Saturday, June 30, 2012

Eclairs, Cream Puffs and other good stuff.

I just know you ran right out to the fridge, grabbed out some eggs and butter and flour and tried to make the Choux Pastry, and now you're wondering what to do with it.   You have these wonderful little golden puffs, (and if you haven't sampled one by now, I want to know why?), and need to fill them with something good.

In our house we love Eclairs and Cream Puffs, and I make them from time to time.    One  of the things I love about Choux Paste is that you can make a batch of these little puffs, and you don't need to finish them off right away, they freeze, and freeze well.   So if you're in the mood for an Eclair or a Cream Puff, just grab a few out of the freezer and let them sit on the counter after you've prepared the fillings.  By the time you get a pastry bag filled, the puffs will have thawed enough to work with.

There are two ways of filling a Puff.   One is by cutting it in half, squirting in the whipped cream or Creme Patisserie or custard, then placing the top back on and finishing them off.   My favorite though is to get a pastry bag with a large round tip, inserting the tip into the side of the puff and filling them that way.   Much more fun, and it cuts out a step.

Filling for Choux Paste

Sweet Side
Sweetened Whipped Cream
Creme Patiserrie
Chocolate Custard
Ice Cream

 Savory Side
Chicken Salad
Ham Salad
Crab Salad
Shrimp Salad

Honestly, you are limited only by your imagination as to what you use to fill your puffs with.  
Here's my favorite filling.   But if you have your own favorite custard sauce or custard recipe, by all means use it.

 Recipe:  Creme Patisserie
2 cups milk, heated
3 egg yolks
4 tablespoons sugar
2-4 tablespoons Cornstarch  (depending on how thick you want the custard)
1/2 -1 tsp Vanilla, or my favourite, Kahlua Liqueur

Beat eggs yolks with sugar and corn starch until well mixed.   Strain them if you like at this point to get that pesky little bit of egg white that always clings to the yolk out.    Set aside for a minute or two while heating the milk.     Temper the eggs by pouring a little of the heated milk into it, then add a little more, whisking it well each time.    Then add the tempered egg mixture into the heated milk, whisking it well.   You don't want to scramble the eggs yolks by pouring them directly into the hot milk, which is why you temper the eggs with some of the hot milk first.    Heat to a boil, whisking it all the time, let cook for about 30-45 seconds, then remove from heat.   It should be fairly thick.   This will thicken some upon standing.    Pour into a bowl, then cover it with plastic wrap, pressing it down onto the surface.   This prevents a skin from forming.   At this point you can place it into the fridge and let it cool down completely, or to hasten the cooling, just put your bowl on a bed of ice, and let sit for about ten minutes or so.   Then take off the plastic wrap and stir, replacing it after you stir.  It should be cool enough to pipe into the puffs after about 20 minutes.

Then just place the tip of the filled pastry bag that you just filled with your Creme Patisserie, into the puff and squeeze, filling the puff as you are drawing out the tip.   Top with some melted chocolate if you like and set it into the fridge to finish cooling.    

To make the chocolate topping, just microwave a couple of squares of baking chocolate, til it's softened, stir in one tablespoon of unsalted butter, mix thoroughly, then use a spoon or pastry brush to add a little chocolate to the top of the puffs.  And VOILA! you have an Eclair, or just a cream filled puff.   Call it whatever you like.

And if you want this puffs to do double duty just fill them with your favorite chicken or ham or seafood salad.

Filled with some lovely Chicken Salad, each one pretty much bite size.  
Now doesn't this look like a fun appetizer or dessert?     

I'll be posting a couple more ideas you can make with Choux Paste a little later on.

For now, go and practice making some custard.  One nice thing about custard, if you don't make it exactly right you can always eat the evidence.   No one has to know, it will be between you and your scale or ...  

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Pâte à Choux

I love Pâte à Choux, and all of its iterations.   I love it filled with Creme Patisserie, gilded with some melted chocolate, I love it filled with whipped cream and dusted with confectioners sugar, I love it made the way my mom made it, when we had unexpected company for afternoon coffee.   I love it made into dumplings for soup.   I just plain love it.     That being said, I'm going to introduce you to some of my favorite ways of preparing it, over the next few postings.   For today, I'll go with the basics.     

