Monday, November 14, 2011

towering heights: Darkest Chocolate Crepe Cake

 My husband celebrated his 29th birthday recently, and I knew that I had to do something special.
You know, to take the attention away from him. 
It wasn't long after I began browsing the food universe (i.e. Google. Wait, people use Google for things other than looking up recipes? Sounds dumb.) that I stumbled upon this masterpiece of a complicated, show-stopping recipe from Martha Stewart. All I had to do was type in two words that I knew my husband would appreciate: Crepe Cake.
 Now, If you are looking through the recipe and thinking to yourself, I don't love anyone enough to make them such a difficult and ridiculous monstrosity of a cake!! 
I would simply say to you, You are probably right. This thing is nuts. 
However, I do not regret a minute I spent on it. It was fun, it was beautiful and I stole all of the attention at my husband's party back from him! Worth it.
I really am trying to have enough faith in you, dear reader, to assume that you know I am joking about the attention-grubbing. My husband's big day was wonderful and all about him: How smart he was in choosing a mate did come up once or twice, but, you guys, it's really no big deal.
The real story with this cake is that it is meant to be made and assembled the day before. 
Those are my personal magic-party-recipe words. 
On party day the last thing you want to worry about is a falling cake in the oven or a forgotten ingredient (Eggs. It's always eggs.) from the store when you are already stressed about keeping the house picked up and keeping your eyeliner from smearing when you are blasted in the face by steam when you go to check on said falling cake because you aren't paying attention to where your face is positioned in relation to the hot oven because all of your attention is focused on your eighteen-month-old daughter who loves to try to get the knives out of the dishwasher when your back is turned.
 That hasn't happened to me, of course. I'm just giving an example from this super pathetic friend of mine.
You know how ogres have layers? Like onions, or, to a lesser extent, parfaits? 
Well, this cake is like an ogre. 
Let me break it down for you: 
Chocolate crepes, hazelnut cream and chocolate ganache. Ooh, and don't forget the candied hazelnuts on top, made by dipping skewered hazelnuts in candied sugar and letting them hang off of your counter top so they form gorgeous and towering sugar umm pokey things? 
Whatever, they're pretty.
Anyway, this cake has a million (yes, I counted) layers AND impressive height. Those two things together always result in Ooohs and Aaahs when presented to a crowd. The let-down always comes afterward if the taste of the cake doesn't quite measure up to its impressive looks. 
This cake was not disappointing on any level.
 
Okay, enough blabbing. Here's the recipe. Try this cake. You'll just love it. 
 

Darkest Chocolate Crepe Cake

Recipe by Martha Stewart (with some slight clarifications from yours truly)

 Crepes: 

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus melted for pan
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (I use chips)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk, room temperature
  • 6 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
 Hazelnut Filling: 
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, softened (make sure they are completely softened!!)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup hazelnut cream (there is a big debate about exactly what this is in the reviews for this recipe at marthastewart.com. Is it Nutella? Is it extract? Is is a specialty store item? No. It's hazelnut flavored coffee cream. You can find it at any grocery store.)
  • Pinch of salt

Chocolate Glaze: 

  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • Pinch of salt
  • 10 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (I use chips)

Candied Hazelnuts:

  • 9 hazelnuts, toasted and peeled
  • 1 cup sugar  
To make the crepes:  

