September 29, 2011

The brownies from Baked

Under the excuse of baking something to contribute to our school family picnic recently, I tried the much lauded brownie recipe from Baked.  Boy, these brownies are trouble.  It was seriously difficult for me to stop eating them but I'm very partial to brownies.  The texture of these is the definition of what a brownie should be, in my opinion.  Forget the debate over cakey or fudgy textures; a brownie should look and taste like these.  Now I get what all the hype has been about. 
I haven't had the pleasure of visiting the Baked bakery in Brooklyn but I've certainly heard a lot about it from seeing the cookbooks in the bookstores, packaged mixes at William Sonoma, and appearances on TV (watched one of the owners bake a cake with Martha a few months back).  And you might know that  I love brownies (I can hear you reading this and saying you do too) and I was excited to see if these brownies were as good as "they" say - "they" being many people like Oprah.  
I loved the moist, dense, fudgy texture (thanks in part to the butter and brown sugar) and hint of salt in these brownies.  These came very close to my utter favorite Fat Witch brownies.  I have to say that those remain my favorite; while the two are very similar, there is an amazing flavor in the Fat Witch brownies I can't quite identify, that sort of umami effect, that I swoon over.  Nonetheless, the brownie recipe from Baked is excellent and one we can make at home.  The recipe makes enough to fill a 13 by 9 inch pan so you feel a little less guilty about the 2 sticks of butter you pop in there.  Plus, you'll have plenty to share. 

September 27, 2011

Savory hand pies and chocolate croissants

There are so many things you can do with puff pastry, whether it be savory or sweet.  You can basically lay things on top or stuff it inside, then pop it in the oven and watch it puff up into buttery and flaky goodness.  I've had this extra sheet of puff pastry in the freezer for a while - puff pastry is delicious but not something I use often.  But today, I decided to make some savory hand pies with my extra sheet of puff pastry.  This one is stuffed with mashed sweet potatoes and chicken.  It made a nice change for a Fall dinner.
One sheet of puff pastry can make 4 of these hand pies.  I made three and with the last square of puff pastry, I made 2 little chocolate croissants.  Well, these look a bit more like chocolate "crabs" than croissants but homemade things have a way of coming out funny (in my kitchen anyway).  All the same, it was a tasty little treat. 

September 24, 2011

Nutty cereal bars

I've been playing around with another snack bar recipe.  Somewhat surprisingly, the peanut butter granola bars were a fair hit with our little one and I wanted to try another variation to mix things up a little.  The result is this cereal bar made of puffed cereal, almonds, and sesame seeds. 
I think I might've pushed my luck a little too far with the nuts - the little guy was not a fan of these (it didn't help that he was in no mood to try something new when I presented them).  On the whole, I liked these - they're slightly chewy yet crunchy (from all those nuts) and just a tad sweet from some honey.  They do tend to crumble so it's a bit messy.  It helps to keep it in the fridge and the best part is you can store it there for about 3 weeks.

The original recipe uses sliced almonds and cashews and in retrospect, it would've been a better idea to mix the nuts as opposed to going with all almonds like I did.  I was trying to play it safe because while I like cashews, they can be a little too, I know the little guy would not go for cashews at all.  So long story short, there's a lot of almonds in every bite.  I'm ok with that as a person who loves almonds but a little of this goes a long way. 

September 20, 2011

Mini chocolate yogurt snack cakes

It's never long before my brain steers me back to chocolate.  But instead of a rich, heavy chocolate cake, today I'm making lighter chocolate yogurt snack cakes - in miniature form.  
I admit it...I had been baking banana bread with chocolate again.  And despite making several batches, I still had plenty of whole-milk yogurt left in my refrigerator.  I was looking around for recipe ideas when I remembered these chocolate yogurt snack cakes from David Lebovitz that I had wanted to try.  In comparison to your typical chocolate cupcakes, these little bites are light, mildly sweet, and have a moist crumb thanks to the yogurt.  One of my favorite things about these snack cakes that make them special is a hint of almond (from almond extract, which I just love) - I think it blends really well with the chocolate.
You could make these regular cupcake/muffin sizes or in little ramekins or mini cheesecake pans.  Or like me, you can make miniature versions using mini cupcake/muffin tins.  Given these are lighter chocolate yogurt snack cakes, I thought the petite size suited them nicely.  These are great at breakfast or as an afternoon snack.  My family and I really enjoyed them and I'll be making these again for sure.

