"if you're afraid of butter, use cream." - Julia Child

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Taco Bell Chicken Quesadillas

Taco Bell Chicken Quesadillas

Don’t we all secretly harbor a guilty fast food pleasure? I have a health-nut friend that can’t resist the siren song of a Wendy’s frosty and an order of fries to swoop through it; I have another that swears that Egg McMuffins cure hangovers. But […]

Rogan Josh (Indian Lamb Curry)

Rogan Josh (Indian Lamb Curry)

Well, it’s that time of year again. That magical time when Cupid’s Arrows fly down from the Heavens and into our Chardonnay as we sit in an overcrowded restaurant across from the One We Love and order an expensive prixe fixe (that for some reason, […]

Brownies with Carley’s Real Fudge Frosting

Brownies with Carley’s Real Fudge Frosting

The word “fudge” gets thrown around a lot these days. Advertisers have been leaning on the word as a general descriptor for anything chocolate for such a long time that I think we sometimes forget what the real thing tastes like. I know I do. Or at least I did, until I became acquainted with my mother-in-law’s frosted brownies some years ago. From the first taste, I remembered how impossibly rich and dense, smooth and decadent real fudge is. And it’s all because of this insanely good frosting, which (I realized upon stepping into the kitchen) is really just a layer of fudge that isn’t allowed to fully harden. And is, you know, spread over brownies*. And with sprinkles on top, because now we’re just drunk with power and we might as well lean into it, you know?

You might know this style of frosting better as a “boiled icing” or a “hard icing.” From what I understand, its origins are in the Southern United States as a topping for a classic yellow cake — which sounds delicious; but I don’t know how I could pass up the impossibly rich, sinful, chocolate-wasted version spread half an inch thick over dense, chewy brownies. Yes, I’ve considered seeing someone professionally about this, and maybe eventually I’ll get around to that but right now I have brownies in the oven.

But the truth is, these are special occasion brownies. You bring them to parties and family gatherings and watch your culinary reputation swell as people eat them. The frosting requires a fair amount of stirring, just like making real fudge, so I would recommend pulling out your electric hand mixer (which makes this part of the process a cinch). Once you pull the frosting from the heat and begin the Long Stir, make sure to look for the point the frosting starts to lose its shine — this is the point we’re looking for and the best visual cue that the mixture is cooling down and it’s time to switch off the mixer and frost those (completely cooled) brownies. Once you do, they’re ready to go as soon as you need them. Do you consider a certain Big Game this Sunday a special occasion? Are you somehow not bringing Buffalo Chicken Dip? Bring a tray of these — and in between commercial breaks you can lecture everyone about what real fudge is.

*A note about the brownie base: Feel free to use whatever homemade brownie recipe you’re fond of and comfortable with as the base for this magical frosting. I’ve tested a few, and included my favorite here. It uses all cocoa powder rather than melted chocolate, as does this frosting, and I think they have a nice, cohesive chocolate flavor when paired together. That being said, any brownie base you like will work just fine here. The only thing I beg of you is to resist using a boxed brownie for this. The end result is too light and flaky, and will fall apart while you’re trying to frost.

Brownies with Carley’s Real Fudge Frosting

For the Brownies:

Source: Smitten Kitchen, best cocoa brownies

Ingredients:

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder (unsweetened)

1/4 teaspoon salt, flaky or table salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 325 F. Line an 8 x 8 baking dish with parchment or foil and spray with nonstick spray. Leave a little overhang when lining — it makes them easier to remove later.

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter, sugar, cocoa powder and salt over medium low heat. Keep an eye on it, and stir frequently until the mixture is just melted and you’re able to stir it easily. Remove the pan from the heat and add the eggs one at a time, stirring between each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Ad the flour and stir until well combined and no white streaks remain. Transfer the batter to the baking dish and place it in the oven on a lower rack. Bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a trace amount of batter. Cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

For the frosting:

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

½ cup light brown sugar

1 stick unsalted butter, diced

¼ cup milk

½ cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Combine the milk, cocoa and sugars in your deepest saucepan over medium heat and whisk until well blended. Add the butter and continue whisking until the butter is melted. Turn up the heat slightly, and bring the mixture up to a rolling boil. Keep a close eye on it, and stir every so often to prevent sticking or scorching. Once it reaches a boil, set a timer for one minute and let it boil while you whisk constantly. When the timer goes off, remove the pan from the heat onto an oven mitt or a trivet. Add the vanilla, and with an electric hand mixer, mix on low speed until the mixture begins to cool and thicken to a nice, spreadable consistency, roughly 5-7 minutes. Spread onto brownies immediately, and add any sprinkles or toppings right away. Work quickly, it sets up fast!

