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Southern-Style Chicken Cordon Bleu

26 Apr

One of my good friends Kristin is an editor at the fabulous blog A Woman’s Paris.  I would highly recommend this site for anyone interested in French style, culture, cooking and more.  In addition, the creator of the site is a talented artist and sells her whimsical drawings as iPhone and iPad covers at the following site.  I love them all but I think the Avenue Montaigne drawing is my favorite.

Avenue Montaigne, Paris

Avenue Montaigne, Paris
Photo Credit: A Woman's Paris

After my successful (but tiring!) attempt creating French macarons last year and talking with Kristin about French cooking, I was inspired to try and create a classic French dish but to add a Southern twist to it.  Below is my adaptation of the famous French entree Chicken Cordon Bleu.  This recipe has its roots in a Rachel Ray 30-Minute Meals episode that I watched years ago in college but never wrote down.  The thick, hearty mushroom-gravy is what really makes this a “Southern” dish.  Bring your appetite to the table when you make this dish – it’s rich and very filling!

Southern-Style Chicken Cordon Bleu with Mushroom Gravy
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the chicken)
4 chicken breasts, butterflied (you can have the butcher do this for you)
Fresh sage
Prosciutto
Fontina cheese
Flour
2 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

*You also need: Toothpicks 

Directions (for the chicken)
1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Place small amount of cheese, sage and prosciutto in each chicken breast.  (Note: I overstuffed the chicken breasts and put way too much filling in the pictures below.  They are included so you can see the layout only.)


3. Starting at one of the narrow ends of the chicken breast, roll each chicken breast up and secure with a couple of toothpicks.  Coat each roll up in flour.


4. Heat a skillet using medium heat and add extra virgin olive oil.  When heated, add the chicken breasts and brown.
5. When browned, place chicken breasts on a baking sheet and bake for 30-40 minutes until fully cooked.
6. Remove from oven and place one breast on each plate.  Remove toothpicks immediately before adding gravy and serving.

Ingredients (for the gravy)
1 package crimini or button mushrooms
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. flour
Dry white wine
Chicken Broth (low sodium stock)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions (for the gravy)
1.  Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add butter.  When butter is melted, add mushrooms to skillet and cook until browned and soft.
2. Add flour and 1/4 cup wine and 1/4 cup chicken broth to skillet.  Mix until incorporated and warm.
3.  Season with salt & pepper.  If you want more acidic sauce, add more wine.  If you want thicker sauce, add more flour.  I usually wing it here so apologies I can’t give more specific directions!

Serve With…

Sauteed Green Beans or Spinach

and

Cheesy Risotto with Peas
Serves 4

Ingredients
Arborio Rice (4 servings according to rice package)
2 tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 32 oz. container low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1/2 – 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions
1. In a saucepan, heat chicken stock until warm but not boiling.  Keep warm while you prepare the risotto.
2. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat and add butter.  When melted, add garlic, rice and 1 cup chicken stock, stirring frequently.
3. When the chicken stock cooks off, ladle another cup of broth into the pot.  Continue doing so until the rice is cooked, which should take about 20 minutes.
4. About halfway through cooking the risotto, try out the rice.  If it is TOO chicken-y, substitute 1 cup of water instead of chicken broth when the liquid runs out for the next cycle.
5. When the rice is cooked, add the peas and Parmesan cheese to the pot, stirring rapidly to incorporate.
6. Serve immediately and top with freshly ground black pepper and an additional sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

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Caramel Cake

5 Feb

Caramel Cake

Caramel cake is a Southern dessert that is traditionally made with white cake and caramel frosting.  Lots of variations exist (i.e., caramel cake and caramel icing, yellow cake with buttercream icing drizzled with caramel), but in my opinion, the original is the best.  When I am home, my mom always picks up Cindy Lou’s caramel cakes from the Cashiers (NC) Farmers Market (visit their website).  While I’ve tried to replicate her recipe at least a dozen times, I can never quite perfect it.  Usually, my icing is too thin (and seeps into the cake) or too hard (and nearly impossible to spread onto the cake).  While the icing in today’s attempt is darker than Cindy Lou’s version, I think I finally figured this cake out!  At the least this recipe will tide me over until I am back in North Carolina and can get a slice of the real thing!  A few important lessons I have learned during my caramel cake attempts:

1. Buy a candy thermometer.  It’s the best $5 I spent and really helps to know when the icing is done.
2. When making the caramel icing, use LOW heat.  It takes forever (or nearly an hour in my case), but you won’t burn the caramel and make a huge mess of your kitchen.
3. Wait for the cake and the icing to be fully cooled before you try and ice the cake.  If either is still warm, the icing won’t stay on the cake.
4. Sometimes, you can’t recreate a recipe to a tee and that’s OK.  However, Cindy Lou – if you’re reading this and want to give me your recipe, I would be forever grateful!!!

Cindy Lou's Old Fashioned Cakes - Caramel Cake

The Original - Cindy Lou's Caramel Cake

Caramel Cake
(Inspired by Cindy Lou’s Old Fashioned Cakes 828-526-9310)
Cake adapted from Gourmet, January 2008; icing adapted from here, source unknown  

Ingredients
For the Cake:
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For the Icing:
3 cups (light) brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons half and half
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
For the Cake:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter an 8-inch square cake pan and line with a square of parchment paper, then butter parchment.
2. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture may look curdled – see photo below). Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

Caramel Cake Batter
4. Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles.
5. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

For the Icing:
1. Mix sugar and half and half in a heavy saucepan and cook, stirring over low heat until syrup reaches the soft-ball stage, 235 degrees on a candy thermometer. If lacking a thermometer, check doneness by dropping a tiny bit of syrup into a cup of cold water. When the syrup can be gathered up in fingers and will almost hold its shape, it has reached the soft-ball stage.
2. Remove pan from heat. Stir in butter, then let syrup cool. Add vanilla and beat until frosting reaches spreading consistency (note: the icing will thicken as it cools). A little cream (or half-and-half) may be added is mixture is too thick.

Caramel Cake Icing

Good icing consistency

3. Spread icing on cooled cake.  Don’t skimp on the icing!  The photo below contains only the first 1/3 of the icing that I ultimately used to frost the cake.  (Note: This is a really messy, sticky cake.  In order to make cleanup easier, I put the cake inside a disposable roasting pan to frost it and transport it to my friend’s apartment.  Not the prettiest way to serve it, but caramel would have been everywhere otherwise!)

Caramel Cake

Icing the cake

Christmas Treat: Peppermint White Chocolate French Macarons

24 Dec How to Make French Macarons

How to Make French MacaronsIn 2007, I visited my good friend Kristen who was living in Paris at the time (lucky girl!).  One of my favorite parts of the visit was spending afternoons recharging at La Duree, a tea and pastry shop, after spending the mornings sightseeing, shopping and walking around Paris.  La Duree is most well known for their delectable macarons (not to be confused with coconut macaroons).  “Le macaron” is a French sweet consisting of two cookies that are hard on the outside but soft when you bite into them that are sandwiched between a layer of ganache or fruit preserves.  If you are interested in learning more about the history of “le macaron,” check out this website.  Until a few months ago, La Duree only had stores in Europe (Paris, London, etc.) and the Middle East (Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, etc.), so to get my macaron fix, I had to stock up when I visited Kristen or when I am in London for work.  However, La Duree recently opened up a NYC-branch of their famous Parisian tea shop at 864 Madison Ave. on the Upper East Side so now I can get macarons whenever the craving strikes (which is quite often!).  I always wondered how to make macarons until a few weeks ago I found a recipe for macarons from Allison Eats blog on the Word Press dashboard.  You can find my adaptation of her recipe below.  While I won’t be giving up La Duree macarons anytime soon, I can’t wait to serve these at Christmas dinner tomorrow with coffee or hot chocolate after dessert!  If you are new to making macarons like I was, the following sites provide a useful primer on preparing macarons and how to beat egg whites.  It took me two tries to get the egg  white perfect.  I would not recommend using an electric mixer; a copper bowl and whisk worked MUCH better.  Also, as a warning, this took me the better part of a day to create these treats.  Be sure you have set aside at least 3-4 hours when you tackle this recipe.  For more information on French Cooking and Culture, check out this great blog – A Woman’s Paris.  The watercolor iPhone cases are to die for!

Peppermint White Chocolate French Macarons
(Makes 30-40)

Ingredients (for the macarons)
1 1/3 cup almond flour (fine meal)
3 cups powdered sugar
6 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch cream of tartar
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. peppermint extract
Red food coloring (optional)

Directions (for the macarons)
1. Get out 5 baking sheets and line each with parchment paper.  Using a pencil, draw 1.5″ circles approximately 1″ apart on the papers.  I felt silly doing this, but it really helped me get the hang of things for my first tray, so maybe only do this for a couple of trays if you are short on time.  In the picture below, the right tray has 1″ circles and the left tray has 1.5″ circles.  I found that the larger 1.5″ macarons cooked better and were simliar to La Duree’s mini macarons in size.
How to Make French Macarons

2.  In a food processor, blend the almond flour and powdered sugar until well incorporated and no lumps remain.
3. In a copper bowl, beat egg whites using a whisk until they are foamy.  When they are foamy, add a pinch of cream of tartar and continue beating.  Gradually add in the granulated sugar about a tablespoon at a time.  Once the egg whites have formed “soft peaks,” add the peppermint extract and 30 drops of red food coloring.  (I added 20 drops of food coloring to my mix and I think it could have used a little more.)  Note: It is important that the egg whites are room temperature as this helps the “peaks” form in the egg whites.  The cream of tartar also helps this so don’t forget this step!

Egg White Foam

Egg Whites @ "Foamy" Stage (Photo Courtesy of bakingbites.com)

Egg White Peaks

Egg Whites @ "Peak" Stage (Photo Courtesy of bakingbites.com)

4. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold the flour/sugar mixture into the egg white mixture in a few additions.  Blend each time until well incorporated.
5. Fill pastry bag (or big ziploc bag with approximately 1/2″ cut off on a diagonal) with the batter and carefully dispense into your drawn circles.  Once the tray is filled, rap the baking sheet on the counter to help settle the batter.  Let trays sit out at room temperature for at least 15 minutes so that a slight crust forms on each shell.  Note: Letting the shells sit at room temperature before baking is a crucial step.  This is how you obtain the crunchy on the outside/chewy on the inside French macaron texture.
How to Make French Macarons
6. While the shells are sitting, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Bake ONE tray at a time for 9-12 minutes, until the shells are slightly crisp on top.  Remove from oven and allow to cool before removing from trays.  (To me, they look the the image from the Scrubbing Bubbles ads when they are finished.)  Repeat process one tray at a time until all trays are cooked.
How to Make French Macarons
7.  Once the macarons have cooled, pair each shell with one of similar size and shape.  For each pair, flip one over so they are ready to be filled with the ganache.
How to Make French Macarons
Ingredients (for the ganache)
2/3 cup heavy cream
10 oz. good quality white chocolate, finely chopped (I used two 4-oz. Ghiradelli white chocolate bars and 2 oz. Tollhouse white chocolate chips)
1 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 3 pieces

Directions (for the ganache)
1. Put the white chocolate in a heat proof mixing bowl.
2. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil.  Immediately remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate.
3. Using a whisk or rubber spatula, stir ingredients together until smooth.  Then stir in the butter.
4. Place the bowl over a larger bowl filled with ice water, stirring constantly until ganache is thick and won’t run.
5. Place ganache into pastry bag (or Ziploc bag with 1/2″ opening cut on diagonal at one end).  Work quickly so the ganache doesn’t harden.  Carefully pipe filling onto flat side of one shell, leaving space around the edges.  Pick up the filled shell’s empty pair and place it on top of the filled shell, gently twisting as you press them together.  Once all macarons have been filled, store in the refrigerator.  They are best enjoyed the following day when brought to room temperature.

Merry Christmas everyone!  Best wishes for a happy holiday and a blessed new year!

Travelogue: CA Wine Tasting

14 Dec
Poetry Inn Napa

View from the Poetry Inn

This past August, D and I went on a relaxing, wine-filled vacation to Napa.  Below is a travelogue of our favorite vineyards, restaurants and other points of interest during our trip.  We pulled together this itinerary through polling a handful of friends who are Napa experts and took the best-of-the-best from each.  These are all spots that we would go back to again despite there being nearly 200 wineries and tons of great restaurant options in the region.

Wine
Cliff Lede
1473 Yountville Cross Road
Yountville, CA 94599
This vineyard names all of its plots of land after the owner’s favorite classic rock songs.  The two signature cabs this vineyard produces every year are called the “Poetry” and a special cab blended from the best two plots of grapes that season.  Each year the name of the latter wine changes based on the names of the plots from which the grapes are harvested.  For example, last year’s vintage was called Imagine Rhapsody after plots “Imagine” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  The year before that was called Lonely Wizard named after “Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Pinball Wizard.”  Totally gimmicky and kitschy, but we love it and we LOVED the wines too.  If you’re a modern art fan, there is also a small modern art and sculpture gallery on the property which was a nice touch to our visit.  Reservations are not required, but if you want to taste their signature “Poetry” cab, you will need to reserve a private tasting in advance.  Also, if you are in Napa for a really special occasion, be sure to book a room at their sister property, the Poetry Inn, a five-bedroom inn which is located up the hill overlooking the vineyards.  Each of the rooms is named after a poet (Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, etc.) and are spacious and beautifully decorated with heated floors, private patios and an indoor/outdoor shower.  The hotel has stunning views of the wineries below and mountains across the valleys like the one of the sunset below.  The best treat of our stay was a three-course breakfast (included) that we had on our terrace watching the fog rise off the vineyards below.  Simply stunning!

