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Mama’s Cream Puffs (a la Aunt Jessie)

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There are two women that I credit for my love of cooking, my comfort in the kitchen, and most importantly, my love of food.  My mother is an amazing culinary presence, and I never cease to be impressed by her determination to make things from scratch and from whole, fresh ingredients.  She is a natural born cook, and she taught me both how to work in the kitchen and how to eat.  In fact her mantra “variety is the spice of life” is something I hated as a child (mainly when she was making me eat escarole) but now looking forward to saying to my own children.  I remember having friends that wouldn’t eat anything but peanut butter and jelly and chicken nuggets, and as an adult I really appreciate how rarely we ate fast food and the broad range of food she introduced us to.

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For Mother’s Day, which is coming up on May 10, I am going to share the favorite recipes of all the mothers and grandmothers in my life, beginning today with my mother, Cathy.  Although my mother was raised cooking primarily Italian, she now lives in North Carolina and cooks a broad range of foods, everything from bacon wraps to lemon pistachio cake.  She’s also recently started a small catering company on the side, Top Nosh Catering, which is slowly but surely building a reputation around the Triangle.

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These cream puffs, or as my mother calls them, “dream puffs” are her great Aunt Jessie’s recipe.  And they really are dreamy.   The first real memory I have of cream puffs are from a family reunion at my Aunt Paula’s house in Sea Girt, New Jersey.  I’m not sure who made them or brought them, I just remember eating them.  So many of them.  They are the perfect combination of flavors and textures.  They are crunchy and smooth and sweet and like little morsels of heaven in each bite.

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The recipe is adaptable so that you can make these chocolate or vanilla.  I like both, but I have to admit the appeal of chocolate is hard to resist.  Another variation option is to fill them with vanilla pudding and then drizzle melted chocolate on the top.  Whatever you do, serve these within a few hours of making them, as the pudding can make the rest of the cream puff soggy.  And that’s not the desired effect.  My mother also thinks it’s very important that I tell you that if you wanted to, you could use the puff with savory ingredients, like tuna salad.

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Dream Puffs
Source: Cathy Rosemond

For Pudding:

3 cups milk

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp butter

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup sugar

1 tbsp vanilla extract

Scald 2 1/2 cups of milk.  Mix cornstarch, sugar, and salt.  Add that to the scalded milk, as well as the remaining milk.  Over low heat, cook until thick.  If your pudding isn’t thickening, try adding more cornstarch, 1/2 tsp at a time.  Once thick, cook an additional five minutes.  Allow to cool slightly and stir in the vanilla extract and butter.  Pour into a medium size bowl, and place plastic wrap directly on the top of the pudding.  This will prevent it from getting that gross skin as it cools.  Allow to cool completely, which takes at least a few hours.  It may be easier to make the pudding the night before and make the puffs within a few hours of serving them.

Right before you’re ready to stuff the puffs, whip the cream until it can hold soft peaks.  Add in the sugar and vanilla and whip an extra two minutes.  Gently fold the whipped cream into the pudding to create an airy filling.

For Puffs:

1 cup water

1 stick butter

1 cup flour

4 eggs

1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate

Bring water to boil in a medium size pot.  Stir in butter, and allow it to melt and return to a boil.  Stir in flour and remove from heat.  Continue to mix until the flour has formed a nice ball, and is separated from the edges.  Allow to cool slightly.

Add in one egg at a time.  After each egg, stir until the egg is completely incorporated and no longer sticking to everything.

Use a spoon to drop onto a greased baking sheet.  Make sure that there is a peak on each one of your batter balls.

Bake for 10 minutes at 400, and an additional 20 at 350.

As they’re baking, melt chocolate in a double boiler.

Assembly:

Allow to cool for 20 minutes to an hour.  When they’ve cooled, use a serated knife to open them slightly, enough to spoon/pastry bag filling into them.  Fill each puff with 1-2 tbsp pudding/cream.  When they’re filled, drizzle melted chocolate on top, and allow the chocolate to harden.

Makes 12-14 cream puffs.

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Blackberry Chipotle Marinade

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I have talked to Megan Patrylick every day since I was 14.  I’m totally not exaggerating either.  Since we met in 9th grade biology we’ve run in different social circles, gone to different colleges, and ended up on opposite sides of the Southeast.  But seriously, I have talked to her at least pretty much everyday.  And sometimes multiple times a day.  As a result, I’m often influenced by the things she’s doing (though I will never not ever wear leopard print no matter how many matching bra and underwear sets she buys me).  Recently she’s been on a Whole Foods kick (something about their Greek salad), and last week found a chipotle blackberry marinade.  That Megan is marinading at all is a big deal seeing as in high school she broke her microwave by trying to dry her sneaker in it.

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I had been trying to figure out something to do to spice up our chicken and grilled chicken salad nights, and I thought that I would experiment with making my own blackberry chipotle marinade.  And it was SO delicious and SO easy.  My only issue with it was that the seeds from the blackberries made a disconcerting crunch while you were eating the chicken, but that’s really just a tactile issue.  I might press the blackberries through a fine grain strainer next time.  It was also pretty spicy, so I sweetened it with honey.  If you wanted to make it sweeter, you could just leave out the cayenne.  I leave you with one related Megan anecdote.  One time sitting at our dining room table, my brother Reid and I spent the better part of an hour trying to convince Megan that if you crossed the equator, you would not explode.  I have never seen Reid look so incredulous.  And that is why I love Megan and will continue to talk to her everyday.

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Blackberry Chipotle Marinade

1 package of fresh blackberries

1 tsp chipotle

1/2 tsp cayenne

1/2 lemon, juiced

2 tbsp honey

Salt & pepper

Rinse your blackberries.  Combine everything in a blender.  Use half of the sauce to marinade your meat for at least one hour, and then use the rest as a sauce.  If you want your sauce to be sweeter, add more honey.

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Tar Heel Margarita

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As a North Carolinian outside the south, the question I get asked most often (besides “what is a grit?”) is “what is a tar heel?”  For clarification, a the phrase “tarheel” has  a lot of mystery surrounding it.  Some say that it was originated by Robert E. Lee himself. The story goes that North Carolina troops during the civil war were upset with those (damn) Virginians for deserting them in an important fight.  Later, the Virginians asked, mockingly, whether there was any tar left in the Old North State (the eastern part of the state is pretty tar heavy), and the good old boys replied “no, we’re planning on using it on your feet to make you stick better in the next fight.”  General Lee, hearing of this, declared “God Bless them Tar Heel boys.”  And the nickname stuck.

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A favorite diddy in North Carolina is “I’m a Tar Heel born, I’m a Tar Heel bred, and when I die I’ll be a Tar Heel dead.”  This is the fight song for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.  You may have noticed that tomorrow they’ll be playing in the championship game of the NCAA tournament.  Like the diddy says, I am a Tar Heel born (though I was unfortunately born at Duke Hospital- consequence of living in Durham), and a Tar Heel bred.  Cheering for Carolina basketball is something ingrained in my DNA.  My father’s father, Ken, played on the 1957 Championship team, and later coached with Dean Smith.  I grew up in a world where two things were always true- we loved Carolina and hated Duke.

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As far as hating Duke is concerned, it’s more of a reflex at this point than anything else.  Some people don’t understand that on the Tobacco Trail, nothing is more important than your basketball allegiance.  There’s a really funny David Sedaris story about how his speech teacher got him to reveal his speaking impediment by asking him who he rooted for.  He made the mistake of admitting that he was a State fan.  I remember one day, during high school, I wore my Carolina sweater to school the day after Duke had pummeled Carolina (the Dougherty years were sad ones).  I am not a fairweather fan, so I wore my sweater to show my pure love for that team.  My TEACHER made a snarky remark to me about it.  I could never take her class seriously again.

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Tar Heel Margaritas
Source: Cocktail Times

2 ounces tequila

1 ounce triple sec

1 ounce blue curacao (pronounced cure-a-saow)

1 ounce lime juice

1 tbsp sugar, for rim

Wet the rim of your glass and dip in sugar.  In another glass, mix alcohol with ice, serve.

Makes one drink.

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