Saturday, April 30, 2011

Alton Brown: Chocolate Bread Pudding

My sister's boyfriend, who is from Louisiana, decided to invite a bunch of us ignorant Texans over for a authentic crawfish boil.  I had never been to one.  I definitely needed edu-ma-cating.  He had ordered several bags full of live crawfish, and he was all set up in the backyard with his pot, stirring paddle, and cutoff shorts.  No, I'm not sure what the shorts have to do with it.

He mixed a bunch of crawfish boil spices and lemon juice into boiling water, and then he tossed in some red potatoes, corn on the cob, and venison sausages.  When it was done, he dumped all of the crawfish out on a garbage bag-lined table in the backyard.  We all gathered around and greedily pulled our crawfish apart.  For the grand finale, I baked up a delicious bread pudding chock-full of chocolate.  Because, I mean, how else could I top those shorts?  Except with chocolate whipped cream.

Chocolate Bread Pudding
From Alton Brown

2 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup hot chocolate mix (I used Ghirardelli Double Chocolate)
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Valrhona)
3 cups half-and-half
1 cup whole milk
2 ounces espresso, slightly cooled
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and divided
18 ounces stale challah bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into ½-inch pieces

Place the eggs and yolks in the carafe of a blender and combine on the lowest speed for 30 seconds. Slowly add the sugar over 30 seconds, and then add the hot chocolate mix and blend until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add the half-and-half, milk, espresso and vanilla and blend until well combined, about 30 seconds.

Butter a 9x13-inch metal pan with 1 tablespoon of the butter and place the cubed bread in the pan. Spread the chocolate on top of the bread and slowly pour in the custard. Press down on the mixture with a spatula or the back of a spoon to thoroughly saturate. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 2 hours, or refrigerate for up to 8 hours.

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Bake until the internal temperature reaches at least 170°F, about 45 minutes. Set the oven to the high broil setting with the oven door ajar.  Remove the bread pudding from the oven. Pour the remaining melted butter into a spray bottle and spritz the top of the bread pudding. Return to the middle rack and broil for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack for 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Bird in the Oven and Then Some: Greek Roast Chicken with Caper Butter, Roast Lemons, and Skordalia

I recently acquired an entire book full of chicken recipes.  No, you can never have too many chicken recipes.  Chicken is the ultimate go-to.  Do you know anyone who won't eat chicken (besides vegetarians, they don't count)?  Actual meat eaters who don't like chicken?  I don't.  Especially when that chicken is roasted so that the skin is nice and crispy and the breast meat is juicy and tender.  That is chicken nirvana.  And apparently it's accomplished by burning down your kitchen.  I kid.  Sort of.

Note: Have a window open, the vent on high, and your smoke detector disconnected because this baby is going to smoke you out of your kitchen.

Greek Roast Chicken with Caper Butter, Roast Lemons, and Skordalia
From A Bird in the Oven and Then Some by Mindy Fox

1 (4-pound) whole chicken
3 tablespoons capers, preferably salt-packed, rinsed, soaked in cold water for 10 minutes, then rinsed again
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 lemons
1 tablespoon crumbled dried oregano, preferably Greek
Flaky coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pita bread for serving

½ pound Yukon gold potatoes
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450°F with the rack in the middle.

To make the skordalia, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch cubes.  Combine with 5 cups cold water in a 3-quart heavy saucepan, then bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until tender, 10 to 12 minutes.  Drain in a colander and let cool to room temperature.  Push through a potato ricer or gently mash with a fork.

Meanwhile, prepare the chicken: Pull off excess fat around the cavities of the chicken and discard, then rinse the chicken and pat dry very well, inside and out.  From the edge of the cavity, slip a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, then use your fingers to gently but thoroughly loosen the skin from the meat of the breasts and thighs.

Pat the capers dry, then roughly chop and put them in a bowl with the butter.  Finely zest the lemons into the bowl, holding the zester close so that you capture the flavorful oil that sprays from the lemons as you zest.  Add the oregano then mix to thoroughly combine.  Cut 1 lemon lengthwise into quarters and set aside.

Using your hands and working with about 1 tablespoon of the butter mixture at a time, gently push the mixture into the spaces you created between the chicken skin and meat, being careful not to tear the skin.  As you work the mixture in, gently rub your hand over the outside of the skin to smooth out the mixture and push it farther down between the skin and meat where you may not be able to reach with your hand.  Season the chicken all over, using 2 to 3 tablespoons coarse salt and generous pepper, then tie the legs together with kitchen string.

Put a roasting pan (not nonstick) or 13x9-inch baking dish in the oven to heat for 10 minutes.  Remove and immediately place the chicken inside, breast-side up.  Roast for 20 minutes, then turn breast-side down.  After 10 minutes, squeeze half of the juice from each lemon quarter over the chicken, and drop the quarters into the pan.  Continue to roast until the juices of the chicken run clear when the thigh is pierced with a fork, 20 to 30 minutes more.

Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, return to the skordalia: Use a mortar and pestle to pound together the garlic and salt to a paste.  Transfer to a large wooden bowl.  Add the potatoes and pepper.  Using a large wooden spoon, pound and stir the mixture together just to combine.  Add the vinegar in a slow but steady stream, while still pounding, until incorporated.  Repeat with the oil.  Transfer to a serving bowl.

Carve the chicken on a cutting board.  Serve with the pan juices, skordalia, lemons, and pita.

Makes 4 servings