Sunday, March 28, 2010

How do I love brownies? Let me count the ways...

...With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Brownies are truly an American staple, surfacing somewhere in the early 1900s.  They are easy to transport, easy to make, easy to feed a crowd with.  Almost everyone loves brownies.  I don't think I know a single person that doesn't.  There are also some great variations to the humble brownie.  I've made brownie S'mores, brownies with raspberry jam, brownies with frosting, brownies with and without nuts.  (Without nuts now because Ben will pick every nut out that he finds and leave them in a neat pile on his plate.  He does the same thing with tomatoes :-P)

Paula Deen has a wonderfully easy recipe for some super brownies.  I thought..."How can I change this up a bit?  I wonder what it would taste like with..." So, I decided to do an experiment with my family as willing and eager participants.

Her basic premise is this - Get a box of brownie mix, mix it up according to package directions, slap 1/2 of it in a pan, put some big ol' chocolate bars on top, then top with the rest of the batter, and bake according to directions on the box.  You get a brownie with a wonderful ooey gooey layer of chocolate/whatever goodness.  She recommends using  Symphony Bars with Almonds and Toffee

I wanted more variation.  Plus, I thought the brownies were too thin in a 9 x 13 pan (sorry Paula hon').  Besides, taste testing this could be kinda fun, you know?  I bought three bars of Chocolate - Well, two bars plus a package of teeny bars - Symphony Bar with Almonds and Toffee ; Butterfingers Bar (Giant size) ; and Andes Creme de Menthe Thins.  I decided in the interest of all waistlines concerned, I would make one tray of brownies, but with the three different flavors.  We would then taste all three, and see which was the preferred bar of choice in this decadent, yet remarkably simple dessert.

I bought a box of Milk Chocolate Brownie Mix by Duncan Hines.  I figured it would give a different flavor to the chocolate.  Get whichever you prefer - the Darker Fudge original, or the Milk Chocolate, either works.  I make the chewy/fudgy brownie, but this recipe will also work with the cakelike brownies - it's all a matter of taste.

I stirred up the batter, but used a smaller pan - 7 x 11.  If you don't have a 7 x 11 pan, then use the 9 x 13, but be warned, the batter will be thin, and you will have to carefully spread it.  You can also use a  9 x 9 or 8 x 8" square pan.  If you are a brownie fanatic, or having a crowd over, I would suggest making two boxes of brownie mix and using the 9 x 13 pan.  If you use the 9 x 13 pan, you will need THREE LARGE BARS of the chocolate of your choice.  Got it? I didn't confuse you with too many choices?  Your head stop spinning? Good!  WarningQuick rant ahead - I think a 9 x 13" pan for brownies is a stretch.  They come out very thin, and it's very easy to overcook them.  I think the 8 x 8" pan is too small, unless you're a two person family.  I think the 7 x 11" pan is perfect. Besides, you then get to eat the leftover chocolate you trim off the bars to make them fit into the pan. 
From L to R:  Symphony, Butterfingers, Andes

Now, put 1/2 of the batter in your pan of choice, which you have sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.  Carefully lay the chocolate bars on top of the batter, then pour the rest of the batter over the bars.  Whatever pan you use, you will have to spread the batter evenly over the top of the chocolate bars. 

Bake as directed on the box, unless you are using a dark 7 x 11 pan like I did - then you bake the brownies for about 40-42 minutes at 325 degrees, or about 37-39 minutes at 350 degrees and a regular colored pan.  If they are done, they edges should "pull back" from the sides of the pan, and the brownies should be uniformly puffed up and the surface look a bit dry like my picture.  (If the brownies have a depression in the middle - they aren't done.  Continue cooking, check them every 2 minutes - you don't want to over cook them.  Overcooked brownies = bricks you can build a house with) Cool, then cut into bars and enjoy.

The results of the taste test were split.  Ben actually refused to eat the brownies, because he was full  from stuffing his face at Pizza Uno's with his skating buddies.  (dude - the boy refusing brownies?  Unheard of!)  However, he did try them and gave his opinion when he got home from stopping momentarily by the house for whatever reason 15 yr olds fly by like tornadoes...Hubby preferred the Symphony Bar brownies, where I fell in love with the Butterfingers - Here's the breakdown:
From L to R: Symphony, Butterfingers, Andes

1.  Symphony Bar Brownies - Chocolatey with a nuts and toffee layer that is delicious.  If you use brownie mix with walnuts, you'll get even more nutty goodness.  A definite thumbs up.  Hubby's fave.

2.  Butterfingers Bar Brownies - These had a great flavor.  A layer of Butterfinger flaky goodness that gave the brownies a hint of peanut buttery flavor and a chewiness that only Butterfingers can deliver.  It made the brownies taste richer if that makes any sense.  Ben and my favorite.  A thin layer of Butterfinger filling. (If someone had not thought of this before - they should have.  OMG this brownie is heaven - and verrrrry dangerous.  MUCH too easy to eat more than one...RESIST!!!)

