Sunday, February 26, 2012

Grandma Joyce's Apple Cake

Since we have had an unnaturally warm winter this year, it feels like we are a month ahead of schedule. The crocuses and daffodils are already stretching their green shoots out of the ground, and the light is bright and clear in the morning. It shines through the windows, beckoning us out of bed to meet the day.

This morning I got up and headed straight for the kitchen.  Yes, I needed to get my cup of coffee, but the need to bake an apple cake propelled me as well.  The cake is a cinch to make, and I thought it would be nice if my family was greeted by the fragrance of apples and cinnamon wafting from the kitchen this fine Sunday morning.

If you ever need a great breakfast treat or quick dessert, this apple cake won't disappoint.  Enjoy.

Grandma Joyce's Apple Cake

3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
4 cups chopped apples (about three large apples; I prefer Granny Smith apples)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and lightly flour a 9 1/2 x 13 inch pan and set aside.

In large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Mix to mix sure ingredients are distributed.

In another bowl, mix together eggs, oil, sugar, vanilla, apples and walnuts.

Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix together until incorporated.  The batter will be thick, as when it cooks, the apples will provide the necessary moisture to the cake.

Spread the batter out in the pan.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes to an hour.  The cake will be done when it's nicely browned on top and when an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

If you want to use a bundt pan instead, bake for approximately 1 1/2 hours.

Mardi Gras: Chicken and Andouille Sausage Casserole

On Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, I had a craving for shrimp ettoufee with its dark roux-based sauce gliding its way through white pearls of rice.

Since my younger daughter doesn't eat seafood, that was out. I decided to make a saucey casserole with chicken and andouille sausage instead.  I made a medium-dark roux, and with it, made a gravy of sauted onions, white wine and chicken broth. To the gravy, I added some seasoned and seared chicken, andouille sausage, and mushrooms, and then let it cook in the oven until it was bubbly and browned on the surface.

With rice and a liberal dousing of hot sauce, this was highly decadent and satisfying.

If this isn't a way to indulge before Lent, I don't know what is.

I didn't use a recipe, but Emeril has one you might try out. I'm sure he knows his way around New Orleans cooking.

Chicken and Andouille Sausage Casserole

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon Essence, recipe follows
  • 2 to 2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 dry bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 ounces andouille sausage, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onions
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, stems trimmed, wiped clean, and sliced
  • 6 boiled artichoke hearts, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons chopped green onions
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon leaves
  • Toasted sliced French bread, accompaniment


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a heavy plastic bag, combine the flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the Essence. Add the chicken and toss until well coated. Shake to remove any excess breading and reserve the remaining flour.
In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, remaining Essence, cheese, and butter and set aside.
In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken in batches as necessary and cook until browned on each side, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Add the sausage and cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until almost browned, about 4 minutes. Add the onions, garlic, and cayenne and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until they are soft and give off their liquid, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the reserved flour and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chicken, artichokes, stock, cream, green onions, parsley, and tarragon, stir, and bring to a boil. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the top and bake until bubbly and the top has a golden crust, about 25 minutes.
Remove from the oven and serve hot over toasted French bread.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Empanadas with Barcelona Cookbook Empanada Dough

I love long weekends, don't you?  That third day makes me feel like I have all the time in the world, and I can cook all day.  This weekend I happily spent time in my kitchen making empanadas.

Empanadas are a great way to use up leftovers.  I made a filling from leftover Thomas Keller roast chicken, gravy, salsa, and a little crushed tomatoes, mixing it with sauteed onions and garlic, spices (cumin, chili powder, oregano, and kosher salt and pepper), and a little cream cheese to bind.  

Whenever you make empanada filling, it should be juicy but not runny.  It also should be bold in flavor as the little morsel of filling needs to carry the dough as well.

For the dough, I tried out my friend Andy Pforzheimer's recipe from his Barcelona Cookbook (recipe below), and it was fabulous, tender and soft.  I would expect no less from Andy, as I've made several other Barcelona Cookbook recipes on my blog with great success.  His restaurants are also spectacular.

I did make one modification to his recipe, substituting vodka for half of the water called for in his recipe. The alcohol apparently reduces gluten formation, and it burns off during cooking, leaving a flaky crust.  

Here's the dough when it's done mixing.  It balls up around the dough hook attachment.  If you find it's too wet and not balling up, add little sprinklings of flour until it gathers itself together.  Conversely, if it's dry and crumbly, add drops of water until it comes together.

After the dough has come together, I like to divide it into six portions.  That way I can work with smaller pieces of dough at a time.  The dough should rest in the fridge for at least 45 minutes.  Before rolling, you want the dough out at room temperature for 20-30 minutes, so it will roll out more easily.

I like to make a few test empanadas before I make the rest of them. Since I was making appetizer-sized empanadas, I used a 2 1/2 inch round cutter (I only had one with a scalloped edge; a straight edge is perfectly fine). I fried these at 370 degrees Fahrenheit for about 4 minutes.

I use my husband as a guinea pig to try them out.  I think he doesn't mind.  After I tasted one, I added a little more salt and some shredded Mexican cheese to the filling.

Now it's production time! I think the easiest and fastest way to do it is to roll out the dough and cut out all the disks.  Then place the filling in the center of the disks.  I use egg white to help seal the empanadas, so at this point, I will brush three or four of them at a time and then close them up as the egg white dries out pretty quickly. Finally, I crimp all of them at a time with a fork to make sure the edges are bound together. When you close the empanadas, make sure none of the filling has compromised the edge of the empanadas, as they won't fully seal that way and will open up during frying.

