Persian Breakfast

One thing that most of us love is when we go to a restaurant and the server brings out a little starter. Sometimes it is chips and salsa, or a warm loaf of bread and butter. One restaurant that I love brings out a cathead black pepper topped biscuit along with honey and blueberry jam, but my favorite starter is from my favorite restaurant. It is the Persian breakfast served at Pomegranate on Main in Greenville, SC.

Until my first visit to this restaurant, I’d never heard of it, but it is something that was a bit of a revelation to me after my first bite. After we placed our order, our server returned to our table with a lovely platter and asked if we’d ever had a Persian breakfast. When we replied that we had not, the server went on to explain that what she’d brought to our table was know as the Persian breakfast, and instructed us to take a piece of the flatbread, spread it with butter, then top it with radish, feta and fresh mint. This was not a combination I’d ever tried, but as with most foods, I was opened minded. I did as instructed, and with the first taste, I was hooked! It is hard to explain how just a few simple ingredients can pack such a flavorful punch, but it does. In this case, the sum is far greater than the parts.

Because this is such a simple combination of ingredients, it is easy to bring this dish home to enjoy over and over again. I’ve served this as a starter when having a family gathering, or as a snack on movie night, and I find that every time I make it, I want to do a little happy dance, and sometimes if no one is looking, I do. I’ve found that the fresher and higher quality the ingredients, the better it tastes. I’m lucky to have a large pot of fresh mint growing on my patio, and sometimes grow my own radishes, but often just pick up a bunch from the grocery store. The better the Feta, the better the dish. I have recently discovered that Costco sells an organic Feta imported from Greece that is just delicious, but I’ve also enjoyed it with whatever was on sale at the grocery store. I’ve used both pita bread and naan and enjoyed them both. I’m sure homemade would be better – goals!

If you do a little research, you’ll see variations of Persian breakfast that are much more elaborate, but because I am only conveying my experience, I’ll keep it simple.

Persian Breakfast

1 Package of Pita Bread or other Flatbread

1 Bunch of Radishes, sliced

1 Block of Feta Cheese, sliced

Salted Butter

1 Bunch of Fresh Mint and/ or Basil

Cut flatbreads into bite sized pieces. Spread each piece with butter. Top with sliced radish, sliced feta and fresh mint or basil leaves.

Persian Breakfast

Yes, this is incredibly simple, but it is good and so worth the effort you didn’t have to make!

S’more Pudding

You may recall from my last post that I was working on an idea for a peach pudding. The test run of the recipe I created didn’t turn out as I had hoped it would, so I tabled the idea for another time.

The next week I headed off to the beach for a vacation with my family, and I guess the idea of creating a pudding recipe was still floating around somewhere in my brain. I have often said that inspiration can come when you least expect it, and that is exactly what happened during my trip.

One of the things we enjoy doing during a beach vacation is taking an evening stroll on the beach to fly a kite and enjoy the cooler air after a hot day. We also enjoy visiting one of the fire pits where we stay after our kite flying. Families often stop by to warm up in the cool evening air, to sit and talk, or to toast marshmallows and make s’mores.

The smell of toasted marshmallows, along with the smell of coconut from suntan lotion, were two scents that kept finding their way into my nose during the week. By Wednesday, I knew that my next blog would feature something using one of those two flavors! By Friday, the thought of trying another pudding that featured toasted marshmallows was in my head, and just like that today’s idea was born.

My first idea was to blend toasted marshmallows into the milk that I would use to make the pudding. I thought that would be a simple and logical way to get the flavor that I was looking for, and it worked – at first. The blended toasted marshmallow milk combo tasted exactly like a toasted marshmallow should.

Happy with the direction in which I was headed, I continued by making a graham cracker crust for the bottom of each pudding ramekin. Once that was in place, I went ahead with cooking the pudding and spooning it over each crust. When I was done, off it went to the refrigerator to cool and set.

As you can see from the pictures above, the toasted marshmallows gave the milk a bit of a brownish/greyish color. With the addition of whipped cream and broken chocolate bar pieces to finish off the s’more concept, the interesting color was hidden away!

The color really didn’t surprise me, but the taste test sure did! Cooking can often lead to some interesting or even mysterious results, as was the case with my first attempt. The mystery in this case was the missing toasted marshmallow flavor. All of the awesome flavor that was in the milk prior to cooking somehow vanished during the cooking process! What was left was some sort of nondescript flavor – not quite marshmallow or vanilla, just some sort of sweet pudding.

It wasn’t necessarily unpleasant, but it totally missed the mark on the flavor I was going for. I walked away with another not quite right pudding, but I was determined to make this idea work and not end up with another tabled project! After taking a day off to consider a new direction, I went to work again.

The idea this time was to make a simple vanilla pudding and garnish it with an intact toasted marshmallow, along with pieces of graham cracker and chocolate bar. The new plan worked, and I came up with a winner! The toasted marshmallow blended well with the vanilla pudding while eating it and gave me the flavor I was looking for. The presentation on my second attempt blew away my first attempt as well – with a few changes, this easy to make recipe looked as good as it tasted.

S’more pudding

S’more Pudding

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons corn starch
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 5 s’more sized marshmallows or 10 regular sized marshmallows – toasted
  • 2 1/2 graham crackers split into 10 quarter sized pieces
  • 15 sections of chocolate bar, such as Hershey’s chocolate bars

Combine the sugar, corn starch and salt in a bowl and set aside.

Add the milk and vanilla to a medium sized pot. Heat the liquid mixture on a medium setting until it just starts to come to a boil. Add in the dry ingredients a little at a time while continuously stirring to ensure that they are well incorporated.

Continue to cook for another minute or two until the pudding begins to thicken. You want it to reach the point where it easily sticks to a spoon without sliding off – you don’t want it to get too thick or lumps will begin to form.

Immediately remove the pudding from the heat and evenly spoon it into 5 ramekins or other small bowls. Refrigerate for at least two hours, or until the pudding is cold and has set.

Just before serving, place 1 s’more sized (or 2 regular sized) toasted marshmallow(s) on top of each dish of pudding, and then stick two quarters of graham cracker into each dish and top with 3 pieces of chocolate.

We really enjoyed this fun twist on an old classic treat. The next time you are hosting a barbecue and s’mores come to mind, why not give it a try? The fun presentation will make your guests think that you put a lot of work into making it, but the reality is it doesn’t take much work at all!

Until next time, I hope you all have a great weekend.

Chia Seed Pudding

The chia seed pudding craze is certainly not a new thing, it has been going on for several years now. We are however, in our house, late comers to the party! I liked the idea of a pudding that was easy to make and would set overnight in the refrigerator without needing to be cooked. I also liked the idea of the health benefits that chia seeds provide, such as being high in fiber and Omega 3, as well as containing many other beneficial nutrients.

There are literally thousands of recipes out there, but I often like to play with ingredients I haven’t used before and try to figure out how to work with them on my own. Once I read about the basics of how chia seeds work for making a pudding, I set out to figure out what ratio of liquid to seeds would work best for me.

On my first attempt, I went with 1 tablespoon of seeds and 1/2 cup of milk, but found that while it did thicken a bit, it was still too runny. Clearly, I didn’t put in enough seeds to get the job done, so I tried again the next day with the same amount of milk and 2 tablespoons of seeds, and the texture and thickness were just right.

Once I had the proper ratio of seeds to liquid down, the sky became the limit on how to flavor it, what toppings to add, etc. I tried several different combinations, and really enjoyed most of them. One or two of the varieties I created didn’t really work for me, but I love that I can test out new varieties by making only one portion at a time. If it’s not a winner, at least a lot of ingredients weren’t wasted.

One of my favorite creations is the recipe I am including today. It is scaled to make 4 portions, but it can easily be adjusted to make more, or less depending on your needs.

Chocolate Cinnamon Chia Pudding

  • 8 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 2 cups almond milk
  • 4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 packets sweetener, such as Splenda or Stevia
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Toasted coconut and toasted almonds to sprinkle on top of each pudding before serving (optional)

Choose 4 small bowls or cups for your pudding. Put 2 tablespoons of chia seeds into each and set aside.

In a medium sized mixing bowl, add the almond milk, cocoa powder, vanilla, sweetener, and cinnamon. Whisk all the ingredients together until well combined, about 2 minutes.

Pour equal amounts of the liquid mixture over the seeds in each bowl and stir each one until the seeds are mixed in.

Cover each bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours. While this is completely optional, I do like to stir the bowls again after they have been in the refrigerator for an hour to help evenly distribute the seeds once again – I have found that this step helps to prevent some clumping of the seeds.

Top with the toasted coconut and almonds (or other topping of your choice) if desired, and serve.

Chocolate cinnamon chia seed pudding

I’m glad I took some time to learn about and to try making chia seed pudding. I love how easy it is to make and how versatile it is as well. Not only can you change up the flavors to suit your taste, but you can also use a wide variety of base liquids, from milk to water, to juice, just to name a few. I also like that these easy to make ahead puddings are a great grab and go breakfast or snack option when you don’t have a lot of time to make something else.

Are you a chia seed pudding fan? What are some of your favorite varieties? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section. Until next time, have a great weekend!

New Kitchen Gadget – The Ninja Creami

Summertime brings with it many of the simple joys in life – getting together with friends, family vacations, barbecues and swimming on a hot day all come to mind.  Also included on my list of favorite things to enjoy during the summer months is eating ice cream, as well as other frozen treats. 

Shortly before summer began, my wife and I were flipping through the channels one weekend morning when she paused on QVC.  They were featuring a machine called the Ninja Creami that made ice cream as well as other sweet treats.  Having owned (and usually returned) other ice cream making machines in the past that didn’t really do what they promised, we are always a little leery of such devices.  After watching the presentation, something about this machine and the method used to make the ice cream made sense to me and seemed like it might actually work, so we decided to give it a shot.

The Ninja Creami comes in several colors – we chose the mint green.

Unlike other machines or makers that often rely on adding the ingredients to a large and bulky pre-frozen bowl, the process for this machine is different.  It comes with several pint sized containers (the bundle we bought that day included 5) and extras are available to purchase separately.  Instead of using a big frozen bowl to start the freezing process, you simply fill the containers with your ingredients, and freeze them until they are solid. 

When you are ready to enjoy one, you pull it out of the freezer, load it onto the machine and choose what type of treat you are blending.  The blending process uses a spinning blade that cuts through the bowl, turning the frozen block of ingredients into a smooth and creamy treat.

Blending modes include ice cream, lite ice cream, gelato, sorbet, smoothie bowl and milkshake.  The machine also has two additional modes – re-spin, which gives your treat a second quick blend if it still appears to be too frozen and not creamy enough, and mix-in mode which is used for adding extra items to your treat, such as chocolate chips.  

We wanted to give it a good test run before I wrote this entry, so we tried out a few of the recipes in the book, as well as some variations on those recipes and a couple of other simple ideas that we came up with ourselves.

Lite vanilla ice cream – this recipe was included in the recipe book.  We used the mix-in mode to blend in some mini chocolate chips.

Mint chocolate chip – This was a variation that we made to the lite vanilla ice cream recipe that was included in the book.

Chocolate – another variation to the lite vanilla ice cream recipe.

Mango passion fruit sorbet – a quick and easy recipe we made up.  A simple blend of mashed mango and passion fruit juice.

Banana – we made this one with very ripe bananas, milk,  vanilla, and some stevia.  It’s nice to have a new use for them other than banana bread!

Lite strawberry chia seed ice cream – this was a recipe from the book.  The original recipe called for blueberries, but we didn’t have any on hand, so we used strawberries instead.

Banana chocolate chip – same mix as the banana recipe above, with chocolate chips mixed in.

Chocolate milk – The name says it all… nothing but frozen chocolate milk put through the blending process.  As simple as it was, it turned out to be one of our favorites!  It reminded us of chocolate soft serve ice cream.

I’ve shared lots of nice pictures, but how did it all turn out?  Delicious!  The process was easy, and the end result made for a great treat we could all enjoy whenever the mood hit.  We were amazed that the light recipes we tried, which often used milk instead of cream, could end up being so smooth and creamy.  We were also big fans of the sorbet – with nothing more than frozen fruit and juice, it produced a very smooth and creamy treat. 

We love the fact that not only can we produce a lower fat ice cream option to enjoy, but also one that can be low in sugar by replacing some or all of the sugar with alternative sweeteners, such as stevia.  Another plus to this machine was that with many of the recipes we tried needing little more than some milk, flavoring and sweetener, a pint could be quite economical as well. 

I also appreciated that our package included 5 of the containers.  It was so easy to mix them all up in about 20 minutes to have several on hand in the freezer, ready to be blended up on demand. 

Does this mean we will never buy our favorite store bought ice cream or go to our favorite ice cream parlor again? Of course not! Those things are both enjoyable as well, but perhaps it does mean we would do so less often. There are so many recipes left to explore, and we haven’t even tried making milkshakes, gelato, or smoothie bowls yet.

On that note, it sounds like it may be time to mix up some new creations! Have a great weekend.

Loaded Brown Butter Oatmeal Cookies

I love oatmeal cookies. I love them with raisins and without. I love oatmeal lace cookies and oatmeal cookie bars and ones with nuts in them and… well, I think you get the point! They are without a doubt in my list of top three favorite cookies, perhaps even in the number one spot.

Recently I started to think about putting an idea together for an oatmeal cookie using brown butter. I love brown butter. It does amazing things to recipes, sweet and savory alike. In a sweet recipe such as the one I am sharing today, it plays off of and enhances the flavors of the cinnamon and vanilla as well as the flavor of the walnuts.

In a savory recipe it will also add an amazing extra depth and enhancement of flavors. One of of my favorite simple savory applications is to make brown butter with fresh sage served over pasta.

If you haven’t tried it before, I highly recommend it. While it is not particularly difficult to make, it does take a little extra time and patience, but I think you’ll be happy with the end result! Now, back to the topic at hand – the cookie recipe!

Loaded Brown Butter Oatmeal Cookies

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 3/4 cups dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 2 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Start by making the brown butter. To do this, put the 2 sticks of butter in a medium sized sauce pan and place over a low heat. Allow the butter to fully melt slowly and then swirl it in the pan frequently – about once a minute – until it changes from a pale yellow to a deep golden brown. Don’t walk away from the pan – brown butter can turn quickly from brown to burnt! Immediately remove from heat and pour it into a glass or metal mixing bowl.

Place the bowl in the refrigerator to allow the butter to solidify to the consistency of softened butter – this could take up to an hour.

Prepared brown butter

Spread the walnuts out on a baking sheet and toast them in a 350 degree oven until they are a deep brown color, about 7 to 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Rehydrate the cranberries by placing them in a bowl and covering them with boiling water. Allow them to soak for 15 minutes and then drain and set aside.

In a separate bowl, add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and oats. Stir together until well combined and set aside.

Once the brown butter has reached the proper softened consistency, add in the brown sugar and granulated sugar and mix together on low speed until combined. Once combined, switch to medium speed for 3 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the mixing paddle and then return to mixing at medium speed for another 3 to 5 minutes. The end result should be a very light and fluffy mixture that is even in color and the consistency of paste.

Scrape down the bowl and paddle again and then add in the vanilla and eggs. one at a time, on low until combined and then continue mixing for 1 minute on medium.

Pour all of the dry ingredients into the bowl with the wet ingredients and mix on the lowest speed until just combined and a soft dough forms, about 1 minute. Scrape down the paddle and remove bowl from the mixer. Add in the walnuts, white chocolate chips and cranberries and mix together by hand until well combined and evenly distributed throughout the dough.

Drop rounded tablespoons full of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet, at least 1 inch apart. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 9 to 11 minutes, until golden brown, and then transfer the baked cookies to a cooling rack.

Brown butter oatmeal cookies loaded with walnuts, cranberries and white chocolate chips

I know that with making brown butter, toasting the walnuts and rehydrating the cranberries I have given you a lot of extra steps, but I think the end result is worth it.

I was very happy with how this new recipe experiment turned out. The brown butter did an amazing job of enhancing all of the flavors of the cookie from the sweet bits of white chocolate, to the earthy and salty flavors of the toasted walnuts. We enjoyed a few of them and then I froze the rest. Cookies generally freeze well and it’s always nice to have a bag waiting for you in the freezer when you feel like grabbing one or two to enjoy later.

If you decide to give this recipe a try, please let me know what you think. Until next time, have a great weekend!

“C” Is For Chickpea

A few weeks ago I made a salad for lunch. One ingredient I love to throw on a salad is chickpeas. As soon as I sat down to eat it, my mind went into what I call one of its “stream of consciousness creative sessions” about chickpeas. I’m not sure what causes these moments to activate in my mind, but I have learned not to question it and just go along for the ride.

My thoughts went from the chickpeas on the salad to a quick and simple hummus we make from time to time. Sometimes we simply have that for lunch as a dip to go with fresh vegetables. Then the stream of consciousness ride took another turn as I began to wonder what it would be like to mix hummus with flour and some other ingredients to create some sort of bread or appetizer.

When my little journey came to an end, I wasn’t sure where the thought would go. Over the weeks that followed, my mind kept going back to the idea and playing with recipe concepts. At that point, I knew I had to give it a try because the thought wasn’t going away! So today I would like to share two recipes with you – the quick hummus I mentioned above and my new creation that utilizes a portion of that hummus as one of the ingredients.

Quick & Easy Hummus

  • 1 15 to 16 ounce can of chickpeas – drained and rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Place the chickpeas, lemon juice and salt in a chopper or blender and pulse a few times until the chickpeas are coarsely chopped. Add in the olive oil and blend until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes. You may need to pause periodically to scrape the sides of the chopper before continuing.

This recipe makes a hummus that is a bit on the thicker side. If you prefer it to be a little thinner you can add additional olive oil, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the desired consistency is reached. Serve with fresh vegetables, crackers, chips or anything else you like to dip in hummus.

Cheddar Hummus Bites

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup prepared quick & easy hummus
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, cumin and garlic powder together into a mixing bowl. Add the hummus, milk and egg to the dry ingredients and mix together until the dry ingredients are moistened and a soft dough begins to form. Gently fold in the shredded cheddar cheese until it is fully incorporated into the dough.

Roll the dough into balls approximately 1 inch in size and place on a lightly greased baking sheet or one lined with parchment or a silpat. The dough will be a bit sticky, but manageable enough to form, If you are having trouble, dust your hands with a bit of flour.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 9 to 11 minutes, until golden brown. Serve with the remaining hummus from the quick & easy hummus recipe for dipping.

I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome of this recipe, enough so to feel good about sharing it with you today. You never know how trying something new will turn out – I have certainly had my share of flops, as chronicled right here on the blog!

They were soft and flavorful and we found it interesting that along with the cumin and garlic, the flavor of the hummus itself came through as well. While I stuck with my original name, they could have just as easily been called “Cheddar Hummus Biscuit Bites” because the texture and feel was very much like a biscuit.

As I bring my latest adventure to a close, I can already feel the wheels of the stream of consciousness ride beginning to roll down the alternate track it likes to take – the one where I begin to make changes and variations to the recipe! Where will it go? How will it end? I never really know until the ride eventually pulls into the station again!

Until next time, I hope you all have a great weekend!

Butterscotchies With Salty Pecans

It seems that lately I have fallen into doing a series of brownie like dessert recipe creations. I never planned for it to happen, it just sort of evolved on its own. The first brownie recipe was one that we did for one of our from Angie’s kitchen posts back in January.  While that one was planned, I didn’t expect to follow up with a version made from coconut flour the next month. Since then, brownie like desserts have been on my brain! I’ve had a few different ideas, including the one I’m doing today with butterscotch.

As I mulled the idea over for the recipe, I thought the name “Butterscotchies” would be the perfect thing to call them! Somewhere during my first test run I thought about the name again, and that’s when a Mark Twain quote came to mind: “There is no such thing as a new idea. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope.” With that quote in mind, I was temporarily sidetracked from my creation as I had to stop and look up if someone else had ever used the name Butterscotchies.

Sure enough, there were several recipes using that name, or some sort of variation of it. Most of them appeared to be cookies, quite often some form of an oatmeal cookie. One recipe was called “Butterscotch Scotchies” which looked more like my brownie kind of idea, but they were actually a bar cookie. Either way, I still liked the name and decided to go with it. So, I proceeded to pour my ingredient choices into that mental kaleidoscope that Twain talked about.

With the batter all mixed up and still in the oven baking, I immediately thought to myself “these are going to be too sweet!” As a starting point, I had followed the brownie recipe that I had created for my round two of Angie’s kitchen. The amount of sugar in that recipe worked fine with the 72% dark chocolate chips that I had used, but knowing that butterscotch chips are much sweeter, I should have reduced the amount of sugar right from the start.

