Due to many requests and emails, Clare and I have decided to open two more spots to our Gulf Shores Food Photography & Styling Workshop, April 25th-29th. It sold out fast but we have room and plenty of brain power to accommodate and teach two more people. For more info, click HERE.
Cooking for one can be challenging. Not because recipes are often written for 4 or 6. For me they are a fast realization that I can’t share my favorite things with my mate. During the week, I live of big pots of soups filled with lots of root vegetables, plenty of herbs and a bit of protein I cook and add separately. It’s nothing glamorous but it’s good and it fills the house with familiar flavors. I also make big batches of ratatouille that I simply top with shavings of parmesan and a poached egg. Any leftover anything is greatly highlighted with an egg on top, in my opinion.
Week like this week, could prove challenging to get something nutritious on the table if I were neither a bit organized nor desiring to feed my body right. Let’s face it, and you know it, everyday can turn form nice and mellow to high pressured and brain frying. It’s always nice to come home to something one can reheat or fix in a flash. While I try to get a big pot of soup on during the weekend so I can have some ready to eat when I get home, sometimes, I find myself in the mood for something else altogether.
Composed salad are always my second best choice. Lots of greens, roasted vegetables, flavorful grains and a protein of some sort. Kale, roasted beets, quinoa, wild rice, salmon, soft boiled eggs, grilled steak. Everything makes its way into a salad. Or a soup. Small batches of Pho, oxtail stew, salmon chowder. It’s micro cooking all over again. And if you like preparing food, shopping, chopping, dicing, sauteing, mixing, well, you still like cooking for one. Even if it means, a quiet evening, one bowl and some leftovers.
Sometimes, I just get a bit more fancy with my time, especially when I get home a bit earlier than anticipated and take a few minutes to marinate, assemble and grill. And still have leftovers to come home to.
The latest issue of Donna Hay had the most tempting marinated zucchini salad and while inspired by the dish, I did not follow the recipe to a T. I paired it with some simple chili oil (from the roasted okra in this post) and blood orange marinated shrimp that I thread on fresh sugar cane sticks. They add a bit of sweet contrast to the oil in the marinade and pair perfectly well with the mint and pepper of the marinated zucchini salad.
Dining for one may be a bit of drab at times, unless with meals such as this one when something is good and you don’t necessarily want to share…
I hope and trust everyone to have enjoyed their Thanksgiving holidays and little time off here in the States. We sure have. Bill and the pups came to Birmingham for Thanksgiving and the older pup, Tippy is staying with me while Bill and Bailey (The Inseparables) have gone back to Charleston.
While we were busy bees around the house, hanging paintings, fixing odds and ends around the place and getting the last bit of furniture we needed, we also enjoyed being together and doing things for the two of us, as a team. We had not spent any quality time together for a long long time (September or so) and these four days felt like the ultimate luxury.
We do have a blast together. One would hope so after fifteen years together, right?! We are quick to recognize our "adjusting" period and give the other some breathing room. After operating apart for most of the summer and Fall, it is imperative that we do not waste any seconds of those precious moments. And I enjoy pampering him with good home cooked meal whenever I can and these past four days were no exceptions.
We had a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner with friends eating turkey, yes, drinking Champagne cocktails and making S’Mores huddled around an outdoor fireplace. We also hosted our first dinner in the house we are renting this year. I am pretty happy with how the decor/furniture situation is shaping up. Nothing like having a blank canvas to take your time to find the appropriate pieces.
It was in that cozy spot that I came up with this new soup. A complete "open the fridge and throw a few things together" kind of moment when I find myself with way more vegetables than days available to eat them. A mix of Swiss chard, kale, zucchini, turnips and avocado. I topped each bowl of soup with a few grilled shrimp, well seasoned with smoked paprika to make it a bit heartier since the days got wintry cold almost over night here.
I am liking the feeling of a comfy sweater, warm high socks and a big bowl of soup by the fire these days.
One more thing before I go: Congratulations to Jacqui of Good Things Grow for winning Julie Le Clerc’s cookbook Made By Hand. Please send your mailing address to mytartelette AT gmail DOT com so I can send the book your way!
If you have been reading this blog for a while, you have noticed that I very seldom do product reviews or promotions. Part is because I am seldom solicited to do so. Part is because although I am asked every so often, I either don’t like the product I am offered or I don’t think it fits this blog. But there are the rare times when something piques my interest, and the people asking for my collaboration do not take my opinion, time and readers for granted.
Through my relationship with Martha Circle, the folks at Truvia hired me to develop and shoot a recipe for their New Year Healthy You campaign. I would probably have passed on the offer if it weren’t for my own current use of this stevia based sweetener and my desire to develop more and more recipes with it for a couple of family members who could benefit from it such as my mother who will be visiting soon.
Even if I eat healthy almost every day of the week, there are always those periods of time when a few extra pieces of chocolate add up, that one little extra sliver of cake passes my lips and that extra creamy bite of macaroni and cheese just calls my name. Sometimes, it’s simply too much work and general lack of organization and the first things to take a backseat are proper homecooked meals.
Food that is healthy and good for you does not have to be bland and boring. I have learned that along the years of cooking for family members with health issues as well as my own desire to keep my health optimum. Whether you need to pay attention to sugar, fats or carbohydrates in your cooking, there is always a moment when you feel something is a lacking or not working right yet. For me, it was sugar. Or the desire to reduce it without losing taste or texture in the dishes I’d cook.
Enters Truvia. A natural sweetener made from the stevia plant. Although I have used stevia based sweeteners for a while, I became a Truvia user in the last year or so when my mom and I decided to try it in her favorite cake recipe. Maple syrup, honey, molasses are usually our sweeteners of choice but draining on the budget (especially if you bake or cook often) and not as portable as little packets of Truvia when you travel.
We followed the direction on the box as far as dosing: 3/4 teaspoon of Truvia equals 2 teaspoons of sugar and not only did the cake texture turned out fine but there was also no strange aftertaste. This is a huge deal when a savory recipe calls for a pinch of sugar such as in marinades, sweet and sour dishes, etc…
One of the dishes I like to make to get back into healthy habits after the holidays is a sweet and savory seafood salad with shrimp infused with a lemon, parsley and garlic marinade and served on top of zucchini, squash and carrots cut very thinly into ribbons. The marinade needs that little bit of sweetness to break down the acidity of the lemon marinade and Truvia works perfectly there (I use raw honey usually). A pinch and you are set. It dissolves quickly without over powering the rest of the ingredients.
I love making this dish with all sorts of different seafood (mussels, clams, scallops) and different vegetables. Same goes for the herbs. I always have parsley on hand but cilantro, tarragon, thyme and even rosemary work great here. Keep it light, easy, super fresh and full of flavor. Something that makes you feel good when you prepare it and light and healthy when you sit down to eat it.
Disclosure: Through Martha Circle, Truvia hired me to create and photograph one recipe and I was sent a jar of their product to do so. The rest – my opinions and words – are my own. Lemon Parsley Shrimp With Ribbon Vegetable Salad
Serves 4 as a light lunch or 2 as dinner
1 pound medium shrimp
3 tablespoon olive oil
zest and juice of one medium lemon (about ¼ cup juice)
¾ teaspoon Truvia
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ cup flat leaves parsley, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 large zucchini
1 large yellow squash
2 carrots (peeled)
Shell and devein the shrimp, rinse under cold water and place them in a non-reactive bowl. Refrigerate while you make the marinade.
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, zest and lemon juice, Truvia, garlic clove, chopped parsley, salt and pepper until well combined. Set aside 2 tablespoons and pour the rest over the shrimp and toss them to make sure they are well coated in the marinade. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
In the meantime, make the ribbon vegetable salad:
In a non-reactive bowl, peel the zucchini, yellow squash and carrots lengthwise with a vegetable peeler to obtain long ribbons. Stop before you reach the core. Discard the core or keep to make vegetable stock later.
Toss with the reserved marinade. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat and sear the shrimp for about 2-3 minutes on each side. Discard the marinade used for the shrimp. Remove the shrimp from the pan and let them cool off on a plate.
Plate the vegetable ribbon salad on a large platter and top with the shrimp and serve.
I am never comfortable with scheduling blog posts to go up while I am away playing working. Oh yes…this conference is maximum work: all that shaking hands, exchanging business cards, hugging, eating, discovering, laughing, all this pretty much on loop. Tough job. Alright, so you don’t buy it. Wouldn’t either (check on Twitter) What you can believe is that my dear and better half is certainly enjoying the last bit of this month Daring Bakers’ challenge, Vols Au Vent and other puff pastry based items.
I remember back in the 80s when these were the hottest appetizers on restaurant menus, at cocktails parties, often topping over with cream and rich fillings. As a child I did get my share of them, happily volunteering my tastebuds to my mother’s latest puff pastry creation. I often associate these with memories of Christmas dinner, with a house filled with cousins, parents and pets, each of us sliding our fork in a pillow of layers upon layers of puff pastry, letting my grandmother’s morels, sweetbreads and cream filling ooze out on the plate. Yes, I just closed my eyes and sighed just now….
As much as I would have loved to recreate that particular food memory, sweetbreads and morels are pretty hard to find this time of year in my parts. Thus, I pretty much stuck to sweets for this challenge with a little savory diversion as shrimp season is in full swing here in South Carolina.
I started by divided the recipe in half and making one chocolate while the other remained plain. Having made mille-feuilles many times here and having hosted a Daring Baker challenge including puff pastry, I was really happy that we had to do something else this time and it had been a long while since I had last made vols au vent.
We go shrimping just about every other day lately and my freezer and fridge are bursting. Friends come over right now and leave with a couple of pounds of shrimp and a couple of vols au vent. The savory rounds were filled with soft fresh goat cheese whipped together with dill, lemon zest, salt and pepper then topped with a steamed shrimp and garnished with capers .and dill springs. So easy and so fresh! Makes me want to keep a dozen of these ready in the fridge at all time.
My brain is on chocolate and caramel lately so once the chocolate vols au vent were baked and cooled, I filled them with a salted caramel mousse. I know. I am so predictable. “Yep!” is all I have to say about that. With a huge smile on my face of course. These were just perfect. The bittersweet cocoa powder coming through from the pastry mixed with the sweet and creamy caramel….oh that was good!
I still had a lot of lemons (in frozen juice form by now) from that case that fell on my lap a couple of weeks ago and so I filled the plain vols au vent with a tart lemon curd mousse and topped them with kiwi, nectarine, and strawberries. A little burst of summer still since it won’t feel like Fall for a very long time around here.
I did play with the scraps of dough a bit and made what Bill called Tiramisu Pear Tarts. The chocolate puff pastry was rolled thin and topped with a mascarpone marsala filling and thin slices of pears. I have to say these go down way too easily with an after dinner espresso! Trust me, they are all gone.
It’s good when everything is a bit crazy to be able to rely on a technique that you have done many times but I did enjoy playing around this month. If you take care of your first two turns when making puff pastry, you are set to go. These are crucial. Make sure to keep your butter pliable. Firm and it will no roll and will tear into your dough. Too soft and it won’t layer as you fold but create pockets and puddles at the bottom of your oven. Once you get the first two turns, you can pretty much put your brain on cruise and keep on.
The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.
Vols Au Vent:
Notes: I will update with all the recipes for the fillings when I get back from BlogHer Food 2009.
Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough
From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough
Notes: for the chocolate puff pastry, I just added 2 tablespoons to half the recipe for the regular puff pastry.
2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter
plus extra flour for dusting work surface
Mixing the Dough:
Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.
Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)
Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that’s about 1″ thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.
Incorporating the Butter:
Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10″ square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with "ears," or flaps.
Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don’t just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8″ square.
To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.
Making the Turns:
Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24″ (don’t worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24″, everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).
With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.
Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24″ and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.
Chilling the Dough:
If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you’ve completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.
The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.
Forming and Baking the Vols-au-Vent
Yield: 1/3 of the puff pastry recipe below will yield about 8-10 1.5” vols-au-vent or 4 4” vols-au-vent
In addition to the equipment listed above, you will need:
-well-chilled puff pastry dough (recipe below)
-egg wash (1 egg or yolk beaten with a small amount of water)
-your filling of choice
Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
Using a knife or metal bench scraper, divided your chilled puff pastry dough into three equal pieces. Work with one piece of the dough, and leave the rest wrapped and chilled. (If you are looking to make more vols-au-vent than the yield stated above, you can roll and cut the remaining two pieces of dough as well…if not, then leave refrigerated for the time being or prepare it for longer-term freezer storage. See the “Tips” section below for more storage info.)
On a lightly floured surface, roll the piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick. Transfer it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting.
(This assumes you will be using round cutters, but if you do not have them, it is possible to cut square vols-au-vents using a sharp chef’s knife.) For smaller, hors d’oeuvre sized vols-au-vent, use a 1.5” round cutter to cut out 8-10 circles. For larger sized vols-au-vent, fit for a main course or dessert, use a 4” cutter to cut out about 4 circles. Make clean, sharp cuts and try not to twist your cutters back and forth or drag your knife through the dough. Half of these rounds will be for the bases, and the other half will be for the sides. (Save any scrap by stacking—not wadding up—the pieces…they can be re-rolled and used if you need extra dough. If you do need to re-roll scrap to get enough disks, be sure to use any rounds cut from it for the bases, not the ring-shaped sides.)
Using a ¾-inch cutter for small vols-au-vent, or a 2- to 2.5-inch round cutter for large, cut centers from half of the rounds to make rings. These rings will become the sides of the vols-au-vent, while the solid disks will be the bottoms. You can either save the center cut-outs to bake off as little “caps” for you vols-au-vent, or put them in the scrap pile.
Dock the solid bottom rounds with a fork (prick them lightly, making sure not to go all the way through the pastry) and lightly brush them with egg wash. Place the rings directly on top of the bottom rounds and very lightly press them to adhere. Brush the top rings lightly with egg wash, trying not to drip any down the sides (which may inhibit rise). If you are using the little “caps,” dock and egg wash them as well.
Refrigerate the assembled vols-au-vent on the lined baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). (You could also cover and refrigerate them for a few hours at this point.)
Once the oven is heated, remove the sheet from the refrigerator and place a silicon baking mat (preferred because of its weight) or another sheet of parchment over top of the shells. This will help them rise evenly. Bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (180ºC), and remove the silicon mat or parchment sheet from the top of the vols-au-vent. If the centers have risen up inside the vols-au-vent, you can gently press them down. Continue baking (with no sheet on top) until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more. (If you are baking the center “caps” they will likely be finished well ahead of the shells, so keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven when browned.)
Remove to a rack to cool. Cool to room temperature for cold fillings or to warm for hot fillings.
Fill and serve.
*For additional rise on the larger-sized vols-au-vents, you can stack one or two additional ring layers on top of each other (using egg wash to "glue"). This will give higher sides to larger vols-au-vents, but is not advisable for the smaller ones, whose bases may not be large enough to support the extra weight.
*Although they are at their best filled and eaten soon after baking, baked vols-au-vent shells can be stored airtight for a day.
*Shaped, unbaked vols-au-vent can be wrapped and frozen for up to a month (bake from frozen, egg-washing them first).