Monday, February 28, 2011

Lemon and Raspberry Coconut Cupcakes

Today is Heidi's birthday !  Happy Birthday Heidi!  I have made a fair number of different cakes for Heidi's birthday, but she has settled on this cake as her favorite.  It is moist white cake, filled with raspberry conserve and lemon curd, then frosted with white chocolate cream cheese buttercream and then sprinkled with coconut.  It is light and moist and has a very intense bright flavor.

Normally I make this as a regular 9-inch cake, but I have noticed something lately.  Many people will not eat cake if they have to slice off a piece.  I don't know what it is, but people just have an aversion to a slice of cake and will often try to shave off the thinnest layer possible as if they are preparing a sample for an electron microscope.  Now cup cakes,on the other hand, never seem to have that problem, perhaps because they are smaller and meant to be individual servings.  Truth be told they are probably have the same mass as as your average slice of cake, but it seems that people are much less intimidated by cupcakes.  I think that's a big reason for the recent explosion in the popularity of cupcakes.

So bearing this sociological observation in mind, I decided to deconstruct Heidi's favorite cake and reinvent it as a cupcake.  The result is very playful and appealing and tastes every bit as delicious as the original if not better.

A word about this recipe.  These are definitely "special occasion" cupcakes.  They aren't the kind of thing you throw together on a whim because you have the munchies.  The extra time and effort is so worth the effort though.  This recipe involves making a homemade raspberry conserve from fresh or frozen raspberries, a homemade lemon curd, and white chocolate cream cheese buttercream all from Rose Levy Beranbaum's legendary cookbook The Cake Bible (see recommended cookbooks)...that's a lot of work, so I usually use a white cake mix for the cake (it tastes as good as one made from scratch and with all the other prep work, who wants to add more?).  Trust me, there is nothing "Sandra Lee" about these cupcakes.

I use an unusual technique to extract as much lemon flavor as possible from the lemons.  It is a technique I learned from an Austrian pastry chef.  Combining citrus peel and sugar in a food processor allows the sugar to capture more of the essential oils of the peel than simply grating or zesting the peel (where the oils are atomized into the air and subsequently lost).  I use this technique whenever I make any kind of citrus pastry.

Lemon and Raspberry Coconut Cupcakes
(makes 18-24)

1 white cake mix baked into 18-24 cupcakes
1 -2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
18-24 fresh raspberries (optional garnish)

Raspberry Conserve:
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 lb. fresh or frozen raspberries

Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan, heat over high heat until mixture comes to a boil.  Add raspberries and stir in gently, cook until mixture returns to a boil and boil one minute.  Place a fine mesh sieve over a large glass bowl and drain hot raspberry mixture into sieve.  Collect drippings and with a wooden spoon of silicone spatula pres raspberries gently through sieve (this step is to remove many of the seeds).  Scrape raspberry pulp from bottom of sieve into bowl of liquids, then return to sauce pan and heat over medium heat simmering until mixture is reduced to about 3/4 cup and is thick and jam-like.  Remove from heat and cool completely.

Lemon Curd:
peel from 3 medium lemons
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
Juice from 3 medium lemons
1/2 stick (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter

With a vegetable peeler remove most of the peel from the 3 lemons (avoid the white pith of the peel, use only the yellow rind).  In the bowl of a food processor combine the peel and the sugar and process until peel is finely ground and sugar is a light yellow color.  In a medium sauce pan combine the citrus sugar and egg yolks and whisk to combine.  Add lemon juice and butter and heat over medium heat stirring constantly until the curd thickens o the consistency of pudding, remove from heat and cool to room temperature before using.

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream:
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
6 oz. (3/4 cup) white chocolate.

Combine butter and cream cheese in a mixing bowl and beat until smooth and fluffy.  Place chopped white chocolate (or white chocolate chips) in a glass bowl.  Melt white chocolate in microwave at 20-second intervals, stirring with a fork between each heating, until melted (be careful not to overheat white chocolate or it will burn).  Add melted white chocolate to butter/cream cheese and beat until  incorporated.

