Monday, October 17, 2011

Dark Chocolate Brownies

While this blog was never intended to be a baking blog, it seems my posts have reflected my sweet tooth. I promise to get back to posting about comfort foods soon enough, but when I made these brownies for a recent football tailgate, I knew I had to share these first. Even though the football game was a disaster, these brownies made up for the loss.

Brownies were one of the first things I can remember baking as a young kid – not from scratch, but from a box mix. I thought I was a baking genius for adding cinnamon to spice them up. They became my “go to” dessert for every occasion. While I admit that I would never turn down a brownie, box mix included, thankfully my baking repertoire and skills have increased since those early days.*

These brownies are without a doubt the best brownies I have ever devoured tasted. The dense, fudgy texture melts into your mouth and explodes with decadent dark chocolate goodness. The deliciousness of these brownies is directly related to the quality of the chocolate, so use the best quality you can find, and try not to eat all of the chocolate before you put it in the mix. I use Ghirardelli 70% dark chocolate and Bensdorp Dutch-process cocoa powder from King Arthur Flour.

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder

11 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

8 ounces unsalted butter cut into 1-inch pieces, plus more to butter the pan

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

½ cup packed light brown sugar

5 eggs, at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1)     Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heavily butter the bottom and sides of a 9x13 glass baking pan.

2)     Wisk flour, salt, and cocoa powder together in a medium bowl.

3)    Put the chocolate, butter, and espresso powder in a large bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (I use the bowl to my stand mixer), and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth.

4)    Once melted, turn off the heat and add the sugars, keeping the bowl over the simmering water. Whisk until completely combined, and then remove the bowl from the heat.

5)    Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining eggs and vanilla and whisk until combined. Do not overbeat batter at this stage or your brownies will have a cake-like texture.

6)    Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate batter. Using a rubber spatula (not your whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of flour is visible.

7)    Pour batter into buttered pan and smooth the top. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs.

8)     Let the brownies cool completely before cutting with a plastic knife.

Recipe from Brown Eyed Baker.

*I still like to add cinnamon to my brownies, about 1/8 teaspoon in this recipe. Like Elle Woods’ scented pink resume, “it gives it a little something extra, don’t you think?”

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Spicy Baked Penne

An autumn wreath candle flickers on my kitchen counter, harvest colored mums grace my front porch, and there is no shortage of pumpkin d├ęcor throughout my house. While I love the red and green frenzy of Christmas, fall really is the most wonderful time of the year. The excitement begins with the first sip of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte, builds with the culinary possibilities of college football tailgates, and culminates with every foodie’s favorite holiday – Thanksgiving.

When cozy sweaters become my uniform, comfort food becomes a staple on my table. Spicy baked penne is the ultimate comfort food, a delicious blend of nutty whole wheat pasta, creamy cheeses, flavorful tomatoes, and a kick of spicy Italian sausage. This recipe is beautifully adaptable to whatever you have on hand, and can be made with crushed or diced tomatoes, mozzarella or cottage cheese, sausage or ground beef. It's the perfect meal to enjoy as the weather begins to cool.

1 package uncooked whole wheat penne
1 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 14.5 oz cans crushed tomatoes
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup grated parmesan cheese

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside.
3) Cook sausage, onion, green pepper and garlic until sausage is browned, drain and return to pan.
4) Add tomato paste, salt, black pepper and crushed tomatoes to the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5) Combine cooked pasta, sausage mixture, and basil.
6) Place half the pasta mixture in a 9x13 casserole dish coated in cooking spray. Top with half of the cheeses. Repeat layers.
7) Bake for 25 minutes or until bubbly.

Recipe adapted from Cooking Light, December 2007.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Key Lime White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Beach bum – my husband’s ideal career choice. Like a wide-eyed toddler on Christmas morning, Andy bubbles over with excitement as soon as his toes touch a sandy beach. The aqua blue waters of the Caribbean tempt him, begging him to ride its waves and play in its surf. The warm sun reflects off the twinkle in his eyes. He is happy, content, relaxed, and a little mischievous.

These cookies, the last in the series of his favorite desserts, are the essence of Andy’s favorite place. Key lime juice and lime zest provide a bright tartness that is offset by creamy white chocolate chips. Like the perfect beach vacation, these cookies are refreshing, vibrant, and leave you wanting more.

½ cup butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ cup key lime juice
1 ½ tsp grated lime zest
1 cup white chocolate chips

1)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2)  In a large bowl, cream butter, sugar, egg and egg yolk until smooth.
3)  Mix in lime juice and zest.
4)  Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Blend into creamed mixture.
5)  Stir in white chocolate chips.
6)  Form dough into ½ inch balls and arrange on cookie sheets.
7)  Bake 12-15 minutes or until edges start to lightly brown.
8)  Cool on cookie sheets for five minutes and remove with a metal spatula.
9)  Continue cooling cookies on wire racks.

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

Recipe from Good Things Catered.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Perfect Peach Pie

Any series of posts on Andy’s favorite desserts would not be complete without his very favorite – peach pie. I first made this slice of heaven on a plate for a 4th of July cookout the first summer we were married. My rookie attempt at making pie hit a home run. The crust was deliciously golden and flaky, providing the perfect balance to the sweet, warm, vanilla scented peach filling.

Upon his first bite, Andy declared this pie his very favorite meal of all time and his meal of choice should he ever find himself on death row. My husband is known for being rather dramatic, but I have to say he was probably right about this one.

Basic Pie Dough

12.5 oz (2 ½ cups) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

2 Tbsp sugar

½ cup shortening, chilled

12 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

6-8 Tbsp ice water

1)   Process the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor until combined.

2)   Add the shortening and process until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds.

3)    Scatter the butter into the flour and process in about ten 1 second pulses until butter bits are no bigger than small peas.

4)    Turn the mixture into a medium bowl.

5)    Sprinkle 6 Tbsp of ice water over the mixture.

6)    Use a folding motion to mix the dough, adding 2 additional Tbsp ice water if the dough will not come together.

7)    Divide dough into two balls and flatten into 4 inch disks.

8)    Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to two days.

Peach Pie

1 recipe basic pie dough

4-5 large peaches

2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar

Lemon juice

1 Tbsp vanilla extract

1 tsp cornstarch

1 egg white

Granulated sugar for sprinkling

1)     Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2)     Roll one disk of pie dough out and line bottom of 9 inch pie dish. Place in refrigerator.

3)     Peel and slice peaches into thin slices, placing slices in a large bowl. Sprinkle with lemon juice as needed to prevent browning.

4)     Add brown sugar, vanilla and cornstarch to sliced peaches and stir to combine.

5)     Remove pie plate from fridge and brush bottom with egg white.

6)     Transfer peach mixture to pie plate, smoothing peaches down to even out the top.

7)     Roll out second disk of pie dough, cutting out lengths of dough for lattice topping. See tutorial here.

8)     Brush top of lattice with remaining egg whites and sprinkle with granulated sugar.

9)     Put pie plate on rack in the middle of the oven with a baking sheet on a lower rack to catch any drips.

10)  Bake for 15 minutes, then tent top with foil and reduce heat to 375 minutes.

11)  Continue baking until golden and juices are bubbling, about 50-60 minutes.

12)  Remove from oven and let pie cool completely on wire rack before serving.

Recipe from Good Things Catered, a blog that I greatly miss reading.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Starting a food blog is a slow process when you’re such a perfectionist. I have cookbooks that spill from my kitchen into my living room, my carefully organized three-ring binder is starting to explode from the volume of dog-eared magazine pages, and I have so many starred recipes in my Google Reader that the Milky Way is jealous. How could I decide which recipe to post first?

So, I’m not going to decide. The first few posts on my new blog will be Andy’s 5 star, don’t you dare share these extras with coworkers, cannot shovel into his mouth fast enough, favorite desserts. Starting with a classic – chocolate chip cookies. Not just any old boring, Phoebe Buffay “Nesele Toulouse” cookies*, but that perfectly crisp outside, velvety soft inside that tingles your tongue down deep to your soul, chocolate chip cookies. The perfect balance of cookie and chocolate that begs to be savored with a frosty glass of milk. Or small large bowl of vanilla bean ice cream.

Makes about 18 large cookies or 36 small cookies.
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (10 5/8 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup (7 oz) dark brown sugar
½ cup (3 ½ oz) granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1)      Heat oven to 325 degrees.
2)      Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.
3)      In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix butter and sugars until thoroughly blended.
4)      Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined.
5)      Add the dry ingredients and beat at a low speed until just combined.
6)      Stir in the chocolate chips.
7)      Roll ¼ cup (2.15 oz) of dough (use half for smaller cookies) into a ball and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
8)      Bake until cookies are golden brown, outside edges have started to set, but the centers are still soft, about 15-18 minutes.
9)      Cool cookies on the baking sheet and remove from sheet with a metal spatula.
From the lovely Brown Eyed Baker.
*If you haven’t seen this Friends episode, you really should!

The Wearer of the Little Pink Apron

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.* My grand entrance into this world occurred much the same way as every milestone in my life – with great dramatic flair. Three weeks early, my mother’s water broke as she worked in one city, my dad worked in another city, and the hospital stood waiting in yet another city. Don’t worry, they all made it in time. My tiny, premature body fit perfectly into a Christmas stocking and the palm of my father’s hand. I haven’t grown much since then.

Elementary school picture days tell the story of my stature. Obediently lining up by height, waiting to traipse through the subway tiled hallways, all of the vertically blessed children got to laugh and play in the back of the line, far from the teacher’s disapproving stare. I began these years comfortably in the middle, sandwiched between two girlfriends, carefully arranging the bright neon hair bow of the girl in front, while the friend behind me did the same for my side-ponytail. As the years progressed, my friends passed me by, all hitting the growth spurts that caused tight-rolled jeans to become cut-off jorts, while my growth spurt just spurted out. Until one year I ended up in the dead first position and sealed my fate as a “front row forever” girl.

By the time college came around, years of being cast as the youngster in community and high school theatre productions, having jocks arms’ resting on the top of my head in lunch lines, and climbing on grocery store shelving to reach that last bottle of Coke, had made me accustomed to my 4’10 frame. During this time, I met my future husband – a 6’3 tall, dark and handsome practical jokester named Andy. We were quite the odd couple, so very different on the outside, but very much made for each other.

Andy loves to eat. LOVES. His endless appetite has become legendary, from ordering substantially all of the Wendy’s value menu as his “Andy meal,” to becoming the human garbage disposal as plates were passed down to him on family vacations, to inspiring my maid of honor’s reception toast by the way he devoured shrimp during a cookout. This bottomless pit has now become my husband, and the responsibility to keep his belly happily full of food has fallen on my petite shoulders. I hope my little pink apron is ready for the ride!

*Sound of Music – one of my favorite musicals.