Happy Birthday Ian!

2010/05/12

I really like brownies. The very first recipe I ever posted was for a brownie with fruit and nuts. I like to experiment with brownies; once I made a pan that included ginger, cayenne pepper, and pine nuts.
The brownies I made last Monday night, however, were not for me. I made them for Ian to take to work for his birthday. (Honestly, I was not even sure I would get to taste them, but there was also a cake so a couple of the brownies were brought home.) Keeping in mind that Ian really likes caramel, and that pecans are one of his favorite snacks, I decided to make him turtle brownies.

For the brownie base, I used my tried and true brownie recipe, and mixed in one and a half cups of pecan pieces (the whole bag) and a little less than a cup of chocolate chips (I did not measure, but just eyeballed it). About halfway through the baking process I sprinkled some more pecan pieces on top of the brownies.

While the brownies were baking, I made a caramel sauce to go on top. While there are many caramel recipes floating around the internet (and in cookbooks) I decided to use the rather straightforward one found here. I liked that it didn’t have a lot of ingredients. The blogger who posted it did stress the importance of not undercooking the caramel, which is probably why I burnt it the first time. (Or it might have had to do with the size of the pan; the second time I used a wider pan and the shallower caramel didn’t keep cooking so rapidly.) Anyway, the second sauce turned out perfectly, so that was good. I didn’t have the time or crockery for a third.

After the sauce cooled a little, I drizzled it on the cooled brownies. Ian and his coworkers seemed to really enjoy them, and the one I had was pretty good. Happy Birthday!

Turtle Brownies:

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, melted
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli cocoa powder.)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans (plus more for the top if you want)
  • 1 cup (or less) chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease or line a 9×13 inch pan.
  2. In a large bowl, blend melted butter, sugar and vanilla until combined. Beat in eggs one at a time until combined.
  3. Add the flour, cocoa, and salt and mix until smooth. Fold in pecans and chocolate chips.
  4. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes, or until brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Add more pecans to the top halfway through, if desired. Let brownies cool, then drizzle with caramel sauce.

A Four Course French-ish Spring-ish Dinner

2010/05/06

Most people I know had been surprised to find out that I had not seen the movie Julie & Julia. Since it is about food and blogging, I can see how it would be easy to assume that I would have been first in line to see it. Well it is no longer true, last weekend we rented the movie and I finally saw it. It was pretty good, too. I actually found it inspirational, particularly during the beginning of Julie’s challenge, when she makes artichokes with hollandaise sauce.

So tonight I decided to make a four course dinner with a spring theme and a French influence. Don’t ask me why I decided on four courses on a Thursday night, but I did. It took a while, but it was totally worth it.

Course 1: Appetizers

The first course was inspired by the farmers’ market this weekend. The restaurant Willow has a booth there in the “summer” months, and they served up this tasty bite. It was a green onion pancake topped with marscapone cheese and a saute of more scallions, shallots, and radishes. I didn’t follow the recipe they handed out exactly, because their pancake used a rolled out dough, and I didn’t want to deal with that, so I made the same pancake batter I use for my Americanized okonomiyaki.

Recipe:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • milk or cream as necessary (I usually use milk but I had cream on hand for another recipe)
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • oil for frying
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • 6 radishes, sliced.
  • 1 tablespoon shallots, minced
  1. Mix eggs, flour, and salt together. Add milk or cream until the batter reaches a desired consistency. Stir in the green onions.
  2. Heat the frying pan over medium heat, and add canola or vegetable oil. Spoon the batter into the oil and fry on both sides until golden brown.
  3. In a saucepan melt the butter. Let it cook a few minutes. Add the radishes, green onions, and shallots. Cook until the butter starts to brown.
  4. Assemble each pancake with a teaspoon of marscapone cheese and a teaspoon of the radish/onion mixture.

Course 2: Main Course

For the main course, I wanted things to be simple, so I just made the artichokes with hollandaise. They take a long time to eat and are sufficiently filling that I didn’t think I really needed anything else. Note: I did buy a baguette, and forgot to serve it, but no one missed it.

