Saturday, September 10, 2011

Magnolia Brownies

I’ve been a fan of this video since it debuted in 2005.  I also decided in 2005 that the next time I went to NYC I would “hit up Magnolia and mack on some cupcakes!”  The next time I went to NYC was in July 2009 for my honeymoon.  Casey is a good husband and a good sport, and so we hoofed it to Greenwich Village and got some of the most expensive delicious cupcakes I’d ever had.  Fast forward a few months.  We were at Barnes and Noble one night and I spotted this book and that was what I got for Christmas that year.  I was so excited, but the recipe I’ve made most often out of the book is the Chocolate Brownies with Cream Cheese Icing.  I make them so much that Casey calls them “my brownies” (we also refer to them as “$20 brownies” because it’s a huge pan of brownies and they’re obviously a bit more pricey to make than say, a Betty Crocker boxed mix).  I’ve made these probably 20 different times and I have making them down to a science. It all starts with butter.  Lots of it.  And we all know butter is good.

I haven’t ever actually tried the cream cheese icing recipe that accompanies the brownie recipe because I have a recipe that is really good, and also because I like to switch up my frostings a bit (the last time I made them I made them with a chocolate mint butter cream – yum). 
Magnolia Brownies
Brownie Recipe from The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook; Frosting Recipe from myself
3 cups cake flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature (one of the tricks I’ve learned from making these probably 20 times is using VERY soft butter – you don’t want it melted but you do want it soft to the touch.  Also the recipe calls for unsalted, I use regular old salted butter because that’s what I keep in my freezer)
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
9 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted

Chocolate Butter Cream Frosting
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup cocoa powder
5 cups powdered sugar
2-4 tablespoons milk (preferably whole)

2 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted.

To make the brownies:  Place chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water on low heat.  Stir occasionally until completely smooth and no pieces of chocolate remain.  Remove from heat and let cool 10 minutes.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 12x18 inch jelly roll pan with foil or parchment paper, then coat with nonstick spray.  Set aside.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.
In the large bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Lightly beat the eggs, then add to the creamed mixture and mix well, scraping down the sides of your bowl.  Add the vanilla.  Add the chocolate and mix until well incorporated.  Add the dry ingredients.  Pour the batter into prepared pan.  Bake 25-30 minutes (in my oven, it’s precisely 26) or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached.
Let brownies cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting, cream the butter and vanilla, then add the powdered sugar.  Add milk one tablespoon at a time until a spreadable (but not too loose) consistency is reached.  You want the frosting to go on smoothly but hold its shape at room temperature.  Once the brownies have cooled, frost liberally.  To garnish, drizzle horizontal stripes of melted chocolate approximately 1 ½ inches apart (this part isn’t an exact science…you just want it to look pretty.  You may not need the entire 2 ounces).  With the tip of a butter knife, drag your knife vertically through the frosting.

Other variations I’ve tried that have been completely awesome:

Pecan Brownies - Add chopped nuts to the brownie batter, then top the frosting with some additional nuts and mini chocolate chips. (On a personal note, I think adding nuts to brownies is a form of blasphemy, but I did this for Casey and my dad, both of whom love brownies with nuts...that's love!)

Mint Brownies – Add 1 tsp mint extract (I prefer to use regular mint as opposed to peppermint because I don’t like the taste) to your frosting and garnish with some smashed Andes mints.

Cream Cheese Frosted Brownies.  Substitute one brick of cream cheese for one of the sticks of butter in the butter cream.  If you want straight cream cheese frosting simply omit the cocoa powder.

Cinnamon Roll Casserole

I’m my father’s daughter.  My dad will buy anything if it’s on sale.  Although I’ve learned to curb my appetite for a good deal a little more than he has, there are some things I can’t help but buy.  For instance, donuts.  There’s a market by my house that makes the BEST donuts.  Seriously, they’re so good, and they’re remarkably reasonably priced.  Then after 7pm they go half price.  All of a sudden because they’re half price I have an insatiable need for donuts.  One night I went out specifically for donuts (usually I’ll go out for gas or something and if it’s after 7 I’ll automatically end up on a donut run) and they were out of all the good ones.  Did I turn and walk away?  Sadly, no.  (Dude…it’s donuts.)  I got 8 cinnamon/raspberry/apple/whatever-they-had-on-hand-rolls.  I wasn’t too shocked when nobody wanted to eat them.  After a couple of days I decided to make a quasi-bread pudding with them.  I’ll save the bread pudding-stravaganza of 2007 (where I literally turned any dough-based substance into a bread pudding) for another post, but it was awesome and this was a nod to those days.

