Monday, December 31, 2007

Caramel Cake


As a result of the restaurant being closed for New Year's, I've had the opportunity to catch up on my food magazines. I just recently received the January issue of Gourmet, it's a nice issue, this month they featured Southern food. Which I find to be comfort food, specially in winter, so after reading the magazine from cover to cover I set out to make the caramel cake. The caramel cake I usually make is a two layer cake filled and frosted with caramel. Quite a production to make and one that cannot be made on a very humid or rainy day because the caramel will never set.  When I saw the very simple cake they featured I could not wait to try it. The cake is very light and the caramel has just the right amount of sweetness.

The cake is light and the caramel is just drizzled on top. I followed the recipe almost exactly, this is the link to Epicurious in case you have a recipe box at the site and want to save it. It is definetely a keeper, the only change I made was I continued to drizzle the caramel that runs off the cake as it hardened a bit. I also made holes in the cake with a fork so the caramel would soak in. The cake itself is nice,  I will use it again even without the caramel; it baked evenly and has a nice grain.

A little note on measuring flour: The recipe instructs to sift the flour before measuring, make sure you do this. I measured the flour out of the box and sifted it into a bowl, then placed a piece of parchment paper on the counter and measured it into the sifter again, I added the baking powder, soda, and salt and sifted over the paper. Then I make a sort of cone with the parchment and dump the flour into the mixing bowl. The reason I tell you this is because I was surprised at how much flour (about 1/2 cup) was left over after I measured the second time. I would not have expected the difference between 2 sifts and 1 to be that large. The extra flour would have kept the cake from being as light, so be sure to not skip that step.

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For caramel glaze

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Butter an 8-inch square cake pan and line with a square of parchment paper, then butter parchment.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture may look curdled). Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

Make glaze:

Bring cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Boil until glaze registers 210 to 212°F on thermometer, 12 to 14 minutes, then stir in vanilla.

Put rack with cake in a shallow baking pan and pour hot glaze over top of cake, allowing it to run down sides. ( I continued to spoon the glaze than ran off the sides over the cake). Cool until glaze is set, about 30 minutes

note: Cake (before glazing) can be made 1 day ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and French Vinaigrette



It seems like every year after Christmas, I am ready for winter to be over and Spring to begin. Unfortunately, that isn't the way it works and even though it's not exactly freezing outside, it is chilly and damp enough enough to remind me it is still December and we at least have 3 more months of this. This is also the time of year I get more than a little restless and come down with a massive case of wanderlust- the root of this is that I really wish I was at the beach right now. So of course I am craving the foods I eat at the beach- my corn and tomato salad, but neither of the main ingredients is at it's prime right now so I will have to wait not only for the salad, but for the beach as well.

Last night I was looking through all the magazines I haven't had a chance to go through for the last month. My favorite is Australian, Donna Hay, which really isn't helping matters at all since it is Summer in Australia and the magazine reflects it. So, this morning I compromised and decided to make a lentil salad which I drizzled with a French Vinaigrette. After all the rich holiday foods I have been eating and making, this is a nice fresh change. This Lentil salad is also very versatile, I have made chicken to go with it as it is good cold, hot and at room temperature. The vinaigrette is also really tasty on it's own, but the vinegar and oil separate very quickly so I found the best method to make it is by mixing it in a little jar. I saved a pretty little recycled jelly jar for this purpose, I put all the ingredients in, put the lid on and shake away which keeps me from endlessly whisking. I store it in the jar, and just shake it up when I need more. The vinaigrette will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.

I love lentils, my favorite are French Puy Lentils, they cook very quickly and have a very earthy flavor. I find that when making salads that is the best variety, although for soup I like green lentils as they are a little creamier when cooked. You may use either variety, the French ones will cook in about 25 minutes while green lentils will cook in about 45 minutes. Check them often while they simmer to make sure they do not overcook.

Lentil Salad
8 oz French Puy Lentils
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Bay leaves
1 sprig fresh Thyme
1/2 bell pepper, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 teaspoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 small tomato, seeded and diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs- parsley, thyme, oregano
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups chicken stock
4 oz crumbled goat cheese

French Vinaigrette
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallot
3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup olive oil

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat combine olive oil, lentils, celery, bell pepper, shallots, garlic, bay leaves, and sprig of thyme, season with salt and pepper; cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

2. Add enough chicken stock to cover lentils by a couple of inches, the amount will depend on the size of your pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 25-45 minutes depending on the type of lentils used, (see above). When lentils are tender, remove from heat, drain, discard bay leaves and thyme and set aside to cool.

3. Make vinaigrette by either shaking ingredients in a covered jar or by whisking together in a bowl.

4. In a serving bowl combine lentils, tomatoes, and fresh herbs. Drizzle with 1/2 cup vinaigrette and taste for salt and pepper. Add goat cheese and garnish with extra herbs, serve cold or at room temperature. If you are making the salad a day ahead add the herbs right before serving.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Alfajores / Caramel Cookies


Alfajores are my favorite childhood cookies, they are a very crumbly shortbread like cookie filled with caramel, preferably Cajeta (Argentinian milk caramel) then rolled in powdered sugar. I had not had much luck when making alfajores, they just never seemed to turn out right. Recently a friend gave me her recipe, but they they didn't come out like hers, which are very good. I think the problem was in the measurements, the cornstarch was in grams while others ingredients were in cups, sort of the type of recipe you need the original baker to make with you the first time and since I am many countries away from from her I had to figure it out for myself. Once I knew what the problem was, (they had too much cornstarch) I was easily able to fix it. So I made batch number two and I think they are just delightful- if I do say so myself!

Notes: When cutting the cookies out, do it as closely as possible and use as little flour as you can without the dough sticking to the table. You can only re-roll the dough out 1 time before it becomes too dry from the extra flour. The butter must be very soft so the dough will hold together- I cannot stress this enough- microwave it for 15 seconds if you have to- just make sure it's soft! You may substitute the Cognac for Grand Marnier or dark Rum. Bake the cookies until they are just starting to color, they are supposed to be very pale. (they also burn very fast- watch them carefully). Also, the cookies are a little delicate so be careful not to break them when spreading the caramel.

You can purchase Cajeta at most specialty food stores, I Know Sur la Table has it. You may also make your own caramel, but please be very careful if you do this:
(I tell you this from experience as my husband has had a can explode) In a medium pot place an unopened can of condensed milk (not the pull-lid type), cover with water at least 5 inches over the top of the can. Cook over medium heat for 2 hours. NEVER let the water boil down and evaporate- that's when the can explodes, add more water if necessary. Let the caramel cool for at least an hour, then open and spread on the cookies. The caramel will keep in the can unopened for about one moth before it starts to crystallize.

ALFAJORES

1 1/4 cup cornstarch
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 lb. butter at room temperature (1 stick)
3/4 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons cognac

Cajeta or home-made caramel (see above)
powdered sugar for sprinkling cookies after they bake

1. In large mixer bowl cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until incorporated. Add cognac and mix well.

2. Add flour, cornstarch and baking powder and mix until the dough comes together.

3. Roll out dough over a lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut shapes out and place on greased baking sheets. Bake for 10-15 minutes depending on the size of the cookies. Cookies should be barely brown on the bottom, tops will be pale. Set on cooling rack to cool. Fill with cajeta and cover in powdered sugar. This recipe can be easily doubled.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Buche de Noel / Yule Log


A little late...but, better than never I suppose. I did not think I would have time to make the Daring Baker's Challenge for December, Buche Noel, but at the last minute I ended up making it on Christmas day morning. We did all the Santa stuff and gift opening really early, as Jack woke at 5:15 AM- (yes, you read that correctly). I had made the meringue mushrooms on Sunday so the cake and icing were quick. I read many of the posts by the other bakers regarding the Swiss Merngue curdling, I think it all depends on the speed of the mixer. I find it does look curdled for a bit- but then you beat it until it cannot be beat anymore and it pulls together again into a smooth satiny cream.

