Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

Recipes from My Kitchen

Recipes from my kitchen – either from my cookbooks or recipes tested for events or for upcoming books I’m working on.

Fun with Choux: Bacon, Avocado and Tomato Eclairs

Most people think of eclairs as something filled with cream and topped with chocolate, or another decadent sweet flavor pairing . But, the pastry they’re prepared with, the ever versatile choux pastry, is an excellent casing for savory ingredients, as in these tasty and beautiful eclairs.

Verdant as a garden with a bright green avocado mousse, layers of finely sliced tomatoes, and shards of crunchy, salty bacon, these little bundles are packed with heart and soul satisfying flavor and texture in every bite while delivering an elegant play on a good, old-fashioned American BLT. Make the pastry a day ahead or a few days ahead and freeze, for quick, easy assembly for a fun cocktail party with a choux twist. This would even be a great, sexy treat for your main man or gal on Valentine’s Day.  Dress them up with a flute of Brut Champagne. Cheers!

Petite Eclairs with Avocado Mousse, Bacon Slivers and Tomatoes

(Yields 26 petite eclairs)

Bacon Avocado and Tomato Petite Eclairs

Bacon Avocado and Tomato Petite Eclairs

1 Master Recipe Savory Choux Pastry (to follow)

For the avocado mousse:

1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted and skin removed

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon heavy cream (Do NOT substitute a lesser fat cream or it may curdle with the lemon juice)

Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons very finely chopped shallots

2 tablespoons finely chopped chives

8 slices bacon, browned, drained and cut into 3”-lengths

14 grape tomatoes, rinsed and thinly sliced

Master Recipe Savory Choux Pastry

Special Equipment Needed: 2 silicon baking sheets or parchment paper, 2 half-sheet baking pans, one 12” piping bag, #806 round pastry tip, pastry brush.

1 cup water

3/4 stick (3 ounces) unsalted, cold butter cut into 1/2”-cubes

1/2 cup bread flour

1/2 cup All-Purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

4 room temperature large eggs (about 1 cup), beaten together

Egg wash: 1 egg, splash water and pinch kosher or sea salt, beaten together

Preheat the oven to 425F. Have everything measured and in place in advance of starting to actually prepare the choux.

In a medium, sturdy sauce pan, melt the water and butter together over medium high heat, stirring once or twice to help the butter melt. Once melted, reduce the heat to medium. Sift together the bread flour, AP flour and salt together over a medium bowl. Add the sifted dry ingredients all at once to the melted water and butter mixture, reserving the bowl nearby. Stir the mixture (roux) vigorously with a wooden spoon to bring the dough together, initially. Continue stirring, less vigorously, until the pastry starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and forms a uniform ball (This should take about 1 minutes). Turn the pastry out into the reserved bowl. Allow to sit for about 1 minute, or until the pastry is cool enough to touch comfortably with your finger for at least 15 seconds. Add 1/2 of the beaten eggs (about 1/2 cup) to the pastry. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the pastry looks uniform and glossy, about 1 minute. Add half of the remaining egg mixture (about 1/4 cup) and continue to stir with a wooden spoon until the pastry is uniform and glossy (about 1 minute). Repeat with the remaining egg mixture.

While the pastry is still warm, pipe and bake the pastry using a 1/2″-round tip onto a silicon or parchment paper lined baking sheet. Pipe so that the eclairs are all the same length and width, approximately 2 1/4″-long, 1/2″-high and 1/2″-wide. Brush the top of each pastry with a light coating of egg wash, being careful not to allow the wash to drip down the sides of the pastry.

Bake the petite eclairs for 22 to 25  minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Turn off the oven, open the door, and let the pastry stand for 5 minutes. Pierce the bottom of each choux gently with the tip of a knife. Allow to cool completely before filling.

