28 February 2011

Garlic, Garlic and More Garlic

I don't understand people who don't like garlic. Ditto for folks who don't like onions. Or mushrooms. I try not to judge these people, but unless we're talking severe food allergies, I can't wrap my feeble mind around such a phenomenon. I mean, really, how do they even eat?

Garlic is a staple in our kitchen. I use it in just about all of our dinnertime creations. Often it's a member of the chorus, but in my Chicken with Garlic Sauce, it is the star of the show.

We eat Chicken with Garlic Sauce frequently. It's cheap. It's easy. It's healthy. It loves broccoli. But, above all and most importantly, it's garlicky.

And, yes, this post is a clear departure from my usual flour/butter/yeast/sugar antics. I hope you don't mind. While baked goods reign supreme on this blog, I will on occasion share what I make for dinner (see Glop, Chili), if only to make myself feel less butter-filled and more balanced.

Chicken with Garlic Sauce served with broccoli over steamed white rice

Chicken with Garlic Sauce is abundant among takeout joints. Unfortunately, I don't recall how I first came to make it (hey, I am older than I used to be), so if I am not crediting someone out there with inspiring my version, my sincerest apologies.

Chicken with Garlic Sauce
(serve over white or brown rice)
1 tablespoon sesame oil, olive oil or veggie oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (use more if you like, but I like this ratio of chicken to sauce, especially as I intend to eat mine with steamed broccoli and rice), cut into strips or cubed
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
3 packed tablespoons brown sugar
4-5 tablespoons soy sauce (reduced sodium would be healthier, I suppose)
1 heaping tablespoon all-purpose flour

Whisk together brown sugar, soy sauce, minced garlic, 1 cup of chicken stock. Set aside.

In separate bowl (I use a glass measuring cup), whisk remaining 1/2 cup stock with flour until it is free of lumps. Set aside.

Heat oil in large skillet over high heat. Add chicken pieces, lightly browning but not cooking them through. Remove chicken from pan (it is not fully cooked at this point, remember; you will finish cooking it in a minute or two).

Add mixture of brown sugar/soy sauce/garlic/stock to hot skillet, whisking as you do so. Return chicken pieces to skillet.

Cover and reduce heat to simmer for 12-13 minutes.

Again, remove the chicken from the skillet but leave the sauce; use a slotted spoon. Add the flour/stock combo to the skillet.

Bring sauce to a boil to thicken, whisking all the while.

Return chicken to pan, coating it with sauce.

Garlicky goodness

I serve this over steamed white rice, with lots of steamed broccoli to help soak up the sauce. This recipe feeds two hungry, hearty eaters.

20 February 2011

Ubiquitous Banana Bread

Bananas and bittersweet

Despite the fact that banana bread and banana bread recipes seem to be everywhere, all the time, I will share mine here, if for no other reason than for the sake of full disclosure: I bake a batch of banana bread at least once a month, so how could I maintain a baking/random ramblings/food love blog without a banana bread post?

Not so attractive at this point

The man in my life eats a banana every morning. Bananas are tasty and good for you, after all. Still, he can't keep up with supply, and several mushy bananas find themselves in the deep freeze awaiting their fate at the hands of my potato masher and 350-degree oven. Some end up in muffins, others in quick bread studded with bittersweet chocolate chunks.

So, if for some inexplicable reason you can't find your own trusty, go-to banana bread recipe, have a go at this one. It makes four (4) mini-loaves, which I find more manageable than full-size loaves for our household of two.

Banana Bread with Bittersweet Chocolate Chunks
4 large over-ripe bananas, mashed
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
scant 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chunks (feel free to add chopped walnuts or pecans, instead of or in combination with the chocolate)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour baking tins (my mini-loaf pans are about 3 x 5 1/2 inches).

Whisk together dry ingredients. Set aside.

Mix mashed bananas with eggs, sugar and wet ingredients, combining thoroughly.

Fold wet ingredients and chocolate chunks into dry to combine, but don't overwork your batter.

Fill prepared tins about 3/4 of the way and bake for 35-40 minutes.

Leave in pans to cool for about 5 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

When cool, wrap in layer of plastic wrap and layer of aluminum foil. It's best to leave them alone for about a day before scarfing. Also, these breads freeze well.

P.S. Some folks use mini-chocolate chips in their banana bread, if they use chocolate at all. This method is not for me. I like to go whole hog and prefer an infrequent burst of bittersweet to overabundant mini-chippage.

16 February 2011

Chocolate Love

No lumps. No bumps. Just creamy, dreamy bittersweet bliss.

What can I say? I screwed up.

Twice I managed to destroy my Mile-High Chocolate Cream Pie / Valentine's Day post. But here we go. Again. I won't even dare to hope the third time will be the charm. I'll post and never look back, won't go back even for a quick edit or two.

I'll try not to, anyway.

