If you can’t use cream, use butter – Butter Titration Cupcakes

I’m not dead, I’m lazy.  And busy.  But mostly lazy.

This post got started back in May when I actually made the brownies.  And by started I mean I had written the title (nailed it!).  Then I guess I just got kind of distracted and forgot about it.  But the photos I left on my desktop have been nagging me to write the rest of this post, so here goes…on to fudgey brownie goodness!

Not sure where the original recipe came from, but here’s a link.  Warning: this is not diet food.  1 POUND of chocolate and 1 POUND of butter.  The title of the recipe comes from the idea that you’re saturating the batter with as much butter as possible.   I like where this is headed.

One trick I’ve learned with brownies, or really anything that you might cut while in a pan: save your pan and knives the wear and tear and line them with parchment paper.

First, put your pan on top of the parchment, leaving enough room on each side to come up the sides of the pan.
Second, using scissors of a sharp knife, cut the paper from the corners of the pan straight out to the edge of the paper (only one cut per corner)IMG_0032Finally, spray your pan with non-stick cooking spray, and place/fold the parchment so that you get continuous coverage around the pan.  The spray will help keep the parchment from flopping around too much.IMG_0034

Once the brownies have cooled, you can lift the whole thing out of the pan and cut it on a board.

The brownies start off like a ganache, except that instead of using cream to melt the chocolate, you use melted butter.

IMG_0040IMG_0043Like I said, not exactly diet food.

After that’s made, you mix together the wet ingredients, and then add the chocolate mixture:

Then comes the Nutella and the dry ingredients:IMG_0053

The batter gets pretty thick:IMG_0055

Then you pour and bake:


I would add a picture of the finished project, but then I got distracted eating them.  As you might expect, these end up being very dense and very rich.  While I enjoyed them, for me, they weren’t good enough to take the title of “BEST BROWNIE EVER!”  But they are worth trying, if for no other reason than the spectacle of adding a pound of butter to a pound of chocolate.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go running, as I’m still burning off the calories from May!



Bacon Burgers – The Next Level

Hello everybody,

Look at this!  Two posts within a 6 month period!  I’d better pace myself…

Actually, I’d better pick up the pace of my runs if I want to eat these burgers again.  These are absolutely delicious, but health food they ain’t.  Of course, if you’re looking for something to reward yourself for a new PR or a race finish, these might be right up your ally.

First off, I’m actually going to go off topic and brag a little bit.  Check out the results of my weekend DIY:
IMG_0001bI put in vertical dividers to give myself more storage above the fridge.  Although there was some trial and error (apparently it’s really hard to cut a straight line with a circular saw), it wasn’t too bad.  My inspiration came from here, and the author does a really good job of explaining the process.  I love it!  And it gave me the excuse to buy a few tools, although the fact that using my nail gun for the first time caused me to laugh maniacally is probably pretty strong evidence I should not be allowed to own one.

Anyway, I’m very proud of it, but really the only connection it has to the rest of the post is that it’s where I got the cutting board to chop the bacon.  As I’ve stated before, I love burgers, and this recipe is a doozy.  I made up the proportions, but the idea came from watching an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”.  It’s essentially a burger pan fired in bacon grease, how can you lose?

Bacon Burgers
(serves 2)

  • 1/2 lb ground beef (if you’re feeling decadent, go with 80/20, but feel free to go leaner)
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 strips thick cut bacon
  • cheese (your preference, but there are some big flavors, so I like a nice sharp cheddar)
  • bun of your choosing

As you can see, it’s not too complex a list.  I think the meat should do the talking, and in this case it’s a lovely duet of beef and bacon.  To start off with, add the first four ingredients in a bowl:
IMG_0002Season with 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of salt, but don’t over do it, we’ll be adding some more later.  Break up the beef and thoroughly but gently mix the ingredients.  I like using a disposable glove at this stage, as not only does it help avoid having to constantly wash my hands as I move from one task to another, but since my hands tend to be pretty warm, it helps keep the fat in the mixture from melting and sticking to my hands.

Cut the bacon into a medium dice.  It helps if you put it in the freezer for a brief time to firm it up:
IMG_0006Now comes the one piece of semi-specialized equipment: a ring mold/biscuit cutter (about 3″).  Now, if you don’t have one, don’t fret; you can use something like a tuna can with both ends cut off.  Just watch out for the sharp edges.  Also, buy biscuit cutters.  I like these a lot.  They sat on my wish list for about 2 1/2 years.  Boy I wish I had gotten them sooner.  Anyway, put your ring down on some parchment or wax paper, and press half of the chopped bacon into the mold:
IMG_0010Now take half of the beef mixture and gently press it on top:
IMG_0011It’s a fine line how hard you need to push.  You don’t want a super dense burger puck, but you don’t want it to fall apart either.  Try pushing with your finger flat and held together rather than poking at it.  Then, gently remove the mold (it may help to slowly turn the mold as you do so).  You’ll hopefully end up with something like this:
IMG_0013Beautiful, isn’t it?  Just stand and admire it in all its carnivorous glory.  Now snap out of it and make another one.  When that’s done, cover the meat and put it back in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.  An hour or two would be better.  It’ll help the flavors develop and keep the burger together when cooking.

