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Monday
Apr212014

RECIPE: CROQUE MONSIEUR FOR TWO OR A CROWD

Have leftover ham after the holiday? Try a deliciously toasty French classic, the Croque Monsieur. Simply said, it is a toasted ham and cheese with Béchamel sauce on the top which is broiled until golden brown. This glamorous sandwich is fantastic party food because you can make a ton of them at one time using a sheet pan or you can slice a loaf lengthwise and make one large sandwich, slicing into wedges to serve. Chez fan-tas-tique!

Classic Croque Monsieur Sandwiches are great for holiday leftovers. They are also party friendly; just use whole loaves and slice!

INGREDIENTS

For 2; simply multiply if you want to make for a crowd

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
4 slices bread- if using sandwich bread, cut the crusts off. I like loaf bread sliced 1 1/2” thick
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ cup milk
½ cup grated cheese I like Gruyere and Parmesan but use whatever I have
A pinch nutmeg plus ¼ teaspoon Kosher salt, and a dash white pepper
2 tablespoons Dijon
2-3 slices of leftover ham, sliced medium thickness

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat the broiler of your oven or toaster oven with the rack in the center. Line a baking sheet with foil. Sit out the milk before using it so it is not super cold.

Put the butter in a pan over a medium-low heat. Using a pastry brush, brush one side of each slice of bread with a bit of melted butter and put under the broiler until golden brown. Set aside.

Next, over medium-low heat, stir the flour into the remaining butter to make a paste. Cook and stir for one minute, then gradually whisk in the milk, a little at a time, until smooth. Simmer, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon. You know it is ready when you can draw a line down the back of the spoon with your finger and it stays separated. Remove from the heat. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper; check seasoning.

Spread the untoasted sides of the bread with Dijon, then put the ham on top, followed by the half the cheese. Broil for 3-4 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and melted.

Top with the other slice of bread. Press down; I use a large spatula for this. Put the sandwiches on to the baking sheet you prepared and top with Béchamel sauce, allowing some to drip over the sides of the bread. Top each with the remaining cheese. Broil for about 5 minutes or until golden and bubbling, and serve immediately.

Sunday
Apr202014

RECIPE: LEMON RICOTTA POUND CAKE

Living out in the sticks or always being on the road in someone else's kitchen, you would think I'd make sure I had everything I needed BEFORE I started cooking. I'm not sure how many times I need to learn that lesson... BUT if you watched me on Food Network Star, you know I am usually able to come up with something pretty good, even if I originally started out with plans to make a completely different dish. That's what happened yesterday. I planned to make my Mom's pound cake for Easter but as I was already in the middle of creaming the butter, I discovered the cream cheese was waaay past the expiration date. I did however, have some perfectly good ricotta cheese in the fridge so I ended up with a Lemon Ricotta Pound Cake. It was so light, so moist yet a bit fluffy and very good. It was so good, I've already gotten a request for the recipe so I thought I'd share it with all of you, too. This will never replace my Mom's pound cake but I gotta tell you, it is the perfect shower, party or afternoon tea cake. Put it on your list to try!

My Lemon Ricotta Pound Cake is a fluffy, light variation on my Mom's original pound cake recipe. An accident turned delicious!

LEMON RICOTTA POUND CAKE

Cook Time: 1 hour 20 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out clean

INGREDIENTS

3 sticks butter, room temperature

1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese, room temperature

3 cups granulated sugar

2 teaspoons lemon zest

juice of one lemon (about 1/4 cup)

4 whole eggs, room temperature

2 egg whites, room temperature

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 tsp lemon extract

1/8 tsp salt

LEMON GLAZE

Juice of 1 lemon

1 1/2 cups Confectioners' sugar (plus more if desired)

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat oven to 300. Prep two 9 x 5 loaf pans. Grease and flour or spray all sides with Baker's Joy.

In the bowl of your mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy. Add the ricotta and beat until combined. Then add the sugar, a little at a time. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Next, add the lemon zest and the eggs, one at a time, beating until they are combined. Add the egg whites and beat until they are just incorporated. Turn the speed on the mixer down. Add the lemon juice. Combine the salt and the flour; adding a little at a time to the mixer until it is blended. Add the vanilla and lemon extracts.

Pour into the prepared pans. Place on a baking sheet and place on center rack of your oven. Bake for 1 hour 20 to 1 hour 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan and then turn out onto a wire cooling rack to allow it to cool until just slightly warm before icing.

For the glaze, combine the lemon juice and Confectioners' sugar and whisk; the glaze should be thick and creamy and not too stiff. You should be able to pour it. Add more lemon juice or sugar as necessary to achieve the pourable consistency.

