Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Ask 5 people what kind of brownies they prefer and you're apt to get 5 different answers. Do you prefer fudgey or cake-like brownies? plain or nut-studded? thin or thick? The possibilities are endless.

 I don't bake often since I try to eat healthfully (and keep my butt in one zip code) and because DSO is diabetic and needs to watch his carb intake. However, once a year on the night before Opening Day of deer season, his hunting club has a big dinner and he asks me to make him a dessert to bring. This year he wanted brownies. I've made him brownies before and he always gobbles them up and compliments them...and then lets slip that he REALLY likes more cake-like brownies, though mine are delicious. Since I've been baking the standard Hershey cookbook brownie forever, I did a search for "cake-like brownies," evaluated the results, and decided to try the one I found on www.best-ever-cookie-collection.com.

 I baked 2 pans of brownies, one plain and the other with nuts. If you looked verrrry carefully at each pan, you might have noticed one brownie  about a half-inch shorter than the others. I did it for YOU, my readers. I had to be able to evaluate the results and report on them, didn't I?

Chocolate Cake Like Brownies Recipe

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees.
  2. Grease a 15x10x1-inch baking pan and set aside. (I used 9X13 and increased cooking time to 30 minutes)
  3. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
  4. Remove saucepan from heat and stir in sugar and cocoa powder until well combined.
  5. Add eggs and vanilla and beat lightly with a wooden spoon until just combined.
  6. In a separate small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda.
  7. Add flour mixture to the chocolate mixture, stir in milk until well blended.
  8. Stir in nuts, if using.
  9. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly.
  10. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
  11. Cool two hours on a wire rack and cut your delicious cake like brownies into any size and shape you desire.
These were, by far, the best brownies I've ever baked. The texture was perfect; they were just sweet enough. They held together beautifully and were a dream to cut. They needed no frosting, but were just a perfect mouthful of chocolatey goodness. I personally preferred the ones with nuts (DSO, of course, loved the plain).

Thursday, November 25, 2010


The last time I tasted grits was about 20 years ago when I traveled south and stopped in South Carolina for breakfast. While I love polenta, I didn't much care for the grits I was served with my eggs and I hadn't had them since. Then, while leafing through Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, I lingered on the photograph of Ina's creamy cheddar grits and thought they'd be the perfect accompaniment to her Tuscan Lemon Chicken. Never having made grits, I didn't realize how generous this portion, which does note that it serves 6, would be. All the better to enjoy as leftovers!

2 tsp Kosher salt
1 cup fine quick-cooking grits (NOT INSTANT)
1 1/4 cups half and half (I used fat free half and half)
2 tbs unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups aged sharp cheddar cheese, grated, 4 oz (I used 2 % shredded cheddar)
1/2 cup chopped scallions

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a heavy 4-quart saucepan. Add the salt, then slowly add the grits in a thin, steady stream, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the grits thicken, about 5 - 7 minutes.

Add the half and half and butter to the grits and stir. The mixture will be thin, but will thicken as it cooks. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes, until very smooth and creamy.

Off the heat, stir in the cheddar and scallions. Add pepper to taste.
Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm! These were just incredible! I loved the thick creaminess interspersed with bits of scallion and gooey, melty cheese. The wonderful chicken was almost forgotten in our grits-induced carb haze. I need to figure out how many calories per serving because I'm going to want these again and again (DSO says, "Me, too"). Ina is a genius!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Lava cakes are turning up on menus in every venue from fine dining establishments to chain restaurants. Since I've been using the same recipe for lava cakes for quite some time, when I saw an advertisement for Godiva that contained a recipe in this month's Food and Wine, I decided to give it a try. DSO had asked for a cake to take to work and I thought "the guys" could be the guinea pigs for Eric's Original Recipe for Godiva Molten Chocolate Bundt Cake. Inspired by Godiva's new chocolate lava cake truffle, it sounded like a winner.

4 oz Godiva dark chocolate Callets
1/2 cup boiling water
1 tbs espresso powder
1 cup sour cream
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups pecans (finely chopped or ground in a food processor)
1 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups confectioners sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder (plus more for dusting pan)
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 tbs vanilla
2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a bundt pan and dust with cocoa powder.

In a medium bowl pour boiling water over the chocolate Callets and whisk until smooth. Whisk in sour cream and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, ground pecans, confectioners sugar, cocoa, and salt.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Turn mixer to low and add eggs and yolks slowly, scraping down the bowl as necessary and until well combined.

Add the dry mixture in 3 additions alternating with 2 additons of the chocolate sour cream mixture.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for no longer than 45 minutes. The edges should start to pull away from sides of pan and top will look cracked. A cake tester placed in center will be very wet. Let the cake cool in pan on a wire rack for 1 1/2 hours. Invert onto a serving plate and let cool completely, about 2 hours. Pour fudge glaze over the cake, if desired.

Fudge Glaze
3 tbs butter
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tbs honey
8 oz semisweet chocolate
2 tbs rum

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the water, cream, honey and simmer over medium heat. Put chocolate in a bowl and pour mixture on top. Let sit for several minutes, then stir to combine.
This had to be the heaviest cake I've ever baked! I loved having the "lava" in each slice and the texture of the nuts, which I'd chopped rather than ground, added interest. "The guys" enjoyed the cake and the one slice I taste-tested was quite good, but I prefer the more souffle-like texture of my old recipe. I will, however, certainly use Godiva chocolate again when I make my lava cakes.

Friday, November 19, 2010


There was a time in my life when I couldn't get through the week without Chinese food. When I began cooking for myself, I began to amass a collection of cookbooks devoted to this cuisine. But no matter what recipe I followed (or what concoction I threw together), the results, though tasty, were never quite the same as what the local take-out joint offered. I learned a lot of great techniques (velveting, stir-frying, steaming) along the way, but the difference between the dishes I create and the ones that are served in a Chinese-American restaurant are parallel to the pasta and sauce I create at home and what's served in an Italian-American restaurant. With that in mind, I no longer fall for the "tastes exactly like take-out" reviews that accompany the various recipes for this dish that I've tried. I'm happy to acknowledge that my Chinese-style dishes are reasonable facsimiles.

My latest version of chicken and broccoli stir-fry comes to you courtesy of Food Network Kitchens (recipe here).

The secret to preparing stir-fry is your mise en place. Have everything measured out, chopped, and at the ready and the actual time from pan to table will be under 5 minutes.

I could tell just looking at it that the broccoli needed more time than the recipe directs and even doubling the time, it was still quite firm to the bite. Other than that, the flavor was good and the chicken moist. My personal preference is to velvet the chicken and to have a bit more sauce, but if you're a novice to stir-frying or to trying to cook your favorite Chinese take-out, give this simple recipe a try.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


There have been many times over the past two and a half years since my mother passed away when I've regretted not having asked her to write down some of her recipes.. I have a very small number of recipes that she did write down, but have to rely on memory for so many more. Stuffed cabbage isn't a dish she made often--probably because it wasn't a family favorite back in the day. I find that with age a great many foods that I wouldn't eat "back in the day" are now comfort foods, in no small part, I'm guessing, because of the nostalgia factor. I decided to give stuffed cabbage another try despite some not-so-stellar attempts in the past.

1 large Savoy cabbage
2 lbs 93% lean ground beef
1 1/2 large Spanish onions, diced
2 tbs butter
3 eggs
1 cup brown rice, cooked according to package instructions
salt and pepper to taste
2 cans tomato soup
1 can chicken broth
1/2 cup bloody Mary mix

Part of my difficulty in the past was that I tried to boil the cabbage. This time, on the advice of a few friends, I cored the cabbage, then placed it in a bowl filled a third of the way with water and microwaved it on high for 10 minutes, checking after 5 minutes. Remove from the microwave and cool until it can be handled. The leaves should come apart at a touch. Place on paper towels to drain.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet melt the butter and saute the chopped onions very slowly until golden brown. Set aside to cool. Prepare the rice according to package instructions, then set aside to cool.

In a large bowl combine the onions, rice ground meat, eggs, salt and pepper. Use your hands to combine thoroughly.

Look over the cabbage leaves and use kitchen shears to carefully cut away any large, tough veins.

Spray a large casserole dish (or two) with nonstick spray.

Place 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the meat mixture at the bottom of a cabbage leaf and roll up, tucking the sides in. Place seam side down in the casserole dish. Repeat until all meat is used up.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl combine the tomato soup, chicken broth, and bloody Mary mix (or tomato juice, V-8, Clamato). Pour evenly over the cabbage rolls. Cover with foil and bake for 2 hours. Remove foil and serve or let cool before covering with plastic wrap and refrigerating.
Finally! I could tell as these were cooking that they were going to be the closest to the ones I remember my mother making. I believe the difference was the use of tomato soup instead of tomato sauce (she may have mixed the two, but I prefer the taste of all soup). The rolls were very easy to make because the core had been removed from the cabbage and the microwave produced perfectly pliable leaves. The brown rice added some fiber and the onion, salt, and pepper was all the seasoning needed. The bloody Mary mix, which I used because we had no tomato juice, added just a little kick. I'm sure these could be frozen if we weren't planning to give some away and eat the leftovers tomorrow. Please take the opportunity if your parents and grandparents are still with you to preserve your food history by writing out their recipes for family favorites.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Please don't judge this soup by the insipid photo above. It may not be photogenic, but it is delicious. The recipe is from this month's Food Network Magazine and is purported to be served in the US Senate. I had a lovely ham bone from a spiral ham, so it was a perfect fall dinner with lots of leftovers for lunch and the freezer.

1 lb dried navy beans
1 lb ham (preferably with bone)
1 large russet potato, peeled and quartered
Kosher salt
1/2 cup milk
2 tbs unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
freshly ground pepper

Put the beans in a large bowl and cover with about 3 times their volume of cold water. Soak overnight in a cool place.

Drain the beans and transfer to a large pot or Dutch oven. Add 10 cups of water and the ham. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low and cook until the beans are tender, about 1 hour, 30 minutes. Transfer the ham to a plate to cool slightly, then remove the bone and dice the meat. Return the meat to the pot.

Meanwhile, cover the potato with water and season with salt. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer until the potato is fork tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the potato, transfer to a bowl with the milk, and mash. Add the mashed potato to the bean soup and stir until combined.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, garlic, and parsley and cook until translucent, 7 - 10 minutes. Add the vegetable mixture to the soup, reduce the heat to low, and cook 1 hour, adding up to 2 cups more water if the soup is too thick. Season with salt and pepper.
This is one item that Democrats and Republicans are sure to agree on. The soup, while not as thick as many bean soups, was quite filling. The sauteed vegetables really added flavor and very little salt is needed because of the ham. We enjoyed the soup for dinner with a simple cheese panini. Leftovers made a hearty lunch with a few slices of rye crisp and some soft cheese.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


It's hard for me to believe that acorn squash belongs to the same family as the dreaded "Z." For those of you who don't know me, that's zucchini. I loathe zucchini. Whenever a dinner is described as being accompanied by seasonal vegetables, I immediately ask if the dreaded "Z" is part of the melange. And yet, I love butternut squash, acorn squash; I like yellow squash and spaghetti squash. But, I digress.

I generally halve or quarter the acorn squash, sprinkle liberally with cinnamon and brown sugar, brush on some butter, and bake until done. In looking through my foodie magazines this month, I saw another treatment that included my favorite savoury, rosemary.

Serves 4
1  2-lb acorn squash, unpeeled; halved lenthwise, seeded, and cut into 8 edges
1 tbs unsalted butter
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs chopped rosemary
1 tbs fresh lemon juice

Score each wedge of squash. Heat the butter and oil in an 11-12 inch straight-sided saute pan over medium high heat. Arrange the squash in a single layer and cook, flipping, until deep golden brown on all sides (12-18 minutes).

Carefully pour the wine into the pan, then scatter the brown sugar, rosemary, lemon juice, salt, and pepper over the squash. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the squash is almost tender (about 10 minutes more).

Uncover the pan and increase the heat to medium. Flip the squash and cook until the liquid thickens and the squash is tender (another 5 minutes). Transfer to a platter, season with salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle any remaining liquid over the top.
I love having acorn squash as our starch. I served this with roasted cauliflower and garlic and spiral ham. I don't know that I've ever prepared acorn squash without cinnamon and I thought I'd miss it. I didn't. The sugar and wine cook down to a wonderful syrup and the rosemary balances this sweetness perfectly. I was low on white wine, so I used up some dry vermouth and it worked just as well. This is a perfect Thanksgiving side dish if you're not already overloaded with family favorites.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I've subscribed to Cooking Light since it's inception and though  I don't use many of the recipes, I pick up a lot of good information about how to cook more healthfully. Since DSO was diagnosed with diabetes last winter, I've done very little baking. To keep within his daily allocation of carbs, he must be very selective about the desserts he eats.

This month's COOKING LIGHT featured a recipe for Apple Kuchen. The nutritional information  is:
cal 251; fat 11.4g; protein 3.9g; carb 35.1g; fiber 1.7; chol 51mg; sodium 185 mg per serving. A serving is a small square and, while the carbs are still high, as a special treat, I decided to give the recipe a try.

Yield:  15 servings (serving size:  1 square)
3 Fuji apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 tbs fresh lemon juice
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (more! more! more!)
1/2 tsp salt, divided
1 tsp baking powder
6.75 oz all purpose flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup butter, softened and divided
3 oz cream cheese, softened
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup nonfat buttermilk (make your own by adding a small amount of white vinegar to skim milk)
cooking spray
1/4 cup apricot preserves (I only had orange marmalade; it worked great)
2 tsp apple juice (didn't have anyI used freshly squeezed lemon juice)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the apples and juice; toss. Add 1/4 cup of the sugar, the cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp of the salt and toss to combine.

Weigh the flour and combine with the remaining 1/4 tsp salt and the baking powder in a bowl, stirring well.

Place the remaining 3/4 cup sugar and 6 tbs of butter, and the cream cheese in a bowl and beat with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, beating well. Stir in the vanilla.

Add the flour mixture and the buttermilk alternately to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, beating just until combined.

Scrape the batter into a 13X9 inch baking pan coated with nonstick spray (be lazy like me and use a disposable one). Arrange the apple slices over the batter. Melt the remaining 2 tbs butter and brush over the apples.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, until set. Combine the preserves and juice and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Brush apricot mixture over apples and cool. Cut into 15 squares.
You would never know by the taste that this is a "light" cake. Admittedly, it is a small piece of cake for the calories, but it is rich and satisfying. It has a dense texture that makes it seem like you're eating a lot more of it than you are. It's so good, in fact, that I'm going to make it for Thanksgiving. I will definitely add a sprinkling of brown sugar to the top next time.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


For those of you who have never eaten or prepared short ribs, they are a cut of meat that are perfect for braising or slow cooking in a crockpot. If you're unfamiliar with this cut of beef, Wikipedia defines short ribs as follows:

Short ribs (UK cut: Thin Rib) (Commonly known in UK as 'Jacob's Ladder' ) are a popular cut of beef. Beef short ribs are larger and usually more tender and meatier than their pork counterpart, pork spare ribs. Short ribs are cut from the rib and plate primals and a small corner of the square-cut chuck...The ribs can be separated and cut into short lengths (typically about 2 inches long), called an "English cut", "flanken cut" across the bones (typically about 1/2 inch thick), or cut into boneless steaks (a style recently introduced in the U.S.A. as a cheaper alternative to rib steak). 
I love short ribs and order them whenever they're on the menu at several of our favorite local restaurants. Living in the Hudson Valley, many of our local chefs are graduates of the CIA (Culinary Institute of America), so I searched for a CIA-inspired recipe. What I found on the FoodTV site were several recipes by favorite chefs that used a puree of vegetables as the base of the braising liquid. I "ultimately" chose Tyler's recipe (sorry, former English teachers love a good pun), which is here.

My local Shoprite had no short ribs the day I shopped, but the butcher offered me some of the boneless variety mentioned in the Wikipedia definition. Since these were totally lean, I happily accepted.

I would normally dredge the beef in flower before browning them, but I chose to follow Tyler's recipe exactly as written, so I braised them "naked." I used my monster LeCreuset, though I could have done them in a crockpot, adjusting the time, of course.
The pureed veggies created a flavorful sauce for these short ribs which I thickened with a slurry. While they were very tasty, they were not as tender as those that fall off the bone. I'll wait until the butcher has bone-in beef short ribs next time. They were also not the CIA-inspired version I was seeking. I think I'll send an email to that website and ask if they'd feature that recipe on their web page soon.

In the meantime, consider this a CALL FOR SHORT RIB RECIPES.  I'd love to do a round up of your favorite short rib recipe, so please consider leaving a comment with a link to your recipe.