Thursday, July 28, 2011

The. Best. Cocoa. Brownies. Ever.

Ever wonder where and by whom the first brownie was baked? It's a good question on National Milk Chocolate Day, which happens to be today! Culinary historians have traced the first “brownie” cake recipe to Fanny Farmer in The Boston Cooking School Cook Book circa 1906.  According to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, the recipe is similar an earlier Fanny Farmer chocolate cookie recipe, but with less flour and baked in a “7-inch square pan.” 

The next adaptation came along a year later when another Bostonian named Maria Willet Howard added an extra egg and an extra square of chocolate to the Boston Cooking-School recipe and called it Lowney’s Brownies. But we all know there's no such thing as too many brownie recipes. For her next batch, Maria added yet another square of chocolate and named the recipe Bangor Brownies. Hence came the falsehood that brownies were invented by a housewife in Bangor, Maine. 

Not so. Just like the American Revolution and that shot heard 'round the world, rich chocolatey brownies were born in Massachusetts. Take that, Michele Bachmann!

10 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Reese’s Pieces candies or chopped nuts (optional)

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F.  Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square cake pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides. Set aside.

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide frying pan or skillet of simmering water. Stir until the butter is melted and the cocoa mixture is smooth. Do not overheat. Remove the bowl from the simmering skillet to cool until the mixture is barely warm, not hot.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in the vanilla and chili powder, then add eggs one at a time, stir vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add flour a little at a time, stirring until you cannot see it any longer, then beat for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon. Spread batter evenly in the lined pan. Sprinkle candies or nuts on top.

Bake 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out slightly moist with crumbs when inserted into the center. Place pan on a rack and let cool to room temperature before lifting up the ends of the parchment or foil liner to transfer the brownies onto a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut into 16 two-inch brownie squares. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Uniquely American: Blueberry Buckle

From strawberries to raspberries to blueberries and then that second harvest of raspberries, fresh local berries are the belle of the summer season ball here in western Massachusetts. Cobblers, crisps, buckles, crumbles ... no matter what variation of simple fruit filled dessert you make, it is uniquely American. 

Early American cooks were extremely talented at improvising. When the ingredients for their favorite recipes were unavailable, they made do with what they had at hand.  Berries grew wild and bountifully in many regions. Fussy English puddings were turned in for slumps, pies, buckles and cobblers filled with fresh-picked juicy fruits of the season. Homemade simplicity reliant on taste not European pastry techniques...just another example of American ingenuity!

Cake Batter:
1 cup (130 grams) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup 1% milk
1 cup fresh blueberries 
Streusel Topping:
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray an 8 inch square cake pan with a nonstick vegetable spray. Make streusel first.  In a medium bowl, mix flour, sugars, and ground cinnamon.  Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or fork until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Refrigerate while you make the cake batter.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
In separate bowl beat butter until smooth.  Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla and beat until incorporated.  Add the flour mixture, alternately with the milk, and beat only until combined.  The batter will be thick. Spread batter onto the bottom of the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spoon or a spatula. Arrange the blueberries on top of the cake batter, then evenly sprinkle with the streusel topping.

Bake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool slightly.  Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 9 servings.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Seasonal Surprises: Savory Blueberry Chutney

My first taste of Sheila Lukins came after stumbling across The Silver Palate food shop on Columbus Avenue, NYC in the late 1970s.  It was a short road to discovering chutney wasn’t just a mango and ginger concoction.  Sheila Lukins of Silver Palate Cookbook fame was cutting edge back then.  I was hooked from that first taste all the way to mixing things up with blueberry chutney to glaze Asian style roast chicken.

Blueberry chutney was the inspiration for my Spicy Blueberry Barbecue Sauce, an original recipe that made me a national award winner in the Highbush Blueberry Council’s 2008 recipe contest.  Who’da thunk?  Next month will mark two years since Sheila Lukins died -- too young but not without having made her mark on a generation of home cooks like me.

This recipe is adapted from an original Silver Palate recipe.  Over the years, I’ve added and subtracted this or that.  Serve with roasted turkey, duck or goose, meat or curries.  Hint: Mix a tablespoon of chutney with with 1/2 cup mayonnaise or plain yogurt and make a tasty dressing for turning chunks of leftover roast turkey or chicken into a yummy salad.

4 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and stemmed

1 teaspoon yellow mustard seed

1 tablespoon grated crystallized ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground Ceylon cinnamon (regular Cassia cinnamon will do)

1 medium shallot, grated (or one small onion)

Dash of salt

1 teaspoon orange zest
1-1/4 cups red wine vinegar

Dash ground nutmeg

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar                                                                                       

Place blueberries in 4 quart saucepan; add all other ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil; simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes, or until chutney is thick.

Meanwhile, wash 4 half pint jars. Keep hot until needed. Prepare lids as manufacturer directs. Ladle the hot chutney into 1 hot jar at a time, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Wipe jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Attach lid. Fill and close remaining jars. Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. Remove from water bath and set on a flat surface covered with a clean dish towel to cool. When you hear the tops pop, the seal has been set.

Unopened jars store well for about a year. Once opened, refrigerate and use within 3 weeks.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Opposites Attract: Sweet Berries Love Tart Lemon Pound Cake

There’s no butter in this baby and the texture is amazing. Substituting olive oil for butter cuts way down on the bad cholesterol pound cakes are noted for. A sprinkle of powdered sugar finishes off the top nicely before serving. 

Add fresh local berries and voila! Heaven on a plate. Like having a diet soda to cut calories, using olive oil takes the sting out of that dollop of rich whipped cream. 
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp grated lemon zest
5 large cold eggs
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup Limoncello liqueur
Preheat the oven tot 350 °F. Grease and flour two 8 x 4 loaf pans. Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt thoroughly in a large bowl and sift together. Set aside. In a second large bowl, beat the sugar, oil, and zest on high speed until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; continue to beat until the mixture is thick and pale, 3 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and add 1/2 cup of water. Beat just until blended. Repeat with another third of the flour, followed by the remaining water and the liqueur, and then the remaining flour.

Scrape the batter into the pans. Bake 50 minutes or until the cake tester comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pans on a rack for about 15 minutes before unmolding. Wrapped airtight, the cake keeps well at room temperature for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Thanks, Roger...that's what friends are for.

Real life friend Roger Fisk passed this recipe along via Facebook. And he attributed the recipe as having been passed along to him from another friend of his. That’s the way it works in today’s world: we keep track of friends near and far electronically. Facebook, Twitter, most recently Google+ (anybody have a spare invitation?).Lots of us post pictures of dinner and share the recipes with each other: especially when local ingredients and backyard garden bounty take center stage.

That is exactly the way this morning’s tomatoes became this evening’s summer supper! With the exception of using a pre-made frozen crust that was pre-made and frozen by me, I followed Roger's simple instructions. Roger said, “A purist-I love it. I aspire to this!” I won’t criticize if you choose the store bought pre-made route but the savory crust recipe used here for this quiche is absolute heaven ...for aspiring purists everywhere!  
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Roast bulb of garlic. Smear roasted garlic on bottom of pre-made frozen pie crust. Put down base of half-cup fontina cheese, layer tomato slices on top. Drizzle with olive oil salt/pepper, bake for half hour. Sprinkle another half cup of fontina on top of tomatoes. Add a few snips of fresh parsley and basil. Bake for another 20 mins. Garnish with fresh basil leaves. Add a green salad with French dressing. Pour French wine. Serve friends. Feeds six.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Summer Berry Brunch

Weekend mornings are for lazing around in jammies, sipping a fresh cup of tea and reading the paper while something yummy bakes up in the oven. Especially when the something yummy uses local berries and syrup and was prepared the night before. Another plus: this recipe requires little attention but to wait for the timer's buzz!

We're at the end of strawberry season here in western Massachusetts. This recipe works well with any fresh berry and jam ... try blueberries, raspberries, even blackberries work well. Once the apples are ripe, apple slices and apple jelly make for tasty seasonal substitutes. Hint: Use raisin challah and add a dash of cinnamon to the egg mixture when using apples.  

1/2 loaf of Challah bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (approx. 3 cups)
1-4 oz. package of cream cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup fresh sliced strawberries
2 tablespoons strawberry jam
4 large eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 cup maple syrup 
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup strawberry jam
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon butter
Grease a deep-dish 8-inch pie pan. Place half of the bread cubes in the bottom of the prepared pie dish. Equally distribute the cream cheese cubes, fresh berries, and jam over the top of the bread cubes.
Top with remaining bread cubes. Thoroughly whisk the eggs, maple syrup and milk in a medium bowl. Pour egg mixture over bread and jam in pie pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
In the morning, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake covered with foil for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake approximately 15-20 minutes more, or until the top is a toasty golden brown. Combine the syrup ingredients in a small microwave bowl. Microwave on high for one minute. If you prefer, use a small saucepan and heat over low heat on the stovetop. Serve hot with a tablespoon of syrup drizzled over each serving. Makes six generous portions.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Old Fashioned and I Like It

Arborio is fat, starchy rice that makes for creamy, cheesy risotto. Though lesser known for use in desserts, it makes an amazing version of an all time favorite comfort food; rice pudding.

My natural inclination is to throw in the traditional handful of raisins. Chopped dried apricots make a nice substitution. Suggestion: if the apricot option appeals, use lemon zest rather than orange.

I love any and all rice pudding ... but take it from me, hands down the sinfully rich arborio sends me over the moon.


1 cup water
dash of salt
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup Arborio rice
2 cups 2% milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
dash of ground cinnamon (Ceylon is preferred)

1/8 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 cup brown raisins (optional)
Whipped cream, for serving

Bring water, salt, and butter to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the rice, return to a boil, and then reduce the heat to the medium-low. Shake the pan occasionally and cook until rice absorbs the water but is still firm, about 15 minutes. Bring milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and zest to a simmer in a separate saucepan.

Add the cooked rice and cook at a simmer over medium-low heat until rice absorbs most of the milk and mixture starts to get thick and creamy, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir often with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat and thoroughly mix in the raisins. Cool to room temperature. Transfer to a large bowl or individual serving bowls and refrigerate until cool and set. Serve with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Four servings.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A French Accent for America's Picnic Staple

Forget the grilled steak on a starry July evening ... there's nothing quite as satisfying as an elegant cold summer supper of shrimp cocktail, lobster salad and a creamy version of French potato salad, delicately herbed with fresh chopped tarragon and parsley.

Add a crusty baguette, a refreshing pinot blanc. Relax with the one you love while gazing at the constellations. Fireworks, anyone?

3 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
1/4 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Cook potatoes in large pot of boiling salted water just until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain. Transfer potatoes to large bowl. Cool to room temperature.

Mix egg, celery, parsley and tarragon into cooled potatoes. Whisk mayonnaise, lemon juice and ground pepper in a medium bowl. Mix into potato mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours. Can be made 1 full day ahead. Six servings.