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Wuv… twue Wuv

Valentine’s Day is around the corner. We all know this. When I was single, I was always very determined to ignore it completely. Now that I’m not, well, I’m not ignoring it completely because while I’m not a total mush monster, I do appreciate a well thought out romantic gesture, just not exclusively because Hallmark says so. What was my point? Oh yeah! I think this cake could definitely fall under the category of a not over-the-top but will definitely be appreciated Romantic Gesture. It’s a serious cake for people who really like it rich, but pretty easy to make, and combines three of my favorite things: beer, coffee, and chocolate.

I actually made it at work, for a party, so most of the pictures you’re about to see are what it looks like to make this recipe multiplied by… well, a lot. We needed to make 750 little cakes. The original recipe also includes a chocolate ganache topping, but you can pretty much decorate this cake however you like, and bake it in whatever shape and size you like. I’ll give you the directions as they’re written, because I’d like to imagine one of you making a three layered beauty dripping with chocolate. If you do, send me a picture, yeah?

Equipment:

hand mixer or stand mixer
whisk
large pot or saucepan
medium pot
two large mixing bowls
spatula or mixing spoon
knife and cutting board (if you’re chopping up the chocolate for the ganache)

Ingredients:

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups stout (chocolate stout, milk stout, regular stout– whatever kind you like)
1/2 cup strong black coffee
2 cups unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups all purpose flour
4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup sour cream

For the ganache:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 pound semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (or just use semi-sweet chocolate chips)

Preheat your oven to 350º. Butter three 8 inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper, then butter the paper, too.

In the large pot, bring the stout, coffee, and butter to a simmer over medium heat.

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Add the cocoa powder and whisk, whisk, whisk until everything smooths out. Allow the mixture to cool while you work on the rest of the recipe.

Whisk all the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda, salt) together in a large bowl. Set aside.

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In your stand mixer or with your hand mixer, beat the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla together until well combined.  With the mixer running, slowly add the cooled chocolate mixture to the egg mixture until it’s all incorporated.

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NOTE: Make sure the chocolate is cooled off… it doesn’t have to be cold, by any means, but if it’s too hot, it’ll cook the eggs.

Add the dry ingredients and blend until just combined.

Divide the batter equally between the three baking pans. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Allow the cakes to cool for at least 10 minutes in their pans, then turn them out onto a rack if you have one and let them finish cooling.

While the cakes are cooling, bring the heavy cream to a simmer in the 2nd pot. Take the pot off the heat, and add the chocolate. Whisk until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Refrigerate it for awhile until the ganache is spreadable.

You can layer these with however much icing between the layers as you want. If it was me, I’d do a thin layer of icing on each of the first two layers, and then really slather it all over the top layer and around the sides. But, I’m one of those people who can’t resist sticking her finger in the icing on the outside of the cake, so I like to make sure there’s enough for the finger sticking/licking bit without damaging the cake to icing ratio too much.

I found some pink chocolate in our walk-in so I just used that to cover the whole cake and then did a little thing with some sprinkles and icing sugar and melted chocolate. Go crazy, though. This is a very rich, deep chocolate cake so it would pair well with just about anything, from fruit to something creamy like ice cream to, well, more chocolate.

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Happy Baking!

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Oh, Stuff It!

I’ve been doing a lot more cooking at home, lately, and planning ahead on my shopping trips to take advantage of specials at the grocery store. I used to be really good at that, and then started spoiling myself with all kinds of fancy food and just shopping all willy nilly without a list because apparently I thought there was a money tree out back.

NOTE: There’s not. I looked.

So, now, I plan a little. I think about when I’ll be home for dinner during the week, and how much effort I want to put into cooking for myself. Whether you’re a semi-professional like me, or not, it seems to be so difficult to get motivated to cook for one, right? Or maybe you are always cooking for an army and you want to smack me upside the head right now for complaining about this. That’s ok, too. For me, it’s just way more fun on the weekends when I get to cook for the boyfriend or make food to bring to someone else.

This recipe for Pork Chops Stuffed with Kale and Red Bell Peppers made use of a sale on boneless pork chops, some kale I already had on hand, and half a red bell pepper that wasn’t going to make it to the end of the week.  It was super easy to pull together in the absolutely laziest way I possibly could, and bonus! I had a leftover chop for lunch the next day.

Equipment:
oven safe skillet
baking sheet or pan (if you don’t have an oven safe skillet)
knife and cutting board
spoon or spatula
small spoon to use when stuffing the pork chops
toothpicks (optional)
aluminum foil
platter or plate

Ingredients:

salt and pepper
2 boneless pork chops
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 of a red bell pepper, julienned
2 cups baby kale, or regular kale, chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 375º.

Cut a pocket into one side of each pork chop. Be careful not to cut all the way through.

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Season both sides as well as inside the little pocket with salt and pepper (or use whatever spice blend you like).

Heat your skillet to what I can best describe as “screaming hot.” If you can’t hold your hand one inch above the surface for longer than 5 or 6 seconds, it’s hot enough. This is so you can get a good, quick sear on the outside of your chops. Do not put any oil in the pan.

Lay each chop into the pan, and just leave it alone for a couple of minutes. Don’t smoosh it or move it around or anything. Let that hot pan do its job. Flip the chops over and do the same thing on the other side. You want to see some good color, but you’re not trying to cook the chops through right now.

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When both sides have been seared, remove the chops from the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low.

Give the pan a few minutes to come down in temperature, then add the oil to the pan. Toss in the garlic and let it cook until it just starts to get some color… it should take less than a minute. Then add your bell peppers and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until they start to soften.

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Add the kale and give it a stir to get the wilting started, then season the veggies with a pinch of salt and pepper. The kale will reduce down quite a bit.

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Take the pan off the heat. Spoon the kale/red pepper mixture into the pocket of each pork chop. I kind of over-stuffed mine, and I didn’t use a toothpick to hold it shut. I probably should have, but I am sometimes a lazy mofo. If you want your chops to look a little prettier than mine, go ahead and grab a couple toothpicks to hold them closed.

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If you have an oven safe skillet, you can just cover it with foil and put it directly into the oven. If you don’t, just transfer the stuffed chops to your baking sheet or pan and cover that with foil. Pop them into the oven for 15-18 minutes, or the internal temperature of the thickest part of each chop reaches 155º. Once they’re out of the oven, let the chops rest, covered, on a plate or platter for about 10 minutes to let the juices redistribute and so the carry-over cooking can bring the meat fully up to temp.

I ate my pork chop with some pan roasted Brussels sprouts because I am currently very obsessed with them. You can eat yours with whatever tickles your fancy, since these already have some veggies inside of them.

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Happy cooking!

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The Apple of My Eye

Him: “So… what do you want to do for Valentine’s Day?”

Me: “Umm… I dunno. What do you want to do?”

Him: “We’re nice to each other all the time. Do we have to make a thing of it?”

Me: “Well, I definitely don’t want to go out to dinner with all those other couples being gross and weird.”

Him: “Agreed.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent of the boyfriend and I’s conversation about Valentine’s Day. I suspect there will be dinner at home and some binge watching of something on Netflix and if I’m very lucky and ask nice, he’ll make me popcorn. He makes the best popcorn. So, yeah, pretty much what it’s like almost every weekend.

I’ve been trying to come up with some options for a dinner/dessert combo that says, “This day is maybe a little special but not like… a big deal in the grand scheme of things.” Dinner is still a little bit of a mystery, but dessert might be sorted.

It might be this Mini Apple Brulée Tart. I am a broke culinary student without a lot of funds for just playing around, so my experiments typically have to be limited to what I already have on hand. The ingredients in this tart can all be purchased for less than $10 total, assuming you have a few staples like cinnamon, honey (or agave) and sugar on hand.

I have apples. I have one sheet of puff pastry. I have cinnamon and a tiny sample sized jar of jam. I can work with that! I have just enough of everything to make two of these fun little tarts, and BONUS! I get to use the brulee torch I bought myself for Christmas.

Equipment:
baking sheet
fork
parchment paper
knife and cutting board
small bowl
small pot
spoon for stirring
measuring spoons
vegetable peeler
apple corer (if you’ve got it. if not, just cut the cores)
box grater or hand held zester/grater thing
1 sheet of paper towel
Brulée torch

Ingredients:
1 sheet of puff pastry
2 apples (The bag literally just said “Pommes/Apples” on the side, so I’m not sure what kind I used. McIntosh, Braeburns, or Fujis would work.)
2 tablespoons of any sort of jam that you think would taste good with apples
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon of lemon juice (maybe)
2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
2 teaspoons of powdered sugar

Preheat your oven to 425º.

