As you guys very well know, I sure do love The Food Network’s Chopped. I mean, are those chefs kidding me? I don’t care how much you love food or how classically trained you are, when you open up that basket of mystery ingredients and you’ve got yak loin, octopus brain and Fritos staring back at you, you’ve got to freak right the hell out. I’m totally riveted by it and always wonder if the ingredient combinations are tested in any way before they make it to the show, or if they’re all totally arbitrary. Like, is there some producer back there who’s all, “Wait. We need one more ingredient for the dessert round? Hmmmm…let’s see…uh, throw in some crocodile spleen. Right? Zakarian will eat it. Perfect!”? Is that what happens? And then I spend a good amount of time during each episode in a frantic panic about what I would make if I was ever on the show all, "What?! Mung beans and Sour Patch Kids?! I'd make a sorbet!", because I am just that kookoo. And also, as you very well know, I sure do love those judges. I fall harder for Scott Conant and his adorable scruff every time his handsome mug flashes across my screen, especially when he’s giving someone the what-for. I can feel the cartoon hearts swirling around my head...I've got it bad, friends. And my girl-crush on Alex Guarnaschelli? Please. That dame is my kind of people for sure. Anyway, I love that dang show and am always in awe of what those chef contestants can pull off and what the chef judges have to eat. And how they sometimes have to draw the line when people practically sever their digits during the heat of the competition, lose all logic and still are nervy enough to try to suggest that someone should eat their offerings despite the biohazard. Uh, no thanks. Gross.
So anyway! Given my affection and reverence for all things Chopped, I was so tickled to be sent the new cookbook Just Married & Cooking: 200 Recipes for Living, Eating, and Entertaining Together to review! Written by two-time Chopped champion (he had bacon in his dessert basket! Those crazies!) James Briscione and his home-cook/writer wife Brooke Parkhurst, it covers basics for eating and entertaining. And drinking. They talk about what kind of food traditions they’ve brought in to their home together and what new ones they’re creating. Lots of basic concepts and techniques and fun little blurbs about wine and booze and snacks and specialty salts. Cute, right? It's a perfect engagement or shower gift for the foodies in your life. They've compiled some clever, easy ideas to spruce up your daily routine, and make casual entertaining easier. I like it and I'm not even married, just cooking. Of course, as with any cookbook I get, I immediately devoured it from cover to cover and earmarked all of the recipes that tickled my fancy. One of their smart little ideas is to make your own seasoned salt mixes, which seems like such a no-brainer that I feel like a total dingdong for not thinking of it myself. Every time I season meat or chicken or fish I’m pulling out everything all separately from my spice arsenal when, hello! How much easier is it just to shake up a couple of blends and have them ready to go? Ding goes the culinary lightbulb! I mixed up their Ultimate Grill Salt (salt, lime zest, garlic, pepper, cumin, paprika, coriander, onion powder) and their Italian Salt (salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, marjoram, basil) and have been dusting it like a crazy person on everything I can get my hands on. Sprinkle sprinkle! Watch out, you guys.
I love me a dang cutlet or paillard, too, so I immediately made their Chicken Paillards with Marinated Mushrooms from their Everyday Dinners section, which was simple and quick and delicious AND used the Italian Salt (exciting!). It was perfect after the gym. And because I love to show up to the neighbor’s porch happy hour with nibbles so that I don’t feel guilty drinking all of their wine*, I made their Blue Cheese, Apple, and Walnut Spread to take. It was sweet and salty and citrusy and piquant and perfect with the sunset, the girl talk and the viognier. I also made a version*** of their Blood Orange Old Fashioned that was a perfect New Year’s Eve cocktail. And because I cannot get enough of bourbon and chocolate—either together or apart—right now, I made their Chocolate Bourbon Truffles. I rolled some of them in hazelnut, some of them in coconut and some of them in cocoa. So good! Rich and boozy, I had to get those little balls of joy out of my house before I devoured all of them. I have my eye on their Ropa Vieja, their Arugula, Peach, & Feta Salad and their Chocolate-Guinness & Butterscotch Pudding to make soon. So much for clean eating this month! Oopsies!
I know that the last thing we all need after the holidays is something indulgent like this, but really? Sometimes you just need a bite to satisfy that sweet tooth. I’d suggest making some of these to keep in the fridge to share if people pop in, or to have handy juuuuuust in case you need one sweet bite after you’ve been so diligent with your leans and greens. Or to eat while you watch The Biggest Loser****. I shared most of these but, in the interest of full disclosure, I also layered a few in to a batch of Tiramisu Ice Cream I made and I’m going to tell you what: it made the most perfect espresso-coffee-bourbon treat. I’m not even joking, you guys.
Chocolate Bourbon Truffles
Makes 3-4 dozen truffles
1 cup cream
2 T unsalted butter
16 ounces bittersweet chocolate (between 63%-73% cocoa), chopped
2 T bourbon
Bring cream to a gentle boil in a saucepan over medium heat, add butter and chocolate. Immediately remove from heat and stir until smooth. Pour mixture in to a bowl and stir in the bourbon. Refrigerate until firm.
Set up your work station! Fill a mug or bowl with hot water and place a melon baller or teaspoon in the water. Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Scoop small truffle balls on to wax paper, dipping melon baller in water to clean between scoops. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour. Remove from refrigerator and roll balls between palms until smooth. Roll truffles in coating of your choice: chopped nuts, coconut, powdered sugar, cocoa powder and refrigerate until firm. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before serving.
*I’m fun. You should invite me over.
**And because I already had everything in my fridge. Suckahs!
***Instead of muddling blood orange, which we didn’t have, I added a splash of blood orange juice…because I? Am a problem solver, internet!
****Don't even act like you wouldn't.