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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Slight disasters...chocolate cranberry scones and buttermilk cupcakes w/ chocolate p.b. ganache

Sometimes....I am not perfect. I know: this is shocking news for you. But every now and then I bake something that's I mean it tastes good, possibly even great, but the looks aren't there, or something small got messed up. It's painful to realize at the time, but I suppose we make mistakes to learn from them. Here are two recipes that are actually quite good, but for some reason or another, I wasn't 100% happy with them. The chocolate p.b (aka peanut butter) ganache on these cupcakes was pretty awesome. Neither the cake not the topping was too sweet, making this cupcake a lot lighter tasting than it looks. To be honest, these came about from having a bowl of leftover ganache that I didn't know what to do with (other than take a spoon to it and go to town). 

And actually, whether you make these cupcakes or not, definitely remember this buttermilk cake recipe. It's genius, and I use it constantly. The main way I make it is into a 9" cake pan and dotted with fresh berries. Sprinkle some sugar on top of that and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Best cake you've had ever (until you've had the caramel cake I've got a recipe for....)

These scones I don't take responsibility for. I know, those things pictured below don't look like scones. They look like funny pancakes. Mind you, this was in the middle of a shoot, and I had slept a total of 4 hours in the past three days. Hence why I may have added a touch too much liquid, because I was near the point of hallucination. However, they tasted lovely. Because of all the moisture, they were more cakey than scone-like, so if that's how you like your English tea treats, add a 1/4 cup more milk than I recommend. 

However, in my defense I'd just like to say that along with my homemade granola bars, these scone were a hit on set. A big plate of them lasted about halfway through one day. Admittedly, people on set are half asleep and hungry so I might have been able to spread some chocolate syrup on cardboard and they would've been happy, but I'd like to think they enjoyed them because I'm just such a top notch baker. And hey, ignorance is bliss.

Buttermilk Cupcakes w/ Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting

1 cup flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp buttermilk powder
½ stick softened butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
½ cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift flour, baking powder and soda, salt, and buttermilk powder together and set aside. Take butter and whip for several minutes till fluffy. Add sugar and whip for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat thoroughly. Add 1/3 flour mixture, then ¼ cup water, then another third of flour mixture, last ¼ cup of water, and last third of flour mixture.

Line cupcake pan with paper cupcake liners. I found it easier to pour batter into a ziplock bag, snip off end and pipe into the liners. Should make 11 cupcakes.

Place cupcake pan into oven and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, until tops are lightly brown and a toothpick stuck into the middle comes out with a few crumbs stuck to it.  Allow cakes to cool completely before frosting. 

1 cup spiced chocolate ganache (recipe below)
½ to ¾ cup good peanut butter
½ cup cold heavy cream

Mix peanut butter with ganache. Place cream into large bowl and whip on high with electric mixer till peaks are stiff. Add ganache/pb mixture to cream in thirds, folding each thoroughly before adding the next. Add a touch of salt at the end (I like my desserts to have a tiny kick of salt in them).

Note: This is the ganache I use for pretty much anything I make with ganache, so save this recipe, it’s very versatile.

6 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I use Ghirardelli 60% cocoa chips)
2 cups heavy cream
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp instant espresso mixed w/ 2 tbsp water
½ tsp salt
½ tsp red pepper

Place heavy cream in small pot and turn to medium high. While that’s heating up, place chocolate in a heatproof bowl.

Bring cream to a boil. Take off heat and pour over chocolate. Let stand for two to three minutes, then stir. Chocolate should be completely melted at this point. If not, pop bowl into microwave for a few seconds. When cream and chocolate are completely melted and mixed together add the rest of the ingredients and combine. 

To make chocolate p.b. ganache, simply add 1/3 to ½ cup of peanut butter (I use natural Woodstock Farms, creamy style) to prepared spiced chocolate ganache and mix. Continue to add peanut butter till you get the ratio of p.b. to chocolate that you like.

Buttermilk Scones w/ Bittersweet Chocolate and Dried Cranberries

2 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
2 tbsp powdered buttermilk
4 tsp baking powder
5 tbsp cold butter, cubed
3 tbsp shortening
½ cup cold water
1 egg
¼ cup heavy cream
3 oz bittersweet chocolate (I use Ghirardelli bittersweet chips)
handful of dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and powdered buttermilk in a food processor and process for a few seconds. Add shortening and butter and process till the fats are incorporated and the mixture has the texture of sand.

Dump into large bowl. In another bowl mix the egg and water, whisking to combine. Slowly add egg/water mixture, mixing the dough with your hands. Stop adding when the dough comes together and before it becomes sticky.

