Monday, October 31, 2011

Not Your Average Cranberry Sauce

There is something wonderful about tradition.  The repeated action, the comfort in its history...the idea of traditions just makes me smile. I have been in charge of cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving Dinner for as long as I can remember.  It began with my mother giving me the berries to sort- and I would sit at the kitchen table and carefully look through the bags, finding any cranberries with imperfections, and removing any leftover stems or leaves that managed to cling on from the bog.  As time went on and I grew up, I got to be in charge of the whole process- sorting to cooking.  Of course, Cranberry Sauce might be one of the easiest things to make, so I can't feel too proud of it.  Water, sugar, berries- it's pretty straightforward. 

This weekend, as I grocery shopped for the week ahead, I saw a lovely bag of cranberries sitting in the refrigerator case.  I never make cranberry sauce outside of Thanksgiving, but seeing them inspired me and into my cart they went.  I continued to wander and found some of my other favorite fall ingredients- sage, a pomegranate, and then, ginger root.  I grabbed at each excitedly, normal ingredients becoming treasures.

Back at home I measured out a cup of sugar and a cup of water and set them, in a medium sized pot, over medium low heat.  The idea here was to get the sugar to melt.  Then I roughly chopped four leaves of fresh, beautiful sage, and then grated a tablespoon of fresh ginger, and a table spoon of orange zest into the pot.  These ingredients simmered together until all of the sugar melted into the water, and then I removed the sage leaves, and then added the package of (sorted) cranberries.  I followed the "directions" on the package from here- though basically you just wait until the cranberries burst and then the sauce is done.

I poured the sauce into a bowl and set aside to cool.  Once it had reached room temperature, I removed about a cup of the sauce, and stirred in 1/4 cup of pomegranate seeds, an 1/8 cup chopped walnuts, and then just a bit (a teaspoon) of fresh cracked black pepper.  I was in love with this sauce.  The cranberries had a wonderful spicy flavor from the fresh ginger and the black pepper, they had maintained their own tartness, but were wonderfully sweet from the sugar, as well as the pomegranate seeds.  The walnuts helped a long with texture and the orange added a wonderful citrus freshness.  This was great on it's own, and as a relish for a sandwich- more on that later though.    

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Flavors of Fall 2011, November 14, 5:30- 8:30 pm

If you are a frequent reader of A Boston Food Diary, you'll know that I have been celebrating the flavors of fall for a few months now. Sweet potatoes, apples, hearty meats, stews- I've been knee deep in all of those wonderful, warming dishes.  Of course, I'm not the only one.  Chefs all over Boston have been rolling out their fall menus, and keeping the stomachs of Bostonians full and happy with treasures from the fall harvest.  As usual, that great organization with their finger on the pulse of all things Boston and Food, BostonChefs.com is helping us get into that fall spirit. 

Monday, November 14, 2011 marks the 8th Annual Flavors of Fall fundraising event organized by BostonChefs.com.  This is a great celebration bringing together some of the best chefs in Cambridge and Somerville, all showcasing their favorite dishes from their fall menus.  Appearing that evening, among many others will be the creative geniuses behind the newly opened Catalyst, The Blue Room, Upstairs on the Square, and EVOO.  

Of course, this isn't just about the food (though it mainly is), the best part of the evening is that every penny from the ticket sales goes to help Cambridge based Tutoring Plus.  Tutoring Plus is a non profit organization helping the youth of the Cambridge area succeed in academic arenas, as well as social and personal skills.  

Tickets and more information can be found online at http://bostonchefs.com/static/events/flavors/2011/ 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Yankee Pot Roast from New England Home Cooking

True New England cuisine is not a work of art.  It is full of rich, hearty flavors, stick to your ribs ingredients, and, perhaps most of all, heart.  So much of New England cooking was created to sustain the men as they set out on fishing trips, spent long days on the farm, or, you know, founded the country.  Those are some hunger inducing tasks they had in front of them.  So the meals they required included good meats, potatoes, hearty biscuits, and savory gravies.  This is the food this country was built on, and though it isn't always pretty to look at, it is some of the most beautiful food out there because of what it stands for. 

A couple of weeks ago I was sent a copy of the New England Home Cooking Cook Book.  The day I received it, I ripped open the package and immediately began flipping through- my excitement was palpable.  Since that day I have read through countless recipes, as well as their accompanying stories, and was comforted by the rich history and culture that New England is based in.  Finally I had the opportunity, on one of these fantastic chilly days to make the Pot Roast outlined in the book.  A perfect, warming, slow meal.  

Yankee Pot Roast with a Fresh Face, from New England Home Cooking
Serves 6-8

1 4-lb piece of beef chuck, rolled and tied if necessary
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups beef broth
1 cup dry red wine
2 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh thyme
6 carrots, peeled and cut in sticks about 2 inches long and 1/2 inch wide
4 parsnips, peeled and cut in 1/2 inch thick slices
2 cups frozen pearl onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 tbsp chopped fresh thyme, plus sprigs for garnish

1.  Sprinkle the meat generously with salt and pepper on all sides.  Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven.  Brown the meat over medium-high heat, turning so that all sides are seared, about 10 minutes.  Remove to a plate, leave the drippings in the pan.

2.  Add the onion and garlic to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to soften, about 4 minutes.  Sprinkle with flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.  Stir in the broth and wine and bring the sauce to a simmer, stirring.  Add the bay leaves and thyme sprig and return the meat and any accumulated juices to the pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, until the meat is tender about 2 hours.  Spoon off the excess fat that has risen to the surface.  (The meat can be cooked 2 days ahead and refrigerated, covered.  Lift the hardened fat off the surface before reheating.)

3.  Cook the carrots in a large saucepan of boiling, salted water for 5 minutes.  Add the parsnips and pearl onions and continue to cook until all the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Drain the vegetables saving 1 cup of the cooking water.

4.  Remove the pot roast to a carving board.  Cut the meat across the grain into slices and arrange on a serving platter.

5.  If necessary, stir some of the reserved vegetable cooking water into the gravy to thin it into a smooth, pourable consistency.  Stir in the parsley and chopped thyme and heat through.  

6.  Arrange the cooked vegetables around the meat, spoon the gravy of the top, garnish with thyme sprigs and serve.

I made a few changes to the recipe, and learned a few lessons.  First- make sure your meat is at least basically submerged, and turn it a few times.  My liquid wasn't enough to submerge it and my meat was a bit tough at the end.  Also- I didn't prepare the veggies according to the recipe- I cut down the carrots and parsnips, skipped the onions, and instead cubed 3 red potatoes.  I tossed these in olive oil, chopped rosemary, thyme and garlic.  I roasted them in an 400 degree oven until they were cooked through.  

I also reduced the cooking liquid by boiling it until it had lost about 1/3 of volume. 

The flavors in this dish were fantastic.  The herbs were bright and floral which paired perfectly with the hearty meat and the dense gravy.  I do wish I had added more liquid, or turned the meat a few times, but it didn't ruin the dish either.  Pot Roast is classic.  It is satisfying, heart warming, and comforting.  Pot Roast is one of those meals that will put meat on your bones and send you out prepared into the cold air.      

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

A few weeks ago I attempted to make Caramel Apple Cupcakes. I ended up with pound cake cupcakes with a caramel apple sauce.  They were delicious, don't get me wrong- but not at all what I had been going for. So, after apple picking last weekend, I thought I'd give them another shot.  I wanted a real cupcake, with icing, and filled with the apple mixture.  The lesson learned?  I have some tasty ideas...but my execution needs some work :-)

I set out to make delicious cupcakes first and foremost, so I turned to my favorite baker- Beantown Baker who I knew had a fantastic golden cupcake recipe on her blog. I gotta say- for all your baking needs- please refer to Ms. Beantown- she has some of the most incredibly delicious recipes over there.  I'm actually not allowed to view her site before lunch- because Ill run out and start buying cupcakes and brownies like the world is ending.  But I digress...  I made her Yellow Cupcakes.

Yellow Cupcakes -Stolen from Beantown Baker-makes 24

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups milk


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 24 cupcake liners in two muffin pans. Into a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, and salt; set aside.