The cake was delicious, I filled it with a white chocolate pastry cream which I made a little loose on purpose so the cake would stay very moist and I added 8 oz melted dark chocolate to the icing at the end. Since I was also serving it to children and I was afraid they would not care for the coffee flavor which is what the recipe called for. Other than that, I followed the Daring Baker's recipe exactly. I also sprinkled the mushrooms with cocoa and powdered sugar- they came out really cute, but I forgot to take a photo of it- maybe next time.

Plain Genoise
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)
¼ cup cornstarch

one (1) 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

1.Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.

2.Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.

3.Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).

4.Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.

5.While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.

6.Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.

7.Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

8.Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.

9.While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.

10.Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

Buttercream

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons Brandy
8 oz. melted and slightly cooled dark chocolate

1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.

2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Add liquor and beat into the buttercream, add melted chocolate and mix well.

Meringue Mushrooms:
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (1-1/3 ounces/40 g.) icing sugarUnsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

1.Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Sift the icing sugar over the whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold in until well blended.

2.Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe 48 stems, each ½ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¾ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¾ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue.

3.Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper, 50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Palmiers


Palmiers, also known as Elephant Ears are my favorite cookie to accompany my cafe au lait. I only drink coffee when it's cold out, as I don't like hot beverages when it's hot and this morning finally--it turned cold. Yesterday it was 82 degrees and I was wearing flip flops, today I was totally bundled up! So I woke this morning and decided to make palmiers to have with my coffee. Making palmiers is quite a simple task, that is- if you use pre-made puff pastry. (yes, I cheat).

A few notes: watch them carefully, they burn quickly. When turning them mid-way through baking, make sure you wear an oven mitten...the sugar is hot hot. I now have a pretty big bo-bo as a result of not wearing the oven mitten and using a towel instead. Lastly, transfer the Palmiers to a rack right after baking, so they don't continue to brown and stick to the pan.

Palmiers

1 package Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon

Set oven to 450 degrees

Allow puff pastry to sefrost for 30 minutes or until pliable.

1. On a clean surface sprinkle 1/2 cup sugar. Place one sheet of puff pastry over sugar and sprinkle with another 1/2 sugar and 1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon and spread over top. With a rolling pin roll into a 10 x 14 inch rectangle, pressing sugar into pastry as evenly as possible.

2. Place the rectangle of dough in front of you horizontally. Visually mark the center of the dough and roll each side as tightly as possible to meet in the center. (it's difficult for me to explain so please refer to the photo of the cookies). You should end up with a long roll.

3. Slice into crosswise 1/2 inch pieces and carefully transfer to a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, placing about 2 inches apart. Bake for 6 minutes or until lightly browned, then turn palmiers over and bake about 3-4 minutes longer. Watch them carefully after you turn them. The Palmiers should be golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pirate Birthday Cake



Today we celebrated Jack's 6th birthday, this is his cake- a pirate cake. If you read my blog on a regular basis then you know that life is pretty insane this month. But, birthdays cannot be postponed or rescheduled so a birthday party in December it is. The cake came from Zoe's Bakery in Covington and this is no ordinary bakery. They are very talented and obviously love what they do so I trust that whatever they make will always make me happy. I have never been disappointed with the results and I can tell you, I am not all that easy to please when it comes to cakes. My theory is if I don't have time to make something wonderful I better put it in the hands of someone who can. Someone who will make something so outrageously cool, that it won't matter at all that I didn't make it. I tend to not do anything half-way, it's just not in my nature. I also knew that with the week past, there was no way I could make something I would be happy with. My plan worked, jack loved it, the cake was marvelous! Anyhow, I just wanted to share- I was really impressed and best of all it tasted as good as it looked. The party was really cute- all his little friends, treasure maps and chests, balloons, ice cream, and lots of goodies...all the makings for a very happy 6 year old!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Currant Scones and Lemon Curd


Did you think I forgot about the blog? I did not, far from it, but life gets in the way- actually not life...just work! But, do not misunderstand me, I feel ever so blessed and lucky to have the business I do, it's just at this time of the year I would rather be at home listening to Christmas carols and baking cookies! Sunday I have earmarked to do just that. In the meantime here is my scone and lemon curd recipe. I've been making it for quite a long time...it's from my tea room days and on Monday I had a catering which involved afternoon tea. The tea was lovely, made me miss serving tea for about 3 seconds- then I remembered why I stopped and got right on over it. The scones freeze very well, I actually make them to freeze, then pull them out as needed.

The lemon curd I made with the last of my Meyer lemons and it's very yummy. I was sort of sad I used the last of my home grown lemons, but I know where to get more. Turns out my dad thought that the citrus would spoil if the temperature got below freezing, (they don't- it has to be in the teens to spoil the fruit), so he cut all his lemons- and he had tons of them, juiced them and froze the juice. This is not something I would actually do, I like to look at the lemons just as much as consuming them, but it does sound like I need to raid his freezer- SOON!

CURRANT SCONES

4 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling tops
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks butter (12 tablespoons)
1 1/2 cups dried currants
4 eggs, plus 1 extra for egg wash
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

makes 2 dz. large scones

Preheat oven to 400 F

1. In a large heavy mixing bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt with a whisk. Add butter and mix with a pastry blender until crumbly and coarse. Mix in the currants.

2. in a small mixing bowl mix eggs and cream with a whisk. Add to flour mixture and stir until it just comes together...do not overmix. Place dough on a floured surface and knead a few times.
Roll out to 3/4" thickness and cut out shapes.

3. Place scones on a greased cookie sheet. Lightly beat additional egg and brush tops of scones. Generously sprinkle sugar over scones and bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on wire racks, if freezing place in plastic bags when completely cool.

LEMON CURD

1/2 cup lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
6 egg yolks
2 tablespoons lemon zest
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 lb. butter (1 stick)

1. Combine all ingridients except for the butter in a non-reactive (stainless steel) heavy saucepan. Cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk. for about 8- 10 minnutes or until mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat, whisk in butter. Transfer into a clean bowl and lay a piece of plastic wrap over top- this will avoid a skin from forming. Refrigerate up to 2 weeks.

p.s. This lemon curd can be used a filling for lemon tarts with meringue topping or fruit tarts.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Mexican Wedding Cake Cookies


Yes, I know the posts are getting a little further apart lately, but things are hectic- to say the least! I have actually been baking and cooking a lot lately, but as much as I would like to, there just don't seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything documented and photographed. I am catering a few parties this weekend which means I have a lot of assorted bite size desserts to make between now and Friday. This morning I made Mexican wedding Cake Cookies, they are almost like a shortbread, buttery and flavored with toasted pecans, cinnamon and vanilla; they are sometimes called pecan balls or Russian tea cakes.

I use a special powdered sugar called Snow White sugar for sprinkling the cookies after they bake, I get it in 25 pound bags for the restaurant, but you can get it in a one pound bag from King Arthur Flour. What's great about this sugar is it doesn't really melt so the cookies stay Snow White-- just as the name says. I used to make them with regular powdered sugar, so if that's all you have that will work as well, just sift some fresh sugar over cookies before serving if you are making them ahead. I also mix a few sprinkles of cinnamon with the powdered sugar. To make the balls, I first flatten out the dough a bit with my hands and cut it into equal portions with a knife, this makes them all even and uniform which for OCD girl (me), it's very important they all look the same. Watch the cookies carefully while in the oven, the bottoms should be just golden brown while the tops will be fairly pale.

