23 September 2011

The Dead Celebrity Cookbook: Bette Davis' Red Flannel Hash

Her gravestone says, "She did it the hard way," but she made it all look so easy.

from The Dead Celebrity Cookbook: A Resurrection of Recipes From More than 145 Stars of Stage and Screen by Frank DeCaro (on sale everywhere 3 October 2011).

There are lots of fun recipes here, Elizabeth Taylor's Chicken with Avocado and Mushrooms, Gene Roddenberry's Lima Beans and Ham, Mabel King's Banana Fritters, Patrick Swayze's Chicken Pot Pie, Dom Deluise's Doodlewoppers and Madeline Kahn's Foot Cookies (no feet involved, only sugar, flour and regular cookie stuff)

Bette Davis was my Grandma Florence's second favorite actress (Debbie Reynolds was her first).  When I was twelve, I came down with a bad case of bronchitis right before Thanksgiving vacation and my grandma stayed with me while my mother and stepfather left town to visit family.

Grandma wasn't a great cook, in fact, she was famous for her dreadful cooking (peanut butter and mint jelly sandwiches, buttered pizza, crunchy apple marshmallow strudel) so we ate jello, crackers and store bought pumpkin pie while watching old movies.  I remember staying up late (my cough medicine made sleeping difficult) and watching A Pocketful of Miracles with Grandma, we both cried at the end (it is such a sweet movie, you really should check it out if you haven't seen it before).

Here's Bette Davis' Red Flannel Hash
from The Dead Celebrity Cookbook by Frank Decaro

2 cups cooked corned beef

3 cups cold boiled potatoes

1 1/2 cups cooked beets.

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup or more of cream

1/2 stick butter

Chop all ingredients and combine in a large bowl.  Season to taste and moisten mixture with cream.  Place in a hot buttered skillet.  Stir and spread evenly in pan.  Brown slowly over medium heat.  Serve with Poached eggs on top.

Sounds nummy, right?

This is my adaptation; with extreme liberties taken for modern tastes, sorry Ms. Davis!

1 cup of shredded, cooked roast beef (this is what leftovers are for ladies and gents)

1/2 onion, sliced

2 shallots, sliced

3 or 4 beets, peeled and chopped

2 red potatoes, chopped

2 Tablespoons butter

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1.  Melt butter in pan.  Add olive oil.

2.  Cook the onions and shallots til golden brown over a medium heat and then add the potatoes and beets.
3.  Sear the beets and potatoes on one side for three minutes, then stir and allow the other side to get crusty.  Turn the heat lower and add the reserved shredded meat, cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes.

4.  Salt and Pepper to taste and Presto!  Red Flannel Hash Nirvana!
Well, almost red.  I had these pretty candy beets sitting in the veg drawer for weeks (oops, I forgot about them) and as tasty as they were, there wasn't enough red in them to turn the hash red, but it tasted insanely good.  I wasn't sure about sauteed beets and wondered if they'd ruin my shredded beef goodness.  Nope, they only added to it!

Try this recipe on beet haters, I bet they'd convert.

02 September 2011

Sookie Stackhouse's Sour Cream Chicken with biscuits

Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris

This is the fifth book of the Southern Vampire series and my favorite, so far.  Like the rest of her books, there's a murder and Sookie is smack dab in the middle of it.

Here is my version of the tasty southern meal Sookie Stackhouse brings over to Calvin Norris' house after a bunch of stuff happens that you'll just have to read the book to find out about.

Sour Cream Chicken with Biscuits

My kiddo loves mushrooms.  He likes them with eggs, he likes them on a shish kebab and on burgers.  He is a bona fide mushroom fanatic.

Which is why I'm dumbfounded by his dislike for this dish.  IT HAS MUSHROOMS!

Oh well, can't please everyone.

My husband and I really liked this.  The creamy tart sauce was offset by the flavorful firm mushrooms, add in herb-y seared chicken breasts and wowza, you got yourself one heck of a tasty weeknight dinner and nice leftovers for breakfast too.

