Thursday, August 18, 2011

Smoked Mushroom, Tomato, & Onion Pizza

Another Staycation meal that we had the luxury of time to produce:

Smoked mushrooms=big revelation. They are so delicious & meaty. I've described it before, but we basically smoke everything we put on the grill due to the fact that Mark has filled a disposable pan with smoke chips. Put a lid on it, poke holes in the top, & you're ready to smoke whatever you're cooking on the grill. It creates delicious results.

These mushrooms especially benefited from that cooking process. They absorbed all of that smoke, making them taste extra meaty.

Is it just me or does this blog seem kinda dirty? I don't know, I think it might be the slightly dirty birthday card I got from my sister-in-law earlier. Man, she's funny. Made my whole day.

Anyway, pizza is a serious issue in my house. After a couple of botched jobs, I nearly revoked Mark's pizza-making privileges. Turns out, he was using yeast that had died. can find several ways to test your yeast online. Make sure it's still alive, y'all. Otherwise, don't waste your toppings. & these toppings were primo.

We seasoned the mushrooms (creminis) with salt, pepper, and olive oil. We did the same to some sliced heirloom tomatoes.

We also made a packet of chopped onions wrapped in aluminum foil. They were cooked on the grill as well.

And, as it was Staycation, we splurged on some extra cheeses at Trader Joe's.

That's romano, fontina, & some really nice parm (in addition to the mozz, of course). We rationalized that we weren't spending money on a trip, so why not spend it on cheese? I'm serious with the cheese, y'all. When we were DINKS (double income, no kids), I spent $40 a week on cheese at Whole Foods. If we're ever flush with extra money in the future, God help me, the surplus will go toward cheese. It's the finest luxury.

This coming from a girl who hated cheese growing up. I'd actually make my mama order pizza without cheese. Oh, how the mighty fall. I started dabbling in college & as the story often goes, now I can't stop at "pizza" cheese.

The crust of this pizza was really good. We used this well-articulated recipe from one of my favorite blogs.

The sauce was my homemade marinara, made loosely from this recipe.

I make big batches of this stuff using the big cans of tomatoes from Sam's. That's another post entirely, folks.

Mark likes to paint on his Staycation. It's become a yearly thing.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My favorite meal

This is my favorite meal ever:

Bloody filet, baked potato with basil garlic compound butter, & boursin creamed spinach. Cheese pizza is a close second in the all-time favorite meal category. However, this has become the "celebration/holiday" meal at the French-Barrett household. This is our Christmas dinner of choice.

Mark & I are now spoiled with filets. At Trader Joe's, you can get a pound of beef tenderloin for about $10. Then you can chop it up into 4 thick filets. As a result, I no longer eat steak in restaurants unless someone else is paying. Sirloin, my former favorite, is just far too tough after you've had steak like this.

I will say that I come from a long list of women who like their meat cremated. With that said, I did not ever enjoy steak until I had it bloody.

Preparing this steak is a very simple process. Take out your cast iron skillet, get it screaming hot, salt & pepper your filets (they need no other seasoning, really), then put them in for a good 2-3 minutes each side, then finish them in the oven.

We cheat and use a meat thermometer that dings when they reach a perfect 140 degrees. Be careful not to over do it as the meat still continues to cook once you take it out of the oven, especially if you leave it in the skillet. Let the beef rest at least five minutes before cutting it or else you'll loose some juiciness (that's a technical term).

Meanwhile, I've baked the potatoes directly on an oven rack at 400 for about an hour.

Now, on to the spinach. That beautiful, magnificent spinach could happily make my last meal. The boursin cheese is a really treat, but it only costs $3 at TJ's. It's $6 at Kroger! So, if you're making this meal, source your ingredients from Trader Joe's. You're begging to be punished if you go elsewhere.

Boursin Creamed Spinach
(adapted from "Cuisine at Home")
(makes about 2 cups)


For the Spinach Filling:
1/2 cup diced onion (sometimes I use shallots, they're sweeter & milder than onion. They literally melt into the sauce)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 package (5.2 ounces) Boursin Garlic & Fine Herbs cheese
1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry of excess moisture
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon minced lemon zest
Salt, white pepper, cayenne pepper, and ground nutmeg to taste

For the Crumb Topping:
2/3 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs (made from 2 slices firm white bread) (I always use panko)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Coat a shallow 2-cup baking dish with nonstick spray; set aside.

Saute onion in 1 tablespoon butter in a saucepan over medium heat until soft, 5 minutes.
Add flour and stir to coat onion. Cook about 1 minute.
Gradually whisk milk and cream into onion mixture, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Simmer sauce for 1 minute.
Stir in Boursin, a little at a time, until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. Remove saucepan from heat.
Add spinach, Parmesan, zest, and seasonings. Transfer spinach mixture to prepared baking dish.

Combine crumbs, 1 tablespoon butter, oil, salt and pepper. Top spinach with crumbs, pressing them to adhere. (Dish may be covered and chilled at this point to be baked later.)
Place dish on a baking sheet; bake until crumbs are golden and sauce is bubbly, 20-25 minutes.

Use an old towel to squeeze the moisture out of the spinach. I have a towel in my kitchen that is set aside for spinach squeezing alone. If you're going to have cooked spinach, frozen really is the best deal. It's one of my favorite frozen products, actually. I add it to all sorts of stuff, pasta sauce especially.

Sometimes I leave off the crumb topping, but if you're making this for someone truly special, add it. The crunch of the panko is quite nice. I've also made this with regular cream cheese & added in garlic & herbs. However, your best bet is with the boursin. It's a really nice treat.

Honey Bourbon Caramel Peach Pie

I'm spending these last weeks of summer trying to gobble up all the farmer's market produce I can get my hands on. It's a great time of year to buy peaches here in Nashville. They're so juicy & flavorful that you really don't need to dress them up. Eating them over the sink is one of my favorite ways to enjoy them. Or slice them & serve over ice cream. However, for our staycation this year, we wanted to try out a pie. It involved Bourbon Caramel. Need I say more?

This pie tasted great & it wasn't really that hard to execute. As the recipe indicates, the pie crust can be made a day in advance & I took advantage of that fact. What really blew me away with this recipe was the caramel. It was so easy & so delicious that I consider it dangerous.

I will be making my own caramel topping for ice cream from now on.

I'm not really one for desserts & I wish I had more accolades for this pie. It was delicious, but I have what I call a "food-labor block," which means if I work hard at perfecting something, it doesn't really taste that great to me. In fact, such meals or projects often have no taste. They're unremarkable to me because I've produced them. It's horrible, except for the fact that others enjoy the results of such experiments. & if there are leftovers, I usually enjoy them much more than the original meal.

Mark Barrett seemed to think this was the best peach pie he'd ever consumed. Who am I to dispute that fact?

On to the caramel:

You start out with the sugar, bourbon, and honey in a medium-sized sauce pot. You let the sugar dissolve & get browned just a little, then you take it off the heat & stir in the butter.

As you stir, the caramel gets thicker until it looks like this:

Then you drizzle that luscious caramel all over your spiced peaches (note: I didn't peel or process my peaches in boiling water. They were just fine without that business).

Then pour the peach caramel mixture into your pie crust.

Cover it with your second crust:

Mark had some extra time, so he spelled out our last name on the pie. He's cute like that.

Pie crust is not hard at all. Do not be intimidated. We make ours in the food processor, which makes things easier. You know it's ready to be rolled out when the butter is pea-sized. When you roll it out, make sure you have enough flour on your board. Otherwise, your crust will fall apart & you'll have to re-roll it which could result in a tough crust.

Overall, this pie wasn't too much trouble & it tasted divine, especially with some Blue Bell vanilla ice cream. I'm not much for desserts, as I've said, but a fruity dessert is the exception. That's why I'm having blackberry cobbler instead of birthday cake this year. It's my birthday week, y'all. I'm officially old. I'll be 29 on Saturday. Mark will be 28 on Sunday.

Honey Caramel Peach Pie
Adapted from Gourmet, July 2009
Recipe from Sassy Radish

Any kind of mild honey will work beautifully here. It will cook into a rich caramel, which coats the peaches and deepens their sweetness.

Pie Filling Ingredients:
3 lb ripe peaches
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided

Honey Bourbon Caramel Ingredients:
1/4 cup mild honey
2 tbsp bourbon
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

All-butter pastry dough (recipe below)

1 tablespoon whole milk

Pie Preparation:

1. Cut an X in bottom of each peach, then blanch peaches in batches in boiling water 15 seconds. Transfer with a slotted spoon to an ice bath to stop cooking. Peel peaches and cut into 1-inch-thick wedges. [My note: I skipped this step, I was really short on time, and I just sliced the peaches, skin and all - the result, heavenly. I don't think the book club ladies minded at all!]

2. Toss peaches well with cornstarch, flour, lemon juice, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl.

3. Put a foil-lined large baking sheet in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 425°F.

4. Bring 1/2 cup sugar, honey, and bourbon and water to a boil in a 1 1/2- to 2-qt heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then wash down any sugar crystals from side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil without stirring, swirling pan occasionally so caramel colors evenly, until dark amber, about 5 minutes.

5.Remove from heat and add butter, swirling pan until butter is melted. Pour over fruit and toss (caramel may harden slightly but will melt in oven).

6. Roll out 1 piece of dough (keep remaining piece chilled) into a 13-inch round on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim excess dough, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Chill shell while rolling out remaining dough.

7. Roll out remaining piece of dough into an 11-inch round on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin.

8. Transfer filling to pie shell, mounding it. Cover pie with pastry round. Trim with kitchen shears, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Press edges together, then crimp decoratively. Brush top all over with some of milk, then sprinkle with remaining Tbsp sugar. Cut 3 steam vents in top crust with a paring knife.

9. Bake pie on hot baking sheet 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Continue to bake until crust is golden-brown and filling is bubbling, about 50 minutes more. Cool pie to room temperature, 3 to 4 hours.

All-Butter Pastry Dough
Makes enough for a double-crust 9-inch pie

Crust Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/3 cup plus 1 to 4 Tbsp ice water

Crust Preparation:

1. Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl (or pulse in a food processor). Blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse) just until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Drizzle 1/3 cup ice water over mixture and gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated.

2. Squeeze a small handful of dough: If it doesn’t hold together, add more ice water 1 Tbsp at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until just incorporated, then test again. Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough.

3. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 8 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together, with a pastry scraper if you have one, and press into a ball. Divide in half and form into 2 disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.


  • Dough can be chilled up to 1 day. Let stand at room temperature 20 minutes before rolling out.
  • Recipe can be halved if making a single-crust pie. Use a rounded 1/4 tsp salt and start with 3 Tbsp water.