Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Daring Baker's Croquembouche

This month’s Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Little Miss Cupcake, and the challenge was to make a Croquembouche, or Piece Montee, which is basically lots of cream puffs all piled up into total amazingness.

For the challenge, we had to make the pastry cream, pate a choux, and use a glaze to mount the puffs into a structure. I chose to make classic Vanilla Bean pastry cream, and mounted the puffs freestanding with melted chocolate.

I made the pastry cream a day ahead and let it set in the refrigerator overnight.

The pate a choux is made by first boiling water, butter, salt and sugar together. Then you dump in flour and stir really hard. What I found difficult was adding the eggs. The recipe called for 4 eggs, adding one at a time. It was a hassle to incorporate the egg easily, taking some extra time. When I made gougeres, I added the egg in the food processor, and I think that would have been a better method.

Once the puffs were baked and out of the oven, I let them cool completely. When I was ready to fill the puffs, I fitted a pastry bag with a small sharp tip and filled with pastry cream. With the sharp tip, I puncture the bottom with the tip, and fill with pastry cream. Once I started to fill the puffs, I got a good feeling for what was overfull and what was just right.

After the puffs were filled and ready to be assembled into the little tower, I melted 8 oz of chocolate, to be used as the glue for my tower.

Dipping the filled puffs in the melted chocolate, I started placing the puffs very carefully onto a small plate. A couple times I had to chill the croquembouche in the fridge to make sure it was firm and wouldn’t turn into a catastrophe on me.

Once the piece was put together, I drizzled more chocolate on, and called it a masterpiece!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Vegetable Minestrone Soup

Soup is a favorite staple around our house, and this soup is essential. It’s easy to add different seasonal ingredients to the soup, each time tasting different and wonderful.

With the vegetables, we add whatever is around, being fond on onion, garlic, and tomato. The original recipe calls for zucchini, but I am not a huge fan of it in soup, so we just adjust other amounts accordingly. If leaks are out of season and too expensive, we also adjust other quantities of veggies. It’s just a launching board!

We have also experimented with the type of pasta/grain added to the soup. We have added small mini-sized pasta, medium-sized pasta, rice, tortellini, ravioli, and this last time we added orzo, which was fantastic.

The cheese rind is necessary, adding an amazing flavor to the broth. Cheese rinds can be find at your local gourmet cheese counter. I have seen bags of cheese rinds packaged together for sale specifically for soups, but I have also asked the workers at the cheese counter if they have any. They are often left over. Or use the soup as an excuse to buy some nice cheese to use for the rind!

If you have a specific choice of been to add, feel free! We like cannellini beans, garbanzo, any type of white bean works well.

Vegetable Minestrone Soup, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

2 Leeks, sliced, white and light green parts only

10 baby cut carrots, chopped (any type of carrot will work, we always have baby carrots on hand)

2 medium onions, chopped

4 ribs celery, chopped

1 medium russet potato, peeled and cubed

3-4 cups spinach, cut into strips ( I trim the stems off as well)

1 Tbsp chopped garlic

8 cups water

2 14 oz cans diced tomatoes, drained of liquids

Cheese rind, any type of hard cheese, can be found at gourmet cheese counter, ask

1/4 cup pesto (I have found this optional)

1 cup Orzo, uncooked

1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

salt and pepper, to taste

  1. In a cast iron soup pot, add all chopped vegetables, tomatoes, garlic, cheese rind, and water and bring to a boil. Once brought to a boil, turn heat to medium low and let simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add Orzo, or preferred pasta, and cook an additional 10 minutes, or until grain/pasta is at the desired tenderness.
  3. Add garbanzo beans and cook until beans are warm, about 5 minutes.
  4. Mix in pesto, if using, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Amazing Gougeres

Back at Easter (yes, I know that was a while ago), some friends invited us over for a big Easter dinner. Hubby and I were bringing a bunch of stuff,but I wanted to make something out of the ordinary to bring. Since Hubby looooves cheese, Gougeres would be perfect!

I had never made pate a choux before, but David Lebovitz’s recipe made it perfectly easy, and you only need a small handful of ingredients, like the following.

See, you boil some butter and water, with a pinch of salt and cayenne pepper. While your water is starting to boil, you shred some cheese, anything semi-hard, I used gruyere.

Then you take it off the heat, throw in some flour and mix it around.

Then, in your awesomely handy food processor, dump the clump of dough, plus most of the cheese and some fresh herbs, and mix in the food processor until all nice and mixed.

Scrape the sticky mixture of dough into a piping bag, fitted with a large tip. I use a standard coupler tip, since it is the right size, and just as easy as a tip. If you don’t have a piping bag, people say you can snip the tip of a freezer bag and use that, but I haven’t tried it that way. If you have to use a freezer bag, make sure you use a sturdy one, and cut the tip small, you can always cut it bigger if you need.

Pipe mounds of dough, a little larger than a quarter, onto a parchment lined baking sheet, evenly spaced on the sheet. Sprinkle some cheese on top of the mounds, then bake those suckers into amazingness!

Gougeres, by David Lebovitz

1/2 cup water

3 Tbsp butter, small cubes

1/4 tsp salt

Chile powder, as desired

1/2 cup flour, all-purpose

2 eggs, large

1 Tbsp fresh chives, or fresh herb of your choice

3/4 cup cheese, grated fine (I think a combination of grated Parmesan and Gruyere is perfect)

  1. Preheat oven to 425F (I used a convection oven at 400F). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Place the water, butter, salt and chile powder in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure the butter is melted.
  3. Take the saucepan off the heat, and dump all of the flour into the water at once. Stir quickly and vigorously with a wooden spoon until the dough mixture is consistent.
  4. Using a spatula, transfer the dough into a large food processor. Add the eggs and pulse the food processor until the egg thoroughly incorporated. Add chives and grated cheese, reserving 1 heaping tablespoon for later use. Mix well, dough will be sticky.
  5. With a pastry bag, fitted with a large tip or coupler, fill with dough. Pipe the dough into small mounds, a little larger than the size of a quarter, evenly spaced to about an inch.
  6. Sprinkle the tops of the mounds with the reserved cheese.
  7. Place the baking sheets in oven, and bake at 425F for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, rotate trays, reduce heat to 375F (or 350F for convection) and bake for 20 more minutes, until gougeres are golden brown in color.
  8. Take gougeres out of oven, place on a cooling rack, and let rest for 5 minutes. Puffs will taste best served warm.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Super Easy Vegetarian Bean Tacos

Mexican food is a super favorite in our house. It is in stiff competition with Indian food for hubby's affection. We also love any holiday or excuse to make ethnic food. Everyone loves a theme menu, right?

Perfect for Cinco de Mayo, this is our favorite recipe for tacos, and is also the most ridiculously easy recipe ever.

Black Bean & Garbanzo Bean tacos

1 can Garbanzo Beans
1 can Black Beans
1 packet/3 tbsp Taco Seasoning

You will also need:

Taco Shells

Taco Toppings, such as:
Diced Tomatoes
Chopped Lettuce
Shredded Cheese
Sour Cream
Black Olives
Sauteed Onions

Taco Stuffing steps:
1. Open and empty both cans of beans, without draining liquids, into a large skillet. Add desired amount of taco seasoning. We add about 3 tablespoons from a large contianer of seasoning, but one small envelope of seasoning will also be fine. Mix seasoning into bean mixture.

2.With medium-high heat, bring beans and liquid to a simmer. Once at a simmer, stir often until thickened, about 5-10 minutes longer. For a saucier taco filling, take mixture off heat earlier.

Assemble your taco with your favorite toppings, and enjoy!