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Recipes and food musings for the global home cook.

Bake your own mini pizzas without missing a moment of the big game. (Kitchen Report)

Super Bowl mini pizza appetizers

By Kitchen Report / 02.03.12

There is a lot to do before Sunday, Feb. 5 6:30 p.m. ET when the rematch of Super Bowl XLII kicks offs. Remember, in 2008 the Giants ended New England’s bid for a perfect season with a 17-14 upset victory. Here in Boston we didn’t appreciate that very much.

To prepare for Super Bowl XLVI, there are hundreds of details fans will need to pay attention to: trivia questions to brush up ondecisions on where to watch the game, what to serve if you are hosting a party.

If you have somehow won the party bid and you’ve got people coming over to your house to watch the Patriots win I recommend some no-fuss appetizers that will keep you out of the kitchen and parked in front of the TV with everyone else.

Mini Pizza Appetizers 

This isn’t so much a recipe as it is assembly instructions. Here is how to present your guests with a delicious snack that doesn’t taste like it came out of the freezer or a cardboard box and doesn’t require tipping the delivery guy:

1. Purchase a ball or two of frozen pizza dough in your local grocery frozen food section (Whole FoodsCity Feed, and Trader Joe’s in my neighborhood all had them. I found the Go Pats! helmet cookies at City Feed).

2. Set the dough out on your counter in a bowl to unthaw. This will take several hours, so plan ahead.

3. Dust a clean surface with flour and roll out your pizza dough. Using a 2-inch circular cookie cutter, cut out your mini pizzas (or use whatever cookie cutter shape you prefer. If you actually own a football shaped cookie cutter, you will be the coolest Super Bowl hostess/host).

4. Assemble your mini pizzas with your favorite toppings. Use the best ingredients you can find. There are some great organic canned tomato sauces out there and if you have a little bit of extra time, shred your own mozzarella.

Some ideas for toppings:

  • Green peppers
  • Pepperoni (or vegan pepperoni for your veggie friends)
  • Caramelized onions
  • Fresh basil
  • Mushrooms
  • Crushed pineapple
  • Canada bacon

5. Bake in a preheated 375 degree F. oven for about 15 minutes.

6. Consume. Repeat. Cheer. Win.

Go Pats!

You can find cheese pies at many snackettes and other eateries in Guyana that sell pastries. (Tastes Like Home)

Guyanese cheese pies

By Tastes Like Home / 02.03.12

The cheese pies we make in Guyana is a riff of the Portuguese Egg Tart, pastel de nata. And, in essence, it is like a mini quiche, drawing influence from the British proclivity for custards baked in pastry. I suspect that what we did in Guyana, as is done throughout the world with food that has traveled, is that we adapted the tart and married it with our penchant for English pies and came up with a Guyanese cheese pie.

The pie is simple, it is a mini pie with short crust pastry filled with an egg and cheese custard and baked. That's it. Use only the finest quality ingredients, especially because they are so few in this recipe.

You can find cheese pies at many snackettes and other eateries in Guyana that sell pastries.

Guyanese Cheese Pies
Yield: 13 - 15

For Pastry:

2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 ounces cold vegetable shortening, cubed
6 ounces cold unsalted butter, cubed
3 to 4 tablespoons iced water

Add flour, sugar and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to mix.

Add shortening and butter to flour and pulse until the mixture is coarse with pebbles of butter and shortening. Alternately, cut in the butter and shortening to the flour using a pastry blender or two dining knives or use your hands.

Add water and pulse until the dough starts to come together. Do not over mix.

Transfer the mixture to a floured surface and bring the dough together in one mass. Pat into a round disk and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before use.

When you are ready to make the pie, remove the dough from the refrigerator and rest for 5 minutes before starting to work with it. This time will vary depending on the temperature in your kitchen.
 

For Filling:

2 cups grated (sharp) cheddar cheese (get the best you can)
3 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Add eggs, milk, salt and pepper to a measuring cup (for easy pouring) and whisk together.

For Assembling:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly brush muffin pans with oil and set aside.

Flour work surface and roll dough into 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 4-inch cookie cutter or anything with a round 4-inch diameter and cut into as many circles as you can.

Arrange each piece of cut pastry into muffin pan. Gather the scraps of the pastry and roll and cut again until the pans are filled. Refrigerate the pans for 10 minutes or until you are ready to add the filling.

Remove the chilled pans and fill each muffin cup with cheese.

Whisk the egg mixture as it might have settled and then pour in a little of the custard into each muffin cup, just shy of the top of the pastry.

Bake pies for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden. Cool pans on wire racks for 5 to 6 minutes then remove pies from pans and continue to cool on wire racks.

Serve warm or at room temperature - as is or with a salad.Related post: A Quick Bread

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A quick stir fry of cabbage, kale, jalapeno peppers, Brussels sprouts, and a handful of brown rice. (In Praise of Leftovers)

Simple stir fry

By In Praise of Leftovers / 02.02.12

My wok will be 2 years old in April. I am pathetically keeping track, since 2 years is supposed to be the time when an often-used wok is finally seasoned perfectly. Sometimes I get it out, set it on the cook top, and just look at it. It's getting so wonderfully burnished and banged up. And, more importantly, absolutely nothing is sticking to its surface. 

I talked here about wok love and about Grace Young's book, "The Breath of a Wok." What I'd add this time around is the following:

  • If I'm making an Asian stir fry, I use vegetable or peanut oil. More and more, though, I'm using olive oil and getting very far away from traditional Asian combinations. The "recipe" here is an example.
  • I've gotten discouraged a couple times when, just when my wok seemed to be developing the longed-for patina, it all disappeared because of enthusiastic vinegar use, wok cooking naiveté, or other mysterious reasons. My admonishment is: Keep Going! The only way to really wreck a wok (say that 5 times fast) is to let it get rusty with standing water or to not use it. Continued use, even if it takes you 5 years, will pay off.
  • It's really hard to experience what I'm talking about here if you have an electric cook top. Woks need raging heat. 

And, wok cooking is a fabulous way to eat more vegetables in one sitting than you ever thought possible. The stir fry here is 80 percent cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts, with just a handful of cold brown rice thrown in at the end. That description sounds depressing, but it was delicious. And made my fiber and Vitamin A off-the-charts that day.

I'm starting out the new year realizing I've spend most my energy the past six months caring for others, and not enough caring for myself. Sound familiar, anyone? When I do that, carbs (empty ones, of course) somehow taste so good, show up everywhere, and supplant the vegetables my body really wants. I'm trying to change that, and trying again to move as much as possible, even if it's not the 60 minute workout I want. Wokking and Walking. You'll hear more about it in April, I'm sure, when I throw a little birthday party for the blasted thing.

New Year's Stir Fry
Serves 2. (If you want to serve 4 as a meal, you'll have to do this twice, since an over-filled wok just steams everything.)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 head of green cabbage, thinly sliced
3 cups of washed kale, stems removed, sliced
1 cup of Brussels sprouts
2 Fresno peppers (red jalapenos), thinly sliced
1 cup cold, cooked brown rice
1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
Feta cheese, to garnish

Heat your wok over high heat for about 15 seconds, then pour olive oil in. Add garlic, stir, then add veggies. See if there are any stray bits of meat in your fridge. You can use ham, cooked or uncooked chopped bacon, proscuitto, etc. This is optional, but yummy.

Fry over high heat for about 4 minutes, moving everything around quite a bit, and add kosher salt to taste. When everything's getting crispy/tender, add cooked brown rice (or white rice or bulgur or quinoa or barley), fry for another minute, then add white wine vinegar and fry for another minute.

Divide into 2 bowls and top with some crumbled feta, if you like. Or a fried egg.

Related post: Asian Stir Fry 

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The southern Mekong delta region of Vietnam is known for its abundance of fish and sea life and floating markets and this version of cháo cá (fish porridge). (The Ravenous Couple)

Chao Ca Vietnamese fish porridge

By Hong Pham and Kim DaoThe Ravenous Couple / 02.01.12

Following 12 days of carefree honeymooning Spain last November, where every day was an culinary adventure, the first thing we craved after a grueling trans-Atlantic and cross-country flight back to Los Angeles was something simple, homey, and soupy. We expected a warmer welcome, but we were greeted with cold, heavy rain, and even hail upon our return. So a comforting bowl of cháo (rice porridge or congee) was the first thing we made as soon as the jet lag wore off.

There are many different versions of cháo, but the most common are cháo gà (chicken), cháo lòng (pig offal/innards), and cháo cá (fish). Just as there are many varieties, there are just as many ways to make cháo. Some make a thick, bland porridge and then add different types of broth and toppings. We present a very traditional southern way of making cháo cá, made famous in the Mekong delta region, known for its abundance of fish and sea life and floating markets.

You can use any type of firm, white flesh fish, however the traditional fish used in the Mekong is cá lóc, the snakehead fish. We prefer using a whole fish (we used striped bass. Also if you have frozen shrimp shells saved, use those, too, to make stock. Fish filets are acceptable as well.  The easy way would be to cut the fish into bite size pieces and add that to the porridge to cook, however, the traditional way of making fish stock and sautéeing the flesh in garlic makes for a deeper and more soulful flavor – and totally worth the extra effort.

Chao Ca Vietnamese Fish Porridge
Serves 6

1 cup jasmine long grain rice, rinsed and drained
 1-1/2 liters or 6 cups of water
 1-1/2 lb. whole firm white fish such as snapper, stripe bass, cod, gutted and cleaned
 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
 2 large knob of peeled ginger divided: 1 sliced in chunks and crushed, the remainder thinly julienned
 3 shallots (2 whole and 1 sliced thin)
 3 cloves of minced garlic
 1 medium onion peeled and quartered
 2 tablespoons olive oil
 quality fish sauce (such as Red Boat)

1/2 cup chopped green onion and cilatro
 fried shallots
 fresh cracked pepper
 bean sprouts (optional)

Wash rice, drain in strainer or small holed collander, and set aside to dry.

In stock pot, bring to boil the whole fish, crushed ginger, whole shallots, onions along with salt. Boil about 5-8 minutes, or until the flesh is cooked. Carefully remove the fish and allow to cool. Reduce heat to medium low.

Meanwhile, in nonstick pan with heat on low, heat the olive oil and thinly sliced shallots along with the rice until its color becomes opaque and just slightly browned. Add the browned rice and shallots to the broth and continue to cook under medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Peel away the flesh of the fish and return the head, bones, and tail to the stock. Break up the flesh in chunks and season with a few dashes of fish sauce and pepper. Heat up another 1 tablespoon olive oil in same nonstick pan used to brown the rice and add minced garlic. When fragrant, quickly sauté the fish chunks for a few minutes and season to taste.

By now, the rice should bloom and look like porridge. We enjoy a thick but not too thick porridge. You can add more water to thin it out if you like. Remove the remainder of the fish as well as ginger, onions, and shallots. Return the sautéed fish to the porridge and season to taste with salt or fish sauce.

Serve in soup bowls and garnish with green onions/cilantro, fried shallots, julienned ginger, and fresh cracked pepper. Top with fresh bean sprouts and enjoy!

Related post: Bon Bo Hue Recipe

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Baked chicken nuggets. (Three Many Cooks)

Baked chicken nuggets

By Pam AndersonThree Many Cooks / 01.31.12

My sister and I started making this alternative to the ubiquitous ultra-processed fried chicken nuggets for my niece Sarah a decade ago.

Store-bought bread crumbs can be stale and loaded with sodium, so try making your own. Toast two slices of bread, let them cool, and process them into crumbs in a small food processor. You can also use panko, Japanese bread crumbs, or toss in ground cornflakes for extra crunch. 

Cooking the chicken on a cooling rack allows the dry heat to crisp both sides, but if you don’t have one, simply coat a parchment or foil-lined cookie sheet with cooking spray, and turn the chicken pieces over after10  minutes.  Try to use real cheese rather than a canned variety; it will make a big difference in flavor.

Baked Chicken Nuggets
 Makes about 2 dozen nuggets

1-1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts or tenders
 1 cup bread crumbs
 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
 1 teaspoon dried thyme or mixed herbs
 Pinch of cayenne (optional)
 Freshly ground black pepper
 1 egg
 1/4 cup skim milk, yogurt, or buttermilk
 Cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Place a cooling rack in the center of a cookie sheet.  Set aside.

Cut the chicken breasts into 1-1/2 inch pieces. In a shallow bowl or a large plastic bag, mix together the bread crumbs, cheese, salt, dried herbs, cayenne (if using), and a few grinds of black pepper. Combine the egg and milk in a small bowl.  Dip the chicken into the milk mixture and then coat it well with the bread crumbs mixture, either in a bowl or by tossing it inside the bag. 

Place the coated chicken pieces on the cooling rack and put the cookie sheet into the oven. Depending on your oven and the size and thickness of the chicken, the pieces will take 15 to 20 minutes until firm and cooked through.  Spritz the chicken lightly with cooking spray and then place the cookie sheet under the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes, until browned, if desired.

Related post: Melissa Clark's Carroty Mac and Cheese

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Vegetable Moroccan tagine is a slow simmered stew with aromatic spices and flavored with mint and yogurt. (Beyond The Peel)

Meatless Monday: Moroccan tagine

By France Morissette Joshua SprageBeyond The Peel / 01.30.12

I had been craving a vegetarian Moroccan Tagine for weeks before I got it together enough to buy the ingredients I needed to make it. You see, it’s been lurking in the back of my mind since I made preserved lemons. One of the most common uses for preserved lemons is in Moroccan cuisine.

I had originally wanted to just follow a recipe I found on Epicurous, but I ended up changing most of the veggies and some of the spices so now it really doesn’t look like much like the recipe that inspired our dinner. Surprise, surprise, I couldn’t follow a recipe.

Some of the changes ended up being mandatory to fix the taste. The original was really not worth writing about or sharing. For me this was more a lesson in how to fix a mediocre recipe than finding that perfect veggie packed tagine recipe. Now fortunately for me and my guests, it turned out great in the end and we enjoyed it for days with all the yummy leftovers. If I could teach one thing it would be the skill of fixing mediocre recipes into fabulous creations. If this is something you’d be interested in learning, let me know.

We all get excited about a recipe we’d like to make, only to be disappointed with the results. It happens to all of us. Now there’s not much one can do about baking except make it over again with the appropriate changes, but stews and soups are a whole different story. Additions can be made at the end and often can take a meal to new heights. I am so glad I had used less preserved lemon than suggested and less brined olives. I don’t know if it would have been fixable otherwise. In this case, it was a matter of adding honey and cinnamon to balance out the briny-ness, and yogurt to balance out the salt.

And then the flavor heavens opened up. AAAHHHHH! and the angels sang.

It was a beautiful thing.

Vegetable Moroccan Tagine

3 cups of quartered tomatoes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, for seasoning
1 teaspoon each coriander seeds and cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried red chilies
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons olive oil, coconut oil or oil of choice
2 medium onions chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste (homemade is a great option)
5 medium carrots cleaned and chopped
2 stalks of celery chopped
4 cups water
1 eggplant, diced into 1 inch cubes
1 zucchini, diced into 1 inch cubes
1/2 cup diced brined olives
2 tablespoons honey
3 quarters of preserved lemon, pulp included
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1/4 cup fresh chopped mint
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 cup full fat yogurt (or coconut cream for a vegan option)

Set the oven to 350 degrees F. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place quartered tomatoes on the baking tray. Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake until they start to shrivel and dry out. About 45 minutes.

In a small pan over medium low heat, toast the coriander and cumin seeds, about 2 minutes. Grind the spices using a spice grinder, mortar and pestal or a clean coffee grinder. Add the chilies, turmeric, and cinnamon to the ground seeds and set aside.

In a large heavy bottomed pot (you could also use a crock pot to make this) with a tight fitting lid, heat 3 tablespoons of oil. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes or until onions begin to soften. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the cumin, coriander spice mixture and the tomato paste. Stir until well combined. Add the carrots and celery to the pot and cook for a few minutes. Add the water, oven roasted tomatoes, diced eggplant, zucchini, diced olives and honey to the pot. Brush off any excess salt from the rind and pulp. Finely chop the preserved lemon, including the pulp. Add the chopped lemon to the stew and bring the stew to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 90 minutes or until carrots are tender.

Add the cilantro, mint, yogurt and chickpeas to the pot. Heat until chickpeas are warmed through.

Serve hot in bowls on a bed of couscous, quinoa or bulgur.

We chose to serve this with  Curried Fig Butter Biscuit Rolls.

 

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Porkchops seasoned with cumin and a side of wilted spinach and chickpeas. (Blue Kitchen)

Pork chops with chickpeas and spinach

By Blue Kitchen / 01.28.12

This meal wasn’t going to be a post. It was just meant to be dinner. But suddenly, the kitchen was smelling heavenly (assuming there’s cumin in heaven, and I certainly hope so). And when I served the chops and spooned the chickpea spinach mixture next to them, the plates looked really inviting. So before cutting into my chop, I had Marion taste hers. She smiled and nodded, and here we are.

This particular dish came together because we’ve been eating too much chicken. We love chicken, but even for us, there’s been a lot of it. So when I saw a nice looking pair of pork chops in the grocery store, I grabbed them. My first thought for sides were mashed potatoes and a salad, quick and easy. But we’ve been doing those a lot lately too. 

So I asked myself what we hadn’t been doing lately. Chickpeas immediately came to mind. These delicious, nutty-tasting beans are packed with proteins and other nutrients. No wonder they’ve spread from their Middle Eastern beginnings to tables all over the world.

I love cooking like this, by the way, making up the dish as I shop. After picking up a can of chickpeas, I headed back to the produce department for some spinach, another nutrient powerhouse. Onion and garlic would round out the produce for this meal. For the spices, I would go with salt, pepper, lots of cumin, a little chili powder and, to heat things up on a winter night, some cayenne pepper. Heading for the checkout, I could already smell and taste everything coming together.

Pork Chops with Chickpeas, Spinach and Cumin
 Serves 2 (can easily be doubled)

2 bone-in pork chops, about 1-inch thick and 8 ounces each
 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
 1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper
 olive oil
 4 to 5 cups loosely packed baby spinach (about 3 ounces)
 salt and freshly ground black pepper
 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
 2 cloves garlic, minced
 1 15-1/2-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
 1/2 cup reduced sodium chicken broth (or water)

About 1/2 hour before cooking, let chops come to room temperature on a plate on the kitchen counter. (Don’t leave them in their package, especially if they’re on a Styrofoam tray – its insulating properties will keep them too chilled.)

Mix the cumin, chili powder and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, lidded skillet over medium flame. When the oil is shimmering, add the spinach in handfuls, tossing to coat with oil. When all the spinach is incorporated, remove the pan from heat and cover. Let stand for 3 to 5 minutes; the spinach will wilt and condense greatly in volume.

Meanwhile, pat chops dry with paper towel and season on both sides with salt, pepper and half of the cumin mixture. Gently press the seasonings into the chops. Transfer the wilted spinach to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside. Wipe the pan clean with paper towels and heat 2 more tablespoons of oil over medium flame. Sauté chops for 5 minutes on one side, tilting the pan occasionally to make sure they stay in contact with oil and don’t scorch. Turn chops and cook for another 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Add onion to pan, drizzling in more oil, if needed. Cook for about 4 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning or browning too much; reduce heat slightly, if necessary. When onions are just softening and turning translucent, add garlic to pan and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add chickpeas to pan, sprinkle with remaining cumin mixture and stir to combine. Add chicken broth or water to pan. Nestle chops among chickpeas, adding any accumulated juices, cover pan and reduce heat to low. Cook until chops are just cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. An instant read thermometer should read 145 degrees F when inserted in the thickest part of the chop (avoid touching bone with the thermometer).

Transfer chops to a plate and tent with foil. Add spinach to skillet and toss to combine. Cook until spinach is just heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Adjust seasonings. Plate chops and spoon chickpea spinach mixture alongside. Serve.

Related post: Turkish Style Red Lentil Soup with Chard

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Decadent molten lava cake will melt your loved ones on Valentine's Day. (Kitchen Report)

Molten lava cake for National Chocolate Cake Day

By Kitchen Report / 01.27.12

January 27 is National Chocolate Cake Day in the United States. To be honest, I thought every day was chocolate cake day. This warm (and flourless) chocolate lava cake is delicious enough to declare a national celebration. But to help keep us all focused, there are several national food day lists floating around like this one to make sure all kinds of decadent delights get their day.

I’m a little curious, though, how National Pie Day, National Peanut Butter Day, and National Chocolate Cake Day all fall in the same week. I have a sneaking suspicion that the final week of January is right about the time that most folks have felt pretty good about the three weeks of intense dieting and exercise they have done after the holidays. Admit it. Your thinking has probably come close to this at some point: “I’ve been to the gym twice this week. Of course I deserve pie/peanut butter/chocolate cake!”

Molten lava cakes are the perfect little cakes to celebrate National Chocolate Cake Day. They require relatively little effort and bake in less than 15 minutes. Even if the cakes collapse into a quivering pool of warm chocolate, I promise you that your guests will not complain. Cover them with enough ice cream and in one, two, three, swoops of their spoons the cake will be gone.

But if you do want to impress a loved one, you might want a practice run or two to figure out the best results with your oven. If you underbake it, you will end up with a puddle of chocolate (there are worse things). If you overbake, by even a minute, no molten center – and you’ll end up with more of a brownie cake (again, not a travesty).

Now get celebrating. And keep this recipe handy for Valentine's Day.

Molten Lava Cake
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Serves 4

6-1/2 ounces bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate, chopped (Note: good-quality chocolate chips are an easy shortcut)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Pinch of salt

4 large egg yolks
4 tablespoons sugar, separated
2 large egg whites

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Butter four 3/4 cup custard cups. Dust with flour, shaking out excess, and set aside.

In a double boiler over simmering water, combine chocolate, butter, and salt and heat. Stir until chocolate and butter have melted and mixture is smooth. Remove upper pot from water and let cool 10 minutes.

Beat egg yolks and 3 tablespoons sugar in large bowl until thick and light, about 2 minutes. Fold in chocolate mixture. In a separate bowl beat egg whites and 1 tablespoon sugar using electric mixer with clean, dry beaters, until whites are stiff but not dry. Gently fold whites into chocolate mixture in 3 additions. Divide batter among prepared cups.

Place custard cups on a baking sheet. Bake until cakes are puffed but still soft in center, about 11 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to rack; cool cakes 1 minute.

Using a small knife, cut around sides of cakes to loosen. Place plates on top of cups. Using an oven mitt or tea towel (the cups will be hot) invert cakes onto plates; remove cups. Serve immediately with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Related posts: Chocolate FondueFair Trade BrowniesTaza Chocolate Tour

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Simple chocolate sheet cake is a no-fuss crowd-pleaser for National Chocolate Cake Day. (The Pastry Chef's Baking)

Jan. 27 is National Chocolate Cake Day

By Carol RamosThe Pastry Chef's Baking / 01.27.12

January 27 is National Chocolate Cake Day so of course, I have to post a chocolate cake recipe. Last year, I had posted the Mexican Chocolate Fudge Pecan Cake which is one of my favorite chocolate cake recipes.  This year, I tried out this "Simple Chocolate Sheet Cake." True to its word, it actually is pretty simple, especially if you need a quick and easy recipe for a crowd-pleaser, upcoming Super Bowl party, family picnic, classroom treat, etc.  Because it's made as a sheet cake, this is easy to make, there's no muss or fuss to cut up and serve and it tastes pretty good.
 
I did modify the directions a bit, mostly in how to make the frosting. The original recipe calls for making it like a typical ganache where you chop the chocolate fine, heat the cream, pour the cream over the chopped chocolate and whisk until the chocolate is all melted and smooth. Unfortunately, I find this method imprecise. My chocolate doesn't always melt and I'm left with little bits while the cream has already cooled. Instead, I advocate melting the chocolate first, heating the cream, then whisking the two together. The chocolate will seem to seize at first but keep whisking and it'll smooth out. Or, if you want to play it safe and go with the more traditional method of making ganache, if your chocolate doesn't completely melt with the addition of the hot cream, you can always strain it smooth. But I prefer the other method and save myself the straining.
 
I liked the flavor and texture of this cake – it was as a good chocolate cake should be. However, be sure to use a dark, high quality, unsweetened cocoa – the grocery store/generic brand won't cut it for flavor. I use Pernigotti but you can also use Scharffenberger, Valrhona, etc. You can taste the chocolate flavor from the cocoa in this cake so don't cheat yourself by using anything less than the good stuff. As for the frosting, it came out with a really silky-smooth texture. I myself am not a frosting lover so to me it was "OK," but I wasn't in love with it. It's soft and spreadable when you first make it but it does cool into a firm consistency. Not firm like a pure fudge layer but it won't be spreadable anymore after it's cooled. Because it's a milk chocolate frosting, it makes a nice contrast to the dark chocolate cake. And of course, use high quality milk chocolate in the frosting; you won't be sorry.

Simple Chocolate Sheet Cake
Adapted from Cook’s Country Chocolate Desserts

1-1/4 cups (6-1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour 3/4 cup (2-1/4 ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
12 ounces unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1-/12 cups (10-1/2 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees F. 

Line a 13- x 9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray. 

Sift together flour, cocoa and salt in medium bowl; set aside. Place chocolate and butter in the top half of a double boiler over barely simmering water and stir until melted together. Do not let boil.

Whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla in medium bowl.

Whisk chocolate into egg mixture until combined. Combine buttermilk and baking soda; whisk into chocolate mixture, then whisk in dry ingredients until batter is smooth and glossy. Pour batter into prepared pan; bake until firm in center when lightly pressed and toothpick inserted in center comes out barely clean, about 35-40 minutes.

Let cool on wire rack until room temperature, at least 1 hour; serve, or ice with frosting if desired.

Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting

 1/2 cup heavy cream
 1 tablespoon light or dark corn syrup
 Pinch salt
 10 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
 1/2 cup (2 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces and chilled

Combine cream, corn syrup, and salt in liquid measuring cup and microwave until simmering, about 1 minute, or bring to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. 

Melt chocolate in top half of double boiler. Add hot cream mixture, whisking constantly. Melted chocolate might seize at first but keep whisking and it'll smooth out. 

Pour into food processor, add confectioners’ sugar and process to combine, about 30 seconds. With processor running, add butter 1 piece at a time; process until incorporated and smooth, about 20 seconds longer.  Transfer frosting to medium bowl and let cool at room temperature, stirring frequently, until thick and spreadable, about 1 hour.

Related post: Mexican Chocolate Fudge Pecan Cake

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A Waldorf salad with arugula, apples, walnuts, celery, and a sour-cream based blue cheese dressing. (Beyond The Peel)

Waldorf salad with blue cheese dressing

By France Morrisette and Joshua SpragueBeyond The Peel / 01.25.12

Now I know what you’re thinking, there’s nothing exciting going on here. It may not be the most innovative creation but it is a wonderful winter salad. This salad is simple and allows all the natural flavors to come through.

So a little history lesson for you. The Waldorf Salad was developed in the 1890s, but the addition of walnuts did not come until the 1930s. So, traditionally the recipe was made of apples, celery, walnuts and a mayonnaise dressing served on a bed of lettuce. All kinds of variations now exist including chicken, turkey, grapes and yogurt for the dressing. So I won’t be the first to scandalize this salad recipe said to be created by Oscar Tschirkyof New York.

Though I did take a few liberties, there were few and, quite honestly, they were harmless. Instead of the lettuce I chose rocket, otherwise known as arugula, for it’s peppery taste. I also chose sour cream as the base for the dressing. The result is a crunchy satisfying salad, one with healthy fats (from the nuts and cream), protein (nuts), fiber (apple) and anti-oxidants, vitamins and mineral in heap loads (rocket).

Note: If you don’t care for blue cheese, feel free to sub in feta or even grated asiago.

Blue Cheese Waldorf Salad
Serves 2 (multiply as necessary)

1 apple
2 celery stalks
2 cups of rocket
1/2 cup roasted walnuts

Core and thinly slice the apple and set aside. Thinly slice the celery (any way you like, but I chose lengthwise to facilitate eating with my fingers). Place a cup (or more) of rocket onto a plate, top with celery and sliced apples. Add a 1/4 cup of toasted walnuts on top and drizzle with blue cheese dressing. Add fresh ground pepper.

Blue Cheese Dressing

1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup of sour cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons water

Place all the ingredients together and blend until well combined. If you’d like a creamier dressing, use a blender or mini food processor.

Related post: Roasted Spiced Chickpeas and Fennel Salad

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