It’s Gameday!

Get out your fan gear, college gameday is here!  The excitement of the collegiate football season is something that so many people ~ myself included ~ anticipate as one of the best things about fall.  No matter who you root for, or even if you’re not into sports, there’s no argument that food is central to every game watching party, whether you’re in front of the TV or tailgating at the stadium.

As an ode to football fare, every Friday on my blog will treat you to a gameday recipe that is sure to please. For the first weekend, a super-easy appetizer that everyone will love: Loaded Baked Potato Dip.  Yum!

For best flavor, make this the night before ~ or at least a few hours in advance ~ so the flavors can blend.
1 -16 oz. container sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 package powdered Ranch Dressing mix
1 cup shredded cheese; I like finely shredded cheddar but bleu cheese would be great too (plus more for garnish)
1/4 cup finely sliced chives (plus more for garnish)
1/4 cup bacon pieces (plus more for garnish)

Mix the sour cream and mayonnaise until smooth and add the dressing mix.  Mix again, then add the cheese, chives and bacon.  Cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve.  Garnish with a sprinkling of cheese, chives and bacon over the top.  Put it in  big basket with your favorite potato chips and/or veggies.

**You can add whatever you like on baked potatoes into this dip.  Try it with baked potato wedges/slices, french fries, or even hash browns.

Bring this to a party for guaranteed extra points!  Happy gameday!

An Awesome “App”

During the holidays, we hosted a cocktail party and one of our friends brought a delicious Salmon Pate with crackers to share.  She graciously shared the recipe, and when I was planning appetizers for another friend’s party, this dish immediately came to mind.  Since this was a larger party for a very special occasion, I thought about how I could give the appetizer a little more of an elegant touch, and decided that puff pastry would be ideal.

I made the pate the day before:

6 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
6 oz. thinly sliced smoked salmon
1 tsp. white horseradish (more if you like)
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. minced fresh dill

In a food processor, combine the cream cheese and half of the smoked salmon, and process until smooth.  Add the horseradish and lemon juice and process again.  Scrape down the sides of the work bowl,  Add the dill and process once more.  Transfer the mixture to a bowl.  Finely chop the remaining salmon and fold it into the pate.  (If you like you can also add a few tablespoons of finely minced red onion at this point.)  Cover and refrigerate the pate; serve at room temperature.  (This can be refrigerated for two days.)

To make the pinwheels: Defrost one package of frozen puff pastry overnight in the refrigerator.  Bring the pate to room temperature.  Preheat your oven to 400F.  On a lightly floured surface, lightly dust the top of one sheet of puff pastry (leave the other sheet in the package in the refrigerator) and roll it into a large rectangle about 1/8″ thick.  Be careful to check as you roll the dough that it isn’t sticking to the surface and use more flour as needed .  Spread a thin layer of the pate over the surface of the pastry, leaving about a 1/2″ border around the edges.  Roll the dough snugly into a log.

Here’s a nifty trick: to slice the dough cleanly, use dental floss instead of a knife.  (Make sure you use unflavored floss; you don’t want minty pinwheels!) Slide the floss carefully under the log to the desired width, then cross the ends over the top and pull the ends towards each other, pulling all the way through.  Voila!  Slice the uneven ends off and discard, and slice the log into 1″ thick pinwheels.

Place the slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Repeat the process with the second sheet of pastry.  Bake for 10 minutes, then check them and turn the pan around so they bake evenly.  If you are baking both trays at the same time, switch them on the oven racks too.  Bake for 5-7 minutes more, until the pastry is golden brown.

Remove the pinwheels and let them set on the sheet for a minute, then place them on a serving plate, garnish with lemon and dill, and enjoy all the compliments you’ll receive as your friends devour them.  These would also make a lovely light lunch or dinner accompanied by a green salad and a nice white wine.  This recipe makes enough for two puff pastry sheets ~ but if you make more you’ll have pate left for bagels the next morning.  Bon appetit!

Adventures in Croissants ~ Day Two

I was up and at ’em this morning, anxious to finish my croissants.  I took them from the refrigerator for a short rest, and rolled them out one last time.  Then I measured and marked them…

…and cut them…

…and shaped them.  These are the plain croissants, deliciously buttery in their own right…

…but you know I couldn’t resist filling some of them with chocolate!

One tray of plain and one of chocolate…c’est parfait!

A little egg wash (egg yolk and cream) brushed over the top, and one more proof for an hour.

Then a few minutes to chill in the refrigerator while the oven preheated (you want the butter to remain cold so it makes the croissants flaky; if it gets too warm it will seep out of the dough while baking ~ that would be sad)…

…and into the oven.  Here’s what they looked like halfway through when I rotated the trays.  The smell of them baking was intoxicating ~ melting butter and croissant dough…

…and they are done at last!  Beautiful ~


~ and irresistable.  I could hardly wait until they cooled enough to pick up so I could eat one.  My patience was rewarded!  So scrumptious, so worth the effort, I’d make these even if they took a week.  (I’m not kidding.)

“Say hello to my little friends…” plain butter croissants on the tall plate and pain au chocolat in front.  A little bit of my beloved Paris, right here in my kitchen.  C’est magnifique, mes amis ~ bon appetit!

