Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bacon Jalapeno Baked Brie Strata for Breakfast and Beyond

Either you love bacon, or you're wrong. How's that. Okay. Maybe I just offended about half of the world's global population using that introduction, but I just won over the rest of them. I'm a red-blooded American girl who eats a few pork items now and then. I don't eat it every day, but let's face it, this isn't your everyday recipe.  This is something for the book of savory-ridiculousness.  A savory peppery brie enshrouded in a creamy fluffy bread-type pudding that is topped with a crispy, salty,smoky layer of bacon studded with slices of jalapeno. It's a freak-show. A good freak show.

 First let's talk about Stratas. 

What's a Strata anyway?   

When I first met my soon-to-be Mother in law, the subject of "family favorite meals" came up in conversation.  That wasn't new to me at the time as a young chef chick.  "Meal time" is always a safe subject when one finds out that a soon-to-be-daughter-in-law can cook. To her credit she didn't delve into hard-core political rants (that was for later) but we did talk about the neutral ground of what she had made Ace for dinner for years.  That was fun. I learned a lot about his childhood from that first conversation with her. She mentioned a few times this magical "cheese souffle" that she made often for the adorable tyke. I cringed. Oh stink. He was raised on souffle?!! Seriously?!!!
She whipped out the family photo album.  Several hours later and several tattered photo albums later, I learned that her cheese souffle was really a cheese strata. Phew. That was good news.  If ace was accustomed to real souffle for dinner, my life would be a lot more complicated! 

Cheese Souffle requires whipping egg whites (ugh) and making a thick cheese sauce (doable but not something I enjoy on most days) and folding things together with diplomatic poise and baking them to perfection in a lovely ceramic dish that is just the right size. Daggumit Martha Stewart.  I could see fresh pressed linen and crocheted doilies in my future.  All this meal preparation is then executed with precise timing within minutes of Ace's arrival home from work to assure it could come out of the oven fluffy and elegantly structured. That's a lot of freaking pressure for a young bride. 

Cheese Strata on the other hand, is a totally delicious, simple, make-ahead heaven of a dish that any gal could do in minutes and could not mess up!   It's bread cubes combined with an egg and milk batter topped with cheese or having the cheese folded into the bread mixture. It's then good for keeping in the fridge and baking at dinner time, or baking ahead and reheating individual servings in the microwave or oven. 

Turns out, my Mother in law (AKA Cussing Granny) has been one hundred percent a heaven of a person to have as mom and friend and certainly not one to make pretentious dishes or expect any over indulgence of her son with anything but love and attention.  I adore that.  I adore that she is a real down-to-earth woman. I'm so glad that's what she wanted in a daughter in law. 

Enters today's variation on a cheese strata. Baked Brie. Bacon. Jalapeno. This is a go-to.  This is a nod to the simple cheese strata that Ace grew up with, made into a more gourmet creation by a chef-wife who still has to cook meals for a family, on a budget, every day of the week. 

You will need:

  • 5-6 cups bread cubes
  • 6 oz brie, sliced (or any cheese of your choice)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups milk or cream
  • 1/4 lb bacon, diced
  • 3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
  • Salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • butter for coating the baking dish

Butter the inside of an 8X8X4 inch baking dish and fill with bread cubes topping with brie slices. Crack fresh black pepper over the mixture and fold them together. 

 Combine the milk and eggs. Add salt and pepper to them.
Whisk well.

Pour  the egg mixture over the bread and brie mixture. Allow to sit a while. 
 Now for the bacon and jalapeno...
 Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat 3-4 minutes. Add the bacon. Cook until almost crispy then add the jalapenos.  Cook 2-3 minutes more.
Distribute the bacon mixture over the bread-brie mixture, leaving most of the bacon on top...meaning seriously don't mix them up. You know why? Because when you bake it the bacon will stay crispy. 

At this point you can either put the unbaked strata in the fridge and chill for up to 1 week, or bake for dinner/breakfast right now.  We usually opt for baking it right away. 350 degrees 20-25 minutes until bubbly and delicious.

You'll have this thick rich layer of a cheese strata topped with a crispy bacon jalapeno layer that will seriously rock the universe. Most of the time we drizzle it with  maple syrup or a simple apricot jam for a savory-sweet yin-yang magical experience. 
There you go darlings. 
Simple. Delicious. Fast. Budget-friendly. 
Serve with a simple salad and vinaigrette and dinner is served. 
Serve with a fresh fruit salad and breakfast is served. 
 Serve it with both kinds of salad and nobody will know what time it is. 

Always My Very Best,
Your Friend Chef Tess

Monday, January 18, 2016

Simple Baked Oatmeal of Glory!

I love oatmeal.  I've often taught How to cook oatmeal 101, along with some of my Top 10 Ways to Cook Oatmeal in several cooking and baking applications.  However, I have been working on this recipe for baked oatmeal for a while. 

Let's talk baked oatmeal.  I've been long on a search for the best baked oatmeal recipe.  I've tried a few that a bad way. They were glorified glue in a pan.  Disgusting! I wanted chewy, hearty, baked oatmeal that was fast and easy. I wanted something we could eat a few times a week and never get bored.  
I stopped looking for a few years.  

 Then  two years ago, a dear friend shared her recipe with me for baked oatmeal.  It was the most perfect baked oatmeal I'd ever had.  For the last couple of years, I've made her recipe again and again. Still perfect every single time.  So, now it gets a place of glory here on the blog. I've added my own touches and made it my own, but I think you'll be pleasantly in love with it from the first batch.  It's really quite perfect. Change out the berries for whatever you have on hand. Add crushed pineapple or shredded carrots in place of the fruit for a carrot cake baked oatmeal. It's incredibly versatile. 

This is it.

 Simple Baked Oatmeal 

  • 2 eggs (or 1/4 cup powdered egg plus 1/2 cup water)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar or coconut sugar
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil or butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 3 cups rolled oats or 6 grain rolled cereal
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp Chef Tess Wise Woman of the East Spice blend
  • 1 cup fresh chopped cranberries, cherries or blueberries
  • 1/2 cup flaked coconut (optional)
  • Brown sugar for topping

Directions: In a large bowl,beat eggs and brown sugar until they are thoroughly mixed.  Add coconut oil, milk and vanilla.  


 Add the remaining ingredients (except the additional brown sugar for topping). 

 Pour the oatmeal mixture into a greased 9 by 13 inch casserole pan.
 Sprinkle with brown sugar on top.
   Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes uncovered.
Do not over-bake.

There you go my darlings. Delicious, hearty and wholesome baked breakfast. 

Always My Very Best,
Your Friend Chef Tess

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cooking Classes Are Back!

January Classes are hosted at the following store locations:

144 S. Mesa Dr. Ste G
Mesa AZ 85210

No-Knead No-Brainer Artisan Bread

Saturday January 23 10:30 Cost is $5

It's not every day that you get to learn from a seasoned pastry chef and bread artisan on the basics of bread! 
This class is for beginners and experienced bakers alike who want to learn the simplest way possible to make remarkable bread. 
No mixer required. No experience required. 
Bread that isn't smarter than a 5th grader is here! 
Call the store to reserve a spot or just come on down! 480-964-3077

Meals in a Jar and Mylar with Chef Tess

Thursday January 28th 10:30 AM cost is $5

Cost-friendly, just-add-water gourmet meals in a jar/mylar bag taught by the author of the Meal in a Jar Handbook, Gourmet Food Storage Made Easy! Chef Tess pioneered the method of meals in a jar using her own chef-created family meals and recipes.  You'll get to learn the basics of how to make these for you and your family, as well as taste a few samples of some of her most popular recipes. 
 Call the Store to reserve a spot or just come on down! 480-964-3077

Grain Surgery and Cookery with Chef Tess

Saturday January 30th 10:30 AM Cost is $5

Quinoa is not the name of Noah's Ark. Amaranth is not a new toxic biohazard. Grain Surgery is not operation on wheat. This is a class that will introduce you to all the remarkable grains we have in our store and how to cook them! It's a remarkable way to add protein, fiber, nutrition and health to your life.  You'll be amazed and delighted! 
Call the Store to reserve a spot or just come on down! 480-964-3077

More classes and locations are tentatively being planned. Please stay tuned for details!

Always My Very Best,
Your Friend Chef Tess

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Perfect French Macarons

For me, the pinnacle of baking confectionery genius can be defined in two words...French Macarons.  Macarons take cookies to an unimaginable extreme of culinary perfection.  Macarons are not to be confused with the coconut cookies called "macaroons"...these almond flour cookies are made with a meringue base.  When baked correctly, they have a light crisp sugary coating surrounding a tender chewy cookie interior. Two of these perfect bites of heaven are then joined in holy-happiness  in a sandwich-style confection by creamy rich buttercream, truffle chocolate ganache, or tart jam.  The flavor is remarkable.  Resistance is futile. I save them for special occasions when  I can lock myself in a closet and be alone. I also share them with people who I really love. If Elvis was alive (or ever to come out of hiding)...he'd be the first to get one of these. Seriously. 

