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Sunday, August 26, 2018

Have Your Cookies and Eat Your Cake Too

This summer is coming to an end faster than I would like summer to end.  Summer tends to do that.  If I have any consolation, it's that I was invited to many parties in these remaining weekends. I can close out the summer spending time with friends and family, and feel a bit less sad about the shorter days, the chilly temps, and the onslaught of nasty, pumpkin-based food.

When a friend invited me over for a potluck party last weekend, she instructed me to "bring something decadent for dessert." I will always answer that call.

Summer is always the time I do the most baking because I have more time.  This summer is no exception. I haven't documented it here on TERP as much because I haven't been creating new recipes.  I stuck with the classics.

 In July I made my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and it kept a craving going in my brain for more chocolate chip cookies, but didn't want to make cookies again for the party.  I wanted to branch out.  I was in creative mode and wanted a new recipe as much as I wanted more cookies.  Then I realized what I wanted to do.  I wanted a cake that tasted like cookies.

What is the flavor of a chocolate chip cookie?  It's butter.  It's brown sugar.  It's vanilla.  It's chocolate chips.  Those are the major flavor components.  If I baked a cake with those elements, would it taste like a cookie but with a more cake-like texture?  What kind of frosting would complement it?

My strategy was to adapt my favorite brown butter cake recipe with brown sugar and lots of vanilla.  Then I stirred mini chocolate chips into the batter.  I put it in the oven and crossed my fingers.

The layers baked up tall and fluffy.  So far I was happy with them.

Next I needed a frosting.  I had a few ideas, but wasn't sure which would be the best?  Caramel would complement chocolate chip cookies.  Chocolate would be a classic choice.  Vanilla or white chocolate would seem lighter and give a bit more contrast to the chocolate chips.  I decided to go with my friend's request for something decadent.  I covered that cake with a Nutella cream cheese frosting on I found on Wicked Good Kitchen


I was clumsy with the cake comb, but this was my first attempt at using one.  I don't know how I ever frosted a cake before I bought a rotating stand and an offset spatula.

Did it taste like cookies?  Not as much as I had hoped.  It tasted delicious though.  Everyone at the party agreed.  I would definitely make this again.  Maybe I'll try caramel frosting the next time. 

Chocolate Chip Cookie Layer Cake

Ingredients
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 cups
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbl vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350. Spray 2 9" round cake pans with baking spray or grease and flour them.  Line bottoms with a round of parchments and grease and flour or spray as well.

Melt the butter over low heat until it foams.  Gently cook a few minutes more until it smells nutty and turns amber and the milk solids separate and turn brown.  Place in a bowl set over a bowl of ice water.  Cool until it begins to set.

Meanwhile sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Once the butter has set, beat it with an electric mixer until creamy.  Add the sugar and continue beating until fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, making sure each one is incorporated.  Do the same with the egg yolks.  Add the vanilla.

Carefully beat in the dry ingredients and alternate them with the milk in three additions ending with the flour.

Turn your mixer to low and stir in the chocolate chips.

Pour into the prepared cake pans.  Bake about 50-55 minutes in the center of the oven until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Transfer to wire rack to cool.  Remove from cake pans after 20 minutes.

Frost with your favorite frosting once completely cool.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Are You Tired of Your Old Parmigiana?

Most of us love a good chicken parmigiana (unless you're a vegetarian in which case you probably love eggplant parm, unless you're a vegan, in which case I'm just sorry).  We call it Italian, but let's face it, the dish is as American as cheeseburgers.  Only in America would people fry a piece of meat, then cover it in tomato sauce, smother it in cheese and then throw the whole thing on top of pasta or stuff it into a wedge of bread.  It's an over-the-top dish loved by a culture that enjoys excess.

I do love it myself without apology (to either Italians or vegetarians), but it's the kind of dish you can have any time of year any place.  I can buy it at any local deli or pizza place.  I can make it in the dead of winter with tomato sauce made from canned tomatoes or sauce from a jar.  (NO I WOULD NEVER USE SAUCE FROM A JAR!  NOOOOOOOOOOO!)

It's summer and there is so much more out there to play with than canned tomatoes and chicken.  I can make sauces out of a hundred different vegetables and herbs.  The farmers' markets are brimming with good stuff.  This is one reason it's my favorite time of year.

Also, mozzarella?  Love it.  You know what I love more?  Sharp provolone.  It has been my favorite since I was a child.

My goal this time was to make a dish that recalled the decadence of chicken parmigiana, but incorporated other flavors.

Rather than make a marinara sauce, I made a sauce one might compare to caponata (or perhaps ratatouille) but without the olives. (I considered adding capers, but Kevin has to watch his salt intake.) Regular readers know I'm not a fan of eggplant, but eggplants are like potatoes.  Some varieties taste better than others. These adorable little fairy tale eggplants have a mild flavor and soft texture and the sort of melt into the sauce.

 I included the quarter for scale

 In addition to the eggplants I added the standard tomatoes.  I flavored the sauce with onions, garlic, basil, and a bit of red wine vinegar and honey for a sweet and sour taste.  I also tossed some toasted pine nuts in there.

I stuffed my chicken breasts with a square of sharp provolone rather than topping it with mozzarella. The recipe is for four stuffed chicken breasts, but due to someone's dislike of cheese, particularly a cheese as strong as provolone, only half of the cutlets I cooked were stuffed.

I thought it was great.  Kevin gave it the Sir Pickypants stamp of disapproval.  He couldn't tell me why he didn't like the sauce.  He just didn't like it.  This won't go into dinner rotation.  I hope if you try it, you like it better, and make it often.

Provolone Stuffed Chicken Cutlets with Eggplant Sauce

Ingredients

Sauce
  • 2  medium onions, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 large tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 15 fairytale eggplants, cut in small dice
  • 2 Tbl red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbl honey
  • 10 (approximately) basil leaves, cut in chiffonade
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 Tbl pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 Tbl oil for cooking
Chicken
  • 4 thick chicken breasts
  • 4 1-oz slices of provolone cheese
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • A few grinds black pepper
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water
  • 1 1/2 cups plain breadcrumbs
  • 2 Tbl parmesan cheese
  • Oil for frying
Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat 2 Tbl of oil in a large frying pan or saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion and reduce heat to low.  Cook gently until onions are soft.  Add the eggplant and tomatoes and cook until eggplants are soft. Add the basil and garlic until fragrant.  Add the honey and vinegar and add salt to taste.  Cook over low heat until jammy.  If it becomes too thick, add a little chicken stock.  Stir in the toasted pine nuts.

Mix together flour, salt, and pepper and place in a shallow dish.  Place the egg and water in a second dish.  Mix together the breadcrumbs and parmesan and place in a third dish.

Carefully butterfly the chicken breasts and insert a piece of cheese in the pocket.  Dredge in flour, dip in egg, and dip in breadcrumbs.

Heat remaining oil over medium heat and fry cutlets carefully about 6 minutes per side until golden.  Place on a cookie sheet and bake in preheated oven for an additional 10-12 minutes.

Serve chicken topped with eggplant sauce and sprinkle with pine nuts.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

New Kid in Town - Don Jito

New restaurants continue to pop up in my neighborhood - and they seem to be doing it right under my nose.

In my last restaurant review I compared the attempts at good customer service at the new restaurant, Sofia's, to the terrible customer service I received at the defunct Spice Kitchen.  I was not surprised Spice Kitchen went out of business.

I didn't pay much attention to the empty space Spice Kitchen once occupied until about two weeks ago.  I noticed for the first time there was a new facade on the building.  There were no notices of a new place coming soon, so I assumed it would be a long time before there was a new restaurant in the space.

Then last week I saw people eating there.  The restaurant had opened right under my nose and I didn't even know the name of it or what kind of food it served.

I took a walk by there the next day and examined a menu posted on the door.  The restaurant was called Don Jito and the menu showed a hybrid of Spanish and Mexican food.  There were traditional Spanish tapas, a selection of specialty tacos, and a mix of entrees such as paella and churrasco.

Why didn't I see the name of the restaurant?  Well, our town zoning board forces a long and painful process for businesses to put up permanent signage.  New businesses often open before they can get signage approval.  They resort to displaying temporary banners instead.  Don Jito has a banner, but it is not anchored at the bottom so you can't see it when the wind blows because it blows upwards and over the roof of the building.


Kevin and I  decided to try it last weekend and see if it would be a welcome addition to the neighborhood.  It is directly across the street from our building, so we appreciate the convenience.

When we entered we were offered a small table for two in a cramped area.  They realized they had better tables and offered us a four top closer to the windows.

The funky decor from Spice Kitchen is gone and replaced with a simple, clean scheme of dark wood.  They also have a patio in the back with outdoor seating.

They also had interesting silverware.
 
Our server came to our table as soon as we sat down and started asking if we wanted drinks or guacamole.  I reminded him we had no beverage list or menus, so we really needed to see our options.  He brought our menus and gave us some time to peruse.  We ordered our drinks and apps and spent a little more time figuring out what we wanted for a main course.

We ordered albondigas picante - spicy meatballs - to start.  I was craving meatballs all week and was happy to see some on the menu.  These were a bit dense.  I tend to like my meatballs softer.  I also thought they were a tad too salty.  The spice was spot on though.  It was enough to take me by surprise, but it wasn't overpowering.  The sauce was good enough to want to soak up in the provided tortillas.


I ordered chicken tacos for the next course.  Kevin ordered the paella.  Our goal was to see the range of the kitchen by ordering different types of dishes.  Don Jito offers a variety of creative tacos, but you can only order one kind at a time (a plate of three).  You can't mix them unless you order a big taco platter for the table.  I had to choose which one I wanted to try.  I decided to go with grilled chicken and black beans.  If they can do chicken well, then there is a good chance others will be good.


The pickled vegetables on the side were delicious.  The tacos were a bit disappointing . Just like with the meatballs, the concept was good, but they were somewhat flawed.  They needed a bit more salt, or something else to boost their flavor.  I squeezed all of the lime over them.  Kevin liked his paella, but it was huge.  He took home the leftovers.

Service was friendly, but spotty.  We had three different servers working our table and they didn't seem to be in communication with each other.  After we ordered our dinner, another server came to our table and greeted us and asked if we needed menus.  After we ordered our dessert, our original server saw us waiting and came to our table panicked that we hadn't received our main courses yet.  There didn't seem to be much communication happening among the waitstaff.

We had to wait a bit for dessert.  They only had three options: churros, tres leches cake, and tequila tiramisu.  The third option sounded too weird to me, so I had the cake and Kevin had the churros.  The cake had a strange bitter undertaste to it, but it didn't spoil the taste completely.  I couldn't finish it, but I liked it enough to take home the extra.  The churros were light and crispy.  They were in the running for the best part of the meal.



My experience with the place was positive overall.  I overheard the owner say he was open for only ten days.  That's not much time to work out the kinks.  I would like to come back in a month or two and see if the service improves and if the kitchen gets more on the ball with seasoning the food.  I see potential here, but it could go either way.