Decadent chocolate delight

photo

Here I am again with another chocolate treat as my subject. I just couldn’t resist. I had a sleepover with my best friend’s little girl last night and, knowing full well how much that little munchkin loves chocolate, I wanted to surprise her. Coincidentally, my new issue of Bon Appetit magazine arrived earlier in the week and there is an entire section dedicated to mouth-watering chocolate creations. The fact that this particular recipe is called Chocolate-on-Chocolate Tart caught my eye first. And you can bet that it caught Cynthia’s eye when she first walked in the door.

Aside from the tart, I also made a fantastic and filling dinner of chicken, biscuits (homemade!), mashed potatoes and sautéed kale. My boyfriend was out of town for work so it was just us ladies for dinner. We set the table, lit some candles and caught up on who Cynthia has a crush on and how well she did on her last report card. I sincerely cherish these moments together. She is growing up so fast and I’ve been with her since she was a newborn. I want her to stay young forever. After finishing her dinner she slowly looked over at the tart, slowly looked back at me and said in the saddest little voice, “I’m too full for dessert. I need to let my food digest.” Haha. I have never seen this little one too full for dessert before. She must have been really stuffed.

She did her homework at the counter while I cleaned up the kitchen and washed the dishes. When she was done with the daunting task of writing about her favorite month of the year, she put her pencil down and gave me the greediest little grin. She was ready for chocolate! I sliced us up a couple of pieces, poured two glasses of milk and we both dug in. There is nothing better than watching those you love enjoy something that you’ve made for them. I could see in her bright blue eyes that she had found a moment of true bliss. She chose to enjoy her tart by eating all of the creamy filling first and then eating the crust like a piece of pizza. It’s not an overly sweet dessert, having very little sugar in the crust and none in the filling. That’s one thing I love about this kid. She truly loves good chocolate, dark chocolate. I would make her a tart every day if it meant seeing happiness like that on her angelic face.

The recipe recommends serving this tart at room temperature. We ate it at room temp last night and I had a small piece today straight from the fridge. I actually liked the texture of the filling and the firmness of the crust when it was chilled. I found the filling to be almost too silky last night to where it merely tasted like melted chocolate. When it’s chilled, the taste of the filling is a little more nuanced. You get hints of the honey and salt. Cynthia removed the maple almonds before eating hers but I quite enjoy the crunch and texture against the velvety filling myself. It is quite a decadent chocolate delight so a little slice goes a long way.

CHOCOLATE-ON-CHOCOLATE TART WITH MAPLE ALMONDS

CRUST

  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • ½ cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 large egg yolk

MAPLE ALMONDS

  • ½ cup raw almonds
  • ½ cup maple sugar or (packed) brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

FILLING AND ASSEMBLY

  • 10 oz. bittersweet chocolate (at least 70% cacao), chopped
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1½ cups heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT:

  • A 9”-diameter tart pan with removable bottom

CRUST

  • Pulse cocoa powder, sugar, salt, and 1¼ cups flour in a food processor to combine. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Beat egg yolk and 3 Tbsp. ice water in a small bowl; add to flour mixture and pulse until dough just comes together. Form into a ¾”-thick disk, wrap tightly in plastic, and chill until firm, at least 2 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 350°. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a 12” round. Transfer to tart pan; lift up edges and let dough slump down into pan, then gently press into edge of pan. Trim dough, leaving about a 1” overhang. Fold in overhang; press to adhere. Prick bottom with a fork. Chill in freezer 15 minutes.
  • Line pie with parchment paper or heavy-duty foil, leaving a 1½” overhang. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until crust is dry around the edges, about 30 minutes. Remove parchment and weights and bake until crust is firm and looks dry all over, 5–10 minutes longer. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let crust cool.
  • DO AHEAD: Dough can be made 2 days ahead; keep chilled. Crust can be baked 1 day ahead; store tightly wrapped at room temperature.

MAPLE ALMONDS

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Toast almonds on a rimmed baking sheet, stirring occasionally, until slightly darkened, 6–8 minutes. Let cool.
  • Bring almonds, maple sugar, maple syrup, salt, and ¼ cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat and cook, stirring often, until mixture turns mahogany, about 5 minutes.
  • Remove pot from heat and stir vigorously until almonds are coated with crystallized sugar (they will look sandy). Spread out on a parchment-lined baking sheet; let cool, then coarsely chop.
  • DO AHEAD: Nuts can be candied 2 weeks ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

FILLING AND ASSEMBLY

  • Combine chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl. Bring cream, honey, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan, whisking to dissolve honey. Pour cream mixture over chocolate mixture; let stand 2 minutes. Whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Pour filling into crust and chill until set, at least 4 hours.
  • Top tart with maple almonds just before serving.
  • DO AHEAD: Tart can be made 2 days ahead; cover and keep chilled. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Advertisements

