Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sweet Melissa's Chocolate (no Walnut) Brownies

Back in April the Sweet Melissa Sundays group* made Brooklyn Brownout Cake; a devil's food cake filled and frosted with crumbled brownies. Although I probably could have used any type of brownie, I went ahead and baked a batch of the Sweet Melissa brownies to use for crumbles. I didn't need the whole pan so I ended up freezing the rest for a future rainy day. Or a future brownie taste test, as it turns out!

Our book group had a summer dinner party and the dessert was a brownie extravaganza (accompanied by vanilla and peach ice creams). We sampled and voted on 4 different brownie recipes. The interesting twist is that all of the brownies had spent time in my freezer!

I will be presenting the results of the taste test in a special post, but first I am blogging each brownie separately. Previous posts are: the Baked Brownie, and Dorie Greenspan's Tribute to Katharine Hepburn Brownies

.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe on Megan's brownie blog (along with some other wonderful brownie recipes) Melissa says that this recipe is based on Julia Child's.

- Although the recipe is for a 9 x 9 pan, it uses a whopping 2 sticks of butter! I thought that the batter seemed really greasy, like it just couldn't incorporate all that butter.

- I left out the nuts, mostly because I was going to crumble them for the cake, but also because I prefer them that way.

- I used a dark silicone pan, so I reduced the temp somewhat. I baked the brownies at 335 degrees for 42 min.

- The brownies were lighter in color than the BAKED brownie or the Dorie Greenspan/Katharine Hepburn brownie, both of which used dark cocoa powder and coffee/espresso powder.

- The brownies were pretty flat and dense.

the verdict:

There are not a lot of bells and whistles with this brownie - it's a straight chocolate brownie. I found it very chewy, very chocolaty, very fudgy, and very buttery.

Although it is not my favorite brownie recipe by a long shot, this one received some top votes in the brownie taste test.

*I don't think I've ever mentioned here that I withdrew from the Sweet Melissa Sundays group because I found that I couldn't keep up with the requirements of two weekly baking groups. I really enjoyed the group and my fellow SMS-ers, though.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

{TWD} One Year with Dorie, and Plain Vanilla Ice Cream

This is a two part post; first will be this week's recipe, followed by a summary of my first year in the Tuesdays With Dorie group.

Vanilla Ice Cream

Vanilla ice cream is a bit like a blank slate; there are thousands of ways to flavor, ornament, and otherwise jazz it up. At the same time vanilla ice cream, plain vanilla ice cream, is a delight in its own right. Made with quality ingredients, nothing rivals the simple pleasure of a dish of vanilla, especially if you are my husband!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I made 3/4 recipe.

- I used 1/2 van bean + 1/2 tsp van bean paste for the vanilla flavor.

- Some of my eggs were on the small side, so I probably has less yolk volume than the recipe.

- The custard thickened and reached the correct temperature (measured by my digital thermometer) almost as soon as I added the hot milk/cream to the yolks/sugar.

the verdict:

I served this ice cream to my book group, along with 4 different brownies in a brownie taste test (haven't posted the results of that test yet). With all of the tasting and voting on brownies, it was hard to get specific reactions to the ice cream. We thought is was a very good vanilla ice cream, smooth and creamy. It's not as easy to make as our usual Philadelphia-style (no custard involved) vanilla ice cream.

My husband and I actually like the taste of the Philadlephia-style more, but this got plenty of thumbs up from the book group. We gave the leftover ice cream to our hosts, and the last thing I heard, our friend JT was hoarding/enjoying the last spoonfuls!


One Year With Dorie

July 29, 2008 was my first official post as a Tuesdays With Dorie member. That week's recipe was summer fruit galettes, and I made mini Raspberry Peach Galette-ettes, and froze some of them unbaked for later cooking. My freezer: already hard at work in Week One of TWD! There has not been a moment in the past year without at least one of Dorie's sweets tucked away in my freezer.

Before TWD my baking skills were quite basic. I could whip up muffins or a quick bread, cookies at Christmas, and the occasional cake for special events. Over the years I'd accumulated some trusty stand-by recipes, and I enjoyed making and sharing baked goods with family and friends.

In a year's time, I've chopped, poached, beat, whipped, whisked, tempered, melted, froze, folded, rolled, strained, ground, grated, zested, squeezed, rapped, mashed, pureed, punched, risen, washed, weighed, measured, substituted, adjusted, modified, calculated, guessed, stirred, manicured, cored, simmered, broiled, boiled, jelled, buttered, baked, timed, tested, cooled, frosted, glazed, dipped, piped, plated, garnished, photographed and TASTED!

Baking from Dorie's book is nearly like cooking with Dorie herself. The directions are clear and precise, and filled with tips like how the batter should look or at what stage something is done. I can almost feel Dorie standing next to me in the kitchen, dispensing advice, encouragement or a pat on the back. I still hold my breath every time I have to whip cream or egg whites; making caramel remains a frightening prospect, but, like tempering eggs (which I've done a lot for ice cream), I'm sure that if I practice enough it will surely get easier. Surely. I hope.

I've loved the TWD group; the weekly structure of baking and writing a blog post has both steadied and inspired me. Even though I've traveled a good bit, I've managed to bake ahead, and have never missed a posting in my first year. I'm fascinated by the preferences of of different bakers and tasters and amazed at the variety of recipes that have been chosen.

My Top Ten Dorie Recipes

My TWD favorites from July 2008 to July 2009:

1. Dimply Plum Cake,

2. Chocolate Cream Tart

3. World Peace Cookies

4. French Pear Tart

5. Tall Creamy Cheesecake

6. Chocolate Grand Marnier Cake

7. 16 Minute Magic Cake

8. French Riviera (yogurt) Cake

9. Coconut Butter Thins

10. Devil's Food White Out Cake (aka "The Cover Cake")

The Year in Review

Biggest technical challenges:
making caramel
frosting for Cover Cake
ganache for Dacquoise
custard for Floating Islands

Recipes I did not find tasty:
Chocolate Gingerbread
Thanksgiving Twofer Pie

Recipe that was so rich I couldn't get past it:
Chocolate Banded Ice Cream Torte

Recipe that was very rich but I managed to love:
Tall and Creamy Cheesecake

Most repeated recipe:
Dimply Plum Cake (and follow up post)

Most unusual recipe:
Floating Islands

Most dramatic (looking) recipe:
the Cover Cake

Biggest failure:
Hidden Berry Torte (but that was my fault for trying to make it gluten free without really knowing what I was doing)

Most life-changing recipe:
Kugelhopf (it was my first yeast experience ever and inspired me to learn to bake bread)

It's been a great year, and I look forward to the next 52 Dorie recipes!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Gleanings from a Year as a Food Blogger

My ancient laptop sits on the other arm of this (recliner) chair, a comfy perch to plan menus and write blog posts.
My one-year anniversary as a food blogger was a week or so ago. I marked the day with a quick blog post, and a few days later gave away of pair of vintage pans (won by Amy of My Famous Recipe go read her cool blog!) But I still have lots more to say, so get ready for a few more anniversary posts!

Here are a few stray reflections on the past year:

until I became a food blogger, I never thought:
1. I’d be a food blogger
2. It'd make a difference whether our meals were ready while there was still natural light outside
3. I’d buy a plate or bowl for the sole reason that it would look great in photos
4. I’d cook with bacon at least once a week
5. I’d bake with yeast, even once (and now I have a separate bread blog!)
6. I’d buy a coffee grinder just for spices
7. I'd put seeds on top of my rolls and bagels because they'd photograph better

cool things I discovered because I had a food blog:
1. blackberry crumb cake (my #1 favorite recipe discovery this year)
2. the joy of yeast baking
3. that I could prepare foods that I used to dislike and find - sometimes - that I love them now
4. Benton's bacon

my new favorite people:
1. Dorie Greenspan
2. Dan Lepard
3. Peter Reinhart
4. Mark Bittman
5. a small army of my fellow food bloggers

kitchen tasks that used to freak me out (and still do):
1. caramelizing sugar
2. baking in water baths
3. beating egg whites

kitchen tasks that faze me no longer:
1. making bread
2. tempering eggs

drawbacks from my increased time in the kitchen:
1. the mountain of dishes (I've always cooked every day, but now it seems to involve more bowls, pots and pans)
2. the number of times I’ve had to reorganize my kitchen drawers, “pantry” and freezers
3. not wearing my wedding rings because I take them off to knead bread and forget to put them back on.
4. a few stray pounds that showed up and don't want to leave

spiffy new equipment:
1. digital scale
2. coffee grinder just for spices
3. digital thermometer

cool cooking techniques:
1. searing green beans. And greens.
2. braising sweet potatoes
3. vodka pie crust
4. searing meat or fish and finishing it by cooking in oven

things I'd never thought I'd say (but that sound normal to me now):
1. "no, you can't eat that yet because I haven't photographed it"
2. "I had to make this, but we can't eat it, do you want some?"
3. "yes, I made that bread"

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

{TWD} Blackberry Blanc Manger (Will it win Wimbleton?)

This week's TWD assignment is what Dorie calls Blanc Manger, also commonly known as blancmange. Wikipedia says that it is "one of the few truly international dishes of medieval and early modern Europe." It falls in the category of "white dishes" and was originally made with almond milk, and chicken or fish and considered an ideal dish for the ill. It later became a dessert pudding with cream, eggs, and gelatin. Wow, interesting history, right? Although I’d never actually tasted blanc manger/blancmange I was long familiar with it from years of watching Monty Python. I knew that it's pronounced "blah mahnge" and that as a group, the desserts have a devious ambition to be tennis champions. Check out this video which features blancmanges and reveals that "they mean to win Wimbleton," - one particularly agile blancmange plays a Scotsman for the tournament final:

This is no ordinary boring dessert!

n.o.e. notes:

- The blancmange in the Monty Python video was obviously formed in a fancy mold (see the little ruffled knobs around the top edge?), so I decided that no ordinary round cake pan would suffice for my version of the dessert. I chose a vintage mold and an oval baking dish, and I decided to divide a full recipe between the two, and give one to my good friend D, who has celiac disease, as the dessert is gluten-free. A few weeks ago I had planned to give her a dacquoise, but had to abandon the plan when I ruined the ganache. I'd previously tried to give her some Hidden Berry Torte (that became Hidden Berry Trifle.) My fingers were crossed that this one would be a success! I figured I’d give her the one that most successfully unmolded…

- This dessert would also be suited to individual molds or ramekins.

- I found some ground almond meal/almond flour made by Bob’s Red Mill, which is much finer grind than I am able to achieve with my food processor.

- There is no "undo" button on the coulis. once it's on the white surface of the blanc manger, it's there. (And it starts to bleed into the white pretty quickly also.) Let's just say I need a bit of work on the "coulis drizzle" technique.

- For the blackberry coulis, I combined blackberries, lime juice and agave to taste, whirling it with the immersion blender.

- Oops, I forgot to save out any berries for garnish. Thank goodness for mint leaves!

the verdict:

The blanc manger is like a creamy vanilla mouse. We love "spoon foods" around here, so we thought it was deliciously refreshing. My husband's commented, "This stuff is really good. Not as good as ice cream, but really good."

My friend D was thrilled with her blanc manger, and sent me the following email:
"Are you sure it is without gluten…way too good….like, but better than, a crème brulee(sp)…not as overwhelmingly sweet. Wow…was it hard to make? I am going back for just a little more…"

The bottom line: this blanc manger was so versatile and fabulous, I wouldn't be surprised if it took Wimbleton after all. Move over, Roger Federer and Andy Roddick!

Note: I'm in the middle of celebrating my one-year blogiversary! As part of the festivities, I'm giving away a pretty cool pair of vintage baking pans. Stop by and leave a comment on that post by Friday, July 24, for your chance to win!!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dorie's Fruit Terrine and Vintage Pan Giveaway

I was very excited to read Dorie Greenspan's blog post highlighting her recipes for today's Parade Magazine because there was a gorgeous summer fruit terrine. I have some beautiful blackberries from my farm box that needed to be used, and honestly, I can't imagine a more light and refreshing summer dish! I had another reason to be excited, and you'll find out about that a bit farther down in this post... (unless you happen to have been tipped off by the post title!)

n.o.e.'s notes:

- This terrine highlights beautifully ripe berries along with citrus fruit. I used 1.5 cup each of blackberries and raspberries. I didn't quite use all of the sections from my 1 grapefruit and 2 navel oranges, but as you can see, my terrine was packed with fruit. I peeled the citrus sections (which I find terribly tedious, but very pretty).

- I used grapefruit juice, because I thought its tartness would be a terrific counterpoint to the sweet berries.

- Here's a piece of advice: first stir in the citrus and any sturdy berries that you are using, such as strawberries or blueberries, then gently fold in tender berries such as blackberries and raspberries. This was slap-the-forehead-obvious to me right after I added the blackberries. Which I did first. As I stirred in the other fruit, very gingerly, the blackberries began to disintegrate. I never got the fruit distributed well enough, and little blackberry bits are quite visible in my terrine.

the verdict:

With just a tiny bit of sugar added, this terrine is not much more than fruit plus a bit of juice. But its so pretty and so refreshingly healthy that it would be a great brunch dish, or a light finish to a meal, served with yogurt or creme fraiche.

And now we come to the main reason that I was excited to see Dorie's recipe. I knew it would be perfect in my long loaf pan. I was already planning to write a blog post today about this pan, and Dorie's recipe gave me a simple refreshing recipe to show it off.

It is a vintage pan, in a very hard-to-find size (10 1/4" x 3 5/8"), and with its straight sides it is perfect for terrines, pates, and even layer cakes - it produces nice rectangular slices. It is equivalent to a "one pound loaf pan" so is ideal for quick breads and yeast breads. Because it is slim, breads cook more quickly and evenly, with much less chance of having a too-done outside and under-done inside.

My mother has cooked in this type of pan since she was first married in 1950, and my pair are my favorites of all of my baking pans.

And... drumroll, please!

You have a chance to win your very own rare vintage pans - I am giving away a pair to celebrate my one year blogiversary!!

This kind of pan is scarcer than hen's teeth, so I was thrilled to locate some! These are a bit worn, scratched, and dinged, but they are nice and shiny inside so will release their contents well (especially when lined with parchment, see pictures below). They are aluminum, so I always hand-wash mine to protect the finish.

If you are interested in winning this pair of pans, leave a comment to this post by Friday, July 24 at noon Eastern time, making sure that I have a way to contact you, either by comment on your blog or via email. I will choose the winner with the help of a random number generator. I'm happy to ship these pans anywhere in the world, so feel free to enter no matter where you are located.

I cook and bake in my pans all the time. Here are some of the things I've posted in the past year:

And finally, I need to give special thanks to my husband Jim, who is my #1 supporter and taste tester! Over the past year he has gotten quite used to waiting for his food (he even asks now, "Did you photograph this?") and to providing comments "for the record." He's even written some guest verdicts for the blog. Thanks, Jim!

Our wedding anniversary was yesterday; here we were 28 years ago:

[Update: I'm happy to report that Amy of My Famous Recipe has won the vintage pan giveaway!]

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My 1 Year Blogiversary + 250th post!! (and Vanilla Bean Macarons)

Today is the 1 year anniversary of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs! When I clicked "Publish Post" for the first time last July 15, I had a bunch of plans and a few expectations, but I could never have predicted the journey that the blog - and I - have taken . Some of the things I planned haven't happened and many things have happened that were totally unexpected. Through it all I've had a great time in my kitchen and on my computer, have discovered great food to share with family and friends, and have found clever, funny, thoughtful and kind fellow bloggers who have added so much to my food-blogging experience.

And if that's not enough reason to celebrate, this is my 250th post here!!! Either one of these milestones would be reason for a party, but together? Well, I can't keep to the constraints of a single blog post. You know how fun it is when your birthday gets stretched out over a couple of days, or even weeks, and you have several different celebrations? That's how I plan to observe my blogiversary/250th post.

