The Sound of Music…or if you’re gonna eat all your favorite things, plan on climbing every mountain

While most of us are used to seeing The Sound of Music on television around Easter or Christmas (maybe the nuns had something to do with it), we thought Octoberfest was the perfect time to revisit this classic and indulge in some hearty Austrian fare…and toast Julie Andrews’ 80th birthday! Besides, when am I ever going to get the chance to wear my Bavarian Beer Wench Apron?

It’s an epic 3 hour movie (complete with the requisite intermission/pee break) so we needed some good rib-sticking food to tie us over for the long haul, but not so much that we’d be too comatose to participate in the obligatory sing-a-long.  My solution was to make everything bite-sized…well everything except the cocktail.

The Cocktail  

Like Julie Andrews, we can’t help but get that wistful look in our eyes when Christopher Plummer serenades us with the iconic “Edelweiss.”  Yeah, it’s a little sappy…but a good sappy, kind of like a nice buzz.  The namesake cocktail achieves just that.  The elderflower liqueur and apricot schnapps (my bottle actually came from Austria) pairs nicely with the clean floral notes of the Hendricks, and the ginger ale/beer adds a little spice and effervescence.  As the song goes,  it’s “clean and bright” yet packs enough punch to take you to a happy place.  After a few of these, you might just find yourself standing on a coffee table, belting out “The Hills Are Alive” with your arms outstretched, twirling like Julie Andrews on top of that mountain.

The Edelweiss

Yield:  Serves 2

2 oz. Elderflower Liqueur (St. Germaine or Thatchers)

2 oz. Gin (preferably Hendricks)

1 oz. Apricot Schnapps or Brandy

1/2 oz. Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice

4 oz. Ginger Ale or Ginger Beer, chilled

Pour the first four ingredients into a cocktail shaker with 2-3 ice cubes and shake to blend.  Divide the liquor into two martini glasses and top off with the ginger ale/beer.  Garnish with a twist of lemon peel (*make these before you juice the lemon).

The Savories

Nothing says Octoberfest like some fat juicy bratwurst to go with that big stein of beer.  The inspiration for The Baron’s Beer-Braised Bratwurst Bites (say that fast three times!) came oddly enough from a rather unpleasant beer experience I had on a trip with my cousin Jason a few years back through Bavaria.  We were touring the town of Bamberg, where the drink of choice is this dark smokey porter called Rauchbier, which our tour guide dubbed “ham beer”  because, well, it tasted like smoked pork or bacon.  While I love the flavor of bacon in many things, beer is definitely not one of them.  One sip was more than enough to convince me of that!  However, I’ve always wanted to cook with it.  Braising bratwurst in the smoked porter was a wonderfully delicious way to incorporate beer into the dish.

The recipe is very simple.  I started off with a package of raw bratwurst sausage, one sliced medium yellow onion, one minced garlic clove, and about half a 16oz. bottle of smoked porter (don’t worry I’m saving the other half for beef stew).  In a large heavy skillet on medium high flame, I heated up about 2 Tbsp. each of butter and olive oil, tossed in a couple sprigs of fresh sage to brown and perfume the oil, then sauteed the onion until golden, seasoning with a little salt and pepper.  Pushing the onions to the perimeter, I browned the sausages on both sides, seasoning with a little more salt and pepper, then poured in the smoked porter, reduced the heat to simmer, and covered the skillet.  The bratwurst should cook for about 5-7 mins. (juices should run clear when pierced).  Remove the bratwurst and continue reducing the liquid until there’s about only a couple of tablespoons left in the skillet.  I cut the bratwurst into bite-size pieces and spooned a tiny bit of the onion onto each piece.

