Saturday, July 27, 2013

Baked Alaska Flambé, and a Special Announcement

Special Announcement

Once upon a time, fueled partly by watching aspiring food-show hosts presenting their show concepts on The Next Food Network Star and thinking about what mine might be; partly by reading “Beard on Food,” a collection of the great master’s weekly newspaper columns; and partly by the ego-bruising realization that almost all of the recipes in my thick recipe notebook had other people’s names on them, I set some goals: begin creating my own recipes; share those recipes on a new blog that would make process and how the food makes you feel as important as how the food tastes; get disciplined enough to do the above on a weekly deadline; and keep all of that going for three years.

That was in August of 2010 - three years ago. I’ve met those goals, and another I hadn’t expected:  gotten to know wonderful people, some of whom have become quite dear to me (you all know who you are), and to all of whom I am very grateful for your kind acceptance and endless encouragement of my efforts. The time commitment has been great, and that’s ok; when life treats you well, it gives you the opportunity to work hard at something you deeply love to do. And so it is with great pride and great gratitude that, going forward, I’ll now be changing over to posting recipes on an occasional basis, rather than on a weekly basis. (You knew I couldn't give this up completely. :-) )

Now let’s cook!

Baked Alaska Flambé

To download a cookbook style copy of the recipe for Baked Alaska Flambé, click HERE.

Baked Alaska may sound like a complicated dessert dish. In reality, it couldn’t be simpler: caked topped with ice cream, covered in a basic meringue and briefly browned in the oven.

To make it even better, in this recipe we reduce the fat by replacing the ice cream with low fat frozen yogurt, and baking a simple, reduced fat pound cake to use as the base. The pound cake is the only part of the whole process that involves any real cooking, and if you’re truly determined not to cook, you can even buy a pound cake already made. (Of course, a purchased pound cake is probably not going to be low fat.) In fact, the process of making a Baked Alaska is almost like that of making a salad: you don’t cook it, you assemble it, hopefully with some finesse. Although it takes most of a day to make, don’t be put off; what you’re really doing is putting a few simple things in a bowl, placing the bowl in the freezer for a few hours, doing some more simple things to it, putting it back in the freezer for a few hours, doing some more simple things to it, putting it back in the freezer for a few hours, and then baking it for five minutes.

You can, of course, serve Baked Alaska right out of the oven and have a wonderful dessert, but you (and your guests) would be missing half the fun.  Few things get and hold people’s attention as effectively as does setting their food on fire, so this recipe also shows you how to put your special dessert  over the top with a flambé.  (There’s no need to worry about the flambé burning the meringue. Research at Cornell University found that, although the temperature of the flame itself can be quite hot, the surface temperature of the food under the flame never exceeds the boiling point of water, which is not high enough to cause additional browning. For a look at the science behind the process, check out this great article:

Some Cook’s Notes before we begin:

  • It is important that the pound cake ingredients be at room temperature as described; otherwise, the cake can get too heavy.

  • If using 80 proof rum (or any other 80 proof liquor), heating it in a shallow pan before trying to set it aflame is very important to doing the flambé. Higher alcohol liquors, such as 151 proof rum – can be ignited at room temperature. Liquors that are 80 proof need to be heated before they’ll flame. (The alcohol content of beer and wine is too low for either of those to be used in a flambé.)

  • Aside from it being easier to ignite as noted above, 151 proof rum will burn longer than 80 proof liquors because of its higher alcohol content.

  • If serving the Baked Alaska with the flambé, be sure to have a clear path to the serving table before lighting the rum.

This recipe makes about eight servings.

Here’s what you’ll need:

For the filling: 40 reduced-fat vanilla wafers;  1 pint low-fat cherry frozen yogurt (or other desired flavor); and 1 pint low-fat blueberry frozen yogurt (or other desired flavor).

For the pound  cake: 2 cups sugar; ¾ cup firm-textured butter substitute, room temperature; 1-1/2 cup AP flour; ½ cup pastry flour; 2 tsp baking powder; 1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract; juice and zest of 1 lemon; 1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt, room temperature; 5 egg substitute eggs, room temperature.

For the meringue: 3 egg whites (from fresh eggs, not egg whites from a carton); pinch of salt; 6 Tbsp sugar; pinch of cream of tartar; ½ tsp vanilla.

For the flambé (optional, but highly recommended for a strong serving effect): ½ cup rum (151 proof is recommended, but 80 proof will work too)

Let’s start by preparing the pound cake.

