Saturday, November 27, 2010

A perfect way to say “Thanks!” – how my Thanksgiving turned out.

Thanksgiving is meant to give us a chance to reflect on all the wonderful things we have in our lives and to take a break and truly appreciate them.  On this Thanksgiving, I feel very blessed to have all the people that surround me in my life.  I am thankful to my family and friends for being a part of my world.  I want them to know how much I love them and for me the only way to do that is with food.  It is the ultimate comfort and pleasure to put a plate in front of someone and I think it shows love.   So, if I ever cooked for you, please know, I meant “Thank you!”.
Some of you commented on my planned Thanksgiving menu, noting it as either ambitious or nuts.  I must agree, especially with the crazy work schedule I have been keeping lately and this week especially.  I just think that anyone who likes to cook should be given the Thanksgiving week off; it should be in the contract. 
Nevertheless, I managed to put every single planned item on the table.  There were no major surprises and all dishes worked out.  This was astonishing to me as with all my major cooking projects at least one dish flops and at least one gets abandoned for either lack of time or energy. 
Check out my Thanksgiving:
Wild Mushroom Tartalette with Pecorino.
I scored the most beautiful Chanterelle mushrooms and mixed with Cremini mushrooms and a layer of béchamel they made the most beautiful appetizer.
I used the same crust as for the Tomato tart, but I blind baked it the day before.  On Thanksgiving day I made a simple béchamel to brush on the bottom of the tart and filled it with mushrooms sautéed in olive oil, butter with thyme and rosemary.

Simple Béchamel sauce:
2 tbs butter
2 tbs all purpose flour
2 cups of milk
1 tsp of Dijon mustard ( optional)
 Salt / Pepper
A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
In a sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the flour and cook whisking periodically for a few minutes, until the rue becomes to brown and smell nutty.  Wisk in the milk and cook for a few more minutes until the sauce thickens.  Add the spices and the mustard (if using).

Goat cheese and slow roasted tomato crostini.
I spread very good quality Chevre on toasted baguette and topped with slow roasted tomatoes.


Asian fried shrimp.
The shrimp where dusted with corn starch and fried in peanut oil.  Then tossed in an Asian inspired sauce which included soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, Asian hot sauce, freshly ground ginger and garlic.  I also tossed in some sesame seeds for flavor and presentation.

Freshly baked bread and compound herb and truffle butter.

I wanted to make eggs deviled with Harissa, however this great and versatile condiment was nowhere to be found.  I made a mixture of roasted pepper, egg yolks, cilantro, anchovies and a bit of mayo instead.  It really was a hit.

The French Onion soup recipe came from the book called “The Sharper your knife the Less you Cry” by Kathleen Flynn.   The soup was great, but I learned that I really should invest in proper vessels for this soup and that the crouton should fit the perimeter of the dish very snuggly, otherwise you will end up with the cheese on the bottom of the bowl rather than on top.

And the star of the show!!!  This year’s turkey was the best I have ever made, the most moist, delicious, juicy… ahh!!  And I did less with it than usual.  I did not brine, I did not stuff, I did nor fuss... I just compounded all the turkey advise I ever heard form the Food Network and made my own.
The best Thanksgiving ( or any day) turkey.
A few springs of each of the following fresh herbs: Rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano
1 lemon cut in half
1 whole unpeeled garlic head cut in half cross-wise
1 lb of compound butter (made ahead of time and chilled).  I make the compound butter with lots of all of the above herbs, salt and pepper.
Stuff the Turkey with all the fresh herbs, lemon and garlic halves.  Loosen some of the skin on top and place a few pats (about 1/3 of a pound)  of compound butter on each breast under the skin.  Salt and pepper the whole bird and place it on the rack of a roasting pan filled with a few cut up carrots, few stalks of celery and one onion.  Pour an inch of chicken stock or water into the bottom of the pan, cover the turkey with aluminum foil tightly and let stand for 30 min.
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Bake the turkey covered with foil, basting periodically at 350F at a rate of 15 minutes per pound.  About an hour before the turkey is done, take off the  foil and generously butter the entire bird with the rest of your compound herb  butter.  Continue roasting until the internal temperature at the thigh is 145F.  Take out the bird and cover with foil tightly.  Let stand for at least 15 min before carving.  The internal temperature will climb to the recommended 165F while the Turkey is resting. 

