Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Just in Time for 4th of July - Strawberry Shortcake!

I just got back from my Texas road-trip to my hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, just in time for 4th of July! After seeing fields, and fields, and fields of strawberries growing along the gulf coast, I just had to make my absolute favorite, "Long-on-Strawberry Shortcake!" I'm not sure where I got this recipe, but I love it! Instead of a biscuit, it is a moist, light cake, made with cake flour, poppy seeds, crushed strawberries, and even some almond extract! Topped with sliced berries and whipped cream, it makes a nice presentation and tastes fantastic! In addition, it only takes 30 minutes, start to finish! It is a nice variation of a true American classic!


Long-on-Strawberry Shortcake

Serves 8-10

Ingredients:
For the Cake
2 cups cake flour (like Swan's Down)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup crushed (with a fork), ripe strawberries
1 teaspoon almond extract
2, 9" round cake pans and parchment paper

For the Topping
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
2 pints fresh ripe strawberries, sliced
3 pretty, small, whole berries, for garnish

Directions:
For the Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9" round cake pans. Cut parchment circles to fit the pans, place in the pans, grease the parchment, and flour the entire inside of the pan. Tap out any excess flour.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and poppy seeds in a bowl.

With an electric mixer, cream together the sugar and butter. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine 3/4 cup water and the almond extract with the crushed strawberries. Add the fruit mixture in thirds, alternating with the dry ingredients. Continue beating until all the ingredients are well incorporated.

With the mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold them into the batter.

Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans, and bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the layers for 5 minutes in the pans. Remove the layers from the pan and continue to cool on cooling racks.

For the Topping
While the cakes are baking, whip the cream and 1 tablespoon of the confectioners' sugar. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Combine the sliced strawberries with the remaining confectioners' sugar, a tablespoon or two at a time, until desired sweetness.

Assembling the Cake
Remove the parchment rounds from the layers. Transfer one layer to a serving plate. Top with half the sliced berries and spread 1/2 of the whipped cream over the berries. Top with the remaining cake layer, the rest of the sliced berries, the remainder of the whipped cream, and garnish with the 3 remaining whole berries. Pretty and Yum!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Keep Austin Weird!


In honor of my recent Texas road-trip, I am going to share an excellent recipe for Texas sheet cake, specifically, "The Driskill's 1886 Room Chocolate Sheet Cake!" The Driskill Hotel was built in 1886 in downtown Austin, as the showplace of cattle baron Jesse Driskill. In addition to being a legendary landmark of Texas hospitality, it is listed as a member of The Historic Hotels of America and Associated Luxury Hotels International. If you ever find yourself in Austin, staying at the Driskill will put you in the center of everything, including the Texas State Capital, the Austin Convention Center, Lady Bird Lake, The Long Center, Austin City Limits at the Moody Theater, as well as excellent shopping, dining, and convenient access to the colorful 6th Street Music Scene

Like Austin, known as the "Live Music Capital of the World," and whose motto is "Keep Austin Weird," Texas sheet cake is unique all it's own! You bake an incredibly moist cake in a sheet pan, and while it is still warm, you pour the warm icing over the cake! This cake is so good, it is a cherished recipe of the Heritage Society of Austin! In addition, because this cake is so moist, you can even make it up to 2 days ahead, covered and refrigerated! It's perfect for any celebration!


The Driskill's 1886 Room Chocolate Sheet Cake

Makes one 9"x13" sheet cake

Ingredients:
For the Cake
1 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup water
1/2 heaping cup cocoa (unsweetened)
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten lightly
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 heaping teaspoon baking soda

For the Icing
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 heaping tablespoons cocoa (unsweetened)
4 tablespoons half-and-half
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
For the Cake
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9"x13" cake pan.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and add the water and cocoa, stirring well.


Sift together the flour, sugar, and salt, and stir them into the chocolate mixture.


In a large bowl, combine the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, and baking soda, add the chocolate mixture, and mix well.


Spoon the cake batter (or gently pour) into the prepared pan, and bake 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

For the Icing
While the cake is baking, melt the butter with the cocoa in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the half-and-half, and heat it through. Mix in the remaining ingredients, blend well, and remove the pan from the heat.


Finishing the Cake
While the cake and icing are still warm, gently pour the icing over the cake. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.

Recipe adapted from Texas Home Cooking, by Cheryl and Bill Jamison.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Crab Cakes for a Homesick Texan


Concluding my series of recipes, paying homage to my recent Texas road-trip, I must mention Texas's extensive gulf coast of 372 miles! That is more coast than any other state, with the exception of Florida, Alaska, and California! This beautiful shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico is brimming with such shellfish as shrimp, blue crabs, and oysters, and fish, such as red snapper, black sea bass, grouper, mackerel, and marlin, just to name a few! Considering that not everyone has access to stellar fresh seafood (like me, unfortunately), I'm going to share my favorite recipe for "Mexican Crab Cakes with Jalapeno Aioli!"

These crab cakes are exceptional, loaded with jumbo lump crab meat (which can be purchased at almost any grocery), elevated with the fiery habanero chile, and adorned with a delicious jalapeno aioli! Remember that habanero chiles are HOT!!! So, be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, etc., or better yet, wear gloves! A simple green salad or Tri-Color Salad with Lime-Honey Vinaigrette makes a nice accompaniment. So, whenever I feel homesick for some excellent Texas seafood, I always make these, and I feel better!!!