If you’re going to do a culinary tribute to The Sound of Music, you have to make Schnitzel with (Pan-Fried) Noodles.  I mean, come on, it’s one of Maria’s “Favorite Things.”  Schnitzel is commonly served with spatzle, which I would describe as a cross between noodles and tiny little dumplings, usually tossed in butter and maybe a sprinkling of parsley.  But since I wanted my pork schnitzel to be more of a finger food, I opted to make little pan-fried noodle cakes to serve as the base for the schnitzel.  You can pretty much make noodle cakes out of whatever thin long noodles you happen to have handy (I had spaghetti).  Just take the cold cooked noodles, season it with salt and pepper, toss in some fresh chopped herbs or scallions, coat the noodles in some beaten eggs and cream (maybe some grated cheese if you like) and twirl 3-4 strands of noodles at a time with a fork to form a kind of “nest.”  *You only need to moisten the noodles just enough so that the strands will stick together and hold the nest shape.  Pan fry the noodle nests in some butter and oil until golden brown on both sides, flattening them a little after the first turn.

As for the schnitzel, I took thin slices of pork tenderloin, pounded them out between two pieces of plastic wrap until they were between 1/8″ and 1/4″ thick with a meat mallet, seasoned them with salt and pepper, then cut them into small bite-sized pieces.  The set up for coating the pork is as follows:  all-purpose flour seasoned with salt and pepper, a couple of beaten eggs, and bread crumbs seasoned with salt and pepper (everything in shallow dishes).  Coat each piece of pork first in the flour (dust off any excess), then dip it in the egg, then coat it well in the bread crumbs.  Allow the coated pork to sit out at room temperature for about 15 mins. to set the breading.  For the 18 pieces of pork I prepared, I heated up just enough butter and olive oil to generously coat the bottom my trusty cast iron skillet, tossed in 2 sprigs of thyme to perfume the pan, then very quickly pan-fried the pork (in 2 batches) on medium high heat until golden brown on both sides, adding more butter and olive oil as needed in between batches.  To serve, place a piece of schnitzel on top of each noodle cake, then top with a piece of sauteed mushroom.

For the third savory bite, I made The Lonely Goat(herd)’s Cheese Puffs, a classic pate a choux pastry baked with Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses, then filled with what I will call “cheater’s goat cheese.”  “What is that?” you may ask.  Well, truth is I hate goat cheese.  Although Laura likes it (she’s the one who brought up the goatherd after all), Rina isn’t particularly partial to it either.  But we were playing upon the whole “Lonely Goatherd” puppet show scene from the movie, so I kinda faked it by combining some cream and Boursin cheeses, a little Greek yogurt, and fresh chopped scallions and red bell pepper.

The trick to making a light and crispy pate a choux pastry is to thoroughly cook the base (flour, water, butter) until it is very dry and a thin crust forms on bottom of the pot.  This will ensure that the dough will absorb as much egg as possible.  The other is to start off baking the cheese puffs or gougeres at a high temperature, for the first 12-15 mins., then drop the temperature to finish baking for another 15-20 mins., until the puffs are golden brown and mostly hollow in the center.

This is the basic recipe I used for the cheese puffs:

3/4 cup Water

4 Tbsp. Butter (or 2 Tbsp. Butter + 2 Tbsp. Rendered Bacon Fat)

1 tsp. Kosher or Sea Salt

1/2 tsp. Sugar

1 tsp. Dijon Mustard

1 cup All-Purpose Flour

1/4 tsp. Baking Powder

1/8 tsp. Cayenne Pepper

pinch of Nutmeg

3 Eggs + 1 Egg White (reserve the yolk to make egg wash)

1/3 cup Grated Gruyere Cheese

2 tsp. Chopped Fresh Herbs (e.g. Parsley, Thyme, Tarragon, Chives )

Grated Parmesan (for sprinkling of top)

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a medium-sized pot and bring to a boil.  Whisk together the next 4 ingredients and stir into the hot liquid with a wooden spoon.  Stirring constantly, cook the dough until a thin crusty coating develops on the bottom on the pot.  Transfer the hot dough into a mixer and beat in the eggs one at a time on medium speed until fully incorporated.  *You can do this by hand, just takes patience and a lot of elbow grease.  Beat in the remaining ingredients.  Using either two spoons or a piping bag fitted with a plain round tip, drop 1-1/2″ mounds of batter onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (dab the corners with a little batter to glue down the parchment) spaced at least 1-1/2″ apart.  Beat the reserved yolk with a little water to make an egg wash, brush the surface of the pate a choux with it, then sprinkle a little grated Parmesan on top.  Bake in a preheated 425° oven for 12-15 mins. then lower the temperature to 350° and continue baking for another 15-20 mins.   The puffs should be light and crispy on the outside and only slightly moist on the inside.   Cool the puffs to room temperature, then cut in half and fill with whatever creamy cheese filling you fancy (including goat).