In previous posts, I said a lot of lovely things about love, trying my best not to sound too schmaltzy. Forget all that. I no longer have the words, and, anyway, this is all you really need to know: eat pie; love the one you're with; live together, die alone (gratuitous 'Lost' reference).

If you love chocolate pudding, you will love this pie. It is a richer, more adult version of what you probably ate as a kid. Enjoy.

Mile-High Chocolate Cream Pie 
(Adapted from a recipe in Gourmet magazine / February 2004, my version shows off my homemade chocolate wafer cookies, beaten senseless at the altar of pie crust. Keep in mind, though, the cookies are darkly delicious on their own with a tall glass of cold milk [you will have extra wafers].)

Chocolate wafers (for the cookie crust; if you prefer, use store-bought chocolate wafers or graham crackers):
1 stick salted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3-4 tablespoons skim milk
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
scant 1/4 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Putting the pig to work.

Beat softened butter until creamy; add sugars and beat on high speed until incorporated and fluffy.

Turn mixer to low; beat in milk and gradually add flour mixture 1/4 cup at a time.

Stop mixing once flour is fully incorporated and dough has come together.

Place dough on sheet of waxed paper or plastic wrap and form into a log, the diameter of which will be the approximate width of your cookies once sliced.

Refrigerate log for about an hour.

Position racks in upper and lower thirds of oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets.

Slice dough log into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Place on cookie sheets.

Bake in preheated oven for 10-13 minutes, depending on the thickness of your dough. Rotate baking sheets at about the 6-minute mark.

Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

1 1/3 cups chocolate wafer crumbs (from homemade wafers —recipe above — or store-bought; crush cookies in food processor or place in food-storage bag and beat with rolling pin.)
1/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons butter, melted

2/3 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks (I save the whites for a breakfast sandwich)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole milk (do not use low-fat or skim)
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60-70 percent cacao), melted
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup heavy cream
1 heaping tablespoon sugar (or less; the pie is rich, and I find too-sweet cream overkill)

For the crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees (rack should be in middle position).
With fork, mix wafer crumbs with sugar and melted butter until fully incorporated.

Press crumb mixture into 9-inch pie plate, being sure to make it at least 2/3 of the way up the side.

Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes. Let cool completely on wire rack while you make the filling.

For the filling:
In a large heavy-bottom saucepan, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and salt (do not turn on burner for this step).

Slowly add milk, whisking continuously while you turn the burner on medium heat.

Bring to boil, whisking all the while, then reduce heat and simmer for about a minute, still whisking passionately. (I'm sure you've caught on to the importance of nonstop whisking. Whisk like you've never whisked before. If you do, the promise of creamy, lump-free decadence is yours.)

The filling should be thick. Take off the heat and transfer to large bowl. (At this point, Gourmet instructs one to push the filling through a fine-mesh sieve; well, this one couldn't find her sieve. I momentarily considered forcing it through my flour sifter but upon further reflection smartly decided against it. After all, I whisked like the dickens and felt confident my custard was lump and bump free. Upon feasting later, I discovered I was right.)

Whisk in both chocolates, vanilla and softened butter, mixing thoroughly.

Cover surface of filling with greased round of wax paper (to avoid formation of a funky skin) and let cool completely in the fridge (about 2 hours).

Spoon chilled filling into crust and refrigerate pie, 6 hours or overnight.

To serve:
When you can't take it any longer, whip cream and sugar with electric mixer until fluffy. Top pie with cream and have at it.

I had this for breakfast.

11 February 2011

My Savory Valentine

Rosemary focaccia with garlic-infused olive oil, sea salt and a sprinkling of parm — soon to be pressed either side of grilled chicken, pesto and smoked gouda.

Not everyone has a sweet tooth. Not everyone likes chocolate. Not everyone raids the local CVS for 70-percent-off candy the day after Valentine's, Easter, Halloween. 

People have told me these things. And while I don't necessarily believe them, I play along. After all, my love of food has no borders — well, it may stop dead in its tracks faced with cauliflower, but even then it may be turned on if a nice Indian curry is brought into the mix — and my kitchen doings aren't all about the sweet stuff. In that spirit, bolstered by the knowledge that I'll be making a mile-high chocolate cream pie for Valentine's Day, I played to all the savory teeth out there and baked off some rosemary focaccia with garlic-infused olive oil, sea salt and parmesan cheese.

Now, I do not claim to be a focaccia expert (though I've made it several times). My forefathers and mothers did not make focaccia in their Swedish, Irish and German kitchens (Well, maybe they did. Who am I to say?). But focaccia, my point is, has to be one of the easiest breads to make. And so satisfying. Not to mention amenable to any changes/additions your heart may desire or your pantry/fridge may necessitate (sea salt and olive oil may be all you want, but pancetta and caramelized onions have made their way onto my focaccia and I've never regretted their arrival). Have it your way. My way usually involves rosemary, because I have this wild thing taking over our home:

Yes, there is someone playing a Wii behind the rosemary.

