Friday, February 25, 2011

{Living Vicariously} Culinary Student & Food Writer: Marcelle Richards

Marcelle trained me in fine-dining service, during one of my first weeks as a waitress at Fresco, in Madison, WI. Although we were front-of-house employees, both of us far preferred hanging out in the kitchen whenever we got a spare moment. We would talk about food and writing, and daydream about culinary school. 

I've visited and toured a few culinary schools, and each time my culinary dreams become stronger. Smelling the scent of parsley or the pungent sting of garlic as the knife hits it, while students are simply preparing their Mise En Place, is overwhelming for me. It make me want to drop everything I currently own, cross out everything sitting on my calendar, and jump into a chef's jacket and houndstooth pants. I dream of the day when I'll have to say, "Yes, Chef!" I literally ached to be in Paris when I read Kathleen Flinn's The Sharper Your Knife The Less You Cry (great read, by the way). But, like many foodies I talk to, I hesitate to take the plunge. I've made a firm decision that I will be taking the plunge after graduating with my Masters degree, but it has taken me a long time (and a lot of living vicariously) to get there. 

Marcelle is a few steps ahead of me, and is already pursuing her culinary school dream, at  Madison Area Technical College, Marcelle publishes recipes and other writings in The Isthmus, and contributes community-focused pieces to Our Lives Magazine. Her food blog, Gastropacalypse Test Kitchen, offers unique recipes--often with a bit of fusion flavoring--and is one of my favorite sources of inspiration. Her recipe for Buffalo Mac & Cheese is included below.

Culinary school is something a lot of foodies dream of and wonder about, myself included, so I wanted to give you all a chance to live vicariously through a real-life culinary student and food writer. Next week, I'll post a video with footage of Marcelle in culinary school and a one-on-one interview. For now, here's a creative and delightful recipe from her blog.

Buffalo Mac n’ Cheese
By Marcelle Richards of Gastropacalypse Test Kitchen
1.5 lb pasta (macaroni, or your favorite variety)
3 c. half and half
2 eggs
1 lb gorgonzola
24 oz cream cheese, softened
1 lb buffalo mozzarella (cube half, cut other half into rounds 1/4″ thick)
8 oz Buffalo Jack, shredded
salt to taste
dash paprika and cayenne
Buffalo sauce:
3 sticks butter, melted
8 oz. Louisiana hot sauce

Pre-heat oven to 375 degress. Parboil pasta (aboot 4 minutes, not quite al dente). Make buffalo sauce by melting butter and mixing in hot sauce. Blend cream cheese withabout 3/4 of the buffalo sauce. Reserve rest of sauce to spread on top of mac n’ cheese.
Beat eggs, stir in half and half, blend in cream cheese mixture. Stir in cubed mozzarella and jack. Combine cheese mixture with pasta in a casserole dish or cast iron skillet. Salt to taste and sprinkle top with paprika and cayenne. Spread remaining half of mozzarella (rounds) on top of pasta, cover top with remaining buffalo sauce.
Bake until bubbly and slightly crusted, about 40 min.

*See the original recipe posting, and related quip here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Double-Chocolate Loaf with Peanut-Butter-Cream-Cheese Spread

I've had this recipe bookmarked since October, 2010. I've admired it numerous times but it seemed too sinful  rich irresistible to have in our home. Because, although I'm not the most diet-friendly cook (as seen here, here and here), I don't think it wise to have a double-chocolate-loaf with peanut-butter-cream-cheese spread just sitting around. Nobody has that much self control...
So, I waited. I knew the perfect opportunity would roll around. And, people, of course it did.  I enrolled in a class that meets in the late afternoon and has a treat schedule. It is my turn to feed the class tomorrow. My classmates are going to love adore me. Of this, I'm certain.
Isn't there something lovely about a sweet loaf? It seems less sinister and unhealthy than a slice of cake because..well, it is shaped like bread. I think my love for sweet, loaf shaped desserts stems back to a childhood filled with delicious zucchini bread. My aunt would serve it warm from the oven, and we'd slather on cool, creamy butter. Now that is a quick bread memory.
This is no zucchini bread, but it does find a balance between all the good things in life.The chocolate is so dark, the flavors so deep, that they flirt with bitter. But, only enough to balance out the sweet peanut butter flavor of that heavenly peanut-butter-cream-cheese spread. (seriously, with a name like that, could it be anything other than heavenly?) If you want to make it, but need an excuse, I can almost guarantee that this bread will make you instantly popular at your place of work (or study).

This delightful recipe is taken from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented, which was written by Baked's Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. It came to me via my TastingTable NYC daily email.
Double-Chocolate Loaf with Peanut-Butter-Cream-Cheese-Spread
Adapted by Tasting Table NYC from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented
(Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

Double-Chocolate Loaf:
3/4 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk 
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60 to 72%), coarsely chopped

Peanut-Butter-Cream-Cheese Spread:
*I adapted this from the original recipe*
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 Tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1/3 +1/6 cup granulated sugar

Double-Chocolate Loaf
Butter and flour a loaf pan (9"x5"). Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Put the brown sugar in a bowl, preferably a mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment. Use the back of a kitchen spoon to press out any lumps in the brown sugar. Then, add the granulated sugar, cocoa powder, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Mix together with paddle attachment, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

In another bowl, whisk the egg yolk and eggs together thoroughly. Add buttermilk, oil, and vanilla extract, beating together quickly. Once the liquid mixture is smooth and combined, slowly add the mixture to dry ingredients in the mixing bowl. The mixture should be on low and you should mix only until the ingredients have combined. Leave the lumps! Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold the chopped chocolate bar in by hand. 

Pour the batter into a buttered and floured loaf pan and bake in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 1 hour, or until a toothpick or knife inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove from the pan and allow to cool completely.

Peanut-Butter-Cream-Cheese Spread
In the bowl of a standing mixer, add cream cheese, peanut butter and granulated sugar. Use the whisk attachment to beat the ingredients together until fluffy and well-combined. Spread this mixture on the chocolate loaf and you are golden.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Asparagus with Citrus and Garlic

I know what you're thinking. Asparagus is for springtime. And it is February in Wisconsin. But, people, it has to be springtime somewhere! And I'm in the mood for asparagus. Plus, it just dropped in price at my local grocery store. So I figured we'd all better start preparing for when asparagus season does get into full swing. In that vein, I've decided to offer up one of my favorite, refreshing asparagus recipes.
This is a "whatever I happened to have in my fridge and pantry" version of Mario Batali's Asparagi alla Geremolata, which I made a couple of years ago as a side dish (and after thought) to serve alongside some celebrity-like main dish. It must have been duck, or beef or something. Point being, this asparagus stole the show. 
Until I found this recipe, I'd steam asparagus, roast it, or throw it in a salad. Apparently, in Italy, this isn't a new recipe at all. But it is new to me, and I thought it just might be new to you. Plus, some of my lovely readers have been petitioning for a healthy recipe or two. So here you go. Something about biting into a crisp asparagus spear and tasting a familiar flavor mixed with bright citrus notes is exciting. As is healthy eating.

Asparagus with Citrus and Garlic
Adapted from Mario Batali's Asparagi alla Geremolata

1/2 pound asparagus
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Zest of one orange
Juice of 1/2 of one orange
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt

Prepare asparagus by snapping asparagus stalks in half and discarding of the woody bottom halves of the stalks. In a medium pot, boil water. Nearby, place a medium bowl full of cold water and ice. Submerge asparagus in the boiling water for about 1-2 minutes, until the asparagus is tender, but still crisp and bright green. Once the asparagus hits this step, transfer the stalks to the ice water (with a spoon or tongs).  After a couple of minutes in the ice water, remove asparagus stalks and place on paper towels to dry.

In a medium bowl, combine the citrus zest and juice, garlic, olive oil and salt. Mix together thoroughly with a fork. Add the dry asparagus and let sit for a few minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and pour remaining liquid over the asparagus spears. Enjoy a refreshing, healthy, vegetable side dish. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Avocado BLT Sandwiches

Have you ever packed a lunch that you actively look forward to eating? I have. At some point. A long time ago. These days, because of my over-flowing planner, lunchtime has changed for the worse. Last week, when I got to the grocery-store checkout line, my cart was full of frozen microwave meals and coffee. 

