Archive for May, 2009

Peanut Butter Cup Brownies

May 13, 2009

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Sometimes old recipes just pop into my head.  I’ve been cooking and baking a long time and many of the recipes I used in the beginning of my journey have fallen by the wayside.  Things that once seemed complicated that are now too easy, or things that just didn’t turn out at all.

I would guess the first time I made these brownies was about 12 years ago.  My friends tease me that I have an amazing memory for dates and I have to say that it’s true.  I just remember what was going on in my life and can attach the year and time of year to it.  In this case, I was married to my first husband (we split in 1999) and we were heading off for a camping trip with some friends.  If  I was camping in the Seattle area, then it must have been July or August and I assume that it was 1997 because in the summer of 1996 we had just gotten married, and in the summer of 1998, things were already in a serious downward spiral.  So there you go, 12 years ago.  See how my brain works?

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Anyway, I think the brownies stuck out in my mind because a) they were really special (who doesn’t love biting into a brownie and finding a Reese’s peanut butter cup in there?) and b) things were already not feeling right in my marriage.  I went with it for a while and then decided not to and we split.  If I make it sound like it all was neat and tidy, please know that it was not.  It was messy and heartbreaking but it is the 4th best thing that I have done in my adult life – the first being marrying Randy, the second being having my first son, and the third being having my second son.  Got that?

Since that time 12 years ago, I have made these brownies several times, but not recently.  This was one of those recipes that just fell by the wayside as I got seduced by other bars involving chocolate.  But I thought of them the other day when I got word that a good friend of mine had a baby girl.

When both my boys were in their first few months of infancy, I absolutely had to have chocolate.  Given my professed love for chocolate, this may not seem strange, but it wasn’t something I wanted.  It was something I needed.  Brownies were the perfect thing for me because they packed a lot of chocolate into each bite and they could be held in my hand – something a nursing mother can appreciate.  I decided to make these for my friend because she shares the need for chocolate when caring for a newborn.  She also has two other little ones who I think will appreciate the Reese’s peanut butter cups.

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One Year Ago:  Beet Salad with Greens, Green Beans, and Lemon Honey Vinaigrette

Fudgy Peanut Butter Cup Brownies
Adapted from the Godiva web site (long ago)
Makes 16-24 brownies

I was unable to find mini-Reese’s this time, so I just cut 4 full size ones into quarters.  I cut my brownies larger and got 16 but you could cut them very small and get 24.

12 tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
12 oz. semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
24 miniature chocolate covered peanut butter cups (such as Reese’s)

1.  Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.  Line a 13-by-9 inch baking pan with aluminum foil so that the foil extends 2 inches beyond the long sides of the pan.

2.  Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler, or in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water (be sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water.)  Cool until tepid.

3.  In a medium bowl, using a wire whisk, beat the eggs until foamy.  (DT:  I used my mixer with the whisk attachment for this part.)  Add the sugar and beat until blended.  Add the cooled chocolate mixture and mix until smooth.  Stir in the vanilla.  Stir in the flour and salt until well combined.

4.  Scrape half the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.  Arrange the peanut butter cups evenly over the batter, in four rows of six cups each.  Press down lightly on cups.  Pour the remaining batter into the pan and carefully spread level over the peanut butter cups.  Bake the brownies for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in to the center comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it.

5.  Cool the brownies completely in the pan set on a wire rack.  Using the two ends of the foil as handles, lift the brownies out of the pan.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least four hour or overnight.



Thoughts on Quinoa

May 12, 2009

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We all know about quinoa, right?  The amazing grain that’s not really a grain but a seed.  It’s ancient, originated in Peru, and is a complete protein.  It shows up on all kinds of lists as a “super food”.  And there you have it.  The extent of my knowledge about quinoa except for one last thing.  It’s delicious.

Not in dip-your-spoon-in-and-take-a-big-mouthful way like, say, chocolate sauce.  (Not that I would know anything about that.)  All by it’s lonesome, it’s kind of plain.  But it absorbs flavors like a pro and is equally at home in lots of different kinds of cuisines.  It also has a delightful texture – soft with just the slightest crunch.

This salad is pretty healthy but even if you are not the healthy food loving type, it’s a good one to have in your arsenal.  I love having go-to salads like this for things like potlucks and barbecues.  It’s vegan and wheat free so just about anyone can eat it.  It doesn’t have to be refrigerated and it can be made in advance.  The flavors are crowd pleasers – lots of cumin, garlic, and smoked paprika – not to mention grilled zucchini and my beloved chickpeas.  If you wanted to add dairy, I think feta cheese or a soft goat cheese would be delicious.  Or even crumbles of ricotta salata for something a little different.

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One Year Ago:  Spring Challenges

Quinoa with Grilled Zucchini, Chickpeas, and Cumin
Serves 6-8

I cut this out of a magazine but I don’t recognize the font.  Since I get Bon Appetit, Gourmet, and Food and Wine, I can assure it’s from one of those.  Quinoa generally needs to be rinsed before using so it is not bitter.  If you buy Bob’s Red Mill brand, it does not need to rinsed.

1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
5 tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. tumeric, divided
1 tsp. smoked paprika, divided
2 cups water
1 cup quinoa, rinsed well (if necessary), drained
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, trimmed, quartered lengthwise
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Combine chickpeas and lemon juice in a large bowl.  Add 3 tbsp. oil; pressin garlic and stir to combine.  Let marinate at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Heat 1 tbsp. oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add cumin seeds, 1/2 tsp. tumeric, and 1/2 tsp paprika; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add 2 cups water, quinoa, and coarse salt; bring to simmer, sirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to medium-low.  Cover and simmer until all water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare barbecue (medium-high heat).  Place zucchini on rimmed baking sheet.  Drizzle with 1 tbsp. oil.  Sprinkle with ground cumin, 1/2 tsp. tumeric, and 1/2 tsp. paprika.  Toss to coat evenly.

Place zucchini on grill; sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.  Grill until tender and browned on all sides, 10-12 minutes.  Transfer to work surface.  Cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces.  Add zucchini, green onions, and parsley, then chickpea mixture to quinoa.  Toss to blend.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  (Can be made up to 1 day ahead.  Cover and refrigerate.  Bring to room temperature before serving.)



Another Sandwich

May 11, 2009

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Since I had some questions about the carrot sandwich from Saturday’s feast on Bainbridge Island, I figured I would share that recipe before I treat you to the quinoa salad (and yes, quinoa can be a treat).

I found this recipe in the neglected and rarely used sandwich section of my cooking notebooks.  In case you are new here, my cooking notebooks house all the magazine recipes that I have cut and pasted since the early 90′s.  If there was a fire in our house, I would save my family first, then my guitar, then my notebooks.  Any cookbook can be replaced but my four notebooks can not.  The sandwich sections of my notebook houses only about 15 recipes, many of which I have never tried.

In general, I have a problem with sandwiches.  We eat lunch out a lot and I find that, when there is a vegetarian sandwich available on a menu, it is something so blah and boring that I only order it if there is absolutely nothing else for me to eat.  Or, on the other end of the spectrum, it has 12 kinds of roasted vegetables, and 12 kinds of gooey condiments all smooshed together on oily foccacia.  Why would I want to eat something with so many different flavors and textures that I can’t distinguish any of them?  And why would I want to eat a Big Mac’s calorie equivalent and pretend it’s healthy?

In the perfect imaginary restaurant I would open – the one where I would show up for work at 10am and leave for home at 3pm- we would only serve lunch but it would be the best lunch in the city.  We would have nourishing soups, refreshing and interesting salads, and complex sandwiches that would always come with a delicious side.  (Another thing I hate about sandwiches in restaurants is that it’s all you get – I want more flavors in my lunch.)  This sandwich, and the one from the previous post, would be on the menu.

Originally this recipe called for goat cheese but I was already using goat cheese on the other sandwich and I also wanted to have a vegan option.  Because the spices in the carrots are of the North African variety, I figured hummus would work just fine and it did.  In fact, I think it probably worked better than goat cheese would, although you could certainly use that if you wanted.  Also, the original recipe is for 6 sandwiches on regular bread.  If you choose to make it on a ciabatta bread as I did,  you will most likely have leftover carrots and leftover tapenade which, in my book, is never a bad thing.  I would spread the tapenade on crostini (maybe with some soft goat cheese underneath) and serve with a spinach salad starring the leftover carrots.

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You will need an adjustable blade slicer of some sort to slice the carrots because you want them about 1/16th of an inch thick.  Years ago, I bought a fancy mandoline and I was so terrified of it that I only used it once.  When I heard that a friend was going to buy one for her husband’s birthday, I offered to trade them mine for their cheap plastic one that has a ceramic blade.  It’s actually less safe than the other one (there is no finger guard) but much easier to use.  If you don’t have one,  you could just use your knife and slice them as thinly as possible, then allow them a longer swim in the boiling water.

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One year ago: THE Lemon Tart

Moroccan Carrot and Hummus Sandwiches with Green Olive Tapenade
Inspired by Gourmet Magazine
Serves 6

I used store-bought hummus for this recipe and just slathered it on the bread – I’m not sure exactly how much I used – do it to your taste.  Also, if you are looking to streamline this recipe, you could use store-bought tapenade.

For carrots
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 lb. carrots

For tapenade
1 1/4 cups green olives (6-7 oz.) such as Cerignola or picholine, pitted
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1 1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Olive oil

For sandwiches
1 ciabatta loaf, halved cross-wise
Hummus

Prepare carrots:
Whisk together the sugar, lemon juice, spices, salt and oil in a large bowl until the sugar is dissolved.  Halve the carrots on a long diagonal, then, starting from diagonal ends, cut into 1/16-inch thick slices using slicer.  Cook carrots ina 4 to 5 quart pot of boiling salted water until cresp-tender, about 45 seconds.  Drain well in a colander and immediately toss with dressing.  Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, then marinate, covered and chilled, at least 4 hours.  (Carrots can marinate for up to 2 days.)

Make tapenade and assemble sandwich:
Pulse olives with capers, parsley, zest, lemon juice, and pepper in a food processor until coarsely chopped, then scrape down side of bowl with a rubber spatula.  Pulsing motor, add oil in a slow steam and continue to pulse until mixture is finely chopped (do not pulse to a paste).  (Tapenade can be made up to 1 week in advance.  Cover and refrigerate.)

Spread tapenade on one side of the ciabatta.  Spread hummus on other side.  Lay carrots thickly on bottom slice then sandwich with top.  Using a sharp serrated knife, carefully cut the sandwich into 6 slices.



Happy Blog-versary to Me

May 10, 2009

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Lots of photos today and lots to say.  Why?  Because it’s my blog-ver-sary!  So, no that doesn’t rhyme, but it’s close!

They say when you have children, the years go by quickly but the days can seem long.  I feel that way about this blog.  It is truly hard for me to believe that I sat down a year ago and started this journey.  I’ve really enjoyed all of it and am already excited about the coming year.  Thank you for being here to read what I write.  Thank you for trusting me and my recipes and for letting me know when things look good and when they turn out well.

By coincidence, I got to celebrate by catering a lunch for a group of lovely women who were honoring themselves as mothers.  My friend Jen hosted a “mother-asana” at her studio on Bainbridge Island.  It was a day of yoga, meditation, and thinking about who we are as women, not just moms.

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Jen’s studio is on her property and it is as lovely as she is.  I had so hoped to take part in the asana part of the afternoon, but alas, my brother was hospitalized this morning with appendicitis.  It didn’t feel quite right to me to be enjoying a yoga class while he was in so much pain.  I did get to enjoy a quiet ferry ride over in the morning, some solitary cooking time in Jen’s kitchen, and then sharing lunch with the other moms.  I also got to visit my brother who was still in a lot of pain but seemingly on the mend.

In all the cooking I have done for other people, I have rarely made lunch so this was a nice challenge.  I did a few lunches for a former client who is a lawyer and, no offense to the lawyers out there, but I’d rather cook for blissed out yoga women.  (Although I do have to brag that I got to bring lunch to Chris Cornell – he is a client of my former client.)

I figured that everyone would be hungry but because there would be another yoga practice in the afternoon, I didn’t want to make anything to heavy.  I knew sandwiches were a must but, because making 20 individual sandwiches seemed kind of impractical, I made 3 large ciabatta ones which I sliced into portions.

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This one had hummus, green olive tapenade, and carrots that had been marinated in lemon juice and a host of spices.  I also made one with egg salad, but I think the favorite was this one.

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This sandwich is one I’ve made over and over and I’m not really a sandwich person.  It’s very simple but the flavors are perfect together.  Homemade roasted bell peppers, soft goat cheese, basil, and red onion make for a special treat.

Also on the menu, a favorite pasta salad and a new quinoa salad which I will share with you in the next couple of days.  There was a big green salad with asparagus, green beans, avocado, and grapes – all dressed with a mustard-y vinaigrette with lots of basil.  And, of course, a big platter of fruit.

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After all that healthy stuff, people definitely needed a treat.  I made these oh-so-very-blogged-about cookies a while ago and hadn’t made them since so I figured it was time.  They were gone in a matter of minutes.

But back to the sandwich.  This is a wonderful thing to have in your cooking arsenal.  It can feed 6 easily and you can always double it if you have more mouths to feed.  It looks pretty, the flavors are fresh, and it comes together easily.  You can roast the peppers days in advance to make it even easier to assemble.  Next time I make it, I am going to scoop out some of the ciabatta’s top innards.  I thought it was a little too bread-y.

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One year ago: Meet Me

Roasted Pepper and Goat Cheese Sandwiches

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home
Serves 4-6

Here is the funny thing.  I forgot about part of this recipe when I made it today.  I just put the roasted peppers on the sandwich without the capers and other flavorings.  It was still delicious but I recommend you take the extra steps described below.

4 large red or yellow bell peppers (or a mixture)
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. drained capers
1 large ciabatta bread, halved horizontally
1 (11-ounce) log soft goat cheese (such as Montrachet)
8-10 large basil leaves
3 thin slices red onion

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Place the whole peppers on a sheet pan and place in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until skins are completely wrinkled and the peppers are charred, turning them twice during roasting.  Remove the pan from the oven and immediately cover it tightly with aluminum foil.  Set aside for 30 minutes, or until the peppers are cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Remove the skin from the bell pepper, then slice in half and remove the seeds, and the stem and discard.  Slice the peppers into thin strips and place in the bowl with the olive oil mixture.  Stir in the capers.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend.

To assemble the sandwiches, spread the bottom half of the loaf with the goat cheese.  Add a layer of peppers and then a layer of basil leaves.  Separate the onions into rings and spread out on top.  Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.  Top with the top half of the ciabatta and cut into individual servings.



Veggies and Dip

May 8, 2009

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I love vegetables and dip.  I really do.  Now lest that sound ultra-virtuous, please realize that most dips are so bad for you that it cancels out the good that the veggies do.  Pre-made supermarket dips are usually loaded with artificial flavors and chemical stabilizers.  Many that you would make at home have no artificial ingredients, but do have enough calories and fat per serving to make it really unhealthy.

So here are two for you.  They have a similar base but different flavorings.  I use low fat sour cream and low fat buttermilk but the flavor is of the luscious full fat variety.  You can choose the peppery version (coarse ground pepper and chives) or the lemon-y herb one.  Or, if you are cooking lunch for 20 hungry Yoginis as I am on Saturday, you can make both.

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Buttermilk Peppercorn Dip
Adapted from Martha Stewart Hors D’Oeuvres Handbook
Makes 1 1/2  cups

1 cup low fat sour cream
2 tbsp. low fat buttermilk
1 tsp. coarsely ground mixed peppercorns (black, pink, and green)
2 tsp. minced chives
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 large shallot, miced
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Place the ingredients in a medium bowl and stir well to combine.  Serve immediately or store, covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 48 hours.

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Lemony Herb Dip
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes about 1 cup

1 8-ounce container low fat sour cream
2 tbsp. chopped fresh chives
2 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
Juice of 1 small lemon
Salt and pepper

Mix first 4 ingredients in medium bowl.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Can be made up to 2 days in advance, cover and refrigerate.



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