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Sweet Simplicity: Chocolate Chip Scones

15 Sep

There are some dishes I make so frequently that I never bother to photograph them. That got me thinking the other day about lost recipes. The sort of everyday things that become second nature, that we think unworthy of photographing or calling attention to. But if we don’t teach or tell others how to do these things, they’re completely lost to time. Imagine that; a dish that might never live again until some unwitting cook elsewhere dreams it up again.

So this is one of the recipes that I make probably every other week or so, and one you can make and customize with whatever you have in the house.

Chocolate-Chip Scones

Yield: 8 scones

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder (aluminum –free is best)
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 oz. butter, chilled and cubed
  • ½ cup of cold buttermilk (or make your own by squeezing half a lemon into ½ cup 2% milk)
  • ½ cup chocolate chips (or berries, dried fruits, nuts…etc.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and kosher salt in a large bowl or food processor.

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Add the chilled butter, and process or cut the butter in to the dry ingredients until the mixture has a pebbly, sandy texture.

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Add the buttermilk and mix just until the dough forms large clumps.

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Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and mix in the chocolate chips (or addition of your choice) by hand. Then pat the dough into a circle about ¾ in. thick.

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Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the circle into 8 triangles and then arrange them on a baking sheet with a couple of inches in between each.

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Bake for 15 minutes or until the bottoms are golden brown and the tops are just lightly golden.

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Scones, like most quick breads, are best consumed the day they are made. That said, I’ve revived these in the toaster for many breakfasts, so they’re definitely still tasty a day later. My favorite additions aside from chocolate chips are blueberries and of course the classic dried currants. Don’t want to add anything? Then don’t! They’re great plain with a pat of butter, too.

So that’s it really. Go forth and make delicious scones!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Lessons in Problem Solving: Chocolate-Caramel Tart revisited

20 Sep

I recently went gluten-free. Yes, I’ll still be baking with wheat to share recipes with you on the blog, but for my own purposes, eliminating gluten from my diet has done a world of good. The benefits have been pretty staggering, and I’ve finally stopped feeling like “I’m just doing this because it’s the trendy thing.” Even under the advice of a doctor, I thought, “This is stupid.” I don’t have a wheat allergy, I don’t have celiac, how could a mild intolerance be an actual problem?  My brother was once given a pair of shoes for an opera performance and they were far too small. The costumer’s response? “Suffer for art!!” And cooking is my art, after all.

But the hemo-doc thinks it could have an effect on my iron levels, so I decided to be a compliant patient.

I was initially annoyed, and then decided to see the situation as an opportunity. I would try new foods, post new recipes, and just…play in the kitchen. My only rule was to avoid the gluten-free baking mixes or specialty pre-packaged cookies. The last thing I wanted was to incorporate a lot of potato and cornstarch into my diet instead of using more whole grains in general. After a few days of perusing and one or two brief experiments…something magical happened.

What would you think if I told you that I could make the best candy bar in the world without a drop of flour, butter, or refined sweetener? Perhaps you might run screaming in the other direction, but then you wouldn’t get any and that would be very, very sad. Because it is literally one of the best tarts I have ever made. It may even trump the Nutella tart. This is basically my favorite candy bar turned into a pastry that will truly knock your socks off. Caramel, chocolate, and nuts…what’s not to like? I must be on to something, because it disappeared before my eyes when shared with friends.

Date-Almond Butter Caramel and Chocolate Tart

For the crust:

  • 1 ½ cups finely ground almonds
  • ½ cup toasted, shredded, unsweetened coconut
  • 2 tbsp. grade b maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp. coconut oil, melted
  • Pinch of salt

For the caramel filling:

  • 10 medjool dates, pitted and soaked in warm water for 30 minutes
  • 6 tbsp. almond butter
  • 6 tbsp. grade b maple syrup
  • 4 tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

For the chocolate ganache

  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/3 cup light or regular coconut milk
  • Grade b maple syrup to taste (I used a 4-5 tablespoons)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the dry ingredients for the crust in a food processor and blend well.

20130919_171346[1]Mix together the coconut oil and maple syrup and then drizzle into the dry ingredients. Pulse this mixture until it begins to clump.

20130919_171358[1]20130919_171448[1]Press the crust into the bottom of a greased 9 or 10 in. tart pan with a removable bottom. Bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown and fragrant.

20130919_171729[1]20130919_173215[1]Cool the crust completely on a wire rack. I usually just refrigerate it for 20 minutes or so.

Prepare the caramel by combining the almond butter, maple syrup, coconut oil, vanilla and salt in a food processor and blend well.

20130919_172624[1]Add the drained, soaked dates and process until smooth. It may take a  few minutes.

20130919_174943[1]For the ganache, chop the chocolate and place it in a small bowl.

20130919_174301[1]Heat the coconut milk until it simmers, and then pour it over the chocolate. Allow it to sit for 5 minutes and then whisk until smooth.

20130919_175652[1]20130919_180016[1]Assemble the tart by spreading the caramel into the crust in an even layer.

20130919_174927[1]Refrigerate for a half hour or until the caramel begins to firm up. It will still be sticky, but it should be cool. Drizzle the chocolate ganache on top and voila! Scrumptious, candy-like tart.

20130920_052754[1]And there you have it, a delicious surprise that you can share with all of your gluten-free, vegan, or paleo friends. Nothing fake, no special ingredients, just good stuff that happens to be pretty good for you. Sort of. 😉

This whole experience has reminded me of the importance of creativity and ingenuity. I was so thankful once I began looking at the situation it through a different lens, and even though I know there’s nothing that will stop me from baking bread or craving pizza every so often, I can accept that by remembering that I can always cook, have a taste, and share with others. What an energizing lesson!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Share the Love: Breakfast Cake

12 Sep

A former colleague of my husband’s once said to him that it was foolish of me to bake for my coworkers so often. She claimed that my colleagues would not take me seriously. They would see me as nurturing, mothering, and not as an asset to the company itself. Not a professional.

Huh.

I thought that was some managerial psycho-babble right there. What’s the point of being an asset and doing your best work if you aren’t good to the people around you? What kind of feelings do you build up in your life? What kind of environment do you create if you aren’t welcoming?

Still, that idea struck me when I got laid off earlier this year. Maybe she was right. All summer, I wondered what I would do when I finally found a new job. I fretted over the idea of not being taken seriously. Even though I consider the blog a fine example of my writing skills, I considered removing it from my resume and LinkedIn profile.

Then I thought of the butter tarts and the Nanaimo bars that gave one colleague memories of home. The Happy Camper and FRACAS where I got to share my favorite things with the whole staff. The boerewors I made for my former boss when he couldn’t find it anywhere in DC.  The cider doughnuts I got up early to fry at least once each fall when suddenly DC turned crisp, orange, and gold. The multitude of morning coffees shared with people reaching into the infamous “Giant Cookie Jar,” and leaving with a smile and a thank-you.

I decided then and there that I would embrace my whole self. Wherever I ended up, I’d work hard to be a productive and driven member of the team, AND continue to share what I love.

What is one of the first things we learn in preschool and kindergarten? Sharing. Our smallest selves are taught that if we share with one another, the community as a whole benefits. It’s an enormous ripple effect; joy multiplies when we share. Sharing bonds us and can bring groups together that might otherwise never communicate. It teaches us to think beyond our own personal existence and consider our place as a citizen of the planet.

In other words, sharing is really important. And if it isn’t considered a professional asset to be willing to share (whether it be knowledge, caring, office supplies, time…), then I think we need a serious change of culture.

I did find a new job. In fact, of the 60ish I applied for, I interviewed for, and got the one I wanted the most. And during my first week at the office, an invitation went out for an in-office bridal shower. The party planner happened to be in my office and was discussing the expense involved in buying cupcakes for the party.

“How many do you need?”

And so it began. Inspired by my family’s favorite birthday cakes, I made four varieties that I knew would bring an extra shot of delicious to a celebration. And a tart too, so as to not leave our gluten-free and vegan friends hungry.

A version of Lynn’s Triple Coconut Cake all filled up with tangy lime curd…

coconut cakeRoger’s two joys in one; a red wine chocolate cake enrobed in bittersweet chocolate ganache…

chocolateJoe’s sunny lemon cake with blueberry filling, lemon cream cheese frosting, and candied lemon peel…

lemon cakeA rather decadent chocolate-coconut-macadamia tart with an almond-coconut crust that was both gluten-free and vegan…

tartAnd a tribute to my love of all things breakfast, this little number…

“Breakfast in Bed,” or Brown Butter Cake with Maple Buttercream and Praline Bacon

  • 3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 3 1/2 tsp.  baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • 6 oz. unsalted butter
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup cultured buttermilk
  • 2 tsp.  pure vanilla extract

First, melt the butter and allow it to brown lightly. Then return it to a small container and refrigerate until it has re-solidified completely. Do not skip re-solidifying! Adding melted butter to the cake batter will make for a very dense, sunken cake.

20130906_23380920130907_081156Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter and flour two 12-well cupcake tins (or use paper liners).

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or using a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until they are smooth and fluffy. Then add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well between each addition. Stir in the vanilla extract.

20130907_08162820130907_081724With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture (in three additions), and milk (in two additions), beginning and ending with the flour.

20130907_082050Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans, and then tap the pans gently on a counter to remove excess air bubbles.

20130907_082457Bake 23 to 25 minutes or until they are golden on top, and a slightly darker golden brown at the edges. They’ll have wonderfully crispy edges a la the pancakes at the ultimate palace of flapjacks, Pamela’s. Do not argue with me about Pamela’s pancake supremacy, you will not win. Important note: These do not rise a lot–they will not have high domes. The cake is still fluffy and moist inside, I assure you. If you really want the extra lift, you can add another tsp. of baking powder.

Place the cakes on a wire rack to cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, and then remove from the pan and allow them to cool completely before frosting.

Maple Buttercream

  • 8 oz. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt

To prepare the buttercream, combine all of the ingredients in a mixer on low speed until they are combined, and then beat on medium-high speed using a whisk attachment until creamy and fluffy. It will take 5-7 minutes.

20130908_08343220130908_084715Praline Bacon

  • 1 lb. sliced bacon
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 ½ oz. pecans, toasted and ground

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Arrange the bacon in a single layer on a wire rack set over a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake the bacon for 20-30 minutes, or until it begins to brown.

Mix together the brown sugar and toasted pecans.

20130908_085332Remove the bacon from the oven and sprinkle the brown sugar / pecan mixture on the slices, pressing down lightly to make it adhere. Return the bacon to the oven and cook until crisp, about another 10 minutes.

20130908_08535220130908_091416Allow the bacon to cool completely before breaking into small pieces.

Finally, assemble the cupcakes. Pipe or spread the maple buttercream onto the cupcakes and sprinkle on the candied bacon.

20130908_094153It really is like eating pancakes with maple syrup and bacon…only better!

The cupcakes went over very well at the party, and the best part is that sharing them helped me get to know my new coworkers better.

So what if people think you’re nurturing? The way I see it, if that’s the most negative thing someone can think of to say about you…you’re doing a pretty okay job on planet earth.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Recipe Megapost: My Old Kentucky Home

6 May

Roger, our native Kentuckian, invited Joe and I over for Derby Day this year. He and Lynn always loved celebrating the Kentucky Derby. I imagine that it was particularly special for her, having grown up so close to Churchill Downs.

While I pawned mint julep duty off on the men-folk, I took charge of the food. Roger’s only “must-have” request was derby pie, an amazing chocolate-nut pie that’s possibly sweeter than actually winning the race itself. Other than that, I was free to do as I pleased.

It got me thinking a lot about Lynn. She liked to get me cookbooks, especially Southern ones. Last summer she gave me an edition of Seasoned Cooking of Kentucky, and several years ago an edition of Charleston Receipts. But the foods that make me think of her are the ones that she talked about the way that I talk about food from Pittsburgh, and those that she eventually wrote down for me the on cards I received at the bridal shower last year.

20130503_142327One of the things I remember her always loving was ham biscuits. Exactly what they sound like; cured, country ham (not the sweet, smoked style of Virginia), thin sliced and piled on top of fresh, fluffy biscuits. Roger mentioned in one of his recent emails to me that they were indeed her favorite, so I searched high and low—the wonderful butcher at Union Meat finally came through with beautiful, red slices of country ham, and I went on a search for a sturdy, slider-style biscuit recipe. The next item on the menu was from one of the books she’d given me.  Pickled shrimp are a popular picnic food in the summer that sounded just refreshing enough to cut some of the richness in the menu (oh believe me, we haven’t even started). Steamed, chilled shrimp, mixed with some vegetables, herbs, and a sweet/sour pickling liquid, all layered into a jar to marinate overnight. Along with the ham biscuits, and pickled shrimp, I figured a vegetable had to enter into the picture somewhere, so I roasted some beautiful spring Brussels sprouts with herbs de provence,  red onion, and bacon and served them at room temperature. They were an amazing contrast to the shrimp.

But the Hot Brown was what intrigued me the most. Not only was it an iconic dish, but I’d never made it before, and had only seen prepared briefly on a Food Network segment done at the Brown Hotel. On one of the recipe cards she shared with me, Lynn wrote down the Brown Hotel’s recipe for their signature dish. What is this incredible food item, you might ask? It is an open faced turkey sandwich on thick slices of Texas toast, covered by creamiest, richest pecorino romano mornay sauce I have ever made, broiled until golden, and then finished with sliced bacon, fresh parsley, and paprika.

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And yes, this whole ordeal ended with pie. Because you should always save room for pie.

Pickled Shrimp

  • 1 lb. peeled, jumbo cooked shrimp with tails
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1/2 yellow bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 1/3 cup peanut oil
  • 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 tsp. dried crushed red pepper

20130503_170453Layer the shrimp, onion, bell pepper, and bay leaf in a quart-sized mason jar.

20130503_170919Whisk the remaining ingredients together, and then pour over the shrimp and vegetables. Seal and allow the shrimp to marinate for 1 day, shaking and turning the jar every few hours or so.

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Ham Biscuits

These biscuits needed to be sturdier, and a little taller than normal to accommodate being made into sandwiches. Three leavening agents keep them light and fluffy, while giving you some freedom with manipulating the dough.

  • 1/2 envelope active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp. warm water (110-115 degrees F)
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, cut into pieces and chilled
  • 2 oz. unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chilled
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. buttermilk
  • Slices of country ham
  • Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, or other condiments

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine yeast and warm water in a small bowl; let stand 5 minutes or until foamy.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, then cut cream cheese and cold butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender or fork until crumbly.

Combine yeast mixture and buttermilk, and then add to the flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly 6 to 8 times.

20130504_073019Roll or pat the dough to 3/4-inch thickness. Cut with a round cutter or slice into squares.

20130504_073652Arrange biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet, brush with an egg wash or melted butter, and bake for 15 minutes or until deep golden-brown.

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Split biscuits and top with thin slices of country ham and condiments as desired.

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts

  • 1 lb. Brussels sprouts, washed, outer leaves removed, and cut in half.
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 slices bacon (cooked), and 1 tbsp. bacon drippings
  • 1/2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 tsp. herbs de provence
  • Salt and pepper to taste

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Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl and taste for seasoning. Then spread the sprouts on a baking sheet and roast at 375 degrees F until lightly browned, but not soft. It will take anywhere for 15-30 minutes depending on the size of your sprouts.

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Kentucky Hot Brown

I used the Brown Hotel’s original recipe and followed it to a T. The only exception being that I was able to make three sandwiches, rather than two. Honestly, I think that the amount of sauce this yields could easily be spread across four. The recipe can be found here, but here’s a photo sequence and my description of the process…

Gather your ingredients and preheat a broiler.

20130504_171142Lay one piece of crustless Texas toast in an oven-safe dish, and cut the other into triangles, putting them on either side of the whole piece.

20130504_170551Layer turkey on top, and put a slice of Roma tomato on two sides of the Texas toast.

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Make a roux and cook it until smooth, then add the cream and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture begins to simmer lightly and gets very thick.

20130504_17251920130504_172656Add the pecorino cheese and whisk until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

20130504_17353620130504_173625Ladle the hot mornay sauce on top of the turkey, and then place the sandwich under the broiler until lightly browned on top.

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Top with two slices of bacon and finish with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and paprika.

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Dark Bay Pie

The Derby Pie originated at the Melrose Inn, but the name is trademarked  by the Kern family and the owners are not shy about suing to protect it. Although numerous variations and recipes for this type of pie exist, to refer to anything that is not Kern’s recipe (which is again, heavily guarded by the owners) as Derby Pie is breaking the law. Hence, why my truly delicious AND SHAREABLE recipe has its own moniker, given for the final product’s similarity in color to that particular horse coat color.

  • 1 1/4 cups toasted, roughly chopped nuts – I used a mixture of pecans and walnuts
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup dark corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • Pastry for one 9 in. crust

First, prepare your pastry. I use my super-no-fail pate brisee, of course! You can find that recipe right here, in the butter tart tutorial. After making the dough, patting into a disc, and refrigerating it, roll it out into a circle a bit larger than your pie pan, and then fit into the pan and crimp the edges. Return the crust to the refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes.

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Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until thoroughly blended and slightly foamy. Add the brown sugar, white, sugar, light corn syrup, dark corn syrup, flour, and salt and whisk until smooth.  Add the melted butter, bourbon, and vanilla extract and mix thoroughly.

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Fold the nuts and chocolate chips into the mixture, brush the inside of the pie crust with a little bit of egg wash, and then pour the filling into the prepared pie crust.

20130504_10154920130504_101333(0)20130504_101745Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the center is just set and the edges are golden brown. It will deflate slightly as it cools.

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An hour after finishing everything up, I was putting my recipe cards safely back into the book when I noticed another one from Lynn that contained three simple ingredients: An orange, a cup of sugar, and two cups of pecans. Well shoot, I already had everything…so why not? Roger and I have since decided that these are far too habit forming. If you make them, not eating the entire batch will truly be a challenge.

Orange Pecans (and Walnuts)

Lynn’s recipe called for 2 cups of pecans, but I had a mixture of pecans and walnuts leftover from the Dark Bay pie, so I went with that.

20130504_113957Zest and juice the orange into a small, heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the sugar and mix well. Put the pan over medium high heat.

20130504_114512Once the sugar has begun to dissolve, add the nuts to the pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring vigorously throughout, and cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed (5-6 minutes).

20130504_114629Spread the nuts out onto a baking sheet and separate using a fork. Once completely cool, store in a well-sealed container at room temperature. And again, this is if you actually have any to store.

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20130504_125706So that was what we enjoyed with frosty mint juleps as Orb made his valiant gallop from almost the back of the pack, to a massive garland of roses.

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Dioji found all of this very exhausting.

Dioji found all of this very exhausting.

It was a really wonderful way to spend a Saturday, tasting and seeing things that reminded me of my mother-in-law. Sometimes it hurts to think about Lynn, because the fact that she is gone is still so raw. But Saturday was one of the first times that the cheerfulness I remember overshadowed those pangs of sadness. I am grateful that she shared so much of her home with me, and hope that I have done her proud sharing it with you.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Childhood Candy Becomes a Grown-Up Tart

28 Aug

When I was growing up, I spent nearly every day of the summer at our community pool. In part, this was because I was on the swimming and synchronized swimming teams, but it was mostly because I just loved being there. My friends and I would swim for hours and then play long card games while we ate snacks in the warm sun. It was a pretty sweet life.

One of the best treats at the pool snack bar was the frozen candy. Especially frozen Twix bars. There was a treat worth digging through your bag for 50 cents. I didn’t get them very often since weekly allowance was a precious thing, but when I did I savored every last crunchy bite (well, as much as one could before the chocolate started getting all melt-y).

I was asked to make a dessert for a recent dinner party and thought fondly of that summer treat, so I decided to play with those flavors. I came up with a decadent tart that most certainly tasted like that childhood favorite got all dressed up. Get out your tart pans people, this one’s most definitely worth the effort.

Chocolate-Caramel Tart

Super-duper no-fail tart crust:

No shrinking, no cracking, no problem!

  • 6 oz. unsalted butter (1-1/2 sticks)
  • 2 cups flour 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Chocolate filling:

  • 3/4 cup whipping cream
  • 6 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped (I used 70% dark and the sweetness was spot on.)

Caramel filling:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Preheat an oven to 325 degrees F.

Melt the butter for the crust over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt, stirring until smooth.

Blend the butter mixture into the flour with a rubber spatula and then press the dough into a 10 in. tart pan with a removable bottom.

Freeze the crust for 15 minutes and then bake for 25 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Bring the cream for the chocolate filling to a boil and then remove from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until smooth. Spread one cup of filling into the prepared crust, reserving the rest. I put the remaining chocolate in a piping bag and stored it in the refrigerator.

Refrigerate the tart until the chocolate is firm, about 45 minutes.

Stir the sugar and water for the caramel in a heavy saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Then increase the heat and boil until the syrup turns amber, swirling the pan occasionally (do not stir!) and brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush as needed. This will take about 10 minutes, and the syrup will register at about 300 degrees when it is ready.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the cream, butter, vanilla and salt. The mixture will bubble up. Return the pan to very low heat and stir until the caramel is smooth and the color deepens (see the finished picture) to a rich brown. This will take no more than 5 minutes.

Refrigerate the caramel until cold, but not firm, about 20 minutes.

Spoon the caramel over the chocolate layer in the tart and smooth with an offset spatula. Pipe the reserved chocolate over the caramel to decorate and return the tart to the refrigerator until the caramel is firm. It should firm up within an hour or two, and can be made up to two days in advance (cover once the caramel has firmed up).  Serve chilled.

The crust has a nice crunchy bite, the chocolate is firm but melts in your mouth, and the caramel is creamy and rich. That little bit of lemon in the crust adds a little zing to offset all of the richness. Share with friends and be merry.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Recipe Megapost: Joe’s Birthday Party

19 Mar

Yesterday was a perfectly beautiful spring day, the first we’ve had here in DC thus far. How appropriate that the warm weather decided to show up on Joe’s birthday! We had some friends over for a celebration and spent the evening enjoying wonderful company and (if I don’t say so myself) some pretty tasty food.

Since this bash fell on a Friday, I did a lot of prep in advance so that I wouldn’t have much to do when I got home from work (and so I could enjoy the party). On to the deliciousness…

Amuse-bouche: Caramelized Pearl Onions with Queso Blanco

  • 32 pearl onions, blanched and peeled
  • 1 dried cayenne pepper
  • ½ cup dry sherry
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • A few spoonfuls of liquid from canned beets
  • Sprig of fresh thyme

*Okay, here’s the thing. The recipes I referenced for this all called for red pearl onions. I can’t find them anywhere. I don’t know why. So, I cheated and dyed them red with some of the liquid from my home-canned beets. It added bonus flavor and made them an awesome color.

Put all of the ingredients into a pot and add water just to cover the onions. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, swirling the pan every so often to keep the onions from scorching.

Reduce until there is about ¼ cup of syrupy liquid left in the pan. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and reserve syrup.

Queso Blanco

  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • ¼ cup white vinegar

Heat the milk, stirring frequently to keep from scorching. When it reaches 185 degrees, add the vinegar in 3 separate additions, stirring between each one. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for five minutes, then stir for another five or until the curds have firmed up a little bit. Strain into a colander lined with cheesecloth and then hang the curds to drain for an hour.

You can salt to taste and use this as is, but I really wanted it to be firm so that I could cut it into cubes. So, if you have a cheese press, line a mold with cheesecloth and press the curds at 10 lbs. for 10 minutes, redress the cheese and then press at 25 lbs. for 3 hours.

Put it all together: Thread one onion and one cube of queso blanco onto a skewer and drizzle with the reserved syrup.

Appetizer: Crostini Duo

  • 2 baguettes, bias sliced and toasted

For Spinach, Artichoke and Caramelized Onion Crostini

  • 1/3 cup low-fat plain yogurt or Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 3 oz. Neufchatel cheese or cream cheese
  • 1 can of artichoke hearts, drained
  • 10 oz. fresh spinach
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • ½ tsp. dried cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a wide pan, sweat the diced onions in olive oil until soft, translucent and sweet. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the spinach and cook just until it has wilted. Set the pan aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the yogurt, cheese, sour cream, artichoke hearts, thyme, mustard, pepper, and a few pinches of salt. Pulse to combine. Add the spinach, onion and garlic to the food processor and pulse until it has a spreadable consistency.

Top each toasted baguette slice with the spread and serve at room temperature.

For Fromage Blanc, Basil and Roasted Red Pepper Crostini:

  • Roasted red peppers
  • Fromage blanc
  • Basil, chiffonade cut

To make the fromage blanc, heat 1 gallon of milk to 85 degrees and add a packet of fromage blanc starter. Stir vigorously for a minute or two and then cover the pot and allow the milk to ripen at room temperature for 12 hours. Scoop the curds into a colander lined with cheesecloth, and then hang them to drain for 6 hours. It should have the consistency of cream cheese. Salt to taste.

Top each toasted baguette slice with a layer of fromage blanc, diced roasted red peppers, and chiffonade basil.

Appetizer: Mushroom Strudel (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

I am sorry that I didn’t get more pictures of this process, but my hands were covered with butter most of the time and photography got the shaft. These are so good and you can make them in advance, freeze, and then bake as needed. Handy.

  • 1 package phyllo dough (40 sheets)
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°F and line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cook the onion in the butter until translucent and then add the mushrooms and nutmeg. Saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until liquid has been released and has partially evaporated. Add the sherry and evaporate the alcohol by cooking over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the flour, herbs, and some salt and pepper, and let cool. The mixture will be moist.

Take one sheet of phyllo at a time from their package; cover the remaining sheets with plastic and then a damp towel to keep them from drying out. Brush one half of the sheet lengthwise with butter. Fold the unbuttered side over the buttered side, carefully, smoothing out as best you can. Again, brush one half of this lengthwise with butter, and fold the unbuttered side over it again. You’ll end up with one long column.

Place spoonful of the mushroom filling near the end and sprinkle a teaspoon of parmesan over it. Begin folding one bottom corner of the phyllo strip over the filling until it meets the opposite edge, forming a triangle, as if you were folding a flag. Place the triangle seam side down on the baking sheet, brush lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with parmesan.

Bake for 15 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.

Main Course: Porchetta

Normally, this is seared and roasted, but oven-space was at a premium and so I went the crock pot route.

  • 2 tbsp. canola oil
  • 4 lb pork loin roast
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth

Herb rub:

  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp. fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tbsp. lemon pepper
  • 1 tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp. dried fennel seed
  • 1/2 tbsp. onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil

Combine all of the ingredients for the rub in a food processor and pulse until they form a paste.

Cut several inch-deep slits in the roast and stuff some of the rub inside of them. Slather the roast with the remaining rub.

At this point, I vacuum sealed mine to let it marinate for a few days.

In a large pan, sear the roast on all sides and then move it to the crock pot. Dioji was hypnotized by the smell of meaty goodness:

Add the broth to the pan to deglaze (scrape the bottom to get all of the bits of herby piggy goodness) and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes and then pour the liquid onto the roast in the crock pot.

Cook on high for 5-6 hours or on low for 7-8 hours. The roast ended up so tender that I shredded it and served it with the reduced cooking liquid.

Main Course: Cheese Manicotti with Zucchini Cayenne Marinara Sauce

I made the ricotta and mozzarella for these and you can find photo tutorials for them here.

Manicotti:

  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • 6 tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 tbsp. water

Filling:

  • 1 lb. ricotta cheese
  • ½ lb. mozzarella cheese, grated
  • A handful of grated parmesan
  • 1 egg
  • Fresh thyme and parsley to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Sauce:

  • 2 zucchini, ¼ in. dice
  • 4 cans crushed tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 4 dried cayenne peppers, diced
  • Dried thyme
  • Fresh parsley

To make the pasta dough, beat together the eggs, oil and water and then stir them into the flour. Get your hand in the bowl and begin to knead the dough together.Knead until it is smooth and then flatten into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and rest at room temperature for 30 min.

Roll the pasta into sheets, and then cut into 5 in. squares.

Boil the squares in salted water for 1-2 minutes. Drain and leave these to rest on damp towels.

Combine all of the ingredients for the filling and taste for seasoning.

Spoon a row of filling along one end of a pasta square and then carefully roll up into a tube shape. Place this, seam side down on a baking sheet while you prepare the others. If you are freezing them as I did, freeze them individually on a baking sheet before moving to a bag.

To make the sauce, sweat the onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil until translucent. Add the zucchini and garlic and sauté until everything is soft and fragrant. Add the tomatoes, peppers and spices and simmer for a few hours or until the consistency is to your liking. Add seasonings as needed.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spoon a thin layer of sauce onto the bottom of a 9×13 in. baking dish. Arrange the manicotti in rows and then top with the remaining sauce (and some extra cheese if you like).

Bake for 40 minutes or until cooked through. Cover with foil and rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Bread: No-Knead Bread (from Splendid Table)

I like this because you can make the dough, throw it in a bucket in the fridge and forget about it for several days before baking.

