September 21, 2017

Thomas Keller's Banana Bread

This was the dessert course at the French Laundry. 
Over Thanksgiving, my family and I went to Yountville, California (right outside of Napa).  Yountville's slogan is "Taste life here."  Yountville is a very special town, and I think there is no better place that combines the best in culinary, wine, and hospitality!  Yountville has multiple Michelin star restaurants, great wine, and beautiful accommodations, and you have gorgeous views and a kind small town culture to boot--and, the entire town is very walkable.

One of Yountville's most famous restaurants is the French Laundry.  Getting a reservation there is not easy and requires advance planning. I was out of the country when reservations opened, so my little sister kindly helped score a reservation there.  The menu changes daily, and for the weeks leading up to the reservation, I would look at the menu daily out of pure excitement.

Here is my family with Chef Thomas Keller!
I've been fortunate enough to eat at some incredible restaurants and other Michelin star restaurants around the world, and the French Laundry was by far my favorite.  I feel there are not enough words to adequately describe the creativity and perfection of the food.  For such a fancy restaurant, the team did a beautiful job at making you feel so at home and welcome.  They were incredibly hospitable.  At the end of our dinner, we had a surprise treat: a tour of the French Laundry kitchen with a sneak peak of their new kitchen -- and to make this even more special, we met Chef Thomas Keller!  He spent time chatting with my family and was so kind and down-to-earth -- he and my dad talked about steak restaurants in Palm Springs and golf.  It was such a memorable evening, and I was too excited to sleep that night thinking about what an incredible experience it was and how neat it was that I got to meet Thomas Keller!  The next morning, I went for a run in Yountville, and I saw Thomas Keller out and about. :)  A few nights later, we went to Thomas Keller's Bouchon for another amazing dinner.  Along the way, there were some stops at the Bouchon Bakery, of course.  Suffice to say, it was a delicious trip.

Since that trip, Thomas Keller's cookbooks have joined my ever growing cookbook collection.  His cookbooks are large and full of beautiful pictures and fine recipes.  Now, the vast majority of his recipes are not short and sweet.  However, if you study the techniques and embrace them, you will be greatly rewarded with some pretty spectacular food.  :)  For me, completely mastering his recipes is not my goal.  After all, there is no such thing as perfect food. :)  When I cook, my goal is to make people happy.
Couldn't say it any better. <3 
One thing that I've learned from Thomas Keller is to respect the food.  He has inspired me to think more carefully about what I'm doing in the kitchen, how I'm handling the food, and that each ingredient is very important, so recognize the effort of what you are doing in the kitchen.  Back in the spring, Thomas Keller appeared on Jimmy Kimmel and gave a great demo highlighting the carrot.  I loved this clip!  First, I think this shows how important each ingredient is, and second, it shows how you can creatively elevate anything to a whole new level.

The new French Laundry kitchen! 
This week end, I am going to New York for one of my best friend's wedding, and I am so excited to visit Thomas Keller's Per Se!  And, naturally, there will be a stop at the Bouchon Bakery for a pistachio macaron.





Today's recipe is banana bread, inspired by banana muffins from the Bouchon Bakery.  Now, I know everyone has a banana bread recipe, but I promise you, this one is different.  First, you beat the butter to a mayonnaise consistency.  I never knew you could do that with butter. ;-)  Second, you refrigerate the batter overnight, and this helps richen the banana flavor.  It makes a simple banana bread that is buttery with a tender and light crumb that is complemented with a crunchy walnut strudel.

Thomas Keller said, "A recipe has no soul.  You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe."  Make cooking fun.  As you cook, do it with love, happiness, and gratitude.  


Thomas Keller's Banana Bread
Yields 1 loaf (or 12 standard muffins or 6 large muffins)

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup and 1 tbsp. cake flour (168 grams)
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
4.2 oz. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar (lightly packed) (144 grams)
2 extra large eggs
1 1/8 tsp. vanilla paste
1 tbsp. + 2 tsp. creme fraiche
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
1 1/3 cup walnut struesel topping (recipe below)

Walnut Struesel recipe:
1/2 cup + 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour (100 grams)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (100 grams)
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/8 tsp. Kosher salt
3.5 oz. cold butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces (100 grams)

Directions:
For the streusel:
Combine all of the ingredients, except the butter, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on the lowest setting.  Toss in the butter and mix on low speed for about one minute, or until the butter is incorporated.  Transfer to a covered container.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days.

For the banana bread:
Sift the cake flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder into a medium bowl and whisk together.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the butter, and mix on medium-low speed until the butter has the consistency of mayonnaise.  Then, add the sugar and mix for 2 minutes, until fluffy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the eggs and vanilla paste.  Mix on low speed for about 20 seconds until combined.

In two additions, add the dry ingredients, mixing on low speed for 15 seconds after each, or until just combined.  Scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate any dry ingredients that have settled there.  Add the creme fraiche and banana and mix on low speed for 30 seconds.  Transfer the batter to a covered container and refrigerate overnight, or up to 36 hours.

To bake the muffins, preheat the oven to 425ºF.  Spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray or line a muffin pan with muffin papers and spray with nonstick spray.  Spoon the batter into the pan and sprinkle struesel on top.  Place the pan into the oven, lower the oven temperature to 325ºF, and bake for 40-45 minutes (24-27 minutes for muffins), or until the muffins are golden brown and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.  Set the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely.

Source: The Bouchon Bakery

June 18, 2017

Balsamic Chicken Wings


Yay!  Summer time is officially here this week.  Summer is my favorite season -- it always feels more relaxed and carefree.  I love being outside during the summer, whether it's hanging by the water (which is more difficult to do in Colorado), being in the park, or eating on a patio.  Today's recipe would be great for any potluck.

Chicken wings are marinated in a combination of balsamic vinegar, honey, brown sugar, and soy sauce with garlic and rosemary.  The chicken then gets baked, and while it's baking, you cook the remaining marinade (bring it to a boil to kill any bacteria).  After the chicken is done, you brush it with the marinade and garnish with sesame seeds and parsley.

These were not overly sweet wings, despite the honey and brown sugar--the balsamic vinegar and soy sauce help cut the sweetness, which I appreciated.  :)  The chicken was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside - the sign of a good chicken wing, right?

These are a little sticky to eat, so make sure plenty of napkins are on hand.

Balsamic Chicken Wings
Yields about 5 servings

Ingredients:
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
5 sprigs of rosemary
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. chicken wings (about 10-12)
2 tbsp. sesame seeds
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Directions:
In a large re-sealable plastic bag, add the balsamic vinegar, honey, brown sugar, soy sauce, rosemary sprigs, and minced garlic.  Seal the bag, and shake and squeeze the contents to dissolve the honey and brown sugar.  Then, add the chicken drumsticks to the bag and seal with as little air as possible.  Place in the refrigerator and marinate for at least 4 hours later.

Preheat the oven to 450ºF.  Line a baking sheet with foil, and place the chicken on the baking sheet.  Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes or until the skin begins to caramelize.  While the chicken cooks, place the marinade into a wall saucepan.  Bring the marinade to a boil, and then reduce the heat to simmer and cook over low heat until thickened, about 15 minutes.

Then, use a pastry brush to brush the cooked marinade on the chicken.  Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and the chopped parsley.  Serve and enjoy!

Source: Giada De Laurentiis

June 14, 2017

Fleur De Sel Cookies



There is a darling little French sandwich restaurant in my neighborhood called Vert Kitchen.  It's very quaint and has the feel of a casual French bistro with a cozy patio, and the food is all inspired by traditional French cuisine.  It feels like an understatement to say that everything is such great quality. The food is simple, but little things elevate it to feel more elegant.  For instance, fried eggs and bacon are served over a mixed greens salad with tomato buttered toast, and the arugula steak salad comes with a walnut pesto.  The French bread tastes truly legit, and they always show such creativity using seasonal ingredients.  If you take something to go, they put in a paper bag and tie it with a green ribbon--the extra touches just make it a neighborhood gem!

They have plated towers of decadent, huge cookies.  Their Fleur De Sel cookie is unlike any cookie that I've had.  It has hints of butter, caramel, and brown sugar, and it is topped off with sea salt.  How can you not love that?  Everyone raves about the cookie.  There was a review that described it as a "buttery love bomb" and as a cookie that "haunts your dreams"!

My friend Mary Katherine and I have been trying to figure out what is in this magic cookie.  We googled, but neither of us could find anything like it online.  I decided to play around and try to recreate it.

To bring in the caramel flavor, I browned butter.  Browned butter is just one of those magical ingredients that just transforms anything from good to spectacular.  Since this cookie is darker brown and has a more caramel, almost toffee-like, taste, I used dark brown sugar.  Dark brown sugar has a slightly more complex flavor than light brown sugar, but you could use light brown sugar, too.  I added in some cinnamon to help bring out the butter flavor, and the vanilla and almond extracts helped to round out the nutty buttery flavor.  When I'm really baking something special, I like to use vanilla paste because it just adds a more intense punch of vanilla than regular vanilla extract, so I used some of that in these cookies.  (My sister and brother-in-law gave me a share of vanilla paste from Tahiti!) Finally, before baking, I sprinkled with some fleur de sel.

Let's see...a few other things that I did: I find that cookies always taste better after the dough "marinates" overnight in the fridge.  I think it helps the butter flavor ripen. ;-)  The cookies have a crunchy crust but are so soft on the inside.  I also used cornstarch.  Adding cornstarch to cookies helps keep the interior of the cookie soft.  Cornstarch softens the proteins of flour to keep the cookie more tender.

For my first attempt at making these cookies, I was pretty impressed.  These were a little softer and chewier than the Vert versions, which was a plus for me.  The flavor is so good and different from most cookies.

Make these buttery love bombs, and let me know what you think! :)

Fleur De Sel Cookies
Yields about 20 cookies

Ingredients:
240 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
170 grams (3/4 cup) salted butter
240 grams (1 1/4 cups) dark brown sugar
1 egg
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (note, I did one 1 tsp. of vanilla paste and 1 tsp. vanilla extract)
1/2 tsp. pure almond extract
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Fleur de sel, for sprinkling

Directions:
In a small saucepan over medium heat, add the butter.  Swirl the butter as it melts to ensure the butter cooks evenly.  As it begins to melt, it will start to foam.  The color will go from a sunny yellow to a golden tan and then to a caramel brown.  As the butter begins to brown, you will start to smell a nutty aroma.  Once that happens, remove the butter from the heat and allow it to cool for about 20 minutes.  

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cornstarch, and salt, and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, add the browned butter and the brown sugar.  Mix on medium speed until no climbs of sugar remain.  Then, add the egg and mix until combined.  Add the vanilla and almond extracts along with the cinnamon, and gradually incorporate the flour mixture.  Mix until a cohesive dough is formed.  Then, lay a large sheet of wax paper, parchment paper, or even plastic wrap onto the counter and transfer the dough to it.  Wrap the dough in the paper and transfer to the fridge for an overnight rest.

When ready to to bake, preheat oven to 350ºF.  While the oven preheats, remove the cookie dough from the refrigerator and allow it to soften.  Line baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper.  Take 2 tablespoons of the dough, roll it into a ball, and place it on the cookie sheet and make sure you leave a few inches around the dough so that it has room to expand.  Sprinkle with fleur de sel and bake for 10-12 minutes until the top starts to crinkle and become slightly darker.  Do not want to bake them for too long because you want the cookie itself to remain soft.  Remove from oven and allow the cookies to rest on the baking sheet for about five minutes before transfer to a cooling rack.

A Simply Sweet Justice Original, inspired by Vert Kitchen

June 11, 2017

Cloud Eggs


Morning, glory!

About a month ago, I kept seeing posts about cloud eggs pop all over.  I think the cloud egg posts were outnumbering the beloved avocado toast, for once.  I eat eggs almost daily for breakfast, so I'm always game to try new egg recipes.

Cloud eggs are egg whites that are whipped to stiff peaks, formed into nests, and then baked with yolks in the center.  It takes about fifteen minutes from start to finish.  They turn out looking like the sun is floating on a cloud. ;-)  Cloud eggs are delicious!  The "cloud" is fluffy and not stiff like a regular baked meringue.  I found the cloud eggs to almost be a little "heartier" than just eating fried eggs.

I like to add some parmesan cheese into the egg whites to add some more flavor, and you could certainly add any type of cheese.

Hope you enjoy!

Cloud Eggs
Yields 2

Ingredients:
2 eggs
1-2 tbsp. parmesan cheese
Pinch of salt

Directions:
Preheat oven to 450ºF.   Prepare a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper and set aside.

Separate the egg yolks into two separate bowls (ramekins work perfectly).  In one large bowl, add the egg whites, and using a hand mixer, mix on high speed until the egg whites become stiff peaks.  Then, fold in the cheese and the salt.

Make two mounds of the egg white mixture onto the lined baking sheet.   The mounds should be formed like nests with indentations in the center for the yolks.  Do not add the yolks yet!  Place in the oven for 3 minutes.  After 3 minutes, remove from the oven, and add the yolks.  Cook for 3 more minutes.

Remove from oven, and serve immediately.

Source: Today Show


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