Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chocolate Bliss

I have this baking book that I received last year at Christmas. It seems now like I have always had it, but I got it just this last Christmas. I really, really love this book. If you like baking, this is the book for you. It has everything from whole grain bread to savory pies and delicious tarts. There is great detail given, even a bread primer, instructing even the most inexperienced baker on how to proof yeast, allowing dough to rise and keeping butter and other ingredients at the proper temperature.
I have made several recipes from this book, and I absolutely love them. The pumpkin bread is just amazing! But I will save that for another day. The whole grain bread, basic white loaf (with variations like cheddar-mustard), potato rolls, pesto rolls, pizza, and rosemary focaccia are outstanding. I thought I loved to bake but now that I have this book, I find myself going at it three times a week!
About six months ago, I was flipping through the book again, (I get ten or twenty pages farther each time, but I end up stopping because I have decided to make just about everything I read about) and I saw a recipe for chocolate silk pie. I wanted to make it right then and there, but I didn't have any chocolate sandwich cookies (read: Oreos) to smash up to make the crust. So I waited.
As I was preparing my Thanksgiving menu, I usually ask everyone what pie they would like to see on the table. The usual always pop up, you know, apple and pumpkin, and a few special items make their way to the table every couple of years. My brother like pumpkin roll, my husband likes cheesecake, etc. So this year I decided to make pecan pie and chocolate silk pie, in addition to the others. I LOVE pecan pie, but its not real popular around here, and my mom bought a chocolate silk pie from a baker last year and it was soooo good I wanted another one.
This chocolate silk pie is unlike any other I have had, and probably any other you have had. This is no 'pudding' pie. It is the real deal. Rich, silky custard fills the inside with delectable chocolate goodness. It is almost like eating a truffle pie. I had several people ask me if it was fudge. It was so rich I could hardly finish the sliver I had taken, but I savored every bite. I would pay for that chocolate silk pie. I am writing about it now because I hope you decide to make it. Soon. You won't be sorry. I am pretty sure I am going to make it for Christmas day, but I will make the Orange Chocolate Silk Pie. If I can last that long. I may decide to make another sooner.

For the Crust:
1 1/2 cups finely ground chocolate cookie crumbs (a food processor works great)
3/4 stick butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 and position an oven rack in the center. Put the cookie crumbs and butter in a medium bowl and stir until all the crumbs are evenly moistened. Transfer the buttered crumbs to the pie pan and spread evenly, pressing them into the bottom and sides of the pan.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

For the filling:
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons sugar
3/4 stick butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (up to 70 percent cacao) finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered

Dark chocolate curls, additional cookie crumbs or finely chopped chocolate pieces for garnish
You can also optionally drizzle homemade dark chocolate sauce or caramel sauce over the the slices when serving, but this may cause a sugar induced coma.

Make the filling: Bring 2 inches of water to a low boil over medium-low heat in a medium saucepan. Place the eggs and sugar in the bowl of the stand mixer and whisk by hand to blend. Place the bowl over the simmering water (the bottom of the bowl must not touch the water) and whisk constantly to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Heat until the mixture reaches 160 F on an instant-read thermometer and the eggs look light in color and texture. (They will also begin to thicken and should coat the back of a spoon.) Remove the eggs from the heat and beat on high speed for 3 minutes.
While the eggs are beating, place the butter, cream and chocolate in a medium bowl and set the bowl in the saucepan over the simmering water. Let it sit for 1 minute, then gently stir with a spatula until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Add the chocolate mixture to the eggs, lower the speed to medium, and beat until there are no streaks of egg visible. Scrape down the bowl and beat in the vanilla extract. Remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape down the side and bottom of the bowl, making sure that any streaks of egg are blended into the chocolate. Scrape the filling into the prepared pie crust and smooth the top. Refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.
Make the topping: Whip the cream and sugar into firm peaks. Use a spatula to spread the whip cream onto the top of the cooled chocolate filling, making swirls as you go. Alternatively, use a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch star tip. Sprinkle the top with cookie crumbs or chocolate shavings, as desired.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Take In- Chicken Crisper Tacos