Cliff Lede Vineyards

Cliff Lede Vineyards

Pride Mountain
4026 Spring Mountain Road
St. Helena, CA 94574
A hidden gem in St. Helena. This was D’s favorite vineyard of our vacation. It is about a 15-20 minute drive away from most other vineyards in the area, but it was SO worth the drive.  Pride Mountain is located at the top of, well, a mountain and has stunning panoramic views of the hills and valleys below. Advanced reservations are required so make sure to connect with them before you trek up the mountain to their winery!  We signed up for what we thought was a $10 tasting, but ended up getting a private tour of Pride Mountain’s property, caves and tasting rooms.  Our guide let us do a barrel tasting and comparison with the finished bottle which was a unique experience.  After our visit, we were encouraged to drive around the property and have a picnic lunch with our sandwiches from Oakville Grocery in the vineyards overlooking the valley.  We bought a half bottle of wine and had the most relaxing afternoon in the shaded picnic area enjoying the scenery.

Pride Mountain Vineyards

Pride Mountain Vineyards

Quintessa
1601 Silverado Trail
Rutherford, CA 94573
My coworker recommended this vineyard to us, describing the vineyard and tour as “magical”.  She could not have been more right.  Advanced reservations are required for this tour and while this was the most expensive tasting ($45), it was worth every penny.  We had a private guide who started our tour with a hike up from the estate to the vineyards where we were greeted with the stunning view in the picture above.  At this spot, our guide poured us Quintessa’s Illumination-brand Sauvignon Blanc while explaining biodynamic winemaking and Quintessa’s history.  Biodynamic winemaking can sound a little bit weird/hippy if you’ve never heard of it before (i.e., burying a cow skull full of manure at a certain place in the vineyard dictated by lunar patterns), but our guide was so knowledgeable and passionate about it, that we were totally on board with the craziness.  After this history lesson, we returned to the estate and went on a tour of the building, caves and manufacturing areas.  The tour culminated with a private tasting (accompanied by three cheeses and homemade crackers) of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 Quintessa red wine blends.  This vineyard is unique in that they only make one varietal per season and the blend changes depending on what are the best grapes produced that year; the rest of their harvest is then sold to other wine makers.  It was so interesting to taste the differences between the three vintages, especially after learning about the crops, weather and grapes used for each vintages.  All three tasted great and if I had unlimited funds, I would have bought a case of each home!  Instead, we settled on one bottle of the 2007 which was my favorite.

Quintessa Winery

Quintessa Winery

Schramsberg
1400 Schramsberg Road
Calistoga, CA 94515
If you like sparkling wine, this is your spot!  Reservations are required and the cost is $45 per person.  This vineyard was our first stop one day (10 am tasting!).  It was a great way to start our day of wine tasting since most wineries in Napa specialize in heavy reds.  Schramsberg became famous in 1972 when President Nixon served one of their sparkling wines at the “Toast to Peace” in Beijing.  Since then, every U.S. President has served Schramsberg at the White House.  Our tasting began with a tour of the property, caves and manufacturing facilities.  In the caves, our guide taught us how to riddle, which is how champagne is produced.  We were then led into a tasting room where we tried EIGHT different sparkling wines!  It was almost too much, but in my opinion, there can never be too much champagne/prosecco/cava/sparkling wine! 🙂  The highlight of this vineyard for D was when our guide took out outside and taught us how to remove the cork from a champagne bottle using a saber.  Here’s a primer if you want to try this at home (which I don’t recommend since D had a bottle explode in his hand when he did…)

Schramsberg Sparkling Wine

Champagne Saber at Schramsberg

Schramsberg

Schramsberg Sparkling Wine Tasting

Kuleto Estate
2470 Sage Canyon Road
St. Helena, CA 94574
This vineyard isn’t one for the tour buses!  Like Pride Mountain, Kuleto Estate is at the top of a mountain; the last few miles of the drive are on windy dirt roads which keeps large groups away and builds anticipation leading up to the arrival.  Kuleto Estate is not just a winery, but is also Pat Kuleto (San Francisco restaurateur’s home).  The visit began with a generous pour of rose to accompany a tour of the property, herb garden, vegetable garden and flower garden surrounding Pat’s home.  We then returned to the main building and had a formal tasting with complimentary cheese and crackers.  I don’t remember the wines being anything remarkable, but the scenery and atmosphere were breathtaking.  Our tour guide told us the next tour was closed for a private proposal.  With the stunning panoramic views and intimate, homey feel of the winery, it’s no surprise someone picked this as a spot to get engaged.  What a lucky girl – I hope she said yes!!  Side note – reservations are required and the cost is $35 per person for a tour and tasting.

