Monthly Archives: November 2010

[fantastic] cocoa brownies

Deb wasn’t kidding when she titled these, “the best cocoa brownies.”  For the last few years, I have been a tempered chocolate snob. Cakes, cookies, biscotti… all of them have come from a chocolate recipe.

Let me tell you, that attitude is out.the.window. Gone. Because these brownies are THAT good.

That easy, too- one bowl! 

I made very few changes:  I personally love a subtle molasses flavor in my chocolate treats, so included dark brown sugar. I also doubled the salt, and instead of vanilla I used coffee liqueur.  I figured that a small amount of delicate vanilla might get lost under the rich texture and taste, whereas coffee would play a strong supporting role.  I definitely suggest it if you’ve got it in your liquor cabinet (and you should- White Russians are one reason for the season). Otherwise a teaspoon of leftover coffee or made with instant coffee granules would work nicely.

Cocoa Brownies
adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen, originally from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet

10 T. unsalted butter
3/4 c. white granulated sugar
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
3/4 c. + 2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/2 t. salt
1 t. coffee liqueur
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 c. all-purpose flour

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 F. Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.

Place the butter in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Add the sugars, cocoa, and salt.  Stir once the butter begins to melt. Continue stirring as the butter completely melts and the ingredients come together. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. [It may look gritty (photo belongs to Smitten Kitchen), but will it smooth out once the eggs and flour are added.]

Stir in the coffee liqueur with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one.  Add the flour and stir until well combined, and then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon.  Spread evenly in the lined pan.

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter; 20 to 25 minutes is Medrich’s suggestion but it took me 30 minutes. Let cool completely.  Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

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Filed under Desserts

Cran-Apple Vanilla Sauce/Relish

Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope you all are spending your day with family and friends.  Due to the weather, N and I are sticking out today alone.  Never fear, we’ve got delicious cocoa brownies and unbelievably-rich stuffed shells with bolognese to keep us company… and, of course, this candy-like sauce.

One part applesauce, one part cranberry relish… I suppose it may even classify as a chutney.  Honestly, I don’t care what you call it.  Make this. It’s magenta. And easy. And festive. Did I mention the taste? It’s a little sweet, and a little tart. Just like me. :)

As an alternative to starting with new cranberries, throw together your cranberry sauce leftovers and some apple chunks, a splash of juice or water, scrape a vanilla bean, and you’re done.

Eat this sauce cooled as a side or snack, or warmed on top of pork or chicken.  I’m so happy I’ve got lots of this for the next few blustery days!

Cran-Apple Vanilla Sauce
inspired by The Foodie Bride

1 bag (12 oz., approximately 2 cups) fresh cranberries
1/2 c. apple juice
3 large apples (I used Honeycrisp and Gala)
1/3 c. sucanat (or light brown sugar)
1/4 c. white sugar
1 large vanilla bean

Peel and chop apples into 1-inch pieces.  Rinse and pick through cranberries.  In a large pot combine all of the ingredients except for the vanilla bean.  Heat to a simmer and maintain for 15 minutes, until cranberries start to pop.

Cut open the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrap the inside clean.  Put the paste and the vanilla-bean halves in the sauce.  Continue to simmer for another 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Once the berries are cooked and apples are soft, roughly mash with a potato masher or heavy spoon.  Serve warm, or cool and store in fridge.

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Filed under Condiments, etc., Fall, Side dishes

Lighter General Tso’s Chicken

In keeping with a desire for lighter, non-traditional-Thanksgiving food, I made this wonderful version of General Tso’s chicken.  I’m sure it’s not quite the same as your favorite Amer-Chinese restaurant’s, but it is delicious, and cheaper– both in dollars and calories.

This was way faster than take-out as well- about 15 minutes from start to finish!  Coincidentally, that’s about the same amount of time as cooking a cup or two of rice in a microwave rice cooker, or steaming a small pot of frozen stir-fry veggies.  I used dark brown sugar, which really emphasized the sweetness. If you’re watching your sugar intake, try reducing the sugar to 1-1/2 tablespoons.

Lighter General Tso’s Chicken
from Everyday Food, as seen on Good Things Catered (it seems her blog has been deleted?)

1 T. cornstarch
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 t. fresh grated ginger
2 T. brown sugar
2 T. amino acids (it’s gluten free!) or soy sauce
1 t. red pepper flakes
kosher salt
~1.5 lbs. chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 t. sesame oil
2 t. vegetable oil

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch with 1/2 c. cold water. Add in the garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce, and red pepper flakes; whisk to combine.

Heat sesame and vegetable oils in a wok or heavy skillet until almost smoking, about 5 minutes on medium-high.  Swirl pan to coat bottom with oil, then add the seasoned chicken pieces.  Allow to cook without moving for 3 minutes, then sprinkle with kosher salt and flip chicken pieces to the other side to brown, up to 5 minutes.

Increase heat to high.  Stir sauce and add to the chicken.  Stir almost constantly until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened.  Delicious and nutritious served with rice and stir-fry vegetables.

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Filed under 30 min. or less, Chicken, Main dishes

Cauliflower-Chickpea Curry

Not so much Thanksgiving prep going on in this blog.  I hope that’s okay. We aren’t hosting T-day this year, and the traveling that we’ll be doing hinders us from providing too much for the meal. Looks like we’ll be bringing dinner rolls and a cheeseball. Mmm, gluttony.

In prep for the inevitable overeating that will be done during the latter end of this week, I wanted lighter lunches for the front half of the week.  I also wanted something with flavors and ingredients that I wouldn’t be eating later.  I think it’s safe to say that there won’t be much curry powder involved in our rural Midwestern Thanksgiving day celebration.

I added the carrots because I wanted to use them up, and the peas because I thought it needed some non-orange color.  This would be more authentic without either of them, though.  I also roasted the cauliflower before adding it to the curry, which really brought out its earthy, nutty flavor.

Cauliflower-Chickpea Curry
inspired by Planet Green

1 medium head of cauliflower
2 T. oil
3 large carrots
1/2 small onion, chopped
3 cloves minced garlic
1/2 t. turmeric
1/2 t. cumin
1 t. to 1 T. hot curry powder
2 T. tomato paste
1 to 2 c. veggie or chicken stock
1-14. oz. can chickpeas
1/2 c. frozen or fresh green peas

Clean your head of cauliflower and cut or break into bite-sized florets. Toss with 1 T. oil and roast for 25-30 minutes at 375 F.

Meanwhile, clean and slice carrots.  Heat the remaining 1 T. of oil in a heavy skillet over medium.  Add the chopped onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in minced garlic, turmeric, cumin, and curry powder; cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the tomato paste and keep stirring for 2 or 3 more minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high and stir in 1 cup of the stock. Drain and rinse chickpeas, and add to the skillet. Bring up to boiling, and reduce heat to simmer. Once your cauliflower is roasted, stir it and up to a cup of additional stock into the curry. Simmer for 10 minutes, adding additional stock and/or curry powder to taste. In the last few minutes, stir in your fresh or frozen peas. Serve over rice or with naan.

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Filed under Clean Eating, Main dishes, Vegetables, Vegetarian

Beer Bread



Easiest. Bread. Ever.  And fast, too.  It keeps for 4-5 days and has staple ingredients. It’s easily customizable– use whatever kind of beer you want, and that’s the flavor that you’ll get in the bread.

The best part: absolutely delicious.

Basic Beer Bread
adapted from The Novice Chef

3 c. bread or AP flour
1 t. salt
3 T. sugar
1 T. baking powder
12 oz. beer
2 T. butter

Preheat oven to 375.  Grease a bread pan. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add the beer, being careful not to foam over the edges of the bowl.  Let it sit for a minute, then carefully whisk into the dry ingredients.

Spoon the batter into your greased bread pan. Slice the butter into 3 or 4 equal pieces and arrange on top of the batter. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is firm when pressed down.  Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

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Filed under Breads, Fall, Winter

Roasted Chicken or Turkey

Roast chicken is soooo easy, and sooooo good.  I know there are a lot of recipes out there that call for olive oil and herbs, but I’ve got to be honest with you:  I am all about the butter.

Not only do we brine our chicken and turkeys before roasting, but we also spread a butter-seasoning mixture on top of the skin and under the skin, directly onto the breast and leg meat.  In our experience with smoking, roasting, grilling, and slow cookers, butter is a sure-fire way to get a flavorful and moist bird that doesn’t taste like it’s been fried. 

If you’re still looking for ideas for preparing your holiday fowl, try this butter-roasted beauty.  You won’t be disappointed.

Roasted Chicken or Turkey

 Brine (ingredients per gallon of water):
1/2 c. salt
1/2 c. sugar (white, brown, or mix)
1/4 c. coarse black pepper

Butter mix (double for a turkey):
1/3 c. butter
2 cloves garlic or 1/2 t. garlic powder
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. black pepper
1/4 t. cayenne
1/2 t. favorite dry grill or bird rub

Mix brine and submerge whole bird for 4 to 12 hours, depending on desired saltiness and size of the bird.  Remove the bird from brine and rinse and pat dry 3 times.

Mix together butter mix. Lift skin over breast and spread butter under the skin. Place skin back over the meat and butter, and use toothpicks if necessary to tie skin back over the bird.

Roast at 350 for 15-25 minutes per pound of meat. Use a thermometer to verify doneness.

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Filed under Chicken, Fall, Main dishes, Winter

red lentil soup with lemon

I knew I had to make this soup as soon as I read Molly’s description of it. “Sings”? A quiet soup that “sings”?!  Um, yeah, I want that.

Making this soup really made me happy. It was easy- a handful of pantry staples in a fresh new soup. One pot, one immersion blender, one hour, and done. It’s filling; it looks like fall; and it smells like home.

I enjoyed my first 4 or 5 bites with the olive oil “garnish” as suggested by Melissa, but went back and sprinkled with a touch of cayenne. The spice really complimented the warmth of the soup and freshness of the lemon. Do not skip the lemon.

And the orange kitty. Don’t skip the kitty.

I froze the remainder of the soup and had it warmed for supper tonight. Honestly, it’s better when it’s first made. The lemon was nearly indetectable, so I would suggest stirring in a bit of lemon juice to taste if having this for leftovers.

Red Lentil Soup with Lemon
adapted from Melissa Clark, via Orangette

Serves 3-4

2 T. olive oil
1 large yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
2 T. tomato paste
1 t. cumin
1/2 to 1 t. kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 t. cayenne
1 quart plus 1/2 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1 c. water
1 c. red lentils, picked over
2 large carrots, diced
juice of 1/2 large lemon

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium.  Add the chopped onion and cook for 4-5 minutes until translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes.  Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt and pepper, and cayenne; continue cooking over medium and stir 5-6 more minutes.

Add in the stock, water, lentils, and carrots. Bring to a boil and reduce heat as needed to keep at a gentle simmer for 35-40 minutes.  In a food processor or blender, or with an immersion blender, roughly blend the soup, but not completely smooth.  Reheat if necessary and add salt to taste; stir in lemon juice, and serve with a few drops of olive oil or a sprinkle of cayenne and kosher salt.

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Filed under Clean Eating, Gluten-Free, Soups, Vegetarian, Winter

Sourdough Chocolate Cake

I made this cake for my love on our first wedding anniversary.  Not only was it pretty and quite rich and delicious, there was actually a little thought and symbolism behind it.

Because the way I see it, our sourdough starter is a sort of pseudo-first child. We began our starter shortly after we moved into our first house together. And it started with three very basic ingredients- flour, water, and love. (Okay, so it was flour, water, and a nearly-neglected Amish friendship bread bag-o-mush picked out of the office breakroom. Which could be similar to love, to some people.)

We fed and watered our sourdough. We let it bubble and breathe. We stirred it gently with a wooden stick. We baked some of it every weekend, more and more excited as it became sourer and sourer.

And as we adopted a cat, tore down a garage, built a new garage, adopted a second cat, bought new furniture from a real furniture store (not a thrift store) for the first time… we nurtured our sourdough. It brought us closer together.  Really. It did.

Hence the cake. It was really delicious. And topped with love. And ganache.

Sourdough Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Sourdough Jack’s Cookery, via Orangette

1 c. thick sourdough starter
3/4 c. white sugar
1/4 c. dark brown sugar
1/2 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 c. milk at room temperature
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. coffee liqueur
1 t. ground cinnamon
3 oz semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 t. salt
1-1/2 t. baking soda
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

Leave a cup of starter out overnight (this is called proofing).

Preheat oven to 350 (or 330 with convection). Cream the sugars and butter until fluffy, then beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in starter, milk, vanilla, liqueur, cinnamon, and melted chocolate. Beat with an electric mixer or a muscled arm for two minutes.  Sprinkle the salt and baking soda over the top of the batter and then fold in gently. Fold in flour until batter is smooth. Pour into buttered and floured pan. (I used an 8-inch round springform; Mollie used a Bundt pan.)

Bake until cake springs back when pressed lightly and a cake tester comes out clean, 35-60 minutes, depending on the type of pan you use. Cool; frost or sprinkle with powdered sugar; serve to your love; savor the moments.

Basic chocolate ganache
Be sure your cake is cool to the touch before frosting with ganache, as it’s very sticky and can crumb up easily if the cake is warm.

8 oz. semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
3/4 c. heavy cream
2 T. butter
1 T. coffee or chocolate liqueur

Roughly chop the chocolate into small pieces, and place them into a medium glass bowl. Heat the cream and butter in a saucepan just until it begins to boil on the edges. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and whisk carefully until all of the chocolate is melted. Whisk in the liqueur. Allow the ganache to sit for a few minutes before frosting.

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Filed under Desserts, Marriage

Leek Risotto

Yes, leeks are a spring food.  But they’ve got a fall season, too.  (This makes me automatically love leeks, and rhubarb and spinach too- I get them on both ends of the growing season.)

Until this summer, I had never cooked with leeks.  Sheltered, I know.  My first leek experience was to saute some of these in butter, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, and splash some white wine over the top. The sweet, grown-up flavor was shy yet undeniable. Leeks are the middle child, stuck between well-rounded, know-it-all onion and spotlight-loving and spicy garlic. They’re refined, quieter, gentler.

I ate leek risotto throughout late May and early June.  And when I found leeks at the very last farmer’s market of the season, I was thankful- one last leek risotto before hibernating for winter.

Leek Risotto
adapted from Daily Unadventures in Cooking

Serves 4

4 T. unsalted butter
3-4 small, tender leeks, cleaned
kosher salt and pepper
1 c. arborio rice
1 c. white wine
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
2 T. lemon juice
1 c. grated parmesan (I used parm and romano)

Clean up your leeks: trim off the bottoms and the dark leafy green tops, and cut in half lengthwise. Run each half under cold water, making sure to rinse out any sand or debris in between the layers of the leek. Shake and/or pat dry, and then cut into small semi-circles, about 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick.  Loosly separate and lay on a towel to try out a bit.

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat; add leeks and stir lightly. Keeping heat at medium or lower, cook the leeks for about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes until they barely start to brown.

While the leeks are cooking, pick over your rice for debris. Place your stock in a medium pot, cover, and heat over medium, just to bring the temperature up but not necessarily boil. (If it simmers, that’s fine, but it doesn’t need to- we just want it warmer than room temperature, as it will help make a faster and creamier risotto.)

Once the leeks are wilted and beginning to lightly brown, add the rice and stir. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook at medium-high, stirring regularly, for 5 minutes.  Add wine and bring up to a simmer. Continue stirring until the wine is reduced almost completely.

Add a large ladle of stock, between 1/2 and 3/4 cup. Bring the mixture up to a simmer and continue stirring almost constantly.  Cook until almost all of the liquid is absorbed or evaporated before adding another ladle of stock. Continue this process until the rice is cooked al dente (with a slight bite to it) and most of the stock has been added and evaporated. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and cheese.

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Filed under Fall, Main dishes, Side dishes, Spring, Vegetarian

Creamy braised cauliflower and carrots

Braising. I’ve done it before, but had no clue that it was considered braising. Honestly, I had no clue what braising really was.

But apparently, I do this all the time. All you need is a little dry heat (browning), and then a little moisture (simmering and reducing).  Roast beef, anyone?

I don’t think I had used dairy in braising before this, though. I switched around the spices from the original recipe, incorporating the ever-autumny nutmeg.  Feel free to mix up the combo of veggies and spices– leeks, potatoes, celery, yams, broccoli, and fennel would all work well (not all together, of course).  But don’t skip the cayenne when you’re working with the root veggies!

I can’t wait to try this recipe with turnips and sweet potatoes. Definitely a new favorite (and super easy) comfort food.

Creamy Braised Cauliflower and Carrots
adapted from Everybody Likes Sandwiches

Serves 2-3 as a hearty side

2 T. butter
1/4 large or 1/2 small onion, sliced
3 large carrots, sliced
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 head of cauliflower
1 T. oil
dash of cayenne
1/4 to 1/2 t. nutmeg
salt and pepper
1/4 c. chicken or veggie stock
1/3 c. half and half or milk

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots; don’t stir but shake the pan to cover and let sit without stirring for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, roughly chop (or mince) the garlic and break up the cauliflower into bite-sized florets. Once carrots are slightly browning, stir in the cauliflower, garlic, cayenne, nutmeg, and S&P. Add 1 T. olive oil and shake pan to disburse.  Let the pan sit for another 5 minutes.

Increase the heat to medium-high and add the stock and dairy. Once bubbling, reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until veggies are tender and liquid is nearly gone, about 15 minutes. Serve with a light sprinkle of pepper and nutmeg.


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Filed under Fall, Side dishes, Vegetables