Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Apres-NOLA and Copycat Cafe Cuisine

Ok, so this is going to be another strange, hodge-podge, catch-all, tideover post until I get back from gallavanting across this great country of ours and can blog properly once again. First, a quick follow-up to my New Orleans post. When I got home from spring break, LOOK at what the Aerogarden had for me. Behold, the world's most ENORMOUS basil leaves, bigger even than my chubby little meat hook! (The lovely basil is displayed against the unfortunate backdrop of the brown, brown, brown that is "spring" in the North Country, or "mud season" as we prefer to call it) But isn't that something? Still loving the fresh and tasty gifts that the Aerogarden generously bestows!

Secondly, though I offer no specific recipe, I will also share a picture of the yummy and spicy fish dish that I threw together one night after returning home from Louisiana. I began with two fillets of a farmed catfish called swai which I sprinkled with my house BBQ seasoning and coated in my favorite fish fry (dry) mix from Price Chopper. Then I pan-fried the fillets until GB&D, and served them over steamed white rice that I drizzled with olive oil and tossed with perhaps as much as a half cup of chopped fresh herbs from the Aerogarden (parsley, dill, thyme and basil). Then I topped the fish with my homemade escabeche. So easy, so fresh, and SO GOOD!

Finally, I do want to share a couple of real recipes that I've made recently in homage to some of my favorite cafe treats. Awhile back, I shared a good copycat recipe for my beloved Starbuck's peppermint mocha. Now I've found one that approximates their very popular coffee cake, and as a bonus, it's a bit of a "cheater" recipe, as it starts with a box mix. This one is easy, delicious, and perfect for a brunch or bake sale.

Starbucks-Like Coffee Cake
Picky Palate)

1 box yellow cake mix (plus ingredients on back of box)
2 sticks cold salted butter
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 3/4 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
powdered sugar (for dusting)

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare cake mix in large bowl according to directions on box. Spray a 9X13 pan with nonstick spray. Pour batter into pan. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes or until center is just set.

While cake is baking, prepare the crumb topping. In large bowl of electric mixer combine, butter, flour, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla until all crumbly.

Immediately after cake is removed from oven, break crumb topping into marble size pieces with fingers, sprinkling over top. Put back in oven and bake an additional 10-15 minutes (topping will begin to look a little less wet/raw). Let cool fully then dust with powdered sugar, using a sieve. Cut into squares and serve.

Last but not least, I have been experimenting with my own version of the wonderful pistachio cookies that I first sampled on Christmas Eve at the Padulas that they acquired from the Fresh Market over in Burlington. I think I'm very close, and even if I weren't, these cookies are AMAZINGLY good! They are also very easy to make, yet impressive and elegant--fancy enough to serve as dessert at your next dinner party. However, they have one big drawback: they are SO expensive! A can of almond paste is five bucks and the small tub of pistachios that I bought was about nine dollars, so the cookies were nearly a dollar apiece! YIKES! Are they worth it? Well, I didn't have to make a three-hour round trip to Burlington, so there's that. And they are DEE-LICIOUS! But I guess you'll have to judge for yourself...once you've saved up enough money to buy the ingredients, of course. ;-)

Pistachio Macaroons

8 oz. almond paste
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 to 4 cups roasted, salted and shelled pistachios--divided

Blend the almond paste and sugar until crumbly. Add the egg whites and blend until smooth. Mix in the vanilla, then two cups of the pistachios. Using a cookie scoop (2 oz. or about three tablespoons), form balls of dough, then roll each ball into the remaining 1 1/2 to 2 cups of pistachios. Bake at 325 degrees on Silpat-lined cookie sheets for about 25 minutes or just until the cookies begin to brown around the edges (they should still look a little soft in the middle). Cool completely on the pans, then store in airtight containers.

Yield: 16-17 cookies


Randi said...

wow@ the basil. Do you think the AG is cost effictive? I'm debating whether or not to get one. I can get a package of basil year round for 1.69, italian parsely for .99( huge bunch). I have my perinial herbs in the summer so I'm not concered about that. What do you think?

Joy Bugaloo said...

Definitely NOT cost-effective! I think I bought the machine for $100 (big one-day sale on Amazon last summer), and the seed packs cost $20 for the plant food tablets and 6 or 7 pods, depending on the unit (though I often use a BB&B coupon to knock five bucks off, but still). Then there's electricity, bulbs that have to be replaced eventually, and I also have to buy distilled water to use in it because we have well water, etc, etc, etc. So no, not very cost-effective, but it is lots of FUN! And in the land of eternal winter, having fresh herbs always at your disposal, right in the next room, well, it's worth it to me.