August 29, 2012

... Chocolate Paradise Cake

Yum, yum, yes please, yum.  Translated: Chocolate, chocolate, toffee, more chocolate.  

A special cake.  A special celebration.  Happy Birthday, Mom!

Chocolate Paradise Cake
serves 12

Devil's Food Cake
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for preparing pan
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for preparing pan
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly butter the bottoms and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans.  Line the bottom of the pans with parchment and then butter the parchment.  Dust the pans with flour, coating the bottoms and sides, and then tap out the excess.

In a large bowl, sift together the 2 1/4 cups flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In another large bowl, using an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat the 3/4 cup butter until creamy.  Add the brown sugar and continue beating for 1 minute.  Add the vanilla and continue beating until incorporated.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  The butter mixture will look separated and grainy, which is not a problem.  Beat in the sour cream and then add the flour mixture in 3 batches.  The batter will be quite thick.  Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans, using a rubber spatula to spread the batter evenly.

Bake the cake layers until a toothpick inserted near the center of each cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let the cakes rest in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes.  Place a rack on top of 1 cake, invert the cake and rack, and then lift off the pan.  Peel off the parchment circle.  Repeat with the second cake.  Let cool completely.

Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 3/4 cups heavy (whipping) cream
1/2 cup sour cream
pinch of kosher salt

2 cups coarsely crushed English toffee
2 to 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 cups homemade or store-bought caramel sauce, warmed

To make the Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting, bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in the bottom of a double boiler or saucepan.  Place the chocolate and cream in the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl placed over the pan, and heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate melts and the chocolate and cream are mixed together and smooth.  Remove from the heat and stir in the sour cream and salt.  Set aside to cool.  When cool, using an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat the frosting until it is thick enough to spread and nearly double in volume.

To assemble and decorate the cake, using a pastry brush, brush off any loose crumbs from the sides and tops of the cake layers.  Using a serrated knife, trim the domed tops of the cake layers, making them level.  Place 1 layer on a cake plate, bottom-side up.  Cut strips of waxed paper and place under the edges of the cake to keep the cake plate clean while frosting the cake.  Spread the top of this layer with about one fourth of the frosting.  Top the frosting with 1/2 cup of the crushed toffee.  Place the second layer, bottom-side up, on top and gently press it into place.  Spread frosting all around the sides of the cake and then frost the top of the cake.  Using the remaining toffee, press it all around the sides of the cake.  Using a fine-mesh sieve, sift a healthy dusting of cocoa powder over the top of the cake.  Carefully remove the strips of waxed paper.

When ready to serve, slice the cake and serve each slice centered in a pool of warm caramel sauce.

Taylor's Notes:
This was a bit of a labor of love (would you expect any less from Nordstrom?).  My first double-layer cake and who knew how hard it would be to find English toffee not coated in chocolate?  Did you notice the chocolate shavings?  Yes, I'll admit it.  I shaved the chocolate from the Heath bars I bought so that the toffee would show up on the chocolate cake.  Labor.of.Love.  Totally worth it, though... Happy Birthday, Mom!


Someone decided she should taste the cake early and helped herself while no one was looking.  Luckily she didn't take down the whole thing before getting caught.

{clockwise from top left : evidence, culprit, jealous bystander, super cute kiddo}

... Seared Sea Scallops with Summer Vegetables and Buerre Blanc

This is one of those brilliant recipes that looks and tastes pretty darn impressive, but is, for the most part, very simple to put together.  That's a win-win in my book.

There's a first time for everything and this was mine for searing scallops.  They didn't get quite as caramelized as I'd have liked, but they sure didn't lack in flavor.  Thanks for your help, Dad!

serves 4

1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup chopped shallots
3 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
5/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 medium zucchini
1 medium yellow squash
1 orange bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small red onion, cut into wedges
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup grape tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1 1/2 pounds sea scallops
1/4 cup small basil leaves

Place a jelly-roll pan in the oven.  Preheat oven to 500 degrees (leave pan in oven as it preheats).

Combine wine and shallots in a small saucepan; bring to a boil.  Cook 6 minutes or until mixture is reduced to 2 tablespoons.  Strain through a sieve into a bowl; discard solids.  Return mixture to pan.  Gradually add butter, stirring with a whisk until smooth and emulsified.  Stir in rind and 1/8 teaspoon salt; keep warm.

