Saturday, February 28, 2009

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Berries, Chocolate Bark and a Balsamic Glaze

It's hard for me to be anything else but pleased at the prospect of trying a new chocolate dessert. Even a little piece of bittersweet, dark, velvety chocolate can do wonders to one's mood and is an easy pick-me up on those days when everything is going wrong.

This month's Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. They chose a flourless chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan. The cake was very fast to make and gave me the chance to make two accompanying garnishes. I reduced some balsamic vinegar with a little sugar to obtain a thick glaze which works wonders with berries. I also made a paper thin chocolate bark by spreading a thin layer of melted chocolate on a plastic wrapped- baking sheet. I sprinkled the top with some chopped pistachios and let it harden in the freezer. You can then break the pieces into shards and decorate different dessert plates. So chocolate lovers beware, this combo may lead to a little too much indulgence!

Chocolate Valentino Cake
, adapted from Chef Wan
16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter.
Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Orichiette with Spinach, Shrimp and Garlic Chips

Have I mentioned my undying love for garlic? If not, you should know that garlic is on the top of my list of favorite ingredients and that I have yet to to try a dish that I think is too garlic-y. Sure, raw garlic is a bit of a different ball game, but when it's cooked I love it in almost any savory dish.

In the current Valentine's day spirit I'm not sure that garlic is the most favored flavor but in my case, if you want to be my Valentine, the more garlic the better. Lucky for me, I share most of my time with someone who loves garlic just as much as I do. Just this past weekend, Oliver and I made garlic and lemon chicken with an herb and roasted garlic sauce. Roasted garlic gives garlic cloves a sweet and almost nutty taste - it's amazing. We made an extra head of garlic and munched on the extra cloves while touching up the sauce.

I realize that this might make me a little strange, but we all have our obsessive food habits, don't we? The garlic in this pasta concoction really made the dish. This pasta dish was another one of those meals I didn't really mean to make a post out of but couldn't resist once I saw the finished product sitting on the table. It was simple and the perfect quick lunch.

Recipe (for 2)
Orichiette for 2
10 shrimp
4 garlic cloves
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A good handful of fresh baby spinach
Juice and zest of 1/2 a lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Cook the pasta according to package instructions.
In the meantime peel the garlic and slice it into even-sized garlic chips. Add a good drizzle of olive oil to a pan on medium low heat and add the garlic. Allow the garlic to flavor the oil and turn a light shade of golden brown. Add the peeled shrimp to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat to medium. As soon as the shrimp turns pink in color add the spinach and drizzle with a little more olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the drained pasta to the pan (with about 1 teaspoon of pasta water) and stir. Taste and adjust seasoning.Serve immediately with a drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Chocolate Cake with Apples and Hazelnuts

Have you ever had the feeling that you have dozens of cookbooks, a fridge full of food but you're just not sure what to cook? I don't get that feeling very often, but when I do I always go back to an old favorite. Flourless chocolate cakes are a classic.. but hyped up with fruit and nuts they are just amazing.

The combination of apples, hazelnuts and chocolate was what drew me to this recipe and all I can say is.. I was rewarded by my curiosity! Chocolate and apples are less seen in daily desserts but they go wonderfully well together. Add the crunchiness of some chopped hazelnuts and you have yourself quite the dessert. This cake was easy to make (think 20 minutes preparation maximum) and was an easy way to switch up a basic recipe.

Recipe (adapted from Valrhona), serves 8

2 small Granny Smith apples
1/3 cup of hazelnuts, chopped
250 grams of bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup of heavy whipping cream
3 egg yolks
4 teaspoons of cornstarch
3 tablespoons of liquid honey
3 egg whites
Confectioner's sugar

Preheat your oven to 375ºF / 190ºC.
Prepare an 8-inch or 9-inch springform pan (at least 2 inches deep) and grease the bottom and the sides. Peel, core, and slice the apples into 1/2-inch dice and set aside.

In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a light boil. Chop the chocolate and place in a bowl. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let cool for about a minute. Using a rubber spatula, mix until the chocolate and cream are homogeneous. Slowly mix in the egg yolks and cornstarch until thoroughly incorporated. The mixture will be smooth and slightly thick.

In a separate bowl, add the honey to the egg whites and whip until soft peaks form.

Using a whisk, add about 1/3 of the whipped egg whites to the chocolate mixture to lighten the mixture. Don't worry about breaking the whites at this point, just whisk in the whites to make the batter more malleable. Then, gently fold in the remaining egg whites in two batches, and avoid over-mixing. White streaks of egg white should still be visible in the chocolate mixture.

Pour the batter into the greased springform pan. Top with the chopped apples and hazelnuts and dust lightly with confectioner's sugar. Place the springform pan on a cookie sheet or sheet pan and bake immediately.

Cook for 30 to 35 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Be careful not to overcook or the cake will become flaky and dry.

Let the cake cool in the springform pan for at least 15 minutes before unmolding. The cake is best enjoyed while still warm. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Spaghetti Al Vongole

I have shared my preference for light pasta sauces before, and had the chance this weekend to make my favorite pasta dish: spaghetti al vongole. I have ordered this dish time and time again at Italian restaurants, and have yet to get tired of the light white wine sauce and the fresh herbs and clams that coat the strands of spaghetti. When I got my hand on a batch of fresh clams, I knew pasta al vongole would be mine again. I've heard a lot of people talk about their fear of cooking clams (and other types of seafood for that matter) but I can assure you that clams are incredibly easy to make. My all-time favorite way to prepare them is to steam them open with white wine, shallots and herbs. This takes a couple minutes to put together, and gives immense flavor to whatever you are serving the clams with. In this case, I dunk the cooked spaghetti right into the clam pot, let it soak up all the juices, and voila!

Recipe (for 2)
Spaghetti for 2
4 shallots, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
15 clams
2 glasses of dry white wine
A handful of finely chopped fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Cook the spaghetti according to package instructions. In the meantime, add a good drizzle of olive oil to a stockpot on medium heat. Add the shallots, garlic and dried oregano. Cook until the mixture is translucent (about 3 minutes). Add the clams and the white wine and cover. After about a minute vigorously shake the pot to help the steaming process and make sure that all the clams open nicely. After about 4minutes, all the clams should have opened. Discard any closed clams. Add the drained cooked pasta to the pot and gently fold in the spaghetti. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chopped parsley and serve. Enjoy!
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