Friday, June 16, 2017

Chocolate Fudge Brownies with Whipped Peanut Butter Frosting

There are people out there who will tell you eating your feelings isn't a good thing.  Most of the time, I don't argue with this logic.  But sometimes chocolate really is the answer.  Rich, dense chocolate brownies with fluffy peanut butter frosting and a healthy sprinkling of seat salt, to be exact.  

Sorry, health gods.

I'm human and sometimes I cave.  When I do, I want it to be worth it.  I don't put sugar in my coffee, breakfast is usually plain yogurt with a dab of honey and naturally sweet fresh fruit, and I eat loads of vegetables.  I truly do have an apple nearly every day.  I couldn't tell you the last time I had a Coke (other than maybe an airplane-sized ginger ale on my spring break flight).  So when life hands me a string of difficult days, I try not to feel too guilty making fudgy brownies and topping them with the airiest whipped peanut butter frosting.

It's called balance and it's healthy.  No apologies.  No guilt.

Dense, fudgy, uber chocolatey brownies become a decadent splurge when topped with the airiest whipped peanut butter frosting and a healthy sprinkling of sea salt.

Chocolate Fudge Brownies with Whipped Peanut Butter Frosting
from Annie's Eats

For the brownies:
10 TBSP room-temperature unsalted butter
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. plus 2 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 c. all-purpose flour

For the frosting:
6 TBSP room-temperature unsalted butter
3/4 c. creamy peanut butter
1 c. confectioners' sugar
pinch of salt

additional sea salt, such as fleur de sel or Maldon, for sprinkling

1.  Preheat the oven to 325 F.  Line an 8x8-in. baking pan with lightly greased parchment paper. 

2.  Cut the butter into large chunks and place in a large heatproof bowl.  Add the sugar, cocoa powder, and salt.  Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water to create a double boiler.  Allow the butter to melt completely, whisking occasionally until ingredients are fully combined.  Set aside and let cool until just warm to the touch.

2.  When the butter mixture is sufficiently cooled, stir in the vanilla followed by the eggs, one at a time, whisking until just smooth.  Fold in the flour until no streaks remain.  Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake 20-25 minutes, until just set.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

3.  To make the frosting, combine the butter and peanut butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.  Blend in the confectioners' sugar and salt on low speed, then increase speed to medium-high and whip until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes.          

4.  Spread the frosting in an even layer over the cooled brownies.  Sprinkle with additional sea salt, as desired.  Slice and serve.

Note: If making ahead of time, store in the refrigerator, allow to come to room temperature before serving, and sprinkle with sea salt just before cutting.  

Yield: 9 servings

Friday, June 9, 2017

Seared Salmon with Balsamic Blistered Tomatoes

I don't care what the calendar says.  Summer is here.  The sun's out, the days are longer, and I pretty much just want to eat summer produce, drink rosé Aperol spritzes, and hang out by the pool.

As much as I love cooking, I don't want to spend these perfect summer days slaving away in the kitchen.  I still want to eat well, I just don't want to miss too much fun time prepping overly complicated meals.  With recipes likes this, there's no need to. 

If you've got 15 minutes, a knife, a cast iron skillet, and a baking sheet you're good to go.  Honestly, this simple, healthy, seasonal recipe could easily adapt to the grill.  You wouldn't even have to miss out on the poolside fun.

Now that's what I call winning at summer.

A few simple ingredients, some basic kitchen tools, and just 15 minutes are all you need to get this simple, healthy seared salmon with balsamic blistered tomatoes on your summertime table.

Seared Salmon with Balsamic Blistered Tomatoes
slightly adapted from Cooking Light, June 2017

1 1/2 TBSP olive oil, divided
4 (6 oz.) salmon filets
1 tsp. Kosher salt, divided
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided
2/3 c. thinly sliced shallot
3 c. cherry tomatoes
1/2 c. torn basil leaves, divided
2 TBSP balsamic vinegar

1.   Preheat oven to 500° F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place in the oven while it preheats.

2.  Heat 1 TBSP oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle salmon filets evenly with half of the salt and pepper.  Add salmon to pan, skin side up, and cook 4 minutes until golden brown.  Place filets, seared side up, on the prepared baking sheet and cook 3-4 minutes more.

