Monday, July 23, 2012

Gateau au Chocolat

Chocolate cake or jalapeno poppers?

Chocolate cake or jalapeno poppers?

Jalapeno poppers or chocolate cake???

We all know what wins in the end with me.  Chocolate.  Cake.

My first love in the kitchen is baking.  And my kitchen is filled with warm chocolate smells right at this very moment.  My little beauty is out of the oven and I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed that I didn't over bake it.  Guess we'll find out later.

I found the recipe for this chocolate gateau on Rhonda's blog, The Kitchen Witch (TKW).  The Kitchen Witch is my blog assignment for this month's Secret Recipe Club.  For those of you that don't know, Secret Recipe Club is like Secret Santa for food bloggers.  Each month you are assigned a blog.  You pick a recipe to make and on the designated day, everyone in the group "reveals" their post featuring a recipe from their assigned blog.  It's fun to see what everyone makes.  I look forward to SRC reveal day each month. 

I've been in Secret Recipe Club with Rhonda for over a year now...and I always enjoy reading her blog posts.  She's adventurous, she's funny, she's always keepin it real and she's a bit of badass.  I mean come on, she has a regular feature on her blog called Motorcycle Mondays.  That's pretty cool!  Hope you don't mind I called you a badass Rhonda! ;)

Speaking of cool, I'm a little envious of Rhonda's most recent intensive 5 month photography school.  Check out this inspiring post to see how she turned a big lemon into lemonade by pursuing one of her passions.  Kudos to you Rhonda!  She recently posted about one of her final photography projects...a video showcasing macro food photography.  It's really stunning.  If you have a couple of minutes I urge you to watch her beautiful collage of photos.

While Rhonda has been working hard on her photography, I've spent the last month pouring over her blog, pondering what to make.  She has a variety of recipes from down home cooking, like Loose Meat Sandwiches and "Red Neck Breakfast on a Croissant" alongside pretty dishes like "Brie, Bacon and Fig in a Phillo Cup" or "Goat Cheese and Proscuitto Crostini".  So many delicious choices.  Ultimately it came down to bacon wrapped jalapeno poppers and this chocolate cake.  I came really really close to going with the poppers...I adore jalapeno poppers and I've never made them at home.  Rest assured, I still plan to make these babies...I even have all the ingredients.  But in the end, the craving for warm sweet chocolate won. 

I'm so not sorry I went with the cake.  It's a perfect chocolate dessert.  The cake is rich, but not too rich.  It's chocolatey but not too chocolatey.  It has beautiful crackled top which deceptively hides the intensely moist interior.  The cake is incredibly light and airy (no doubt, due to the whipped egg whites that are folded into the batter).  It's brownie-esque...but lighter.  I really loved it.  The cake doesn't need much adornment.  A little sprinkle of powdered sugar will do it.  I threw in a few raspberries for color, but the cake definitely stands alone.  A dollop of fresh whipped cream would never hurt, though.

I halved the recipe and made it in a regular 6 inch cake pan.  The recipe calls for a spring form pan (I believe around 9-10 inches) but I don't have a small spring form.  So to ensure I could remove this delicate cake from a regular cake pan, I added two strips of parchment parchment paper under the round parchment lining on the bottom.  The two strips make handles to lift the cake from the pan.  I was a little nervous, but it came out of the pan easily. 

And thankfully, I didn't overbake it.  In fact, I think 3 more minutes would have been just perfect.  My 6 inch pan baked for 30 minutes.

This one's already been filed away in the keeper file. 

By the way, Rhonda doesn't claim to be a baker, but I think she has to face the fact that she's got some serious skills in the baking department.  Thanks Rhonda for sharing such a great recipe!


Gateau au Chocolat
from The French Recipe Cookbook via The Kitchen Witch

3/4 cup sugar (3 tablespoons set aside)
10 ounces of semisweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 eggs, whites and yolks separated
1/4 cup flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Butter a 9-10 inch spring form pan.  Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter the parchment paper.  Sprinkle flour in the pan and shake the pan to cover the bottom and sides with flour, discarding any excess flour. 

Melt chocolate, butter and all the sugar minus 3 tablespoons in a medium sauce pan on low heat until chocolate is melted and sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  Allow chocolate to cool slightly.

Whisk egg yolks and very slowly stream the yolks into the chocolate mixture, whisking continuously.  You don't want any scrambled eggs.  Stir in the flour and set aside.

Place egg whites in a stand mixer and mix on medium using the whisk attachment until the whites get frothy.  Gradually increase the speed to high and add the pinch of salt and continue beating until the soft peaks form.  Slowly add in 3 reserved tablespoons of sugar and continue beating until stiff glossy peaks form. 

Fold 1/3 of beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture.  Add remaining egg whites, stirring gently until fully incorporated.  Pour the batter into your prepared cake pan and gently tap the pan on the counter to remove any air bubbles.  Bake for 35 - 45 minutes until cake rises and the top is dry and springs back when lightly touched with your fingertip.  Transfer the cake to a wire rack and remove the sides of the spring form pan and allow cake to cool completely.  (Or if you use a regular pan, allow to cool completely in the pan before removing).

Just before serving, dust with powdered sugar.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Meatball Marinara

Hubby's been on a pasta making kick which in turn has made me take an interest in making a great sauce for his fresh made pasta.  In my early cooking days I thought the best way to make a good marinara was to buy a jarred sauce and doctor it up with things like peppers, mushrooms, onions, garlic and sometimes ground beef.  Those sauces were okay, but they were not anything that really gave you that wow factor. Coming up with a homemade marinara sauce that's wow worthy has been on my cooking bucket list for a while now...

I'm happy to say, I've found "my sauce"! 

I sort of threw this recipe together based on a You Tube video I watched (and eventually made the recipe be seen here soon) and two other recipes I found online.  I didn't have all the ingredients for any one the recipes, so I made up my own combining these recipes and using what I had on hand.  Many timesSome times when I experiment in the kitchen, I am not always overwhelmed in a positive way by the results.  The marinara gods were with me, though, and this recipe has that special something something I've been looking for. 

Isn't homemade pasta pretty?

What makes this sauce special is actually the meatballs.  The Italian sausage flavor from the meatballs, perfume the sauce with a mild spice that takes the sauce to the next level.  And if you think turkey meatballs are "boring", I assure you these are not.  In fact, I really want to make this for my dad and not tell him the meatballs are turkey.  He pretty much believes turkey is NOT substitutable for beef.  But I'm pretty certain he'd like these.  The meatballs are tender and the Italian sausage flavor comes through, but doesn't over power.  It really is just right.  At least for me, Hubby and our niece who helped us make the most recent batch.  This recipe is most definitely a keeper.

I remembered to add some fresh grated parmesan...Mmmm

Note - If you are a vegetarian and don't plan to make the meatballs, I recommend following the sauce recipe and adding 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (depending on your spicy tolerance) to bring a little heat.  Also note, I haven't tired this myself, but this is what I would do based on tasting the sauce before the meatballs go in.   

We've been enjoying the sauce and meatballs over fresh made pasta, though dried pasta would work well too.  And it makes fabulous leftovers for a meatball sandwich! 


Meatball Marinara
from The Ginger Snap Girl

Serves 6-8

For the marinara sauce:

3 tablespoons olive oil
8 roma tomatoes, cut in 4 slices lengthwise
4 cloves of garlic smashed with a pinch of kosher salt to form a paste
1 medium onion diced
2 14 ounce cans diced tomatoes
1/2 can (3 oz.) tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 cup white wine (or use chicken broth if you don't have wine)
1 cup chicken broth

Heat dutch oven or large sauce pot on medium high heat and add olive oil.  Add tomato slices in a single layer (slightly overlapping is okay) and season lightly with salt and fresh cracked pepper.   Cook in oil for 3-4 minutes until the tomatoes start to get tender.  Flip tomatoes over and add garlic and cook on medium high for 2 more minutes.  Stir the tomatoes and garlic.  You should smell garlic and the tomatoes should start to break down.  Add minced onions and cook until tender about 3-4 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients and stir until combined.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low and simmer the sauce.  Cover and cook for 20 minutes. 

