Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge - Eclairs!

So I skipped out on last months DB Challenge for several reasons but when I saw this months challenge I was definitely in - Chocolate Eclairs from Pierre Herme.  I've never made pate a choux, pastry cream or chocolate glaze so this was all new territory for me.  

The pate a choux (cream puff dough) came together really easily but once I put it in the oven it just didn't seem to want to cook all the way through - I took them out after 20 minutes (12 of them with a wooden spoon propping open the oven door) and they fell flat right away.  I tried to save them by putting them back in the oven and they stayed in there probably another 20 minutes or so before I gave up!  Some were perfect, some were still doughy - I don't know why!  But they all tasted great.  See how nice the ones on the upper left look?  The other tray (upper right) was all flat and didn't rise right - maybe it had to do with the tin foil instead of parchment?

The original recipes called for chocolate pastry cream but I made vanilla using this recipe from epicurious.  It was easy to make and tasty! 

To make the chocolate topping you also had to make a chocolate sauce.  Mine didn't come together right - it was too thin and didn't coat the eclairs like I would have liked.  The whole process was messy and I just made a big batch thinking they'd be great for a party tomorrow and realized that they're best served right after they're filled and will probably be soggy and gross tomorrow.  We'll just have to wait and see I guess!  

Here's the mess I made and the finished product. 

And no, celery salt and tomato aren't in the ingredient list.  I'm cooking a bunch of stuff for a friends party tomorrow and I just hadn't gotten around to putting those things away yet.  I think next time I make pate a choux it'll be savory.  Anyway - back to the kitchen I still have cookies and cheesecake to make!

I'm behind on my blogs and I still have to tell you all about the awesome Cutchogue chicken BBQ.  I'm hoping to get to it this week.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I'm Ready for my Close Up!

I just got home from LA yesterday - Ron and I were working out there and decided to spend a few extra days vacationing.  What was I working on?  Oh just a little food styling and catering for a webisode.  That's right - my food is going to be famous!  I am very lucky that Ron's good friend and boss gave me the opportunity to do this.  I worked in an amazing kitchen in a beautiful home in Pacific Palisades with lots of borrowed kitchen supplies!  This picture isn't so great - but it gives you a good look at the kitchen.  

Double oven, six burners, two sinks (one with a garbage disposal), tons of counter space, and a microwave drawer.  The only problem was that there was nothing in the kitchen!  The cabinets were staged with dishware so all of my supplies ended up on the counters - I managed to make quite the mess.  I didn't realize how much I'd miss little things like a drying rack!  See that orange thing on the counter?  That's my new knife bag - hopefully I'll have more uses for it in the future.  I got good use out of my pretty apron that my good friend Marybeth made me for my birthday last year - see her blog about it here.  

For the cast and crew I did a store bought/homemade breakfast combo.  Store bought fruit, yogurt, coffee, muffins and bagels with assorted cream cheeses, butter and jelly.  

As for the homemade portion of breakfast we had a couple of Vegans in the house so I made a vegan crumb cake from scratch using a recipe from Vegan Yum Yum.  It turned out okay but I didn't have cornstarch so I left it out - I'm curious to see what this would have tasted like if I had added it.  Either way I think the Vegans appreciated that I made a coffee cake just for them - whether they ate it or not!  I also made a frittata with ham, roasted red peppers and goat cheese that everyone really liked and some roasted potatoes. 

Lunch was just sandwiches and salads.  

Vegan Tofu Vietnamese hoagies
Roasted Vegetables and Herbed Goat Cheese 
Turkey, Coleslaw and Russian dressing  
Roast Beef, Cheddar, Lettuce & Tomato 
Chicken, Roasted Red Pepper and Artichoke Puree, Lettuce & Tomato

White bean and Israeli Couscous with radishes, arugala, lemon and olive oil (you can see it in the lower right hand corner of the photo above!)
Romaine Salad with Black beans, Corn, Chayote and chile vinaigrette 
Crudite with hummus

The prop food was fancy BBQ so I made a potato salad with tomatoes and green beans and a pasta salad inspired by this pasta primavera salad from Smitten Kitchen.  I can't wait to make Deb's recipe with the fettucine, procuitto and parm - but for this shoot I wanted to keep it meat and dairy free and thought that the fettucine wouldn't really look like a cold BBQ salad.  There was also a fixin's plate, corn, fruit salad, crudite and Sangria.  On the grill there was burgers, hot dogs, chicken and grilled vegetables.  

Here are pictures of the table in the beautiful Southern California sun and then soon after in a little sun shower!  

It only rained for a few minutes during the shoot but the crew was nice enough to rig up a cover for the food.  I love this picture!  Such a fuss over my spread!

Overall I'd say it was a success.  I have several things to work on and learn in the styling department but hopefully I'll be getting more practice soon!  I'll post a link to the webisode when it's up.  

After the shoot was over Ron and I had a few days to relax - and of course our time in CA included some great food and drink!  I'll post about that later this week. 

I'm starting a new job tomorrow so I won't have quite as much time on my hands to blog - but I'll try my best to post a couple of times a week.  Wish me luck on my new job!

My First Catering Job!

I had a busy 8/08/08.  In addition to the kick ass 80's party I attended I also catered a six person dinner party in a fancy penthouse apartment in Center City - but I didn't take ONE picture.  Not one!  Unbelievable!  And I call myself a blogger? 