  • Bring 1/4 cup water to a rolling boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, whisking to combine after each addition. Remove from heat; stir in chocolate until completely melted. Set aside.
  • Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together milk, eggs, and vanilla in another medium bowl. Gradually add milk mixture to flour mixture, whisking until smooth. Add chocolate-butter mixture, whisking until smooth. Pour through a fine sieve into an airtight container; discard lumps. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
  • Lightly coat an 8-inch crepe pan or nonstick skillet with melted butter. Heat over medium heat until just starting to smoke. Remove pan from heat; pour about 2 tablespoons batter into pan, swirling to cover bottom. Reduce heat to medium-low; return pan to heat. Cook, flipping once, until edges are golden and center is dry, about 30 seconds per side.
  • Slide crepe onto a plate. Repeat process with remaining batter, coating pan with butter as needed. Crepes can be refrigerated, covered, up to 1 day.
 Then the Hazelnut Filling: 
  • Put cream into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Refrigerate 1 hour.
  • Whisk egg whites and sugar in the clean bowl of mixer set over a pan of simmering water until sugar has dissolved and mixture registers 160 degrees, 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Attach bowl to mixer fitted with the clean whisk attachment; beat on high speed until slightly cooled and stiff (but not dry) peaks form, about 5 minutes. (Make sure you are at stiff peaks here! Try taking out the beater and turning it upside down. If the point remains upright on the end of your meringue, you are there.)
  • Fit mixer with paddle attachment. With mixer on medium-low speed, add butter, several pieces at a time, mixing well after each addition (meringue will deflate slightly as butter is added). Add vanilla, hazelnut cream, and salt; mix until mixture comes together, 3 to 5 minutes. Fold in whipped cream with a rubber spatula. Use immediately.
  • Place a crepe on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Spread with about 3 tablespoons hazelnut filling. Top with another crepe. Continue layering with hazelnut filling and crepes, using about 32 crepes and ending with a crepe on top. (Clean the filling that has oozed out of the sides with a knife.) Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes. (I froze mine for about 15 minutes just to make sure it was completely set. You definitely don't want this thing sliding around when you are trying to cover it in chocolate ganache!)
 Now make the Chocolate Glaze:
  • Bring cream, corn syrup, and salt to a boil in a medium-heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from heat. Add chocolate; swirl pan to cover completely with cream. Let stand about 5 minutes. Stir until smooth. Let cool completely.
  • Spoon 1/2 cup glaze on top of the cake, spreading to edges. Spread remaining glaze around sides of cake, coating completely. Refrigerate until glaze is firm and set, about 20 minutes. Cake can be refrigerated up to 3 days (!!!!). Garnish with toasted and candied hazelnuts.
 For the Candied Hazelnuts (make and decorate the cake with them on the day you are serving the cake): 
  • Thread each hazelnut onto tip of a long wooden skewer; set aside. Place a cutting board along the edge of a countertop; set a baking sheet on floor next to edge.
  • Cook sugar and 1/4 cup water in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved. Continue to cook, without stirring, until syrup comes to a boil, washing down sides with a wet brush to prevent crystals from forming. Let boil until syrup turns light amber, about 5 minutes (Watch this closely! Don't let it get too dark or you'll break teeth on your adorable candied nuts.); remove from heat. Let stand until slightly cooled, 8 to 10 minutes.
  • Dip 1 skewered hazelnut into syrup, coating completely and letting excess syrup drip back into pan. When dripping syrup becomes a thin string, secure end of skewer under cutting board, letting caramel string drip over edge onto sheet. Repeat with remaining hazelnuts. Let stand until caramel has hardened, about 5 minutes. Break strings to about 4 inches. Carefully remove skewers.
 Bon chance and Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

venemous: The Snake Bite Lunch

Downtown Idaho Falls doesn't have any skyscrapers.
In fact, there aren't any buildings taller than five stories.
It doesn't have a Gap, a Starbucks, or any store whose name you would recognize.
It doesn't have great parking. Or even a whole lot of traffic, for that matter.
But what it does have is nearly impossible to find anywhere else in town- real charm.
And one particular gem of Downtown Idaho Falls is impossible to find anywhere else in the world.
The Snake Bite Restaurant.
 Before I tell you how I love The Snake Bite (oh, rest assured I am about to count the ways), I will address your first thought:
You: What's with the name of this place? It sounds like you are going to go in and spend an hour tying tourniquets and sucking venom.
Me: I know, right? But don't worry. The most venomous thing in this restaurant is a crabby waiter, who I like to pretend has a sort of Carl-Fredricksen-in-a-younger-man's-body, heart-of-gold thing going on. Don't mind him.
He doesn't bite.
Once inside this Corner Cafe-style restaurant you will no longer worry about snakes. Just bites.
As in how many bites-worth of food you can stuff in your mouth at once.

