Friday, September 30, 2011

S'mores Cupcakes with Scotch Whiskey Marshmallow Icing

This week was my youngest daughter, Rachel's, 21st birthday!  I can't believe my baby is 21, when did I get to be so darn old?  To celebrate we are heading to Washington D.C. where Rachel is a photojournalism student.  We will go to the National Zoo where Rachel works as a volunteer in the invertebrate house, will definitely spend some time trudging around the museums and will probably eat in a lot of the city's great restaurants.  I am excited.

I wanted to create a cupcake for Rachel's birthday that captures her love of candy, nature, and since it's her 21st birthday, has some booze in it!   I came up with these little beauties.  S'mores cupcakes!

The first problem with capturing the flavor of a s'more is getting a cake that tastes like graham crackers.  The solution?  Substitute crushed graham crackers for part of the flour!  These cakes are exceptionally delicious on their own.  They are dense and chewy and buttery and... well, just YUMMY.  I filled them with ganache and topped them with a fluffy dollop of home made marshmallow cream infused with smoky scotch for that real campfire flavor.  If you want, you can use water instead of scotch, but why would you do that?

Finally I toasted the marshmallow icing with a small butane blow torch. (alternatively you can just brown these under the broiler in your oven).

I can't wait to present these to Rachel!  Happy Birthday sweetie!

S'mores Cupcakes with Scotch Whiskey Marshmallow Icing
makes about 18

Step One: Make ganache

3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Heat cream in a small heavy saucepan over high heat until it boils.  Remove from heat, and add chocolate chips.  Stir until smooth and glossy.  Transfer to a shallow bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 3 hours, stirring every hour, until ganache is set and has the consistency of chocolate pudding.

Step Two: Make the graham cracker cakes

1 1/2 cups of finely ground graham cracker crumbs
2/3 cup of flour
2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup of unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup of sugar
2 eggs room temperature
1 teaspoon of vanilla
3/4 cup of milk
1 cup miniature chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a bowl, combine cracker crumbs, flour, baking powder and salt, stir until well combined.

In another bowl cream the softened butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Mix in vanilla.

Add 1/4 cup of milk and mix to combine, then ad 1/2 of the cracker/flour mixture and mix until combined. Repeat, alternating between wet and dry ingredients until everything is added.  fold in the miniature chocolate chips.

Divide batter evenly between 18 paper-lined cupcake wells.  Bake 25 minutes.  Cool completely.

Step Three: Fill the cupcakes with ganache.

After the ganache has set up to the consistency of pudding, transfer it to a piping bag fitted with a round metal tip with a wide opening (about the diameter of a pencil).  Pierce each cupcake in the center with a knife, then insert the tip of the piping bag and fill each cupcake with 1-2 Tbsp. of chocolate ganache.

Step 4:  Make the Marshmallow Icing.

2 tsp (one envelope) unflavored gelatin
2 Tbsp scotch whiskey (or water)
1 cup sugar (separated into two portions of 3/4 cup and 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3 Tbsp  water
pinch of salt
3 egg whites

In a small microwave-proof bowl, place the scotch whiskey (or water). Sprinkle gelatin over liquid and allow to soften.

In a medium sized heavy saucepan, combine 3/4 cup sugar, corn syrup and water.  Bring to a boil, with stirring, over high heat until sugar is dissolved.  Reduce heat and keep syrup warm.

Combine egg whites and salt in a clean bowl and whip until frothy and light, then with mixer still running, gradually add 1/4 cup sugar and beat on high heat until whites are stiff and glossy.  With mixer still running on medium speed, slowly pour hot syrup into egg whites.  Once all the syrup has been added, increase speed to high and whip for 5 minutes.

Heat gelatin in microwave for 15 seconds until it is completely melted, then pour into egg whites with mixer running.  Whip until gelatin is completely incorporated.  Transfer to a Piping bag and frost cupcakes immediately before marshmallow sets.

Step Five. Toasting the cupcakes.
Allow marshmallow icing to set up for 30 minutes.  With a hand held blow torch, gently toast the marshmallow icing.  Alternatively, this can be done under the broiler in the oven, but watch carefully so as not to burn!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Red Posole with Pork and Chorizo

So yesterday afternoon was cool and rainy.  We had finished all the French Onion Soup from the previous day and were trying to decide what to make.  I had been making a giant pot of home made chicken stock using the carcass of a rotisserie chicken from earlier in the week and it was happily simmering on the stove.  What to make? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm?

Doug and I like to play the game where we cook using only things we happen to have in the house.  No cheating and running to the grocery store.  We found some frozen chicken and pork tenderloin, and various odds and ends.  Then our friend Chris Pfitzer (author of Delicious) posted on facebook that he was going to make a pork posole.  Bingo!  That was the perfect thing, and we had all the ingredients on hand in the house.  Thanks for the genius idea Chris!

There are probably as many recipes for posole as there are cooks who make this hearty Mexican soup/stew.  The one thing they all have in common is posole (hominy), hence the name.  We loved this version made with spicy Mexican chorizo and red salsa.  You can make your own salsa if you like, but commercially prepared salsa works just fine.  The Mexican chorizo we use is soft, sort of the consistency of breakfast sausage.  It is loaded with achiote and other spices and is really quite hot/spicy, so we didn't add any additional jalapenos etc., but feel free to adjust the heat according to your taste.

