Friday, December 24, 2010

Buckeyes, Peanut Butter Balls, and Holiday Wishes!

As we all know, the peanut-butter/dark chocolate combination is one of the best around, and these little treats display this truth marvelously. (Here: a peanut butter ball).

I could literally eat one after another...
after another after another of these. (Here: a buckeye)

They are incredibly easy to make, but they turn out really impressive! Perfect for the holidays, no?

Start with two cups of creamy peanut butter.
Then add some unsalted butter and salt to the bowl.
Microwave the bowl in 15 second bursts, stirring after each burst, for about a minute, until the mixture is .just. soft.
Then, add in some vanilla and powdered sugar.
(Note: do use a large bowl. Things got a little 'cramped' in this one).

Start by adding about 2 cups of the sugar. And mix it up. If it feels like a dough, then you are in business. Mine felt like a soft dough after 2 cups, which I was fine with, but if you want a stiffer dough add 2 1/2 cups sugar.
Now, roll the dough into 1-inch balls. If you care about presentation, shoot for exactly 1-inch. If they are oven 1-inch, ahem..., they don't quite 'fit' in the mini-cupcake holders.
Pop those into the refrigerator to chill for about an hour.

Then, chop up your *good* dark- or semi-sweet chocolate.
Put the chocolate into a bowl with some shortening.
Melt the chocolate mixture in a heatproof bowl over simmering water.
To make peanut butter balls, plop the whole ball into the chocolate, then pick it up with two spoons, rolling it around to let the excess chocolate fall off.
Place on the sheet.
For the buckeyes: get the ball on a long skewer, and dip into the chocolate.
Coat it about 3/4 of the way, pull it up, and let the excess chocolate drip off.
Place on the sheet.
Put the sheet in the refrigerator until the chocolate has set.

Then, place the treats into little mini-cupcake holders, and enjoy!
Happy Holidays from the Bicoastal Chefs!

Peanut Butter Balls (Buckeyes) (from
2 cups creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2-2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

For chocolate coating:
9 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons shortening

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the peanut butter, unsalted butter, and salt in a microwavable bowl, and heat in the microwave for about one minute, or until just soft (check, and stir every 15 seconds*). Stir in the vanilla extract and powdered sugar until it has the consistency of a dough (add more sugar if necessary).**

Roll the dough into 1 inch round balls. Place on the cookie sheet and refrigerate for about one hour, or until firm.

Melt the chocolate and shortening in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. For buckeyes: place a long skewer*** into each peanut butter ball and dip, one ball at a time into the chocolate, leaving the top quarter of each ball undipped. For peanut butter balls: dip the balls, one at a time in the melted chocolate, making sure the entire ball is coated with chocolate. Then, with two spoons or a dipping fork, remove the peanut butter ball from the chocolate, allowing any excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl. Place the chocolate covered balls back on the baking sheet. When all the balls have been dipped in the chocolate, place in the refrigerator until the chocolate has set. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.**** To serve: place in small flute candy cups or mini cup-cake cups.

Makes about 40 pieces depending on the size.

*The recipe has you check every 20 seconds, but I think 15 seconds is better.
**I added two cups of sugar, and it had the consistency of a soft dough. It got a little messy about half way through rolling the balls, but I liked the idea of less sugar. If you want a stiff dough, add all 2 1/2 cups.
***The recipe calls for a toothpick, but a skewer makes it much easier.
****We stored ours in the refrigerator, so the inside didn't get too soft.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Best Roast Chicken in the History of All Time

I don't know what it is about roasting an entire bird...
but I love it. Maybe it is because it looks like a real chicken, not some sort of packaged something or other. Maybe it is because it makes me feel closer to the food. Maybe I think it looks 'rustic'. But, for whatever reason, I find roasting a whole chicken deeply satisfying.

And, we haven't even got to how good this thing tastes yet. There aren't many things that make me, well, devour them. But, this roast chicken is a whole other story. I don't even use a knife and a fork. It is that good. Though, what else would we expect from a roast chicken recipe from Thomas Keller?

I once heard Mr. Keller say that if there was anything every home cook should learn to make, it is a roast chicken. He was right. This is a masterpiece. And it is so alarmingly simple.

The most important thing is to start with a good chicken: go organic. It tastes better, and I am pretty sure it is the right thing to do.

Next: take out the giblets, and pat the whole chicken dry, which will help it brown. Then, put some rosemary in the cavity. Now, time to truss. There are loads of videos on-line about how to do this. Basically, you want to tuck the two wings in, and then you want to use some kitchen twine to tie the drumsticks, so they are snug against the breast. If you don't do this, then the drumsticks will be flailing beside the breast, and will cook much quicker than the breast meat. And who wants dry drumsticks? So, truss the bird. Then, time to shower, and, yes, I said shower, it with salt and pepper. You want a good coat of salt on the outside, which will give it a lot of flavor as it roasts.
What I like to do is put the chicken on a bed of root vegetables like carrots and potatoes, which I have tossed with olive oil and rosemary.
Now, you are ready to assemble the whole thing (how easy was that?!). Nestle the chicken among the veggies. Pop it in a very hot oven, we're talking 450, and roast (cooking times/pound below). Don't open the door, don't baste. Just let it get glorious by itself.
Take it out when the thermometer registers 160 at the thickest part of the breast. Take it out of the oven, and, please, let it rest. This allows it to continue to cook and to retain all its juices.

Once it it has rested for 15 minutes, time to carve it up. Jamie Oliver has a very nice 'how-to' video on how to carve a chicken. But, I pretty much make it up as I go. Sprinkle some fresh thyme all over it, and serve it in a nice dish with the veggies.
And, get ready to enjoy the best roast chicken in the history of all time.

My Favorite Simply Roast Chicken by Thomas Keller (adapted from Bouchon)
One organic chicken (if you can get 2-3 pounds, that is the best, but 4-5 pounds will work also)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4-5 carrots, cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks*
2-3 medium potatoes, quartered
7-8 stalks of fresh rosemary
2 tsp fresh thyme
Dijon mustard (optional)

Preheat oven to 450. Rinse the chicken, then dry it very well with paper towels, inside and out. The less it steams, the drier the heat, the better.

Salt and pepper the cavity, and add 3-4 rosemary stalks to the cavity. Then truss the bird.** Now, salt the chicken-- I like to rain the salt over the bird so that it has a nice uniform coating that will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin (about 1 Tablespoon).*** When it's cooked, you should still be able to make out the salt baked onto the crisp skin. Season to taste with pepper.

Toss the carrots and potatoes with 1-2 Tablespoons of olive oil, salt, pepper, and the leaves from 4-5 rosemary stalks.

Place the vegetables in a saute pan or roasting pan and nestle the chicken among them. When the oven is up to temperature, put the chicken in the oven. I leave it alone-- I don't baste it, I don't add butter; you can if you wish, but I feel this creates steam, which I don't want. Roast until it's done, when the thermometer reads 160.**** Remove it from the oven and add the thyme, if using, to the pan. Baste the chicken with the juices and thyme, and let it rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board.

Carve. Serve with mustard on the side.

*You can use whatever root veggies, in whatever proportions you like. Or, you can skip them all together, which is what Keller does in the original recipe.
**Look up a video on-line
***Rain it down from about 1 foot above it
****If you have a 2-3 pound bird, it should be done in about 50-60 minutes, a 4 pound bird in about 55-60 minutes, and a 5 pound bird in about 70-90 minutes.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Stuffed shells for these long winter nights

While this photo may be a disaster
I could not resist gushing over this completely delicious dish.

I don't know about you, but in the winter, I crave pasta dishes with gooey cheese and comforting red sauce all the time. And, while I love lasagna, it can be a bit time consuming. Enter: stuffed shells to save the day! (Thanks, Giada!)

These shells are stuffed with a ricotta-parmesan-basil mixture and covered with good marinara and mozzarella cheese. Now, I really enjoyed the simplicity of this dish, but you could add pretty much anything you wanted to the filling: mushrooms, other herbs, shredded up carrots, peppers... your imagination could run wild! Alternatively, make these like they are and add a roasted veggie on the side, like asparagus with some lemon zest and juice. Whatever you do, you cannot go wrong.

And, they are so easy to make!

To start: boil your jumbo pasta shells in salted water for 4-5 minutes. They will be pretty hard when they are done, but they will keep on baking in the oven. In the meantime, whip up your ricotta mix: ricotta, parmesan, egg yolks, basil, salt, and pepper. Like I said, you could add just about anything to this mix, but feel free to keep it 'pure'. Now, stuff the shells with about 2 tablespoons of the mixture.
And, nestle them side by side in a baking dish, over a layer of sauce.
Now, if you are good at following directions, you will next cover the shells with sauce, and then sprinkle mozzarella over them. So it should look like this at the end:
If you are bad at following directions, and you put the mozzarella on first, and then the pasta sauce, you will have to do some 'rearranging'.
Pretty? No. But, the flavors were still dynamite.

Now, bake that off for 25-30 minutes, until it is bubbly and golden (which would be easier to accomplish by following directions...).
Top with a handful of basil.
Once it has cooled a bit...
Buon Appetito!

Stuffed Shells (adapted* from Giada)
1/2 box (6 oz) jumbo pasta shells
1 24 oz jar of good marinara
1 15 oz container of whole milk ricotta
2/3 cup grated Parmesan
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

Lightly oil a 9x9 basking dish and set aside. Preheat oven to 350.

Partially cook the pasta shells in a large pot of boiling, salted water until slightly tender, but still quite firm, about 4-5 minutes. Drain pasta shells well and allow to cool.

In a medium bowl, stir together ricotta, Parmesan, egg yolks, basil, salt, and pepper.

Spoon 3/4 cup (or whatever it takes) of the sauce over the bottom of the baking dish. Fill the cooked shells with about 2 Tablespoons of mixture per shell (just enough until the shells are full). Arrange the shells in the baking dish. Spoon the remaining sauce over the shells, then sprinkle with mozzarella.

Bake in the lower third of your oven until the filling is heated through and the top is golden brown, about 25-30 minutes.

Let rest for a little bit before serving.

*I halved Giada's recipe, and I didn't make the arrabiata sauce