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This bread pudding is fantastic.  There are chunks of chocolate in among the croissants, and when you eat it all together it tastes a lot like the French pastry, pain au chocolat.  The Bailey’s cream sauce is entirely optional, of course, but it definitely takes the dessert to a whole different level.  Just to give you an idea of how good it is, I sent half a pan of this with most of the cream sauce to a neighboring office when I was at work the other day…it was gone and the clean dishes returned to me in about 15 minutes.  Try it this weekend, you will be so happy that you did!

 ---Karly


CROISSANT AND CHOCOLATE BREAD PUDDING WITH BAILEY’S CREAM SAUCE
6 croissants, broken into 1 inch pieces
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into chunks
6 large eggs
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 ½ cups half-and-half
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon kosher salt

 Bailey’s Cream Sauce
½ cup sugar
1 stick of butter
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur

Heat your oven to 375 degrees.  Butter an 8- or 9-inch square baking dish, put the croissants in it, and then tuck the chocolate chunks in among the croissants. I found that I needed to layer some of the croissants and chocolate on top of each other, which made me need to increase my baking time a bit.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, half-and-half, vanilla
extract, and salt until well combined.  Pour the mixture over the croissants in the baking dish, pressing down on the croissants to submerge them if needed.  Let it sit for 15-20 minutes so that the croissants can absorb some of the cream mixture.  Bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  
  
To make the cream sauce, melt the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan.  Add the sugar, cream, and Bailey’s, and stir well to combine.  Let it come to a simmer, then turn off the heat.  Serve over the bread pudding.
 
Make sure you store both the bread pudding and the sauce in the refrigerator.  Once the sauce is cold, you’ll need to whisk it together again to combine.  I personally think that the bread pudding re-warmed with some of the cold sauce over it is divine.  Enjoy!
 
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   When my husband and I got married 11 months ago today (!),  we had a bunch of Hispanic friends chip in to make up food for our reception. It was incredible: mole, short ribs, pozole... all from scratch, and by some very industrious friends. I say industrious, because I now have a new-found and very deep respect for someone who goes to all the trouble to make MOLE (pronounced moh-leh).  
   This recipe was formulated by the great chef of Mexican cuisine, Rick Bayless. He made it for the recent White House State Dinner. I figure if it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me!
    It has TWENTY-FIVE ingredients that make up four different purees.. then you put them together and strain it all into one rich, glorious sauce. The whole time, I was worried I had screwed it up, but it turns out I made some wonderful choices! Mine is not exactly like his: I chose different chiles, and changed the amounts of many of the ingredients. Mole is much like chili, only in the respect that everybody has their own recipe... so since I changed up the original, I'm gonna call this mine, but say it was inspired by Rick Bayless.   
   I took the first bite, and the first words out of my mouth were, "Oh. My. Gosh. This is, holy. Wow." Pretty much word for word. It was absolutely fantastic. Even my very picky step-daughter liked it. And we ate it with a side of brown rice. Ahhh... But I'll tell you this: it took about 5 hours. And I'm pooped. So whoever I do this for in the future must be someone I really love. A lot.
---Jenny

BRAISED CHICKEN IN BLACK MOLE SAUCE
3 dried ancho chiles
4 dried guajillo chiles
4 dried arbol chiles
1 corn tortilla, torn into small pieces
2 1/4-inch-thick slices of white onion
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
About 2 cups rich-tasting lard or vegetable oil (for frying the chiles)
1/4 cup sesame seeds, plus a few extra for garnish
2tbsp cup pecan halves
1/4 cup unskinned or Spanish peanuts
1/4 cup unskinned almonds
About 3 cans (4-5 cups) chicken broth (canned or homemade)
3 large roma  tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 tomatillos, husked, rinsed and roughly chopped
1 slices stale bread, toasted
pinch cloves, preferably freshly ground
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela
A scant teaspoon oregano, preferably Mexican
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 ripe banana
1/3 cup (about 2 ounces) finely chopped Mexican chocolate
Salt, about 1 tablespoon depending on the saltiness of the broth
Sugar, about 1/4 cup (or a little more)
1 large (3 1/2- to 4-pound) chickens, cut into quarters (I used 3 pounds of tenderloins)

Directions below are as indicated by Rick Bayless' White House State Dinner recipe for 
OAXACAN BLACK MOLE WITH BRAISED CHICKEN: 

1. Getting started. Pull out the stems (and attached seed pods) from the chiles, tear them open and shake or scrape out the seeds, collecting them as you go.

