Cream Puffs

As you are all aware, I live in a small town and the options on trying new things are super slim if non existent. So, I’ll go ahead and admit, I have never had a cream puff before! Crazy, right?! I mean, maybe, and that’s a strong maybe, I could find some in a grocery store, being who knows how long since they were made, but what’s the fun in that?

I was actually watching a baking competition show where everyone had to make their own version of cream puffs and I was sitting there, just like any avid football fan would during the Super Bowl, coaching these people in my raised voice as if they could hear me and I had never eaten a cream puff let alone made one!

So…..I got this brilliant idea to make cream puffs from scratch, which includes the pate au choux (the dough), and the custard pastry filling.

So, here we go, my experience with cream puffs. And let me tell you, the first try at pate au choux, (which I was screaming at the TV that it ‘was not that hard to do’, actually turns out it wasn’t that easy either!)


Pate Au Choux

1 C Water
1/2 C Butter (I used salted and it was delish!)
1 tbsp Sugar
1 C All Purpose Flour
4 Large Eggs
Pastry Bag or Freezer Bag

It’s the time to learn and maybe even redo the pate au choux, depending on how well your first batch comes out. I had to do mine twice!

boilingbutterwater

Butter Melting in Water

Preheat your oven to 400. In a 3 quart saucepan, pour the cup of water and add the butter and sugar. Bring this to a boil on high heat.

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Flour in Butter Water

Add the flour all at once and begin stirring with a stiff wooden spoon. And I do mean STIR. You stir that bad boy like your life depends on it! Stir this until it begins to make a ball of dough and the dough is pulling away from the sides of the pan. What you’re doing, and what I learned on the second batch,is that you’re basically making a roux. So the purpose of this stirring this flour until your arm falls off is to make a dough and cook the flour.

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Cooked Flour in Butter Water

Now that you’re done stirring and making this dough nice and smooth, you take it off the heat, turn off your burner, and you set it aside to let it cool. It is super important to let this cool because we’re going to add eggs, and if you add eggs to hot dough (and this dough is hot) you’re going to have chunky scrambled eggs and you’ll have to start over. Luckily, this didn’t happen to me because I knew this already, but let’s say this for the sake of some of my ‘new cooks’ who might be starting adventures into chef-hood.

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Way Too Many Eggs!

So, here’s my eggs. You notice.. I have a ton of them. FOUR EGGS ONLY! Now let me tell you the funny part. I was an idiot, in a funk trying to make cream puffs and I had it in my mind that I needed four cups of flour. So I messed up from the get go, therefore, rather than throw it away and start over, I decided I’m going to make FOUR TIMES the pate au choux cause.. cream puffs! Who doesn’t like them? (As if I know.. because I’ve never had them).

Since your flour should be cooled, you’re going to put the eggs in one at a time, and this is important. You’re going to go stir the tar out of the dough. So drop an egg in and stir, stir, stir until that egg is fully incorporated. Then add the next egg, and stir, stir, stir. You’re going to repeat this for all four eggs until they have been fully incorporated into the dough and the dough is nice and satiny.

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Adding Eggs One at a Time

So, if everything has gone well for your pate au choux, it should be like very soft dough. Almost like cookie dough.

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Smooth Pate Au Choux

Next, we’re going to line our baking sheets with parchment paper or baking mats, whichever you have on hand. You can also simply butter your baking sheets if you prefer. Next, scoop your pate au choux dough into a pastry bag or a freezer bag because we’re going to pipe these puppies onto the baking sheets. I also found that using parchment paper, no matter how I tried to mold it to the pan or cut it to fit, it kept curling. Next time I might just butter the sheets as I don’t have the baking mats because the paper kept moving while I was piping. I piped little mounds, about 1 inch in diameter and an inch high, so it came out looking like little snowman poo piles. (Snowman poo is a name for cookies I make which I’ll bring up in the future!) If you don’t like the little curly cues on top, dip your finger in water and smooth them out to be more spherical. These don’t spread but just a fraction from their ‘puffing up’ so don’t be worried about spacing them out too much. Once you’re done piping, place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Now, this is key. I use my convection oven on bake and 20 minutes later, they were on the verge of burning, so please, be certain to check them a time or two before your timer goes off.

