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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Raspberry Mousse

After preparing my menu for that party I catered a couple weeks ago, I came across some pre-made phyllo cups and pre-made chocolate cups in my pantry. I figured this event would be a great opportunity to use them up before our big move... but what to put in them? I thought about making a rich chocolate pudding. I thought about making a tart and sassy lemon curd. I finally settled on trying a gloriously pink and fresh tasting raspberry mousse. Not only was the color absolutely fantastic, but the flavor tasted so strongly of freshly picked raspberries and the mousse had a perfect balance of sweet and tart.

Now, I'm going to tell you a wonderful secret: I made it using frozen raspberries from the grocery store! I'm not sure it would have tasted any better or different if I had used fresh. What a wonderful thing!

The first step, after letting the raspberries thaw, is to puree them with some of the sugar. Once they are pureed, run them through a sieve to remove the vast majority of the seeds. Nothing ruins the great mouth feel of this mousse faster than getting a mouth full of raspberries seeds.

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cool water so that it can soften. After about 5 minutes, place the bowl of softened gelatin in the microwave and gently heat on low until the gelatin becomes a clear liquid. Pour it into the strained raspberries and whisk to mix.

In a bowl over gently simmering water, whisk the egg whites with 1/4 cup of sugar until they reach about 140° F. Remove the bowl from the heat and beat with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the raspberries.

Using the same bowl you used for the egg whites, whip the cream until it also forms firm peaks. Gently fold the whipped cream into the raspberries as well. The last step is to test for sweetness. Obviously, the amount of sugar required will vary depending on the tartness of the raspberries and personal preference. If the mixture needs a little more sugar, stir in powdered sugar until it tastes right to you.

If you are serving the mousse in bowls, divide the mousse between them and refrigerate up to two days before serving. If you are planning on putting the mousse into small tart shells, phyllo cups, or chocolate cups, you can pipe immediately into the vessels and refrigerate until serving or you can place the mousse, covered, into the refrigerator until you are ready to pipe. If you are using phyllo cups, I strongly recommend waiting to fill them until the last minute, lest the phyllo lose its snap.

Raspberry Mousse
Yield: approximately 6-8 cups
Adapted from Food & Wine

2 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 TBS cool water
2 10-ounce bags of frozen raspberries, thawed
3/4 cups of granulated sugar, divided
2 large, room temperature egg whites
1 cup heavy whipping cream
powdered sugar (optional)

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cool water to soften for five minutes. Puree the thawed berries with 1/2 cup of the sugar and run through a sieve to remove the seeds. Heat the softened gelatin in the microwave on low heat until the gelatin has melted and the mixture is clear. Stir the gelatin into the raspberries.

Over a pan of gently simmering water, whisk the egg whites with 1/4 cup of sugar until they reach about 140° F. Remove the bowl from the heat and use a mixer to whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the raspberry mixture.

In the same bowl used for the egg whites, whip the heavy cream until it makes stiff peaks as well. Fold the whipped cream into the raspberry mixture. Taste the mousse and add a little powdered sugar, if necessary, to balance the tartness of the berries.

Divide into bowls and chill, pipe immediately into small tart shells (or other shells) and chill, or place all of the mousse in an air tight container to chill until ready to pipe into tart shells. The mousse holds well in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Oh, I almost forgot... garnishing this mousse with curls of white chocolate is the perfect complement! What a delightful combination.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Herbed Tenderloin Toasts

This gem of an appetizer is great because it is pretty darn easy to make. Not cheap... but easy. I suppose you could always substitute a different cut of beef for the tenderloin, but it's the butter-like consistency of the beef slice that makes it so memorable. The only real cooking involved in this appetizer is with the tenderloin, which is super easy.