3.  Andes Mint Brownies - VERY minty the first night, perfect the next morning. (Oh? did I say morning?  erm...I meant afternoon - everyone knows one does NOT eat brownies for breakfast!)  I think if I were to make a whole pan of them,  I would ice them with chocolate frosting because the mint sort of overpowers the chocolate in the brownie a tad, and I think the icing would balance it.  A nice little stripe-y layer of mint. (Oh, and here's a question for you:  Where does the green from the Andes Mint go when you cook it?  The mint stripe is white!  Does a leprechaun with anger management issues come and magically steal the green away, because only HE can wear green?)

I didn't even bother printing the recipe out, since it's so simple.   I did however, give you three variations - See how many more you can come up with!  I was tempted to try the Hershey's Cookies and Cream bar, but I reeeeeallly don't like white chocolate - which isn't even chocolate BTW - It's made from cocoa butter, sugar, and milk solids.  Not a hint of chocolate liquor or cocoa solids in it.   But that's a rant for another time.

Enjoy your brownies, however you make them!

Friday, March 26, 2010

How it all started...or a trippy trip down Memory Lane

I remember my first cookbook.  It was called "The Mary Frances Cookbook". 

I got it from my mom when I was very young - perhaps 5? It was an old book back then.  I can't remember if it was my mom's, and maybe her godmother's before that, but all I know is it was published in 1912. Ayup.  1912...It's in pieces now, but I've kept it.  I leafed through it the other day, and thought you might get a kick out of some of the pictures.

This is what all well-dressed little girls wear
when they cook in the kitchen - an apron and a cap.

The plot:  This book is about the adventures of a little girl that loves to cook.  Her mom is making her a "first" cookbook, but she falls sick with an ambiguous illness - it's really never mentioned, but suffice to say mom is bedridden, doesn't do any housework, and gets waited on hand and foot (hrm...could *I* get that ambiguous illness too? just for about 3 days - and oh...the housework and dishes would not pile up during that time, because my family would also come down with an ambiguous illness that would make them do all the cleaning and cooking whilst I was wasting away), so the little girl (aptly named "Mary Frances") gets a few helping hands from the kitchen utensils/pots/pans.

Notice the first recipe is for toast - also notice that the directions do not say "Pop a piece of bread in the toaster with your mom or dad watching" Nooo...instead, your young child can just take a very sharp knife and slice a couple pieces of bread off the loaf,  put the slices in one of those old fashioned toasters and hold it over an open fire until the bread is golden brown (The open fire being a burner on the stove).  They did things differently back in 1912.

Each chapter has a different recipe, and deals with a different adventure - There's "Mary Frances Cooks Breakfast" followed by "The Breakfast Burns Up" (I bet you can guess what happens) then there is "The Tramp", where Mary Frances learns it is never a good idea to open your door to strangers. (although this was a nice tramp).  As with every story, even ones with recipes and talking pots and pans, there has to be a resident witch, and Mary Frances' is in the form of her Aunt Maria:
"Well" said Aunt Maria, "you may turn out of some account, after all.  It's about time to call for a ref-or-ma-tion."
"Yes, ma'am" said Mary Frances, not un-der-stand-ing the big word - "Do you want me to call for it now?"
"Don't be saucy!" snapped the old lady.
Then she set about washing the little girl's hands and face, rubbing so hard it made the tears come, finishing off with the towel until Mary Frances felt her face shine.
"I wonder if she thinks I'm a stove?" she thought.
Meanie!  She comes to rule the roost while Mother "goes away" for a while (remember, she was sick?) but have no fear, Mother returns! Meanwhile, while she is away, Mary Frances learns ALL the recipes in the cookbook her mother gave her - with the help of the "Kitchen People".  There's a Tea Pot, a Coffee Pot, Aunty Rolling Pin, and  a Sauce Pan that speaks in bad rhymes:

"Eggs and toast and tea,
That doesn't mean me.
Coffee is better--
Though not wetter--
For breakfast
Than tea, tea, tea!"
That little rhyme made Coffee Pot cry!  I think Sauce Pan was a bit of a bully.  He ran away when Mary Frances came in.  I don't know why Coffee Pot cried, because Sauce Pan is saying that Coffee is better - why should that make Coffee Pot upset?  I can understand if Tea Pot was bawling, but it looks to me like Sauce Pan was giving Coffee Pot a compliment...maybe Coffee Pot is just a bit tempermental...

There's recipes for all kinds of eggs (boiled, hard boiled, omelettes) and potatoes (boiled, baked, mashed and soup), cakes, puddings, cookies, candy, and toast, and milk toast.  I had no idea what "milk toast" was, until I read the cookbook - It's toast that you put a white sauce over that's made with milk, flour, and butter.

I think they gave it to you when you were not feeling well, though I think it would sit in your stomach like lead.  Perhaps that's why Mother had to "go away" for a while - Mary Frances made her Milk Toast.

It was fun to leaf through that book and see how life was almost 100 years ago.  A big difference socially, but they got their eggs from the chickens in the back yard, and their veggies from the garden.  The meat was bought from a local butcher who probably got it fresh that morning.  They ate fresh, unprocessed foods.
I guess it wasn't THAT different, although I'll stick with the menus I make for dinner - "boiled mutton" just doesn't sound that good to me :-)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My mother once gave me a cookbook.  I can't remember if it was for my birthday or Christmas, or for some other reason.  It was a 3 ring binder - the smaller kind you can't get now - and she had laboriously copied all the "family recipes" into it, complete with illustrations and some comments. 

It's grown quite a bit since then, and it's stuffed full of loose papers, disorganized (somewhat) and there are snippets and scraps that have hastily scribbled recipes on them -

There is stuff in there that isn't even food related - like an invitation my daughter Meg made us for a "poetry reading" - I think it was in 1st grade...

I wonder if this was when Meg started showing signs of writing talent:
I love you & you love me
We all love each other like poetry loves us! & like a be <sic>
And in case you were wondering what holiday plants are poisonous for pets and small children- wonder no more:

There's notes from when I was a vegetarian -

And of course, who could forget that recipe for "Saj's Indian Curry" *swooooon* Each time I look at that recipe, I have to smile, because even though it was *mumbles* years ago, reading it brings back a ton of memories - the HUGE crush I had on him - how I just knew we would be a perfect match, (except he didn't) that if there was only some way to get my letter to him he'd feel it too the minute he opened it and read the first line.  I'm laughing as I type this now :).  I used to be GLUED to that TV set - I didn't miss an episode of "Maya".  Who cares that Jay North was on it?  From that crush I developed my love for Indian food that persists to this day. 

There's a recipe for the chocolate chip oatmeal cookies I loved as a kid. 

There's a recipe for my grandmother's bread that she made at least three times a week.  I honestly don't remember eating anything else at her house BUT mamusaia.  There's a recipe for the first torte I ever "created".  There's a recipe for my mother's molasses bars which I make every Christmas (except this one!) that I absolutely love.  I should make them more often - they're good for you, but somehow I just associate them only with Christmas.  Perhaps another blog entry.  There's a recipe for "Friendship bread" starter - if you've never been subjected to the "Friendship Bread" craze of the early 90s, you are truly blessed.  I had the stuff coming out of my ears.  The premise was, you give a friend a loaf of bread AND a cup of starter - they make their OWN bread, and pass the starter on to their friends...In fact, I would not be surprised to find some starter that you could trace back to the 80s.
Maybe some day I'll rehabilitate my cookbook - I bought a new notebook specifically for that purpose

- but it almost seems sacrilegious to transfer the recipes and organize the disarray I have in there now (yet I always seem to know whether to look in the front pile of loose recipes or the back if I am looking for something specific.

Maybe someday I'll get around to it - maybe I won't because the cookbook isn't just a cookbook - it's filled with memories - recipes from old friends, from family, from my mind and various stages in my life (there is actually a recipe in there for a Chocolate pie made with Ritz crackers, chocolate syrup and whipped cream I am ashamed to admit!)   Mostly every snippet of paper or newspaper clipping in there has been tried and deemed worthy of "The Cookbook"  The ones that didn't make it were relegated to a separate binder that pretty much collects dust.  I have even more recipes to add now, but no room.  Maybe I'll have to sift through them, get ruthless, and make some space.  But how do you throw out memories?  How do you choose which to discard and which to keep?  I don't know if I can do that.  Each recipe, especially those I received from people I knew, conjures up an image of them in my mind each time I see it.  On occasion I'll get more - a fleeting cutscene, a short vignette, or sometimes even a whole movie (that's when the housework doesn't get done).  I don't want to lose those tokens of remembrance.  Perhaps I'll just have to put up with the clutter :)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Chocolate and Oatmeal Redux...

My daughter Meg made some yummy oatmeal cookies on spring break.  She definitely shows some talent in the baking department.  Crisp, chewy, and flavorful.  They were MAN sized cookies.  I would have taken pictures, but my camera's memory card decided to go wonky on me, and I just got a replacement today.  So far, it's behaving quite nicely.
Maca Roots
I also tried maca again - you know, that stuff that makes Inca warriors into men with an attitude?  I couldn't believe that something that was so sweet with a butterscotchy scent could taste like...well...dirt.  So I picked up a different company's chocolate bar called  "Endangered Species" with Goji berries, maca, and pecans.  Wow, if the dark chocolate wasn't healthy enough for you, they throw in Goji berries (one of those "FOTM" health foods) maca (the Viagra contender for the vegan set) and pecans which we all know have been good for you for a while now...being lumped into that "nuts" category.  As long as you don't eat a whole can of them, that is...

This bar was good.  Even with 70% cocoa, there was no bitter aftertaste, or dryness on your tongue that you can get with the high cocoa content bars.  What was a very pleasant surprise, though, was not a hint of dirt flavor anywhere.  Of course, there was no butterscotch either.  The ingredients read "ground maca" - but didn't say what part of the plant it came from.

My favorite is still Salazon Chocolate, and of course now I am supplying my out-of-state friends and relatives with their chocolate fix, my mother being the latest fan-to-be.  Now Pete, before you say "but she can order them online HERE", let me tell you - she's not computer literate, nor does she have any inclination to be -  as much as I've tried to convince her unsuccessfully over the years to at least do e-mail, she stubbornly refuses, and instead relies on the USPS and Ma Bell, so online ordering is out.

The last time I talked to her, she told me about this chocolate chip cookie she buys at her local market.  She said they dip half of it in chocolate, and it's absolutely delicious.  She then said "Wouldn't that taste great on an oatmeal cookie?"  Hrm...with Meg making a batch of oatmeal cookies, now my mom is waxing poetic about the possible marriage of oatmeal and chocolate, AND my recent post about Chocolate Oatmeal Snack Cake, it seems there is only one way to go - Chocolate dipped Oatmeal Cookies.  I decided to pull out a recipe and give it a try...(notice I said "Give it a try")

I found a recipe in my cookbook for an oatmeal ginger cookie.  Simple enough.  Dispense with the spices, and I'll have an oatmeal cookie, not a ginger one.  Done. 

Mixed up the batter...done.
Plop the cookies on the sheet - YUM....Looking forward to the chocolate dipping!

Done! Hrm...they spread out quite a bit, did'nt they? and they are a bit too thin to dip, but I already melted the chocolate chips...oh knackers, they're too fragile...what to do?'s where you need to step out on a limb.  Almost anything can be salvaged - well, of course unless you put a cup of salt into the cupcakes instead of a cuppa sugar.  But if you made something, it's good, but it doesn't really work for what you were planning - think of a way to make it work.  (Geeze I sound like Tim from "Project Runway" - MAKE IT WORK! :-)  If you overcook the broccoli and it's a soggy mess, puree it, and make some soup.  If your gravy is too thin, thicken it.  If it's too thick, thin it out with some broth (that works for soup as well)  There's usually some way to "fix" something up - Too much salt in the tomato sauce? make more sauce - of course, you may have enough for an army, but it will be edible - and you can always freeze some, or recycle it into soup -

Anyway...I decided since the cookies were so thin and I had already melted the chocolate, that instead of dipping, I would slap some chocolate on half the cookie, then fold it in half and make it like a cookie sandwich.  THAT worked!

I won't give you the recipe, because honestly, these were sort of a pain to make, and after I salvaged them, I had an "AHA!" moment - NEXT time (As soon as these cookies are devoured by hubby and Ben- sorry Meg you're at IUP) I am going to use my mother's recipe for my first chocolate chip cookies - I'll leave the chips out, and wallah - the cookie is more cake-like, it will work perfectly. 

I included my saga of messing up in the kitchen, because honestly - we all do it.  I bet even Emeril has had his 'moments'.  Sometimes your results are awesome (like my pasta with roasted cauliflower - zomg SO GOOD) sometimes they aren't - but the challenge is making your mistakes taste good :-)

I guess you could use that philosophy IRL too - Just because things aren't going your way, don't wallow in a well of self pity - climb out and start living!  FIND something good in the bad -whether it be a lesson, or a ray of light - it's there, you just need to find it - and yes, I am Ms. Optomistic - Oh, I might get crabby every now and then, but for the most part, I try to find the good in everyone and in every situation.  I don't view the world with rose colored glasses - I prefer to think of them as clear lenses that obscure or paint nothing -because if you can see clearly, then you can see every minute detail.

"A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success"

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Chou-fleur parte deux

Since I've been buying about two heads of Cauliflower a week, making roasted Cauliflower for snacks, after a while,  the little wheels in your brain start turning and you start wondering "what else can I do with this?"  Maybe it's all the cooking shows I watch (Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern as much as possible, Ina Garten on occasion) or maybe the synapses in my brain decided to throw a party, because I suddenly got this stroke of genius - or, I thought it was genius.  I wouldn't know for certain until I pieced it all together.  I was going to take pictures for posterity, but camera batteries were dead, and when your synapses are groovin' to the beat, you don't want to stop the music.  So, I took some pix after the fact - hence the paucity, but you'll get the idea.

I started thinking - what goes with cauliflower? It's so bland, and most of America is used to eating it with broccoli, cheese sauce, or some other gelatinous white mass thrown over it.  You know what I mean.  White on white - so white bread.  Where is the excitement? Where is the color? Here's a tip for you - Part of food tasting good, is looking good - well sometimes - you can get some nice lookin' food that is tasteless, but I digress (as I see where Ben gets it from)

What goes with cauliflower? Bacon, or bacony-type stuff (except Bacos - "child, PUHLEEZE" to quote Chad Ochocinco - if you don't follow football, right now you are scratching your head and going "WHUT?!!" to yourself), ham goes with cauliflower, walnuts go with cauliflower, umm...garlic, EVOO, salt, pepper, cheese...OK - we're off to a good start here.  Anchovies and capers too - in moderation because I hate anchovies with a passion - but if you sneak them into a dish - you won't even notice they are there, and I promise you - they will give a lushness and depth to the flavor.   Here are my scribblings in my creative frenzy...

