Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Passed Over Passover

I know you are thinking something like “why is she posting about Passover now?  It happened well over a month ago and besides, most of us don’t care about it anyway.  And even if we did, she’s already blogged about it at length.  Please, spare us!”

Don’t worry, I’ll spare you.  That’s because we spared ourselves this year and turned our backs on the usual gefilte fish, matzoh ball soup and heavy Passover food.  Instead we headed to Florida with our dear friends Sue and Ross (with whom we always spend Passover) to hang out in their fabulous new house in Rosemary Beach.  Not a gefilte fish in sight!

Sue and Henry are basically the same person.  They laugh a lot, interrupt anyone who gets within ten feet of them, yell frequently, are unbelievably opinionated and would gladly give anyone in need the shirts off their respective backs.  They call each other “bro” and “sis” and they love each other dearly. 

At the same time, Ross and I are very much alike.  We provide the balance to those ebullient spouses of ours.  We are somewhat quieter, we love to cook, there is nothing we won’t experiment with and it is our great joy in life to share our food with others.  We also have a deep love for heirloom recipes which have been passed down to us from beloved family members.  Ross has a box of hand-written recipes from her grandmother, Bebe.  I have one from our beloved uncles, Jack and Ander.  Ross keeps hers at the beach house for inspiration; I keep mine in the kitchen.

Because Ross and I are incapable of sitting around and relaxing, we decided to host a dinner party for twenty people while we were at the beach.  (I mean, why laze around in the sun when you can be sweating it out in the kitchen?)  I’m talking barbecued ribs, Liz's gazpacho shots, butterbeans with cornbread, homemade cole slaw, Sue’s smoked salmon, Ross’ truffled deviled eggs and a fabulous mac and cheese (recipe follows).   So no, I’m still not a skinny cook!  Especially since we also made Bebe’s Hot Milk Cake with Boiled Frosting.  More about that in a minute.

MAC AND CHEESE WITH BUTTERY CRUMBS  (from Grace Paresi, Food & Wine Magazine)

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus more for buttering pan
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups half-and-half or whole milk
1 pound extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, diced
1/2 pound Colby cheese, diced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound elbow macaroni
3/4 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Butter a shallow 2-quart baking dish.  Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large saucepan.  Add the flour and cook over moderate heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the half-and-half (or milk) and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly until thickened, about 3 minutes.  Add half of the Cheddar and Colby cheeses and cook over low heat, stirring until melted.  Stir in the mustard, nutmeg and cayenne, then season well with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook the macaroni in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente.  Drain well then return to the pot.  Add the cheese sauce and the remaining cheese and stir well to combine.  Pour into the prepared
baking dish.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.  Toss with the bread crumbs, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle over the macaroni mixture.  Bake 45 minutes, or until bubbling and golden on top.  Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Serves 6 - 8

Now for Bebe's Hot Milk Cake.  Ross remembers this cake from her childhood.  It's a lovely moist yellow cake and the frosting is the perfect counterpoint as it gets crunchy and sugary when it hardens.  You'll feel like a kid again when you try it.  Trust me.


3 eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 stick unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Butter and flour (2)  8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans.

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.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans.  Bake for 25 minutes, or until just done.  Remove to a rack to cool slightly, then turn out of pans.  Frost when completely cooled.

Boiled Chocolate Frosting:
1 stick unsalted butter
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup whole milk
2 cups granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon brewed coffee
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place butter, chocolate, milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.  Cook and stir until butter melts and mixture is smooth.  Turn heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a boil.  Cook for 4 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and add coffee and vanilla.

Place into a mixer bowl or use a handheld mixer and beat until creamy enough to spread.  Frost cake immediately.

Yield:  (1) 8 or 9-inch cake

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Yes, I Cannele!

Yippee!  I have a birthday coming up.  Well, not until September actually, but that won't keep me from creating my bucket list of things I love to eat yet usually deny myself except on my birthday!

C'mon, tell me you don't do the same thing.  We all know calories don't count on your birthday and you can eat anything you damn well please.  While we may suffer through endless salads and unadorned vegetables in our "normal" lives, when it comes to our birthdays, all bets are off!

What's on your list?  Mine is full of carb-laden goodies.  French fries (hopefully with smoked tomato mayo), new potato salad (with bacon, scallions and sour cream) and bread pudding come to mind.  I wouldn't turn down a little lobster mac and cheese, either.  And, thanks to some recent recipe testing in my kitchen, canneles have now made the cut.

You may remember that I talked about these in my last post.  While I mentioned that we had them in St. Martin, I neglected to mention that we didn't like them all that much.  They were dry and sort of tasteless, not at all what I expected.

The backstory:  some months ago, the Cooking Channel resurrected Chicago pastry chef Gale Gand's Sweet Dreams dessert show and I managed to catch a few episodes.  Tragically, it's no longer aired, but one of the segments featured Gale and Pascal Rigo, author of  "The American Boulangerie:  French Pastires and Breads for the Home Kitchen."  They were making Canneles de Bordeaux.  I was intrigued.

Now understand, I had never tasted the things before.  I just thought they looked interesting and right up my alley.  And even though I took a oath not to bring too much crap into the house, in typical Liz impulsive fashion, I immediately burned up the internet to purchase both cannele molds and beeswax - only to subsequently let them languish in the cupboard.

Until I tasted those canneles in St. Martin.  As I said, they were a big disappointment.  So the minute I returned to my crappy kitchen (more about that later), I dragged out those unused supplies and set about making my own.

Admittedly, these are a lot of effort for a small return, and as I was laboring through the process, I concluded this was most likely the kind of recipe you only make once.  You know, like making puff pastry from scratch.  But then I tasted one.  Holy cow!  I don't care how messy they are;  I will definitely make them again!

Here's the recipe.  I don't imagine many of you will travel down this road, but if you do, it will be SO worth it.  Trust me!

CANNELES DE BORDEAUX  (adapted from Pascal Rigo)

3 cups whole milk
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
7 ½ ounces unsalted butter, divided
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup pastry flour (see note)
Pinch of salt
1 extra-large egg yolk
2 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoon dark rum
3 ounces beeswax, finely chopped (1/3 cup)

For the batter:
In a small saucepan, combine the milk, vanilla bean and vanilla bean scrapings.  Bring mixture to the scalding point over medium heat, but do not let it boil.  Remove pan from the heat and add 3 tablespoons of the butter.  Set aside to cool to lukewarm.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour and salt.  In a separate small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, eggs and rum.  Whisk the egg mixture into the sugar and flour mixture, then whisk in the lukewarm milk mixture.  Strain into a container then cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.  You will need to remove the batter from the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before baking it.

To prepare the molds:
Dice the remaining ¾ cup of cold butter.  Cut the beeswax into small pieces (trust me, this is no easy task; the stuff is like frickin’ mortar – you could probably build a fort with it) and melt it in a saucepan over low heat.  This can take almost 20 minutes.  When beeswax is melted, add the butter and stir until it melts also.  Remove from heat and, using a narrow pastry brush, carefully coat the insides of (18) 2 by 1-inch canneles molds.  Make sure the molds are well-coated.  If beeswax starts to set up while you are working with it, return to the heat for a few moments until it thins out again.

To bake the canneles:
Remember to take the batter out of the refrigerator 1 hour before using.  Preheat oven to 425-degrees.

Place the waxed canneles molds on a heavy baking sheet with a rim, lined with parchment paper.  Fill the molds almost to the top with the batter.  Whisk the batter frequently during this process to ensure it remains well-blended.

Bake the canneles for 50 minutes, or until dark brown.  Remove from oven, but be careful not to spill any hot wax on yourself.  This is a messy job as the canneles will have bubbled over.  Using tongs or an old towel, pick up each mold and tap it upside down to remove the canneles.  If they don’t come out easily, use a small paring knife to loosen from the sides.  Place canneles on paper towels to drain.

To serve the canneles:
You can serve these "naked" but I like to cut them in half lengthwise, then arrange on a plate and drizzle with a little caramel.  You could also add a dollop of whipped cream.  Or not!  

Yield:  18 canneles

Even in this crappy photo (sorry!), 
you can see how delicious these are!

*  No pastry flour on hand?  No worries.  For the 2/3 cup called for here, combine 1/3 + 1/6 cup of cake flour with 1/6 cup unbleached all-purpose flour.  That's what I did and it worked just fine.

*  Don't even think about omitting the rum from this recipe.  Trust me, it is crucial!

*  Another tip?  Remove these guys from their molds immediately after taking them out of the oven.  If they start to set up, you will never be able to turn them out and you will likely hurl those heavy little copper molds through your kitchen window in frustration.  You can trust me on this one, too.

*  Who has 18 canneles molds, anyway?  (Hell, who has even one?)  You can halve the recipe or you can bake in batches.  The batter will keep for a few days in the fridge.

Honestly, these were amazing.  They were dark and caramelized on the outside and custard-like and "rummy" on the inside.  Nothing like those dry little knobs we had in St. Martin.  Guess I could show that fancy French bakery down there a thing or two!