Sunday, August 31, 2008

Chocolate Mocha Eclairs - Pierre Herme





***Recipes like this are why I love being a part of the Daring Bakers. This month our big challenge was Chocolate Eclairs from Pierre Herme's fabulous cookbook - Chocolate Desserts. This month's hosts were: Tony Tahhan and Meeta K. Be sure to check out their blogs too!

This is another recipe that I probably never would have tried if not for DB. I know that I say that every month, but hey...it's the truth! The recipe called for a classic chocolate pastry cream with a chocolate ganache on top. I decided to kick things up a notch and add a little instant coffee to the pastry cream. It was out-of-this-world delicious...definitely the best pastry cream I've ever tasted. So, I ended up with Mocha Eclairs...talk about good. I topped them off with pecan pieces.

I was a little worried about the eclairs coming out right...from reading other DB's stories, I realized that I might have a problem getting the eclairs to be hollow on the inside. I anxiously waited while they puffed up in the oven...which was pretty fun to watch, by the way...and excitedly took them out to let them cool. To my delight, they were perfectly hollow. They looked like mini baguettes, which I thought was adorable.

The recipe says to open the oven door slightly with a wooden spoon during the baking process. I did not do this! I also changed the cooking time slightly. I put them in for about 15 - 20 minutes and THEN rotated them as the recipe calls for...baking them for an additional 15 - 20 minutes. Then, remove eclairs from oven, immediately prick the side of each eclair with a sharp knife. Now, turn the oven off and put the eclairs back in the oven, with the oven door open about 6 inches...let them cool inside the oven. This allows the eclairs to dry out. I think I ended up baking them a little longer than it says to...maybe 30 minutes compared with 20 minutes. I just kept an eye on them until they looked right.

I ended up slicing most of them in half like the recipe calls for, and I piped the pastry cream directly into the rest (without cutting). Both ways tasted great, but the ones that were cut in half looked a little prettier in my opinion.

Another technique that really helped me was holding the tops of the eclairs upside down and then dipping the entire eclair into the chocolate ganache...instead of using a metal icing spatula. This allowed for a prettier, more uniform look.

The recipe makes a good bit of chocolate sauce, so you'll probably have some left over. It goes perfectly with ice cream and makes wonderful chocolate milk!

Daring Bakers - Thanks for another great challenge!!!***


Piped and ready for the oven...

Looks like little baguettes...Aren't they cute?

Uh oh...topless eclairs...haha...

The pastry cream was my favorite part...
Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs

Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• Cream Puff Dough (see below for recipe), fresh and still warm
1) Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds by positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with waxed or parchment paper.
2) Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers. Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff. The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.
3) Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes.
***Please see my notes above...I baked the dough a little differently than listed here.***

Notes:
1) The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.

Assembling the éclairs:
• Chocolate glaze (see below for recipe)
• Chocolate pastry cream (see below for recipe)

1) Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.
2) The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40 degrees C, as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream.
3) Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottomswith enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to settle them.

Notes:
1) If you have chilled your chocolate glaze, reheat by placing it in a bowl over simmering water, stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Do not stir too vigorously as you do not want to create bubbles.
2) The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough - Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)
• ½ cup (125g) whole milk
• ½ cup (125g) water
• 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
• 5 large eggs, at room temperature

1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to theboil.
2) Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth.
3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time,beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough.You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.
4) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.

Notes:
1) Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.
2) You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.

Chocolate Pastry Cream Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
• 2 cups (500g) whole milk
• 4 large egg yolks
• 6 tbsp (75g) sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
• 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Velrhona Guanaja, melted
• 2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1) In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy‐bottomed saucepan.
***I added 2 tbsp. of instant coffee granules to the boiling milk in this stage of the recipe.***
2) Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture. Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.
3) Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously (without stop) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat). Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the heat.
4) Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice‐water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.
5) Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice‐water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice‐water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge.

Notes:
1) The pastry cream can be made 2‐3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
2) In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.
3) Tempering the eggs raises the temperature of the eggs slowly so that they do not scramble.

Chocolate Glaze Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1 cup or 300g)
• 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
• 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature


1)In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.
2) Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.

Notes:
1) If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly
in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.
2) It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.

Chocolate SauceRecipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1½ cups or 525 g)
• 4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 cup (250 g) water
• ½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
• 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar

1) Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.
2) It may take 10‐15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.

Notes:
1) You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.
2) This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Crash Hot Potatoes


***Here's another great recipe from Pioneer Woman. You just have to check out her post about this recipe HERE. She's got some fabulously detailed photos. Next time I make this, I'm definitely going to use smaller potatoes. When I went grocery shopping, the only red potatoes available were really large. So, I had trouble mashing these down all the way. They still tasted great...just not quite as flat as they should be.***

Ingredients:
New Potatoes (or other small, round potatoes)
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper
Rosemary (or desired herbs)...I used freshly chopped parsley

Directions:
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add in as many potatoes as you would like to make and cook them until they are fork-tender.

On a sheet pan, generously drizzle olive oil. Place tender potatoes on the cookie sheet, leaving plenty of room between each one.

With a potato masher, gently press down on each potato until it slightly mashes. Rotate the potato masher 90 degrees and mash again. Brush the tops of each potato generously with more olive oil.

Sprinkle each potato with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and fresh chopped rosemary (or chives or thyme or whatever herb you have available).

Bake in a 450 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Steak & Onion Sandwich (a.k.a. Marlboro Man’s Favorite Sandwich)


***I stumbled across Pioneer Woman's Blog the other day, and I loved it. She includes great photos for every single step of each recipe. I admire her for that...I would never have the time or patience to post a photo for every step. After browsing through her posts, I figured that this recipe would be the best place to start because it's her most requested one. I have to admit though, the amount of butter in this dish really scared me...lol. I used A LOT less! First of all, I sauteed both the onions and the meat in olive oil. I only added about 2 tbsp of butter to the sauce. I also added a minimal amount to the toasted buns. My arteries just couldn't handle 2 sticks of butter total. This sandwich was great though, and Brad really enjoyed it as well.***

Ingredients:
2 to 3 pounds cube steak (tenderized round steak that’s been extra-tenderized
1 large onion OR 2 small/medium onions
4 French/Deli rolls
Butter (about 2 sticks)...I used MUCH less!
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
1/2 cup (approx.) Worcestershire Sauce
Tabasco sauce, to taste

Directions:
-Slice onions and cook in 1/4 stick butter until soft and light brown. Remove and set aside.
-Slice cube steak against the grain. Season with Lawry’s.
-Heat 2 TBSP butter over high heat (in same skillet) until melted and beginning to brown.
-Add meat in single layer. Cook one side until brown, then flip and cook until brown, about a minute on both sides.
-Add 1/2 (at least) Worcestershire sauce, 5 to 6 shakes Tabasco, and 2 TBSP butter. Add cooked onions. Stir to combine.
-Butter halved French rolls and brown on skillet.
-To assemble, lay bottom half of French roll on plate. Place meat mixture, followed by a spoonfull of juice from the pan. Top with other half of roll, cut in half, and devour!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Slashed Chicken with Herb Butter


***This is one of those recipes that every woman should have in her arsenal...a delicious, juicy, buttery, lemony roasted chicken. It's just a classic! I found this on Katie's food blog - Good Things Catered - and my stomach started growling just looking at her photo. The recipe sounded DELISH. Herb Butter...you can't go wrong with anything that has that in the title...hah. Our entire house smelled delicious while this was cooking. A Dutch Oven makes this chicken even better. I cooked it with the lid on for most of the time, but took it off for about 15 minutes at the end to make the skin a little crispier. You'll enjoy this one!***


Slashed Chicken with Herb Butter
Williams-Sonoma

Ingredients:
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
1 tsp chopped fresh chervil
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp salt, plus more, to taste
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper, plus more, to taste
1 chicken, 3 to 4 lb.
2 bay leaves, cut in half
2 garlic cloves, sliced

Directions:
-Put a 5-quart oval Dutch oven in a cold oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
-After the oven has preheated, heat the pan for 20 to 25 minutes.
-Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the butter, parsley, chives, chervil, thyme, lemon zest, the 1 tsp salt and the 1/2 tsp pepper and stir until well blended.
-Set the compound butter aside.
-Rinse the chicken with cold water and pat dry.
-Set the chicken, breast side up.
-Using a sharp knife, cut 3 slashes, each 4 inches long and 1/2 inch deep, in each breast.
-Cut 2 slashes, each 3 inches long and 1/2 inch deep, in each leg.
-Rub the compound butter all over the chicken, pushing the butter into the slashes.
-Place 1/2 bay leaf in 1 slash of each breast and leg.
-Push the garlic slices into all the slashes.
-Be sure to push the bay leaves and garlic securely into the slashes.
-Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
-Carefully place the chicken, breast side up, in the hot pan.
-Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, away from the bone, registers 170 degrees, 50 to 60 minutes.
-Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 15 to 25 minutes.
-Carve the chicken and arrange on a warmed platter.

Source: Katie's Blog: Good Things Catered ...recipe originally from Williams-Sonoma

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Apple-Broccoli Salad


***In my opinion, you can't go wrong with Southern Living recipes. Time and time again, they get rave reviews...this one included. I imagine this dish is going to make an appearance at future family gatherings...it will make the perfect pot-luck dish. It's light, healthy and delicious, plus the preparation couldn't get any easier.

I am extremely picky when it comes to mayo. I actually used Kraft's new Mayo w/Olive Oil for the dressing in this dish. It was perfect...not too heavy. I also made a few changes, which are noted in the ingredients list below.***

Ingredients:
4 cups small fresh broccoli florets
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted (I used sliced almonds)
6 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled (I cheated and used Bac-Os)
2 large Red Delicious apples, diced
1 small red onion, chopped (I left this out)
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sugar (I only used about 1/4 cup)
2 tbsp. cider vinegar

Directions:
Combine first 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Combine mayo, sugar, and vinegar; add to broccoli mixture, stirring to coat. Cover and chill.
Source: "Southern Living" Homestyle Cookbook

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pork Chops with Fig Sauce


***Okay...here it is! As promised, here's the savory fig recipe that I mentioned in the fresh fig bread post below. This was seriously good...not to mention the delicious aroma that wafted through the entire house while it was cooking. If you can get your hands on some fresh figs, you ought to give this one a try! When combined, the figs and pork make a scrumptious combination.

There's also another huge pile of fresh figs sitting in my fridge right now....YUM! I have no idea what to cook with them yet. If anyone has any suggestions, PLEASE share them! I need to use them up in the next few days before they go bad. I think I might make some more fig bread...that stuff didn't last long!***

Ingredients:
4 (about 8 ounces each) boneless pork top loin chops, 1-1/2 inches thick
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle peppers, or to taste (see Notes)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
1/2 cup minced onion
2 large cloved garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup diced fresh figs

Directions:
Place each pork loin chop between sheets of plastic wrap and pound down to a 1-inch thickness. Season with salt, pepper, and ground chipotle.

Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Sear pork loin chops until golden brown on each side, turning only once. Remove to a platter and keep warm.

Reduce heat, add onions and saute for 2 minutes. Add garlic and saute an additional 1 minute. Carefully pour in red wine and stir to deglaze the pan, scraping up browned bits. Cook 1 minute, then add chicken broth, thyme, and figs. Cook over medium heat about 10 minutes, stirring often and mashing the figs until the sauce is thickened.

Return pork loin chops to the pan, along with any juices that have accumulated on the platter, and coat both sides with sauce. Simmer for 2 minutes. Serve pork loin chops with the fig sauce.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fresh Fig & Walnut Bread



***Don't you just love figs? Some friends of ours have several fig trees, and they were gracious enough to give us 2 big bundles of them. The challenge was...what to make with all those figs??? I came across this recipe for fig bread. Honestly, I had no idea that fig bread even existed until recently. It sounded like it would be a little like banana nut bread...and I love banana nut bread! The original recipe called for pecans instead of walnuts. In my opinion, the walnuts turned out even better. I use pecans frequently, so this was a nice change. The bread was incredibly moist and delicious...this is definitely a must-try!!! The figs lend a wonderful, mild taste to the bread (which isn't particularly figgy...is that a word? lol), and the buttermilk adds a nice richness. It makes a perfect breakfast when paired with a steaming cup of coffee. Stay tuned to see what else I created with these figs...it will be a savory dish!***


Ingredients:
3 eggs
2 ½ cups sugar
2 cups ripe figs, peeled and mashed
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup chopped pecans (I used walnuts!)

Directions:
Beat eggs; add sugar and beat well. Add the mashed figs and vegetable oil.

Sift together flour, soda, salt and cinnamon. Add the fig mixture alternately with the buttermilk. Beat well.

Fold in chopped pecans. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour in greased and floured loaf pans.

Makes 2 large or 3 small loaves.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Best Carrot Cake You've Ever Had!



***I guess that you could say this is the cake that started it all!! I made this cake for Brad's birthday...the very first year we were together. It was such a hit, that I've made it countless times for many birthdays over the last few years. My cake baking skills have definitely gotten much better...especially the last few times I've made cakes. This is because of a few new purchases: 1) An icing spatula and 2) A piping bag w/assorted decorating tips. Who would have thought such simple things would make such a big difference!

I had a ton of fun making this cake. I was especially proud of the carrot ribbons on top. I originally posted this recipe HERE, but I wanted to re-post so that I could add a few tips/tricks to the recipe (and show off this pretty creation!).***

Ingredients:
2 c. sugar
2 c. plain flour
1 1/2 c. cooking oil
4 eggs
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
3 c. grated carrots
1/2 c. or more chopped pecans

Directions:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Mix sugar, eggs and oil. Beat well. Sift flour and dry ingredients; slowly add to other mixture. Add carrots and nuts.

Divide and pour batter into 3 greased and floured cake pans.

***Tip: I also add parchment paper rounds to the bottom of my cake pans...this keeps the cake from sticking and the results are perfect cake layers every time! First, I grease the pans with Crisco shortening. Then, I add the parchment rounds. I then grease the top of the parchment rounds and then flour the entire pan surface. Here's a video that shows you how.***

Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Place cake pans on a wire rack and let cool for about 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and continue to cool on rack. Cake layers should be completely cool before attempting to assemble the cake. If not, the cakes will melt the cream cheese icing!

Use Cream Cheese Icing between layers and on top and sides of cake.


Cream Cheese Icing:
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese
1/2 stick margarine
1 box confectioners sugar (10x)
2 tsp. vanilla

Beat cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until creamy and smooth (I use the paddle attachment on my KitchenAid Stand Mixer). Add vanilla. Slowly add small portions of the confectioners sugar and mix until well blended. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Almond-Apricot Chicken with Mint Pesto


***Have you ever been so wrapped up in a recipe and cooking it so fast that you leave something out? That's exactly what happened to me the other night...hah. We had just sat down to eat and after a few bites of this almond-apricot chicken, I was thinking "This is SO good, but isn't it missing something??" That's when I realized...the MINT PESTO! Somehow, I had completely forgotten to make it. Oh well...that just gives me an excuse to make it again...and I certainly will. This is another combination (almonds + apricots + chicken) that I likely would have never thought to make if not for my good ol' friend Martha Stewart. It was even tasty without the pesto! This season I've realized more than ever how wonderful fruits can be incorporated into savory dishes...so don't limit yourself to only using fruits in desserts! They certainly work well in main courses too.***


Almond-Apricot Chicken
Ingredients:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, (6 ounces each)
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 ounces goat cheese
4 dried apricots, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (3 tablespoons)
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon olive oil
Mint Pesto (recipe below)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut a slit in one side of each chicken breast to create a pocket about 4 inches long.

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup almonds with the goat cheese and apricots. Stuff each breast with 1/4 of the mixture. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

On a plate, combine breadcrumbs and remaining 1/4 cup almonds. Dip each breast into egg, then dredge in breadcrumb mixture.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook chicken until golden, 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Transfer to oven; bake until cooked through, about 15 minutes. Serve hot with pesto on the side.

Mint Pesto
Ingredients:
3 cups lightly packed fresh mint
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt

Directions:
In a food processor, combine mint and almonds; process until finely chopped.

With motor running, gradually pour oil through the feed tube. Season with salt. Keep at room temperature until ready to serve.

Source: Great Food Fast by Martha Stewart Living

Monday, August 11, 2008

Very Berry Smoothie

***What's the perfect light lunch on a hot summer day? You guessed it...a cold, delicious mixed berry smoothie. The honey, vanilla and cinnamon in this recipe really adds that something special. I love a nice mix of different berries, so I just used mixed frozen berries. However, please feel free to substitute a mixture of your favorite frozen fruit. I added a sprig of fresh mint for garnish.***

Ingredients:
2 cups mixed, frozen berries (strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, & blackberry)
1 (8 ounce) container vanilla yogurt
1 cup 2% low-fat milk
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch cinnamon
Fresh mint, for garnish

Directions:
* Combine all ingredients in blender.
* Blend until thick and smooth, about 2 minutes.
* Pour into 2 large glasses. Garnish with fresh mint, if desired.
* Serve immediately.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

German Chocolate Cake


***I was so excited last week when I was asked to bake a cake for a fellow co-worker...and her favorite kind of cake? - German Chocolate! I had never baked one, so I was a little nervous that it wouldn't come out as good as other cakes that I've made. I found what sounded like a fabulous recipe on David Lebovitz's blog....the recipe is by a pastry chef, nonetheless.
So, I put my apron on and armed myself with my KitchenAid stand mixer...ready to take on this recipe. It came out wonderfully! One co-worker even said it was the best German Chocolate Cake she's ever had...you can't beat that!

The filling on the top is flat-out decadent...it has toasted coconut and pecans....yum! It may seem like a long recipe, but every step is worth it!

This was also my very first attempt at piping...I think it turned out pretty good. My piping skills will only get better!

Here's the recipe:

German Chocolate Cake
Makes one big, tall 9-inch cake; about 16 servings

For the cake:
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons water
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cup + ¼ cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
3 ounces butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut, toasted

For the syrup:
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum

For the chocolate icing:
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 ½ ounces unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
-------------------------------------------------------------------


Lighting the candles...


Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you...


Make a wish!

To Make the Cake:
1. Butter two 9-inch cake pans, then line the bottoms with rounds of parchment or wax paper. Preheat the oven to 350°.

2. Melt both chocolates together with the 6 tablespoons of water. Use either a double-boiler or a microwave. Stir until smooth, then set aside until room temperature.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter and 1 ¼ cup of the sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate, then the egg yolks, one at a time.

4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

5. Mix in half of the dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture, then the buttermilk and the vanilla extract, then the rest of the dry ingredients.

6. In a separate metal or glass bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft, droopy peaks. Beat in the ¼ cup of sugar until stiff.

7. Fold about one-third of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until there's no trace of egg white visible.

8. Divide the batter into the 2 prepared cake pans, smooth the tops, and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool cake layers completely.

While the cakes are baking and cooling, make the filling, syrup, and icing.

To make the filling:
1. Mix the cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Put the 3 ounces butter, salt, toasted coconut, and pecan pieces in a large bowl.

2. Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the spoon (an instant-read thermometer will read 170°.)

3. Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan-coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. (It will thicken.)
To make the syrup:
1. In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water until the sugar has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the dark rum.

To make the icing:
1. Place the 8 ounces of chopped chocolate in a bowl with the corn syrup and 1 ½ ounces of butter.

2. Heat the cream until it just begins to boil. Remove from heat and pour over the chocolate. Let stand one minute, then stir until smooth. Let sit until room temperature.
To assemble the cake:
Remove the cake layers from the pans and cut both cake layers in half horizontally, using a serrated bread knife.Set the first cake layer on a cake plate. Brush well with syrup.
Spread ¾ cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach to the edges. Set another cake layer on top.

Repeat, using the syrup to brush each cake layer, then spreading ¾ cup of the coconut filling over each layer, including the top.

Ice the sides with the chocolate icing, then pipe a decorative border of chocolate icing around the top, encircling the coconut topping.

(It may seem like a lot of chocolate icing, but use it all. Trust me. You won't be sorry.)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Zucchini and Chicken Salad


***Brad and I love salads...especially this time of year. The following recipe is for a salad that easily makes my "top 5 salads...ever!" list. This one is seriously tasty. The light, lemony dressing makes all the flavors pop. On first seeing this recipe, you might be thinking that it's a strange mix of ingredients. I never in a million years would have thought to combine zucchini, chicken, pecans, and mint...but it definitely works. It's the perfect summer salad, combining fresh veggies of the season with a light, yummy taste.


This is yet another recipe from my new favorite cookbook by Martha Stewart: Everyday Food: Great Food Fast. If you haven't gotten this cookbook yet, I highly recommend it!***


Ingredients:
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 1/4 pounds zucchini, thinly sliced
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 bunch (about 8 ounces) spinach, chopped
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

Directions:
In a large bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup oil and lemon juice; season with salt and pepper. Add zucchini; toss to coat, and let marinate while cooking chicken.
In a large nonstick skillet, heat remaining tablespoon oil over medium. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Cook chicken until golden brown and opaque throughout, about 7 minutes per side.

Toss chicken with zucchini mixture, spinach, onion, pecans, Parmesan, and mint. Serve.


Helpful Hint:
This recipe can also be made using leftover or store-bought roasted chicken.