Sunday, February 10, 2013

Traditional King Cake

At the urging of a good friend and loyal reader (Thanks Rachael), I have returned. Although this was not the "come back" post I had planned, I had to share this after tasting the oh-so-fabulous results.

I have been pining for home this week, wistfully daydreaming of the Parades and tasty treats that I am missing during this year's Mardi Gras celebrations in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. I have especially been craving King Cake, a traditional pastry served in Louisiana throughout the Mardi Gras season. I won't bore you with the history of King Cake, but I will tell those of you who may not know that it is a celebrated, debated and highly sought after delicacy. Everyone has their favorite, and mine is Gambino's. End of story....until now!

This recipe is an amalgamation of several that I found interesting. Feel free to create your own filling (cream cheese, raspberry, and pecan praline are just a few of the most popular filled cakes in Louisiana) or go for the gold with this Traditional King Cake recipe.

Traditional King Cake
Makes 1 cake
1/4 cup warm (105-115 degrees) water
1 pkg active dry yeast
1 & 3/4 cup + 1 pinch white (granulated) sugar
3-4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp evaporated milk (I used reduced fat)
1/2 cup sour cream (I used reduced fat)
3 eggs
1 lemon (zested and juiced)
2 tbsp cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
6-7 tbsp butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
Red, blue, green and yellow food coloring

Begin by combining the warm water and yeast, stirring well to incorporate. Sprinkle the pinch of sugar over the top (do not stir) of the yeast mixture and set aside for 10 minutes; the mixture will begin to foam and double in size.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup flour, salt and 1/4 cup sugar, creating a small well in the center. Using the microwave, warm the 1/4 cup evaporated milk to 105-115 degrees. Add the lemon zest, 2 eggs, sour cream and milk to the flour mixture, stirring well until the mixture becomes silky, about 1 minute. Now add the yeast mixture, stirring well for 1 minute (mixer=low speed). Add 1 more cup of flour, stirring well for 1 minute to incorporate (mixer=low speed). Add the softened butter and blend well until the butter is fully incorporated (mixer=med-high speed). Finally, add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time until the dough begins to pull away from the sides.

Knead the dough (mixer with dough hook=5 minutes; by hand on a floured surface=10 minutes) to form a ball, then turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for another minute to smooth and shape the ball. The dough will be sticky, so be sure to flour your hands while kneading. Place the ball into a greased bowl, turning once over to grease the top, then cover lightly with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a warm, dry place for about 2 hours. The dough should rise to double in size.

Turn the dough back out onto the floured surface, punching the dough ball with your fist several times. Allow the dough to rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting (do not tear) the dough in half. Roll out the halves into long rectangular shapes. Melt 1-2 tbsp of the remaining butter and spread gently over each of the dough rectangles, leaving approx 1/2 inch border on all sides. Combine 1/2 cup sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and liberally sprinkle over the butter to create the filling.

Roll each of the rectangles into a long tube shape, pinching the seams and ends to prevent the filling from oozing. Carefully move the rolls to the desired baking sheet before twisting together to form a circle; carefully arrange the ends on top of each other. Spray cooking spray onto a piece of plastic wrap and lay gently over the cake, allowing the dough to again rest for 1-1.5 hours in a warm, dry place. The dough will again rise to nearly double the original size.

During the final rise, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Raise the oven rack to the second highest position. Combine the remaining egg with 1 tbsp water and beat well to create an egg wash. Gently baste the cake with egg wash and place in the oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes before gently draping the cake with foil to prevent excessive browning. Bake for another 10-15 minutes until springy. The cake is ready when an inserted knife can be removed without residue. Allow the cake to fully cool (I cooled mine overnight) before icing on the desired serving dish. 

To create the colored sugar, separate the remaining 1 cup sugar into 3 separate, equal amounts in 3 Ziploc bags. Add a few drops of the food coloring to the separate bags and shake well to combine. I mixed equal amounts red and blue food coloring in a small dish before adding to the sugar to create the purple. Add additional sugar if your colors are too bright; add additional food coloring if the colors are not bold enough. Be creative and have fun with the colors!

Combine the powdered sugar, 2 tbsp lemon juice and 2 tbsp milk. Melt and slowly incorporate the remaining 1 tbsp butter. The mixture should be thin enough to drizzle but should still have some definition. Ice the cake using a spoon or piping bag (or Ziploc with the tip cut off :), allowing scant amounts to run off the cake onto the desired serving dish. While the icing is still soft, sprinkle the cake with the desired amount of colored sugar (likely not the entire amount)!

Wait (I know it's hard!) for 30 minutes until the icing sets, then DIG IN!!!!!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cajun Shrimp and Corn Soup

My, oh my, how I do miss the good ole Cajun and Creole food from back home (le sigh). Luckily for me, I learned over the years how to whip up a few of my favorites so that I may enjoy tasty food no matter where I happen to be. Shrimp and Corn soup is one of my all-time favorite Louisiana dishes, and, luckily for me, the ingredients are not too hard to find. Try out this Louisiana taste sensation and see for yourself how wonderful it is!