In the end, my too late thinking was correct! There was definite potential there, but the sweetness had to be reduced. I further went on to think that despite lowering the amount of sugar, they would still be fairly sweet because of the butterscotch and that’s when the idea to add salty pecans to the mix came to mind.  My hope was that having little salty bits mixed into the sweetness would balance it out nicely. 

So now not only did I need to refine the original recipe, I also had to come up with a way to create salty pecans to add to it!  In the end, I tossed the pecans in a bit of melted butter, brown sugar and salt and toasted them in the oven before adding them to the butterscotchie batter.  While it seems counter intuitive to add brown sugar to something you are trying to make salty, the main purpose for it was to caramelize with the butter so the flavor would stick to the pecans and not get lost in the batter.  With the right amount of salt, only the salty flavor came through. 

Notice how I said “the right amount” in the last sentence?  On my first attempt, I didn’t get it right – I way overstated it.  I wanted a pleasant burst of saltiness to come through, but for my first round I ended up with something that tasted like the ocean!  I love the beach and swimming in the ocean, but it’s always unpleasant when a big wave deposits a huge gulp of salty water into your mouth, and it sure wasn’t the flavor I was going for! 

For me though, that’s part of the fun of creating new recipes.  Sometimes we hit the nail right on the head, but often we don’t.  Not every new creation is going to be instant perfection, and that’s okay because those moments give us the opportunity to learn and grow.

Butterscotchies With Salty Pecans

For the salty pecans:

  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar – packed
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Melt the butter slowly in the microwave – I like to use the defrost cycle to do this. Once melted, mix in the brown sugar and salt until dissolved. Microwave the mixture in 20 to 30 second increments – again on defrost – until it just begins to get bubbly. Add the pecans and mix well until they are evenly coated.

Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, tossing them every 5 minutes. When done, they should be golden brown and a bit sticky. Allow them to cool and dry – about 30 minutes – before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.

Salty Pecans

For the batter:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons butter – softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 2 ounces butterscotch chips – melted
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup prepared salty pecans

Cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla with a mixer on slow speed until they are well blended and then continue on medium speed until light and fluffy – about 3 minutes. Add the egg and mix on slow speed until mixed in, about 1 minute. Add the melted butterscotch chips and blend in with a mixer on slow speed until well combined, about 2 minutes, then mix in the flour by hand until just combined, followed by the salty pecans.

Pour the mixture into a greased 7 inch square pan and bake in a preheated oven set to 325 degrees for 25 to 28 minutes. Allow to cool for about an hour and then cut into 16 squares and serve.

My second attempt worked out well once I corrected the issues with them being overly sweet and the pecans being too salty. The butterscotch flavor came through nicely without being overpowering and the little bursts of saltiness in each bite balanced out the sweetness nicely, as I hoped it would.

The texture was soft, moist and a bit on the chewy side – my son said the texture was similar to the cake pops you’d get at Starbucks. I thought it was a pretty astute comparison for a seven year old (no bias there of course just because I’m his father…) and he was really spot on.

I do have one more idea in mind for my unplanned brownie like dessert series – although I guess now I can no longer call it unplanned! I’m still working on the idea, but maybe I’ll be ready to write that final chapter in the series in May. Until next time, have a great weekend!

From Angie’s Kitchen – Brownies Revisited

Welcome to round two of brownies from Angie’s kitchen. Last week we followed my grandma’s recipe to the letter as we do in round one – or as close to the letter as we possibly can given the occasional set of esoteric directions! For round two, we get to research ideas and we can alter the recipe in any way we choose.

You may recall that I ended round one by saying that the original recipe was pretty good and the flavor was nice, but they were a bit sweet and extremely chewy. I enjoy a good chewy brownie, but my hope for round two was that I could make them a little less taffy like and more like the chewy type of brownie I am used to eating. Also on my agenda was to lower the level of sweetness a bit.

I did a bit of research this time and found dozens of variations on recipes for brownies. Some used twice the butter of our original recipe, some had more flour, some had less, some used more eggs, some used cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate and some used just a touch of baking powder. At one point I even stumbled across a story about Katharine Hepburn and her brownie recipe! She is one of my wife Lori’s favorite actresses, so I had to pause a moment and share the story with her. It’s a pretty amusing tale and if you are interested in reading it, click here.

A funny coincidence happened right when I was going to share the Katharine Hepburn story with Lori – she was coming to tell me that she was watching Giada and she was making brownies. She told me how she made hers and suddenly I had one more piece of research in my brownie making arsenal. All of this information was great, but in the end it was up to me to decide how I wanted to change grandma’s recipe and what those changes would be.

My ultimate choice of changes were fairly simple. First, I decided that the sugar needed to be decreased since I wasn’t using an unsweetened chocolate which made my original attempt a bit too sweet. I thought that lowering the sugar would also help in reducing the extreme chewy quality, but I felt I needed to go a step further in trying to deal with that as well. So, I decided to add a bit more moisture to the mix in order to help better dissolve the sugar by adding an extra tablespoon of butter and an additional egg.

I briefly debated the use of baking powder, but decided that I would keep true to the original recipe in that area and skipped it. I figured that if no baking powder was good enough for my grandma Angie and Katharine Hepburn, then it was good enough for me!

