Sunday, January 3, 2016

Sausage en Croute (& Homemade Puff Pastry)

Obviously, I love home cooking. More than that, I love cooking from scratch. Not only is it satisfying to make something with your own hands, it's this pride of doing something without taking advantage of the convince-ready world we live in. Of course there's a time and place, right? You don't always have time to put together a homemade pie crust and those pilsbury ones are tasty! Homemade pizzas are to die for but I'll eat a Tony's anyday. Bread, Mac& Cheese, cake mix... So many examples. But if you have the time, it's always so much better from scratch.

Anyway, I've been having fun lately really spending the time to create things fully from scratch. Behold, a perfect example from start to finish!

This recipie just warms my heart for a few reasons. One, I finally made my own puff pastry! I LOVE puff pastry, but have always bought the pre-made stuff from the freezer aisle. That stuff is good, don't get me wrong, but the homemade stuff is SPECTACULAR. I mean, wow. I'll never go back [until I am inevitably in a time crunch and/or too lazy to make my own]. 

The second reason I loved this dinner was that the sausage used was made by my future brother in law. This man comes from a family of farmers, he hunts, and also purchases animals from farms for their meat. I've always wanted to do that, purchase a pig or a lamb or something like that. It's a great feeling to support local farmers directly... and also the quality of meat and the price so right.

So anyhow, Mike took the venison he hunted and pork that he purchased and created all kinds of sausages. And out of this sausage fest came Mountain Man Breakfast Sausage. An amazing take on breakfast sausage, spiced perfectly, and just tasting so much better knowing that it was made by a family member. 

I used this Food Network recipe for the puff pastry. Unfortunately you're on your own for the sausage though I suggest you buy that $30 ish attachment for the kitchen aid and give homemade sausage a whirl:) Italian sausage will do just fine. I'd probably go with the hot!

Sausage en Croute
Serves 6
1. 5 lb of your favorite ground sausage 
1 green zucchini
1 yellow zucchini
15 yellow pearl onions
1/3 cup Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground mustard
1/2 tsp oregano
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 recipie of puff pastry (see above)

Preheat the oven to 400F. Clean the pearl onions, toss in olive oil and season with salt. Roast for 10 - 15 minutes, tossing halfway through. 

In a skillet, pat the sausage down into a rectangular patty as best you can, about 3in by 12in. Brown on both sides; it's better if it's not all the way cooked because it will finish in the oven.

Remove the sausage and set aside. Add the zucchini to the pan, scraping up the downed bits at the bottom. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until beginning to soften. Add the pepper flakes, ground mustard, oregano, garlic, and sauté a minute until fragrant. Season with salt and pepper and stir in cheese and roasted onions. These will cook more in the pastry so don't over cook them at this point!

Roll out your puff pastry into a giant rectangle, about 2 ft by 18 inches. Lay the sausage down the center. Top with vegetables. Cut slits in the puff pastry along the longer edges of the rectangle. You'll use these to fold over the cente to create a nice pattern. Be careful on the cut the slit too close to the base of the Croute. 

Fold up on end (the shorter side) and work your way down the pastry, folding one slit at a time over the pastry. Once you have reached the end and folded the end up, place the whole thing onto a greased cookie sheet. Push the side together andr make sure it's sealed nicely. Brush with a milk wash (you need about a 1/4 cup milk or half and half) and put in the oven for 30-40 minutes.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Chocolate Beet Cakes with Cream Cheese Frosting and Pistachios

I'm one of those people who would be really good self employed, or working at home. I am ridiculous about making schedules for myself and to-do lists to check off. Can you say Type A? This winter break has been a very productive one for these reasons. It's an amazing feeling to do all these little things that I haven't had the time (or energy) to do during the regular work week.

I've put up a lot of pictures in the house, which is making it seem so much more homey and mine. I decorated a little for Christmas, which was nice... but hit the Salvation Army a couple days ago and found some AMAZING deals to spruce up the house for next year! I've cleaned and organized, created a lovely little office area for myself, and even motivated myself to put together everything I need to officially launch a baking business.

This is my dream: to open a cafe that sells beautiful cakes and cupcakes and breakfast-y baked goods, along with having a stellar brunch menu (because brunch is the most amazing meal of the day!). I've always thought this was just a dream... but this year I thought, what the heck? Take a small step towards pursuing this dream and see what happens! You can never achieve dreams if they just stay in your head. You have to put yourself out there. I'm super anxious about it - sharing the Facebook page with all of my friends, the website is out there for reals - but it's a good anxiety.

So, I thought I would celebrate the launch with a cake recipe. I haven't decided if I'm going to offer this as one of my cakes (in regular layer form) because it's a bit obscure and I'm unsure it would sell. This chocolate beet cake did get rave reviews though! I've been very curious about a chocolate beet cake for awhile and this was my second attempt. I found a recipe by a blogger that I haven't heard of until now, but his post was really thoughtful and I like his voice as a writer. Plus, he credited his recipe to the original author which I LOVE (See previous post/ rant). I'll definitely be perusing his site for continued inspiration.

I did make a few changes to his changes to the original recipe. I wanted to make it a layer cake, so I used 2 10 in. cake pans instead of 1. I also almost doubled the amount of beet in there, added more spice, more chocolate, and added a cream cheese frosting with pistachios. The changes were simply wonderful, and got all kinds of exclamations and smiles from my friends, which is the whole reason I bake anyhow. Spreading love one piece of cake at a time!

I hope you enjoy this one!

Dark Chocolate Beet Cakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
1 large beet
9 oz dark chocolate (I used Ghiardelli 60%)
2 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 cup espresso
14 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
5 eggs, separated

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8oz block cream cheese
4 oz unsalted butter at room temperature
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp half and half
1/4 cup Roasted and salted pistachios, chopped

First, cover the beet with salted water and bring to a boil. Simmer with lid askew for 30-40 minutes or until beet is easily pierced with a knife. Strain and allow beet to cool. Run under cold water and peel. Cut into smaller chunks and purée (I used my food processor) and set aside.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, Ginger and cocoa powder in a bowl.

Using a double boiler, melt the chocolate over medium heat. Use a little of the melted chocolate to create a garnish of your choice (I did hearts). Stir in the espresso. Cut the butter into small pieces and add a couple at a time until full incorporated into the chocolate. I had to reheat chocolate mixture in my double boiler so that it would fully melt.

Remove from heat and allow to cool. Incorporate beet purée. Incorporate 5 egg yolks. Place the egg whites in a separate bowl with 1/4 tsp cream of tartar. Whip to stiff peaks.

Fold in the sugar to the egg whites. Careful to not overmixed this or any of the following steps!

Fold in chocolate beet mixture. Then, fold in the flour mixture.

Pour into 2 (greased) 8in circular pans. Bake at 325 F for 15 - 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

When cake has cooled, use a round cookie cutter to cut out layers for the mini cakes if so desired.

Prepare the frosting. Cream the cheese and butter together using an electric mixer. Mix in powdered sugar and half and half to reach your desired consistancy. You could add up to a cup more of sugar (and some more half and half if so) to meet your preferred taste. 

Place a layer of cake and spread with frosting. Top with pistachios. Repeat with next later. Add garnish and voila!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Slow Cooker Split Pea Soup with Whole Wheat Rolls

Let me preface this post by saying that I am not a huge fan of slow cooker recipes. The ones that I have tried out were just subpar to other methods of cooking, albeit super convenient! My crock is mostly reserved for mulling wine... which is a highly important task that I take very seriously.

I decided to take a chance on this split pea soup mostly because I am on Christmas break and feeling a little lazy. These days following Christmas have been a chance for me to really let me hair down. Things had been super hectic in the weeks leading up to Christmas and I was feeling the stress of getting everything done in a short time! Thankfully, everything went very smoothly and I had a wonderful couple days with family. I really am so blessed.

And, oh my goodness, was this slow cooker soup worth the risk!! Slow cooking the soup with the hambone over 7 hours allowed the bone to entirely shed the remnants of ham, and the peas to break down thickening the soup into one beautiful mess. Plus, it allowed me to run errands, go to the gym, and even finish up the Jinx (you NEED to watch that mini series if you haven't yet!) and nap it out before it was done! I don't think I'll be jumping on the slow cooker bandwagon anytime soon, but this is one recipe I would certainly do over again in the crockpot.

In all the extra time I gained by putting this in the crockpot, I decided to take on another adventure. I have tried working with yeast a couple times, but have failed in getting bread to rise properly and gave up. Lame, I know. I decided that today I would face yeast yet again in an attempt to conquer my fears and also to make some yummy looking whole wheat yeast dinner rolls by one of my favorite bloggers, Half Baked Harvest. Let's just say, I won!! They were amazing! And a perfect compliment to the soup. There might have been a victory dance involved.

One impromptu dinner guest even exclaimed "Amy... This is OUTSTANDING." The soup, not my victory dance. But now that I think about it, probably both. 

Slow Cooker Split Pea Soup
Serves 6
1 ham bone (be generous with the meat you leave on it!)
1 16oz bag of split peas
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cups chopped carrots (about 5 small)
4 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic
2 tbsp chopped parsley
6 cups chicken broth

Place all ingredients in the slow cooker. Make sure everything is covered by the chicken broth. If your ham bone is barely fitting in the crockpot like mine was, check back in a few hours. It will be much more flexible and you can make sure the entire bone is submerged.

Cook on high for 6-8 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove the bone when finished. Season with salt and pepper!

Whole Wheat Rolls