Friday, May 28, 2010

Cream Cheese Brownies


Everyone needs a good brownie recipe.  This is by far, hands down, my favorite.  This recipe brings back fond memories because my mom always made these for us growing up (a slightly different and easier recipe which I will share with you).  Truly, this was one of our favorite after school treats.  There is nothing like coming home from school and having these waiting for you.  After sharing these brownies with a few friends this past week and taking them to a tailgate party, I would say that many of you wouldn't mind these waiting for you when you walk in the door from a long day at school or work.

A good brownie is moist, rich and dense as it melts in your mouth.  They are for me a food that, if around, I will eat.  I just can't resist them.  Because of this, I give most of them - not all - away to good friends.  I know, it's crazy isn't it.  I give away one of my favorite foods.  It's either that or live with it on my thighs for a very long time.  I'm not sure which is worse...


As I mentioned before, my husband and I were invited to a tailgate party last Saturday prior to watching the Oakland A's play the San Francisco Giants.  We had a great time and enjoyed some great food and company before the game.  Needless to say, we rolled into the stadium with full bellies.  I told (or should I say, demanded!?) my husband before we got to the tailgate party that I wanted to get some garlic fries at the concession stand during the game.  I mean, what is a baseball game without some grilled or fried food from the stands, whether it's a hot dog, gourmet sausage dog or garlic fries, and boy do I love their garlic fries.  Sadly they're the main reason I enjoy going to the games.  But I must say, this time I was so full and satisfied by all the great food we had tailgating that I wasn't even tempted by the garlic smell wafting through the air.  Not to mention that I really enjoyed watching the game.

I have included two brownie recipes below.  One is totally homemade, but more labor intensive (see picture at beginning).  The other is from a box mix and if you're under a time crunch, is faster and delicious as well - these I grew up with.  In my baking quest though I wanted to develop a totally homemade brownie that could rival any box mix and make it even better.  I think this recipe did the trick.  If you need a dessert and are short on time, the quick mix below will be the one for you.

Cream Cheese Brownies 

Brownie Mixture:  (adapted from Cook's Illustrated)
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 1/4 cups (15 3/4 ounces) sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup pecans or walnuts (optional)

Cream Cheese Mixture:
2 (3 oz) packages cream cheese, room temperature
5 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Generously grease or spray with cooking oil a 13 x 9 pan.  If using nuts, spread on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 5-8 minutes.  Set aside to cool. 

Beat the cream cheese and butter in a bowl until smooth.  Add the sugar, eggs, flour, vanilla and mix until combined.  Set aside.
To make brownie batter, melt chocolate and butter over double broiler stirring occasionally until melted and smooth.  You can do this in the microwave.  Just heat on high for 45 seconds, then stir and keep heating for 30 second intervals, stirring each time, until melted.  Gradually whisk in sugar.  Add eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition.  Whisk in vanilla.  Add flour in thirds, folding each third into batter until just mix and smooth.  

Pour half the brownie mixture into the cake pan.  Pour the cream cheese mixture over the brownie layer.  Spoon the remaining brownie mixture over the cream cheese mixture.  Pull knife through batter in wide curves to create a swirled appearance.

Bake 35-40 minutes on the middle rack.  Test with a toothpick to make sure they are done.  Cool completely (if you can wait) before cutting.  Tip:  I dipped a serrated knife into hot water (dry it off before cutting) to cut the squares.  This makes nice, clean squares.

Quick Mix:  

Brownie Mixture:
1 box brownie mix 

Cream Cheese Mixture:
2 (3 oz) packages cream cheese, room temperature
5 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Mix up brownie mix as listed on box directions in one bowl.  Mix cream cheese mixture in another bowl.  Pour half the brownie mixture into the cake pan.  Pour the cream cheese mixture over the brownie layer.  Spoon the remaining brownie mixture over the cream cheese mixture.  Pull knife through batter in wide curves to create a swirled appearance.

