Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Rarely, do I post about food I didn't make. I figured that if you have a chef hook you up or you visit the culinary capital of the South, one can post about it. I spent a week eating my way through New Orleans and the North Shore. Here are the restaurants and the food:

The Palace Cafe is one of my favorite restaurants in New Orleans. Shrimp Tchefuncte is my dish of choice. Here it is in all of its glory.

I skipped right to the main course. I started with their take on a Caesar salad, the Werlein Salad.

For dessert, I had fresh peaches and rum cake. It was flambéed! My first tableside presentation.

Look at the finished product! Yep that's homemade ice cream.

One of my other must-haves is a Greek pizza from Louisiana Pizza Kitchen (with extra olives). This thing rocks. It is my favorite pizza in the country. I love it so much that I had it two days in a row. These pics are from the French Quarter location. I prefer the pizza Uptown at location, but I love the character of the French Quarter Location. These pics are from the one in the Quarter.

Next up, and excuse the camera phone pics, are cafe au lait and beignets. I had these almost every day for breakfast. I absolutely adore Cafe Du Monde.

Then there was Drago's. Had to get my crawfish étouffée on! Shrimp and corn bisque too. Sorry -- more camera phone pics.

Oh, how I love the Crescent City. Best food ever. I also made it to New Orleans Seafood & Spirits, but I didn't take any pics. What I realized as that when I ate with my family, I didn't take any pictures. When I was by myself, I took plenty. It's hard being the only foodie blogger in the family.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Adventures in Cake Decorating

I'm taking Wilton III, again. This is my third attempt: I lost my job during the first one and didn't feel like being around people. I just didn't have the time to complete the second one. The third time is the charm. This time, I'm seeing it through. (Even though I missed the first class; I was on vacation. Besides, I'd taken the first class two times before!) We're taking the classes at Cakewalk Chicago. Lori, the owner, is our instructor.

The second class is where you make your square cake look like a present. I just went for the bow on top. I have a short attention span and I'm not a huge fan of fondant. I'm so lazy that my cake was actually a Styrofoam square. I'm saving up for the Williams-Sonoma square cake pans. No square cakes until I buy them.

I'm taking the course with my coworkers. Here are their cakes. These women made homemade fondant. WTF??!:

I tease both of them because they have become Wilton crackheads. Every week, they are buying something new. Tiff gets an additional teasing because she brings so much crap to class. She has a tool caddy and a gigantic tub.

Tools of the trade:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Best Day of My Life!

So, yeah. I spent a Saturday with Chef Cliff Rome at Parkway Ballroom. He is doing it BIG. It is just amazing to see where a culinary career can take you. Chef Rome talked about worlds I didn't even know existed. (Private chef on a yacht that sails to private islands??) Damn. My dreams aren't that big, but I like to know the possibility is there.

My co-worker, Angela, and I basically hung out at the Parkway all day. It was so cool. We talked, we drank. We listened to so great music. Don't get me wrong, I am convinced I am a chef wannabe. But, talking about how to market some of Chef's ideas helped me realize that I still get really excited about marketing; I just need the right stimulus.
Chef Rome had the staff prepare us lunch from the scraps - yeah right. Their scraps are better than anything I've ever plated! Imagine how impressed I was at the tablecloth over the end of the work counter with flowers. It's all about standards.

Okay so I had already started to eat when I decided to snapped this.

And the main course ... My camera phone is not doing this justice. We even had chocolate chip cookies for dessert!

Chef Rome has a million ideas a minute and is about to take Chicago by storm; Bronzeville is headed back to its glory days. I'm willing to barter marketing services for a free gourmet meal and a chance to be around culinary greatness.

I just love the way God puts people together. Sometimes the encounters are an inspiration, sometimes a confirmation. This was a both.

Tools of the trade:

  • Appreciation
  • Enthusiasm
  • Humility

Monday, July 21, 2008

Back To Basics

Sometimes you want good, simple comfort food. Sausage & peppers does it for me! I got greedy and ended up spooning the peppers over some pasta, but we'll get to that later.

Start by browning some sausage over high heat-- sweet or hot (or both); it doesn't matter. I used half sweet and half hot. I live on the edge like that.

