Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Beach Themed Party Food

An August birthday calls for sizzle and my granddaughter’s event featured an under-the-sea cake, cookie ‘oysters’ and an appetizer octopus. Kyra chose a beach theme for her sixth birthday party and her Mom, Amy, searched for recipes to compliment the festivities.

As hungry guests arrived, Ms. Octopus greeted them upon a bed of hummus. She was an inverted red pepper with black olive eyes and her legs were made from slices of a second red pepper. Crackers and pita chips sat alongside for dipping. We also enjoyed a cup of decadent crab soup made by Kyra's other grandmother.

I put together oyster-like treats by spreading pink frosting on vanilla wafers and joining two at angles.  I inserted one yogurt covered raisin as the pearl.  Adding the eyes turned out to be tricky. I resorted to dabbing on white and brown frosting from a toothpick. I suspect a pastry bag with a small tip would have done a better job.

The cake was a sea-sation treasure.  Amy mixed an batch of ocean blue icing to coat the sheet cake. On top she placed green and blue Twizzlers in a pattern resembling seaweed.  Kyra added gummy fish, sharks and a lobster. I attached candy rocks and shells to create the bottom of the sea. Amy had ordered these special chocolate covered candies from Nuts Online. Kyra was thrilled with her cake as were the party-goers --they ate the entire extravagance!

This is my contribution to WanderFood Wednesday

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Caramel Cake Melt Down

Debi's Disaster
This is my contribution to Wanderfood Wednesday. Click here to view more recipes from around the world.  

Classic Southern desserts include Pecan pie, bourbon balls, cobblers, pralines and Caramel Cake. Not to be smug, but I've mastered Pecan pie and pralines. Never attempted the cake. So, last weekend presented the right time for me to try. Then again perhaps not!

I baked the white cake on Friday evening which filled my kitchen with marvelous sweet vapors. All three layers looked fluffy and turned out of the pan with ease.

On Saturday morning I assembled the ingredients for the frosting and let the butter soften.  I read and reread the directions as the process was tricky and tedious, but I was ready to attempt.

I carefully heated the sugar in a heavy saucepan until it turned a brownish color.  Then I added the warm milk and cooked the saucy mix (as directed) until my candy thermometer registered 235 degrees. I then stirred in the butter, vanilla and some of the heavy cream and let it cool for 15 minutes--using a timer to be exact. Next, I beat the caramel mixture while adding the last of the cream, and continued beating for 15 minutes. Alas, my caramel frosting never thickened up. 

Oh well...I let it set a while, then decided to follow the directions and poured it onto the layers. That's when the melt down occurred and created a mess all over the counter!

In an effort to salvage my project, I added confectioner's sugar to the frosting until it thickened and became spreadable. Looked better, but still pretty disastrous. Sure enough, the frosting tasted sweet and caramelly, but wasn't the traditional rich amber.

What did I do wrong??  I live in Florida, suffering through some very humid days, but my house is air-conditioned.  Did I not beat it long enough?  I'm clueless.  Perhaps my dear readers can help.  I would appreciate any and all hints.

In the meantime, I don't think I will be trying the recipe again, just sticking to pralines!

Here's the recipe for  Caramel Cake Frosting, but I'm warning-- try at your own risk.

3 cups sugar
3 Tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy cream

To Make the Icing:
In a saucepan, stir 2 1/2 cups of the sugar with the corn syrup and milk. Cook over moderate heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Keep warm.

Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a deep, heavy saucepan. Cook the sugar over moderate heat, swirling occasionally, until an amber caramel forms. Carefully pour the warm milk mixture over the caramel. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the caramel dissolves. Stop stirring and cook until the caramel registers 235 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat. Stir in the butter, vanilla and 1/4 cup of the heavy cream. Strain the caramel into the bowl a standing mixer. Let cool for 15 minutes.

Beat the caramel at medium speed, gradually adding the remaining 1/4 cup of cream, until creamy, about 15 minutes.

Set 1 cake layer on a plate. Pour enough icing over the layer to cover the top. Top with a second layer and repeat. Add the final cake layer and pour the rest of the icing over the top of the cake, letting it run down the sides. Working quickly, use an offset spatula to spread the icing gently around the cake.  Let the cake stand for 2 hours to set the icing before serving.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Mysterious Death of a French Chef

Chef Jean Poinard
I write of a true and tragic tale; one that sounds like a script for a movie. The people are real and the local family suffers a terrible loss.

Recently, I entered a contest to win a day in the kitchen with Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard, owner of Bistro de Leon in St. Augustine, Florida.  I always thought the restaurant name came from Ponce de Leon, the Spaniard who claimed he discovered the Fountain of Youth in that city.  Little did I realize the name also worked for Lyon, the city regarded as the culinary capital of France and former Poinard home. 

I hope to win the contest to naturally improve my cooking skills, impress my guests, and also to meet Chef Jean-Stephane as he seems so likeable in this video. He is a fifth generation chef and a true bon vivant. 

Sadly, the Poinard family learned of the death of Jean-Stephane's father on August 10.  His father, Chef Jean Poinard  ran the prestigious Restaurant de Paris and the Panier a Salade, both in Lyon.  He was fourth in line of France's "greatest cooking dynasties," according to Lyon's newspaper, Le Progress, and one of the great names in gastronomy. 

Regrettably I share this story: Jean Poinard's former girlfriend confessed to his murder and hiding the body in a freezer for the past two years.  I know, it's unimaginable.

Chef Jean-Stephane of St. Augustine issued this statement:

“The last time I saw my Father was June, 2007, just before my family and I came to the U.S. There are so many things I never finished with my Father and sadly, the best part of his life was still ahead. He was an amazing chef and pastry chef, a perfectionist who loved people and to share the pleasures of his food. He was a true Epicurean who was loved and respected by his colleagues. As one of France’s top chefs, he was known for his ‘cuisine and charisma’.

Unfortunately, for many years he was a different man from the Father I knew growing up, actually before his relationship with Guylene Collober. Somehow she isolated him from everyone he loved. It was a mystery to me and to our entire family why he seemed to always be under a spell, even seemed to be caught in a spider web of strange occurrences. We all recognized that she knew how to manipulate my Father and cut him from people who loved him. One by one, he lost communication with his friends, culinary colleagues and family members. In fact, for over a year when I came to America I kept my French phone # and hoped that one day he would call but it never happened. Even our children wrote him letters and cards with no replies. His birthday was May 5th and it was very difficult not to call him each year to wish him well.

We are very private people so I prefer not to go to France to his funeral. Once the gossip and spotlight have dimmed, I will go to pay my respects with my family. For now, I want to protect my children who are twelve and thirteen. I want to remember my Father as the incredible man who inspired me in my career”.

Chef Jean-Stephane, I respect your actions and words and send my condolences.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Balsamic Inspiration

The Ingredients
Call it an empty nest distraction, but I decided to try a new recipe after leaving my youngest child in the university dorm. Now, without her food complaints, I'd  fix something out of my usual repertoire.

Chicken sautéed with balsamic vinegar appealed, as I love the sweet pungent taste of the aged condiment. The preparation didn't take long, about 30 minutes, and the ingredients created a colorful sauce. Plus, the mushrooms, zucchini and tomatoes made it a one dish meal. However, I added mashed potatoes to sop up the spicy liquid; rice would also make a good side.

My husband and I enjoyed the recipe enough for a repeat. No, it's not five star, but a quick everyday dinner bursting with flavor. 

Recipe from The Junior League Centennial Cookbook
1996, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.

