I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Spiced Baked Fruit Casserole

Spiced Baked Fruit Casserole

Baked fruit casseroles are a favorite food memory for me. They always appeared at holiday buffets, usually when a ham was the centerpiece. Recipes for baked fruit are ubiquitous in community cookbooks, and I was particularly fond of a curried fruit casserole recipe that has always been a favorite around here. But my Mom made a version that involved amaretti cookies, which became a family favorite, though the cookies were not always easy to find in shops. When I became the principal cook for family gatherings, I still asked my Mom to make that casserole, especially for Christmas brunch, and she always obliges.

Eventually, I decided that as it is such a big food memory for me, I ought to share it. But as a professional recipe developer, I knew I wanted to put my own spin on it. Enter spicy Biscoff cookies, once a special treat only procured in Europe or on airlines, but now available widely. I’m generally not a fan of canned fruit, but in this classic recipe, I make an exception, because this dish holds such a place in my memory. A nice dose of spice gives this version a special holiday kick.

Spiced Baked Fruit Casserole
Serves 8
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Ingredients
  1. 2 (15.25 ounce) cans pineapple chunks
  2. 1 (15.25 ounce) can sliced peaches
  3. 1 (15.25 ounce) can sliced pears
  4. 1 (15.25 ounce) can apricot halves
  5. 1 (15.25 ounce) can dark sweet cherries
  6. 1 cup speculoos cookie crumbs (such as Biscoff), from about ½ a package
  7. 1 teaspoon corn starch
  8. ½ cup light brown sugar
  9. ¼ cup butter
  10. ½ teaspoon allspice
  11. ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  12. ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  13. ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
Instructions
  1. Drain the pineapple, peaches pears and apricots. Spread the fruit in a greased 9 by 13 inch baking dish. Drain and rinse the cherries (do not drain the with the other fruit, the juice will stain). Lightly toss the fruit with the cornstarch and the cookie crumbs. I find my good clean hands to be the best tool for this. Arrange the cherries amongst the fruit.
  2. Melt the brown sugar, butter and spices together in a saucepan, just until the sugar and butter are melted and combined. Pour over the fruit. Gently stir the fruit, being careful not to break it up. Don’t worry about coating it fully with the brown sugar mixture. Make sure the cherries are distributed throughout the dish; they tend to congregate.
  3. You can bake it immediately at 350° for 30 minutes until bubbly and heated through, or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Remove the dish from the fridge for about 20 minutes before baking to get the chill off.
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Apple Ginger Upside Down Cake

Apple Ginger Upside Down Cake

You may notice a little theme this month, though it wasn’t actually by design. As autumn rolls around, I start cooking with (and eating) a lot of apples. In season, locally-grown apples are a wonder, on par with eating seasonal, local strawberries, instead of the chemically ripened fruit flown in from miles and miles away. So I make the most of the bounty in cooking both sweet and savory. Last week, I included apples in my deliciously autumnal Roasted Pork with Sweet Potatoes and Hard Cider Cream Sauce, and here I use the little beauties in a sweet preparation, that makes a wonderful dessert with a scoop of ice cream or a perfect breakfast treat.

An upside down cake is a chance to be really artistic in the kitchen. Feel free to arrange the apple slices are creatively as you can manage. Flip the cake over and you’ve got a really beautiful creation to share. Ginger and apple is an amazing flavor combination, and I incorporate the ginger in layers here, using fresh, powdered and crystallized.

Apple Ginger Upside Down Cake
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. For the Apples
  2. ¼ cup butter
  3. ¼ cup light brown sugar
  4. 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, finely grated
  5. 2 apples, I prefer golden delicious
For the Cake
  1. ¼ cup (1/2 stick) of butter, softened
  2. 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  3. 2 eggs
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  5. 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  6. 2 teaspoons baking powder
  7. 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  8. ½ teaspoon salt
  9. ½ cup buttermilk
  10. ¼ cup chopped crystallized ginger
For the Apples
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Spray a 9-inch round cake pan lightly with cooking spray.
  2. Cut the butter into cubes and drop it the pan. Place the pan in the oven for 3 – 5 minutes until the butter melts. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle over the brown sugar and the ginger. Stir with a spatula to combine, then spread the sugar mixture around the pan. It won’t cover the bottom completely, just make sure the sugar is not all in one place. Core and slice the apples into ¼-inch slices and fan out over the butter mixture in an attractive pattern. Some apples can overlap, but you only want one layer.
For the Cake
  1. Cream the butter and brown sugar together in an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla, then beat in the flour, baking powder, ginger and salt alternately with the buttermilk, scraping down the bowl, until the batter is smooth. Beat in the crystallized ginger until evenly distributed. Dollop the batter over the apples in the pan, then use dampened fingers to press it out to cover the apples.
  2. Bake the cake fro 20 – 30 minutes until firm, golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Leave the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around the edge to loosen it. Invert the cake onto a platter, leave for about a minute to loosen, then remove the pan.
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Italian Summer Cherry Tomato Tart

Italian Summer Cherry Tomato Tart

I’m recently back from a month in Italy, exploring the art and history and architecture, but let’s be honest, mostly exploring the food. Because that is what I love the most. The recipes, techniques and ideas I learned are working around in my head still, but I am sure they will come out here soon, but in the meantime, I have been drawn to the flavors I loved so much in Italy. My everyday cooking has seen a marked increase in the use of fresh basil, good Parmigiano-Reggiano and percorino cheeses, fine olive oil and rich vinegars. Light and fresh ingredients that when combined simply sing with flavor.

So it was only natural that when I set out to use some of the lovely little jewel-like cherry tomatoes from the farmers market, my mind wandered back to Italy. This is not something I learned in my travels, nor do I think it is particularly authentic, but the fresh, bright herbs and rich cheeses make a perfect match. Use the charming multi-colored tomatoes if you can find them for a nice presentation. I highly recommend using real Parmigiano cheese and grating it yourself, and rich whole milk ricotta. I’ve given measurements for the herbs below, but you can fudge a little with the quantities.

Italian Summer Cherry Tomato Tart
Serves 6
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For the pastry
  1. 1 Tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
  2. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  3. ¼ cup grated Parmagiano cheese
  4. ½ teaspoon salt
  5. ½ teaspoon pepper
  6. ½ cup (1 stick) cold butter
  7. 4 – 5 Tablespoons ice water
For the Filling
  1. 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  2. 4 eggs
  3. ½ cup whole milk ricotta
  4. ½ cup heavy cream
  5. ¾ cup grated Parmagiano cheese
  6. 1 clove garlic, put through a press of very finely chopped
  7. 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  8. 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  9. 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
  10. salt and pepper to taste
For the Pastry
  1. Place the oregano, flour, cheese, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to chop the oregano and combine. Dice the butter into small pieces and add to the flour, then pulse until it looks like breadcrumbs. With the motor running, drizzle in the ice water just until the pastry comes together in a ball and there is no dry flour left.
  2. Transfer the pastry onto a piece of plastic wrap and press it into a flat, round disc. Wrap in the plastic, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but it can be made a day ahead.
  3. When ready to prepare the tart, preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll the pastry out evenly, then fit it into the pan. Prick the pastry base with a fork many times, then line the pastry with parchment paper and fill it with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven. When cool enough to handle, remove the parchment and the pie weights.
For the Filling
  1. Whisk the eggs together in a large bowl, then add the ricotta and the cream and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the cheese, garlic, herbs a few grinds of pepper and a generous pinch of salt until everything is amalgamated and evenly distributed.
  2. Spread the tomatoes over the pastry shell, distributing them evenly and pour over the filling. Use your clean fingers to move the tomatoes around if needed, so they are pretty well distributed and not bunched up. Grind a little more black pepper over the top, then bake for 40 – 45 minutes until the top is firm and lightly golden.
  3. Cool the tart for about 5 minutes before removing the ring of the pan. Slice and serve warm, room temperature or cold.
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Country Ham Stuffed Eggs

Anytime you pair a classic Southern ingredient with a classic Southern dish its bound to be a wonderful thing. And for me, these are too longtime family favorites, so I earned some extra bonus points. As I’ve said before, in my family we always call them stuffed eggs, not devilled eggs, because devilled smacks of spicy and mama don’t do spicy. Also, I love pulling out my egg trays and putting them to good use.

Salty country ham and creamy egg yolks are a beautiful combination, and I love a edge from shallot, without overpowering the little kick from mustard. I used a thick cut slice of ham for the filling to give it some nice body, but had the deli counter thinly slice a little (prosciutto style) to curl on top of each egg as a nice garnish and additional zing of salty ham. This is a great way to use up a little leftover country ham to make a whole new dish, but don’t be afraid to serve these with more ham. They would look gorgeous on a platter surrounding a whole ham or the piled up slices.

