A Sunday Ritual, Featured

Savory Bread Pudding

Savory Bread Pudding from Debbie Carlos

If you are a regular follower of this blog, you might remember Sarah mentioning that it was her birthday a couple of weeks ago. It seemed like she had a nice half week-long birthday celebration, capping it off with a big potluck birthday brunch! I was lucky enough to be invited, and I thought long and hard about what I might bring. Cooking for a crowd is difficult since everyone has their own preferences. You want to make something that is simple — a comfort dish, a crowd pleaser — but that is also interesting and makes everyone feel like they’re indulging. Its a birthday brunch after all!

After going through several cookbooks and my recipes binder, I finally came upon the perfect thing: a savory bread pudding. Think french toast but in a casserole, and instead of sweet, it’s caramelized onion, crispy bacon, roasted cauliflower, and sharp cheddar. Yeah, you know you want it. Lets do this.

Savory Bread Pudding

Adapted from Serious Eats’ Savory Bread Pudding

1 Tablespoon softened butter
2 Cups milk (whole or 2%)
6 Large eggs
Salt + Pepper
6 Cups or 10 oz of bread, sliced into 1.5 – 2” cubes (I like mine bigger)

1 small head of cauliflower, chopped into ½” pieces
Salt + Pepper
Olive Oil

6 strips thick cut bacon
1 red onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 Cup cheese, grated (I used sharp cheddar)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

1. Rub the butter all over the inside of a 9×13” baking dish and place the bread inside.

2. Whisk together milk, eggs, salt, and pepper until well combined and pour over the bread. Set aside to let the bread soak in the milk mixture.

3. Toss cauliflower with olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread in one layer on a baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes, or until you see edges begin to brown and caramelize.

4. Heat a frying pan and fry the bacon until brown and crispy. Drain the strips on some paper towels until cool enough to handle.

5. Reserve only about 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease in the pan and use that to cook the onions until brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1 or 2 minutes longer. Once cauliflower is done roasting, mix into the cooked onion and stir until just combined.

6. Crumble the bacon and the cheese over the soaked bread and mix with a spoon or a pair of tongs.

7. Pour onion mixture over the bread and bacon. Mix until everything is evenly combined. You can sprinkle on a bit more cheese over everything if you want to. I did.

8. Lower heat in the oven to 375 degrees and bake covered in foil for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes.

Editor’s Note: this post is part of the series “A Sunday Ritual” by guest blogger Debbie Carlos.

A Sunday Ritual

Apricot Pie

Apricot Pie from Debbie Carlos

Like any other place that is cold for most of the year, the midwest truly appreciates the summer months. We spend as much time outside as possible, and we eat really well. We’ve got corn, zucchinis, tomatoes, melons, and berries out the wazoo… but stone fruits! Stone fruits are the jewels of summer. For me, absolutely nothing beats biting into a ripe peach that’s so juicy you need to eat it with a bib or a bowl or, if you can’t wait to take any of those things out, you just eat it over the sink.

One stone fruit that took me awhile to take a liking to has been the apricot. Peaches have always been #1 in my book, so I usually opt to purchase those over their smaller, bright orange cousins. Recently, apricots and I have had a breakthrough, and I can’t seem to get enough of them. I love how they veer a little more tart than peaches do, and they are just so cute to look at in your hand. When not in season, I’m pretty much snacking on the dried version constantly.

Ever since seeing Ruth Reichl make her super simple apricot pie on this episode of Diary of a Foodie a few years ago, it has never left my mind. Another recent trip to the farmers market yielded a large bunch of apricots, and I went home to make her recipe. I love that there are minimal ingredients, not too much prep work (even less if you use a pre-made, frozen pie crust), and it makes the most delicious sweet/tart, crunchy-topped pie that really lets the fruit shine. Best decision so far of my apricot-loving career.

Ruth Reichl’s Apricot Pie

pie dough
2 lbs ripe apricots
1 stick butter
¾ Cup flour
¾ Cup sugar
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
egg white from 1 egg for brushing (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

1. Pull apart the apricots into halves, discarding the pits. No need to peel. Set aside.

2. Sprinkle some flour on a clean work surface and roll out pie dough with a lightly floured rolling pin to fit a 9” pie dish with about ½” overhang. Fold overhang under and crimp decoratively (I don’t do this sometimes, because I like how rustic/rough it looks. Also, I’m lazy). Place in freezer for 15 minutes.

3. Melt butter in a medium sauce pan. Stir in flour, sugar, and nutmeg and mix until it looks like a paste. Set aside for 15 minutes or until cool enough to handle.

3. Take pie dough out of the freezer. If using egg wash, brush the dough with the egg white. This is just to ensure that the bottom crust doesn’t get soggy.

