond Joy to be present, I wanted it to look kind of like an Almond Joy candy bar, too, and that meant I could not just add coconut to the brownie mix. No, I needed to create a filling that would be enveloped inside the brownie, and I wanted it to be bite size with two almonds, just like the candy bar.

These miniature, two-bite brownies were a home run!

I found a recipe on Pinterest for a coconut filling intended for layer cakes, and as I considered the steps of cooking the milk and sugar together until it was dissolved and thickened, it occurred to me: isn’t that basically sweetened condensed milk, and why not just use that? It was perfect for transforming plain, shredded coconut into a thick, sticky, coconutty filling.


My brownie mix got an extra boost of dark chocolate from a spoonful of dark cocoa powder. I did this because I always wished that the candy company had made a dark chocolate version of the Almond Joy—sort of a Mounds-Almond Joy combination thing. I also gave the almond flavor a boost with a touch of almond extract added to the liquid ingredients used to make the brownie batter.


A few more notes worth mentioning before I dive into a visual walk-through of how I put these fun little treats together:

To keep this from being too sweet, I combined equal amounts of sweetened and unsweetened shredded coconut. The latter is sometimes labeled “dessicated” coconut, and you can find it in the baking aisle of a well-stocked supermarket or online from Bob’s Red Mill (where I get it). This is my preferred coconut for most recipes—cookies, smoothies, muffins, etc.—and I chose to use some of it here because I knew the filling would be sweet enough with the addition of the condensed milk and the amount of sweetened coconut. I pulsed the coconut in the food processor, too, to knock down some of the shaggy texture.

My go-to brownie mix is Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate, but (I can’t believe I’m about to say this) the chocolate chunks included in the mix may not be right for this recipe. If you are making this as mini muffins, as I did, you will find that the melted chocolate bits hinder the work of loosening and removing the brownie bites from the pan. The dark chocolate flavor is great but consider using a brownie mix that doesn’t have chips or pieces of chocolate in it; you’ll have an easier time removing the brownie bites without breaking them.

Finally, and this is important, the amounts of brownie batter and coconut filling exceed what is needed in the 24-count mini muffin pan. I had enough of both left over to make a small skillet brownie, and trust me when I tell you, that was not a bad decision either. If you decide to do this, I’d like to suggest that you eat it warm. Mmm…

Yes, really.

OK, preheat the oven to the temperature suggested on your brownie mix, and let’s get this started!

So, was all this necessary? Couldn’t I have just chopped up some Almond Joy candies and added them to the brownies, the way I did with the Leftover Snickers Brownies I made at Halloween a few years ago? Sure, and that would have been tasty, too, but this was a lot more fun. 😊


Almond Joy Brownie bites

  • Servings: 24 brownie bites
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

This is a fun way to dress up a box mix, bringing together the flavors of a classic candy bar with fudgy, soft and chewy brownies.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 box brownie mix plus ingredients on package to make them
  • 1 Tbsp. dark cocoa powder, optional
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract, optional
  • 24 whole raw almonds
  • a few pinches flaky sea salt, optional

Note that this recipe will yield more batter and coconut filling than you will need for a single pan of mini muffin-size brownie bites. Plan ahead to use up the rest in a small baking dish or extra mini muffin pan.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 F, or whatever temperature is recommended for the brownie mix. Generously butter the inside of every cup on a mini muffin pan.
  2. Combine sweetened and unsweetened coconuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to make a finer texture. Transfer the coconut to a bowl. Add the sweetened condensed milk and stir until evenly blended. This will be a thick, sticky mixture.
  3. Prepare brownie batter, adding the dark cocoa to the dry mix and the almond extract to the liquids. Fill the mini muffin cups about halfway. Scoop out a small amount of coconut filling and roll it between your hands into a ball about the size of a marble. Press the coconut ball into a muffin cup, letting the batter come up the sides around it. Repeat with the remaining muffin cups, then drop a slight spoonful of batter on top to fully enclose the coconut ball. You will have a significant amount of batter left over. See Step 5 for suggestions.
  4. Place two almonds on each brownie bite and scatter a few small pinches of flaky sea salt over the pan. Bake at 325 for 15 minutes. Allow brownie bites to cool in the pan until they are easy to handle. Run a thin rounded knife around the edges of the brownie bites to aid in releasing them. Let them cool completely on a plate or tray.
  5. With the remaining batter and filling, we made a warm miniature skillet brownie for two. This could also be baked up in a small glass baking dish, or make a second batch of mini brownie bites when the pan is fully cooled. Use the same method of layering coconut filling over about half of the batter, then pour the last of the batter over to cover it. Sprinkle with chopped almonds and bake for 30 minutes. Enjoy warm!



Vegan Black Bean Burger

At our house, we enjoy doing Meatless Monday—for the good of the environment, yes—but mostly for the health benefit of eating more vegetables and whole grains, and to test recipes that I’d like to serve when my husband’s vegan daughter visits. When I set out several years ago to “make a better black bean burger,” I tried every which way to make it flavorful and simple, but I kept running into the same problem: the burger looked great on the bun until I bit into it, at which point it just squished. The black beans must be smashed or processed to hold together in a patty, but once they are, the texture is just, well, lost.

This time, however, I turned to a new ingredient that I’ve seen and tasted before but had never employed in my own kitchen—textured vegetable protein. With the increased popularity of and demand for plant-based foods, it has become easier to find ingredients such as  this one in a regular supermarket, rather than trudging to a health food store or taking a chance with an online purchase.

TVP is a true blank canvas of vegan foods.

This product, known to plant-based eaters as “TVP,” is a defatted soy product, with a pleasant, chewy texture after rehydrating, and a neutral, almost sweet flavor that can be shifted to the cuisine of your choice. In this recipe, my first-ever shot at cooking with TVP, I wanted to boost the protein content of my Southwest-inspired black bean burgers, but I was also looking for an assist with the texture. The TVP packs a whopping 12 grams of protein per serving, and it only takes a few minutes to soften up with water or broth, but it holds its shape after rehydrating. In other words, it’s exactly what my smashed black beans needed to keep their composure. I found this product in one of our larger supermarkets, but you can also find it online from Bob’s Red Mill.

