Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chocolate Ginger Brownies


For those of you out there who regularly read this blog (and yes, I am deluded enough to think that there's gotta be SOMEONE who does), I'm sorry that I've kept you hanging for so long. I'm still not feeling well, and most of my time over the past couple of weeks has been spent on the couch or in bed. Fortunately, I've banked up a few recipes for times like this, so you won't leave this post empty-handed.


I made these brownies about a month ago, and they disappeared within 15 minutes of hitting the table. They're rich, fudgy, and extremely easy to make. Though I am a die-hard purist when it comes to brownies, I actually enjoyed the fresh ginger, though I do think I'll dial it back a bit next time because, let's face it, anything extra in a brownie should showcase the chocolate, not compete with it.

Chocolate Ginger Brownies
Adapted from Martha Stewart

1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup AP flour
1/4 cup unsweetened DP cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1/8 tsp ground cloves

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter an 8" square baking dish (line with parchment paper if desired).

2. Melt butter and chocolate together in a medium saucepan over med-low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients.

3. Pour batter into prepared dish and spread evenly with a rubber spatula. Bake until cake tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs, 30-35 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes. Lift out, and let cool completely on rack. Cut into 16 2" squares.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chewy Molasses Cookies


I wish I could write a long post today that waxes on about the wonderful nuances and bold flavors of this cookie, but I can't muster up the energy for that. I'm not feeling well right now, and all I want to do is curl up with a blanket and sleep for a few hours; however, just because I feel like poo doesn't mean I should continue hiding this recipe from you. You need this recipe now, because you'll want to make these cookies several times between now and Christmas. I can't decide whether my favorite part of these is their soft chewiness or their perfect balance of sweetness and spice, but I do know that both of those traits together make one pretty fantastic cookie.


Chewy Molasses Crinkles
Adapted from Martha Stewart

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for rolling
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt


1. Put butter, brown sugar, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar int the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Mix in eggs one at a time, followed by the molasses and oil.

2. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and salt. Cover dough with plastic wrap; refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour or overnight.

3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Put remaining sugar in a bowl. Using a 1 3/4" ice cream scoop, form balls of dough. Roll balls in sugar to coat, and space 3" apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are flat and centers are set, about 17 minutes. Let cool completely on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in airtight containers at room temperature up to 5 days.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Boeuf Bourguignon, a la Julia Child


Because I understand your time is valuable, let me give you an advanced disclaimer: If you clicked on this post in hopes of finding a quick meal involving little work or prep time, you should probably stop reading now and look elsewhere. Go on. I promise, I won't be offended.


Anyone left? I hope so. I hope that everyone makes this dish at least once, no matter how pressed for time you may be. Yes, you have to blot your meat dry and saute your mushrooms in small batches and strain things and move this into that pot and then back again, but you know what? The aroma alone is worth it, and the flavors from such familiar ingredients are stunning, yet comforting. I prefer to make this a day in advance, as the flavors will improve overnight.


Boeuf Bourguignon

6 oz. chunk of bacon, rind removed and bacon cut into lardons (sticks 1/4" thick
and 1 1/2" long)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 lbs. lean stewing beef, cut into 2" cubes and patted dry
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. flour
3 cups of a full bodied, young red wine
2-3 cups brown beef stock (homemade)
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 crumbled bay leaf
18-24 small white onions, brown- braised in stock (recipe below)
1 lb. quartered fresh mushrooms, sauteed in butter (recipe below)
parsley sprigs

1. In a medium saucepan, simmer bacon rind and bacon in 6 cups of water for 10 minutes; drain and dry, set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a 9-10" fireproof casserole (at leas 3" deep), saute the bacon in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes over moderate heat until lightly browned. Remove the bacon to a side dish.

3. Saute the beef a few pieces at a time in the hot bacon fat until browned on all sides. Add the beef to the bacon, then brown the carrots and onions in the bacon fat. Pour out the sauteing fat, if any is left over.

4. Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef and vegetables with flour. Set casserole, uncovered, in the middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 minutes more. This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust. Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees.

5. Stir in the wine and enough stock so that the meat is barely covered. Add tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove, then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces easily.

6. While the beef cooks, prepare the onions and mushrooms (below). Set aside until needed.

7. When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash our the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.

8. Skim the fat off the sauce (I put my sauce in the refrigerator for a couple of hours while I ran errands and then just removed the hardened fat that had risen to the top). Simmer sauce for a minute or two. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to lightly coat a spoon. If too thin, boil down rapidly; if too thick, add a couple of tablespoons of stock. Taste carefully for seasoning, then pour over meat and vegetables.

9. Cover the casserole and simmer for 2-3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in the casserole.


Onions Brown-braised in Stock

18-24 peeled white onions (about 1" in diameter)
1 1/2 Tbsp. butter
1 1/2 Tbsp. oil
1/2 cup brown beef stock
A medium herb bouquet: 4 parsley sprigs, 1/2 bay leaf, and 1/4 tsp thyme, tied up
in cheesecloth

Heat the butter and oil in skillet until bubbling, then add the onions and saute over moderate heat for about ten minutes, rolling the onions so they can brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break skins.

Pour in the liquid, season to taste, then add herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet. Set aside until needed.

Mushrooms sauteed in butter

1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, whole if small, quartered if large
1 Tbsp. oil
2 Tbsp. butter

Place a skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. As soon as the butter foam has begun to subside, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4-5 minutes. During their saute, the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2-3 minutes, the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat. (Do not overcrowd the mushrooms in the pan! Saute in batches, or they will not brown properly). These may be cooked in advance and then reheated when needed.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Palmiers


My introduction to the palmier was, to put it mildly, a less than stellar experience. I remember stopping by a mediocre bakery in Kansas, starving from a long flight. Unimpressed by anything I saw, I resigned myself to the dry-looking palmiers and thought "These things look impossible to screw up. This can't taste as bad as that Napolean looks." (In my defense, hunger and judgment are inversely proportionate for me: the hungrier I get, the more my judgment suffers until I'm ready to gnaw off my own arm). Not surprisingly, my palmier turned out to be exactly the heart-shaped wood chip it appeared to be: my first bite turned it into a flaky mess all over my new pants and left me frustrated and seriously considering my right arm.


In contrast, my first bite of a homemade palmier elicited nothing but "Mmmmm...ooooohh...wooooow..." and then rendered me speechless. Imagine thin layers of pastry dough and butter generously sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, then folded or rolled in a manner that layers the cinnamon and sugar with the dough, then baked until the layers of butter and dough have worked their puff pastry magic and the sugar has caramelized, leaving you with a delicate cookie that's just crunchy on the outside, yet oh-so-tender and buttery on the inside. I know I often speak in superlatives, but I really do think this is one of the best cookies I make. Do you need another reason to make these? How about this- they're one of the easiest things you will ever bake. I'm not kidding- they take no skill whatsoever. Simply sprinkle, roll, slice, and bake. That's it. I would usually argue that you should make your own puff pastry, but I'll step off my pedestal and spare you the homemade-is-always-better argument (even though it still holds very true in this case and is worth the extra effort). Frozen puff pastry works in a pinch. Still not convinced? Let your friends and coworkers try these. They'll dub you a culinary wunderkind.


Palmiers

Ingredients:
1-2 sheets of puff pastry, thawed
2 cups of cinnamon/sugar mixture


1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle a flat surface (I used my frozen marble slab) with some of the sugar mixture and place the puff pastry on top. Roll the dough into a square (roughly 12"x12"), then sprinkle liberally with more sugar mixture.

2. Shape:

Method A (my preferred method):Fold the sides of the square towards the center so they touch, then repeat. Then, as if closing a book, fold one half over the other half.

Method B (the method I used this time): Roll both sides in toward center until they meet.

3. After shaping, slice cookies into 1/2" thick slices and dip both sides in remaining sugar mixture. Bake on a parchment-lined cookie sheet for 8-9 minutes, flip, then bake 3 minutes more. These cookies are best eaten within a few hours of baking, but will keep for a couple of days in a tightly covered container.