Archive for December, 2007

Yule Log

Congratulations to me, I am now a Daring Baker!

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As my initiation into Daring Bakers, my first challenge was a Christmas yule log. I was really excited about this challenge, but due to exams I didn’t get to start on it until the last week before the posting date.

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Although we had to follow the same recipe for the cake and the buttercream frosting for the outside of the log, we could fill the log and flavor our cake however we chose. I racked my mind for cood sweet combinations until I came up with a good one: chocolate and hazelnut. Using this concept, I flavored my sponge cake with Frangelico and added some toasted hazelnuts. I think the chopped nuts really contributed well to the overall finished product and gave a nice crunch to an otherwise smooth dessert. They also helped to cut the sweetness of the icing. For the filling, I used a nutella buttercream recipe that was absolutely wonderful, although mine never seemed to be lump free.

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I had read about problems others were having, namely about curdling buttercream, but I never had those issues. The only issues arose when I tried to roll the cake. The first attempt at making the log, I cooked the sponge cake for the recommended time and at the recommended temperature and let the cake cool in the pan before icing. After icing the cake, I tried to roll it, and disaster struck. Huge cracks that prevented any kind of roll shape. I might as well should have made a layer cake. I had already iced this cake with filling, so I kept it to munch on, and it was still delicious.

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Second attempt at rolling the cake, I cooked it for less time than recommended at the same temperature and tried rolling it immediately after taking it out of the oven, using a towel sprinkled with powdered sugar as a guide. Disaster again, huge cracks. I got so frustrated I threw the cake on the floor and stormed off to the gym. I wasn’t ready to give up though.

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You know the old cheesy addage, third time’s the charm. Well, this time I baked the cake for the same amount of time as the second time around but baked it at a lower temperature. Immediately after the cake came out of the oven I inverted it onto a moist towel and rolled the cake up in the towel (i.e. the towel pretended to be filling). I need to note that I sprinkled the towel with powdered sugar, although I don’t know if this actually did any good because most of it dissolved. And you know what? By God it worked this time. I let the cake cool wrapped up in the towel then gently unwrapped it to ice it with the filling. It didn’t unwrap completely flat, and I had to be very careful with the filing, but we escaped with only a small crack that I fixed with more icing.

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My favorite part of this challenge was putting the final touches on the cake. I made the marzipan mushrooms, leaves and berries earlier, and my husband and I had a great time figuring out how to arrange them. All in all, I’m ver pleased with how my yule log turned out. It might not look exactly like a log, but I think it’s pretty good looking and I’m very pleased. I don’t know if I would necessarily make it again, given all the trouble with the rolling, but at least I learned something.

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Cast Iron Steak

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I think I’ve discovered the perfect way to cook a filet.

When mom was still in the early stages of recovery and dad was sick of take-out food, I offered to come over and cook them dinner. On the menu: ancho-chili filet minons, caramelized brocoli, and wild mushroom en papillote (baked in parchment paper-bundles). Overall, the rub and sauce for the steaks was much too spicy (I have reproduced all recipes below, fyi), but the method for cooking the steaks was downright perfection. The filets were wonderfully seared on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth buttery on the inside. This was the kind of meal that made me close my eyes and relish in the steak flavors after every bite, even though I was staving off tears from the heat at the same time.

In order to get this steaky goodness, you MUST use a cast iron pan. I think the recipe says “preferably cast iron,” but there just is no substitute if you want the same flavor.

As for the rest of the meal: I liked the mushrooms, but then I am a huge mushroom fan. I think the pouches sat out a little too long before serving and weren’t warm enough. The flavor just wasn’t there either. The brocoli, on the other hand, was wonderful, and I use the same method to cook brussel sprouts and round potato slices as well. In my method I have cut out the last step (adding oil after removing the lid) and instead add garlic and/or shallots (sometimes prosciuto, yum!) when I add the water.

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Ancho-Rubbed Filets Mignons with Cuban Espresso Sauce
(original printed in October 2007 Gourmet)
Note: the spice rub and sauce were way too spicy for me, but this method of cooking the filets is no-fail. I also only used 4 steaks.

Ingredients:
For Filets:
6 (1 1/2 inch thick) center-cut beef tenderloin steaks (filets mingons; 8 to 10 oz each)
2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil

For sauce:
10 whole cloves
2 cups veal stock (NOTE: I just used beef stock here)
1/2 cup water
1/2 onion, sliced
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
1 1/2 teaspoon instant-coffee granules
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 tablespoons

Equipment: an electric coffee/spice grinder; a large two-burner ridged grill pan, preferably cast iron (NOTE: because I only used 4 filets, a single burner cast iron pan was fine)

Garnish: lime wedges

Method:
MARINATE STEAKS: Pat steaks dry. Stir together spices, sea salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and rub on top and bottom of steaks, then rub oil over spices. Cover with plastic wrap and chill, 3 hours.