Pierce the center of each cooled cupcake with a sharp knife poking down nearly but not completely to the bottom.  Combine about 1/2 cup of icing with the cooled raspberry conserve and stir to combine with a whisk.  If mixture is still thin, place in refrigerator briefly to stiffen.  Transfer raspberry mixture to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip.  Insert star tip into incision of each cupcake and pipe about 1Tbsp raspberry filling into each cupcake.  If there is too much raspberry filling coming out of the incision, smooth top of cupcake with a butter knife.  Spread the top of each cupcake with about 1 Tbsp lemon curd.  Pipe buttercream on top of lemon curd to almost completely cover the cupcake.  Gently press sweetened flaked coconut on top of buttecream, garnish with fresh raspberries and serve.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chinese (Char Siu) Barbecue Pork Ribs

I was reading the Huffington Post the other day and came across an article for Char Siu pork ribs. I haven't had good char siu pork ribs in a very long time so I thought I would try them.  SCORE!  Delicious, just like you would get from a good chinese vendor in chinatown.

I first learned about char siu (chinese barbecue) from my friend Doug  in graduate school.  He was from Hawaii  and his mom would send care packages loaded with things we couldn't find in east Tennessee (remember this was in the mid 1980s): Macadamia Nuts, Asian Rice Crackers, all kinds of seaweed, and char siu bbq sauce.

Char siu is very fragrant and will fill your house with exotic scents. Unlike what most chinese restaurants serve, this char siu is not sickeningly sweet and I love it.  Don't be afraid of the red food coloring... it does nothing to the flavor, but is absolutely traditional and gives the ribs a beautiful red color.

This recipe is perfect.  I have to give credit to Meathead Goldwyn for the recipe.  This is great to eat with a nice cold asian noodle salad, sliced up in fried rice or lo mein, or, as I intend to do today, use as a filling for Bao (steamed chinese dumplings full of spicy pork bbq).

Chinese (Char Siu) Barbecue Pork Ribs
(makes 2 lbs )

2 lbs. boneless pork ribs (or other ribs)


1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/2 cup bourbon
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons hot sauce such as Tabasco or Sriracha
2 tablespoons powdered ginger
1 tablespoon powdered garlic (NOT garlic salt)
1 tablespoon five spice powder
2 tablespoons powdered onion (NOT onion salt)
2 teaspoons red food coloring

Mix all ingredients for marinade well.  Reserve 1/4 cup of marinade.  Place ribs and marinade in a large Ziplock freezer bag and marinate at least 3 hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350.  Place ribs on a lightly-oiled baking sheet and roast for one hour.  After one hour, turn ribs over and brush with reserved marinade. Return to oven for 1 more hour, flipping and brushing with marinade every 15 minutes.  Serve, ribs sliced or roughly chopped.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ropa Vieja

Maybe it's all the news about revolution in Egypt and Libya and Wisconsin, but lately I have been craving Cuban food.  There's something paradoxical about Cuban food.  It is definitely latin and comes from the balmy tropical Carribean, but it is also hearty and comforting, like a big down comforter, the last thing you would think you would want in the tropics.  But it is all absolutely cravable.

In the last few days the temperature has dropped from mid 70's to mid 40's and I was feeling the need for some comfort food.  Then Emma decided to make a surprise visit from DC, so last night we made her favorite latin dish: Ropa Vieja, a mildly spicy latin "beef stew".  Eating Ropa Vieja is like crawling into a big, safe, cozy, warm cocoon of happiness.  No really, it's EXACTLY like that.

This is the kind of food your grandmother would have simmering on the back burner all day long.  The name Ropa Vieja literally translates to "old clothes", which is what the dish looks like.  This is a classic Cuban dish and takes 3-4 hours to complete, so get an early start!  However, it will fill your house with the most delicious aromas you can imagine.  Perfect for a blustery day.

Traditionally Ropa Vieja is served on plain white rice, and with Cuban bread.  We can't usually find good cuban bread here, so I substituted the Mexican bolillos they sell at our local grocery store (we have a large hispanic population in my neighborhood, so the latin section is always good).

