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Archive for the ‘Extreme Recipe Makeover’ Category

Mmm hmm….that’s right. Chocolate. Toll house. Bars. An unlikely sisterhood of fudgey brownie and the famous toll house recipe baked into a pan. I’m really a cookie lover at heart, but sometimes I just don’t want to scoop and bake repeatedly. Sometimes I just need to cream, stir, blend and fold myself into contentment, the end result being more easily achieved than what requires parchment, trays and repetitive movement. Take one recipe for your favorite version of a Toll House bar and stir some good cocoa powder into the dry goods. Take a bite and sigh with contentment. See? I would never steer you wrong.

I can bake. I love to bake. My lifeline to my guardian angel, my mother, lies in my mixer and flour container. With a spatula. I have no fonder memories of her than baking with her, the sunlight streaming in her kitchen window. I should recall her laugh, which was loud and shrieky, I mean, have you heard mine? She caused that, no doubt. My brother too. When he and I laugh together, people cover their ears. They wince. We get asked to be quiet in movie theaters, and we shock people. But her laugh, while amazing and warm was just a blue ribbon pinned on the strong and capable woman that she was, and that I strive to be. I may bend in the breezes, or twist against the savages of life, but no matter what happens, I am still the person she raised me to be, no more or less. With a spatula in hand. And cookies. They were her favorite. She made pies, bundt cakes (ooh, lime green ones sometimes. Eeek.) and she made bars too. But cookies were her specialty. Now I could do without the nuts that she loved, and to this day I haven’t been able to abide by the walnut, so overpowering was that in my youth and usually rancid if I am able to judge now. She put it in everything, and I picked them out of everything. If I was woe to forget to throw them away, the pile left behind would elicit one of her pretend indignant shrieks of “KATE!!!” because she just knew me that well. It was always me who carefully and diligently despised her walnuts. Or maybe my siblings were just better at remembering to dispose of the evidence.

One thing that Griffin does love to do is make cookies now and again. I like to keep everything on hand in case he gets a hankering for a homemade treat. The other day he was all set to make some Toll House bars when he discovered we didn’t have enough butter. With the saddest sigh that he could muster, he replaced all the ingredients he’d taken out and silently went upstairs. Mommy guilt overcame me. Although we had a few options available in the form of frozen commercial cookie dough, there is one thing that my teenager has inherited from me that sticks like glue: when he gets his mind on something he wants, he can’t settle for anything less. So the next day I went to the store and bought a lot of butter. Then when he was gone one night, I made a pan of bars and on a whim, added cocoa to the flour mixture.

My mom is probably smiling right about now.

Are there any alchemist secrets to baking? I’m really not one to ask, as for me baking is like looking at my right hand. It’s so much a part of me that I don’t recognize what might make it special. Or difficult. But plenty of people struggle with it. Baked goods fall flat, are dense and hard, they don’t rise enough or they balloon out of control. The fall when they come out of the oven. You know what? Mine do too. Even after a lifetime of experience, I can still often see fault in my bars. This pan, for instance, was so beautiful and fluffy when I pulled it out of the oven, and 20 minutes later, the center had collapsed like a mutual fund. It happens to me all the time but it never stops me from trying. They taste the same. And really, when I die, no one is going to be standing at my casket shaking their heads morosely and saying “Her bars always collapsed. It was so sad.”

The cocoa gives these familiar and comforting bars an added depth. While Toll House bars are nice and all, they really lack the pizazz of their more colorful and opulent baked counterparts. They’re reliable and sound but they’ve been left behind for everything sweet and dotted with sea salt, doused in browned butter, lavender essence and gold leaf. Oh Toll House, those new millenium treats smirk,  you are so 1975. Place them on a table with something exotic, and the poor plate will get skimmed over. Turn it into a delicate brownie-like, cakey and soft square, and it will stand apart. If nothing else, it will just make your mouth pretty happy. In a less expensive way. And we like that, don’t we?

Chocolate Toll House Bars
by Kate, adapted from the original recipe. My version is a little different so read it through. Some new tips are included.

2-1/4 c. AP flour (i used half whole wheat flour)
1 t. baking soda
1/2  t. sea salt (this is a personal preference; I don’t like the taste of iodized salt in my baked goods. use what is right for you)
1/4 c. cocoa powder
1 c. softened butter – NO substitutions (or at least don’t tell me about it)
1/2 c. EACH white sugar and brown sugar (firmly pack the brown)
2 eggs
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1/8 c. (or about 3 T. ) whole milk or cream (i used vanilla soymilk)
1  12-oz package Chocolate chips of choice (i use Ghiradelli semi sweets)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray. In a large measuring cup, whisk together all the dry ingredients.

