Monday, April 30, 2012

Mounds Bar Brownies

If you can't tell by the title and the picture, these are amazing.  Sweet, chewy, coconutty deliciousness. But to gather all the ingredients to make these, I had to dig in my messy bathroom cabinet.

Yup.  The bathroom.

If you haven't met coconut oil yet, allow me to introduce you.  Want shiny, moisturized legs?  Coconut oil.  Kid got a patch of weird eczema-looking stuff on his skin? Coconut oil. Dry hands and flaky cuticles? Coconut oil. Stubborn eye make-up won't come off? Coconut oil.

Sensing a theme?  I use it for everything skin-wise. Just scoop a little bit in your hand, let it melt in your palm, and know you've got a cheap, natural, super-effective, great-smelling, moisturizing cure-all in your hands.

As Miley Cyrus would say, that's...pretty cool.

To be honest, I don't cook with coconut oil a lot, but including it in your diet isn't a bad idea. If you want to get into the health benefits of coconut oil, click here.  If you just want to make brownies, read on.

I found this recipe in Melissa Clark's new cookbook Cook This Now. She calls them Coconut Fudge Brownies, but I'm guessing she did that to avoid the wrath of the Mounds Bar Company, as clearly the dark chocolatey-ness and abundance of coconut screams that candy bar's name. In the cookbook, the recipes are organized by month, making it ultra-seasonal, which of course I love.  Clark also happens to be a great writer, telling the background story of each recipe, making me want to make each dish that much more.  This is one of those cookbooks I take to bed with me, much to the chagrin of my husband.

Enough blabber.  Here's the recipe.

Mounds Bar Brownies
1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons coconut oil (butter may be substituted, if necessary)
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut (do not substitute unsweetened, as it will be too dry for the brownies)
Fleur de sel, for sprinkling (kosher salt may be substituted)

Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the cocoa powder, unsweetened chocolate, and boiling water together until smooth. Whisk in the the melted butter and coconut oil. Don’t be alarmed if the mixture looks curdled. Add the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla, and whisk until combined. Whisk in the sugar until fully incorporated. Add the flour and salt and gently fold with a spatula until just combined. Fold in the bittersweet chocolate pieces.

Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan and smooth in out. Sprinkle 1 cup of coconut on top of it. Spread the remaining batter on top of the coconut. Sprinkle the remaining cup of coconut on top of that. Dust with a bit of fleur de sel and bake until a tester inserted into the center of the brownie is just set and shiny, 30-35 minutes. If you test with a toothpick, it may seem wet, which is fine. It will solidify as it cools. It is better to under- bake these brownies, than to over-bake them. Cool completely before cutting into squares. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Rhubarb Strawberry Pudding Cake - Revisited

First rhubarb of the year!  I posted this recipe back in April 2010.  If you look back on that post, my little Ben was clinging to his mama's leg in the kitchen and taking his very first steps, a big one year old.  Now, making this dish again two years later, served up hot from the oven with vanilla bean ice cream on a big plate for three to share, guess whose little fork was the first to dig in?  

PS - Looking for more rhubarb recipes?  Check out this link with Midwest Living's top 20 rhubarb recipes.  

Rhubarb Strawberry Pudding Cake
The original recipe from Gourmet Today called for 1/2 the ingredients baked in a 8x8 pan. If I'm going to bake, I'm going to make it worth my time, so I doubled it and threw it in a 13x9. Worked great, just remember to put a rimmed sheet pan on a lower rack while baking to catch any possible juice spill-over.

1/2 cup water
3 tsp. cornstarch
1 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
4 cups chopped rhubarb
2 cups chopped strawberries
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 and 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Butter 13x9 glass baking dish. Set aside.

Stir together water, cornstarch, and 1/2 cup sugar in a pot, then add rhubarb. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, for 3 mins. Remove from heat, stir in strawberries.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 1 cup sugar in a bowl. In a separate large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, butter, and vanilla. Whisk in flour mixture just until combined.

Reserve 1 cup fruit mixture and pour rest in baking dish. Pour batter over fruit, spreading it evenly. Spoon reserved fruit over batter. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 mins with a rimmed sheet pan on a lower rack to catch any juices that may spill over while baking. Serve warm. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Strawberry Ice Pops

You can't get a bad meal in San Francisco.  Seriously.  I would love to go back and just try to find the worst food the city has to offer.  The Zagat Guide of Hovels.  Ok, not really.  But it's such a food town, I can't imagine a bad restaurant would survive long enough to pay the crazy, almost-like-Williston-North-Dakota-crazy rents in downtown SF.

We came across Bi-Rite Creamery in the Mission district of San Fran.  It was a mild, almost cool day, middle of the afternoon, and there was still a line out the door for Bi-Rite's homemade ice cream.  Check out the ice cream menu.  They are famous for their salted caramel ice cream, but I love the flavor experimentation.  Earl Grey?  Honey lavender?  Ginger?  Love love love. 

And bonus, check out the ice cream woman's Tinkerbell green eyeshadow.  You don't see that at Cold Stone. 

Bi-Rite Creamery just came out with a cookbook this month with recipes for ice cream and frozen treats (including that amazing salted caramel ice cream).  There were a few sample recipes in the store, so I picked up this one for strawberry ice pops.  Since making these, I haven't been able to keep Ben away from the freezer.  He eats two at a sitting.  They're sweet, but with real strawberries, so I don't feel terrible about it. 

And I'm going to sound like a Bi-Rite junkie here, but if you have two minutes, check out this video.  It's all about Bi-Rite and their ice cream - and it's beautiful.  It'll make you feel happy.  Promise.  

One note: As I still have some rhubarb jam from last summer, I substituted 2 cups of the strawberries (which get pureed down) with 1/2 cup of my rhubarb jam and used less simple syrup as sweetener.  As I'm guessing you don't have rhubarb jam laying around the house, I'm posting the original recipe, but don't be afraid to experiment.  Don't worry too much about the straining step, either.  It's good to do so you don't get a ton of strawberry seeds and a more icy texture, but you can skip it if you want.  They're just popsicles, after all.   

Strawberry Ice Pops
Makes eight 3 oz. ice pops.  Don't have popsicle molds?  Dixie cups and a stick work wonders.  To unmold the pops, just run them under hot water for a few seconds to loosen. 

6 cups strawberries, washed and hulled (about 3 pints)
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, boiled briefly to dissolve the sugar), cooled
1 and 1/2 Tbls. strained fresh lemon juice

Cut off and discard the tops of the berries and puree in a food processor or blender until smooth

Transfer 1/4 of the mixture to a medium bowl; strain the rest of the puree through a fine-mesh strainer into the bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much puree as possible.  Add 1/2 cup of simple syrup and the lemon juice. Stir until well combined.

Taste the base.  It should taste just a bit too sweet (once frozen, it will lose some of its sweetness). Add more simple syrup if you need it.

Transfer the base to a liquid measuring cup and pour into the ice pop molds.  Insert the sticks and freeze until completely solid, about 4 hours.  Unmold just before serving.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Rainbow Cake

My child is three years old.  I am mother to a lively, rambunctious three year old boy.  Three years ago, this being was inside my uterus.  Now we're rocking out to Gaga together in the kitchen.

Yeah, he's got some moves.  Mama's teaching him everything she knows. 

The kid also has great taste in birthday cakes.  At last year's zoo party, the Smitten Kitchen monkey cake made its debut.  This year, we were all about rainbows with this rainbow cake from the Whisk Kid baking blog

How gorgeous is that?  It looks like a regular cake, frosted white, then you cut into it and - BAM! - holy hella rainbow.  It's fun.  It's sweet.  It's happy and colorful and joyous.  It's everything life as a three year old should be. 

The secret to making this cake?  Actually, there are two secrets: lots of food coloring and a mother with some baking skills and extra time on her hands.  I didn't make this cake - Ben's grandmother did, per my request.  It took her hours, as she only has two cake pans ("You could've borrowed mine!" I tell her later), and had to mix each color separately, pour, bake, cool, remove, clean, repeat, repeat.  

Yes, both myself and my child are spoiled rotten by this woman, but in her happily retired way, she seems to enjoy every second of it.  

Aside from the colors, the cake itself is rich and very sweet.  As with most homemade cakes, the texture is thicker and denser than the airy, squishy cakes you get at a grocery store, and I like it that way. We skipped the  "lemony swiss meringue buttercream" frosting that accompanies the original recipe and instead made a basic buttercream that worked just peachy, although I definitely see how lemon would add a bright flavor to match the bright colors. 

Check out the original Whisk Kid rainbow cake recipe here or the reposting of it on Martha Stewart with a video and more insightful recipe comments here.

And a very happy birthday to my little man!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Chez Panisse

That's me, earlier this week, celebrating my birthday by eating pizza with an egg on it in Berkeley, California.

I think I should explain.

For my birthday, my husband and I went to San Francisco, and I'm not going to lie:  we went there to eat. I know SF is an epicenter for arts, culture, nature, history, sports, etc etc etc, but I had my sights set on getting some fresh seafood, good ethnic food, and that fresh fresh fresh California cuisine that the area is known for. From my first bite of the famous sourdough bread, to a complete photojournalistic synopsis of our early morning visit to Tartine, to the amazing crab roll we had off Fisherman's Wharf, I was as happy as a pig in mud.

I didn't encounter any Rice-A-Roni, though.  Maybe next time?

Of course we couldn't eat the entire time.  We went to Alcatraz.  Muir Woods.  Golden Gate Bridge.  We giggled as we drove our rental car down the twisty-turny Lombard Street.  We moaned as we trudged up the infamously steep sidewalks. We cruised down the California coast on Highway 1, marveling at the fact that WE'RE AT THE OCEAN!  Quite the sight for these Midwestern folks.

But on the food front, there was one specific highlight on my food itinerary, one place that I needed to check off my bucket list, a pilgrimage if you will: we had to eat at Chez Panisse.

If you aren't acquainted with Chez Panisse, you can read all about it here, but basically Alice Waters started the Berkeley restaurant in the 1970's with a French menu that focused on very fresh, seasonal, locally produced foods. Alice and her restaurant have been credited as a major influence in the local foods movement in the United States. She's also been a major player in incorporating vegetable gardens into schools along with healthier school lunch menus.

I don't remember when I first learned about Chez Panisse or Alice Waters, but I had to go and finally see it for myself.  I couldn't get a dinner reservation (dinner reservations open 30 days in advance and I quickly discovered they are snapped up within hours), so we settled for lunch at their cafe above the restaurant.

Kent ordered the menu du jour while I had the "Cannard Farm rocket with cauliflower, beets, ginger, and coriander" and the "pizza with sorrel, anchovies, and egg."  I probably should've tried something meaty (which is more adventurous territory for me), but this traveler needed some greens.

Regardless, game on.

From the little window next to me, I could look out over the treetops and see the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. It was all very lovely, the lighting was perfect, the service was cordial, and the food was excellent in a simple, rustic kind of way...but there was something missing.  It all seemed a little too stiff.  I pictured Alice Waters, and thus her restaurant, as a bit more floaty, more spontaneous, more friendly. I think I expected a few notes of quirky hippie amid the tasteful Arts & Crafts interior. Instead, the staff was very professional, to a point of stoicism. The French influence and Alice Water's well-known affection for Marcel Pagnol movies were too obvious - Edith Piaf played softly in the dining room (of course); the walls were hung with old French movie posters (of course); looking around at the other diners, I saw a lot of middle-aged women wearing scarves, and even one woman with some type of beret (of course).   It was all ne sais quoi.

Oh, and the bill for our lovely little lunch came to $116.  Granted, we had half a bottle of sauv blanc, it included the mandatory 17% gratuity, and we were eating vegetables that were still in the dirt 24 hours before they landed on their plate, prepared by professional chefs in a high rent neighborhood - I understand all the logistics of why we had a three-digit invoice - but I still got a little sticker shock.

I'm glad for the experience of it, and don't regret a single cent of it, but in contrast, the next day we ate our lunch off the hood of our rental car in the middle of a vineyard in Sonoma.  Cheese, bread, and jam to refuel and refresh between wine tastings.  And to be perfectly honest, that simple little lunch in the fresh country air was just as good as the tres elegant lunch at Chez Panisse.  Simple.