Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Baked Apples with Caramel Sauce...

and a few pointers on how not to act if you happen to run into Mark Wahlberg. 

I'll start with the Mark Wahlberg tips. A couple of months ago a friend and I went to New Orleans for the week-end to celebrate her birthday. We had decided that on her birthday, which fell on a Sunday, we'd go all out for dinner. We wanted a great fine dining experience, which is pretty easy to do in The Big Easy. Several people had recommended Restaurant August, one of chef John Besh's New Orleans restaurants. Although we called fairly early on in the week, the only times they had open for reservations were either at 6:00 pm or at after 9:00 pm. Even though it was earlier than we really wanted, we decided to take the 6:00 reservation. We figured we'd do Sunday brunch, shop, sight-see, and by 6:00pm maybe we'd be hungry again. We had a fantastic brunch at Brennan's, where I had ordered the baked apple and cream. (this is how the baked apple fits into this tale!) It was delicious and I've wanted to try to recreate them ever since. I could have just had that apple and been perfectly happy but of course I'd ordered the 3 course brunch and my apple was followed by Eggs Benedict and a flambeed crepe. Delicious, but enough to send you into a food coma!

Anyway 6:00 pm rolls around and it's time for dinner. We arrive at August (which is beautiful inside!) and there are only a couple other tables seated. We don't care, we're here to celebrate and enjoy some great food. We were so busy drooling over the menu that neither one of us had paid much attention to the people around us. When our waiter came back with our drinks, he whispered, "You know who that is, don't you?" as he nodded his head toward the table in the back corner. I had glanced over there when we first walked in but didn't really look at the people. I just saw two guys dressed in jeans and t-shirts. My only thought had been, "Who wears an old gray t-shirt to a nice restaurant?" Well apparently Mark Wahlberg, that's who! And for the record, he looks darn good in it too. As far as I'm concerned he should wear that t-shirt all the time, or better yet no shirt at all!

About that time Mark (I feel he won't mind me using his first name. ha ha) and his friend get up to leave. They graciously thank the wait staff, take a picture with the table right beside them, and get ready to walk out of the restaurant. In order for them to leave they have to pass RIGHT BY our table. I whisper to my friend, that I'm going to stop him because it's her birthday. We both were all giggly, like teenagers at this point.

(Insert "How Not to Act" tips here)

1. As Mark Wahlberg approaches, do NOT raise you hand like you are in 3rd grade.

I don't know what happened here I just saw my hand go up in the air. I quickly recovered and dropped my hand back into my lap. I don't think he noticed, or maybe he thought I wanted the waiter...or possibly he wondered why that idiot just raised her hand in a restaurant...

2. Do not just say "Excuse me Mr. Wahlberg, but it's my friend's birthday tonight and....ummm...hee hee, ummm.

Say something intelligent, like congrats on the Oscar nomination for The Fighter, or I loved you in The Fighter, or something, ANYTHING! Well maybe not anything. "Can I touch your abs?", probably would not have been appropriate either.

3. After you've stopped him, giggled like tweens, at least ask if you can take a picture with him with the camera that's sitting right there on the table.

Nope didn't do that either. Although he was super nice, especially when we just sat there looking at him with our big doe eyes. I had seen that flash of, Oh crap, I just wanted to leave, look on his face when I stopped him and I lost my nerve, as well as, apparently, my ability to speak.

I hope you find these tips helpful if you run into Mark Wahlberg in the future.

Oh and Mark Wahlberg was not the only celeb we saw there that night. While I was in the bathroom, Gordon Ramsey came in. He also walked RIGHT BY our table, and my friend said hello. I missed it and had to settle for looking at him from across the room. There was no way that I was going to speak to him. I didn't want to be called a "donkey" or "fat mouthed cow". I realize that's just a character he plays for ratings, but I wasn't about to risk it!

I have to say that even without the celebrity sightings, it was a superb dining experience. The food was fantastic, every bite was more delicious than the last. Each dish was done with precision and the attention given to even the tiniest details was impressive. As amazing as the food was, the service was even better, which is saying a lot. They treated us like we were the celebrities, even offered us a tour of the kitchen, which was too cool. John Besh was not in that night, but we met his chef de cuisine Michael Gulotta. If you get a chance to go to Restaurant August, take it. You may not meet Mark Wahlberg, but you will have an amazing dining experience.

