Sweet on the Lips…Not on the Hips

A few months back, when I was in between jobs and had some free time on my hands, I embarked on yet another DIY adventure, thanks to my frequent “partner in crime,” my friend Karen.  For once, it did not involve food–well not technically for consumption at least. What we began “cooking up” were body butters and scrubs, eye cream, hand soap, body wash, face creams, lip balms and lip scrubs–using natural ingredients like coconut oil, raw honey, green tea, coffee, and even chocolate.

It all started out innocently enough, a batch of body butter here, some eye cream there…until we’d amassed (between the two of us) enough ingredients to open up own little shop.  I’m not kidding.  I maxed out my 25-compartment essential oils box in a matter of 2 weeks (so I bought Karen a 50-compartment box for Christmas).  I became so obsessed, I even experimented with making my own deodorant–the jury is still out on that one.

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During the holidays, instead of selling baked goods (which would’ve been the obvious choice) I actually sold my food-inspired body products at a charity gift bazaar.

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Of course, by the new year came a new job and less time to tinker.  However, I haven’t lost my enthusiasm for making my own body products.  On the contrary, with less free time I’ve had to really focus on making products that fulfill a particular need, like a soothing balm to relieve my congestion when I got hit with an especially nasty, stubborn cold that lasted for weeks…or a therapeutic body body made with Emu oil (who knew?) and other anti-inflamatory essential oils to soothe my aching joints and bruises (hey, nobody said the life of a pastry chef was a cakewalk).

Now one of the easiest and most fun body products to make is lip balm.  Only a few basic ingredients–beeswax, a  little raw honey, and coconut oil, cocoa butter, shea butter or mango butter–and whatever flavor or essential oils (or combination of both) you want to use.  You can take it to another level by adding other nutrient-rich oils like vitamin E, argan, pomegranate seed, and sweet almond to the mix.   What I love about making lip balms is that you can get really creative with the flavorings and concoct a lip balm that not only moisturizes and keeps your lips healthy, but tastes fabulous.  It lets my inner mixologist comes out and play.  Lately, I’ve been playing with classic dessert flavors like Bananas Foster, Strawberry Shortcake, and Key Lime Pie, which have been a big hit with my new co-workers.

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You can fill any small lidded-jars or cosmetic containers with the lip balm mixture but I personally prefer using lip balm tubes.  They are a little tricky to fill so I recommend buying a kit that includes a tube holder and scraper, which  will make the process so much neater and faster.

When Karen and I first started making lip balms, filling those skinny tubes without the holder was so painstakingly slow that we’d have to keep reheating the mix because the beeswax would set up too fast, or we’d overfill and have to clean up the waxy goop that had dripped down the sides of the tubes, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to put on the labels.

While I’ve always considered myself a “crafty” person by nature, I never thought I’d embrace the DIY body products with such gusto.   Then again, there is something to be said about knowing what you’re using on your body and not paying inflated prices for something you can just as easily make yourself.

DIY Natural Lip Balm

Yield:  8-10 tubes

  • 2 Tbsp. beeswax
  • 4 Tbsp. coconut oil, cocoa butter, shea butter or mango butter (or a combination)
  • 1 tsp. raw honey
  • 4-5 drops vitamin E
  • optional 1 tsp. argan oil or sweet almond
  • 10-15 drops lip balm flavor oil (e.g. mango, banana, vanilla, berry, etc) and/or 4-5 drops essential oil (e.g. peppermint, mandarin, bergamot, etc.)

Beeswax will take the longest to melt down, so place it first in a heat proof bowl set over simmering water and melt it down 75% before adding in the coconut oil and/or mango or shea butter.  If you’re using cocoa butter, you can melt it together with the beeswax.  Once you’ve melted down the solids, you can then stir in the remaining ingredients.

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Light As Air

Starting a new job 45 miles away from home has presented me with a whole set of challenges these last few months–commuting, then not commuting, living out of a suitcase part-time, not having my familiar home kitchen with all its gadgets, tools and equipment (not to mention fully-stocked pantry), and working longer hours.  Finding down time (not to mention the energy) to experiment with new recipes, much less commit anything to writing, has been next to impossible.  So when my cousin Ed and his wife Har, who have graciously opened their home to me, expressed a desire to learn how to make soufflés I viewed it as a great opportunity to not only repay them for their hospitality, but to document the experience for my blog post.

When Ed says he wants to learn how to make soufflés, we’re not talking just one type…oh no.  I mean, if you’re going to go through the trouble of making a mess in your kitchen you might as well go big and make 3 types.  We settled on the classic Grand Marnier Soufflés, savory Garlic Cheese & Spinach Soufflés, and decadent Chocolate Soufflés.