The Sweets

Well, it was pretty obvious right from the start what I had to make for dessert—Jam and Bread Pudding Bites!  They practically sing “Jam and Bread” to death in the movie, especially near the end when the Family Von Trapp perform at the Salzburg Music Festival.

To create this version of Jam and Bread, I layered slices of firm white bread, buttered on the underside and coated on top with homemade strawberry jam (hey I got a little crazy at the Farmer’s Market this summer and bought way too many strawberries) into a greased baking dish, soaked the whole thing in a sweet vanilla bean-scented custard overnight and baked it until set.  I glazed the surface with more strawberry jam and cut the pudding into 1-1/2″ squares.

 

“Crisp Apple Strudel” is not as easy to achieve as you might think.  I went on a tour of the famous Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna once, where on an hourly basis visitors were shuttled through the kitchen for an apple strudel making demonstration, after which we were all presented with complimentary slices of the warm pastry.  Sadly, the strudel did not live up to the hype.  It was more soggy than crisp and definitely NOT one of my favorite things.  Maria would have been disappointed.

So I set forth to make a crisp apple strudel worthy of the song.  Instead of traditional strudel dough, I used fillo dough, which is readily available and way easier to handle.  I mean come on, unless you have a whole lot of counter space or a ginormous kitchen table, making strudel dough isn’t something you’d want to tackle.  In keeping with the “small bites” theme of our Sound of Music tribute, I made smaller logs of apple strudel instead of a one large strudel.  I also used a cooked salted caramel apple filling and substituted chopped toasted pecans for the traditional walnut (I hate walnuts…though strangely enough not walnut liqueur, which is divine).  The advantage of this method is that unlike a raw apple filling, the cooked apple filling won’t release that much more moisture so the fillo will stay crisp.  I can bake the strudel at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time since the apples don’t need to cook anymore, resulting in a crisp golden brown pastry.

Crisp Apple Strudel

Yield:  Four Logs (about 32 pieces)

4-5 Medium Crisp Tart Apples (Pink Lady or Granny Smith)

1/2 Stick Butter

2/3 cup Golden Brown Sugar

1/2 tsp. Kosher or Sea Salt

1/2 tsp. Lemon Zest

1/2 Vanilla Bean, split and scraped

1/2 tsp. Ground Cinnamon

1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice

1 Tbsp. Apple Schnapps or Brandy

1 Tbsp. Water

1 Tbsp. Cornstarch

1/2 package Fillo Dough (thawed in the refrigerator)

1 stick Melted Butter

1/2 cup Granulated Sugar mixed with 1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon

1/2 cup Chopped Toasted Pecans

Peel, core, and cut the apples into 1/2″ pieces.  In a large heavy skillet or saute pan on medium high heat, melt the butter until it is just slightly browned, then add the brown sugar.  Cook the sugar until it is completely melted and bubbly, stirring constantly to incorporate it with the butter.  Add the apples, salt, lemon zest, vanilla bean, and cinnamon.  Cook the apples until just tender.  Whisk together the lemon juice, apple schnapps, water, and cornstarch, then stir that into the hot apples.  Cook the filling for another minute to thicken the mixture.  Transfer the filling into a shallow bowl to cool to room temperature.

To assemble the strudels, first make sure that you’ve got all of the components laid out.  You won’t need the entire package of fillo but it is easier to just wrap and unfurl the whole thing and keep it covered under a dishtowel to keep the fillo from drying out.  Lay out a sheet of parchment paper to work on (keeps the fillo from sticking to the work surface).  Carefully lay out one sheet of fillo (always keep the rest cover!) on the parchment and brush the entire surface lightly with melted butter, then sprinkle liberally with cinnamon sugar (I put mine in a little shaker).  Lay another sheet of fillo on top of the first one and repeat the process.  Cut the layered fillo in half, then carefully stack one half on top of the other, then rotate the entire stack 90°.  Spoon a 1″ wide strip of apple filling about 1″ from the bottom edge of the fillo, then sprinkle some chopped pecans on top of the apple filling and tuck in the side edges of the fillo.  Carefully roll the fillo away from you to form a log.  Brush the log with melted butter and sprinkle on more cinnamon sugar, then transfer the log onto a lined baking sheet.  You can fit two logs per baking sheets.  *At this point if you want to freeze half of the logs you can simply roll them up in parchment paper, then in plastic wrap and stash them in the freezer.

Bake the logs in a preheated 375° oven for about 20 mins. or until nicely golden brown.  Cool to room temperature, sprinkle with powdered sugar and cut into 6-8 pieces.

 

And lastly, no Sound of Music tribute is complete without Jell-O Jigglers cut into the shapes of the Von Trapp children.  Laura turned a couple of packages of lemon-flavored gelatin, apple juice and fruit leather into this masterpiece.

After gorging ourselves on this “petite” buffet, we parked our respective butts on Laura’s sectional (lord knows we couldn’t do much else) and took a musical tour of Salzburg.

Next stop…New England.

Small Dice Challenge: Shrimp Curry and Lassi

There have been three influences in my life that encourage me to try to cook more creatively (or at all).  My mother, the original role model, could take yesterday’s leftovers and create an entirely different meal from it.  My husband, my muse (and really the pickiest person I know), sees a Chopped-stocked refrigerator when looking for something to eat, while I see a need to run to the grocery store (or order takeout).  Finally, the talented Mimi, who reminds me that I need to be a better shopper, keeps key ingredients always stocked in her kitchen for future cravings.  These are all qualities that I do not possess but am determined to learn, at the very minimum, in order to expose my children to a variety of meals.

Now I should mention that in order to make a meal more interesting (and I don’t end up with fruit salad every night), I have my daughter pick from four different areas of the kitchen i.e. the pantry, fridge, freezer, etc. This allows for more variety.  This week, she chose the following:

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Frozen Shrimpmeat

Blueberries

Lemon juice

Rice

As soon as my daughter selected shrimp and rice, I already knew I would make shrimp curry.  It’s pretty easy and delicious (and I’ve made it before).  I, first, marinated the shrimp in lemon juice. Let me stop for a minute and tell you about my love affair with lemon.  Since being pregnant with my son, I have had the biggest cravings for anything lemon.  I am obsessed.  I want it in everything, and I don’t care if you like it or not, it is a delightful ingredient.  Okay, where were we…So, while the shrimp was marinating in God’s juice, I cooked the rice.  Rice is one of those things one should learn to cook, whether you’re a good cook or not.  When I first got married, my husband taught me how to make rice.  It’s easy and you don’t have to stand over it all day.  Learn it.  One cup of rice, two cups of water, salt, pepper, curry. Done.  I could’ve chopped up some carrots to go in it, but didn’t feel like it.  Back to the shrimp.  Another trick I have picked up is to let your pan and oil get hot before throwing your meat on it.  I am embarassed to say, I just learned that this year, but I am a ditz in the kitchen, sometimes, if I haven’t brought that point home yet.  Anyways this process provides a far superior taste and texture rather than just warming up your meat.  I let the shrimp sizzle for a bit until it smelled delicious and looked a little sunburned. I didn’t have any coconut milk, which is something my husband usually puts in his curry, so I just used coconut oil to cook and added some milk.  I like my rice pretty moist, so I made the shrimp and milk a little saucy to pour over the rice in the end, but it’s really about preference.