MEXICAN WEDDING CAKE COOKIES

1 lb unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups toasted pecans, chopped

Extra powdered sugar or snow white sugar and cinnamon for coating.

1. In a large bowl beat butter with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add sugar and continue to beat until well incorporated. Add vanilla and mix well.

2. Add flour, mix until just combined, then add toasted pecans. Place dough in plastic wrap and flatten into a disk. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until cold.

Pre-heat oven to 350F

3. Make 1 1/2" balls, place on greased cookie sheet 1/2" apart and bake about 15 minutes or until bottoms are lightly golden. Remove from oven and cool cookies slightly.

4. In a medium bowl mix 3 cups powdered sugar or snow white sugar and sprinkle with about 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Roll cookies until covered with sugar then set aside to cool completely. If making the cookies ahead of time, I sprinkle with additional powdered sugar before serving.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Louisiana Shrimp Creole with Garlic Grits


Even though I am not originally from Louisiana, Creole food feels like home cooking to me. This is one of my favorites, setting it atop garlic grits really takes it up several notches from serving it over white rice.

Notes: Because you will be cooking the onions and peppers over medium high heat, you want to make sure you use a heavy pot- I use a large Le Creusset dutch oven. Cooking Creole is like a religion all its own around here- this is what I can tell you: 1.When things start to stick it is ok, remove from the heat for a few seconds and stir until the caramelized sauce on the bottom of the pot dissolves back into the sauce. 2. Dry seasonings are always added at the beginning with the onions so the vegetables have enough time to absorb all the flavor. Also, use the reddest ripest tomatoes you can find-- canned tomatoes are absolutely not allowed. (big no no!). All the vegetables should be diced to about 1/4 inch. This dish freezes exceptionally well. Serves 8-10. Serve with garlic grits and a buttermilk biscuit.

Louisiana Shrimp Creole

1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup unsalted butter
2 lb.'s peeled and de-veined shrimp (21-25 count per pound)
2 cups chopped yellow onion (1/4 inch dice)
1 cup chopped bell pepper (half green, half red)
1 cup chopped celery
4 cups fresh diced tomatoes (I use Roma tomatoes)
1 - 10 oz. can tomato sauce
1/4 lb. unsalted butter (1 stick)
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
1 tablespoon fresh Thyme leaves
1 tablespoons fresh oregano
2 fresh bay leaves ( you can use dry- I have a tree, so I always use fresh)
2 cups chicken or seafood stock

1/4 cup butter (for stirring in at the end)

1. In a large heavy pot over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add flour (making a roux) and cook until light brown. Add onions, peppers, garlic and all dry seasonings. Cook until onions start to brown and caramelize, usually about 15 minutes. Add celery, fresh tomatoes and continue to cook for another 30 minutes at medium heat.

2. Add tomato sauce, fresh herbs, and bay leaves and continue to cook for another 30 minutes. Stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon (this is an essential process).

3. Add 2 cups stock and stir, simmer for 15 minutes. Add shrimp, cover with lid and simmer an additional 20 minutes or until the shrimp are plump and pink. Remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup butter until melted. Taste for salt and serve over garlic grits or white rice.

GARLIC GRITS: Boil 1 cup of cream and 2 cups of water. Add 1 cup grits, 2 tablespoons minced roasted garlic, 1 teaspoon white pepper and salt to taste. Stir and simmer over medium low heat for 5-7 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat.

Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits


I made biscuits this afternoon to serve with the Shrimp Creole, they were sort of an afterthought. But, they quickly became very popular...Jack came home from school precisely as the biscuits were coming out of the oven and I have not seen him (or any child) that excited about food not involving sugar- I think-- ever! He sat down and ate 5 or 6 of them with honey-butter, ( I barely had any left for the photos!). Which really makes me quite happy, because he is a very finiky eater.

The dough is put together in layers, by folding it over and over. I borrowed the method I use to fold the dough for the scones and applied it to the biscuits- it worked perfectly as they are light and very flaky.

Notes: I use a small 2" biscuit cutter only because of personal preference, you may use any size cutter you have. If you use a much larger cutter, you may have to increase the baking time a little. I sometimes mix the flour and butter together, cover it and leave it in the refrigerator overnight then finish the other steps in the morning. This step makes making biscuits in the morning a little faster.  The recipe yields about 2 dozen small biscuits.

Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

1/4 lb. cold butter (1 stick)
2 1/4 cup self-rising flour
1 1/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 F

1. Place flour in a large heavy bowl. Cut butter with a sharp knife into small pieces and drop in the flour. Toss butter with flour. Cut butter into flour with a pastry blender until crumbly and the mixture resembles small peas. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.

2. Add buttermilk, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened.

3. Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface (with self-rising flour); knead 3 to
4 times adding just a little more flour as needed to keep it from being too sticky.

4. With floured hands, pat dough into a 1 inch thick rectangle. Sprinkle the top of the dough with a little flour. fold over onto itself in 3 sections, starting with the short end. Do this 2 more times, ending with a 9" x 5" rectangle.

5. Pat dough to about 1/2 inch thickness; cut into rounds and place side by side, on a lightly greased cookie sheet ( I use silpat or parchment paper).

6. Bake 13-15 minutes or until lightly browned. I bake for 12 minutes then turn the convection on for the last minute. Remove from oven and brush with a little melted butter.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Tender Potato Bread (Daring Bakers Challenge)


I am always driven by a challenge, it's what keeps me going! Once I have one, chances are you will have my full attention. Being motivated by a challenge is not always a good thing, I sometimes make more trouble for myself because of it...life can just be simple sometimes (ok- repeat to self 100 times!) The good news is, I am very excited to have found a new outlet for my challenges-- by joining The Daring Bakers. Every month brings a new baking challenge, everyone uses the same recipe and this month it was Potato Bread. I am not an experienced bread baker, so it was a challenge indeed. This month was a little busy, so the pressure was on as I baked it yesterday...the day before it was due! (this is so unlike me, as I'm more than a little OCD, but I procratinated early on, then later in the month I really did not have much of a choice).



The instructions were to follow the recipe exactly as it is written, which would normally be my first challenge, But since I am not an avid bread maker, that really wasn't much of a problem. I was more scared to make a mistake by not doing exactly as it said so I followed all directions. The shapping of the bread was left up to each baker, so I made a loaf, some rolls and foccacia.

I had most fun with the Foccacia, I layered it with olive oil, a very nice crumbled Parmegiano Romano, oven roasted grape tomatoes, black Cerignola olives, capers, Rosemary, and sauteed garlic; I then sprinkled sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. It made a very tasty Foccacia which will probably soon be served at the restaurant.





With the loaf, I made Serrano Ham sandwiches. Mixed a little roasted tomato chutney with home-made mayonnaise then put some slices of goat cheese Gouda and lettuce and tomato.

The rolls were very nice, but next time I will probably make them in a different shape, or in brioche pans. Once they were in the oven I thought they were a little too predictable, but it was too late. Nevertheless, they were quite good while still warm slathered with butter laced with Sal de Mer. After eating all this bread I now need to go for a very long and overdue run. After stuffing myself on Thanksgiving, we went for a walk on the golf course and my friend Ale, pointed out my new running shoes were so clean and white they glowed in the dark...I do believe it's time to put them to some use and dirty them up!