3.  Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in the same skillet.  Add shallots and sauté 1 minute.  Add remaining salt and pepper, tomatoes, and 1/3 c. basil.  Cook 3 minutes, until tomatoes begin to break down.  Stir in vinegar and cook 1 minute more.

4.  To serve, place one salmon filet on each of four plates, spoon equal amounts of the tomato mixture on top, and garnish with remaining basil leaves.

Yield: 4 servings

Friday, June 2, 2017

Rosé Aperol Spritz

Every summer needs a signature drink.  And let me tell you, readers, I've got you covered this year.  From the second I saw this recipe, I knew I'd be making batch after batch.  I saw it, texted it "this is not a drill" style to my girls Annie and Josie (who had already sent it to each other), then texted it to my mom so she could stock up on ingredients for us to enjoy a cocktail or two by the pool while I was visiting her in Phoenix. 

I was prepared to mix up several pitchers of this over the course of the summer, but I sure didn't anticipate mixing up batch after batch over the course of my long weekend in Phoenix.  Six recipes worth, to be exact.  The canceled flight and the resulting extra day can only be blamed for two batches.  The rest of the blame goes to the silly "serves 4-6" part of the recipe.  

Four people?  Please.  

Four drinks.  


But as long as you're hanging out, enjoying the summer sunshine and the company of your favorite people, drinking at a leisurely pace, and not driving anywhere soon, I'd plan on each recipe serving two people.  Perhaps I'm a big ol' lush.  Just don't say I didn't warn you.

Sweet-tart passion fruit juice, bitter, herbal Aperol, and crisp, bubbly sparkling rosé--yes to the yes.  There's absolutely nothing not to love about this drink draaank.  Grab your flip flops, your pool floatie, your sunnies, your favorite tunes, and your best girls.  Cheers to summer 2017, my friends.  Live it up.  We've earned it. 

Every summer needs a signature drink and this perfectly pink sweet-tart rosé Aperol spritz is simple to make and even easier to drink.  Rosé and Aperol never tasted so good.     

Rosé Aperol Spritz
slightly adapted from Bon Appétit

3/4 c. passion fruit juice (I used Goya; Bon Appétit recommends Ceres)
1/4-1/2 c. Aperol
1/4 c. fresh lime juice
up to 4 tsp. sugar
1 750 mL bottle of sparkling rosé, chilled
ice for serving, if desired
ruby red grapefruit wedges, for garnish

1.  Take a tiny sip of the rosé (bonus!) to determine its sweetness.  Pour passion fruit juice, Aperol, lime juice, and desired amount of sugar into a pitcher and whisk to combine.  Stir in sparkling rosé.  Taste and make adjustments, as desired.

2.  Add ice to glasses, if preferred, pour drinks, and garnish.  Cheers!

yield:  4-6 drinks (allegedly)        

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

French Butter Cookies

I'll be honest.  I'm surprised by how much I loved these cookies.  I mean, they don't even have any chocolate in them.  No ginger or oatmeal or molasses either.  Actually, they require only seven ingredients, all of which you likely have in your kitchen right now.

With a minimal amount of time and quite a small amount of effort, you can enjoy these crispy, buttery, simple cookies.  They shouldn't feel fancy, but they do.  They make me wish for coffee in china cups, linen napkins, and chit chat with my best girl friends.

At the same time, they feel familiar, like the shortbread cookies that often get ignored--but shouldn't--on the Christmas cookie table.  They taste like sitting at the kitchen table after school with a cold, tall glass of milk and the day's homework.

There's not much to them, it's true.  But I think you'll enjoy them just the same.

Simple baking staples combine to make something truly special in these French butter cookies.

French Butter Cookies
from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook

1 c. unsalted butter (2 sticks), room temperature 
2/3 c. packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 c. sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. turbinado or granulated sugar

1.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on high speed until fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  Reduce speed and add the egg and vanilla and mix to combine.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the flour and salt in two additions, mixing on low speed until flour is incorporated.

2.  Roll the dough into three logs, each 1 1/2 in. in diameter.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least one hour and up to overnight.  

3.  Heat the oven to 350° F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  

4.  Roll each cookie log in sugar to coat the outside and slice into 1/40in. rounds.  Place cookie on the prepared baking sheet about one inch apart.  Using a toothpick or fork, poke two neat rows of decorative holes in each cookie.  Bake until golden brown, 12-15 minutes.  remove from the oven and let cool completely on wire racks.  Store in an airtight container up to one week.

yield: 5 dozen cookies

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Strawberry Balsamic Pie

Sometimes finding the perfect dessert can be agonizing.  Will it complement the main meal?  Will it look great and taste even better?  What food allergies am I dealing with?  Who won't eat it unless it's chocolate?  Who won't eat it if it is chocolate?  Can I make it the day before?  

Other times, the perfect dessert finds you.  You're casually scrolling through your instagram when boom!  There it is.

Such was the case with this stunner of a pie.  It certainly caught my eye with all it's sweet, buttery, spring strawberry glory.  It kept my attention when I read it wasn't just any strawberry pie, but strawberry balsamic pie.  Plus I already had two pie crusts in the freezer ready to go.  Then I remembered I'd had it before, in a concrete at the Shake Shack in Brooklyn.  All of a sudden, dessert went from a challenge to an event basically ordained by the dessert gods.  

They're real.  I promise.  

Of the many things to love about this pie, I think my favorite it its acknowledgement of strawberries' natural sweetness.  Of course there's sugar in the pie, but not an unseemly amount.  After all,  the balsamic and apple add their own sweetness.  The bitters and black pepper didn't stand out of course; they were there to enhance the overall flavor.  I used orange bitters and a thick, syrupy blueberry balsamic because I had them on hand, but they're certainly not required and the recipe calls for the straightforward versions of both.  

And oh. my. goodness.  When I took the pie out of the oven, it was pure heaven.  Butter and fresh strawberry jam came wafting right up, carrying a palpable nostalgia right alongside them.  Childhood memories of warm toast with butter and jam found in a grown up version of strawberry pie.  What a lovely surprise.

Balsamic vinegar lends its tangy sweetness to ripe, red spring strawberries in this decidedly grown up version of strawberry pie.  With a flaky, buttery crust, it's the ultimate fancified version of buttered toast with jam.  

Strawberry Balsamic Pie
adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
seen on Eats Well With Others 

1 recipe perfect pie crust (This makes enough for the top and bottom crust)
2 lb. fresh strawberries, quartered
1/4 c. plus 3 TBSP granulated sugar, divided
1 small baking apple, peeled (I used Granny Smith)
2 TBSP balsamic vinegar (the thicker then better)
2 dashes bitters
3/4 c. dark brown sugar
2 TBSP cornstarch
1-2 TBSP tapioca (depending on how thick you want the filling)
2 grinds fresh black pepper
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
egg wash--1 egg whisked with 1 tsp. water and a pinch of salt
demerara or turbinado sugar for finishing

1.  Roll out one disk of the pie crust and fit into a pie plate.  (You can use a deep dish here, but it isn't necessary.)  Trim the edges to leave a one-inch overhang.  Cover with plastic wrap and freeze at least two hours and up to overnight.

2.  Prepare the filling by sprinkling 3 TBSP granulated sugar over the berries.  Toss gently to combine and macerate for one hour.

3.  Once the berries are macerated,  drain them of any excess liquid.  Grate the apple into the bowl, then add in the vinegar and bitters.  Toss to coat.  Add in the brown sugar, cornstarch, tapioca, black pepper, salt, and remaining granulated sugar.  Gently toss to combine.  Set aside.

4.  Remove the pie dish from the freezer.  Roll out the second disk of pie dough to an 11-in. round and cut into long thin strips.

5.  Pour the strawberry mixture into the bottom crust and use the strips of pie dough to form a lattice crust.  Crimp edges as desired.  Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to set the pastry.    

6.  Preheat the oven to 425° F and line a baking sheet with foil or a silicone baking mat.  Prepare the egg wash.

7.  Remove the pie from the refrigerator, brush the crust with the egg wash, and sprinkle generously with finishing sugar.  Place the pie dish on the baking sheet and into the oven.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry just begins to brown.  Reduce the oven temperature to 375° F, rotate the baking sheet, and bake 35-40 minutes more, lining edges with foil if they brown too much.  Allow pie to cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Yield: 8-10 slices