Thursday, December 31, 2009

My New Year's Eve with RICK BAYLESS

On my New Year's Eve date, I am the one who is infatuated and he is the one who probably can't even remember meeting me. OK, truth: I had the enviable opportunity to spend a New Year's Eve meal at Frontera Grill (one of three incredible restaurants belonging to Master Chef Rick Bayless) in Chicago, while visiting my husband's generous parents.
It was a pre fixe meal and my in-laws were a little concerned that it might mean a "less than" experience (flavor-wise) and one of those rushed "get you in, get you out" evenings. We arrived to energetic music being played by Mariachi Guadalajara who according to Chef Bayless have been playing their New Year's celebrations for 20 years!

We were seated right away by an attentive, informed and lovely server who also gave us all the trimmings for celebration: tiara, horns and streamers. The whole restaurant had that feeling of being surrounded by strangers who were merely "friends we haven't met yet."

Then the food parade began - at least 6 appetizers without a loser among them. We ate Lamb Chorizo Enchilada, Black Cod Cocktail with Plaintain chip, Delicata Squash Soup w/Lobster and Shrimp, Fresh Guacamole, and Porcini Empanadas.

The entree was the one portion of the meal left to our choosing, but it wasn't a choice from just 2 things that felt like "leftovers from this week's CSA box". There were about 6-8 choices that included Shrimp with lime, Flank Steak, Chile Relleno, Rubbed Duck with Mole, Salmon; more than I can even remember (did I mention how great the Ginger Mojitos were?) There were 5 of us at the table and we all chose completely different meals and, of course, tasted each other's dishes. Again, not a bad one in the ranks. When does that happen?

I had left messages on Twitter to @Rick_Bayless for weeks about visiting Chicago, and he (or someone close to him) even answered me on occasion. This afternoon, just for fun, I left a twitter message to his site - "We have rezzies for 5 ppl tonight at 6:15 at Frontera, will I see you there?" No more than a couple hours later HE answered with "YES." So, I took him up on it and between courses asked one of the beautiful hostesses about Chef Bayless having time to meet and greet.

A picture is worth a thousand words: Can ya tell I'm happy?
Is there a sweeter Chef? And speaking of sweet; the dessert was no less impressive. There were THREE different and delicious servings PER person.
I want to thank Chef Rick Bayless (for allowing me to swoon over him and his talents), Chef Richard for setting up such an amazing selection, and the very talented cooks and staff at Frontera Grill. I don't usually do "reviews" of restaurants, just raves and recommendations and I absolutely suggest you travel, reserve and plan on a visit to this place. Tell my pal, Rick Bayless, that Cathy at ShowFoodChef sent you and give him a hug from me. He'll know who I am. :D

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Gingerbread is in the HOUSE! (Daring Bakers Dec. 2009)

I almost didn't do this month's Daring Baker's Challenge: 1) It was December, the busiest month of the year for almost everyone. 2) It was December, the busiest month of the year for ME. 3) It was a Gingerbread House.

I had never made a Gingerbread House and it seemed a little much to fit-in while prepping my own real-life house for guests, Christmas and several wonderful, but huge catering gigs. I'm so completely happy that I gave it a go because I now have a NEW TRADITION; It was that easy and FUN!!
The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes. There are so many recipes for gingerbread and it's success seems to depend on humidity and handling. In this post I'll include the links that were really helpful; given by our hosts. I'll also include the recipe that I used and I have to say was remarkably easy, moist, problem-free and I highly recommend it. It comes from Allison at SOMEONE'S IN THE KITCHEN. A big thank you to her for being so generous in sharing her family's traditional Gingerbread. The MOST wonderful thing about my Gingerbread Day was having my daughter spend time with me and create her own incredible Mid-Century version. We laughed, we ate, we laughed and we ate...and we turned out a couple of real beauties (in our own humble opinions.) I loved the little touch of the doggy and the yellow snow; she cracks me up. Here'a another link that I found really cool. It's a short video about a Gingerbread House of the Smithsonian Castle. Smithsonian Castle Gingerbread House

Here are the recipes, directions and links for a great time making your Gingerbread House. Anna's Notes: If you don't have an awful lot of time, the doughs can easily be frozen and then thawed when you are ready to roll it. The baked pieces can also be tightly wrapped in plastic and frozen for assembly later.

Anna's Recipe: Spicy Gingerbread Dough (from Good Housekeeping)

Y's Notes: I found this slideshow very helpful:

Y's Recipe:
Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)
from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas

Allison's recipe and info: "The recipe that I use is a tried and true recipe that my mother and I have made for many years. Keep in mind that this recipe makes enough dough for 4 or 5 houses using the template that will be posted on my blog during the reveal. If you don't want that many houses, you can always make cookies for decorating too. I've made this dough and kept it in the fridge for weeks before working with it and had no problems."

Gingerbread House Recipe

Recipe By :Sullivan County Extension Homemakers Club

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
7 Cups Sifted All Purpose Flour -- 7-8 cups
1 Teaspoon Soda
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Nutmeg
3 Teaspoons Ginger
1 Cup Shortening
1 Cup Sugar
1 1/2 Cups Unsulphered Molasses
2 Each Eggs
1 Cup Additional Flour -- 1-2 cups
Royal Icing:
3 Each Eggs Whites -- room temp
4 Cups Confectioner's Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Cream of Tarter

Sift together first 5 ingredients. Blend together molasses, shortening, sugar and eggs. Stir dry ingredients into molasses mixture. Add enough of the additional flour to make a dough stiff enough to be shaped into a disc. Refrigerate overnight for easier handling. Can be frozen.

Will make 4-5 small gingerbread house using this pattern.

Roll to about 1/4" thickness on a floured cookie sheet. Trace the house pattern pieces onto typing paper and cut out. Arrange pattern pieces on cookie dough and carefully cut around each pattern being certain to allow 1/2" space between pieces to allow the dough to expand as it bakes.

Cut the dough with a sharp paring knife or the edge of a metal pancake turner. Be certain the walls and roof are the same size as the patterns. Remove scraps leaving house pieces on the cookie sheet. Do not attempt to shift pieces once they have been cut out. This will stretch the dough and distort the shape. Bake at 350 12-15 mins.

Carefully loosen then remove each piece with a metal pancake turner. Cool on a wire rack. When the walls are completely cooled, place a sheet of aluminum foil on the cookie sheet shiney side up. Arrange the walls on the foil. With a hammer, pulverize a few pieces of hard clear candy in a plastic bag. Spoon some of the crushed candy into each window. Return the cookie sheet to the oven and bake a few mins in order to melt the candy. Watch carefully, the candy melts quickly. Remove pieces from the cookie sheet and cool on a rack. When completely cooled (don't rush this cooling step) peel the foil from the backs of each wall. The foil will peel easily from the window if it has cooled sufficiently.

Assemble using Royal Icing as "glue". Glue the walls together first. When icing has hardened (about 15 mins) then glue on the roof. Glue on the chimney and door. When icing has hardened you may begin decorating the house with additional icing and candy.

Suggested candies: cinnamon red hots, starlight peppermints, candy canes, gum drops, miniature marshmallows, M&M's, sweettarts, silver dragees.

Make a larger house by increasing the size of the pattern pieces. As you assemble a larger house, stuff a small string of miniature Christmas lights inside the house with the cord sticking out. Your gingerbread house can glow with the lights are plugged in. Make a gingerbread house for your pet. Use yellow, pink, or orange hard clear candies for the windows.

Royal Icing: Purchase Wilton Meringue Powder where cake decorating supplies are sold and follow the recipe on the can for Royal Icing. Or, use the scratch recipe above. Do NOT use a shortening based frosting. When making Royal Icing, it is essential that all mixing utensiils are grease free. The slightest bit of oil or grease will case the Royal Icing to break down. Royal Icing dries quickly so keep the bowl covered with a damp cloth at all times. Can be refrigerated.

Beat all icing ingredients at high speed for 7-10 mins. Add more sugar for a stiffer consistency if necessary. Makes 2-1/2 cups.


I'd love to hear about other ideas for decor and design. Hope you all had amazing Holidays!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Gotcha Covered: Pork/Turkey/Wild Mushroom in Thyme Pastry - Daring Cooks December

Whether your family is you and your room-mate OR enough kids to make up your own sports team, this Pork/Turkey/Wild Mushroom en croute (wrapped in pastry) is a great GO-TO dish. It's very economical, it looks far more difficult that it actually is, the thyme-encrusted pastry covering gives you moist slices and it freezes well. Quick, go pull out the ingredients; I'll wait.

The 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking. Simone chose Salmon en Croute (or alternative recipes for Beef Wellington or Vegetable en Croute) from Good Food Online.

The mandatory part of this challenge was cooking something inside of pastry. Well, no one has to twist my arm to cover ANY food in a golden, butter dotted, flaky pastry shell.
There has been so much rain here in California that my usual trip to the Farmer's Market (where I could buy a great piece of fresh Salmon) was postponed. I decided to add to my challenge by using ingredients that I already had in the house; Ground Turkey, Ground Pork, a few Wild Mushrooms from last Farmer's Market, and some onions were really the foundation.

Then, since I'm always developing party fare for my Artisanal Catering biz; I also turned this recipe into some very popular tiny pies for appetizers. The meat is cooked and once it's covered in pastry I just put those bad boys in the freezer. I brought them to a Holiday Party last night and they were gone before I got back with a pair of tongs for serving them.
The basic directions after cooking the meat filling (Recipe below), and chilling the Short Crust Pastry (recipe below) is:

1) Roll out 1/2 of the pastry to a long rectangle approx. 12x6 inches
2) Roll out the second half of the pastry to a long rectangle approx. 13x7 inches
3) Mound the meat filling on the 12x6 inch pastry, leaving about 1 1/2 inches around the edges
4) Cover the filling with the larger rectangle pastry and trim with shears or a knife to just inside the edges.

5) Roll the edges over and crimp with a fork.
6 Use the scraps to cut our decorations to your liking
7) Prick the pastry shell all over with a fork, and brush with a mixture of 1 egg beaten with 1 Tbls. water.
8) Bake in the oven at 350F for 40 minutes (turning pan once for even browning)
9) Let cool for 5 minutes before cutting slices.

Turkey/Pork/Wild Mushroom en Croute
(Short Crust pastry; see below)

1/2 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground turkey
8 oz. mixed Wild Mushrooms (wood ears work well, baby bells, etc.)
1 small onion chopped
2 clove garlic minced
2 Tbls. Soy Sauce
1 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
1 1/2 cups shredded Emmental Cheese/ Gruyere/ or other mild cheese
1 egg
2 Tbls. olive oil

In a large skillet, cook the onions and garlic on low until they are tender. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes. Remove these from the skillet and hold. In the same pan, cook the pork on Med/High until browned and crumbled. Add the turkey and continue cooking for about 3-4 minutes. Drain the meats and add them to the onion/garlic/mushroom mixture in the skillet, again. Also add the Soy Sauce, Red Pepper flakes, the egg and cheese. Stir to combine and taste for seasoning. Let cool before using in the pastry.

Shortcrust pastry
450 gr (15.8 ounces or 3.2 cups ) of plain all purpose flour
200 gr ( 7 ounce) cold butter

(ADDITION - 1 Tbls. Fresh Thyme leaves)
pinch of salt

Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Stir in the salt, (and thyme) then add 2-3 tbsp of water and mix to a firm dough. Knead the dough briefly and gently on a floured surface. Wrap in cling film and chill while preparing the filling or for about 1 hour.

For best results make sure the butter is very cold.

ALSO for your enjoyment; I'm including the generous recipe for the Salmon that we could use on Daring Cooks this month. If you enjoy cooking and experimenting with culinaria; think about joining the Daring Kitchens. It keeps your skills growing and you meet a lot of fabulous folks online who like having fun and challenging themselves in the kitchen.

Salmon en croute:
Mascarpone or creamcheese 5.2 ounces/150 gr
Watercress, rocket (arugula) and spinach - 0.6 cup/4.2 ounces/120 gr
Shortcrust pastry - 17.6 ounces, 500 gr. Use a butterversion such as Jus-rol which is frozen or dorset pastry. or... make your own!
Salmon fillet (skinless)- 17.6 ounce/500 gr
egg - 1 medium sized

1.Heat the oven to 200°C/390 F. Put the mascarpone or cream cheese in a food processor with the watercress, spinach and rocket and whizz the lot until you have a creamy green puree. Season well.
2. Roll the pastry out so you can wrap the salmon in it completely (approx. 2-3 mm thick) and lay it on a buttered or oiled baking sheet (it will hang over the edges). Put the salmon in the middle. If it has a thinner tail end, tuck it under. Spoon half of the watercress mixture onto the salmon. Now fold the pastry over into a neat parcel (the join will be at the top, so trim the edge neatly), making sure you don’t have any thick lumps of pastry as these won’t cook through properly. Trim off any excess as you need to. Make 3 neat cuts in the pastry to allow steam to escape and make some decorations with the off-cuts to disguise the join if you like. Brush with the egg glaze.
3. Bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and browned. To test wether the salmon is cooked, push a sharp knife through one of the cuts into the flesh, wait for 3 seconds then test it against the inside of your wrist; if it is hot, the salmon is cooked. Serve with the rest of the watercress puree as a sauce.

Some video tutorials to watch:
Rolling out pastry

Making shortcrust pastry

Making salmon en croute

Also check out the website of BBC Good Food as it has tons of information and other video tutorials as well

Friday, December 4, 2009

Left-Over Left-Overs for #LetsLunch

Let me tell you what I did with my left-over Turkey and fixin's from Thanksgiving: We reheated and ate a complete Thanksgiving meal all over again. I know, I know - if the Macy's Day parade was the day AFTER the holiday I could've been a one-ton float that needed cable and six people to pull it down the street. However; life is about balance for me. So, I used the "left-over left-overs" to create a healthy Curry Turkey SALAD.


Ok, so it has a tiny spoonful of mayonnaise (you could use yogurt). Let's face it, compared to the day before, I'm starving myself.

1 cup of chopped, cooked turkey
1 TBLS curry powder (even better if you toast it in a skillet for a moment before using)
1 TBLS (or to your palate) Dijon Mustard (don't use any less flavorful mustard - you need the ummph)
1 TBLS (or less) of Mayonaise (home-made is best, but organic is good)
a dash of olive oil
a handful of grapes
a sprinkling of chopped nuts
a sprinkling of blu cheese
Mache (or mixed baby or arugula would be great)

1) First mix the curry, mustard and mayonaise together; then toss the turkey in to the mix. If you like it a little smoother, add the dash of olive oil.
2) Add the grapes and adjust seasoning.
3) If you like your greens dressed, try just a sprinkling of olive oil and balsamic or leave dry. Mound them on the plate. Add a scoop of the Turkey Curry Salad to the center.
4) Sprinkle with nuts and cheese.
5) I also sprinkled a little bit of toasted left-over dressing (don't judge, I'm weak).

I served this to my husband and teenage son and they loved it. I had to laugh, though, because my husband thought it was the "Salad before the meal". I think he's still sitting at the table waiting.

