Thursday, January 21, 2010

ZAP! Éclairs.

So for the past couple of days, I've been taking "Fundamentals of French Petite Fours" at the French Pastry School in Chicago. I wanted to hone my macaron skills- one of the Chefs worked with Pierre Herme. More on that later. In the meantime, this is why I'm never making tiny éclairs again:
Pâte à Choux, piped in two inch pieces with egg wash and scored with a fork. Lookin' okay.

The pastry tip we were given for filling these with pastry cream just put a big crater in the bottom of the pastry. Instead, let's focus on the fondant icing, which has been flavored with chocolate and has weird chemically properties that make it get all crusty-glazey on top.

Oh, and two-inch éclairs? They are a pain in the ass to cover with fondant.

Sad-looking éclairs. At least my madelines, coconut roches and raspberry financiers looked better. More on that soon. Bonus fact: éclair is French for "lightning,"

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A few of my favorite things...

Over the holidays, I got to enjoy a lot of my very favorite things. Shrimp cocktail for instance, I am a sucker for a good homemade shrimp cocktail with extra horseradish-y sauce. And a nice Old Fashioned doesn't hurt either.

Best friends are also a great treat to have around the holidays. My puppy is best friends with this little basset hound, Ruby. They like to chew on each other's faces and then nap.

Butter. Butter is always a favorite thing. Here's me and my French Laundry cookbook- I tried to make my beurre monté sauce exactly to the book's specifications, including posing with a handful of butter. I then poached lobster in the butter- you totally need to do this.

Finally, eating butter-poached lobster and filet mingon is good too. It's even better when I get to use my Grandmother's table linens, china, and my other fancy things that only get broken out for special occasions- champagne flutes, silver chargers, gold flatware- and a gorgeous floral arrangement given to me as a hostess gift. By candlelight.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cheep Cheep Cheep!

This weekend I attended my first Fried Chicken Social. I brought cupcakes frosted to look like chickens- a rough copy of a Martha Stewart Cutest Cupcake contest winner. I frosted them with a Swiss cream cheese buttercream, and the cake is my favorite red velvet.

So many chickens!

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Monday, January 11, 2010

The Lady Grey Creme Cocktail

I was baking this Christmas, and bought a pair of terrible, expensive, dry vanilla beans. I tried splitting them and they snapped into pieces- I was furious. Then I took a minute, calmed down, put them in a tupperwear container and drowned them in vodka. I poured in a couple tablespoons of my favorite tea, Argo's Earl Grey Creme. I proceeded to completely forget I had this in my fridge. Then last night I took it out and mixed up this drink- it's a little sweet, but it's really strong (I think I originally declared it a 'Vanilla Drunkbox').

Vanilla Earl Grey Vodka:

2 Tbsp Earl Grey tea
2 Vanilla Beans
2 cups vodka

Combine all ingredients. Let sit in your fridge a couple days or weeks.

The Lady Grey Creme (Or Vanilla Drunkbox):

2 Tbsp. simple syrup
1/4 cup Vanilla Earl Grey Vodka
soda water

Combine vodka and simple syrup in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a glass. Top with soda water.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cassoulet (Meat Surprise!)

Last month I decided on lazy Sunday to try and make a French Cassoulet. Pretty much it is a peasant dish consisting of slow-cooked meat and beans. What kind of meat? All kinds of meat. Fatty ducks and fatty lamb and fatty pork and beans. I tried to lighten it up as much as I could. I replaced pork shoulder with trimmed pork stew meat, and I used skinless chicken thighs instead of skin-on duck legs.

First you cook up a couple slices of bacon and set them aside. I did not try to lighten up bacon.

Next is the stew pork! You could use chunked leg of lamb if you'd like to have a heart attack.

Boneless, skinless, chicken thighs! I wish I could afford that much duck confit.

Cast iron is getting all dark brown and meat sear-y. Mmmmmm.

Onions and garlic go in to scrape all of the brown bits off the bottom.

Tomato paste, too. For more brown-bit scraping.

Then you toss the meat back in. I didn't take a picture, but at this point you also add about 4 spicy chicken sausages, cut in half down the length of them. So many different meats.

Four cups of chicken stock are next. I like to use the chicken stock concentrate from Trader Joe's, that way I don't have to lug heavy broth up to my apartment where I have no room to store it.

Meats in meat water. You also add a whole ton of great northern beans in here now too. Four cans.

Top with panko breadcrumbs and bake for like, 4 hours.

The finished product deceitfully looks like it's covered with a thick layer of cheese.

Scoop out some into a bowl- you never know what kind of meat you'll get, so it's an exciting gamble.

Cassoulet (adapted from a Cooking Light recipe- no really, I had to lighten a Cooking Light recipe):

  • 6 boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 4 bacon slices, chopped into pieces
  • 1 lb of chunks of pork
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup tomato puree
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cans Great Northern beans, drained
  • 4 spicy Italian chicken sausages
  • 1/4 cup panko
Brown meats and drain. Sautee onion and garlic and tomato paste. Add meats back to pot. Cover with chicken broth. Bake at 300° for 2 1/2 hours. Stir in beans. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top of the casserole. Bake at 375°for 1 hour covered, then uncover and cook until brown and bubbly, about 15 minutes.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Foie Gras!

After visiting Fauchon in Paris, my credit card company turned my card off because "spending over $200 at a French grocery store" was suspicious. They must not know anything about me. Above is the whole duck foie gras I smuggled home in my luggage, along with some honey, which made me nervous- forbidden animal products! Shhhh, don't tell.

I decided to use more of my Christine Ferber raspberry jam with the foie. I warmed some of the jam up in a saucepan and added balsamic vinegar and Courvoisier and reduced it into a paste, which I then cooled. I served cold slices of the buttery salty meat over a thin slice of baguette and topped each piece with a smear of the jam/vinegar/cognac.

It wasn't the best foie gras, but it was a nice holiday treat.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hazelnut Linzer Cookies with Christine Ferber Raspberry Violette Jam

Sorry I've been gone so long. Holidays? Anyway. So you know that jam I picked up in Paris. The Christine Ferber for Pierre Herme jam. It has been sitting on my bookshelf. I kept thinking, "What can I do with this jam? What does one do with arguably the world's greatest jam, eat it with a spoon?"

I opened a jar. And, yes. You eat it with a spoon as fast as you can and hide the evidence- throw away the jar in the dumpster, take a shower and brush your teeth and hope your roommate doesn't find out. At least that's what I wanted to do. Instead, I used it for the purpose I had intended it for- the filling of some Linzer cookies.

Now, I am not a big fan of jam cookies. They're gross. So I tried to do this right. First, I attempted to find the best Linzer cookie recipe. I considered Nancy Silverton's recipe, but I couldn't get passed how weird it was to be adding hard-boiled egg yolks to cookies. I also wanted the recipe to have some cream cheese in it. Instead I modified this Good Housekeeping recipe to use hazelnuts instead of almonds.

I didn't have a tiny strainer, and these needed a powdered sugar dusting. I had to use this tea strainer- it worked remarkably well and I think there was a lot less escaped powdered sugar. I recommend doing this.
Jam-filled cookies that are filled with the freshest, most delicious raspberry puree!

Christmas cookie rundown- Red Velvets, Linzers, and Carmel Toffee Chocolate Pretzels.

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