Tuesday, November 20, 2012

TWD: Best-Ever Brownies

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie featured a recipe for the best ever brownies.  It is also my FIRST time hosting for the group and I could not have been more excited to be trying a new brownie recipe!  In my opinion, this recipe had a lot to live up to.  A couple years ago, I went on a brownie baking spree where I tried to find the recipe that would become my go-to brownie recipe.  I tried every single brownie recipe from every single cooking magazine or cookbook I owned.  My results declared the fudgy, delicious, completely sinful brownies from the Baked cookbook to be the standard by which all other brownies would be judged.

Until this recipe came along.

My husband and I belong to the group of brownie-lovers who believe that the more dense, fudgy, close-to-being-raw brownies are the best.  Granted, we would never turn an opportunity to gobble down a cakey brownie...but our hearts truly lie with the super gooey variety.

These brownies did not disappoint in that department.  They were gooey to the point of being raw, but that is exactly what made them so sensationally irrisistible.  The secret lies in how the eggs are treated.  Half are incorporated immediately into the warm brownie batter while the rest are whipped until they are pale and light.  These are then folded gently into the batter immediately before transferring the brownies to the oven to bake.  My knife came out clean at 28 minutes baking and I let the brownies rest overnight before cutting into them the next afternoon.  I was a little shocked by how creamy they appeared and expressed my concerns to my husband, but he was too busy polishing off his third brownie to listen or care.  According to him, these are "the best brownies in the world."

Paul took the rest of the batch into work with him and returned home with an empty plate and no less than 10 requests for the recipe.  I'm telling you, these are good brownies.

My heart might still be with the Baked brownie, but I would make these again in a heartbeat.  I especially loved the suggestion in the cookbook about using them as a mix-in for homemade ice cream.  We will definitely be trying that next summer!

Best-Ever Brownies
from Baking with Julia

1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sift the flour and salt together and set aside.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently and keeping a watchful eye on the pot to make certain the chocolate does not scorch.  Add 1 cup of the sugar to the mixture and stir for half a minute, then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.  Pour the mixture into a large bowl.

Put the remaining 1 cup sugar and the eggs into the bowl of a mixer and whisk by hand just to combine.  LIttle by little, pour half the sugar and eggs into the chocolate mixture, stirring gently but constantly with a rubber spatula so that the eggs don't set from the heat.  Fit the whisk attachment to the mixer and whip the remaining sugar and eggs until they are pale, thick, and doubled in volume, about 3 minutes.  Using the rubber spatula, delicately fold the whipped eggs into the chocolate mixture.  When the eggs are almost completely incorporated, gently fold in the dry ingredients.

Pour and scrape the batter into an unbuttered 9-inch square glass or ceramic pan.  Bake the brownies for 25-28 minutes, during which time they will rise a little and the top will turn dark and dry.  Cut into the center at about the 23-minutews mark to see how they are progressing.  They will be perfect if they are just barely set and still gooey.  Cool the brownies in the pan on a rack.  Cut into bars and serve.

The brownies will keep, covered, for 2-3 days at room temperature and can be frozen for up to a month!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Baked Oatmeal with Caramelized Apples

Matthew made a new friend on Halloween Night.  Even though our township had decided that all trick-or-treating festivities be delayed for a couple days due to Hurricane Sandy, we still went ahead and carved our pumpkin, drank mulled cider, and watched the obligatory Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (If you have not seen this classic film, it's a hoot).

Matthew loved the pumpkin carving experience.  From pulling the slimy, seed-studded innards from the pumpkin's core to showing Paul where to put the eyes and mouth, he thoroughly enjoyed every minute.  When we revealed the fruits of our labor to him for the first time, he was in love.  He hugged the pumpkin, kissed the pumpkin, and named the pumpkin "the spooky."  I have no idea where he got the idea to name the gourd that, but "Spooky" it was.  His love of the pumpkin was sealed when we lit a tiny tea candle inside and turned off the lights, enabling the flickering candlelight to highlight Spooky's eyes and jagged mouth.

Matthew was quiet for the rest of the evening, preferring to stare in awe at the lit-up Spooky.  When the tea candle finally burnt out, a request was immediately put in for a new candle to be lit so that Spooky could continue to shine.  When bedtime finally arrived, Matthew put his arms around Spooky and tried to haul him upstairs.  We drew the line there.  No matter how much he loved it, our son was not going to sleep with a rotting pumpkin.