Today we'll have a celebratory baked good, and over the next several posts, I'll share some of what I've taken away from a year of food blogging; lessons learned and recipes discovered. And I'll have a giveaway of one of my favorite things! So watch this space in the coming days.

Vanilla Bean Macarons

I had planned to celebrate my blog anniversary with a post about a cake. I even picked out the cake recipe I was going to bake: Nick Malgieri's Perfect Birthday Cake, a yellow cake with chocolate frosting (my very favorite flavor combination). But instead, here I am posting macarons, and in a way, it really is the most appropriate subject for my blog's 1 year anniversary.

Before I began food blogging I didn't have the foggiest idea what a macaron was. Coconut macaroons, now those I knew, because my dad was a huge fan. But almond macarons were entirely foreign. French to be exact. Parisian bakeries are filled with macarons, apparently, in every color and flavor imaginable (see, eg., Ladurée, Dalloyau, Pierre Herme) These technicolor pastries consist of two almond/sugar patties sandwiching a flavored ganache or filling.

Macarons are tricky and exacting to bake, though, and even after I was aware of them, I didn't have a great desire to bake them myself. For those over-achieving baker-types who did want to tackle macaron-making, I knew there was a wealth of information available, a daunting amount, actually. I'd gathered that you want your macarons to have "feet", which are the frilly edges at the bottom of each half of the sandwiched pair.

So it took me by surprise a week or two ago when two of my baking friends decided to bake macarons and compare notes via Twitter, and I found myself jumping in to join them. My excuse? I had lots of egg whites to use up (a by-product of ice cream making and some yolk-intense Tuesdays With Dorie recipes.)

While I was waiting for my friends to be ready, I scanned an online article or two about macaron-baking. There are apparently several tricky patches that must be navigated en route to making successful macarons. (Helpful macaron info can be found here and here)

The recipe we followed was from Aran of the blog canelle et vanille. Check out her blog - it's among the most beautifully styled and baked on the internet. She features lots of cool macaron flavor combinations. (eg. raspberry and pink peppercorn) For some other beautiful macarons and unusual flavors, look at the Bonbini blog, here.

The macaron-baking process was a little intense, and I made some mistakes along the way. I might have under-whipped the egg whites, and I'm pretty sure I over-folded the whites with the almonds. I have very little experience with piping, so even though I traced circles from a template onto my parchment paper, I couldn't manage to pipe inside the lines, or at times even near the circles. My macarons had air bubbles, they were of wildly varying sizes, they were a bit flat and a tad undercooked, but they had feet. And they were beautiful to me!

I ran out of steam when it was time for the filling. I made the white chocolate vanilla bean ganache from the same recipe because it was relatively easy, and I had some vanilla bean white chocolate to use up. I don't care for white chocolate (which I've confirmed here and here) but I hoped that the macarons would be different. But no. The filling indeed was far tooooo sweet for me.

I had a few macarons left, so I made up some milk chocolate mocha filling (the recipe is on this post) and it tasted divine. I had lots of trouble getting the right temperature/consistency for piping it, so the pictures are terrible, but they were definitely the tastier of the two.

the verdict:

I had a blast baking these with my blog friends, and I learned a lot. I can see what the fuss is about, because the light crispy outside and chewy almondy insides along with soft filling is a seriously delicious experience. I'm already planning for my next flavor combinations - thinking citrus. Or maybe coffee...

Thanks for reading. Tune in for my next post which will be a giveaway!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

{TWD} Brioche 3-Citrus 2-Berry Tart

A recipe from Dorie Greenspan's book Baking From My Home to Yours was my very first successful experiment with yeast. The thrill of watching the dough rise and the smell of it baking have had me hooked ever since; now I bake yeasted bread a couple of times a week and have started a special bread blog to chronicle my adventures. So I was excited this week that Denise of Chez Us chose the Brioche Plum Tart for this week's Tuesdays With Dorie assignment. I couldn't wait to bake another Dorie yeast recipe!

Dorie's tart has a sweetened lean brioche as its crust. Brioche is a lovely bread in its own right and makes a versatile base for many other recipes, such as sweet rolls and coffeecakes. Depending on the amount of butter in the brioche, it can be classified anywhere from "rich" to "lean" (which still is pretty rich, actually!) I recently baked a medium-rich Brioche for the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge (you can read about that bread in this post) and I was very interested in working with a leaner brioche dough.

Obligatory deck rail picture!
n.o.e.'s notes:

- Zoë François of the book (Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day) wrote this post about mini brioche tarts.

- Jamie Oliver has an interesting technique for preparing plums for tarts - read about it here

- You can find the recipe for Brioche Plum Tart on Denise's blog post. She also has a wonderful picture of how the tart can/should look.

- My husband chose berries over plums for the tart (which was great since I don't have plum jam). I used blueberries and blackberries. A 3-citrus marmalade seemed like a perfect complement to the sweetness of the berries.

- I made 3/4 recipe to fit my 7 3/4 " tart pan with deep fluted sides. My buddy the online circle calculator told me that was an appropriate pan size for the scaled amount of dough.

-One extremely large duck egg (from the farm box) was equivalent to 3/4 of 2 regular large eggs

- I converted to instant yeast , which I mixed in with the dry ingredients.

- When I'm not mixing ingredients by hand, the food processor is my next favorite way to mix yeast dough, especially since my stand mixer is ailing. I pulsed the dry ingredients first (with the instant yeast), then added the wet gradually while the processor is running. The food processor mixes dough very quickly, and usually generates a fair amount of heat, so it's a good idea to use milk and eggs at refrigerator temperature. The brioche dough is very sticky, so the food processor wasn't able to mix it quite as long as I would have liked. The dough windowpaned (could be stretched until translucent) so I knew the gluten was well developed.

- I wasn't able to give my dough an overnight rest, but I might try that next time, as Dorie says it gives extra flavor.

- The marmalade I used was Branches Three Citrus Marmalade, a deliciously tart citrus preserve.

- The recipe doesn't specify a weight of fruit to use. It was hard for me to figure out how much the crust would rise or puff, and how many berries to use in that deep pan.

- For the topping, I sprinkled pecans and golden baker's sugar.

- The brioche puffed beautifully in the oven, mostly on the sides of the tart, and browned very quickly; I wish I'd tented it a tiny bit sooner. The berries got quite juicy as they baked.

- I wonder if the brioche bottom might have puffed more in and among the pieces of fruit had I used plums instead of berries.

- I served the tart warm with vanilla ice cream. Even though Dorie recommends that the tart be eaten the day it is baked, we ate the remainder reheated the next day and it was still good (if a bit soggier).

the verdict:

It had a great play of tart and bitter (marmalade), bright and fresh (berries), soft and rich (brioche), sweet and crunchy (nut mixture), all mellowed out by the creamy coolness of the freshly churned vanilla ice cream.

This tart was a huge hit with my husband, who said that he liked it better than pie, which is truly saying something. I love the lightness and slightly sweet flavor of Dorie's lean brioche, and would love to experiment with this recipe again. I think I'd use a shallow tart pan next time to see if I can get the bottom of the crust to puff up.

Stop by here again tomorrow as my blog celebrates not one, but two big milestones!

Update: I'm submitting this bread-tart to Bread Baking Day #21, hosted by Stefanie of the blog Hefe und Mehr. The theme this month is "sweet breads", and I think this sweetened brioche tart fits right in!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Blackberry Sorbet, Part 2, Blackberry Lime

By the time I got around to taking a photo, a few ice crystals had formed on the sorbet's surface.

The thing I love about fruit sorbets is that they are so refreshing, especially on a hot summer day and the tarter the sorbet, the more refreshing it tastes, don't you agree? Once I spied the Blackberry Lime Sorbet in David Lebovitz's indispensable ice cream book, The Perfect Scoop, I couldn't wait to churn it up.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I made a half batch of this Blackberry Lime and a half of classic Blackberry Sorbet at the same time.

- You can find the recipe on this blogger's post. (The optional tequila she lists is not part of the original recipe.)

- The recipe calls for combining equal amounts of sugar and water to make a syrup. I already had some leftover "simple syrup" (sugar + water boiled in equal amounts) in my fridge, so I used that. It was a little tricky for me to figure out how much would be equivalent to half a recipe's worth, so I just used my best guess. I checked the final blackberry mixture before churning and adjusted the lime juice and syrup to taste.

the verdict:

This sorbet was exactly what I expected: tart and very good. Like blackberry with an exclamation point. My daughter J.D.E. said that it tasted like how she imagined blackberry sorbet would taste (although the other sorbet tasted exactly like blackberries). Sorbet raises expectations of fruity intensity, and this recipe certainly delivers!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Blackberry Sorbet, Part 1, the Classic

My father had a great berry patch and he always regretted that he'd planted blackberries, wishing that he had more raspberries instead. He didn't like dealing with the brambly blackberry canes, and my mother didn't lcare for the big seeds in the berries. I, on the other hand, gloried in the crop of blackberries from our bushes.

Blackberries are my very favorite berry, and possibly my favorite fruit. I don't even mind the big old seeds. I eat berries baked into coffeecake for breakfast, stirred into yogurt for lunch and sprinkled on my salad for dinner. But when our farm box offered the first crop of locally raised blackberries, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them: make sorbet!

In his incomparable ice cream book The Perfect Scoop, David Lebovitz has not just one, but two, blackberry sorbet recipes. I suffered a few minutes of indecision as to which one to make before deciding to make both! This post will be dedicated to the classic blackberry sorbet and the following post will feature the blackberry-lime version.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe for blackberry sorbet on this blogger's post. She gives good advice to adjust the quantity of sugar to taste, depending on the sweetness of the particular blackberries.

- This sorbet is a snap to put together. The only trouble I had was keeping the two types of sorbet straight since I made them simultaneously.

the verdict:

I was very glad I made this sorbet, which delivers the nice, sweet essence of blackberry in a cold, refreshing way. Daughter J.D.E. liked the nice soft texture and said, "It's almost like biting into a cool juicy blackberry."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Baked Penne with Corn, Zucchini and Basil

Faced with a rather large zucchini from my farm box, I decided I wanted to make a side dish from the way-back machine - a shredded zucchini, corn and tomato dish that I used to make frequently in my pb life ("pre-blog"). The problem is that I could not for the life of me remember the source of the recipe.

Thank goodness for friends. I gave up on my old recipe and tweeted my desire for a recipe with the same basic ingredients. My bloggy buddy Audrey of Food From Books suggested the zucchini and corn recipe pictured in the most recent, as in "it-came-in-the-US-Mail-this-week"recent, Williams-Sonoma catalog. As fate would have it, that issue was sitting on my front hall chest and when I saw the picture I was convinced. The recipe takes full advantage of high summer's bounty, incorporating corn, zucchini and tomatoes, as well as fresh oregano and basil.

Upon closer inspection I realized that my farm box vegetable was actually a cucumber and not a zucchini (I hope I'm not the only one who's made this mistake!). By then, however, I was fully committed to making the pasta, so I ran out to pick up some actual zucchini at the store.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I had a partial bag of brown rice penne with exactly half a pound in it, which was perfect for this recipe.

- The recipe is not difficult but it also is not quick. The different vegetables must be individually cooked, but luckily they can all use the same pot, even if seriatum. I cooked my corn in one batch and the zucchini in three batches.

- I love using the fresh herbs from my garden! A homegrown hot pepper got chopped and added with the onion also.

- In place of mozarella, I used some Quattro Formaggio shredded cheese mix from Trader Joe's.

- I added some scraps of roast turkey from the freezer to boost the protein profile and make it a one-pot meal. Chicken sausage or white beans would make good additions also.

The smaller leaves are Cuban basil, the larger are Genovese
the verdict:

I knew when I planned the meal that my husband isn't the biggest fan of summer squashes, but I didn't realize that my daughter J.D.E., who loves every other vegetable under the sun, strongly dislikes zucchini. My only hope is that the mixture of other delicious ingredients would mask the zucchini-ness for my family members. I thought that the casserole smelled amazing while it was in the oven.

Luckily, everyone liked this dish! To me it had a great balance of cheesy and veggies, and the turkey was a successful addition. My husband went back for seconds, and gave the meal a rating of 9 out of 10. Could we have a summer squash convert? Daughter J.D.E. was very relieved that the zucchini flavor was not particularly noticeable and said "it's good." I'm hoping she isn't too disappointed when it appears on the table as leftovers later this week!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Vanilla Ice Cream, Philadelphia style

It's been awhile since I last posted ice cream, but I don't want to wait a minute longer to share a wonderful and easy vanilla ice cream. I used the recipe from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz (which, by the way, is a "must-have" if you plan to make your own frozen treats.) The best thing about this ice cream is that it is Philadelphia-style, that is, an ice cream made without an egg-yolk custard base. Although it does require heating cream to dissolve the sugar and steep the vanilla bean, there's no tricky tempering of eggs and absolutely no thermometer involved.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The recipe calls for a whole vanilla bean, but the beans I have seemed quite long and, call me stingy, but I didn't want to devote an entire bean to a batch of ice cream. I used half of a nice fresh bean - about 2g. worth.

- Lebovitz gives the option of using 3 cups of cream or 1 cup milk with 2 cups of cream. While I know that the all-cream version is bound to be even more wonderful, I was afraid to spoil our taste for the slightly more healthy version with milk so I just went straight to the milk + cream option.

- The first time I made this, the scraped vanilla seeds were very clumpy so I ran the vanilla and cream mixture through a very fine mesh strainer but lost a good many of the tiny seeds in the straining process. My blogging ice cream guru Wendy of Pinkstripes suggested rubbing the scraped vanilla seeds into the sugar and adding them together to the cream to steep. On subsequent batches that's exactly what I've done.

- David Lebovitz says that even when he uses a vanilla bean, as in this recipe, he still adds some vanilla extract because it is his theory that the alcohol in the extract conveys different dimensions of vanilla's flavor. I measured in the requisite amount of vanilla extract and then I added some vanilla bean paste (just a tiny bit), trying to replace some of the lost seeds and make up for the smaller vanilla bean that I'd used!

the verdict:

Vanilla is my husband's very favorite ice cream flavor, and this recipe has become his nightly dessert. I've made custard based vanilla ice cream, but not only is Philadelphia-style easier, we actually prefer way it cleanly conveys the essence of the cream and the taste of the vanilla. I'm pretty sure I'll need to keep a quart of this in my freezer at all times.

This is our stand-by vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese, Pecans and Blackberries

Earlier in the summer I enjoyed the most delicious spinach salad at a restaurant. It had blackberries, goat cheese and candied pecans, and the dressing was a rhubarb vinaigrette. I love a good spinach salad, and this was the best I've ever eaten, a perfect blend of flavors and textures. I couldn't get this salad out of my mind, but luckily I didn't have to, because it was fairly easy to recreate a reasonable facsimile at home.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The restaurant used candied pecans, but I skip those and just throw on toasted pecans. If you live near a Trader Joe's, did you know that you can buy already-toasted baking pieces of pecans? What a great shortcut.

- I've used herbed goat cheese but prefer the plain in this salad. Most often, I use a lovely soft mild goat cheese from my farm box.