For the filling:

In a medium bowl, combine the avocado, lemon juice, olive oil, cream, and mash with the tines of a fork or a potato masher until smooth and fluffy. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Fold in the shallots and chives and combine until smooth. Set aside. (Note: The mousse can be prepared a few hours in advance, tightly covered and refrigerated). Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Arrange the bacon in a single layer in a large sauté pan and cook until well browned on each side, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Cut the bacon into 3” lengths (approximately) and set aside.

To assemble, slice the prepared eclairs  in half, horizontally, cutting all the way through each éclair. Reserve the tops and bottoms alongside their matching half. With a small spatula, spread a heaping 1 tablespoon of the avocado mousse neatly on the bottom of each éclair. Top with a trimmed piece of bacon and 3 slices of tomato, arranged prettily along the length of the éclair. Top each éclair and serve immediately on a serving platter or individual plates garnished with fresh chives.



Somewhere Between Sauces and Choux

I just bought Dansko shoes for the first time in my life. Sexy they are not, but they are highly practical in the kitchen and go reasonably well with the pair of jeans I usually wear when I’m cooking, especially the sassy, oiled red shoe variety pictured below.

The perfect working kitchen shoe – Dansko.

I’ve been cooking for years. So, why now, why today? A giant of a French chef told me years ago in Fauchon’s kitchen that if I didn’t wear the right shoes and stand up straight while I prepped, I’d be crooked by the time I was forty. Maybe that was the impetus, but I think it has more to do with transition.

Some people can leap from one project to another with reckless abandon. I’m not one of them. I need time, if only a few days, to clear the decks, clear the desk, clear my brain, empty the nest, and get pumped up before starting all over again.

So, on this, the literal eve of the official beginning of my next cookbook (cookbook #6!), I’m transisting and taking the brave leap from the nuances of delicate, layered French sauces and into the puffy, stalwart realm of choux pastry. And, I’m kicking it all off with a brand new pair of red shoes.

Unlike tart pastry I manipulated in Tart Love or sauces I created for The French Book: Sauces (Gibbs Smith, March 2013), choux pastry is one tough little nut. It likes to get beat up pretty good to activate the gluten and choux pastry’s unique rising effect – aided only by this, butter and egg yolks. Nutty and savory in flavor, once cooked it can be filled with anything from whipped cream to bacon and eggs. It’s a huge sweet and savory universe all of its own and can also be formed into little balls (cream puffs) or longer tubes (eclairs).

Beautiful eclairs.

Not only delicious, these little treats are amazingly versatile. In the sauces cookbook, my primary task was to reveal the technique and versatility of sauces while adhering to the classic “recettes” for the five French mother sauces. Here, my task load is a little more free-form – to find an excellent, practical technique for making choux pastry itself, and coming up with all kinds of beautiful and delicious flavor pairings.

My head has been adrift for days and weeks with such thoughts: lemon and mascarpone and pumpkin and cream cheese on the sweet side; BLT cream puff sandwiches and French onion choux on the savory. The list goes on and on and I’m ready to have some fun and get some flour dust on my pretty new shoes. Please jump on the band wagon with me and let me know if you have any ideas you would like for me to try out. I’d love to give it a go! And, for restaurant news/review fans, I want you to know that I’m back on track with those too (after a mandatory medical delay) as we wrap up 2012 and prepare for 2013. Charleston has so much exciting and delicious restaurant news happening right now, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

In the meantime, I’m going to leave you with a recipe for fail-proof roasted chicken. It’s the perfect feast for this time year. The techniques work just as well for chicken as they do for turkey. It’s from The French Book: Sauces, with which it’s paired with a lovely mushroom sauce. Here, simply strain any pan juices, skim off any fat, and whisk together with a little Dijon mustard for a quick, delicious pan sauce.

Perfect Roasted Chicken

Roasting chicken is simple and so rewarding when done with love for the people seated at your table. Basting is really the key. Keep giving back to the chicken what it gives to you in juices. Use a sturdy roasting pan and a roasting rack to keep the chicken off the bottom of the pan. In addition to creating a safe spot for the chicken to nestle while it’s cooking, the rack enables better browning.