 

 

 

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Alright, folks. Game Day is approaching, this is not a drill. What we’re going to be running here, ladies, is a classic Malibu Ken formation *spits* and we’re going to be focusing on driving that ball forward, and…I don’t know…aft? Okay, you got me — […]

MN Wild Rice Soup

MN Wild Rice Soup

We all have childhood dishes we’ll never stop loving. For my best friend, it’s her father’s swedish meatballs with broken cream (I’ve had them, they’re life changing). For my aunt, it’s my grandmother’s chicken and dumplings (hard dumplings, the only way to live). This soup […]

Foolproof Roasted Chicken

Foolproof Roasted Chicken

I was always pretty intimidated by the prospect of roasting a whole chicken. Sure, Ina Garten always pulls a bird out of her oven that looks like it just stepped off the runway; but once you start researching recipes and techniques you start to realize it’s going to be a long day. Do I need a special roasting pan with a rack insert? To truss? Not to truss? Do I really need to stuff the cavity of the bird with oranges and rosemary until my kitchen smells like an Aveda salon? What about this whole “stuff things under the skin” movement? I’m telling you, a body could get overwhelmed.

And then a friend gifted me a cookbook that contained a rather magical recipe. A method of roasting a whole chicken that soothed all my poultry-based fears. There is absolutely no special equipment or thermometer involved, no kitchen twine, and no guesswork whatsoever. And the chicken it yields is wonderfully juicy throughout, while managing to boast a skin so crispy you worry it might shatter when you put a knife to it.

I knew the minute I pulled this golden beauty from the oven for the first time that all my chicken-roasting phobias had been assuaged. This recipe can be adapted any number of ways — I’ve represented it here in its most basic glory, with just salt and pepper. If you’re partial to gravy, simply put the roasting pan over a burner while the chicken rests on a cutting board and use the drippings to make a quick pan gravy. Keeping it simple? Serve some halved lemons at the table. But for me, this is one of my favorite dinners simply carved (white meat for the hubs, dark meat forever for me), some drippings spooned over the chicken and the proverbial simple green salad served on the side. I mean, come on. In the words of a certain fellow roasted chicken enthusiast…“How easy was that?”

Foolproof Roasted Chicken

Adapted, just slightly, from Barbara Kafka via Food 52

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken (5-6 lb, rinsed, dried and brought to room temperature

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

Place an oven rack on the second from the bottom insert in your oven. The other rack you can insert into the top slot or remove from the oven entirely. The idea is to give yourself as much room as possible when you’re removing the bird from a super hot oven.

While the chicken is coming to room temperature, preheat your oven to 500 F.

Place the chicken in a low-sided, oven safe dish. Using kitchen shears, trim off the wing tips, any exposed neckbone, and the excess flaps of skin near the tail. Discard any extra parts that might be hanging out in the cavity of the bird. Season the chicken all over with plenty of salt and pepper. Don’t put anybody in the hospital, but it’s pretty difficult to over-salt a chicken. Slide the chicken into the oven on that lower rack so that the legs (which cook more slowly) are toward the very back of the oven. Close the oven door and set the timer for 10 minutes. Once it goes off, remove the chicken and slide a metal spatula under the chicken on all sides, loosening it from the pan. If you skip this step, the chicken will stick to the bottom something awful, trust me. Put the chicken back in the oven and roast an additional 45 minutes.

Rest at least 10-15 minutes before carving. For the best flavor, spoon some of the drippings over the chicken when serving.

Serves 4 as a main course.

Capellini with Shrimp and Spicy Tomato Cream

Capellini with Shrimp and Spicy Tomato Cream

I’ve had my share of cooking mishaps over the years, especially when I was first starting out in the kitchen. A certain “tutto mare” made with mostly bottled clam juice comes to mind (it did not taste pleasantly like the sea as I’d intended); as […]

Clementine 75

Clementine 75

I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t think that people are capable of that kind of change overnight — we’re not going to wake up January 1st with a sudden, irresistible urge to jog and eat kale; There is no magic wand that […]

Mitch’s Hot Nuts

Mitch’s Hot Nuts

How many holiday parties do we have left this year? Nine? Okay, maybe it just feels like it. How many people do you still have to shop for? Seventy? Okay, that one seems legit. Regardless of which particular condition you’re suffering from, I think I have something here that can help you out. It’s as welcome at a cocktail party as it is wrapped in a cello bag and presented as an edible gift. And it’s all courtesy of the craziest Santa impersonator I’ve ever met.

I worked for Mitch Omer for seven years before he passed, and I’ve never met another person that loves Christmas as much as he did. He used to lumber around the restaurant (all 6’4” of him) the entire month of December in a full Santa suit handing out candy to the kids, taking pictures and asking what they wanted for Christmas. He might pop back into the kitchen and toss Red Bulls to the kitchen staff during a busy brunch service, only to return to his favorite spot by the host desk to sign cookbooks with his signature blow torch method (He’d burn the corner of the title page, right under his elaborate autograph, and slam the book shut to extinguish the page before handing it back to you) and chat with guests on their way out, genuinely excited to hear about what they ate.

He passed away two years ago this week, and Christmas somehow feels quieter without him (probably because he’s not shouting at anybody). These spicy candied nuts were always a particular “Mitch” favorite of mine, and years ago I coerced him into giving me the recipe. These are the perfect cocktail nuts: sweet, spicy and perfectly crispy. But above all, balanced — not too much of anything trying to take over the party. I’ve seen Mitch make these with all kinds of different nut combinations, but I’ve always preferred the original pecan version. There’s something about the richness of pecans that just works with this recipe. That being said, feel free to use whatever type or types of nuts you prefer.

We’re going to be deep frying the nuts at the end, just before tossing them in the spices while they’re still hot from the oil (the secret to their perfect crispiness and deep toasty flavor). As always, exercise caution when frying at home. Add and remove ingredients from the oil slowly, and closely monitor the heat — the idea is to keep the oil between 350°F and 375°F the entire time. As soon as you add the nuts, the temperature will drop and you’ll need to adjust the heat accordingly. This is by far easiest to do with a thermometer, but if you don’t have one, never fear — these little guys are pretty forgiving of temperature fluctuations. They also keep wonderfully in a sealed container at room temp, but feel free to make a larger batch and freeze them. Because you never know when you’ll need a last minute holiday gift…or seven.

Mitch’s Hot Nuts

Adapted from Mitch Omer, author of Damn Good Food

Ingredients:

1 lb unsalted pecan halves

1 tablespoon kosher salt

½ cup granulated sugar

Canola oil, for frying

 

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions:

Take a large pot and fill it a little over halfway with water. Bring the water to a rolling boil over high heat. Once the water is boiling, add the pecans. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

While the pecans are boiling, add the sugar to the bottom of a large mixing bowl. With a slotted spoon or a spider, transfer the pecans from the boiling water directly into the mixing bowl. With a rubber spatula, stir immediately until the heat from the pecans melts the sugar and the nuts are evenly coated in the sugar syrup. Once they’re fully coated, drain in a colander to remove any excess sugar syrup. Set aside until ready to fry.

Grab a large, high-sided pan and fill it about halfway with the oil. Place over medium-high heat and heat the oil until a thermometer registers 375°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, place a single pecan in the oil. If it bubbles and floats, the oil is good to go. If it sinks to the bottom, the oil is too cold. Once the oil is ready, gently transfer half of the pecans to the pan. Fry, stirring constantly, until the pecans are browned and the bubbling has subsided somewhat, 4-5 minutes. Be careful not to crowd the pan, or the oil temperature will drop too much and the nuts won’t get crispy.

While the oil is heating, grab the mixing bowl you used before and add half the salt, garlic powder and cayenne. Once you’re done frying the first batch, use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer the nuts back to the mixing bowl. Toss with a rubber spatula until the pecans are evenly coated with the spices. Fry the rest of the pecans in the same manner, then transfer them to the mixing bowl and add the other half of the salt and spices. Toss again and spread out on a foil lined sheet pan to cool.

These will keep in a sealed container at room temperature for a couple of weeks, or can be frozen immediately — don’t store in the fridge!

Gooey Butter Cake Cookies

Gooey Butter Cake Cookies

While I’m always fascinated by the culinary traditions that are specific to different regions of the U.S., I find that I don’t often revisit my own. I was raised in St. Louis, which has a great (and in my opinion, underrated) restaurant scene, and a […]