Sunday, April 26, 2009

Crockpot Ham

This ham recipe is so easy to make for a crowd because you can throw it all in the crockpot in the morning, let it go all morning, and it will be done in time for an afternoon Easter or Christmas dinner.

You could also make a smaller portion in a little crockpot, turn it on before you go to work, and dinner will be ready by the time you get home in the evening.

The "secret" ingredients in this recipe are important. Don't omit the ground cardamom even though it's kind of expensive. (Throw the cardamom in your freezer and it will last longer!) And if you can find fresh bay leaves, they are better than dried (although whole dried bay leaves will do the trick too). Look for apple cider (not apple juice), but if it's the wrong time of the year and you absolutely cannot find cider, apple juice will suffice. Or, you could substitute chicken stock, but you'll miss out on the apple flavor the cider brings.

My favorite type of ham to buy is the Kirkland brand ham from Costco. They're large - I just cut it down if I don't need the entire ham at once. They actually taste like ham (not just like salt) and the texture of the meat is better than the oval-shaped hams I usually see at the regular grocery store. You can make the recipe with any kind of fully-cooked ham, though.

Crockpot Ham
The number of servings will vary based on ham size

1 large ham, fully cooked
1 1/2 cups apple cider
1 Tbsp ground cardamom
1 Tbsp whole fennel seeds
2 Tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1 cup prepared mustard
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp light corn syrup
2 Tbsp unsulfured molasses
2 Tbsp whole cloves
4 fresh bay leaves

If your ham fits inside your crockpot, you can skip this first step. If the ham is to large to fit inside your crockpot, cut it up into manageable pieces. If your ham comes with a bone, and if it will fit in your crockpot, include it! Don't throw it away! (If the bone won't fit, save the bone for ham and bean soup or for some other purpose!)

Place ham pieces inside a large crock pot.

Sprinkle the brown sugar over the ham.

In a small bowl, mix the apple cider, cardamom, fennel seeds, cinnamon, ginger, mustard, corn syrup, molasses, and cloves.

Pour cider mixture over the ham. Lay the bay leaves on top of the ham.

Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours. Do not remove the lid during the cooking time.

Prior to carving, ladle some of the juices over the meat. Serve moistened with juices.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Soft Ginger Cookies

I've been craving these cookies for probably a month now, so I finally made them the other day. I love the ginger flavor (with a hint of lemon zest), and the soft-textured cookie practically melts in your mouth. The sugar coating on the outside adds the slightest bit of crunchy resistance when you bite into the cookie. Yum!

Unfortunately I'm not sure exactly how many cookies the recipe will yield because I have a confession to make: I eat the raw cookie dough as I'm making them! I know you're not supposed to do that, what with salmonella poisioning and all...but I've been eating raw dough all my life and have yet to get sick...

Anyway, I believe you'd be able to get around two dozen cookies if you used one good tablespoon of dough per cookie (if you didn't eat as much of the dough as I usually do!).

Soft Ginger Cookies
Makes 2 dozen (probably)

2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
1 T grated lemon rind
granulated sugar, for rolling cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar together until well-incorporated and fluffy.

Beat in egg, molasses, and lemon rind until smooth.

Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture. Blend well.

Roll dough, one tablespoon at a time, between the palms of your hands, into balls. Roll in granulated sugar. Place 2 inches apart on a cool, ungreased, aluminum foil-covered cookie sheets.

Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Do not overbake (cookies will be pillowy and soft in the center).

Cool on the cookie sheet for five minutes. They will sink slightly as they cool.

Leave the cookies on the aluminum foil (or they'll rip apart if you try to move them). Transfer the foil pieces to cooling racks; allow the cookies to cool on the cooling racks completely before removing them from the foil. Cookies will stay soft if they are stored in airtight containers.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Fudgiest Brownies You'll Ever Eat...

Here it is...[drumroll]

A recipe that actually calls for 99% cacao chocolate. (If you're a fan of the stuff, you'll know most recipes want sweetened chocolate.)

This is The Very Recipe that was the inspiration for this blog's name.

If you like fudgy brownies, these are the best. They're so fudgy that they're almost like candy. They aren't leavened, so they're not going to be very thick. They're rich and chocolatey, and absolutely must be served with a tall, cold glass of milk.

If you prefer a cakey brownie, this might not be your new favorite brownie recipe. But do not fear, I have another great brownie recipe that isn't so fudgy, which you should try instead.

Meanwhile, fudgy brownie goodness:

Now, a couple of things about this recipe. First of all, be sure you use a metal 8-inch square pan. This is very important because the method of cooling the brownies calls for a ice water bath. If you use a glass pan, you'll crack the pan, ruining it, not to mention that the brownies will be trash.

Second of all, be sure you don't overcook the brownies. Yeah, that's a basic instruction...but it's especially important here due to the combination of ingredients (the sugar). The brownies are so fudgy that they're almost like candy, and they'll turn hard if they're overcooked.