1 (3 to 4-pound chicken)

Sea salt or kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

8 sprigs fresh thyme

1 shallot halved

1 small carrot, peeled and cut into 3-inch lengths

1 small celery rib, trimmed and cut into 3-inch lengths

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, thinly sliced

For basting:

3/4 cup good-quality white wine (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay)

3/4 cup chicken stock

Preheat oven to 375F. Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Trim off and discard wing tips and any excess fat from near the cavity. Season the cavity generously with salt and pepper. Fill the cavity with the thyme, shallot, carrot, and celery. Loosen the skin on the chicken breast from the flesh by slipping your index finger under the skin and gently prying it loose. Place the sliced butter under the skin of the breasts, spacing evenly.

To truss the chicken, arrange it on your work surface, back side down. Run kitchen string underneath the bottom of the spine and around the bottom of the legs. Cross the string over itself and now guide it up on both sides of the breasts, along the crease where the thighs and the breasts meet. Flip the chicken over, wrap the string around the wings, and pull tightly to form a knot. Trim off the excess string. Season the chicken generously all over with salt and pepper. Bake until the skin is a pale golden color and a skin/salt crust begins to form, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F. Combine the wine and stock and baste the chicken, starting now, every 20 to 25 minutes, or until it’s done, about 1 1/2 hours (count on about 20 minutes for every pound). Test for doneness by piercing the chicken between the leg and the breast; it is cooked when the juices run clear. Remove the chicken from the pan, cover with aluminum foil, and rest for 20 minutes.

To carve the chicken, cut the legs away from the body, and cut each into two pieces at the joint. Carve the breasts away from the carcass and cut each horizontally into two pieces.

Serve immediately. Delicious with rice, mashed potatoes, and a simple side of sauteed mushrooms or spinach. Bon appetit!


Easy Peasy Apple Walnut Tart

Of late, I’ve become increasingly sensitive to waste.  Wasted clothing, wasted time, wasted paper, and especially wasted food. Most Saturday mornings I go through my fridge to assess what I need to shop for that day. This involves cleaning out food that’s “past due” and that horrible sensation of throwing out and wasting what was once perfectly good food.

I’ve always hated doing this, my mother taking the motto of “waste not, want not” to epic proportions (she even re-uses underwear!),  but in a world where so many are in need from the ravages of storms, disasters, poverty and more, it seems even more reprehensible.

So, when I saw three forgotten Winesap apples I had  picked up at the farmers’ markets several weeks ago were starting to soften and fade, I refused to render them refuse and instead, decided to turn them into a tart. I also had some prepared frozen puff pastry in the freezer left over from recipe testing for a book I wrote on tarts, so there was yet another reason to make it happen.

With holidays on the horizon and Thanksgiving coming in two weeks, this tart is delicious and incredibly easy to make. In fact, it comes together in less than 30 minutes, and could be prepared while the turkey is resting and baked while everyone’s digging into their Thanksgiving feast, simultaneously perfuming the air with its heady aromas.

Normally, I’m not a fan of prepared pastry, but prepared puff pastry is so complicated to make and increasingly delicious prepared.  I say, go for it! I like Pepperidge Farm best. All you have to do is remember to defrost it over-night in the refrigerator or set aside 40 minutes for it to thaw at room temp. Tart/sweet, nutty, and rife with the aromas of cinnamon and vanilla, a warm slice of this tart practically begs for a generous scoop of best-quality vanilla ice cream. You can prep and assemble it a few hours ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator before backing. Bon appetit!

Easy Peasy Apple Walnut Tart

Easy Peasy Apple Walnut Tart

(Makes 6 servings)

3 apples (suggest a tart/sweet variety like Granny Smith or Winesap), peeled, cored, halved and thinly sliced

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 cup light brown sugar

Seeds scraped from two fresh vanilla pods (or 1 TBS vanilla extract)

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Generous pinch salt

Generous pinch ground nutmeg

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

1 sheet thawed prepared puff pastry

Egg wash: 1 yolk mixed with a splash of cold water and a pinch of salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 4 pats

Preheat oven to 425F. Line a baking pan with a sheet of parchement paper. Gently unfold the thawed pastry and place on the parchment, pressing with fingertips to gap any holes in the creases or elsewhere. Combine the apples, lemon juice, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, salt, nutmeg and walnuts in a medium bowl, tossing well with your hands to coat evenly. Arrange in the center of the puff pastry, spreading the filling out to all but the last inch of pastry. This should be left “naked,”  as it will puff around the filling to form the edges of the tart. Smooth out the filling with your fingers or a wooden spoon so it is even and about the same thickness all around. Scatter the butter pats on top of the filling, spacing evenly.  Prepare the egg wash in a cup and brush the naked edges of the tart lightly with the wash, being careful not to let it slip under the pastry and onto the paper.

Bake in the center rack for 25 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Cut and serve with a fat scoop of delicious ice cream. (Note: This tart is also delicious at room temperature or cold).


Time is Ripe for Tomatoes

As we all prepare to greet fall and her cooler air and promise of crisp apples and warming winter squash, don’t yet shut the door on tomatoes and the lingering taste of summer they can offer all year round.  At least in the Lowcountry, tomatoes will be coming in for a few more weeks. Here’s some ideas on how to put them to use from an excerpt from the tomato sauce chapter in my upcoming book on French Sauces (Gibbs Smith, Spring, 2013):

Les Sauces Tomates – Tomato Sauces

Though frequently associated with Italian cuisine, tomato (also called “pomme d’amour,” or love apple in French) sauces play a significant role in French sauce-making and cooking as well. One of the five mother sauces of French classical cooking, tomato sauces can serve as a garnish for fish or meat or tossed with pasta. The meaty juiciness of tomatoes make them the perfect conduit for a quick, fresh, naturally thickened sauce, often enhanced with wine, garlic, onion and fresh herbs.

When in season, fresh tomatoes are preferable to canned. Select firm, fragrant tomatoes. Plum varieties are considered ideal, but the many heirloom varieties available at farmers’ markets and groceries have magnificent flavor and color. When using canned, look for  whole peeled tomatoes, preferably the San Marzano Italian imports.

Tomatoes are often peeled and seeded prior to cooking or the seeds and skins are strained after cooking. Peeling and seeding fresh tomatoes is simple enough. Trim the stem base out with a paring knife and cut a little “X” into the top of the tomato. Place the tomato(es) in simmering, hot water for about 30 seconds, or until the “X” forms little, loose skin flaps. Remove them from the water and submerge in ice cold water for several seconds. The skin will literally peel right off a ripe tomato. To seed the tomatoes, cut them in half horizontally. Gently, using your fingertips, prod the seeds from the little seed pockets distributed throughout the tomato and discard. Don’t fret if you miss a few.

One of the many advantages of tomato sauces is that they freeze beautifulyy for up to three months. Make a few big batches now when tomatoes are still being harvested and freeze them in quantities you will use as fall and winter approach. Thaw, reheat and voila, an instant taste of summer on your plate even when winter winds howl.

Sauce Mariniere – Marinara Sauce

Beautiful, fresh marianara sauce prepared with late summer tomatoes and basil.


(Yield: 6 cups)

This lovely, light sauce is worth making over and over again. It simply sings with tomato flavor that goes just as well tossed with a bowl of spaghetti as it would to dress grill fish or roasted chicken. There are countless variations on the theme, as well. Ground beef,  turkey, pork, sausage, and bacon could be added early in the cooking process, or it could be finished with other vegetables including mushrooms, bell peppers and fennel. Add the fresh basil at the very end, just before serving. The sauce can be refrigerated for several days prior to using or frozen for up to three months.

