Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snowjam Cooking Marathon, Part 1

It’s Wednesday and I should be frying chicken at Watershed.  Instead, I am hunkered down in my house with Henry, waiting for the ice storm to subside and praying like hell that we don’t lose power like so many others in Georgia right now.  Also in the mix is the fact that our street is one very long hill which takes forever to thaw when iced over.  It means we’ll be lucky if we can escape the reservation by Friday afternoon.  

Captive in my own house!

What to do, except embark upon a cooking marathon?  Again.  You may remember this is Atlanta's second Snowjam in as many weeks.  (C'mon, you didn't miss Jon Stewart on that one, did you?)  For the last one, I made Black Pepper Gingerbread, Turkey Chili, No-Knead Bread and Chocolate Oatmeal cookies. No wonder Henry thinks I am trying to kill him.

Chef Joe

Up first this go-round:  Chef Joe’s Chocolate Terrine.  Joe Truex is our Executive Chef at Watershed and I have never eaten anything he prepared that I didn’t swoon over.  His chocolate terrine is no exception.  It’s a lovely offering for Valentine’s day and in will, in fact, be on Watershed’s menu that evening.  Since I’m not likely to get out of the house by then, I figured I may as well make it in my own kitchen.  If you are planning a romantic VD dinner at home, you can’t go wrong if you make this one!

CHOCOLATE TERRINE     (adapted from Chef Joe Truex)

½ lb. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
12 oz. (60 percent) dark chocolate, chopped (see note below)
8 eggs, separated  (I used extra-large)
1 1/3 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/3 cup cocoa, sifted (I used Valhrona)
½ cup heavy cream
Best quality extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt flakes
Toasted pistachio nuts

Line a 5 x 8-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap to overhang all sides.  Set aside.

Place the butter in a medium saucepan and distribute the chopped chocolate over the top.  Place over low heat and melt, stirring frequently until mixture is smooth.  Be careful not to scorch the chocolate.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk 4 of the egg yolks.  (You will not need the remaining 4 yolks, so save them for another use).  Whisk them slowly into the melted chocolate/butter mixture.  Stir in the sifted confectioner’s sugar and cocoa and combine thoroughly.  Remove the mixture to a medium-large mixing bowl.

Using an electric mixer, beat the 8 egg whites until they form soft peaks.  Fold this into the chocolate mixture.  Whip the heavy cream until it forms soft peaks and fold this into the chocolate mixture as well. 

Pour into the prepared loaf pan.  Smooth the top with an offset spatula and wrap the entire pan in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate at least 8 hours.

To serve, unmold terrine and cut into small slices.  Garnish with the olive oil, sea salt and toasted pistachios.  The terrine can be wrapped tightly and stored in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days (if you have electricity, that is!)

Serves 12

*  At minimum, use 60% chocolate.  If you want to amp it up a bit, use a combination of 60% and 70% bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate.  

*  The chocolate will melt faster than the butter, which is why I put the butter in the pan first, with the chocolate on top.

*  Pay attention when you fold the whipped egg whites and cream into the chocolate mixture.  You don't want to deflate it by overmixing, but at the same time, you want to make sure there are no white streaks remaining.  It's a fine balance!

*  The beauty of this recipe is that it requires no baking.  As long as you don't scorch the chocolate or overmix it, you really can't screw it up.  On the downside, however, it does contain uncooked eggs so keep that in mind and don't make this for women who are pregnant, the elderly or anyone with a compromised immune system.  Just use your good judgment.

*  For serving, Chef Joe uses a cutter to make a small hole in the terrine and fills it with extra-virgin olive oil.  If you don't want to take this extra step, you can simply drizzle it directly over the terrine, letting it pool along the sides.

*  Use a good quality sea salt, preferably flaky or coarse.  I use Maldon sea salt flakes.

*  I love the taste and the crunch of the olive oil, sea salt and pistachios in this dessert as they take front and center with the chocolate as a creamy backdrop.  If you want to make the chocolate a little more prominent, serve it with a dollop of whipped cream or a drizzle of raspberry coulis instead.

Alrighty then.  Stay warm, everyone.  If my electricity holds out, I will be spending the next few days in my kitchen.  Be forewarned!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Beer and Cheese

Here is what you don’t know about Henry – up until recently, he had set foot into 49 of our 50 states.  So when conversation commenced last spring about where we should travel in the fall, he voted for Hawaii, the last state on his bucket list.   I was lukewarm about the idea, but hey, when it comes to travel, I’m game for just about anything.

Since neither one of us had a clue about the place, we turned to “Travel Agent Extraordinaire”, Doreen Lewis.  With her assistance, we ended up on three islands, experienced everything from volcanoes to lava walks to Jurassic Park (not kidding) to beautiful beaches, luxurious hotels (well, except for the cottage in Volcano Village which was kind of like camping), amazing food and memorable sunsets.  We ate a lot of ahi, fresh from the sea (tuna poke is now on my list of what I want on the menu for my last meal) and became addicted to papaya with fresh lime.  And while we dined well, it’s probably the first vacation where I didn’t gain any weight.  Oh yeah, I would definitely go back!

But alas, reality intrudes and you find yourself hopscotching back to the mainland on a not-so-wonderful plane because you have departed from a small island where they can’t bring in jumbo jets.  You spend 5 hours on that crappy plane, change to a slightly bigger one in LA and arrive home jet-lagged and exhausted.  In a perfect world, you would take a few days to recover, but that is only if you don’t have a son who is opening a craft brewery here in Atlanta.  Yes, you heard me correctly.

More to come about this later, but for now, I will just tell you that my eldest son Andy has embarked upon this venture and it is really, really exciting.  They are opening this spring on the Atlanta Beltline and marketing efforts are well underway.  That includes craft beer tastings at Andy’s home.  Enter Mom.

We arrived home from Hawaii on a Tuesday evening and a tasting was scheduled for Thursday.  Natch, it was my job to provide the food.  I decided to keep it simple, largely because I was still jet-lagged and barely functional.  I remembered that big batch of pesto I made from the last of my summer basil and pulled it out of the freezer.  Savory cheesecake was in order.  That and a bunch of truffled popcorn.  Done and done.  Can Mom go back to bed now?


For the crust:
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup grated Parmesan (I used Reggiano)

For the cheesecake:
24 oz. cream cheese ( 3  8-oz. packages), softened
2 cups ricotta cheese (you can use reduced fat, but why bother?)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (you can use more or less to taste)
4 eggs (I used extra-large)
2 cups pesto (can be purchased if you don’t have your own on hand)
1 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
Maldon or coarse sea salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Grease a 9-inch springform pan.

To make the crust, combine panko, melted butter and Parmesan.  Press into the bottom of the prepared springform pan.  Bake for 10 minutes, until just set.  Remove from oven to cool slightly and reduce heat to 325-degrees.

In an electric mixture, beat cream cheese until smooth and no lumps remain.  Add ricotta, salt and cayenne and mix just until well-blended.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Divide batter in half.  Stir the pesto into one half and leave the other half plain.

Pour the pesto batter into the prepared pan.  Scatter the pine nuts over the top, the cover with the remaining (plain) batter.  Sprinkle the top with Maldon or coarse sea salt.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until cheesecake is just set but still slightly wobbly in the center.  Remove to a rack and cool completely, then wrap in plastic and chill overnight.

When ready to serve, run a knife around edges of pan and remove springform.  Place cheesecake on a serving platter and garnish with fresh basil leaves, if desired.  Serve in very thin wedges.

Serves 20 

Cheers and Happy Holidays y'all!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pecan Sandies with Integrity

Much to Henry’s chagrin, pre-packaged junk food does not grace the shelves of our pantry.  The reason for this is twofold:  first of all, if it was there, we would eat it and second, if I am going to abandon my skinny cook scruples and eat something like a cookie, I would rather enjoy a homemade one instead of something mass-produced and loaded with trans fats.  Now, I don’t want to sound holier-than-thou (if you could buy ready-to-eat truffled Asiago fries in a bag, I’d be a goner), but why settle for something that comes out of a factory when you can have the real thing?

Take Keebler Pecan Sandies, for instance.  A package of them was always in our house when I was growing up.  I suppose it had something to do with the fact that my mom grew up in the South and therefore anything having to do with pecans was always around.  Even my grandmother, who was an amazing baker and cook, deigned to keep a bag or two around when we would visit.  And although I was always an Oreo-kind-of-kid, it didn’t stop me from devouring those crumbly, slightly dry pecan cookies.

Fast forward to the first time I worked at Watershed (the original one, in that converted gas station in Decatur) and was lucky enough to be in the kitchen with my dear friend, the extraordinarily talented Chef Scott Peacock.  I vividly remember one afternoon in that hot kitchen when I had just finished working the sauté station at lunch.  It had been a busy service and I was sweaty, drained of energy and weary.  As I gathered up my knives to head out the door, Scott gestured me over to the space where he was working.  “Here, taste this,” he said, handing me a small something carefully placed on a paper towel.  “Tell me what you think.”

The “something” was the most delicious cookie I had ever tasted.  It shattered in my mouth as I savored it, evoking faint memories of those old pecan sandies, but amped up to pure perfection.  If I were Giada DiLaurentis on the Food Network, I would take a bite of it, roll my eyes, let out a long “Ummmmmm!” and proceed to describe it as getting the wonderful tastes of butter, pecans and vanilla, all in one ethereal crunchy cookie.  Since I am not Giada DiLaurentis, you will just have to rely on my statement that this was the best cookie ever.

Fortunately Scott had the good sense to include the recipe in the cookbook he wrote with Miss Edna Lewis (pretty much my favorite cookbook of all time, I might mention.  I told him recently that if I could only have one cookbook, it would be this one.  I wasn’t kidding.  If you don’t have a copy, you are missing out – here is the link

So here is the recipe.  Scott and Edna called them Nut Butter Balls, but I prefer to think of them as Pecan Sandies with Integrity.  Either way, bake up a batch sooner rather than later.  You won't be sorry.  Trust me!

NUT BUTTER BALLS  (adapted from Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis’ “The Gift of Southern Cooking”)

For the cookies:
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature                                       
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt (I use kosher salt)
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour, sifted after measuring
1 ½ cups very finely chopped or grated pecans (about 6 ounces)
3 cups vanilla sugar (recipe follows)                                                        
Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the salt and extracts and mix until blended.  Add flour gradually, beating on low speed.  Add the nuts, stopping to scrape the bottom and sides of bowl.  Cover dough and chill at least 3 hours, or preferably overnight.

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls (I use an ice cream scoop for this task).  Flatten each ball slightly and mark the top with the tines of a fork to create lines on top of each cookie.  Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment, wrap well in plastic wrap and chill again until firm (alternatively, you can freeze them and bake as needed).

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375-degrees.  Place cookies ½-inch apart on ungreased baking sheets (or baking sheets lined with a Silpat).  Bake for 12-15 minutes or until they become slightly firm to the touch and are lightly golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 30 minutes.  Transfer to an airtight container and cover completely with vanilla sugar.  Store up to 1 ½ weeks.

Yield:  4 dozen cookies

For the vanilla sugar:
2 vanilla beans
4 cups granulated sugar

Twist and bend the vanilla beans back and forth to bruise them and release their oils.  Split them lengthwise.  Place one piece in the bottom of a 1-quart jar.  Pour ¼ of the sugar over.  Repeat, using all of the vanilla beans and all of the sugar.  Cover tightly and store in a cool, dark place for at least 4 days before using.

Yield:  4 cups

*  Scott (and Edna if she were here) would probably not approve, but I used the food processor to chop up my pecans.  Just make sure not to overprocess so you don't end up with pecan paste.

*  You don't have to flatten and score the unbaked cookies - you can just roll them into balls and bake that way - but I like the indentations on top as they catch more of the vanilla sugar.

*  Speaking of the vanilla sugar, make extra and keep it in your pantry.  Just replace the sugar as you use it.  Try substituting it for regular granulated sugar when you bake!  Not bad on cereal, either!

*  I recently had a dinner party and made these cookies to serve alongside a silky smooth and scrumptious butterscotch pudding.  Pure.  Heaven.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Chef Number Five

Yep, I’m still here.  It’s just that in between stints of helicopter parenting and multi-city events involving moving boxes, UHaul trucks and runaway dogs, there hasn't been a lot of extra time for blog posts recently.  I’ll do my best to mend my evil ways.

Oh and then there was also the Chef Number Five thing…..

If you take a look at this, you can probably figure out the identity of Chef Number Five.  Mum’s the word though, at least until the Southern Foodways Alliance holds their annual symposium in October.  Here is a synopsis of the subject they will be exploring.  That’s all I’m sayin’……

Segue into the hot milk cake which Charlotte references in her writing.

When Watershed on Peachtree opened its doors in May 2012, hot milk cake with caramel and sea salt showed up on the dessert menu.  As far as I know, the cake recipe dates back to at least the 1940’s and it was a favorite of many of our grandmothers.  In fact, the Watershed recipe for it comes from Ross Jones’ (one of the owners) grandmother Bebe.  I wrote about this previously:

Of course Watershed’s incredible pastry chef, the very talented Cynthia Long, elevated it to nirvana by giving it a caramel topping and a sprinkling of Maldon sea salt.  Speaking of Cynthia, she needs to be recognized and applauded for her amazing creations.  I am not a fig fan (unlike that silly old man I am married to), but the other day she made an amazing fig and orange sorbet that took my breath away.  So did her “fig newtons.”  And then there were her cookies with whole roasted almonds with olive oil and sea salt.  Oh, the texture and crunch!  No wonder I love working at Watershed!

The upshot is that I tweaked the cake recipe for home use, mostly so I could send it to my new found friend, Charlotte Druckman.  I’m not sure I did myself any favor by doing so, as it will not help me in my quest to become a skinny cook.  Oh, but who cares –  this just might be my favorite dessert EVER!


6 eggs
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Butter a 9 X 13-inch rectangular pan and line bottom and sides with parchment paper.  Butter paper.

In an electric mixer, beat the eggs until foamy.  Slowly beat in sugar and continue beating until mixture is thick and glossy.

Place milk and butter in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until butter melts.  In another bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking powder.

Fold the dry ingredients into the egg/sugar mixture.  Add the milk all at once and stir just to combine.  Add the vanilla extract.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake for 40 minutes, or until cake springs back in the middle and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove to a rack to cool for 20 minutes, then turn out onto a baking rack and remove parchment paper.  Cool completely.

Cut the cake into desired pieces.  I like to split in in the middle lengthwise, then cut into rectangles. 

Spoon caramel glaze over each piece, then sprinkle with coarse sea salt (preferably Maldon).

Caramel Glaze:

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt

Place all ingredients into a saucepan over medium heat.  Cook and stir until mixture is blended and smooth.

*  If you ask me, this is a perfect blend of old (hot milk cake) and new (caramel with sea salt).  
*  And if you ask me again - it doesn't get any better than this.
*  Trust me!