- I usually have my salads without dressing, as in the picture above, but I found a honey vinaigrette which I think pairs nicely with the goat cheese in the salad (see picture, below). I based it on this recipe. Here's my version:
  • 2 T chopped red onion
  • 2 T cider vinegar
  • 3 tsp honey (in my case, sourwood)
  • 1 tsp walnut oil
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • salt to taste
The restaurant used a rhubarb vinaigrette, which was lovely. You could use raspberry vinaigrette too.

the verdict:

I love this salad and make it at least once a week. It's not as wonderful as at the restaurant, but it is a good stand-in.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Martha's Perfect Roast Chicken

I'm pretty sure I need to invest in a pair of blinders to keep in my car for when I make a Costco run. As it is now, I'm unable to walk past the book aisle without giving just a little side-long glance (or ten) at the piles of cookbooks. And the lure of those low prices and beautiful cookbooks is nearly irresistible. Anyway, the last time I was in Costco I happened to leave with a copy of Martha Stewart's Cooking School, not that I needed another Martha cookbook, much less another cookbook at all.

If you've ever wondered, "how does it look when the parchment is folded for papillote?" or "can you show me how to de-bone the Dover sole that I just cooked?" then this is the cookbook for you. Martha explains and shows through detailed photos exactly how to prepare lots of classic dishes.

The first recipe I tried from this cookbook (well, the only recipe to date) is the Perfect Roast Chicken (see notes, below for recipe link.) Not only are there explicit directions, there's a whole page of step-by-step photos of the process, and another page of photos showing how to carve the chicken.

Back in the spring, my farm box people offered some pastured organic chickens. Due to the vagaries of various state laws, the chickens had to be sold frozen. I stocked up, and deposited 5 of them directly into my freezer, planning to roast each one of them with a different recipe. The first chicken was roasted with a recipe from the Union Square Cafe Cookbook, and we loved how the flavors of the fresh vegetables found their way into the chicken as it cooked. Martha's chicken recipe had its work cut out for it, if it wanted to top that!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe on this blogger's post(scroll down a bit). Martha also has a somewhat different "Perfect Roast Chicken" recipe that you can find here.

- This recipe uses a cool technique, and calls for the chicken to roast at high heat in cast iron skillet. Martha calls it "fast and high" roasting. The only drawback is when you hit the 450 degree skillet handle with your wrist when you're testing the chicken for done-ness.

- Martha advises that the chicken should be dried as much as possible because moisture turns to steam in the oven, which will keep the skin from getting crispy. Maybe I've been under a rock for the past several decades (entirely possible) but I've never heard that before.

- The chicken cavity is stuffed with lemon, garlic, and herbs. Unless it's my chicken, in which case the garlic gets inadvertently omitted.

- At the end, the recipe calls for adding 1/2 cup of wine or stock to the pan juices and reducing to a nice and concentrated pan sauce.

the verdict:

We thoroughly enjoyed this chicken. It was very moist and tender, with a delicious crispy skin. (I'm going to sound like such a barbarian, but skin is my favorite part of roasted or fried chicken.) We liked it every bit as much, if not more, than the Union Square recipe. In fact, if I'd remembered to include the garlic in the cavity, it might have had the edge! We loved the lemony and herbal notes, which were different from the flavors of the roasted veggies from the first chicken.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

{TWD} Tribute to Katherine Hepburn Brownies

I was excited to make this week's Tuesdays With Dorie assignment, the Tribute-to-Katharine-Hepburn Brownies. Our book group's (4 couples slowly working our way through Dante's Divine Comedy at the moment) summer dinner was in the works and my plan was to have a brownie taste test as the dessert. The group had flipped over the "Baked" Brownies that I made back in February, and I wanted to stack those up against some other fudgy brownie varieties. I was just deciding which recipes to use in the taste-off when the TWD July recipes were announced - I could easily add Dorie's KH recipe to the brownie lineup.

We held the taste test on July 3, with 7 testers from my book group. My husband, the 8th member, is allergic to chocolate, but I had some blondies also. And vanilla ice cream, his favorite (both of which I will post soon.) I will blog each brownie in its own post in coming weeks and then devote a special post to the taste-test. But I will include my testers' salient comments about Dorie's brownies below.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- This was an easy recipe and generated few dirty dishes: a bowl, two pans, a few measuring cups and spoons. If the recipe were written with weight measurements along with volume, it would require even fewer dishes. Love my digital scale!

- I've always been leery of combining cinnamon with chocolate, but I loved last month's Cinnamon Cake, and my favorite chocolate chip cookies have a touch of cinnamon (barely discernable to me, but adds to the deliciousness), so I used just a touch, 1/4 tsp.

- I used Green & Black's cocoa powder and Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate 70%.

- The recipe uses a TON of butter - a whole stick in a small pan of brownies - and not much flour. The butter was really hard to incorporate; the batter was pretty greasy and the brownies were greasy coming out of the pan.

- It's interesting how brownie instructions differ: Dorie says don't beat too much because you don't want to aerate the dough.

- I'm so excited that I recently acquired two 8" square metal pans from my mom. They are the ones that she baked in when I was little, and they are well-used and perfect. I've always disliked my Pyrex 8" and am happy to have an alternative. I made a parchment "sling", lining the bottom and running it up the sides to use as handles to pull out brownies.

- My brownies baked at 320 for 35 minutes. I used King Arthur divot test and it worked perfectly for these brownies. I used to have a devil of a time with brownie doneness, and this test has saved brownie-baking for me!

- I cooled the brownies on a rack for 30 minutes then refrigerated them until chilled and cut them. I left one out to taste immediately and froze the rest (this was part of the taste test; all of the brownies had been in the freezer).