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups)

1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, peeled, mashed and finely chopped

Pinch sea or kosher salt and ground black pepper

6 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup good quality red wine

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

4  sprigs each fresh rosemary, thyme, and oregano sprigs tied in a bundle with kitchen string

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Pinch red chili pepper flakes

1/4 fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped

Sea or kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, garlic, and pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to coat, reduce heat to medium low, and cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are softened and fragrant, but not browned. Add the tomatoes. Increase heat to medium high, stir, and cook another 3 minutes. Season with another pinch of salt and pepper. Add the wine, chicken stock, fresh herb bundle, sugar, and red chili pepper flakes. Bring up to a boil over high heat and reduce to a simmer. Cook over medium, medium-low heat for 45 minutes, or until reduced by about one-third. Remove herb bundle. Puree the sauce lightly in a blender or with a hand-held emulsion blender, about 30 pulses,  or until frothy and chunky-smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Add the basil just before serving. Serve hot.

Bon appetit!


More Cheese, Please!

Remember that song from Monty Python about  “Wonderful Spam, Marvelous Spam”? Whenever it pops into this cheese-head’s head, the words are always automatically converted to “Cheese, Cheese, Cheese, Cheese, wonderful cheese, marvelous cheese!” Like so many of us, I am a bona fide cheese devotee.  If I could get away with eating it three times a day, I would do it. As it is, I try and keep it down to a few times a week, and always try and stick to the best quality, most delicious cheese I can find.

As heady as cheese is in its “natural” state, it’s arguably even more decadent in a smooth, silky sauce, as in the Cheddar Cheese Bechamel Sauce and Roasted Cauliflower recipe that I  created and tested last week for a book I’m working on about French sauces for Gibbs-Smith.

A virtual fondue, this sauce would be exquisite for dipping bread cubes, fat pretzels, and  raw vegetables. I loved it so much, I found myself eating it by the spoonful, as if it was a soup. Indeed, by adding a bit more cream or milk, it could become just that. Here, I use it as a sauce to cover sweet roasted cauliflower florets. It would also be sublime on broccoli, a juicy steak, and roasted potatoes. It’s excellent for entertaining because it can be prepared ahead and gently re-heated at the last minute.

Save this for your back-to-school repetoire. Kids will love this ooey, gooey cheese-treat after school or anytime of day or night.

Creamy Cheddar Cheese Sauce Bechamel over Roasted Cauliflower Florets












Cheese Sauce Bechamel with Roasted Cauliflower 

(Makes 4 to 6 servings)

For the bechamel base:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 small shallot, finely chopped

2 tablespoons All-Purpose flour

1 cup skim milk

3/4 cup Half & Half


2 cups lightly packed best-quality grated sharp cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons best quality white wine (suggest Chardonnay)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the cauliflower:

1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets (see directions below), about 3 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Garnish (optional): 2 tablespoons fresh, finely chopped parsley leaves

Preheat oven to 450F. Prepare the bechamel base. In a large sauce pan, melt the 2 tablespoons butter over medium low hear. Whisk in the shallots, and cook until softened, whisking, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the 2 tablespoons AP flour, and continue cooking until bubbling and cooked through, about 2 minutes, whisking all the while. Pour in the milk and Half & Half in a steady stream, whisking the entire time. Bring up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Continue cooking gently, whisking, until the sauce starts to thicken and set up. This will take 10 minutes.  To finish the sauce, whisk the grated cheese into the warm sauce in 2 or 3 handfuls, until melted and smooth. Whisk in the butter until melted and incorporated. Whisk in the wine. Taste and season according to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve warm over low heat.

Meanwhile, rinse the cauliflower head thoroughly. Cut the base from the cauliflower head, pulling off any external leaves. Cut into quarters. Cut awy the solid, tough core from each quarter and break off the florets into about 2″ chunks. Toss in a roasting pan with the olive oil and a generous dash of salt and black pepper. Roast in the pre-heated oven, stirring 2 or 3 times, for about 25 minutes, or until tender and very lightly browned.

Serve the cauliflower on individual plates or a platter with a generous portion of sauce. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired.

Bon appetit!

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