Remember to brown and not fully cook the sausage - hence the high heat. Once browned, remove the sausage from the pan.
Start your veggies in layers. I know this is called sausage and peppers, but onion and celery never hurt anybody. They wanted to join in the fun and games too. I added the celery first. I hit it with a little salt and pepper and let it sweat until softened. Onions were next, followed by the peppers. Season each layer! Flavor should be built at each stage, not just at the end. After the peppers have started to soften, add the garlic.
As the veggies soften, they start to release their liquid. This will help you scrape up the good
bits of fond on the bottom of the pan. If you thought those burnt bits were no good, shame on you. They add wonderful depth to a dish.
I wanted to hurry up and cook so that I could take a nap. After I got the veggies on their way, I added dried oregano, put the sausage on top, put the lid on the pan and popped it in a 350 degree oven. Of course the pan was my All-Clad Petite Braiser. The domed lid allows more moisture to drip down and baste the food.
About an hour later, BAM!!!
All of that juicy goodness needed to be in a bun, but since I didn't have any, I opted for some pasta. I took some Barilla No-Boil Lasagna noodles, boiled them and made tagliatelle. (Thank you, Jamie Oliver, for the idea.)
Tools of the trade:

Friday, July 11, 2008

Rested Up

I've been eating my way through New Orleans and the North Shore for more than a week now. I'll be back in my kitchen this weekend. You can check out some of the NOLA food adventures on my other blog, The Thick Chick. (Yes, I am very in touch with the weight-loss/foodie irony.) I plan to do a more in-depth posting about my Crescent City eats here one day.

I picked up two phenomenal cookbooks, John Folse's Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine and Dickie Brennan's Palace Cafe -- The Flavor of New Orleans. These two books made my trip. I'm so excited. I just got the Palace Cafe book in the airport. We'll talk more about both in the coming weeks.

I will say now that I've wanted Folse's book for years. Palace Cafe has one of my favorite seafood dishes of all time, Gulf Shrimp Tchefuncte. I spent part of my time in the Quarter looking for a Palace Cafe book so I could get the recipe. One would think that I would have thought to ask about the book while I was at the restaurant ... I'm real special like that. Besides, I had a flambéed rum cake with peaches and I was dumbfounded by the presentation and the taste.

Before I left for vacation, I was toying with the idea of blogging about at least one recipe from each of my cookbooks. I have close to 100, so that should keep me busy for a minute! I also have a new New Orleans project: on future trips, I am going to eat at all the restaurants that have published cookbooks. This will force me to dine at Commander's Palace, Galatoire's, Arnaud's, Dooky Chase, Antoine's, K-Paul's and Delmonico -- and these are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. These are all places I've never been, so this should be fun. I just have to make sure I don't wait another four years to return. I used to come here every Easter and go to Little Rock every Christmas. Then my life got in the way.

Monday, July 7, 2008

More Minis

My love affair with mini desserts continues! Also the cheap side of me kicked in. I love to go to bakeries and look at the fruit tarts. They are so elegant and beautiful. I never buy them because I think they are really expensive. I finally got up the nerve to make one myself!

One of my favorite cookbooks is Williams-Sonoma's Tools & Techniques. It has recipes for both the tart dough and the pastry cream. Here we go. Let's start with the pastry cream. Grab a vanilla bean. Split it with a pairing knife and scrape the seeds out. Place the seeds and the pod into a pot with milk to steep over medium heat.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar. I whisk until the mixture turns to a pale yellow.
By now, your milk and vanilla should be warm enough.
Slowly pour a quarter of the warm milk into the eggs while whisking constantly.
Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan. Whisk constantly and cook until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Pour the mixture into a sieve placed over a bowl. Strain out the solids.
Add the butter to the strained cream and stir until it melts.
Place plastic wrap over the pastry cream. (Make sure it's touching the cream so a skin won't form.) Refrigerate for at least two hours.
Let's make the tart dough now. Get all of your dry ingredients into the food processor. Please, please, please, weigh your flour.
Take the dry ingredients for a spin. Add the butter.
Process lightly and add the egg and heavy cream.
Bring the dough together in a ball. Flatten into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours
Here's the challenging part for me, rolling the dough. Sprinkle well with flour and grab a French rolling pin.
Yeah. Lesson learned: don't roll dough in a hot house!
I quickly wised up an placed a sheet pan in the refrigerator. I rolled the re-chilled dough on it. I used a fluted cutter to make rounds for my muffin pan.
Sorry. No more work-in-progress pics. My kitchen was still hot and I had to move quickly. I placed the rounds in a standard muffin pan I used a tart tamper to shape them. Then I docked them with a fork. Here's the finished product.
Tools of the trade:

Friday, July 4, 2008

My Summer Table

Happy summer! So yeah. I tried this post before. The difference is I have finally, after years of searching, found my chargers! You may not be impressed, but this find at Z Gallerie made my day.

I hope you are enjoying your holiday!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

So Pretty

Yes. More cupcakes. What's really surprising is that I lost weight this week, even with these and pound cake. Anyhoo. These were for a coworker's birthday.

I am an official cupcake convert. I love them for portion control and decorating ease. I've taken the Wilton cake decorating classes (with some degree of success); I just am not the type of person to sculpt something with fondant. I prefer the simple elegance of cupcakes. Many of the more popular bakeries have a standard way of applying the icing, not matter the cupcake variety. Perhaps the most famous is Sprinkles, in LA. I like that standardization.

Anyway, I'm a swirl kinda girl, although I'm still trying to get mine to look like these from Blue Cupcake. In hindsight, think it's a large rosette. Mine are like ice cream cone swirls.
So, I decided to make a cupcake version of the strawberry cream cake by Cook's Illustrated. From previous miserable experiences, I knew better than to mess with an egg-foam cake. I turned to the All Occasion Downy Butter Cake by baker extraordinaire Rose Levy Beranbaum. You know I've had a jones for sweet potato and caramel brought together as a dessert, so I decided to go for that too.
Before we get started, let me just say how thankful I was for two KitchenAid stand mixer bowls. I'm thinking about purchasing a second paddle and whisk too. I didn't take any cake-in-progress pics for the cupcake part of the strawberry cream cake, but you know the drill, don't you? While your cupcakes bake, move on to the strawberries.
Quarter them and toss with sugar. Let them sit for an hour. Stir periodically. You should end up with this:
Drain and reserve the liquid. Give the berries a good mash. CI suggests a food processor. I didn't want to dirty another appliance. Pour the strawberry juices into a small saucepan. Add some Kirsch and reduce until it becomes a syrup. Add this to the mashed berries.
Now grab some strawberries and slice them thin. Place these on the outer edges of the cupcake like a border. Spoon a little bit of the mashed berry mixture into the center.
Now let's move to the topping. Whip room temperature cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Don't try to cheat and use cold cream cheese. You will have lumps. And lumps aren't cute are they? Nope. Add cold heavy cream and vanilla. Whip until fluffy.

No fancy piping needed for decoration. In this case, the unfussy dollop of the cream really underscored the real strawberries, real cream cheese and real whipped cream. Natural is good.
Add a strawberry slice to the center and you're done!

Now let's get to the sweet potato caramel. These would have been perfect if there were one less stick of butter in the icing. That's just my preference. Everybody else loved them. Let's keep it moving. The base recipe is CI's Yellow Cupcakes. I took leap of faith and tried to strike a balance between the sour cream and mashed sweet potato.
Roast your sweet potato. I'll take roasting over boiling any day. I think some of the flavor boils right out into the water.

Mash while hot or you will have strings. Strings are not a good thing.

Sorry, no pics of me making the cake. I was going for speed. So pretend I listed all of the steps and took pics. Here's what you end up with: orange-colored goodness.
Now for the frosting -- caramel Italian meringue buttercream. Very ambitious. Especially first thing in the morning. I got up to make it and the cream topping at midnight. I realized that I was in no shape to do anything that required precision, so I went back to bed until 4. That didn't help much because I burned the first batch of caramel!
What's so cool about this icing is that it's like a song with four movements: crème anglaise,

caramel (yes this eventually turned into caramel),


and butter (and lots of it).
Here's the result. Beranbaum's recipe called for four sticks of butter. I found that while the icing was unbelievably silky and light, I tasted more butter than caramel. I'm going to try it with three sticks next time.
Grab a piping bag and tip and have at it.
Now my ultimate flavor combo is sweet potato, caramel and pecan. I chopped a few nuts for the folks to sprinkle on their own. I didn't want hurt anyone with severe nut allergies. Um, yeah. I had to try one. 'Twas great!
All packed up and ready to go!

Tools of the trade: