April 27, 2010

Birthday Fare

Brian's birthday was over a month ago, but I can't let it go by without a post on our related culinary adventures.  So, here you go, about a month and a half late:

Although I like to keep him well fed year round, when it’s his birthday, we pull out all the stops.   We began the festivities a day early with a muffaletta for dinner.  (It also made excellent lunches for the next few days.)

With no time to make the bread myself, I resorted to buying it.  I have the good fortune of passing Cowgirl Creamery on my way home from work.  In addition to a variety of wonderful cheeses,  they happen to sell some great bread, as well, including a really delicious olive b√Ętard, which was perfect for the muffaletta.  It was actually the only non-baguette loaf they had, but we certainly didn't mind the extra olive flavor!

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As his birthday is on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to make his favorite cookies, appropriately themed.
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For his birthday dinner, I attempted to recreate one of his favorites: the signature “Chicken Spedini” of Cunetto’s, an Italian restaurant on the Hill in St. Louis.  I found a recipe online; the same one was posted on three different sites, all of which were rather obscure and none of which seemed particularly reputable.  We decided to give it a shot anyway.

The curious thing about this recipe is that it calls for marinating the chicken in a mixture of all the remaining ingredients -- including breadcrumbs and parmesan.  It seemed to me at first to be a great waste of ingredients -- especially something like parmesan.  We toyed around with several alternative methods and did some more online searching.  One of the few comments that turned up was something to the effect of, "Yes, you really put everything in the marinade!"  The more we thought about it, the more we seemed to remember that the texture of the breading on Cunetto's Chicken Spedini was of a different quality than the texture of most breaded chicken.  (Keep in mind that I have only had this dish twice in my entire life: once in December of 2007 and again in December of 2009.)  We finally just decided to bite the bullet and do as the recipe instructed.   Much to our surprise, the chicken turned out wonderfully—about as close to Cunetto’s as we’re likely to get.
You can view the original recipe here.  My version is below, with a few tweaks:

Cunetto’s Chicken Spedini
printable recipe

Serves 4.

4 – 8oz boneless chicken breasts

for the marinade
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup white wine
1/3 cup parmesan cheese, freshly (& finely) grated
1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs, plus a little extra for topping
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons garlic, minced or pressed

for the sauce
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup lemon juice
toothpicks or short bamboo skewers

Pound the chicken breasts to about 1/4-inch thickness.
In a large bowl combine the chicken and the remaining ingredients… Yes, the parmesan and breadcrumbs, too. :)
Marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour. 
Preheat oven to 350°F.
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Remove one piece of chicken from marinade and roll tightly into a cylinder (starting from a short end), capturing as much of the marinade as possible.  Secure with toothpicks or skewers.  Place in a baking dish.  Repeat with remaining pieces of chicken.  Top with remaining marinade, pressing solids onto tops and sides of chicken.

Sprinkle with remaining breadcrumbs.
Bake at 350°F for 25-30 minutes, until the center of the chicken registers 160°F on an instant-read thermometer.
Before removing from the oven, switch to broil setting and broil chicken for about two minutes—just long enough to turn the tops crisp and golden brown.  Remove chicken from the oven.
While the chicken is baking, make the sauce.  Melt the butter in a pan.  Add the lemon juice and stir until the sauce is heated through.
Remove toothpicks from chicken.
Serve topped with lemon butter sauce and with a side of (homemade) Fettuccine Alfredo, in true Italian-American restaurant fashion.
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One would think that after all that, we wouldn’t have any time or room for cake, but around here, no birthday is complete without one. 

I was going to make Brian’s usual favorite, the same mint-chocolate brownie cake I made last year.  However, Brian had another idea.  Instead of the mint-chocolate, he wanted a "cookies and cream” version.  I attempted to adapt the recipe, substituting vanilla extract for peppermint and white chocolate for dark (in the glaze).  I also added crushed "Classic Creme Cookies" (the Back to Nature brand's version of Oreos, sans the partially hydrogenated oils).  The cake turned out so much better than I expected!  In fact, I couldn't believe how good it was.  Yet another instance in which Brian proves himself well-deserving of his role as the resident "idea guy."  

Cookies and Cream Brownie Cake
printable recipe

for the brownie
1/2 cup butter
2 oz. dark chocolate (I use Ghirardelli’s “Bittersweet” chocolate with 60% cocoa.)
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/8 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Melt the butter and chocolate, either in a double  boiler or in the microwave.  Set aside to cool.  Cream together eggs and sugar.  Add slightly cooled chocolate and butter mixture and blend until well combined.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  Pour batter into two (greased and floured) 1-pound loaf pans or one 9-inch square cake pan.  Bake for about 15 minutes, until edges are set but brownie is still slightly gooey in the center.  Allow to cool about 10 minutes before removing from pans.  Finish cooling on wire rack.   Once brownie is mostly cool, allow to chill in refrigerator until you are ready to frost.  (Or chill in freezer if it will be less than half an hour; if more than an hour, refrigerate wrapped in plastic wrap.)

for the frosting
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
1 Tbsp milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
several “classic creme” cookies, roughly crushed

Beat powdered sugar, butter, milk, and vanilla until smooth and creamy.   Carefully fold in crushed cookies.
Remove cake from fridge or freezer.  If baked in a 9x9 pan, cut it in half to create two rectangular pieces for layering. 
Spread half of the frosting over the first layer.  Stack the second layer on top and spread the remaining frosting.  Using a long, serrated knife, carefully trim the cake so that all four sides are straight and even.  Return cake to  freezer.

for the glaze
5 oz. white chocolate
1 Tbsp. butter
several “classic creme” cookies, roughly crushed

Melt white chocolate and butter together (either in a double boiler or in the microwave).  Allow to cool slightly.  Carefully fold in crushed cookies.
Remove the cake from the freezer and carefully spread the glaze so that it covers all sides.
Top the cake with extra, roughly crushed cookies.  Chill in refrigerator until about 30 minutes before serving.
Happy Belated Birthday to my wonderful Idea Guy. :)