Valentine’s Chocolate


Flourless Chile Chocolate Cake

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of dark chocolate, and my friends know it. So when I was recently gifted a box of Swiss chocolate from a longtime friend visiting from Geneva, I did the natural thing: I hid it. I could say it was under the guise of recipe research, but who would I be kidding?

My preferred chocolate is very dark with little bling. However, with that said, I do from time to time like to mess with my chocolate. My favorite embellishments are almonds, sea salt and chili. None of these additions detract from the richness of the chocolate, nor do they add any cloying sweetness. Rather they seem to amplify the deep chocolate flavor, while tickling the taste buds and hitting a few always-welcome umami notes.

bark balslev

Aztec Chocolate Bark

So for a little Valentines Day present, I have for you not one but two recipes with a version of spiced up chocolate. After all, there’s nothing wrong with spicing anything up around Valentine’s Day. The first recipe is for Aztec Chocolate Bark which you can find in a column I wrote for The Weiser Kitchen on Swiss chocolate (of course). And since love and chocolate go hand in hand with abundance (or at least they should), I will share with you below this recipe for Chile Spiced Flourless Chocolate Cake. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Flourless Chile-Chocolate Cake
Serves 10 to 12

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 6 pieces
12 ounces dark (70%) chocolate, finely chopped
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Powder sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler over barely simmering water making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not come in contact with the water, stirring occasionally. Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the melted chocolate, vanilla, chili powder, cinnamon, salt and cayenne. Stir to combine. Pour into the prepared springform. Bake until the cake is set and the top begins to crack, about 40 minutes. (The center will still be moist.) Cool completely on a rack. Remove the side of the pan and transfer to a serving plate. (Cake may be made up to one day in advance. Cover and refrigerate.) Serve sprinkled with powder sugar before serving.

Sizzling Fourth of July Grill Menu

We are wilting under the shroud of a spectacular heat wave here in the Bay area. Stifled by the temperature, nothing is moving – even the leaves are too warm to rustle. It’s so hot right now, it’s impossible to cook. In fact it’s so hot right now, it’s impossible to even write about cooking. So, let me treat you to a photo round up of a sensational summer grill menu in preparation for the fourth of July. Keep cool.

Blackberry Spritzer tfBlackberry Spritzer and Mojitos

gazpachBeat the Heat Chunky Gazpacho

fattoush salad tastefoodFattoush Salad

ribsSummer Solstice BBQ Baby Back Ribs

marinated chicken skewers tfGrilled Chicken Skewers with Sriracha Marinade

quinoa kale slaw tfRed Quinoa and Kale Slaw

apricot bruleeCaramelized Apricots on the Grill with Yogurt and Honey

Autumn Apple Tarte Tatin

I can’t believe it’s nearly October, and I haven’t posted a tarte tatin recipe. If you follow this blog, you well know that I love tarte tatins, the upside down-versions of fruit tarts – oodles of caramel required. In the late summer I make tarte tatins with stone fruit, practicing, anticipating the impending fall season with apples and pears. Apple Tarte Tatin is the quintessential version of this inverted squidgy pastry, named, as legend has it, for the French Tatin sisters who forgot to begin with the pastry when assembling their tart. No worries: they slapped it on top and improvised, as all good home cooks do. The result was an upside-down tart with caramelized fruit, poached in a puddle of butter and sugar. Now do you see why I love it?

Apple Tarte Tatin

Serve this rustic dessert garnished with a spoonful of very lightly sweetened whipped cream spiked with a splash of Calvados or Pear Brandy. Serves 8 to 10.

For the Sour Cream Pastry:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1/3 cup full-fat sour cream

Apple Filling:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, cut in 4 pieces
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
6 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and halved
1 egg, beaten to blend, for glaze

Prepare Pastry:
Combine flour, sugar and salt in bowl of food processor. Pulse once or twice to blend. Add butter and pulse until butter is the size of peas. Add sour cream and pulse until moist clumps form. Gather dough into ball, flatten and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. (Pastry may be made one day ahead; refrigerate until use. Pastry dough may also be frozen up to one month in freezer before rolling. Allow to defrost in refrigerator overnight.) Remove pastry from refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling out.

Prepare Tart:
Arrange butter in the bottom of large oven-proof skillet with sloping sides (preferably cast iron). Sprinkle 3/4 cup sugar evenly over butter and pan. Cook over medium heat until butter melts, the sugar is partially dissolved, and the mixture is bubbling, about 2 minutes.  Arrange apples closely together, core-side up, in a circular pattern in the skillet. If necessary, cut remaining apples in quarters to fill in the spaces. Sprinkle apples with 2 tablespoons sugar. Set skillet over medium-high heat. Boil until a thick amber coloured syrup forms, turning the skillet to ensure even cooking, about 25 to 30 minutes.
While the apples are cooking on the stove, heat oven to 425 F. Roll out pastry on parchment paper to a round shape to fit size of skillet. Return the dough and parchment to refrigerator until apples are caramelized. When ready, remove skillet from heat. Working quickly, lay pastry over apple mixture and peel away the parchment (the heat from the apples will begin to melt the pastry). Cut 3-4 slits in pastry. Brush pastry with some of the egg glaze.

Bake tart until pastry is deep golden brown and firm when tapped, about 30 minutes. Remove tart from oven and cool on rack one minute. Gently loosen the edge of the pastry around the skillet with a thin spatula. Place a serving platter over the skillet. Quickly invert the tart onto the platter, using oven mitts. If any of the apples or caramel remain in the pan, scrape it out and arrange over the tart. Cool tart slightly before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.

If you like this, you might enjoy these recipes:
Apple Cranberry Crisp from TasteFood
Apple Honey Challah from Smitten Kitchen
Pear Clafoutis from TasteFood
Spiced Pear Muffins from the Kitchn

Ring in the New Year with these Party Appetizer and Menu Ideas

The New Year is approaching, and the holiday festivities continue. During this busy time it’s fun and easy to get caught up in socializing, so it’s important to have a few tricks up our sleeve for entertaining, drop-in visitors or an impromptu get-together. Let this blog do some of the work for you. Here are a few menu ideas for holiday bites and appetizers to have on hand or to serve for a party. Meanwhile, savor the moment and enjoy some family time, take a walk in the forest or open that new book  you got from Santa.  Best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year!

Quinoa Tabbouleh

Quinoa Tabbouleh

~ Quinoa Tabbouleh ~

I love a good tabbouleh. For the uninitiated, tabbouleh is a Middle Eastern salad chockablock full of grains tumbled together with fresh herbs and diced vegetables coated with olive oil and lemon juice. It’s infinitely satisfying – hearty and fresh at once. It’s also agreeably flexible, allowing for a variety of ingredients, including the choice of grain. Traditionally, tabbouleh is made with bulgur or couscous, but quinoa is a tasty and gluten-free alternative. I like to serve tabbouleh as a side to grilled meat and fish, or as a light vegetarian meal accompanied by pita bread and hummus.

Quinoa Tabbouleh

Quinoa is a South American grain, originating in the Andes. It is complete in protein, rich in phosphorous, magnesium and iron, with a nutty flavor. Quinoa is a healthy alternative to rice, couscous and bulgur – and it’s gluten-free. When cooking quinoa, be sure to cook it long enough for the germ or tiny tail to release from the grain. Serves 4.

1 cup quinoa (I used a combination of white and red quinoa)
1 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1 red or orange bell pepper, seeded, membranes removed, finely diced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 red jalapeno or serrano chile pepper, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
Juice of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste
1 bunch mint, chopped
1 bunch cilantro (or parsley), chopped

Combine quinoa and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, covered, until liquid is absorbed and the germ, or tail, is released from the quinoa, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Stir in olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper. Cool to room temperature. Add remaining ingredients except for the mint and cilantro. Toss to combine. Taste to adjust seasoning. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour or up to 4 hours to allow flavors to develop. Before serving, stir in the mint and cilantro.

Shrimp and Feta Salad

Shrimp and Feta Salad

~ Mixed Greens, Shrimp, Feta, Tomatoes, Cured Olives ~

Shrimp and feta cheese make a perfect couple. The sharp salty cheese is a perfect complement to the briny sweet shrimp. I like to combine these two friends in rice or orzo dishes. I also enjoy baking them in a gratin with tomatoes and olives, drizzled with ouzo – which was my original intention for dinner tonight. However, time got the best of me, and for a super quick fix I tossed the shrimp in this salad instead. What would have been a simple green salad graciously accommodated sautéed shrimp and chunks of feta, transforming itself into a light and fresh main course. As for the ouzo, it was hardly bypassed, but turned into an apertif to launch our dinner. A very acceptable compromise, indeed.

Shrimp and Feta Salad

I also added red corn kernels to the salad, because I had them – and they looked so pretty with the shrimp. Serves 4.

For the vinaigrette:
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk all of the ingredients except the oil together in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil in a steady stream to emulsify. Set aside.

For the salad:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
16 medium shrimp, shelled with tails in tact, deveined
8 cups mixed greens, such as red oak, bibb, arugula
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved if large
1/2 red pepper, seeded, membranes removed, thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
16 black olives (brine cured or kalamata)
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Italian parsley leaves

Heat the oil and red pepper flakes in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp in one layer, without overcrowding the pan. Cook, turning once, until bright pink on both sides, about 1 minute each side. Transfer shrimp to a plate. Cool.
Combine the greens, tomatoes, red pepper and onion together in a large bowl. Drizzle 1/4 cup vinaigrette over the greens and toss to coat. Divide among plates. Scatter olives and feta over the salad. Arrange shrimp on top. Drizzle with additional vinaigrette to taste. Garnish with parsley. Serve with bread or pita.

The Cookiepedia and a recipe for Chocolate Crinkles

The Cookiepedia and a recipe for Chocolate Crinkles

~
I received a new cookbook today, and I am smitten. It’s called The Cookiepedia: Mixing, Baking and Reinventing the Classics, written by Stacy Adimando. I must confess that I was somewhat skeptical of what a classic cookie book could show me. I am a straightforward baker when it comes to cookies. I rely on a short list of traditional goodies, often made at the spur of the moment without much thought except to quell a craving for something sweet, buttery, chocolate and uncomplicated. I’ve been making my family’s favorite cookies for so long I rarely use a recipe, relying on memory and simple ratios. Why would I need another recipe for my tried and true favorites?

Well, maybe I don’t need another recipe, but perhaps I do need a kick in the butt. For so long I have been making cookies by rote, with a little tweaking here and there to shake things up. While I know what I am doing, I realize that I have forgotten why I am doing it. The Cookiepedia is the perfect reminder that instructs and informs in a bright and friendly manner – just like you were baking with a friend or sister who happens to know a lot about a cookie. It has all the usual suspects (nearly 50 in all, including mint thins, snickerdoodles, blondies, and meringues), doled out with a healthy measure of tips, facts, tweaks and variations. Just like a girlfriend who knows your dirty laundry, real life is taken into consideration with time constraints, picky eaters, potential mishaps, even weather glitches in its guidance. It takes your hand, keeps you company and strikes up a conversation, while you do what you love to do – bake cookies. Consider this a Betty Crocker Cooky Book for the modern family. In fact, I bet Betty would take a few notes.

Chocolate Crinkles

These plump chocolate morsels didn’t crinkle so much as poof for me. The results were a  fudgy, brownie, cake-like cookie which tasted fabulous. (Who can argue with a description like that?)  Makes about 30 – 1 inch cookies.

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar for rolling

Combine chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. (Be sure thhe bottom of the bowl does not touch the water.) Let the chocolate start to melt, then stir occasionally until it’s smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.
Beat the sugar and eggs in a bowl of an electric mixer until thick and smooth, 3 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and melted chocolate. Beat on medium-low speed until they’re combined.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into a separate bowl. Add the mixture in 2 batches, beating each time until just combined. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm enough to scoop, about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 325 F. (170 C.) Roll 1-inch balls of dough in a bowl of powdered sugar, coating them completely. Place them 1 1/2 inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake 8-10 minutes until they just feel firm. (The cookies are best when slightly undercooked in the center.) Cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Note: I found that most of the powdered sugar melted while baking, so once the cookies were fully cooled, I rolled them again in the sugar.

Recipe reprinted with permission from The Cookiepedia. Written by Stacy Adimando and photographed by Tara Striano. Published by Quirk Books.
Full disclosure: I received a free copy of The Cookiepedia from Quirk Books.