May 31, 2007

Learn! Laugh! Eat!

[Compared to cream, milk makes] the Kate Moss of ice cream. Sure, she's pretty... but not terribly satisfying.
-Shuna Fish Lydon

I *knew* there was a reason I liked this woman!

In a month full of work challenges and square dance event planning, your heroine needed a break. Thankfully, her personal hero was happy to oblige; he offered to fly solo at the last of the planning meetings so she and Tracy could escape into an afternoon of ice cream.

Off we headed to Poulet to relax, unwind, and learn the secrets behind perfect creme anglaise one-handed quenelles, and mind-blowing ice cream flavor combinations.

Shuna's classes offer an excellent balance of lecture and demonstration, sharing the "why" in addition to the "how," "when," and "what." Her ice cream lecture explained each of the key ingredients in an ice cream base and the roles they play: Egg yolks provide a rich mouth feel and act as stabilizers. Sugar aids in flavor infusion by increasing the temperature of the liquid, provides additional sweetness and lowers the freezing temperature of the final product. Milk and cream contain butterfats critical to flavor absorption; Shuna insists that for full flavor, full-fat is critical.

Moving into the kitchen, Shuna shared tips, tricks and stories from her 14 years in some of America's most famous commercial kitchens. She taught us techniques for sumptuous anglaise, showing us how she steeps to infuse flavors, and providing tips for ensuring a successful nappe out of the cream/egg/sugar liaison. She offered us a simple, sensational recipe for Butterscotch; and showed us how it develops from butter and brown sugar to oh-so-much more than a sum of its parts. She encouraged several of my classmates to play with her (ice cream) balls. And she taught us the secret to silky chocolate chip ice cream that poses no danger to your dental work.

From kitchen classroom we moved to tasting, and we had quite a menu to choose from. The products of our classroom adventure included the aforementioned butterscotch sauce over Cardamom-Coconut Chocolate Chip ice cream. In addition, Shuna offered tastes of Mango Sorbet, Rose Hill Goat Yogurt Granita, Butterscotch, Lemon-Thyme, and Browned Butter Pecan Ice Creams with farmers' market fresh apriums & strawberries, chocolate sauce and pecan vanilla shortbread cookies available for garnish.

We learned a lot. We laughed often. And we ate well.

What better way to measure a Sunday afternoon?

More images, courtesy of Kat at Kung Foodie.

May 30, 2007

Luscious Leftovers?!?

An extra sheet of puff pastry, courtesy of Operation St. Honore...

A handful of salad veggies on their last legs...

A third of a roasted turkey breast languishing in the back of the freezer.

And a little inspiration from the folks behind Leftover Tuesdays. A monthly event founded by David of Cooking Chat and hosted this month by Pam of Project Foodie, Leftover Tuesdays celebrate the scraps hiding in the refrigerator and freezer, and challenge participants to rescue, recycle and revitalize them rather than tossing them in the trash.

For my contribution, I combined my father's famous post Thanksgiving Hot Turkey Salad (yes, the one crusted in potato chips) and a more epicurian recipe for chicken salad I picked up at Whole Foods. The result, a tasty and economical solution to lunch at my desk this week:

Hot Turkey Salad in Puff Pastry

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
4 tsp honey
2 tsp poppy seeds
sea salt, to taste
ground pepper, to taste
2 cups leftover roasted turkey breast, skinned, boned, chilled and cubed
1/2 cup candied walnuts
1 cup red seedless grapes halved
1 small red onion, chopped
1/4 cup diced jicama
1 sheet puff pastry
mixed greens

Preheat oven to 375.

Mix salad dressing ingredients (mayonnaise through ground pepper) in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate 30-60 minutes.

Defrost puff pastry on counter for 30-40 minutes. Cut pastry into small squares (I used a 3 inch cookie cutter). Prick center of squares with a fork Position squares 1 inch apart on baking sheet coated lightly with nonstick spray.

Toss turkey breast, walnuts, grapes, onion and jicama in a medium bowl to combine. Add salad dressing and toss to coat.

