Sunday, April 28, 2013

Chocolate Truffle Brownies: The Water Bath!

Whenever I try to make the dark, dense, fudgey type of brownie, I get frustrated!  The outside edges get overcooked-- dry, crunchy and weirdly "risen" in an unattractive way.  Then the center is mushy, undercooked and unappetizing.  They don't cut and serve nicely either.  The center pieces are too fragile and the outer ones are super uneven and hard.  I talked to some other brownie bakers and they said they had the same problem.  What's with these recipes?  How do other people make nicely formed, uniformly baked homemade fudgey brownies?  Not all recipes have this problem.  I've noticed that the brownie recipes using baking soda or baking powder bake pretty evenly, and the old-fashioned recipes that aren't super dense with chocolate and butter seem to "behave" better, too.  I know some people like the crunchy edges of the brownies and they are tasty, but they usually get cut off and eaten by the cook because they just don't make a good showing in public.
I kept thinking there must be a better way, and then it came to me:  The unleavened brownie mixture: butter, egg, sugar, chocolate and just a little flour is more custard-like than cake-like.  Custards are always baked in a water bath to prevent the outer edges from getting overcooked before the center is "set".  Maybe that's it!  Bake the brownies in a water bath!
I couldn't wait to try this out!  It worked!  The brownies baked very evenly-- soft but set all around and in the middle!  No uneven sinking or rising!  
Well, before I could pat myself on the back, I had to check to see if any other baking "genius" had thought of this and sure enough, I am not the first by any means to give this a try!  Still, if you haven't heard of this method, I thought it was worth passing along!  I tried this method with a "basic" brownie recipe and a fancier one I developed to taste like a chocolate truffle and both recipes came out evenly baked so that they cut and served very nicely.  The only downside to this method is it will take longer for your brownies to bake.  You need to have the temperature at 325F no matter what your recipe calls for originally.  Try the method on your own recipe or if you're looking for a deep, dark, fudgey brownie with a chocolatey frosting, you might try this one.  I wanted them to taste like the chocolate ganache inside a truffle with the yummy chocolate coating on the outside, so I used heavy cream instead of the usual butter.  So far, this is what I've come up with, and my friend Terry, an admitted chocoholic, approved of my experiment!
Chocolate Truffle Brownies (makes 20 brownies)
1 cup heavy cream
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, cut up
2 eggs
2 cups sugar
1.5 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup flour
boiling water
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla 
about 2 cups powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 325F.  You'll need a 9x9 square pan and another pan that it can fit into, like this:

I used a roasting pan, but it doesn't have to be that much bigger.  
Put the chopped chocolate in a large mixing bowl.  Put the cream in a microwave safe cup and microwave until it bubbles up (watch it!).  Pour over the chocolate and let it sit for a few minutes.
In the meantime, line the square pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil.  Spray with PAM.
Stir the softened chocolate with a whisk until it's all melted into the cream.  It might not look very smooth-- don't worry.  Add the sugar, salt, and vanilla and whisk well.  Add the eggs and whisk until everything is smooth.  Add the flour and whisk until smooth again.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.  Set the pan into the larger pan and put it in the oven.  Pour boiling water carefully into the larger pan until it comes about halfway up the side of the brownie pan.  Be careful not to get water on the brownie batter.
Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the aroma of chocolate is in the air and the batter is "set" in the center.  A toothpick stuck in the center will come out almost clean and when you press on the center it will seem firm-ish (not hard).
Take the brownie pan from the water bath and cool on a rack until cooled.
For the frosting, microwave the cream as before and pour over the chocolate chips.  Stir until the chips are melted and combined with the cream.  Add the vanilla.  Beat in powdered sugar until the frosting is very thick, creamy and spreadable.  Frost the brownies, then refrigerate until the frosting is set.  If you let the brownies get good and cold, you'll be able to lift them out of the pan with the parchment or foil liner and they will cut cleanly.  Yay!


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Whole-wheat Grapefruit Cake-- It's good! Really!

My wonderful daughter and son-in-law gave me "The Smitten Kitchen" cookbook by Deb Perelman for my birthday!  It has so many tasty looking recipes, well, you know-- where to begin? :)  I've made her Gooey Cinnamon Squares, and they were fantastic!  
I kept coming back to a recipe she had for a grapefruit cake that used olive oil instead of butter.  This sounded delicious AND a bit healthier, too!  I wanted to try it, but I thought I might mess with it a bit to make it even easier to make using the food processor (I streamlined the procedure and it still came out tender and moist.
) and possibly a bit MORE healthy by using whole-wheat pastry flour.  If you haven't discovered whole-wheat pastry flour, you have to give it a chance!  I've tried to incorporate whole-wheat flour in a lot of baked goods, but have had some dismal results.  Not only were they heavy and dense, but they had a weird, kind of bitter taste to me.  You can compensate by adding some white flour, but by the time it tastes good, the whole-wheat flour has made a mere token appearance at best.  Whole-wheat pastry flour, however, is actually quite different.  It's made from the whole grain of soft-wheat flour (regular whole-wheat is made from a mixture of soft and hard wheat grains or only hard wheat grains).  So, it's analogous to white pastry flour, which makes super tender cakes, flaky crusts, tender cookies-- well, you get the idea.  Anyway, so it seemed like the flavor of whole-wheat would go well with the olive oil.  The grapefruit adds a lovely floral / citrus note.  The cake uses very little sugar too, and some of it is raw or turbinado sugar.  This type of sugar isn't metabolized any differently by the body, but because it's not as refined, it has some of the healthy minerals from the sugar cane still present.  
Well, have I convinced you to eat this cake for health reasons?!  Ha!  I guess that's going a little too far, but if you try it, I think you'll feel pretty good :)

Note:  The directions below are given for using a food processor.  If you don't have one, just grate the grapefruit zest by hand and mix it in the sugar with the paddle attachment of the mixer and proceed!

Whole-wheat Grapefruit Cake (makes one 8x8-inch square cake), Adapted from the "Smitten Kitchen"
1.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 grapefruit
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup raw sugar (or use all regular sugar)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbl. grapefruit juice
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
2 Tbl. sugar
1/3 cup grapefruit juice
Powdered sugar
Spray a square pan with PAM or other baking spray.  Preheat the oven to 350F.
Put the sugars in the bowl of a food processor with the chopping blade.  Using a veggie peeler, peel thin strips of grapefruit rind (as thin as you can) until you've peeled the whole fruit.  Put the strips in with the sugar and process until all the peel is fine and incorporated with the sugar.  With the machine running, add the olive oil in a thin stream until thoroughly mixed.  Add the eggs and mix well again.  Scrape down the bowl.  Add the baking powder, baking soda, salt, flour, juice and yogurt.  Process for a couple seconds, then scrape down the bowl and process again until the mixture is smooth.  Don't overmix.  Stop as soon as everything seems incorporated.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, until a toothpick in the center comes out cleanly.  Allow it to cool for 10 minutes.
Mix the sugar and grapefruit juice in a glass cup or measuring cup and microwave until it bubbles. Stir to mix well.
Poke holes into the cake with a fork.  Slowly pour the glaze all over the cake.  (Some recipes suggest removing the cake from the pan before pour or brushing the syrup over the cake, but by keeping the cake in the pan, all the syrup will be soaked up and you won't lose a tasty drop!)
Invite a friend or the new neighbor over and serve the cake warm or at room temperature, dusted with powdered sugar.  It is terrific with a cup of coffee!


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Garden Update!

Can you believe this?  The "slit bag of potting soil" garden really works!!  You might remember my post of the seedlings just sprouting up.  They are healthy and vigorous plants now and all I've done is water them.  The plastic bag keeps all weeds away, and moisture in also.  I'm going to try some other veggies with this method!  I think any vine plants like zucchini or cucumbers might work well.
The only drawback is you have a not so nice looking bag of potting soil just sitting on your patio.  My friend Terry, a very skillful gardener and decorator, suggested that I cover the bags with burlap first next time.  I'm thinking I can just sew up some potting soil "pillow cases" !  
Here are photos of how the other plants are doing so far.
The bean plants in their new containers.  I got mixed up and don't know which are the pole varieties now.  Guess I'll find out soon enough!

Aggie Plum is the first tomato plant to set anything.  The cool weather and lack of sunshine has not been good for plant growth, but I have total faith that the Texas summer will be sunny and hot!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Tasty Teriyaki Turkey Tenders

Do you know about turkey tenders?  They are those oval shaped muscles that lie closest to the turkey breastbone, underneath the main breast pieces.  Anyway, they are a real deal price-wise, but I wasn't sure what exactly to do with them!  
So, I called my friend, Julie, and she had cooked them just a couple nights before.  She had brushed them with olive oil, some salt and pepper, grilled them, and pronounced them tender and delicious!   
After days of gloomy weather (see previous post!), it was a beautiful, warm day here, so grilling sounded like a great idea!  Ben likes to be "in charge" of the grill around here, and he liked the idea too!  Skewers are fun and practical because you can marinate the smaller pieces quickly and they cook through easily.  I figured turkey would be good with this method.  I also love the soy-ginger-garlic taste of teriyaki sauce-- now I had a plan!  There also were some fresh mushrooms, green onions, and jalapeno peppers that needed some attention, so everything got a good seasoning with the marinade and went on the grill.  How nice to get some extras out of the same cooking process :) !  A green salad and some rice rounded out our first outdoor meal of the season.  Hooray for the sunshine! 

Tasty Teriyaki Turkey Tenders (serves 3)
4 turkey tenders, about 1.5 lbs., cut into about 1-inch chunks
mushrooms, bunch of green onions (trimmed tops and roots off), jalapeno peppers (seeds and veins removed), or whatever other veggies you want (cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant are good), in whatever amounts you want to serve

Marinade ingredients:
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine), sake, or white wine
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 Tbl. minced fresh ginger
2 tsp. honey
2 Tbl. water
2 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. sriracha sauce (how do you spell it?), if you like a bit of spiciness
few grinds of black pepper
2 Tbl. vegetable oil
2 Tbl.  water

bamboo skewers or metal skewers (soak the bamboo ones in water so they won't catch fire)

Mix all the marinade ingredients in a screw top jar.  Shake well and pour out about 1/4 cup of the marinade.  Set that aside in a little cup.
Slide the turkey chunks onto the skewers.  Don't crowd them or smash them up against each other.  That makes them hard to cook evenly in-between each piece.  Put them next to each other, but just barely.  Slide the veggies onto the skewers also.  Green onions can just go directly on the grill, or you can use two skewers (one through the bulbs and another through the stems) to keep them stable.  Put everything in a large shallow dish as you complete each one.  Shake up the marinade and pour over all.  Marinate in the fridge for at least an hour, turning things over whenever you think about it.
Grill everything over medium hot coals.  Check to make sure the turkey is cooked through completely by cutting into a large chunk in the middle of a skewer.  The veggies just need to get some grill marks and good smokey flavor-- yum!
Put everything on a nice platter (not the one that had the raw turkey in it!).  Quickly heat up the reserved marinade in the microwave until it bubbles up.  Pour over the turkey and veggies and serve!  
Isn't Dad a great cook ? :)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Seasoned Pork Loin and Roasted Potatoes: Is it Spring Yet?!

South Texas weather is famously unpredictable.  I always tell people we don't really have climate here, we have only weather.  Things change quickly, and it's never the same from year to year, except that you can pretty much count on August being HOT!  
Our cool spring weather has lasted a long time this year!  There's been a bit of very welcome rain, but mostly it's been overcast, gray skies and cool temperatures.  It seems more like it's still the end of winter.  When days are like this, I can't help but want to make dishes that feel like the weather, rather than the season.  
So, I decided to make a roasted pork loin with potatoes!  I know, this is a fall dish-- but once I made a pumpkin pie in July and it was GOOD (When Ben came home that day he said, "Oh, I didn't even realize it was Thanksgiving."  Ha.  Everybody's a comedian.) !  A pork loin can be dry and rather boring because it's such a lean meat.  However, a wonderful way to serve it is to "butterfly" it and fill it with a stuffing or seasoning.  This makes it cook up moist and very flavorful!  Butterflying a pork loin is a skill worth learning because it's not hard, but it make such a pretty presentation that it looks really special!  
Well, it IS spring, despite the weather, so instead of a heavy stuffing, I chose to use a veggie and herb puree to season the pork.  Making this is a snap in the food processor, but you could use a good blender as well.  
What about the roasted potatoes?  Can you eat pork without potatoes?  I guess, but why would you?!  Anyway, this is another one of those easy sides that looks different and fun just because of the way you prepare it.  In this recipe, you make cuts in the potatoes almost, but not quite through.  They fan out a bit as they roast and come out looking beautifully browned and yummy!  You can roast the potatoes along with the pork, or in another dish if your roasting pan isn't big enough.  
I hope you're enjoying the most beautiful spring weather where you are, but if you decide to make this dish, I'm pretty sure your family will love it and that no one will say, "But it's April!".

Seasoned Pork Loin (serves 3 or 4)
1 small pork loin roast, about 1.75lbs
1 carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 onion, cut into chunks
about 1/4 cup parsley 
2 strips lemon zest (remove with veggie peeler)
1 large clove garlic
small sprig rosemary
olive oil
butcher's twine 
In a food processor, puree the carrot, onion, parsley garlic and lemon.  It should have a fine, paste-like quality.  Set aside.
Butterfly the pork loin like this:
Put it on a cutting board with the short end facing you.  

 Take a long, sharp knife and start cutting into the pork about 2/3 up from the cutting board.  Cut through the loin until you're almost to the end, open it out, then turn the loin around and start cutting about 1/3 down to the other end of the loin.  Turn out that part and you'll have a flat, rectangular piece.  Here's some photos to help see what I mean.

Put the pork in a large baking dish.  Sprinkle the open pork loin with salt and pepper.  Spread the veggie mixture over the loin, but not to the edges.   Sprinkle with the rosemary leaves.

Fold the loin back up the way it was. The veggie mixture will have a lot of liquid.  Just let it go into the baking dish.  Tie up the loin with butcher's twine or use those cool silicone bands to hold it together (saw them in a cooking store!).  There are ways to tie up the loin according to the experts, but any way that keeps it together will be fine.  Turn it fat side up.

Brush the top of the roast with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Run it under a hot broiler about 5 minutes, until the fat is starting to brown.  Turn the roast over and broil another 5 minutes.  Turn the roast fat side up, add the potatoes if you're including them, and cook at 350F until an internal thermometer registers 140F.   Then increase the oven temperature to 450F and continue baking to 160F.  This takes about 1.5-2 hrs. total.  If you don't have a meat thermometer, you have to pierce the roast and see if all the juices run clear.  If they do, then it's done!  The roast should be nice and brown.
Let the roast "rest" for 10 minutes or so.  Remove the strings and slice.  Put some of the yummy juices over each slice and serve!

Butterflied Potatoes
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut lengthwise
olive oil

Make crosswise cuts along the length of each potato, but not quite through the potato.  Put them in the baking dish along with the roast if there's room.  If not, put them in another dish that's been sprayed with PAM.  Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cook along with the roast.  After the roast is taken out, baste the potatoes with the roast's pan juices and run the potatoes under the broiler if they aren't good and browned.  They should fan out a bit.