Archive for October, 2009

Brownie Wars

October 22, 2009

Brownie Collage

Let’s get right down to business.  Are you cakey or fudgy?  Don’t laugh – it’s an important question.  Well, some people think it’s important.  Some people are downright militant about their brownie preferences.  Me?  My brownie preference is “Yes, please.”

Some recipes I find and then have absolutely no problem telling myself it is the definititive fill-in-the-blank recipe.  Challah for example.  I made some of that gorgeous egg bread this week for a lunch party on Saturday and, as I was braiding the dough, I realized that I have never ever been tempted to find another challah recipe.  Why mess with perfection?  Years ago when I found an über-fudgy brownie recipe, I thought it was the be-all end-all and would be my brownie recipe forever.  But I have strayed.  I’ve made Mexican browines, Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies and just recently, I made the Baked cookbook version.

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Now, this is not an apples to apples comparison.  I made the Baked version in a 15×10 pan rather than a 13×9 knowing full well that they would turn out flatter.  After having a few things from that cookbook turn out sub-par, I was really pleased with the brownies.  Cakey but not dry and with terrific chocolate flavor.  Not overly rich and just about perfect when topped with homemade honey lavender ice cream and leftover almond praline from Holly B’s scones.

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My old stand-by (which is from Bon Appetit) I did make in an 13×9 pan and they were as close to a large piece of fudge as I remember.  They are gooey, not from being underbaked, but just from the amount of butter and chocolate in there (with very little flour).   If you want fudge masquerading as a brownie, this is the recipe to try.

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If I were a food scientist or Alton Brown, I could tell you precisely why these recipes turn out so differently.  Although they are both brownies and the method is similar, the ingredient list and the proportions of those ingredients are very different.  But ultimately food science is not why you read Dana Treat is it?  I’m here to tell you my personal opinion.  My next pan of brownies will be from the Baked cookbook.  Why?  Because they are what I think of when I want a brownie.  In other words, perfect.

One Year Ago:  Soba Noodles with Tofu and Bok Choy

The Baked Brownie

Baked – New Frontiers in Baking
Makes 24 brownies

If you like the idea of a flat brownie, make them in a 15-by-10 inch pan, or what is often called a jelly roll pan.  If you want them thicker, use the 13-by-9 called for in the recipe.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tsp. instant espresso powder
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter the sides and bottom of a 9-by-13 inch glass or light-colored metal baking pan.

Put the chocolate, butter, and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth.  Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars.  Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan.  The mixture should be room temperature.

Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined.  Add the remaining eggs and whisk until combined.  Add the vanilla and stir until combined.  Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be too cakey.

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

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan half way through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it.  Let the brownies cool completely, then cut them into squares and serve.

Tightly covered with plastic wrap, the brownies keep at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes 24 brownies

I cut back the amount of sugar in here from 3 cups to 2 1/2.

3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
12 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 large eggs
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter and flour a 13-by-9 inch metal baking pan, knocking out excess flour.

Melt butter with chocolate in a large metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth.  Remove bowl from pan and whisk in eggs, 1 at a time.  Sift together flour and cocoa powder in a separate bowl and stir into batter with sugar and salt.

Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven until top is firm and a tester inserted into the center comes out with crumbs adhering, 35-40 minutes.  Cool completely in pan on a rack before cutting into squares.



Cheating with Holly B

October 20, 2009

Friends.

I have a lot going on this week.  Two big cooking things and a ton of prep to do.  So although I have already been baking up a storm (and it’s only Tuesday), I will not be able to get to a Holly B’s recipe today.  I am going to cheat and direct you to an old post where you can find one of my all-time favorite cookies.  Click here for Cowgirl Cookies.

I never heard from one of the giveaway winners.  I am going to send the knives and shears to Lesley and picked another winner for the mini Cuisinart voucher.  I didn’t have my trusty assistant with me today (he is at preschool), but I pulled #2 from the hat which is Lisa from The Cooking Bride who can’t live without her tomato knife.  Email me at danatreat{at}gmail{dot}com so I can send you your voucher, Lisa!



Making a Good Thing Better

October 19, 2009

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I am the oldest child in my family and I have a lot of the characteristics attributed to being first in the birth order.  One of those traits is being a rule follower, something that I was as a child and I continue to be as an adult.  I stand in line when I am supposed to, I stick to the speed limit, I am always on time.  Over most of my cooking life, I have stuck to the rules i.e. recipes.  I was afraid to branch out and would only make substitutions if desperate – I followed those recipes like a good rule-following oldest child.

I continue to bake in this way because, unless you really know what you are doing, it’s not a good idea to start messing with the science of baking.  But I have gotten less timid about tweaking savory recipes.  Sometimes they work better than others but I think I am a good enough cook, and have enough experience in the kitchen, to trust myself and my style.

I found the idea for this pasta recently on a lovely blog called Food & Style.  Viviane’s photo of a tangle of olive flecked pasta topped with goat cheese had me putting it on my “make immediately” list.  I am a sucker for olives, especially oil cured black wrinkly ones, and I also deeply appreciate a meal that can be made from things I always have on hand.  But as this dish began to come together, I started to improvise.  I threw in some cherry tomatoes I had in my fruit basket, I added more capers, I made it spicy by sprinkling in a healthy dose of red pepper flakes, I added the goat cheese (and a decent amount of pasta cooking water) directly to the cooked pasta so a kind of cream sauce emerged.  In other words, I took a good idea and ran with it.

On first bite Randy said, “Oh wow, this is yum.”  That is very high praise from my husband for whom food is still fuel, no matter how hard I try to sway him otherwise.  To my taste buds, this is a once a week dish.  Very savory from both the salty olives and capers, creamy and tangy at the same time from the goat cheese, the hit of acid and sweetness from the tomatoes making it more than just a one-note salty dish.  Using fresh pasta (which I often have in my freezer) just makes it sublime but you can, of course, use dried.

A note on how I prepared this and other pastas.  I never use a colander anymore to drain my noodles.  It’s just an extra dish to wash and I am on a lifelong quest to reduce the number of dishes in my sink at any given time.  I place the pasta pot and the skillet in which I have my sauce right next to each other.  When the pasta is done, I take either tongs (if I am using a long noodle like spaghetti), or a slotted spoon (for short noodles like penne) and transfer the pasta directly to the sauce.  That way, some of the starchy water comes along for the ride and if you need more of that goodness (as you will in this recipe), the whole pot is there for the taking instead of being poured down the drain.

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Fettucine with Oil Cured Olives, Tomatoes, and Goat Cheese

With Thanks to Food & Style
Serves 3

If you are not using fresh pasta here, I would use 3/4 pound of dried for this amount of sauce.  If you are not a fan of spice, cut the red pepper flakes to 1/4 teaspoon, or don’t add them at all. Both the olives and capers are quite salty here, so definitely taste before you season.

1/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
3/4 cup oil cured black olives, pitted and chopped
2 tbsp. capers, rinsed and drained
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved if large
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn, plus more for garnish
1 lb. fresh fettucine
4 oz. soft goat cheese, such as Montrachet
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet (large enough to hold all the pasta once it is cooked), heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and stir until starting to brown, about 2 minutes.  Add the oregano and red pepper flakes, stir, then add the olives, capers and tomatoes.  Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until the tomatoes just start to fall apart.  Add the basil, stir, and turn the heat as low as it will go.

Once the pasta is al dente, using tongs, add it directly to the skillet with the sauce.  Break the goat cheese into small lumps and start to toss it into the pasta coating the noodles with sauce and cheese.  Keep adding pasta water in 1/4 cups-full until the pasta has a cream sauce-like consistency.  Taste for salt and add freshly ground black pepper.



Petits Pains au Chocolat

October 16, 2009

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I was 16 when I tasted my first pain au chocolat.  I had the good fortune to go to a private high school where foreign travel was considered part of the curriculum.  For the French speakers, there was a choice of either a homestay in one city, or the around-the-country bike tour known as SeaCliste (a play on Seattle and bicycliste).  Because I wanted to see as much of the country as I could, I opted for the bike tour.

We got full credit for our three months there which coincided with spring trimester.  We only had to keep a journal in French, speak French the whole time, do the job assigned to us (like be a medic or a mechanic), and complete the trip which, on certain days, was easier said than done.  I will never forget riding my touring bike in the Île de France (the region right around Paris) with a side wind so profound that I was literally blown off my bike several times.  Or spending almost an entire day riding up a snowy mountain road in the Alps only to find that, once we reached the top, someone had made a wrong turn and we had to go right back down again.  Or sleeping in a tent in a supermarket parking lot and being thrilled with the choice because we were under cover from the driving rain.

Of course, I will also never forget feeling the sun on my face for two weeks straight in Corsica.  Or how beautiful it is to take a paddle boat out on Lake Annecy.  Or the kindness of the French people who, all over that amazing country, took pity on the crazy American teenagers in their bike helmets and allowed us to take over their restaurants, homes, and – yes – supermarket parking lots.  And I’ll never forget that first pain au chocolat.

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Our starting point for the trip was the medium-sized city of Nantes which is at the easternmost edge of Brittany.  We had a three day homestay with French families but we all met in the town center after getting settled.  One of our group had a French step-father and, since she had spent a fair amount of time in the country, she volunteered to go to the boulangerie to get us some treats.  Always a chocolate lover, I made an immediate dive for the pain au chocolat.  I didn’t know what I was in for, I just could see the chocolate and that was all I needed.

And this is where writing fails me.  How do you describe something so perfect?  The shatter of the pastry and the warmth of the chocolate (because, these many many years later, I still remember the chocolate in that first one was warm), the perfection of the combo…it was an emotional moment for me.  I spent the rest of the trip trying to re-create that initial first bite.  Oh yes, and sampling everything else on offer in each boulangerie that we stopped in which is why I gained 15 pounds, in spite of putting 1500 miles on my bike.

This pain au chocolat is not the one I ate in Nantes.  It is not any of the many I ate throughout France.  But I made it myself and it took about 25 minutes total.  I impressed my children and my husband with this pain au chocolat.  And for now, that’s pretty good.

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One Year Ago:  Apple Tartlets with Cinnamon Balsamic Syrup and Butter-Toffee Ice Cream

Petits Pain au Chocolat
Bon Appétit
Makes 24

I couldn’t trust myself with 24 of these things lying around so I halved the recipe and only used one sheet of puff pastry.  I also used one 4 ounce bar of Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate.  I cut each square in half and it seemed to be the perfect size for the pastry square.

2 sheets frozen puff pastry (one 17.3-ounce package, thawed), each sheet cut into 12 squares
1 large egg beaten to blend with 1 tablespoon water (for glaze)
4 3.5-ounce bars imported bittersweet or milk chocolate, each cut into six 2×3/4-inch pieces
Sugar

Line baking sheet with parchment paper.  Brush the top of each puff pastry square with egg glaze.  Place 1 chocolate piece on edge of 1 pastry square.  Roll up dough tightly, enclosing chocolate.  Repeat with remaining pastry and chocolate.  Place pastry rolls on baking sheet, seam side down.  (Can be made 1 day ahead.  Cover pastries with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Cover and refrigerate remaining glaze.)

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Brush tops of pastry rolls with remaining egg glaze.  Sprinkle lightly with sugar.  Bake until pastries are golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.



New York Thoughts and Giveaway Winners

October 15, 2009

So much to catch up on!

First of all, this is my 250th post!  As with every other blog milestone that I have surpassed, I’m not sure how I got here or how it happened so quickly.  I’m just grateful that you are all here along for the ride.  It was so wonderful to hear from so many readers who don’t usually comment.  Thank you all and please know I cherish those comments so don’t hesitate to leave one if you are moved to do so.  I also loved reading about everyone’s most cherished cooking tool.  It seems that simple tools are the things that people can’t live without – wooden spoons, whisks, spatulas, zesters, tongs, chef knives.  Quite a few of you need your Kitchen Aid mixers (I understand) and Nancy can’t live without her wine opener – amen Nancy!  I want to cook with you!

Picnik collage

Graham picked #44 which was Tammy who loves her apple slicer.  Tammy,  please email me at danatreat {at} gmail {dot} com so I can get your address to send you the Japanese knife, shears and paring knife combo, and the $25 gift card.  From the conference, I also have a voucher to mail in for a Cuisinart mini food processor.  I already have one so Graham picked #31, Lesley who loves her tongs, as a second prize winner.  Lesley, please email me so I can send you the voucher.

So, New York.  Wow.  I had so many memories being in that city.  Because both of my parents are from there, I grew up going back East at least once a year.  At first we went to visit family and then, as my extended family became more and more estranged, we went just because we wanted to.  When my dad moved our little family to Seattle in 1972, there was not much going on here and it was hard for my mom to leave the Italian food, the theatre, shopping, and the culture.  He appeased her with one family trip and one trip just for the two of them each year.

I went to college in Connecticut and would take the train down to the City a couple of times a semester.  My mom’s cousin and her husband still live on Staten Island and I would stay the weekend with them.  From time to time, I would also take the art history bus in just for the day.  I went in my 20′s before I met my first husband, I went with him just after we were married, and I went with him as our marriage was completely falling apart.  I went with Randy right before we were married, and again while we were living in London, and then this past trip.  New York is a city that I keep coming back to and while it does change, parts of it are refreshingly always the same to an admiring visitor.

One of the first questions I got from people when I told them I would be visiting is, “Where are you going to eat?”  We had three nights and, because there were other people involved besides just myself and Randy, I only got to plan one of those nights.  I chose WD-50 because I have heard so many incredible things about it and because I am fascinated by that type (molecular gastronomy) of cooking.  Years ago, Randy and I were lucky enough to eat at The Fat Duck just outside of London.  It had just been awarded it’s third Michelin star and the 17 courses we ate were by far the best food of our life.  Not only did they make all of mine vegetarian, Randy thought my food was even better than his.

I had heard that WD-50 could do a vegetarian tasting menu for me as well and so I encouraged our table of five to go that route rather than ordering off the à la carte menu.  The guys’ food was clever and innovative (including a play on bagel and lox where the “everything bagel” was bagel shaped ice cream) but mine was a little ho hum.  Out of nine savory courses, three of them were soups and four of them were fried.  I started off tweeting was I was eating and as they all started to blur together, I stopped.  Still, twelve courses of vegetarian food is always a treat and the mere fact that they offer it (and that they also offer a vegan tasting menu) makes me appreciate the restaurant.

If you watch Top Chef, you probably would recognize the chef, Wylie Dufresne.  He has been a guest judge and competed in Top Chef Masters.  He has kind of stringy 70′s era hair and pseudo mutton chops.  In other words, he is instantly recognizable.  As we walked in to the restaurant and I could see into the kitchen, I was impressed to notice he was in there cooking.  I love that a well-known chef is still doing his job.  At the end of the night, he was sitting at the bar with some friends and while I got my coat on, my husband thanked him for a great meal.  I walked up and told him how much I appreciated the thoughtfulness that went into my menu and that we vegetarians usually get the short end of the restaurant stick.  He said, “Well, I’m sorry you are a vegetarian.  If you ever change your mind, come back and I’ll buy you dinner.”  Given that I haven’t eaten meat in 23 years, it’s not likely that I will wake up one day and decide to start eating meat, but if I do – I’m hopping on an Eastbound plane.

The other two dinners we had were good but nothing to write on my blog about.  I had the good fortune to meet Stacey from Stacey Snacks for lunch at the Standard Grille and while the food was good, the company was the most delicious part.  She is gorgeous, funny, and we have about a million things in common.  I knew just from reading her blog and her emails that we would get along but I had no idea that it would be so much fun.  I was also able to see my friend Victoria which was wonderful and heartbreaking at the same time.  She had just gotten some not-so-terrific news and was still handling it like a champ.  If you have a spare second, please send a good vibe to her.



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