This recipe is adapted from Cookies and Brownies, by Alice Medrich (Warner Books, 1999).

New Classic Brownies
Makes an 8" pan of brownies, which you could cut into 9-16 pieces

4 ounces 99% Cacao Unsweetened Chocolate (I use Scharffen Berger chocolate)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Prepare an 8-inch square metal baking pan. It is important in this recipe to only use metal. Line the pan with either aluminum foil or parchment paper so that it comes up all four sides.

Break up the chocolate. Melt the butter together with the chocolate in the top of a double boiler. Stir to smoothly integrate. Remove the top half of the pan from the heat.

With a wooden spoon or heavy spatula, mix in the sugar, vanilla and salt. I do all my mixing in the top of the double boiler - it all fits, so it's a convenient one-"bowl" recipe.

Add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition.

Mix in the flour. Stir the mixture only until the flour is incorporated into the batter - do not overmix.

Scrape the batter into the prepared 8-inch pan.

Bake the brownies at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. (Caution: don't overbake! If a knife tests clean, take them out right away.)

While the brownies are baking, prepare an ice water bath for cooling. Using a roaster pan or a larger baking pan, fill it with cold water and ice cubes

When you remove the brownies from the oven, cool the pan completely in the ice bath. Be careful to not get water on the brownies. (If you had used a pyrex pan, the glass would break at this point and your brownies would be ruined.)

Cut the brownies into 9-16 squares. Serve at room temperature.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Warm Chocolate Pudding "Cakes"

Finally, this post represents the last dish served at the dinner party I had last year! And of course I saved the best for last - the chocolate dessert! I served moist, chocolatey, cakey puddings, baked in single-serving ramekins, each topped with a scoop of premium-quality ice cream...yum.

The results of this recipe will be completely different depending on how long you allow the batter to bake. A shorter baking time results in a liquidy chocolatey pudding. A longer baking time results in a moist, somewhat cakey pudding resting over a liquidy chocolate pudding. Both variations must be served warm out of the oven. Both are delicious, but when I'm serving them for a dinner party, I usually bake them longer for a texture more people seem to be familiar with.

It's one of my favorite desserts, in part because it's chocolate, but also because it's easy, relatively inexpensive, and doesn't take a million ingredients. I also like it because portion control is easy, since it is baked in individual serving dishes.

Warm Chocolate Pudding "Cakes"
Serves 6

Butter or shortening, for greasing the ramekins
1/3 cup sugar, plus a little extra for the baking dishes
4 ounces semisweet chocolate (I usually use Scharffen-Berger 62% Cacao chocolate, but their 70% is also good in this recipe)
4 eggs, separated
a pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease six 4-ounce ramekins; coat with sugar, tapping out the excess. Place ramekins in a larger roasting pan, as shown below.

Roughly chop the chocolate.

Place chocolate in the top of a double boiler; melt over simmering water.

Once you're done melting the chocolate, keep the water on the burner, as you'll need boiling water later. Actually, you might need to add more water to the pot to boil because you'll need enough to be able to eventually pour boiling water into the roasting pan containing the ramekins, enough to where the water level comes about an inch up the side of the dishes.

Set the melted chocolate aside to cool slightly. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk 1/3 cup of sugar and the egg yolks together until incorporated. Whisk the melted chocolate into the egg yolk mixture.

In a large clean bowl, beat the egg whites and salt on high speed until soft peaks form.

Using a rubber spatula, fold in one third of the egg white mixture into the chocolate mixture.

Gently fold the remaining egg whites into the chocolate mixture, taking care not to deflate the egg whites. The result should be a pillowy batter. Do not overmix.

Spoon the batter into each ramekin, filling 2/3 of the way full. Return ramekins to the larger roasting pan; pour the boiling water into the roasting pan, enough to come up the side of the ramekins by about an inch. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-25 minutes.

After 15 minutes, the puddings will have puffed up and will barely be set. (The centers will still be jiggly.) If you take them out now, they'll be very moist but very delicious.

...Or, you can bake the puddings for 20-25 minutes, resulting in a somewhat cakier texture. (They will begin to pull away from the sides of the ramekins.)

The longer you bake the dessert, the cakier it will be...don't overbake it or they won't be moist anymore!

Do not turn the cakes out of the ramekins for serving. Serve them while they're still warm! Top each with a scoop of ice cream; add a whipping cream and mint garnish to dress it up!

Here's the more moist version, which I baked just today, topped with vanilla ice cream:

...and the somewhat cakier version, topped with chocolate ice cream and a garnish, which I served at the dinner party:

(That was a busy evening! Most of the dessert preparation pictures were not shot during that dinner party! However, somehow I had the presence of mind to snap a picture of my dessert before I took a bite of my dessert that guests probably thought I was a little nutty...)