Tag Archives: baking

Dinner Party with the “Cooking Cuties”

26 Jun

One of the things I have learned that I love most about my job is being able to talk about food everyday. I work for a culinary event company in Redondo Beach, California called Simple Gourmet. We cater parties, host culinary team building events and my favorite, teach cooking classes. It is so fulfilling to spend an evening discussing food, demystifying techniques, creating delicious meals and meeting new friends. In the beginning of the year, I taught a Cooking Fundamentals course, which met every Wednesday for five weeks, and was introduced to four lovely women who were enrolled in my course. At the end of our five-week time together, Pam, Denise, Irene, Cathy and I had exchanged emails and planned to continue to meet up for a dinner party one Wednesday of every month to continue our cooking adventures together. Well, our first dinner party (dubbed Cooking Cuties) was last Wednesday and our theme was Mexican cuisine. We met up at Pam’s beautiful beach cottage, and began the night with cool and refreshing margaritas. We were so excited to see each other and catch up on life and especially eat! Denise brought steaks which she seasoned with a Southwestern spice blend and grilled them on a cast-iron stove top grill pan. She made a bright & colorful salsa (with perfectly uniform knife cuts!) to serve over the top. Irene brought all the fixing for shrimp tacos and I have to say her homemade tomatillo salsa was seasoned perfectly! My favorite dish of the night was Cathy’s Mexican Corn on the Cob which was the perfect mixture of spicy, buttery and salty. She even gave a great tip: Grate the Cotija cheese instead of the usual crumbling, it adheres to the corn more easily (brilliant!). For dessert I made a Cinnamon-Sugar Puff filled with Mexican Chocolate Mousse and Tequila Cherries. It has all the flavors of a Mexican dessert in one dish. I’m so excited to see what the “Cooking Cuties” will whip up at our next dinner party. I was so proud of all the girls. Their confidence in the kitchen had grown so much and I know they will continue to take risks and have fun creating memories in their kitchens. In the meantime,  if you’re in the mood for a Mexican inspired dessert, here’s the recipe!

Cinnamon-Sugar Puff stuffed with Mexican Chocolate Mousse & Tequila Cherries

Serves 6

For the Puff: 1 sheet of puff pastry, very cold

3 tablespoons of sugar

2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon

3 tablespoons of melted butter

For the Mousse:

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 large eggs, (whites and yolks separated)

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup heavy cream, very cold

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

For the cherries:

1 pound of fresh cherries, pitted

1/2 cup tequila

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 cinnamon stick

2 cloves (if you have them!)

To make the Puffs: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Use a 2-inch cookie cutter to cut rounds of dough and place onto a greased cookie sheet. Brush each round with melted butter. In a small bowl, stir together the cinnamon and sugar to combine. Using your fingers, sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar liberally over the rounds. Pop the sheet into the freezer for  5 minutes (you want the pastry to be very cold when it goes into the oven- the heat from the oven & the cold butter create steam and that’s what gives you a beautiful puff!) Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely.

To make the Mousse: In a microwave safe bowl, combine the chocolate & butter and warm until melted (stopping to check and stir every 10 seconds). Remove from the microwave and allow to cool slightly. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl until pale yellow in color and slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Slowly whisk the chocolate mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking vigorously until incorporated. Set aside. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form (you can check this by lifting the beater out of the whites and turning it toward the ceiling, if the tip of the whites bends back down, you have soft peaks.) Gradually beat in 1/4 cup sugar  & cinnamon, and continue beating until you reach stiff peaks (the egg whites will stand straight up when the beater is turned upside down.) In a chilled bowl, beat the heavy cream until it begins to thicken. Add the 2 remaining tablespoons sugar  and the extracts and continue beating until the cream holds soft peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Then fold in the whipped cream gently. Scoop into a resealable bag and refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the Cherries: Combine the pitted cherries, tequila, brown sugar, cinnamon stick and cloves in a small pot. Cook over medium heat until the cherries have released some liquid and the tequila becomes slightly syrupy, about 12-15 minutes.

To assemble the Puffs: Using a small paring knife, pierce a small hole into the side of each puff. Snip a small hole in the corner of the resealable bag and pipe the chocolate mousse into each puff. Top with the tequila cherries and enjoy!

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Breaking Bread in Ecuador

8 Jun

Meeting your spouse’s extended family can be a dizzying experience, especially when you happen to be in a country you’ve never visited and there is a slight language barrier. There are so many new faces, names and relationships to navigate.  Last September, my husband and I, along with his parents and aunt, visited Ecuador for a family trip. We visited many of his family members and I was enchanted by their warm and welcoming demeanor. Although I have many fond memories from that trip, one will always stay especially close to my heart.

We visited my father-in-law’s oldest sister, Lidita, at her home outside of Quito. She and her husband, Felix, have a beautiful home on a large plot of land, with rolling green lawns and fruit trees everywhere. In the corner of the property they had a great wood-burning oven and I was delighted to hear we were going to be making bread and using that oven for baking later in the day. After lunch on the lawn, we traveled to the patio where the oven was awaiting us. The fire was lovingly tended to until the flames roared then subsided.  A large, oval, wooden bowl was brought outside and the bread dough was kneaded by hand in that vessel. It was heartwarming to see all the children intently watching how the dough turned from a wet and soggy mass to a soft and pliable dough. Once the dough was rested and ready, everyone helped to form it into different shapes. Some were filled with cheese or jam and others just rolled into balls. I loved seeing all the flour-covered hands and laughing faces.They were brushed with a wash and placed in the oven, near the fiery logs. When they emerged they were perfectly golden brown, and everyone could hardly wait to enjoy the soft, pillowy rolls.

I didn’t write down any recipes that day, but that memory will be one I won’t soon forget. Instead I have a recipe for a bread dough that has the same characteristics and can be made in a electric standing mixer. Soft and slightly sweet, they are perfect alongside coffee in morning or can be eaten as dinner rolls. Whenever you choose to make them, be sure to have a few people nearby to spread the love (and flour) around.

Pan de Familia (Family Bread)

Makes about 12 rolls

1 package of dry active yeast

3/4 cup of warm milk (body temperature)

1 tablespoon of sugar

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons of salt

1 large egg

2 large egg yolks

1 stick of melted butter (unsalted)

milk, for brushing

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast sugar and milk. Let sit for 10 minutes or until it gets foamy. Meanwhile combine the flour and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine.

Place 2 cups of the flour mixture in the mixer and begin to beat on a medium low speed for 2 minutes. Combine the egg, yolks and melted butter in a small bowl and stir to combine. Add the egg/butter mixture to the flour in the mixer and beat for 3 minutes. Add the 3rd cup of flour and beat on medium speed for 8-10 minutes or until the dough collects around the hook and is smooth to the touch. Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and let it rest for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Tear off pieces of the dough (about the size of a lime) and roll them until they are rounded. Place them on greased baking sheets and allow to rest in a warm place for 15 minutes. Brush the rolls with a little milk and bake on the center oven rack until golden, about 18-20 minutes, being sure to rotate the pan half-way through to ensure even browning. Remove from the oven and enjoy immediately or transfer to wire racks to cool.