Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dark Chocolate Tart

I was going to keep giving you cookie recipes from my cookie baking bonanza, until I was hit with an epiphany Wednesday at work around lunch time.  It went something like this: "oh my god.  The chocolate tart".   And then I proceeded to feel guilty the rest of the day because, well, the chocolate tart.  I forgot to write and tell you about the chocolate tart.

It was going to be my birthday cake when I was home in November, but got bumped back to Thanksgiving when I found an incredibly recipe for cinnamon roll cheese cake, and begged my mom to make that for me instead.  See, I wanted to make the chocolate tart myself, bask in the glory of it's deliciousness, take all the credit for it and then post it on here.  It was that last part that I sort of, kinda, just until this Wednesday, forgot. And I am so sorry, because this tart is a chocolate orgy in your mouth, in the absolute best way possible.

If you do not love chocolate, this is not for you.  But if you can't help but order the chocolate lava cake whenever it appears on a menu anywhere, even though you know it'll probably just disappoint you, you have found the one.  It is thick, dense and fudgey, yet the top kind of gets crackly almost like a brownie.  You're basically eating solid, silky chocolate in a gingersnap crust, and let me tell you, it doesn't get better than that.  This tart is so good that when I realized that the slice I took on the plane with me to let Ben "try" got lost, never to be found, I almost cried.  Real tears.  It's just that good.

And I know that this is the day before diets and cleanses and all other manners of trying to purge holiday weight begin.  And I know that I've been holding out on you since Thanksgiving with the perfection that is this tart.  And I apologize.  But look at it this way, what better way is there to end this season of gluttony then to enjoy a slice of pure chocolate heaven while forgetting for those moments the fact that tomorrow you'll eat nothing but egg whites, carrot sticks and water?  Right?  Right!

Whatever rationalization you need to tell yourself to get this tart into your oven, onto a plate and into your mouth, I promise, it'll be worth it.  And then just resolve tonight that you'll be better tomorrow...
 Happy New Year!!!

Dark Chocolate Tart
The smitten kitchen strikes again!

As a head's up, my pictures do not do this tart justice.  It is pretty and even if your's doesn't come out picture perfect, frankly once people have tasted it, they won't give a crap.  We did gussie ours up with some fresh cranberries and whip creme, but of course, there are no pictures of that...

Also, our was a hodgepdoge of chocolate.  There were a few ounces of German chocolate thrown in there, some Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips and a few ounces of Baker's unsweetened.  And it all came together beautiful.  For the crumb crust, I had to use more butter and next time I won't pulverize the gingersnaps (homemade by my momma, of course) as finely.  Maybe that'll help with the crumbliness.

1 2/3 c. gingersnap cookie crumbs
l/4 c. melted butter (I had to use more)

12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 c. heavy whipping cream
2 large egg yolks (save the whites for meringues!  yum)
1 large egg
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. flour
1/8 tsp. fine ground black pepper
Large pinch of kosher salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Chop and whir gingersnap cookies in food processor until you have enough.  Add melted butter and pulse a few times until mixture comes together.  Press into 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom.  Firmly press onto bottom and up sides of pan, using a coffee cup or straight-walled measuring cup to help form the sides.  Place on rimmed baking sheet.

In medium sauce pan over low heat, combine chocolate and cream.  Whisk until chocolate has melted and mixture is smooth, remove from heat.  In separate bowl, whisk remaining ingredients thoroughly.  In small batches, gradually mix in chocolate and cream mixture into egg mixture, beating well after each addition so chocolate filling is well blended and smooth.  Pour filling (trying not to steal too many taste tries...) into prepared crust.

Bake tart in 325 degree oven until filling puffs slight at the edges and the center is softly set, about 30-32 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack.  After 20 minutes, remove tart pan gently, as the crust will be very crumbly.  Allow tart to completely cool.  Slice and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lemony Slice-and-Bake

Recently, my problem has not been lack of creativity nor an unwillingness to shop and try new recipes.  Rather, it has been the very fast and very unexplainable disappearance of time.  Well that and a dash of laziness.  I actually have several recipes ready to go, pictures and all, but not the time to type them all out.

Between an international long weekend trip, Christmas with the family, moving apartments yet again (fingers crossed, this is the last time!) and a big New Year's Eve party to go to, blogging unfortunately has taken a back seat.  But at least once a week is what I promised you all back in the beginning, and that is what I am going to do.  Thank God for the holidays, otherwise we could be in real trouble here.  Please just excuse me that I'm a little behind on the times, and you're getting Christmas cookies two days after Christmas.  But what else are New  Year's Eve Parties for??

These cookies are quite wonderful, tart in the most delicious and lemony way.  If you are a fan of lemon, these are definitely for you.  I just drizzled them all over with the lemon glaze that Bon Appetit gave with the recipe, but a sprinkle of some raw sugar or decorative sugar would be just the topping these tart babies need.  They mellow out after a day or two and these didn't last beyond that, so I can't tell you where they go from there.

Lemony Slice-And-Bake
Adapted from December 2011's Bon Appetit

These are of the infamous slice and bake variety, so if you want to leave a log frozen in the freezer, ready to go at a moment's notice, go for it!

2 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. lemon zest (from 2 medium sized lemons)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks

Lemon Glaze:
2 c. powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Whisk together flour and salt.  In electric mixer, beat butter, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla extract until light and fluffy.  Add egg yolks all at once and beat on medium high speed until just incorporated.  Reduce mixer speed to low and add flour in a few batches, mixing until just blended.

Lay out two sheets of plastic wrap.  Turn dough out onto one sheet and divide into two even balls.  Roll each ball into a log, about 1 1/2-inches in diameter.  Wrap each log well in plastic wrap and chill in fridge until firm.  (Can be done up to 2 days in advance, if longer, freeze).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Remove logs from fridge and unwrap.  Working quickly so logs stay chilled, cut into 1/4-inch rounds.  Space out on prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart.  Bake for 16-18 minutes, or until cookies are golden brown around the edges and firm.  Remove from oven and let cool on pan for one minute, move to a wire rack to finish cooling.

For lemon glaze, whisk all three ingredients, adding more powdered sugar or lemon juice as needed for proper consistency.  Drizzle over cooled cookies and let stand until icing sets.

"Do Ahead: Can be made 3 days ahead.  Store airtight at room temperature"

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chocolate Chip Meringues

I went a little crazy on Sunday.  I got in the spirit of Christmas and dived in head first into a day of baking.  I do it every year and in a fit of what I will call holiday cheer, I make cookies.  Lots of cookies.  Usually this results in very happy friends, family and coworkers and one giant mess in my kitchen.  This year held two surprises though.  One, my kitchen was not a mess afterwards.  Flour did not cover my flour, walls and all my counters and somehow dishes only took 20 minutes tops.  I'm still not 100% sure how I managed that, but I chalk that up to me growing up and becoming a mature adult. (ha!)  And secondly, I love meringues.

I don't know what took me so long to come to that realization but by noon on Monday, I had eaten 7.  I'm not proud of this.  I am also, apparently, completely powerless when it comes to meringues.  Or, to put a much less fattening spin on the topic, these meringues are that good.  First off, just look how pretty they are.  All whippy and peaked.  And then you pick one up and they're light as air (which ties into how you can convince yourself that it's ok to eat more than 8 in one day...)  And then you bite into this puff of toasted, stale Peep-like sugary  concoction and I know that doesn't sound delicious, but it is. And the next thing you know, you've put 9 down your gullet and your hankering for number 10.  Damn, I want another one...

They're easy-peasy to make too, which if you're me is the scary part about this.  Now I can have meringues whenever I want.  You just put your KitchenAid on and start whipping the whites, then pour in some salt and vanilla, followed by small additions of sugar.  Once you got your peaks, you get to fold in yummy goodness (aka-mini chocolate chips and chopped cashews) and plop they go onto a cookie sheet, into the oven and 25 minutes later, these come out.  Bam.  One goes into your mouth, followed by two, three and four and then you just resign yourself to the fact that it's officially the holidays and you'll try to be skinny come January... More cookie recipes to come!  I just need to go work out first.  Happy Holidays!

Chocolate Chip Meringues
A la the Smitten Kitchen

The one thing I didn't do was to chop up the mini chocolate chips.  I have already gone back and forth about this in my head.  At the moment, I am liking the fact that they kind of big in there, not just a chocolaty swirl all through.  But that could be a good thing too.  My best solution?  Chop half, leave the other mini chips whole.  Also, if you start thinking about all the other wonderful things you could shove into a meringue, you are not alone.  I want to make batches with peanut chips, toffee bits and that yummy orange stuff inside of Butterfingers, aka Chick-O-Sticks.  If any of it ever happens, I'll let you know.

Also, I did not have any cream of tartar on hand.  You only need 1/8 tsp of it.  Little known fact, baking powder is 1/4 tsp. baking soda and 5/8 cream of tartar.  Tada-  I just subbed in 1/4 tsp. of baking powder and as far as I can tell, it did what it was supposed to.  This will make about 2-3 dozen.

2 egg whites, room temp
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
scant 3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. mini chocolate chips, some chopped if you wish
1/4 c. chopped pecans, or whatever kind of nut you have lying around

Preheat oven to 300°.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In clean mixing bowl, whip egg whites till frothy.  Add salt, baking powder and vanilla, continue to whip until egg whites hold soft peaks.  In small additions, start adding in sugar, letting mixture whip a few seconds in between each addition.  Whip until stiff.  Gently fold in chocolate and nuts.  Spoon batter by rounded tablespoon onto a prepared baking sheet.  Bake in over for 25 minutes, till undersides are lightly tanned and cookies sound hollow.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Spicy Stuffed Mushrooms

Why, helllooo mister Jimmy Dean.  Have you met Ms. Cream Cheese?  Because I think you two would really hit it off.  Truly.  So please, mix, mingle, meld.  

Need a place to hang out?  Well, lookie here, why don't you take a sit in one of these mushroom caps.  They're roomy and comfortable and let's just face it, meaty.  And meaty is good.  You're not cold are you?  Let's see what we got here...

Ah, yes, a blanket of a Parmesan Cheese and bread crumbs.  That's the ticket!  Please get all snuggled in underneath.  And lastly, how about some ambiance?  I'm talking steam bath here, Jimmy Dean, you can't say no to that now can you?  Didn't think so...

Alright... I really have no idea where that all came from, I guess that's just what stuffed mushrooms bring out in me.  And why wouldn't they?  It is spicy Jimmy Bean sausage and cream cheese and mushroom and please, just a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese on top, if you don't mind.  They are delicious and poppable and well, just party perfect in every way.  So, enough of the silliness, do what you do and pop these in the oven just as fast as possible, because the sooner you do that, the sooner you can pop them in your mouth!

Spicy Stuffed Mushrooms
From Mom's kitchen

2 dozen large mushrooms (plus or minus a few)
1 package Jimmy Dean Hot Sausage
1 8 oz package cream cheese
Panko bread crumbs
Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375.  Clean mushrooms with a damp cloth.  Remove stems and scoop out a little bit of insides if necessary to get a good mushroom like cup.  Place cup side up in a rimmed baking dish.

Brown and drain sausage.  In large mixing bowl, combine with cream cheese.  If you are experimenting, here is where you can add things.  Stuff sausage cream cheese mixture firmly into mushroom caps, letting them overflow slightly.  Sprinkle with Panko bread crumbs and press down to secure.  Sprinkle generously with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and press down to secure.  

Add 1 Tbsp of water to baking dish with stuffed mushrooms.  Place in 375 and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Serve hot!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Grape Apple Pie

Or, as we more affectionately referred to it all Thanksgiving day long, Grapple Pie.

My Thanksgiving adventures are long over due to show up here.  I have sneakily been avoiding them since I got back to Terre Haute by giving you recipes for things like enchiladas and crackers made with half and half.  In my defense, who really wants a stuffing recipe that requires turkey giblets to be made properly in December?  Turkey season, whether we like it or not, has passed and Christmas is gloriously upon us.  Stuffing recipes, along with pumpkin pie and candied yam recipes, are going to have to be shelved for awhile.

Pie recipes, on the other hand, do not.  Especially when honey crisp apples are still cheap and grapes so dark they look black are abundant.  And this would be a welcome addition to any Christmas, Hanukkah or "Winter Wonderland" party (for our PC friends out there...)  Just don't put a turkey cut-out in the middle and you're good to go, no turkey giblets required.

Grape Apple ("Grapple") Pie

From Bon Appetit's 2011 November edition

This pie takes a little bit of time.  Most of it is not active time, but there is parbaking, cooling and chilling.  We were running out of time and cut some corners, but even so I stayed up till 1 am finishing off the pie.  So start in the morning and don't do what we did!

For Crust:
3 c. all purpose flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small cubes
1/2 c. vegetable shortening (Crisco)
1/3 c. ice water

For Filling:
3 lbs. "tart, crisp" apples (Pink Lady, Crispin)
1 lb. black grapes
3/4 c. + 2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. all purpose flour

For crust, combine flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of a food processor.  Mix well.  Add chilled butter and shortening and cut into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse meal.  If using a food processor, pulse until dough forms coarse meal.  Slowly add ice water, continuing to pulse or cut dough until dough forms.  If dry, add more ice water by teaspoons until dough forms, but don't let it get sticky.   Divide dough into two equal balls, then flatten into disks.  Bits of butter should be seen in the dough.  Wrap disks in plastic and chill in refrigerator (NOT FREEZER--like I might have done...) for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.

Once dough is chilled, remove from fridge and immediately roll out dough into a round large enough to fill a 9 inch pie pan.  Transfer to pie pan and trim dough to edge of dish, with no dough left hanging over.  Work quickly so dough does not warm up much.  Place pie dish and dough into freezer and freeze till firm, roughly 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, add dough scraps to other ball.  Roll out dough to form pie lid, about a 12 inch circle, again working quickly so dough remains cold.   Slide onto a parchment paper covered baking sheet and return to fridge to chill.

To parbake the bottom crust, preheat oven to 375°.  Line dough with parchment paper and fill with dried beans.  Place in oven and bake 25-30 minutes, or until edge just start to turn golden.  Remove parchment paper and beans.  If bottom has puffed up, prick in a few places with a fork.  Return to oven and continue to bake another 20-25 minutes, until crust is a deep golden brown.  Transfer to wire rack and let cool to room temperature.

While crust is cooling, peel, core and thinly slice apples.  Halve grapes and remove any seeds if present.  Combine apple slices, grapes, sugar and flour in a large saucepan, mix well.  Cook on stove over medium-low heat, stirring often for 30-40 minutes.  Fruit should begin to look translucent and juices will thicken.  Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature.  While cooling, decoratively cut top crust dough, reserving cutouts to place on top as more decoration.  Return to fridge.

Once mixture has cooled, preheat oven to 375°.  Pour filling into parbaked pie crust.  Carefully transfer refrigerated top crust over filling.  Cut off overhang and press crusts closed.  Place reserved cutouts over top, pressing lightly to make sure cutouts stick.  Place pie on rimmed baking sheet to catch any drips.

Bake pie at 375°, until juices are bubbling and crust is a pretty golden brown, 55-60 minutes.  Transfer to wire rack to cool.  Whew, enjoy!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Parmesan and Cheddar Crackers

Happy December everyone!!  I know that it seems like only last week that I was ranting and raving about people who are obsessed with Christmas and listening to Christmas music WAYY to early, but we are less than 3 weeks from Christmas now, and people, it is officially Christmastime.  My Christmas lights are up, my snowman candle holder lit, and my Santa Claus cookie jar is safely on my counter.  Empty, but not for long.

These crackers, while not cookies, almost made it into Santa Claus's head.  In fact, the only reason they didn't was that they went too fast, and this was a double batch.  I've never made crackers before and so of course believed that they were quite difficult to make.  An assumption that I make more often than I should.  In fact, most of my culinary discoveries follow this route:  I see something commonly bought and assume it's difficult to make, I find a recipe and decide to give it a go, I make it and realize how incredibly simple it is, I then proceed to run around the rest of the weekend going "Ben!  I made crackers!  Ben!  Isn't that awesome?!?"  Needless to say, Ben isn't as impressed by my culinary achievements as much as he used to be.

 But I still am, especially when something common is simple to make, requires very few ingredients and is infinitely adaptable.  I tried these out mostly because the recipe would use up some of the left over half and half I had in the fridge.  I followed the recipe, topped it off with some fresh ground pepper and tried them out of the oven warm.  They were fantastic and required an immediate call to Ben to shout "I made crackers!"  After a lukewarm reception, I decided that if the crackers tasted that good with older, almost stale Parmesan wouldn't they taste fantastic with the block of cheddar-tomato-basil I bought not to long ago?  And a second round was born.

Personally, I enjoyed the Parmesan batch the best.  The cheddar seemed to get lost in the cracker and the tomato-basil flavor was almost entirely absent, much to my disappointment.  A stronger cheese is probably needed in order for the flavor to not get completely lost, as well as some tasty toppings.  My next endeavor in the cracker arena will be to make the Parmesan version again with something more than pepper on top, maybe fresh rosemary or thyme, maybe try out another cheese, maybe even try out another flour.  There is a block of pepper jack left over from the enchiladas and enough half and half for another batch...

Parmesan Crackers
adapted from the smitten kitchen 

1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. finely grated Parmesan cheese
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 c. half and half
Toppings: fresh ground pepper, herbs, poppy seeds, etc

Preheat oven to 400 degree F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In food processor, combine first 4 ingredients.  Pulse until well combined.  Stream in half and half with processor running until dough forms.  If necessary, add half and half until dough is formed, but not sticky.
Turn dough out onto well floured counter.  With rolling pin, roll out until less than 1/4 inch thick.  Using pizza cutter or pastry wheel or cookie cutter, cut out crackers.  (If using a pizza cutter/pastry wheel, maybe use a ruler or something, if you don't want you crackers to look like a drunk 2 year old cut them).  Using a fork, poke crackers in several places to keep them from puffing in the oven.  Transfer to prepared baking sheet and top with whatever toppings you wish.  Put in oven and bake for 12 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Remove and cool on rack.  

I didn't store these in anything, but they barely lasted 2 days.  Otherwise, store in an airtight container!  Enjoy!