Sunday, October 31, 2010

ATX to PDX: A trip to Portland, OR

Mom, in the background in the white jacket with the flipped up collar, hanging with the girls in the dorm of the Old Shriners Children’s Hospital in Portland, OR. On the back of the picture, she identified the bathing suited beauties as Potts and Rowland with a note about how much fun the girls were. 

Soon after graduating from high school, my mom boarded a train bound for Portland, OR. Aside from a cousin who lived there, Portland’s main draw was that it was as far from the hills of Alabama as she could get. That alone was reason enough to pack her bags. In rural Alabama in 1961, little more was expected of her than to get married and start a family. I realize now how incredibly brave she was to take such a leap.

Coming from a small town, Mom thought Portland the epitome of a big city. She took a job working as a nurse’s aid at what was then known as the Shriners Crippled Children’s Hospital (they've since dropped crippled from the title). The hospital offered accommodations and she lived in a dorm with other young, single women who worked there. Mom described the hospital to me as the most majestic place she had ever stepped foot in. Since she didn’t learn to drive until after she got married, Mom rode the bus to get around Portland. She told me of feeling so elegant stepping off the bus and walking up to such a grand building. 

From a young age, I remember her telling me of the hospital and how beautiful a city Portland was – describing its lush greenery and her delight in looking over her shoulder and seeing Mt. Hood towering in the background. To a child, Portland sounded like the most magical place on earth. I vowed when I grew up that I’d go see the city Mom told me of. 

So it took a while to get there but I finally made it…

I can only imagine how much Portland has changed since the early 1960’s when she lived there, but I’m happy to report that no matter the changes, it’s still as lovely as Mom described. Even in October when the winter gloom has already begun to set in and despite that it was gray and overcast for most of the trip, the scenery was still amazing. Eric and I aren’t usually good tourists- our idea of a vacation is a cool hotel with proximity to as much good food and drink as we can consume- but I’m glad we didn’t skip the guide book stuff on this trip. We took the time to drive out of Portland to check out the Willamette Valley, a central coast beach, and the Columbia River Gorge. All were absolutely stunning. 

My only regret of the trip is that I waited too late to go. 

I had planned to look up the old hospital that Mom so loved to take a picture for her. I knew from research that the Shriners Children’s Hospital had relocated to a newly built facility but Wikipedia reported the old hospital building as listed on the National Historic Register in 1989. I was just sure it would still be there. Sadly, I was wrong. When we pulled up to the address listed, we arrived at a distinctly new senior living apartment complex. I stopped in at an adjacent store just to make sure we hadn’t made a mistake on the address but the lady behind the register confirmed that the old hospital was torn down a few years ago.

My heart sank when I heard the news and I dreaded telling Mom. That day was she and my father’s anniversary so I waited until the next day to call and break it to her. She was so disappointed. And so am I… I really wanted to see that old hospital that holds such strong, fond memories for Mom. I’d just settle for an picture at this point. I’ve searched in vain on the internet but I can’t find any images. The building is still listed on the National Historic Register’s website but alas, no picture. 

On a happier note, we'd heard that Portland was a food town and found the reports to be entirely true. My usual pre-trip ritual of exhaustive research turned up a very long list potential dining options. Because we were making such a quick trip, it was especially agonizing to whittle down the list. Much love to Fearless Critic Portland - due to its guidance, we hit up some really great places. If you're not the nerdy, research-oriented type, have no fear. A friend of Eric's and fellow chef who has visited the city informed us that it would probably be harder to find bad food in Portland than good. He was right... 

Here’s a quick pictorial review of the trip highlights:  

As soon as we stepped off the plane we were both ravenous so we headed strait to Park Kitchen. We had considered Park Kitchen for dinner as the menu looked fantastic but since it was one of the few dining options open during the day, we decided to do lunch instead. I’m sure the dinner menu is even more amazing than the lunch menu, so in my humble opinion, this spot is not to be missed. In fact, it was Eric’s favorite meal of the whole trip. My props to the pastry chef- all three!!! desserts I tried were terrific!

The Ace Hotel provided friendly, centrally located accommodations and the comfy bed pictured above. Just in case you tend to wake up in hotel rooms disoriented and groggy, not knowing where you are, they've helpfully woven the hotel name and city you're in on the blanket you slept under. The Ace Chain rehabbed the former Clyde Hotel, which was the setting for a scene in Drugstore Cowboys. The hotel ambience has much the same vibe as the movie- very cool and atmospheric. Bonus: Stumptown has an outpost in the lobby but if you don't care to stumble downstairs in your pjs, they'll also deliver coffee to your room. Score! 

