Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Kris' Chocolate Salted Caramel Sauce

Me: I'm going to make you salted caramel sauce for your ice cream tonight.
Kris: Can you put some chocolate in it?
Me: No... It's a scientific process or something. I'm not sure if it would work.
Kris: Just try it.
Me: (mentally cursing him for being a chocoholic and a man. Salted Caramel Sauce? Really? You want to add chocolate to that? Should I throw in a cheeseburger and chili fries while I'm at it? Jesus...) I retain my composure, smile, and say-
Me: Okay, I'll try adding some semi sweet chips to half of it.
Kris: Awesome.

Cut to an hour later. I'm adding the chocolate chips into the half of the salted caramel which honestly already smelled like heaven on earth, squared. I grimaced, then watched the chocolate melt into the luscious caramel goo. Suddenly I knew my husband's chocolate obsession might have led to the next great creation after the internet and Spanx. CHOCOLATE salted caramel sauce. Dear God help us all.

Kris' Chocolate Salted Caramel Sauce
* This is actually excellent without the chocolate, for those chocolate haters out there.

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water, plus and additional small bowl of water set aside
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 tablespoons salted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 teaspoon flaked sea salt
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips, for melting into caramel sauce (the amount of chocolate presence is up to you)
a pastry brush, for making the caramel

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar and water over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. You can use a whisk to help dissolve the sugar - just don't let it come to a bubble. This step might take a while - up to 20 minutes. After the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat and bring to a boil, without stirring. If necessary, use a wet pastry brush to wash down any crystals on the side of the pan. Boil until the syrup is a deep amber color, about 8-10 minute but ovens vary so keep an eye on it and DON'T leave it alone.
Remove the sugar from the heat and carefully whisk in the heavy cream. The mixture will bubble. Stir in the unsalted butter, and salt. Finally stir in the chocolate chips until melted and incorporated into the sauce. Let cool a little before transferring to an airtight container and depositing in the fridge. To reheat, microwave at 30 second intervals and stir. Serve over ice cream or by the spoonful.

Porcini and Onion Gravy, for Roast Chicken

It's that time of year again. The time when I start to dream of fall... Fall weather. Fall fashion (layers! boots! oh my!) And most importantly, fall food. I wish I could say that's the reason I made roast chicken with mushroom gravy while it was 105 degrees outside but there's actually a deeper, darker explanation.

After shooting a commercial last week in Prague, I was sent to the ER. I was having a bad stomach ache which led to chest pain which led me to not be able to breathe. In hindsight I feel like a total jack ass. They couldn't find a thing wrong with me and eventually chalked it up to exhaustion and stress (we had just completed two night shoots in a row, wrapping at 6:30 am.) All I can say is, never get sick in Prague. We had been joking the whole trip that we were going to end up in a scene from the movie Hostel and the irony is that's pretty much what happened.

Everyone in the hospital smoked (doctor, nurses, interns), the ceiling was leaking, and I counted 3 spiders on the wall of the dimly lit, sallow hallway they stuck me in for an hour before finally giving me an IV. Oh and the paramedics were laughing as they loaded me up into the ambulance. Good times.

Anyway - I'm fine thanks to the best husband in the world and the best producer in the world (thank you Josh Morse!) But as soon as I got home, I just wanted to be in my kitchen cooking homey, comforting things to make me feel rooted to the ground again. This gravy was one of them - home on a plate with roasted chicken, roasted beet salad with goat cheese, and sweet potato fries. Hurray home!

Porcini and Onion Gravy
* Makes enough for 3-4 servings of roast chicken. Easily doubled.
* This gravy isn't very liquidy - it's more like an onion and mushroom confit. If you like a runnier gravy, don't let the porcini liquid evaporate as much before adding the cornstarch mixture to thicken.
* You can make this up to two days ahead and keep in the fridge. Just reheat in the microwave and stir before serving.

1 tablespoon salted butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 large Vidalia onion, chopped
2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and gently smashed
pinch dried sage
pinch kosher salt and pepper
dried bay leaf
large handful of dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch, mixed with 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce until dissolved
1 tablespoon butter
additional salt and pepper, if necessary for seasoning

Add the butter and oil to a medium dutch oven and put over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add in the chopped onion and garlic cloves. Add in a pinch of kosher salt, pepper, bay leaf and dried sage. Saute, stirring occasionally and lowering the heat a little if the bottom begins to scorch, for 20-22 minutes or until the onions are nice and soft and JUST beginning to caramelize,

Meanwhile, place a handful of dried porcini mushrooms in a cup of boiling water (I just bring the water to a boil in a pyrex measuring cup in the microwave.) Use a spoon to press the mushrooms down into the water, then set them aside and let them soak for 20 minutes while the onions cook.

Once the onions are softened and have begun to brown a little, pour in the white wine and bring to a boil over high heat. Let bubble away, stirring occasionally until all the liquid has evaporated. Pour in the mushrooms and water they soaked in and boil away until most of the liquid has evaporated (leave more liquid if you prefer a more liquidy gravy.) Stir in the cornstarch/Worcestershire mixture and kill the heat. Once thickened, stir in the butter and transfer to a cool burner. Taste for salt and pepper and make any adjustments if necessary. Remove bay leaf and garlic cloves (if desired) before serving.

Serve with roast chicken or pork or beef.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Salmon Burger Fail

Have you ever made salmon burgers before? I made them for the first time a few weeks ago after seeing Paula make them on her show. I felt so chef-y as I ground the salmon up in the food processor from Whole Paycheck (Whole Foods) then added in the garlic, ginger, and other ingredients.

But then I grilled them and took a bite. To be fair there was nothing wrong with them. The seasoning was good and it tasted okay but for some reason I couldn't get over the fact I was eating ground up salmon. Do I need therapy? I can eat grilled salmon until the cows come home but for some reason this geeked me out.

Oh well. Onward and upward...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Chocolate Dream Pie with a Shortbread Crust...For a Crowd

I made this for my dad on Father's Day. It was the first time I've actually been able to spend Father's Day with him in over ten years so I wanted to make a dessert he would really love. He did, as did my husband and myself.

You really can't put this one into words. It's rich yet light (not in the caloric sense, of course) and despite being mostly 'from the box' tastes completely homemade and special. In fact there's only one problem with it - if left alone with the pan you might start eating it and never stop. I had a vision of myself sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night, pulling the pan from the fridge and lifting it up over my head like Sloth from The Goonies.

Chocolate rain, y'all. Chocolate rain...

Chocolate Dream Pie with a Shortbread Crust
Serves 16.
*Downside - easy to do but involves a few steps, mixing bowls and remembering to leave out butter and cream cheese long enough to soften.
*Upside - can make 1 day ahead and keep in the refrigerator. Makes a boatload.

1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened (at room temp)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and finally chopped
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 large container (12 oz) Cool whip, divided
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 medium bananas, sliced or 3 cups sliced strawberries, OPTIONAL
2 (3.9 oz) pkgs chocolate pudding mix
1 quart cold whole milk
whole pecans, for garnish OR berries or banana slices
Good quality dark chocolate bar, for shaving or grating over finished pie

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream softened butter in a standing mixer or by hand, slowly stir in flour until incorporated then nuts. Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9x13 inch glass or ceramic baking pan. Just take your time and press gently until an even, cohesive layer forms. It looks like it won't be enough dough but it is. Bake for 20 minutes or until the top is just lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Beat softened cream cheese in a large mixing bowl or mixer until smooth. Slowly add in powdered sugar, beating after each addition until smooth. Fold in 1 cup of cool whip and the vanilla extract. Spread this mixture evenly over the cooled shortbread crust.

OPTIONAL - spread slices of banana or strawberry over the cream cheese layer.

In a separate bowl, beat or whisk the pudding mix with the cold milk according to the directions on package. Let set for a couple minutes, then spread over the bananas or strawberries (if using, otherwise spread over the cream cheese/Cool Whip layer.) Let set up another 5 minutes.

Finally, spread over the remaining Cool Whip until even and pretty.

Garnish with shaved chocolate, additional whole pecans and/or fruit. Chill at least 2 hours in the refrigerator or overnight before serving, covered in plastic wrap.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Paula Disbrowe's Smoky Red Hens

I've roasted a hundred chickens in my life yet never attempted Cornish Hens until a week ago. I think it was the name. So proper. So gamey. And more important would a hen really taste like a mini chicken? I wasn't convinced.

But then I was flipping through Paula's Book - Cowgirl Cuisine - and the photo convinced me to try them. I love that about food pictures. I guess that puts me in the "Picture Cookbook" camp versus the "Cooks Illustrated" set. That's okay. Something tells me they don't drink enough wine for me anyway.

I now credit Paula for getting me over my fear of hens. What was I so afraid of? They're so freaking cute and tiny! I kind of wanted to dress them up like little dolls instead of cooking them. But then I got hungry.

Smoky Red Hens
* Slightly adapted from Paula Disbrowe.
* Refrigerate hens overnight in spice rub for better flavor.
Serves 4.

2 Cornish Hens
1 tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon ground chipotle chile powder (I only had regular chili powder)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
zest of 1 small orange (use rest of orange for cavity)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
4 fresh bay leaves, or 1 teaspoon pink pepper corns
5 -6 fresh thyme sprigs
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 small onion quartered
1 small orange, quartered
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled

Remove neck or giblets from hens and rinse hens under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels and set aside. Meanwhile combine the spices - cumin through the sugar - in a small bowl. Stir in the oil, zest and red wine vinegar. Add the hens to an oversized ziploc and rub all over with the spice rub, being sure to rub inside the cavity as well. Add in the bay leaves (or pink peppercorns), thyme sprigs, smashed garlic cloves, seal, and roll the chickens around a little more in the bag so that everyone gets along. Refrigerate overnight.

Remove hens from fridge and let sit out for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425. Remove the hens from the bag and carefully stuff each of the cavities with a quarter of the onion, orange, and a garlic clove. Tie the legs if desired.

Roast the hens on a rack in a roasting pan for 30 minutes. Add some water or chicken stock to the bottom of the pan if/when the juices begin to scorch. After 30 minutes, reduce heat to 375 and roast another 30 minutes or until the juices run clear when the hen's inner thigh is pierced with a knife.

Remove from the oven, tent loosely with foil, and allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving (remove and discard cavity filling first.)