The other trick I used to give my burgers more heft was oven-roasting the beans before pulsing them into bits. This technique has worked for me in the past, but at that time, I was still using egg as a binder, which made it vegetarian but obviously doesn’t fly for a burger claiming to be vegan. This time, to keep it truly plant based, I further modified my old recipe and substituted a “flax egg,” which was nothing more than ground flax meal combined with the reduced liquid from the can of beans (I could have used water, but I’m always looking for a way to add one more bit of flavor). The flavor boosts came from a generous spoonful of my spicy coffee rub, a few sun-dried tomatoes and the last tablespoon of chipotle puree lingering in the fridge, left over from my pollo chipotle.

The color was right, the texture was good, and the flavor was totally on-point for the burger lovers in this house. Which is both of us, of course!

The textured vegetable protein and oven-roasted black beans gave these all the texture I crave in a burger!

Ingredients (makes about 5 burger patties)

2 cans organic black beans, drained and rinsed (reserve liquid from one can)

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle on beans before roasting

1 cup diced sweet onion

1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped

3 cloves fresh garlic, smashed and rough chopped

1/2 cup roasted salted cashews (from a can is fine, or roast them yourself)

1/2 cup textured vegetable protein, dry from the package

About 5 sun-dried tomatoes, cut up into bits* (see recipe notes)

1/2 cup water or vegetable broth*

1 Tbsp. milled flax seed*

1 Tbsp. spicy coffee rub or other favorite smoky-spicy seasoning*

Medium-grind corn meal, for crusting the burgers before frying

Canola oil, for trying the burgers

Soft vegan buns and favorite toppings, for serving


*Recipe Notes

I learn many things from my trials in the kitchen, and one shortcut occurred to me a moment too late. My photo steps reveal that I rehydrated both the sun-dried tomatoes and the textured vegetable protein with low-sodium vegetable broth. Eventually, I combined them, so my recommendation is doing them together in one bowl to save time and dirty dishes.

Low-sodium vegetable broth is one of my core pantry items and I frequently use it for rehydrating ingredients or cooking dry goods such as rice or quinoa. My philosophy is, why use water if you have an opportunity to elevate flavor?

Flax seed is a nutritional powerhouse, but dieticians are quick to point out that our bodies can only benefit from it when it has been milled. You can buy flax “meal” pre-packaged, but it turns rancid rather quickly. If you buy a bag of seeds, you can keep them fresh longer and mill them in a blade-style coffee grinder as you need them. To make a flax “egg,” combine a tablespoon of the meal with an equal part of warm liquid. The mixture will thicken into a gel-like substance that works great as a binder.

My spicy coffee rub was excellent for flavoring these burgers, and I’ve included the recipe for it on the downloadable PDF if you’d like to try it. Otherwise, use any spice blend you like for grilling. If you are committed to making the burgers vegan, confirm the ingredients of your spices. You might be surprised at some of the stuff they sneak in there. 😉


Instructions

There are several components of these burgers, and most of them can be prepared concurrently, or the day before. My instructions are broken out into each component, and I trust that you’ll manage the prep however it works best for you.


Prepping the black beans

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mat. Spread black beans out in a single layer and let them air dry while the oven heats. When it comes to temperature, drizzle olive oil lightly over the beans and roll them around to lightly coat them. Season with salt and pepper, and then roast the beans for 30 minutes or until they have a dry, slightly crumbly exterior.


Making the flax egg

Reduce the reserved black bean liquid in a small saucepan until it’s reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Let it cool slightly. Sprinkle the milled flax into the liquid and stir to blend. Let this mixture rest for about 15 minutes until it’s a thick, gelled mixture.


Rehydrating the TVP

Heat vegetable broth in a small saucepan or the microwave. It should be at least the temperature of hot bath water. I hydrated the sun-dried tomatoes separately, but I could have added them to the bowl with the TVP. I’m still learning here! Pour the hot broth over the mixture, stir to moisten and let it rest at least 10 minutes to fully rehydrate. Refrigerate this if you are working ahead.


Prepping the veggies

Heat skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and sauté onions, peppers and garlic until softened and slightly caramelized. I usually judge this not by time, but by appearance. When the steam rising from the skillet is replaced by the sound of oil sizzling, they are done. If you still see a lot of steam, that moisture will come back to cause trouble when the burgers are in the skillet. Divide the mixture (at least visually) into halves.


Putting it all together

All ingredients should be cooled to approximately room temperature before mixing. It’s OK if they are cold or lukewarm, but do not process the beans and veggies if they are still hot because this will result in a mushy mixture that won’t hold together well in patties.

To the large bowl of a food processor, add all the roasted black beans, half the sauteed veggies and cashews. Add the spicy coffee rub (or substitute) and chipotle puree. Pulse a few times, just until the beans are about 1/3 their original size and the mixture looks uniform in texture. Don’t process it to the point of being smooth. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Add the remaining vegetables and TVP mixture to the processed bean mixture and fold to combine. Add the flax egg and fold to blend. Shape the mixture into burger-shaped discs that are the same size as your burger buns (they will not shrink during cooking as meat does). Sprinkle both sides of the burgers with cornmeal and press on them to adhere it. Put the burgers on a plate or cookie sheet, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for an hour or two so the patties set up for cooking. Remove from fridge about 30 minutes before frying.

Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium high heat. Add canola oil to a depth of about 1/4” and place the burgers in the skillet, keeping enough distance between them for easy access to turn them. Cook each side until crispy and browned, about 5 or 6 minutes. Take care when turning, as they will fall apart if you “flip” them as you would a meat burger.

Serve with your favorite plant-based toppings and enjoy!


You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the brands and products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or merchandise for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀

Terrie


Kentucky Hot Brown Swirls

The funnest thing about doing a food blog is putting all the new spins on the old dishes. Wait, did I just write “funnest?” Well, a word like that fits the situation, given that I am feeling playful about twisting up a classic. If I’m taking all kinds of liberties with the flavors so beloved for Kentucky Derby, I may as well do it with my words, too.

My celebration of the Kentucky Derby—which is Saturday, by the way, in case time has gotten away from you—is purely vicarious. I’ve never been to the Derby and honestly don’t know how I feel about the way they pressure the horses to perform for profit, but I know that I like the pomp and circumstance, the food traditions, the fancy hats and especially the bourbon! The Kentucky Hot Brown is the most classic dish associated with the Kentucky Derby, and I have twisted it up in several ways already, including a Kentucky Hot Brown Benedict, a Kentucky Hot Brown Pizza and a super simple Kentucky Hot Brown Dip. When Derby time rolled around this year, I wanted to make a fun, crowd-ready food that’s easy to pick up and enjoy in just a few bites because, honestly, who wants to sit down in the middle of a party with a knife and fork and eat a messy, traditional Kentucky Hot Brown open-faced sandwich, with all its oozing Mornay sauce? Yeah, these are much easier!