The artichokes were simple to cook. I just cut of the tops and bottoms with a serrated knife treated with lemon juice, then trimmed the thorny tips off the leaves with scissors, then rubbed the whole thing down with a lemon. Then I boiled the suckers until they were tender, which took about half an hour, but for a while my water was simmering, not boiling.

For the hollandaise, I adjusted Julia Child’s blender recipe, which I found here, to use a bowl and electric mixer because I didn’t want to get the blender out and potentially make a mess, and I already had the electric mixer out for dessert. It worked really well. Note: this recipe makes a decent amount of sauce, which was good because I dropped the bowl and half of it ended up on the floor. The sauce that stayed in the bowl (and subsequently got spooned into these little dipping bowls and topped with chives) was quite good: very buttery and a bit lemony, but not at all eggy.

Course 3: Cheese and Course

I made a small cheese and salad plate to break up dinner and dessert, which I think it accomplished, because it was half sweet and half savory. The salad was a mixture of shaved asparagus, and arugula and spinach from my garden dressed with a grapefruit infused oil that I bought a couple of weeks ago.

I had three cheeses on the plate. Camenbert on a “biscuit for cheese” made with hazelnuts and figs (it is like a cross between a cracker and a biscotti) that I bought at Whole Paycheck (a rare splurge). Mimolette Francaise with Green Tomato Chutney, and a baguette round with French blue cheese and local Blue Aster honey.

Course 4: Dessert

For dessert I wanted to use up the leftover egg whites from the hollandaise, and I was tickled pink when I found this Mousse au Chocolat from Pierre Herme. Most mousses use egg yolks, too, but this was super easy; just folding a meringue into a ganache. It took less than 10 minutes. The mousse was super rich but also light. It really is a great dessert. Note: Measuring ingredients on a scale in grams is awesome, because when you want to scale a recipe to 3 egg whites instead of 5, the math in metric is so much easier than trying to work out fractions to 4/9ths.

So in all, this was a great dinner. I’m back baby!


Peach Custard Tarts

2010/03/03

I am going to split up tonights dinner into two posts, and in the true spirit of a five year old, I am going to pick dessert first.

Like all good desserts, this was totally improvised.

Step 1) The Base

For the base of this tart, which was slightly too crumbly to be called a crust, I crumbled five gingerbread cookies leftover from Christmas in a mini food processor (don’t worry, they were frozen). The cookies were large and quite hard. If you were using store-bought cookies, you would probably need 10-15, depending on their size. I mixed the crumbs with 4 tbsp butter, which saturated the mixture, but just barely. I pressed the crumbs into these cute little individual casserole dishes I have.

Step 2) The Filling

I opened a jar of spiced peaches in honey syrup that I canned last summer. The peaches were sliced and then cooked in a mixture of honey and simple syrup then hot packed with cloves, cinnamon, and white pepper. I put a few slices of peach in each dish. I then made a simple custard by mixing together the following ingredients.

  • 1 cup milk (2%)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp salt

I then poured the custard over the peaches. This made more custard than I needed, so I poured the extra into a large ramekin and cooked it with the tarts.

Step 3) Cooking

I made an improvised bain marie by putting the mini casseroles in a 9×13 metal pan and filling it with water until it was halfway up the sides. I baked them at 350 degrees for about an hour until the custard was completely set.

There you go. A perfect ending to a lovely meal.


Strawberry "Shortcake" Parfaits

2009/06/04
Strawberry Shortcake Parfait

Strawberry Shortcake Parfait

I promised you dessert, and here it is. This parfait-like dessert, which went over quite well I must say, was loosely based on strawberry shortcake. However, the strawberries were soaked in amaretto and the whipped cream was homemade, and therefore the layers did not say separate. It still tasted great, though.

Instead of using a shortcake base, I crumbled a couple buttery tea cookies into each glass. The particular ones I used are Persian and shortbread-like.

Persian Tea Biscuits

Persian Tea Biscuits

The strawberries, which had been picked fresh that morning at Larriland Farm, a lovely little farm in Woodbine, Maryland where they let you pick your own fruits and vegetables – essentially paying them to do work they would otherwise pay migrant workers to do. I marinated the strawberries in amaretto and sugar for about a half hour before I assembled the desserts.

Soaking Strawberries

Soaking Strawberries

Finally, I made the whipped cream. I have never made whipped cream before, and it is not particularly easy. I just couldn’t get it to set, even though I chilled the bowl and whisk beforehand. When it started to form peaks, I added a tablespoon of confectioner’s sugar and a teaspoon of amaretto to match the flavor in the strawberries.

Whipped Cream

Whipped Cream

To assemble the parfaits, I started with the crumbled cookies, then added a little whipped cream, then the strawberries, then the rest of the whipped cream. I sprinkled more cookies on top, and then garnished with a fresh strawberry and a square of 86% dark chocolate.

The Recipe:

  • fresh strawberries, a couple of handfuls per person, washed, hulled, and sliced
  • 1/4 cup amaretto
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp amaretto
  • 8 cookies
  • 4 fresh strawberries
  • 4 squares high quality chocolate
  1. Mix sliced strawberries with 1/4 cup amaretto and 1/4 cup sugar in a medium mixing bowl and let sit for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Prepare the whipped cream. Whisk heavy cream in a chilled mixing bowl until peaks start to form. Then add 1 tbsp confectioner’s sugar and 1 tsp amaretto. Continue to whisk until it begins to firm up. Do not over-whisk. Chill until ready to assemble.
  3. When ready to assemble, crumble about 1 and a half cookies into the bottom of each of 4 parfait glasses. Add a heaping teaspoon of whipped cream. Divide the strawberries among the glasses. Top with the remaining whipped cream. Garnish with a fresh strawberries and chocolate squares.

Decadent Fruit & Nut Brownies

2009/05/31

Of course, I go and start a food blog and then immediately get sick and don’t want to cook. My taste buds are all off, and my appetite is almost non-existent. However, I feel I should post something, so I pulled one of these brownies out of my freezer.

Fruit & Nut Brownie

Fruit & Nut Brownie

These brownies, a wonderful fruit and nut and cream cheese concoction, were dreamed up during finals. You see, when I am stressed, I need to bake. My first batch of brownies, from a Ghirardelli box mix, was okay, but not great. Then, a couple days later, as I was wandering around the CVS waiting to pick up a prescription, I happened to see my favorite chocolate bar of all time, the Cadbury Fruit & Nut. These bars were special finds during my days in Saint Petersburg; I only knew one store that regularly sold the dark chocolate variety, and they did not always have them, so buying one was always a real treat. I would eat a few squares on the walk home, and then put it in the pantry for later, but it never lasted long. Unfortunately, CVS, like all American retailers, only had it in milk chocolate (I really don’t like milk chocolate), so I didn’t buy one, but it inspired me to bake these gems.

For the brownies I needed a really rich, fudgy recipe, so I used one from The Crepes of Wrath, (which she in turn took from Weevalicious Recipes) to which I added many fun things.

Note: The Fruit & Nut chocolate bar only contains raisins and almonds. I added the cranberries and blueberries for variety. The cream cheese was added on a whim. I read a number of other recipes for brownies that involved cream cheese, all of which wanted me to make a cheesecake-like mixture. I decided to leave it plain, and I am happy with my decision.

The Recipe:

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, melted
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli cocoa powder.)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup dried blueberries
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 4 oz (1/2 regular bar) cream cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease or line a 9×13 inch pan.
  2. In a large bowl, blend melted butter, sugar and vanilla until combined. Beat in eggs one at a time until combined.
  3. Add the flour, cocoa, and salt and mix until smooth. Fold in raisins, almonds, cranberries, blueberries, and chocolate chips.
  4. Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Cut the cream cheese into small pieces and drop onto the top of the batter. (This is messy but fun.)
  5. Bake for 40 minutes, or until brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let brownies cool, then cut into squares. If you put the brownie pan on top of a wire rack, it will cool faster. (I only learned this recently, so I am telling everyone.)

I personally love these. My mother and friend were surprised by the flavor combination, but liked them, also. My boyfriend, Ian, refuses to try them, because “fruit and cheese has no business in a brownie.” Well, more for me. They freeze magnificently.