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Recipes: The Sweeter Side of the Kitchen

Holy crap. Easily the best thing that has come out my ice cream maker thus far. Though the cookies and cream w/ the custard base are a very very close second. Anyhow, here’s the link:

http://www.chow.com/recipes/11367-caramel-ice-cream

And the recipe:

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, scraped, and seeds reserved
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Prepare an ice water bath by filling a bowl halfway with ice and water; set aside. Combine cream, half-and-half, and vanilla seeds in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Combine sugar and water in a large saucepan and stir until mixture resembles wet sand. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Let boil until mixture turns dark amber in color and smells toasted, about 5 to 7 minutes. Immediately remove from heat and slowly add cream mixture, whisking until evenly incorporated. Return the saucepan to the stove and place over medium-low heat to keep warm.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks in a large bowl until pale yellow, about 5 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly pour about 1 cup of the caramel sauce into the eggs. Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining caramel sauce, stir in salt, and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until it is as viscous as melted ice cream and coats the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. (When you draw your finger across the spoon, it should make a mark through the custard, which should not run back in on itself.)
  4. Remove from heat and strain through a fine mesh strainer into a large heatproof bowl. Place the bowl over the ice water bath to chill, about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Once the ice cream base is cold, cover and place in the refrigerator to chill completely, at least 3 hours or overnight. Once it’s chilled, freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The ice cream will keep in the freezer for 1 week.

It was phenomenal. Amazing flavor, unreal texture. Velvety and unctuous and smooth and rich and creamy and perfect. Next time I’ll be a little less generous w/ the sea salt. I eyeballed it and probably put in closer to 2 tsp than 1.  A little does go a long way w/ that stuff.

Also, I found the recipe in this thread on Chowhound: “Your Best Ice Cream Recipes.” Lots of great stuff to try here.

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/696116

Chocolate pudding is one of those things that always sounded like an amazing idea, but whenever I bought it, it never really lived up to its promise. It was always kinda goopy, not super flavorful, never quite as chocolatey or as creamy as it looked like it would be or seemed like it should be. And then, one fine day, I decided to make my own. And my world was forever changed.

Ok, maybe not my ENTIRE world, but definitely my sugar-oriented world! This stuff tastes AMAZING and is SO easy to whip up. It’s such a simple recipe that it really allows the chocolates (that’s right, it calls for more than one kind) to shine – hence its amazing flavor. This even puts the fancy farmers’ market stuff to shame!

Start by combining sugar, cornstarch, salt, and cocoa powder in a medium saucepan.

Next add one cup of milk, and whisk to combine. Once that’s all nice and slurry-like, add the remaining cup of milk and whisk until combined. Put over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly. At first it will feel just feel like you’re whisking milk, and will look like this:

But after a few minutes you’ll be able to feel it start to thicken up. Make sure you scrape the bottom and sides of the pan as you’re whisking, b/c the bits that thicken first tend to collect there. When it’s time to stop whisking, your mixture will look like this:

But wait! You’re not done yet, my friends. Next comes the part that really takes this recipe over the top: adding in the chocolate chunks. Take your pot off the heat and toss in the chocolate, like so…

And then whisk your little heart out until the chocolate has melted completely and all you’re left with is a smooth, creamy, dreamy pot full of delicious:

Allow it to cool for at least 30 min before serving – and that’s if you want it warm and goopy. (Nothing wrong with that!) For a sturdier, thicker pudding experience, chill the stuff for at least 30 minutes before devouring.

Chocolate Pudding (aka The Jello-Killer)

Ingredients:

3/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup dutch cocoa powder*
3 tablespoons corn starch
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk**
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate – chopped, chunks, or chips***

Instructions:

1. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, salt, and only 1 cup of the milk. Whisk until completely combined, then add second cup and whisk until completely combined (again). If you try and add in all the milk at once it will be a lot more difficult to get the dry and wet to combine thoroughly.

2. Once mixture is all whisked up, place pot over medium heat and keep on whisking. Whisk constantly, scraping sides and bottom of pan, until entire mixture has thickened to the consistency of a thin pudding.

3. Remove pot from heat. Add chocolate. Whisk until chocolate has melted completely.

4. To serve warm, cool at room temperature for approx. 30 min before serving. If serving chilled, chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.

*I prefer dutch cocoa powder for this recipe, but encourage you to experiment with regular cocoa powder and see which flavor you prefer.

**You can use milk of any fat-content here, from skim to heavy cream. I find that it turns out plenty tasty when I use skim, but have made it with cream before and it was ridiculously, richly divine.

***I find that semisweet chocolate provides the right balance of chocolatey-ness for this pudding, but you should definitely experiment with various levels and combinations of dark/light chocolate until you find your favorite.

A few weeks ago, friend of mine requested a birthday dessert that involves bananas. The celebration was taking place in conjunction with some good ol’ fashioned Texas Football watchin’ at our local watering hole, which meant that the dessert would be sitting out for quite awhile before anyone actually got around to eating it. Which meant that fresh bananas were out of the question. Because fresh bananas + oxygen exposure = brown, mushy, ick. And that doesn’t exactly scream “Happy Birthday,” now does it?

So I decided that I would play with caramelized bananas instead. But I kind of hate the way that cooked bananas taste, so my goal was to maintain the fresh banana taste and create a crisp, sugary outer shell to protect it from oxidization. And since I was as yet lacking a brulee torch in my kitchen arsenal, I decided to go with the next best thing: my broiler.

Move your oven rack to its topmost setting, and turn your broiler up as high as it goes. Then, using your trusty microwave, melt together butter, sugar, and salt…

To form a delicious syrup:

Next I sliced up a couple of bananas into 1-inch thick slices.

You want to do the slicing after you make the syrup so that the sliced bananas don’t have too much time to start oxidizing. This also gives the syrup a chance to cool off a bit before the next step – coating the banana slices with the syrup:

Once they are thoroughly coated, lay them out on a tray and pop them under the broiler. Because the heat is up so high and rack so close, you want to check them roughly every 30 seconds. Pull them out as soon as the sugar starts to visibly caramelize and they look like this:

Let them cool completely before eating or using to decorate. They should feel hard and crunchy to the touch once cooled. I used mine to decorate a chocolate cream pie, and the combination was pretty popular!

Caramelized Bananas

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sugar*
Pinch of salt
2 medium bananas, sliced into 1-inch-thick pieces

Instructions:

1. Move your oven rack to its topmost setting, and turn your broiler up as high as it goes.

2. Melt together butter, sugar, and salt. The microwave will work just fine for this.

3. Slice bananas into 1-inch thick slices.

4. Coat bananas thoroughly with syrup.

5. Arrange coated slices on baking sheet and place under pre-heated broiler. Check bananas every 30 seconds, and remove immediately once caramelization is visibly apparent (see photo above).

6. Allow to cool completely before eating or using to decorate.

*I used a combination of light brown and sugar in the raw this time, but I encourage you to try different combinations until you find the one you like. White sugar would also work nicely in the mix

Last week I needed something chocolatey. Really, truly, deeply chocolatey. It was just that kind of a week.

And nothing brings out really, truly, deeply chocolatey-ness better than coffee! I’ve been working on perfecting a cookie recipe that allows both flavors to shine together, rather than one being overpowered by the other. My friends, I think I’ve finally come up with a winner.

This cookie has the lovely, shiny crust of a brownie:

But do not be fooled by that delicate, light exterior! Inside, these babies are deep and dark, as all really, truly, deeply chocolatey desserts ought to be. And, just to keep you on your toes, they’re studded with melty morsels of dark chocolate gooeyness. See?

This is a wonderfully indulgent cookie. Its texture is somewhere between a brownie and a cookie, and you can nudge it more towards one or the other by fiddling with your baking time. The flavor is fantastically chocolatey, and each bite comes with a burst of coffee courtesy of the dark-roasted coffee grounds. I think that was really the key here – in the past, I’ve always tried using brewed or instant espresso/coffee. Using actual coffee grounds was seemed counterintuitive – I assumed they would yield a gritty texture and/or bitter taste. Boy was I wrong! These cookies have a perfect balance of chocolate and coffee flavors, and as far as texture goes, the coffee grounds are hardly noticeable. If you do happen to notice them, they just add a nice, subtle contrast to these cake-like delights.

And then there’s the sea salt. Oh boy oh boy. Talk about the piece de resistance! As much as I love rich desserts and sweet treats, making sure my desserts have enough salt in them to balance the sweetness is always a top priority for me. Usually just a teaspoon or so of regular table salt will do. But with these cookies I didn’t just want balance; I wanted contrast!  Chocolate and coffee do pair wonderfully, but they are also both very powerful flavors. Their powers combined needed more than just a little balance to keep them from getting out of control. They needed a little punch in the face. Enter: sea salt. (Cue dramatic music) The sea salt is mixed into the dough and sprinkled on top, which means you notice it immediately upon biting into these treats. And given the strong flavors of the dynamic duo that the sea salt is up against, that little punch in the face is a welcome contrast indeed.

There’s a lot going on in these cookies. But it all comes together perfectly with each really, truly, deeply chocolatey bite.

Dark Mocha Sea Salt Cookies

Ingredients:

2.5 cups dark (60% or higher) chocolate chunks, divided
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter cut into pieces
3 large eggs
1 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon finely ground dark-roast coffee or espresso beans (NOT instant)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt + extra for garnish
1 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts or pecans (Optional)

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2.* Combine eggs, sugar, and coffee in mixing bowl. Beat until the thick, pale, ribbon stage** is achieved (takes about 5-6 min at low-medium speed with the Kitchenaid paddle attachment).

3. While the egg mixture is beating, melt the butter and one and a half cups (NOT all) of the chocolate chunks together. Reserve the remaining cup of chunks and set aside. You’re welcome to use the double boiler method, but I find that the microwave works just fine for this step. Just make sure to follow my instructions on how to do so without burning your chocolate.

4. Once both mixtures are ready – i.e. the eggs have ribboned and the chocolate has melted – slowly beat the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture.

5. Add salt and baking powder – beat to combine.

6. Add flour – beat on low until just combined. Do not overmix. Overmixing can yield tough cookies. And no one likes a tough cookie!

7. Add remaining cup of chocolate chunks (and toasted nuts, if using). Beat on low until just combined – again, do not overmix!

8. Scoop dough onto a greased cookie sheet or sheet of aluminum foil.  Sprinkle sparingly with extra sea salt if desired. Bake at 350F for 10-12 min, until cookies are shiny and cracked on top.

9. Eat one immediately after removing from the oven. You’ve earned it.

*If you’re not using a stand mixer, reverse steps 2 and 3.
** If you’re not sure what I mean by this, google “ribbon stage eggs” for informative explanations, photos, and videos.

The basic butter cookie is an important member of my cookie arsenal. It comes together quickly and easily with the most basic of baker’s pantry staples, and can be gussied up in all sorts of fun and delicious ways. Topped with some coarse sanding sugar or fun frosting, it’s a great basic sugar cookie. Roll it in cinnamon sugar, and voila! Snickerdoodles! Add some lemon zest to the dough and top with a lemon glaze for a lovely springtime treat.  Dip halfway into chocolate for a black-and-white cookie effect. Drizzle with chocolate and/or caramel for a fancier effect, like so:

Basic Butter Cookie

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 white sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions:

0. Preheat oven to 375F.

1. Beat together butter and sugars until pale and fluffy. If using a standing mixer, use the paddle attachment.

2. Beat in egg and vanilla.

3. Reduce speed to low, then add salt and baking powder.  Beat until combined.

4. Add flour in small enough batches to prevent excessive flour-poofing; mix until just combined. Overmixing will yield a tough cookie.

5. Drop ping-pong sized balls onto cookie sheet. Coat or top dough if desired. Bake 12-15 minutes until tops are just beginning to brown. For crunchier cookies, add 3-5 minutes to baking time.

6. If dipping, drizzling, or topping with anything, wait until cookies have cooled completely before doing so.

Ahh, queso. It saddens me how many of my non-Texan friends have never experienced the joys of true Tex-Mex queso – nay, do not even know what it is! Which of course begs the question, what IS queso? I’ll tell you, my friends: it’s heaven in a bowl, that’s what it is. Et voila:

chile con queso

(Until I get around to making a batch and taking my own picture, here’s a fairly representative one I’ve poached from a fun little blog called Homesick Texan. You can check out her post on the subject here: http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com/2008/04/more-natural-chile-con-queso.html)

Basically, it’s a warm, melty, creamy cheese dip chock full of tomatoes, onions, and green chiles. The “classic” (read: easiest) way to make an “authentic” batch of Tex-Mex queso is really quite simple: chop up a block of Velveeta, toss in a bowl with a can of Rotel, zap in the microwave til melted. Stir, dip, and smile.

Listen, I said this was Tex-Mex, not haute cuisine…

But as I’m sure you can imagine, I have some reservations with the “traditional” recipe above. So I experimented over the years with making the dip with real cheese and basic homemade salsa. The homemade salsa was always a winner; I recommend something on the chunkier side, and homemade (diced tomato, onion, green chile, cilantro) is always best.  But using real cheese posed quite a challenge. Attempting to just melt shredded cheddar, jack, etc. with salsa results in an oily, lumpy mess. Blech. I’ve had success with a bechamel-based version that used only non-processed cheeses, but in the end, I’ve settled on a combination of Velveeta and cheddar/jack for my base. This is one of the few – possibly only? – recipes where I feel that using a processed ingredient (Velveeta) is really necessary to the authenticity of the dish. Sometimes, you just have to make things the way you had them when you were growing up, you know?

Nostalgia can be a powerful thing.

So, after much ado, here’s my queso recipe:

Ingredients:

8oz block of Velveeta, cut into roughly 1-in. cubes
8oz sour cream
1(ish) cup red salsa
8oz shredded cheese such as cheddar/jack

Instructions:

1. Melt cubed Velveeta over low-medium heat.

2. Stir in sour cream until combined.

3. Stir in about 1 cup of your favorite red salsa. I really just estimate this part, and add as much as I want until it looks and tastes right.

4. Turn off the heat. Stir in shredded cheese of choice until just melted. My cheese of choice is a
cheddar/jack mix, but you should definitely experiment with whatever sounds tasty to you!

Serve with good tortilla chips (please don’t besmirch with Tostitos) or freshly warmed tortillas. If you’d like to try your hand at making homemade tortillas, I recommend Pioneer Woman’s recipe (though I use butter instead of lard/shortening). They are SUPER delicious and totally worth the effort. Recipe can be found here: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2010/05/homemade-flour-tortillas/

 

Last week I made a batch of homemade peanut butter cups with a layer of cinnamon dulce de leche inside and a sprinkling of french sea salt on top. Delish, but VERY rich…and missing a certain je ne sais quoi. Next time, I’m going to try sweetening the peanut butter filling a bit more. Also, I’m going to wait til the end to add the cinnamon to the dulce de leche rather than cooking them together. I’m not sure how or why, but the cinnamon definitely affected the cooking process – the mixture got too hot too quickly, and solidified before reaching the proper golden color. Still tasted great and worked just fine for my purposes though – phew!

Next time, though, I may just make a basic caramel rather than a dulce de leche. It’s a little bit more of a pain, but I think the buttery flavor will be a better fit.

Also, apparently these puppies get significantly better after sitting for a few days – I had one today (a week after making them) and the texture was MUCH better than when I first made them. So I’ll have to remember that it’s important to make these ahead of time.