Monday, August 27, 2012

Petit Fours

Being from New Orleans, I love petit fours.  Yummy, moist, little cakes with sweet frosting.  But apparently, the French refer to more than just a yummy, small, square piece of cake as a petit four.  I recently bought The Art of French Baking and I want to make everything in it.  I decided to just go through the book one recipe at a time since there aren’t photos of everything and I know I will be too picky if I try to read every one.  Plus I want to just try different things - sometimes I feel like when I read recipes, I get too critical and then end up not branching out and learning new things.  

The book starts with small cakes.  The first set of recipes are for babas, for which I have no pan (I will go back to them later), so I skipped to petit fours.  It’s a very basic recipe of flour, eggs, vanilla, salt, superfine sugar, baking powder, butter and raisins.  They came together very easily and they are very much like little scones.  Sweet, but not overly so.  Moist, but with a crumbly texture.  And the raisins provide perfect, little bursts of sweetness.  I really like them, but they are certainly not the petit fours I grew up with.  They have many variations in the book and I’m looking forward to making them all!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cheers London, Ola Rio!

I love the Olympics.  For 17 days, every 2 years, I watch everything the Olympics has to offer.  This weekend I was watching wrestling.  I would never watch wrestling, but the American was in the bronze medal match and it was super exciting.

Before the Opening Ceremonies, life was a bit busy, so I didn’t get it together enough to do a dinner.  But I had one on Sunday for the Closing Ceremonies and I think that may be better because we got to celebrate both cultures.  I made a mix of British food and Brazilian food (since they are hosting 2016).

This was the menu:
-          Bangers and Smashed Sticks
-          Salt and Vinegar crisps
-          Cheese tray with 2 British cheeses, 1 Spanish cheese (since I couldn’t find anything from Brazil or Portugal), and a British Jam

Main dishes:
-          Cheese Rolls
-          Brazilian Style Chicken And Rice Pot
-          Collard Greens

-          Jaffa Cakes
-          Brazilian Sweet Corn Pudding

I think I was most excited about the bangers and smashed sticks.  I wanted an appetizer that drew from British cuisine and I came up with this one because of this recipe.  I thought I would make those potatoes and skewer a piece of sausage to it and then drizzle the whole thing with onion gravy.

- I went with small Yukon golds, but I think I would maybe try a slightly smaller potato next time – maybe even the colorful fingerlings.  And fry them off a little longer.
- The onion gravy recipe needed more salt and cornstarch
- German smoked sausage was a good choice

Bangers and Smashed Sticks
8 Baby Yukon Gold Potatoes, each 1 to 2 inches each in diameter
Sea Salt, to taste
1 Fresh Rosemary Sprig
2 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
Freshly Ground Pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp Fresh Thyme, chopped
2 tsp Fresh Flat-Leaf Parsley, chopped
1 package German Sweet Smoked Sausage, chopped into 1 inch pieces on a diagonal
Onion Gravy
1 medium Onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp Canola Oil
1 Tbsp Butter
1/2 tsp Sugar
1/2 tsp Balsamic Vinegar
350 ml Beef Broth
2 tsp Cornstarch
2 tsp Cold Water
Salt And Pepper

Put the potatoes in a large pot and add water to cover by 3 inches. Season the water with salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to medium/low and simmer until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 10 minutes. Drain well in a colander. Transfer the potatoes to a towel-lined baking
sheet and let cool. Using hand, carefully smash each potato to about 1/2-inch thickness.

Meanwhile, for the gravy, melt the oil and butter in a large saucepan over a gentle heat. Add the onion and cover with a lid. Cook slowly for approx 10 mins or until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the sugar and balsamic vinegar to the onions and stir well. Cover with the lid and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the stock and boil gently uncovered for 5 minutes. In a heatproof jug or bowl mix the cornstarch/flour with the cold water to a thin paste. Pour a little of the hot gravy into the starch mixture and mix thoroughly. Pour the starch mixture back into the gravy, raise the heat to high and boil for 10 minutes or until the gravy is slightly thickened. Keep warm until ready to serve.

In a square stainless-steel griddle pan over medium-high heat, fry off the sausage pieces - about 3-5 mins per side depending on how crispy you want them. Removed the sausages and place on paper towel to drain. Add the rosemary sprig to the pan and fry in sausage fat until crispy, about 1
minute. Working in batches and adding more olive oil to the griddle pan as needed, sear the smashed potatoes, turning once, until well browned and crispy, about 3 minutes per side; Transfer the potatoes to the rack-lined baking sheet and season with salt and pepper.

To serve, place potatoes on plate, place piece of sausage on top, skewer with toothpick or broken bamboo skewer (recommended). Drizzle gravy over each appetizer and sprinkle with thyme and parsley. Serve immediately. Serves 8.

The main dishes were all Brazilian inspired.  After some research, it was clear the cheese rolls were a must.  I found this recipe, which was ridiculously easy!  They end up very much like a little cheesy popover which is evil because it’s so easy to inhale several of them without even realizing it.  Our gathering was only 4 people and I made 24 mini-rolls and 5 “cupcake” size rolls and at the end of the night, I had 4 minis left.

Elena over at Eat Cake and Lose Weight has a Brazilian relative and he recommended Chicken with Lemon.  After some searching, I found this recipe.  It’s not chicken with lemon, but it sounded so delicious.  It was very easy to make and the flavors are pretty fantastic.  However, my chicken was dry again.  Not sure if it was because I browned it too long before adding the liquid, or maybe I’m just not buying the best chicken.  I have had the best experiences with meat from Whole Foods, so I think I’m going to try buying my meat from them only.
Also, the recipe calls for a Sozan Goya spice packet, but I didn’t want to buy a pre-mixed packet so I made my own based on some research.

Spice mix
1 Tbsp Salt
1 Tbsp Pepper
1 Tbsp Garlic Powder
1 Tbsp Ground Coriander
1 Tbsp Oregano
1 Tbsp Paprika

I also wanted a side dish and I noticed that sauteed collard greens (Couve a Mineira) is a popular Brazilian dish.  I’m a little in love with collard greens right now, so I wanted to try that.  This is the recipe I used and again, super easy.  It didn’t say what type of beer to use though.  We looked for a Brazilian beer, but couldn’t find anything so we went with a British beer that, in the end, wasn’t malty enough.  The collard greens are so bitter, we needed something to counteract that and bring some sweetness.  Also, I think I would cook it a bit less - but that may be just me - I like some crunch to my greens.

For dessert I bought some Jaffa Cakes because they are delish!!  And I made a sweet corn pudding.  I LOVE sweet corn.  In all forms - cob, creamed, blanched, sauteed with butter, all of it - it’s just so good.  So when I saw that sweet corn pudding was a popular dessert I was so excited!  I went with this recipe.  I did run into some issues though.  Everything seemed fine until I started cooking it.  I cooked it and cooked it and it wasn’t getting and thicker.  But none of the recipes I found called for cornstarch, because, well it’s corn - it’s already starchy.  So I didn’t want to add it for fear I would mess it up.  I decided just to put it in the fridge and hoped it would set.  In the morning though, it was still soupy.  I was still rejecting the cornstarch idea though and I decided to whip some cream and mix that in to try to make a mousse.  No go.  Let me say - it was super tasty, but just soupy.  Finally I put everything back on the stove and added 4 Tbsp cornstarch.  Worked perfectly!  It thickened almost immediately.  I put it in the fridge and once it was set I added it to parfait glasses and alternated with the whipped cream I had made.  Then topped with cinnamon.  It was so yummy!!  You do have to really like corn, because it is very corny, but mmm mmm good.
Some notes - trust my instincts; I should’ve just added cornstarch immediately.  And next time, really get more of the cob and pulp because I think that’s where more starch resides.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

An Indoor Picnic

The past 2 weeks I’ve taken a bit of a break on the blog because it’s been all Olympics!  I love them.  Plus I had a wonderful time last weekend hanging out with one of the best women on the planet.

A couple of weeks ago though, we had my cousin and her fiance over to hang out, watch Olympics and eat yummy food.  I went a little crazy and offered them 3 “menus” to choose from (I’ll write more about that in another post) and they chose the “Indoor Picnic” menu.  

The original menu was:
Appetizer: Charcuterie
Main: Buffalo Turkey Burgers
Side: Potato Salad
Dessert: Ice Cream Sandwiches

They decided the Oreo Brownies from one of the other menus sounded more appealing, so I made those instead of the ice cream sandwiches.

We started with the charcuterie.  I was kind of glad they picked this menu because this appetizer required no cooking.  We went to Antonelli’s and got a couple of British cheeses (a nod to the Olympics) and some salami and a couple of types of pepperoni.  I bought olives and cornichons, but of course forgot to put them out.  But it was ok because everything was delicious and we had plenty of food.

The buffalo turkey burgers came from this recipe.  We used ground turkey thigh meat because it’s higher in fat and when I made the patties I replaced ½ the pepper with paprika.  I love paprika and thought it would work really well in this recipe.  It’s too hot to cook outside though so we made them inside on the grill pan.  Instead of cooking them in aluminum foil, we cooked them almost all the way and then finished by basting them with the hot sauce and butter mixture then topped them off with provolone cheese.

For condiments I made caramelized onions - just a tbsp butter, tbsp olive oil, and 2 thinly sliced onions in a pan over medium/high heat for about an hour; blue cheese salad dressing to use instead of mayo; pickles made with hops; lettuce and tomato.

Verdict: I love these burgers!  They were juicy and all the herbs and spices added to the ground turkey made it very flavorful.  I would baste it a bit longer to get more of the “buffalo” flavor and reserve some of the butter and hot sauce mixture for a condiment.  I plan on trying the ground turkey thigh meat for other burgers though because this was the best burger I have tried since adding meat back into my diet.

For sides we had some chips and a somewhat less traditional potato salad.  I went the vinegar route instead of mayo for the dressing.  This Martha Stewart recipe caught my eye because I love cornichons and capers.  The only thing I changed is I used all yellow fingerling potatoes because I wanted to keep the color light.  And I forgot the parsley.  But overall it was a very tasty potato salad.  I really prefer the vinaigrette to mayo - the sourness and saltiness of the vinegar and the pickles goes so well with the butteriness of the potato.  And the various textures make it fun to eat as well.

Then there was dessert.  Wow - am I glad they switched to the Oreo brownies.  The initial recipe I had called for 2 cups of sugar and I thought that was way too much, so I went on a search for what seemed like a good brownie recipe and then figured I’d just add the oreos.  I ended up with this one.  But then I decided I wanted to make them more interesting.  I have this recipe for homemade oreo cookies, so I made a batch of the “cream” from that recipe and used it as icing.  Then covered the whole thing with oreos.  These were seriously yummy brownies.  Uber decadent - but worth every calorie.  I usually have pretty decent willpower - I can eat one of something and then bring it to work to share or only eat one piece per night - but I struggled with these.  They were a bit too high in calories for an evening dessert (although not as bad as you would think), but I hated to bring them to work because I wanted them all!  I would like to try the brownie recipe by itself and with other additions - peanut butter cups, butterfingers (would be good for Halloween), and peppermint patties (as in the original recipe).  And the icing may become my “go to” icing for everything including cakes.  It was delicious and had a consistency I really loved.

Finally, I also made a large batch of tea with lemonade.  Nothing fancy, but I wanted to use my new beverage jar and I thought it was a good picnic drink.  Using my Maw Maw’s tea method, I brewed 6 bags of Lipton the night before - brought it to a boil and then turned it off and let it sit, covered, overnight on the stove.  I know it sounds crazy, but it results in some yummy tea.  Normally, in the morning, I would heat it back up, add a lot of sugar and mix it with more water.  But this time I mixed it with a store bought lemonade that already had sugar and then added some lemon slices for garnish.  I found it very refreshing and I do love my beverage jar!