In a large bowl, or a stand mixer, blend the soft butter and both sugars until fluffy and light. Be sure to really beat these well. The more air you incorporate into this, the fluffier your finished product. Beat it, scraping the bowl occasionally, for at least 5 minutes. Longer if you can.

Add the eggs, vanilla and milk. Blend well. Now remove the beaters and scrape them into the bowl.

Add all the flour at once, and with a stiff rubber spatula, begin gently folding it into the butter mixture. Remember to scrape across the bottom of the bowl and gently turn it over. Don’t stir it or you’ll deflate all that air you beat into the butter. Watch what you’re doing and when you’ve incorporated about half the flour, stop folding and add in the chocolate chips at this point. Continue to fold the remaining flour into the mixture, along with the chocolate chips. There will be a single magical moment when it all comes together in a beautiful glossy homogenized mass, and at this point, make sure there is no flour at the bottom of the bowl and then stop folding. Scrape it into the prepared pan and gently spread it to the edges. It’s fine if it doesn’t look perfect. Bake it for about 25 minutes, checking with a toothpick to determine if it’s done. Remove pan and allow to cool before cutting.

KATE’S NOTES:
I know that all recipes for these bars tell you to incorporate all the flour and then fold in the chips. Somehow this has worked for decades, but once you incorporate the flour, the more you stir and mix it, the tougher it will get and the bars will come out denser than you might expect. If you add the chips partway through the flour step, the finished product is lighter and you get more distribution of the chips. If you’re like me, you prefer your chip ratio to be even, not clumped up in some spots more than others. Even with the beating and gentle folding, these bars collapsed but they aren’t dense, just moist and fudgey.

This recipe calls for less sugar than any recipe you’ll find in print. With the addition of the milk, and of course those chocolate chips, there really isn’t the need for that much sugar. I’ve realized as I get older and experiment with baking that many, many recipes are too sweet, and cutting back sugar is always a good thing, isn’t it?

And yes, most recipes don’t call for milk to be added but if you follow this one, the additional cocoa needs to be balanced by a little more moisture, and the milk adds a nice touch, making them sweeter with a bit of richness. Experiment with what you have on hand. Flavored coffee creamers might be lovely to add a hint of something extra. And if they fall while they cool, no one will notice because they taste simply amazing. Especially for breakfast with some really dark coffee.

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Life isn’t simple anymore. Not that this is a shock to anyone with an adult’s perspective. It seems that everything has gotten so much more complicated, and while we burst through life determining what path to take that is right for us, we are constantly faced with decisions and truths that require a ‘turn on a dime’ change of direction. It’s just not like when we were kids.

nostalgia

Of course, this isn’t a bad thing either. It’s nice to look at our past and see where we’ve ‘grown up’ even if, somewhere inside us, we still are surprised at the face that looks back from the mirror. I still can feel like I’m 12 again, or 24, or 30 and a brand new Mom. Of course I wish that I could still run barefoot from June to September, the sun hot on my skin and nothing more pressing in my day except where the next adventure would take root; I think about Kool-Aid, Popsicles and A&W Root Beer with a hard scoop of vanilla ice cream floating in it. I think about one-room air conditioners, the smell of bed linens fresh off the clothesline and how it seemed so perfect to take a peanut butter sandwich outside to the backyard for a picnic. And while all of this speaks more to the carefree days of childhood and what I find I can no longer freely indulge in, it’s more than just a nostalgic turn; I think I just yearn for a time when I was blissfully unaware that life existed outside the realms of my neighborhood. With all the gloom and doom present in our daily media, it’s no small feat to try and close it out. And while I can grasp my adulthood fully with both hands and move ahead with the changing world, there still are times that I want something that reminds me of simpler days.

Not too long ago I posted about finding plenty of nostalgia in a perusal of food blogs, and it got a conversation rolling with Jamie and Kristen about foods from our past. Kristen especially tickled me in a discourse we had over cream soups and some of the dishes we used to make with them, and part of what we talked about was that although these foods often have good memories attached to them, they aren’t all that healthy. Looking around me in the grocer, I had to wonder if it was possible to bring them back with less guilt, and possibly more flavor.

The ubiquitous Tuna Mushroom Pasta was a standard from my childhood; macaroni, canned mushrooms and tuna, cream of mushroom soup and a crush of potato chips over the top was a mainstay for dinner. No one really went “Ooooooh!!!” whenever it was presented, and I recall a time when I clearly told myself I would never eat it again. And in that representation, I never did.

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One good thing about following the flow of life is watching your food mature around you. I’m glad to be far away from the foods of my past, although it’s nice to think I can recreate them, but better. And more flavorful.

mushroom-tuna-and-pasta-012(Not exactly the Beauty Queen of Cuisine…..but oh so delicious!)

No one is chained to Campbells soups anymore; Amy’s Soups has a lovely creamy mushroom soup, Health Valley Organics makes a completely natural line of cream soups, and then there’s my favorite- this Portabello Mushroom soup from Imagine Natural Creations. When the desire strikes for a meal that not only satisfies my need for a little nostalgia, but also will bring smiles to both Mike and Griffin- who absolutely LOVES this dish- this is where I turn; better ingredients, and a more sophisticated method.

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Kate’s Mushroom Tuna Pasta

1# dry pasta, cooked to taste
1 pkg. Baby Bella mushrooms
1 large leek, split and washed, sliced very thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 yellow pepper, chopped
1-2 3-oz pkgs Tuna (or other tuna of choice)
1 16-oz container Imagine Portabello Mushroom soup (or equivalent)
1/2 c. frozen peas
Butter and olive oil for cooking
Worchestershire sauce (optional)

Other optional add-ins: Toasted seasoned bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese.

In a medium sized skillet, warm approximately 2 T. olive oil and 2 T. butter  and add leek, cooking for about 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring regularly. When soft and beginning to brown in spots, add in yellow pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Stir in peas, cover and keep over low heat.

In a separate pan, warm 4 T. of butter and 2 T. olive oil, add mushrooms and cook over medium-high heat, stirring regularly until mushrooms begin to release their liquid. If using, at this point add about 2 T. worchestershire sauce to mushrooms, along with a generous grind of black pepper. Stir to combine and continue to cook, allowing mushrooms to sear and brown.

Drain pasta, reserving about a half cup of pasta water, but don’t shake off excess. Return to pan and add in soup, tuna, the leek mixture and the mushrooms. Stir to combine. Add in some of the pasta water if the mix is thick. Season to taste with salt and more fresh ground black pepper.

KATE’S NOTES:
This method, while a bit futzy, produces a very flavorful end result. By no means is it carved in stone. I do heartily recommend a separate pan for cooking the mushrooms, solely for the flavor it will impart, but in a pinch you can cook all the vegetables together. Regular chopped onion is fine too, it seems lately I’m kind of on a leek fix. Skip the butter if it isn’t your thing.

mushroom tuna and pasta 008

My love for toasted bread crumbs knows no boundaries. I prefer Panko for this application, reserving the bread crumbs I make from scratch for use as a filler or bond. I mix about a cup of Panko with melted butter and some olive oil, then add in a multitude of dry seasonings such as dried basil, garlic and onion powder, fresh ground pepper, maybe some dried mustard and then heat them gently in a pan, stirring continually, until they are fragrant and browned. Be sure to remove them from the pan when they’re done or they will burn. They keep in the fridge for a while, although I’ve never determined exactly how long because I make up excuses to eat them.

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Jambalaya

2 T. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 bell peppers (1 green, 1 red), chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 links smoked sausage, diced
3 links andouille sausage, diced
2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
1 ½ c. long grain rice
1 ½ c. tomato sauce, or puree
3 1/2 c. water
2 c. frozen whole kernel corn

Heat oil in large dutch oven or heavy pot with lid. Add the onions, and the green pepper. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes, stirring often. Add in the red and jalapeno pepper and sauté for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add in the garlic and cook until fragrant. Reduce heat to medium low, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, brown the andouille and smoked sausage. Drain off any accumulated fat and add in chicken. Sear and cook until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat. Meat can be slightly underdone at this point; it will cook further with the rice and vegetable mix. Add rice to pepper/onion mixture and stir to coat with oil. Cook, stirring frequently until rice browns slightly, about 5-7 minutes. Add in tomato product and stir to coat. Pour in water, corn and meats, stir to combine. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 20-25 minutes, or until liquid is gone and rice is cooked

RECIPE NOTES: Feel free to sub any kind of sausage you wish; chorizo would be good in this. I used smoked turkey sausage, along with the andouille and it was very nice. I use uncooked andouille and removed the casings, browning and breaking the meat up in the skillet.

If shrimp is your thing, toss those in as well. Skip the corn if you don’t care for it, or add in some legumes if you want. A 15-oz can of black beans is a nice addition. They can be stirred in at the end and allowed to gently warm.

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