March 12, 2018

Chocolate Fudge Pecan Pie

Underrated food holidays are the best. Yes, I love cooking for Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, Independence Day, and pretty much every other holiday (except Passover. Screw you Passover). But sometimes I just want something like a chocolate chip cookie or some mashed potatoes and just don't have an excuse to cook them. Enter random food holidays, which completely and totally justify my decision to bake brownies at approximately 10pm on December 8. For the record, that's National Brownie Day. Luckily, some of these food holidays are catching on, specifically Pi(e) Day, March 14, a.k.a. 3.14, which is the number pi for all you non-STEM people out there.

For me, the Pi(e) Day craze started back in high school because some teacher had the brilliant idea to fuel bored yet somehow incredibly hyper students with tables and tables of pie. There was apple pie. There was oreo pie. There was peanut butter pie. One of the least popular varieties? A few sad slices of pecan pie left behind among empty scattered cans of whipped cream. 'Twas a sad sight to see. This recipe for chocolate fudge pecan pie is here to save your pecan pie woes. Whether your family has grown tired of the same saccharine pecan pie served once a year just at Thanksgiving or the only way to get you to try new foods is to douse them in chocolate, this pecan pie is for you.

I almost always make my own crust, aside from that one time my friends and roommates convinced me to make Thanksgiving dinner for 10 in our tiny apartment kitchen. There's no shame in using premade dough, but I'll just throw it out there that nothing beats my buttery, flaky crust recipe. It's nothing out of the ordinary, just cold butter cut into flour, sugar, and a pinch of salt with an egg yolk and some liquid to bind it together. Keep it cold, work it as little as possible, and make the edges pretty and you'll have the perfect crust. I've found that commercial doughs are simply inherently overworked and you won't get the same flakiness. This crust is also sturdy enough to stand up to all the filling without breaking.

The filling is essentially a cross between a chocolate chess pie and a pecan pie. You get chopped pecans scattered through the filling and a gorgeous arrangement of whole pecans on top, which is enough for my taste but certainly not on the level of a regular pecan pie which is basically all pecans with just enough sugar syrup to hold it all together. However, this isn't a regular pecan pie or even a regular chocolate pecan pie; it's a chocolate fudge pecan pie, which means I want an exceptionally rich, velvety, dense filling and I want there to be lots of it. The trick to such a filling is plenty of good quality chocolate (pardon my Ina Garten moment, but if it's the key player it needs to taste good), a few eggs, lots of butter, and the right ratio of corn syrup to brown sugar. Don't fear the corn syrup; it's just another form of sugar and it is completely necessary in some recipes for the right texture. It's definitely not the healthiest recipe, but you have to live every Pi(e) day like it's your last, right?

There are just a few tricks to ensure this simple recipe turns out right every time. As I mentioned before, don't overwork the dough, and be sure to keep the ingredients and the dough cold. Building on that principle, only add the filling to the crust once it's cooled to room temperature or you'll ruin all that effort and end up with a soggy crust. I've found that it's best to save your pretty pecan halves to decorate the top and throw all the ugly and broken pecans in the filling since they're just chopped up anyway. The worst thing that could possibly happen with this pie is getting halfway through the decoration on top and realizing you're out of pretty pecans. Honestly though, that's not even that big of a crisis in the grand scheme of things because that is precisely the reason why whipped cream and ice cream exist.

1 Recipe Sweet Pie Crust Dough (See Below)
8 oz Semisweet/Dark Chocolate
1 Stick Butter, Softened
3/4 Cup Corn Syrup
3/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
4 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla
4 oz Peans, Chopped & Toasted (1 Cup)
1/2 Cup Pecan Halves

Grease a 9" pie plate. Roll out the pie dough to fit the pan, press gently to adhere, and crimp the edges as desired. Chill until firm.

Heat oven to 325F.

In a glass bowl set over simmering water or in a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter together, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and gradually stir in the corn syrup, brown sugar, and salt. Cool slightly, then add the eggs one at a time and the vanilla.

Spread the chopped pecans over the bottom of the pie crust. Pour the chocolate mixture on top and decorate with the pecan halves. Bake the pie for 55-60 minutes or until puffy and just set, covering the edges of the crust as necessary. Cool completely before serving.

For the crust:
Pulse 1 1/4 C flour, 1/4 C sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt in a food processor until combined. Add 1 stick chilled and cubed butter and pulse until small pieces remain. Combine the an yolk with a tablespoon of cold water and add in. Pulse until it begins to form a ball, adding more water as necessary. Chill.

Serves 8
Recipe Adapted from Love and Olive Oil

March 8, 2018

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

I've been posting a lot of recipes lately about quick dinners, fancy dinners, and everything in between. I've noticed, however, that it's typically not enough to write about just the main part of the meal to have, well, a complete meal. The key to elevating even the fastest, simplest dinner recipe is adding the right accompaniments to round it out. Yes, some recipes have the side built right in (I'm looking at you, chicken and mushroom skillet), but more often than not you're left searching for more recipes or just resorting to a simple starch. Although I'm always up for some good roasted potatoes, I recognize that a more flavorful veggie is often welcome. Enter these brussels sprouts.

My sister threatens to run away whenever my mom roasts off any sort of brassicas (that's brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, etc. for you non-horticulturalists out there) because the smell is so strong. However, there's something about bacon, cheese, and toasty breadcrumbs that changes one's perspective on the matter. Smothering the brussels sprouts in cheese is a parental hack that has stood the test of time, and this takes it to another level.

Bacon should always be the first step. Not only does it provide flavor-packed fat that serves as a base for the rest of the dish, but you now have something to snack on while you finish cooking. The garlic and shallots are sauteed in the bacon fat, which is then used to form a roux and ultimately the cheese sauce. The key to a smooth sauce is adding the warm milk slowly and whisking constantly; you'll form a thick paste that gradually thins out with no lumps. From there, you whisk in all the cheese. I went with gruyere for a fancy gratin feel, but this is a cheesy veggie dish at heart so any good melting cheese will do, even reliable old processed American cheese. Be warned, you'll have an entirely different flavor profile and appearance even if the texture turns out well, so I'd still recommend something along the lines of a good gruyere for a nice dinner. A pinch of nutmeg rounds out the flavor (well, maybe not for an American cheese version), and adding the bacon back to the sauce instead of later on ensures an even dispersal.

I've seen similar recipes with whole brussels sprouts, shredded brussels sprouts, and everything in between. Here, I went with quartered ones so that you still have some texture but they cook through without burning the top or the edges. Instead of topping them with regular breadcrumbs, I toss crispy panko with parmesan and butter for an extra punch of salty, cheesy flavor; adding the butter here allows for the panko to absorb the fat and brown more evenly. The gratin gets popped in the oven for about half an hour, depending on the pan size/casserole thickness, until the brussels sprouts are tender, the cheese is hot and bubbly, and the panko is nicely browned. It's sure to elevate your dinner and make sure you get all your veggies for the day in, plus it makes great leftovers.

2 lbs Brussels Sprouts
4-6 Strips Bacon
1 T Butter
2 T Butter, Melted
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Shallot, Minced
3 T Flour
1 Cup Half and Half
1/2 Cup Milk
Pinch Nutmeg
3 oz (1 Cup) Shredded Gruyere
2/3 Cup Panko
1/3 Cup Parmesan

Trim and quarter the Brussels sprouts.

Heat oven to 375F and grease a 9x13" (2 quart) baking dish.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crispy. Remove and chop, leaving 2-3T fat in the pan.

Add 1 T butter to the bacon fat. Add the garlic and shallot and cook for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute or until thickened. Slowly whisk in the half and half and the milk. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and whisk in the gruyere and bacon.

Toss the Brussels sprouts in the sauce and spread into the prepared pan. Combine the panko, parmesan, and melted butter. Sprinkle onto the Brussels sprouts. Bake for 25 minutes or until tender, covering with foil to prevent over browning as necessary.

Serves 8

February 20, 2018

Mustard-Crusted Salmon

I am all about the quick and easy dinners right now. I recognize my college diet of frozen pizza, delivery pizza, and pasta aren't ideal, so I love when I have quick, easy, and healthy recipes on hand. I frequently make salmon, but that's usually just seasoning it and throwing it in a pan. There are so many other simple but delicious ways to make salmon that don't take much more time, and this is one of them. A dollop of roasted garlic dijonnaise (just a fancy word for mustard and mayonnaise) and a sprinkling of crispy panko elevate a regular piece of salmon into a stunning dinner without sacrificing all your calories for the day.

The only time-consuming part of this dish is roasting the garlic. Fortunately, all that entails is breaking a head of garlic into cloves, seasoning them, and popping them in the oven for a while. The sharp garlic flavor mellows into sweeter notes, and the soft roasted cloves blend seamlessly into the dijonnaise. I will eat roasted garlic on anything, so I'll typically make a bunch of it just to have on hand.

The dijonnaise consists of mustard and mayonnaise as well as a splash of Worcestershire and all that lovely roasted garlic. Yes, this recipe does call for a whole head of garlic, but roasting it cooks it down and gets rid of that astringent flavor, so it's not as much as you'd think. If you're still concerned, add a few cloves at a time until you get the right flavor.

Once your dijonnaise is to your liking, just spread some onto the fish and give it a handful of panko. Panko work so much better here than regular breadcrumbs because they're so much more crunchy. I toss them in a bit of oil to make sure they get extra crispy and golden. Depending on the thickness of your salmon, it should cook through in less than 15 minutes and the breadcrumbs won't burn. The dijonnaise infuses the fish with tons of flavor and keeps it moist and juicy while the panko's crunch adds textural contrast. This dish goes with all sorts of side dishes, making it a great addition to your weeknight dinner lineup.

1 Head Garlic
2 T Olive Oil
2 T Oil
1 tsp Worcestershire
3 T Dijon Mustard
1/2 Cup Mayonnaise
1 1/2 lbs Salmon
2/3 Cup Panko

Heat oven to 375F.

Break the garlic into cloves and spread onto a small baking dish. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes or until caramelized.

Press the roasted garlic out of the cloves. Whisk with the Worcestershire, mustard, mayo, and salt and pepper.

Spread the mustard mixture onto the salmon. Toss the panko with the oil and salt and pepper. Sprinkle onto the salmon and press gently to adhere.

Bake the salmon for 12-14 minutes or until golden.

Serves 6