Monday, February 8, 2010

Mme Diat: The Super, Superbowl Cheesecake

You've got a cold beer, some chili next to some antacids and you hear the familiar NFL kick-off music. It must be time for the Superbowl. For those of you who still think the Superbowl's about football, I am here with a public service's not. It's about watching the commercials so you have something to talk about at work the next day and eating enough calorie packed food to put you into a food coma until next year's Superbowl.

While I am normally all for participating in the annual chili cook-off, this year I decided to make something a little sweeter. My brother, the not-so-petite-anymore-Diat, turned the big 21 earlier this month and I wanted to do a test-round for his dessert at the Superbowl party. Since I've made a habit of baking something for everyone's birthday, I promised the petite Diat a delectable chocolate layer cake with chocolate covered strawberries. I had the recipe planned out and everything about ready to go when I got a hushed phone call from my mother essentially telling me that she bogarted my cake and she hoped that I didn't mind. I looked towards the cake flour that I had been dying to crack into and just hung my head.

After some sulking and serious lamenting about having to wait on using the new cake flour [it was a new brand I was dying to try] I decided on cheesecake. I have, in my humble opinion, one of the best cheesecake recipes that I've ever tasted. Since I don't really like messing with success, I thought I would use my plain cheesecake recipe as a base for chocolate chip cheesecake. And because the only addition to the cheesecake were mini chocolate chips, it was great.

My only struggle, and to be fair this was a moment of idiocy on my part, was with the springform pan. Here was my dilemma: I lined the bottom of the springform pan with parchment paper for easier removal. After letting the cake cool for about an hour and a half, I took the springform pan out of the water-filled, deep dish pizza sheet that it was sitting in. As I lifted the cake out of the pan, I saw that the water had seeped into the cake pan. To put it mildly, I panicked. I took off the sides of the pan to let the water out. However, as I did that a small tear that quickly turned into a larger one, broke into the top of my cake. By this point, I was having a minor meltdown. A pro at navigating my meltdowns and my kitchen, my brother grabbed some Saran, wrapped the cheesecake up and put it into the fridge. I felt like I was getting a pep talk before a game, "It will be fine, you can cut along the tear before you put it on the table. It will be fine, you are bringing the cake to the party! Stop worrying, oh my gosh, I put the Saran around it, it will be fine..."

All in all, he was right and no one was the wiser. I let my perfectionism get the better of me, but the petite Diat kept his cool. The cheesecake was a huge hit, in fact, almost all of it was gone by the end of the night. Now I'm ready for what's next this weekend: tiramisu [hopefully] for a friend's birthday and my brother's double chocolate, chocolate chip cheesecake.

If you want any of my cheesecake recipes or tips on how to cook one, just send a comment!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Mme Pépin: A short story on pancakes

One of the many perks to the life I enjoyed back when I lived with my parents, and still do enjoy when I visit with them on a weekend, is my younger brother's breakfasts. Petit Pepin enjoys making full breakfasts on Saturday mornings consisting of pancakes, eggs and bacon. He has become very good at these breakfast staples, especially since he has stopped (for the most part) putting food coloring into the pancakes (mmm green pancakes).

Last weekend I was gifted with a lazy Sunday. While assessing my breakfast options I noted that there was just enough milk in my fridge to make pancakes from a mix (and by just enough I mean just not enough, but I "adjusted" the other measurements accordingly-ish).

The mixing went well, the questionable measurements didn't seem too troublesome, what made this process go from "hey this is cute I'm making pancakes for breakfast" to "hmmm maybe green pancakes wouldn't be so bad right now" was the combination of the mix and the pan. Needless to say, my pancakes weren't dainty little circles, they more resembled what I'd expect early cellular life forms to look like. I attempted to flip them with ease, but every time a corner didn't quite manage to flip. They were browning fast, too thick, and the shapes were getting weirder still as the corners that didn't flip got stuck.

I ended up with four "pancakes". One light one, two very dark ones, and one that was still quite mushy inside, rendering it not fit for consumption.

Mme Pépin: Texas Beef Bake

While sifting through the 'Beef' section of my Healthy Cooking for under $7 cookbook I came across a 'Texas Beef Bake'. It sounded interesting and filling, perfect for a meal in with Mike since he eats like a horse.

The ingredients were simple enough: ground beef, mashed potatoes (from baking potatoes), frozen broccoli, parm cheese, an onion, beef broth, and some seasonings.

For meals involving more than just throwing pasta into boiling water while heating up some sauce, Mike and I like to work together. While he got to work chopping the onion, I skinned the potatoes and waited for the water to boil so I could get them ready for mashing. While we continued to wait for that water to boil, Mike sauteed the onions and I got the rest of the ingredients ready to be added to his pan as needed. Note on the water: just now boiling, potatoes added. Whole. The recommended 15 minutes had passed and the potatoes were in theory supposed to be ready to mash. Mike was running out of things to add to the pan.

The mashing was not a success, the potatoes were still too hard (note that I'd already drained the water). So, Mike lowered the heat on the contents in the pan, as I got the water boiling. Again. The potatoes sat in the boiling water for another 15 minutes. Still too hard to mash as Mike tested their firmness every few minutes with a mashing utensil. We even debated if the utensil I gave him was appropriate for mashing. Finally Mike said, perhaps we should have cut them up before boiling them. Lightbulb. I looked in the cookbook, and noted that the ingredients called for the potatoes to be cut, not the directions (where I'd been looking this whole time). Oops. Needless to say that made a world of difference and we were back in action.

After everything had been sauteed (the pan turned into a large metal bowl as we ran out of space), we transfered the contents to a pyrex baking pan, sprinkled on the cheese (note next time I will not get grated parm, I'll get shredded), and popped it into the oven. The bake time took longer than expected, Mike attributed that to the cheese being grated.

When all was said and done, Mike did most of this meal, as I threw complications his way left and right (unintentional of course). Despite some of the set backs, the meal tasted excellent. It was incredibly filling, leaving plenty of leftovers (score for me, I got to bring it to work for lunch!).

I will say, don't make this as a company dish since it's quite the opposite of appetizing looking. But it does taste great, is under 400 calories, and is simple to make: if your baking partner isn't me.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mme Diat: More of the Thanksgiving Marathon

A week later, another Thanksgiving. This time, I was heading over to my aunt's home in Palos. This time around, I wasn't expected to cook anything so I brought a few wine selections instead. I ended up with Gabbiano Chianti and Fat Bastard Chardonnay. As someone who isn't always a fan of white wines, I really have to say I enjoyed the Fat Bastard. I bought it because I knew my extended family, being Italian, and my immediate family, being German, Lithuanian & Bohemian, would appreciate the wine choice.

Even though I didn't cook a dish for my second Thanksgiving, I wanted to write about it because for the first time, I tried a brined turkey. I have to be honest, maybe it was the way it was cooked, but I was not impressed. The turkey seemed dryer than normal and there was really nothing special that would make me recommend it to anyone. Just to be sure, I am planning on brining my own turkey sometime soon. I've heard such good things and I don't want to give up on it just yet.

Now onto my final, and real marathon, Thanksgiving. Since my whole immediate family couldn't be at the "Official Family Thanksgiving" it was declared that we would have our own small meal the next weekend. I was absolutely turkey-ed out at this point, but I offered to make the dinner.

The Menu:
Southern Sweet Potatoes [the same ones I made with Mme.
Mashed Potatoes
Peach Stuffing [Mme.
Pépin's traditional contribution to the holiday meal]
Sausage Stuffing [a manlier alternative for the growing Diat boys]
Cranberries w/Pear [also a Mme.
Pépin favorite]
Apple Pie

Since it was rainy that weekend, grilling the bird was out of the question. I opted for a nice roasted turkey with a vegetable & herb seasoning mixed with butter for under the skin and oranges stuffed inside for moisture and added flavor. The mashed potatoes were just the general variety, milk and seasonings for flavor. The cauliflower was absolutely fantastic. I was torn on whether or not I wanted to make it with bread crumbs, a family favorite, or baked with olive oil and Parmesan cheese. I opted to bake the veggie and was not disappointed. It's such a great way to spice up an otherwise boring vegetable.

For my dessert, I decided to go the classic pie route. I had been wanting to try my hand at pie crust and fruit pie for some time and I thought that my third Thanksgiving was as good a time as any. The only thing that I have to say was that I followed the recipe exactly, and wound up with entirely too many apples. I could have made about 3.5 pies with that recipe. Take a look at your recipes before hand an if 12 apples sounds a little intense, it probably is. Scale back some of the other seasonings and start with about 4-5 apples instead. I presume that would have been more than enough for my pie.

All in all, every meal was a success. A friend who had attended all 3 holidays with me remarked that my final masterpiece was the best of the 3. Everyone seemed to enjoy the meal and leftovers were gone within a week. My only request after all of it: that we not have turkey anywhere near our Christmas menu.

Mme Diat: A Pre-Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving

Happy 2010 everyone, I'm truly sorry for taking so long to get back to the blog. The winter months were littered with more birthdays, parties, holidays, and events than I could even fit into my already packed schedule. Blogging was a welcome break that I didn't have much time for. Even now, I'm writing on my lunch break at work. So to get everyone up to speed, I will re-cap some of the cooking mishaps, victories, and learning experiences that I had closing out 2009.

Thanksgiving 2009 #1:
To start, I say Thanksgiving #1 because I had 3 this year. It was like the marathon of Thanksgivings for me. Three weeks, three turkeys, and three families [so to speak]. Thanksgiving #1 was the second annual holiday event co-hosted with Mme. Pépin. As Mme. Pépin and I begin planning for Thanksgiving up to 3 months in advance, I had time to work out a menu that would challenge me.

It was more than assumed that I would be cooking the turkey because of the two of us, I was the only one who could handle prep of the raw bird. To free up our oven for the afternoon I decided it would be interesting to grill the turkey. I decided on this recipe from Martha Stewart to season the bird. I wanted to make sure that since I was grilling, the skin was infused with as many herbs as I could find. We used a charcoal grill and cooked the bird for about 6 hours. It turned out absolutely magnificent.

I was also in charge of the sweet potatoes and a dessert. To get away from just mashing all of our starches I picked this great southern recipe from Martha Stewart for the potatoes. I peeled and sliced them, which was much harder than I expected. I then put them in the oven to bake. After that I took them out, spinkled butter, brown sugar, pecans, and some cayenne pepper on them and popped them back into the oven for a few minutes. The result was absolutely phenomenal and everyone loved them.

As for the dessert, I was dead set on hand making a pumpkin pie but there wasn't a sweet pumpkin for miles. I must have checked at about 5 different stores and I couldn't find one. Why I couldn't a week before Thanksgiving I will never know. So I settled, begrudgingly by the way, for the canned pumpkin puree. They say that there's seasoning in it and it's "Pie Ready" but I was not about to believe that. I added my own spices [from this recipe], made the crust, and baked it. As an aside, I've been experimenting with pie crusts lately. I want to find the best crust for every pie and so far I've been impressed time and time again with Pate Brisee's crust. It's easy and just great. As for the pie, it turned out absolutely amazing. Though, I don't want to make a habit of using the canned puree.

All in all, Thanksgiving #1 was a hit. For the turkey, I would absolutely recommend grilling. The bird was so moist and flavorful. If you want to try something different and free up some oven space, don't be afraid to grill. You won't regret it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mme Pepin: "Real" Food and BBQ Picante Chicken

I recently read a book by Michael Pollan called "Food Rules: An Eater's Manual". I was drawn in by the well designed cover (Yes, as a graphic designer I do judge books by their covers). It was a quick read, and aside from Tim Gunn's book "A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style", I've never been so influenced by a book before. Pollan's concept wasn't anything novel or original, yet in today's day and age I suppose it bore repeating: eat REAL food. Not over-processed food, not food with ingredients that make you scratch your head, but food that is fresh, healthy and actual food. There were some other very informative parts of the book, including HOW to eat (insert smart-ass comment here), but rather than jilt Mr. Pollan out of book sales, go read it (I had it done in a matter of hours and it cost me about $7).

So what does this have to do with me, and cooking? Well, after reading Pollan's book, I evaluated the Cheez-it's that were tucked away in my purse. As I ate (one of my favorite snack foods) I noted what Pollan was saying about too much salt, too much to the point where it was artificially and unnecessarily salty. I looked at the fake bright orange color. I looked at the ingredients. Now things didn't click right away for me, I was on vacation and was subject to whatever food was going to cross my path (including my grandmother's delicious biscotti).

But when I got back to my natural habitat something strange happened: I really wanted an apple. I wanted that apple for several days, until I finally made it to a grocery store, purchased that apple (and several others) and ate it. Of all things I was full afterwards. Well go figure. Apparently, not only are apples filling and low calorie, they are incredibly good for you, they are probably one of the healthier fruits you can come across. So, I decided to adopt the old "apple a day" policy. So far what I've noticed is that I'm not craving chocolate and sweets very much anymore. I'm not eating when I'm not hungry. I'm not eating processed foods as much. I think Mr. Pollan may be onto something here... more to come as more happens.

Well, tonight I finally hit rock bottom in terms of the amount of consumable dinner food at my apartment. There was a lot of 'fake' mac & cheese (another old fave) which had lost it's magical pull over me. Some sherbet, apple sauce and a whole host of things that should (and since have) be thrown away living (and breathing, haha just kidding about the breathing part) in my fridge. I decided I really wanted real food. So I walked to Jewel (I don't own a car) and picked up dinner for the boyfriend and myself for Friday night (more to come on that after Friday night happens) and dinner for myself tonight.

I decided that since the boyfriend and I were going to have beef on Friday, I'd have chicken tonight. SINCE WHEN IS BEEF CHEAPER THAN CHICKEN?!?! Ah well, can't overdo it on the red meat thing, so I bought some chicken breast. I've been seeing those commercials lately for Pace Picante sauce, and since I do enjoy salsa, and could recognize/pronounce all of the ingredients on the label, decided that that would be the topping to my chicken. When I returned home I checked online at Pace's website to assess the situation and they even suggested BBQ sauce mixed in, hell's yeah! I do enjoy my BBQ as much as my salsa.

