Ghirardelli Chocolate Toffee Brownies

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Brownies…who doesn’t love brownies? No one in this house – they are one of the most requested desserts. As much as I love cooking and baking, I have used the box mix more often than not. They are super easy to make and always taste great. Sometimes I even hide the box and pretend I made them from scratch. There is definitely a difference between the box and from scratch and making them from scratch is worth the time. I have been experimenting with different recipes and this is the current favorite. It is the perfect combination of cakey vs fudgy brownies – if you want them even cakier you can add in another egg. If you aren’t a toffee fan, you can substitute chocolate chips or walnuts if you like.

The secret to this whole deal is using a very good quality chocolate…this is the one I use:

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Ghirardelli 60% cacao…I love baking with this! Ever since my visit to the factory in San Francisco in 1985, I have been hooked on this brand.  Another good quality baking chocolate to try is Scharffen Berger. Trader Joe’s is really good too….

Ingredients:

2 bars (7ounces) Ghirardelli 60% Cacao chocolate baking bar

1/2 cup plus one tablespoon unsalted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or good vanilla extract

1/2 cup Heath English Toffee bits

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper so that the paper over hangs by a few inches.

Melt chocolate and butter together in the top of a double boiler. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool. If you don’t have a double boiler, place in microwave safe dish and microwave on half power in 30 second increments, stirring after each time. Stir until thoroughly blended, let cool for 5 minutes.

In a seperate bowl, add eggs and beat slightly, then stir in sugars, eggs, vanilla and Heath bits. Stir until well blended. Add chocolate mixture and and stir until smooth. Add flour and salt and mix until just combined.

Pour mixture into pan and spread evenly, smoothing top. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Transfer pan to wire rack to cool. When cooled, lift brownies out of pan using the overhanging parchment paper. Cut into squares and watch them disappear!

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*Inspired by a recipe on the website “Bake or Break” 

Summer Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta

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Happy end of summer! I love late August – it finally starts to cool off around here (meaning the temperatures finally start to dip into the double digits), and people who have gardens have so many extra veggies they start giving them away. They magically appear in the break room at work and in little plastic bags on your front doorstep- yay! The tomatoes are perfect- they have fully ripened on the vine and taste nothing like those red cardboard globes you find in the produce section in January. This dish is both easy to make and really delicious – and there is no such thing as using too much garlic in it….promise.

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof by Ina Garten, Clarkson Potter/Publishers, All Rights Reserved

6 ounces good feta, crumbled
2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cup good olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced shallots (2 shallots)
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
2 pounds ripe heirloom or cherry tomatoes, 1/2-inch-diced
1/2 sourdough or french baguette, sliced on the diagonal

For the whipped feta, place the feta and cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until the cheeses are mixed. Add 1/3 cup of the olive oil, the lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and process until smooth.

For the tomatoes, up to an hour before your’re serving, combine the shallots, garlic, and vinegar in a medium bowl. Set aside for 5 minutes. Whisk in the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add the tomatoes, stir gently, and set aside for 10 minutes. Stir in the basil and taste for seasonings.

Place baugette slices on a foil lined pan and set oven to broil for 4-5 minutes.

To assemble the crostini, spread each slice of bread with a generous amount of whipped feta. With a slotted spoon, place the tomatoes on top. Put the crostini on plates and sprinkle with extra basil and serve.

Light and Fluffy Vegan Pancakes

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“Necessity is the mother of invention” – anonymous proverb.

One of our favorite things around here is weekend or holiday pancake breakfasts – my husband makes the most amazing pancakes!  Usually he makes these delicious little treats on lazy Sunday mornings or on Thanksgiving or Christmas morning – or whenever we have the time to hang out around the table and relax. Recently a family member became a vegan (I can’t say who because she hates it when I talk to people about her being a vegan – but it is the only minor currently living with us.) We wanted to continue the pancake tradition so she could be included but didn’t want to give up the light fluffy goodness and delicious flavor of our homemade ones.

This recipe tastes exactly like the milk and egg version but uses almond milk and vanilla bean paste for flavor, and extra baking powder for lightness and airiness. Even if you aren’t a vegan these are definitely worth a try –  this is a healthier, lower fat version of the original classic comfort food.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

4 tablespoons granulated sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups water

1/2 cup almond milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Sift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into large mixing bowl. Whisk remaining ingredients together in seperate bowl. Make a well in center of dry ingredients, and pour in the wet ingredients. Stir until just blended; do not over mix  (batter will be lumpy.)

Heat lightly oiled griddle to 425 degrees. Drop batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto griddle and cook until bubbles form on top of pancakes and edges are dry. Flip and cook until browned on griddle side.  Repeat with remaining batter. Top with powdered sugar and maple syrup and serve hot. Makes about 12 medium sized pancakes.

Grilled Tri Tip Steak Salad

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We are doing some serious grilling around here in the month of June – nothing tastes like summer like delicious veggies and/or meat with a little char on it, right? This is a really awesome summer recipe that features two things native to California – Tri Tip steak and Sriracha Red Chili Sauce – the latter which has been in serious danger of disappearing from the grocery store after a year long drama. I never believed LA could be swept up in a pepper factory drama – but if you haven’t heard about it you can read the back story at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/05/14/theres-still-a-lot-of-drama-surrounding-the-sriracha-factory-in-california/

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This is the stuff – yum!

 

Tri Tip is a cut from the bottom sirloin originally sold as ‘Santa Maria Steak” after a guy in Santa Maria, California started marketing it there in the 1950’s.  It is also popular with cooks who use it in Chili Con carne. If you haven’t tried it – you are in for a treat.

This recipe is super easy and has a really unique flavor. We never get tired of  making it – and there is enough steak left for sandwiches the next day!

Ingredients:

1 large (6 ounce or bigger) bag organic spinach (I use Trader Joe’s)

1 Tri Tip Steak, approximately 1.5 pounds

juice of 1 lime

juice of 1 orange, plus 1/2 teaspoon zest

1 tablespoon Sriracha Red Chili Sauce

4 teaspoons seasoned rice vinegar

3 teaspoons canola oil

2 teaspoons honey, divided

5 tablespoons soy sauce, divided

1 teaspoon finely shredded fresh ginger

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 red bell peppers, seeded and quartered

1/2 fresh pineapple, cut into 1 inch strips

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Heat grill  to medium heat (around 400 degrees)

In a medium bowl, mix 1 tablespoon honey, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, garlic and ginger. Place in Ziploc bag with steak, toss to coat. (If you have time to prep in the morning or are prepping overnight, even better – the longer the steak marinates, the better it is)

Grill pineapple and peppers with lid down for about 3-6 minutes, or until lightly charred. Cut into 1 inch chunks and set aside.

Whisk together lime juice, orange zest and juice, remaining 3 tablespoons soy sauce, garlic, chili sauce, rice vinegar, oil and remaining honey in a small bowl, then set this aside and turn your attention back to the grill – its time to cook the steak! If you have a 1.5 – 2 pound tri tip, you should cook it 10-12 minutes per side, turning only once. The steak will continue to cook once you take it off the grill, so don’t over cook it! It should be light pink inside and not browned all the way through. Slice into 1/4 inch pieces, then slice into strips.

Toss together the spinach, pineapple, pepper, steak and dressing in a large bowl. Serve immediately. Bon appetit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh Cherry Clafouti

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Okay here it is….spring roadside fruit stand menu part deux…..

I admit it…I pretty much could live off of fresh berries and fruit this time of year. I am a sucker for every sign on the side of the road whether it is fresh cherries, blueberries, strawberries…the taste is just so much better than what you can buy in the store. My favorite dessert to make with fresh black cherries is also one of the easiest to make…the simple but elegant clafouti.

Clafoutis (pronounced “kla-foo-TEE”) is a rustic French dessert originally from Limousin, in southern France. This region is best known for its sweet black cherries which are traditionally baked in a sweet custard filling. This dessert is super easy to make – the filling is similar to a crepe, but is more thick and pudding like texture – actually it is more like a cross between a cake and a pudding. As it bakes, the batter forms a golden crust and the cherries burst, forming puddles of thick syrup… it should look something like this. The bonus – it is really easy to make but looks like something you spent hours creating..

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If it is long past cherry season, plums or even peaches will work just as well with this amazing batter…

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons sliced almonds

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2/3 cup all purpose flour

2/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs

3 large egg yolks

1 1/4 cups heavy cream, divided

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

2 large pints fresh black cherries, stemmed and pitted (about 4 cups)

1/4 cup kirsh or brandy (optional)

1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place cherries in a medium bowl stir in liqueur and macerate for 30 minutes. Place sliced almonds in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for 5 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool.

Use butter to grease bottom and sides of 9 X 9 by 2 inch pan. Place flour, 2/3 cup sugar, salt and almonds in a food processor, and pulse until mixture is finely ground. In a seperate medium bowl, add eggs, egg yolks, 3/4 cup of the cream, vanilla and lemon zest. Blend with a wire whisk until blended, then add flour mixture. Whisk thoroughly to combine and place in refrigerator for 15 minutes to rest.

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Pour cherries into bottom of pan and spread evenly over bottom. Pour batter over cherries and bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Sprinkle remaining sugar over top of dish and bake an additional 15 – 20 minutes until top is golden brown and bubbling. Transfer to wire rack to cool. Sprinkle sifted confectioners sugar over top of each serving.  Whip  remaning 1/2 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form. Serve clafouti warm or at room temperature, topped with whipped cream.