Using a toothpick, poke a few holes into the top of the cake. Pour onto the top of the cake and spread. Allow to cool. Add a second layer if you want a thick glaze.

Serve with berries, whipped cream or any of your favorites.

WANT THE ORIGINAL RECIPE FOR MY MOM'S POUND CAKE? HERE YOU GO....

Monday
Apr142014

HOW TO COOK THE PERFECT HARD-BOILED EGG FOR DEVILED EGGS

HOW TO MAKE THE BEST HARD-BOILED EGG FOR DEVILED EGGS AND HOW TO COOK THEM SO THEY PEEL EASILY: TIPS FROM FOOD NETWORK, ALTON BROWN, JACQUES PEPIN AND MORE...

Easter is the unofficial kick-off of deviled egg season because after Easter come picnics, outings at the lake and all of those backyard BBQ’s where deviled eggs always make an appearance on the menu. Here’s my question… are all hard-boiled eggs created equal?  

I’ve seen lots of posts on social media in the past days discussing how to make a perfect hard-boiled egg. None of them are the same. Most are similar but they all have their own twist or timing.

I’ve been cooking hard-boiled eggs the same way for so many years and always thought my way was the only way. Today, I decided to do a hard-boiled egg study from some of the more prominent offerings on the Internet to see which hard-boiled egg is the best egg for those yummy deviled eggs we cannot wait to eat on Easter Sunday.

I compared hard-boiled egg cooking instructions from Julia Child, Alton Brown, Food Network, the Deen family, and the old school method of adding vinegar to the water to my own tried and true hard-boiled egg method. I also watched videos from Jacques Pepin and Food & Wine. The test was based on three criteria: texture of white, texture of yolk and ease of peeling. DISCLAIMER: This was not a blind taste test as I was the only person in the kitchen.

HERE'S WHAT I FOUND OUT: TIPS FOR COOKING THE PERFECT HARD-BOILED EGG

  • Farm eggs are harder to peel after boiling. Save your farm eggs for baking or ice cream. Fresh eggs from the store have thinner membranes which do peel easier so hard-boil super fresh eggs.
  • Do not cram too many eggs into a pot. You want to cover the eggs with one inch of water and leave room in the pot so you can stir the eggs around as they cook.
  • Stirring the eggs occasionally during the cooking process helps yolks stay centered and the whites have two sides which are equally thick; better for stuffing and not lopsided.
  • Use room temperature eggs and water or cold water and cold eggs. The result is about the same but eggs will crack more often if you add cold eggs to hot water.
  • You can peel the eggs easier if you run them under cool water or put them in an ice bath for 2-3 minutes only. Alton suggests 5 minutes in the ice bath but those were slightly harder to peel. I prefer to quickly rinse in cool water just until you can handle them. Crack and put back in the water; peel quickly by popping the large end with the air pocket on the counter-it seems to make the peel come off in larger pieces.
  • Some people suggest rolling the egg on the counter using the palm of your hand to crack the peel but I found all of those little pieces harder to peel. I used to do this but now prefer the "pop the air pocket" method.
  • Adding salt, vinegar or baking soda in the water does not make the peeling process easier and when you boil the eggs with vinegar, the whole house stinks.
  • The egg whites will become tough and rubbery if you cook more than the recommended time- you will not want to eat rubbery eggs ever again once you’ve had a properly cooked egg.
  • The ucky green ring around the outside is truly caused by overcooking and no other reason. The longer you cook the egg, the darker that outer ring becomes. Watch the Jacques Pepin video- he talks about this.
  • A soft or medium boiled egg yolk does not work as well for deviled eggs. The yolk was a little gummy when mixed with mayonnaise, etc. for the filling. However, the medium boiled egg (Alton Brown’s egg) was very delicious with just salt and pepper.

THE RESULTS

The Food Network method for hard-boiled eggs seemed to work the best because they peeled easier and had a better texture than the other versions but only slightly better than my own method. The instructions did not say how long to keep the egg in the ice bath so I left it in for 2 minutes. Follow the cooking instructions for the hard-boiled egg if you want to make deviled eggs. Here's the link...

My own cooking method worked just fine… tried and true. It was the runner-up to the Food Network method, but only because their method did peel slightly easier. Here's what I do:

Start with cold eggs; add cold water to the pot, covering eggs by one inch. Stirring the water occasionally, bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Boil on low for one minute. Remove from the heat and let the eggs stand for 14 minutes, stirring from time to time. Immediately rinse in cold water until the eggs are just cool enough to handle. Pop each one- the larger side where the air pocket is- on the counter and put back in the water, working quickly to peel the eggs while they are still warm. Here's my deviled egg recipe. You'll love it.

