Friday, October 29, 2010

IHCC: Cinnamon-Chocolate Fudge

This week's theme over at I Heart Cooking Clubs is "Chocolate Cravings." Oh yes, I have chocolate cravings. Often. But, I have to admit, it was hard for me to find a chocolate Giada recipe that was crave-worthy. So many of hers are combined with espresso, and, while I can tolerate it sometimes, I am not a coffee fan. So, I finally settled on this one chocolate recipe that I had bookmarked back when I had cable and would watch Giada's show almost every day. I wanted to save it for the holiday season, but I guess testing it out beforehand is a good idea.

I made the Cinnamon-Chocolate Fudge recipe, which is available on Food Network's website. It's easy to make. Very easy to make. Dangerously easy to make. Why is it dangerous? Because this stuff is GOOD! I would venture to say that the sea salt is NOT optional. It completely takes this fudge and elevates it to something special, something out of the ordinary, and something totally addictive. Sweet from the chocolate and sweetened condensed milk, warming from the cinnamon, and salty from the sea salt. The flavors all pop in your mouth, and before you know it, you're reaching for a second piece. My advice: Cut them in very very small squares so you won't feel so bad about going back for more.

Be sure to hop over to I Heart Cooking Clubs to see what other folks made for their chocolate craving week.

Cinnamon Chocolate Fudge

Butter, for greasing the pan
1 (14-ounce) can
sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure
vanilla extract
1 pound (about 2 cups) bittersweet (60 percent
cacao) chocolate chips (recommended: Ghiradelli) see Cook's Note
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, at room temperature
Kosher or flake salt, optional

Butter the bottom and sides of an 8 by 8-inch baking pan. Line the pan with a sheet of parchment paper, about 14-inches long and 7-inches wide, allowing the excess to overhang the sides. Set aside.

In a medium glass or stainless steel bowl, combine the condensed milk,
cinnamon, and vanilla. Stir in the chocolate chips and butter. Put the bowl on a saucepan of barely simmering water and mix until the chocolate chips have melted and the mixture is smooth, about 6 to 8 minutes (mixture will be thick).
Using a spatula, scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle with salt, if desired. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours until firm.
Run a warm knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the fudge.

Remove the fudge to a cutting board. Peel off the parchment paper and cut the fudge into 1-inch pieces. Store refrigerated in an airtight container or freeze.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Doughnuts

This is my first ever Daring Bakers Challenge. And, let me tell you, it turned out worlds better for me than my first Daring Cooks Challenge. The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

I can already see that this challenge is going to be a total "gateway drug" for me. See, I've always had this fear of deep frying. But, we pulled out the Fry Daddy for the occasion and found that, really, frying isn't so bad. And the results were soooo good. Too good.

Let's start from the beginning. I chose the pumpkin doughnut recipe from the ones Lori had posted. Since it was a crisp fall day when I decided to tackle the challenge, it seemed appropriate. Mixing the dough was easy--no different than any other dough. Waiting while the dough chilled was not easy. It never is. Waiting is not my strong suit.

I didn't have biscuit cutters, so I ended up using a juice glass for the "big" cut, and a shooter for the hole. They turned out just fine using these instruments, and it made me feel better that I didn't have to buy new equipment for the challenge.

As always, patting out the dough, cutting it, gathering the scraps, and re-patting them out got tedious. This is why I hate cut-out cookies. I know, at some point, I'm going to have to get used to the idea. Kids, in my experience, love using cookie cutters, and I really want to be the kind of mom that will let my child choose the recipes we bake together, regardless of the procedure. So, I'm thinking I need to warm up to the roll-and-cut process in the next few years.

The end result was amazing doughnuts. They had a crunch on the outside, and a soft, chewy cake texture on the inside. I ate way too many on the first day. By the second day, they had lost the crunchy exterior. Still, they were better than any store-bought doughnut I could buy--even in the little bakery down the road that specializes in doughnuts.

I should mention that I left my doughnuts completely unadorned. No glaze. No powdered sugar. Nothing. I just felt like that would be gilding the lily.

And, so I've made my gateway recipe. Now I find myself daydreaming about cider doughnuts, chocolate doughnuts, gingerbread doughnuts, yeasted doughnuts, jelly doughnuts...Oh my, Daring Bakers, what have you done to me?
Cost: $0.21 for 1 doughnut and 2 doughnut holes
Yup, you read that right. You get 1 doughnut AND two doughnut holes for just 21 cents. Next time you go to that big chain, think about how high their mark-up must be!

Friday, October 22, 2010

IHCC: Italian White Bean, Pancetta and Tortellini Soup

I recently stumbled upon I Heart Cooking Clubs. I love the idea of getting to know one author/chef really well during a six-month period. I just wish I had found the group earlier, when they were focusing on Mark Bittman or Nigella Lawson. Right now, their focus is Giada De Laurentiis. Given this fact, I'm thinking I'll participate every now and then, but I just can't commit to six months of Giada.

That said, when I saw that this week was "Potluck," I figured I would play along. I pulled out my cookbook specifically looking for a soup. Why a soup? Well, I spent last Friday through about Wednesday with the worst cold I've had in about two years. I know I'm lucky to have gone that long without it. I had a remarkably healthy pregnancy, and my immune system seemed to be in tip-top shape for the first ten months of my son's life. So, I was pretty frustrated when I got sick, as unused to the situation as I had become. It certainly didn't help that I was sick and running on Advil Cold & Sinus for my brother-in-law's wedding.

Anyway, all that aside, I chose the Italian White Bean, Pancetta, and Tortellini Soup. I find it kind of interesting that Swiss chard is not mentioned in the name of the recipe. The greens definitely featured prominently in the end result.

This was my first time using pancetta. It did not disappoint. The pancetta infused the whole soup with a rich, meaty undertone. Without it, I think the soup would have been lackluster, like so many of the other "beans and greens" soups I have made over the years. As much as I hate to admit it, I need some highly flavored meat (bacon, pancetta, chorizo) to make my greens palatable.

The soup turned out more than "palatable." It was filling, warming, and deeply nourishing in a "good for the soul" kind of way. I wish I had had this recipe on hand when I was a CSA member toting home huge bunches of chard and kale and collards every week. Now at least I know a good way to get in my greens.

Italian White Bean, Pancetta, and Tortellini Soup
adapted from Everyday Pasta by Giada De Laurentiis

3 Tbs olive oil
4 oz pancetta, chopped
3 shallots, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (15 oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
4 cups chopped Swiss chard
6 cups chicken broth
1 (9 oz) package frozen cheese tortellini
freshly ground black pepper

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta, shallots, carrot, and garlic and cook until the pancetta is crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the beans, Swiss chard, and broth.

Bring the soup to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the tortellini and cook 8 minutes, until just tender. Season with pepper and serve.

Makes 5 servings

Cost: $3.22 per serving

Thursday, October 21, 2010

First Cookbook Lovers Unite: Open-Face Veggie Sandwiches

I recently started a new blogging group for people who love their printed cookbooks as much as I do. Cookbook Lovers Unite will have a theme every other week to make a recipe from a cookbook and then blog about and share. The first theme is "Your First Love." I wanted to hear what books started the obsession for other cookbook addicts.

My first cookbook love wasn't the first cookbook I ever owned. It wasn't even the second or third. Just as your first love isn't necessarily your first date, it took a few books before I found the one that started it all.

The Horn of the Moon Cookbook started it all for me. I'm not sure why. It's such an unassuming book. The cover is a drawing. There are no pictures in the book at all--just some line drawings and text. The author is not a celebrity. No one was promoting the book in a magazine, on a display in front of the store, or with a show on The Food Network. Nope, it was just a regular old book on a used bookstore shelf, and somehow it caught my attention.

It was the weekend of October 18-20, 2002 when I found the book. I know the date because it was my one-year anniversary with my boyfriend (now my husband). We had gone up to Vermont to see a concert, and stayed with friends who lived in Burlington. While we were wandering in downtown Burlington, in the bitter, biting wind, we ducked into a used bookstore. While browsing, I spied The Horn of the Moon, and something drew me to it. I bought it, after consulting with my boyfriend, not knowing that it would change me.

I read the cookbook cover to cover in the following months, marking recipes I wanted to try to make. This was no small step for me. I come from a family that doesn't like to cook. That's putting it nicely. My mother CAN cook--and what she makes she makes quite well--but she hates the process. My grandmothers? Don't make me laugh. At my wedding shower, everyone gave me a recipe card with a special dish from her kitchen. I don't have one from my Grandma because she couldn't think of a single thing that she cooks--she just orders take out or (more likely) goes to a restaurant. So, I wasn't from the cooks. But, I was determined to try, and this book was going to be my gateway.

These open-face sandwiches were my first foray into the cooking world. Kurt and I made them over and over and over again. We were so proud of our accomplishment. (Looking back, of course, this is an incredibly simple recipe, but we were just beginners.) To this day, the smell of broccoli and thyme sauteing reminds me of our tiny, crammed apartment in Somerville, MA. It reminds me of cozy meals around our tiny table, of cooking in a galley kitchen so cramped that we could barely work back-to-back. It reminds me of brisk November days, walking the half mile to the grocery store, and then walking back carrying the bags, and how warm my cheeks would feel when I got back into the apartment and turned on the stove. This recipe reminds me of the early days of living together, and learning to cook together.

It's amazing to me that this one innocent-looking book sparked the cookbook collection that I have now--that the 200-plus cookbooks in my house all sprang from that one impulse buy in Vermont.

Here's to beginnings--of a lifelong love of cookbooks, of a relationship that is now nine years old, and of a new blogging group where we can share the joy of the printed cookbook.

Broccoli Mushroom Sandwich with Three Cheeses
adapted from Horn of the Moon Cookbook by Ginny Callan

1 Tbs olive oil
2 cups chopped broccoli
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1/4 tsp salt
4 slices rye bread
1 1/2 cups crumbled blue cheese (I use much less)
8 small slices mozzarella cheese
8 small slices cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375.

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add oil, then broccoli and thyme. Cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and salt and cook until just barely tender. Remove from heat and drain any excess juices.

Place bread on a cookie sheet. Top each piece of bread with the broccoli-mushroom mixture. Spread the blue cheese over, followed by slices of mozzarella, and then cheddar. Bake for 10 minutes. Serve open-face.

Makes 4 servings.

Cost: $2.61 per sandwich

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Daring Cooks: Stuffed Grape Leaves

Today is my first Daring Cooks Challenge. Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness, has challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. And, boy, was it a challenge...

Not that the recipe itself was so hard to make. It definitely had more steps than I'm used to lately. And it had some techniques I haven't tried before--weighing down the rolls with a Pyrex dish comes to mind. But, really, the challenge, for me, was to make something I've never tried before, and, quite frankly, never really had the inclination to.

Let me tell you, I did NOT feel any more inclined toward this after smelling the grape leaves. Picture driving near the ocean on a really humid day. The kind of day where the ocean doesn't smell fresh and clean anymore--it smells salty and fetid. I remember those kinds of days back when I lived on Long Island--when I would be driving down by the beach and think, "My goodness, something smells rotten!" Yeah. That's how the grape leaves smelled.

And THEN, as I'm carefully pulling each leaf apart from the others, since they were packed so tightly in the jar, I find a dead, preserved ladybug. I'm not kidding. There was no mistaking what it was. It was still intact, and red and black (though the red had slightly faded). At that point, I seriously considered scrapping the whole project. But, I found the insect on the very last leaf I had unraveled, so I trudged on and tried not to think about it too hard.

The results were, well...disgusting. I'm sorry. I understand that this might have been to some people's taste. It just wasn't to mine. The whole house reeked from the grape leaves, and you can't taste without using your nose. The texture was okay, but it was just a spiced meatball wrapped in an unappetizing leaf. No thanks.

I hope everyone else had fun with the challenge, and that their results were more pleasing to their palates. As for me, I'll try next month's challenge and see where it takes me. I guess Daring means risking failure or disappointment. The recipe worked just fine, it was just my personal preferences that failed me. Better luck next month, I guess.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Cranberry Sauce Conundrum

I have a really bad habit of letting food go to waste. I know it's a terrible thing to do, and I feel guilty every single time I throw away uneaten food that has gone bad in the refrigerator. I'm trying very hard to mend my ways, but sometimes it just isn't easy.

The other night, I had half a can of whole-berry cranberry sauce in the fridge. I had tried to use half of it in a recipe that failed miserably (not the recipe's fault--we had an ingredient go bad and didn't realized until it was too late in the process. We ended up eating grilled cheese for dinner that night.). So, there sat half a can of cranberry sauce. To be completely honest, the jelled consistency of the stuff grosses me out. But, keeping in mind that I have been trying so hard not to throw food away, I started looking for a recipe to use it up.

There is a new-ish website out there called Eat Your Books. I signed up for a lifetime membership back in May. Basically, they index cookbooks. You create a bookshelf with the cookbooks you own, and viola--you have a searchable database of the recipes on your cookbook shelves. Right now, only about 50% of my cookbooks are indexed. That's still a lot of recipes to search from--according to the website, when I log in, exactly 22.465 recipes, to be exact.

I performed such a search and found the perfect recipe to use up the cranberry sauce. As a bonus, it would also use the juice of the orange that was sitting in fridge, divested of its zest. The recipe was for Orange Cranberry Muffins from Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food.

So, I quickly mixed together the streusel topping, whipped up the muffin batter, scooped them out, sprinkled the topping on as well as I could (the muffin cups were over-full, so it was hard to make the streusel stick), and popped them in the oven in time to sit down and watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory on DVD. While I watched the hilarious antics of the ever-endearing nerds, my house started to smell ridiculously good. The kind of good that makes your stomach rumble and your mouth water, even though you just ate dinner an hour ago.

These muffins were a wonderful solution to my cranberry sauce problem. As a matter of fact, they were such a good solution that they have created their own problem. When I make them next, what will I do with the other half of the can of cranberry sauce? I guess that just remains to be seen. In the meantime, I would strongly urge you to make these muffins when you get the chance. They have the perfect fall/harvest taste. They are tender, and buttery, with a subtle crunch from the streusel topping. And, every now and then, if you are lucky, you bite into one of the whole cranberries, which gives you a joyful tart pop on the palate.

Orange Cranberry Muffins
adapted from I'm Just Here for More Food

The Streusel:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped almonds
3 Tbs butter

The Muffins:
8 Tbs unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp orange extract
1/2 cup plain yogurt
orange juice from 1 orange
3/4 cup canned whole-berry cranberry sauce

1. Mix streusel ingredients until cohesive, but still crumbly.
2. Preheat oven to 350, and grease a muffin tin.
3. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl.
4. Cream together the butter and sugar.
5. Add the eggs and mix until combined.
6. Add remaining wet ingredients. Then dump all the wet ingredients into the dry. (I do this the other way around--dumping the dry into the wet, and I'm not sure it makes any difference. Alton would probably disagree, though.)
7. Scoop the batter into 12 muffin cups. The book says to fill them to the top. Mine crested over the top. They still turned out great.
8. Sprinkle with streusel topping.
9. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.
10. Allow muffins to cool before taking out of the tins.

Yield: 12 muffins
Cost: $0.36 per muffin