I actually got this recipe out of the Parade Magazine back in the 1980's when Julia Child was still pretty active.   And I've been making it from her recipe ever since.     My copy of the recipe is pretty dog eared now, and I finally figured out that I could scan it and save it on my computer.   Can anyone say DUH!!!!  At least now I don't have to worry so much about it suddenly falling apart on me, now I just have to worry about computer crashes.  Sigh, as if there weren't enough stuff to worry about.   There are other recipes out there, and sometimes I make this the way my mom made it as well.   Depends upon how humid it is outside.  Really!   More humid, less eggs needed.  But for starters, Julia's recipe is a good one, and a good starting point. 

To start with, make sure you have all the items you need ready.   The French call it Mise en Place, which means everything in place.  It just makes sense, you don't want to be searching for anything once you get started.  Have your oven preheated, get out the utensils you need, measure out the ingredients you'll be using, and get them ready.   This also helps you to maybe not forget key ingredients like, oh say, salt, sugar or in my case, I once made carrot cake for a friend and put the cake in the oven and thought it looked a little skimpy and realized, I'd forgotten to put the carrots into the batter!  You've never seen anyone get a cake out of the oven faster and fold in the carrots and back into the oven than me that day.   By the way, the cake turned out great.    

Without further ado...

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.   Get out a 2 quart heavy bottom pan, a stout wooden stirring spoon and a large bowl.      Then get the ingredients together... 
Recipe:  Pâte à Choux

1 cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces 
1/2 tsp. salt  
1 cup flour, all purpose, scooped out and leveled.   
1 cup eggs,  (stirred together with a fork and measured into the cup, about 5 large eggs) 

Heat water and butter together, bring to a boil.   

Take off of heat and dump the flour in and begin to beat it together.   

It will be rather lumpy at first but keep beating vigorously.   It does come together.  Keep beating it until it forms a large ball, then place back on medium heat and keep beating it, until it stays together and leaves a thin film of dough on the bottom of the pan.   

This tells you that a lot of moisture has evaporated, and it will accept more of the egg.   Take off of the heat now. 

Add about 1/4 of the eggs to the dough and beat together.   It will look very strange at this point, cause it separates and looks rather nasty, but keep beating

 and as soon as the egg has incorporated into the dough, dribble a little more in, and work your arm vigorously again, beating the egg in.   (at this point you can use a mixer bowl and beat it in with that, but I don't like the dough as well when it is done this way, I find it softens it too much, but then again, if you can't beat the egg in by hand, use your KitchenAid, but dribble the egg in a very little bit at a time).   Add the egg, a dribble at a time, beating vigorously with each addition.    If the humidity is high, you may not need all the eggs,  but if it's dry you will.    I've been making this for many years and can tell from the feel of the dough if I need all the eggs or not.    The pastry should just hold its shape when lifted with a spoon.    

Now, you're ready to bake your cream puffs.   You can spoon them onto a lightly greased baking sheet or parchment covered baking sheet.   My personal preference is for Parchment paper, but then again, it's up to you.   
Form small balls, and space them about 1 inch apart on the baking sheet.  

 (Sometimes I pipe the pastry onto the sheet, filling a ziploc bag with the dough, and cutting a hole in one corner of the bag).   Using a damp finger smooth out the tops of the puffs, and brush with an egg wash if desired.   Sometimes I do this, and sometimes not.   

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden and puffed.   DO NOT OPEN OVEN TO CHECK THE PROGRESS, THEY WILL FALL!   Check after 20 minutes, and if they are nice and golden brown, then pierce the side of the puff with a knife and place back in the oven.    

Oh yeah, turn off the oven, before you put them back in.   This allows the steam to escape and helps them to dry out a little.    

And there you have it, wonderful little puffs of golden deliciousness, ready to be filled with either savory or sweet fillings.   

Have fun with your baking, if it doesn't turn out this time, it might next time, but try to enjoy the process.  It really is fun.     

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pate au Choux and Tapa's Night for June

I'm behind, behind I say, well, real life kinda got in the way this weekend. Tropical Storms tend to do that, your regular life gets put on hold while you take care of stuff that needs taking care of. Like, oh, putting stuff away so it doesn't float out to sea, or finding leaks where there should not have been any or gee, just sitting and watching an angry sea eat away at the land. But the day before the storm hit we had lovely weather and had a bunch of people in for our monthly Tapa's night.   And as always way too much good food.