Country Ham Stuffed Eggs
Yields 24
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Ingredients
  1. 12 eggs
  2. 1 shallot bulb
  3. ¼ cup loosely Italian parsley leaves
  4. 3 ounces country ham center slices
  5. 2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  6. ½ teaspoon regular mustard powder
  7. dash of hot sauce
  8. lots of freshly ground black pepper
  9. 1/3 cup mayonnaise
Instructions
  1. Place the eggs in a large pan and cover with water by about an inch. Place over high heat and when the water comes to a boil, cook the eggs for seven minutes. Fill a bowl with ice and cold water and set in the sink. When the seven minutes are up, remove the eggs with a slotted spoon to the ice water. Leave to cool for 45 minutes.
  2. When the eggs are cooled, roll them on the counter to crack the shells all over and peel. Rinse with cool water to remove any stray shell pieces and pat dry.
  3. Cut the shallot into chunks and drop into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times to break up the shallot, then add the parsley and pulse until finely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Drop in the country ham and pulse until everything is finely chopped. You don’t want a puree, just a rough chop.
  4. Cut the eggs in half (wipe your knife on a paper towel before each egg so yolk doesn’t get on the white) and gently scoop the yolks into the bowl of the food processor. Place the empty whites on a tray or stuffed egg plate.
  5. Add the Dijon mustard, the mustard powder, hot sauce and pepper and pulse to break up the yolks. Add the mayonnaise and blend until everything is combined, but there should still be some texture from the ham and shallots – don’t go overboard and make it completely smooth. You can add a little more mayonnaise if needed. Taste and add salt if you want, but the ham is usually enough.
  6. Fill the center indentions of the whites with the filling. Cover and refrigerate the eggs. To avoid plastic wrap touching your beautifully filled eggs, store these in a 9 x 13 storage container with a snap on top or a deep baking dish covered with plastic or foil. These are best made the day you are serving, but can be made a day before and kept covered in the fridge.
Notes
  1. I like to use a very small cookie scoop to fill the whites, then go back with lightly damp fingers to press the filling in and smooth the tops.
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Strawberry Almond Morning Cake

Strawberry Almond Morning Cake

The strawberries are here! The strawberries are here! I anticipate strawberry season all year. I know you can buy strawberries every day now, but there is nothing like a fresh, seasonal, locally grown berry. So I wait. I may use some frozen berries during the out-of season-months, but I rarely buy the berries in the produce section. The farmers markets here start before strawberry season (the middle of April) starts, but things get exciting once the strawberries arrive. All this waiting makes the berries even sweeter, and as they fade, I look forward to the next berry harvest – blueberries and raspberries.

All this means I make the most of strawberry season while its here. I call this morning cake, because it makes a wonderful breakfast or brunch treat, not too sweet, but hearty and fresh with the burst of juicy berries. It has a lovely grainy, nutty texture from the almond meal that sets this apart from a typical coffee cake. The drizzle of creamy almond glaze ups the sweetness (you can certainly leave it off) and adds an extra hit of almond flavor. I am not, of course, saying this couldn’t be served as dessert with a scoop of ice cream or a pillow of whipped cream.

Strawberry Almond Morning Cake
Serves 9
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Ingredients
  1. For the Cake
  2. 1 pound strawberries
  3. ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter, softened
  4. 1 cup granulated sugar
  5. 2 eggs
  6. ½ teaspoon vanilla
  7. ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  8. 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  9. 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  10. ¾ teaspoon salt
  11. ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  12. 1 3/4 cup ground almond meal
  13. ¼ cup heavy cream
  14. For the Drizzle
  15. 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  16. 4 – 5 Tablespoons heavy cream
  17. 1 teaspoon almond extract
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.
  2. Hull the strawberries and reserve 5 or 6 pretty ones to top the cake. Dice the remaining berries into small pieces.
  3. Beat the butter and the sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and making sure the first is incorporated before adding the next. Beat in the vanilla and almond extract.
  4. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg together in a small bowl, then beat into the batter on low speed, scraping the bowl as needed. When the flour is fully incorporated, beat in the almond meal and cream just until combined.
  5. Spread half the batter into the bottom of the prepared pan. The batter will be thick, and I find it easiest to use lightly wet, clean hands to press it in an even layer. Sprinkle the diced berries over the batter in an even layer, pressing them lightly into the batter. Dollop the remaining batter over the top and use wet hands to press it in evenly over the top of the berries. Do your best to cover everything, but if a few little berries are poking out, it’s okay. Decorate the top of the batter with some strawberry halves if you’d like.
  6. Bake the cake for 45 – 55 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean and the top is firm and golden. Cool the cake completely.
For the Glaze
  1. Whisk the confectioner’s sugar cream and extract together in a small bowl until smooth and drizzle-able. Use a spoon to artistically drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake and leave to set.
  2. Slice into squares and serve.
Notes
  1. I like this cake even better the next day.
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Baked French Cream Eggs

Baked French Cream Eggs

One of my mother’s speedy, simple dinner dishes she always called shirred eggs, but are more formally known as ouefs en cocotte. Basically just eggs cracked in a dish, with a little cream poured over and maybe a sprinkling of cheese. I think she made this mostly for herself, but sometimes to feed us when the pantry was bare. I have happy memories of shirred eggs – though I wonder if she will dispute me on this – as a simple comfort food dish. When I moved out on my own and was pinching pennies and had an ill-equipped kitchen, shirred eggs were a standby meal for me too.

But shirred eggs can be so much more, and still be exceedingly simple. All the ingredients in this version are kitchen staples for me, so I can whip up an elegant meal in no time. Add a lightly dressed salad and some bread for dunking in the eggy mix and you are done. I like the simplicity of this, but you could certainly add some chopped fresh herbs or a hint of spice.

Baked French Cream Eggs
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup sour cream
  2. 3 Tablespoons grated gruyere or parmesan cheese
  3. 1 Tablespoon white wine
  4. 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  5. 1 teaspoon salt
  6. 8 eggs
  7. 2 Tablespoons butter, melted
  8. ¼ cup bread crumbs
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease 4 two cup ramekins and place in a larger baking dish. Put a kettle on to boil water.
  2. Mix the sour cream, gruyere, white wine mustard, salt and pepper together and blend until combined. Crack two eggs into each of the prepared ramekins. Spoon ¼ cup of the sour cream mixture over each ramekin, making sure to cover the surface of the eggs. Gently spread it out with the back of the spoon if needed.
  3. Mix the breadcrumbs with the melted butter and sprinkle the top of each ramekin. Place the ramekins in the baking dish and pour boiling water carefully into the dish, coming about ½ up the sides of the ramekins.
  4. Bake the eggs for 15 minutes, until the tops jiggle just slightly. Serve the eggs immediately, with toast fingers of baguette slices for scooping.
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Chicken, Cheddar and Pecan Pie

Chicken, Cheddar and Pecan PieChicken, Cheddar Pecan Pie

The British have a brilliant tradition of savory pies that hasn’t quite translated to the American menu. Sure, we have chicken pot pie and the occasional quiche, but the traditional British pies of flaky pastry double crusts filled with meat and vegetables and rich sauces aren’t too common here. And it’s a shame. Because a savory pie makes a great meal. Now, I say all of this in praise of the supper pie, not because this is a traditional British style pie. I’ve gone pretty full on Southern here. The crumb crust and topping is reminiscent of our classic cheese straws, while the hearty chicken filling is studded with pecans, green onions and cheese – a few of our favorite things.

I love this pie as a homey dinner served with a lovely salad or a cup of creamy soup, but it also makes a nice brunch dish. The pie is best served warm, but is fine a room temperature for serving on a buffet or making ahead of time.

Chicken, Cheddar and Pecan Pie
Serves 6
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For the Crust
  1. 1 cup all-purpose flour
  2. 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  3. ½ cup chopped pecans
  4. ½ teaspoon salt
  5. ¼ teaspoon paprika
  6. 6 Tablespoon vegetable oil
For the Filling
  1. 3 eggs
  2. 1 cup sour cream
  3. ½ cup chicken broth
  4. ¼ cup mayonnaise
  5. 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  6. ½ teaspoon salt
  7. ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  8. a dash of hot sauce (or more to taste)
  9. 2 cups cooked chicken breast, diced
  10. 2 green onions, finely diced
  11. ¾ cup grated cheddar cheese
  12. ¼ cup chopped pecans
  13. pecan halves for decoration
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a deep 9-inch pie plate or tart pan.
For the Crust
  1. Pulse the flour, cheese, pecans, salt and paprika together in the bowl of a food processor until well combined. With the motor running, drizzle in the oil until the mixture is sticky, with the texture of wet sand. Remove ¾ cups of the crumbs and set aside.
  2. Press the remaining crumbs over the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan to form a crust. Make sure there are no gaps. Bake the crust for 10 minutes then leave to cool.
For the filling
  1. Beat the eggs in a bowl, then whisk in the sour cream, chicken broth and mayonnaise until smooth. Add the Worcestershire, salt, pepper and hot sauce and whisk until combined. Fold in the chicken, green onions, cheese and pecans until everything is combined and well coated with the creamy mixture. Spoon the filling into the crust, making sure the chicken is distributed evenly. Sprinkle the reserved ¾ cup of crumbs evenly across the top of the filling. If you’d like, decoratively arrange some pecan halves on top of the pie.
  2. Bake the pie for 50 minutes to one hour minute until the filling is set and the top is golden. Let the pie sit for 5 – 10 minutes before slicing and serving warm.
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Potted Ham

Potted Ham

Potted ham is some truly old fashioned cooking. Potting was a method for preserving meat and seafood and even cheese in English kitchens before the advent of refrigeration. It is basically sealing finely chopped meat under a layer of clarified butter. The butter solidifies and shields the meat form unwanted visitors. It was the precursor to canned meats and I think that is probably why it’s reputation suffered and it went largely out of fashion. I’ve made potted shrimp and potted stilton for English themed tea parties and they’ve always been very popular, but I had never thought of potting ham until I found this recipe in Noel McMeel’s book Irish Pantry at the precise moment I had a surfeit of leftover ham in my refrigerator.

I find this dish charmingly old-fashioned, but it somehow seems to have a modern resonance and stylishness to it. It seems so homemade and self-sufficient. Make this in elegant little ramekins and serve as a first course with toasted crusty bread and a pretty little spreading knife, or make a larger ramekin (no more than a 2-cup size) and serve on a cheese platter with crackers. And it makes great sandwiches – even as a layer in a bahn-mi.

I would not trust this method as its original purpose as a long-term storage solution for meat, but it will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. And it freezes well too. Pack it into freezable jars, cover with butter, refrigerate until cold, then freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw completely in the fridge before serving. I particularly like it in these European-style jars. I have simplified the original recipe a bit.

Potted Ham
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Ingredients
  1. 8 ounces of high-quality butter (like Kerrygold)
  2. 1 pound cooked ham, torn onto pieces
  3. 1 Tablespoon parley
  4. 1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
  5. ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  6. ¼ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  7. ¼ teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  8. ¼ teaspoon salt
  9. lots of ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Cut the butter into quarters and place in a 4-cup microwave safe measuring jug. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Leave the butter to sit for one minute, then skim off any white foam from the surface. Slowly and carefully pour the clarified butter into a smaller measuring jug leaving the white solids behind. Set aside.
  2. Place the ham in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse several times to break the meat up into rough crumbs. Add the parsley, vinegar, cloves, mustard seeds salt, pepper and about 2/3 of the clarified butter. Pulse until you have a thick, rough paste that sticks together, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed and making sure everything is well combined.
  3. Use a spoon to transfer the ham to ramekins or jars. Pack the ham down lightly into the containers making sure there are no large gaps. Smooth the top of the ham to an even layer. Pour the remaining clarified butter equally over the top of each container. The surface needs to be completely covered with a generous layer of butter. No ham should be sticking up through the butter. Leave the ramekins on the counter so the butter settles and begins to solidify, then carefully transfer to the fridge. When the butter has solidified completely, cover with jar lids or plastic wrap. Let come to room temperature before serving.
  4. The potted ham will keep in the fridge for a week or the freezer for up to three months.
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Roasted Asparagus Mimosa

Roasted Asparagus Mimosa

The true culinary harbinger of Spring – asparagus. When the tender stems push their way up through the dirt and out to the market, I really feel like we can start celebrating spring. Asparagus on the plate and buttercups in a vase mean soft days and gentle nights before the heat of summer truly starts. Color comes back, and the gray days of winter are behind us.

Asparagus Mimosa is a classic preparation, but I like to mix it up a bit by roasting the asparagus to deepen the flavor and bring out the natural sweetness. I up the spring factor by tossing the spears with a simple dressing bright with lemon. The grated hardboiled eggs are where the name mimosa comes from – the yellow and white is meant to look like a shower of mimosa petals. A platter of Asparagus Mimosa is a gorgeous addition to a brunch buffet table at any Spring celebration.

Roasted Asparagus Mimosa
Serves 6
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For the Asparagus
  1. 1 pound asparagus
  2. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  3. salt and pepper
For the Dressing
  1. juice of one medium lemon (about 3 Tablespoons)
  2. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  3. 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  4. 2 hard boiled eggs
Instructions
  1. Heat to oven to 400°. Break any thick woody stems from the asparagus by just snapping them off. Place the asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet and then toss with the oil until each spear is coated. Spread the spears in one even layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast until tender, but still with some bite left to them, about 12 – 15 minutes.
  2. While the asparagus are cooking, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil and mustard until smooth and emulsified. Remove the baked asparagus to a platter and toss with the dressing.
  3. Cut the eggs in half and pop out the yolks. Press the whites, one half at a time, through a wire mesh strainer, then do the same for the yolks. Use a spatula or the back of a spoon to push them through. I like to do this onto a plate into a pile of whites and pile of yolks, then carefully arrange them over the asparagus.
  4. The asparagus can be roasted and dressed a few hours ahead. Add the eggs just before serving.
Notes
  1. In the picture above, I added some color with a few cherry tomatoes and some chive blossoms I purchased at the farmers market.
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Monte Cristo Casserole

Monte Cristo Casserole

I started a tradition when my nieces (and later my nephew) were very young. Every year at Christmas, I took them to lunch at a restaurant and then we went shopping for toys and food for all the folks who didn’t have as much at Christmas as we always have. When the girls were very little, I didn’t have much experience handling kids on my own, so I chose a popular chain restaurant where I knew we could all be comfortable. I wanted them to have fun, and I wanted to avoid any meltdowns. It became for many years “our place.” But another reason I chose that particular restaurant was selfish – they served a mean Monte Cristo. A giant hunk of fried deliciousness that I couldn’t finish in one sitting. It was a little Christmas present to myself. That chain went out of business years ago, and I have yet to find a Monte Cristo that equals theirs, though we have found a new “our place.”

A real Monte Cristo is a restaurant treat for me though. I simply am not assembling, battering and frying – I’ll leave that to the professionals. The classic combination of flavors, though, is downright good – turkey and ham and cheese encased in tender bread with that surprising sweet sprinkle of powdered sugar and a little dab of strawberry preserves. The idea lends itself wonderfully to the classic brunch casserole and here is my version. I like to keep it simple, with lots of ham and turkey and a lightly mustardy custard encasing it all. I generously sprinkle the top with a dusting of powdered sugar, which adds that lovely sweet edge and adds a touch of elegance, and serve place a nice bowl of good preserves next to it so each guest can dollop as much or as little as they like.

Monte Cristo Casserole makes a wonderful dish on a brunch buffet or for a family dinner. I served it to my extended family recently, and when I told them what it was, my nieces both said “oh, like that sandwich you like.” Memories made.

Monte Cristo Casserole
Serves 8
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Ingredients
  1. 12 ounce loaf of Italian bread (soft crust)
  2. ¾ pound deli turkey, sliced about 1/8 inch thick
  3. ¾ pound deli smoked ham, sliced about 1/8 thick
  4. 10 ounces swiss cheese, grated
  5. 10 eggs
  6. 4 cups whole milk
  7. 3 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  8. ½ teaspoon mustard powder
  9. 1 Tablespoon sugar
  10. salt to taste and generous grinds of black pepper
  11. powdered sugar for sprinkling
  12. strawberry jam for serving
Instructions
  1. Cut the bread into rough, bite-sized cubes and spread out on a baking sheet or tray. Leave to dry for a few hours (but not until crisp or hard).
  2. Spray a 13 by 9 inch backing dish thoroughly with cooking spray.
  3. Cut the turkey and ham into small pieces, then shuffle them through your fingers to separate them into a large bowl. Add the bread cubes and the cheese and toss to combine. Spread the bread mixture evenly in the prepared baking dish.
  4. Mix the eggs, milk, Dijon mustard, mustard powder, sugar, salt and pepper together in a large bowl and whisk thoroughly, or blend until smooth in a blender. Pour the milk mixture over the bread cubes slowly, making sure it is evenly covering the bread cubes. Push them down under the liquid if needed. Cover the dish with foil and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 400°. Take the dish out of the fridge to take the chill off while the oven is heating. Cook the bread pudding, covered, for 50 minutes to an hour until it is set and puffed up.
  6. As soon as you remove the casserole from the oven, sprinkle a generous layer of powdered sugar through a sieve evenly over the top of the casserole. Serve warm with strawberry jam to spoon over each serving.
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