Thursday, September 27, 2012

Velvet Brownies

Chocolate is a necessity. A nibble in the afternoon or a square or two after dinner adds just the right touch of sweetness to the day. Sometimes, though, getting that chocolate fix demands I bite into something a bit more rich and indulgent. At those times, I whip up a quick batch of brownies to hit the spot.

Ah, brownies: cakey, gooey, frosted, plain or everything in between, there is always a place for them. I love brownies with an intense chocolate flavor and a smidgen of flour, landing them squarely in the fudge-style camp.

These velvet brownies are a bit elegant, like a chocolate confection, with a dense, smooth texture. The batter is thick and voluminous, almost like a frosting or chocolate mousse. Eggs are whipped full of air and then mixed with butter, unsweetened chocolate, espresso powder, vanilla, sugar and flour. The finished brownies are not very sweet (think of a dark chocolate bar) and with each nibble more rich chocolate flavor emerges. Cut into small squares, they are little chocolate morsels to savor.

These brownies certainly hit that need-a-chocolate-fix spot. And I love that they are quick and easy to make with quality ingredients. I like my treats to be less sweet, but you can increase the sugar a bit if you prefer. A sprinkling of flaky sea salt on top would complement the chocolate nicely, too.

P.S. October is almost here, which means it’s time for October Unprocessed! Andrew Wilder created this fun challenge which gives us the opportunity to think about our food choices and how we can “un-process” the way we eat. I was inspired last year by the recipes and discussions from the month long challenge and can’t wait to learn more.  I’m delighted to be writing a guest post on Andrew’s website for this year’s October Unprocessed challenge, as well. Come join me in taking the October Unprocessed pledge!

Velvet Brownies
Makes 1 - 9x13 inch pan (the brownies can be cut quite small to feed a crowd)

8 ounces good quality unsweetened chocolate bar or discs, roughly chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) organic butter (preferably pastured for those Omega 3s – the pastured butter I use is lightly salted)
1 tablespoon espresso powder
8 eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt (increase to 1 1/2 teaspoons if using unsalted butter)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9x13 inch baking pan.

In a medium sized saucepan, melt the unsweetened chocolate, butter and espresso powder together over very low heat, stirring often. Remove from the heat and set aside to let cool to room temperature.

In a standing mixer, use the whisk attachment to beat the eggs on high speed until they are pale yellow and thick, about 2-3 minutes (you can also use a hand held electric mixer). In a separate bowl, stir the sugar, kosher salt and flour together. Add this mixture to the eggs and whisk until mixed. Pour in the cooled chocolate mixture and vanilla and mix on a high speed until the batter is airy and thick, about 3-4 minutes.

Spoon the batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes. The brownies will puff up a bit and a tester should have a couple of moist crumbs on it (be careful not to over bake). Remove from the oven and let cool. The brownies will keep for a few days on the kitchen counter well sealed.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Autumn Spiced Plum Jam

A bag of plums from our friends’ tree is a welcome gift this week. Italian prune plums are like late-season zucchini right now: in abundance!  And I appreciate how versatile these little beauties are for snacking, baking, pickling and jamming. Not too sweet and full of luscious flavor, they take well to different spices and can go both sweet and savory.

Even though we are relishing our late summer sun and warm air, I am beginning to crave the fall flavors that are just around the corner. Dare I say it? Soups and stews are on my mind, even as I slip on my flip-flops. I baked the first apple cobbler of the season this week and now warm spices, such as cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg are filling my thoughts. Oh, and pumpkin pie. Soon enough!

With autumn tastes swirling in my head, I gaze at the bowl of purple plums, eat a couple and ponder how to transform them. I didn’t make nearly enough jam over the summer, so to hold onto these last whispers of summer but also welcome fall, I decide on a jam spiced with ginger, cardamom and cloves. Buckwheat honey from our Rosh Hashanah dipping adds a touch of dark, earthy sweetness.

Fragrant, rosy, lightly spiced and bursting with fresh plum goodness, it made a delightful breakfast this morning when spread on a sea salt baguette (a Mazama Store favorite) alongside a steaming cup of green tea. I’ll be making this jam again before the season ends (and I wouldn’t say no to another bag of plums either ...).

Autumn Spiced Plum Jam
Makes 1 pint

2 pounds Italian prune plums, pitted and chopped into halves, or quarters if large
1/4 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Have ready a clean, sterilized pint jar and lid. In a large sauce pan, combine all of the ingredients over medium high heat and stir. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and let cook at a lightly bubbling simmer for about half an hour, stirring often to break down the fruit. Watch closely to be sure it does not begin to scorch and lower the heat further if needed. When the plums begin to thicken and coat a wooden spoon and have a jam-like consistency, remove from heat and let cool. Spoon the jam into the pint jar, cover and store in the fridge for up to one month.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pomegranate Glazed Carrots and Leeks for Rosh Hashanah

Pomegranates are a sure sign that Rosh Hashanah is here!  This is such a beautiful season, a time of renewal with a fresh year ahead. We eat pomegranates during Rosh Hashanah with the wish that our good deeds in the coming year will be as abundant as the seeds of a pomegranate. And they taste so good, too!

Our new year will begin with a meal of round challahs filled with chocolate and figs, brisket, maple sweet potatoes, jujubes (a new fruit we just discovered at the farmer’s market), apple honey cake and this side dish of Pomegranate Glazed Carrots and Leeks.

Sweet carrots and caramelized leeks are glazed with a mix of pomegranate molasses and honey. Pomegranate molasses is wonderfully tart, and I added a drizzle of honey to balance it out. I couldn’t resist tossing in some sliced dates, and a sprinkling of crimson pomegranate seeds added a pop of color. Filled with fall flavors, it is a delightful dish.

I look forward to gathering around the table with family and friends and dipping apples in honey. These are special days to savor; crisp, sunny days with leaves blushing the color of pomegranates – for that, and for so much more, I am grateful.

L’shana tova – a sweet and happy new year to you!

Pomegranate Glazed Carrots and Leeks
Serves 6-8

2 1/2 pounds carrots, ends trimmed and sliced in 1 inch diagonal slices
1 1/2 pounds trimmed leeks, sliced in 1 inch diagonal slices
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons honey
12 dates, pitted and sliced in slivers lengthwise
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the carrot slices. Cook the carrots until they are soft, about 6-8 minutes. Drain and return them to the pot.

While the carrots are cooking, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the leeks and salt and stir. Let the leeks cook until the bottom layer begins to brown, then stir and let them brown again. Sauté the leeks until they are golden brown and soft, about 10-15 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the pomegranate molasses and honey. Pour this over the warm carrots and stir to coat. Add the leeks and dates and gently mix.

Spoon the carrots into a serving dish and scatter the pomegranate seeds and parsley over the top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Frozen Mexican Chocolate Pots

Birthdays are especially fun when you’re heaping attention on someone you love. My husband celebrates his birthday this week and I am excited! Bob makes me laugh every day and with him I feel like life is a celebration – this is a gift he gives me. He is always charging forward and curious about what’s new and interesting and just around the corner. His positive attitude inspires me to think about all that is possible in life and I’m beyond grateful to have him by my side.

So what to make for this lovely man for his birthday dinner? Mexican is consistently his top choice so tortilla soup, beef tacos, pickled jalapenos and onions, salsas and grilled hatch chiles are on the menu. For the past few years I’ve made a frozen chocolate confection as his birthday treat. It’s more of a semi-freddo or frozen mousse than an ice cream, and in keeping with the Mexican dinner theme, I heat it up with chili pepper and cinnamon for a warm, spicy kick.

These chocolate pots are not very sweet – I use 85% dark chocolate – so if you prefer a little more sweetness you could add some milk chocolate or use a lower percentage of dark chocolate. While this is a rich, satisfying indulgence, it is made with almond milk in place of cream, so it’s not overwhelmingly heavy (making it a great treat to share with vegan or dairy-sensitive friends).

I have some more happy news: As an extra sweet birthday treat, Maren, our exchange student daughter, will arrive from Norway just in time for Bob’s birthday dinner.  A gift for all of us!

Frozen Mexican Chocolate Pots
Makes 6 small ramekins

3 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons chili powder (I use a medium spice level, feel free to increase or decrease for your tastes), plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 1/2 cups unsweetened, vanilla almond milk
8 ounces dark chocolate (I use 85%, feel free to use a lower percentage if desired), roughly chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cacao nibs for garnish

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the cinnamon, chili powder, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in the almond milk and stir occasionally over medium heat until it thickens, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat and stir in the chopped chocolate until it melts and is smooth. Stir in the vanilla and remove from the heat.

Pour the mixture evenly into 6 ramekins. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and pop them in the freezer for at least 6 hours. They can be made a few days ahead.

About 30-40 minutes before serving, remove the chocolate pots and let them sit out at room temperature. They need to start thawing to be soft enough to begin eating. Sprinkle a little chili powder and a few cacao nibs on each to garnish and serve.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Worcestershire Sauce to Love

Making Worcestershire sauce at home, much less multiple times, was not on my DIY list a year ago. But as with almost all the DIY projects I dive into, I am rewarded to discover that the results are healthier, more flavorful and often less expensive. (There are, of course, exceptions: yogurt anyone? If at first you don’t succeed, try try again...) Worcestershire sauce is a slam-dunk winner, though, and I have been singing its praises since my first batch. I may be in love.

Worcestershire sauce was a happy find in Jennifer Reese’s terrific book, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.  It was not something I ever dreamed I would have any interest in making since it never caught my attention the way other condiments do (mustards, hot sauces, chutneys). It turns out that was a reflection of the quality of Worcestershire I’d had. With store-bought Worcestershire, I used a teaspoon here and there. With homemade, I look for reasons to pull it out and start pouring.

Glossy, thick, robust and downright delicious - not the usual words to describe Worcestershire sauce!  I’m dolloping it on grilled steaks, mixing it into meatloaf, whisking it into salad dressings and adding spoonfuls wherever I want a pop of flavor. It may even make a marvelous homemade holiday gift, too.

I have made this Worcestershire quite a few times now following the original recipe. This last time, though, I had no dark corn syrup on hand, and rather than heading to the store I decided to try honey instead which yielded great results. I also had a couple of extra jalapenos in my crisper drawer that needed a purpose so I included them for a little more bite. Kapow. This is sauce with character. This is a sauce to love.

Worcestershire Sauce
From Make the Bread, Buy the Butter
By Jennifer Reese (used with permission)
Makes 3 - 4 cups

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 serrano chiles, chopped with seeds (I added 2 jalapenos, as well)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Two 2-ounce cans anchovies, drained (I usually add the oil)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 lemon, peel and white pith removed and discarded (I zest it first and freeze the zest)
2 cups honey (original recipe calls for dark corn syrup)
1 cup molasses
1 quart distilled white vinegar
1/4 pound fresh horseradish, peeled and grated

In a large, heavy sauce pan, combine the oil, onions and chiles and stir over high heat until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, pepper, anchovies, cloves, salt, lemon, honey, molasses, vinegar, horseradish and 2 cups of water and bring it all to a boil.

Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reduces and thickens and barely coats a wooden spoon, about 6 hours. Your kitchen will smell heavenly!

Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Press gently to release all the liquid. Discard the solids and let the sauce cool to room temperature. Store in a bottle or jar in the fridge. It keeps indefinitely, but you’ll be gobbling it up!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Back to School with Jam Thumbprint Cookies

We filled the Labor Day holiday weekend, summer’s last hurrah, sipping wine with friends, a hike, blackberry cobbler, Bananagrams (thanks for the addiction, Carrie and Kev!), dipping our toes in the river, an amazing farm-to-table dinner in an orchard, a barbecue, ice cream cones and watching the moon rise.

While I am refreshed from the delightful weekend, I must say it’s been a reflective morning for me.  My sons went back to school this morning – a senior and a sophomore! – and I’m feeling a bit misty and nostalgic.  Each year, I have mixed feelings as summer fades and autumn peeks around the corner.  Starting the school schedule takes a bit of adjustment after summer’s luxurious pace, but I am also excited for the fresh start and all that fall promises.  As I’ve grown, I’ve learned that transitions can be hard for me.

Along with nurturing and cherishing our children, we are also letting go as they become more independent. My dear friend, Christine, wisely observed how this process has a kind of “happy pain” all its own.

Last fall I read The Gift of an Ordinary Day and at times I was in a puddle of tears. The author’s son is a senior in high school as she writes, “This time next year I’ll be setting the table for three, rather than four.”  Oy. While I don’t plan to torment myself all year (although I did take Sam’s last first-day of-school photo ever this morning), I do intend to continue savoring and appreciating each moment we still have the four of us under one roof.  Especially the simple, ordinary moments.

Well, back to school. Making school lunches certainly qualifies as ordinary (if not always simple!).  I’m always searching for healthy, delicious options to send along with my boys, and Jam Thumbprint cookies make a terrific lunch bag treat. Sweetened with maple syrup and loaded with oats and whole grain goodness, they could even serve as a quick breakfast. If you’ve filled your pantry with jam this summer, this is a lovely way to bake with some. The cookies freeze well, too, so it’s easy to grab a couple to toss in lunch boxes to add a little sweetness to the day.

There is much to look forward to and I am grateful to be where I am.  Life is simple and good.

Jam Thumbprint Cookies
Makes 20 cookies

1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon canola or olive oil (or a  mix)
3/4 cup oat flour (or whiz 1 cup oats in the food processor until finely ground)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
A dash of cinnamon
About 3/4 cup of your favorite jam

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment or baking mat.

Stir the maple syrup and canola or olive oil together.  In a large mixing bowl, stir the oat flour, whole wheat flour, oats, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together.  Slowly pour in the syrup-oil mixture and stir until mixed.

Form the dough into round balls the size of ping-pong balls.  Arrange the cookie dough balls on the baking sheet, flatten slightly and then use your thumb to create an imprint in each.  Spoon a little jam into the center of each.  Don’t overfill or the jam will spill out.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the cookies begin to brown. Remove and let cool. These cookies freeze well, so seal a few well to pop in the freezer for last minute snacks.