November 27, 2011

chocolate custard and rum chiffon pie, aka black bottom pie

See this pie? We were all really sad when this pie was through. It was the star of our Thanksgiving dinner. 

It has a crisp-textured graham cracker crust, a bottom layer of thick chocolate custard, a middle layer of rum custard lightened with egg whites, and a topping of billowy whipped cream and shaved chocolate. This is good, good stuff. Not too sweet, lots of contrasting textures, and rich without being overly so. Someone groaned, I think, after the first bite. I love when that happens.

My only advice is to make this pie for people you really, really like ... or else you might find yourself begrudging your dinner guests when they polish off two slices and eye a third. I wouldn't know, since I invite strictly delightful people to dinner, but people ought to know. 

And here is what it looks like if you make it in a springform pan, which makes serving a bit easier: 

Chocolate custard and rum chiffon pie
adapted from Ken Haedrich  
serves 10

This recipe came to me via my friend Jyoti, via her friend Ariel. The recipe comes from a book called Pie by Ken Haedrich and it is his adaptation of an old James Beard recipe. I made a couple of small changes -- the whipped cream topping isn't sweetened, I omitted cinnamon from the crust, I added weight measurements for the dry ingredients, and instead of light cream I use a combination of whole milk and heavy cream -- but the bones of the recipe are pretty great. And it isn't hard to execute as long as you are organized, read the instructions carefully before tackling the recipe, and recognize the difference between soft and stiff peaks when whipping egg whites. For the latter, check out this visual guide for help. 

Note that the pie needs to be refrigerated at least 4 hours before serving. About the ingredients, I used Guittard 72% bittersweet chocolate and the rum we used was an aged rum from Flor de Cana.

For the graham cracker crust:  
8 3/4 ounces (1 3/4 cups) graham cracker crumbs (optional: replace 4 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs with 4 tablespoons pecans, toasted and processed into fine crumbs)
0.9 ounces (2 tablespoons, firmly packed) brown sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
4.5 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped into small chunks (3/4 cup)
1/4 cup cold water
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
5 1/4 ounces sugar (3/4 cup)
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoons sea salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks (2 ounces)
2 tablespoons aged rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large egg whites, at room temperature (3 3/4 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

For the whipped topping:
1 cup cold heavy cream
1 ounce semisweet chocolate 

To prepare the crust:
If using pecans, toast in a skillet on the stove until warm and fragrant. Let cool completely, then pulverize into fine crumbs using a food processor. Preheat oven to 350 and lightly butter a pie pan or springform pan (prettier). Combine graham cracker crumbs, pecans, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Stir to combine. Add melted butter, and use your fingers to evenly distribute throughout the crumbs. Add to pie pan or, better option, springform pan. Press crumbs evenly to the bottom and all the way up the sides. Refrigerate 10 minutes. Bake 7 minutes and let cool on a rack.

To prepare the filling:
1. In a heavy-bottomed, small, completely dry pot, combine 2 tablespoons unsalted butter and 4 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate chunks. Over low heat, allow to melt completely. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside, without whisking or stirring. (You can also complete this step in a double boiler, or by heating in short spurts in a microwave.)

2. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons dry gelatin to a small bowl, then add 1/4 cup cold water. Stir and set aside.

3. In a medium saucepan, combine 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch, and ¼ teaspoon sea salt. Add 1 ½ cups whole milk, ½ cup heavy cream, and the 4 egg yolks. Set to medium heat and cook, stirring continuously, until mixture begins to thicken and bubble. (This took about 5-7 minutes over medium heat on my stove, but you'll definitely want to stay and watch because it happens all of a sudden.) Once the mixture thickens, continue to cook, still stirring continuously, 1 ½ minutes longer. Remove from heat and immediately pour about half of this hot custard mixture into the chocolate/butter mixture. Setting aside the hot custard, whisk the chocolate mixture to blend evenly and immediately pour the chocolate custard into the bottom of the graham cracker crust. Smooth to form an even layer.

4. Pour the remaining hot custard into a large mixing bowl and add 1 ½ tablespoons rum, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and the gelatin mixture. Set aside to cool, about 15 minutes. It should look like this: 


5. When the rum custard mixture has cooled, add the 3 egg whites to the bowl of a stand mixer, along with ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar. (Note: be sure that there isn't even a speck of egg yolk in your egg whites, or they won't whip properly.) Whip egg whites to soft peaks. Add 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar and whip to combine. Repeat with remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar, adding them one at a time and whipping to combine until the whites are stiff and glossy. 


6. Fold about ⅓ of the whipped whites into the rum custard until evenly combined. Add the remaining egg whites and fold the custard again to evenly incorporate the whites. Scrape this mixture over the chocolate layer in the crust and smooth the top with a spatula. Cover with a loose tent of aluminum foil and refrigerate at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.


7. Just before serving, whip 1 cup cold cream until billowy and airy. Scrape over the top of the rum custard layer. Grate chocolate shavings over the top, using a vegetable peeler and a room temperature hunk of chocolate. (Cold chocolate will create chocolate dust, not shavings. If your chocolate is cold, try heating in a microwave for 8 second spurts.) 

November 21, 2011

Southern yeast rolls

Mark here. It's time for one of my infrequent posts, and today it's about dinner rolls. The other day, Kim ventured to say that maybe we didn't need to make dinner rolls for Thanksgiving, given all the other starchy dishes on the menu. And then I was like: "DO YOU EVEN KNOW ME AT ALL?" Sheesh.

I've tried making dinner rolls a bunch of times, with somewhat disappointing results. To give you an idea of my benchmark, my ideal rolls are extremely soft, buttery, yeasty rolls. I don't want anything with a crackly crust or too much chew, and the flavor should be more sweet than salty. Finally, if you think "cotton ball" when you take a bite ... that's a bad sign. Then Kim forwarded me a thread on the Fresh Loaf about Southern yeast rolls that seemed promising, so I made a small test batch this weekend. Success! The dough is easy to work with and the flavor and texture are exactly what I look for in rolls.

The only question is how many to make. 1 per person? (Haha, be serious.) 2 per person? (That's a little more reasonable, but still.) 3 per person? (The  minimum  if you're cooking for my family.) For the record, Kim liked these a lot, too. :) 


Southern yeast rolls
adapted from a few recipes and techniques on the Fresh Loaf

The entire process should take a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 7 hours, start to finish, depending on how long you pre-ferment.

Makes 12-18 rolls

170 grams AP flour (1 1/2 cups, using the dip and sweep method)
10 grams whole wheat flour (1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon) (optional: adds additional flavor)
1 teaspoon wheat gluten (optional: makes the rolls more pliable and tender)
1 teaspoon yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
400 grams warm milk, between 100-110 degrees F (1 3/4 cup)

Dry ingredients:
340 grams AP flour (2 1/2 cups, using dip and sweep method)
20 grams (2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons wheat gluten
2 teaspoons yeast
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons sugar

Other ingredients: 1 stick of softened unsalted butter

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients for the pre-ferment. Whisk 2 minutes and set aside. In a second mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Pour the dry ingredients over the wet ingredients, without mixing, then cover with plastic wrap and let sit for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.

Add a stick of softened butter to the bowl of pre-ferment. Using a paddle attachment, mix until all the ingredients are wet. Cover and wait 20 minutes.

Mix on medium speed 2 minutes until the dough comes together and forms a ball around the paddle. Switch to a dough hook and mix on medium for another 5-7 minutes. (If you are making by hand, watch this clip and use the super fun looking slap-and-fold technique.) Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour.


