Thursday, December 29, 2011

A LBD for New Year's Eve

I may not have found a dress for NYE yet but I did find the dessert equivalent of the perfect “LBD”. It is rich and decadent, doesn’t require much effort to make, and you can accessorize it a myriad of ways. I made mine with vanilla extract and plain whipped cream but you can use swap out the vanilla extract in the cake for espresso powder or orange zest (and replace the vanilla in your whipped cream with Kahlua or Grand Marnier). 
The “Little Black Dress” Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Rozanne Gold’s recipe
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 large eggs
16 ounces Scharffen Berger semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper and generously butter sides of pan. 
Using a stand mixer, beat eggs and pinch of salt on medium-high speed for 8 minutes. Melt the chocolate and butter slowly over low heat in a medium saucepan; stir until smooth. Using a flexible rubber spatula, fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until completely incorporated. Add the vanilla. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 16-18 minutes (you want to remove the cake from the oven when the center is still soft). Cool on a rack for 30 minutes.  

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Not-So-Secret Mission

When it comes to food, I'm spoiled. I blame all the wonderful meals I've had at the various restaurants I've worked at. I've been indoctrinated to believe great food must be made from scratch. My family, however, does not share my passion for cooking and can’t understand why I don’t eat my green bean casserole or Stove Top stuffing at Christmas dinner.
I’ve made it my (now not-so-secret) mission to turn my family into foodies. This is the first year of my endeavor so I’m starting off slowly by replacing the canned cranberry sauce this with a simple, easy to make Port cranberry sauce. I like to make this the day before I plan on serving it because it thickens up in the refrigerator.   
Port Cranberry Sauce
3/4 cup ruby Port (I use Dow’s Ruby Port)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
1/3 cup water* (see note)
1/2 cup sugar
Bring the Port, water, sugar, and cinnamon sticks to a boil in a medium saucepan; stir to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to medium-low and add cranberries, stirring often until cranberry sauce thickens and berries break, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for about 12 minutes. Discard cinnamon sticks and transfer sauce to bowl to cool. 
*If I have oranges I use the juice from one orange in lieu of the water.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

'Tis the Season for Cookies

Every year, some friends and I kick off the holiday season with a trip to Napa to go wine tasting and do a little Christmas shopping in downtown St. Helena. Thankfully, the Trinchero family is generous enough to put us up at the Sutter Home Inn and one of the highlights of our trip is sitting by their Christmas tree, drinking tea, and eating their inn keeper’s gingersnaps before bed.
I’m not usually a fan of crisp cookies but I love these; they are crisp on the edges with a slightly chewy center. They actually get chewier on the second day and have just enough ginger and spice without being overwhelming. (Pat, the inn keeper, uses light molasses but I used dark because I haven’t been able to find an organic light molasses but they taste great either way.) If you like a little extra ginger flavor, add 1/4 cup of crystalized ginger chips.
Pat’s Gingersnaps
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon salt
Turbinado sugar to sprinkle
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine sugar, oil, and molasses and mix well. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add dry ingredients and mix well.
Shape into 1 inch balls (I used a medium cookie scoop), place onto the prepared baking sheets, two inches apart, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
Bake for 10-12 minutes and transfer to rack to cool.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Boozy Birthday Cake

I wouldn't normally post a recipe without having baked it myself. However, this year my friend Emma made me a very special Kahlua birthday cake and I wanted to share the recipe with you. It was moist and dense with rich chocolate and coffee flavors. I would have never guessed she made it with cake mix if she hadn’t given me her recipe!
Kahlua Bundt Cake
1 package Devil’s Food Cake
1 (4 ounce) package chocolate pudding mix
1 1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 vegetable oil
1/2 cup Kahlua
2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat for 3 minutes then bake in a bundt pan for 45-55 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely and dust with powdered sugar.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Friends-tastic Muffin

During my college years, my friend Valerie and I would get together every Thursday night for a sushi dinner and to watch Friends and ER. Inevitably we’d become hungry sometime between the two shows and, more often than not, would make banana chocolate chip muffins to tide us over during our favorite ‘90s television lineup. 
Over the years I’ve made dozens of variations of those muffins. Last year, after adding some espresso powder to the mix, I finally feel the recipe is perfect-neither too sweet nor too dense and the espresso adds a subtle touch of complexity.  
Banana Chocolate Chip Espresso Muffins
Yield: 12 standard size muffins
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 tablespoon milk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup chocolate chips
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line or grease a standard size muffin tin.
In a small bowl or ramekin, dissolve the espresso powder in the milk and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. 
In a medium bowl, mix the mashed bananas, granulated sugar, brown sugar, egg, melted butter, and espresso mixture. Add the banana mixture and chocolate chips to flour mixture and mix together until just combined. The batter will be stiff. 
Fill muffin liners about 2/3 full. Bake for 23-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (I also check the crack in the muffin top to make sure it isn’t undercooked).

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Holiday Gift Ideas

I love finding the perfect gifts for family and friends. Below are a few culinary-themed gifts just in case you need some inspiration as you shop:
Stocking Suffers: Napa Soap Company makes luxurious bar soaps that are hand-made with grapeseed oil and wine. My favorites are the Clean-O-Noir and Soap-ignon Blanc.  
For the Coffee Enthusiast: I fell in love with Stumptown Coffee Roasters when I went wine tasting in Oregon this past Spring. They have a wide variety of organic, fair-trade coffees and you may order a monthly subscription for yourself or loved one. Their French Roast is rich and robust with flavors of cocoa and brown sugar; this is the coffee that jump starts my morning on a daily basis.
For the Aspiring Chef: My favorite cookbook, “Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease: 325 Inspiring Recipes” by Rozanne Gold is full of easy, straight-forward yet impressive recipes. If you'd like, pair it with a vintage Griswold cast iron skillet (easily found on eBay).
For the Baker: Why not buy the baker in your life a whimsical Stump de Noël Bundt pan? Much easier than the making a traditional Bûche de Noël but just as much fun to decorate.

Happy shopping!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fresh from the Farm

My friend and former co-worker, Heidi, comes from a family of farmers. I knew when she brought in an olallieberry crisp for breakfast on her first day of work that we would be fast friends. Heidi was kind enough to share her family recipe for the crisp, which can be used for all sorts of fruits. I love making it with mixed berries during the summer but I’ve also used it for peaches and apricots.

This is my adaptation of her recipe. I used a two pound mix of Pink Lady and Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled, and sliced.
Farmer's Crisp
Crisp Topping
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg, beaten
5-6 cups fruit
1/2 cup sugar* (see note below)
2 tablespoons flour
6 tablespoons butter, melted
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Topping: Put flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in medium mixing bowl and stir together. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add beaten egg and stir in mixture with a fork. Mixture should be crumbly.
Filling: Put the fruit in a large bowl. Stir in the flour and sugar; add the fruit and lightly toss the fruit to coat. Spoon coated fruit into an 8 by 8-inch baking dish and sprinkle the crisp mixture on top. Drizzle the melted butter evenly over the crisp mixture. Bake approximately 40 minutes or until top is golden brown.
*If you are using very tart fruit, like blackberries or olallieberries, increase the sugar in the fruit filling to 3/4 cup.