November 22, 2010

Cream Puffs

Cream puffs: They are rich, creamy and decadent, but also nicely portioned into snack size bites. Like I have said before, I would have never suspected that one could make cream puffs at home. Yet they are simple and fun to make! And pretty fancy looking, too.

I based the filling listed here on one I found on I went to the store looking for white chocolate pudding to use for the filling, but alas they had none. I went with French vanilla instead. It was nice, but I just found the white chocolate flavor on sale at Target, so I had to buy some to try these again. I think the almond (or other flavor) extract is an important addition. My guests were surprised to find out that the filling of these cream puffs was based on a pudding mix. The flavoring makes them seem more homemade.

When I make these again, I am going to try the filling without the whipping cream in the pudding (I'll just use milk). I liked them with it, but I also felt like I could only eat one or two since they were so rich. That being said, I also am looking forward to trying these filled with just whipped cream. I think I'd like the texture of the light and fluffy whipped cream filling in these tasty pastries.

Cream Puffs
Pate a Choux:
  • 8 ounces (or 1 cup) water
  • 4 ounces (or 1/2 cup or 1 stick) butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
    Dough after incorporating the flour.
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 ounces (or a scant cup) flour
  • 8 ounces (or 4 large) eggs
  • Powdered sugar for dusting
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring the water, butter, salt, sugar and vanilla to a simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the flour. Sir quickly. The flour will absorb into the water to form a dough. Continue to stir for 1-2 minutes, to cook the flour and cook off some of the water.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat. Let the pate a choux cool slightly--you don't want the eggs to cook when you add them, but the choux should still be pretty warm. 
  4. Transfer dough to a a stand mixer (or use a bowl and an electric mixer). Add the eggs one at a time-- quickly stirring until each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. It will seem at first that the eggs will not incorporate, but keep mixing until they do.
  5. On a baking sheet (lined with parchment for easier clean up), drop small (level-tablespoon sized) portions of dough spaced about 2 inches apart.
  6. Pre-filling puff.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes at 425 degrees. Turn the heat down to 350 degrees and cook about 20 minutes more, until they are a toasty, golden brown and are cooked all the way through. Cool on the pan or a cooling rack. (I've heard poking a hole in the sides of the puffs with a toothpick will help them from collapsing, but I've done it with and without this and never had a problem.)
  • 2 (3.5 ounce) packages of instant vanilla or white chocolate pudding
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract (or any other flavor extract that appeals to you--maple? Mint?!)
  1. Mix pudding, cream, milk and extract in a medium bowl. Pour into a large Ziplock bag and let it set for 15 minutes in the refrigerator. 
The Assembly:
Secret filling "door."
  1. When puffs are cool, take a sharp, serrated knife (like a steak knife) and cut little doors in the bottom. (See photo.)
  2. When the pudding is set, snip a tiny hole in the corner of the Ziplock bag. Holding the pastries upside down, squeeze the bag to fill the puffs with as much pudding as they can fit! They will take more filling than you think. When they are filled, close the doors back up. (Conversely, you can cut the top part off to fill the inside and turn them into little cream puff sandwiches.) Dust with powdered sugar and serve!

November 19, 2010

Von's Paella

Well, really, it's a paella recipe from Bob who owns a Huerta in Spain, passed along to Chris VonMarschall's family in the 70's. The handwritten copy of the recipe I have has the official title of "Pepe Laverua's Paella". Now, if you're anything like me, you may have viewed paella as a dish left for experts, or people with cash to drop on the special rice and threads of saffron. Not to mention the special pan. I was always down right intimidated, until Von showed me the light by gifting a bag of paella rice to me for my birthday, and coming over to make it with me at my house last week, with friends.

Paella not only is an incredibly delicious dish, but it is actually not that expensive to make, after the initial investment in the pan. It also is a very flexible dish to make, leaving room for creativity in ingredients and preparation. As I stand here in my kitchen making my second batch of paella, ever, I could see how it would be very difficult to make the same paella dish twice. Ngoc also posted a recipe for paella two years ago, and I know it is delicious from personal experience.

Paella is also a very communal dish, seeing as how any batch of paella made in a standard paella pan feeds at least 6 people. Last week we had six friends help make it, and each person brought ingredients. Cooking it together was fun, and sitting around the table serving dinner from a huge pan of paella felt like the ultimate family style dinner. Don't forget the aprons, as it can get a little messy.

Now a word about the equipment and ingredients. If you don't have a paella pan, you can get one fairly cheap at Sur La Table. If you live in the Berkeley area, pick one up at the new restaurant supply store on 7th and Potter, you can get one for $15 or $20. Regarding the rice, do not buy anything less than a traditional paella rice (in other words: no long grained rice). Saffron you can pick up pretty cheap at TJ's or bulk in a natural grocery. Just buy enough for one use, and it will be fresh and less expensive. Any combination of meat and veggies can go in your paella, use what you have on hand. I do not specify quantity of vegetables and meat because it depends on how many people you have and how big your pan is. A proper paella will end with the pan filled to the brim with goodness. For a standard 6 serving pan, at least 2 bell peppers, 2-3 chicken breasts, 4-6 sausages, a couple cans of artichoke get the idea. Below are suggested ingredients, but be creative and experiment, it's half the fun!

What's in it
paella rice or arborio rice
minimum onion whole onion, sliced in large wedges
head of garlic, broken into cloves, skin left on
few tomatoes, cut in large wedges
lots of olive oil
lots of salt
white cooking wine
beef or vegetable stock
2 T paprika
1 T saffron
1 T red chili pepper flakes
hot sauce (optional)
1 lemon, sliced
1 jar roasted bell peppers (pimiento)
meat options: large stew sized chunks of chicken or beef or pork, uncooked italian sausage
seafood options: whole shrimp, clams, langostinas (baby lobster tails, frozen at TJ's)
vegetable options: bell peppers, green beans, mushrooms, peas, cauliflower, artichoke hearts, olives, whatever!

How it's made
Start by heating up your paella pan on your stove top (or outdoor grill), covering the bottom 2/3 with oil. Once oil is hot, stir in salt and dissolve in oil. Add pork/beef and brown in the oil. Add chicken/sausage and brown. Pour in wine to cook meat in. After wine comes to a simmer, add in the onions and add your long cooking vegetables (bell peppers, etc). Stir in garlic cloves. Bring back to a simmer and cook until veggies are tender. Add in the rest of the vegetables and cook a bit longer. Add in wine or stock as needed. Toss in 2 handfuls of rice per person (think of how large your pan is) scattered around the pan. Stir rice in and cook on high heat to 'brown' the rice, stirring often. Add in all spices except saffron. Add enough stock/wine to cover all ingredients and simmer, stirring often. After a bit add in the saffron. Stir in the shrimp/langostinas about 5 minutes before done. Cook until rice is tender and paella is no longer soupy. Put clams/mussels on top, and garnish the top with sliced lemon and pimiento peppers. Cook in the oven at 400 degrees to carmelize the top, for about 10 minutes, until seafood is cooked. Let stand about 10 minutes to rest before serving. Enjoy!

November 16, 2010

Easy Croutons

Who knew croutons were so easy to make? Ok, you probably did, and in the back of my mind I acknowledged this fact on some level. It's just so easy to pick up a small bag of over priced and rock hard croutons at the store. Never again. Especially since croutons are fantastic on soups and salads, and a great way to turn that baseball bat of a baguette into something delicious.

What's in it
4-5 C stale or fresh bread of any sorts, cubed (or baguette thinly sliced)
2 T olive oil (high quality, and flavored if you wish)
2 T butter
1 clove garlic, minced
italian spices, or any spices (dill, thyme, curry...)

How it's made
Pre heat oven to 400 degrees.
Put butter, oil, garlic and spices in a microwave proof bowl and microwave 30 seconds to melt butter (or use a stove and pot). Stir to combine. Toss cubed bread in mixture, to coat.

Spread bread onto a baking sheet, and bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown.

Enjoy on top of soups or salads!

November 15, 2010

Perfect Pork Chops

My Grandma makes really yummy pork chops, I remember them from when I was very little. They featured catsup and a slice of lemon on top. This recipe is far from my childhood pork chop dinners. It comes from Alton Brown's recipe, and it features a coffee and molasses marinade (brine). The brining process brings out the flavor, and ensures the chops will not dry out. These pork chops served with the au jus from the marinade, and homemade applesauce, is simply divine. The chops and sauce are amazing on their own, but together they equal more than the sum of their parts. If you're looking for an alternative to a standard chicken dish, this is a simple yet delicious option.

What's in it
2 pork chops (1 inch thick)
1/4 C molasses
1 C strong coffee, cooled (pour through grinds twice)
2 T apple cider vinegar
dash of dijon mustard
dash of freshly ground pepper
1 tsp salt
couple sprigs of fresh thyme, or pinch of dried
2 cloves of garlic, minced
dash of ground ginger

How it's made
Place all ingredients together in a re-sealable bag or ceramic baking dish with lid, and marinade overnight or at least 2 hours. Be sure liquid covers the meat.
After the initial marinade, this dish comes together quickly, so first take time to get the applesauce simmering, and any other side dishes you might want to serve.
When you are ready, about 20-30 minutes before eating time, place the chops on a plate, and pour the liquid into a small stock pot. Simmer the marinade on very low heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 1/4 C liquid. Keep an eye so it doesn't boil over.

After the marinade starts simmering, fire up your cast iron grill (or George Foreman or outdoor grill) and preheat. Be sure to coat with oil. Once the grill is heated, cook the chops for about 5 minutes on each side (don't move them around unless you want fancy marks). Chops are done when internal temperature registers 145 degrees. Finish in the oven for a couple minutes if necessary. Remove from heat and let rest 5 minutes before serving. Take time to strain the marinade reduction, and mash the apples for the sauce.

Serve chops with reduction and applesauce on the side. Enjoy with a glass of Navarro Dry Gewurztraminer. We had Butternut Squash Soup as a first dish, using apples in the soup as well, and it was a delicious prelude to the main dish.

November 9, 2010

Brussels Sprouts with Pecans and Onions

Maybe it's because I came late to brussels sprouts, but I can't get enough of them. Maybe I am making up for lost time.

For those of you who don't understand where I am coming from, I'm sure that there is a way to cook brussels sprouts so that they don't taste good. Probably it was the way your parents prepared them for you when you were little. Maybe you hated them. I say, fair enough. Those brussels sprouts very well could have been nasty. I'm not going to tell you they weren't.

But I am going to tell you that, cooked properly, brussels sprouts are simply phenomenal. I like roasted brussels sprouts so much that I even like them cold, as left overs from the night before. Now, that is not necessarily the ideal way to enjoy these nutritious veggies, but I'm just saying that are THAT good.
(On a side note, why are brussels sprouts so unfairly maligned in popular culture?)

Normally, I follow Amber's recipe: a simple toss-with-olive-oil-and-roast preparation. I love it. The roasting imparts a mellow, nutty flavor and caramelizes the edges into a perfect crunchy sweetness. I don't know why I wanted to try another recipe for brussels sprouts last night, since I am so satisfied with the first, but I decided to get crazy. Maybe it was the pecans. Or the onions.

I do know that I couldn't get rid of the roasting, so I adapted this recipe from Saveur (the best food magazine in existence--and also wonderful to follow on facebook, by the way) to accommodate the roasting process.  This recipe is slightly different than the plain roasting method, but I don't want to say it is better. The pecans and onions compliment the brussels sprouts nicely and make this a particularly great dish for cold fall and winter nights. It kind of gussies them up a little. I'm going to add this into my regular brussels sprouts rotation, because I do love a little variety in my life. Even if it's just in my brussels sprouts.

Brussels Sprouts with Pecans and Onions
  • 1/4 cup of toasted pecans
  • 1 pound of brussels sprouts
  • Olive oil (just enough to coat the Brussels sprouts...but the more the tastier)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
    As you can see, we added a bit more onion...
  • 1 tablespoon butter (or olive oil)
  • 1/2 of a medium white onion
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic
  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Chop and toast the pecans on a baking sheet in a single layer for 3 to 4 minutes, until they are fragrant and browned.
  2. Meanwhile, chop brussels sprouts in half. In a large bowl, toss brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until they are as browned as you like. (I like mine on the crispier side.)
  3. While the brussels sprouts are almost done roasting, heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Chop your onion. Add butter or olive oil to the skillet and let it melt. Add onion and stir to coat. Mince the garlic and add it to the pan. Sautée until the onions are golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in roasted brussels sprouts and cook for a couple minutes more. Stir in pecans and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Serves 2-4

    November 4, 2010

    Banana, Pecan, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

    These cookies are the soft and cake-y fantasticness you would get if you combined all of the good things about banana bread with all of the good things about chocolate chip cookies. That may not immediately sound like a good idea, but it truly is.

    The first time I had these, I was shocked at what a good combination these ingredients made. They are not too sweet and not too dense. The original recipe comes from--where else--Martha Stewart's Cookies. Martha has done it again!

    I have slightly adapted the recipe over the last few years. This is now my go-to cookie recipe. It is easy and just unusual enough to be exciting. I've received nothing but stellar feedback on these cookies, so I was very surprised to realize that I have not yet posted the recipe for you! I am sorry for holding out this long. You'll just have to make a double batch of these right away to make up for lost time.

    Banana, Pecan, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
    • 1 cup white flour
    • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 3/4 cup (or 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 large plus one small over-ripe banana*
    • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1 cup rolled oats
    • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (or a mixture of semi- and bittersweet chips!)
    • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans
    1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk both flours with salt and baking soda.
    2. Chop pecans and toast in the  oven for a few minutes until they are fragrant and golden brown, about 5 minutes. (Check frequently to avoid burning.)
    3. Meanwhile, put butter and both sugars in a large bowl. Mix with an electric or stand mixer on medium until pale and fluffy, about 2-4 minutes.  Reduce speed to low. Add egg and vanilla and mix until combined. 
    4. Add 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon to banana and mash, until no large pieces remain. Add banana mixture to batter, beat on low speed to combine.
    5. Add flour mixture. Mix until just combined. Stir in oats, chocolate chunks and toasted pecans.
    6. Drop dough onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Back cookies, rotating half-way through for 12-13 minutes. Cookies should be golden brown and just set. Let cookies cool on sheets on wire rack for 5 minutes then transfer to the racks to cool completely.
    Makes 2 and a half to 3 dozen cookies.
    *Once bananas are past their prime, I store them in a bag in my freezer until I am ready to make banana bread, muffins, or these cookies. Just thaw in the microwave before using.