Brownies in a muffin pan!

Poor neglected food blog. Let’s not dwell on all those months I haven’t posted on here OK? OK.

On to a more chocolately and fun topic. Can you tell my excitement from the title of this entry?

This is a technique that I’m sure many have heard of and/or used before, but one that struck my mind a few Friday nights ago. I had just ended a long and very rainy week in San Francisco and went to to grocery store to get food. I knew brownies were in my immediate future when I saw a box of brownie mix was on sale.

As I reached for my trusty 8x8 pan when I got home, my muffin pan got in the way. I thought “Hey, I bet I can bake individual brownies in this and how cute/good would those brownies be. They’d be almost all edges.” To the Internet I went, to find those who had this idea before me. It seemed everyone was in two camps; bake with muffin liners or bake without. I choose without, because other than for cupcakes, I hate muffin liners and the un-browned texture they produce. 

I non-stick sprayed that muffin pan up, whipped up my brownie mix, poured the batter in, and baked until just each mini brownie was set in the middle but still ever-so-slightly gloopy. That equaled about 20 minutes. If you intend to follow my (not-so-crazy) led, use the oven temperature recommended on your brownie mix box or in your favorite recipe and start checking the brownies’ progress around 15 minutes so they don’t overcook. Dry, overcooked brownies are the worst.

Just look at that cute little brownie!

Cleaning Out My Oven

Until last night I had never cleaned an oven before. Never. Growing up, I never had to; either we had a self cleaning oven or was too young to even think about ovens and cleaning them.

Now I live in my own little apartment with its own little oven. When I moved in, the oven seemed like a cavernous little box; it has no light and no window so its always been dark. I didn’t dare look too close inside or even clean it, I would always just put my dish in the oven, close the door and not look back.

Our little arrangement has worked out well for the last year and a half. I wouldn’t poke my head inside the oven, it wouldn’t produce smoke or bad smells. That all changed with this season’s first pumpkin pie. Being my clumsy self, I spilled some of the filling on the oven door and floor. What followed was an episode of me constantly checking the oven, smoke billowing out every time I opened the door, and my smoke alarm going off every 5 minutes.

The pie turned out OK, but the oven has been angry with me ever since. Every time I turn it on, another nasty bit of pie filling burns and more smoke emerges. So I knew it was time to clean the damn thing.

Now, I could have gone out and bought fancy oven cleaner. But I am trying to be more green and save myself money, so I found some oven cleaning tips online using vinegar, baking soda, lemons and salt. Here’s what I did and how it went!

  • Sprayed the entire inside of the oven with vinegar. Then sprinkled baking soda over the vinegar and waited for it to bubble up. 
  • Scrubbed and scrubbed, using a sponge and rinsing it often with hot water. That got off most of the nasties, but not all of them.
  • Sprinkled the oven with kosher salt. Using lemon wedges as scrubbers, I scrubbed the oven to loosen more grime. Sprinkled more baking soda over that and wiped some areas with dish soap and water. I let that sit for about half an hour.
  • Scrubbed with dish soap and rinsed.
  • Sprinkled more baking soda over the oven, sprayed vinegar and added some lemon juice. I let that sit over night.
  • Next morning, more scrubbing (do you see a theme?). About 90% of the grime and burnt on stuff was gone. But, just to see, I got some stainless steel scrubbies and used some elbow grease to get the last bits out. 

Finally, finally(!) my oven was spotless. Cleaner than its ever been (I am assuming). I wish I could say that it was an easy process, that a little baking soda and vinegar was just the magic I needed. It wasn’t. Good ol’ fashion elbow grease was the magic. But, I didn’t use any harmful chemicals or anything I couldn’t pronounce. Bask in the glory of my clean oven below, juxtaposed against the nasty mess it once was. 

Halloween Candy! (Homemade Edition)

I know, I know. Its November 1st (or 2nd depending on where you are, or later depending on when you are reading this). Halloween is over and I was too lazy to busy playing Minecraft yesterday to post my adventures in making Halloween candy. So I am posting about it today.

It all started over the summer; I came across a recipe for Homemade Butter Finger Candy and instantly fell in love. Only problem: I’d never made candy from scratch before. I was nervous, knowing that cooking sugar can be slightly difficult. But I decided, “Hey, it can’t be that hard right?”

Part of my motivation was born out of a love of Halloween and candy, but a dislike of the artificial taste of store bought chocolate candies. Seriously, sometimes I feel like store bought bars have more vegetable oils and preservatives in them than actual chocolate. I decided to make all my Halloween candy from scratch this year, which given it was only myself and my boyfriend eating it turned out to be one batch of Homemade Butter Finger candy and one batch of candied orange peel. I won’t go into tons of detail of how I made both like I usually do, mostly because I didn’t get the chance to document the processes all that much.

First up, Homemade Butter Finger Candy. I got my complete recipe from Not Without Salt, a wonderful food blog that I adore. I took zero pictures of the recipe making process because I was terrified that something would go wrong. Luckily, it didn’t! I boiled my water and sugar, using a candy thermometer that barely touched the sugar-water mixture and prayed everything would work out. My candy cooked to the right temperature and consistency, which made me overly excited. After some careful stirring together of warm peanut butter and my melted sugar mixture, I quickly poured my concoction into a buttered pan, added chocolate, and viola, I had butter finger candy! I was so proud. The candy got rave reviews from my family and boyfriend who couldn’t stop eating it. The full recipe is on Not Without Salt, check it out.

Candied orange peel was easier, but more time consuming. I consulted several recipes to make it and wound up improvising my own ingredient amounts. It’s such a simple process, it barely needs a recipe. Basically you get some oranges (I used 3), slice them in half and scrap out the orange flesh away from the peel. Then cut the peel into tiny slices, about 1/4 inch thick.

Put your peel slices into a pot of water and let it come to a boil over the stove. Boil for a few minutes, about 5, then drain your peels. Repeat the boiling and draining process about 2-3 more times to remove the bitterness from the pith on the peel. (You could skip this and just try to remove the white pith from the peel, but that can be challenging and you will be left with thinner pieces of peel)

Once you’ve boiled and drained your peel for the last time, bring equal parts sugar and water to a simmer in a pot/saucepan. I used about 1 1/4 cup of each, but adjust the amounts depending on how much peel you have. Once your sugar water comes to a simmer, add your peel to it and simmer for about 45 minutes or until the peels are tender and translucent.

Mmm, orange peels simmering.

Drain the peels and set them on a cooling rack to dry. (Or if you are like me and don’t have a real cooling rack you can fashion one out of aluminum foil. I accordion folded my aluminum foil and then placed it on a baking sheet so there were hills and valleys of foil. It was sort of lame but it worked)

You can either dip your candied peels into sugar immediately after you’ve drained them from the sugar-water mixture and then let them cool, or let them dry and cool, and dip them in chocolate like I did below.

My fingers were covered in chocolate after I finished; it was great

Well there you have it folks, homemade Halloween candies. I loved the processes so much that I plan to make homemade holiday candies for Christmas and Hanukkah!

Below, butter finger candy in front, candied orange peel in back. Forgive my misshapen butter fingers, they taste better than they look. 

How Cute: Mugs with Animals Inside

So, eventually I will get around to taking pictures of the Halloween candy I made and post it on here. Seriously. I will. Before Halloween, of 2011.

But until then, I found these seriously cute mugs that have animal figurines hiding inside of them. If I had more room in my kitchen cabinets, I’d go out and buy them.

Hidden Animal Mugs, credit to Uncommon Goods and Ohdeeoh

I can’t even decide which one is the cutest, though I really like the bear.

[credit to uncommongoods and Ohdeeoh for the image]

Pumpkin Bread

What’s the best part of fall? Pumpkins. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin bread, I love it all.

My mom has an affinity for pumpkins as well, something that must have rubbed off on me. My favorite kind of pie has always been pumpkin, I’d even ask for it at restaurants in the middle of spring. Sadly, pumpkin season comes only once a year. Once autumn hits with force, I leap into pumpkin mode.

First recipe up, pumpkin bread. Over the years I’ve struggled with pumpkin bread recipes. Most recipes call for a full 15 oz can of pumpkin, which always leaves my batter far too wet. The bread would always take over an hour to bake and the finished product would have dry edges and an under-baked middle. There are pumpkin bread mixes out there that while good are either far too expensive (I’m looking at you Williams Sonoma) or bland and fake-tasting (Sorry Trad’r Joe’s). I love baking quick breads from scratch, so I’ve been on a mission to find a good recipes that yields a moist, light bread that really captures that awesome pumpkin flavor. 

I scoured the Internet and scrutinized many recipes before coming across a recipe/tutorial from Instructables. “Best Pumpkin Bread Recipe" sounded promising. It claimed to offer a "light and moist pumpkin loaf", I was intrigued. Plus, it offered instructions how to make homemade pumpkin puree, something I’ve been dying to do. Sadly, when I went shopping I couldn’t find a sugar pumpkin to bake and puree, so I had to settle for the canned stuff (which really isn’t so bad).

The recipe yielded a less dense bread than I am used to, which was nice. The flavor was slightly subdued, but overall pleasant. I might add more pumpkin next time, but will definitely stick with two teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice, which adds a great pop of flavor. I made the bread to eat for breakfast this week, but I get the feeling it will be gone by Tuesday.

Below is the recipe that I slightly adapted from the original.

Best Pumpkin Bread Recipe by scoochmaroo from Instructables, adapted by The Petite Gourmet

  • 6 oz. pumpkin puree (I used a slightly heaping 3/4 of a cup)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (Less if you don’t love it as much as I do)
  • Optional—Raisins, Dried Cranberries, Walnuts, Pecans, or Chocolate Chips (However much you like)

Preheat your oven to 350oF. Butter and flour a bread pan. Mine’s 9.25in X 5.25in X 2.75in.

Combine carefully measured flour, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice, whisk ingredients together.

The recipe offered a tutorial on how to properly measure flour, a method I’d never seen before. While measuring dry ingredients is best done by weight, there is a more accurate way to do it by volume. Take whichever measuring cup you need and spoon your dry ingredient into it, making sure to not to pack down it down. Once filled, level the measuring cup with a straight edge. Voila, accurately measured flour!

Combine the pumpkin puree, egg, vegetable oil, water, and sugar. Blend together.

I usually whisk these ingredients together but the recipe tutorial showed a stick blender being used to combine the ingredients, so I blended everything with my stick blender. It seemed to incorporate the ingredients nicely.

Slowly stir the dry ingredient mixture into the wet ingredient mixture.

Pour into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake for 40-60 minutes, mine took just over an hour. Bread is done when a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

Enjoy! Next up, I’m going to attempt pumpkin butter.

My War With Food

I am at war with food.

For the vast majority of my life, food was never an issue. I was a high energy child who rarely slowed down to eat, and when I did I got just enough nutrients to keep me going. My metabolism was lightning fast and my body was skinny. I really never gave food much thought, except for when I had a delicious meal; like my grandmother’s dinners, or my uncle’s annual Thanksgiving feast. As teenager I ate tons of fast food that I knew was bad for me, but I didn’t really care. I was still thin and petite and figured that I couldn’t gain weight.

This was my life until about two years ago. This was my life until my bad eating habits finally caught up to me. Blame it on stress or getting older, but I started gaining weight. At first, I didn’t let it bother me; I was just a few pounds—no big deal. But after a year of steadily gaining weight, I couldn’t ignore it anymore. The reality is my diet was (and still is) poor. Fast food, sweets, and fatty restaurant food became my norm. I knew they were bad for me, I knew they were making me fat, but either I didn’t care or didn’t have the energy or time to make something better.

Some of this changed a few months ago. In an attempt to get the most out of the services my university offered before I graduated, I went to meet the student health center’s nutritionist. She gave me tons of great information and I left her office ready to make changes. But within weeks of getting all this new information on how to eat right, I started getting information that contradicted what she had said. Every other day I would hear from one source or another that whole grains are useless, dairy is bad for you, and a whole slew of other crazy food news.

My head began to spin. Who was right? What should I do? Everywhere I turned someone was ready to tell me to give up all sugar, or eat a completely raw diet. Making drastic changes feel completely impossible to me. Not only do I doubt my ability to make such changes, I am not willing to.

I can’t bare the thought of giving up the foods I love. Food is a passion of mine and life without creme brulee, pumpkin pie, cookies, sushi, hollandaise sauce, French toast, and a good cheeseburger is not worth living. Delicious food is a pleasure to eat and life is way too damn short to spend eating tasteless, processed Lean Cuisine.

So this is my food war; trying to keep all the foods in my life that I love and that make life worth living, while also adapting a healthy lifestyle that won’t cause high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, or weight gain. This is something I battle regularly and have not conquered. Stick with me on my journey to figuring this all out and if you can, offer your advice.

I won’t give up what I love—so I will absolutely continue posting recipes for all the delicious foods that I love and discover, but its time to change my diet for the better.

Yogurt Marinated Chicken Breasts

I don’t cook, I bake. Baking makes me excited, it soothes me. Cooking stresses me out. Sadly, cooking needs to be done to eat dinner so that I can eat my delicious baked treats.

I usually get by with eating take out, heating up up a precooked frozen meal, or making mac and cheese, from a box. It’s not that I can’t cook, it’s that I’d rather not. Baking is precision, with exact measurements and temperatures. Cooking is a dash of this, a handful of that, and “cook over medium-high heat”, directions I don’t always respond well to.

It’s high time that I start cooking real food for myself though, so I’m starting to give cooking a shot. My previous attempts at making dinner from scratch have turned out mostly OK—one day I’ll share my beloved Lemon Pasta recipe. Tonight I decided to give a recipe idea a shot.

The inspiration for this recipe came from my mom. When I lived at home, she’d marinate chicken in yogurt to tenderize it, bread it, and bake it. It was always quite tasty. When I cook or bake anything, I tend to take recipes as recommendations, always adapting them to fit what I want. So armed with an idea of what I wanted to make with a bit of guidance from actual recipes, I set out to make my own yogurt marinated oven fried chicken. Was it perfect? No. It cooked it a bit too long which dried it out and it could have had more spices, but at least I learned. Below is my recipe I followed, adapt it to fit what you like!

Yogurt Marinated Baked Chicken Breasts
3-4 chicken breasts, trimmed
1 7-8 oz container of plain yogurt (I used Greek yogurt)
10-15 plain crakers (I used Townhouse)
4-5 one inch slices of Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons dried oregano
Salt and Pepper
Butter

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Pat down the chicken breasts and pound them with the heel of your hand. Try to get the chicken breasts thin and even so they cook evenly. Empty the yogurt into a dish, add about a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and stir it all together. Add the chicken breasts, cover each breast with yogurt, and marinate for at least 30 minutes, or up to an hour.

While the chicken is marinating, place the crackers, cheese, oregano, salt and pepper in a food processor, pulse until combined and the crackers form small crumbs. Pour crumb mixture into a shallow dish.

Spray a glass baking dish (I used a pie plate) with non stick cooking spray. I also put a few small pieces of butter at the bottom of the dish, to help with browning the chicken (It didn’t really do much). Grab a chicken breast and shake off excess yogurt. Dip in the crumb mixture, covering the entire chicken breast. Place in the glass baking dish. Repeat with the remaining chicken breasts. I also added another small slice of butter on top of each breast before baking which did actually help with the browning process. Bake at 350 degrees until a meat thermometer inserted in to the thickest part of each breast reads 165 degrees, about 45 minutes. Be careful to not over cook, you don’t want to dry out the chicken. Serve as you wish and enjoy!

If you have any questions or comments, leave them below!

Oh Julia

I am big fan of Julia Child. I have Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volumes 1 and 2 (Though I have to say they intimidate me a little). I read “My Life In Paris”, her memoir about living in France and Europe with her husband Paul. I grew up watching her on Saturday mornings on PBS, oh how I miss The French Chef. And of course, I’ve read and watched “Julie and Julia”.

August 14th would have been her 99th birthday and over on Leite’s Culinaria a list of quotes were published from an old interview with Julia.

I just had to share some:

  • The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It’s doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile. I think of my strawberry soufflé. I did that at least twenty-eight times before I finally conquered it.
  • There is nothing worse than grilled vegetables.
  • I’m awfully sorry for people who are taken in by all of today’s dietary mumbo jumbo. They are not getting any enjoyment out of their food. (Something I should remember)
  • If you’re in a good profession, it’s hard to get bored, because you’re never finished—there will always be work you haven’t yet done.
  • Always remember: If you’re alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who’s going to know? Oh Julia, thanks for the encouragement.

One of my favorite bits of wisdom from Julia came not from this interview, but from her book “My Life In France”. In the book she talks about not having fear of making mistakes and that one must just get into the kitchen and cook. That message really stuck with me and has helped me get over my fear of failure when it comes to cooking.

Julia has taught me a lot, and will continue to do so. Hopefully soon I can get up the guts to try out some more of her wonderful recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Brownies!

I love the smell of baking brownies. The smell of warm chocolate and sugar permeates my apartment, making me smile. 

I have attempted to make brownies from scratch and they’ve never turned out great. Until the day that I can find/create the perfect homemade brownie recipe, boxed mix is my friend.

Tonight I made s’mores brownies, with a toasted marshmallow topping. Yum!

Brownies

They are very easy to make: prepare your favorite brownie recipe or box mix, adding chocolate chips to the batter, and bake according package/recipe directions. Remove from the oven and let brownies cool for about 30 minutes. Then top the brownies with miniature marshmallows (as much as you want or will fit in the pan) and toast under a broiler for about a minute or two until light golden brown. Be sure to keep an eye on the brownies so they don’t burn. Mine got a little more toasted than I wanted.

Toasted marshmallow brownie

Use a clean, wet knife to cut the brownies. Enjoy!!

I am sure that I am late to the game in finding this website, but I am in love! It is visually beautiful and the recipes are drool worthy. Expect blog posts featuring recipes from here, that is if I can hold off eating these amazing looking dishes and treats long enough to take pictures of them.