Thursday, July 28, 2011

Brownies `a la Dorie

Someday I'd like to divide my time amongst more than Los Angeles county.  Maybe something along the lines of having a flat in Rome, a getaway spot in Palm Springs, and a little cottage in Napa.  For the time being, I have my life in my North Hollywood.  If I think about it as a pied `a terre I might feel more like Dorie Greenspan.  Don't know who she is?  Check out a little about her here.   Among all the feats she's accomplished, she co-authored 'Baking with Julia,' as in Child.  For the second time in the past couple of months, I have her 'Baking From My Home to Yours' checked out of the library.

I've only made a couple of recipes out of the book.  I'm working on more.  Today I found her Classic Brownies recipe.  Why brownies?  Because I had an overripe banana to use.  Follow the logic!  It's there!  I don't remember the last time I made brownies.  That may change now since these turned out so well.  Dorie describes them as 'fudgy but not gooey.'  That's all good in my book.  I need a big glass of milk.

Banana Walnut Brownies
(adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Classic Brownies)

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in pieces
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional, but really good--Dorie's words and mine!)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt (according to taste)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 large banana, mashed

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line an 8 x 8 inch baking pan with parchment paper and butter parchment.  Simmer a little water in a saucepan and place a heatproof bowl in pan.  Add butter and chocolate to bowl and stir while ingredients melt.  Remove from heat as soon as butter and chocolate are melted so they don't separate.   Whisk in sugar.  Mixture will be grainy.  Add eggs one at a time.  Add in vanilla and whisk well to combine all ingredients.  Mix in banana and stir well.  Add espresso powder, flour and salt (I kept the salt to 1/4 teaspoon.).  Use a spatula to fold in walnuts.  Pour batter into baking pan and spread evenly in pan.
Bake brownies for 30-33 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Transfer pan to cooling rack.  When brownies cool, remove from pan.  Cut into squares.

I dare you to stop at one.  My magic number was 3.  It's a lucky number!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sounds Corny....

...oh, that's bad, but I couldn't resist.  I'm not a big fan of corn.  It's not a vegetable I seek out or find myself craving.  We're not talking about polenta or cornbread or any lovely manifestation such as those.  I remember many dinners as a child with frozen niblets boiling on the stove, mixed in with mashed potatoes, or a cob here and there during the Summer when the barbeque was fired up.   It was all...okay.  

Last week I found myself at the local grocer's, lazily strolling through the massive produce department and there on an end...white corn 3/$1.00.  A dollar!  The bargain of the day!  (Have you noticed the prices of food lately?  Going up and up and really worrisome, but that's another post.).  I thought to myself...well, it's been might be good...well, all right.  I felt obligated to buy 3 ears, fearful that it was anti-Summer to not partake at least once this season.

So in the fridge they sat for 3 or 4 days until I realised that I had to do something with them.  I really didn't want to just boil them, slather them in butter and eat away.  This was one of those times that I really wished I had a grill outside.  But when you don't have a grill, you bring out the grill pan and go to town.  It worked out well.  Three ears with grill marks and just enough char so you caught a whiff of the smokiness.

Being that we've been hovering near 90 degrees all week, a salad seemed the way to go.  The way to go was also easy and quick.  Honestly, I'm overjoyed with how it turned out.  Even more thrilled with how much I like it.  Now I'm really wishing I had a grill...because there would be ribs, potato salad and s'mores involved.  For now, I've got Grilled Corn Salad.  It's a good start.

Grilled Corn Salad
(by me)

1 cup grilled corn kernels, white or yellow (roughly 2 ears)
1 large red bell pepper, minced
1 cup sweet onion, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, minced
3 tablespoons Magic Dust Buttermilk Dressing (recipe below)
Grill corn, either on outside grill or in grill pan on stovetop. Slice kernels from cob and add to bowl. Mince bell pepper, onion and jalapenos and combine in bowl with corn. Mix to combine. Pour 3 tablespoons of buttermilk dressing and mix well.

Magic Dust (from Mike Mills)

1/2 cup paprika
1/4 cup kosher salt, finely ground
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons mustard powder
1/4 cup chili powder
1/4 cup ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
1/4 cup granulated garlic
2 tablespoons cayenne

Mix together and store in airtight container. You can adjust the heat as you see fit.

Magic Dust Buttermilk Dressing
(majorly adapted from Low-Fat Buttermilk Ranch Dressing)

1 1/3 cups buttermilk
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons Magic Dust spice mix

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Adjust Magic Dust to taste. Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes before use.

FYI:   Make LOTS of the Magic Dust rub.  If you're anything like me, you will find yourself using it on everything (in my head I sound like this)

P.S.  Thanks to a gentle reminder from my sister (see comment below), I must state the disclaimer that had it not been for her (and all her graciousness) I would not be the Magic Dust freak that I am today.  She introduced me to the crack rub that I use over and over again.

Julie and Julia

I just finished the book.  I watched the movie a few months ago and really enjoyed it.  A cute little chick flick, exactly as they wanted it to be.  When I was reading the book, there were a few times when it hit me that I really didn't like Julie so much.  Then the lightbulb went off.  She's not a fictional character.  She's a real woman with real feelings, emotions, and everything that goes along with it. You're not going to like a person every second of the day.  There is a lot of good, a lot of bad, a lot of not-so-pretty parts.  A friend of mine calls them the 'prickly parts.'  An apt description.

What I will tell you is that about half-way through the book, I realized that I felt a little kinship with her.  I identified with a lot of how she was feeling.  A young girl with no clear path, working for a government agency because it paid the bills and having a lot of frustration. I may not be all that young, I don't work for a government agency but I do have a lot of frustration.  I work for a company that hasn't given out raises to its employees in about 4 years, yet managed to spend thousands (if not millions) on new 'props' that were infested with some kind of Asian wood beetle (these props then had to be picked up, sent out, fumigated and returned--and the problem still exists.), expects more and more with giving less and expects the American consumer to drop $100 on a 100% polyester garment.

This does not make me special.  I can only imagine the millions of people who feel exactly as I do.  It's been a stressful couple of weeks, culminating in a huge disappointment for energy put in and being shot down.  I'm tired of running on the hamster wheel.  This is not the daily grind I want to be a part of.  While I'm not going to pick up a copy of 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 2' and blogging about it, I am going to push back the blinders, break out of the old, heavy-as-cement habits and move forward finding that niche where I wake up in the morning with my soul singing.

And if it involves cooking....all the better.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Some Days... isn't about spending all one's time trying to perfect a recipe and making a pile of dirty dishes with the effort.  On some days, food is about simplicity.  Tonight was just that kind of day.  Thanks to another care package [Thanks, Mom and Dad!], dinner was an example of good, simple food.  In that box was a lovely bell-shaped piece of Italian cheese known as Ricotta Salata.

When I was young, I remember we only had ricotta salata when one of my aunts went to Italy and smuggled it back in the luggage.  I also remember when I was young, I rarely ate pasta with red sauce.  It was plain pasta for me.  Heresy, I know.  But let me tell you how good my pasta or ravioli was when we had ricotta salata in the house.  I remember the same bell shape.  The outside was a gold-light brown hue from the aging and was really salty.  But inside...oh, inside was white and smooth as silk and made my mouth happy.  I would grate so much on top of my pasta it bordered on ridiculous.  Mounds of it.  If the pasta was warm enough, the cheese would begin to melt.  This was bliss.

My tastes have matured.  Tonight was a notch above plain pasta.  Tossed with a little butter and a hearty sprinkling of fresh cracked pepper.  I've also learned moderation.  There wasn't a mountain of grated cheese on my farfalle, but just enough.  I won't lie and say I wasn't tempted to keep piling it on.  But as I said, I've learned moderation.

Some days it's about good, simple food and what it reminds you of.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Reaping the Bounty...

Okay, it's been a very small bounty, but I'm thrilled that I grew more than my usual basil and parsley.  So far, I've been mostly successful with the arugula and microgreens.  But I noticed yesterday that the arugula was looking a little...well...sparse.  It seems I'm not the only one around who is digging it.  I found a little colony of caterpillars who have taken up residence and munched away.  Looks like I now have another project---reading up on organic/pesticide free methods of keeping critters away!

Left with little more than empty stems, I re-potted with fennel seeds.  Let's see if I can grow those in a pot.  I'm on the verge of spending time perusing online seed catalogs.  I'm thinking of what will be grown next.  This is something I've really missed.  In my old digs, I had a balcony that I lovingly called 'the Jungle' because I had so many plants growing.  It was a little piece of heaven sitting out there with my bougainvillea, spider plants, basil, hibiscus, geraniums, and palm trees.  What I wouldn't do for my own backyard!

The caterpillars may have gotten the best of me and my arugula, but I was able to gather some microgreens this morning.  (You know I'll be keeping my eye on those plants now!)  I grilled a chicken breast this afternoon, made a bright parsley pesto with feta, almonds, Parmesan and a little lemon zest and threw it together with red bell pepper and green onions to make a quick chicken salad.  Stuffed into a pita and topped with those microgreens...I am happy with my bounty.

Before the caterpillar colony invaded

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Sweet and the Savoury

I love a dish that can be made with either sweet or savoury ingredients and most importantly, come together quickly and easily.  That's what I discovered when I made my first galette a couple of years ago.  Best defined as a free-form rustic tart, a galette is essentially a butter crust filled with fruit, vegetables, or even meat.  Read what David Lebovitz says about galettes here.

The first galette I made was with apples.  Like an apple pie, but without the pie plate.  I like the free-form.  A lot. No near-perfect discs of crust to cut out and delicately lay in my pie plate.  No little crimping wheel to edge my top crust.  Make a disc of dough (roughly-shaped is okay), roll it out, fill with fruits or what have you, fold the edges in to hold all your goodies inside, pop it in the oven and bake.  Boom!  Done!

Last week I came across an article on Saveur's website on what to do with zucchini.  It's summer...zucchini, zucchini everywhere!  My home was no different.  I wanted something to do other than zucchini bread (though I'm still going to make it) or sauted and tossed with pasta (it was delicious!).  There it was....a leek and zucchini galette. sounded so good.  I became a little obsessed with wanting to make it.  Posting the link on my Facebook page, checking my butter stock in the fridge, impatiently waiting for the farmers' market right in front of my store so I could buy leeks.  Then it happened.  A change of schedule at work.  An earlier release so I had ample time to make my galette and not be eating dinner at midnight.  The obsession would come to fruition.

Did I mention how easy it is to make a galette?  Don't even bother with a mixer or food processor to make your dough.  It comes together so quickly in a bowl.

Leek and Zucchini Galette
(Adapted from a recipe on Saveur)


1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
8 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces
4-6 tablespoons cold water

Mix dry ingredients together.  Add butter and incorporate into flour with 2 knives,  pastry cutter or your hands.  You want a consistency of large crumbs.  I started off using the pastry cutter and finished using my hands.   Add 4 tablespoons of water to flour and stir with wooden spoon.  You want the dough to mix and pull away from the sides of the bowl.  This will happen...easily.  If mix is too dry, add more water tablespoon by tablespoon.  Fold dough together, don't worry if you have bits of butter showing.  Form into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and chill for an hour.


3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium leeks, sliced thin
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
pinch of nutmeg
2 cups thinly sliced zucchini

In a pan, heat the olive oil.  Add leeks and slowly cook until they begin to brown.  Stir in garlic, thyme and nutmeg.  Mix to incorporate and remove from heat.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (so you can move the galette easily).  On a lightly floured board, roll dough out to form about a 12-inch crust.  Leave about an inch-inch and a half edge on the crust and spoon leeks onto crust.  Layer zucchini slices on top of leeks.  You can make this as pretty or not as you like.  Fold edges of crust over and lightly brush zucchini with a bit of olive oil.  Bake for about 40-50 minutes or until crust is golden brown.  Remove from baking sheet and transfer to a wire rack.  

The Saveur recipe calls for a lemon-ricotta topping.  I didn't have ricotta, but I did have feta.  I mashed feta until it was smooth, added about a teaspoon of lemon zest and called it a day.  The feta has a nice bite to the mellow taste of the leeks and zucchini.  

I'm still obsessing...the weekend has just begun....I bought plums and nectarines at the grocer's...and I've got butter.