We stopped in at the brick and mortar outpost of Pearl Bakery for breakfast on day 2 of the trip. I love a bakery that already has sweet confections out with the usual breakfast goods. Some of us like a little treat after breakfast. In addition to the delicious pain au chocolat I chose to accompany my coffee, I picked up a raspberry brownie and macaron. Alas, I was sad to find that they didn’t have any bouchons that day- Molly at Orangette raved over those bouchons. I’m sure they would have been divine but I made do with the brownie. Pearl also has a booth at the Portland Farmer’s Market at Portland State University, where the pic was taken.

By fortuitous happenstance, while searching for a winery in the Willamette Valley to visit on our trip, I got an excellent recommendation. I volunteered for a wine dinner at Central Market's Cooking School, featuring Pine Ridge wines and food prepared by the winery's executive chef, Eric Mackzo. I learned that Pine Ridge has a sister winery, Archery Summit, in Oregon. Chef Eric recommended checking it out as they're known for their pinot noir. We're really glad we did. Archery Summit's winemaker and general manager are both women- a female wine maker in itself is unusual so it's practically unheard of for a winery to be entirely female led. That bit of information made the wines taste even better to me but all bias aside, they stand on their own merit. Archery Summit's wines, except for the Cuvée Pinot Noir, aren't widely available outside of the area due to small allocations. They do have a wine club where you can purchase all of their bottlings and now we're impatiently awaiting our first shipment.

After driving through Willamette Valley, we rode out to Oregon's central coast and stopped at Neskowin Beach. A local man told us they were expecting a storm to roll in that evening and that the beach we were standing on would be covered by the sea and the huge rock outcropping in the picture would be an island by morning. It was windy and cold, not exactly the beach weather a Florida girl thinks of, but worth braving the elements to see. The beach's wild, craggy gorgeousness blew me away (figuratively, not literally- we left before the storm came in).

Beast! This was the dinner I was most looking forward to, albeit with a bit of apprehension because the joint has received some major hype. And it sooo lives up to the hype- it's not at all overblown in this case. Naomi Pomeroy, the lady chef who runs the place, calls her cooking style “refined French grandmother,” a description that is a bit tongue-in-cheek and yet surprisingly apt. It looks like she’s having a blast in the small open kitchen in which she prepares the amazing dishes. While we were dining, she was dancing to the awesome Talking Heads soundtrack playing as she plated up courses.

Cute pig logo on the back of Beast's menu
Dining at Beast is an experience- from the communal tables (make friends early or you're in for a long, awkward evening), the very set menu (no substitutions allowed!), to the leisurely pacing of six courses with accompanying wines that spanned 3 hours.

I think chef's menu speak for itself.

The honey Beast featured in the cheese course was so divine, we headed out to the Portland Farmer's Market the next morning to track down a jar. We haven't lived on the West Coast for some time now and forget how plentiful the produce is so we're always astounded when we see the bounty of the markets. 
We ooohed and awwwed over all the gorgeous specimens and briefly contemplated purchasing another small suitcase to fill up with the chanterelles above. Ultimately, we decided that the regulations on intra-state transport of produce could cause too many complications. Eric is still pining over those mushrooms.
It was the flowers that got to me, though. Every other booth, it seemed, was full of lovely blooms. I wanted to take them all home, each and every one. But especially these artichoke flowers. Along with a handful of the grapefruit-sized artichokes sitting next to them. 


After our trip to the market, we stopped by another market, Laurelhurst Market, for lunch. Market seems like a bit of a misnomer because, though there is a meat market that also serves up tasty sandwiches by day, at night the place turns into a packed out, well reviewed dining destination. We'd love to have gone for dinner as well but time didn't permit. 

While researching our trip, I checked out a blog I love, Frolicfor Portland destinations not to be missed. Chelsea, the blogger, is a Portland resident. The list on the site was from a few years ago so I emailed asking if there were plans to do an update soon. The lovely Chelsea replied back promptly and said that she had been meaning to do so and would soon. In the meantime, she sent on some good tips and let me know that the scenic drive along the Columbia River Gorge was gorgeous and a must see. As usual, she has impeccable taste. Multnomah Falls, along the route, was especially breathtaking.

(click on the menu to see a larger view)
Our last meal in Portland was at Castagna, whose 29 year old chef staged at Mugaritz and was named one of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs 2010. I've not been to Mugaritz (yet- I'm holding out hope) but if Chef Lightner's food is a tribute to his training, it must be as fabulous as I've heard it to be. When I was brought my chosen dessert, my jaw practically dropped. 
The crappy photo doesn't do it justice but that apple with a tarragon skin was a revelation. At that's before I even got to the brown butter ice cream (no elaboration need, I'm sure).

Stumptown, Bridgetown, the Rose City... whatever you care to call it, Portland, OR has something special going on. It receives as much praise and press coverage as Austin for being such a cool town. Accolades aside, I would have gone even if it were some podunk, backwater burg. I'm so glad I got to see the city that made such an impression on Mom, and consequently me.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nutella!!!!! Scones

Back in the mid-nineties, I first tried Nutella as a student in Spain. Since I had never encountered Nutella previously, I assumed it was a Spanish product and consequently, I pronounced the name incorrectly- as in “new-tay-yuh” à la español. I’ve since learned that Nutella is an Italian delicacy and as such, should be pronounced “new-telllll-uh.” (Thank you, Ellen, for educating me.) While I now know the correct pronunciation, I still have a habit of saying it incorrectly, which I’m sure is aggravating to some people. Sorry, old habits die hard. (If you’re reading my blog and know why I christened it “FranishNonspeaker,” I’m sure you’ll understand and will forgive me. If not, just stop reading now.)

For breakfast, my host family would serve little melba toast-like bread squares with jam and nutella as an accompaniment. Every morning before dashing off to class I would devour half a dozen of the little toastlettes along with copious amounts of instant coffee. (Why most families served instant coffee, in Spain where coffee beans are grown, I’ll never understand. For instant coffee, it was surprisingly rich and flavorful, though.) Of course, once the sugar and caffeine high wore off, my blood sugar would dip so low I’d be practically catatonic and falling asleep in class. During breaks, I’d head out for a café con leche pick me up and restart the cycle. (No, I never do learn.)

Upon my return stateside, I was exceedingly pleased to learn that Nutella was readily available in the U.S. and it has been a staple in my pantry ever since. Its popularity has increased exponentially over the years and now it seems everyone loves Nutella. Surely we are a happier nation for it!

Nutella Scones
adapted from Baked Explorations

The Baked boys have put out a new cookbook, Baked Explorations, and I was happy to receive a review copy. I dove into the book as soon as it arrived and hadn’t gotten past too many pages before I came upon this recipe for Nutella scones. Color me thrilled! Not just because I’m a Nutella hound but also because I was responsible for bringing baked goods to an upcoming breakfast. I was a little nervous that the breakfast crowd would steer clear of scones since they might not be as familiar a breakfast item as, say, doughnuts, but happily, I was wrong. These scones were a hit! Not only are they topped with Nutella but a layer of creamy, nutty unctuousness is layered inside the dough before baking. When bitten into, the crumbling scone gives way to the gooey, delectable surprise inside. No one could resist licking the Nutella off their fingers when finished. Thanks to the Baked duo for taking two killer breakfast treats and combining them to make them both even better!

  • 2 cs unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ¼ c granulated sugar
  • ¼ c dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 T baking powder
  • ½ t salt
  • 7 T (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks (The original recipe specifies 6 T but I added an additional tablespoon as the dough felt a bit dry. Start with 6 T and only add extra if needed.)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • ¾ c toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
  • ½ c Nutella (Baked Explorations includes a recipe for homemade nutella! Yippeee!)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and place the rack in the center. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt until combined.
2. Add the butter to the flour mixture. Use your fingertips to rub it into the flour until the butter is pea sized and the mixture is coarse. You can also use a pie cutter to cut in the butter.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg and cream. Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until the dough just comes together. Add the hazelnuts and knead gently to incorporate, being careful to not overwork the dough. Flatten the dough into a rectangle approximately 6 by 12 inches and spread ¼ cup of the Nutella on top in a crisscross pattern. Roll the dough up to make a cylinder about 6 inches long, turn it on its end, and gently flatten it into a disk about 1 3/4 inches high. Again, do not overwork the dough.
4. Cut the dough into 6 or 8 wedges and place the wedges on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for approximately 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean.
5. Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool completely and then return to the lined baking sheet. Spoon the remaining ¼ cup of the Nutella into a small ziploc bag and place in the microwave for about 10-15 seconds until thinner in consistency. Carefully snip off the tip of a corner of the bag with scissors to make a small opening for piping. Pipe the warm Nutella in a zigzag pattern over the tops of the scones. Transfer to the refrigerator to allow the piped topping to set for 5 minutes. These scones can be kept for a couple of days if wrapped tightly and stored at room temperature.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Vanilla Roasted Pear Tarts

I get a bit overwhelmed with summer’s bounty and burn out on fruit desserts by the time the really hot, dog days of summer hit, which (happily) coincidentally, is when summer fruit start fading out as well. But unlike luscious summer berries, the heat sticks around for a while here in Central Texas so I had to endure all these beautiful pictures, stories, and blog posts on fall fruit desserts while it was still stifling outside. But no more!

 It’s feeling downright fallish in Austin - temperatures are dropping down to the 40’s in the early mornings with beautiful, sunny days in the 80’s. This weather has me in the mood to start breaking out seasonal fruit recipes again so last week, when it was absolutely glorious outside (despite historically high ragweed levels wrecking havoc with my allergies), I took a break from the office to walk over to the Triangle Farmer’s Market to pick up some pears.

After having to make a few icky canned pear desserts at LCB and drawing the caramelized pear tart for my final exam, I was pretty much done with pears last year before the season even started in Texas. So glad I’ve recovered this year from my pear phobia because vanilla roasted pears are really lovely. Vanilla and sugar combine to aid in the caramelization process while butter enhances the nutty, rich flavor of the roasted fruit. The addition of lemon juice brings just a hint of brightness. The smell of these roasted pears alone will make you dance around your oven with anticipation and hopefully, will permeate your whole house. If only someone could make a home scent that smells half as good, you’d have fall in a bottle.

Vanilla Roasted Pear Tarts

I didn’t notice initially that Deb at Smitten Kitchen adapted her recipe from Sally Schneider, whose idea for chocolate cakelettes with bacon fat I adapted to Thomas Keller’s bouchon recipe. I’m now an official admirer of Ms. Schneider and will be checking out her other recipes on The Atlantic’s website. Deb served the vanilla roasted pears solo but noted the recipe could be used many ways, which, of course, got my wheels turning. You might have noticed from the plethora of previous posts on tarts, I’m a big fan of anything that fills a tart shell so baking up vanilla roasted pear tarts seemed like just the thing. I decided to make two tarts using a different method for each. For the first version, I par-baked the shell and then filled it with the uncooked vanilla pear mixture and finished baking off the shell while roasting the pears. For the second version, I spooned already roasted pears into a fully cooked tart shell. The first version looked more elegant with the pear slices fanned out in a circular fashion but didn’t allow for turning the pears as they roasted and the par-baked crust soaked up some of the roasting juices. I preferred the taste of the second version despite it’s more humble appearance. I’ll take flavor over fancy any day. (Which is not to say that the first version wasn’t flavorful but it packed less of a punch to me, so if subtle and fancy is your thing, I think you’ll like the first version.)

Tart Shell
I really like Suzanne Goin’s pâte sucrée recipe from Sunday Suppers at Lucques. The recipe makes enough dough for two 10” tarts.

1/4 c heavy cream
2 extra-large egg yolks
2 3/4 c plus 2 T all-purpose flour
1/4 c plus 3 T granulated sugar
1/4 t kosher salt
1/2 pound unsalted butter

1. Whisk the cream and egg yolks together in a small bowl.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and butter on medium speed until you have a coarse meal. Gradually add the cream and yolks and mix until just combined. Do not overwork the dough.
3. Transfer the dough to a large work surface and bring it together with your hands to incorporate completely. Divide the dough in half, shape into 1-inch-thick discs. You can wrap one disk to freeze and use later, if desired.
4. If the dough is too soft, put in the refrigerator for 5 to 10 minutes to firm up a little. If the dough is manageable, place it on a lightly floured work surface, sprinkle a little flour over the dough, and roll it out into a 1-inch-thick circle, flouring as necessary. Starting at one side, roll and wrap the dough around the rolling pin to pick it up. Unroll the dough over a 10-inch tart pan. Gently fit the dough loosely into the pan, lifting the edges and pressing the dough into the corners with your fingers. To remove the excess dough, roll the rolling pin lightly over the top of the tart pan for a nice clean edge, or work your way around the edge pinching off any excess dough with your fingers. Chill for 1 hour.

Vanilla Roasted Pears
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen who adapted the original recipe from Sally Schneider. The recipe makes enough filling for one 10” tart.

