Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pineapple Upside Up Muffins

Pineapple Upside Up Muffins - made August 27, 2011 from Mad About Muffins by Dot Vartan (book #154)

This is normally the type of muffin I wouldn't make.  I don't mind the coconut and I love pineapple but I just don't like fruit in baked goods.  I love fruit but mostly in its natural state.  Fresh pineapple is terrific and if it wasn't such a pain to peel and cut, I'd have it more often.  As it is, I cheat and get the pre-cut pack from Costco when I want pineapple.  I also don't like crushed pineapple.  To me, that seems like pineapple mush and not worth the effort of (barely) chewing since they're just tidbits.  I prefer the nice, juicy pineapple chunks to really sink my teeth into.

But I am trying to broaden my baking horizons, so to speak, and thought I'd venture out with this pineapple muffin.  I'm glad I did.  Not only was this recipe super easy to make but it turned out pretty well too.  The coconut gives it a nice chewiness and I was wrong about the pineapple tidbits - they were just the right size and texture for the muffin.  Any larger and they would've been too big and would have overwhelmed the rest of the muffin.  The muffin itself was a nice, cakey texture, not too heavy and not too light.  I enjoyed the flavor from the brown sugar in the batter, complemented by both the coconut and the pineapple.  Not to mention the topping is the bomb!  It goes perfectly with the muffin with a sweet crunch to contrast with the cakey texture of the muffin itself and the chewiness from the coconut and pineapple.  This is best eaten lukewarm when the topping is cool enough to firm up and give some crunch.  I did omit the nuts but you don't really need them. This recipe's a keeper.  Next time, I may even try the base recipe but do different add-ins in place of the pineapple and coconut.

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup light brown sugar
½ cup coconut
1 egg
¼ cup corn oil
¼ cup melted butter
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup crushed pineapple, undrained

2 tablespoons butter
7 tablespoons light brown sugar
7 tablespoons chopped walnuts

1.    Heat the oven to 400˚F.
2.   In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Stir in the brown sugar and coconut.
3.   In another bowl, mix the egg, corn oil, butter, milk, vanilla extract and pineapple.  Stir the pineapple mixture into the dry ingredients just until moistened.
4.   Fill greased muffin tins.  Make the topping by cutting the butter into the brown sugar and stirring in the walnuts.  Sprinkle the topping over the batter.  Bake for 20 minutes or until the muffins are a golden brown.

Makes one dozen muffins

Monday, August 29, 2011

Orange Pudding Cake

Orange Pudding Cake - made August 27, 2011 from Quick Recipe by the Editors of Cooks' Illustrated (book #153)

You can tell it's done when the cake has pulled away from the sides

I'm going to stray from chocolate for awhile and focus on using more of summer's bounty, namely oranges and lemons from my mom's trees.  My own orange tree boasts a grand total of 1 orange that is still small and green and has been growing by infinitesimal increments for several months now.  My lemon tree has a number of teeny little blossoms that look like they're thinking about becoming lemons someday......a really long time from now.  So in the meantime, I have to partake of my mom's more established and more prolific citrus trees.

I was curious about this recipe because I was familiar with and like chocolate pudding cake but I had never tried a citrus one.  A chocolate pudding cake typically relies on mixing up a cake batter for the bottom layer and pouring a good amount of liquid on top and the cake bakes up with its own sauce.  This was similar in principle except the egg white in the batter is supposed to rise to the top while the bottom bakes into a custard.  I was a little leery about another egg-white type cake since I'm not fond of an egg-white texture.  I like chiffon cakes and angel food cakes well enough but only if they're baked properly and don't taste like warm egg whites, like some of my past failures with souffles have gone.

You can see the custard layer that formed on the bottom

However, I was pleasantly surprised by this recipe.  The top bakes into an airy, almost chiffon-textured cake while the bottom turns into a custard almost like a creme brulee.  The orange flavor was light and refreshing, perfect for summer.  If you want to dress it up, serve with berries and/or a light lemon or orange sorbet.  This is best served warm and is at its most impressive when you first take it out of the oven but you do need to let it cool enough to enjoy the texture and flavor of the orange.

A close up of the larger version of the pudding cake
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
¾ (5 ¼ ounces) cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup (1 ounce) plain cake flour
¼ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, separated, room temperature
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon grated orange zest plus ¼ cup orange juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon cream of tartar

1.     Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325˚F.  Lightly grease a 9 x 9-inch glass baking pan with the softened butter.
2.     Whisk together ¾ cup sugar, the flour, and salt in a medium bowl.  Beat the egg yolks, milk, orange zest, orange juice and lemon juice together in a small bowl.  Pour this mixture over the dry ingredients and blend well with a whisk.
3.     In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the egg whites at medium-high speed until they are foamy, about 30 seconds.  Add the cream of tartar, raise the speed to high, and beat until the whites hold soft peaks, about 1 ½ minutes.  Add the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and beat until the egg whites hold a 2-inch peak, about 30 seconds.  Using a whisk, fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture.
4.     Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish.  Bake until the center is set and springs back when gently pressed, about 35 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and cool for 10 minutes.  Spoon the cake (it will be soft) into bowls and serve warm.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A little tomato sauce goes a long way

Made August 27, 2011 - Another rendition of the tomato sauce I made last weekend - this time instead of using it as a pizza sauce, I used it as a spaghetti sauce.  I browned some ground turkey breast, thawed some of the tomato sauce I had put in the freezer last weekend, added some more handfuls of chopped basil from the garden and voila - spaghetti for another week's worth of lunches.

The nice thing about using homemade tomato sauce with tomatoes and basil from my own garden is I really can taste the freshness of the ingredients.  Usually my palate is only discerning when sugar is involved but even I can taste the difference between fresh tomato sauce and the processed stuff.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Pancakes

Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Pancakes - made August 22, 2011 from Breads by Sunset (book #152)

I love breakfast food but I was never a big breakfast person when I was a kid as I never got really hungry in the morning.  It took years to train myself to fuel properly in the morning and even today, I usually have to be up for awhile and get a workout in before I feel hungry enough to eat.  Oddly, I don't have this problem later in the day when I can snack all afternoon whether I'm hungry or not :).

As a new school year approaches once more, you might find yourself a little more rushed with breakfast or trying to make sure your kids eat properly before they leave the house.  This pancake recipe can help with a busy schedule - it's pretty quick and easy to make if you plan a bit ahead to soak the oats in the buttermilk overnight.  Once the soaking period is over, this can be put together in a matter of minutes, almost in the same time it takes to heat your frying pan. 

This is also fairly nutritious and pretty filling with the oats.  You can make it more hearty by substituting whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour.  Cook it slowly over medium to low heat so the inside has time to cook enough before the outside gets too brown.  I liked the hint of cinnamon in it and found you don't have to drown this in butter or syrup to enjoy the flavor so that helps save on calories.  When you eat them warm from the frying pan, the oats at the edges have a slightly crisp texture while the rest of the pancake is warm and cakey.  What I also like about this type of pancake is you can make a batch ahead of time, freeze them and bring them out when you need them.  They're not so fragile that they'll fall apart if you do and when you're pressed for time, they'll beat packaged, frozen pancakes any day.

2 cups regular rolled oats
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
½ cup raisins, optional
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt

1.    In a bowl, combine oats and buttermilk; stir until well blended.  Cover and refrigerate until next day.
2.   In a bowl, beat eggs lightly and add to oat mixture, along with butter and raisins, if using; stir just until blended.  In another bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; add to oat mixture and stir just until moistened.  If batter seems too thick, add more buttermilk (up to 3 tablespoons).
3.   Preheat a griddle or wide frying pan over medium heat; grease lightly.  Spoon batter, about 1/3 cup for each cake, onto griddle, and spread out to make circles 4 inches in diameter.  Cook until tops are bubbly and appear dry; turn and cook until other sides are browned.  Makes about 1 ½ dozen pancakes.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

More homemade tomato sauce and a Canadian bacon pizza

Made August 21, 2011

My tomato plants are both loaded with ripening tomatoes and dying at the same time.  My mom says that's normal.  I'll take her word for it because I think that's weird.

But it's just as well if they're coming to end of their life cycle because I'm having a hard time keeping up with the garden, working full-time, traveling, baking, cooking, blogging and life in general.  Something's gotta give.  Okay by me if it's the tomatoes.

I've been harvesting the tomatoes as they ripen and putting them in the freezer until I had enough to make tomato sauce.  I must not have been paying attention because all of a sudden I had 3 gallon-size freezer bags full of tomatoes and more were ripening every minute.  Time to stop saving up the tomatoes and actually make the sauce.

I didn't use a specific recipe for this but did consult the Professional Chef tome that I bought somewhere along the way on how to make tomato sauce.  I'd already done a homemade tomato sauce from the Cooking for One recipe book but I wanted to try a different method this time.  Instead of roasting tomatoes and onions and pureeing them, I ended up browning a whole bulb of minced garlic, saute-ing a whole brown onion that I had roughly (very roughly) sliced, and throwing 7 lbs of tomatoes in with them to cook down.  I only had time to partially thaw the tomatoes before I started cooking them but that actually worked out well because the skins were easier to peel off the half-frozen tomatoes before I put them in the pot.  I let the mixture simmer and boil for several hours and added a little salt and pepper.  When the mixture had cooked down and thickened so it wasn't so watery in texture, I also added large handfuls of chopped basil.  Let it cook down some more then I pureed the whole thing in the food processor.

Overall I think it turned out pretty well and I ended up with a decent amount of homemade tomato sauce.  Some of which I then used as pizza sauce to make a pizza.  I love the Trader Joe's whole wheat pizza dough which you can buy in a bag for $1.29, let rest for 20 minutes, and roll out into a pizza.  I topped it with the homemade tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, Canadian bacon and more basil.

Which baked up nicely and became my dinner plus lunches for the week.  Yum.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Intensely Bittersweet Chocolate Souffles

Intensely Bittersweet Chocolate Souffles - made August 20, 2011 from Bittersweet by Alice Medrich (book #151)

Didn't bake these long enough so texture was too soft
My sister, the lava cake fan
Whenever my sister visits and I ask her what she wants me to make for dessert, her answer is invariably "lava cake!", regardless of season, climate or occasion.  Which works for me because it lets me try out another new recipe.  I've blogged before that I haven't quite found the best lava cake recipe yet but that doesn't keep me from trying so her request gives me an excuse to keep looking for the right recipe.  Technically this is a souffle rather than a lava cake but it's chocolate, it can be served warm with ice cream and I can make it have a molten center by underbaking it.  I skipped the whipped cream topping and topped it with vanilla ice cream instead.

I can't say I was wild about this recipe but I think that's partly my fault.  I didn't have enough dark bittersweet chocolate on hand so I substituted with more of a milk chocolate.  Which subsequently didn't make the souffle with a deep dark chocolate taste which is what I would prefer in a souffle or lava cake, especially when consumed with vanilla ice cream.  I also didn't bake the first batch long enough so it was a bit more egg-white-y in texture than I would've liked so I had to make sure the second batch baked for a longer period of time.

I'm also not that wild about souffles in general - they're too light in texture to go well with a creamy-firm ice cream and you end up crushing the fluffy texture of the souffle just to spoon it up with the ice cream.  That's usually why souffles are served with whipped cream since they're more compatible, texture-wise, with an airy-textured souffle. Not to mention logistically, it's best to let a lava cake cool slightly before topping with ice cream so the ice cream doesn't melt into the cake so quickly but if you wait too long for a souffle to cool, it'll deflate and not look very impressive.  This was good for a souffle but I still prefer the more dense texture of a lava cake. So the search is back on for a good recipe for one.....for the next time my sister visits, haha.

Baked longer for better texture

About 2 tablespoons sugar for the ramekins soufflés
8 ounces bittersweet 70% chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup milk
3 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 large egg white, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/3 cup sugar

For the topping
1 cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon sugar

Eight 6-ounce ramekins

1.     If you are baking the soufflés right away, position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375˚F.  Butter the ramekins and sprinkle with sugar.
2.    Place the chocolate, butter and milk in a large heatproof bowl in a large skillet of barely simmering water.  Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.  Remove the bowl from the water bath and whisk in the egg yolks.  Set aside.
3.    In a medium, dry bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted.  Gradually sprinkle in the 1/3 cup sugar and beat at high speed until the whites are stiff but not dry.  Fold one-quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites.
4.    Divide the mixture evenly among the prepared ramekins, filling each three-quarters full.  The soufflés can be prepared to this point, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days.  Bake directly from the refrigerator.
5.    Place the soufflés on a cookie sheet.  Bake until they rise and crack on top and a wooden skewer plunged into the center emerges very moist and gooey (but the centers should not be completely liquid), 14 to 16 minutes, perhaps a minute or so longer if the soufflés have been refrigerated.
6.    Meanwhile, make the topping: Beat the cream with the vanilla and sugar until it holds a soft shape (or stiffer, if you like it that way).  Transfer to a serving bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.
7.    When they are done, remove the soufflés from the oven, and serve immediately, with a little powdered sugar sifted over the top, if you’d like.  Pass the whipped topping separately.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Red Velvet Cookies revisited

Red Velvet Cookies - made August 20, 2011 from The Carrot Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke

I've already blogged about this recipe and made it many times but for the newer followers who haven't seen some of the older entries of my blog, I thought I would link back to it and showcase it again.  You never know where you'll find a good recipe as they don't just come from cookbooks or recipe sites.  I found this one in a culinary mystery series that I read by Joanne Fluke.  The books are enjoyable for the most part and I always like checking out the recipes in each one.  (The only thing that distresses the baker in me is there's no way one bakery makes all the different kinds of baked goods she's showcased in all of the books - they'd go out of business trying to keep up with that kind of variety for a small-town bakery.  But I digress.....) I'm glad I tried this one as it's become, as my niece put it, "one of my favorite cookies ever!"

I blogged earlier about the peanut butter surprise brownies I sent in a care package for one of my nieces who started college already.  Her twin is starting college next week and moving into her dorm this weekend so it was her turn for my baking.  I hosted a small family gathering at my place yesterday and besides making her favorite chocolate caramel brownies (see post below), I also made her favorite red velvet cookies.  The dough is easy enough to put together and is a little soft but there's no need to chill them first since they don't spread much.  The tricky thing about these cookies is baking them for the right amount of time.  Despite my legendary inability to time most things, I actually do time the baking of these cookies.  In my oven, at a convection setting of 375 degrees, these come out perfectly at the 8- or 9-minute mark.  "Perfect" means they're a cross between cakey and fudgy.  Underdone, they're a little too moist and fragile and overdone, they're just cakey.  They'll puff up and show some cracks on top - that's how you want them to look.  But inside they should be moist and fudgy. 

These are best eaten at room temperature on the same day they're baked and frosted but they're fine the next day too.  You just don't want to hang onto them too long as they'll dry out if you refrigerate them but you also don't want to keep them out, especially in summer, because of the cream cheese frosting.  Or you can bake them ahead of time and then frost them right before serving.  One recipe makes 24-26 cookies (don't make them too big).

Fueling up for college :)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Chocolate Caramel Brownies

Chocolate Caramel Brownies - made August 19, 2011 from The Brownie Experience by Lisa Tanner

Once upon a time, this was my most prized brownie recipe.  I discovered it early in college and it was always an instant hit whenever I made it.  When people asked me for the recipe, I regretfully couldn't (or let's face it, I wouldn't) share it because I felt it was "my" recipe and I didn't want just anyone to be able to duplicate it.  I referred to it a couple of years ago in my lemon bar post and the bad experience I had with someone who I did share it with.  After how she turned into a Single White Female episode, I was soured on sharing it with anyone else.  Only my nieces were the exception and I even published as part of a tastebook to give to them.

Since then and since embarking on my blog, I've gotten a lot less territorial about recipes.  And I'm finally ready to share this one, partly because it's my pay-it-forward for all the great recipes people have shared with me and partly because, oh yeah, I'm over being selfish, narcissist and what-all with it.  LOL.  I made this brownie yesterday at the request of one of my nieces as this is her favorite.  Can't say no, now can I?

Some tips to make this recipe a success and I've learned this through many years of trial and error with this recipe.
  1. Toast the pecans to bring out their flavor.
  2. The caramel is the trickiest part of the brownie.  When done correctly, the end result will be an almost chewy toffee-like topping with a slight crunch brought out by the caramelized pecans.  When done incorrectly, it's grainy and greasy.  When you're melting the butter and brown sugar together, whisk it constantly to keep it emulsified and melt it over medium to low heat.  If the butter gets too hot, it'll be harder to emulsify with the brown sugar.  I never use a candy thermometer but you know when it's done when it's golden brown and a thick liquid.  If it's too brown or too thin, it got overheated and isn't whisked together enough. Don't start making the caramel until the brownies have been baking for at least 10-12 minutes.  You want to time it so that the caramel is ready to pour over the brownies right when the brownies are ready to come out of the oven for the first baking.
  3. Make sure to bake the brownies adequately.  A common mistake I've made in the past is not baking the brownies long enough before I add the caramel and then the brownies come out flat and stick to the foil lining.  It tastes okay but it'd be better if they were properly baked.

1/2 cup butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1 cup pecan halves, lightly toasted
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Caramel Syrup
1 cup butter
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, tightly packed

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In the top half of double boiler set over hot, not simmering, water, melt butter and unsweetened chocolate, whisking until completely melted and smooth; set aside.
  3. In a medium-sized bowl, beat eggs with wire whisk; beat until light. Beat in sugar, salt and vanilla until blended. Stir in chocolate mixture then flour. Stir until combined. Pour into prepared pan.
  4. Bake 15-20 minutes or until top is firm to touch and center doesn't jiggle. While brownie is baking, prepare caramel syrup: melt butter and brown sugar in heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, whisking constantly as mixture melts. Whisk until combined and mixture begins to bubble and boil. Do not overheat.
  5. Remove brownies from oven and carefully sprinkle top with pecans. Brownies should be baked enough to hold weight of pecans without sinking. Pour caramel evenly over surface. Return to oven and bake 10 minutes longer or until caramel is bubbling over entire top of brownie. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with chocolate chips. Let chocolate melt slightly. Cool completely before cutting and serving.

  2. Button

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Petite Banana Cakes

Petite Banana Cakes - made August 13, 2011 from Cocolat by Alice Medrich (book #150)

Out of an entire cookbook named after chocolate, I chose a non-chocolate recipe.  Go figure.  But I had overripe bananas in my freezer and I was in the mood for something non-chocolaty for once.  I also needed to take something over to my parents' house for my weekly Sunday visit and they generally prefer something that isn't chocolate so this recipe fit the bill.  I've had this book for years but confess it's another one that I've hardly ever used.  The pictures are beautiful and the recipes don't look hard but many of them are long and require a lot of time and planning.  I can do the second but don't have enough of the first whenever I feel like baking.  So it's no coincidence that I chose one of the simplest recipes in the book to make.

However, I'm glad I did as this turned out to be a pretty good banana cake.  Still not quite up to Icing on the Cake's banana cake which is my pinnacle for banana cake but it came pretty close in terms of texture and taste.  If I had frosted it with cream cheese frosting, it would've come even closer.  As it was, it works well as an unfrosted cake too.  I made these in mini panettone liners and liked that much better than baking in ordinary cupcake liners.  You don't even need to put the panettone liners in a muffin tin as they can standalone on a baking sheet and bake just fine without losing shape.  Not to mention I like how they looked more than ordinary cupcakes.

1 cup lightly mashed ripe banana (about 2 large bananas)
¼ cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups (9 ounces) sifted cake flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
½ cup (3 ½ ounces) brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (5 ounces) coarsely chopped walnuts

1.      Preheat oven to 350⁰F.  Combine mashed banana, buttermilk, and vanilla in a small bowl set in a pan of hot water.  Set aside until mixture is at room temperature.  Meanwhile sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
2.     In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter.  Gradually add white and brown sugars until very light.  One at a time, add eggs, beating until each is incorporated.  Add the sifted dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the banana-buttermilk mixture in 2 parts.  Beat each addition only until incorporated; scrape the bowl as often as necessary.  Fold in walnuts.  Use a spoon or a pastry bag with a large opening to fill muffin cups about three-fourths full.
3.     Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center tests dry, 20-25 minutes.  Cool in the pan on a rack.  Cupcakes can be prepared up to 2 days ahead and stored in a covered container in the refrigerator or frozen for up to 2 months.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Chocolate Cashew Coconut Clusters

Chocolate Cashew Coconut Clusters - made August 13, 2011 from Death by Chocolate Cookies by Marcel Desaulniers (book #149)

Finally, a non-brownie recipe :).  I only made 1/4 of this recipe as I just wanted to try it out in case I want to make it for holiday gift packages later on in the year.  It's sometimes tricky to work with chocolate in the summer because of the heat.  Even though I live in a temperate climate, when it's warm, chocolate still doesn't set properly without a little help from the refrigerator and even after it's set, you still need to keep it cool to prevent it from melting again.

I love cashews and I love coconut so this is my kind of confection.  I switched out the semisweet chocolate for milk chocolate to make it even more to my liking.  With only 3 ingredients, I hope I hardly need say to use the best quality ingredients that you can.  Whole cashews worked well for this and if you can't find fresh coconut, the packaged kind is fine but don't use something that's been sitting in your pantry for months.  And use the best quality chocolate you can!  I used the E. Guittard milk chocolate wafer buttons that Sur La Table sells.  I would've preferred Valrhona which is my favorite milk chocolate but my retail sources only sell it in semisweet.

Careful when you toast the coconut as it can brown quickly.  You want to spread it in a shallow layer and bake it in a light-colored pan, stirring it every so often to let it brown more evenly.  Don't worry about having it all be brown - if you try to toast every shred of coconut, some will burn while others remain white.  As long as the majority are a light golden brown, it'll be fine.

Anytime you melt chocolate and rely on it to cool and harden again, you have to be careful not to overheat it in the melting stage.  Chocolate should be tempered in order to avoid chocolate bloom, those grayish streaks you see once the chocolate sets if the chocolate hasn't been tempered properly.

I liked how this recipe turned out.  Normally I like my coconut to be soft and chewy but toasting it gave the candy a nice crunch.  It's definitely more of a winter or cold-weather candy to make though as milk chocolate has a lower melting point than dark chocolate and it was too easy for it to melt once it's out of the refrigerator.

2 cups unsalted cashews
8 ounces shredded dried coconut
1 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped into ¼” pieces

1.    Preheat the oven to 325F.
2.   Toast the cashews on a baking sheet in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until uniformly golden brown.  Cool the nuts to room temperature.
3.   Toast the coconut on a baking sheet in the preheated oven until lightly golden around the edges, about 10 minutes.  Cool the coconut to room temperature.
4.   Heat 1 inch of water in the bottom half of a double boiler over medium heat.  With the heat on, place the semisweet chocolate in the top half of the double boiler.  Use a rubber spatula to stir the chocolate until completely melted and smooth, about 5 to 6 minutes.  Transfer the melted chocolate to a 4-quart bowl.  Add the cashews and coconut.  Use a rubber spatula to stir the mixture until the cashews and coconut are completely coated with chocolate.
5.   Immediately portion 24 clusters, 1 heaping tablespoon (approximately 1 ½ ounces) of mixture per cluster onto wax paper.  Allow the clusters to harden at room temperature for 1 hour, then refrigerate for 30 minutes until firm enough to handle.  Store the clusters in a tightly sealed plastic container in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Garden update - my first corn harvest!