  • 1-1/2 tbsp. granulated yeast
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 6-1/2 cups unbleached flour, plus extra for dusting dough
  • Cornmeal

In a large plastic resealable container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water. Using a large spoon, stir in flour, mixing until mixture is uniformly moist with no dry patches. Do not knead. Dough will be wet and loose enough to conform to shape of plastic container. Cover, but not with an airtight lid.

Let dough rise at room temperature, until dough begins to flatten on top or collapse, at least 2 hours and up to 5 hours. (At this point, dough can be refrigerated up to 2 weeks; refrigerated dough is easier to work with than room-temperature dough, so the authors recommend that first-time bakers refrigerate dough overnight or at least 3 hours.)

Place a broiler pan on bottom rack of oven. Place baking pan on middle rack and preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Sprinkle a little flour on dough and on your hands. Pull dough up and, using a serrated knife, cut off a grapefruit-size piece (about 1 pound). Working for 30 to 60 seconds (and adding flour as needed to prevent dough from sticking to hands; most dusting flour will fall off, it’s not intended to be incorporated into dough), turn dough in hands, gently stretching surface of dough, rotating ball a quarter-turn as you go, creating a rounded top and a bunched bottom.

Place shaped dough on a piece of parchment and let rest, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Dust dough with flour.

Using a serrated knife, slash top of dough in three parallel, 1/4-inch deep cuts. Slide dough onto preheated baking sheet. Pour 1 cup hot tap water into broiler pan and quickly close oven door to trap steam. Bake until crust is well-browned and firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven to a wire rack and cool completely.

Dessert: Cookies and Cream Ice Cream Layer Cake

The guest of honor requested an ice cream cake with vanilla cake layers and Oreo ice cream.

  • Two layers of vanilla cake, cooled completely, wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen. I used this recipe.
  • Two layers of ice cream
  • Whipped cream

To make the ice cream layers, line two 9 in. pans with plastic wrap and scoop softened ice cream into each. Flatten out the ice cream by pressing another pan on top of it. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer to harden.

Stack the layers as such (from bottom to top): Cake, ice cream, cake, ice cream. Again, cover this in plastic wrap tightly and freeze. Before icing your cake, trim the sides as needed to make them even and neat. Frost the cake with whipped cream and return to the freezer. I decorated this one by piping tempered chocolate designs onto wax paper, letting them cool, and then applying them to the cake.

Dessert: Strawberry Jam Tart

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dry cornmeal / polenta
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg, separated
  • ½ tsp. vanilla bean paste
  • 1 1/3 cup jam (I used strawberry, but anything will do)
  • 2 tbsp. coarse sugar

Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.

In a stand mixer, mix the butter and 1/2 cup sugar together until smooth. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla bean paste and beat until combined. Gradually add the flour mixture and mix until the dough just comes together.

Transfer about one-third of the dough to a lightly floured counter and shape it into a log about 2 in. diameter. Wrap it in plastic wrap freeze for an hour.

Transfer the remaining dough to a buttered 9-inch spring form pan. Press the dough evenly into the bottom, going about 3/4-inch (2-cm) up the sides of the pan. Freeze the dough-lined pan until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spread the jam or marmalade evenly over the dough in the pan. Cut the chilled dough log into very thin discs with a sharp paring knife. Arrange them in overlapping concentric circles over the jam to form a top crust.

Whisk the remaining egg white with a teaspoon of water until frothy; brush evenly over the tart lid and then sprinkle with the coarse sugar. Bake until the top crust is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely before unmolding.

This holds up well and can be made up to 3 days in advance. Keep wrapped in plastic at room temperature.

The Final Treat: Pecan-Walnut Caramels

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 12 tbsp. butter
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste, vanilla extract, or one vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 12 oz. nuts (I used half pecans and half walnuts), toasted and chopped

Generously butter a 9×13 in. pan.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, butter, sweetened condensed milk, water, and vanilla bean paste. Stirring often, cook this mixture until it reaches 245 degrees F.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the salt and chopped nuts. Pour the caramel into the buttered pan and cool completely (about 2 hours).

Turn the slab of caramel out onto a cutting board and use a pizza wheel to cut into squares. I usually get 128 pieces of candy from this recipe. Wrap the candies in pieces of wax paper and store in a cool, dark place.

Hope you enjoyed checking out the menu. Thank you to everyone who joined us and made the party so much fun.

Ciao for now,

Neen