Well, folks, this weekend has been an eventful celebration of Valentine’s Day for this blogger. First, I ran into fellow classmate and blogger Samantha at the grocery store; turns out we both had some cooking to do 😉 It was nice to see someone other than myself in the produce section for a change.
Yesterday was the big show: I cooked a four-course meal for our Valentine’s Day celebration, which we scheduled for two days ahead of time. Before heading off to a lovely folk show, we stuffed our gluttonous faces with pan after pan of food. The feast was spectacular, a hodge-podge of dishes from multiple cultures and tastes that, quite frankly, only really “went together” by chance. We started the evening with a delicate and molten brie en croute, which, based on its name, I can only assume is of French origin. The term “croute” translates to “crust,” and crusty it is: brie en croute is a dish where an entire wheel of brie cheese is wrapped and baked in puff pastry, then served with crackers. Our brie en croute was made with cranberries, walnuts, and maple syrup, and the way the ammonia of the brie was dulled but not quieted by the sweet berries and almost popcorn flavor of the walnuts was so mouthwatering that I salivate just thinking about it a day later. I scoured many sources for Brie en Croute, including my Paula Deen’s Kitchen Classics cookbook and the Internet, but no recipe had the combination of flavors or ingredients I wanted. So, this recipe is, as usual, inspired but not copied from any source specifically.
Course #1: Brie en Croute
1 8 ounce wheel of Brie
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1 tbsp. butter
2 tsp. real maple syrup
2 wheels or 1 sheet puff pastry (this depends on which brand you have available to you; I used wheels)
-Defrost the puff pastry in the refrigerator at least half an hour ahead of time.
-Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
-Sprinkle your work surface with flour, coat the puff pastry lightly on both sides with it so there is no sticking, and roll the puff pastry out with a rolling pin, making it no less than a 1/4 inch thick. It only needs to be big enough to wrap the wheel of Brie, berries, and nuts.
-Melt butter in a saucepan and saute the walnuts until brown.
-While the nuts cool, beat an egg in a bowl and use to coat both sides of the puff pastry. This helps the pastry turn a delicious golden brown.
-Place the wheel of brie in the middle of the puff pastry, and add the maple syrup, cranberries, and walnuts to the top. Wrap the entire “package” with the puff pastry. Tip: For those using wheels of puff pastry, place the brie in one wheel, and cover with the other. Make sure you use the egg liberally but not to a point of excess, where it drips off. A decent amount of egg will help seal the two parts of the pastry together so that the cheese doesn’t leak out just in case. For those using a sheet, you can tie the top together, or use the egg to seal the package. But, make sure your hole is on top, not the side 🙂
-Place the “parcel” on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until your puff pastry tells you it’s done – it will be a shiny golden brown and crisp. Cut into it and serve with crackers if you like (I eat it with just the puff pastry quite often).
The next course was pigs’ feet, a delicacy to few and staple to many, particularly in the American south. Pigs’ feet are also eaten in Irish and Korean cuisine, but for this recipe, we got down and dirty Southern style. I had to summon my bravery not to buy these “trotters” in the first place, but rather to open the package and actually get them started. As I pulled back the cellophane, I was greeted with an aroma neither welcoming nor culinary to say the least. Somehow, the pigs’ feet don’t smell like pork; they smell like…pig. Only someone who has been on a pig farm would recognize this, as no smell that comes from grocery store or even most butcher pork ever smells like this. As I turned each hoof over, rinsing it in the sink as suggested and shaving off the remaining hairs with a disposable razor, I was very close to tossing them into the garbage and hauling them out of the apartment, their squishy insides exposed and positively nauseating to look at. But…I persevered, was able to clean them to an edible level and threw them in the pot as quickly as possible. The result? Difficult-to-maneuver but delicious meat that was packed with porky flavor. The skin, while still a bit squishy, was probably one of the most flavorful parts of a pig I have ever eaten, the meat dark and not at all oily, as much pig product tends to be. When served alongside a steaming pan of polenta, which is another Southern-associated dish of boiled cornmeal, the result was a well-rounded course that was certainly the result of hard work. My recipe is unique for a couple of reasons: 1) It is cooked in a crockpot, and 2) The stock produced is spicy but not barbeque, as many Southern versions are.
Course #2: Pigs’ Feet with Onions and Herbed Polenta
1 pound pigs’ feet
1/2 sweet onion (you may use others if you prefer, but this works well with the meat, herbs, and polenta)
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 – 1/2 cup hot sauce (I use cheap hot sauce from Aldi’s, no point diluting expensive hot sauce)
dried herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil – as many as you have on hand. Mine come in one shaker, also from Aldi’s)
salt and pepper to taste
-Thoroughly clean and shave your pigs’ feet. You will not want to take a bite of this dish only to get a bristly hair stuck in your palate! I recommend using a disposable razor, as you can then just throw it away without throwing away 3 dollars from using your nice razor. Rinsing also ensures anything “nasty” (use your imagination) is gone from the skin.
-Place the pigs’ feet in your crock pot (should be at least 2 or 3 quarts) and cover completely with water.
-Add chopped onion, vinegar, brown sugar, hot sauce, and a good amount of herbs to the pot. It is impossible to add too many herbs to this dish, so do not skimp! The pigs’ feet soak up the flavors of whatever you put in.
-Simmer on high for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally. The pigs’ feet are done when they begin to pull away from the bones easily.
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 – 2 and 1/2 cups water, depending on how “stiff” you want the polenta
1 tbsp. canola oil
dried herbs to taste
salt and pepper to taste
-Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
-Mix cornmeal, water, oil, herbs, salt and pepper to a shallow glass baking dish (a 9×9 or pie dish work great). You will notice the oil floating on top of the water; this is normal. It actually forms a bit of a crust on top with the herbs, which is absolutely delightful.
-Bake in oven for 40 minutes. Serve next to the pigs’ feet and onions. Tip: Polenta is also great with chili, or goat cheese and dark meat poultry.
Our main course and dessert were completely inspired by the Food Network, and so those recipes will not be re-created here. But, in case anyone wants to know: perch with artichoke, lemon, tomatoes, and capers. Homemade tiramisu. ‘Nuff said.