February 24, 2007

Bundles of Love

Sometimes the pressure just gets to me.

Most of the time, I relish in the responsibility and creativity of deciding what we eat on a daily basis. Planning 2-3 meals in advance usually helps keep things just organized enough to take some of the stress off, but not so much that it zaps any last minute creativity from the equation. Often in the 3 meal scheme, just one of them will be something totally new. Sometimes, though, I will have greatly overestimated my capacity for new recipes. Just such a scenario played out a few weeks ago when I just couldn’t bring myself to cook. It was too much. I was tired and stressed. Mix in a little guilt and you’ve got the makings of one fantastic meltdown. The potential loss of a good meal really gets me down.

I forget what I had planned to cook now. It doesn’t even matter. All I know is there was crying and consoling and an agreement that Paul would make dinner. And not in that because-I-have-to way either. In an excited and eager way, like he was almost waiting for the floodgates to open so he could actually cook something without me glaring over his shoulder. He promised me Potstickers, people. While I could only nod through the tears, I retired to the couch with a drink in hand, giddy just thinking about them. He even let me “help” by allowing me to read the ingredient list to him and walk him through it. It was the perfect combination of being the boss and not having to do any of the work. It was a rare and beautiful gift and that’s why he’s a keeper, ladies.

Paul makes the absolute best Potstickers. I find this incredibly impressive, partly because I suck so much at making them. I can never wrap them in a way that gets all of the air pockets out, and mine are always ugly looking. Paul has just the right technique. Despite hardly ever cooking, he has certain recipes that he can pull out and completely blow you away. (Other times he’ll try to make an omelet without greasing the pan, but, you know…a mistake you make only once.) The Potstickers were heavenly and they are a fun appetizer-for-dinner meal that feels really special. We’re addicted to these and I bet you will be, too. And a brief note to non-cooking spouses: never underestimate the breakdown.

These used to be Ku’s pork dumplings, but now they are Paul’s Potstickers.

Potstickers (adapted from American's Test Kitchen)

1 lb ground pork
2 cups napa cabbage, minced finely

4 green onions, sliced
4 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger, optional
2 cloves garlic, minced
fresh black pepper

dipping sauce:

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1-2 Tbsp water, to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp sesame oil
hot stuff: either 1/8 tsp chili paste, a dash of hot sauce, or minced red chilies, to taste

Combine all the ingredients for the filling in the bowl. Mix until thoroughly combined. In a separate bowl, combine all the dipping sauce ingredients and set aside. I like to use both a bit of chili paste and a dash of Tabasco for balanced heat.

Fill a small bowl with water. This will be the glue to seal the dumplings. Take one dumpling wrapper, dip one finger into the water and wet the edges of the wrapper completely. Place a tablespoon of pork filling into the middle of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper over the filling in a half moon shape, pressing all of the air out from the middle of the dumpling to the edges. Pleat the edges of the dough firmly to seal it completely. Repeat for each dumpling. You should fill about 30 dumplings with this amount of filling, serving about 3 people as a main course, or 6 as an appetizer.

To make potstickers:
1. Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to a nonstick pan. Place over medium heat and add enough dumplings in the pan to form a single layer, but without the dumplings touching. Cook 3 minutes or until the bottoms have crisped and browned.
2. Pour 1/2 cup of water in the pan, cover it, and let them cook (without peeking!) on low for 10 minutes, or until all the water is gone. Set a timer!
3. The dumplings should be brown and crisp on the bottom, but if not, let them cook a few minutes more to get crisp again.

February 21, 2007

Brussels Sprouts Rule...Seriously.

Every once in a while I cook something that makes my husband go crazy. This almost never involves vegetables. When I announced that I was making brussels sprouts, he was definitely not on board. But, I proved him wrong with this one.

The best part of this recipe is the combination of interesting textures and flavors. There is a lot going on in this recipe and, honestly, what difference does the vegetable make when there are bacon and pine nuts involved? The sprouts are sliced so that they separate into little bits of fringe. Sautéed lightly so they retain their texture, they are utterly delicious.
These are by no means my own creation. If you do some searching, there are many variations for these “hashed” brussels sprouts. I was tempted by a recipe with lemon and parmesan, but ultimately, the pine nuts sitting in the fridge were calling. I think the bacon is great, but it could easily be left out to save a few calories without much loss of flavor.