Add chocolate and cranberries and fold into dough with spatula. Lightly flour a countertop and place dough on top. Gently shape into a disc about 8 to 10 inches in diameter, and approximately 2.5 inches in thickness. Cut into triangles (depending on the size of scones you want, 8, 12 or 16 would be good).

Place on baking sheet and brush with heavy cream. Sprinkle extra sugar on top.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown on top, depending on the size of scone you’re making.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How Grownups Play With Their Food....Sauteed Baby Octopus and THE BEST ROAST CHICKEN

Every now and then I think it's imperative to spoil yourself. For me, that means spending far to much on fancy ingredients and making a luscious meal. (Really, who wasn't expecting that.) I experimented with two different ingredients I've never used before: baby octopi, and sunchokes.  

I was wandering through the Union Square Farmer's market (in search of some perfect bone-in and skin-on chicken breasts) and found over three stands selling sunchokes. Which got me curious: what the hell are sunchokes??? I mean, I've heard of them, but I had no idea what they taste like. And the problem with farmer's markets and I are that, I just can't resist. Local dairy farms selling unbelievable heavy cream (trust me)? Why not? A pound of winesap apples? Yes please. Cider doughnuts? Well, ok I say no to those, because they are always disappointing. But really expensive lamb bacon I don't need? Well, you get the picture.

So, in case I haven't mentioned this to you guys before, roast chicken with root vegetables has apparently become my absolute favorite meal. I've roasted two whole chickens in the last month, and while I loved both of them, something was lacking. But I still craved roast chicken. So finally, on a night with a great horror movie on my Netflix queue ("The Thing", awesome) and several pages of my script waiting to be written, I decided to make my own version of roast chicken with root vegetables, with essentially just half the bird.

I bought these chicken breasts from a local farmer at, of course, the farmer's market. At first I was mentally kicking myself for spending almost 10 bucks on two chicken breasts (they were large, in my defense), but after taking one bite, all my suspicions were gone. This chicken was frigging AMAZING. The crispness of the skin, the juiciness of the took all my strength to not just eat as much as I could hovering over the roasting pan.

The crispiness of the skin was through a trick I learned from America's Test Kitchen. Strange as it may sound: baking powder. Mixing it with the salt and pepper used to season the meat it helps brown and dry the skin. Also, make sure to loosen the skin from the meat, which stops moisture from being trapped between the meat and skin and making things soggy. I should apologize right now for all my readers in the nyc area, for the life of me I can't remember the name of the farmer I got my chicken from. But don't worry, I'll be scouring Union Square till I find him. Oh, and by the way, the sunchokes were fantastic! Roasted them with carrots, yukon gold potatoes, and red onions. The sunchokes reminded me of yucca, which I love. Another fantastic veggie to add to this mix is fennel. Now on to the octopus...

Not sure if anyone remembers the glorious day of warmth we had on Monday, but I just couldn't stay inside, no matter how much work I had. Wandered around, stopped by the Housing Works bookstore (a lovely place to peruse, by the way, I became a member and everything), and finally couldn't stop myself from walking into Dean & Deluca about a block away from the bookstore. At $10 a pound these baby octopi looked amazing. The very cute fishmonger mentioned they came in just that day. I was pretty much sold at this point, and because of the fish guy's cute smile.  =)

I marinated the octopus first with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper for half an hour. Meanwhile, I set about sauteeing sliced garlic and chopped red onion. When the aromatics are soft and cooked through you should take them out of the pan, as the octopus needs to be cooked on high heat, which will burn the garlic and onions. I, of course in my lazy state, decided to skip this step. Big mistake.

I decided to keep it simple with my cooking strategy. The essential flavoring elements are garlic, onion, lemon and parsley. Even with my several stupid (and obvious) mistakes with this recipe, these little eight legged creatures were still delicious. Which is a shame, as that means I'll just be shopping at Dean & Deluca more, a hobby I simply cannot afford.

If these octopi looks funny, it's because they are covered in flour, which I thought would be nice, and make them crispy while being sauteed. No, do not do this. Only batter and flour octopus if you are going to deep fry them, otherwise your flour becomes a mushy mess in the pan, and you get something that very vaguely resembles a strange, seafood-esque oatmeal. Luckily, when I pushed the breading aside, there was glorious, perfectly cooked octopus underneath. Victory! So those are my two wonderfully indulgent, fairly simple recipes you can whip out whenever you feel like doing something special on a Tuesday or any old weekday night. And please invite me over if you're making roast chicken.

Roasted Chicken w/ Root Vegetables

Note: I’m one of those rare fans of white meat over dark, hence why I use only chicken breasts here. However, you’re more than welcome to try this out with chicken legs and thighs. While the breast is done at 160 degrees, thighs and legs should register at 175 degrees.

