April 28, 2012

Guilty Pleasures...

There was this place in the mall growing up called the Corn Dog Factory.  Perhaps some of you from my neck of the woods remember it?!

Thinking back, my irrational love of corn dogs makes me question whether I am descended from carnies.   Hmmm...  Slightly disturbing thought, but moving on...
Battered, deep-fried meat on a stick,  it is so many kinds of wrong, but I loved them.

An obligatory stop to my deep fried heaven had to be made on nearly every visit to the mall.  I was even rather particular about the ketchup to mustard ratio. (3:1, BTW...same as a vinaigrette)

Standing in front of the counter, watching the hot dog get immersed in thick batter and then plunged into the hot oil... 
The sweet smell of the cornbread batter turning a deep golden brown induced a Pavlovian kind of reaction.
My mouth started to salivate the second I smelled the batter hit the hot oil.

The anticipation of that first bite was almost as good as the moment I sank my teeth into the crunchy outer layer of breading and usually burned the roof of my mouth as reward for my lack of patience.

It was that combination of sweet/salty that to this day is my favorite that just did me in. 
The only thing that could've made it better was an Orange Julius on the side.

Corn Dogs
recipe adapted from Chow
  • 2 quarts vegetable oil, for frying
  • skewers (8 if making full size or 16 if making minis)
  • 8 hot dogs (I used turkey dogs)
  • 1 cup medium-ground yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • pinch cayenne
  • pinch paprika
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Ketchup & Mustard for dipping
  1. Heat oven to 250 F.  Set a wire rack inside of a baking sheet and set aside.
  2. Pour the oil into a large, heavy-bottomed pot.  Heat over medium-high heat until the temperature reads 350 F on a deep-frying or candy thermometer.
  3. While the oil is heating, insert a skewer into each hot dog, leaving about 2 inches of the stick exposed at the bottom and set aside.
  4. Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder & salt.  In a separate bowl,  whisk eggs, milk, honey and sugar together.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
  5. Pour batter into a tall, narrow container or drinking glass, leaving an inch of room at the top.
  6. When the oil is ready, submerge a skewered hot dog into the batter until it is completely covered.  Immediately place into the hot oil.  Fry, turning occasionally until golden brown on all sides, about 3 minutes.
  7. Using tongs, remove from oil and place on baking sheet in oven.
  8. Repeat with remaining hot dogs, 2 at a time if using whole hot dogs or 3 - 4 at a time for minis.
  9. Serve immediately
When working with hot oil, use caution!  Do not drop hot dogs into the oil... lightly place them in, skimming the surface before you let go to avoid a splash.

Hot Dogs ready to be battered & dropped in the oil

Golden Brown Delicious

Childhood Revisited.

April 24, 2012

Cheaper than Therapy...

Songwriters often say that they do their best work when they are going through something difficult in their lives.  They channel those feelings and pour them into lyrics that move us to our very core.
I don't write music...  I sequester myself to the confines of my kitchen.

Being in the kitchen is cathartic for me, it always has been.  Looking back, I've realized that it is one of the reasons I love baking. 

It brings me comfort in times of sadness, calms me when I'm stressed or anxious, reassures me when I've had a particularly rough day. 

Baking is my therapy and let's face it...  it's cheaper than $150 dollars an hour and much tastier.

I find solace in the kitchen, the familiar smells and sounds, the warmth of the oven...  being able to "shut off" my brain and do things on autopilot also brings a certain sense of comfort.

Once again, I find myself puttering about in the kitchen late at night when the rest of world is fast asleep.  

I wanted to make a cherry clafouti and thus began the research.  I read that traditionally the French use whole cherries because the pits give an almond flavor to the dessert.   My thoughts were something like this:  "I like the people I'm going to feed & would rather they didn't need an emergency dental appointment after eating my food". 

I wanted to use almond extract to impart that flavor, I knew I had some, but where...  So,  after about 5 minutes of searching I decided since I had almond flour, I would use that instead.

Thanks to a friend of mine, I had a few jars of sour cherries (sans pits!) that were calling to me from the cupboard.  They were begging to be used in some late night venture and needing to oblige, they were promptly removed from their dark shelf and opened.

ps~ made a second batch with a few drops of the afformentioned almond extract, both ways were delicious. 

Cherry Clafouti
  • 4 large eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup almond flour
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 lb cherries (I used sour cherries in syrup, drained, syrup reserved)
  • 2 tbsp butter + flour for pan
  • powdered sugar, for dusting

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter and flour a deep 9 inch pan or an extra large muffin tin. (Using the muffin tins instead of one big dessert is nice to give everyone their own individual dessert or as little give away treats for friends).
  2. Combine eggs, yolks, powdered sugar, vanilla, salt, milk & cream in blender.  Blend for a few seconds to combine, then add almond flour and AP flour.  Blend until smooth, about 1 minute.
  3. Pour batter into pan or if using muffin tin, evenly distribute batter, top with cherries.
  4. Place in oven and immediately turn down heat to 325 degrees.  Bake for approximately 30 - 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Cool and dust with powdered sugar.  Use reserved syrup to decorate serving plate if desired.

Cherry Clafouti

April 20, 2012

Not just for rabbits anymore...

Now that Spring is in full swing and the Farmer's Markets are replete with the good stuff, it's time to start putting those veggies back into the rotation.

Some people tend to look at salads as the obligatory precursor to the main event.  Granted, if someone serves you a bowl of pre-cut lettuce and gloppy dressing, it is barely even that...  however, with a little creativity and a blender you can make something that is beautiful, delicious, good for you and even those that tend to resist eating "rabbit food" may even get on board.

Doing quick dressings in jam jars is a wonderful time saver, but this time we are breaking out the blender and making a proper emulsion.  It doesn't take much more time than shaking a jar, but the end result is something you can not get out of a bottle.

The best part of this whole endeavor is there is really only one rule: the oil to acid ratio (3:1). 
That's it.  Everything else is up for grabs.

Baby greens with dried Apricot, Cranberries, Pistachios & sliced Strawberries
Spring Mix Lettuce, Arugula, Grapes, Raspberries, Mango & Cashews

Spinach & Arugula with Grapes, Blueberries, Apples and sliced Almonds

Baby Spinach with Roasted Butternut Squash, Pine Nuts & Goat Cheese

Spring Mix, Dried Cherries, Pomegranate seeds, toasted Pine Nuts & Manchego cheese

Sherry Lime Vinaigrette
makes 1 quart
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 - 3 tbsp honey
  • 1 sprig thyme, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 3 cups olive oil
  1. Put all ingredients except the oil in the blender.  Turn on low speed until mixture is homogeneous, then increase speed slightly and drizzle in the oil in a thin stream until it is fully incorporated.

Lemongrass Basil Mint Vinaigrette
makes 1 quart
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 piece lemongrass, inner leaves only, minced
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves, roughly torn
  • 3 tbsp mint leaves, roughly torn
  • 1/8 cup honey
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 3 cups olive oil
Follow directions from above.   Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.

April 15, 2012

Loco for Coco...

I love coconut, always have.  I love the smell of it just as much as the taste.  So much so that in the middle of winter when sunny days at the beach seem unfathomable, I open my bottle of sunscreen & put just a dab on my skin so I can breathe in the smell of coconut.  Before you judge, I know for a FACT that I am not the only one that does this...

The only thing that I don't love about coconut is trying to get it open & get to the good stuff, but luckily for me I am not a cast member on a survival show, so I needn't worry about all that...

To demonstrate my slightly obsessive love for this tropical treat,  a moment of full disclosure:
For breakfast I had coconut coffee and a piece of this coconut bread. 
Those you of that know me, know that I'm not very "gray"...  I either really like something or I really don't,  and I really like coconut.

A few weeks ago, I was in the mood for coconut bread so I started looking for recipes and found one in an old issue of Gourmet magazine that I decided to use as my jumping off point.  It was delicious as is, but I felt it could be slightly coconut-ier, so I tweaked it to add in extra coconut flavor and this is what I came up with...

Coconut Bread
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/8 cup coconut oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup toasted coconut
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup coconut flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
Coconut oil

 1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees
 2. Warm coconut oil in a small saucepan, just until it melts and set aside.  (when buying, make sure to buy medium heat, organic, unrefined)
 3. Cream butter and sugar together.  Add eggs and cooled coconut oil.  Mix well to combine, then add in yogurt and sour cream.

4. Stir in toasted coconut.
5. Combine flours, baking soda & baking powder, and fold into the wet ingredients.
6. Tip batter into a loaf pan that has been lightly greased and bake for 45 - 60 minutes.
  *if bread is starting to brown too much before it has baked through, turn oven down to 325 degrees for the last 15 minutes.
Coconut Bread

April 07, 2012

Oh I couldn't... Well, maybe just a little

Bread Pudding is one of those desserts people just don't make very often anymore, since carbs have been deemed the devil and all...

So of course I've decided to make it, put 3 different kinds of chocolate in it and cover it with a sauce that tastes like melted ice cream.

I figure this is the perfect indulgence after a month of Lenten sacrifice.   It would make a great dessert after Easter dinner or quite honestly anytime.  It is one of the easiest desserts to make.  It requires very little effort and it does not demand hours of babysitting to ensure perfection.

Cut up some old bread, mix it up with a few other ingredients, let it soak for a bit while you get on with other things and then put it in the oven to bake.  I mean really, what else can you ask for in a dessert?

Now, the sauce does require a bit more effort, but if you're not into that day, skip it.  The bread pudding is good enough to stand on its own, however I won't lie...  the addition of the sauce transforms this to ethereal goodness. 

Triple Chocolate Bread Pudding with Creme Anglaise
  • 2 lbs brioche bread
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 cups half & half
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tbsp vanilla extract 
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup white chocolate chips
  • 3 tbsp coarse brown sugar
Brioche is a buttery, eggy bread that is perfect for this, but if you can't find it use french bread or plain white bread.

  1. Cube bread into 1 inch pieces.
  2. Melt butter and pour over bread.  Toss to evenly coat bread with the melted butter.

     3.  Add chocolate chips and toss to combine.
     4.  Pour into a large, deep baking dish. 
        (a half size disposable aluminum pan is perfect)

     5.  Whisk together the rest of the ingredients
          (except the coarse brown sugar).
     6.   Pour over the bread and press down to ensure
           that every piece of bread gets immersed.
     7.  Let it soak for about 45 minutes, then sprinkle
          the coarse brown sugar on top.
     8.  Cover and bake for 40 minutes, then uncover
          and bake an additional 15 minutes.
     9.  The bread pudding should be set, but not dry.
    10.  Let it stand for about 20 minutes before cutting.

Creme Anglaise

  • 1 cup half & half
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

  1. First, get a medium sized fine mesh strainer and set it over a medium bowl.
  2. Place this inside of a larger bowl filled with ice water.  The sauce will be poured through the strainer and into the chilled bowl to stop it from cooking once it has reached the proper consistency.
  3. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, half & half and the vanilla bean.  Cook over low to medium heat just until it barely comes to a simmer, about 5 minutes.
  4. In another medium bowl, whisk the sugar and egg yolks just until combined.
  5. Whisk in about a half cup of the hot milk mixture very slowly in a thin stream. This is called "tempering" the eggs so they don't scramble when you add them back into the hot milk.
  6. Pour the mixture into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.  The sauce should be thick enough that when you dip a spoon into it & run your finger down the back of the spoon it will stay separated.  (see pic above)
  7. Immediately strain the sauce into the bowl over the ice water.  
  8. Pour the warm creme anglaise over the bread pudding.   Refrigerate any leftover sauce in an airtight container.

April 02, 2012

Let's Do Brunch

Brunch.  This word can illicit sheer dread if you work in a restaurant. 
It is by far the least favorite service to work.  For the average person who has no idea of what it entails to work a brunch service, it conjures up an image of a leisurely, relaxing meal with a few bloody marys.

Meanwhile... behind the scenes, bleary-eyed line cooks are getting food out of the kitchen as fast as their exhausted bodies will let them.

I'd be lying if I said that I didn't miss it once in awhile,  but I'll also tell you I don't miss it enough to do it again.  
I would much rather be the one eating brunch instead of the one making it at this point in life.

That being said, I very much enjoy making brunch at home.  It happens so infrequently that it is almost like a treat.  Yes, I did just say making brunch is a treat...  Some of you are questioning whether or not I've already had a few bloody marys I'm sure.

The thing about doing brunch at home is that it IS relaxing and slower paced than trying to get food on the table for dinner after a long day at work.  The whole feel of Sunday morning just inherently has a different vibe to it.  

Granted, it isn't exactly like it is in the movies: reading the newspaper and trading sections with your husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend, sipping coffee on the balcony overlooking Central Park, but a lovely, relaxing brunch can still be had by all even if we don't own million dollar apartments.

When I make these, I have started to make a double batch to put some away for dinner later in the week for those days when I long for that lazy Sunday morning. 

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup almond flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • Black & Blue jam

1. In a medium bowl combine dry ingredients:  Flours, sugar, salt, baking powder.

2. Zest the lemons & add the dry ingredients.

3. Stir to combine and coat the lemon zest with the flour.
4. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and add milk and vanilla.  Whisk to combine.
5. Fold in the ricotta cheese.
6. Add wet ingredients to dry and whisk to thoroughly combine.
7. Heat pan over medium heat and pour batter in using a 1/4 cup measure.
8. Cook pancakes until they begin to dry on top before flipping.
9. Warm the jam in a small saucepan & thin with a few tablespoons of water.
Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Black & Blue Jam