Now he wants them twice a week. ‘Nough said.

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pine Nuts and Bacon
(adapted from allrecipes.com)

1 pound brussels sprouts
2 slices center cut bacon or 1/4 cup sliced pancetta
1 tsp olive oil
2 green onions, sliced
¼ cup pine nuts

Shred the brussels sprouts carefully with a mandolin, or just slice with a knife.
Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet until just barely golden. Remove to a plate. They will continue to toast later when combined with the sprouts.

Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium high heat. Remove the bacon from the pan and set aside. Keep the bacon fat in the pan and add a teaspoon of olive oil, if needed. Add the shredded brussel sprouts to the hot pan and stir frequently. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the green onions and pine nuts. Sauté until tender but not soggy, about 5 minutes. Crumble the bacon and mix into the brussel sprouts. Serves 4.

February 19, 2007

Toffee Crazy

I’m a sucker for toffee. Everybody knows that the chocolate covered caramels in that box of chocolates are the best, right? That burnt sugar crust on a crème brulee is what it’s really all about. So, when I decided to make cookies last week, I combined my favorite things: the old standby oatmeal cookie with some toffee chips and dark chocolate chips. Not exactly adventurous, I know, but will it win my heart? Mais, oui!

Usually I’m quite content to leave any hint of chocolate out of my cookies, since, as I've confessed before, I am not a fan of the standard chocolate chip cookie. I don’t really like the cookie part and I’m not a huge fan of semi-sweet chocolate chips, so I guess it would follow that there’s not much I like in there. I concede that straight from the oven, when there is a bit of crispy sugar around the edges, they are acceptable, but I definitely prefer a cookie with more going on. Oatmeal cookies are my favorite, probably because of their texture. A chewy oatmeal cookie, made with brown sugar and toffee chips, is this girl’s caramelized dream come true. Adding some dark chocolate chips keeps the husband happy, too, because some of us, obviously, need more than caramelized sugar.

I like that this recipe can be easily halved so that making a batch of cookies for two isn’t quite so sinful. This is my offering to this month’s Sugar High Friday hosted by Jasmine, of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict. The theme is sweet seduction so go check out all the other enticing desserts this Friday! While these cookies aren't exactly the ultimate in seduction, they do make us happy! Besides, the French throw around the word seduce a lot more casually than us puritans. If something is seducing, it's pretty much just coyly interesting. There's my excuse!

Chewy Oatmeal Toffee Cookies with Dark Chocolate Chips

2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
3 cups oatmeal
1 cup toffee bits
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Cream together the softened butter and sugars using an electric mixer. Beat in one egg at a time until smooth; add vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, soda, salt and spices. Whisk lightly to distribute the spices in the flour. Gradually add the flour mixture to the eggs/butter mixture, beating until smooth. Using a spatula, mix in the oatmeal, then the toffee and chocolate chips. Drop by rounded tablespoons on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 10-12 minutes. Cookies should look slightly underdone; crisp around the edges but not completely set in the middle. Remove from the oven but let them rest on the cookie sheet about one minute before transferring to a cooling rack and you should have chewy cookies! Depending on the size, this should make 40-some cookies, but most often I make mine larger and get about 36.

February 17, 2007

I get by with a little help from my friends....

When I lived in Paris I did without many kitchen gadgets. I was lucky to have one glass measuring cup with ounces included on the side. I bought a whisk and a heat safe blue spatula that have become essential to me in the kitchen. Other than that, I survived with my own elbow grease and willingness to fling spices around with great approximation.

In many ways, it was liberating and educational. After all, many cooks before me had survived sans KitchenAid. I whipped cream by hand, I chopped everything by hand, and I thinly sliced potatoes for mes tartiflettes, proving that I really could do most cooking with a pot, some heat and a spoon. It gave me confidence about my skills to create.

It also gave me gratitude when I returned. It’s a lot of work to always do everything by hand, which is why I feel there is room for balance in the kitchen. Whipping up a bowl of brownies is easier done by hand than in the mixer and there’s less to clean when you’re done. Although, pesto from the food processor is such a speedy enterprise, why do it by hand? Knowing when to use the old fashioned method is just as important as knowing how to do it. I admit it is nice having options.

So, when I received a mandolin for Christmas this year, I immediately thought of the multitude of potato gratins I could make, and then I thought it looked awfully complicated and sort of like I could lose a finger if I tried to figure it out. I placed it in a drawer in my kitchen and forgot about it until last week, where I brought it out and used it not once, but twice in one meal.

I can proudly say that after the initial 30 seconds of awkwardness, I thinly sliced 5 potatoes in about 3 minutes. I was shocked. No wonder this is considered essential to restaurant chefs! The only downside is that it’s now much easier to make those gratins and that’s not so good for my diet.

But, the good news is that it really is easy and fun to use and I feel my horizon has broadened quite a bit. Now I will be a lot more motivated to make things I’ve shirked off in the past. Cabbage can be easily shredded for coleslaw and vegetables easily julienned. Onions can be sliced paper thin for salads. For those interested, my mandolin is this one. It’s mostly made of plastic so it’s dishwasher safe and it’s very inexpensive. I was actually surprised that it worked so well.

This potato gratin is my version of a Gratin Dauphinois, the prince of scalloped potatoes. The French usually heat the cream, garlic and herbs on the stove before combining it with the potatoes and the results are divine. Use whatever herbs and cheese you like. Here I’ve given a traditional version, although I adore white cheddar and rosemary. Stay tuned for the other side dish I made with the help of my mandolin!

Cheesy Potato Gratin Dauphinois

5 medium yellow potatoes
1 ½ cups heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, smashed
fresh thyme and/or rosemary
Pepper (white pepper, if you have it)
Grated nutmeg
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 cup grated gruyere cheese

1. Wash the potatoes and peel them. Slice them thinly, about ¼ inch thick, with your knife or a mandolin. Thinly slice the onion, as well.

2. In a saucepan, bring the cream, garlic cloves, pinch of nutmeg, about 3 sprigs of fresh thyme and, optionally, 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, ½ tsp salt and some pepper to a simmer over medium heat. Turn heat to low, cover, and cook 5-10 minutes. Remove the herbs and garlic clove and set aside.

3. Butter the bottom and sides of an 8x8 baking dish or small gratin dish. Layer ½ the potatoes on the bottom. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and onion slices. Add ½ the grated cheese over the potatoes. Pour some of the cream over this layer. Place the remaining potatoes in the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour the rest of the cream mixture over the potatoes and top with the rest of the cheese.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for about one hour, maybe 75 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving. Serves 4.

February 13, 2007

An Old Acquaintance and a New Recipe

It’s been a joy getting to know you again, my friend. I first met you 2 years ago, but then I went away, where, sadly, you could not follow. I may have forgotten about you altogether if you weren’t so good at your job, Monsieur Cuisinart. You make such easy work of so many otherwise grueling tasks. You let me make homemade pesto in a matter of seconds, and for that, you have earned the right to rest in my kitchen among such other valued appliances as the Kitchen Aid mixer and blender.

One of my favorite uses for pesto is to brush it lightly on baguette slices, top with crumbled goat cheese (and maybe sliced tomato) and broil for a few minutes for a quick appetizer. Of course, it’s also fantastic over cheese tortellini.

Basil Pesto
(recipe from The Best Recipe, Cook's Illustrated)

2 cups fresh basil leaves
¼ cup pine nuts
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
Salt, to taste
7 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup grated parmigiano reggiano

Toast the pine nuts in a small dry skillet until fragrant and light brown. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Combine the garlic slices, a pinch of salt, pine nuts and basil leaves in the bowl of a food processor. Puree until fairly smooth, scraping down the bowl when necessary. Add the olive oil with the motor running until fully incorporated.

Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the cheese and more salt, if needed. Cover the surface of the pesto with a thin layer of oil or plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 5 days. This will cover about ¾ lb of pasta.

February 11, 2007

Roast Chicken Revisited

Delicious. Succulent. Juicy. Tender. And all the other adjectives you can think of to describe the perfect roast chicken. I’m not sure there are too many meals that make you feel as much like a domestic goddess as roasting a chicken. Your home fills with the incredible scent of chicken, vegetables, and herbs and you only had to spend about 15 minutes getting it ready.

