croque-madame


If you’re looking for the best decadent breakfast ever, here it is. Even better than Eggs Benedict. I think. It’s basically Eggs Benedict with cheese.

The first time I made this, I thought I was making something complicated. But as I slowly worked my way through the recipe, I realized that it’s really a fancy ham and cheese sandwich. One slice of bread is slathered with swiss cheese sauce and the other slice with mustard. The sandwich is “grilled” the same way grilled cheese sandwiches are – browned on the stove with butter, and then it’s smeared with more cheese sauce and broiled until the sauce is spottily browned. The sandwich is topped with a fried egg. (Without the egg, it’s a Croque-Monsieur.)

The first time I had this, I got that heavy feeling afterwards that’s clearly a result of a meal full of fatty proteins and refined carbs. The next time, I made some efforts to lighten up the recipe. Mostly I eliminated some of the nice-but-not-necessary butter and reduced the cheese sauce. I have to admit that the most influential adjustment had to be my portion size.

It’s worth the indulgence. While it’s nigh on impossible to pick favorites, the combination of crispy bread, salty ham, spicy mustard, creamy cheese sauce and smooth yolk certainly makes this a contender for the best breakfast out there. Especially if you have plans to get in some activity later to work off some of that guilt…

Croque-madame (adapted from Gourmet March 2007, as found on epicurious)

Makes 4 servings

Bridget note: You can of course use all shredded cheese. I found it easier to only shred what was going into the sauce and to slice the rest. I’ve used both Country Crust Bread and storebought Italian bread for this recipe and enjoyed both.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ cups whole milk
⅛ teaspoon salt
pinch teaspoon black pepper
pinch teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ cup (1 ounce) shredded swiss cheese
4 slices (1.5 ounces) sliced swiss cheese
8 slices firm white sandwich bread
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ pound thinly sliced cooked ham (preferably Black Forest)
4 large eggs

1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a 1- to 1½-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, then whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, for 1 minute. Whisk in milk and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking occasionally, for 5 minutes. Whisk in salt, pepper, nutmeg, and shredded cheese until cheese is melted. Remove from heat. Stir occasionally while preparing sandwiches to keep hard surface from forming on top of sauce. (Alternatively, place plastic wrap directly on surface of sauce.)

2. Adjust an oven rack to the top position and heat the broiler. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray.

3. Spread 1 tablespoons sauce evenly over each of 4 slices of bread, then cover evenly with remaining cheese. Spread mustard evenly on remaining 4 bread slices and top with ham, dividing it evenly, then invert onto cheese-topped bread to form sandwiches.

4. Melt ½ tablespoon butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Once melted, add the sandwiches and cook until golden, 3-4 minutes. Remove sandwiches from pan, add remaining ½ tablespoon butter, and return sandwiches, unbrowned side down, to pan. Cook until golden on second side. Transfer sandwiches to prepared baking pan. Do not wash skillet.

5. Top sandwiches with remaining sauce, spreading evenly. Broil sandwiches until sauce is bubbling and golden in spots, 2 to 4 minutes.

6. While sandwiches are broiling, heat the same nonstick pan over medium heat. Spray the pan with nonstick spray if there’s not butter leftover from browning the sandwiches. Crack eggs into skillet and season with salt and pepper. Fry eggs, covered, until whites are just set and yolks are still runny, about 3 minutes. Top each sandwich with a fried egg and serve immediately.

pigs in a blanket

Dave’s co-workers tease him about how he always gets to eat gourmet food. “So she makes gourmet lunches for you to bring to work, and then you go home and eat gourmet dinners, and before bed have a gourmet dessert.” Um. Not always. I wonder what they’ll have to say about the leftovers from this meal?

I wasn’t sure what to do with the hot dogs leftover from the franks and beans. In my opinion, the only good way to eat hot dogs is crispy and a bit blackened from a grill or fire, preferably topped with chili. Since I don’t have a grill, my options were limited. Boiled (or worse – microwaved) hot dogs didn’t sound appetizing.

copy-of-img_1739Updated 3/20/09: Also good in mini!

Lemontartlet inspired me to wrap them in bread and bake them. It solves the problem of how to cook the hot dogs indoors, and I guarantee that my homemade bread is far tastier than a storebought hot dog bun. (Lemontartlet used biscuit dough, but I made a yeast bread.)

