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.


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

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.

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