The recipe for the potato bread can be found here. I can't wait to find out what the Challenge is for December!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Meyer Lemon Shortbread Cookies



Two years ago I planted a Meyer lemon tree in my back yard, last year it produced four lemons. But this year, my little tree must have really had a good spring and summer because I have more lemons than I can count! They are not only beautiful to look at as they grace just about every fruit bowl all over my house, they are delicious as well.

I baked bread this afternoon and was looking for a small and easy project to make while the bread was rising, so I came up with these little shortbreads. It worked out really well since I needed the oven on to warm up the kitchen a bit so the bread would rise correctly. I used the Joy of Cooking shortbread recipe and added Meyer lemon juice and zest. Perfect day for it...it's nasty out, raining and a tornado watch, but I am sitting here cozily with my cup of tea and cookies.

MEYER LEMON SHORTBREAD COOKIES

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (1 1/4 sticks)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
additional sugar for sprinkling tops

1. In large mixer bowl beat butter and sugars, salt and lemon zest until very fluffy and well blended.

2. Gradually sift in flour and mix well. Sprinkle lemon juice over dough and lightly knead until dough holds together. If the dough is too dry, add a few more drops lemon juice, the dough should just come together- do not over moisten it.

3. Press into an 8" x 8" pan and pierce deeply with a fork in a decorative pattern. Bake at 325 degrees for about 40 minutes or until just slightly darker at the edges. Turn out of the pan while still warm and cut into bars and sprinkle with sugar. Allow the cookies to cool completely on a rack.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Apple Mince Meat Pie

I made Apple mince meat pie for Thanksgiving, it was my intention to post before Thursday, but life got really busy. Between cooking Thanksgiving meals for take-out at the restaurant and hosting Thanksgiving at home, taking photos of everything I baked didn't happen. Which also explains why there isn't a photo of the whole pie...just the last piece, (and yes, I know it's not the best photo- but I didn't have much to work with).

For the longest time I did not understand mince meat pie- a dessert involving meat? Was it even a dessert to begin with? Needless to say the thought of eating one- much less making one never even crossed my mind. But, then I found this recipe- and wow! I love apple mince meat pie! I had it for Thanksgiving a couple of years ago and I've been hooked ever since.

I searched for the origin of mince meat pie...I really needed to understand the meat portion of it and this is what I found: origin of mince meat pie. The recipe used to include liver and all sorts of other meats--I sure like my Food Network version better! I did not alter this recipe one bit and yes, that was hard for me, but it really is perfect as it is. The recipe came from a pie contest episode and can I tell you, that baker sure knew what she was doing!

Notes: I think the recipe must have originally yielded more than one pie.  Some of the measurements given, 1/8 teaspoon and 1/4 tablespoon are not very common measurements. The pastry also makes an extra pie crust, (which by the way, is the the best pie crust I have ever had--really!) so I just use it to make another pie involving only one crust. The good thing is that if you want to make the pie in quantity, I'm sure it can be easily increased- for 3 pies, double pastry and triple filling.

Pie Crust:

1 cup pastry flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon butter flavored shortening, chilled
1/3 cup ice cold water
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 egg, beaten

Apple Filling:

4 cups apples (Rome or Jonathan), peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon tapioca
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 tablespoon heavy cream
1 (27-ounce) jar mincemeat (recommended: None Such Classic or Original)
1 egg white, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon sugar Pastry cut-outs or dollops of whipped topping

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

For the pie crusts:

In a large bowl, combine the flours, salt, sugar and baking powder. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles cornmeal. In small bowl, mix water and vinegar with the beaten egg. Add the liquid mixture 1 tablespoon at a time to the flour mixture, tossing with a fork to form a soft dough. Shape into 3 disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator. Use 2 disks when making this pie. Freeze remaining dough for later use. Roll out 1 disk and place into a 9-inch pie dish for bottom crust.

For the apple filling:

Combine the apples, butter and lemon juice in a saucepan over medium heat and cook for about 8 minutes. Cool slightly.

In a medium bowl combine the sugar, tapioca, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Add slightly cooled apples and mix well. Stir in vanilla and cream. Place apple mixture into bottom of pie crust, spreading evenly.

Spread the mincemeat on top of apple filling. Roll out another dough disk and adjust over the filling. Flute edge and vent top. Brush with egg white and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for 30to 35 minutes longer, or until golden. Garnish, as desired, with baked pastry cut outs or whipped topping.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Very Moist Corn Muffins


Last year for Christmas I made a great corn pudding, sort of a blend between pudding and cornbread. The recipe was wonderful and everyone loved it, the only problem is I cannot find the recipe. I have looked high and low and I'm absolutely clueless as to where it came from or where I put it. I have looked through the hundred plus cookbooks I own and yielded no results-- Oh well. On the bright side though, I found this one in the process and after I made a few changes, I was very pleasantly surprised. Putting a small dollop of sour cream on top made them very moist. And yes, this time I have saved the recipe...I knew this blog would come in handy for something! :)



Very Moist Corn Muffins

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups sour cream
2 cups frozen corn
1/2 cup sour cream for topping

Preheat oven to 400 F

1. Butter or line 12 muffin cups.

2. Combine all dry ingredients in a medium bowl.

3. Add corn, egg, and 1- 1/2 cups sour cream and whisk until just combined. Do not over mix.

4. Dividing evenly, spoon batter into muffin cups. Top each muffin with about a teaspoon of sour cream. Bake until lightly browned, about 20-25 minutes. Allow muffins to cool in pan for 5 minutes, then turn out and cool on a rack.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Mascarpone Stuffed Medjool Dates

The holidays are almost upon us, so for the next month I will try to post a few recipes which fall under the party-food category. Mascarpone stuffed dates are really delicious and have proven to be quite a favorite at holiday parties. I found these dates at a local market, the owner taught me about all the different varieties of dates, which was very enlightening. The ones I used here are sun ripened type which is why they have a smoother appearance and aren't as wrinkly (is that even a word?). I could not detect much of a difference in the taste, so if sun ripened dates are not available dried dates will work well.

Whenever I am catering a party I always try to have a balanced menu, and while a variety of foods is very important, I also balance the menu out by the stages in which food needs to be prepared. This is most important to me when I am having a party of my own and don't have a big kitchen staff to do most of the work. All it takes is a little strategic planning-dishes I can prepare ahead, some things which are quick to make and then some very special dishes which may require a little more time. Planning my menus in this manner keeps me from being frazzled the day of the party.

The dates fall into the very easy, very tasty and best of all- make-ahead category! They are great on their own, or as part of a cheese tray. I will hopefully get a chance between now and Christmas to write a post about cheese pairings and how to put together a great cheese tray- one that will definitely not involve cubed cheese!

Mascarpone Stuffed Dates

1 8oz container Mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
1 lb. Medjool Dates
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 lb. toasted pecan halves ( 350F on a cookie sheet- watch carefully, about 15 min.- this would not be the time to multi-task...they burn quickly!)

1. Make a cut the length of the date and remove pit. Place pitted dates on a plate and set aside.

2. In a small bowl combine cheese, honey and lemon zest with a spatula until mixed well.

3. Fit a small pastry bag with a 1/2 inch tip, fluted or plain. Place cheese filling in the bag. Carefully fill each date with about 2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture for large dates and 1 teaspoon for smaller dates. Place a pecan on top of each filled date. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pecan pie / Tart


This year has just flown by, it seems like every year goes by faster than the one before. The holidays are usually an extremely busy time for me and I don't expect this year to be any different. In order for me to make it through the next month and a half without completely freaking out, I just have to be super organized. So today when I was entering into my daily planner all the events for December I realized Thanksgiving is in 9 days!!

But, while it is busy and wild, I am not complaining- catering is the part of my job which I like best. I also like the way the atmosphere at the restaurant changes right around Thanksgiving, all of a sudden things just seem much more happy and festive. I think today was the day most other people figured out the holidays are near because my party load just about doubled! The phone rang off the hook this morning with Thanksgiving orders and I can certainly say that at least for me, the Holidays have arrived.

This pecan tart is on the restaurant's Thanksgiving menu. I serve it with a Bourbon spiked whipped cream and it's delicious- specially at this time of the year. The recipe makes 2 pies, but you can easily cut in in half and make just one. The dough I use I found in a Martha Stewart cookbook, I did not change a thing- it's very easy to work with as long as the ingredients are cold.

I used a tart shell for this one, but you can use 2- 9" pie pans if you prefer. The reason I use a tart shell is because I like just the right ratio of filling to pecans- I think sometimes pies have too much filling (they're deeper) which can make the pie cloyingly sweet. The recipe will yield either 2- 10" tart pans or 2- 9" pies. If you use pie pans, watch them carefully when cooking so the edges do not brown too much, putting a piece of aluminum foil around the edges half way through cooking should keep that from happening. Toasting the pecans and browning the butter make a big difference in this pie...don't skip those steps- it intensifies their flavor and cuts down the sweetness of the pie. I add orange zest to the pie because I can't help but change things up, but if you want a more traditional tasting pie you may leave it out.



Pecan Tart / Pie

3 cups light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
8 eggs plus 4 egg yolks
1/4 lb. unsalted butter (1 stick)
3 cups pecan halves (toasted in a skillet until golden and fragrant)
1 tablespoon orange zest (optional)

Pate Sucree

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter cit into 1" pieces
4 tablespoons cold water
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten

Making the Crust:

1. In the bowl of a food processor add flour, sugar and salt. Add butter and process approximately for 10 seconds or until mixture resembles a coarse meal.

2. With the processor running, add water drop by drop, then add egg yolks. Process until the dough holds together without being wet or sticky; about 30 seconds. At this point test the dough by pinching a small amount to see if it holds together, if it's too crumbly add a bit more water.

3. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Roll out dough into tart shells or pie pan.

Making the filling:

1. Pre-heat oven to 350F

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together corn syrup, sugars, vanilla,orange zest and eggs.

3. Melt butter in a skillet until lightly brown and has a nutty aroma. Add browned butter to filling mixture and mix well.

4. Place pecans in tart shells or pie pans. Ladle filling over pecans. Place tart shells on a cookie sheet and bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Let cool to room temperature and serve.

Potato Pancakes topped with Apple-Thyme Sauce

I love pancakes of any kind (as evident here), but these potato pancakes are at the top of the list, (yes, in my head there is a list). I top these with apple-thyme sauce and creme fraiche- a very tasty combination- if I do say so myself! I set my oven at 200 F and place the pancakes on a greased cookie sheet to keep them warm while I make the whole batch.

NOTES: Most of the time I use Granny Smith apples, but this time I combined them with Honeycrisp apples and the sauce came out better than ever and the texture improved because not all the apples turned into mush. If you don't have creme fraiche, use sour cream instead. Generously season the potatoes- the sauce is rather sweet, so the salt and pepper will balance everything out. The applesauce will keep in the refrigerator, covered, up to one month.

Potato Pancakes

1 medium onion, chopped
4 cups grated baking potatoes (peeled)
2 large eggs
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
sea salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning
2 Tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
6 Tablespoons vegetable oil
6 Tablespoons butter
Apple-Thyme sauce (recipe follows)
Creme Fraiche

1. Peel and grate potatoes with box grater or food processor. Place grated potatoes in a colander and rinse with cool water. Add onions to colander and set aside to drain.

2. In a large mixing bowl lightly beat the eggs, then whisk in the flour until mixed well.

3. With a paper towel pat the potatoes and onions until fairly dry. Add Creole seasoning and parsley, then season generously with salt and pepper.

4. Combine potato mixture with the beaten eggs and mix with your hands until incorporated, (do not over-work).

5. In a large heavy bottomed skillet, heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over moderately high heat until butter melts. Drop 1/4 cup portions of potato mixture into pan and flatten with spatula to form 3 inch pancakes. Cook for 4-5 minutes on each side until golden brown. Place in the oven to keep warm. (I fry 3 pancakes at a time).

6. Using paper towels, carefully wipe out pan. Heat 1 tablespoon butter and oil and repeat.


Apple-thyme Sauce

4 cups chopped tart apples (see notes above)
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup apple juice
1 large Cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons fresh Thyme

1. Peel, core and roughly chop apples. In a medium stainless steel (or other non-reactive) sauce pan combine apples, sugar, Cinnamon stick and apple juice. Simmer for ten minutes stirring every now and then to make sure sugar dissolves. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat.

2. Add 1 teaspoon Thyme and simmer for 5 minutes longer. The applesauce may appear to not be all the way done, but it continues to cook while cooling. I like the sauce to have a chunky consistency. Just before serving add the remaining 1 teaspoon thyme.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Greek Chicken

There is this little food shop in town called A to Z international foods, I buy pita bread for the restaurant there, so I go there fairly often. They have the most wonderful assortment of middle eastern and Spanish food...down to the Abuelita chocolate bars I used to love when I was very young, (as opposed to now of course, when I just feel very young while eating them!).

Anyhow, they sell about 5 different types of feta and after sampling them all, I have decided I French Feta is my favorite. I've had French feta before, but I had never tasted it next to the others- it's mild and not as crumbly as the Greek, which means it will hold it's shape a little better when warm. In this dish, the feta is added while the chicken is still warm and the French Feta held it's shape well.

I served the chicken set over Israeli cous cous cooked in chicken stock and it made for a very nice combination. The last time I had prepared this recipe, the chicken turned out a little tough- which I was completely perplexed about- but I found out that if you marinate the chicken too long, (which I had done- almost 2 days in the fridge), the exact opposite of what you hope for (tender juicy chicken) happens- it gets tough. So, a few hours in the marinade is just enough.


Greek Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 1/2 cup dry white wine
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, plus more for garnish
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (for marinade)
freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup diced onion
1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes ( I use grape tomatoes or heirloom tomatoes when available)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3/4 cup pitted Greek olives, sliced
1/4 cup basil leaves sliced (tip: roll the leaves like a cigar then slice the roll)
1/2 cup Feta cheese cut into 2 inch slices

1. Rinse the chicken breasts under cold water, pat dry with paper towels, and place in a shallow glass baking dish.

2. In a small bowl stir lemon juice, wine, oregano, salt and pepper. Pour marinade over chicken and rub it onto all sides. Cover and marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours.

3. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium high heat until the butter melts. Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade, reserving the marinade to make the sauce, and place the breasts in the skillet. Cook the chicken breasts, turning only once for about 5 minutes per side, until lightly browned on both sides. Transfer them to a plate, cover with foil and set aside.

