Super bowl XLIV: Gumbo and Sweet Potato Pie

I was pretty happy that the Saints made it to the Super Bowl this year, but I honestly did not think they would actually win! That was a fantastic game. Either way I knew I’d be making some good food to match the Saint’s home state. The main course was gumbo. This one is shrimp, sausage and chicken. I used a recipe from “Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picayune of  New Orleans” for the gumbo and changed it up a bit. I used a bit less oil and added half a pound of okra in there. For the roux I used Alton Brown’s method of making it in the oven. Sure it takes more time but is very convenient and almost guarantees a perfect, dark but not burned roux.

For dessert I wanted to make a sweet potato pie, also based on a recipe from the same book. I made the dough with the standard 3-2-1 pastry dough recipe, the perfect ratio of flour-butter-water for a flaky and delicious pie dough. The filling recipe only made enough to fill half the pie, so I quickly decided that the sweet potato pie is now a sweet potato-pecan pie. Good and very tasty decision that was.

Gingerbread, Pumpkin and Walnut-Pear-Bourbon Ice Cream

Just like the venison dish I posted about earlier, this dessert happened because of Diana. More specifically, it was because of her dislike of gingerbread cookies. Earlier in December I had made some gingerbread cookie dough in hopes of making gingerbread men with my son, however Diana was sure that he will not like those spicy cookies and that I should’ve made sugar cookies instead. So, into the freezer the dough went. I certainly did not want to throw it out but I figured that most of it will go to waste if I simply bake gingerbread cookies. Diana did say that she would not mind a dessert that would use gingerbread cookies. Pumpkin pie or tart was the first idea that came to mind using the dough for the crust. That was the theme, with a few more “twists”, that brought this dessert together and this is a dessert I am very proud of, it was delicious and looked stunning.

My original plan for plating this, and the one I actually sketched, involved making “cannoli” shells from the gingerbread dough and filling that with the pumpkin mousse. I did doubt that this would work though, considering the high percentage of butter in the dough, and I was right. They simply fell apart when fried and got bent out of shape when baked. So, I just cut the thin dough into squares, baked them and broke some of them in half to get smaller rectangles.

For the ice cream, I cooked pears sous vide with butter, vanilla seeds and a little sugar. That, by the way, made the most amazing poached pear slices. I had to keep myself from eating them all. I pureed the pears with ice cream base made from  walnut flavored cream/milk (toast walnuts, and steep them in the dairy mixture for 24 hours, then strain them out), eggs, sugar and bourbon. This is also another recipe I was very happy with and will make again. All the flavors worked great together and were distinct.

I candied a few butternut squash rings and reduced the now squash (plus clove and cinnamon) flavored candying liquid into a thick syrup to serve as a sauce for the finished dessert. The pumpkin mousse is basically pumpkin pie filling. So, I roasted a a small pumpkin (or that might’ve been a butternut squash as well) and pureed the flesh. Then I followed a recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Kitchen to Yours” and made a pumpkin pie filling with eggs, cream, sugar and a little spice. I baked this in a brownie pan till set, then pureed it to a smooth mousse when it cooled.

For garnishes, I used more walnut. I caramelized roasted walnuts and salted them lightly and made dry walnut butter. To make the butter I followed a similar process to making my regular peanut butter. I processed roasted walnuts, a pinch of salt and sugar and a couple of table spoons walnut oil until I got a fairly smooth and spreadable walnut butter. To dry it up, I processed it with Tapioca Maltodextrin unitl it got dry and crumbly. At plating time, I broke it into irregular shapes, almost like rocks and sand, and scattered it around the plate.

Here is a slightly different plating I served the day after

Tarts – Mixed Berry and Caramelized Banana

Delicious tarts cobbled up with what I had in the pantry and fridge. The dough is a simple 3-2-1 (flour-butter-liquid) with egg yolks making up half of the liquid and ice water the rest. I also added some vanilla sugar for flavor and to help brown the baked pastry. I baked them blind till completely cooked and crispy/flaky. The filling is basic pastry cream made using the solid recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s book “Baking: From my Home to yours“. I love banana pies, Diana does not. So, hers was topped with a mixed berry sauce (frozen mixed berries cooked briefly with sugar and chilled). Mine was filled and topped with banana, sprinkled with sugar and caramelized with a torch then sprinkled with pistachios.