One other small note I didn’t discuss last week. The original recipe included chopped nuts. I generally don’t care for them in my brownies, so I left them out when I made them. The same holds true for my round two recipe. I didn’t use them, but have included them as an optional add in if you enjoy them.

Brownies 2.0

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 ounces 72% dark chocolate, melted
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts of choice (if desired)

Cream together the sugar, butter and vanilla with a mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Beat in the eggs at a slow speed until just combined, about 30 seconds. Next, do the same with the melted chocolate – make sure the chocolate isn’t too hot, you don’t want the eggs to cook.

Mix in the flour by hand until just combined and then mix in the nuts if you are using them.

Spread the mixture evenly in a greased 7 inch square pan and bake at 325 degrees for 25 to 27 minutes. Cool thoroughly and then cut into 16 squares.

Brownies 2.0

In the end, I was really happy with the results and the taste test went over well with my family. They still had that delicious brownie flavor and the reduction in sugar made them more enjoyable and didn’t leave you feeling like you were trapped in a major sugar rush!

The only thing I am still debating is did I overstate the reduction in the chewy quality? They were no longer taffy like which was good and they were still pretty fudgy, but maybe I leaned a bit too much toward a cake like brownie in the end. Perhaps going back to one egg and sticking with the extra butter and reduced sugar would have brought me right where I wanted to be.

Time to try brownies 3.0? Possibly, but for now I’ll put that on the back burner. On that note, I’ll hand this off to Karen to share her round two experience.

It’s always fun to see how Ray and I approach the 2nd rounds of our From Angie’s Kitchen challenges. Often we come to the same conclusions, but we also diverge quite frequently in our solutions. I think this round we did a little of both.

First though, I’ll share a little of my research with you. The very first brownie is credited to Bertha Palmer and her pastry chef made as part of a boxed lunch for society ladies attending the 1893 World’s Columbian Expedition in Chicago. This brownie is still being made today and may be purchased at the Palmer House Hotel. So, if you happen to be in Chicago, and you love brownies, that’s where to sample the original.

The first known mention of a brownie in a cookbook is in the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer published in 1896, but this confection did not contain chocolate. It utilized molasses. I’m curious as to what this would taste like, but perhaps not curious enough to try baking it myself. However, by the time the 1906 edition was published, chocolate was included and the recipe is nearly identical to the one we made last week.

Before beginning my revisions for round 2, I had to break down what I thought of round 1 and what needed to change. The thing I liked most about the first brownie was the fact that it tasted like a Tootsie Roll. Was that worth pursuing? I decided that as amusing as it was, that would not be the direction I would go in. What was wrong with the first brownie? A lot. It was too sweet, too chewy and too flat. That was what I would work on.

To achieve these objectives, I did not reduce the sugar. Instead, I upped my chocolate game. This round I used a bittersweet chocolate, doubled the amount and added cocoa powder. I felt like this would bring balance to the brownies. I remembered what a minuscule amount of batter there was last week, so I increased the amount of flour and skipped the sifting. I added a second egg and bumped up the amount of butter just as Ray did, but unlike Ray, I did add a small amount of baking powder and salt. One of the observations Tom had made last week was that he felt the original brownies weren’t mixed well enough, so I incorporated the ingredients differently this time.

2nd Time Around Brownies

  • 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 TBSP butter
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate 70%
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9×9 square baking pan.

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt and set aside.

Melt chocolate and butter together in a double boiler or microwave and set aside to cool.

In a large separate bowl, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add chocolate and butter mixture and beat until well mixed. Add 1/2 of the flour mixture to the batter and once well incorporated, add remaining flour and mix well.

Spread into prepared 9×9 pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

2nd Time Around Brownies

This brownie was much more successful than the first batch. It was certainly less chewy than the first, but I let this batch go for the full 25 minutes. I think had I taken them out a minute or two sooner, they would have had a slightly better texture. I would also consider folding the flour mixture in the next time around instead of continuing with the mixer. The taste was quite good as well. Tom pronounced it to be a good brownie, so I’ll take that considering it is one of the few sweets he likes.

Brownies 3.0 you say, Ray? Why yes, I have an idea already. I’m not sure when I’ll have it perfected, but another brownie will be coming…

From Angie’s Kitchen – Brownies

It’s been a while since we visited Angie’s Kitchen, so we thought starting the New Year with another attempt of deciphering Angie’s book of recipes would be fun. If you’ve never seen one of these posts, they are our attempts to interpret a hand written book of recipes that belonged to Ray’s grandmother that bears her maiden name. This would date the book to likely have been written sometime in the 1920’s. It comes complete with terminology that is not always clear by today’s language and is often short on the details. Sort of like the technical challenge on The Great British Baking Show, but our own family version. This round it was my turn to choose, so I thought why not brownies!

This recipe seems relatively straight forward, well, except for the lack of instruction for baking time and the ever nebulous instruction to bake in a slow oven. I also took note of the lack of a leavening agent and the absence of salt, but round 1 of Angie’s kitchen is about following the instructions in the book as written, and doing research afterwards. In other words, we are not allowed to cheat until round 2.

