April 28, 2012

Pickled Onions

Today I wanted to share a simple recipe for pickled onions. These bright purple, pucker-inducing onions will fast become your favorite go-to topping for everything from tacos to meats and fish. (I've even scrambled leftovers into egg omelets in the morning, and it's delicious!). See below for some suggested recipe pairings.

Something about pickled onions is also inherently summery. When the weather gets warm I find myself making these constantly. Not only are they beautiful to look at, but they also add a punch of tart and tangy flavor you'll start to miss if you don't have any on hand.

Pickled onions make any meal instantly taste and look that much more gourmet. But since they require barely any effort, it's that rare occasion where just a little prep goes a very long way!

Pickled Onions:
1 large red onion, cut in half, then sliced thinly
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon white sugar
pinch of salt
pepper to taste, optional

Directions: Add all ingredients to a microwave-safe bowl. Stir together, then microwave on high until it just bubbles, 2-3 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely. Transfer the onions and liquid into a jar and refrigerate until ready to use. Keeps for about 1 week in the fridge.

A few suggested recipes to pair:
Soy Chorizo Burritos & Tacos
Crispy Pulled Pork
Slow Cooked Pulled Pork
Soy Chorizo Sopes
Chicken Soft Tacos
Black Bean Burgers

April 21, 2012

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cake with Truffle Frosting

This cake only looks like it takes some special talent to make. I promise you. Have I ever mislead you before? If I have, I am sorry for any kitchen mishaps I might have encouraged.

But this cake... I declare with confidence is so very much simpler to make than it appears. Those varying layers in the above picture only look intimidating. This cake is mostly assembly, and requires basic skills only.

I asked Matt what cake he would like me to create for his birthday. I told him he could have any cake he could dream up. After a little thought, he told me he wanted to combine his three favorite desserts. Matt's favorite desserts are:

- Ice cream cakes
- Yellow cake with chocolate frosting
- Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

"I want a mint chocolate chip ice cream cake with yellow cake and chocolate frosting!" he declared. Then he peered at me sideways as if expecting me to recoil in fear and dread. Instead, I exclaimed, "and it will have a cookie crumb layer made from Thin Mints!!"

unfrosted cake, assembled

A big smile spread across his face. That same smile still happens every time we pull this huge cake out of the freezer and dig in for another slice. It's a delight that we don't have to rush to eat this cake while it's still fresh. After all, it's frozen. We can take our time.

We will be very, very sad when it is finally gone.

What are your favorite cake flavors? What is your favorite ice cream flavor? I know that my dream version of this cake would be chocolate cake with Reeses Peanut Butter Cup ice cream and peanut butter frosting.

Use the technique described here to easily create your own fantasy ice cream cake. Only when you try will you know just how straightforward making this cake truly is! And, by the way, if you want to make it super super simple, go for some boxed cake mix to make the layers. It will be our little secret.

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cake with Truffle Frosting:

First, make the Yellow Cake:
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
3 eggs, room temperature
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cup milk

Grease and flour an 8"x8" square baking pan. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium speed 30 seconds. Gradually add the sugar, beating until well combined, then for 2 minutes more. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Then alternately add the flour mixture and milk, beating on low after each addition until just combined.
Spread batter into prepared pan. Drop the pan on the counter a few times to flatten and release air bubbles.
Bake 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes, then release onto a wire rack to cool completely. Once completely cool, place in freezer. The cake will stay in the freezer uncovered until it slightly firms up.

Meanwhile, take 1 gallon of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Place it in the refrigerator to soften, 30 minutes.

While the ice cream is softening, place 1 sleeve of Thin Mint Cookies in the food processor. Process into fine crumbs.

Remove the cake from the freezer. Carefully, using a large bread knife, use gentle sawing motions to cut the cake layer into two equal layers.

Now line your 8x8 inch square pan with enough cling-wrap to extend far up and over the sides of your pan. Place one cake layer back into the pan (cling-wrap will be underneath it and going up the sides).
Scoop out the entire gallon of mint chocolate chip ice cream and spread it evenly on top of the cake layer. The ice cream should be soft enough to spread. If it is not, return it to the fridge for a while.
Evenly sprinkle the cookie crumb layer on top of the ice cream.
Place the second cake layer on top of the cookie crumb layer and gently press down.
Return the cake to the freezer to allow it all to re-freeze together.

