Friday, August 26, 2011

Frugal Fridays - Multitasking

I think I may have mentioned my aversion to hot weather. Hot, sticky weather is even worse. Cooking of any kind ranks pretty low on my list of things I get excited about when the temperature gets about 85º. But when I landed another catering job at work this week, I found myself standing over a hot oven with the temperature outside a whopping 91º and the humidity level… well, I don’t even want to know what it was.

And so to minimize, even slightly, the amount of time spent sweating through food prep, I decided to buy enough extra to eat off of one of the salads I was preparing. At least dinner would be taken care of.

This salad is light but filling, and paired with a little baguette smeared with butter and sprinkled with a bit of sea salt, made for a very satisfactory dinner.

Greek Orzo Shrimp Salad
Adapted from Wives with Knives

1 red bell pepper
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
¾ lb orzo pasta
1/2 English cucumber, peeled and chopped
½ cup Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
2 scallions, finely sliced
½ lb peeled shrimp
2 Tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs white wine
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 tsp dill
3 Tbs course ground Dijon
1 cup crumbled Feta

Line a small baking sheet with foil and add the bell pepper and tomatoes. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on the tomatoes and cover loosely with one end of the aluminum foil, leaving the bell pepper exposed. Place under broiler and scorch the pepper on each side, turning once each side is blackened. Remove from oven and place the pepper and tomatoes in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to steam for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil to keep from sticking. Place in serving bowl and allow to cool.

In a skillet over medium, heat 2 Tbs of olive oil. Add pepper flakes and garlic, cooking and stirring for a minute, or just until garlic begins to soften. Add shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Allow to cook until shrimp begins to brown on one side. Flip over and cook for about another 30 seconds. Add 2 Tbs white wine and cook just until wine evaporates. Add shrimp to the pasta.

Peel the skin from the bell pepper, remove seeds and cut into strips (I only used about half of the pepper and saved the remainder for another time). Add to pasta and shrimp, along with the tomatoes, cucumber, olives and scallions. Stir to combine.

In a jar, or another small container with a lid, combine the ½ cup olive oil, white wine vinegar, dill and Dijon. Season with salt and pepper. Place lid on container and shake vigorously until the mixture has emulsified.

Sprinkle Feta cheese over pasta and pour vinaigrette over the top. Stir just until combined.

Cost Breakdown:

Bell pepper - $ .99
Tomatoes - $1.50
Orzo - free (see what a good coupon shopper I am??)
Cucumber - $ .75
Olives - $2.00
Scallions - $ .11
Shrimp - $2.50 (another sale item)
Seasonings, etc - $ .60 (guesstimate)
Feta - $1.00 (on sale)
Baguette - $2.49

Total for enough to feed 4 people - $11.94, or $2.99 per serving

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

No Grill? No Problem!

I may get run out of Blogland on a rail for saying this but my personal opinion is that if you’re not grilling over an actual fire, then it doesn’t really matter how your BBQ is being prepared. Gas just doesn’t cut it in my book. I mean, it’s a fine method of cooking, especially in hot weather when you don’t want to heat up your entire house, but taste-wise? I guess what I’m saying is that I really don’t see a difference between something cooked on a gas barbecue grill and the same thing cooked, say, in the oven.

Case in point…

I picked up a rack of baby backs but just basically wanted to throw them together and then forget all about them so I could do other things. This method is perfect for that and the results are fall-off-the-bone good.

I was able to toss these in the oven right after lunch and didn’t touch them again until dinner. To make things even simpler, I also threw some potatoes in the oven to roast at the same time. Once they were cooked through, I just pulled them out, covered them up, and when it was time to actually get dinner thrown together, I put them back in at a higher temperature to brown. Nothing could be simpler.