One thing about such a simple meal is that everyone is constantly coming up with a way to improve it. You can roast it at a high heat for a short time or low heat for a long time. Maybe you cover the pan (which is more like braising, but, it would be juicy…) Do you I turn it over halfway through and what kind of special pan do I need? Do I bake it for 10 minutes at 450 degrees and knock it down to 350 for 45 more minutes and baste it every 10 minutes? You can see that after just 10 minutes of online recipe hunting, my head was foggy with methodology. Even once I decided what I would do, I was worried the whole time that my chosen method would lead me astray. When did this get so complicated?

I decided that I was going to stick with a true roasting method: about an hour at 375 degrees F. You know, I could have sworn I had a roasting pan with a v-rack, but I guess it was lost in the move, so after calming my heart palpitations with a little wine, I ventured on, certain that my plain old baking dish would ruin this chicken. You see, it’s been a few years since I’ve had a kitchen where I could roast a whole chicken – sad, but true.

So, as awkward as I felt going into this venture, I actually had a lot of fun. As naïve as this sounds, I enjoyed washing, seasoning and stuffing the bird because it was, well, so birdlike. I mean, it’s this little chicken body that you could play with and sing the can-can while it does high kicks and you can massage butter under its skin. Okay, now you all think I’m weird. The point is that I thought I would just tolerate dealing with the whole bird because it’s messy or it too much resembled the bird that it was, but it turns out that’s exactly what I enjoyed about it.

My chicken roasted up so nicely, just like all those adjectives listed above. It actually was easy (just like all those recipes tell you) and it doesn’t have to be such a scientific affair. I found a recipe that was really straightforward and produced a lovely chicken. In a nutshell, dress the chicken in any herbs you like, any citrus you like, an onion, and some butter or olive oil. You can’t really go wrong.

A Simple Roasted Chicken

1 (3-4 lb) whole chicken
3 Tbsp softened butter or olive oil
fresh thyme
1 lemon, zested and cut into wedges
1 small onion, cut into wedges

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. After removing the packed of giblets, etc, tucked inside the cavity, rinse the chicken inside and out with cold water. Pat dry. Generously salt and pepper the inside cavity of the chicken. Stuff with a few onion and lemon wedges and whole sprigs of thyme.

Now make a choice: make a compound butter, or just do everything separately, it’s completely up to you. For the herb butter, mix some salt, pepper, lemon zest and thyme into the butter. Spread this mixture evenly over the whole bird and, most importantly, under the skin.

Alternately, spread some butter under the skin covering the breast meat, or rub olive oil all over the chicken. Pack a few fresh thyme leaves under the skin as well (don’t worry about being neat). Season all over with salt and pepper, even between the leg and thigh joint and don’t forget the other side of the chicken!

If you have a v-rack and roasting pan, that’s great. If you do not, use a 9x13 baking dish. Layer a few onion wedges on the bottom of the pan and place the chicken breast-side-down on top of them, so they act as a sort of stand. At this point, the chicken will not be in a very flattering position. That’s okay. Make sure there is a good amount of seasoning on the thighs and back.

Roast for 30 minutes and then turn the bird over so that the breast side is up. Return to the oven and roast 30 minutes more, or until a thermometer in the thigh reads 165 degrees. Remove from the oven and let the chicken rest 15 minutes before carving. Enjoy!

February 10, 2007

C'est quoi, ca?!

I brought this home from the grocery store the other day, to use in a pinch.

Somehow I don’t think this is going to cut it…

February 7, 2007

Sausage Stuffed Bell Peppers

I often forget about stuffed peppers. I always enjoy them so much when I make them and then, somehow, they always get shuffled back into the recesses of the mental recipe book. I like that you can stuff them with just about anything, so the variations are endless. I almost always have red or green peppers around as they are one of the few mutually accepted vegetables in this couple’s house.

It’s pretty easy to make a bland tasting stuffed pepper: simply mix tomato sauce, ground beef, and rice and stuff away. Uhh, no. We want some flava-flav in our peppers. This time I had a few links of spicy chicken sausage that I’d purchased from Whole Foods. I had a few green peppers in the fridge, as well as rice in the pantry, so I felt confident I could pull it together. These are great to make in quantity and freeze a portion for another night. Plus, this is an easy way to feed a big crowd – it’s quite economical and pleasingly colorful! This combo is a keeper, but you could easily add some cooked shrimp for a jambalaya stuffed pepper, or red kidney or black beans, cumin, and chipotle powder for a Mexican style pepper. Serve this with a green salad and garlic bread and I’m a happy eater!

