Brownies

It is foggy, it is damp, cold and cloudy.

It is still Autumn, but winter draws nearer, as winters do.

As the season is creeping in, I can’t help but begin to hibernate. I find myself staring out my window incessantly, exclaiming at the beauty of the world outside, but aware of the cold and the wind I sit, huddled in knits and blankets and doing happy indoor things, like crocheting and reading.

I bake.

Yesterday, I baked brownies. The recipe that I used is soft and fudgy in the middle, the very center dark and gooey. The top bakes into a crackly thin crust, and is sprinkled with flaked kosher salt. I have loved salty-sweet baked goods for several years. I found this recipe for the first time in 2008, shortly after it was published on that website, and I have consistently made these brownies more than once a year since then. They are a staple. When I have friends to my house for a dinner, movies or games, I bake them. I bake them to take to parties, and I bring them to church gatherings. People are always surprised by them, because while I think people have grown rather accustomed to salty/sweet movement that first boomed several years ago, I don’t think they see it much on brownies. Of all the brownie recipes I’ve seen, this is the only one that contains salt as a topping; of course, I haven’t searched high and low for salted brownie recipes, but I have baked many brownies in my day.

After making the recipe several times, I edited a few things about it, simply a matter of personal tastes. I now have what I believe to be a near perfect brownie recipe, or at the very least I can inform you that it will definitely fulfill a craving for chocolate. It is also remarkably simple. Perhaps you can make it for thanksgiving or christmas, or maybe just because you have a chocolatey feeling and want something filling on a cold evening. These brownies will not disappoint.

salty brownies

Salted Fudge Brownies with Winter Spices

Ingredients:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed into 1″ pieces

2 ounces 60% bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cup sugar

1 cup all purpose flour

3 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon Diamond Kosher Salt

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350º, and prepare a 9″ by 9″ pan by lining it  with foil and lightly buttering the foil, including the sides.

Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan. When the butter is completely melted and steaming, add the finely chopped chocolate. Stir with a silicone spatula until the chocolate is melted. When the mixture is combined and smooth, turn the burner off, but leave the pan on the warm stove.

In a medium bowl, combine the cocoa powder and sugar. Whisk until the cocoa has no remaining lumps. Add the flour, whisk to combine.

In another, small bowl, crack the eggs. Add the vanilla and whisk until the eggs are lightly beaten. Add the chocolate mixture and whisk.

Create a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour the liquid ingredients into the center and use a silicone spatula to fold the batter together, until all are fully mixed and there are no dry streaks in the batter.

Transfer the batter to the prepared, foil lined pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until set in the center, 30-40 minutes. Allow the brownies to cool in the pan for 40 minutes before taking them out of the pan. After this time, to remove the brownies from the pan, lift the foil from two parallel edges (as handles). Peel the foil away from the edges and slice the brownies into squares.

Eat with a glass of milk.

Notes:
*When melting chocolate with butter, I always melt the butter first. The heat from the butter will almost always melt finely chopped chocolate and it will ease itself into silkiness with just a few long stirs. I have burned too much chocolate to not be wary of placing it over heat! Exercise great caution with melting chocolate in the microwave, and make sure you have a good knowledge of any stove you are melting chocolate on. Chocolate can be expensive and wasting it is nearly tragic. 

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Autumn Means Soup

Oh, I made a soup.

it turned out!

It turned up…I almost had to say to this particular soup “turn down for what?”

This soup, in fact, and the act of making it, was kind of a big deal. Last year was hectic and I was all in a flurry. I didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy and relish in Autumn or do many “Autumn-y things.” This included missing out on beloved soup and pie making and any holiday decorating. Looking back, I’m sad I missed all of these things, but I am understanding of myself as well. This year, however, I have been downright cherishing the season. October and November are my favorite months of the year, and it has been of the utmost importance to me simply to enjoy them. I feel as though every day I am raving about the beauty I see all around me, and reveling in the colors, flavors and scents of Autumn.