Oven Barbecued Ribs

1 rack baby back ribs (about 3 lbs)
1 ½ tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp celery salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ancho chile powder
2 Tbs brown sugar
¼ cup hard cider (or a light ale)

Barbecue Sauce (I used this)

Heat oven to 250º. In a small bowl, combine all seasonings and the sugar. Mix well. Lay out a strip of aluminum foil about 6” longer than your rack of ribs. Lay ribs on top of foil and sprinkle with half of the seasoning. Rub the seasoning into the meat until well coated. Flip ribs over and repeat with the remaining seasoning. Pour cider over the ribs and top with another piece of foil. Seal tightly all around. Place in oven.

Allow to cook 4 hours. Remove from oven.

Turn oven up to 425º. Remove the top layer of foil from the ribs. Coat with barbecue sauce and return to oven when it has heated. Allow to cook about 15 minutes, or just until barbecue sauce begins to caramelize.

* * *

I wanted a couple of really simple sides to go with the ribs. As I mentioned, I roasted some potatoes with the ribs and browned them at the higher oven temperature after adding the barbecue sauce to the meat.

While that was cooking, I put together a quick sautéed cabbage using some of the hard cider left from cooking the ribs (and I have a bit of a confession… since the barbecue sauce calls for apple juice… well, you wouldn’t want me to let the stuff go to waste, now, would you?).

Sautéed Cabbage

3 slices bacon
1 Tbs olive oil
½ head green cabbage, sliced into thin strips
½ sweet onion (you can substitute a yellow onion, of course), thinly sliced
½ tsp celery salt
½ tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp black pepper
½ cup hard cider

Cook bacon in a skillet until crisp. Remove from skillet, leaving the bacon drippings. Add olive oil and onions. Cook over medium heat until onions are translucent and begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Add cabbage and seasonings.

Cook, stirring frequently, until cabbage has begun to soften, about 5 minutes. Add cider and continue to cook another 5 minutes until the cider has evaporated and cabbage is cooked through.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Shakespeare Says...

Go check out some of these local offerings in our theater community!

Albany Civic Theater - Steel Magnolias

Directed by Christi Sears

August 19, 20, 26, 27, 28(m), September 1, 2, 3, 2011

Majestic Theatre - A Grand Night for Singing
Directed by Brad Townsend

August 19, 20, 21(m), 25, 26, 27, 28(m), 2011

Pentacle Theatre - Brigadoon
Directed by Jeffery Witt

August 26, 27, 28(m), 31, September 1, 2, 3, 4(m), 7, 8, 9, 10, 11(m), 13, 14, 15,16, 17

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Is it Breakfast? Or Dessert?

I was going to lead this off by saying that we don’t really eat a lot of peanut butter at my house. But, of course, as I’m typing this, O2 has a plate of graham crackers smeared in marshmallow fluff and, you guessed it… peanut butter.


Anyway, both kids have been doing a lot of camping this summer, so I seem to have a constant supply of s’mores fixings on hand. With that in the back of my head, it only seemed natural that when I ran across this on another blog (sorry, don’t remember which one), I thought, “I could do that”.

So, how does this all tie in to peanut butter? Well, I for one, don’t like the stuff. And as a matter of fact, one of my biggest pet peeves (and oh, there are many of them) is finding a spoon or knife that has been used in the peanut butter jar and then just tossed in the sink.

Because the smell of wet peanut butter initiates an instant gag reflex in me. Truly, nasty, nasty stuff.

But I digress…

My substitute for peanut butter happens to be Nutella. Or a chocolate/hazelnut/vanilla concoction that I buy from time to time. And that’s what I used here.

Basically, this is a ‘stuffed’ French toast. I used a decent quality sourdough, spread one half with the hazelnut spread and the other half with marshmallow fluff. Then I dipped the sandwich in my standard French toast mix, dipped it in crushed graham crackers and fried in butter.

It was really, really good.

And lest you think I’m a terrible mother feeding her children butter and sugar for dinner, I did offer up a very nice little frittata to go along with this. But that’s just how I roll.

So, I guess the question is whether this is more of a dessert or a breakfast?

I suppose the answer to that is ‘Who cares??!!’

S’mores French Toast

6 slices firm bread
2 eggs
¼ cup milk
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
1 - 1 ½ cups crushed graham crackers
Marshmallow fluff (crème, whatever term you use)
Nutella (or vanilla/hazelnut spread)
2 Tbs butter

In a shallow bowl or pie plate, beat the eggs. Add milk, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Pour the graham cracker crumbs in another bowl.

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add butter. Allow it to melt and then begin to bubble.

Spread one slice of bread with marshmallow fluff and another slice with Nutella. Put the two pieces together and dip in egg mixture. When bread is saturated on each side, dip in graham cracker crumbs.

Place sandwich in skillet and cook until it is browned on one side, 3 - 4 minutes. Flip over and cook other side just until golden.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Upscale White Trash - Pt 1

First off, if you feel the need to send me an email chastising me for my choice of wording… don’t. We weren’t making fun of your Aunt Sally’s beloved casserole that she brings to every family gathering. In fact, that was kind of the point of the entire exercise - recreating standards. There was also no snobbery involved in the making of this dinner. But there were a lot of tongue-in-cheek chuckles.

So… for this month’s culinary adventure, Carley and I decided on ‘Upscale White Trash’ - basically elevating those ubiquitous dishes that we see pop up at every potluck table. You know what they are, and don’t pretend that you haven’t brought one at some point. I, for one, have made my share of Velveeta Cheese Dip (as my sister pointed out to me). And really, given how much they charge for that particular cheese ‘product’, if we were simply making fun of ‘cheap’ food, I don’t think that would even qualify. What we were doing was having a little fun with some ‘standards’.

Carley even found this, which is hilarious reading…

On the menu:

Wine Coolers (Strawberry Watermelon Spritzers)
French Onion Dip (Caramelized Onion Dip with Parmesan Thyme Crackers)
Mac & Cheese (Souffléd Pasta & Cheese)
Tater Tots (Sweet Potato ‘Tots’)
Cole Slaw
Chili Cheese Fries (Polenta Fries with Chorizo Chili, Queso Fresco and Lime Crema)
Beans and Wieners (Cassoulet)
Green Bean Casserole
Fried Pies (Mixed Berry Hand Pies)
Twinkies (Brandy Almond Pound Cakes with Pastry Cream)

Having grown up in a ‘dry’ county, making a run to the store for a bottle of wine, or something with a bit more bite (not really beer drinkers in my clan), involved a LITTLE more than running down to the corner market. And I wouldn’t exactly say that our selection would necessarily make it into the Top 100 of Wine Spectator. Personally, I remember a lot of Boone’s Farm and wine coolers around our house.

And thus, our cocktail for the evening:

Strawberry Watermelon Spritzers

3 cups watermelon, seeds removed and cut into chunks
2 cups strawberries, hulled and halved
2 Tbs sugar
Pinch of salt
Vodka (I only had vanilla vodka on hand, but it did the trick just fine)
Prosecco (you can also substitute champagne, of course), well chilled

Combine watermelon, strawberries, sugar and salt in a blender. Use the pulse setting to break the chunks down a bit and then puree until smooth.

To assemble: Pour about 2 - 3 Tbs of the puree into the bottom of a glass. Add ½ a jigger of vodka and fill with prosecco.

Straw is optional.

* * *

I did want to bring a dip to the party, but rather than recreating a Rotel dip, I decided to tackle that good ol’ party staple, French onion dip. You know, the kind where you dump a packet of dehydrated onions and seasonings into a tub of sour cream, stir and serve? Well, this involves a bit more work, but trust me, it’s well worth it.

I also thought it would be fun to make some crackers to go with it. I’ll have to say that I’m going to be using this recipe time and time again and just changing the toppings. You can roll this stuff paper thin (and you’ll want to in order to get nice, crunchy crackers), and it’s still easy to handle.

Caramelized Onion Dip
Adapted from recipe by Ina Garten

1 Walla Walla or Vidalia sweet onion, halved and cut into paper thin strips
1 Tbs butter
1 Tbs olive oil
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
½ cup sour cream
½ cup mayo with olive oil

Heat butter and oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and thyme. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until onions turn golden, about another 10 - 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

In a bowl, combine the cream cheese, sour cream and mayo, stirring until well combined and no lumps remain. Add the onion mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes or so. Serve with chips or crackers.

Parmesan Thyme Crackers

1 1/2 cups semolina flour
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp dried thyme, crushed
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the flours and salt. Turn mixer on low and slowly pour in the water and then the olive oil. Mix just until combined, then increase the speed to medium and mix for another 5 minutes. Remove dough to lightly floured surface and cut into 12 equal pieces. Pour a little olive oil on your hands and roll each piece into a ball and place on a plate. Cover and let rest for about 45 minutes at room temperature.

Heat oven to 450º. Sprinkle baking sheets with additional semolina. Roll each piece out into very thin pieces (about the thickness of a crepe - VERY thin!). Sprinkle with thyme and roll again to embed the thyme into the crackers. Place each piece on prepared sheets (you can place them almost touching). Sprinkle with a thin layer of Parmesan and place in oven. Bake for about 7 minutes, or until golden. Remove to a cooling rack, cool completely, and then break them into individual crackers.

* * *

Carley put together a macaroni and cheese soufflé, and we had truffle oil as an optional topping. She also put together a cole slaw, but it included fresh green beans, raisins, and walnuts. It was so good!

I have to say, though, that our hands-down favorite for the night were these sweet potato ‘tater tots’ she put together. It was just impossible to keep away from them! They were wonderfully crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside. These are definitely going to have to show up again!

Sweet Potato ‘Tots’

1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup flour, plus additional for coating
2 large eggs
¾ lbs sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 2-inch cubes
½ lb yams, peeled, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 1/2 tsp hazelnut oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper

Canola oil for frying

Bring first 3 ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add 1 cup flour; stir over medium-high heat until mixture pulls away from edges of pan, about 1 minute. Transfer to a medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat dough 3 minutes (or use a stand mixer). Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well between additions. Measure 1 1/2 cups dough and reserve (discard any remaining dough).

Place potatoes in a medium saucepan. Add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Boil until tender, about 15 - 20 minutes. Drain. Press potatoes through ricer or food mill into a large bowl (or run through food processor on ‘pulse’ setting. Add 1 1/2 cups of the reserved dough, hazelnut oil, salt, and white pepper. Beat dough on low speed to blend.

Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer dough to pastry bag fitted with 3/4-inch-diameter plain tip. Pipe dough in logs onto prepared sheet. Freeze until firm but not frozen, about 1 hour. Cut logs into 1 1/4-inch-long pieces. Toss in flour, return to sheet, cover, and freeze completely (can be made 1 week ahead. Store in airtight container; keep frozen).

Pour enough oil into large saucepan to measure depth of 2 inches. Heat oil to 350°F. Working in batches, cook frozen potato pieces until cooked through and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with salt and serve.

Carley's Mixed Berry Pies

Upscale White Trash - Pt 2

Next up for our Upscale White Trash dinner was my remake of something that holds a special place in my heart - Chili Cheese Fries. In the little town where I grew up, we had this little diner just outside of town where they served thin French fries cooked crispy and topped with chili (no beans, thank you very much) and loads of cheese. It’s amazing any of us saw our 20th birthdays.

Anyway, I was kind of torn between that and a remake of a Frito pie (same basic principle), so I kind of combined the two and made polenta fries but topped them with a south-of-the-border style chili, some crumbled queso fresco and a little bit of lime crema.

Polenta Fries

3 ¼ cups water
1 cup polenta
1 tsp salt
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (plus additional)
2 Tbs butter

Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Sprinkle with a bit of Parmesan cheese.

Bring water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and slowly stir in the polenta. Allow to cook, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and butter.

Pour evenly onto prepared baking pan. Using a spatula, spread into an even rectangle, about ¼ to ½” deep. Allow to cool for at least an hour, then cut into ‘fries’ about ½” wide by 5” long. Place fries onto another baking sheet, giving a little space in between each.

Preheat oven to 400º. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.

Chorizo Chili

2 Tbs canola oil
1 serrano chile pepper, stemmed and seeded
1 large Spanish onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large fresh bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp cocoa/chile blend (optional)
Salt & pepper to taste
1 lb top sirloin steak, chopped into small cubes
½ lb chorizo, casings removed
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
2 Tbs tomato paste
1 cup beef stock
1 bottle Mexican beer, divided
¼ cup masa

In a soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the Serrano, garlic, bay leaf, cumin, oregano and chile blend. Cook and stir another minute or so and then remove to a small bowl.

In the same pot, add a little more oil and allow to become hot. Season steak with salt & pepper and add it to the pot. Stir until meat browns, then add chorizo. Cook and stir until chorizo is cooked through. Add onion mixture back into pot. Deglaze pan with about half of the bottle of beer, loosening up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the canned tomatoes, tomato paste and beef stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer for about an hour, adding more beef stock if necessary.

To thicken, stir a bit of beer into the masa to form a thin paste. Slowly stir into chili until it is the desired thickness.

To assemble: Pour chili over polenta fries and sprinkle with queso fresco. To make the crema, combine about 1 cup of sour cream with the zest and juice of half of a lime.

* * *

So, I may have mentioned that I don’t eat beans, with the exception of green beans. FRESH green beans. Won’t eat them out of a can, thank you very much. Growing up in Arkansas on a farm, I can’t tell you how many times I got on the phone begging one friend or another to let me come over to their house because my mom was whipping up a pot of beans and hamhocks.

I can’t even stomach the smell of the stuff. And yet Offspring 2 managed to develop a love of pretty much any kind of bean.


Anyway, given my healthy loathing of the things, it only seemed natural that I should take them on for this meal. And that little bit of French I have buried in my family tree demanded that I do a cassoulet.

O2 thought it was wonderful.

I’ll just take her word for it.

Sausage Cassoulet

2 slices bacon
2 smoked sausages (I used English bangers), cut into 1” chunks
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
½ large apple, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, removed from stem and chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
¼ cup white wine
2 15 oz. cans Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 Tbs tomato paste
1 cup chicken broth

1 baguette, cut into 1” slices
Olive oil
1 large garlic clove

In a large skillet, cook bacon until beginning to crisp. Remove from pan, leaving drippings, and chop. Add sausage to pan and cook until browned. Set aside with bacon. Add onions, carrots, celery and apples to pan. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions have softened. Add rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Continue to cook and stir until carrots have almost cooked through. Deglaze pan with white wine.

Add beans, tomatoes, tomato paste and chicken broth to pan. Add the bacon and sausage and stir until everything is combined.

Heat oven to 350º. Pour cassoulet mixture into a casserole dish, cover with aluminum foil. Bake cassoulet for 30 minutes.

Serve with baguette slices that have been drizzled with olive oil and baked in oven until brown and then rubbed with fresh garlic.

* * *

So, how many of us are guilty of dumping a can of cream of mushroom soup over a couple of cans of green beans, topping it with fried onions out of a can and tossing it in the oven.

Nope, can’t say I’m guilty of this one (see the bean thing). Not that I’m casting stones, but there has never been anything about this dish that I’ve found in the slightest bit appealing.

But I do love a challenge.

And since my paltry little sun-starved garden has actually been producing some green beans, I thought I’d try my hand at this, and let me tell you. It was good. Really good.

I actually used some of the onions from my dip for this, so I saved a step.

