Eclairs with Stupid-Easy Vanilla Bean Custard and Chocolate Ganache

Well, after having a not-fun-at-all Easter thanks to the storms (no power equaled no Easter lunch, and no sleep to boot), we spent most of last week continuing the work-from-home/homeschooling grind.

However, I’ve been in the kitchen more than ever, and if you follow on Instagram, you’ve seen this bit of deliciousness:

I decided to try something new, and boy did it pay off. I started with a basic choux paste, which is a cooked dough that is used to make cream puffs or eclairs. Then, I messed around with what I affectionately call my mom’s “Cheaters Custard” method, incorporating a lone vanilla bean that was hanging out in my pantry, and finally topped the whole mess with chocolate ganache. I swear, the kids went bananas for these, and my neighbor was over the moon. (Don’t worry, we don’t break quarantine, we do contactless meal delivery to her).

Anyway, even though this recipe seems like a lot of steps, the whole process is really easy. I think people new to the choux paste concept might be a little intimidated at first, but once you go through the steps, you will be like, “Oh, ok, that was no big deal.” So, not only can you have an impressive, delicious dessert worthy of a special occasion, but you can also bask in the complements from your lucky eaters.

Eclairs with Stupid-Easy Vanilla Bean Custard and Chocolate Ganache

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Ingredients

Choux Paste

  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 7 TBS unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 TBS granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 5 to 6 large eggs (see method for why)

Stupid-Easy Vanilla Bean Custard

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 TBS unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 vanilla bean (alternatively, you can use 1 TBS good quality vanilla extract OR 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste)

Chocolate Ganache

  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 4 ounces heavy whipping cream

Procedure

Choux Paste/Éclair Shells

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Get out a couple of sheet pants and line them with parchment paper or baking mats. In a medium sauce pan, place milk, water, butter, sugar, salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring often, ensuring the butter is completely melted. Add the flour all at once, stirring quickly and vigorously until the flour is thoroughly incorporated. Cook about 45 more seconds and remove from heat. Transfer mixture to a bowl (ideally use a stand mixer with paddle attachment or hand mixer for the next step).
  2. While the dough is still hot, add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition (start with the 5 eggs only). After you have added all 5 eggs, test to see of the texture is right. If it seems too thick, add the last egg. I only needed 5 eggs. The dough should be a good consistency for piping while maintaining it’s structure.
  3. Transfer dough to a Ziploc bag and cut a corner so that you will get about a 1-inch diameter hole. Pipe the dough onto your prepared pans into logs about 5 inches long. (If you have piping equipment, go for it fancy-pants, but a Ziploc will do, I promise). *note, I did not do it, but if you want to, you can give the eclairs an egg wash before baking*
  4. Bake eclairs for 15 minutes at 400, then reduce heat to 350 and bake for about 10 minutes more until they are golden brown and feel hollow. Keep an eye on them the last 5 minutes of baking. My convection oven cooks hotter than a standard oven, so I had to pull mine out sooner than I expected. Set the pastry shells aside to cook completely.

Stupid-Easy Vanilla Bean Custard 

  1. In a medium saucepan, add milk, butter, flour, sugar, egg yolks. Slice vanilla bean in half and scrape the vanilla caviar from the bean halves into the pot, then toss the scraped pod halves into the pot as well.
  2. Place the saucepan over medium heat, and mix it thoroughly with a whisk. As it heats, it will begin to thicken and bubble. Keep stirring, and once it is bubbling consistently, let it cook for 1 minute. Remove the pot from the heat, and using tongs, fish out the vanilla pod halves and discard them. Transfer custard to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the custard surface (this prevents it from getting a “skin” on top). Refrigerate until cold and thick.

Chocolate Ganache

  1. Place chocolate and cream in a heat-safe bowl, then place the bowl over saucepan of simmering water (medium-low heat), making sure the water isn’t touching the bowl directly. Stir frequently until the chocolate is completely melted and incorporated into the cream, and is smooth and shiny.