August 13, 2011

When I first planted the corn seedlings right before Easter, I made the novice mistake of planting the seedlings too close together.  I had to dig up a few before they grew too big and replant them in a different "line" so they had room to grow.  Furthermore, I also didn't know at the time that you shouldn't plant corn in single-file fashion but clustered together so they can pollinate more easily.  I also happened to plant them so that some got more sun than others.  Eh, I probably committed just about every mistake you can make with corn.

No matter, they still grew!  Thanks to almost daily watering, the ones that got the most sun are higher than my fence and yesterday I harvested 3 full, ripe ears of corn.  There are still a couple dozen ears growing along so fortunately I can harvest them gradually and keep myself supplied with fresh corn.  Kewwwwwl.......

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Peanut Butter Surprise Bars - revisited

The "surprise" is the peanut butter cup inside each piece

I've already blogged about these brownies from The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle and normally I wouldn't write them up again even though I'm baking them again but I wanted to post a better picture of them since I have a better camera now than the last time I took a picture of these.  And in case you're new to my blog and haven't seen some of the older posts, I thought I'd link the recipe back up.

I'm making these again because one of my nieces started college already and I promised to send her a care package.  I asked her what kind of brownies she wanted and her response was "the kind with Reeses that you make".  I actually make several different kinds with peanut butter cups but I think this is the one she meant.  And if not, she said she was going through "Tita brownie withdrawals over here" (they call me Tita which is the Filipino word for Aunt) so I figured these would still suffice, lol.
In case you want to see that peanut butter cup close up :)
This is a good brownie to put in a care package because it holds up well, even in warm weather.  Slice into individual pieces, wrap each piece in plastic wrap and ship in a small, sturdy box (the small flat rate USPS box is ideal since you don't have to worry about the weight of the box increasing the cost).  If you're mailing it with other flavors, it's not likely to overwhelm the other food items with peanut butter-ness since it's just the peanut butter cup that comprises the peanut butter part of the brownie.  But wrap it up separately anyway, just in case.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Sometimes you just need a(nother) brownie

The Baked Brownie - made August 10, 2011 from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

This was one of those weeks where it was hard to juggle work, life, socializing, baking, blogging, exercising, and breathing.  Not to mention "gardening" which this week has consisted of rushing to water my plants before it got too dark by the time I get home and before my evening meetings started.  The weeds have taken over in gleeful abundance but I have no time to care at the moment.  It'll have to wait until the weekend.

In the meantime, a couple of nights ago I had a marathon super woman session - got home from the office with 30 minutes to spare before my 8 pm meeting in which time I managed to water the garden, harvest some tomatoes and throw a pan of these brownies into the oven - go me.  I needed to bake something for someone I was meeting early the next morning before work and for another friend I was meeting for dinner after work last night.  Usually when I'm in a crunch I rely on previously made and frozen cookie dough in my freezer but my stash of baked goods was dangerously low. 

I had wanted to make these brownies from one of the Baked books I got for my birthday as the picture in the book looked so good, nice and fudgy.  Mine baked for less time than the recipe said but the toothpick already came out with a few moist crumbs just a few minutes shy of 30 minutes.  They didn't come out as thick as the ones pictured in the book but they were still fudgy and good.  This is more of a dark chocolate brownie and you can taste the undertones of the espresso.  The only thing I would change next time is to bake this in a slightly smaller pan to make them thicker.

1 ¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1.   Preheat the oven to 350⁰F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9 x 13-inch glass or light-colored metal baking pan.
2.   In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt and cocoa powder together.
3.   Put the chocolate, butter and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth.  Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars.  Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan.  The mixture should be room temperature.
4.   Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined.  Add the remaining eggs and whisk until combined.  Add the vanilla and stir until combined.  Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.
5.   Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture.  Using a spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.
6.   Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it.  Let the brownies cool completely, then cut them into squares and serve.

Since my baking has been so limited lately, I'm linking this to a few of the link parties I normally participate in at once:
Tightly covered with plastic wrap, the brownies keep at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Lark's Country Heart