At our house, we like to eat focaccia warm, fresh out of the oven; as the foundation of our sandwiches, slathered with pesto; or in hearty slabs while we contemplate what to make for dinner.

Rosemary Focaccia with Garlic-Infused Olive Oil, Sea Salt and Parm
(makes one 11x17-inch flatbread)

2 teaspoons granulated sugar or honey
1 cup plus 2-3 tablespoons warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant dry yeast (see my rant about instant dry yeast — still not over it)

2-3 tablespoons olive oil (mine is infused with garlic, but regular is fine, of course — you can always rub the dough down with raw garlic or sprinkle it with granulated garlic, if that's what you have handy)
generous shower of sea salt (to taste)
rosemary (to taste — I used 3-4 large sprigs), coarsely chopped
2-3 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large mixing bowl), stir together the sugar, 3/4 cup water, 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt.

In a separate bowl, mix flour with instant dry yeast. Let sit for about 30 seconds.

Add flour/yeast combo in batches to other ingredients, alternating with remaining water, mixing as you go. Work it until dough neatly clears sides of the bowl.

Switch to dough hook and knead for about a minute (or knead by hand on lightly floured board).

Transfer dough to lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Lightly grease a baker's half-sheet pan (11x17 inches).

Punch down dough, kneading briefly, then place it on the prepared pan, pressing and patting it to fill the pan.

Now the fun part: use your fingertips to make dimples (indentations) all over the dough. (I read online that some people actually have a kitchen tool called a "dimpler." I love it for its name alone, but I won't be buying one. My fingers are my dimpling agents.)

Brush dimpled dough with olive oil. Liberally sprinkle with sea salt, garlic, chopped rosemary and grated parmesan.

I am a lover of all things dimpled.

Bake in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, rotating pan at the 7-minute mark.

Eat as is, warm from the oven, or as sandwich bread. (I couldn't help myself and cut some of the flatbread into hearts, as seen in the opening photo, but I understand if that's too adorable for you.)

03 February 2011

Happy Snow Day To Me

Triple Chocolate Babycake studded with bittersweet chunks

Today is a day for celebration. I did my taxes (before April 14 for the first time ever in my life). I shoveled (a lot). I was able to start the car (eventually). And while I've been trying to lay off chocolate in anticipation of the dark things I intend to bake for Valentine's Day, I decided there was no harm in enjoying a few Triple Chocolate Babycakes on a blustery day of such fine accomplishment.

These cakes are small and unadorned for a reason: they are meltingly rich and a few bites will do you (not that I am anyone to judge responsible chocolate intake), and frosting would be unwelcome overkill. 

I enjoyed mine with an icy cold glass of milk, shared a few, and froze the rest.

The moist and gooey insides

Triple Chocolate Babycakes

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped (I used 3/4 of a Ghirardelli 70% cacao bittersweet baking bar)
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (chips work fine, too, of course)
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60% cacao), coarsely chopped (chips, again, are fine)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt (if you use unsalted butter, use a 1/2 teaspoon salt)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Position racks in upper and lower thirds of oven. Line or grease muffin tins (I used 2 standard tins — one 12-cup and one 6-cup — but filled only 16 cups).

Whisk flour, salt and baking soda together. Set aside.

Melt unsweetened chocolate and 1/2 cup of the semisweet chunks in microwave or double boiler. Set aside to cool slightly.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated.

Add melted chocolate to butter/sugar/egg mixture, mixing well.

Add flour mixture and milk to batter, alternating in a few batches. 

Fold in the bittersweet chunks and remaining semisweet chunks.

Fill prepared muffins cups about 3/4 of the way.

Bake in preheated oven for 24-26 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. (You can test for doneness with a cake tester / toothpick, but try to avoid any molten chunks that might throw you off. Good luck. ... Really, though, the cakes will set up nicely and lose that wet look when fully cooked. Also, it's a good rule of thumb to check them when you smell them.) 

Cool in pans about 15 minutes before releasing to wire racks to continue cooling.

Serve warm or cooled, as is or with a scoop of your favorite vanilla bean ice cream.

(Recipe makes 14-16 Triple Chocolate Babycakes, depending on the size of the tins. Babycakes freeze well.)

01 February 2011

Chili's BFF: Fresh, Warm Corn Muffins

Lightly sweetened with brown sugar ...

Small-Batch Corn Muffins
(To sop up your chili, as promised.)
As much as I love corn muffins, I don't want to be overrun by them. They have their place among the bagels, wheat bread, cardamom breadbanana pecan muffins, cakes, pies and cookies competing for my affections. That's why this recipe is perfect for our household of two; it makes about six (6) standard-size muffins.

The wet:
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted

The dry:
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 

Line or grease a 6-cup standard-size muffin tin; if you're using a bigger tin, fill the remaining cups with water about half-way.

Whisk dry ingredients together in large bowl.

Gently fold wet ingredients into dry, using as few strokes as possible, to combine.

Bake in preheated oven for 13-15 minutes. Serve warm with or without butter, honey, chili ...