Soufflés sound intimidating, but really aren’t if you follow some basic rules–the first one is to fire up your oven even before you start prepping the components.  Adjust the racks so you have one in the center of the oven with a sheet pan preheating at 425ºF.  If you’ve got a convection option, set it to 400°F.  Next, make sure you’ve got clean, dry soufflé dishes.  Brush the insides with melted or softened butter and coat with sugar (for the sweet soufflés) or bread crumbs (for savory).  I almost had to resort to using ground potato chips before Ed found panko bread crumbs lurking in the back of the cupboard.

The actual process of assembling the soufflés takes very little time so it’s really a matter of getting your ingredients measured out and ready to go.  Because we were tackling 3 types of soufflés, it took several hands to prep the various components.  I sautéed the spinach, while Ed’s daughter Caroline grated the roasted garlic aged cheddar.  Har zested the orange for the Grand Marnier soufflé base as Ed buttered and coated the ramekins.

First up were the Grand Marnier Soufflés.  This classic was the easiest to make and a good introduction to the process. We made a roux by cooking flour in melted butter, then whisked in whole milk, sugar, salt, and orange zest.  It’s important to continue whisking as the mixture comes to a boil to avoid any lumps.  Once we had a smooth, thick paste, we removed it from the heat and gradually tempered some of it into the yolks and Grand Marnier before whisking in the rest of the hot mixture.

With the base done, we moved on to the all important egg whites.  While you can whip the whites by hand, I say use an electric mixer if you happen to have one, which Har did…tucked inside the recesses of her kitchen–a pristine portable Kitchen Aid mixer that had never been used…until now.  I think she was actually excited to finally have an excuse to crack open the box.

Once we managed to snap the beaters into place, the real lesson began–how to make the perfect meringue.  We started with a clean dry bowl, room temperature egg whites and a little cream of tartar to help stabilize the meringue. We had already used half the sugar in the soufflé base, so before beating the remaining sugar into the whites we first whipped them until they were very white and foamy before gradually beating in the sugar a little at a time.

Contrary to what some might think, a stiff meringue does not necessarily produce a light and airy soufflé because it requires more folding to fully incorporate the meringue into the base which can cause the batter to collapse.  What we were looking for was a glossy yet still soft texture, what I would called medium peaks.

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Carefully folding the meringue into the base in three stages, filling the cups halfway and lightly banging the bottoms against the kitchen counter to help the batter settle into cups before filling them all the way, then running our thumbs along the edge to create a little channel were key steps to ensure a spectacular rise for our soufflés…well that and a very hot oven.  Given their oven’s quick recovery time, I wasn’t all that  concerned about losing too much heat while we loaded in the soufflés, having set the oven at 400ºF convection.  However, if your oven isn’t quite that efficient, preheat it to 425°F then turn it down to 400°F once the soufflés are in.  After about 12 mins. we were met with these beauties.

Grand Marnier Souffles
Grand Marnier Soufflés

While the soufflés baked, I sautéed some fresh strawberries in a little  butter, sugar, orange juice, a pinch of sea salt, and generous splash of Grand Marnier for a lovely sauce.

Emboldened by our brilliant success with the first batch of soufflés, we moved on to the savory ones, which were almost as easy to make.  For the Garlic Cheese & Spinach Soufflés, we again made a roux, then tempered in the yolks and stirred in the cooked chopped spinach (be sure to squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible first) and grated cheese.  I found a lovely roasted garlic aged cheddar at Sprouts so that’s what we used, along with a little dijon mustard, ground white pepper, dried thyme, and salt. Normally I would add in a pinch of nutmeg and cayenne but we had none on hand.

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Once again, we whipped our egg whites with some cream of tartar to medium peaks.  Because we weren’t beating in any sugar, we took greater care to not over whip the whites, which facilitated the folding process.

Caroline took her turn at cleaning the rims of soufflé cups.

Loaded with spinach and cheese, the savory soufflés took a bit longer to bake, about 18 mins.  They rose as beautifully as the Grand Marnier ones and were absolutely delectable.

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Garlic Cheese & Spinach Souffle

We were feeling pretty full after two rounds of soufflés (well, maybe not Ed), but we soldiered on to make the Chocolate Soufflés.  This time I let Caroline and Har have a go at cooking the base, whipping the whites, and folding the batter.  For added chocolate flavor, we coated the ramekins in a combination of sugar and cocoa.

To finish off the soufflés, we poured the rest of the strawberry sauce in the center of each one.

Chocolate Souffle with Strawberry Sauce
Chocolate Souffle with Strawberry Sauce

I’m not sure if my cousin and his family will be firing up the oven and electric mixer anytime soon to embark on more soufflé adventures…maybe after Ed buys more soufflé dishes (the ones we had were a little small).  But I’ve armed them with the basic knowledge and techniques for soufflé-making…so who knows.