Pile about 2 tablespoons turkey salad mixture on top of pastry squares.

Bake at 375 until pastry puffs and browns slightly, salad sets (15-20 minutes). Serve over mixed greens drizzled with balsamic vinegar or honey-based vinaigrette.

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May 27, 2007

Covered in Cream Puffs

Stay tuned... sordid details to come after we recover from the weekend...

For inquiring minds, sordid details involve alternate uses for the pastry cream. Most of them are rated G... :)

Update 5/29 - Okay folks, I've slept, I've showered and I've fixed myself a snack. My laptop battery's charged, my photos are cropped, color corrected and ready to go. Thanks for your patience, and I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures with St. Honore as much as I enjoyed living them!

Those of you who've been around for a while may already know that one of our favorite extracurricular activities outside the kitchen is square dancing. And a few of you who know us personally or have been following very closely know that we've spent the past several years planning and promoting a dance festival for our regional association. A festival with over 700 attendees, scheduled for Memorial Day Weekend - May 25-27, 2007.

As a result, our free time has been at a premium for the last several months, especially on the weekends. The *perfect* time to join the Daring Bakers and commit to a Crepe Cake the piece de resistance in the world of pastry: Gateau St. Honore.

The pressure mounted in April and I bailed on the Crepe Cake. But I wasn't letting my Daring Baker buddies down two months in a row. No matter what challenge lay ahead, victory would be mine.

Then Helene of Tartlette and Dessert First's Anita announced their diabolical sadistic brilliant plan for this month's challenge: Gateau St. Honore. Puff Pastry. Pate a Choux for Cream Puffs. Diplomat Cream. Caramel. None of which I have any prior experience with preparing. I look at the calendar. Look at the three pages of instructions. Look back at the calendar. Fortunately, sleep is highly overrated... it doesn't look like I'm going to get much of it this month.

Even more fortunately for me, John's not just a wonderful, gorgeous man and a great dancer. He's also very comfortable, highly competent, and extremely happy working with me in the kitchen.


"Yes dear?"

"This month's Daring Baker assignment looks like a LOT of fun. Wanna help me make a St. Honore?"

"Sure. When's it due?"

Pregnant pause...

"Um... Memorial Day?"

After nearly asphyxiating with laughter, he agreed to pitch in and help out.

First stop, Home Chef for pastry tips. What do you MEAN I need to buy a $70 set? I need two tips, a bag and a coupler. Fine. Second stop, Sur la Table for pastry tips. Thirty bucks ($8 for the tips and $22 for other must have items I didn't know I needed until I saw them. Still better than $70.)

Third stop, Whole Foods for Dufour all-butter puff pastry. Hey, Anita and Helene say that frozen puff pastry is okay, and I'm challenged *enough* at the moment, thanks...

Once in the kitchen, the pastries actually came together fairly quickly. I'd considered a square or triangular base, but John thought our first attempt should be a traditional St. Honore so that's the road we took. The cream puffs were fun; I can guarantee we'll be experimenting with our new found skills with pate a choux and pastry bags soon.

It was the Diplomat Cream that gave us the biggest challenge. I'm not sure where we erred, but it came out more than a bit on the runny side. It dripped out of the pastry tip, oozed out of the bag, and ran down our fingers and our arms when we tried to fill the puffs.

At this point, one of us decided to taste it. And discovered that it ranks right up with with Fiorello's Caramel Balsamic Gelato and less than a handful of other foods. It is the perfect substance for licking off someone you love. Fortunately, the recipe makes WAY more pastry cream than you need. :)

We stashed *most* of the cream and the components in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, after which assembly was much easier (although the cream puffs became a bit chewy).

By this time it was pushing 4 AM and I abandoned the caramelized sugar (the one component of this creation with which I *did* have previous experience) in favor of sleep before sunrise.

So that's my story. For forty-some others, check out the Daring Baker links in the right hand column or the roundups posted at Dessert First and Tartlette.

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May 21, 2007

What to make of white?

I considered going back to my Italian roots and creating a dessert featuring ricotta and mascarpone...