If you bake them, having perfectly sealed empanadas isn't as big as an issue.  After brushing them with an egg wash (an egg whisked with a little milk), I baked some as well at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes.

Which one won in our house?  The fried.  But the baked ones are delicious too.

I brought both the baked and fried empanadas to my friend's house as an appetizer, serving them with a Barcelona Cookbook roasted red pepper sauce. They were a big hit!

Oh, and guess what I did the next day.  You got it -- beef empanadas with leftover skirt steak and pot roast.  These were just as yummy.  And I brought them to another friend's house as an appetizer.  Enjoy!

Barcelona Restaurant Empanada Dough
(Modified recipe from the Barcelona Cookbook)
Makes around 70 2 1/2 inch empanada disks

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tbs. sugar
1/2 tbs. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 large egg 
1 egg yolk (save the egg white in another bowl to use in sealing the empanadas)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup plus 2 tbs. water (I used 1/2 water and 1/2 vodka here)

In the bowl of the electric mixer with the dough hook or paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder on low speed until ingredients are well incorporated.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk (save the egg white in another bowl), and vinegar.

Add the egg mixture and melted, cooled butter to the flour and mix on low speed for one minute, until blended. Increase the speed to medium and add the water.  Mix for about two minutes to incorporate fully.  When the dough is ready, it will gather in one ball around the dough hook or paddle.  If it's not doing that and is wet,  add a little sprinkling of flour at a time until it comes together. If it's dry and crumbly, add a few drops of water at a time until it comes together.

Take the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured work surface and give it a few final kneads.  It will feel really soft and silky.  Divide into three portions.  Shape each into a rounded disk and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least four hours and up to three days. [Note, I refrigerated the dough for about 45 minutes, and I thought it was fine.]

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Eggs Benedict

This post is for Sandy Norelli, who was kind enough to write on my blog that she was glad I was back after a writing hiatus.  It's nice to know someone noticed I was gone.

Why did I stop writing?  It boils down to this:

Picture from here.

A birthday present from my husband, the light and portable Ipad proved addictive.  I could check my emails, play my music, read my Kindle books, and surf the Internet.  I could do everything on the Ipad that I could do on my laptop -- except blog.

Thus happened my abrupt withdrawal from the blog hemisphere.  I still cooked and posted on my Facebook page, but my real blog slowly starved.

I am back again, and with a yummy Eggs Benedict for today. I was flipping through the MasterChef Cookbook and saw their foolproof way of poaching an egg, which involves cooking it in its shell first.  Cooking the egg briefly in its shell brings it to room temperature, which helps it keep its shape while poaching and also speeds along the cooking of the egg white so that the egg yolk does not overcook.

If you haven't ever poached an egg or have had poaching disaster, it's fun to try out a new technique.

I also wanted to try making a blender hollandaise sauce, which is a fast and easy way to make hollandaise sauce.  Simply Recipes, which is one of the most comprehensive and reliable food blogs out there, had a recipe which I used. 

I didn't have the traditional English muffin and Canadian bacon, so I just used a piece of crispy, warm toast and some perfectly fried bacon as the foundation for my silky egg and lemony, buttery sauce.


Eggs Benedict (for 4)

4 Eggs 
Hollandaise Sauce (see recipe below)
2 English muffins, split in half
4 Canadian bacon

Make the hollandaise sauce (see recipe below) and set aside in a warm place, such as on the stovetop if you have a place to set things down, or next to the stovetop.

Fill a wide pan halfway with water and add 1 tbs. of vinegar.  Bring to a low simmer over medium heat.

While the water is heating, heat another skillet over medium heat.  Add Canadian bacon and warm through on each side.  When heated through, turn off the skillet and set aside.

When the water is barely bubbling, add the whole eggs in their shell for 10 seconds.

Remove the eggs from the water.  Crack the egg on a flat surface into a small bowl or ladle and then add the egg back into the water in a continuous tilt.  Repeat with the remaining eggs, making sure to space them apart, so they don't touch.

While eggs are poaching, toast English muffins. When done, put one half of an English muffin on an individual plate and place a piece of Canadian bacon on top of each English muffin half.

Poach for three minutes.  Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and pat the bottom of the egg in the spoon on a paper towel to remove any excess water.

Place the egg on a toasted English muffin with a piece of Canadian bacon on top.  

Top with hollandaise sauce and serve immediately.

3 egg yolks (see how to separate eggs)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (if using salted butter, skip the added salt)

Melt the butter slowly in a small pot or in the microwave. Try not to let it boil – you want the moisture in the butter to remain there and not steam away.

Add the egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and cayenne (if using) into your blender. Blend the egg yolk mixture at a medium to medium high speed until it lightens in color, about 20-30 seconds. The friction generated by the blender blades will heat the yolks a bit. The blending action will also introduce a little air into them, making your hollandaise a bit lighter.
Once the yolks have lightened in color, turn the blender down to its lowest setting (if you only have one speed on your blender it will still work), and drizzle in the melted butter slowly, while the blender is going. Continue to buzz for another couple seconds after the butter is all incorporated.
Turn off the blender and taste the sauce. It should be buttery, lemony and just lightly salty. If it is not salty or lemony enough, you can add a little lemon juice or salt to taste. If you want a thinner consistency, add a little warm water. Pulse briefly to incorporate the ingredients one more time.
Store until needed in a warm spot, like on or next to the stovetop. Use within an hour or so.
Makes about 1 cup of sauce, good for about 4-6 servings.