Grand Marnier Soufflés

Yield: 6-8 servings

  • 5 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp orange zest
  • 3 tbsp Grand Marnier
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar

In a saucepan on medium heat melt the butter and whisk in the flour.  Cook the mixture for about a minute, then gradually whisk in the milk, followed by 1/4 cup of the sugar, salt, and orange zest.  Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a boil.  Cook for about a minute.  Transfer the mixture into a medium mixing bowl and temper about 1/4 cup into the yolks and Grand Marnier before whisking the yolk mixture into the rest of the roux.  In a separate bowl (or stand mixer), beat the whites and cream of tartar until very white and foamy, then gradually beat in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time.  Whip the whites on medium hight speed to glossy medium peaks.  Fold the whites into the base in three stages.  Fill the prepared soufflé dishes halfway, then lightly bang the bottoms against a hard surface to knock out some of the air bubbles and help settle the batter into the dishes before filing them the rest of the way.  Run your thumb along the rim to clean the edges and create a little channel to help the soufflés rise properly.  Place the dishes about 2″ apart on a sheet pan preheated in a 425°F (400°F convection) oven. Adjust the setting to 400°F as needed and bake for about 12-14 mins. depending on the size of the dish.

Serve and enjoy immediately!

Strawberry Sauce

  • 1 pint fresh strawberries, washed & quartered
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • juice of 1/2 orange
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier

In a saute pan on medium heat melt the butter, add the sugar, and bring to a simmer.  Add the strawberries, juice, and salt and cook for another minute until the strawberries are tender.  Stir in the liqueur and remove from the heat.

Garlic Cheese & Spinach Soufflés

Yield:  6-8 servings

  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • pinch of cayenne
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. dijon mustard
  • salt & white pepper to taste
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup grated roasted garlic aged cheddar (or aged cheddar + 1 small clove of minced garlic)
  • 1 cup cooked spinach, chopped, liquid squeezed out (or 1 package thawed frozen spinach squeezed dry)
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar

Melt the butter in a saucepan and whisk in the flour; cook for about a minute, then whisk in the milk and seasonings. Whisking constantly, cook the mixture until thick and smooth.  Remove from the heat and transfer into a medium mixing bowl. Temper a little of the roux into the yolks, then whisk the yolks into the rest of the roux.  Stir in the cheese and spinach until fully incorporated.  Whip the egg whites and cream of tartar to medium peaks, then carefully fold into the base in three stages.

Fill the prepared soufflé dishes halfway, then lightly bang the bottoms against a hard surface to knock out some of the air bubbles and help settle the batter into the dishes before filing them the rest of the way.  Run your thumb along the rim to clean the edges and create a little channel to help the soufflés rise properly.  Place the dishes about 2″ apart on a sheet pan preheated in a 425°F (400°F convection) oven. Adjust the setting to 400°F as needed and bake for about 16-18 mins. depending on the size of the dish.  Serve immediately!

Chocolate Soufflés

Yield: 6-8 servings

  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 Tbsp corn starch
  • 1/2 tsp espresso powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa), chopped
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 4 large yolks
  • 2 Tbsp Godiva or Kahlua liqueur
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar

Whisk together the milk and cornstarch in saucepan until completely smooth.  Bring the mixture to a boil on medium heat, whisking constantly until it is very thick and smooth. Whisk in the espresso powder, salt, chocolate, and butter. Whisk in the liqueur.  Beat the whites and cream of tartar until very white and foamy.  Gradually beat in the sugar a little at a time to glossy medium peaks.

Fold the whites into the base in three stages.  Fill the prepared soufflé dishes halfway, then lightly bang the bottoms against a hard surface to knock out some of the air bubbles and help settle the batter into the dishes before filing them the rest of the way.  Run your thumb along the rim to clean the edges and create a little channel to help the soufflés rise properly.  Place the dishes about 2″ apart on a sheet pan preheated in a 425°F (400°F convection) oven. Adjust the setting to 400°F as needed and bake for about 12-14 mins. depending on the size of the dish.

Serve and enjoy immediately.

 

 

Let’s Just Start All Over Again…Or Pretend It Never Happened

I’m with a majority of my friends…hell, with the general populous…in feeling that 2016 (for the most part) sucked gigantic donkey balls.  The Presidential Election became and continues to be the longest running SNL sketch in American history…though we’re only laughing through our tears.  Don’t even get me started on all the amazingly talented, seminal figures we lost, from David Bowie to Prince–Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds in the same week??  Oh come on!!  No wonder somebody started a Go Fund Me page to protect Betty White from 2016.  Laura probably would’ve done one for Bill Murray or Billy Idol.

For me personally, it was an often bumpy road to 2017, full of unexpected twists and turns–leaving a job that no longer gave me joy, in search of other unexplored opportunities with no safety net, then suddenly handed an offer I ultimately couldn’t refuse.  A roller coaster ride? You betcha!  But I guess you can say I’m a little bit of a thrill seeker, even if the ride sometimes makes me a little nauseous…it’s better than being bored or uninspired.  That is not to say there aren’t parts of 2016 I would like to forget (like all the hateful political rhetoric and the outcome of the Presidential Election).  Unfortunately, neither I nor others in possession of a reasonably sane intellect can pretend that egomaniacal half-wit who looks like a human Cheeto with a bad combover is even remotely capable of running the country.

So the best thing we can do is start over–take what we’ve got and try to turn it into something new, something positive.  It’s not about reinventing the wheel, but imagining a better one.  Or, how do we take something that is tired or broken and give it new purpose?  While society is always looking for the shiny and new, eager to throw away anything that has lost its luster, there is something to be said about creative repurposing.  That certainly the case for me when it comes to cooking and baking, whether at home or at work.

I wouldn’t exactly say that I’m necessarily frugal, but I do hate wasting product, especially when I can be creative and come up with ways to use surplus ingredients.  Case in point, I generated copious amounts of egg whites making gallons of chocolate mousse in December.  Freezer space was limited so I couldn’t freeze all of the whites to save them for later use.  Instead of tossing out the surplus, I decided to make meringue roulades for the New Year’s Eve dessert.  Filled with sumptuous cheesecake mousse, brandied cherries and bittersweet chocolate curls they were a delectably sweet elegant way to ring in the New Year.

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Brandied Cherry Cheesecake Meringue Roulade, garnished with crushed crispy meringue and served with chocolate and brandied cherry sauces

For Christmas, I opted to make two flavors of meringue roulade instead of my traditional Buche de Noel, making use of ingredients I had available in the refrigerator and pantry–a vanilla meringue roulade with white chocolate mousse and (frozen) raspberries and a coffee meringue roulade (flavored with espresso powder) with whiskey-spiked coffee creme, dusted with cocoa.  Both were extremely easy to make and well-received.

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Unlike crispy meringue, which requires low and slow baking and can take twice long as to make, the softer meringue roulade sheets take just about 25 mins. to bake.  Once filled the roulades can be frozen until ready to be thawed and served, making it a versatile make ahead dessert.   Next time you find yourself with too many egg whites, just roll with it and bake a meringue sheet.

Meringue Sheet for Roulade

Yield:  1 half sheet

  • 5 large egg whites (5 oz.), room temp.
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. sea or kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • optional, 1 tsp. espresso powder or instant coffee, or 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder, or zest of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Whip the egg whites and salt to soft peaks on high speed, then reduce to medium speed and gradually beat in the sugar a little at a time.  Once all the sugar is incorporated, increase to high speed again and whip the whites until stiff and glossy.  Beat in the vanilla.  *Fold in any additional flavorings.  Spread the meringue out evenly onto a lightly greased and parchment-lined half sheet pan.


img_0015Bake the meringue for about 12 mins. or until lightly golden, then reduce the heat to 325°F and continue baking for another 12-15 mins. or until the surface of the meringue feels firm to the touch but the inside is still pliable.

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Loosen the edges with the tip of a paring knife, then invert the meringue sheet onto a sheet of parchment paper dusted with powdered sugar and peel off the underlining parchment from the meringue.  Drape a clean dishtowel over the meringue and allow it to cool for 10-15  mins.

For a simple filling, whip 1 cup heavy cream with 3 Tbsp. powdered sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla extract for medium stiff peaks.  Spread a layer of the whipped cream onto the meringue, leaving a 1 inch border all around.  Top with fresh or frozen berries and a sprinkling of toasted sliced almonds.  Starting with the edge closes to you, gently fold the border over the filling and carefully roll the meringue, lifting the parchment as you roll to help guide the roulade along.  Tuck the parchment over and under the roulade and twist the ends to securely seal in the roulade.  If you are planning to freeze the roulade, wrap it in an extra layer of foil.  Freeze or chill the roulade (seam side down) in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours to firm up.  Dust the roulade with more powdered sugar (or cocoa) before serving.

 

 

 

 

Lost Weekend…Or How I Got Trapped in Stars Hollow

*Warning, if you haven’t watched Gilmore Girls-A Year in the Life, this post contains spoilers!

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No really…that is how I lost most of last weekend…binge-watching the entire four 90-minute episodes of the new Netflix reboot of Gilmore Girls. My fellow “Movie Chicks” (aka Rina and Laura) and I were, like all Gilmore Girl fans, giddy with anticipation for the premiere of A Year in the Life, gobbling up every morsel of information on social media about possible new storylines, sharing trailers on Facebook, taking Gilmore Girl quizzes.  We were primed for the epic reunion/love fest with our favorite characters.

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Did the Netflix revival live up to our expectations?  Meh…not so much. While I am nowhere near as incensed as Rina over some of Rory’s incomprehensibly idiotic life choices…such as her affair with Logan…I am disappointed that my favorite character, Sookie (Melissa McCarthy) made only a brief (though memorable) appearance.  I was beyond thrilled when I heard Melissa McCarthy was indeed reprising her role in the eleventh hour.  Although I have to admit, if I wasn’t a diehard Sookie fan I would’ve balked at her over-the-top multi wedding cake extravaganza because, let’s face it, I of all people know it’s pure fantasy. No one, not even the amazingly talented uber chef Sookie, could’ve pulled off that many elaborate creations in such a short of time by herself!  Do people know how long it takes to wrap a cake in fondant, let alone sculpt one?!

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We are equally dumfounded and dismayed that Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) didn’t figure more prominently in the storyline, whereas Logan had way too much screen time, when Jess was clearly the more compelling love interest.

And we can all agree that Paris (Liza Weil) needs her own spin-off…

…and “Stars Hollow, The Musical” should be an actual musical.

I don’t think any of us necessarily thought revisiting Stars Hollow would tie up all the loose ends left dangling (like an annoying participle) when the series ended back in 2007. But come on, those “last four words” made me (and probably everyone else watching) scream “Whaaaaat?!?!” (followed by a few choice expletives) at the television screen.  Six hours of viewing and that was it??  Just enduring Rory and Logan’s ridiculous “steampunk” adventure alone was enough to send me reaching for a strong cocktail.  I was so confounded by the ending I decided to binge-watch another series on Netflix just to take my mind off of it…which led to my “lost weekend.”

I did, however, manage to make it to the Sunday Farmer’s Market, where I found some lovely tangerines…which I subsequently turned into a fragrant homemade Mandarincello Liqueur.  Now had I been sipping this deliciously potent nectar while viewing Gilmore Girls, maybe I would have been less critical of its shortcomings…but then again, I could’ve just woken up with the hangover.

The old school way of making citrus liqueur is to take the peel from the clean, washed fruit (minus the bitter pith), put it in a tight-sealing glass jar, cover the peel in a clear neutral alcohol like vodka (or Everclear), and let the mixture sit undisturbed for about 6 weeks to draw out all the flavor and essential oils from the skin of the fruit.  The deeply scented liquor (strained of the peel) is then combined with an equal amount of syrup made from a 50/50 blend of sugar and juice of the fruit that has been brought to a boil.

Since I am in possession of a stainless steel whipped cream dispenser (courtesy of Whip It!) I opted for the modern method of rapid infusion through the use of nitrous oxide.

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To draw out more of the flavor and essential oils from the tangerines I used a microplaner to finely zest the peel…

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which I then placed inside the stainless steel canister along with 2 cups of vodka.  I injected two N2O cartridges into the sealed canister and gave it several good shakes.

While the N20 worked its magic on the tangerine zest and vodka, I juiced enough tangerines for 1-1/2 cups of juice, which I then combined with an equal amount of sugar and brought to a boil.

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To make the liqueur, I simply strained the syrup into a large glass pitcher (or measuring cup), then whisked in the strained infused alcohol.  *For instructions on how to make rapid infused alcohol please refer to my previous post “Better Cocktails Through Science.”

Mandarincello with Sparkllng Water
Mandarincello with Sparkllng Water

Mandarincello Liqueur

Yields:  approximately 1 quart

  • 1/4 cup fresh tangerine zest
  • 2 cups vodka
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh squeezed tangerine juice
  • stainless steel whipped cream dispenser
  • 2 N2O cartridges

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wrap Session…or How To Stuff A Chinese Crepe

My friend Karen heard about this pop up restaurant in the Inner Sunset generating buzz about town for their “authentic” savory stuffed Chinese crepes.  Hungry for a new foodie adventure, we decided to give it a try one morning.  Temporarily housed inside a Japanese noodle place, the vendors had set up a large crepe iron out by the front window, surrounded by containers of fresh fixings and squeeze bottles of sauce.  It all looked promising.  Their offerings were limited to three types of crepe –one of which, the pork (obvious favorite), was already sold out–and a few beverages.   A little disappointed, we settled on one of each of the remaining crepes, the “classic” (meatless) variety and the dubious sounding “frankfurter” stuffed crepe, along with a hot sweet soy milk.

You know that saying “good things come to those who wait?”  This wasn’t one of those times.  Our stuffed crepes weren’t necessarily bad, but I can’t say they were worth the almost half hour wait–not when the sum didn’t quite equal the parts.  We both liked how they managed to envelop the tender crepe with a thin layer of omelet and how the stack of crushed fried wonton skins gave the stuffed crepes a nice crunch, even if our taste buds were less than impressed by the lackluster vegetables (mainly bean sprouts) and diced hot dogs.  As we picked apart the components we couldn’t help but think of other filling combinations that would make a better, more satisfying stuffed crepe.  Other than roast pork, our hands down favorite was roast duck.

Now to test out our idea, I could’ve just gone to the neighborhood Chinese deli and bought half a roast duck…but I didn’t.  No, I decided to roast my own duck…legs that is.  I’d butchered a whole duck a while back and only used the duck breasts for my Valentine’s Day An Affair to Remember post.  The rest of bird parts were neatly tucked away in ziploc bags in the freezer, which, much to my delight, were still in perfectly good condition.  So I took the thawed duck legs and soaked them overnight in a rich marinade of dark and light soy sauce, rice wine, brown sugar, five-spice, dried orange peel, garlic and ginger.  The drained marinated duck legs were then roasted at 425°F for about 25 mins, then at 350°F for another 15-18 mins. until done.

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Once the duck legs cooled, I shredded up the meat and chopped up the skin.

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And then I set about creating the ultimate stuffed Chinese crepe…

To start off, you need the crepe.  I found a recipe in one of my favorite dim sum cookbooks (Dim Sum by Ellen Leong Blonder) for Chinese pancakes.  After my first tester crepe, I thinned out the batter slightly to get a more even, tender crepe.

Chinese Pancakes (Crepes)

  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. water
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 Tbsp. oil

Whisk together the eggs and water, then whisk in the flour, salt, and oil until smooth.  Cover with plastic wrap and rest batter for about 20 mins.  To make the crepes, heat a 10″ non-stick skillet and swirl in 1/2 tsp. oil.  Lift the hot skillet off the heat and pour in about 1/2 cup batter, then tilt and swirl the pan until the batter evenly coats the bottom.  Cook the crepe on medium heat for about 30 seconds, until the edges begin to color slightly, then loosen the edges with a spatula and carefully flip the crepe over.  Cook the other side for another 20-30 secs.  Stack the finished crepes in between sheets of wax paper or parchment until ready to use.

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For the rest of the fixings, I stir-fried some bean sprouts, fresh shiitake mushrooms, and shredded cabbage with a little garlic, salt and pepper, rice wine and drizzle of sesame oil…

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and deep-fried strips of wonton skin for the all important crunch.

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To assemble the savory duck crepe, I whisked two eggs with about 2 Tbsp. water then swirled and coated the bottom of the heated oiled skillet with a thin, even layer of beaten egg and sprinkled on a light coating of toasted sesame seeds.  Before the egg set completely, I quickly topped it with a crepe.  Instead of leaving the egg layer on the outside, I decided to flip the crepe so that I could brown the crepe a little.  I drizzled hoisin sauce on the egg and layered on the duck, vegetables, fried wonton strips, and julienned scallion…

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…then folded the crepe over the everything.

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To finish off the crepe, I topped it with a little more shredded duck, vegetables, drizzle of hoisin, fried wonton strips and scallion.

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My homemade version of Savory Chinese Duck Stuffed Crepe didn’t exactly look like the savory crepes at the pop up restaurant…but it was definitely worth the effort…and wait.

 

Rolling in the Dough

So last month I found myself tackling croissant dough in an attempt to recreate the Cruffin.  While I can appreciate the finesse and skill it takes to make a respectable croissant dough–I mean who doesn’t like those buttery flaky layers–I’m more a brioche kind of gal.  Brioche is richer and more tender, chock full of luscious eggs and butter.  It’s the type of enriched dough I love to use for everything from sticky buns to donuts. Like pizza dough, brioche is a good staple to have in the freezer–goodness knows I have quite a few staples in there already–though I must admit I very rarely just bake a simple loaf of brioche.  I use brioche like a blank canvas, manipulating it into different forms, layering it with different ingredients, like dried fruit and citrus for my Easter loaf.

My last batch of brioche dough produced two rather different, though equally delicious breakfast pastries (oh who am I kidding, I’d be eating them any time of the day or night).  The first was inspired by a photo of an apple creme bun in one of the Flour cookbooks.   I had the makings for all the components.  There were a few farmer’s market pink lady apples sitting around, just waiting to be sautéed in brown butter and sugar.  I needed egg whites for another baking project, which conveniently meant there would be egg yolks for vanilla pastry cream.  All I needed to do was make the brioche dough, which I then halved (stashing one half in the freezer for later use). Instead of forming a bunch of individual buns–I was too impatient to eat it–I made one large apple “galette” or as my friend Toni called it an “apple pizza.”

Brioche Dough 

  • 2 1/4 cup bread flour
  • 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 packages rapid rise yeast (instant yeast)
  • 6 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. sea or kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 6 large eggs
  • 11 oz. butter (2 1/4 sticks), cut into small pieces, room temperature

In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the dry ingredients on low speed.  Whisk together the eggs, water, and milk, then add them to the dry mix.  Mix everything on low for about 4-5 mins. until the dough comes together, scraping down the sides of the bowl about halfway through.  Increased the speed to medium low and begin adding the butter a little at a time until it is all incorporated into the dough.  Kick up the speed to medium and continue mixing for another 12-15 mins.  The dough should be somewhat sticky and shiny.  Transfer the dough into a greased bowl large enough for double its size, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough proof in a warm space.  Punch down the dough and divide in half.