While sauce is cooking, make the meatballs (see meatball recipe below).

When the sauce has cooked for 20 minutes give it a taste.  Does it need a little more salt?  Sugar? Pepper?  Add additional seasoning as needed (I've made it twice and added just a touch extra salt at this point).  Use an immersion blender to blend in sauce until smooth (there will still be some chunks, that's okay).  If you don't have an immersion blender, you can puree the sauce in batches in a stand blender and return sauce to the pot.  Add meatballs making sure each meatball is covered in sauce.  With heat on low, cover and cook 30 more minutes, until meatballs are cooked through but still tender, stirring sauce and meatballs every 7 to 10 minutes.  Remove cover and continue cooking on low for 15 minutes. 

For the meatballs:

1 lb ground turkey
1/3 lb mild (or sweet) Italian sausage
1 egg
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1/3 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh parsley finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried basil

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined and Italian sausage is even distributed.  Using a medium cookie scoop (about golf ball size) scoop out meatballs onto a baking sheet lined with foil.  Once all the meatballs are scooped, use your hands to roll into rounded balls.  Once all the meatballs are rolled, gently place each meatball in the sauce.

Serve over 1 pound of your favorite store bought or home made pasta.  Garnish with fresh grated parmesan cheese.

Friday, July 13, 2012


My Husband is from the midwest, the Chicago suburbs to be more specific.  Apparently Mexican food wasn't one of the food genres that his family ate.  It was more of a meat, potato, veg situation.  And the veg did not include avocados (though technically a fruit).  Hubby moved to Southern California to finish out his college years in the late 90's.  A place where you can find an abundence of little taco stands and Mexican restaurants.  We first met during my last semester of college, his second to last.  When I found out that Hubs didn't really do Mexican food, I took it as a personal challenge to introduce him to some of my favorite local Mexican inspired flavors, including guacamole. 

I have a funny story to share that really doesn't have anything to do with guac, but recalling the humble beginnings of Hubs and my relationship reminded me of this.  The first time I met my Hubby's family (including Mom, Dad, sister, aunts, cousins, etc.) was when Hubs and I were graduating from college(even though we finished school a semester apart, they only hold one walking ceremony per year).  His whole family came to town for the graduation and one evening we were planning to have dinner with his Dad. I suggested we go to a steak house.  His Dad with a surprised expression said, "You eat steak?".  With a somewhat puzzled look I said, "Yes, of course!"  He replied something to the effect of, "oh I thought most California girls were vegetarians."  Ha! Stereotypes run the gamut I guess with all us granola crunching, liberal, veg heads in So Cal.  Which couldn't be further from the way I grew up.

But let's get back to stereotyping my Hubs with his midwestern meat and potato ways.  For the record, he doesn't eat that much meat, but he is a total carb junkie, namely pasta and bread.  Over the years, I've gotten Hubs to eat at Mexican restaurants and he always orders the same thing, fajitas.  Okay, it's a start.  He does venture into the occasional burrito if we are more of casual dining place.  But Mexican food is by no means his favorite.

I cannot pinpoin where and when it happened, but my avocado hating husband magically started eating and enjoying guacamole.  First at family events (guac has always been a popular dip).  Then even at restaurants.  He actually asks me to make guacamole.  Which I'm more than happy to do.  But please note, despite is fondness of guac, he still stands strong on not liking avocados that are not mashed up with onions, spices and herbs.  When I tried to serve him an avocado cup salad in place of a side salad for dinner one night, he ate everything off the avocado and handed me his naked avocado.

Small victories though.  Maybe in the next decade he will embrace the avocado in all its creamy rich goodness.  In the meantime, we'll keep eating guac!

