Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Chocolate Whiskey Cake

Use "Irish whiskey" for a great St. Patty's day dessert.

Sometimes I debate to post a recipe. This one is from Melissa Clark who writes a food column for the New York Times. It went together easy enough. I added black walnuts because, well, the earthy smokiness of whiskey just seems to go with them. It was a great addition.

But I thought the cake a bit on "bitter side." Maybe it was the combination of coffee and bitter chocolate? A good sprinkle of powdered sugar certainly helped. Still . . . So I bought most of it to work and most people loved it (what do I know?).

A day or two later I spied what was left on the platter and cut myself a piece to go with my coffee. Ta-da! It was a different cake. It just needed a day or two to breathe and to "mellow" out and for all those strong flavors to come together. So that's what I recommend. After brushing the cake with whiskey, wrap it and allow to sit for a day or two. Then sprinkle with powdered sugar, cut and serve.

I made a half recipe and baked it in the recommended 9-inch loaf pan. I felt the pan too big for that amount of batter. The cake itself has a very light and tender crumb. Served without the powdered sugar but a dollop of soft vanilla ice cream would be ideal, too. Below is the full recipe.

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/4 cup instant espresso powder
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup bourbon, rye or other whiskey, more for brushing on finished cake
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped black walnuts (optional but recommended)
  • Confectioners's sugar, for garnish (optional)

Grease and flour or spray a 10-inch Bundt pan (or two 8- or 9- inch loaf pans). Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Melt chocolate in microwave or over double boiler. Allow to cool. Using a bit of flour or cocoa powder, powder your nuts (and trust me, here in the South during the summer, I do). This will prevent them from sinking to the bottom while baking.

Put espresso and cocoa powders in a 2-cup (or larger) glass measuring cup. Add enough boiling water to come up to the 1 cup measuring line. Mix until powders dissolve. Add whiskey and salt. Cool.

Using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter until fluffy. And sugar and beat until well combined. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition.

Mix in vanilla extract, baking soda and melted chocolate, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.

On low speed, mix in one-third of the whiskey mixture. When liquid is absorbed, beat in 1 cup of flour. Repeat additions ending with whiskey mixture.

Oh, gosh! Just let me swim in it!

Carefully fold in powdered nuts. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes for Bundt pan (loaf pans will take less time, start checking after 55 minutes.)

Remove from oven and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Brush warm cake with more whiskey. Allow to cool. Wrap in foil or waxed paper and allow to sit for 1-2 days. Unwrap and sprinkle with confectioner's sugar.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Potato Soup with Bacon, Leeks and Cabbage

Nothing prescribes SOUP like cleaning our your fridge! I had all the following on hand: 1/2 pack of bacon, 3 sad leeks, celery that had seen better days, a cabbage head, carrots and potatoes which were starting to sprout, two almost-used tubes of tomato paste, some reserved chicken stock. Soup was the logical and forgone conclusion.

Soups such as these are actually easier to make than a chicken or turkey soup which involves preparing a stock. This one was a knock-out! A real keeper. 

Don't skimp on the bacon--it's what flavors the soup. I usually use the center portion or the parts that have the most meat and less fat. Since I had one Idaho potato on hand, I used it as the thickener since it is starchier than the waxy red potatoes. It worked out perfect.

Yes, it's a lot of chopping. Pour yourself a glass of wine. Put on some great music. Chop, chop, chop. Open a window when you saute the bacon to make your neighbors envious  . . . 

Don't omit the smoked paprika. It imparts an earthiness at the end one can't achieve with regular paprika - or anything else, for that matter. I had a large slice of smoked hog jowl that I placed on top of the soup as it simmered. I also had the rind from a wedge of Parmesan cheese that I added. If you don't have a rind, just add a slice. It will melt into the soup as it simmers.

  • 1/2 cup chopped bacon (don't be stingy)
  • 3 cups chopped red potatoes 
  • 1 med-large Idaho potato
  • 1 cup chopped leek (white and light green parts only)
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 3/4 cup sliced carrots
  • 2 cups chopped cabbage
  • Dried thyme leaves, a few good pinches
  • 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry, white wine
  • 2 gloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1, 4 ounce can/jar mushrooms, liquid drained and reserved
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 4-5 cups liquid, (I used half water and half canned chicken stock)
  • 1 rind from a hard cheese, such as Parmesan

Wash the potatoes. Peel any parts that are sprouting. Cut in half, then cut each half into thirds. For the Idaho potato, peel and cut off the ends; discard. Now cut what's left in half. Split each leek down the center to check for sand and dirt; wash. Then slice.