Try this with plums too and let me know which one you like better…

 

 

 

Strawberry Cottage Pudding Shortcake

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I was driving down Highway 65 today and I saw the first “fresh strawberries” sign of the spring by the road. I tried not to spin too much gravel as I quickly did a U turn and pulled off to the side of the road.  Let me tell you, if you have never had fresh-picked-that-morning strawberries from the farmer who grew them, then you are missing out on a foodie flavor treat that simply cannot be replicated. The strawberries that are grown commercially are much sturdier and firmer since they have to travel well and stay fresh for at least 10 days in the store. They are usually picked greener too. Its like the difference between a home grown tomato and the ones you get in the produce section of Safeway. This is a wonderful shortcake recipe that is a variation of  the original Cottage Pudding Cake that was featured in the “Fannie Farmer Cookbook” published in 1966. The original Fannie Farmer Cookbook was published in 1896 (wow) and it has been updated and revised over the years. I am not sure why the cake was called Cottage Pudding Cake – maybe someone knows that story and you will share with me.  I found the recipe and I have been experimenting with the basic recipe. This shortcake is like a big sweet biscuit with a wonderful buttery vanilla flavor and a little bit of almond that really brings out the flavor of the berries. If you don’t want to buy buttermilk just for this recipe, then you can just substitute all milk instead of 1/2 and 1/2. I ran out of milk last time and I used all buttermilk and it turned out wonderfully! It is really important to macerate the berries for a few hours if you can on the countertop.  To macerate strawberries, all you have to do is sprinkle sugar on them, which draws out their juices so they become soft and sweet and deliciously saucy. This is the secret to the perfect deliciousness that is this strawberry shortcake recipe!

Ingredients:

2 cups minus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

1 egg

1/8 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (you can substitute good vanilla extract)

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 inch round layer cake pan with flour based nonstick cooking spray. Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl; set aside. Beat the shortening and sugar on medium speed with an electric stand mixer until light and fluffy. Don’t skimp on this step – it takes 3-5 minutes to get the right consistency. Add the egg, almond extract and vanilla bean paste and combine. Pour in the flour mixture alternatively with the milks, mixing on low speed until just incorporated. Do not overmix. Pour the batter into the pan and bake 25-28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. This is a lightly browned, buttery sugary shortbread that is ready for your fresh berries!

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Clean, de stem and slice 2 quarts of fresh strawberries. Place in bowl with 1/8 cup water and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons granulated sugar. Let sit on countertop, stirring occasionally, for a few hours to macerate. To assemble, slice one 3″ piece of cake and split in half lengthwise. add 3/4 cup berries and top with your favorite whipped cream. I saw another farm stand on the way home and the cherries are ripe now for the whole month of May. Stay tuned for the most amazing cherry cloufiti recipe ever…..

Easy Bisquick Cinnamon Rolls

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Happy April – I’m back! I am overdue for a post – and I have been thinking about what my first April recipe should be. I am always working on healthy and seasonal recipes and am working towards cooking and baking with only what is in season. That is my plan for this spring – no excuse when I live in Northern California and there is an abundance of local fresh fruits and veggies.  In my role as a non profit event manager (I haven’t yet figured out how to pay the bills blogging – ideas, anyone?) the last six weeks or so I have been planning for my first two events of the season (back to back weekends) so this is the first weekend that I have time to write. We are spending the weekend at our family cabin on the west shore of Lake Tahoe and  I brought along a couple of books I have been wanting to read – Anna Quindlen’s “Still Life with Bread Crumbs” is on the top of the stack.  This recipe is nether locally sourced or healthy – but for a holiday weekend brunch it is perfect! Sometimes you just need some comfort food and a good book to recharge your batteries…. and yes we are going on a long bike ride later this afternoon to burn up all of the carbs!

Ingredients:

4 cups Bisquick dry mix

1 1/3 cups buttermilk

4 tablespoons granulated sugar

 

1 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup chopped pecans

3 tablespoons melted butter

3/4 cup butter melted and cooled

Glaze:

2 cups powdered sugar

4-5 tablespoons milk

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

 

Instructions:

In a large bowl, combine Bisquick, buttermilk and 4 tablespoons sugar, using a fork and just combining until a dough is formed. In a separate medium bowl, combine brown sugar, remaining granulated sugar, cinnamon and nuts. Add 2 tablespoons melted butter, stir to mix thoroughly and set aside.

Generously flour rolling surface, then turn dough onto surface and using foured hands. Pat into rectangular shape. Use a floured rolling pin to roll out dough to approx 3/4 inch thickness. Pour remaining melted butter onto dough, using a pastry brush to spread evenly. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over dough. Start rolling dough from long end, away from you , jellyroll style until completely rolled. Slice roll into approximately 1 inch cloces, using a wire pastry cutter or a large sharp floured knife. Arrange rolls side by side in a  9 X 13 glass or shiny metal plan, sprayed with a flour nonstick cooking spray or generously buttered. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until tops of rolls are just lightly browned. Make glaze and thin with additional milk to desired consistency. Remove rolls from pan individually, drizzling each with glaze before serving.

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Here are the rolls ready to go into the oven. Don’t worry they don’t have to be perfect – they will taste amazing!