French Silk Pie

I just returned from our annual family Christmas gathering, where I had the honor of preparing the family feast.  Most of the offerings on the menu used familiar ingredients in slightly unexpected ways, such as shredded Brussels sprouts with shallots and bacon, corn fritters, or honeyed apples.  The turkey was brined, rubbed, glazed and roasted to delicious perfection — if I may say so myself — but the hit of the day was the desserts, and particularly this French Silk Pie

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This is a super-simple no-bake recipe that requires only a stand mixer, a spatula, a piping kit and a Microplane grater.  Here are your ingredients:

  • 9″ prebaked pie crust
  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 6 oz. softened butter
  • 9 oz. granulated sugar
  • 1/4 oz. vanilla extract
  • 5 oz. pasteurized eggs
  • Whipped cream for garnish
  • Grated or shaved semi-sweet chocolate for garnish

If you’re feeling hardcore about it (I wasn’t) you can make your own pie crust (I didn’t).  I used a store-bought graham cracker crust, in part for convenience, in part due to a bit of laziness, and also just because I think it goes well with this kind of pie.

Start by gently melting your chocolate using a double boiler.  If you don’t have one of those, just heat an inch of water to a simmer in a sauce pan and set an appropriately sized metal mixing bowl on top of it — voila, instant double boiler.  I used a bar of Baker’s brand unsweetened chocolate, which just happens to come in a very convenient 4-ounce package — almost like it was designed for this recipe.  Resist the urge to substitute semi-sweet chocolate unless you like your pie severely sweet — remember, we have twice the weight of sugar to chocolate in our formula.

While your chocolate is melting ever so gently, add the butter and sugar to your stand mixer bowl and cream them with the paddle attachment on medium-low speeduntil light and fluffy.  That should take a few minutes, and you will likely need to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula a couple times.  Next mix in the vanilla and the melted chocolate — which should not be super-hot by the way, or it will melt the butter — and blend until thoroughly combined.

Switch to the whip attachment for your mixer to incorporate the eggs.  It is very important to use pasteurized eggs here, because they will not be cooked.  You can buy them by the dozen if your grocer carries them, or just use the simple shortcut of buying Egg Beaters or a similar brand of pourable pasteurized eggs.  Either way we’ll be using whole eggs with both whites and yolks.  Add the eggs about one-third at a time and whip for about 5 minutes after each addition until the mixture gradually becomes light and fluffy.

After all of the eggs are worked in, your mixture should be an airy-looking chocolate mousse.  Spread this evenly into the pie crust and chill until thoroughly set and thick enough to cut with a knife.  Finish the pie by piping on a decorative topping of whipped cream, then use your grater to add a dusting of semi-sweet chocolate for the finishing touch.

This pie was seriously delish, and the family munched it right down with big happy grins all around.  It won’t do any favors for your waistline, but what the heck, you have to live a little.  Besides, holiday cheer and all that.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

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Caribbean Night

For today’s menu we’re throwing down Caribbean style with a couple super-easy but supremely delicious dishes that will have you longing for reggae music and a rum cooler.  We’re making a jerk-style chicken breast with fried plantains, both of which take no time at all but are supremely delicious and maybe even healthy — depending on who you ask.

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I’m going to start by talking about the side dish.  Lolly loves fried plantains and occasionally pesters me to make them for her.  As luck would have it, this weekend I was at my favorite store in the entire universe, Jungle Jim’s, which is as close as you will ever come to having every conceivable obscure foodie item under one roof  — even things you would never imagine would qualify as food, but by golly, someone buys that crazy weird stuff and, presumably, actually eats it — go figure.  I could quite literally lose myself in that store for days and never miss the outside world.  Their internet link is below, in case you ever have the magnificent good fortune to be able to shop there.

Anyway, as I was blissfully wandering its seemingly endless aisles of culinary arcania, I stumbled upon that rarest of creatures — properly ripened plantains.

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Now, to the uninitiated these may look like they’re well on their way to becoming compost.  But do not let appearances deceive you, dear readers.  These are exactly what you want in good plantains.  Do not fall prey to the insidious trap of seeking out bright yellow plantains that look like perfectly ripe bananas.  Oh no.  That way lies only frustration and disappointment.  Plantains are much more fibrous than bananas, and ripen much slower, so by the time the outside is looking like this, the inside is just right.  If you try to use yellow plantains, good luck trying to peel them, let alone cook them.  I speak from hard experience.

In any event, plantains are a delicious fruit that is extremely easy to prepare.  Simply peel, slice into the desired size and shape, and gently pan fry them in a little whole butter over medium-low heat until they develop a deep caramelized color on the bottom, with just a touch of crispness.  Do not turn them when cooking — the tender middle and top of the slices will cook through just fine and form a nice contrast to that bit of crunch on the bottom.  I usually will season my plantain slices with just a light sprinkle of kosher salt, and if you like them extra sweet a little brown sugar will make you smile.

Moving on to our chicken dish, you’re probably going to be slightly surprised at how we get where we’re going.  Check out this ingredient list, which will make 4 servings:

  • 1 packet dry Italian salad dressing mix
  • 4 tbsp. dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne (depending how spicy you like it)
  • 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 2 lb. boneless chicken breast

Italian dressing mix and soy sauce in the same dish!?!  Blasphemy!  Trust me, friends, you’re going to love it.  Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl, using a fork to break up any lumps of brown sugar.  Add the oil and soy sauce, and stir thoroughly to form a loose paste.  Use a mallet to pound the chicken breasts to about 1/2 inch thickness, then add them to the bowl and marinade for at about 30 minutes.

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When you’re getting close to the end of the marinade time, start your plantains cooking.  You have a couple main options to cook the chicken.  Usually I grill it, even if that means in a stove-top grill pan, but tonight I decided to pan sear them in a cast iron skillet.  If you choose the latter, heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan, and cook the first side of the chicken over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Then turn the chicken, pop the whole skillet into a 400° oven for another 5-10 minutes, and you’re done.

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The chicken will be perfectly cooked through, tender and juicy.  And by the way, did I mention that amazing sauce?  Plate it up and munch it down with a big happy grin on your face.  Normally I would make this menu with my famous Cuban style black beans, but that’s another recipe for another day — today we just went with simple black beans and rice.  This whole affair took less than an hour to pull together, even counting the marinade time, and we enjoyed every bite.  I know you will too.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

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Jungle Jim’s International Market

Fresh Fettuccine with Impromptu Cacciatore

Tonight I am playing with new toys and turning water into wine — no worries, I haven’t developed a messianic complex.  It’ll make sense later.  My new toys are pasta roller attachments for my KitchenAid stand mixer.  I used them last weekend to make some lovely ravioli stuffed with chicken and herbed ricotta.  Today I went with some fettuccine and an improvised kinda-sorta chicken cacciatore sauce.

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Making homemade pasta is surprisingly easy as long as you have the right tools.  Make a simple dough, run it through a roller a few times and maybe a cutter, depending on what you want to make, and bada bing, you have fresh pasta.  I would definitely recommend the stand mixer attachments as opposed to a hand-crank pasta machine.  The advantage of having both hands free while you work is huge.  Here is a good basic pasta recipe to make about a pound:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 tbsp. water
  • a generous pinch of kosher salt

If you want to add a little extra color and flavor, substitute a dry red wine for the water — no miracle-working credentials required.  Throw the whole lot into your stand mixer, and blend it with the paddle attachment on low speed until it pulls together, which should take maybe a couple minutes.  Switch to the dough hook and let it knead until smooth, probably 3-5 minutes.  Remove the dough ball, dust it with flour and cover it with a kitchen towel to rest about 30 minutes.

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The next step is to run the dough through the roller to make it smooth and turn it into pasta sheets, gradually working from a wider to a more narrow setting on the roller.  If you have these attachments you probably already know how to do that.  I divided the dough into three smaller lumps so it would be easier to work with.  After my sheets were done, I switched to the fettuccine cutter and ran them through., which took no time at all.

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When the pasta-making was done, I turned my attention to an appropriate sauce.  I love a good red sauce, but I forgot to buy my typical Italian sausage to throw in it.  As luck would have it, my refrigerator serendipitously produced a half-gnawed roasted chicken with plenty of meat still on it, so I said to myself:  “I’ll just toss that into the mix and make a cacciatore sauce — kinda, sorta.”  Okay, I didn’t actually speak those words, but I thought them — same same.  Here’s what went into the sauce:

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (28 oz.) San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves
  • kosher salt to taste
  • 2 cups shredded chicken pieces
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
  • chicken stock as needed to adjust consistency

Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet.  Sweat the onions for a few minutes without browning them, until they are translucent and tender.  Add the garlic and cook for about another minute.  Throw in the tomatoes, which you will need to break up with the back of a fork or wooden spoon.  Next stir in the tomato paste, oregano leaves and a couple pinches of salt, followed by the chicken.  Let this concoction simmer for at least 30 minutes, preferably an hour, to blend all the flavors.  If the sauce starts getting too tight, i.e. it reduces too much, add some chicken stock to thin it out.  I ended up using close to a pint of stock to maintain a nice consistency over the cook time.

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When your sauce is nearly finished, stir in the chopped basil, and boil some salted water for your pasta.  The cook time for fresh pasta is much shorter than for dry pasta, maybe 2-3 minutes tops, so watch it closely to avoid overcooking.  When the pasta is done, drain it, add your sauce and some fresh grated reggiano, and you’re ready to munch it down with a big happy grin on your face.  If you have never tried making your own pasta, please do.  It’s easy and delicious, and you’ll feel like a total champ in the kitchen.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

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