Friday, June 22, 2012

The request line is open....

     So for this week I fulfilled a couple of requests. The first request was from one of my friends for a special dessert that I've made in the past. After I made the dessert and my awesome wife (AW) posted it on Facebook and I was asked if the dessert could be featured in an upcoming blog. So let me thank Ali for asking for dessert and Cindi for letting me know that people actually read this.
     But I guess the original request came from AW about a year ago. I was making pizza for everyone one night when she asked if I could make a dessert pizza similar to what the pizza chains offer. After some thought I decided that I didn't really like any of those offerings. No matter how much brown sugar, butter, chocolate, or cinnamon they would put on the dessert, it was still just all that stuff piled onto a hunk of unseasoned, plain pizza dough. A sweet beginning with a lame finish. So the first step was going to be creating a sweet crust that would stand up to toppings and taste buds.
     The next item on the agenda is what to put on it. That is when AW stepped in again with inspiration. She suggested that since I wasn't making a dessert pizza that we make S'mores. The light bulb lit up like it was being powered by the Flux Capacitor! A S'mores pizza! S'mores are the perfect combination of flavors and texture. Also, I don't think I've ever heard someone who is offered a S'mores (or would it be S'more?) respond with "Eww! I hate S'mores." Now I just had to figure out how to put it together.
     Staying with the pizza theme I decided to substitute tomato sauce for chocolate sauce and cheese for marshmallows. For additional toppings maybe some smashed up graham crackers for flavor and some crunch. Then I set to work trying to figure out the crust.
     The first version was my standard dough with some sugar, butter, and crushed up graham crackers but it was too bland. The second attempt was much like a cheesecake crust but it didn't hold together like a slice of pizza as I had hoped. I figured my third attempt had better be "The One" or else my family would slip into a sugar coma from which there would be no escape.
     Then once again AW stepped in to remind me that S'mores are made like a sandwich so if I have graham crackers on top, I should have graham crackers on the bottom. I told her about the cheesecake type crust and she said, "How about a cookie?" 1.21 jigawatts of power lit up the bulb this time. So with a new direction, I started to experiment with different cookie recipes and finally found the perfect cookie for the base of the S'mores pizza.
     So after much trial and error (if the byproduct of the error is cookies, is it really an error?) I present to you "Shep's Fantabulous S'mores Pizza". Thanks for reading and enjoy!


After re-reading this I promise not to watch Back to The Future ever again before writing a blog.

After the cookie was done but before toasting the marshmallows

2 Cups graham cracker crumbs (about a package and a half)
1 1/2 Cups flour
1  tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 Cup butter, softened
3/4 Cup sugar
3/4 Cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 Bag mini marshmallows
1 Bag milk chocolate chips
1 Cup heavy cream
Extra graham crackers for topping, broken into chunks.

Cookie Crust
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Combine graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter, sugar and brown sugar in large mixer bowl until creamy. Beat in eggs and vanilla extract; add flour mixture in batches until combined. Spoon entire batch onto a 16 inch greased pizza pan (one without holes in it) and spread out evenly, leaving approximately an inch around the edges for expansion during cooking. Bake for 20 minutes* and promptly remove from the oven and set to the side to cool slightly. 

Chocolate Sauce
Pour the milk chocolate chips into a heat safe bowl. In a medium sauce pan, heat heavy cream until just to a boil, stirring constantly to avoid scorching the cream. Once heated, pour over milk chocolate chips and wisk until you have a smooth texture. Set aside to cool slightly

By now the cookie should be cool enough to handle. About an inch or so from the edge of the cookie  press down to make kind of a moat to prevent the chocolate from spilling over the sides. You can either use a measuring cup to spread the chocolate sauce or pour it directly from the pot onto the cookie. Reserve a bit for topping. Pour the marshmallows onto the chocolate while trying to spread them as evenly as possible. Top it with some broken graham crackers and drizzle some left over chocolate sauce on top. Place in the middle of an oven under a broiler. Watch carefully so as not to scorch the graham crackers or burn the marshmallows (I don't even close the door. I just watch it until nice and toasted). Once it's toasted to your satisfaction, remove it and serve warm** with a side of my personal favorite, homemade vanilla ice cream.

So good you'd fight your Grandma for a piece!
* 20 minutes is an approximate time. Final cooking time will depend on your individual oven and type of pan you use.
** A tip when using a pizza cutter to cut the pizza while warm is to rub the blade with butter. That way the melted marshmallows won't stick to the pizza cutter and make a mess of things.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I'll make my own, thanks.

     Have you ever walked through a grocery store and saw something that, just by name alone, should be utterly satisfying. Example: chicken and dumplings. Doesn't that just make you feel all warm and satisfied? While doing the monthly pilgrimage to the local grocery store I had one those experiences.
     I was traveling down the soup isle and saw a large, blue can of soup labeled "Chicken and Dumplings". Now, I know I should know better than to expect the fond memories of my Gramma Marshal's chicken and dumplings to be found in a can but I couldn't stop myself. I had an immeasurable craving for those dumplings. The firm yet chewy texture. The amazing homemade broth. The massive chunks of chicken and vegetables. Like a Homer Simpson kinda moment. So I lifted The Can and gently placed it right next to the eggs and bread at the top of the cart so it could be protected. While at the checkout, and against the bagger's advice, I asked that The Can be bagged with the bread so it would receive special treatment. When I arrived home, I brought The Can into house, retrieved it from the bag and tossed aside my freshly smashed bread.
     I opened The Can.
     I poured the contents into my soup pot.
     I saw....something not completely right. The dumplings were small. Like "the size of an almond" small. "Well," I thought to myself. "Maybe they'll expand as they cook."
     Also, the smell was off. Instead of the aroma of chicken, celery, carrots, and onions, I smelled....nothing with a touch of metallic something. "Maybe that will right itself during cooking as well," I hoped.
     Once heated to just the right temperature, I poured the concoction into a bowl and sat down to enjoy it. While the dumplings had not gotten any bigger the smell had gotten significantly better. I was thinking that maybe this will be OK after all. I spooned that first bite up, closed my eyes, emptied the spoon on to my waiting taste buds, and waited for greatness.
     And waited....
     And waited some more.
     There was no greatness to be found. What was found was mushy vegetables, flavorless broth, stringy particles of what may or may not have been chicken, and bland bits of dough that I can assume to be a poor attempt at dumplings.
     So instead of awesomeness, I managed to locate feelings of emptiness and disappointment. But those feelings passed quickly. I was now determined to right this wrong. I was motivated. I was dedicated. I was...hungry. And I wanted chicken and dumplings.
     I gathered all my ingredients, found my grandma's recipe and got started. What came out of that pot at the end of the cooking process can only be described as what I like to call "Awesome Sauce". Even Sean liked it! So my friends: I present to you a recipe for chicken and dumplings. It'll warm you up on a chilly day and satisfy you any other day. Also, it's guaranteed not to make you question your shopping decisions. Enjoy.

Photo by Heidi Shepherd

Ingredients and directions

2-2 1/2 lbs Chicken parts (You can use boneless, skinless but whole pieces will add a deeper flavor)
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 bunch thyme
1 bay leaf 

 1 Tbs vegetable oil
1 Large onion, chopped
2 Carrots, peeled and sliced

1 Cup chopped celery (about 2 stalks)
3 Cloves finely chopped garlic



2 Cups all-purpose flour  
1 Tbs baking powder
1 Cup heavy cream
2 Tbs salted butter
1 tsp dried parsley leaves 

1/2 tsp dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a very large saucepan or Dutch oven, add chicken, chicken broth, thyme, and bay leaf to cover. Turn on heat to low and let simmer for 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. *Note: You can poach the chicken on a low simmer and start with cold stock so the chicken cooks evenly or I like to throw it all in a crock pot so it cooks low and slow in its' own juices. Once the chicken is cooked, transfer to a separate dish and let cool. Reserve broth and toss out the thyme and bay leaf. Shred the chicken once it has cooled. Use your hands or a fork and make sure to get all the meat off the bone. Discard the skin and bones.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and pepper, to taste into a large bowl. In a medium saucepan, bring heavy cream, butter and herbs to a low simmer then add to the dry ingredients. Stir until well combined. Use your hands to form the dough into dumplings and set to the side. 

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat and add oil. Once oil is hot, add onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Saute until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add reserved broth to Dutch oven with vegetables and add the chicken. Bring to a low simmer. Add dumplings one at a time into the simmering soup. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste, if necessary.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Drunken Dessert

     So, a couple of weeks ago I showed you guys a (mostly) sugar free Tres Leche cake. Now we go to the opposite end of the spectrum. And when I say “you guys” I mean all six of you that actually read this.

     While I was in the Army, I was privileged enough to visit several different parts of our great country. While some places made me long for the Great North West, I could actually see myself setting up a homestead in other. One of those potential roosting spots was Kentucky. For those of you that are unaware, Kentucky is full of history, attractions, world class horse racing, and great food. It also happens to be the birthplace of bourbon.

      Now, I love bourbon. I love bourbon straight, over ice, or with Vanilla Coke. I love bourbon in my bread pudding, in my BBQ sauce and in my apple cider. A good bourbon on a warm spring day conjures thoughts of southern hospitality and images of wrap-around porches with a rocking chair. And what goes well with bourbon while you're sitting in that rocking chair and waving to your neighbor? Roasted pecans. Whether you call them “pee-cans”, “p-cahns”, or even “pee-cahns” they pair well with bourbon or just a handful by themselves.

     So, now we know I love bourbon, pecans and, as seen in my previous blog postings, cake. So how do we put this all together into one sweet, mouthwatering treat? I think Bourbon Pecan Cupcakes with Bourbon Brown Sugar Buttercream Frosting will do it just right. Also, after I made these they looked rather plain so I added a pecan brickle for a garnish. Now, believe it or not, a brickle is different from a brittle. Some will say they are the same but brickle is not heated as high as brittle and I think it as a lighter and airier texture as well.
     So strap on the apron and hand your keys over to someone in the living room because we're baking with bourbon this time and who knows, some of it might even make it to the cupcakes. Enjoy!
Photo by Heidi Shepherd
Ingredients and Directions:
1/4 Cup shortening
1/4 Cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 Cup light brown sugar
3 eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 Cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 Cup buttermilk
1/4 Cup bourbon
1 Cup chopped, toasted pecans
 Bourbon-Brown Sugar Buttercream:
1/2 Cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 Cup butter
3 Tbs bourbon
1 Cup butter, softened to room temperature
3 Cups powdered sugar
Pecan Brickle:
2 Cups chopped, toasted pecans
1 Cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 Cups packed brown sugar
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Beat the shortening, 1/4 Cup butter, and 1 Cup light brown sugar at medium speed in a large mixing bowl until fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Sift together the flour, baking soda, and 1/2 tsp salt.  Add the flour mixture in batches with the buttermilk and 1/4 cup bourbon, beginning and ending with the flour.  Stir in the pecans.  Beat the egg whites at high speed in a medium mixing bowl (metal preferably) until stiff peaks form.  Gently fold into the cake batter.  Line your cupcake pan with liners and fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full with batter.  Bake for about 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let them cool for about 10 minutes and then move them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
2.  While cupcakes are baking, heat 1/2 Cup light brown sugar, 1/4 Cup butter, and 3 Tbs bourbon over medium heat in a heavy saucepan, whisking often, until butter melts.  Continue to cook until mixture begins to boil, then boil for one minute, whisking constantly.  Remove from heat and cool completely.
3.  In a large mixing bowl, beat 1 Cup softened butter on high speed until smooth and fluffy.  Beat in the cooled brown sugar-bourbon mixture until smooth. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar until smooth. I like to always double my frosting recipes so I can just smother my cupcakes with frosting.
4. Do this last part after everything else is done. If you aren't completely focused on the brickle it is very easy to burn. Sprinkle the pecans over the bottom of a well-greased cookie sheet (you can use any pan as long as it's going to be big enough and has sides so the mixture doesn't spill out). Melt the butter in a medium, heavy-duty saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 280 degrees F on a candy thermometer, about 7 minutes. Pour the hot mixture over the nuts and let cool. Once completely cool, break into bite size pieces and top the cupcakes with the pieces.