Assembly

  1. Place custard in a Ziploc bag for piping, and snip a corner to make a 1/2-inch diameter hole. For each éclair, cut a small slit in the side of each pastry, and then pipe the custard into the center making sure you get good coverage on both ends. Finally, dip the top of each éclair into the warm ganache and place on a baking rack to set. Refridgerate until ready to serve!

Maple Orange Bourbon Glazed Ham & What We are Cooking for a Quarantined Easter

With Easter coming up this weekend, social distancing means that the usual celebrations will be very, very different this year. No hanging out with the family and no Easter baskets for the kids. I figure that the grocery pick-up/delivery services are busy enough with real needs, and that shopping for chocolate bunnies and trinkets is a waste of their time and resources. We have candy and plastic eggs in the house already, but will forgo dying real eggs because I just feel like it’s wasteful in a time of scarcity (before you get offended, no one in this house will eat hardboiled eggs, so it really would be wasteful for us).

But, I’m still planning a good meal that will make us at least feel like it’s a special day, even if we can’t watch my sister and kids throw plastic eggs at each other.

I don’t usually cook ham at home, because HoneyBaked Ham is totally my jam, but I’m not in the mood to spend that kind of money for just the five of us. I saw this recipe on Food Network last summer, and decided to make it when we went on a family vacation. It got rave reviews, so I decided that I will bake one up this weekend, along with my Cheesy Hash Brown Casserole, roasted asparagus, biscuits, carrot soufflé and a carrot cake (or maybe red velvet). Also, the bone and scraps will be repurposed for Cajun 15 Bean Soup in the Instant Pot, and if we have an leftover casserole, I may try to transform it into something new.

So, we will cook, eat, celebrate, and be grateful this weekend.

Maple Orange Bourbon Glazed Ham

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Ingredients

  • one spiral-cut bone-in ham (about 7-8 pounds)
  • 1 cup orange marmalade
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (the real stuff, not the pancake syrup from the dollar store)
  • 2 TBS butter
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cloves

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. In a roasting pan with a rack, place ham on rack, fat side up. Using a small knife, lightly score the fat in a crosshatch pattern. Add a 1-1/2 cups water to the bottom of the ham, place ham in oven and bake for 45 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, make the glaze. Combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy.
  4. Brush the ham with half of the glaze, then continue baking, while glazing ham every 15 minutes until it’s reached an internal temp of 130 F (about 45 minutes to an hour).
  5. IMPORTANT: The ham should get very brown, but the amount of sugar in this can start to burn. If you think your ham is geting there, cover it with foil that has been sprayed with non-stick spray (lest you rip off all that glaze). Once the ham is done, let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Short-Cut Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff for the Judgement-Free Zone

Ok, I know we are all supposed be cutting down on our processed food consumption. But we are in the middle of a damn quarantine, going to the grocery store is not the best idea, and even if I did, pickings are slim. Oh, just order groceries, you say? I don’t even want to into get into how well that is NOT working out. My husband kept wondering why my phone dinged 50 times yesterday, and I had to explain that was the Instacart shopper refunding all of the items Kroger did not really have, despite what the app said.

So, as every planned dinner idea crapped out with each successive ding, it was time for plan F.  I pulled a chuck roast out of the freezer, dove into my pantry, and settled on…*gulp* canned cream of mushroom soup.

Keep your judgements to yourself there, Karen. We all know you secretly have a crush on that Tiger King guy.

Anyway, this recipe only takes about 5 minutes to throw in the slow cooker, and other than the chuck roast, uses ingredients that you probably have on hand. If you don’t have sour cream, cream cheese or Greek yogurt would work in a pinch. I served it over egg noodles, but you can make do with other pastas as well. The Heathens love it, it’s easy, and while it probably takes my foodie street cred down a notch, there’s no shame here.

Short-Cut Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff

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Ingredients

  • 2 medium yellow onions, halved and sliced
  • 1 chuck roast, approximately 3 to 3-1/2 pounds
  • 2 (10-1/2 oz) cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 1-1/2 tsp. seasoning salt (like Lawry’s or Morton’s)
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 TBS Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 TBS ketchup
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • egg noodles or pasta for serving

Procedure

  1. Cut chuck roast into cubes (about 1-1/2 inches). Add onions and chuck roast to the slow cooker.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine soup, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and ketchup, whisking to combine. Add the soup mixture to the slow cooker, and stir until the meat is coated. Cover and cook on the LOW setting for 8 hours, or until the beef is super-tender.
  3. Just before serving, stir in the sour cream. Check for seasoning, adding more if needed. Serve over egg noodles, and if you are feeling extra-fancy, garnish with a little parsley.

