Apr 27, 2016

Recipe Box- Cheese Grits Casserole

Let's talk about grits!

As a southern girl growing up in Alabama, you'd probably think that I grew up eating grits everyday. I mean, they are served everywhere here, from gourmet restaurants to Mawmaw's kitchen. But, alas, I must admit that I wasn't always such a big fan. As a child, I was texture-adverse to lots of foods, grits being one of the main ones. But somewhere along the way, I got over the grittiness and learned the true joy of a good bowl of cheese grits. The kind that sticks to your ribs. The kind served in a cereal bowl with three pieces of bacon and a buttermilk biscuit. 

You know what I'm talking about!

And, if you don't, then you've come to the right place because I'm going to spill the beans on one of my favorite grits recipes. 

I was in Lexington, MA for my best friend's wedding this past weekend, and despite already being a bridesmaid, I'd also agreed to cook the brunch for the morning after the wedding. It wasn't until a few weeks before the wedding that I realized that was truly a crazy idea. I mean, we all know that I was going to dance the night away until the reception ended at midnight. How was I possibly going to get up in the morning and have breakfast ready for 30+ people by 10am? 

By preparing the breakfast ahead of time. Like, two days ahead of time. 

First, I started by preparing Southern Living's recipe for One-Dish Blackberry French Toast. It's like breakfast bread pudding, and since it needs some time to soak up that delicious custard made from heavy cream and eggs, I knew it was a keeper for this particular event. I'd also decided to make some homemade buttermilk biscuits and freeze them, which makes for a crispy and flaky biscuit. Oh my! Again, another keeper for making breakfast ahead of time. I couldn't resist the opportunity to bring a little Southern flare to the Northeast, so I decided to bring out the big guns and make some grits. This grits casserole is creamy, cheesy, and delicious, and, as an added benefit, it can be made several days in advance and then popped in the oven the morning of the event. Doesn't get much easier than that!

Cheese Grits Casserole

makes 20 servings

1 24oz. tube old-fashioned grits

1 stick unsalted butter

1/2 pint heavy cream

1 tbs. thyme

2 c. shredded white cheddar cheese

4 eggs, beaten

salt and pepper to taste

For this particular recipe, I do recommend using old-fashioned grits versus quick grits. However, you can use quick grits for a shortcut. Just be sure to keep on eye on them because I've found quick grits are more apt to lump than old-fashioned ones. If you end up with major lumps, I recommend going after them with a whisk. But, also, don't worry about it too much. Momma always says that finding a lump in your grits is good luck. 

Measure out your water according to the maximum amount of grits in the tube. Generally, grits are a 2:1 ratio, but some brands vary. Once the water is boiling, add a healthy pinch of salt, and pour in the grits. Cover and simmer the appropriate amount of time according to the package. Stir occasionally to keeps the lumps at bay. Once the grits have absorbed most of the water and are creamy and amazing, turn off the heat, and add in the butter one tablespoon at a time. When the butter has been incorporated, pour in the heavy cream and then add the cheese. Stir until the cheese has melted, then season with salt, pepper, and thyme. Now, taste test for seasoning and because the chef deserves a taste of those delicious grits.

Beat the four eggs together in a separate small bowl and then temper the eggs with the hot grits by adding about a tablespoon at a time and stirring together. Once the eggs are tempered, pour them into the grits pot and stir to incorporate. Spray a large casserole dish (9x13 at least or use a disposable roasting pan) with cooking spray and pour in the grits. Now, if you're going to cook them immediately, have your oven pre-heated to 350 degrees and bake for 30 minutes. If you're making them ahead of time, cool the pan, then cover in foil and refrigerate until the morning of the event. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees, and pop them in, covered, for 45 minutes. Then, uncover and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes or until the edges are brown and pull away from the sides of the dish and the center looks set and hot. 

Enjoy!

Creamy Grits Casserole Recipe

(photo credit: myrecipes.com. Grits went so fast, I didn't have time to take a photo!)

Apr 9, 2016

Out & About: Honey Baby's First Pepper Place Market

My goodness! 

What an incredible day! An overwhelming day, but in a good way, ya know?

This morning began bright and early (does that phrase still count if the sun isn't up?) at 4:30am with a start. Today was the day! My first farmers market! 

That in itself is an exciting adventure, but, and not to add any pressure to it, but it's also the reason I moved across the country. I moved back to Birmingham to embrace it's burgeoning culinary culture and hopefully become a part of it. Pepper Place Market is right at the heart of that movement. The Market nurtures our Alabama farmers and entrepreneurs and has been instrumental in making people excited about our city again. I was beyond thrilled when I was accepted at The Market, but also nervous. My samples might have been good enough to get me in initially, but would I be up to muster at the actual market? Would people be interested in hand pies? Would my flavor combinations be too "interesting" or too boring? I had so many questions and fears, and it certainly felt like I was really putting everything out there on the line. I don't know if I've ever felt more vulnerable than I did this morning. I love these pies, but will you?

Dad and I arrived at The Market at 5:30am with a car packed to the brim. We backed into our spot and started unloading the car. I focused on trying not to think about how other people were decorating their tents. I'd already done a mock set-up of mine and had spent lots of fun at World Market picking out just the right amount of whimsy things. Deep breaths, deep breaths, and hang up that banner, girl! Honey Baby Bakery! Open for business- officially!

By 6:30am, we were pretty much set-up and Momma came to meet us and begin her official position as the Most Supreme Meeter and Greeter. In the weeks leading up to The Market, I'd agonized over how many pies to make. I mean, how many hand pies are too many hand pies? And, having never had a farmers market booth, nonetheless one at the most popular market in Birmingham, I made a wild guess. 180 hand pies. 5 dozen of each kind (blueberry, goat cheese, & basil, apple caramel, and strawberry tarragon), plus 24 double-chocolate brownies, which I'd made as my "Treat of the Week," which will rotate each market. It certainly seemed like enough to me! I mean, I'd spent 8 hours baking on Friday, and the kitchen was covered in pies. 

As the bell rang at 7am, I was nervously awaiting my first customer. As the people started to trickle in, so did my anxiety. I watched customers going here and there to tents, passing mine with a glance but moving on. I told Momma that I'd made too much. I was sure of it.

And, then 8am came and so did the people. The Market was bustling by 8:30 and the crowds just kept getting bigger. So many familiar faces passed by: friends, old teachers, family friends, Momma's former students, people I hadn't seen in years. It was wonderful! And, when people saw others buying those pies, they stopped too. One little boy bought one pie and then came back 10 minutes later to buy another one. A couple I'd met once before bought a brownie, ate it while we were chatting, and then bought another one right afterwards. Someone came to the tent to let me know they loved what they'd bought. How thrilling! And, suddenly, by 9:20am, I was sold out of bluberry. By 9:45, I was sold out of all of the flavors. And, by 10:15am, I was out of brownies. That's it, folks! With two hours still left in The Market, I was totally sold out. What a good problem to have, I guess! 

Words can't express how lucky I am to have such supportive people in my world. Thank you to each and every one of you who made it out to The Market, even if I'd already sold out. I owe you a pie, for sure! And, thank you to those near and far who commented or liked my post on social media. I could have hugged each of you for an uncomfortable amount of time. 

The even better news is that I get to do this all over again next Saturday! I'll be back at Pepper Place Market on April 16th from 7am-noon with even more hand pies and treats, and I hope to continue the success. After next week, I'll be off during the month of May, but back this summer on June 11th. 

Thanks for sticking with me on this journey. More recipes coming soon! 

Dec 29, 2015

Recipe Box- Kale, Red Pepper, and Goat Cheese Frittata

Two months! 

Reporting live from my childhood bedroom in Birmingham, AL, I can now tell you that I've been living here for two months. And, more importantly, I have not only been through, but survived the holiday baking season.

Holy moly, you guys.

Holiday baking is INTENSE. It is "nose to the grind stone, stress dreams, cramped hands, long hours" hard work. I'd always heard that the holidays were hard for anyone in the service industy, but I didn't really understand until I was actually in the service industry. So, if you know someone who works in retail or in a restaurant, please go give them a hug. They will appreciate that hug like whoa. Also, maybe slip a couple of bucks in their pocket, because, even if they did work more hours than usual, they are probably still really broke.

I did help bake and decorate 3000 cookies one week. Three thousand cookies.

Aren't they pretty? 

I don't ever want to see them again.

Besides the holiday fare that we were baking, like these cranberry lattice pies...

we also still made breakfast too, just like normal. Scones all day, every day.

I have to admit that with the workload at the bakery, I haven't had a lot of time for creativity or extra time to make complicated dishes, so I thought I'd share a recipe that's easy, but looks impressive. Frittata. If you're not familiar with frittata, it's like a crustless quiche or really fancy baked scrambled eggs. It looks awesome, but it's super easy to make. And, once you've got the basics down, you can mix and match the fillings to your heart's delight.  The day after Christmas, we hosted a brunch for some of our wonderful extended family, and I whipped up the following recipe along with a grits casserole and some orange rolls. Yum!

Kale, Roasted Red Pepper, and Goat Cheese Frittata

1 bunch kale, stems removed and chiffonade

2 garlic cloves

1 shallot

1 jar roasted red peppers

1 8oz. crumbed goat cheese

1/4 c. heavy cream

14 eggs

2 tbs. canola oil

salt and pepper 

Equipment needed: cast iron skillet

Ready for easy. Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees. Chiffonade the kale and mince the shallot and garlic. Heat a tablespoon of oil in your cast iron skillet on medium heat and add the shallot and garlic. Saute for a couple of minutes, and then add the kale. Cook for about five minutes, until the kale has release some water and is wilted. Put the kale in a bowl and set it aside while you wipe out your skillet. Julienne the roasted red peppers. Go ahead and use the whole jar. Go crazy! Now, in another bowl, crack 14 eggs in and scramble them with the heavy cream. Then, throw in the wilted kale, red peppers, the goat cheese, and some salt and pepper. Meanwhile, add the remaining tablespoon of oil to your skillet and heat it on high heat. When the skillet begins to smoke, cut off the heat and immediately pour the egg mixture into the skillet. It's really important that the skillet be screaming hot before you pour in the eggs. If the skillet isn't smoking, then the eggs are going to stick to the bottom and you'll have a really hard time getting the frittata out of the pan. Then, pop the skillet into the oven and let it go for 25-30 minutes until the center is mostly set and just a little jiggly. Let the frittata cool for five minutes, and then turn it out onto a platter to serve. Voila!

 

Dec 1, 2015

Recipe Box- Italian Tamales

One month.

It's been one month since I moved from Chicago back to my hometown of Birmingham, AL.

Without a doubt, this has been the longest and the shortest month of my entire life. It feels like a lifetime since I've been here, and longer since I've seen my friends, but I know it's only been a measly 30ish days. 

So, what have I been up to over the last month?

Mostly working. Working and hanging out with my parents. Let me tell you something...holiday season is no joke at a bakery. Now, I'm lucky that I work for a locally owned business because we had two whole days off for Thanksgiving, which is probably unheard of in other places. And, with Christmas right around the corner, I'm bracing myself for an unprecedented amount of gingerbread houses and buche de noels

On a personal level, it's been great to jump right in to work (I started just a day after moving) so that I didn't have time to dwell on the consequences of packing up my life, but it's been hard to get my feet underneath me with the adjustment to the early hours, the physical demands of the job, and navigating the landscape of living in my childhood bedroom again. An "adjustment" doesn't really describe it. It's more like an "upheaval." Now, that's not to say that I'm not okay. I am. I really am. I can't tell you how satisfying it is to be able to physically show and taste the fruits of my labor for the day. It's not a spreadsheet. It's a scone. But, I'm definitely still in the adjustment phase. And, also, how does one go about making friends as an adult? Also, carpal tunnel

ANYWAY...

Enough chit-chat and more food, right? As promised in my last post, it's time to talk about...dun dun DUN...Italian Tamales.

Why Italian tamales and not just normal tamales, you might ask...Good question. Blame it all on, Kevin

Many moons ago, my friend Kevin had a dream. A food dream. He dreamed that he was eating tamales, but not just any run-of-themill tamales. Tamales with Italian twist. A culinary mash-up of two beloved cuisines created in Kevin's subconcious, and, as we would find out, as delicious in real life as they were in his dream. 

So, on a chilly Sunday on my last weekend in Chicago, I headed over to Kevin's house with the few cooking equipment pieces I had yet to pack for the move to make his dreams come true

Now, I'd never made tamales, nonetheless, Italian ones, so I looked up what the almighty Alton Brown had to say about the matter. His recipe can be found here, but below is mine with a few adjustments. I must confess that I didn't think about a few of these additions until after the fact, but I think they'd make these even better. 

First things first, you gotta make the masa:

Masa for Italian Tamales

1 package of dried corn husks- your local grocery store will carry them around the holidays, but you should be able to find them any time of the year at a Hispanic grocery store

1 bundle of kitchen twine

2 lbs. masa harina or finely ground corn flour- I recommend using Maseca

1 1/2 tbs. salt

1 tbs. baking powder

1 cup lard, - seriously, use lard. Don't go half-ass with this. 

3-4 c. of chicken stock

2 tsp. dried basil

2 tsp. dried oregano

1 tbs. garlic powder

Wait. I fibbed. Before you even get started on the cooking, you have to soak those corn husks at least two hours before you plan on cooking with them. This'll require a little pre-planning, but nothing too extreme. You'll need to boil some water, so put the kettle on and while that's happening, take the corn husks out of the package and place in a large bowl. Once the water is boiling, pour it carefully over the husks and cover with a damp towel to weigh them down to soak. The husks can soak for up to 8 hours.

Combine the masa harina, salt, baking powder,and spices together. Then, using your hands, cut in the lard. This is a similar process to cutting butter into biscuit or pie dough and you'll be looking for a similar "wet sand" texture. One cup at a time, add the chicken stock to the dry ingredients and stir until a dough forms. You'll know it's ready when you can pick up a piece and mold it into a shape that holds together. Cover the masa with a damp paper towel and cover that puppy up. Here's the good news...the masa will hold as long as it doesn't dry out, which makes it perfect for traveling in case you want to have your own traveling tamale party. 

Once you've made the masa, then it's time to focus on the filling. Go wild! You can make whatever kind of tamale you want! Kevin couldn't quite remember what exactly was in the dream tamales, so I brought a few options:

  • Bolognese, which I've blogged about before.
  • Spicy Italian sausage- you'll want to make sure that it's already cooked
  • 4 cheese blend
  • Giardiniera relish- you'll want the relish since it's already diced

From there, it was time to mix and match and assemble the tamales. Set yourself up for success by organizing your assembly station. Set all of your fillings out with spoons, make a space for each person to have a surface for assembling, make sure your twine is already cut, ect... This is where I'd really recommend watching a video about assembling tamales. It's difficult to write it down step by step and much easier to understand by watching someone else do it. Alton's got a good one on the recipe link that I posted above. Basically, you take a couple tablespoons of masa and spread it out on the top 2/3rds of the husk, making sure that you leave some blank space at the bottom of the husk for rolling. 

Photo yanked from the interwebs because I was having too much fun to take picutres of every step. Sorry! 

Then, you add a few teaspoons of the filling of your choice and roll the masa around the filling,wrapping the husk around the masa. Then, you flip up the bottom of the husk and place it seam side down on a surface. Now, you have one open end and one closed end. When you have three completed tamales, you can tie them together with a piece of twine. See...kinda hard to describe, but much easier to do than explain.

This recipe should make about 4 or 5 dozen tamales, so that's why it helps to have some help in the kitchen for this one. Seriously, tamale party! Luckily, Kevin and his roomate Dan are excellent sous chefs, and it didn't take us long to assemble the tamales. 

Now, it's time to cook those beautful babies. You'll need a deep pot with a steamer insert. What? You don't have a steamer insert. Me neither, girl. That's when tin foil comes in handy. Just ball up a few equal size pieces of tin foil and place them in the bottom of your pot, then, you can use a steamer plate with holes in it or fashion one out of more foil for your tamales. The key is that these tamales have to steam. They should not have any contact with boiling water or the bottom of the pot, so you've got to figure out a way to keep them elevated in the pot. 

Once you've McGyvered a way to steam your tamales, stand the trios of tamales open end up in the pot and carefully pour water down the side of the pot so that there is at least an inch between the tamales and the water. Try not to pour the water into the tamales. Place a lid on the pot and bring the water to a boil, then, reduce the heat to low and simmer for an hour and a half. I know, I know. Waiting 90 minutes seems cruel, but I assure you, it will be worth the wait.

While the tamales are cooking, you can make marinara sauce for dipping!

Marinara Sauce

1 onion

1 stalk of celery

1 carrot

1 garlic clove

1 32 oz. can of crushed tomatoes

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper to tast

This one is super easy. Just finely dice the veggies, and throw them in a pot with some olive oil. Once they've cooked down a little it, about 10 minutes, add the tomatoes and bay leaf and simmer for a hour. That's it. Well, if you have an immersion blender, you can really puree everything, but that's totally optional. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve!

Once the hour and half is up, take the lid of the tamales and when the steam clears, marvel at the glorious food you've just cooked.

I don't think I can really emphasize enough just how good these are. Seriously, dream Kevin is a total culinary genius and these are truly delicious. 

Oct 28, 2015

The Last 48 Before the Next Adventure

This morning I woke up, stripped the bed, and debated about whether or not to keep my duvet cover. I ended up putting in a box along with a few last odds and ends. According to the confirmation call I got yesterday, The Salvation Army is arriving whenever they damn well please today. So, in the meantime, I'm sitting, and waiting, and thinking among all of the cardboard boxes and bags.

This is my last two days in Chicago. In 48 hours, I'll be on the road back to Bama and a whole new adventure. I have no idea what is going to happen after getting in the car on Friday morning. Everything after that moment is totally up in the air. Which is terrifying. And exciting. But really, really scary. Here's what I do know. I'm going to drive through the day and night on Friday to make it to my parents' house. I'm going to probably hand out candy to kiddos in cute costumes on Saturday for Halloween, and on Sunday...on Sunday, I start work. 

Yep. I start work on Sunday.

Full-time baking- just like I'd hoped. And, not only that, but it's at the bakery where I wanted to work. Continental Bakery and Chez Lulu, the best in town. 

I should be thrilled. I should be excited. But, today, with just 2 days between me and the road, I'm sad and nervous. 

I've made a home here in Chicago, with incredible friends, who are more like my chosen family. An apartment that's been mine, all mine, for seven years. A job that was steady and consistent and allowed me to live a very rich life. An agent who sent me to audition for movies and TV. A theater company that frustated me, and thrilled me, and made me a better person and actor. 

I'm leaving all of these things and people behind. And, it's hard. Transition is hard. We all know that, but I just need to write it out just to remind myself that this isn't supposed to be easy. 

The next couple of days will probably be a lot like last week, but more final. More packing, but the last things. More cleaning, but the details. More goodbyes, because we can't delay it anymore. And, then my loaded-up car, a car full of gas, and highway 65. Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville, and finally, Birmingham. 

I hope that I love this job. I hope that I'm pleasantly surprised by the early mornings and the long hours and the smell of sugar stuck to my hair. I hope that it's as fulfilling as I'd imagined it would be before I started making it real. 

If this doesn't work...

If this doesn't work...

Then, I'll figure something else out. I don't know what it is yet, but I guess I'll need to cross that bridge when I get to it, right? The comforting thing is that Chicago will always be here. It's not going to disappear into the mist when I drive away. Everything here will keep going and growing and, if I want to jump back in, I think they'll have me back to the party. 

I don't have a recipe to share right now, although I will be writing a post about Italian Tamales very soon. Yup- Mexican/Italian fusion! And, in the future, I'll not only be sharing recipes, but also talking a little bit about what it's like to move back to my hometown, live with my parents, and try a new career. 

In the meantime, I'll just be sitting here waiting for the trucks to roll up. Waiting to start something new. 

Sep 11, 2015

Recipe Box- Vegan Candied Ginger Shortcakes

You know what I love?

Good food and delightful performance.

And I got to do both at Dinner at a Drag Queen's House the other night. With the help of our director Will and led by Armand Fields as Miss Cleo Pockalipps, Sarah Beth and I played "sisters" and hosts for a fabulous dinner party. We played some ukuleles, sang some covers and original songs, filled glasses, plates, stomachs, and eyes, and generally, had a ball. I mean, just look at us...

About two weeks before the event, we found out that the original pastry chef wasn't going to be available for the party after all. Cue the fanfare! Honey Baby to the rescue! But, this wasn't any "run of the mill" dessert. We wanted something that people could get involved in...something they could help create...and, most importantly, it had to be VEGAN. 

