Archive | April, 2012

Feeding the Baby – Mushroom and Ground Turkey Lettuce Wraps

27 Apr
Mushroom and Ground Turkey Lettuce Wraps

Mushroom and Ground Turkey Lettuce Wraps

My Facebook feed is rampant with babies. Every third post is either a photo of a half-naked cherub in a bubbly bathtub or or a disturbing account about dirty diapers. I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in the recent past, most of my friends got together and decided it was time to get pregnant. Not in the same room or anything…you know what I mean.

I don’t want to sound bitter or put off. No one loves cute pictures of fat, rosy-cheeked babies in cuddly onesies with eared hoods that make them look like teddy bears more than me. No one! I giggle every time. It’s true – this influx of kidlets has softened me, especially since my best friend and her husband are welcoming their first child in early fall.

I’ve known Kristin since the summer before our freshman year of high school. She was one of the oldest kids in our class, and I was the youngest, so she was constantly carting my ass around before I had a license. We were roommates at Marquette, and afterwards, in our first two Chicago apartments. I was there the night she met her husband Colin, and I stood up next to her at their wedding. Sometimes when a song comes on the radio that reminds us of each other, we’ll text the lyrics back and forth. We’ve had a lot of great times together, and we’ll have a lot more. I adore her, and I already adore their baby.

Kristin is about as big around as a sewing needle, so when she told me that she already had a baby bump, I had to see it for myself, and I had to feed it. She and Colin came for dinner last week. I wanted to make something healthy for the mommy-to-be, and since I was also feeding Colin and Jon, it needed to taste not-healthy. These mushroom and ground turkey lettuce wraps did the trick. I used extra lean ground turkey, seasoned with tamari, cilantro, fish sauce and other goodies. The meaty filling was so flavorful that you’d never know that there was barely any fat in the dish. Served with a side of veggie-heavy rice and pickled cucumbers, it made a light but satisfying meal that I’ll certainly make again.

And because I do want to make it again, I’m typing it out here so that I don’t forget what I did. If only I would have typed out the events of some of those college nights with Kristin, we might remember them a little better, too. But baby doesn’t need to know about his (or her) mama’s wild younger days. Those memories live in our minds, not in the internet.

Mushroom and Ground Turkey Lettuce Wraps

Serves 6.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 ounces crimini mushrooms, cleaned and finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
1/3 cup finely diced red onion
3 tablespoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger root
1 pound 99% lean ground turkey
1/4 cup tamari (or regular soy sauce, if you have that on hand)
2 tablespoons Sriracha hot chili sauce
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 lime)
2 small heads bibb lettuce, leaves separated, washed, and dried
1/2 cup chopped peanuts
Additional lime wedges to serve

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet. Cook mushrooms and onions over medium heat until the water that is released from the mushrooms evaporates. Add garlic and ginger root and cook one minute more. Add the ground turkey to the skillet, breaking it into small pieces with a spatula. Stir in tamari, Sriracha, and fish sauce. Cook until the turkey is lightly browned  and the sauce is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Stir in cilantro and lime juice. Cook for 1 minute. Pile meat and mushroom mixture into a bowl. Stuff bibb lettuce leaves with the mixture. Top with chopped peanuts and a sprinkling of lime juice. Some like it hot , so keep the bottle of Sriracha at the ready, too.

Lamb Cake 2012

8 Apr

I’ve done my fair share of talking about and making lamb cakes: decorating hundreds every season at Tags Bakery, their history in a Chicago Sun-Times article in 2010, and how to successfully bake one on the Wilton blog last year. With all of that floating around on the interwebs, it hardly seems necessary to repeat instructions here. Plus, it’s Easter morning. It’s nearly 11:30 in Chicago. If you’re thinking about starting a lamb cake now for a celebration later today, don’t plan on eating any time soon. The cooling instructions for the baked cake are no joke – skimp on the cooling, and risk Little Lambie’s head cracking right off on front of the children. Think of the children! Follow the cooling times, or risk years and years of expensive therapy for the kids.

Coconut Lemon Meringue Lamb Cake

Coconut Lemon Meringue Lamb Cake


My 2012 lamb is coconut cake with lemony marshmallow frosting. This silky frosting naturally makes the most perfect peaks as it is swirled onto the cake, so decorating is a breeze. Save this recipe for next year, or perhaps celebrate Easter again tomorrow so you have the excuse to make this cute cake today. The awesome sticker is courtesy of the the American Lamb Board…probably not exactly what they had in mind for their promotional piece, but it works for me!

Coconut Cake

2 eggs + 4 egg whites

2/3 cup cream of coconut (stir this well so the fat solids incorporate with the liquids before melting)

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon coconut extract

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, coarsely ground in the food processor

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1 inch tablespoons

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray both sides of the lamb pan completely with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, egg whites, cream of coconut, water, coconut extract, and vanilla extract until well combined.