Hericot vert  blanched for a few minutes and then sautéed simply with olive oil, red pepper and garlic.  Topped with toasted almond flakes.


And would you believe I forgot to take a picture of the wild rice and vegetables and mashed potatoes and my pretty corn salad.
Now for the most important course.
The Chocolate Pretzel tarts came out perfectly.  Here is the recipe, but they work so much better when are made with all dark chocolate and as small shells.  This makes the ratio of crust to filling perfectly balanced.

Hazelnut butter cream profiteroles.
The profiteroles recipe I use is the same one used by my grandmother.  The hazelnut butter cream recipe came out of my new favorite baking book Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours.  I ended up mixing the butter cream with an equal amount of chocolate hazelnut spread to make more “hazel nutty”
1 cup of whole milk
1 stick of butter
1 cup all purpose flour
Pinch kosher salt
4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 425F.  In the heavy bottom pan heat the milk, salt and butter until the butte is fully melted.  Do not boil the mixture.  Dump all the flour at once and cook beating with a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes a smooth ball peeling off the sides of the pan easily  about 4 min).
Put the hot batter in the food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse 4 large eggs into the mixture.  You will now have a smooth, sticky batter, which should not be runny.
Pipe your profiteroles, puffs or éclairs onto a baking sheet covered with parchment.  Bake for 20 min at 425F and do not open the oven door.  After 20 min turn off the oven and let them stand for another 8 min.  Cool on the cooling rack and poke a hole in each one to let out the steam.

Apple strudel.
I am planning a whole post on strudels, so stay tuned.


Lemon filled raspberry tarts.
The sweet dough recipe came out of the same baking book Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours.  And the lemon filling is what I always use for my lemon tart.
Lemon Filling:
1 stick unsalted butter
1  cup sugar
4 large
3 large egg yolks
Lemon zest of 5 lemons
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Cream the butter and sugar in the electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and egg yolks one at a time until well incorporated.  Add the Zest, salt and lemon juice.  The mixture may look a bit curdled but it is normal.
Pour the mixture into a sauce pan and cook 8 to 10 minutes until thick and coats the back of the spoon.  Turn off the heat and whisk the mixture until smooth.   I like to mix in a tablespoon or so of lemon curd, but the mixture is great without it as well.  To cool, place the plastic directly on the surface of the filling before refrigerating, otherwise it will develop “skin”.  Once the mixture is cool, fill your tarts and decorate with fresh berries.

I made enough deserts to feed an army and even ended up taking some to friend's house for a little birthday surprise.

I just got tired all over again just righting about this feast.  Let's just say, I do not want to see the inside of my kitchen for a few days.  This is what the leftovers are for.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Hope I get to do it again next year!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Planning for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is almost here and I have it all planned out.  As usual my husband has halved the menu, since I do tend to overcook and over plan.  As always, I did not get enough time to test most of the baking recipes, so there may be some unforeseen disasters.  Although this year I am going with true and trusted classics.  My menu is ambitious as always, but it is the best way I know how, to say I am really thankful for all the things I have in my life.

Here is my menu, I will let you know how it turnes out after the holiday.  Let me know what you are cooking?

Cold Appetizers:

Wild Washroom tart with pecorino shavings
Goat cheese and slow roasted tomato crostinis
Greek Eggplant dip
Asian pan fried shrimp
Home backed bread with herbed compound butter
Eggs deviled with harissa ( this one will need to be re-thought, as I cannot find harissa anywhere)

Hot Appetizer:

French onion soup

Main course:

Roasted Turkey stuffed only with herbs
Mashed Potatoes
Wild rice and fall vegetables
Hericot vert sauteed with garlic and red pepper
Carrot and Ginger Salad
Simple Tomato salad
Roasted Brussel sprouts with pecans and pomegranate molasses


Chocolate pretzel tartalettes (I am worried about these, I tested this recipe last night and let's just say "it needs work")
Tartaletts filled with lemon mouse and raspberries
Apple strudel
Profiteroles filled with hazelnut butter cream

I can't wait to get started!!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Asian pan seared dumplings