MAKE SAUCE: Finely grind cloves in a spice grinder until finely ground. Combine with remaining ingredients except butter in a heavy medium saucepan and simmer briskly, stirring occassionally, until reduced to 1 cup, about 30 minutes. Straigh through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on and discarding solids, then return to cleaned saucepan and bring to a simmer. Whisk in butter until incorporated, then season with salt and keep warm, covered, off heat.

COOK STEAKS: Preheat oven to 400 F with rack in middle.

Heat grill pan over medium heat until hot, then lightly oil. Grill steaks, turning once, 10 minutes or until grill marks form (NOTE: 5 minutes per side), then transfer to a shallow baking pan and roast in over 10 minutes for medium-rare (NOTE: I roasted mine for 8 because I like a rarer steak). Remove steaks from overn and let stand, loosely covered with foil, 5 minutes.

Transfer steaks to plates. Top with some sauce and serve remaincing sauce on the side.

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Wild Mushrooms En Papillote
(original recipe in October 2007 Gourmet)

Ingredients:
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 lb miced fresh wild mushrooms, trimmed and torn into bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon minced garlic

ACCOMPANIMENTS: flaky seat salt; lemon wedges

Method:
Preheat oven to 450 F with rack in middle.

Lightly brush 4 (12-inch) squares of parchment paper with some of butter.

Toss mushrooms with herbs, shallots, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl, then toss with remaining butter and divide among parchment squares.

Fold parchment to enclose mushrooms.

Bake packets in shallow baking pan 20 minutes. Serve packets on plates.

Caramelized Broccoli with Garlic
(original recipe in October 2007 Food and Wine)

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 heads of broccoli (1 1/4 pounds total), stems peeled and heads halved lengthwise
1/2 cup water
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Pinch of crushed red pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Method:
In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the broccoli, cut side down, cover and cook over moderate heat until richly browned on the bottom, about 8 minutes. Add the water, cover and cook until the broccoli is just tender and the water has evaporated, about 7 minutes. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil along with the garlic and the crushed red pepper and cook uncovered until the garlic is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Season the broccoli with salt and black pepper, drizzle with the lemon juice and serve.

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Cregeen’s Irish Pub: Complete Disappointment

Before I begin this review, I just want to note that I used to like Cregeen’s. In fact, I used to love it. But this Irish pub in Argenta has dealt the lethal blow, and I just don’t think I can go back. Ever. Again.

Like I said, I used to like Cregeen’s, so when I decided to take a break from studying and go out for a good, relaxed dinner, I decided on Cregeen’s. The place was crowded, as always, but we found a table immediately. The waitress was a little slow in getting to us, but hey, it was crowded.

We ordered an appetizer of the steemed mussels. I ordered the shrimp and scallop pasta, and Jay ordered the bangers and mash.

Some time went by. And more time. And more time. Until eventually we got our mussels, along with the rest of our dinner, brought out to us by a very unsure-looking runner. Um, excuse me, I thought I ordered the mussels as an appetizer? They were cold. But they were the best part of the meal.

Jay’s bangers and mash looked like they came right out of a cafeteria, and they didn’t taste much better either. Tiny bangers, mashed potatoes that looked like they came out of a box, and generic vegetables with no flavor. Jay said the bangers were supposed to be topped with a red wine demi glaze, but it was the same thing as the gravy on the potatoes.

As for my entree, I think they should relabel this item as “pasta soup.” There was so much sauce in the pasta that I thought I had ordered soup. It was rediculous. I ate the shrimp and the scallops out of the pasta, but the rest was inedible. Our waitress looked at me with suprise when I told her to take it back because I didn’t want it. Predictably, the manager came to my table soon after, and I told him it was just completely inedible. Then I made a comment about how I probably just ordered the wrong thing, considered I was at a bar, but really that’s no excuse.

Some of you might be saying, come on Jenny, you were at a freakin’ pub, give them a break. Fine fine, I give you that, but this food used to be good. Now, it just stinks. Please don’t advertise something if you can’t deliver. It’s just not fair to those who are ordering. When your menu lies, it’s just not acceptable, so don’t tell me I’m giving pub food a bad rap when it makes itself out to be more than it actually is. Furthermore, bring me my damn appetizer for my appetizer and don’t rely on some idiot pre-teen who brings everything out at once. If you think I’m being entirely unfair, then go there on a weeknight when a sports game is going on, and see what kind of food you get. Or, better yet, see if you get any food at all, considering the table next to mine hadn’t received any food by the time we left, even though we sat and ordered after them.

I used to like this place, but I think that the amount of business that the pub had been getting has been forcing the kitchen to cut corners, and it shows. Sloppy presentation, poor seasoning, too much sauce … there are plenty of busy bars with much better food than this. Oh, and terrible service that frankly doesn’t appear to care at all about how the food actually tastes, just so long as it gets out in front of you. I used to recommend this place, but now I’ve changed my tune: DON’T GO!!!!

In fact, go to Reno’s accross the street. The people serving food there actually care about you. Oh, and it’s a bar and their food is good.