But since this is my first catering gig I'm still going to give you the menu and link the dishes to the recipes I used to inspire me.  Just use your imagination.  The hostess likes light and healthy and I wasn't serving the meal so it had to be something that could be served cold or easily reheated.  I went sort of French Bistro-esque.

Smoked Salmon and Lemon Cream Cheese rolled in Herb Crepes  - I got this recipe from Epicurious - I used cucumbers instead of radishes and mixed them right into the cream cheese.  So good - I couldn't stop eating the ends!

Fresh Pea Soup with dollop of Low Fat Sour Cream  - Another Epicurious recipe - this was a beautiful bright green and after I put it through a sieve (which got a little bit messy!) it was really silky.  I decided to top it with low fat sour cream because, like I said, the hostess is fairly health conscience.  But I'm sure creme fraiche would be really good.

Nicoise Salad with Seared Tuna - Basic Nicoise with boiled potatoes, blanched haricot verts, olives, lemon vinaigrette.  Instead of the olive oil packed tuna I used fresh, seared ahi that I marinated in the same lemon vinaigrette.  The whole salad went over mixed greens - I thought this was just perfect for a warm day!

Peach and Raspberry Galette - Another great recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  I've made her mushroom stilton galette and her butternut squash gallete but I hadn't made a sweet one until now.  I used local Jersey peaches and raspberries - the only problem with this is that I can't taste test it!  It looked pretty and I didn't hear anything bad so I'm hoping my notice baking skills were okay.

Thanks to MB for hooking me up with Megan and getting me this little catering gig.  I'm hoping it's something I can keep doing.  Megan owns an awesome bar in the Fairmount park of town called The Bishop's Collar and was nice enough to hand over this little job to me!  

I ate S'mores in the 80's...

First let me apologize for being absent for a bit - I've had a TON going on and I plan on blogging about all of it!  Starting with this fabulous and completely ridiculous 80's party that our friend Jackson held to celebrate 8/08/08.  How rad are our outfits?

When I asked Jackson what I could bring he told me that he'd really love some cupcakes.  I don't think I've ever made cupcakes before but there are several great blogs out there dedicated to nothing but these lovely, perfectly portioned treats.  After much debate I decided on S'more cupcakes from How to Eat a Cupcake.  I made mine mini - I figured they'd be perfect for popping in your mouth.  Next time I won't use wrappers.  After several drinks people don't really see the wrappers and just go to bite right in - wrapper and all!  But Jackson was happy with them and when I left the party there were only three left - I consider that a success.

Aren't they cute?  Go visit How to Eat a Cupcake - she's got a ton of really fun cupcake recipes! 
I think I see more cupcakes in my future. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Presto Pasta Nights...

This week Michelle at Greedy Gourmet is hosting Ruth's Presto Pasta Nights (#75! - that's a lot of pasta!).  I'm excited to participate in this weekly blogging event.  My contribution is linguini with pea and basil pesto and shrimp.

Sometimes a quick pasta dish is the perfect supper.  I love whole wheat pasta.  I guess some people don't like it and I admit that the stuff that tastes like it's whole wheat might take some getting used to but Whole Foods brand wheat pasta tastes like regular pasta.  Ron groaned when I picked up the whole wheat linguini at Whole Foods - but he ended up really liking it.

This dish is super simple and was inspired by Barefoot Contessa's Pasta, Pesto and Peas that I make all of the time!  For the sauce I pureed some defrosted frozen peas with basil, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  I cooked the pasta according to the package directions and sauteed some shrimp seasoned with salt and pepper in a little bit of olive oil.

Toss it all together with some whole peas and halved cherry tomatoes.  So good - can you tell I like simple pasta with seafood?  Ron made this one a little while ago - it was just as simple and just as delicious.  

Monday, August 4, 2008

Baked (not fried!) Eggplant

I'm not a huge eggplant fan. It's not the taste that I don't like (it doesn't really taste like anything - right?) it's a texture thing. I'm not interested in mushy eggplant but I am interested in crispy, greasy, fried eggplant. When Ron said he wanted fried eggplant for dinner I remembered this recipe my mom used to make for eggplant parm where she baked the eggplant first before layering it in a casserole dish with mozzarella and tomato sauce. The eggplant was always crispy and good and so much better for you then the fried stuff. I baked mine and Ron fried his - I must admit that his looked better than mine and probably tasted a little better too BUT if you're looking for a good eggplant recipe without all the grease, this is a pretty good substitute.

I peeled and sliced the eggplant and set up a little egg wash/bread crumb assembly line. I used a whisked egg white and italian bread crumbs because they're what I had on hand. If you use plain bread crumbs be sure to season them with salt and pepper.

Dip the eggplant in the egg then the bread crumb then put them on a sheet pan sprayed with cooking spray. Put the breaded eggplant in a preheated 425 degree oven for about 30 minutes then flip the eggplant over and cook for another 10 minutes. It seems like a long time but it ensures that they're get crispy and not mushy!

We didn't want to go italian and cover these with sauce and cheese, that seemed too heavy for a summer meal. Instead we went sort of middle eastern. I made a tzatziki sauce by mixing grated cucumber and onion with lemon zest, minced garlic, chopped fresh mint, salt, pepper and nonfat greek yogurt. I also made a chickpea salad with a can of drained chickpeas, green peppers, tomatoes, red onion, cucumbers, black olives, salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil.

This was REALLY good. I'm excited to eat leftovers for lunch tomorrow!