Another Note: This is quite the decadent meal with the generous use of butter. I really loved serving this over some raw bitter greens which cut through the richness of the chicken and veggies. Perfect “cold night in” kind of food.

Oh Yeah, One Last Thing: The kind of chicken you use is very important. I generally buy only from my local farmer’s market, which has sustainable free range chicken. Not necessary to get the best of the best, but I’d really recommend staying away from Perdu-esque poultry.

2 large bone-in skin on chicken breasts
1 ½ tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 ½ tbsp. dried tarragon
1 tbsp kosher salt
3 tsp pepper
½ tsp baking powder
6-8 tbsp clarified butter, melted
2-3 carrots, peeled and cubed
3 medium yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 medium red onions, cubed
1 large fennel bulb, cubed
4-5 small sunchokes, peeled and cubed
7-8 cloves garlic, peeled
1 lemon, cut into eighths

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place all vegetables and lemon wedges into roasting pan. Sprinkly 2 tsp of salt and pepper on top, along with 1 tbsp of thyme and dried tarragon. Drizzle about 2-3 tbsp butter on top. Toss with hands to make sure all veggies are coated evenly.

Bring chicken to room temperature. Thoroughly dry with paper towels. In a small bowl, mix the rest of the salt, pepper, thyme, tarragon and baking soda. Loosen skin from meat with fingers.  Sprinkle seasoning mixture all over chicken and under skin. Drizzle butter onto chicken and rub over breasts (don’t giggle) and under skin. Place chicken pieces on top of vegetables and roast in oven for about 30-35 minutes, until meat thermometer reads 160 degrees at center of breast. Remove chicken from pan and let sit for 10 minutes under foil. Let vegetables continue roasting.

Serve atop raw dark greens (kale, collard, turnip, etc.).

Sauteed Baby Octopus w/ Garlic, Onion and Tomato         
Note: I had my fishmonger take care of any prep work for the octopi, so I didn’t need to remove any skin/beaks. I’d recommend if you’re able to get the people at your fish market to do the same, do so. Unless you like butchering octopi, then have at it.

½ lb baby octopi (about 4-5 whole), rinsed
2 tsp garlic chopped, 4 cloves sliced
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
¼ cup and 3 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup dry white wine
½ cup chopped tomatoes
half a lemon
handful of chopped parsley leaves
salt and pepper

Place the octopi in a shallow bowl. Add ¼ cup olive oil, chopped garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss octopi a few times and let marinate for half an hour.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp oil in sauté pan and gently cook onions till soft. Add garlic and cook till fragrant and soft. About 5 to 7 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. When garlic and onions are properly softened and starting to caramelize, transfer to a plate.

Add remaining tbsp of oil and get to high heat. When pan is good and hot, add octopi, cooking quickly. When the legs are starting to curl up around the body add white wine. Bring heat down just a bit and add back the garlic and onions.

As soon as the legs have curled up tightly turn off the heat. Add chopped tomatoes, juice and all, and stir. Take that half a lemon and squeeze it all over the top. Then add  the parsley. Taste, and add more seasoning if necessary.

Serve atop pea shoots or any other greens.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I'm Insane...Mixed Berry & Apple Almond Granola Bars

Alright, that's it. I've lost it. I've completely lost my mind. In the midst of all this writing/working/chaos I've suddenly decided to attempt making granola bars for a set I'm production managing this weekend from scratch. Why? I have no idea. Well, that's a lie, I have some idea. I saw this recipe for Raspberry Breakfast bars on Smitten Kitchen (one of the great food blogs, of course) ages ago, and since then I've had it in the back of my mind to attempt them. But why, why oh why, did I decide to make them for at least 20 people and in the middle of a week where I'm prepping for this shoot as well as trying to get all my work done??? It's because I'm insane, nothing else to it.

Shooting starts at 5 am and goes till about 5 pm every day, which made me think "Gee, we need really good breakfast foods." Another excuse for me to try and make these. So of course, if you're going to be cooking for a set, you've got to make at least two batches, which is what I did. One is a mixed berry from frozen berries, the other is apples and almonds. I figured if I cut them up small enough, they'd last at least a day and a half (hopefully). Oh, and just to add to my masochism, I made these around midnight, and didn't finish till about 3 am. Yeah, this is not a recipe to just "whip up" any old night. It takes some forethought.

This is the consistency your crumb/crust mixture should reach
Having said that, I knew I was onto something good when I tasted the crumb mixture. If I had a spoon and no conscience, I could've eaten that alone no problem. It was AWESOME. The cinnamon, butter, brown sugar,'s hard to go wrong with a combination like that. The only problem was, my food processor couldn't handle all the dry ingredients. So I just cut up the oats with the flour, and then did the rest by hand. Mind you, it can be done, but mixing 3 sticks worth of butter cubes into a heap of flour, oats and sugar is no small feat. Took a while, but in the end was worth it.

