Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Best Fudgy Brownies

I've tried dozens of brownie recipes. The perfect brownie is fudgy and moist, but not underdone, heavy on the chocolate but not overly sweet. This recipe brings it: a perfect balance of flavors, studded with nuts and a crackly top. While it's perfect without icing, I added a thin layer of frosting just to gild the lily.

This recipe calls for heating the sugar and butter together. This step dissolves more sugar and yields a shiny top crust on your brownies. I like to include a sprinkle of walnuts, pecans or peanuts in the batter. If you don't like nuts, just omit.

While brownies are a casual dessert, well executed they can be just as satisfying as an upscale treat. They're a perfect ending to a tailgate or pizza party, a fun lunchbox treat or dinner party dessert dressed with a scoop of ice cream.

Add sugar to melted butter, reheat just until hot
(110-120 degrees). The mixture will become shiny as you stir. 

Add cocoa, salt, baking powder and vanilla.

Mix in eggs, flour and nuts, stirring until smooth.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 29-32 minutes.

The perfect brownie top: shiny and crackly. Let cool completely before frosting.

Make the icing. Super smooth and creamy!

Spread frosting over cooled brownies.

I need a big glass of milk!

Fudgy Brownies
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes a dozen 3-inch brownies

3/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup Dutch process cocoa
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

1/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch pan. In a microwave safe bowl, melt butter. Add sugar, stir to combine and reheat just until hot - 110-120 degrees. Stir in cocoa, salt, baking powder and vanilla. Add eggs stirring until smooth then stir in flour and nuts. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 29 to 32 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting.

For frosting, melt butter in a microwave safe bowl. Whisk in cocoa. Mix in powdered sugar and milk alternately. Stir in vanilla. Spread over cooled brownies.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Fruit Crisp

Fruit crisp is one of our go-to desserts. We almost always have fruit on hand: seasonal fresh fruit or freezer berries, peaches and cherries from our fruit trees and shrubs. It's a fast dessert that is always satisfying (and never fails to remind me of my grandmothers).

The topping for this crisp bakes up crunchy - a nice foil to the fruit filling. With the addition of whole grain flour, it's a dessert I feel good about eating (even occasionally for breakfast). If you like lots of topping, load up your crisp. I usually use a portion on the recipe and place the rest in the freezer. With both fruit and crumb topping stashed in the freezer I can assemble dessert in just a few minutes.

I serve this crisp warm from the oven topped with whipped cream, ice cream or yogurt. Feel free to alter the sugar in the filling based on your tastes and the sweetness of the fruit. Also, if berries are juicy, you might want to add additional flour to thicken the filling.

This recipe works with a variety of fruit. I used our
freezer blackberries. A taste of summer in the winter!

Combine flours, sugar and salt.

Mix in melted butter until crumbly.

Add nuts of your choice (or omit). I like pecans
but also use almonds, walnuts and hicans.

Mix thoroughly.

Sprinkle lemon zest and juice over fruit.

Gently toss with sugar, flour and salt.

Place fruit in a 9 inch pie plate. Cover with topping.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until
fruit is bubbling. Let cool slightly before serving.

Serve with ice cream (optional). Warm, fruity and crunchy!

Fruit Crisp
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Serves 10

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
10 Tbsp butter, melted
1 cup nuts, chopped

4 generous cups berries or chopped apples or peaches
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

Grease a 9-inch pie plate. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare topping by combining all topping ingredients. Set aside.

Prepare filling: Toss fruit with zest and juice. Add 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup all purpose flour, and 1/4 tsp salt. Toss to combine. Pour into prepared pie plate. Sprinkle topping over fruit. Bake crisp for 45-50 minutes until filling bubbles. Cool slightly. Serve with ice cream, whipped cream, or yogurt.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Curly Fries

When my nephew bought us a spiralizer for Christmas, I admit my first thought wasn't: Ooh! Healthy zucchini noodles! But rather: Yay! Curly fries!  We've spiralized several kinds of veg. Some have even been eaten without deep frying.

In case you're unfamiliar, a spiralizer simultaneously turns and slices vegetables resulting in long curly ribbons. If you've had curly fries with your burger, you know that extra surface area makes for delicious crispy, twirly potatoes.

For the best tasting spuds, I use the double fry method. The first fry, at a lower temperature, ensures the interior of the potato cooks up fluffy. The second fry, at a higher temp, crisps up the outside. This method can be used on curly, shoestring, steak or any kind of french fry.

For traditionalists, finish fries with a sprinkle of kosher salt and pepper and serve with ketchup. Spicy fans can add garlic powder and cayenne and serve with mayo. Hedonists can top with cheddar cheese, bacon and sour cream.

Use a spiralizer to cut fries into long curly ribbons.

Soak cut potatoes in water to remove starch. Be sure to dry before adding to hot grease.

First fry: carefully add potatoes to oil heated to
325 degrees. Fry for 4-5 minutes. Do not brown.

Remove from grease and drain on a paper towel.
Allow to cool while frying remaining potatoes.

Increase oil to 375 degrees. Return cooled potatoes
to oil, frying until golden brown, 3-4 minutes.

Remove from oil, drain and season. Serve hot.

Great accompaniment to burgers!

Curly Fries

8 cups peanut oil
One potato per person
Salt, pepper or desired seasonings

Wash potatoes. Do not peel. Using a spiralizer, cut fries into ribbons. Place in a bowl with water. Allow to site at room temperature for 15-20 minutes to remove starch.

Meanwhile, place oil in a large pot so oil is about 2 inches deep. Using a candy thermometer, heat oil to 325 degrees. Remove potatoes from water. Drain and pat dry as possible. Carefully lower a few potatoes at a time into the oil. Cook for 4-5 minutes stirring occasionally to separate. Do not brown. Remove from oil and drain on a paper towel. Repeat with remaining potatoes. Cool.

Increase oil temperature to 375 degrees. Add cooled potatoes to hot oil, cooking for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown. Drain and season. Repeat until all potatoes are cooked. Serve hot.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Pizza Egg Rolls

I'm a big fan of cocktail party foods - little noshes that can be enjoyed at all kinds of gatherings from tailgates to fancy parties. No silverware required. I really like homemade egg rolls and one technique paired with different fillings can provide lots of flavor combinations.

I usually purchase egg roll wraps (available in your grocer's refrigerator or freezer section) but you can substitute homemade pasta sheets cut into squares. Deep frying produces the crispiest skin, but the rolls can also be baked.

I filled these rolls with pepperoni, salami, home canned pickled banana peppers and mozzarella cheese and a side of pizza sauce for dipping. Other tasty fillings could include:

  • Any combo of your favorite pizza toppings
  • Taco meat, cheddar, jalapenos with a side of salsa or sour cream
  • Corned beef, sauerkraut and swiss cheese served with Thousand Island dressing
  • Pulled pork or chicken with cheddar cheese and chopped dill pickles served with BBQ sauce 
Prepare filling. In addition to salami and mozzarella,
I added pepperoni and pickled banana peppers.

Combine flour and water. Mix to a smooth paste. Set aside.

Make rolls: Place wrap with corner pointing towards you.

Place fillings in the center.

Fold bottom corner over filling.

Fold side corners over filling.

Roll wrap up so folded corners are inside.

Using your fingertip, place some of the flour mixture on the
tip of the final corner. Fold corner over wrap to seal.

Roll remaining wraps.

Carefully lower rolls into oil heated to 350 degrees. Cook until
golden brown, turning once. Rolls can also be baked.

Crispy outside, cheesy and savory on the
inside. Serve with pizza sauce for dipping.

Pizza Egg Rolls
makes 10 rolls

10 egg roll wraps
30 pieces pepperoni
10 slices salami, cut in matchsticks
3/4 cup pickled banana pepper rings
1/3 lb mozzarella cheese, cut in matchsticks
Pizza sauce for dipping

To seal rolls:
1 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp water

Peanut oil for frying

Combine flour and water in a small bowl. Mix until smooth. Set aside. Place three inches of peanut oil in a deep pan on top of the stove. Heat. Use a candy thermometer to determine when oil reaches 350 degrees*. While oil heats make egg rolls.

Place three pieces pepperoni in the center of a roll. Top with 3-4 salami pieces (matchsticks), 3 pieces of cheese and a few pepper rings. Roll up and seal with flour mixture. Set aside until all rolls are made.

Carefully place egg rolls in hot oil. Cook for three minutes, turning once until golden brown. Drain in paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. Let cool slightly. Serve warm with pizza sauce for dipping.

*To bake rolls, omit oil and place rolls on a baking sheet. Spray rolls lightly with cooking spray. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 12 minutes.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Baked Oatmeal

Don't let the name of the dish put you off. It's not boring, or even the same as stovetop or microwaved oatmeal. In fact, baked oatmeal is a breakfast game changer. Seriously. It's that good.

I often eat oatmeal for breakfast - instant oats cooked microwave or granola. Often referred to as a "superfood", the whole grains are satisfying and hold me until lunch. However the texture can sometimes turn out too gooey and just plain unappealing.

This baked recipe keeps the grains separate and toothy. The addition of eggs and baking powder adds protein and a bit of lift that provides a unique texture somewhere between a loose cake and a moist granola. Best of all, I can whip it up on weekends and refrigerate for a fast, satisfying weekday breakfast.

You can alter the recipe to your tastes: adding more/less sugar, omitting the spice or adding others seasonings like nutmeg, citrus peel or vanilla. You could also make a savory dish by omitting the sugar and adding grated cheese and chives to the mix. Since my husband and I both enjoy this dish, I keep it pretty simple so we can customize with our own toppings, including fresh & dried fruits, our homemade fruit sauce, nuts, or even a fried egg.

Combine oil, eggs, sugar and cinnamon.

Mix in oats,  milk, baking powder and salt. Pour mixture
into a 9"x9" and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven. Golden and toasty. All the grains are separated.

Good enough to eat plain but I like it with a
splash of cream and a few pecans. 

Baked Oatmeal
Adapted from Around the Table
Serves 6-9

½ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup milk
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine oil, eggs and brown sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl. Mix well. Mix in oats, milk, baking powder and salt.

Coat a 9×9 pan with cooking spray. Pour out mixture in pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve immediately, pouring milk or cream on top of each serving. Add fresh or dried fruit and nuts if desired.

Refrigerate leftovers. Reheat briefly in microwave before serving.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

No Knead Crusty Bread

Before I found this recipe most of my fresh bread making was limited to weekends. Between the kneading, rising and baking the time investment usually meant breadless weeknight meals. This recipe changed all that. Why do I love it so?

It comes together fast: I just mix up the ingredients in my stand mixture and transfer to a rising tub. No kneading required.

You can leave it in the fridge until you're ready to use it: The dough can sit...wait for it... seven days in the fridge. It will rise and fall. Don't worry! Just enjoy the 3-4 loaves of fresh bread each week.

It tastes good: I've made this bread a lot and it always turns out well - crackly crust, nice crumb and depending on how long it's been in the fridge, a sour tang. I sometimes swap out some of the all-purpose for whole wheat flour for a nutty flavor.

I can make different sized loaves: Since it's just the two of us, I like a smaller loaf that we'll eat in a day, rather than a larger loaf that can go stale. I mean, I'll just bake another loaf the next day. That's right fresh bread every day!!

When you're ready to bake bread, just pull a hunk of dough from the bowl, shape into a loaf, let rise for an hour and bake. Easy peasy.

Mix the ingredients. The dough will be wetter than traditional bread dough.

Place dough (without kneading) into a bowl to rise. I use a plastic bucket with a lid.

I was in a hurry, so this dough was refrigerated for
 only two hours. As you can see it nearly doubled in bulk.

The risen dough will be a bit drier, but still sticky. Remove
1/4 to 1/3 from the bowl and form into a loaf. Return
the rest of the dough to the fridge for later use.

I make round loaves. Place the formed dough onto parchment.
This enables you easily slide it onto the hot bread stone. 
If you don't use a stone, place formed dough onto a sheet pan. 

Let the dough rise for one hour. Make two 1/2 inch cuts before baking.

While bread is rising, preheat oven and stone. I use a pizza steel, similar to a stone.
Heat an oven-safe pan along with the stone. When you're ready to bake, add a cup
 of water to the pan. The resulting steam will create a crispy, crackly crust.

Bake until deep brown, 25-35 minutes.

Look at that crust!! 

Nice crumb. Great for paninis, garlic bread, toast and sopping up soup and sauces.

Or just add butter!

No Knead Crusty Bread
From King Arthur Flour
3 cups lukewarm water
7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (32 oz by weight)
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons instant or active dry yeast

Note: The flour/liquid ratio is important in this recipe. Measure flour by sprinkling it into your measuring cup, then gently sweeping off the excess. Most accurate of all, and guaranteed to give you the best results, measure flour by weight: use 32 ounces.

Combine all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix and stir everything together to make a very sticky, rough dough. If you have a stand mixer, beat at medium speed with the beater blade for 30 to 60 seconds. If you don't have a mixer, just stir-stir-stir with a big spoon or dough whisk till everything is combined.

Transfer dough rise to a large greased bowl. Cover and let rise at room temperature for 2 hours. Then refrigerate it for at least 2 hours, or for up to about 7 days. (If you're pressed for time, skip the room-temperature rise, and stick it right into the fridge). The longer you keep it in the fridge, the tangier it'll get; if you chill it for 7 days, it will taste like sourdough. Over the course of the first day or so, it'll rise, then fall. That's OK; that's what it's supposed to do.

When you're ready to make bread, sprinkle the top of the dough with flour; this will make it easier to grab a hunk. Grease your hands, and pull off about 1/4 to 1/3 of the dough — a 14-ounce to 19-ounce piece, if you have a scale. It'll be about the size of a softball, or a large grapefruit.

Plop the sticky dough onto a floured work surface, and round it into a ball, or a longer log. Don't fuss around trying to make it perfect; just do the best you can. Place the loaf on a piece of parchment (if you're going to use a baking stone); or onto a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Sift a light coating of flour over the top; this will help keep the bread moist as it rests before baking.

Let the loaf warm to room temperature and rise; this should take about 60 minutes (or longer, up to a couple of hours, if your house is cool). It won't appear to rise upwards that much; rather, it'll seem to settle and expand. Preheat your oven (and baking stone, if you're using one) to 450°F while the loaf rests. Place a shallow metal or cast iron pan (not glass, Pyrex, or ceramic) on the lowest oven rack, and have 1 cup of hot water ready to go.

When you're ready to bake, take a sharp knife and slash the bread 2 or 3 times, making a cut about 1/2" deep. The bread may deflate a bit; that's OK, it'll pick right up in the hot oven. Place the bread in the oven, and carefully pour the 1 cup hot water into the shallow pan on the rack beneath. It'll bubble and steam; close the oven door quickly. Bake the bread for 25 to 35 minutes, until it's a deep, golden brown. Cool and slice.