Brownies

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I have a new favorite brownie. David Lebovitz is pretty much a genius when it comes to desserts and I really love his other brownies, but I have to admit, these are better. These are great. These are better than any brownie I’ve ever eaten, with the possible exception of the brownie I had in Belgium. I can’t say for certain that the Belgium brownie was better, but I do know the creme anglaise was pure perfection.

But I digress. These. These brownie. Really, I can’t say anything else. I followed the recipe (amazingly) except for the salt on top and I used caramel I had on hand and didn’t make any special for these. Try them. Make them. Delight in the perfection of a rich, sweet, chocolatey brownie with a little caramel cheesecake texture in the swirl.

And just because I was home for a few weeks and had time to spend with them … the pets.

Steam Buns

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Even with a little time off I can’t seem to get it together enough to update the blog before Christmas. Oh well, these things.

While I generally don’t eat meat these days, I haven’t given it up entirely because I’m a fussy eater and I like options. This means that every now and then, Bob gets a meat dish at home because I really want to try to make something. This week that was steam buns. My Asian market didn’t have the buns when I went to look for them. I looked in every section, on every shelf, in the freezer section, in the chilled shelves, etc. Nothing. No steam buns. None of those delicate pockets of goodness waiting to be filled. I did find steam bun flour, so I picked up that and decided to try my hand at making my own. img_2248

The package directions were … unusual to say the least and not entirely written in English. To combat this, I also scoured the web to see if I could find a good set of directions for making steam buns and found one recipe that looked easy enough to follow. I didn’t follow either the package directions (such that I could make them out) or the BBC recipe exactly, but sort of combined them to come up with a dough that looked right.

Complicating my desire to make steam buns at home – I don’t own a steamer. I thought about baking them, I thought about trying to steam them in the oven, but in the end I came up with a method to steam them that actually worked. It’s my soup pot (or pasta pot or whatever – my large pot) with a thing I use to cook vegetables on the grill and a large glass lid. Much to my surprise, this actually worked!

For the filling, I went traditional – kind of. I had made pulled pork a while back when we had Mom and Dad over for lunch, and I still had half of that in the freezer. I went with a basic hoisin/soy sauce combination for the meat and did a quick pickle on some vegetables – red onion, carrots and cucumber. Quick pickle the vegetables, heat the pork with the sauce and add to the home made steam buns.

The verdict? The buns themselves were really close to the package ones, but definitely not as pretty. I also need to alter the recipe a little, such as using water instead of soy milk, and I may try the regular flour with yeast version. For the filling, I liked the sauce, but I need a little less meat for the amount of sauce I made (I used half of the pork I had in the freezer). So, it tasted good, but I wanted more sauce. It is all about the sauce. The quick picked vegetables were perfect – crisp, tangy and really well balanced with the buns and the meat. This was a really good first attempt, but something that I do need to alter, just a little, to get exactly right.

You can tell which are mine and which are Bob’s by the ratio of pork to vegetables in these. I have a little pork with a lot of vegetables while he has more pork and fewer vegetables. I’m thinking of using some of the leftover General Tso’s tofu that I made Christmas night (yes, we had homemade Chinese for Christmas dinner) as my filling for lunch today and leave Bob with the pork.

I am going to wait to post the steam bun recipe itself until I can perfect it, but the sauce is pretty simple:

  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

Mix well.

For the quick picked vegetables I used:

  • 1 tablespoon mild vinegar (rice wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • pinch of salt

Mix well until sugar and salt are fairly well dissolved. Add vegetables (I did these as separate) and mix to coat. Chill for about ten to fifteen minutes.

 

Sweet Potato Chili

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Bob told me I can’t call this chili, but I disagree. He claims chili is more liquid-y and doesn’t have as many chunks in it. I understand where he is coming from, Texas style chili is almost all meat, cooked down to a very thick soup and spiced. But I grew up with a different kind of chili, one where meat, beans and peppers all played a big role in the texture and flavor. I know, there is a lot of debate about chili and what it technically is, but I’m calling this chili in large part because the recipe it is based off called it chili.

