Sunday, October 30, 2011

"Ultimate" Chocolate Brownies

As I've  previously mentioned, I am reluctant to use the words "best" or "ultimate" in connection with any recipe because we all have our own definition of what makes something the best or the ultimate. Brownies are no exception.  Do you like fudgey or cakey, made with melted chocolate squares or powdered chocolate, or maybe you like them blonde? Thick or thin? Frosted or unfrosted? With nuts or without?  See what I mean?  Lots of variables before one can apply the moniker "ultimate" but as this recipe was entitled "Ultimate Chocolate Brownies," I decided to leave the name alone and let you decide if they deserve the designation.

Personally, I like a thick cakey brownie with walnuts.  I'm not crazy about fudgey brownies, because if I wanted fudge, I'd make fudge, but sometimes with a cakey brownie, they can be, well, too cake-like.  Enter the "uultimate" brownie.  This brownie seems to have the best of both worlds.  The chocolate flavor shines through brilliantly, with just enough flour to hold it together and give it a  moist, cake-like texture without being too fudgey.  I love the sugary crust that formed on the top as it baked, a mark of an appealing brownie to my eyes.

The directions are easy-peasy, lemon squeezy, but you will  need a stand mixer or be able to stand and mix for what seems like forever in order for the brownies to develop the volume required. 

Ultimate Chocolate Brownies

8 one-ounce squares of unsweetened chocolate
1 cup butter

5 eggs
3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts, lightly toasted

Grease a 9" x 13" baking pan.  Preheat oven to 350*F (or 325*F for glass or dark metal pan). 

Unwrap the chocolate squares.  In a small to medium sized saucepan, over low heat, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring constantly to prevent burning the chocolate.   Remove from heat and set aside.

While the chocolate is cooling, in a mixer beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla at high speed for ten minutes

Blend in the chocolate mixture, flour and salt until just mixed.  Stir in the nuts.  Pour into prepared pan.

Bake brownies for 35 to 40 minutes, taking care not to overbake.  Cool before cutting. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Egg Custard Pie by Moody's Diner

Ever overbuy on a particular ingredient and then run out of time to use it?  I'm surprised at how many bunches of celery I have, or butter (I have at 8 pounds of butter most times), and eggs and milk.  It's like every time I go to the grocery store, these items jump into my cart and follow me home.

This week, I had two dozen eggs I had to use.  I get hinky when foods get close to their sell-by date, (I know that's not the same as expiration date, but nevertheless, for me it's use it or lose it) and that prompts me to pore through my cookbooks, which lead me to custard pie. 

I cannot tell you the last time I had a custard pie ~ probably when my own beloved grandmother made them decades ago.  When I asked Sweetie-Pi about custard pie, he had fond recollections of his grandmother's custard pies, so it must be a grandma thing, smiles. Regardless, if you have grandchildren or not, when you have plenty of eggs and milk you need to use up, and only pantry items to make dessert, you can't go wrong making this.  It goes together quickly and easily, with nothing fancy but plenty of delicious reward..

Grandmas aren't the only ones who have a reputation for their custard pies.  They seem to be a mainstay dessert of many roadside diners. I love the diner experience:  unpretentious food,  the booths with Formica topped tables and red vinyl bench seats, stools at long counter tops, chalkboard menus, and waitresses who seem to call everyone "Hon."   Here in New England, one of the better known diners is Moody's Diner, located in Waldoboro, Maine.  I haven't had the good fortune to eat there (though Sweetie-Pi claims he has when he lived in Maine, and says their deserve their renown) but I do have the good fortune of having their cookbook, What's Cooking at Moody's Diner.  When I saw their recipe, I knew it was the one I had to make.

Moody's Custard Pie
(from What's Cooking at Moody's Diner)

8 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 level tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon salt
5 cups milk

In a large bowl, beat eggs with flour, salt, sugar and nutmeg. Stir in milk** and pour batter through strainer into deep 9-inch pie shell.  Bake 15 minutes at 400*F and reduce heat to 325*F and bake 25 to 30 minutes** or until pie is set.

My Notes:  This makes a lot of custard.  Even with my deep dish Pyrex pie plate, I still had probably a half a cup of custard that wouldn't fit into the pie plate. Would have made a nice single cup of custard if you wanted to take the time to cook it in a hot water bath, I think.

Do not skip straining the custard through a sieve.  It helps to smooth out the custard, removing any lumps of flour or strings of egg.

No way did this cook in the time allotted.  At the end of  30 minutes, my pie was very undercooked.  In total, I probably added another 15 minutes of cooking time.  Let me forewarn you, however.  My oven does not like to cook custard anything; I have the same issues with bread pudding.  Your best bet is to use a very thin knife at the end of 25 minutes and pierce the center of the pie.  If the knife comes out clean, the pie is done.  The center will still look wobbly, but that's fine as the pie will firm up once it's cooled completely.  Be careful not to overcook the pie as it will turn watery. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Old Fashioned Butter Cake

How to start this post?  YUMMMM...we loved this cake...we couldn't stay away from it...we ate it for dessert and then we ate it for breakfast...  This beautiful cake recipe is a 100 year old treasure and a keeper!  Reeni of Cinnamon Girl discovered this recipe in an old McCall's cookbook published in 1910, and she too fell in love with this fluffy, moist, easy-to-prepare cake and was good enough to share it with the rest of us so that we could enjoy it as well.  Thank you, Reeni!  If you are not familiar with Reeni's blog, please take a few minutes to go and visit her.  Her food is fabulous, and her photography makes you want more!

At first I was skeptical that a cake recipe made with all-purpose flour could be be both fluffy and moist; in the past, I've only achieved that kind of result when using cake flour.  Also, I pretty consistently only have King Arthur Flour in the pantry, which tends to make a denser (but still delicious!) cake.  Imagine my surprise when my first bite revealed a cake that surpassed all expectations.  I don't know if it's the one tablespoon of baking powder or the four minutes total of beating, but whatever, the secret, this recipe works!
This will be a recipe that I will turn to again and again.

Old Fashioned Butter Cake
(from Reeni's Cinnamon Girl blog

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1  1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350*F.  Grease and flour two 8 inch x 2 inch baking pans and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

Add butter, milk, and vanilla.  With a hand mixer, beat for  2 minutes, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl. 

Add eggs and beat for 2 minutes more.

Pour batter into prepared pans, dividing equally between the pans.  Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Remove from oven.

Cool in the pans for 10 minutes and then turn cakes out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Frost with your favorite frosting.  I used my favorite chocolate frosting, the one on the back of the Hersey's cocoa can. 

"Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Frosting

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter or margarine
2/3 cup Hershey's cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar (confectioners' sugar)
1/3 cup milk  (plus an additional few drops to make a nice consistency)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt butter.  Stir in cocoa.  Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating on medium speed to spreading consistency.  Add more milk if needed.  Stir in vanilla.  About 2 cups frosting

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tomato Juice

It's been a while since I've chatted with you, but it hasn't been for lack of desire.  It's been a crazy summer, one of sadness, misfortune, miscommunication, and just downright cosmic ornery-ness, it seems.  We all go through these cycles, and it was just my turn to endure and grow and learn from it all.

In the meantime, I haven't done a lot of new cooking, relying on the quick and familiar in an uncertain time. However, one of the goals I had set for myself this season was to have a small garden and learn how to do some canning.  I turned the plot over by hand (as I said, it was a small garden), fertilized and planted, and everything seemed to go along swimmingly. I was so happy to see my little garden flourishing!

Then the rains came.  Soft and gentle at first, and we were happy to see it water the garden,  And then it didn't stop, and then it rained so hard that my yard flooded, became a pond, and a lot of my back-breaking effort was washed away. I am not complaining; our sister state, Vermont, has suffered severe losses of homes and property, and businesses.  Some roads are still barely passable.  For us, it was more of an inconvenience so we were fortunate to be able to  salvage what we could, and a few gorgeous tomatoes were among them.

We drink a lot of tomato juice in this household, maybe a half a gallon every week and we never seem to tire of it.  We take the occasional break and try other juices but always return to tomato juice, so it was no big surprise that I decided to try homemade tomato juice.

Just let me assure you that there is no comparison!  Good golly, Miss Molly, this was good!  It took a little getting used to because everthing was fresh (and admittedly gave poor Ole Sweetie-Pi "bubbles in the belly" because he's not accustomed to consuming glasses and glasses of fresh veggies, smiles).

If you enjoy having fresh vegetables, no preservatives or chemical addivities, I believe you'll enjoy this.  It's like drinking liquid sunshine.

Tomato Juice

12 medium tomatoes, cored and cut into quarters
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup chopped onion
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 teaspoon minced fresh parsley
1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Combine the first six ingredients in a Dutch oven and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover, and allow to simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Put the vegetables through a food mill or a sieve, squeezing out as much liquid as possible.  Discard cooked vegetables (or if you're clever and frugal, perhaps use in a soup?)

To the juice, add the spices. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your personal taste.   Chill the juice thoroughly before serving.