As soon as Matthew got up in the morning, he only wanted to see "Spooky."  He began reading to it, talking to it, even sharing his train cars with it.  The thought that Spooky would soon have to find a new home in the dumpster outside our house was weighing heavily on our hearts.  Matthew would surely be heartbroken to discover that his new-found playmate was gone.  (*This is why Matthew needs a sibling. Thank goodness we are currently five months into perfecting that project).

The day came when Spooky developed a spot of mold on the inside.  It was time to throw him away.  We guiltily did the evil deed over Matthew's nap time and then waited in dread and anguish for the moment he would awaken and find what we had done.  However, to our surprise and relief, Matthew did not even seem to notice.  I guess when it comes to our son's memory, out of sight truly is out of mind.  What a fair weather friend he turned out to be!

When we finally did get the chance to go trick-or-treating, the weather was very fair and a bit gloomy - pretty perfect for a fake Halloween night.  Matthew had a blast trouncing around the neighborhood in his monkey costume.  The most difficult part of the evening was convincing him to get out of each doorway immediately after receiving his piece of candy.  He was in a very social mood - at each house, he wanted to stay and chat.  Instead of crying out "trick or treat!" when each door opened, Matthew would, as if on cue, delve into an confounded soliloquy on Thomas the Train, coffeemakers, and Pooh Bear.  We practically had to drag him away from each doorstep.  He had no interest in the candy.  If he had his way, he would have stayed out all night long.  He was not too happy when we decided to call it quits on Trick-or-Treating because we wanted to catch the end of the Notre Dame game.

The recipe I want to share with you today is another version of baked oatmeal.  This one is very appropriate for the cool fall weather.  It's flavors are reminiscent of apple pie and the combination of both steel-cut and rolled oats make for a delightful texture.  This makes a HUGE batch of oatmeal, but we managed to finish it fairly quickly because we could not stop eating it.  The caramelized apples are simply fantastic.  I imagine caramelized pears would also be amazing!

Baked Oatmeal with Caramelized Apples
adapted ever-so-slightly from Annie's Eats

For the Apples:
3 large apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2" thick slices
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For the Oats:
1 cup steel-cut oats
4 cups boiling water
3 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking)
6 tablespoons light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup applesauce
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the steel cut oats and the boiling water.  Cover and set aside for 20 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.

In a large skillet, melt the butter.  Add the apples, brown sugar, and cinnamon and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are fork-tender and caramelized, about 15 minutes.  Remove from the heat and spread into the bottom of a 11x9" baking dish (or another 2-quart baking dish).

Once the steel-cut oats have soaked for 20 minutes, add the rolled oats, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg to the bowl and stir to combine.  In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together the syrup, milk, applesauce, and vanilla.  Pour into the oat mixture and stir to combine.  Stir in the dried cranberries.

Pour the oat mixture over the apples in the prepared baking dish.  Smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until set.  Let cool for about 10 minutes before spooning out individual portions.  Enjoy!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Quinoa Salad with Apple, Chickpeas, and Cider Vinaigrette

By the looks of all the decadent treats I tend to post on this here blog, one would think that our family eats nothing but sugar, chocolate, and butter all day long.  However, most days of the week we try to eat mainly dishes that focus on fruits, vegetables, and nuts and reserve the desserts for the weekends.  One of my favorite lunch staples is a quinoa salad. I have professed my love for quinoa before and my love for this protein-rich seed has not waned.  It is filling, nutritious, and delicious.  I like to make a batch of this salad at night shortly after putting Matthew to bed and then use it as a quick lunch for myself for the next few days.

This quinoa salad is packed with sweet apples, salty cheese, protein-rich garbanzo beans, chopped scallions, toasted nuts and a simple cider vinaigrette to tie the whole thing together.  I usually do not care for garbanzo beans unless they are pureed into hummus, but they are quite delicious in this salad.  Even Paul, the professed garbanzo bean hater, adores them in this salad and agrees that no other bean will do in their stead.

Quinoa Salad with Apple, Chickpeas, Toasted Almonds, and Apple Cider Vinaigrette
barely adapted from Cookin' Canuk

For the Salad:
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1 can (14 oz.) chickpeas (Garbanzo beans)
1 large crisp apple, cored and chopped (I like Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, or Zestar)
3 tablespoons Gorgonzola or Feta cheese
2 green onion, thinly sliced

For the vinaigrette:
1/3 cup apple cider or apple juice
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Additional Salt/Pepper to taste

For the salad:
In a fine-mesh strainer, rinse quinoa well and drain.  In a medium pot, combine quinoa and water. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn heat to low. Cook until all the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.  Remove from the heat, fluff the quinoa with a fork, and transfer to a cookie sheet, spreading the quinoa in a thin layer to cool.

In a large bowl, mix together cooled quinoa, almonds, chickpeas, apple, Gorgonzola cheese and green onions.

For the Vinaigrette:
Whisk together white apple cider, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, sugar and salt.  Pour the dressing over the quinoa salad and toss to coat. Add additional salt and pepper to taste and serve!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Chunky, Chewy, Candy Blondies

Is anything better than a massive load of leftover Halloween candy?

Blondies made with leftover Halloween candy!

It may seem counter-intuitive to "get rid" of Halloween candy by simply transforming it into a more decadent treat, but I get sick of candy VERY quickly and there was no way I was going to let Matthew eat as much candy as he wants.  After a couple sugar-highs that were quickly followed by a disasterous, cranky, emotionally scarring sugar crash, I decided it was time for the Halloween candy to go.  Paul and I sorted through it and he plucked out a couple pieces that he wanted and I pulled out all the chocolate.  All the non-chocolate candies (your typical Smarties, Twizzlers, and Jolly Ranchers) were sent to work with Paul in a big bowl to be set out and devoured by his starving office cronies.

After eating an Almond Joy or five, I chopped up the remaining fun-size candy bars and made these blondies.  I picked a recipe that made a sturdier blondie and simply tossed in the candy in place of any other fill-ins, such as chocolate chips, nuts, or dried fruit.  I was not sure how these were going to taste, considering what a mish-mash of candy went into the batter.  I tossed in Whoppers, Reese's Cups, Hershey Bars, Almond Joys, Twix Bars, Crunch Bars, Snickers, Mounds, and Musketeer Bars.  There was no discrimination when it came to what chocolate bar made it into these babies.  The blondies baked up beautifully and smelled divine, but the real test came when Paul and I sampled them...

They were good!  And not just good, but pretty darn awesome.  The best part about having such a wide variety of candy incorporated into the batter, is that each and every bite was completely different.  It kept your taste buds happy and excited.  Which can be dangerous because it meant you wanted to keep taking bites in order to experience how each piece of candy contributed to the overall flavor of the blondies.  Paul loved them especially and was a little crushed when I instructed him to share them with his co-workers.  He can get a little selfish about these things sometimes.  I sent him to work with them in a big Tupperware container and I'll bet you $200.00 that he has carefully hidden them in one of his office drawers to greedily eat all by himself.

I'll just make him run 5 miles with me this weekend.

*Bonus: Can you find the kitty lurking in the background as I was trying to take this photo? It may be detrimental to his health, but this cat loves baked goods and his chops were watering as he watched me plate these up!

Chunky, Chewy, Candy Blondies
adapted heavily from The Boston Globe

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut up
1/2 cup canola oil
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups assorted, coarsely chopped, fun-size candy bars

Set the oven at 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt to blend them.

In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Remove from the heat, stir in the oil, and scrape the mixture into a large bowl.

Stir the brown and granulated sugar into the butter mixture. Blend in the eggs and vanilla. Add the flour mixture. With a spatula, fold in the chopped candy bars.

Transfer the batter to the baking pan, spreading it evenly.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is browned and set.  Let cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into neat little squares.  The blondies will keep in an airtight container for about 3 days, but can be frozen for even longer!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

TWD: Buttermilk Crumb Muffins

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie featured a simply delightful morning pastry from Marion Cunningham.  These buttermilk crumb muffins were a cinch to put together and, although unassuming and unpretentious in appearance, were undeniably delicious.  Sometimes the simplest ingredients, once stirred together in a certain fashion and combined with other, equally humble pantry staples, can produce a truly memorable treat.

After attending Mass early Sunday morning, my husband and I whipped these together in a jiffy.  We decided to add blueberries to half the batter and made 12 regular size muffins and 2 jumbo muffins.  Instead of shortening (I never have that stuff in the house), I chose to use butter.  The most tedious part about the whole recipe was rubbing the butter into the batter.  Since my butter had been chilled, it took quite a while for the warmth from my fingers to soften the butter enough to properly rub it into the flour/sugar mixture.  And by "quite a while," I mean about 5 minutes.  But, it seemed like forever.  I am usually impatiently hungry on Sunday mornings.

Little man ate two of these the second they emerged from the oven.  In total silence, he ate them with a fork (one of his quirks...heaven forbid his little hands should get dirty!) straight out of the wrapper.  With his cheeks still stuffed full with the remnants of his muffin, he held his plate up and, with a muffled voice, asked: "More...cake?"

I loved these muffins.  I cannot decide whether I prefer the plain muffins or the blueberry version.  They were both delightful. Paul's teeth were blue by the end of breakfast, so I don't think there is any doubt as to which version he liked best!

This was a great recipe and one we will definitely be making again. Next time, I might just dump the whole batter into a cake pan and make it coffee cake style.  Maybe this weekend...

If you would like to give these muffins a try (and I really think you should!), head on over to Alisa's Blog.  She was our host for this week!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Buttery Cornmeal Crescent Rolls

Recently, Paul has been leaving super early in the morning to head into the office to get some extra work done before the daily distractions of scheduled presentations, conference calls, and general office banter begin. Concurrently, Mr. Matthew has been a rather light sleeper.  So, when Paul leaves the house at 5:00 AM, Matthew inevitably lets himself into my bedroom to shove his cheerful, fully awake little face into mine: "Hi Mommy! Cereal? Breakfast?"


I have tried to dissuade him from eating such an early breakfast by inviting him to climb into bed next to me and go back to sleep.  This usually ends with me dozing off briefly, only to suddenly awaken to the unpleasant realization that in lieu of sleeping Matthew has been fixated on trying to pull out my eyelashes. That forces me up and out of bed for sure. He's a smart boy.

Matthew is not the only one who is highly active in the mornings.  This little guy is normally dashing from one room to the next, chasing an imaginary mouse or rabbit.  This picture was taken during a rare moment of relaxation (he likes to perch on the kitchen chairs with Matthew).

There are constant noises of impact as Reilly slides into the baseboards, the cabinets, or slips on the wooden floor, falling flat on his whiskers.  But most annoying of all, as I am passing from one room to the next, he is inevitably ensconced to the side of the doorway, crouching, ready to pounce as soon as I walk through.  I have been tripped/frightened/insanely irritated by this little habit of his no less than 500 times. Normally, I can get him to calm down by pinning him down for a good brushing or just some good, old fashioned TLC.

Matthew loves to play with Reilly, but this usually involves tossing the kitty in his toy chest, shoving him inside the drawer under his bed, locking him up in the closet, or, as seen in the photos below, barricading him inside one of the kitchen cabinets.  At least they had fun. And hey, the crazy cat was jailed for a couple minutes so I was guaranteed not to be startled by one of his "attacks."

Mornings like this make me wish I could allow myself to guzzle more than the measly one cup of coffee recommended by my Obstetrician.

One nice thing about getting up a little earlier is that I am forced to accomplish more chores and general household tasks before lunch.  This leaves the whole afternoon to bake! And I like nothing better than baking some type of carbohydrate to serve with dinner.  Since soup has been on the menu so much lately, rolls seemed very appropriate.  When I saw this recipe for Cornmeal Crescent Rolls on Mels Kitchen Cafe, I immediately bookmarked it as a "must make soon" item.  I love corn-flavored anything. Combine that with a buttery dinner roll and it sounds like a recipe for a carb-lovers nirvana.

These rolls did not disappoint.  The most annoying part was waiting for the cornmeal/milk mixture to cool down to a temperature appropriate enough for the yeast.  Besides that, these rolls come together quickly.  They were marvelous popping hot fresh out of the oven as well as the next day.  Paul loved them so much, that he has been using them to make turkey sandwiches for his work lunches.

The only thing that I might do differently next time is add a tad bit more salt to the recipe.  I felt the dough could have used just a bit more.

These would make a beautiful addition to the Thanksgiving table!

Buttery Cornmeal Crescent Rolls
adapted very slightly from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

2 cups milk
2/3 cup yellow corn meal
1 ½ tablespoons instant yeast
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
5 ½ – 6 cups flour

Heat the milk to just below a boil so bubbles are just appearing around the edges. Gradually pour the cornmeal in a steady stream into the milk, while whisking constantly.  Cook and stir until thickened, lowering the temperature if needed so the mixture does not boil. Pour the cornmeal/milk mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl and let cool until lukewarm.

Add the yeast, butter and sugar and mix until combined. Add the salt and eggs and continue to mix well. Add the flour gradually until a soft dough forms. Knead for 5-8 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl covered with lightly greased plastic wrap and let rise until doubled.

Divide the dough into three portions and roll each into about an 8-10 inch circle. Brush the top lightly with butter. Cut into 8 wedges and roll each wedge up starting from the wide end so it forms a crescent roll shape. Place each roll onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing about 1-2 inches apart to allow for rising. Cover lightly with greased plastic wrap. Let the rolls rise until doubled.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

When the rolls have doubled, bake for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Be careful not to over-bake   Brush with butter while still warm, if desired!