Chocolate Eclairs

My friends, knowing I love to cook, often ask if I want to take cooking classes with them. I’ve taken casual cooking classes before, and they’re fun and you make nice dishes, but they’re expensive. And at this point I’m comfortable trying new things in the kitchen. I’d rather just pay for ingredients and try a recipe on my own.

So when my friend Annabelle asked if I wanted to go an eclair-making class, I said no. I invited her over to make them at my house instead. I’d made choux pastry, custard and ganache before for different desserts anyway. In the spirit of cooking class, I turned to a recipe from the Culinary Institute of America.

Annabelle and I made tasty eclairs without any disasters, but I won’t be using the CIA recipe again. I didn’t like the texture of the pastry filling with all that cornstarch, and I had some issues with the choux, which baked way too thin on the bottom. (Though, maybe if I had parchment paper it wouldn’t have stuck as much.)

Anyway, I can buy ingredients to attempt eclairs a few more times before spending as much as a class would have been. And we did eat them all. When the custard ran out and we still had pastries left, I filled them with whipped cream, and I liked that even more.

I won’t post the recipe because, as I said, I wasn’t completely pleased with it. (You can find it here.) I’ll revisit the recipes I riffed off of when I made Chocolate Dulce De Leche Puffs. Or if you have a favorite eclairs recipe, pass it on.

Baco Flatbread


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How could you not want something described as a “gyro-pizza-taco”?

When I read the LA Times piece about the baco last year, I made a mental note and a digital bookmark to come back to it. Since then, the chef who invented the baco, Josef Centeno,  has opened another restaurant in LA, and the baco is back in the press. Though I haven't made it yet to the Lazy Ox Canteen for an official baco, I baked up some of Centeno's signature flatbread and created some sandwiches of my own. (For something fun to do, read the Lazy Ox menu.)

From what I've read, there are two things that make a baco a baco. First is the bread. Like my naan recipe, this flatbread calls for plain yogurt. What's different is the addition of lime juice, ginger, garlic and dried lavender. Second is the mix of sauces and international influences:

  • In addition to the original baco, now made with pork belly and red wine-braised paleron (pot roast), Centeno makes four variations. The vegetarian baco centers on crisp Japanese eggplant; lamb sausage baco has croquettes made from potato and morcilla (a Spanish blood sausage) and caraway-pepper sauce; the el pollo baco features chicken escabeche (marinated chicken) radicchio and zhoug, a spicy chile sauce from Yemen; and the pesco baco is a tasty composition of panko-crusted albacore, pickled onion, and four (count them) different sauces. (From the LA Times)

After I made the bread, we did a Mexican-spiced chicken with fresh tomato-avocado salsa, the ginger-lime-lavender yogurt mixture, and a smoky homemade chili sauce. Another afternoon I filled one with a mixture of chicken, pork and sausage in a sweet Vietnamese sauce, along with lettuce, cucumber and tomato in a Persian yogurt-based dressing, and the spicy chili sauce — basically whatever leftovers I found in the fridge.

So now that you have the flatbread recipe, what will you put in your baco?

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Tomato Crostini with Goat Cheese and Taleggio

I get a little dizzy thinking back to how good these simple little toasts were. I mean, they're just cheese on cheese on sauce on toast, but they are much, much more. They're heavenly. I first had these at the Chef's Academy cooking demo . I liked them so much, I had to recreate a version of my own.

Chefs Leo Goodloe and Suzanne Winn made a killer sauce from scratch, and I went with some from a jar, but it didn't matter. The goat cheese and taleggio really make this. I mean, seriously, how amazing is cheese?

These toasts are a great appetizer for a party or a delicious snack for yourself.

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North Indian Style Spinach Chicken

I love Indian food, but sometimes those curries can be heavy. This dish, on the other hand, is more brothy than saucy, and still has that flavor I love. It has tomatoes, spinach and chicken breast, but it would be good with garbanzo beans instead, if you wanted to make it vegetarian.

I saw this in Sunset Magazine, which has been full of good recipes lately (See: Ginger Pear Crisp). My mom and I loved how light it felt while still filling us up.

Of course we changed it up a bit. Instead of serving with plain yogurt on top and cucumber salad on the side, I combined the two in a raita. I liked the cool crunch of cucumbers mixed in with the cooked vegetables. It’s all about layering flavors, textures and temperatures.

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Ginger Pear Crisp

For whatever reason, my brother has been bringing home absurd amounts of fruit from his school cafeteria. One day we found ourselves with way more pears than we could eat before they went bad. Conveniently, an issue of Sunset Magazine came with a recipe for a unique pear crisp courtesy of Campanile chef Mark Peel. Ginger, raisins, marsala? I was intrigued.

Of course when I went to make it, I ended up with several substitutions (you'll see my many parenthetical notes in the recipe below). But I was happy with the crisp. Maybe a little sweet, but that could have been the fault of my changes and inexact measurements. Anyway, it was nothing a small scoop of tart yogurt couldn't fix.

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Chef Academy's Leo and Suzanne

Several weeks ago (just before I got a job and still had time to do these sorts of things on a Tuesday afternoon, let alone write about them in a timely fashion), I went to a cooking demonstration by two stars of Bravo's Chef Academy: Suzanne Winn and Leo Goodloe.

I meant to watch an episode or two before the demo, and ended up watching the whole series in three days or so. It's easy to become addicted to any reality show, but when the people you're watching are likable and deserving of the spotlight (Jersey Shore crew, I'm not talking about you), you don't even feel guilty about it.

Leo was focused and professional throughout the show. He rarely had anything bad to say about anyone, and though he was always at the head of the class, he wasn't cocky. Suzanne, love her, has a Real Housewives of Orange County look (because she's a mother in the real OC), but the woman didn't go that route. Instead, she enrolled in an intensive culinary program and subjected herself to some rigorous kitchen work. Ok, yeah, she got in trouble for wearing too much lip gloss and for meeting with a tailor in the middle of a lesson…but how much of that is orchestrated by producers anyway? She didn't seem like a ditz to me. She seemed smart and funny and incredibly charismatic. I really wanted this woman to do well.

And you know what? Leo and Suzanne made an even better impression in person. After the demo, I waited to talk to Suzanne, who was talking to a group of women already. “Come join the circle, sweetie,” she said, motioning me over. Then she hugged me and thanked me for coming. Leo was equally gracious and easy to talk to. Both were so encouraging and forthcoming with stories and advice for me.

The food didn't disappoint, either. Dark chocolate pots de cremes with rock-your-socks butterscotch sauce and vanilla bean whipped cream. French bread slices layered with goat cheese, freshly made tomato sauce and melted fontina. Either of which I could die happy after. (Some recipes from the demo are here.)

My point is, I don't want this to be the last I see of Leo or Suzanne. Give them a book, a TV show, a catering/party-planning company…I'd support any of it.

You can find Chef Academy reruns on Bravo, iTunes or here. Check out Suzanne's Meals in Heels demonstrations on YouTube.

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And watch my favorite clip of Suzanne on Chef Academy here at the 6:08 mark.

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