Monday, July 30, 2012

Revisiting an Old Recipe: Oatmeal Macaroons

When the Junior League of Baton Rouge first published their “River Road Recipes” cookbook back in 1959, I’m sure they couldn’t imagine that it would go on to sell well over a million copies within a span of 50 years. I ran across my copy at a rummage sale a number of years ago and was delighted to pick it up. While some of the pages were “dog eared” and the cover was a bit worn (all good signs that a cookbook filled with lots of good recipes), I didn’t realize that for many this humble community cookbook is the last word in Louisiana cooking. 

There are lots of great dessert recipes in “River Road Recipes,” but one that caught our eye was for oatmeal macaroons. There is something so satisfyingly simple about oatmeal cookies. I continue to tell myself that the oatmeal offsets the butter and sugar, so I can indulge in oatmeal cookies all I like! This recipe was straight forward and easy and yielded moist, chewy cookies full of oat flavor. I modified it by leaving out the nuts (I didn’t have any on hand), but if you like you could add a cup of chopped nuts, raisins or coconut at the very end.

Oatmeal Macaroons
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 2/3 cup flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, cream together butter, eggs, sugars and vanilla with electric mixer. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Gradually beat flour mixture into butter mixture until it is all well incorporated. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl while you are mixing.  Add rolled oats to batter and mix in well. If you are using nuts, fruit or coconut, this is the time to add it to the dough.
Using baking sheets that are either lined with parchment paper or lightly greased, drop dough by about a tablespoon full onto sheet. Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes, until they are golden brown. Be careful not to over bake – these cookies should be more chewy than crunchy. Makes 4-6 dozen, depending on size.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

RumChata Bread Pudding

For my birthday last month, I was presented with a large bottle of liqueur called “RumChata.” Turns out that this concoction is a blend of horchata – the delicious Mexican rice drink – and rum.  I was first introduced to horchata many years ago while eating with some friends in the “Mexicantown” section of Detroit. I immediately loved the light and delicately sweet flavor of this drink and the way it cooled my tongue from the spicy Mexican food. But as much as I love horchata, I just wasn’t sure about what was in this big white bottle.

Our friend Jennifer, who really knows her way around all these liqueurs, said that she had a recipe that used RumChata to make bread pudding. That just sounded too good to resist! While bread pudding isn’t everyone’s favorite  - especially in the hot summer months – it is something that I always enjoyed. While the pudding should certainly stand on its own, part of the appeal of bread pudding are the things you put on top of it: fresh fruit and cream, whiskey sauce, hot caramel, ice cream, etc. 

So we took Jennifer’s recipe and tweaked it a bit by adding some fresh Michigan blueberries. The season has begun and I’m lucky to have a large blueberry farm a few miles from the cottage, so we try to stay stocked up!  I found that this was good dusted with powdered sugar and served warm with some vanilla ice cream.

RumChata Bread Pudding

4-5 cups dry bread cut into large cubes (use a “white” bread that is mild flavored)
4 eggs
1 cup milk (whole milk is best)
1 cup RumChata (could also use Amaretto, Irish cream, Kahlua, Frangelico, etc.)
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp cinnamon
1 cup blueberries (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut up bread into large cubes and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, milk, RumChata, vanilla and cinnamon. Whisk together well. Add bread cubes and blueberries (if using) to liquid and gently push bread down so it all gets coated . Let the bread soak in the liquid for 15 minutes. In the meantime, grease a 8x8 baking dish. Pour bread mixture into prepared dish and bake for 35 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Steak au Poivre – Putting a French Twist on our American Steak

As the Fourth of July approaches, it seems like all the focus is on foods to grill and why not? Grilling is as American as the Stars and Stripes, and many of us grew up watching the family “grillmaster” cook up burgers, hot dogs and steaks on a hot summer afternoon. While I like to grill, it is a cooking method that have not come even close to mastering. I tend to overcook the food on the grill, but I keep trying to get it right. One of the grill’s best features (as far as I’m concerned) is that it allows you to cook outside, which means I don’t have to heat up the kitchen on a sweltering day.
But this is the reason that I built a summer kitchen at the cottage. It allows me to take the cooking and baking outside during the summer and it’s wonderful. While I could throw steaks on the grill, I feel much more comfortable on one of my stoves, where I know I can totally control the heat. So when we decided it was going to be “stove cooked” steaks, my thoughts went back to Paris where I enjoyed steak au poivre.
If you are a grillmaster, I believe you could prepare this steak on a grill, but I wasn’t about to attempt that method.  Steak au poivre features beef slathered in Dijon mustard, encrusted with coarsely crushed peppercorns and then seared in butter in a heavy skillet and finished in a hot oven. Once the raw steaks are ready for the skillet, the whole thing moves rather quickly to deliver a medium rare to medium cooked steak.
The mustard and the peppercorns add sharpness and texture to the succulent steak – no need for sauce! If you don’t like things that are really peppery, then this may not be for you. But if you are a pepper fan, and want to change up the way you experience a steak, give this one a try…no grill required!

Steak au Poivre
½ cup black peppercorns, roughly crushed
4 New York strip steaks (about an inch thick) at room temperature
Salt or seasoned salt
Dijon mustard
3 TBSP butter
3 TBSP olive oil
Take your steaks out of the fridge 45 minutes to an hour before you prepare them – you want them to come up to room temperature. In the meantime, prepare the peppercorns. I do this by putting in two batches where I put the peppercorns in a zip freezer bag and then take a rolling pin over them to coarsely crush them. You could use a meat mallet or some other method – the key is to have them coarse.
Once the steaks are at room temperature, season them with salt on both sides. Then apply a liberal amount of Dijon mustard (don’t substitute – it won’t be the same) to one side of the steak and apply lots of crushed peppercorns – they will adhere to the mustard. Repeat on the other side of steak. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
Heat your skillet – use a cast iron or stainless steel pan here (non-sticks will not hold up to this heat). Put butter and olive oil in the skillet and let melt completely. It is important to have the skillet hot – you want the meat to begin to sear the moment it enters the pan. Depending on your pan and the heat of the burner, you will want to sear the steaks for 3-4 minutes on each side. You should be able to see a nice crust develop with the peppercorns. After the second side of the steaks have seared, transfer pan immediately to the hot oven. Depending on the “doneness” you prefer, finish steaks in oven anywhere from 3 minutes to 7 minutes. Remove from oven – be very careful as the skillet will be extremely hot. Let steaks rest for a few minutes (remove from skillet if you want to keep them from continuing to cook) and serve.