WOO THEM WITH CHOCOLATE

Blog posts have been few and far between this year—this is my fifteenth post in 2016—and the era of consistent, twice-a-week posts (whaaa???) feels like it’s a lifetime away.

I love this space, even as I wonder why I keep it; the internet and my life have both changed a lot since 2009.  Still, not a day goes by that I don’t interact with someone who I met because of Blue Jean Gourmet, and, from time to time, I hear from friends and acquaintances that they’re using one of the recipes archived here.  That brings me so much joy.

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Being a food writer may not be my ultimate calling, but I couldn’t have known that without giving it a whirl first.  While I may eventually transition Blue Jean Gourmet into something else, this space has helped me determine which stories do feel like mine to tell, and that is a tremendous gift.

I know we’re mostly busy talking about what a dumpster fire of a year 2016 has been, but personally, I can’t write it off.  This was the year that I signed a publishing contract, something I’ve wanted for as long as I can remember, and I am proud as heck for making that happen.  Working on a book while teaching full time and parenting/life-ing is no joke, but it’s the best kind of problem to have, one of my own making and one that pushes me to live ever-more in line with what I say I want, and who I say I want to be.

This has been a year filled with a lot of examination around those categories—what I say I want, who I say I want to be—and some hard, important adjustments made in the wake of that examining.  I’ve been a lot more honest with myself, which feels less painful and more powerful each time I do it; my bff Coco got me this awesome pin (side note: Emily McDowell’s stuff is so good) and it is an aspirational reach that I will take with me into 2017.

Ideally, I would have passed these recipes along before Christmas and Hanukkah came along, but they’re also both well suited for any New Year’s celebrations that you may be scheming, or you can just keep them in your arsenal for any time you may need to woo, placate, or dazzle someone with chocolate.

SALTED TAHINI CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

source: Danielle Orton, as shared by Food 52

You’ve probably heard about these cookies already, and maybe you thought, “Do I really need another chocolate chip cookie recipe in my life?”  The answer is yes.  But don’t make these unless/until you own good-quality tahini (ordering Soom online is worth every penny) and good quality dark chocolate (I used Guittard 66% semisweet baking wafers).  Trust me, it’s worth the splurge;people will rave about these!

ingredients:

8 T unsalted butter, soft

½ cup well-stirred tahini

1 cup sugar

1 egg + 1 egg yolk

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup + 2 T all-purpose flour

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1 ¾ cups good-quality chocolate chips or chunks (since I had discs, I gave them a rough chop before using)

flaky finishing salt

Cream butter, tahini, & sugar together on medium speed for about 5 minutes—the mixture should look light and fluffy when you’re done.  Add the egg, yolk, and vanilla and mix for another 5 minutes.

Sift the dry ingredients into a separate bowl, then add to the wet ingredients on low speed.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold the chocolate in by hand, using a spatula.

From here, the original recipe instructs you to line a baking sheet with parchment, divide the dough into twelve scoops, and place the dough balls on the cookie sheet and freeze for 12 hours before baking.  Either I wasn’t paying attention or I was feeling lazy, but I stashed the dough in the fridge, still in the mixing bowl, wrapped in plastic, overnight, then baked, and my cookies still turned out delicious.  You do whatever feels right to you.

Whenever you’re ready to bake, you’re looking at 325F and about 12-15 minutes in the oven, until just the edges are getting brown.  Don’t worry if the middle of the cookies looks a bit pale-that’s how they’re supposed to look.  As they come out of the oven, sprinkle with salt.  Cool on a rack, then move to a platter and watch them disappear!

Blue Jean Gourmet | woo them with chocolate

PEAR AND BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE CAKE

an oldie-but-a-goodie from Smitten Kitchen

This is a “back pocket” recipe for me, one that’s simple enough to make but feels fancy, especially when served with some homemade whipped cream.  It’s the technique here that really make a difference, so don’t ignore the instructions about making sure the eggs are at room temperature before you whip them for, yes, nine whole minutes.  If you’ve never whipped eggs for that long before, you’ll be amazed at what happens when you do.

ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 T baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

3 eggs, at room temperature*

8 T unsalted butter

¾ cup sugar

3 pears, peeled, cored, diced small (I like using bosc)

¾ cup bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips

Oven: 325F

Pan: 9-inch spring form pan, buttered & floured (I’ve also used a 9-inch square pan in a pinch)

Whisk dry ingredients together and set aside.

Using the whisk attachment on a stand mixer, whip the eggs for NINE WHOLE MINUTES until they’re pale and very thick.  While that’s happening, brown the butter; melt it in a saucepan over medium-low flame, stirring occasionally, until it begins to smell nutty and the color turns brown.  Set aside.

Add the sugar to the eggs and beat for a few more minutes.  Turn the mixer down to low and add the dry ingredients and brown butter to the batter, alternating like this:

1/3 dry mix

½ brown butter

1/3 dry mix

½ brown butter

1/3 dry mix

Mix until just combined—don’t overmix, or the eggs will lose volume!  Scrape the mixture out into the pan, then scatter the pear and chocolate pieces on top.

Bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick comes away clean when inserted into the center of the cake; in my oven, that took a good hour, but you may want to start checking at 45-50 minutes, to be safe.

Serve with some barely sweetened whipped cream.  If you’re feeling fancy, a drop of almond extract or a couple of drops of Amaretto in the whipped cream would also be nice.

FAT TUESDAY TREATS

From kale to cookies, this is how we do.

Baking was how I got my foothold in the kitchen, and I think it’s still where I feel most comfortable, most sure of my abilities.  People love baked goods, you know?  And even people who claim not to love baked goods always seem to make an exception for mine, which makes me feel awesome sauce (as my students would say).

I am admittedly a snob when it comes to certain things, and baked goods are one of them.  This is a recent development; I used to be an equal-opportunity sugar fiend, but now I like things that are a lot less sweet; I am very picky about the kind of chocolate I will eat or bake with, making the candy area by grocery store check-out lanes a lot less tempting.

The sweet tooth still throbs, though, the main food area in which my discipline is inconsistent.  So starting Wednesday, I’m going to be saying “adios” to baked goods for a while; no sweets (or diet sodas, which make me crave sugar like nobody’s business) for me during Lent 2011.

In past years, I’ve found that going without something (meat, alcohol, chocolate) for a little while recalibrates my relationship to that thing, hopefully making me more mindful and appreciative of whatever it may be.  Or just really cranky without my sugar fix.  We’ll find out!

FAT TUESDAY TREATS

It’s traditional to load up on whatever you’re giving up the day before your fasting starts—hence Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras and its over-the-top Epicureanism.  These two cookies might not be the most decadent, but they are sophisticated and delicious.

Both of these cookies are ever-so-slightly adapted from Alice Medrich’s Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies, which you should buy RIGHT NOW if you love sweets as much as I do.  It’s probably one of the best cookbooks I’ve ever had the pleasure of owning: an authoritative but friendly voice, lovely photographs (though I wish there were more of those), and every recipe one I can’t wait to try.

Be advised: for both of these cookies, it’s all about the butter.  I’m talking really-good-quality golden, fatty butter, the expensive kind.  Because there’s nothing better than that sensual, slide-y quality it takes on when you remember to take it out of the refrigerator at the right time instead of cheating with the microwave (we’ve all done that, right?) Seriously, buy the good stuff.  And bake with it.  And slather it on homemade bread.  Now and always.

Salted Peanut Cookies with White Chocolate

Note: this recipe includes chilling time for the dough—two hours minimum up to two days.

ingredients:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. flaky sea salt or ¾ tsp. fine sea salt
8 T unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
¾ cup white sugar
1 cup natural peanut butter
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup white chocolate chips or chunks
½ cup unsalted peanuts, chopped

Whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, & salt.  In a separate bowl, mix the butter with both sugars until smooth and creamy.  (You can use a mixer or a wooden spoon & elbow grease for this part).  Add the egg, vanilla, and peanut butter and mix until blended.  Stir in the dry ingredients until just incorporated.  Gently mix in the peanuts and white chocolate.

Cover the dough and refrigerate as directed above.  When you’re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 325°.

Squeeze the dough in the palms of your hands to form 1-inch balls; the dough will be crumbly, but don’t worry.  Place the cookies two inches apart on cookies sheets lined with parchment (or greased).

Bake 15-18 minutes or until cookies are lightly colored on top and bottom.  Though I normally think it’s an unnecessarily fussy step, I do recommend rotating the pans from top to bottom halfway through baking.

The cookies will be very soft to the touch.  Cool a good while before attempting to move them around!

Chocolate-Espresso Mini-Cakes

Be warned—you may find yourself putting away handfuls of these at a time.  They are also lovely crumbled with vanilla ice cream.

ingredients:

¾ cup + 2 T all-purpose flour
2 T natural cocoa powder
¼ tsp. salt
14 T unsalted butter, cut into chunks
4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped*
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. instant espresso powder
4 eggs

special equipment: mini-cupcake/muffin pans and liners to go inside them
oven: preheat to 350°

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt.  In a separate (glass) bowl, melt the chocolate and butter together, using a double boiler or the microwave.  (The latter is my preferred method—just take it slow, 30 second increments, stirring well in between each one).

Once the chocolate and butter are completely melted, whisk in the sugar, vanilla, & espresso powder.  Add the eggs one at a time, blending well before adding the next.  Add the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth, but do not overmix.

Spoon a little batter into each cup, filling almost to the top of the liner.  Bake 14-18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out of the center of one of the cakes with just a few crumbs.  Cool the cakes on a rack before enjoying or storing in an airtight container for up to three days.

*Medrich’s recipe calls for 70% cacao, but I used 55% and cut the sugar down to just 1 cup.

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GREG’S BROWNIES

I know it’s fashionable to berate Valentine’s Day as an over commercialized trainwreck, but you know what?  I kind of like it.  Though I’m lucky enough to have someone I love to share it with (and believe me, I know that helps), what I really like about the holiday, despite it being a shallow capitalist ploy to get us all to buy crappy candy & cheesy cards, is that it puts love on the calendar.

Granted, most of what our culture has to say about love is sad, scary, dangerous crap (hello, song lyrics & “romantic” comedies)—but does that mean love has to become a bad word? I hope not, because that thing called love keeps blowing me away.  Real love, that genuine, below-the-surface, heart-full-to-bursting stuff, is the most extraordinary thing I think we, as human beings, get to experience.

Here’s what I love about love: it’s the best teacher I’ve ever had.  Just when I have stuffed the world back into its custom-sized box, contained and understood, safely put away where I might observe and manipulate it…love reminds me that there are approximately 8 zillion things possible in this life of which I can barely even conceive.

Each time I get to a place where I think I know love’s dimension, understand the various ways it can work, can drive people mad, can knock us on our asses and humble us and transport and expand…then suddenly, a whole new layer unfolds and I’m stunned all over again.

Love is the one thing that will actually push me to be the person I want to be.  My love for Jill has forced me to expand, to be so, so much bigger and calmer and compassionate than I ever was before I met her.  My love for my mother has brought me to moments of unselfishness and grace that fly in the face of my barest, basest self.

These brownies are named for a man I hardly know.  Greg and his wife Sharon are friends I made via Twitter, if you can believe it, and whom I have grown to love in a way that really doesn’t make sense.  Sometimes it works that way, mysteriously.

Loving someone else takes the much-too-bright shine off of our own imperfect lives for a little while.  I’ve baked these brownies for Greg twice—once on his birthday, once following his mother’s death—and both times, the gesture usurped and created a level of intimacy beyond what we had established at that point.

So now, every time I make brownies, I think of Greg.  Whether I’m making them for their namesake, or to go into a care package for Dave’s family, or for my colleague Steve (with leftover dulce de leche swirled in), or to finish off a dinner party for Jill’s visiting friend, my circle of concern grows in the process and, for a while, it isn’t all about me.  When I throw myself into a bowl of puddled chocolate and butter, when I will myself towards care and comfort with every spatula turn, then I’m a little bit closer to mirroring love and its infinity inside myself.


GREG’S BROWNIES

The key to great brownies is great chocolate.  Personally, I have become obsessed with Callebaut, which I am lucky enough to be able to buy in bulk at a few different specialty grocers here in town.  I can’t say enough good things about springing for fancy baking chocolate, especially if you’re able to find it in large blocks like the ones pictured here.  The price-per-ounce winds up being MUCH cheaper than purchasing chocolate in chip or bar form.  And as long as you keep any leftover chocolate wrapped in plastic & tucked into a cool, dark pantry, you’ll be able to keep it on hand for months.  Please do not put it in the refrigerator!

