A friend sent me a link to a blog that showed a triple layer brownie: chocolate chip cookie crust on the bottom, Oreos in the middle, and a brownie layer on top. It was a great concept but both the bottom and top layers were made from (shudder) box mixes. You know how I feel about mixes. My snobby baking soul can't handle them except on rare occasions and only if enough other ingredients are mixed into the base mix so that you can't taste the mixiness of the finished product. But, regardless, the brownie was a great concept so I decided to recreate it my way – from scratch.
You can use almost any chocolate chip cookie recipe for the bottom layer but go for the ones that spread or aren't too cakey. I chose this one as it was part of a recipe that uses the chocolate chip cookie as a crust for a tart. I adapted the brownie recipe from Chocolate Ecstasy: that recipe called for oil but I substituted in butter for better flavor and increased the flour from 2/3 cup to 3/4 cup for slightly more substance.
I liked how this brownie turned out. I originally baked the chocolate chip layer for only 10 minutes since I was afraid of overbaking it once I layered the Oreos and brownie batter on top but it probably would've been better to bake a few minutes longer to just barely past the wet dough stage. Still, it was pretty good. The base was buttery and moist and the brownie layer was all chocolate glory with the flavor being fortified by a good-quality dark cocoa (I always use Pernigotti). And I don't have to rhapsodize about Oreos in anything – they speak for themselves.
This was the last thing I made during my nieces' visit last weekend and I packed them up for them to take back to their respective schools and friends. They gave it the highest accolade in their collegiate vocabulary: "These are bomb!" The brownies were also classified as "sick" which apparently doesn't mean what my generation thinks it means but is actually also a positive accolade. I really must keep up with the latest lingo.
Oreo-Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookie Brownies
Chocolate Chip Cookie Crust
Source: The Essential Chocolate Chip Cookbook by Elinor Klivans
1 cup plus
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/2 cup light brown sugar
6 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9-inch square baking pan and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
Sift the flour, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until smoothly blended, about 1 minute. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until blended, about 1 minute. On low speed, add the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Layer evenly in the prepared baking pan and bake for 12-15 minutes.
Line top with Oreos, making an even layer.
While crust is baking, make brownies as directed below. Pour brownie mixture and return pan to oven.
Source: Chocolate Ecstasy by Christine France
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1-1/4 cups light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
Melt the chocolate and butter together and cool slightly.
Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla extract together. Stir in melted chocolate-butter mixture. Beat until evenly mixed.Sift flour and cocoa powder into the bowl and fold in thoroughly. Do not overmix.
Pour brownie batter over Oreo layer, covering them completely. Bake 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center of the brownie comes out with moist crumbs.
Related post: Dulce de Leche Snickers Brownies
This was the first recipe I tried from Maria Speck's wonderful new cookbook, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals last summer (congrats to Maria on all the wonderful press her book has gotten of late – it's richly deserved!). We brought a small tub of this brilliantly colored quinoa to a barbecue and it was such a hit with everyone that I've made it several times since then.
In addition to the gorgeous, ruby-like color, I was drawn by the idea of infusing the quinoa with cumin's exotic flavor and tempering it with the beets' intense sweetness. And I decided to take things one step further and use the beet greens in some quick curried chickpeas to add a little extra protein. Top the whole thing with some yogurt or raita and you're in business!
After conquering my unfounded initial dislike of it, quinoa has become one of my favorite grains. It's got a unique flavor – pleasantly nutty yet mild enough for versatility, and it cooks quickly. It's also one of those "super foods" that people love to blather on about (I won't bore you by talking about its superior nutritional qualities but, rest assured, it has them!)
Cumin is one of the backbones of Indian and Mexican food and I use it often – I love its pungent, slightly earthy flavor. This recipe calls for simmering the quinoa with whole cumin seeds to impart some of that nice flavor to the grain. Check the bulk section of your health food or grocery store to find it whole. It should be cheap.
Beets are another food that I had to conquer my distaste for but am now 100 percent sold on. I think that in this case, it was a matter of my taste buds finally maturing or something – how else can I account for my vehement dislike of their earthy flavor for nearly 30 years? But now I think beets are the bomb! Rich, beautiful and incredibly sweet. Plus, they're also sickeningly good for you - packed with nutrients and antioxidants. I'm always amazed by the brilliance of their color. I've come to love them raw – they're great in green salads, too. Crunchy and sweet!
Mix them with the quinoa and you get a simply breathtaking dish.
As for the chickpeas, these are quick and easy and mighty tasty. I washed the beet greens (no need to throw them away – they're also yummy and good for you.) Then removed the ribs to chop them up finely since they're tougher than the greens and cut the leaves into ribbons.Then I chopped up an onion and a bunch of garlic and sauteed them in some olive oil along with a pinch of red pepper flakes. Once the onion was translucent, I added the beet stems followed a few minutes later by the greens. Tossed in some spices, a couple cans of Eden organic (and BPA-free) chickpeas and let it all meld together, seasoning with salt and pepper, and voilà – a savory, curried mess of garbanzos and greens.
The curried chickpeas go very nicely with the nutty, beet-sweetened quinoa. Top with a spoonful of yogurt or raita and you'll be glad if you've made enough to have leftovers – this dish only improves with a day or two's time to let the flavors deepen.
Just a quick note that Maria's recipe calls for sumac which I did not have – you can substitute some lemon juice as I've done if you can't find this ingredient.
Cumin-Scented Quinoa With Beets Topped With Curried Chickpeas & Beet Greens
Adapted from Maria Speck's Ancient Grains for Modern Meals
For the quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 cup quinoa, well rinsed and drained
1-1/2 cups water
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sumac or lemon juice
1-1/4 cups shredded raw beets (about 1 medium-sized beet, rinsed and peeled)
1 to 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
A pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
For the chickpeas:
2 tsp olive oil
30-ounce or two cans of rinsed, drained cooked chickpeas (if you're using canned, buy Eden organics as their cans are BPA-free)
1 medium onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
Beet greens from one bunch of beets, washed, ribs removed and chopped, leaves chopped into ribbons (if your beets did not come with their greens, you can substitute spinach or some chard or skip it altogether if you prefer)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
3 teaspoons curry powder or garam masala
Sea salt to taste
Ground pepper to taste
For the topping:
Plain whole milk yogurt (or, if you're feeling up to it, stir in some diced cucumber, minced garlic, chopped cilantro, salt and pepper and thin it with a jot of milk to turn the plain yogurt into raita)
1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the cumin seeds (they will sizzle) and cook, stirring, until the seeds darken and become fragrant, 30 seconds. Stir in the quinoa and cook, stirring frequently, until hot to the touch, about 1 minute. Add the water, salt, and sumac (if you have it), and bring to a boil. Decrease the temperature to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the liquid is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile make the chickpeas. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and red pepper flakes and sautée for 2-3 minutes until the onion begins to soften. Add the garlic and sautée a few more minutes until it becomes fragrant. Add the chopped beet green stems, stir and sautée for 2 minutes. Throw in the beet greens and stir, sautéeing another 1-2 minutes. Add the chickpeas, curry powder or garam masala and any other spices you desire, season with salt and pepper and stir well. Cook for another 5 or so minutes, stirring occasionally, then turn off the heat and let sit.
3. To finish, stir the shredded beets into the saucepan of quinoa, cover, and let steam for 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and the cayenne pepper. Taste, adjusting for salt and lemon juice, and serve topped with the curried chickpeas and the yogurt or raita.
Realted post: Lemon-Scented Quinoa With Tahini and Chickpeas
Winter was a flop this year (unless you live in Europe) but that doesn't mean you can't sparkle on Academy Award night. Throw an Oscar party potluck and assign each of your friends to bring one of these Best-Picture inspired dishes. Better yet, require your guests to wear their favorite rhinestones and best duds (or that bridesmaid dress they have yet to wear again). Find a scrap of red carpet for a star-studded entrance and hand out score cards to see who comes the closest to calling the most awards.
Here to you help you get organized are nine Stir It Up! recipes closely tied (or as close as we could get) to the Best Picture nominees as described in the Monitor's Daily News Briefing from February 22.
The envelope, please!
A star of the silent movie era tries to cope with the onset of talkies, and in the process falls in love with a young actress whose cinematic career is on the rise. To evoke the period, this mostly silent film is shot in black and white.
Recipe: Black and white bean chicken chili A black-and-white themed dish, with a kick of heat at the end.
George Clooney plays a real estate lawyer living in Hawaii whose wife ends up in a coma after a boating accident, forcing him to step up to the challenges of fathering two daughters who test his character. Hawaii’s scenery does a star turn.
Recipe: Tropical chicken salad Pineapple is king in Hawaii, and this traditional chicken salad will deliver you to paradise with pineapple, mango, and kiwi.
Two years after his father is killed in the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, the 9-year-old son searches New York’s five boroughs trying to find a lock that matches a mysterious key found in the father’s closet.
Recipe: Key lime cupcakes A key in a cupcake is the perfect size for a boy's backpack.
A young, white college graduate returns home to Jackson, Miss., during the civil rights movement. An aspiring writer, she goes to work on a book that will tell the fascinating untold stories of a group of African-American maids.
Recipe: Chocolate cream pie Help restore faith in this classic delicious dessert! Those who can't stomach it means more pie for you....
This family film by director Martin Scorsese tells the story of an orphan boy in the 1930s who lives in the walls of a Paris train station. With a friend’s help, he seeks to solve a mystery that involves a drawing and a mechanical man.
Recipe: Mussels and frites Because you'll need dexterity to scoop out the mussels and because no one ever outgrows french fries.
Woody Allen’s romantic comedy begins as a business/pleasure trip for an American family. The screenwriter in the group longs to be part of the Paris1920s cultural scene, but his mysterious journeys back to that era prove problematic.
Recipe: Soupe au pistou With enough imagination, you, too, will have a French accent after eating this hearty soup.
Brad Pitt portrays baseball’s Billy Beane, the real-life general manager of the Oakland A’s, whose unorthodox, geekish approach to evaluating players allows him to assemble a competitive, low-budget team.
Recipe: Caramel corn Take me out to the ballgame!
The eldest son of a Texas family in the 1950s tries, as an adult, to work through a sense of disillusionment that lingers from the relationship he had with his strict father. Cosmic images are woven in to lend the story metaphysical heft.
Recipe: Cheesy chicken enchiladas This family-sized, close-to-the-border comfort food might help ease away those painful family memories.
Albert, a young man living in the English countryside before World War I, bonds with the horse, Joey, his family buys at auction. The horse is sold to a cavalry officer for needed money. Thereafter, the the questions is: Will Albert and Joey be reunited?
Recipe: Lancashire hotpot English-inspired and hearty enough to satisfy a solider or hard-working farmer.
If this star-studded round-up still isn't enough, check out our list of appetizer recipes for more Oscar party ideas.
Cue the music!
This one is for Emily. Apparently it's possible for someone to love kale more than I do.
We met her for lunch yesterday at Skillet Diner. We split lunch, and she wisely chose the Kale Caesar instead of fries as our side. I was a little wistful – I've said no to fries maybe one other time in my life. But love demands sacrifice, so I went along.
Of course, it was no sacrifice. Curly, bright green kale with garlicky Caesar clinging to the ridges, every forkful a hit of winter vitamins. I made the kids a giant vat of white rice for lunch today and got busy making this for myself. I'm tracking my calories lately, and apparently a plateful of this salad will deliver over 800% of your daily vitamin A. I know you don't need that fact to entice you, though.
These days, I often have a bag of Trader Joe's washed kale around. When the farmers markets open, I'll commence with washing it again. If you have dino (aka lacinato) kale around, that's even more delicious here, but more expensive and a little harder to find. (Have I mentioned that our house in Bellingham is 5 minutes from Trader Joe's? It's rough.)
Kale Caesar with Rye Croutons
1 large head kale, washed, spun dry, and chopped
4 slices dense rye bread
Parmesan or manchego cheese, shaved off with a vegetable peeler
1 large clove garlic
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
freshly ground pepper
pinch of kosher salt
To make dressing, put all ingredients into a beaker and stick your immersion blender in there. (Or use a food processor.) Add more of anything to taste or thin with a little water if it's too thick.
To make croutons, heat a castiron griddle or pan over medium-high heat. Brush bread with olive oil and fry until golden brown on both sides. Cut into cubes.
Toss kale with croutons, cheese and dressing (maybe not all of it), saving a bit of everything for the top.
Related post: Cumin Fried Rice with Chorizo and Kale
In Rio they have Carnival, in the New Zealand it’s Shrove Tuesday, in the UK it’s Pancake Day, and in New Orleans it’s Mardi Gras. Here in Washington, D.C. it’s just the Tuesday after President’s Day … but hey, we’re only 1,084 miles from The Big Easy, so I’m going to listen to some jazz and blues, eat a gaudy green/purple/gold cupcake, and wish a Happy Mardi Gras to you all!
These cupcakes are inspired by the traditional Mardi Gras King Cake. The King Cake actually originates from the Epiphany celebration that traditionally falls on January 6 (12 days after Christmas) and recognizes the day that the kings (Magi) arrived in Bethlehem and Jesus was baptized. In the Southern United States, the King Cake is a part of the entire Carnival season of celebrations (a party a week – woohoo!), which last from Epiphany to Mardi Gras and the beginning of Lent.
King Cakes are usually circular twists of brioche-style bread decorated with traditional Mardi Gras colors. They're sometimes filled with cream cheese or fruit. They also tend to have a plastic baby, bean, orange peel, or nut hidden inside – whoever finds the hidden treat is the “king” of the party, or has to make the cake for the next party. (I didn't hide anything, but you definitely can!)
Since I’m not actually a Southerner, I hope you’ll forgive me for adjusting this traditional treat and making my own mini version: King Cake Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Filling. Keep in mind that the cake is actually a yeast dough, so it’s bready like brioche. After baking, the cream cheese filling kind of disappeared ... so though it added some extra richness and flavor you could skip it altogether if you would like.
King Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Filling
Inspired by Baking Bites
Makes about 15 cupcakes
2-1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2-1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast (.25-oz)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk (any kind), warm (100-110 degrees F.)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs and 1 egg yolk room temperature (save the white for the filling)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 4-ounce cream cheese (1/2 block), room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg white
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Line cupcake tins.
In a large bowl or the bowl of an electric stand mixer, combine 3/4 cup flour, sugar, yeast and salt. Stir to combine.
Add in warm milk and oil, then beat mixture for 2 minutes at medium speed. The paddle attachment works the best for this recipe. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, waiting until each has been fully incorporated to add the next. Add in the vanilla extract and an additional 1/2 cup of flour and beat for 2 more minutes at medium-high speed.
Stir in all remaining flour (creating a thick batter, rather than a standard dough), then cover the bowl and let rest for 10 minutes while you make the filling.
For the filling, beat together all ingredients at high speed until smooth and fluffy.
Scoop about half the dough into each cupcake tin (about 3 Tablespoons per cupcake). Using a spoon, add dollops of cream cheese filling to each cupcake.
Spoon the remaining batter over each cupcake, trying to cover the filling (you won’t be able to completely cover it, which is fine). Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (under a lamp, in a 100 degrees oven, on top of the dryer, etc.) until doubled in size, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake cupcakes for 15-18 minutes.
Let cakes cool in pans for 5 minutes, then turn them out to finish cooling on a wire rack.
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2-3 tbsp water
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
Beat all ingredients except food coloring until smooth, adding more water or powdered sugar as necessary to reach a drippy but not liquid consistency.
Scoop out 1/3 of the icing into a separate bowl and mix in food coloring (as you can see, I went with purple).
Spoon white frosting over the cooled cupcakes. Using a fork, drip purple frosting on top, then immediately decorate with sprinkles!
For a printable version of this recipe, click here.
I frequently email myself food ideas when I come across them, as inspiration for future posts here. Often, these emails will include a link to the article or restaurant review or whatever got me thinking about cooking something. Not so with the email whose subject line read “duck gumbo?” The entire contents of the email read “try some.”
Undaunted, I turned to Google. Then I was daunted. Almost all recipes called for multiple whole ducks. One called for five or six, which were to be covered with water in a pot. Who owns a pot that big? I couldn’t help but picture a big galvanized wash tub sitting atop all four burners on the stove.
Still, with the arrival of Mardi Gras and the flavors of duck and andouille sausage stuck in my head, I knew I had to make something work. If you’re an even semi-regular reader here, you know we love duck. And how can you go wrong with andouille, the spicy, smoky pork sausage created by the French and co-opted by Louisiana Cajuns?
Gumbo is a hearty soup or stew long tied to Louisiana and traditional Mardi Gras celebrations. It usually contains some combination of poultry, seafood, meat and sausage in a spice-rich broth that may be thickened with a roux or okra or both. Aromatic vegetables like onion, celery, bell peppers and garlic add to its big flavor. Gumbo is simmered for hours (I found cooking times from a leisurely nine hours to a strangely precise two hours, five minutes) and served with cooked rice.
There are both Cajun and Creole versions of gumbo as well as others, with considerable overlap in the recipes. My own version is something of a mutt – hence the hedged bets in the subhead above. Marion points out that nearly all cultures have some sort of long-cooked soup or stew as part of their heritage, but none is like gumbo.
Roux, gumbo’s French heart. Gumbo has many influences, including African, but roux – flour cooked in an equal amount of fat – is pure French. But it has become a Louisiana kitchen staple. In fact, it’s been said that almost every recipe from southern Louisiana begins with, “First, you make a roux.”
A few years ago, James DeWan wrote a helpful piece on making a roux for the Chicago Tribune, “Roux the day.” In it, he explains how a roux works to thicken sauces and what makes it different from using a slurry of flour and water or the also French beurre manié. The main difference is that the flour is cooked in a roux, doing away with that raw flour taste – indeed, you can smell it dissipating as the roux darkens. That darkening is the other thing. Depending on how long you cook your roux, you end up with a white, blond or brown roux. Some Cajun recipes call for cooking roux until it’s just short of black.
In researching gumbo, I noticed that many writers included photos of their roux. I assumed it was to illustrate the proper color. As my roux darkened to a deep mahogany under my watchful eye, I suspected there was some pride involved, too. Even though I rarely include food-in-progress shots with my recipes, I was tempted to photograph my roux. There is nothing difficult about making a roux; you just have to watch your heat and patiently stir it for 15 minutes or more. But there is just something elemental and satisfying about performing a simple, timeless cooking technique and getting it right.
Elemental and satisfying is a good way to describe gumbo too. Yes, it is comfort food, but it’s more than that, a delicious blend of big flavors with just enough heat to liven things up. Perfect for Mardi Gras – or a cold winter night. The duck adds a meaty depth to this version, but if you can’t find duck legs, you can substitute chicken.
Duck and Andouille Sausage Gumbo
2 whole duck legs (drumstick and thigh, about 1 pound total)
salt, freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound andouille sausage, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 large onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
4 ribs celery, sliced (about 2 cups)
2 cups chopped bell pepper (I used a mix of red and green)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-1/2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1 14-1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juices
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 bay leaves
1/2 pound fresh okra (may substitute frozen – see Kitchen Notes)
1-1/2 teaspoons filé powder (optional – see Kitchen Notes)
cooked white rice
chopped Italian parsley, for garnish (optional)
Tabasco or other hot sauce (optional)
A quick tip: Chop the onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic before starting to cook the duck. It will make things easier – it will also make your kitchen smell like heaven right away.
Season the duck legs with salt and pepper and place them skin side down in a dry, unheated Dutch oven or heavy pot. Set the heat to medium-low and brown the duck on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. If the duck doesn’t release from the pot at 5 minutes, just let it cook a minute or so more and it will. Transfer the duck to a plate and add the andouille sausage. Brown just for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally and transfer to a bowl (or the plate with the duck legs).
Make the roux. Survey the fat in the bottom of the pot. There probably won’t be more than a tablespoon or so (duck legs have much less fat than duck breasts do). Add 3 tablespoons or so of canola oil to the pot, enough to give you about 1/4 cup of fat. Raise the heat to medium and add the flour all at once. Whisk the flour into the oil to combine and continue whisking to prevent burning. My favorite tool for this is a DIREKT whisk we bought at IKEA more than five years ago. I’m not sure they still carry it, but I think they have something similar.
After 5 minutes or so, the roux will start to take on a blond hue. Continue whisking and cooking. If your roux starts to smoke, reduce the heat slightly. Eventually, the roux will turn a nice deep brown; mine took about 15 minutes to get to that point, but it can take longer.
When the roux reaches a satisfying brownness, add the onion. Toss to coat with the roux and stir frequently (you can switch to a wooden spoon or pair of wooden spatulas – I like the latter because as you add more stuff to the pot, it’s easier to mix it all together). Cook the onion for about 5 minutes, then stir in the celery, bell pepper and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for another 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the chicken broth, water and diced tomatoes with their liquids to the pot. Add the cayenne pepper, oregano, thyme, paprika and a generous grind of black pepper and stir to combine. Return the duck legs and sausage to the pot, along with any accumulated juices. Tuck the bay leaves into the liquid and bring gumbo to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.
Transfer the duck legs to a plate and allow them to cool enough to handle. Cover the pot and let the gumbo continue to simmer. Meanwhile rinse the okra, trim off the tops and slice into half-inch or so pieces. After 10 or 15 minutes, remove the skin from the duck legs and cut/tear the meat from the bones. It will still be pretty warm, so be careful, but don’t be a baby about it, either. Cut the meat into bite-sized chunks and add the duck and the okra to the pot.
Cover and simmer for another 45 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. I know that 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne sounds tame, but the andouille sausage will add some heat. Add more cayenne if you like or some hot sauce. As the gumbo nears doneness, cook the rice. Remove the gumbo from the heat, discard bay leaves and stir in the filé powder, if you’re using it.
Serve the gumbo in shallow soup bowls. Top with a generous mound of rice and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Pass the hot sauce around the table for those who want more heat and a vinegary zip.
Don’t skip the okra. Okra is a classic southern vegetable that found its way here from Africa. We love it steamed, fried or however. Some people object to its “sliminess,” but that viscous liquid cooks into the broth and helps thicken it. When shopping, avoid overly large okra, as it can be woody. If you can’t find acceptable fresh okra, frozen will do just fine.
Filé powder. This is another staple of Creole and Cajun cooking. Also known as gumbo filé, it is the powdered leaves of sassafras trees. It is used sparingly as a thickening agent and should be stirred into gumbo after it’s removed from the heat; otherwise, it can make the broth stringy. Besides thickening the broth, it adds a kind of root beer flavor. As you see, my recipe calls for all three thickening agents, roux, okra and filé powder. Feel free to omit the filé powder. If you’re looking for a source, we got ours at the The Spice House.
Related post: Braised/Roasted Duck Legs with Vegetables
In the British calendar the final Tuesday before Lent is known as “Shrove Tuesday,” though it’s more often referred to as “pancake day” in modern times. The derivation of the word “shrove” is unclear but it is thought to be derived from “shriving” or asking forgiveness for sins, a typical Christian activity on this day.
As the final day before Lent, Shrove Tuesday is also traditionally a day of feasting before the Lentern abstinence or fasting that evokes Jesus’ 40 days and nights in the desert. The pancake bit comes from the fact that in order to find it easier to abstain, one should use up all ones flour, milk, sugar and eggs on Shrove Tuesday, and while a lot of things can be made from those basic ingredients, the Brits – long ago – decided pancakes were the thing to make. And, since the combination of these ingredients makes for a high calorie experience, Shrove Tuesday (it’s such a puritanical idea – shriving, isn’t it?) is known as Mardi Gras in French, or literally, fat Tuesday. Those Catholics have all the fun, don’t they?
British pancakes have more in common with the a French-style crepe than they do with the thicker, but smaller pancakes common in America, although the recipe is largely the same. On pancake day it’s quite common to have a mixture of both savory and sweet pancakes, though the sweet versions are the more popular. (We had both savory and sweet – see savory filling recipe below.) Typical fillings are very simple and are often limited to powdered sugar and jam or nutella, or just a squeeze of fresh fruit juice. My family’s favorite filling is granulated (plain, white) sugar and lemon juice. The less stuff you have in the middle, the more pancakes you can have, see…?
Of course, you don’t have to wait another year before making some pancakes, though. They make great desserts, first courses, or even main meals depending on the filling and the size of your pan, and they are dead easy to make. So, go ahead, treat yourselves tonight, unless you’ve given up pancakes for Lent, that is.
Here’s how they’re made.
Sweet and Savory British Pancakes
Pancake (or Crepe) Batter Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups milk
1 cup plain flour
1 egg and 1 egg-yolk
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter (optional)
1 stick unsalted butter (room temperature)
Savory British Pancake Filling
Creamy Tarragon Mushrooms Savory Filling Ingredients:
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 shallot, finely diced
1/2 leek, finely sliced
3 button mushrooms, slice thinly
2 tablespoons tarragon, chopped finely
4 tablespoons light cream
1/2 tablespoon butter
salt & black pepper
Other Savory Ingredients:
6 ounces smoked salmon
6 asparagus spears, cut into 2” pieces and either sauteed or steamed till cooked but still crunchy
Sweet British Pancake Filling
1 blood orange (or a regular orange will do)
1 tablespoon white sugar
What to do:
To make batter, combine flour, salt, melted butter and eggs together in a bowl. When well combined add milk slowly, whisking all the time. Continue whisking until mixture is smooth and frothy. Batter is ready. Cover and set aside.
Now it’s time to make the savor filling. Melt butter in small saute pan over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic, leeks and mushrooms and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute mixture for 3-4 minutes or until mushrooms take on some color and the leeks wilt nicely. Add cream and tarragon and reduce heat to low. Cook for another couple of minutes. Adjust seasoning. Allow to keep warm on low until pancakes are ready to be filled. In another pan saute or grill your asparagus, or just put them in a bowl with a little bit of water, cover with plastic and microwave for 2 to 3 minutes. Slice your smoked salmon.
Time to make the pancakes…
Heat a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium high until the pan is too hot to touch. Toss in a knob of butter and allow to melt almost completely before adding a ladle-full of batter to the pan. Tilt pan in a circular motion so that batter covers bottom of pan. Allow pancake to “solidify” (cook) until almost all of the moisture has gone before tossing it, about 30-45 seconds depending on how hot your pan is.
The toss is the tricky bit and there have been many times when my kitchen ceiling has been festooned with bits of partially cooked batter on Shrove Tuesday, so be careful with it. In fact, the lower the toss, the easier it is to do it right and have the pancake land without folding over on itself. Alternatively, you could use a non-stick, plastic spatula and give it a quick flip. It’s much easier and safer, though less fun.
Put pancakes on a plate and separate with parchment paper, and keep in a warm oven until you’re ready to eat.
Assemble your savory pancakes…
Spoon in a bit of the creamy tarragon mushroom mixture into the center of your pancake. Add some smoked salmon and asparagus, roll, up and dig in!
Ready for dessert?
After you’ve completed eating your savory crepes, go back to your heated pan and make a few more. When done, sprinkle your crepe with 1/2 a teaspoon (or more if you’d like!) of sugar all over. Squeeze some orange down the center and then some lemon. Roll up or fold into a triangle and enjoy.
Related post: A Maple Syrup Taste Test
I have never set myself the task of making a real King Cake, as I figure there are enough people who do that already. My brother used to send me delicious King Cakes from a bakery in New Orleans when I was in college. Those cakes were moist and tender with a cream cheese filling, with a brightly colored, but simple frosting.
The cake was packaged with beads and doubloons and made for a fun party all around. I was always very popular during Mardi Gras season. That is really my idea of what a King Cake should be, though I know there are many different versions. Those were the first, and still the best, King Cakes I have ever had. But now, I often find the bakeries in my local grocery stores offer wildly decorated King Cakes leading up to Mardi Gras. I have bought them, but they are generally dry and tasteless and a real disappointment (and often stale). I once ordered a fancy, artfully decorated King Cake from a New Orleans bakery at great expense, but even it was dry.
These bars meet all my King Cake flavor requirements, but are simpler to make and to serve. They make a great dessert for a Mardi Gras party, and would pack up beautifully to carry to a parade-viewing spot. I sprinkle colored sanding sugar in the traditional purple, green and gold color scheme over the top for a sparkly Mardi Gras feel, but you could easily tint the glaze, use sprinkles or the fancier luster dust.
And a word about the baby. Traditionally, King Cake has a small plastic baby figure backed inside. The person whose piece of cake contains the baby is then responsible for hosting the next King Cake party. Many bakeries now include the baby in the box, but don’t bake it into the cake. I assume this is for liability reasons, as a small plastic baby is a choking hazard. If you do happen to have a plastic baby, feel free to bake it into the King Cake Bars, though it is likely to show through the filling and be less of a surprise.
King Cake Bars
Makes about 15 bars
For the Crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons milk
For the Filling:
2 (8-ounce) blocks cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
For the Glaze:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoon milk
Colored sanding sugar or sprinkles (purple, green and gold)
For the Crust:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9- x 13-inch glass baking dish with cooking spray.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the flour and sugar. Drop in the butter cubes and beat on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and looks a bit like wet sand. Add the milk and beat until it starts to stick together. Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared baking dish and press it in to form an even layer, making sure there are no holes or gaps.
For the Filling:
Wipe out the mixer bowl and rinse and dry the paddle. Beat the filling ingredients together until completely smooth. Spread the filling evenly over the prepared crust. Bake the bars for 20 – 25 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the filling is set.
For the Glaze:
While the bars are cooking, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and milk until completely smooth. As soon as you remove the bars from the oven, spread the glaze in an even layer across the top. Immediately decorate with sanding sugar. Leave the bars to cool completely, then slice.
Related post: Mardi Gras Crawfish Spread
Every Sunday I usually like to make a big pot of beans or soup for us to have for lunches during at least the first half of the week. It makes meals infinitely easier, and allows me to not have to think about what I’m going to eat while I’m in the middle of work. Because I do this fairly consistently, I do like to try new recipes and mix things up a bit.
When I found this recipe for stew, I knew I had to try it. For one thing, I don’t make stews very often, but I do really enjoy them. Another reason was because I still had a lot of my hubbard squash leftover, and I needed to use it. The final thing that drew me in? Chipotle. I love chipotle, mostly for its smoky flavor, but for its extraordinary heat as well. I was excited to try this combo of flavors.
This was such a hearty stew, and perfect to eat throughout the week. The only thing that I might add next time is some textured vegetable protein (TVP) or some Tofurky Kielbasa or Tofurky Italian Sausage to bulk it up more. Otherwise, it’s a great stew and perfect to serve to your favorite omnivores.
Winter Squash and Bean Stew
This recipe is taken from the Hubbard Squash and Pinto Bean Stew found on MyRecipes.com
Note: One nice thing about this recipe is that it does not require the use of a slow-cooker if you do not have one, although I am sure this would also cook nicely in one.
3 cups dried pinto beans
4 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium-sized onions, chopped
4 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled hubbard squash or fresh pumpkin
1 cup peeled and sliced carrot, about two medium-sized carrots
1 tablespoon chipotle chile in adobo sauce, chopped (for a gluten-free recipe, you can substitute about 1 teaspoon chipotle pepper powder)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh or 2 teaspoons dried sage
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, undrained
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons pumpkin-seed kernels, toasted (optional)
Sort and wash pinto beans. Check out my post on how to cook dry beans to learn how to sort and wash beans, although you do not need to follow the remaining steps for this stew recipe.
Place the beans in a large pot, and cover with water to about two inches above the beans. Boil them for two minutes, turn off the heat and then allow them to sit for about two hours.
Drain and rinse the pinto beans, then combine them and four cups of water in a large pan, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes. Cover and simmer an additional 30 minutes or until tender.
Meanwhile, prep your squash, carrots and onions. Take care while chopping your squash – refer to my post on hubbard squash risotto to see how I recommend cutting open the squash as well as chopping the actual squash meat.
Cut up about two chipotle peppers from your can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.
Important: If you are following a gluten-free diet, I discovered that this can of chipotle peppers is not gluten-free. It contains flour, likely to thicken the sauce. I do not know if there is a gluten-free version of this product out on the market, but I imagine that you can use chipotle pepper powder as a substitute.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, squash, carrot, and chipotle peppers. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add to bean mixture, then stir in sage, thyme, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes or until squash is tender. Stir in salt.
Ladle the stew into individual bowls, then sprinkle with pumpkinseed kernels (if using) – and serve.
Related post: Vegan Squah Gratin
Here are a couple recipes for a really tasty meal – tender, slow-cooked pork carnitas in a sauce of sweet potatoes and spicy chiles. On the side, a simple variation on my favorite roasted Brussels sprouts, cooked with spicy chorizo to coat the sprouts in utter deliciousness.
The pork has a long cook time, but reheats beautifully. So, either prepare the pork a day ahead of time or plan it for a day you’ll be around to babysit the oven.
Carnitas with Chile and Sweet Potatoes
1 6-7 lb. pork shoulder, trimmed of most excess exterior fat
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 poblano pepper, ribs and seeds removed, chopped
1 serrano pepper, ribs and seeds removed, chopped
1 large sweet potato (yam), cooked until tender, skin removed, lightly mashed*
4 cups chicken broth
1-1/2 tablespoons honey
Ground cayenne pepper
*To prepare the sweet potato: Prick the exterior several times with a fork, then bake in a 375 degrees F. oven for about 60-75 minutes, until quite tender. Cut the potato in half and scoop out the tender interior. Use a fork to lightly mash the potato.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Generously season the pork with salt. Heat olive oil over medium/medium-high heat in a large dutch oven pan or oven-safe pot. Place the pork shoulder in the pan. Cook for 3-5 minutes on each side, until lightly browned. Remove the roast from the pan and set aside. Add the onion and peppers to the pan. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the sweet potato, chicken broth, and honey. Return the pork shoulder to the pan, the cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook on the middle oven rack for about 3.5 – 4 hours.
After 3.5 – 4 hours, remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool at room temperature. Once the pork is cool enough to handle, remove it from the pan and use a fork or your fingers to pull apart the meat, which should be incredibly tender. (I prefer the use my fingers, since it’s easier to remove and discard any bits of fat.)
Allow the sauce to rest while you’re pulling the meat. As it rests, the excess fat should rise to the surface. Use a spoon to skim and discard the excess fat. Then, using a blender, food processor, or immersion blend, purée the sauce until smooth. Return the sauce to the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes over medium heat, until about 1-1/2 to 2 cups of nicely thickened sauce remains.Stir frequently to prevent burning. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and cayenne pepper, if desired.
Toss the meat with the sauce.
To reheat the meat and develop some nice caramelized bits, heat the sauced meat under a hot broiler for a few minutes until the top begins to turn a golden brown.
Serve in warm tortillas.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Chorizo
4 cups brussels sprouts, halved or quartered
4 ounces spicy Spanish chorizo, quartered and sliced
1/4 red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Combine all ingredients in a baking dish. Cook for 40-45 minutes, tossing every 10-15 minutes to coat the Brussels sprouts with the delicious oil, which will render from the chorizo. Season with salt, to taste.
Related post: Sweet and Spicy Pork Over Mashed Sweet Potatoes