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Perfect Cream Puff Dough

Once they’re nicely browned, puffed up and sound hollow when you tap gently on them, they’re perfect! Remove them from the oven and let them cool. Once cool, poke a hole in the bottom if you want to fill them or cut just the tops off so you can spoon or pipe your filling on it and make a little cream puff sandwich.

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I’m a Proud Cream Puff Mom!

Aren’t they so beautiful! I was so proud of them, since my first batch came out awful, that I ran down the hallway to go fetch my girlfriend and I burst through the door. “Come look at my puff pastries! They’re so beautiful!” This is three hours after I started mind you, so I might have been a little loopy, but I was completely a proud baker in that moment!

Now that I’m done basking in the glow of my beautiful cream puff pastries, let’s move on the the pastry cream. Now, let me tell you, I haven’t had much pastry cream in my life, and I certainly hadn’t made any, but this stuff was so delicious, I thought about making a big bowl of it to just eat!


Pastry Cream Custard

2/3 C Sugar
2 tbsp All Purpose Flour
2 tbsp Cornstarch
Dash of Salt
2 Eggs
2 Cups of Cream
2 tbsp Unsalted Butter, Softened (I used salted)
2 tsp Watkins All Natural Pure Vanilla Extract

In a saucepan, combine the sugar, flour, cornstarch and salt. Don’t turn on the heat just yet! Next, in a bowl, combine the cream and eggs and whisk them together. Add the cream and eggs mixture to the sugar mixture in the saucepan and heat it on medium heat, whisking out the lumps. It’s important to not leave this cream until it’s done and off the fire, otherwise, you’re going to burn it! Continuously whisk this for about 10 minutes until it’s nice and thick and creamy and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat.

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Our Custard Base Cooking

Now we’re just going to stir the butter and vanilla into the custard, stirring it gently until the butter is melted and both the butter and vanilla are incorporated. Set the custard aside to cool to room temperature before using it to fill your cream puffs. I put a little plastic wrap over mine, careful that the pan wasn’t so hot that the plastic would fuse into some strange cooking Picasso. This prevents a skin from forming on this pastry cream/custard.

Finally! It’s time to put this delicious pastry cream into the puffs. Since I poked a hole in the bottom of my puffs, I’m going to fill mine. I start by putting the pastry cream into a pastry bag without a tip and then I simply inserted the corner of the pastry bag into the hole in the cream puff and I filled them slowly. Why slowly you ask? You don’t want a pastry cream explosion in your face when it overfills and starts to come back out the way it went in, and secondly, you don’t want to destroy this delicious, hollow little pastry puff by exploding it from the inside.

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Our First Filled Cream Puff

And voila! The cream puffs are done and ready to eat. I’m not certain, but I assume if you wanted a flavor to this pastry cream, you could do lemon or raspberry extract or you can even possibly add chocolate, but don’t take my word for it since I haven’t tried it. But if you like to experiment and you’re confident and comfortable in the kitchen, the sky is the limit really on what you can fill these cream puffs with!


Grandma Katey’s Chicken Spaghetti

As a child, my parents would take my brother and I down to see my grandma and grandpa, on my mothers side, and my grandma, a few days before we’d come down, would ask what we wanted and we always said CHICKEN SPAGHETTI! So, I want to pay tribute to my grandma Katey who, while gone but not forgotten, still brings warmth and love into the home through her wonderful recipe.

After my grandmother had passed away, naturally my mother inherited her recipe box which contained many of our favorites, this spaghetti dish included, as well as recipes she had traded with friends and acquaintances over the years.

My mother, at my request, had tried to make this chicken spaghetti recipe that was in the box, but there was something about it that wasn’t quite right into comparison of my grandmothers. Years after believing that she had taken all her special little twists and tweaks to her recipes that only she could have possibly known, I decided I was going to give her recipe a try and use my sense of smell and taste to doctor it accordingly. (I find I have a knack for dismantling recipe ingredients by tasting.)

Finally! I made a chicken spaghetti casserole from her recipe that tasted just like hers and brought back a flood of memories of family gathered around the table, laughter, and trips into the mountains of good ole Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Grandma Katey's Chicken Spaghetti

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print


Chef Notes: Casserole Must Sit in the Refrigerator Overnight
Credit: Small Town Eats and Treats

Ingredients

  • 1 Whole, Raw Chicken (6-7 Pounds)
  • 1/2 Pound Uncooked Spaghetti
  • 1/2 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Bell Pepper, Any Color, Minced
  • 1 Bunch Celery
  • 1/2 C Fresh Mushrooms, Minced
  • 2 Medium Onions, Minced
  • 4 Carrots, Minced
  • 1 Can (14 oz) Diced Tomatoes
  • 3 TBS Fresh Parsley, Minced
  • 1 Pound Mild Cheddar Cheese, Shredded
  • 2 – 14 oz Cans Chicken Broth (Only if using boneless, skinless chicken)
  • Salt to Taste

Directions

  1. Remove the giblets from the raw chicken. Rinse the chicken and place in a large stock pot. Fill the stock pot with water until the chicken is covered and salt the water generously.
  2. Place the stock pot on the stove on medium heat. Once the chicken has started to simmer, the heat can be reduced to a slow simmer. Cook the chicken 1 1/2 to two hours until the chicken is cooked and the meat falls from the bones.
  3. While the chicken is cooking, prepare the vegetables. Mince the bell pepper, celery, mushrooms, onions and carrots and place together in a bowl. Set aside.
  4. Mince the parsley separate from the vegetables and set aside.
  5. Once the chicken is cooked, remove the cooked chicken from the stock pot and place upon a cutting board to cool. Reserve the chicken broth in the stock pot but remove any bones that may have slipped from the cooked chicken.
  6. Once the chicken is cool enough to be handled, separate the meat from the bones. Be very meticulous so that no bones remain.
  7. Dice the chicken into cubes.
  8. Bring the broth in the stock pot to a boil and place your pasta into the stock. Cook your pasta until it is al dente. This should be about 7 minutes.
  9. Once pasta is cooked, remove it from the stock. Don’t strain the pasta over the sink and lose your stock.
  10. Heat a large, deep saute pan on the stove top. Once the pan is hot, add the olive oil and bring it to temperature.
  11. Add the minced vegetable mixture to the olive oil. Saute the vegetables until they are tender.
  12. Add the canned tomatoes with juice, minced parsley and salt to taste.
  13. Let the vegetable mixture simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  14. Add the cooked, cubed chicken to the saute pan and incorporate well with the vegetable mixture.
  15. If there is enough room in the saute pan, add the cooked pasta. Otherwise, in a large, heat proof bowl, mix together your paste and your chicken/vegetable mixture until well incorporated.
  16. In a large, greased casserole dish, spread the chicken spaghetti mixture evenly.
  17. Ladle some of the broth from the stock pot over the chicken spaghetti until the liquid starts to become visible from the top.
  18. Once the casserole has cooled, cover with foil and place in the refrigerator overnight.
  19. Remove the casserole from the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  20. With the foil still on the casserole, bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until casserole begins to bubble.
  21. Remove the casserole from the oven and remove the foil. Spread the shredded cheese over the top of the casserole.
  22. Return the casserole to the oven and bake until the cheese is melted.

Now let’s get to cooking! I’m going to start this off with a few little personal notes of my own.

First things first, in a large stock pot, place your whole, uncooked chicken. Make sure before you do this that you pull out the giblets bag/pieces from inside the chicken. That would not be a pleasant surprise to find floating around in the chicken stock on accident! I salt my water, because you can’t go wrong giving your chicken and your stock a little dash of salt (1/2 a teaspoon to 1 teaspoon depending on personal taste). You will cook this chicken about 45 minutes.

I did not have a whole chicken on hand. I know, I know! Don’t cook a recipe for people using ‘weird’ ingredients not listed, but often in my house, we have to go with what we had on hand. In the pot, I put four chicken breasts to boil. Mind you, boneless, skinless chicken breasts don’t make a great stock. There are no bones with marrow, and there is no fat from the skin, so if you go this route, make sure to add chicken stock to your ingredients list because you’ll need it.

While my chicken was cooking, I used my time to go ahead and mince my vegetables. That’s right! Mincing! My grandmother use to put her vegetables through a food mill, and you can do that if you have one, but if not, cut the celery, bell pepper, mushrooms, onions and carrots into very small pieces. I just tossed it all together in a bowl.

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All the Veggies Minced and in a Bowl

Once the chicken is done, remove cooked chicken from the water and set it aside to cool. I usually place mine on a platter to let it sit a good 30 minutes. Why? Well, the chicken on the outside might be nice and cool, but once you start pulling it from the carcass, those bones are still going to be hot, so be careful pulling the meat from your chicken when the time comes.

If you boiled the whole chicken, save the broth by leaving it in the stockpot and setting it aside. If you boiled boneless, skinless chicken like I did, you won’t need that water. (I saved it anyway and boiled my pasta in it for an extra kick of flavor!)

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Diced Cooked Chicken

Once the chicken is cooked and cooled, pull all the meat from the bones and dice into small cubes. And hey, if they’re not cube shaped, all that matters is that it’s going to be delicious! Be very careful when pulling the chicken from the carcass as chicken has little bits of bones and cartilage that can hide in your chicken and it wouldn’t be a pleasant bite if its followed by a chipped tooth. Once you’ve boned all the chicken and cut it into your pieces, place it in a bowl and set aside.

Go head and take your pot of broth and put it back on the heat to bring it to a boil. If you didn’t save your chicken water because you did the boneless, skinless chicken, just put some water on to boil, with a dash of salt, to cook your spaghetti in. Once the water reaches a nice steady boil, put in your spaghetti. As you can see here, I used my chicken water for the pasta as I previously mentioned. Cook the pasta until it is almost done or very slightly al dente.

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Pasta Cooking in the ‘Chicken Water’

Next, you will need a nice big deep skillet. Why? Because, eventually everything we’re putting into this chicken spaghetti is going to come together in this very skillet. Put the skillet on medium heat and add your olive oil. Heat up the olive oil and then add your vegetables (the celery, bell pepper, onion, mushrooms and carrots we minced/milled). Saute the vegetables until they are tender. Now you see why everything needs to be minced or put through a food mill!

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Sauteed Vegetables

Once your vegetables are sauteed into submission and are nice and tender, add your canned tomatoes, including the juice. I also added a dash (1/2 teaspoon or 3/4 teaspoon) of salt or as the fancy cooks say, “Salt to Taste”.

Now, when it comes to the parsley, you can, of course, use dry parsley. I know my grandmother did. But when I was in the grocery store buying my celery and stuff for this, I decided I was going to get fancy (and fresh parsley was on sale), and I decided to go ‘all fresh’. (Grandma used canned mushrooms, I used fresh.) I used 1/3 of the bunch of parsley. I know it’s more than the recipe calls for, but fresh parsley is so delicious and I didn’t want it to go to waste. Shave the parsley leaves from the stems. I just cut the stems off from the leaves down, and mince up your parsley very well. Once you’ve got that done, add it to your sauteed vegetables/tomato mix in the skillet and let it simmer until well seasoned.

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Sauteed Vegetables with Tomatoes

After it starts smelling delicious and all parsley-ed up, we’re going to take the chicken that we diced and add it to our skillet, stirring it in and coating it well, letting it simmer on medium-low for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Your spaghetti should be done by now if not before we’re done mixing our magic up in the skillet, so you’ll want to drain the water off and add the cooked spaghetti to our skillet with the vegetables in it and mix it all together until everything is nicely distributed.

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Cooked Spaghetti in the Tomato/Sauteed Vegetable Mixture

In a large, greased casserole dish, pour chicken/vegetable mixture and spread evenly. Add some of the reserved chicken broth until broth is visible in the mixture. Do not make the mixture soupy. Cover casserole and let stand in the refrigerator overnight. Now mind you, when I was making this, I was going to be feeding six kids and four adults, so I didn’t let it stand overnight. I put the cheese on it and straight into the oven it went and it is still super delicious. However, the longer this casserole sits, the better it gets! But, use your good judgement, just because it gets better if its sat a day or two, that doesn’t mean let it stew for a couple of weeks and pull it out ready to cook it to find that it’s no longer edible!

When ready to cook, top with shredded cheddar cheese and bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until casserole is hot and cheese is melted.

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Chicken Spaghetti Without the Cheese

This is my chicken spaghetti in the casserole dish, ready to go into the oven without the cheese. Why without cheese do you ask? Because I was so rushed to get lunch done I forgot to take a picture with the cheese on it, or even a picture of it coming out of the oven all done! Gah! My first flub for my very first blog post. But, let me tell you, we served this up with some fresh french bread we buttered and dusted with garlic power and toasted in the oven and it was a hit!

One question I didn’t answer was, “So, what were the little tweaks and tricks that grandma knew to do to make this recipe special?” Let me answer that for you. You absolutely must cook the vegetables in the olive oil. Olive oil has a wonderful, unique taste to it that you can’t acquire anywhere else and it’s so good for you as well.