 

 

The Dirty Secrets–Pantry Meals, Cheap Meals, Canned Meals, and More for Tips for Your Quarantine Kitchen

Ok, I think we can all agree that food media and culture as a whole has changed in the past 20 years. We now have easy access to blogs, recipes, information, and research. Meanwhile, Michael Pollan and other researched-based advocates opened our eyes to the less-than-desirable aspects of processed foods and ingredients. We get to be seasoned foodies without ever having attended culinary school.

But the reality is that many people do not have the luxury to be selective about ingredients and methods, pandemic or not. They may live in food deserts with no access to fresh products (what would you do if the only store you could reach was Dollar General?), they may have inadequate funds, limited equipment, and lack the basics we take for granted, like reliable internet access for help.

When I first got married, I had recently birthed the Demon-Baby. My husband worked endless hours of overtime to keep us afloat, and I stretched our meager budget as far as it would go. And you know how I did that? Lots of processed products, canned products, protein stretching, and shortcuts. No shame in my game.

Those meals represented my efforts to provide us some semblance of “homecooked” meals, even if it was just a medley of frozen and canned ingredients hastily tossed together. Even before we got married, our college garage apartment produced many memorable bargain meals that we still recall with fondness: Bisquick cinnamon rolls and casseroles, sautéed chicken with Rice-a-Roni pasta, cheese omelets, and that time my husband and one of his best friends learned that splattering hot oil next to boiling liquid was a very, very, very bad idea.

As we all face uncertain weeks ahead, I thought I would dust off some of those meals and ideas. They are not really recipes per se, but ideas based on how I stretched our budget, made the most of processed foods, fresh food, and managed not to kill any of us.

  • Easy and Cheap Chicken Pot Pie: Stir together 2 cups cooked chicken (I often only used one chicken breast), 1 can cream of celery soup, 1 cup milk or half-and-half, 1 tsp. seasoned salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, 1 can drained peas, and 1 can drained corn. Using a box of refrigerated pie curst, line the bottom of pie plate with 1 roll of the crust. Pour in chicken mixture, top with the other roll of crust, crimping edges. Cut a hole or two in the top to vent. Bake at 400 F 35-40 minutes until top begins to brown. Rest 5-10 minutes before serving. (Or use any combo of canned veg you have).
  • Under $5 Corn Chowder: Stir together 1-1/2 cups milk or half-and-half with one can of cream-style corn into a saucepan over low heat. (The regular size can of corn, not the 7-oz baby size). Add 4 slices chopped ham from the deli (or 1/2 cup chopped diced and browned smoked sausage, or some cooked bacon), 1 can of sliced or diced potatoes, drained, 1 can whole kernel corn, drained, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat about 10-15 minutes, and stir in 1 cup grated cheddar until melted. Serve with bread or rolls if you can.
  • Chicken Squares: Combine 6-oz of room temperature cream cheese with 6-oz of room temperature margarine, 4 TBS milk, 2 chopped green onions and add 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. black pepper. Add 3 cups shredded cooked chicken, mixing well. Separate two tubes of crescent roll dough into eight squares (which is two of triangles still together for each). Press the perforated seam of each square together firmly to create a solid square of dough. Place a spoonful of the chicken mixture into the center of each square. Bring the dough corners to the center, pinching all the edges to seal. Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
  • Pantry Spicy Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches: For the soup, combine 3 cups Spicy V-8 juice, 1 can condensed tomato soup, 1 can condensed cheddar cheese soup, and 1 tsp. dried basil in a saucepan. Heat on medium, whisking occasionally until hot and combined. For the sandwiches: Combine one can of condensed nacho cheese soup with 1-1/2 cups fiesta blend shredded cheese. Spread a couple of TBS of cheese mix between two slices of bread, and brush outside of sandwiches with melted margarine or butter. Cook the sandwiches grilled cheese-style until golden. Slice on the diagonal and serve with the soup. *If you can get your hands on a baguette or sausage buns, make mini sandwiches for optimal dipping, which makes picky eaters happier. They like to dip stuff*
  • My Spaghetti Casserole was a staple and continues to be a go-to. I would serve it with frozen or canned green beans that I seasoned with what I had on hand. You can make garlic bread using the ends of a bread loaf or sandwish bread you need to use up. Brush bread with a couple of TBS of butter mixed with a 1/4 tsp. garlic powder and 1/2 tsp. dried parsley. Toast in the oven.
  • Chicken Fajita Chowder relies on mostly pantry-ready ingredients and you can reduce the chicken to stretch it further (the beans add plenty of protein). If you don’t have chips, cornbread is a good side, or even crackers.
  • You don’t get any more affordable than Salmon Croquettes. We would serve this with boxed mac and cheese and canned peas.
  • When I Was in a Bind: I often would throw together a couple of diced, cooked chicken breasts with sautéed diced onion and minced garlic, add a can of cream of celery soup, 2 TBS. lemon juice, 1 TBS Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 cup of milk, 1 tsp. seasoned salt and one 1 tsp. paprika. If I had any dried parsley or thyme, I added some. I’d simmer it for a bit and serve over wedges of cornbread.
  • Top Some Potatoes: Potatoes are affordable, and last if you store them properly. If you can bake potatoes, you can top them endlessly, like with shredded chicken or beef, BBQ sauce, and cheese (maybe chopped onion or even slaw for the adults). How about cooked chicken, broccoli, and cheese sauce (maybe with some bacon bits)? Cook frozen breaded chicken strips, dice them, toss with ranch dressing, top potatoes, and drizzle with hot sauce (and sprinkle of blue cheese if you can find it). Try potato tacos, with all the usual ground beef and taco fixings on top. Potatoes are the ultimate affordable canvas to stretch protein.

