Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Small-Batch Brownies

I really love to bake, but it seems sort of ridiculous to make a whole layer cake just for me. Fortunately, I have wonderful neighbors who are always willing to take in homeless baked goods. Still, a whole layer cake is a lot of cake, even when I have help eating it.

I usually look for recipes that make a single layer, or I cut the recipe in half, which isn't all that much fun when it uses 3 eggs. So, when a publisher offered me a copy of 175 Best Small-Batch Baking Recipes, I knew I had to try it.

Cake for one or two? Count me in. Don't worry, neighbors ... I'll still have plenty of goodies for you!

The first recipe I decided to try was for brownies. I love brownies, and they have the distinct advantage over other baked goods in that I like them when they're chilled, unlike many cakes that are best at room temperature. Storing them in the fridge gives them a longer life, so I can take my time eating them.

I was quite pleased to see that I had six different brownie recipes to choose from, including a white chocolate brownie with cranberries and hazelnuts. I chose a somewhat classic recipe that had nuts. It called for walnuts - which is pretty typical - but I used macadamia nuts, since I recently got some from a friend in Hawaii.

It's good to have friends.

One thing I thought was complete genius in this book was the way they handled pan size. They didn't suggest going out and buying some weird-sized pan to make the small batch in brownies. Instead, they use loaf pans. Wow. I never thought of that! And heavens knows I have enough loaf pans around here.

The recipe I chose made brownies that were a bit soft and cake-like and also a bit fudgy, but I think they would be more dense at sea level.

These don't include any leavening except the air beaten into the batter when the eggs are whisked, and that sort of whipped-in air tends to expand more up here in the mountains than it would where most people live.

The recipe was easy to make - I didn't even need a hand mixer. The ingredients all include metric measurements as well as US, so you can use whichever you prefer, and it also makes it easier if you prefer to weigh your dry ingredients rather than measure.

The recipe includes frosting, but I didn't make that. I prefer my brownies unadorned.

Chocolate Walnut Brownies
Adapted from 175 Best Small-Batch Baking Recipes by Jill Snider

2 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup butter
2 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (I used macadamia nuts)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x5 loaf pan with parchment paper (I made a sling that covered the bottom and long sides) and spray with baking spray.

Put the chocolate and butter in a microwave safe bowl and heat on medium heat in 30-second increments, stirring after each heating, until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until light and frothy (they might be easier to whisk in a larger bowl, but a medium bowl is all you need to hold the ingredients). Gradually add the sugar while whisking, until the mixture is thick. Whisk in the chocolate mixture and vanilla. Add the flour and walnuts and stir them in.

Bake in the preheated oven at 350 degrees until just set, about 20-25 minutes (mine took a bit longer). Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack before removing using the sling.
Yum

Monday, April 3, 2017

Did you miss me? Coming Soon!

So ... I haven't been posting a lot lately. mostly because I've been so freaking busy with other things. I've been writing a lot, but I also spent some quality time at the International Housewares Show, where I put a lot of miles on my sneakers and I saw a whole lot of amazing cooking gadgets.

I'll be writing about some of the things I saw at the show, both here and on my gadget and review blog. I'm still sorting through photos and press releases and whatnot, but I'll have posts soon, I promise.

But for now, I'll leave you with this video of a new gadget coming this fall from KitchenAid.


What can you do with thinly sliced apples? Well, at the show they made wraps using a length of the apple as wrapping material, but this thing isn't just for apples. You could create long sheets of potatoes, zucchini, squash, cucumbers ... lots of different vegetables.

The options are endless.

This thing will be in my shopping cart as soon as it's available.
Yum

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Do you need an Instant Pot? And here's some soup.

The Instant Pot sure as heck has become popular these days. But do you really need one?

First, let's clarify a bit. Instant Pot is a brand name. And it's a brilliant brand name. Who wouldn't want instant food?

The Instant Pot that most people talk about is an electric pressure cooker. There were electric pressure cookers on the market long before the Instant Pot arrived. But for some reason, the Instant Pot folks made an old appliance popular.

Because there were stovetop pressure cookers long before there were electric ones. Your grandmother might have even had one.

Now, the company has branched out and they're making other cooking devices as well. But we're not going to talk about them, okay?

The Instant Pots have a bunch of different buttons for poultry, meat, yogurt ... a newer model has a button for cooking eggs. Those buttons are all shortcuts for foods that people cook a lot. But you don't really need those buttons. I seldom use them. Instead, I use the slow cook mode, the pressure cooking mode, and the saute mode. Then I set my own time.

Easy peasy.

But do you really need one?

Maybe.

First, pressure cooking is not magic. Some people try to use the Instant Pot for everything, and then they end up with some recipes that don't turn out well, or they take just as long to cook as they would in the oven or on the stove.

You don't need a pressure cooker for foods that cook quickly. Like fish. And a chicken cooked in a pressure cooker isn't going to have a lovely brown crisp skin, like you'd get if you roasted it.

But it's great for cooking things that take a long time, like tough cuts of meat or dried beans. One of my favorite things to pressure cook is corned beef. It turns out tender and juicy. Never dry or stringy. It's great for making pot roast and beef stew in a fraction of the time it would take on the stove.

Since I work from home, I usually don't find myself in that position where I have a short time to cook something before dinner. So, I'm less interested in that sort of 30-minute hurry-up cooking than I am in making things that turn out better in a pressure cooker.

Besides tough cuts of meat, I love making cheesecakes in it. And it makes a wonderful rice pudding.

Sometimes, though, speed can be a plus. Like this soup I made. I started with a rotisserie chicken carcass, used the Instant Pot's slow cooker feature to make a broth, then I strained that and added some sliced carrots and diced onions. I let that cook on slow cooker mode while I went out to run some errands.

When I got home, the vegetables were almost cooked, but not quite. But I was getting hungry. So I set the Instant Pot for pressure cooking mode for 2 minutes. Just a guess on the time, but it was a good guess.

I added a can of corn, a small can of tomato puree, and some leftover rice and peas that I had in the fridge. After it was all mixed, I gave it a taste. Then I added salt, pepper, and lime juice.

So, yeah, sometimes it's good for speeding up cooking a little bit.

But do you need an actual Instant Pot, or will any brand do?

Tough call there.

Instant Pot has popularized the concept, and they've got an active online presence as well as a Facebook group. But there are other Facebook groups that talk about electric pressure cookers made by any brand. And some of the electric pressure cookers out there are made by companies that have a longer track record in the market than Instant Pot.

So ... do you need an electric pressure cooker?

Maybe.  I love mine and I use it often. Only you know if you'll want to use an electric pressure cooker, though.

Does it have to be an Instant Pot? Not really, but so far I love mine, and I've put away my previous one that was another brand. If you're thinking about buying an Instant Pot, keep in mind that they've been coming out with new models pretty regularly. So be sure you shop around to make sure you look at all those options.

One other thing that can make your pressure cooking more successful is a good cookbook. I happen to like The Great Big Pressure Cooker Book, but there are others. Make sure the book covers electric pressure cookers, though. The timing and methods are different than when you're using a stovetop model.


Yum