It’s no coincidence that these Kentucky Hot Brown swirls are delicious with bourbon.

If you’re entertaining friends for the afternoon leading up to the “most exciting two minutes in sports,” may I suggest these adorable little puff pastry swirls? They have all the flavors of the beloved Kentucky Hot Brown, including roast turkey, bacon, tomatoes and gruyere, plus a touch of sauteed shallot and (in a nod to the catering kitchen where I worked so long ago) “A Pinch of Thyme.”

I expected a few obstacles along the way to these tasty rollups, mostly because puff pastry can be fussy to work with. It bakes up best if it goes into the oven cold, so the first thing I planned was to work quickly. Get all your filling ingredients ready first, and refrigerate the ones that are cooked, such as the bacon and shallots. Cook the bacon long enough to render as much fat as possible, so the lingering fat doesn’t make the pastry soggy, but not so much that hard edges will tear the pastry. Shred the cheese and keep that in the fridge until assembly time, too. Fresh roast turkey is probably better than deli turkey (mainly for keeping the sodium in check), and I confess that I used leftover turkey that we had stashed in the freezer after Thanksgiving. As for the tomato, I knew that my sweet and savory tomato jam would not spread neatly onto the puff pastry without tearing it, and I didn’t want to heat it (see the first point about baking puff pastry cold), so here’s how I overcame that challenge—I added a few tablespoons of tomato jam to the bowl with chopped turkey and stirred it together. Problem solved!

You can put these two-bite treats together in the morning or afternoon, even the night before, all the way up to slicing them into swirls, and then refrigerate them until about a half hour before your guests arrive. A quick egg wash and some extra sprinkles of gruyere just before they hit the oven, and, well—riders up!


This recipe makes 12 swirls, just about right as appetizers for 6 people.

Ingredients

3 slices smoked bacon, cut into pieces no larger than a postage stamp

1 smallish shallot, peeled, halved and cut into half-moons

1 cup chopped, cooked leftover roast turkey breast

3 Tbsp. tomato jam (store-bought or homemade, if you have it!)

1 heaping cup shredded gruyere cheese (or Swiss), divided

A few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped

1 sheet store-bought puff pastry, thawed according to package instructions

1 egg, whisked with a teaspoon of water, for egg wash just before baking


Instructions

Ready to make them?



Sunset Margarita

This weekend, I will have the privilege of introducing my husband to live music by the one and only Jimmy Buffett. Despite being an avid music lover and concertgoer, Les has somehow managed to miss seeing the Son of a Son of a Sailor on stage (not to mention the pre-show tailgating), but that will all change on Saturday.

It may be difficult for me to make these fabulous margaritas in the parking lot of the Buffett concert, and it certainly would not display its layers of color through a red plastic cup, but it will taste as wonderful, and at least we enjoyed it at home a few times in all its beautiful, grown-up-cocktail glory.

The raspberry “sinker” has a way of stealing the show.

I created this drink from memory after a getaway weekend Les and I had back in February. We had a mouthwatering Mexican meal in Asheville, North Carolina, and I was intrigued by the descriptions (and the flavors) of the restaurant’s specialty margaritas. This one was called “1800 Sunset,” and the highlight—besides the 1800 reposado tequila that is the star spirit—was the Grand Marnier float and something the menu called a “raspberry sinker.” A float, I understand, and I’ve done it before by slowly pouring a spirit over the back of a bar spoon on top of the finished drink. But a sinker? How in the world do you get an ingredient to stay put in the bottom of the glass? After much searching on Pinterest, YouTube and a few of my favorite professional cocktail sites, I finally learned two ways to achieve this feat, one of which I’ll share with you in the slideshow (hint: I was seriously overthinking it).

A little sweet, a little heat, a little tart and a whole lot of fun!

For the rest of the drink, I wanted pure tropical bliss, so added a few twists of my own. I mixed the tequila with freshly squeezed lime, a splash of pineapple juice and a bar spoonful of jalapeno-infused simple syrup to shake things up. Raspberry on the bottom, orange on the top, and no sign of any “shaker of salt” —no, this pretty drink is rimmed with pink sea salt. These are no ordinary margaritas. Jimmy Buffett, eat your heart out!

You don’t need special “margarita” glasses to make this drink, but it is prettiest in a clear glass that is wider at the top than the bottom. Even a martini glass would work, if that’s what you have. Make up to two drinks at a time in your shaker.


Ingredients, per cocktail

2.0 oz. 1800 reposado tequila

1.0 oz. pineapple juice (canned or fresh)

0.5 oz. jalapeno-infused simple syrup (recipe below)

Juice of 1/2 lime

0.5 oz. Chambord raspberry liqueur (for sinker)

0.25 oz. Grand Marnier or Cointreau liqueur (for floater)

1 tablespoon pink sea salt (for rimming the glass)


Instructions

Prepare the glasses first by swiping a lime wedge around the rim. Pour a couple of spoonfuls of Himalayan sea salt onto a paper towel. Roll only the outside of the glass on the salted towel, so that the rim is evenly salted, but the salt will not fall into the cocktail. Place the glasses in the freezer for at least 10 minutes.

Slice thin wheels of fresh lime, one for each drink. Place them on a paper towel to absorb excess juice and sprinkle them lightly with sea salt, if desired. Measure out the Grand Marnier into a shot glass or small measuring cup. This will aid in “floating” the liqueur over the drink without overdoing it.

Here comes the “sinker” part of the recipe, and you may be surprised how easy it is. Remove the glasses from the freezer and measure the Chambord into the bottom of the glass. Add several ice cubes (or one giant one) to the glass so the Chambord cools down while you shake up the rest of the cocktail.

The drink begins with a pour of Chambord, topped immediately with ice. I use my digital scale for measuring; it’s less sticky! 🙂

In a cocktail shaker, combine tequila, pineapple juice, jalapeno syrup and lime juice over one cup of ice cubes. Shake about 20 seconds to blend the ingredients. Strain the cocktail over the ice in the glass, pouring slowly to avoid disturbing the raspberry sinker underneath.

Finally, turn a bar spoon or teaspoon upside-down over the drink, resting the tip of it on one of the ice cubes. Pour the Grand Marnier slowly over the curved back of the spoon—easy does it! Garnish the drink with a lime wheel and enjoy!

I missed getting a picture of the Grand Marnier float, but it really is as easy as it sounds!

Jalapeno-infused Simple Syrup

1/2 cup filtered water

1/2 cup cane sugar

1/2 red jalapeno, thinly sliced (seeds included, if you dare)

Simple syrup can be infused with just about anything. This time, I used a red jalapeno for heat to balance the sweet pineapple and raspberry.

Bring water to a gentle boil. Turn off the heat, add sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the jalapeno slices and allow the syrup to steep until completely cooled. Strain out the jalapeno slices. Transfer the syrup to a sealed jar or squeeze bottle. Keep syrup in the fridge for up to two weeks.



Black Sea Bass with Dirty Martini Butter Sauce

I’ve lived in and around Winston-Salem for 35 years, and from the day I arrived as a fresh-faced 20-something, I’ve explored every corner and tried every restaurant and sought out all the specialty shops in a quest to satisfy my food-loving soul.

Or so I thought.

A few years ago, some friends of ours made mention of Sea Products, a hidden gem that has been in business three years longer than I’ve been here, and their recommendation has changed my life. OK, that’s probably a bit overstated, but it has definitely changed my seafood game for the better.

I love stepping into this little shop in the West End of my city. It smells like the ocean in the best possible way and is always amply stocked with fresh seafood—mostly from our own coastline, but sometimes from as far as Canada—and all kinds of accoutrements for whatever preparation you have in mind for your fresh catch. Sea Products throws in a fresh lemon with every seafood purchase, and sells housemade tartar and cocktail sauces, side salads in ready-to-go containers, and fresh breads from a local bakery. They even have a small, curated wine selection, and every bottle pairs with fish. It’s a one-stop shop, and I am a proud supporter of local businesses such as this. The selections are always interesting, to the point that I don’t even bother making a shopping list.

What would it be this day—fresh shrimp, clams or scallops? Pre-made crab or fish cakes? Halibut or grouper? And then something caught my eye from the corner of the case, a fish that I hadn’t seen on previous visits. Black sea bass. The clerk described it as “mild and flaky, similar to snapper but a touch sweeter.”


I am always interested in trying new fish, and thought it made sense to pair the unfamiliar black sea bass with flavors we already knew. OK, I thought, piccata sauce. It’s light enough to let the flavors of the fish shine, and both my husband and I like the balance of brine and tartness, softened by the butter that’s swirled in at the end of cooking. Piccata was the plan, at least, until I opened the fridge. As I shuffled jars to reach the capers, my eyes locked in on a taller jar of pimento-stuffed cocktail olives. Ooh, a martini would be nice right now, I thought.

And then, hmmmm.

I could not help but wonder what would happen if I made the olives an understudy to the usual capers. And because savory olives work so nicely in a martini, what would happen if I substituted gin and vermouth for the white wine in my piccata? Well, this happened!

Black Sea Bass with Dirty Martini Butter Sauce

Technically, the alcohol infusion I’ve used here is what a bartender would call a “reverse martini,” because the ratio of gin to vermouth has been flipped. This seemed the right thing to do, not only because my husband is decidedly not a gin lover, but also for the fact that gin is much higher alcohol by volume than white wine. Dry vermouth, on the other hand, is on par with wine, alcohol-wise, and it would be a better flavor choice to highlight the olives without over-boozing the fish. Finally, my splash of olive juice was far more generous than I’d ever drink in a cocktail (I used a full ounce of it), so a bartender would probably declare the drink infusion to be a “filthy reverse martini.” Filthy indeed.

Two olives in a martini is said to be bad luck. One wasn’t enough, I went with three! 😉

So, those are the flavors and here comes the technique. If you have ever marveled at the elegance of a butter sauce on fresh seafood, you may find it surprising to know that it is simple to make. The trick is to remove the pan from the heat as soon as the juices are reduced, and to swirl cold-from-the-fridge pats of butter into the sauce, one at a time. This easy technique transforms the otherwise liquid leavings in the pan into a silky, rich sauce.

Come, join me in the kitchen!


Ingredients

2 fillets fresh black sea bass (or other mild, flaky whitefish)

1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp. canola or other neutral oil

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (a rich, fruity one is great)

1/2 medium onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)

1 reverse filthy martini* (see note below)

1 heaping tsp. pimentos from a jar

3 Tbsp. completely cold butter (for swirling in at the end)

Small handful of fresh parsley, chopped (for serving)

Lemon wedge (to squeeze at serving time)


*Notes

Reverse martini ingredients are 1.5 oz. dry or extra-dry vermouth, .5 oz. gin, 1 oz. olive juice, 3 olives. Do not shake or stir the martini with ice, as you would for drinking. Just combine the ingredients in a glass or measuring cup at room temperature. Chop or slice the olives and set them aside.

If you don’t care for gin, swap it for vodka or omit it altogether.


Instructions




Smoky Chipotle Mac & Cheese

It only ranks third in America’s overall favorite comfort food (behind pizza and burgers), but here in the South, mac and cheese reigns supreme. It was the first dish I posted on Comfort du Jour when I finally got the nerve to start my blog and, as you can see, we enjoy making fun variations of it at our house! This simple, versatile side dish is like a blank canvas—you can apply so many flavors to it and, with all the different pasta shapes available, hardly ever have a repeat.

The main thing you need for super creamy mac and cheese is a velvety base, and for me, that means a bechamel—which is just a fancy French word that describes “white sauce.” Bechamel is one of the five so-called mother sauces, because it serves so many purposes. The key ingredients of a classic Bechamel are butter and flour (cooked together in equal parts), and milk. The fat in the butter coats the starch in the flour, and the resulting paste serves to thicken whatever liquid is added to it—in this case, milk.

This butter-flour magic is called a “roux,” and it’s one of the first things I remember really learning from time spent in my grandmother’s kitchen. When she first told me about this important technique, I thought Gram was calling it “Roo”—like Kanga’s baby from the Winnie and the Pooh books (that’s how young I was). Since that very early lesson, I’ve learned how to spell roux, and how to adjust it for different applications.