As the heat indexes continues to soar across the nation, I wanted to share something requiring no cooking or baking.  This guacamole is easy to make and very tasty.  It's a mild version, so if you like to heat things up add in half (or whole if your're really brave) finely diced jalapeno and/or a few dashes of hot sauce.


from The Ginger Snap Girl

4 ripe medium avocados
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
Juice from 1 1/2 limes
1/2 teaspoon salt (I use fine sea salt)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup of finely chopped tomato, seeded (I use grape tomatoes and squeeze out the excess juice and seeds)
1 tablespoon of finely chopped cilantro

To cut your avocado, hold the avocado standing on its long end and run your knife through the top middle cutting lengthwise around the pit until you come full circle.  Place the avocado in both hands and twist to reveal two halves.  To remove the pit, hold the avocado pit side up on your cutting board and take the fat end of a chef's knife and give it a little whack it into the dead center of the pit.  Be careful here! You don't want  to lose any digits! Once the knife is in the pit, twist the knife around to release the pit. 

Scoop out avocado with a spoon or peel away the skin.  Place the peeled, pitted, avocado halves in a medium bowl.  Using a fork lightly mash the avocado until you have large chunks.  I like to keep my guac somewhat chunky.  Stir in remaining ingredients and taste for seasoning.  You may need to add more lime juice or salt and pepper depending on your preferece.  Serve immediately with chips or fresh veggies. 

If you want make your guacamole ahead, I recommend doing so the day you want to serve it, a few hours ahead.  Take your finished guacamole and place plastic wrap directly on the surface on the guac, pressing down so that no air is between the plastic and the dip.  Air makes guac turn brown pretty quick.  Place another sheet of plastic over the top of the bowl (or close with a lid if you have one).

Saturday, July 7, 2012

French Toast and the Bread Maker

Hubby has taken a serious interest in bread making.  When he first started on this journey about 6 months ago, I kind of figured it would be short lived, maybe a few weeks.  But it seems his new found forage into the world of bread is turning out to be more of an undiscovered passion.  Hubby is a science guy at heart, which is very much required to get exactly the right combination of flour, yeast, salt and water...the basis of nearly all bread recipes.  Hubby has been doing quite a bit of research on bread.  I use good old fashioned cookbooks and of course food blogs when I want to take on a new food project.  Hubby has a tablet and You Tube.  I don't know how many videos he's watched on bread making, but he's been checking out everything from home bread bakers to master bread makers in France, night after night.  Apparently I've been in the dark about the variety of volume of content on You Tube. 

The first type of bread he tackled was the baguette.  I want to say he made baguettes at least every other day for 2+ weeks, until he got it down.  And he wasn't just making one baguette each time, it more like 4 - 6.  That's a lot of baguettes.  They all got taste tested, but many ultimately ended up in the trash.  It was impossible for us to eat or store the amount of bread he was making.  And unfortunately, it's best eaten the day it's baked, so giving it away to friends, neighbors or passers by was a challenge.  Some of the baguettes turned in to croutons and others got sliced up and placed in the freezer for who knows what?  More croutons.  Maybe bread pudding?  Bread crumbs?  Suggestions are welcome! 

After all those baguettes, he can now make them with ease.   Although I think he longs to have access to the types of ovens used in France that provide the proper steaming capabilities required to get that wonderful crusty exterior that "makes" a baguette.  In the meantime, a pan of water at the bottom of our home oven does just fine.  

My favorite way to enjoy the baguette...warm out of the oven, sliced and dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette.    

Hubs moved on from baguettes to challah bread.  Challah is a childhood favorite of his.  Again, You Tube was his source of choice.  He made 3 braid challahs, 6 braid challahs, mini single rope challahs looped around to look like a braid.  Again, it was hard to keep up.  Though some did go to waste, much of it is stored in our freezer.  Fresh or frozen, it makes a fantastic french toast (more on that shortly).  And I'm positive it will make a wonderful bread pudding, once I get around to making it! 

From challah, Hubby then went on to sourdough and that's where he's been for the last couple of months.  Sourdough is a whole other animal that requires a "starter".  This is where the whole science of bread making really begins to mystify me.  I'm sure I'm going to butcher this, but a starter is very simply, a combination of flour and water and a lot of patience.  Over time your starter catches yeast in the air.  Did you all know there is yeast in the air?  I had no idea.  When you've captured enough yeast, it starts eating the flour/water mixture and bubbles begin forming, releasing carbon dioxide (and sometimes alcohol). 

