February 25, 2011

Rolling Out the Red Velvet

Valentine's Day brings out all things pink and red, including everyone's lust for that indelible favorite, red velvet cake. I'm not sure what it is about it that everyone loves (with anywhere from only 2 tablespoons to maybe 1/3 of a cup of unsweetened cocoa, it's not really chocolate, but then it's not really just vanilla with red food color either), but secretly, I think it's the color plus the cream cheese frosting.

Everyone loves cream cheese frosting! It goes well with carrot cake, devil's food, lemon, and of course, red velvet. With wedding cakes, I encourage brides to go with a white chocolate or cream cheese filling so that guests can still get a little "alternative flavor" kick along with the standard wedding vanilla buttercream.

But at this time of year, you might even want to go for an alternative item on the red velvet spectrum. How about red velvet doughnuts? I pulled a recipe off Gourmet Live recently, but after some rather interesting results at home, I revamped it a bit to come up with the one below. The first few attempts were too airy and fluffy--much like a cupcake in a circle, if anything else. A good cake doughnut should be soft and melt-in-your-mouth tasty, like a good cupcake, but it also needs to be dense, buttery, and eat like a meal, like a hearty doughnut should! I played around with the egg and butter ratios, replaced the flour with cake flour for tenderness, and added a cream cheese glaze, and voila! Here's a little something you can roll out the next time you have overnight company. (But they may not want to leave, so beware the extended stay!)

Baked Red Velvet Donuts
2 cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon red food coloring

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a doughnut pan with cooking spray with flour in it, or butter it with pastry brush and flour it.

In a large bowl, sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.

In the microwave in a small heat-proof bowl, heat butter and chocolate together on 50% power in 1-minute intervals until melted. DO NOT ALLOW TO BURN. Stir until smooth. Set aside to cool.

In another bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs. Add the melted butter/chocolate mixture to the egg/sugar mixture. In a glass measuring cup, whisk buttermilk, extract, and food color until combined. Add to egg/sugar mixture and stir well.

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture in three intervals, mixing with a spatula each time just until combined. Using two spoons or a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch wide tip, fill the doughnut pan with the batter, filling each cavity about two-thirds full. Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes.

Cream Cheese Glaze

1/2 package cream cheese (4 ounces), room temperature
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk, room temperature

In small bowl, using electric mixer, blend cream cheese and butter until combined. Add
powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla extract and mix well until no lumps. Add milk and mix until smooth and a little drippy. Add more milk if you like a thinner glaze. Spread on doughnuts while warm and let glaze drip over sides. Makes about 1 dozen.

February 16, 2011

A Chili for the Chilly

February. The dead of winter. Cold and gray. Outside of the Super Bowl and impatiently waiting on spring to arrive, with little else to look forward to, it’s a great time to add some spice to the trials and tribulations of everyday life.

You’re probably thinking, “All right, already, King… Get to the point!”

Chili is the point. In this long overdue rendition of a recipe, the Burger King shares a legendary version of everybody’s favorite winter fill.

1 lb. 96% extra lean ground beef
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 small white onion, thinly sliced
4 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped, seeds and juices discarded
1 can red kidney beans (15.5 oz)
1 can black beans (15.5 oz)1 jar plain marinara sauce (16 oz)
2 cans tomato sauce (15.5 oz each)
about half a white chocolate bar (about 2 oz)
1/4 cup of buffalo sauce (such as Frank's RedHot)
Spices: cinnamon, black pepper, brown sugar, sea salt, cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper

In a large pan over medium-high heat, brown beef, breaking it up as you move it from the container to the pan. As it begins to brown, add 1/2 teaspoon of each: cinnamon, black pepper, and brown sugar. This will take about 10 minutes.

While beef is cooking, prepare vegetables, garlic, and onion as noted above. Add these ingredients to the beef, along with some sea salt to taste, and continue cooking another five minutes, or until the peppers have become tender.

As this mixture cooks, chop the four tomatoes, discarding the seeds and juices, and drain and rinse both cans of beans. Add tomatoes, beans, marinara sauce, and tomato sauce, as well as 1 heaping teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, about a half of one white chocolate candy bar, and 1/4 cup buffalo hot sauce. Stir ingredients well to combine and reduce heat, adding a few of pinches of cayenne pepper to taste.

His Highness suggests letting the chili simmer for about two hours, which brings out the creamy, sweet notes of the brown sugar and white chocolate, along with the kick of the cayenne and buffalo sauce — a unique, yet delicious contrast.

Although the recipe has some quirks, it’s one that has been through many tweaks and variations by this hardcore chili hound. And, most importantly, it’s the best one I’ve had the pleasure of coming across.

February 1, 2011

For Perfect Roast Chicken, Get Yourself a Brick

The next must-have kitchen gadget isn't at Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma. It's at Home Depot.

This isn't to deny my affection for fancy kitchen implements. The only way you'd take away my Le Creuset Dutch oven is from my cold, dead hands! But I must confess my adoration of the humble brick. I owe it my gratitude for its role in helping make the most flavorful and moist roast chicken I have ever made.

I take roast chicken seriously. There's perhaps no better test of a cook to get it right. It's simple, but not easy. Two things usually foul (fowl?) up roast chicken. The first is insufficiently brown, or worse, rubbery skin. A more glaring fault is dry, stringy breast meat. That's because chicken breasts, like those of other birds, cook more quickly than the legs and thighs. By the time the latter cook completely, the former too often have entered shoe leather territory.

A brick (and pair of sturdy scissors) address these shortcomings. You'll need the scissors, or a sharp knife, to remove the chicken's backbone—an easy feat that will take no more than 1 minute—so that it lays open like a book. The brick forces the chicken flat, ensuring even cooking. In 45-50 minutes—much less time than conventional roasting techniques—you'll pull a perfectly cooked bird from the oven, with the requisite crisp, golden skin to match.

A note about the chicken itself: I highly recommend the Empire kosher brand, which I find at Trader Joe's. I won't pretend to be an expert on kosher slaughter techniques, but I know the process involves salting the meat, a practice that boosts flavor and helps the chicken retain moisture. (You can achieve the same effect by soaking your chicken in cold salted water, a procedure known as brining. Click here for a primer.) I give the chicken an added boost with a marinade of equal parts lemon and olive oil and fresh herbs. Rosemary and thyme are classic chicken-friendly herbs, but tarragon would pair nicely too.

Below you'll find a step-by-step guide to chicken under a brick, or as the Italians call it, chicken al mattone. (It always sounds better in Italian, doesn’t it?)

First, turn the chicken breast down, and with a sturdy pair of scissors, cut along one side of the back bone. Cut from one side to the other. Repeat on the other side of the backbone. The bone will be your guide. (When you attempt this maneuver, you'll see what I mean.)

Next, flatten the chicken with the palm of your hand as if you were mistreating a book. Rub the marinade on the front and back of the chicken. I prefer an all-day marinade, but an hour or two will do in a pinch. Any longer, though, would be a bad idea. The lemon juice may start "cooking" the chicken.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In an oven-proof frying pan, saute the chicken, breast side down, in a couple tablespoons hot olive oil for approximately 7 minutes. The chicken should be well-browned.

Wrap the brick in foil (see below) and set it atop the chicken, with the chicken remaining breast side down. This will ensure even cooking and perfectly browned skin. Insert pan in oven and roast for 30 minutes. (When my chicken is on the smaller side, around three pounds, I usually roast it for a little less, around 27 minutes.)

Remove the brick and carefully turn the chicken so that it's breast side up. Return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes. (After 10 minutes, I check to see if the chicken is done. Some fancy-pants cooks might advocate use of a thermometer. I prick the leg or thigh with a fork, and if the juices run clear, it's done.)

It's important to let the chicken rest for at least 10 minutes after roasting. As tempting as it looks, resist the temptation to carve into it. Its juices will end up on the cutting board rather than in your mouth. Loosely cover it with foil to keep it warm.

When you're ready to eat, you'll find it easy to cut into serving pieces. I love to serve roasted chicken with crusty bread and white beans, briefly sauteed in olive oil and rosemary. I'll also braise a hearty green, such as kale or Swiss chard, in olive oil and garlic. All complement the simplicity of the chicken so elegantly.

The last step is optional, though highly recommended: This dish, like any meal, is best enjoyed with special company. In this case, it was my equally zesty boyfriend, who just loves this dish.