Mexican Crab Cakes with Jalapeno Aioli

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
For the Jalapeno Aioli
1 jalapeno chile, seeded (optional)
1 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, more or less to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


For the Crab Cakes
1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
1 habanero chile, seeded (optional), chopped
2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons fresh cilantro, chopped
3 teaspoons bread crumbs
1 egg
2 teaspoons mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, more or less to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more or less to taste
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions:
For the Aioli
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Crab Cakes
Combine the crab meat, habanero, cilantro, breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, egg, and lime juice in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Form 4-6 crab cakes, depending on how chubby and big you want them. You can prepare them in advance and keep them refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Heat a large skillet (non-stick is nice here) over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter into 1 tablespoon of oil. Once it starts to sizzle, add as many crab cakes as will fit without being crowded. Cook 3 minutes per side, or until golden.

To Serve
Top each crab cake with some of the jalapeno aioli and sprinkle with some freshly chopped cilantro. Nice!

This recipe, created by Chef Alfredo Solis of Ceiba Restaurant in Washington, DC, comes to me from Pati Jinich of Patis Mexican Table. Thanks Pati, I owe you one!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Remember the Alamo!



I think everyone has a place where they instinctually feel at home, for me that is central and south Texas. The kindness and generosity of the people is truly infectious, and not surprising due to the long history of the area! Let's start with the beautiful city of San Antonio! In 1691, a group of Spanish explorers and missionaries came upon the river and Native American settlement on June 13, the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padova, Italy, and named the place and river "San Antonio" in his honor. Following several Spanish missions established in the area, from 1718 through 1731, sixteen families who had been colonists in the Canary Islands, arrived in San Antonio, by royal decree of the King of Spain, and founded La Villa de San Fernando, and established the first civil government in Texas and the San Fernando Cathedral (built between 1738-1750). The San Fernando Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in the United States, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, the Cathedral is the resting place of the fallen heroes of the Alamo, including Davy Crockett, William Travis, and Jim Bowie. If you ever find yourself in San Antonio, besides visiting the Alamo, the San Fernando Cathedral should be on your list!

View of the San Fernando Cathedral from my amazing terrace at the Drury Plaza - San Antonio Riverwalk located in the restored Alamo National Bank Building, Room 971, in the San Fernando Tower! (Great Hotel Room!) 

My favorite part of San Antonio is the enchanting San Antonio Riverwalk, aka., Paseo Del Rio. The San Antonio Riverwalk was transformed in the 1920s, diverting the river's flow and paving over the riverbanks, creating a pedestrian mall, home to galleries, shops, and restaurants, it is a must-see! The oldest restaurant along the Riverwalk is Casa Rio. The restaurant founded in 1946, sits on land first granted title in 1777 by the King of Spain. The existing Spanish Colonial hacienda became the core of Casa Rio, where the huge cedar door and window lintels, the fireplace, and the thick rock walls, are still evident. Although the food is typical, sub-par tourist faire, like most along the Riverwalk, Casa Rio is definitely a place to visit.

View of Casa Rio from the Commerce Street Bridge, the first bridge built to span the river!

So, in honor of San Antonio, I made a classic "Chiles Rellenos," found on any self-respecting Mexican menu! Chiles Rellenos, or stuffed chiles, are one of the most emblematic dishes in Mexican cuisine, with origins dating back to the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 16th century. It consists of roasted poblano chiles stuffed with cheese or meats and covered in an egg batter, fried, and served with a light tomato broth. Because the chiles relleno is traditionally made with poblano chiles, a term used to refer to people and things from the city and state of Puebla, it is widely considered to have originated in Puebla, and is rumored to have been created by the local nuns! This delicious cheese stuffed version is truly simple, no toothpicks, no dipping, no freezing, if you've never made chiles rellenos before, this is your recipe! You'll love it!


Chiles Rellenos

Serves 4

Ingredients:
For the Salsa
1 pound Roma tomatoes, cored and halved
1/2 medium white onion, cut into 1/2" slices
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 medium serrano chile, stemmed
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice, or more to taste
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, or more to taste

For the Chiles Rellenos
5 medium poblano chiles (I always make an extra one, just in case one tears beyond repair)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season chiles
8 ounces (about 3 cups) shredded Monterey Jack, Chihuahua, or queso Oaxaca cheese
4 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, for the egg whites
1 cup canola oil

Directions:
For the Salsa
Preheat your broiler and arrange a rack in the upper third of the oven.

Place the tomato halves, (skin-side up), onion slices, garlic, and serrano on a baking sheet. Broil until the tomato skins start to blacken and blister, about 7 minutes. Remove from the broiler and transfer the ingredients to a blender. Add the lime juice and salt, and blend into a smooth puree. Taste and season with additional salt or lime to taste.

Transfer to a small saucepan and keep warm over very low heat.

For the Chiles Rellenos
Lay 1 chile on a cutting board so that it sits flat naturally without rolling. Using a sharp pairing knife, make two cuts forming a "T" by first slicing down the middle of the chile lengthwise from stem to tip, them making a second cut perpendicular to the first about 1/2" from the stem, slicing only halfway through the chile. Don't cut the stem end completely off! Carefully open the flaps to expose the interior of the chile, and using a pairing knife and/or kitchen shears, carefully remove all the seeds, ribs, and any core. You can rinse the chile under cold water to flush out any extra seeds. Dry thoroughly with paper towels, inside and out. Repeat with the remaining chiles.

Turn 2 gas burners to medium-high heat. Place 1 chile directly on each burner and roast, turning occasionally with tongs, until blackened and blistered on all sides. Repeat with the remaining chiles. Check my "Techniques" tab for additional guidance on How to Roast a Chile. If you don't have a gas stove, place all the chiles directly on a high oven rack under the broiler, turning occasionally with tongs, until the chiles blacken and blister on all sides, about 8-10 minutes. When the chiles are blackened, place in a large, heatproof bowl, and tightly cover with plastic wrap. Let cool about 15 minutes.

Using the side a knife, can use a butter knife to prevent tearing, scrape away and discard the charred skins. Try not to tear the chiles! Season the inside and outside of the chiles with salt and pepper. Stuff each chile, trying not to tear them, with a quarter of the cheese (about 2/3 cup) and close the flaps over the cheese. Set aside.


Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl until lightened in color and frothy, about 2 minutes, set aside. Place the egg whites and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high until stiff peaks form, about 1 1/2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the egg yolks with a rubber spatula until just combined. Set aside.


Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until hot, about 4 minutes. Check to see if the oil is hot by submerging the handle of a wooden spoon until it touches the bottom of the pan, the oil is ready if bubbles form around the handle.


Working with 1 chile at a time, drop about 1/2 cup of the egg batter into the oil using a rubber spatula to spread it to about the same size as the stuffed chile. The batter will puff up considerably, it's supposed to! 


Lay the chile, seam-side down on top of the mound of batter.


Drop another 1/2 cup of the batter on top of the chile, spreading it with the rubber spatula to cover the sides and encase the chile.


Cook without disturbing until the bottom of the chile relleno is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Using a spatula and a fork, carefully flip the chile relleno over and cook until the other side is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. (If the sides of the chile aren't browned, using a spatula or tongs, carefully turn it onto each side to brown.)


When done, transfer the chiles rellenos to a cooling rack and season with a pinch of salt. You can place them in a low oven to keep warm, while finishing the remaining chiles.

Plating the Dish
Place about 1/4 of the salsa into four individual wide bowls or plates, top each with a chile relleno, garnish with a sprig of cilantro. Serve immediately, passing any remaining sauce on the side. Delicioso!

***You may also be interested in Chorizo Stuffed Poblano Peppers!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Boy Bait

Want to make your man swoon? Barbecue him some ribs! I don't know a man around who doesn't go crazy for some good ribs! (It must be some innate caveman thing.) This recipe utilizes a basic dry rub of paprika, salt, sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, and pepper. The ribs are then smoked over a pan of water while maintaining a temperature between 300-350 degrees for about 3 hours. I know the temperature is higher than most "experts" would swear by, but it is exactly the way I make my Memphis-Style Spareribs and it has never let me down. I do brush these ribs with a little barbecue sauce (my favorite being Sweet Baby Ray's Sweet 'n Spicy) and wrap them in foil for the last 30 minutes. So ladies, push your man aside and make him the best ribs he's ever had! (Make sure you really like him, because he just might propose!) Coleslawpotato salad, and grilled corn are obvious accompaniments.


Best Barbecue Ribs

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

For the Dry Rub
1/2 cup paprika
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

For the Ribs 
4 lbs pork sparerib slabs, preferably St. Louis style cut, if possible
3-4 handfuls mesquite and cherry wood chips, soaked in water
Your favorite barbecue sauce

Directions:

Remove the membrane from the bone-side of the ribs by sliding a knife under the membrane at the edges and using a paper towel, pull the membrane off. Gross! Mix all the dry rub ingredients in a bowl, and pat it all over the spareribs, rubbing it in well. Place the ribs in a dish, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or for up to 4 hours. Remove from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before barbecuing. (I also cut each slab in half to ensure they fit in my Weber grill.)


Prepare a charcoal grill for barbecuing over medium-low heat (300-350 degrees).

Place an aluminum drip pan half full of water in the center of the fire bed. Sprinkle some of the wood chips on the coals. Place the ribs on the grill rack over the drip pan.

Cover and grill and smoke the ribs, rotating them every 30 minutes or so (the ribs along the outside will cook faster, so it's good to rotate to the inside, etc.) and adding more wood chips, more coals, and more water to the drip pan as needed.


Continue to cover, grill, and smoke the ribs until they are tender and a toothpick can easily be inserted between the ribs, about 2 1/2-3 hours. Brush the ribs with a little barbecue sauce, stack, and wrap in foil for the last 1/2 hour.



To serve, cut the slabs into separate ribs and pile on top of a platter and serve proudly! With lots of napkins!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Santa Maria Style BBQ and The Hitching Post

Memorial Day weekend is this weekend and marks the beginning of summer break, my husband's birthday, and the official kickoff of the barbecue season! Yippee! Why not fire up the grill and throw a "Santa Maria style barbecue!" Santa Maria style barbecue, named for the town along the central coast of California, is a regional tradition dating back to the mid-1800's. It wasn't until the 1950's, when Tri-Tip became all the rage and a signature cut of this style of barbecue. (For more on Tri-Tip, see Introducing, The One And Only, Tri-Tip!) According to the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, the official Santa Maria style barbecue menu consists of barbecued Tri-Tip, seasoned simply with salt, pepper, and garlic salt, and cooked over red oak, pinquito beans (indigenous to the area), fresh salsa, grilled French bread dipped in butter, macaroni and cheese, tossed green salad, and a strawberry dessert, like my Long-on-Strawberry Shortcake. In addition, they recommend a local Pinot Noir or Syrah to round out the menu. Fantastic!

This recipe, from Frank Ostini of the iconic The Hitching Post and The Hitching Post II restaurants, family owned since 1952, takes Tri-Tip to another level! The secret is their "magic dust" seasoning which adds a few extra ingredients to the traditional dry rub. The Tri-Tip is then basted with a garlic-infused vegetable oil and red wine vinegar mixture. The result is a beautiful beefy masterpiece! Don't forget to check back for the perfect zesty Pinto Bean Salad, a variation of the classic pinquito beans that MUST accompany Santa Maria style barbecue!


"Santa Maria Style BBQ" Oakwood Grilled Tri-Tip

Serves 4, but can easily be doubled for a crowd!

Ingredients:

For the Tri-Tip
1, 3 lb Tri-Tip roast
Handful of red oak chips, for the grill

For the magic dust dry rub
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon Kosher salt

For the basting mixture
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup garlic-infused vegetable oil (heat oil in a small pot with a few crushed garlic cloves until the garlic just turns golden, remove from heat and allow to cool)

Directions:
Soak the wood chips in enough cool water to cover for at least an hour before grilling.

Coat both sides of the Tri-Tip with half the dry rub, pressing to adhere. Let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. Meanwhile prepare a charcoal grill to medium hot, placing the hot coals to one side, leaving the other side without coals for indirect cooking. When the coals have all acquired a nice ash coating (will look light gray), remove the wood chips from their soaking water, and throw over the coals. Next, add the Tri-Tip, fat side down and sear for about 5 minutes, uncovered, until charred. Turn the Tri-Tip over, fat side up and sear for another 5 minutes, uncovered, until charred.


Next, place the Tri-Tip to the indirect side of the grill (without coals), baste with some of the basting mixture and sprinkle with some of the remaining dry rub. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes or so, flip the Tri-Tip and baste again and sprinkle with some more dry rub. (You want to baste and sprinkle with the dry rub each time you flip the Tri-Tip, about 4 times.) Continue to cover and cook until an internal temperature of 125-130, about 30 minutes. (A thermometer, designed for grilling  makes this a lot easier! Check out Gadgets for my top pick!) Remove the Tri-Tip to a cutting board and let rest at least 10 minutes before cutting into 1/2" slices against the grain.

Recipe adapted from Frank Ostini via Bobby Flay. Thanks Frank!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Pastry War, Maximilian, and the History of French-Mexican Cuisine

In 2010, The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listed traditional French and Mexican cuisines on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This is the first time that a nation's cuisine has made the list. While any good foodie knows the immense importance of French cuisine, I am glad that Mexican cuisine is finally getting it's due! Mexican cuisine, built on a foundation of corn, beans, and chili peppers, is a fusion of indigenous Mesoamerican and European cuisines (especially Spanish) following the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in the early 1500s. But did you know that the French have influence as well? 

Following Mexico's independence from Spain (1810-1821), in which immigration was previously prohibited by Spanish authorities, the first wave of French immigrants arrived in Veracruz in the 1830s. At the time, the Mexican economy was weak and had many loans from France and were default on all of them! Many incidences of French immigrants losing their lives and/or property due to inebriated Mexican officials and criminals occurred. After a report by restaurant owner Monsieur Remontel that an assault on his pastry supply valued at 60,000 pesos had occurred, the French demanded 600,000 pesos for alleged losses of property. Mexico refused to pay. So, in 1838 a French fleet began a blockade of Mexico's east coast seaports, launching war. French troops invaded Veracruz and defeated the Mexican troops. After British intervention, Mexico finally agreed to pay the 600,000 pesos thus ending the war. This little known page from Mexico's history was dubbed by a French journalist as "The Pastry War."

Thirty years later, in July of 1861, Mexico's President Benito Jaurez suspended interest payments to all foreign countries, angering their major creditors, specifically Spain, France, and Britain. Napoleon wanted military intervention in order to ensure European access to Latin American markets. On October 31, the three European powers signed the Treaty of London to unite their efforts to receive payments from Mexico. On December 8, British, Spanish, and French fleets arrived in Veracruz. However, when the British and Spanish realized that France planned to seize all of Mexico (known as The French Intervention in Mexico), they quickly withdrew. The French fought many battles with Mexican troops, including their defeat in the Battle of Puebla in 1862, becoming the Cinco de Mayo holiday we love today. With more and more French troops arriving, they finally seized the capital. In 1863, backed by Napoleon, Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian (Emperor Maximiliano of Mexico) was proclaimed Emperor of Mexico. In 1864, the new emperor along with his wife Princess Charlotte of Belgium (Empress Carlota of Mexico), arrived in Veracruz to "wild enthusiasm" from the crowds. 

Maximilian and Carlota chose their seat in Mexico City and were known for lavish feasts morning, noon, and night. Upon Carlota's insistence, French cuisine was always on the menu. Following the Emperor and Empress, French cuisine was embraced by the upper classes, promoting "la comida afrancescada" or "Frenchified cooking." Unfortunately for Maximilian and Carlota, their reign did not last long. After the end of the American Civil War, the US increased diplomatic pressure to persuade Napoleon to end support of Maximilian and withdraw French troops, which he did in 1866. Carlota fled to Europe to seek assistance for her husband where she had a nervous breakdown and lived the rest of her life in seclusion, perhaps in a mental facility in Belgium. Maximilian was executed in Mexico on June 19, 1867. 

During the years that followed, French influences permeated Mexican cuisine, incorporating French terms and sauces to the Mexican culinary repertoire. In addition, native ingredients worked exceedingly well with French techniques. Although many may believe these dishes are new to Mexican cuisine, they are actually offshoots of the French-Mexican culinary fusion of the 19th century! Today, it is estimated that there are approximately 10,000 French Mexicans in the state of Veracruz alone! If you are at all interested in the fusion of French-Mexican cuisine, or would like a sophisticated take on the flavors of Mexico with a French twist, I strongly recommend making "Mushroom Crepes with Poblano Cream Sauce!" It is so absolutely delicious! As this recipe incorporates French and Mexican techniques (both of which can be time-consuming), plan to make some of the parts ahead of time, e.g., crepes and sauce a day or two in advance. I promise you'll love it! Vive la France! Viva la Mexico!


Mushroom Crepes with Poblano Cream Sauce

Serves 6

Ingredients:
For the crepes
2 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups sifted all purpose flour
Additional melted butter, for cooking the crepes

For the sauce
6 large poblano chiles (For more on poblanos, see For the Love of Poblanos!)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup chopped white onion
1 small garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups warm whole milk
1/2 cup fresh whipping cream
1 cup coarsely grated queso manchego, Muenster cheese (about 4 ounces)
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 fresh corn kernels (if not available, use frozen or even can)
Fresh cilantro sprigs, for garnish

For the mushroom filling
1/3 cup canola oil
2 cups white onions, chopped
1 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps thinly sliced (a combination of wild mushrooms works very well here, but remember to never eat the shiitake stems - they are too tough!)
2 tablespoons minced epazote or fresh cilantro
4 teaspoons minced garlic

Directions:
For the crepes (Can be made 2 days ahead, wrap, and chill.)
Blend milk, eggs, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and salt in blender 5 seconds. Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, blending batter until smooth after each addition. Let rest 1-2 hours. Reblend batter 5 seconds before using.

Heat a nonstick skillet or crepe pan (see Gadgets) over medium-high heat until hot. Coat the pan lightly with butter and pour in about 1/4 cup of the batter. Lift the pan from the heat, tilting and rotating, to allow the batter to spread evenly. Return the pan to the heat and allow to cook until dry on top and lightly browned on the edges. Loosen the edges with a plastic or rubber spatula and flip the crepe over using your fingers or spatula, then cook the other side for about 15 seconds, or until lightly browned. (For pictures, see Crazy Crepe Man!) Remove the crepe to a plate. Repeat with the remaining batter, stacking the crepes as they are cooked.

For the sauce (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Whisk over medium heat until just warm before continuing.)
Char chiles directly over gas flame or in broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose in paper bag or bowl covered in plastic wrap for 10 minutes. Peel, seed, and thinly slice chiles. Set aside. (See Techniques)

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; saute until soft, about 2 minutes. Add garlic; stir 30 seconds. Whisk in flour and continue to cook 1 minute. Whisk in warm milk and bring to boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until sauce thickens, whisking occasionally, about 5 minutes. Pour sauce into blender. Add cream and half of roasted chiles (reserve remaining chiles for garnish). Blend sauce until smooth. Season with salt (at least 1 tsp or so) and pepper. Set aside.

For the mushroom filling
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, epazote or cilantro, and garlic. Saute until mushrooms are brown and mushroom liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Finishing the dish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush a baking sheet with some canola oil or line with parchment. Arrange 1 crepe, brown spots up, on work surface. Place 2 packed tablespoons filling in the center. Fold crepe in half, then half again, forming a triangle. Place filled crepe on prepared sheet. Repeat with the remaining crepes until filling is gone. (Can be filled and folded 1 day ahead. Cover and chill until ready to use.)

Pour 1/4 cup sauce into the center of 6 ovenproof plates. Top each with 2 filled crepes. Pour 1/4 cup sauce over. Sprinkle evenly with the cheese. Bake until the cheese melts, about 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons canola oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add reserved poblano chiles and corn; saute until heated through, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with salt.

Garnish crepes with sauteed chiles and corn, then cilantro sprigs, and serve. Mmmmm!

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit and Mexconnect.com.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Rabbits, Eggs, and Simnel Cake

In ancient times, Easter was celebrated in honor of the spring or vernal equinox, symbolizing the end of winter (death) and the rebirth of life, as well as the importance of fertility. The word Easter is believed to have originated from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn, Eostre, from whom "east" (where the sun rises), "Easter," and even the female hormone "estrogen" got its name. Eostre's feast day was held on the first full moon following the vernal equinox. Eostre's two symbols were the hare (one with a particularly high libido) and the egg, which symbolizes the possibility of new life.

In European folklore, when wild hares abandoned their nests, they were sometimes taken over by plovers, who would lay their eggs in them. The locals would then find the eggs in the bunny nests. Further, in the 16th century, we see the appearance of the "Easter Bunny" in German writings. The legend said that if good children built a nest out of their caps or bonnets, they would be rewarded with colored eggs. The legend was then brought to America in the 18th century, by German immigrants.

And finally, I must mention the "Simnel Cake," eaten during Easter in the UK, Ireland, and other European countries. Simnel cake is a type of fruit cake, made with a layer of marzipan or almond paste baked in the middle of the cake, and topped off with a ring of eleven marzipan balls, said to represent the true disciples of Jesus (Judas is omitted), and sometimes a ball in the middle to represent Christ. I don't care for simnel cake, but I do have a sublime recipe for "Mascarpone-Filled Cake with Sherried Berries." This recipe from Shelley Wiseman is a light buttermilk cake, filled with a layer of mascarpone cream, and topped off with very sophisticated Sherry-spiked berries. I love this cake so much, it may be my absolute favorite! It makes the perfect ending to any Easter celebration!


Mascarpone-Filled Cake with Sherried Berries

Serves 8-12, (cake and cream can be made a day ahead, store cake covered at room temperature)

Ingredients:

For the cake
2 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising), like Swans Down
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For the berries
1/2 cup Fino (dry) Sherry
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups mixed berries, cut if large

For the cream
8 ounces mascarpone (1 cup)
1 cup chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar

Directions:

For the cake
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with oven rack in the middle. Butter a 9" round cake pan (2 inches deep). Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper, then butter the parchment.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat together the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. With mixer at low speed, beat in the buttermilk until just combined. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing after each addition until just combined.

Spread batter in cake pan, smoothing top. Rap the pan on the counter several times.

Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Discard the paper and reinvert cake onto rack to cool completely.

Macerate the berries
Bring Sherry and sugar to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Put berries in a bowl and pour hot syrup over them. gently tossing to coat. Let stand at least 15 minutes before serving.

Make cream and assemble cake
Beat mascarpone, cream, and sugar in a large bowl using cleaned beaters until mixture just holds stiff peaks.

Halve cake horizontally with a long serrated knife. Carefully remove top half and reserve. Put bottom half on a plate, then spread evenly with all of the cream and replace top half. Serve with berries. It's Fantastic!


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Easy Easter Lamb - Just Throw it on the Bahbie!

Lamb is not commonly eaten in the US. It is less than 1% of the total meat consumed per person, per year. This is due to the fact that lamb is not always readily available in US markets, and very expensive compared to other protein choices. In addition, I know many people who have never even tasted lamb or others who say they don't like the flavor. That's too bad. After all, lamb makes a stunning centerpiece to any Easter table. So, for those of you who are willing to give it a try, I have the perfect recipe for you!

This recipe for "Grilled Leg of Lamb with Rosemary, Garlic, and Mustard," from the April 2010 issue of Bon Appetit, is truly special. The leg of lamb is butterflied, studded with garlic, and marinated overnight in an effortless mixture of whole grain Dijon mustard, olive oil, white wine, rosemary, and lemon. The lamb is then grilled over direct heat for approximately 17 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 130 degrees. (You'll need a reliable meat thermometer, see Gadgets.) Not only does this free up your oven, grilling the lamb creates a delicious mustardy crust with a flavorful and moist interior that is not gamey in the least! You will convert any non-lamb-lover with this recipe! I like to serve it with "Tuscan Tomato, Basil, and Mint Vinaigrette" that compliments it nicely. This vinaigrette is one of my personal favorites that I have been making for years. It is phenomenal with lamb and also delicious with chicken and fish. And finally, a nice bottle of Syrah is the perfect accompaniment with grilled lamb.


Grilled Leg of Lamb with Rosemary, Garlic, and Mustard

Serves 10-12 (If you want to serve less, use a 3-4 lb boneless leg of lamb instead.)

Ingredients:
1 well-trimmed 6-lb boneless leg of lamb, butterflied to even 2" thickness (I have found that one cut is all that is needed to butterfly a boneless leg of lamb. Easy!)
8 garlic cloves, peeled, divided
1/2 cup whole grain Dijon mustard
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Nonstick vegetable oil spray (for the grill)
Fresh rosemary sprigs and fresh Italian parsley sprigs (for garnish)

Directions:
Open lamb like book on work surface. Using tip of small knife, make 1/2"-deep slits all over lamb. Thinly slice 4 garlic cloves. Insert garlic slices into slits in lamb.


Combine remaining 4 garlic cloves, mustard, olive oil, white wine, rosemary, and lemon juice in processor. Blend until coarse puree forms. Spread underside of lamb with half of puree. Place lamb, seasoned side down, in 15x10x2" glass baking dish. Spread remaining puree over top of lamb. Cover lamb with plastic wrap and chill overnight.


Let lamb stand at room temperature 2 hours. Coat grill rack with nonstick spray and prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Remove lamb from marinade and season generously with salt and pepper on both sides. Grill lamb to desired doneness, about 17 minutes per side, or until an internal temperature in the thickest part reaches 130 degrees. Transfer lamb to cutting board; let rest at least 10 minutes.

Thinly slice lamb against grain. Overlap slices on platter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh herb sprigs. Enjoy!


Tuscan Tomato, Basil, and Mint Vinaigrette

Serves 6-10 or approximately 2 1/2 cups

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
10 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3/4 cup chopped fresh mint
2/3 cup chopped fresh basil
2 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram or oregano
1 1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 2/3 cup chopped/seeded plum tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:
Whisk all ingredients, except for the tomatoes. Stir in the tomatoes and season with pepper to taste. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

Mmmm! I wouldn't serve lamb without it!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Give Peas a Chance!

Peas are a member of the legume family and are one of the earliest cultivated crops. Growing peas actually returns nitrogen to the soil without the need for added fertilizer, making them a very beneficial crop. Peas are believed to be native to central Asia and the Middle East. Originally, peas were cultivated to be used in dried form, providing nourishment when other sources of food was scarce. It wasn't until the 17th century when the consumption of fresh green peas became fashionable and more readily available.  

Peas are often overlooked as a substantial health food, but they are loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B, zinc, and omega-3! Research shows that peas lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, lowers the risk of cardiovascular problems, and has even been shown to protect again gastric cancer! Wow! In order to reap these benefits, it is recommended to consume 3 cups per week.

Nothing says Spring to me like fresh green peas, just hitting the market! One of my favorite recipes is for "Spring Pea Soup!" This soup is so easy and amazingly delicious! Even my husband, who says he despises peas, goes wild for this soup! I like to serve this soup simply in little "shotglasses" for an amuse-bouche, in little tea cups for a chic first course, and even as the main event dressed up with a dollop of sour cream, homemade croutons, crispy pancetta, and a drizzle of olive oil! This lovely green soup is the perfect accompaniment to any festive meal, and will definitely be gracing my Easter table this year! Bonus: You can even make it ahead!

(As amuse-bouche! So cute! It may not look like much...until you taste it!)

Spring Pea Soup

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter
1 bunch scallions, trimmed, and coarsely chopped
1 nice handful fresh mint leaves
1 pound fresh peas (if available) or frozen peas (So you can make it year-round!)
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

In a medium to large pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the scallions and mint, and gently fry until the scallions are soft, about 3 minutes. Raise the heat to medium and add the fresh or frozen (no need to thaw) peas and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Stir in the cream, reduce heat to a simmer, and simmer for 15 minutes. Puree the soup in a blender or food processor (be careful if it's hot!), or use an immersion blender (see Gadgets). Strain the soup through a food strainer to remove the pea skins. (This gives it a luxurious velvety texture!) Return to a clean pot, add salt and pepper, to taste. Gently reheat before serving.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Guinness - BRILLIANT!

Years ago, I saw Jamie Oliver make this hearty dish on his show "Jamie At Home". The recipe was not available online, so this is just an interpretation, but I'm sure Jamie would approve. This recipe has a lot going for it! The Guinness gives the beef a deep savory flavor, along with the Irish cheddar and puff pastry top, it's really, really good! (Perfect for my "Irish Dinner Night"! If you missed the beautiful starter, click here.) I also love the idea of serving the peas on the side, so they don't loose their color and texture in the stew. It may take a little time, but it's easy and looks impressive! This stew is better made a day ahead, which makes it a snap to put together for a party!


Steak, Guinness and Cheese Pie


Serves 4-6, Can be made in a large deep dish pie pan, or, to make it more dressy, I like to make individual servings in my Apilco Lion Head Soup Bowls.

Ingredients:

Day 1
3 pounds beef brisket, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 yellow onions, sliced
1 sprig fresh rosemary
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
2 sticks of celery, finely sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
8 oz. mushrooms (whatever kind you want), sliced
1, 14.9 oz. can of Guinness
1 heaping tablespoon flour
1 cup beef stock, or more if needed

Day 2
2 handfuls shredded Kerrygold Irish White Cheddar
1 package Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets, thawed
1 egg, beaten
1 package frozen peas

Directions:

Day 1
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven, over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper and saute until slightly browned. Next, add the rosemary and garlic, stirring constantly. When you smell the garlic (about 1 minute), add the butter. Then add the celery, carrots, and mushrooms. Stir. Now add the beef. Stir and add a good pinch of salt and pepper. Add the flour and stir well to coat. Pour in the Guinness. Finally, pour in the beef stock just to the top of the stew. You don't want it to completely cover the meat. Bring just to a boil, cover, and throw in the oven for 2 1/2-3 hours, until the beef is tender. At this point, I allow the stew to cool and refrigerate overnight.

Day 2
Remove the stew from the refrigerator and remove the hardened fat on the top. Place on the stove over medium heat to rewarm, slightly. Remove from the heat and fish out the rosemary stem. Taste and season with salt and pepper, as needed. Stir in 1 handful of the cheddar. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the puff pastry on a floured surface, big enough to generously cover your pan. If making a deep dish, you may have to "glue" both pastry sheets together with a little water before rolling out. If making individual portions, cut into squares big enough to generously cover the tops of the containers. Carefully, with a sharp knife, lightly score the top of the pastry or pastry squares in a diagonal pattern in both directions. (Like a diagonal grid pattern.) Do not cut all the way through the pastry!

Pour the stew into your pan, or evenly distribute between individual containers. Top evenly with the remaining handful of cheddar. Brush the edge of your pan or individual containers with the beaten egg. Carefully lay the pastry on top, making sure it is sufficiently "glued" on. If using a deep dish pan, gather the excess pastry and lightly squish it together and inside the rim of the pan, making a crinkly ruffle around the edge. Brush the tops with the beaten egg. If using individual containers, place on a rimmed baking sheet.


Bake for 40 minutes or until bubbly and golden. Remove from the oven. Cook the peas according to package instructions and place in a serving bowl, allowing each guest to spoon peas over each serving to their liking. Enjoy!

*Don't forget to check my blog for the yummy dessert! 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Pompeii, We Owe You One!

On August 24, 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius erupted burying Pompeii in volcanic ash 10' deep. Mount Vesuvius is projected to have spewed an ash and pumice column about 66,000' high for about 18 hours. It is estimated that at least 2000 people died in Pompeii. Poor Pompeii. It was lost for about 1700 years before it's ancient ruins were accidentally discovered in 1749. Today, it is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and draws about 2,500,000 visitors every year.

As a result, Mount Vesuvius created an especially fertile soil perfect for growing the best plum tomatoes in the world, San Marzano tomatoes. If you are lucky enough to find these, you must make the classic Neapolitan pizza, Pizza Margherita, named after Queen consort, Margherita of Savoy. The crust is thin and crisp, topped sparingly with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil (the colors of the Italian flag). One of my favorites, this delicious pizza reinforcing the idea that less is definitely more!


Margherita Pizza

Makes 1 large pizza.

Ingredients:

1, 28 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes, whole and peeled
4 oz. fresh buffalo mozzarella, drained if packed in water
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn or chiffonade
Kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for the baking sheet

Directions:

Prepare pizza dough. Rinse and drain the tomatoes in a colander. Squeeze them by hand and allow to drain some more in the colander. (Be careful, I've squirted juice on my husband from across the kitchen!) Preheat oven to 500 degrees with rack on the lowest setting. When the dough is ready, roll it out as thin as possible. Place it on an oiled baking sheet. Spread the tomatoes across the dough, leaving room for the crust. Sprinkle with the sliced garlic. Tear the mozzarella into pieces and place over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. You can put the basil on now, but it will turn black while cooking; so, I prefer to put it on after it comes out of the oven. Bake according to My Basic Pizza Dough instructions. When done, garnish with the basil and a drizzle of olive oil. Yummy!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Mardis Gras and the Best Jambalaya!

Mardis Gras (aka., Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday) is February 28, 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

Ingredients:
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


Directions:
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.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

For My Non-Romantic Valentine

My husband detests Valentine's Day. Every year he touts that it is nothing more than a "Hallmark holiday," manifested merely to sell cards. Hmm... Well, listen up buddy, there is more to the story than manufactured greeting cards. Besides being rooted in the pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia, there are two other legends for the creation of the most romantic day of the year. The first legend begins in third century Rome. Valentine, who was a priest, secretly married young lovers after Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men because he believed unmarried men made better soldiers. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

The second legend is believed that an imprisoned Valentine fell in love with a young girl who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, he wrote her a love letter and signed it "From your Valentine." That's pretty romantic! Either way, Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death, approximately 270 A.D. In addition, the oldest known valentine is a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. It wasn't until the 1840s, that Esther A. Howland (sans Hallmark) began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America.

Well, if that convinces my husband or not, I am still going to make perhaps the most elegant and seductive dessert I know, "Double Chocolate Pate!" This decadent recipe, from the luxurious Greenbrier resort, consists of a velvety chocolate center enrobed in a crisp chocolate couverture. This recipe requires that you freeze the velvety center in a loaf pan for 24 hours before encasing it in the chocolate coating. So, you will need to start at least a day in advance. In addition, have a pot of simmering water on the stove and two heat-proof bowls ready for make-shift double boilers, see Gadgets-No Double Boiler? before beginning. I like to serve it with a raspberry coulis, which is nothing more than a bag of thawed frozen raspberries pureed with some water in a blender, sweetened to taste with sugar, and passed through a strainer to remove excess seeds. And finally, while this dessert may be a little messy to make, it really is simple and definitely exceedingly romantic!

It really is beautiful!

  This is how I like to serve it!

This is how I serve it to my husband! Ha! Ha!

Double Chocolate Pate

Makes one 10x4-inch loaf.

Ingredients:
For the Pate
8 ounces good-quality semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons cognac (or other liqueur, such as Grand Marnier)
2 cups heavy cream

For the Chocolate Coating
8 ounces good-quality semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions:
For the Pate
Cut a piece of plastic wrap 15 inches long and 10 inches wide (or the length of the loaf pan). Line the pan with the plastic, keeping it as smooth as possible, so the 2 long sides and the bottom are covered by the 2 short sides stay bare (greasing the inside of the pan will help stick the plastic in place). Put the chopped chocolate in a double boiler and melt over low heat. Cool slightly.

In another double boiler, combine the egg yolks, sugar and cognac and whisk constantly over simmering but not boiling water (the bottom of the bowl should never be too hot to touch) until the mixture is very thick and fluffy and has tripled in volume, about 5 minutes.


Remove from the heat and fold in the melted chocolate. (The mixture may appear stiff at this stage.)


Whip the cream in a large bowl until it forms soft peaks. Stir a small amount of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture; repeat until the mixture is fairly loose and the chocolate is well-blended with the cream, then fold in the remaining whipped cream.


Pour the mousse into the prepared loaf pan, rapping the pan lightly on the work surface to eliminate any air bubbles. Fold the plastic wrap securely over the top of the pan and freeze the pate for at least 24 hours.


The next day, make the chocolate coating; melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler, then stir in the cream.


Cut a piece of heavy cardboard so it fits exactly into the top of the loaf pan. (I use a piece of foil to make a pattern!)

Cover the cardboard with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. (To help remove loaf from pan, place in a pan with hot water and refreeze before continuing.) Remove the plastic from the top of the loaf and invert the pate onto the cardboard and remove the remaining plastic wrap and pan. Place the pate on a rack with a tray or plate (or bowl) underneath to catch the excess chocolate. Pour the chocolate coating evenly over the pate, spreading with a spatula if necessary to coat the top surface and sides, and reserving the excess.


Return the pate on the cardboard to the freezer to set.

When the coating is firm, flip the pate so the uncoated side is up. Remove the cardboard.


Reheat the remaining chocolate coating and pour it onto the uncoated surface, smoothing with a spatula.

Return the pate to the freezer until ready to serve. To serve, slice the frozen pate with a thin-bladed knife into 1/2-inch slices (to make slicing easier run the knife under hot water, wipe dry, then slice.) (I find that by setting the pate out 5-10 minutes before slicing helps to prevent the coating from cracking.) Arrange each slice on a dessert place and let rest 4-5 minutes to soften slightly before serving.

Recipe from The Greenbrier Cookbook: Favorite Recipes From America's Resort.

Happy Valentine's Day!