Brioche Project #2 was a slightly more decadent affair.  I decided to make sticky buns…but not just any old sticky bun.  No, these buns were going to be drenched in homemade brown butter salted caramel sauce…and filled with vanilla pastry cream.  If that wasn’t enough, I went the extra mile and laminated the second half of my brioche dough with BUTTER! Yeah, you heard me…I added more layers of butter into an enriched dough.  Trust me, it’s worth it.  I got the idea years ago from Nancy Silverton, who is a genius.  The process for laminating the brioche is similar to that for croissant dough.  I used about 4 oz. room temperature butter for a half batch of brioche dough.  Once the laminated dough was thoroughly chilled and rested, I rolled it out into a 1/3″ thick rectangle, slathered on some brown butter (which I had leftover from a previous recipe), sprinkled on a thick layer of cinnamon and sugar (heavy on the cinnamon) and rolled it into a log.  At this point you can wrap the log tightly in plastic wrap and let it chill in the refrigerator overnight if you are planning on finishing them up in the morning, which is what I opted to do since I wanted to make a big batch of Brown Butter Salted Caramel Paste first.

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Brown Butter Salted Caramel Paste

Yield:  3 pints

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. light corn syrup
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 4 oz. butter, cooked to dark golden brown, cooled to room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp. sea or kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

Place the water, sugar, and corn syrup in a large heavy bottom sauce pan, then stir to completely moisten the sugar.  Cook the mixture on medium heat until it becomes a medium dark amber color.  Turn off the heat and carefully whisk in the cream, then the brown butter, salt and vanilla.  Turn the heat back on and let the caramel come back to a boil.. Whisk and boil for about 1 min.  Remove from the heat and transfer into heat proof containers (e.g.  mason jars).

To finish the sticky buns, grease a 9″x 9″ pan (I used a glass pyrex baking dish) with non-stick spray and pour in about 1/3″ layer of the salted caramel to fully cover the bottom of the pan.  Divide the roll into 9 thick slices (I goofed and accidentally cut 8) and arrange them in the pan 3 x 3.  Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the rolls proof in a warm space until double in size.  Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Fill a piping bag with vanilla pastry cream (there should be plenty left from the previous recipe), insert the tip into the center of each roll and pipe in a generous amount of pastry cream.  Set the pan onto a parchment-lined sheet pan.  Bake the rolls for about 30-35 mins. until they evenly golden brown.  Let the rolls rest in the pan for about 3-4 mins. then carefully invert the pan onto the parchment.

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Halloween…Or Confessions of a Scaredy Cat

I’m an unmitigated scaredy cat when it comes to horror movies and not ashamed to admit it–blame it on a neurotic, overly dramatic, “waiting for the apocalypse” mother and my own active imagination.  No doubt many of my friends have hunkered down in front of their television sets with pizzas and big bowls of popcorn for a Halloween fright fest, binge watching horror flick after horror flick this weekend–savoring every blood curdling scream, dismembered body part, and demonic possession.  I, on the other hand, am crafting cocktails, baking bundt cakes and assembling Halloween treats (see recipes below) while watching Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)–low on the horror, high on kitsch.  Okay, true Austenites might be truly horrified by the mash-up but I find it oddly entertaining… given my love of Austen’s novel, quirky zombie films, and Doctor Who (11th Doctor Matt Smith plays everyone’s favorite buffoon Mr. Collins).

The image of butt-kicking zombie assassin Bennet sisters had me from the get-go.

Suffice it to say I don’t do the standard scary horror movie, like Saw (2004) or The Exorcist (1973), not so much because I’m squeamish about blood and gore or extreme violence (which I’m not given the number of Quentin Tarantino films I’ve seen), but because they dredge up my own fears about the pitch black ugly side of the human psyche.  All you have to do is watch the news and you’re reminded there really are seriously deranged individuals out there committing unspeakable acts against humanity.

While we’re on the subject of scary movie themes, paranormal ghost stories are also not high on my watch list either…because, yes, I do believe in ghosts.  I made the mistake of watching The Others (2001) on a cold dark night by myself (hey I got sucked into the story before I realized it was a “horror flick”) and nearly jumped out of my skin when my roommate came into the apartment.  I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t seen the film, but it scared the crap out of me.  I think I made myself watch some stupid sitcoms for an hour and eat dessert afterwards just to settle my nerves!

They say screaming is cathartic, but I prefer to laugh…much less stressful.  For those of you like me, who like their gore peppered (intentional or not) with humor, here are a few movies to check out this Halloween night:

The Lost Boys (1987) – I have fond memories of this 80’s teenage comedy horror flick starring the ubiquitous two Corey’s (Feldman and Haim), set in my college town of Santa Cruz.  Before he became known as uber operative Jack Bauer in 24, Kiefer Sutherland play one menacing vampire gang leader.

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An American Werewolf in London (1981) – The original is still the best.  I watched this with friends when I was at university in England.  Having traverse all through London on the tube, we laughed and screamed with horror at the werewolf mauling scene inside the Green Park tube station.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) –  George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino play fugitive bank robbers turned would-be vampire killers.  It’s a delirious, campy adrenaline rush.  Clooney is a eye-candy dish full of sexy snarkiness.

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Shaun of the Dead (2004) – Leave to Brits Simon Peg and Nick Frost to make a fun zombie movie.  Dawn of the Dead this ain’t!

Less I forget, here are the recipes I’ve been working on while watching my non-scary Halloween movie.

Cocktail:  

I know I could’ve given it a more Halloween-y name but Fall Breeze is a more apt description of this effervescent drink.  It’s got all the flavors of fall with a spicy kick that perks you up like a crisp breeze.

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  • 2 oz. Bourbon Whiskey
  • 1 oz. Apple Cider
  • .75 oz. Fresh Ginger Syrup*
  • .5 oz. Lemon Juice
  • 5 dashes Persimmon Bitters
  • Chilled Seltzer Water
  • Fresh Sage and Sliced Fuyu Persimmon for Garnish

Combine the bourbon whiskey, cider, ginger syrup, lemon juice and bitters in a cocktail shaker.  Add 4-5 ice cubes and shake vigorously to blend.  Strain the liquor into a chilled martini glass and top with seltzer.  Garnish drink with a slice of persimmon and a small sprig of fresh sage.

Fresh Ginger Syrup:

Place 1 1/2 cups peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger root and the zest of a lime and a lemon into a medium saucepan and cover with 3 cups cold water.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 mins.  Turn off the heat, cover, and let the mixture steep for about an hour.   Strain out the ginger and pour the strained liquid back into a saucepan.  Whisk in 3 cups sugar and the juice of the lime and lemon.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then pour it through a fine mesh strainer.  Cool to room temperature, transfer into mason jars or glass bottles and refrigerate.  This recipe makes enough syrup for many drinks!

Dessert:

Pumpkin bundt cake is a homey staple on Halloween, especially when it’s decorated to look like an actual pumpkin.  Alas, I went a different route with mine…mainly because it was a belated birthday cake for my favorite aunt and she’s not crazy about big frosting laden cakes.  Her cake was not overly sweet or heavily spiced–simply moist and flavorful, with a dulce de leche cream cheese filing and bittersweet chocolate ganache glaze, tastefully decorated with tiny strips of dried mandarin orange.

Chocolate Glazed Pumpkin Bundt with Dulce de Leche Filling

Batter:

  • 1 1/2 cups Golden Brown Sugar
  • 4 Large Eggs
  • 1/2 cup Oil (Canola, Sunflower, etc.)
  • 4 oz. Butter (1 stick), cooked to a nutty brown and cooled to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Buttermilk
  • 1 1/4 cups Pumpkin Puree
  • 2 Tbsp. Bourbon
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 1 tsp. Maple Extract
  • 2 3/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 2 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 3/4 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. Cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp. Nutmeg

Whisk together the sugar and all the wet ingredients.  Sift the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and center a well in the center. Pour the wet ingredients into the well and whisk everything together until well incorporated.

Filling: 

  • 6 oz. Cream Cheese, softened at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Dulce de Leche
  • 1 Tbsp. All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • Pinch of Sea or Kosher Salt

Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache

  • 18 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate (60-70%), finely chopped
  • 2 cups. Heavy Cream
  • 3 Tbsp. Light Corn Syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp. Espresso Powder (or Instant Coffee)
  • 1/4 cup Sour Cream
  • 2 Tbsp. Rum, Whiskey or Brandy (optional)

Place the chopped chocolate in a mixing bowl.  Combine the cream and corn syrup in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt and espresso powder.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, wait about 2 mins., then gently whisk the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate has completely melted.  Whisk in the sour cream and liquor.

To glaze the bundt, set the wire rack with the cooled bundt over a sheet of parchment and ladle the warm glaze over the top.

There was, of course, still plenty of ganache leftover from glazing the bundt…so I decided to use it for my next Halloween treat–Chocolate Peanut Butter Pumpkins.  I’ve wanted to make something with this pumpkin-shaped silicon candy mold I bought on sale last year and these were the perfect treats to make.  There’s no baking involved!  I simply filled the molds with a white chocolate peanut butter truffle, topped them with a thin layer of ganache and sprinkled on some crushed salted pretzels and leftover peanut butter toffee I’d whipped up for a batch of cookie dough I’d made earlier in the week.  You can substitute any kind of crushed toffee-like candy (e.g Butterfinger, Heath, etc.).   I placed the mold into the freezer to set up, then popped the little pumpkins out.

White Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffle

  • 1 cup Chunky Peanut Butter
  • 10 oz. White Chocolate Chips (I like Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/4 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

Place everything in a heatproof bowl (starting with the peanut butter).  Set the bowl over a pot of simmer water and stirring occasionally until the white chocolate is completely melted and fully incorporated into the peanut butter.

Keep these treats refrigerated until ready to serve.

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Happy Halloween!

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