Friday, February 19, 2010

Valentine's Day Dinner

A couple of weeks ago, I had a last minute opportunity to attend the US Bocuse d'Or final at The Culinary Institute of America. Twelve teams fought to be the US representative at the main Bocuse d'Or competition in Lyon, France January 2011.

Chef Thomas Keller, is the President of the US Bocuse d'Or organization and while there I was able to get him to sign my copy of The French Laundry cookbook! (Awesome!)

Anyway.... Part of my Valentine menu was inspired by a recipe in that book and the beef broth I made, *did* come from his instructions and it took all stinking day to make. That's okay though. The flavor of that stock was A-MAZING!!!

Competition floor

Chef Daniel Boulud introducting some of the judges

One of the presentation trays as it passes the judges -- (thank you zoom lens for having the capability to get these shots from my seat in the bleachers!)

At church, we can sign up to feed the missionaries who are serving full-time. Right now, we have the cutest, SWEETEST Sister Missionaries that I just love so when I saw that they didn't have plans on the calendar for Valentine's Day (except church), I put my name down and got to scheming. I like to make food they normally don't get every day and for this holiday, I wanted to make it extra special and extra delicious!

Dinner was served in 3 courses -

{Course #1}
Sweetheart Salad w/ Goat Cheese Croquette & Sweet Potato w/ Rosemary Rolls
I made my roll dough like normal but before adding the flour and salt, I stirred in 1 cup mashed sweet potatoes and 1 Tbsp rosemary. A little extra flour is necessary due to the moistness of the sweet potatoes, but if you gauge it by how the dough pulls together, you'll have just the right amount. I loved how savory these were. Delicious.

The salad was in a parmesan bowl that I made, but I didn't keep them in the oven long enough and they flattened out. They were so delicious with this salad! What I did was use my silpat and sprinkled two semi large circles on the mat (on a cookie sheet) and popped into a 400* oven. Let it melt until nice and golden brown. Remove and let sit for a few minutes so the cheese is cool enough to handle. Slowly pull the cheese up and off the Silpat and place over an upside down bowl. Allow the cheese to cool and harden completely.

My "sweetheart" salad had mini hearts cut out of a red bell pepper, I did a zigzag cut around radishes and when pulled apart, they look like little flowers, I curled green onion sprigs by slicing the chive part and then popping in a bowl of ice water for 30 minutes. Grated carrots, sliced cucumbers, and topped with a goat cheese croquette.

To make the croquette, I cut semi-thick slices off a goat cheese log. Dipped each slice in egg wash (1 egg white + 1 Tbsp water) and then into a bowl of crushed Panko breadcrumbs.
Place all the pieces on a plate and put in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes. Heat a little oil in a small saucepan and carefully put each croquette in to fry. When golden brown on both sides, remove and sit on a paper towel to drain. Put on top of the salad. This ooey, gooey warm bit of goodness is pure heaven!