As for cooking, this get messy, so I’d recommend doing this outside with a cast iron skillet on the grill (you need something to hold the grease).  Don’t forget to put the skillet on when you start the grill to avoid thermal shock issues.  I did 2 out of 3 burners on high for my grill.

Take the burgers out about 15-20 minutes before you slap them on the grill.  Sprinkle some more salt and pepper on the beef.  Now, the burgers are still pretty delicate, so I like to invert them so the bacon side is up, and the beef is on the paper:
IMG_0017This way, I can slap the bacon down on the skillet.  Is your skillet nice and ripping hot?  Let’s get cooking!  As just stated, take the burgers and put them bacon side down in the skillet.
IMG_0018Close the lid and let them cook for about 4 minutes.  Then flip them.  Be careful at this stage.  There’s a LOT of spitting bacon grease, and some bacon may be sticking to the pan.  Use a metal spatula and make sure you get separation from the skillet before you flip.  If the grease has not spread evenly, aim for a nice wet spot to cook the beef side (I did say it wasn’t health food!).
IMG_0021IMG_0022Cook for another 4 minutes on high.  If you want to add cheese (and who doesn’t?) do it about 2 minutes after flipping.  This is also a good time to put your bun cut side down on the upper rack or over the unlit portion of the grill to toast.

Then simply remove from the skillet and place on a bun with your favorite condiments (this would go really nicely with some caramelized onions and garlic).IMG_0026And a quick note on cleaning the skillet: while the grease is still hot (but not spitting), thrown some kosher salt (maybe around 1/4 cup) in the pan and sweep it around.  It will help soak up the grease and help clean the skillet as well.


New Fall Treats!

After a few days of 70° temperatures with 110% humidity, the weather here in Houston has finally decided to act like November.  You know, kind of on the cool side.  Enough that I can break out my favorite sweater (which I rock in true Colorado style with shorts and flip-flops).  I’m actually headed back to the homeland next week for Thanksgiving, and I’m drooling over the upcoming gastronomical extravaganza.

I don’t know about you readers, but one of the things I love about the food at Thanksgiving is the traditional roles family members fill in making it.  My mom always makes the turkey and stuffing (and quite honestly, most of the other food as well), my aunt makes the mince pie, and me, I make the pecan pie and do a lot of dishes.  Although, since getting married, my wife has taken over the pecan pie making (hers is better).  But since I still love to make desserts, I’m now responsible for the Wednesday night treat.  Last year it was a Cranberry Shortbread Tart, and this year I’ve been tasked with making this Bourbon-Caramel Pumpkin Tart.  Oh darn.

Right off the bat, I’m going to preface that this recipe is a bit involved.  But it can be broken out into several stages.  Also, since it needs to chill for at least 4 hours prior to service, it’s a mandatory make-ahead item.  But it’s not all that difficult to make.  I found the biggest pain to be the dead time with the oven.  Do I shut it off?  Leave it on?  You don’t want the oven temp dropping too much, but I don’t want to waste electricity either.  Such problems.

Step 1: The Candied Pumpkin Seeds

These are pretty easy.  Also, pumpkin seeds go by the name “pepitas” if it’s easier to find them that way.  I found these in the bulk dry goods section, where one finds various nuts and grains in dispensing bins.IMG_0846Mix the ingredients together and spread onto some parchment paper.
IMG_0847It’s a little sticky, but not too much trouble.  Then you bake, and they look like this:

IMG_0851Once the sugar hardens, break them into small groups.  I picked up the whole piece of parchment into sort of pouch, and squeezed repeatedly to break them apart.  The hardest part is not eating all of them before you add them to the tart.  These can be stored in an air-tight container up to 24 hours ahead of time.

Step 2: The Crust

The crust is made in the food processor, which is a lot easier than cutting the butter in by hand.  It’s the standard “pulse until resembles coarse meal” deal, and I forgot to take pictures.  But after you put it together, you chill it for 30 minutes before rolling it out.  It’s been awhile since I’ve rolled out pastry dough, and I didn’t do a great job at it.  Even though this recipe doesn’t call for it, I’d recommend you roll it out on wax paper/parchment paper/plastic wrap.  If you are the dough fu master and can roll it out on the “lightly floured surface” they call for, and can lift it into the pan, my hat is off to you.  Mine tore asunder.  But no one was looking (save for the dog), so I just patched it together.  I think it made the crust a bit tough, but that’s why one practices, right?IMG_0852And after baking:IMG_0859

Make sure you dock the crust so it doesn’t puff up too much.

