Mother Knows Baked Custard

This recipe is old.  It existed before many other things in my life came to be. 

It existed before my parents divorce.  Before I learned that a breakup can make your heart physically hurt.  Before I knew that I had inherited my father’s heartburn and my mother’s propensity for drinking red wine.  Before I would come to love a man who could shave with a straight razor and who took to drinking bourbon and to making me roast pork and beef stew with homemade noodles on his days off. 

I don’t know precisely what happened last week that caused me to think of this dish (other than some lingering milk that was threatening to go sour if I so much as looked at it wrong).  I hadn’t thought about it since roughly age ten.  After taking a twenty-year sabbatical in the cobwebs of my mind, the custard snapped right back, though. 

It was a dessert that my mother used to make back when my biggest problems were tight-fitting ice skates and boys with Irish-sounding names, like Patrick and Sean.  But there it was, this custard, coming back to me at age thirty, practically begging to put my milk to good use.

It is quite the custard.  Its soft, lightly sweet eggy interior gently supports a spiced, freckled skin.  And if we were to judge solely on looks—which mothers scold against doing and society does on a very regular basis—you can see it’s very pretty.  It’s also very delicate; the kind of dessert that you might want to eat from a teacup.  Though it’s equally as good eaten with a spoon, with the refrigerator door wide open. 

It’s also one of the simplest things to make.  A phone call to mom and a pie dish filled with eggs, milk, sugar, and spice was all it took.  It’s so simple, in fact, that I was able to recall the entire recipe from memory for a coworker last week.

So I’d like to think of this dessert as a form of motherly advice.   A reminder to keep it simple.  A strategy for saving things, like leftover milk.   A model of modest sugar usage.  And a means to connect the past with the present, by way of custard.

Mom’s Baked Custard


2½ cups whole milk
4 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
¼ scant tsp cinnamon
dusting of freshly grated nutmeg


Set your oven at 350 degrees.

Gently heat the milk in a medium saucepan on medium-low heat until it reaches 100-110 degrees give or take (this is before bubbles will form around the edge of your pan).  Mix the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt together in a glass 9-inch pie pan (or another oven-safe dish that will hold your contents). 

Slowly, whisk in the warm milk (be careful that you don’t whisk in milk that is too hot too quickly).  Rinse out your saucepan and fill it with water (to boil for the custard’s hot water bath); heat the water on high heat.

Gently sprinkle the cinnamon over the top of the milk liquid and then grate a little nutmeg on top, as well (no need to get precise with this, you know your fondness for nutmeg better than I do). 

Place the pie pan in the middle of a sheet tray, or cookie sheet with sides, and—when your water is boiling—pour enough water into the tray to go up about 1 inch around the sides of your pan.  VERY GENTLY place the pan in the oven.

Cook until the custard sets, about 45 minutes or so.  You’ll know it’s done when it doesn’t jiggle all over the place and a knife inserted into the center of the custard comes out clean.

Makes about 6 servings

-My mother extremely dislikes nutmeg, so she started substituting cinnamon instead.  I like them both.  So there you have it. (She also tended to use skim milk; employ whatever milk you have around, it's good regardless.)

-Be very careful not to burn yourself if you are using a pie pan for this (mom uses a 1 quart casserole dish).  Oven mitts, people.

-This is equally as good for breakfast as it is for dessert.


PDC Rolls, Au Pied de Cochon to Share

In a world where so many lent books are forever lost between the pages of life, mixed in with the gently worn moving boxes, half-dead houseplants, and mismatched socks, it’s amazing when a book comes back to you. 

But this is how I came to be acquainted with Au Pied de Cochon: The Album.  My boyfriend lent it to a fellow cook a few years ago.  And it recently, miraculously, found its way back to him, this time making itself at home on my coffee table.

So I spent some time with the infamously foie gras-driven cookbook, pawing its pages filled with liver and sausage alongside more liver, cheese curds, and heaps of potatoes.

Foie gras poutine … page turn … boudin maisonfoie gras and boudin tart … page turn … chicken pie with foie gras sauce and crispy chicken skin … page turn ….

Eventually, I came upon a bun recipe.  “PDC bread,” as titled in the book, with a picture of the bread in gorgeous bun form at the bottom of the page.  A bun with a shiny, lacquered top the color of a chestnut.  A top that very clearly yielded to a tender brioche-like bottom.

I had been looking for a bread like this.  The universe does not present such recipes very often.  So I wasted little time getting to know it.   

Sweet heavens.

It’s the kind of bun that is quite good when eaten on its own, but is also easy to imagine paired with some enthusiastically sauced beef or drippy pig parts.  It’s squishy and ever so slightly buttery.  Precisely the kind of bread you want when you are eating something that might just get all over your face.

Life gets messy sometimes.  It moves in ways that you could never predict.  But it’s nice to know there are people out there that still return books.  And still share cookbooks.  And are willing to part with amazing bread recipes.  Recipes that actually match up to the pictures taken of them.

PDC Rolls
Adapted from Au Pied de Cochon: The Album


2 cups whole milk
4 tsp dry yeast
5 cups flour (plus more for the kneading), sifted
3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
2 eggs, gently mixed together
7 tbsp butter, creamed
2 egg yolks


Heat the milk to 93 degrees Fahrenheit (it won’t necessarily feel all that warm if you touch it). Mix in the yeast and let stand for 10 minutes to allow the yeast to activate (you should start to see very subtle bubbles every once and a while and the yeast will get somewhat cloudy but there won’t be a flurry of activity).  In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt; add in the yeast mixture when it is ready.

Mix at low speed using a dough hook for 10 minutes.  (Start the mixer slowly so that the flour doesn’t go flying.) Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.   

Gently mix in the two whole eggs and butter (i.e. on a lower speed) until most of the ingredients have been incorporated (you might want to cover the mixer with some plastic wrap, as some of the flour and eggs may want to jump from the bowl once you've added the eggs and butter); increase the speed of the mixer and blend with the dough hook for 10 minutes or until the bread dough looks very elastic and clings to the dough hook. 

Generously flour a work surface and slightly knead the dough until it can form the shape of a ball (I added another ½-1 cup of flour here because my dough was really sticky).  It will remain a loose-ish dough, but it should stop sticking to your fingers and should be smooth (not shaggy).  Once the dough is formed into a ball, place it into a bowl, and cover it with plastic wrap.  Let it rise at room temperature for about 45 minutes (or until it doubles in size). (I always place my bread on my gas oven range because it’s the warmest part of my apartment.)

Once the dough has risen, take it out of the bowl and divide it in half, divide each half in half and then divide each of your four pieces of dough into thirds so that you have a total of 12 pieces. (They should each weigh roughly four ounces if you have a scale.)  Form each piece into a round ball and place on ungreased baking sheets (I placed 6 balls on each sheet).  Cover the rolls with plastic wrap and allow them to rise again for roughly 45 minutes, or until they double in size.

While the rolls are rising, set the oven to 350 degrees and beat the two yolks together in a small bowl.  When the rolls are ready, lightly brush their tops with egg yolk using a pastry brush, brushing down their sides, as well.  Bake the rolls for about 25 minutes or until their tops are golden brown and shiny.

Makes 12 hamburger-sized rolls

-These are damn good.  Just make them.


A Plate of Blueberry Lemon Oatmeal Pancakes

What you see before you is a plate of pancakes.  A plate of oatmeal pancakes.  A plate of blueberry oatmeal pancakes.  A plate of blueberry and Meyer lemon oatmeal pancakes.

Wait. Before you click away, casting these pancakes off as a chichi breakfast, you should know that they are incredibly simple to make.  A new favorite.  Not that anything could fully replace these guys.  But it’s early January, which means now is the time for warm, fueling breakfasts.

With the addition of two full cups of oats, one could easily classify this recipe as resolution-worthy.  Lest you think I’ve crossed over to the land of chia seed wheatgrass smoothies, it’s important to note there’s also a half cup of melted butter in the batter. 

And while these pancakes are not even close to high maintenance, their heavy reliance on oats requires some concentration when flipping them.  For what you do not see before you is a smaller plate of “the uglies.”   That is, the few pancakes in the batch that didn’t quite make it in the looks department.

Because if you crowd your pan too much or don’t insert your spatula along their undersides with confidence, they tend to fall apart on you.  Fear not.  They are easily mended by pushing their guts back together and carrying on.

As a whole though, these pancakes are magnificent to look at.  As they cook, a golden oaty outline forms, courtesy of the butter, and this creates a lovely lacy pattern on their tops.

But they taste even better than they look. Ever so slightly textured, with the oats softened from spending the night in a bath of buttermilk.  Imparting a subtle nuttiness.  My favorite way to eat them is in a stack of three with a nob of butter and a heavy hand with the maple syrup. 

It’s a mighty fine plate of pancakes.  Plate of oatmeal pancakes.  Plate of blueberry and Meyer lemon oatmeal pancakes.  (Yes, even the “uglies.”)

Blueberry Lemon Oatmeal Pancakes
Adapted from Orangette via the Inn at Fordhook Farm


2 cups oats
2 cups buttermilk (I used low fat)
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup unsalted butter, melted but not hot (plus more butter for the pancakes)
a few drops of juice from a squeezed Meyer lemon 
zest of 1 Meyer lemon
zest of 1 lemon
½ tsp of vanilla extract
¾ cup blueberries (I used frozen from the farmers’ market this past summer)


The night before you plan to make the pancakes, combine the oats and buttermilk in a large-sized bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight.  When you are ready to make the pancakes, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium-sized bowl and set aside. (You can also do this the night ahead, as well.)

Add the eggs and melted butter to the oat mixture, along with the lemon juice, zests, and vanilla and stir until combined.  Add in the flour mixture and stir until it is just combined; fold in the blueberries. (The batter will be thick.)

Heat a large skillet on medium heat and grease it with butter.  Add about ¼ cup of the batter for each pancake, without crowding the pan too much.  When their undersides are brown and the edges of the pancakes are just starting to firm up, flip them and cook each pancake until its center is fully cooked and the other side is golden.  Repeat with a re-greased skillet until all the batter has been used up. (Adjust the heat as necessary if you notice the pancakes are browning too quickly.)

Makes about 12

-These freeze wonderfully.

-I used frozen blueberries and did not defrost them (so that their juices wouldn’t run all over the place when I mixed the batter). 

-No need to use Meyer lemon here, per se.  I had a few extra and thought I’d put one to good use.  I used the zest of a regular lemon because regular lemons have more lemony “punch” and I wanted the combo.  You could always forget about the Meyer lemon completely.  (Which is why I decided to leave "Meyer" out of the recipe title.)

-If you don’t have buttermilk but have, say, whole milk use that instead.  I’ve made this recipe a number of times and it doesn’t matter either way.


Shalom Spiced Tomatoes and Peppers with Simmered Eggs

I made these eggs this morning.  Actually, it was closer to noon.

But this is what happens when you begin to celebrate a Friday night with a glass of sherry here and end up here, right before they flip on the bright lights and start herding glassy-eyed customers out. 

I was in no hurry to move this morning.  So I settled in for a lazy Saturday.  And decided to make eggs that sit in a spicy tomato sauce. 

Breakfast.  Brunch.  Whatever you want to call it.  This Tunisian-inspired dish is one of the best morning meals I’ve had in quite awhile.  It’s a very relaxed version of a recipe found in Jerusalem: A Cookbook.

I am certainly not the first person to praise this cookbook.  Nor will I be the last.  Just last week, I met a woman who was wandering around this spice shop with her book open to the Chermoula Eggplant with Bulgur & Yogurt on page fifty-nine, circling the spice bins.  She appeared trance-like.  Pleasantly hypnotized by cumin and coriander.

I recognized the cookbook instantly, having recently spent some quality time with its recipes.  It was a present from my brother and my copy came with a red-inked handwritten inscription that read:

Merry Christmas!
I can’t decide if giving you a book called Jerusalem for Christmas is ironic; I will let you be the judge.


Quite possibly one of the best Christmas presents I received this year. I made a roasted cauliflower salad with pomegranate seeds, hazelnuts, and parsley leaves from it last week.  It did not disappoint.

Nor will this. The recipe you see here today—a loose interpretation of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s shakshuka—is as charming as a lazy Saturday breakfast could be. 

It’s a one-skillet dish of spiced sautéed peppers and cooked-down tomatoes with a few eggs cracked on top.  Since I didn’t have harissa on hand—and was intent on a low-key morning—I substituted toasted coriander, cumin, and fennel seed plus part of a minced up Fresno chili. 

It’s a comforting savory egg dish that instantly warms.  Its richness is settling. It's the perfect “Shalom” for a peaceful Saturday in January.  

Spiced Tomatoes and Peppers with Simmered Eggs (a bastardized shakshuka)
Inspired by Jerusalem: A Cookbook


½ tsp coriander seed
½ tsp cumin seed
½ tsp fennel seed
glug or two of olive oil (roughly 1-2 tbsp)
1 cipollini onion, finely diced
1 red pepper, diced
½ a Fresno chili pepper, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp tomato sauce (or 2 tsp tomato paste)
kosher salt
6 canned plum tomatoes, chopped
black pepper
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks


Toast the three seeds in an 8-inch skillet on medium heat until they become fragrant.  Grind the seeds with a mortar and pestle (alternatively, you could smash them with something hard like a meat tenderizer or rolling pin inside a Ziploc bag).

Heat the olive oil in the same skillet you used to toast the spices and add the onion, peppers, garlic, ground spices, and tomato sauce (or paste).  Season with salt and cook until the peppers soften a bit, 5-10 minutes; turn the heat down if things look like they’re starting to burn.

Add the tomatoes and continue to cook the mixture until it becomes a thick sauce; taste and season with more salt (plus black pepper).  Make four little holes in the sauce.  Break the first whole egg and place it gently into one of the holes.  Repeat with the remaining whole egg and yolks.   Using a fork, carefully swirl the egg whites (from the whole eggs) a bit into the sauce, being careful not to break the yolks.

Simmer the eggs for 5-10 minutes, covering them with foil to speed up the cooking process if you wish.  The egg whites should be set, but the yolks should still be runny.

Serves two

-The original recipe (paired down to serve two people) calls for 1 tbsp harissa and ½ tsp ground cumin and is served with labneh, which is a thickened yogurt made from cow’s and sheep’s milk.  

-I didn't have tomato paste (which is what the original recipe called for) but I did have some tomato sauce that I made earlier in the week.  And I figured that would work just fine.  It did.

-If you don’t have a Fresno chili you could substitute a serrano or jalapeño. 

-This would be wonderful with some fresh bread.  (The dish was gone before I could get some.)

-I ended up covering the eggs with foil, which is why there is a slight whitening to them.