Gasp! Clutch your pearls, girl!

You know how much I love delicious butter, but I was up for the challenge. First, we had to think of dish that allowed people the freedom to customize their own plate. DING! Shortcakes. A shortcake bar was just the thing for this event. People could cover their shortcake with whatever toppings they fancied. Coconut whipped cream, chocolate ganache, caramel sauce, balsamic roasted raspberry sauce, fresh sliced peaches, candied bacon...you name, we probably had it. Just look at this sweet setup...

And, luckily, shortcakes can easily be made vegan with, you guessed it, coconut oil. Seriously, you can make anything with this stuff. Biscuits? Check. Lotion? Check. Overdrawn bank account? Not out of the question.

I did a little research and came across this amazing blog, Minimalist Baker, who specializes in vegan baking and found her recipe for Double Chocolate Shortcakes. I definitely made these little babies, and with a little cusomization, I came up with their counterpart...

Candied Ginger Vegan Shortcakes

makes about 18 shortcakes

1 1/2 c. unsweetened vanilla almond milk

2 tsp. lemon juice

2 tbs. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/3 c. of sugar

2/3 c. of room temp coconut oil

1/2 c. finely chopped candied ginger

1/4 tsp. cinnamon or baking spice

You know the deal...Pre-heat that oven, girlfriend! 450 degrees!

Clean out of buttermilk? No problem! You can make your own with whatever milk you have on hand and a splash of lemon juice. I first learned this trick while making a cake many years ago. I'd forgotten to buy buttermilk at the store, but luckily, my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook was on hand to calm my fears. And, luckily, this trick applies to non-dairy milk too! 

So, measure out your almond milk and then stir in the lemon juice. Set the bowl to the side to let it do its thing while you get your dry ingredients ready. Mix together your flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt together in a big bowl and get ready to work in the coconut oil.

Now, a note about this. It's really important that the coconut oil is at room temp. Not cold from the fridge or warmed-up in the microwave. It truly needs to be at room temp. If you try to warm it up in the microwave, it's likely that it will melt since the melt point is lower than butter, and then you'll have to wait for it warm back up again to a solid. Trust me...I learned this lesson first hand. Whoops! 

Okay, so your dry ingredients are mixed and your coconut oil is at the perfect temperature because you're the best baker in all the land. So, measure out your coconut oil, grab that pastry cutter, and go to town. Just like with biscuits or a pie crust, you want to cut coconut oil into the flour until the mixture resembles wet sand. Also, I would really recommend using a pastry cutter and not your hands for this project. You really don't want to melt the coconut oil with the heat of your hands 'cause you'll end up with tough and dense cakes. Boo! Hiss!

Once you've cut in the coconut oil, make a well in the center and pour in about half of the soured almond milk. You may notice that it looks a little curdled. Have no fear! That's exactly what it's supposed to do! Mix with a wooden spoon or spatula until combined, make another little well, and pour in the rest of the milk. Add in your candied ginger pieces and mix until it just comes together. 

Turn the dough out of a bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Now comes the trick to making super light and fluffly shortcakes (and biscuits for that matter.). Once you've gently worked the dough into a circle, begin to fold it over itself about 5 or 6 times. You are literally making those delicious flaky layers that we love so much. Be gentle though! You don't need to knead the dough. You're just folding it. 

Now that you've shaped and folded the dough, press it out until you have a uniform level of dough, about 1 inch thick. Then, take a floured biscuit cutter and punch out individual cakes. Once you've run out of places to punch, gently roll the dough back together, press out a new layer, and keep punching out shortcakes until you run out of dough. 

Then, arrange the shortcakes on a bare and ungreased sheet tray so they are lightly touching each other. Then, make a little indention on the top of each one with your thumb. Both of these steps help ensure that the shortcakes will rise evenly. 

Pop those babies in the oven and bake them for about 12 minutes or until golden brown. Let them cool for about 10 minutes on the tray. Then, gently pull them apart and cool them on a rack or serve them immediately.

These shortcakes are the jam. Seriously. They are so good. They are good for breakfast. They are good for a snack. They are good for dessert. They are just good. Fluffy, lightly sweet, flaky, with little hints of spicy and sweet ginger. Yum! 

Sep 2, 2015

Ch-Ch-Changes

I took my first acting class when I was 3 and it was awesome. I was awesome. I signed with an agent and started booking industrials and commercials right and left. I mean, look at my crimped hair in this comp card...

Seriously, look at that crimped hair. Oh, and the child-size bunny.

Nothing pleased me more than when I got to leave school early and tell everyone it was because I was going to film a commercial. Bad ass! I had the bug. The theater bug. And I had it bad. Though I left the agency when I was 9, I never stopped loving performance. Some of my best childhood memories and friends are from summer theater camp. In high school, I sang in choir, auditioned for every play I could, and performed with a musical theater performance group. It was like show choir on steroids, and we were good. Like really good. Like "some of my friends are on Broadway and stuff" good.

When I arrived at Ole Miss, I intended to pursue a degree in Education with a minor in Theater. That lasted maybe one day before I declared my major as a M.F.A. in Musical Theater after my first meeting with my theater department advisor. After that day, it was off to the races and I never looked back.

Last day of Studio '07 . Guys, look at us!  

After college, I headed straight for Chicago. Oh, Chicago. My love letter to you would be long and embarrassing and would smell like cold water off of the lake and chocolate from downtown. Chicago theater is the best theater. Seriously, there's nothing anyone could ever tell me or show me that will convince me otherwise. It's risky here. And it's work. Like really hard and beautiful work. 

Brewed (The Ruckus and Tympanic Theatre 2013)- Susan Myburgh, myself, and Erin Myers (<3)

I write all of this to say one thing: I'm an actor. 

I've always been an actor. I love being myself in other characters. I love the audience. I love the storytelling. I love the vulnerability of standing on stage in front of people and knowing that that is enough. That that is brave. 

Cooking took me by surprise.

It started out small. Cakes for birthdays, treats for a fundraiser, then dinner parties...And, finally, the biggest surprise. MasterChef.

MasterChef: Season 5. Holy shit.

I spent years and years being just versions/fractions of myself, trying to be other people in show after show, and the thing that got me the most exposure was being myself. 

Talk about a wake up call.

Over the last year, I've fallen more and more in love with food and cooking. There's nothing that pleases me more than finding a pure white streak of flour in my hair after a day in the kitchen. It's how I want every day to end. 

So, I'm moving. 

I'm moving back to my hometown of Birmingham, AL at the end of October in pursuit of a new and scary dream.  

Dat booty, Vulcan.

I wanna smell like cakes, and hard work, and cookies, and long hours, and brownies, and achy feet, and, most importantly, pie.

There are so many things about this move that make me scared: leaving behind my friends who've become family, missing out on the best theater scene in the country, living in my hometown for the first time in 12 years, making new friends, making a HUGE career change, and maybe one day, starting my own business. Talk about risky. But, it's also incredibly exciting, because....what if it works? 

I used to worry that people would think I was giving up here in Chicago. Wait. Hold up. I used to worry that that's what I thought about myself. Occasionally, I still wobble on this question. But, I've come a conclusion: just because I'm pursuing another career, doesn't mean that I'm not an actor. Being an actor is something that lives in your bones. It's who you are. And, I can be both. I can be a baker and an actor.  Baker= career; actor = person. As my friend Elizabeth says, embrace the slash.

So, here I go! Birmingham, I can't wait for your humid hug. I really hope this works out between the two of us. I know I haven't been the best about keeping in touch, but I'm sure going to need some friends when I get there and I hope we can hang out. Also, do you know anyone who might need a former reality TV person in their pastry department... 

And, Chicago, I'm here for another two months, so I'm not saying goodbye to you yet. Or ever for that matter. Let's wring every ounce out of the next few weeks. I love you.

Aug 30, 2015

Recipe Box- Sausage and Sprout Lasagna

Hey, hey, hey! 

My calendar is usually jam packed, and it's rare when I have time to pull something together at the spur of the moment. If it's not in the calendar, then it's probably not happening. (Paper calendar for life!) But just last Thursday, I had an impromptu dinner party with friends and it made me realize that I should be giving the people and not the projects in my life more time. Also, that I should be eating more lasagna. 

My friend Kate and I already had friend-date scheduled for that night, so luckily, I'd already had the ingredients assembled before we decided to invite a few more people to join us. Call all the friends and dice the shallots? Can do!

It was an unseasonably cool week this week, even for Chicago, and the crisp in the air whispered to me..."baked pasta, Elise...make baked pasta..." But, a run-of-the-mill lasagna just wouldn't do, so I started poking around the internet and ran across this recipe for Brussel Sprout Lasagna. Brussel sprouts are without a doubt, hands down, 100%, my favorite vegetable. Those tiny cabbages are the champions of my palate, so obviously, I was very excited about this idea. Add in some turkey italian sausage, decadent bechamel, and 3 kinds of cheese and it was a winner of a meal!

Sausage and Sprouts Lasagna

1 box of lasagna noodles

1 lbs. brussel sprouts

1big shallot

2 tbs. balsamic vinegar reduction

3 cloves of garlic

pinch of red pepper flake

1/2 stick of unsalted butter

1/4 c. of flour

2 1/2 c. of 2% milk

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1 1lbs. turkey italian sausage

8 oz. provolone cheese. shredded

3/4 c. of low fat ricotta cheese

1 c. of parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Now, I must admit that I used no-boil lasagna noodles because I was trying to cut corners when I made this for the first time, and while the dish was still delicious, some of the noodles on the bottom were a little crunchy. Next time, I'm planning to use wheat noodles and boil them first just because I think the texture will be better. We live and we learn, eh?

You know the drill...go a-head a preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Ok, veggie prep- ahoy! Cut off the bottoms and take off the tough outer leaves on your sprouts and thinly slice them. Then, finely dice your shallot and mince the garlic cloves. DONE!

In a skillet, saute the Italian turkey sausage until it's cooked through. I picked turkey Italian sausage to cut down on the fat in the dish, but to keep the flavor. My grocery store carries it ground as well as in links. If you can only find it in links, you can just cut off the casing and crumble it into your skillet. Once the sausage is cooked through, season with a pinch of salt and pepper, drain it on a paper towel, and set it to the side. Put your skillet back on the burner and add a little bit of olive oil. Once it's hot, throw in your brussel sprouts, shallot, and garlic. Season with some red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Saute until the brussel sprouts are bright green and a little wilted but still have a little crunch, which should take about 5 minutes. Then, add in your balsamic reduction and toss to coat. Just like with the sausage, set it to the side while you work on the bechamel and try not to eat all of it.  

