December 31, 2010

Easy Bake cOven - Mint Chocolate Brownies and Hot Chocolate Mix

I can't believe the year is already over. I've enjoyed time home with family and am looking forward to slightly warmer yet rainy weather in San Francisco. It shocks me every time I go to the midwest. I'm not sure how I survived 23 years of my life in such bitter cold. Cold that makes your face hurt. Cold that makes you itchy and dry and thankful for long underwear. I know I'm a wimp, and even more-so after living in a temperate climate for almost five years. I don't deny it one bit, and according to my family it wasn't even that cold. Oh well, one thing I do know is I'll welcome all warm drinks into my hands no matter the temperature.

A few years ago (yes after moving to the temperate climate) I started drinking hot water. I know it sounds weird, but a friend of mine did and it's better than drinking tea all the time. Holding a cup of warm water in your hand is nice. Holding a cup of hot chocolate in your hand is even better. I probably drank way too much hot chocolate as a kid. I was never a fan of those tiny dried marshmallows that came in the packets though. I'd rather not have any marshmallows my hot chocolate even if they are fresh and fluffy. I like hot chocolate so much that I once bought a gigantic oatmeal sized carton of powder to have any time I wanted. This happened sometime during college and I had it for a long time (possibly two years). I was sad to see it go, but I used it all.

This is how the first recipe originated for the cOven this month; wishing I had the recipe to a hot chocolate mix I tried once in college. So I contacted Joanna, said recipe owner, and asked her to share her recipe and the story behind it. You can read about it and the other December recipes on the cOven blog.

I thought making the mix was something I could do with my nephew. I'm not sure how his kitchen skills are developing at the age of three, but why not make a mess and try it out? After all, we were at Grandma's house and I didn't think she would mind having powdered milk everywhere....

We didn't make too much of a mess and it was really fun. It was the second time I got him in the kitchen to "help" while I was visiting. The first time he was interested in the rolls my mom, sister and I were making so I gave him some to play with. Then he asked if I could make him a "Michaelangelo" out of the dough... the ninja turtle that is... so I summoned M to the kitchen. He made a pretty fantastic turtle out of dough and gave me permission to bake him. He ate him for dinner and was incredibly happy to nibble off all his limbs.
Like I said before, I was expecting to have a huge mess on my hands with powdered ingredients going into a large bowl, but we did ok (minus the periodical hand reaching in).

J: It looks like snow
me: yes, it's powdered milk
J: powder milk? I don't think so... WE NEED MORE POWDERRR!
me: ok, what about the chocolate?
J: yes put some in
me: how about more white powder? (it's easier if you layer them in)
J: ok... looks like snow... more snow
me: what color is snow (just checking...)
J: WHITE....
J: I want more chocolate... can I eat some? 

Our conversation went on like this for a while until we had emptied all powdered milk mixes into the bowl. Whisking slow is key. Avoiding hands in the mix is also key. After it was all mixed in I let him taste some and he thought it was pretty good. Maybe someday he will be a lovely little baker like his Aunt!

I ran out of time to put the mix in cute little jars (and Christmas had already passed) but I still might. Unless you intend to feed an army or hoard your chocolate mix all winter like me, you should give some away. It makes plenty!

The other recipe I wanted to try was inspired by Smitten Kitchen. Mint Chocolate Brownies. I stuck closely to the brownie recipe, and deviated from the ganache toppings. Partially because I didn't have enough white chocolate on hand, partially because I didn't want a thick layer of chocolate ganache on the brownies.

They turned out extremely chocolatey and dense. Fantastic if you like fudge-y brownies with a subtle mint flavor. Instead of layering the peppermint in between, I piped it on top and it turned into a lovely plaid pattern with the ganache. I used about one third of the required ganaches from Smitten Kitchen and simplified the peppermint portion. M stated that they should have a hint of peppermint but not be overwhelming. He did a taste test to make sure my proportions were right. I preferred to eat them at room temperature or slightly warm, M preferred them cold. Either way, they may cause sudden peaks in blood sugar levels or cavities. They last just over a week in the fridge and a few more days in an airtight container. Now, if only there were some left to enjoy the hot chocolate with!