September 16, 2011

An easy white bean soup

My tummy is full of chocolate cake and I'm ready to divert my attention to something totally different on this blog today.  With the promise of cooler temperatures and shorter days, I've been thinking about soup.  I love soups and the hotter (temperature wise), the better.  I recently made this quick and simple white bean soup, which can be prepared in under half an hour.
This is a rustic vegetarian soup, made with vegetable broth and basic cannellini beans.  I've added carrots, escarole, and some garlic and dried oregano for flavor.  You could throw in other vegetables of your liking.  On a cool Fall evening, a bowl of this hearty yet light soup, along with a nice open face sandwich, could be just the thing.
White bean soup with prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich

September 13, 2011

Hooray for First Grade!

Last week marked the start of first grade for the little guy!  That means a new school - we are officially part of the elementary school system - and a full-day schedule.  Trying to push aside the laundry list of worries (like: how will he adjust to a new teacher, new school, all the new faces; will he make friends; how will he possibly eat his lunch in 20 minutes; boy, he is going to be so tired by the end of the school day; and on and on), I wanted to celebrate this milestone.
Being a worrywart by nature, I need to constantly remind myself that worrying doesn't forestall problems from happening.  So setting aside some of my concerns, I'm looking forward to the adventure and hoping our little guy (he's our only child, can you tell?) has a great school year, makes some good friends, and feels comfortable in his environment so he can learn and get as much out of it as possible.  Kindergarten was a wonderful experience.  Not only was it amazing to see the academic growth (he learned to read for crying out loud!), it was great to see him make new friends and gain more independence.  I hope first grade will be a continuation of that.  Here's to a great year ahead! 
This cake should traditionally have 3 layers.  I simplified matters here with 2 but more on that later...
To celebrate the start of this school year, I made a Brooklyn Blackout Cake.  This is another cake I'm making for the first time and a recipe I'm trying from the book, Chocolate Cakes, which I received for my birthday.  This cake is right up our little guy's alley; like me, he is all about chocolate.  Namely, we are talking chocolate cake, with chocolate pudding filling and fudge frosting.  Let me repeat:  chocolate pudding filling and fudge frosting.  I love just the sound of those two things and have been wanting to make this cake for some time.  Making this cake turned out to be quite a bit of work but it was all worth it since the little one really loved it.

I'm also representin' Brooklyn here today - the city that I really think of as my hometown.  When we lived in Bay Ridge after I got married, I was so excited when a cute, retro-looking bakery opened near our apartment.  Along with a slew of cupcakes, they used to have this huge Brooklyn Blackout cake under one of their glass cake stands on the counter.  It was the first time I'd ever heard of or tried this cake.  One slice was a towering thing, big enough for two.  My husband and I loved it and would grab a slice every so often.  This cake is definitely a throwback (created by the now defunct Ebinger Baking Co. during WWII); I can't think of any other bakery that carries it so I thought it would be worthwhile to try making one of my own.  But let me be upfront; this cake is serious business.  It is no diet food.  It's best to enjoy in moderation and share with others. 

September 7, 2011

Peanut butter granola bars

Today, I'm trying out some peanut butter granola bars.  I think they'd be good as part of our rotation of after school (or after the park or some kind of exercise) snack options for the little one.  In a bind, these make a quick breakfast bar. 
Peanut butter is the predominant flavor of these bars (sorry if you are allergic) but its bulk comes from old-fashioned oats.  There are also a bit of slivered almonds and mini chocolate chips - all flavors I personally enjoy.  I adapted this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis, making a couple of changes based on reviewer comments.  I used to wonder who these people are who do reviews and make comments on websites and post up all those youtube videos.  Now I've really come to appreciate and value constructive participation.  You can learn a lot from what others have tried and discovered. 

I think these granola bars were a success in my house.  Bare in mind that my 6-year old son decided somewhere along the way in the last year or so that he doesn't like nuts.  I think he just wants to dislike things that I tell him are good for him and I know he doesn't really dislike nuts as much as he claims.  He eats peanut butter and used to love walnuts, and I know he's ok with almonds.  He also won't eat oatmeal on its own (he doesn't like anything hot) though he's down with an oatmeal crisp or oatmeal cookies.  So I'm happy to report that he does like (I didn't say love) these granola bars and I don't think he'd mind seeing them as part of his snack rotation.  Personally, I think the bars are quite tasty, with a nice chewy texture.  The toasted almonds go well with the peanut butter also.  These are quite filling so a small piece goes a long way.

September 4, 2011

Gotham's warm chocolate cake...for B's birthday

I talked a bit about my sister on her birthday and I wanted to acknowledge my big brother on his special day here too.  I'll try to keep this rather concise and to the point, not my forte when it comes to talking or writing but it is more along the lines of how my brother would handle things.  I mean, when we send him an email, there's probably a 50:50 chance of getting a response and if there is one, it will rarely contain more than say "okay" or "yes" as a reply.  Don't get me wrong, he talks a lot in person, although you have to draw it out of him sometimes.

So happy birthday to my big brother!  Thank you for taking me to all those awesome restaurants - from the hole-in-the-wall Japanese places near your office for lunch to the fancy ones we looked up in Zagat - when I was a kid.  Thank you for giving us $20 before you went off to your part-time job so my sister and I could get ice cream and gather the fixings to make a big lunch.  Thank you for taking me on my first trip to Disneyworld.  Thank you for helping me cut off the brush that was stuck to the bangs of my hair (I think I was about 12 years old) while our sister laughed at me and told me I'd have to chop the whole thing off!  Thank you for doing my English homework for me all those years ago when we first came to the States and there was no way I'd be able to summarize an article from the newspaper.  As you well know, I never forget the bad (remember the scallop story) but I remember the good as well *wink*.
To celebrate, I decided it was apt for me to try my hand at Gotham Bar and Grill's warm chocolate cake.  As I mentioned previously, it was one of the first "fancy" restaurants I ever went to in New York City and my brother took us there.  Also, my brother was always into the whole Gotham/Batman thing.  We had a great time at Gotham that day way back when.  I had this cake for dessert and it was a memorable experience.  The cake is still on the menu today. 

The cake gets chills for about 4 hours after baking, then sliced.
And remember that cooking class on New York restaurants' signature dishes that I took at the ICE?  Gotham's chocolate cake was part of our course so I have the recipe.  Honestly, I can't guarantee you this is the exact recipe used by the restaurant but it tastes like it (as far as I can's been too long since I've been there).  It is rich, dark (the higher percentage cacao chocolate you use, the darker it will be), decadent, and delicious - you must love chocolate though.  I highly recommend you eat a slice of this cake with some ice cream.  The restaurant serves the cake with various seasonal ice creams they make in-house.  At home, I think some vanilla ice cream is just the ticket against the warm cake to balance out all that dark goodness.  Sounds ironic, I know, to say we need ice cream to "balance out" the richness but it's a necessary contrast since the cake has almost too much chocolate.
It gets warmed in a 150 degree oven and served with a scoop of cold ice cream.
When I took this cooking class in the Spring, I didn't work on this cake.  I deliberately joined a team working on the entrees since I bake at home often enough.  The only contribution I made was to whip the cream when the others were getting tired and I messed that up since I hadn't read the recipe and thought that we were going for stiff whipped cream rather than soft peaks.  So this was going to be an interesting project.  All in all, this is a bit more work than your ordinary cake and more complicated than its fairly humble appearance might suggest.  And I think it's a testament to the thought and work that goes on behind the kitchen doors at restaurants like Gotham Bar & Grill.  There is lots of melting, whisking, and folding involved in making this cake.  But I think the result was worth it.  My brother enjoyed it, jokingly licking his plate!  But my family knows I like to bask in the glory of their praise so I was pretty sure they'd love whatever I brought.  

Happy Birthday, B! 


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