Bake 35-40 minutes on the middle rack.  Test with a toothpick to make sure they are done.  Cool completely (if you can wait) before cutting.  Tip:  I dipped a serrated knife into hot water (dry it off before cutting) to cut the squares.  This makes nice, clean squares. Enjoy!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Baby Bok Choy

Do you get tired of eating the same old vegetables everyday?  I certainly do and as such I'm always looking for something new or a new way of cooking the same old broccoli or spinach.  If you feel the same way, here is a vegetable you can try and it's easy to make!  Bok choy is actually from the cabbage family.  In Chinese cuisine they refer to it as Chinese cabbage or Chinese white cabbage. It's flavor and texture is almost a mix between spinach and cabbage.  It's loaded with calcium and vitamins A and C. Anymore, you can find bok choy in any supermarket.  If you have an Asian market near you, there are many different varieties to choose from.  That is where I found this baby bok choy that looked like it was fresh from the garden.  It helps that my husband loves it - one of the few vegetables he doesn't have to cover up with gravy.  

I used this bok choy in several different recipes once I cooked it up.  One was just to serve it as a vegetable side dish.  I also added it to soup which was really nice.  I followed the recipe below and then added it to a broth soup which only gave the soup more flavor.  You could put this in stir-fries or chop it up and add it soups, stews or even rice dishes.  Make sure that when you are ready to use the bok choy, that you trim the bottom and rinse the leaves really well under cold water.  The bok choy cooks up really quickly so add it at the last minute of your cooking as it only needs a couple of minutes to cook.  Bok choy will wilt down like spinach so always buy more than you think you need. 

Baby Bok Choy

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I used garlic flavored olive oil)
1 large bunch of baby or regular bok choy, rinsed and cleaned
1 medium onion, quartered and then sliced thinly
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, diced (optional)
2 tablespoons Tamari sauce, low sodium (or soy sauce)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

In a large saute pan, add olive oil, garlic, onions and shallot.  Cook on medium heat until onion starts to turn soft and translucent about 5 minutes.  Add the baby bok choy, tamari, sesame oil, salt and pepper.  Stir to coat the bok choy and then cover the pan.  Allow the bok choy to cook 3-5 minutes until most of the moisture is gone.  Serve and enjoy!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Chocolate Glazed Orange Angel Food Cake

Some good friends of ours recently gave us some oranges fresh off their orange tree and boy are they sweet and juicy.  I've been trying to come up with creative ways to use them.  Remember the chocolate oranges and the orange sticks that you can get during the holidays?  The sticks are orange gel like on the inside and chocolate on the outside.  I think the first time I had them was at my grandmother's house as she always had some around during the holidays.  Besides satisfying any sweet craving you may have, this angel food cake will remind you of them.

First, I decided to add some orange zest, since I have extra oranges on hand.  The original recipe for the angel food cake was developed by Ina Garten (one of my favorite cooks).  She adds lemon zest to her recipe, which is appropriately called Lemon Angel Food Cake.  As such, I thought orange would be just as good.  I also thought that instead of adding vanilla that I would try adding some almond extract.  Almonds and orange always taste good together.  I think it turned out really good (my husband did too, judging by the size of the slice he took).  It's not an overly sweet recipe, and as you know angel food cake is so light - if it weren't for the nice flavors still swirling around inside your mouth after you finish, you'd hardly feel like you've eaten dessert!

You can always make this recipe simpler and faster by buying a pre-made angel food cake or a cake mix to whip up yourself.  This is perfectly okay.  I've done it many times and sometimes you just don't have the time or inclination to spend a couple of hours baking.   This would be a super recipe if you're looking for something quick and want to fancy up a store-bought cake.  It's pretty simple if you already have the cake made as you'll see.

Orange Flavored Angel Food Cake (adapted from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook)

2 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups egg whites, at room temperature (10~12 eggs)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon orange zest

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Combine 1/2 cup of the sugar with the flour and sift it 4 times.  Place the egg whites, salt, cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on high speed until the eggs make medium firm peaks, about 1 minute.  With the mixer on medium speed, gradually add the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar over the egg whites.  Whisk for a few more minutes until thick and shiny.  Add the almond extract and the orange zest and continue to whisk until very thick, about another minute.  Add a fourth of the flour mixture at a time to the egg whites, folding each quarter into the mixture until it's all incorporated.  Pour the batter into an ungreased 10 inch tube pan and bake for 35-40 minutes.  Remove from oven and invert the pan on a cooling rack until cool. When you are ready to remove it from the pan, run a knife around all the edges to loosen the cake.

Orange Infusion Sauce

4 tablespoons fresh orange juice, strained
4 tablespoons orange liquor

In a small bowl, stir these two ingredients together.  As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, poke some holes in the top using a knife or chopstick if you have one.  Pour or brush the sauce over the top of the cake.  Once it's absorbed, invert the cake for cooling.  If you're using a store bought cake, follow the same process.  The cake just won't be warm which will be fine.   

Chocolate Ganache

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (could use dark or milk, whatever you like)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon orange oil (optional)

Over a double boiler, add all the ingredients and stir until chocolate melts.  Remove from heat and pour the glaze over the top of the cake, gently spreading it so that it runs down the sides.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Salmon Benedict

I thought it would be nice to cook up something special for Mother's Day.  Unfortunately I live to far from my mom to cook this dish for her but maybe you have the opportunity to cook for your mom.  I was thinking of a Sunday morning brunch, some salmon or a frittata.  Then my thoughts took off from there. One of my favorite brunches is eggs benedict, especially crab benedict made with a crab cake.  I have always thought that it would be to much work to make eggs benedict and have saved it for eating out.  But I have been looking at recipes and if you break it down into steps and plan ahead, it really isn't that bad especially when you find the easiest hollandaise sauce on the planet.     
So staying with the salmon theme and my favorite breakfast, I decided to try a salmon benedict.  How bad could it be? A moist, well flavored salmon cake on top of a toasted English muffin.  All topped off with a perfectly poached egg and hollandaise sauce dripping down over the top.  I think any mother would enjoy this one and if not, just the fact that you cooked for her would probably make it a very special day.

Salmon Benedict

2 6oz cans of salmon or 12 oz. fresh salmon (I used canned)
1 large egg
24 saltine crackers, crushed into small crumbs
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons mayonnaise, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter

In a medium size bowl, add the canned salmon and flake it a bit with a fork.  Add the egg, 12 crushed saltine crackers, the Old Bay, Dijon, mayonnaise, capers, lemon juice and lemon zest.  Mix gently until incorporated.   I wouldn't add any salt to this mixture.  Pepper is okay but you are getting quite a bit of salt from the Saltines so you really don't need it.  Form the mixture into your desired size, 2.5 - 3 inch diameter, about 3/4 thick.  If the mixture won't stay together, add another tablespoon of mayonnaise.  Coat each patty in the remaining Saltine crumbs.  Refrigerate for an hour.  In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil and butter over medium heat.  Add the patties and cook about 5-8 minutes on each side or until golden.  Drain on paper towels.  
This has to be the easiest hollandaise ever.  Now remember that this is not diet food but it is Mother's Day so you have a free pass as the cook and/or as a mother.  Think about the fact that it is good, wholesome, homemade food without any preservatives.  That counts for a lot in my book. Not to mention how good it tastes.  This is all done in the blender. The hardest part is melting the butter.

The Easiest Lemony Hollandaise
Adapted from Tyler Florence

3 egg yolks
1/2 lemon, zested
1 lemon, juiced
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
3 tablespoons water
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, melted

Add everything but the butter to a blender.  Blend this together and then start slowly adding your melted butter in as the blender is going.  Do this slowly.  Once it's incorporated, turn off the blender, check for seasoning.  You will probably need to add some salt to balance the lemon flavor.  If it's to thick, add a tablespoon of water to thin until you get the desired consistency. 

Poached Eggs

6-8 large eggs
White vinegar

Place a large saute pan over medium heat and fill with a few inches of water.  Heat until just below a simmer.  Add a splash of white vinegar and using a wooden spoon, stir the water in one direction to create a small whirlpool.  Crack the eggs and add one at a time to the spinning water.  This keeps them contained.  Make sure they don't stick to the bottom of the pan while cooking.  Cook until desired doneness.  Remove with a slotted spoon.

Assembling Salmon Benedict

On a plate, layout a toasted English muffin.  Place a salmon cake on each half and then top with a poached egg.  Drizzle the hollandaise on top of each.  Sprinkle some chives on top for a garnish.