Sometimes you just need a brownie…

I tend to hear people say they need a brownie/drink/massage when they’ve have a rough day – and there’s definitely something to be said for indulging in a favorite treat when you’re feeling down.  But today has been pretty good, and I made a pan of brownies to celebrate.  It’s my Friday today, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, I found a lovely little bloom on my peach tree, and why not add some chocolate to make it just that much better?

Cranberry Pepper Jelly

Do you all love cranberries as much as I do?  They’re sweet and tart and oh-so-versatile and really pretty little things, too.  We always had cranberry sauce (from the can.  Best. Stuff. Ever.) at our holiday get togethers, and I’d be lying if I told you that I only ever had one helping.  This year for Thanksgiving I tried a homemade “canned” cranberry sauce recipe that turned out beautifully, if I do say so myself, and I plan to share that with you in just a few days, but right now I’m kind of obsessed with this stuff: Cranberry Pepper Jelly.  It was the simplest jelly to make – I spent about 45 minutes on it yesterday – and even though the ingredient list is (perhaps oddly) lacking in spices, flavor-imparting liquors, or other such things, it still manages to pack a knockout punch of tart-sweet-hot that will blow your mind.

I found this on the Bon Appetit Thanksgiving App (aside:  At first I was like, Really, Bon Appetit?  Do we really need an app for that?  Turns out: Yes.  Yes, we do.  It’s a wonderfully concise collection of holiday recipes that runs the gamut from traditional favorites to modern twists, and my OCD mind loves their genius organizational scheme.) in the Southern Menu section.  Folks down here love to serve pepper jelly over cream cheese as an appetizer and I see no reason to fix what ain’t broke.  My guests for Christmas Dinner will be arriving in the afternoon a few hours before the meal is set to begin, and my ancestors would no doubt do some of that much threatened “Rolling Over in Their Graves” if I didn’t have something for my partygoers to nibble on in the meantime.   Another plus for this one is that it doesn’t require any canning.  I put mine in a wide mouth pint jar for easy dipping, and according to the recipe it will keep for 3 weeks or so in the fridge.  But, really, good luck with that.

Cranberry Pepper Jelly

Adapted from Bon Appetit

I couldn’t find red jalapeños in my neck of the woods, so I bought “Red Chiles”.  Which, in my experience, could range in flavor from bell-pepper-mild to habanero-hot.  Mine were on the hot side, which is what I was going for to balance out all the sweet-tart from the cranberries, but I think this would be an excellent area in which to experiment if you were so inclined.  Although I would recommend sticking with peppers on the red side of the spectrum so as not to muddy up the lovely color of the jelly.  I’ll be serving this over whipped cream cheese with some sort of very elegant cracker (ahem. Triscuits anyone?).

3 red bell peppers, finely chopped

2 Fresno or red jalapeño chiles, seeded and finely chopped

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup liquid pectin

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

3 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen and thawed

Combine peppers, chiles, sugar, red pepper flakes and salt in a heavy wide pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Stir in pectin and lemon juice. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Stir in cranberries and simmer gently until they burst and juices thicken, about 10 minutes longer. Transfer jelly to a jar, let cool, and cover. Will keep for up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.  Makes about 1.5 pints.

Homemade Moon Pies

Are you guys familiar with Moon Pies?  They’re a southern favorite – you can get them at any gas station or snack machine below the Mason-Dixon line.  We loved these as kids and I am so excited to (finally!) be sharing this recipe for a homemade version with you.  I first made these almost a year ago for a baby shower that I co-hosted – the shower was Children’s Book themed and I made these to accompany “Goodnight Moon”.  They were divine you guys, and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to give you the recipe.  Now don’t be intimidated.  When I tell people that I make homemade Moon Pies they all get this look on their face, the “That’s so cool. I can’t believe you can do that.  Why did you do that? You’re a crazy person.” look.  But really, they’re pretty straightforward.  A Moon Pie is basically a graham cracker cookie with marshmallow filling, dipped in chocolate.  The cookies take about an hour to make, but 30 minutes of that is dough-chilling time, and I usually get my marshmallow fluff going while I’m waiting (you could totally use store bought marshmallow fluff if you wanted to skip this step.  Then it’d be super easy and you’d have no excuse not to try this).  The filling is as simple as whipping egg whites and boiling syrup, and if you can’t drop a cookie in a bowl of melted chocolate, then I don’t know what to tell you.  I usually make these at a pretty leisurely pace – I did the entire process in about 3 hours a couple of days ago, but if you were being really efficient and wanted to knock it out I’d think that you could do it in about an hour and a half.  I got the recipe from a really good source, and I only tweaked one minor detail: I did only single layer cookies, rather than the “Double Decker” version.  So although there are several components to this cookie, they are all relatively simple and even beginner bakers should be able to handle this project.  If you’re looking for something to put in your Christmas Gift Baskets and you want to blow everyone’s mind with your baking prowess, I’d totally recommend this.  Happy Holidays!

