February 19, 2011

Chocolate Guinness Cake

I made this cake last year for Saint Patrick's Day and I stumbled across the photo of it recently in my archives. As this is my first post in quite a long time, I figured I should post something REALLY good.

This may be my favorite cake. I don't bake very often, as I don't generally crave desserts. This attitude is a little something I brought back with me from my Paris years. (Why bake when you can buy an exquisite dessert from any number of 'boulangeries' a block from your house?!) However, this cake is actually something to crave and it's easy enough to make that there's no need to fuss. Not for even one minute. It's only one layer, you make it in a springform pan, the frosting is a breeze...and everyone will love it. If you have an aversion to Guinness, feel free to use any Stout you like. I used Brooklyn Brewery's delicious Black Chocolate Stout.

Nigella Lawson aptly describes it's chocolatey velvet crumb as "damp", which is nearly the perfect adjective for it. Although it's a dense cake, it is incredibly rich and moist, with a nice complexity and subtle coffee flavor, much the way a perfect Stout beer tastes on draft. The cream cheese frosting is glossy and smooth, making it the perfect compliment to this cake. To quote Ina Garten, "how bad can that be?"

Make it now and make it often.

Lastly, a big thank you to all of you who have stopped by my blog recently and left such kind compliments. I wish I had more time to detail all the great recipes I've discovered over the past few years. Here's to hoping for more time to blog!

Nigella's Chocolate Stout (or "Guinness") Cake

For the cake:

1 cup Guinness, or any other Stout you prefer

1 stick plus 2 Tbsp butter (i.e. 10 Tbsp total)

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa

2 cups sugar

¾ cup sour cream

2 eggs

1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 ½ tsp. baking soda

For the frosting:

8 oz cream cheese, softened

1 ¼ cups confectioners’ sugar

½ cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. (Cut a circle of parchment to fully cover the bottom of the pan).

Add the stout to a medium sized saucepan (something fairly wide since you’ll be stirring all the ingredients in this). Over low to medium heat, add the butter in small chunks until melted. Once all the butter is melted into the beer, whisk in the cocoa and sugar until dissolved. Remove from the heat once this mixture is well combined.

In a separate bowl, beat together the sour cream, eggs and vanilla. Add this to the slightly cooled Guiness mixture and whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk in the flour and baking soda until completely smooth once again.

Pour this cake batter into the springform pan and bake for about 45 minutes, or up to one hour. When a tester comes out clean, remove from the oven and let it cool in the pan completely.

For the frosting, add the confectioners’ sugar to the bowl of a food processor. “Pulse” the sugar for a few beats to remove any lumps. Add the softened cream cheese and mix together until smooth. Add the cream a little bit at a time and mix until it becomes a nice spreadable consistency.

Frost the top of the cake while you enjoy the rest of the bottle of that stout.

February 10, 2009

Key Lime Pie

I recently got back from a fabulous trip to Key West, FL. I ate a ton of great seafood, as you can imagine. This trip also allowed me to devour key lime pie...every day. This is a picture of the key lime pie from Blue Heaven...mile-high meringue!!I was a fan of key lime pie way before I actually made it to Key West, but it was a joy to try the real deal. Here's my version that I've served a several dinner parties and always is a hit. I love how easy it is to put together. The most time consuming part of this recipe is juicing the limes. I've posted this recipe before, but here's a refresher!
Lime Tart with Gingersnap Crust
(recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated,
The Best Recipe)

1 1/2 cups gingersnap crumbs, ground in a food processor from gingersnap cookies
2 Tbsp sugar
4 Tbsp butter, melted
dash of cinnamon

Pulse the gingersnaps in a food processor until uniformly ground. Add the sugar and cinnamon. Pulse a few more times to incorporate. Remove the gingersnap crumbs to a mixing bowl. Stir in the melted butter until well combined. Press the crumbs evenly over the bottom and up the sides of a buttered tart pan. Using plastic wrap helps prevents the crumbs sticking to your fingers.

Bake the crust at 325 degrees F for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15-20 minutes. You don't want to pour the filling into a piping hot crust.

1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh lime juice, strained
4 egg yolks
2 Tbsp grated lime zest

Whisk together the egg yolks and lime zest in a medium bowl for several minutes. (Cook's Illustrated says this turns the yolks a pale green, but I didn't find this to be true.) Whisk in the condensed milk and then the lime juice. Let this mixture rest just a few minutes to thicken.

Once the crust has mostly cooled, pour the filling into the crust. Bake at 325 degrees F for 15-17 minutes or until the filling is almost set, but still wobbly in the center. Cool again until the tart is at room temperature, then refrigerate for about 3 hours until well chilled.

Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 Tbsp confectioner's sugar

Beat the heavy cream on medium speed with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the sugar until smooth and stiffer peaks form. Using a pastry bag with a small star tip, pipe the whipped cream over the tart in whatever way your technique allows! OR when I don't have much time to put it together, I skip the pastry bag and decorate the top with fruit.

January 11, 2009

Shepherd's Pie or Cottage Pie...

I was searching through my digital photos this morning and realized almost everything I make, or at least take pictures of, is comfort food. I’m really good at making comforting, rich dishes. I’m really NOT good at making salads. I’m OK at preparing vegetables. I think as the New Year begins, it’s natural to sort of take stock of the kitchen and your cooking personality. I haven’t really said it out-loud until now, but I might as well face facts. I’m mashed potatoes and gravy. My husband is a salad with blue cheese and pears. Hopefully, together we make a great dinner. And because we're all making resolutions, I hope to become a little more salad and less gravy this year.

All this brings us to this post, which is about how I make a really great Shepherd’s Pie. I’ve actually learned from Gordon Ramsey’s F Word TV Show that what I make is actually called “Cottage Pie” since I use ground beef. In the past, I have used all ground lamb, half ground lamb and ground beef, and all beef. No reason you can’t use whichever you prefer in this recipe. I don’t eat very much lamb, so its rich taste is a little much for me in this dish, but its up to you.

As you could probably guess, I think it is essential that there be gravy to bind the meat and vegetables together. I’ve seen and tried recipes that just call for a bit of broth, but then you have the ground beef swimming in bland liquid. Imagine tuna noodle casserole with just broth and not cream-of-whatever soup?! Ghastly!

A few tips I’ve learned over my many attempts at Shepherd’s/Cottage Pie:

1. Basically formed of 4 components (mashed potato, ground meat, vegetables, sauce), season each one well!
2. Make stiff mashed potatoes. Add a bit of milk and butter, but just a little milk at a time. These should be stiffer potatoes than you might want to eat alone. Loose mashed potatoes turn into soup in the oven…this one I learned the hard way.
3. Cook the vegetables to their desired doneness before you assemble the casserole and bake.
4. Lots of fresh herbs are key – don’t skip these. It brightens up the flavor.

Shepherd’s Pie or Cottage Pie

1.5 lb ground beef; or ½ lb ground lamb + 1 lb ground beef
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 cup frozen green peas
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups beef broth
¼ cup Dry Sherry, or white wine
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
½ tsp dried marjoram
½ tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

2 lbs potatoes, Russet or Yukon Gold, diced into 2-inch cubes
splash of milk
2 Tbsp butter

Mashed Potatoes:
Place the diced potatoes into a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, cooking 15-20 minutes until tender. Drain and put potatoes back into the hot saucepan. With the heat off, let the dry out in the pan a few minutes. Add the butter and a splash of milk and mash. Add a little more milk as needed, but keep them stiff.

Shepherd’s Pie filling:
Heat a Tbsp of olive oil in a large stainless steal sauté pan, preferably with sides, over medium heat. Add the diced onion and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until caramelized and carrots are tender but not falling apart. Add salt and pepper halfway through cooking. Remove vegetables to a plate.

In the same pan, add the ground meat. Cook over medium high heat, breaking apart the meat with a wooden spoon into small chunks. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper. When cooked through, remove to a plate.

In the same pan, make the gravy. All those meat and vegetable browned bits are on the bottom of the pan and will help enrich the sauce. Add 2 Tbsp of butter to the pan over medium-low heat. Once melted, sprinkle in 2 Tbsp of flour. Cook the flour until lightly browned, about 2-3 minutes. Add the Sherry or white wine, stirring to deglaze the pan. Slowly add the beef broth and whisk vigorously to incorporate the flour. Bring to a boil and stir until thickened. Add the fresh and dried herbs to the gravy.

Add the cooked ground meat and vegetables back into this pan with the gravy. Stir in the frozen peas.Pour this mixture into the bottom of a greased 9x13 baking dish. Top with large spoonfuls of the mashed potato. Smooth out evenly to cover the entire dish. Bake at 400 degrees F for 30-40 minutes until bubbling hot and potatoes have slightly browned on top.

August 16, 2008

Chipotle Chicken Tacos

Obviously, I don't get around to writing about food these days as much as I'd like. My only promise is that when you do come by, you'll find completely satisfying and reliably delicious food. Enough on that.

This recipe was mentioned in this previous post, so I figured I better come through. We've become absolutely obsessed with one cookbook. What is this manifestation of latin food-heaven on earth? Rick Bayless' Mexican Everyday. I can't remember the last time I bought a cookbook and actually made more than say, one recipe (if that!) out of it. Can you? I have many beautiful, inspired and ambitious cookbooks that I dream of tackling, yet never really have the time. However, I dove into these recipes and they really rewarded me. The recipes are perfectly balanced - both utterly delicious and very homemade, yet easy enough to tackle on a weekday and completely unpretentious. The tag lines under the title of the cookbook really say it all: Easy. Full-Flavored. Tradition-packed.

Some of the bounty we've sampled (recipes that will hopefully make it to this blog eventually) are: roasted chipotle salsa; roasted tomatillo green chile salsa; adobo marinade; spinach and mushroom green chile enchiladas; Crusty chorizo and black bean subs; a glorious skillet-pineapple upside down cake.

These tacos are a spin-off of ideas from this cookbook. We marinate the chicken in chipotle chiles (yes, this is SPICY), charcoal-grill them and place them with caramalized onions, cilantro and avocado within corn tortillas. Not just any corn tortillas, though. A corn tortilla quesadilla-of-sorts, where we sandwich cheddar cheese between the tortillas and grill until the cheese melts and the tortillas are a bit crispy, but can still be folded. This may lead you to ask - is this taking things too far? Rather indulgent, isn't it? Well...yes. And if you don't like it, you're free to warm up a boring ol' plain corn tortilla for your taco. Or, fry your own tortillas to make homemade crispy taco shells.

So, this is more of a method than a recipe, but here you go!

Chipotle Chicken Tacos

1 can chipotle chiles in adobo
2 Tbsp water
2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken breasts

1 yellow onion
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1-2 avocados, chopped
black or refried beans, optional

For EACH taco:
2 Tbsp cheese, shredded
(cheddar, monterey jack, queso fresco or goat cheese)
2 corn tortillas

1. Puree the chipotle chiles with their adobo sauce, plus the 1-2 Tbsp water in a food processor until smooth. Place the chicken in a ziploc bag. Pour the marinade over the chicken and toss to coat evenly. Refrigerate for 6-8 hours or overnight. I've kept this in the fridge for over 24 hours and it was fine.

2. Grill the chicken until just cooked through and still juicy. Let the chicken cool to room temperature. Thinly slice or chop for use in the tacos. Warning! Chicken is spicy =) Can be made a few days ahead.

3. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a saute pan. Add the sliced onions and cook over medium-low heat until the onions sweat, turn translucent and just begin to brown. Season with salt and pepper and turn the heat up to medium. Stir fairly often to prevent scorching and to brown all the onions evenly. This will take around 15 minutes.

4. Chop the avocado, prepare some salsa if you have time, wash the cilantro - get all of your toppings/accompaniments ready.

5. Heat 1 tsp of olive oil in a wide, nonstick skillet. Turn 2 corn tortillas in the oil and let saute for a few seconds to heat that side. Flip the tortillas over and sprinkle with cheese. Place another tortilla on top of each one, pressing down on the top of each one. Once the bottom side is slightly browned and crisped, flip the tortillas over to brown the other side. Once the cheese melts and the tortillas are golden, remove from the pan. Repeat for each taco.

6. Assemble your tacos. One each tortilla, pile some of the ultra-spicy chicken, onions, avocado, cilantro and a dollop of salsa or sour cream. YUM!

Fast Pizza Dough...revised!

I wanted to revise the previous pizza dough recipe to include the following options in case you do not have a food processor. Maybe using a standing mixer or just doing it by hand will be your preferred method. Either way, don't let it stop you from making this for dinner - TONIGHT!

Pizza Dough - the fast way!

(2 baking-sheet sized pizzas, each serving 3-4)
from The Best Recipe, by the editors of Cook's Illustrated

1 1/2 cups warm water (105-110 degrees F)
1 packet Rapid Rise yeast
1 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 cups bread (or all-purpose) flour
1 1/2 Tbsp salt

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F and then TURN OFF.

1. Food Processor Method:
Pulse water, yeast and sugar in a food processor, 2 times is sufficient. Add oil, flour and salt. Pulse until dough forms a fairly smooth ball, or basically comes together. It will be a bit tacky, but shouldn't be so sticky that it pulls apart, getting stuck on your fingers. Add more flour (or water, if too thick) by the Tbsp and pulse until desired consistency is achieved.

2. Stand Mixer Method:
Measure the water into a small bowl. Add the yeast and sugar and mix to combine. Next, add the oil to the yeast mixture. In the bowl of a standing mixer, place the flour and salt. Using the paddle hook, turn on low speed for a short time, just to combine. Add the liquid ingredients slowly to incorporate. Once a mass of dough forms, remove the paddle hook and replace with the dough hook. Knead with the dough hook on medium speed just briefly until a smooth ball forms.

3. Bowl Method – no appliances!
Measure the water into a small bowl. Add the yeast and sugar and mix to combine. Next, add the oil to the yeast mixture. Combine the salt and about ¾ of the flour in a large mixing bowl. Pour the liquid ingredients into the flour and mix until combined with a sturdy wooden spoon or spatula. Stir in the rest of the flour until a mass of dough forms. Place dough out on a floured cutting board and knead until smooth, about 5-7 minutes. Don’t knead in too much extra flour, just enough to keep it from sticking.

Place dough in a well-oiled bowl (I mean really well-oiled!), cover with plastic wrap and place in the oven for 40 minutes. Make sure the oven is turned off.

Remove and divide dough in half. Usually the dough is pretty soft and pliable; easy to spread out. (If it's too sticky, dip your fingers in olive oil and pat the dough out that way. Don't add too much extra flour to a sticky dough as this makes it tough, in my experience).

To Bake:
1. In a 450 degree oven, Bake crust, topped only with sauce, for 10 minutes
2. Remove crust and add toppings, including cheese on top
3. Bake another 8-10 minutes until cheese is melted

This method results in a crisp crust and cheese that is just melted, but not overly browned. If you pile all the toppings on the dough at the beginning, the crust never cooks through and is soggy in the middle.