Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Favorite Chocolate Dessert: Brownie Pudding

Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and I don't have to flinch before declaring my favorite non-fussy chocolate dessert: Brownie Pudding. Just reading those words warms my heart and my tummy. I've made this dessert for so many friends over the past couple of years, but none love it as much as my friend Christina.  She makes this dessert whenever she has a special occasion, and Christina has no interest in recipes involving many steps and lots of labor.  My favorite recipes deliver the most "wow" factor with minimal work, and this one fits the bill.  I love this dessert because it even though its super easy to make, it will blow your friends away!

I've said this before, but if I have two weaknesses it's brownies and Cheez-Its.  Not necessarily together, but I don't have a problem with mixing them either.  If there is a brownie or a Cheez-It within a 1000 ft. radius, I will find them and I will crush them.  Self-control goes out the window.  It's no different with this dessert:  the only problem with this dish is portion control!  It's very easy to serve up a huge portion, and it's really hard to stop eating it.  No joke: I've overdosed on this dessert on more than one occasion.  (An Oscar party with my friend Heather circa 2009 comes to mind.)  Trust me...a little really does go a long way.  And if you overdose on this rich treat, don't say I didn't warn you!

There's only a few ingredients, so make them good.  Use good cocoa powder and real vanilla extract.  First, melt two sticks of unsalted butter either in a pan on the stovetop or in the microwave, and let cool.  (NOTE: do not leave your bowl of melted butter in the snow on your back porch to cool if you have a dog.  This is a TERRIBLE idea, for you and for your dog.  Poor Milo.  The allure of butter is a weakness for the four-legged creatures as well.) Add the eggs and the sugar to the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-high for 5-10 minutes until thick and creamy.  

In the meantime, sift the cocoa powder and the flour together in a bowl.  When the eggs are done, add the vanilla extract and the cocoa/flour mixture slowly, and mix only until just combined (overmixing any batter makes it tough).  Slowly drizzle in the melted butter on low speed.  Pour into a buttered oval baking dish (9x12x2 inches). 

The only slightly tricky part of this recipe is that the dish needs to cook in a water bath for gentle, even baking.  The way that I do this is to place a large 9x13 inch pan in the oven, then place the oval brownie dish inside.  Finally, I fill my tea pot with the hottest tap water and pour that into the large rectangular dish until the water comes halfway up the oval pan.   Bake at 325 for 1 hour.

Baking the pudding in the water bath helps it cook evenly and gently.

The consistency you're looking for is, simply put, undercooked brownies.  The dish gets a lovely crust on the top, and the insides are still ooey gooey.  Serve it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and enjoy a delicious Valentine's day treat!

I crushed this bowl of brownie goodness as soon as I was done snapping this picture.

Brownie Pudding

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa

2 sticks unsalted butter
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
3/4 c. cocoa powder
1/2 c. flour

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Spray a 9x12x2 inch oval pan with nonstick spray.  Melt the butter and set it aside to cool.  With the paddle attachment, mix the eggs and sugar in an electric mixer on medium-high for 5-10 minutes or until thick and creamy.  On low speed, add the vanilla extract and the cocoa/flour mixture and mix until just combined.  Slowly pour in the melted butter until just combined. 

Pour the mixture into the greased oval baking dish.  Place a larger pan in the oven (I use a 9x13 inch casserole pan), then place the oval dish inside the casserole pan.  Fill the larger rectangular pan with the hottest tap water until it reaches about halfway up the oval dish.  Bake for exactly 1 hour.  Let cool slightly, and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Enjoy! xo H


Friday, February 3, 2012

Easiest Manicotti

There must be something in the water.  Or maybe it has something to do with this crazy winter weather we're experiencing in Alaska.  In any event, it is now the season of BABIES.  So many of my girlfriends are either pregnant right now, or just gave birth to happy, healthy sons and daughters.  For me, this translates roughly to:  the season of the deliverable meal.  I may not have any experience when it comes to rearing newborns, but I have boatloads of experience feeding people.  As I like to say, I play to my strengths.

My friends Mera and Chester's beautiful daughter Opal is now three weeks old.  I delivered this meal to them the day after they arrived home with their new plus one.  A couple days later, I stopped by to check in on the family and Chester said to me, with complete sincerity: "Heidi, that manicotti has kept us alive for the past three days."  Mission accomplished.

A meal on the go must be: easy to assemble, filling, tasty, and transportable.  My favorite deliverable meals have got to be my creamy tomato soup and this manicotti recipe that delivers a lot of bang for the buck.  I love it because its composed of relatively inexpensive ingredients, a snap to put together, and tastes delicious.  Plus I think it's a great way to sneak some hidden veggies into a kid-friendly meal.

Making it is simple.  The filling consists of mozzerella and ricotta cheeses, chopped spinach, egg, milk, dried oregano, salt and pepper.  Pour half of a jar of good bottled marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch pan.  Take dry manicotti tubes and fill them with the ricotta/spinach mixture.  I usually just use my clean hands- a cook's best tools.  Don't be shy to stuff the manicotti to the gills- I usually have a little filling leftover even after stuffing them with as much filling as I can. 

Line the pan with the manicotti.  Pour the other half of the marinara over the shells.  Then pour 1 cup of water or tomato juice evenly over the dish (I usually add the water or tomato juice to the empty jar of marinara and shake it up to make sure I get all the good stuff out of the jar first before pouring it over the shells).  This will add moisture to help cook the shells- it's a pretty clever trick I picked up.  Top the dish with the remaining mozzerella and Parmesan.

Cover the dish with foil and bake at 375 degrees for an hour.  Let the dish sit for 10 minutes or so before serving.  I like to serve it with a caesar salad and crusty Italian bread.  It's the perfect family supper, whether your kids are 2 years old or 22 years old!

Easiest Manicotti

2 1/2 c. shredded mozzerella cheese
1- 15 oz. carton ricotta cheese
1- 10 oz. package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry with paper towels
1 egg, beaten
1/4 c. milk
1 t. dried oregano
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
1 package manicotti (14 shells)
1/4 c. shredded Parmesan cheese
1 jar marinara sauce (26 oz.)
1 c. tomato juice or water

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Mix together 1 1/2 cups of the mozzerella, ricotta, spinach, egg, milk, oregano, salt, and pepper.  Stuff mixture into uncooked manicotti shells, making sure to fill them completely.  Spray the bottom of a 9x13 inch pan with nonstick spray.  Pour 1/2 of the marinara sauce in the bottom of the pan.  Line the pan with the filled manicotti shells.  Pour the rest of the marinara over the top of the shells.  Pour the tomato juice or water into the half-filled jar of marinara, shake it up, and pour it evenly over the shells.  Top the dish with the remaining 1 cup of mozzerella, and the Parmesan cheese.  Cover the dish with foil and bake for 1 hour.  (You can remove the foil in the last 5 or 10 minutes of baking if you want the top to be a little more golden brown).  Let the dish set for 10 minutes before eating.

Enjoy! xo H