Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers do Eclairs!

Last month, I was a bad girl and missed the challenge. But I was excited to get back in the game in August. Then I saw it was chocolate eclairs...yum! I thought it was going to be very hard...but this was actually the least time consuming challenge as of yet. It was fun and delicious!

My only issue was that I piped some of them a little small to make mini eclairs, but they didn't rise so much. A couple of the really small ones I tossed. Then I cut into a few and even though they looked done on top, they were a little raw in the middle. After about 10 minutes more in the oven (just to see if I could save them), they came out great! The ones that came out the best were my bigger ones (About 1.5 inches wide and 3.5 inches long). Make sure you don't take them out of the oven until they are very puffy.

Chocolate Éclairs by Pierre Hermé

Choux Dough
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 eggs, room temp

1) Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Divide the oven into thirds by positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with waxed or parchment paper.
2) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the boil.
3) Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth.
4) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your hand mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough. You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.
5) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs.
6) Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2 cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough. (I did not use this. I used a large ziploc bag and filled it with the Choux. Then I snipped a small piece of the bag off the bottom corner, so the choux would come out smoothly) Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 3.5 to 4 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers. Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff. The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.
7) Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20 - 25 minutes.

Chocolate Pastry Cream
2 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
6 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
7 oz bittersweet chocolate chips, melted (I used Ghiardelli)
2 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature

1) In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar, and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
2) Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture.Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.
3) Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Incorporate Chocolate. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously (without stop) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat).
4) Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice-water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.
5) Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice-water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice-water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge.

Chocolate Glaze (My Own)
4.5 oz bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla

1) Over low heat in a small saucepan, combine the ingredients. When it looks about half way melted, remove from heat and continue stirring until completely smooth.

Assembling the éclairs:
1) Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.
2) Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs (I used the ziploc bag trick again). Make sure you fill the bottoms with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to settle them.
3) The glaze should be barely warm to the touch. Spoon glaze on top of the assembled eclairs. Let set at room temp or fridge.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

New Orleans School of Cooking

I went with my sister on this fun little excursion on our first day in New Orleans. It was only $24 for a 2 hour long cooking class, including lunch (and Abita!). I can you pass that up! We walked in and were greeted by the teacher, a great home cook and New Orleans native. There were about 15 of us in the class, from all over the place...from Charleston all the way to France.

As our teacher was explaining some history...we were brought some home-made biscuits. There was a strange brown syrup served with them...which turned out to be Cane Syrup. We drizzled this on the biscuits. It was so good! It had a honey-like consistency, but none of the flowery honey aftertaste. I wanted to buy some but I couldn't find any.

After devouring the biscuit...I looked at the menu and it looked wonderful. For class they were cooking Chicken Andouille Gumbo, Jambalaya, Pralines and Pina Colada Bread Pudding (I'm SO sorry I don't have pics of these! I was so hungry I forgot to take pics). She made the bread pudding first because it had to cook a while. It seemed really simple to make. She then made the pralines because they needed to cool. She made the gumbo and jambalaya next. A few of us got up to try it just before it was ready. It was so great to learn all the great techniques.

Now time to eat! They passed us a bowl of gumbo and jambalaya. The gumbo was the best I have ever had. It was not too thick, more like a soup. At first glance I thought maybe it should be thicker...but once I tasted it I realized it was perfect! You could taste the garlic, andouille, and chicken, all in perfect portions. The broth was so rich and well seasoned. Everyone was going up to get seconds of the gumbo. The Jambalaya was good...but not as good as the gumbo. It was a little over seasoned. The bread pudding (again..bread pudding is not my all time fav) was a nice ending. The Pina Colada flavor wasn't overpowering, but I'm still not sure if it meshed perfectly with the cinnamon and nutmeg. Last but not least...the pralines...they were perfect. They were a little soft, with the right amount of nuts and sweetness. We were even lucky enough to take some extra for the road.

If you like to cook and you're in New Orleans...GO TO THIS CLASS! It is so worth it. The food and the learning experience was awesome. When I go back to N.O.L.A. I'm going back...they have different classes depending on which day of the week you go.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Taste Test Tuesday: Abita

There's always Miller Lite, Bud Light, and a plethora of other beers that we consume all the time. But in Louisiana they have Abita. It's only been around for just over 20 years, but Abita has become a staple in New Orleans. Here is some information from Abita's website....

"Abita uses only the finest ingredients – British and American barley, German yeast, European and Washington State hops and the pure artesian water of Abita Springs. In Abita, we are blessed with the purest of water. Drawn from our deep wells, our pristine water is not altered in any way. Abita Beer has no preservatives, additives or stabilizers and is cold filtered. The result is beer that is the finest and freshest tasting as proven by our loyal customers and great chefs of the south who use Abita Beer in their recipes."

Sounds good to me!! Now it's time to try it.

Serving Size: 12 fl oz
Calories 145
Fat: 1g
Carbs: 1g
Sugars: 0g
Fiber: 0g
Protein: 0g

My first beer was Abita Amber. The bottle was ice cold, that's a plus. The beer is a light brown color. The first sip was like heaven in a bottle! It is extremely smooth and slightly malty. It's a great complement to all the spicy foods they serve in N.O.L.A. My second beer was Abita Restoration Ale. It was very hoppy and slightly bitter tasting. It was okay...but I wouldn't get it again. My third try was Abita Andygator. It's a golden colored lager. I really liked this one as well! It's a very balanced blend of hops and malt, and not overpowering in flavor. Overall, my favorite was Abita Amber...actually...I think it's now one of my all time favorite beers ever! You can buy Abita outside of Louisiana, but it's not so easy to find. If you have a Total Wine store near you, they carry Abita. Definitely take a look around for it, it's worth it!

For Tomorrow: My review of K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen

Sunday, August 24, 2008

All About N.O.L.A.

I just got back from a great vacation. Not only was the food & sightseeing amazing, but I even won $220 at the casino. Woohoo!! We took a great plantation tour at Laura, a very scary Haunted History Tour, and even a Cocktail Tour, where we were introduced to all the drinks and bars that made New Orleans famous.

The next couple of weeks, I'm going to be posting about all the delicious food I had. I ate SO much! We got to enjoy beignets, gumbo, jambalaya, oysters, pecan name it! I even got to eat some alligator. I'm going to try to post every keep your eyes peeled.

The journey starts on Tuesday with my review of Abita Beer, a Louisiana brew that is a staple of all the great eateries in N.O.L.A.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Miami Spice at Table 8

I'm on vacation in New Orleans and I finally got some time to squeeze in some blogging. Soon I'll be writing all about my trip...but I wanted to review Table 8 before I ventured into NOLA...

My friend Chris and I decided to extend our Miami Spice experience to lunch as well. We saw that Table 8 offered their Spice Menu on weekends. It was Saturday afternoon, and there were about 30 people in the restaurant. I guess it's a lot more crowded for dinner. It was a steaming hot summer day in Florida, so I chose a glass of Pinot Grigio from Italy. It was the perfect choice, crisp and refreshing.

My first course arrived. It was basically a "deconstructed" Caesar salad. Big romaine leaves with a crunchy buttery "crouton" and some parmesan chunks on the side. It was good, but I've had better. Maybe since it was eggless the dressing wasn't as creamy as I'd hoped for. The second course was a bbq pork sandwich with parmesan fries. The pork was cooked perfectly. The sauce was well spiced and wasn't overpowering the pork. What made this sandwich different was that there was avocado and pickled onions. The avocado gave it a nice creaminess, while the onions gave it some tang. It was a great combo. The fries were amazing! They were perfectly seasoned and fried. The parmesan sprinkled on top was a nice touch. Dessert was a chocolate molten cake. It was not as chocolaty and slightly drier than the one from Talula, but it was still good. As you can see, I LOVE chocolate molten cakes!

It was a great experience, but the service was spotty. Our server was MIA half the time. Plus, the food seemed to take forever! We waited about 20 minutes between courses, which is pretty bad. The service was much better when I went for dinner there about a year ago. But the food here is great, and I'll be back!

Food: 4.5 out of 5
Service: 2.5 out of 5

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Taste Test Tuesday: Larabar Jocalat

I‘m always on the lookout for healthy new snacks. I was in a chocolate mood, so I thought I would pick up a Larabar Jocalat bar. They have a few different flavors, and I decided to pick up the Chocolate Coffee. It was a good decision!

Cost: $1.49
Serving Size: 1 bar
Calories: 190
Fat: 11g
Carbs: 24g
Fiber: 5g
Sugar: 19g
Protein: 4g
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5

If you haven’t had a Larabar yet…you gotta try one. It’s made from all whole foods. The main ingredient is dates, and they all have nuts is well. So it’s a great way to get your healthy fats and fruits. The Jocalat bars aren’t any different. But it also has cocoa. The first whiff of the bar had both chocolate & coffee aromas. I took a bite and I was pleasantly surprised. You can taste all the goodness from the dates and the nuts, but you get the strong aromas from the chocolate and coffee as well. The texture is chewy, with a little crunch from the nuts. The combo of all the flavors goes great together. Even though the bar is small…it definitely keeps you full until your next meal. I can’t wait to try all the other flavors!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Miami Spice at Talula

One of the great things about summer in Miami is going to Miami Spice. During August and September, some great Miami Restaurants offer a 3 course menu selection for $23 (lunch) and $36 (dinner). It's a great deal! I hopefully will be going to a fair share of Miami Spice meals, and I'll be sure to report on all them!

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of going to Talula to take advantage of their Miami Spice Menu (unfortunately no pics, I forgot my camera). I've heard so many great things about Talula, and I was thrilled to try it out. We got there exactly at our reservation time and were seated immediately. The good part was that the Miami Spice menu was presented to us, and we didn't have to ask.

We started off with a great bottle of Cab (I forgot the name, but it was $40, from California, and started with an S). The wine was excellent! Then our server brought us nice warm, soft bread with a very creamy hummus. The hummus was perfect...very smooth with just a hint of garlic.

First Course: I got the Gouda and Caramelized Onion Tart. It was served with a small side salad. The tart was superb. The rich, buttery crust went perfectly with the smokiness of the gouda and the caramelized onion flavor. My friend go the Shrimp Ceviche, which was tasty, but he said mine was better.

Second Course: After much deliberation, I decided on the Mahi. It was served on a bed of cous cous. The flavors were very good and it was a perfect size portion. But my absolute favorite part of the dish was the crispy edge of the Mahi. I'm still wondering how they got the extremely crispy edge without drying out the fish! My friend got the steak, which was served with whipped sweet potatoes. I knew he must have loved it, because he wouldn't share (how rude! lol).

Third Course: We both ordered my all time fav, the molten chocolate cake. It was the perfect ending to a perfect meal. It had excellent chocolate flavor without being too sweet. It was topped with a big dollop of espresso cream, which complemented the chocolate perfectly. There were candied oranges as well, but I hate orange and chocolate together so I just pushed it aside (I still don't get how people like that combo).

To conclude...I was really impressed with Talula. Their Miami Spice changes twice a month so there is always something different to be enjoyed. The food was incredible and so was the service.

Food: 5 out of 5
Service: 5 out of 5

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dinner at Carrabba's

The wonderful people over at Carrabba's sent me a gift certificate. It was a Saturday night, and I was I called my friend Chris with a promise of a free meal. So off to Carrabba's we went!

We got there around 7, and it was packed. There were only a few tables open. We got a comfy booth and perused the wine list. I was impressed! I was expecting almost all lower end wines, but they had a lot of great picks. We settled on a new Super Tuscan wine they were offering and it was delicious, full bodied with rich aromas (sorry I can't give a better description...I wish I was a wine expert!).

The warm bread arrived and it hit the spot. It was soft in the middle with a nice crust. The dipping sauce was good as always, a nice blend of olive oil with their spice mix. My salad was good...typical salad fare. A side potion of lettuce with the fixins. I enjoyed the dressing, a creamy parmesan. As I like to say, cheese makes everything better!

The entrees made their way over and they were huge! Chris ordered the Chicken Pamigiano and I ordered the Chicken Bryan. It came with a side...and what I liked is that for a side you can pick any pasta with any sauce. We both chose the penne with tomato cream. The Chicken Bryan came out great. It's basically grilled chicken, sauteed in a lemon white wine sauce with sundried tomatoes, and topped with goat cheese. The chicken was cooked very well, and the sauce had a great tanginess. It paired very well with the goat cheese. The only problem I could find was there was a little too much goat cheese, and I had to remove some so it wasn't too overpowering. My only other minor complaint was that the server seemed a little out of it at times. But overall, it really was a great meal. Even though Carrabba's is a dreaded "chain", it is consistent and reasonably priced.

Great Deal: Every Wednesday, Carrabba's in Florida is offering $10 off any bottle of wine (and the wine is good!).

Saturday, August 16, 2008

New Cooking School Opening

I love to learn new recipes and cooking techniques! I have gone to several cooking classes at Chef Jean Pierre Cooking School in Fort Lauderdale. The classes there are informative and entertaining. I've learned how to make everything from a classic Bolognese Sauce to Zabaglione. Now I'll have another option to get some great culinary lessons...

Publix is opening it's 1st Aprons Cooking School in South Florida in October. The school will be in Boca Raton. It will be the 5th school that the grocery chain began on the West Coast of Florida.

The main focus of the school is cooking classes for adults. But they will also offer cooking classes for kids & teens, as well as wine tastings and cookbook signings. Celebrity chefs will even stop by for a visit. They will offer both hands-on and demonstration classes. A couple topics they feature in their current cooking schools are Basic Knife Skills and Chocoholics Anonymous.

Pricing and registration information will be available closer to the opening date. But you can sign up on their website for the newsletter, if you'd like to be e-mailed more information.

Michael Chiarello speaking to an Aprons class in Tampa.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

My New Invention!

Well...I'm sure this has been invented before, but I'll take credit for it for now...haha. It's so simple, how come I never thought of doing it before? I eat salad almost every day, so of course salad dressing can get pretty boring. But as I looked in my fridge for my yummy Bolthouse Farms Chunky Blue Cheese Dressing, it was sitting right next to my Frank's Red Hot. Duh...I could make buffalo-style salad dressing! All I did was mix equal parts of both, and pour it on top of my greens. I must say, it tasted delicious. I'm calling the patent office as we speak ;)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Taste Test Tuesday: Chicken Sausage

When I go grocery shopping, I'm always looking for healthy versions of my favorite fattening things. Cheese, Ice name it! When my mouth was watering at all the hot dogs, my eyes fell on Al Fresco Chicken Sausages. The Publix I went to carried a few of the flavors. They were $1.25 off each so I thought I would pick a couple up to try. Plus they're all natural. I decided to go for the Sweet Italian and the Roasted Garlic (the one in the pic at the bottom is the Sweet Italian). Here is the nutritional info for the Sweet Italian.

Cost: $5.99
Serving Size: 1 sausage (4 per package)
Calories: 130
Fat: 7g
Carbs: 1g
Fiber: 0g
Sugar: 0g
Protein: 15g
My Rating: 5 out of 5

My first try was the Sweet Italian. The sausages are already cooked, but I opted to pan sear them. I sliced it up and put them on my hot pan. The aroma was great! I added some marinara sauce, cooked rice, and Parmesan cheese (sorry no pic!). The sausage was juicy and delicious. It had all the flavors and spices of traditional Italian sausage. I was impressed! The next day at work is when I tried the Roasted Garlic. I sliced it up and placed it in the microwave for 30 seconds, then put it in a wrap with some reduced fat provolone. That was delicious too! The flavor wasn't as strong as the Sweet Italian, but you could lightly taste the garlic which was something I really liked (strong garlic = bad for work!). The textures of both sausages were exactly the same, moist with a nice bite with the casing. These are by far the best chicken sausages I have tried!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Taste Test Tuesday: Skinny Dippers

I heard about these new Skinny Cow Skinny Dippers from Hungry Girl, and they sounded perfect! I love to try new low calorie treats when I get my raging sweet tooth at night. I finally spotted this box at Publix, so I snatched it up and sped home to try one.

Cost: $4.99
Serving Size: 1 pop
Calories: 80
Fat: 3g
Carbs: 11g
Fiber: 2g
Sugar: 7g
Protein: 2g
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I was excited to try these. The caramel pops come in the brown wrapper, the vanilla pops are in the white (the pictured one is vanilla). The first one I tried was the caramel. The chocolate coating tasted very good, like that chocolate dip from Dairy Queen. It could be thicker, but then again, it wouldn't be 80 calories. The caramel "ice cream" tasted really good, but it didn't taste like caramel to me. It actually tasted alot like the cotton candy flavor of ice cream they have a TCBY (I worked at TCBY in I did alot of "quality testing" on the cotton candy). The vanilla pop was good as well, but it could have had a little stronger vanilla flavor. The texture is slightly icy, but what can you expect from an 80 calorie ice pop? I will buy these again...they satisfy the sweet tooth without busting up your diet.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Mediterranean Tuna Melt

It was the end of the week...and all I had left was tuna. What to do? A tuna melt sounded really good, but I wanted to make something a little different. My experiment came out really well! It's healthy and tastes great.

Mediterranean Tuna Melt (for one)
1 3-oz can of tuna
1 tbsp light mayo
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp sliced olives
2 tbsp reduced fat feta cheese
1 slice 100% whole wheat bread

Turn on broiler. Drain tuna & combine with mayo, vinegar and olives. Spread the tuna mix onto the slice of bread and then top with the feta cheese. Place under the broiler for 3 - 5 minutes, until the edges get brown. Enjoy it with a nice side salad.