I based the bread recipe on a recipe for Parker House rolls, thinking that the butter in the recipe would give make it nice and tender, while the sugar would provide the flavor I wanted. It was a perfect match. The bread did expand more than I was expecting when I baked it, and I might (if such a thing is possible) have ended up with too much bread per dog. I’ll adjust the recipe and give better proportions below.

I found that the best method for rolling out the dough was to use my fingertips to flatten the dough balls a bit, and then roll in only one direction. I was using Nathan’s Beef Franks (recommended by Cooks Illustrated and definitely the best hot dogs I’ve had), which I think are a little shorter than most. Most of my rolls ended up just the right width to almost-but-not-quite coat the whole dog.

If you’re a perfectionist and want your pigs perfectly wrapped in those blankets, which I did but I didn’t figure out this trick until the last one, you can roll the bread dough out a little wider than the dog, then fold in the edges and roll a few times in the other (long) direction. You’ll have a more perfect rectangle, which will more perfectly coat your hot dog and evenly distribute your bread. And look a teensy bit better.

Either way, these are super fun, and other than roasting them over a fire until they’re slightly blackened, this has to be my favorite way to eat hot dogs!

Pigs in a Blanket (bread recipe adapted from Ultimate Bread, by Eric Treuille and Ursula Feriggno)

This is enough bread dough for 10 hot dogs.  If your package only has 8, you can make dinner rolls out of the remaining dough.

Bread dough:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup milk
1½ tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
3½ cups (17½ ounces) unbleached flour
1½ teaspoons instant yeast
1½ teaspoons salt

10 hot dogs
2 tablespoons milk

1. Heat butter in small saucepan over medium heat until just melted. Add ¾ cup milk and sugar. If butter re-solidifies, heat until it’s completely melted. Remove from the heat and beat in the eggs.

2. Mix flour, salt, and yeast in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Turn machine to low and slowly add milk mixture. When dough comes together, increase speed to medium (setting number 4 on a KitchenAid mixer) and mix until dough is smooth, shiny, and elastic, stopping machine two or three times to scrape dough from hook if necessary, about 8 minutes. Knead in extra flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, if the dough is too sticky. The dough should be not be dry, but soft. Turn dough onto lightly floured work surface; knead to form smooth, round ball, about 15 seconds. (Alternatively, you can knead by hand for 10 minutes.)

2. Place dough in very lightly oiled bowl, rubbing dough around bowl to lightly coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; place in warm, draft-free spot until dough doubles in size, about 1-1½ hours.

3. Divide the dough into 10 pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth ball. Let rest 10 minutes. Line baking pan with silicon baking mat or parchment paper.

4. Flatten each piece into a rough rectangle using the tips of your fingers. Roll in one direction until dough is ¼-inch thick. Roll in opposite direction (across shorter width) a few times, then fold in long edges to make perfect rectangle. Roll in long direction until dough is 1/8-inch thick. Place 1 hot dog near a short end, then tightly roll, keeping the tips of the hot dog exposed. Place seam side down on prepared baking pan. Repeat with remaining dough and hot dogs.

5. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until dough is slightly inflated, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oven to 375 degrees.

6. Brush the dough with milk. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.

kaiser rolls

I said recently that my health nut phase didn’t last long, and while I no longer stress about eating white rice or refined sugar, I do feel a little guilty buying white bread. There are some breads, mostly artisanal, that I prefer made with all white flour, but usually I like the flavor and nutrition of at least a portion of whole wheat flour.

I love Kaiser rolls for sandwiches, and Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice has some enticing pictures accompanying his recipe. The recipe follows Reinhart’s standard method of using a portion of pre-fermented dough to maximize the flavor of the final product.

The result, of course, was very good. But, there are a few changes I want to make. Mostly I want them to be a little sweeter. The only sugar in the recipe is just a bit of barley malt syrup. In the future, I’ll add honey or granulated sugar. Also, Reinhart’s photo looks like he used an egg wash or something, which he doesn’t call for in the recipe. His are so shiny and pretty, I think I might use an egg wash, or at least milk, next time.

Overall though, these were good, and fun. And with the whole wheat flour I added, just a bit healthier than what I would have got from the grocery store.

Kaiser Rolls (from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

Makes 6 large rolls or 9 smaller rolls (I made 8 rolls and thought they were pretty big)

Bridget note: Next time, I’ll add 2 tablespoons honey or 3 tablespoons granulated sugar to the dough. I’ll also brush the rolls with milk just before baking.

1½ cups (8 ounces) pate fermentée
1¼ cups (10 ounces) unbleached bread flour
¾ teaspoon plus a pinch (0.2 ounce) salt
1 teaspoon (0.11 ounce) instant yeast
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1½ teaspoons (0.33 ounce) barley malt syrup
1½ tablespoons (0.75 ounce) vegetable oil or shortening, melted
10 tablespoons to ¾ cup (5 to 6 ounces) water lukewarm

1. Take the paté fermentée out of the refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough. Cut it up into about 10 small pieces with a pastry scraper or serrated knife. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour to take off the chill.

2. Stir together the flour, salt, and yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add the pate fermentée, egg, barley malt syrup, oil, and 10 tablespoons water. Stir (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) for 1 minute, or until the ingredients form a ball. If there is still some loose flour, add the remaining 2 tablespoons water.

3. Lightly dust the counter with flour, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook). Knead for about 10 minutes (6 minutes by machine), adding flour, if needed, to make a dough that is soft and supple, tacky but not sticky. The dough should pass the windowpane test and the internal temperature should register 77 to 81 degrees. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

4. Ferment at room temperature for 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size. If the dough doubles in size before 2 hours have elapsed, remove it, knead it lightly to degas it, and return it to the bowl to continue fermenting until doubled from original size or until 2 hours have elapsed.

5. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into 6 to 9 equal pieces (4 ounces for large rolls, 2⅔-ounce pieces for smaller rolls). Form the pieces into rolls. Mist the rounds lightly with spray oil, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and let the dough relax for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, line a sheet pan with baking parchment, lightly mist it with spray oil, and then dust with semolina flour or cornmeal.

6. Prepare the individual rolls by cutting them with a Kaiser rolls cutter or knotting them. To knot them, roll out a round of dough into a 12-inch strand (shorter for smaller rolls). Tie a simple knot. Loop the two ends through the center of the knot a second time (see pictures) Place the rolls, cut side down, on the parchment, mist lightly with spray oil, and loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap of a food-grade plastic bag.

7. Proof the rolls for 45 minutes at room temperature, then flip them over so the cut or folded side is facing up. Mist again with spray oil, cover the pan, and continue proofing for another 30 to 45 minutes, or until the rolls are double their original size.

8. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Uncover the rolls and prepare them for baking. If you want seeds on your rolls, mist them with water and sprinkle poppy seeds over the top. If not, just mist them with water.

9. Place the pan in the oven, spray the oven walls with water, and close the door. After 10 minutes, rotate the pan for even baking and lower the oven setting to 400 degrees. Continue baking until the rolls are a medium golden brown and register approximately 200 degrees in the center. This will take 15 to 20 minutes for large rolls, or less for smaller rolls.

10. Remove the rolls from the pan and transfer to a cooling rack. Wait at least 30 minutes before serving.

Pate fermentée

This is twice what you need for one recipe of Kaiser rolls.

1 1/8 cups (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/8 cups (5 ounces) unbleached bread flour
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon instant yeast
¾ cup to ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (6 to 7 ounces) water

1. Stir together the flours, salt, and yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of a standing mixer). Add ¾ cup of the water, stirring until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball (or mix on low speed for 1 minute with the paddle attachment). Adjust the flour or water, according to need, so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff. (It is better to err on the sticky side, as you can adjust easier during kneading. It is harder to add water once the dough firms up.)

2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for 4 to 6 minutes (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook for 4 minutes), or until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky. The internal temperature should be 77 to 81 degrees.

3. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 1 hour, or until it swells to about 1½ times its original size.

4. Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it slightly to degas, and return it to the bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. You can keep this in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze it in an airtight plastic bag for up to 3 months.

I’m out of town this week, walking along the ocean and hiking around a lake. I’ll be back next week to catch up on comments and other blogs!

crockpot pulled pork

crockpot pulled pork new
Updated photo 5/31/12

My brother has a habit of giving out remarkably vague “recipes.” For example: “Put some pig or cow in the slow cooker with some liquid. Use a spice rub if you want. Cook until you get home from work, then give the fat to the dog and shred the meat.”

Um. Right.

I needed more information. Does the size of the roast matter? Whether it has a bone? I used pork shoulder, and Cooks Illustrated has a recipe for barbecue pulled pork, so I adapted some of their instructions – the ingredients and method for the spice rub – for this slow cooker version. I was reluctant to add liquid to the slow cooker liner with the meat, because I had some idea that it would dilute the flavor in the meat, so I added just a bit of water and some liquid smoke. I cooked it for about 10 hours, added some barbecue sauce, then cooked it for 1 hour longer.

Oh my gosh, it’s so good. I almost didn’t want to add barbecue sauce, because the meat tastes so good without it, but of course it was that much better once I added it. And it makes a ton of food. I’m going to guess that the pork shoulder I used, which was probably the smallest I could find, was about twenty servings. I froze most of it, and it reheats really well.

I learned a few things from this. For one, there’s no need to worry about liquid diluting the flavor of the meat – the meat exudes a surprising amount of liquid anyway. It’s best to add just a bit of water to help the slow cooker get the cooking started. Also, as far as cooking times go, longer seems to be better. So, as my brother said, start dinner cooking before you go to work, and when you get home 9 or 10 hours later, you’ll be just in time to shred the meat, add the barbecue sauce, and let that all cook together for a bit.

Overall, served with coleslaw, this makes for a fantastic meal. I know that crockpot pulled pork recipes are a dime a dozen, but trust me that this spice rub adds far more flavor than root beer ever could. Plus, it’s not much work at all, so with minimal effort you can stock your freezer with multiple nights’ worth of easy and tasty meals.

Update 9.21.08: Last time I made this, I used a pork shoulder that just barely fit in my crockpot; I think it was in the 7.5 pound range.  After 8.5 hours, the pork wasn’t tender enough to be pulled, at least on the inside.  So I recommend erring on the longer side of this cooking range, especially if you’re using a large roast.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork (spice rub from Cooks Illustrated)

Spice Rub:
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
4 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons table salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground white pepper

1 (6-8 pound) bone-in pork shoulder
½ teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
2 cups barbecue sauce

1. Mix all spice rub ingredients in small bowl.

2. Massage spice rub into meat. Wrap tightly in double layer of plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least 3 hours. (For stronger flavor, the roast can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

3. Unwrap roast and place it in slow cooker liner. Add liquid smoke, if using, and ¼ cup water. Turn slow cooker to low and cook for 8-10 hours, until meat is fork-tender.

4. Transfer roast to cutting board; discard liquid in liner. “Pull” by tearing meat into thin shreds with two forks or your fingers. Discard fat.

5. Place shredded meat back in slow cooker liner; toss with 1 cup barbecue sauce, and heat on low for 30-60 minutes, until hot. Serve with additional barbecue sauce.

second chances (chicken spiedies and philly cheesesteaks)

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There are so many mistakes in life that can’t be undone. Sharp words to a friend, a poor job interview, even a stubbed toe.

But when mistakes are made in the kitchen, there’s always the opportunity to try it until we get it right.

And thus it was that I found myself making more sandwiches this week. And this time-I nailed it.

The spiedies were made just the same as the original recipe, except I didn’t broil them until they were dry as a bone! I also saved a bit of unused marinade to toss over the cooked chicken pieces. These sandwiches were all that I had hoped for-juicy and flavorful.

And, as Sara’s advice came a bit too late, in that I’d already purchased the steak for the next set of cheesesteaks, I had to do some more pounding. However, this time I cleverly cut the steak in half crosswise, so I wasn’t trying to flatten an inch and a half thick steak down to a quarter inch thickness. This was indeed far easier. I didn’t spend 10 years in college for nothing, folks! I spent less than five minutes flattening my steak this time, and maybe it’s just me, but it didn’t sound nearly so loud and abrasive.

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I also layered on some more onions and cheese, and this was a sandwich worth eating twice within a week!

And-the cheesesteak bonus? The next day we found at that we’re moving to Philadelphia!

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the short train to philly; or, why I microwaved filet mignon (philly cheesesteaks)

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The final installment to sandwich week didn’t go well. (Neither did the second installment, if you recall.)

The cheesesteak recipe comes from Alton Brown’s Good Eats. The Food Network’s write-up of it wasn’t very clear, so I even rewatched the segment of the show where Alton makes them.

Of course, in the happy land of TV cooking, someone else takes your chunk of beef and pounds it into a sheet of beef. In the land of apartment cooking, you piss off the neighbors. And the husband.

dscn1773.jpg dscn1781.jpg

I only got my beef tenderloin steak down to about ½-inch thickness before my somewhat-ill husband beseeched me to stop with the pounding. I heated up my All-Clad stainless-steel skillet for a couple minutes on the highest heat possible, threw on my oiled steak, and rushed around the apartment turning on fans and opening windows before the fire-alarm went off. Notice that I didn’t say anything about salting the steak, which I forgot to do.