"Oh the shame," I thought. "I hope nobody here knows I'm a food blogger."

See, I'm a food blogger because I adore finding exciting new combinations, or twists on comfortable stand-bys, and sharing them with the world. I love taking pictures of beautiful textures and especially enjoy savoring the end results. And, I'm a food blogger because I love food. But here's the thing. I'm also a graduate student. We graduate students have a passionate love affair going on with caffeine, and sometimes our research, but don't have time for extravagant or expensive lunches (or dinners, or breakfasts). 
My week of frozen lunches had left me in identity-crisis mode. There is only so much frozen marinara sauce a girl can eat. Then, I remembered the avocado BLT. This is one enchanting sandwich. I first had it when my friend Andrew, an inventive cook, brought us a picnic lunch on the beach. Since it was summertime in NYC, my friends and I followed these up with some Mister Softee ice cream cones and a dip in the ocean. Here in Wisconsin, in February, I followed this sandwich up with...homework. And you know what? That avocado BLT still managed to provide me with a  refreshing break from reality. 

I don't know about you, but I can get lost in the texture of an avocado. Or the salty crunch of a perfect piece of bacon, accompanied by warm, garlic toast. Since I'm assuming some of you out there might also have limited time and a limited tolerance for frozen meals, I wanted to share this recipe with you. This sandwich is the perfect break in an overcrowded day, and having it packed away in your bag, waiting for lunchtime is...well, perfection.

Avocado BLT Sandwiches
By Alexandra Rogers

4-6 strips bacon
1/2 cup fresh spinach leaves
1 small-medium tomato, sliced
1 avocado, sliced
1 clove of garlic, sliced in half
4 slices of bread* 
a tiny bit of butter or mayonnaise (enough to spread very lightly over the bread

*I used the delicious homemade bread in my freezer. Gotta love having a bread-baker for a boyfriend

Line a sided baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place bacon strips on the aluminum foil, giving each its own space, and put in a cold oven. Set oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for about 25 minutes or until bacon is crispy but not burnt. When bacon is done, use paper towels to soak up grease on bacon.

Toast bread slices. Rub the cut side of the garlic clove on one side of each piece of bread. (This is easy if you spear half of the garlic clove with a fork--cut side exposed. Do not let the tongs go all the way through the garlic clove and use the fork to glide garlic over toasted bread.) The garlic bread sides will be the inside of the sandwich. 

Lightly spread the insides of the sandwich with butter or mayonnaise (your choice), and cover one slice of toast with fresh spinach leaves. Layer 1-2 tomato slices on top of the spinach. Top the tomato slices with 2-3 strips of bacon, and top the bacon with 2-3 slices of avocado. Top it all off with your second slice of bread, cut in half and serve! (I know these proportions are a little up in the air, but really these all depend on what you like, so use what looks good.) Makes 2 sandwiches.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Miniature Strawberry Pies

Valentine's Day is upon us, friends. To be honest, I've never really gotten into the whole hallmark holiday thing. Mostly because I hope that my relationship with the person that I love (my valentine, if you will) is filled with romance, and not just on one day in February. But, I'm burying the lead here. It turns out that mini strawberry pies are delicious writing this recipe post has transformed my feelings about the holiday. (And, mini strawberry pies are delicious).
It isn't quite right to say I've never gotten into valentine's day. Way back when, I'd spend a long time crafting messages to my friends on the candy heart-filled valentines my mom would buy me from Walgreens. Sometimes, I'd even make my own cards out of colorful cardboard. Mostly, I pined for the moment when the big heart envelope at the back of my desk chair would be filled with nice messages from my friends. And hopefully from the dreamy boy in the back of the room. But hey, I was 7. Can you blame me for getting swept up in it all? 
Somehow, in the years that followed, I stopped caring so much about valentine's day. It started to annoy me. In fact, I really only planned this post for my readers--in case one of you out there really loved Valentine's Day and felt cheated out of an appropriately romantic post. 
But something happened while I was making these miniature desserts. I was standing there, over my mixer, in the kitchen of my apartment. The apartment that I share with boy I've been happily dating for a lot of years now. The apartment that our friends call, fondly, "the apartment," as if they live there too. And I started to think, maybe Valentine's Day isn't so terrible after all. 
If it gives me an excuse to shower kindness and candy miniature strawberry pies on the people I love, I'm in. There is something adorable and undeniably sweet  about these individual desserts. Happy Valentine's Day!
Miniature Strawberry Pies
Alexandra Rogers

