Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Mon Petit Chou

"Mon petit chou" (pronounced maw puh-tee shoo) is a French term of endearment which literally translates to "my little cabbage." At first you may think, "Gee, thanks..." However, the term chou (or choux, if plural) has a double meaning routed in the pastry world, chou referring to "chou a la creme" or cream puff! Ah, that's way better than being called a cabbage! Anyway, this brings us to "pate a choux" or choux pastry. Choux pastry is loosely regarded as being created in France by Chef Panterelli in 1540, who came with Catherine de Medici of Florence in 1533, upon her marriage to the future King Henry II of France. Over the years, the original recipe evolved, as well as it's name, from "pate a Panterelli" to "pate a Popelini," to "pate a Popelin" (which were cakes made in the Middle Ages and shaped as woman's breasts! Scandaleux!), and finally to "pate a choux." So, what is it? Basically, choux pastry is a twice cooked dough with high moisture that creates steam when baked, thus puffing up to create a crisp outer shell and hollow interior that's perfect for filling!

If you have never made choux pastry, I am about to change your life forever! This magical dough, which contains only four common ingredients (water, butter, flour, and eggs), is shockingly easy to make and takes mere minutes! It is the basis for eclairs, profiteroles (little buns that look like tiny cabbages, hence the name), stacked with caramel for "croquembouche," shaped into a ring and filled with praline cream for "Paris-Brest," the basis for "St. Honore cake," and fried to make beignets and even churros. If that's not enough, because choux pastry doesn't contain sugar, you can easily fill them with savory ingredients as well, like chicken or seafood salad, ham or prociutto and cheese, scrambled eggs and herbs, steak and bearnaise, or even mix in a little cheese before baking and you've got "gougeres!" The combinations are endless, and it all starts with this one simple dough! This recipe for "Profiteroles" will delight any "mon petit chou" and are perfect for Valentine's Day! Just don't let them know how easy it was!

Profiteroles (Choux Pastry Buns with Pastry Cream and Chocolate Ganache)

Makes about 50, depending on the size. 
*For larger shells for steak, etc., drop by large spoonfuls and bake at 400 for about 45 minutes.

For the Pate a Choux
1 cup water
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
1 cup flour (I add 1/2 teaspoon salt to the flour, but it is optional and not traditional.)
4 eggs

For the Pastry Cream
1 recipe Creme Patissiere (Which can be made days in advance! or if you're lazy, fill with ice cream.)

For the Chocolate Ganache Glaze (Can be made days in advance!)
4 ounces semi sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup

For the Pate a Choux
In a medium saucepan, boil the water and the butter.

Bring to a simmer and stir in the flour, about 1/4 cup at a time, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon.

The mixture will become a big ball. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Transfer the blob to the bowl of a stand mixer, or large mixing bowl. Starting with the lowest setting, beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Don't add the next egg until the previous one has been incorporated. Beat until smooth and velvety.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat. 

Using a pastry bag or two spoons, pipe or drop approximately 1" balls onto the sheet.

Using your finger dipped into a little milk, pat down the tips from piping, if necessary.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until medium-golden brown and dry on the outside. (You need to keep an eye on them, and can check to make sure they are fully cooked by cutting one open.) When done, remove to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

(Some people recommend piercing each one with a skewer or toothpick to allow steam to escape.) Once cooled, they can be stored in an airtight container until ready to be filled.

For the Chocolate Ganache Glaze
Place the chocolate chips in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan heat the cream to a simmer. Remove from the heat and stir in the corn syrup. Pour over the chocolate chips and mix until smooth. The sauce can be made ahead, covered and refrigerated, and gently reheated before using.

Final Assembly (*Assemble only as many as you plan to eat that day. Any remaining ingredients can be stored separately for a second round of indulgence!)
Using a pastry bag with a round tip, poke the tip into the side of each cream puff and pipe in enough pastry cream to fill the hollow center.

If you don't own a pastry bag, you can make a partial horizontal cut with a knife and spoon in some pastry cream. Just remember to hold the cut together when dunking into the glaze.

Holding each cream puff securely with your fingers, dunk and twist the top of each one into the chocolate ganache glaze to coat and set aside until ready to be served.


(Mon Petit Chou loves them!)

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Mardis Gras and the Best Jambalaya!

Mardis Gras (aka., Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday) is February 13, marking the last day of fatty food indulgences before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. While some people around the world celebrate the day eating pancakes, I prefer a delicious bowl of jambalaya! I first acquired a taste for this spicy sausage and seafood-laden dish from a friend in college who made a batch along with freshly baked bread every Sunday. Although I think he used Zatarain's and a tube of Pillsbury, it was always a good time! Just like chili is in Texas, jambalaya is classic Louisiana party food, making it the perfect choice for Mardis Gras!

Jambalaya is a dish steeped in ambiguity. So much so, you can stir up heated discussions regarding just the root of the word "jambalaya!" One theory is that it comes from the Provencal word "jambalaia," meaning mishmash or mixture. Another theory is that it comes from the Spanish word "jamon," meaning ham, combined with "paella," the classic Spanish rice dish. The third theory is that it comes from the French "jambon," meaning ham, with a contraction of "a la" and "ya," the African word for rice. And finally, it might come from the Native American Atakapa tribe's saying, "Sham, pal ha! Ya!" meaning "Be full, not skinny! Eat up!" 

If that's not enough, contrary to popular misconceptions, jambalaya is not specifically a Creole dish. In fact, there are two kinds of jambalaya. Creole which contains tomatoes, and Cajun which does not. I prefer it with tomatoes. I also think the key to a really great jambalaya is tasso. Tasso is a highly seasoned smoked pork. I am lucky to find it locally, but you can order some from cajungrocer.com. Andouille sausage is also authentic; however, if you can't find it or don't want to add it to your Cajun Grocer order, you can substitute Spanish chorizo, not Mexican chorizo, which is not the same thing. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention "the holy trinity." Similar to mirepoix and sofrito, it is the base to most Louisiana cuisine. It consists of finely diced onion, celery, and green bell pepper. I use red bell pepper because I detest green bell peppers in any form. 

Just like cioppino, it's hard to make a bad jambalaya. Jambalaya is very adaptable and can contain shredded chicken, venison, oysters, etc. Feel free to add what you have on hand, or prefer, to make it your own! If it gets too thick, just add some water! So celebrate Mardis Gras this year with a delicious bowl of jambalaya, lots of crusty bread, cold beer, and a bottle of Tabasco (or Crystal) hot sauce. Beads optional!

Sausage and Shrimp Jambalaya

Serves 8

1/2 cup tasso (or chopped ham), 1/4-inch dice
14 ounces Andouille (or Spanish chorizo, or other smoked sausage), 1/2-inch slices
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup red bell pepper (or green), chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning 
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
1 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
1 cup long grain rice
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
Italian parsley, chopped for garnish

In a large pot or dutch oven, brown the sausage on each side in batches, set aside. Add the tasso, onions, celery, and bell pepper to the pot and saute until tender. Add the garlic and cook one minute. Add the tomatoes (with can juice), stir and break up with a wooden spoon. (An old-fashioned potato masher works great too!) Add the stock, browned sausage, Cajun seasoning, thyme, cayenne, salt, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Remove the cover and raise heat to a boil. Add the rice, stir, cover and reduce heat to a simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Taste the rice to make sure it's done!) Remove the lid and add the shrimp. Cook for 5 minutes or until the shrimp are cooked through. Remove the bay leaves and serve with a garnish of parsley. Add hot sauce to taste at the table, along with crusty bread.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Rocky New Year and the Ultimate Comfort Food

I've had a rough start to the New Year. Needless to say, a new furnace, water heater, tires, and two birthday cakes (New York Cheesecake and Harry's First Birthday Cake) later, I am need of some serious comfort food! Nothing could be more comforting than "Beef Short Ribs with Bacon and Herb Sauce" served over my "Cheater's Polenta!" Beefy short ribs lovingly braised with bacon, onion, herbs, and a serious dose of Sherry make for a hearty American-style classic that is quite easy to put together. Although mashed potatoes make an appropriate side, I prefer cheesy polenta that takes mere minutes to put together. In addition, you can change the cheese to suit your mood, e.g., Parmesan (which I prefer with these short ribs), cotija, cheddar, etc. Serve with a simple salad, bread, and a bottle of red wine for a fabulous, cozy meal that is equally suitable for lucky company. 

Beef Short Ribs with Bacon and Herb Sauce

Serves 4

4 strips of bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (aka., lardons)
3 1/2 pounds beef short ribs
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup dry sherry
3 cups beef stock
2 teaspoons tomato paste
6 fresh thyme sprigs (I tie them together so it's easier to remove before serving.)
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Put the bacon in a large dutch oven or flameproof casserole dish and cook over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving the fat in the pot.

Season the short ribs with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the short ribs in batches and sear on all sides. Remove the ribs and set aside with the bacon. Add the onion and celery to the pot, reduce the heat to medium and cook until the vegetables are tender, approximately 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and flour to the pot and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the sherry, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the stock, tomato paste, thyme, and bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Return the reserved bacon and ribs to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cover and place in the preheated oven. Cook for 2 1/2-3 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Using tongs, remove the ribs and cut the meat from the bone and cartilage. Skim any excess fat from the top of the braising liquid. Remove the thyme and bay leaf. Return the ribs to the pot and season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Serve with the sauce spooned over the short ribs.

Recipe adapted from The Book of Steak, by Love Food.

Cheater's Polenta

Serves 4

1 cup white cornmeal (I use Quaker cornmeal for baking and breading.)
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (can substitute other cheese, as desired)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine the stock and 1 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan (I use a 2-quart saucepan) and bring to a boil over high heat. Whisk in the cornmeal in a fine stream. Whisk constantly and bring to a simmer. (Don't stop whisking or you could get spattered with bubbling cornmeal! Ouch!) Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until thickened, approximately 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, cream, and cheese until combined. Season to taste with pepper. Serve immediately!