Kuleto Estate

Kuleto Estate

In addition to the vineyards above which I would highly recommend, we also visited the following wineries.  Let me know if you are curious about a particular one on this list.  It’s not to say we had a bad experience at any of these, but relative to the five wineries listed above, they couldn’t compare.

Siduri – Makers of the wine Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) drinks when he’s performing.  We did not get to taste this wine which was the whole purpose of our trip to this vineyard which was disappointing.  Also, the tasting is located in a warehouse since Siduri does not actually own any vineyards from which they produce their wines.
Martinelli’s 
Wilson – Makers of the Vineman cabernet which they must sell out of every year the Vineman triathlon (no affiliation) comes through town.  Very nice patio to enjoy a bottle (or two) of their rose.
Gloria Ferrer – Sparkling wines.  Gorgeous views.  Does not do tastings so you must purchase a whole bottle.
Beringer
Viader – stunning views (on top of a mountain); owned and operated by a female Argentinan which I though was cool
Failla – Winemaker Ehren Jordan’s private label.  Specializes in pinot noir.  Very relaxed/intimate tasting on the porch of a house.
Regusci
Cline – stays open until 6 (most vineyards close at 4 or 5) so the crowd can get rowdy later in the day.

Restaurants
Barn Diva
231 Center Street
Healdsburg, CA 95448
The menu is 100% local – everything in the restaurant (food, wine, decor) comes from the region.  Healdsburg is about a 30 minute drive from Napa and Sonoma so it’s going to be out of the way unless you are doing tastings in Healdsburg/Wilson.  The desserts were particularly superb and they have a great wine selection.

Bottega
V Marketplace
6525 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
Italian cooking by Michael Chiarello of Top Chef fame.  This place was superb.  Be sure to request a seat in the covered outdoor patio by the fireplace.  The polenta appetizer and roasted duck entree were my favorites.

Auberge du Soleil, Napa

View from Auberge du Soleil

Auberge du Soleil
180 Rutherford Hill Road
Rutherford, CA 94573
We only had time to get drinks at this restaurant and luxury hotel, but hopefully we’ll be able to return for a full meal someday as I wanted to snatch plates right off the waiters’ trays as they delivered to our surrounding tables.  The outdoor patio is gorgeous place to watch the sunset after a long day of tastings.

Quintessa Winery Caves

Quintessa Winery Caves

Oregon Coast Fresh Vegetable Salad

24 Oct

After a relaxing but indulgent vacation in Napa, D and I hit the road driving up the California and Oregon coasts to spend Labor Day in Washington state. After a full day of driving, we watched the sun set in to the Pacific Ocean and then set about finding a place to eat. Not such an easy task when Oregon coast towns are spaced pretty far apart and most restaurants close by 8 pm – a far cry from restaurants in New York that don’t have a first seating until then! We were incredibly lucky to stumble upon Anna’s by the Sea, a charming restaurant in Gold Beach, Oregon that we found on Yelp and was willing to squeeze one last two-top in for the night, even if they had already sold out of their signature potato puffs! This place instantly reminded me Westville, one of my favorite NYC restaurants – simple recipes made with the freshest of fresh ingredients. Because of the open kitchen plan, we were able to watch the chef prepare our meals and chat with the host/waiter about Oregon wines (Anna’s is also a wine shop). While everything was excellent, our favorite dish was a raw vegetable salad made with a simple lemon and olive oil dressing and garnished with a LOT of dill. Since it’s unlikely that we will be back in Gold Beach anytime soon, I set about to recreate this recipe at home. Here is my version of their raw vegetable salad below. If you’re ever on an Oregon road trip, I highly recommend a stop by Anna’s. You won’t be disappointed!

veggie saladRaw Vegetable Salad
Serves 2
Ingredients:
2 tomatoes
1 bunch asparagus
1 cucumber
1 head celery
1 sweet yellow or vidalia onion
Handful fresh dill
3 large lemons
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper
Directions:
1. Roughly chop each of the vegetables into small bite-sized pieces.
2. Mix together in a large bowl.
3. Chop the dill in to small pieces.  Throw a heaping handful into the bowl of veggies.  You really can’t over do it on the dill here so go nuts! 🙂
4. Gradually add in equal parts lemon juice and olive oil until the vegetables are lightly coated with dressing.
5. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Anna’s by the Sea
29672 Stewart Street
Gold Beach, OR 97444
Phone: 541-247-2100
http://www.annasbythesea.com