Ever since I started my job at Tasting Table four (!) weeks ago, my cooking life has changed dramatically. While I am cooking and testing and eating and trying and experimenting at work, I get home too late to make dinner. So like lots of working moms, I cook on the weekends (one week I roasted a few chickens and left instructions for Matt to use the leftovers to make enchiladas, chicken with pasta, etc; another week I did the same thing with a giant batch of chili but it got made into chipotle pie, chili-mac, and nachos) and this past weekend, man did I cook! I binge cooked actually. On Saturday morning, Matt left with the boys, I had the house to myself for the first time in weeks, and I tore. it. up. I threw open the fridge door and became maniacal in my single mindedness to put anything and everything in a pan and cook it. That we were having friends over for dinner was a happy coincidence. That I hadn’t planned a thing to make for dinner was totally out of form. One month ago I would have had every course planned, every herb plucked, every flavor profiled and balanced. But for this get together, I was uncharacteristically (and happily) haphazard.
I admit, the dinner may sound a bit odd if you only consider what I made. But once our friends arrived, everything strangely came together (well, except for one thing, but it has now become my new targeted recipe fixer-upper, so from here out I won’t stop until I get it nailed–more on that later).
The day began by me throwing two chicken carcasses leftover from a previous roast chicken dinner in my too-big All Clad stockpot (a Christmas gift that I was too lazy to exchange for a smaller size). I covered them with water and adding a couple of yellow onions, celery, and carrots. Black peppercorns, a fresh bay leaf, salt, and a few sprigs of thyme also went in. I brought it to a simmer, reduced the heat to a bare bubble, and let it go, covered, the rest of the day.
I moved on. To my lentil-walnut pâté. Then to tapenade made with some Picholines I had in the fridge along with fantastic seedy mustard, and rosemary-garlic infused olive oil (warm some olive oil and add rosemary and garlic and time does the rest). A half-handful of grated Parm mellowed out the twang. Then I made matzo balls (here’s where things start getting kooky). I envisioned them to be tiny flavor bombs innocuously bobbing in my four-hour chicken stock. A few years back, I made the best matzo balls EVER–I called them meatzaballs because I made them with some chicken (from the soup) pulsed in with the matzo, eggs, and duck fat. Just because I was in that deep-fridge-diving mode, I added cilantro and cumin. Not a good idea in the least, but lesson learned, and now I have a new project recipe to think about (and Passover really is just around the corner).
I’m happy you’re still reading because the best really happened next: sticky toffee pudding. I have been working on this recipe for about ten years, and just this past Christmas did I finally perfect it (at least for now, I’m sure I’ll find some way to better in the many decades to come). For all these years I had been using too much butter, too much brown sugar, and not enough leavener. Well, it has all been fixed and you can reap the rewards of many years of trial below.
Of course we all know that there is no “pudding” in sticky toffee pudding. It is actually a cake made of dates that gets soaked in a toffee-like caramel sauce. It’s rich and decadent and divine and ridiculously simple to make (I do mine in the food processor).
The other hit of the night were big fat gorgeous pork chops Matt got from our local happy animal butcher shop. I always joke that I never send Matt out to shop because he comes home with $80 pork chops, and this time was no exception. I made a quick spice rub pulling out whatever spices happened to be at the forefront of the cabinet: Piment d’esplette, dried rosemary, dried thyme, dried fennel, salt, pepper. Pulsed in the coffee mill-cum-spice grinder, it was a beautiful South of France nod to the thick chops which I pan seared in my gigantic 14-inch cast iron skillet and finished in a 375° oven.
My friends brought a stunning fennel, orange, and red onion salad and a pitch-perfect beluga lentil side dish (and several bottles of wine plus a stunning bottle of dessert wine from the Finger Lakes). The menu worked so nicely that it was like I had it all planned out: pâté, tapenade, cheese, bread, dates, fennel salad, Beluga lentils, pork chops, and sticky toffee pudding. Of course the wild card was the meatzaball soup. Well, at least I know what I’m working toward.
And true to form, the sticky toffee pudding was so good, that I got all caught up in the love and praise and sugar-coated warmth of friends around me and forgot to take a picture. And then it was gone.
How about sending me your pictures to show?
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Makes 9 servings (1 8-inch square pan of pudding; the recipes doubles nicely into a 9- by 13-inch pan)
For the pudding
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 1 tablespoon at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup pitted dates
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/4 cups warm water
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the sauce
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup loosely packed dark brown sugar
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons bourbon, brandy, or whiskey (or no alcohol at all)
- Preheat the oven to 350° and grease an 8-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of softened butter.
- Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl.
- Process the dates and sugar together in a food processor until the dates and sugar are well combined (not smooth but like a coarse date sugar). Add the eggs, warm water, and vanilla and process until combined. With the food processor running, pour in the melted butter. Stop the motor, open the top, add the dry ingredients, and pulse until there aren’t any dry streaks.
- Pour the batter into the pan and bake until the center domes and resists light pressure, 25 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the sauce: melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar and whisk until dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Cook until it starts to bubble all across the surface and then pour in the heavy cream. Whisk to combine, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook gently for a few minutes to let the cream loose its raw taste. Pour in the bourbon, cook 30 seconds more, and turn off the heat.
- Remove the baking dish from the oven and pour about half of the sauce over the cake, using a rubber spatula or spoon to help push it around, spooning it from the edges (where it collects) to the dome. Place the cake back in the oven and bake 10 minute. Remove from the oven and cool completely before slicing and serving with the remaining sauce poured over the top.