Tuesday, August 19, 2008

S'mores Parfaits

Although I may be a fruit pie/cobbler guy, I do enjoy my chocolate. Rich deep chocolate, not that wimpy milk chocolate stuff. We got invited to BBQ the other day and were left with the task of putting together a dessert for the host who dislikes fruit, especially if it is baked into something.

Chocolate to the rescue. Since it is summer and an outdoor BBQ the perfect thing would be something S'mores like. Since there wouldn't be a fire going I opted to go with duplicating the flavors and leave the fire part out.

The filling was inspired by the September 2008 Food & Wine "30 Best Fast Recipes Ever". I opted to go with the really dark chocolates and knew their recipe couldn't hold up to the intense Valrhona's I wanted to use. Therefore I swapped in half-and-half for the milk to compensate for the lower cocoa fats in an 85% cocoa solids bitter sweet chocolate. I increased the sugar as well as I was using a "Black Onyx" unsweetened baking chocolate from Surfas that is as the names suggests so rich in chocolate solids it looks almost black.

S’more Parfaits

  • 6 graham crackers – crushed fine
  • 2 T butter melted
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 c miniature marshmallows

Double Chocolate Pudding Filling

  • 2 ¼ c half and half
  • 1 c sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 T corn starch
  • 3 T unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 5 oz semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chopped
  • 2 T unsalted butter cut into pieces
  • 1 t vanilla extract

Fine crush the graham crackers in food processor. Reserve 6 teaspoons for later. Add 1T sugar and melted butter. Whiz until incorporated. Divide the mixture evenly in to 6, 8 oz ramekins. Bake in 350 Oven 5 minutes. Let it cool while making the pudding filling.

In a medium non-stick sauce pan mix 2 cups half-and-half and sugar. Stir until smooth over medium heat until it boils and sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in salt.

Mix corn starch, cocoa powder and remaining half-and-half and whisk until smooth. Whisk into hot mixture until smooth. Return to moderate heat and whisk constantly until the pudding is thick enough to coat back of spoon, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Whisk eggs until smooth. Whisk in briskly and constantly 1 cup of hot cocoa mixture until smooth. Return pan to medium low heat. Whisk in the egg mixture and whisk constantly until the mixture just comes to a boil about 2 minutes. Do not boil.

Pour chocolate mixture through strainer into mixing bowl. With beater attachment on stir add chopped chocolate and cubed butter. Stir until just incorporated.

Divide pudding mixture into each ramekin. Top with Marshmallows and reserved graham cracker crumbs. Cover with plastic wrap and chill 1-2 hours.

The marshmallows can be “toasted” with a kitchen torch just prior to serving

Use really good chocolate and cocoa

Whisk briskly to totally dissolve in the cocoa and corn starch mixture to avoid lumps
Lightly tap in the graham cracker bottom, don't press or it will be like a brick at the bottom you can't break loose to eat with the filling and stuff.
Slowly stir in butter and chopped chocolate until just smooth. Don't beat or you will have it full of bubbles and not have a smooth texture.
Divide the pudding filling and enjoy! Of course you can skip the entire parfait and just eat the pudding as it is an intensely rich and velvety chocolate pudding all by itself.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Chocolate Praline Dessert

Chocolate Praline Dessert

I'm not sure where I got this from, I suspect it came out of one of my Mom's massive collection of church or PTA cook books. Given the HUGE amount of butter involved I'd guess it was from one of books issued back in Farmington MO when we lived back there in the 70's.

Really a lot of simple steps. Do put aside a long period from start to finish as there are several chilling periods between layers lasting an hour or two each. Fair warning, but the end result is well worth it.

Praline Chocolate Dessert

2 c Oreo cookie crumbs
½ c butter
1 c chopped pecans

1 ½ c butter cubed
1 c brown sugar
1 t vanilla

2 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese softened
½ c confectioners sugar
1/3 c brown sugar

1 c (6 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
½ c heavy whipping cream

Pecan halves

In small bowl combined cookie crumbs and butter. Press into bottom of a 9 inch greased springform pan. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with pecans.

In large saucepan over medium heat bring butter and brown sugar to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla. Pour over pecans. Refrigerate for 1 -2 hours until set.

In large mixing bowl, put filling ingredients until smooth. Spread over praline layer. Refrigerate for 1 – 2 hours until set.

For ganache, in a microwave safe bowl melt chocolate chips with cream, stir until smooth. Cool slightly, spread over filling. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours until set. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen, remove sides of pan. Garnish with pecan halves. Refrigerate leftovers. 14-16 servings

Make sure you use a really good chocolate for the ganache. Do be careful with the melting of the higher cocoa solid chocolates as they will burn or seize faster than the usual chips you get at the groc. I used a Valhrona 85% cocoa solid bittersweet chocolate as regular semi-sweet is still to sweet to counter the rich filling and praline.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Mediterranean Couscous Salad

Couscous is an ancient style of pasta made from wheat very common to the Mediterranean and known by a lot of names. I see it repeatedly show up on FoodTV on different shows and used all sorts of ways, usually associated with Moroccan or Sicilian cooking. Finally after getting beaten over the head enough with its merit I started trying it in different things based on what I saw on Food TV.

Couscous is the easiest thing in the world to make. Pour boiling liquid on it. Cover it. Wait 5 minutes and you are done. No stirring, draining or watching hoping it doesn't boil over or burn. A stupid easy way to get carbs in your diet. While it sits and steeps you can get whatever else you want with it or in it prepped.

This recipe is inspired by a lot of the flavors of the Mediterranean but doesn't pay any particular allegiance to any particular one.

Mediterranean Couscous Salad

  • 1 can chicken broth (vegetable broth if you are in a vegan mindset)
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 1/4 c couscous
  • 1 T mint (2T fine chopped if using fresh)
  • 1 T parsley (2 T fine chopped if using fresh)
  • 1 T basil (2T chiffonade if using fresh)
  • 1 c grape or cherry tomatoes - halved
  • 1 c cucumber, quartered then sliced
  • 1/2 c coarse chopped roasted red pepper
  • 1/2 c sliced kalmata olives
  • 4 green onions, tops included, sliced
  • 1 lime, zest and juice.
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine broth, oil, garlic, and bay leaf in a small sauce pan. Cover and bring to simmer, simmer for 5 minutes covered to develop bay leaf flavor.

Combine couscous and dried herbage, if using fresh do not add now. Pour the hot liquid over the couscous. Cover. Let it steep 5 minutes, tightly covered until liquid is absorbed.

Once liquid absorbed uncover add lime zest and juice and fluff with a fork. Add any fresh herbs, the veg and fold in gently. Add fresh cracked black pepper to taste.

NOTE: as the broth and olives bring a salt element to the salad do not test for salt until it has rested at least an hour. At the end of the rest period flavors will have melded enough to test for salt, taste and adjust as needed. Serve or allow to sit until meal time. Can be served at room temp or chilled.

Really important, resist temptation to remove lid while steeping. Doing so you run the risk of losing moisture and having a dry chewy couscous.

Toss in any board juices with the veg as it is flavor you'll lose otherwise. Be very careful with the salting as too much and both the cukes and tomato will release too much moisture making the salad wet...and those vegs very funky rubbery.