Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Browned Butter Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Spiced Bourbon Pumpkin Glaze

Because everyone else is doing it. That's an acceptable reason to do something, right? All the predictions of what 2012 will bring got me thinking. It always does. I’m always wrong. Let’s move on.

Julie’s Grand Food Trend Predictions of 2012!
[Let’s be honest, this list is grand as in lofty. My lofty notions of what I wish 2012 would bring. One can dream, right?]

  • First off, I just need to say that macarons are not a new trend. They’re an old trend. They are not the new cupcake. Cupcakes are not out. Both are delicious, infinitely adaptable to many flavors, and portable - and thus will remain around until people decide they hate sugar. Cakepops, pies, donuts, and any obscure French pastry may join alongside them, but they will not replace them.
  • Already trendy vegetables will find new ways of staying on peoples' plates. Kale chips and roasted Brussels sprouts are so 2011. They’ve officially been introduced to the masses. Now that the initial shock has passed that these past-maligned veggies are as tasty as they are nutrient-dense, we’re ready for new ways to eat them. Less approachable ways. Like raw! Massaged kale salads and shredded sprouts slaws I’m looking forward to seeing you on a restaurant menu or two! One can dream...
  • Quick pickles. 2011 was the year of savory canning. We discovered we could mass-produce not only blackberry jams and dill pickles, but also our own tomato sauces, and pickles of the non-cucumber variety. And kimchi? That was a craze all its own. While acidic, fermented foods are fabulous in their funkiness, who has time for all that? Tossing crunchy raw veggies with a quick salt/vinegar/sugar solution produces quick and refreshing results to liven up richer dishes.

  • Approachable game. Game meats are nothing new, but I’ve traditionally seen them at nicer restaurants, setting their menu apart by offering something beyond just the same ol’ proteins. I’m all about fine dining on squab leg and venison loin, but I think we’ll see more rabbit burgers and wild boar meatloaf - more casual restaurants using game to reinvent the classics. Because, inextricably, the classics are always boring and need reinvention yet we are unwilling to let them stray too far from our forks.

  • Exotic spices are no longer very exotic. You know smoked paprika has arrived when you can buy it in the big bulk container at Costco. And that’s a great thing because smoked paprika makes a lot of dishes more yummy, and I go through it, well, in Costco quantities! Finding cardamom used to be such a treasure hunt, I would covet the lone jar I was able to locate, only breaking it out for the most appropriate of flavor pairings. Now each spice company not only sells garam masala right alongside the curry powder, but I’m thinking we’ll see ras el hanout and zaatar in the near future as well.
  • Food trucks and craft breweries are reaching critical mass, a girl can only get ripped off eat and drink so much, but they are another trend that’s not going anywhere. I foresee the not as well executed places falling on hard times while the real gems will be just fine. After all, both of these trended so hard in the first place because of crazy internet buzz. People will still buzz about the places that are worth while. And yes, sour beers are the new IPA. Glad I’ve finally started developing a taste for them.
  • I have no idea what the next diet fad will be, but vegan and gluten free have proven to be such a profitable marketing scheme for food companies, I’m sure something will pop up. Perhaps something as simple as sugar-free? Sugar is the latest evil, after all. But I just don’t see that happening. It’s also an addiction. While I might disagree, the world at large would argue that eggs (runny eggs!) are not habit forming. Nor is sourdough bread. Supposedly. If I had my way, the next fad would be “reasonably sweet”. I’m all for sugar, just not in the ridiculous quantities we use currently.

That’s it! My wishlist for 2012. Can we get on this, people? Take to the interwebs! #hashtag things! If we can get runny yolks on rabbit burgers at Applebee’s by September, I’ll learn to brew killer beer at home and give you all a bottle. Promise.

This whole exercise was really just to distract from the fact that I’m posting a recipe with nothing more than this grainy Instagram picture a couple of shoddy pics I shot on my iPhone. The holidays have really thrown me for a loop and come 8pm on a Tuesday night I am decidedly unwilling to break out the fancy camera to get the money shots while I drool all over the floor in anticipation of stuffing my face with the confection in question. Sorry.

The confection in question contains really amazing things that will make you drool everywhere too. Browned butter. It’s very 2011. It makes things buttery (obbbbviously), with a nuttier flavor. You know how I love the nutty flavor. … Please resist the dirty joke I just opened myself up for. We have cake to talk about. Pumpkin cake. Oh yes.  We’re not over the pumpkin yet are we? Good. Because it’s delicious. I know come December 1st, every fiber of my being screams for gingerbread flavored anything. But this cake is very heavy on the spice. Including ginger. Not pepper though. Good in gingerbread, but cardamom is best when it comes to pumpkin. And of course it has bourbon. The smokey flavor goes swimmingly with the browned butter. Bourbon, browned butter, and pumpkin. In a cake. You can forgive the picture now, right?

And let’s not forget the glaze. I love glaze on a bundt cake. The way it oozes over the cake when you first mix it. Watching it harden into a shiny shell, like it’s protecting something precious. Because it is protecting something precious. Unless you mixed up the salt and sugar. Then it's not so precious anymore. Then there's the panic that sets in when it slides right off the cake because you didn’t thicken it enough, as you hurry to scoop it up and re-pour it so you can get adequate glaze coverage. Oh yeah, that’s another reason I didn’t take any beauty shots. Thicken it right, people. You won’t want any paltry coating of this glaze. I used the remaining few tablespoons of the canned pumpkin puree in the glaze to boost the pumpkin oomph. And of course more bourbon. Oomph indeed! With the maple syrup and spices, I wanted to eat just a bowl of glaze. I might have licked a scoop or two off my finger, but you'll never know for sure.

So here’s to pumpkin, a food that will always be trendy. And delicious.  And remember to always brown your butter.

Please resist the dirty joke I just opened myself up for, and instead tell me what you'd like to see hit it big in 2012.

Browned Butter Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Spiced Bourbon Pumpkin Glaze

Cake adapted from Sprinkle Bakes

For the cake:
6 oz. (¾ cup) unsalted butter
8.5 oz. (2 cups) AP flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp salt
7 oz. (1 cup) granulated sugar
7.5 oz. (1 cup) firmly packed brown sugar
1 ½ cups pumpkin puree
3 large eggs, room temperature
½ cup Greek yogurt, room temperature
3 TB bourbon
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
1 TB bourbon
1 TB maple syrup
2 TB pumpkin puree
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp nutmeg (optional)
pinch of fine sea salt
1-2 TB milk, if needed

For the cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a bundt pan with baking spray.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the butter turns a rich, golden brown, swirling or stirring often so it doesn’t burn. Keep a watchful eye. It goes from brown to black very quickly. Pour the browned butter into a small bowl and let it stand until cool but not solidified.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, Greek yogurt, vanilla, and bourbon until well combined. Whisk in the browned butter until it’s well blended. Stir in the flour mixture and mix until it is just combined.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow it to rest for 10 minutes, then remove it from the pan and cool it completely on a cooling rack.

For the glaze:
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, bourbon, maple syrup, and pumpkin puree, until the mixture is smooth and there are no lumps. Add the spices and salt and whisk to combine. Add the milk (if needed), a small amount at a time, until the glaze is thin enough to pour and drip, but thick enough to stay mostly on the cake. Glaze too thin will pour right off the cake. If it’s too thin, add more powdered sugar until your desired consistency is reached.
  2. Drizzle the glaze over the completely cooled cake. Give it a few minutes to set up, then slice and enjoy.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pumpkin Ravioli Surprise

My Ode To Dough:

Here’s how my crazy brain works: rather than a measure of your skill in the kitchen, I think a recipe’s degree of difficulty is more like your investment in making it from scratch vs. just buying it.  Muffins, pancakes, and cookies are totally worth making at home because they’re easy and taste a thousand times better.  But a rustic ciabatta loaf?  I can hear my mom in the back of my mind saying “why go through all that work when you can just find a good bakery where they make it better than you anyway?”  Because let’s face it - bread is hard.  Your yeasts can be temperamental and sluggish.  Your gluten can be obstinate and unpliable. Your environment can cause changes in moisture absorption and and rising times.  But you don’t have to be a bread-whisperer or anything.  It’s a matter of practice in some cases - like getting a feel for working the dough, and knowledge in others - like learning that when you use water that’s too warm you kill all your yeasts.  Oops!

So why do I waste my time?  Because it’s fun and rewarding!  Because I like knowing there’s nothing in my bread except flour, water, salt, and yeast.  And because I don’t always have access to a good bakery!  So while I won’t say bread isn’t an undertaking, I will say if it’s something that interests you, you should give it a go.  It takes time to perfect, but not necessarily prone to disasters of epic proportions. The trick is finding someone to walk you through it.  This is where Nicole of the wonderful Pinch my Salt comes in.  She’s posted a plethora of bread recipes, always with great step by step pictorial instructions and lessons to learn.  Essentially, she makes bread baking a whole heckofalot less scary.

Back in September Nicole posted a day by day set of instructions for how to create your own wild yeast sourdough starter.  From scratch!  Using just water, flour, and a little pineapple juice to start.  In case you’re wondering the pineapple juice is used because the acidity helps the right kind of bacteria to grow, which is what the wild yeasts come to the party to eat.  Err, or something like that...?

I love sourdough bread.  I love that tangy, sour flavor.  I love the smell.  And Husband has a special soft spot for it too.  We’re both Bay Area natives, after all.  It’s in our blood or something.  But sourdough starters scared me.  Sent me for the hills.  Arms flailing.  All that. Even after I conquered my fear of yeast, this blob of gloppy mess gave me pause.  But there was something about the bubbles and the way the blob would climb up the jar a little more each day.  It was like a pet, but one you wouldn’t feel too bad about accidentally killing.  Tamagotchi!  And on top of that, Linda from Salty Seattle was posting her usual food porn featuring sourdough recipe (linguine with chocolate lamb ragu? omg!) after sourdough recipe (sourdough pumpkin beignets with pork belly? Hello!).  Those two trouble-making ladies have since gotten together and declared this month in the name of Doughvember.  

Good thing I had already decided to take the plunge and my starter was already under way!  I am now the proud owner/parent of my very own sourdough starter.  I grew/birthed it myself!  It did take a couple of tries, and it was touch and go there for awhile, but I think we’ve ultimately reached a delicious understanding.  I feed it - it feeds me.  Here are some lessons I learned in my failed and almost failed attempts (most of it either wisdom directly from Nicole or online resources pointed out to me by Nicole - she rocks!):

  • It’s easier to create a starter with whole wheat flour instead of refined flour because the sugars in the whole wheat provide more food for the yeasts to feed off of.
  • If your starter is a bit sluggish at the get-go, it can be helpful to stir it once a day or so, just to redistribute stuff.
  • After day 5 or so, when you’re feeding it twice a day, it helps to move to a scale.  Measure 8 oz. of starter and mix in 4 oz. flour and 4 oz. water. And make sure your water isn’t too hot or cold or you’ll kill/scare away your yeasts.
  • When you’re ready to move your starter to the fridge, cover it in plastic wrap with a few holes poked in it.  That way the yeasts can breathe, but the blob won’t dry out.
  • When adding your starter to recipes, 1 cup of starter can replace approximately 1 cup of flour and ½ cup of water in the recipe.

My favorite recipe to use my extra sourdough starter so far has been these sourdough crumpets from Chocolate & Zucchini.  They take literally 10 minutes to make, start to finish (7 minutes of that is letting your pan heat up), making them invaluable for a quick weeknight meal accompaniment.  It helps that they’re flipping delicious too - like a tangy, savory pancake.  I’ve also tried throwing a little starter in pumpkin muffins and cream cheese biscuits, to great success.  It really just adds a hint of something extra.  

I ended up making Salty Seattle’s sourdough pasta recipe.  I would recommend halving it, unless you truly have an army to feed.  Half was plenty for the chocolate lamb ragu I made (recipe coming!), and after making pumpkin ravioli for dinner last night, I still have a small dough left for a rainy day.  I wasn’t going to blog the ravioli.  It was an experiment.  I didn’t even really expect it to turn out edible.  But thank goodness it did because I had no backup dinner standing by, and now I can tell you all about the magic of egg yolks inside pasta dumplings.  Oh yes, these raviolis featured a raw egg yolk placed in the center of a filling with pumpkin, pistachios, sage, shallots, garlic, and Parmesan cheese.  Every good thing, right?  It was like hiding all the magic of a poached egg inside for a nice surprise.  I cooked the ravioli long enough for the yolk to cook to about the point of a poached egg.  It’s hard to judge because you don’t know how done it is until you eat it, right? I did a test run before I cooked the rest, just to be sure.  I would recommend it.  But one fork-pierce and out runs the yolky goodness!  It’s heaven.  Pure heaven.  Who needs marinara?  The pumpkin and pistachio filling was a sweet accompaniment that actually paired wonderfully with the richness of the egg and the slight tang of the pasta dough (remember, it’s sour!).

So while my lame ineptitude prevented me from having the foresight to get a money shot of these babies - the one where you see yolk running from the center like an erupting volcano - I did remember to write down the method to my madness, so you can give it a go and see the insanity for yourself.  You’re welcome.  
Doughvember, for the win!

PS: Why yes, I am addicted to instagram. Feel free to follow me at bananasforbourbon!

Pumpkin Ravioli (with an egg yolk - surprise!)

Makes 8 raviolis (these are rich, so I would say that’s more than 2 portions)

~ ¼ batch of this recipe for sourdough pasta dough
1 large shallot, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
6-7 leaves of sage, minced
1 TB olive oil
pinch of kosher salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ cup white wine
1 cup pumpkin puree
¼ cup pistachios, lightly toasted and cooled
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
lemon juice (optional)
8 egg yolks

  1. In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the shallots with a pinch of salt and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two to soften.  Add the pepper and nutmeg and stir to incorporate. Add the wine and bring it to a simmer.  Once the wine has reduced by about half, or a little more, remove it from the heat and let it cool.
  2. In a food processor, finely grind the pistachios.  Add the pumpkin puree, Parmesan cheese, and the cooked shallot mixture.  Process until the mixture is smooth.  Adjust the seasoning to your taste.  Add a little lemon juice if it needs some brightness.  Add the mixture to a ziplock bag (or pastry bag if you want to be fancy), and cut the corner so you can pipe it.
  3. Roll out the pasta dough into very thin sheets.  I don’t have a roller, so I did it by hand.  You’ll need about a 4 inch square to work with.  Pipe the filling in a circle, leaving about an inch-wide circle of open space in the middle (about the size of your egg yolk).  I didn’t measure, but I’d say it was about 1-2 TB of filling.  Basically, you want about ½ inch of thickness and ½ inch of height for the filling, or about the level with the yolk.  Carefully place an egg yolk in the middle of the filling.  Place a sheet of dough on top and gently press around the filling, sealing it as tightly as possible.  Then press a little firmer to make sure the dough it good and sealed.  Cut out the ravioli with a glass, a biscuit cutter, or just a knife.  I opted for about ¼ - ½ inch between the edge and the filling.  Repeat this for as many ravioli as you want to make.
  4. In a pot of gently simmering water, add the ravioli.  Make sure the water doesn’t boil too hard, or you raviolis could fall apart, and make sure it’s not set too low or once you add them, it’ll take too long to come back to a boil.  Boil the ravioli for 4-5 minutes, depending on how runny you like your yolks.  
  5. Remove the ravioli from the water, and add them to whatever sauce floats your boat.  I did a simple olive oil drizzle (with good olive oil), since the yolks are essentially all the sauce you need, but I’m sure tossing them with some browned butter and sage would be divine too.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Halloween Trifle

I’m going to drop some embarrassingly honest Julie history on you.

A few years ago I ate out pretty much every meal except breakfast. My gourmet kitchen offerings back then? Something along the lines of 2 cans of chili dumped in a bowl with a package of shredded cheese, sour cream, and a jar of salsa, microwaved until melty and disgusting and enjoyed with a giant bag of blue corn chips. No joke. We called it nachos and boy was it ever delicious. Generally, we were happier to pay someone else to prep our plates, so we’d stop at Rubios or Panera. I’d order something one might consider on the healthy side - by comparison to some of their other offerings - a burrito bowl, or a cup of soup and half sandwich. But let’s be honest, I couldn’t say no to just one fish taco on the side, or a stop at Maggie Moos next door for ice cream.

I never exercised with any regularity. I couldn’t run for 5 minutes, let alone a mile. Even the sensation of my heart rate in the proper cardio zone had me asking my doctor if I had exercise induced asthma. Oh, you mean it’s supposed to feel like I’m gonna keel over and die? Ick! There were bouts of motivation where Husband and I would trek out to the gym for a couple of hours - once or twice a month at our best - and eke out some semblance of a workout. But wouldn’t you know it, I only ever put on pounds. Maybe it’s because we’d always stop at Jamba Juice on the way home from those workouts?

I admit, I was a victim of the Chili’s quesadilla explosion salad - the one that famously caught flack when they started posting the nutritional stats on their website. The “healthy option” many of us were outraged to learn actually had 1200 calories. But let’s not blame Chili's for my dissatisfaction with the scale. The choice of where to eat and what to order was all mine. In the end, my seemingly good habits were bad habits, and my bad habits were downright disgustingly awful habits. No wonder every shopping spree had me wondering why the clothes kept getting smaller and smaller!

So what changed? Looking back, everything. But not all at once. I didn’t wake up one day and say to myself "From this day forward I will change all my habits." Heck no! When did it change? I can’t even pinpoint how long it’s been since I lost that first pound. It was so gradual and non-purposeful. Has it really been almost 3 years?  I started reading a food blog or two. I tried a recipe here and there to pretty good success. I started going for walks, and playing around on that new-fangled Wii Fit. I did things that required a small, doable change. And when I got comfortable with that routine, I did a little more.  Can you believe just being a little more mindful of the choices I made and being a little more realistic about what those choices meant would get noticeable results?  How noticeable?  Well, I lost that first pound.  The hardest pound of my life.

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts by food bloggers I follow talking about their struggles with balancing food obsession and a healthy lifestyle. It really got me thinking about my own weight loss journey, and looking back, my food obsession and weight loss developed hand in hand. Go figure.

Now that I eat salads heavy on vegetables and light on dressing (and no cheese quesadillas on top), I can work in a little dessert without totally undoing my day. Like cookies. And mousse. And curd. All together in a trifle. I had never made a trifle. I would even go so far as to say I didn’t think I was much of a trifle person. But I take it back! Trifles are as awesome as the delicious components that are their makeup.

This trifle came about so very randomly. I got a bag of oranges four CSA shipments in a row. I was overwhelmed with oranges! But I didn’t want to just juice them. I wanted to really use their orange essence in something that would showcase their awesomeness. Because oranges are awesome. Sweet. Acidic. So I decided to make a curd. Despite the unfortunate name, curds are delicious. They’re bright and tart; sweet and creamy. But generally not something to enjoy alone. They’re a great accompaniment. 

Accompany what? Chocolate, of course! I originally considered pudding, but Husband requested chocolate mousse. Good call. So glad I listened. The light as a cloud, bittersweet mousse contrasted so nicely with the heavier, creamier sweet yet tart curd.  And this curd was all about the orange essence.  I didn't just use orange juice, you see.  I reduced it first. So I could get as much orange flavor out of those babies as possible!  And if you have to ask if I boozed it up, do you even know what blog you’re reading? I opted for Grand Marnier in the chocolate mousse to compliment the orange curd, and bourbon in the orange curd because I love the dimension the smokiness adds.

The flavors together were wonderfully indulgent, and the layers of orange and deep brown made me think instantly of Halloween. But I wanted a crunch element for texture, and what’s a Halloween treat without pumpkin? I love pumpkin! It pairs great with chocolate and orange. So I made the crunchiest cookie I could think of: biscotti! Pumpkin biscotti to be exact. It’s crunchy yet slightly crumbly texture was perfect for crumbling in between the chocolate mousse and orange curd layers, or leaving whole and dunking.

Who needs chili reminiscent of dog food in nachos when you can have this?  Definitely a small change for the better.

Any personal Halloween confections being made in your house this year that are strictly for personal, non-treat-or-treater enjoyment? 

Halloween Trifle

Makes ~8 individual trifles, depending on your container, or 1 big one

4 cups chocolate mousse (recipe below)
3 cups orange curd (recipe below)
8-10 pumpkin biscotti (recipe below)
  1. In a 4-6 oz. glass container (like a glass mug or jar), spoon in a layer of chocolate mousse, about 2 TB. Add a layer of orange curd, a little shy of 2 TB. If you want the biscotti crumbled directly into the trifle, crumble about ¼ of the cookie over the orange curd. Continue layering until you reach the top of your container, ending with a chocolate mousse layer. 
  2. Repeat for as many containers as you would like to prepare.
  3. Alternatively, if you are doing one big trifle, just follow the same procedure, but increase the quantities until you have an inch or so for each layer (or however you prefer it!). 

Chocolate Mousse

Adapted from David Lebovitz

Makes 6-8 servings

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used 70%)
6 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¼ cup dark-brewed coffee
¼ tsp of sea salt
4 large eggs, separated
⅔ cup, plus 1 TB sugar
2 TB Grand Marnier (or bourbon)
1 TB water
½ tsp vanilla extract
  1. In a bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water, melt together the chocolate, butter, coffee, and salt, stirring frequently. Once smooth, remove it from the heat to cool down.
  2. Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside.
  3. In another bowl set over the pot of gently simmering water, whisk the egg yolks with the ⅔ cup of sugar, liquor, and water for about 3 minutes until the mixture is light and thick, like runny mayonnaise. Whisk constantly so the yolks don’t curdle. 
  4. Set the bowl with the egg yolk mixture in the bowl of ice water and beat until cool and thick (it will make thick ribbons when you bring your whisk out of the bowl). Then fold the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks. It might look broken at first, but just keep mixing, and it’ll smooth out.
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or by hand if you have the stamina), beat the egg whites with the salt on medium-high speed until frothy. Continue to beat until they start to hold their shape. Whip in the tablespoon of sugar and continue to beat until thick and shiny, but not completely stiff (don’t over-beat!), then add the vanilla and mix on low to combine.
  6. Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then in two increments, fold in the remainder of the whites just until incorporated, but don’t overdo it or the mousse will lose volume. It’s ok to have a few white streaks.
  7. Transfer the mousse to a serving bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until firm.

Orange Curd

Adapted from Ina Garten

Makes about 3 cups

4 oranges, at room temperature
¾ - 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from the 4 oranges above)
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
¼ cup bourbon (or Grand Marnier)
⅛ tsp sea salt
  1. In a small saucepan, bring the orange juice to a rapid simmer and reduce until you have ½ cup of liquid. Set aside to cool.
  2. Remove the zest from the oranges with a vegetable peeler or zester, no pith please. Put the zest in the bowl of a food processor. Add the sugar and pulse until the zest is very finely minced and evenly distributed among the sugar. 
  3. Cream the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the sugar/orange zest mixture and beat on medium speed until it is light and fluffy, a few minutes. Add the eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, then add the reduced orange juice, liquor, and salt. Mix until combined.
  4. Place a mesh strainer over a medium bowl and set aside. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over low heat stirring constantly for about 10 minutes, until it is thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon (~175 degrees if you have a candy thermometer). Be careful not to overcook, or it will curdle. Remove the mixture from the heat and pour it through the strainer set over the bowl. Refrigerate the curd until fully cooled, a few hours. It will thicken further as it cools.

Pumpkin Biscotti

adapted from Simply Recipes

Makes about fifteen cookies

1 ½ cups of flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup of sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp ginger
¼ tsp cloves
¼ tsp kosher salt
2 eggs
½ cup of pumpkin purée
1 TB bourbon
1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, and spices.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin purée, bourbon, and vanilla extract. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the flour mixture. Give it a rough stir to incorporate the ingredients.  The dough will be crumbly.
  3. Flour your hands and a clean kitchen surface and lightly knead the dough until it is uniformly mixed. It will be a little on the sticky side. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, form the dough into a large log, about 1 inch tall and 15 inches long. Bake for 22-28 minutes, until the center is firm to the touch. 
  4. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees. Let the biscotti cool for 15 minutes and then, using a serrated knife cut into pieces about an inch wide. Lay the cookies flat on the baking sheet and bake for another 15-20 minutes. Let them cool completely.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fall Vegetable and Beef Bolognese

Fall is here. Almost. I’m ready for warm stews and casseroles. Almost. I’m ready to stop eating anything that doesn’t involve a whole can of pumpkin. Getting there. But it’s also still sunny and warm out. I’m still hanging on to the late summer peaches and plums. And does zucchini even have a season in San Diego? Seems like I can get it locally and cheap year-round. Fine by me! So I made this sauce. It’s warm and comforting like I’ve been craving, but I don’t even have to turn on the oven. Because this sauce is made, for the most part, in my crock pot. How about that? Don’t use that thing nearly enough. With my uber-busy new schedule, this recipe is definitely one I’m remembering when it’s Wednesday night and I haven't got much in the way of food for Thursday.

This sauce is a bolognese. It’s got beef (but you could totally use turkey, chicken, or bison if you want to be fancy). It’s got milk and wine, which sounds weird, but actually makes the meat flavor more succulent and delicious. True. Besides the tomatoes, it’s chalked full of other vegetables. Because I’m me, and I up the veg. Always. It all bubbles away all the live long day or night and when it’s done it’s chunky and meaty and savory. I would argue one doesn’t even need to serve this on anything besides a spoon headed for my mouth. 

But I didn’t serve it that way. I didn’t serve it over spaghetti either. Or penne. Or bowtie. Not even spaghetti squash, though I’ve done that before and I highly recommend it. I had red potatoes and an idea. I roasted those suckers until they were cooked through. Then I carefully smashed them flat, about ½ inch thick. Then I heated some olive oil in a skillet, and fan fried my roasted/flattened potatoes until they were golden and crispy on the outside and soft and wonderful on the inside. Then I topped those suckers with my bolognese. Then I ate them. Well, the ones Husband would let me get to. Men really are all about steak and potatoes at heart, aren’t they?

But that explains the funky pictures. That and the fact I was photographing my lunch container for the next day. But don’t let the funk fool you. This sauce is just what the don’t-leave-me-late-summer-it’s-almost-fall season calls for.

Fall Vegetable and Beef Bolognese

adapted from The Kitchn

Makes about 8 servings

1 TB olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 medium eggplant, chopped
2 medium zucchini, chopped
8 oz cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb. ground beef
⅛ tsp nutmeg
a few pinches of kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
1 cup white wine or dry sherry
2 28 oz. cans of whole peeled tomatoes, drained and finely chopped (juices reserved)
1 cup reserved tomato juices
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped for garnish

  1. In a large saute pan or pot heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the beef and let it sit, undisturbed for a few minutes until it browns. Flip the beef over and break it into pieces using a wooden spoon or spatula. Once the other side has browned, remove the beef from the pan and set it aside. Lower the heat to medium and add the onion, celery, and carrot with a pinch of salt and cook until the vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes. Add the eggplant, mushrooms, and zucchini, and cook until their water releases and evaporates, another 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, and then add the nutmeg, black pepper, crushed red pepper, and another pinch of salt. Add the beef back into the pan and any juices that have accumulated, and stir to combine.
  2. Stir in the milk, bring it to a simmer and cook until the milk has reduced completely and very little liquid remains, about 10 minutes. Stir in the wine and simmer again until reduced completely, about 10 minutes.
  3. In your slow cooker, add the beef mixture, the chopped tomatoes and one cup of the reserved tomato juices. Stir to combine. Cover and cook on HIGH for 6 hours or LOW for 8 hours.
  4. In the last hour of cooking, make sure the cooking temperature is set to high and remove the lid to allow any excess liquid to evaporate and reduce the sauce. Stir every 15 minutes or so, until the sauce is chunky.
  5. Serve over pasta or smashed roasted potatoes, and garnish with chopped parsley and Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sautéed Swiss Chard and Mushrooms with Chicken Sausage

Life is crazy. Life is a whirlwind. Confession: I am a homebody. A shut-in at heart, though not in practice. I like spending my evenings quietly with my husband and my dog, my days in simple, solitary tasks that allow for personal reflection. But I’m a complicated woman. Local breweries throw parties, my favorite restaurant tempts me with wildly amazing new burgers (a lobster-crab patty and a wagyu beef patty together, and that was only half of what all came on it! Words cannot describe...), wineries want me to come pickup the wine I’ve ordered while pouring me glass after glass of their wares, family visits and the sights must be shown. People I know inexplicably want my company more often than I’m able to give it. I can’t say no to any of it. I’ve been having fun. Why is fun so durn tiring? It’s all I can do to bake a batch of cupcakes to research recipes and flavor combinations for my nephew’s second birthday cake. That’s happening. Remember last years? I’m really excited to share it with you when the time is right. Oh, and did I mention I’m changing jobs? Again. I’m scared. It’s new and challenging, but also old and familiar. And completely crazy and unexpected. Hopefully it’s the right decision. We never know until we know, right? So life is a whirlwind. But it’s also full of love, fun, and opportunity. It’s exciting and engaging. And most importantly, there are cupcakes.

With all the libation partakage, face-stuffing, and uncharacteristic socialbility, it can be hard to maintain one’s girlish figure. It’s a constant...I want to say battle, but that’s not the right word. I’m not at war with my body. It’s more like I need to keep constant vigilance! I’m at war with my fatty fatty fat fat. If I let my guard down, it’ll sneak in and squat. Not cool. So even though I despise waking up at 5am to fit in a decent workout before work, I despise forgoing drinks and dessert far more. Even though some days I want to quit my run at mile 3, I push on to mile 5 and follow up with a couple sets of burpees and jack-knives because I want to have a good time out with my friends, and not feel guilty if I don’t order a shamefully made salad that will ultimately leave me feeling hostile towards the establishment. Burpees are the bane of my existence. My motivation is my lifestyle. I like it. I want to keep doing what I’m doing. But I like my body too. I’m healthy. I feel good. My clothes fit. It’s all about the choices we make and the priorities we set, right? Finding that balance. 

One way I offset my weekend escapades is to cook as deliciously healthy as possible during the week. You know, cook vegetables. The stuff most restaurants seem to stubbornly shy away from except in the most fleeting capacity. I get so disappointed when a dish boasts of a protein and starchy side resting on a bed of, say, Swiss chard, and the reality of what’s presented before me is a mere morsel compared to the gluttony of the other components. Proportions people! How about a whole big bunch of Swiss chard? And fungus is uber-healthy. Lots of vitamins and fiber and not much else. And ingestion is supposed to help prevents cancers and other lethalities. Not to mention mushrooms are a huge source of “umami”. Which, since I’m not Japanese and most of my vocabulary is construed as some form of English, I tend to refer to as “earthy”. Wonderfully earthy. So let’s throw a heap of mushrooms in there too. And how about some protein? It doesn’t need to be a giant hunk of meat on top. It can be the flavor base of the dish. The thing that makes it deceptively filling. And if your grocery store happens to sell a fantastic chicken and mushroom sausage behind the meat counter? Well I think you should tell Mr. Meat Counter Man to pack you up a couple of links!

As a quick weeknight meal, this simple saute of Swiss chard and mushrooms and chicken sausage was a pleasant surprise. One of those meals I didn’t plan, didn’t expect to be anything exceptional, and upon tasting, immediately ran to write down the recipe while it was still fresh in my head so I could make it again and again. One of those meals Husband made lots of quiet grunting noises while eating between expressions of fondness for the dish. It was, unfortunately, not long for this world with such ardent admiration. But I snapped a pic or two and here I am to share it with you.

Besides coming together fast, it’s also very adaptable to what you have in the fridge. I think Swiss chard works best, but collards or kale would do. Cremini mushrooms are a bit more rich in flavor, but button mushrooms are mighty tasty too. I love the flavor of dry sherry and mushrooms, but a dry white wine would be a lovely substitution. No sausage on hand, but a crisper drawer full of bacon? Well it’s not quite the same, but I’m sure it would still be pretty dang tasty. Whatever dry or fresh herbs that tickle your fancy would be nice, but thyme and tarragon fit that bill for me. Freshly squeezed orange juice was all the sweetness and acidity I needed, but a squeeze of lemon juice and a touch of honey could be just the thing. Just promise me one thing. If you do use Swiss chard, don’t throw away those bright and delectable stems! Their color not only adds an enticing hue to the dish, but you paid for a bunch of chard. Why are you going to throw half of it away? Let’s practice root to leaf practices here, people. It’s like celery. It just needs some time and love, but you’ll be glad you did.

Sauteed Swiss Chard and Mushrooms with Chicken Sausage

Makes about 6 servings

1 lb. fresh chicken sausage (I used a chicken mushroom), or any preferred sausage
1 yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch Swiss chard, stems chopped and leaves cut into ribbons
1 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried tarragon
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry sherry (or wine)
¼ cup fresh orange juice (~ ½ a juicy orange)
kosher salt to taste
2 TB olive oil, divided

  1. In a large skillet (preferably cast iron), heat 1 TB of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Once it is good and hot, crumble the fresh sausage evenly into the pan and let it sit undisturbed for a bit to brown. Flip the sausage for the other side to brown, and using a spatula or wooden spoon, break up any large chunks that are sticking together. Once the sausage is browned and cooked, remove it from the pan to a plate and set aside.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium, and if it is needed, add the second TB of olive oil. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and saute until it is soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the Swiss chard stems and cook for another 3-5 minutes, until they have begun to soften. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, until it is softened and aromatic. (This is around the time people in your household will comment on how good it smells)
  3. Add the mushrooms with another pinch of salt, as well as the thyme, tarragon, and black pepper. Cook the mixture until the mushrooms have given off their water, shrunken, and the water has mostly cooked off. Add the sherry to deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan. Let the mixture simmer for a minute so the sherry can slightly reduce and concentrate. Add the Swiss chard leaves and the orange juice and cook until the leaves have wilted and softened, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the sausage, and any juices that have pooled on the plate, back to the pan and simmer for a couple more minutes so the flavors can fully marry together.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mint Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream

If you can believe it, I was never a big fan of mint. When I was a kid I hated anything with the slightest hint of mint. Believe it. You can see where I’m going with this...

It blows my mind how many foods I didn’t like as a child, considering how much I now profess my undying love for them. Forbidden foods that wouldn’t make it past my picky trap as a kid?

Meat (except the ground up, super processed, exceedingly disgusting kind)
Poultry (absolutely none of it)
Fish (except tuna, canned of course)
Avocado (because my sister didn’t like guacamole and I idolized her)
Pine nuts
Caraway seeds
Bok Choy
Mint-flavored anything

Those are the stand-outs. I’m sure given inputs from my family, that list would double. Now? Avocado is my fatty fatty fat fat of choice in any application I can squeeze it into. There’s no animal, bird, and swimming creature I can think of that I wouldn’t try and most likely enjoy (except the taboo ones like dolphin!). I love it all. And life is so much easier when you’re a good eater. I am no longer the soup and salad cheap date my best friend’s mom said I was when I was 14. That’s a lie, I totally am. Good soup and salad is the ultimate. Course, nowadays salads aren’t the cheap date entree they used to be. Don’t even get me started.

Am I totally weird in my taste bud 180? Are there foods you hated as a child, genuinely gave a second chance to as an adult, and to this day cannot stand? Odd psychological circumstances not withstanding. I’m curious only because I can’t relate! I know my sister now crushes on guacamole as hard as I do. Husband never had a food he wouldn’t eat growing up. His parents were lucky.

Even though I now have nothing but love for mint, I wouldn’t say it’s high on my list for devoted enthusiasm. Though let’s face it, when it comes to food, I can still scrounge up a fair amount of enthusiasm even for the very bottom. I’ve come to realize it depends on the execution. While on my tour at the Theo Chocolate Factory, we got to try a rather pathetically small portion of a truffle. Husband chose mint. At first I was disappointed by his selection because I knew he’d want to share and have half of my fig & fennel truffle, and what’s so special about a mint truffle? And this is why I should always listen to Husband. My truffle was only just ok, but that mint? Amazing! It tasted like someone wrapped a square of soft chocolate in a mint leaf. In a good way. No mint extract or anything artificial. When we were trying to narrow down our purchases in the store (we started with one of every item sold in the store, and took things out of the basket from there...), we found a section of chocolate that was, well, basically like the remnants section of a fabric store. It was plastic bags full of the odds and ends of chocolate bars. Not pretty, not packaged, but cheaper and just as delicious. And they happened to be the mint flavor that day. Score!

You can see where I’m going with this.

This ice cream was born of a half-eaten bag of mint chocolate bar bits and 5 leftover egg yolks. Of course it was. It’s a chocolate ice cream base, because Husband doesn’t feel like he’s eaten dessert unless chocolate was overwhelmingly featured in every aspect involved. I don’t know why he even bothers. He should just eat a whole bar of chocolate every night. He’d probably complain it needed more chocolate. This is the guy who claims to love garlic, but aside from eating a straight clove, can never seem to taste it. But just chocolate wasn’t special enough for my special chocolate. I wanted to capture and bring out the mint essence. Without the fake stuff.

Pay no attention to that vanilla extract behind the curtain! Not everyone can afford vanilla beans!

Luckily, making mint chocolate ice cream is just as easy as making chocolate ice cream. There’s just the easy added step of steeping fresh mint leaves in the heavy cream while you warm it up. I actually ran out of time while attempting my ice cream base one evening after work, so my cream and mint actually got it on in the fridge, overnight. If you can swing it, the longer you can let them get to know each other, the mintier you end cream will be. But it really needn’t be a 3 day process. I’m confident a few minutes while it warms is plenty for those minty oils to work their devilish ways.

This ice cream turned out so good. So good. Like the kind of good where you take a minute to marvel that it actually came from your own two hands. I finally get mint chocolate. What all the rage is about. It’s the creamy, bittersweet taste from any good chocolate ice cream, plus this amazingly refreshing, fragrant essence of mint. It’s a natural pairing. Like chipotle and chocolate. I majorly heart that too. Essence.

I might be a bit obsessed with essences lately.

I was concerned the mint chocolate chunks from the leftover bars would get lost and wasted, but it was all for naught. Every bite with a chunk was that much mintier and more delicious. Definitely better than just eating it straight up. Would I make this ice cream with only regular chocolate chunks? Heck yes! The ice cream holds its own in the mint department, for sure. And regular chocolate chunks are still a nice textural contrast. Gotta have some crunch.

Give it a try! I hear it’s national ice cream month or something. Though I’m pretty sure every hot day of summer is national ice cream day, whether it falls in June or August. So says my ice cream maker. 

PS: Can we just not even talk about these pictures?  Ice cream food styling is just beyond me without a real ice cream scoop and cute clear vessel.  Pretty pics just ain't happening.

Mint Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream
Adapted from Annie’s Eats Chocolate Ice Cream Recipe

Makes ~ 1 ½ quarts

2 cups heavy cream
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
3 TB Dutch-process cocoa powder
5 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
5 large egg yolks
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 TB bourbon
1 cup good chocolate bar (preferably mint flavored), chopped into chunks

  1. Massage the mint leaves in your hands a bit to release the oils, and then combine them with the cream in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Let the mixture warm up and infuse for at least 20 minutes. I let it sit overnight for ultimate mint flavor.
  2. Pull out the mint leaves, and wring them out to get every drop of mint flavor in the cream. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the cocoa powder, and whisk until it is fully dissolved. Once the mixture comes up to a bare boil, reduce the heat back to medium-low and let simmer for 30 seconds, whisking constantly. Remove the pan from the heat, mix in the bittersweet chocolate and whisk until it is melted and smooth. Transfer this mixture to a medium mixing bowl, and set a fine mesh strainer over the top.
  3. In the same saucepan, combine the milk, sugar and salt and warm the mixture over medium heat. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. When the milk mixture is warm (not quite to a boil), temper the eggs by very gradually whisking the milk mixture, a little at a time, into the egg yolks, beating constantly. Return the egg-milk mixture to the saucepan and continue heating over medium heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom and sides of the pan with a spatula, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spatula (or 170-175° F on a thermometer). Remove it from the heat, and pour the mixture through the strainer into the chocolate-cream mixture and stir to blend. Stir in the vanilla extract and bourbon.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight in the refrigerator. Once the mixture is well chilled, freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once churned, add in the mint chocolate pieces. Store in an airtight container and freeze.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chocolate Strawberry Ricotta Tart

I had a thought the other day - yep, just the one.  If I could go back in time and talk to my teenage self, what would I say?  We’ve all had this thought, right?  Though you probably have other thoughts to go with it.  High school.  Hormones.  Literal growing pains.  ‘Nuff said.

I would skip the clichéd advice: It gets better.  High school is something to be gotten through, everyone hates it.  All the things that seem epic today will be so small tomorrow.  Because really, we all did get that advice, one way or another, in high school, and it did squat to make it any better.  So nevermind that stuff.  Here’s what I would tell my younger self:

  1. Own it.  Whoever you are, whatever you do, own it.  When people say “be yourself”, they really mean, don’t be embarrassed by whatever “yourself” is.
  2. You are as apathetic as you are passionate.  Don’t feign apathy for the things you are passionate about.  Don’t feign passion for the things you are apathetic about.  People will just have to get over that you love Star Trek: TNG and listen to your parents’ Queen CDs, and you could give a rat’s furry tail about conch shell necklaces or Tupac.
  3. You’re tall.  Buying pants that fit is a pain in the rat’s furry tail, and all the cute boys are self-conscious about it.  Can’t say that ever gets better.  But it does mean you’ll end up with someone tall.  Go ahead and buy some heels.  People will just have to get over it.
  4. Learn to eat!  I don’t mean quantity.  You’ve got that down.  You say you don’t like meat, and a slew of other foods.  In reality you do.  Now it’s your turn to get over it. Open your mind.  And stop picking all the cashews out of the cashew chicken.  The family really hates that.
  5. Get your rat’s furry tail in the kitchen – and not to make grilled cheese or Stouffer’s mac and cheese!  Look, Mom works hard all day and then comes home to a house full of people whining for attention and wanting things, and still has to get dinner on the table in an hour or all the whining steers towards hunger pangs.  You, on the other hand, get home from school to an empty house with, let’s face it, no intention of starting homework so early.  You might not realize how much you enjoy cooking just yet, but for how much Mom would appreciate the salad already made, or a pasta sauce already done up, it’s not really about that.
  6. And finally, read more books and watch less television.  You’ll be so glad you did.

I’ve got you thinking now, haven’t I?  Let’s hear it.  What would you tell your teenage self?

What’s this got to do with ricotta cheese, strawberries, and tarts?  Nothing!  Though I could have been enjoying it in my life a lot sooner, had I listened to myself about number 5.  That will just have to do for a segue.  It’s my blog, and I can be random if I want to!  Now, onto the chocolate graham cracker ricotta strawberry tart!