Divide the dough into 12-16 even pieces using a bench scraper or scissors. ( If you have a rectangular pan it is more convenient to do 15 or 18 rolls so you can lay them out in a 3 x 5 or 6 pattern.) Form a ball out of each piece by grasping dough from the top, pulling the rough ends down, and pinching them together at the bottom. You want the top of the rolls to be a round, smooth surface.

Place the balls of dough in a well-oiled square or rectangular pan; the balls should be as evenly spaced as possible so that they form nicely shaped rolls after rising. Spray the dough with nonstick spray, then cover the pan and let the rolls rise for another hour.

Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. When the rolls are ready, put them in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the rolls are nicely browned. Invert on a rack and serve immediately.

Optional: Creating some steam in the oven helps to keep the exterior of the rolls soft. When you preheat the oven, place a skillet on the bottom rack. When you place the rolls in the oven, protect the glass part of the oven door by covering it with a kitchen towel. Wearing an oven mitt and averting your eyes from the steam, carefully pour about 1/2 cup boiling water to the pan. Close the door and bake until browned.

November 20, 2011

roasted turkey stock

One of my weirdest qualities is that I am a total sicko evangelist for/of/about (I don't know the proper preposition, sorry) homemade stock and broth. If you're ill, and I'm nearby, and I know you're ill, and you are my friend, I will make you soup. Part of is that I want you -- my friend!-- to feel loved and to get better, and making soup accomplishes both. The other part is that I get a kick out of the fact that you can literally simmer water and bones and get the most deeply flavored, delicious, most restorative liquid ever, and I also want you to realize and remark upon this and be like, "Wow, Kim!!!!" followed by something like "This is the best soup I've ever had!!" I mean, it doesn't have to be exactly that wording, but I'd like to be remembered for my soup making abilities, so it'd be pretty cool if this ever happened.

If this doesn't sound endearing or interesting, I'll just say right now: you may not be interested in this post, because it's for my fellow stock geeks. (Is anyone out there?)

I know most people don't bother to make stock. And I get it. Boxed stock isn't expensive, and it's undeniably convenient. But I love the process of making stock, and I especially love the flavor of homemade stock. After a little active work, everything gets delicious while I just sit on the couch watching Firefly. And the end result tastes infinitely richer and better than almost anything you can buy. And homemade stock makes the best, best, best soups and risotto. No contest.

I do think making turkey stock before Thanksgiving is a good idea, even if you're not a stock geek like myself. For one thing, if you have turkey stock on hand, you have the option to make your gravy in advance. This is no small thing for people who get harried by all the little things you have to do in the 30 minutes between the turkey coming out of the oven and the turkey being carved (hello!). For another, turkey stock is excellent for moistening stuffing, serving as a base for soup, or adding moisture to, say, green beans. And finally, there's also the generally agreed upon fact that people who make homemade stock are loved and admired by everyone. (SHHHH, just let me have this.)

turkey stock

Turkey stock

You can easily scale this recipe down, depending on how many turkey parts you have. Even if you only have one neck and giblets, you can apply this technique and get some additional stock for your turkey gravy. Just use a small pan (your turkey neck should fit as snugly as possible) and less water.

4 pounds turkey necks, backs or wings
Giblets, excluding the liver
1 carrot, chopped into 2 inch chunks
a handful of onion and celery trimmings
5 whole black peppers

Place a large stockpot on the stove and turn heat to medium-high. When hot, arrange the turkey parts and the carrots -- not the giblets -- on the bottom of the pan and let brown, turning the parts until deeply browned on both wides. Alternatively, slide the pot into a 425 degree oven and let the parts roast 30-40 minutes, turning once. I skipped the browning last year and my turkey stock was anemic, both in color and taste. Don't do it!