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While the shrimp was cooking, I decided what to do with the blueberries.  To keep with the Indian food theme, I made lassi.  Lassi is basically a smoothie with salt.  I used organic whole milk yogurt, blueberries, some water, and a couple of dashes of salt and blended it.  You can boil some water and put sugar in it to add to the smoothie, but I thought the blueberries would give it enough sweetness.  Everything was done from start to finish in about 40 minutes, but my distractions seen below added time, so others can do it in less time if you have help with the kids or no kids at all.

Helping with homework, feeding a baby, and cooking: A new Chopped challenge
Helping with homework, feeding a baby, and cooking: A new Chopped challenge

In the end, I think I got 4 stars.  About the curry, my daughter said, “What I like about it is the flavor and the shrimp and the rice.”

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And I guess Lassi is an acquired taste because she pointed out, “It doesn’t have too much flavor…” One minute later, “Oh now I like it, sometimes I have to wait until I like it.”  

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Well I’m glad my judge got it together…

 

 

Southern Fried, Part Deux

Thoughts of our sinfully delicious Steel Magnolia-themed dinner were still hovering in the recesses of my subconscious.  I was not done frying yet!  As I scrolled down the usual Facebook news feed, nursing my first cup of coffee on an empty stomach, my eyes naturally gravitated towards an article about how the fried chicken and donuts at Federal Donuts in Philadelphia have been generating so much buzz in the foodie world that it’s giving the comfort food staple of chicken and waffles a run for its money. Now most people would just hit up Yelp and try to find a local place that serves their clone version of this trendsetting dish.  However, being the culinary geek that I am, I headed straight for my freezer and pulled out some donut dough to thaw.  “What?!? Who the hell keeps donut dough in the freezer?” you may ask.  I am not ashamed to admit (to quote a chef friend of mine) that I’m a card-carrying “Dough Ho.”  My freezer is stocked with all kinds of carbs and gluten-laden products (e.g. pizza dough, donut dough, pie dough, and for a time croissant dough) because I never know when inspiration will hit me, though it’s safe to say it’s usually when I’m surfing the internet or watching the Cooking Channel on an empty stomach.

Now I know Federal only makes cake donuts to go with their impossibly crispy fried chicken, but I like raised donuts…besides I’m impatient and didn’t feel like making a whole other batch of cake donuts from scratch when I had some handy-dandy yeast dough in the freezer.  The dough recipe is a very basic one out of Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book, which I then tweaked for my own purposes.  It’s a nice soft dough and very easy to handle.  On a side note, while I love using my 6 qt. Kitchen Aid  stand mixer for most things, I prefer using my Cuisinart food processor (fitted with a dough blade) when I want to make a quick yeast dough.  It’s faster, cleaner, and more efficient.

Raised Donut Dough (adapted from The Breakfast Book)

Yield:  3 dozen sliders (or 2 dozen regular donut rings)

1/3 cup Warm Whole Milk

1 package or 2 1/4 tsp. Dry Active Yeast

1 cup Water

1/2 stick Butter

1/2 cup Sugar

2 Large Eggs

1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

4 cups All-Purpose Flour

1-3/4 tsp. Salt

1/2 tsp. Ground Nutmeg

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and allow it to dissolve (about 5 mins).  Meanwhile, heat the water until it’s just about to boil, then remove from the heat and stir in the butter and sugar.  Allow mixture to cool to room temperature before whisking in eggs, vanilla, and the dissolved yeast.  Whisk together the remaining dry ingredients.  In a mixer fitted with a dough hook or in a food processor fitted with a plastic dough blade, mix together the wet ingredients with about half of the flour until incorporated. Then, mix in the remaining flour until you’ve got a smooth, elastic dough.  *If using a food processor, pulse the dough at 5 second intervals.  If you have neither a stand mixer or food processor at your disposal, don’t worry.  You can mix the dough by hand.  In a large mixing bowl, just stir together the wet ingredients with about half of the dry until fully incorporated, then mix in the remaining flour until you have a manageable dough.  Finish the dough by kneading it on a floured surface until it becomes smooth and elastic.  Turn the dough out into a large greased bowl (big enough to allow the dough to double in size).  Spray the surface of the dough with a little non-stick cooking spray, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough proof in a warm, draft-free space until double in bulk (about 1 to 1-1/2 hrs.)  At this point, you can either roll and cut out all the dough, or split the dough in half and freeze part of it for later use.  Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about 1/2″ thick, then cut into your desired size and shape (I did both rings and sliders).  Transfer the cut pieces onto a greased, parchment-lined sheet pan and allow them to proof to double their size.