In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until combined after each addition.


Divide batter between the prepared pans. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until cakes are golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Allow cupcakes to cool in pan for 10 minutes. Then place them on cooling racks until they are completely cooled.

As they cooled, I made more caramel (like I need that in my house).  I used, again, the recipe for Salted Caramel from the Smitten Kitchen. That lady knows how to make Caramel! 


Deep, Dark Salted Butter Caramel Sauce [Sauce au Caramel au Beurre Salé] Recipe from the Smitten Kitchen


3 ounces (6 tablespoons) salted butter, the better you can get, the better it will taste---I used unsalted butter and then added 1/2 tsp - 1 tsp of salt



1/2 cup plus two tablespoons heavy cream, at room temperature




Melt the sugar over medium to moderately high heat in a larger pot than you think you’ll need–at least two or three quarts, whisking or stirring the sugar as it melts to ensure it heats evenly. Cook the liquefied sugar to a nice, dark copper color. Add the butter all at once and stir it in, before turning off the stove and pour in the heavy cream (The sauce will foam up quite a bit when you add it; this is why you want the larger pot.), whisking it until you get a smooth sauce.




You use it right away or pour it into a jar and store it in the fridge for up to two weeks. When you take it out, it will likely have thickened a bit but 60 seconds in the microwave brings it right back to pouring consistency.







Caramel Apple Sauce


2 small semi tart apples, cored and chopped.
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 - 3/4 cup caramel sauce (recipe above)
In a saute pan over low heat melt the butter and add the cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Add the apples, and stir until they are coated with the spice mixture and just slightly tender. Add the caramel sauce and stir until combined.
 
After the cupcakes had cooled I then cut a shallow core in the middle of each from the top down, and then pulled out the freed cake.  I sliced off the bottle of each core until about a half inch of cake from the top of the cupcake remained.  I spooned in a bit of the caramel apple sauce into the cavity of each and then topped it with the removed piece of cake. 
 
Then I iced each one.  I have
never really used a pastry bag before for icing so this was a new experience for me.  Luckily, my friend who tried these out with me said they looked professional-even if that was a lie- it's good enough for me!

 
I selected a cream cheese icing, pairing the tang of the cream cheese with the sweetness of the caramel.  I wanted to tie it even more together though, so I went looking for a cream cheese frosting that could also incorporate cider-to echo that apple filling. 
 
I loosely based my cream cheese frosting recipe from these, and worked mainly with the recipe using 3 oz of cream cheese.
 
1 3-oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened

½ teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 cups confectioners' sugar
2-3 tablespoons apple cider

Cream together the cream cheese and butter.
Add confectioners' sugar, milk, vanilla and the cider.


These were a really delicious cupcake.  The golden cake was soft, sweet, and had a wonderful flavor of vanilla.  The apples added wonderful texture and flavor, a bit of surprise in the center of a "typical" looking cupcake.  I would, however use a different cream cheese frosting recipe.  The one above was too sweet, without enough tang from the cream cheese.  Also the cider flavor wasn't as prevalent as I would have liked.

All in all though- I love the idea behind this cup cake, and I will absolutely make it again. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Nespresso Latissima- an evening of dining with Ted Allen, and a look into Espresso

Last week I had the, beyond extreme, pleasure of attending a dinner with Food Network host, and general food guru, Ted Allen hosted by Nespresso US.  I was thrilled to attend, mainly because Ted Allen has been one of my favorite food personalities since Queer Eye For The Straight Guy aired, and I find myself so often agreeing with his opinions.  I was also thrilled to find out more about Nespresso, the company who made it convenient and easy for consumers to make a perfect espresso, or latte or cappuccino at home.  

I was first introduced to Nespresso a few years ago when a chef friend of mine excitedly purchased one.  He raved about how great the espresso was, how easy it was to assemble, clean, and use.  I tried a cup once when visiting and shared his excitement.  I loved the deep rich flavor of the coffee, and was shocked at how good the espresso was, complete with crema, from a simple machine.  I was thrilled to have a chance to revisit Nespresso, learn their secrets and try their coffee again.

