Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mexican Chocolate Pecan Bars

Review: Nutty, Chocolaty, Salty and Sweet these bars are a hit!

I first tried Mexican hot chocolate at a little place in Ocean Beach called Ortega's. Its just like regular hot chocolate but with delicious spices that give it a much more complex flavor. Rather then coming in a powder, it starts in chocolate blocks that you melt with milk on the stove. When I needed a dessert to make for a Mexican themed pot luck at Kevin's office I knew I wanted to do something with Mexican Chocolate. Internet searching helped me find a Rick Bayless recipe for Mexican Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars. I'm a big fan of everything Rick Bayless so obviously I had make them.

Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars
yield: 32 2-inch bars
source: RickBayless.com

9 ounces (about 2 cups) pecan halves
One 9-ounce bag pretzel rods
4 sticks unsalted butter (divided use)
1/2 cup sugar
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped into pieces not larger than 1/4-inch
4.5 oz finely chopped Mexican chocolate
3 tablespoons flour
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups dark corn syrup
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Toast the pecans and prepare the crumb crust. In a 325 degree oven, toast the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet until noticeably darker and toasty smelling, about 10 minutes. Let the pecans cool to lukewarm (but keep the oven heated), then coarsely chop them by hand into1/4 to 1/2-inch pieces. Scrape into a large bowl. Use a food processor to chop the pretzels into fairly fine crumbs. (You should have 2 cups of crumbs.) In a small saucepan over medium heat or in a microwave at 50% power, melt 2 sticks of the butter. Scrape into the processor, along with the 1/2 cup sugar. Pulse until everything is combined. Butter the bottom and sides of two 8 x 8-inch baking pans. Cut a piece of parchment to fit the bottom of each pan, then press them firmly in place. Butter the parchment paper. Divide the crumb mixture between the two pans and pat into an even layer covering the bottom completely.

Make the filling. To the pecans, add the 2 chocolates and the flour. Stir to combine, then divide evenly between the 2 pans. In your small saucepan or microwave, melt the remaining 2 sticks of the butter. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, brown sugar, corn syrup and vanilla, and beat at medium-low speed (if your mixer has a choice, use the flat beater). Slowly add the melted butter, mixing until the batter looks smooth. Divide the batter between the two pans, pouring it slowly and evenly over the surface to ensure even distribution of the chocolate and pecans through the batter.

Slide into the oven and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the center has just set. Let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until firm for easy cutting. Cut into 2-inch squares. Keep them stored in the refrigerator until just before serving.

original recipe link

I made a major mistake in putting these into cupcake papers. I thought that it would make it easier so I wouldn't have to cut up the bars. WRONG! It was awful, the papers stuck, and shredded when I tried to take them off, so finally I resorted to cutting them off, which unfortunately meant lots of wasted yumminess. Oh well- next time I'll make them in one large pan and cut them into bars.

The final product went over really well at the work pot luck. They didn't get touched till right at the end, but once one person tried them they got rave reviews and everyone started trying them and loved them! Actually two people asked Kevin if he had more at home that he could bring in the next day. The taste is so perfect, salty, and sweet and nutty. The taste of the Mexican Chocolate is subtle and comes out right at the end. Next time I think I'll add more of the Mexican Chocolate and less of the semi sweet. I still have a few blocks of the Mexican Chocolate left, and while I know I'll be using some of it to make hot chocolate, I'm not sure what to use the rest for. If you have any suggestions let me know!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Flower Pot Cupcakes

Recipe Review: Too cute! Almost look too good to eat- but they taste just as yummy as they look!

Last fall when I got hooked on making cupcake toppers I had visions of these cupcakes. I made the toppers, in early October, but then all the theme holidays kicked in, and there really weren't occasions where these toppers would work, plus it seemed silly to make them in the winter. Finally things calmed down and it was my friend Amanda's birthday. And oh well its not spring yet, but I was making those flower pot cupcakes!!

Basically these were incredibly easy, I made chocolate cupcakes, and then used a grass tip to pipe green frosting on top. After the frosting set I popped them into two inch terra cotta pots, and stuck a flower topper in each one. They turned out just as cute as I had hoped and I had a blast photographing them in our backyard.

Making the toppers wasn't hard, I glued paper flowers to a bamboo stick, and then used a half pearl in the centers. I got all the supplies at Michaels. If you want to save yourself some time I made an extra set and they are will be for sale on my esty site. (sometime soon I hope... I'm a little behind on that)

Just in case you need it here is a simple one bowl chocolate cake recipe:

One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
 yield: 24 cupcakes
from: Martha Stewart

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups all purpose flower
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 tablespoons sour cream
3 tablespoons safflower oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

Sift together cocoa powder, flour, sugar baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Combine milk and vinegar and let sit for 5 minutes. Add eggs, warm water, milk & vinegar mixture, sour cream, oil and vanilla to bowl and mix well until smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bottom of the bowl to ensure batter is well mixed.

Pour batter into muffin cups, filling 2/3rds full. Bake until the tops spring back when pressed lightly, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before frosting.

printable recipe

Monday, January 9, 2012

Mussels in White Wine with Saffron

Recipe Review- Perfect for a romantic dinner or a small get together- Mussels are an easy way to make a sumptuous meal that is sure to impress!

Before meeting Kevin I had always thought of mussels as an ingredient. I had them before in chowders, seafood soups and the like, but never as a main dish. Early on in our dating while we were at the Blind Lady Alehouse Kevin ordered us some mussels. I was perplexed. "Just a plate of mussels?" I thought. Then they arrived, and we ate them, soaking up the broth with french fries, and I was hooked.

Last weekend my friend Amber came over, and she suggested that we made mussels for dinner. I couldn't believe how simple it was- and affordable too. The Mussels were only 3.99 a lb at Whole Foods! We ate them with some crusty french bread and a Gorgonzola and pear salad on mixed greens. It was a great dinner and cooking at home (glass of wine in hand) was the perfect way to end a busy week and relax. Now that I know how simple it is I'm excited to make mussels at home more often. It feels like a fancy indulgent dinner, but its really not.

Mussels in White Wine with Saffron
adapted from Barefoot Contessa
serves 4

3 lbs mussels
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped shallots
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/2 cup chopped canned tomatoes, drained
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup white wine
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Clean the mussels, by putting them in a large bowl with 2 quarts water and the flour and soak for 30 minutes (This removes any sand). Drain the mussels, then removed the "beard" with your fingers. If needed scrub the mussels with a brush under running water. Be sure to discard any mussels with shells that are not tightly shut.

In a large stock pot heat the butter and olive oil over medium head. Add the shallots an cook for 5 minutes. Add the Garlic and cook 3 more minutes or until the shallots are translucent. Add the tomatoes, saffron, parsley, thyme, wine salt and pepper and bring to a boil.

Add the mussels, stir well, then cover the pot, and cook over medium for 8-10 minutes. With lid on shake pot once or twice during cooking to be sure mussels do not burn on the bottom. Once all mussels are opened pour into a large bowl with sauce and serve. Discard any mussels that do not open.

printable recipe