Sunday, March 27, 2016

Seafood Paella a la Valenciana - Dinner Party

This is the first post of a dinner party series composed both of parties I'll host and cater. I moved into a new house a couple of months ago and this was the first dinner party I hosted. My friend Chris, who also works with me at GG and I put it together. I wanted to make a one dish meal that didn't require a lot of prep at party time.  Chris and I started by gathering ingredients and flowers we needed from the farmer's market. As best I can I try to use both seasonal and local ingredients, we used Louisiana Shrimp from the farmer's market and bought the rest of the seafood at Whole Foods.  We started out by making stock from the lobster and shrimp shells, chopped the vegetables, prepared the seafood and then just put it together after everyone arrived while we had cocktails. We made a composed salad which he plated ahead of time, and set that on the table before everyone arrived. Those steps made everything much easier to serve the meal in courses.  I wasn't sure how the house would make the party flow, but had a pretty good idea people would linger in the kitchen.  I have a pretty large kitchen island so we set a cheese plate there with the wine and cocktails and sure enough, everyone stayed in the kitchen.   

We set the dining room table with white linens and china.  We brightened it up with ranunculus and daffodils which are in season right now and are also some of my favorite flowers.  One of our guests loves to bake so when he asked what he could bring we quickly  said "dessert please!" Unfortunately there are no photos of that, it was a really yummy chocolate babka which was gone in a flash. 

Composed salad with Cara Cara oranges, berries, spring lettuces, lemon infused olive oil and balsamic reduction.

Fruit and cheese display with goat gouda, a French triple creme and aged cheddar.

Orange and pink ranunculus with some bright daffodils.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Bourbon Fig Preserves

I've been patiently waiting for the figs to ripen, stalking might be a more appropriate word. The first week was sheer delight, ate all of those raw.  Ate so many that my mouth was beginning to have blisters, but it was worth it.  I love figs as much as I love tomatoes, and that says a lot! Between yesterday and today I had harvested so many that it became the perfect time to start putting them up. Last year I made 24 quart jars, I ran out about a month ago and its been a long month.  I use these in so many different ways at the shop, from roast pork to sandwiches and of course cheese and pancakes and well, just right out of the jar with a spoon. I got to use my newly acquired antique copper kettle and that made the process all the better, all the pretty things. This particular tree is Texas overbearing, at the shop I have Celeste and LSU gold varieties. This year I might have enough of the LSU Gold to put up, those are milder in flavor but with more of a honey taste. Hopefully between the squirrels and the birds there will be enough for me.

I find that the ratio of 2 to 1, fruit to sugar works well in all my canning.  I seldom use pectin, but instead just cook the jam or preserves down until they thicken. It's a little hard to tell with these because the syrup stays pretty loose.  I find that watching the volume is the best way for me to tell when they're ready. I turn down the heat so the boiling will stop for a few seconds and when reduced by about half, it's ready to go.  As for the tools, the canning ladle, canning rack, canning funnel and tongs I find these items indispensable for canning.  These items make jam making so much easier and I while I usually dislike single purpose kitchen gadgets, I can't do whithout these.  They keep me from getting burned by the water and the scalding sugar syrup, which with my track record it a definite plus.

Bourbon Fig Preserves

6 lb.'s fresh figs
3 lb's superfine sugar
6 oz. lemon juice
1/2 cup bourbon

1. Wash the figs and place them in a large non-reactive pot or copper kettle. Add the sugar, bourbon and lemon juice stir until combined.  Cook over high heat until the mixture comes to a rolling boil.  Stir a few times with a wooden spoon or heat-proof rubber spatula.  At this point, I mash them a little with the spoon to break them up, but its optional. Continue to cook for 25-30 minutes until reduced by almost half.

2. While the preserves are cooking, sterilize your jars and lids in boiling water. (I also sterilize the paddle and funnel I will later use for filling the jars). I use a canning rack in the bottom of a pot tall enough to hold the jars completely submerged in water. Bring the water to a rolling boil, this usually takes at least 20 minutes which is about the time it takes for the figs to cook.

3. When the figs are ready fill the jars with a canning funnel and ladle up to 1/2" from the rim. Seal the jars and place carefully in the water bath with canning tongs.  Process for 8-10 minutes, remove from water bath and set aside to cool.

Makes 72 ounces of Preserves.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho with Lump Crabmeat

Before I even write another word, I'll confess- I am currently addicted to tomatoes. I just cannot seem to get enough, and right now they are everywhere.  I buy them even when I don't really need them,  solely because they're pretty sometimes, it's become a good problem to have.  A few weeks ago I went to a produce sale at the LSU Ag-Center- 15 minutes later I was loading my car with about thirty pounds of the most beautiful heirlooms. Yes, thirty! I know that is a LOT of tomatoes, but I had the best time choosing them and later making Gazpacho, beautiful salads, and the most wonderful preserves.  I made a tomato marmalade with saffron, which if I say so myself was out of this world- I'll be using it at work in my catering business, Gourmet Girls.  

At home for dinner, we had Jumbo lump Crabmeat Gazpacho.  This is my favorite type of dinner in the summer.  Cooking seasonally by utilizing foods which are in their prime makes eating and preparing meals a joyful experience for me.  I think most of us eat with our eyes first,  what I came across labeled as Paleo on Pinterest and other venues was sometimes not too appetizing to me. While the food might have tasted good, it certainly was not inspiring me to run and cook it for dinner.  I need pretty in my life, with food in particular.  I hope through this blog I can inspire others to prepare meals in a healthy manner; cooking seasonally from farm to table, using locally grown and organic ingredients.

While I am not a fan of storing tomatoes in the refrigerator, I was surprised to find that the leftover Gazpacho was actually really good a day later.  I would not recommend making it more than several hours early, just make sure to add the crabmeat right before serving.  I made this a few weeks ago, and after looking at the photos again, I cannot wait to make it again.  I hope you like it as much as I did!

Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho with Jumbo Lump Crabmeat

6 ripe heirloom tomatoes, diced (reserve all the seeds and juices)
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded and cut into 1/4" slices
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4" cubes
2 yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into 1/4" cubes
1 jalapeno pepper, cored, veined, seeded, and finely minced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon Tabasco, or to taste (I like spicy)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lb. fresh Jumbo Lump Crabmeat, lightly picked for shells.

1. In a large non-reactive bowl, combine the tomatoes and their juices, onion, cucumber, and peppers.  Add red wine vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil and tabasco.  

2. With a couple of forks squish the vegetables into a juicy soup, making sure to leave plenty of big pieces.  Add salt, cumin and black pepper tasting as you go.  Add cilantro then refrigerate the soup for at least an hour before serving.

3. Ladle the Gazpacho into soup bowls, add crabmeat and serve.

Makes 8 servings

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Making Fresh Ricotta

I love cheese, and it all starts there. Ricotta is one of my favorites, it's so versatile and when you make it at home it is absolutely divine. I particularly like serving it with with peaches, berries or tomatoes.  I made grilled peaches with a honey glaze and lemon-thyme for the food truck and they flew out the window.  The food truck has been such a great adventure, I am having so much fun creating menus with what is in season and fresh every day.  I don't think I've repeated myself yet, there's just so much I want to make and this is giving me the opportunity to do so.  It is certainly a lot more work than setting a menu and repeating it, and I'm sure more cost effective too.  But that's not what this is about for me right now.  I am reveling in having to be creative enough to come up with three inventive quality menus every week.  I guess at some point I'll have to pick my favorites and go with those, but it seems that by the time that happens, it will be a whole new season with a whole different crop of fruits and veggies to work with.  Lets just say I am not likely to become bored with it, boredom is my greatest enemy.  I hate to admit it, but I'd rather do things the hard way in order to produce something I am excited about.  

You won't need any fancy cheese making ingredients to make this, but you will need a good candy making thermometer and some cheesecloth.  I used whole milk and buttermilk for this recipe, next time I will experiment by adding cream for a silkier and richer consistency.  With what I had leftover, I made roast tomato and ricotta tartines- pretty scrumptious!  The cheese will keep for about a week in the refrigerator, obviously mine didn't make it that long. 

Home-Made Ricotta

Deep-Fry or Candy thermometer

Stainless steel pot

8 cups whole milk
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Stack several squares of cheesecloth in a colander and set the colander over a large bowl.

