Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Tennessee love affair

Every winter for the past five years, my dearest friends and I have escaped our jobs, our responsibilities, or whatever we've needed to escape in that moment, and traded them all in for a few days in the mountains of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We rent a big, cozy cabin, pack up our cars, and drive up into the Smoky Mountains to do...absolutely nothing.

For the few days we spend in the shelter of our cabin, we feel secure, comfortable, safe. We are accepted by each other just as we are, and there is no need to put on a face, but rather, we can simply let go of any previous hindrances. In the mornings we sleep late, then enjoy stacks of pancakes and thick syrup. We curl up in the cracked wooden rocking chairs on the porch with mugs of steaming coffee, letting the hot liquid warm our icy throats. We spend most of the day lost in conversation, strengthening friendships, confiding in each other our dreams and aspirations. At night we are back on the porch, the men smoke cigars and drink whiskey while I'm in the kitchen, doing what I enjoy most- cooking for the people I love.

At a moonshine tasting. Only in Tennessee!

This year, I decided to cook one of my favorite recipes ever for our last night in the cabin- boeuf (beef) bourguigon. I even lugged my beautiful turquoise Le Creuset dutch oven up to Tennessee just for the occasion (I was not going to cook such a beautiful meal in any old pot!) Sure enough, the stew was a success. I ladled big spoonfuls of the stew into deep bowls, we passed around pieces of Country bread and dipped large hunks into the stew. And of course, we enjoyed it with a bottle of Burgundy (there is an entire bottle of this red wine in the dish, so a glass of it while eating compliments it perfectly.) Even after the bowls were empty, we spent hours telling stories, laughing at silly (and at times a bit off-colored) jokes, living fully and completely in the moment.

My prized Le Creuset dutch oven.
 This recipe is not complicated in the least; don't let any prior misconceptions of the difficulty of this dish fool you into not trying it. It certainly deserves to be enjoyed with friends, preferably in a log cabin in Tennessee, in my opinion. It is a dish to make memories with, share conversations with, a "my God we sat down to dinner three hours ago" kind of meal. So savor it. :)

My dear friends and me in Gatlinburg at a local German restaurant. Adam being goofy as always.

Beef Bourguignon
Serves 6

1 tbsp olive oil
8 ounces bacon, diced
2 pounds beef chuck cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 pound carrots, sliced
1 yellow onion, sliced
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 bottle good dry red wine
2 cups beef broth
1 tbsp tomato paste
Fresh thyme
4 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
3 tbsp flour
1 carton mushrooms, stems discarded and sliced

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven (I use a Le Creuset). Add bacon and cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer to a large plate.

Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper. In single layers, sear the beef in the same oil for about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer cubes to the plate with the bacon and set aside.

Toss the carrots, onions with a little salt and pepper into the fat of the pan and cook over medium heat about 10-12 minutes, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Put the beef and bacon back into the pot along with any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Add the wine, beef broth, tomato paste, and a couple sprigs of thyme. Bring to a boil, cover with lid, and cook in the oven about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the meat and veggies are very tender. Remove from oven and place on the stove.

Combine 2 tbsp of butter and flour and stir into the stew. In a medium saucepan, heat the remaining 2 tbsp of butter over medium heat, add mushrooms, and saute for about 10 minutes. Add to the stew. Bring stew back to a boil, then simmer on the stove for about 15 minutes. Season to taste.

Enjoy with a fresh loaf of country bread or a French baguette, along with a glass of Burgundy and the company of loved ones.

Monday, February 11, 2013

joyeuse Saint-Valentin!

My Valentine's Day macarons

My last entry about my favorite eats on my engagement night truly flows perfectly into this week's,'s almost Valentine's Day! I am thrilled to be spending my first Valentine's with my loving husband, as we approach our one-year anniversary in March. I never knew I could care about someone so much, so deeply and affectionately. It's my heart's desire to serve him as much as I possibly can.

On our wedding day.