Heat the frying oil to 365F and carefully lower three to four pieces (depending on size) of dough into the oil at a time. As with the fried chicken, fry in batches and don’t overcrowd the pan!  I like to use two long chopsticks to flip the donuts halfway through the frying.  Drain the golden brown donuts on a wire rack.  If you’re going to toss them in a granulated sugar mixture (e.g. cinnamon sugar), do it while the donuts are still warm.  If you want to glaze them, allow the donuts to cool completely before glazing, otherwise the glaze will just run off the donuts (SO not pretty).  Speaking of donut glaze,  this time I made a Maple Bourbon Glaze (emphasis on the bourbon) to compliment the fried chicken.  It’s a pretty killer combo of maple syrup, maple and vanilla extracts, rendered bacon fat (yeah, I keep a jar of that in my fridge, too), powdered sugar and….Bulleit Bourbon!

Maple Bourbon Glaze

2-1/2 cups Powdered Sugar

3 Tbsp. Rendered Bacon Fat (melted)

2 Tbsp. Maple Syrup

2 tsp. Maple Extract

1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

1/4 tsp. Kosher or Sea Salt

1/4 cup Bourbon (preferably Bulleit)

Whisk together the ingredients until smooth.

Since I’ve already provided the recipe for fried chicken in the previous post, I won’t repeat myself.  The only thing I did differently this time around is use boneless, skinless chicken thighs and cut them into small slider-friendly size pieces before coating and frying.

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Okay, now I think I’ve satisfed (for the time being) my urge to fry and am ready to move on to something else.  Where to next week???  Hmmm….we’re feeling nostalgic.  There’s music in the air…sweeping up the crisp Austrian Alps.  Edelweiss anyone?

Small Dice Challenge: Quick Chicken Spaghetti Dinner

I am far from being a great cook.  Though I’m surrounded by plenty of cooks and chefs  among my friends and family, including Puddingyrl.  I do not have the patience to cook or bake, but this summer I spent a lot of time watching reruns of Chopped with my daughter.  I like the idea of not following a recipe and putting ingredients together to see how they go.  Of course, on the show, they’re seasoned chefs, and I’m just trying to feed my family.  One night after watching Chopped, my daughter had the idea to pick out four ingredients for me to create something like in the show.  I wanted to challenge myself, however, and came up with something that was edible and good for my kid. The first night was a success, so now every Thursday after Jazz class, my daughter chooses her ingredients, and I whip up an easy meal that pretty much anyone could make (no, really, anyone). Most recently, she chose corn, angel hair pasta, apples, and ranch dressing. I had chicken that needed to be cooked, so I marinated it with the apples and white wine. Then, I browned it in a pan with coconut oil and baked it at 350 degrees in the oven. I cooked the pasta and just added butter, salt, and pepper. I put ranch dressing in the corn and sautéed it.

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Preparation and cooking time was all under 45 min. Not Chopped time, but I’d like to see contestants balance cooking and two hungry kids asking for supper. Final word: 3 stars. My daughter loved everything but the baked apple. She spit it out and said, “WHAT was THAT?!!” Lesson learned.

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Steel Magnolias…or Drink Yer Juice, Shelby

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Steel Magnolias is one of those movies we like to watch over and over again not only for its depiction of southern charm, wit, and eccentricity, but its celebration of family, friendship, big hair and over the top 80’s melodrama (cue M’Lynn’s epic breakdown monologue here). So it comes as no surprise that the news about a certain Louisiana mansion inspired some creative ideas!