1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted

16 ounces strawberries (one container), sliced thin
1/4 cup water
1 Tablespoon flour
1/4 cup sugar
8 ounces cream cheese
3 Tablespoons low fat sour cream
3/4 cup powdered sugar

In a medium bowl, mix graham cracker crumbs and sugar together thoroughly. With a fork, mix melted butter into the crumbs and sugar. Press into four 6 ounce ramekins to form miniature pie crusts. These should be the dish you intend to serve dessert in. Chill for at least one hour.

Set the best 1/3 of the sliced strawberries aside, for layering on the dish. Mix 1/4 cup water, 1 Tablespoon flour and 1/4 cup sugar together in a small bowl or mug. Place the remaining 2/3 strawberries in a small pot, and pour the flour mixture over the strawberries. Place on medium heat for about 15 minutes, until the strawberries become tender and the mixture reduces. Stir occasionally to keep from burning the bottom of the pot. Set aside for later use.

In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the cream cheese and sour cream. Incorporated the powdered sugar evenly. Beat for about 3-5 minutes, until fluffy, and set aside. But, keep the electric mixture handy.

Now, remove the serving dishes with the crust inside from the refrigerator. Fill each dish about 1/2-2/3 full with the cream cheese mixture. On top of the cream cheese mixture, layer the fresh strawberries. On top of that, place the jam-like mixture you made on the stove. Place all dishes back in the refrigerator and chill for at least a few hours, so the top strawberries set. Serve cold, with a spoon, to somebody you love. Serves 4-5 6 ounce portions.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Open Faced Provolone Sandwiches

There is something inspiring about a fresh baguette. This weekend, I finally had a chance to try Batch Bakehouse, a new bakery in Madison. We bought two muffins and a baguette, still warm from the oven. I felt especially excited, since it is the dead of winter here and I think warm bread is especially charming and comforting in the dead of winter.
You know what's even more charming and comforting in the dead of winter? A hot toddy. A snow day.  Open faced sandwiches, with provolone cheese and roasted tomatoes, served straight from the oven. 

I know it's predictable that I--a Wisconsin girl--think that cold winter days are best paired with warm, cheesy sandwiches. But, can you really disagree?

Open Faced Provolone Sandwiches
Alexandra Rogers

1/2 cup olive oil
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely minced
1/2 of a french baguette
1 ripe tomato, sliced 1/4" thin
4 slices provolone cheese
Italian seasoning (or dried basil and oregano)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. 

In a small tupperware container or bottle, combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, garlic and a dash of pepper. Shake vigorously to combine and set aside.

Slice the french baguette in half lengthwise and cut into sandwich portions--I'd recommend approximately 6 inches per sandwich but if you're serving this as one in a series of hors d' oeuvres, cut them smaller. Brush the bread lightly with your balsamic vinaigrette, making sure to get some of the garlic pieces in. Then, layer the bread with provolone cheese and tomato. Drizzle with the vinaigrette and sprinkle lightly with italian seasoning or similar dried herbs. 

Place the sandwiches on a baking sheet with sides, and put in the oven. Bake on the second rack of the oven for 10-12 minutes, until cheese is melted and tomatoes have softened. Then, broil on high heat for approximately 1 minute, or until cheese is bubbly and golden brown. 

You'll have vinaigrette and 1/2 a baguette left over, so make it early in the week and then...make it again!  When you slip and slide the whole way home, it is so nice to know there is a warm, cheesy, sandwich waiting for you.

Makes 2 sandwich servings or 4-6 appetizer servings.

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