Warm and cozy dinner

photo-4

This winter weather isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I was in desperate need for a warm and cozy dinner last night and this menu hit the spot. I had seen this chicken recipe on TV once and remembered the simplicity of the dish and how delicious it looked. After doing a little bit of internet research I found said recipe and got to work on making my cold and miserable night a little bit better. Not only is this dish completely yummy but it is prepared in a flash and couldn’t be easier. Throw some chicken thighs, chorizo sausage, potatoes and onions on a pan and bake. Simple as that. The recipe calls for bone in, skin on chicken thighs but all they had at the store were the boneless skinless variety. If that’s all you can find, don’t worry. The dark meat still came out tender and moist. With the dusting of dried oregano and orange zest, the subtle flavoring of the chicken was a beautiful contrast to the spice of the chorizo. Oh, and how this chorizo did snap! There is such delight in biting into a snappy sausage and letting the locked-in flavor and juices pour into your mouth. The creaminess of the potatoes added yet another level of texture to the dish. And we can’t forget the red onion. Not only does the purple hue give the dish a nice pop of color but the rich sweetness of the onion cuts the heat of the chorizo. The combination of these flavors was perfection for last night. On any night, for that matter!

I needed to add something fresh and crisp to my dinner (not to mention something green) so I whipped up this easy and totally awesome salad. It’s not often a salad leaves me wanting to lick the bowl but I may have done just that. A salad can be this simple and taste like a million bucks, trust me. The recipe calls for kabocha squash but my Trader Joe’s had a bag of cubed butternut squash so I substituted that for the kabocha. It’s nice to have the work done for you sometimes. Also, I used a bag of spring mix instead of buying each lettuce individually. Finally, what better way to top off your evening meal than a glass of wine? With the weather so cold outside and the fire so warm and toasty inside, I really wanted to curl up on the couch after dinner with my half-finished glass and snuggle up. I can’t say I regret the choice. I’ve also decided that this will be a fantastic meal to throw together for my next dinner party. There is basically no prep involved and very little hands on cooking. Now that’s a recipe for an evening of good food and fun!

Spanish Chicken with Chorizo and Potatoes

Serves 6

2 tablespoons regular olive oil
12 chicken thighs (bone in, with skin)
1 3/4 pounds chorizo sausages, whole if baby ones, or cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks if regular-sized
1 1/4 pounds baby white-skinned potatoes, halved
2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 orange
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Put the oil in the bottom of 2 shallow roasting pans or quarter sheet pans, 1 tablespoon in each. Rub the skin of the chicken in the oil, then turn skin side up and put 6 pieces in each pan.

Divide the chorizo sausages and the baby potatoes between the 2 pans. Sprinkle with the onion and the oregano, then grate the orange zest over the contents of the 2 pans.

Bake for 1 hour, but after 30 minutes, swap the top pan with the bottom pan in the oven and baste the contents with the orange-colored juices. Transfer the chicken mixture to a large serving platter and serve.

Winter Greens, Kabocha Squash and Peeled Pear Salad

1 small head of radicchio, sliced

2 handfuls of arugula

2-3 heads of endive, sliced

½ kabocha squash, sliced into ¼ inch spears

½ a pear

sea salt

freshly ground pepper

block of parmesan

1 shallot, diced

¼ cup white balsamic vinegar

½ cup olive oil

1. Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Place kabocha slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Place in oven for about 5-8 minutes. Flip squash and cook for another 5-8 minutes, until lightly browned on each side. Remove and let cool to room temperature.

2. Place lettuces in a large serving bowl. Using a potato peeler, peel the pear into light, translucent slices over the leaves. Do the same with the parmesan, adding as much as you’d like. Add the squash, salt and pepper to taste and drizzle the dressing. Toss and serve.

Laced with boozy bourbon

photo-3

I’ve been having a quiet love affair with bourbon for a while now. It started out as a casual fling but somewhere along the way we started going steady. It’s not like I drink every single day, just once in a while. But when I do drink it’s almost always a bourbon based beverage of some sort. I just find it to be so comforting in the colder months. I have no desire to order up a frosty beer or an acidic-sweet margarita. Those are reserved for the summer months when sitting on a patio and bathing in the warm air. If I’m eating a meal I prefer to have a glass of good red wine near my plate but if I’m just grabbing drinks with friends at a bar I say, “Bartender, bring me a bourbon!”

My bourbons of choice are pretty much Maker’s Mark and Blanton’s. I will take it neat, straight up, on the rocks or in a cocktail. Manhattans make my mouth salivate. I recently mixed up a bourbon cocktail with grapefruit juice and sage. An Old Fashioned is a classic. It’s not only the very delicious and body warming qualities of bourbon that I love but also the fact that I can order one drink and nurse it for quite a while. Most of the time, I order one bourbon and it will last me the entire evening. That’s a big plus when you’re trying to save a few bucks and not drink too much.

With all of this in mind, I decided to bake up a chocolate bundt cake laced with boozy bourbon. I am currently acting in a one act play festival and the theatre hosted a pot luck opening night party. You never can go wrong with a chocolate cake but I wanted to make it a little bit more special. There is less than a cup of bourbon in this recipe but you sure can taste it in the finished product! The cake itself isn’t sugary sweet thanks to the unsweetened cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate so the sweetness of the bourbon really stands out. If you want to serve up a delightful treat for an adult dinner party I’d suggest you bake up this beauty.

Glazed Bourbon-Chocolate Bundt Cake

1 cup unsalted butter

8 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp kosher salt

3 large eggs

2 cups sugar

1 cup sour cream

3/4 cup bourbon

3 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup heavy cream

2 Tbsp light corn syrup

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 10-cup Bundt pan

In a saucepan, melt the butter and 4 oz of the chocolate over low heat, stirring with a whisk. Add the cocoa and stir until smooth. Let cool.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar on medium speed until lightened. On low speed, stir in the sour cream, bourbon, 2 tsp of the vanilla, and the chocolate mixture. Stir in the dry ingredients just until combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 40-45 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Unmold the cake onto the rack and let cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the glaze: In a saucepan, warm the cream over low heat. Add the remaining 4 oz chocolate and the corn syrup and whisk until the chocolate is melted and the glaze is smooth. Let cool to room temperature, then stir in the remaining 1 tsp vanilla. Place the wire rack with the cake over a sheet of parchment paper or foil and pour the glaze over the top of the cake, letting it run down the sides. Slide the cake onto a platter and serve.

French-style

photo-2

We survived Chiberia! The recent polar vortex put a major strain on the city of Chicago and forced many people to put their usual activities on hold and stay at home. Unfortunately, it was business as usual for me. I had to go to work and rehearsal for a play I’m in. I did make soup one night which kept us fed and warm for a couple of days but once the cold weather cleared (14 degrees actually felt WARM!) I was ready to cook up something special. We had a head of iceberg lettuce still sitting in the fridge leftover from our BLTs and I didn’t want it to go bad. I didn’t want to make a boring salad so I thought of what else I could use it for. Last year I made some French-style peas using iceberg lettuce that I remember loving. We had frozen peas in the freezer! Score. Hmmm…what else could I make? Since the peas were going to be prepared “French-style” I thought perhaps some savory crepes would be the perfect pairing.

I think a lot of people are afraid to make crepes at home. For some reason, they think crepes are difficult to make. Not true! If you can make pancakes you can definitely make crepes. You don’t need a fancy crepe pan and spreader. I used my regular ol’ non-stick pan and a spatula to create mine. It is fun to watch vendors make crepes on their special griddle machines, though. I was once in Paris on vacation for a week and had the best crepe of my life so far. Le Petit Comptoir was a little crepe cafe  in Montmartre and they served me a mouthwatering ham and cheese crepe. Maybe it was the fact that I was eating a crepe in Paris that made it seem so delicious but, either way you look at it, it was yummy. Inspired by that cherished memory I decided to make ham and cheese my filling of choice for dinner.

I didn’t follow a recipe for the peas this time. I sort of remembered what went into it last time and went with it. The previous time I made them I included some bacon but we didn’t have any bacon left and I wasn’t about to bring another pack of it in the house again…because I’d eat it. However, I always have a jar of bacon fat in the fridge. So I added a bit of that to the pan when sautéing the shallot and lettuce.

French-style Peas (These are the ingredients I used…)

Serves 4

1/2 bag of frozen peas

1 head of iceberg lettuce, sliced thick

1 shallot, chopped

1 tablespoon bacon fat

1/4 – 1/2 cup chicken stock

1-2 tablespoon creme fraiche, sour cream, or Greek yogurt (I used sour cream because we had it)

Salt and pepper

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt bacon fat and add shallot and lettuce. Stir and cook until lettuce is wilted. Add in the frozen peas and chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper. Let it come to a boil then lower the heat for a few minutes until the mixture is hot and peas are warmed through. Add in 1-2 tablespoons of the sour cream and mix. Taste for seasoning and serve.

Crepes

Makes about 12

3 large eggs

1 1/2 cup milk

4 tablespoons butter, melted

2/3 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

Using a blender, blend eggs, milk, 2 tablespoons butter, flour and salt until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl; cover and refrigerate at least one hour. The flour needs to absorb the liquid.

Heat non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Brush bottom of skillet with some of the remaining melted butter. Be sure to mix your batter well after taking it out of the fridge. Pour about 1/4 c (I added a bit more) of batter into the skillet. Tilt and twirl the pan to cover the bottom with batter. Cook crepe until the top is set and the underside is lightly browned, about 1 – 1 1/2 minutes.

Using a rubber spatula, loosen edge of crepe and turn it over. You might have to use your fingers to help just don’t burn them! Cook the other side about 30 seconds, until browned. Remove from pan. You can place cooked crepes between layers of wax paper if you wish to keep them from sticking. You want the crepe warm when you add the filling so the cheese can melt. Also, the first couple of crepes will go into the trash. It always happens, don’t worry if you mess up. 

For the filling:

Use anything you want!

I used grated Monterrey Jack cheese because that’s what we had in the fridge. You can use any cheese your hungry tummy craves. I grated enough to fill 3 crepes. Add as much or little as you like.  I also added pieces of thinly sliced uncured ham. To add a little creaminess, I mixed together 2 parts mayonnaise to 1 part Dijon mustard and spread a little on each crepe before adding the filling.

Once you have your cooked crepes ready to go, spread the mayo mix onto half the circle, sprinkle the cheese over the mayo, and lay the ham over the cheese. Fold the other half of the crepe over the filling then fold again to create a triangle. I went ahead an sprinkled the warm crepe with more cheese because why not?

Now, pour a glass of wine, set Pandora to classic French music, light some candles and enjoy. Bon appetit!

No room for limp bacon

photo

Well friends, I’m back with a new post. Christmas kept me very busy this year, I went out of town, and then I got really sick. But I’m on the mend and here to share more food moments. For those of you who don’t know, Chicago was pounded by a fierce snowstorm for the last two days. It’s snowy and cold out. Cold and snowy. It’s January in Chicago. Last night, however, from the look of our dinner plates you would have thought it was the middle of summer. We had bacon in the fridge leftover from New Year’s day breakfast and the desire to get dinner done fast. Kevin had the brilliant idea to make BLTs!

I am not ashamed to admit that I am a huge fan of bacon. Foods have their time in the spotlight and bacon was the star for a very long time. But much like pork belly and kale, bacon is now sneered at. I say keep bringing on the bacon! Certain foods sometimes smell better than they taste, like popcorn. The smell of popcorn makes my mouth water but it never tastes as good as it smells. Frying bacon smells like heaven wrapped up in bacon and it tastes EVEN BETTER. So what if we had several pieces of bacon for breakfast the day before? We were having bacon again. New Year’s resolution: eat more bacon.

For me, the perfect BLT consists of crispy bacon, iceberg lettuce, ripe tomatoes, creamy avocado, tangy mayonnaise, and toasty wheat bread. There is no room for limp bacon in a BLT. You need that smoky crunchiness to be the base. No other lettuce has the heft and crispness of iceberg lettuce. Romain could be a close second but a classic BLT it does not make. Now I know it’s not tomato season but you can’t make a BLT without the T so you make do with what’s available. If you haven’t made a sandwich or salad or anything with seasonal farmer’s market tomatoes you haven’t lived. Biting into a fresh and ripe tomato during season reminds you why it’s actually a fruit. They are juicy, sweet and delicious. The avocado happened from living in Los Angeles for three years. You put avocado on anything that will support it. You just do. It adds a creaminess separate from the mayo and another layer of flavor that doesn’t hurt one bit. Speaking of mayo, I know people who don’t put it on their BLTs. It’s wrong. You have to add some kind of condiment to a sandwich. What are you gonna add? Mustard? No. Ketchup? No. You add mayonnaise. Plain and simple. Finally, the bread. When I was little I ate BLTs on white bread but once I grew up and graduated to wheat bread it was all over for me. The wheat bread provides a stable base and reliable topper to keep everything in place. It’s more wholesome and tasty, too. And it must be toasted. Toast the bread.

I have also made a somewhat “adult” or “European” style BLT with pancetta, butter lettuce, tomato, garlic aioli, and brioche that wasn’t half bad either, let me tell you. But it was a delicate sandwich that you ate while barley holding it between your fingertips, taking polite little bites in between sips of sparkling pink lemonade. The one and only classic BLT you grip with your hands, smooshing down the bread to keep everything from falling out, taking generous bites because you crave that salty bacon. We feasted last night like it was mid-August when the sun is hot, the air is warm, the tomatoes are ripe and then…we looked out the window. Snow piled up, flurries in the air, temperature below freezing. But inside it was BLT time and we were loving it.