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Sunday, November 8, 2009
If there is one habit that vexes my husband, it's my passion and love for cookbooks. I love them because not only do they inspire "what's for dinner" but they bring the world out there into my kitchen at home. As I turn the pages of my favourite cookbooks, I am transported to hot, bustling kitchens of New York, the rustic kitchens of the French countryside or the outdoor markets where Chinese cooks seek out the freshest ingredients for dinner that night. A good cookbook is like a good travelogue, returning me to a beloved place and time with just a taste or evoking an image of a faraway and exotic place I have yet to visit.
In an effort to maintain the size of my collection at a manageable level, I have taken to borrowing cookbooks from our library system. I am currently making my way through a fabulous cookbook, “The Gift of Southern Cooking” by Edna Lewis & Scott Peacock. I had heard great things about this cookbook and Southern cooking is something that I am not greatly familiar with here in Canada.
The book is not just a cookbook but a record of a great friendship between Edna and Scott. She, the grandchild of former slaves from Virgina & he, the younger white chef from Alabama, who through their shared passion for the cuisine of their heritage, share this inspired & thoughtful collection of recipes of this region in the way grandmothers pass on recipes to the future generations.
With so many recipes to choose from, I am still experimenting and trying out new things but I thought I would share with you this wonderful and very simple custard recipe plucked from the pages of this cookbook. (While I have changed some of the recipe's instructions, the ingredients remain the same....)
(adapted from The Gift of Southern Cooking)
Serves 8 (according to the cookbook, though I used 6 large ramekins which warranted a longer cooking time.)
3/4c granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
4 1/2 c milk
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Crack the eggs into a large mixing dish and stir until the yolks are broken. Add sugar, milk and salt and mix until well blended.
Strain the egg mixture through a fine-meshed sieve into a large bowl or pitcher. Stir in nutmeg & vanilla. (The nutmeg floated to the top when I made my custard because I used a rasp to grate my nutmeg. If you have a proper nutmeg grater you probably won't have the same problem I had but if you use a rasp and prefer a more refined appearance, I would add the nutmeg, allow it to infuse the custard for at least ten minutes (if not more) and strain. The flavour is not as pronounced but the custard won't have the same flecks and speckles mine did.)
Place ramekins into a large deep dish baking pan (like a lasagna dish) and carefully pour approximately 1 cup of the egg mixture into each ramekin.
For safety's sake, carefully pull out your oven's baking rack and place the baking dish on top. With a heatproof pitcher, pour enough hot water into the baking dish to reach approximately half way up the ramekin dish. Very carefully, push the baking rack back into the oven. (This technique is called bain marie. It allows the custard to cook very gently through indirect heat.) Bake for approximately 3 - 40 minutes. (The cookbook calls for 20-30 minutes... I checked the custard every 10 minutes starting at 20 minutes, but my cooking time was considerably longer because my ingredients came straight from the refrigerator, and I made 6 servings instead of eight, the custard needed more time to set.)
To remove, carefully pull out the oven rack and lift the baking dish off the rack. Place a clean towel on your kitchen counter and carefully remove the ramekins from the baking dish onto the towel and allow to cool.
This is delicious warm but also quite delicious chilled with a dollop of whipped cream.