Here's a sneak peek at the taste test setup! The KH brownies are in the top left corner, the Baked one in the bottom right. See the divot in the center blondie?

the verdict:

The brownie top was nice and crackly, and the inside moist and dense. The edge piece was good and chewy, towards the center it was nice and fudgy. I thought that the hint of cinnamon and the coffee gave these brownies a complex and dusky flavor. In true Dorie style, the chunks of chocolate added to the intensity of the chocolate too. The brownies were a bit greasy so I think I'd reduce the butter by at least 1 T.

Without giving away the taste-test results, I can say that these brownies were generally well-received by the group. One of my testers, AT, referred to these as the brownies "with all the cinnamon." so I'm glad I'd cut the amount. Her husband did not like the coffee flavor in the brownies. I think it was more noticeable in these than in other chocolate desserts that have it. Another tester, SF, noted "Lots o Butter" about Dorie's recipe.

I've got to thank Lisa of Surviving Oz for selecting this recipe for us to bake this week. The choice couldn't have come at a better time! Lisa will be posting the recipe (update: this is the first time Lisa made brownies from scratch and she did an amazing job), so if you don't have Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking From My Home to Yours you can find the recipe there. But really, do yourself a favor and buy the book!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cod with Leeks and Tomatoes

Last week when I was at the market I picked up a lovely piece of cod. I knew I wanted to prepare it with herbs and tomatoes, and found this quick recipe in my Everyday Food cookbook.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Although lemon + fish are a great combination, I didn't want the lemon to dominte the vegetables, so I cut it a bit (we could always add lemon juice at the table). I used no lemon zest and about half the lemon juice.

- I chopped a fresh tomato instead of using cherry tomatoes.

- The leeks had roasted in the oven for 10 minutes before I realized that I'd forgotten the thyme, so I added thyme and tomatoes and roasted for 3 additional minutes before adding the cod. The whole dish roasted for about 15 minutes more before the fish tested done.

- I sprinkled on fresh oregano and flat leaf parsley before serving

the verdict:

This was a fabulous light and tasty dish for summer (as long as you don't mind heating your oven to 450 degrees!) Crusty ciabiatta - yes, storebought - and spinach salad rounded out the delicious meal. I will be making this simple, healthy, and flavorful dish again!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Blueberry Sauce Muffins

Happy Fourth of July! There's nothing more all-American than a good blueberry muffin to start your day. Or for a mid-morning snack. Or lunch. These muffins are so good that you might just find yourself grabbing one any time you get near the kitchen.

All too often blueberry muffins are tasteless, cakey, and boring. These avoid that fate by including dried and fresh blueberries cooked into a delicious blueberry sauce and swirled into the batter. It is a recipe from Cook's Illustrated that I first saw at Obsessed With Baking. (If you haven't been to Steph's blog, click over; you'll be in for a treat!)

n.o.e.'s notes

- I didn't have any fresh blueberries on hand so I used Wyman's frozen wild blueberries. They turned the batter pretty much purple, but the muffins baked up light. Wild blueberries are critically important in blueberry baked goods, so if I can't find wild ones fresh, I use frozen. To me the big domesticated ones just don't have enough flavor when baked.

- Typical of CI, this recipe mixes the ingredients in an interesting order. The berries are added to the wet ingredients before the flour is stirred in, rather than being folded in at the end. This keeps the muffins from being over-mixed.

- I cut the sugar to 5.5 oz (instead of 8 oz). I wasn't paying attention and added the sugar with flour mixture at first then had to try to separate it out. Luckily that mishap didn't seem to harm the finished muffins.

- So often muffin recipes make only 9 or 10 muffins. I liked that this batter filled 12 muffin cups.

- I baked them at 390 for 20+ minutes.

the verdict:

This is a GOOD blueberry muffin! The swirled sauce provides a shot of blueberry goodness, and the dried blueberries really add to the flavor intensity. This is my new go-to blueberry muffin.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Parmesan Flans with Tomatoes and Basil

When I saw the recipe for Parmesan Flans with Tomatoes and Basil I was transfixed. All of my favorite flavors in one beautiful dish. Eggs! Cheese! Tomatoes! I couldn't wait to try it!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I replaced one of the eggs with 1/4 cup of egg substitute.

- I used Trader Joe's shredded parmesan and ran it through the mini food processor.

- For pans I used two ceramic and two glass ramekins. The flans baked in the ceramic ramekins cooked quicker than those in the glass, pulling away from the sides of their dishes. For some reason, though, I decided to serve the ones in the glass for the two of us for dinner. They were runny inside but almost tough on the outside. In contrast, the flans in the ceramic dishes were perfectly cooked through and not tough at all. They even survived gentle reheating in the microwave the next day. If I were to use the glass ramekins again, I'd cook at a lower temperature, and check the done-ness more carefully.

- I plated one of the flans on a bed of arugula, topped with tomatoes and basil (picture below), and the other just with the tomato and ribbons of basil (picture up top).

the verdict:

My husband was not very enthusiastic about these flans. For one thing, he's rarely a fan of egg dishes (he worries about the cholesterol in eggs). Another problem: "when I think of 'flans' I expect something sweet." These were most definitely savory and not at all sweet. I though the flavor of the flan was great, but the basil verged on overpowering the taste of the other ingredients. In the future I might just do the bed of arugula and topping of chopped tomatoes.

My husband's thumbs down vote on the flans just left more for me, and I ate the leftovers happily. A dish that qualifies as healthy, pretty, easy, and tasty is a winner in my book! This would make a great luncheon dish, paired with a soup and some sort of roll or bread.