Move browned turkey parts to a plate and add 1 cup of water to the pan. Using a flat-bottomed wooden spoon, diligently scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen the brown bits. Be as thorough as you can, because these brown bits add a ton of flavor to your stock. Return the turkey parts to the pot, and add the onion, celery, pepper, giblets, and enough additional water to just cover everything. My 4 pounds of turkey needed 8 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then adjust heat so the mixture simmers slowly. Simmer at least 3 hours, partially covered. Strain, reserving the turkey parts and giblets. Cool and refrigerate the stock. If you like, pull and chop meat from the necks and the giblets and reserve for your gravy or soup. After overnight refrigeration, the fat will have risen and congealed on the top. I sometimes skim and toss, or use it for sauteeing vegetables.

Refrigerate for up to 3 days. Use by the 4th day, or freeze.

November 18, 2011

game time

Guys! Thanksgiving is in less than a week. Let's talk about it. Here's our menu.

Pre-meal Snacks:
Spicy potato chips and vegetables with caramelized onion dip (Ina Garten
Spice brined pecans (Food52)*

Dry brined turkey with onion/herb/applejack gravy (aka the Judy Bird)
Cornbread and sausage stuffing (Mark's mom's recipe)
Gratin Dauphinois (Julia Child)
Minimalist cranberry sauce (Mark's mom's recipe)
Mashed sweet potatoes flavored with maple syrup and bourbon
Green beans sauteed with onions and Hungarian paprika
Greens with apple/celery root/pecan/caramelized apple vinaigrette (Food52)*
Southern yeast rolls (adapted from the Fresh Loaf)

Maple pecan pie with star anise (Melissa Clark)
Black bottom chiffon pie (Jyoti's friend's Ariel's recipe)

Why the starred dishes? Because we still don't know how many people are coming this year. (This stresses me out a bit, but I'm rolling with it.) I'm prepared to make a few extra dishes, if need be, but the menu will be easy to execute either way.

I also want to talk about leftovers. Mark can eat turkey-and-mayo sandwiches for days, but I can't. Here are my ideas.

  • Turkey banh mi, with pickled carrots, cilantro, jalapeno slices, chile/garlic sauce, mayo spiked with a little soy on a toasted baguette
  • Sweet potato biscuits (here)
  • Turkey gumbo with rice, using leftover turkey and stock from the carcass (here
  • Shredded turkey in a spicy, tart tomatillo sauce, with warm tortillas (here)
  • Turkey, arugula, apple, pecan salad with caramelized apple vinaigrette (Food52)
  • Crisp salmon and mashed potato croquettes with herbed yogurt sauce (this Melissa Clark recipe, which I make all the time)
  • Vietnamese cabbage/cucumber/onion/mint salad with shredded turkey (here)
  • Spicy King Ranch casserole (fancied up, recipe via Homesick Texan)  
To end on a recipe note, I'm leaving you with Mark's mom's cranberry sauce recipe. Last Thanksgiving, we engaged in a Cranberry Duel -- my entry was a chunky, orange flavored one and her entry was a simple, smooth, gelee. Mine was nothing special, and a little bitter to boot. Hers, strained of all the chunks and flavored with nothing but sugar, won the day. Its pure, tangy but sweet cranberry flavor is my new sauce this year.


Minimalist cranberry sauce

12 ounces raw cranberries
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Combine cranberries and water in a medium sized saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer, over medium heat, until cranberries have burst and are very soft, about 20 minutes. Set a mesh strainer over a bowl and strain cranberries. Discard cranberry pulp or use it for something else. Return the cranberry liquid to the stove and add the sugar. Bring to a boil and cook for 4-5 minutes, until the liquid becomes a thick syrup. Taste and add additional liquid as necessary, being sure to fully dissolve any additional sugar added.

Cool, and pour into serving bowl. Let cool completely, then cover, and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.


By the way, I'd love to hear what you guys are making this year. Anything inspiring? Good ideas for leftovers? Please share.

November 17, 2011

on school lunches, and Vietnamese caramel chicken

As the kid of a recent immigrant, I remember a few awkward moments in the elementary school cafeteria. To be clear, my mom was/is awesome and she took the time to pack tasty lunches for us. They were just a little unusual, if I compared them to the sea of pbj and Lunchables surrounding me at Weatherly Elementary.

