Saturday, August 30, 2008

Daring Bakers - Eclairs~Vanilla Bean Custard, Lime Custard, Chocolate Whipped Cream Filling, Chocolate Custard Fillings

Daring Bakers have been creating delicious and decadent eclairs of all types and flavors! Experimenting with combinations of chocolate, cream puff dough and glazes, with or without chopped nuts and other delectables has been a tasty challenge for all of us fun loving bakers. You just have to go and see how versatile this recipe is by clicking on the Daring Bakers! Whose idea behind this challenge? Oh, most definitely a huge hug goes to both Meeta of What's For Lunch Honey? . . .and her co-host. . .Tony of Olive Juice. They chose chocolate eclairs from not just any creative chef BUT from the elite Pierre Herme from the cookbook Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme and written by Dorie Greenspan. . .another favorite chef! I have this beautiful and informative cookbook in my library so I was able to look up all the different parts to this recipe and also to find out that there is also an addition of a chocolate whipped cream recipe that is divine.

I made all the elements of the chocolate eclairs listed in the recipe by Pierre Herme but I also added my own twists, such as a vanilla bean custard that is so good it will make any vanilla lover swoon, the chocolate whipped cream that required overnight chill in the refrigerator, and a beautifully light colored lime custard that would be just as delicious in a tart of it's own. All of the custards were topped with a decorative piping of chocolate whipped cream, chocolate glaze, and toasted, chopped macadamia nuts or just the decadent chocolate glaze. The chocolate sauce used in the chocolate glaze is finger dipping delicious but when added to the short list of ingredients making up the glaze, well, simply Wow! Tongue Dipping Good! This is a glaze that I will forever want to use again and again. My favorite custard filling? My vanilla bean custard. The chocolate custard is bowl licking good but I think there is a little too much corn starch called for in the recipe. This is one of those issues that I just didn't see coming. . .my custard thickened too fast. . .in fact, so fast that I had a bowl of thick chocolate paste instead of a smooth and delectable chocolate custard. I would turn the heat down on my stovetop a little more and add a little less corn starch the next time. The only thing I had missing on my eclairs was a marachino cherry to top everything off. Was this challenge fun? The eclairs were an absolute blast to make and the combinations are endless. I just happen to love the traditional vanilla custard filling with a decadent chocolate glaze. The eclair pastry itself? Yum! Not eggy but instead a true cream puff pastry dough that does the taste buds a service for being a conveyor for further flavors.

Pierre Herme's recipes that come together to make the perfect chocolate eclair include 3 elements. A Choux Pastry, a chocolate pastry cream, and a chocolate glaze that requires a chocolate sauce as part of the ingredients. You can find all of these recipes when you click on Meeta's or Tony's site highlighted above.
I love Herme's Cream Puff Pastry recipe. I made the whole batch into smaller eclairs so that I could try all my different custards and fillings. I even used my blueberry ice cream as a filler but for some reason the picture is evading me. You know the recipe from Dorie Greenspan that the TWD'ers did making the sourcream and blueberry ice cream? For those of you who don't, the recipe is found in her Baking, From my home to yours cookbook and the ice cream is not only delicious but a beautiful lavender color that is excellent for pairing with other fun colors and flavors. . .including chocolate.
I think the hardest part to the cream puff recipe was beating the mixture on the stove top for a whole 3 minutes until the dough dries out. Having a KA mixer definantly saves the day for mixing all the eggs in, one at a time. I think next time I will add just a tad more sugar to the recipe and use my vanilla flavored granulated sugar. I am a vanilla fanatic. I know, I know, vanilla sounds bland to many but I don't think so. I order vanilla beans through a co-op at 30 to 50 beans per bag and the flavor, aroma, and color of these long, dark brown vanilla beans are just beautiful. Some are so fresh, there are actually little white crystals formulated on the outside of the bean. Delicious!
I still need practice piping my eclair shapes because this time I wasn't sure what size a 2cm tip was and the tip used for this batch was too small. I feel like I am in a Goldilocks story here. =). The next time I will use a tip twice the size so there is no grunting noises needed while squeezing the dough through the tip. Heart shaped eclairs was the idea but creating straight little eclairs was a happy ending.
Baking and timing seems to be a tricky skill I need to work on. The eclairs were golden brown and puffed up in the oven but after taking them out, most of the little eclairs deflated. I had this same problem when I made Dorie Greenspan's recipe for the large choux pastry so I 5 minutes was added to the baking time. Only a couple of the cute little eclairs were perfectly done and the rest still had a bit of doughy consistency in the middle. Not enough to damage the end product but enough to not have a perfect eclair.
The Chocolate Glaze is a recipe that has to be as good as if not better then any top quality chocolate glaze purchased at an exorbitant price from any reputable retailer. Delicious, silky smooth, and intense but not overwhelming chocolate flavor. Adding a Chocolate Sauce to the chocolate glaze is something unheard of in my kitchen. The chocolate sauce was so hard to keep fingers and spoons out of until the right amount was added to the glaze. Ice cream dishes were immediately taken out of the cupboard shelf just so the smooth and creamy, warm sauce could be tasted correctly on a scoop of cold ice cream. Watching the ice cream melt slightly as soon as the sauce was drizzled on created just enough anticipation for getting to scoop out as much sauce as ice cream in the first bite. Oh so good!
My lime custard actually came from The Barefoot Contessa's Lime Curd Tart found at the Food Network website. Just click on the highlighted link =) for the original but here is what I used:
Lime Curd Filling:
4 limes at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt
Remove the zest of 4 limes with a vegetable peeler or zester, being careful to avoid the white pith. Squeeze the limes to make 1/2 cup of juice and set the juice aside. Put the zest in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the sugar and process for 2 to 3 minutes, until the zest is very finely minced. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar and lime zest. Add-- the eggs, 1 at a time, and then add the lime juice and salt. Mix until combined.
Pour the mixture into a 2-quart saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes. The lime curd will thicken at about 175 degrees F, or just below a simmer. Remove from the heat and set aside.
I would cook this mixture a little longer next time just to be more like a custard thickness. This time, the lime filling was cooked about 18 minutes and refrigerated over night but still just a little to thin. I had oozing over the sides of the eclairs. If you like a fresh lime flavor was just a little tart bite, then this is the tart curd for you. Me too! I loved it. Just the right amount of sweetness for me along with the intense lime flavor. I believe finding the ripest limes for the recipe has everything to do with getting the correct flavor. If the limes are hard, do not use for this recipe until the fruit is all the way ripe. You will taste the difference.
My vanilla bean custard filling is written down by my Mom so I have no idea where it came from. I apologize to the chef behind this delicious and perfect every time, vanilla bean custard.
Vanilla Bean Custard
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 t. salt
2 c. half-and-half or light cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise or 1 teaspoon vanilla
4 beaten egg yolks
In a heavy saucepan stir together sugar, flour, and salt. Gradually stir in the half-and-half or light cream. Add vanilla bean, if using. Cook and stir over medium heat till thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 1 minute more.
Gradually stir about half the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks. Then return all of the egg yolk mixture to the saucepan. Bing to a gentle boil, then reduce heat. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, Remove and discard vanilla bean or stir in liquid vanilla, if using. Cover surface with plastic wrap. Cool slightly or chill in the refrigerator till serving time. (Do not stir.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Speed Racer Vacationing

Crazy! Hhhmmm, fast paced and crazy. Going from working 6 days a week to packing on a Thursday evening, going to work Friday and leaving right after work for a 17 hour road trip to Anaheim California (DISNEYLAND) from Port Orchard, Washington and Being in Anaheim by Saturday evening was interesting but hard. We got trapped in this WestMark Resort Trial Deal where you pay 695.00 over a 7 month period and then schedule a vacation to see if this type of vacationing works for you. Well, the whole thing went like this: The salesman was NOT forth-coming about when you could schedule a vacation (he said immediately. . .you can't. You have to pay all of the 695.00 before you can schedule a vacation time), the points that you are alloted during this time is enough for 2 weeks (it's not. . .the points were good enough for 4 nights during the week and not including the weekend. That is "if" you can get scheduled in somewhere available), and nothing was said about a limited time to use the vacation points (you lose all 695.00 paid towards the trial vacation if you do not schedule the vacation during the 1-year period. Meaning, you have to first pay the 695.00 in the 1st 7 months and have 5 months left over to figure out where they can fit you in). The whole thing ended with us getting phone calls that our time period for scheduling had 1 week left and then we would be out of luck. We scheduled in San Francisco, CA because I have always wanted to see the city, waterfront, food, and trollies AND because this is about the only place available. The down side? We could only schedule during the week. We decided to make the trip our first car trip and drive over the weekend going to and coming back home the following weekend. THEN I got this brilliant idea that Ashley, my daughter, along with Larry and myself needed to see about Disneyland and if we could fit this in too. No problem! The trip only added almost 6 1/2 hours more driving instead of just going to San Francisco. I talked Larry into the extra driving by promising to drive over half way. I kept my promise =). We squeezed Disneyland into 1 and 3/4 days. We got pictures out of it and lots of fun. The down side is that we were also exhausted. Since I am not home to cook and blog, I decided that I do want to blog about all the good and bad things, places, and ideas that went with this vacation. First, driving until we just couldn't drive any further on I-5, through Oregon Friday night was difficult BUT because we drove for 5 hours that night, we made driving on the next day so much easier. We thought we were going to stop in Vancouver, WA to stay the night (about 3 hours from home) but we ended up driving through Portland and continuing past for another hour down the freeway. The negative is that when the signs say there is an exit to go to this particular town to get fuel, food, or stay in a hotel. . .they mean TAKE THIS EXIT because there is not a second exit to that town. Most medium and smaller towns in Oregon and California were like this. Our first night was around 11:30 p.m. looking for the first hotel that we saw. A Super 8 and not a cheap one at that. Cost around 95.00 to be able to have a bed to sleep in. The restaurant next door was convenient for breakfast, TJ's I believe, but the service was very slow.

Back on I-5, we saw some amazing scenery. Lots of rolling hills, steep hill climbs viewing different mountain ranges, and some cactus. We do not have cactus where we live on the coast of Washington. We also saw Mount Ashton in California but i-5 is noted more for getting somewhere on a direct route rather then being able to site see. That's okay, I will continue to post pictures and and write the diary as I can fit the time in and we are in the middle of coming home right now down Highway 101. We are just before Eureka, CA and headed towards the coastline. That means today we get to see the huge redwoods of California while driving through their state parks. My biggest lesson that I learned so far is to take the time to schedule the road trip. Less expense and more enjoyment would have been the result.

Scheduling pitstops along the way would allow us the leeway of knowing where we were going to stop but NOT scheduling specific times to be anywhere, with the exception of hotels, would keep us from worrying about a time schedule. This is my very first roadtrip so I expected lots of little learning tips along the way.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Healthy? No WAY! Okay, maybe a little but I had to run with a little melted Valrhona white chocolate and some mini Hershey m & m's for fun color. Alright, who am I kidding? I seriously needed a chocolate fix! I have to tell you this is the second batch of these yummy cookies I have made in the last week. The first batch I even added dried tart cherries. . .delish! and this batch I just wanted some kind of chocolate. I already am a huge fan of granola and usually have some homemade granola on hand. My homemade granola mixed with vanilla yogurt is my lunch for work. I have no idea why I feel addicted to the stuff but I am.

These cookies, mine were particularly big because I used a 1/4 cup for a cookie dough scoop, are so filling. I had one in the morning with a cup of tea and I didn't feel like nibbling on anything till after lunch. Absolutely fantastic for taking to lunch.

Thank you Michelle of Bad Girl Baking! You know, there will be brilliant minds attacking this recipe from many artistic sides so click on the TWD and go see the end results! The recipe is called Granola Grabbers; found on page 82 of Dorie Greenspan's cookbook: Baking, From my home to yours. The combinations that can be mixed and matched seem endless. Next time, I want to try pecans and peanuts. Maybe after that it will be macadamia nuts and pecans along with miniature chocolate chips. Cinnamon chips maybe?

This time, I just had to play in some melted chocolate. I am so much braver with chocolate because of the baking events we participate in.

I got into a cookie before the white chocolate had even set on top. I just couldn't help myself. These cookies are just soooo cool! =D

Friday, August 15, 2008

Original American Food. . .How Many Can You Think Of?

My Kitchen, My World did a brain teaser on us for this week. I know we can pick a food that represents a favorite athlete in the Olympics, opening the horizons for any country really, but I would have to say that Michael Phelps is my favorite in the Olympics. Again, American. Well you go ahead and see just how many foods originated in the United States and what did you end up with? I figured the sandwich and the hamburger. I made BOTH in one night! Hubby was so stuffed he couldn't even squeak!

I further investigated and found that the hamburger was invented in the early 1800's by a man in America selling meatballs and instead of placing the meatballs on a plate, he squashed them flat and served them between slices of bread. Hence, the hamburger.
The sandwich was actually invented by John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. The Englishman was a gambling man and after gambling for 24 hours, he instructed his cook to make him food that would not interfere with his playing. The cook is the one that actually invented the sandwich but no one in history seemed to have recorded the cook's name and actually gave credit to the cook's employer, John Montagu. When sandwiches were introduced in America, they use to by very elaborate. Nothing simple like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Even though the hamburger seems original, you are getting both recipes. To see what the rest of our talented group came up with for this week, click on this link: My Kitchen, My World.
Before I let you go to the recipes, I just have to share my new toy that will hopefully be the end-all of mixers! I love letting my KA Artisan mixer knead small amounts of bread dough for me but the other day I got carried away and did a larger batch. My KA motor hated me! The machine actually started to give off a smell that made be worry enough to take the dough out and finish kneading by hand. Macy's had a sale on the PRO KA 600 model and shipping was free. I did it! and now I have my beautiful mixer. I haven't used the mixer yet, just petting it allot right now. . .in disbelief. It was hubby's idea, honest! Wink, wink! =D
Cheddar Burgers with Balsamic Onions and Jalapeno ketchup
1 pound red onions, or use Vidalia Sweet Onions like I did, cut crosswise into 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick rounds (thicker slices do not fall between the grill rack as easily)
Olive Oil
3/4 t. coarse kosher salt
1/2 t. coarsely ground black pepper
2 T. Balsamic Vinegar
1 c. ketchup
1 jalapeno, finely diced
2 t. chiptole hot sauce
6 Thick slices sharp cheddar cheese
6 large Hamburger Buns, split, cut sides grilled
6 Tomato slices (optional)
2 c. fresh spinach leaves, I used my home grown lettuce leaves
For onions:Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat): Arrange onion rounds on baking sheet. Brush with oil; sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt and pepper. Transfer onion rounds (still intact) to grill rack; close cover. Cook until grill marks appear, about 4 minutes per side. Reduce heat or move onions to cooler part of grill. Close cover; cook until onions are tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl. Toss with vinegar. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover; chill.
For jalapeno ketchup: Mix ketchup, finely diced jalapeno, and 2 teaspoons chiptole hot sauce in small bowl. Season with salt and more hot sauce, if desired. Do ahead. Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and chill.
For burgers: Shape beef into six 1/2-inch thick patties. Sprinkle patties on both sides with coarse salt and pepper. Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Place burgers on grill. Close cover; cook burgers until bottoms start to darken and juices rise to surface, about 3 minutes. Turn burgers; cook to desired doneness, about 3 minutes longer for medium-rare. Top with onions and cheese. Close cover; cook until cheese melts. Place bun bottoms on plates; spread with ketchup. Top with burgers, tomatoes, if desired, spinach, and bun tops. Serve, passing remaining ketchup separately.
For the Sandwich:
1/3 to 1/2 c. mayonnaise, I use Best Foods
3 to 4 T. crumbled, mild blue cheese
2 T. chopped Fresh Basil
1/8 t. freshly ground pepper
1 (8-inch) loaf of focaccia, halved horizontally is preferred. I could only find my other favorite:
Garlic French Bread but this may be a little to much bread for some =)
2 large tomatoes, sliced
1/4 sweet onion, sliced
1/2 c. baby spinach
1/2 c. arugula or additional spinach. . .I like the leaf and taste contrast
8 ounces thinly sliced deli roast beef
1/4 c. sliced Kalamata Olives
Combine mayonnaise, cheese, basil and pepper in a small bowl; spread on cut sides of bread.
Arrange tomatoes over bottom half of bread; sprinkle with salt. Top with all remaining ingredients. Cover with top half of bread; cut into wedges. You should get 4 sandwiches.
Does this garlic French Bread not look delicious? The bakery just baked it several hours earlier.
Layering your choices of filling is half of the fun! I think the challenge should be how to properly
make a Dagwood sandwich where the more you can get on the bread the better!
I think we did pretty good here. I was going for a half-pound of Italian Roast Beef and succeeded! I love Kalamata olives and couldn't resist.
Hubby's piece after he ate the burger. He swears he will never eat again! =D

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Our Tribute to the Entertaining Guru. . .From. . .The Barefoot Bloggers

I never have heard the work Panzanella until Melissa of Melissa's Kitchen chose it out of all of Ina's recipes. What a great word. I just love saying it, Panzanella. The flavors coming to gether to create the masterpiece makes this a meal worth enjoying all by itself, which is what we did. My hubby couldn't get enough of the salad. . .and the toasted Tuscan bread cubes not only totally made this dish BUT hubby is a nut for anything that resembles a crouton. =). He liked the salad so much that he took the last of what was left over for lunch. Actually, I fried a few pinto bean and cornmeal cakes in 2 T. of butter, set the two cakes in a Tupperware dish; added leftover broiled Sockeye Salmon, shredded up; then I topped everything with the leftover salad and the little bit of vinaigrette at the bottom of the salad bowl. He wants me to make more. . .so do I.

I really enjoy food that has different textures and a little crunch along with a pretty visual display. I bought the colors of bell pepper that Ina specified in her recipe because I wanted to see the reds, yellows, greens, creamy whites, and toasty browns mixed together offering a true Italian flavor. I have had champagne vinegar for a while BUT I had to remove the wrapper off the cork on top to use it. An unused bottle of anything in my kitchen is always a shocker to me. Toasting cubed Tuscan bread in extra-virgin olive oil can make a person start to smack his and her lips together in anticipation. Hubby kept sneaking toasted bread cubes when he figured I wasn't looking. I thought this was kind of cute but I wasn't going to tell him this or half the bread would have been gone. Many of us Barefoot Bloggers put our own small personal touches to the recipe. Checking each other's ideas out is half of the fun for me. The first part is the waiting to find out what new recipes will be selected for the month, making the recipe and figuring out how I want to present the end result for pictures, then getting to see everyone else's ideas. I wouldn't join a group that I couldn't see myself having a LOT of fun with.

The recipe is posted on the Food Network site.

I'm not usually a big Basil person but this salad would not be a huge success without it, as far as my family was concerned. I am going to confess that I halved the amount of basil. I got scared, what can I say. 20 basil leaves is a LOT when the leaves were as big as the ones I had.

The vinaigrette was so tasty! I love the cheerful yellow color, although after pouring the vinaigrette over the salad, you know longer get to see the color =). Silly me.