Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wordless Wednesday


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Daring Baker’s do Puff Pastry and Vols-au-Vents

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

P1010892 Wow, was this month’s challenge ever a “challenge” . Our temps here in Southwest Florida are still in the mid 90’s every single day and if I turn my A/C to more than 80F I end up with an electric bill that is $350+!!! Anyone who has ever worked with puff pastry knows that these are not ideal circumstances for making the dough…But I DID IT!!!! And look how pretty and puffy these turned out!!!

There was a lot of refrigerating going on though and I had butter popping through and melting all over my counter so I was shocked at how nicely these turned out. Unfortunately they took me a whole day to make and then I let them chill over night. After all of that I just ran out of time for making the wonderful lemon mousse that I had planned to fill them with. Whatever, the girls loved them filled with fresh blueberries and drizzled with chocolate. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway???


For this challenge we had to make puff pastry (Michel Richard’s recipe) and form at least part of it into vols-au-vent…

The recipe and directions:

-food processor (will make mixing dough easy, but I imagine this can be done by hand as well)
-rolling pin
-pastry brush
-metal bench scraper (optional, but recommended)
-plastic wrap
-baking sheet
-parchment paper
-silicone baking mat (optional, but recommended)
-set of round cutters (optional, but recommended)
-sharp chef’s knife
-cooling rack

Prep Times:
-about 4-5 hours to prepare the puff pastry dough (much of this time is inactive, while you wait for the dough to chill between turns…it can be stretched out over an even longer period of time if that better suits your schedule)
-about 1.5 hours to shape, chill and bake the vols-au-vent after your puff pastry dough is complete

Refrigerate the assembled vols-au-vent on the lined baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). (You could also cover and refrigerate them for a few hours at this point.)

Once the oven is heated, remove the sheet from the refrigerator and place a silicon baking mat (preferred because of its weight) or another sheet of parchment over top of the shells. This will help them rise evenly. Bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (180ºC), and remove the silicon mat or parchment sheet from the top of the vols-au-vent. If the centers have risen up inside the vols-au-vent, you can gently press them down. Continue baking (with no sheet on top) until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more. (If you are baking the center “caps” they will likely be finished well ahead of the shells, so keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven when browned.)

Remove to a rack to cool. Cool to room temperature for cold fillings or to warm for hot fillings.

Fill and serve.

*For additional rise on the larger-sized vols-au-vents, you can stack one or two additional ring layers on top of each other (using egg wash to "glue"). This will give higher sides to larger vols-au-vents, but is not advisable for the smaller ones, whose bases may not be large enough to support the extra weight.

*Although they are at their best filled and eaten soon after baking, baked vols-au-vent shells can be stored airtight for a day.

*Shaped, unbaked vols-au-vent can be wrapped and frozen for up to a month (bake from frozen, egg-washing them first).

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough

From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

Steph’s note: This recipe makes more than you will need for the quantity of vols-au-vent stated above. While I encourage you to make the full recipe of puff pastry, as extra dough freezes well, you can halve it successfully if you’d rather not have much leftover.

There is a wonderful on-line video from the PBS show “Baking with Julia” that accompanies the book. In it, Michel Richard and Julia Child demonstrate making puff pastry dough (although they go on to use it in other applications). They do seem to give slightly different ingredient measurements verbally than the ones in the book…I listed the recipe as it appears printed in the book.

2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter

plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Mixing the Dough:

Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that's about 1" thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:

Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10" square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with "ears," or flaps.

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don't just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8" square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:

Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24" (don't worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24", everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24" and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:

If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you've completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

Steph’s extra tips:

-While this is not included in the original recipe we are using (and I did not do this in my own trials), many puff pastry recipes use a teaspoon or two of white vinegar or lemon juice, added to the ice water, in the détrempe dough. This adds acidity, which relaxes the gluten in the dough by breaking down the proteins, making rolling easier. You are welcome to try this if you wish.

-Keep things cool by using the refrigerator as your friend! If you see any butter starting to leak through the dough during the turning process, rub a little flour on the exposed dough and chill straight away. Although you should certainly chill the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns, if you feel the dough getting to soft or hard to work with at any point, pop in the fridge for a rest.

-Not to sound contradictory, but if you chill your paton longer than the recommended time between turns, the butter can firm up too much. If this seems to be the case, I advise letting it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to give it a chance to soften before proceeding to roll. You don't want the hard butter to separate into chuncks or break through the want it to roll evenly, in a continuous layer.

-Roll the puff pastry gently but firmly, and don’t roll your pin over the edges, which will prevent them from rising properly. Don't roll your puff thinner than about about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick, or you will not get the rise you are looking for.

-Try to keep “neat” edges and corners during the rolling and turning process, so the layers are properly aligned. Give the edges of the paton a scooch with your rolling pin or a bench scraper to keep straight edges and 90-degree corners.

-Brush off excess flour before turning dough and after rolling.

-Make clean cuts. Don’t drag your knife through the puff or twist your cutters too much, which can inhibit rise.

-When egg washing puff pastry, try not to let extra egg wash drip down the cut edges, which can also inhibit rise.

-Extra puff pastry dough freezes beautifully. It’s best to roll it into a sheet about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick (similar to store-bought puff) and freeze firm on a lined baking sheet. Then you can easily wrap the sheet in plastic, then foil (and if you have a sealable plastic bag big enough, place the wrapped dough inside) and return to the freezer for up to a few months. Defrost in the refrigerator when ready to use.

-You can also freeze well-wrapped, unbaked cut and shaped puff pastry (i.e., unbaked vols-au-vent shells). Bake from frozen, without thawing first.

-Homemade puff pastry is precious stuff, so save any clean scraps. Stack or overlap them, rather than balling them up, to help keep the integrity of the layers. Then give them a singe “turn” and gently re-roll. Scrap puff can be used for applications where a super-high rise is not necessary (such as palmiers, cheese straws, napoleons, or even the bottom bases for your vols-au-vent).

Forming and Baking the Vols-au-Vent

Yield: 1/3 of the puff pastry recipe below will yield about 8-10 1.5” vols-au-vent or 4 4” vols-au-vent

In addition to the equipment listed above, you will need:
-well-chilled puff pastry dough (recipe below)
-egg wash (1 egg or yolk beaten with a small amount of water)
-your filling of choice

Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Using a knife or metal bench scraper, divided your chilled puff pastry dough into three equal pieces. Work with one piece of the dough, and leave the rest wrapped and chilled. (If you are looking to make more vols-au-vent than the yield stated above, you can roll and cut the remaining two pieces of dough as well…if not, then leave refrigerated for the time being or prepare it for longer-term freezer storage. See the “Tips” section below for more storage info.)

On a lightly floured surface, roll the piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick. Transfer it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting.

(This assumes you will be using round cutters, but if you do not have them, it is possible to cut square vols-au-vents using a sharp chef’s knife.) For smaller, hors d'oeuvre sized vols-au-vent, use a 1.5” round cutter to cut out 8-10 circles. For larger sized vols-au-vent, fit for a main course or dessert, use a 4” cutter to cut out about 4 circles. Make clean, sharp cuts and try not to twist your cutters back and forth or drag your knife through the dough. Half of these rounds will be for the bases, and the other half will be for the sides. (Save any scrap by stacking—not wadding up—the pieces…they can be re-rolled and used if you need extra dough. If you do need to re-roll scrap to get enough disks, be sure to use any rounds cut from it for the bases, not the ring-shaped sides.)

Using a ¾-inch cutter for small vols-au-vent, or a 2- to 2.5-inch round cutter for large, cut centers from half of the rounds to make rings. These rings will become the sides of the vols-au-vent, while the solid disks will be the bottoms. You can either save the center cut-outs to bake off as little “caps” for you vols-au-vent, or put them in the scrap pile.

Dock the solid bottom rounds with a fork (prick them lightly, making sure not to go all the way through the pastry) and lightly brush them with egg wash. Place the rings directly on top of the bottom rounds and very lightly press them to adhere. Brush the top rings lightly with egg wash, trying not to drip any down the sides (which may inhibit rise). If you are using the little “caps,” dock and egg wash them as well.

As Always…

Happy Entertaining!!!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Salsa Chicken Enchiladas

Quite possibly this is to be one of the laziest posts I’ve even written.  Why?  Because it is my lazy end of the week go to meal.  I got the recipe from my friend Lynn and have been making them regularly since!!!  This is a great recipe to use to feed a crowd and Lynn has used it to feed many over the years…


Salsa Chicken


I jar of good quality salsa (or just you favorite!)
chicken (4 breast or 8 thighs-boneless skinless)


Throw chicken and salsa into a crockpot on low and cook for 4-8 hrs depending on whether or not you had the foresight to thaw your chicken (yes, I throw frozen chicken in here).

Once the chicken is done.  You need to remove it from the crockpot and the sauce and shred it.  This chicken can now be used in tacos, nachos, or anything else that requires some nicely seasoned chicken!

We use it in enchiladas…


Salsa Chicken Enchiladas


corn tortillas
salsa chicken (see recipe above)
shredded cheese
onions, finely diced
enchilada sauce
jalapenos, finely diced


Heat oven to 350F.

Using Elise from Simply Recipe’s process of heating the tortillas - “Heat a small light skillet on med-high heat. Add a teaspoon of oil (high smoke point oil as indicated above, we use grapeseed oil) to coat the pan. Dip a tortilla in the sauce (I used the sauce from the crockpot that I cooked the chicken in) to coat the tortilla with sauce on both sides. Place the tortilla in the skillet and heat for a few seconds, until the tortilla begin to show some air bubbles. Use a metal spatula to flip to the other side for a few more seconds. Set aside on a plate. Repeat with remaining tortillas.”

Using these tortillas place some shredded cheese, onion and shredded chicken in them and roll.  Place seam side down in a baking pan large enough to hold the amount you are making.  When the pan is filled top with enchilada sauce, onions, cheese and jalapenos.

Pop these in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes or until nicely browned and the cheese is all bubbly.

As Always…

Happy Entertaining!!!


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Black Bean and Goat Cheese Quesadillas

My goal each and every day is to feed my family a healthy lunch and dinner.  Oh how I have been lax at meeting that daily goal!  Turning a new page and starting off on the right foot and all here is my attempt to get it all back together.  The meals that I cook have to either be crock pot, slow cooked or else pre cooked that we can heat up after, between or before whatever extra curricular event we have happening on that night.  I don’t use packaged or prepared foods at all so everything that I do is from scratch, just to make it more challenging huh?

Between karate 2 days, skating 2 or 3 days and BMX 2 or 3 days you can just imagine that it is a little hectic around here.  One thing though that we ALWAYS make sure that we do it to eat together.  There is none of this grabbing and eating on your own here.  We sit down to a family meal each and every single night.  Is it easy?  No way, but we do it.

One of my big problems though is that we get pretty bored with all of the fast things that I can make and it has been way too hot for a slow cooked or crock pot meal.  So this is what I came up with yesterday and it is going to be added into the rotation.

P1010878Black Bean and Goat Cheese Quesadillas

I was able to make the black bean mixture, cut up all of the cilantro, jalapenos and crumble the goat cheese ahead of time.  When we got home I heated the bean mixture and got the griddle going.  These were assembled, cooked and on the table in 10 minutes.  I served sautéed zucchini along side and it was really the perfect meal!


Black Bean and Goat Cheese Quesadilla (inspired by Fine Cooking)

2 Tbs. olive oil
1 lg yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
24-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 jalapeno, chopped
4 oz. fresh goat cheese, crumbled
6 flour tortillas, Burrito size (we used 2 whole ones for T and I and 1 each for the girls)

In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until hot. Add the onion and garlic and sauté, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the beans, cumin, chili powder, oregano and 1/2 cup water and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost all the water has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Take the pan off the heat. With the back of a fork, break up the beans to make a chunky mash. Stir in half of the cilantro and season with salt and pepper.

Spread the black bean mixture over the tortilla and crumble the goat cheese, sprinkle with jalapeno and some cilantro top with another tortilla.  Cook on a heated and oiled griddle until nice and golden brown.  Repeat with the remaining ingredients and slice up and serve.

**We served these with chopped up avocado, salsa and sour cream.  This was a delicious and quick week night meal!

This would also be a great idea for an appetizer for your next party or pot luck.  Cut into smaller wedges these would be perfect!

As Always…

Happy Entertaining!!!


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Big and Bold Blueberry Muffins

I made the best muffins I have ever made the other day.  This is another recipe that I have been meaning to try and just never got around to it.  Silly me. 


This recipe was pointed out to me by Kelly of Sass & Veracity.  She had  posted these muffins and told me they were the best.  If you haven’t been to her blog you really need to check it out.  Kelly is an amazing cook and baker but my favorite thing about her recipes is that she always adds notes on the end.  These are almost like her own personal notes that she has written along the side of the recipe in  the magazine or the cookbook.  Sometimes they are things she would do different the next time or reasons why she did what she did this time.  I have cooked many of her recipes and have never had a “fail”.

I can’t wait to make these again and again.  The possibilities are endless.  You can use just about any flavor combo that you can imagine with these.  When making these muffins Joanne Chang advises that if you want to add fruit or chocolate to the master recipe, do so in 1-1/2 cup quantities and if you are altering flavorings such as citrus zest, or spice, then 2 tsp. of zest is recommended, and/or 3/4 tsp. spice.  Also these are really easy.  You don’t need a mixer and only 2 bowls being dirtied.  Love that…


Joanne Chang's Master Muffin Recipe
Makes 12 big top muffins

3-1/2 c. all purpose flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/3 c. sugar 
10 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 c. whole milk at room temp
1 c. sour cream at room temp
2 lg. eggs at room temp
1 lg. egg yolk at room temp
1 1/2 c. of blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl and set aside.  In another bowl, combine sugar, melted butter, milk, sour cream, and eggs.  Add this wet mixture to the dry mixture and mix gently until nearly all the dry ingredients are moist and the batter is still lumpy.

Gently mix the additional ingredients into the batter being careful not to over mix.  Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin with paper cups, and spray over the top of the muffin pan lightly.  Divide the batter evenly among the 12 cups, mounding it.  Bake in the center of the oven about 30 to 35 minutes or until tops are golden brown and centers set.

Cool muffins in the pan placed on a baking rack for about 20 minutes before removing them to a platter.

As Always…

Happy Entertaining!


Friday, September 4, 2009

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

A couple of months ago my sister (I miss you and can’t wait to see you!!!) emailed me a recipe that she had had at a dinner party.  She went on and on about this salad.  Saying it was her new favorite salad and how I HAD to make it right then.  Well, me being me, a couple of months passed and I finally got around to making it.  Guess what?  It was good!  Really, really good!

I did have to change it around and add some different things to it but essentially it is the same.

I will be making this one again and again!!!


Mediterranean Orzo Salad adapted from the July 09 print issue of House & Home (my changes in italics)


1 lb. orzo pasta
1 small zucchini, cubed ( I threw it in the pasta water to cook in the last 2 minutes of cooking the orzo)
1/2 of a red pepper, chopped
1 cup black olives, pick your favorite, coarsely chopped
8 oil-packed sundried tomatoes, finely chopped 
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (I used about 1/4 cup more for flavor)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (you could use white)
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
5 oz. goat cheese, crumbled (I used feta because that’s what I had)
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil


1. Cook orzo in a large pot of boiling salted water for about 7 minutes or until just tender.  Drain and rinse with cold water until completely cooled.  Drain again.

2. Combine lives, sundried tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, slat and pepper in a large bowl.  Add cooked orzo and stir well.  Stir in goat cheese and basil just before serving.

As Always…

Happy Entertaining!!!


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Chocolate and Key Lime Cupcakes

I’ve been having a bit of a block lately.  I can’t write.  I’m still cooking and baking but nothing seems to be inspiring me to write (or “right” about it. LOL!!!). 

I keep putting it down to the season.  I know it sounds weird to all of you northerners but here in Southwest Florida in the months of August and September we are a virtual dead zone of fresh produce!  It is just too stinking hot outside for anything to grow let alone thrive…I will be planting my garden this month so hopefully that will help give me a badly needed boost!  Until then I offer you some delicious chocolate and key lime cupcakes…


Chocolate and Key Lime Cupcakes


1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. baking cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. water
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1 Tbs. white vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla

1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1/3 c. sugar
1 egg
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 cup of fresh squeezed key lime juice
zest of one key lime


In a bowl, beat cream cheese. Add key lime juice, zest, sugar, egg, salt. Mix well. Set aside.

For cupcakes, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Mix well. Fill paper-lined muffin cups half full with batter. Top each with 2 Tbs. of cream cheese mixture and then top with more chocolate batter to cover the cream cheese.

Bake at 350º for 25-30 minutes. Cool 10 minutes and remove from pan. This makes 12


These were truly delicious.  I tossed around whether it should be a white cupcake or chocolate but my helpers decided it HAD to be chocolate.  Glad I listened to them.  Some of them caved in but that’s because I was a little over zealous in my filling!!!