April 26, 2009

Everything Blondies

I can't believe I'm done with college.  Well, almost done.  Classes ended this friday and now I only have a couple papers and some paintings to work on and then I'll be finished.  I can't believe I'll be moving out of the house that I've lived in for the past two years.  It's definitely a weird time to say the least.

Anyway, since my roommates and I will be moving out of here in a couple weeks, no one's really been on top of grocery shopping.  We don't have milk or eggs as of two or three days ago but there's still a more than fair amount of food in our pantry and fridge.  

I was craving brownies last night and craving baking.  It's been too long.  But instead of baking I hung out with my friends and the urge passed; it came back today though and I decided to make some blondies.  I didn't really want to go the vegan route so luckily I had some egg whites in the fridge.  

These blondies were a total improv though.  I looked at a few recipes online but just felt like experimenting.  I had some ingredients I felt like throwing in and some overripe bananas I wanted off the counter so I worked with what I had and added a little bit of everything.

They came out quite well too, and overall I'm really pleased with them.  They're super moist and chewy with pockets of slightly melty chocolate chips.  However, despite them being tasty, the banana flavor seems to dominate almost "everything."  I wish I could taste the maple syrup, the peanut butter, and the coconut a little bit more so of course,  I think the recipe could be tweaked.  It's not perfect, but the texture is wonderful. 

I could also see these working well if the bananas were replaced with yogurt and perhaps if more peanut butter and coconut were added or maybe even some nuts.  But I'm still very happy with them because they are a healthier version of blondies that doesn't sacrifice any flavor or texture.  

They only have a half stick of butter in them and I could even see using a little less.  You could also use half whole wheat flour instead of just a quarter cup (there was no rhyme or reason to that decision).  I think the recipe is relatively forgiving so if you try any other combinations, let me know how they turn out!

Everything Blondies
Adapted from various sources

1/4 cup butter (plus more for the pan), softened
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cup grade b maple syrup
1/4 cup liquid egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch ground cinnamon
1/4 cup unsweetned flaked coconut
1 cup chocolate chips
2 tablespoons all-natural peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease an 8x8 brownie pan with butter.  Cream butter and brown sugar together in a medium bowl.  Mash bananas in another medium bowl.  Add maple syrup, egg whites and vanilla to banana mixture and combine.  Then add both flours, baking powder and cinnamon to the banana mixture and combine well.  Add banana/flour mixture to creamed butter and sugar and mix until well combined.  Add coconut, chocolate chips and peanut butter and mix until well combined.  Pour batter into prepared brownie pan and bake for about 28 minutes until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

April 25, 2009

From Homemade Marinara Sauce to Lamb Ragú with Mint

Finally! It's been a long time since I've cooked anything interesting. First it was because I was drowning in school work and then because I got sick, but now, finally, I have time again.

I actually watched Giada make this dish on her show a few weeks ago and it has stuck with me ever since. It looked so wonderful and simple when I saw her make it on t.v., but also rather sophisticated in terms of flavor.

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I am not the biggest fan of lamb. Usually I find it way too tender and think it has a kind of odd aftertaste, but there have been a few select lamb dishes I have enjoyed. One extremely memorable one was a hummus topped with ground lamb at a terrific Middle Eastern restaurant in Washington D.C. called Mama Ayesha's. I think I liked that dish so much because of the innovative combination but also because the lamb wasn't as tender when it was ground.

So, since this dish looked so appealing when Giada made it on her show, I decided I had to try it. Also, even though a ragú is heavier than a marinara sauce, the flavor of the lamb is subtle and the mint freshens and lightens the whole dish making is suitable for spring.

The only change I made was adding the mint on top as a garnish rather than stirring it in because I was hesitant as to how it would taste. Overall, I thought it worked in the dish but I don't necessarily think it needed it. For me, the lamb ragú was just as good without the mint.

Marinara Sauce
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

In a large pot, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour.

Lamb Ragú with Mint
*This recipe says that it serves four, but I halved it and still had enough to feed four people.

1 pound rigatoni pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup red wine
4 cups marinara sauce, store-bought or home made
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, torn
1/2 cup ricotta cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet warm the olive oil over high heat. Add the shallots and the garlic and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the ground lamb, salt, and pepper. Cook until the lamb has browned and the juices have evaporated. Add the wine, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan using a wooden spoon. Simmer until the wine has reduced by half. Add the marinara sauce and simmer over low heat until the flavors have blended, about 10 minutes. Add the mint and ricotta and stir until mixed. Add the pasta and stir to coat. Serve immediately.

April 8, 2009

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake

Although I didn't eat much of this cake because I made it for my boyfriend, I can confidently say that it was very very good. And if you need a bit more proof than that (although shouldn't you trust me by now?), my boyfriend ate the entire thing over the course of one weekend. Now I don't condone this kind of behavior, in all honesty, it makes me uncomfortable to think about all that cake going into one person's body in a mere 2 to 3 days. But no judgment-- it was good.

The recipe for the cake came from Sky High, a beautiful book dedicated to triple layer cakes, which I learned about from where else: smitten kitchen. My boyfriend actually bought me the book this past Christmas, so I thought it would only be appropriate to make a cake for him using it.

In the book, this cake is frosted with a peanut butter buttercream and then smothered with a gooey chocolate peanut butter glaze but I altered the fixings to suit my boyfriend's taste. He likes pudding-- jello pudding to be exact, and he isn't the biggest fan of frosting.

Since I have had a cake with pudding filling once before and it was a-m-a-z-i-n-g, I had no problem making this substitution.  I actually used jello pudding, for reasons of convenience, but you could of course make your own.  For the frosting I just did a very thin layer of a simple vanilla buttercream (but any frosting will do) and then decorated the top with melted chocolate.

The thin layer of frosting didn't make it the prettiest cake ever, but it sure did taste good. (To see the version of the cake as written, check out smitten kitchen's post entitled Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake)

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1/3 cup applesauce*
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil, applesauce and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans.

To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread about 1/2 cup pudding over the top leaving about 3/4 of an inch rim around the layer un-pudding-ed. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with the vanilla buttercream.

Decorate with melted chocolate if desired. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to allow the pudding, frosting and chocolate to set completely. Remove about 1 hour before serving.

*This is the first time I've substituted applesauce for part of the oil in a chocolate cake (I have done it many times in quick breads with great results) and this, I am happy to say worked wonderfully as well. I couldn't taste the applesauce at all and if anything, it made the cake more moist. I think you could even do a 1/2 cup applesauce and a 1/2 cup oil.  

If you try any new measurements, let me know how it turns out!