French Chocolate Éclairs

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If you know of a gooey, chocolaty baked confection more fabulous than a French Chocolate Éclair, do let me know because I can’t think of one! They’re so decadent, they must be difficult to make, right? Au contraire! If you can stir a few ingredients together and squeeze a plastic bag (more on that later), you can make this heavenly dessert.

Fun variation: Instead of the French vanilla cream filling used below, consider filling these decadent treats with English Lemon Curd. Either option is delicious! Let’s get started!

Ingredients (Makes 30 mini Éclairs)

For the éclair shells:

1/2 cup real butter

1 cup water

1 cup flour Continue reading

Simple Beef Bourguignon

WIN_20160815_185525“Simple” and “Beef Bourguignon” are not words we see paired too often, but perhaps we should! French food does not need to be mysterious, and this spin on classic French beef stew is really a snap to prepare. Also, it’s versatile. Feel free to add or subtract vegetables as your taste buds desire. Suggestions are given in the recipe below. Bon Appétit!

WIN_20160815_150511Ingredients (Serves 6)

2 pounds good quality beef stew meat

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup real butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 (750 ml) bottle burgundy or cabernet sauvignon wine

2 cups French Braised Onions (optional)

2 cups roasted root vegetables (optional)

1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives (optional)

Directions

Step 1) In a large plastic bag, toss together beef stew meat, flour, salt, and pepper. Shake the bag until the meat is evenly coated with the flour mixture.

Step 2) Combine half of the butter and half of the olive oil in a heavy skillet. Melt butter and oil together over medium heat. Add half of the meat from step 1 to the skillet, and cook until browned on all sides, turning occasionally with a metal spatula.

Step 3) Transfer browned beef to a slow cooker (such as a Crock Pot). Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the other half of the butter, oil, and beef.

Step 4) Add 1/4 cup of red wine to the skillet and continue cooking over medium heat while scraping vigorously with a metal spatula to deglaze the pan. Pour the contents of the pan into the slow cooker over the beef.

Step 5) After all of the beef has been browned and transferred to the slow cooker, pour the remainder of the bottle of red wine over the beef. Cook the beef on “low” for 8 – 10 hours (preferable) or on “high” for 4 – 5 hours, until most of the wine has been absorbed and the beef is very tender.

Step 6) Approximately 30 minutes before serving, gently stir any combination of French Braised Onions, roasted vegetables, and Kalamata olives into the slow cooker with the beef, to heat through. Serve with potatoes, sautéed yellow squash, and/or French bread.

 

 

French Braised Onions

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I’ll be honest, friends. While I adore most vegetables, onions have never ranked really high on the list. I don’t “dislike” them, they just aren’t a favorite. Or rather, they weren’t a favorite until I made these amazing French Braised Onions. It all started a few days ago, when I pulled these lovely little onions from my backyard garden. Aren’t they cute?

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Alas, they are also a bit slow to clean and peel! It seemed a waste to just chop them up and toss them in a recipe as if they were big, store bought onions. I wanted to showcase these little cuties. The recipe below is incredibly simple, you just need to be patient with the slow cooking required. The end result is worth the wait… onions infused with broth and wine, sweet and savory, with a silky texture. French Braised Onions are delightful as an accompaniment to meaty dishes such as beef bourguignon, or can be served as an appetizer on thin slices of baguette.

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Onions before braising

Ingredients (Makes about 3 cups)

30 – 40 small white onions (1/2 inch to 1 inch in diameter)

2 tablespoons real butter

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary

1/2 cup chicken stock

3/4 cup dry red wine

Directions

Step 1) Melt butter in a 9 inch skillet. Sprinkle rosemary evenly over melted butter.

Step 2) Lightly trim the bottoms and tops of the onions, removing only about 1/4 inch from each end. Arrange onions, top sides up, in the buttered skillet.

Step 3) Pour the chicken stock and wine over the onions.

Step 4) Bring the skillet just barely to a boil over medium heat, then immediately reduce heat to low. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

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Onions after 90 minutes of total braising time

Step 5) After 15 minutes, cover the skillet and continue cooking over low heat for an hour or longer as needed, until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Gently shake the skillet every few minutes, to prevent sticking and evenly distribute the liquid. Don’t rush this! It really should take at least an hour for most of the liquid to absorb. If the liquid is disappearing quickly, reduce the heat.

Step 6) When almost all of the liquid has been (slowly!) absorbed, your French Braised Onions are ready to enjoy!

Wisconsin Cream Puffs

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Wisconsin State Fair opens this week, and of the many indulgent foods available at the fair, cream puffs reign supreme. On average, Wisconsin State Fair sells… wait for it… 350,000 cream puffs during the 11 day event.

Cream puffs are stone simple to make. Really. They fall into my favorite baking category, “looks complicated but is really easy!” Go on, play in the kitchen for a little while, and dazzle your friends with an amazing dessert at your next backyard cookout!

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Dough after eggs are mixed in

Ingredients (Makes 30 small or 10 “Wisconsin State Fair sized” cream puffs)

1/2 cup real butter

1 cup water

1 cup flour Continue reading

French Macarons

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French Macarons might be the best dessert to ever emerge from Crowded Earth Kitchen. How’s that for an endorsement to try this recipe?

A Google search for “French Macarons” will turn up… wait for it… 630,000 hits. Does the world really need 630,001? Yes. Here’s why! You see, here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we sorted through a good long many of those 630,000 links, picking up tips and ideas along the way. The end result is Continue reading

Mardi Gras King Cake

King Cake wholeThis cake is so very, very delicious.

It’s “Why can’t every day be Fat Tuesday?” delicious! It’s “Please Mom, why can’t I have a third piece?” delicious! It’s “To heck with that resolution, life is short and I want CAKE!” delicious!

 Mardi Gras Beads & Feather Masks Party Pack With 6 Mardi Gras Tattoos

King Cake is a staple of Mardi Gras festivities, Mardi Gras being the joyful and exuberant two week period ending with Fat Tuesday. Throughout much of Europe and the Southern United States, Mardi Gras is when Christians indulge in butter, eggs, sugar, and other luxuries, in preparation for the coming austerity of Lent. As you can see from the recipe below, King Cake is chock full of rich and delicious ingredients. Lent is approaching… let’s enjoy this King Cake now!

WIN_20160128_133351Ingredients (Makes 1 large King Cake, serves 16)

For the cake:

1 cup milk

1 cup sugar

1 cup butter

WIN_20160128_1542502 envelopes of yeast

4 eggs, lightly beaten

6 – 7 cups flour

For the filling:

3/4 package (6 ounces) cream cheese

WIN_20160128_1544181 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup raspberry jam

For the frosting:

1/4 package (2 ounces) cream cheese

2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup milk

food coloring (if desired; I used purple)

decorations (I used gold dragees/nonpareils and green sugar)

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Directions

Step 1) Heat 1 cup milk, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup butter in a large pot (the pot will function as a mixing bowl, so use a big pot). Once butter is melted, remove saucepan from heat. Allow to cool to lukewarm.

Step 2) After the milk mixture has cooled slightly, stir in yeast and beaten eggs. Slowly stir in 6 cups of flour. Dump the dough onto a floured counter top.

Step 3) Knead dough with your hands until the dough is nice and smooth, about 6 – 8 minutes. Add additional 1 cup or so of flour as needed to prevent sticking.

Step 4) Place dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a slightly damp cloth (a clean kitchen towel works well) and set dough in a warm (not hot) place to rise for 1 hour.

Step 5) After 1 hour, divide dough in half. On a lightly floured counter top, roll into two approximate rectangles, each approximately 2 feet long and 6 inches wide.

Step 6) Spread raspberry jam down the center of one rectangle. Fold the sides over the jam to make a long, skinny rectangle of dough with the jam trapped in the center.

Step 7) Blend together 6 ounces of cream cheese, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/2 cup of sugar. Spread this mixture down the center of the second rectangle, and fold the same way as the first rectangle (see photo, above).

WIN_20160128_163110Step 8) Place the long, skinny rectangles right next to each other and simply twist them together. You can leave them in a long line to make a straight King Cake, or shape the twisted dough into a wreath as shown.

Step 9) Carefully transfer the unbaked King Cake to a well greased baking sheet. Use a big baking sheet, as the King Cake will expand in the oven! If possible, have someone help you move the dough.

Step 10) Bake your King Cake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and sounds a bit hollow when tapped with your fingertip. If you are baking a wreath-shaped cake, place a few well greased canning jars in the center to help retain the shape.

WIN_20160128_172259Step 11) Remove King Cake from oven and immediately remove jars from center of wreath. Use the largest spatula you can find to help transfer your King Cake to a wire rack for cooling.

Step 12) While your King Cake cools, blend together 2 ounces of cream cheese, 2 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and milk to make frosting. Add the milk only 1 tablespoon at a time – you don’t want runny frosting! Add food coloring if desired, keeping in mind that traditional King Cake colors are purple, green, and gold.

Step 13) When your King Cake is completely cool, drizzle ribbons of frosting all over the top. Sprinkle with colored sugar or other decorations. Enjoy!
King Cake slice