Monday, August 28, 2017

Black and White Brownies

 Can one ever have too many brownie recipes? I think not! There are SO many twists and variations, it seems that the possibilities are endless. So anytime I happen upon a new brownie something, I'm all in. I mean, with that rich fudgy texture, chocolate or not, I'm absolutely a fan. Basically, whenever I want to whip up a quick homemade something, brownies are my go-to. They're great for a party, sure, but they're also great when you just want to bring a home baked smile to someone.
 When I first began my search for a new brownie, I couldn't decide whether I wanted to make the usual chocolate brownie or a white chocolate blondie version. Then I found this recipe and of course quickly decided that this was the best of both worlds. As always, I can never leave well enough alone, and once again, I tweaked the recipe a little here and there. They turned out rich and chewy and fudgy and OH SO GOOD! If you'd like to bring a smile to someone, I highly recommend trying them! Btw, they also make GREAT gifts for anyone in your family who has just left for college! There's nothing like receiving a little taste of home in the mail, is there? Boom.

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbs melted butter
1/2 tsp instant coffee granules
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup flour

 Heat oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease 9x13-inch baking pan, or line with parchment paper. Set aside. Beat 3/4 cup butter, white sugar, and brown sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy; beat in eggs and vanilla extract. Sift 2 1/4 cups flour, baking powder, and salt together in a separate bowl; stir flour mixture into creamed butter mixture until batter is smooth. Divide batter into two bowls.
Stir cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon melted butter together in a bowl; stir into one of the bowls of batter. Dissolve coffee granules in 1 tsp hot water. Stir it into chocolate batter along with semisweet chocolate chips. Pour into the prepared baking pan.
Toss white chocolate chips with remaining 1/4 cup of flour, then stir into the remaining bowl of batter. Carefully spread evenly over the chocolate batter. Sprinkle additional white chocolate chips over the top. Bake until edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan, 20 to 30 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

The batters will be VERY thick and hard to spread. So we have a few options: You could spray your hand and use your fingers to press the sticky dough into the pan. Or you could do the same thing with the back of a spoon. Or you could dollop tablespoonfuls of the blonde batter over the chocolate batter and then use an offset spatula to spread it across the top. Or you could abandon then whole top/bottom idea altogether and just swirl the blonde batter into the chocolate. All of the above will work!
Btw, the instant coffee dissolved in a tiny bit of water is one of my little tweaks. Adding that little bit of coffee always makes chocolate taste more chocolatey!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Joey's Chicken Aurora

  Have you ever heard of Aurora sauce? Basically, it's just a fancy name for a tomato cream sauce. Kind of like if Marinara and Alfredo had a baby, her name would be Aurora. (see what I did there?) You may have also heard of it as a "blush" sauce, but it's pretty much the same thing either way. I made this dish for a casual movie night not too long ago, and I must say it turned out exactly as I hoped it would. This is my go-to type of recipe whenever I'm having a few friends over and it's always a big hit. Bite-sized chicken pieces, dredged in a little flour to give some texture, served over pasta with a rich delicious sauce. Seriously, what's not to love?
 TBH, this recipe did not start as a chicken recipe. I was looking for a way to use some of my fresh herbs. I have window boxes filled with herbs all summer long, and they grow like CRAZY! So this was a good way to use some of them. Adding the chicken was sort of an afterthought!
 Now, I know the sauce is a little bit rich, but trust me, the fresh herbs really cut through it, and the tang from the tomatoes really rounds everything out. I'm not even kidding when I tell you that I couldn't stop eating it! I don't eat pasta very often, but when I do, I like to make it count. And this dish is ABSOLUTELY worth every bite, with its velvety cream sauce, the fresh herbs, the zesty tomatoes, and that tiny little game-changing splash of sherry. Definitely add this to your repertoire of quick meals. It's just as perfect for a quickie no fuss weeknight meal as it is for a movie night or an elegant dinner. You'll definitely get rave reviews! Promise

1 lb any shape cut pasta
3 boneless chicken breasts
seasoned flour for dredging
1 jar sun died tomatoes, in oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
a splash or three of dry sherry
1 tbs fresh basil, chopped
1 tbs fresh oregano, chopped
handful of grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

 Fill a large pot with water. Add a good handful of salt. Bring to a boil. Add pasta and give it a stir. Boil according to package directions to desired tenderness. Drain well.
Meanwhile, cut the chicken into small pieces. Dredge the chicken pieces in flour until coated. In a large shallow pan, saute the chicken in a little oil or butter, until lightly browned on the outside, and cooked almost but not quite all the way through. Do this in batches, making sure not to crowd the pan. Remove chicken to a separate plate and set aside. While the chicken is cooking, drain the sun dried tomatoes and then julienne them into strips. After removing the last batch of chicken from the pan, add remaining ingredients. Stir well, making sure to scrape up any browned bits from the pan. Now add the chicken back to the pan, and finish cooking in the sauce. Adjust seasoning, if needed. Serve over pasta.

