Sunday, September 23, 2012

Set your ovens!

Ok, so it was finally my Sunday to cook.  If you recall, I promised to put crowd size recipes on here about a month ago, and have yet to do it.  Anyway, I had the absolute hardest time deciding what to make, and so when I'm indecisive, my fall back is typically brunch.  I have made most of these dishes enough that even though I still have to follow a recipe, I'm comfortable with them.  They are all mostly make-ahead, and you can easily adjust the quantities for a large crowd or small.   At lunch today we had 19 people, although a few of them don't eat much.  7 adults, 6 teenagers, and 6 little people that might equal one adult if you add all of them together.  Ansley would make up half of that adult.  My girl loves her brunch.

The menu:

Shrimp & Grits
Oven Potatoes
Fruit Salad
Brussels Sprouts Salad
Sweet Potato Bread

I didn't truly make up any of these, because I am generally not an original person.  I just like to put my personal flare on things.  So, here are the recipes.

Shrimp  &  Grits:  This is straight up out of an old Cooking Light magazine.  Except that I unlightened it.

Modifications:  Use whole milk and full fat cream cheese.  I firmly believe that if the Lord wanted us to eat natural foods low-fat, He would have made them that way. Also, grease your pan with butter.  Don't feel guilty about it.  I also believe that He probably never intended us to eat anything you can spray out of a can.  You can assemble this completely the day before and pop it in the oven to cook so that it's hot right before you want to eat it.


This is a recipe that I found in an old Williams Sonoma catalog for a frittata, and I made it a quiche.  It's not as pretty as the frittata would be, but easier, because you don't have to have a frittata pan, and you also don't have to worry about the whole wagon-wheel-spoke thing. Incidentally, this is my all time favorite quiche, and I don't make any other recipe anymore.  Once you have something this good, you just don't keep looking.

Modifications:  I only use 7 eggs, and add 3/4 cup of half & half or heavy cream.  I also normally use dried tarragon instead of fresh, and I can never find chervil anywhere, so never, not one time, have I ever put this in.   Also, I generally only use 1 lb of asparagus, because I use more than just the tips.  If you only use the tips then you'll need 2 lbs.  Here is a picture of how I cut the asparagus.

I cut it after I blanched it.  You could cut it first and then blanch it, and if you choose to do that, it would probably be a little easier, because you could use a mandoline to do your cutting.  Just keep the asparagus rubber banded together and slice the ends.  I chose not to do this, because I have had some seriously unfortunate knife incidents over the last couple of weeks, ever since we got my knives sharpened.  I have almost cut off my middle finger on my left hand, my thumb on my right hand, and I've stabbed my left hand twice.  Thus, I am trying to avoid razor sharp blades for the moment.  Final modification is that I put this in a pie crust, and then cook it at 375 degrees for about 30-40 minutes. True confessions: I take a short cut on my pie crust.  It sort of goes against everything in my being to do this, but if you have to take a short cut somewhere, this is where I would choose to do it.  I just buy the refrigerated pie crust.    Note:  today, since we had so many people, I made 2 of these, and in one of them I put 4 oz. sliced mushrooms instead of asparagus.  If you choose to do this, sautee them with the leeks first.   The way I do this make-ahead is that I mix everything together in a bowl, and then stick it in the fridge the day before.  When it's time to bake, just roll out your pie crust and pour the quiche into the pan.  It takes like 2 minutes to do that.  You might could cook it ahead of time and then reheat it, but I've never tried that and I'm not sure how much time it would actually save anyway.  Moving on.

Oven potatoes:

Cube potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes.  Toss them in a little olive oil and cajun seasoning.  Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.  I didn't really put quantities because you sort of just have to decide this based on how many people you are having over.  I used about 1 1/2 lbs of potatoes, a couple tablespoons of oil and a tablespoon or so of seasoning, but you could do more or less depending on how spicy you want your 'taters.
I didn't make this ahead of time, but you could.  If you make it too far in advance the potatoes will discolor, unless you use purple ones, then you can't tell if they discolor or not. So if you choose to slice your potatoes ahead of time, I recommend submerging them in water until you are ready to bake them then toss with the oil and seasoning.

Fruit Salad:

Pretty self explanatory.  This I wouldn't make ahead, but you can assign one of your guests to cut up the fruit and assemble it so that you can be making other preparations.  I like berries in mine, which is why I don't do ahead, but if you were doing melon or something you could totally make it ahead of time and it would be fine.

Brussels Sprout Salad:

Love this salad! My sweet friend Robyn introduced me to this salad and it is a go-to for potlucks.  It's a little more than what my family will eat, but I love making it for a crowd!  I don't know where she got it, so I'm just retyping it below:

1 lb. brussels sprouts, sliced with the slicer blade on the food processor
1/2 cup grated Gruyere, or Pecorino Romano Cheese or Parmesan
6 oz. walnuts or pecans in small pieces
9 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. cider vinegar
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

So mix first 3 ingredients together.  Put remaining ingredients in a bowl and shake it up until it comes together.  You can also add a tsp. of maple syrup to this, which I would recommend b/c it is awesome.
Toss salad with dressing.  Now, to make ahead, I would just NOT dress the salad.  Do that just before you serve it.  But you can mix the sprouts, cheese and nuts together, and then separately make the dressing ahead of time.  Also, I like to throw some raisins or cranberries in here, too.  Tasty!

Sweet Potato Bread: 

This was out of this month's Cooking Light, with modifications to unlighten it and make it more nutritious. Since I can't find it online yet, I'll just type it here.  But I'm gonna type it the way I made it.

1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
3 oz plain greek yogurt
1 oz creme fraiche [Note on previous two ingredients:  you are going for 4 oz. of a thick, yogurty type thing here, I used what I had]
1/2 cup rapadura
1/4 cup rendered lard [so, you could use butter, coconut oil, lots of different things here]
2 eggs
1/2 cup packed shredded sweet potato
1/3 cup chopped dates
1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted.

cream cheese
lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix first 7 ingredients.  In a separate bowl, mix yogurt through eggs.  Add to flour mixture, stirring until just moist.  Gently fold in sweet potato, dates, and pecans.

Bake in a floured, greased 9X5 pan (ok, so I have a silicone pan, which doesn't require greasing, but if you do grease a pan, see my above note on eating things sprayed out of a can) for 40 minutes, until done (check w/a  toothpick).  Cool 10 minutes, remove from pan, and then if you want an "icing" you can mix the cream cheese and lemon juice together until a thin enough consistency to spread on top.  I didn't think the bread really needed this, so you could kind of go either way.  I made 2 of these for this size crowd.

And there you have it.  It seems like a lot, but really, if you do all the make-ahead parts, all you are doing right before meal time is:

Pouring the quiche in the crusts, popping them, with the other already prepared things in the oven, tossing your salad, and cutting up some fruit.

Final note:   If you don't have a convection oven or two, then allow for a little longer cooking times because this is a whole lotta stuff in one oven.

Happy eating!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

My last post on ice cream

Ok, so try #3 on coconut was a success.  I finally got a coconut with a lot of milk in it, and it actually came out.  I poked a bigger hole through the soft spots, so maybe that had something to do with it.  But I could actually hear all the milk inside when I shook the thing up, so I was determined to get it out this time.  Instead of my phillips head screwdriver and hammer, I used the biggest flat head one that I had and twisted it around in that hole forever it seems.  Either my method or my choice of coconut paid off.  I got 2/3 cup of coconut water out of that baby!  And then, when I baked it at 350 degrees I checked it at 15 minute intervals and it had cracked perfectly somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes.  It hadn't dried out yet at 30 minutes in the slightest bit, and was much easier to peel.  All in all, I am so glad I made a 3rd attempt, because it wasn't as hard as I had made it the 1st two times. Anyway, after pureeing the freshly peeled coconut with the coconut water, and then adding a can of coconut milk, I had almost 4 cups of liquid already, so there was a very minimal amount of cream to be added.  Then I added 3/4 cup of syrup, 1 tsp. vanilla, 1 Tbsp. of freshly squeezed lime juice, and voila, perfect coconut ice cream.