I made so many biscuits that we had them for breakfast the next two mornings.

First gather up your ingredients;
sour cream, white wine, thyme, red onion, garlic, shallots, parsley, mushrooms, paprika, pepper, salt, olive oil and oregano
chicken breasts
Pour olive oil in the pan and give it a swirl over a medium heat.

 Sprinkle the chicken with salt, pepper, paprika, oregano and thyme and brown it on both sides.

Chop the veggies.  Try not to chop in your knuckles (youch, I can't believe I did that).

Melt a couple of pats of butter, scrape up the tasty bits left by the chicken.

Add in the chopped veggies, cook them until everything is a bit wilted.

Add the wine, let it cook down a minute then stir in the sour cream.  Heat through over low heat.

Now we can make biscuits.
Now roll 'em and pat 'em and mark 'em with pink heart shaped cookie cutter for family and me!

Cut out the biscuits on a floured, dry surface.

Plop them onto a parchment covered baking sheet about an inch apart.  They look kinda anemic, right?

Look how edible they look after a few minutes in the oven.  There's a big empty spot in this picture, someone ate two of the biscuits from the middle of the pan.  I found the crumbs, scattered across the table.  They were drippy with butter and strawberry jam.  What a mystery, I really have no idea how that happened.  Bigfoot, the cookie monster?  Sadly, we'll probably never know what happened.
Sour cream chicken with biscuits

3 large chicken breasts

2 tblspns. olive oil

1/4 tsp. each of the following, black pepper, thyme, oregano and paprika

1/2 tsp. salt

1/3 cup white wine

1 1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 red onion, chopped

2 shallots, chopped

7 mushrooms, sliced

3 cloves garlic, chopped

handful of fresh parsley

2 Tblspns.  butter

1.  Preheat oven to 350.  Spinkle dry herbs, salt and pepper on chicken.

2.  Heat olive oil in pan, add chicken and brown on each side for a few minutes (four minutes should do) over medium heat.

3.  Remove chicken to oven safe dish and bake for 25 minutes.

4.  Melt butter in pan, add vegetables and saute until the everything is wilted, about seven minutes.

5.  Add wine, allow to cook down for three minutes, then stir in sour cream.  Heat through until the sauce is just starting to bubble. 

6.  Remove chicken from the oven and spoon mushroom cream sauce over the chicken.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Buttermilk Biscuits
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens, Homemade Bread Cook Book (1978)

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1 Tblspn. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/3 cup butter

3/4 cup + 1 Tblspn. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450.

1. Stir thoroughly the dry ingredients.  Using a fork, knives or a pastry cutter, add in the butter, working it into the dry ingredients until it is pebble size.

2. Make a well in the center and add the buttermilk all at once.  Stir just till the dough clumps together. 

3.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead the dough gently, 10 to 12 folds.  Roll out and cut out biscuits that are no thicker than 1 inch thick.  Set them an inch apart on a baking sheet.

4.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

16 August 2011

momofuku and chinese sausage focaccia

"Tempering Eggs is a waste of time."

Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi

By all that's Holy and buttery, I didn't know eggs could be tempered! 

I'm not sure if this is a trend or that I have been picking out cookbooks with a lack of photographic common sense, whatever it is, it makes me steaming mad!

I know this will sound rude, but I don't care about the sous-chef de cuisine, the line cooks, the saucier or the pastry chef. My indifference is so great that I don't want to see pictures of them clogging up my cookbooks.

I also don't want to see pictures of a stocked pantry. Pictures of a crowded kitchen, pics of someone walking around outside a restaurant or extreme closeups of butter, cute cats (seriously?), boxes of fabric scraps, people walking through slushy snow or kitchen staff looking busy and earnest, this is a cookbook for crow's sake! I want pictures of completed recipes, maybe a few step by step photos and I want descriptions of foods not pictured, detailed directions and that's about it.

