Archive for September, 2009

I made something chocolate.


Not just anything chocolate.  But the best brownies you will ever eat in your life.  I’m not kidding.  I don’t make a lot of chocolate desserts because I don’t really like them that much.  There are so many other things that are more interesting and more delicious, and I’m just never inspired by all the same old brownie and molten chocolate lava cake recipes out there.   But this recipe is actually special. 

What makes it good?  First, it has Mexican chocolate.

 Choc 1

You need this to do the recipe.  It’s a sugary chocolate with a hint of cinnamon.  It comes in discs and is usually used to make hot chocolate.  Check the international aisle of your grocery store or find a little Latino market.  There is no substitute and it’s worth seeking it out.

But, it’s also good because the cinnamon in the recipe mellows out the chocolate a bit.  So it doesn’t taste like a big, sugary, chocolately mess.  You actually taste the chocolate in this and not just the sugar.

The recipe comes from LittleMsFoodie, who in turn found it from Teresa on the Foodie Blog Roll forums site.

Mexican Chocolate Brownies
For the brownies
½ cup all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ round disc Mexican chocolate, pulverized (I used 3/4 of a disc)
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped  (I used Ghiradelli 60% cacao chocolate chips)
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, diced, room temperature
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

For the glaze
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (same as above)
½ round disc Mexican Chocolate, pulverized (again, I used 3/4 of a disc)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons whipping cream 

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°.  Butter a 8 x 8 x 2 inch metal baking pan and dust with flour.  
Stir chocolates and butter in top of double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Turn off heat. Let chocolate stand over water to cool. 
Mix the flour, cinnamon, and salt in small bowl.
Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar in large bowl until mixture thickens and falls in soft ribbon when beaters are lifted, about 5 minutes, then beat in the vanilla.  Slowly beat in the flour mixture in 2 additions, blending well after each.

Gently beat in the melted chocolate to the egg and flour mixture,  mixing until just combined.  Stir in walnuts.  Pour batter into the greased and floured pan.  Bake brownies until top is set and tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 35 minutes.  Cool completely in pan on rack.

 To make the glaze, whisk the remaining ingredients in small saucepan over medium-low heat until melted and smooth.  Pour evenly over hot brownies in pan.  Chill brownies until topping is set, about 2 hours or overnight.

The biggest you’ll want to cut these is into 16 squares.  I usually go much smaller, like into 30 squares.  They are rich and decadent and you really only need a couple bites.  They also freeze really well.


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Liqueur for the impatient

Limoncello is one of my favorite drinks.  It is tart and lemony and a little bit herbal tasting.  Love it.  Apparently it’s possible to make your own, except all the recipes I’ve seen involve 40 days of infusing.  I’m not that patient.

Thankfully, there are other drinks to be made that do not take quite as long to infuse.  A vendor at the farmers market had bunches of lemon verbena for sale recently, so I grabbed some and set to work making Lemon Verbena Elixir from Joanne Weir’s Weir Cooking cookbook.  If you’ve never tried lemon verbena, run out and find some now.  It is one of the most amazing smelling plants.  It smells almost like a lemon tea, but brighter. 


This recipe makes a lot.  I thought about halving it, but now that I’m enjoying the finished product, I have to say, I’m glad I made the full amount.  It’s delicious and I am probably going to tear right through it.

 Lemon Verbena Elixir

 3 cups packed lemon verbena leaves
2 750 milliliter bottles of vodka
3 cups of sugar

Place the lemon verbena leaves in a large container with one bottle of vodka and place it in a dark spot for 5 days.

verbena jar

After 5 days have passed, bring 4 cups of water to boil and add the sugar.  Dissolve the sugar and let cool.  I was worried that this would be too sweet, so I initially halved the amount of simple syrup, but later found I really did need all of it.  I don’t really like sugary drinks, but this definitely needs all of it.

Add the other bottle of vodka and the cooled simple syrup to the infusing vodka.  Return to the dark spot and let it sit for another five days.  Transfer it to bottles.  You can store the extra bottles wherever you keep your liquor, but you definitely want to be drinking this straight from the freezer.   Don’t be fooled by the ugly brown color, it’s really delicious and especially refreshing when it’s icy cold.


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If this was where you bought tomatoes, wouldn’t you be addicted?

farm stand

I rounded up another bag full of dry farmed Early Girls and made tomato confit again.  This time, I piled them on a pizza spread with marjoram-olive pesto.  So delicious.

Marjoram Olive Pesto
Adapted from Deborah Madison

2 tablespoons aged red wine vinegar
1 garlic love
3 tablespoons pitted olives
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup marjoram leaves
1 tablespoon drained capers
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 cup coarsely chopped parsley
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Add garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, a few grinds of pepper, marjoram, capers, pine nuts, parsley, cheese, and olives to a food processor.  Pulse to combine.  Add the vinegar and olive oil and pulse until the pesto is well mixed.  Add more salt if needed.  Toss over pasta or pizza.  The original recipe, found here, recommends serving it over beets.

Pizza Directions
To make the pizza, I rolled out some pizza dough, spread it with a couple tablespoons of the pesto, topped with 1.5 pounds of roasted tomatoes, 3 ounces of chevre, and some salt and pepper.  Into the oven at 425 for 15 minutes and you have a really spectacular pizza.  The pesto is briny from the olives and capers and floral from the marjoram.  With the sweet tomatoes and tangy goat cheese, you will not be able to stop eating it.

Pizza one

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My addiction

fresh tomatoes

I can’t stop buying tomatoes.  The tomatoes in the Bay area right now are just incredible.  All these fantastic colors and they just taste amazing.  Fresh and sweet and not grey and mealy tasting like those sad supermarket tomatoes.  As a result, I just keep buying them.  At the farmers market near my house, at the farmers market near my office, at the Berkeley Bowl, everywhere I see them, every chance I get.  I pile them up on my counter in those green plastic pint baskets and throw them in pasta, make pickled tomatoes for friends, or just to eat with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of salt.

So that my tomato eating keeps pace with my tomato buying, I’ve been looking for recipes that lets me use pounds of them at once.  And along came tomato confit.  It appeared in my blog reader in a few different forms, and I loved the idea from Herbivoracious to make a risotto with it.  I loosely adapted his approach, which he loosely adapted from Tom Colicchio. 

The finished product was amazing.  I think the standard tomato suggestion is romas, but I used 2 pounds of dry farmed Early Girls.  If you can get your hands on these, I highly recommend them.  Not just because using such a specific tomato makes this recipe sound like an important, ingredients-obsessed chef at a farm to table type restaurant, but because they are really, really delicious, don’t have a lot of water (this is important), and roast up just beautifully.

The confit is basically slow roasted tomatoes, rich with olive oil and lusciously sweet.  I stirred that into a basic risotto and had myself a lovely dinner.

Finally, I’ve always been a bit confused on what the official serving size for risotto is.  I think this would probably serve 3 people as a main course, though it’s really delicious and 2 very hungry people would probably not have too much trouble destroying it.  If you are cooking for 4 or more, I’d double it.

Risotto with Tomato Confit
Inspired by Herbivoracious

For the tomato confit

15 medium-sized ripe tomatoes (about 2 pounds), such as Early Girls, halved and cored
1/4  cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
A few cloves of garlic and a few sprigs of herbs (I used thyme, though any woody herb would work)

roasting tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with tin foil.  Don’t use a silpat, though one of those deep 9X11 type pans would work.

Toss the halved tomatoes in a bowl with the olive oil and salt and pepper and place them cut-side down on the baking sheet.  Squeeze in the peeled garlic cloves and thyme around the tomatoes, drizzling with the oil left in the bowl.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the skins have begun to loosen.  Pour off and reserve any juice.  Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes until you can easily peel off the skins without burning yourself.  Honestly, if you can’t get the skins off, don’t worry about it.  I had a few on and it didn’t really affect the finished product. 

 Lower the heat to 275 F. and return the pan to the oven.

Every half-an-hour or so, pour off and reserve the juice.   You’ll probably only need to do this 1 or 2 more times, depending on how dry the tomatoes were to start with.  The original recipe suggests roasting them for a total of 4 hours, until they have given up a lot of moisture and a very tender but still moist.   I found I reached this point at just under 3 hours.  I might have been able to go a bit longer, but I was concerned that any more time and they’d dry out, so I stopped.   In any event, use your judgment.  The tomatoes should have a concentrated tomato flavor, and still be soft and rich from the oil.

When they are finished, remove from the oven.   If you aren’t going to make the risotto (or anything else with them) right away, store in the refridgerator in some oil (not the reserved juice.  Store that, just seperately.) 

For the risotto

The reserved tomato water (measure it, and then add enough water or broth to have a total of 4 cups of liquid)
4 tablespoons of the oil
1 shallot
1 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
all of the roasted tomato halves (give them a coarse chop if they are still fairly large)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 bay leaf

Bring the tomato water, broth or water, and bay leaf to a simmer.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot.  Saute the shallot for a couple of minutes until softened but not browned.  Add the rice and saute for a minute or two until it turns slightly translucent.

Add the wine and the thyme and stir until the liquid is absorbed.   Slowly add the tomato/broth mixture (don’t add the bay leaf), one ladle at a time, stirring often.  When each ladle of liquid is absorbed, add another ladle. 

Continue adding the liquid slowly until it’s all absorbed and the rice is soft but still has a bit of give to it.  You might need an extra 1/2 cup or so of water if it’s still too firm after the first 4 cups has been absorbed.

When the last of the water is absorbing, add the tomatoes and give it a gentle stir, then remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese. 

The finished dish is wonderful.  The tomatoes are rich and sweet and the dish just tastes like late summer. 

risotto 2

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