Forgive me for diving in, but I am just going to tell you about the crown jewel of The Snake Bite so we can get this over with. I know that the suspense is killing us both. Here it is-
 Their hamburgers. And for me it's not about just any hamburger on the menu, it's about the "Blue Snake River" burger.
Wait, are you let-down? Was that anti-climactic? What is there to "ooh" and "ahh" over about a plain old burger, blue cheese or no?
Well, let me tell you something, dear reader. Building a delicious burger may not exactly be rocket science, but it is a lot harder than it would appear. It takes a light and buttery bun toasted juuust right on the flat top. It takes an expertly seasoned hamburger patty cooked to juicy perfection. It takes fresh, delicious vegetables and homemade sauces. I am telling you, the "Blue Snake River" burger is the MotherBurger.
It doesn't need to be hidden with ketchup and mustard, it doesn't need to be salted, peppered or slathered with pointless accoutrement just to hide the taste of it. It is the real deal.
Now that we have settled that, let me just say that the basic "Snake River" burger is all you could ever hope for in a hamburger, but The Snake Bite takes the BlueSR to a new level by adding not only creamy and salty blue cheese, but (drumroll...) green chilies!
Don't worry, when I first read that on their menu I had to double-take, too.
 And I had to try it.
And since then my life has never been the same.
Because the green chilies bite through the mouth-coating lusciousness of the blue cheese just enough, your mouth is left reeling as it tries to catch up to what your brain has already figured out: This is good.
Perhaps the highest compliment I can give the "Blue Snake River" burger is this:
There is the option to add crispy, delicious bacon to this burger for an extra 50 cents.
Bacon is my favorite food.
 I do not indulge in this option.
I know.
I know!
Quiet your collective gasp and I will tell you why I say no to bacon (just in this one instance!) at The Snake Bite. This burger is the perfect balance of salty, sweet, creamy, crisp, buttery goodness. It just doesn't need bacon (Somewhere a pig is giving thanks that I finally Just Said No. But not for long. I am coming for you, Wilbur!) Adding bacon to this nirvana only adds calories.
This time around at The Snake Bite happened to be lunchtime for our family, and my husband also chose a burger. He went the more pedestrian route (I love you, honey, but you know it's true) and ordered the "Cowboy Burger", the same perfectly cooked and seasoned hamburger this time with a crunchy onion ring, melted cheese and barbeque sauce on top.

I think he likes it.
On a totally unrelated note, payback is sweet, isn't it?
Before I forget I had better mention their amazing waffle fries with homemade fry sauce (Not your usual mayo/ketchup/pickle garbage! A word of warning for parents, though. It's a little bit spicy- my kids don't like it, and they are the least picky eaters I have ever encountered- so ask for ketchup, too!). My burger came with a side house salad with dried cranberries, blue cheese and a tangy vinaigrette. In other words, even their sides are worth coming back for.
Usually the hub goes for one of their delicious seafood and pasta pairings, or pretty much whatever he can find that costs an arm and a leg and contains any amount of lobster that they will sell him, but lunch just begs for a burger. I will have to do another dinner-time post about The Snake Bite featuring their gourmet entrees. For now, just do yourself a favor and try a burger.

