Thursday, December 24, 2009

Brownie Pudding

Last spring one of my bestest friends in the whole world, Lola, called me and asked if I would want to join her and some of her family and their friends on a Carnival Cruise to the Mexican Riviera in September. After about a nano-second of thought, I agreed that it would be way too much fun! I was in! I prepped all summer by being stressed out, making payments toward the trip, filling out travel documents for our good US of A and yet finding time to get my base tan (no sunburns allowed for me!) and plan excursions for Lola and I.

Once I was on my way to LA for boarding the ship, I had my vacation face on and let the cares of the world melt away....melt....ahh.....(can you see that stress level falling?!). I met the group....what a wonderfully, spectacular, (enter every great adjective here) and over-the-top-fun group they were/are! We got off to a great start right away and the fun didn't end....well, really ever!

As those of you who have cruised before will know, the food on any cruise is normally wonderful...this cruise was no exception. We dined on way many luscious entrees at lunch and dinner (lobster, steak, silky soups, escargot, you name it!), marvelous snacks at any time you had a thought to grab one (can you say 24 hour pizza bar?! It’s great after dancing the night away until 2-3am) and countless scrumptious desserts (the almost 24-hour ice cream station is dangerous...serve yourself!!), and were all looking for our stretchy clothes after day 2 on board.

One of the desserts deserves special mention. Most of our crew sampled it the first night at dinner. It was a warm chocolate melting cake with vanilla bean ice cream. You just gained 5 pounds reading that… ha! We fell in love….some harder than others (yes, Mike H…I’m talking about you). Sure they had other desserts each night, but this was a “classic” that was offered every night….and every night it made it to our table for at least one person. It was engrained into our cruising memories and hearts instantly. So ooey, gooey and warm. Rich and chocolatey but not overpoweringly so. Bliss in a ramekin…really…

The mission was clear….find the recipe for this sinful dessert and recreate. One of our group members was savvy. He asked a crew member on a special tour for the recipe…score!!! He gave it to me…we were on our way! Woot!

Sadly our time on the cruise ended (Oh, the memories! Oh the tans! Oh, the hangovers…shhh.). We excitedly planned for a reunion around Christmas time….I promised to try to recreate the succulent warm chocolate melting cake (yep, another 5 pounds).

As December approached I thought I might want to try to figure out if this recreation was possible. I scoured my home looking for the recipe we’d absconded with from the crew….yikes! I’ve lost it!! NOOOOO! Much sadness ensued. But, not all hope was lost. You see…I’d looked at the recipe pretty good when we first got it so I realized it was similar to others I’d tried before. I set off to try to find what I thought could be a close replacement. I went to my go-to-gal Ina…yep, Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. In her book, Back to Basics she has a recipe for Brownie Pudding. It looked close….and promised ooey-gooeyness. I thought I’d give it a try.

It was easy enough to assemble. Baking was a breeze. The true test was going to be the tasting. I drove it 2 hours to the reunion…hoping it would past the test.

The reunion was in full swing when I got there…the group hadn’t changed a bit, though we were missing a few people (missed you Lola and Ashley!). Dinner was ready and served shortly after I got there (OMGoodness….so good….great job gang!). Then it was time for dessert…the long awaited dig into our brownie pudding. It oozed….it looked gooey….and…it was….actually really close to the cruise dessert. No, it wasn’t perfect….ice cream would have helped, but it was really good. SO chocolatety…. a success, even though not a slam-dunk recreation. The group ate most of it (remember, it’s pretty rich, a little goes a long way).

So…no glamour shot (too much fun and digging in for all that), but I’d say give this a try…you may only gain 3 pounds…I'll leave you with a glamour shot of Mexico instead.

The Recipe: Brownie Pudding
Courtesy of Ina Garten’s Back to Basics
You can also find it on

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering the dish
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup good cocoa powder
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
1 tablespoon framboise liqueur, optional
Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly butter a 2-quart (9 by 12 by 2-inch) oval baking dish. Melt the 1/2 pound of butter and set aside to cool.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium-high speed for 5 to 10 minutes, until very thick and light yellow. Meanwhile, sift the cocoa powder and flour together and set aside.