I am looking forward to days without tons of sweets. I fee like I ate an entire five pound bag of sugar this Christmas. This is supposed to inspire New Year's Resolutions right? I hope so, and I resolve to keep all of you updated on my baking a little more frequently in the new year. 

Recipe Notes
For the Hot Chocolate:
I didn't add the 2 cups of powdered sugar to the hot chocolate mix. After tasting the dry mix, I didn't think it needed to be any sweeter.

For the Brownie Mint Ganache:
Heat 3/4 C heavy cream on medium-high heat until it just comes to a boil. Immediately pour over a heaping half cup of white chocolate and let it stand for one minute without touching. Slowly stir the chocolate until it is melted and smooth. Add one teaspoon of peppermint extract (or to taste) and let it cool slightly. I also didn't feel the need to make it green... maybe for St. Patrick's Day.

For the Brownie Chocolate ganache:
Heat 1/3 C cream until it comes to a boil. Pour over 1/2 C chocolate and let stand for one minute. Stir until smooth and pour over cooled brownies. Spread evenly with a spatula. Flash freeze for 10 minutes then add the mint ganache on top. 

December 23, 2010

Happy Merry Holidays

I love Thanksgiving and Christmas! Something about being thankful, spending time with family and Christmas songs make me happy and cheerful. I gain a higher tolerance  for crazy unexplainable traffic (most of the time I suffer from slight road rage) and large throngs of people wandering around Union Square. Puppies and Kittens in the Macy's window display help a lot with this good cheer I'm speaking of. I only wish there wasn't such a rush between Thanksgiving and Christmas. M and I had so much going on I completely neglected my blog. We moved in early November, I studied for and took an exam, and we made it through a few holiday parties before traveling back to the cold midwest. Since it's been so long I have so much to share! (I promise not to cram it all in this post)

I had great intentions of sharing our Thanksgiving meal and first-time-turkey-success with you long before now, but all of those I mentioned before kind of took over. Since my table looks like it could be transported directly from Thanksgiving in to Christmas, I'm going to show you how it turned out. When M and I moved, we doubled our square footage (I'm very thankful for this) and gained a dining room. After a long and patient journey, we bought a new dining table! We happened upon a great sale on the Industrial Table from West Elm, and picked it up this past Saturday. Since we had no table for Thanksgiving, we rented one. Who knew you could rent just one eight foot table for less than $10? Well, it's possible, and you can include linens and dinnerware all for under $40 (see below).
I may have acted like a giddy child when I came home to find our rented table, and I may have postponed brining the turkey until after I set it up, but it was totally worth it! I haven't had a table in almost five years. M and I really enjoy having people over for dinner. It was difficult to crowd around the breakfast bar at the old place (we managed 6 a time or two and M and I had to share the piano bench) so the rented table brought me joy. There is nothing special about a table, but friends around a table sharing food together is definitely special, and the perfect way to spend our first Thanksgiving in the new apartment!
I never hosted Thanksgiving before this year, and never roasted anything larger than a 3-4 lb chicken. I found some great instruction from Bon Appetite and used their recipe for a dry brine. It's strange holding a 15 1/2 lb turkey in your arm washing and patting it dry - almost like it was real baby.... Mr Turkey turned out well and very brown and juicy just like he was supposed to. Our friends contributed to the meal with some great sides. Like I mentioned before, it was a fantastic way to spend our first Thanksgiving in our new home. Whether or not we get to host another Thanksgiving in the near future, we are going to make great use of that table. I'm really excited to have our first dinner guests in the new year. 
Now, we're back in our hometowns' and hanging out with family. Living out old traditions and creating new ones (like the 10 cracker challenge). I've just made two types of creme fraiche with M for our Christmas Eve dinner, and am looking forward to cooking new recipes tomorrow. I hope all of you are enjoying your holiday. What are your traditions? 

For those of your curious about my $40 dining table rental, here are the details. We rented from a catering company (usually for weddings and large parties) and were surprised by how cheap it all was. We had place settings for 8 with table linens and the table. All available for as short of a rental as you like. We had our table for 4 days or so and there is no charge per day. It seems like a great way to accommodate a large group if you don't have the room to store a large table. Here is the company we used if you live in the Bay Area and are curious. 

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