You know that old saying, "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach?" In this first year of marriage, I have certainly found this to be true. And so, what better way to say "I love you" than through a unique, melt-in-your-mouth treat like a French macaron?
I have been experimenting with macarons for almost 2 years now, and began a small business, La Petite Patisserie, about 8 months ago. Although macarons are divinely mouth-watering, they can be tricky to make, and because of this, they can be difficult to find (especially in the American South.) I refer to them as the "cupcake of France," because they are literally in every patisserie window, gleaming with their vibrant colors, begging to be consumed by the hungry passer-bys.
Macarons are made with ground almonds (almond flour) instead of traditional white flour that we use so much in the US. This makes them perfect for people with gluten allergies, as they are naturally gluten-free. Egg whites are whipped with sugar to make a frothy meringue, then mixed quickly with almond flour and powdered sugar, and piped into small rounds onto parchment paper. They are left to dry for up to 1 hour, then baked at a low temperature. The final result resembles little delicate cookie sandwiches, filled with a buttercream, ganache, or jam.
My chocolate macarons

There are about a million possibilities for macaron flavors. This recipe is the most basic, an almond macaron with a good-quality jam as the filling. Macaron flavors are all meant to be delicate, to compliment the flavor of the almond, and these simple ones allow that flavor to shine.
Please visit my Facebook business page to read more about my macarons: ;)

My macaron disclaimer: Macarons can be very temperamental! If yours don't come out perfectly the first time, don't be discouraged- mine didn't look great the first time, either! Once you get the hang of them, they are very fun to make, and you can begin to experiment with fun flavors, colors, and decorations. Enjoy!

Basic Macarons

I have included the gram measurement because I weigh my ingredients, as this will give you a more accurate measurement.

200 g (1 1/2 c) confectioner's sugar
100 g (2/3 c) ground almonds
3 egg whites, room temperature
a pinch of salt
40 g (3 tbsp) granulated sugar
A piping bag (I use Wilton 16-inch disposable), fitted with a 1/2 inch tip (Wilton #12)
2 baking sheets, lined with parchment paper or a Silpat (Williams-Sonoma)

Measuring my ingredients

Combine the confectioner's sugar and the almond flour into a food processor, and blend until well incorporated. Set aside.
Place your egg whites in a Kitchen-Aid bowl if you have one, or a large mixing bowl if you don't. Add the pinch of salt. Beat on medium speed until they hold a stiff peak, about 3-4 minutes.
Continue to whisk on medium speed, and slowly add the granulated sugar, one teaspoon at a time. Continue until all the gran. sugar has been added and your mixture is thick and white, about 5-6 minutes.
(At this time, you would add your food coloring to the meringue. This is optional; if you decide to add some color, make sure the food coloring is mixed thoroughly and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.)
Using a large spoon or spatula, fold the almond mixture into the egg whites. Mix for about 1 minute, until fully incorporated and spoon, but do not overmix. The mixture should drop from your spoon in a smooth, molten mass.
Fill your piping bag with the mixture. I place the piping bag in a large cup and fold the top edge of the bag over the rim of the glass.
Holding your piping back straight up and down, pipe 1 1/2 inch rounds onto your parchment paper or silpat. Let the macarons sit for about 30-45 minutes, until they no longer feel wet or tacky when you touch them. 
Bake macarons at 320 degrees F for about 12 minutes. You may need to adjust baking times according to your oven. 
Let cool completely. When cool, fill with the best quality jam. I use Bonne Maman.

Here are a few tips I have learned in my trial-and-error macaron baking:
 If your macarons do not come easily off of the parchment paper, they are probably under-cooked  Try baking 1-2 minutes longer next time.

If your macarons crack, there is probably too much moisture/humidity. (This is very common in the South). Try reducing your oven temperature 5-10 degrees and baking 1-2 minutes more.
If your macarons are too liquidy when you pipe them out, either you did not whip the egg whites long enough, or there is not enough dry ingredients.
If they are too stiff/difficult to pipe out, you probably whipped your egg whites too long.
Macarons should have little crinkly edges when finished, called "feet." If yours do not form feet, or only form feet on one side, try leaving them to dry a bit longer. This may also be due to uneven oven temperatures.

Most of all, have fun with them!! I have seen every flavor, from the most traditional (pistachio, lemon, chocolate) to the most wildly bizarre (basil cream, cognac, french toast!) Experiment with your own. It is often much easier to flavor the filling than the macaron shell itself, because the texture is too easily compromised by adding additional liquid. Get creative with decorations too- I use nonpareils, cocoa powder, ground nuts, coca nibs. The possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013



  Of all the US cities I've visited in my 25 years on this earth, Charleston is without a doubt the most charming. The oldest city in South Carolina, the town welcomes you with its wise and stoic buildings, its beautifully preserved history, and its lively abundance of artists, designers, and foodies. My husband and I spent our honeymoon here, in an elegant, old-world inn in the French Quarter. It felt as if we had stepped back in time- we would bicycle to a local bakery for breakfast, stroll the sun-baked shoreline in the afternoon, and go hand in hand to dinner each night, traveling down carriage-worn streets to candlelit mansions, reflections of an enchanting past.
     This town was just that- enchanting. My favorite walks were the ones in which we would find ourselves happily lost down some ancient street, a few stars piercing through the blackness of night, mimicked by the faint lights inside the archaic buildings, as the families inside were getting ready to turn in for the night. We were perfectly content in taking our time to find our way back, having just eaten at one of Charleston's fantastic restaurants (and there are so many, too many to mention), content with simply being together, being tremendously and hopelessly in love.
     Charleston food is literally in a category of its own. Known as "lowcountry," its cuisine originates from a vast number of cultures, including African, French, Native American, and Spanish. Many people compare the importance of lowcountry cuisine of Charleston and the Georgia coast to what Cajun cuisine means to New Orleans. Out of this melange of nations was birthed something remarkable- a portfolio of some of the most satisfying and exceptional dishes, such as shrimp and grits, she crab soup, and seafood pirlau.
     Shrimp and grits have become a classic, for Charlestonians and Southerners alike. The grits are normally served in a shallow bowl with the shrimp scattered over the top, but my recipe is a new take on this old favorite. Grits are combined with whipped egg whites and spooned into ramekins to make mini souffles, and the dish comes together with a creamy (and incredibly tasty) roasted corn sabayon, a French sauce made with cream and eggs. The individual elements take a bit of effort, but together they create something your taste buds are going to love.

Shrimp and Sausage with Grits Souffle and Yellow Pepper Sabayon

3 ears corn, unhusked
2 tbsp unsalted butter
Salt and black pepper

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1/2 of a yellow bell pepper, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp salt
1 egg yolk

Grits Souffle:
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup quick-cooking grits
Salt and black pepper
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup shredded sharp Cheddar
2 eggs, separated

Shrimp and Sausage:
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and black pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces andouille sausage, cut into 1-inch slices on the diagonal

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease 6-8 souffle dishes (or a muffin tin) and refrigerate.

For the corn: Remove the husks and silks, and rub each cob with butter; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake on a baking sheet until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees for the souffles. When cooled, slice the kernels off the cobs and set aside for later.

For the sabayon, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook about 5 minutes, then add garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Add the cream and 1 cup of the corn and cook until mixture begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to a blender or food processor and puree, set aside.

To prepare the grits souffles, bring milk to a slight boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in the grits and cook until they have reached a porridge consistency, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the salt, pepper, butter, Cheddar, and egg yolks.

With an electric mixer, beat the remaining egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites into the grits mixture, and spoon into the cold souffle dishes. Place on a baking sheet and bake until souffles are just set, about 20 minutes.

While they are baking, finish the sabayon: use a sieve to strain the pureed sabayon mixture through it and into a saucepan over medium-low heat. Sprinkle in the salt. Whisk in the egg yolk and continue to whisk until mixture thickens, 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

To prepare the shrimp and sausage: toss the shrimp with salt, pepper, and cayenne in a bowl. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook about 2 minutes on each side, or until they are pink and cooked through. Transfer to a plate. Cook the sausage in the same skillet until browned, about 5 minutes. Drain on a paper towel lined plate.

To assemble the plates, spoon the sabayon sauce in the middle of each plate. Unmold a souffle onto the sauce. Top with the shrimp and sausage, and sprinkle on some of the remaining corn. Garnish with parsley or scallions if desired.