By the time I got back to the stove after trying to dissipate the smoke, the first side was turning fairly black. So I flipped the steak, then took the hot pan and stood outside to let the second side’s allotment of smoke disperse out there. When the pan got too heavy for me to hold anymore, I came inside and wrapped the steak in foil while I cooked up some onions.

After a few minutes, I unwrapped the and started cutting it up. And, it was totally uncooked on the inside. Yes, I realize that people eat steaks rare, but they don’t eat cheesesteaks rare. And that’s where the microwave came in. I’m so ashamed.

Cheesesteaks
Makes 2 sandwiches

1 beef tenderloin steak, 6-8 ounces
salt
pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced thin
2 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
2 hoagie rolls

Let the meat sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Pound the steak to ½-inch thickness. Season liberally with salt and pepper, and rub with 1 teaspoon of oil.  Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes. Cook until cooked through, about 3-4 minutes per side. Wrap the meat in foil. Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in the same skillet. Cook the onions over medium heat until browned.

Slice the meat into small strips. Divide evenly among the rolls. Top with any remaining juice from the meat, then onions and cheese. Wrap in foil for 10 minutes to let the flavors meld; serve.

take your time (chicken spiedies)

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Next up on sandwich week was spiedies.  Spiedies are one of the few things that Binghamton, NY, may be known for (the only other is probably carousels).  Sad to say, I lived in Binghamton for four years and probably only ate spiedies three or four times.  Now that it looks like we might be moving away from upstate New York, I decided it was a good time to make spiedies at home.

Spiedies are ridiculously simple.  They’re really just marinated and grilled meat on a roll.  I could have made the marinade from scratch, for it oddly felt more authentic to just buy Salamida’s State Fair Spiedie marinade.  I cut up 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts into chunks, tossed them in the marinade, and left them alone until the next day.  Then I skewered the meat and broiled it.  Grilling wasn’t an option because I don’t have a grill.  Unfortunately, I sort of suck at broiling, and I ended up way overcooking the chicken.  The flavor was there, and it was good, but any sort of juiciness was sadly missing.  It took me about 20 minutes to make it through one sandwich.

On the plus side, I’ve got half a bottle of marinade left and two more chicken breasts in the freezer.  Looks like I’ll be doing a do-over soon.

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Sandwich week! (tomato soup and grilled cheese)

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Usually I’m pretty careful about planning our weekly dinners with a fair amount of diversity. This week, however, it worked out that we’re having sandwiches three nights. Yay! I love sandwiches!

Sandwich week starts out with a classic, and one of my absolute favorite, meals–tomato soup and grilled cheese. When I was a kid, I loved Campbell’s and Kraft singles. These days, I get just a bit fancier.

The soup is homemade from a Cooks Illustrated recipe. I make the recipe with just a few changes–I leave out the cream at the end because while it certainly doesn’t make the soup worse, it doesn’t make it better either, so I figure I might as well save myself the unhealthiness. I reduce the butter by one tablespoon for the same reason.

The sandwiches are simplicity itself–just slice a roll in half, pile on whatever cheese you like, and roast at 400 degrees until the cheese melts (something like 10 minutes).

I make this meal probably once a month. It’s definitely comfort food for me and Dave. One final touch–we always add just a few cooked macaroni noodles to the soup. I’ve done this since I was a kid, and now tomato soup just seems like it’s missing something when they’re not there.

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(Photo updated 3/28/08 )

Cream of Tomato Soup (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 6

2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice, drained, juice reserved
1½ tablespoons brown sugar, preferably dark
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large shallots, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Pinch ground allspice
1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1¾ cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons brandy

1. Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Place a strainer in a bowl and remove the seeds and juice of each tomato over the strainer. Place tomatoes in a single layer on the baking sheet. Rub with the brown sugar. Bake until the tomatoes are dry and just starting to brown, about 30 minutes. Let the tomatoes cool slightly, then peel them off the foil.

2. While the tomatoes roast, heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until foaming. Add the shallots, tomato paste, and allspice. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the flour, stirring constantly, until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. Stirring constantly, gradually add the chicken broth; stir in the reserved tomato juice and the roasted tomatoes. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then cover, reduce to heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes to blend the flavors.

3. Strain the mixture into a medium bowl. Transfer the tomatoes and solids in the strainer to a blender; add enough liquid for the blender to work, then puree until desired consistency. Stir the pureed mixture and remaining strained liquid together. Stir in the brandy and serve.