Monday, March 31, 2014

Chocolate Caramel Tartlets

Day 65

Who doesn’t enjoy an individual dessert? By individual, I don’t mean your own slice of cake or pie, but a whole dessert that is a miniature representation of the standard larger version, thereby giving you all the textures you might not otherwise encounter, from edges to center. Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes, if offered a brownie or slice of sheet cake, I can’t decide if I want the all gooey, moist
Photo by Ali Kapustin
center piece or if I’d prefer an edge with more crispness. Honestly, I’d like one of each, but that doesn’t seem very polite…

With tartlets, everyone wins. We can each enjoy a full crust and complete center, but in a manageable miniature version to make us feel less guilty. You’ll love this chocolate caramel pie for your next family meal or dessert with friends. It’s rich, creamy, and very decadent. Served with coffee, it provides a nice balance to a lighter meal or an indulgent finish to an already rich, heavy meal. That part is up to you! 

I decided to search for and to explore this type of recipe after a visit to our nearest Fresh Market, where I purchased an individual chocolate caramel tart with sea salt. It was good, to be sure, but the price was high. When I got home, I began to search cookbooks and old recipes to see if I had something I could modify.  After several Internet searches, some tweaking of my old recipes, and a few attempts to make a pie that’s faster to prepare, I settled on a modification that uses caramel and chocolate, but that adds peanuts. 

Chocolate Caramel Tartlets

4- 6-inch individual tart shells, pre-baked and cooled (see directions below if necessary)

8 oz. soft caramels (individually wrapped candies)
1/3 cup salted peanuts
1 1/3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup plus 3 tbs. heavy cream
2 tbs. butter

For caramel filling: 
Unwrap caramels and combine with 2 tbs. butter and 3 tbs. heavy cream in a mixing bowl. Microwave in 30 second intervals until caramels are melted and mixture is smooth. Use a whisk if needed. Add the peanuts and stir to coat. Divide into the four pie shells. Refrigerate.

For chocolate ganache layer: 
Place the chocolate chips in a medium mixing bowl, and pour 1 cup of heavy cream into a small saucepan. Heat cream until it simmers. Pour hot cream over chocolate and allow to rest for a minute to soften the chocolate. Whisk chocolate and cream together until shiny and smooth. Pour chocolate evenly over four caramel pies. Refrigerate at least 3 hours to firm. 

Sprinkle with sea salt and add a dollop of whipped cream or more salted peanuts before serving. 

To pre-bake an empty pie shell: 

Line the insides of piecrusts with aluminum foil and pour dry (uncooked) kidney beans into each foil-lined pie shell. (The weight of the beans will keep the pie from bubbling up while pre-baking.) Bake in preheated 400-degree oven for 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and remove foil lining and beans. Allow to cool before filling. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Garlic Clam Chowder with Herbes de Provence

Day 64

New England style clam chowder is the perfect compliment to a cold winter day. Since we’re (hopefully) getting closer and closer to beautiful spring weather, the clock is ticking on hearty and creamy winter soups. Here’s my twist on clam chowder, filled with the flavors of France. An entire bulb of garlic creates a pleasing sweetness while the Herbes de Provence add incredible layers of flavor. I think you’ll really enjoy it. I served mine with focaccia bread toasted with cheddar cheese and bacon. It was a nice touch, but this soup can also be served solo or with crackers.

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2014

Happy spring!

Garlic Clam Chowder with Herbes de Provence

4 strips bacon
1 large Vidalia onion, chopped
1 bulb garlic (10-12 cloves), minced
4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 cups vegetable broth
2 -10 oz. cans whole baby clams with juice reserved
2 tsp. white pepper
3 tsp. sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
2 tbs. Herbes de Provence (see recipe below if not available for purchase at your local market)

Crisply fry bacon in Dutch oven and place on paper towel to drain. In bacon grease, sauté chopped onion, adding garlic after onion is translucent and slightly caramelized. Add  broth, potatoes, and juice from two cans of clams. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender. Use a potato masher to mash about half of the potatoes to thicken the soup. Add salt, pepper, Herbes de Provence, and the heavy cream. On low heat, simmer until flavors blend. Add clams to heat through. Ladle in bowls, and sprinkle each with crumbled bacon. Serve immediately. 

Herbes de Provence
2 tablespoons dried savory
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons dried marjoram
2 tablespoons dried fennel seed

Mix together and store in airtight container until ready to use. 

(Note: the Focaccia bread I made was simply from the freezer section of the grocery store, prepared according to package directions EXCEPT that I removed it from the oven 10 minutes early, added cheddar and bacon crumbles, and returned to finish baking for the remaining 10 minutes. Broiling for 1 minute at the end makes for a crunchier top, which is optional.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cake Bomb

Day 63

As a housewarming treat for my stepdaughter, Ali, and her roommate, Megan, I decided to create a dessert in their honor. In the planning stages, I had visions of some of Ali’s favorite dessert ingredients finding their way into one dish. The question of the day quickly became how to incorporate lots of really yummy stuff into just one dish, with a very necessary favorite of Ali’s: Nutella. She loves Nutella more than anyone I know, but to be fair, we ALL love Nutella, right? Trifles and dump cakes crossed my mind, and I even considered an ice cream cake. Then, it hit me.
Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2014

One of Doug’s and my favorite restaurants near home is Hickory Ridge Grill in Columbia, Maryland. The dishes there include a mostly Mediterranean influence with a healthy smattering of American added for good measure. If you’re ever in our area, looking for a good meal in a friendly and casual atmosphere, visit Hickory Ridge Grill for sure. Our favorite dinner is the Yeeroo Platter (yes, that’s how they playfully spell it!), filled with gyro meat, feta cheese, warm pita bread, and delicious tzatziki sauce. I can’t get enough of it. Here’s the link if you’re interested, .

At any rate, Hickory Ridge Grill also has a decadent dessert called a Brownie Bomb that’s nothing short of incredible. The name is fitting since it arrives at the table looking like a brownie exploded all over a thousand other deliciously sweet ingredients, including whipped cream. 

I knew I had to make my own version of this dessert, with different ingredients, for Ali and Megan’s housewarming. And so it was that the Cake Bomb was born. There’s a long list of ingredients in the dessert, but it’s very easy to make, and it’s ideal for gifts or parties since it travels well and potentially serves many guests. 

After I made it, Doug delivered it to the girls while I cleaned the kitchen. The verdict came after about an hour when Ali called to tell me they were eating it right out of the bowl. Success! 

And, to make the victory even sweeter, I’ll add that Ali and Megan’s new house is lovely. Built in the mid-1800s, it’s filled with history and character and so much charm. They’ve decorated it in an eclectic distressed chic style that suits the house very well. We love it, and we can’t wait to be invited for dinner in the very near future. Hint, hint…I might bring a Cake Bomb

Congrats, Ali and Megan, on your first home!  

Cake Bomb

1 box Pillsbury white cake mix (with “pudding in the mix”)
4 eggs
½ cup sugar
¾ cup softened butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 8oz. container Breakstone sour cream

1 small (~13 oz.) jar Nutella
½ cup graham cracker crumbs 
1 cup honey or brown sugar glazed pecan pieces
1 cup each, milk chocolate and caramel (or butterscotch) chips
1 cup Heath bar or toffee crumbles 
2 boxes (3.56 oz. each) Hershey’s white chocolate instant pudding mix, prepared according to package directions
2 cups Cool Whip 

For the cake-
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour a Bundt pan. 

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy. Add sour cream and beat until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, until mixture is fluffy. Add cake mix and vanilla and beat until thoroughly incorporated. 

Pour into Bundt pan and bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Invert on wire rack after 5 minutes and allow to cool completely. (I sometimes put the cake in the freezer for a few minutes to speed up this process if I’m in a hurry.)

For the pudding-
Prepare the instant pudding according to the package directions and place in refrigerator to set. Once it is completely set and thickened, gently fold in Cool Whip and return to refrigerator until ready to use. 

To assemble the Cake Bomb-
In a large glass bowl (I used a glass salad bowl because it had a flat bottom and was fairly deep, but almost any clear glass bowl could work), crumble half of the cake along the bottom, making sure to cover the entire surface.  Drizzle ½ of Nutella over cake (I warmed it in the microwave for just a few seconds to make it pourable) and sprinkle with caramel OR butterscotch chips and ½ cup of Heath Bar crumbles. Spread ½ of pudding mixture over this. For the next layer, crumble the remaining ½ of the cake, drizzle the rest of the Nutella, and sprinkle all of the milk chocolate chips and the rest of the Heath Bar crumbles. Spread the final layer of pudding, then sprinkle with graham cracker crumbles and glazed pecan pieces to garnish the top of The Bomb

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Preferably, serve within 4-5 hours. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Monkey Bread

Day 62

Homemade breads and sweet rolls are such a treat for breakfast, especially on the weekends. This morning, I got up really, really (!!) early to spend some quality time with my favorite pup, Miss Emmylou, and to make Monkey Bread for my family. I used a from-scratch recipe from the Food Network. It was delicious, but time-consuming. A friend had recommended the recipe to me, so I gave it a try. 

Since the results were definitely worth it but the labor a bit more than some might like, I went to the market later in the day to fetch the ingredients for a shortcut recipe that I also found on Food Network. Although the Monkey Bread pictured 
Photo by Maggie Kapustin
is the from-scratch version (I dropped off the shortcut bread, uncut, to surprise a friend and her family), the other one turned out very nicely—albeit a bit bready— AND it was so much faster. 

Consider making either one for your next weekend family breakfast. Oh, and please pardon the poor photography; I had to take the picture myself since the bread was a surprise for when my hubby, the actual photographer, awoke. If you’ve noticed, he hasn’t had to take some of my more recent pictures for one reason or another; I think I’ll need to nudge him back to work soon.:)

Monkey Bread
Shortcut Recipe:
*Recipe may be doubled depending on the Bundt pan:
Baking spray with flour, for pan
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
30 buttermilk canned refrigerator biscuits
1 stick butter, plus more for pan
½  cup brown sugar
1 cup pecans


Coat Bundt pan with cooking spray with flour and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine sugar and cinnamon. Cut refrigerator biscuits in half and toss in cinnamon and sugar mixture. Melt the 1 stick of butter in a saucepan and add brown sugar and bring to a boil; then add nuts. Line the bundt pan with biscuits and pour butter mixture over them.

Bake for about 30 minutes. Remove from the pan when it's still hot to avoid sticking.
Monkey Bread
From Scratch recipe: 
1 cup chopped pecans
1 ½  sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
¾  cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons dark rum
1/8  teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup granulated sugar
1 batch Basic Sweet-Roll Dough* (see below)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted, about 8 minutes; set aside.

Melt 1 stick butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and heavy cream; boil until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Stir in the vanilla, vinegar, rum, salt and the toasted pecans. Pour all but 1/2 cup of the pecan mixture into an 8-inch-round, 3-inch-deep cake pan or a standard Bundt pan. Refrigerate until almost set, about 15 minutes. Set the remaining pecan mixture aside at room temperature.

Put the remaining 1/2 stick butter in a microwave-safe bowl; microwave until melted. Put the granulated sugar in another bowl. Pinch off pieces of dough and roll into 1-inch balls. Dip the balls in the melted butter, letting the excess drip off, then roll in the granulated sugar; arrange in the prepared cake pan in 2 layers, leaving a bit of space between the balls. Let rise, uncovered, in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the bread until puffed and golden brown (a thermometer inserted into the center should register 175 degrees F), about 55 minutes; tent with aluminum foil if the top is getting too dark. Remove the bread from the oven and spread the reserved 1/2 cup pecan mixture on top. Transfer to a rack and let cool 10 minutes in the pan, then invert onto a plate. Pull off pieces to serve.

*Basic Sweet Roll Dough
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/4 -ounce packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled, plus more for brushing
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 teaspoon salt

Warm 1/2 cup water and the milk in a saucepan over low heat until a thermometer registers 100 degrees F to 110 degrees F. Remove from the heat and sprinkle the yeast on top, then sprinkle with a pinch of the sugar; set aside, undisturbed, until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Whisk the melted butter, egg yolk and vanilla into the yeast mixture until combined. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, the remaining sugar, and the salt. Make a well in the center, then add the yeast mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to make a thick and slightly sticky dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until soft and elastic, about 6 minutes. Shape into a ball.

Brush a large bowl with butter. Add the dough, turning to coat lightly with the butter. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until the dough is doubled in size, about 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Turn the dough out of the bowl and knead briefly to release excess air; re-form into a ball and return to the bowl. Lightly butter a large piece of plastic wrap and lay it directly on the surface of the dough. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

Food Network recipe links: