Friday, December 23, 2011

Chocolate-Raspberry Torte

Many of you know that I test recipes and shop for groceries for Cook's Illustrated. This is a recipe that I tested several months ago, at that time I published a photo on the FoodBuzz website. Well Cooks Illustrated finally published the recipe in the November 2010 issue. This recipe is the first recipe I have tested where some big changes were made before the recipe was published. They added more chocolate, almost doubled the amount of almonds and the amount of vanilla was doubled. Since the first one was delicious I can only imagine how good it is with more nuts, vanilla and chocolate. The glaze turned out so shiny you can see the reflection of the raspberries in it. You can check out the entire recipe and notes in the November/December issue of Cook's Illustrated or on their website.  This makes a wonderful Christmas dessert.

Chocolate-Raspberry Torte
Cake and Filling
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate , chopped fine (see note)
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter , cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 3/4 cups (about 7 ounces) sliced almonds , lightly toasted
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (1 1/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
5 large eggs
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) sugar
1/2 cup fresh raspberries , plus 16 individual berries for garnishing cake
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
Chocolate Ganache Glaze
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate , chopped fine (see note)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream

1. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line bottom of two 9-inch-wide by 2-inch-high round cake pans with parchment paper. Melt chocolate and butter in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan filled with 1 inch simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Stir in vanilla and espresso powder.  The

2. Process 3/4 cup almonds in food processor until coarsely chopped, six to eight 1-second pulses; set aside to garnish cake. Process remaining cup almonds until very finely ground, about 45 seconds. Add flour and salt and continue to process until combined, about 15 seconds. Transfer almond-flour mixture to medium bowl. Process eggs in now-empty food processor until lightened in color and almost doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. With processor running, slowly add sugar until thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Using whisk, gently fold egg mixture into chocolate mixture until some streaks of egg remain. Sprinkle half almond-flour mixture over chocolate-egg mixture and gently whisk until just combined. Sprinkle in remaining almond-flour mixture and gently whisk until just combined.

3. Divide batter between cake pans and smooth with rubber spatula. Bake until center is firm and toothpick inserted into center comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 14 to 16 minutes. Transfer cakes to wire rack and cool completely in pan, about 30 minutes. Run paring knife around sides of cakes to loosen. Invert cakes onto cardboard rounds cut same size as diameter of cake and remove parchment paper. Using wire rack, reinvert 1 cake so top side faces up; slide back onto cardboard round.

4. TO ASSEMBLE TORTE: Place ½ cup raspberries in medium bowl and coarsely mash with fork. Stir in raspberry jam until just combined. Spread raspberry mixture onto cake layer that is top side up. Top with second cake layer, leaving it bottom side up. Transfer assembled cake, still on cardboard round, to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet.

5. FOR THE GLAZE: Melt chocolate and cream in medium heatproof bowl set over saucepan filled with 1 inch simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat and gently whisk until very smooth. Pour glaze onto center of assembled cake. Use offset spatula to spread glaze evenly over top of cake, letting it flow down sides. Spread glaze along sides of cake to coat evenly.

6. Using fine-mesh strainer, sift reserved almonds to remove any fine bits. Holding bottom of cake on cardboard round with 1 hand, gently press sifted almonds onto cake sides with other hand. Arrange raspberries around circumference. Refrigerate cake, still on rack, until glaze is set, at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours. Transfer cake to serving platter, slice, and serve.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Prime Rib and Cutting a Christmas Tree

Christmas make people do crazy things. If you don't believe me explain to me why people make fruitcake and wear sweaters with jingle bells attached. There is something about the magic of the season that makes people only use 1/2 of their brains. Here is a story to prove that. Annette and I had been married for about 5 years our children ranged from 1 year to 4 years old. We decided that it would be fun to cut our own Christmas tree. We were living in Michigan at the time and we had just gotten a nice snowfall, about 6 inches. We decided that Saturday would be the day to go in search of the perfect tree.

On Thursday the weather man said it was going to warm up and start raining on Friday. Sure enough Friday afternoon it started to rain and the temperature hit the low 50's. Saturday morning we got up and got ready for our big tree excursion. The temperature had dropped back to the 30's the snow was gone. We bundled the kids up in their show suits. The youngest turned 1 on Thanksgiving day so she could barely walk as it was, put her in a pretty little pink and white snow suit and she was like Ralphie's little brother in the movie The Christmas Story.

We went out side and piled in the minivan and we were off. We go to the tree farm only to see the melted snow had tired the entire place into a giant mud farm. Then it started to rain again. The combination of rain, mud and cold temperatures made a slippery mess. Ashlyn's pink and white snow suit quickly became black. The rain and mud forced us to park a long way from the trees and we had to walk back over the hilly tree farm to locate the trees we were allowed to cut. By the time we found the trees the kids looked like snowmen, well actually mudmen. My wife and I had mud up to our knees. We quickly cut dow the first 8 foot tree we saw and started back to the car. The way back was up hill. The kids were falling more frequently and were now crying. I was dragging the tree which became heavier as we went as it picked up mud as we went along. Finally we stopped to come up with a plan. Crying kids, a long trek up hill back to the car, 3 kids that didn't want to walk and that were covered in mud and 1 large tree. Eventually I came up with the idea of having the kids sit on the tree and hold the trunk. That way I could drag the tree and the kids at the same time. We made better progress because we weren't stopping every 2 minutes to pick up a kid who fell in the mud. People were laughing at first but by the time we reached the car others were doing the the same thing. I had invented the treebogan. We got home and hosed off the tree and the kids. You would think that would be the end of the story but no there is more.

When we set the tree in the stand we realized the tree we grabbed had a large curve in the trunk. It would not stand up in the stand. After sticking a lot of wedges in the stand we eventually go the tree to stand up. We decorate the tree and laughed. On Sunday we had friends come over for a Christmas party. About 1/2 hour into the party the tree fell over. Several of us tried to get the tree upright but the tree would not cooperate. Where we put the tree was in the corner of a room that had windows all around the outside walls. Someone suggested we get a rope and tie the tree to a nail in the wall, of course with all of the windows we couldn't put a nail in the wall. So we tied 2 ropes around the tree, opened 2 windows and ran the ropes outside. Once the ropes were outside we secured the ropes to shrubs in our yard. We never cut our own tree again, but in 28 years of marriage can you guess which Christmas tree we have never forgotten? 
This is the recipe I made last year for our Christmas dinner. It was the first time I ever made prime rib. The prime rib recipe was based on a Tyler Florence recipe I found on the Food Network website.

Prime Rib With Horseradish Crust

1 bone in prime rib beef roast, 3 ribs, about 6 pounds
5 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 cup grated fresh or prepared horseradish
Leaves from 2 fresh rosemary sprigs
Leaves from 4 fresh thyme sprigs
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups canned chicken or beef broth

I made a couple of changes to this. I only used a 1/4 cup of salt and it made a good paste (described below) and I still thought that some bites seemed very salty. I started with 1 tbs of flour and the gravy was very soupy so I added one additional tbs and ended up with a thin gravy. This was ok as the leftover gravy can now be used for aus jus. The recipe took every bit of the 2 hours, if it wasn't for my children wanting to leave to get home before the snow, I would have cooked it a little longer. It was still very good and the gravy was excellent.

Here are Tyler's instructions with my comments in brackets [ ].

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Lay the beef in a large roasting pan with the bone side down. (The ribs act as a natural roasting rack.) In a small bowl mash together the garlic, horseradish, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, and olive oil to make a paste [I used a mortar and pestle to get everything finely mashed]. Massage the paste generously over the entire roast [I had enough paste to cover top and sides but not the under side where the bones are]. Put the pan in the oven and roast the beef until the internal temperature of the meat registers 125 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer (medium-rare), 1 1/2 to 2 hours [See my comment above]. Remove the beef to a carving board and let it rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Pour off some of the pan drippings and place pan on stovetop over medium-high heat. [I saved 1 tbs of drippings to go with the original 1 tbs of flour. I wished I would have saved more since I ended up adding more flour to thicken it. I would save 2 to 3 tbs if you want thicker gravy.]

Add the white wine and bring to a simmer, scraping the bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce the wine by half. Whisk in the flour, then add the broth and continue to cook, whisking until sauce thickens into a gravy, about 10 minutes. [I would use low sodium broth if use Tyler's 1/2 cup of salt. It took longer than 10 minutes to get thicker gravy, but I had to go back and add additional flour to thicken it.]

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The First Thanksgiving

This year for Thanksgiving my oldest daughter, Lynn, cooked while I recovered from knee surgery. She did a fantastic job and the meal turned out beautifully. At the end of my story is the Cornbread Stuffing recipe that Lynn made. Now I think it is time to tell the story of my wife and my Thanksgiving dinner. We were young and not really into cooking at the time. I am not sure why we did not go to one of our parents houses, I guess turning old causes memory lapses. Here is the story as I remember embellish it.

My youngest daughter, Ashlyn, was born on Thanksgiving day. Now being young and foolish my wife and I decided to give her and small birthday party the day before Thanksgiving. We decided to make her a cake with some kind of cartoonish character on top. As we started to make the cake I turned on the water and the water faucet broke off in my hand. Now is a good time to tell you that the previous owners of our house were very frugal and when it came to repairs fixing things did not mean they did it correctly if they could save a buck. Water was spraying out of what was formerly a faucet handle with such force that it was bouncing off the ceiling and puddling in the middle of the floor. At this point I am pretty sure I let a few 4 letter words fly, which brought my wife and 3 children flying into the room. As they hit the wet spot on the floor bodies were flying in all directions. They looked like penguins sliding down a glacier until their bodies hit the cupboards on the other side of the kitchen and they collapsed in a heap on a floor. After what seemed like hours we managed to find the shut off valve and turn the geyser off. Now the fun begins. As my wife and children dry off, I head to the local hardware store to buy a new faucet.

When I arrive at the store I assumed I would be able to grab a faucet and come home. Nobody told me I had to know how many holes were in the sink. One thing that you need to know about my handy man capabilities is that I have none. So back home I head to see how many holes were in the sink. To count the holes in the sink you would have to remove the old faucet or be able to look at the underside of the old old. Well at the time I was the size of a small kitchen appliance and I had to contort my body to even get under the sink. This involved wedging my shoulder under a garbage disposal while lying on my back, squeezing my 3 foot wide body into an 18 inch opening. Turns out that I couldn't see the under side of the sink. Plan 2 remove the old faucet. I squeezed my body back under the sink, took a wrench and started to loosen the water supply. After an hour I gave up.

I went back to the hardware store humiliated as a man and with a look of defeat on my face. Now we lived in a very small town where everybody knew everybody. When I went back into the store and talked to one of the family members who owned the store he offered to loan me a faucet wrench as it was designed to get into tight spots. I took it home and 2 hours later went back to the hardware store again in total defeat. At this point the helpful store owner offered to come home with me for a mere $20. I took him up on that offer. He crawled under the sink and began the task of unscrewing the water supply. After a few minutes he came out from under the sink and headed to the store. He returned with a small flashlight that had a flexible neck and a tool box. Eventually we discovered that the previous owner had replaced the water supply not with a supply line but with 20 brass fittings that were all screwed together. As we would start to loosen one, you would stop and try again but land on a different fitting and start loosening the next one and tighten the previous one. Eventually we replaced the water supply and the faucet. It only took us 5 hours to do that 2 hour job. The cake was made just in time for the party and none of the pre-Thanksgiving preparation was started because we had a party to host.

Now Thanksgiving morning we got up early and began cooking and everything seemed to be going fine. The smell of turkey was in the air, the pies were cooling, the stove top was filled with side dishes in various stages of doneness. We went to add the dressing to the oven and the second disaster hits us full on. We opened the oven door and the turkey was white and the oven was not hot. Sometime during the first hour of cooking the oven had died. Instant panic sits in, what are we going to do? We can't afford to try to have it repaired on Thanksgiving day, the stores are closed so we can't go buy a precooked one. Yes 20 years ago the stores actually closed on Thanksgiving day.

Since the bird was partially cooked and started to take on some color we decided to... are you ready for this...microwave it. We had turkey for Thanksgiving that year, it was barely edible but it was turkey. It was dry and tough and tasted the best when completely covered in gravy. The kids didn't seem to mind and we had accomplished making our first Thanksgiving dinner. Over the years we have had numerous successful Thanksgiving dinners, but this is the one I will always remember.

Cornbread Stuffing with Bourbon, Sausage and Apples
based on recipe by the Neelys from Food Network

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 1 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and chopped coarsely
  • 1 teaspoon freshly minced thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1 1/4 pounds cubed and dried cornbread stuffing, store-bought
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 cups turkey or low-sodium chicken stock
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Put olive oil in large skillet and heat to medium high.
Brown sausage. Add celery and onions and cook until softened. Salt and pepper to taste. Add apple and cook for 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and add the bourbon. Simmer until bourbon almost completely evaporates.
Put cornbread, parsley, chicken stock eggs and pecans in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly. Add the Sausage, apple mixture and combine all ingredients. Spread mixture out evenly in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Bake until cooked about 30 to 40 minutes.
Lynn and Rouz

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Shrimp and Veggie Alfredo

The Christmas season has officially begun at my house. Annette has got the decorating well in hand. I heard Grandma got ran over by a reindeer on the radio and my company had their "holiday" party this week. Annette and I are planning a Christmas dinner party.
For those that have Tweeted or asked me on Facebook, my knee is doing well. I am hoping to start walking this week and maybe starting back at my regular exercise routine next week. Thanks for the concern.
After a week of beef and lamb in Ireland followed by a week of turkey and turkey leftover creations it was time for something different. I opted for a pasta dish, big surprise isn't it?

Shrimp and Veggie Alfredo
1/2 pound of mixed veggies, cut into bite sized pieces (I used mushrooms, red peppers, carrots and broccoli)
1/2 pound of shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tsp canola oil

For the sauce:
1 tbs butter
1 tbs flour
3/4 cup milk
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated

I used angel hair, you could use spaghetti or whatever floats your boat. Prepare according to directions on package. Plan to have the pasta ready as veggies and shrimp are finish cooking.

Heat the oil in a pan to medium high, when it shimmers add the thicker veggies (carrots and broccoli in my case). Sauté for 3 minutes then add mushrooms, cook for 1 minute. Then add the shrimp and red peppers. Cook until veggies are soft and shrimp are cooked through, 2 or 3 minutes.

When you add the shrimp are added start the sauce. Add the butter to a pan on medium heat. When the butter melts, add the flour and whisk until the flour is incorporated and the lumps are gone. Slowly add the milk, while you are whisking. The sauce should thicken. After the milk is added add the garlic and cook for another minute. Stir in the cheese and keep whisking, the sauce should get thicker. When the sauce gets thick enough for you add to the veggies and plate on top of the pasta.