Sunday, January 22, 2012

French Toast Pumpkin Cupcakes

Is there anything better than taking two things that are simply fabulous and marrying them to make an amazing new creation?  This mornings inspiration... pumpkin bread and french toast.  I adapted Paula Deen's pumpkin bread recipe into a cupcake, soaked it in sweet cream french toast batter and topped it with a maple whiskey whipped cream cheese.  Not necessarily the most nutritious breakfast ever, but completely delicious.  

French Toast Pumpkin Cupcakes

1 can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

-Preheat oven to 375 degrees
-In a large mixing bowl, combine pumpkin, eggs, sugar, water and oil and stir until combined 
-In a separate bowl sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices
-Gently fold dry ingredients into the mixture of wet ingredients to combine and press out any lumps (be careful not to over mix as the batter will stiffen)
-Grease a muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray
-Distribute batter evenly among 12 muffin tins
-Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick can be inserted and removed cleanly
-Allow to sit for 5 minutes after removing from oven, then place each cake on to a wire rack to cool completely

For the french toast batter:
1 egg
1/4 cup lowfat milk
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 

-Preheat a nonstick skillet on medium heat for 3 minutes
-Whisk together all ingredients thoroughly 
-Dip each cupcake into the batter
-Griddle each cake on the skillet until the batter forms a crispy outer layer
-To coat challenging parts of the cake, spoon a tablespoon of batter onto the pan and press the cake in

For the whipped cream cheese:
1/2 brick of low fat cream cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons bourbon 
1 teaspoon cinnamon 
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

-Whip all ingredients in a metal bowl until the cream cheese is smooth and free of lumps (their should be a soft creamy texture overall)
-Use to top the cupcakes and serve immediately  

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Savory Mushroom Tarts

So when deciding what to make for dinner last night, I opted to channel my inner Julia Child and take a little inspiration from the French culinary side of my training.  I also had a pound of amazing mushrooms that I had picked up on my last trip down to Russo's and wanted to make sure I did them justice.

The beauty of mushrooms... they're light so even thought they're insanely expensive, you can get a handful pretty cheaply.  I used a blend of cremini, shitake, hen-of-the-woods, maitake, oyster, button, black trumpet and hedgehog but you can use whatever you have readily available.  Lots of grocery stores nowadays have variety packs of high quality mushrooms that are relatively affordable.  

You can also construct this tart using whatever you happen to have in the house... Swiss chard, spinach, squash, beets, goat cheese... the sky really is the limit.  Just don't be afraid to get creative and think outside the box.  It's a fantastic way to use up whatever you may have in the fridge and not be wasteful.  

Mushroom blend prior to roasting

Savory Mushroom Tart

1 pound of assorted mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon white truffle oil
1 shallot, diced
1 white onion, diced
4 oz bacon (I used a wild boar bacon but any high quality cut works well)
3 eggs
1/4 cup creme fraiche
1 tablespoon Herbs de Provence
1/2 cup grated cave-aged gruyere (or any high quality gruyere cheese) 
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 12 inch ready-made pie crust

-Preheat oven to 375 degrees
-Place mushrooms in a pie plate, drizzle with truffle oil and roast for 15 minutes or until they begin to reduce in size 
-Saute the bacon, shallot and onion over medium heat until the bacon begins to crisp slightly
-In a 9 inch pie plate, gently press the crust up the sides and trim off any excess
-Whisk together eggs, creme fraiche, Herbs de Provence, salt and pepper in a small bowl
-Combine the bacon/onion mixture with the mushrooms and place into the crust
-Pour the egg mixture evenly over the top
-Distribute grated gruyere over the entire tart
-Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the crust is lightly golden brown

Unbaked tart before egg mixture is poured on top

Finished Tart

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dessert for Breakfast... yes please!

So I'm notorious for buying bananas and then letting them sit on the counter until they're all brown and spotty.  I love bananas, don't get me wrong; but it always seems like the sound so much better when I'm shopping rather then when they're in the fruit bowl.  I also have a hatred of wasting food.  It kills me to throw something away, especially if we didn't even touch it.  I wanted to share a recipe I found when trying to use up a few bananas before they spoiled and it's absolutely fantastic!  This cake works as a dessert or as an element to a fantastic brunch (I'm a little obsessed with brunch).

Banana Hazelnut Cake
¾ cup unsalted butter, melted
½ pound of dark brown sugar
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, chopped, divided
½ cup turbinado or raw cane sugar
2 large bananas
1 stick of butter
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

-Preheat oven to 375 degrees
-Butter the bottom of a 9” cake pan
-Combine melted butter and dark brown sugar in a pan and heat until incorporated
-Add ½ cup of chopped toasted hazelnuts to the mixture and set aside to cool to room temperature
-Grind the other half of the hazelnuts and turbinado in food processor
-Mash one banana to a creamy paste
-In your stand mixer, combine 1 stick of butter, sour cream, eggs, vanilla, hazelnut/turbine mixture and banana puree and mix on low for 3 minutes
-Pour caramel topping into the cake pan
-Slice the second banana on a bias and arrange in the pan on top of the caramel topping
-Combine dry ingredients and add to the mixer bowl
-Mix on medium setting for 2 minutes or until batter is incorporated
-Pour into cake pan and spread into a smooth layer
-Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is set
-Turn the cake out onto a plate while it’s still warm so the caramel doesn’t harden to the pan 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Comfort Food meets Gastronomy

So I have these great little 7 inch cast iron skillets that I just feel like I don't use enough.  They're super cute and I have this love for individually portioned things.  The other caveat of tonight's dinner is that it had to work well with beer.  There's a Patriot's play off game on and wine pairing just doesn't work as well with football.  My solution to the dinner dilemma... Chicken Pot Pie!  

So the first issue I encountered in my pie construction: I grew up on Willow Tree and Hartley's pies (if you're from Rhode Island, you know what I'm talking about) and detest chunky vegetables in my pie.  I do however like the sweetness that the carrots, peas and celery impart on the bland chicken.  Solution: construct the gravy not only with stock, but freshly pressed vegetable juice.  You get fantastic vegetal notes and the sweetness I was looking for without actually having to compromise on the "purist" nature of the pie.  Win/Win!

Now I'm not typically an advocate of short cuts, but one concession I do tend to make is frozen puffed pastry.  Have you ever tried to make puffed pastry from scratch?  It's difficult, messy and time consuming and honestly, just not worth it when Pepperidge Farm puts out a perfectly adequate substitute that involves opening a box.  

The Pot Pie before the pastry crust is added

Chicken Pot Pie
2 medium sized boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme, etc.)
2 cups duck stock (chicken stock can be substituted)
1/4 cup finely chopped white onions
3 carrots
3 stalks of celery
1 cup English peas
4 tablespoons pale ale
4 tablespoons heavy cream
3 teaspoons cornstarch
salt and pepper to taste
1 package frozen puffed pastry (sheets or shells)

- Preheat over to 425 degrees
- Trim and clean chicken breasts
- Season each side with salt, pepper and fresh herb mixture
- Bake the chicken breasts for 18 minutes or until they reach 150 degrees internal temperature
- Using a centrifuge juicer, juice carrots, celery and peas (this should yield about 1/2 cup of juice)
- In a large skillet, combine stock, ale and onions and simmer for 5 minutes
- Add vegetable juice and corn starch
- Whisk continuously until there are no lumps from the cornstarch
- Simmer on low heat for 8-10 minutes
- Add cream and continue whisking until mixture begins to thicken
- Season with salt and pepper to taste
- Dice chicken into 1 inch cubes and place in a single layer in the bottom of the skillets
- Pour gravy over the chicken ensuring that all pieces are completely covered
- Cut your puffed pastry dough into bit sized pieces and arrange on top of the skillet
- Bake skillets for 20 minutes or until pastry is golden brown

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Best Brunch in Hudson, NH

So this past Sunday morning, James and I were watching a rerun of my all time personal favorite television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a random quote drew up to the inspiration for our most fantastic brunch... scones!  I love a good scone.  Now I'm not talking about a flat muffin top that's lacking it's stump... I'm talking about an honest-to-goodness, tea and crumpets worth scone.  I took a recipe from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert (a fabulous book if I do say so myself) and adapted it to not only flavors we love, but more importantly, what we had in the kitchen.  

Hazelnut Orange Scones
1 egg
1/2 cup cold lowfat milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup hazelnut flour
1/3 cup stone ground cornmeal
1/3 cup raw sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
2 tablespoons of orange zest
1/2 cup dried cranberries 

- In a small mixing bowl, beat the egg, milk, cream and zest together, set aside
- In a separate mixing bowl, combine the flours, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt
- Cut the butter into small 1/4 inch cubes and blend into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender (if you don't have a pastry blender, your hands work well)
- Mix until the dry ingredients have they have the consistency of breadcrumbs
- Combine the wet and dry ingredients until the dough forms a slightly sticky consistency
- Fold in the cranberries
- Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1/2 hour
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
- Once the dough is set, create 2 inch round dollops on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
- Brush the tops with a bit of milk to help in browning
- Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown

Combine with extra fluffy scrambled eggs (my secret: a splash of milk and a teaspoon of part skim ricotta cheese whisked into the egg), roasted potatoes, wild boar bacon from the Healthy Buffalo, coffee and fresh squeezed juice (apple/kiwi/pineapple/grape) and you have what I have officially deemed "The Best Brunch in Hudson, NH."

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ice Cream without the Machine

So New Year's Eve has come and gone and I wanted to make a rich, decadent and delicious dessert to follow the huge dinner spread we put together, but I also didn't want it to be overwhelmingly sweet or filling.  Dinner included a 4 pound pork roast with fingerling potatoes, winter carrots, homemade truffled tater tots, coconut chicken tenders, lemon pesto hummus, chicken liver pate, brie stuffed peppadews and procuitto wrapped dates in candied balsamic... not something you necessarily want to follow with a heavy dessert.  I opted for a Lemon Semi Fredo, or otherwise known as partially frozen lemon ice cream cake.

Now the great thing about this recipe, there are endless modifications and flavor variations.  Since trying the lemon, we've discussed strawberry shortcake, sweet cream, pear... like I said, endless possibilities!

Lemon Semi-Fredo

1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cups of granulated sugar
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons lemon zest

- Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap
- Toast the sliced almonds in a toaster oven set to 350 degrees for 6-8 minutes
- Once cool, arrange on the bottom of the loaf pan (this will be the top of your semi-fredo)
- Using the whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream in a stand mixer until soft peaks form
- Refrigerate the cream until all other ingredients are incorprated
- Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a medium saucepan
- Using the whip attachment and a metal mixer bowl, whisk together sugar, egg yolks, lemon juice and zest until frothy
- Place the bowl on top of the saucepan to create a double boiler and whisk the mixture continuously for 4 minutes until it reaches 165 degrees
- Return to the stand mixer and whip on medium speed until the mixture doubles in volume
- Remove bowl and fold in the whipped cream
- Pour into the lined loaf pan, smoothing out the top so it will create a flat surface (this will be the bottom)
- Freeze for at least 5 hours (you can make it several days in advance as well)