Green Bean Casserole

½ sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbs butter
½ Tbs olive oil
¼ - ½ lb mushrooms (I used oyster, but you can substitute whatever you want), sliced
1 lb green beans, washed and trimmed
2 Tbs flour
¼ cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
Salt & pepper to taste
½ cup crème fraîche*

1 Tbs butter, melted
1 cup fresh bread crumbs

Heat butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until onion begins to caramelize, about 10 - 15 minutes. Add mushrooms and continue to sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the green beans (you may want to drizzle with another ½ Tbs of olive oil) and allow to cook with the other ingredients for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Heat oven to 375º.

Sprinkle flour over the beans, stir to combine, and then add the wine. Cook until the wine simmers and begins to thicken, then stir in chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in crème fraîche, and stir until it is evenly distributed throughout. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Pour mixture into a casserole dish and top with bread crumbs that have been mixed with 1 Tbs of melted butter. Bake for 20 - 30 minutes, or until beans are cooked through and bread crumbs are golden and crispy (if the topping is cooking too fast, just add a layer of aluminum foil loosely over the dish).

*Save yourself a lot of money by making your own crème fraîche. Combine a half pint container of whipping cream with 2 Tbs buttermilk, stir to combine, cover and leave at room temperature for 8 - 12 hours, or until thickened.

* * *

My dessert was definitely VERY tongue-in-cheek. And you can certainly doll it up any way you’d like. Some kind of crushed praline sounds really terrific to me, since I’m not a huge berry fan (although I will have to say that the hand pies that Carley made were VERY good - maybe I should amend that to I’m not much of an uncooked berry person).

Anyway, this was much easier than you might think. I simply baked the cakes in a mini-loaf pan, then rounded the sides and ends to give them more of a ‘Twinkie’ look.

As for getting the filling INTO the Twinkies, it involves a very special tool.

One bendy straw.

I basically poked the straw through the cake from end to end several times, opening up a little cavity, and then I made 3 holes through the bottom of each cake to make sure that the pastry cream got all the way through to the middle.

I didn’t want to dress these up much, so I just sprinkled them with a little powdered sugar/cocoa blend.

They were incredibly fun.

Brandy and Almond Pound Cakes

4 eggs, separated
1¼ cup sugar, divided
16 Tbs (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
½ teaspoon salt
2 Tbs brandy
½ tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1½ cups cake flour

Heat oven to 350º. Butter and flour a loaf pan (or 4 mini pans).

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a medium-sized mixing bowl with a hand-held mixer), beat egg whites on medium-high speed until foamy. Increase the speed to high and continue beating until they form soft peaks. With the mixer on medium-high speed, gradually add ½ cup of sugar. Increase the speed to high and continue beating until mixture is glossy and holds stiff peaks. Remove beaten whites to another bowl.

Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and add the butter. Add remaining ¾ cup sugar and beat on medium speed until the butter is soft and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the egg yolks, one at a time and continue beating another 2 - 3 minutes. Add salt, then the brandy and the extracts, beating just until combined.

Reduce speed to low and slowly pour in flour, stirring just until incorporated into the mixture. Add half of the beaten egg whites and fold in until evenly dispersed. Repeat with the rest of the egg whites. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, 45-60 minutes (depending on the size of your pan). Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then loosen the cake from the edges of the pan. Invert the pan onto the wire rack, then turn it right-side up and cool to room temperature.

Pastry Cream

¼ cup milk
¾ cup plus 2 Tbs half and half
3 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
3 Tbs cornstarch
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise

In medium bowl, whisk together milk, egg yolks, 3 Tbs sugar, and cornstarch.

Add half and half to a medium saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add pod. Sprinkle remaining 2 Tbs sugar over, letting sugar sink undisturbed to bottom. Set pan over moderate heat and bring to simmer without stirring.

Whisk hot mixture, then gradually whisk into egg yolk mixture. Return to saucepan over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until pastry cream simmers and thickens, about 1 minute. Remove from heat, discard vanilla pod, and whisk cream until smooth. Transfer to bowl and press plastic wrap directly onto surface. Chill until cold, about 2 hours.