Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pumpkin-Swirl Brownies

Since we were dealing with lots of chocolate earlier this week, I thought I'd continue that theme today with some Pumpkin-Swirl Brownies.  You might be wondering what the heck pumpkin is doing in a brownie.  And that might actually be a good question.  When I read the reviews of this recipe, there were definitely a few folks that thought the pumpkin did not belong.  Since I tend to love all things pumpkin, I thought I'd give them a try to see what I thought.  And I liked them a lot!  They are cakier than my favorite brownie, but that is okay with me.  They are supposed to be different!  It's a different recipe!

So yes, they fall into the "cakey" category of brownies, not the "fudgey" category of brownies.  But they are still very tasty.  There is a tiny hit of cayenne in the batter, which gives these brownies the littlest kick at the end.  I actually used less cayenne than the recipe suggested, and I found the amount to be perfect.  Again, something you didn't actually notice until the end and then got a nice kick.  Perfect.  Another bonus to these is that they stayed moist for several days!  And aren't they pretty? 

Pumpkin-Swirl Brownies
adapted from Martha Stewart

8 TB (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (original recipe called for 1/4 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar  
4 large eggs
1 TB vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups solid-pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped pecans or other nuts

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter a 9x13-inch baking dish.  Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and butter the parchment.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler, sitting over but not touching simmering water.  Stir occasionally until smooth.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cayenne and salt in a large bowl and set aside.  Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until the mixture is fluffy and well combined.  This will take 3-5 minutes.  Mix in the flour mixture.

Divide the batter into two medium bowls, that fit about 2 cups per bowl.  Stir the chocolate mixture into one bowl.  Stir the pumpkin, oil, cinnamon and nutmeg into the batter in the other bowl.  Transfer half of the chocolate batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula.  Top with half of the pumpkin batter.  Repeat to make one more chocolate layer and one more pumpkin layer.  With a small spatula or table knife, gently swirl the two batters to create a marbled look.  Sprinkle the top with pecans or nuts of your choice.

Bake until set,40-45 minutes.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack.  Remove the brownies from the pan by lifting out the parchment lining.  Cut the brownies into squares.
Printable Recipe 

I suggest giving these a try.  Spice things up a bit in your brownie world!  It's worth it!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

TWD - Baking with Julia: Double Chocolate Cookies

This week's Tuesday's with Dorie recipe is Double Chocolate Cookies.  It is sort of a test of the question, "can you ever have too much of a good thing?"  Can you?  We'll see what you think at the end here...

Just as a preview, the double chocolate comes from both unsweetened chocolate and bittersweet chocolate.  Really.  No milk chocolate or white chocolate here to screw change things up.  We are talking about dark, chocolatey chocolate, and then more of that. 

Before we get carried away, lets start with the more basic part:

Indeed, there is flour, baking powder and salt in this recipe.  They are whisked together and put aside for later.  Do you see the tiny amount in the bowl?  That is all the flour in this recipe.  Not much.  The chocolate totally takes center stage here!

Onto the chocolate!  Now, I cheated, or rather changed things a bit here.  While I said above that this recipe was all about bittersweet chocolate and unsweetened chocolate, that was actually true as to what the recipe said.  However when I began making these cookies I realized I was low on unsweetened chocolate.  Instead of having 4 ounces, I had only two.  No, I was not going to jump into my car and go to the grocery store for 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate.  Not when there is an easy substitute to be found!  For every ounce of unsweetened chocolate, mix 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder with 1 tablespoon of some sort of fat (butter/shortening/oil).  I used butter.  Since it just so happens that the Costco by me recently started carrying the most awesome cocoa powder ever (in my humble opinion) in GINORMOUS containers for the same price as the tiny container at the grocery store, and I bought two of those ginormous containers in a "what if they don't carry this forever" frenzy, I have plenty of cocoa powder to spare in such a substitute!  Yes!  So maybe my cookies should technically be called TRIPLE chocolate cookies??  What do you think?  Oh, and in case you are wondering, my most favorite cocoa powder is Rodelles.  Yum. 

Anyway, melt half of the bittersweet chocolate with some butter, the unsweetened chocolate, and the cocoa powder substitute (in my case) on a double boiler.

While the chocolatey chocolate is melting away, get to some serious whipping of eggs, sugar, instant coffee powder (decaf in my case) and vanilla.  Serious whipping, as in it goes for at least 10 minutes, until it is nice and frothy and thick.

Mix the melty chocolatey goodness in, and then add that tiny amount of dry ingredients and some MORE bittersweet chocolate.  This time the chocolate is in chunks (or chips in my case).  Refrigerate overnight.  That is the hardest part about this recipe.  Patience...

The next day, plop the batter down on parchment covered cookie sheets by the tablespoonful.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Now, the recipe says to err on the side of pulling the cookies out early if you are not sure.  The cookies should puff, sink, crinkle and wrinkle.  Hmmm.  Personally, I think the cookies were better when I erred on the side of baking them a little longer.  They weren't as gushy on the insides and were easier to get off of the cookie sheets (even after letting them sit a bit).  They were still nice and chewy and melty, but this way they also had a bit of a crunch around the edges, a bit more structure.  Just my opinion!

Now, on to the big question... can you have too much of a good thing?  Well, I have to admit that I found these to be a bit TOO much.  Did I actually say/type that??  Here is what I think:  While I do think that coffee enhances chocolate flavor (see my favorite chocolate cake recipe!) I think there was too much in this recipe, as the coffee flavor lingered.  I also think this recipe could have been helped by a hit of cinnamon or even cayenne pepper.  A little kick to cut the sweetness a bit.  Or maybe just reduce the amount of sugar??  Or both!  Now, do these petty critiques stop me from eating these cookies?  NO WAY.  Nope, they sure don't.

I mean, really, don't you want to just take a bite right now?  Trust me, a nearby glass of milk is necessary!

This recipe can be found on pages 329-330 in Baking with Julia.  I could not find a good source for the recipe online, so here you go! 

Double Chocolate Cookies
adapted from Baking with Julia
makes 24 big cookies (I made closer to 36, still pretty big!)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into larger-than-chip-size chunks
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 TB  instant coffee powder
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside. 

Place the butter, half of the bittersweet chocolate and the unsweetened chocolate on the top of a double boiler over (not touching) simmering water.  Heat the mixture, stirring occasionally, until everything is melted and smooth.  Remove from heat.

Using the whisk attachment for an electric mixer, whip the eggs, sugar, coffee powder and vanilla until very thick, about 10 minutes.  The mixture should form a ribbon when the whisk is lifted, and the ribbon should slowly drizzle back into the bowl. 

On low speed, gradually add the warm chocolate/butter mixture.  Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl and continue to mix just until the chocolate is incorporated.  Add the dry ingredients and the rest of the bittersweet chocolate pieces and mix thoroughly.  The mixture will look like a thick cake batter.

Cover the bowl with plastic and chill for several hours or overnight.  This dough can be made and chilled for up to 4 days before baking. 

Preheat the oven to 350F and position the oven racks so the oven is divided into thirds.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Drop the dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto the parchment paper, spacing the cookies approximately 2 inches apart.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pans front to back and top to bottom mid-way through the baking period.  The cookies will puff and then sink, crinkle and wrinkle on the edges.  The cookies should not appear to be dry and they will not be crispy.  Use a wide metal spatula to transfer the cookies to a cooling rack, where they should cool to room temperature. 

The cookies can be wrapped in plastic and kept at room temperature for 2 days or frozen for a month.  Thaw (wrapped) at room temperature.
Printable Recipe

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Amazing Baked Brie

The other day I mentioned that I had hosted my book group recently.  The morning I was to host, I woke up thinking that I needed to make a baked brie for everyone to nosh on before we actually sat down to eat.  Great idea, wouldn't you say?  Normally, when I make a baked brie I do it in puff pastry.  This time I didn't want to go the puff pastry route, I wanted to try something different.  Ages ago, I made a brie without pastry but I have no recollection as to what it was, just that it was pastry-free.  So I did a little searching to find a recipe that looked good and boy, did I find one!  How about Baked Brie with Pecans, Brown Sugar, and Kahlua??  Ahh, you've got me!

This takes no time at all to prepare.  If you happen to live by a Costco, during the holidays (and possibly at other times too) they have ginormous wheels of brie.  They are literally 19 or 20 ounces of cheesy goodness!  I recommend getting one of those bad boys and maybe doubling or 1 1/2-ing this recipe for the mega-brie.  Whatever guests you have will not complain.  The brie you see here is also from Costco, but it is a smaller 13.4 ounce-er.  The bigger the better with this thing, as it is amazing! 

Anyway, take that wheel of creamy deliciousness out of its packaging and set it on your cutting board.  Score a circle on the top of the wheel, 1/4 inch in from the edge.  With a spoon, scrape the white rind off of the middle of your circle.

Toast some pecans and mix them with brown sugar and Kahlua.  Seriously, with that combination, what could possibly go wrong?  Nothing, I say.  Put that heavenly mixture on top of the brie, staying within that circle you made.

Stick it in the oven for a few minutes, pull it out and KA-POW, you have created a scrumptious appetizer!  Serve with crackers and/or tart apple slices.  YUM. 

Now that I have made this brie, I am not sure I'll do the pastry-wrapped one again.  That one is delicious, I agree, but this one is not only delicious but EASIER.  No defrosting, rolling, wrapping of puff pastry.  And you could totally switch this one up in all sorts of ways.  Add some dried cherries or cranberries!  Use walnuts/almonds/hazelnuts, whatever your favorite nut might be!  Not a fan of Kahlua?  Use maple syrup!  Or honey!  Seriously, you could make endless renditions of this baked brie, and I think they would probably all be amazing. 

Try this.  It's so simple, and so good!

Baked Brie with Pecans, Brown Sugar, and Kahlua
adapted from many online sources

13.4 ounce wheel of Brie
2/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 TB Kahlua
1-2 tart apples, sliced

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Using a knife, gently score a circle on the top of the wheel, 1/4 inch in from the edge.  With a spoon, scrape the white rind off of the middle of your circle.  Place the brie in the center of an oven-safe platter.

Mix the pecans, brown sugar and Kahlua in a small bowl.  Spoon the mixture into the center of the brie, covering the circle you created and staying within the 1/4-inch rim.  Bake for 8-15 minutes, until the topping begins to bubble.  Be careful not to overcook the brie - it will melt and lose it's shape if you leave it in the oven too long! 

Serve while warm, with crackers and apple slices.
Printable Recipe

This was a total hit with my book group, as I think it would be with any group!  Is there anything yummier than gooey melted brie?  Mmmm....


Monday, November 11, 2013

Book Group Soup

I am in a neighborhood book group, and yesterday was my turn to host!  For our group, that means that you choose the book and prepare a light meal at your house for the meeting.  I said a little prayer for fall weather (it had been in the 80's here - blech) and decided to serve soup and salad.  My prayers were answered!  A cool front came in during the afternoon and the temperatures dropped!  Perfect for soup!  Thank goodness, since we were having soup regardless!  I made Italian Sausage and Bean soup.  I found this recipe one day while at my favorite grocery store (HEB, for you Texans out there) with my sister.  They were sampling the soup and we both thought it was WAY too salty but had real potential.  Boy, am I glad we grabbed that recipe because it has become one of my favorites!  I think it may become one of your favorites, too!

In my personal opinion, this soup is even better the next day.  The flavors really come together and the broth thickens a bit.  So, if you are someone who likes leftovers, this is an awesome deal.  OR, if you like to plan ahead, cook up this soup the night before you want to serve it, stopping at the point before you would add the pasta.  Refrigerate overnight and then bring to a boil the next day, throw in the pasta, and VOILA!  Dinner is ready!

Italian Sausage and Bean Soup

2 TB olive oil, divided
1 lb. Italian sausage, casings removed if in link form (can use turkey Italian sausage here!)
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups diced carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 TB minced garlic (around three medium cloves)
1 TB salt-free Italian seasoning (I recommend Penzey's Tuscan Sunset - YUM)
5-6 cups chicken stock
1 can Italian-style diced tomatoes (no salt added)
1 can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup elbow macaroni or dilatini (which looks like small tubes)


Heat 1 TB olive oil in a 6-quart Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium heat.  Add the sausage and cook until browned, breaking up the sausages into small pieces with the edge of a wooden spoon.  Remove to a paper-towel lined shallow bowl and set aside.

Add remaining oil to the same pot, and saute the onions, carrots, celery, garlic and Italian seasoning.  Cook 7-9 minutes, until the veggies are tender.  Return the sausage to the pot.

Stir in the broth, starting with the lower amount.  Add the tomatoes and beans.  Bring soup to a full boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 15-20 minutes uncovered.

Before serving, bring soup to a full boil and add pasta.  Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the pasta is al dente.  Check the pasta package for an idea as to how much time this might take, though probably around 10 minutes.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, and /or crushed red pepper flakes, if desired.
Printable Recipe

I think you could call this a minestrone soup, actually.  I am not sure why not. And I like that name better, so I think from now on I'll call this minestrone soup.  You look at the ingredients, do you agree that it is essentially a minestrone? 

Just in case you are wondering, we discussed the book, The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom.  It was my second time reading it, and I enjoyed it just as much this time!  I highly recommend!

I hope you enjoy some hot soup on a nice cool fall day!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

These fall days have my mind going crazy with ideas.  The biggest question might be "why on earth does someone who loves autumn so much live in Houston?" and trust me, I ask myself the same thing all the time.  However since we just finished building our beautiful new home, I think we are going to be here for a while so I just have to continue bring fall into my home, even if fall doesn't really exist outside.  Mind over matter!

When I was little we went apple picking every fall.  Did I mention that I didn't grow up in this crazy autumnless state?  I grew up in St. Louis, a place that actually has FOUR SEASONS.  Crazy, I know.  Ah, I digress.  You cannot go apple picking in Houston, so I have been buying up all sorts of apples in the grocery store to create autumn at home.  And with numerous bags of apples on my counter, I decided to make apple butter, something my mom used to do when we were kids.  I have no idea what recipe she used, but the one I found turned out pretty darned tasty, I must say.  I found it at My Baking Addiction, and it is yummo!  You can probably use any mixture of apples for apple butter, but I recommend a mix of sweet and tart apples to get a more rounded flavor.  I used Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Honey Crisp and Jonathan. 

For reasons that can only be contributed to temporary insanity, I did not get out my apple peeler/corer/slicer gadget for this undertaking and instead used my trusty paring knife.  For 6 1/2 pounds of apples.  Yes, 6 1/2 pounds.  Why did I do that?  Who knows.  Regardless, it is totally doable if you do not have an apple peeler gadget, but if you do have one, by all means drag that bad boy out and put it to use!    Good gracious.

Oh, and lets talk about sugar.  The amounts in this recipe are only a suggestion.  I used less, as I tend to like less sugar in things and I did use some sweeter apples.  The recipe calls for 1 cup each of granulated and of brown sugar.  I used 3/4 cup each and could probably have used a bit less, for my tastes anyway.  Do an amount that makes you happy!

You have to have some patience for this apple butter. It cooks in the slow cooker for about forever.  But it is WORTH IT.  And I did sort of speed up the process a little bit.  You are supposed to cook th apples on low for 10 hours, but by the time I finished peeling and coring and slicing all those apples (see, crazy over here) had I waited for 10 hours, it would have been done in the middle of the night.  So, I cooked it for 4 hours on high and then 3 more hours on low.  After the 10 hours you are supposed to have a thick, dark brown mixture and that is what I had!  Then you add some vanilla and let it cook for another 2 hours.  Yes, patience is much needed here!  Trust me, you will be rewarded in the end.  You'll have lots of delicious apple butter that you can freeze/gift/eat.

Slow Cooker Apple Butter
adapted from My Baking Addiction
yield - 4 pints

6 1/2 pounds apples - peeled, cored, sliced
1 cup granulated sugar (or amount to your taste)
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed (or amount to your taste)
1 TB ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 TB pure vanilla extract

Place the apples in the slow cooker.  In a medium bowl, combine the sugars, spices and salt.  Pour the mixture over the apples and mix well.  Cook in the slow cooker on low for 10 hours, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thickened and is dark brown.  Play with the time here - I cooked it on high for 4 hours and low for 3...  Other combinations probably work too, you just need it to be thick and brown at the end!

Uncover the slow cooker and stir in the vanilla extract.  Continue to cook on low, uncovered, for an additional 2 hours.

Puree the apples with an immersion blender until smooth.  Spoon into sterile containers, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks or freeze.
Printable Recipe

If you have never had apple butter, either come on over and try some or get out your slow cooker and make some anyway.  It is sort of like a creamier kind of applesauce.  Put it on toast, on a peanut butter sandwich, cook it with a pork tenderloin, spoon it over vanilla ice cream... the uses are endless.  I guarantee you will be sad when it is all gone!  Yum.  It is so good!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

TWD: Baking with Julia - Pumpernickel Loaves

Our recipe this week for Tuesday's with Dorie is Pumpernickel Loaves.  The recipe is on pages 95-98 of Baking with Julia, and can also be found here.  Though I have never made pumpernickel bread before, this recipe is a bit different in that the ingredient list includes unsweetened chocolate, espresso powder, molasses and prune butter.  Now, I must be totally honest here and admit that pumpernickel bread is not my favorite.  I like it okay, but it is never something I would choose at a deli or anything.  Honestly, I am not really a rye fan and since pumpernickel is in the rye family, it's just not my fave.  However, I gave this bread my best efforts anyway.  (to not such great results, unfortunately!!)

I actually made the dough twice.  The first time, I got all the flour in that the recipe called for and thought that it just didn't seem to fit the description that the recipe claimed.  It said the dough should be a very moist dough, very soft and elastic.  Not so much in my bowl.  I went through the first and second rise and then decided that it just was not right and pitched it right into the trash.  In the mean time, I watched the video as to how to bake this bread.  If you have ANY desire to bake this bread, I HIGHLY recommend watching this video.  The recipe gives this complicated description as to how to roll and shape the bread which makes a ton more sense after watching the video.  You can see the video here.   It is always fun to watch these clips to see Julia Child's expressions and hear her comments, so you might just want to watch it for the pure entertainment value!

When I attempted the dough for the second time, I really tried to channel Lauren Groveman (the recipe author) and imitate what I watched in the video.  I failed somewhere along the way, however.  This time I did not put in as much flour, yet still my dough was not "very moist and elastic".  She quite specifically stresses that you will need about 6 cups of flour in the dough, though the second time I only added closer to 5 cups  Still, I felt like my dough was closer to what she described when I was closer to 3 cups.  But I was hesitant to just stop there since she was so adamant on the 6 cups!  Maybe this is where I went wrong??  I don't know.  What I can say is that my bread turned out very dense, not nearly as light and puffy as they should have been.  The dough did rise well during both the first and second rise.  It did not rise much while it rested (suspended by cabinet pulls in tea-towel slings - how fun!), and then didn't rise a whole lot in the oven either. 

Please, fellow TWD bakers, help me figure out where I went wrong.  I really want to bake bread better than this!

The clever girl and I had some of the bread with breakfast - hers with a schmear of peanut butter and mine with a schmear of homemade apple butter.  Even though the bread was more dense than I prefer, it was pretty tasty!  I used less caraway seeds than the recipe called for, using only the whole seeds, none of the ground, so there was less RYE taste.  Stay tuned this week for the crock pot apple butter recipe!

Be sure to check out some of the success stories for this bread by heading to the TWD site and checking out the blogs of the other bakers! 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Pumpkin Cheese Ball!

As I mentioned a few days ago, I have gotten into the fall/halloween spirit and as such went with the theme when preparing snacks for church last week!  Here is a pumpkin cheese ball!  No, there is no actual pumpkin in the cheese ball, it just looks one!  When looking for a pumpkin cheese ball, I found many recipes that used crushed nacho chips on the outside.  While I am sure that could be quite good, when I found this one I knew it was a keeper.  The recipe is based on a Cook's Country cheddar cheese ball.  All that is added is a bit of paprika around the outside to make it a bit more orange in color! 

Pumpkin Cheddar Cheese Ball
adapted from Cooks Country

2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 TB mayonnaise
1 TB Worcestershire sauce
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4-1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
greens to set the cheese ball upon
crackers, chips,veggies for serving
stem of a bell pepper

Mix the cheddar, cream cheese, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and cayenne in a food processor until smooth.

Transfer the mixture to the center of a large piece of plastic wrap and shape into a mound with a spatula.  Bring up the four corners of the plastic wrap  and twist tightly to form a round ball shape. Set the plastic-wrapped ball in a small bowl if you have one, to help maintain the round shape on the bottom, and place in he refrigerator for at least 3 hours and up to 2 days. 

Remove the cheese ball from the refrigerator and reshape as needed while still wrapped in plastic.  Unwrap, leaving the ball on the plastic wrap.  Gently sprinkle paprika all over the outside of the cheese ball an then roll in the toasted almonds.  Press the bell pepper stem into the top of the cheese ball, making a pumpkin stem.  Set on some greens in the center of a platter.  Let it sit out a bit before servings so it is not too firm.  Serve with crackers, chips, carrot sticks, red pepper slices, etc.
Printable Recipe

Obviously, you do not need to make this cheese ball look like a pumpkin.  It is a delicious cheese ball for whatever event you might plan/attend that needs a great appetizer.  Why purchase a cheese ball from the store when this one is so easy and so delicious?