Ropa Vieja
serves 8-12

4 lbs beef skirt steak or flank steak, or fajita meat (not too lean)
2 large onions,peeled and coarsely chunked
2 large Carrots, chunked
3 large ribs celery broken in half
2 fresh bay leaves (dried work too)
2 Tsp salt

2 large green bell peppers, chopped
4 cloves garlic minced
4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
1 large onion chopped
1 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano
1 28oz. can tomatoes (petit dice or crushed)
1 cup dry red wine

In a large stock pot, place the beef, 2 large onions, carrots, celery, salt and bay leaves.  Cover with enough water to submerge everythng with about 2 inches of water.  Place over high heat, UNCOVERED, until it comes to a boil, then reduce heat to a constant simmer and cook beef 3-4 hours, uncovered.  It is cooked uncovered so the broth will reduce.

Strain broth into a large bowl and reserve.  Separate meat from vegetables, and discard vegetables. Allow beef to cool, then shred with two forks.

In a large skillet heat olive oil.  Add bell peppers, garlic, 1 large onion and jalapeno peppers and saute for 10 minutes until onions begin to soften.  Add salt, cumin, oregano, tomatoes and red wine and simmer for 20 minutes until mixture is thickened and liquid is reduced to the consistency of a very thick marinara sauce.  Add 3 cups of reserved beef broth and the shredded beef.  Cook to heat through and serve over white rice with Cuban bread.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cuban Steak and Onion Empanadas

Until I get pictures of the empanadas, enjoy this photo of the GIGANTIC Daffodils in our front yard!

Today is the 19th of February.  The sun is shining, the birds are singing and it is 70 degrees.  What an amazing day, perfect for an outdoor party.  Our dear friends Sabrina and Clint are in town for the weekend and we are going to Chris and Al's house for a potluck cocktail party this afternoon.  Life doesn't get much better than this!

So I am making these Cuban empanadas for the party.  They are very flavorful and fragrant with cinnamon and sherry,easy to make and everyone loves them.  The cream cheese pastry is very flaky and delicate.  They can be served hot from the oven or at room temperature, and eaten alone or with salsa.


Cuban Steak and Onion Empanadas
serves 4-8

Cream Cheese Pastry:
1 1/2 cups flour sifted
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp sugar
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 oz. butter (1 stick), softened

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.  In a separate bowl cream butter and cream cheese until well mixed and fluffy.  Add dry ingredients and combine with paddle attachment on stand mixer until a dough just forms.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

While dough is chilling, prepare steak and onion filling.

Steak and Onion Filling:
1 lb lean sirloin steak, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 cup diced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp Paprika
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp Sherry
2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley

Egg Wash:
1 egg plus 1 Tbsp water, beaten together

Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet.  Add steak, onions, garlic and jalapeno and cook over medium high heat until meat is browned and onions are soft, about 10 minutes.  Add flour, cinnamon, salt and paprika, stir to mix and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add Sherry and cook 1 minute.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.  Stir in parsley.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out empanada dough and cut into 3-inch circles.  Put some filling in the center of each circle (don't over fill or they will explode) and fold over.  Seal the edges of the dough with your fingers and make a scalloped edge.

Place the empanadas about 2 inches apart on a lightly-greased baking sheet, brush with egg wash and bake until lightly browned , about 15-20 minutes.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Profiteroles with Coffee Ice Cream and Sea Salt Butterscotch Sauce

This was the second place winner in the Valentine's Day dessert poll, and so many of you were disappointed that I didn't post this recipe, I felt  I just couldn't let you down (that and I really like profiteroles and this is the recipe that Doug really wanted).  So seeing as how it's Valentine's Day and all,  here it is.  This is definitely one of those recipes where the end result is soooo much more than the sum of its individual parts.

This is a really easy and quick recipe.  You can make your own coffee ice cream like I did, or you can just pick up your favorite coffee ice cream from the grocery.  The profiterloes and butterscotch sauce are really easy and can be made in under an hour if you are organized.  Profiteroles are nothing but cream puffs filled with ice cream.  They are made with pate choux, the same basic dough used to make eclairs, beignets, crullers, kringle etc.  The dough (pate choux) is made on the stove top and is ready in about 15 minutes!

Profiteroles with Coffee Ice Cream and Sea Salt Butterscotch Sauce
makes 12 profiteroles

Coffee Ice Cream:
(makes about 1/2 quart)
2 Tbsp  Vanilla Vodka (or plain vodka)
2 Tbsp instant espresso powder (or good quality instant coffee)
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cups half and half
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a small bowl dissolve instant espresso powder in vodka, stir to combine, set aside.

