Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Avocado Toast with Poached Eggs

Schmearing or putting thin slices of a rich, buttery avocado on toast hardly seems worthy of a blog post. Although in my defense, I am not the first one to do so and probably will not be the last. Because when something is healthy, slightly indulgent, simple to make, a significant departure from a traditional breakfast, and beautiful on a plate, it seems justifiable to talk about. There are hundreds of 'recipes' (using the term loosely) out there for avocado toast. In reality they are merely multiple ways of showcasing the current obsession we have with the avocado. One that doesn't seem to have an expiration date.

Some claim we have the Australians to thank for this essentially open faced sandwich. But others aren't so quick to give them full credit for a culinary 'invention' believed to have been around for awhile. Regardless of where the concept of putting avocado on bread came from or where it first appeared on a menu, there is one thing we might all be able to agree on. It's insanely delicious. Making it worthy of all of the hype this no clear end in sight 'food' trend has been receiving.

Given the choice of slathering your toast with butter or "nature's butter", which would you choose? I suppose the answer depends in part on deciding whether your choices are influenced by their nutritional value. Would knowing an avocado has 'twice the potassium of a banana, are packed with fiber, help lower levels of bad cholesterol and have powerful anti-aging properties' sway you one way or other? Until any new nutritional researcher debunks all of these claims,  choosing"nature's butter" seems like one of the easiest choices to make.

Topping the avocado with a poached egg (or over easy egg if that's what you like) makes it feel more like a complete meal, and less like you are eating avocado bruschetta for breakfast.

If you haven't yet jumped on the avocado toast bandwagon, one with a significant social media presence, there is still time. 

Avocado Toast with Poached Eggs 

1 ripe avocado, halved, seed removed, thinly sliced
1 lemon, halved
Everything Bagel Seasoning Blend (from Trader Joe's or make your own)
2 pieces of  rye, pumpernickel, whole grain or sourdough bread, toasted
1 or 2 poached eggs (or over easy eggs)

1. Before removing the sliced avocados from their skin, squeeze half of a lemon over each one. Place on toasted bread.
2. Sprinkle with Everything Bagel Seasoning Blend and top with a poached egg (or over easy eggs).
3. Serve immediately.

Notes: (1) You could also mash up the avocado and spread on the toast. Squeeze the lemon juice into the mashed avocado. Sprinkling with the Everything Bagel Seasoning Blend after the mashed avocado is spread on the toast. (2) If you can't find or don't have a Trader Joe's near you, make your own everything topping. A recipe for one can be found on this Everything Chicken Puffs link.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Raspberry Brownies

Happy Valentine's Day! Happy Galentine's Day! Happy 106th birthday to the state of Arizona! If there was ever a day calling for something decadent, something chocolate, it would be this day! However, for those of you who give up sweets for Lent, this has to be one of those days where chocolate temptation is everywhere around you. You might even wonder if you should have given up something else. But for those of you with enough will power to take you through the next 40 days, bookmark this Raspberry Brownie recipe. Because if you love a fudgy, intensely chocolate brownie, you will want to make this brownie. For those you gave up something else or don't give up anything at all, it is your lucky day. You don't have to wait to make them!

Over the past fifteen years, there have been a number of variations made to the well published, highly touted brownie recipe attributed to Katharine Hepburn. Some have reduced the amount of sugar; some have replaced the unsweetened chocolate with cocoa powder; some have increased or doubled the amount of flour; some have added additional chocolate; some have added coffee granules; and some have added another layer of flavor in the middle of the brownies. The addition of a thin layer of flavor, in the form of raspberry preserves, came from Maida Heatter as shared in her cookbook "Book of Great American Desserts". When I read 'If they gave Oscars for Brownies, this would win" in Maida Heatter's description of the Raspberry Brownies, the to make/not to make decision was made. When Maida Heatter, 'America's First Lady of Desserts', so boldly makes such a claim, I admit I wanted to believe her.

If there was ever cookbook author I have admired, it would be Maida Heatter. Since 1983 she has had eleven cookbooks published. I own ten of them them. Not including a double copy of the "Book of Great American Desserts". At one time I thought it had lost this book, so I ordered another one. As luck would have it I found the first book within days after receiving the second copy. If food blogs and instagram were around when Maida Heatter first starting sharing her recipes she would undoubtedly be the undisputed foodblog and social media dessert goddess. Although maybe she and Alice Medrich would share this title as both of these women have unselfishly shared not only their recipes but their baking knowledge. Their cookbooks both inspire and teach. Having made numerous recipes from Maida Heatter's cookbooks, I have never been disappointed.

And these Raspberry Brownies did not disappoint.

I made three changes to the ingredients in Maida's Raspberry Brownie recipe. None of them truly radical. I used caster sugar instead of granulated sugar, toasted the walnuts, and increased the amount of all-purpose flour from 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup. If you don't have caster sugar, you could absolutely use granulated sugar. If you don't normally toast your nuts before putting them in your baked goods, you really should. It honestly makes a difference. And if you like gooey, but not overly gooey brownies, then you will love the slight increase in all-purpose flour.

I also made some changes to the techniques use in the making of these brownies. After melting the chocolate and butter, I transferred the mixture to a bowl before adding the sugar, vanilla, and salt; used a hand mixer instead of a spoon to make these brownies; sifted the flour; used parchment paper to line the baking pan instead of aluminum foil; and, finished them with a dusting of Dutch-processed cocoa and confectionary sugar. Again, none of these changes were truly radical. But they were all ones I would highly recommend.

The use of an 8" square pan would be one of the non-negotiable aspects of this Raspberry Brownie recipe. The baked brownies are slightly thicker than 1/2". They would lose their moist, gooeyness if a larger pan was used. One of the distinctive, addictive features of this brownie.

These Raspberry Brownies take longer to make than the original Katharine Hepburn recipe due to the assembly process. But the extra time is worth it. After evenly spreading half of the batter into the prepared baking pan, it is covered with aluminum foil and placed in the refrigerator for approximately 30 minutes. Which is just long enough to firm up the bottom layer, making it easier to spread the raspberry preserves in a very thin layer over it.

After evenly spreading the remaining brownie batter over the preserve layer, the brownies sit at room temperature for approximately 30-45 minutes, giving the bottom layer some time to thaw before going into a preheated 325 degree (F) oven.

The baking time for these Raspberry Brownies ranges between 35 and 40 minutes.

So would these Raspberry Brownies win an Oscar? I would vote for them.

These are kind of brownies where it eating just one is extremely difficult. If you consider yourself a chocoholic, these are the kind of brownies you want to eat when you have a craving for chocolate.

If you are a big fan of the flavors of raspberry and chocolate, you will love these Raspberry Brownies. You might also love these Raspberry Truffle Brownies. If make either of these recipes, you will definitely make someone's heart really happy. Especially your own.

Raspberry Brownies (inspired by the Raspberry Brownie recipe shared in Maida Heatter's Book of Great American Desserts)
Makes 16 two inch brownies

2 ounces (57 g) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla 
1 cup (200 g) caster or granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup (43 g) all-purpose flour, sifted
1 cup (112 g) walnuts, roasted, and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup (108 g) raspberry preserves (seeded or unseeded)
Optional: Dutch processed cocoa powder and confectionary sugar for dusting

1. Line an 8" square baking pan with parchment paper. Lightly butter or lightly apply cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Place butter and chocolate in a small heavy bottomed saucepan. Over low heat, stir frequently until melted. Transfer mixture to a medium sized bowl.
3. Immediately add in salt, vanilla and sugar. Blend using a hand held mixer. 
4. Add in eggs one at a time, beating until well incorporated.
5. Add in sifted flour, beating on low speed until there are no flour streaks.
6. Stir in walnuts. The batter will be thick.
7. Scrape half of the batter into the prepared plan. Smooth using an offset spatula. Cover with aluminum foil and place in the freezer for 30 minutes or until just firm enough to spread raspberry preserves. 
8. Spread the raspberry preserves in a very thin layer evenly over the bottom brownie layer. 
9. Spoon remaining batter on top the preserve layer. Carefully spread using an offset spatula or spoon.
10. Let mixture stand for 30-45 minutes until the bottom frozen layer has thawed.
11. While waiting for the mixture to thaw, preheat oven to 325 degrees (F).
12. When ready to place the pan in the oven, bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted gently in the middle comes out clean Do not over bake.
13. Transfer pan to a cooling rack. Allow brownies to cool to room temperature. 
14. Place pan in the freezer until firmed up (approximately 30-45 minutes). 
15. Remove brownies from the pan. 
16. Sift Dutch-processed cocoa powder and/or confectionary sugar over the top. 
17. Cut into 2" squares. Serve immediately and/or wrap in cellophane.
18. Brownies are really good at room temperature but incredibly great when chilled. Store brownies (well-wrapped) in the refrigerator.

Notes: (1) These Raspberry Brownies can be made a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Serving them chilled optimizes their flavor and fudgy texture. 

Winter at Morton Arboretum, February 2017 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Pot Roast with Roasted Vegetables

A year ago this week we were in Oahu, a piece of heaven on earth, with friends enjoying the warm weather, ocean breezes, white sandy beaches, blue skies, and exquisite landscapes. If I close my eyes I can still take myself back there. Like some say, what a difference a year makes. It has been snowing for four days here in the midwest. Double digit snow accumulations along with icy, snow packed roads have made for less than desirable driving or running conditions. Getting the long and circular driveways shoveled are exhausting, but not as energizing, as a boot camp workout. Before this snowpocolyse began Thursday evening, I along with hundreds of others, filled a large cart, and waited in the long lines at one of my local grocery stores. This was not a milk and bread mission. Anticipating this hyped winter storm would actually come to fruition, I put together a grocery list containing all of the ingredients needed to make some long over due comfort foods. The Potato Leek Soup and this Pot Roast with Roasted Vegetables were two things I thought would not only get us through the snowy weekend, but would make for some great leftover meals in the upcoming week. Which would mean each time I opened up the refrigerator door I could find myself saying 'Hello Delicious' outloud.

Pot Roast, a timeless combination of melt in your mouth beef, seasoned root vegetables, and a rich, velvety gravy, is quintessentially classic American comfort food. The method of slow cooking meat in a liquid is a century old technique (aka braising), but one not appearing in American cookbooks until the late 19th century. Beef chuck, brisket, short ribs, and pork shoulder, generally considered tougher cuts of meat, have always been considered ideal braising options, as they are rich in marbled fat and connective tissue. Over a long, slow cooking process those qualities convert to gelatin, resulting in swoonworthy, fork tender, pull-apart perfection bites of deliciousness. Many of us grew up with Pot Roasts gracing the Sunday dinner table. When craving the taste of a childhood memory meal, we might find ourselves seeking it out on diner menus. Yet, invariably we never seem to find a Pot Roast to live up to the ones we remembered. Get ready to create new memories.

Cooking options for a Pot Roast are roasting in the oven or cooking in a slow cooker. This one stays with a traditional approach and uses the oven method. Braising liquids used in Pot Roasts include he options of beef stock, red wine, or a combination of the two. This one uses only beef stock. The aromatics used to flavor the beef and subsequently the gravy range from a myriad of fresh herbs (rosemary and thyme being the most common) to dried herbs to fresh vegetables to spices to various combinations of all of the aforementioned. This version relies primarily on spices and fresh garlic, however, beef bouillon powder and Worcestershire sauce are critical flavor components.

Searing the beef is less about retaining moisture and much more about adding flavor. The key to a good sear is the use of a heavy bottomed pan, like a cast iron skillet, in order to prevent the meat from being 'steamed' rather than being 'seared'. Once seared, the beef is transferred to a roasting pan and the meat is studded with garlic cloves. After pouring the braising liquid over the beef, the pan is tightly covered with aluminum foil and inserted in a preheated 425 degree (F) oven for 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, top with carrots and parsnips, tightly recover the pan with foil, reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees (F), and then let cook for up to 5 hours or until it is pull apart fork tender. That's it! Sit back, go to yoga, read a book, watch a movie, sit in a hot tub, or shovel snow. Let the oven do all the work of melding the flavors together.

The difference between a too short or just right roasting time is the difference between a tough roast and one melt in your mouth, fork tender. After several hours of roasting, begin to check for doneness. My four and half pound chuck roast was done perfectly after four hours of roasting at 300 degrees (F), not including the thirty minutes of roasting at 425 degrees (F) for thirty minutes. (See Note below for cooking times.)

Between the beef stock you added to the roasting pan and the juices exuding from the beef, you should have somewhere between three and four cups of liquid at the end of the cooking process. This highly flavored liquid creates the most incredible gravy imaginable. Usually when making a gravy, I transfer the liquid to saucepan, combine some flour and milk together to make a paste, add a little of the heated liquid to the flour/milk mixture, pour that mixture into the saucepan, then whisk until the liquid turns to gravy. But the process for making this gravy is different. You begin by creating a roux with melted butter and flour in a saucepan. As soon as the roux takes on a light brown color (approximately 2-3 minutes of cooking time), slowly add in the liquid. Whisking until it reaches your desired state of gravy consistency. I honesty had a moment when I tasted this rich, velvety, deeply flavored gravy. And if gravies could win medals, this one would earn GOLD. I will never make a savory gravy any other way again. Never ever.

I love roasted potatoes but with a Pot Roast I much prefer mashed potatoes. Yukon Golds hand mashed with their skins on is how we roll here. 

The carrots and parsnips were sweet, fork tender, and went perfectly with this Pot Roast. Of course, Ina Garten has been pairing these two root vegetables for years. If you have never had parsnips before, this Pot Roast gives you the perfect opportunity to discover how deliciously sweet they are.

When serving the Pot Roast, ladle some of the gravy over the meat and arrange the roasted vegetables around it. Sprinkle with chopped flat leaf parsley and bring this jaw dropping platter to the table. This Pot Roast is seriously throw down worthy. In my fantasy world, someone invites me and the Pioneer Woman to a Pot Roast throwdown and this one wins! 

Pot Roast with Roasted Vegetables (inspired from multiple sources)
Serves 6-8

3-5 pound chuck roast, trimmed
2 Tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
4-6 garlic cloves, peeled, quartered
3 cups beef broth
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 Tablespoons dry minced onion
2 Tablespoons beef bouillon powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 fresh bay leaf (could use a dried bay leaf if fresh is not available)
2-3 pounds of carrots, peeled and kept whole
1-2 pounds of parsnips, peeled and kept whole
Optional: Chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish

2 cups of the broth/juice from the roast
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and pepper to taste

1. Remove chuck roast from the refrigerator at least one hour prior to cooking.
2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees (F).
3. Heat olive oil or vegetable oil over high heat in a cast iron or heavy skillet. Sear meat on all sides until browned (approximately 2-3 minutes per side). Transfer meat to a large roasting pan.
4. Insert garlic clove slivers into the roast.
5. In a large mixing bowl/cup, whisk together the beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, dry minced onion, beef bouillon powder, garlic powder, kosher salt, black pepper, and bay leaf. Pour over the roast.
6. Cover the roasting pan tightly with aluminum foil. Roast for 30 minutes.
7. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees (F). Remove pan from oven, add the carrots and parsnips. Recover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Continue to roast for an additional 4-5 hours. Roast is ready when it is fall apart tender.
8. Remove carrots and parsnips from the roasting pan. Place on a baking sheet and return to the oven to keep warm.
9. Transfer roast to a serving board, cut against the grain in 1/2" slices and place on a large serving platter.  Cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm while you make the gravy.
10. Melt butter in a medium sized saucepan. Add in the 1/4 cup flour and whisk to create a roux. Cook for 2-3 minutes, whisking continuously, until the roux is lightly browned.
11. Slowly stir in two cups of the juices/broth from the roasting pan. Simmer until gravy has thickened. Season to taste with kosher salt and pepper.
12. Arrange carrots and parsnips around the roast. Drizzle some of the gravy over the roast, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve. Put remaining gravy in a gravy boat.

Notes: (1) Recommend serving with homemade mashed potatoes rather than putting the potatoes in with the roast. (2) Roasting time will vary based on the size of the roast. For a 3 pound roast allow 3 to 3 1/2 hours, for a 4 to 5 pound roast, allow for 4 to 5 hours of cooking time. (3) You should have at least 3 to 4 cups of roasting broth/juices which would enable you to make a double batch of the gravy. (3) When cutting the pot roast, cut across the grain. (4) Leftovers reheat beautifully in a low temperature oven or in the microwave. Any leftover pot roast also makes great sandwiches.

Oahu, February 2017

Friday, February 9, 2018

Potato Leek Soup

A little more than a week ago the groundhog saw his shadow, predicting at least six more weeks of winter. A couple of days ago came the first snowmaggedon forecast of the season. With the potential for ten to twelve inches of snow I decided I should go into savory comfort food making mode. The kind of food to warm you up after spending hours shoveling the snow. At the top of the list was soup.

One of my friends shared she had made some Potato Leek Soup last week. As I thought about what soup to make, I kept coming back to Potato Leek Soup. It's simple to make, unapologetically hearty, and creamy. All good things.

A large bowl of velvety Potato Leek Soup paired with a salad would make a perfect lunch or light dinner. It's the kind of soup destined to leave you feeling full, feeling satisfied. Two really good things. 

Leeks have a way of taking the humble potato to a new level of deliciousness. Many recipes for Potato Leek Soup call for either the use of Yukon Gold or Russet Potatoes. More specifically they advise against the use of waxy potatoes as they break down more slowly and can render a glue-like texture to the finished soup. 

In general, most Potato Leek Soup recipes there will be a slightly higher proportion of potatoes to leeks. However, some prefer to have equal amounts of each while others call for a higher ratio of leeks to potatoes. This recipe used two pounds of potatoes (Yukon Gold) and one and a half pounds of leeks. 

Some Potato Leek Soup purists use only leeks and potatoes. This less classic version adds celery, garlic, and shallots to the mix. 

Use only the white and light green part of the leeks. Throw the dark green leafy portion away. After cutting the leeks lengthwise, rinse in water to remove any of the sandy soil lurking between its layers. Slice the leeks crosswise into thin half-moons. 

To bring out the most flavor of the leeks, cook them slowly without letting them brown. Sauté them over a low heat in either vegetable oil or butter along with the chopped celery and shallots for approximately 10-15 minutes or until they are soft. Add in the garlic and sauté for 45-60 seconds, long enough to release it's fragrance.

Add the chicken stock, potatoes, bay leaf, and springs of thyme. Bring first to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are knife tender.

Many Potato Leek Soup recipes call for pureeing it in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender. The use of any of those tools will contribute to a finished soup's gluey texture. To prevent this, remove the potatoes and put them through a ricer. This extra step is definitely worth the time as it will give the finished soup a richer, more velvety texture.

After removing the potatoes, the bay leave and thyme sprigs, process the soup in batches using a food processor, blender or immersion blender (I used a food processor) until it reaches your desired state of creaminess. Transfer the soup puree to a clean pot and add in the riced potatoes. Whisk in the heavy cream, season with salt and pepper, and reheat. The addition of heavy cream enhances the soup's flavor and richness. If  you want a slightly less rich soup, add in milk or additional chicken stock instead. Note: This is a very thick soup, so if you want a thinner soup, add a little more chicken stock.

After ladling the soup into bowls, finish with a drizzle of a good quality olive oil and a garnish some chopped chives. Then sit back, savor its' deliciousness, and enjoy the moment.

If there was ever a soup to warm your soul, especially on a cold, snowy winter day, it would be this utterly satisfying Potato Leek Soup. We loved this soup the day it was made, but we loved it even more the second day as the flavors even further developed. So when either the turns cold or you have a craving for soup, put this Potato Leek Soup on the very top of your list. 

Potato Leek Soup (Several adaptations to the Potato-Leek Soup recipe in the cookbook 'Bon Appetit Y'All' by Virginia Willis.)

3 Tablespoons vegetable oil or unsalted butter
2 stalks celery finely diced
3 leeks (approximately 1 1/2 pounds), white and pale green parts only, well washed, halved, and thinly sliced into half-moons
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
1 quart (32 ounces) homemade or store bought chicken stock (low-sodium or unsalted)
1 fresh bay leaf
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
Salt and pepper to taste (Note: I used black pepper, but if you don't want the specks of pepper to show in the finished soup, use white pepper.)
Optional: Good quality olive oil and/or chopped chives for finishing

1. In a medium-large sized cast-iron Dutch oven or heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat oil or melt butter. Add the celery, shallots, and leeks. Cook until soft,  stirring occasionally, but not browned. Approximately 10-15 minutes. 
2. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant (45-60 seconds).
3. Add the potatoes, chicken stock, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer until the potatoes are knife tender (15-20 minutes). 
4. Remove the bay leaf and thyme. Discard.
5. Remove the potatoes and place in a bowl. Put the potatoes through a ricer. Set aside.
6. In a food processor or blender, pour in the remaining soup mixture. Puree until smooth. Approximately 2 minutes. Return soup to a clean pot.
7. Return the riced potatoes to the pureed soup mixture. Whisk in the heavy cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Heat soup over medium heat until it's temperature ready to serve. Note: If the soup is too thick for your liking, add a little more chicken stock.
8. Ladle soup into bowls. Finish with a drizzle of good quality olive oil and chopped chives.
9. Refrigerate any leftover soup. It will be good several days.

(1) Could use Russet instead of Yukon Gold Potatoes in this soup. (2) If the texture of the soup is too thick for your taste, add a little more chicken stock until it reaches your desired texture. (3) Paired with a salad, you have a perfect lunch and/or light dinner. (4) If you don't have ricer, process the soup mixture in batches in a blender or food processor until smooth. The texture of a blender finished soup may have a slightly gluey consistency.

Gray winter morning at Morton Arboretum (February 2018)