Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Creole Polenta with Fresh Corn

Yes, I know...2 weeks since my last post, lets just say things have been a little crazy. But, I think I will amply make-up for it with this little treat. When I make Shrimp creole, I always double the recipe for the sauce and freeze half of it before adding the shrimp. I do this because it freezes beautifully and I have found many ways to use it. Sometimes I heat the sauce and just add fresh shrimp, but this dish is one of my favorites- and oh so very comforting. I am not usually a casserole making type of girl, mostly I think they taste like mush- but this is my one true exception. If you must- it could be made in a casserole dish. I use a springform pan so it's easy to unmold and I get prettier looking pieces. An 8 inch pan will make a taller torte while a 9 inch pan will be just a little flatter- both work well, use what you have.

When adding the second layer of polenta to the pan, be sure to spoon it lightly and evenly so it does not get all mixed into the sauce. If it does- it's OK, it just looks better the other way.

1 ear fresh corn
1/2 cup chopped shallots
2 cups polenta
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 t butter
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
2 1/2 cups Creole sauce- recipe found here

1. In a large dutch oven or stock pot melt butter over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until they start to brown. Add fresh corn and dry polenta and cook while stirring for about 20 minutes or until the polenta is toasted.

2. Add chicken stock, fresh thyme and continue to cook while stirring for 20 minutes longer. Add whipping cream and cook 10 minutes longer until bubbly and thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and continue to stir for an additional 5 minutes until slightly cooled and thickened.

3. Grease 8" or 9" springform pan and pour half of the polenta into the pan and spread evenly. Add 2-1/2 cups Creole sauce to the polenta in the pan and spread evenly. Cover with remaining polenta by spooning it evenly over sauce.

4. Sprinkle 1 1/2cups grated parmesan cheese over polenta and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees. Cool for 30 minutes before unmolding. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Lemon and Thyme Baked Ricotta with Marinated Olives

I think I have expressed my love for cheese and bread, but just in case there is any doubt this recipe should confirm my passion...specially for the cheese portion. One small confession before I go on- I don't eat a lot of meat, no particular reason, not a vegetarian- just can live without it I guess. As a result, my meals aren't really meals in a traditional sort of way, I am completely satisfied eating cheese, olives, and bread. Specially when cooking for only myself which happens more often than not these days, as Jack is perfectly happy eating mac and cheese with a stray vegetable here and there. I bought a container of organic whole-milk ricotta cheese to make ravioli, but for some reason I just haven't been in the mood to make work intensive food lately which led me to the baked ricotta. Last time I was in New York I had baked ricotta as part of an antipasto plate and I fell in love, but when I made it at home it just wasn't the same; that is, until today- it was actually better.

The first time I made the dish, I did not add enough eggs, nor did I whip them so it was a little flat and dense. As a result of that I understood I needed to make more of a souffle out of it. Second time's a charm- it was absolutely yummy, (and I say this from experience- I ate the whole thing and made quite a piglet of myself). I can already tell this is the first of many variations on this little dish- the possibilities are endless. Most any herb would complement the ricotta quite well, next time I might try sun-dried tomatoes with rosemary and possibly add non-pareil capers. As for the olives, I usually buy different varieties and mix them all together. Whole Foods has been a great source for olives since they have a wide variety in their olive bar. My current favorites are Sicilian spiced olives, which are most of what I used this time, they are just a little spicy and quite flavorful. The recipe makes 2 small 8 0z. ricotta cakes, if I was assembling an appetizer for more than four people, I would double the recipe. I don't really care for low-fat or fat-free versions of cheeses (I would rather just eat less if I was so concerned with fat content), but this is one case where low fat ricotta would work.

Baked Ricotta

1 cup whole milk ricotta
2 eggs, separated
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
grated zest of one small lemon
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
freshly cracked black pepper and coarse sea salt

Marinated Olives

1 cup mixed olives (jalapeno stuffed, Spiced Sicilian, almond stuffed, green and black Cerignolas, and oil cured olives)
1/4 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon dried chili pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 F

Grease 2- 8oz. oven proof ramekins

1. Whip 2 egg whites to soft peaks and set aside.

2. Combine ricotta,parmesan cheese, lemon zest, 2 egg yolks, thyme, salt and pepper until blended. Add about one third of the whipped egg whites and fold gently. Add remaining whipped egg whites and fold until just incorporated.