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While all three of us here are a cheeky bunch, we have a serious love of good food that never wavers. Mimi, a renowned pastry chef, was determined to create a delicious menu based on the movie’s memorable scenes, unique characters, and Laura and Rina’s childish banter. Here’s Mimi’s take on her Steel Magnolia-inspired culinary concoctions:

First: The Aperitif

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There’s no such thing as a “wrong” time for Mimosa (or “natural beauty” for that matter).  Sure it was dinner, but hey we couldn’t get it together early enough for brunch.  Besides, the whole Steel Magnolias thing started with us talking about cocktails, specifically what Shelby would drink.

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Of course it had to be pink…or pinkish.  I went with an inspired combo of fresh tangerine and ruby grapefruit juices, then added a splash of blood orange juice and raspberry puree to give the cocktail Shelby’s signature pink hue.  Yeah, we did the classy fresh sliced orange garnish (not the big pineapple garnish carved to look like big hair…though a sugar-free candy stick would’ve been hilarious too.)

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Shelby “Drink Yer Juice” Mimosa

8 oz. Fresh Tangerine Juice

8 oz. Fresh Ruby Pink Grapefruit Juice

3 oz. Blood Orange Juice

3 oz. Raspberry Puree

2 tsp. Sugar (or Agave Syrup if you prefer)

1 bot. Champagne or Sparkling Wine (e.g Prosecco or Cava), chilled

Place everything except the booze in a pitcher and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Mix in the chilled bubbly, then pour into champagne flutes or wine glasses.

The Appetizer

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While “Drum’s Revenge” would’ve been funny, I’m just not a bean person myself.  It’s totally a textural thing for me, that papery skin on whole beans…BLECH!  I say lose the beans and add the puff pastry…which brings me to a dish that made me giggle out loud as I was making it–“Two Pigs Fightin’ Under A Blanket,” inspired by the infamous Janice Van Meter and her ungirdled waistline.

The idea is relatively simple and delicious.  Bound a split piece of Cajun Andouille Sausage in puff pastry, brush it with a little cream or egg wash (an egg beaten with a little water), finish with some grated Parmesan cheese, and bake until a lovely golden brown.

You’ll need about 1 package of store-bought puffed pastry (I used Pepperidge Farms), 6 links of Cajun style Andouille Sausage (I used Aidell’s) cut in half horizontally, then again in half lengthwise so you end up with four split sausage pieces per link.  Store-bought puff pastry is already perfectly folded into thirds out of the box, so just cut the pastry into 3 strips.  You’ll need to roll each strip out a little to make them wide enough to wrap around each pair of sausage pieces and tuck into the middle.  You should be able to get about 5 rectangles of dough per strip.

fightin pigs

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To give each pair that added “bound together” look,  I also cut a 1/4″ strip of dough and wrapped it around the middle of the bundle, then flipped the whole thing upside down so that the end pieces were neatly tucked under.

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Brush each bundle with either heavy cream or egg wash, then sprinkle with a little grated Parmesan cheese.  Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 15-18 mins. or until golden brown.

The Main Course

Whether it’s prepared by a “good Christian woman” (as Truvy says of the basket of fried chicken she brings home to tempt her husband Spud) or a Buddhist (okay, I’m a lapsed Buddhist…just kidding), it just ain’t a Southern meal without Fried Chicken and Biscuits.  My secret to a delectably crispy, crunchy crust is (drum roll)….crushed cornflakes…also allowing the battered chicken to rest on a wire rack for about 15-20 min. to help dry out the surface and set the batter.  The chicken tends to not splatter as much as it’s frying.  I soak the chicken pieces in a combination of buttermilk, hot sauce and seasonings for about 12 hrs. to tenderize and flavor the meat.  When you are ready to start the battering/frying process, simply drain off the excess liquid and coat the chicken pieces in the seasoned corn flakes/flour mixture.

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When possible, use a large cast iron skillet to fry.  Unless you have a fancy-pants electric skillet or deep fryer, a cast iron skillet is the best piece of cooking equipment for frying (or just about anything).  Use a thermometer to gauge the temperature.  The oil should be between 350-360F, and for goodness sake, don’t overcrowd the skillet!  That’s a surefire way to drop the oil temperature and you’ll end up with greasy chicken.  Suck it up and don’t be impatient–fry in batches!