To really make your life simple, purchase a two pound, trimmed center-cut tenderloin. The only tenderloin I could find without going to a specialty market was a whole "peeled" tenderloin (meaning the fat has been cut away but it still has the silver skin... which is a pain to remove). Preheat your oven to 425° F. Rub the tenderloin down with some vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt, garlic powder, pepper, and ground thyme. Place on a foil lined roasting pan and roast until a thermometer in the center of the cut reads 140-145° F. Depending on the size of your tenderloin, it can happen fairly quickly... as in less than a half hour. Let the roasted tenderloin cool to room temperature, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and then refrigerate until well chilled. Chilling the meat prior to slicing makes life much easier. You want thin slices! Once chilled, slice the tenderloin into approximately 1/8 inch thick slices. The roasting and slicing of the meat can be done up to 3 days ahead of time.

On the day you plan to serve this dish, slice a fresh baguette into 1/4 inch thick slices at a slight angle, so that they slice into longish ovals. Turn on your broiler. Brush or spray (I recommend spraying) both sides of each slice. Lay them out one layer thick on a sheet tray and toast until lightly golden, flip, and toast again on the other side.

Meanwhile, let a package of Boursin cheese (if you have never tried this spreadable cheese, you are missing out!) come to room temperature. Then open a jar of roasted red peppers and slice a bunch of thin strips, about an inch and a half long and 3/8 of an inch thick.

To assemble, spread a small bit of Boursin on the toast. Lay a small piece of sliced tenderloin on the cheese. Add another little spread of cheese on top of the meat and lay two slices of roasted red pepper in an X pattern. That'ts it! These are so yummy! They were one of the more popular dishes I served.

I made 75 of these with about two pounds of tenderloin, 2 baguettes, one decent sized jar (maybe 12 ounce range?) of roasted red peppers, and roughly 8 oz of Boursin cheese.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Smoked Salmon on Cucumber

Being a proud native Pacific Northwesterner, who grew up on smoked salmon, I just can't pass up any opportunity to introduce it to the masses. For the party I catered last week, I smoked a small filet and then mashed it together with a little cream cheese. I probably smoked about one and a half pounds of salmon (pre-cooking weight) and then once it had chilled in the refrigerator, I mixed it with approximately one 8 oz package of room temperature cream cheese. I crumbled all the fish first and added the cream cheese a bit at a time until I reached the consistency and taste I wanted. Add a little salt and pepper, if necessary.

Prepare these appetizers within an hour of serving. The salmon spread can be prepared a few days in advance, but the cucumbers get weepy and floppy if they are cut too early. If you do cut them ahead of time, be sure they are kept refrigerated until the last minute. Be sure to use the hothouse cucumbers for this dish and do not slice them too thickly. Aim for about 3/8 of an inch. If you use too much cucumber or the standard market cucumbers, the cucumber flavor can start to overwhelm the delicate nature of the smoked fish.

Use two spoons or your fingers to mound about a teaspoon or two of the salmon mixture onto the cucumber slice. Add a small bit of green herb to the top. I used curly parsley as it does not have an overwhelming flavor of its own in such a small piece. Lastly, and this part is optional, I ground a little Salish Smoked Salt to finish it off. Looks good and adds a small burst of smokey salt when you first put the round in your mouth.

These little appetizers are so gorgeous and the contrast of the fresh, crisp cucumber with the smooth, smokey taste of the salmon makes for a dish sure to wow your guests. I highly recommend them!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Party for Sixty

A good friend of ours recently retired from the Air Force after 24 years of active duty service. When his wife told me how much they were quoted by a local caterer to provide food for the party they were hosting in honor of the event, I liked to have choked. The price was obscene! As I've been toying with the idea of pursuing some kind of personal chef service when we move the D.C. area this summer, I thought it would be a great trial run to see if I would enjoy that type of work... and I did!

They wanted to provide heavy appetizers for up to sixty guests this past Friday evening. The picture above shows just one of the tables of goodies. Based on estimates that I found online, I prepared over 1000 pieces/servings. As I was also a guest at the party, I had the opportunity to see the reactions to my food. The feedback was great! While I developed some new menu items, which I will be posting in the near future, I also served a lot of items I have already shared with you.