Okay, whew, sorry for the rant, sometimes I really lose it and I ran out of coffee this morning so it's a double helping of bitchitude, so, anyways, onto the rest of the review.

The preface of cookbooks are always pretty dull, I don't usually read them. They are part mission statement; 'this is a cookbook, I'm an expert in [insert type of cooking] and would like to share with you my favoritest recipes which you will love so much you will tuck this book under your pillow and cover it with kisses each night the same way I do,' and part testimonial, 'I once baked a cake for Queen Elizabeth and she granted me a knighthood it was so delectable.'

This time, I decided to skim through the preface/intro because Momofuku is supposed to be this super important restaurant, a trendsetter, a trend breaker and all around food revolution, plus, I was curious to find out what these foodie rebels would have to say about desserts.

A whole lot it turns out, the intro goes on and on and on, like a Phish song on endless play (the first recipe starts on page 35!). There were some interesting tidbits, but mostly it was filler. Then there was an exhaustively complete section on kitchen essentials and ingredients. On the kitchen tools segment, everyone knows what a sound system is and why you'd have one in the kitchen, same with a vegetable peeler and spoons.

I did find some useful information in the ingredients section and for the novice baker, it is good to know that there is clear vanilla and brown (both available online), that chocolates are different and that kraft makes good mini marshmallows.

The recipes are divided into types; Cereal Milk, Crunch, Crumb, Liquid Cheesecake, etc. The super famous Crack Pie ($44 for a pie!) is included and I'm going to make it on my website just to find out if it really is worth $44.

But, for me, this is where the cookbook loses steam, the recipes themselves range in intricacy and technique from the simple (a recipe for Cinnamon Toast Crunch) to the difficult (Pistachio cake with it's alternating layers of cake, lemon curd, milk crumb and pistachio frosting assembled inside of a an acetate sheet lined cake ring) to the truly astronomically difficult, kimchi blue cheese croissants (oh how I want to eat one of these).

There are some truly transformative uses of ingredients in this book, pretzel crumbs, milk powder (secret ingredient of the pastry chef) and lots of made by hand crunchy bits that add brilliance to old favorites like white cake or the humble chocolate chip cookie.

But, personally, I found only a few recipes that I would try at home, in particular, the crack pie, the nut brittle (there were awesome directions and I had no idea brittle was so easy to make), the chinese sausage focaccia and the pistachio cake (maybe for the hubby's birthday, he loves pistachio ice cream).

But what I found most invaluable was the spirit of imagination, these are some really innovative cooks and they are going crazy with food. I loved the new ingredients and the interesting presentation of old favorites like banana cream pie and brioche. Some of the cool ingredient recipes, Kimchi butter and black pepper butter in particular could revolutionize home cooked recipes, I'm thinking of adding kimchi butter to my favorite naan recipe, nom nom.

Do I think this is a recipe book that should be on every home cook's shelf? Welllll, probably not, for me a shelfer is one with recipes that would become a part of my family's cooking tradition, I'm thinking of the roux technique I learned from Legasse, the basic bread dough I learned from Reinhart (no relation to me) or the beef stew I learned from Julia Child. But I definitely think this merits a look through, mostly because it makes me rethink some of the ingredients I have on hand in my pantry.

So, to sum up, here are the downsides,

1. Stupid photos of not food. There were 32 photos of the chefs (yep, I really did count them, Howard Hughes ain't got nothin' on me in the OCD department)! Some of pics showed earnest looking chefs making food, but it was unclear in most of the shots what recipe they were making and if it was something included in the book. Beyond irritating, sigh.

2. Lots of exotic ingredients that could prove difficult to find for the home cook; pistachio oil, toban djan, hazelnut paste, gianduja chocolate (some upscale version of Nuttella) and feulletine (broken bits of sugar cone'ish substance, costs about $55 on Amazon, too steep for my baking experiments, but then I'm a cheapskate).

3. Lots of exotic pieces would need to be bought before attempting many of these recipes, acetate sheets, gelatin sheets (tho' the author did say you can substitute regular gelatin, but it didn't say what amount or show an alternate recipe, so, I think you'd have to buy the gelatin sheets, I googled them and they aren't terribly pricey but you can't buy just a few, so it's a product commitment), an ice cream machine (I wish), silpat (I want) and bakery quality baking sheets (I need).

4. Some of the directions are hard to follow on the more difficult recipes, here's where a few step by step pics would have come in handy.

Here are the good things about the Milk Bar;

1. Downright tasty use of disparate ingredients, kimchi, cornflakes (my favorite cereal, evah), pumpkin seeds, earl grey tea, grapefruit (an underutilized fruit, IMHO) and pretzels.

2. Lots of interesting sounding snacks, some of them are used in concert with other recipes, but each element would be tasty on it's own, I like that a lot, because it means if I pooped out after making a milk crumb, I could just give up and eat it alone.

In the end, this is kinda coffee table'ish but without the interesting pics, does that make sense?

Here's one of the recipes from the book, it's savory instead of sweet and I thought it was tasty if overly meaty.  I loved the spiciness of the Guilin Chile sauce and next time I might try it fusion style, subbing pepperoni for the chinese sausage.

Chinese Sausage Focaccia

This is what I ate for breakfast.
Chinese Sausage, garlic and Guilin Chile Sauce
Once you have the ingredients together make the dough, then plop it onto a cutting board for a little bit of kneading.
 I tried to knead it but it was haaard.
The dough is super wet, so just kinda move it around a bit, resist adding more than a couple of extra Tablespoons of flour.  I don't know, I couldn't really knead this, it's very sticky and wet.

Proof the Dough, I put it into the microwave (don't turn on the microwave!).  Note: Microwaves are the perfect temp for proofing.

Toss the garlic, sausage, oil and chile sauce into a pan and fry the heck out of it over a med/low heat.  I have a tendency to wander off during boring steps like this one, so I set it on super low and watched an episode of Star Trek, it was the one where Warf's parents stop in for a visit.  Strangely it got me thinking that if this focaccia was served on the end of a sword with a broth of blood for dipping, it would be a fine addition to a Klingon feast.

Anyways, drain the red oil from the sausage/garlic mixture.
Save the oil and the sausage separately.  I put mine into little containers like this.  I should have made extra oil, because it was tasty and pretty, like liquid jasper or something that drains out of a dirty car.
Spread the dough onto a sheet of parchment (put the parchment onto your baking sheet first or else you will have a devil of a time moving it after).  Stretch the dough out by hand until it is roughly the size of a hand towel.  Sprinkle half of the garlic sausage filling down the center of the dough.
Fold one third of the dough over to cover the sausage.

Spinkle more sausage garlic on the dough and then fold over and seal.
Your dough should look something like this now.
After the dough proofs for 45 minutes to an hour, dimple it with your fingers, in other words, poke it all over and add the reserved oil around the edges.
Don't pour the oil over the dough, just sorta spoon it around the dough, like this.  Looks kinda weird, right?  I had a mini freak out at this point, the dough looked strange and adding the oil was odd and I almost tossed the whole lot into the trash, but finally decided, 'what the hell, it couldn't get any worse, right?'
Bake in a preheated oven for 15-25 minutes or until golden.  Mine never turned golden, hmm, maybe next time I could brush the top with egg whites.  Anyways, it still looked pretty good and guess what?
Most of the oil was absorbed into the bread and made the bottom crust delightfully crunchy.

Here's the full recipe, with liberties taken for method and some of the ingredients.  If you want to see the original recipe, buy a copy of Milk Bar when it comes out in hardcover 25 October 2011.

Chinese Sausage Focaccia
from Milk Bar by Christina Tosi and David Chang

Sausage filling:

340g/12 ozs. chinese sausage, sliced
8 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
150g/1 cup canola
150g/1/3 cup Guilin Chile Sauce or Toban Djan

Mother Dough:

550g/3 1/2 cups all purpose flour (I subbed 1/4 cup wheat bran, cause I like the taste of wheat)
12g/1 Tablespoon kosher salt
3.5g/1 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast (just eyeball that 1/8 tsp if you don't have a 1/8 tsp measure, it wont really matter if you over or under the measurement, dough is not that persnickity, IMHO)
370g/1 3/4 room temp. water.
Grapeseed oil or canola for greasing a bowl

1.  Stir together the flour, salt, yeast and add the water.  Mix until you have shaggy dough.

2.  Knead until the dough looks more doughlike.  It wont be easy, like I showed in the pic above, this is a wet, loose dough.

3.  Dump the dough into a well oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place into a warm, draft free location, like a microwave after you've heated up a cup of tea.

4.  Drink tea and wait 45 minutes to an hour for the dough in the microwave to double in size.

5.  Dump your sausage, oil, garlic and chile sauce into a frying pan and fry it over a medium/low temp for 15 minutes.  The oil will turn red, the garlic translucent and the sausage will become dark and chewy.

6.  Drain the oil and save it seperately from the oil.

7.  If you poop out after this.  Take the bread from the microwave, drop it into a plastic bag and put it into the fridge along with your reserved oil and garlic/sausage mix.  I left mine in the fridge for three days because it was too hot to bake.  If you do this allow the dough to come to room temp before following the rest of the directions.

8.  When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375.

9.  Spread the dough out on a sheet of parchment until it is roughly the size of a hand towel.  Sprinkle one half of the sausage mixture down the middle of the dough.  Fold 1/3 of the dough over the sausage.

10.  Sprinkle the other half of the sausage over the dough and then fold the last third over the top and seal (there wasn't much sealing to be done, the dough was sticky enough that it stuck to itself).

11.  Spread the reserved oil around the edges of the dough.  DO NOT pour the oil over the dough, you'll want to, but just don't.

12.  Bake for 15 to 25 minutes, mine was toasty in 22 minutes.

13.  Let the focaccia rest for about an hour because it will be gummy if you slice into it right away.  I couldn't wait and cut off a tiny corner after about thirty (very long) minutes of waiting.

Serves 6 to 8

16 May 2011

Free Comic Book Day 2011

Wowee, this is a late post, but I just wanted to write a little bit about Free Comic Book Day.  The event falls on the first Saturday in May and right now I can't believe I missed out on it for years!  So, anyways, this was my first time and I wasn't sure what to expect (beyond the obvious, free comics, weeee!).

Well, it was fun and our favorite comics store, http://www.ilikecomicswa.com/ was super crowded.  I like that.  It means we are not alone in our love of all things superpowered and spandex-y.

Take a look at the great comics we picked up, totally gratis;

 Pretty awesome, right?  Even better, they were completely free!!!!

Some guys from Blue Water were there and they signed these FREE comics for us.  Yahoo!

Also, I bought this one, just because it was so flipping cool.

Isn't it adorable?  Sad, too, because now Prince William isn't an eligible bachelor anymore and so I will have to stop dreaming that he will sweep me off to Buckingham Palace to live with him, sigh.  I bet Buckingham is drafty and smells like bacon.  Plus, it would kinda suck living with the Queen, I bet she's a neatfreak.

Anyways, I've already put Free Comic Book Day on my calender for next year.
Maybe I'll see you there.

Essential Pepin; More than 700 all time favorites

I have just one complaint about this cookbook and I'll state it upfront before I go into full on fangirl swoon, no pictures.  Not a single blurry polaroid. I received this as a galley, so maybe my copy wasn't complete, I hope not, but even without the pictures, this cookbook falls into a very small category of food books that I freaking love.

Here's the shortlist of other books I love, just to give some context;  1,000 Indian Recipes, The Pioneer Woman Cooks, From Emeril's Kitchens, The Way to Cook (by Julia Child),  Mexico, One Plate at a Time and The Breadmakers Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.

Essential Pepin is divided into many chapters (the book has 700 recipes!) the first is soups, after a few pages of cold soups (I despise cold soups, unless you count melted ice cream as a soup) it then moves into some real soup recipes I could see myself making for my family; Sausage, Potato & Cabbage and Garlic Soup sound the most delish and easy to make midweek.

Then onto Salads; Spinach & Mozzarella, Frisee w/Croutons and spicy olives, Asian Savoy, Lentil and Potato. Pepin shows his French bistro roots by including many recipes for souffles, usually this would be a downer for me.  Souffles are scary.  We've all seen videos of a collapsed one and I just know, in my heart of hearts, that I'd make a collapsed, leathery souffle too.  But Pepin's confident directions and forthright tips have almost convinced me to give one a try (the Herb and Goat Cheese Souffle, perhaps?).

For a cookbook of mostly French cuisine (which is daunting and complicated for the average cook, or if you are like me, the subaverage cook,  who grew up on a diet of tuna casserole and velveeta), there are a surprising number of foods that I think would make lovely weeknight family dinners; Baked Chicken with Herb Crumbs, Chicken in Tarragon Sauce, Mussels Mariniere (my son loves shellfish, so I'll give this one a go) and Poached Salmon in Ravigote Sauce, ravigote means 'to invigorate' in French and the lemon, garlic and scallion sauce does sound rather ravigote to me.

For special nights, Duck with Orange Sauce, Lobster in Artichoke Hearts (my two fave foods, together? The end is nigh!) Beef Tournedos in Mushroom, Mustard and Red Wine Sauce, Stuffed Squid with Cream Sauce and Kasha and the delicious sounding Lobster Souffle are just some of the more daring (and time consuming) choices.
Often there are suggestions for substitutions of ingredients and nice bits of information about the foods being prepared including references to his mother's cooking and restaurants that he admires.  On a sidenote, I've always wondered where chefs eat and what they order when they are out.  Now I know.

Anyways, the side dishes are wonderful, I'm always on the lookout for new veg recipes and hope to add Baker's Wife Potatoes (sliced potatoes cooked with stock and wine after a brief saute), Asparagus in Mustard Sauce, Cream Puff Potatoes, Cauliflower with Toasted Crumbs and Eggplant and Tomato Gratin to my cooking roster.

Whew, I haven't even gotten to the desserts.  I will just say that they are sweet, delightful and entirely too enticing.  His exhaustive description for a tarte tatin almost made me feel like I'd just eaten one.

Bread in a bucket is a recipe I must try, I mean it is BREAD in a BUCKET!  Same same with the English Christmas Pudding with Hard Sauce, I've always wanted to make one for Christmas or perhaps a future post about pudding with hard sauce ala Anne Shirley of Green Gables (no dead mice in my sauce, alas).

So, pictures or no pictures, this is a great cookbook.

27 April 2011

Don't Panic and bring Tea

A short while before this Arthur had set out from his cabin in search of a cup of tea.  It was not a quest he embarked upon with a great deal of optimism, because he knew that the only source of hot drinks on the entire ship was a benighted piece of equipment produced by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.  It was called a Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer and he had encountered it before.

It claimed to produce the widest possible range of drinks personally matched to the tastes and metabolism of whoever cared to use it. 

When put to the test, however, it invariably produced a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

I feel very proper when I drink tea served on a saucer.
There are some books so great that you always keep a copy, dog eared and smelling of doritos and coffee, it's stuffed into a creaky bookshelf, precious and irreplaceable.  This isn't one of those books, only because it has been continuously in print and you never have to worry about finding another copy.

I think when the British mention tea with biscuits, they are talking about a cookie or a cracker.  I'm not sure and can't authenticate the matter (too tired and lazy), but I'm pretty sure that these oat and maple biscuits would pass in a pinch.

Maple Oat Biscuits

1 cup oat flour (put one cup plus two tablespoons of oats into your blender and grind it to a flour-y consistency)
1-1/4 cup all purpose flour
6 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 egg
1/3 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

1.  Cut the butter into the flours, salt, sugar and baking powder until the dough is crumbly, use a pastry cutting thingy, like this:

2.  Mix in the liquid ingredients; maple syrup, egg, vanilla and milk.

No, not enough maple syrup!  I guess I could use honey, sigh.
3.  Mix the sticky dough and turn it out onto a floured surface.  If your dough is too wet, feel free to add flour until you can handle the dough and gently knead it for two to three minutes.

4.   Now for the fun part, rolling and cutting.

5.  Once all the biscuits are cut, put them in the freezer.  I don't know why, it must have something to do with the butter, but biscuits and scones turn out lighter and flakier when they've been frozen before baking.  Fifteen minutes should do it.

6.  Preheat the oven to 425.  Bake the biscuits on parchment paper, an inch apart for 10-14 minutes.

Eat these with lots of sweet butter and jam.  Go ahead cutie, you have my blessing.

26 April 2011

Erma Bombeck's Fuzzy Brownies

One evening at a jewelry party, one of the brownies I was serving dropped on the carpet.  I reached over, picked it off the floor, popped it in my mouth, and said, "A fuzzy brownie never hurt anyone."

A woman I knew only as Nicky looked deep into my eyes and nodded knowingly.  "Only a Pisces on the cusp would say that."

I asked her how she knew.  She said certain traits belonged to certain signs.  According to my birthdate, I was born on a rising sign which made my destiny special.  I was a wonderful homemaker, excellent cook, and fine seamstress.  That wasn't a destiny.  It was a sentence!

from Aunt Erma's Cope Book: How to Get from Monday to Friday . . .in 12 Days

by Erma Bombeck

My son took this picture for me, that's why it is so much better than all the others.

I've read every Erma book at least twice.  When I was pregnant with my son I devoured the books like they were the last chocolates on earth.

I had copies of What to Expect When You're Expecting, The Baby Book by Dr. Sears and Natural Childbirth, the Bradley Way.   But, I barely skimmed these books, tossing them aside in favor of Erma Bombeck.

Her writings were the equivalent of a memoir from a soldier in the trenches.   She knew, man.  Who needs fusty old Dr. Sears when I could read about someone who tried to save money on groceries by making chicken necks, tied together like a raft and set afloat on a sea of blue colored rice! Now that is Hall of Fame worthy!  Speaking of, there should be a Housewife's Hall of Fame, dontcha think?

Anyways, this recipe for cocoa powder brownies has been floating around the internet for a while.  I first read about them on Smitten Kitchen about a year ago and was struck by the look of the brownies, almost black and impossibly fudgy.

I had a tried and true recipe using baker's chocolate (the recipe was on the inside of the cheery orange box) and I had a hard time imagining a brownie that could be as good as one that uses tempered (fancy schmancy word for melted) chocolate.

But these brownies are soooooo good.  Imagine the best brownie in the world and then double it.  A little bitter and densely chocolately in a way I've never experienced before.  Like a flourless chocolate cake (in fact these do have just 1/2 cup of flour) spliced with a salted chocolate truffle, an intensely bittersweet chocolate experience that makes you crave just one more (I ate four and feel a little bit ill now, actually.  Ohhh, my poor tummy).

So here they are, the best brownies in the world. 

Best Cocoa Brownies
From Smitten Kitchen, adapted from Alice Medrich's book, Bittersweet 

The recipe says it makes 25 small brownies, but in my house this batch made just sixteen

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter (I used half salted, its all I had)
1 1/4 sugar (I used almost all raw sugar, too lazy to go out and buy other sugar, plus it was super cold and the grocery store is sooo far away!)
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup walnuts or pecans

Preheat the oven to 325 and move your oven rack to the middle.  Prepare an 8x8 pan by lining it with parchment paper or aluminum foil.  Don't worry if the parchment wrinkles and doesn't entirely fit your pan.  Jut plop it in with enough hanging over the sides for you to grab onto and pull once the brownies are baked (clean up is so easy).

1.  In the top of a double boiler, or a clean glass bowl set over a bowl of slowly bubbling boiling water, melt the butter.  Add the cocoa, salt and vanilla and stir until some of the grittiness subsides.

2.  Remove the bowl of chocolate from the heat of the stovetop and carefully stir in the eggs, one at a time.  Now add the flour and nuts (if you are using them, if not forget it). 

3.  Once this is all mixed, pour, or rather plop the whole mess into the prepared pan.  These brownies are thick, almost like a bread dough instead of a batter.

4.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  If the brownies don't spread out, with flat even tops when they are done, don't stress yourself, as long as they pass the gooey test (a butter knife slid in comes out with fudgy crumbs and not slick, undercooked chocolate) they are done.  Mine turned out kinda ugly this time, probably because I didn't use the right kind of sugar, but they tasted just as wonderful as always.

5.  Cool the brownies for as long as possible (I stuck mine in the freezer for twenty minutes) before carefully slicing them into squares.  Drop them on the floor for fuzzies or not (I didn't).


09 April 2011

Fairy Pizza

"Faeries like pizza?" I asked.
"Oh, Harry," Toot said breathlessly. "Haven't you ever had pizza before?"
"Of course I have," I said.
Toot looked wounded. "And you didn't share?"

From Storm Front by Jim Butcher

I looooove this book.  I love it so much I've read it three times.  I love it so much I want excerpts read at my funeral.  I want to rip pages from the book and line the walls of my bedroom with them like one of those creepy television villains.  Okay, maybe not that much, it sounds like a lot of work and would put too many little holes in the walls.  Anyway, you know where I'm going with this.

A wizard for hire, a nasty string of dead people with exploded hearts and fairies.  What's not to like? 

Anyway if you like your gumshoe mystery with a supernatural slant, you must try this series.

Oh, also, it has pizza.

I like pizza.  I like it so much that I make it a couple of times a month.  But the big sticking point is the dough.  I've tried  almost a dozen pizza crust recipes, none of them are perfect but this one is the closest yet.

It has a weird ingredient, I like weird ingredients.

Okay, so before you start this I should let you know a few things.  First, I don't have a stand mixer.  Lots of bread recipes list this useful appliance in their directions.  I really hate that.  It smacks of bread elitism (yep, chip on shoulder the size of a challah).

Soooo, if you have a stand mixer, good for you, use it.  This recipe is adapted for making dough the old fashioned pre-industrial revolution way.

Pizza Dough with Wine and Honey
From Simply Great Breads by Daniel Leader and Lauren Chattman

3 cups flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour (this is a slight change from the recipe, but it still turned out pretty tasty)
2 Tablespoons instant yeast (I know it sounds like a lot, but trust me, it works)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cup water, very warm
1/3 white wine (Isn't that crazy weird?!  I slipped and probably tipped in an extra tablespoon, oops)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon honey


1.  In a small bowl mix the very warm water with the honey, sprinkle the yeast on top and set a timer for five minutes.

2.  In a bigger bowl mix the flours and salt.  Once the timer dings, dump the water-yeast-honey mixture into the bowl.  Add the wine and the olive oil and mix the dough until it looks like this.

Looks kinda raggy, right?
3.  Dump the raggedy mess onto a floured surface and knead the heck out of it.  I can't give you an exact time, I kneaded it through the last few minutes of an episode of Camelot, so like seven minutes?

4.  When the dough looks more like dough.

Like this.

Plop it into an oiled bowl, not metal, and cover it with cling wrap or a cloth and place this into a warm spot for two hours (I put mine into the microwave after heating a cup of coffee).

5.  Take the dough out, punch it down and slip it into a ziploc bag and toss it in the refrigerator until tomorrow.

6.  When you are ready to make pizza with it, remove it from the refrigerator about an hour before you add toppings.