Thomas Keller’s Cocoa Brownies

I can’t tell you how often I dream about Thomas Keller. I think about him all the time. I hope this isn’t creepy. I just adore his imaginative and playful outlook on food, his down-to-earth personality, and immense knowledge of food and cooking techniques. He thinks about food in a way that is simply unparalleled. He wants to make awesome meals for his guests, yes, but he also wants it to evoke a memory and touch people in a personal way. It’s not just eating, it’s experiencing flavors and textures. Other chefs, even Anthony Bourdain, are humbled by his plates. No one can do what he does. I think he’s brilliant. Chad thinks he’s a stoner (the idea of “how else does he think of this stuff?!”). I just want to eat with him, talk to him, have him sign something, make him food. I think he’d like my split red lentil soup with red pepper paste. He’s incredible. Incredible enough that I would actually pay $300 to eat in his restaurants. If I had a spare $300. And I most certainly don’t. I do have his newest cookbook though and with it, I learned his brownie recipe. Oh lord. These brownies.

I’m reading his cookbook as if he wrote it just for me…to teach me to cook aaaaaaaaaaaaaall the way from Yountville. I mean, it’s just not practical to expect him to come to Indiana to teach me. So I understand why he wrote a book for me. He’s telling me how to properly cut up a chicken (two different ways) and why he’s against tongs. I’ve already followed his advice about dating my spice jars (see how well I follow directions, Thomas!) and I’ve made an imitation recipe for his cream of walnut soup. This is as close to French Laundry or Per Se or Ad Hoc as I can get (for now).

He seems to be in Julia Child’s camp on the butter topic, no? There are three, count ’em, three sticks of butter in these. And he’s solved the “I forgot to sit out my butter and it’s not room temperature!” problem too. He’s wonderful.

3/4 C AP flour
1 C unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tsp salt (Kosher is best here)
3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into Tbsps
3 eggs, large
1 3/4 sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 C dark chocolate, cut in to pieces

Preheat oven to 350 and butter a 9×9 dish. Combine flour, salt, and cocoa and set aside. Melt half of the butter in a small saucepan. When completely melted, pour over the remaining, chopped butter. Stir well and smush with a fork until you can only see tiny bits of solid butter. Now your butter is room temperature and you have witnessed firsthand how the mad food scientist has solved a classic baking problem.

Mix together eggs and sugar in a stand mixer (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer) until thick and pale. Add vanilla and then the flour mixture and butter in thirds, first flour then butter. When all is incorporated, fold in chocolate bits. Spread the decadent batter into the baking dish. Let your roommate erase her bad day with the spatula and batter bowl. Bake brownies for the longest 40-45 minutes of your life.

Let brownies cool 20 minutes before cutting into pieces. Or, if you can’t be bothered to wait, just hack into them with abandon.

Let’s be completely honest here. I make a lot of brownies. I’ve come from the box brownie land to the classic one bowl recipes to various twists (like spicy brownies!) and intensely cocoa brownies. I thought I had found the best ever cocoa brownies (and don’t worry I’ll still post those since they’re better than these for storing in the freezer) but these are buttery and rich and so chocolatey.

And I feel like these will be a good bribe/thank you to the apple guys if/when they fix my computer for free. They haven’t called about it yet so I’m hoping that’s a good sign…a sign that they’re busy and up to their elbows in, um, modems and processors. Or something.

San Marzano Tomato Soup with Parmesan Tuiles & Crispy Basil

I’m so fascinated by other people’s genius and recipe-making creativity that I have lately found myself NOT making up recipes like I used to. There are just so many amazing chefs to look to for brilliance that there’s almost no need to make something up off the cuff. And yet somehow, while reading recipes and thinking about spring and the upcoming summer, I found myself planting tomato seeds and herb seeds. Inevitably this led to thinking about ways to use these anticipation-inducing foodstuffs and I thought of tomato soup. Yes. Another soup.

My big problem with bought tomato soup is that it so often tastes like thickened V-8 juice which I just can’t stand. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll slurp up some tomato soup with a grilled cheese in hand any day, but it’s just always lackluster and sort of a waste of calories. I love, adore, crave, and yearn for awesome tomatoes. My grandparents used to grow them at their place in Virginia…YUM. I just saw the first sprouts of my tomatoes (cherry and roma) and while I’m anxious to try making soup with them, for now I’m more than content with canned san marzano tomatoes. This soup is intensely tomato-flavored. There is no water or cream in this soup to mellow out the tomato so anyone who is ho-hum about tomatoes will probably find this too rich. Chad and Meredith fall into this category. I groaned and ate spoonful after spoonful while they ate a bit and pushed the bowls away, claiming it was “too tomato-y.”

I should have known.

You knowing food enthusiasts might notice that I’m not using DOP San Marzanos. I’m using the New Jersey grown tomatoes that are grown from the same seeds. I’ve had both and I’m happy to sacrifice authenticity for the 40% in savings. I use these tomatoes a lot and I’m not about to spend that much money on canned food. Sorry America.

1 14 oz. can of yummy tomatoes (Whole, crushed, or diced work equally well. Here I used crushed.)
1 shallot or onion, whole
1-3 cloves garlic, whole
1 C red wine (whaaaaat? I know)
3 Tbsp butter
pinch of salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
handful of grated parmesan
8 basil leaves
3 Tbsp olive oil

Dump the tomatoes in a medium saucepan and add the butter, onion, garlic, and wine. Bring this to a simmer and stir in salt and pepper. Let this simmer for at least 1 hour…while you prep everything else!

Go outside to your herb garden (because you just started one outside too, right?) and pluck 8-12 basil leaves. Wash em off and add them to a sauté pan with the olive oil. Let the basil leaves fry in the hot oil. Your kitchen should smell incredible by this point. You’re welcome.

Preheat the oven to 375. Grate a handful or so of parmesan cheese. I finished off the rest of my parmesan reggiano and made the rest of the tuiles with some Argentinean parmesan that I was really curious about in the grocery store. They were both good but the Argentinean parmesan was sort of Gruyère-y. Put little spoonfuls of cheese onto a silpat or similar mat (mine are Kitchenaid brand and Meagan got them for me for Christmas!). Place in the oven at 375 until you see that they are crispy and thoroughly melted. The time varies here.

When the basil leaves and parmesan crisps are done, transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate but don’t get rid of that basil-infused oil. Wait anxiously for the soup to keep simmering. Tap your foot. Wring your hands. Stick your head over the pot a zillion times to smell the yumminess. When the soup is done simmering, fish out the onion and garlic (or don’t if you can’t find them…like I couldn’t find the garlic-ha!) and use an immersion blender to purée the tomatoes. Use a regular blender or food processor if you don’t have an immersion blender.

Pour the soup in a bowl and top with a tuile and a basil leaf. Sprinkle on a few drops of the basil oil and chow down. You can also break the parmesan and basil over the tops–you can get away with eating more this way. The parmesan tuiles will just barely melt in the soup and the basil will be mellow and less intense than fresh basil. This is why I use the basil oil too. You get the light basil flavor from the fried basil and more light flavor from the oil.

It is the most flavorful tomato soup you can imagine and the wine and basil and onion flavors are subtle but really add something. Oh and the garlic is divine. Tomatoes and garlic are bffs after all. This soup would be perfect as a side to a pesto pasta or a thick steak. I must confess that it is very intense for a main course but for lunch with a pasta and some bread it would be awesome.

I, of course, ate a huge bowl and an extra tuile after…just because.

The Best Sandwich Bread Ever

You’ve undoubtedly heard people say that one thing or another is “the best thing since sliced bread.” And while I understand the appeal of prepackaged, sliced bread, I don’t think people really know what they’re saying. Have those people had homemade sandwich bread? It’s infinitely better. This recipe makes chewy, soft-yet-sturdy wheat bread that you have to try to believe.

See, a long time ago, my (then) step-dad taught me something that was, at the time, a revelation: some people think of bread as just something to hold the insides of a sandwich. That completely explained why he ate sawdust-like bread with no substance or flavor. But my mom and I always went for wheat breads studded with nuts and seeds because we both figured, I’m eating this…it should taste good and have a great texture and be worth eating in the first place. Luckily for me, Deb from smittenkitchen completely agrees.

Thanks to her, I have this amazing loaf of bread in my freezer. She got it from the Bread Baker’s Apprentice which is on my cookbook wishlist.

There are a lot of books on my cookbook wishlist.

2 1/2 cups bread flour*
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons powdered milk
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups water (room temperature)

I think the best way to do this (and most economical) is to buy the high-gluten additive and add a tablespoon for every cup of all-purpose flour. Of course, you don’t want to end up with extra flour, so I add a tablespoon of this to a one-cup measure and then top off the rest with the all-purpose flour. Or you can have a big ole bag of bread flour. Maybe you want to make bread a lot!

Mix the flours, salt, powdered milk, and yeast in a large bowl. Add the butter, honey, and water and stir. You can do this in a stand mixer but even though I have one, I prefer doing this by hand so I can be sure of an even consistency. Stir all ingredients together until the dough is soft and a bit sticky. Flour a counter or board (I use the whole wheat flour for this) and knead for about 10 minutes. When the dough is ready, it will be pliable and stretchy. You should be able to take a ping-pong sized ball and press and stretch it until it is translucent. When kneaded to that stage, lightly oil a bowl (you can wash and oil the same bowl as before if you want) and plop the dough in it. This needs to rise, covered with plastic wrap, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours in a warm place.

