Thursday, October 17, 2013

Deep Dark Chocolate Stout Cake #2, or the Accidental Vegan Cake (with optional non-vegan Chocolate Ganache)

Don’t get me wrong; I have absolutely nothing against vegans. It’s just that no one in my house happens to be one.  So when I set out a while ago to improve on my original Extra Stout Extra Chocolate Cake  , the furthest thing from my mind was making a vegan cake. The foremost thing on my mind? Lack of eggs in my refrigerator.  Yes, even renowned foodies occasionally run out of the basics…I’ll have six kinds of brown sugar in the house, but not eggs. Such is my life.
This is now the second time I’ve made this cake; last time it went so fast I didn’t get any pictures, and we almost suffered the same fate this time. Next time I’ll try and snap more pictures before the resident chocoholics get hold of the thing. Please don’t let the sad pictures (or the fact that it’s vegan) stop you from making this cake – it’s super easy, sinfully delicious, and probably the moistest chocolate cake you will ever eat in your life. Maybe it’s the weird ingredients (beer and vinegar? Really? ) or maybe those vegans do know something…nah, I’m sorry, I can’t go there.  Props to you if that’s your calling, but I can’t give up my meat, cheese and butter  quite yet.  Although… one cool side effect of this cake being vegan is that it’s also easy to make kosher pareve;  I do have friends that will appreciate that.  To keep this truly vegan (or pareve) just make sure your ingredients are also vegan / pareve; you’ll also need to skip this ganache, though that’s not necessarily a problem – this cake is delicious plain, or with a shake of powdered sugar.  You could also use a non-dairy milk (I’ve never done it but I’ve seen plenty of recipes out there) , or you could try using a buttercream that’s made with vegan or pareve margarine instead of butter (again, not something I have experience with…but go for it !) If real cream from real cows isn’t a problem for you…go for the ganache. I said this in the first recipe, but it bears repeating: while “chocolate ganache” sounds all fancy and pastry-chefish, in reality it’s just chopped up chocolate melted with heavy cream and beaten with a whisk until it’s silky, smooth and sexy.  That’s all there is to it. You do need to use bars or chunks of chocolate (chocolate chips are formulated differently than regular chocolate; they have less cocoa butter and more oil, and they don’t play as nicely with the cream in this particular application); whatever they sell in your supermarket in bar form will be fine (Ghirardelli is pretty widely available, and a damn fine baking chocolate. No, I don’t get paid to say that :) )

Oh, and I should have probably mentioned this in the beginning; if you’ve made it this far and the voices in your head are still saying things like “Beer in cake? EW!” or “but I don’t like Guinness!” politely tell them to go pound sand (or let them eat cake !) One of the reasons people like Guinness (and other stouts) so much is that it’s deep, dark, and - yes – chocolately. You’re basically just using that to your advantage here. And yes, most liquor stores will sell you one can or bottle of stout – although really, you should buy more. Stout is a beautiful thing!

Deep Dark Chocolate Stout Cake
(thanks to  A Whisk and a Spoon for the inspiration)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder (Hershey’s Special Dark is amazing here)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup (10 oz) Guinness or other stout
1 tsp espresso powder or instant coffee   
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a  9” nonstick round cake pan liberally with cooking spray, then line with parchment paper and lightly spray the parchment. 
Whisk flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
In a separate large bowl mix together stout, coffee powder, vanilla and vinegar.  Stir into the flour mixture and start to mix it together, then add your oil and combine until you have a smooth batter (large whisk works well here). 
Pour into prepared pan.  Place in oven and bake for 30-35 minutes.  Check with toothpick – it will still stick and look moist, but shouldn’t look like gobs of raw batter.  Remove from oven and let cool completely on rack, then turn out onto cake plate and peel off the parchment.
Dust cake with powdered sugar, or cover with ganache
Chocolate Ganache
8 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped (will not work as well with chips)
½ cup heavy cream

Melt the chocolate and heavy cream in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally. Drizzle / spread over the top of cooled cake.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Eggplant Fries with Smoky Romesco Sauce

seriously one of our best appetizers ever...and that is saying something !


We sure the boy says when asked his religion : "I was raised NFL". Of course, football around here means doesn't just mean yelling at the means having some delicious food to nosh on while doing it. And boy oh boy, "delicious" doesn't even begin to cover this one...this is seriously awesome stuff. And as usual, we came to it via a bit of a circular path.

So there we were weekend before last, watching "Phantom Gourmet" on Saturday morning -  like you do. One of the restaurants they happened to profile was Dunn Gaherin's , a cool little pub right near my office. I've been there a few times and always liked it, but they happened to be discussing a dish I've never had there before but immediately wanted the moment I heard about it - eggplant fries. I love eggplant, and I love fries...really no downside here. Cut to this weekend and trying to come up with some new football food...well, here you go.

We checked out a couple of recipes for eggplant fries, and Mark mostly settled on this one (not 100% sure what this site actually is as it doesn't look like a normal Martha Stewart one, but the recipe definitely works.)   As for the Romesco sauce - a delightful Spanish concoction of tomatoes, peppers, almonds, and yum - I've experimented with it before, and this is my version. I thought the slight crunchiness would offset the soft eggplant nicely...umm, yeah....sometimes I get really lucky and get it just right :) There is nothing wrong with this dish, not one blessed thing...and I think you should make it at the first opportunity. I know we will be !

Eggplant Fries
adapted from....Martha Stewart, maybe ?

2 medium eggplants, peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch sticks, 4-inches long
1 cup milk
2 eggs
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 tsp baking powder

Salt both sides of eggplant and place on paper towels to drain for 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry.

In a medium bowl, mix milk and eggs until well blended. Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt in wide shallow bowl.

Heat oil in frying pan on high heat, or to 325 degrees in a deep fryer. Dip eggplant sticks into egg mixture and then cornmeal mix. Place in oil and fry 3 - 4 minutes, or until golden brown. (If using pan, flip regularly. Drain on paper towels and salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Smoky Romesco Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium shallot, sliced thinly and separated into rings
1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup croutons or stale bread, toasted and cut into cubes
1 can (14.5 oz) fire roasted diced tomatoes
2 -3 jarred roasted red peppers, drained (about an 8 oz jar)  
1 tsp salt (smoked is great if you have it)
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium. Add shallot and cook about 5 minutes or until it just starts going translucent. Add the almonds and garlic and cook, stirring often, until the almonds just begin to brown (watch them carefully as they can burn super fast).

Transfer the sauté pan contents to a food processor or blender. Add the rest of the ingredients and puree until fairly smooth; you want just a tiny bit of crunch left from the almonds (think pesto). You can add a little more olive oil or liquid from the peppers if you feel it needs to be more liquid.

Store in fridge up to a week, or freeze for future use. Romesco can be used on pretty much anything you would use salsa or pesto on or in; fish, chicken, pasta, veggies of any kind (cooked or raw), spread on pita, as a dunk for chips...go wild !

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Jook (aka Congee) (aka Rice Porridge) (aka YUM !!)

don't let the name(s) fool you !
Seriously, I think the hardest part of this dish - both making it and writing about it - is the name. There's just no way to make "jook" or "congee" sound like a Culinary Orgasm (and forget about rice porridge...who wants to eat porridge ? Isn't that what Dickensian orphans eat ? ) The nearest translation my culinary mind could make was "Asian risotto", but even that isn't close (especially since Asians will eat this for breakfast, lunch and dinner). Alex dubbed it "Chinese Chicken and Dumplings", since the version I made has many of the same ingredients as my Chicken and Dumplings  (chicken thighs, mushrooms, peas) ...and since I served it with some potstickers I happened to have on hand. Whatever you want to call it is fine with me, as long as you call it home to supper !

mmmmm !

Jook (or Congee) at it core is just rice cooked in a lot of liquid until it is very, very soft . Nearly every Asian country claims some version of this dish, from the Indian kanji to the Filipino lugaw. It can be eaten plain, or with any variety of sweet or savory topping known to humankind - milk and sugar, nuts and vegetables, chicken, fish, or any other meat you fancy, and whatever kind of spice or sauce you can dream up (in fact, many people say it's all about what you top it with). It's the ultimate comfort food - what your Chinese grandma would make you when you were sick, if you were lucky enough to have such a thing. (A Chinese grandma, not a sick ! ).  Indeed, it was while researching "soft food" that I came across many, many people recommending it as just the thing (as to my research....there's a long story there involving a bicycle, some pavement, and my poor husband's face :( ). I knew about jook/congee already, what with my addiction to all things cookery...but had never tried to make or eat it. Here, then, was the perfect opportunity to see what all the fuss was about. As to the results...well, the patient ate three bowls of it that night, and four days later is looking MUCH better...apparently those Chinese grandmas know their stuff !

A few notes on what I used for my particular version :

I was a little concerned about using my beloved Uncle Ben's rice, as I wasn't sure if the conversion process would leave the rice with not enough starch. As you can see it came out perfectly creamy; I think for my next batch I'm going to try some of the Texmati or Jasmine rice I always have on hand (was originally worried they would be too flowery, but now that I've had it I really don't think that will be an issue). The nice thing about this one is that you don't have to obsess about the perfect rice-liquid ratio : the idea is for it to be creamy and soupy, but it's really up to you (that's why I give a range of liquid; you can always add more if it's not the consistency you like ). Oh. and this probably goes without saying, but don't try this with Minute Rice. (Not that I ever use the stuff but hey, we don't judge around here ! )

Garnishes are up to you - I put out bowls of chopped cilantro, sliced scallions, and diced cooked sausage that I had warmed up in a pan. Many recipes call for cubes of cooked bacon and/or deep fried or sautéed onions or shallots - both of which I will try at some point as I think they both sound divine. Chopped peanuts were also mentioned by many...I'm not a huge peanut person, but I think I may try that as well.

I also put out a few of my favorite Asian sauces...

just a few of my favorite things...peanut sauce, tamari, toasted sesame oil, fish sauce, sambal (chili sauce)

So the next time you're looking for Chinese comfort food...consider the humble jook. You'll be glad you did !

Chicken and Mushroom Jook (Congee)

4 -5 cups water
4 -5 cups chicken stock
2 lbs chicken thighs, bone in
1 cup white rice (see above)
4 slices fresh ginger, about 1/4 inch each (no need to peel)
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup sliced (or whole baby) mushrooms
1 cup frozen peas
toasted sesame oil 

Garnishes (see above) - chopped cilantro, sliced scallions, anything else that sounds good plus your choice of sauce(s)

Pull the skin off of the chicken thighs, and place in a large pot. Cover with 4 cups of water and 4 cups of stock, then add the rice, ginger, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for an hour until the rice is very soft creamy, stirring occasionally.

Remove the chicken thighs and set aside to cool a bit (so you can get the meat off without burning your fingers). Stir in the mushrooms and the peas, adding more stock and water if needed (you're going for a thick soup sort of consistency). Let the jook simmer to cook the mushrooms while you get the chicken off the bones and shred the meat (two forks work great for this). Add the chicken back to the pot and stir, adding a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and more salt and/or pepper to taste. Once everything is heated through to your liking remove from heat and serve, passing the garnishes at the table

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Lemon Trifle

light lemony love...
I really debated as to whether or not to post this recipe, but over the years I've had so many requests for it that I finally decided I had to just let go and do it. Not that it's not delicious - it is most definitely that, sweet (but not too sweet) and light as a cloud with a pleasant lemony tang. And not that it's not beautiful - trifles just look so pretty, standing tall in their bowl with their lovely layers just begging you to dig deeper. And it's not that I want to keep it to myself - I love sharing my kitchen adventures with the world, or I wouldn't have started this blog !

No, my problem with this recipe is just that I'm a little embarrassed by it.

I came up with this recipe many, MANY years ago when I was participating in a popular weight loss program. The base of the trifle - the lemon layer - was something that the receptionist had come up with to get the most point value out of her yogurt. She would take a box of sugar-free Jello (any flavor would work) and add hot water per the package instructions, but instead of cold water she would add in...yogurt. Allowed to set in the fridge, this concoction would turn into something between Jello and pudding - almost the texture of a very smooth pie filling. Portioned off into cups, it made a totally delicious dessert or snack with half the point value of regular yogurt (as the Jello was "free") . She also made a desert by layering this stuff with (as I recall), fruit cocktail and "rusk" cookies that the program sold. Not being a fruit cocktail fan, I started tweaking...and eventually came up with the infamous Lemon Trifle. And while I eventually swapped in some more "foodie" ingredients, at its core this dessert is really still a combination of premade cookies and American convenience foods...namely, Jello and Cool Whip. (Anyone who makes the very popular versions of Chocolate Trifle out there will tell you that for some reason, Cool Whip works a lot better that actual whipped just holds up better). Here, then, is the source of my embarrassment...I'm not usually known for my love of convenience foods. Don't take on my issues, all means, if you are a lemon fan and don't mind Cool Whip (I have a not-so-secret affection for the stuff), make this trifle. (If Cool Whip really freaks you out and you want to try it with regular whipped cream, use the real stuff you whip yourself using 10x sugar to sweeten and stabilize it...or try one of these other stabilization methods : Don't even go there with the canned stuff.)

One of the reasons the lemon was so great in my first versions of this recipe (other than the fact that I love lemon desserts) is that masks the aftertaste you can get from sugar-free products - the tartness really overrides the bitterness.  So if going low or no sugar is your thing, use sugar-free versions of some or all the components...Jello, yogurt, and Cool Whip all come in sugar-free versions, of course, and you can even get sugar-free cookies or angel food cake. Just bring the sugar down to whatever level you feel comfortable with. Made with regular versions of all the products, though, this really is a gorgeous, light dessert that everyone is always happy to can travel to any party with ease.  Oh, and if you don't have a trifle bowl use a large glass bowl or even a glass baking dish...simple trifle bowls are cheap, though, and you'll find them useful for all sorts of things.

Enjoy ! ~ CO

Lemon Trifle
  • 1 large (6 oz) or two small (3 oz) boxes Lemon Jello
  • 2 cups vanilla yogurt
  • 1 package ladyfinger cookies (the crunchy kind) (you will probably not use entire package) OR substitute : biscotti (lemon or vanilla) , cubes of stale angel food cake or soft ladyfingers gone stale, even Nilla wafers...whatever strikes your fancy !) 
  • 2 tablespoons Limoncello (optional)
  • 1 20 oz can crushed pineapple in juice
  • 1 12 oz container Cool Whip, defrosted (if you aren't trying to go sugar free, get Extra Creamy) OR 3 cups sweetened, stabilized whipped cream (see above)
  • 1 lemon, for zesting (if you're not using the Limoncello and you can find Meyer lemons, use can use the juice as you would the Limoncello) 

DAY BEFORE : In a large bowl, dissolve Jello in boiling water as per package directions. Substitute the 2 cups vanilla yogurt for the cold water called for on the box. Whisk this mixture well, cover and let set in the fridge overnight. If you are using cake or soft cookies instead of ladyfingers, set them out to go stale at this point as well (cube the cake first)

NEXT DAY - build your trifle. Start with a layer of ladyfingers; cover the bottom of your bowl, and sprinkle with the Limoncello or Meyer lemon juice if using. Spoon half the pineapple over the cookies (use a slotted spoon if you have already moistened the cookies with something else; otherwise use some of the juice in there too). Repeat all layers, ending with Cool Whip. Zest the lemon over the top.

