18 March 2009

I could really go for some acai right now

More to come about my latest trip to Brazil later, but for now, I'll just dream of acai.

04 March 2009

Saturday Ragu

Preceding the cupcakes from the previous post at last Saturday's dinner was a main dish I'd been aching to try ever since I saw it in January's Gourmet. I'd been craving meat, after cooking largely vegetarian dishes (with a few, delicious slip ups ... a girl's got needs, ya know) and decided to give this a whirl. This was the last weekend I'd not be on a plane or on a different continent until April, so I decided to spend the day in the kitchen, prepping for a dinner of hungry guys.

The main gist of this recipe ... braise meat, add drippings and meat to pot of homemade sauce, brown more meat, add drippings and meat to sauce, and so on and so forth. Then, simmer for at least 2 1/4 hours until the meat's falling off the bone / tender. I omitted the braised pork shoulder and braciole from this meatlover's paradise, due to space constrictions (without, I had my 5 qt pasta pot filled TO THE BRIM) and also time, but it was still unbelievably tasty.

For the full recipe, click here. Below is my version ... just some minor tweaks.

For the tomato sauce base ...

I used 4 cans of whole tomatoes (28 oz) and one can of stewed tomatoes, blending so that it's relatively smooth but with a few pieces of tomato in tact. Blend these in a side container, while you sweat a large onion, chopped, and 5 cloves of chopped garlic. Once those are translucent, add the tomatoes, some salt and crushed red pepper flakes and a Bay leaf. I added some lemon zest, following the recipe of one of my favorite quick tomato sauces from 101cookbooks. You surely can go without, though. Simmer uncovered for 45 minutes ... the sauce will start to thicken, and will continue to beef up (literally and figuratively) once you start adding meat and simmering even longer.

On to the meat ...

Here's what I used for this bottomless pot of meat sauce:

Polpette (also from this issue of Gourmet) - though mine were more round.
1 lb of sweet italian sausage
1 lb of hot italian sausage
2 1/2 lbs of pork ribs

Mix up polpette ingredients (I followed Gourmet's recipe to a tee), and fry until they have a nice golden crust, and are cooked through.

Transfer to paper towel to drain, and save some for lunch / to freeze. You'll have a hefty amount, and about half needs to go into this recipe, but you can for sure add more / less. These are great things to snack on as they come out of the pan ... so make sure you save some for the sauce. They disappear quickly ;)

Once those have drained, add to the sauce, add any drippings, but reserve the oil for remaining frying.

Brown up the batches of italian sausage, add to sauce as well.

Pad dry the ribs and cut into 2-3 rib sections. This makes it a bit easier to brown the meat. Salt and pepper both sides liberally, and brown in a pan. You want the meat to be cooked through for the most part ... and I found cutting these into smaller sections helped me better sear the ends to prevent it from going into the sauce too raw. Then, as is old hat by now, add to the sauce with the drippings. (Note: pictures below were the first batch of ribs I cooked ... I then cut into smaller hunks to better brown ...)

Cover the pot, put it on a simmer, and let that bad larry slow cook. I probably had this on for 3 or 3 1/2 hours on simmer as my guests were arriving / having a few drinks / noshing on apps. Cook up some egg fettuccine to go with and serve. If I had extra time (this is an all day affair, btw) I would have made some homemade tagliatelle or fettuccine myself. But alas, for another day.

By the time you serve, the meatballs, which were incredibly flavorful from the start, take on an even richer taste, while the rib meat falls off the bone.

Very, very happy guests, wonderful aroma lingering in the apartment, and killer leftovers. This sauce gets better each day it sits, giving me ample to freeze as well. Dinner, success. Served with a microgreens salad with some blue cheese, pecans and a light grapefruit dressing, also with a vegetarian pasta (not pictured) featuring a lemony mustard cream sauce with tarragon and asparagus.

01 March 2009

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

I stumbled on this idea over at Smitten Kitchen ... and was intrigued. A friend's birthday gave me just the occasion to try this out, and also gave me a reason to sip on some of the ingredients as I was baking. Blissful, really.

The basic gist to these wonderful confections are the following: moist Guinness chocolate cupcakes, filled with a Jameson laced chocolate ganache, topped with a creamy Baileys Irish Cream frosting. The result - FAR better than I imagined. I may never make chocolate cake without Guinness and sour cream again. Bold statement, but man alive, these things made me believe. They were a huge hit with the my dinner guests, and gave us a reason (who needs one though, c'mon) to toast the birthday boy with real liquid Irish Car Bombs. M'mm.

Enough gushing, on to the goods.

Makes 20 - 24 cupcakes. For me, 22.


Guinness Chocolate Cupcake Base:
1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Jameson Ganache
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3-4 tsp Jameson (I liked mine a bit stronger, and I eyeballed. This is optional, and Smitten Kitchen uses 1-2 tsp ... trust me, the whiskey flavoring adds a tang that's hard to describe, and absolutely divine.)

Baileys Frosting
2-3 cups confections sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 - 6 tablespoons Baileys (I added more, originally calls for 3-4 TB. More Baileys = creamier frosting and stronger taste.)

First, make the cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in cocoa powder and mix until mixture is smooth. It will have a dense, chocolate, slightly bitter taste. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl, using an electric mixer or just a bit of dedication. I don't own an electric mixer, and frankly use this as a way to relieve stress :) But I'd imagine the mixer would make this process and frosting-making easier. Eh, it's kind of like a mini-workout ;)

Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and mix just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, rotating them once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, about 17 minutes. Cool cupcakes completely.

On to the best ganache I've ever had ... and I love ganache:

Chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. Add the butter and whiskey and stir until combined. It should have a rich tang to it and the faint smell of Jameson. M'mm Jameson. :) Happy KT.

I used a small melon baller for this. You want to scoop out almost all the way down, maybe 3/4 of the way into the cupcake. Highly recommend saving these scraps for a little treat for the chef and drizzling with remaining ganache ... It provides a delightful mental health break while these cool ;)

Spoon the ganache into a piping bag / ziploc bag. Pipe the filling into the cupcakes. There should be enough to fill to the tops. My ganache was a little runny when I tried this due to the Jameson but it was manageable. I just popped into the freezer after that so this would set.

Almost done ... making the frosting:

Again, out of all the kitchen gadgets I have, an electric mixer isn't one. This is quite laborious without one, but hey, I had some time to kill ... and a bicep to tone. ;)

Whip the butter in a bowl with the mixer / brute strength, until it's light and fluffy. Mix in the sugar tablespoon by tablespoon, to help prevent a grainy texture or lumps. Once I had mixed in about a cup of the powdered sugar, I started to add little by little the Baileys ... it makes this mixing process, especially if by hand, MUCH easier. I probably used 2 cups of powdered sugar (original recipe calls for 3-4, but I didn't use it all.) I made mine a bit creamier by adding more Baileys ... play around with it. Should be a lightish brown color, with a noticeable Baileys taste and a frosting consistency.

I chose to put this in a bag, snip the corner and decorate the cupcakes as seen above. Not much frosting was needed, IMO, since these cupcakes are sweet enough as is ... just a little added pizazz. I sprinkled some shaved chocolate over the top, and watched as these got gobbled up. You know, after properly "Cheers!"-ing them, post the *other* Irish Car Bombs ... ;)

A new look

Thanks to the newest addition to my family ... my Canon EOS XSi ;) ... Tales of a Test Kitchen has gotten a new look, with a photo from this past weekend's cupcake makin' (recipe to follow.)

Better pictures to come ... As always, you can keep up with them on my Flickr page.