The only problem is we finished the entire pot, so now we have to think of something else for dinner tonight!

Red Posole with Pork and Chorizo
serves 6-8

2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 lbs. pork tenderloin, cubed into 1-inch chunks
4 oz. soft Mexican chorizo
1 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground corriander
1 tsp dried oregano
1 jigger tequila
2 cups tomato-based salsa
28 oz. drained hominy (pozole)
6 cups chicken stock
juice of one lime
salt and pepper to taste

Accompaniments:  Cubed avacado, tortilla chips, sour cream, napa cabbage, radishes, shaved jicama

In a large heavy soup pot heat the oil over high heat.  Add the cubed pork and cook, tossing occasionally until very well browned, about 15 minutes.  

 The pork must be well-browned in order to get the maximum flavor.

Remove browned pork from the pot and reserve. Reduce heat to medium high and add chorizo to pot and cook briefly until browned, about 2 minutes,  Add onions, garlic, cumin, corriander, and oregano and cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.  Deglaze pan with tequila.

De-glazing the onions, herbs and chorizo with Tequila, fills the air with an intoxicating aroma!

Add salsa, stock and hominy.  Return pork to pot.  Adjust seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Bring soup to a boil, then reduce temperature to low and simmer for 45 minutes, partially covered.  Serve hot with tortilla chips, diced avacado and sour cream.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

French Onion Soup

Fall has dramatically descended upon North Carolina.  On Thursday the temperature was 92 and on Friday the high temperature was 62!  After months of relentless sunshine and 90+ temperatures, the skies are gloriously cloudy and grey and rainy!  Everyone is thrilled to pull out sweaters and cardigans, and I am in the mood for French food.  So yesterday I decided to spend the afternoon in the kitchen making Julia Child's French onion soup.
This soup is the essence of simplicity.  It is rich and elegant and comforting.  It is not something you can just throw together in 30 minutes, but instead it requires time and patience to coax the maximum flavor from the ingredients.  Thankfully it doesn't involve a great deal of difficult techniques, just your time.
I recommend finding the best french bread you can find for this dish.  For me that meant a trip to La Farm bakery in Cary, North Carolina.  La Farm is owned and operated by bread superstar Lionel Vatinet.

"Lionel Vatinet’s passion for bread was first nurtured when he joined France’s prestigious artisans’ guild Les Compagnons du Devoir as an apprentice at age 16. Emerging 7 years later with the distinguished and hard-earned title of Maitre Boulanger (Master Baker), Vatinet pledged to devote his life to teaching, sharing and preserving the ancient art and science of bread baking.  Among Vatinet’s achievements, his participation with Team USA at France’s competition La Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie in 1999 is one of his most proud; the American team earned the Gold Medal for the fist time ever at this International Olympic style baking competition."

I made a few adjustments to Julia's recipe (I slightly increased the amount of onions), but mainly adhered to her meticulous directions.  The key is to very, very slowly brown the onions in butter in order to coax the release and caramelization of the natural sugars.  Too high of a temperature will burn the butter and singe the onions making the soup bitter. The result was fantastic! 

If you can find it, try to use real French Gruyere cheese for the gratinee.  Yes it will make your house smell like old socks, but the flavor is incomparable! 

Serve this with a simple green salad and plenty of extra bread for dipping into the soup...perfect for a cool rainy fall evening. Bon appetit!

French Onion Soup
Serves 6

2 lbs yellow or Vidalia onions sliced thinly
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp granulated sugar
3 Tbsp flour
2 quarts good quality beef stock 
1/2 cup dry white vermouth
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup Cognac

1 baguette, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1/2 lb Gruyere cheese grated (Swiss cheese can be substituted)

In a large heavy pot, melt the 4Tbsp butter over medium heat.  Add onions and toss to coat with melted butter.  Cover with a lid and cook for 15 minutes (this "poaches" the onions in butter and causes them to sweat).

 The onions after "poaching in butter" for 15 minutes.

Remove the lid and add salt and sugar to onions. Increase the heat a tiny bit above medium, and cook the onions, uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring frequently until the onions are a deep and even gold color.  DO NOT increase the temperature to speed this process along unless you like a bitter burnt onion soup.

Delicious, slowly-caramelized onions fill the house with an amazing fragrance!

Ten minutes before the onions are finished caramelizing, heat the beef stock to boiling.

When the onions are caramelized, add the flour and stir to coat. Remove from heat and add boiling stock and vermouth.  Whisk briefly to break up any flour clumps.  Return soup to medium high heat, and cover partially with a lid and allow soup to simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Adjust seasoning with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  At this point the soup can rest, off heat until ready to serve.

One hour before serving, preheat oven to 325.  Place baguette slices on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 15 minutes, then flip slices and toast an additional 15 minutes until bread is completely dry.

Bring soup back to a simmer, and add cognac.  Ladle soup into oven-proof bowls, leaving about 1/2 inch space at the top.  Float dried bread slices on top of soup and top with grated cheese.  Place soup bowls on a baking sheet and bake 20 minutes until cheese is melted.  Turn oven setting to broil, and broil until cheese is bubbling and golden.  Serve immediately with lots of sliced french bread.