3. Divide the mixture evenly between the buttered ramekins and bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned on top and a little puffy. (they will deflate a bit as they cool). Baked ricotta is best eaten warm or at room temperature.

4. Combine all the marinated olive ingredients and serve alongside the cheese with sliced French baguette.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tabouleh Stuffed Tomatoes

Tabouleh is one of my favorite salads, specially when tomatoes are ripe, fresh and ruby red. I like my tabouleh with a generous amount of flat leaf parsley and fresh mint. Now that the weather has warmed up, the herbs in my garden have just taken off, becoming so robust they provide a generous harvest. The Italian flat-leaf parsley specially, since it did not die down over the winter is bigger than I have ever seen it and I was able to cut off at two big bundles this morning. The bulgur is a great alternative to rice and feels a lot healthier to me when I eat it. Note that the salt quantity is for coarse sea salt, if you are using table salt use half the amount called for; Kosher salt would remain the same.

I prepare tabouleh with a little extra spice, I recently discovered Cavender's all purpose Greek seasoning. I buy the kind without MSG, be sure to read the label...there is just no need to add extra chemicals to a dish like this, but the seasoning blend is flavorful and unique. I went to the Farmer's market this weekend and found the most beautiful tomatoes which I stuffed with the tabouleh, they made a great little lunch along side some pieces of Greek feta with a little olive oil and Kalamata olives. The tabouleh is best after it marinates for a while, but I m not usually that organized to make things very far ahead or most of all patient enough to wait after preparing it. It's great as a side dish with grilled shrimp and chicken, or stuffed into a fresh piece of pita bread with a little Feta cheese.

Tabouleh Stuffed Tomatoes

1 cup bulgur (cracked wheat)
1-1/2 cups boiling water
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Cavender's all purpose Greek seasoning
1/4 teaspoon ground Cumin
1 medium cucumber
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
1 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1 garlic clove, minced
1 mounded tablespoon minced shallot

6 medium tomatoes for stuffing

1. In a large bowl, combine bulgur, lemon juice, about 1/2 tablespoon salt, olive oil and boiling water and stir to combine. Allow mixture to rest at room temperature for about an hour or until all liquid is absorbed.

2. Peel cucumber and slice in half (longways), then quarter. You should now have 4 triangle looking pieces with the seeds at the points. Slice seeds off then chop into 1/4" thick pieces. Add cucumbers, tomatoes, and all remaining ingredients to bowl with bulgur. Adjust seasoning to taste, sometimes I add a little extra lemon juice to make the flavors pop.

3. Slice tops off tomatoes and scoop out flesh, then lay on a towel to drain a few minutes. Fill with tabouleh and serve.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Afternoon Tea Sandwiches- Dilled Shrimp and Cucumber, De Puy Lentil and Chevre, Smoked Salmon with Quail Eggs

This is the second post of a series on afternoon tea sandwiches. It's taken me a little longer than I expected to post about them because I have been insanely busy, but alas here they are. These little dainties are part of an event I catered this week, a Sip and See for a precious little bebe. I had a wonderful client with who requested dainty food for 50 ladies for the afternoon affair. J., my client was wonderful to work for. I realized in the first five minutes of our first meeting, I had met my match when it came to control issues and an overwhelming desire to strive for perfection. This is not something that happens to me very often, most people tend to be a lot more laid back. The party was beautiful and J. was very happy and appreciative with the result which gave me immense satisfaction. Having a client like her made me step up to the plate and do my job better.

When making sandwiches I don't really measure out ingredients, I tend to just make things up as I go along. So instead of writing a recipe, I'll just make a list of what went into everything. The photos are not the best, since taking them was more of an after thought once all the food was plated, but they give a general idea. I vary the shapes and breads I use to make the food more interesting, improvise with whatever breads you like and have available.

