The Great Brownie Chase…

Back in 1999 I tried a bunch of brownie recipes on my teenagers and their friends. Over 6 months the winning brownie came out of a box. And it did not matter much which brand.

Well, I want to change that outcome so I am trying out brownie recipes on my coworkers. The biggest drawback is that brownies generally get rave reviews just for showing up and just for being chocolate.

For a two week trial so far, here is what I have done. I chose a Quick & Easy Fudge Brownies recipe from the back of a King Arthur flour bag. I clipped this and stuck it on my kitchen counter. I am not sure if I made this one before or a different KAF recipe. I have written about brownies twice before, here and here. But my endeavor here is to find a go-to recipe that gets high ratings from a variety of people. And because I am a social scientist I have a three point Likert scale for tasters to rate each brownie.

I virtually made the same recipe for both weeks. There are technical differences but I think this makes a big difference. Here is the basic recipe:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/ teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

KAF’s instructions are to put the ingredients in a large bowl in the order listed and beat until the mixture is smooth. Bake in a 913-inch pan for 25-30 minutes at 375 F.

Being the baker that I am I did not exactly follow the above, but almost. I accidentally used Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa in the first batch. Also in the first batch, I used 4 egg whites (because I had these in need of use) and one whole egg. I used Whole Wheat Pastry Flour both weeks. The second week I used regular cocoa powder and three whole eggs. I melted the butter in the bowl, sifted the dry ingredients together, then added all the ingredients and mixed until smooth.

I had my coworkers rate these on three aspects: appearance, texture, and taste. I am sure there is some skewing of the results based on the time between samples. But, too bad!

The first was the Special Dark cocoa brownies. The sample size was n=12. The second week sample size was n=8. And the winner is…

I think these results show that Special Dark Cocoa should not be used in brownies. It is most likely best suited for dark and rich chocolate cakes. The medical student at work with a discerning palette picked up on the difference in moistness between the two which is the result of the egg whites vs. whole eggs. There was another coworker who verbally gave me her results so the second week is really a sample of 9. Three people who compared the two weeks all said the second week was better.

So don’t mess with the cocoa or the eggs! Whole wheat pastry flour works just as well as the all-purpose flour called for in the recipe. So we could say this is a healthy brownie, LOL! This is a simple enough recipe and makes a 9 x 13 pan so it could easily be a go-to recipe. Maybe I’ll try out recipes using baking chocolate next.

 

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Ginger Cake

We are expecting a blizzard. I’ve already been given a snow day from work. Hubby will work from home so he’ll be no fun at all!

My kitchen is a mess; I wish I had a housekeeper every other week to do the baths, the kitchen, and the floors. Would be nice; not going to happen! Meanwhile it is good that we are not allergic to dust or pet hair. We will do a super cleaning when the grand-kids are coming down.

Dog doesn’t like his standard dog food anymore. He used to like it just fine. We buy his dog food at the pet store. It is for the mature dog. We made the mistake once of buying a specialty human grade dog food. Now he’s trying to hold out for the good stuff!

So after taking our cable box back to the cable store and coming home with a new one (but less monthly cost!) we spent three hours setting this thing up. And we now only have 45 channels but we don’t miss many of the previous 300+ channels we had. So we found a few things to watch and are being careful not to binge watch too much because when all the episodes are gone, they’re gone. Then what will we watch?

But that is not what this essay is about.

There was plenty of time during the rest of the weekend to putter around the kitchen but I did not. It is cold out there, my kitchen, and I do have heat in my house. I heated water for tea, took a beautiful teacup down from the shelf above the sink, and poured in the water. Hubby heard the fine porcelain crack from across the room and then the water came pouring out. Oh no! So learning my lesson, today I have warmed the teacup before making the tea. And a nice cup of hot tea with lemon goes very nicely with ginger cake.

By the time dinner time on Sunday rolled around and Hubby was fixing twice baked potatoes and in charge of cooking the salmon, I needed something to do. I flipped through one of my UK published baking books and found this ginger cake that I had been wanting to bake. It is entitled Preserved Ginger Cake but I did not have a jar of preserved ginger. I have crystallized ginger and since that is for the garnish I figured it would be just fine.

This is baked in an 8 inch round pan, not a 7-inch square pan that the recipe called for. Be sure not to use a 9 inch pan or it will be as flat as a pancake. Prepare the pan with parchment paper and cooking spray. Preheat oven to 325 F.