Macarons can be tricky to make, and the secret to success is of course, having a great recipe! This is the one I've used for the last few years in the bakery and for the farmer's market. The other secret:  Very fine milled almond flour.  The other trick I have found to making consistently awesome macarons is to carefully weigh and measure the ingredients. In fact, whenever possible, I prefer the weight of the ingredients to the volume measurements. It seems that even the slightest variation in ingredients' weight will not produce a perfect cookie. 

Tess' French Almond Macarons
yield 3 dozen small or 2 dozen medium

120 grams (¾ cup) Blanched Almond Flour
230 grams (1 1/2 cups) powdered sugar
140 grams egg whites (about 4 large) 1/3 cup egg whites
¼ teaspoon Salt
70 grams (1/3 cup) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract OR 1/4 teaspoon flavored oils
¼ teaspoon pure Almond Extract


  • Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 300°F.
  • Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • In a separate bowl, Mix confectioners’ sugar with almond flour and SIFT well. This is a pivotal step if you want a smooth batter that will bake well and not be "bumpy".
  • Beat whites with salt in mixer at medium-high speed in a metal bowl mixer until they just hold soft peaks, about 4 minutes.
  • Reduce speed to medium, then add granulated sugar, a little at a time, beating, and continue to beat until whites just hold stiff, glossy peaks (about 3 minutes).
  • Add flavorings.
  • Fold almond flour mixture in 2 batches into whites until just combined. Transfer meringue to pastry bag and pipe 16 (1 1/2-inch-wide) mounds 1 inch apart on each lined baking sheet (32 total).
Piping the perfect macaron takes a little practice. Treat it as you would a rosette, bringing the pastry tip to the side of the circle, rather than forming a peak, to finish. I allow my macarons to sit out at room temperate on the baking paper for about 20-30 minutes before transferring to the oven. This seems to help with the smooth finish and the "foot" on the bottom of the cookie that gives it the traditional trademarked look of a true macaron. 

 Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until macarons are puffed and tops appear dry, 10 to 12 minutes. Macarons should be crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. You may need to sample ten or fifteen to be sure they're just right...Okay...I made that part up.

Slide parchment with macarons onto racks and cool 10 minutes, then peel macarons from parchment, transferring to a rack to cool completely, about 15 minutes. 

 Chocolate: Substitute 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process Cocoa Powder

 for 1/4 cup of the almond flour.

Tess' Favorite Buttercream Frosting Recipe

2 lb powdered sugar
1 cups Butter
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla or Rum extract
3/4 cup very hot, almost boiling Water

Combine all the ingredients in a mixer with the paddle attachment. Put on speed 1, with a spill guard installed or you will get powdered sugar all over the floor. Whip 3-5 minutes until very smooth. Pipe a dot of buttercream between two of the cookies. Resist the impulse to just pipe it right into your public...

There you go darlings! The secrets to success in baking something really classic.  Enjoy!

Always My Very Best,
Your Friend Chef Tess

Friday, January 8, 2016

5 ingredient No-Knead 6-Grain Bread Anyone Can Make

I have been taking a bit of a break from blogging the last few months, as I was working long exhausting hours in the restaurant and tied up completely with that part of my life. Catering large events during the Holiday season was brutal.   I was spending my day with what I call, "froofie food"...You know...tiny fancy nibbles of heaven. Elegant, but not satisfying in the whole soul kind of way. 
 Don't get me wrong, the fabulous stuff definitely has a place. 
This week, that changed.  
I left the Bistro and Catering Kitchen. 
I'm looking for something more balanced.  I'm nervous about that.  Simply because I've given so much of my heart and time to that dream, that I haven't thought of anything else.

In the last six months, I had completely stopped cooking dinner at home and baking bread was something I did at work Usually I'd get home and simply collapse into bed, only to get up and repeat that scenario the following day.  Physical exhaustion had stripped me of passion, and emotional distress had numbed me. I was giving so much to build someone else's business, that I felt like I was suffocating. I needed to spend more time with my family, and find some much needed rest. Everything hurt.   I was so tired that part of me wanted to leave the food industry forever and never look back.  

That being said, the part of me that will forever be passionate about food has won out.  I'm just getting back to the basics of my life and simple truths are finding their way back to my everyday existence.  This week has been remarkable.  

