Monday, October 24, 2011

Brownie Cookies

I spent last weekend with my brother's family in Fairbanks.  Staying at Erik and Emily's house in October is a lot like staying at a ski lodge in the off-season.  It's a beautiful home built with love and care by my Dad, nestled right on the bank of the Chena River.  With a stone fireplace, warm furnishings, and gorgeous wood trim throughout, it's one of the loveliest homes I've ever been in and it's a real source of pride for my family.  It also makes my house look more akin to a shack.  And it would feel more like staying at a lodge if I didn't have to cook for the entire family in order to earn my stay.  (At least according to Erik- I'm pretty sure Emily would let me stay there for free.) 

All kidding aside, I love cooking for my brother and sister in law.  Cooking in their beautiful kitchen is like a dream compared to cooking in my own, which is roughly the size of a postage stamp.  This time I made a huge pot of my creamy tomato soup, and my 2 year old niece Annika DEVOURED it.  She ditched her spoon, took the bowl between both hands and gulped it down.  My kind of kid!

When I arrived at their house, I brought a few cookies to share that I'd made at home the day before I left.  They're a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Foster's Market Cookbook, which was a gift from my friend Marika several years ago.  It's a market near her law school in North Carolina and its cookbook is filled with delicious recipes, including heavenly baked goods.  These cookies are called "Chocolate Whoppers," but their taste and texture is so similar to my beloved brownies that I simply call them Brownie Cookies.  They're deliciously rich, and Erik and Emily loved them so much that I made them another batch from scratch.

The key to these cookies is locating instant espresso powder.  I used to use regular instant coffee, but I found this at your-everyday-grocery-store in Fairbanks (rhymes with Shred Shrymers).  Honestly, I think I'm so used to not finding supposed "specialty" items in Fairbanks that I'm not sure I looked hard enough for it before!  The coffee really brings out the richness of the chocolate, and it's why a lot of chocolate cake recipes call for strong coffee in the batter. 
As with most cookie recipes, you start by mixing the wet ingredients.  Mix the eggs, vanilla, and espresso powder.  Add the sugar and mix until creamy.  In another small bowl, use a whisk to mix together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Set that aside for now.

Next, chop up the walnuts (or pecans if you prefer).

Now for the chocolate.  The original recipe calls for a mix of semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate, but I found the cookies tasted great with just semisweet, and I tend to think using chocolate with various levels of sweetness in a recipe is a bit tedious if there's not a huge payoff for it.  Melt the first amount of chocolate with the butter over a double boiler.  This is just a way to gently melt the chocolate without burning it, and it's really easy.  Find a glass bowl that fits over the top of a standard pot.  Then fill the pot with water and bring it to a boil on the stove, then turn the heat down to a simmer.  Place the glass bowl on top, toss in the chocolate and the butter and stir until melted and silky smooth.  Once melted, set it aside.

Finally, you're ready to throw it all together.  Add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and mix to combine.  Add the flour mixture and mix only until moist.  Finally, toss in the walnuts and second amount of chocolate chips and just barely mix until combined- sometimes this last step I do by hand so I don't overmix the batter.

Use a 1/4 cup cookie scoop and drop the cookies about 2-3 inches apart on the cookie trays.  You can spray the pans first with nonstick cooking spray, but I actually like baking cookies better on parchment paper- it never sticks and it makes for easy cleanup!

Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, turning the pans once.  [NOTE: If you are not using your own oven, be careful NOT to set the unfamiliar oven you're using to "preheat," rather than the actual baking temperature of 325 degrees.  Not that I did this at Erik and Emily's house.  But if I had, I would have ended up with seriously flat and underbaked cookies.  And merciless teasing from my brother about "being smarter than the oven."  Like I said, this is all hypothetical.]

When you take them out of the oven (assuming you bake them at the proper temperature), they sort of look slightly underbaked, which is just how they should look.  Let them cool on the pan for 10-15 minutes before carefully removing each cookie to a baking rack to fully cool.  These babies are ooey-gooey, rich, and best eaten with a glass of milk in hand.

Due to a certain "oven malfunction" in Fairbanks, here is a picture of a batch I made earlier that week.

Brownie Cookies
(a.k.a. "Chocolate Whoppers," adapted from The Foster's Market Cookbook)

8 oz. good quality semi-sweet chocolate (I used Ghiradelli chips)
6 T. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 T., plus 2 t. instant espresso powder
2 t. vanilla extract
3/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 cups chopped walnuts
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. 

Cream together the eggs, espresso powder, and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Add the sugar and mix until creamy.

In a separate bowl, use a whisk to mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt.   Set aside.

Next, melt together the first amount of semisweet chocolate and butter in a double boiler over low heat until just melted, stirring occasionally. Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat as soon as it's melted.  Add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and blend until combined. Add the flour mixture and stir just until the dry ingredients are moist.

Fold in the chopped walnuts and chocolate chips.

Scoop the batter with a ¼-cup cookie scoop or large tablespoon and drop onto the baking sheets about 2-3 inches apart. Bake the cookies right away, before the chocolate begins to cool and harden.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes, turning the baking sheets once during the cooking time. The cookies will seem a bit gooey on the inside, but they will cool perfectly.  The cookies will still be very gooey inside and soft, but do not overcook or the cooled cookies will be dry.

Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 10-15 minutes before carefully removing them to baking racks to cool completely.