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Drain each batch of fried chicken on a wire rack over a sheet pan.  If you’re worried about the chicken not being done enough, pop it in a 350 degree oven for 10 mins. or so to finish cooking it.  Okay, and if you’re really neurotic about it, use a digital thermometer to check the internal temperature of the chicken (should be 160F).

Crispy Fried Chicken

Yield:  10-12 pieces

10-12 Chicken Drumsticks and/or Thighs

4 cups Buttermilk

3 Tbsp. Hot Sauce (Louisiana or Siracha)

2 tsp. Smoked Paprika

2 tsp. Garlic Powder

2 tsp. Onion Powder

2 tsp. Kosher or Sea Salt

Combine all of the above in a large gallon-size Ziploc bag and shake it around a bit to evenly distribute the seasonings and coat chicken.  Place the bag in a large bowl and refrigerate for at least 12 hrs. or overnight.

For the coating, combine the following ingredients in a large shallow dish:

4 cups Corn Flakes, crushed into coarse crumbs

3 cups All-Purpose Flour

2 tsp. Salt

1 Tbsp. Old Bay Seasoning

Shake off the excess buttermilk from the chicken and coat each piece thoroughly in the crumb mixture, then place the coated chicken on a wire rack to dry out for about 15-20 mins.  Heat about 1″ of frying oil (e.g. canola, grapeseed, peanut, etc.) to 360 degrees in a 2″ deep heavy skillet.  Carefully lower each piece of chicken into the oil (preferably with tongs).  The oil temp will drop a little bit, so adjust the flame to keep the temp consistently between 350-360.  Fry each side to a golden brown, then let the pieces drain on a wire rack set over a sheet pan.

Oh…and the biscuits (can’t forgot about the biscuits)

Buttermilk Biscuits

Yield:  12

2 cups All-Purpose Flour

1/4 cup Cake Flour

1 1/2 tsp. Baking Powder

1/2 tsp. Baking Soda

1 1/2 tsp. Kosher or Sea Salt

1 tsp. Sugar

2 tsp. Chopped Fresh Thyme or 1 tsp. Dried Thyme

4 oz. or 1 Stick Very Cold Butter (cut into 1″ cubes)

2/3 cup Cold Heavy Cream

2/3 cup Cold Buttermilk

1 Large Egg

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Using a pastry blender or two forks, cut the cold butter into the dry mix until the butter pieces are no bigger than tiny peas.  Whisk together the wet ingredients and mix into the butter/flour until it forms into a dough.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently roll out into rectangle about 3/4″ thick.  Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut the dough into 12 squares (3×4).  Transfer the squares onto a parchment-lined sheet pan and leaving at least 1 1/2″ space in between each piece.  Brush the surface with heavy cream or cool melted butter.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 15-18 mins. or until biscuits are a light golden brown and spring back when touched.

**Place the sheet of biscuit dough in the freezer for 10-15 mins. before baking if it’s too warm and they feel a little too soft.  It’ll keep the biscuits from spreading and flattening out in the oven.

And For Dessert…

pink is my signature color

Much has been said about Shelby’s obsession with pink, more specifically her wedding colors “Blush” and “Bashful” (still not sure exactly which is which).  Not content to stop my “Shelby Pink Tribute” at simply a cocktail, I decided to double down and make the ultimate “Blush and Bashful Cake” (no “bleedin’ armadillo” for me).

Voila...Blush and Bashful!

The components are as follows:  (Dyed) Pink Chiffon Cake (flavored with vanilla and raspberry extracts), Raspberry Syrup, Raspberry Mousse, Fresh Raspberries, and Raspberry Italian Buttercream (color naturally pink from the raspberry puree). While I could go ahead and list out all the ingredients and steps for all three recipes contained in this one cake (and that would be pain in the ass), I think you get the picture.  Suffice it to say, you can come up with your own “study in pink.”