Cregeen’s: never again.

Sushi Cafe: Restaurant Review

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For a short restaurant review on the new Sushi Cafe located in the Heights here in Little Rock, check out my most recent post on Eat Arkansas.

Impromptu Shepard’s Pie

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After making pork and ‘taters for mom after her injury, Jay had to go out of town on a business trip. The night he was coming back, I wanted to make something nice but didn’t want to go through a huge effort. We still had lots of mashed potatoes left over, so after doing a quick inventory of what we had, I decided to make a shepard’s pie.

This isn’t really your traditional shepard’s pie, but it did have lots of the same elements. For one thing, the meat was chicken because that’s what I had on hand. I also used chicken stock because that’s what was around. I didn’t have any corn but used black beans instead. As far as the spices go, I just started grabbing what looked good and indiscriminately dumping stuff in. This turned out well and the pie as a whole had a nice deep, warm flavor. As for carrots, we always have baby carrots on hand so I just cut a couple of handfulls up, put them in a glass with some water and nuked them for about 3 minutes.

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The recipe is a little haphazard because I literally was just looking around the kitchen and putting stuff in, and I made it so long ago that I’ve forgotten the exact details. Needless to say, I think it’s hard to screw a thing like this up if you have the basic building blocks. It made a lot more than I anticipated (my pot almost spilled over), and we ended up having to throw some of it out eventually, but it was very good. I was worried that the depth of flavor might not be there with just the chicken, but the tomato paste and abundance of spices really helped out.

Unorthodox Shepard’s Pie
(adopted from Emeril Lagase)
Cook’s note: I really think that this works well with a combination of ingredients, just don’t stray too far. Corn traditionally goes in this rather than black beans, and beef or lamb usually takes the place of chicken, but if you are just trying to use up leftovers then this is a good way to go.

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At least Kaley thinks so 🙂

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil 
1/2 large onion 
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 chicken breast halves, cooked and cut into cubes
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
2 1/2 chicken stock
dried thyme
fresh basil
dried rosemary
dried sage? (don’t remember if this found it’s way in or not)
1/2 bag frozen pees, cooked 
1 large mug (2 cups?) chopped baby carrots, cooked
1 can black beans, drained
1 recipe Mashed Potatoes (your leftovers!)
2 tablespoons butter, cubed

Method:
In a large saute pan (I would recommend at least a medium-sized pot), over medium heat, add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions. Season with salt and pepper. Saute for 2 minutes. Add the chicken to the onions and saute for 1 minute. Dust the chicken with the flour and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the chicken broth. Bring the liquid to a boil. Stir in the spices (however much you want of each, I put in around a tablespoon), black beans, peas and carrots. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour the mixture into a deep 9-inch oval dish. Place spoonfuls of the potatoes over the meat mixture. Dot the top of the potatoes with butter (I left this part out but feel free to add it if you like!). Place in the oven and cook for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are golden. Place a baking sheet under the dish in case the pie starts to bubble over. Remove from the oven and spoon onto serving plates.

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Coming up for fresh air …

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Ahhhh! I’m so glad that’s finally over with!!!!!

Oh, uh, hi, excuse me, I didn’t realize you were listening. Hmm? What was I talking about? Oh, just that I finished an exam today that has been defining my existence for the past week.

A little overboard on the studying? Perhaps, but it was needed. Now that my Commercial Paper exam is over with, I don’t quite know what to do with myself, but right now I can feel the adrenaline wearing off, so I feel like a nap is soon on the way.

What does this have to do with food? Well, a lot and not a lot. For one, I have TONS of pictures and posts backed up that I need to get around to actually publishing here, and I don’t have much time right now to get it all done.

Plus, even though my eating standards drop a little bit during exams (peanut butter sounds like a PERFECT lunch! and let’s have some raw mushrooms too), somtimes some interesing things come to the forefront. Check out my most recent post on Eat Arkansas for a little blurb on that. Furthermore, no matter how menial the food or snack, I’m always finding time for study breaks so I can take pictures.

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Take these frozen grapes. Not exciting, not really interesting at all, although I must say I really like them. I had put them in a beer mug as a dessert I planned to make but that never materialized, and while I was studying one night I decided they were the perfect snack. Then I saw my camera. Then I saw the glass. And, well, I needed a break.

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I kinda like these pictures. It makes me thinks the grapes are in some kind of ice cave, ready to be found. I even like how you can see the rips in them, and maybe tell that I didn’t really clean them off all that well. I don’t know, I’m no photo critic, but the contrast with the sureal frozen glass and the broken and earthy texture of the grapes is pretty cool.

Still lots of exams to go, but I hope to have more posts–and pictures–up soon.

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Juanita’s

Check out my post on Eat Arkansas for a little write-up on a recent dinner at Juanita’s.


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All posts and images copyright 2008 & 2009 Jenny Robertson, unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved. Any use of images without prior written consent is prohibited.
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