Wallet-Friendliness: Two burgers and a Coke to split ran us right around $20. We shared with our kids because they had just come from a play date and had eaten lots of snacks, but their kid's meals are priced at $5 each, including a drink. This is near the Fast-Casual price point, but in a sit down setting. Considering that you can get a burger and fries at an aberration like Applebees for just a dollar less, this is the (much much much) better option. The service is lightning-quick, too, so it's a great idea for a week-day lunch! Important to note: They only accept Cash or Check!! There is an ATM in the restaurant, but it charges an arm, leg and your first-born, so be sure to have cash on hand!
Kid-Friendliness: While they have high chairs and a kid's menu, this place is definitely more geared toward Date Night than it is Family Night. While we were there for lunch this time there was a table of Senior Citizens next to us, which always makes me nervous with my (ear-splittingly loud) 16-month-old in tow. A man at the table, however, immediately turned around and started talking with my preschooler. He wound up telling us about his life; how he spent it traveling all over the country as a cartoonist at fairs and markets. He then took my little girl's menu and began to draw her picture on the back. So we got lunch AND a show!! My little one ate it up. I'm preeeetty sure that guy doesn't  live at The Snake Bite, however, so bring your kids for lunch or bring them some quiet activities so you can enjoy your meal without wondering how long the guy in the expensive suit two tables over will last before smoke actually pours from his ears.
Waistline-Friendliness: With a lunch menu full of options like the "Middle Fork Salmon Sandwich", the "Garden Burger", "Portobello Sandwich" and "Hoback Chicken Sandwich", not to mention their array of fresh and delicious salads (the grilled Caesar is my favorite!), you can successfully navigate The Snake Bite without fudging on your diet. However, when faced with the perfect burger, your will power just might crumble. Tread lightly, friends.
Friendly-Friendliness: Besides Mr. Carl Fredricksen Waiter Guy, the staff of The Snake Bite is efficient and friendly. ...okay, even that guy is not that bad. BONUS: It's super fun to make up stories about what made him so crabby and whether his Ellie is still around and whether he will ever travel anywhere by balloon. 
My favorite waiter, though, looks like a mix between a biker and a Michael Bolton clone, and he is oh-so-sweet to us and the kiddos.

Snake Bite on Urbanspoon
Check out The Snake Bite and their deadly burgers the next time you are out to lunch. 
You won't regret it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

get sauced

A huge part of being an absolute food snob involves being picky about what I feed my kids. It is not so much about calorie counting or Michelle Obama telling me to make sure my kids aren't fat or whether they eat Cheetos every once in a while. It's about being as balanced and truly un-insane about the whole thing as I possibly can. 
True Story:  I had a great friend growing up whose mother would actually wrap up boxes of Lucky Charms and Cinnamon Toast Crunch and give them as Christmas gifts!! The rest of the year it was Raisin Bran or steel-cut oats for breakfast, no questions asked. 
This friend would come to my house and her head would just about explode to watch me make each of us a HUGE ice cream sundae smothered in chocolate sauce every other day after school. Her mom didn't let her come over so often after a little while. I think I juuust might know why.
With my own family I am just trying to fall somewhere in the middle of those extremes. That's all. 
But I love to cook and try things from scratch. And I especially love making things that 1: The kids will devour. 2: Are cheap. and 3: Are better than store-bought. 
And I have hit the jackpot with homemade fruit roll-ups. 
The first recipe I tried was this one from the ladies at ourbestbites.com. I made raspberry roll-ups because that's what was on sale at the grocery store. Yum. The simple recipe and fantastic results (no time for pictures- these things were gone in moments) spurred me on to find more fruits for rolling. 
And then I got an email from HomeMadeSimple.com. I honestly love love love getting emails from those guys. The link they sent me was for an article called Easy Apple Bash. And I clicked it. And now I seriously need to have an apple party!! How cute is this?! ...Jerks.
As I clicked through the site and dreamed of my fabulous future with apples, I  spied their recipe for fruit leather made from apple sauce.
It is completely cheater-y, but, hey, if you don't get to cheat just a little bit when you are home with two small children all day... well then that sucks. 
I also have one hundred thousand cans of apple sauce in my pantry (that number might be a slight exaggeration), so I knew I had to try it. So let's get down to facts.
Fact: I have no idea what makes Western Family Apple Sauce "Fancy".
Fact: This recipe took me two minutes to get the ingredients prepped and in the oven. 
Fact: This recipe made my house smell like apple pie all day long.
Fact: This recipe turned out perfectly. 
Fact: The apple fruit roll-ups lasted even less time than the raspberry ones did. And I doubled the recipe.
Doling out two roll-ups max per kid per day (husbands are included in the "kid" demographic) is going to have to be my new rule, but I couldn't seem to help myself this time around: I simply loved seeing something make snack time so easy on everyone (...okay, mostly just on me).

Apple Spice Fruit Leather

a la Home Made Simple 
Yields one 11”x17” pan of fruit leather
Prep time: 20 minutes (Seriously false. Three minutes, maybe.)
Cook time: 5-8 hours at 170°F

INGREDIENTS
1 25-ounce jar of applesauce
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 170°F. Line an 11”x17” jelly-roll pan or lipped cookie sheet with greased parchment paper (DO NOT USE WAX PAPER! It will smoke in the oven), plastic wrap (This is what I use. Don't worry- it will not melt) or a silicone baking mat.
  2. Spread the puree until it’s about 1/4” thick. Pick up the pan and tilt back and forth until it’s evenly distributed.
  3. Bake in the oven for 5-8 hours. Rotate the pan halfway during the baking time to ensure even drying. Timing will vary depending on the fruit used. It’s ready when it’s smooth and non-tacky. If parts of it dry out a little too much, just spray it with a little bit of water. It's amazing how un-screw-up-able this is!                                                                                                                                                           
  4. Let it cool, then cut in strips with scissors or a pizza cutter. Stack or roll them (I roll mine up in wax paper and tape them shut. For a fancier presentation wrap them with twine!) and store in an airtight container or a zipper storage bag. Store in a cool, dry place. You can store fruit leather for up to a year in the freezer, six months in the refrigerator or a few weeks at room temperature.

all fries go to heaven: Bruges Waffles and Frites

This weekend I crossed paths with Salt Lake City, Utah.
I love it when that happens.
However, as it is three hours away by car (and that is being optimistic when you have two kids under the age of five in your backseat!), it is a special accomplishment. One that deserves a reward. A reward of delicious proportions. You see, driving makes me hungry. ...and so does, ummm, passengering-while-reading-a-magazine. So it follows that I made my husband pull over in downtown SLC for one of my favorite treats.
Get ready.
Are you ready?
...
okay.
 
 Bruges Waffles and Frites (as seen on Travel Channel's Man vs Food [5:40]! Not gonna lie- I love Adam Richman. A lot. But can you blame me? Anyone who can be charming while stuffing copious amounts of greasy food in their mouth deserves... well, they deserve their own show. And my undying love.) is an adorable brand-spanking-new kind of place designed to look sort of like a hole-in-the-wall kind of place across from Pioneer Park on Broadway. And their food is not only legit- the owner and his brother-in-law run the place, and they are Bruges natives!- it is some of the most delicious fare I have ever eaten, let alone on a metal table. On a sidewalk. With a plastic utensil.
 Let's start with their famous Liège Waffles. Yeah, I do dessert first. 
The waffles here at Bruges are the real deal. If I could define waffle it would never again mean flour and baking powder and water fluff with syrup on top. The real definition of waffle is a homemade yeast batter crusted in sugar and cooked in a screaming hot iron, which produces a crispy, sweet exterior and a soft delicious interior. Fill that with two bars of dark Belgian chocolate and Bruges' calls it a "Torpedo" (umm, yes please). Sandwich vanilla bean ice cream, strawberries and speculoos spread (a crunchy caramel ginger spread made with ground Belgian cookies) between two vanilla waffles and they call it a Waffle Monster (If there are any monsters under my bed reading this, please please please be of the waffle variety). Top one with fresh fruit and/or homemade crème fraiche (pictured), and I call it "ummnnsffrafins!" Which is my-mouth-is-full-of-delicious-waffle-and-I-don't-want-to-talk-to-you-right-now for "So super delicious. Can I have another, please?"
Honestly.
I didn't even get a picture of this bad boy after we had dug in so I could show you the delectable dark chocolate inside.
And we ordered another one when we finished our sandwich.
And I didn't get a picture of that one, either.
You're just going to have to trust me. You want this now.

 Now to the "Machine Gun"!
And, yes, as I type this review I am beginning to realize that the owners of Bruges Waffles and Frites seem kind of violent about food. But if there was one sandwich that could be used as a WMD, this one takes it. This sandwich doesn't just fire a few rapid shots off, though. It's the bomb.
Just not literally. Because that would hurt.
The "Machine Gun" sandwich starts with a crusty french baguette. Then there are two merguez lamb sausages, which have a crisp skin and are juuust a little bit spicy. The sandwich is then piled high (oh, so heavenly high) with the best french fries you have ever eaten. No joke. I mean, when you consider that Belgians invented french fries, that the guys at Bruges Waffles and Frites are making them like they do at home, and that the word FRITES is in their restaurant's name, you have to figure that they are legit. And they so are. Finally the gun-fire sandwich bomb is topped off with a big old glob of andalouse sauce, a mayo-based sauce with a little bit of spice and a ton of flavor. *For those of you who hate mayo, ask for it on the side. But try it. Please try it.

Some friendly tips on ordering and devouring your Machine Gun:
+Tell them that you are splitting it because 1: You should! Do not eat this whole thing by yourself! You will die prematurely (As in TODAY. ...granted you will be in food heaven when you go...) and 2: They will cut it in half for you. Honestly, I could not even pick this entire thing up with two shovels for hands. Heck, half of it gives me a run for my money!
+Do not let your spouse get his hands on the camera while you are enjoying your Machine Gun. If you do, he will take a picture of you looking like this.
 And then you will really wish for a machine gun.
+Wash it down with a waffle. Or if you had your waffle first, like someone I know (ahem-me), get another one. It's just worth it.
+Bruges Waffles and Frites sells Coke in glass bottles. No joke. Drinking Coke from a glass bottle is pretty much my favorite thing in the universe. So just like when you give a mouse a cookie and he asks for a glass of milk, if you give this girl a "Machine Gun", she is going to split it with you, and wash it down with glass bottle Coke. And a second waffle. Stop judging and order yourself one, too.

Like I said before, I love this place. I dream about it. I have vowed one day to have my own waffle food truck. But mostly so I can just make myself breakfast.
And someday have to be hoisted out of my living room by a crane.
But that's another dream.

So here is my take on a few things that I find important when choosing a place to eat out. I hope you find it helpful.
Wallet-Friendliness: I would say these guys are at a fast-casual price point similar to what you would find at a place like Chipotle or Cafe Rio. The "Machine Gun" sandwich will run you about $9, the "Torpedo" waffle at $5, a cone of fries with some sauce at between 3-9$ depending on the size of the cone of deliciousness that you choose. My husband, the kiddos and I split the sandwich and got two "Torpedo"s with crème fraiche, which clocked us in at right around $20. And a stomach ache. ...but, you know. The good kind.
 Kid-Friendliness: I didn't see any high chairs around, just in case that is a deal-breaker for you, but my one-and-a-half year old held her own on a metal chair next to her dad. The food is super finger-friendly, too! They have regular ketchup for the fries, which is a huge deal to my four year old. PLUS you are eating outside. So, you know, there is less embarrassment about the killer arm that your baby has when it comes to food-flinging. But the down-side is...
Waistline-Friendliness:  Umm, it's not. Anything that might have been a vegetable at one point has been deep-fried beyond recognition. There is tons of fresh fruit, but only when it is served on a delectable waffle, preferably stuffed with chocolate and topped with cream.
Friendly-Friendliness: Good, friendly and fast service. Order at the counter, grab a cup of water and head out to the curbside tables or deck upstairs overlooking the park. You pick up your food at the window shown above. In the winter you will probably want to either bundle up or take your food to go, but this is definitely one thing I would hang out in snow for. My only caution: don't let your loved-ones get too close to the hipsters that frequent this location... or the ones that work there... You know, unless you're into that sort of thing. Me, I just don't see why a boy would want to put on his little sister's jeans, his grandpa's knit sweater, his grandmother's silk scarf and a pair of fake plastic glasses from his dress-up box to go out and eat a waffle.

Bruges Waffles and Frites on Urbanspoon
Bon Appetit!