1/4 c sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1 1/2 pounds slightly-under-ripe, fragrant, medium sized pears, peeled if desired, cored, and thinly sliced crosswise (I used Orient pears but any variety will work)
2 T lemon juice
2 T water
2 T unsalted butter, melted
For the first version of the pear tart:
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Prick the bottom of the pâte sucrée with a fork and line with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit. Fill the lined tart shell with beans or pie weights and bake 15 minutes, until set. Take the tart out of the oven and carefully lift out the paper and beans.
2. While the tart shell is baking, place the sugar in a small bowl. With a thin, sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise in half and scrape out the seeds. Stir the seeds into the sugar.
3. Place the sliced pears in a large bowl, add water and lemon juice, then sprinkle with the sugar. Turn and stir the pear slices in the bowl to ensure they are well coated.
4. Arrange the pear slices in the par-baked tart shell by starting at the outside edge and working inward towards the center, overlapping the slices in a circular fan shaped manner. Brush melted butter over the top of the pear slices.
5. Return the filled tart to the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes, until the pears are tender (a paring knife poked into the thickest part of one should meet with no resistance) and caramelized and the crust is an even golden brown. If the crust begins to brown too much, cover with foil. Remove the tart from the oven and set aside on a rack to cool slightly.
6. Serve while still warm.
For the second version of the pear tart:
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Place the sugar in a small bowl. With a thin, sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise in half and scrape out the seeds. Stir the seeds into the sugar.
2. Arrange the pears in a large baking dish, cut-side up. Drizzle the lemon juice evenly over the fruit, then sprinkle with the sugar. Nestle the vanilla pod among the fruit. Pour the water into the dish. Brush the pears with melted butter.
3. The tart shell can be baked at the same time that the pears are roasted but will require less time. Prick the bottom of the pâte sucrée with a fork and line with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit. Fill the lined tart shell with beans or pie weights and bake 15 minutes, until set. Take the tart out of the oven and carefully lift out the paper and beans. Return the tart to the oven and bake another 10 to 15 minutes, until the crust is an even golden brown. Set aside on a rack to cool completely.
4. Roast the pears 30 minutes brushing occasionally with the pan juices. Stir and turn the pear mixture and continue roasting, basting once or twice, until tender and caramelized, about 25 to 30 minutes longer (if the pears are small, test for doneness after 35 or 40 minutes of cooking; a paring knife poked into the thickest part of one should meet with no resistance).
5. Allow the roasted pears to cool a bit and then spoon the cooked mixture into the fully baked tart shell and serve while still warm.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Macaron Making with MisoHungry

Jennie at MisoHungry and I got together last weekend to team up on a little macaron making. As I had hoped, Jennie helped push me out of my comfort zone of flavors and we wound up making some really intriguing combinations.

When I arrived at her house, she was ready to go with enough provisions to make a mountain of macarons and she had a cornucopia of flavors and liqueurs available for our use. I felt like a kid in a candy store, only an adult candy store since Jennie was serving alcoholic beverages. We each picked out three flavors and set to work. Jennie uses Tartelette’s recipe, which I hadn’t tried before, but I’m always glad to add another good macaron recipe to my repertoire. It’s a keeper!

Here’s the line up of flavors we made:

            Jennie
  • toasted coconut macs with nutella filling
  • mint macs with nutellla filling
  • mango macs with a St. Germain liqueur buttercream
               Me
  • orange flower water macs (didn’t bother filling since the shells were such a bust)
  • rose flower water macs with a macadamia liqueur buttercream
  • banana macs with nutella filling
(If you’re noticing a pattern here- yep, we like nutella!)

I got a little heavy handed with the orange flower water and most of that batch had to be thrown out since they flattened into puddles that baked up to a brick-like consistency. I’m glad I tried banana and rose flower water macaron flavors but I wasn’t bowled over by the results of my first attempt. Guess I’ll just have to give it another go. 

Jennie’s flavor picks turned out lovely. In all, I thought that her toasted coconut and nutella macs were the best of the day and her mint and nutella ones were a close runner up. When we were packing up cookies to distribute, I made sure my box had mostly Jennie's macarons. I’ve been snacking on her cookies all week long and will be very sorry to eat the last of them!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Chocolate con Churros

While on a bike tour in Paris, I met a mom from Houston and her college-aged daughter who had just finished studying in Germany. Mom complained to me that many of her daughter’s fellow travel companions had learned little about German history and culture other than the tradition of biergartens, where they spent most of their time.

