Friday, November 25, 2011

Cocoa nib brownies (Modern Baker Challenge)

When I gave my copy of The Modern Baker to my hubby so he could choose my "official" blogging cookie for the cookie section of the Challenge, he immediately picked cocoa nib brownies. I didn't commit, though, because I had no idea where to get cocoa nibs.

One of the best parts of being a part of this blogging community, besides having other people who love to talk about food as much as me, is getting advice and ideas. Melanie mentioned that she saw cocoa nibs at Whole Foods, and even though we live in different parts of the country, I checked and sure enough, they had them! Lucky hubby. :)

The brownies are made with a similar method to the truffle brownies and Florida brownies from Bake!, both of which are now family favorites. The butter is melted until it sizzles, and then the chocolate is added and allowed to melt. Meanwhile, the brown sugar is mixed with the eggs, and then salt, sugar, and vanilla are added. The chocolate-butter mixture is stirred in with a spatula, and then the flour is folded in. Finally half of the cocoa nibs are added to the batter and the rest of them are sprinkled over the top.

As with the other brownie recipes, NM says to refrigerate them overnight before cutting them. He also warns that it may be hard to pull the foil off the brownies because they're so moist; he's not wrong about that! Of course, when little pieces broke off, we just had to sample them, even though they hadn't been cooled overnight. These are so good! NM says, "Nibs are unsweetened, so they have to be used somewhat sparingly to avoid imparting a bitter...flavor. They're the perfect counterpoint to this fudgy brownie recipe, adding a little texture and a bit of balance to the batter's natural sweetness." I couldn't agree more!

Because they're so rich, I cut them into little 1" squares. I brought some to school to share with some of my debaters who helped to give a grant presentation the other day. Hubby brought some in to share with his coworkers; when he turned around, the container was empty. I had a little container leftover, saved for my photos, and asked hubby for permission to bring them to share with my should've seen the look I got! He was not going to give any more away! :) By the way, these are great alone, but even more excellent with a little scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

Five-grain sourdough with rye sourdough (Mellow Bakers)

My final November Mellow Bakers bread is a five-grain sourdough made with a rye sourdough. At the same time that the sourdough is prepared, a soaker is also prepared: flaxseeds, rye flakes, sunflower seeds, oats, and salt are all soaked in water.

After an overnight rest, the sourdough and soaker are combined with high-gluten flour (I used bread flour and vital wheat gluten), instant yeast, honey, and water. My dough was quite wet and I was a little nervous, but after an hour's rise (with no folds), the dough was actually easy to shape. I made a 2 pound loaf for my oval banneton and then two 2-ounce dinner rolls (I'd made a half-recipe).

The kids didn't like the bread, which was no surprise; they don't like seeds in breads. I really love multigrains, but found the rye flavor a little too strong; it was okay, but not a favorite. Hubby really enjoyed the bread with soup, as eggs in a nest, and with Thanksgiving leftovers.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it!
And to everyone out there, I hope your day was filled with lots of love and good food.
Thanks for cooking and baking and talking about food with me! :)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Butterscotch chocolate chip cookies (Modern Baker)

Oh, you have no idea how excited I am to start this section! Cookies are technically supposed to be our last section of the Modern Baker Challenge, but knowing how many cookies people generally bake at this time of year, our brilliant leaders/members decided to flip-flop the final two sections. Looking at the list of possibilities, I positively could not commit to which recipes to pick; they all sound and look so good!

My first choice would probably have been these butterscotch chocolate chip cookies, but they'd already been taken.......But wait! Just because I'm not the official blogger doesn't mean I can't try them, right? Right! :)

I made these to bring to my debate class to thank them for their hard work hosting a middle school debate tournament last week.

I was surprised by the technique. You start by mixing softened butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and eggs in a stand mixer, just until blended. Usually you cream these ingredients for quite a while, but NM warns against over-mixing, so I really just mixed them until they all came together. Then you gently fold in the flour mixture (flour, salt, and baking soda) with a rubber spatula. I was worried that it wouldn't all come together; it just seemed impossible to get all of the flour incorporated. But with patience, it worked and I had smooth cookie dough with no extra flour. Then I folded in a lot of chocolate. NM calls for 6 ounces of chopped bittersweet chocolate and 6 ounces of chopped milk chocolate. I had a 4 ounce bar of bittersweet, so I used that. And then about 6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chunks. Even missing 2 ounces of chocolate, I felt like this batter was more chocolate than cookie.

The cookies are placed in teaspoon-sized rounds on the cookie sheets. NM says to cook two trays for 15 minutes, rotating the trays halfway. By 12 minutes, both of my trays were burned. I'm not sure if they were really supposed to be tablespoon-sized? Or if 15 minutes is just way too long? NM's baking times are usually pretty accurate for my oven. I experimented and ended up finding that 10 minutes, baking one tray at a time, seemed about perfect. I was able to get about two trays of good cookies. (I figured high schoolers would eat the burned ones anyway!) So be sure to watch these carefully!!

As for the flavor...they are definitely butterscotchy/toffee-y in flavor and texture and very chocolatey. These are quite different from our normal more traditional chocolate chip cookie recipe, and quite addictive. The containers of cookies (the "good" ones as well as the slightly-overdone ones) lasted all of about 30 seconds in class....and one of my kids asked me to make them again for Monday. :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bake! Chocolate meringue tart

Gr. I purposefully left a mini tart so I could take a photo this afternoon.
And then forgot about it until it was dark again.
This only being home for one hour of daylight is killer on the food photography. 

This weekend's Bake! pick was Margaret's; she picked chocolate meringue tart (or chocolate marshmellow pie, as my kids called it).

This one should've been easy, except that my little guy who is usually asleep by 7:00 was up until 9:30 last night, which meant this was definitely a case of distracted baking.

For the tart crust, NM calls for flaky pastry crust. I had a tart crust in the freezer, just labeled "tart crust," so I'm not sure which recipe it was (or even from which book, Modern Baker or Bake!). Either way, I divided it in half, used half to make three 4" crusts, rolled them out (easily!), and put them in the fridge to chill. (I used the other half to make this apple tart that Nancy posted earlier today; perfect for a bit of left-over tart crust and a few leftover apples.)

Meanwhile, I made the chocolate cream (a half-batch, which filled the three mini tart crusts and a large-ish ramekin): whole milk, sugar, half-and-half, corn starch, eggs, and bittersweet chocolate. Margaret had a problem with her cream not setting up...mine went the other way. It was really close for a long time...and then something happened with the little guy and when I looked back, it was so thick I could barely stir it. I was worried that it would taste curdled or lumpy, but the texture was actually perfect.

I baked the mini tart crusts until they were golden. Unfortunately, I forgot to weigh them down with beans, so they shrunk up quite a bit in the oven. While the crusts and chocolate cream were cooling, I made the meringue.

This part did not go so well. I'm not sure what happened, as I've used NM's method of heating the egg whites, sugar, and salt, and then whipping them before with great success. But mine never thickened up (check out Margaret's for a look at how beautiful and full-bodied it should've been), and again I was dealing with the little-guy-who-wouldn't-sleep, so I just gave up and dumped it on top of the chocolate. I think because of the lack of fluffiness, my meringue took a lot longer to turn golden in the oven.

It didn't matter. Hubby gobbled his mini tart right up. He said that he's normally not crazy about meringue, but he loved the crust and the chocolate, and the meringue had a more marshmellowy texture that was actually quite yummy. So despite everything, a success!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mellow Bakers: Golden raisin and walnut bread (November)

Well, my first November bread for Mellow Bakers came with me to daycare and work; this one came with me to the grocery store. It was the only way we could fit in shopping and still get the bread shaped and baked in time. So there I was in the parking lot, oiling up my hands and preshaping...... What we do for our breads! :)

I made a third of this recipe, which was enough for one medium loaf. The bread was made with a stiff biga (bread flour, whole wheat flour, water, and instant yeast), more bread flour, more whole wheat flour, salt, water, instant yeast, and golden raisins and walnuts.

This challenge has definitely changed my family's opinion on breads with fruit and nuts in them. While we used to dislike every one, we've really enjoyed the last couple, and this one was no exception. The walnuts gave a great crunch and the flavor of the bread was really enhanced by the sweetness from the golden raisins. A tasty accompaniment to dinner!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Twitter avatar fun: Ghillie Başan's veggie tagine

Our November chef for our Twitter avatar fun was Ghillie Başan, chosen by Andrea. She is new to me; according to her website, "Ghillie Başan is known for her informative and evocative books on the culinary cultures of Turkey, the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia." Sounded good to me!

There aren't many of her recipes on the web, but I did find several that sounded intriguing on her site, including the recipe for tagine of yams, carrots, prunes, and honey, a recipe from her book Modern Moroccan.

The recipe calls for yams, but with how many squash we still have in our basement, I did a little checking to see if there were any squash that could be substituted for yams or sweet potatoes. And I found one: delicata, which is even called "sweet potato squash." The recipe called for pearl onions, but I had a leek and some yellow onions in the veggie drawer, so I used them. The final substitution that I made was the stock; this is vegetarian dish which calls for vegetable stock, but I was all out, so I just used low-sodium chicken stock.

And the result? We really enjoyed this side-dish! The veggies are slightly caramelized and quite sweet. It was delicious with a roasted chicken, my most recent Mellow Bakers bread, and fruit.

Tagine of delicata, carrots, prunes and honey
adapted from Ghillie Başan

3 T olive oil
1 T butter
2 c sliced onions (GB calls for pearl onions, but I used a combination of leeks and yellow onions)
3 c peeled and cubed (bite-sized) delicata (GB calls for 2 lbs yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces)
1 1/2 c cubed (bite-sized) carrots
3 T honey
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
5 oz soft, pitted prunes, cut in half
16 oz low-sodium chicken stock (GB calls for vegetable stock)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
chopped cilantro

1. Preheat the oven to 400º.
2. In a large dutch oven, heat the olive oil and butter. Add the onions and cook over medium heat until tender, about 3 - 4 minutes. Remove half of the onions and set aside.
3. Add the delicata and carrots to the pan, increase the heat to medium-high and cook until lightly browned, about 6 - 8 minutes.
4. Add the prunes, spices, and honey. Stir. Then pour in the stock, salt, and pepper. Stir and cover.
5. Put into the oven and cook for 45 minutes. Add the rest of the onions and cook an additional 10 minutes.
6. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ceremonial mask bread (Mellow Bakers: fougasse with olives)

Hubby thought it looked like a ceremonial mask
My first November Mellow Bakers bread is an olive fougasse. I made half a recipe, which made one loaf, and I could've easily made the whole thing as the entire loaf was demolished in no time.

This bread got squished into life; it's the first time I've ever taken a bread-in-progress with me to work. :) I made the paté fermentée at dinner time and mixed the dough together the next morning before work. (Luckily it was fast to knead the bread flour, whole wheat flour, water, salt, instant yeast, olive oil, paté fermentée, and olives, as hubby was shooting me dirty looks because I was making us late!!) Carrying my little measuring cup of dough, I brought it to daycare drop-off and then to work. Right before the students arrived, I scrubbed my hands, did a quick stretch-and-fold, and threw my dough into the fridge. At the end of the day, I pulled the dough and let it come to room temperature during our faculty meeting. I preshaped the dough into a round while I was picking up the kiddos from daycare, and then we headed home. There I rolled out the dough, let it rise while I made the night's soup, and then baked it up. It was finished in 20 minutes and ready to eat five minutes after that.
As I said, a big hit with the fam, and while scheduling was interesting, it wasn't too challenging to make for a quick bread and soup dinner.

Fougasse with green olives

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Thanksgiving dinner: Butternut squash bisque

I love Thanksgiving dinner. No, I mean I really love it. It has always been my favorite meal of the year, and I've actually always insisted on the exact same meal for Christmas, just so I can eat it again (although I am trying to branch out a little more to honor my hubby's preferences). I love turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, pumpkin pie, apple pie, green bean casserole...and I really love leftovers.

So when Phyl, host of our pumpkin dinner a few weeks ago, offered (with maybe a little pressure?) ;) to host a virtual Thanksgiving dinner, I was so excited! So excited, in fact, that when he asked us to pick a menu item, I just couldn't decide; I love them all! I went back and forth (our famous mashed potatoes? my dad's awesome sausage wild rice stuffing? my mother-in-law's pumpkin pie? my mom's yummy turkey?) until finally all of the categories had been taken by others and I was left with........soup. Which we've never served at Thanksgiving dinner. Hm.

Luckily, Phyl recently sent several of us a great new Thanksgiving cookbook, so I started paging through...and came across butternut squash bisque. Now, I've mentioned our abundance of squash on more than one occasion; clearly, this soup was meant to be.

The recipe states that the soup can be made up to three days ahead of time, so I made the soup on Monday night and served it on Wednesday. It was easy to make, delicately-flavored, and delicious! It's one of those soups that feels creamy and indulgent, but actually only has a small amount of cream, with much of the texture imparted from the squash itself. I thought the garnish of fried sage leaves and popcorn seemed a little fussy, but they actually only took a few minutes to pull together and they really added something special to the final product; I'd definitely include them again.

Butternut squash bisque
from The New Thanksgiving Table by Diane Morgan

for the soup
2 pounds butternut squash (I used a 4.5 pound squash and used half for the soup, which ended up being about 2 pounds of puree)
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 large granny smith apples, halved and cored
4 cups chicken broth (DM recommends homemade stock, but gives the alternative of canned low-sodium broth, which is what I used)
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (I probably used closer to 1/2 tsp)
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper (the recipe actually says "salt and pepper to taste" but that drives me crazy; I need a starting point. I used 1/2 tsp of each, which seemed close to perfect, and then I sprinkled just a tiny pinch more)

for the garnish
3/4 c oil (I used safflower)
1/3 c fresh sage leaves 
kosher salt
popcorn (DM suggests a mini bag of microwave popcorn, but we never have that in the house; I just had hubby make me a small batch of air-popped)
1. Preheat the oven to 350º.
2. Peel and cube the squash into 2" pieces. Toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Spread in a single layer on a jelly roll pan. Place the apples, cut side down, on the sheet. Roast for 30 - 35 minutes or until the squash and apples are tender. (I didn't read this until too late, and roasted the squash the way I always do: peeled it, sliced it in half, took out the innards, and roasted the halve on a buttered piece of foil for about 2 hours. I added the apples when there were 30 minutes left on the timer.)
3. Purée the squash and apple (without the skins) in a food processor until smooth. Add 1 cup stock and process until smooth.
4. In a large (4-quart) saucepan, whisk the squash/apple mixture, the rest of the chicken stock, the cream, the nutmeg, and the sugar. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Make the garnish: heat the oil in an 8" sauté pan until it reaches 365º. Fry half the sage leaves for 5 seconds, remove with a slotted spoon, and place on a paper-towel-lined plate. Then fry the second half.
6. To serve: ladle the soup into bowls or mugs and garnish with the sage leaves and popcorn.

Be sure to check Phyl's site later this week for the rest of this yummy Thanksgiving meal!