Monday, January 26, 2009

Birthday Brownies

Yesterday we threw kiddle #1 a hoppin' 6th birthday bash. Following the cues of his latest obsession: Star Wars, I rented a movie projector and an 8 ft. screen. We blacked out the windows in our living room, and set up rows of chairs to simulate a movie theater experience, and ran "Clone Wars" to an essentially full house. At my local party supply store I found mini popcorn boxes, and I offered the little critters a choice of buttered or caramel chocolate (guess which one I ran out of inside the first hour...). I was amazed by how long most of these kids could sit watching a 98 minute movie.
While there is definitely an argument to be made for contracting out kiddie parties, I am a sucker for at-home fiestas. I love the homespun, cozy, old-school feel of it all. I love coming up with a theme with the birthday kid and following it through from decorations to tableware to party favors. And I gotta give myself props for locating inexpensive lightsabers and handing them out at the finale- the kids were loopy for these glow sticks. They shut off the lights in the rec room and had glow-in-the-dark duels, and that's right about when the party came to a close- and to our relief without injury or incident (something I don't take for granted).
The cake was a pile of brownies festooned with b'day candles. We decided that dessert (after the obligatory pizza course) would be brownie hot fudge sundaes. I whipped up a couple of batches of brownies (recipe below) and made a pretty good hot fudge sauce- good, not great because it was a touch too sweet. I provided the option of whipped cream, and set out bowls of M&M's, sprinkles, crushed oreo's, and mini marshmallows. They were free to decorate their dollop of vanilla ice cream laden brownies to their hearts content, and believe me they did.
I tried to finish my concoction but couldn't go further than spoonful #4- too rich, too sweet, too much. However I had no trouble scarfing down a couple of these brownies straight. They're made with 13 ounces of semi sweet chocolate, so they are not too sweet, are rich and full of deep chocolate-ness.

Birthday Brownies (adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe)
Grease your brownie pan and preheat oven to 350F. In a heavy saucepan melt 1 1/2 c. butter and 13 oz. chopped semi sweet chocolate, let cool a little. In a bowl beat 6 eggs, 1 tbsp. vanilla, and 1 2/3 c. of sugar. In another bowl mix 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour and 1/2 tsp. salt. Beat melted chocolate into the egg mixture, and then add the flour. Beat to combine, and then pour into prepared pan. Bake for about 40 minutes ( I like my btownies firm and almost cake-like).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Frugality: The Next Big Thing

Pizza Night. And not a moment too soon.
Monday Night: Veggies and tofu in Thai peanut sauce (see previous post).
Tuesday: Turkey Chili.
Wednesday: Tuscan bean vegetable saute (delicious in flavor, gorgeous in color).
And now it's Thursday night a blessed occasion around here.
Thursday Night: semi-homemade pizza night.
In keeping with one of my several New Year's Resolutions I am trying to feed my family healthy and flavorful food. Also, responsible food, dishes that don't require too many complicated ingredients, ingredients that are seasonal and timely, and ingredients that are relatively inexpensive.
Am I right in feeling that a new frugality is sweeping the Land? I've heard the word "Depression" bandied around a few times too many to ignore. And from the accounts I've read from the 30's, the Depression was anything but great. Maybe this will be the return of good, simple fare that stretches a dollar as far as it will go? Casseroles, stews, protein filled salads and stir-fry's- but this time around made over to be leaner, less fatty, and more international in flavor. Frugale Cuisine.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Thai One On

Dinner tonight was a page out of the Whole Foods cookbook Hubbabubba gave me for Hanukkah. I've been judiciously thumbing through it since receiving it, and marvelling how every recipe sounds better than the next. It's full of exotic vegan and vegetarian recipes, with an emphasis on South-of-the-Border and Thai cuisine.
This Peanut Sauce yields about 2-3 c. so I have plenty left over for future Thai-tinged explorations. It tasted particularly good on tofu.

Thai Peanut Sauce (adapted from The Whole Foods Market Cookbook)
Heat 1/4 c. canola oil and 1/4 c. sesame oil in a saute pan, drop in 1 chopped med. onion, 9-10 minced garlic cloves and 1 tbsp. chopped fresh ginger, simmer for a few minutes- stirring often. Mix in 1/3 c. rice wine vinegar, 1 c. water, 4 tbsp. sugar, 1/4 c. ketchup, 2/3 c. creamy peanut butter, 1/3 . tamari, 3 tbsp. lime juice, and several dashes of hot pepper sauce- simmer for a few minutes. Let cool for about 5 mins. and puree the mixture in blender or food processor until smooth.

Tofu and Veggies in Peanut Sauce:
Slice block of extra firm tofu into 1-2" pieces, and drain. Lay tofu out on baking sheet and place in an 450F oven. Remove when tofu is golden brown and roasted looking. Slice up one red pepper, shittake mushrooms, and bunch of green onions. Heat 1 Tbsp. sesame oil and throw the tofu and veggies into pan, sauteeing until peppers are slightly soft. Add 1/2 c. (or as much as you want) peanut sauce and mix. Serve over bed of noodles or rice.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Eggsellent Idea

I have officially reached my celebration limit. My merriment allowance is maxed out. I want to set my spanx aflame, and chop my stiletto's off at the heel. Alcohol has made my skin look a bit like crumpled paper. And all that rich fatty (delicious) food makes me feel as though my insides are coated in sludge. Yes, it's high time for a holiday detox. I am dedicating myself to the goal of eight glasses of water a day, whole grains, and lean proteins, and lots of fresh fuits and veggies of course. I am going to excersise everyday.
Dinner tonight will kick off my new year's revelation of simple healthful dining. Still being in the throes of winter I need something warm and soulful- but light. The slider with fried onions was a bacchanal-by-the-bite. And the mini mooshoos, sweet 'n sour chicken, and beef satays at last night's wedding were almost worth the 3 pounds I've added to my frame. But now back to our regularly scheduled program: The tomato base in this easy skillet dinner were full of san marzano flavor and sun. Next time I'll add some chopped red peppers in with the onions and garlic. This is a great egg dish, because it's robust but not heavy or made fatty by cream, butter, or cheese (often popular egg companions). I placed it on top of toasted sourdough for the kiddles for a bit of a crunchy texture- but I had mine straight.

Skillet Eggs and Tomato Sauce
In a large skillet heat 1 tbsp. olive oil and add 1 chopped onion and 3 minced garlic cloves, cook until onion softens. Crush or chop 1 28oz can of whole peeled tomatoes and add along with their juice to the skillet. Mix in 1 tsp. oregano and 1/2 tsp. parsley and a few good dashes of tabasco. Simmer for about 10 minutes until a little reduced. One by one, break 6-8 eggs into a ramekin and gently slide into skillet, cover and cook until whites are set, about 5 mins. Before serving, grind some pepper onto eggs.
Post Script 4/27: Tonight when making this dish I finely chopped a red pepper and threw it
into the skillet along with the onion and garlic. I served the fnished product with a good sprinkling of crumbled feta and a scattering of za'atar spices..... it was even better the second time around.