Two soups I made this weekend to do just that, but this is the one that gets featured because it was remarkably simple and heartily delicious:

tuscan-bean-soup-0141

Rustic White Bean Soup
Served 2 people for 2 meals

Ingredients: 
2 cups white beans, soaked overnight (not sure the variety. white beans sitting in a jar, belonging to my roommate that she kindly let me use.)
2 Tblsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large carrot, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 stalk celery, diced
3 slices applewood smoked bacon, thinly sliced into 1/4″ strips
2 sprigs sage, whole OR 1 1/2 tsp dried sage leaves
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
Drain the beans of about half of their soaking liquid. Pour them into a heated, medium sized, heavy bottomed pot. Cover with water by about three inches. Bring to a boil. Return to a simmer and cook until they are mostly tender, but still a bit firm (al dente). I carelessly didn’t time this, but experience and the internet tell me  that this process should take anywhere between 45 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes. While they are cooking, check them every 20 minutes or so and add more liquid as needed. When you add the beans to the soup, you want the amount of liquid to be soupy, whatever that means to you. I trust you know how you like soup to be, and can judge the liquid amount accordingly.

When the beans are about 2o minutes from being finished, in another medium sized, heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat, pour the olive oil. When the oil has thinned and you begin to see a rippling effect in the oil over the surface of the pan, add the onion and the garlic. Stir periodically for about three minutes. When the onions are translucent and both are very fragrant, but have no caramelization, they are ready to meet the carrot and celery. Stir them in, cook for three minutes. Add the bacon now, and stir until it is opaque and cooked through. The beans should be ready at this point. Add them with their cooking liquid and continue to cook them until they are tender. Add more water as needed to adjust the consistency to your preference. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you have used sprigs of sage, remove the sprigs now. Serve hot, with crusty bread.

Notes:
I will tell you here that I love my garlic press. I use it almost every time I cook. It is the one tool in the kitchen (aside from the necessary ones) that I use most often and adore. I don’t honestly think I could do without it, and if you don’t have one, I encourage you to buy one. Another note about garlic here is that peeling those tiny cloves can be quite easy. Simply place the cloves on the cutting board in a row. Lay your knife blade horizontally over them, so the flat side is up and the blade is facing away from you. Press down firmly with your hand until you hear a “pop”. Lift up your knife, wet your fingertips under a running tap, and easily remove the peels.

About white beans: I believe the white beans I used were navy beans, though I can’t be sure. When you are using dried beans, if they have expired, they may never cook to the tender point you desire them to be for eating. Ensure that your beans have been purchased within the last 6 months to a year and soak them for at least 8 hours before attempting to cook with them. (You can cheat by using the quick soaking method, linked above in the recipe, but it won’t be as effective with older beans.) I feel hypocritical telling you this because I never soak my beans…I always cook them from dry…and I always wish I had soaked them. It’s an uphill battle, folks.

Oh, and another thing: with simple soups containing either beans or vegetables, I use water, never stock or broth. I learned this in culinary school, and after testing out various methods, this is the one I stand by. The reason for this is that the water provides a clear, clean background for these more mild flavors to shine through, rather than “muddying” up the flavor with muddled veggie scraps. I can control the amount of salt, seasoning and aromatics by doing this as well. I love the concentrated flavor of cooking liquid used for dry beans, so water is perfect for this soup. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I really do love it. 

Garnish with rosemary or sage leaves if you’ve got them and if you’d really like to, you can fry up some additional bacon to crumble over the top for added tastiness. 

Happy soup making! Don’t let the season go by without making plenty of soups. Portland’s seasonal ingredients are perfect for it.

Apple and Pumpkin Pie with Spiced Oat Streusel

When October comes, the (un)official season for the baking of all things most delicious is upon us. As a 23 year old baker, I have not amassed an impressive collection of recipes, but I am inventive. My family was not the type to pass generational recipes down to their daughters, though I haven’t let that stand in my way. I typically invent my own recipes or adapt recipes that I enjoy by bakers and cooks that I admire. This particular recipe came out of the clear blue autumn sky and dropped on my head like a leaf. It’s sort of silly, but I was thinking about the fact that I’ve seen pumpkin pie and I’ve seen apple pie, but I have literally never seen a compilation of the two.

Given the fact that pumpkins have a lovely, silky texture when roasted or sautéed, I couldn’t think of a logical reason why I shouldn’t attempt to slice a pumpkin and toss it with the raw apples. I also toyed with the idea of making a pumpkin custard with cream, eggs and canned pumpkin puree and spices, gently ladled into a graham crumb crust; caramelized apples laid over the top in the manner of a tart and I decided against it…although, as I’m typing it, I’m not at all sure why, and I am now at least 60% convinced that in the near future, such a recipe will make an appearance. Because October. For now, what we’ve got are slices of peeled pumpkin and peeled apple, heavily spiced, appearing above an oat crust and tucked under a blanket of streusel.

I love streusel for many reasons, but I bake with it almost exclusively in Autumn. The reason for this is that it reminds me of fallen leaves. It’s a light, not solid, covering over the ground of prepared fruit, and it is many textures and even colors. In this way, it is like a recreation of the scene I see before me when I walk in the park. The addition of oats is always welcome, and in this recipe they add a familiar tastiness to the crunch and play well with the spices. The apples and pumpkins are tossed with what is essentially pumpkin pie spice, though I like to make my own blend so I can control the balance of flavors. I added saffron for an unusual sharpness, and it is a good accompaniment for ginger and cinnamon…I anticipated that it would add a bit of edginess and an “eastern” flair to the pie…that blend is typically found in Indian cuisine. The crust is flaky, buttery, pie-y. The result of all this is an invigoratingly spiced pie with just the right amount of crunch and a unique earthy sweetness. Perfect for an October afternoon.

Pumpkin Apple Pie with Spiced Oat Streusel
Equipment: an 8″ by 4″ baking dish, 4″ deep
Preheat oven to 400º

Crust Ingredients:
 2 1/2 C unbleached all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur, which I always use, but mostly because I like the packaging design)
1 1/2 tsp white granulated sugar
1 tsp coarse kosher salt (I prefer diamond, but I used Morton because it’s what I had on hand)
1 C cold unsalted sweet cream butter, (preferably irish because the flavor is infinitely superior) cut into small cubes
5 T ice water

Directions:
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Stir to combine. Add the butter and use a pastry cutter, a fork, or your fingers to blend until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal (leaving the mixture slightly inconsistent with a few large butter chunks results in a flakier dough). Add the cold water, discarding the pieces of ice. Blend gently with your fingers just until the dough begins to gather. Gently pull it into a cohesive mass (it will look a little dry at first. If there is a lot of “sandy mixture” at the bottom of the bowl, add another teaspoon of water and gently incorporate) and pat it into a disk. Wrap it in plastic and place it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Filling Ingredients:
Approximately 3 lbs. of Macintosh or other baking apple, peeled, cored and sliced 1/4″ thick
2 small pumpkins, peeled, seeded and sliced into 1/4″ slices
1/2 packed brown sugar
3 T unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger, allspice, nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
pinch crushed saffron fronds
generous pinch coarse kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp bourbon vanilla extract

Directions:
Filling: place the slices of pumpkin and apple in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and all of the spices. Stir until fully combined. Toss with the fruit. Add to the fruit the melted butter and vanilla extract. Stir until evenly coated. Allow this mixture to marinate and meld and marry while you make the streusel topping and roll out  the crust.

Streusel Ingredients:
3/4 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 C packed brown sugar
1/4 C granulated white sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg, cloves, allspice, ginger
7 T butter, cut in small cubes
1/2 C old fashioned oats

Directions:
Combine all ingredients, excluding the oats like you excluded your mortal enemy from your high school lunch table. Blend well with your fingers, a fork, or a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles wet sand. At this point, give the oats a chance for once and once you find out they’re not so bad, thoroughly assimilate them with the rest of the group.

Grand Master Assembly of the Pie:
Remove the crust from the refrigerator. If it has chilled for longer than 30 minutes, it might need a little bit of time to warm up to the idea of being rolled out. Start with 10 minutes. When the dough is pliable but not soft, roll it out on a sheet of parchment paper, lightly sprinkling flour over the top. When it is about 1/4″ thick and 2-3″ larger than the dish on all sides, lay the dough inside the dish, pressing into the corners. Leave an excess of 1/4″ all around the edges. Remove any further excess of dough. Crimp or adorn the edge with your favorite method. Add the filling to the dough. It should be heaped up in the middle, slightly mounded, because it will shrink while it bakes. Place the dish on a sheet tray to catch any drips. Sprinkle the streusel in as even a layer as you can get it, spreading it lightly with your hand when it’s all added if necessary, but do not pack it down by any means. Bake for 20 minutes, lower the temperature of the oven to 350 degrees F, and continue baking until the apples and pumpkin are soft when pierced with a paring knife, 40 minutes to 1 hour.
Allow to cool for at least 1 hour. Serve warm or at room temperature. Ginger ice cream would be a lovely accompaniment.

The Successful Frittata

The time has come again for posting a recipe.

It has been too long since I’ve posted, mainly due to the fact that I have a new, amazing (but very time consuming) job, which I love. I basically just cook awesome food all day long and learn a lot of very interesting and new things about food and produce and recipes that I have never yet known before. 

Just yesterday, in fact, I asked my chef to demonstrate to me how to make a frittata…and guess what? He agreed. That’s the awesome part about working in a restaurant. You can just walk around asking the chef for recipes all day long and he gives them to you. It. Is. Wonderful. This particular frittata is made to celebrate the light and fresh flavors of the coming spring, with serrano chiles for heat, green onion for, well, green onion, and a generous helping of salty, briny, feta cheese.

At the restaurant, it is featured in a light salad of frisee and arugala, with a vinaigrette made of guanciale fat instead of oil, and while all of the above is served cold, the fritata is heated with a satisfactory helping of crispy guanciale and sourdough croutons. It really is a delicious salad, and it serves its purpose well. However, the frittata is so genuinely delicious (yes, even cold from the fridge) that I wanted a large slice of it for Sunday brunch, with a belgian white ale and crunchy garlic toast. So that’s what I did, merely a few minutes ago. 

 

 

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Frittata with Scallions, Serranos and Feta

Ingredients:
12 eggs
1/4 cup water
salt and white pepper, to taste
1 bunch scallions, sliced thinly on the  bias
1 serrano chile, sliced thinly (with the seeds left in)
1 1/2 cups brined, crumbled feta cheese
Olive oil, as needed

Directions:
Throughout this process, I realized just how simple and easy it really is to make a frittata. As such, it really is a great weekend breakfast. You’ll need a nonstick pan with a heatproof plastic handle (or a metal one) and a rubber spatula  that is able to withstand a moderate amount of heat, along with a whisk and a medium sized mixing bowl. Preheat the oven to 400.

Crack the eggs into the mixing bowl and beat fairly well, until they are combined and there are several bubbles popping up on the surface. Add a splash of water (about 1/4 cup) and some salt and pepper. You don’t need a lot of salt, because the feta will be salty enough on its own. Mix again. Heat the pan over medium high heat, with enough oil to liberally cover the bottom (probably about 1/4-1/3 of a cup). Let the oil heat until the viscosity is well thinned and it is slightly fragrant. You don’t want it to smoke, but you want to be almost at that point.

Fold the scallions and serrano into the egg mixture until well combined. When the oil is sufficiently hot, add the mixture into the pan. Let it set until the edges are opaque, then lift the edges with the spatula to let some of the uncooked egg run underneath. Continue doing this until you have a thick “crust” on the bottom of the pan. At this point, sprinkle the crumbled feta over the top and use the spatula to press it down until it covered in egg. Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 10-15 minutes.

You want the frittata to be lightly browned on the top edges and fully set, slightly puffy in the middle. If you bake it too long, it will become hard and the air will cook out causing it to be tough and flat. Let the frittata cool for about 10 minutes before attempting to slice it, 20 minutes or more if you plan to take it out of the pan before slicing. Eat warm or at room temp (or even cold!). It would be wonderful with a salad, toast, and a beer or breakfast cocktail.