  • 4 ounces butter
  • 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour; make this by using 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder per 1 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons milk; I used half-and-half.

Whisk the dry ingredients together in the mixer bowl. Soften the butter for 30 seconds in the microwave. Mix butter with the dry ingredients. Put the eggs, corn syrup, and milk in a separate bowl and whisk together. Mix everything together until smooth. Spread in the prepared pan. Bake 45 minutes. Let cool a little and then turn out onto plate.

For the topping I used 1/4 cup powdered sugar and a tablespoon of lemon juice to make a small amount of glaze. I let the cake cool some but not completely. I poured on the glaze and then snipped a piece of crystallized ginger around the top. Warm ginger cake was a nice treat.

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Not as pretty as the picture in the book.

Simple Custard with a little Extra

Way back when I had children in my house I made the Baked Custard recipe from my 1978 Betty Crocker’s Cookbook. This became the go to custard to make, although years have gone by without me making it. I was wanting to make a light dessert because we had been overeating and feeling too full and lethargic. I also had many, many eggs in the house and had been asked by my son to have the ingredients necessary for Creme Brulee for when he visits soon. He’s bringing a friend along!

This recipe for custard is nice because it can be cut by 1/3 super simply. Why, might you ask? The recipe makes six custard cups. For some reason I only wanted to make four, most likely because I only had 4 Pyrex custard cups!

Here are the ingredients for 4 custards:

  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • dash of salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 2/3 cups milk, scalded

Don’t be scared away by scalded milk. I put the milk (you can use half-and half also) in a glass measuring cup/bowl and nuked it in the microwave for one minute. That’s scalded enough for me.

In medium bowl whisk together the first four ingredients. Stir or whisk in the milk gradually. Pour into the custard cups. Being in the autumn mood, I put a tablespoon of pumpkin flavored chips in the bottom of each cup before pouring. I am not sure what outcome I was expecting but I was pleasantly surprised. I forgot to sprinkle nutmeg on the tops but this worked out well too.

The custard is baked in a bain marie. I find that my four larger custard cups fit nicely in a 9 x  13 inch baking pan. Pour boiling water into the pan to within an inch of the top of the custard cups. Bake for 45 minutes until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

(Silly me, I had the weirdest notion that I could bake the dessert while supper was cooking, entirely forgetting that pizza was to be baked for supper! Supper was a little later than planned that evening.)

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The pumpkin-flavored chips floated to the top and made a nice little crust. They also made a bit of goo on the bottom. Very tasty and pleasing textures in every bite.

It’s a Sponge!

“When the occasion calls for a light, sweet dessert, this delicious orange sponge cake is a perfect choice. Stiffly beaten eggs–first the whites, then the yolks–are the secret of its light, airy texture.”

Thus begins the intro to “the best-ever orange sponge cake” according to the McCall’s Cooking School in its 1984 recipe cards series. I have several of these cards (pages) because they came in the mail as promotional material with the hope that one would subscribe and receive a packet of recipes monthly eventually becoming an entire cookbook. Well, I just saved the pages that I got for free!

I decided to make the cake. I do not do well making sponge or chiffon cakes. I like butter cakes and do pretty good with them. In my past efforts to make sponge cakes they turn out like hockey pucks and inedible. Perhaps my baking skills have improved. I am counting on it as I begin this bake. I figure that a sponge has no butter and actually has less sugar than my usual butter cakes so that is a good thing.

In baking I may change up flavorings but generally follow the instructions exactly. Baking is a science, flavoring is the art.

  • 6 egg whites, brought to room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour, sift before measuring
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 6 tablespoons fresh orange juice (silly me, I only measured out 3!)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange peel

In large bowl of electric mixer beat the egg whites until foamy then gradually beat in 1/2 cup of the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat until stiff peaks form. Preheat oven to 350 F.

Sift the sifted flour with the salt onto a plate or sheet of waxed paper; set aside.

In another bowl beat the egg yolks until very thick and lemon-colored, no less than 3 minutes. Do not underbeat. Gradually beat in remaining 1 cup of sugar and continue beating until smooth. At low speed alternately blend flour mixture and orange juice into the egg yolk mixture, starting and ending with the flour. Add orange peel.

Sponge and miracle whip potato salad 009

Now gently fold yolk mixture into egg whites. I never know if I have adequately folded this together. I did not want to deflate the egg whites but did not want the batter to be unblended.

 

Prepare the pan. The instructions are to use an ungreased 9 3/4 by 4 inch kugelhopf pan. Or a tube pan without removable bottom. So I use a bundt pan. If desired, one can spray the pan with cooking spray but after baking do not invert over bottle to let cool. Just put it on a rack to cool completely and then remove from pan by running a spatula around the edge of the cake.

Dust with powdered sugar, cut and serve. Success is mine! It is light and airy and has a light orange taste. Hubby says “moist, orangey”, at first he said “lemony” so perhaps the other 3 tablespoons of orange juice is needed. But he likes it, and so do I.

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Chicken Piccata

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Chicken thighs were brought up from the freezer to the fridge to thaw for supper. I went to my newly organized recipe notebook looking for a coffee marinade (I had a bit of leftover coffee from the morning) and came across a page I had saved from a 1991 Woman’s Day magazine on how to prepare chicken multiple ways using a basic starter of chicken thighs or breasts.chicken piccata 001 Add a different sauce and different vegetables and you have different dinners all week. I looked at it pretty thoroughly and found that I had all the ingredients for “chicken picante with green beans“. Even the white wine. Reading through the recipe I had the unique thought that I could actually follow this recipe exactly. Well, not exactly exactly. I would use fresh green beans instead of frozen, and I had a few mini orange peppers instead of a red bell pepper. It seemed exact enough to me!

This handy dandy recipe chart has four parts to each dish: the chicken, the vegetables, the liquid, and the finishing touch.

The first is of course the chicken. One trims the visible fat (I do a half-hearted effort at this) and coat the pieces with seasoned bread crumbs. Well, I have a package of Panko bread crumbs and that will have to do. The recipe calls for 1 1/2 pounds of chicken parts. I have thawed a 3 pound package so that will have to do as well. I’ll plan for leftovers this way. I put my breadcrumbs in a ziploc bag to toss with the chicken, one piece at a time.

  • 6 large chicken thighs, thawed. These could have the skins removed for a more calorie conscious meal.
  • 4 tablespoons Panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil for the skillet

Heat the oil in a large skillet with sides and cook the crumb coated chicken pieces for about 6-8 minutes, turning once.

Meanwhile prepare the vegetables:chicken piccata 006

  • 4 mini peppers or a red bell pepper, diced (any pepper or combination of colorful peppers would work here, red, orange or yellow will provide a nice contrast to the green beans)
  • fresh green beans, trimmed, about a pound (or 10 ounces frozen green beans)

chicken piccata 008Prepare the liquid:

  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

When the chicken is nicely browned, add the vegetables and the liquid to the pan, cover and let simmer for 30 minutes.

The finishing touch is to sprinkle with Romano cheese.

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I make a bowl of couscous to serve with this. I set the table and wait for hubby to arrive.  I remove the chicken and vegetables to platter and plates. I sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of flour into the sauce in the pan and bring it to a boil to thicken. This takes just a few minutes. We sit down to a nice meal (after saying the blessing). We are having a nice conversation sitting at the table for our meal when he informs me this is a Piccata, not a picante, when I tell him about the recipe. A piccata is a white wine sauce with capers. Hubby used to work in high end restaurants and has hobnobbed with real chefs so he should know. Oh, I’m sure I have had this dish at restaurants before but did not connect the ingredients in this recipe to the misnomer by the magazine.

I wonder if it was just an oversight by the food editor?  I know of Picante as a Mexican hot sauce. I was just going by the name given by the Woman’s Day magazine people. Points scored by hubby for his culinary knowledge. I am not surprised. This is the man who lent me his copy of Gastronomique and The Professional Chef when we started dating! He used to quiz me on the Five Mother Sauces! I guessed at them; I’m just a home cook raised in the Midwest. I just make gravy!

Can you name the Five Mother Sauces?

Bacon and Egg Spaghetti

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Sometimes it is difficult to know what to cook for dinner. I am trying to cook what is in the house to avoid a grocery shopping trip until another week goes by. I like having food in the house so when I go to the store I tend to buy lots! Everyone chooses how to spend their money; some spend it on dining out, entertainment, cars, travel. Me, I tend to spend it on food! And of course reading my fellow bloggers recipes and seeing the photographs of delicious food always inspires me to have enough variety of food in the house so I can cook up an experimental dish on a whim!

The inspiration for this dish is threefold. First and foremost is this blog that I just recently was reading: https://mioshotfood.wordpress.com/2015/12/10/original-italian-carbonara/. This sounded fabulous and I wanted to make this. While thinking about this I remember my brother-in-law talking about making a bacon and egg spaghetti and also in one of the many food magazines I have read over the years there was a page on a quick weeknight dinner featuring a bacon and egg spaghetti. I describe this to hubby and he says it sounds appealing so up from the sofa we get and go into the kitchen.

Here’s what I used:

  • 1/2 pound spaghetti noodles
  • a little bit of olive oil for the skillet
  • 1/4 pound bacon cut into small dice (I use uncured bacon that I keep frozen and just chop from the end what is needed)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese
  • freshly ground pepper
  • dried parsley for garnish

Boil the water for the spaghetti. This is what takes the longest time for this dish. While waiting for the water to boil and/or the spaghetti to cook, dice up the bacon, onion, and garlic. Hubby kindly took care of the bacon while I did the other. Saute these together in the skillet with a little bit of oil. Add the oregano and basil when the bacon is starting to brown and the onion is caramelizing. I read somewhere that fat distributes the flavors so I am thinking this is the time to add the seasonings. This concoction will have your kitchen smelling wonderful!

In a bowl beat the three eggs with a fork and add the Romano cheese. Drain the spaghetti and add it to the skillet with the bacon and onion. Pour on the egg mixture. Cook this over medium heat stirring with tongs to coat the spaghetti. It will start to look like scrambled egg on the spaghetti. We added the cottage cheese here for extra creaminess. Season with pepper. Put in serving bowls and sprinkle with the dried parsley and more pepper to taste.

It served the two of us. This would be nice served with a green salad and crusty bread neither of which I had in the house at the time. I figure the onion is our vegetable, the eggs and bacon are our protein, the cheese is the dairy, and the pasta is the grain. That covers the major food groups and makes this a square meal!

 

 

It’s Just a Pasta Dish!

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I spent a morning organizing my recipe notebooks in which I had collected clippings and printings of recipes I have used and/or want to try. It was quite interesting going through the most recent collection. I removed some that were duplicative and that I would not really use again. I have another one that also has “classic” recipes from my early days as a wife and mother. I did not glean through that one. When these are changed up it is kind of like losing the ambiance of the thing. I have three of my mother’s notebooks. I wonder if my daughter will do this? I gave her one to start on but…?

pasta with beans and greens 005In organizing the two notebooks I came across this newspaper clipping from a year or so ago. In deciding what to cook for supper I wanted to use Italian sausages and thought this recipe could be the inspiration for supper. We like pasta dishes that have more “stuff” than the pasta.

I gathered what I wanted to use. I did not have fresh greens (Swiss chard) nor cannelini beans but that never stops me from going forward!

  • 3 1/2 pounds sweet Italian sausages in links (my addition)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 oz pkg of baby portabella mushrooms, roughly chopped (my addition)
  • 1/2 pint grape tomatoes, cut in halves
  • 1 cup frozen spinach (my substitution, but I like cooking with spinach)
  • 1 15.5 ounce can pinto beans, drained (substitute for the canellini beans)
  • 1/2 cup of broth
  • olive oil for the skillet
  • 8 ounces whole wheat fusilli pasta (less than the pound of the newspaper recipe)
  • sprinkle of red pepper flakes
  • grated Romano cheese to serve (at son’s suggestion)

First put on a big pot of water to boil for the pasta. Cook pasta according to package.

I sliced up the sausage links. This is easier to do when the meat is partially frozen.Heat olive oil in a large skillet and brown the meat. Be sure to cook it through. This takes about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally so that all gets evenly cooked. Meanwhile chop the vegetables. When the sausage is browned remove from the pan and drain most of the fat. Saute the onion and the garlic in this pan with a bit of the fat. When fragrant and caramelizing add the mushrooms, tomatoes, and beans.

Stir the mixture and cook for about 5 minutes, then add the broth, the spinach, and the sausages to the pan and simmer while waiting for the pasta to finish cooking. This should cook for another 10 minutes.

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Blend in the drained pasta, add a shake or two of red pepper flakes, sprinkle on the Romano, and dinner is served:

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This was a big hit with hubby and son who were home for dinner. Which means I will make this again. This serves six. Son had two helpings. I put the remaining two servings in a freezer container for an “emergency meal” for the future.

Thoughts for changes that would be nice: use more spinach (or other greens of choice), use canellini beans (or less than a full can of pinto/brown beans), artichokes could be added, and an addition of black olives would be spectacular!