October 2011

devil’s food cupcakes with chocolate ganache glaze

Let’s talk about ganache, shall we? Ganache is a wonderfully simple (just three ingredients!) chocolate glaze for cakes, cupcakes and cookies alike. It is really easy to make, and also really easy to screw up. Until very recently, my ganache success rate was 50/50. Not fabulous odds when you’re an emotional cook. Fortunately, I’ve discovered the key to a (so far) fail-proof ganache.

But before we ganache, we need to make something to put that glaze on. This is where the devil’s food cake cupcakes come in. This recipe is from Martha Stewart Cupcakes, and is quite good. This cupcake plus the ganache has an undeniable Hostess Cupcake quality … all that’s missing is the little white swirl and survive-a-nuclear-war-strength preservatives.

Devil’s Food Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache Glaze, from Martha Stewart Cupcakes
For the cupcakes
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup hot water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 1/4 t coarse salt
1 1/2 cups butter
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
1 T plus 1 t vanilla
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together cocoa powder and water. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Melt butter and sugar in a saucepan over low heat stirring to combine. Once combined, pour into a mixing bowl. On low speed, beat mixture until it has cooled, 4 – 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time and mix to combine. Add vanilla and then cocoa mixture. Alternate adding flour mixture and sour cream until just combined. spoon into muffin tins and bake 15 – 20 minutes. Cool and then frost.

For the chocolate ganache glaze
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate (chips or cut into small chunks)
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 T light corn syrup (for shine)

Place chocolate in a small heat-safe bowl. In a small saucepan, heat cream and corn syrup over low heat until just simmering. It is crucial that the cream not get too hot – if the cream is too hot it will burn the chocolate and you’ll get a grainy ganache. If you accidentally forget about your cream while it is heating, take it off the heat and let it cool significantly before you pour over the chocolate.

Pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Let it sit for 5 minutes to melt the chocolate. Using a spatula, gently stir chocolate and cream until smooth and combined. Start at the center of the bowl working your way towards the edge, mixing as you go.  The mixture should be smooth and glossy.

Dip the top of each cooled cupcake into the ganache and set on a rack to firm up slightly before serving.

-Emily

quick baked mac and cheese with caramelized onions

So I had this whole vision of baking little lasagnas in these baby pumpkins that I bought at the farmers market. I’d invited friends over for the experiment and was very excited to bump the cute factor of my cooking up by about a million. And then my rational, forward thinking boyfriend mentioned that the adorable pumpkins that I had purchased might not actually be for eating. The doubt began to set in. I tested the pumpkin by cooking a small slice and it was indeed edible, just not that good. I was very sad. My dreams of festive cuteness were crushed.

I think Jordan may have felt a little bad and so he dug up these mini baking dishes that his mom had given us as a housewarming gift and suggested a baked macaroni and cheese instead. It was good advice. I simplified a traditional baked macaroni nixing the béchamel in favor of ricotta and a little pasta water. I added some caramelized onions, topped with gruyere and then threw it under the broiler. Quick, easy and still adorable!

Baked Mac and Cheese with Caramelized Onions
For the caramelized onions
1 onion, sliced
1 T butter
1 T oil

Saute onions over low heat for 30 – 45 minutes stirring occasionally, until deep brown in color.

For the pasta
3/4 lb dried pasta
1 cup ricotta
1/2 cup parmesan, grated
1/2 cup gruyere, grated
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
salt, pepper

Start sautéing the onion. Put a pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta until al dente and reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Drain pasta. Combine pasta, ricotta, parmesan and pasta water. Season with salt and pepper. In a baking dish, spread the caramelized onions into a thin layer on the bottom. Spoon in cheesy pasta. Top with gruyere and breadcrumbs. Broil for a few minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Enjoy!

-Emily

the salties

It is pretty obvious to our friends and family that Jordan and I like food. Because of this, we often receive specialty food products as gifts — hot sauce, candies, olive oils, that sort of thing. Thanks to our loving family and friends, our collection of one particular pantry staple outshines all the others … SALT!

Our friend Katie (art history buff turned pastry chef turned organic farmer—seriously, read her blog) was visiting a few weekends ago, and after a bit of good food and wine, we decided we ought to taste test our entire salt collection. It turned out to be a lot of salt. Friends and family, I think we are solid on fancy salts for a while.

Here are the results of our exhaustive sampling. Hopefully, this tongue numbing experience wasn’t in vain and these descriptions will be helpful in your next specialty salt purchase.

A note about our technique. We tried a pinch of each salt, and comparing against our baseline of kosher salt, made notes for each variety. It got rather silly after a point because well, salt is salty. A few salts received specific “awards”, a few were blessed with amazing quotes by Katie, all were salty.

The Salties, in alphabetical order

Black Diamond: Shock and Awe 
Black, salty rocks. This salt is all about the spectacle.

Fleur de Sel: Most Classic 
Straight up salt. Nice flake.

French Grey Sea Salt: #1 Finishing Salt
Mild, oceany and crunchy. “I like a wet salt” – K.L.N.

Hawaiian Sea Salt: Don’t Waste Your $$$
Basically kosher salt.

Kosher Salt (either Morton or Diamond Crystal): Best All-Purpose Salt 
Size makes for even distribution, all purpose, super affordable

La Baleine French
What you think of when you think sea salt.

Lemon Flake
Amazingly lemony. It’s like a salt snack.

Malakai Guava Smoked Salt
Surprisingly mild smokey flavor.  Add to homemade BBQ sauce.

Maldon
Slightly crunchy, very nice texture.

Meadow Sel Gris
Light texture, but a very substantial crystal. “It’s useless it is so big” – K.L.N.

Molokai Red: Most Surprising (in a Good Way)
Fruity at first, with a salty finish. Very crunchy. Would be great on roasted potatoes

Murray River
Light, snowflake-like texture. Very, very salty

Rosemary Salt
Wow! That is rosemary.

White Truffle Salt: Salt of the Gods
Hands down our favorite flavored salt. “This doesn’t even taste like salt. This tastes like food” – K.L.N.

A shout out goes to the tasters for their valiant efforts and also to our amazing friends and family who always seem to bring us back fabulous, salty presents.

-Emily

green bean and tomato salad

I’ve got to squeeze this recipe in here really quick before the green beans and tomatoes vanish until next summer. This recipe is from Chez Panisse Vegetables and is absolutely wonderful like most of Alice Waters’ recipes. Simple, fresh and easy to prepare, Jordan said it was his favorite way to eat green beans. Now that is an endorsement.

Green Bean and Tomato Salad with Vinaigrette, adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables
2 – 3 handfuls of green beans, ends removed and cut into 1 inch long pieces
1 basket cherry tomatoes, halved
1 shallot, diced very fine
2 T red wine or champagne vinegar
salt, pepper

Put on a pot of salted water to boil. In a small bowl, macerate the diced shallot in the vinegar. Add a hefty pinch each of salt and pepper and set aside. The longer this mixture sits together the better. Blanche the green beans for 3 – 5 minutes in the boiling water and then rinse with cold water. Pour into a serving platter and sprinkle with tomatoes. Just before serving,  pour the dressing over the vegetables and enjoy!

-Emily

how to can 20 pounds of tomatoes

As I’ve mentioned before, we have an awesome CSA through Eatwell Farm. Every week we get a little newsletter with our box of produce describing the types of fruits and veggies and the goings-on around the farm. Last week’s newsletter had an end of the season offer for tomatoes … 20 pounds of tomatoes for $20. $20! As in $1 per pound for amazing, organic, vine-ripened tomatoes. HEAVEN!

If you know me, you know that I have absolutely no power to resist such an amazing offer despite the fact that 20 lbs is a lot of anything. I immediately called Eatwell, purchased my tomatoes and scheduled a pick up at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market that Saturday. My friend Amanda agreed to go with me to the market and thank goodness I had her help … 20 lbs is heavy! My arms felt like jello after carrying those suckers and I absolutely counted it as exercise.

Upon inspection, I decided to can half of the tomatoes whole and make the other half into tomato sauce. I’ve never really canned anything before (aside from jam under the close observation of my Nonnie), but fortunately Ball- maker of all things canning- has a great website with helpful tips and recipes. I followed their waterbath canning instructions for cold-packed whole tomatoes and basic tomato sauce.

For the whole canned tomatoes
10 lbs tomatoes, skins removed and cored
lemon juice (2 T per quart jar)
coarse salt (1 t per quart jar)
sugar (1 t per quart jar)

To remove the tomato skins: In a large stockpot, bring water to a boil. Make a small x-shaped cut in the bottom of each tomato. Put the tomatoes into the boiling water for 1 – 2 minutes then plunge them into a ice water bath. The skins should easily peel off the tomato. After you’ve removed the skin, remove the core of the tomato.

Wash the jars in the dishwasher or boil the jars. In a saucepan, boil the jar lids and rings for 10 minutes.

In each 1-quart jar, put 2 T lemon juice, 1 t salt and 1 t sugar. Fill each jar within 1/2 inch of the rim with the peeled, cored tomatoes. Press down on the tomatoes to remove air bubbles. Wipe the rim, center hot lid on the jar and seal with the ring.

In a stock pot of boiling water, boil the sealed jars for 85 minutes.  The jars should have at least 1 inch of water covering their tops. After 85 minutes, remove the jars and place on the counter to cool overnight taking care to leave several inches between each jar for air to circulate. Once the jars have cooled, the lid should not move up and down. That is how you know you’ve achieved a good seal.

For the canned tomato sauce
10 lbs tomatoes, peeled and cores removed
3 onions, diced
1 bulb garlic, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup sugar
2 T red wine vinegar
salt, pepper, chili flake

The tomatoes were so flavorful on their own that I decided to make the most simple sauce. We’ve enjoyed it twice since the canning and it is wonderful! I am so happy to have preserved that summer flavor for us to enjoy all fall and winter long.

Remove the skins and cores of the tomatoes. In a large stockpot or dutch oven, saute the onions over medium heat until translucent. Add the garlic and saute for 2 more minutes. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, and a pinch of chili flake. Simmer for 20 – 3o minutes uncovered to evaporate some of the water. Add a pinch of salt and some pepper. Puree the sauce in a blender or using an immersion blender. Taste for salt and add more seasoning as necessary.

Prep the jars and lids as directed above. Fill each jar within 1/2 inch of the rim. Center the lid on the jar and twist on the ring.

In a pot of boiling water, boil the jars covered in 1 inch of water for 35 minutes. Remove from the water and let cool overnight. The lid should not move up and down once cooled.

I am very satisfied with my first canning adventure! It was fairly easy, although a bit time consuming. I’m considering buying one of those super large canning stock pots for the next time, since I could only fit three 1-quart jars at a time in my regular stock pot. That made for a lot of rounds of boiling and, at 85 minutes a pop,  that is no small chunk of time. Still, a day investment is nothing compared to the pleasure of enjoying summer tomatoes in the dead of winter!

-Emily

how to celebrate a blogiversary

Guess what? We’ve been blogging for a year! Hurray! Honestly I wasn’t sure that we’d be able to keep this rather ambitious project afloat, but here we are with more cooking adventures under our belt than I had ever imagined. It feels pretty darn good.

A few days ago, a coworker asked my why I blog, why I put my personal anecdotes up on the interweb for all to see. I do it because I love food. But more than I love food, I love the community that cooking and eating creates. Spending time with people I love over a good meal is my favorite thing in life. This blog lets me connect to all those folks out there that I love so dearly but can’t invite over for Sunday dinner because of the challenges of time and distance. Yep this is a little sappy, but anyone who knows me knows, I am a total sap and I like it that way.

To celebrate our first blogiversary—in true The Answer is Always Pork fashion—we invited a few friends over to take down a towering mountain of pork spare ribs. I made our favorite oven BBQ ribs and cornbread, our friend Robin supplied the home fries and a salad, our friends Jessi and Nadar brought the wine. It was an absolutely wonderful meal with fabulous food, incredible friends and a whole lot of love. Perfection.

And a little note: Jordan’s delightful prose has been light the past few months, but the handsome devil has been so busy studying, reading, writing, grading, and researching his brain to death. For this tremendous scholastic exertion, I am cutting him some slack. Hopefully he will be back soon.