In the meantime, bring a pot of water to boil and boil your lasagna noodles until al-dente. Drain and drizzle with olive oil, so they don't stick together. Toss to coat and set to the side. 

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and then add in the flour. Let it cook for a minute or two, so you can cook out the flour flavor, then add in the 2% milk. You could use whole milk, but again, I was trying to cut down on the fat, but keep the flavor. Whisk, whisk, whisk until the mixture starts to thicken. Then, season with nutmeg, 'cause your bechamel will just be missing something without it. Oh, and don't forget to salt and pepper to taste! Then, add in half of the provolone and parmesan and stir to combine. Cheese sauce! Yes!

Now, comes the assembly! Spray a 9 x 13 pan with non-stick spray and then coat the bottom with your cheesy bechamel sauce. Then add a layer of noodles. It's okay if they overlap a little bit in order to cover the bottom of the dish. Then, add half of the bechamel sauce and dollop on some ricotta cheese, then sprinkle on half of the sausage and half of the sprouts. Then, make another layer! Pasta, sauce, ricotta, sausage, sprouts. Finally, sprinkle the remainly provolone and parmesan on top and drizzle with a little olive oil. Then, pop that baby into the oven for 30 minutes until golden and bubbly on top. And, here comes the hard part. You have to wait 20 minutes before you can cut into it! 20 whole minutes. But it'll be worth it. I promise. 

Aug 5, 2015

Long Time, No Blog...

Well, well, well...

Hello, dear readers! It's been a hot second since I've written to you (and by "hot second" I mean "six months", but who's counting?...) BUT I'm back. In lieu of posting a recipe or a kitchen disaster (under baked zucchini bread anyone?), I thought I'd post a quick run down of what I've been up to over the last few months, if nothing else to reassure myself that I have indeed been busy. 

So, here's the big stuff:

Chicago Chef's Spring Into Action Event

Last year, while manning the cookie station at a 5k race, (ooo, look! I even blogged about this one.), an awesome lady named Jean approached me about participating in a chefs event to benefit the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women's Network. I was totally interested and flattered, but I didn't even have business cards at the time (shame shame), so I had to write my contact information down on a piece of paper. I figured my professional faux pas was enough for them to write me off, but lo and behold, a few months later, I got a phone call with an official offer to participate in the event. The catch....I needed to make enough pie for 350 people. Three hundred and fifty people. That's just so much pie. For a few seconds, I considered declining the offer, but I got over that pretty quickly, accepted the offer, and called in the recruits. Mom was able to fly in from Birmingham to be my official sous chef and my friend Scottie hooked me up with the Ravenswood Community Kitchen, which graciously donated their kitchen to me for a whole day. 

So, how many ingredients do you really need to make that much pie? Like so much.

Cue the pie prep montage!

So. Much. Pie.

And, we did it! It took 12 hours, but we baked so much pie! Blueberry, goat cheese, and basil pie with caramel and vanilla bean whipped cream for all! And, people seemed to really enjoy it at the event the next day.  Go team! 

Of course, I baked and cooked here and there in between, but my next big culinary events were in June in the very same week.

Private Dinners

Not one, but TWO, private dinners. Eeep! I've cooked for friends and friends of friends, but this would be my first time cooking for people who don't owe me a thing. They'd have no reason to smile and say "It's good," nothing to keep them from holding back their displeasure. Needless to say, I was really nervous. Luckily, I had two amazing soux chefs, who contributed to the menu and the cooking, and made my experience so much better.

The first dinner was on Thursday of that week for a Mom's BYOB club from Temple Sholom. I'd gotten the recommendation from my friend Stephanie Goldfarb, who you might know as the winner of America's Best Cook on Food Network.  Stephanie runs the very popular Seven Species Supper Club, and she forwarded over the ladies' request since her calendar was already full. I was happy but nervous to accept the challenge. To top it off, because, you know, I needed to make things more interesting, I managed to break one of my toes at trapeze class (pretty cool, right?) AND Justin, my incredible sous chef, came down with a righteous respiratory infection. But, we soldiered through, and I'm really proud of the dishes we created. 

Appetizers! Fried okra with garlic aioli, marinated tomato brushcetta, pimento cheese with homemade oat and rosemary crackers. Also featured, amazing platter my Momma sent me. Not feature, all of the other dishes and napkins and everything else she sent me because she's the best.

Justin's incredible cucumber gazpacho garnished with pepperoncini, yogurt, and mint.

Oooooo...watermelon salad. Garnished with goat cheese, pistachios, red onion, and balsamic reduction.

Justin is a mad scientist and made a sous vide fried chicken. Seriously, it is the best chicken ever. Also featured, grilled cajun spiced tofu and collared greens. Not featured, CHEESE GRITS. I was probably too busy tasting them to post a picture. 

Of course, I forgot to take a picture of one of the courses, which was the fried catfish with fennel, carrot, and pickled onion salad, BUT here's a sub-par photo of the dessert course, which was a lemon buttermilk tart with strawberries and homemade lavender ice cream. That ice cream is maybe the best thing I've ever made. 

Whew! One dinner down! I spent the rest of that evening washing all 60+ plates and dishes and drinking the leftover champagne and it was just the best night. I'm still beaming about how proud I am of that meal and the work Justin and I put into it.

Once I returned the rented tables and chairs the next day, it was time to start planning for Sunday's dinner. This particular dinner was an auction prize for a fundraiser for Barrel of Monkeys, an incredible organization full of amazing artists/educators. Luckily, Kate, one of the Monkeys, had volunteered to step up to not only the sous chef role, but to also act as our sommelier for the evening. How fancy! 

First up: a blurry picture of our appetizers. Canape with honey smoked salmon, creme fraise, and chives; deviled eggs with pickled radishes and mustard seed caviar, and finally, a fig and prosciutto flatbread with goat cheese, pine nuts, and arugula. 

Salad course was a marinated heirloom tomato stack with fresh corn and field pies with homemade ranch dressing and a crisp piece of bacon. It was a delicious mess.

The passed entree course was lingunie with seared scallops in a saffron buerre blanc with chives. 

Of course, just like with the first meal, I forgot to take a picture of the main course, which was pork chops with mashed potatoes and rainbow chard with peach mojo as a garnish. But, I did take a picture of the amazing dessert trio we created. You'll see a familiar dish in there with the lemon buttermilk tarts, but I also made bourbon fudge and Kate made some awesome buttered popcorn ice cream.

Phew! Dinner two was a success! It probably didn't hurt that we plied them with booze, but they seemed very pleased with the dinner and Kate and I were tired, but proud. Go team!

So, what's coming up?

Lots. 

I have some desserts and a breakfast lined-up, and I'm promising myself that I'll write here more often, so that I can share my sucesses and experiences with you. So, you can look forward to some more recipes and stories, plus some big news, in the coming months. In the meantime, here's looking at you, kid. 

Feb 21, 2015

Recipe Box- Savory Tarts for a Big Crowd

So, what's a cook to do when there's a charity event for 80 people, but someone's already vouched for the sweet treats?

Think, "Damn. Someone stole my move." Then, have a lightbulb moment.

Ah-ha! Make some savory tarts! 

Over the last few months, I've been tasked with feeding large crowds of people, and one of the things that I've stuggled with is time-efficiency vs. quantity of food. As much as I'd like to bake and decorate tons of individual desserts, my schedule is just a little too packed to spend all day filling and frosting a million cupcakes. So, what's been my life-saver?

Slab pies

Slab pie is exactly what it sounds like. It's a slab of pie. In more specific terms, it's a pie that is the size of an entire jellyroll pan. That's a big pie! And, just one can easily serve 24-30 people depending on what size slice you're serving. Talk about a delicious, delicious time-saver! 

So, here we go...

Roasted Vegetable and Creamy Goat Cheese Tart 

For the crust:

3 3/4 c. flour

3 sticks cold unsalted butter (diced)

2 1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 c. sour cream

1/2 c. cold water

Making a crust this big was probably the scariest part of this recipe, but if I can do it, you can do it! First, I did some research and came across a recipe on Martha Stewart that was an excellent starting point. Also, I should mention that I use a food processor for this recipe, but you could still make this crust with good ol elbow grease. 

So, combine the flour and salt in the processor's bowl and pulse once or twice to combine. Then, add in the diced butter cubes, and process until the butter is pea-sized. Then, add the sour cream, start the processor and slowly add the water until the dough comes together. Finally, take the dough out of the processor, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for at least an hour. 

After the dough is nice and chilly, get ready to roll it out. This is without a doubt the trickiest part of the process, because unlike rolling out dough for a normal pie, you'll need to make a rectangle that can completely cover your jellyroll pan, plus a little more for the rolled edges. That's a super big pastry crust. My best advice for this is patience. Just keep rolling it out evenly and shaping as you go. Once it's the right size, very carefully roll it around itself on the rolling pin, and then unroll it onto your greased pan. Then, cut off some of the excess, but leave just enough to tuck it under the edges. 

Ooooooo. Ahhhhhh.

And, now for...

Creamy Goat Cheese and Vegetable Filling

4 8oz. blocks of cream cheese (room temp)

5 eggs

8 oz. crumbled goat cheese

1 yellow squash

1 zucchini

1 red bell pepper

1 yellow bell pepper

1 orange bell pepper

1/2 tsp. of garlic powder

1/2 tsp. onion powder

1 1/2 tbs. chopped herbs (thyme and rosemary)

salt and pepper to taste

First, you'll want to prep your veggies. Thinly slice the squash and zucchini into rounds, and thinly slice the peppers as well. Then, toss the veggies in a little olive oil, plus the onion and garlic powder and salt and pepper. Put them to the side while you make the creamy goat cheese filling. This is a take on a cheesecake bar, but, you know, a savory version. When a hand-held or standing mixer, combine the room-temp cream cheese with the eggs and goat cheese along with some salt and pepper to taste. 

Once combined, fill the pastry crust with the creamy filling. Spread it out evenly, and then top with rows of the veggies.

Finally, pop that baby in the oven on the middle rack at 400 degrees for 1 hour. If the veggies or the crust look like their getting a little too brown, feel free to tent with some foil after about 40 minutes.

Once, the pie is baked, sprinkle with some finely chopped herbs, and, presto- you've got a savory slab pie!

Because the creamy filling is quite rich, you can easily cut 36 or so squares from this tart because little squares will go a long way. 

Yum! Savory tarts for all!

Jan 23, 2015

Recipe Box- Spaghetti Squash with Bolognese

I am literally eating this dish right now.

And, pretty much anytime I'm not eating it, I wish that I was. It's that good.

This is some serious "feed good" food.

I was first introduced to spaghetti squash in college by a friend who was probably more health savvy than the rest of us; ie. she actually cooked real meals instead of living off of sandwiches, Taco Bell, and Abner's. I remember sitting on the floor of her apartment with a lovely bowl in front of me and thinking, "How weird! It's a veggie that's kinda like pasta and I don't hate it." Unfortunately for me, I quickly returned to my waffle fry and queso eating ways and promptly forgot about this wonder vegetable. Until recently...

Like nearly everyone else I know, I made a commitment to try to eat better after the holidays, and I'm still working on it, even a month later. But this recipe fits the bill: comfort food + pretty healthy. It starts with a hearty homemade bolognese, but replaces those noodles with some spaghetti squash. Try it! I promise you won't miss the pasta in the least!

Get your Spaghetti Squash with Bolognese on!

Bolognese Sauce (makes about 6 servings)

1 medium onion

2 carrots

2 celery stalks

2 garlic cloves

1 package of pancetta

1 lbs. lean ground beef

1 c. milk

1/2 c. dry white wine

15 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1 tbs. parsley, oregano, basil

2 tbs. olive oil

1 tbs. butter

salt and pepper to taste

Now, the first thing to know is that this recipe does take some time. You'll need to make this on a day where you've got a spare three hours around the house, but the time on the stove really does make all the difference. 

Ok, now that that's out in the open, let's get started. You know what to do...get that mise en place going! This is also an opportunity to practice your knife skills because you'll still be able to see those carrots and celery in the final dish, so be proud of that brunoise!

Once your veggies are ready to go, it's time to fry up the pancetta. If you were able to find cubes of it, great! But, if you were only able to get your hands on the little rounds, just slice those into bite size pieces, and fry them up on medium heat with your olive oil. Once crispy, add in the mirepoix and the tablespoon of butter and cook the veggies down for about 8-10 minutes. 

Next, add in the garlic and the ground beef and cook down until it's no longer pink. Take a minute to smell how good that already smells! You're off to a good start, right? Next, add in the cup of milk. I've tried this with skim and cream, so feel free to use whatever you have in the fridge at the time. Once you've added the milk, you can step away for a few minutes because you're going to want to completely reduce it, which will take 15 minutes or so. Just give a stir every 5 minutes or so, so you can keep an eye on the liquid level and make sure that nothing starts to stick to the bottom of the pan. The milk is going to add some amazing texture and moisture to the final product! 

Once the milk has completed reduced, then you'll want to add in the half cup of wine and reduce that completely as well. Also, pour yourself a glass! I mean, what else are you going to do with the rest of that bottle?! I bet your kitchen is starting to smell really awesome right around now. Okay, so once the wine has reduced, you're almost in the homestretch. The next thing to do is add in your canned tomatoes and half a can of water. Give the pot a stir, reduce the heat a little, cover and let simmer for 1 hour. Try not to take the lid off of the pot! I know it'll be tempting, but the idea is to let the sauce reduce as slowly as possible. As long as it's not at a full boil and just simmering, it'll be fine to do its thing for a little bit. Give the sauce some breathing space, man!

Once an hour has passed, throw in some finely chopped herbs and give it a stir. Pop the lid back on, because it's time to start on the spaghetti squash.

Roasted Spaghetti Squash

1 medium to large spaghetti squash

2 tbs. olive oil

salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the spaghetti squash in half long-ways. Then, scrape out the stringy pulp and the seeds. Using 1 tbs of olive oil per half, coat each half inside and out with the oil and a couple sprinkles of salt and pepper. Lastly, roast in the oven, cut side-down on a parchment paper lined sheet pan for 45 minutes. Then, step away from the kitchen! 

After 45 minutes have elapsed, turn off the burner under your sauce, and take the squash out of the oven. You'll want to flip it over and let it cool down for about 10 minutes, but once it's cool enough to handle, just scrape out the flesh with a fork. It'll form nifty little squash "noodles!" You can scrape them into another bowl or just keep them in  their own little squash bowls. To plate, get yourself a big ole scoop of squash because one cup is just 30 calories! Then, top with some of that beautiful bolognese! If you want to get crazy, you could add a little sprinkle of parmesan and parsley, and then dig in. 

Oh, man, now my bowl's empty. Bummer.....

Dec 29, 2014

Recipe Box- Momma's Mashed Potatoes

Oh, the holidays!

A joyous time of gift-giving, twinkling lights, and getting the warm and fuzzies from spending time with friends and family. And, if you're like me, it's also about the food. Comfort food. And a lot of it. 

When I realized it had been a month since my last post, I thought that maybe you might appreciate a lighter recipe. You know, something about food that makes you feel good after all of treats we've all eaten at holiday parties. But, then I thought, nah! Just give the people what they want! And, what's that? 

Mashed Potatoes.

Specifically, my Momma's Mashed Potatoes. 

Ya'll, this is my favorite food. My absolute favorite food of all time. This recipe is pure comfort food gold, and something I look forward to every holiday season. 

Momma's Mashed Potatoes- makes enough for 4-5 people

6 large russet potatoes

1 block Neufchatel cheese

1/2 stick salted butter

1/2 c. whole milk or half-n-half

salt and pepper to taste

Peel and chop potatoes into quarters and drop them into a stock pot. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the potatoes with an inch of water and boil for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. Drain the potatoes, but don't forget to reserve a half a cup of their water. This will help make sure the potatoes tighten up when you start adding all of the other ingredients. Once the potatoes are drained, add in half of the reserved water (1/4 c.) and the milk and get to mashing! Once the potatoes are smooth, drop cubes of room temperature butter into the potatoes and mix in with a fork, Once the butter is incorporated, add in the Neufchatel a few cubes at a time, still mixing with a fork. If the potatoes are too think or thin, this is where your reserved water will come in handy. Once your potatoes are all mixed together, season with salt and pepper to taste, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, and transfer the potatoes to a casserole dish.  Smooth out the top of the potatoes, cover with foil and pop them in the oven for 40 minutes. After 40 minutes have elapsed, take off the foil and put them back in for 15-20 minutes or until the top and edges are golden brown.  Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

I got the scoop from Momma on the details during my Christmas visit this year, and here are her quick tips: 

  • Make sure the butter and the Neufchatel are room temperature. They'll need to come out of the fridge at least 45 minutes before you start cooking.  Also, you'll want to cut them into little cubes before you add them to the pot. Don't just dump the whole thing in there. This is a super important step!
  • Don't use an immersion blender or a hand-held mixer to get super smooth potatoes. Just use your good old masher. As she used to tell me when I was little, lumps are good luck!
  • Use a fork to mash in the butter and the cheese. Seriously. A fork.
  • Once they've finished baking, they need to set-up for at least ten minutes before serving. If you try to serve the potatoes too soon after coming out of the oven, the texture won't be right and they'll be a little too runny. 

Oh boy, I can almost smell these coming out of the oven right now. Yum! And, thanks to my Momma for giving me her recipe!

(photo compliments of Food Network because I ate of the mashed potatoes when I was home last week.)

Nov 29, 2014

Recipe Box- French Silk Pie

Let it be known that I do not promise pie lightly.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine won a dance contest at my theater company's fundraiser. After dancing his tush off, he joined me over at the bar and jokingly suggested that since there wasn't a prize for the contest, that I should bake him a pie as the prize. Well, lucky for him, he caught me on a good night, and I quickly said, "Yeah. Sure. What kind of pie do you want?" After many, "Wait, really? I was just joking," he told me that his wife's favorite kind of pie was French Silk, and asked if I could make it, and I told him, "Well, of course."

Now, the truth of matter is that I'd never made a French Silk pie before, but I've never met a pie I didn't like...Challenge accepted. 

I vaguely remembered that French Silk was chocolate pie with whipped cream, but I needed to do a little research to figure out how it's actually made. It turns out that the key to making a delicious French Silk Pie is good quality chocolate, cold ingredients, raw eggs, and patience. Seriously, that's what makes the chocolate filling dense, yet light and fluffy. Each egg gets its own five minutes of fame while it gets whipped into the filling, so the whole process takes at least 30 minutes. So without much further ado, here's my recipe for French Silk Pie...

Graham Cracker Pie Crust

12 graham cracker sheets

1 stick melted salted butter

1/4 c. sugar

optional- 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon or baking spices (Hint: my secret weapon is Penzey's Baking Spice mix. Seriously, this stuff is the best.)

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a food processor or using your hands/rolling pin with the crackers in a storage baggie, crush the graham crackers into fine crumbs. Then, add the sugar, melted butter, and spices, and mix. Then, pour the graham cracker crumbs into your pie tin, and using the bottom of a measuring cup, press the crumbs into the bottom and the sides of the pie tin. To form a clean border on the sides, I use my thumb and the side of the cup to create an even border all the way around the tin.

Then, bake the graham cracker crust for 5 minutes until golden brown, and then set it aside to cool completely. 

French Silk Pie Filling

4 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate

1 1/2 c. quick dissolve or fine sugar

2 sticks softened unsalted butter

1 tsp. vanilla 

1 tbs. instant coffee 

4 eggs (cold)

One of the keys to making French Silk Pie is making sure that your ingredients stay cold and yet workable. So, while you're making the pie crust or even earlier in the day, put the bowl of your mixer in the refrigerator, so it's as cold as possible Also, you'll want to let your butter soften at room temp a few hours before you start to make the pie. I would strongly suggest that you do not soften the butter in the microwave because it will get too warm, which will affect the texture of your pie filling.

Ok, so first things first, melt that chocolate. You can melt it in the microwave by heating it at 45 second intervals and stirring after each one, or on a double boiler. Up to you! But, once it's melted, you'll want to set it aside to cool for a few minutes, while you start working on the next part of the filling.

In a standing mixer, beat the butter until it is light and then add the sugar. 

Note: You can use regular granulated sugar, but I really recommend trying to find fine or quick dissolve sugar. Just like the name suggests, this sugar will dissolve into the butter more quickly than normal sugar, and help ensure that you don't end up with a grainy filling. Here's the kind I used for my pie, and conveniently enough, this bottle is exactly a cup and half. Perfect!

Once the sugar is incorporated, add the vanilla, instant coffee (makes the chocolate taste even more chocolatey), and finally, the melted chocolate. Beat these together until fully incorporated, and then go get the first egg from the fridge. With the mixer speed on medium, crack the egg into the chocolate/butter mixture and then let it mix for 5 minutes. Repeat this process with the remaining three eggs. In total, adding the eggs should take a full 20 minutes and the mixer should run the whole time.

Note: I know some people may be thinking to themselves, "Wait. Aren't those eggs raw?" Yes. Yes, they are. Now, I'm not really afraid of raw eggs, but if you are, you can look for pasteurized eggs. If you go with normal eggs, look for the organic kind and I wouldn't recommend serving the pie to little kids, pregnant mommas, or anyone whose immune system is compromised due to the slight risk of salmonella. Ok- back to making that pie!

I bet that filling looks amazing, right? Do a little taste-test. Good, huh? Ok, now don't taste-test it too much, because now it needs to go into the crust. Spread it out evenly, cover, and cool in the fridge for at least 2 hours. After two hours, top the pie with homemade whipped cream and semisweet chocolate shavings. 

Inform your friend that you actually made the pie you promised you would, make their Facebook explode with requests for a slice of said pie, and then hand it off in a parking lot because you both have rehearsal! Or, you can eat it yourself. No judgment. 

I got a report back from my friend and his wife later that night, and I'm proud to say that she said it was the best French Silk she'd ever eaten. PIE WIN!

Nov 13, 2014

Out and About- Palmer House Brownies at Family Fun Day

Let's talk about brownies, y'all.

Did you know that the brownie was invented in Chicago? True story! When the World's Fair was held in Chicago in 1893, The Palmer House hotel was very involved in its production. Bertha Palmer, the hotel owner's wife, was the President of the Board of Lady Managers for the Fair, and she wanted a portable dessert that her guests could enjoy in their boxed lunches. But, since the Fair was all about new inventions, she wanted a new dessert that no one had ever tasted before, so, she charged the chef at The Palmer House to come up with something truly original. She didn't want a cake. Too messy. She didn't want a cookie. Too common. But she did want something chocolatey...and, that's how the brownie was created. They were a hit at the World's Fair and, in 1898, the recipe was published in a Sears-Roebuck catalogue so they could be made in kitchens all over the country. The Palmer House still uses the same recipe today! 

Now, how and why do I know the above information?

Well, last weekend, I got to tell that exact story 8 times during The Auditorium Theatre's Family Fun Day. The Auditorium Theatre is celebrating its 125th Anniversary this year, (holy moly!) and they've been hosting a whole slew of events in celebration. Because The Palmer House is one of their industry partners, I got the chance to meet with their current Executive Chef, Stephen Henry, who told me all about the invention of the brownie and showed me how they're made. We really had a great time talking to each other, and I can't say enough nice things about him. I mean, he even did a silly dance with me at the end of this video. What a good sport, huh? 

During Family Fun Day, I had a station out in the lobby of the beautiful Auditorium Theater. Wait, here's a picture of just how amazing it is...

See? Told ya.

Anyway, I had a station out in the lobby, where I told the history of the brownie and explained just how their made. Look at my sweet setup:

I even had a fancy sign!

So fancy.

Now, the recipe for the Palmer House Brownie is all over the web, so I'm not going to break it down here, because I have a little secret...

I really like my brownie recipe. 

Now, it's definitely a take on the Palmer House recipe, because, well, it's the original, but the one I use does vary a little, and I think for the best. Ina Garten is really responsible for this whole mess, but she's the culinary queen, so what's one to do? (Shhhh...I still love you, Palmer House Brownies! It's not you. It's me!) 

So, here how brownies go down at my tiny kitchen...

Brownies

1 lbs. unsalted butter (Seriously. One. Whole. Pound.)

1 24 oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips (Yes, girl. You read me right. Now is not the time to get shy about ingredients)

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate

6 eggs

2 tbs. vanilla extract

3 tbs. secret ingredient!!! (see below!)

2 1/4 c. sugar

1 1/4 c. flour

1 tbs. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

I tend to think about these ingredients as three groups: chocolate, wet, and dry. The first thing you'll want to do is start melting the chocolate and the butter. Never, and I mean, pretty much never, put chocolate on direct heat. It's too temperamental to withstand that amount of heat and it's super hard to keep it from burning, even if you're watching it like a hawk. So, get that double boiler going. I don't have a fancy one, so I just use a heatproof glass mixing bowl over a pot of simmering water. The steam heat from the water will melt the chocolate and the butter together slowly, so that you don't have to worry about it burning. Just make sure that the water isn't actually touching the bottom of the bowl. Also, you'll want to reserve about a cup of the chocolate chips. Don't melt them with the rest of the chocolate. We'll add them back in for texture later. 

While the chocolate is melting, you can start getting the rest of your ingredients together. Oh, and pre-heat your oven to 350. In a small mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set it aside. In a bigger mixing bowl, gently break the eggs into the bowl and lightly beat them. The yolks just need to be broken up and mixed in a little bit, but you don't have to go into a lot of effort with beating them. Then, you'll add the vanilla extract, the sugar, and, finally, the secret ingredient:

BOOM! Instant coffee! 

It a commonly known fact that coffee makes chocolate taste even more like chocolate, and this really works to its advantage in this brownie recipe. Who knew instant coffee was actually good for something?! But, seriously, this is the superstar of this recipe. 

Once the chocolate is melted, you'll have assembled your brownie trifecta.

You know what to do next. Combine those bowls...I would say eggs into chocolate first, and then add the flour. Oh, remember those chocolate chips you put aside? Well, we haven't forgotten them! Sprinkle about a tablespoon of flour over them while they're still in the bag, and then shake to coat. Then, pour those into the batter.

Next, pour them into your pan. This amount of batter will fill a full 12 x 18 baking sheet or you can split it between two 9 x 13 pans, like I usually do. 

At this point, I usually pop them in the oven and anxiously await for them to bake, but this is also the point where you could get creative. Stir in some peanut butter or a caramel swirl. Whatever floats your boat. Because I was baking these specifically to have a completed pan for my Family Fun Day demo, I decided to Palmer House-ify (just go with it) this batch. So, before going in the oven, I sprinkled the top with chopped walnuts and lightly pressed them in with the palm of my hand, so they really stuck in the batter. 

The final element to the Palmer House Brownies is the apricot glaze, so while the brownies baked for the next 30 minutes or so, I made the simple glaze, which is 1 c. apricot preserves, 1 c. water, and 1 tsp. unflavored gelatin boiled together for 2 minutes. Super easy.

Oh, a note about baking these brownies: At 20 minutes into the bake time, I would recommend lighting banging the tray of brownies on the stove top and then popping them back into the oven. This will make sure any air bubbles pop and you'll have evenly baked brownies. If you're working with a full baking sheet, they'll probably need another 15 minutes to bake, putting the total bake time at 35 minutes. If you're using smaller pans, they'll probably only need 5- 10 more minutes. Do not over bake these. I've done it and they get really crunchy...and not in a pleasant way. Like in a "I'm eating a brick" way. They're done as soon as the center is set and a toothpick comes out clean.

If you're making these Palmer House style, you'll want to pour the apricot glaze over the top of the brownies. Listen to that sizzle! It smells amazing! And, then brush the glaze to make sure that it's covered evenly. Yessssssss. Brownie deliciousness!

Yes, I did sample that corner piece, cause the edges are the best. 

I know your instinct will be to slice these up and eat them immediately. I mean, as I just said, I couldn't help but sample that little corner piece, but I strongly recommend that you not only let these come to room temperature, but that you put them in the fridge for at least an hour afterwards. If you try to cut them while they're still warm, you'll most likely end up with some crumbly brownie pieces, and you don't want all of your hard work to go to waste. So, hold off, let them chill out, and then cut them into squares and serve. I brought the leftovers from my demo to a rehearsal afterwards, and one of my cast mates took one bite and said, "These are like professional," SCORE!

So, bake away, my friends, and enjoy the history and the sweetness of these brownies! 

Oh, and speaking of being professional, check out my business cards...

More information about Honey Baby Baker will be coming soon, but if you're in the Chicagoland area, and you've got a craving for something yummy, you can reach me at honeybabybaker@gmail.com. Huzzah! 

Nov 3, 2014

Out and About- Fall is the Busiest!

Hello, hello dear blog readers! Long time, no writing, huh? 

October proved to be a very busy month in the tiny kitchen. Well, I guess I should say out of the tiny kitchen because I've been running all over the place the last few weeks. Weddings galore and traveling for work, and LIFE. But, contrary to what my lack of blogging may suggest, I have actually been cooking, and some pretty good things too!

Here's a little over view of the highlights...

  1. Chicken Tikka Masala- On the first chilly day of the fall, I had a craving for some warm and comforting food, and chicken tikka masala fits the bill perfectly. Since I don't cook Indian food very often, in fact probably only one time before this, I found a great recipe on Buzzfeed. That yogurt-marinated roasted chicken is the jam, y'all. 
  2. Just a few weeks ago, I threw my first dinner party in almost a year. Almost a year! Prior to my stint on MasterChef, I'd thrown dinner parties at least every other month, and, as I'd gotten closer to going to L.A. to film the show, I'd started cooking for people 3 times a week. So, needless to say, it was time to crank up the burners and the oven and invite some people over. I decided on an Oktoberfest themed menu, but with a caveat that I didn't want people to feel like they were made of sausage and beer when they left. German food can be heavy, and it would have been really easy to serve all of those comfort foods, but I wanted to create a menu that had some balance. Luckily, it was a hit! For Oktoberfest, I made a beer braised roast with carrots and potatoes:Plus, don't forget the spaetzel (way more difficult that it seemed on paper, but I got a thumbs up from a guest who grew up eating it) and kale saute with a lemon and dijon dressing:And, finally, the hits of the evening, braised cranberry bratwurst with arugula and grapes in a mustard vinaigrette and roasted white asparagus with hollandaise sauce and rye breadcrumbs. Get it, get it, get it. (Pardon for the blurry photo! I was trying to get out of the way of the hungry guests!)
  3. And, finally, probably my favorite thing I've made in the last few weeks. This is go-to recipe for leftovers. Delicious, delicious leftovers. The evening before, I'd made fillet tenderloin with sweet pototes, but I had some sweet potatoes left over, so the next night, I made sweet potato hash with red pepper, poblano, and bacon with poached eggs. Delicious, nutrious, and quick!

November is stacking up to be just a busy as October, but I'm looking forward to sharing my cooking with you. In fact, there's a chicken roasting in the oven right now! Check ya later, dudes!

Oct 3, 2014

There's a First Time for Everything- Pressure Cooker Short Ribs

Autumn is certainly my favorite season. I love the cozy clothes, the changing leaves, the smell of Pumpkin Spice Everything in the air. And, last but certainly not least, the food. There's a crisp in the air and that means it's time to for us to fire up our ovens without fear of melting along with the food. Fall is all about comfort food. Bring on the roasts, I say! 

We all know "low and slow" is the way to go, but sometimes, you just don't have time to let something cook for 6 hours in the oven. You know I don't! (Sorry I haven't written in two weeks...blogger fail) So, what's a girl to do when she's craving a slow-roasted dinner, but she doesn't have all day?

Bring out that pressure cooker!

Now, I'll admit, prior to this little experiment, I was scared of the pressure cooker. I'd heard too many horror stories about how they could explode! I mean, no one wants their dinner ruined and a black eye caused by a flying lid. So, even though my Mawmaw gave me one of her old pressure cookers last year, I still hadn't used it...until last week when an uncontrollable craving for slow roasted meat hit me in the middle of the day. But, I was at work. If I was going to have the roast of my dreams, it should already be in the oven right this minute! And, then after a moment of supreme disappointment, I remembered the pressure cooker. Heck yes.

So, I popped by Whole Foods on the way home, picked up the necessary ingredients, and faced the dreaded pressure cooker.

First of all, I followed a recipe that I found on Martha Stewart for Beef Short Ribs. It was a good starting point, but as you'll see farther into this post, it needs some tweaks for the next time around. Not only was this my first time using the pressure cooker, but it was also my first time cooking short ribs. Double whammy!

The first step, as with most slow-roasted dishes, is to brown that meat. But, even before that step, the first thing I had to do was roll them in a little seasoned flour.

Then, it's time to brown them in a little delicious butter.

This might take a little longer than you expect, but you'll want to make sure that each side is brown, because, as Chef Anne Burrell says, "Brown food tastes good!" 

Once your short ribs are good and browned, pulled them out of the pot and set them aside while you add in your onions, thyme, and garlic. Now, it's smelling good in here!

Cook the onions down until they're tender and golden. And, then, the best part of cooking, pour in the red wine, add the short ribs back into the pot, and bring everything up to a simmer. Oh, and while you're at it, pour yourself a glass too

This is also where I'll do things a little differently next time. Next time, I'll basically double the amount of liquid I pour into the pot by adding an additional 3/4 cup beef broth. You'll see why in just a few pictures. Everything up to this point was pretty normal, but now was the time to really put the pressure on. (You see what I did there?!?) After fiddling with the lid for a minute or two or five, I finally sealed it. And, then there was nothing left to do but wait...

Five minutes in and I started to hear a little hissing. Ten minutes in and that hissing was getting even louder. Did I just hear a little jiggle??? You know it! By fifteen minutes, I was in business! There was no going back now!

While the short ribs were cooking away for the next 45 minutes, I started working on my sides: roasted brussel sprouts and mashed sweet potatoes. 

1) Brussel sprouts are my favorite vegetable. Seriously.

2) Let's talk about these sweet potatoes:

I picked those sweet potatoes from the ground! All by myself! Well, actually, I volunteered to help with a harvest at the preServe Garden with a really great organization called Slow Food. Slow Food's mission is "to create dramatic and lasting change in our local food system to ensure equity, sustainability and pleasure in the food we eat." Pretty great, right? Did you know that sweet potatoes grow in bunches underground, and the best way to harvest them is to basically do a little archeology dig? You brush the dirt from around them and then gently pull up a whole bunch. It was so fun! I also helped harvest some peppers, chard, and basil that day. It was very, very fun! 

So, anyway, I roasted those brussel sprouts with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and granulated garlic. Meanwhile, I boiled those sweet sweet potatoes and mashed them with some ricotta cheese, salt, pepper, and a little brown sugar. And, at this point, the short ribs were done. I'd taken them off of the heat, and let the pot rest for fifteen minutes, so that it would be safe to take off the lid. And, now it was time for the big reveal...

Damnit.

Damnit all.

Well, those onions were burnt to a crisp, and the red wine sauce was none existent. But, those short ribs still look pretty appetizing...

Luckily, I'm no stranger to flubs in the kitcken (remember that time G. Ramsay told me my food was like a mouthful of sand? Ugh. Me too.) so it was time to improvise. I removed the short ribs from the burnt mess, seasoned them, and got to work on a quick red wine reduction. And, in just ten more minutes, it was time to eat a pretty beautiful dinner.

Y'all. Those short ribs. They were fall off the bone good and in just a quarter of the time it usually takes to make them. Paired with the sweetness of the mash, and the roasted veggies, and with a little tangy sauce, that was a hell of a dinner. 

So, cheers to Autumn and cheers to the pressure cooker, my new friend!

Sep 18, 2014

Recipe Box- Alabama Lane Cake

A few weeks ago, my Momma sent me a recipe, which she does from time to time when she stumbles on something she thinks would be tasty. But, this one had a caveat because it was a recipe she remembers her own grandmother making when she was a little girl. My great grandmother had three sisters, and they all had varying opinions on the cake: Aunt Ovada refused to eat it because of the special ingredient, Aunt Loreen just played coy about it, and the third, Aunt Nell Jo, laughed at all of them and had seconds. Now that's a story for me! And what kind of cake would bring such a memory...

Lane Cake! The official cake for the state of Alabama!

As the story goes, Lane Cake was named after its creator, Emma Lane, who entered her cake into a county fair competition in Columbus, GA in 1898. The cake was so good that the recipe was published and its popularity became so wide that it's even mentioned in the famous novel To Kill a Mockingbird

Generally speaking, Lane Cake is vanilla sponge cake layered with a fruit and nut filling and frosted with vanilla meringue. But, the secret ingredient is what really brings it home...drum roll please...

WHISKEY.

That's right. That filling is more specifically a whiskey custard with coconut, dried fruit, and nuts. YUM

Here's the recipe I used...

Vanilla Sponge Cake

8 egg whites

2 1/4 cup sugar

1 1/4 cup butter, softened

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 1/3 cup cake flour, sifted

4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cup whole milk

First things first, you gotta grease three 8in. round cake pans. I would recommend, and you'll see this in many recipes for sponge cake, that you also cut out parchment paper to line the bottom of the pans too. It's a good safety measure for any cake so you know it won't get stuck to the bottom of the pan, but it's particularly good for this kind of cake, which can be more difficult to remove from the pans than others. Oh, and pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees. Next, sift together the dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. The next step is to beat the egg whites into soft peaks. And, save those 8 egg yolks cause you'll use them to make the filling! 

Next, you can cream together the butter and sugar in a standing mixer, and then add the vanilla once it's light and fluffy. You know what's next. Add the flour mixture and the milk alternately until just incorporated. Then, by hand with a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter. 

Heck yes, cake batter. Get it in the pans!

Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until wooden toothpick comes out clean. Or a cake tester, if you're fancy. Once baked, let them rest in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove and let them completely cool on racks.

In the meantime, while the cake is baking, it's time to get to the good stuff.

Lane Cake Filling

8 egg yolks

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup whiskey

1 cup raisins

1 cups toasted and chopped pecans

1 cup coconut

That's right. You read 1 cup of whiskey. We're not playing around here. 

To get started, melt the stick of butter in a sauce pan, and then add the sugar and whiskey. Bring the mixture to a low boil and simmer until the sugar as dissolved. In a smaller seperate bowl, beat the egg yolks until smooth. Then, you're going to temper the eggs by slowly pouring in a small amount of the hot whiskey mixture while whisking. This helps to bring the eggs up to temperature so you don't end up with scrambled eggs in whiskey and sugar, which sounds horrible. Once the eggs are tempered, you can slowly add all of the eggs to the whiskey pot, stir it all together, bring it back to a low simmer, and cook for about 5 minutes until the mixture thickens.

Then, remove the pot from the heat and stir in the coconut, toasted pecans, and raisins. The consistency will thicken as it cools, but you're going to be looking for thin enough to spread, but thick enough to hold its place.

This delicious mixture will also need to come to room temperature before you start assembling the cake, but once that happens, it. is. on

Level your cake layers and then snack on the leftovers while you work on the rest of the assembly, which is just layering half of the whiskey filling between each layer of sponge cake. 

Ugh. I want a piece of that all ready and it's not even frosted yet. Which reminds me...

7- Minute Meringue Frosting

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tbs. light corn syrup

1/4 cup water

6 large egg whites

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Separate your egg whites into a heat-proof glass mixing bowl or the top bowl of a double boiler, again, if you're fancy, and add the sugar, corn syrup, and water. At the same time, bring a pot of water onto simmer. If you're like me, and you forget to bring the water to a boil before you put the egg white bowl on top of the pot, this will take much longer than seven minutes and more like fifteen. But, you know, you do you, boo. 

You're looking for the egg whites to get up to 160 degrees. Just hot enough to get them a good temperature, but not hot enough to make scrambled egg whites, which are great for veggie omelets, but bad for making frosting. Use that thermometer! Once they've reached 160, immediately remove them from the heat, and, using a hand mixer on high, beat the egg whites into soft peaks. Add the vanilla, and beat a few more minutes into hard peaks. 

Then, frost that cake! 

I topped mine with toasted pecan halves, but you could use some of the extra raisins or coconut, or nothing at all. 

I recommend making this cake the day before serving because the flavors in the filling will get better after they've had even more time to marry together. But, when you just can't stand it any more, cut a slice and dig in. You know I did!

Sep 7, 2014

Out and About- Cookies for Race Judicata

I know. I know. 

It's been too long since I've updated this little blog, but things have been some kinda busy here over the last few weeks. And, to be honest, I hadn't been cooking as much as previous weeks. But, I put in some solid kitchen hours this week because I had my very first official catering gig! 