One reason I may have decided to spend my night covered in oats and brown sugar is to distract me. See, I just turned in my application for the coveted This American Life internship a few days ago, and it's been driving me crazy. I want this job. I really want this job. And not only that, I know I would be good at it. But I don't find out for another three weeks. So till then, I spend my nights baking to drown out the thoughts in my head. Thank god there's a bunch of hungry filmmakers to eat most of this stuff, otherwise I'd probably weigh about 348 pounds.

Mixed berry granola bars
Now, I said this wasn't the easiest recipe, but the bars are tasty. Now, I say "granola", but they're a bit more dessert-like than that. These could easily be served as a luxurious brunch item, or as a substitute for a scone with afternoon tea. Or just any old time you feel like eating something sweet and delicious, with a bit of fruit. And of course, the great thing about these is you can do pretty much anything to them. My next combination most likely will be chocolate ganache and peanut butter (I know, my heart skipped a beat too).

Other than being antsy, I'm going to start upping my baking schedule because of one very important upcoming event: the annual Tisch Grad Film Bake-Off!!! Yeah, I think it goes without saying that I'm entering, but it's gotten around that I'm the one to beat. And now it seems I've got a fair bit of competition. I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a little bit of pressure: I seriously have to nail this. So if anyone has any ideas as to what might be a sure-fire winner, please, I need help!
Apple almond granola bars
Sadly, since it was around 2 am, I burned the bottom crust of the apple bars. I tasted them later, and they're fine, but not as stellar as they could have been. Just be careful when your bottom crust is in the oven to not let it get too brown. Also, I should mention that there is a higher ratio of crust to fruit in both these bars. While that's not altogether a bad thing (like I said, the crust is dee-licious), but if you're looking for something more fruit-centric, I'd add more. You could probably up the apple bars to three, even three and a half apples, and an extra half pound of berries for the mixed berry ones.

Alright. Time to get my life in order. The bars are done, I've got a few new pages of my script, and I can't do anything more about my TAL application so I'm going to stop thinking about it. Yes, things are going to start falling in place, I can feel it! I'm going to be productive! Hmm...or I could make roasted chicken breasts w/ sauteed kale and sunchokes and just tell you guys how that goes.... (more on this endeavor later)

Mixed Berry & Apple Almond Granola Bars

For crust/crumb:
1 ½ cups flour
1 ¼ cups rolled oats
1 cup brown sugar
¾ tsp salt
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp cinnamon
¾ cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces (room temperature)

For mixed berry filling:
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tbsp lemon zest
½ tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp flour
½ tsp salt
1 pound frozen berries (I used a mixture of strawberry, blueberry, blackberry and raspberry)
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For almond apple filling:
¼ and 2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp lemon zest
2 tbsp flour
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced into small pieces
1/3 cup slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9”x13” baking pan with cooking spray. Take a long piece of parchment paper and place on bottom, allowing extra to hang over sides of pan (you’re essentially making a sling for the bars).

If you have a large food processor, put all of the crust ingredients into the food processor and blend till you get a dry, crumbly mixture (about 40 to 50 seconds) If you don’t: put flour and oats in your dinky food processor. Process for 20 to 25 seconds, till well combined, and the oats have been ground down. Dump into large mixing bowl. Add sugar, salt, baking powder and soda, and cinnamon. Whisk thoroughly. Place the butter pieces into the dry ingredients in two batches. With the first batch in, use your fingers to combine and mix the butter into the ingredients, pushing the butter into the flour mixture. When the first batch is pretty much combined, add the second and repeat. This does take a few minutes, but it’s worth it!

Reserve 1 ½ cups of crust mixture. Take the rest and place in prepared baking pan and press into the bottom, all the way to the sides. Put in oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Take out of oven and cool.

For the fillings, the first step with both versions is to mix the brown sugar, zest, cinnamon (and nutmeg for apples), flour and salt in a small mixing bowl.  Place defrosted berries or apples and almonds in larger bowl and pour sugar mixture on top. Toss fruit to coat completely. Add lemon juice and butter and mix with spatula.

Pour fruit mixture on top of cooled crust and spread out to edges. (The berry mixture will look like it’s not enough, but don’t worry.) Take reserved crust mixture and sprinkle on top, till the fruit is completely covered. Press down on the crumb so it seals the fruit in between the layers of dough.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes till top is golden brown, rotating pan every 15 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then use parchment paper sling to remove from pan. Cool to room temperature and cut into bars/squares. Will keep refrigerated for 2 days (long if frozen).