I started to heat some olive oil in the pan, putting A LOT more than usual in (the boyfriend did it the other night when he made pork and it turned out really juicy). Even with oven mitts on once I put the chicken in the pan I was getting burned. I turned the heat down, still popping, gah it was a bit of a mess. I then started to paint the chicken with the BBQ-Picante mixture until I decided that the chicken was done (several years ago I turned chicken into rubber, so now I'm always careful not to cook it too long). I had two thin chicken breasts with the mixture on it, and it was really good. And filling.

For dessert I mixed fresh blueberries into plain yogurt and drizzled honey on top. It's been several hours now and I'm not hungry, I'm not scouring my place for chocolate and I don't feel bad about what I ate. Awesome.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mme. Pepin: Welcome Back

Happy 2010, sorry it's been a few months, November and December are my prime entertaining months and I'm going-going-gone during that time. I'll recap a few of the cooking highlights:

Thanksgiving 2009
I'm just going to say it, I know that I'm an adult now that Christmas is no longer my favorite holiday of the year, don't get me wrong, I still love the traditions and holiday cheer, but to me, Thanksgiving takes the cake. What's better than an entire holiday centered around food and family? I've got two dishes that I look forward to making each Thanksgiving (okay, for a few different Thanksgivings held over the past 2 years, and hopefully many more to come). The first is the often overlooked (until now) cranberries. The second is the stuffing. Ironically enough, up until I started making the stuffing and the cranberries from recipes that I found, neither of those dishes ever found their way onto my dinner plate.

I found the recipe that I frequent for cranberries from Good Housekeeping's Thanksgiving issue back in 2008 (I believe). It doesn't produce the jello-esk cranberries that so often hold a place at a Thanksgiving table, this recipe turns out much more like a relish of sorts. Aside from the obvious, cranberries, this recipe features ginger and pear. Last year I used ground ginger from a container, but this year, I got adventurous (and perhaps a little overzealous) with fresh ginger that I ground myself. One word: Micro-plain. Go buy one. So my first batch for my pre-Thanksgiving dinner was a little heavy on the ginger, I got it right for the actual big day.

The stuffing came from one of Martha Stewart's staff members, written up in Martha Stewart Living's Thanksgiving 2008 (once again, I believe) issue. It is a peach stuffing, and tastes fresh and delicious if I do say so myself. The recipe features stale rustic Italian bread, a can of clingstone peach halves and frozen orange juice concentrate among other things. I find it difficult not to pick at the dish while I'm waiting for the right time to put it into the oven. It had a large following this year at my parent's Thanksgiving table. And had tough competition at the pre-Thanksgiving dinner when it was up against my brother's "Man Stuffing", which featured summer sausage, eggs, and mashed potatoes.

All in all, the pre-Thanksgiving and actual Thanksgivings were culinary successes and I look forward to next year.

Ah yes, I almost forgot to mention that for the pre-Thanksgiving I made the delightful Cannele. This time they turned out harder on the outside. I'm chalking that up to working with an oven that can actually get to the correct temperature. Not sure which way I prefer the outer shell to be, but both times they were a crowd favorite.

Into the New Year:
I've procured some new cookbooks throughout the holidays and I'm excited to get cracking on them. I'm going to use this blog to continue my work with Jacque's cookbook, but also to share some of my other culinary adventures.

I just got back from a long (chilly) weekend in Florida. I wanted something warm and simple to make for my boyfriend and I for dinner that didn't consist of driving to Wendy's, pre-made food, or my standard tri-color rotini with olive oil and parmesan cheese. In one of my new cookbooks full of healthy meals for under $7, I found a recipe for sirloin steak with blue cheese and basil. I was running behind schedule, so (what turned out to be) thankfully, Mike was there to keep my company as I cooked. I couldn't find any fresh basil, so I took that out of the mix, and I made whole wheat gnocchi as a side. I was about to put the steak (seasoned in sea salt, olive oil and lemon pepper) onto the pan when Mike pointed out that there was a lingering piece of black paper stuck to the bottom of the steak (from the packaging), phew, caught it before I started a fire. I must have been really absent minded last night as the kitchen started to fill up with smoke due to the fact that I was searing the meat on high heat instead of medium heat (thanks again to Mike for pointing out that error). There wasn't much damage done to the meat other than a few well done edges, and we got the window open before the fire alarm went off. When the steak had cooked for about 5 minutes on both sides I added the blue cheese and cooked it for another 4 minutes while the steak finished and the cheese melted.

It tasted very good, I'd make this again in a heartbeat. The few little mishaps aside, this meal was simple and quick to make as well as relatively healthy and inexpensive. I was worried that I had put too much salt onto the meat, but thankfully the cheese took care of any issues in taste that could have occurred from too much salt.