Other tips:

  • Bisquick and other pre-made mixes are often very cheap, and versatile for pantry cooking, especially if you are short on time. I’ve made many a casserole from on-hand cans and a mix.
  • Combo meals that combine proteins with starches and/or veggies allow you to stretch ingredients further. Think pot pies, Shephards Pie, casseroles, breakfast scrambles, hashes, stews, soups, etc. Eggs are the often least expensive per-serving protein there is.
  • Nearly anything can be transformed into hand pies/meat pies. If you need to clean out the fridge of leftovers, use refrigerated pie dough or frozen bread dough to create a “sweep the kitchen” hand pie night. Use leftover protein, starches, and vegetables, and convince your kids it’s like personal pizza night, but better. Same goes for grilled sandwiches/panini.
  • Ask yourself if what a recipe calls for is TRULY necessary. It may call for three cups of shredded chicken, but you could probably fake it with two. Out of fresh ginger? You could probably scrape by with a fraction of that amount of ginger powder. Will it be just like the recipe? No, obviously, but it could help you try and hit closer to the flavor profile than nothing at all. I frequently substitute fresh herbs with dried (decreasing the amount by half). Some skipping and substitutions can get you by, but remember, don’t be that butthole who goes onto a website and gives terrible recipe reviews after you do so. While being a pantry MacGyver can keep your family well-fed, it’s not fair to compare a hacked recipe to what the writer intended.
  • The good-looking chicken breasts in the refridgerated case are going to be the most expensive. For now, I’d go for the frozen bags (which are often smaller and less-than-neatly cut), or if you have the time, grab the cheap cuts like legs or leg quarters and cook and shred the meat for later.
  • When in doubt, trust dishes like Red Beans and Rice, Jambalaya, Stewed Chicken and Rice, Beef Tips, Meatloaf, etc. They are classics for a reason.

So, these are just some basics from the early days extreme budget eating that I hope inspire anyone struggling under quarantine frustration or scarcity. If you have questions about this post or how to stretch what you have, leave a comment, or if you prefer to ask a question privately, drop me an email (check my profile for the address).

Keep calm and drink on, my friends.