I also made another ice cream that my mother was working on while I was working on coconut.  She was given the ingredients from a staff member at Robert Levine's restaurant in Hilton Head, and perfected the quantities.  I basically made vanilla ice cream: 3 cups cream, 3/4 cup maple syrup, 1 tsp vanilla (this is my new standard, go to vanilla recipe).  Then added 1 tsp cinnamon (but I actually love cinnamon, so I added a little more), and 1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp of Frank's hot sauce.  It's technically supposed to be Tabasco.  So if you use Tabasco, I wouldn't use as much b/c it's a little hotter than the Franks.  Listen, this wasn't that hot, but it had a sweet little bite at the end and all of my kids who are spicy-averse loved this ice cream and ate it right up.  It was a huge hit!  Very tasty.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Coconut Ice Cream, Take 2

This was so much better.  I forgot the lime, but I'm totally ok with that.

1 coconut
1 can of coconut milk
approx. 1 cup cream
3/4 c. of maple syrup
1-2 tsp. vanilla

So, this time, I cooked the coconut at 350 degrees until it cracked.  Maybe a little longer.  The thing is I was expecting it to take a while since it never happened last time, and I didn't check it until it had been in there for an hour already, and it had cracked.  It had started drying out (and this one did have milk in it, but I couldn't get it out!  I get an F on opening coconuts) already, but it was still slightly moist.  So after I got all the meat out, I put it in the food processor and pureed it with the entire can of coconut milk.  Then I chilled it.  It measured about 3 cups, so I put enough cream in my measure to equal 4 cups of liquid.  Then I poured in the maple syrup, and I didn't actually measure the vanilla, but I am guessing it was closer to 2 teaspoons than 1.  I love vanilla.  Anyway, this was wonderful.  It totally satisfied the craving and I'm not one bit sad that I forgot to add the lime.  Colin didn't like it, but Ansley, Silas, both babies and our Chinese exchange student all ate a huge bowl.  And no I'm not kidding. Length of stay tbd. ;)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The best fried chicken ever

This is wonderful. Of course it is, because it's Thomas Keller. I never thought I could love fried chicken this much. Especially one that I made in my own kitchen, because as much as I cook, I don't often fry.  You'd think frying would be one of the easier things to do, but I don't have a deep fryer, so I just use a saucepan,  and I'm cheap on the whole oil thing.  This is probably the reason that most of my early frying attempts failed so miserably.  But I've finally figured out how to use the least amount of oil (or preferably, beef fat) and succeed and so I don't feel like I'm wasting it all.  Plus I'm really cheap and will often fry in the beef fat twice, depending on what I fried the first time.  Oh yeah, and I don't have a thermometer to measure how hot the oil is.  So you can see why I had so many failed attempts.  I still pretty much just guess, but I'm a better guesser now after having messed up so many times. Anyway, this is really, really delicious.  Please make it. Your taste buds, not to mention your whole family, will thank you.

You have to brine it:
2.5 lemons
12 bay leaves
2 oz bunch flat leaf parsley
1/2 oz bunch thyme
1/4 cup honey
1/2 head garlic, halved through the equator
1/8 c. peppercorns
1 cup (5oz) kosher salt
1 gallon water

Bring to a boil and then cool, chill, and put your (cut up) chicken in it!  Don't almost cut your middle finger off when halving the garlic through the equator, though.  It's really difficult to type with a bandaid on.  Also, he recommends that you not brine your chicken for longer than 12 hours, because it will get pretty salty.  I can believe it.  I don't use a lot of salt, so this chicken was noticeably salty.  But it was great.  I brined for right at the 12 hours.

Now he has a buttermilk fried chicken recipe that has the exact spice-flour-chicken-buttermilk combo.  If you want that I'd be happy to send it to you, because it was great.  But I'm not going to type it all out here.   I think the key to this delicious chicken was the brining.  The breading was great, a little spice to it, which I loved, Russ loved, the kids pulled off.  Everyone cleaned their plates though and I gave them a pretty good sized portion!

P.S. I used whole wheat flour for my breading, and fried in beef fat.  So I did break from the directions, just a little.