Refrigerate trifle for at least 4 hours before serving

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Chocolate Ricotta Icebox Cake

summertime chocolate perfection...and no baking ! it's magically delicious !  
Chocolate cake in the heat of summer can be a bit of a tricky proposition. Certainly, you don't want to eat anything warm. Even cakes that are usually eaten cold - like, say, cheesecake - require turning on the oven, which seems a bit of a waste (especially when you have 3 AC's going full blast). Plus you really don't want to eat anything so heavy that it might cause you to pass out into the pool. And sure, you can always do a chocolate mousse or something instead...but what if you just need cake ? Like, cake you can stick birthday candles in and pass out slices of ?

Readers, I think I found the solution :
Sadly, I only got to snap the slices after it was almost all gone...with two men with forks looking over my shoulder waiting for the last piece. Trust me when I say it served up MUCH neater than this !!

Well, actually, Martha Stewart really found it. And truth be told, my original intent wasn't to beat the heat; my mother had requested one of my "decadent flourless chocolate cakes" for her birthday/retirement party (turning 65 will do that to you :).) I have a few cakes that fit that bill, but unfortunately they all involve nuts - and we had a possible attendee with a severe allergy. Clearly, a new recipe was in order. I'd been thinking about trying to make a cake with a really delicious ricotta cheese that we've been buying at Russo's...and I knew I wanted to make something chocolate. Googled "ricotta" and chocolate"...and before I knew it, I had a new favorite summer chocolate cake. And - super bonus - there was no turning on of the oven ! Yes, I love it when a plan comes together...

Top to bottom - killer ricotta, chocolate wafers (in package and deployed), Ghiradelli chocolate

I think one of the keys to this cake is that you absolutely have to use quality ingredients - you'll see that there aren't too many actual ingredients in this thing, so you'll really want to make sure the few you use are the best stuff you can possibly get. The ricotta I used in this is from a New England company called Liuzzi Angeloni and it is a revelation -a big muffin-top bulge of cheese, packaged in little white pails with tiny holes and water all around to keep it fresh. It tastes like no ricotta you've ever had - creamy, slightly sweet and a little tangy at the same time. We've been known to eat it by itself on a plate, with a little salt, pepper, olive oil and fresh basil snipped over...but I digress; back to dessert. Use the best ricotta you can find, as local as you can get (I'm also itching to try and make my own, which would be perfect for this). Oh, and go for the full fat instead of the part skim - you'll taste the difference, and it's not like you're going to eat this every day. (Or maybe you are...hey, whatever does it for you :) Quality chocolate is also key (Ghirardelli is a reliable standby you can find in most supermarkets), and the Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers are absolutely necessary - they're the perfect thickness to make this whole thing work. Do not be tempted to grind them up - they form a solid base for the cake layers to set up on, and then absorb just enough moisture to turn into a delicious cake-like layer and's like magic !   The whole thing turns out like a cross between a chocolate mousse and the smoothest cheesecake you've ever had...definite Culinary Orgasm.

Chocolate Ricotta Icebox Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Nonstick cooking spray
16 ounces semisweet chocolate (do not use chips)
30 ounces ricotta cheese, room temperature (see below)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon Godiva Liquor or Kaluha (optional)
1 package (9 ounces) chocolate wafers (about 44 cookies)

Place your ricotta in a strainer (best to line with cheesecloth or even a paper towel) and let as much water drain out as possible. Set aside to let it come to room temperature.
Prepare your pan: Remove sides from a 9-inch round springform pan. Place a sheet of waxed paper over bottom, leaving an overhang; lock sides onto bottom, firmly securing paper. Spray inside of pan with cooking spray; line sides with a strip of waxed paper 28 inches long and wide enough to match the height of your pan (mine was about 3 inches)  

Make chocolate-ricotta mixture: Break 12 ounces of the chocolate into pieces. Place in a double boiler (or a heatproof medium bowl set over, not in, a pan of barely simmering water.) Cook, stirring occasionally, until chocolate has melted, 8 to 10 minutes.
In a food processor (do not use a blender; you need power for this step!) blend ricotta until very smooth, a couple of minutes, scraping down sides of bowl. Add warm chocolate (and liquor if using); blend until smooth. In a large bowl, beat cream until stiff peaks form. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in chocolate-ricotta mixture.

Assemble cake: Arrange half the cookies in an overlapping pattern to cover bottom of pan (see picture). Spoon half the chocolate-ricotta mixture on top of cookies; smooth top. Cover with remaining cookies; top with remaining chocolate-ricotta mixture, and smooth top. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 2 days.
This cake is much easier to serve if you can pop it in the freezer for about 30 minutes before serving. Before you put it in the freezer, use a vegetable peeler to shave curls off the last 4 oz of chocolate over top of cake.

After it comes out of the freezer (or just before serving, after adding the chocolate curls) release sides of pan and remove waxed paper from sides.

Wiping the blade after each slice will help immensely!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lazy Lemon Tart

"Squeeze my lemon..."
I know, I know..."lazy" probably isn't an adjective that comes to mind when one thinks about my cooking...not in any way, shape or form. Surprisingly, though, I do like to do things other than cook (it's true, I swear !!) And one of the things I really like to do is be outside, particularly this time of year when the weather starts getting nice. I'm always on the lookout for recipes that meet my criteria when I find something that looks like a sweet, delicious Culinary Orgasm , yet actually gets me out of the house and into the sunshine. Not only does this tart get me into the IS sunshine. I mean, just look at it !!

"Good day sunshine !"
Variations on this tart have been popping up in my internet perusing for some time now - most recently in the form of "Lazy Mary's Lemon Tart" (thank you to my friend wild apache for pointing me towards that particular gem). Smitten Kitchen also has a few variations on this theme...this tart , and a bar recipe in Deb's wonderful cookbook.  The theme, though, is a bit weird in that it involves whole lemons. Not just the juice and zest, but actual, whole lemons - you don't do a dang thing to them, other than barely cut them. And that's not the only thing that makes it lazy...said whole lemons are simply thrown in a blender or food processor with the other filling ingredients (which only consist of butter, sugar and eggs), processed into oblivion, poured into a shell, and baked. Doesn't matter what temperature the butter is, no egg separating, no nothing - mix and go. This is totally bizarre - well to me anyway. I'm the mistress of complex desserts - the more steps and more elaborate, the happier I get. When I play with lemons, I get crazy - recreating restaurant cakes, or making delicate souffles. Mix and go ? Are you crazy ? Well, yes I am...and this one came with enough provenance that it was worth getting my crazy on. And this thing is CRAZY good.  The filling is light, but not overly so...nice and lemony, but not overly tart. It's delicious plain, but dresses up pretty too (whipped cream, raspberries, glazed almonds....whatever moves you.

A few notes :
  • I did make my own tart shell (the recipe I use is here . Yes, that probably means it's semi-lazy instead of full-on couch me, for me this is semi :) .) If you are not adverse to frozen or refrigerated pie crust, by all means go for it - and if you don't have a tart pan, use your biggest pie plate (it won't look the same but it will still taste really great. Really, though, a good tart pan is less than $20, and it will make your pastries look totally cool and professional. And that shell recipe is so easy - no rolling, it's basically just playing with sand in a pan.)  I've also seen online comments where folks have made this in a graham cracker crust and even in a chocolate cookie crumb crust; I think those would work great as well.
  • The tart pan I used was 11"; the filling amount was perfect, and I didn't have any of the problems with overflow or not setting up that other folks reported. If your tart pan is smaller, just make sure you don't overflow - any extra can be poured into a custard cup or ovensafe bowl and baked right along with the tart.
  • Superfine sugar - if you don't have this, just grind up some regular sugar before you start. (Superfine dissolves easier; I'm guessing that's why this recipe uses it) Use an extra 2 tablespoons or so, then measure again after grinding.
  • Lemons - I did use Meyer lemons, as they are available at my favorite local market (Russo's). Meyer lemons are sweeter and thinner-skinned than standard lemons; I was worried about this thing being too bitter as it was, Meyers just seemed like a safe bet. This was definitely NOT bitter at all, and I do think this would work fine with regular lemons as well - though I would probably do what a lot of other commenters did and remove as much as the white pith from the peel as I could easily get off (basically just peel the lemon and take a sharp knife or veggie peeler to the white part of the peel, getting whatever you can off without making yourself crazy. ) I did remove the seeds from the Meyers, as well as the hard nipple-like bits from either end  - just couldn't see them ending up in something I wanted to eat !) Whatever you use, you want to end up with about 5 oz of lemon parts (no, you don't have to weigh it - just throwing that out there :) )
In conclusion, definite Culinary Orgasm...the lazy way !

mmm Meyers

ready to bake

Lazy Lemon Tart

Filling :

2 small Meyer lemons or one large standard lemon,  cut into 8 pieces, seeds and excess white pith removed
1 1/2 cup superfine suger
1 stick butter
4 eggs
1 partially baked tart shell, your favorite (mine is here )
Put all filling ingredients into a blender or food processesor, and process until smooth.     
Pour into tart shell.
Bake 35 - 40 minutes at 350 degrees  , or until filling is set (should barely jiggle) and top has just started to go a very light brown.
Let cool completely before serving.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Sláinte !

By popular demand...the annual reposting of our St. Patrick' Day Feast. You may also enjoy :

A Full Irish Breakfast :

Irish Soda Bread :

'Beannachtam na Feile Padraig!'
Happy St. Patrick's Day! !


Apple Crisp with Irish Oatmeal topping and Whiskey Whipped Cream
Our annual St. Patrick's Feast was held this past weekend, and a grand, super, brilliant time it was, too. We somehow crammed 14 people in our tiny apartment for the usual Irish-American spread of corned beef and cabbage, potatoes, turnips and other various and sundry vegetables, apple crisp, and of course, plenty of beer and whiskey !

plenty of wet whistles !

Recipes at the end of the entry...

First, a word about the meal itself. Corned beef is actually not really a particularly Irish dish. Much more popular in Ireland is Boiled Bacon and Cabbage - but you need real Irish bacon for that, not always available here. The dinner we served is actually pretty much a New England Boiled Dinner...except that often is made with a picnic shoulder instead of corned beef, and has more vegetables. Confused yet ? You should be !!

Here's a bit more on corned beef, from Wikipedia : "Despite being a major producer of beef, most Irish...did not regularly consume the meat product in either fresh or salted form. This was due in large part to its prohibitive cost in Ireland, the fact that the beef cattle were owned by the British colonisers and not by the Irish, and that most if not all of the corned beef was exported. Despite the popular assumption in North America that corned beef dishes are typical of traditional Irish cuisine, it was not until the wave of 18th century Irish immigration to the United States that much of the ethnic Irish first began to consume corned beef. In Ireland today, the serving of corned beef is geared toward tourist consumption and most Ireland Irish do not identify the ingredient with native cuisine. The popularity of corned beef over bacon to the immigrated Irish was likely present due to that fact that corned beef in their native land was considered a luxury product, but was cheaply and readily available in America". Pretty interesting stuff !

Back to our spread...first, we started with a selection of Irish cheeses (two farmhouse cheddars and a Cashel Blue, which is an Irish blue cheese ..very delicate and sweet. )

Next up, the main course :

Here's the Beef !

Vegetables, Soda Bread

Mark's Corned Beef is really amazing. He adds a secret ingredient to the boiling water : grapefruit juice. I'm not 100% sure what it really does in there...I know it's a natural enzyme, so it makes things more tender. And I know that whatever it does, his is the best corned beef I've ever had and the only one I'll usually eat.

My Irish Soda Breadwas written up a few months on the link for the details. This meal is really when I get into it...made six loaves this year, and they ALL went !!

The dessert for this meal - Irish Apple Crisp with Whiskey Whipped Cream - is really just amazing. I've been making apple crisps for years, of's one of my family's favorite desserts. I have two that I make - one with a flour and sugar crust, and one with an oatmeal topping...I wanted something Irish, so Irish Oatmeal it was. The whiskey whipped cream is something I saw mentioned years ago in connection with another recipe, which I thought might work here...and oh, baby, does it work. Something about the whiskey, the oats, the apples and the spices all combines for, well, a Culinary Orgasm :

starting the topping

finished product
After all this feasting, of course, all we really wanted to do is sit around and drink whiskey. Good thing we had plenty !

a few of my favorite things...
Another year, another amazing dinner party...seriously, I love my family and friends. Sláinte to you and yours...and may you be in Heaven a half hour before the devil knows you're dead !!

Mark's Corned Beef

Mark says "If you can find a whole brisket, buy it - that way you get the point and flat at the same time, and some people prefer one or the other. The corned beefs made from eye of the round are also great, as they don't shrink and have less fat. On gray vs red...go with your personal preference. Gray is tougher and saltier, but more traditional in New England."

Recipe is given for one whole brisket...adjust accordingly. It's corned beef, pretty hard to get the proportions wrong !

1 whole corned beef brisket
water to cover (will change once)
2 cups grapefruit juice (unsweetened - 100% juice)
1/2 tablespoon pickling spice (if the beef comes with a packet, great !)
1 tsp whole peppercorns
3 medium onions, skinned but left whole
6 lbs small whole white potatoes (leave skins on)
2 whole yellow turnips (good sized)
2 pounds carrots, peeled
2 heads cabbage, cut in eighths (leave a bit of the core on to hold it together

Rinse meat and put aside spice packet. Place in pot with water to cover. Bring to a low boil, and let boil for about 30 minutes. Drain and change the water in the pot, adding the grapefruit juice, onions and spices to the meat. Make sure you have enough liquid in the pot to add some vegetables later. Boil for about 2 1/2 hours. Add the potatoes and turnips at about the 2 hour 15 minute mark. Pull the beef out and cover (leave the potatoes and turnips in), and add the carrots and cabbage. Boil the vegetables for another 15 minutes, or until tender.

Apple Crisp with Irish Oatmeal

6 cups apples -- peeled and sliced
3 teaspoons cinnamon (or more to taste), divided
1 ½ teaspoons nutmeg (or more to taste), divided
Half a lemon
1 cup rolled oats (McCann’s Quick Cooking is best)
3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar (I usually do light, or half light half dark)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place apples in ungreased 2-quart rectangular baking dish or pan. Toss with 2 teaspoons of the cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of the nutmeg, and the juice from the lemon half.

In large bowl, combine remaining ingredients including rest of cinnamon and nutmeg; mix with pastry blender or fork until crumbly. Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over apples. Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until apples are tender and topping is golden brown. Serve warm with cream, ice cream or whipped cream...or, to really do it right :

Whiskey Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons (or to taste) Irish whiskey (recommended : The Knot)

Whip the cream until it begins to form soft peaks. Add the sugar and whiskey and beat until stiff peaks form. Cover and chill until needed.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Raspberry Almond Sour Cream Coffee Cake

(sorry, we had to cut into it..we were starving !)
More often than not, the scene in my kitchen unfolds like a Food Network show..."Iron Chef", maybe, or "Chopped" (or, as my friend AB likes to call it, "whack-a-chef") minus the truly bizarre ingredients (no way am I cooking with cough drops or strawberry Quik...not gonna happen.) We'll have an overabundance of something (on this day, it was sour cream - we kept forgetting we had some and buying more), pretty decent pantry staples (almonds and frozen berries), and a couple of hungry foodie judges (basically, that's most of the people you find around this place) Recently, these ingredients came together in this blog-worthy coffee cake - on my very first try, even. (That almost never happens - I always have to tweak a new recipe once or twice !)

I've made enough cakes - coffee and otherwise - to know the basics, and I had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to end up with this one...light and moist, with a hit of fruit and that magic crumbly sweetness you find in the best coffee cakes. The sour cream needed an egg and a little butter, for lift and flavor..the flour needed baking powder as well as baking soda to counteract the slight acidity of the sour cream...the fruit needed to stay sweet and suspended in the batter, without turning the cake pink (which can happens with frozen berries), and the almonds needed some friends to help them get a little streusel-y. 40 minutes of baking later, and we were practically fighting each other off with forks to get more.

I have a feeling this cake would adapt well to any sort of fruit and nut combination...blueberries and pecans, apples and walnuts, peaches and hazelnuts... always use what appeals to you (or, you know, whatever you have around is always good too :) ). The particular technique I used here actually works best with frozen fruit, since I sort of poked it down into the rather stiff batter...similar to how the Strawberry Buttermilk Cake comes together. You can of course use fresh fruit if you have it - you just may need to make some little holes for it to land in, if the fruit is soft. Trust me, it will all work out in the end....and so, in the immortal words of the Chairman : Allez cuisine !!

Raspberry Almond Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Cake :

1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2 cups flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup frozen raspberries


1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter, soft room temperature

Powered sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 9" round or square baking pan (I used a fairly deep cake pan).

Whisk together the sour cream, melted butter, vanilla and egg until smooth. Stir in the flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt until smooth (this will be a fairly stiff batter). Spread in prepared pan.

In the same bowl you mixed the cake in (so you pick up the last bits of the flour), toss the raspberries and 1 tablespoon sugar together. Dump this mixture on top of the cake batter, spreading across more or less evenly. Press the raspberries down into the batter.

With a fork or your fingers, work the topping ingredients together until combined and crumbly. Sprinkle the crumbs over the top of the cake.

Bake for 40 - 45 minutes, or until browned and a tester comes out clean. Dust  top of cake with powdered sugar. Let cool about 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Mark's Shrimp Étouffée

We didn't intend for our first experience making étouffée to be just in time for Mardi Gras...just one of those fortuitous coincidences . By all means, don't wait until Mardi Gras to make this, though...we are talking serious Culinary Orgasm here. And it's easier to get to than you think.

First, of course, a little background. "Étouffée" literally means "smothered" in French (side  note : I should get some interesting blog hits using the words "orgasm" and "smothered" in the same post...anyone that's here for the snuff film, your blog is in another castle ;) ). "Smothering" refers to an actual cooking technique wherein your tasty ingredients of choice are cooked in a covered pan over low heat with a small amount of liquid. Étouffée also involves a roux...but not the quick mix of fat and starch that you'd use to thicken a white sauce or gravy. This roux is cooked low and slow until it's nutty and brown and dead sexy. Scientists call this the "Malliard reaction" - the browning creates literally hundreds of different flavor components that do happy dances on your tongue. We just call it OMGWTF good. (If the scientists are boring you, just feed them more and tell them not to talk with their mouths full).

Our own journey with étouffée started with a not-so-great restaurant, actually. We're big fans of Cajun/Creole food here (Mark's jambalaya is legendary), and étouffée is something that we'd read about but never actually had. We'd gotten a line on a Cajun restaurant in the Springfield, MA area that was supposed to be amazing (supposedly complete with alligator jambalaya !), and when we were out there for a sportsman's show we decided to check it out. We were definitely...underwhelmed. No alligator to be had, so Mark went for the étouffée  - edible, but nothing to write home about. Once we tried it, we knew we could do better. I've been after Mark to challenge himself with some new dishes...and with a blizzard this past weekend, he had the perfect opportunity to google himself a couple of recipes (this one was inspired by both Paula Deen's and Emeril's...pretty good sourcing !). I did nothing with this other than eat it...and it was AWESOME. Serious, serious Culinary Orgasm.

A note on the Shrimp Stock: it's definitely worth it to make this homemade as it's very, very easy (and you'll have everything on hand to make the étouffée anyway). This will make enough for two batches of  étouffée; it freezes beautifully and works in so many dishes (may I humbly suggest my own excellent seafood risotto...okay, maybe that wasn't so humble :) ) Oh, and one more note, this time on the rice : we strongly recommend making your rice using chicken stock instead of water, particularly for this adds a very nice touch.

shrimp stock a bubblin'

perfect caramel roux

add the veg...

 simmering !

 sourdough ciabatta rolls make a wonderful side

 ready to eat



Mark’s Shrimp Etouffee
(inspired by Paula Deen and Emeril Lagasse)

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra flour, optional
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped celery
3 – 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more if desired
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning (Mark used a mix of Emeril's Baby Bam and Essence, as we had mixed up both for some prior recipes...they are very similar, so either would work...or use your favorite blend !)
1/2 cup minced green onions, plus extra for garnish if desired
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley leaves, plus extra for garnish if desired
2 to 3 dashes hot sauce (recommended: Tabasco)
2 cups Shrimp Stock (recipe below)
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice (the fire roasted ones are fantastic in this )
Additional salt to taste
2 pounds medium shrimp (21-25 ct)peeled and deveined (save the shells for the stock !)
Cooked rice, for serving

Peel shrimp and make Shrimp Stock (see below)

Make the roux : melt butter in a large heavy saucepan over low heat. Whisk in flour to form a paste. Continue cooking over low heat and whisk continuously, until the mixture turns a caramel color and gives off a nutty aroma, about 15 to 20 minutes. To the roux, add the onion, green pepper, celery, and garlic and cook over low heat about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are limp. Add pepper, cayenne pepper, Cajun seasoning, parsley, and hot sauce to taste. Add stock and the tomatoes with their juice, stir to blend. Add the salt, starting with 1/2 teaspoon and adding more if needed. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add shrimp and green onions and stir. It will take about 3 minutes for shrimp to cook, don't overcook. Remove from heat.  Garnish with additional green onions and parsley, if desired. Serve over hot cooked rice.


Shrimp Stock:

Shrimp shells from 2 lbs of shrimp
1 cup coarsely chopped yellow onions
1/2 cup coarsely chopped celery (include the leafy tops)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped carrots
3 smashed garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Large sprig of fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
2 teaspoons salt

Place the shrimp shells and heads in a large colander and rinse under cold running water for several minutes. Combine the shrimp shells and remaining ingredients in a heavy 6-quart stockpot, add 1 quart water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim to remove any foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes, skimming occasionally.

Remove the stock from the heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean container; let cool completely. Refrigerate the stock for up to 3 days or freeze in airtight containers for up to 2 months.

Monday, January 28, 2013

the other apple crisp

In my kitchen, the question of "should I make apple crisp" always has a followup question - "which kind ?" I've already blogged about the glories of the Irish Oatmeal Apple Crisp with Whiskey Whipped Cream - the show-stopping final act of our annual St. Patrick's Day Feast. The pleasant chewiness of the oats...the tart yet sweet, soft apples...and the unexpected yet unbelievably harmonious subtle note of smokiness and bite from the whiskey...mmm, is it March 17th yet ?

There is another kind of apple crisp that happens here, that I've been making even longer than the oatmeal version. This one has a gorgeous sugary, buttery, crunchy crust - no oats at all, but just as good as the oat version in its own sugar-rush way.  Basically a Silver Palate adaptation, this is a simple recipe...and simply a Culinary Orgasm.

A note on the apples : you can make this with whatever kind of apples you have on hand - ignore those people that say you HAVE to cook with a certain kind of apple - clearly they've never done anything fun like taking little children apple picking (they usually head right for the shiny red ones.) I've made apple crisps with everything from super tart Granny Smiths to super sweet Honeycrisps and it always works perfectly. You do want a little tartness to offset all the sugar, though - that's where the lemon comes in. Taste a little of the apple, and if it's sweet squeeze that lemon half harder (or even use the whole lemon). If the apple makes you pucker up, just give it a light pass with the lemon. Don't sweat the lemon - however much you use will be fine, I promise !! 

apples for today's crisp : Empire

ready for some sugar, sugar !

making the topping

yes, this is really how it looks at first...

...but it all pats down nicely

baked and ready

mmm !!

Apple Crisp
adapted from "The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook"

5 large or 6 medium apples (enough to just about fill your pan with slices), peeled, cored, and sliced into medium slices (if you use a wedger, cut the wedges in half)
Juice of half a lemon
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into pieces (plus a little extra to butter the pan)

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 8 inch cake pan with unsalted butter.

2. Place about half the apple slices in the pan, and squeeze the lemon half over them lightly (in other words, don't use it all in your first pass). Repeat with rest of apples and rest of lemon half. Level out the apples as best you can (no need to go all Martha Stewart here - just flatten them out.)

3. Process the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a food processor fitted with a steel blade* just to combine. Add the butter and process, using repeated pulses, until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

4. Dump the crumb mixture on top of the apples (it will look like a mountain of sand - see above picture. This is normal - don't worry, it will really all fit.) Level out the crumbs as best you can (again, don't go all OCD) and press the crumbs down on to the apples and to the edges of the pan.

5. Bake until the top is golden and the apples are tender, about 1 hour. Serve warm with good quality vanilla ice cream (or gelato - Talenti makes a great one that's available in most supermarkets). Note : for some reason, the whiskey whipped cream - though spectacular - doesn't go quite as well with this crisp, in my opinion. If you've a yen for the whiskey (and really, why wouldn't you now), go for it - it's your damn apple crisp !   

*Don't fret if you don't have a food processor - you can still have delicious apple crisp goodness ! Just cut the butter into really small pieces (it's okay - and actually helpful - to let it get slightly soft). Mix the dry ingredients together well, then work in the butter with your fingertips, a pastry blender, or even the back of a fork.