Smoked Salmon Sandwiches

Smoked salmon
pumpernickel bread
cream cheese, softened
thinly sliced red onion
boiled quail eggs, peeled and quartered
freshly cracked black pepper

Dilled Shrimp and Cucumber sandwiches

white bread cut into circles with a cookie cutter
thinly sliced English cucumber
the creme fraiche spread recipe can be found here
boiled shrimp, (20-25 count- size) sliced in half
fresh dill for garnish

De Puy Lentil and Chevre Sandwiches

French De Puy lentils boiled in chicken broth seasoned with a little cumin, salt and pepper and cooked until just tender, approximately 15-20 minutes
Softened Chevre
red bell pepper strips
white bread

Friday, April 4, 2008

Key Lime Pie / Tart

I have successfully been making a version of this pie since I was ten years old, it has been a favorite in my family for as long as I can remember. When I first started making it I used a pre-made graham cracker crust, but then later discovered how simple graham crusts were to make so I made my own. The pie can be made in a pie or tart pan which makes for a nice presentation when serving it whole. For the restaurant, presentation can be a little trickier since I serve individual pieces so I double the recipe and make it in a springform pan, this makes nice tall pieces which are then individually garnished with lime slices and berries.

The pie is best made a day ahead so it can properly chill and set in the refrigerator. If you are pressed for time though, (which I always seem to be) place it in the freezer to speed up the cooling process. For the crust I use either gingersnaps or graham crackers, they both make a nice crust. I have found Eagle brand condensed milk to be the thickest, some of the other brands can sometimes have a runny consistency and are not as rich. When I was little I could eat it straight out the can with a spoon, I refrain from that little habit these days, but needless to say I like condensed milk a lot!

A note on the key lime juice- I only use Nell and Joe's brand key lime juice, it's available at most major supermarkets and is superior to all the other brands I have tried. When key limes are available, I use freshly squeezed juice. I roll and press the limes on the kitchen counter with the palm of my hand before juicing them to make the juicing process a little easier.

Key Lime Pie

2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sugar

2 - 14oz. cans condensed milk
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup key lime juice
1 teaspoon key lime zest
berries and key lime slices for garnishing

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla or 1 vanilla bean, scraped
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Pre-heat oven to 350 F

1. In a large bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, butter and sugar. Press cookie mixture into a 9 inch pie or tart pan. Pressing firmly all along the sides and making about a 1/4 inch thick crust. Place pie on a sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

2. In a large bowl whisk together condensed milk, egg yolks, key lime juice and zest until smooth and combined. Pour into pie crust and bake an additional 20 minutes. Remove pie from the oven and refrigerate until completely cooled. (up to 3 days)

3. Once the pie has completely cooled, whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Spread the whipped cream over the pie and garnish with key lime slices and fresh berries. Refrigerate pie until ready to serve.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache Filling and Frosting

I went to a dinner party last night and offered to make dessert. The hostess requested something chocolate, so I made her my moist chocolate cake. If you have not heard of mayonnaise cakes, you might be thinking I have turned into Paula Dean- I have not...I just know that mayonnaise makes this cake super moist and fluffy. I will also tell you that the type of mayonnaise you use matters. Use either Hellmann's or Duke's mayonnaise, they are unquestionably the best in my book. This is an easy cake to make, just be sure to not overcook it. As soon as the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, pull it out of the oven.

I filled and frosted the cake with a dark chocolate ganache and sprinkled it with edible gold powder. It turned out really neat, the spikes I piped onto the cake looked like they were gilded. To apply the gold powder, place some on a small piece of paper and lightly blow it onto the cake. I split the layers and brushed a simple syrup made with cognac on each layer. I filled the cake with a combination of custard and raspberries and sweetened whipped chocolate ganache. I used the custard because creme brulee is a staple at the restaurant so I always have them on hand. I would not have baked creme brulee specifically for this, instead I would have either used the pastry cream recipe found here or the chocolate mousse recipe found here. Raspberry preserves can also be a good addition.