MOON PIES

Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker, makes around 24 sandwich cookies

For the Cookies:
1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt

For the Marshmallow Filling:
2 egg whites
Pinch cream of tartar
Pinch salt
2/3 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

For the Chocolate Coating:
12 ounces semisweet chocolate
¼ cup vegetable oil

To Make the Cookies:

With a mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the brown sugar and beat at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium, add the egg and the vanilla extract, and beat to combine. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour and the salt, and mix just until a soft dough forms. Divide the dough in two, shape into disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350º while dough is chilling.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat; set aside. Working with one disk at a time, roll out the dough to about 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 2½-inch diameter round cutter, cut out the rounds and place them on the prepared baking sheets, about ½ an inch apart.  Try to end up with an even number of cookies, since you’ll be making sandwiches with them.  Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool completely on a wire rack before filling.

To Make the Marshmallow Filling:

Using a mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the the egg whites with the cream of tartar and the salt until firm peaks form, gradually increasing from medium-low speed to medium-high speed as the egg whites gain volume. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, boil the corn syrup over high heat without stirring until it registers 230 to 235 degrees F on a candy thermometer (thread ball stage). Slowly drizzle the hot corn syrup into the egg whites and beat at high speed until glossy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low, beat in the vanilla extract and the powdered sugar.

Using either a pastry bag or a spoon, mound about 1½ tablespoons of marshmallow filling into the center of a cookie. Top with another cookie and press lightly to spread the marshmallow to the edges. Repeat until you run out of cookies.

To Make the Chocolate Coating:

Using a double boiler (or in the microwave on 50% power and in 30 second increments) melt the chocolate and vegetable oil together until completely smooth. Let cool for a few minutes – you don’t want it to be piping hot when you dip the cookies or they tend to slide around a little and lose their shape.  Using a fork, dip the sandwiches into the chocolate, turning over to coat. Place cookies on a wire rack set over a baking sheet or wax paper and allow to set at room temp for a couple of hours – or move them to the fridge to speed up the process.

Fig Focaccia with Maple Balsamic Onions

You guys.  I am fascinated by bread.  It’s like magic.  Really!  Flour (essentially ground up grass, people), water, salt, and yeast magically combine and transform each other into the most basic food there is.  I mean, think about it.  There are as many recipes, flavor profiles, and add-ins as there are people on the planet.  You can go in any direction you want and it’ll still probably turn out delicious.  And yet,  it’s one of the most terrifying things to make… at least the first time.  Yeast is intimidating to a lot of people.  I think it’s fear that you’ll kill it off in the beginning and then do all that work just to pull a dense, flat, flavorless loaf from the oven.

The first bread I ever made was the famous, Jim Lahey No Knead Bread.  You know, the one every food blogger alive has posted about.  It was so simple, and it’s a great way to sort of jump in to bread baking, but you know, only in the ankle deep part of the shallow end of the pool.  It was a great confidence booster when it turned out not just edible, but actually tasty.  So once I realized that I could totally handle this, I started to branch out a little.  I made white bread, and wheat bread, and dinner rolls… And then I discovered focaccia.  Focaccia is like that super fun friend you have that is up for anything.  The laid back one who goes along with whatever and who always has a great time.  Really!  It’s the most straightforward dough to make, but then you can add whatever you want to it, and I don’t think you could mess it up.

Um, Emily?  That kind of sounds like pizza…  I know, and it’s actually like pizza’s cousin.  You don’t usually add as many toppings to focaccia as you would to pizza, but the dough is very similar.  You’re just sort of seasoning focaccia, so you have a bread that will (hopefully) accent your meal, rather than be a meal, like pizza.  Focaccia should be fairly flat, and have a delightfully crispy, crusty outside with a tender, rustic inside.  It’ll usually rise a little more than a pizza-type dough since you’re not weighing it down with as many toppings;  and it’s a more substantial bread since most of the surface area will be exposed and will bake up crusty and golden, unlike with pizza where we cover it with sauce and cheese so the crust is only really crusty on the bottom and the edges.

If you have any inclination at all to get into bread baking, you should definitely try focaccia.  I most often make it very simply with just sliced olives, rosemary, salt and olive oil.   It makes a great appetizer, or addition to your meal – I’ve even sliced it and used it for sandwiches.   I found this particular recipe a couple of years ago when I was looking for something a little more creative for having guests over, and it has become my favorite thing to make to impress people.  The original recipe was for strawberries and maple balsamic onions (a divine combination, you guys.  Divine.), and I have made that several times with excellent results, but figs are in season right now so I substituted them in for the berries.  I actually like the strawberries a little better since they are a little more tart than figs, which I think balances out the sweet onions a little better, but it was still delicious.  I love cooking things like strawberries and figs, etc, in the oven – the flavors get a little deeper, a little more intense, and they get all crispy edges and soft insides… In other words, they get perfect.

So, go forth and knead!  If you’ve never tried a yeast bread before, I encourage you to give it a go.  It’s really pretty simple, and it’s very satisfying to turn that dough up above into this:

And don’t be afraid to get creative with your toppings – I’d love to hear about your favorite focaccia bread, so please share!

 

Strawberry Focaccia with Maple-Balsamic Onions

via Saveur.com

 

1¼ oz package dry yeast

1 cup warm water (100–110 degrees F)

1 teaspoon honey

2½ cups flour

1 teaspoons kosher salt

¼ cup plus 5 Tbs olive oil, divided

1 medium sweet onion, quartered and thinly sliced

2½ teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1½ teaspoons pure maple syrup

1 cup strawberries, hulled and sliced lengthwise into 1/8–inch pieces

8–10 fresh basil leaves, sliced chiffonade

Coarse sea salt

 

Combine yeast, water and honey in a medium bowl; let rest for about 5 minutes, until bubbles form on the top. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and kosher salt; set aside. Add ¼ cup of olive oil to the yeast mixture and stir to combine. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour wet ingredients into dry. Stir well to combine, then turn dough onto a lightly flour surface and knead until dough is smooth and supple, about 10 minutes. Form dough into a ball and place it in a bowl greased with ½ tablespoon olive oil. Cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and let rest until the dough approximately doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Brush a 9×13–inch baking sheet with ½ tablespoon olive oil. Remove dough from bowl and press it into the sheet with your fingers until it touches the edges. Using your fingers, gently press indentations into the dough, all over the surface. Gently brush the dough with 2 tablespoons of olive oil; let rest, lightly covered, until it puffs up slightly, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and caramelized, 15–20 minutes. Stir in balsamic vinegar and maple syrup; let cook until liquid is evaporated, 2–3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly press figs into the top of the dough, then scatter onions and basil evenly across the top. Drizzle remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top and sprinkle with sea salt to taste. Bake until the focaccia is golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before cutting into pieces. Serve drizzled with more olive oil or spread with fresh goat cheese.

*As I mentioned above, I have also used strawberries here.  I really think you could substitute any number of things with outstanding results, so if you don’t have/like figs use whatever you want.

Chile Rubbed Skirt Steak

Well, it’s officially Autumn.  The Pumpkin Spice Apocalypse is upon us.  So I figured I had better get this posted up so you any of who you are feeling nostalgic for summer can whip it up before we’re hip-deep in multicolored tree parts.  Not that you can’t make tacos year round – I totally do, anyway.  It’s just that tacos seem like summer fare to me.  They’re so fresh and light, and you eat them with your hands while the juice runs down your chin.  It’s not just me right?  You guys do that too?

Well you definitely should.  I had this put together in less than an hour – and you could use any leftover meat you had if you wanted to streamline this even more.  I used skirt steak because it’s cheap but it has really good flavor.  And if it can be a little tough, well, it’s tacos, and you’re gonna slice it (against the grain!) pretty thinly anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.  The rub I used was perfect for this – it was pleasantly spicy and very flavorful without totally overwhelming the beef.  I think that rubs, marinades, etc should be flavorful enough to compliment whatever meat you’re using while still allowing you to tell what you’re eating.  This one was spot on, and I’ll definitely be using it again.

