Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Homemade Brownie That's Better than a Mix?

I have a confession: until today, I had never made brownies from scratch. This might be surprising, considering how much I love to bake, but I honestly believe that brownies from the best mixes (coughGhirardellicough) are darn near perfect, and growing up brownies were the only baked good that it was "acceptable" to make from a mix. When my boyfriend and I first met, he was SO skeptical of my boxed brownie mixes, but he quickly became a convert.
However, today we wanted to make brownies and didn't have any box mixed on hand - but we did have all the other necessary baking ingredients, so I decided to see if I could find a homemade brownie recipe that would stand up to my beloved mixes.

We tried this recipe for Killer K-A brownies, and although the batter tasted AMAZING, the final result was pretty disappointing. The flavor was good, but the brownies came out a bit crumbly and cake-y, as opposed to the fudgy brownies that we love so much! (I wondered if they would, with 4 eggs in the recipe!) My bf's comment was "I don't hate them." (But he still ate a lot, ha!)

The conclusion was that these brownies are definitely not better than from-a-mix brownies. Maybe if I find a recipe that's supposed to be super fudgy, I'll give it a try again some day, but for now I think Ill stick to my boxes!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Eve Dinner

My mother demanded suggested I host Christmas Eve and invite the family over for dinner. Being super-ambitious, I decided to plan three courses, consisting of six different items. This, just a little, resulted in my flipping out the entire week preceding Christmas Eve, amplified by a massive bug turning up at work that kept me in the office past the grocery store's closing time.

I decided to start the meal with a festive seafood trio - pan seared scallop with roasted green bell pepper sauce, crab rangoon with red sweet and sour sauce, and salmon vol-au-vent with white sauce. I managed to make them all at the same time without destroying any! It did take quite a bit of juggling with the stove top though - luckily we have five burners!

Pan Seared Scallops with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce - I substituted green bell pepper instead and it worked out fine.

Crab Rangoon: Preheat oven to 375F. Mix one 8oz package softened cream cheese with two 6oz cans of drained crab meat, salt and pepper to taste. Put a very small dollop (about 1tsp) on a wonton wrapper. Wet the wrapper around the crab with water and seal - try to squeeze out as much air as possible. Brush with egg wash (optional). Bake at 375F for 15min. For the sweet and sour sauce, saute 1/2 cup of ketchup in 1 Tbsp vegetable oil with sugar to taste (start with 1/4 cup and add until you like the taste).

Salmon Vol-au-vent: Prepare puff pastry vol-au-vent shells according to instructions on package. Salt 3/4lb salmon (cut into small cubes) and let sit for 15min. Melt 2 Tbsp butter over medium heat. Sift in 2 Tbsp flour a little at a time and mix thoroughly. Stir in 1/2 cup milk and (optional) a dash of thyme. Add the salmon and let cook (about 5min). Salt and pepper to taste, then spoon into pastry shells.

Half my family really like their meat, and the other half really like their seafood, so I decided to be super ambitious and make two main courses. I eventually settled on levying my roommate's stuffed grape leaves recipe for one main dish and making a shrimp fettuccine for the other main dish. Everyone was too busy serving and eating that I forgot to take a decent picture. :( Oh well, just believe me that it looked and tasted pretty good. :) I used whole-grain fettuccine and brown rice for the grape leaves, so it was relatively healthy, too!

Creamy Shrimp and Broccoli Fettuccine - I substituted half-and-half and ended up with a very liquidy sauce. :/ I also added a lot more broccoli because I realized I didn't actually have a vegetable dish. I did add a spinach salad at some point though.

For dessert, I thought and I thought and I decided one dessert I really like but haven't yet made was tiramisu. It took me awhile to figure out how to best plate it, but I eventually got it. (I made three friends come over to help eat the trials as I attempted to make it look pretty.)

Simple Tiramisu - I halved the recipe since I wasn't making a whole cake. For the martini glass presentation: cut each ladyfinger in half before soaking in coffee. Put one piece on the bottom of the glass, drizzle some cream over it to cover, sift some cocoa powder on, and repeat twice for a three-layer dessert. It looked excellent - the only complaint I received was that the portion was too small. :D

I remade the tiramisu for my parents' new year's party - and this time I made the entire thing from scratch. A drier, even less sweet cake was requested, so I modified the recipe a bit.

1. For the ladyfingers, I made a sheet cake from a generic ladyfinger recipe: Grease and flour a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 350F. Beat 6 egg whites until foamy. Add 1/4 tsp cream of tartar and beat until stiff peaks form. Slowly beat in 6 tbsp sugar. In a separate bowl, beat 6 egg yolks, 3 tbsp sugar, and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract for 5-6 min, until it's a thick, pale yellow batter. Sift 1 cup flour over egg yolk batter. Fold the egg whites into the yolk and flour. Mix only until incorporated - do NOT overmix. Spread the mixture on the baking sheet and bake for 20-22 min, until the cake is firm and slightly brown.

2. Mix 2 tbsp brandy with about 3/4 cup strong coffee and chill.

3. Beat 1 cup heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Mix 1 lb mascarpone cheese with 1/3 cup sugar, fold into cream.

4. Put one piece of cake in the serving dish. Pour the coffee/brandy over it, until just wet (about 6 tbsp in the dish I used). Cover with 1/2 the cream mixture. Sift unsweetened cocoa powder over it until just covered. Repeat for a second layer.

All-in-all, I like to think this dinner was a success. I even made up menus and everything for each place setting! Mom said she was impressed, and that's all that mattered to me. :)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cannolied Tuile

My work had a holiday potluck again for the Christmas holidays, and this time I decided to try my hand at tuiles. I was discussing fillings with OhmsAndFarads when one of us mentioned cannoli filling. She said I should do it, so I did. I even decided to fill them with multicolored filling for the holiday season. I don't think the tuile cookies were quite as crisp as I would've liked, but the filling was delicious. I also had extra tuile batter and not enough filling, so I bent some in decorative shapes and used it to decorate the plate.

1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sifted flour

1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. Cream the butter and sugar. Slowly add the egg whites and vanilla. Slowly add the flour. Cover and let sit in the fridge as you work in batches.
3. With a spatula, spread a thin layer of batter into a rectangle on a well buttered baking sheet. I made some about 1.5"x4", then I made some even smaller ones. Start out with 2-3 at a time until you get used to the process, then you can do more. Bake at 350F for about 5-8min, or until the edges start to brown.
4. Once out of the oven, work fast. Carefully peel the tuile off the baking sheet with a spatula and roll into a cylinder. Place the sealed side down on a cutting board and let cool - once it cools, it'll stiffen and stay.

Cannoli Filling
Ingredients (x3, one for each color or flavoring)
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1 Tbsp sugar
dash of vanilla extract (or other flavoring of choice - I suggest Kahlua)
1 drop food coloring of choice (optional)

1. Mix everything together. Put into pastry bag (or ziploc bag) and keep in fridge until ready to serve. Pipe into tuile cylinders just before serving.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tomato Mozzarella "Tart"

I'd seen a lot of recipes for a tomato mozzarella tart floating around on the internet, and I decided I wanted to try it since I loooove tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. However, I don't have a tart pan and am way too lazy to actually make a tart crust from scratch, so I simplified it a LOT by just using a refrigerated pie crust.

I baked the crust for about 10 minutes to crisp up the bottom, then layered it with fresh mozzarella and sliced up cherry tomatoes, and then I sprinkled a little parmesean cheese on top. I baked it at 350 for about 15-20 minutes (until the cheese is a little bubbly). This was very yummy, and it makes a delicious appetizer to serve at a party, or as a side dish for a meal!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ginger Tea

I hated the taste of ginger as a kid, so you can imagine how displeased I was when I was sick and on top of being miserable because I was sick, my grandmother would made me drink ginger tea. I've grown to enjoy the slight bite ginger has though, which was why when I started feeling under the weather, I whipped out the ginger and heated up a pot of ginger tea. Ginger is supposed to have warming qualities and help your circulation, so I guess it's good for when one's sick.

6-10 thin slices of ginger
3 cups water
brown sugar to taste (start with about 1Tbsp)

Bring the water to a boil. Toss in the ginger and simmer for about 30min, or until you can taste the ginger in the water. Add the sugar, and add more water if the ginger taste is too strong. Drink hot.

Triple Chocolate Cookies

I recently made Triple Chocolate Chip cookies, using a recipe from my favorite baking blog Lovin' From the Oven.

I modified her recipe slightly to use all three kinds of chocolate chips (white, dark, and milk), and I also made a double batch, since I was bringing them to a party. Here's what I used:

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional
2/3 cup white chocolate chips
1/3 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Combine butter and sugars until well mixed. Add oil and eggs, stir in vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix flour, cocoa and salt. Stir well. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Stir in chips. Scoop the batter onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 11-12 minutes at 350.

I actually didn't love these - they were good, but I think I prefer a normal cookie or a normal brownie, to these, which are sort of a cookie/brownie combination. But the boys I gave them to seemed to love 'em! :)

Here's a close up: