Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook: Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

I really enjoy those Walkers shortbread cookies.  Maybe it's my heritage speaking, or maybe it's just the buttery goodness and soft crumb of the cookie that calls my name.  I never thought I would love a plain cookie so much ('Nilla Wafers? blech, animal crackers? blech).  So as part of my current chocolate kick, I figured I would mix up a batch of chocolate shortbread.  Big happy smile, itty bitty ingredient list.

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies
From The Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅔ cup sugar
⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth.  Add the cocoa, flour, and salt.  Mix on medium-low speed just until the dough comes together, about 1 minute.  Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured board, roll out the dough to a thickness of ¼-inch.  Cut into 2-inch rounds.  (Scraps can be rerolled).  Place the cookies on the prepared cookie sheets at least ½-inch apart.  If the dough is very soft, refrigerate again for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Let cool on the cookie sheets, then remove with a metal spatula.

Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Makes 36 to 44 cookies

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Chowhound: Three Cheese Mac and Cheese with Panko Bread Crumb Topping

So, as it continues to rain and be miserable, I started to have a craving for something warm and comforting. Something creamy and fantastic. Being raised on Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, I've never really been an avid mac & cheese person, but in this case, I decided it was time to try the adult version that doesn't involve powdered cheese.

I searched around on the internet for something good, and after locating the heart attack version and the truly bizarre but strangely tempting version (what is huckleberry seasoning???), I went with the recipe that won the Editor's Choice award on Chowhound. It's a three-cheese macaroni, but I changed it a little (seeing a trend?) because of my guilt at not having made anything for St. Patrick's Day. For the butter, I used creamy Irish butter. For the Cheddar, I used Kellygold Irish Cheddar. I increased the amount of flour to 8 tablespoons since the original amount didn't seem to make a good roux for me. I also added some melted butter to the panko so that it would crisp up and brown a little bit better. I think the cooking time needs to be increased since the casserole didn't seem to really get bubbly until about 18 minutes in the oven. The macaroni and cheese turns out pretty sharp tasting, but that's probably due to my selection of Cheddar cheese.

Three Cheese Mac and Cheese with Panko Bread Crumb Topping

1 pound large elbow macaroni
8 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound white Cheddar, shredded
4 ounces Romano, shredded
4 ounces Asiago, shredded
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups panko (Japanese) bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In large pot filled with water add 3 pinches of salt and the macaroni and place over high heat. Bring to a boil and let cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain. Set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt butter. Sprinkle flour over butter and cook 2 to 3 minutes on medium heat, whisking until a roux or paste forms. Add cold milk and whisk vigorously until dissolved. Cook sauce on medium-low heat until thick and bubbly. Add heavy cream, all cheeses, salt, and pepper. Cook until cheeses are fully melted, stirring occasionally.

Add cooked macaroni to cheese mixture and mix thoroughly. Place macaroni mixture in a 13x9-inch baking dish and top with bread crumbs. Place in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until bubbly and top is starting to brown.

For extra crispy topping, place under broiler after baking until bread crumbs turn golden brown.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Cuisine at Home: Paella Mixta (Mixed Spanish Rice)

Since it's so cold and miserable during this time of year in New Jersey, I keep longing for bright, fun dishes. So I finally decided it was time to make the paella recipe that I had been hording for months. Now, I did not use a paella pan because: 1) I'm cheap, 2) I would never use it again, and 3) I'm not sure where I would even find one in my neighborhood. I think the dish turned out beautifully despite the lack of traditional cookware, so feel free to substitute something appropriate, like a really big frying pan.

Of course I had to make a few changes to the recipe.  First, since I hate peas, I left them out. If you like peas, I highly suggest you keep them in, because they add a nice flash of color to the otherwise rather yellow dish. I also skipped the green beans (since I'm a little suspicious of anything fresh offered in New Jersey in the winter), and went with a can of quartered artichoke hearts instead.

The only saffron I was able to find was Spanish saffron (fitting, huh?), but if you can find some from Iran (without getting arrested for violating trade embargoes), it's much nicer and more flavorful. This was also my first time experimenting with live mussels, so that was definitely an adventure. The only chorizo they sell in my grocery store was $17 for eight finger-size links, so I went with kielbasa. Try to use chorizo if you can find it and afford it. I also only used four chicken thighs, but only because that's all I could fit in the pot. For the lean pork, I just bought a boneless pork chop at the butcher section of the grocery store. Also, there is a serious lack of short-grain rice in my area, so I used the medium-grain I brought with me. It seemed fine to me, but don't use long-grain, like Uncle Ben's, or fast-cooking Minute Rice.

Otherwise, I just followed the directions. It was especially fun watching the mussels open as they cooked (although I did feel a twinge of guilt at being their murderer). The dish was flavorful and bright-tasting, especially after a lemon wedge was squeezed on top. It's a lot of work, but definitely worth it.

Paella Mixta (Mixed Spanish Rice)
Adapted from Cuisine at Home magazine, April 2004

Pinch saffron (20–30 threads)
3 cups chicken broth
½ cup dry white wine
2 bay leaves
Shrimp shells from ½ pound large or jumbo shrimp
16 green-lipped mussels, cleaned
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on, seasoned with salt
½ pound kielbasa, sliced
½ pound large or jumbo shrimp, peeled, deveined
1½ cups yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, cut in strips
1½ cups raw medium-grain rice
½ cup tomato, seeded, minced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
Lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Toast saffron in a large sauté pan over medium heat until slightly darkened.  Add broth, wine, bay leaves, and shrimp shells; boil 3 minutes.  Add mussels to boiling broth; cover and steam until mussels open, 5–8 minutes. Transfer mussels to a bowl, discarding those that do not open. Strain broth and keep warm over low heat.

Sauté chicken in olive oil in a large nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Cook until brown on both sides, about 8 minutes (do not cook through); remove. Add kielbasa; sauté until brown, 3 minutes, then remove. Add shrimp and cook until just cooked through, 4 minutes; remove. Sauté onion and bell pepper, stirring occasionally, until they brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Stir in rice to coat with oil. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2–3 minutes.

Add tomato and garlic; cook until garlic is fragrant, 30 seconds. Stir in warm strained broth, then add the
browned chicken and sausage. Cook, uncovered, over medium to medium-low heat for 15 minutes; the liquid should be at a low boil. Don’t stir the rice anymore - it may turn starchy. Transfer pan to the oven and cook, uncovered, another 15 minutes, or until rice is tender but not mushy. Remove from the oven and check for the socarrat - if it hasn’t formed, place the pan over a low burner. Top paella with reserved seafood; sprinkle with the peas. Cover pan for 5 minutes with a lid or foil to warm seafood through.

Serve with lemon wedges on the side.

Makes 8 servings

Thursday, March 13, 2008 Chocolate Cream Cheese Cupcakes

I don't normally make random recipes, but these just seemed like fun.  It's the best of two worlds: chocolate cupcake and chocolate chip cheesecake.  Who wouldn't want to try?  They actually turned out really well, and I think the cream cheese center really works with the outer chocolate cake.  And you don't even need to make an icing!  Bonus.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Cupcakes

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1⅓ cup granulated sugar, divided use
1 pinch salt
1 (6-ounce) package chocolate chips
1½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup water
½ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a small bowl, combine cream cheese, egg, ⅓ cup sugar, and salt.  Add chocolate chips and set aside.

Combine remaining 1 cup sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.  Add wet ingredients and mix well.  Fill muffin tins, lined with paper cups a third to a half full with this mixture.  Drop a large spoonful of cheese mixture on top of each one.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until cake is done and cheese filling is solid.

Makes 20 cupcakes

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook: Mocha Pots de Crème

I think I'm on a chocolate kick.  It's all I seem to crave these days.  Chocolate topped with chocolate and a sauce of chocolate.  Maybe you can throw some whipped cream in there.  But it would be even better if it was chocolate whipped cream.  Okay, so that's probably taking it too far, even for me, but it's worth thinking about.  Especially when you have something this luscious to top it with.

Mocha Pots de Crème
From The Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean, split
6 large egg yolks
6 ounces 100% Cacao Unsweetened Chocolate baking bar, broken or chopped into 1-inch pieces
½ cup very strong brewed espresso coffee

Bring the cream, sugar, and vanilla to a boil in a saucepan.

Whisk the yolks in a bowl.  Whisk about a third of the boiling cream into the yolks.  Return the remaining cream to a boil and whisk in the yolk mixture.  Continue to cook, whisking constantly, for another 15 to 20 seconds, until slightly thickened.  Strain the cream into a bowl and add the chocolate.  Whisk until smooth.  Whisk in the coffee.  Pour into four 5-ounce to 6-ounce pot de crème cups or ramekins.  Refrigerate until cooled.

Makes 6 servings

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook: Individual Soft Center Cakes

Sometimes you just need some chocolate.  Because sometimes you've moved to a new place, and it's nothing like you thought it would be.  And you have to learn a new job, learn a new neighborhood, and make new friends, all while coming home to the nasty apartment you rented, sight unseen.  It's tough.  But I think chocolate puts at least a little dent in all that.  A very little dent.  But hey, I'll take what I can get.

Individual Soft Center Cakes
From The Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate baking bar, broken or chopped into 1-inch pieces
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
⅓ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cake flour

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Butter four 6-ounce ramekins and dust with sugar.

Melt the butter and chocolate in the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl over barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth.

In a large bowl, whip the whole eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer on high speed for about 10 minutes. Fold in the melted chocolate mixture.  Fold in the flour just until combined. Spoon the mixture into the prepared ramekins.

Bake for 9 to 10 minutes, until the top and sides are set.  The center will be quite soft.  Remove from the oven and let sit for about 5 minutes, then unmold each ramekin onto a dessert plate. Serve with a few raspberries and a dollop of whipped cream.

Makes 4 servings