These baked apples are really delicious. When I got home from New Orleans, I looked for a recipe for baked apples like the one I had at Brennan's. I found this one on Saveur's (one of my favorite magazines) website. While it's not exactly what I had at Brennan's, it's just as good!

Baked Apples with Caramel Sauce
printable recipe
Source:Saveur in Issue #123  recipe is based on one in Emily Luchetti’s Four-Star Desserts (Harper Collins, 1996).
slightly adapted 

For the baked apples:
1⁄4 cup sugar
1⁄4 cup maple syrup
4 tbsp. unsalted butter,
at room temperature
2 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1⁄4 tsp. kosher salt
6 firm Fuji apples, stemmed and cored

For the caramel sauce:
1 1⁄2 cups sugar
1⁄3 cup heavy cream
1⁄2 cup raisins
2 tbsp. dark rum
1/4 cup pecans, toasted, for garnish
Make the baked apples: Heat oven to 325°. Combine sugar, syrup, butter, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl; set aside. Cut 1⁄4" from bottom of apples so that they sit flat; transfer apples to a 9" x 13" baking pan. Fill hollow cores with reserved sugar–syrup mixture. Cover apples with foil; bake until tender, about 50 minutes.( Mine took longer than 50 minutes to get really soft.)

Put raisins into a small bowl, add rum and let soak while making the caramel sauce.
Heat sugar and 1⁄2 cup water in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, without stirring, until amber colored and a candy thermometer inserted into syrup reads 330˚, about 20 minutes. Remove pan from heat; let cool slightly. Add cream (caramel will bubble up slightly). Stir in raisins and rum; set aside. Serve apples with caramel sauce, toasted pecans, and ice cream, if desired.

If I ever meet Mark Wahlberg again, maybe I'll just offer him a baked good!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Skillet Irish Soda Bread

Happy St. Paddy's Day, the day that everyone is at least part Irish! 

Hubs (yes he's finally home!) really looks forward to St. Paddy's Day because it means he gets one of his all-time favorite meals, corned beef and cabbage. While I like corned beef and cabbage, I can't say it's one of my favorite meals. Irish soda bread however, that's another story. There's no other bread quite like it. Chock full of currants or raisins and caraway seeds, it's both sweet and savory. Kind of a cross between bread and cake. What's not to love?

In the past I've always made my Irish bread in a free form loaf, which I think is a delicious bread. This time I decided to try a recipe that baked the bread in a skillet. I have to say it's fantastic! Baking it in a skillet gives it an almost scone-like quality. The skillet gives the outside a nice crust while the inside stays soft and tender. This bread would be great for a breakfast or brunch, as well.

Skillet Irish Soda Bread
(Printable recipe)
Source: New York Times, March 14, 2007
Time: 1 1/2 hours
Butter for greasing pan plus 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
2 eggs, well beaten
1 1/2 cups raisins or currants
1 tablespoon caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch oven-proof skillet and line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk, eggs and 2 tablespoons melted butter.
Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just combined. Do not overmix.

Stir in the raisins or currants and caraway seeds.

Pour batter into skillet. Brush top with remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Bake until golden and firm to touch, about 1 hour. Cool 10 minutes before slicing.

Yield: 1 10-inch loaf.

The recipe suggests serving the bread warm with a good quality cheddar cheese and some tart apples.

Topped with Irish white cheddar..mmmm....maybe I am part Irish!
May your blessings outnumber
The shamrocks that grow,
And may trouble avoid you
Wherever you go.
~Irish Blessing

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Fastnacht Day....

or Strove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Mardi gras... also know as homemade doughnut day in my family.
I don't know what today means to you, maybe parades, floats, costumes, beads, overindulgence, or quite possibly it's just another Tuesday, but for me it's Fastnacht Day. In my world that means eating homemade fried dough! I come from a Pennsylvania Dutch background and we celebrate the day before Ash Wednesday with doughnuts, preferably homemade. The traditional Fastnacht Day doughnut is made with a potato dough. Although they are delicious, I broke a little with tradition this time and added a little New Orleans twist this year and made beignets. I visited New Orleans a few weeks ago and stopped by Cafe du Monde for beignets. I've been craving them ever since. So what better excuse  to make beignets then Fastnacht Day?!

