Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dinner for One -- A Confession, a Plan, and a Meal

I have a confession to make. As much as I love food I find I like to cook for an audience. Friends, family, and readers of my cooking columns (kind of a virtual audience) all count.  So when I am alone for extended periods of time (and not on deadline for creating recipes) I actually find it hard to make a real meal for myself.  Oh, I'll defrost leftovers, pour a bowl of cereal, heat a frozen ethnic meal, but it's nothing I look forward to (and usually it's not the best option in terms of calories, salt and or fat).

My lack of decent meals mirrors my issues of establishing some healthy routines while my husband (my best audience) is traveling for months with one of our sons. Today I had a kind of epiphany, I could plan and share some meals for one on Blog Appetit and begin to bring some expectations and planning into my life leading to more routine and better-for-me food.

So tonight's meal for one was pasta with steamed green beans tossed with prepared pesto (I like refrigerated bolani brand with lots of garlic and no cheese). I also have some strawberries for dessert later tonight.  If I need something more I'll add a dollop of yogurt. It feels good to be gaining some control over my evening meals. Next up getting to exercise class.  Watch for posts with suggestions and recipes for dinners for one.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Little Something Sweet -- Chocolate Sandwich Cookie Kugel (Kind of a Baked Custard Pudding) and Chocolate Blintzes (Plus a Bonus Chocolate Blintz Souffle Recipe)

Chocolate Blintz

I'm offering up something sweet to make up for my not posting in way too long -- some sweet dessert or brunch recipes both featuring chocolate.

Most folks know kugel as a (usually sweet) baked noodle pudding.  When I decided to give it a chocolate make over I started by making my own chocolate noodles.  They were a lot of work (especially since I no longer own a pasta machine) and while they tasted okay the texture in the kugel  can be best described as leaden.  As I searched my pantry and local grocery shelves for other options I tried various chocolate wafers and cookies.  Oreos (well actually Safeway's generic Tuxedo cookie variation) worked wonderfully and surprisingly were not too sweet and the crème-filled sandwich cookies held up well to the batter and baking. 
The Chocolate Blintzes feature a cocoa-based crepe and a ricotta filling laced with milk chocolate chips. I wanted to try the blintzes with a layer of Nutella (or other hazelnut-chocolate spread) on the crepe before adding the ricotta filling but I never got around to trying it that way. They were just too delectable this way. 
I did turn some of the leftover blintzes into a Chocolate Blintz Souffle.  If you want to try something similar see the note after Chocolate Blintzes recipe.
Chocolate Sandwich Cookie Kugel

Serves 12

3 Tbs. unsalted butter melted, divided
About 30 chocolate sandwich cookies
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
8 oz. sour cream
1 cup milk
4 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. almond extract
3 Tbs. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips, divided
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly brush 1 tsp. of the melted butter inside a 9”x13” baking pan. Cover bottom with cookies, breaking some in half to fill in any large gaps.

Mash softened cream cheese with sour cream until smooth. Add remaining butter, milk, eggs, almond extract, sugar and salt. Beat until smooth.

Pour mixture over cookies. Scatter 1/2 cup of chocolate chips evenly over top. Place in oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Rotate pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon then scatter remaining chips over top. Bake for additional 15-25 minutes until custard top is firm and puffy and pulling away from sides of pan. Let sit for 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature topped with whipped cream if desired.

Chocolate Blintzes
Makes 12

12 chocolate blintz crepes (see below)
1 recipe of blintz filling (see below)
1 Tbs. unsalted butter, divided
2-3 Tbs. powdered sugar
1/4 cup sour cream (or whipped cream)
12 strawberries, sliced

Lay crepe cooked side down on work surface. Place 2 Tbs. of filling in the middle, leaving about an inch margin at top and bottom of crepe. Fold top over filling then bottom. Fold one side over. Lightly moisten inside edge of last side to help seal. Fold side over crepe. Repeat. Heat large fry pan over medium high heat. Add 1 tsp. butter. When melted, place first batch of blintzes seam side down in hot pan. Fry for about 2 minutes until beginning to darken. Flip and fry other side. Remove from pan, add additional butter as needed and fry remaining blintzes in batches. Serve warm sprinkled with powdered sugar, a dollop of sour cream and sliced strawberries.

Blintz Crepes:  Add to blender 1 1/4 cups milk, 1/2 cup cold water, 1 cup flour, 1/4 tsp. salt, 2 Tbs. baking cocoa, 2 Tbs. sugar,  1 tsp. vanilla extract, 2 Tbs. melted unsalted butter and 2 eggs. Blend until smooth. Melt 1 Tbs. butter. Heat 8” crepe, omelet or fry pan over medium heat. Brush lightly with melted butter. With pan off the heat, pour 1/4 cup batter in center of pan. Swirl pan to distribute batter evenly. Fry on one side until top is set and bottom has darkened. Remove with spatula. Place cooked side down on dishtowel. Repeat, adding butter as needed. (Recipe makes a few extra.)

Blintz Filling:  Mix 2 cups ricotta cheese with 1 beaten egg and 1/2 tsp. almond extract until smooth. Stir in 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest, 1 Tbs. sugar and 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips.

Keep reading for turning the blintzes into a soufflé.