Monday, February 28, 2011

that's right, vegetable escapades

Big News, folks. My first bushel from Farmhouse Delivery is set to arrive on Wednesday! Last week, I went with Melissa and Joji to Rain Lily Farm for an in-the-garden happy hour that felt more like a picnic. We had a tasty mushroom pizza baked in a mobile wood-fired oven (hey, check out that endorsement from Addie!), sampled a bite of plum walnut pie (why have I never thought of using plums in a pie?) and walked through the rows trying to identify the leafy tops of what was growing. This one, we got:

There's a good chance that this very butter lettuce could be on my doorstep in two days. I am thrilled about this! I'm also really looking forward to local vegetables already in my kitchen demanding that I find interesting ways to cook them — I'm thinking that home delivery will really cut past my laziness, as well as my tendency to not think about dinner until I'm starving. (Don't get me wrong — I'm usually thinking about dinner. Just not taking real steps to make it happen.) I've followed Melissa's many cooking adventures related to her delivery box, and I'm ready for some vegetable escapades of my own!

Monday, February 14, 2011


At the risk of getting way too cutesy on Valentine's Day, I'm sharing with you these searingly pink desserts I made a year ago. You see, they were made for kids. And kids, I hear, favor searing pink over "rustic," my usual MO.

These dressed-up Rice Krispies treats are among a few baked things (I hope they've been "goods") that I've contributed over the past year or so to an organization called Free Cakes For Kids. It's basically a nonprofit made up of volunteers around Austin who love any excuse to bake, and the best part is that the homemade treats that often make bold use of color are delivered to children who, for various reasons, otherwise wouldn't get a birthday cake.

Miguel wrote a story about the organization when it was first coming together, and the group's director said she received 74 e-mails from potential volunteers by 10 a.m. the day it was published. Free Cakes For Kids has grown a lot since then and now even offers volunteer-led classes on decorating techniques — something I could benefit from since I can barely frost a cake without a crumb disaster.

With hot pink frosting and holiday-colored M&Ms, that dessert was a far cry from the so-called Grown-Up Birthday Cake I discovered just in time to bake for my 30th birthday, which I celebrated this weekend with dear friends I've been lucky to collect over time — perhaps the biggest perk of acquiring 30 years.

I cannot recommend this cake — not pictured because photos taken at midnight in the middle of a birthday party are not the best — enough. I'm even tempted to say it's the tastiest I've ever made. I don't know what role the white wine plays, but I'm pretty sure it's the cup of olive oil that makes it deeply yellow and moist. And I might never make another frosting recipe again — this one was super easy to spread onto the cake, and not one crumb made its way to the surface. It must be magic. If you like magic and moistness and chocolate or just fall for recipe titles as easily as I do, please bake this.

Pink-frosted and M&M-coated or not, I hope your day is sweet!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

pour some milk

361 days of the year, it doesn't matter that I don't own a hat. But Austin's in the middle of this winter's coldest week so far, with some snow expected overnight and a forecast that I'll keep wearing basically the same outfit for the rest of the week, as my cold-weather wardrobe is very limited. My boots and biggest coat are starting to feel less like a fashionable winter uniform and more like I'm Rooster Cogburn. I do much better with summer clothes.

So as an excuse to keep the oven on for a while to warm up the kitchen, I baked brownies. On a recent episode of America's Test Kitchen, the methodical Cook's Illustrated folks took on the challenge of recreating the chewiness of box-mix brownies with the super chocolateness of homemade ones. This challenge involved diagrams of molecules and a very precise ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats (29 percent : 71 percent).

This could be the very nicest kind of mosaic I've seen.

To me, it just looked like a pretty good one-bowl recipe, so I gave it a shot. Unfortunately, I didn't see until after I'd begun that I was out of bread flour and sugar (I know!). The good news is that while my substitutions of all-purpose flour and brown sugar might not please Christopher Kimball, the brownies certainly did please me.

You'll need it.

Chewy brownies

Adapted out of necessity from America's Test Kitchen

ATK's notes: For the chewiest texture, it is important to let the brownies cool thoroughly before cutting. If your baking dish is glass, cool the brownies 10 minutes, then remove them promptly from the pan (otherwise, the superior heat retention of glass can lead to overbaking). Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

My notes: These are the quantities I used to halve the recipe to make an 8-by-8-inch pan of brownies. I used all-purpose flour instead of bread flour and only a quarter cup of the sugar was white — the rest was brown. Still OK. The original recipe called for finely chopped unsweetened chocolate and roughly chopped bittersweet chocolate, but I bought one 4-ounce bar of bittersweet chocolate to cover both.

2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp Dutch-processed cocoa

3/4 teaspoons instant espresso

5 tablespoons boiling water

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, divided (1 ounce finely chopped and 3 ounces cut into half-inch pieces)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

5 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups sugar

3/4 cups plus 2 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp plus 1/8 tsp table salt

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Make a foil sling by lining the pan with two perpendicular lengths of foil long enough to extend down the sides of the pan. Grease the foil with butter.

Whisk cocoa, espresso powder and boiling water together in a large bowl until smooth. Add 1 ounce of finely chopped chocolate and whisk until chocolate is melted. Whisk in melted butter and oil. Mixture may look curdled (but mine wasn't somehow). Add egg, yolk and vanilla and continue to whisk until smooth and homogeneous. Whisk in sugar until fully incorporated. Add flour and salt and mix with a rubber spatula until combined. Fold in the larger pieces of bittersweet chocolate.

Scrape batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted halfway between the edge and the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the pan to wire rack and cool for 1.5 hours.

Using the foil overhang, lift the brownies from the pan. Set the brownies on a wire rack and let them cool completely, about 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.