Makes about 2 dozen.

1 Envelope active dry yeast
3/4 cup very warm water (110 degrees F)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup evaporated milk
3 1/2 - 3 3/4 cups flour
1/8 cup shortening
Vegetable oil for frying
Powdered sugar for topping the hot beignets

Combine the yeast, water, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook (You could also make this in a food processor.) Let this sit until yeast blooms (gets frothy), about 5 minutes.

Add the salt, egg, and evaporated milk. Mix on low speed, add half of the flour until it starts to come together, then add the shortening. When the shortening is incorporated start adding the remaining flour, a little at a time until most of it is incorporated.  Turn the dough onto a floured work surface. Knead the dough adding just enough flour as necessary to make a non-sticky, smooth dough.

Place the dough into a large oiled bowl, loosely cover and let rise. You can make it in the dough in evening let it rise overnight in the refrigerator.
After the dough has doubled in bulk, punch it down and turn it onto a floured surface and roll out into a rectangle that is about 1/2" thick. With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, working at a diagonal to the rectangle, cut into 2" wide strips. Now cut into diamond shapes by making diagonal cuts in the opposite direction. Place the beignets on a floured baking sheet to let rise about 40 minutes in a warm place.

When the beignets have risen, heat 2-3 inches of vegetable oil in a large pot with high sides to 350-360 degrees. Place 2-4 beignets into the hot oil at a time, being careful not to smash or deflate them. When they are golden brown, flip them over until golden brown on the other side, about 1 minute per side. They go pretty quickly so start checking them right after they go into the oil. Remove to paper towel lined plates to drain.
I thought these were even better than Cafe du Monde.
 Serve hot topped with lots of powdered sugar and a pipping hot Cafe au Lait.
You'll swear your in New Orleans!

I'm afraid that Fat Tuesday may lead to Tight Pant Wednesday!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

It's Strawberry Mousse...

not moose. Hubs and I visited Alaska this past summer and found out that many dishes we had contained moose. This recipe does not contain moose but it is mousse.
Oh and it's also not the kind you of mousse you might put in your hair for added volume. This mousse is the creamy dreamy dessert kind of mousse. Hopefully that clears up any mousse/moose confusion!

Sorry for the silliness, I couldn't resist. Anyway this mousse is good eaten on its own but it really makes a fabulous filling for cakes and cupcakes. I used it for the filling in a chocolate cake. I had some leftover so I filled some chocolate cupcakes. I frosted the cake and the cupcakes with this frosting.
This cake has all the flavors of a chocolate dipped strawberry, in cake form. Delicious! 

Strawberry Mousse
(Printable recipe)

2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and cut in half
1 packet unflavored gelatin
1/3 cup cold water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp. lemon juice
2 cups heavy cream, chilled

Puree the strawberries in the food processor. Strain the strawberries through a mesh strainer. (you could skip this step if you don't mind seeds in your mousse.) Add sugar and lemon juice.

Sprinkle gelatin over the cold water to let it bloom for five minutes. Melt the gelatin in the microwave.*
Stir the gelatin into the strawberry puree and let it thicken for a few minutes.
Whip the heavy cream until medium stiff peaks form.
Gently fold the whipped cream into the puree with a rubber spatula until well incorporated. If using for a cake filling, refrigerate the mousse for 2 hours up to overnight before using.

*Note: (This is the method I use to dissolve gelatin.) To dissolve granular gelatin in a microwave: Combine 1 envelope unflavored granular gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water in a heat-proof bowl. Let sit until gelatin is softened. Microwave, uncovered, at 100 percent power, at 10 second intervals, for a total of approximately 45 seconds; check it in between each interval. Watch the gelatin mixture carefully because you don't want it to boil, otherwise it must be discarded because it will have lost its binding properties,
Make a dam around the cake with frosting. This will keep the mousse from getting loose...

no mousse on the loose!

This mousse is so easy and delicious you"ll want to make it all the time. I used fresh strawberries in mine but you could use thawed frozen berries if fresh berries are out of season.