You can also order lots of great chocolate online—given how cold it is in most parts of the world right now, you won’t have to worry about it melting.  However, if you’re in a rush or just aren’t up to my level of chocolate-obsession, buy some Ghirardelli at the very least.  Nearly all grocery stores now carry it, and I cross-my-heart swear you’ll never go back to generic chocolate again.

This recipe is my fail-safe, with the coffee & vanilla flavors nicely highlighting the chocolate-y-ness of the chocolate (yes, that’s a technical term) and the chili powder adding just a little something extra.  You can obviously switch in other flavorings, like orange or almond, and leave out the chili if it makes you nervous.

As for texture, I’ve gotta have nuts.  Walnuts are most traditional for brownies, though pecans work nicely, too.  Extra chocolate is never a bad thing in my book.  But you could also toss in toffee bits, coconut, white chocolate chunks, etc.

ingredients:

6 ½ oz. bittersweet chocolate, in chips or chopped finely
9 ½ T butter
1 T Kahlua (substitute cold coffee if you like)
1 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
1 cup sugar, with 2 T removed
¾ cup flour
¼ tsp. ancho or regular chili powder (optional)
pinch of salt

add-ins:

½ cup chopped milk chocolate
½ cup chopped walnuts

oven: 350˚
pan: square baking pan (8 x 8 or 9 x 9)

First things first-line that baking pan with foil.  Using two sheets (one going in either direction, like a + sign,) be sure to leave plenty of overhang on either side.  Spray the inside of the foil with baking spray.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a large bowl.  Personally, I like the convenience of the microwave—just work in thirty second increments, stirring regularly to prevent burning.  Of course, you can also use a more traditional double-boiler (a.k.a heatproof bowl set over gently simmering water).

Once the chocolate and butter are melted and mixed, stir in the Kahlua and vanilla.  Set aside to cool down a bit.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together vigorously.  Add to the chocolate mixture and mix thoroughly.  Sift in the flour and pinch of salt.  Toss in the chopped chocolate & walnuts, then fold all that goodness together.

Scrape the brownie batter into the foil-lined pan, then slide the pan into the oven.  You will need some toothpicks & also, some patience.  I recommend you begin toothpick-testing at minute 30, plunging a toothpick into the very middle of the brownie pan.

Since these are fudgy brownies, the toothpick doesn’t need to come back completely clean, but it shouldn’t be covered in batter, either.  Remember, be patient!   Depending on the temperament of your oven, the brownies will take 35-45 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack for at least ten minutes.  At this point, you can lift the brownies out, using the foil overhang, and cool them further.  I know it’s hard to resist, but they really are much easier to cut if you wait at least 20 minutes.  If you must dig in, however, who will blame you? Not I. And not Greg, I’d wager.

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ICE CREAM PIE

This is totally one of those blog posts I would read & think “Come on!  Does she really think this counts as a recipe?  Who are we kidding here?”

I know.  It isn’t a recipe, more like a great idea.  Everyone loves ice cream, but scooping sundaes for a crowd can be kind-of a pain.  Instead, take good-quality ice cream (perhaps some you just made yourself?), soften it a bit, mix in nuts or chocolate or fruit or candy, spread that into the cookie shell you just made, and freeze the whole thing up.

ice cream pie

An hour later, you’ve got a simple, satisfying, & adaptable dessert, perfect for this hot, hot August.

Since this is sort of a slacker blog post, I’m going to throw in a little something extra here: our first Blue Jean Gourmet Mix.  Hope you enjoy these summer kitchen tunes as much as we do.

ICE CREAM PIE

The possibilities are really quite endless here; you can tailor to a sophisticated, adult palate, a gooier, kid-friendly palate, or somewhere in-between:

a)    chocolate cookie crust, chocolate ice cream, peppermint candies
b)    gingersnap crust, vanilla ice cream, fresh fruit
c)    vanilla wafer crust, banana ice cream, peanut butter cups
d)    graham cracker crust, Neapolitan ice cream, mini marshmallows

For this pie, I made an Oreo crust, coffee ice cream, & mixed in toasted almonds & chunks of semi-sweet chocolate.  To top it all off, homemade whipped cream & a few chocolate-covered espresso beans.  There were several “Whoah, I don’t know if I can finish this” remarks followed by clean plates.

To make the crust, I used a food processor to make crumbs of the Oreos & a few tablespoons of butter, then pressed the crumbs into a pie pan.  The whole thing went into the freezer for a while before I added in the ice cream filling.

Once you’ve filled the pie, be sure to cover it well to prevent freezer burn.  Take out at least 5 minutes before you’re planning to serve, so it can thaw a little, making your life easier when it comes time to cut wedges.

LATE SUMMER KITCHEN MIX (turntable links to iTunes)

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We Used to Be Friends – The Dandy Warhols
Spiralling – Keane
We’re an American Band – Grand Funk Railroad
Rosanna – Toto
Believe in Me – Emily White
Woodstock – Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
Girls in Their Summer Clothes – Bruce Springsteen
Manhattan – Kings of Leon
Mr. Brownstone – Guns N’ Roses
Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin
No You Girls – Franz Ferdinand
Freeway of Love – Aretha Franklin
Wouldn’t It Be Nice – The Beach Boys
Miss Ferguson – Cory Branan
Abigail – Courtney Robbins
Cheated Hearts – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Overweight – Blue October
14th Street – Rufus Wainwright

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CHEWY AMARETTI COOKIES

Sometimes, a little fuss is in order.

amaretti cookies

Though our general philosophy here at Blue Jean Gourmet is that food does not need to be fussy to be delicious, there are occasions (and recipes and people) for which a little fuss is not such a bad thing.  If you are making the fuss for a reason, it ceases to be fuss and starts to be care or love or desire or enthusiasm.  And those are all good things.

Last week, Jill met my extended family for the first time.  They’re not technically my family, as we’re not related by blood, but the aunties and uncles I grew up with in Memphis are mine, and I am theirs.  They’re all brave immigrants, like my parents, who came to this country from India and somehow figured out how to raise children (sassy, first-generation children) in a completely foreign land.

As you can imagine, the whole l-e-s-b-i-a-n thing has been sort of a hard road for all of us; hard enough, and then really just not on the radar in the Indian community at all.  But since my father died three years ago, things have shifted.  I’m older; Jill and I have been together longer.  My mother, in her generosity and determination to build a great adult relationship with me, has met me more than halfway.  And my community has followed.

We had what my friends and I jokingly called a “sip and see,” usually thrown in the South when a baby is born and everyone comes to inspect him/her and drink punch.  Instead of a baby, we had (a very nervous) Jill.  And instead of punch, we had sparkling shiraz, fruit sodas, cheese & crackers, spinach dip, fruit, homemade chocolate-covered strawberries, and these cookies.

These amaretti, unlike the also delicious but crunchy kind you may be used to, are light, airy, and almost evaporate in your mouth when served plain.  An equally good but richer option is to “glue” them together with some jam or melted chocolate.

In case you were wondering, Jill was charming and gracious, as she always is.  I think my aunties and uncles saw at least a sliver of what I see in her, and they were gracious and lovingly inquisitive back.  When I closed the door after our last guest, I found myself moved to tears because two parts of my life had finally come together, parts I long thought would always be separate.  Certainly an occasion worth making a little fuss over.

CHEWY AMARETTI COOKIES
adapted from Gourmet magazine, January 2009

ingredients:

7 oz. almond paste (not marzipan)
1 cup sugar
2 large egg whites, at room temperature for 30 minutes
¼ cup almonds, toasted

oven: 300°
pan: baking sheet
special equipment: food processor, parchment paper & a pastry bag (or just use a large Ziploc bag instead, like me)

Line the baking sheets with parchment paper; please don’t try to substitute anything else as it won’t work and you’ll regret it, I promise.

Pulse the almond paste with the sugar in your food processor until it has broken up & looks crumbly; add almonds & egg whites and process until the mixture is smooth.

Pile the mixture into your pastry bag or Ziploc bag; if the latter, cut off one corner of the bag and squeeze rounds onto the parchment.  Cookies work best if they are less than an inch round; place them just as far apart on the sheets.

amaretti on parchment

Bake until the cookies are golden & puffed, about 15 minutes.  Cool on a rack, then peel off of the parchment.

optional: Sandwich the cookies together, two at a time, using any number of fillings; melted chocolate, raspberry or strawberry jam, Nutella, etc.

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