In a heavy stock pot, saute the bacon until it begins to render its fat, is still pliable, and just beginning to crisp. Remove. Add a bit of olive oil to the pan and add the leek, celery, carrots, onion. Saute until soft. Salt and pepper to taste, being careful of the salt since the bacon has plenty. Move veggies to the side and add some of the white wine to de-glaze the pot of the brown bits at the bottom.

Stir in the garlic, thyme and tomato paste. Cook just until fragrant being careful not to burn the garlic. If necessary, add a bit more of the wine. Add the red potatoes and stir to coat.

Add the liquids, including the juice from the canned mushrooms. Give a good stir. Add the two chunks of Idaho potato and cheese rind.

I had a bit of fresh thyme from the garden, so I added it.
Be careful with thyme . . . less is more. It's my favorite herb.

Bring to a slow boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 30-40 minutes. The Idaho potato will have softened and begun to come apart. Remove hog jowl (if using) and with  the back of a spoon, mash the Idaho potato against the sides of the pan to thicken the soup.

Add the mushrooms and shredded cabbage. Re-cover and simmer another 20 minutes or so. Add paprika last and stir.

Soups are the perfect food to share. Everyone appreciates a bowl or jar of homemade goodness.

Notes: I used about 1.5 - 2.0  pounds of potatoes, total.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Chicken and Dumplings

These dumplings are light and airy, not heavy
and glutenous--and certainly not "biscuit-like."

While chicken and dumplings is a meal I did not grow up with, it's one I plan to grow old with. I really didn't discover it until mid-age. Think of it as a de-constructed pot pie. It's comfort food at its best: warm and filling. And it goes together pretty easily.

For some people, "dumplings" are a rolled-out affair similar to pasta and can be purchased pre-made and frozen. I prefer the dropped-type--soft and airy to soak up the broth. I don't shred the chicken but leave it whole on the bone. And I use chicken thighs for their meaty, juicy character. They usually come four to package, perfect for this recipe. And they are inexpensive.

I used baby carrots . . . but still cut them up.

I do recommend a heavy-bottom Dutch oven. I use cast-iron, enamel-lined. For light dumplings, use part all-purpose flour and, if you access to it, White Lily flour; if not, use cake flour. Some people prefer to add part cornmeal for a sturdier dumpling. 

Serves 2-4

Chicken Base

  • 1.5 - 2 pounds, bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion (part leek works well, too)
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
  • 1/3 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crushed
  • 1/8 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons sherry (optional)


  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup White Lily Flour or cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons shortening, lard, butter or chicken fat
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Using the tip of a sharp knife, cut along the bone on the underside of each thigh being careful not to go all the way through. this release the meat and allows it to cook evenly.

Dredge chicken pieces in flour mixture. Heat pan. Add about 1 tablespoon peanut oil if you have it, or cooking/olive oil. Brown chicken evenly on both sides, about 10 minutes or so, working in batches, if necessary. Remove to a plate.

Remove the oil/fat from the pot and, if desired, use some of it to form your dumplings. Wipe out the pot.

Add a bit of olive oil to the pot and add the onion, half the carrots, and the celery. Saute until soft. Add the pressed garlic, thyme, and turmeric. Stir until fragrant.

Add the chicken broth and, if using, the sherry. Bring to a simmer and then nestle the chicken pieces in the "soup" mixture, returning any juices that have collected on the plate. Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes until meat is tender, adding the rest of the carrots about half-way through. When done, add the frozen peas just before adding the dumplings.

Make the dumplings:

Add dry ingredients to a small food processor. Pulse.

Add whatever fat you are using. I used 1 tablespoon lard and 1 tablespoon chicken fat. Pulse just until blended. Place mixture in a small bowl and add the buttermilk, stirring gently until flour is incorporated.

Drop by heaping tablespoons on top of chicken, using one spoon to dislodge the dough from the measuring spoon. Allow to cook uncovered for ten minutes. Cover and simmer for ten more minutes.

The steam will cook the dumplings and they will have doubled in size. They will also thicken the "stew."

Now, if you'll excuse me . . . I have a plate to lick . . .

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Chicken Livers and Pasta

Chicken livers. Either you love 'em or you hate 'em.

"Liver" is one of those words with which we have a love/hate relationship. I had my first chicken livers when I worked in a restaurant during high school. I loved 'em. The texture was silky and luxurious. They were simply paired with onions and paprika. In this recipe, I use smoked paprika, bacon, brandy and a bit of hot sauce. Served with a garlicky pasta, it's a classic but inexpensive meal.

For the "bacon," I used sliced and smoked hog jowl. If you use bacon, it should be a bit on the thick side.

  • 1/3 cup chopped "bacon"
  • 8 oz. chopped onion
  • 12 oz chicken livers (about 8, which have been cut in half for a total of 16)
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed and divided
  • 8 oz. vermicelli
  • 3 tablespoons brandy
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 - 3/4 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 4-8 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • Butter and olive oil
  • All-purpose flour

Rinse livers well removing fat and gunky parts. Cut in half/separate the livers. Allow to drain in a colander.

Cut bacon into matchsticks. Slice onions and measure out the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Place about 1/2 cup of AP flour on a large plate.

Saute bacon in pan just until it browns and renders its fat. Remove bacon to drain and cool. Leave the fat in the pan.

Dredge the livers in flour.

Add one teaspoon butter and one teaspoon olive oil to pan along with the bacon fat. Add flour-coated chicken livers and sautee on each side for 2-3 minutes. Remove to a separate plate.

Add 1 - 2 teaspoons butter and one teaspoon olive oil and one tablespoon brandy. Scrape up bits from bottom of pan. Add chopped onion. Sautee until volume is reduced by half, adding 2 tablespoons brandy during the cooking process and 1/2 cup stock, adding more when needed.

At this point, begin adding stock to loosen up all the bits
on the bottom of the pan.

When carmelized and thick, add the garlic and stir just until fragrant. Add the smoked paprika and Tabasco. Stir. Add the chicken livers. Reduce heat and simmer for several minutes.

Boil the pasta.

In a medium bowl, add pressed garlic clove, Kosher salt, bacon and several drizzles of olive oil.

Drain pasta and add to bowl tossing well. Taste for seasonings.

To serve, mound pasta on a plate and place livers on top. Sprinkle with parsley or celery leaves. 

Organ meat! It's what's for dinner! I licked the plate . . .

Notes: I initially used 8 oz. of livers but should have used 12 oz, about 16 pieces. Livers are usually connected, so you have to cut them in half. Eight whole livers will result in the 16 pieces.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Oeufs en Concotte (Baked Eggs)

Baked eggs offering their warm, yellow yolk like the sun itself. Perfect
to take off the chill of a winter's morn.

It was chilly this morning with a thin layer of ice on the birdbath. I wanted eggs for breakfast, but not fried, scrambled or boiled. Omelet? Nay.

Baked eggs seemed the perfect ticket. 

This is a recipe you can make up as you go depending on ingredients you have on hand. I had some mushrooms, smoked hog jowl and onion. I also had cheese. On one I used a combo of Parmesan and fresh rosemary. On the other, I used Pepper Jack. I preferred the pepper jack.

You may, of course omit the onions, mushrooms and bacon. It's up to you. Even though I sauteed the mushrooms, they made the egg whites a bit more watery than I would have liked, but it was perfect for dunking crusty bread.

A few mushrooms, bacon slices, some chopped onion
2 eggs
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
Pepper jack cheese
Boiling water

Fry bacon or smoked hog jowl until brown and not overly crisp. Remove from pan and allow to drain.

Remove some of the fat from the pan add the chopped onions and mushrooms and saute until onions are soft and mushrooms have released their liquid. Remove from pan and allow to drain.

I love smoked and sliced hog jowl!

Butter a ramekin and pour one tablespoon heavy cream in the bottom. Add some of the mushroom/onion mixture. Add some crumbled or torn cooked bacon.

Fill a shallow pan with boiling water. Place ramekin in the pan to begin warming the cream and vegetable mixture.

Carefully, break two eggs per ramekin. (I break each egg separately on a saucer then slide it into the ramekin ensuring an unbroken yolk.) Put a bit more cream over the eggs and then cover with cheese.

Place pan into a pre-heated 375-400 F degree oven. Bake for ten minutes until set. The whites will have set up and it should still be "jiggly." Remove from oven. I left mine in the hot water bath for a few minutes before removing. The yolk was just the way I liked it: creamy and custardy but not runny.

Serve with hunks of a crusty, artisan bread.

(Notes: I probably would not have made this if I didn't have my Breville countertop oven. Since I purchased it, I haven't turned on my standard oven once!)