Enjoy! xo H

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Outrageous Chicken

Let's have an honest moment here.  Up until this point, this little blog of mine has been an extremely friendly place for my vegetarian friends.  This is more of a happy coincidence than anything else, but it does reveal a little bit about my style of cooking.  I love veggies, and there are literally countless ways to prepare them.  My parents never had to force me to eat my Brussels sprouts, or finish my broccoli.  In fact, my brother and sister and I were always great about eating our vegetables, and I think that's a huge tribute to having two parents who were wonderful cooks and realized the importance feeding a well-balanced diet to their children.  I'm so happy to see that both my brother and my sister recognize the importance of this with their own children.  My family is a family of GOOD EATERS.  Those of you who know me well know that my love for good food and cooking is no accident.

That said, to my vegetarian friends:  I love you.  But you can stop reading now.

Because today, I'm sharing one of the best chicken dishes I've ever tasted.  While I love my veggies, I also love a beautiful, juicy, tender piece of meat.  Ironically, this dish was discovered on a quest to prepare a meat dish for my vegetarian friend Rebecca's wedding.  Ha!  The wedding was a potluck feast, and they requested some omnivore-friendly dishes for the spread.  I didn't want to make anything just ordinary, so as I often do I polled my friends to see if they had any ideas.  Enter my friend Heather, who is a fabulous cook and handed me this gem of a recipe.  It's actually a very well known recipe called Chicken Marbella from The Silver Palate Cookbook, but she told me she just calls it "Outrageous Chicken."  And she's right, because it's OUTRAGEOUS. 

After the guests had feasted at the wedding, I was in line to refill my glass of wine and started up a conversation with a woman next to me.  (As my friend Laura says, I've never met a stranger!)  When I introduced myself, her face suddenly changed and she said to me, "Are you the Heidi that brought that chicken dish?  Oh my God, that was delicious!  Can I have the recipe?"  I think I started floating a bit after she said that. (Although no one else will claim I was "floating" 3 hours later while working the dance floor to "Footloose" after several glasses of wine, but that's beside the point...) 

For Rebecca's wedding, I prepared the dish crockpot style.  It turned out delicious, but it's really best baked in the oven so that the skin gets beautifully golden and crispy.  I loved this dish so much that I made it just a few weeks later at my friend Mera's baby shower.  Needless to say, they loved it too.  In fact, so many requested the recipe at the shower that I promised to post it soon.  The wait is over!

The shower spread screamed fall.

When I read the ingredients for the marinade, I had a very good feeling about this recipe.  Some of you might think that it sounds a bit strange, but you'll just have to trust me on this one because I don't think there's a person on this planet who has tried this chicken and not liked it.  Consisting of red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, capers, dried oregano, bay leaves, green olives, and prunes, it sounds a little...weird.  But weird in a delicious way!

The original recipe requires you to quarter 4 whole chickens at 2 1/2 pounds each, but that's too much work for me.  Instead, I did what my friend Heather suggested and used 10 pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs-- my favorite piece of the bird.  You could use any part of the chicken you like, and I think boneless, skinless chicken will work too.  But my preference is always bone-in with skin, because that's where chicken derives so much of its flavor.  The original recipe also calls for whole olives and prunes, but my olives and prunes were really big, so I halved both of them.  You don't have to, especially if you're short on time.  You could also get fancy with the olives, but I'd previously purchased a double-pack of Spanish olives stuffed with pimientos from my beloved warehouse store (I could write an entire post on why it's a terrible idea for a single girl to use Costco as her main grocery store).  I just sliced each olive in half and 86'd the pimiento.  Easy peasy.

(Note that this makes a HUGE amount of chicken, so unless you're preparing this meal for a large party, you can easily devide the recipe in half.)

What I love about this dish is its utter simplicity.  Most of the work is done in assembling the marinade.  Once you add the chicken to the marinade, cover it and let it marinate overnight. 

(I forgot to take a picture of the big dish of chicken marinating, but this is the two chicken thighs I stashed away for my dinner the next night!)

The next day, place the chicken and the marinade in two 9 x 13 inch baking dishes.  Pour a 1/2 cup of white wine over each of the dishes, and sprinkle the top of the chicken with brown sugar.  The original recipe requires you to place the chicken and the marinade on a shallow baking pan (think large cookie tray), and bast the chicken often with the juices.  But I've found you get a similar result, without all of the basting, by using two 9  x 13 inch baking dishes.  The chicken is immersed in more of the liquid, which eliminates the need for basting, but the skin is still exposed to maximize crispy deliciousness.

If this doesn't look good to you, your eyes are broken.

You really can't go wrong with this chicken.  Tangy, sweet, and fall-off-the-bone tender.  Plus, it's a beautiful dish.  Your friends will think you're an amazing cook, and they don't need to know how easy it was (unless they ask for the recipe, and they will!)  Serve it with any good starch to soak up the beautiful juices- a lovely pile of buttery mashed potatoes or a pillow of soft, creamy polenta would be perfect.  But it's also great just on its own.

Outrageous Chicken, a.k.a. Chicken Marbella

10 lb. chicken pieces, bone-in and skin-on (or 4 chickens, 2 ½ lbs. each, quartered)
cloves from 1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
1/4 c. dried oregano
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/2 c. olive oil
1 c. pitted prunes, halved
1/2 c. pitted Spanish green olives, halved
1/2 c. capers with a little juice
6 bay leaves
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. white wine
1/4 c. chopped parsley (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine pureed garlic, oregano, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice, bay leaves, and kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Add chicken and mix well (you may need to divide the mixture into two bowls if you make the entire recipe). Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, place the chicken in a single layer in two 9x13 inch baking dishes and spoon marinade evenly over all pieces. Sprinkle the chicken with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.

Bake the chicken for about one hour. The chicken is done when its juices run yellow (as opposed to pink). Sprinkle with parsley before serving.
(This makes enough chicken for a party, so note that this recipe can easily be divided in half!)

Enjoy! xo H