Chicken Sautéed with Balsamic Vinegar
Serves 4

3/4 pound mushrooms
3 medium zucchini
2 medium onions
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 tablespoons flour
1 (14-16 ounce) can tomatoes, undrained
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Thickly slice the mushrooms and zucchini; chop the onion.  In a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat, in 1 tablespoon of hot olive oil, cook the zucchini until tender-crisp and lightly browned- about 2 minutes; remove to a plate. In the same skillet, in 1 more tablespoon of hot oil, cook the mushrooms 2-3 minutes, until browned; remove to a bowl.

Coat the chicken with the flour.  In the same skillet, in 2 tablespoons of hot oil, cook chicken until lightly browned and the juices run clear when pierced, about 10 minutes. (Mine took longer.) Remove to the bowl with the mushrooms.  In the pan drippings over medium heat, cook the onion until tender and browned, 5-6 minutes.  Stir in 1/2 cup of water.  Return the chicken and mushrooms to the skillet, add the tomatoes, vinegar, and salt; heat to boiling. Reduce the heat to low, simmer uncovered until chicken is fully cooked.  Add the zucchini, heat and serve.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Laura's Luscious Layer Cake and Chocolate Frosting

Just before my daughter, Laura goes off to college, she decides to start baking. Go figure. This is the second time she has made a very complicated triple layer chocolate cake. Although the  cake is exceptionally moist, rich and dense, it's the frosting that's a killer.

The recipe for the deep chocolate frosting has only three ingredients, but don't let that fool you.  This creamy icing takes about two and half hours to make!!  It covers beautifully and tastes like chocolate heaven.

Is it worth it? Yes.  If time is a priority, skip making the cake from scratch, but do try the icing.

Visit Martha to see a video of Martha and Mrs. Milman making the dessert. This, by the way, is what convinced Laura to give it a try.

Be sure to visit other favorite food blogs every Wednesday.
WanderFood Wednesday.

Mrs. Milman's Chocolate Frosting
adapted by Martha Stewart Living, February 2006

Makes enough to frost a three layer cake


24 ounce bag semi-sweet chocolate morsels
4 cups whipping cream (Can combine 2 cups heavy and 2 cups regular whipping cream)
1 teaspoon light corn syrup. 


Place chocolate morsels and cream in a heavy saucepan.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until combined and thickened, between 20 and 25 minutes.  Increase the heat to medium low; cook, stirring, 3 minutes more.  Remove pan from heat.

Stir in corn syrup.  Transfer frosting to a large metal bowl.  Chill until cool enough to spread, about 2 hours, checking and stirring every 15-20 minutes.  Use immediately. 

*You'll be amazed how thick the frosting gets when you stir it the last 2 or three times. 
I suspect you could half the recipe and use that amount to coat cupcakes.  Might cut the time down as well. 

Mrs. Milman's Devil's Food Cake

Serves 10-12

•    1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
•    3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, plus more for pans
•    1/2 cup boiling water
•    3 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
•    1 teaspoon baking soda
•    1/2 teaspoon salt
•    2 1/4 cups sugar
•    4 large eggs, lightly beaten
•    1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
•    1 cup whole milk

1.    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment; butter parchment. Dust with cocoa powder; tap out excess. Set aside. Sift cocoa powder into a medium bowl; whisk in boiling water. Set aside to cool.

2.    Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl; set aside. Put butter into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until creamy. Gradually mix in sugar until pale and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add eggs, a bit at a time, mixing well between each addition; mix until well blended. Mix in vanilla.

3.    Whisk milk into reserved cocoa mixture. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture to butter mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the cocoa mixture.

4.    Divide batter evenly among prepared pans; smooth tops with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until a cake tester inserted into centers comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pans on wire racks 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks; remove parchment and re-invert. Let cool completely.

5.    Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes to make level. Place four strips of parchment paper around perimeter of a serving plate or lazy Susan. Place the first layer on the cake plate. Spread the top of the first layer with 1 1/2 cups of frosting. Place the second layer on top and repeat process with another 1 1/2 cups of frosting. Place the remaining layer on top of the second layer, bottom side up. Spread entire cake with remaining 3 cups frosting.