Cut zucchini and yellow squash in half lengthwise.  Cut each half crosswise into 3 pieces; cut each piece lengthwise into 4 strips.  Combine zucchini, squash, bell pepper, onion, and 1 tablespoon oil in a large bowl; toss to coat.  Arrange vegetable mixture carefully onto preheated jelly-roll pan.  Bake at 500 degrees for 4 minutes or until vegetables are lightly browned.  Remove from oven; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

While vegetables cook; heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat.  Pat scallops dry with paper towels; sprinkle evenly with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.  Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat.  Add scallops to pan; cook 1 1/2 minutes on each side or until scallops are seared and desired degree of doneness.  Serve scallops with vegetable mixture and sauce; garnish with basil leaves.

Taylor's Notes:
Definitely take the time to prep your veggies first.  After they're ready and the sauce is made, the rest of the recipe moves pretty quickly.  Depending on how many vegetables you have or what size they are, they may take a little more time than 4 minutes.  We kept ours in the oven for about 15, but also had larger veggies and an additional pepper or two.  Keep an eye on them and start the scallops when you're about five or six minutes out.  It won't hurt the veggies to sit for a minute or two, but you definitely want the scallops to be hot.


... Pineapple Mango Salsa

Oh, Summer, with all of your delicious, fresh flavors and reasons to get together with friends... a reason in and of itself to make a tasty snack.

This salsa pairs great with lightly salty tortilla chips - use blue corn for even more color! - or, as with most fresh salsas, as a great partner to chicken or fish.

Pineapple Mango Salsa
serves 8

1 whole pineapple, peeled and diced
1 whole mango, diced
1/2 whole medium red onion, finely diced
1 whole jalapeno, seeded and diced
fresh cilantro, chopped
1 whole lime, juiced
dash of kosher salt
dash of granulated sugar (optional)

Combine diced pineapple, mango, red onion, jalapeno, and cilantro.  Squeeze in lime juice and add salt and sugar if needed.  Stir to combine.  Serve within an hour with tortilla chips or on top of chicken or fish.

Taylor's Notes:
It's really as easy as that... and really really tasty.  Thanks Pioneer Woman!


... Superfood Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

It probably goes without saying that I'm a fan of cooking blogs and I think I've mentioned a time or two that I've found some great recipes on Pinterest.  Well, add this one to the list... maybe even the top of the list.

And if this is one of my favorite new recipes, then quinoa is one of my favorite new ingredients.  It's so versatile - sweet, savory, breakfast, dinner - and really quick and easy to make.  It has a ton of protein and few carbs.  Quinoa, I think I love you.

The ingredient list is a little random... oranges, black beans, corn, pomegranate, avocado.  But it all comes together so perfectly with a light, lemon vinaigrette.  On its own or as a side, this salad will be showing up in my kitchen on a regular basis.

Superfood Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
serves 5

1/2 cup dry quinoa
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
1 orange, peeled, segmented, and chopped
1 avocado, chopped
1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup pomegranate arils (about 1 pomegranate worth)
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper

Cook quinoa according to package directions.  Set aside to cool.

Combine cooled quinoa with red onion, orange segments, avocado, beans, pomegranate arils, corn, cilantro, salt and pepper.  Pour Lemon Vinaigrette over the salad and stir to combine.  Serve cold or at room temperature.

Lemon Vinaigrette
2 lemons, juiced (you need 1/4 cup juice)
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
dash of sweetener (agave nectar, stevia, or white sugar)
salt and pepper
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Taylor's Notes:
This superfood salad is super easy... and super delicious!  I added grilled shrimp for a little extra oompf, but it'd be great without meat, too.  I didn't find the pomegranate seeds, so left them out.  I'm sure they'd add good color and flavor, but I didn't miss them and I'm not sure it'd be worth the work to dig them out of an actual pomegranate.  Who knows, though, let me know if you give it a shot!


... Butterflied Pork Chops with Plum, Mint, and Jalapeno Salsa

I think I've mentioned that my family is great about trying new recipes.  We all love to cook and aren't overly picky eaters, so it's always fun getting together for a family meal.  And when it's summertime, more often than not, that meal involves grilling.  Weber has a great number of cookbooks with terrific recipes - an abundance of what to grill, how to grill it, and what to pair with it.  So, for a holiday as colorful as the Fourth of July, we thought it would be appropriate to have a equally colorful meal.

serves 4-6

4 center-cut butterflied pork loin chops, each about 10 ounces and 3/4- to 1-inch thick, trimmed of excess fat
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
4 ripe plums, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 medium jalapeno chile pepper, seeded and minced
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

Season the pork chops on both sides with 1 teaspoon of the salt.  Allow the chops to stand at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes.