Meanwhile, make the truffle frosting:
8 oz. baking chocolate
4.5 cups confectioners' sugar
12 T. butter, room temp.
1/2 cup whipping or heavy cream
Over low heat, melt 8 oz. baking chocolate, stirring frequently until melted. Cool slightly, then stir in the butter, confectioners' sugar, and whipping cream until it is smooth and well blended
Remove your cake from the freezer. Ice cream and cake should both be firm and completely frozen. Grab the plastic wrap firmly on all sides and pull up to release and remove the entire cake from the pan. Peel the plastic wrap down the sides of the cake. Now frost the frozen cake completely on the top and sides. 
Leaving the cake completely exposed, return the cake to the freezer. Allow to re-freeze, uncovered. Now cover with a large plastic bag or more plastic wrap to store.
When you are ready to eat the cake, allow it to soften at room temperature or in the fridge for 20-30 minutes before cutting. Enjoy!

April 15, 2012

Crispy Pulled Pork

Pulled pork is made from a cut of meat called "pork butt" or "Boston butt." The name is misleading because the cut of meat is not from the rear end of the pig, but is actually the pork shoulder. The name came from the old days in Boston, when pieces of the pig were packed into big barrels called 'butts' and shipped out all over the place. The big meaty pieces of shoulder in the barrel then came to also be known as 'butts.'

Confusing enough for you? Well congratulations, you just thought hard enough to work up an appetite. You deserve some crispy and crunchy, yet succulent and moist pulled pork. This is not like my slow cooked pulled pork which is oh-so-delightfully sweet and soft. Instead, this pork is sliced thin and roasted in the oven so that there is a high ratio of crisp, pop-in-your-mouth end pieces to tender inside meat.

Anyway, I had been partial to the slow-cooker method because it's just so darn easy. But this completely addicting crunchy pieces version was introduced to me by our good friends and constant culinary companions Mindy and Mark, who are highly attached to this method of cooking their pork butt. They invited us over to try it on for size before committing to this style of cooking it. We had a huge soft taco buffet and I seriously overate the pork, both on its own and in the tacos, because it was just too darned good to stop picking at. It's those crunchy, salty, juicy bits that are impossible to walk away from.

So be prepared to eat more than you wanted to when you use this recipe. You have iron willpower if you're able to walk away from the crunchy pieces straight out of the oven. Cook up a whole bunch at once, though, and serve it to guests to pull apart and put in tacos or on soft buns, or stir it into red sauce for a succulent, meaty ragu. The options are endless, but the cooking method... well, it's one and only.

1 8-10lb Pork Butt (pork shoulder)
sea salt + pepper

Directions: Heat the oven to 275 degrees. On a large cutting board, slice the butt into large 1" to 2" thick slabs. Generously salt and pepper each side of all the pieces. Place parchment paper over a roasting rack that is placed inside a roasting pan. Optionally, thinly slice onions and place them on top of the parchment paper. Then lay the pork pieces in the rack. Cook at 275 degrees for 5 to 6 hours. Then increase the oven to 400 degrees and cook for another hour. Pork should be falling apart, but shred with a fork and serve.

April 11, 2012

Lemon Cake with Fresh Lemon Curd

Spring has sprung!

This brightly colored and flavored lemon cake with fresh lemon curd is like capturing the sun on a plate.

It was perfect for my Easter celebration, but I think that making this cake is also a wonderful way to celebrate the coming of warm months ahead. It's just so zesty, sweet, and tart. Your mouth will pucker. Your lips will smile. Your fork will dive in for more. 

The lemon curd is just oh-so-delightful. How did it take me this long to make this amazing ode to the lemon? Its color pops. Its flavor sings. Its consistency is smooth, pure, and luscious.

Sure, I had eaten lemon curd before. We used to have it as a spread for our scones at Christmas Tea at The Four Seasons in Philadelphia. I used to think it was delicious, swirled with butter and washed down with my tea. But now I'm wondering if that lemon curd was out of a jar. I think it must have been, because in my memory it now pales in comparison to this unbelievably fresh recipe.