My sandwiches were often full of vegetables -- say, slices of cucumber, slivers of carrot, banana peppers --along with meats that no one else seemed to have, like roasted pork tenderloin or pâté. She gave me cut up vegetables and fruit, and I didn't get Cool Ranch Doritos or pudding or marshmallow fluff. Really, the cauliflower florets and sandwiches were totally fine -- despite the unusual ingredients, they flew under the radar --but I'll never forget the time she packed me cha gio, her homemade Vietnamese egg rolls. I loved those things so hard. So hard that, even though I felt self-conscious about them, I still started eating. Until a girl in my class saw my egg roll and remarked that my lunch was weird. And that it smelled.


I can't remember exactly what happened after that, except that I stuffed the egg roll back in my lunch bag ... and, later, furtively ducked in a bathroom stall to eat. (I was not the kind of kid who would skip lunch.) A bathroom stall! 4th grade Kim. I wish I could go back and tell you to be proud and grateful for your egg roll. And I wish I could tell you to give that mean kid a withering look and continue eating. And I wish I could tell you that, two months from the egg roll incident, you would accidentally slosh the contents of your slushy, semi-frozen juice box all over her face, so just you wait. Finally, I wish I could tell you not to succumb to Lunchable-lust, because Mom was right; that crap is gross.

But I believed that girl because I knew my mom added fish sauce to just about everything, including her egg rolls. What I didn't appreciate back then, however, is that fish sauce only smells intense right out of the bottle. Once you've added it to a dish and balanced it with other flavors, its characteristic briny funk mellows considerably. And if you know what you're doing, fish sauce can impart an addictive umami flavor to your food that no other ingredient can. Well, I may not always know what I'm doing, but I can say that the tastiest, most addictive dish I know how to make is this one. And it's all thanks to fish sauce.


The recipe for Vietnamese chicken with caramel sauce comes not from my mom, but from Mark Bittmann, who calls it two-way chicken. And it is crazy that I've never blogged about it because this is one of Mark's favorite dishes. As in, a strong contender for his last meal on earth. The chicken is juicy and succulent, the sauce is savory and sweet, and whenever I make it people can't stop talking about how much they like it.

One last comment about fish sauce: I have been using Red Boat first press fish sauce for awhile now, and it is dynamite both in quality and in taste. It is great for cooking, making a dipping sauce, and also perfect for eating plain with rice, if you grew up doing that (like me!). I highly recommend it. So does my mom, who said it tastes like the fish sauce she grew up eating in Vietnam.


Two-way chicken, also known as Vietnamese caramel chicken
 adapted from Mark Bittman

The first rule of two way chicken is to start a big pot of rice before doing anything. You'll want a lot to soak up the sauce. The second rule is to use chicken thighs. I've made it plenty of times with a combination of white and dark meat, but using thighs are ideal because a) they cook at the same rate and b) they stay wonderfully juicy. And the last thing is that this dish isn't ideal for a crowd, unless you enjoy turning a billion pieces of chicken at a hot stove. But if I were feeding more than 3-4 people, I would start the chicken on the stovetop and then put it in a 400 degree oven to finish cooking the interior.

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
2-3 teaspoons soy sauce
2-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1-2 inch hunk of ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon oil
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
lime wedges and chopped cilantro, for garnish

Place the chicken in a bowl and drizzle enough soy sauce over the chicken to give it a light coating. This adds flavor and helps with the browning.

Add the oil to a wide, fairly deep skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken to the skillet skin side down. Brown it well. After 5-7 minutes, flip the chicken. The skin may stick a bit, but do your best to keep it intact. (Another strategy is to cook these in an anodized nonstick pan, though nothing with Teflon because the cooking temperature is too high for that.) Cover partially with a lid and continue cooking, checking the chicken and rotating the pan to make sure they cook evenly. This should take 15 to 20 minutes longer. Remove the thighs to a plate once they finish cooking. They'll look something like this (I should have rotated my pan, guys! Not a big deal though).


You should be left with a pan full of chicken dark drippings and clear fat. How much will depend on how fatty your chicken was; if your chicken exuded a lot of fat, spoon out fat -- but not the drippings, you want those!-- until you are left with approximately 2 1/2 tablespoons of fat. If your chicken was lean, add a bit more fat (like olive oil) to the pan to make up for it. Next, turn the heat to low and add the garlic, ginger, hot pepper flakes. Cook until the garlic becomes translucent, taking care not to let it burn. Next, add 1/4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Raise the pan to high heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts and the sauce thickens and becomes foamy. This takes about 2 minutes for me. At this point, add the fish sauce an any juices that accumulated around the chicken and cook for 30 more seconds. Finally, return the chicken to the pan and turn the pieces until nicely glazed and hot.

Serve over rice, and garnish with cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice. I almost always serve this with a Vietnamese cabbage salad, but any simple vegetable will accompany this perfectly.

Serves 2.

November 15, 2011

about our most recent trip (and some other thoughts)

Instead of working or catching up on chores, I've fallen down a rabbit hole called the Internet. For example, weren't you wishing that someone would do a photo shoot of the women of Downton Abbey? In disco attire? Oh wait, you can find that here! (But don't scroll down below the picture or you'll find a big season 2 spoiler.) We just finished season 2 and withdrawal has set in, but apparently they're doing a Christmas special. As Lord Grantham would say, my dearest chaps, I just don't have the words to express how very pleased I am.

In other news, we just wrapped up 6 very busy, very fun weeks. I want to share every bit of it, but the thought of editing photos and writing about it is overwhelming. My natural response is to fret about it, plan to do it later, and then ... never get around to doing a thing, because I feel like I don't have the time. But! Recently, my bff Julia not-so-gently nudged me to STOP doing that. And she is right. For one thing, I love keeping a journal for myself -- when I go back and re-read previous posts, I'm always grateful that I made the time to do it. For another thing, my family and good friends have told me they like reading our updates and recipes too. So, it might take me awhile to get going, but I'm determined to blog more often. Resolution made.

And now I'll start by writing a bit about our trip to Georgia. The real reason we went was because Mark was invited to give a talk and meet with colleagues at Georgia Tech. Our real-er reason was to visit friends we haven't seen in way too long, and to visit my parents/sister over in Augusta.

I've been to Atlanta a bunch of times (fun fact: I saw *NSync at the Georgia Dome in the year 2001. YES I DID, PEOPLE.), but this time was less about boy bands and more about catching up with our friends Chris and Kara. They took such good care of us. We had delicious food, a very comfortable bed, and two of the smartest and funniest play companions I've ever had (I'm talking about their two little girls, not Chris and Kara, though they are both smart and funny too). Everything about the visit was wonderful, but it was especially nice to just hang out with them and their adorable family. There's something really neat about seeing your friends with their children, no?

After a few days in Atlanta, we went to visit my family in Augusta. Visiting my family is pretty much the same every time, but I love it. I get to read (this time, it was Blood Bones and Butter, The Tiger's Wife, and Mindy Kaling's book), my mom cooks my favorite things, my dad tells amusing stories, and we laugh a lot about ridiculous things. Everyone cares so much about everyone else that we inevitably have at least one major family discussion/disagreement, but as Mark says visiting my family is always a good time no matter what.

Mom's bun rieu
Mom's famous bun rieu (crab and tomato noodle soup, though she made hers with shrimp this time)

Mom's baby collards, growing on the deck
(Mom grows baby collards in a planter on the deck!)

(my parent's deck and view of the river, the #1 reason my dad wanted to buy this house)

(photos from a hike we took along the Savannah River)

(my mom and her favorite son-in-law)