Sure, I've catered fundraisers for my theater company and threw a BBQ for a friend's engagment party, but those were events that I did for friends. This was the very first time that someone who didn't know me trusted me to bake for their event. How scary/exciting! 

A few weeks ago, a member of the marketing team from Grant Thornton reached out to me to see if I would be interested in baking for Race Judicata, which benefits Chicago free legal services. It seemed like a good cause, so I jumped at the chance to really prove to myself that I could handle a big baking job. 

So, weeks later, after my first cookie and cupcake tasting with the team, it was time to deliver the goods. The baked goods.

300 of them. That's right. Three. Hundred.

300 cookies came out of the tiny kitchen, one sheet tray at a time, and they were pretty darn good.

After some deliberation and a tasting, the marketing team decided on three kinds of cookies: chocolate chip, snickerdoodle, and lemon & lavender. 

Chocolate chip cookies were a hit with the kids, although my personal favorites are the lemon & lavender cookies. They're light and delicate, and the most complex in flavor, but a I think a few people were afraid it would be like eating potpourri. Not so! But, the surprise hit of the evening were the snickerdoodles. Seriously, people went crazy for those cookies. I mean, we had walk ups saying, "Where are the snickerdoodles everyone is talking about?" 

At the end of the evening, there are only a few cookies left and the marketing team from Grant Thornton seemed please, so I think it was an overall success. I'm very happy with how everything turned out and I can only hope that I get to do more events like this one!

Aug 18, 2014

There's a First Time for Everything- Continental Breakfast

Since being on a certain TV show, I've been spending some time trying to figure out what to do next, and one of the biggest struggles has been balancing my current job while exploring some new possibilities. But, I gotta a real treat last week when my current boss asked if she could hire me as an independent caterer! How awesome and supportive is that?! I'm a lucky girl. 

She needed a breakfast for a dozen of our company's big-wigs, so that means, she needed something extra tasty to start them off on the right foot for a day long meeting, but nothing so elaborate that it would take too much day-of preparation, especially since I wouldn't be able to be in the office that morning to help set up. Continental breakfast to the rescue! I decided to bake a variety of pastries and breakfasts treats, plus a super tasty fruit salad. 

Here's a breakdown of what I prepared for the super fancy execs...

Spiced Carrot Muffin

For our health-nuts, I made some muffins based on a recipe I found on The Food Network website that used whole wheat flour, pineapple, and fresh shredded carrots. I also added a couple tablespoons of blueberry flax seeds instead of wheat germ, which was a pretty tasty addition, not to mention the toasted pecans on top. It's a tasty treat that you don't have to feel guilty eating! 

Blueberry Muffins with Almond Streusel

Here's my go too recipe for any kind of fruit-filled muffins. Get creative! I went with a classic blueberry for this order, but you can do strawberries, cherries, apples...

Muffins

2 c. flour

1 tbs. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 egg

1 c. sugar

4 tbs. unsalted butter (melted and cooled)

1 1/4 c. sour cream

1 1/2 c. fruit

1 tsp. vanilla or 1/4 tsp. almond extract

Preheat your oven to 350 and get your muffin tin prepped with liners and some non-stick spray. Then, get your dry ingredients together. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Then, whisk together the egg, sugar, melted butter, and vanilla/almond extract. Next, slowly add the butter mixture to the dry ingredients, then add the sour cream and stir until incorporated. Then, carefully fold in your fruit. Yum!

Almond Streusel

1/4 c. flour

 4 tbs. room temp butter

1/4 c. brown sugar

1/4 cup toasted almond slivers

Combine flour, butter and sugar until it forms little clumps. Then, mix in your toasted almonds! 

 Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, fill until 3/4 full, and then top with about a tbs. of streusel. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown! 

Goat Cheese and Chive Buttermilk Biscuits

Pardon my language, but damn, y'all. These biscuits are good! The first time I had these biscuits was at Table Fifty Two here in Chicago several years ago, but this was my first time to try to recreate them. The first part of the recipe is how I make plain biscuits, but just like with the muffins, you can get creative with the flavor additions!

2 c. flour (plus more for dusting)

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. sugar

3/4 tsp. salt

1/4 c. cold butter

1/4 c. cold shortening

1 c. buttermilk

2 oz. goat cheese

3 tbs. minced chives

Preheat the oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Then, cut in the cold butter and shortening with a pastry cutter until the flour looks like cornmeal. Make a well in the center of the flour, and pour in half of the buttermilk. Mix together slightly, then make another well, and pour in the rest of the buttermilk. Last, crumble the goat cheese into the dough and add in the minced chives. Mix and then roll out on a floured surface. If you have a biscuit cutter, got ahead and use that OR you can be like me, and just make them squares. They'll taste just as good! Brush the tops with melted salted butter and pop those babies in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

Pumpkin and Parmesan Biscuits

I first made these a couple years ago for a dinner party and they were a hit. I found this recipe on The Food Network (twice in one post, I know!), and they're an awesome twist on the classic. Plus, baked crispy cheese on top! So good!

And, since man can't survive on just baked goods, as much as we try, you can't forget the fruit salad! I think fruit salad can get a bad rap, but honestly, I think it's because everyone assumes that it's just gonna be a lot of melon. Nothing against melon, but I'm usually the one rooting around to find the strawberries and pineapple. You know, the good stuff. So, why not make a fruit salad that is just the good stuff! Mango, pineapple, kiwi, pear, and blueberries with a lemon, ginger, and honey dressing. Super yummy! (I forgot to take a picture...sigh...bad blogger!)

Finally, the piece-de-resistance, the Honey Babies

This was the big reveal of a new signature dish for me. One with a name that I hope you'll be hearing more of later...

This is my take on the cinnamon roll with a few elevated ingredients. I'm still working on the recipe, but the filling is mascarpone with brown sugar, cinnamon, and pistachios. Then, when the rolls are still hot out of the oven, they're glazed with honey, lemon, and butter. So far, so good, right?! They're almost perfect, but not quite. I'll share the recipe soon once it's been tweaked, but I'll leave you with a little photo tease...

Beautiful, right?! I'm pretty excited about these babies, and I'm looking forward to sharing them with you!

Aug 12, 2014

There's a First Time for Everything- Canning Strawberry Jam

Last Christmas, I resolved to learn the craft of canning. My Mawmaw was giving away (giving away!) her pressure cookers, and, lo and behold, she had lots of canning equipment, like a jar rack for the pot and a wide mouth funnel that's probably older than me. My Momma went out and got me a flat of mason jars, and new cute labels, and a jar lifter. I was all set to preserve everything imaginable! 

But, like some projects, this one fell to the wayside. All of that equipment sat in the trunk of my car for an embarrassingly long time. Sometimes, I'd think about canning as I threw away veggies that never made it into other dishes, but I just never made time to actually do it. Not to mention, I was scared. Reading about canning can be really intimidating. Basically, everything you read tells you that if you do it wrong, you will poison yourself and your friends. Botulism ain't joking around. 

But, just last week, my friend Karie mentioned that she had lots of strawberries frozen from a farm visit earlier this summer, and she needed to figure out what to do with them before moving to Ohio at the middle of the month. (Soon to be Dr. Karie to us! Go PhD Go!) "Wouldn't it be great to make jam?," she said. But, she didn't have any of the equipment. Elise to the rescue! I've got it covered! 

So, I pulled out my canning book Little Jars, Big Flavors and we got to work! 

We used the recipe for Strawberry Basil Jam, so first things first, we had to prep those berries, and Karie wasn't joking around when she said she had a lot of strawberries...

Once the berries were thawed out a little and had their leafy tops removed, we threw them in a big pot with some sugar, lemon juice, and a bunch of basil in a little cheesecloth bag (super easy to fish out of that big pot) and let it all simmer down. I also used an immersion blender to help break up the berries some too, but not too much, 'cause I still wanted there to be some pieces of those beautiful strawberries. Then, we added the pectin, which is a naturally occurring thickener in fruit, but you add some extra when making jam to help it all come together. Pectin will also cause the fruit to form a little foam on the top, which you can just scoop off before canning. Apparently, it can make the jam taste a little metallic, if you don't scoop off most of it. 

Meanwhile, we got to sterilizing those jars, which is probably the most important part of the whole canning process. First things first, take their tops off (Wooooo!), and place the lids aside in a casserole dish or any dish that is shallow and wide. With the rack in the bottom of the pot, we placed the jars inside and filled the whole pot up with water until there were 2 inches of water above the jars. Then, we boiled the jars for 10 minutes. I closed the pressure cooker to bring it up to a simmer really fast, but you can totally can with just a normal pot. No need for a pressure cooker! 

Once your jars are good and boiled, you're ready to start putting in that jam! Remove the hot jars with the jar lifter and place them on a kitchen towel. Then, remember those lids? Now, ladle some of the simmering water over the lids in the casserole dish and let those sit while you fill the jars with that awesome jam that's been simmering away. 

Don't forget to use the wide-mouth funnel to keep the jar edges clean. You'll want to make sure there's nothing in the way of the lids' seal, so if you get any jam on the edges, be sure to wipe it off with a damp paper towel before moving on. 

The next step is to put those lids on! Use some tongs and put the lids on, seal side down and then twist the rings on until their finger-tip tight. I know you're instinct might be to screw those on really tight, but don't do it! You'll need to be able to get those things off to make sure that the lids are really sealed later. 

Once the lids are on, it's back in the pot with them. The water should still be at a simmer, so add your jars back into the pot and then pour the extra water from the casserole dish that was housing the lids back into the pot. Add some extra water if there's not two inches covering the jars. Then, bring it back up to a boil and let them go for another ten minutes! Now, if you're like me, you'll be terrified that water is going to get into those jars. I mean, there's just a little lid on there and it's not even on there super tight. But, I can now tell you from personal experience that water won't get in there. It's a miracle! After they've boiled for 10 minutes, you can take them back out with the jar lifter! 

Now, they do need to sit still for 12-24 hours, so don't go throwing them around like a baseball quite yet. Once they've rested, you can check to make sure they're sealed by taking the rings off (see?! told ya you didn't have to screw them on real tight!), and pressing down on the lids to make sure they don't pop back up. Look at that! We made jam! And, now I can't wait to put other things in jars...pickles, relishes, more jams...so many things! 

Now you all know what you're getting for Christmas. Don't say I didn't warn you.