Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Chocolate Truffle Pie

I love chocolate, who doesn't?  My husband however, has an obsession, the darker, the richer the better.  This recipe is about as rich as it gets.  Imagine taking those expensive little chocolate truffles that you get about 4 in a bag of and making a pie with just that thick creamy center?  Well, that's this pie.

It's actually pretty simple and the real work doesn't take long at all.  I cheat on a step or two sometimes which lets me make this in even less time.

It is basically done in 3 stages, the crust, the filling and the whipped cream topping.  Now you can skip the first stage by a ready-made chocolate cooking crust, super cheap and saves a bunch of work.  That's what I usually do.

The last stage is whipped cream, which I do homemade because it's so easy, you could however use cool whip or a ready-whip style whipped cream in a can.

You'll need:

-1 1/4 cups crushed chocolate cooking crumbs (think Oreos without the centers)
-1/4 cup melted butter

Melt butter and add cookie crumbs into bottom of 9" pie plate, press until the bottom and sides are evenly covered, set aside

-1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
-1/2 pint (1 cup) heavy whipping cream
-1 tsp vanilla
-2 egg yolks

In a double boiler, melt chocolate chips, stirring in the cream gradually.  Once the cream and chocolate chips are melted and smooth, add the egg yolks and vanilla, stirring to incorporate.  Cook, stirring often, over medium simmer for 5 to 6 minutes until the mixture is glossy and thickened slightly.  You want to make sure the egg is cooked all the way as the filling won't set if you don't cook long enough.  Trust me, this is the longest, most involved part of the whole darn thing.

Pour into the crust and set into the refrigerator to set for 3 hours.  It will actually take about that long.  If you try to cut into it too soon, it will still taste yummy, but will be a mushy mess.

-1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
-1 tbsp powdered sugar
-cocoa powder to dust

With a hand mixer, whip cream and powdered sugar until stiff peaks form. Spoon or with a pastry bag, cover top of pie with whipped cream mixture.  Dust lightly with cocoa powder, just for decoration really.  Some candied orange slices or chocolate shavings also make a lovely presentation.

Cut and serve.

Trust me, cut a small slice at first, it's much richer than you might think!

I changed things up a bit this time and added orange extract to the whipped cream, just adding a touch more powdered sugar to offset the additional liquid.  It was wonderful.  My husband thought it was like a Jaffa Cake pie, heaven on a plate to him.

You could add orange extract to the filling as well if you like the combination of orange and chocolate, which by the way is heavenly, or pretty much any other extract flavor that you like with chocolate.

This keeps very well in the fridge for several days and gets quite firm.  That's the way it's supposed to be. It's supposed to be like a truffle in pie form.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Chicken, Stuffing and Potato Casserole

How many meals can you get from a chicken? From a single roast chicken?  

Well, quite a few as it turns out.  

That's our plan for the week, take a single chicken along with a package of chicken thighs and make as many meals as possible from just that.  We roasted the chicken on Saturday and Sunday we stripped it and took the Homemade Stuffing and Mashed Potatoes and combined them to make one of our favorite casseroles.  

The best part?  It takes less than 10 minutes to assemble and is fantastic!

You'll need:
-Roughly chopped or shredded roast chicken 
-Mashed potatoes
-Chicken gravy - The jar stuff is perfect for this, I don't really enjoy making homemade gravy
-A bit of left over broth if you've just roasted the chicken
-Carrots if you cooked them with your chicken (if not, you can leave them out or add a small amount of cooked carrots or canned carrots. 

Take a nice large casserole dish and layer in the chicken at the bottom, pour a couple of spoonfuls of the broth or if the broth is in it's gelatin form in the fridge, just scoop a bit, it will melt in just fine.  Also, pour a few spoonfuls of gravy over the chicken. 

Next, spread the carrots if you're using them and then a layer of the mashed potatoes.  Drop small amounts of the herbed butter that you skimmed from the roasted chicken or drizzle some more gravy over the potatoes.

