Friday, July 15, 2016

Chocolate Pavlova with Mascarpone Whipped Cream and Blueberries

Sounds and looks fancy, but this one is fairly easy to prepare and doesn't take as long as I thought it would. Honestly, chopping the chocolate bar finely enough was the most time-consuming thing here. So this is the recipe for when you want to flaunt your haute cuisine dessert skills, without putting in haute cuisine time and effort. Plus it's gluten-free, so if you've got a gathering with a bunch of people whose allergies and diets you don't know, you can still walk in and knock the socks off everyone present!


Chocolate Pavlova with Mascarpone Whipped Cream and Blueberries
Used with minor adaptations from Once Upon a Chef

Pavlova:
6 large egg whites 
Pinch salt 
1 1/2 cups superfine sugar (You can buy superfine, or grind regular sugar in the food processor until it's fine enough. You can't use powdered though, because it's got cornstarch and other additives in it to keep it from clumping) 
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder 
1 tsp red wine vinegar 
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (Use the best chocolate you can get. With not many ingredients, quality matters.)

Mascarpone Whipped Cream:
8 oz (1 cup) mascarpone cheese, cold
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, cold
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Topping:
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries


Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a dark marker, draw a 9-inch diameter circle on the parchment paper by tracing around a 9-inch cake pan or plate. Flip the paper over so your meringue won't touch the marker. 

Use a mixer to beat the egg whites and salt on medium speed until foamy soft peaks form, about a minute. Increase the speed to medium-high and gradually add the sugar; continue beating until stiff peaks form, 8-9 minutes. (The meringue will be glossy.)

Pass the cocoa powder through a sieve or sifter and add to the meringue. Add the vinegar and chopped chocolate. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the mixture until well combined. It should be a light mocha color with no white or brown streaks. 

Secure the parchment paper to the baking sheet by taping it down, or have an assistant hold it still while you spread. Mound the meringue onto the parchment inside the circle. Using the spatula or a butter knife, spread the meringue to fill the circle. Even the top and sides just slightly -- it shouldn’t be perfectly smooth or overworked. Place in the oven and cook for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until the meringue is puffed and crisp all over. Don't worry if the top is cracked -- that's normal and it all gets covered with whipped cream in the end. Turn off the oven, prop the oven door open, and leave the meringue in the oven to cool to room temperature, at least 30 minutes. (The meringue won’t collapse as much if it cools gradually.)

Before serving, carefully peel the meringue off of the parchment paper and place it on the platter on which you intend to serve. In a medium bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese, heavy cream and vanilla until combined. Gradually add the sugar and continue beating until it holds soft, pillowy peaks. Do not overbeat; it should not be too stiff or grainy. Mound the mascarpone cream onto the meringue and gently spread it out about an inch from the edge (don't worry if the meringue cracks in the process). Top the pavlova with the blueberries. Cut the pavlova into wedges, wiping the knife in between slices, and serve.

Note: This pavlova can be made ahead and assembled up to 12 hours ahead of time. Keep in the refrigerator.

Mrs. Ludell's Egg Custard Pie (with Blackberry Syrup Reduction)

When I was growing up, a woman in my father's church always made one thing for church potlucks: egg custard pies. Supposedly they'd won many prizes in the state fairs when she was younger, but she was elderly when I knew her (she's long since passed away now) and come hell or high water, if there was a potluck or a pig-picking or a funeral at our church and people needed desserts, there she'd be, two egg custard pies in tow.

You don't hear much about egg custard pies any more, they certainly aren't one of the well-known or glamorous pies featured on TV baking shows or upscale menus, but for a certain slice of the Southern low-country, they are a longheld tradition. I always think of Mrs. Ludell Fox when I make her recipe. The blackberry syrup reduction here is my own addition. It's optional, and can be made with fresh or frozen berries, but the tart berries add a spike of perfect contrast to the velvety rich custard.


Mrs. Ludell's Egg Custard Pie


1 cup sugar
1 cup whipping cream
4 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla
2 cups milk (any milk would work, but the higher the fat %, the richer the custard)
4 tbsp unsalted butter (Mrs. Ludell made hers with Superbrand margerine sticks, but those don't exist anymore, and butter work just as well)
1 Simple Pie Crust, uncooked

Preheat oven to 350F.

In the bowl for your mixer, stir sugar and half the whipping cream together with a spoon until smooth. Add 1 cup milk with eggs and beat with mixer until eggs are blended. Add vanilla, remainder of milk, and remainder of whipping cream. Melt butter and stir into mixture. Pour into 9-inch, deep pie shell. If you don't use a deep pie plate, you'll probably have some liquid left over, but a deep shell should hold it all.

Cook uncovered for 50-60 minutes, until crust is brown and custard is golden on top. The middle should be weakly set (this one always ends up more jiggly than I think it will, it's okay), but a knife inserted in the center should come back clean. Cool, then refrigerate for 2 hours before serving. If you are adding the blackberry syrup reduction, pour that on after the pie has cooled at least 15 minutes, but before you stick it in the fridge.



Blackberry Syrup Reduction


Approx 2 cups whole blackberries, rinsed (or if frozen, dethawed)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp water
1/2 tsp cornstarch

In a small saucepan over medium high heat, mix blackberries, sugar and water. Bring this to a low boil, then turn the stove down and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes or so, stirring frequently, until the blackberries have rendered most of their juices and are falling apart and soft. Remove pan from heat, and pour contents through a strainer into a small bowl, using the strainer to catch the blackberry solids. Mash the solids against the sides of the strainer with a spoon to force out all the juices, then discard the solids. Rinse everything off/out of the strainer and place a square of cheesecloth inside it, then wipe out the saucepan you were using for the cooking process. Pour the juices from the small bowl back through the strainer and cheesecloth into the saucepan, using the cheesecloth to catch blackberry seeds that may have slipped through the strainer the first time. This whole process leaves you with a simple syrup of blackberry juice and sugar, and with no blackberry solids at all to spoil the silkiness of the custard.

Whisk the 1/2 tsp of cornstarch into the syrup in the pan, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the syrup thickens to about the consistency of molasses. Remove from heat, allow to cool for five minutes, then pour/spoon over the top of the pie, spreading the syrup with the back of the spoon until the whole pie surface is covered. Refrigerate as above to allow pie and syrup to set.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Drop Biscuit Chicken Pot Pie

This recipe is surprisingly quick for a chicken pot pie, and is perfect for cold rainy winter nights when comfort food is required.


Drop Biscuit Chicken Pot Pie

3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into bite size pieces
1/2 sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup flour
3 cups chicken stock
2 cups frozen vegetables, (corn, peas, lima beans, carrots)
4 small red potatoes, skin on, diced into small 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 tsp celery seed
1/4 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp basil
Salt
Pepper


Drop Biscuits:

2 cups flour
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 cup whole milk


Preheat oven to 425°F.

Steam potatoes over high heat in small covered pot with bottom covered in about 1 inch water.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and season lightly with salt and pepper. Add onion and cook until onion is translucent and chicken is lightly browned. Add garlic, cook for about 2 minutes until garlic is fragrant.

Add flour to chicken mixture and stir to combine. Slowly add chicken stock while stirring to make sauce. Add frozen vegetables, steamed potatoes, and cheese. Reduce heat to medium. Allow mixture to come to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add spices, salt and pepper. Taste, then adjust spices to taste.

Meanwhile: In a large mixing bowl combine flour, cheese, baking powder, sugar and salt. Stir to combine. Add butter and milk. Stir to combine.

Pour chicken filling mixture into 13"x8" dish. Drop biscuits by the rounded tablespoon full on top of pot pie filling. Bake for 15 minutes, until biscuits are browned.

Serves: 6

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Pork Chops with Milk Gravy

A simple, super-flavorful take on a Southern classic.



Pork Chops with Milk Gravy

4 pork chops, about 1/2 inch thick (I like the bone-in kind, but to each his own)
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 1/2 cups whole milk (alternately: 1 cup 1% milk, and 1/2 cup cream)
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp fresh thyme




Add salt, pepper, and flour to a bag. Shake to mix. Add pork chops. Shake until pork chops are well-coated with flour.


Melt butter in a large frying pan on medium high. Add pork chops and brown both sides of chops (about 3 minutes per side).


While chops are browning, add 1/2 cup milk to the remaining flour mixture in the bag you shook the pork chops in, a little at a time. Squish it around to completely mix the milk and flour. Once pork chops are browned on both sides, pour milk mixture over the chops, turn heat to low, and cover. If the gravy thickens too quickly, add a little extra milk to thin it so that it won't stick to the pan as the burner cools down to simmering temperature. Cook for 20 minutes.


Turn pork chops over, add remaining milk and thyme. Stir thoroughly, cook for another 20 minutes.


Remove cover. Cook for 15-20 minutes. Taste gravy and adjust seasonings to taste before you serve.


Serves: 4

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Southern Yellow Squash and Onions

A really simple, really traditional preparation for one of the staple side dishes of the South. I know that brown sugar plus squash sounds sweet, but trust me when I say it's not. The sugar is just there to bring out an extra dimension of flavor in the squash.


Southern Yellow Squash and Onions

2 medium sized yellow squash, sliced into rounds
1/2 videlia onion, diced
Heaping 1/2 tsp brown sugar (you want a little more than 1/2 tsp here, but not so much as 1 whole tsp)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted sweet cream butter
Salt
Pepper
Optional: up to 1/4 cup chicken stock

Add the oil to a pan over medium high heat, and melt the butter into this. When it's completely melted and starts to foam, add the onions and saute until translucent.

Add the squash and brown sugar, and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Season with salt and pepper. Use a light hand on the salt, you'll have a chance to season it again at the end. Bring to a simmer and cover, then turn heat down to medium low. Steam squash for 15 or so minutes, or until softened. Taste, then adjust the seasoning as appropriate. Serve immediately.

Serves: 2-3 people

Baked BBQ Chicken

This recipe makes some of the juiciest, tenderest chicken I've ever tasted, and it's fantastic for leftovers. It takes a little time, but believe me it's worth it. The real key is the BBQ sauce: make sure you get one that you like. I personally am partial to a brand called Blues Hog that's sold at my local supermarket, but when it comes to BBQ sauce everyone has their own personal preferences. Just remember not to cut corners when it comes to the sauce. It's worth spending an extra buck or two for really outstanding flavor. 

A couple other notes: the marinating process is not optional. Marinating is an absolute must on this one. Plan ahead far enough to give yourself time for the chicken to sit and absorb flavor for a while. Also, it's really cheap to buy a whole fryer hen (about 4 lbs) at the grocery store, and those work perfectly for this recipe. If you're not comfortable sectioning a whole chicken by yourself, see if your grocer's butcher is willing to section it for you. Mine is happy to do it if you ask. This saves you the time and trouble of sectioning the bird yourself, but also saves you money from what most stores charge for pre-cut chicken pieces.

I like this recipe served with simple sides that will let the chicken shine: butter beans and fresh tomato slices, fresh corn with squash and onions, that sort of thing.


Baked BBQ Chicken

Marinade:
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 tbsp paprika (smoked paprika is also good)
1 tbsp ancho chile powder
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 cup chicken stock
Optional: 1/2 tsp liquid smoke

BBQ Chicken:
1 jar or bottle BBQ sauce (I like the Blues Hog brand, which comes in jars, but to each his own)
1 whole chicken, cut into quarters
2 tbsp olive oil

Start the process by placing the chicken quarters into a gallon plastic ziploc bag. Add all the ingredients of the marinade to the bag, and squish everything around for a while until it's mixed and all the chicken pieces are coated. Place the bag into a bowl, and stick it in the fridge to marinate for at least two hours and up to overnight.

When you're ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350F.

Line a roasting pan with tin foil and use the olive oil to grease it thoroughly. Place the chicken quarters skin side down onto the pan, and baste the exposed side of the chicken with BBQ sauce. Cook for 20 minutes.

When 20 minutes has expired, remove the chicken from the oven and flip it over so the skin side is facing up. Baste heavily with BBQ sauce. Stick it back in the oven and cook for 7 minutes, then baste again. Repeat this at least twice more (so that the chicken has been basted at least 3 times on the skin side). You can baste it 4 times if the fancy strikes you.

Test the chicken for doneness by sticking a meat thermometer into one of the breasts at the thickest part. It should register at least 165F. If not, your chicken needs longer in the oven.

When the chicken is done, remove from oven and serve immediately, with extra BBQ sauce for dipping if desired.

Serves: 4

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Red Beans and Rice

One of the staple Cajun dishes, this recipe is both very inexpensive and very easy to make. It's also very tasty! It has to simmer for a while, but it's low-maintenance while it does. One of the keys to this one is getting good andouille sausage: you want sausage that's very smoky and spicy and flavorful. If the sausage looks  sort of dry in the package, that's a good thing. It means it's been smoked longer.


Red Beans and Rice

1/2 lb andouille sausage, sliced into small bite sized pieces
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 small videlia onion, diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp flour
2 cans red kidney beans, NOT drained
4 cups beef broth
2 tbsp Cajun Spice Mix (see bottom of recipe for spice mix ingredients)
3 bay leaves
2 cups cooked white rice
Salt
Pepper


Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large sauce pan or dutch oven over medium heat, then add the sausage and sear until lightly browned. You may have to do this in batches depending on the size of your pan, and the sausage should get very fragrant during this process. When the sausage is finished cooking (about 3 min per side), remove it to a paper-towel lined plate to drain.

Add the onions, celery and pepper to the same pan you cooked the sausage in, adding a little more olive oil if necessary. Cook until vegetables are tender and onions are beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.

Add the garlic, stir, cook until you can smell the garlic (about 1 minute). Sprinkle the flour over the cooking vegetables and stir until the vegetables are well-coated and the flour has mixed with the oil/butter to make a roux. Allow a minute or so to cook the flour.

Add the beans, stock, cajun spice mix, bay leaves, and 2 cups water. Stir thoroughly to make sure the roux gets incorporated with no lumps. Bring the whole thing to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer covered for at least an hour (but two or three is much better). If desired, you can mash or puree about a quarter of the beans with 30 minutes left on the cook time to add even more body to the sauce. I don't do this, because I find the flour makes it thick enough, but to each his own.

Serve the hot beans and sausage over the rice.

Serves: 6