Now I think I have my basics - I just have to foist it on my unsuspecting family, who is most likely expecting something more along the lines of chicken cutlets.

BTW - best timesaver ever. Trader Joe's frozen pasta - plain.  I bought this on a whim, because much to my chagrin, my local Trader Joe's was out of penne pasta - Joe, how could you DO this to me? Fusilli is just too screwy for what I have planned.  I did find penne in the freezer though, and decided to give it a try - ZOMG - 3 minutes in the microwave, even though I screwed it up - see, I put the whole BAG into the microwave - little did I know there were TWO BAGS INSIDE the main bag - I was wondering why I couldn't find the line mentioned in the directions..."Place bag line side up".  Now I know.  It worked anyway, and I got PERFECT al dente pasta in 3 minutes.  Except I didn't have pasta water which I wanted for the recipe - no matter, substitute some vegetable broth instead.  Problem solved.

This was not a difficult recipe - but there are a few parts - as always printable recipe is HERE

Breadcrumb Topping

1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 Tbs. butter
2 cloves garlic - crushed and diced fine

Brown the breadcrumbs in a frying pan on medium heat, stirring frequently until browned. Remove from pan, set aside. In the same pan, melt the butter, then add the garlic - cook for a few minutes medium low, until garlic is tender. Remove from heat, add the breadcrumbs and toss. Set aside.


1/4 cup EVOO (more or less)
2 cloves garlic crushed and diced
1/4-1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (depends on how much of a kick you like)
2 anchovy filets, crushed to a paste (I promise you will NOT taste fish in the sauce.)
2 Tbs. capers
juice from 1/4 of a lemon
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/3 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup romano cheese
1/3-1/2 cup broth (chicken or vegetable)
3 oz. chopped pancetta (Citterio has a package - I used the whole thing)
1 head Cauliflower, broken into 1 1/2 inch pieces and roasted (recipe follows)

8 oz. Penne pasta - cooked and drained (or 1 1/2 packages of Trader Joe's frozen penne pasta - it's 1.5 lbs cooked)

1.  Toss Cauliflower with about 2-3 Tbs of  EVOO, place on baking sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Bake in a preheated 450 degree oven for about 30 minutes, turning/stirring about every ten minutes or until golden brown. Set aside.

2.  Heat the EVOO for the sauce - add the garlic and pancetta - cook over medium heat until the pancetta begins to brown.

3. Add the red pepper flakes, anchovies, capers, walnuts. Continue cooking until pancetta is golden. Toss in the parsley, squeeze in the lemon juice, add the cauliflower and mix well.  Remove from heat.

4.  Place pasta in pasta bowl, and pour sauce over. Add about 1/3 cup broth, mixing until pasta is evenly coated. (It will "thin out" the pancetta/cauliflower mixture a bit and allow more even coating)

5.  Add romano cheese, toss again.

6.  Garnish with a generous sprinkling of garlic breadcrumbs and serve immediately.  Goes well with a green salad and some white wine.

(This is a yummy wine btw - has a strong pear aftertaste, it's lovely!)
I was really surprised at how well this turned out.  If you are a vegetarian, simply omit the pancetta and anchovies, and season with some sea salt - smoked if you have it.  My family ate it up - literally.  It's flavorful, and all the ingredients just mesh so well together.  The hint of lemon with the capers is yummy.

I know this is not a recipe for "nouveau" chefs, but if you just follow it one step at a time, you'll be fine - it's not difficult to make.  If you are overwhelmed, let me suggest this - make the breadcrumbs the night before, and make the cauliflower first - it's ok if it sits around while you make the sauce - then, that's the only thing you'll have to make.  Have your breadcrumbs ready, and your pan of cauliflower.  Put out all the ingredients you need ahead of time - it helps keep you focused, so you are not fumbling around for something while your dish is burning on the stove.  If you are OCD, you can always put them in the order you use them (I do that sometimes)  Organization is the key to less stress in your kitchen.  You can do it! :-)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cauliflower - the forgotten and misunderstood veggie...

I like cauliflower.  I often wonder where the name came from.  Obviously it's because it looks like a flower, but where did cauli come from??? nm...just looked it up - it comes from its latin name 'caulis' meaning "cabbage".  So...cabbage flower.  It is a member of the cabbage/broccoli family - just try cooking one and you'll see what I mean.  However, don't let the smell put you off.  Cauliflower is mildly flavored, low in calories - 1 cup of raw cauliflower has only 25 calories.  It also has 2 grams of Protein, as well as some B vitamins like thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, as well as some trace minerals.  The downside is 19% of those 25 calories comes from sugars, or carbohydrates.  However, seeing that cauliflower only has 25 calories in an entire cup, I think I can take that minor drawback.

If you're French, you can call your loved one "petit chou" or "little cabbage" add flower to the end of that, and you have cauliflower in French - chou-fleur.  In Spanish it's coliflor, coming from col + flor which is...duh..."cabbage" and "flower"...Hmmm do you sense a pattern forming here? Let's try another language. - German..."blumenkohl" hrm...that sounds an awful lot like "blooming cabbage" doesn't it? lessee...blumen  is "flower" in German, and kohl is "cabbage" = "flower cabbage".  One more, one more! Let's get a more difficult one - Finnish!! kukkakaali LOL! now...let's see if that breaks down into "cabbage flower" - hrm...kaali is cabbage...let me guess what "flower" is...kukka? *looks it up in Finnish-English Dictionary*  HA! it IS "kukka"...Well, now that we've established that in most languages "cauliflower" is "cabbage flower" let's take a look at a way to prepare it that is scrumptious, delicious, and even if you do NOT LIKE CAULIFLOWER - try it this one just once plz and thank you, and you'll be hooked.

The trick is roasting the cauliflower in a very hot oven with a bit of EVOO.  This makes the cauliflower nice and brown, and it brings out its natural sweetness.  I've adapted the recipe and gave you some variations from one HERE  at "Once Upon a Chef"- It's super simple, and I told Jenn I had to pass it on because it's become my new snack food.  The good thing is my son loves it, and once he ate half a pan before dinner (it was going to be the vegetable) but honestly, how can you get mad at him for eating his veggies?  I will give you some variations - but the trick here is to try some of your OWN - you don't have to try it on a whole pan - take about half a cup, sprinkle on your toppings of choice, and taste test - it's good for you! :) 

Also a note here - depending on the size head of cauliflower, you may need to add more/less EVOO.
Start with your head of caulflower - purty huh? :) Oh, and preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Next, cut it up into pieces - about 1 1/2 inches wide.  I will sometimes cut them a bit smaller, that's just me.
Toss with 2-3 Tbs of EVOO - like a said, it depends on the size of your cauliflower, but that's a good amount for starters - it should evenly coat the cauliflower lightly. 

I then put it on a shallow pan, then I sprinkle some kosher salt (about 1/2-3/4 tsp) and fresh ground pepper (I like lots - grind as much or as little as you like) over it - I will also grind some garlic over it, probably about 1 tsp worth (I love garlic)

Bake for about 25-35 minutes, stirring/turning til golden brown.  I usually turn/stir about every ten minutes.  I find that works well.  Take it out of the oven, and sprinkle it with Romano cheese, adjust seasonings if you need to.

Tell me that doesn't look good...makes you want to sit down with a good movie and a bowl of cauliflower! Now the fun part - VARIATIONS! :-)

  1. Substitute Parmesean for the Romano cheese.
  2. Add a couple diced shallots and some cumin and curry powder (about a teaspoon of each).
  3. Try using a smoked salt instead of kosher salt.
  4.  Add a bunch of garlic cloves (they get mild and sweet when you roast them) and squeeze some lemon over all when done.
  5. Instead of black pepper, use red pepper flakes for a kick.
  6. Add some fresh thyme leaves, EVOO, salt, pepper, lemon
I am going to try tossing this with some penne next time I make it, along with hmmm some roasted red peppers, and chicken for the meat lovers in my family (although I would be happy with just the cauliflower) I'm also going to throw in a boatload of garlic cloves, and perhaps mash them up with a bit more EVOO and a bit of the pasta water to make a light sauce before adding the cauliflower and roasted red peppers...Hrm...some baby bella sliced shrooms (sauteed) would be yummy in this too...I'll give it a try and let you know how it turns out.  Meanwhile, enjoy the cauliflower! :-) It's the new favorite snack food in our house!

Thank you again Jenn, from Once Upon a Chef for this wonderful, simple recipe.  Please go to her website for a printable version, and be sure to check out her other recipes, they are delish!

If you have leftover roasted cauliflower you can recrisp it by simply putting it on a metal pan, sprinkling on a bit more romano cheese, and sticking it under the broiler for a few minutes until browned.  Remember to check on it often, since it can change from "just right" to "burnt to a crisp" fairly quickly :-D

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Great Chocolate Tasting Frenzy! II (Chocolate part 4)

Here are the last four bars we tested...I must say, we had a LOT of fun doing this.  I suggest getting together with your friends (especially if you're of the female persuasion) and have a "chocolate tasting" night - Get some really weird flavors, but throw some yummy bars in there too, and have a blast.  I know we did - Giving hubby a piece of that curry chocolate was priceless.  Almost as good as the time he accidently drank out of a bottle of water that Ben had brushed his teeth with and spit the rinse water back into the bottle while we were enroute driving to TX.  I tried to warn him, but he didn't listen.  So gentlemen...when your wife talks to you, you better damn well listen with at LEAST half an ear cocked, lest you drink some spit water too.

Newman's Espresso Chocolate - Gotta give it to Paul – even though he's gone, his company does keep it real. I buy his salsa *all* the time, as well as his salad dressing. Upon opening the bar, we got a strong coffee smell. This was actually a good bar– It was like a dark chocolate mocha and there was a nice balance between the coffee and the chocolate and a smooth texture. Nice for coffee aficionados (hear that Seattle?)  Both my kids liked it, I did too.

MacaSure Chocolat - "Indulge your senses and reward yourself—without compromising your commitment to your body. MacaSure Chocolat is permission to succumb to your chocolate craving, apology-free."

What it should have read: "This bar will indulge the sense of any person with Pica.  The earthy taste of dirt and the gritty texture will have you think you are chowing down on the finest clay east of the Rockies!"

It smelled like chocolate.  It tasted like dirt.  I was able to keep it in my mouth and finish a piece, and there is a fruity aftertaste if you can stand tasting dirt while chewing and swallowing.  All of us agreed on the "dirt" taste.  There is a pasty, slightly gritty texture to the chocolate. Supposedly maca roots have lots of sugar, and are tangy and sweet - they smell similar to butterscotch, and can be kept dried for years. They grow at high altitudes in the Andes.  Somehow that was lost in the manufacture of this chocolate, unless they used the leaves, which are called "pepper grass".

Here is the funny part - Seems like there is 4000 mg of maca in each bar.  What is maca you say?  Remember me ranting about these vague ingredients that are supposed to be good for you, but no one is quite sure why, but everyone jumps on the bandwagon expecting miraculous cures, and getting none? You know what I'm talking about - acai berries, pomegranate, goji berries have all shared the spotlight.  Geeze, d'ya think that maybe the reason all these islanders/natives are so healthy and live so long is because they eat healthy unprocessed food, get regular exercise, and have no stressors other than wondering where the next wart hog dinner will be coming from?" .....(pause)............NAH, couldn't be!

Maca is also know as "peruvian ginseng" although it's not in the ginseng family.  Here's the part that made me laugh.  Apparently (according to "folklore" - such a nice generic source) Inca warriors would take maca before going into battle - it made them strong and fierce.  The problem also made them incredibly horny, and they actually banned the warriors from taking maca after battles to protect the conquered women from their overactive libidos.  I did LOL at this one - I still do...How did they find this out?  How "old" is the folklore? a few months? did it come from some ad agency?  And who decided the warriors were too horny?  And since when did either conquered people or women back then have ANY rights whatsoever?  Who cares about their rights?  Don't tell me the Incas were sitting around the campfire after a battle one evening, and a particularly sensitive Inca warrior in touch with his feminine side volunteered -  "Ya know...maybe we better cut that Maca out after battle...those poor women in the town we conquered will be walking bow-legged for a month". get my sarcasm. Incas had no written language.  Everything was passed down orally.  It was a rather austere society that believed in function over form, so I am very curious how the maca manufacturers managed to get this tidbit of information.  Just sayin...

I decided to research maca a bit, and found an article HERE about the ancient crops of the Incas.  It has an .edu suffix, I am guessing it ain't Wikipedia.  Judging from all the maca websites springing up, I think Viagra and Cialis better turn tail and run, because they are in for some stiff competition (pardon my pun...I couldn't resist - must be the maca)

Theo Ginger-Rose Chocolate - There is no write up on this - It was a seasonal flavor for Valentine's day (Thank God!).  I see a lot of Washingtonians wax poetic about Theo’s Chocolates, and it looks like they have a loyal following. Perhaps it’s a West Coast thing, but I don’t see it. The minute I opened up the wrapper, we were assailed by a strong smell of roses. Could not smell any ginger. This was another one that was unanaimously spit out. It tastes like you’re eating lotion. Seriously. Both my kids ate handfuls of blueberries and I drank down a glass of water trying to get rid of the soapy aftertaste. I can’t believe someone actually wrote “OMIGAWD! GINGER ROSE CHOCOLATE is OUTSTANDING!” on Theo's FB site. I guess if you like getting your mouth washed out with soap. It has a pretty package.

Salazon Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt - You know I had to save the best for last, didn't you? “Our original bar with our dark chocolate and our signature touch of sprinkled sea salt. Destined to be a classic”

I wouldn't change a thing they wrote.  It's all true. I already waxed poetic about Salazon a couple days ago, but I'll add a couple more comments.  Sweet, chocolately, a perfect balance with no bitter aftertaste (and it’s between 51-69% cocoa). The hint of salt brings out the sweetness of the chocolate. My daughter doesn’t like dark chocolate, and she loved this bar (bwahaha – I knew Salazon could convert her!) She liked the hint of salt. Hands down our favorite. 

Now, all chocolated out.  I think I'm going to make this an annual event.  Lots of fun, family,  laughter, and eating chocolate.  What more could you want? :-)

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Great Chocolate Tasting Frenzy! (Chocolate part 3)

8 bars.  3 people.  Multiple glasses of water, and handfuls of blueberries.  Yes, it's the post I promised...I bought 8 bars of chocolate, and corralled my kids into tasting them with me.  Some are good, most were point is I think companies put weird stuff into chocolate because people will buy it if it's "avant-garde" enough, and I wonder how many actually LIKE the products they are selling??

the chocolate

the judges

I am going to note how the company describes their chocolate, and then give you the "real" deal.  Of course, please realize these are subjective results - I am sure there are people out there that LOVE the ones we hated, so please don't take it personally - take it more as constructive criticism.
Also...about the judges - You know from "Chocolate part one" that I LOVE dark chocolate.  I'll chow down on a 70% bar if it's good.  I feel I'm adventurous, willing to try new things, have an open mind, and I always try to be objective.  If I love something, I am enthusiastic about it - my daughter says too much so, but hey, I want to share the good news with the world!  My son Ben, loves all things chocolate.  He's phlegmatic, easy going, mellow.  Nothing really bothers him, unless his sister punches him in the arm with her pitching arm with the knuckle extended.  Then he gets ticked.  He has an adventuresome palate, because he good naturedly puts up with my experiments in the kitchen, and rarely gives me a thumbs down.  He loves just about everything.  My daughter Meg is the more pragmatic of the bunch.  Organized, overly analytical, yet genuinely optimistic.  A dichotomy.  I think her palate is the same.  She loves gummi anythings, has a sweet tooth, but doesn't like to eat unhealthy foods.  She could easily become a vegetarian.  She's a grazer, where Ben is a gobbler.  Meg likes just about anything as well, and is always willing to try a new dish...Oh...and she doesn't "like" dark chocolate (you will notice that will change by the end of this series)

THE RESULTS: *drum roll* 

Green & Black's Maya Gold - They write: “Traditionally, the Maya Indians in southern Belize flavored their cocoa with spices. We recapture this by blending rich, dark chocolate with a refreshing twist of orange that is perfectly balanced by the warmth of cinnamon, nutmeg and a hint of vanilla.”

What it really should have said: "If you like the smell of flowers, you'll love this chocolate bar.  Don't expect to taste any vanilla or cinnamon - there is a bit of orange and nutmeg for you to savor, but expect a bitter aftertaste."

It would be nice if you could really taste everything that is supposedly in this chocolate bar. We were all put off by the smell – it smelled like flowers. The only thing we could all taste was a bit of nutmeg, orange, and some flowery flavor. No cinnamon, no vanilla. Bitter aftertaste. The flavor wasn’t as bad as we expected – it didn’t taste like it smelled, but we all disliked the aftertaste.

Nirvana Organic Dark Spicy Chocolate Bar - They write: "Ready for some spice? Decadent dark Belgian chocolate (72% cocoa) with chili, almonds, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon. This bar is VEGAN."

What it really should have said: "Hey, we know how much you vegans enjoy sacrifice, because you obviously don't eat meat or dairy, so your food life must be boring.  Have some of our chocolate to round out your tasteless diet"

Now...before I get any vegans jumping into my stuff - *I* know you guys don't have a boring diet - Vegetables/legumes/nuts, etc...can be FUN and FLAVORFUL...but this chocolate isn't.  And it appears they are trying to attract the vegans with that declaration - ummm...last time I looked, *all* dark chocolate bars were vegan, unless they had hrm..hard boiled eggs, or cheese in them.  Why make it sound like just yours are?  This bar smelled like chocolate,  kinda tasted like chocolate, but was unanaimously declared rather tasteless by all three judges. There was chocolate flavor, but no cinnamon, no nutmeg (which is usually a predominant spice) no vanilla, no chili.  I think Meg saw a couple flecks of almond in her piece. Sorry, but it wasn't "Nirvana" for us.

Theo Coconut Curry Milk Chocolate - “Milk chocolate with toasted coconut and savory curry spices.”

Ummm...ok...We all began to get worried when I opened the package and the smell of curry hit us like a bug hits a windshield.  SPLAT. I even noticed some yellow curry discoloration on the wrapping paper.  Rut Roh, re in rubble Raggy (as Scooby Doo says)...But...we all took a piece and gamely went on with our testing.  Meg and I spit it out.  Ben said it was "spicy chocolate" - however, we all agreed that the curry powder just overwhelmed the chocolate.  We all love curry (as you can probably tell from my old blog site post) the kids grew up on it, so it's not a taste thing.  I'm sorry to say it was not in my mouth long enough to let you know if there was an aftertaste, etc...You can see coconut flecks, but can't taste it.  Don't let the pretty label fool you.  The contents don't match the packaging. 

Lindt Excellence Chili Bar - “Excellence Chili is an exceptional and entirely new taste experience combining Lindt's finest aromatic dark chocolate with the well balanced spice of premium red chili.”

What it really should have said: "If you like milk chocolate, you'll love this dark chocolate bar, especially if you like it sweet."

This was a very sweet chocolate bar.  It tasted like a cross between milk and dark chocolate - None of us tasted the chili - however, after I finished my piece, I did have a slight burning sensation in my throat - my kids didn't - Meg hates anything spicy, she definitely would have noticed the Chili - I'm not sure if I had a piece with some chili powder in it, and she didn't, not sure.  But it was not picante enough, sorry Lindt.  However, it did taste like chocolate, which is a positive :)

I think that's enough Chocolate for tonight - Tomorrow we'll do Chocolate Part 4 - Up for review are:  Newmans, Salazon, another Theo chocolate, and MacaSure (this one made me laugh - you'll see why tomorrow) allin tuta as they say in the Inca language (that's a hint)