{Course 2}
Parmesan Polenta Cake, Pan-seared Pork Tenderloin, & Root Vegetable Garnish
Polenta: Bring 2 cups water and 1/2 tsp salt to boil in a saucepan. Add 3/4 cup polenta and cook until thick. Add 1 Tbsp butter and a small handful of fresh grated parmesan cheese. Taste. Season with more salt and pepper if necessary. Dump out into a 9x13 pan and refrigerate. This can be made a day before hand to cut down prep time. I used a circle cutter to cut out all the cakes. This made 12 rounds. When ready to plate, heat a skillet. Melt butter and carefully place a cake for each person in the pan. Fry until both sides are golden.
Tenderloin: This part was the easiest. Cut thick slices of tenderloin. Season well with salt, pepper, and thyme (fresh is best). Heat a skillet over medium high heat. When hot, drizzle in some olive oil and carefully place each medallion in the pan. Sear for 3-4 minutes on each side. Pop into a 350* oven until the centers are no longer squishy, but still spongy. We don't want to overcook the pork!
Root Vegetable Garnish: Peel and slice celery root into batons (rectangles). Slice those little snack size carrots into quarters. Slice a beet and then cut into very very fine dice (small squares). Take 3 cloves garlic and crush with the side of your knife. Remove the dry skin.
Heat three saucepans up with water. If you don't have three, then just use one and alternate your cooking. Put the carrot and celery root in a small pot of boiling water. Cook until just slightly fork tender (do not overcook!). Strain and put the veggies into ice water immediately to stop them from cooking any further. Drain and set aside.
Boil some more water. This time, add the beet and repeat the same method as above. You want to cook the beet separately because it will bleed color everywhere and you don't want to change the color of the other vegetables.
Finally, we're going to do the exact same thing with the garlic! Boil in water until fork tender, drain, shock with ice bath, drain and set aside.
When you're ready to plate your food, put the veggies in a little saute pan to heat back up with 1 Tbsp butter. Season with salt and pepper. I think some chopped italian parsley would have been perfect for some color. I had used up the last of my parsley to make my beef stock so I wasn't able to do this.
Savory beef sauce: Heat olive oil in a skillet. Saute chopped carrot (2), 1/2 an onion, diced, 2 stalks celery, and 1 bay leaf. When the veggies are cooked through, remove from the pan. Add 1 Tbsp butter and move around the bottom of the pan. When melted, add 1 cup red wine and 3 cups beef stock. Cook over medium high heat until the sauce has reduced by half and is starting to thicken. If it doesn't thicken, stir a little beef stock and a tsp or two of cornstarch in a small bowl. Whisk until there aren't any more lumps and then carefully add to the sauce. Stir well. Once thick (not too thick!), drain through a mesh sieve to remove any particles.
When you're ready to plate, put one of the polenta cakes in the center of the plate. Carefully stack two pieces of tenderloin on top. Spoon the vegetable garnish on top, and then drizzle with the beef sauce. Be prepared for pure silence at the dinner table. Everyone will be too busy enjoying every bite of this dish! :)
{Course 3}
Bittersweet Chocolate Charlotte
I'd been eyeing this recipe for awhile and decided it would be perfect for this dinner. What says "I love you" better than chocolate? Come on now.
To improve on the recipe, I made my own chocolate lady fingers. I have to say, WAY better than store bought but with all the eggs you need to make both the Charlotte and Lady fingers, I say buy them if you can find them. (I used over a DOZEN eggs!)
I love individual desserts for special dinners so I lined the inside of my ramekins with a parchment circle on the bottom (for easy releasing) and put lady fingers around the edge. I cut my lady fingers in half so they were flush with the top of the ramekin. Once you have sides covered, spoon in some of the chocolate mousse. Top the mousse with more lady fingers and press slightly to make sure there aren't any air holes. Cover with saran and chill overnight.
When ready to plate, I simply ran a small knife around the inside of the ramekin to unstick any lady fingers then sat a plate on top. Flip them over so the Charlotte pops out (might require some shaking of the ramekin). Pull up the parchment circle if it's still attached to the Charlotte.
I piped on some whipped cream (use fresh whipped if you can. Aerosol whipped cream will melt and deflate all over and will be a huge huge mess), drizzled with a little ganache I had in my fridge, and garnished with a white chocolate heart I made the night before.
The perfect ending to a perfect night! I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine's day. When you're looking for a showstopping meal for your loved one, or if you just want to impress the pants off your guests/family, I definitely suggest this meal! You'll be the talk of the town!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

New Beginnings Cake!

Last week, I got a private message from a friend at church bending my ear about the Young Women New Beginnings program that was on Sunday. They were looking for a dessert that would incorporate all of the value colors (there are 8 of them) and be a complete "showstopper" (their word, not mine). I thought about it for a minute and remembered there was a rainbow layered cake I'd been DYING to try! So I pulled up the recipe and had it made within the next few hours.

To simplify the steps, I bought 8" aluminum cake pans that I sprayed with Pam and lined the bottom with parchment circles. My oven has three racks so I was able to bake them all at the same time which was very convenient. I recommend spending $5.00 on the pans because it's worth saving your sanity and you can just toss them in the trash when you're done! Easy!

I made the frosting she has on her blog but it didn't make a ton, so I only used it as filling between each layer, then made a regular buttercream (using shortening/powdered sugar/butter extract/vanilla) to coat the whole cake. Rolled out fondant and put that on too because my big idea was to put girls all around the perimeter of the cake, each representing a value.

My original idea was to paint these little girls directly to the cake, but since I've never actually painted on a cake, I thought it's better to be safe than sorry so I mixed some fondant with gum paste and rolled out a small ball and painted on that, then cut around each girl and allow to harden on the counter. Then I used some frosting in a piping bag to glue them to the side of the cake.
All-in-all, the cake was a huge success. The girls loved it. The leaders loved it. The flavor was really delicious -- thanks to that whipped buttercream that calls for FOUR sticks of butter. WOW. I loved the rainbow layers and will definitely make this cake again!

Monday, February 8, 2010

.curried carrot soup.

Back in November, my mom and sister were here from Seattle. Their visit coincided with a cooking class I was having here at the house. The topic for the class was "Soups, Stews, and Sauces". Nothing fancy, mind you, but I wanted to teach the ladies how to make a proper roux which is the root knowledge for making things like clam chowder, gravy, and alfredo!

I always try to offer a vegetarian dish too because I usually have a couple non-meat-eaters in the group. So I made a roasted carrot soup and added a dash of curry to it for a middle eastern taste and it was delicious! So delicious, that I decided to make it again for a church function yesterday.
**Note: Not only is this soup delicious and meat-free, it's VEGAN!

1. Begin by making vegetable broth. In a small soup pot, put water, carrots, celery, bay leaf, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat. Leave uncovered so the liquid can reduce. After it simmers on the cooktop for 1 hour, strain and reserve the liquid.

This stock can be made ahead of time and held in the fridge, or even put in the freezer!

2. Peel about 10 carrots and cutting them into 2-3 pieces. I use only organic carrots when I make this soup, but I can only imagine how delicious it would be with carrots grown from your own garden. I'm sure it would be so sweet!

3. Put the carrots on a baking sheet and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Pop carrots into a 350* oven and roast until they're fork tender (approximately 30 minutes). emove from the oven and put into a blender with 1 can coconut milk, 1/2 tsp curry powder and 1 tsp ground coriander seed toasted.

4. To toast the coriander seed, spoon into a small saute pan and put over medium high heat. Swirl the pan around so the seeds don't burn. The heat will draw out the oil and fragrance from the coriander and it smells slightly lemony. Remove from the pan after toasting 2 minutes and put in a spice grinder and pulse until fine.

5. I pulsed the blender for a minute, but found it too thick to really puree adequately, so I spooned in ladles full of the vegetable broth to thin it down. Once you get the desired consistency, taste and re-season with salt and pepper.

Serve hot or cold. I topped each bowl with some pine nuts and chopped cilantro.

Makes 6-8 servings

Monday, February 1, 2010

.almondine sugar cookies.

I'm constantly getting email asking about my sugar cookie recipe. I've always been hesitant to share because I sell the cookies online, but I've decided to pull it out from hiding and let you in on my sweet little secret.

There are a couple key things you need to do to make the perfect sugar cookie.

  1. Do not overbake. When the cookies start lightly browning around the edges, remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack immediately to keep them from baking any more.
  2. CHILL YOUR DOUGH!!!! This is probably the most important thing to remember so that your cookie holds it's shape. It will also keep you from having to use too much flour while rolling the dough out, leaving you with a "too-much-flour" taste in your mouth. I usually make my dough the day before I need it and let it chill overnight.

So those are my two tips... on to the recipe!

Suzanne's Almondine Sugar Cookies

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup vegetable shortening (Crisco)
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp milk
6 cups all-purpose flour

  • Cream the butter and shortening in a mixing bowl until smooth.
  • Add the sugar and cream until fluffy.
  • Add one egg at a time, beating between each addition.
  • Add the baking powder, extract, salt and milk all at once. Mix well.
  • Add the flour, one cup at a time. You don't need any more flour than this. Too much flour, and your dough will be too tough. Too little, and your dough will be too sticky. So unless you live in a strange place, this is all you need. I've made these cookies in very humid conditions (southeast Georgia) and very dry conditions and have never had to alter my recipe.
  • Chill overnight.
  • When rolling out your dough, do not roll too thinly. Use as little flour as possible when rolling.
  • Do not overcrowd your cookie sheet. Give these cookies room to expand a little without fear of bumping into a neighbor.
  • Preheat your oven to 375*. Make sure it's been heated through (about 30 minutes).
  • Make sure you rotate your cookie sheets when they're in the oven. Swap to a different shelf so you get even baking. I've even tried baking these on convection and have had uneven baking, so keep a watchful eye on these babies.
  • Cookies will be done baking between 7-10 minutes. Pull from the oven just when the edge start looking slightly brown. Don't be afraid if they look too blond. That means they'll be perfectly soft!
  • Allow to cool completely on a cooling rack. Can be held in an air-tight container for 3-4 days (unfrosted), and up to 3 months in the freezer.
  • Frost. I use a buttercream frosting vs. royal icing. Use whichever you prefer.

Buttercream frosting

1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
6 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp lemon extract
1 tsp butter extract
4-5 Tbsp half and half or cream (cream is preferred)

Cream butter and shortening until smooth. Add the extracts, mix. Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, alternating with cream until it pulls together. If the frosting is too thick, add more cream. Tint with coloring paste and use a spatula or piping bag to decorate your cookies.