In a bowl combine egg yolks and sugar, whisk until well combine and slightly fluffy.  In a separate large glass bowl combine cream and half and half stir to combine, then microwave on high for two minutes.

While whisking the egg mixture, carefully add about 1 cup of the hot cream to temper the eggs, then return tempered eggs back to bowl of hot cream, constantly whisking until well mixed.

Return cream/egg mixture to microwave and heat on high for 1 minute. Stir mixture with a wooden spoon. Return to microwave and heat on high for 30 seconds, then stir thoroughly with wooden spoon. Repeat this step, microwaving for 30 seconds, then stirring until mixture coats the back of the wooden spoon (and your finger leaves a well-defined path in the mixture when drawn across the back of the spoon).

When custard is cooked, stir in coffee/vodka mixture and vanilla, refrigerate until cold, then process in ice cream maker.

Profiteroles (Pate Choux):
1/2 cup water
1/2 stick butter (4 tablespoons)
1 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 large eggs plus 1 egg white

Preheat oven to 400F.
In a medium saucepan combine water, butter, sugar and sea salt, bring to a boil.  Once boiling, remove from heat, add flour and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a ball.

After adding flour to the boiling mixture, it will form a ball!

Let dough sit, off heat for 5 minutes to cool.  Transfer dough to a food processor, add eggs and process until a smooth sticky dough is formed (alternatively add eggs one at a time and beat with a wooden spoon, not adding more eggs until the previous egg has been incorporated , until smooth dough forms).   Transfer pate choux dough to a piping bag (or plastic freezer bag with one corner cut off).  Pipe dough into golf ball-sized mounds on a lightly greased baking sheet.

 Before baking...                                               and after baking!
Bake 10 minutes at 400F, then reduce oven temperature to 350 and bake an additional 25 minutes until puffed and golden brown.  Remove from oven and immediately pierce each profiterole with a sharp knife to release steam.  Cool.  Store cooled profiteroles in an air-tight container until ready to serve.

Sea Salt Butterscotch Sauce:
3/4 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 Tbsp  water
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp Scotch whiskey
1/4 tsp vanilla

In a medium saucepan combine brown sugar, corn syrup, water and sea salt.  Cook over medium high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved.  Add cream and continue to cook, stirring until mixture is thick, about 10 minutes.  Add scotch whiskey and vanilla and cook with stirring for about 2 additional minutes. Remove from heat.

Desert Assembly:
With a serrated knife, cut the top 1/3 off a profiterole and carefully remove some of the interior pastry.  Fill the profiterole with a scoop (or two) of coffee ice cream.  On a small individual serving plate make a pool of butter scotch sauce, place filled profiterole(s) on top, drizzle with butterscotch and garnish with coarsely ground sea salt.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Ganache Icing

As promised, I am posting the winner of the Valentine's Day dessert poll, the winner, by a single vote, being flourless chocolate cake with ganache icing.  So here is my recipe for a truly spectacular flourless chocolate cake.

The recipe is a compilation of many different recipes I have tried over the years, but is based largely on a recipe from legendary french cookbook author Patricia Wells.  The cake is moist and dense, yet also has a fluffy texture, not just a dense solid block of chocolate, has an underglaze of seedless raspberry jam, and is robed in silky ganache.

In my house we call this cake Elena's Cake of Dreams.  Elena was a visiting Russian scientist who worked in my laboratory and lived with us for several months in the early 1990's.  I prepared this cake for Valentine's dinner during the time Elena lived with us, and she took 45 minutes to consume a single slice, shaving off razor thin pieces with her fork and letting them slowly melt in her mouth.  She told me, "this is the cake of my dreams", and so it has been called Elena's Cake of Dreams ever since.

I feel I should first say something about the term flourless here.  The cake is not exactly flourless.  I cheat and add a very small amount of flour which helps to give the cake it's "lightness" and importantly, keeps the cake from collapsing upon itself once it cools.