2. Combine the milk and buttermilk in a large pot and attach the thermometer to the side.
Place the pot over high heat .  Stir constantly as curds form and when thermometer reaches 175-180 degrees, curds will separate and float.  Turn off the heat.

3.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer curds to prepared colander and sprinkle with salt.  Gather the cheesecloth around the ricotta pressing gently to release some of the liquid.  Let the ricotta rest about 20 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl, cover and chill. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Fresh Fig Galette with Mascarpone

It's fig season in Louisiana, they start coming in around the beginning of July.  I usually have enough to harvest for about a month and it never seems quite long enough. I took advantage of the bounty and made these little fig happies for the food truck last week.   Oh yes, new project...In a collaboration with another restaurant owner, we opened a food truck called PRONTO.  The truck is parked in front of my shop, I open it as often as I can and let people know by posting the menu on Instagram and Facebook, (@gourmetgirls).  I'm doing most of the cooking so things have been have been extra hectic, but have gone remarkably well.  It's amazing how many familiar faces I've seen from my days at The Silver Spoon.  People have come out of the woodwork, it's been so nice to see so many loyal customers,  I feel really blessed.  The truck has proven to be a lot of fun, I've sold out every day so far which is extremely rewarding since I feel like I'm filling a need for fresh healthy food.  The best part is I get to make the food I love to eat and prepare.  With the truck it's basically whatever is in season, fresh, mostly local and organic if possible. I'm officially in foodie heaven! 

I made the galettes for PRONTO on it's opening day and they've been a hit since, selling out pretty early the days I've had them.  I guess I'm not the only one who likes dessert first! The dough is from my mincemeat pie recipe, it uses whole wheat pastry flour which holds up really well while still being super flaky. I used the food processor since I was (am always) short on time. If the food processor is your method of choice, just be sure to pulse in short bursts and only until the shortening is incorporated.  I added the liquid mixture to the dough in a large bowl and only enough liquid to pull the dough together.  I rolled the dough into a 3" diameter roll, wrapped it and then sliced it into 12 disks to make the galettes.  

Fig Galettes

1 recipe pie dough

2 pints figs, stemmed and sliced in half
1/2 cup fig jam
1- 8oz. container marscapone
1 egg, lightly beaten
granulated sugar for sprinkling tops

Preheat Oven to 375

1. Make pie dough according to direction in link, refrigerate an hour or overnight.  Once the dough is chilled, slice into 3" wide and 1/4" tall disks, (see note above).  

2. On a lightly floured surface roll out disks to about 5" in diameter.  Place about a tablespoon of mascarpone in center and gently spread just in the center of disk an inch from the edges with an off-set spatula.

3. Place a small amount of fig preserves on top of cheese and top with about 6 fig halves.  Gently fold the edges of the tarts toward the center- some will overlap.  Brush some of the beaten egg over dough and sprinkle the whole galette generously with sugar.

4. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly golden brown.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Dark Chocolate and Strawberry Scones

Strawberries and chocolate, I cannot think of a better combination for a scone. Add chocolate to anything and you have my full attention, they're almost like dessert.   These scones come together quickly and easily.  They keep best frozen and then just popped in the toaster or microwave for a bit if you're not planning on eating all of them within a day.  

Dark Chocolate and Strawberry Scones

Yield - 12-16 large scones

3/4 cup sliced fresh strawberries
1/2 cup dark chocolate, chopped

4 3/4 cups flour
1 T baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
1/2 cup sugar
9 oz. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

topping: additional cream and sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Add the butter and cut in with a pastry blender.  You are finished when the butter is evenly distributed in pea sized lumps.

3. Add the strawberries and chocolate to flour mixture.  Then make a well in the center and add the cream all at once.  Mix with your hands until incorporated.  Depending on the juiciness of your strawberries, the dough might be a little wet and sticky- it's okay.  


4. On a lightly floured surface turn dough out and pat into an evenly distributed square or rectangle.
If the dough is still a little sticky, you can dust both sides with a little additional flour.
cut the rectangle into desired shapes and place on cookie sheet.  Brush scones with a little whipping cream and sprinkle liberally with sugar.  Bake until tops are lightly browned, 25-30 minutes.

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