Monday, August 10, 2009

Chocolate Almond Spice Drops

Part III from the "Cleaning out the cupboards so we can move to Italy" series

If this recipe starts out sounding a lot like one of my previous chocolates (see Pomegranate Chocolates), that's because it is. After using up the pomegranate jelly, I had an excess of nicely melted orange cardamom chocolate to experiment with (this is one of the better problems to have, I've discovered... in a related note, I'm not looking forward to my dentist appointment next week...). I decided to combine this base with one of my favorite savory spice combos (cinnamon, clove and nutmeg) and see where that took me.

I prefer a slightly bitter chocolate when making my own candies (bittersweet 60 - 70%). Callebaut has been my medium of choice because a) I can consume it in solid form by the handful (and I do, see dentist note above), b) it melts nicely, c) it sets up firm, yet will melt in your mouth after a couple seconds and d) it is relatively cheap for a culinary grade chocolate. Again, and I apologize if this sounds snobbish, but I have tried some of the standard grocery-grade chips (Ghiradelli, Hershey's, generic, etc.) and they simply do not make good candies - most likely due to the higher levels of preservatives and wax.

Callebaut bittersweet (60%) runs $5 per pound (sold in two pound bags, chip form) at one of the local restaurant supply warehouses here in Culver City so you're not going to break the bank making birthday candy for ... (me? please?). To get an idea as to how much candy two pounds of chocolate chips equates to, it's approximately 20 times more than you would ever want to consume in a single day. And that's if you're me, which very few people out there are.

Anyway, here's what you came for.

  • 8 green cardamom pods
  • 4 cloves
  • 1/8 t. cinnamon, freshly ground
  • 1/16 t. nutmeg, freshly ground
  • Pinch of brown sugar, optional
  • 3/4 lb. bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1 orange, zest only
  • Almonds, whole

  1. In a mortar and pestle (or spice grinder) grind the cardamom and cloves into a fine powder
  2. Mix in the cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar
  3. In a double boiler, gently melt 3/4 of the chocolate, orange zest and spice mixture until smooth and creamy
  4. Remove from heat and add the reserved chocolate, folding with a spatula until melted through
  5. Before the chocolate sets up, lay out a sheet of wax paper over a cookie sheet
  6. Using a spoon, spread out small oval-shaped portions of chocolate (just larger than a single almond) until all the chocolate has been used
  7. Gently press a single almond into each chocolate drop
  8. Let the chocolate cool and set. You may want to place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator to expedite the process if you are working in a warm and/or humid environment
  9. I prefer to individually wrap each piece just in case they are left out and start to melt - plus it just looks cool to have a bowl full of home-made hand-wrapped candies sitting out

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Chicken With Spicy Marinara

Part II from the "Cleaning out the cupboards so we can move to Italy" series

Honestly, I didn't have high expectations for this one, so I was surprised when I actually tasted it and thought "Hey, I'd eat this again". As a side note, does anyone know if Rice Krispies go bad? Maybe that was what made it good. If this doesn't turn out tasty for you on first attempt, try aging your Rice Krispies for at least 18 months. I did.

  • 1 c. marinara sauce
  • 2 T. Tabasco
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Few leaves basil, torn
  • 1 c. Rice Krispies (see above), crushed
  • 1/3 c. flour
  • 1 t. cayenne powder
  • 1/2 t. black pepper
  • 1 t. garlic powder
  • 1 t. red pepper flakes
  • 2 chicken breasts, split in half width-wise
  • Cheddar cheese, sliced

  1. In a small pot on low heat, combine the first four ingredients, mix well and let simmer
  2. Combine the Rice Krispies, flour, cayenne, black pepper, garlic powder and red pepper flakes in a mixing bowl
  3. Dredge the chicken pieces through the mix, coating both sides
  4. Add some extra virgin olive oil to a large pan on medium-high heat
  5. Place the four chicken pieces in the hot pan and sear both sides (do not cook through at this point!)
  6. Dredge the partially cooked chicken through the dry mixture again and place back in the pan and cook through
  7. If the marinara has achieved the desired spiciness, remove from heat
  8. Arrange the chicken on a serving dish
  9. Cover each piece of chicken with a thin slice of cheddar
  10. Cover the cheddar with a generous spoonful of the marinara
  11. Allow the chicken and marinara to melt the cheddar before serving

Chicken Pasta Bake

Part I from the "Cleaning out the cupboards so we can move to Italy" series

As much as we would like to take everything we own with us wherever it is we may be headed, this simply is not a feasible option. Over the past two or three years, we have invested some effort into our culinary collection: spices, pastas, legumes, cereal, spices, chicken, flour, oils and did I mention spices (like over-flowing shelves full of them)? If anyone is interested in taking a pound of corriander seeds off my hands, please do - I'll throw in some star anise, cinnamon sticks and cardamom, too!

So anyway, these next few posts will reflect my attempts to create enticing (or at least entertaining) edible entrées from our expansive collection of extras. Buon appetito! (Disclaimer: these recipes have not been endorsed by the Italian people in any way, shape or form. Unneccessary Italian may be used from time to time. Proceed at your own risk.)

This recipe is part casserole, part cheese plate, but mostly a hastily thrown together trough of Italian-ish ingredients. Becky being the cheese connoisseur she is, likes to keep our fridge full of assorted families of formaggio. Unfortunately, we often forget about what we have in stock and the wedges grow into unsightly furry beasties to spite us. If you suffer from the same situation (and if you savor soft and semi-soft slices from select four-legged milk producers like sheep, um...shcows and sgoats? sh--, starting to see the shortcomings of selected sentence structure) this dish is a good way to clean out the cheese shelf before restocking.

  • Cherry tomatoes, generous handful or two
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 chicken breasts, cubed
  • 3/4 lb. pasta (penne or rotini are my preference)
  • Few basil leaves
  • ~3 oz chèvre
  • ~4 oz fresh mozzarella in brine
  • ~3 oz fresh feta
  • ~4 oz ricotta
  • Parmesan or Romano, finely shredded

  1. Begin by roasting the tomatoes and garlic. I would suggest tossing the tomatoes with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and black pepper and spreading in a small pan or baking dish. For the garlic, peel it and place it in a piece of tinfoil with extra virgin olive oil and black pepper. Close the tinfoil up around the garlic and twist the top closed, forming a little tinfoil bag. I usually roast this stuff in our toaster oven since it doesn't take up much room.
  2. While the tomatoes and garlic are roasting, boil the pasta to al dente and sautée the chicken pieces until cooked through
  3. Chiffonade the basil
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the pasta, cooked chicken, garlic (put the garlic through a press first) and 3/4 of the basil
  5. In a smaller mixing bowl, combine the chèvre, mozzarrella, feta and ricotta cheeses and mix together with a fork
  6. Add the cheese mixture to the pasta mix in the large bowl and stir together
  7. Spread out the mix into a baking dish
  8. Sprinkle the remaining basil, tomatoes and parmesan/romano cheese over the casserole
  9. Bake in the oven for ~10 minutes or so until the cheeses are gooey