Adventures in Croissants ~ Day One

Adoring all things French as I do, it has long been a goal to learn how to make croissants.  I had the opportunity to participate in a class last weekend and couldn’t wait to try them at home on my own…and today was the day…or at least, day one.

Making the croissants is not difficult; rather, I think what people may find intimidating is the number of steps, as the dough is rolled, folded, and allowed to proof (rest and rise) several times.  (Keep in mind, the more folds, the more delicious buttery layers you end up with in the finished product.)  It’s best to make the croissants over a two day period, getting all your rolls and folds done on day one so that the dough can rest overnight and you can cut, roll and fill them, allow them to proof and chill, and then bake them off and enjoy them on day two.

Here’s what happened in the kitchen on the first day:

To make the dough block (the detrempe) I mixed the flour, sugar and salt, then added the yeast, sugar and warm milk and more cold milk.  I gently kneaded it and put it into a buttered bowl for the first proof in the refrigerator.

While the dough was proofing, I made the butter block (the beurrage): I cut up the butter and tossed it with a little flour, then chilled it for 20 minutes. Before I took the dough out to roll, I mixed the butter until it was pliable (but still cold). Back into the refrigerator it went.

I took the dough out and rolled it into a large rectangle.  Before making the first fold, I spread the butter over two thirds of the dough…then folded the whole thing into thirds (a letter fold).

Yes, all that butter was spread onto the dough…and now you know why croissants are so very buttery and fabulous…sigh.  Here’s what the dough looked like after the first fold.

Working quickly so the butter would stay cold and not seep out, I rolled the dough into a large rectangle again…

…and folded the two end quarters to the middle, then folded the whole thing in half (a book fold), so it looked like this:

Now we have 7 layers of dough and butter working in there.  Sounds delicious already!  The dough was wrapped and got another proof in the refrigerator, then I rolled it out again into ~ you guessed it ~ a large rectangle:

One more letter fold for 10 layers of buttery doughy deliciousness…

And now it’s wrapped (and labeled so I don’t forget how many folds I did!) and resting, waiting for tomorrow morning when I will roll it out one more time, then cut and roll the dough into croissants, proof and chill and then bake them…at last!  Based on the croissants we made in class, these will be well worth the effort.

The biggest question now is…to fill or not to fill the croissants?  Chocolate?  Cheese and herbs?  Jam?  Stay tuned for the scoop on day two with pictures of the (hopefully beautiful and delicious) finished croissants ~ Bon appetit!

Pumpkin Spice…So Very Nice!

Fall means pumpkins, and so when we planned the Sweet Station for my daughter Natalie’s wedding in September, it went without saying that something pumpkin had to be on the table. But I wanted to jazz it up, and what better way to do that than with a little streusel    topping sprinkled on the cupcake…just under a lovely dollop of Maple Cream Cheese Frosting?  They were delicious, and lent that certain : “je ne sais quoi” to the dessert selections.

The cupcake recipe is adapted slightly from the Pumpkin Patch Cupcakes in Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes:

  • Preheat your oven to 350F and line muffin tins with cupcake papers. 
  • Sift together: 4 cups cake flour, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 generous Tbsp.pumpkin pie spice, 1 Tbsp. ground ginger, and 1 tsp. salt.
  • With your mixer on medium-high, cream together 1 cup sweet butter (at room temperature) and 2 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add 4 eggs ~ one egg at a time ~ beating until incorporated.  Scrape down the sides of your mixing bowl as necessary. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with two additions of 1/2 cup buttermilk (for a total of 1 cup).  Mix just until combined.  Add 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling) and beat just until combined.
  • Use a 1/4 cup measure or scoop to fill your cupcake cups about 3/4 full.  Top with a spoonful of Streusel Topping: with a pastry cutter (or two butter knives) combine 1/2 cup cold butter, 1/2 cup quick cooking oats or chopped walnuts or pecans (your choice), 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar and 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice.  You will have leftover topping, which is delicious on a loaf of pumpkin bread or on top of a fresh coffee cake.
  • Bake the cupcakes until they are golden brown and spring back lightly when you touch them in the center, approximately 18 minutes.  Cool n the pan 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
  • For the Maple Cream Cheese Frosting: combine 2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened, with 1/2 cup room temperature sweet butter.  Mix at medium-high speed until smooth and creamy.  Add a tsp. of Maple Extract and mix just until combined.  Add in 4 cups (1 lb.) powdered sugar and mix until smooth.  Add in a few tablespoons of heavy whipping cream and mix at high speed until the frosting lightens and becomes fluffy.  (It won’t be as light as whipped cream, of course, but you will notice a definite difference in the texture.)  *NOTE: I usually make the frosting the night before so it has a chance to set up; this way it will hold it’s shape if you use a pastry bag and tip to frost. 
  • When the cupcakes have cooled completely, frost them with a pastry bag and tip or an offset spatula.  Decorate as you wish. Store them in the refrigerator; take them out about a half hour before you plan to serve them.

It’s okay to eat Pumpkin Streusel Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting during any season…but I do especially crave them in the fall.  And our wedding guests enjoyed them too.  
Bon appetit!

Fabulous Photos courtesy of Cory McCune Photography