We had a cold front come through, complete with a very cold rain that felt a little like icicles falling on your skin. This didn’t last, but it did get me in the mood for winter type food, and chili is definitely a winter food. I thought about making Bob super happy and making a traditional meat chili, but that would not make me very happy (and he is already getting hosing pork buns as soon as I manage to make it to the Asian market). I found a Jamie Oliver recipe for sweet potato chili and thought it looked interesting – minus some of the seasoning, the black beans and flour tortillas for the chips. But receipts are a suggestions, a starting point, so that is what I did.

I started with the basics of his version and changed a few things. Rather than use a dried or fresh chili and garlic, I went with chili garlic sauce. I really dislike blackens, so I substituted pinto beans. I like cheese on my chili, so I added that. Corn tortillas made great chips, so I swapped them for the four ones he recommends. I didn’t have smoked paprika on hand so I used regular paprika and two drops of liquid smoke. It worked. I really loved this chili. It may become my new go-to chili. And maybe, since I love this one so much, I’ll make Bob a meat chili so he can have his own.

Recipe:

  • 2 scallions
  • 1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
  • 1/2 pepper – orange, yellow or red
  • 1 sweet potato (small to medium)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 drops liquid smoke
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seed
  • 3/4 cup diced tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 1, 7.75 oz can pinto beans, drained
  • 2 tablespoons plain greek yogurt
  • 1/2 lime
  • 2 corn tortillas
  • 1 teaspoon chopped cilantro
  • shredded cheese mix
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • rice for service

cook rice per package directions

Heat over to 350. Roll tortillas into a log shape and slice to create threads. toss with a little bit of oil and salt and bake for about 8 minutes – you want them crispy but not burnt.

Slice scallions, separating white/light green parts from dark green parts. Dice the pepper and grate the sweet potato.

Heat 1/2 teaspoon oil in a pan. When hot, add white/light green scallions, paprika, chili powder, cumin seed, chili garlic sauce and liquid smoke.  Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, about two minutes.

Add pepper and sweet potato. Stir to combine with spices. Add tomatoes and broth and mix well. Season with salt and pepper then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low/low and add beans. Mix and cover. let simmer 15-25 minutes.

Remove from heat. Add dark green scallions, yogurt and lime juice. Mix well.

Layer – rice, chili, chopped cilantro, tortilla strips and cheese. Serve hot.

*recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Sweet Potato Chili. (I forget where I found it originally.)

And just because they are cute ….

Never count a kitten out

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The week of the November holiday that I shall not name, Bob and I noticed Leia was not doing well. She wasn’t eating much, didn’t have a lot of energy and had stopped cleaning herself. When she refused kitty crack (aka hairball malt) three days in a row, we knew we had to take her to the vet. I’m going to admit to being weepy and scared at this point since this year wasn’t so good for my babies, and bad things seem to come up during this time of year.

img_2157The vet checked everything you should check for a kitty that isn’t eating and it turned out her kidney values were really high. This , combined with her three pound weight loss, was just about the worst news I could think of given what we knew of this from Jessie last year, but cats can come back from kidney issues in ways dogs just can’t. If this is an infection, she can recover. If it’s chronic, she won’t.

The vet recommended checking her into the kitty hospital over the weekend for IV fluids and monitoring. I really didn’t want to do this, but Bob wanted to give her the best chance we could, so we took her. The hospital was great, and sent up updates on how she was doing and then transferred her back to my vet Monday morning. Turns out my little kitty had a really bad kidney infection with multiple kinds of bacteria. She gets a double dose of antibiotics to make sure we wipe the infection out, but she should recover.

img_2177Leia, as many know, is a scrappy little kitten. Abandoned by her mother at just a few days old, the vets didn’t give her much of a chance early on. She was bottle fed by a kind women until the rescue could take her – she didn’t want her and her brother to go to the shelter because she knew they wouldn’t make it. She survived that, she thrived despite her nose issues and she has done really well for ten years without much intervention. This was the first time she has been really sick since I brought her home, but she somehow manages to surprise everyone.

img_2181She is back to eating and drinking normally and she loves the new kidney care food the vet prescribed. I was shocked since Jessie wouldn’t touch the stuff, but Leia loves it. We are transitioning both her and Tigger to an all wet food diet and they love this. I am hoping that between the antibiotics, the other meds and a little TLC she will be around for another ten years. She is a scrappy little kitten, and one everyone who meets her adores. Even the vet tech who doesn’t like cats, liked Leia.

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Garden Quiche

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After almost a decade in Florida I have finally had success with the garden. For the first time since I left Jersey, I have actual home grown vegetables that I can eat. It is so exciting to me that I got a little giddy. Yes, that tells you something about how exciting my life is that I get giddy about vegetables, but there you have it.

I really missed good tomatoes. The kind of tomatoes that actually have flavor. The ones that taste like sunshine – you know, Jersey tomatoes. These are not Jersey tomatoes, but they have actual taste, actual flavor and there are more on the vine! I didn’t get a ton from the first picking, but enough that I decided to make a quiche.

img_2193I was pretty excited to have enough vegetables to make stuff with and I decided that the kale and the tomatoes would make a great brunch dish. I picked all the vine ripe tomatoes I had (just a handful, but that was enough) and a few kale leaves and combined that with a small shallot to make the filling for the quiche.

I stuck with a basic recipe and didn’t try to do anything fancy with it. Soften and slightly caramelize the shallots in a little butter, add the kale and cook until bright green and wilted. Season with salt and pepper and add the tomatoes.

I started with my basic pie crust, par baked for ten minutes to prevent the dreaded “soggy bottom” that always gets contestants on the Great British Bake Off in trouble. (If you have no idea what I am talking about, go you-tube and search … warning, the show is addictive.) Once the crust was baked I added the vegetables to the crust, topped with some grated gruyere cheese and then added the egg/milk mixture and baked. The results were fantastic!

Bob and I had the same reaction – we wanted to find fault with this. We wanted it to need something like bacon (or eggplant bacon in my case) but it just didn’t. It had a really good depth of flavor, a good bit of egg taste, the sweetness from the cheese and the freshness of the vegetables. We both went back for seconds.

Recipe:

  • handful cherry tomatoes
  • handful of kale (maybe 2 ounces??)
  • 1 shallot
  • 1/2 cup grated gruyere cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • 150 ml milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pat butter
  • 1 pie crust
    • 1.5 cup flour
    • 1 stick salted butter
    • 3-5 tablespoons water

To make the crust, mix flour and half the water in a food processor with a dough blade. Mix and add butter, one pat at a time until incorporated. Turn out onto floured surface and form into ball, adding more water if needed. Roll out into large enough circle to cover pie plate, press into pie plate and place in freezer until over heats.

Heat over to 350 degrees. Once hot, par bake the pie crust, ten minutes. Be sure to fork the crust to prevent air pockets.

While crust cooks, thinly slice the shallot and kale, cut the tomatoes in half. Heat one pat of butter (1/2 tablespoon) in pan and once hot and melted, add the shallot. Cook stirring until soft and slightly browned – three to five minutes – over medium heat. Add the kale and cook, stirring until soft. Add salt and pepper to taste (add more than you think you need so you don’t need to add more to the egg mixture). Toss in tomatoes and mix together.

Spread the kale mixture into the crust, forming a relatively even layer. Top with 1/2 cup grated cheese. Mix 150 ml milk with 4 large eggs and beat to combine. Pour egg mixture over the cheese and kale mix and return to the over. Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes, covering after 25-30 to prevent the crust from burning. Check that the eggs are cooked by using the toothpick method. Remove from oven, let sit for a few minutes then slice and serve.

*recipe for the quiche adapted from Food.com basic quiche recipe.