4. Add the onion and tomatoes to the pan you cooked the chicken in, reduce heat to medium, and cook stirring frequently until the onions are translucent and the tomatoes soften a bit. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the reserved marinade, this will de-glace the pan. Bring the sauce to a boil, then simmer for 2-3 minutes, until the liquid has reduced by half. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Return the chicken to the skillet with the sauce, add olives and basil and simmer for 6-8 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Transfer chicken to a platter and spoon sauce on each breast. Add feta cheese, additional fresh basil and oregano and serve.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Banana Bread / Muffins

I have for a very long time now been on the lookout for a very good banana bread, I am happy to tell you, I have found it. Some of the breads I made before were either sort of soggy-like on the bottom or not moist enough. Some were too dense and some had too many nuts, while I love nuts, I don't really like them in cakes of any kind. So, if you like nuts, add 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts to the recipe, I think it will turn out just fine. Also, remember whenever you use nuts, toasting them always enhances their flavor. I have also made this recipe into banana cupcakes with cream cheese icing on top. The same cream cheese icing I use for carrot cupcakes.

I changed the original recipe which came from Epicurious, I added extra banana and replaced half of the sugar with brown sugar. I also added vanilla extract and of course omitted the nuts. My picky little eater has found a new favorite- and imagine...he doesn't like nuts either! The banana bread will come in handy for my 3:30 sugar fix- everyday around that time I must have sugar...I'm addicted, I know. But I don't hear anyone complaining about the amount of baking I do at my house and if that's my only addiction, I think I will be just fine- my skinny jeans haven't seemed to mind! Anyhow, when I took the photo the banana bread had already been dug into by little hands so the muffins were the only ones which remained untouched. The recipe makes two loaves, but I usually make one loaf and six jumbo muffins. When filling the muffins, fill almost to the top, they do not rise very much.

Banana Bread / Muffins

2/3 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 lb. butter (2 sticks) at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups mashed ripe banana (about 6 medium bananas)
4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Brown sugar crystals for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 325 F, grease and flour 2- 9x5 loaf pans, or 1 loaf and 6 jumbo muffins with liners.

1. Combine sour cream and baking soda and set aside. Using electric mixer cream butter and sugars in large bowl. Add eggs one at a time incorporating well between additions. Add vanilla and mix well.

2. Add ripe banana and sour cream, mix well. Sift flour and baking powder in and mix until incorporated. If adding nuts (1 cup) add them now.

3. Spoon mixture into pans sprinkle generously with sugar and bake for 50 minutes or until browned (loaves) or, 30 minutes for jumbo muffins.

The bread will keep covered at room temperature for 3 days. Sometimes when I have a plethora of ripe bananas I mash them, measure them out for the recipe and freeze them in a Ziploc bag. When I'm ready to bake, I just pull the baggie out, defrost and voila.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Crab Stuffed Mirlitons

When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to make Pipianes Fritos, which are sliced mirlitons filled with cheese, coated in an egg batter, and then pan fried. They were unbelievably good, but not having the same type of cheese or that particular variety of mirliton available here, makes them very difficult to replicate. (and with me, it's either perfect- or not at all!) So, when I learned how to make Louisiana style stuffed mirlitons-- I was hooked. They involve a bit of labor, but I promise, they are very well worth the effort. If you were on the lookout for another vegetable recipe for Thanksgiving, look no further- this is it!

NOTES: This is a great recipe to freeze. You can substitute a pound of shrimp for the crab meat and cook it with the stuffing. You can also substitute evaporated milk for the cream.


Crab Stuffed Mirlitons

4 mirlitons
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon fresh Thyme
1 tablespoon Tony's Creole seasoning
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 lb. fresh lump crab meat
1/3 cup fine bread crumbs for filling plus extra to coat tops

1. In a large stock pot bring water and whole mirlitons to a boil. Cook over medium heat for 45 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool. When cool, slice in half and scoop out flesh with melon- baller. Set mirliton flesh aside.

2. In a large skillet heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper and saute until lightly caramelized. Add garlic, reserved mirliton flesh, and herbs and spices and cook for 20 minutes.

3. Add cream to mirliton mixture and continue to cook for an additional 20 minutes or until it starts to thicken. Add crab meat and 1/3 cup bread crumbs and toss lightly.

4. Place mirliton shells on a greased baking sheet. Fill shells with stuffing, mounding tops, then lightly cover with bread crumbs.

5. Preheat oven to 350F and bake mirlitons until lightly browned, about 30 minutes.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Maple Roasted Pears and French Vanilla Ice Cream

I say, one can never eat too much cake! This dish was born out of a search for new desserts...yes, that's how I spend my free time. The brown sugar pound cake is an old favorite and the maple roasted pears I had previously eaten filled with Gorgonzola cheese. (over field greens with balsamic vinaigrette- yum!) With the first bite of that pear (so very long ago), I knew it would be delicious with cake- and I was right!

I think the brown sugar pound cake, the French vanilla ice cream and the maple roasted pears make a delightful combination. The ice cream starts melting a little and mixes with the pear juices and maple syrup which then make a really nice sauce for the cake. Obviously I have thought this out a bit and you now know I am dessert obsessed!

The pears are best warm, the cake at room temperature and of course the ice cream rather frozen. The brown sugar pound cake can be made up to three days in advance, kept at room temperature wrapped in aluminum foil. I hope you enjoy my new dessert as much as I have!

Brown Sugar Pound Cake

3 cups cake flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 lb. unsalted butter (2 sticks)
2 cups sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
6 large eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1 cup sour cream

preheat oven to 325 F

1. Grease a 12 cup Bundt pan. Dust with flour and tap out excess. Set aside.

2. Sift the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda into a medium bowl. Set aside.
3. Beat the butter and the sugars in a large bowl with the mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy-- about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and mix well.
4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture by thirds, alternating with the sour cream and ending with the dry ingredients, mixing just until the batter is smooth.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean- about 1 hour 20 min.

Maple Roasted Pears

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
3 pears
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Rub the butter over the bottom of a baking sheet with sides and sprinkle with sugar.

2. Peel the pears and slice them lengthwise. Cut the cores out with a melon scoop and place cut side down on the baking sheet.

3. Combine the vanilla and Maple syrup in a measuring cup and drizzle evenly over the pears.
Roast the pears until tender and the sugar is caramelized, about 30 minutes.

4. Remove from the oven. Add about 3 tablespoons of water to the pan to de-glaze, the syrup will thin out. Carefully coat the pears well with syrup.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Easy Chocolate Cake

I am pretty much in charge of all the baking at the restaurant. We have a few staples like creme brulee and our white chocolate bread pudding which are prepared from my husband's recipes by the kitchen staff, but anything else is up to me to make. With the restaurant opening for dinner, the number of desserts sold in a day of course has gone up. Which is great for me as I very much enjoy baking, but last Friday, at 4pm (we open at 5pm) I realized the pastry case was rather empty- and that was not something I was excited about! I was a little stressed with the transition to dinner and we already had a few reservations so I knew it was probably going to be a busy night. I had to prepare something I could from start to finish have ready in less than an hour- Yikes!! So, to my rescue came this cake.

In hindsight I should have just made some chocolate mousse or something I didn't have to bake, but in freak-out mode (yes, I freak out now and then) all that came to mind with was my very easy, tried and true, chocolate cake- this was not the time to experiment. This cake has been one of my staples for a while now, you don't even have to have a mixer to make it and I know the recipe like the back of my hand. This time, because of the time constraint I had to keep it simple, so I just iced the cake and put berries around it. Other times (when I have more than 5 minutes) I have made a strawberry or raspberry coulis to puddle underneath or made it into a layer cake and topped it with a nice ganache. Because the icing is rather sweet, berries complement the cake well and balance the sweetness out. I can attest it was very good... right after I took the photo this piece was instantly devoured! (yes, by me)

I made the cake in a 9"x 13" pan and cut it into squares, but if you prefer a layer cake use two 8" pans. Reduce the baking time to 20 minutes or until it barely pulls away from the side of the pan. I always use a mixer, as I am not the strong-muscularly type, but if you choose, you can beat it all by hand. The cake is best stored at room temperature so it doesn't dry out.