In a large bowl, mix flour, ground coconut, sugar, baking powder, and salt with electric mixer on low speed until combined, about 15 seconds. Add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, continuing to beat on low speed until mixture forms a ball, about 2 minutes.

Stop the mixer and add half of the liquid mixture. Beat on low speed until the flour mixture is moistened, about 15 seconds. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. With the mixer still running, slowly stream in the remaining liquid. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Beat on medium speed for an additional 30 seconds.

Pour 5 cups of batter into the bottom of the pan, the half with the lamb’s face, filling it all the way to the top. Cover with the bottom half of the pan. Truss the lamb with kitchen twine, stringing it through the hole that aligns the pans, and around the neck and body of the lamb. Put the whole lamb pan onto a cookie pan. Resist the urge to open the pans. Bake 42-48 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the hole in the top of the pan comes out clean. Remove lamb pan from the cookie sheet and cool for 5 minutes. Snip the kitchen string and remove the top pan, cooling for 5 more minutes.

Replace the top half of the pan, turn the cake pan over (use oven mitts – it will still be very hot), and remove the bottom half of the pan. Let the cake rest in this part of the pan until it is completely cool, between 3 and 4 hours before decorating.

Lemony Marshmallow Frosting

4 egg whites

3/4 cup granulated sugar

zest of 2 lemons

1 teaspoon lemon juice

pinch kosher salt

pinch cream of tartar

Boil 2 inches of water in a pan that is large enough to hold the bowl of an electric mixer without the bottom touching the water. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk until combined. When water is at a boil, reduce heat to low and put mixing bowl on top. Whisk constantly until egg mixture is very hot to the touch, about 5 minutes. Remove the mixing bowl and transfer to the electric mixer. Use the whisk attachment to whip the mixture to stiff, glossy peaks. Decorate the lamb with big swirls of icing.

Pastries in Soho

5 Apr

Last Thursday, I had a revelation. Around 2:15 in the afternoon, I was sitting outside on the charming patio of a swank bakery in New York City. I was midway through a pastry tour of Soho, an elective part of the International Association of Culinary Professionals annual conference. We’d already stopped at Jacques Torres to ogle the chocolate Easter Cows and sample truffles.

After that it was Francois Payard, where all of the chocolates for all of the Payard locations worldwide are made, including the sexiest chocolate Easter eggs you’ll ever see. I horsed down the flakiest, most delicious almond croissant of my life, and walked away with an assorted box of pastel French macarons. Starting to float on a saccharine wave, I was having a damn good day,

The next stop was Dominique Ansel Bakery, a newer spot in Soho run by Pastry Chef extraordinaire, Dominique Ansel. (It’s not just a clever name). When we were handed 2 full-sized pastries, I started to regret eating that entire almond croissant. But that regret was fleeting, because that almond croissant was out of control. So I forged onward.


A salted caramel eclair sat on one side of the plate. Big, crunchy flakes of salt in the caramel custard ensured that the pastry lived up to its reputation. Both flavors were represented equally. It was the perfect, harmonious balance of salty and sweet, and it was excellent.

And then there was the DKA, “Dominique’s Kouign Amann.” Until then, I had only heard of this legendary pastry but never actually had the opportunity to eat one. Similar to a croissant, a Kouign Amann (pronounced Ko-Ween Ah-Mahn) is made by folding and turning a brick of buttery dough over and over so that thin layers form and puff when it’s baked. The difficult and time consuming technique is called lamination, and when it’s done correctly, it’s downright magical. Kouign Amann are special because it uses heavily salted butter and a sprinkling of sugar when turning and folding the dough. This pastry was born in Brittany, France, where fleur de sel is harvested. I would guess it’s pretty easy to find delicious salted butter around those parts. When it’s baked, all of the butter and salt caramelize, leaving sticky pockets inside and crispy and chewy bits on the outside of the perfectly tender bread.

Cue the revelation!

This is the best thing I had eaten, sweet or savory, in a very very very very very long time. At it’s essence, Kouign Amann is a pretty simple thing, but coaxing the dough to be it’s most tender, finding the butter with just the right amount of salt, and baking it until the sugar is dark on the outside without burning up the whole thing up? That is NOT a simple thing. That is art + science + passion + talent.

Revelatory, no kidding, to be sitting outside on that patio in New York City, on a March afternoon, eating pure heaven, and wondering about how I got so lucky as to be able to call this “work.” The next time I’m scouring burned bits out of a mini muffin tin with a Brillo pad, or cleaning out a gooey chocolate fountain, I’m going straight back to my happy place at Dominique Ansel to remember my first taste of Kouign Amann.

Have you had the pleasure of eating this caramelized deliciousness? I would love to hear about it! When and where have you had Kouign Amann?

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