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat (350 to 450 degrees).

In a medium bowl gently combine the plums, jalapeno, mint, sugar, coriander, pepper, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Set aside.

Lightly brush the pork chops on both sides with the oil.  Brush the cooking grates clean.  Grill the chops over direct medium heat with the lid closed as much as possible until they are still slightly pink in the center, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once or twice.  Remove from the grill and let rest for 3 to 5 minutes.  Serve warm topped with the salsa.

Taylor's Notes:
Make this when the plums are in their peak.  We had a tough time finding ripe plums, but did just fine with what we had.  It'd just be that much better with riper, juicier plums.  You could definitely pair this salsa with chicken or fish if you're not that big a fan of the other white meat.


... Brussels Sprout Salad

Why is it that when you're a kid you can't imagine eating certain foods, but once you grow up, you just can't get enough of those same things?  I don't know many kids who like Brussels sprouts.  But give them this version, with pancetta ("bacon" where kids are concerned), cheese, and apple, and I bet you won't hear too many arguments.

Just don't put them in charge of shredding the sprouts.  The mandonlin is sharp and kids of all ages (ahem) can easily hurt themselves.

This salad was a great addition to our Fourth of July meal.  My family loves trying new recipes and sometimes we find them in the most random of places.  Like this one from Canadian House & Home magazine.  Lucky for us, Mom loves house magazines... and new recipes.

Brussels Sprout Salad
serves 4

10 slices of pancetta
4 ounces Piave cheese (or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1 medium-sized Matsu apple (or Gala, Fuji, or whatever you like)
3 dozen Brussels sprouts
1/2 cup caramelized pancetta vinaigrette (see below)

Caramelized Pancetta Vinaigrette
1 shallot, peeled
1 teaspoon grainy mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup reserved pancetta fat
1 cup cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped chives

Bake pancetta on parchment-lined baking sheet at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.  Reserve 1/2 cup fat for dressing.  Place all dressing ingredients except oil and chives in a blender and blend on high until smooth, slowly adding oil until emulsified.  Add chives and mix by hand.  (Store extra dressing in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.)

Shave cheese into long, thin curls using a vegetable peeler.  Cut apple into matchsticks using a mandoline or sharp knife.  Shave Brussels sprouts into very thin slices using a mandoline or sharp knife.  Toss all together in a bowl until well mixed, then add just enough dressing to coat.

Taylor's Notes:
This is a really tedious recipe, but pretty well worth it (if I remember correctly... I actually made this for the fourth of July).  If you've never cooked with Brussels sprouts, you need to wash them well and peel off any of the outside leaves that aren't tight to the sprout.  Be very careful shaving the Brussels sprouts.  You can easily shave those little guys right on down to your thumb or finger if you're not paying attention.  

When you cook the pancetta there won't be 1/2 cup worth of fat that drips off.  That was what we expected to happen, but as it so happens, you'll actually break or cut off the fat from the edges of the cooked pancetta.  See, cooking is learning!  


... Spaghetti with Herbs, Chilies, and Eggs

Is there anything more simple than pasta?  Maybe PB&J, but I try to not keep peanut butter in the house (I'm a bit of an addict.)  So... pasta.  Simple, quick, delicious.  And so many ways you can make it.

I'm a big fan of cheese and olive oil.  Always have been.  Add freshly minced garlic and a little heat from some chili flakes and there's not much better.  Until...

Yep.  That's an egg on pasta.  Don't knock it 'til ya try it.

serves 4

12 ounces spaghetti (3/4 box)
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 red chili pepper, sliced
12/ cup chopped fresh herbs
4 large eggs
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan

Cook the spaghetti according to the package directions; drain and return it to the pot.

In a small saucepan, warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil with the garlic and red chili pepper, until the garlic begins to sizzle, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add to the pasta in the pot, along with the herbs, and toss to combine.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add the eggs and cook until the whites are set, 2 to 3 minutes.  Serve the eggs on the spaghetti.  Top with the Parmesan.

Taylor's Notes:
As I've said before, the beauty of cooking is that, from time to time, you can wing it.  Especially when you don't happen to have all of the ingredients on hand and you're too lazy hungry to go to the store. So, my version of this recipe included spaghetti, olive oil, garlic cloves, chili pepper flakes, eggs, and Parmesan.  Hey, look at that - practically only missing the herbs!