Step 3: The Caramel

Let’s take a look at the ingredients:IMG_0848Butter, brown sugar, bourbon and cream.  What’s not to love?  You melt the butter and sugar, add the cream, and then add the bourbon.  It took longer to make than the recipe called for, but that might also be the stove.  Next time, I would cook it a bit longer, both to get a bit darker color like the recipe showed, and to get a bit better final consistency.  Even after time in the fridge, it was a little soft.  Remember that caramel can be a little tricky.  You don’t want the sugar to burn, but if you overmix, you can end up with a hard, crystalline mess.1D37599C-631E-4215-A044-13254D10C778

I got about a cup of a caramel, and spread about 1/3 of that into the cooled crust:IMG_0862I found the easiest thing to do was to use a combination of spatula and tilting the pan.

Step 4: The Filling

Any filling that starts with cream cheese is ok in my book.35B00D87-61AF-475C-92FA-188FB77D200BYou mix it all together with the paddle attachment and pour into the crust:IMG_0863Then bake until firm and no longer “wet” looking.  It will still jiggle a bit when you shake the pan.IMG_0864

Step 5: Assembly

Phew, hang in there folks, almost there.  Once the filling cools for about an hour, you can assemble the final product.  If needed, heat the caramel in 20 second bursts in the microwave to make it pourable.  Top the filling, and add the pumpkin seeds (if you have any left).IMG_0866And as much as you want it RIGHT NOW, you need to put it back in the fridge for 4-24 hours.  It’ll be worth it.
IMG_0867Just look at that!  It’s definitely a bit different from your average pumpkin pie (not that there’s anything wrong with pumpkin pie).  It’s creamy, rich, and the pumpkin seeds add a nice crunch.  Next time, I would cook the caramel a bit longer, and roll out the crust on something that would allow easier transfer to the pan, but as far a flavor is concerned, it’s a keeper.

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s Peanut Butter Cupcake Time!

Hello folks,

Last weekend, my lovely wife made several types of cookies to take in to her new coworkers, and it made me realize that I haven’t made any kind of dessert in awhile.  Well, we can’t have that now can we?  Luckily, I usually have a few recipes bookmarked that fall squarely in the “sinful” category.  So without further ado, here are some Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes, courtesy of Annie’s Eats.

I apologize that I don’t have photos of all the steps.  In fact, I have nothing at all for the filling.  It’s been so long since I’ve done this that I’m out of practice.  But here’s the dry ingredients:IMG_0779And the various stages of the cake batter:

IMG_0780Mixing away…

IMG_0783Now we start getting to assembly:

IMG_0784To note, I think that this batter would be stretched to make the 24 claimed.  I made 23.  Of course, maybe I just snitched too much dough.  Don’t worry about filling up the cup all the way.  I just made sure to add enough batter to sort of ooze over the peanut butter ball before baking.

And then we move on to the peanut butter cream cheese frosting.  Yeah.  That’s happening.IMG_0785

To frost, I would use a pastry bag, or a ziplock bag with the corner cut off.  I accidentally cut off too much, so it came out kind of in a blob.  Oh darn.


And here is the finished product.  They were a big hit at work.

They we’re delicious.  Rich and smooth and not too sweet.  Will definitely make again.

Linzers – A Labor of Love

I actually started this post a bit before Christmas, but with the holidays, family and travel… well, I got a bit distracted, so just pretend this in a few weeks ago.  Thanks!

Now that it is firmly December, I feel comfortable writing a Christmas post.  My family has a bunch of cookie recipes that remain dormant until the holiday season.  But come November, my mom starts stockpiling all of our favorites.  We go through a staggering amount of butter, sugar and flour, and I think we do it with a certain amount of pride.

My parents came to visit recently, and my mom was nice enough to help me make a batch of linzers.  She always claimed that they were a tremendous pain to make, but as someone who’s never had to make them, I was sure she was exaggerating.  She wasn’t.  This is the single most annoying and frustrating cookie recipe I have ever made.  It’s a darn good thing they taste so good.

Linzer Cookies

¾ pound (3 sticks) sweet unsalted butter, softened
1 ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
2 cups pecans, finely chopped

  1. Cream butter and 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy.  Add egg and mix well.
    Linzers - ButterYes, that’s a lot of butter.  Yes, it tastes like it.  Yes, it’s delicious.
  2. Sift together the flour and cornstarch; add to creamed mixture and blend well.  Mix pecans in thoroughly.
    Linzers - Dough
  3. Gather dough into a ball, wrap in wax paper, and chill for 4 to 6 hours.
  4. Roll dough out to ¼ inch thickness.  Use cookie cutters to cut out cookies and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Chill cookies for 45 minutes. 

    This is the step that will make you question whether this recipe is worth the trouble, and will probably lead to swearing, so look out if there are children around.  Because this is such a high butter dough, it will soften very quickly, so unless you have your very own chilled marble slab in your kitchen, you will need to work fast.  It works best if you split the dough into smaller batches (3 or 4) and roll it out between pieces of parchment.  Chilling is a must, don’t be afraid to do it often.I would recommend the following: roll the dough – chill – cut the dough – chill – transfer the cut dough to the cookie sheet – chill – bake.
    Linzers - Rolling

    As you can see, there’s a lot of chilling.  It doesn’t have to be for too long: 5-10 minutes should be enough.  Just make sure it’s solid enough to work with.  Because there are so many breaks in the process, it works best to work in batches, so one batch is rolled and chilling while you cut a previously rolled and chilled batch.  Make sure you have room in your freezer before you start.

  5. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Bake cookies for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they are evenly and lightly browned. 
    Linzers - BakingRemove and cool on a rack.
    Linzers - CoolingThe cookies on the left will become the bottom of the sandwich, those on the right will be the top (so you can see the jam).
  6. While they are still warm, spread the bottom cookie with raspberry preserves.  Sprinkle the top cookies with powdered sugar.
    Linzers - Jam
  7. Sandwich and enjoy!  Share if you want, but I imagine after this amount of work, you will be sure to only give them to people who are worth it.Linzers - Finished

These freeze well, so you can make them ahead of time.  Store them in airtight containers, with wax paper between layers.  Be sure to let them come to room temperature to really enjoy the taste and texture.

Happy Holidays, and have a great 2013!

Short Rib Lasagna

With the cooler weather coming in (and might I add not a day too soon), I decided it was time to make something nice and hearty.  I tend to avoid doing anything that requires a lot of oven or stove time in the summer because I barely tolerate hot weather as it is, and to subject myself to further heat while hiding in the air conditioning seems foolish.

Anyway, this is a recipe that I first tried last winter when my parents came to visit, and it was a big hit.  It’s definitely different than your standard lasagna, most noticebly in the lack of cheese.  While most lasagnas are positively melting with cheese (which is generally the way to go) this uses a rather modest amount of pecarino-romano to provide a sharp contrast with the other flavors.  While you are free to follow that advice, there is a deli 1/2 a block away from me that makes the best mozarella I’ve ever had, so I added some.  Anyway, on to the good stuff!

It’s your pretty standard “brown ‘n braise method”.  You season the short ribs (ask the butcher for “bone-in” short ribs if you don’t see any in the meat case) and brown them in your dutch oven.  You’ll probably need to do it in 2-3 batches.  Also, I used a bit more meat than it called for because the first time I made it, I felt it was a little short.
Take the time to brown as much of the surface as possible.  Lean the cooked sides against the wall of the pot or other ribs if you need to.  Your patience will be rewarded later.
Yeah, you know you want some of that.

Once you’re done with the ribs, throw in your veggies and get sauteing:
Bonus points if you know the combination of celery, carrots and onion is called mirepoix (pronounced “mere-pwah”).  Now you can use this knowledge to impress your friends.  If that doesn’t work, try feeding them the lasagna.

After you deglaze the pot with wine and add the crushed tomatos, congratulations!  The hard work is over!  Now you just need to watch it simmer for about 2.5-3 hours.  Actually you don’t need to watch it the whole time, just move the ribs around about every 40 minutes.
The ribs shoud be “fall off the bone tender”.  I only had one short rib still attached to the bone, the rest had fallen out.  Set the ribs apart to cool, and move the sauce to a heatproof bowl.  A note for all of you who think you will be clever and put the sauce in a gravy seperator for easy de-fatting: it won’t work.  I tried that.  The sauce is too thick.  Just put it in the fridge and use a spoon to skim the fat off the top.  This is also a good stopping point if you’re looking to do some of the work ahead of time.  Just let both the ribs and sauce cool completely and store seperately.

Next step is to make the bechamel sauce.

Mix flour and butter and cook to a light roux. Then add your milk.  I recommend letting the milk come to room temperature to avoid having the sauce clump.  Simmer until it thickens.  This is a little tricky.  You may feel like that sauce isn’t thickening much, and boost your heat.  Relax.

Take a step back and leave it at a simmer, it’ll start to thicken, sometimes really quickly, so keep an eye on it.  Add it to the meat sauce (you remembered to skim the fat, right?).  While this is happening, you can boil your noodles.  Once they are just al dente, drain and hit them with some cold water to keep them from overcooking.  Then start layering: sauce-noodles-meat.  Keep doing this until you run out.  Cheese can be added anywhere you like.  This is another place where you can hold the lasagna if you don’t want to cook it just yet.  All that’s left it to put it in the oven, and you get this:

Cut and serve: