Wednesday, May 1, 2013

You Can't Go Wrong With Bourbon

Hello all! The Kentucky Derby is upon us this weekend, and many people are going to parties for the occasion. One of them happens to be my cousin Barbara, who asked me this week for a really easy recipe for dessert.

Now, let me just say, there IS such a thing as the classic Kentucky Derby Pie. And it's completely scrumptious. Think of a chocolate chip cookie, made into pie form, and that's pretty much what it tastes like. Some variations use more chocolate, some are almost a modified pecan pie, some have bourbon and some have walnuts... but really, when it comes to pie, and especially one made with those particular ingredients, is there any WRONG way to do it? No. No there is not. Pie is it's own virtue. Happiness, on a plate.

But when you want to make a dessert for 25 people at a party, Kentucky Derby Pie is not the way to go if you want "Easy". First of all, getting six slices per pie, you'd need to make 6 pies... and unless you're someone like me who's used to bulk cooking, that's a bit much for anyone.

Now let me tell you all a dirty little secret of mine: I like eating desserts, but I'm not overly fond of making them. When it comes to creating food, I think in flavors, and taste recipes in my mind as I'm making them up. So, when I have to think about sweet-sweet-sweet, I can't do it for very long, or I find myself looking for the nearest bag of pretzels, extra salt, please. One of my pet peeves is that desserts are becoming over-sugary as Americans are getting so addicted to no-calorie or low-calorie sweetened products that our collective palates are demanding a bigger sugar hit from foods that normally you don't think of having any sugar in them (breads are a classic example - have you tasted the soft pretzels at Wawa these days? Like a salted doughy sweet roll. Poor Maria Nacchio is turning over in her grave.). So what happens to the real sweets when your supposed-to-be-savories all have a higher sugar content and your palate is desensitized? Exactly. Oversweetened. And then you get companies who've already identified customers like me as a market segment, and have come up with an even more intense work-around to try to keep me coming back: the salted caramel trend. Salty and sweet at the same time... it lights up more of the "yum" braincells all at once. Where one was a sparkle, that, my friends is the whole fireworks grand finale over Cinderella's Castle, at least when you are a supertaster.

So back to my cousin's dessert: I suggested, first, a bourbon sauce. It is the Kentucky Derby, after all. It's tradition! Drinking bathtubs full of bourbon in the middle of the Bible Belt is one of those things that makes America great, and gives me hope for our future! And, now that I've told you all about lighting up those fireworks, you'll see why I gave my cousin this recipe, with salted butter:

Dessert Bourbon Sauce

2 pounds of butter (salted is fine)
1 pound of dark brown sugar
1/2 - 1 cup of bourbon (depending on how boozy you like)
1 cup heavy cream

Put the butter and sugar into the pan, over medium-high heat and stirring constantly, wait for it all to melt together enough that the sugar is fully melted - no longer "grainy" - you can hear it against the back of the spoon and feel it in the texture. Once that happens, turn off the stove, slide the pan to a cool burner, and carefully stir in the bourbon... the reason I say carefully is because alcohol and high heat can flame (though it takes more than this... usually to make it flame for Bananas Foster, I have to get a full boil going and then light it). Once the bourbon is stirred in, return the pan to the hot burner, turn the heat back on again, and stir in the cream. Bring the whole thing a a boil (about 3 minutes) and then take it off and put it in a glass bowl. You can make this in advance, keep it in the fridge, then when you are ready to serve, just microwave it until it's warm - about 3 minutes, stirring at each minute to make it heat evenly.
She's going to get the salty-sweet-fatty hits on this sauce, and everyone is going to love it. And, if that is all Barbara wants to do? Serve this with some brownies or chocolate chip cookies, and she's done. If it wasn't still so damned cold around here, STILL!, I'd tell her to fold it into softened vanilla ice cream and slap it between soft-baked chocolate chip cookies for a grownup ice cream sandwich.

However, if that's not quite enough, and my cousin feels like getting more creative, but easy creative, I suggested pairing the sauce with This Bread Pudding. I love Allrecipes website. I especially love their 5-star rating system, and the fact that all the ratings get averaged by real users... when you get a recipe that has 4 1/2 stars from over 1,800 people? You know that recipe rocks. I use them a lot for research... like for this recipe for my cousin, I suggested to take that basic recipe, but then substitute a more appealing dried fruit for the raisins - like cherries or dried cranberries, which would give a more interesting flavor and color to her results. And that it was entirely fine to choose a different bread, or mix half wheat/multigrain and half white. I've even tasted a sweet bread pudding made from RYE bread before - and it worked! I couldn't believe how great it turned out when they brought it to me... the two girls I used to work with were superb cooks. Great palates. It was always a pleasure tasting their food.

I had a Chef back in culinary school who taught the class on how to design a restaurant, front and back of the house, seating flow, kitchen equipment. God I hated that class! Not because of the  subject matter, - that was very interesting -  but because the Chef made us do the project in teams. He came from the Fortune 500 side of the food industry, was really into the whole corporate mentality of MBA buzzwords this and Six Sigma that, and his personal favorite of these was synergy. That guy had A Thing for the word synergy to the point of fetishism, no lie, and was always jonesing to see it in action. He had the insane idea that this coveted synergy would happen only by giving us a massive project, with an impossible deadline, and then assigning groups so that each was a mix of the top students with the about-to-flunkouts. And when you have a running 3.97 GPA and have spent 5 semesters on the Dean's List, watching more than 60% of the people in your program drop out, the thought of a slacker-group-induced-C is enough to make you contemplate murder. The group I was in wasn't too terrible, truth be told. (Luckily for me, the Chef also had a huge crush on one of the students - they lived together for a time - and had set it up so his little F-boy was at least guaranteed a B for his miserable page worth of work, while the rest of us frantically pulled all-nighters.) However, our group, much to his personal annoyance, did not have synergy.

Why am I mentioning this? Because Bread Pudding does have synergy. If any food can be said to be greater than the sum of it's parts, Bread Pudding is the embodiment of synergy: stale bread, eggs, cream, butter, and some kind of flavoring ingredients, and POOF! Warm, velvety awesomeness that you can take in any direction and have a dish worthy of setting before Royalty. Bread Pudding dates back thousands of years - versions of it were made in ancient Rome, Egypt, the Middle East and India. It's like soup that way - across cultures and centuries people love Bread Pudding.

One time I even poisoned my ex-husband with it. But that's another story.

Have a great day, all!

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