Alton Brown’s method for hard-boiled eggs resulted in a medium/slightly undercooked yolk which tasted good but were not great for making deviled eggs. I could not find a link online but here's what Alton said about hard-boiled eggs on Twitter...

THIS JUST IN: ALTON BROWN'S GONE CRAY-CRAY. His words, not mine. Just hours after I posted this comparison, my former mentor as upped the ante and posted a game-changer... he's now suggesting that baking the eggs in the oven is more reliable and easier than "the harsh enviornment of a pot of boiling water" - SO I had to test that for myself. I found the technique to be more difficult as I had two escapee eggs jump off the towel and onto my floor. However, the result is equally delicious as his boiled version above but again, a little underdone for my preference for hard-boiled eggs for stuffing. Maybe they should cook just a little longer. Here's his new video with the baked version:

The method described by Jamie Deenin his video had the worst result. They tasted fine but were harder to peel and egg white came away with the peel creating big “potholes” in the egg white; pretty unattractive for deviled eggs. So many people looked at the video today that they crashed the site. I'll add a link for you to see it later but basically Jamie said to bring the room temperature eggs to a boil in salted water. Remove from the heat and add a lid and wait 13 minutes. Put in an ice bath. Here's a link to Paula's site with their own test kitchen results. Read more... Paula's method is the same as Jamie's but she lets the eggs sit for 20 minutes which I found way too long and produced rubbery egg whites.

The Julia Child hard-boiled egg method took too long compared to the others and didn’t taste better so I scratched it from the test but I do love this video from her former assistant and one of my favorite chefs, the legendary Jacques Pepin. Notice he pricks the egg with a pin before boiling. I did not try that but will just as soon as I get some more eggs.

I did find something completely new when it comes to peeling a hard-boiled egg: using a teaspoon between the membrane skin and the egg as shown in this Food & Wine video from Justin Chapple from their test kitchen. I tried it and found it harder than just peeling it the classic way. Sorry, Justin. What is it with these quirky guys named Justin?

Tomorrow, I’m going to taste test deviled egg recipes from some of my favorite chefs and report back on the results. Stay tuned!

Wednesday
Apr022014

GIRLS NIGHT IN: HOST A DIY CENTERPIECE PARTY!

The nice folks at Seagram's Escapes asked me for some Spring party ideas... here's one I think you'll love!

With Easter just weeks away, I've got a fun (and productive) party idea for your next Girls Night In get-together. Why not host a DIY centerpiece party? Each year, a few weeks before Easter, I get lots of emails and questions about Easter decorations and tablesettings. Here's a party theme that will not only allow you to spend time with your friends, you can go home with a beautiful centerpiece... just in time for your Easter Sunday celebration. It's also a great party plan for that DIY bride or class reunion, too!

 

THE SET UP

This is a very simple party to host. You provides the drinks, the food, and a large workspace with plenty of room. Guests will bring what they need for her own centerpiece plus tools like floral wire, floral sheers, ribbon, etc. You can all share supplies. Ask guests to email a list of what they are bringing- you may need to make a trip to Michael's, Hobby Lobby or a local floral supply store to pick up the basics if you don't have them. If you are planning this party for the week of Easter, you might also set up a station to dye Easter eggs. That way, you can have eggs already dyed for the kids to decorate.

I've been so in love with the purple hues of Spring... inspired by Radiant Orchid, the Pantone color of the year. I used that as the foundation for my color scheme with pretty plates, napkins, straws and flowers in those purple tones to anchor the look. I added a special dessert cocktail in the same color palette to make it really special!

Get annuals or herbs from the garden center in addition to cut flowers. Later you can plant them in the yard and enjoy them all summer long.

In the Spring, I always like to use herbs or flowers from the garden center for my centerpieces... that way, after the party is over, I can plant them in the yard and enjoy them all summer long. I picked up a few bunches of tulips at the store, too. I got a twig wreath and some bird nests at the craft store and found floral foam, wire and twine there also. If you want a rustic look, use Mason jars in several sizes. If you are using metal containers, they tend to leak. To avoid this, fit a small jar or plastic container into the bottom and fill that with water. 

Cover your work space with a plastic backed drop cloth from the home improvement store or use brown craft paper... I used did both to make clean up easy. It is important to use layers of newspaper if you will be dying eggs; they make a mess and the stain is virtually impossible to remove.

Cover your work station with brown craft paper. Twig wreaths, bird nests, and floral supplies can be found craft stores like Michael's and Hobby Lobby.

