Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Drunken Kirsch Brownies

There are three kinds of people in this world; those that like fudge-y brownies, those that like cake-y brownies, and those who would rather just have the ice cream that the brownies are usually served with - I fall into the third. It's not that I don't like brownies, I just find them boring. To make matters worse, one small brownie is like a caloric bomb laden with saturated fat. I'd so much rather have a bowl of berries with a fluffy mountain of fresh whipped cream and call it a day.

For all the ways I talk myself out of making brownies;
Not worth it, I don't like them that much, just eat a piece of fruit, this other super sophisticated, impressive-looking dessert sounds so much more exciting - I always come back to my desire to have a good recipe for everything. That way when someone requests a batch of brownies, as they inevitably will, I'll have no problem throwing together the best brownies they've ever eaten. Then I'll serve them directly out of the oven with vanilla ice cream because, if you're going to eat a brownie, you might as well do it right.

In case you are wondering why there are no pictures in this post you can chalk it up to the fact that I'm an idiot and dropped my camera in the middle of taking them - and by dropped I really mean it went crashing down onto the tile floor in the most horrific thud I've ever heard leaving me standing there for the better part of 30 seconds afraid to pick it up or acknowledge what had transpired. When I finally picked it up and assessed the damage (small crack in the lower left corner of the body) I decided it was time to put it away even though I had yet to take a picture that I was happy with.
Drunken Kirsch Brownies
Brownies have but a few ingredients and they will only taste as good as the ingredients you use. Basically this is not the place to use cheap chocolate. In fact if there is ever an argument to use chocolate that cost a dollar an ounce, this is it. Over the past three weeks I've been playing around with recipes and different chocolates and ultimately I like Scharffen-Berger 99% Cacao Unsweetened Chocolate the best. It lends a deep, complex flavor to the final product and is worth every penny.

Over the past few weeks I've played with different recipes and variations. The base of this brownie is my favorite basic brownie so far. They're cake-y but not too thick with a crackly top. I've made them plain, with walnuts and with a cheesecake swirl (so good). I also tried a different brownie base the first time I made these but I wasn't as happy with the taste or texture - not to mention they fell apart no matter how long I froze them before cutting.

The next time I used my basic brownie recipe but added dried unsweetened, unsulphured cherries that I first soaked in Kirschwasser for the day. If you prefer more traditional brownies just leave out the cherries and kirsh or replace them with chocolate chips or nuts. Adapted loosely from Smitten Kitchen and 101 Cookbooks.

8 tablespoons Unsalted butter
3oz. Good Quality Unsweetened chocolate
1 cup Turbinado sugar
2 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla
2/3 cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
6oz Dried Unsweetened, Unsulphured Cherries
100ml Kirschwasser

About 1 day in advance, pour the Kirsch and the cherries into a bowl or jar and leave at room temperature until the liquid is absorbed. Shake it up every once in a while especially during the first few hours - just to make sure all the cherries get a fair chance to drink up the alcohol. 

Preheat the oven to 350
Drain any remaining liquid from the cherries and set aside

Heat butter and chocolate in a metal mixing bowl (I like using the one from my stand mixer) and place bowl in simmering water over moderately low heat, to create a double boiler. Stir it occasionally just until melted. Remove from heat and whisk in sugar, eggs, vanilla, and a pinch of salt until well combined. Whisk in flour until just combined, add cherries and spread in an 8x8 baking dish (I used pyrex). Bake until edges are slightly puffed and center is just set, about 25-35 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. I like them best straight out of the oven with a generous amount of vanilla ice cream. 

Note: If you have trouble cutting them, throw the pan in the freezer until very very cold, this will make it easier to get a clean slice.

Side note: I love that these only make one dirty bowl.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Getting used to the idea.

Everywhere I turn someone likes to point out that I only have 11 days of classes and 3 weeks until I graduate. Whoa.  

Put another way that's 38 hours at my internship, 11 days of class, 3 weeks, 3 short assignments, 1 take home final, 1 online final, 3 regattas, 1 banquet, 2 excessively long ceremonies, 1 BBQ, and 1 camping trip until I'm done with this city. Whoa. 

I guess I'm ready for it. When all is said and done I actually do like Binghamton, but I'm kind of done here.  A new city would be nice, one on the west coast maybe, or Boston or of course good old New York City. Preferably Manhattan but I'll settle for Brooklyn. I don't actually have a job so I guess I'm headed back to Long Island, back to my Dad's house. Sigh. At least it's free...and I don't have to clean it.
Actually, I've been getting used to the idea - just for the summer. It won't be so bad, there is a backyard where I can plant tomatoes, herbs, lettuces, spinach, cucumbers and whatever else I can fit into the dirt; and I'll have time, lot's of time. Time to row, time to run, time to apply for jobs that I actually want, and of course time to write.

Oh writing, I haven't felt like doing very much of it lately. I've been cooking, sometimes even taking pictures of what I make but it hasn't been the same. I haven't been motivated to create an attractive plate or set up a shot. I haven't been in the mood to carry my camera with me; In fact I haven't really felt like taking pictures of anything at all. Mostly, I've just been tired

Cooking and baking is like stress relief for me, but sometimes blogging takes away that release. When I know I have term papers and presentations to write, when I'm on the computer all day, that's when I want to focus on the soothing noises of a skillet sizzling, the whir of my KitchenAid or the feeling of warm water rushing over my hands. That's when I don't want to be distracted by having to stop for photographs or write about a recipe when I'm done. I probably don't want to spend any extra time on the computer, I don't want to sort through pictures and I most definitely don't want to organize my thoughts. Instead I want to go outside, I want to ride my bike, I want to do yoga and I want to read in the grass. I want to let other people do the talking, the writing. I want to just listen, read - take in someone else's thoughts.

With that finally out in the open, there are things I have made that I haven't told you about; like this delicious un-photographed cheesecake that I made at 1am Saturday morning, as a last minute dessert for Saturday night. There were also various salads and a new favourite yogurt mixed with poppy seeds and blueberries (on multiple occasions). There were more nights out than I really wanted, and more five minute meals than I generally like, but then there was also a BBQ at my house. A BBQ for which I made turkey burgers.

Turkey Burgers with Feta and Parsley
I came up with this recipe a few summers ago and I've been making them frequently ever since.
Makes 4 Burgers.

For Burgers:
1lb 99% lean ground turkey
1/2 of a small white onion, chopped fine
2 oz Feta
1 handful fresh parsely, chopped
garlic powder, salt, and pepper to taste

For Serving:
whole wheat hamburger buns (I like Martin's Whole Wheat Potato Buns or make you're own Brioche Buns)
1/2 of a small white onion sliced in rings
sour pickles

In a large bowl, mix all of the burger ingredients  until combined. Shape into 4 burgers and grill until cooked through. Serve on a bun with arugula, onion and mustard or over a salad. 

Burgers can be frozen raw to be grilled at a later date, no need to defrost first just leave on the grill a few minutes extra. Cooked burgers are also good cold the next day over salad.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Grilled Grouper

I finally cooked fish. Finally.

Remember way back in January when I said I wanted to try it? Well, I've been putting it off and putting it off but no more. Last night, Colin and I grilled a giant red grouper filet and now I'm addicted. It was so easy and didn't taste even a little bit fishy. We ate it with grilled asparagus and big bowls of salad. I feel healthy just writing about it.
Grilled Grouper and Asparagus
I really don't need to write out a recipe for this, it's that simple, but I'm so excited about it that I will anyway. Serves 2 

3/4 lb. fresh red grouper filet
2 tsp olive oil
Paul Prudhomme Seafood Magic to coat

1 Bunch Asparagus
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
garlic powder
salt and pepper

Break the woody ends off and place in a glass or tupperware container. Add the vinegar, oil, garlic poweder, salt and pepper. Cover, shake to coat, and let marinate 1 hour or up to 1 day.

Prepare a charcoal grill, add a metal fish/vegetable grate, and while it's heating up; brush fish with the olive oil and season generously with Seafood Magic. When the grill is ready, spread the asparagus on the grate and close the cover. After about 3-5 minutes flip the asparagus and add the fish. In another 3-5 minutes flip the fish and roll the asparagus off the direct heat. Cook fish until it's cooked through and the asparagus until they are crunchy with blackened bits but not mushy. Serve immediately with big green salads.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

April Daring Cook's Challenge - New Brunswick Stew

Kitchen shears are my new favorite utensil.
Why are they my new favorite utensil?  Well, I was having a wrestling match with a 3lb chicken and it was winning - until I remembered the kitchen shears. The beautiful, sleek, seriously sharp kitchen shears. They sliced right through those chicken bones with ease and grace as if to say why have you been struggling with this for the better part of 20 minutes? Weakling.
Lesson one: Don't underestimate the kitchen shears.
Lesson two: Read a recipe before you buy the ingredients - or you could just do what I did.
I bought all my ingredients (so I thought), set aside a night to cook and serve the meal, and of course, left no time for errors or extra runs to the supermarket. Then, just as I went to start cooking at 4:30 Monday afternoon, I realized I should have bought 3lbs of chicken breasts, some quantity of 3 other meats, lima beans and a can of whole peeled tomatoes. I had none of the above, but I did have plenty of homemade chicken stock in my freezer. I thought for a few minutes, decided I would cut my chicken into pieces, use the ground sirloin that I already had defrosting and just flat out make my own recipe. I know I was supposed to use one of the two recipes provided by the Daring Cook's Host but I was out of time and options. I made it up as I went and it came out quite good. Hopefully the Daring Kitchen police won't be too angry. 

Not-Even-A-Little-Bit-Traditional Brunswick Stew

New Brunswick Stew is a modern adaption of Brunswick Stew (squirrel stew). It replaces squirrel with rabbit and also includes several other meats like pork and chicken. I've eaten rabbit once before but I've never cooked it. Unfortunately, there is no butcher in Binghamton and short of killing your own that's the only place you'll find rabbit meat. I did check Wegmans just in case but when I asked if they could order it for me, the kid working behind the meat counter looked at me as if I was seriously disturbed. The answer was obviously: no crazy lady, we don't sell cute, furry, backyard animals. I even tried to get a friend to hunt one for me. He hunts plenty of deer and other animals but declined on the rabbit citing them as too cute and furry. By this point I officially felt like a horrible, soul-less person trying to kill cute and furry animals. I gave up and went with chicken and beef.

 I used homemade BBQ Sauce because Jason made 7 quarts of of it from the Dinosaur BBQ cookbook. In case you are wondering 7 quarts is a TON of BBQ sauce and we've been doing everything short of drinking it to try to use it all up. I encourage you to use the Paul Purdome Chicken Seasoning because it really is the best. I use it on everything but if you can't find it you can replace it with hot paprika, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. Serves 6-8

1 onion
2 leeks chopped
1 lb boneless chicken breast
1 lb chicken thighs (bone-in)
1 lb lean ground sirloin
4 cups chicken broth (I used homemade)

Paul Purdome chicken seasoning 
red cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves

28oz butter beans
1 14oz can diced tomatoes in juice
1 1/2 cups spicy BBQ sauce (see headnote)
1 pound frozen green peas
10oz frozen baby corn

A few tablespoons flour (I used whole wheat pastry but white is fine)

kosher salt

In a large dutch oven (mine is 5 1/2 quarts), sauté the onion and leeks in olive oil until just soft
add the chicken and season generously with chicken spice. Cook about 5 minutes, flipping the pieces half way through.
Remove chicken to a plate and set aside.
Add ground sirloin to the pan and cook until just brown but not cooked through
Add chicken back to the pan
Add chicken broth, bay leaves, and a dash of cayenne pepper.
Cover and bring to boil.

Cook for about 25 minutes until chicken is cooked through and easy to shred.
Remove chicken pieces and shred the meat. Remove the drumstick and thigh bones and return shredded meat to the pot.
Add beans, BBQ sauce and diced tomatoes.
Simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes.
At this point it will still be pretty thin.
Put a few tablespoons of the flour in a small bowl and whisk in about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of liquid from the pot. When the mixture is smooth stir it back into the pot and continue to simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes. If it's still too thin repeat the process and simmer for another few minutes. 
Remove the bay leaves and throw them out.

At this point I covered it and turned off the heat for about a half an hour to wait for my friends to come over. This step isn't necessary but it did help thicken it up a great deal. 

If you skip this step then just stir in the peas and corn, cook until both are hot and serve.
If you choose to let it sit like I did, add the peas and corn and bring it back to simmer until heated through.
Serve with a good chunk of crusty bread. The leftovers store well in the fridge and freezer and taste even better the second day.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lucky Star

Last week, while I was in South Carolina, my Dad and my Stepmom (Vivian) visited my sister (Melissa) in Florence. Since they obviously know about my blog and slight obsession with food they started sending me pictures of everything they ate and requested a place on my blog. Here's a couple pictures from their trip. I apologize for the poor picture quality, Blackberry's built in camera isn't quite up to DSLR quality yet ;).

They stopped first in Paris for a few days and made friends with the bartender. Her name is Aurelie and the drink in her hand is a Lucky Star. It's an official recipe for the hotel George V but she was kind enough to share it with the promise of a place on my blog.
Aurelie holding a Lucky Star at the bar. Picture courtesy of Vivian Sterling

Picture courtesy of Vivian Sterling

Next stop? Florence.
A cafe in the Piazza della Republica
Picture courtesy of Vivian Sterling

Melissa in front of her apartment. Look at those GORGEOUS doors! 
Picture courtesy of Vivian Sterling

They also went to my favorite restaurant in Florence (without me!?) and sent some pictures to make me drool. 
Picture Courtesy of Gary Fischoff
Picture courtesy of Gary Fischoff

Lucky Star

From the Four Seasons George V Paris/Serves 1.

In a glass tumbler add:
8 crushed mint leaves and  hand full of ice cubes

Fill half of the glass with cranberry juice and the rest with Perrier or other soda water
Add fresh red berries (1 strawberry cut into pieces,3 raspberries and 1 or 2 black currants)
Stir add a piece of mint for garnish.

I made one this afternoon, a little light on the cranberry, with strawberries in it. I didn't have mint but it was still good. Next time I will definitely add the mint and some black currants (I love currants!)

My Lucky Star was not nearly as pretty as Aurelie's

Friday, April 9, 2010

Old habits die hard.

For the past two months I've kept myself on a pretty steady every-other-day posting schedule but lately I've come to realize everything I do is on a schedule and I'm tired of it. Some things, like my classes, are out of my hands but this blog is surely not one of them.

This Simple Spatula is something I write for fun. I don't want to adhere to a schedule anymore and you know what? I'm not going to. Instead I'm going to post when I have the urge to write something or share a recipe. That means it could be two days in a row, twice a week, or even twice in once day but no promises. Okay, that's a lie, I promise to post at least twice a week.

I guess that's a schedule of it own, huh? What can I say, old habits die hard.

Grilled Balsamic Portobello Mushrooms
Serves 2

1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons minced garlic
salt and pepper

to serve:
cherry hot peppers
goat cheese
balsamic dressing (balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, olive oil)
2 pieces good ciabatta bread (either to make a sandwich or just for the side)

Combinge vinegar, oil, lemon juice, garlic salt pepper and mushrooms in a bowl. Marinate for 1 hour or up to all 1 day.
If eating as a salad toss arugula with a small amount of balsamic dressing and set aside. If eating as a sandwich you won't need the extra dressing.
When ready to cook, prepare the grill (propane or charcoal) and place mushrooms in the center with the smooth side down. Pour some of the remaining marinade into the gills making sure the garlic lands on the mushrooms.
Grill 4-6 minutes each side until mushroom is firm but tender.

Prepare salad or sandwich with arugula, goat cheese and cherry hot peppers. Place grilled mushroom on top and enjoy.
The cooked mushrooms hold up well in the fridge for cold leftovers.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

This side of winter.

My favorite part of my house is the balcony attached to my room. It's just big enough for two chairs and a few plants and I used to spend every morning on it since last August. I put my legs up on the railing, ate my breakfast and watched the neighborhood slowly, sleepily come to life. Gradually this became my favorite part of the day but as the seasons went on the temperature dropped. With each passing day, I wore an extra layer of clothing in order to keep warm. I wrapped up in a blanket, wore a hat, slippers and two pairs of socks. I made a larger mug of coffee to clutch between my hands, slowly sipping it to warm up from the inside out. I did everything I could to stay on my balcony, but eventually it just got too cold. 

I locked the screen and closed the door for the last time in late November. I learned to enjoy my mornings in the living room with my feet tucked between my body and the couch, snow falling softly outside, the same cup of coffee to keep me warm and Colin on the other couch; both of us quietly reading before getting ready for class. I learned to enjoy these mornings as much as I did the balcony; but this morning, this first day of class since spring break, I once again unlocked that door. I unfolded my chair put my legs up on the railing and there I spent my first breakfast this side of winter. Only this time, Instead of hot coffee, I sipped an icy smoothie to cool down from my run.

The neighborhood was not quite so lively yet, but the birds are out and chirping the arrival of Spring.

Banana, Mango, Strawberry Smoothie
The spinach flavor isn't really noticeable and ups health factor a bit, but feel free to leave it out if it scares you. Makes 1 very large smoothie or two small (snack size?) ones.

1/2 fresh or frozen banana
1/2 a mango
2 large strawberries
1 cup 1% milk
a small handful of ice cubes
small handful of spinach (optional)

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until frothy. Enjoy immediately.

Carolina pictures are on my flickr. Click here to check them out.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Black and White Cookies

I'm missing New York a bit today.
Black and White Cookies
I didn't have cake flour so I just used 100% all purpose flour. It worked okay, but my cookies were a bit lumpy instead of seriously smooth like Deb's. Some of the cookies I baked later on in the batch were smoother and thinned about better than the first few so I'm not entirely sure if the lumps and thicker cookies were a result of the flour or not but I would guess that it is. If you can get your hands on cake flour then definitely use it - if not, it will still work my way.

I used my large cookie scoop and it yielded about 20 very large giant cookies (the size of one you would buy in a deli).
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
2 1/2 cups cake flour
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 to 2/3 cup water
3 ounces very bitter or unsweetened chocolate
1 teaspoon honey
1 to 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa (to help achieve that dark black color)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 2 baking sheets with nonstick spray, or line with parchment paper.
2. In large mixing bowl, combine sugar and butter. Mix by machine or hand until fluffy. Add eggs, milk and vanilla and lemon extracts, and mix until smooth.
3. In medium bowl, combine cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Stir until mixed. Add dry mixture to the wet in batches, stirring well after each addition. Using a cookie scoop, place heaping spoonfuls of the dough 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake until edges begin to brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool completely.
4. Boil a cup or so of water in a small pot. Place confectioners’ sugar in large, heat-safe mixing bowl. Gradually stir in enough boiling water to the sugar to make a thick, spreadable mixture. Err on the side of caution because a too-thin frosting is hard to undo. Leave remaining boiling water on the stove.
5. Spread frosting on half of the flat side of each cookie. Once all cookie halves have been frosted, place the bowl of the remaining frosting over the hot water and bring it back to a simmer (creating a double-boiler). Stir in the bitter or unsweetened chocolate until melted, as well as the honey. At this point, depending on the chocolate you used and your preferences, you might find the chocolate color to be a little lighter than the “black” of a black-and-white cookie. If so, I find that a tablespoon or so of cocoa mixed in darkens the color nicely.
6. Ice the remaining half of the cookies with the chocolate frosting. I find that the chocolate–especially with cocoa in it–is especially prone to getting too dry, so don’t worry about whisking in an extra teaspoon of that hot water from time to smooth it back into a shiny frosting.
7. Let the frosting set. Store in an airtight container. These cookies keep for a few days, but the texture will change a bit after day two. Personally I kind of like the way they taste a few days old. The frosting really sets and the cookie has a touch of "stale" texture - it reminds me of the real ones that I used to buy in the delis at home ;)

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