Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Inspiration: waldorf salad

I found this idea in a recent Donna Hay Magazine (my photo above). A fresh idea of a Waldorf salad: thinly sliced apple sprinkled with walnuts, arugula, blue cheese, and a creamy dressing. Takes 5 minutes to make but looks fresh, fun, and new - what do you think?

On another note, my FIL has just launched an Etsy store with his "wish dish necklaces" made out of ceramic, glass and leather (or beads). Check it out.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Importing a taste of the south: crawfish étouffée

My husband is from the South and as I think I’ve mentioned in a previous post or two, he goes nuts whenever he gets access to real southern cooking. Last month, we traveled to New Orleans to attend the wedding of a good friend of ours. At the Sunday brunch, our friend’s father-in-law served homemade crawfish étouffée. My husband nearly started doing back flips. We, of course, asked for the recipe, but the cook insisted he doesn’t follow a recipe and improvises each time. I wasn’t sure if he wasn’t willing to give the recipe up, or if he really couldn't describe what he does.

Upon return to the cold North, I started researching crawfish étouffée recipes. Actually, I took the lazy route and asked my mother-in-law for her favorite recipe and she promptly responded with outbound inquiries to various family members. What’s interesting is that no one has a firm recipe – they have ingredients and seasonings they like but they mainly cook by rote, sight and taste, improvising a little each time. There must be something to making this dish by feel!

The most specific “recipe” I received came from my husband’s cousin, who, I'm told, is a very good cook. I was a little worried about following a loose recipe without really knowing what the end result should taste like but ultimately it worked beautifully and apparently the finished dish was “just like it should be.” Of course, I couldn't leave well enough alone so the next day, I turned the leftovers from our big pot of étouffée into small individually sized pot pies – what a fun way to make a second meal out of them.

Crawfish étouffée (adapted from Richman)

2 pounds crawfish, peeled (fresh or frozen) and / or shrimp or lobster meat (I made mine with a pound of crawfish and a pound of lobster plus shrimp)
6 cups good fish stock (Richman likes shrimp juice or clam juice and chicken stock if needed. I used a high quality fish stock with great results)
1 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup butter
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
4-5 stalks celery, chopped
½ large bell pepper, chopped
1-2+ Tbs soy sauce
1-2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
Red pepper flakes (1/2 tsp – 1 tsp as desired)
Tabasco to taste
Bay leaf
Salt and Pepper
Parsley for garnish

Heat a heavy-bottomed pan such as a Dutch oven over medium heat and add oil and flour. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture has reached a dark caramel color and develops a nutty flavor. Will take approximately 20 minutes. Take care not to burn the flour – if you do, you must start again.

Add vegetables (should measure approximately 3 cups in total). Add a bay leaf, a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook until vegetables are tender.

Add 3 cups liquid and reserve the rest. Add Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, soy sauce. Stew should have some heat. Simmer until mixture thickens (one to two hours, stirring occasionally and adding additional stock as necessary).

Add fish, making sure to include all of the liquid from the crawfish if using. Simmer until fish is cooked through. Taste and adjust seasonings

Serve over rice with parsley sprinkled on top

For pot pie leftovers

Spoon leftover étouffée into ramekins. Brush top with butter. Cut defrosted store-bought puff pastry sheets to fit over ramekins. Gently press pastry onto tops of ramekins. Brush with melted butter. Cook in a 350 degree oven for ~20 minutes or as directed by instructions on pastry package.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Double decadent: double chocolate dulce de leche cookies

I’ve been a bit of a delinquent blogger. I’ve been felled by a particularly nasty winter cold that has kept me out of the kitchen and mostly in bed (or moping around at best!). I am finally feeling better and have been dreaming about a host of new recipes to try. These chocolate dulce de leche cookies have been on the forefront of my mind (doesn’t a cold always like something sweet?). I tried them a few different ways and I think I’ve found the way I like them best. They are inspired by alfajores, a traditional Latin American cookie.

Thanks so much for all of your comments on older posts over the past few weeks. I’ve enjoyed reading them and will try my best to respond.

Double chocolate dulce de leche cookies
(makes about 20 sandwich cookies)

Dulce de leche
1 can sweetened condensed milk

¼ cup caster sugar
3 cups all purpose flour
4 tbs chilled unsalted butter, chopped
1/8 cup high quality cocoa powder (I love Valhrona)
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 tbs espresso powder
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup plus 2 tbs milk
Melted high-quality chocolate such as Valhrona, for coating the outside

To make the dulce de leche, place the unopened can of sweetened condensed milk on a perforated insert inside a large pot (such as a cake cooling rack or a pasta or steamer insert) and cover with water. Bring to a simmer, and simmer over medium high heat, for 2 hours, turning the can twice during cooking. Make sure the can is always covered by water. Remove can from water and let cool before opening. Be careful when opening it, as the contents will squirt out. If contents are not thick enough, continue to boil until desired consistence is reached (making sure water does not get into can).

For the cookies, combine ingredients until a ball forms. Shape into a disk, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours. Roll out to ¼ inch thickness and cut circles out of dough using a 2-3 inch cookie cutter. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Set cooling rack over a lined half sheet pan. Spoon melted chocolate over cookies. Spread chocolate out to an even, thin layer over tops and sides using the back of a spoon (can use the spoon to make a design in the chocolate). Refrigerate until chocolate hardens.

Spread about 1 teaspoon of duce de leche onto cookies. Sandwich.