I played with the idea of offering a simple angel food cake glazed and adorned with coconut and bananas...

I googled "meringue" and "pavlova" in search of inspiration in egg whites...

What has me pondering foods with more flavor than color? Seven Spoons' chosen theme for Sugar High Friday 31: the many shades of white.

In the end, I took inspiration from the bold flavor combinations I experienced and the techniques I learned in Sunday's 'Eggbeater' Ice Cream class (more on that very soon), my recent foray into the world of Rocky & Bullwinkle, and playing with my new pastry tips (more on that in yet another upcoming post).

The result: Coconut Ginger Mousse

4 tablespoons water
1 envelope (1 tablespoon) plain gelatin
1 cup whipping cream, plus 2 tablespoons
12-ounce can evaporated milk
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut meat
2 knobs fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
6 egg yolks
9 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/4 cup finely minced fresh ginger
5 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup toasted coconut
1/4 cup chopped candied ginger

Dissolve the gelatin in the water in a small bowl and set aside.

Combine the cream, evaporated milk, coconut and fresh ginger in a medium-sized enameled or stainless steel saucepan. Place over medium heat until bubbles form around the edges. Remove from the heat and allow to steep for 15-20 minutes until flavors are nicely infused.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks until well blended, then gradually add all but 1 tablespoon of the sugar, whisking to thoroughly incorporate sugar.

Immediately begin adding the warm milk in a thin stream, whisking continuously.

Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and stir over low heat until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Patience is critical here. Keep stirring. Refrain from boiling to avoid curdling the custard. When thick, stir in the gelatin and the minced ginger. Pour the mixture into a large mixing bowl.

Let the custard cool (to speed up the process, set the mixing bowl in a larger bowl of cold water or cracked ice). Set aside.

In a separate (clean and dry) bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the final tablespoon of sugar and the salt, and beat until the whites form stiff peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the custard mixture and stir carefully until well mixed.

Pipe into serving dishes and hill, covered, for at least 3 hours.

Garnish with candied ginger and toasted coconut immediately before serving.

Coconut-Ginger Mousse inspired by this recipe from the Dayton Daily News.

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May 13, 2007

Remembering Jo...

Born at the dawn of the Great Depression in a small Midwestern town, Joan Louise Cramer was the daughter of an elementary school teacher and an engineer with a passion for the carnival life. She married her high school sweetheart and together they moved west to build a life and a family together.

Jo wasn't the domestic type, at least in the traditional sense. Early in their marriage, her husband kicked her out of the kitchen (though his story's a bit different) his domain for all but a handful of her trademark recipes.

So I have a limited collection of "food memories" of my mother. Limited, but strong.

In the third grade, my birthday fell on Holy Thursday, a few days before Easter. Mom arrived in my classroom that afternoon with refreshments for my classmates. Thirty white cupcakes, frosted in pale butter cream, topped with green coconut "grass," sprinkled with brightly colored jellybean "Easter eggs," a pipe cleaner serving as the handle of the mini "Easter baskets." The cakes was probably Betty Crocker. But Mom made them. For me. And in that moment, that's all that mattered.

She also made the flakiest, most tender pie crusts I've ever encountered. With lard. I have the recipe, but sadly I never worked with her to understand the method -- and my pie crusts pale in comparison to hers.

She had a passion for food photography that drove me to distraction as a teenager. "Mom... just put the camera down and EAT." Wherever they are now, she and my dad are having a really good laugh over that...

She hated tomatoes, and had so extreme an aversion to onions that my father had to pulverize them to get them past her.

She loved mallowmars, raisin bread, and chocolate cake with fluffy white icing.

In memory of my mother, I share the recipe my brother and I requested the most often during the spring, a cherry cheesecake of sorts clipped from one of her women's magazines and and assembled from supermarket convenience foods, but prepared with love and care.

Happy Mother's Day!

Jo's Quick and Tasty Dessert

Graham cracker crust bottom of square pan
1 large package Philadelphia Cream Cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk

Prepare Dream Whip according to directions on package. Blend with cheese mixture. Pour over graham cracker crust. Pour Comstock Pie Filling over cream cheese mixture and chill.

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May 06, 2007

Follow the yellow brick road...

“The road to the City of Emeralds is paved with yellow brick.” - Frank L. Baum

An international 20th century pop-culture icon, the yellow brick road led Dorothy and her companions on their journey to the Emerald City -- and in the process taught them to live.

Another yellow icon, the bright plastic awareness wristbands remind us that every day, millions of people around the world are living with, through, and beyond cancer.

Yellow, for cancer?

A cancer diagnosis is one of those life-altering events for which there is no preparation. With its discussions of staging, metastasis and survival rates, it's difficult not to get buried in feelings of helplessness and despair. I love that Lance Armstrong chose yellow as the symbolic color of cancer awareness. Cancer is cold and lifeless. Yellow is cancer's antithesis. It fights back. It provides contrast. It's tenacious and honest. It offers courage, hope, light and life.

So when Barbara of Winos and Foodies announced A Taste of Yellow to commemorate LiveStrong Day -- in honor and celebration of those living with cancer, I knew I wanted to participate.

LIVESTRONG Day is the Lance Armstrong Foundation's grassroots advocacy initiative to unify people affected by cancer and to raise awareness about cancer survivorship issues on a national level and in local communities across the country.
I've written before about how cancer has touched my life. John's grandfather. His father and mine. Too many of our friends. Breast cancer. Lung cancer. Lymphoma, prostate cancer, bladder cancer. As their bodies betrayed them, these everyday heroes faced their mortality head-on -- and learned something about living in the process. Even more amazing, through their examples they shared those lessons with all who love them. Whether or not they overcame the diseases they faced -- they lived proudly, joyfully, with honor and dignity -- and taught me the importance of doing the same.

As a small expression of my gratitude and my love, today I bake for each of them.

I chose a Vanilla-Infused Golden Saffron Cake as my "Taste of Yellow". Vanilla for its elegant simplicity, and saffron because many cooks consider it an indulgence for special occasions. My cancer heros have taught me that each day the sun rises is cause a special occasion, and a homemade cake fresh from the oven is plenty reason for celebration.

1 Tablespoon butter, softened
1 Tablespoon sugar

1-1/3 cups cake flour
1-3/4 cups sugar, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2/3 cup plus 2 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 large whole egg
2 teaspoons vanilla, divided
1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 375. Using paper towel, coat 9-inch round cake pan with butter. Dust lightly with 1 tbsp sugar.

In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder and baking soda) with a whisk. Set aside.

Stir saffron threads into two tablespoons milk in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring to combine. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

In a small bowl, combine 2/3 cup milk, egg, and one teaspoon vanilla. Add cooled saffron mixture and whisk well to incorporate. Marvel over brilliant yellow color.

Pour the wet mixture over the flour mixture and whisk gently to combine. Resist overmixing -- whisk only until ingredients are well-incorporated.

Pour into prepared cake pan and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in cake comes out clean. Let cake cool for 15 minutes and carefully de-pan onto festive plate.

While cake cools, stir water and remaining 3/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for 10 minutes, then stir in remaining teaspoon vanilla.

Poke holes evenly in the cake with a wooden skewer. Spoon the vanilla syrup over the top of the cake. Let cool to room temperature.

Garnish with lemon zest, candied ginger, or fresh red/blue/blackberries.

Bon Appetit!

Recipe inspired by Peggy Trowbridge Filippone's Golden Saffron Cake.

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May 03, 2007

A glimpse inside the chill chest

I couldn't resist Sam's recent invitation to a bit of culinary exhibitionism...

So there you have it -- my obsession with artisan condiments, jams, jellies and yogurt, my carefully packaged CSA bounty, two dozen farm fresh eggs originally destined for a future in chocolate crepes, a tray of deli meats and artisan cheeses and oh-so-much more -- my refrigerator, exposed.

An added bonus -- I got quite an abdominal workout crouched on the kitchen floor trying to get it all in...