following are the instructions for filling a cake with something other than what the cake will be frosted with. You don't want the filling to ooze from in between the layers, but at the same time you want to add plenty of filling. To remedy this, I put icing (whatever the cake will be frosted with) in a pastry bag with a large plain or fluted tip. Place the first layer on either the cake plate or a cardboard round. Pipe a "trench" all around the perimeter of the cake layer to contain the filling. Depending on the amount of filling you want to add, you may want to pipe a double layer making it about an inch and a half tall. Carefully spread the filling within the perimeter of the "trench" until even and smooth. Top with another layer of cake and repeat process until finished. Ice cake with cooled ganache, if the ganache is hard to spread, re-heat over a double boiler until it smooths out to the desired consistency. I find it easier to work with when it is about the thickness of mayonnaise, if it's too thin set the bowl over ice and whip until it hardens a little more.

Gilded Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake with Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate Ganache

2-1/2 lb.'s dark chocolate, chopped
1-1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons Cognac

2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon cognac

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

2- 8" round cake pans, greased and floured (9" pans can be substituted, the cake will not be as tall though).

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1- 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1-2/3 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup mayonnaise
1-1/3 cup water

edible gold powder

Simple Syrup

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup cognac
Boil sugar, water and cognac together until sugar dissolves.

Make the cake:

Preheat oven to 350 F

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and baking powder; set aside.

2. In large mixer bowl with paddle attachment beat sugar, eggs and vanilla until light and fluffy on high speed, about 3-5 minutes. Add mayonnaise, reduce speed to medium and beat a couple of minutes longer.

3. Add flour mixture to batter, alternating with water- starting and ending with flour. Pour batter into pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or until cake pulls away from sides of pan and middle of cake looks set. Leave cake in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack.

Make chocolate ganache:

1. In a large bowl over a double boiler, combine chocolate, cognac and cream. Whisk until chocolate is melted and all ingredients are combined.

2. Place about half the chocolate mixture in the mixer bowl and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. With the whisk attachment, beat on med-high speed gradually adding 2/3 cup sifted powdered sugar and an additional tablespoon cognac. Whip until very light and fluffy. The ganache will have hardened up and should be a spreading consistency. This will serve as the filling. Set aside until ready to assemble cake.

3. Whisk remaining ganache (what was left in the double boiler bowl) occasionally until it hardens up a bit. Set aside until the cake has completely cooled.

Assembling Cake:

Before you begin, make sure cake is completely cool- if you rush this process, everything will melt and you will have a gooey mess. (take my word for it- I've done it both ways!)

1. With a large serrated knife, split layers in half and set on a piece of parchment paper. Place the first layer on a plate at least 3 inches wider than the cake. Place about 1 cup of the whipped ganache in a pastry bag, set aside. Brush each layer generously with simple syrup as you add them to the stack.

2. The first layer will have whipped ganache as filling so spread about a 1/4" layer on. Top with the next layer of cake. Pipe a 1-1/2" tall "trench" of ganache along the perimeter of the second layer. Add custard or pastry cream making sure to contain it within the "trench" of ganache. Add fresh raspberries if desired. Top with third layer and spread with additional whipped ganache about 1/4" thick- the same as the first layer. Place top layer on cake and press slightly to seal cake. You are now done using the whipped ganache. To clarify- All ganache referred to now will be what was left in the double boiler bowl which was not sweetened.

3. Place about 1 cup ganache over cake and spread on top pushing all excess down the sides of the cake, this is the crumb coat. Any crumbs which come off the cake and stick to the icing will be covered up with the next coat. Place cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or until icing is set. (do not rush this part- it's so much easier to do it the right way!)

4. remove cake from refrigerator, add additional ganache to top of cake spreading with the spatula until cake is covered and smooth. By this time, ganache should be fairly stiff- place some in a pastry bag and pipe decoratively on cake.

5. Place a small amount of gold dust on your hand or small piece of paper. Blow the powder onto the cake until desired effect is achieved. Cakes filled with custard or pastry cream must be refrigerated.

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