When the egg and sugar mixture is ready, reduce the speed to low and add the vanilla seeds, framboise, if using, and the cocoa powder and flour mixture. Mix only until combined. With mixer still on low, slowly pour in the cooled butter and mix again just until combined.

Pour the brownie mixture into the prepared dish and place it in a larger baking pan. Add enough of the hottest tap water to the pan to come halfway up the side of the dish and bake for exactly 1 hour. A cake tester inserted 2 inches from the side will come out 3/4 clean. The center will appear very under-baked; this dessert is between a brownie and a pudding.

Allow to cool and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Enjoy with Love,

Monday, December 14, 2009

Daring Cooks: Salmon en Croute or Beef Wellington (December 2009)

The 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking. Simone chose Salmon en Croute (or alternative recipes for Beef Wellington or Vegetable en Croute) from Good Food Online.

This month's recipe had me excited! Of course, not being one for seafood as a first choice I decided to go with the alternative recipe of Beef Wellington....I'd always wanted to try Beef Wellington! I'd heard such wonderful things about it and the early photos I saw made it look so beautiful. A wonderful challenge for entertaining during the holidays.

A warning before I get too far...I attempted this recipe on a worknight...a Monday...I didn't get started until about 8:00p...mistake...I'm a slow finished at midnight. Ugh...were the results worth on...

The recipe itself was fairly straightforward. The part that had me most worried were the crepes. After prepping the ingredients, letting it rest as instructed and such, I took a stab. The first one was a disaster...way too thick. But, once I got the hang of it, I don't think I did so bad. Should have made extra batter to play with though....I think I ended up being a bit short on my crepes.

The meat itself was beautiful. I must say, this recipe was not inexpensive, but considering how many people it would feed, it's reasonable. One word of caution...when searing the meat, don't shake the pan so much that oil gets on the burner....flames are scary. :-(

Laying everything out went well....though I'm thinking I could have either diced my mushrooms smaller or let them cook longer. They weren't exactly a "paste" as it says in the recipe.

Wrapping the chilled meat roll in the pastry was easy...It was late otherwise I was going to try to make it pretty with cut outs of dough. So, I went with slits hoping they'd be ok. I used a meat thermometer in my meat while cooking because I'm not one for rare meat. I like mine medium well. I cooked the wellington until it was just medium, knowing that any leftovers (who am I kidding....the entire thing was bound to be "leftovers" at midnight) would need some additional cooking/heating.

I must came out looking pretty good....with very little juice seeping out from it...or was that butter from the pastry?!

The verdict....SO OMGOODNESS YUMMY! If it hadn't been midnight I'd have made a meal of it. Rather I ate a few bites and called a night. The meat was moist and so melt in your mouth tender (must use this cut of meat again!). The pastry was flaky and the mushroom/crepe layer was scrumptious. Try this recipe...use it to entertain's beautiful, overall easy (though does take some time...plan ahead....the last step could be done while guests are snacking...only bakes for about 20-30 minutes). Here is the glamour shot...pretty nice ehh?!

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Salmon en croute
Mascarpone or creamcheese 5.2 ounces/150 gr
Watercress, rocket (arugula) and spinach – 0.6 cup/4.2 ounces/120 gr
Shortcrust pastry – 17.6 ounces, 500 gr. Use a butterversion such as Jus-rol which is frozen or dorset pastry. or… make your own!
Salmon fillet (skinless)- 17.6 ounce/500 gr
Egg – 1 medium sized

1.Heat the oven to 200°C/390 F. Put the mascarpone or cream cheese in a food processor with the watercress, spinach and rocket and whizz the lot until you have a creamy green puree. Season well.

2. Roll the pastry out so you can wrap the salmon in it completely (approx. 2-3 mm thick) and lay it on a buttered or oiled baking sheet (it will hang over the edges). Put the salmon in the middle. If it has a thinner tail end, tuck it under. Spoon half of the watercress mixture onto the salmon. Now fold the pastry over into a neat parcel (the join will be at the top, so trim the edge neatly), making sure you don’t have any thick lumps of pastry as these won’t cook through properly. Trim off any excess as you need to. Make 3 neat cuts in the pastry to allow steam to escape and make some decorations with the off-cuts to disguise the join if you like. Brush with the egg glaze.

3. Bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and browned. To test wether the salmon is cooked, push a sharp knife through one of the cuts into the flesh, wait for 3 seconds then test it against the inside of your wrist; if it is hot, the salmon is cooked. Serve with the rest of the watercress puree as a sauce.

Shortcrust pastry
While this is not mandatory to do, I highly recommend making your own shortcrust pastry as it is very simple to do! As mentioned in the notes; please make sure to not add too much water as that is the key to having a successful shortcrust pastry. Watch this video to check the correct consistency of the dough Making shortcrust pastry

450 gr (15.8 ounces or 3.2 cups ) of plain all purpose flour
200 gr ( 7 ounce) cold butter
pinch of salt

Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. If you have a food processor you can use that as shown in the above video.

Stir in the salt, then add 2-3 tbsp of water and mix to a firm dough. Knead the dough briefly and gently on a floured surface. Wrap in cling film and chill while preparing the filling.

For best results make sure the butter is very cold.

Instructions for Beef Wellington (serves 4)
Button mushrooms – 17.6 ounces/500gr (stalks removed and finely chopped)
Olive oil – 2-3 tbsp
Thyme – 1 sprig
Beef fillet, center cut piece – 21.16 ounce/600 gr
English mustard – 1 tbsp
Puff pastry (all butter pastry pack) – 17.6 ounce/500 gr
Parma ham (prosciutto) – 3 slices
Egg yolk – 1 pcs, beaten

For the herb crepes:
Plain (all purpose) flour – 0.3 cup/1.76 ounce/50 gr
Milk – 0.5 cup/125 ml
Mixed herbs – 1 tbsp (chopped, use herbs such as cervil, chives and tarragon)
Butter – 0.5 tbsp

1. To make the crepes, whizz the flour, egg and milk with a pinch of salt in a blender or processor until smooth. Pour into a jug and stir in the herbs and some seasoning. Leave to rest.

2. Fry the mushrooms in a little oil until they give up all their moisture and it has evaporated, leaving you with a thick paste. Add the thyme leaves and some seasoning and keep cooking for a few minutes. Cool.

3. Stir the melted butter into the crepe batter, heat a 15 cm crepe pan and oil it lightly. Pour in enough batter to make a thin layer on the base of the pan, cook until the top surface sets and then turn over and cook briefly. Remove and repeat with the rest of the batter. This will make a couple more than you need so choose the thinnest ones for the recipe.

4. Sear the beef all over in a little oil in a very hot pan. Brush with the mustard, season and allow to cool.

5. Lay a large sheet of cling-film on a kitchen surface and put two crepes down on it, overlapping a little. Lay over the parmaham (prosciutto). Spread the mushroom mixture over the ham and put the beef in the centre. Roll the cling-film up, taking the crepe with it, to wrap the beef completely into a nice neat log. Chill for 1 hour.

6. Heat the oven to 200°C/390F. Roll out the pastry, remove the clingfilm and wrap the beef in the pastry like a parcel, with the ends tucked under. Trim to keep it nice and neat. Brush with egg, score with shallow lines across the top and chill for 20 minutes.

7. Cook for 20 minutes. The best way to test if the meat is done to your liking is to neatly and carefully stick a skewer into the beef, count to three and then test it against your inner wrist. If it is cold, the beef will be raw, if it is warm then the beef will be rare and if it’s hot, it’ll be cooked through. Leave to rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Enjoy with Love,