Oh, and if you're looking for something else to stuff with sausage, check out this recipe.

Sausage Stuffed Bell Peppers
(adapted from allrecipes.com)

1 pound spicy chicken or turkey sausage
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 tsp worcestershire sauce (go easy, the sausage is salty)
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup uncooked long grain rice
Fresh parsley
Fresh basil
Black pepper
1/3 cup cheddar cheese
1/3 cup mozzarella cheese
4 whole green or red bell peppers, cut in half and seeds removed

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop in the bell pepper halves and cover with a lid. Simmer for 5 minutes and not too much longer because then they will be soggy by the time they are baked. We’re just giving them a little head start. Remove peppers to drain and place them in a 9x13 baking dish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook the sausage in a wide skillet until cooked through and remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Pour off all but 1 Tbsp fat (or add olive oil, if needed) and sauté the onions, carrots and celery until softened. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Add the diced tomatoes, worcestershire sauce, water, and rice. Cover and simmer 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Stir in some black pepper, fresh basil and parsley. Taste for seasoning. Mix in a small amount of cheese to bind the mixture.

Spoon the rice and sausage mixture into the 8 pepper halves. Top with remaining cheese, cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake 10 minutes more. Serves 6-8.

February 5, 2007

Re-Inventing a Retro Classic

Oh, oh, oh! Have a got a great new cocktail to share with you!!! Holy crap this is so good! Paul and I don’t usually experiment too much with cocktails. Usually it’s a Gin and Tonic, or a Mojito, if we have mint. It usually doesn’t require fruit juice or a blender.

As a general rule, a good cocktail doesn’t require a lot funky ingredients. Actually, funky or not, three or four ingredients are preferable. A cocktail you make at home shouldn’t be too complicated. Plus, I want to taste the alcohol. Hey, I’m just being honest! It’s not that a cocktail has to be outrageously strong to please me, but I like the flavors that different alcohols impart. I also use good quality booze, so why would I want to cover it up?

So, meet the new addition to our cocktail repertoire: The Moscow Mule. I first had this served as a martini at a place in DC called Russia House, which, as you can guess, had about 50 vodkas to choose from. It was good – very strong but slightly sweet. The martini contained vodka, a splash of ginger ale and a lime wedge. Then, at Tallula, a wine bar in Arlington, I had a completely different Moscow Mule. I was expecting the same slightly sweet flavor but was given something entirely different. Their cocktail contained ginger beer, which made it super spicy and utterly delicious. It was so spicy that on first sip, I was completely taken aback and not quite sure if I could continue. Then a few sips later, the spiciness was almost addictive. Talk about a seriously good cocktail.

After a little research in our favorite cocktail book, “Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century,” by Paul Harrington and Laura Moorhead, we discovered that The Moscow Mule was conceived as a marketing ploy. In the 1930’s, John Martin, owner of Smirnoff, and Jack Morgan, owner of the Cock ‘n’ Bull restaurant and ginger beer maker, got together and designed a drink to showcase their near-failing products. No, it’s not an extremely complex taste profile in their design, but with a little tweaking, Paul and I made it a bit more interesting.

The trouble was replicating the intense gingery spice in the beloved Tallula version. (If you've ever had ginger tea made from simmering raw ginger in water with a little brown sugar, you'll know what I mean about that gingery bite!) Our first ginger beer purchase really let us down. It was only a bit more flavorful than ginger ale, and that would not do. Our second purchase was a bit better, albeit more expensive.

We were beginning to realize that really spicy ginger beer wasn’t available just anywhere. Since hunting down an artisan product was getting a bit too complicated, we decided to work with what we had. The drink we made of vodka, ginger beer and lime was good, but it still wasn’t zingy. Since we always have gin around, we thought that maybe it would give the drink more bite. Yes, now we were getting somewhere!

In a last ditch effort, Paul sliced up some fresh ginger and floated that in the drink. Wow, okay, well, that did the trick. Yowza, that’s spicy! Although, I’m not sure that fresh ginger is the most attractive addition. Maybe better to steep the fresh ginger in the ginger beer or vodka for a few minutes and strain it out before adding to the drink? Well, maybe that’s a project for the future.

So, here’s what we settled on. Gin? Definitely. The best quality ginger beer you can find? Yes. Enough lime to give it some zing? Check. And I’m telling you this is one crazy good cocktail.

Strange but cute?! A fat piece of knobby ginger riding a tiger.

You are forewarned: If you use ginger ale, you will have a rather bland and sweet drink which requires more lime juice and maybe a dash of bitters, and the same goes if you use a sweeter ginger beer. Use vodka if you want, but gin makes a more balanced, flavorful cocktail. But, I could be prejudiced.

A "Gingery" Moscow Mule

2 oz. Tanqueray Gin
1 oz. lime juice
3-4 oz ginger beer
Fresh peeled ginger, sliced, optional

Stir together the vodka and lime juice in a collins glass (or lowball glass) filled with ice. Top with ginger beer and the already squeezed lime wedges. Stir well. Add slices of fresh peeled ginger for more bite. Serves 1.

By the way, the cocktail book mentioned above is out of print and going for over $100 dollars on Amazon. It is a valuable resource, but... Hopefully they'll find another publisher!

February 2, 2007

An Early Valentine!

January has been a month of celebrations for Paul and me. We’ve had many dinners where we thought, “we need to break out that bottle of…” So, lately, my motivation in the kitchen has come from needing to make something good enough to drink with fill-in-the-blank. (Maybe we received too many alcoholic Christmas gifts?!) Either way, it’s been a fun month. New city, new job, (new restaurants to discover!) and a new sense of security – along with the joy that comes with fixing up a home with the knowledge that you just might be there for a while! What better reason could there be to indulge?

I’d been having a craving for one of those delicious molten chocolate cakes we ordered so often when we lived in Paris. Les moelleux au chocolat are supremely decadent. Breaking under the surface of the cake to discover a pool of melted chocolate gushing from the middle is a beautiful thing. The fact that they’re actually easy to make at home never seems to ruin the experience of being served one of these lovelies in a restaurant. What sauce will accompany it? Will there be a big wing of solid chocolate protruding from the middle with spun caramelized sugar cascading down around it? How will the pool of crème anglaise underneath compare with the raspberry coulis from last week?

Fond memories and yet, I wanted to try something different. I have long loved the flavor combination of chocolate and cinnamon. One of the greatest food memories I have started with a sip of the Mexican hot chocolate at Anahuacalli, the best Mexican restaurant in Paris, in my humble opinion. So, I was curious if I could simply add some ground cinnamon to the batter of a standard molten chocolate cake.

It worked pretty well, although since I was mindful that too much cinnamon could add an off-putting taste (i.e. insta-headache) I ended up not adding quite enough. But, I was very happy to have combined two of my favorite things. Since Paul is not a fan of cinnamon in his chocolate, I made half of them the old fashioned way and added the cinnamon to the other half of the batter, so everyone was happy. Two different cakes and two yummy memories combined into one.

So, here’s the recipe for a fabulous oozing chocolate cake – with, or without, cinnamon. This is also my contribution to Meeta's Monthly Mingle and is sure to please your sweetheart this Valentine's Day! Go check out her listing of sweet desserts made by bloggers around the world after February 8th!

Molten Chocolate Cinnamon Cakes
(recipe from Cook's Illustrated, The Best Recipe)

8 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
8 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for ramekins
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
½ cup sugar
2 Tbsp all purpose flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Generously butter and flour 8 small ramekins or custard cups. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a large bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Do not let the bowl touch the water, instead using the steam to gently and indirectly heat the chocolate. Stir the chocolate occasionally for even melting. Once melted, remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Beat the eggs, yolk, vanilla, salt and sugar with an electric mixer on high speed until mixture lightens in color and triples in size, about 7-8 minutes. Add the cooled chocolate and the flour (and cinnamon) to the egg mixture and gently fold together without deflating the eggs too much. The batter will be foamy.

Ladle the batter equally into the 8 ramekins. Bake for 12 minutes, until the outside is set and the center is still jiggly. Loosen the cakes by running a knife around the edge and invert it on a plate. Let cool 30 seconds – 1 minute and lift off the ramekin. Serve immediately with whipped cream, ice cream, or a strained fruit puree. Serves 8.

These can be made the day before, refrigerated and baked the next day with decent results, although the same day is preferable.