The intensity of cooking on the roux changes its properties, and you can easily use this to your advantage, based on what you are making. For a thick, creamy white sauce, cook the flour in the butter over medium heat, just long enough to achieve a foamy appearance, then add milk all at once and whisk until it is thickened. Season it with salt and pepper, perhaps a little grated nutmeg (essential, in my opinion, for a real bechamel) or another seasoning you like, to match how you plan to use it. If I were to layer this creamy sauce with thinly sliced Yukon gold potatoes and onions, I might substitute ground cumin for the nutmeg, because I love the flavor of cumin with potatoes. Slide that into the oven for about an hour, and you’d be enjoying scalloped potatoes. Melt cheese into the sauce before layering, and you’d have potatoes au gratin.

Cook the flour and butter a bit longer to the point of being brown and toasty-looking, and you’ll have a roux with more complex flavor, but slightly less thickening power. This is what I usually do when I make mac and cheese, because I don’t need the bechamel to be quite as thick on its own (the melted-in cheese makes up for that), and because the browned butter in the base lends a warm, nutty aroma and flavor to the dish.


Incidentally, it does not have to be real butter. A roux can be made with any type of fat, including plant-based butters, cooking oil or even lard or bacon grease. I have also found success using gluten-free flour, as there is usually enough starch in it to produce similar results as one made with regular, all-purpose flour. I have even read that almond flour can be used in roux (though I have not tested this). As long as the starch and fat molecules play nice, you’ll end up with a roux that will thicken. 

For a roux with even more heft and complexity, such as for gumbo, cook the flour in oil rather than butter, and do it low and slow—even in the oven, if you want to go hands-free—and you’ll have a developed flavor that can’t be equaled with any add-in ingredient. More on that another day. 😊

The dish I’m sharing today is another spin on my basic mac and cheese, with the addition of chipotle, one of the most favored flavors at our house. Though a subtle touch of chipotle could be added with a few sprinkles of ground chipotle powder (either before or after the cheese is added to the roux), I’ve opted to use a couple of spoonsful of pureed chipotle with adobo sauce. These are the little cans you find in the “international” section of the supermarket. Chipotle peppers are essentially dried, smoked jalapenos that have been rehydrated to a plump state. We dump the entire contents of a small can into the food processor, to be used in a variety of Mexican-themed dishes, including Les’s Smoky Guacamole and my South of the Border Crab Cakes.

For this batch of mac and cheese, I chose whole grain rotini because of its heft and texture. When you choose a pasta with lots of surface area, you should expect to adjust the pasta-to-sauce ratio (all those twists and curves are going to need extra sauce). I topped the dish with a mixture of crushed crispy fried jalapenos (from Trader Joe’s) and plain panko breadcrumbs.

As for the cheese, I went with a medium-sharp cheddar as the main flavor, but the base cheese is yellow American. You probably already know that very sharp cheeses do not melt as well as their milder counterparts. And I’m sure you know about the exquisite melting qualities of American cheese, despite its bad rap, which is not fairly earned.

Saying “American cheese is not cheese” is like saying “meatloaf is not meat.”

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt


Ingredients

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 large onion, diced fairly fine

3 Tbsp. salted butter

4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 cups milk

6 oz. yellow American cheese, cubed* (see notes)

10 oz. medium-sharp yellow cheddar, shredded

2 Tbsp. chipotle w/ adobo puree (more or less, depending on your tolerance for heat)

A few shakes of ground cumin, for added smokiness

Salt and pepper to taste

2/3 lb. whole grain rotini (if using smoother pasta, use an entire pound)


Topping:

1/3 cup crispy fried jalapenos (or fried onions, if you prefer less heat)

1/4 cup plain panko breadcrumbs


*Notes

I used to think that American cheese was fake food, but this article on Serious Eats convinced me otherwise. Yes, it is processed, but it is not made up of ingredients and chemicals pretending to be cheese. It is real cheese, processed with special salts to result in a smooth, creamy texture when melted. I do not feel this way about the brand that begins with a V (and I think you all know which one I’m referring to), but I am OK with American cheese now and then, and I consider it essential as a melting base for my mac and cheese. Yeah, what J. Kenji said.

If you have an immersion blender, I encourage you to take the step I’ll describe for whipping your cheese sauce into ultra-creamy territory. It is optional, of course, but a total game changer in my mac and cheese endeavors.


Instructions

Smoky Chipotle Mac & Cheese!


Corned Beef Shepherd’s Pie

For the first year in a long time, I did not do my usual DIY Corned Beef for St. Patrick’s Day. The continued time warp caused by COVID, combined with yet another home renovation project that has just begun at our house, has left me a little flustered and out of my routine. So, there’s that, plus a discovery that I made in our freezer.

Last year, we did two huge briskets in my homemade corned beef brine—one was fated to be a classic corned beef with cabbage and carrots, and the other went the extra mile to become smoked pastrami—and I recently uncovered not one, but two packages of said meat that have been hiding in the depths of our freezer drawer. I couldn’t justify making more until we finished what we already had, but what does one do with a pound of vacuum-sealed, sliced corned beef, other than the obvious sandwiches?

I love cooking up fun foods for special occasions, and shepherd’s pie is a classic for St. Patrick’s Day. A typical shepherd’s pie is made with ground meat (usually lamb or beef), peas, carrots and mashed potato topping. But I could not pass over the entire St. Pat’s celebration without the old standby of corned beef and cabbage. Last year, I shared my recipe for colcannon (which I also love), so I whipped up a new batch of that as my pie topper, and I picked up two fun (and Irish) ingredients to give the colcannon extra body and a boost of sharp flavor. Irish white cheddar was a no-brainer, and when I sought out a package of Irish butter (which I only splurge on this time of year), this embellished version jumped right into my basket!

This is how they make Irish butter even better!

Well, that was lucky! Butter that is already flavored with fresh herbs would make this dish even quicker to prepare.

I channeled my grandmother a little bit in making this dish. She was the absolute queen of leftovers, a real whiz at transforming a random thing from the freezer into a full-blown meal that had leftovers of its own. The shepherd’s pie was delicious, perfectly festive for the occasion, and finally helped me use up the frozen corned beef that I forgot I had.

If you’re staring down your own corned beef leftovers, give this dish a go. If you happen to have leftover cabbage and carrots, or leftover mashed potatoes, too—well, you’re way ahead of the game.

A shepherd’s pie is a fun way to revisit the classic flavors of corned beef and cabbage, and this reheats beautifully, even in the microwave.

