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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Chocolate Aphrodisiac Cookies


UPDATED December 12, 2014: I made these again, for a cookie exchange.  This time, I increased the amounts by a quarter more, adding in a fourth stick of butter.  I love this recipe so much as it so forgiving and adaptable.  You can omit the spices, add in cayenne, use pumpkin pie spices or whatever you fancy.  It all seems to work beautifully.  The yeild, of small, quarter sized or dollar coin size (the new dollar coins that is), will be at least 10 long, thin logs of cookie dough.  I get about 25 to 30 "coins" cut from each log.  You can make them larger, squared off and precise if you use a ruler and bench scraper to shape the logs. 

For my Chocolate Dessert Class that I taught at The American Table in Collingswood, I made 4 chocolate desserts - an Earl Grey infused Chocolate Cake with a Warm Chocolate Sauce; Low-fat Chocolate Pots de Creme (from a recipe I created about a year ago).  And then there were these sinfully rich little chocolate morsels which I called Chocolate Aphrodisiac Cookies.  They're called this because  because I used black pepper, cinnamon and saffron in the ingredients.  My "original" recipe was created back in 2007 for a Halloween Cooking Class I taught at Williams-Sonoma.  I have no idea where I pilfered the original recipe before I doctored it and made it my own. For that class, I made these Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Cookies.  I used cayenne pepper, black pepper and pumpkin pie spice in that recipe.  For my current class, I wanted to make these sexier.  I hit upon using saffron because it's an exotic spice and costs a lot - thereby equating the exotic and expensive with desire.


In ancient times, during the spice trade, these ingredients were thought to have medicinal properties and aphrodisiac qualities.  To some extent, these ancient people were correct - as far as the medicinal properties are concerned.  Pepper and cinnamon are anti-inflammatory.  
Perhaps the aphrodisiac qualities comes from the facts that these spices were exotic, came from far-flung places and cost a lot of money.  Money is power - the ultimate aphrodisiac!
Saffron is one of the most expensive spices known to man.  It is the pure stigmas of a crocus flower, hand picked, during a tiny window of time in the brief life of a spring crocus. A little goes a long way.  You can find inexpensive “saffron” in Mexican and Asian Markets, but it’s not as pure, since it contains stigmas and other filaments.
We had a good time coming up withe all the reasons why these cookies were aphrodisiacs - aside from the spices and that chocolate trips the same sensory feelings in you that sex does!  In all seriousness, these are really good cookies.  The cookies are dense, rich and buttery, almost like a shortbread dough.  The recipe makes 3 batches; you can cut it in half but I think making the entire batch is worth it.  You can freeze the dough and work/use/bake what you want when you want.  Plus the dough is great to work with, allowing you to roll it out and make cut-out cookies.  


Chocolate Cookie Ingredients: 
  • 3 Sticks Unsalted Butter - softened
  • 1 3/4 Cups Sugar
  • 2 Eggs - lightly beaten
  • 3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 1/2 Cups Cocoa Powder
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 5-6 Strands of Saffron (optional, but use the best you can afford!)


Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Prepare cookie trays - line with a SILPAT, Parchment or foil.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl or in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat for 5 minutes or until the mixture is fluffy, scrapping down sides from time to time.
  4. Add the eggs to the butter and sugar and beat until the mixture is fluffy about 3 minutes.
  5. While the butter, sugar and eggs are mixing, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, pepper, cinnamon and saffron.  Whisk well to fully incorporate.
  6. Stir in the flour mixture into the butter/sugar mixture, a bit at a time, with the mixer off.  Turn mixer on low speed to incorporate the flour mixture, then increase speed slightly.  Work in batches and scrape down the sides of the work bowl.  Beat until all the flour mixture is thoroughly combined.
  7. Divide the dough into thirds and wrap each piece in plastic wrap or parchment.  Before you wrap the dough, roll it into a ball and then form a long log.  It will be easier to cut cookies out this way.
  8. Chill well, at least 2 hours or freeze up to 2 months.
  9. Work with one log at a time.  Use a serrated knife and cut each log into 1/4-inch slices - you should get at least 30 to 36 cookies from each log.  Place the cookies onto the prepared cookie sheets and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until crisp but not darkened.  Cool cookies on wire racks.
  10. Let the cookies cool and harden completely before serving or storing.  
  11. The cookie dough is fairly dense and very rich.  The cookies do not spread, even though there is a lot of butter in the recipe.  You can place each cookie on the baking trays with about 1/4-inch space between each cookie.  This will allow you to bake a large batch on each tray.
  12. The cookie dough is a good one - forgiving enough - to be rolled out and make cut-out cookies with cookie cutters.  Use a well-floured surface and remember to keep your dough well-chilled.  Place any dough that you are not using in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it. 
  13. Cookies yeild at least 200 coins - again, if you roll the logs into 10-12 inch long, thin logs, and the coins are cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds - about the size of a quarter coin or dollar coin.  The little boxes I used for a recent cookie exchance holds 3 ounces, or 10 cookies each.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Earl Grey Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache



I taught a Chocolate Dessert Class tonight at The American Table, in Collingswood, NJ.  It was the 2nd chocolate-themed class that I taught and both classes were wonderful.  Last week I did a chocolate inspired dinner.  Some ingredients in the 3 course meal incorporated chocolate.  I used white chocolate mixed into a bleu cheese and lemon compound butter. For the main course, I used veal medallions that were dusted in cocoa powder, flour and thyme.  I made a pan reduction sauce with brandy, stock and dark chocolate.  It's all been part of a Valentine's Day series of classes that the owner of The American Table and I created.  
Tonight's class was the 2nd class I taught out of a series of 3 we planned.  Only the first class didn't run - a chocolate class where I planned to make a savory chocolate pasta dinner.  Oh well, not everyone loves chocolate as much as I do! Last week and this week's classes were very successful.  We had a lot of fun, the participants were very enthusiastic and the food, well, it was just a "little bit" wonderful!  
I did have a few flubs during the course of the evening, primarily I messed up my printed recipes in 2 glaring ways: I forgot to include a cup of sugar in the list of cake ingredients.  I also printed or collated the recipe newsletter wrong - I think I included two of the same pages of recipes and missed including my bio and contact information! Egads!  As soon as I got home, put away my gear and ate some dinner, I corrected the recipe files and came on the computer to post the corrected version!
Here are two of the four desserts I created for tonight's Chocolate Dessert Class, Chocolate Ganache infused with Earl Grey Tea and an Earl Grey Chocolate Cake.  Simple, elegant and fairly easy desserts to make for your next special occasion or just because!

Chocolate Ganache aka Earl Grey Infused Chocolate Sauce Ingredients:
  • 1 Cup Heavy Cream
  • 1 Earl Grey Tea Bag
  • 1 Cup (8 ounces) Semi or Bittersweet Chocolate - chopped or use chips

Directions:
  1. Gently heat (do not boil) the cream in a small sauce pot and steep it with the Earl Grey tea bag for 10-15 minutes.  After the cream has steeped, strain it into a small bowl over a fine mesh strainer.  Squeeze the tea bag to remove any liquid. Discard the tea bag.   
  2. Add the chopped  chocolate (or if using, chocolate chips) to a heat-safe bowl and pour the Earl Grey infused cream over the chocolate to melt it.  Stir with a spatula to ensure the chocolate and cream incorporate.  The chocolate should melt completely and look shiny and smooth.  
  3. Serve the chocolate sauce warm, immediately over the Earl Grey Cake.  
  4. Left-over chocolate sauce will keep up to 1 week, covered and refrigerated.  
  5. To re-use, reheat the sauce for 30 second intervals in a microwave or set in a heat-safe bowl over a pot of simmering water (or use a double boiler).
  6. To make the chocolate sauce even richer and shinier, stir in a tablespoon of unsalted butter when adding the cream and the chocolate together.  Stir or whisk to incorporate.

Earl Grey Chocolate Cake Ingredients:
  • 1 1/4 Cups All-Purpose or Cake Flour
  • 1/4 Cup Cocoa Powder
  • 1 1/4 Teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Earl Grey Tea Bags
  • 3/4 Cup Milk
  • 1 Stick Unsalted Butter
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 2 Eggs - lightly beaten
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Tablespoon Orange Zest - finely grated (about the zest of 1 orange)
Directions:
  1. Have all of your ingredients at room temperature for best results. Make sure the butter is softened.
  2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Position rack in the lower third of the oven.
  3. Grease cake pan; line bottom with parchment; grease the parchment and then flour the pan, shaking out excess flour. Set aside until ready to use. Cake can also be made as individual cakes in a small “cakelette” pan. Grease and flour the pan but do not use parchment as it won’t fit!
  4. Steep the Earl Grey tea bag into 3/4 cup of milk for 10-15 minutes.  After it has steeped, pour the hot milk through a fine mesh strainer into a small bowl.  Press the liquid from the tea bags and then discard them.
  5. In mixing bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda and the salt.  Whisk to incorporate and set aside.
  6. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the stick of unsalted butter on medium speed until creamy - about 1 minute.  Add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is light & fluffy. Add in the beaten eggs, vanilla extract and the orange zest, a bit at a time, beating well after each addition.
  7. On low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with pouring in the milk and ending with the flour;  blend each addition until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl in-between.  
  8. Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake pan or cakelette trays. 
  9. Bake the cake until it springs back when touched and pulls away from the side of the pan - 25-30 minutes for a quarter sheet tray; 30 - 35 minutes for a 9x13 cake pan.  
  10. Rotate the pan half-way through baking time, to ensure even baking. Cake is done with a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. 
  11. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and allow cake to cool to the touch before removing from the pan. Cake can be cut out in shapes using cookie cutters.   Serve with Warm Chocolate Sauce/Ganache Sauce drizzled over the top. Makes 8-12 servings.
Cake recipe adapted and modified from Williams-Sonoma Dessert Series: Sweet Miniatures, by Flo Braker.  Chronicle Books - 2000
The original recipe was called Tea Lime Cakelettes and did not incorporate chocolate and it had grated lime zest in it.  I’ve changed the recipe to include cocoa powder and swapped out the lime zest for orange zest - as orange and chocolate are a nicer pairing.  
You can find the original recipe at:  http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/lime-tea-cakelets.html

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Back in Business

I'm not sure how long my blog address was redirecting readers to a third party search engine, but I'm back again!  Whew! Thanks to my moral and spiritual and bicycle guide, Susan Hill, I learned today that my blog address had gone missing.  I spent a harrowing (mild exaggeration) couple of hours here trying to figure out what had happened.  Was I hacked?  Was my blog disabled  because GOOGLE thought I had spam or inappropriate content?  Turns out my domain name needed to be renewed and my registration had expired.  Unfortunately, I did not realize this in time so some 3rd party hack gobbled up my good name! Then, with the assistance of another "guardian web-angel", LPR, I found a service that was "willing" to sell me my name back, for a few hundred dollars.  Whoa!  After a bunch of emails to various google tech desks, I found out all I needed to do was renew the name for $10.  Now I "own" two domain names - the one we all know and love, and another at the same name but at a .net address.

Let this be a lesson to all of us, remember to check your accounts and renew your subscriptions on a regular basis.  And don't assume that you can find answers and support easily.  Hmm, sounds like a lot of things in life.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

6 Ingredient Week Night Cooking - Pork Chops with Cider Dijon Sauce and Zucchini/Carrot Ribbons


I hate to cook during the week - I try to do most of my cooking for the week on Sunday, maximizing my time in the kitchen using the oven and the stove. This past week and weekend, I just didn't feel like cooking at all, so we had a lot of make do meals and take out.  Not our usual eating habits but sometimes you have to give yourself a break.  I didn't have a lot of things cooked for mix and matching meals, I had to make something for tonight's dinner that would be quick yet delicious.  I already had smashed Idaho and Sweet Potatoes from our Sunday Supper taking care of my daily starch requirement cravings.  

Tonight's dinner was sautéed pork chops with thyme and a hard cider and Dijon reduction sauce, also known as a pan sauce.  The flavor for the sauce is built up from the browned bits (the FOND) left in the pan from sautéing the pork chops.  You then create additional flavors by reducing down an alcoholic based "hard" cider, cooking off the boozy flavor and leaving behind the sweet and sour notes of the cider.  Using Dijon mustard adds mouth-feel without adding calories.  I often use mustard as thickeners in sauces instead of using butter or cream.  If you don't have a bottle of hard cider, use a dry white wine, or white or dry vermouth along with a tablespoon of cider vinegar.

We eat zucchini and squash several times a week but I get bored with them quickly.  Turning the vegetables into ribbons or "pasta" changes the texture and look of the vegetables and helps them cook instantly.  You could forgo cooking them and turn them into a salad, adding a dash of white wine vinegar or white balsamic, sherry, champagne or cider vinegar to the olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper.  This would make your meal even quicker as you wouldn't have to cook the vegetables!

This meal only uses 6 ingredients, not counting salt, pepper, oil and flour, which you should have on hand for every day usage. There is minimal prep and dinner is done in under 30 minutes.  

Pork Chops with Thyme and Cider Dijon Pan Sauce Ingredients:

  • 2 Boneless Pork Chops - if too thick, cut in half through the center, creating two chops out of one
  • 1/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Thyme 
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil 
  • Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste/season
  • 1 Cup Hard Cider (drink the remaining amount!)
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
Directions:
  1. If using thick cut boneless pork chops, cut them in half through the center, creating two thinner chops.  Season lightly with a pinch of salt and pepper on both sides, set aside.
  2. On a plate, mix together the flour, thyme and a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper.  Stir to combine. Dredge the pork chops in the season flour mixture, pressing the flour onto the chops so that the seasonings adhere to the chops.  Set the chops aside on the plate.
  3. Use a skillet and heat the olive oil over medium high heat until the oil begins to shimmer.  Once the oil is hot enough, add in the seasoned pork chops and sauté on one side for 5 to 7 minutes, depending on their thickness or until the chops are golden brown. Turn them over and sauté for 3 minutes more.  Remove the chops from the pan and set aside, covering loosely with foil to rest and keep warm.
  4. Pour the cup of hard cider into the pan, scrapping up the browned bits (known as the "FOND") and reduce the cider down by half.  Stir in the tablespoon of Dijon mustard, whisking to combine.  Heat the mixture until the sauce tightens and thickens, about one minute.  Serve the cider Dijon pan sauce hot over the pork chops.

Zucchini and Carrot Ribbons with Thyme Ingredients:
  • 2 Medium Zucchini - washed and ends cut off
  • 2 Medium Carrots - peeled and washed
  • 2 Teaspoons Dried Thyme
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
Special Equipment Needed:
  • Vegetable Peeler - preferably a "Y" Shaped Peeler
  • Non-Stick Skillet
Directions:
  1. Wash and peel the vegetables.
  2. Use a "Y" Shaped vegetable peeler and cut long strips of zucchini  and carrots in long strokes.  Turn the vegetables around as you cut the ribbon strips, so that you get equal sized ribbons.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat until the oil shimmers.  Add in the zucchini and carrot ribbons and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring or tossing a few times.  
  4. Add in the dried thyme and sauté another 2 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot with the pork chops.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Valentine's Day Chocolate-Themed Cooking Classes

I'm teaching a mini session of 3 Chocolate-Themed Cooking Classes in February in Collingswood, NJ at The American Table.  Plan your Valentine's Day Gifts for yourself, a loved-one, or take someone you want to impress to my classes.  Guaranteed to be sweet and fun.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Guinness and Tomato Braised Lamb Shanks

As is often the case during the winter months, I do a lot of cooking on Sundays, maximizing my oven roasting time.  I'll prep food and roast, bake, braise broil whatever I can.  The oven is on, might as well use it to its fullest potential.  That means I "set it and forget it" cook, meaning once things are chopped, I can toss them onto a sheet pan, into a dutch oven or into a casserole; allowing me to do the stove top cooking next, boiling pasta or rice, sauteing vegetables or cooking up a pots of broccoli and string beans.

One pot meals are another favorite of mine.  I like to use my Crock Pots and Slow Cookers, but I usually brown the veg and meats before adding them to the electric slow cooker and that seems to be a waste of cooking effort.  It's far easier to chop up a bunch of root and aromatic vegetables, toss everything into my trusty old Le Crueset pot, pop it into the oven and let it all go for 2, 3 or 4 hours.

My braised lamb shanks in tomato sauce and dark beer is one of the easier and more flavorful one pot meals that I've made in a while.  The gaminess of the lamb, along with the many flavors from the dark beer I used made for  a tasty dinner.  I had posted this on my Facebook Page as note to accompany my photo.  However, there's always a story to my recipes so I thought it did deserve to be posted as a blog entry.  You can make this as a weekend meal, since you'll need a few hours of cooking time.  Or you can make it one night and serve it another.  The flavors will set and deepen when the sauce and meats rests.  Use a good dark beer- porter, stout, milk stout.  The darker the better.  I made this with 2 lamb shanks.  You can use up to 4 lamb shanks with the quantities given.  Increase it if making it in any larger quantities, by adding a few more onions, carrots, garlic, and celery or parsnips if you want for each additional lamb shank, bone, or shoulder cut.


Guinness Stout and Tomato Braised Lamb Shank Ingredients:

  • 2 Lamb Shanks - about 2 Pound Each - trimmed of excess fat and silver skin
  • 2 Large Carrots - Peeled and Cut into Large Chunks
  • 1 Large Onion - Cut into Large Dice
  • 2 Celery Stalks - Cut into Large Chunks
  • 3 Garlic Cloves - Minced
  • 1 Tablespoon Each Dried Parsley, Thyme and Oregano
  • 1 16 ounce Can No-Salt Tomato Sauce
  • 1 12 ounce Bottle of Guinness Stout or other Dark/Porter Style Beer
  • 1 Cup Water
  • Pinch of Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • Dutch Oven or Oven Safe Pot with Tight Fitting Lid


Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Clean and prep the vegetables, peeling, chopping, and dicing each vegetable as indicated.  Place them all in the Dutch Oven.  
  3. Clean the lamb shanks of excess fat and silver skin (you don't want too much fat, or else the dish will taste greasy.  The silver skin doesn't dissolve and is tough to eat) Make sure you leave the meat on the bone, so don't overly trim the lamb.  Add them to the pot, pushing the shanks down towards the bottom of the pot.
  4. Pour the tomato sauce, Guinness and water over the lamb and vegetables.  Add in the seasonings, and stir to incorporate.
  5. Cover the pot and place it into the pre-heated oven.  Cook for 3 hours, or until the lamb is tender and nearly falling off the bone and the sauce has reduced and thickened.  
  6. Allow the meat to rest for at least half an hour before serving, or cool completely, cover tightly and refrigerate.  Reheat thoroughly before serving.  Serves 2 to 3.  Will hold for up to 4 days refrigerated.  If freezing, take the meat off the bone, discarding the bone.  Will hold frozen for up to 2 months.  Serve over smashed or mashed potatoes, cous cous or rice.