Set the butter substitute, egg substitute and Greek yogurt out for about an hour to get to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Using an electric mixer or stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the sugar and the butter substitute until creamy.

Slowly add remaining pound cake ingredients and continue mixing till combined.

Pour the batter into a buttered two-pound loaf pan.

Bake until browned on top and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 1-1/2 hours, turning the pan half-way for more even baking. When done, set aside to cool completely.

While the pound cake is baking, prepare the filling as follows:

Place the vanilla wafers in a food storage bag and, using a rolling pin, crush them into crumbs.

Line a 2-1/2 quart bowl with foil. Put the cherry frozen yogurt into the lined bowl and press the surface until even.

Cover the top with half of the vanilla wafer crumbs.

Put the blueberry frozen yogurt on top of the crumbs and spread out until the surface is even to form the second layer.

Cover the top with the other half of the vanilla wafer crumbs. Place the bowl in the freezer for about two hours until frozen hard.

When the frozen yogurt in the bowl is hard, prepare the cake base as follows:

Slice about half of the pound cake into 1” thick slices. (If you need more pound cake to make the base, just cut one or two additional slices.) Remove the crusts from the pound cake slices. (Save the cut crusts for a snack later; nothing goes to waste!)

Cutting the pieces as needed to fit, place them on top of the frozen yogurt in the bowl to form the cake base. Be sure the entire top surface is covered with pound cake. Place the bowl back in the freezer for another two hours.

When it’s almost time to take the bowl out of the freezer again, start preparing the meringue.

Place the egg whites and salt in a chilled bowl and beat with chilled beaters until very stiff peaks form.

Gradually beat in the sugar until smooth and glossy.

Add the cream of tartar and vanilla, and beat until stiff.

To apply the meringue:

Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Place the lined baking sheet upside-down on top of the bowl with the frozen filling.

Turn the bowl and baking sheet over together so that the baking sheet is now on the bottom and the upside-down bowl is on top.

Remove the bowl, then carefully peel off the foil to expose the frozen yogurt.

Use a spatula to apply the meringue to the top and sides of the cake assembly.

Be sure to bring the meringue all the way down to the parchment. Place in the freezer for at least two hours. (The meringue will get firm, but will not freeze solid.)

To finish the Baked Alaska:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Lightly score the surface of the meringue by gently running the tines of a fork in each direction. Place the Baked Alaska in the oven until the meringue is lightly browned, about five minutes.

The Baked Alaska can now be sliced and served as is. For a more dramatic serving, prepare the flambé as follows:

Pour the rum into a shallow, heat proof pan. Only if you’re using 80 proof rum, warm the rum in a small, shallow pan to 110 degrees, the temperature of moderately hot tap water. (Do not warm 151 proof rum.) Light the rum on fire and carefully pour or spoon a little over the Baked Alaska. Turn down the lights, and serve immediately while flaming.

To download a cookbook style copy of the recipe for Baked Alaska Flambé, click HERE.

I’ll see you again with more great tasting, home-cook friendly recipes some time in the future, so be sure to keep an eye out here or, better yet, you can send a Friend Request to me on Facebook at Kissingthecook Recipes.

Every week for the past three years, I’ve closed each post by asking you to stay well, to keep it about the food, and always to remember to kiss the cook. By all means, keep doing so. But this time, the cook – this one, at least – with heartfelt thanks to everyone who has been part of this glorious adventure in food and life itself - wants to give you a big kiss right back.

Happy cooking!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Shepard's Pie in a Twice Baked Potato

To download a cookbook-style copy of the recipe for Shepherd’s Pie in a Twice Baked Potato, click HERE.

Everybody knows twice-baked potatoes, an easy and versatile dish made from a baked potato that has been scooped out, re-stuffed with the potato flesh mixed with cheese, onion, bacon, and/or anything else you like, and baked a second time to a delicious crispness.

Everybody also knows Shepherd’s Pie, a classic meat pie in a mashed potato crust that comes to us from the UK. (It’s worth nothing, though, that similar dishes are served in many countries world over under different names.)

Isn’t it about time they knew each other?

That’s the idea behind this week’s recipe, Instead of putting mashed potatoes back into the potato skins for the second bake, we’ll be using a Shepherd’s Pie filling and, in the usual Shepherd’s Pie way, covering it with mashed potatoes to form a kind of top crust when re-baked. It’s the best of both dishes, joining forces for an easy, hearty meal.

Some Cook’s Notes before we begin:

  • Regarding the type of meat to use for Shepherd’s Pie, authoritative sources are divided into two camps. One side claims real Shepherd’s Pie must be made with ground lamb, and that if ground beef is used it is more properly called Cottage Pie. Other well-credentialed sources assure us that Shepherd’s Pie is made with either. In the interest of full disclosure, it’s worth nothing that both camps agree that the modern use of ground turkey (which I used in the photos below), while low-fat, is not truly authentic.

  • Like most people, I was taught to bake potatoes by making fork-holes in them first and then baking for about an hour. In the recipe below, the method of baking the potatoes – baking without making fork-holes for the first half-hour, then making fork-holes and baking for the second half-hour – comes to us from the Food Network Kitchens, and results in a very nicely textured potato. I expect this will be my baked potato going forward.

  • Here are some helpful tips for scooping the flesh out of the potatoes. Don’t try to do a lot with one scoop. Using a teaspoon, make multiple passes over the potato flesh, scooping out a bit more each time. I also found it helpful to scoop out one end of the half-potato before turning it around and scooping out the other half. Your patience when scooping out the potatoes will be rewarded.

  • Although this recipe uses the mashed potatoes to top the Shepherd’s Pie, there will be a good amount left over. Save them. It will be one less thing to cook for dinner the following day.

This recipe makes 4 servings.

Here’s what you’ll need:

For the potatoes: olive oil; 4 large russet potatoes, washed and dried; ¼ cup firm-textured butter substitute; 1/3 cup reduced fat sour cream; 1 green onion, finely chopped; salt and freshly ground black pepper.

For the filling: olive oil for sauté; 3 medium carrots, finely diced; 1 large onion, finely diced; 1 – 2 garlic cloves, minced; 1 lb ground lamb, beef or turkey; 2 sprigs fresh thyme, finely chopped; ½ tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped; 1 Tbsp firm-textured butter substitute; 1 cup frozen peas; 2 Tbsp corn starch; 2 Tbsp tomato paste; 5 ounces red wine; 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce; 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock; salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste; grated parmesan cheese

For the garnish: rosemary sprigs or similar

First, let’s get the potatoes baking.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly rub each potato all over with olive oil. (Be careful not to overdo it. We're just looking to apply a little oil to give the potato skin an extra nice crisp when baked.)

Without yet piercing the potatoes, place them directly on the rack in the center of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes.

Pierce each potato several times with a fork and continue to bake until tender, about another 30 minutes.

While the potatoes are baking, prepare the filling.

Prepare and set aside the chopped and diced ingredients: carrots, onions, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and green onion. Measure out the peas.

Heat some olive oil is a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the carrots and cook until just a little tender, about 3-4 minutes.

Add in the onions and sauté for a minute, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant, another 30 seconds to one minute.

Add the meat, thyme and rosemary. Season with a little salt and pepper. Cook until the meat is browned.

If there is fat left in the pan (depending on the amount of fat in the meat you’re using), drain it. Add the butter substitute and the peas.

Make a slurry by mixing the corn starch with ¼ cup of water, and stir the slurry into the pan.

Stir in the tomato paste, wine and Worcestershire sauce.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the liquid thickens.

Add the chicken stock, and continue to cook until the sauce has thickened. Adjust seasoning as necessary. When done, set aside until the potatoes have finished baking.

When the potatoes have finished baking:

Carefully trim a wedge from the length of each potato. Set the wedges aside in a bowl.

Using a spoon, carefully remove most of the potato flesh from each potato and place it in the bowl with the wedges.

Be sure to leave enough potato flesh so the skins stay together.

Mash the potatoes in the bowl. Add the butter substitute and sour cream. Stir in the chopped green onion, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

To prepare the potatoes:

Fill each potato skin with filling.

Top each with some mashed potatoes, pinching the potatoes as you go to form nice peaks; the more peaks, the better the potato topping will brown.

Sprinkle with fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake for about 20 minutes until the topping has some browning. Plate with garnish and you're ready to serve.

To download a cookbook-style copy of the recipe for Shepherd’s Pie in a Twice Baked Potato, click HERE.

Serve with some of the wine we used in the cooking, and you’re all set!

Please visit again next week for another tasty, kitchen-tested recipe, and a special announcement. Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)