I gathered my ingredients, which in hind sight I should have put a little more thought into, then began to make the recipe. As I began beating the mixture, it dawned on me that the chocolate I had selected was a poor choice. I’d used my Callebaut 54.5%, which is a semisweet chocolate. This recipe includes an entire cup of sugar. I should have used a bittersweet chocolate, but at that point, it was too late to change so I soldiered on. The instructions said to beat well. I felt like I had incorporated the ingredients well, but didn’t really attempt to whip any air into it. Was that a mistake? I’m not entirely sure if that was even possible as the mixture was quite thick. The consistency to me was closer to fudge than what I think of as a brownie batter.

Next, I spread the mixture into the closest thing I had to a 7 inch square pan, which was an 8 inch Pyrex dish. It was evident that this recipe was quite different from those I’ve made in the past, as the amount in the dish was quite a bit smaller than what I would usually make. The other decision I needed to make was temperature. Instinctively, I wanted to set my bake temperature at 350 F, and I did, but the niggling little voice in my head kept whispering “she said slow oven, slow oven…”. Plus I felt the quiet, unspoken judgement from Tom sitting in the next room. From previous experience in the kitchen of Angie, I knew that slow oven tops out at 325F, so I was forced to stop, open the oven door for a minute, then reset the temperature to 325F. A bit neurotic you say? Yeah, well probably.

So, the last decision to be made was timing. I usually bake brownies for about 25 minutes, but these seemed quite thin to me so I kept a close eye on them. After 20 minutes I checked them, and felt they definitely needed more time so I settled for my usual 25 minutes. They looked baked enough and I no longer heard the same level of bubbling that I did at twenty minutes, so out they came.

So, how did they turn out? They had a nice glossy top, which was good. They were lighter in color than my usual brownies, but that is probably reflective of my chocolate choice. And they were thin, which is likely because my pan size was significantly bigger that called for and there was lack of leavening agents. They were quite chewy. So chewy that they stuck to my teeth. They were also quite sweet, almost candy like. Upon tasting them, Tom immediately pronounced what it is that they tasted like – Tootsie Rolls! He really hit the nail on the head with his description.

This was certainly different from what we usually expect from a brownie these days and will prompt me to do a little more research into the history of the brownie before the next round. I would classify this as a mixed result. Not bad, but room for improvement. Now let’s see how Ray fared….

Angie’s Original Recipe

I was happy when Karen chose this recipe. Given the choice for a snack, more often than not I will reach for something salty, but brownies are the exception to that rule – I love them! They remind me of my father’s sister, my Aunt Teresa, who was also my godmother.

She made some of the most delicious brownies on the planet and she kept several batches at the ready in her freezer. Whenever you would go to visit her, if you were a brownie fan she would never let you leave without taking a batch home. She was an excellent cook and baker and she made everything from scratch, so one day I asked her what recipe she used for her brownies. She laughed and gave me the most unexpected reply! She said “Everyone asks me that and they don’t believe me when I tell them this is one thing I don’t make from scratch – they come from a box!” Box or not, I don’t know what she did when she made them, but to this day I have never had brownies quite like hers!

Now to the matter at hand – how did my grandma’s recipe work out for me? Compared to other recipes from Angie’s kitchen, this one was like a walk in the park for me. I guess I was in some sort of zone, because the usual lack of exact directions didn’t slow me down one bit this time.

The slow oven notation was something that I had researched long ago, many years before we started this blog when I first discovered grandma’s recipe book. For some reason, without giving it much thought it immediately popped into my head that a slow oven meant the 300 to 325 degree range.

The lack of leavening agent that gave Karen a moment of pause wasn’t even a thought in my head. I had tried other brownie recipes in the past and recalled that many of them, particularly the ones labeled chewy or fudgy, didn’t use one. I went to work and when everything was mixed together, I looked at the batter and thought that it looked a bit grainy still.

Perhaps I hadn’t mixed it together enough, but I didn’t really question it either because the recipe called for quite a bit of sugar so it didn’t seem that odd to me. My best guess regarding the chocolate was that grandma probably used unsweetened because of all of the sugar in the recipe, but I didn’t have any on hand. Luckily I did have some 72% dark, so I went with that.

I put the mixture into the pan – to my surprise we actually had a 7 inch square pan in the cabinet! I chose to go with the upper end of the slow oven range and set it to 325 degrees, and in doing so I felt no judgement from Lori, silent or otherwise! 😃 My only real debate was how long to bake them. I figured better safe than sorry and checked them after just 15 minutes – they were still way too wet in the middle, so I added 5 more minutes. Closer, but still not close enough, so I added another 5 minutes. At that point, they were very close and I removed them after an additional 2 minutes which brought my total time to 27 minutes.

They looked pretty good when they came out of the oven and they smelled just like a brownie should, but I waited until they cooled to taste them. I am often guilty of cutting brownies too soon because I can’t wait to eat one and that of course makes a bit of a crumbly mess!

After patiently waiting, I found it a bit ironic that cooling this recipe all the way made them a little tough to cut! As Karen mentioned above, they were quite chewy and that quality made for a tougher time when cutting them. They were very sweet, but overall the flavor was spot on and we liked them. Even though I prefer my brownies on the chewy side, these were almost like a brownie taffy. We all agreed that that was something I should try and address in round 2.

One interesting thing we noticed when we ate some the next day was that the excessive chewiness had mellowed a bit and they were much more like the brownies we are used to eating. All things considered, I would say this was a pretty decent recipe and must have been quite a treat back in the 1920’s when my grandma was growing up.

I’m looking forward to making some of the changes I have in mind for round 2 – I’m also looking forward to eating more brownies! Until next time, have a good weekend!

The Cookbook Club – Final Week!

Well this is it, we’ve come to the final recipe in this round of the cookbook club featuring recipes from Sarah Kieffer’s book Baking for the Holidays. It feels like we just got started with round 1, but suddenly it is 5 weeks later and we’re at the end.

The recipe chosen was Nutella Star Bread or one of the variations of the recipe included in the book. A couple of weeks before the club started we were given the list of recipes we’d be doing each week. From the moment I had the list I knew this one was coming, and I was preparing for what I thought was going to be the most difficult recipe to produce because of the way the bread is shaped.

The process involves dividing the dough into 4 pieces, rolling each piece into a circle approximately 10 inches in size and then stacking the circles in layers with a layer of filling in between each layer of dough. After that, the dough is cut into 16 segments that are twisted together to give it its star shape. When I was done, I was amazed at how easily it came together for me. After 5 weeks of anticipating a possible kitchen disaster, it didn’t happen!

I didn’t have any Nutella on hand and we don’t tend to eat it that often. I enjoy it, but because I don’t reach for it that frequently, when we have it on hand it tends to expire before it is fully used. So rather than waste a jar of it, I decided to make the cinnamon variation instead.

As with the cookies I made in the last round of the club, I still didn’t have clear sanding sugar on hand. As I looked at the star rising for the final time, it started to remind me of a poinsettia flower. So once again, in the spirit of holiday baking, I decided to grab the colored decorating sugar crystals I had on hand. With some red and some yellow, the poinsettia idea came to life.

The bread was delicious – as I always say, you usually can’t go wrong with cinnamon and brown sugar! As with the pull-apart bread in round 1, the author said that the bread is best when eaten the day it is made. Once again, this certainly is true when you plan to serve it to company or bring it to someone as a gift, but if it is just you and your family at home, a few seconds in the microwave on day 2 brings it right back to life.

With my first ever cookbook club behind me, I have to say I really did enjoy being a part of it. I met some really nice people, had fun making some recipes that challenged me to try new things and learned several interesting techniques along the way that I already want to apply to some new recipe ideas. Oh, and how could I forget to mention… my family and I got to enjoy eating all of these treats!

Before I turn this over to Karen, I’d just like to take a moment to wish you a very happy holiday season – I hope it is a time of peace and joy for all of you. Since we don’t have a collaborative post planned for next week and it is Karen’s week to write, I’ll also take this opportunity to wish you a very happy new year! Thank you to everyone who started following us or stopped by to read some of our posts in this, our inaugural year of our blog – we truly appreciate it. I look forward to year 2!

On that note, I’ll throw it over to Karen to share how her final week in the club went.

As usual, Ray and I did not have the same experiences! I also was quite focused on the Star Bread from the very beginning. Ray said he was anticipating difficulty, but I felt excitement! Making a star bread was definitely on my list of things I’ve wanted to bake for a long time, so I would get to tick that box off. I was so up for it, I made sure I had my Nutella a month ago and waited in anticipation for the big day.

I prepared my dough the day before. Actually, the time preparing the dough overlapped for Ray and myself, and we exchanged texts about it while making it. Ray must have jumped right to it early the next day, because he sent me a picture of his finished product before I’d even contemplated getting started. I was still drinking my tea.

A couple hours later I sent this text to Ray.

He sent me a supportive text commiserating with me about how he’d had trouble too, which was very sweet. He also sent me the shot of his beautifully made stack of circles pictured above. Clearly, he didn’t understand the situation I was in.

Right about that time Tom entered the room and his wife (me) had a little bit of a meltdown. “I just can’t roll a circle”, which was very evident by the horribly misshaped dough in front of me. He had me go sit down for a bit while he tried to mitigate the disaster on the counter. After I’d cooled down, I came back and took over. As I sullenly finished assembling my star bread, I started thinking that this situation reminded of something…. Oh yes! An episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. Squidward is teaching an art class. All his circles look like amoebas, but SpongeBob produces perfect circle after perfect circle with ease. I supposed that made me the Squidward of baking, and by default, that would make Ray the SpongeBob, right?

Once I got to the part where I cut and began twisting the dough, things seemed much brighter. I was encouraged. Maybe this wouldn’t be a disaster at all. In fact, the results weren’t half bad. As usual, the rainydaybites cookbook club were gracious and supportive, and I found out I was not the only Squidward of the day.

Nutella Star Bread

As with many tales of woe, there are stories of redemption as well. This is mine. The original sweet dough recipe was enough to make 2 star breads. As the ambitious soul that I am, and as excited as I was to make the star bread from the start, I made the full recipe. The dough was good in the refrigerator for up to 72 hours, so a couple of days after my angst, I made another.

This experience was very different from the first. I walked into the kitchen almost a new person. I felt a sort of zen calmness and gently divided and rolled my dough circles while listening to Chopin. If the circle needed a rest, it got one. There was absolutely no stress the second time around. I don’t know what got into me, but I need to tap into that headspace more often. This time I chose to use mango and peach preserves instead of Nutella. My son preferred the Nutella, but for Tom and myself, the second star bread was the clear winner in every way.

I would also like to wish everyone a happy holiday season full of peace and happiness. See you next week!

Second Chance Star