When our first son was very young he looooovvveed eating at Chili's. He loved their chips and salsa, and I think just the experience of eating there. Since we lived in a pretty small town, our eating out options were pretty much Chili's or...that other place that's open all night. We won't speak their name here. Anyway, back to Chili's.
A couple of years ago (maybe one...don't really remember) they started selling this Honey-Chipotle dipping sauce. Well, actually, they sold this chicken, that came with Honey-Chipotle dipping sauce. You notice I write the name of this sauce like a proper name, because it is. It deserves it. This sauce is pretty awesome. It's very spicy and very sweet, just the way that I like sauces. I dress up BBQ sauce I buy from the store, adding lots of spice and lots of sweet. So my husband basically fell in love with this sauce. He asks for several little cups of it every time we go. He drowns his chicken tacos in it, and eats it with his fries. I believe it has replaced Frank's Red Hot, the sauce that used to find its way on top of everything from pizza to fried fish to spaghetti (weird, I know).
After I made a few replica recipes, like this and this, he asked me if I thought I could make this Honey-Chipotle dipping sauce. So I tried. It wasn't quite right, so I left it.
Then, I had a brilliant idea.
I looked it up on the Internet! I found a recipe for it while we were on vacation and sent it to myself as an email. I made it when I got home, but it just wasn't quite right. It had too much honey flavor and a little too much spice. I thought about it a little more, and tweaked it again. This time, it was just about a perfect replica!
Try it, and see if you like it!

Honey-Chipotle Dipping Sauce

1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup ketchup
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Bring ingredients to a boil. Serve immediately.
Makes a little more than a cup.

To make Chicken Crisper tacos, warm some flour tortillas, and place fried chicken strips, cheddar cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato inside shell. Drizzle with Honey-Chipotle dipping sauce.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Desire

Do you ever get one of those late night cravings for something you know you shouldn't eat? And, you don't really want any of your friends to know you were actually craving that particular item? It happens to me. I like good food, but every once in a while I eat something-something I shouldn't.
Sometimes it's just because it's cheap.
Sometimes it's for the nostalgia.
Sometimes I just don't have very many options.
More often than not I am sooooo sorry I indulged. Kind of like eating ice cream when you are lactose intolerant. Just a few short hours later your body starts a rebellion.
One of those late-night snacks my husband and I find ourselves indulging in is Jalapeno Poppers. Or Pepper Poppers. Or whatever. I have seen them all different ways, shapes and sizes; wrapped in bacon, grilled, fried and baked. I made a fancy version with bread crumbs, and you had to keep the jalapeno whole. You slit the side of it, deveined it and stuffed with cheddar cheese. It was good, but not that flavor pop that I was hoping for.
So, I made my own. I often take a few different principles and combine them to create what I want. This was the case with these poppers. The great thing is, because I made this recipe, I can change it. If I don't have bread crumbs, I just use egg batter. If I don't have sharp cheddar, I use jack, Colby jack or white cheddar. You could use pepper jack, goat cheese, feta or brie. You could even use Velveeta if you wanted. It's all up to you. You could also add bacon bits to the filling, if you so desire.
I would caution you to use gloves. I make things with jalapenos all the time, but for some reason when I do 10 jalapenos for poppers, I end up with hands that feel like they had a very long bath in turpentine. They hurt. I also find myself, somehow, forgetting that my hands are burning from the oil of jalapenos that I can't wash off no matter how I try, and rubbing my suddenly itchy eye. It is not pleasant. Consider yourself warned.
The recipe is fairly easy. Mix up a filling that consists of cream cheese, cheddar cheese and Tabasco. Cut jalapenos into bite-size pieces and devein. Dip in egg batter or bread crumbs, and fry. They really are quite simple. The very large jalapenos found at the grocery store work quite well and don't seem to be as hot as the small version I grow in my garden. Which works out pretty good for everybody involved. You can pan fry or deep fry the poppers, until they are a beautiful golden brown. Resist the urge to pop one in your mouth for about five minutes; the cream cheese and cheddar cheese marry and create a child that could be related to magma.

Jalapeno Poppers

4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons red pepper sauce (like Tabasco)
1/4 teaspoon +1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon +1/2 teaspoon pepper
10 medium jalapenos, cut in thirds and deveined
1 egg
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (optional)

1-2 cups oil for frying

Combine cream cheese, cheddar cheese, hot pepper sauce, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Set aside. Mix egg and cornstarch well in a second bowl. Set aside. Combine flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a third bowl. Set aside. Pour bread crumbs (if using) in a fourth bowl.
Stuff jalapenos with cream cheese mixture. Heat oil to medium-high heat. Dredge jalapenos in flour, then egg, then flour.
If using breadcrumbs, dredge in flour, then egg, then flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Fry for 3-4 minutes on each side, turning once.
Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to cool.
Makes 30.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Eat Here-Walnut Avenue Cafe

If you find yourself in Santa Cruz on a weekday morning, you will notice, as I did, that the city does not quite wake up until about 11 a.m. I am attributing this to the fact that the city really and truly wakes up only on the weekends because of the boardwalk. But, if you are there, or anywhere near, and you are hungry for breakfast, there is a place you definately should try.
I am a breakfast person, if you hadn't noticed, and I find there is no better way to start a vacation day than with a good breakfast. I mean eggs benedict, biscuits and gravy, eggs, bacon...etc. We found this great little place; good food, good coffee (an absolute must) and not too pricey. I feasted on eggs benedict florentine, and my husband got another version. Potatoes come on the side, and the food was just delicious. The cosey cafe has a family atmosphere with an updated twist. Perfect.
Walnut Avenue Cafe
106 Walnut Avenue
Santa Cruz, CA 95060-3913