Chocolate Sheet Cake

2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 lb. unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup water
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

Icing:
1/4 lb. unsalted butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon Godiva liqueur (you can substitute Grand Marnier or Framboise)


Preheat oven to 350 Degrees F

1. In large mixing bowl combine sugar, salt, and flour and set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, bring 1/4 cup water, cocoa, butter, and oil to a boil. Add to the flour mixture and combine over medium speed or by hand.

3. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, baking soda and vanilla. Add to the chocolate mixture, mix well and pour into greased and floured 9x13 inch pan. Bake for 25 minutes.

Icing: In a medium saucepan over low heat melt butter, cocoa and milk. Bring to a boil then remove from the heat and add powdered sugar. Blend well with a whisk until sugar dissolves then add vanilla and Liqueur. Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes then spread icing on top.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Chickpea Salsa

While looking through my recipe files, I ran across a dip I used to make all the time, Chickpea Salsa. My favorite part about this dip, other than how tasty it is of course; is that most of the ingredients are not the quickly perishable type, so at any given moment I am likely to have them in my pantry. Yesterday afternoon presented the perfect opportunity when one of my friends dropped over for a glass of wine. I made the dip, which took very little time, then we ate it all (yes all of it!) with some warm pita bread while we drank a nice bottle of petit shiraz. I guess you can call it a very nice late afternoon snack! This is a great dip to make ahead, the flavors tend to come together once it sits for a while. Best served at room temperature, both with pita or a nice sliced baguette.

Chickpea Salsa

2 1/2 cup canned chickpeas (also known as Garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 clove garlic
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1/2 of a fresh jalapeno, finely chopped
1/2 cup black olives, pitted and roughly chopped (I used Kalamata olives)
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley
freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste

1. GARLIC PASTE: Chop together 1/2 teaspoon salt, garlic clove, and 1/2 teaspoon olive oil to form a paste. Add chili pepper flakes or jalapeno and chop to combine. Transfer to a small bowl and add remaining olive oil. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, combine chickpeas, olives, and parsley. Add the garlic paste and mix well. Add cumin and lemon juice, stir to combine, then taste for salt and pepper. Best served at room temperature, this is a great dish to make ahead. Will keep, covered in the refrigerator for 2 days. (If you are preparing it ahead of time, add the parsley just before serving).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Buttermilk Pancakes

About eight years ago my best friend moved away, we were both heart-broken. She lived here in Louisiana a few years while her husband was in graduate school and we probably spent more time together than apart! We still talk every day--at least twice a day, she's one of a kind. Having a great deal in common, we of course share our excitement for food. This is her pancake recipe and truly, they are the best pancakes I have ever had. Her favorite breakfast place in Houston gave her the recipe and if for no other reason...I'm glad she lived there long enough to get it!

Notes: These pancakes freeze well, lay waxed or parchment paper between them, let them cool, put in a plastic bag and freeze. They come in really handy during the weekdays when time runs short for breakfast and I still have to feed a very hungry Jack! (my five year old). Jack likes them with Orange blossom honey and I like them with a really good Maple syrup. You can also make them into Blueberry pancakes by adding 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries to the batter.

Sharman's Buttermilk Pancakes

1 qt. buttermilk (4 cups)
4 oz. butter, melted (1 stick)
3 Tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 cups all purpose-flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, lightly beaten

1. In a large mixing bowl combine all ingredients, mixing just enough to incorporate together. Batter should be a little lumpy.

2. Heat a non-stick skillet or griddle over medium heat. Either spray with non-stick spray or melt a little butter in the pan or griddle. Ladle about 6-8 oz. batter per pancake and cook until lightly browned on both sides.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Orecchiette with Shrimp, fresh-water Mozzarella, Tomatoes, Olives, and Basil

During the week for a variety of reasons, which you don't really want to know, (I would not want to bore you) I am sometimes short on time and 6 o'clock is here before I can blink twice and click my ruby red shoes home. This is a great dish to put together in a flash- the best part is...it wont taste like you put it together in a flash! One very important note though, it will only be as good as what you put in it; the wine, the cheese, the olives, the pasta, and most of all-- the tomatoes. I live in the south, so for me good fresh home-grown tomatoes are available almost year round...after all, I should get some perk for living in 100% humidity! In the event good tomatoes are scarce, a 14 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes (whole, then roughly chopped) will work well.

Notes: I have never found Cerignola Olives which are already pitted, but because they are so large I just slice the meat off the pit with a paring knife. (Cerignolas are my favorite olive, but any good quality black or green olive will work). I try to always use fresh pasta for this dish, fresh Orecchiette it is available at Whole Foods. If Orecchiette is not available at your market, I would substitute with another shape of fresh pasta. Boil the pasta until al dente or a little before, this should take about three minutes over a rolling boil. Finish cooking the pasta in the the pan with the sauce, this will allow it to soak up all the flavors in the dish. There will not be much sauce left when the dish is finished, it should have almost all been soaked up by the Orecchiette. Adding the cheese in stages allows for some of the cheese to melt and some of it to remain whole.

Orecchiette with Shrimp, Fresh-water Mozzarella, Tomatoes, Olives and Basil

1 lb. fresh shrimp
1 1lb. package fresh Orecchiette pasta (the type I get is actually 500 grams, 17 oz.)
1 pint fresh cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup fresh basil, plus additional basil for garnish
1/4 cup black Cerignola olives, pitted
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 cup salted capers
1/4 cup white wine
1 pt. fresh-water mozzarella, roughly chopped
salt to taste

1. In a large stock pot bring water for pasta to a rolling boil. Add fresh pasta and cook for about 3 minutes or until barely al dente. Drain and set aside.

2. In a large pan heat olive oil over medium heat, add shrimp, season with salt and pepper. Cook shrimp until opaque in color. With a slotted spoon, remove shrimp from pot and set aside.

3. In the same pot with the olive oil, add garlic, black pepper, red pepper flakes, capers, olives and tomatoes. Saute over medium heat until garlic is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add 1/3 cup white wine and cook for an additional 3 minutes.

4. Add pasta, and basil and cook for 3 minutes longer. Turn off the heat, add half the mozzarella and shrimp. Cover the pot and allow the dish to sit for about 10-15 minutes, this will allow the pasta to soak up most of the sauce and the mozzarella will melt. Add reserved mozzarella, garnish with reserved basil, taste for salt and pepper and serve.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Gougeres


Here is a little confession...I love bread! That whole no carb diet thing is something I could never ever do. I don't even pretend to understand how or why people do it, it's just not in my nature. Surely there is something else that could be given up for the sake of staying trim. Liver would be a perfect example, no one would miss it.

For me my carb intake is usually very well fulfilled by a great loaf of French bread and a nice slab of cold butter laced with Sal de Mer. Then there is the whole bread and cheese combination-- which I could go on and on about as well, but for today I'll spare you. So, this is my bite size answer to a little bread and cheese...carbs in moderation!

Notes: You can use any combination of cheese you like, the traditional is Gruyere (Swiss), I also like to make them with goat cheese Gouda. Check your oven for temperature, if the oven is too hot they will not puff properly and all the butter will leak out,(this I unfortunately know from experience). Also, this is not a good recipe to double, I can't tell you why, but the time I tried it in an effort to save time when baking them for a catering, it did not work. They are easy to make, the only special equipment is a pastry bag and large piping tip. In the event you don't have a pastry bag, use a plastic baggie, snip off one corner and voila. They freeze well, although mine have only made it that far once. OK, one last thing, I use Silpat silicone baking liners or parchment paper, makes clean up easy and best of all- nothing ever sticks! I hope you enjoy the Gougeres as much as I.