Everyone knows I love to cook... I truly enjoy my time in the kitchen and it is one of few places where I am relaxed and happy ( unless I just burned something or sliced my hand... but that is another post).  However, even I have the "I hate the kitchen" kind of days.  Contrary to popular beliefs, I do get lazy sometimes.  This usually happens after I complete some kind of major cooking project.  A project where I obsess over the menu for weeks, cook for 2 days and make enough food to feed an army.  These projects are also known as any type of family gathering, birthday parties, Thanksgiving or any time I just want to create a reason to try thirty new recipes.  I am always afraid I will not have enough time to cook and eat everything I ever want to unless I do it "RIGHT NOW".  But I am regressing... back to laziness.
When occasionally I do feel like if I have to clean the stove or wash a dish one more time, I will kill someone, I go for the freezer.  There are a few things in there that are worth eating and they did not come from the supermarket's frozen isle ( not that there is anything wrong with that).
I can make a hundred of these dumplings, freeze them and any time I feel like a bum, put on dinner in 10 min.  It also helps that my daughter loves to makes these and turns them out with the speed and neatness of a factory machine.  Kids are useful after all!

For the dumplings:

1 lb of ground beef or pork ( or a combination)
1 tbs of fresh grated ginger
1 tsp of Tai fish sauce
1 tbs Soy sauce
1 tsp of Asian hot sauce
2 cloves of garlic finely minced or pasted
2 scallions diced
1 egg
Salt and Pepper to taste

1 package of frozen rice flour dumpling wrappers, thawed in refrigerator overnight.  The wrappers are sold in any Asian market in the frozen food section and come in a variety of shapes.  I prefer round ones.

2 tablespoons of toasted sesame oil
stir fry oil or any high temperature frying oil.
1/2 cup of soy sause
Ponzu sauce for serving

Prepare the filling.  Combine the ground meat, ginger, fish sauce, soy sauce, hot sauce, garlic, scallions, salt and pepper.  Mix with your hands until all ingredients are evenly combined.  Add the egg and mix until incorporated.

Prepare a baking sheet layered with wax paper.  Trace around the edge of each wrapper with a wet finger or wet pastry brush.  Fill with meat and seal by folding in half.  Firmly press on the edges to make sure they are sealed.  Place each dumpling on the wax paper in a single layer and make sure they do not touch each other, or they will stick.  You may need more than one baking sheet.
Place the filled dumplings in a freezer right on the baking sheets.  Let them freeze thoroughly before storing in a zip top bag or cooking.  It takes about 5 to 10 hrs for them to be frozen solid.
You can store these in a freezer for 1 month.
When ready to cook, bring up chicken stock or water to a boil.  In a separate skillet heat the sir fry oil.  Place the dumplings in batches of 5 or 6 in chicken stock.  Allow to cook for about 3 min ( at this moment you will find out if you did a good job sealing the wrappers, if you did not they will fall apart).  Take the dumplings out with a slotted spoon and fry them in a prepared skillet until they are nice and golden and the wrappers become crispy and begin to shrink.  In the last minute of frying add a little of the sesame oil and a splash of say sauce.  You can work in batches by keeping the fully cooked dumplings warm in a tray in a 250F oven.  Serve with scallions and Ponzu sauce for dipping ( or say sauce with a splash of lemon juice). 


Enjoy the lazy dinner!  Leftovers make a great lunch the next day!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Apple Tartalets

There are certain deserts that I have in my back-pocket, which are universally loved and easy to make.  The Apple Galletes are always a crowd pleasers, but most importantly they make good use of my frozen puff pastry.  Remember, the one that took three days to make and made me question my sanity?  If not, here is the Puff Pastry post
After all that back-breaking labor of rolling and turning dough, you need something easy and almost instantly gratifying.
An apple gallete was one of the first deserts that I made all by myself, without consulting a recipe.    I was trying to imitate a gallete I ate at a neighborhood patisserie.  Although I have been happily making these for a very long time, I never quite got the texture of the dough right when using the store bought puff pastry.   The homemade version did the trick.


2 sheets of frozen puff pastry thawed in the refrigerator overnight. 
4 or 5 Granny Smith or other tart apples
¼ cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbs of apple butter ( optional)
1 tsp of cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 tbs sugar
4 oz of butter chilled
1 egg
2 tbs of apple jelly or peach preserves.
1 tbs of water

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Roll out the dough to ¼ inch thickness and cut out the rounds for the bottom of the galletes.  I never acquired and dough cutting tools so I use two types of wine glasses for these, one slightly larger than the first.  Now cut out the gallete sides by cutting out a circle the same size as the bottom and than using a smaller shape to create the edges.  Your “edge” should be about ½ to 1 inch thick.  Set both bottoms and edges aside.

Now cut out the gallete sides by cutting out a circle the same size as the bottom and than using a smaller shape to create the edges.  Your “edge” should be about ½ to 1 inch thick.  Set both bottoms and edges aside.

Core and peel and quarter the apples.  Slice into very thin wedges and immediately toss with the lemon juice, sugar and spices.

Brush the bottom of ach gallete with a little bit of the apple butter (this is optional, but I find that it adds moisture and a little bit of extra sweetness without adding more fat).
Arrange the apple slices so they overlap and place the dough ‘edge’ on top, so that the apple edges are tucked inside the dough.
Brush the dough of the galletes with and egg-wash.  Cut the butter into small cubes and place a single cube in the center of each gallete.
Bake at 400F for the first 7 min, than reduce to oven temperature to 350F and bake additional 10 to 12 min.

Now think about what makes the pastries in the bakery window look different from anything you bake at home.  Got it?  No?  It is the pretty shine, the sticky glaze that covers all commercially produced baked goods and makes them look so good….  Here is the home version, not quite as shiny but also not as much trouble as making the real glaze.

When the galletes are almost ready, thin out the apple jelly or peach preserves with 1 tbs of water and heat in a microwave for about 20 seconds.  While the galletes are still hot, brush the glaze onto the galletes with a pastry brush.  Cool on the cooling rack and try not to eat them all at once, these are addictive!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Drunk Baked Apples

"How did the apples get drunk?” you ask... they had all the leftover desert wines I had standing around my house.  I am not a big fan of desert wine, I enjoy an occasional port, but still usually have some left over.  The fact that I don't really drink desert or fruit wines does not stop me from buying them, whenever we go on wine tasting trips.  Much to my husband's dismay, I end up buying the little (and overpriced) bottles of apple, black currant or raspberry wines with the same excuse... "If anything, I will cook with it".  And it is true, when all else fails these make great base for all kinds of desert sauces or salad dressings.

I went apple picking recently and although these year's pickings were not abundant (we went a week too late), I still had plenty of Granny Smith apples to work with. For a quick, easy and delicious desert baked apples work great.  It is just as easy to make two as it is to make twenty, which makes this desert great for entertaining company.  And you can make these in advance, just heat them up in the oven for a few minutes and drizzle with sauce before serving. 

If any are left over, they make a great snack the next day.  And for all this goodness, I figure they are a much healthier alternative to most of the backed deserts out there. 

Drunk Backed Apples

6 Granny Smith ( or any firm, tart apples).
3 tbs of honey
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup dry blueberries or cranberries or raisins
1/4 frozen black currant or any tart berries
1 tsp of cinnamon
1 tsp of dried ginger
1/2 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp of lemon zest
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups of desert or fruit wine or port or any combination of all the lefovers you may have

1 tbs of aged balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup of Grand Marnier
1 cup of sugar

Preheat the oven to 400F.
Peel just the top of the apple and core with the melon baller.  With the same melon baller, hallow out the inside of the apple, making sure the sides and the bottom do not get too thin.  Immediately after peeling and coring drizzle each apple inside and out with the lemon juice.  This will prevent browning.

In a bowl combine chopped walnuts, dried and frozen berries, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and lemon zest.
Squeeze about a 1/2 tbs of honey inside each apple, than fill with berry and nut mixture.  Press the mixture firmly inside each apple and fill all the way to the top.  It's ok if some of the filling overflows, it will just flavor the sauce.

Arrange all the filled apples in the glass baking dish and pour the wine/ port mixture over the apples.  Bake in the 400F oven for about 20 min or until the apples become somewhat tender (but not mushy).

When the apples are done, set them aside and pour all the remaining liquid into a sauce pan.  Add balsamic vinegar, Grand Marnier and sugar.  Simmer until the sauce has reduced by about half and coats the back of the spoon. 

Drizzle the sauce over the apples and serve warm or at room temperature.

Now, if that doesn't smell and taste like fall, I don't know what is!