This posting was another wonderful idea by Cheryl at A Tiger In The Kitchen for our Twitter group called #LetsLunch. Every month or so a few of us (click on these: Cowgirl Chef, A Tiger In The Kitchen, for other delightful leftover ideas) post together as a kinda Virtual-Lunch. You are welcome to join us by posting or by following. Just let me know in the comments, or on twitter: @ShowFoodChef.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Fennel takes on Beet 'n Squash

Let's just admit it, I'm a sucker for a Challenge. I'm still new at blogging, so the whole thing is challenging for me. Earlier today, on Twitter, I read about a Vegetable Challenge that was started by She Simmers and Bouchon for 2; called Beets 'n Squash. For this month, the pick was fennel. They may as well have said my name out loud. I LOVE fennel. I've made muffins, omelets, jam, salads, and even ice cream from this Anise-flavored bulb. But the day to post was less than 24 hours from the time I read about it. Of course, I had fennel in the refrigerator, heh heh; and I was itching to use it. So, here's my draw, and let the Challenge begin:

FENNEL 'n ONION SOUP w/Calvados and Melted Gruyere SOUP SHOOTERFennel is a misunderstood vegetable, I think. A lot of folks think they don't like it because they've heard it has a hint of licorice-like taste and that's enough, it looks like celery and then doesn't taste like celery, or they've eaten it when it was limp and old. If you happen to be one of those peeps, I encourage you to give it another try; at least ROAST it with some olive oil/salt/pepper until it gets a little browned. Almost ANYTHING tastes good caramelized, right?


1/2 large bulb fennel
1/2 large onion
1 TBLS. fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBLs. olive oil
2 TBLs. butter
1/4 cup Calvados (or another Apple Brandy, optional: use apple juice)
16 oz. Beef stock (or vegetable stock)
Several slices of French Bread (can be day old)
1/2 cup grated cheese (gruyere preferred)

Makes 4 1/2 cups servings or 8 mini cups

[I made these little soup shooters in espresso cups and melted the cheese on top with a cook's torch (little hand held gadget, smaller than a hairdryer).]

1) Start with a half bulb of fennel, trimmed and cored, a half large onion, a little fresh thyme, and 4 cloves of garlic.
2) Slice the onion and the fennel in long, thin strips. Strip the thyme branch to use the leaves. Mince the garlic.

3) Put the onions, fennel, 1TBL olive oil, 2TBL butter into a large saucepan and sweat (cook on low) slowly for about 20 minutes. Cook and stir often until the onions and fennel take on a caramelized color. The color builds depth of flavor, so don't rush this part.
4) Deglaze the pan with a shot of Calvados, add the thyme and garlic. Stir while continuing to cook for about 2 minutes.
5) Add the beef stock (or vegetable stock) into the saucepan and cover. Cook on low for about 45 minutes.
6) Toast the French Bread pieces (cut to the size of your serving vessel) on both sides.
7) Ladle soup into bowls (or for a party appetizer into small cups), top with toasted bread, cover in grated cheese and either torch or put under broiler for just a few minutes.

**Optional: serve by the fire and follow with a glass of wine **

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Post Your Trainer Doesn't Want You To See: NUTELLA PETS De SOEURS

I just may lose a few folks with this post, but the ones that stay obviously have a sense of humor. I was discussing the history of various spices and pastries (food geek that I am) with a Canadian friend the other week and she giggled as she told me about Pets De Soeurs. It seems these little crispy balls of light fried sweet bliss actually translate to mean "Farts of Nuns".
Now, having grown-up beside my grandparent's survival farm in NC, I assumed I had heard just about every un-savory term for food ever used, but I was wrong. A quest followed.

I researched the history of...these little...puffed fartlettes and it took me to some very odd places.

The French verb meaning "to fart" is
peter; thus; Pets. The french word Soeur means Sisters (or Nuns in this usage, and they are sometimes called Pets De Nonne). To some of you, this is old news, but it wasn't to me. I decided making these were a must and since it involved Choux Paste and I didn't really want to look up a recipe, I went to Ruhlman's Ratios.