I made my prosciutto and cheese calzone. I made the crust from scratch as well. I just love the salty punch the prosciutto gives to this calzone. For such a simple list of ingredients inside, the flavor is amazing!

Because no party is complete without chips and dip, I decided to serve my
black bean dip.

And because my husband would have disowned me if I hadn't included
deviled eggs on the menu, I managed to shell four dozen very tricky eggs. You know, it's bad enough when you are trying to peel a couple of eggs that won't peel easily, but with this amount, I am amazed I didn't end up with eggs being thrown all over the house! Fortunately, the ugly side goes down and they still ended up looking pretty decent.

I made a monstrous bowl of my
chicken salad. Instead of serving it on french type bread, I baked a loaf of soft sandwich bread and made little finger sandwiches.

Of course, there had to be dessert! I made my favorite
lemon biscotti, but instead of making two logs out of the dough, I made three to make cute little biscotti. I learned a good lesson in that if you cover the biscotti before the icing is 100% completely dry, the biscotti lose their snap. Fortunately, a short trip in my food dehydrator on the lowest setting cured what ailed them.

I made two pans of my
devilishly good brownies!

I couldn't resist making a batch of my delicious little gingersnaps. They're the perfect finger food. So snappy and gingery!

And, lastly (of the things I've already posted, anyway), I served up a dish of crack... aka toffee butter crunch. I think I've gotten a few more people addicted to it deliciousness. Sorry!

There were a bunch of other dishes I prepared, including sausage stuffed mushrooms, some toasted french bread slices with herbed cheese and tenderloin, a smoked salmon spread on cumber slices, chicken satay, mini twice baked potatoes, and spinach and feta triangles. I'll be sharing these recipes with you over the next week or so!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cutest Little Caprese Ever!

The last week was a whirlwind of cooking for me. It culminated in my providing the food for a not insignificant party last night. I'll post the details of what I served and add the recipes for those items I made that I haven't shared with you yet over the next week or so. But, I was so excited to share these little gems with you, that I just couldn't wait.

I love a good caprese salad, but it's not always user friendly for a buffet of appetizers. I came up with these cute little skewers to keep things contained. Are they not the cutest things ever??? They were a huge hit. It's the perfect bite with the perfect mixture of cheese, tomato, and basil.

Each toothpick has a grape tomato cut in half. I purchased a container or small, fresh mozzarella balls. The ones available in my grocery were in a herbed oil, but you can use plain mozzarella balls as well. I cut the cheese balls in half as well so that everything fit on my toothpicks. I then picked some basil and cut the large leaves into strips. The smaller leaves I used whole.

The only drawback to these guys is that they need to be prepared the same day as they are to be eaten. Keep refrigerated until serving.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Brown Rice Pudding

Phew! Apparently, I wasn't the only one getting sick of looking at whole wheat pasta! This post is gonna be a quickie, but keeps in the whole grain theme. I'm a huge fan of my rice pudding recipe. I make it as often as I dare. Not too long ago, while browsing through the selection of rice for sale in our commissary, I saw short grain brown rice. The grains are exactly the same shape as those Arborio/pearl type that I use for rice pudding, only whole grain! I was immediately intrigued. I wanted to see whether it made as good of rice pudding as the white grains.

Good news! It does! As you might imagine, the whole grain version has a bit more chewiness, which is actually quite pleasing in this dish. There's a slightly "fuller" flavor, and - overall - I was just as happy eating the whole grain version as I am the regular.

You make it virtually the same way, I just switched a little bit of the water and milk around and added a little more time to the first step. I simmered the brown rice in 3 cups of water for 40 minutes (instead of 2 cups for 20 minutes) and then only added 2 cups of milk to finish it off (versus the 3 cups in the original recipe). Otherwise, do everything else the same. Delicious!
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