I understood her dismay, but in the kids’ defense, I pointed out that one could argue that drinking decent beer and eating delicious bratwurst could be considered an enriching experience. I just applaud the kids for not seeking out Subway or Pizza Hut - the chosen fare of many of the students I studied with in Spain. I’m still shaking my head over the farewell dinner several students organized for our group at the Madrid outpost of the Hard Rock Café chain. I passed on overpriced, crappy burgers.

Which is not to say that I certainly couldn’t have better or more fully appreciated my time in Spain. I admit I was more often interested in spending afternoons on the beaches of the Costa del Sol than exploring the beautiful churches in Andalucía. I was certainly more enchanted with touring the bodegas and tasting sherry in Jerez than with the magnificent ancient Roman aqueducts in Segovia. And I loved wandering through the amazing Prado and the Museo Reina Sofia is an all time favorite, but I skipped visiting Ferdinand and Isabella’s graves.

While I may have missed the boat on a few historical highpoints, I did do a pretty good job of partaking of Spanish cuisine and wines. I was lucky enough to lodge with a few Spanish families and the Señoras were amazing cooks, one and all. Between the Señoras' delicious home cooking and the helado carts on every street corner, I never went hungry. But somehow I missed the churrerías, which I so regret. I didn’t discover churros until later in life and I’ve been kicking myself ever since that I didn’t taste this wonderful treat while in the motherland.

Of course, had I discovered the churrerías, the weight I gained over my summer in Spain would have probably have doubled. That extra ten pounds I came home with was worth every slice of jamón serrano but god help my thighs had I met the churro.


These churros practically melt in your mouth. They’d be great on their own but a chocolate sauce accompaniment is traditional in Spain and I’m not one to flout tradition (or pass up chocolate). A quick Google search turned up this recipe. Between Rick Bayless and Oprah, I figured I couldn’t go wrong. Aran at Canelle et Vanille also has a lovely looking, albeit more ingredient intensive, recipe. Rick’s version was a cinch and all of the ingredients are readily available in most home pantries. Churros are fairly easy to prepare (similar to a pâte à choux) but you’ll need a bit of courage to face the boiling pan of grease required for frying. You have to make sure the oil is hot enough but not too hot or the results will be disastrous either way. I highly recommend using a candy thermometer so you can eye the temperature closely. Prepare the chocolate sauce first because you’ll want to have everything ready to eat as soon as the churros are cooked. They’re not very good cold and don’t reheat well so be prepared to pig out!

Churros
adapted from Rick Bayless’ recipe on Oprah.com

2 T vegetable oil + additional oil to fill your pan to a depth of 1 inch, for frying
1 T sugar + 2/3 c to roll the churros in
Salt
1 c all-purpose flour
1/2 t cinnamon, preferably freshly ground
1. In a medium-small (2-quart) saucepan, combine the oil, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt with 1 cup water. Set over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add flour all at once, stirring vigorously until mixture forms into a thick, smooth-textured ball. Let the dough cool in the pan.
2. To cook the churros, heat oil in a large pan (a cast-iron skillet is recommended) over medium to medium-high heat to about 375° degrees Fahrenheit. Monitor the temperature closely with a thermometer and adjust as needed. Scoop the dough into a heavy-duty pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch star tip. Hold the bag a few inches above the hot oil and press out a 3-inch length of dough and use your fingertips to pull the dough free from the tip. Cook a test churro, turning occasionally, until it is deep golden brown- this should only take about 2 to 3 minutes if the oil is at the correct temperature. Remove the test churro to drain on a paper towel until it cools a bit and  then break it open to check for doneness—it should be just a little soft inside but not doughy. If the temperature of the oil is too low, the churros will take a long time to color and may burst apart before they're brown. If the oil temp is too high, they'll brown too quickly and won’t cook through.
3. Press out and fry the churros 4 or 5 at a time, draining each batch on paper towels. Spread 2/3 cup sugar over the bottom of a baking pan and mix in optional cinnamon. Roll churros in the sugar mixture while they're still warm. Serve immediately with the chocolate sauce. 


Chocolate Dipping Sauce
recipe adapted from Diana’s Desserts at Dianasdesserts.com

4 oz chopped dark chocolate
2 c milk
1 T cornstarch
4 T granulated sugar 
1. To make the chocolate sauce, place the chocolate and 1 cup of milk in a sauce pan and heat on low. When the chocolate has melted, dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining 1 cup milk and whisk into the chocolate with the sugar. Cook on low heat, whisking constantly, until the chocolate is thickened, about 5 minutes. Add extra cornstarch if the sauce does not start to thicken after 5 minutes. Remove and whisk smooth. Pour into cups for dipping churros.