The cake batter is poured into 8-inch cake pan with 2-inch high sides (Wilton is a good brand) that has a parchment paper lining on the bottom, and is then baked in a bain marie (hot water bath) for 30 minutes, then removed from the oven and water bath, covered with a heavy ceramic dinner plate and allowed to "steam" for 45 minutes. WARNING! DO NOT USE A SPRINGFORM PAN.  A springform pan, no matter how well-wrapped in aluminum foil, will leak and destroy your cake.

Once cooled I like to underglaze the cake with a seedless fruit jam like raspberry, apricot, or cherry.  It must be smooth jam with no chunks.  Then the cake is covered with ganache.  This cake is better after it rests for 24 hours to let the ganache "ripen" and set.  It is delicious refrigerated or at room temperature.  It is also best served with very lightly sweetened whipped cream to cut the richness.

This is not a difficult recipe, but it is a messy one since it uses a lot of bowls. Its worth the mess though, because this is the cake that will come to you in your sleep and whisper in your ear "I am waiting for you, come taste me.."  Truly a cake of dreams.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Ganache Icing
(Le gâteau d'Elena de rêves- Elena's Cake of Dreams)
serves 8

parchment paper cut to fit bottom of cake pan
4 cups (approx.) boiling water

8 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (chocolate chips work well)
1 stick unsalted butter
5 large eggs, separated, room temperature
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 Tbsp all purpose flour

Fruit underglaze (optional)
2 Tbsp seedless raspberry jam

Ganache Icing:
1  cup heavy cream
8 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (chocolate chips work well)

Preheat oven to 350.  Bring a kettle of water to boil.  Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of an 8-inch cake pan with 2-inch high sides.  Butter cake pan well, then press parchment paper into bottom. 

Melt butter and chocolate together in a large glass bowl in the microwave, at 30-second increments, stirring after each heating, until melted and smooth.

In a separate large bowl combine egg yolks and sugar.  Beat until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add flour and stir in gently until combined, do not overmix.  Fold egg yolk mixture into chocolate mixture, being careful not to deflate.

In yet another bowl, beat egg whites until they just form stiff peaks.  Fold egg whites into chocolate mixture, 1/3 at a time, being careful not to deflate.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Place cake pan in another, large cake pan (12-inch round pan works well).  Place in oven and then add boiling water to larger pan until it comes about halfway up the sides.  Bake 30 minutes.

 Bain Marie
Batter-filled 8-inch cake pan is set inside a 12-inch cake pan, then placed in preheated oven 
and the outer pan filled 1/2 way with boiling water

Remove cake from oven and water bath and immediately cover with a heavy ceramic dinner plate and place something heavy on top (like a bag of flour or can of tomatoes).  Allow cake to steam for 45 minute to an hour before removing dinnerplate.

 Immediately after removing from the oven, the hot cake is covered with an inverted 
ceramic dinner plate and weighed down with a bag of flour to steam the cake

Run a sharp knife around the edge of the cake pan to loosen cake from sides, then invert onto wire cooling rack and remove pan gently.  Peel off parchment.  Allow cake to cool completely.

Optional Underglaze:  Prepare underglaze by melting raspberry jam in microwave for 30 seconds and stir to mix.  Spread raspberry jam over top and sides of cake.  Allow to set for 20-30 minutes.

Glazing the cake:
In a medium saucepan heat cream until it just begins to boil.  Remove from heat and add chocolate and stir gently until very smooth (do not stir vigorously or you will add air bubbles to ganache).

Place cooled cake on a wire cooling rack and then set the rack on top of a large bowl to catch ganache drippings.  Pour ganache over cake making certain it runs evenly down all sides.  Do not spread with a knife or spatula or you will mar the glossy finish.  There will be a lot of ganache in the bowl, which you can save to serve over ice cream, or roll into chocolate truffles.

coated with a jam underglaze...                               and covered with ganache 

Place cake, on wire rack on wax paper in the refrigerator for at least an hour before carefully sliding cake, with the aid of a spatula, to a serving platter.  Cake can be refrigerated at this point until ready to serve (do not cover with plastic wrap), just allow to come to room temperature for 30-45 minutes to restore gloss to ganache.  Serve with lightly-sweetened whipped cream and fresh raspberries.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Asparagus Soup with Basil and Tarragon

Nothing says spring is coming like asparagus.  And although I love asparagus in all its forms, this is probably one of my favorite asparagus recipes.  I think it is a perfect start to any Valentine's Day menu, which is why I am offering it today.