Now, do something that will seem very odd: scoop the seeds into an ungreased medium-size (8- to 9-inch) skillet along with the torn-up tortilla, set over medium heat, turn on an exhaust fan, open a window and toast your seeds and tortilla, shaking the pan regularly, until thoroughly burned to charcoal black, about 15 minutes. (This is very important to the flavor and color of the mole.) Now, scrape them into a fine-mesh strainer and rinse for 30 seconds or so, then transfer to a blender.

Set an ungreased skillet or griddle over medium heat, lay on a piece of aluminum foil, and lay the onion slices and garlic cloves on that. Roast until soft and very dark (about 5 minutes on each side of the onion slices – peel it off the foil to turn it; about 15 minutes for the garlic – turn it frequently as it roasts). Cool the garlic a bit, peel it and combine with the onion in a large bowl.

While the onion and garlic are roasting, turn on the oven to 350 degrees (for toasting nuts), return the skillet to medium heat, measure in a scant 2 cups of the lard or oil (you'll need about 1/2-inch depth), and, when hot, begin frying the chiles a couple at a time: They'll unfurl quickly, then release their aroma and piquancy (keep that exhaust on and window open) and, after about 30 seconds, have lightened in color and be well toasted (they should be crisp when cool, but not burnt smelling). Drain them well, gather them into a large bowl, cover with hot tap water, and let rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to ensure even soaking. Drain, reserving the soaking liquid.

While the chiles are soaking, toast the seeds and nuts. Spread the sesame seeds onto a baking sheet or ovenproof skillet, spread the pecans, peanuts and almonds onto another baking sheet or skillet, then set both into the oven. In about 12 minutes the sesame seeds will have toasted to a dark brown; the nuts will take slightly longer. Add all of them to the blender (reserving a few sesame seeds for garnish), along with 1 1/2 cups of the chicken broth and blend to as smooth a puree as you can. Transfer to a small bowl.

Without rinsing the blender, combine the green tomatoes and tomatillos with another 1/2 cup of the broth and puree. Pour into another bowl. Again, without rinsing the blender, combine the roasted onion and garlic with the toasted bread, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, banana and 3/4 cup broth. Blend to a smooth puree and pour into a small bowl.

Finally, without rinsing the blender, scoop in half of the chiles, measure in 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid, blend to a smooth puree, then pour into another bowl. Repeat with the remaining chiles and another 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid.

2. From four purees to mole. In a very large (8- to 9-quart) pot (preferably a Dutch oven or Mexican cazuela), heat 3 tablespoons of the lard or oil (some of what you used for the chiles is fine) and set over medium-high heat. When very hot, add the tomato puree and stir and scrape (a flat-sided wooden spatula works well here) for 15 to 20 minutes until reduced, thick as tomato paste, and very dark (it'll be the color of cinnamon stick and may be sticking to the pot in places). Add the nut puree and continue the stirring and scraping until reduced, thick and dark again (this time it'll be the color of black olive paste), about 8 minutes. Then, as you guessed it, add the banana-spice puree and stir and scrape for another 7 or 8 minutes as the whole thing simmers back down to a thick mass about the same color it was before you added this one.

Add the chile puree, stir well and let reduce over medium-low heat until very thick and almost black, about 30 minutes, stirring regularly (but, thankfully, not constantly). Stir in the remaining 7 cups of broth, the chocolate and avocado leaves (if you have them), partially cover and simmer gently for about an hour, for all the flavors to come together. Season with salt and sugar (remembering that this is quite a sweet mole and that sugar helps balance the dark, toasty flavors). Remove the avocado leaves.

In batches in a loosely covered blender, puree the sauce until as smooth as possible, then pass through a medium-mesh strainer into a large bowl. (You must do this. Leaving the "pulp" in makes the sauce bitter.)

3. Finishing the dish. Return the mole to the same pot and heat it to a simmer. Nestle the leg-and-thigh quarters of the chicken into the bubbling black liquid, partially cover and time 15 minutes, then nestle in the breast quarters, partially cover and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until all the chicken is done.

With a slotted spoon, fish out the chicken pieces and transfer them to a large warm platter. Spoon a generous amount of the mole over and around them, sprinkle with the reserved sesame seeds and set triumphantly before your lucky guests.

Advance Preparation: The mole can be completed through Step 2 several days ahead (it gets better, in fact); cover and refrigerate. Completele Step 3 shortly before serving.

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   This idea came in stages. I knew I wanted to make a taco seasoning that used cocoa powder, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to make with it (besides the obvious). Then, I was talking to a friend who offered the idea of chocolate dipped jalapenos. I was immediately intrigued by that idea, and knew that I wanted to try it.
 After a little more thinking on it, I decided to combine both the taco seasoning and the jalapenos, and this was the result.  

---Karly


COCOA-SEASONED CHICKEN NACHOS WITH 
CHOCOLATE DIPPED JALAPENOS
Taco Seasoning:
2 teaspoons Tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Nachos:
1 cup shredded, cooked chicken
2 Tablespoons taco seasoning
Olive oil
2-4 tablespoons beer
Chips
Nacho toppings: shredded cheese, chopped onion, chopped cilantro, diced avocado, hot sauce, etc.

Chocolate-Dipped Jalapenos:
2 ounces dark chocolate
3-5 jalapenos, sliced in half, lengthwise, and seeded

     Mix all of the taco seasoning ingredients together, then melt dark chocolate in a double boiler over medium-low heat. Drop jalapeno pieces into melted chocolate and stir to coat, then place on wax paper to allow chocolate cool. Refrigerate if desired.
     Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, then add chicken and taco seasoning. Stir to coat the chicken, then add beer and stir until it absorbs into the chicken, about 2-3 minutes. Top your chips with the chicken, nacho toppings of choice, and chocolate-dipped jalapeno pieces.
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     I knew I wanted to do something different for my chocolate week main dish, but I had no idea what that would be. To get a little inspiration, I did an internet search on using chocolate in savory dishes. There were tons of fascinating information. One thing I learned is that many Italian cooks use chocolate in their savory dishes; one popular dish is pumpkin ravioli in a sage brown butter sauce with grated chocolate on top. It sounded interesting, and immediately I thought of my pumpkin sage cream sauce that I put on pasta.  I decided to make that, add a hint of cocoa powder to it, and top it with both grated chocolate and Romano cheese. The chocolate is very, very subtle in this dish; it adds a nice depth of flavor and richness without being overtly chocolate. It’s a wonderful fall dish with an interesting twist. Try it tonight!

---Karly


PASTA WITH COCOA PUMPKIN SAGE CREAM SAUCE

1 cup pumpkin puree (see note at end of recipe)
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh sage
Salt and pepper
1 ½ - 2 cups shredded, cooked chicken (I used rotisserie chicken)
½ - 1 pound whole wheat penne pasta
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Freshly grated Romano cheese, for garnish
Grated bittersweet chocolate, for garnish

   Cook your pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to package directions until it is al dente.  While the pasta is cooking, make your sauce.  
   In a large skillet, combine the pumpkin puree and heavy cream over medium-high heat. Whisk in the cocoa powder and let the sauce come to a simmer. Once it’s started to simmer, turn the heat down a bit and let it simmer for 4-5 minutes to thicken slightly. Stir in the chicken and sage and cook for another minute or two. Add salt and pepper to taste.  
   Serve over the pasta and top with chopped parsley, grated Romano cheese, and grated bittersweet chocolate.

   NOTE:  I use fresh pumpkin puree whenever I can.  Take one small pie pumpkin, lop of the top, cut it in half and remove the seeds (don’t throw them away, they are fantastic toasted in the oven).  Cut the pumpkin into medium size chunks, put it on a cookie sheet, and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Bake it at 400 degrees for 30-45 minutes, until it is easily pierced with a fork.  Take it out of the oven and let it cool until you can handle it.  Pull of the pumpkin rind (it should peel right off) and put the pumpkin pieces into a food processor and puree it; if you need to, add a little water to get the consistency you want.  The pumpkin puree freezes nicely for a couple of months, so you could roast several pumpkins, make puree, and freeze it in one cup increments for later use.  If you don’t make fresh, and want to use canned pumpkin, make sure you buy pure pumpkin NOT pumpkin pie filling.

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CHOCOLATE MINT MARSHMALLOWS

butter or oil for greasing
3/4 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 box unflavored gelatin (3 tbsp)
1/2 cup very cold water
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoon boiling water
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown rice syrup or corn syrup
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon mint extract (you can use vanilla if you don't want mint)

1. Grease the inside of a 9″ x 9″ baking pan. In a bowl, mix powdered sugar and cocoa powder until well blended. Coat the inside of the greased baking pan with 1/4 cup of the sugar and cocoa, reserving the remaining amount for coating the finished chocolate marshmallows.

2. Pour the cold water into the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle gelatin onto the surface of the water. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl, combine cocoa powder and boiling water. Mix until completely dissolved. Set aside.

4. In a saucepan, preferably ceramic, combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, warm water, and kosher salt. Stir over medium heat until sugar is completely dissolved. Turn heat up to medium-high and continue to cook, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer. The sugar will bubble up, but if you’ve got it in a pot with high sides, it shouldn’t boil over. If it threatens to escape, remove the pot from the heat for a few seconds and stir the contents before returning to burner.

5. Once the sugar reaches 240 degrees, remove from heat. Immediately pour into gelatin and beat with a stand mixer using the whisk attachment until it becomes white, light and fluffy, about 10 minutes. You can use an electric hand beater, but it will take longer to fluff up, about 15-20 minutes. If you use a hand beater, be aware that the fluff will try to crawl up the beaters in its attempt to make a mess. Once done, the marshmallow fluff will have nearly tripled in bulk. Add mint extract and beat until well integrated into the fluff.

6. Gently fold the dissolved chocolate into the marshmallows using a spatula. Do not over-mix — fold only five or six times.

7. Beat egg whites in a small bowl until they reach stiff peaks. Fold the whites into the mix, but don't over-mix. Mix just until you can no longer see any egg whites.

8. Pour marshmallow mix into the prepared pan. Sift cocoa powder and powdered sugar mixture onto the top to completely cover the marshmallows, and leave to sit about 4-5 hours, uncovered, to stiffen up.

9. Once the marshmallows are firm, you can cut them into 1″ x 1″ squares. Toss them  in a bowl of the remaining cocoa/powdered sugar mix.  You can also use cookie cutters to cut out the marshmallows, as pictured.

These keep for up to 3 weeks.

HOT VANILLA
1-1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp honey
(makes 2 servings)

Heat milk until almost boiling. Add vanilla and honey, stir well. Add marshmallows!

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   Squeeeeeee, it's CHOCOLATE WEEK!!!! I know you guys have been waiting for this, so we're going to try to make it really fun!
   A few days ago, my husband and step-son were complaining that I don't cook enough Southern food, so here's my answer to that! I've had this Southern treat, maybe only twice in my life, so it was about time I revisit it... Whoa, so yummy, but definitely a once in a while thing. Very rich! Enjoy!
--- Jenny

FLUFFIEST BISCUITS EVER:
2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp butter, softened
1 cup buttermilk, chilled

   Preheat oven to 450 degrees.   
   In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With a fork (or your fingers) rub butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles crumbs. Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. 
   Turn dough (still pretty sticky) onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits and place on a baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform leftover scraps, and continue to cut the rest of the biscuits. Try to knead as little as possible.
   Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.

CHOCOLATE GRAVY:
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups milk

Melt the butter in skillet over medium heat. Add cocoa and flour and stir until it forms a paste. Add sugar and milk (even better if the milk is warmed first), stirring constantly until thick.
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