Ironically, if there were two people who would definitely laugh at a fart, it would be "the bad boys of the kitchen": Michael Ruhlman and Anthony Bourdain. I'm giant fans of those two, both their cooking and their natures. Ruhlman, especially, because he actually looks like he's safe, bad (in a good way). Of course, on, there was not only an extensive posting on Choux Paste, it even mentioned these Pets de Soeur, and ranted about how easy it is to make your own choux pastry.

I used the ratio: 2 part liquid: 1 part butter: 1 part flour: 2 part eggs to make about a dozen of these. I added a little zest and a bit of vanilla bean to the pastry when I beat the eggs in. When the dough was pasty and thick, I dropped small scoops (using an ice-cream scoop) of the dough into oil that had heated to 350F. That's when I discovered the possible reason for calling these things something that would mean holy farts.

About half-way through the process of caramelizing and turning crisp on the outside, these little tuffs of dough give off a tiny explosion of air and double in size.
It made me laugh. Okay, I already admitted I'm a geek, but ya gotta laugh, right? How often does food "pet" in the pan?

And while I'm on a roll, here's another fun fact I got side-tracked with: In the late 1800's there was a talented Vaudeville performer named, Joseph Pujol, who became world famous as Le Petomane (Pets you know, and mane meaning maniac.) You can probably guess his stage talent, but get this; he was professionally a BAKER. Seriously, don't ya just love our world? Here's a poster from his show:

And now, the Nutella Part (and I swear I'm just sticking to food-talk for the rest of the post)
I'm always going over new ways to use Nutella, mostly because of joining this Nutella Challenge idea that Paula at Bell'Alimento came up with a few months ago. So, every month I'm looking for a new way to incorporate that chocolate/hazelnut crazy-good spread (besides just eating it by the spoonful which I also do). Once I tasted these light and crispy puffs I had made, the serious food work started as I began filling them with Nutella. Great idea! What followed was the not so great idea of eating about 4 of them myself. The rest were consumed by my family so fast I only had a picture to remember them by.

I hope you'll try these, Pets de Soeur or call 'em Nutella Puff Balls if ya want. They'll be eaten faster than you can tell'em what they're called, anyway.

Here's the Technique (and while you're cooking them, don't be afraid to laugh):


In a saucepan, heat and melt a stick of butter (4oz) in 8oz. water (and a pinch of salt).
When it starts to simmer, add 4 oz. flour and stir with a wooden spoon very fast. When the dough starts to gather away from the sides of the saucepan, keep stirring for about 2 minutes until the dough gets a bit dryer.
Put your dough into your mixing bowl and let it cool for a few minutes. Then add about 4 eggs (each egg is about 2 oz.) just one egg at a time. Inbetween each egg, stir rapidly to really incorporate the egg. Also, add in 1/2 vanilla bean grains stripped (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract) and 1/2 tsp. orange zest after the eggs. Stir, again to incorporate. The dough should look thick and pasty.

Heat a deep saucepan with about 3-4 inches of oil and bring oil to 350F. Drop spoonfuls of dough gently into the oil and monitor temperature of oil. Carefully, using a long utensil, turn dough over to fully cook on all sides. Wait for it, and it will pop to incorporate the air the steam has caused while cooking the butter. Remove Cream Puffs to drain. After a few moments, cut a small opening in one side and using a pastry bag or just a spoon, fill with Nutella. Sprinkle with Powdered Sugar to garnish and enjoy while warm. Just writing this has made me so hungry. Good Grief, I really am a food geek.

This ratio also makes Gougere: just add loosley grated gruyere cheese (instead of vanilla or zest), mix in throughly and bake the scoops on a parchment lined baking sheet for about 15mins at 400F.

Also - think about what else you could fill them with... hmmm?