You can easily serve this as a meatless dish. It absolutely stands on its own without the chicken.
For the seasoned flour, I like to just add salt, pepper, and garlic powder, but feel free to use anything you like.
When you're cooking the sauce, if it becomes too thick, just add a few more glugs of milk.
If you don't have sherry, you can add a little brandy, or vodka, or a little dry white wine. It's absolutely the key to the whole dish, so be sure to include it!
When you're adding the herbs, cheese, and sherry, add as much as you like!
If you'd like to add a little heat, add a few shakes of crushed red pepper flakes.
Btw, this sauce is FABULOUS over any kind of ravioli. Just sayin!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Plum Coffee Cake

 Usually when I'm in the mood to bake something, I choose what I'm going to bake, based on what ingredients I have on hand. Well, this time, I chose the recipe based on what I DIDN'T have on hand. It rarely happens, but somehow or other, I ran out of butter. WHAT???? I know. I know. It's crazy. Clearly I wasn't paying attention. Oh well. What can you do? So how does one bake without butter? First, one googles recipes that use oil instead. I also wanted to use some gorgeous red plums that were so ripe and sweet and juicy, they were begging to be baked into something fabulous. More googling. Luckily I found this recipe on that just happens to fit all of my baking criteria. (Isn't Google a wonderful thing?) So I whipped it up, popped it in the oven, and in no time at all my apartment was smelling HEAVENLY as I was setting this perfectly gorgeous cake out to cool. It's REALLY easy to make, (you don't even need a mixer) and it's super tasty! Seriously, if you're a baking novice, you can do this one! If you can measure, you can bake it!
   Another great thing about this recipe is that you can use it as a blank slate for any sort of variation you'd like. The recipe states that you can add lemon or orange zest, but how about some almond extract? Or how about switching up the fruit! Use peaches or nectarines or sliced strawberries, even sliced apples or pears! And how about a pinch or two of spice? It SCREAMS for cinnamon and/or nutmeg. Just add some to the dry ingredients and then add a little to the sugar on top. SO many different possibilities. I know I'll be making this again and again, but I'm wondering if I'll ever make it the same way twice!! Maybe next time I'll really pump up the vanilla flavor by adding some fresh vanilla bean to the batter. YUM. And if YOU can think of any variations, be sure to let me know!!
 So, thank you,, for the fabulous recipe. I now have a new favorite go-to recipe, and I didn't even have to go to the store to buy butter!

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour 
1/4 cup ground almonds
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup whole milk plain yogurt or flavored yogurt 
Zest of one orange or lemon (optional) 
1 teaspoon  pure vanilla extract
1 cup granulated white sugar 
7 - 8 Italian prune plums, halved and pitted or 4 - 5 red or black plums, halved and pitted (if the plums are large then cut into quarters)
1 - 2 tablespoons coarse brown sugar

 Heat oven ton 375ºF. Butter an 8 inch spring form pan. (Alternatively spray pan with non stick vegetable/flour spray.) Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Set Aside.
 In a large bowl, stir or whisk together the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt.
In another large bowl, stir or whisk together the eggs, oil, yogurt, orange or lemon zest (if using), and vanilla extract. Stir in the sugar. Add the wet ingredients to the dry flour mixture. Stir until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and evenly arrange the halved plums on top of the batter, flesh side facing up. Sprinkle with the brown sugar.
Bake in preheated oven for about 45 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. You can serve this cake with a little honey drizzled over the top or with a dollop of whipped cream, ice cream, or lightly sweetened yogurt. 

If you don't have yogurt, you can just use an equal amount of regular sour cream (which is what I used), or an equal amount of buttermilk.
Oh, and one other thing... Whenever I bake ANYTHING, I always taste the batter before I bake it. More times than not, I wind up adding an extra pinch of salt. It REALLY brings out the flavor of whatever you're baking!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Joey's Hoisin Chicken with Cashews

 This is one of those recipes that I made and then tucked away for sharing at a later date. I honestly have no idea where I got the original recipe, but I probably didn't follow it very closely anyway. So here is MY version! I'm pretty sure this was one of my so-called "throw together" meals because I didn't write down any quantities. I just threw in a handful of this and a splash of that. If you're planning to cook for a crowd, use A LOT of chicken tenders and A LOT of veggies. Just cooking for yourself? Add just enough for a serving or two. That's really the beauty of it. The method doesn't change, just the quantities. If you don't have a wok, just use a wide shallow pan. But I highly recommend getting one. It makes things SO easy when you want to just throw a few things together for a quick stir fry. I recently bought a new one, and this was the first meal I made. It's SO light and fresh, which is usually how I roll during summer months.
 And one more thing... People always ask me how I cook when I'm not following a recipe word for word. TBH, it's not really something I ever set out to learn. I just DID IT. It's how my Mom cooked, it's how I grew up! You just see what's fresh, you add what you like, if you like a lot, add a lot, and you cook it until it's done. This recipe gives you an outline of what I added, but that doesn't mean it has to be what YOU should add. Would you rather have snow peas or string beans instead of sugar snap peas? Go for it! Don't like onions? Leave 'em out! Or maybe use scallions if you want a milder onion flavor. Before you know it, you'll be a pro because you'll be cooking the way YOU like it!

chicken tenders
corn starch
1 large red bell pepper, sliced into strips
1 medium onion, sliced
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
big handful of fresh sugar snap peas
soy sauce
toasted sesame oil
rice vinegar
a couple tbs Hoisin sauce
Big handful of cashews

Cut the chicken tenders into bite sized pieces. Dredge in a couple tbs of cornstarch until evenly coated. Crank your wok up to high heat, and working in batches, saute the chicken in a few tbs oil. Cook each batch of chicken until just almost cooked through, but not completely. Remove each batch to a separate bowl as you go. After you finish cooking the chicken, add the veggies and garlic. Stir fry over high heat until you reach your desired level of doneness. If you like crisp veggies, just go a few minutes. If you like your veggies to be a little more tender, then go a little longer. Add a few splashes of soy sauce, a good splash of rice vinegar, and a drizzle of sesame oil. Stir for a minute or two, then add the chicken back to the wok along with the Hoisin sauce. Toss everything together, continuing to stir fry until the chicken is cooked through. Add cashews and give a final toss. Serve over rice, if desired.

When it comes to stir frying, you want to have all of your veggies prepped before you even start. It goes pretty quickly because you're cooking at a really high heat.
When using toasted sesame oil, think of it more as a condiment than an oil. You want to just drizzle some in toward the end of the cooking.