There is, amazingly, no cream in this soup, so its moderately healthy.  The large amount of parsley in the soup gives a very nice peppery bite and the basil and tarragon give a lovely licorice hint to the soup.

An immersion blender is the easiest way to puree this soup, but you also can use a blender.  If using a blender, only puree one or two cups at a time and be careful, hot soup in a blender tends to explode like Mt. Pinatubo.

Add the asparagus tips only 15 minutes before serving the soup so they don't become mushy.  Garnish with sour cream.  I like to mix a little sour cream with some heavy cream, and using a small spoon, make 8 small dots of this mixture in the soup, then drag a toothpick through the dots to make a ring of hearts! cute!

Asparagus Soup with Basil and Tarragon
serves 4-8

1/2 stick butter
1 large onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 1/2 lbs asparagus, woody ends removed,cut into 1-inch lengths (tips reserved)
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped (about 1/2 cup; without stems)
1 medium sized carrots, peeled, cut into 1 inch chunks
8-12 basil leaves
2 tsp dried tarragon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
sour cream

Melt butter, add onions and garlic and saute over medium heat for 25 minutes until soft.   Add stock, asparagus (do not add asparagus tips yet), parsley, carrots.  Cover and cook until vegetables are very tender (about 30 minutes).  Add basil, and tarragon.  Blend soup with immersion blender until smooth.  Add asparagus tips and cook 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and cayenne.  Serve hot with sour cream garnish.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Dried Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt

Doug had these cookies at a party recently and came home raving about them.  He's right, they are phenomenal! Luckily he was able to convince the creator, his new friend Kersten to share the recipe.  The original recipe by Jacques Torres (Mr. Chocolate) was published in the New York Times and calls for Valrhona 60% Cacao feves (oval discs), and uses a mix of bread flour and cake flour and didn't include dried cherries (that was Kersten's genius idea). Here we have simplified the recipe to use just all purpose flour and Ghiradelli 60% cacao large chocolate chips (which are not only cheaper, but much easier to find) and I believe it is every bit as delicious as the original.

These cookies are extremely buttery and the chocolate and cherries are amazing together!  Using Kosher salt in the recipe seems to add a delicious salty granularity to the cookie.  The sea salt garnish doesn't hurt either!

This is not a terribly inventive recipe, it basically follows the original toll house recipe, but tweaks the amounts a bit.  The secret is in the technique (which Mr. chocolate failed to write into his recipe!).  First, the butter and eggs must be completely at room temperature.  Second, thoroughly creaming the butter and sugar together until fluffy and then slowly adding the eggs, helps the cookies to rise, yet remain chewy.

The original recipe instructed to make giant cookies, but I have never liked a GIANT cookie, I don't know why.  My mother, God rest her soul, considered them to be "vulgar".  So I make smaller cookies which you can eat in 2 or three bites.  That way you have more to go around and you can eat more of them without feeling so guilty!

Dried Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt
makes 7-8 dozen 2-inch cookies

3 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt (1 tsp if using regular salt)
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
2 eggs (room temperature)
2 tsp vanilla
23 oz. Ghiradelli 60% cacao bittersweet baking chips (two 11.5 oz. bags)
2 cups dried cherries chopped
coarsely ground sea salt

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Combine flour, Baking soda, baking powder and kosher salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine.  In a separate bowl combine brown sugar, white sugar and softened butter, cream with electric mixer until very light and very fluffy, scraping sides once or twice (about 5 minutes).  Combine eggs and vanilla and whisk until blended.  With mixer running slowly add egg mixture to butter mixture until well-combined and fluffy.  Add dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just combined (about 30-45 seconds).  Add cherries and chocolate chips and mix in by hand.

