Thursday, August 28, 2008

Gotta go back, back, back to school again...

"'s bye-bye fun, get your homework done, you better be in by ten!" (Name that tune, my children of the 80's and lovers of cheesy musicals everywhere!)

Fall semester has officially begun. And it's already flying by, as we are almost at the end of week one. Whew! I am wiped. I haven't yet adjusted my sleep schedule back to regular working hours--not to mention, watching those convention speeches until almost midnight! Plus I have my annual ragweed issues to deal with (I don't seem to sleep well when I can't breathe--funny how that works!). Worst of all, there's precious little time for cooking and blogging! BOO!

But before I linked myself back up to the chain gang, I made a fun treat while I still had some leisure time on my hands: homemade doughnuts! I was compelled to do so by Alexis Stewart who was, in turn, inspired by Nancy Silverton (she of La Brea Bakery fame). Silverton's recipe is kind of a midway point between cake and yeast doughnuts. They are really quite easy make (no rising time, and no rolling out--just a quick pat and punch-out job). You could definitely whip a batch of these together in no time for a weekend breakfast or brunch, or anytime for dessert. Though I coated these in powdered sugar according to the recipe, I think I'd like to try them with a glaze next time, just for shiggles.

Old-Fashioned Buttermilk Cake Doughnuts
(Source: Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery via
Serious Eats)
makes 15 doughnuts and holes

Special Items:
2 1/2-inch dough cutter or a 2 1/2-inch round cutter plus a 1/2-inch round cutter to make the holes
Deep heavy-duty saucepan, filled halfway with vegetable oil

1/4 crème fraîche or sour cream
3 1/4 cups unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg (I used 1/2 tsp. nutmeg + 1 tsp. cinnamon)
1 teaspoon (0.3 ounce) packed fresh yeast or 1 1/8 teaspoons active dry yeast
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 extra-large egg
2 extra-large egg yolks
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
For decorating: 1/2 cup nonmelting icing sugar or powdered sugar

1. In a small stainless-steel bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water, heat the crème fraîche until just warm.
2. Heat the oil to 375°F over medium-high heat.
3. Over a large mixing bowl, sift to combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, nutmeg; make a large well in the center. Place the yeast in the well; pour the crème fraîche over it. Allow it to soften, about 1 minute.
4. Pour the buttermilk, whole egg, egg yolks, and vanilla extract into the well; whisk together the liquid ingredients. Using one hand, gradually draw in the dry ingredients. The mixture should be fairly smooth before you draw in more flour. Mix until it is completely incorporated and forms a very sticky dough. Wash and dry your hands and dust them with flour.
5. Sift an even layer of flour onto a work surface. Scrape dough out of bowl onto the surface; sift another layer of flour over dough. Working quickly, pat dough into an even 1/2-inch thickness. Dip cutter in flour and, cutting as closely together as possible, cut out the doughnuts and holes. Place holes and doughnuts on a floured surface. Working quickly, gather scraps of dough together, pat into 1/2-inch thickness, and cut out remaining doughnuts and holes.
6. One at a time, drop the doughnuts into the hot oil, leaving enough space between them so they're not crowded. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, until lightly browned and thoroughly cooked. Remove and drain on paper towels. Always check the temperature between batches and allow the oil to come back up to 375°F before frying the next round of doughnuts.
7. Sift a layer of nonmelting icing sugar or powdered sugar over doughnuts and holes.

The day before we teachers had to report back to work for our opening day meeting, my wonderful friend, June, invited us around for a nosh and some sangria while we tried to answer the prevailing question, "How will we get through another year?!" The party even had a theme--to identify your animal avatar which would inspire you and whose traits you would embody over the next school year. June decided that she would be the cuttlefish, a cephalopod like a squid or octopus who is a master of camouflage--far more able to be present but unseen than even the chameleon. Plus, if they don't fancy you, they'll squirt you in the eye with their sepia ink! Tee hee.

Because my avatar (on this blog and both my MySpace and Facebook pages) actually is my dog, Grady, and because we are still riding high on the glory of his recent dog show victory, I naturally chose the PBGV as my animal guide. I may be shaggy in appearance, a little mouthy, and stubborn as all get out, but I am happy and extroverted by nature, loyal to a fault, and never take myself too seriously, always maintaining my sense of humor. The dish that I brought to share also honored the western coastal region of France from which these rugged little hounds originate, the Vendee. I did a lot of reading about the food there, and I learned that their signature dish is mogette, or white beans. And of course, being so near the ocean, fresh seafood and shellfish are plentiful. (They also have a signature brioche that they are known for, but that didn't feel right for this summer cocktail party; I'll have to make that another time.) Instead, I made a lovely white bean and shrimp salad with a fresh tarragon, basil and Dijon vinaigrette. Not only did the salad honor the Vendee region, it showcased some of the fresh herbs and garden-ripe tomatoes that are just perfect right now and are simply made for each other like Liz and Dick. It was easy to put together, beautiful to look at, and altogether delicious. This may become a summer staple dish for me!

Shrimp and White Bean Salad with Herb and Dijon Vinaigrette
(Source: adapted from
Fine Cooking)

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon

1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, shredded
1 teaspoon minced garlic (or more!)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 15- or 16-oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 medium ripe tomato, cut into medium dice (about 1 cup)
1 (or more) large shallot(s), sliced thinly into rings (about 1/4 cup)

1/2 cup (or so) sliced olives (I used burgundy olives)
12 jumbo shrimp (16 to 20 count), peeled and deveined (you may wish to cut these in two as I did, and I also substituted pre-cooked shrimp)
1 medium head red-leaf lettuce (or a lettuce mix), washed, dried, and torn into bite-size pieces (about 8 cups)

In a medium bowl, mix the sherry vinegar with the mustard, tarragon, basil, garlic, and salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in four tablespoons of the oil.

In a large bowl, combine the beans, tomato, shallot, and olives. Add three tablespoons of the vinaigrette and stir gently to combine.

If using raw shrimp, toss them with the remaining one tablespoon oil and season with salt and a few grinds pepper. Heat a grill pan over high heat and then cook the shrimp until opaque throughout, 3 to 4 minutes per side. (I tossed my pre-cooked shrimp in with the rest of the salad ingredients.)

Toss the lettuce with half of the remaining vinaigrette (add more to taste). For individual servings, portion the lettuce among the serving plates. Spoon the beans on top of the greens and top each salad with two or three shrimp, depending on how many servings you’re making. To serve buffet style, arrange a layer of lettuce, the beans, and then the shrimp.

Finally, though I have no picture to post, I would be remiss if I didn't share with you the magical chocolate chip meringue bars that June made for her party. She suspected, correctly as it turns out, that I might go a different way and bring something savory to the gathering. So she made a pan of sweet treats that came from an old Junior League cookbook, as many most excellent recipes do. Mind you, I'm not even the kind of person that enjoys meringue-y things as a general rule. But these bars--OH!--they were heavenly! There is a traditional chocolate chip cookie layer on the bottom, then it's topped with this crusty but ethereal brown sugar meringue and sprinkled with nuts. It's hard to describe, but it's a bit like biting into a chocolate chip cookie cloud! It's tender and fluffy and crispy YUMMY! This recipe really takes the chocolate chip cookie experience to a whole new level. And these bars would be ideal in those back-to-school lunch boxes that you'll soon be packing for your own little scholars. Have a great school year, everybody! And we're off!

June's Chocolate Chip Meringue Bars
(Source: adapted from Junior League of Baton Rouge's River Road Recipes, 1959)

1 cup shortening (June uses butter, and so shall I!)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon soda
1-2 cups chocolate chips (June uses two cups because that's just how she rolls!)

Cream shortening or butter and the sugars. Add beaten yolks, flour, soda and salt. Spread in a large pan (I think June used a 12 x 17 jelly roll pan) and sprinkle chocolate chips over the top.

For the meringue:
3 egg whites
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup walnuts, chopped

Beat egg whites until quite stiff, then add the brown sugar. Spread over chocolate chip mixture. Sprinkle nuts over the top. Bake @ 350 for 25 minutes.

No comments: