Archive | April, 2012

A Few of My Favorite Things: Salt, Homemade Caramel, and Dark Chocolate

4 Apr

My love affair with dark chocolate did not begin over night.  It’s one of those love stories that starts with hate that slowly but surely melts into passion.  Chris and I have made salted caramel frosting several times, but always with vanilla or almond cupcakes.  This time, I needed chocolate, but I wasn’t satisfied with the idea of a typical chocolate cupcake.  I wanted something dark and rich.  Have you had those salted dark chocolate bars?  I wanted to take that experience and put it in a cupcake.  Unsure of how the dark chocolate would affect the consistency of a cupcake, I searched the internet for a recipe, and found one to my liking (I wish I could give credit where it is due, but I can’t remember which recipe I ended up using).

The first step involved melting the butter and chocolate together in a double boiler.  I, unfortunately, am not at a point in my life where I own a double boiler, so Chris helped me improvise.  We took one of our Pyrex bowls and put it over a sauce pan with some water.  Same process right?  Well thankfully it worked just fine.

Next we had to select the right cocoa powder from our cabinet.  I would have loved to have used something like Dagoba, but Ghirardelli worked just fine.  The recipe called for dutch-processed cocoa powder.  We weren’t sure exactly why or what this was, so we looked it up.  It turns out that the  dutch process neutralizes acids in the chocolate, which results in enhanced color, smoother flavor, and better solubility.  It does not react with baking soda, so it is used only with baking powder (unless the recipe has enough acid from another ingredient).

After mixing everything together, I separated the batter into 12 cupcake liners.  The mixture was gooey and difficult to work with.  I made a mess, but Chris and I gladly sampled any drippings that landed on the pan but not in the cups.  It was good, bitter, but good.

While the cupcakes were baking, I started the caramel.  That word, “caramel,” always evokes memories of high school.  I went to Mt. Carmel High School.  That’s Car-Mel NOT Car-A-Mel.  I’d always cringe when they announced us at tournaments as though we were a gooey candy.  The ingredients for Car-A-Mel are so simple, but the timing is so important and so difficult.  I burned my first batch, and had to toss it and try again.  You can see how dark I let it get.

The second batch turned out better.  I probably could have left it on the heat a bit longer, but the golden color you see below is preferable to the near black you see above.  I love that moment when you add the cream to the boiled sugar and water.  You can literally see it start to form the creamy goodness that we know as caramel.

I added the second batch of caramel to the butter cream frosting just in time to go on top of the slightly cooled dark chocolate cupcakes.  Another part of the process that was a bit messy and full of samplings.  I usually use an icing bag, but this time I chose to apply the frosting with a spatula.  I was really super careful because the cupcakes were so delicate.  The tops kept falling off bit by bit as I spread the frosting.  If you look closely you can see one of the decapitated cupcakes in the pan just below my hand.

Last but not least, Chris helped me top off each cupcake with a bit of kosher salt.  Voila, the finished product.

The cupcake was really good and it paired perfectly with the icing.  It was more like a brownie/cupcake hybrid, in that it was a little dense but still moist and delicious.  Chris liked them, but preferred some of the lighter fluffier cupcakes we’ve made in the past.  Perhaps we’ll try brownies next time.

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The Quest for The Crispy Breakfast Potato

2 Apr

Looking at our past posts, I realized that we’ve neglected a very important meal – BREAKFAST!  With our busy lives, breakfast usually consists of a cup of coffee (or two) and maybe a Greek yogurt with jam or granola or nuts or a banana.  However, the weekends sometimes afford us the time to cook up something delicious.  Chris and I trade-off more than collaborate when it comes to breakfast.  Chris has perfected his hollandaise sauce, and he boiled the perfect 6 minute soft-boiled eggs.  I make the best, from scratch fluffy buttermilk pancakes ever, I like to experiment and elevate other dishes like huevos rancheros, and I have a love and obsession for baking muffins.

Starving and looking to fuel up for a big training run (I’m running a half marathon in May eek), I went to our kitchen and gathered what was left from the week.  Recently we decided to switch from our usual microwave meals from Trader Joes to more fresh vegetables, fruits and lean meats from Whole Foods.  I had pushed Chris to do this for a while, and I think my fitness/running goals finally convinced him.  The sticker shock was a bit much at first, but we discovered that the quantities were larger and that the food we bought lasted us longer.  My first find in an adorable, tiny Whole Foods paper bag: 3 russet potatoes.

My other finds: eggs, ciabatta bread, low-fat cheese, a red onion, and a fresh tomato.  Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  That’s right! The perfect ingredients for Ciabatta Egg Sandwiches and Crispy Breakfast Potatoes!  I’ve tried to perfect my breakfast potato crisping skills for a while now, and this time would be no different.  I crossed my fingers, closed my eyes, and…oh shoot I should probably look before I start peeling and dicing.  In my usual fashion, I tried to only cut off the parts of the potato that were going bad and ended up nearly peeling everything (yea I’m kinda picky when it comes to brown spots).  I also rinsed the potatoes until they water ran clear and dried them off as best I could on some paper towels.  I read somewhere that if they’re too wet they’ll boil or steam and not crisp when you cook them.  I then diced the onion, tossed it in with the potatoes, and added oil, paprika, and Italian spices (too bad we don’t grow our own herbs – we want to, but we haven’t started this yet).

I decided to bake the potatoes in a jelly roll pan for 45 minutes at 475 degrees, stirring it every 15 minutes or so.  In the meantime, I started a fresh pot of water in our kettle to make our new favorite french press coffee and set the other ingredients aside.  About 10 minutes before the potatoes finished, I took out my silver dollar pancake pan and used it to make scrambled eggs fit for a sandwich.  I always beat my eggs with a bit of cream or milk and season them with basil, salt, and pepper.

Just as I finished the eggs, the timer went off for the potatoes (super proud of my timing this go in the kitchen).  When I pulled the potatoes out, they look golden and slightly crispy but certainly not crispy enough.  I stabbed one with a fork, cooled it, and took a bit.  Bleh totally bland too!  Rescue time.  I heated and seasoned a frying pan and then added the potatoes and some low-fat cheese.  Sure enough they started to crisp up perfectly and evening and the extra flavoring did the trick.

Last but not least, I toasted the ciabatta bread in the oven with the tomatoes and cheese on top, layered the egg sandwiches, and plated the potatoes.

I called Chris over, apologizing for the kitchen that looked more like a disaster zone, and we sat down to feast.  Oh wow, the potatoes were amazing.  This will go down as the day that I perfected the breakfast potato.  Chris couldn’t stop raving about the potatoes.  I think he would have been happy with just a whole plate of them.  The sandwiches were decent.  The eggs definitely could have been better, and the bread was a bit dry, but the tomatoes were a nice fruity touch.  Afterward, I had a few eggs and tomatoes left.

I put these suckers on top of a small plate of potatoes and heated them up for breakfast for us the next morning.  The flavors were great together.  Chris ate around his egg, devoured his potatoes and asked for more.  Big surprise :).

*All photos in this post are courtesy of Chris’ new IPad 3

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