Shrimp and Corn Soup
(Serves 4-6)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 jalepeno, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
2 tbsp green onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
3 cups chicken stock
2 cups corn water plus milk from the cobs*
4 cobs corn
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp Tony's or other cajun seasoning
Pinch cayenne, if desired
1/2 cup half & half

Begin by adding the corn to boiling water and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Set aside 2 cups of the boiling liquid and drain the corn; after allowing the corn to cool completely, cut from the cob and set aside. Using the back of a knife, milk the corn cobs by running the blunt edge of the knife up and down the cob, releasing any liquid and corn particles that remain stuck to the cob. Add the corn milk to the reserved boiling liquid and set aside.

Heat a large cast-iron Dutch oven over medium heat; melt the butter and add the flour to start a roux. Stirring CONSTANTLY for about 15-20 minutes, brown the roux until it turns the color of a brown paper bag. Add the trinity to the roux (onion, celery and bell pepper) and mix well; cover and sweat the veggies for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Once the vegetables are soft and translucent, add the garlic, jalepeno, seasonings and herbs and cook an additional 5 minutes. Next, add the stock and reserved boiling liquid. Cover and bring to a simmer, adding the corn once the mixture begins to simmer. Cover again and allow to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occassionally to encourage the marriage of flavors.

After ensuring the veggies are tender enough, add the shrimp and simmer for about 5-7 minutes depending on the size of the shrimp. Finally, add the half & half and stir well to incorporate. DO NOT BRING BACK TO A SIMMER. Turn off the heat and serve with your favorite crusty bread! Be sure to savor the flavor and not-so-subtle heat and ENJOY!!!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Better Than The Box: Fishsticks

Greetings fellow foodies! It has been several months without a post, and I have missed you so! Things have been really hectic here in La-La-Land, my new home-town (for more details, see the new-and-improved About Me page). I wanted to kick off the New Year with a new recipe and a new resolution to blog regularly again! Hopefully a few Cali-fresh ideas will make it onto the menu, along with a few tried-and-true Louisiana favorites. Now, onto the recipe!

Frozen fish-sticks and french fries were a staple in my home when I was a kid. The oven-baked, crunchy goodness of the formed-fish type made it onto my plate at least once every few weeks. Although I will ALWAYS love the memory of the frozen fish-stick, I just can't bring myself to buy, let alone cook, my childhood favorite. Call me a food snob (or maybe just an adult) but the over-processed, calorie-laden frozen fish-stick no longer has the hold over me it once did. But, I still crave a nice crunchy piece of fish now and again...

The following is my attempt at re-creating and re-envisioning my old favorite with fresher ingredients and more adult-friendly flavor. Try these out next time you need to re-connect with your 7 year old self!

Fresh Fish-sticks
Serves 2-3
2 cod fillets
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
1/4 tsp onion powder
3/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp flour
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 egg
splash water

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut each cod fillet into stick-like portions, being careful to cut the pieces as equal as possible. Place the pieces on a dry dish towel or paper towel to dry, lightly patting the fish to absorb as much excess water as possible (especially if using frozen fish).

In a shallow bowl, combine the flour, 1/2 tsp salt and pepper; set aside. In another shallow bowl, combine the panko, lemon zest, and remaining seasonings; mix together thoroughly and set aside. In a third shallow bowl, whisk together the egg and water until the egg becomes slightly frothy.

Line up the bowls in order (flour, egg wash, Panko); spray a baking sheet* liberally with cooking spray and place at the end of your assembly line. Using one hand for dry dredging and one for wet, gently dredge each piece of cod first in the flour, then the egg, and finally in the panko. Pat each piece of cod in the panko dredge to encourage the mixture to stick.

Place the pieces about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet and liberally spray the finished fish-sticks with cooking spray (to encourage browning) before placing into the oven. Bake for about 7 minutes then turn the sticks over, spraying with cooking spray again to encourage browning. Bake an additional 7 minutes or until golden brown and springy to the touch.

Serve the fish-sticks while warm with your favorite side (frozen french fries in my case) and a delicious dipping sauce of your choice.

Homemade Tartar Sauce
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp fresh parsley, minced
1 tbsp minced dill pickle or capers
pinch cayenne pepper
pinch onion powder
pinch salt

Combine all ingredients until thoroughly blended, adding more lemon juice if needed to thin the mayonnaise.


*So, a standard baking sheet will definitely work in this case, but I have found that they usually do not brown evenly, leaving the bottom of my coated dish mushy and unattractive. I bought the T-Fal cookie sheet  because it promised, through technical innovation, to brown evenly; and, from what I have found, it works well. Another, even better, idea for this recipe and others like it is to use a baking sheet with an inserted rack. This one is on my wish-list for my new kitchen, which is slowly but surely coming together.