So, here's an overview of the dishes that were served.
I  will be sharing the recipe for the Squash Casserole later in the year, this was so good and would be ideal for a cooler weather dish.    And I will also be posting the recipe for the Choux Paste as well.   But in the meantime, go ahead and drool over these dishes, I won't tell.  
Dip with Crackers

Corn relish

Cheese plate with Havarti, Bleu and Brie Cheese

Cream Puffs with Creme Patisserie filling and Chocolate Topping

Pate au choux with Chicken Salad
Choux Paste with Chicken Salad filling

Deviled Eggs, Pickled Herring and Rye Bread

Stuffed Mushrooms

Chicken and Sauce

Shrimp Alfredo

Cheese and Crackers


Corn Dip





Squash Casserole

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Corn Dog Muffins

Corn dogs rule!  Well sometimes they do.   And if you're like me, you don't want to fiddle around with all that hot oil, or want fried food, so here's an idea.   Corn Dog Muffins.  

Yup, itsy bitsy corn dogs baked in a mini muffin tin.    And they are good.   I'm not too sure how I found this recipe the other day, I was playing around with Google again, well actually Ixquick, and ran across this site, Weelicious  with the recipe for these little charmers.   So I did what I usually do, saved the link and thought "Gee, I'll have to remember that, it would be a great dish to take to a Potluck".   And wouldn't you know it, I got an invite to a friend's place for an impromptu appetizer get together.   And then I got excited, I realized I had all the ingredients to make these in my cupboard.  Oh does anyone say that anymore?  "In my cupboard", I think the new term for this is pantry.

I had some hot dogs in the freezer, I had corn meal, no buttermilk, but I know how to fudge that one.  So I made them.    And being a cook, I had to tweak a little, so here's my recipe.

Recipe: Corn Dog Muffins    Heat oven to 425 degrees

1 cup White Cornmeal
1 cup Yellow Cornmeal
1/2 cup Flour
1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Honey
1 1/2 Cups Buttermilk   (I used  1 cup milk and 1/2 cup Sour Cream)
2 Large Eggs
1/4 Cup Vegetable Oil
3-4 Hot Dogs, cut into 1/2 inch  coins

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl, set aside.   In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients.    *If making your own substitute for Buttermilk, like I did, mix the milk and sour cream together and let sit at room temperature for a little while, the milk will thicken and you'll get more of the buttermilk tang.  
Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and thoroughly combine with a whisk.

Place a teaspoon of batter into the greased mini muffin tins, you just want a little layer of batter here.  Then put the hot dog 'coin' into the batter and top with another teaspoon of batter.   (I got too much batter and not enough hot dog in each of these little guys, but they were still tasty, please learn from my experience, now back to the recipe).  
Bake for about 15 minutes and serve.

 Make sure you've got lots of mustard and ketchup and then stand back while you watch everyone indulge.   giggle      This recipe actually made about 30 mini bites, but I only had three hot dogs so, next time I'm going to go for broke and cut up four of them, or more.

***Wanted to add this, I made these for the Boat Club potluck in August, and added a half cup of sour cream to the mix, as well as using buttermilk, and I think it was much better, moist and flavourful.

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Squash Medley and other good stuff

Do you have any idea how hard it is to come up with catchy titles?  Well, it is.   I want to catch your interest, hopefully hold it long enough to read what I've written and look at my pictures.   But then again, I do this blog for me, and if someone else likes it, well, I'm happy with that.

Now, it may be early days for me to say this, but I think we're getting a little more organized with our cooking.   Robin and I do work well together, and come up with what we hope are interesting, good tasting menu's for the Thursday Lunch.    We're learning a lot along the way, well, I'm learning a lot, from her,  and from our great volunteers.   