Our dinner that evening was paired with several different espressos- a dream come true to a coffee freak like me.  The first course concentrated on naturally sweeter components- a sweet potato cup filled with a parsnip puree and then decorated with a coffee "caviar".  This was paired with the Livanto Grand which was deep and smokey.  The flavors were balanced, creating harmony, and the coffee itself had very little aftertaste.  It was clean and delicious, and when drunk after a bite of the sweet potato - it accentuated the sweetness of the vegetable.  

Our second course, steak with a veal demi ketchup and a cab cake, was accentuated with the currently featured limited edition- Dhjana.  The Dhjana is a blend of beans from a variety of locals including Costa Rica, Brazil, and India- this blend resulted in an extremely bold, full flavor coffee that was perfect to stand up to the big flavors of the steak.  

Finally, we were served a trio of mini desserts, and complimented it with a Decaffeinated espresso- known as Intenso.  I am not a decaf fan.  Normally I find that the flavor that I'm searching for in coffee, that big, bold, wonderfully bitter flavor is missing, or it falls flat.  The Intenso had incredible flavor.  Strong, rich and perfect to pair with sweet desserts such as Vanilla Affagato, a mocha frappe or a pot du creme.  

After dinner was complete, and we were buzzing (literally) on the fantastic coffees, we were given our own Nespresso Latissima machines to bring home with us.  The Latissima is the newest model to join the Nespresso family, offering an easy solution to make espressos, lattes and cappuccinos.  Their unique milk carafe perfectly steams milk and then facilitates the addition of coffee.  The result are creamy, well foamed drinks that pack a punch of flavor.  I have been loving my machine since bringing it home.  I have dipped into my supplies of Nespresso cups and indulged in several espressos and lattes since breaking open the box.  I have been astounded the variations of flavors from the coffees.  Each one has had different notes throughout from smoke to floral, chocolate to spices.  

Everything about the Nespresso Latissima has brought me joy over the past couple of days.  From the ease of setting up, to the excitement of my first cup of espresso, to the relaxation of enjoying a latte at home- it has been a fantastic addition to my kitchen. 

Special THANK YOU to Nespresso for their generous gift- I am so excited to continue to try out all of the coffee capsules!  

Friday, October 14, 2011

Food Day, October 24, 2011, Comes to Boston

It's a simple idea really, one that is that mix between "a long time coming" and "how doesn't that already exist?".  October 24, 2011 marks the first (in what will be an annual event) Food Day.  This day will be set aside, nationwide, as a day for all of us to come together under the single cause of finding a way to provide food- healthy, sustainable, good food- in an economically fair way.  It is a travesty that for many US families, the foods they can afford tend to be high in fats, high in cholesterol, and indisputably bad for them.  This is an issue that needs to be addressed, and changed.  The organizers of Food Day are taking this responsibility and working with chefs, journalists, farmers, health professionals, schools and community leaders to create events around the country to help spread the word.

The cause has six main points:

* Reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods



* Support sustainable farms & limit subsidies to big agribusiness


* Expand access to food and alleviate hunger


* Protect the environment & animals by reforming factory farms


* Promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids


* Support fair conditions for food and farm workers

No matter how you look at it, food is a part of all of our daily lives.  It gives us sustenance to survive, energy to accomplish, and for many of us- joy. After years of allowing processed, stale foods to be our go to's, now is the time to take back our diets and be proud of the choices we make. 

Boston is holding many events, both on October 24, as well a throughout the week, to get involved in and celebrate Food Day.  I urge you guys to get involved, either by participating in a Food Day activity, or even planning one!  All details are on the website.

A complete list of already organized events is located here.

Check it out, get involved, and celebrate healthy, nutritious, affordable food!



Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Maharaja, Harvard Square, Cambridge

I sat, staring over Harvard Square from my perch inside Maharaja, a new addition to the restaurant scene in bustling Cambridge.  As I viewed the scene below, it was a glaringly different scene to what I was experiencing inside the restaurant.  Maharaja, opened this past spring but just receiving their liquor license a week ago, is an oasis.  Ornately decorated, and filled with the music of India, it is an atmosphere designed to make their patrons feel like royalty.  Gleaming brass, high backed carved wooden chairs, elegant touches...no detail was left to chance.  Relaxing in this beautiful space, I knew I was in for a treat.

I began my meal with the Kakori Seekh Kebab.  Ground lamb, enhanced with spices, formed into kebabs, and served over sliced red onion with lemons and a house made hot sauce.  One bite of this appetizer and I was in heaven.  The lamb was perfectly cooked, fork tender, and full of warming spices.  Every bite was full of cinnamon, ginger, and clove, and when spritzed with a bit of the lemon, the acid played beautifully into this delicate dish.  The hot sauce served with this could have been eaten plain-with a spoon.  Now that is not a statement on it's heat level, because while it wasn't initially abusive, the more that is consumed the hotter it became.  The flavor present within this sauce was the real beauty.  Slow cooked for hours, the chili's break down with vinegar and the end result is spicy and tart, a wonderful addition to the kebab.

I referred my incredibly helpful server for my entree selection as I wanted to try something as authentic as possible.  He pointed me in the direction of Murgh Wajid Ali.  Murgh Wajid Ali is a dish that is truly for royalty.  It is a Chicken breast (or a Cornish game hen (traditionally)), stuffed with chicken and nuts, topped with a sliced hard boiled egg and served with a creamy Saffron sauce.  It is the height of decadence.  Visually, this was a beautiful dish- the creamy yellow sauce, a drizzle of yogurt, strands of saffron imparting their cheerful yellow dye, and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, their ruby beauty shining like jewels.  Taste wise, this dish wasn't too shabby either.  The cream sauce was rich and dense as expected, but was cut with a beautiful tang to add complexity.  The chicken was perfectly cooked, and well flavored.  The genius of the dish to me however, was the mix of the egg, and the stuffing.  The stuffing added perfect texture with its chopped nuts, and then the egg, smooth and creamy offset this in the next bite.  Two opposite mouth feels, creating a wonderful harmony.  

Maharaja is a perfect addition to the Boston area.  Their feel is formal, their prices are fair, and they are staying true to traditional dishes from India.  It is a combination that has been missed, and one that we can now welcome with open arms.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Nashoba Valley Winery- Apple Picking!

There is an old saying 'round these parts: if you don't like the weather- wait a minute!  New England weather can be a bit crazy- one minute bright and sunny, the next downpouring.  One day a balmy 50 degrees and later that week, blizzarding.  October is known for crisp, cool temperatures, but this weekend we were right back into the heart of August- with temperatures rocketing into the mid to high 80's.  It felt much more like beach weather, than any fall activities, but with a long weekend at hand, it still seemed like the best weekend to head out apple picking!

After a reviewing several options, we were off to Nashoba Valley Winery located in Bolton, Massachusetts.  Nashoba Valley Winery, as the name might imply, offers much more than just apple picking.  They make wine on site, and offer vineyard tours etc.  It is a beautiful facility, and for those of age, they do allow you to carry your wine, or beer, with you into the orchards to do your picking.  This feature is great for adults, however I was starting to see some rowdiness as a result- so perhaps parents would be best to bring their children early in the day. 

I thought it might be best to leave you today with images from the day- it was a beautiful one, and those apples made a gorgeous pie :-)










Friday, October 7, 2011

California Olive Ranch Olive Oil, and a tasting provided by Troquet, Boston

Photo Courtesy of California Olive Ranch
Rich and creamy, fresh and fruity, light with a kick...Olive Oil wears many hats.  Earlier this week I had the opportunity to dine with some folks from the California Olive Ranch and talk about their Olive Oils.  I have, in the past, compared Olive Oil to wine in that both liquids take much of their flavor from their surroundings.  The wind, rain, and dirt that these fruits are grown in all affect the flavors that they produce, and a skilled maker of wine or Olive Oil knows how to cultivate these in their favor. 

Tasting glass
The California Olive Ranch is run by a 5th generation olive rancher, so, you could say- olives are in his blood. California Olive Ranch, began its journey about 12 years ago with the purchasing of land and trees.  The layout is similar to wine, trellis line the fields in rows and it is a careful task to prune and mulch these fruit bearers.  When the olives are ready for harvesting, which occurs each November now that the trees have matured and are producing good fruit, a well padded machine assists in the project, bringing in the olives gracefully and cushioning their ride to reduce any bruising.  The team at COR then begins the work of pressing the olives, ensuring that their oils are carefully harvested, blending what they can, preserving the rest.  They currently grow three different varietals of olives, and produce both single and mixture oils.  The outcome of this tireless effort is a pure, rich, and fresh tasting olive oil- one that of course can be used in cooking, but can also be elegantly drizzled over a finished dish to boost its luxurious qualities.  

We were treated to a wonderful tasting of the oils, and then a beautiful dinner with each dish incorporating California Olive Ranch oils.  As always, I was blown away by the different flavors that are brought forth by tasting olive oil plain- one has notes of grass, another finishes with a burst of pepper as the liquid reaches the back of your throat.  Olive Oil, beyond it's rich, buttery greeting, brings a host of flavors to the palate. It is an incredible product.

We were hosted at Troquet, located right across the street from Boston's Common. Troquet has been on my list to try for ages, and I was thrilled to be able to celebrate such a great company and try out their food.

We began our meal with Burata Ravioli, tender pillows of pasta stuffed with creamy Burata cheese, and then served with braised artichokes and an heirloom tomato fondue. The elements of this dish on their own were perfect.  The dense cheese was cut nicely with the acidity of the tomato, and the tang of the artichoke.  Bringing it to the next level though was the beautiful drizzle of olive oil that tied it all together.  The chef had used the simple Every Day olive oil, so the flavor was nicely muted allowing the other pieces of the dish to sing, but it was able to add a wonderful richness that tied it all together.

Our second course was olive oil poached salmon, topped with a paper thin olive oil fried toast, and paired with a saffron couscous enhanced with eggplant and Vadouvian spices.  The finished affect was beautifully Middle Eastern, with vibrant, smokey, and fresh flavors. The salmon was perfect, tender, and well seasoned, and was wonderful when paired with the crisp toast.  The chef utilized the Miller's Blend in this dish, a spicier, fuller flavored olive oil from the line up.  Here, the bolder olive oil stood up next to the delicate fish, complimenting it, but not overpowering.

Finally, our dessert course was presented. A Valhrona Chocolate tart filled with a black olive caramel combined with olive oil, and then served with orange ice cream.  Never before have I had a combination of both chocolate and olives, and to be honest I was a little nervous.  The end result however was the wonderful decadent sweetness of the chocolate and caramel combined, punched up with that great, salty, olive flavor.  I was truly impressed with Troquet's use of Olive Oil and their general interpretation of this menu.  

The real star of the show though was California Olive Ranch Olive Oils.  If you're like me- you've been buying the same olive oil for years- and it's probably the one you grew up with.  I urge you to give California Olive Ranch a try.  It is sold locally in Shaw's, Stop and Shop etc, and it is absolutely worth the deviation from your tried and true.     

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fudge Drops

You know that glorious down time that comes when cooking?  The prep work is complete, the kitchen is organized, and you know exactly when you need to pop whatever it is you're making into the oven to be ready in time for dinner. The other evening I was blessed with this downtime.  My friend wasn't due to arrive for dinner for a while still, the protein I was preparing was basically ready, the veggies were prepped, the dishes done, and I was sitting on the couch reading a cookbook.  And then it hit me-Dessert!  Of course I should have made dessert for my friend- why would I try to serve dinner without a sweet closure?  So I recklessly started flipping through cook books, looking for a recipe that was easy to make, delicious, and could be made with what I already had in my limited pantry. 

I should have known that King Arthur Flour would have the answer to my quest.  I knew I had a ton of chocolate leftover from the New England Dessert Showcase, and then I stumbled on the recipe for Fudge Drops.  They were noted to be "Quick and Easy" (check), they contained only ingredients that I had on hand (check) and they sounded rich, fudgey and delicious (check!).  I was sold.

I quickly bounded off my couch and whipped these bad boys up, removing the final tray from the oven just as my doorbell was ringing.  These were incredibly easy to make, and had a really wonderful soft, fudgey quality to them.  I will definitely be keeping them in my repertoire of easy desserts to make in a pinch!

Fudge Drops (recipe Courtesy of King Arthur Flour)

8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate*

3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) butter
1 cup (7 1/4 ounces) sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (6 ounces) chocolate chips, optional


*You may use regular chocolate chips (1 1/3 cups = 8 ounces), but we prefer the flavor of bittersweet chips, or any of our bittersweet chocolates. If you're using bar chocolate (as opposed to chips), chop it into irregular 1/2 to 3/4-inch chunks.


In a double boiler, or in the microwave, gently melt together the chocolate and butter. To avoid heating the chocolate too much and possibly burning it, the best method is to heat till the butter is melted and the chocolate has partially melted, then remove from the heat. Stir till all the chocolate melts.


In a separate bowl, beat together the sugar and eggs till they're thoroughly combined. Add the hot melted chocolate, then stir in the remaining ingredients, including the chocolate chips, if you're using them. Refrigerate the batter-like dough for 1 hour, to make it easier to handle.


Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets, three if you have them.


Drop the cookie dough by tablespoonfuls (about the size of a small ping pong ball) onto the prepared baking sheets. A tablespoon cookie scoop makes this task extremely simple. Leave about 2" between the dough balls, as they'll spread as they bake.


Bake the cookies for 11 to 12 minutes, until their tops are shiny and cracked. They won't crack until the very end, so keep a close eye on them; when they're cracked all the way across the top surface, they're just about done. The point is, you want these baked all the way through, but just barely; additional baking will make them crisp rather than chewy. Remove the cookies from the oven, and top each with a kiss-shaped chocolate, a nonpareil, or a bittersweet chocolate wafer, if desired. Wait 5 minutes, then transfer them to a rack to cool.


Yield: about 26 cookies without chips, 30 cookies with chips.


Bakers' tip: Want to make smaller cookies? Drop the dough in 1" balls onto the baking sheets (a teaspoon cookie scoop works well here), leaving 2" between them. Bake for 11 minutes. Yield: about 55 cookies.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Stove Top Popcorn, with a Spicy, Cheesy Topping

I made a decision some years ago to do away with my microwave.  I changed apartments and moved on without it-and to be honest I haven't looked back since.  I scoff when recipes instruct me to melt things in the microwave, and I relish the slower nature of my cooking without it.  However there is one thing that does make me miss a microwave- popcorn.  Every so often at my office a coworker will heat up a bag of microwave popcorn and the aroma is intoxicating.  The nutty scent, mixed with the perfect amount of butter and salt, wafts through the floor and I begin to hear my stomach rumble.  At home the smell is still with me, and I crave a big bowl of popcorn, liberally dashed with Franks Hot Sauce, a tradition I've long held, instilled in my by my Alma mater. 

This past weekend the craving became too much and I decided that popcorn needed to be my football watching snack.  However I wasn't about to breakdown and purchase a microwave- no I was going to make it the old fashioned way- on the stove top. 

I purchased my kernels, and some fixings for a fun topping, and began.  To be perfectly clear- making popcorn on a stove top is simple.  Honestly-it's beyond simple.  I followed the instructions on the bag of kernels I purchased from trusty Trader Joe's and the process took about 10 minute- start to finish. 

I began with my creative addition- a cheesy topping.
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp ground dried herbs (I used an Herbs de Provence mix)
1 tsp mustard powder
Salt and pepper

Combine in a small bowl, set aside.




Add three tablespoons of oil to a large skillet.  Add 2-3 kernels of corn to the pan.  Cover and set over medium high heat.  When the kernels pop, add a half cup of kernels, recover, and shake the pan vigorously until the rest of the kernels pop, or the popping slows considerably.  Remove the popcorn from the pan, toss with the cheesy topping and Viola!  Popcorn is made.

Seriously- this was the simplest snack I've made in ages, but the flavor was so much better than microwave popcorn.  The kernels were fresh, they were clean tasting, and then I got to make all of my own toppings to really make it a tasty food.  Skip the microwaves folks- making popcorn on the stove top is easy- and actually really fun!

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