Finally, spread a layer of stuffing over the top and drizzle the rest of the jar of gravy over that.

Bake at 350º for about 30 to 40 minutes until hot and bubbly throughout.
If you want to make this, but haven't had the roast chicken dinner the night before, just take any left over chicken you have, instant mashed potatoes and instant stuffing. Use the jarred gravy and assemble as above.  It couldn't get any easier and this is one casserole the kids will like.  It's warm and filling and a great way to stretch the food budget.

This works just as well with a roast turkey, awesome Thanksgiving leftovers!

Homemade Mashed Potatoes

How simple can it get really?  We get the instant kind, now and then, but our favorite is straight up and simple. Homemade mashed potatoes. Something of home in that I think, something that reminds me of dinner at Gramma's, of simple dinners around the table.  The best part? It's so easy, it's ridiculous.

You'll need:
-As many potatoes as you want.  At our house, it's not unusual for me to do a 10 lb bag and cook it all.  But really about a dozen nice sized potatoes will make a large bowl of mashed potatoes, plenty for dinner for 4 or 5 people.
-Butter - 1 or 2 sticks depending on how much you're cooking
-Salt and Pepper to taste

You can use any kind of potatoes really, I've used plain old russet, red skins or even lovely new potatoes.  My favorite at the moment is the Yukon Gold type.  They have a nice buttery flavor on their own so you don't need to add as much butter.

In a large stock or soup pot, filled about 3/4 with water, add salt and bring to a boil.  While you're waiting for the water to boil, wash and peel the potatoes.  I usually just drop them in as I go, the water doesn't have to be boiling first.

Cook over medium to high heat at a boil for about 15 to 20 minutes.  Depending on the size of the potatoes.  The larger they are, the longer it will take.  You can always halve them if they are really large and it will cut down the cooking time.

Once the potatoes are fork tender, but not falling apart, turn off the heat.  Drain gently.

In a large mixing bowl, put a stick of butter down and then pour the drained potatoes over the butter.  This will help to start the butter melting.  If you use a softened stick, all the better.

With a potato masher, start smashing them.  You don't want to beat them to death or they'll start to get a gluey texture.

I used to use a hand mixer, but have found the taste and texture is much better with an old fashioned hand masher.  Mix as you smash.  Once you've broken the potatoes up for the most part, start adding milk.  For about 12 potatoes, figure about a cup of milk, but pour it in gradually, mixing in until combined before you add more.  The goal is to achieve the consistency that you like.  Oh, and don't even try to get all the lumps out, that's what makes them great.  We like a few lumps in ours, they add a texture that is wonderful and trying to get them perfectly smooth will turn them into glue.

Add your salt and pepper to taste at this point also, but don't over do it on the salt.  You can always salt each persons serving to their taste and potatoes do tend to soak up the salt.

That's it, pretty simple.  Now you could add all sorts of things into them, cheese, sour cream, chives, other herbs as you like.  That's the great thing about a simple base recipe, it's adaptable.

These potatoes will keep very nicely in the fridge, covered for several days and are perfectly fine heated up in the microwave.  My kids and husband love a nice hot gravy on top as well, but for me? Butter and salt are just fine.

Simple Roast Chicken

What's better than a roast chicken for dinner on the weekend. It's simple, easy, and folks will think you've slaved away for hours over something that you can do in less than 20 minutes and then stick in the oven.

I've several ways that I do a roast chicken, I always mix things up a bit.  We've had some great successes and some, well, not so much.  This is the fall back on, the go-to way, when I don't feel like experimenting and just want a delicious dinner that makes for great leftovers.

I use an herb butter to coat the chicken with and usually cook over a bed of celery, carrots and onions.  I rarely make a chicken that I'm not going to get at least 3 meals from.  When you're on a budget and have little time, this is a lifesaver.

You'll need:
-1 large roasting chicken
-5 or 6 celery stalks, cleaned and chopped into about 3" sections
-1 or 2 cups of carrots, peeled and chopped in large chunks (an easier way is to buy the baby carrots that are already peeled and they are the perfect size)
-1 or 2 large onions, I love to use a Vidalia type onion, just a nice sweet onion for this, peeled and chopped into quarters.
-5 or 6 cloves of peeled and chopped garlic
-2 to 3 cups of chicken broth or stock

Optional stuffing for chicken: Either a traditional Homemade Stuffing or 1 onion, quartered, 3 cloves garlic, peeled and 1 lemon quartered.

If you're not using an herbed butter, you'll also need about a stick of softened butter and whatever herbs you like to use.  I suggest thyme or rosemary as well as garlic and salt and pepper of course.

Clean the chicken well and then pat dry with paper towels. Rub the herb butter or plain butter all over the bird, take a spoon and spoon butter in between the skin and the breast on both sides of the center and then smoosh the butter down along the breast to evenly distribute.  If you're going to do stuffing, now's the time, just don't over stuff or your stuffing will increase your cooking time making the chicken a bit dry.  Instead of stuffing, I put a quartered onion, a couple of cloves of garlic and maybe a few slices of lemon inside.  Makes it lovely and fragrant.

In a large roasting pan, arrange the carrots, celery, garlic and onions around the bottom of the pan, place chicken on top.  You might also sprinkle a bit of salt over the top of everything.  Pour some chicken broth around the pan to help start the base of the broth that you're going to get. After the chicken is done, this broth is liquid gold!  You can make gravy or save it for chicken and noodles the next day.

Cover loosely with foil and make at about 375º.  Depending on the size of the bird, your oven and how much room is in your roaster pan, this should take about 1 1/2 hours.  But could be as little as an hour. Once the internal temp has reached about 160º, remove the foil and allow the top skin on the chicken to brown, about another 15 to 20 minutes.  Just check your temperature and make sure the internal temp is about 165º to 170º.

Allow the pan and chicken to rest, covered lightly with foil for about 15 minutes before carving.

Save everything from the pan, the drippings, the cooked veggies, all of it!

Depending on how large the chicken was and how many people or how hungry they were, you will hopefully have enough leftovers to at least get one more meal out of this wonderful stuff.  I knew I was going to want to do several left over dishes so I also put a package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs in the pan right along with the veggies so I'd be sure to have enough meat left over.

After dinner is over, you can either cover and put the entire roaster pan in the fridge, or pour all the broth and vegetables into a container and strip the meat from the chicken and either store that separately or just put in with the broth and veggies.

The next day, the butter will all have separated and risen to the top, you can then just spoon that off and use the broth for chicken and noodles chicken soup.  The veggies should be in fine shape to just chuck those right in, you might want to chop the celery up a bit smaller if you're doing soup though.  You can save the butter and drop in by small amounts if you're broth needs a bit of flavor or add a bit to mashed potatoes for extra flavor.

We have a favorite casserole that we always make if we do stuffing and chicken and it's super easy and a great way to use up all the little bits you end up with.  That recipe will follow.

Homemade Stuffing

We all remember the smell of homemade stuffing/dressing on Thanksgiving day. That smell of carrots, onions, celery cooking in a pan of butter. It always made my tummy growl, long before the smell of the turkey started up.  I used to think my Mom and Gramma slaved away for hours over the stuffing, it always tasted so perfect, how could it not take ages?

Yeah, well, it's pretty darn easy and I kick myself for not realizing it before now.  Homemade stuffing is not just for special occasions and a simple stuffing is so much easier than you might think.

There is nothing wrong, at all, with a boxed stuffing like Stove Top or something similar to that, nothing at all, but there is just something about the smell of the veggies cooking, the feeling of making something from scratch, that when I have the time, makes the little bit of work this takes, more than worth it.

You'll need:

-1 cup chopped celery
-1 cup chopped carrots (I used baby carrots so I didn't have to peel and chop as much)
-1 cup chopped onions
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1/2 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp pepper
-1 tsp thyme
-1/4 tsp garlic salt
-Butter to saute in along with a bit of olive or vegetable oil
-1 pkg bread crumbs (about 7 cups or so) You can use seasoned ones or unseasoned one, cubes or just   crushed bread crumbs, it's all personal preference.  I would suggest however, using either white or wheat crumbs with this combination of herbs.  A cornbread stuffing needs other flavors.
-2 to 3 cups chicken broth or stock - you can make your own, but I always buy the broth/stock, it's just easier.

Now sage is more traditional or even a poultry season mix, but I was out of sage and didn't feel like making a trip to the store so I used thyme and left out the sage.  You could use a different combination of herbs if you like, just go with what you enjoy and take the portions in moderation so you don't over power the taste of the carrots, celery and onions.

In a hot skillet or saute pan, add a splash of olive or vegetable oil along with about 1/2 stick of butter.  Make sure the pan you're using is large enough to get everything in without overcrowding things too much.  This weekend, I was making double this recipe for a series of leftovers I'm doing this week and used two good sized skillets and just spread things between the two.

Once the butter is melted and the oil is hot, start adding your vegetables and herbs and garlic.  You can either chop everything up ahead of time or chop and add as you go.  If you go this route, start with the carrots as they'll take the longest time to get tender, then onion, then celery.

Saute over medium to high heat for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on your pan, some pans cook hotter and quicker than others, stirring things around every few minutes to keep things cooking evenly.  You want to end up with a nice caramelized look to your veg, those little brown edges give the stuffing much more dimension.

While this is cooking, in a large mixing bowl, pour in your bread crumbs.  Once the carrots and things are done, pour this over, butter and oil included and stir into the bread crumbs.  While your pan is still on the heat, pour about 3/4 cup or so broth into the pan and de-glaze the pan.  This is basically just letting the broth get hot and picking up all the nice brown sticky bits that otherwise stick to the pan.  This gives you even more of the caramelized flavors from the vegetables, but also makes the pan easier to clean.  Can't complain about that!

Pour this hot broth over the bread crumbs and then add the remainder of the broth about 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring after each addition.  You want to make sure that the stuffing comes together, but isn't soggy. If it's too dry you can always drizzle more broth over the top, but if you've added too much broth, the stuffing is going to be a bit mushy.  That won't kill it, in fact for some recipes, a mushier stuffing will let you re-heat in the oven without it drying out too much.

Spoon all into a casserole dish and cook at 350º for 30 to 35 minutes.  Everything is cooked already, you're just making it all come together.  If you leave uncovered, the top will get a nice slightly crispy texture that is wonderful.

You could also stuff a chicken or turkey with this instead of putting into a casserole dish, you just want to make sure the temperature on the stuffing is at least 165º.

The stuffing can be made ahead and cooked the next day, just prepare as above, but leave in a covered casserole dish in the fridge until you're ready to cook.  Do not stuff your bird the night before though, if you're going to stuff a chicken or turkey, prepare the stuffing the night before, but wait until you're ready to go into the oven before stuffing into the bird.

The left over stuffing is great, easy to reheat and holds up well for a few days. The flavor is remarkable and the thing that takes the longest is chopping the veggies.

Herb Butter

An herbed butter can come in handy for all sorts of recipes. I almost always make some whenever I'm doing roast chicken or turkey, but it can be used for breads, potatoes, just about anything.

It's quick, easy and keeps well in the fridge, so if you're anything like me, that's a big plus.

The thing to remember with this is that any combination of herbs you like can work in this, it is very versatile.

This particular combination was what I used on the roast chicken that I'll be posting next. This is a nice combination for poultry, especially if you plan to keep the broth and the separated butter after roasting for chicken and noodles or a casserole.

You'll need:
1 stick of butter, softened
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp thyme (if dried, more if fresh, chopped nicely)
1/2 tsp garlic salt or garlic salt with parsley
I also added 1/2 tsp Mrs. Dash - but that is just because I wanted a little extra kick, this is not necessary by any means.

Soften your butter in a bowl that will give you a bit of room to mix in, a large soup bowl works well. Mix all the herbs in, making sure to get fairly even distribution.

Taste just a bit to see if it has the right combination of flavors for what you're doing.  You can always adjust.  If it seems to strong, add more butter, not strong enough, add more herbs.  The butter will melt away, leaving you with the lovely tastes and will season 

You can use this immediately to rub down a chicken or chicken breasts to roast, or you can store in the fridge to add a nice "herby" taste to baked potatoes or spread on a halved baguette and toast.

This can be kept in the fridge for a week or two, in a tightly sealed container. If you use fresh herbs, the shelf life might be reduced slightly as they may start to wilt.

This is one of the easiest ways to add flavor to anything with very little work.

Now, I've done this with thyme, sage, rosemary and garlic and is lovely for that Thanksgiving type flavor every roasted turkey needs. You could also do a mint or lemon pepper type butter for fish. The possibilities are endless.  Just remember, trial and error can help you learn alot and all you'll be out if it doesn't work is a stick of butter and a few dried herbs.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Rhubarb Compote

This is a sort of compote, but it's a bit of a cheater, very easy and a great use of rhubarb if you have any in your garden.  It's also a great way to introduce kids to something that they may not otherwise come to love.

We were blessed to have a good sized rhubarb plant in our garden, just about the only thing there, when we moved in.  It's grown over the years and has now split off into two separate plants that provide an over abundance of fruit from late spring all through summer and into fall.  I have made various cobblers and pies with it, but this is so simple, quick and easy that it is one of my favorite things. I've spent the last couple of weeks checking the plant everyday until I knew I had pieces large enough to pull.

If you don't have a rhubarb plant in your yard, many stores and farmer's markets sell it and it's fairly inexpensive.

You can change the amounts to make as much or as little as you want and this recipe is far from precise, more the way I was taught to cook at my grandmother's side, a pinch of this, a bit of that.

You'll need:

Several stalks of rhubarb ( I used about 20 smallish ones), any size really will do, cleaned and the outer bit just peeled. Trim the leaf and the root end if you pull this from your garden

about 3/4 cup flour
about 1 to 1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 to 3/4 stick butter
1 tsp vanilla

After you've peeled and cleaned the rhubarb, cut into chunks about 2" long. Toss the damp chunks into a bowl and toss with the flour.  The idea is to coat the rhubarb with flour and that will help thicken the compote as it cooks.

Scoop out the rhubarb, leaving the excess flour behind.  Save the extra flour for now.

Put the dusted rhubarb in a casserole dish and stir in the sugar and vanilla. Cut the butter into chunks and drop over the top.

The extra flour can be dusted over the top of everything.

Cook at 350º for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  

The rhubarb will cook down to almost nothing, though you may end up with some stringy bits that don't cook all the way down.  That's perfectly fine.  Stir occasionally and taste. 

If the rhubarb is especially sour, you can add more sugar, stir it in and let it cook a few more minutes.  Be careful in the tasting since the amount of sugar in this will make it absolutely molten hot after it's cooked for a bit.  

If it seems to watery, add a bit more flour and bake a bit longer.  This is a recipe that can be scaled down or up very easily and tweaked while you're cooking it.

Just remember, you can't really go wrong with this, you can fiddle with it until you get it tasting just right. Depending on the season, the age of the stalks and the growing conditions will all affect the sweetness of the rhubarb.  I've made this at times with less than a cup of sugar, but it usually requires more.

Once you're happy with the taste and the rhubarb has cooked down, you'll be left with a thick, sweet compote that is lovely over vanilla ice cream or pound cake or really anything else that needs a little kick.

I almost always serve this over vanilla ice cream while it's still piping hot.  The combination of the slightly sour rhubarb and the sweet melting ice cream is heaven in a bowl.