So this week, I pulled out the flour. I opened up the 6 grain rolled cereal. I took off my chef coat and my meat thermometer and I just took time to remember what I loved about baking. In doing that, I've found the reason why I started baking in the first place. The simple, grounding, almost meditative reason why I started baking.  It is the gentle rhythm that a fast paced stress-filled kitchen had taken away from me. This wad of fermenting dough has been sitting on my kitchen table in a bowl all week. I've baked 12 loaves of bread for my family.  The smell has grounded me. The calm pace has lifted me. 

 The gasps of love and awe from my kids and husband when I pulled the bread from the oven was far more gratifying than all the pomp and circumstance that clamoring guests and customers could ever offer. 

I'm not sure what is ahead for me as far as my career goes.  I still need a job.  That's for sure.  I'm taking it one day at a time and I'm okay with that.  I've sent out my resume to everyone I can think of over the last couple of days. Mostly however, I've just been satisfied to be home for a little while and bask in the warmth of my family.  I am trusting that the Lord will hold us in His hands.'s the recipe for the bread.  Enjoy.  It's a classic.  It is one that I used countless times in the restaurant and that has now found it's way home...Just like me.  I'm so glad.  

My No Knead 5 Ingredient 6-Grain Bread 
yield: 2 loaves

  • 6 cups bread flour (measure exactly with a knife)
  • 1 cup 6 Grain Rolled cereal OR Rolled Oats
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp instant yeast (or 1/2 tsp active dry yeast)
  • 3 1/4 cup water (under 110 degrees)

Directions:   Combine the ingredients in a 1 gallon food-grade bucket or a large 1 gallon bowl with a lid, just until everything is mixed and smooth. It takes about 20-30 turns by hand to get it all combined. Literally less than 2 minutes.  Cover with a lid and keep covered 10-12 hours at room temperature until you're ready to bake bread. 

Once it has raised overnight you have two options:

Option 1:Form into bread (or rolls, cinnamon rolls, whatever), raise and bake (see below).

Option 2: Dough can be kept in the fridge up to 7 days and warmed to room temperature to use for bread or pizza etc. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to get it up to room temperature (70 degrees). 

When ready to bake: 

  • Form into 2 loaves (see detailed tutorial here) and place on a lightly oiled baking stone or in an 8 inch loaf pan that has been greased. 
  • Allow to raise in a warm room until doubled, about 2 hours. 
  • Bake at 375 degrees 35-40 minutes (meat thermometer will register 165 degrees or more).  
  • Enjoy!

There you go! Enjoy a simple way to make bread! For  my gluten free bread that is quick and whole grain delicious...go here. It is just as quick and gets rave reviews! My other favorite no knead bread is Lisa's No Knead White Chocolate Pecan Bread. It is to die for. 

End Notes: 

A few factors on the overnight no-knead bread that can have an effect on the lightness of the bread would be:

Temperature: raising the bread during the winter months will take up to an hour longer for the second raise in the pan because our houses are cooler now. If you're like me, we keep it around 70 during the winter and a good ten degrees colder inside will make a difference in how fast it raises....exponentially. Solution would be to turn on the oven to "warm". Place the dough that is in the loaf (ready to bake) in the oven, covering it with a mist of water. TURN OFF THE OVEN. It should raise in an oven around 100 degrees or less so don't leave it on! Once it has risen, pull the loaf out of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 and then proceed to bake. 

Loaf formation: The molding technique Chef Tess Bakeresse: Sandwhich Loaf Molding and baking is a factor in how well the loaf will raise because it is optimal in trapping the air produced by the yeast. The more air that is trapped inside the loaf, the lighter the final loaf will be.

Freshness of the yeast and type of yeast: It is always a good idea to check the freshness of the yeast as well. If you are using the regular active dry yeast, 1/2 tsp is the correct measure but if it is older, it will take more (up to 1 tsp). One may add up to 1/4 cup of sugar or honey to the recipe to help get the yeast active if there is still a problem (especially during the winter months). 

Type and mill of Flour: Finer milled Higher protein white wheat bread flour, Kamut flour or Hard Red wheat flours are the best for this recipe. If you use whole wheat flour, you must increase the water to 4 cups, especially with the rolled oats or 6 grains.   These flours have a stronger amount of protein and will always yield a higher loaf. The finer ground the flour, the better the gluten development will be. Large pieces of fiber in the flour will cut the strands of gluten, and shorter strands of gluten will not connect well enough to hold air in the loaf. 

Always My Very Best,
Your Friend Chef Tess