A chocolate graham cracker ricotta strawberry tart to anyone who can say “chocolate graham cracker ricotta strawberry tart” 10 times, fast.

This creation came about by a need to use up soon-to-go-stale graham crackers (They should sell graham crackers in packs that are exactly enough for a tart or pie crust, so you don’t have to worry about how much you need to grind into crumbs, or whether you have enough left in the box.  I’m totally marketing that idea.  Don’t steal it, k?), ricotta cheese (because in a moment of utter stupidity I wasn’t sure if 32 oz. was enough for a recipe that called for 2 cups, so I bought 15 oz. more), and strawberries from my CSA box.  Because Husband would ultimately be eating it, I decided to incorporate chocolate as well.  Lots of it.  It just made sense.  I considered dotting the tart with fresh strawberries at the end, but a recent failed attempt at strawberry rhubarb pie left me with a need for cooked berry vindication.  Always drain your strawberry juices people!  Also, when you strain them into, say, a small saucepan and simmer them until they cook down into a lusciously sweet syrup, you’ve got the mighty fine makings of something to brush onto this tart at the end.  Yeah, I did that.  I shudder to waste one ounce of strawberry essence!

To break it down, the crust is graham crackers and pecans and cocoa powder.  Pecans because I ran out of graham crackers (which would not have happened, had the product I mentioned existed!), and also because they’re delicious.  Cocoa powder because I wanted the chocolate flavor to really come though, and also because it’s delicious.  I didn’t add sugar.  I thought the sweetness from the rest of the tart and the sugar already in the graham crackers was plenty, but there’s also a lot of cocoa powder in it, so I could see it being too much for some.  I recognize my sweet tooth, while very demanding, is also very susceptible to being overwhelmed.  Husband agreed the level of sweet was spot on, but a tablespoon of sugar could be thrown in without any harm.

The filling is my leftover 15 oz. container of ricotta cheese, the usual sweeteners and stabilizers, and melted chocolate.  Why is ricotta cheese and sugar so good?  I wonder if my sister, who hates the combination of cream cheese and sugar, also hates ricotta and sugar.  They’re totally different flavors, but maybe the dislike stems from disconcertion over mixing savory cheese with enough sugar to transform it to a decidedly dessert setting?  Creamy, salty, and sweet?  It’s a-ok in my book.  You’ll have leftover filling.  A fair amount.  It’s not ideal, but I didn’t want to mess with untested ratios, and it uses a standard 15 oz. container.  Not to mention, what are you going to do with just a little extra ricotta?  Instead you’ll face a bowl of delicious filling with no home besides your stomach as you try to resist just another spoonful while you wait for your tart to bake and your strawberry juices to reduce.  You’re welcome.

My strawberries were tiny, so I didn’t end up using the full 16 oz. package, but I’m confident more regular, American strawberries would yield the perfect amount.  The more strawberries, the better I say!  This tart takes forever to bake.  An hour?  What is in there that takes so long to become un-jiggly?  No idea.  Of course, checking the doneness at 40 minutes, and every 5 minutes thereafter probably extended the baking time a wee bit.  I was so afraid of over-baking!  It actually ended up taking an extra 10 minutes or so. But once it was done, and the syrup was brushed over the top, and it had cooled in the fridge…such good stuff.  The rich chocolate, earthy yet savory cheese filling, and texture from the crust all contrasted nicely.  The strawberries had a lusciously soft bite and sweet flavor, not to mention the syrup essence!  The whipped cream on top isn’t completely, necessary, per se, but I did try it both ways, and the airy, creamy element was a definite plus.  All in all, we both loved it and I wouldn’t change a thing. Oh, did I mention I infused a good amount of Grand Marnier in there? Yeah, I did that. It was tasty.

Except maybe how many spoonfuls of leftover filling I ate.

Have any tasty creations ever spawned out of your kitchen because of an abhorrence for wasted food?  Or a food fail?  Are they all the tastier for it?

Chocolate Strawberry Ricotta Tart

For the crust:
6 oz. graham crackers
2 oz. pecans
8 oz. (1 stick) butter, melted
1 tsp orange zest
¼ cup cocoa powder
2 TB sugar

For the strawberries:
1 lb. strawberries, halved and hulled
¼ cup sugar
2 TB Grand Marnier

For the filling:
15 oz. ricotta cheese (I used part skim), room temperature
½ cup honey
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 TB Grand Marnier
1 tsp orange zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp kosher salt
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted*

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a food processor, pulse together the graham crackers and pecans until they are small crumbs.  Add the orange zest, cocoa, and sugar and pulse until it’s mixed.  Add the melted butter and process until the crumbs are coated.
  3. Prepare a 9” tart pan with baking spray.  Press the crumbs evenly around the bottom and sides of the tart pan.  Bake the crust for 10 minutes until it is toasted and set.  Let cool.
  4. In a large bowl, stir together the strawberries, sugar, and Grand Marnier.  Let it sit for about 20 minutes, or until the strawberry releases some of its juices.
  5. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, mix together the ricotta and honey until they are well incorporated.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until they are incorporated.  Add the Grand Marnier, orange zest, vanilla, and salt, and mix to combine.  With the mixer running, slowly pour in the melted chocolate, and mix until everything is well combined.
  6. Pour the filling into the cooled crust.  Top the filling with the strawberry halves, reserving the juices left behind in the bowl.  The strawberries will sink a bit.**  
  7. Bake the tart for about an hour, or until the filling is set and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  
  8. While the tart is baking, transfer the reserved strawberry juices to a small saucepan.  Over medium heat, bring the juices to a simmer and cook until it is reduced by about half, about 10 minutes.
  9. Once the tart is out of the oven, either brush or drizzle the strawberry syrup over the top.  Cool completely in the refrigerator for about 2 hours before serving.

*To melt the chocolate, microwave the chopped up chocolate, stirring every 15 seconds until it’s melted.

**If you prefer your strawberries less cooked, and more on the surface of the tart, put the tart in the oven without the strawberries on top.  After about 30 minutes, when the filling has set up a bit, remove the tart from the oven, set the strawberries on top of the filling, and put it back in the oven to cook for the rest of the time.