My Killer Chocolate Bread Pudding…Love at First Taste

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Paella Festival

Paella Festival (Photo credit: elsua)

About two weeks ago, one of my friends invited us to their home for an outdoor Paella Festival. It was intended to be a mini-version of the one’s they hold in Spain, only it was held in Pittsburgh, PA.  Close enough I suppose.  We had two very different paellas, prepared by two very talented chefs: one of them a food editor for the Post Gazette, our Pittsburgh newspaper. The other chef, and host for the day, was my friend Mike, a spectacular guy and professional chef that prepares the most amazing food for private parties. I’ve worked beside him a couple of times, and I learn something magical every time. The day was a little chilly and gloomy, and it rained for a short time, but we had a nice tent to protect us from the elements, a warm campfire, a couple of portable propane-fired warmers, plenty of wine and beer and great company to share the afternoon.The paella’s were spectacular. Mike’s was a ‘Cajun style’ paella, made with his own homemade smoked andouille sausage, a deeply carmelized tomato soffrito, and sautéed shrimp added to the paella pan for the final pairing of flavors, textures and eye appeal. The other paella was of the more traditional style, prepared with a lighter, more delicate soffrito, chicken, spanish chorizo, shrimp, clams and mussels. Both were made with homemade chicken stocks and a nice big dash of saffron to authenticate the dishes. Frankly, anything made with saffron is amazingly special. Cooking the paella on outdoor fires gave us all a chance to get a flavor for the way it was prepared back in the ‘old days’. They were terrific! Here’s some pictures.

Mike’s Amazing Cajun Syle Paella

While our two chefs prepped the paella, the guests were expected to bring appetizers, salads, something to go with the main course, or a dessert.

 I had been itching to prepare a bread pudding I had been working on for almost a year. I had experimented with it quite a bit, and I thought I finally had it right. I had literally researched 10’s of recipes, read reviews, tried different ingredients and tested different combinations of flavors to cobble together a very special, uncommon bread pudding. I knew this would be a discerning group of friends–they would be honest about the bread pudding, but appreciative of the effort, even if it didn’t turn out perfect.

So Hot! Guys, let me tell you about this Bread Pudding.  If your lady loves chocolate, she is going to love you big time if you prepare this dessert.

Just so you know, I call this recipe “My Killer Chocolate Bread Pudding”.    That’s because, after My Kathy had her first bite, she stated “she would kill for it”, and proceeded to take physical possession of the remaining leftovers.  My Kathy loves, loves, loves chocolate.  I love, love, love bread pudding.  So, this recipe was created to satisfy both of our passions for a special occasion dessert.

Our Guest Chef’s Traditional Paella

Hot! Guys, read on because this is one of those recipes you will want to have in your repertoire.  I personally guarantee you will be awarded serious WOW! Points with this one, even if your main squeeze isn’t passionate about chocolate.

So what’s the big deal?  Well, it had to be special, made with high-quality ingredients that would turn out a memorable experience, not just an average experience.   As I already stated, it has chocolate—high quality chocolate.  I know very few women who won’t hug a Hot! Guy bearing chocolate!  I wanted the chocolate to be in chunks, spread throughout the dessert like pockets of diamonds waiting to be discovered.  I wanted the bread to be unexpected–a special surprise that one rarely sees in a common bread pudding.  It had to be smooth and silky, soft and pleasing–a sensual texture in the mouth.  And balanced–it had to have just the right amount of the sweetness–not overpowering in any way.  I wanted it to have layers of flavors and textures that could be individually tasted , not a glob of blended undistinguishable flavors.

It had to be souffle-like–light and airy, but rich so that just a little square would be enough to satiate her appetite without being heavy at the end of a romantic meal.  Instead, it would brighten the end of her dinner when accompanied by a glass of Extra-Dry Champagne, a Tawny Port or a hot and steamy Cappuccino.

And it had to be stupidly easy to make.  It had to have just a few great ingredients creating a complex, satisfying dessert.  So simple, that any one of my Hot! Guy followers could make it, knowing with near certainty that it would come out perfectly every time.

Just so you know, I got so many compliments on this dessert from the Paella guests, that everyone wanted the recipe and insisted I post it on the blog.  I barely got a chance to take a picture before it was gone–totally gone.  I had some leftover ingredients and made another batch the next day to give to some of my ‘at home’ friends.  The calls the next day were very encouraging.  There was obviously a lot of “killing’ going on that weekend in my neighborhood.

OK Hot! Guys, this is not an inexpensive dessert.  But, if it’s just you and your main squeeze sharing it, or just two couples, you can easily cut this recipe in half, and you’ll still have plenty leftover for the morning after.  By the way, it’s just as good cold as it is warm out of the oven.  Try it!  I’ll bet you’ll love it too!!  And let me know how many Bonus WOW! Points you were awarded for this one.  I’ll bet it’s a big number.

My Killer Chocolate Bread Pudding

Prep Time: 20 mins | Cook Time: 35 mins | Makes: About 16 servings | Difficulty:Easy

My Killer Chocolate Bread Pudding

Ingredients:

  • 12 stale croissants, cut into bite size cubes (See Notes)
  • 12 ounces Nestle’s or Other High Quality Chocolate Chunks: Milk, Semi-sweet, Dark or a mix
  • 7 cups heavy cream
  • 1-3/4 cups sugar
  • 9 eggs
  • 3 tbsp vanilla
  • Zest of one orange (optional)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 450°.  Place oven rack in middle of the oven.

2. Layer croissants and chocolate chunks into a 9 x 13 inch pan. Two layers should do it.  Just make sure you have some of the chocolate chunks on the top layer so it’ll melt all the way down to the bottom of the pan.

3. Mix cream, sugar, eggs, vanilla in bowl and pour over the top of croissant layers.

4. Bake for 35 minutes or just a little more until top lightly browns and the texture is souffle-like. Careful to not let top burn.

5. Remove from oven, let cool to warm and serve with ice cream, whipped cream or just by itself.

Notes:

A. This can be easily scaled to a smaller or larger quantity.

B. Instead of croissants you can use stale French baguettes as well as challah bread, or my favorite is to use 1/2 croissants and 1/2 challah.

C. I added some golden raisins to one of the batches.  Not too many, but they added a nice layer of flavor and texture.

Source: Lou’s Hot! Guys Collection

Odd Couples, Watermelon and Chili Oil

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For those of us old enough to remember the movie or TV series called the “Odd Couple“, you know the plot was all about the ups and downs of two recently divorced and very different guys living together in a smallish New York City apartment.  Felix was the worrying, fussy, conservative, martini drinking type, while Oscar was the care-free, sloppy, live in the moment, beer slugging type.   Audiences were entertained by how they managed to stay friends despite their many differences.

After the movie became a huge success, the popular TV series took the oddities of their daily relationship struggles to the next level, entertaining fans for years.  In the end, the stories about their lives together always made us laugh, because people can be fascinated by how odd couples, unusual matches, opposite personalities, or widely disparate cultures can find ways to work things out.  The series was not the most intellectually challenging, certainly nothing too complicated, but there was always a life lesson in each episode.

The truth is that opposites are attractive to us because it’s fun to get to know someone who isn’t like you.   The fact is that each of us are affected by the people around us.  Some of them teach us things.  Some of them bring out the worst in us.  Some of them bring out the best in us.  Some of them just accept us for who we are.  I submit there is value in every relationship because each one forces us to constantly test where we are in our personal evolution.  Sometimes we make dramatic changes because of the impact others have on us.  At other times we make imperceptible changes in our perspectives, attitudes and behaviours because people with different points of view, philosophies and mannerisms make us more aware of the impact we have on those around us as well.

I honestly believe life is more interesting when it is less predictable–when we are open to adventure and exploration with the people around us and with ourselves.  We love it when something surprises us.  For example, is there any guy out there that isn’t thrilled when our ladies show up for date-night in a new dress or with a new piece of jewelry?  And Guys, I’m pretty sure our ladies love it when we surprise them with something unexpected–like flowers on a day other than their birthday, your anniversary or on valentine’s day.  (Hot! Guys–do it now!!  Call the Florist!!  Order flowers ‘Just Because She Makes Everyday a Special Day Because She is in Your Life’.  Use your words, but do it!!  There’s some serious WOW! Points right there. I guarantee it.)

I think it’s hard for another person to be your soul mate if they always think like you, live like you, love the same things you do or play like you.  I agree that as a relationship progresses we discover many things we have in common, but we also discover more things we have in contrast.  There are some who may disagree, but I believe relationships last longer and remain vibrantly sustainable when there is always something new to discover about your commonalities and differences.  In the end, it’s good to know you aren’t like everyone else out there, and that someone loves you because of your differences.  That’s a pretty powerful validation of who you are and who you will likely become, and good reason to celebrate the differences you and your soul mate have.

watermelon

S&B La-Yu chili oil - Momotaro Rahmen

Get Chili Oil in Asian Food Stores or at Whole Foods Store

So what does Watermelon and Chili Oil have to do with all this?  Well, let me ask this:  would you have ever guessed watermelon and chili oil could ever be companions in a salad?  No, me either.  But this Odd Combination is not only compatible, they do a fantastic dance together in a salad with Arugula, Pistachios and Goat Cheese!

A couple of weekends ago, we had this salad at a neighbor’s home.  We were shocked by how good it was.  We tasted the cool sweetness of the watermelon followed by the peppery arugula and then this slight spark of heat from the chili oil in the back of the mouth.  It was not spicy it was just an amazing experience.  While our neighbor didn’t have a recipe, per se, she told us the general ingredients.  I spent yesterday experimenting with the recipe, and last night we served it to 11 dinner guests in our home.  Virtually EVERYONE raved about Kathy’s meatloaf and the Watermelon, Arugula and Chili Oil Salad.  To a person, everyone asked if I would blog it so they could make it while watermelon was still in season.

Guys, this is one of those recipes that couldn’t be simpler.  I know you can cut up watermelon?  Can you pull Arugula out of the bag and put it in a bowl?  Can you buy some toasted pistachios or pine nuts and add them in?  Can you squeeze a lemon and add some chili oil?  I’m pretty sure you can find goat cheese at the store and crumble it on top.  Guys, that’s it.  Couldn’t be simpler.  I guarantee this salad will surprise and delight her.  She will have discovered something about your cooking skills that will make you an interesting person.  Serve it with a chilled New Zealand Marlborough County Sauvignon Blanc or a crisp Pinot Grigio and you have an incredible luncheon salad or a side salad for burgers or beef off the grill.  There’s major WOW! Points for this one too.

Make it a double play!  Buy her some unexpected flowers and make her this unexpected salad combination.  That’s serious WOW! Points in the bank!  Good luck.

 

Watermelon, Arugula, and Chili Oil Salad

 

Prep Time: 15 mins | Makes: 4 | Difficulty: Easy

 

Ingredients:

 

  • 4 cups watermelon, seeded and cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes

    Looks Great! Tastes Fantastic!

  • 2 cups arugula or watercress
  • 1/2 to 3/4 tbsp chili oil
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1/2 kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts or pistachios (toasted)
  • 1/3 cup ricotta salata, goat or feta cheese, crumbled
  • fleur de sel (optional)

 

Directions:

 

1. Whisk together lemon juice, chili oil and salt in a large bowl, whisking until well mixed.

 

2. Add watermelon to bowl and mix well.

 

3. Let watermelon marinate (macerate) in the dressing in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Taste the watermelon. The sweetness of the watermelon should be followed by the subtle heat from the chili oil at the back of the tongue. Add more chili oil if desired, to taste.

 

4. Just before serving, add the arugula or watercress and nuts and toss to coat well. Then sprinkle with cheese and fleur de sel (if using).

 

Source: Lou’s Hot! Guys Collection
Sent from Paprika Recipe Manager

 

Perfect Steak–The WOW! Way

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Butcher Shop

My Kathy’s Favorite Store: A Butcher’s Shop

Not long ago, I learned a valuable lesson in my relationship with Kathy.  Turns out, I can dazzle her (and win significant WOW! Points) when I prepare and cook her favorite food items.  You ask: How did you not know that sooner than recently?  Well, it’s because SHE always prepared and cooked her favorite food items because she liked them HER Way.  I sort of thought that since they were her favorites, and because she knew how she liked them prepared and cooked, it was better to leave those items to her skills.  Seemed logical rational to me.  Until recently.She has been busy of late, and hasn’t had much of a chance to cook.  But one day recently, she had selected a nice, thick steak (her #1 favorite dinner) while she was at the store, and intended to grill it for dinner that night.  Some days don’t go as planned, and on that particular day she called home to let me know she was running very late.  So I volunteered to take on the task of preparing the steak, with the proviso that I could prepare it ‘my way’.

Keep in mind Kathy thinks steak is at its best when grilled to a black char on the outside, and to a perfect rare to medium-rare on the inside.  She calls it ‘black and blue’.  I have no idea what that description means other than it’s a Pittsburgh thing, and her father called steak prepared this way ‘black and blue’.   She also knows I don’t like to grill, and ‘my way’ would not be ‘her way’.  But at that point, it was me or her preparing dinner at 10 pm—she chose me.  Wise choice.

There was a lot at stake–pun intended!  I knew I was setting myself up for Kathy’s “it’s good, but not as good as mine” evaluation by doing the steak My Way, but I had not done it for her in quite some time and I had honed my skills and know-how over the past several months.  I was ready and up to the challenge of demonstrating my prowess at the altar of the Best Steak Competition with Kathy.   I was already getting some serious WOW! Points for getting dinner ready while she was on the way home.  But if I got a WOW! out of her for the steak preparation, I’d also get a bunch of Bonus WOW! Points.  And to tell the truth, I’d made a few large POW! Point withdrawals recently, and needed a big WOW! Point deposit to replenish the account!   

So I went to work.  She loves a Simple Salad with my Balsamic Vinaigrette [see June 8,2012 Post] to go with her steaks.  So I got one done and got the steak ready for cooking.  When she walked in the door, there was a glass of Bordeaux to go with her while she changed (Bonus WOW! Points awarded).  And then I got the steak cooking.  In the time it took us to catch up on our day, about twenty-five minutes later, we were at the table with ready to eat.

The outcome?  She enthusiastically declared that Perfect Steak—My Way was at least as good as Her Way.  YES!!  Bonus WOW! Points in the bank.  And better yet, even though she will still do steak her way when she cooks it, she stated she would let me do Perfect Steak—My Way more often.

So Hot! Guys here’s the Rule to take from this post:  Nothing demonstrates how much you care for the lady in your life more than identifying and memorizing her favorite foods and preparations.  It shows you are paying attention to the ‘little things’ in your relationship with her.  Then spend the time and effort to learn about them, because that shows you are enthusiastic about investing in your relationship with her.  Finally, amaze her by preparing them as well, if not better, than the way she does it.  This shows you want to please her.  This is one of the few Hot! Guy Rules that gives you a triple  shot at becoming Hot!  Take it and enjoy the windfall of WOW! Point rewards.

It might be chicken, fish or something else, but my guess is that many of you Hot! Guys are with women who love a great steak.  This really is a fantastic way to prepare a perfect steak every time.  If it’s not already one her favorite food items before you prepare Perfect Steak–My Way, it may become one.  Good luck and have fun!

I know this recipe has a long list of directions, but don’t panic.  Most of it is really good advice on how to choose the right cut of meat.  Then I guide you on how to take 4 other  ingredients and turn them into a steak masterpiece of artful taste, texture and tenderness.  Read through the directions and go to work. 

Perfect Steak–My Way

Prep Time: 10 mins | Cook Time: 15 mins | Servings: 2 servings | Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 2 12 to 16 ounce New York Strip, Filet Mignon or other high-quality (Choice Cut) steak

    The signature New York Strip Steak

    Perfect Steak–My Way

  • 2-3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Sea or kosher salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 Small pats unsalted butter

Directions:

1. BUYING: First off, we already know the best ingredients yield superb results. Therefore, you need to buy a great steak. And here’s my thinking on the subject. I don’t eat red meat very often, but when I do, I want to indulge myself with the very best. Therefore, I buy a nice 1-1/2 to 2 inch thick New York Strip, one of the best sirloin cuts, and by far my favorite. Many people love Filet Mignon because it is the most tender part of the tenderloin and the taste is milder. I also like a T-Bone Steak because it has two cuts of meat on-the-bone: one side of the bone is from the top loin, and the other is a strip of tenderloin. Keep in mind that cuts of meat are called different names in different parts of the country, so do your homework.

The key is to look for cuts of steak that are well-marbled with medium to large size pockets or long narrow strips of fat, evenly distributed throughout the meat. This fat is the key to the caramelizing I want to achieve and to the superior taste of these cuts of meat.

Prime grade beef makes up only 2% of all the beef produced in the United States and is usually sold to the very best restaurants. (That’s why high-end restaurants have the best tasting, most tender and most expensive steaks.) What you will normally find on the shelves at the store or in butcher shops is Choice and Select cuts of meat. Since I’m indulging, I always buy Choice cuts, and so should you. You will notice a difference. The price is higher, but the tenderness and marbling of the meat will be far superior to Select cuts of meat.

Here’s the best advice I can offer in the buying department. Find a good butcher and take his or her advice on both the quality and cut of the meat and the portion sizes for your steak purchases. My butcher is at the Whole Foods Store down the street from me, so don’t think you need to go far to find one.

2. SEASONING: If a high-quality cut of meat is cooked correctly, you really don’t need much more than salt and pepper. Which makes you think that seasoning a steak should be easy. Well my Kathy and I have hot debates on this topic all the time, and we don’t usually agree on the “salt early” or “salt late” philosophy.

Advocates of the Salt Early Approach argue that salting meat many hours or even days before cooking breaks down the protein in meat and makes it more tender. Initially, the salt draws out moisture, but over time the meat re-absorbs the juices, which is now flavored with salt and thus adds more succulent flavor to the meat.

The Salt Late Advocates admonish that salt dries meat out. No more argument needed. Don’t add it until immediately before cooking.

Since this is Steak My Way, and since I spent a fair amount of money for a Choice Cut of meat that is already tender, I find salting the meat about a half-hour before cooking is ideal, but doing it right before cooking works just fine, too. I will admit that if you choose to buy the less expensive Select Cuts of meat, salting early is a good way to go, but you need to do it at least 3 to 4 hours before cooking to get the benefits of this approach.

3. PREPPING: Before seasoning, always make sure to pat the steak dry with paper towels. This simple step is critical. I also brush the steak with vegetable oil (avoid olive oil, which can become bitter at high heats) or a combination of melted butter and oil before seasoning to help the outside of the steak brown. Season both sides of the steak, using a teaspoon or less of either kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Remember, you can always add more seasoning after the steak cooks, but you can’t unseason the meat.

4. After seasoning, let the meat sit quietly so it comes up to room temperature, about 20 minutes for a 2 inch steak.

5. COOKING: You already know I’m not much of a griller. And I actually love browning my steak stove top and then finishing it in the oven. When I do it this way, I get a crisp, caramelized coating on the outside of the steak without over-cooking the inside. In my view, this is harder to achieve on a grill. Using a combination of the stove top and the oven is a tried and true method for perfect steak, and often used by high-end restaurants to prepare their most flavorful steaks.

But of course, Kathy and I debate this issue too. Kathy thinks the ONLY way to cook a steak is on a hot, uncontrollable grill, over flames jumping up trying to set fire to my precious meat after sucking the all the life-giving fat out of my carefully selected, beautifully marbled steak. Kathy claims cooking steak on a grill is an Art-form that takes years of practice and experience before perfecting. My view is this is how our ancestors living in caves cooked their meat. Some of us have now evolved beyond caveman cooking techniques, and should use them to our advantage.

Here’s the thing about grilling. Before gas grills, I think the slight taste charcoal or wood-fired cooking gave to the meat was a nice layer of flavor, worth the extra effort and investing in the know-how. But now that more than 90% of us use gas grills that impart virtually none of this wood-based taste, it’s not worth the effort.

My Way is the more evolved, sophisticated approach, requires much less guesswork, and yields perfect steaks EVERY TIME. As mentioned, I first sear the steak on the stove, then finish it in a hot oven. This is my preferred method, and the one I use most often. It involves:

A. Pre-heating the oven to 450° to 500° Fahrenheit.

B. When the oven is ready, drizzle a little oil in an oven-proof pan (cast iron works great) and then heat the pan on the stove over high heat for several minutes until it just barely starts to smoke.

C. Put the steak in the pan and let it sit without touching it for 3 minutes.

D. Turn on the exhaust fan or open some windows–there’s going to be smoke.

E. If the steak is stuck to the pan, it’s not done browning yet and needs a little more time. When it comes up relatively easily, usually after 3 minutes, flip the steak.

F. Put the pan, with the steak in it, in the oven.

G. Let it bake for several minutes, then check it with a thermometer or ‘feel’ the texture for doneness. (see discussion below).

6. TESTING FOR DONENESS: A thermometer is the most accurate way to gauge if steak is done to your liking. If using an instant read thermometer, slide it about an inch or so into the side of the steak for,the best reading.

Although your thermometer will probably tell you that 145 degrees is rare for beef, most chefs will tell you differently. Rare in a chef’s mind, meaning very pink, is closer to 125° ; medium-rare is 125-130°; medium, 130-135°; medium-well, 135 to 140°; and well, 140° and above.

You can also give the steak a poke with your finger. Rare is squishy, medium-rare is spongy, and medium-well is taut. The steak will continue to cook at least five degrees when it’s out of the pan, so err on the side of taking it away from heat earlier rather than later.

7. SERVING: The last steps are critical and include cutting a small pat of butter and placing it atop the steak. Then, before cutting it, I let the meat rest under a loose cover of aluminum foil. As the meat cools down the proteins begin to firm up and hold moisture, so when you cut into the steak all the juicy goodness won’t run out. Furthermore, while the proteins are firming, they will also absorb the butter to add some flavor and richness to the meat. About 8-10 minutes should do it. Coincidentally, that’s about the time it takes for me to break open a French Bordeaux or rich California Cabernet Sauvignon and grab a couple of wine glasses for the table!

Source: My Hot! Guys Collection
Sent from Paprika Recipe Manager