Wednesday, January 27, 2010

It Was a Close One - Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Tart

This was a near disaster. Can you imagine the anticipation of a perfect chocolate truffle tart, only to have it turn into a complete and utter failure? The Horror, the HORROR! Thankfully, it turned out well in the end, and I even learned a few things in the process. Has chocolate ever seized on you? Meaning that when you add a bit of liquid to the chocolate mixture, it begins to clump up? I'd never experienced that before, and I was immediately convinced I had ruined the luscious chocolate tart I'd been trying to create for my Sister. She was alarmed by my cries of distress, and in her older sister wisdom, she calmly stepped over to the computer to find the remedy online. The solution was to add more liquid (cream) until the mixture became smooth again.

The reason chocolate seizes, is that the chocolate itself is dry, without any water contact. When liquid hits it, the sugar and cacao absorb it and clump together. To fix that, more liquid needs to be added so that the chocolate becomes saturated and turns into something more like a syrup.

So, the near disaster became a learning opportunity, and the tart was saved. Not only was it saved, it was divine. Literally, a chocolate truffle filling. Rich and completely decadent. I caught my sister several times in the following nights, sneaking a slice here and there once my nieces had gone to bed. I also caught my Father and my Mother sneaking slices as well, until two days later, when the tart had completely and mysteriously disappeared...

All I know is, I only had one slice.

And if I didn't, I was sly enough to sneak them when no one else was around. But really, who's to say?

A side note concerning the crust: I used the extra pine nut crust I had from the Lemon Tart recipe I'd made the previous week (it was a tart happy month in our house) and I thought it was perfect for this, but I'm sure a basic crust recipe would do just fine. Feel free to substitute.

Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Tart
adapted from several sources

6 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate (such as Scharffen berger)
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
1/4 tsp salt

While your tart crust is baking, prepare the chocolate truffle filling. Add chocolate and butter to a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat. Melt and stir frequently. When the mixture is thoroughly melted, add in the sugar and vanilla. Whisk the eggs, salt and cream together in a medium mixing bowl until well-combined. Add a small amount of the chocolate into the egg mixture, and then slowly add the mixture back into the chocolate, mixing until smooth and glossy. Pour the mixture into the baked tart shell. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, until the chocolate filling has set. It should shake ever so slightly when done. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes, and then chill in the refrigerator, uncovered, for two hours until the filling has set and firmed completely. Dust with a small amount of cocoa powder, if desired.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Comfort in a Spoon - Marcella Hazan's Tomato, Onion & Butter Sauce

The first time I left the country, I was gone for a couple of months and towards the end of the trip I was incredibly homesick. It wasn't that I was having a bad time, on the contrary, swimming through the Mediterranean, hiking through mountain ruins and eating the best food I had ever had, I was truly having the time of my life. But I was so very far from home. I remember calling my best friend from the boat headed to Corsica. The minute I heard her voice I burst into tears, my phone card ran out two minutes into the conversation. These were the days before there was an internet cafe on every corner. I felt so removed. The next time I traveled so far away was different. I was studying in Oxford for the summer, and I was well equipped with internet and phone cards. The only times homesickness struck was when I was alone on a train, or at the end of a long day trying to fall asleep. That's when I would put on the same four Elliott Smith songs. They became a blanket of comfort around me, either lulling me to sleep or just feeling familiar while I was so far away from everyone I knew and loved. To this day, whenever I hear one of those songs, I start to drift into a sleepy haze, and the memories of my time away come flooding back.

I'm not really sure why this sauce reminded me of that. Maybe it's because this sauce is comfort in itself. The taste of it, so familiar and reassuring. Nothing bad could happen to you with a bowl of this in front of you, the smooth velvety texture and the soft rich taste. Comfort in a spoon.

Every food blogger and their mother has been talking about this sauce for a few years now, but actually, it's been around for ages. It's a Marcella Hazan recipe. Hazan is basically the Godmother of Italian cooking. Her book, "The Essentials of Italian Cooking," is a staple for all culinary bookshelves. At first glance, this sauce doesn't look like much. But looks can be deceiving, and the payoff of this recipe is in the taste. How is it possible that three simple ingredients can produce such a delicious result? I can't explain it. It's some kind of Italian culinary alchemy. But did you see the part where I said three ingredients? Yeah. That's right. Three.

And I'm guessing you already have them in your kitchen.

You have no excuses. Go.

Marcella Hazan's Tomato, Onion & Butter Sauce

1 28 ounce can San Marzano Tomatoes (you can also use boxed, diced tomatoes)
5 tbsp butter
1 yellow onion, peeled and cut in half (discard the peel but keep the root on the onion)

Combine all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a simmer. Once the mixture is bubbling, lower the heat and simmer on low for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pan to release the juices. You'll see little bubbles of fat start to move to the top. Remove the onion, salt to taste and serve warm.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fly Me to the Moon - Amaretto Squeeze

It's raining cats and dogs. It's cold, it's windy, I mean, it's just plain nasty out. The last thing I want to do is go off to work. And now Frank Sinatra has made an appearance on my ipod, and all I really want to do is put on a flouncy cocktail dress, head to the Starlight Room at the top of the Francis Drake Hotel and be whirled around the dance floor to Frank Sinatra. I'd need a partner though. This could be a problem.

Yep, I'm in need of an old-school night. Cocktails, a good steak, heels, and dancing while dressed up. Very Mad Men.

That would be so much better than work.

Sinatra is one of the reasons I love weddings. People like to dance to Sinatra. It's just the thing to do. And you can do it shamelessly at weddings. Everyone joins in!

But, seeing as I most likely won't be ending up at the Starlight Room tonight, I should probably come up with a back-up plan. That plan will most likely involve my favorite cocktail of all time. Happy Hour anyone?

My sister introduced this cocktail to me years ago. She'd discovered it at one of the McMienamins pubs in Oregon. It's called an Amaretto Squeeze, and it is the most delicious thing. It just makes me happy. It may sound like strange combination, but I'm telling you, it's magic in a glass. The almondy, sweet taste of the Amaretto mixed with the bright sour citrus. It's divine. And it's so pretty! We make them all the time now, especially over the holiday's. It's a pre-dinner requirement. I make a pitcher of freshly squeezed juice, throw it over some ice cubes and top it off with Amaretto. It makes me happy. Maybe I'll put on Sinatra tonight while I drink it. I live in a studio. There's no one else to catch me dancing away!

Amaretto Squeeze
makes 2

1 large grapefruit
1 large orange
1 lime
2 shots Amaretto
ice cubes
rosemary for garnish

Squeeze the grapefruit, orange and lime. Remove the seeds. Pour in a highball glass over ice, add the Amaretto and stir. Serve and repeat!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

For the Weekend - Cinnamon Rolls

Do you have plans this weekend? Is it raining or snowing where you are? Would you be interested in waking up on a drizzling Saturday or Sunday morning, padding about in your robe and slippers and slipping a batch of these babies into the oven? Of course you would. But there's a problem. See, this is a two day kind of affair. So what you might want to do, is start it on Friday if you'd like to eat them on Saturday, and start them on Saturday if you'd like to have them on Sunday. It does take some planning.

And maybe that's the last thing you want to do on a weekend. Plan anything. I can understand that. I myself would like to lounge in bed with a mug of coffee watching episodes of my new favorite "Friday Night Lights" until noon.

So maybe, if you're really lucky (as I am) you can con someone else into making them for you. Someone who has the wherewithal to start the recipe the day before, and who doesn't mine getting up early to stick them in the oven. My sister is good that way, and she makes her cinnamon rolls every Christmas. Another piece of the Christmas Breakfast feast, another tradition we have.

And if you've been lucky enough to have a cinnamon roll, hot and gooey right out of the oven. The pastry melting in your mouth, you'll know that a little planning and effort is well-worth it. It's perfect for a rainy weekend.

Cinnamon Rolls
an Alton Brown recipe

For the dough

4 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 large whole egg, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
6 tbsp butter
6 ounces buttermilk, room temperature
4 cups flour, plus a little more for dusting
1 package instant dry yeast, about 2 1/4 teaspoons
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
vegetable oil or cooking spray

For the filling

1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 1/2 tbsp melted butter

For the icing

1/4 cup softened cream cheese
3 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

For the dough: in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter, and buttermilk. Add approximately 2 cups of the flour along with the yeast and salt; whisk until moistened and combined. Remove the whisk attachment and replace with a dough hook. Add all but 3/4 cup of the remaining flour and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Check the consistency of the dough, add more flour if necessary; the dough should feel soft and moist but not sticky. Knead on low speed 5 minutes more or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface; knead by hand about 30 seconds. Lightly oil a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl, lightly oil the top of the dough, cover and let double in volume, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Mix until well incorporated. Set aside until ready to use.

Butter a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently shape the dough into a rectangle with the long side nearest you. Roll into an 18 by 12-inch rectangle. Brush the dough with the 3/4-ounce of melted butter, leaving 1/2-inch border along the top edge. Sprinkle the filling mixture over the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border along the top edge; gently press the filling into the dough. Beginning with the long edge nearest you, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Firmly pinch the seam to seal and roll the cylinder seam side down. Very gently squeeze the cylinder to create even thickness. Using a serrated knife, slice the cylinder into 1 1/2-inch rolls; yielding 12 rolls. Arrange rolls cut side down in the baking dish; cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight or up to 16 hours.

Remove the rolls from the refrigerator and place in an oven that is turned off. Fill a shallow pan 2/3-full of boiling water and set on the rack below the rolls. Close the oven door and let the rolls rise until they look slightly puffy; approximately 30 minutes. Remove the rolls and the shallow pan of water from the oven.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

When the oven is ready, place the rolls on the middle rack and bake until golden brown, or until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, approximately 30 minutes.

While the rolls are cooling slightly, make the icing by whisking the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer until creamy. Add the milk and whisk until combined. Sift in the powdered sugar, and whisk until smooth. Spread over the rolls and serve immediately.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tradition - Swedish Pancakes

One of the great things about having a recipe blog is that now, for the first time ever, all of my recipes are landing in one easily accessible spot. A couple years ago, my friend Beth and I had meant to put together a recipe book for our friends and family. We never quite got around to it, but I still have hope.
It's a relief that I can just turn to my own blog when looking for a recipe I've done in the past that I can't quite return to from memory. Also, I only post the ones I like, so if it wasn't a big hit, it doesn't make it up here (there is the exception of my marshmallows post, but I blame that on myself, and not the recipe.) Case and point, my Grandmother's Swedish Pancake recipe. One I like to make for a large group of friends on vacation, and the staple in our house on Christmas morning. I just haven't quite committed it to memory yet. Working on it. For years over the holidays, she made breakfast special with these pancakes. Now, I've taken over, and they're one of my favorite things to make.

So, Swedish Pancakes (for those of you not of Nordic descent) are like miniature crepes. Sounds delightful, no? And they are. If you've never had them, you're missing out. They're melt in your mouth delicious. Served warm, drenched in maple syrup. You will need a Plett Pan, extra equipment, but totally worth it, they come relatively cheap, here's a good one. Ours has been passed down from person to person, and I actually received one for Christmas years ago. It's come in handy on those cold winter mornings, and it's certainly impressed my friends. Even if I have to do a quick email search to find the exact recipe. No more! Now I'll just look here.

Swedish Pancakes

3 eggs
2 tbsp sugar
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 tsp salt
lump of melted butter

Beat the eggs, add salt, sugar, flour and stir until well mixed. Add the milk gradually. Melt the butter in the Plett pan and add to the batter. Stir gently to combine, don't beat.

Add a tiny bit of butter to each pancake place in the pan, when melted, add a small spoonful of butter to each place, and cook over medium heat, turning with a knife when the batter has firmed and the bubbles in the middle are gone. Cook on the other side for about a minute.

It usually takes one batch to really get going, often the first batch sticks and is a wash. No matter! Press on and the next batch should work just fine. Add butter to each slot when cooking a new batch. Serve with maple syrup.

The Best Kind - Simple Roast Chicken with Herb Butter

It gives me a small amount of relief to look at the last few posts and know that they are without dessert and pastry qualities. I'm even more relieved to continue on this savory riff, and finally add a roast chicken recipe to this blog. Because no food blog would be worth much of anything did it not contain a good, simple roast chicken. It's one of my favorite meals, and it's so easy.

But should you start to worry, should your sweet tooth start to ache and should you start to feel those all too familiar pangs of the sugar craving, let me reassure you: more tarts and cakes and other sweet things to come. I've not nearly exhausted the recipe collections amassed over the holidays, they're all sitting on my desktop, waiting to be immortalized here. And to come pipping hot out of your own oven.

I do hope you're playing along at home.

Especially when it comes to roast chicken.

I was able to work from home for two weeks this past holiday. There were some things going on at home and I felt I needed to be there to help out. The day before I left, I was frantically packing several suitcases and cleaning my apartment, making sure everything was in order before I left. I didn't have any food in the house, and quite honestly, I didn't have much of an appetite. That's when I got a call from Leah, "I'm coming over. I'm bringing the dog and I'm making you a roast chicken."

Is there any kind of better call that that? I ask you.

The answer is no.

So she did. I cleaned, and packed, and showered while she chopped, and seasoned, and roasted. The smells emanating from my kitchen were beyond glorious, and my appetite seemed to magically restore itself. The smell of roast chicken will do that to you.

And then we sat down, ate and chatted. It was a perfect sendoff. I thought about how lucky I was, and how delicious the meal was. It's really the perfect thing to cook at just about anytime. Here is an easy recipe for that:

Simple Roast Chicken with Herb Butter

1 3-4 lb organic chicken (it's all about the quality of the bird)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (a little over 1 tbsp of salt)
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp fresh, chopped rosemary
1 tbsp fresh, chopped thyme

Preheat the oven to 450. Rinse the bird, pat it dry with paper towels, inside and out. Make sure the bird is very dry, otherwise it will steam in the oven. Combine the herbs, salt & pepper and the butter. Using your fingers, stuff the two breast pockets with a bit of the herb butter. Using your hands, cover the bird in the rest of the butter mixture. Season with pepper to taste. Truss the bird, making sure the wings and legs are very tight against the bird. Stick in a saute pan or dutch oven, and roast for 50-60 minutes. Once the chicken is done, remove it from the oven, baste it with the juices from the pan, and let it sit for 15 minutes to rest. Remove the twine and serve.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Good Evening - Creamy Gorgonzola Polenta

It would be blasphemy. Truly. To call polenta the new "mashed potatoes" would be true and absolute treason. I could never do it. I would never forsake my favorite food of all time. There's just nothing else like them, nothing else that goes so perfectly well with everything from chicken, to roast to, well, whatever else you'd like to pair with it. Me? I just like a straight bowl with some butter a salt. Preferably first thing in the morning.

Mashed potatoes: Breakfast of Champions.

But. I hereby acknowledge polenta to be a runner-up in the comfort food challenge. Especially when you add cream and gorgonzola and serve it with the Cabernet Braised Short Ribs.

Hot dog! That is delicious.

I've actually been taking to making this polenta on it's own now. Tuesday evening was a cozy affair. Me, curled up in my overstuffed armchair with a bowl of this polenta with a blanket around me, the heat turned up and the newest installment of my favorite guilty (horrible) pleasure "The Bachelor: On the Wings of Love." (btw, if you watch this sociological nightmare, I offer an escape for you: I hereby make the outrageous claim to know how this season ends. Care to know? Email me and I'll share.)

Are you still with me? Now that I've shared such a deep, dark and secret love of such a terrible television show? I don't blame you if you stopped reason. It's horrible. I know it.

So there I was, in bad television, warm, comfort-food bliss. All in all, it was about as good as a Tuesday night can get. What can I say? I'm easy to please (though several ex-boyfriends might attest otherwise...)

The point is, this stuff is good. Delicious in fact. It's a cinch to make and it'll do in a mashed potatoes pinch. Served with the short-ribs, it's practically unbeatable. So without further ado...

Creamy Gorgonzola Polenta
serves 8
from Bon Appetit

5 cups Chicken Broth
1 3/4 cups Polenta
3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola or other blue cheese
1/3 cup whipping cream

Bring the chicken broth to boil in a heavy bottomed pan. Gradually add the polenta, whisking as you go. Return the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the polenta is tender, stirring frequently and adding more broth if the polenta gets too thick. Cooking time is about 10 minutes all together. Add gorgonzola and cream, stir until the cheese has melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Back Into It - Mixed Herb Gremolata

I can't even say I feel guilty about being away from here for so long. There was just too much to do and too many people to love in real life.

Life has been a whirlwind for the last several weeks. I closed a show, packed my bags, flew to Portland and spent the most time with my family ever since being out of college, and on the day I turned 29, I flew back to the Bay, repacked a bag and drove to Tahoe with friends to celebrate the New Year. After much snow, sledding, fiery bloody mary's thai food and chocolate birthday cake, I then drove back and met up with good friends for a hike to the Tourist Club on Mt. Tam in Marin. It's been a spectacular few weeks. And now (as is always the case after the holidays) the adjustment back to reality is proving to be difficult.

Back to work, back to life, back to the computer screen and the studio apartment and the laundry, the cleaning and the stocking of the refrigerator. Oh vacation, I will miss you so.

In the spirit of mourning the days that are now past, I bring you recipes past. We'll start out slow, easing our way back into the blogging. This is the Gremolata that accompanied the fantastic Cabernet Braised Short Ribs I made for my family before Christmas. Keep your eye out for the accompanying Polenta with Gorgonzola and Cream, it was the height of comfort food.

Mixed Herb Gremolata
adapted from Bon Appetit

1/4 cup chopped Italian Parsley
3 tbsp finely grated lemon peel (I used meyer lemons)
2 garlic cloves (I sauteed the garlic for about 30 seconds in a tiny bit of olive oil, removing it before it turned brown)
1 1/2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 1/2 tbsp fresh thyme, finely chopped

You can choose to saute the garlic or add it raw. Mix all ingredients together and add lemon juice to taste. Sprinkle on top of the short ribs, or whatever protein you choose.