"Enjoy with reckless abandon …"

These are the words that are written on the first page of my copy of Donna Dooher and Claire Stubb’s Out to Brunch, the Cream Puffs in Venice Flavour of the Month for May 2006. How did I come by this autographed copy of such a wonderful book? Let me explain.

As you may have already guessed my entire family shares the philosophy of good food. So it’s not surprising that we are all, in our own way, deeply involved in the pursuit of good food. One of my uncles, Uncle C, has been a waiter for years and as luck would have it, his path brought him to the doors of Mildred Pierce, the restaurant from which the recipes for Out to Brunch come.

Uncle C spent many years at Mildred Pierce before eventually moving on. But during his time there, he developed a strong friendship with the restaurant’s owners. When Out to Brunch was published, knowing how much I loved the restaurant and how much I coveted the cookbook, he had Donna Dooher autograph a copy for me and her words to me were … enjoy with reckless abandon.

How refreshing!

How refreshing to read the words of an accomplished woman who is not afraid of eggs and butter and cream.

How refreshing to know that there is someone else out there who embraces the joy of food and eating without any guilt.

How refreshing, indeed!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that you spend your days gorging on eggs, sugar, cream and butter. As lovely as blueberry pancakes are and as much as I love my goopy squares, the food universe is too enormous to imagine and it would be a shame not try everything … not to enjoy everything whether it be a vegetable, a piece of cheese or the best piece of chocolate cake you’ve ever laid eyes on.

But I am advocating enjoying your food. I am advocating turning off that stupid little voice that says "This is bad for you," or "You shouldn’t be eating that," because ultimately, food is not bad. What we do with our food, or don’t do with it, is what harms us.

Donna’s book is a constant reminder that a meal, in this case brunch, is what you make of it. You can deny yourself and feel a sense of pleasure over having denied yourself or you can choose to make all foods a part of your life and give up the silly guilt over that cookie you’ve had your eye on.

If you’re in the market for a trusty brunch book, look into Out to Brunch. You know that this Cream Puff does not recommend books lightly. I test as many recipes as I can and I have to feel a connection. Out to Brunch passes the test on all counts. And if you’re ever in Toronto, take the time to visit Mildred Pierce for a meal. You won’t regret it.

And so he we are, my friends. The month of May prepares to make its exit and June readies itself for the stage. Soon there will be a new Flavour of the Month and we will all be enjoying the fruits of June. But before we get there, there is time for Mildred to take her final bow.

For the grand finale, I chose a dessert that I am in the habit of describing as the King of Desserts … the crème brûlée. The Mildred Pierce version is a lovely concoction of cream and caramel. It’s light with just the right note of caramelly sweetness. It’s a beautiful thing.

And I leave you with the words that I have come to love … enjoy with reckless abandon!



Caramel Crème Brûlée

Adapted from Out to Brunch by Donna Dooher and Claire Stubbs.

  • 3 cups heavy cream (35% cream)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • extra white sugar for the brulee tops
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Heat the cream in a saucepan just until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat and set aside while you prepare the custard base.
  3. Combine the sugar and water in another saucepan. Cook over high heat until the mixture turns a light amber, 5 to 7 minutes (have a bowl of ice water nearby just in case of splatters or in case you need to quickly cool down the caramel by plunging the bottom of the pot into the ice water).
  4. As soon as the mixture has turned a light amber, remove from the heat and carefully add the cream. The mixture will bubble furiously so take extra care.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with a small amount of the caramel cream to temper the eggs. While whisking continuously, slowly add the remainder of the caramel cream.
  6. Strain your mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and then pour the custard into 6 ramekins (ramekins should have a 1/2 cup capacity).
  7. Place the ramekins in a large baking pan and fill the pan with hot water so that it comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
  8. Carefully transfer the pan to the oven. Bake the custards for 45 to 50 minutes or until just set. The centre of the custards will jiggle slightly. Remove from the oven and let stand for half an hour.
  9. Remove the ramekins and refrigerate until cold (at least 4 hours).
  10. Before serving, spread 1 teaspoon of sugar across the top of each custard. Using a kitchen torch, brûlée the sugar until it has turned golden.
  11. Enjoy!

Note:  Keep leftover custards in the refrigerator for no more than 2 days … if they even last that long.

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