5 cups cinnamon rolls, cut into 1-inch cubes
Raisins (if you like them)
Nuts (if you like them) - about 1/2 cup each of nuts and raisins

Custard -
5 eggs
2 cups milk (try to use whole)
½ cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
A dash of nutmeg
½ tsp vanilla extract

Cut the cinnamon rolls and place them in a 9X9 inch pan that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.  Sprinkle with nuts and raisins, if you're into that kind of thing.  In a large bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients until very well combined.  Pour your custard mixture over the cinnamon rolls and press the cinnamon rolls to ensure they are covered by the custard mixture.  Allow to rest for 10 minutes while your oven preheats.  Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes, or until your casserole has puffed up slightly and is set in the middle.  Spoon it onto plates or cereal bowls and cover with your choice of topping.  My kids like it with maple syrup, but I’ve also served it with leftover Butter Dream Sauce.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ratatouille Movie Night

Every Wednesday at Chez Bowden it’s Pizza Movie Night.  Sometimes we have pizza, sometimes we have rotisserie chicken and potato salad, sometimes we have Subway, but it’s “Pizza Movie Night”.  Well, this week I asked my kids what they wanted to do on Wednesday and they requested…nay…demanded ratatouille movie night – to both watch and eat ratatouille.  I won’t even start on how awesome my kids are because they’ll eat ANYTHING, I’ll just finish my story.

When I met Casey, he would just throw stuff in a pot and call it dinner.  He was the master of doctoring up a boxed mix.  He used to make this version of ratatouille that was just a bunch of sliced up squash and tomatoes and stuff, sautéed in a little bit of salad dressing, then baked off in the oven with cheese.  The other day when the kids requested ratatouille I decided to do a little research because other than Casey’s ratatouille, I had never had it.  Turns out he wasn’t that far off.  According to Mark Bittman, you take a bunch of vegetables (usually involving some sort of squash and/or eggplant, sometimes with potatoes and mushrooms, usually including onions and tomatoes) and some herbs and seasonings, layer them in a dish, and bake them until they’re nice and soft.  I took that method and added a little sauce and voila!  Awesome.  The kids couldn’t get enough.
Various vegetables, sliced into similarly thick slices.
(I used:
2 smallish-medium summer squash
2 smallish-medium zucchini
1 small red onion
4 medium tomatoes)

¼ cup Balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried minced garlic
1 tsp dried basil
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried parsley

¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese

Wash and dry your vegetables.  Slice into approx ¼ inch slices (slice tomatoes a bit thicker because they don’t hold up to the roasting time otherwise).  Using a 9X9 inch baking dish that has been lightly sprayed with nonstick cooking spray (or 4-6 individual sized baking dishes), layer the veggies, lightly seasoning every other layer with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. 
In a medium bowl, combine ingredients for your sauce and whisk until well mixed.  Spoon the sauce over the top of the veggies – don’t worry about it only being on the top layer because there is a pretty significant amount of sauce for the vegetables and it will run down to the lower layers.  Set your baking dish(es) on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for an hour to an hour and a half(closer to an hour if you’re doing individual sized dishes or if your vegetables are pretty soft – longer if you have more vegetables or if you are cooking potatoes). During the last 15 minutes of cooking, remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with each of your cheeses.  Return pan to the oven and continue baking until the cheese is golden and bubbly.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Strawberry Layer Cake

A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law, Janette had a princess party at my house for her two girls.  She asked me if I’d help her make this cake.  This cake is so simple yet so decadent and oh so very tasty.   So simple, in fact, that she sent me the instructions in their entirety (ingredient list included) in a single text message. 

The cake was good – so good that my 5-year-old changed her mind from wanting a Tinkerbell cake to wanting this same cake, “only with chocolate for the cake part on it”. 

I think the most important element in making this cake spectacular is KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!).  For my 5-year-old I decided I’d fancy it up by making homemade whipped cream, cake from scratch, etc.  BIG mistake.  The frosting was drippy and the cake didn’t hold up as well as the Betty Crocker variety.  I think the success of this cake lies in the pre-packaged ingredients.  I’m sure it has to do with the stabilization of pre-packaged ingredients.  Follow the instructions.  They’re idiot-proof and you will totally impress your friends.
Strawberry Layer Cake
(recipe from Janette Nussbaumer, who says this is a Louisiana staple)
1 cake mix – we used both yellow and devil’s food and both were very tasty (prepared according to the directions)
1 12-oz container Original Cool Whip
1 16-18-oz container buttercream or cream cheese frosting
2 pints strawberries, sliced

Prepare cake mix according to package directions and bake in 2 8- or 9-inch pans. Cool.  When cakes are cooled completely, slice each round horizontally into two pieces (thereby creating 4 even layers).  Place the first layer on a platter and slather a good amount of frosting, leaving a ½-1 inch border (the frosting squishes thinner with the weight of the additional layers).  Repeat with each layer, then frost the sides after all four layers are together.  Garnish with a couple of sliced strawberries (or with chopped/shaved chocolate if you choose devil’s food, which is also delicious).
(The cake was so awesome that we forgot to take a picture once we cut into this picture was totally an afterthought.  The cake mix was dyed pink with a few drops of red food coloring.)