I like to use soft tortillas as my base, and I use a pretty simple mix of toppings.  A little cheese, mixed greens, sour cream, cilantro, sliced radishes, and a little red sauce (hot sauce, taco sauce – your choice).  Oh, and squeeze a lime over top – the acid is a nice addition.   Yes, I realize this is the  American form of tacos, and not at all authentic, but I’m OK with that.  After all, this is America, and I happen to like it.

I have a really great Fig Focaccia to share with you in a day or two, but in the meantime: Farewell Summer!  Happy Autumn!

 

Chile-Rubbed Skirt Steak (for tacos)

Serves 8

 

2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

2 tablespoons mild chile powder

2 tablespoons light-brown sugar

2 teaspoons smoked or sweet paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder or very finely ground coffee beans

1 1/2 pounds skirt steak

On a work surface, crush garlic cloves using the flat side of a large knife; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place the flat side of the knife blade on top of the garlic and salt; press firmly, pulling knife toward you. Repeat until a paste forms; transfer to a small bowl. Add chile powder, brown sugar, paprika, cumin, pepper, espresso, and remaining tablespoon salt; stir to combine.

Rub mixture all over skirt steak, and place in a large freezer bag to marinate for 30 minutes.

Preheat grill pan* over high heat, or use an outdoor grill. Place steak on grill, and cook for 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Let rest for 5 minutes before slicing. Serve thinly sliced steak in warmed tortillas; top with salsa, cilantro, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, and lime wedges, if desired.

 

*I used a cast iron griddle and it worked perfectly.

Shrimp Frau Diavolo

Doesn’t that look delicious?  I admit, it hasn’t been painstakingly food-styled into a perfectly organized and lovingly garnished dish, but sometimes I think you just need to sit down to a warm and gloriously tangled mess of pasta, shrimp, trinity.  This came about as the result of a minor kitchen oversight – we bought a pound of shrimp last weekend planning to make surf and turf on the grill and then promptly forgot about them.  So when lunch rolled around on Tuesday afternoon and I saw them hanging out in the fridge it was a cook ’em or lose ’em moment.

I don’t usually have tons of spare time on weekdays for lunch, so I was looking for something I could make pretty quickly.  It only took me about 30 minutes to whip this up, and a good part of that was bringing my pasta water up to the boil.  This is one of those recipes where you can usually find everything you need in your fridge or pantry – or at least some semblance of everything you need.  I didn’t have diced tomatoes – or any tomatoes – so I used a can of whole tomatoes and diced them myself.  I added a green bell pepper I needed to use, and I pretty much just pulled out the bottle of white moscato from the fridge for the “dry white wine” because I wasn’t really prepared to open a more appropriate bottle at 1:30 in the afternoon.

So the moral of this story is this:  use what you have, make up what you don’t, and enjoy the results.  Cheers!

 

Shrimp Frau Diavolo

via Giada De Laurentiis

1 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined

1 teaspoon salt, plus additional as needed

1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons

1 medium onion, sliced

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 cup dry white wine

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

3 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves

3 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves

Toss the shrimp in a medium bowl with 1 teaspoon of salt and red pepper flakes. Heat the 3 tablespoons oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and saute for about a minute, toss, and continue cooking until just cooked through, about 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a large plate; set aside.

Add the onion to the same skillet, adding 1 to 2 teaspoons of olive oil to the pan, if necessary, and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices, wine, garlic, and oregano. Simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, about 10 minutes.

Return the shrimp and any accumulated juices to the tomato mixture; toss to coat, and cook for about a minute so the flavors meld together. Stir in the parsley and basil. Season with more salt, to taste, and serve.

Summer Bounty

OK, so I know I tell you guys about my farmer’s market outings all the time, but I just can’t help sharing one more.  There is so much color and vibrance in the produce – and the people – and I simply love to photograph the goings on.  Now, in the height of the growing season here in Georgia, there is so much variety in the produce that it makes for a lovely sight.  Enjoy!

Also, if you’ve joined me on Instagram, you know that I have an overabundance of blueberries… Suggestions?

Cherry Berry Cobbler

I wanted to call this “Odds and Ends Cobbler” but I didn’t want to put anyone off with such a strange name.  The recipe I used was originally called “Blueberry Cobbler”, but since less than half of the fruit I had was actually blueberries, I didn’t really think that made much sense.  (Side note: All the blueberries came from my bushes!  Yay for summer fruit!)  I had a carton and a half of Rainier cherries, a handful of raspberries from the yard, a pint of strawberries from the farmer’s market, and a fair sized bowl of blueberries that I had recently picked.  My recipe called for 30 ounces of blueberries, and I ended up with 28 ounces cobbled together (No pun intended.  Oh, you know you want to laugh at that.) from my various shopping/picking excursions.  I was very happy with the recipe… It was easy to put together and the biscuits were amazing.  The cinnamon sugar on top gave them just the perfect amount of sweetness and crunch, and I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be eating some version of this pretty regularly for the next several months.

Oh, by the way, I’m now totally into instagram.  Join me, it’s awesome.

 

Blueberry Cobbler

Cooks Illustrated Cookbook

Filling:

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

pinch ground cinnamon

pinch salt

6 cups (30 ounces) fresh blueberries, rinsed and picked over, or equivalent of whatever fruit you have.

1 1/2 teaspoons grated zest and 1 tablespoon lemon juice

 

Biscuit Topping:

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons stone-ground cornmeal

1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/3 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

For the filling, stir the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt together in a large bowl.  Add the berries and mix gently until evenly coated; add the lemon zest and juice.  Mix to combine. Transfer the berry mixture to a 9 inch glass pie plate or 8 inch square baking dish, place the plate on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the filling is hot and bubbling around the edges; about 25 minutes.

For the biscuit topping, whisk the flour, cornmeal, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl to combine.   Whisk the melted butter, buttermilk and vanilla together in a small bowl.  Mix the remaining sugar and cinnamon in another small bowl and set aside.  One minute before the berries come out of the oven, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined and no dry pockets remain.

Remove the berries from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees.  Pinch off 8 equal pieces of biscuit dough and place them on the hot berry filling, spacing them at least 1/2 inch apart so they do not touch.  Sprinkle each mound of dough with the cinnamon sugar.  Bake until filling is bubbling and the biscuits are golden brown on top and cooked through, about 15-18 minutes.  Cool the cobbler on a wire rack before serving.

Sweet and Savory Kale

I made this for the second time in 10 days just so I could show it to you.  I mean, that’s just the kind of person I am, you know?  I took this one for the team, but don’t get used to it or anything.  Just kidding, dear readers – I would have made it again with or without you. It was that good.  Actually, I have a confession regarding this one:  I’ve never had kale before this.  I know.  I can’t believe it either.

I know kale is having a moment right now, but I’ve always heard how bitter it is, and you have to cook it just so to enjoy it… and on and on and on.  Aside from all that, though, we already like greens around here.  I’m not exaggerating in the least when I say that I could serve only cooked greens to my husband for every meal and he’d be OK with that – we love collards, and spinach, and turnip greens and we eat them regularly, so I never saw the need to pick kale during my shopping.  So what changed, you ask?  Well, I sent Jacob to the store for salad – like spring mix, folks – and he bought me this.  So I really had no choice but to cook it for dinner.  And since I had no reliable recipe to fall back on, I just used the one on the back of the bag.  And guys?  We loved  it.  It’s basically just cooked down with a sort of semi-vinaigrette (I say semi because you use some chicken stock, and I’d never put that in a vinaigrette) and that’s it.  I’ll probably make this one regularly with additions or subtractions as I have the time and/or inclination to play with it, but this one is definitely going to be a staple in our house, and I hope you’ll give it a try too.

 

SWEET AND SAVORY KALE

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ medium onion-chopped
3 cloves garlic-minced
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
1 ¼ cups chicken broth
1 lb bag of kale greens

In a large stock pot, heat olive oil on medium high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté until onion softens stirring often about 5 minutes. Stir in mustard, sugar, cider vinegar and chicken stock. Bring to a boil on high heat. Add kale, cover, and cook about 15 minutes stirring often. When liquid is reduced by about half and greens are tender, serve and enjoy.

*The recipe also had the option to add 1/3 cup dried cranberries for the last 10 minutes of cooking and then sprinkle with sliced almonds when served, which I omitted due to the preference of my guest, but I’ll definitely give that a try next time.