4. Spread the apricots on the crust and crumble the butter/flour paste over the fruit. Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for 50 minutes to an hour.

Let cool before serving. Obviously, fantastic with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Editor’s Note: this post is part of the series “A Sunday Ritual” by guest blogger Debbie Carlos.

A Sunday Ritual


Julia Child's Ratatouille (from Debbie Carlos)

For me, Ratatouille is one of those dishes that totally captures the taste, feelings, and memories of summer. Um, besides ice cream, of course. It utilizes the best of the best of in-season summer vegetables, the number of components are not many, and while the ingredients by themselves are humble, the end result is quite spectacular. This time, I tried out a recipe from Julia Child’s classic tome on French cooking, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Feel free to substitute with whatever herb/s you have. Her original recipe calls for parsley, but I only had basil. I’ve also seen this dish cooked with thyme and rosemary, so go with your heart! Serve this with a cool glass of white and a slice of grilled bread brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.


Adapted from Julia Child’s recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

1lb eggplant
1lb zucchini
1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons olive oil
½ lb thinly sliced onion
2 thinly sliced bell peppers (red, green or yellow)
2 cloves garlic, mashed
salt and pepper to taste

1 lb firm, ripe tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons minced basil (or parsely or thyme & rosemary)

sliced zucchini and eggplant for Julia Child's Ratatouille (from Debbie Carlos)

1. Cut the eggplant in half and slice further into 1 inch wide pieces. Cut zucchini into similarly sized pieces. *Note that original recipe calls for peeling the eggplant. I don’t usually do this, especially if you’ve got nice, organic ones. A lot of the nutrients and the fiber of vegetables are in the skin.

2. Place eggplant and zucchini in a large bowl and toss with salt. Let sit 30 minutes, drain, and dry each slice on a clean towel.

3. Heat 12” skillet with olive oil and saute eggplant and zucchini one layer at a time on each side until browned, about 1 minute per side. Remove and set aside

4. Saute onions and peppers in olive oil in the same skillet until softened. Mix in the garlic and season to taste. Lay the tomatoes over the onions and peppers, season with salt and pepper, and cover. Cook for about 5 minutes over low heat, until the tomatoes have rendered their juices. Baste with the tomato juice. Cook further, uncovered, until most of the juice has evaporated.

5. In a heat proof casserole, lay 1/3 of the tomato mixture on the bottom, sprinkle with basil, and layer over with eggplant mixture. Repeat layers, ending with tomatoes and basil. Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes.

6. Uncover, tip the casserole, and baste with juices. Raise the heat and cook uncovered for another 15 minutes, basting every so often. Careful not to scorch the bottom.

You can make this ahead and heat just before serving or you can also serve it cold.

Editor’s Note: this post is part of the series “A Sunday Ritual” by guest blogger Debbie Carlos.

A Sunday Ritual, Featured

Corn & Coconut Fritters

Corn & Coconut Fritters

Corn. Coconut. Fritter. I think that is all I have to say.

Actually, I will say a little more. I made this super easy recipe from my favorite cookbook, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen. It comes together in a flash, it will make your kitchen smell like coconut and they are a joy to eat. Little crispy on the outside, tender on the inside cakes dipped into a sweet and spicy sauce. The more exotic ingredients are easily available from the international section of your supermarket. The recipe makes about 7 larger fritters or 20 mini ones. Don’t count on having any left over.

Corn & Coconut Fritters

Corn & Coconut Fritters

adapted from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen

1 cup frozen corn kernels thawed or fresh kernels cut from two ears of corn
¼ cup coconut cream — scooped up from the top of an unshaken can of coconut milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
⅓ cup flour
1 ½ teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
1 serrano chili, de-ribbed, de-seeded, cut into tiny pieces (optional)

Dipping sauce:
2 tablespoons sriracha chile sauce or chile garlic sauce
2 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon sugar

1. Place corn kernels in a food processor and pulse 12-15 times. It should look roughly chopped, not pureed.

2. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the coconut cream, egg, flour, salt, sugar, and serrano (if using). If you can manage to wait, set aside for 30 minutes. I did not do this.

3. Heat a large pan, dutch oven, or wok with an inch of oil in it. To test if oil is properly heated, drop a tiny bit of the batter into the oil, and if bubbles begin to form around it, the oil is ready. If you have a thermometer, the oil should measure 350 degrees F.

4. If you are making larger fritters, drop by the tablespoonful into the oil. For smaller ones, drop in 2 teaspoon amounts. Do not crowd the pan! Each fritter takes about 3 minutes per side. Drain on a wire rack over a sheet pan or on a plate lined with a paper towel.

