Friday, April 15, 2011

ffwd - vanilla eclairs

This week's recipe is for a treat that you'd normally pick up at a fancy French bakery. But as you read through the recipes, you find that it's really a combination of a couple of fairly easy components - a baton-shaped cream puff and vanilla pastry cream. These are combined and topped with a simple glaze. Though Dorie offered a few suggested variations, I decided to stick with vanilla. 

for the first part of the recipe - the puffs, I assembled my ingredients

the liquids and butter are brought to a boil in a saucepan

flour is added all at once, and then combined until it holds together
you can see the film on the bottom of the pan - that's when you know you're ready
to move on to the next step

in my years of making these, until I found Dorie,
I'd always mixed in the eggs by hand
luckily, she has great ideas, and I'll never go back to using
anything other than a stand mixer
it makes for the perfect shiny dough once the eggs are incorporated

since these puffs needed to be shaped, I decided to use
my favorite trick - a ziplock bag - to form them
I'll get to throw away that whole mess once I'm done

I formed about half of the dough for the eclairs

but since I didn't need them all, I formed the remainder into
mini cream puffs and also circles
the next recipe in AMFT is for Paris-Brest
a treat created to celebrate a bike race!
it sounds wonderful, and on another day, I'd like to try them
so I wanted to form some to put into the freezer to bake later
see my bag at the bottom? empty and ready to throw away!

once the puffs were piped out, I used my finger, dipped in water, to
flatten out the points so that they will bake into nicely-shaped rounds 

the baked puffs
I should have let them sit in the turned-off oven for a bit
they eventually fell a bit and flattened

on to the pastry cream!

this was my first little challenge - my yolks and cornstarch mixture was pretty clumpy

after whisking and whisking with the milk, it was still a mess
so I used my trusty hand-blender and smoothed it all out!
(I wish I'd just used a bit of the cold milk with the yolks and cornstarch
to get a smooth paste, and then added the simmering milk)

next semi-disaster? as the mixture heated up, it got lumpy again!
but with a little vigorous whisking, it came back together to the smooth
creaminess I was looking for

in goes the vanilla

and then the butter
once this is complete, it goes to the refrigerator to get chilled

my cream puffs, ready to serve
the icing came off a bit on the wrap as they chilled in the refrigerator

and these are the Coconut Friands that I made
using the leftover egg-whites
I've made them plain, but here I added a little bittersweet chocolate to some, and
macadamias to others
I liked these and they were fun to make. But I think I'll leave the eclairs to the pastry shop. I'd probably enjoy variations (still looking forward to the Paris-Brest), but not something that I'm compelled to make again anytime soon.

On the other hand, the coconut friands are definitely a terrific find. I'm looking forward to playing around more with changing them up. And it's super-nice to have a dessert that's super-yummy, tiny, and stays nice for a few days.

I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else came up with. Should be fun!!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

ffwd - garlicky crumb-coated broccoli

To be fair, I've never made broccoli like this before. It's high on my list of favorite vegetables. I'm even fine with it plain, leftover and cold. Swimming in home-made hollandaise, slathered in butter, or in a homey southern-style cheesy crumby (in a good way!) casserole - those would be terrific ways to dress up this fine vegetable. But bread crumbs? with lemon? and garlic? Never thought of that!

I really need to get back into my ffwd groove - this was more a week for making soup for a friend, dealing with carpet cleaners, and of course, the opening home game in baseball! So, I'll admit it up front, I made this at the last minute. And generally, it was dinner. But it was a good dinner. Also, I took Dorie's advice and assumed it would only be good when it was made, so cut back the recipe. I probably wasn't particularly scientific about it, so my results might not have been strictly accurate. Just sayin'. 

like many Americans, I have become uber-lazy and typically buy already-cut-up broccoli
this time, I thought I should actually buy the "real" thing, since it kind of looked like
Dorie expected the actual stalks
oh, and there's my microplane grater hiding in the picture - adding fuel
to the "grater vs zester debate"

cooked broccoli, dutifully drying off, waiting for the finishing touches

no process photos this time,
clearly not a lot of time spent on arrangement either.... hmmm...
I thought this was good. One thing - since I wasn't particularly dilligent about the whole thing, I didn't get the zest evenly incorporated into the crumbs. What that meant was that occasionally there was a burst of lemon with a forkful of broccoli - and that was really great. It was nice to have it not all taste exactly the same. I also liked the contrast of the crunch of the topping with the flavor and juciness of the vegetables. I think this treatment would be terrific with other vegetables - asparagus would be a natural choice. But others would be just as good. In my family, I'm usually the one that can be counted on for making/bringing vegetables, so it's nice to have another version.

What didn't work? My broccoli never actually got fully warmed up when I mixed it in with the crumbs. I ended up just tossing the crumbs on top, because they didn't actually cling to the broccoli. But those are easily fixed. I also think you could easily make the crumbs ahead, cook the veggies at the last minute and toss it all together.

Verdict: Tasty!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

my first week - CSA Love Grows Farms

For the past couple of years, I've been an on-and-off participant in Bountiful Baskets - a cooperative that allows people across my region to collectively purchase produce and other items (either conventional or organic) on a bi-weekly basis. It's been fun, and quite an adventure - never really knowing what your "basket" will bring (though it is always half fruit, half vegetables), I've had "conventional-envy" and "organic-envy" over the years. And also got to buy case-lots of things that I can turn into yumminess for when the holidays roll around (though I suspect they'd prefer I not buy peaches this year!). This always worked out because it was on-demand and I could split with my Mom, and we could share stories of what we were doing with our "bounty". Of course, other friends in town participated, so that often led to a shared cup of coffee too. Never a bad thing.

But a wonderful friend of mine forwarded an invitation to join a CSA here in the valley. All organic, a local farmer. It sounded great. And let's face it, a little romantic. As usual, I say YES without asking for important details - like how much "stuff", how often, etc. I'd been spoiled, we could opt in or out depending on schedules. Plus, I split my weekends, so I'm not always "here" (or there!). I'd already committed. And then, there they were - the rules. So, I enlisted another friend of mine who is interested in organic food and honestly, has been more reliable about baskets.

Today was the first day. I might as well get my reservations/down-side out right at the beginning. Pick up between 3-5pm on Saturday. The sweet spot of the day! But. Here I go. The farmer delivered everything early (good), but I didn't look at my email, so just waited for 2:30 to roll around (and when it did, I was sitting on the phone with a nice gentleman from India trying to help me fix the not-fixable new printer I had just purchased, again I digress!). Finally finished; off I went. And let me say - the person who put this all together is delightful! And how generous to do this! Wow, so much nicer than me. I'd heard how nice she is. Absolutely.

30 seconds later, I was leaving with my bag of "root vegetables" and such. I suspect that I was one of the early ones. Well, mainly because I saw the table completely covered with bags. I'll be honest. I was not overly impressed upon seeing what we had. I felt bad. My friend that I conned into this, well, there was no way she was going to enjoy this stuff – some of it completely unrecognizable.
I even texted my friend (who is camping and should not be texting, but apparently her husband is sitting next to her on his iPad, so I'm really completely in line!) that I would give her her check back. I even sent a picture. I didn't know what everything even WAS! Honest!!

After initially deciding that this would be relegated to rabbit food, literally  (my friend has a rabbit who would be happy with the bag of produce), I kind of felt guilty – so I thought I should go online and see if there was anything interesting. Then, I called my Mom…. Happy that I still get to. She doesn’t make anything with kale either. But had a recipe!! J

I came up with a couple of ideas online. Great reviews. Of course, I wouldn’t be making a lot of anything today.  So, I started cutting things down to size. Then, as I started peeling, blanching, trimming, things started to come together. And then I thought… well, this is more like – if I actually was a farmer, this is (an exercise in) what I’d do with what I grew! Which made it all more interesting. And now that I think even more about it, so in line with who I am – that crazy person who cans things in the summer (who can resist fresh peach or strawberry jam?), and lovingly makes quilts – because, after all, they keep us warm?

So, I’m now bonding a bit more with my (shared) bag of radishes (still ick), rutabagas, kale, chard and a few other things that I don’t recognize. So far, so good. After all, it’s an adventure (and didn’t I just ask for that??).

So, I made a rutabaga puree. I used 1 rutabaga (about 2"x 3.5") with 2 carrots. Boiled until soft, and drained. Pureed with a little butter and a bit of brown sugar (and a little salt). This was surprisingly good. I resolved that I would definitely be happy to have again. One kind of big-ish serving.

And some kale - blanched, then sliced. (about 3-4 c trimmed?   1/2 of the bunch) Then cooked 2 slices of (great) bacon, removed from the pan when crisp. 1/2 an onion, diced; "some" crushed garlic, a small bay leaf, sprig of parsley and several small fresh sprigs of thyme - into the pan. Then I added the kale as well as some water to almost cover and some chicken stock base. I simmered mostly covered for a while, and then reduced the liquid over higher heat when I was getting closer to finishing.  That was good too! More like 2 servings.

Below are the 2 recipes that I used as inspiration (or a direct steal). 

So the lesson I learned is: just go with it! Find some way to make it interesting. And maybe you'll find something good - and new!

Friday, April 1, 2011

ffwd - quinoa, fruit and nut salad

I've never eaten quinoa (keen-wa) before. One of my friends totally loves it, but I just hadn't gotten around to it. So I had that in mind when I turned to make this salad. I'm afraid that it sounded a little more in the beggars linguine camp, with the combination of dried fruits, nuts and some kind of starch (and yes, I know it's a seed, not a starch - but it kind of seems like one), so I was less than sure about it. I made this with the sincere intention of eating it for lunch. I even made another salad to go along side of it too. I did. My week go away from me...

the ingredients ready to for the putting together
luckily I had some fresh mint and basil (a favorite combination)
and some apricots a combo of raisins, cranberries, and blueberries
and some pine nuts, walnuts and toasted sunflower seeds

cooking quinoa is a lot like cooking rice

while the recipe didn't say to, I thought that any nuts included ought to be toasted, so
they would retain their crunch in the salad

all of the other ingredients prepped

I have to admit, this does look cute with the iconic rings
that give quinoa its distinctive look
ready for a quick stir

the finished salad
Somehow, this week did get away from me - on days that I had planned to go out, I stayed in. On days I planned to stay in... you get the idea. I've probably had a spoon or two of this each day over the last several. Just tried it again to remind myself.

I think my general idea of making this as part of a meal of different salads had merit. I found that I liked it more as the days went by (against Dorie's advice). Maybe I had too many nuts. Maybe the walnut oil was overpowering. Maybe I didn't have enough other flavors in the dressing to compensate (I think some garlic, onion, or chile - or a combination - would be good). But I did kind of like that fruity-nutty combination. And it seems a shame to waste all of those perfectly delightful goodies. The mint particularly was nice with this.

I'm sure that some of my fellow Doristas will have some great ideas (I know it's true - I cheated and peeked a bit earlier) of how to serve this. So maybe the next time a summer salad dinner, or a group of salads to go with barbeque are required this will come back out to play and I can tinker with it a bit.

Oh, and one other note: I made a half-recipe. It was easily enough for 4 (or more if combined with other things). This recipe makes a lot!