-Emily

crostini with spicy salmon, lemon and avocado

I impulse bought an entire salmon in the Whole Foods parking lot the other day. While I don’t think that this particular urge affects many girls my age, I just couldn’t help myself. They were just so cute and so well-priced …

Jordan invented this little crostini. I have to say that salmon and lemon are a match made in heaven! He threw this together in just a few minutes and it looked and tasted dang impressive. Give it a go at your next dinner party.

Crostini with Spicy Salmon, Lemon and Avocado
10 pieces of rustic style bread, thinly sliced and toasted
1 lemon, halved lengthwise and then very very thinly sliced
1/2 avocado, thinly sliced
1/2 cup raw salmon, cubed (We used the beat up remains from slicing the fillet into pieces for sashimi. You need small, bite-sized pieces of fish to make this easy to eat).
1 t sriracha hot chili sauce
1 T soy sauce

In a small bowl, mix the salmon, sriracha and soy sauce. Layer each crostini with the spicy salmon, lemon slice, and top with avocado. Enjoy!

-Emily

baking therapy: salted chocolate chip cookies

Posted on October 6, 2011

Jordan loves chocolate chip cookies. He also loves to boast that his chocolate cookies are better than anyone elses’, including mine. A risky thing to boast when I happen to be the one baking chocolate chip cookies for him on a fairly regular basis, but that is neither here nor there. These are a variation on my tried and true recipe inspired by the cookies made by another exceptionally nice girlfriend of an Amoeba-Music-Store-working boy.

Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 t coarse salt
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 t vanilla
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (We like Guittard the best)
fleur de sel or other very coarse sea salt  (Our friends Matt and Alexa brought us back fleur de sel from their trip to Paris!)

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of a mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add sugars and beat some more. This is a very important step in achieving excellent cookie texture once baked. Add eggs one at a time beating after each addition. Add vanilla. Stir in flour until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Scoop into rough balls and place on a cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 minutes, until crusty on the outside but still soft in the center. When you remove them from the oven, top with a sprinkle of fleur de sel.

Surprise, surprise … Jordan liked these cookies, but prefers his standby recipe sans salt topping. I thought the salt added a fun crunch and burst of flavor. Still, I think I may agree with Jordan that traditional chocolate chip cookies might be the best.

-Emily

ricotta stuffed squash blossoms

Posted on October 4, 2011

Jordan came home on Saturday night to me happily bustling away in the kitchen and the smell of BBQ in the air. It seemed, however, that he was worried. He had noticed a small bag of squash blossoms on the counter and foresaw disaster—a tremendously unhappy Emily with the blood of a failed experiment in delicate cuisine on her hands. Well, I am happy to report (and I’m sure Jordan is extremely relieved to report) that our first foray into squash blossom cookery was a success!

We’ve had squash blossoms before, but always at restaurants with professionals taking charge. When I saw them at Bi-Rite Market I knew I had to have them, despite not knowing how to cook them. The window of opportunity to enjoy squash blossoms is quite short after all and I wanted to take advantage of it. Thankfully, Chez Panisse had my back and I found a recipe for stuffed squash blossoms. Earlier at Bi-Rite I had the foresight to buy some sheep’s milk ricotta cheese and everything else I had on hand.

Ricotta and Herb Stuffed Squash Blossoms 
6 – 8 squash blossoms
1 cup ricotta cheese
3 T chopped herbs (I used chives, thyme and a tiny bit of sage)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 lemon, zested
salt, pepper
1 egg
2 T milk
1 cup Maseca or all-purpose flour
oil for frying (safflower, sunflower or peanut oil)

In a small bowl, mix the cheese, herbs and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Gently stuff the squash blossoms with a tablespoon or so of filling. Twist the tops shut. Place on a plate and stick in the fridge for 5 – 10 minutes to firm up.

Heat an inch or two of oil in a cast iron skillet or dutch oven over medium high heat. Beat the egg and milk together.  Dunk the blossoms in the milk mixture and then in the flour. Fry 3 minutes per side until just golden. You don’t want to over cook them or risk cheese leaks. Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with coarse salt and serve hot.

-Emily

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