I love this dish, so much so I've introduced it to the Seniors as one of the dishes I make from the bounty of squash we're given as part of Farmshare.  I've made it a few times, and each time it is eaten and appreciated.   (this week I actually got a taste of it, giggle, it's usually gone by the time lunch is over).    One of the best things about this recipe is the fact you can make it with whatever variety of summer squash you have available.  This week we had a bunch of yellow crookneck squash given to us, and even though they were a little 'tired', we still were able to use them.   So, since I scored on a good deal for mushrooms, and we had some lovely onions, I decided to go ahead and make what I call Squash Medley.   I usually like a mixture of zucchini and yellow squash for this, but if you only have one kind, go ahead and make it.   Here's the quantity I made this week, but you can cut it down very easily.   And I'll tell you how much of each at the end of the big recipe.Squash Medley
Recipe:  Squash Medley for a crowd
20 small Yellow Crookneck squash, cut into small strips.    I like to julienne them, as I think it looks better, and they cook fast that way.
2 lbs. Fresh Mushrooms, cut into slices
6 Sweet Onions, cut into strips.
Olive Oil for sauteeing the vegetables.
4-6 teaspoons Toasted Sesame Seed Oil (add at the end)
Saute the mushrooms in about a teaspoon of olive oil, just til they are cooked, no need to brown them, put aside.
Saute the onions in a little olive oil, just until they are done, and are translucent.   Set aside with the mushrooms. Add  a little more oil, and then start to saute the squash, in small batches, you don't need to over crowd the pan, you want them to be sauteed, not fried.   As each pan is finished add it to the mushrooms and onions.   When all the squash is sauteed, then toss them with the onions and mushrooms.   To finish it off, drizzle the sesame seed oil over the entire dish and toss gently again.  Serve right away.   This is also great mixed with some cooked linguine or pasta.
*Now for the home cook.   This is so easy, just saute 8 oz. mushrooms, 1 onion, one each, zucchini (the small ones), and yellow crookneck squash. Then, drizzle with a half teaspoon toasted sesame seed oil, or to taste, and if you like, mix in some cooked pasta at the end.   And Voila!  you have a wonderful side dish or main dish even.   I've added chicken strips to this dish as well.   And if you notice, no seasonings other than the Sesame Seed Oil, you don't need salt for this.  So it's also great for anyone watching their salt intake.
Now for the rest of the dishes we served.   We had Mojo Pork,which is pork marinated in  a Mojo Criollo sauce, served that with Yellow Rice and Black Beans.
We also had our Cabbage, Smoked Sausage and Potato boil.   We still haven't figured out what to call it, but it is so good. Sausage, Cabbage and Kielbasa Boil
I made some Glazed Carrots, Image
and I can't forget Dot's Deviled Eggs,  I finally got to taste one this week, they're usually gone by the time I get my lunch.
 and fresh sliced tomatoes out of our little garden.    And of course Biscuits with our own Home Made Butter.     Plus the desserts.  Which I neglected to get a picture of.
So, there you have it, one more week of great food served to people who deserve the best we can offer.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Spinach Maria and Boat Club for June

I am so thankful for being able to attend our monthly potlucks at Boat Club, it means I get to try lots of new dishes and if I'm lucky I get recipes as well.  The best of both worlds.    And last night was no exception.
We had everything from ham to salad to desserts.    We really do have the best cooks here.  I say that every month, but it's true.
And I have to admit to taking the easy way out this time.   I made my Blooming Onion bread and a Black Olive Tapenade, mainly cause I had the ingredients to hand and they were easy to make, and I wasn't feeling inspired.  I did change up the Blooming Onion Bread a little, mainly cause I had some cheddar cheese and some Pepper Jack cheese that I'd already sliced and that were in the freezer.    And of course I always have at least one can of Black Olives on hand so I can make a quick Tapenade.  I used some Ciabatta rolls I had in the freezer for the Tapenade, and that worked well also.
Here are the dishes we had last night and I'm following that with the recipe for the Spinach Maria, which was OMG good.

Blooming Onion Bread
Blooming Onion Bread

Black Olive Tapenade
Tapenade with Ciabatta Roll slices

Spicy Asian White Bean Dip


Fresh Sliced Cucumbers

Spinach Maria

Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno's

Fresh carrots and tomatoes


More Dessert

Creamsicle Cookies

And here's the recipe for the Spinach Maria.   Shamelessly copied from this blog Nibble Me This  which has some really yummy looking recipes and stunning photography.     Usually served in little ramekins at Calhoun's restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee.  

Calhoun's Spinach Maria

5 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach
4 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 3/4 teaspoons crushed red pepper
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter
5 tablespoons melted butter
6 tablespoons flour
8 ounces Velveeta cheese
8 ounces cheddar cheese
4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese
1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese (for topping)
Thaw spinach in refrigerator for 24 hours. Squeeze as much excess water as possible out of spinach. Heat milk and spices in 4-quart saucepan on medium heat to just below a boil (190 degrees). Then reduce heat and simmer. Saute chopped onion in 1 tablespoon butter on medium heat for 5-8 minutes. Add to saucepan. Combine 5 tablespoons melted butter with flour in a small suate pan. (This is the first step of making a roux, which will thicken the sauce.) Mix until completely blended. Cook on low heat 3-4 minutes to make roux. Add roux to milk in saucepan and mix well. Continue to cook until sauce thickens.
Cut Velveeta, cheddar and Jack cheese into small cubes and add to saucepan. Continue to mix until all the cheese is completely melted and blended into sauce. Be careful not to burn the sauce while cheese is melted. Remove from heat. Allow to cool for 15 minutes.
Add drained spinach to cheese sauce, mix until completely blended. Spoon into 11-by-9-by-2-inch casserole dish and top with grated Monterey Jack cheese. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

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