Tuesday, May 14, 2013

More Good Stuff in Pastry


Our lovely Monkey Queen of Don’t Make Me Call My Flying Monkeys, was our May Daring Cooks’ hostess and she challenged us to dive into the world of en Croute! We were encouraged to make Beef Wellington, Stuffed Mushroom en Croute and to bring our kids into the challenge by encouraging them to create their own en Croute recipes! A PDF of her excellent recipes is available for anyone who wants to play along.

So, of course we feel a special simian bond of affection for the Monkey Queen and were delighted to participate in the challenge she selected. En Croute was the subject of a previous Daring cooks challenge, but we were more than happy to revisit it. Who doesn’t love food nestled in a cozy pastry blanket?

Although we love beef wellington, to be honest, the mushrooms are always the best part of it (well, and the pastry..) so we decided to cut to the chase and make a portobello mushroom en croute. Yum! This was just delicious – a great pairing of brie, mushrooms and bulgur wheat swaddled in puff pastry to make sure that it’s not in any way healthy for you.

Mushrooms en Croute

Serves 2
2 Portobello mushrooms
1/3 cup Bulgur wheat
1 large Shallot, minced
1 1/2 tsp Olive oil
3 oz. Brie, sliced
4 oz Peas (optional, but good!)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 sheet Puff pastry
1 egg (you don’t really need a whole egg, more like a quarter of an egg..)
  1. Soak the bulgur in water for 30 minutes or more
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F
  3. Remove the stems from the mushrooms. Finely dice the stems. Roast the mushroom caps for about 15 minutes, until just starting to soften. The remove to let cool slightly.
  4. While the mushrooms are roasting, saute the shallot and mushroom stems in olive oil until softened. Add the peas and cook for a minute (or until thawed if using frozen).
  5. Drain the bulgur, mix it in with the shallot/mushroom mixture. Salt and pepper this to taste.
  6. Lightly roll out the puff pastry, then cut into two rectangles large enough to encase your mushrooms. Place the cooled mushroom on the pastry, fill the cap with the bulgur/vegetable mixture, then top with slices of brie. Fold the pastry over and seal.
  7. Mix the egg with 1 Tbsp water and brush the tops of your parcels with the egg wash.
  8. Bake about 20 minutes or until the parcels are richly colored.

Our fearless Monkey Queen also inspired us with her sausage roll recipe. As the Monkey grew up in Britain, sausage rolls are a significant part of the culinary culture. No childrens' party in that country is complete without a plate full of sausage rolls. We decided to combine this month's challenge with the January/February challenge, and made our own Vietnamese-inspired chicken sausages to wrap in pastry. Not your traditional sausage roll, but we’re not exactly known for keeping up the traditions either. As shown below, we served it with rice and a cucumber salad with mint and cilantro.

Sausage roll


Serves 2
2 sausages, any flavor you like
1 sheet Puff pastry
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F
  2. Lightly saute the sausages so that the skin is golden but they are not fully cooked through
  3. Cut the puff pastry into 2 rectangles. Roll one sausage in one rectangle, then repeat.
  4. For a properly British look, slash the puff pastry horizontally across the sausage about every 1/2 inch.
  5. Bake for about 20 minutes until the sausages are cooked through, and the pastry is richly colored.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Vietnamese-style Chicken Sausages

Last week, we decided to make more sausages. After all, we had casings to stuff 100 lbs. of sausage sitting untouched in the refrigerator. Inspired by a Vietnamese pork meatball recipe and by some leftover lemongrass also residing in the same refrigerator, we made chicken sausages with Vietnamese flavorings (just bear with us on that..)

This sausage made use of our two previous Daring Cooks challenges: making sausage and boning a chicken. Yes, we could simply buy boneless chicken thighs, but then we’d have no bones to make stock with. These sausages were really tasty (I know we say that about most things we blog about, but that’s because we don’t bother to blog the ‘meh’ meals that we also occasionally endure). They were very light and perfect for a warm spring or summer meal when paired with a cucumber and mint salad.

For us, it was especially fun to use our sausage-making skills to create something entirely new (to us at least). That’s the real beauty of making your own: you can get off the well-trodden Italian or Garlic sausage path. We made only a small batch. I am writing the recipe on the scale that we made it, but if you try this at home, I’d urge you to at least double it since a) it’s a lot of work for 6 sausages and b) they really were delicious.

Makes about 6 sausages, approx 1 1/2 lbs:

1 lb Chicken thigh meat, boneless (roughly 2 lbs bone-in)
1/3 lb Pork back fat
1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp White pepper
2 Tbsp Thai basil, minced
1 1/2 tsp Green garlic, minced (you could use regular garlic too, but if so use less than this amount)
1 Tbsp Lemongrass, minced
1 Tbsp Vietnamese fish sauce
1 Tbsp Rice wine vinegar
Sausage casings

Clockwise from rear: minced lemongrass, green garlic and basil

Boned chicken thigh meat and pork back fat
  1. Grind the chicken thigh meat and pork back fat together.
  2. Mix in the rest of the ingredients. Note: the lemongrass should be chopped really fine – it should look like fine couscous before you add it. Chopping it can take a while, but nobody likes woody, stringy lemongrass stuck in their throats..
  3. Fry a tablespoon of the mixture in olive oil, then taste it before stuffing your sausages. Adjust the seasoning if needed (we added more lemongrass and basil based on our tasting and the recipe above reflects that change).
  4. When you’re satisfied with the flavor, stuff the sausage meat into the casings.
  5. Cook and serve as you would any other sausage, except with the additional amount of pride that comes with making your own from scratch!



Holy moly, we made salami at home! Talk about things we never thought in a million years we might do. And not some vaguely sausage-y, meaty thing, but honest-to-goodness salami.
We revisited the book Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing for recipe guidelines (which we more or less followed).

If you try this at home you’ll also want to visit Butcher & Packer for supplies such as larger casings for the salami and (optionally) mold for the outside of the salame and bacteria for the inside. the book advises strongly to use the bacteria for the inside partly for safety and partly for consistency of flavor. Well, we don’t really care about consistency, since variation is part of the fun of home cooking. We do care about safety, but decided to forego the bacteria and trust the acid in the added wine to keep the nasties away. We did buy the exterior mold, but, of course, not much grew, unlike on our spalla which did mold nicely without any added help.

This salami is amazing; it’s like nothing we’ve ever had. The flavor is milder than commercial versions, but also much more complex. We chose a straightforward fennel and pork salami for our first try (Mrs. Monkeyshines’ favorite) and you can really taste the fennel. What's more, the texture is a bit creamier than the store-bought product. There are none of those nasty bits that get stuck in your teeth – the book says that this is the gristly bits of the meat that commercial producers are not as meticulous about removing. Eww...
At the end of the day, it’s nice to enjoy a salami without wondering what scary cuts of meat are in it. More importantly, that you are justifiably proud of having made yourselves. And even more importantly, that tastes terrific.