Monday, July 13, 2015

Chocolate Mousse

Velvety.  Chocolatey.  Port.  Hints of espresso.  Creamy.  Smooth.  Light.  Rich.  Decadent.  Mind-blowing.  Life-altering.  Delicious.  

These are just a few descriptors of this chocolate mousse--it changed my life.  I am not one to toot my own horn, but this mousse is award-winning restaurant worthy.  Truly.  

It is both light and rich, creamy and chocolatey.  There's just a subtle hint of port and espresso to deepen the flavors.  And the best part--its velvety texture.  You could take a bath in it.

I never would have thought to make chocolate mousse, but a close friend of ours just recently summited Denali and he requested it for his celebratory dinner.  I am so glad that he did because this is my new "blow everyone's socks off" dessert.  Not only is it absolutely delicious, but it is so cute to serve in little taster glasses that we've collected from all over the country.

Don't let separating eggs, folding in soft peaked egg whites, or tempering egg yolks deter you.  This mousse really is very easy (and quick!) to make.  

I really cannot adequately express just how incredibly delicious it is.  You'll just have to make it and see for yourself.

Chocolate Mousse:
Mostly adapted from this recipe.

For the mousse...
  • 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate (60% cocoa), broken into small chunks
  • 5 tablespoons of water
  • 2 tablespoons of special dark cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon of port
  • 1 scant teaspoon of instant espresso powder (I use Starbucks Via)
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon of granulated sugar + 1 1/2 teaspoon of granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons of heavy cream
  1. Combine the chocolate bits, water, cocoa powder, port and espresso in a medium bowl.
  2. Place the bowl over a small saucepan filled with an inch or so of water.
  3. Heat over medium-low, stirring the chocolate mixture frequently until it is smooth and silky.
  4. Remove from heat.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, the first 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar, and the salt until it is slightly thickened, about 30 seconds.
  6. While stirring, carefully pour the melted chocolate into the egg mixture.  Whisk/stir to combine.  
  7. Using a hand mixer, whip the egg whites until foamy, about 1 minute.  Add the second 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar and increase the speed to high.  Continue to whip until soft peaks form, about 1 more minute.  
  8. Gently fold the whipped egg whites into the chocolate mixture until just a few white streaks remain.
  9. Wipe out the bowl you used to whip the egg whites.  Add the heavy cream to the bowl.  Using your hand mixer again, whip the cream on high until it begins to thicken.  Whip until soft peaks form, about 1 minute.  Be careful not to either over- or under-whip.  
  10. Using your spatula again, fold the whipped cream into the mousse until no white streaks remain.
  11. Scoop/spatula the mousse into a gallon-sized ziploc bag.  Cut off a corner to make a hole about an inch in diameter.  Pipe the mousse into individual serving vessels--we used taster glasses.
  12. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set and firm, at least 2 hours, but ideally overnight.
For the whipped cream topping...
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
  1. Make the whipped cream just before you are ready to serve the mousse.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the heavy cream and the sugar.
  3. Using a hand mixer, whip the cream on high until it begins to thicken.  Continue whipping until soft peaks form, about 1 minute.  Again, be careful not to either over- or under-whip.
  4. Scoop/spatula the whipped cream into a gallon-sized ziploc bag.  Cut off a corner to make a hole about an inch in diameter.  Pipe the whipped cream onto the mousse.
  5. Garnish with fruit pieces, berries, a dash of cocoa or espresso, or just serve plain.
  6. ENJOY!!
**Notes:  The recipe does contain raw eggs.  If you are worried about that, make sure to get pasteurized eggs.  Also, you can omit the port if you want and substitute with vanilla (but that's just not as fun).  Also, I always use a hand mixer when foaming egg whites or making whipped cream.  I find it much easier to control and monitor than my stand mixer.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Gnocchi with Lemon Chicken, Ricotta, and Fresh Herbs

Finally, it's summer time up here in The Last Frontier, which means (almost) endless daylight.  With 20+ hours a day of sunshine, things get really busy, particularly because we have to pack it all in during our three months of sunshine before the imminent darkness takes over again.  

Additionally, this is the easiest time for our family to travel because of my work schedule.  Sooooo, this year we took a quick vacation to do a grand brewery tour through Portland, Bend, and Central Oregon.  We flew into Portland and stayed in the absolute cutest AirBnB downtown.  We spent two and a half days there exploring, visiting breweries, attending the Portland International Beerfest, and playing with friends.  We then traveled to Bend where we continued our brewery tour, visited some wine tasting rooms, stand-up paddle boarded on the Deschutes River, walked approximately 30 miles, and overall had a grand old time.  

The Portland International Beerfest was absolutely amazing.  Up here, beer events are so packed it's like being in the mosh pit, the beers are all local (which are great...but not new), and there isn't much variety.  The PIB took place in a gorgeous park, which allowed plenty of space for everyone!  There were 230+ individual beers to try, and my oh my was there variety.  For a wine girl, I don't like beers that taste like beer.  I like sours, lambics, strange things, and pretty much anything that doesn't taste like college or isn't an IPA.  The PIB had plenty to choose from!!!  Hands down, it was the best tasting event I've ever been too.  

Once we were headed to Bend, we were tipped off by a friend of mine to download the "Bend Ale Trail" app.  If you check into ten breweries, you get this incredible sili-pint!  How fun!

Here are all of the breweries/wineries that we went to during our stay in Oregon.  I must say, it's an impressive list for being there for less than a week.

To make a very long story short, after our tour (and then a weekend in Seward for Mt. Marathon...a different story) I needed healthy food that wouldn't further disrupt my already sensitive GI tract.

That's how we landed here with this incredibly simple, but equally tasty gnocchi with lemon chicken, ricotta, and fresh herbs.  This is absolutely going to be a new go-to favorite for both quick weeknight meals, but also for food to feed friends.  It's both hearty and light, tart and creamy.  The gnocchi is perfectly paired with the chicken, while the lemon juice/zest and fresh herbs bring the flavor to a new level.  The asparagus bring a nice crunchy element, and also a bunch of green.  I really loved how light but creamy the ricotta was.  It wasn't heavy at all, nor did I feel guilty (or super bloated!) after eating it like I always do after a heavy cream sauce.  So good.  So easy.

I can't wait to make it again!  I certainly won't wait until after another whirlwind jam-packed vacation.

Gnocchi with Lemon Chicken, Ricotta, and Fresh Herbs:
  • 2 heaping teaspoons of minced garlic in olive oil (or if you use fresh, 4-5 cloves)
  • 1 bunch of asparagus spears, ends trimmed, then chopped into 2 inch long pieces
  • olive oil
  • 3 boneless and skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • the zest of one lemon
  • the juice from that lemon
  • 15 ounces of ricotta cheese (I used lowfat instead of part skim.  In my experience, when cooking with part skim, the sauce tends to get grainy because there isn't any fat to hold it all together.  Also, if you want to use less than the full 15 ounces, that is completely up to you; you just won't have as creamy of a sauce.)
  • 16 ounces of gnocchi
  • 2ish tablespoons each of fresh thyme and fresh rosemary, chopped into smithereens 
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • crushed red pepper to taste
  1. Over medium-high heat, add a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a skillet.  Add the minced garlic and stir consistently for 20 seconds or so.  Add the chopped asparagus.  Continue stirring, ensuring that neither the garlic nor the asparagus burn.  Cook until the asparagus is crisp, but not crunchy all the way through--about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, add another tablespoon or so of olive oil.  Add the chicken cubes.  Cook until done.  Strain the juices.
  3. While the chicken is cooking, heat a large pot of salted water to a boil. 
  4. After draining the juices from the chicken, add the ricotta, lemon juice, lemon zest and heat over a low heat.  Stir to combine.
  5. Add the spices, stir, then taste.  Adjust if needed.
  6. Just as you are ready to add the gnocchi to the water, add the asparagus to the chicken and sauce, then stir to combine.  **Be careful!  You don't want your asparagus to start cooking again and turn into much.  You just want it to get hot again.  
  7. Add the gnocchi to the boiling water.  When the gnocchi starts floating, it is done--about 3 minutes.  Strain.
  8. Add the gnocchi to the skillet with everything else.  Stir.  Taste.  Adjust spices if needed and make sure everything is hot.
  9. Garnish and serve with more fresh spices and/or crushed red pepper.
  10. Enjoy!