Comfort Foods and Indulgences

cracked-bread-029b-1024x682There is nothing quite as satisfying as eating a thick slice of warm homemade bread slathered with creamy butter. For me, the process of making and kneading bread dough, normally a cool-weather activity in my kitchen, brings peace to my mind, reduces stress and releases me from all the small stuff I’m sweating about.

Cracked Pepper and Chives Bread began with a bread machine recipe I found in an old cookbook I bought at an antique shop a couple of years ago. I added fresh chives to the original recipe, a little honey and olive oil as the fat. I do have a bread machine that I dug out and made the first batch as the original recipe directed. The bread turned out just fine.

There’s just something about the shape of loaves turned out of my machine that just doesn’t seem right. Especially when I know how rustic and earthy bread can look when it is formed into rounds and baked on a pizza stone in the oven.

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spanishtoastTorrijas, a cross between French Toast and bread pudding, can be found throughout the year in Spain, but they are particularly popular for dessert around the Easter holiday. The tradition of reviving stale bread with eggs and milk dates back to Roman times, and most countries have their own particular version.

I first tried this dish at the Palace Hotel in Madrid and was impressed with the subtle flavors of cinnamon, lemon and honey. There are many variations of this treat – some soften the stale bread by soaking it in a sweet wine, while other variations use milk, and honey. The chef at the Palace was kind enough to share his recipe, which I think is just about perfect.

In Spain, it’s served cool or at room temperature (frankly almost everything in Spain is served at room temperature) and drizzled with honey syrup.

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ImageWith the very cold, very rainy, part snowy-sleeting weather going on outside, comfort food reigns supreme at the moment.  Grilled cheese is always a favorite so the hubby and I went for this kicked-up version of grilled cheese for lunch the other day.

The name of the sandwich caught my eye as we lived for years about 70 miles east of San Francisco. We went there as often as we could (which was never enough).  San Francisco is truly one of the most beautiful cities in America and the food there is always incredible and very much inspired.

The idea of Parmesan on the bread is pure genius and flavoring the butter that cooks the sandwich in the's like a Monte Cristo, only better. Of course the Muenster cheese, avocado and turkey made it just over-the-top.  We truly enjoyed it!

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Frank Pepe Clam Pizza-471x240Pizza is local. A guy from Cincinnati traveling in Italy will thumb his nose at the pizza because it’s not what he used to eat in Ohio when he was going through puberty. Italians are no different. I know Romans who make rude gestures when they talk about the pizza from Naples.

“The crust is too thick — and then it falls apart in the middle. It is without structure.”

I’ve eaten a lot of pizza in Naples; I’ve downed an obscene number of pies at Baffetto in Rome; I’ve had Sicilian pizza in Sicily, Pugliese pizza in Puglia and Ligurian pizza in Liguria (excellent, by the way) and pizza, at its best, is totally local, which means to say it reflects the personality and the groceries of its neighborhood.

Obviously I’m not referring here to pizza chains, which produce cookie-cutter pies of no interest. Nor am I referring to take-out pizza, which is an abomination. Take-out pizza absorbs the taste and smell of the cardboard it travels in. By the time it arrives you may as well just eat the box. No, I’m talking about real pizza.

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blueberryroll2.jpgIt's blueberry season. Glorious, juicy, sweet blueberry season.

If you're looking for one fabulous blueberry treat this summer, then you've got to make my Mom's Blueberry Sweet Rolls. She has been making them since I was a little girl, and my love for them has never waned.

Each bun has warm, juicy, cinnamon-sugar coated blueberries tucked inside of a pillowy soft sweet dough that is glazed with vanilla icing. There is something ambrosial about these buns: they're delicate and pretty enough for a ladies' summer tea party yet homey and comfy enough for a midday snack with a glass of milk.

So next time you go blueberry picking, save a pint of your best berries for Mom's Blueberry Sweet Rolls. Trust me, summer never tasted so good. 


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