Pumpkin-Olive Oil Cake and Buckwheat Ice Cream

Every year I look forward to cooking with winter squashes in the fall. It really is a pleasure to go to the store and see all the different varieties of squash, from the large cool looking decorative ones to the smaller delicious butternut squash. A favorite fall dish of ours, and last night’s dinner, is ravioli or tortelloni filled with butternut squash puree. I wrote about it a while back here. Another popular use for these fall fruit (or is it a vegetable?) is in baking. I prepare waffles and pancakes with them, bake muffins, cheesecake and quick breads. For most of these baked goods, I use canned pumpkin. Along with canned beans and canned tomatoes, they are one of the few raw ingredients I do not mind using out of a can. Of course it depends on what I am doing, I’ll never make a creamy pumpkin/squash soup with canned pumpkin, but a cake like this one here is simply perfect made with a can of Libby’s pumpkin puree (NOT canned pumpkin pie filling!)

The buckwheat ice cream from the Alinea cookbook was the first thing that came to mind to accompany the cake. It is deliciously earthy, nutty and just screams autumn. The cake recipe is from Mario Batali’s “Babbo Cookbook“. It is made with olive oil, not butter, and is studded with bourbon-soaked raisins and pine nuts. The cake is fantastic with a mild spice flavor from both the spices and the peppery olive oil. It is also very tender, but holds it’s shape perfectly.

I intended to have a few more elements to this dish, but had no time for an elaborate sauce, and my Maltodextrin dry caramel just did not work out (too wet of a mixture is the cause I suspect). For plating, I had a square of the cake and a quenelle – a very ugly one at that- of the ice cream on opposite sides of the plate. I made a quick foamy sauce with olive oil, simple syrup, and a couple of tablespoons of cream and foamed it with a little Lecithin using a stick blender. I garnished the dish with drops of Steen’s Cane Syrup, bourbon raisins, toasted pinenuts and the olive oil foam. Steen’s, from Louisianna, is really a great ingredient and one of my favorite syrups. I bought my first bottle years ago because Emeril Lagasse kept on mentioning it and cooking with and I got curious. My pantry always has a bottle or two at all times now. I use it frequently on top of pancakes or waffles, as a topping for ice cream and in marinades or sauces. It tastes like a mild molasses with complex honey notes. Buy yourself a bottle if you see one at your store and give it a shot. This dish worked very nicely, I loved the flavors, the textures and – except for my ugly single spoon quenelle of ice cream (need to practice that technique)- looked lovely and warm.

Real Men Don’t Eat quiche, they eat Quiche!

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“Real men don’t eat quiche”! Yeah, right, not when it is my quiche or should I say the Bouchon quiche. I really do not know where that reputation came from. Probably from the tiny dainty pieces of puff pastry painted with a substance that might’ve been egg at some point and frozen in boxes that you can pick up at Sam’s or Costco. Yes, these poor little imitations still pop up at an “eh-derve” party here and there, but these are not quiche!

Neither are those ½ inch thin tarts that are sold and made by many. You need 2 of those tarts, yes tarts not quiche, to get full. Is that possibly why “real men do not eat quiche”? Do they not meet the criteria of filling, delicious and rich that any man looks for in a meal? If you believe those Hungry-Man commercials, they don’t.

Well, I doubt anyone can make this argument against the quiche from the Bouchon book. This is a real quiche, 2 inches thick and chuck full of eggs, cream, milk, meats and other goodies…oh yes and cheese. Take that Hungry-Man!

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Bacon-Mushroom Quiche

Yields: 8 generous slices
I’ve made the Bouchon recipe numerous times and the first few times were bad experiences. This thick quiche will leak if not properly made, and in all honesty it is one of the most challenging cooking experiences I’ve had. A small crack can turn into a much bigger one once the custard is poured in and disaster ensues. When you get the hang of it though, this is one glorious piece of pastry, delicious and impressive. I have not had a leaky quiche in quiet sometime. Remember, work fast, keep the dough rolled thick, and fill when still hot/warm.

Here is my adaptation of the Bouchon recipe. My custard has more eggs and less dairy because I like the more curdy texture rather than creamy. I also love this bacon mushroom filling, but feel free to improvise.

Pastry
12 ounces All Purpose Flour (about 3 cups, but if you have a scale, please weigh it)
2 Sticks butter, chilled and diced
1 Tbsp salt
¼ Cup ice water

Custard and Fillings
6 thick slices of bacon, cut into ¼ strips across
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1 shallot diced
1 onion, diced
1 Tbsp butter
7 large eggs
3 Cups milk
½ Cup heavy cream
2 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1 Cup grated cheese (Swiss, Gruyere, mozzarella or smoked mozzarella)

Special Equipment
8 X 2  inch cake ring (Available for less than $10 at a cake supply store or Sur La Table)

Make the pastry: in a food processor, combine one third of the flour with the salt and pulse a couple of times. Add the butter in increments until all of it is incorporated ending up with a paste. Add the rest of the flour and the ice water and pulse until you have a nice smooth dough. Form the dough into an 8 inch disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about an hour or up to 48 hours. This can also be frozen. Make sure the dough is pliable before rolling though.
Lightly oil the inside of the cake ring, place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat. Roll the dough into a ¼ inch thick round. It should be large enough to line the ring and have about a ½ inch overhang. But DO NOT roll it too much thinner than ¼ inch. Roll the pastry on a rolling pin and lay it in the ring gently, do not pull and tug on it as you let it rest in all corners. Fold any overhang on the outside of the ring, it will help keep it in place. Save any extra dough, you might need it.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes till it sets.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Line the unbaked crust with an oiled parchment paper and fill with pie weights or beans (I use beans). Bake for about 30-40 minutes till the edges are brown. Gently remove the beans and the parchment, patch up any small cracks with the reserved dough and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or until the inside and bottom are lightly browned. Make the filling while this crust blind bakes.

Make the Filling: Saute the bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat till the fat is rendered and the meat is lightly crisped. Remove to a plate and sauté the mushrooms in the bacon fat, till lightly browned. Add the shallots and onions and cook everything till the mushrooms exude all their liquid and the onions are soft. Whisk in the butter and cook for another minute. Add the bacon to the pan and if needed add a little salt. You will also be seasoning the custard so don’t add too much.
Heat the milk and cream till a skin forms on the surface but do not boil them. Remove from heat. Crack the eggs in a large bowl, add the salt, pepper, nutmeg and whisk till smooth. Slowly add the milk mixture and keep on whisking till everything is combined.

Assemble the quiche: Do this when the pastry and custard are still hot/warm, do not let them cool down. This will help the filling cook and set faster rather than get the pastry soggy and leaky. Make sure the shell has no small cracks, pay particular attention to the corners. If it, does patch them with pieces of reserved dough. Leaving the shell on the baking sheet, place half the bacon-mushroom mixture in the bottom, top it of with a third of the cheese, and gently pour in half the custard. Repeat with the remaining filling, half of the remaining cheese, and the rest of the custard. You might want to place this in the oven then adding the last cup or so of custard to avoid spilling during transfer since it will be filled to the brim. Top with the rest of the cheese. Bake for about 70 – 90 minutes, until it is set and nicely browned on top.
Cool to room temperature and then chill overnight. When ready to serve, the quiche should be set and can be handled easily. Simply use a knife to cut the extra overhang and slide the quiche out of the ring. Slice and heat the slices on a baking sheet in a 375F oven till heated through. Enjoy.

Timpano al Antica

Have you seen Big Night? No! Well you need to. When thinking about a film that deals with food, very few movies come close to this one. It is a classic. Film is not the subject of this post however, it is the Timpano. That awe- inspiring masterpiece of pastry, pasta and sauces that Primo serves during the big night dinner at the end of the film.

Timpano has always fascinated me since I first saw the film a few years ago, but like so many things it had to wait and I never managed to get around to making it. Now, finally, due to cooking from Campania in September in eGullet’s Italy and Italian Cuisine forum, I did try a version of this dish. Click here to see my comments, negatives and positives. We are already planning our own tribute to Big Night with a few colleagues at work, and a new and improved Timpano will certainly be featured.