Anyway, I'll get down to sharing it with you! Enough of keeping to to myself. Time to let the Spring out! Bake it out, whisk it out, zest it out, and squeeze it out to the last lemony drop.

Lemon Cake:
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 heaping tablespoons fresh lemon zest
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degress. Grease and flour two 8" round cake pans and set aside.
In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light yellow and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scape down the sides as needed. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Sift together the zest, flour, baking powder, and salt. Then add the flour mixture alternately with the lemon juice mixture in 3 additions, beating between additions and scraping down the sides.
Pour the batter evenly into each of the two pans and gently drop the pans against the counter top a few times to release air bubbles. Bake on the center rack until a toothpick comes out clean, approximately 20 minutes.

Lemon Curd: makes about 2 cups
6 large egg yolks
4 tablespoons fresh lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
12 tablespoons granulated sugar
 8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Add the lemon zest and sugar to a small saucepan. Place a fine mesh strainer over the saucepan and add the yolks into the strainer, stirring gently to release them through the strainer.Then pour the lemon juice over the yolks in the strainer, stirring, to force down the rest of the yolks (this will leave the membranes in the strainer without having them compromise the consistency of your curd). Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottoms and sides of the pan, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, from 10-15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter, once piece at a time, stirring after each addition until it is completely dissolved.
Pour the curd into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap so that the wrap touches the top of the curd. This keeps a skin from forming. Allow to cool completely, then refrigerate for at least one hour to thicken.

To assemble the cake: Place one cake layer on a cake stand, then pour half of the lemon curd over it, spreading evenly out to the sides. Place the other cake layer on top, and repeat with the remaining lemon curd. Dust with powdered sugar if desired, and serve.

Note: Lemon curd freezes very well. Simply store in an airtight glass container in the freezer, leaving enough room for expansion at the top. Thaw in the refrigerator.

April 2, 2012

Super Simple Chocolate Chunk Blondies

I needed a vehicle for my Ben n' Jerry's pint, and I needed one fast. A simple dish of ice cream wasn't going to do the trick. It had been a hard day, and I had a craving for ice cream served over something chewy, decadent, chocolatey, and substantial.

You know when you go into a coffee shop or good bakery and lust over the huge squares of bars and brownies behind the counter? Then will yourself to just order a coffee and leave as quickly as possible? Okay, well that's usually what I do, because if I gave into every alluring sweet I saw I would be constantly eating dessert. Anyway, when I imagined what I wanted to eat, I was imaging that kind of crazy bakery goodness. 

Cue these super-simple chocolate chunk blondies. Within minutes I was sitting down to heaps of ice cream that were slowly melting over a piping-hot, still-gooey-from-the-oven blondie. It really doesn't get much better than that, especially on a Monday. 

It's probably a dangerous thing that this dessert is so easy and accessible. It's all to easy to make a batch weekly and just have them around for the snacking. The ingredients are basic and so is the method.  This truly makes them a perfect dessert for everything from an unavoidable weeknight craving to a last minute gathering of friends (they certainly came in handy when we had an impromptu picnic gathering in the park). 

You won't need to think hard for a reason to make these. So pull our your chocolate bars, brown sugar, and a pot. You barely need much more than that to be on your way to chocolate chunk blondie heaven.

Chocolate Chunk Blondies: makes 16 squares
2 cups packed brown sugar
2/3 cup butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup dark and milk chocolate chunks (bars chopped into large hunks or bagged chunks)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8x8 baking pan and set aside. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt brown sugar and butter together until the mixture is smooth. Cool slightly. Stir in the eggs one at a time. Then stir in the vanilla. Stir in flour, baking powder, and baking soda.

Cool another few minutes so that the chocolate chunks do not melt when they are stirred in. Now gently fold in the 1 cup chocolate chunks. Pour the batter in the pan and spread it evenly to the sides. Drop the pan on the counter a few times to release air. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips over the top of the batter and bake 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool pan slightly on a wire rack then cut into 16 bars while still warm.


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