Gougeres

1 cup all purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 lb. unsalted butter (8 tablespoons) cut in small pieces
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
4 eggs
3/4 cup shredded Gruyere cheese

Preheat oven to 400 F

1. In a medium pot over medium heat bring water, milk, butter salt and Cayenne pepper to a simmer.

2. Add flour all at once and stir constantly with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook until dough has pulled away from the sides of the pot. Cook for 2 minutes then cool for 5 minutes.

3. In a large mixer with the paddle attachment on low speed or by hand add the eggs in one at a time; waiting until each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next. Add cheese and stir well.

4. Place dough in a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe 1 1/2" wide rosettes onto greased cookie sheet (or lined with parchment paper or Silpat silicone sheet). Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Gouegeres are best served warm. Makes about 2 dz.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bliss in a jar

Back in my gourmet food shop and gift basket company days I used to sell Prairie Thyme's Roasted Tomato Chutney. When I phased the fancy foods out- I needed more space for the things that actually made real money- like tables, I never stopped ordering it. My shop was the only one in town that carried it and surely I could not live without it. I use it in many different ways, over a log of goat cheese, mixed into home-made mayonnaise, it makes a great spread for sandwiches. I glaze chicken with it,top fish with it, dip french fries into it, and also I have to admit...eat it straight out of the jar with a spoon! Needless to say, I love the chutney, it is blissfully good. So, I felt compelled to share, I hope you can find it where you live, you will not be disappointed! The company's website is http://www.prairiethyme.com/

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Lime Caper Vinaigrette

While trying to decide what to post next, my friend Laura actually requested a vinaigrette recipe to complement the crab cakes. So I decided to give her a simple recipe that doesn't call for too many special ingredients she may not readily have. Which makes me wonder what she actually does have in her pantry...as a law student who is learning to cook I doubt it's too diverse, but this should fit the bill.

A few notes-- use fresh lime juice, bottled lime juice is always a no no(there is only one exception for me and that's a whole other subject). I use French Sal de mer which can be purchased at Williams Sonoma, It's moister and tastes much much better than either regular table salt or Kosher salt. The chili powder blend I use comes from Dean and Deluca, I purchase it two tins at a time since I have to go through the trouble of ordering it by post. Capers- I could write a whole post just on those, but I will refrain and tell you 2 important things, the smaller the better and those preserved in salt are better than capers in brine. OK...that's it I think, now here's the recipe:

Lime and Caper Vinaigrette

2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
2 teaspoons capers
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon chili powder blend
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar

Makes 1 cup

In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lime juice, parsley, 1 Tablespoon water and Tabasco. Stir in capers, red pepper flakes salt, pepper, chili powder blend and sugar. The vinaigrette will keep covered in the refrigerator for 2 days.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

On a fairly regular basis people call the restaurant to get this recipe...I have never given it out. (after all, it is my livelihood) But today, I am feeling rather generous, so here it is. These are pretty tasty little gems, the perfect amount of dessert, a good ratio of icing to cake, and most of all, not too coingly sweet. While I am a big fan of sweets, (that being quite an understatement) it is my opinion they should be well balanced, not too sweet, not dry, not too moist, and not too rich. (I like to be able to finish my dessert)

A small side note: As I proof the previous paragraph, I am becoming keenly aware of how many 'food rules' I actually have. (hmm...self-discovery) This is something I have long denied and as a result have had many discussions about. So...all right, I admit it- I have a plethora of food rules. The difference now is- I am proud of it!

OK, so back to the cupcakes. When making the icing make sure the cream cheese and butter are soft and at room temperature, if you don't have time to wait, place them in the microwave for 10 seconds intervals until they soften. Whip the icing until you can whip no more,(about 8 minutes or longer) the fluffier, the better. You can substitute Cointreau or Triple Sec for the Grand Marnier. It Should not make a big difference, Grand Marnier just happens to be what I usually have.


Carrot Cupcakes

2 cups sugar
1 1/3 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon Grand Marnier
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 lb grated carrots
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Cream cheese Icing:

1 lb. cream cheese, softened
1/2 lb. butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tins with paper liners

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat sugar, oil, and eggs until light yellow. Add the vanilla and Grand Marnier.
3. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.

4. Combine all ingredients in mixer bowl. Add carrots, raisins, and pecans and mix well.

5. Scoop the batter into the muffin cups about 3/4 of the way full. Bake for about 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool cupcakes on a wire rack.
NOTE: Makes about 2dz. I usually make the full recipe and freeze half, if you decide to freeze as I do, make sure the cupcakes are completely cool then place in a plastic bag to freeze. The icing makes enough to frost 12 cupcakes, if you would like frost all 24 at once just double the icing recipe.
Icing: In mixer bowl with the paddle attachment beat cream cheese and butter until very fluffy. Add vanilla and Grand Marnier and beat until incorporated then add sugar. Pipe or spread icing generously on cooled cupcakes.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Crab Cakes

Since crab meat is my favorite food I thought it deserved the first post. I must also clarify...not just any crab meat will do, only fresh blue crab and then only jumbo lump- absolutely heavenly in the crab cake recipe which follows. This recipe serves as a great starter for dinner although for me, a crab cake on its own over some spring greens tossed in a vinaigrette is dinner.

A few notes, when picking the crab meat for shells, just barely squeeze it, if there's a shell gently take it out. Try not to separate the lumps too much, otherwise you will end up with what looks like claw meat...and we wouldn't want that! These are great served warm or at room temperature, topping them with simple Hollandaise sauce finishes them off delightfully. In the event you have leftovers save them for the next morning, warm in the oven, top with a poached egg and Hollandaise for a spin on Eggs Benedict which is almost too sinful to eat!



Crab Cake Recipe


1 lb. fresh jumbo lump crab meat, picked for shells
3/4 cup Hellmans or Duke's mayonnaise
1/4 cup diced red and yellow bell pepper
1/4 cup roughly chopped parsley
1 cup Panko bread Crumbs (Japanese style bread crumbs)
1 teaspoon worcesterchire sauce
1 teaspoon Tony's Creole seasoning

1. In a medium bowl, combine crabmeat, bell pepper, parsley, mayonnaise, worcestershire sauce and Creole seasoning tossing gently.

2. Add bread crumbs and gently toss until just combined. Mold Crab cakes in large ramekin and set aside.

3. Spray cooking spray (Pam) on griddle or nonstick skillet. unmold crab cake directly into skillet and cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes on each side. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

In the meantime...

I know it's hard to tell, but I have been working on the blog. I have a couple of posts ready to go, but my sweet friend-- the photographer has been feeling sort of ick...so we wait. On the bright side though, she solved my header problem and now I have a nice new photo. I can't wait 'til later this week and we take some photos of some new recipes...I have a lot of cooking to do! Until then, this is her blog:
jaymeaustinphotography.blogspot.com

October 14, 2007
All right, I am finally on my way. Yesterday Jayme (the photographer) and Ruby (her angelic baby girl) came over to the restaurant and shot some great photos. The first is the crab cake recipe, which I posted last night. Once it was up though...I really didn't like how everything looked, something was off. So, the header photo came down and the crab cake remained, all of it together was a little busy for my taste. Back to work on the header, which to be honest I sort of suspected, but because I liked it so much I had to give it a try. So...one step forward--two steps back! But, at least I'm having lots of fun, which after all is the reason for all this!

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