Tuesday, August 2, 2011

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.

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