Sunday, April 13, 2008

Of Butter, Apples, and Hope

As much as I love to write about cooking with Matt, honestly, he’s got some stiff competition for my gastronomic affections. My real partner in kitchen crime is Daphna of “Daphna and Ian.” She recently taught me how to make a sinful garlic bread and fabulously delicious cinnamon rolls. Over the years, she has shared with me at least a dozen recipes, including tasty fruit-and-nut bars and a heavenly, ridiculously simple recipe for baked apple French toast. The first time we met was over food. Her sweetie (now husband), Ian, suggested we go out for brunch at The Original Pancake House. As an aside, he suggested I bring a favorite cookbook and told me Daphna would be doing the same.

Perhaps I should be a little embarrassed to admit this, but I was nervous about meeting Daphna! I knew Ian was smitten with her, and I had heard so much about her, but still, I didn’t know what to expect. What would she be like? Would she be nice? Would she be comfortable with me? Would she be comfortable with the friendship that Ian and I have? Perhaps it seems silly to be nervous about meeting a friend’s significant other. Deep down inside, I really, really wanted to like her, so it was with high hopes and nervous anticipation that we met that beautiful morning.

Then Daphna turns out to be one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Just like Ian. Really, should I have expected anything else? The morning we met, over juice and eggs and pancakes, she gave me a packet of recipes to try, recipes she had selected and printed out just to share her love of cooking with me. It was literally one of the sweetest things anyone has ever done for me. I was in awe, a bit speechless. But most of all, I was elated for Ian, enormously happy to see him in love with this kind, generous, and absolutely gorgeous woman. And I secretly hoped that Ian’s relationship with Daphna would let me become friends with her!

So perhaps I have a bit of a girl-crush (read: platonic) on Daphna. It’s hard not to, especially when she shows me that when it comes to garlic bread, more butter = more better and cinnamon rolls have the most wonderfully soft and silky dough. She’s encouraged me to have an open heart when it comes to dating, to look past the first few scary dates and remember that love is about hope, not hurt. She introduced me to the Chana Masala and outrageously good brownies from Orangette, confessing to me later that she boldly cut the sugar in the brownies and (shhh!) didn’t tell me. She’s endlessly curious about cooking, executing ambitious projects with ease. Her friendship makes me happy; her recipes fill my belly.

Daphna’s Baked Apple French Toast was the first recipe from her that I tried. It remains one of my favorites. It’s simple, composed of basic pantry ingredients and fills the kitchen with the heady scents of apple and spice. Much like Daphna, it is unpretentious and homey, perfect for a simple dessert in the evening or brunch for two.

Daphna’s Baked Apple French Toast
Serves 2

I tinkered with the original recipe just a bit to come up with this version. I added dashes of nutmeg and ginger to infuse more warm spiciness into the batter, and I made the topping a little bit richer by playing it loose with the Better or butter. What is Better, you ask? It’s just a make-ahead blend of butter and oil, lightly salted. Better makes butter more usuable straight from the fridge because once the oil is added, it doesn’t solidify into a hard block. Rather, it remains soft and spreadable, which is perfect for those of us who make grilled-cheese sandwiches on a regular basis. Here, the Better makes it easier to make the crumble topping because it yields so nicely to the fork.

For the French toast:
1 egg
¼ c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. brown sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
Dash of ginger
2 slices whole-grain bread (use your favorite), cut into cubes
1 medium apple, pared, cored, and cubed (not peeled unless you prefer it peeled)

For the crumble topping:
1 ½ tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. brown sugar
A spoonful of Better (recipe below) or butter
A sprinkle of cinnamon

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8.5” by 4.5” loaf pan with cooking spray.
2) To make the bready batter, crack the egg into a medium bowl and beat it lightly. Stir in the milk, vanilla, brown sugar, and spices. Add the bread and apple cubes and stir gently to coat. Let it stand for 2-3 minutes, or until the bread has absorbed all the liquid.
3) Meanwhile, prepare the crumble topping. In a small bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, Better or butter, and cinnamon, mashing them together with a fork until crumbly.
4) Once the bread has absorbed all the liquid, spoon it into the prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle the crumble topping evenly over the bread mixture. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until nice and golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow the French toast to cool slightly. Serve warm.

Adapted from “Better” in Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon
Makes ~1 cup

I believe this butter-oil combination is an old hippie trick for using butter in more moderate amounts. I have seen a similar recipe in Laurel’s Kitchen, a vegetarian cookbook that takes a very strict stance on butter and sugar. I’m a little more loosey-goosey with both, but I find Better to be incredibly useful to have on hand, so I’m happy to have found this recipe. Like I said above, Better is great for using butter straight from the fridge because it’s much softer; I absolutely love grilled cheese sandwiches made with Better. Better works really well in cooking, but it won’t always work in baking because baked goods, especially cookies, need the “solidness” of butter to turn out right. So if you use Better in your baking, consider yourself warned!

½ c. butter at room temperature
½ c. macademia nut oil or other mild, tasty oil
¼ tsp. salt

1) Add the butter, oil, and salt to the bowl of a food processor. Buzz until smooth, pausing the scrape down the sides as needed.
2) Scrape the mixture into serving ramekins or freezer-safe containers, depending on how fast you think you’ll go through your batch. I usually split my Better into two containers, one for the fridge and immediate use, the other for the freezer for later use. Better lasts a long time, but not indefinitely, in either the fridge or the freezer.


Nick said...

Excellent friendship you got going there. I need some people around that are as in to cooking as I am!

I like the look of that french toast, real simple like you say. I'm saving that recipe cause it sounds like a perfect weekend brunch. I've been meaning to make a baked apple strata at some point, this looks to be a winner!

- The Peanut Butter Boy

Rosiecat said...

Nick, you're right: it's great to have friends who love to cook.

One of the reasons I like this baked apple French toast recipe is that it's scaled down to feed two people. I feel like many strata recipes feed an army, which never really happens in my kitchen. It occurs to me that this recipe would go really well with a savory scrambled tofu for brunch, which means I need to perfect my tofu scramble recipe so I can share it with you!

Nick said...

That's true, it's the same reason I haven't made it yet, cause it makes too darn much! And clearly its the kind of thing that's best out of the oven. Get that recipe going!

Oh and check out my newest post, you should enter!

- The Peanut Butter Boy

daphna said...

Hey Rose-Anne! Gee, I'm blushing! I've had a wonderful time with our cooking parties too, and there aren't too many other people (well, no one really!) with whom can I talk to about food like we do. If I ever start a cooking blog, I'm gonna have to post your spinach enchilada and mock tuna salad recipes, 'cause we eat those regularly around here.

Anyway, I'm excited about our next culinary adventure and I'm already starting to think about recipes. Specifically, dessert recipes since cooking with you is the best excuse possible to make something fancy! =)

Rosiecat said...

Nick, I'm afraid you'll have to be patient with me about the tofu scramble; it might take me a few tries to get the recipe just right for sharing with others. And I have other strata recipes that I would LOVE to convert to two- or three-serving sizes. I have a cornbread strata that I adore, but even when cut in half, it makes too many servings for little old me to eat, so it needs some work.

But I've got the perfect recipe to enter in your Peanut Butter Exhibition!

Daphna, what more can I say? Now I am the one blushing! I'm glad the spinach enchiladas and mock tuna salad have settled happily into your repertoire. Easy, tasty, healthy--those recipes have a lot going for them!

You are the Dessert Master. I think with you in the kitchen, maybe we should start eating dessert first! But now you've got me thinking about what we could make at our next party--something in honor of spring, perhaps? I'll have to think about it...

ttfn300 said...

great recipe, made some for mom last week and she loved it! Might've been a little off on your ratios, as I had a small piece of baguette so I just guesstimated, but you can't beat those flavors ;-)

Rosiecat said...

I'm so glad you liked the recipe, ttfn300! How sweet of you to bake something warm and appley for your mom. I keep thinking that now that fall has arrived, it's time for some Baked Apple French Toast. Yum!

I'll have to pass your words along to Daphna; she'll be thrilled!