February 15, 2012

Marsala Risotto, Crispy Roasted Veggies, and the Holy Grail of Chocolate Cake

February's HH6 (as a side note, I really need to update my HH6 blogs tab) (side note two, I'm also a few days early with this) cooking challenge:

In celebration of Valentine's Day, create a dish that represents your relationship with your significant other. (example: the meal you had on your first date, on a vacation together, what you ate before you got engaged, the meal you had at your wedding etc.)

I have changed a lot over the course of my relationship with my husband.  I count myself as very fortunate that he has changed along with me.  Those who knew me in high school are continually amazed at the person I've become and I owe much of that to my husband who has always encouraged me to be a stronger, better person (even if he doesn't realize he's doing it!).

When we got married, I couldn't really cook.  I was student teaching right before we tied the knot and I'm pretty sure I lived on Kraft mac and cheese, Hamburger Helper, and frozen bagged stew mix.  The problem with this?  My husband hates cheese.  Insanity!  So there went the mac and cheese and most of the Hamburger Helpers!  What's a girl to do?  Why, learn to cook real food, of course.

One of the first real dishes I learned to cook was Chicken Marsala.  I've blogged this recipe before, so just follow the link to see.  I chose to use it for this challenge because it is pretty much the only thing that I cooked during our first year of marriage that survived my transition into a crazed foodie - and The Husband absolutely adores it.  The fact that he's been begging for it lately also might have played a part in my decision.

Back when we first got married, I'd serve the chicken with bagged instant rice and frozen veggies.  No more!  Now my chicken is accompanied with a creamy risotto flavored with marsala wine (no cheese, dear), and crispy roasted broccoli and brussel sprouts, both of which we would be content to eat like popcorn.  You never knew brussel sprouts could taste this good!

Marsala Risotto


1 c white rice
2 T butter
1 c marsala wine, divided in half
1 quart chicken stock (preferably home made!)

Always stir risotto CONSTANTLY!  This means if you need to cook something else at the same time, make sure that everything is mis en placed and within arms reach.

Heat the chicken stock until simmering.  Reduce heat and continue to simmer.  In a separate pot or saucepan, melt the butter until bubbly.  Add the rice and stir constantly until just toasted, not browned.  Reduce heat to medium.  Add in 1/2 c marsala wine.  Stir constantly.  Once the liquid is mostly gone, add a ladle of chicken stock.  Again, stir constantly.  Once the liquid is mostly gone, add another ladle of chicken stock.  Getting the picture?  Keep going until the stock is gone and/or the rice is creamy and fully cooked (if you run out of stock and it's not cooked, use hot water).  When the rice is cooked, add in the last 1/2 c marsala and keep on stirring.  Serve immediately.

Crispy Roasted Veggies


1 broccoli head, sliced into bite-sized pieces
4 brussel sprouts, quartered
Garlic salt

Preheat oven to 500.  Toss veggies onto a tray, drizzle with EVOO and sprinkle with pepper and garlic salt.  Bake for 10 minutes.

Now, about the cake.  Valentines Day also happens to be The Husband's birthday, so I like to go all-out.  Last year was strawberry tartlets.  The two years before, though, he was deployed and got cake-in-a-jar (I should blog that sometime).  This year is all about the chocolate.

When I was in college, I went around making giant chocolate layer cakes for Christmas.  Of course, I used box mixes and what have you, but I think this tendency is part of the reason The Husband fell in love with me.  He comes from a family of chocoholics, and has been occasionally dropping hints that I have failed in providing him with Epic Layer Cake Goodness.  I needed to fix that.  So here we go, the Holy Grail of Chocolate Cake: chocolate fudge cake layered with cream cheese filling, chocolate-caramel butter cream and caramel cream drizzle.  You will never need another cake again.

*with the exception of the cake, which makes a full 13x9 sheet cake, the other recipes have been reduced because I only wanted to layer and frost a mini-cake, there being only two of us here.  If you are making a full-sized layer cake I recommend doubling the filling and the frosting.

Holy Grail of Chocolate Cake

Cake (Adapted from Alton Brown's Devil's Food Cake)


1 c boiling water
4 oz cocoa powder
1 1/2 c brown sugar, packed
1/4 c sugar
4 c flour
1 t baking soda
pinch salt
1 c vegetable oil
4 oz sour cream
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 t vanilla

Preheat oven to 325.  Line a 13x9 pan with parchment paper and grease the paper.

Combine water and cocoa powder until smooth.

Mix sugars, flour, baking soda and salt in your stand mixer.  In a separate bowl, whisk oil, sour cream, eggs, yolks, and vanilla.  Carefully add the chocolate mix to the wet ingredients, stirring well.  Slowly add the wet mixture to the dry, blending until smooth.  Pour into pan and bake 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool completely before removing cake from pan.

Cream Cheese Filling


6 oz reduced fat cream cheese
2 T butter, room temperature
1/2 T vanilla
2-3 c powdered sugar

Beat the cream cheese and butter together until well mixed.  Add vanilla, then carefully add powdered sugar. Taste and add the final cup of sugar if you feel it necessary (I like my filling a bit tart).

Chocolate-Caramel Buttercream


1/2 c butter, room temperature
2 oz cocoa powder
3-4 c powdered sugar
1/3 c milk
2 t vanilla
2 t caramel coffee syrup

Combine powdered sugar and cocoa.  In a different bowl, beat butter for a minute.  Carefully add the sugar and cocoa, then the milk, vanilla and syrup.  Beat until fluffy.

Caramel Cream Drizzle


1/2 c brown sugar
2 T butter
2 T milk
powdered sugar to taste (2 T-1/3 c)

Melt the butter and sugar together in a saucepan, stirring constantly.  Cook until the mixture is quite bubbly, then whisk in milk.  Keep stirring and cook two more minutes, then set aside to cool.  Whisk in powdered sugar to taste (more if you want to use as frosting, less if you want to drizzle).

Building the Cake

Chill your cake layers (covered in plastic wrap) for at least an hour before building the cake.  Use a knife to level each layer if necessary.  Place first layer on a sheet of parchment paper.  Spread thickly with cream cheese filling, but leave a margin of 1/4 to 1/2 inch around the edge.  Place second layer on top and press down gently.  Spread the second layer with filling, again leaving a margin.  Top with third layer.  Spread cake thinly with buttercream - this is a crumb coating, don't make it perfect or thick.  Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before continuing.

Remove cake from fridge.  Spread with final layer of buttercream, then carefully transfer to the serving plate. Drizzle with caramel cream and enjoy!

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