Whoa, we're getting a little too sciencey! 

You stir your starter daily and feed it more flour and water over time it starts to develop flavor.  Some bread makers have starters that have been going for decades, even hundreds of years, which totally blows my mind.  Hubby's starters are just beginning their journey.  We have starters in our fridge, on top of our fridge and on our counter top at any given time.  This magic mixture is what apparently gives the "sour" taste to sourdough bread.  Several of Hubby's starters have bit the dust but he's got a great whole wheat starter going for a while now.  For 4th of July he made a white wheat sourdough round that was insanely delicious (the white comes from the bread flour and wheat comes from the wheat starter).  It was even more delicious when we slathered it with homemade rosemary garlic butter.  Sorry, no sourdough pictures.  We were too busy eating it!

Now I'm wondering what type of bread Hubs will take on next...I have a request in for some cinnamon swirl bread. 
In the meantime, I wanted to share one of the ways I found to use some of the soft and lightly sweetened challah bread.   In search of a recipe, I consulted my favorite source, the Cook's Illustrated Cookbook.  I honed in on french toast, even though it's not typically one of my go to breakfast items.  Truth be told, if I'm going to have something sweet, I'll always opt for a piece of cake or pie for breakfast.  Seriously.  But in reality I don't have cakes or pies laying around on most days (thank God!), so I thought our bounty of challah bread would be a great opportunity to give french toast a shot. 

I have to say, I'm a convert.  I think the secret to great french toast is most definitely the type of bread you begin with.  So kudos to Hubby for making a fabulous bread!  I love how pretty challah is.

I've made this french toast twice now and have been completely smitten with the results each time.  The first go round I used fresh challah and the second (pictured below) I used frozen.  Both turning out just perfect.  And the nice thing is the same exact same instructions below can be used whether you are using fresh or frozen.  The french toast is perfumed with cinnamon and vanilla...slightly crunchy on the outside and soft inside.  Top your french toast with warm syrup, fresh preserves, berries or even a sprinkle of powdered sugar.  I am not much of a maple syrup fan so I typically use preserves, slightly warmed.  I topped our last batch with homemade jumbleberry preserves I made recently to use up a surplus of strawberries, blueberries and cherries.  The preserves were a big hit and worked really well with the french toast.  Jumbleberry recipe coming soon!

Treat you and your family to a special breakfast this weekend!


P.S. I can't promise anything, but I'm working on getting Hubby to do a guest post on one of his bread making adventures.  If you are interested in hearing more about bread, leave a comment to cheer Hubby on!  He's a little shy when it comes to this sort of thing. ;)

French Toast
from Cook's Illustrated Cook Book

8 large slices of hearty white sandwich bread or challah bread
1 1/2 cups whole milk, warmed
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Place a wire rack on baking sheet and place the bread on the wire rack.  Bake about 16 minutes, or until bread is dry throughout but with a slightly moist center.  Flip bread halfway through baking.  Remove bread and allow to cool for 5 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 200 degrees and place wire rack and baking sheet back in the oven.  You will be transferring your cooked french toast to keep warm.

In 9x13 pan add milk, egg yolks, brown sugar, 2 tablespoons melted butter, vanilla, cinnamon and salt and whisk until fully combined.  Place bread in the mixture and allow to soak about 20 seconds per side, until saturated, but not falling apart.  Transfer bread to a plate or baking sheet with a slotted spoon, allowing excess liquid to drain off. 

Heat a 12 inch skillet (I used non stick) over medium low heat and melt 1/2 tablespoon butter.  Add 2 slices of bread and cook until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes per side.  Once done transfer to the wire rack in the warm oven.  Repeat cooking process with remaining slices, cooking 2 slices at a time and adding another 1/2 tablespoon of butter for each batch.

Serve warm and top with your favorite topping such as syrup or preserves (slightly warmed) or fresh berries.