Ingredients

There are three specific components to this easy dish, and I’ll break down the ingredients list and instructions accordingly. Follow along with the slides and scroll to the end of the post for a downloadable version you can print or save for your recipe files.

Corned Beef & Cabbage Filling

2 Tbsp. garlic and herb Irish butter

1/2 small head green cabbage, chopped

1 cup baby carrots, cut into bite-size chunks

1/2 large onion, chopped

1 lb. leftover corned beef, sliced or cubed

Melt the butter in a large sauce pot or skillet. Sauté the carrots, onion and cabbage until the onions are translucent and the cabbage is soft. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a glass 8×8 oven-safe casserole dish. Set aside, adding the corned beef later when you are ready to assemble the dish.


Colcannon with Irish Cheddar

1 lb. peeled potatoes, cut and cooked until tender (I used 50/50 russet and Yukon gold)

2 Tbsp. garlic and herb Irish butter

1 leek, cleaned and sliced into half-moon shapes

1/2 small head green cabbage, sliced thin

A fat handful of baby spinach leaves, rough chopped

1 cup shredded Irish white cheddar

Get the potatoes cooking (don’t forget to season the water with a generous pinch of salt!) and drain them when they reach fork-tender stage.

Meanwhile, melt butter in the same sauce pot or skillet used for the corned beef and cabbage filling. Add the leeks and cabbage and cook until tender (season them). Turn off the heat and add the spinach to the pan. Toss it around to wilt the spinach. When the mixture is somewhat cool, add it to the cooked potatoes and mash them together. Stir in the white cheddar and set aside.


Gravy

2 Tbsp. garlic and herb Irish butter

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (or beef broth)

2 tsp. beef base (optional, to boost beef flavor if using veg broth)

Melt the butter in the same skillet and add flour, whisking until the mixture is foamy with a slightly nutty aroma. Whisk in broth, cooking and stirring until the mixture is thickened. Add beef base, if desired, to deepen the flavor. Or, if you happen to have a Guinness in the fridge… I’m just sayin’.


Put it all together – Preheat oven to 350° F.

Add the corned beef chunks to the cabbage and carrot mixture and toss to mix it in the casserole dish. Pour the gravy evenly over the filling. Top with dollops of colcannon (don’t smooth it) and bake for 45 minutes, until gravy is bubbling from underneath and colcannon has turned lightly crispy on its peaks.




White Borscht

Like many of you, I have been filled with agony over Russia’s violent aggression against Ukraine, disgusted by the flippant and cavalier attitudes presented by deniers and Putin sympathizers, and worried that there is little I can do to make a tangible difference in the lives of the Ukrainian people. And yet I feel a kinship with them and want to do something, anything, to show my support.

One of the primary reasons I started Comfort du Jour was to build community with others who, like me, feel deeply connected to the world through food. It is the most universal need of humanity, yet very personal because of the customs and traditions woven into our individual and collective heritage.

Last week, a message from Sam Sifton, the founding editor of New York Times Cooking, arrived in my email inbox and it confirmed that I am not alone in this desire to use food to demonstrate solidarity. Sifton described being inundated with reader requests for recipes for borscht, a traditional sour soup that is common across all of Eastern Europe, most notably with Ukraine. I could not resist digging into the variety of recipes he offered in response to his readers, and this one in particular caught my eye.

Most borscht recipes are based on red beets, and though I adore their earthy flavor, my husband (whose Hungarian mother used to make beet borscht for herself) does not. This version, named “white borscht” by chef and author Gabrielle Hamilton, features potatoes and kielbasa, and seemed more in line with my husband’s palate. The original recipe suggests using real pork kielbasa, but I have substituted a lower fat turkey kielbasa. I also cut the butter amount in half and stirred in a little sour cream at the end rather than the crème fraiche suggested by the recipe’s author.

The sour cream and dill add a touch of freshness to this hearty, humble soup.

As always, my exploration into other cultures’ cuisine has taught me some lessons, and one thing about this soup surprised me. I have long assumed that Eastern European soups are “sour” because of fermentation or added vinegar (and sometimes they are), but this soup is both soured and thickened with a hefty chunk of sourdough bread, which I always happen to have on hand. This method of soaking and pureeing the bread was a genius move by the author, as it gave the soup a sturdy, almost creamy, texture, as well as a distinctive sour flavor. Always more to learn in the world of food, isn’t there?

My only regret is that I cannot make an enormous vessel of this soup to feed and comfort all of Ukraine, but I hope that somehow, sharing this experience will ripple across time and space to ensure the courageous people of that nation that they do not stand alone. 🇺🇦


Adapted from https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1021711-white-borscht

Note: The original recipe linked above is only available to paid subscribers of New York Times Cooking (which I am), but my adaptation is very close to the original, except for the aforementioned substitutions and the fact that I halved the recipe for our family of two.


Ingredients

1 lb. smoked turkey kielbasa, cut into three or four pieces

6 cups filtered water

2 dried bay leaves

4 Tbsp. salted butter, divided

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced

1 large leek, cleaned and cut into thin half-moon slices

Kosher salt and about 1 tsp. ground black pepper

A large piece of dense sourdough bread*, crusts trimmed (see notes)

1 1/2 lbs. russet potatoes, peeled

About 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth*

Sour cream and fresh dill for serving


*Notes

Note that real sourdough bread is made from a sourdough starter. Some grocery bakeries take a shortcut that embellishes yeast bread with citric acid, and it is not the same. If you don’t have sourdough bread, consider picking up a loaf from an authentic bakery or use a (seedless) rye. I confess that the sourdough loaf I had on hand was dotted with pumpkin seeds, but after pureeing, this did not have a bad effect on the finished borscht.

The recipe that inspired me did not call for broth, other than the one created by simmering the kielbasa, but in my first-attempt jitters, I accidentally simmered my soup longer than I should have and needed more liquid to keep it from becoming mashed potatoes. It isn’t a bad idea to have some broth at the ready for this purpose. I used a version of vegetable broth called “No-Chicken” broth, and it was perfect for making up the difference in liquid without affecting flavor.


Instructions

  1. Place the kielbasa chunks in a large soup pot and cover it with the filtered water. Add the bay leaves and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer for about 20 minutes.
  2. Prep the potatoes by cutting off the sides and ends, creating mostly flat sides on the potato. Keep the potato scraps in one pile and cube up the rest into a separate pile.
  3. After simmering, the kielbasa should be noticeably swollen, and small droplets of fat from the kielbasa will be swirled throughout the broth. Use tongs to transfer the kielbasa to a cutting board. Pour the broth into a large bowl or measuring pitcher.
  4. Into the same pot, melt two tablespoons of the butter and sauté the yellow onions and garlic with salt and pepper for about five minutes, until tender. Add the remaining butter and leeks to the pot and sauté two more minutes, until those are also tender.
  5. Add the scraps of potato and the large chunks of sourdough bread to the pot. Pour about 2/3 of the reserved broth into the pot and simmer until the bread looks completely bloated, about 10 minutes. Use a large, slotted spoon or tongs to pull out the sopping bread into the measuring pitcher with the remaining reserved broth. It’s OK if some of the leeks and onions tag along. Set the pitcher aside to cool for a few minutes.
  6. Add the potato cubes to the pot, along with enough broth or water to just cover them. Heat to a boil and then simmer for about 15 minutes until potatoes are slightly tender. While that simmers, use an immersion blender to puree the sopping sourdough with the liquid in the bowl or pitcher.
  7. Stir the puree mixture back into the pot, along with the kielbasa. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Simmer just until heated through, as continued cooking will cause the potatoes to turn mushy.
  8. Serve the white borscht with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of fresh dill.



Po’ Boy Shrimp Tacos

Being creative in the kitchen is often little more than playing a game of mix and match. You take a dish you already know, apply another style of cuisine or a few ingredient swaps, and you’re on your way. That’s what happened in my kitchen when I decided to twist together Mardi Gras and Taco Tuesday.

Having never been to New Orleans myself, I already knew something about its foods (well, I mean, who doesn’t?) from friends and internet research. The po’ boy, a classic of New Orleans, is a simple sandwich of inexpensive ingredients—usually local, in-season seafood—fried up and served on French bread with lettuce, tomato and pickles. These humble yet tasty handhelds were slipped out the back door to out-of-work streetcar drivers who were on strike at the end of the Roaring ‘20s (now that we’re here, I suppose I should specify, 1920s). As the locals tell it, a kitchen worker would see one of the hungry drivers coming up for a handout, and shout, “here comes another po’ boy!”

My taco-esque spin on the po’ boy is not necessarily original, given that you have probably seen plenty of shrimp tacos. But the New Orleans flavors are purposely prominent here, from the savory dry spices I added to my handmade corn tortillas, to the Cajun spices in the shrimp breading, to the bold and zesty remoulade that topped it all off. There is no cheese or salsa on these tacos; rather, I swapped in the fresh toppings that you would expect on a po’ boy sandwich—thinly shredded lettuce and tomato. But I did want to keep it in taco territory, so I also layered in some thinly sliced jalapeno, which didn’t bother my heat-loving husband one bit. If it bothers you, leave ‘em off.

If I could hit the rewind button on one thing, I would be the preparation of the shrimp. The shrimp or fish on a true po’ boy would be deep fried in a cornmeal crust, so I went along with tradition on that, but my juicy shrimp did get a bit lost in the density of a buttermilk bath and all that breading, and the whole frying process made a mess of the kitchen and had me frustrated in the end. It was delicious but I doubt all that was necessary. My Plan B was to simply season the shrimp straight in the Cajun spices and give them a quick sauté, same as I do for my go-to Cajun shrimp & garlicky cheese grits. The flavors would have been the same and the overall dish would have been lighter, both in heft and calorie count, so I’ll try it that way next time. 

But then again, it’s Fat Tuesday, so anything goes!


Ingredients

6 corn tortillas* (see ingredient notes)

1/2 lb. Gulf shrimp*, peeled and de-veined

2 tsp. spicy Cajun or Creole seasoning*

Canola or peanut oil for frying (amount depends on whether you use breading)


Breading (optional)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour, divided

1/2 cup cultured buttermilk

1/4 cup fine or medium cornmeal (seasoned with the Cajun spices)


Toppings

About 1/2 cup finely shredded lettuce (I used romaine)

1/2 cup chopped fresh tomato

A few thin slices fresh jalapeno (optional)

5 or 6 slices chopped sweet and spicy pickles (we love “Wickles” brand)


Remoulade

4 Tbsp. mayonnaise

1 Tbsp. Frank’s RedHot Sauce* (original variety)

1 Tbsp. minced fresh garlic

2 Tbsp. finely minced red onion

1/4 tsp. paprika (sweet or smoked)

1 Tbsp. sour cream

Salt and pepper


*Ingredient Notes

You could certainly use store-bought corn tortillas for your po’ boy tacos, and perhaps give them a quick flip through a dry cast-iron skillet to warm and slightly char them just before serving. We love handmade corn tortillas, and I added about 1/2 teaspoon each of smoked paprika and onion powder to my masa dough, to lend a little more flair. See my previous post on handmade corn tortillas for more detail about the technique.

I used large shrimp, 16 to 20 count per pound, but I cut them in half for easier divvying among our tacos. My recommendation for Gulf coast shrimp is not merely for authenticity (it is, after all, intended to be a tribute to New Orleans), but also for the integrity of the product. Be wary of seafood from other countries, especially the stuff that comes out of Southeast Asia, as the industry there is prone to problems ranging from over-fishing and contamination to heinous human rights violations. Is the domestic shrimp more expensive? I suppose it depends on who you ask.

If you don’t have a local fishmonger you trust, look for evidence of standards on the supermarket packaging, and don’t hesitate to ask questions at the fish counter.

To clarify, Cajun and Creole seasonings are not the same, but both are prominent in Louisiana cooking, and I believe they are interchangeable in this recipe, mostly based on your tolerance for heat. Cajun cuisine leans more toward spicy pepper heat and Creole is more about the dried herbs. I used a chile and garlic Cajun powdered seasoning, added to the cornmeal breading. If you skip the breading, simply toss the shrimp directly in the seasoning before sautéing—and don’t skimp!

Frank’s RedHot is the sauce I used, but if you can get your hands on a bottle of Crystal brand hot sauce (the preferred brand in Louisiana), by all means go with that.


Instructions

Make the remoulade ahead, so the flavors have time to meld in the fridge. Stir together all ingredients and adjust heat, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.

If you are making your own tortillas, make those next, keeping them warm on a towel-lined plate as you prepare the shrimp.

For a sautéed version, pat the shrimp dry on paper towels. Spritz them with spray oil and then toss in the Cajun seasoning until well coated. Heat a small amount of oil in a skillet and saute, turning once, until shrimp are no longer pink. Total cooking time should be two to four minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp.

For fried shrimp, heat canola or peanut oil over medium heat in a cast iron skillet, about 1/2” deep. Pat the shrimp dry on paper towels. Set up a breading station, with half the flour in one dish, buttermilk in the second, and remaining flour mixed with cornmeal, Cajun seasoning and cayenne (if using) in a third.

When the oil is ready (toss a bread cube in to see if it bubbles immediately), toss the shrimp lightly in the plain flour, then dip into the buttermilk and finally the cornmeal mixture. Add the shrimp pieces to the skillet one at a time, keeping room between them. Don’t try to do the shrimp all at once because you will cause the oil temperature to drop too quickly. Turn the shrimp pieces when they are golden on the bottom, and salt immediately upon transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. If you need to add oil, do it between batches and allow time for it to return to proper temperature.

Assemble the po’ boy tacos, beginning with shredded lettuce, tomato and jalapeno (if using). Divide the shrimp among the tacos, dress with remoulade and garnish with chopped spicy pickles.



Bananas Foster Ice Cream

Every year, I say that I want to make something elaborate for Mardi Gras—a king cake or jambalaya or étouffée (which my computer just tried to auto-correct as “toupee”)—but I usually miss my chance because I’m tied up making things for Super Bowl or Valentine’s Day. As much as I try, I simply can’t do everything at once.

But because Easter has a floating date (blame it on the moon), so does Ash Wednesday and so does Mardi Gras—and as luck would have it, I have had a little free time after Super Bowl to get my act together in time for this year’s Mardi Gras, which will be March 1. Frankly, I wonder whether I am qualified to make something as traditional as a king cake, given that I have never actually been to New Orleans. I do make a good gumbo, and there was that jambalaya deep-dish pizza last year that was pretty awesome, but I am not prone to do too many repeats, and my craving for a dessert was getting the better of me.

And that’s how this Bananas Foster ice cream came to be.

The Bananas Foster swirl is very prominent and so flavorful.

Bananas Foster is a decadently sweet dessert, native to New Orleans. The traditional recipe involves flaming rum-soaked syrup including brown sugar, cinnamon and butter—all spooned over caramelized bananas and served with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream. In a previous season of my life, I experienced the pure joy of having Bananas Foster prepared tableside, and those flavors never quite cleared my imagination. It was all at once tropical, sweet, warm, cold, sensual, creamy, boozy and flat-out amazing. What could possibly go wrong, I thought, in skipping the flambé and just adapting that whole mix into an ice cream?

For the richness factor, I started with my go-to custard base for the ice cream, but I used brown sugar rather than white to lay a foundation of warm, molasses-y flavor. I caramelized a couple of ripe, mashed bananas into a mixture of brown sugar, butter, cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg, then I poured in a shot of aged dark rum from Jamaica (the same rum I used recently in those “air fryer” jerk wings). Both components got an overnight chill, and then I froze the ice cream and layered in the bananas foster filling the next day.

One of these days, I’ll get to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras properly. Until then, I’ll just put on some beads and some zydeco music and enjoy another scoop of this frozen delight.

Don’t mind me, I’m just having my own private Mardi Gras over here.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups whole milk

2/3 cup light brown sugar (packed)

3 egg yolks (room temperature is best)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Pinch of kosher salt

1 tsp. real vanilla extract

1 Tbsp. vodka or dark rum, optional (added at the end of freezing)

Bananas Foster Swirl

3 Tbsp. salted butter

1/3 cup light or dark brown sugar

3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

A few shavings whole nutmeg

2 very ripe bananas

1.5 oz. dark rum or spiced rum


Instructions for Custard

Full disclosure: I have made my custard-based ice cream many times, and never had this much trouble with foam. Most of the time, the custard cooks up silky and rich. But I got carried away and whipped my egg yolks too much! The ice cream turned out great, but don’t try to replicate this mistake. 🙂

Place a medium, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Combine milk and brown sugar and cook, stirring frequently, until sugar is fully dissolved and milk is steaming.

Using an electric mixer, lightly whip the egg yolks until they are lighter and somewhat airy. This usually works best with a bit of fine sugar in the bowl, but I skipped that step this time because I was using grainy brown sugar in the recipe.

When the milk mixture begins to barely bubble around the edges, transfer about half of it into a measuring cup. Add the heavy cream to the pot and bring it back up to the steaming temperature.

While that’s going, slowly and gradually add the measured hot milk mixture to the egg yolks (with the mixer running constantly). This step is called “tempering,” and it raises the temperature of the eggs slowly to cook them without scrambling them.

Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepot and cook the whole mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is steaming again and the custard has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and strain the custard mixture through a mesh sieve to a clean bowl. Stir in the vanilla and let it cool for a few minutes. Taste it, because oh my goodness. I must make more brown sugar ice cream!

Carefully lay a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard. This serves two purposes—it prevents a skin from forming on the surface, and it prevents condensation from building and dripping into the mixture. Moisture droplets have a way of making unwanted crystals in the finished ice cream. Seal up the bowl, or cover it with an additional layer of plastic. Refrigerate overnight.


Bananas Foster Swirl

Melt the butter in a medium skillet. Stir in the brown sugar until it seems dissolved and a bit syrupy. Stir in the cinnamon and nutmeg.

Add the bananas to the skillet, one at a time, and mash them into the syrup with a fork. It’s OK to keep a few visible chunks of banana—in fact, I recommend it. When the mixture is bubbling all over, stir in the dark rum until evenly blended. Cook a few minutes longer, until it begins to bubble again, and then remove from heat and let it cool.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate it overnight.


Finishing the Ice Cream

Stir the custard to reincorporate any ingredients that may have settled to the bottom of the bowl. Freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. When the ice cream has reached the consistency of soft-serve, add the vodka or rum (if using) and churn another minute until it’s fully blended.

Layer 1/3 of the ice cream in an insulated container, then spoon or pipe about 1/3 of the banana swirl mixture over it. Continue with another 1/3 of the ice cream, then another 1/3 of the remaining swirl mixture*. Finish with the remaining ice cream. Freeze several hours to overnight.


*Note

When this recipe was finished, I had about 1/4 cup extra Bananas Foster Swirl mixture left over. You can discard this, or mix it into some muffin or pancake batter, or stir it into Sunday morning oatmeal!