Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies

When asked to name the heroes in my life, Katharine Hepburn is on my list. My admiration of her talent started when I was a teenager and dreamed of being an actress. I loved her work, especially in two of my favorite movies, "On Golden Pond" and "Desk Set".

As I got older, I started to admire Katharine Hepburn, the person. I liked her spunky, straight-forward attitude. I loved that she would only wear pants because she didn’t like dresses. She was strong, smart, talented, and witty. I want to be just like her.

(I highly recommend reading her autobiography, Me. As you’re reading the book, you can hear her voice in the words.)

With all the upheaval going on in the world right now, I thought we could all use some chocolate. This brownie recipe came from a New York Times letter to the editor. It’s a sweet story about the writer’s encounter with Miss Hepburn, who lived near her family’s Connecticut home.  (You can read the story here.) Besides learning life lessons from the actress, the writer also learned her key to delicious brownies: Do not use too much flour! Notice the recipe only calls for a quarter of a cup.

I made two small changes to the original recipe. First, I added a bit of instant espresso powder, since I find it enhances the chocolate flavor in any recipe. Second, I baked the brownies in a 9-inch-square baking dish instead of the 8-inch one called for in the recipe because, well, I didn’t have an 8-inch one. I shortened the baking time a bit.

That is the key to this dish…do not over bake. These brownies are supposed to be fudgy and gooey.

This is an easy, make-any-time recipe since it contains ingredients most of us keep in our pantry. The resulting brownie is a chocoholic's fantasy. 

Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies
Serves 12

1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 cup chopped walnuts
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon instant espresso powder

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spray an 8-inch-square or 9-inch-square baking dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside until needed.

Put the cocoa powder and butter into a large microwave-safe bowl. Place in the microwave for about 1 minute, or until the butter is melted. Whisk the mixture together until smooth. Set aside to cool a bit.

In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, flour, walnuts and salt. Set aside.

When the butter-cocoa mixture has cooled slightly, whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Then whisk in the vanilla and espresso powder.

Pour the sugar-flour mixture into the cocoa mixture. Stir until just combined. Don’t over mix. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish. Bake the 8-inch-square pan for 30 to 35 minutes, and the 9-inch-square pan for 20 to 25 minutes. Do not over bake. The brownies are supposed to be fudgy and gooey.

Remove the brownies from the oven and place on a cooling rack to cool completely before cutting.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix

Sometimes you just need chocolate.

I’m in the midst of a January let-down. Like many people, I feel this way after the excitement and joy of the holidays. I wait all year for September to arrive, and my heart dances a little jig when the weather turns crisp and the celebrations roll through Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, my birthday, and the New Year.

In some ways, January is a relief…a time to relax and recharge. However, this year started with a sinus infection. Plus, the Kansas weather can’t decide what season is the current one. We’ve had a couple of days with snow, but we’ve also had temperatures reach the 60s. This weekend, we were all prepared for a dangerous ice storm, and while there were a few incidents of ice around, the ice apocalypse transformed into a dreary, foggy, chilly, rainy day.

My go-to comfort drink when I want something warm is a nice cup of hot tea. But on days like today, the warming drink has to be hot cocoa.

I saw this Alton Brown recipe online and was attracted by the idea of having a hot cocoa mix ready to go without all of the chemicals found in the store-bought mixes. 

This mix makes a heavenly cup of cocoa. Along with an engrossing book, it will help drive away the winter doldrums.

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix
Adapted from a recipe by Alton Brown

I cut the original recipe in half so it would fit in a quart-sized canning jar. The recipe calls for Dutch-processed cocoa powder. Regular will work, too, but it won’t be as chocolaty tasting. I used Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder, which is a mix of both types. You can use water to mix up a cup, but I prefer milk warmed in the microwave.

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 1/4 cup powdered milk
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Hot milk or water
Measure all the dry ingredients into a quart-sized canning jar or another container of choice. Put the lid on tightly and shake to combine the ingredients. (You will need to shake the jar before each use to make sure the mixture is combined.)

To make a cup: It takes 2 tablespoons of hot cocoa mix for every 6 ounces of liquid. While the milk or water heats, add 2 tablespoons of the mix to a mug. Pour in half of the heated liquid and stir until the mix is dissolved. Add the remaining liquid, stir, and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Hot Pizza Dip

I love gathering people together to enjoy food and conversation. The NFL playoffs and college basketball season are two terrific excuses to invite people over, but honestly, I’ll use any reason to get friends and family together for munchies and fun.

Hot Pizza Dip is one of my favorite dishes to serve to guests because I love pizza and it’s easy to make. You can top it with your favorite pizza add-ins. Mine are green peppers, onions, black olives and pepperoni. Also, you can bake it in any 9- to 10-inch dish, but I used my cast iron skillet because it holds the heat so the dip stays warm longer.

I take the skillet straight from the oven and onto the middle of the table. That way everyone can gather around and scoop the gooey goodness straight from the pan with a toasted piece of a baguette, or they can spoon some onto individual dishes and dip from there.

However you choose to serve this dip, the key is to have everyone enjoying the food and time together. Add some favorite beverages—and a terrific batch of brownies (stay tuned!)—and you’ll have a party…no reason required!

Hot Pizza Dip

Serves 4 to 6

1 14.5-ounce can petite diced tomatoes, drained
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 8-ounce block of cream cheese at room temperature
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Olive oil
Pizza toppings of choice
1 baguette, sliced and toasted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, add the drained diced tomatoes, oregano, and salt. Stir to combine and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir the cream cheese to smooth. Add the Italian seasoning, black pepper, red pepper flakes (if using), 1/2 the mozzarella and 1/2 the parmesan. Stir together until well combined.

Grease a 9- to 10-inch baking dish with olive oil. Spread the cream cheese mixture in the bottom to an even layer. Spread the diced tomatoes on top of the cream cheese, leaving behind any extra liquid. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top, and then add your favorite pizza toppings.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the middle is hot and bubbly. Serve with toasted baguette slices.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Slow Cooker Meatballs for #National Spaghetti Day

You know I’m a fan of making your own pasta sauce. For years, I've preached encouraged home cooks to step away from the jar. I even posted this terrific recipe from Marcella Hazen that I use all the time.

However, life has a funny way of making us change our minds. In September, I started working as a reading paraprofessional at a local middle school. I love helping kids improve their reading levels before they head on to high school, but spending all day at school and then a few hours each evening and weekends writing doesn’t leave much time for making and freezing pasta sauce. Most of my cooking time is filled with developing recipes for articles and this blog.

I caved and went back to using the jarred sauce. Then the Ragu folks offered to send me a couple of jars of their Homestyle Four Cheese sauce to try for National Spaghetti Day (today!), and I couldn’t resist.

The sauce was the perfect excuse to test out this Slow Cooker Meatballs recipe, which I first saw on the Kitchn website. The original recipe makes its own sauce, but I decided to use the Ragu to make it even easier.

The meatballs can be made the night before and kept in the refrigerator. What really intrigued me about the recipe was I didn’t have to fry or bake the meatballs first! I just added them to the sauce. So easy!

The meatballs were tender and flavorful. A couple broke apart into the sauce while it cooked, but that just made it more of a meat sauce. And while the Ragu sauce tastes great on its own, the simmering meatballs added a rich, savory flavor to the sauce.

I enjoyed the meatballs and sauce on spaghetti last night. Today I plan to make a meatball sub sandwich. I’ll also freeze some of the leftovers for a busy weeknight meal.

Slow Cooker Meatballs
Adapted from recipe found on the Kitchn
Makes about 24 meatballs

1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
1 large egg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 pound ground beef
1/2 large onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 jars pasta sauce (I used Ragu Homestyle Four Cheese sauce)

Pour the milk into a measuring cup, and then stir in the bread crumbs. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, salt, cheese and parsley. Add the ground beef, diced onion and minced garlic. Using your hands, mix everything together but try not to overwork the mixture.

Using a tablespoon-sized scoop, (or you can just pinch off the amount you need) scoop out 24 meatballs onto a waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Roll each mound into balls.

Into a large (6-quart or bigger) slow cooker, pour in the pasta sauce. Place the meatballs one at a time into the sauce. Use a spoon to make sure the sauce covers the meatballs. Cover and cook on low 4 to 6 hours until the meatballs are done. Some of the fat from the meatballs will float to the top. Just stir it back into the sauce. (Trust me. It’s delicious!)

Disclaimer: The Ragu Company graciously sent me two jars of their sauce, but they did not pay me to make this post. All the opinions expressed are my own.