After the dough rises to double in bulk, flour the counter again and press/roll the dough into a rectangle that is as wide as your loaf pan and slightly longer than your loaf pan (mine was 11 by 7 inches because my loaf pan is 7 inches long and 4 1/2 inches wide). Roll the dough from one of the short ends, pinching with each rotation so that the inside of the bread will remain fused together during baking. Be sure to pinch the outside edge very well. Place the dough in a lightly buttered loaf pan and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Let the dough rise again (I know!) for 60-90 minutes in a warm place. I needed the whole 90 minutes but you might only need 60. Definitely check it. About midway through the rising time, start preheating your oven to 350. When the dough has risen above the top of the loaf pan, bake at 350 for 45 minutes to 1 hour. I only needed 45 minutes. Obviously there a bunch of factors here.

See that perfectly browned, stiff crust? So delicious and sturdy enough to keep the insides of your sandwiches in place. The inside is chewy and soft but still strong enough for a turkey and roast beef or a pastrami and corned beef sandwich (St. Patrick’s Day!). I keep toasting pieces and making half-size peanut butter sandwiches. I’m also a huge fan of smothering the toast with Chad’s mom’s homemade blackberry jam (my all-time favorite). This freezes well which is good because it goes stale quickly. That might sound like a negative thing, but it’s because there are no preservatives and you don’t want those anyway.

Sorry for the big delay in posting. It’s been a rough week. I found out my computer display is ruined, then was told that my computer did qualify for a free fix by apple (due to packaging defect). Then I found out today that  when my ex-roommate spilled a Dr. Pepper on a fancy dress I was making, a bit must have got on my keyboard and into my machine because it’s dried on there and stuck things together. Now it’s not eligible for a fix and I would have to pay $1425 to get it replaced. Better to just buy a new laptop (haha like I can afford that). Chad’s letting me commandeer his toshiba while I sulk and try to adjust to picasa. I’m trying not to be down about it. Chad and I went to play with pound puppies this afternoon and as I type this he’s hiding behind chairs and peeking out to try to make me laugh. It’s working. =)

Meyer Lemon Cookies & Lavender Lemonade

A long time ago my friend Katrina told me about a pitcher of lavender lemonade she made. She raved about it. Oh my goodness it was the best thing ever. And then she never made some and sent to me by UPS or FedEx or DHL. What gives? How do you not figure out a way to send me such precious and awesome lemonade?

Okay just kidding about that last part. But the description and concept of the lemonade really stuck with me. I always have lavender around (for things like lavender lemon bars) but until I stumbled on a bag of Meyer lemons for $2 (Hey-o!) I hadn’t thought seriously about making it. And now I can’t imagine why! This is delicious and refreshing. But my issue with the lemonade was that it didn’t use the precious zest of the Meyer lemons.

Have you used Meyer lemons before? They are incredible. They’re soooo different than regular lemons: sweeter and somehow more lemony. It sounds like a contradiction but I promise it isn’t. They are also far more juicier. And their zest is delicious. So I set out to make some small cookies to go with the lemonade.

I wanted a cakey cookie and one whose other ingredients wouldn’t compete with the lemon zest flavor. I realized that black and white cookies had the texture I wanted and once I eliminated the lemon extract (superfluous, don’t you think?) and vanilla extract, the lemon zest would be the main flavor. I came up with a cake-like cookie with tiny shreds of lemon zest that gave just the right amount of not-sour, lemony goodness.

Meyer Lemon Cookies (adapted loosely from smittenkitchen’s Black and White cookie recipe-which are yummy):

2/3 C sugar
1 stick unsalted, room temperature butter
2 eggs
1/2 C milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 5-6 Meyer lemons
1 C cake flour
1 C all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

These lemony, cakey cookies are simple to make and just taste like summer. To make them even more moist, I think I’ll throw in a couple dollops of yogurt next time. To quote Ms. Fancy-pants herself, “How bad can that be?”

These would be wonderful as a small cake with a powdered sugar glaze. In fact, a thin powdered sugar glaze would be yummy on the cookies but they are delicious without a glaze of any kind.

Lavender Lemonade (adapted from Elise’s basic lemonade recipe):

1 C Meyer lemon juice (about 6 lemons)
3 1/2 C water
prepared sweet lavender syrup (below)
ice for serving

Sweet Lavender Syrup (adapted from, er, that one time when Katrina told me about lavender lemonade):

3/4 C sugar
1 C water
2 Tbsp lavender flowers

First make the lavender syrup. Combine lavender, sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the sugar dissolves and then turn off the heat. Let this sit for at least ten minutes before straining and adding to the other ingredients. The syrup should be fragrant and slightly purple in color.

While the syrup is cooking, juice the lemons. If you’ve never used Meyer lemons before, watch out. They are incredibly juicy and their peels are so thin and fragile, they will break if you twist the halved lemons on a juicer. It seems best to just press the halved lemons on the juicer to extract most of the juice and then squeeze the flattened lemon with your hands. I got just over a cup of the most yellow-y yellow lemon juice.

Around this time the lavender syrup should be finished and ready to mix in. Pour the lavender syrup and then the lemon juice though a strainer and a funnel into a pitcher. Add in 3 1/2-4 1/2 cups of water depending on how strong you want the lemonade. Refrigerate until completely chilled. Serve over ice with a bendy straw. (<-That part is really important. Don’t skip that step.)

Barbecue Pulled Pork

I’m a barbecue fanatic. Kruegers are looked down on in my family for not asking for barbecue sauce with fries at a restaurant. There are 3 different brands in my fridge rightthisveryminute. I’m SERIOUS about barbecue. And luckily, there are others who share my obsession enthusiasm.

See, there are these guys in Bloomington called, affectionately, the Ribs Guys. More accurately, they are called Ribs Guys! because people are generally excited when they see them. The proprietors of a restaurant called Smokin’ Jack’s Barbecue have a stand at all the home football games (17th and Dunn!) and a handful of random Fridays and Saturdays where they sell ribs, smoked sausages, pulled pork sandwiches at great prices. You get the same foods they sell at the restaurant for in-the-parking-lot-of-a-convenience-store prices. NOTHING could be better. Meredith and I have a system where we call or text (in capital letters, obvs) to let each other know when the Ribs Guys! are at their post. Then we eat barbecue sauce-slathered ribs before we go to fancy military events. Because we’re normal.

The problem of course, is that it’s now basketball season and the Ribs Guys! don’t hang out at the food mart when it’s cold out. So I get a hankering for their food at inopportune times and figure out ways to make a version myself. Take this pulled pork for instance: take a cut of pork, some sauce and liquid smoke, a crock pot, and a wheat bun and you, Sir, have some heaven on a plate there. And it couldn’t be easier.


1 pork roast or pork butt
salt and pepper to cover
1 Tbsp liquid smoke (or mesquite liquid smoke)
1 Tbsp teriyake sauce (opt)
about 1 C barbecue sauce (or a mixture of multiple brands)

As I said, I like to use different sauces for different foods so I assemble an assortment. You can use any brand or type of sauce you like. (I also really like Tony Roma’s Carolina Honey sauce but I’m out of it at the moment.) This time I mixed Sweet Baby Ray’s (a classic) and Jack Daniels Honey Smokehouse with a little mesquite liquid smoke and teriyaki sauce. They combine to form a complex and smokey flavor.

Don’t I sort of sound like I’m talking about wine? Just substitute some words there and I’m a sommelier. For real.

This is so easy. It’s barely a recipe. You can use pork shoulder, pork butt or a lean pork loin like I used here. Rinse it if you want and apply salt and pepper over all sides. Pour the liquid smoke and teriyaki sauce in the slow-cooker. Add the barbecue sauce(s) and stir well. Turn the heat to high* and add the pork.

Brush the top of the meat with a silicon brush. I really hate using natural hair or wooden-handled brushes for this since, hi, it’s raw pork and that creeps me out. Slosh barbecue sauce all over the top and cook for about 5 hours.

*If you have more time, reduce heat to low or medium and increase cooking time. I only had 5 hours this time so that’s what I did but roasts taste even better the longer they are cooked.

Oh hello.

See how tender and succulent this is? It falls apart. Use two forks to shred the pork and separate everything into consistently-sized strips. And it really is tender enough for this. The only reason for a knife is to cut the long strips in half so you don’t end up with long dangley pieces.

When you’re finished, spoon all the sauce into a bowl and set aside. Dump all the pork into the slow cooker (set to warm or very low) and pour on the sauce. Depending on the size of your cut of meat, you might need more or less. You might also want less sauce on your pork. It’s all a matter of taste. So spoon or pour on a little at a time before stirring and testing to see if you need to add more. I used all my sauce (<-surprise) (<-sarcasm).

This will stay hot for hours if you are at a party or pot luck. In fact, I kind of can’t wait to make this for a pot luck or superbowl party. Everyone will love you when you make it! Serve on a wheat bun or roll and top with a little extra barbecue sauce if you want.

I won’t judge you. In fact, it will make me want to be your friend.