(831) 457-2307

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Warm Thoughts

I keep notebooks. What I mean is, I write things down; things that I plan to do, things I make, recipes, ideas, short stories and math problems. I make lists and lists and lists. I make lists of what I should do each day, what I am going to make for meals for the next two weeks, what I should buy from the store, what we should have on Thanksgiving and what I am going to buy people for Christmas. If I lost my notebook, I don't know what I would do.
Once, when I was catering a banquet, one of the servers got my book wet. I almost lost it. I started freaking out. Everything is in that book. Notes on food, amounts, time lines, and measurements. I know, I sound a bit obsessive, but we have to have some measure of stability in this ever-changing world, and my stability is my notebook.
So, as I was flipping through my notebook today, I found this recipe for soup. I like soup. Especially on a cool day, or when I don't want to fuss too much with something. I like to just throw everything into a big pot and let it simmer away. It's comforting, it's quick and usually it's easy.
That is the case with this soup. I had a jar of homemade beef and barley soup on hand that I needed to use up, we had already had beef and barley soup a few times (this is what happens when you don't can something properly-you have a limited amount of time to consume 5 quarts of beef and barley soup) anywhoo...
I was tired of the beef and barley soup, so I decided to gussy it up a bit, and make a Mexican soup. I chopped away and threw everything into the pot. It was really good. It's a fairly light dish. It was easy. It was fast.
Did I mention it was really good?
I think chicken and rice soup would be a better base, so that is what I am going to call for in this recipe. This soup is really good. I can't say that enough. I really like it. A little spicy, just the way I like it. As a matter of fact, I think I will have some now...

Fast and Easy Chicken Tortilla Soup

1 32 oz Can condensed chicken and rice soup
+ 1 can water
1 Green bell pepper, chopped
1 Large tomato, chopped
3 Small corn tortillas, cut into strips
1 Tablespoon cumin
1 Tablespoon Mexican hot sauce, like Tapatio
1 Lime, cut into 6 wedges
Additional hot sauce

For garnish (optional, but I would recommend it):
Sour cream
Grated cheddar cheese

Combine soup and water, bell pepper, tomato, corn tortillas, cumin and hot sauce in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Ladle soup into bowls and squeeze one lime wedge over each bowl, and drop in a few extra drops of hot sauce. Add sour cream, cheddar cheese and cilantro if desired.

Serves 4

Monday, November 1, 2010

Comfort Food

Biscuits and gravy has been one of my favorite breakfast foods for as long as I can remember. It was part of the thrill of eating out for breakfast. It was not, however, something we had at home. I had them at a little restaurant in Chino, California, known as Flo's Diner, served atop a mountain of hash browns with eggs and coffee on the side. I took my husband there and he was not impressed. He said the food tasted like cigarettes. I think it was all in his head.
I have had gravy made with bacon, sausage and even ground beef. Of course there is white gravy with no meat, but that doesn't even count. I have to say the worst by far was the ground beef version. We had that at a diner in Washington, when I was up there for my brother's wedding. I was perusing the menu with my husband and I said, "I wonder what SOS is..." He whispers to me, "You don't want to know." And proceeded to explain it was something his dad had told him about, consisting of ground beef gravy on toast. Now, perhaps you have had that and it was good, but I think it pretty much lives up to its name....
I am pretty particular about my gravy, I like thick, white gravy with big flecks of black pepper. I like it a little spicy, over some pretty tender biscuits. My children and husband love it too, and my sister FINALLY decided to try some a few months back, and now, she cleans up all the leftovers....without being asked. I will wander back into the kitchen some hours later and find her reheating a biscuit for her second breakfast.

So, after some trial and error, and picking up some tips from grandmas I know, I have a process similar to this: brown some spicy bulk sausage. Use a slotted spoon and scoop out the cooked sausage, leaving as much of the drippings in the pan as possible. Add butter and flour then whisk in milk. Add salt and pepper and you're done! It's amazingly delicious, and you could experiment with other types of sausage, like sage, but I have actually never ventured from the hot. It is just our favorite.

Prepare biscuits

For the Gravy
1/2 lb hot sausage, homemade or purchased
3 cups milk
3 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
salt and pepper to taste

Brown sausage in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to scoop out the sausage and set it aside. Add butter to drippings and melt. Sprinkle flour over the drippings, and whisk, cooking over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Drizzle in the warm milk and continue whisking and cooking until the mixture becomes smooth. Add salt and pepper. Return to medium high heat and cook for about one minute. Taste the sauce. There should be no trace of flour. Whisk in sausage, and taste. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Serve over fresh biscuits.

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