FOOD & DRINKS

Girls Night is soooo about the cocktails and quality time catching up with friends but since this party is centered around an activity, I wanted to keep the menu very simple and did not want to have to fuss with the bar. Seagram's Escapes were not only the perfect colors for the party, the wide variety of flavors insured there would be something for everyone. Put them on ice and offer some fruit mix-ins; they come in 4-packs or you can find them at Sam's and the big stores in multi-flavor cases; perfect for a party.

Seagram's Escapes are light, fruity fun and the perfect colors for the party theme.

Keep the food simple as well. A cheese board with 3-4 cheeses plus crackers, fruit, honey, jam and other pairings is the perfect way to start the party. It is easy to assemble and there's no cooking required. Make one of your party favorites that is easy to eat standing up or while working. I made Puffy Party Squares because they are easy, fast and inexpensive but also because everyone loves them. Get the recipe... 

And because there has to be something sweet on the menu, I came up with these incredible Very Berry Ice Cream Floats for dessert... again, very simple, no cooking required and completely addictive.

Very Berry Grown Up Ice Cream Floats

Here's the how to:

VERY BERRY ICE CREAM FLOATS

1 small container fresh blackberries or raspberries

1 half gallon container vanilla ice cream

Chambord Liqueur

4 Seagram's Escapes, Black Cherry Fizz flavor, chilled

Chill the glasses in the freezer so they are cold.

Put 3 blackberries or raspberries in the bottom of a glass. Muddle slightly with a wooden spoon to break up the fruit. Add 2-3 scoops of vanilla ice cream. Pour over 1 tablespoon of Chambord liqueur. Fill each glass with the Seagram's Escapes... add a straw and enjoy!

THE ACTIVITY

Making centerpieces and decorating eggs can be as easy or as complex as your time and patience allow. If you look at Pinterest, you can see a million different ideas for every taste and every budget. I'm a big fan of cheap that looks expensive so that's what I was aiming for with my flower arrangement. I also like the idea of repurposing the flowers in the garden or container after the party is over.

My own style is very relaxed and easy so my centerpieces tend to be rustic and take about 6 minutes to create. When making a centerpiece for a dinner table, I want it to be low so guests can see each other across the table. Here's what I came up with using annuals and one bunch of tulips. After Easter is over, I'll plant the annuals in containers to brighten up my deck this summer. 

Use garden center annuals to create a lasting flower arrangement. Carefully remove the annuals from their plastic container, keeping the root ball intact. Put it into a plastic bag and secure with a rubber band. Use one plastic sandwich bag for each plant. Make sure the soil is damp- but not too wet. Arrange the flowers in a platter, basket, wreath or other short container. Add some fresh cut flowers also for a little height. Done!

This could even be a wonderful family get-together with the cousins or a fun annual neighborhood party. The adults can make flower arrangements and the kids can decorate eggs at a craft station set up with stickers, glitter, glue and other supplies.

 

REMEMBER TO ALWAYS DRINK RESPONSIBLY AND TO NEVER DRINK AND DRIVE. 

Visit SEAGRAMSESCAPES.COM to find drink recipes, store locations and more. 

Saturday
Mar292014

EASY & AFFORDABLE FOOD FOR A CROWD: MAKE A SPAGHETTI CAKE

Like most people, I love anything with pasta and Parmesan cheese. Add a skillet to the equation and you have something pretty fantastic. Make this for dinner, as a side dish or anytime you have leftover pasta. Perfect party food: easy, cheap and always a crowd favorite. You’ll love it.  

Photo Credit: MartieKnowsParties.com

Skill Level: Easy   Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

 

INGREDIENTS

 

1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon olive oil

1 clove garlic, smashed

12 ounces angel hair pasta, cooked until al dente and drained

3 eggs

1 ½ cups Parmesan cheese, grated

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Cook the pasta according to package directions but just shy of done. You want it to be al dente. Drain. Toss with ½ teaspoon olive oil.Put the eggs in a large bowl and whisk them with salt, pepper and the garlic. Add the pasta and the cheese. Toss to coat. You want this to be slightly soupy. If it isn't, add some heavy cream or milk.

Put  olive oil in a cast iron or oven-proof skillet over medium high heat. When it gets hot, add the smashed garlic clove and let it cook 1-2 minutes but don’t let it burn. Remove from heat. Use the back of a knife to turn the garlic clove into a paste. Mix it into the pasta.

Turn the heat down to medium. Carefully spin the hot skillet to distribute the olive oil. Pour the pasta mixture into the hot pan. Let it cook 3 minutes or until browned. Flip the cake and brown the other side. The cake is done when the eggs are set.

Serve with more grated Parmesan cheese and grated Italian parsley.