Thursday, January 29, 2009

Heart Shaped French Creme Dessert with Red Berry Sauce is perfect for Valentine's Day

Coeur a la crème, a tasty and impressive heart shaped French cream dessert served with a red berry sauce, is easy to make for Valentine’s Day and can be prepared days in advance. Raspberries or strawberries are the traditional garnishes but chocolate shavings or molded chocolate roses also make a pretty presentation. 

Coeur a la crème is made in white porcelain molds with tiny holes in the bottom to allow the excess liquid in the sweetened cheese to run off as it chills. Molds are available in specialty kitchen stores or from Amazon. They come in two sizes, a seven inch that serves six and individual four inch molds. If you don’t have a mold, Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten suggests you make a round coeur in a seven inch sieve lined with cheesecloth and suspend it over a bowl to drain in the refrigerator. James Patterson in Glorious French Food makes individual round coeurs by molding the cheese in cheesecloth lined muffin tins, pulling the cheesecloth up over the tops of each and transferring the wrapped cheese to a cake rack to drain overnight in the refrigerator.

For our coeurs, we followed a recipe from Ina Gartin’s Barefoot in Paris cookbook with raspberry sauce. Ina says the recipe was inspired by friend Anna Pump from her Loaves & Fishes Cookbook. Anna flavored the sauce with Framboise, a French raspberry eau-de-vie, and suggested garnishing the coeur with either fresh hulled strawberries or strawberries dipped in chocolate. 

The coeur recipe is simple, includes only six ingredients and is quickly combined in the bowl of an electric mixer. The mixture goes into the heart shaped mold that has been lined with cheese cloth so the excess liquid can drain away. It can sit in the refrigerator for a day or so. To serve, unmold the cream on plate, drizzle with the berry sauce and garnish with fresh berries. Voila, as the French say. It can’t get much easier than that. I suggest sitting close to your valentine and sharing this special dessert with the one you love.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Will Cook 4 Cash

Cooking Contests can earn you big prizes. Will Cook 4 Cash is a wonderful article in the Feb/March issue of Food Network magazine. More than $2 million dollars in prize money was awarded last year in contests last year. The article is loaded with information on how to write a winning recipe as well as what pitfalls to avoid so your recipe won’t be rejected. I’ve entered three contests and was a winner in all three. It’s a lot of fun and I encourage you to give it a try. Keep in mind, in some contests you don't have to prepare your recipe; you just send it in for judging as I did in the National Catfish Institute Competition. My very first contest was a regional one and I had to prepare my dish, which was Oysters Rockefellow en casserole. Only problem was I couldn't find any fresh oysters in May and had to send someone to the Fulton Fish Market in NYC to get them for me. So, plan ahead.
To see more about the contests I participated in, including the National Chicken Cooking Contest, click here
My entry in the 1993 National Chicken Cooking contest representing Mississippi, one of the big three majors. Chicken Stuffed with Goat Cheese & Sun-dried Tomatoes and Mushroom Sauce.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Super Bowl Pizza Party

Homemade pizza is easy and fun to serve during a Super Bowl party. Before everyone arrives, mix up a big batch of dough (or better yet buy some from your local bakery or pizzeria), assemble your favorite toppings ---various meats, cheeses, vegetables, fresh basil --- whatever you like. When it’s time to eat, encourage everyone toss the dough high in the air like the pizza man does at the pizzeria before assembling their custom made pie and popping it in the oven. The easy part is your guests do the cooking. 

Here’s a recipe for a basic pizza sauce that is sure to please and is far superior to commercial sauces. It’s a snap to make and can be prepared in advance and frozen.

To accompany the pizzas, serve a big green salad and a simple lemon vinaigrette of three parts extra virgin olive oil to one part fresh lemon juice as the dressing. Your guests can choose additional ingredients for their salad from the cheeses and vegetables you have on the pizza bar. Purchase some big fat cookies, such as chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin, from the bakery and you have dessert. 

I’ve included a recipe for my favorite pizza, the simple Margherita with mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. That particular pizza has some history to it. Queen Margherita, while visiting in Naples in 1889, grew tired of fancy French fare and wanted to try what the common people ate. The owner of the best pizzeria in Napes, Raffaele Esposito, was summoned to prepare three pizzas for her highness. His mozzarella version was her favorite, so he named it Pizza Margherita in her honor. Many people believe that particular pizza was invented for Queen Margherita, but records indicate that pizza with mozzarella, tomato and basil, the colors of the Italian flag, was eaten in Naples forty years before she sampled it. 

Basic Pizza Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped yellow onions
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cans (28 oz. each) drained & crushed Italian peeled tomatoes
4 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
Pinch of ground allspice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of hot red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley

Heat olive oil in a medium size non-stick skillet. Add onions and cook over low heat to wilt. Add garlic and cook one minute more. Add remaining ingredients, except parsley. Stir well, cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove cover, add parsley and simmer additional 15 minutes or until fairly thick, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, cool and refrigerate.
Yield: 4 cups, enough for four 12” pizzas. Can make ahead and freeze in one cup portions.

Assorted pizzas

Pizza Margherita 

Dough for 12” pizza
1 cup basic pizza sauce, recipe above
½ lb. Mozzarella cheese, grated
2 ripe tomatoes cut in ¼” dice
8 to 10 sliced black olives
8 whole fresh bail leaves
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper

At least one half hour before cooking, preheat your oven to 500 degrees F. Shape pizza dough and place on a pan sprinkled with cornmeal. Spread pizza sauce on dough, leaving a 1” rim. Top with cheese, sprinkle with tomatoes and arrange basil on top. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Bake on bottom rack in oven until crust is golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. 

Pizza with everything

Monday, January 5, 2009

Jacques Pepin's Smoked Salmon Pizza on Naan Flatbread

I was flipping through Jacques Pepin’s newest cookbook, More Fast Food My Way, when I came across a recipe for Smoked Salmon Pizza served on naan flatbread. Naan resembles pita bread and is a staple in places such as India, Asia, Afghanistan and Iran. I had seen it in the grocery store and was anxious to give it a try.

Jacques baked the prepared naan in a hot oven for about ten minutes, removed it from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes. He topped it with a mixture of sour cream and prepared horseradish, slices of smoked salmon, slivers of red onion, a few capers and fresh cilantro leaves. Ours looked just like the picture in his book and it was a nice change from smoked salmon on toast.

I was so intrigued by the naan that I decided to make a tomato pizza using the naan as a base. It’s fast and easy and took care of our pizza craving.

Tomato Pizza on Naan Flatbread
Excellent with a green salad

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 naan flatbread
¾ cup grated fontina cheese
2 tomatoes, peeled and sliced
Dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush a small baking sheet with the olive oil, turn the naan in the oil to coat on both sides. Bake for ten minutes until it is crusty and brown, add sliced tomatoes that you have generously sprinkled with dried oregano, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and top with the fontina cheese.   Return to oven and cook until cheese melts and tomatoes are hot. Serves 2.

Organic Spring Mix Salad with Warm Brie in Puff Pastry and Georgia Pecans dressed with Sherry Nut Oil Vinaigrette and tossed with Fleur de Sel

Nut oils, such as walnut and hazelnut, make tasty vinaigrettes and are heart healthy. Here is a simple but sophisticated salad using nut oil vinaigrette tossed over an organic spring mix with warm brie in puff pastry as the centerpiece. By the way, the proper pronunciation for vinaigrette is vin-i-gret, not vin-i-gar-et that a couple of stars say on the Food Network. 

Nut oils contain heart healthy omega fats. Omega 9 is found in olive oil and hazelnut oil. Omega 3 and 6 are found in walnut oil and grape seed oil. A balanced intake of these oils can reduce the risk of cardiovascular related diseases. Make sure to store nut oils in the refrigerator as they can turn rancid quickly.

Spring mix salad with warm brie in puff pastry and Georgia pecans
Feel free to substitute walnuts for the pecans

4 frozen puff pastry shells, such as Pepperidge Farm 
6 - 8 ounce Brie cheese
1 (5.0 ounce) package organic spring mix salad greens
Toasted Georgia pecan halves
Sherry nut oil vinaigrette

Preheat the oven to 400. Place pastry shells on a baking sheet and bake for 10 – 12 minutes until partially baked but starting to lightly brown. Remove shell tops, place on baking sheet with the shells. Remove rind from Brie and cut cheese into four wedges. Place a wedge into each partially baked shell. Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and brown and shells are completely cooked.  Toss spring mix greens with sherry nut oil vinaigrette, Fleur de Sel sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place pastry shells on individual plates, one per person. Distribute salad evenly around each shell and garnish greens with toasted pecan halves and a shell top if desired. Serves 4.

Sherry Nut Oil Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons peeled & minced shallots
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons hazelnut or walnut oil
2 tablespoons neutral tasting oil such as grape seed or canola 
Fleur de Sel sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put first four ingredients into a small jar and shake well to emulsify. Dress spring mix with vinaigrette, season to taste with Fleur de Sel and freshly ground black pepper and toss to coat. Do not overdress greens. 

We have always preferred kosher salt to ordinary table salt. Now gourmet chefs are beginning to appreciate the many varieties of available sea salts and how they enhance the flavors of food. They are called “finishing salts,” meaning they should be used at the end of cooking, as they can loose their flavors during the cooking process. Premier salts, such as Fleur de Sel, are known for their texture and the depth of natural flavor they bring to a dish. In our kitchen we use Fleur de Sel and gray sea salt for finishing salads. There are many finishing sea salts on the market today, including a variety of colors, such as the Maldon pink ones that Mario Batali prefers, grainy French grays, Hawaiian reds, and the white Fleur de Sel from the Camargue region of France. Salads dressed with coarse sea salt make them food for the gods.