Line your baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut two 4 in. x 4 in. squares from your sheet of puff pastry, then cut eight 1/2 in. x 4 in. strips. Use the strips to create a border around the edge of each square. Poke holes with the fork in the center, not on the border, to keep them from puffing up too much.

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Bake them in the preheated oven for 12 minutes. If the centers still look a little too puffed, you can push them down a bit.

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Peel and core both apples.

Grate one apple against the small side of your grater. Basically, this is going to puree the apple. Yes, you could use your food processor or blender for this, but do you really want to pull that whole thing out and have to wash it later for 1/2 a cup of apple puree? I didn’t think so. So, grate the apple until you end up with that 1/2 cup of puree.

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Cut the other half into thin slices. You only need about 8 slices, 4 slices per tart, but I recommend just eating the rest because apples are delicious and good for you. Gently dry the surface of each slice with a paper towel and set aside for a minute.

NOTE: This recipe comes together pretty fast, so your apples probably won’t have time to go all brown on you. If you get interrupted, you will need to sprinkle a little lemon juice over them to keep them from oxidizing while you do whatever it is that you need to do. Just remember to dry them before you put them on the tart.

If you don’t have a Brulée torch, go ahead and set your oven to broil.

Put the puree and the 2 tablespoons of jam into the pot over medium low heat. I used this little jar of Pear and Spice jam from Jam Lab that I got in the mail.

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Once that mixture has started to bubble, add the cinnamon, honey, and vanilla and stir to combine. Simmer the mixture until it’s lost about 1/2 its liquid.

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Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the apple mixture into the center of each tart.

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Shingle four apple slices over the top of each tart.

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Sprinkle the apple slices generously with the granulated sugar. If you have a Brulée torch, this is where you’d turn that puppy on and use it to caramelize the sugar on top. If you don’t, just a minute or so under the broiler should do the job. It’ll happen fast, so keep a close eye on it. (FYI, I’ve also used one of those extended camping lighters to burn sugar. That’s probably some sort of no-no, so I’m not advising you to do it. I’m just saying that if I was worried about the pastry burning under the broiler and I wanted a better way to direct the heat right to the sugar on the apples and I didn’t have a Brulée torch, I might do that.)

And just like that, your tarts are ready. You can keep it simple and just dust them with a little powdered sugar like I did, or you can put a little scoop of ice cream or some whipped cream on the plate with them with a final sprinkle of cinnamon and that’d be really yummy, too.

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Enjoy!

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Lessons from Culinary School

Happy Wednesday!

One of the things I really wanted to get back to this year is passing on some of the stuff I’m learning in school to you all. These past few weeks have given me some really cool firsts: First time making bread that actually worked and the first time I’ve ever made my own pasta. Exciting stuff, yo!

Lesson 1: Bread

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I’ve tried bread a few times in the past. It’s come out… ok. Edible. But definitely not something I’d be proud to bring to the dinner table. This time, though, I think I’m on the right track.

First thing I learned? Be patient and be prepared. Bread isn’t all that mysterious, but I’m impatient and in the past I think I’ve just been in a hurry to get to the final product. Basic bread dough is simple– flour, yeast, salt, and water. If you can remember 2 cups flour, 1 cup water, 1 tsp instant yeast, and 1 tsp salt, you can make dough that will make a baguette, a round loaf, or even rolls, if you want.

Make sure all your ingredients are at the right temperature. If you keep your flour in the freezer, bring it up to room temp before you start. Cold flour will keep the yeast from activating. If you’re one of those people who would rather bundle up in the winter than turn up the heater, make an exception. Warm up the kitchen a little before you start mixing the dough. The best temperature for activating yeast depends on the type you’re using.

75°F–95°F (24°C–35°C) Best temperature for yeast activity
85°F–100°F (29°C–38°C) Best water temperature for hydrating instant yeast
100°F–110°F (38°C–43°C) Best water temperature for hydrating active dry yeast

Also, dough needs to be kneaded. Probably a lot more than you think. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, that becomes a lot easier. If you’re doing it by hand, remember that the dough should be smooth and elastic, and the gluten strands need to be well developed to get there. If your dough reaches a point where it just keeps snapping back on you and refuses to stretch, put it down and let it relax for a bit. If it’s still sticking to your hands and the counter top after a few minutes, knead in a little more flour.

Lesson 2: Pasta

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I really lucked out this quarter for European Cuisine. I got an actual Italian chef instructor. He’s passing along his family recipes for things like bread, sauce, and (yay!) pasta. It’s such an easy formula I memorized it on the spot.

6 eggs
3 1/2 cups flour
1 half an egg shell of water (about a tablespoon)

I didn’t get a chance to make my own pasta way back last year when I was taking fundamentals, so I was stoked to get a shot at it this time. You guys… it’s so easy.

Put the flour in a bowl, make a well in the center, crack the eggs into the well, add the water, and start mixing with a fork from the inside out, slowly incorporating the flour into the eggs until it all comes together. Knead it a few times, until it smooths out, then cover it and let it rest for about 30 minutes. Roll it, cut it into whatever size noodle you want, cook it in well salted boiling water for about 5 minutes and there you go.

If you have a pasta roller, or an attachment for your stand mixer, of course that’s ideal, but I experimented a little with some of the extra dough and found that in a pinch, you can roll it out thinly enough with just a rolling pin. Just takes a little work, and you should not try to roll out the whole thing at once. Just do a little at a time. Also, once it’s cut, let it hang out over the edge of a bowl, or on a sheet pan with a little flour for about 10 minutes to let it dry and relax from all the rolling. It’ll give you a better texture in the final, cooked product.

I hope if any of you have ever let either of these things intimidate you, you’ll put on your big girl (or boy) britches and embrace the challenge. I think you’ll find it’s not so complicated after all, and it can be something you’ll take pride in knowing how to do for the rest of your life.

 

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It’s a Non-judgmental Lentil

I just very nearly typed, “It’s been a long week,” and then I realized it’s only Monday. Good grief.

Next Sunday is Superbowl Sunday. There will be gatherings of people crowded around televisions to watch the sports ball while simultaneously putting food in their faceholes. Ahhh, tradition.

I always thought it was a little unfair that just after so many of us have had a decent January of eating healthy and getting our bodies out of Holiday Food Coma-geddon, they go and drop a day full of  deep fried, sauced, beerified, cheesy, crunchy snacks on us. I love those snacks. So, so much. *wistful sigh*

But I have an alternative for you. Or, if not an alternative to the whole array of goodies, maybe an alternative for one of the things on your game day plate. It’s kind of a dip… hummus-y sort of thing that is packed with flavor.

It was inspired by this Roasted Garlic and Red Lentil soup posted by Patricia over at Grab a Plate. I thought it sounded awesome as a soup, but maybe equally as delightful as a dip. I experimented a bit, and came up with this little ditty. You can do some of the prep, like cooking the lentils and roasting the garlic, a day ahead and then whir everything up in the blender on the day of the game. Or the day of the sitting at home watching Empire on Hulu while avoiding any mention of football altogether and snacking your face off.

Equipment:
1 medium bowl
1 medium pot
1 baking sheet
measuring cups and spoons
aluminum foil
spoon
knife and cutting board
blender

Ingredients:
1 cup red lentils, soaked for 30 minutes just covered in water
1 cup water and 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 whole garlic bulb
salt and pepper
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tsp ground coriander seed
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400º.

In a medium pot, combine 1 cup water, 1 cup of stock, and the lentils. Bring to a boil over medium-high, then lower the heat to a simmer and cover for 30 to 40 minutes until the lentils are tender.

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While the lentils are cooking, divide the garlic bulb in half horizontally, place it on a piece of aluminum foil, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

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Wrap the whole thing up and pop it in the oven for about 40 minutes. When it comes out, it’ll be all roasty and sweet and mellow and smooshy and just really freaking delicious.

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Once the garlic is out of the oven and the lentils are ready, pour the lentils, as much garlic as you like, the red wine vinegar, and the ground coriander into the blender. Pulse 5 or 6 times to combine, then let the blender run while you stream in 1/4 cup of olive oil. Taste for seasoning, adjust, pulse a couple more times, then, viola! You’ve got dip.

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You can drizzle a little more olive oil on top, kind of like the way you serve hummus.

Also, you can play around with the seasonings to your hearts content. I imagine some curry spice would be interesting, or maybe a little smoky cumin. Give it a whirl!