5. To make the dipping sauce, mix together the chile sauce, water and sugar.

Editor’s Note: this post is part of the series “A Sunday Ritual” by guest blogger Debbie Carlos.

A Sunday Ritual, Featured

Sesame Pea-Shoot Salad

sesame pea shoot salad from Debbie Carlos

A few days ago, my husband and I got back from a week long holiday in Seattle and Vancouver. It was a belated birthday trip for myself, and using a bunch of miles we practically flew for free. (Travel tip! : If you sign up with a southwest airlines rapid rewards visa card, you will get an enormous amount of miles. Two round trip tickets cost us all of $20 just in fees, and we have enough miles left over for another round trip ticket. SCORE!)

Now that we had all this money saved from not having to pay for airfare, we felt like we could eat wherever and whatever we wanted. AND WE DID. French fare at Le Pichet, pizza at Delancey, Katsu Burger, a seafood dinner that included the best of the best alder wood cooked Copper River salmon, cherry pie a la mode at Twede’s (the diner in Twin Peaks!), chili crab, award winning dimsum, Top Pot donuts, sandwiches at Salumi (twice!) etc etc etc.

So now that we are back and feeling like whales, we are still eating as much as we want as long as it is a plant and falls in the category: salad. I’m usually a pretty healthy eater, so I was really eager to get back to eating lots of green things. A trip to one of my favorite shops, the Green Grocer Chicago, yielded an enormous bunch of pea shoots—one of my favorite greens. Pea shoots have a light grassy, pea flavor and can even be a little sweet. The bunch I got even had little flowers. So pretty! I brought it home, did some online searching, and came up with a recipe for Sesame Pea-Shoot Salad. It was delicious and just what I needed. Pair it with some pan seared fish for a well rounded, healthy, and satisfying dinner. Or top with sticky ribs and donuts for a weird/scary indulgent one.

sesame pea shoot salad by Debbie Carlos

You can get pea shoots at Chinese grocery stores, farmers markets, or finer grocery stores. I can see this totally working for other more conventional greens and lettuces as well.

Sesame Pea-Shoot Salad
adapted from Epicurious

1 large bunch (about 6 cups packed) pea shoots, washed and spun dry
½ cup fresh or frozen and thawed peas
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
½ tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons soy sauce

1. Whisk together the rice vinegar, sesame oil, sesame seeds, sugar and soy sauce in the bottom of a large bowl.
2. Place pea shoots and the peas in bowl and toss until well coated.
3. Plate and enjoy!

Editor’s Note: this post is part of the series “A Sunday Ritual” by guest blogger Debbie Carlos.

A Sunday Ritual, Featured

Cochinita Pibil

The first time I had Cochinita Pibil was in a west side Chicago neighborhood restaurant called Xni-pec, and I fell in love with it. A whole pork shoulder wrapped in a banana leaf and braised, then served in a soft corn tortilla with a generous spoon of your preferred salsa, it epitomizes everything I love about Mexican food. It is a beautiful balance of rich, tender meat, fat, bright citrus, and spice.

In thinking about what I might do for my second “Sunday Ritual” post, I let the weird weather we’ve been having dictate my decision. In March we had a long stretch of some summer-like weather, but in the past few days we’ve gone back to chilly, damp, and blustery. It definitely feels like we’re experiencing fall rather than spring. So instead of dreaming about early summer strawberries or light tomato salads, my mind is back in roasting and braising mode. Luckily I have a few pages photocopied from the braising bible, All About Braising, by Molly Stevens. Paging through my recipes binder, I found one for Cochinita Pibil I had saved! Oh Em Gee. It sounded perfect for a Sunday roast, and it didn’t sound very complicated, aside from a few steps I had never done before. Hell yes I was up for the challenge!

Luckily I live very close to a large Mexican supermarket, so I went and got some specialty ingredients (which you can also get at a Whole Foods or a more gourmet market if you don’t have a Latin market near you). I went home, prepped the meat, stuck it in the oven, and 6 hours later I had Cochinita Pibil. I mean, its a whole roasted shoulder, so I’ll have Cochinita Pibil for days (weeks, possibly a month). Bring it on!

Banana Leaves for Cochinita Pibil

P.S. This recipe requires some forethought as you need to marinate the meat overnight. Of course, I did not anticipate this, and I only marinated for 2 hours. It turned out really delicious, so if you do this the proper way, you will probably have something even more mind blowing.

All set

Cochinita Pibil

adapted from Molly Steven’s All About Braising

The Spice Paste:
4 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 Tablespoon coarse salt
2 Tablespoons of ground cumin
1 Tablespoon of oregano
2 dried red chiles, crushed or 1 ½ teapsoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tablespoons achiote paste (optional)
2-3 tablespoons cider vinegar

The Braise:
2-3 large fresh or thawed frozen banana leaves, rinsed and dried
One 7-9 lb bone in Boston butt or picnic shoulder, skin on or off

  1. Mix all the ingredients for the spice paste and set aside.
  2. With a pair of scissors, trim off the fibrous center rib that usually runs down the length of one side of the leaves and save it to tie the roast (you can also use kitchen twine. I used both.). Sear the banana leaves by passing it 2” above a burner flame on high. This makes the leaves more pliable. Set aside.
  3. If you bought a skin on roast, score a cross hatch pattern on the skin to reveal the fat underneath. Rub all over with spice paste.
  4. To wrap the pork with the banana leaves, lift the meat and place on one leaf and wrap it around several times. Lift the wrapped pork and place it on another banana leaf and wrap the meat perpendicular to the way you wrapped it the first time. Tie securely with saved leaf rib or kitchen twine. Set on tray and marinate in fridge from 12-24 hours.
  5. Heat your oven to 300 degrees F. Let the pork sit at room temp while you wait for your oven to heat up. Place a little steamer rack (or if you don’t have one, an upside down plate would work too) at the bottom of a large dutch oven. If you have a roasting pan with a rack, that would also work. Fill the bottom with a couple of inches of water and place the banana leaf wrapped pork on top of the rack and cover tightly with lid or foil. Place in oven.
  6. After 3 hours, turn the pork over and then roast for another 3 hours.
  7. When the Cochinita Pibil is ready, shred it with two forks and serve with tortillas, salsas, onions, cilantro, wedges of lime. I made a quick red onion pickle . I also roasted some jalapeños just over a burner on my stove until they were blistered and black — just remember to de-rib and de-seed them if you don’t want them so spicey.

Have some banana leaves left over? Here are some other things you can make with them.

cochinita pibil

Editor’s Note: this post is part of the series “A Sunday Ritual” by guest blogger Debbie Carlos.


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A Sunday Ritual, Featured

60 Second Gooey Chocolate Mug Cake

Editor’s Note: We’re very happy to have one Debbie Carlos breaking onto our very own blog with a fun new cooking series: “A Sunday Ritual.” What follows is the first installment, which we’ve tried and is as good as advertised. Thanks Debbie! Take it away.

60 Second Gooey Chocolate Mug Cake

I have a problem. I suppose its not the most serious problem in the realm of problem-having, but it does eat at me. Being a food enthusiast and lover of cooking, I collect many food magazines, cookbooks, and clip recipes off the internet daily. I have stacks and piles of cookbooks and magazines stuck full of post it notes, marking recipes I will someday make. There are probably as many post it notes as pages in each book, if not more.

I have a folder on my desktop labelled “menu” (which is a weird name for a recipes folder) with recipes I’ve saved off the internet. Looking through it recently, I found that within the menu folder lies another folder named “menu” with even older saved recipes. What? I also always work with two open browser windows. One window of things I’m currently internet-ing and the other is just tab after tab of recipes. I have no idea what I’m thinking sometimes.

I want to change. I want to be better! Its sad to just have these recipes sit there in disuse, so I’ve given myself a project. Every Sunday, I will sit down and dig through my archives and cook something new. I will then present to you, dear reader, the best of what I’ve made. The kind and lovely Sarah and Brian of the blog you are currently reading have given me a platform from which to broadcast my experiments. I am so excited about this exercise and to be a guest blogger on Westervin!!

For the first “A Sunday Ritual” post, I am going to tell you about the quickest cake recipe you will ever come upon. Pulling out the ingredients will take more time than baking this cake, I kid you not. Its a chocolate cake for 1 (or 2, or 3 as this recipe is easily doubled and tripled) baked in a microwave. I’m not one to usually skimp on the cooking process. I am all about the home-made, slow food way of life but this recipe just seemed so compelling and has been on my mind since I saved it. It definitely hits the spot when you’re craving a chocolate-something late at night. So here goes!

60 Second Gooey Chocolate Mug Cake

adapted from the site, The Family Kitchen

Debbie Carlos shows us how to eat 60 Second Gooey Mug Cake

  • 1 egg
  • ¼ Cup powdered sugar
  • 1-2 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • the tiniest splash of vanilla
  • a tiny pinch of salt
  • Whipped cream, vanila ice cream, chocolate chips, mint chocolate chips, chopped nuts (optional toppings)
  1. Crack an egg in a bowl. Whisk in cocoa powder, powdered sugar, vanilla, salt. Mix until smooth and combined.
  2. Pour mixture into a mug and microwave for about 50 seconds until cooked but still gooey inside.
  3. Top with toppings of your choice & Enjoy!

Editor’s Note: this post is part of the series “A Sunday Ritual” by Debbie Carlos.