Roll dough into walnut-sized balls and place on a well greased baking sheet.  Sprinkle each cookie with a tiny pinch of sea salt. Bake for about 11 minutes until cookies are lightly golden and puffed.  Remove cookies from oven and allow to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes (cookies will deflate).  Transfer cookies to a cooling rack with a spatula.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Buffalo Chicken Wings and Homemade Ranch Dressing

I think the ultimate food for watching any sporting event on TV is a good, juicy, crispy and spicy Buffalo Chicken Wing.  With the super bowl coming this weekend, it would be a crime if I didn't post a recipe for home made wings. So let me just start out by making a bold statement. These are the best wings I have ever had. Period.

I have had wings prepared every way imaginable, fried, baked, grilled, breaded, not breaded etc.  Baked wings always taste slimy to me, and grilled wings are ok, but to me, I best enjoy them prepared deep fried.  They seem to end up crispier and juicier.  Just make sure to use an oil with a high temperature capacity, like peanut oil.  Frying the wings at too low of a temperature makes them greasy... blech, you might as well bake them if you want a slimy greasy wing.

Also, my preference is to lightly coat the wings with seasoned flour.  Nude wings, whether fried or baked, never seem to hold the sauce quite as well.  I have had batter-fried wings too and I always think that's too much coating.  This recipe gives just a light coating to crisp the wings and give the sauce something to grab onto.

I also like to brine the wings before cooking.  This is the perfect opportunity to not only make the wings moist and juicy, but also to add some flavor.  I prefer to use both salt and sugar in the brine.  Because the wings are so small, they only need to brine for a few hours, but they are much better if you can brine overnight.  You'll be amazed at the difference brining makes.  You can add other flavors to the brine if you prefer (5 spice powder is nice as is substituting sweet tea or cola for the water).

You can dress the fried wings anyway you'd like, the possibilities are endless.  I really honestly prefer the original Buffalo-style wing sauce (which is the dressing I include in this post), but am also a fan of a good hoisin-barbecue sauce combination.  Other ideas? Peanut butter and sriracha, pesto and olive oil, orange marmalade and chipotle in adobo...  no matter what just have lots of napkins.

It used to be that getting chicken wings from the meat counter at the grocery store was a cheap endeavor... they were incredibly inexpensive.  But now since they are so popular, they have skyrocketed in price.  I try to buy the whole wings, and then cut them myself at home.  With a good pair of kitchen shears this job is a snap. But if you dont want to go through this, prepared FRESH wings are fine.

One last word about acompanying dipping sauces: No matter how they are dressed, I always love ranch dressing.  I  present a recipe for home made ranch dressing ( which is also AMAZING), but a good quality commercial brand will work too...just avoid the fat-free garbage.  Fat-free dressings taste absolutely horrible and plastic, and lets be real, why are you going to use fat free dressing with fried chicken wings?  REALLY?

Buffalo Chicken Wings
makes about 3 dozen

5 lbs fresh chicken wings, trimmed and cut
1 gallon cold water
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar

1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly gound black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Peanut oil

1 stick butter
1/2 cup hot sauce (I love Frank's original)

In a large pot, combine 1 gallon cold water with  1/2 cup each salt and sugar.  Stir until salt and sugar is dissolved.  Add chicken wings, refrigerate, and soak over night ( or at least 2 hours).

Drain chicken wings from brine, and blot dry on paper towels.

Combine flour salt black and cayenne pepper in a large bowl, whisk to combine.  Toss chicken wings in flour mixture and place coated wings on wax paper.  Allow to sit at least 10 minutes to allow moisture from chicken form a "batter" with the flour.

Make buffalo dressing by melting butter in a large glass bowl in the microwave.  Add hot sauce to melted butter and whisk to combine.

Preheat a deep fryer with peanut oil to 350F.  Deep fry wings in batches, about one dozen at a time, for 10 minutes.  Drain fried wings on paper towels.  Toss hot wings in dressing until coated, and serve immediately with ranch dressing.

Ranch Dressing
makes about 2 cups

1 clove garlic
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sourcream
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
2 Tbsp chopped chives (fresh or dried)
white wine vinegar
milk or butermilk

Grate garlic on a microplane into a medium sized bowl (alternatively, mash garlic with salt on a cutting board until it forms a paste).  Add mayonnaise, sour cream, salt, pepper, parsley and chives, stir to combine.  Season to taste with white wine vinegar.  Add milk (or buttermilk) to thin dressing to desired consistency.