soy brownies and rum?

Spring break is so over. A week of r& r at the in-laws–complete with far more DIY marshmallows consumed than recommended–was lovely, but this week it’s back to that real world and all its ensuing insanity. Cue the crazy.

Which put me at the intersection of Nothing Prepared and No New Ideas when time came to write this week’s post. So I’ll fall back on a now time-honored tradition of repeating myself, visiting my work elsewhere in the blogsphere.

Another month, another post at Minnesota Soyfoods Real Story Blog: Brownies anyone? (no worries–neither tofu nor actual soybeans were used)

We also play a game here at food for fun called “Find a Cocktail Recipe.” Enter part deux of this post…

Immediately upon opening the liquor cabinet, out fell a small paperback volume I don’t remember seeing before.

vintage 1940

vintage 1970

Famous Rum Drinks of the Virgin Islands is all of 32 pages and was penned by a Ms Dea Murray as a collection of drinks from “famous hotels, restaurants & bars.” Drowning in red, brown, gold, and harvest orange glory, it could only be a garage sale find. Yet its appearance rang no bells.

That said, it fell out of my liquor cabinet–reason enough to thumb through. Bluebeard’s Wench called for blue curaco, which is not on my shelf. Same story Hurricane Buster. Old Fashioned Voodoo would be mine if only I had guava juice. Swashbuckler called for Champagne and Coco Loco requires the purchase of coconut cream. Clearly I need a better pantry for this book.

wpid-mntsdcardPhoto-Editor2014-03-19-20.32.06.jpg.jpgFortunately, Rum Swizzle met me where I was at. Out came the rum, sweet vermouth, lemon, bitters, and fresh nutmeg. Though not a big fan of rum, I like what it stands for: warm sand and sun, island breezes, tropical tunes.

The resulting sipper was bracingly tart and could’ve stood a bit more sweet, but it won me over by being both assertive and classy. A newly purchased thrift-store cocktail glass made the project even more fun.

sS what if it's only 33°F outside? I have rum in my cocktail.

So what if it’s only 33°F outside? I have rum in my cocktail.

Our winter may not be over quite yet, but the mercury climbs slowly and surely a tropical rum cocktail can help push things in the right direction. So here’s to seeing the backside of winter. Here’s to garage sale finds–remembered or no. And here’s to the busy-ness of life. May it all be great fun as often as it can. Cheers!

ann and the three cookie recipes

Last post promised the story of my 20-year friendship with amazing Ann along with recipes for cookies served at her 80th birthday party. That promise will now be kept. Setting the time machine back two decades…

My first job out of college was “food scientist,” which was ideal as I had trained to be exactly that with my Food Science degree. The less than ideal part was that I really didn’t like the job. Test tubes and lab coats weren’t my thing, though I wasn’t sure what my thing was quite yet either.

That same year I was given a Betty Crocker cookbook for Christmas and I remember my fascination while turning its pages. Ironically, I had not learned to cook in college. A degree in Food Science requires plenty of science: reading, lab work, discussions, tests, but cooking is not required.

But with a cookbook in front of me (and Betty’s at that), I became enamored with the concept of sharing recipes and other food ideas. My career goal began to crystallize: I wanted to be a food writer.

Living in a small town in southern Minnesota, I shared this information with my grandmother. She knew of a local woman who owned a b&b and also wrote for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune Taste section. I dutifully called this woman and was invited over for an informational interview. And that’s how I met Ann.

The day of our interview changed the course of my life, I’m convinced of this. Ann was friendly, warm, and encouraging, but the kicker was her no-nonsense, down-to-earth outlook. I already had a solid support system with friends and family, who were all kinds of “friendly, warm, and encouraging,” but Ann was the first to offer practical career advice.

She listened to my story, then suggested I offer to write a food column for a local paper. My initial response, “what if they say ‘no?’,” was countered with advice I still carry with me today: “Assume they’ll say ‘yes’.” Ann also suggested I volunteer at a local food co-op. Because Ann was the kind of person whose orders you simply obeyed, I followed both suggestions. Not only did I land the food column gig, but ended up working at that co-op as well, where I (finally) learned to cook and bake.

Ann supported me in so many ways: My husband and I b&b-sat when she was out of town. I assisted Ann when she taught cooking classes as well as tested recipes for her cookbook projects. Ann helped me believe in myself as a food professional. And with that confidence, I was able to move forward in my career and eventually find courage enough to start my own business.

We’ve both since moved from that small town to the same metro area. We see each other occasionally for lunches, dinners, and meetings, and she’s always generous with her gifts, time, and advice.

It’s been fun to watch Ann’s career evolve as well. Since we met back in the mid-90s, she’s published cookbooks (A Cook’s Tour of Minnesota and Hot Dish Heaven are her two most recent) and also was invited to serve as Comfort Food Ambassador to celebrate Creamette’s 100th birthday. How can you not love this woman?

So when Mary, a mutual friend, asked if I wanted to co-host a party for Ann’s 80th birthday, I immediately said “yes.” Not only would planning the party be fun, but we’d be celebrating a woman to whom I owe so much.

We sent out the invites, made plenty of food, took care of party favors (small booklets with the cookie recipes), and added Ann’s special touches: napkins she’d used at the b&b, egg salad made with the recipe from the co-op I’d worked at, dates because she always had a stash at her desk when she worked at the paper, fresh strawberries as she’s originally from a town called Strawberry Point, and the three cookies she’d requested. We were ready to party.

And party we did. Folks seemed to enjoy the event and most importantly, Ann was pleased. She was surrounded by people from her years at the newspaper and in the Betty Crocker Kitchens (did I mention that Ann had worked on Betty’s cookbooks?); others she had mentored; friends from church; neighbors; her daughter. Folks shared stories about what Ann had meant to them and it was clear that mine was not the only life she had changed with her practical, no-nonsense advice as well as her fierce loyalty to friendships.

My hope is that we all have an Ann in our lives–someone to encourage us in professional endeavors. Someone who knows what it’s like on the inside and can help us get where we don’t yet know we want to go. And someone who will celebrate with us when we do. Thank you Ann, for everything you are.

And now let’s talk cookies!

Strudel & Nudel’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookiesstrudel

Ann fell in love with this recipe when she wrote about Erich Christ who ran both The Black Forest and, next door, a deli called Strudel & Noodle. He sold homemade apple strudel and noodles besides these great cookies.

  • 2 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 + 3/8 cup shortening or butter
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons cake flour
  • 4 cups + 2 tablespoons rolled oats
  • 1 1/4 cups raisins

Heat oven to 375°F. Grease baking sheets.

In bowl, cream together brown sugar, shortening, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, eggs, and vanilla. Mix in milk. Add cake flour, oats, and raisins, mixing smoothly.

Drop batter by large spoonfuls on baking sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until almost no imprint remains when touched with finger. Cool on rack. Makes 30 large cookies.

Fudge BrowniesBrownies

A favorite of Ann’s.

  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups chopped walnuts, optional

Heat oven to 350°F.  Grease 13×9-inch pan.

In 3-quart saucepan, melt butter and chocolate over very low heat, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat; stir in sugar. Cool slightly. Beat in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in vanilla.

In small bowl, mix flour and salt; stir into chocolate mixture. Fold in nuts, if using. Spread batter in pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack. Cut large or small as desired.

Small-pan Brownies:  Use half of each ingredient; mix and bake in 8-inch square pan.

Maple Chocolate Chip Cookiesmaple walnut

Here’s the recipe for Ann’s signature cookies, baked for her b&b cookie jar by a succession of excellent bakers. From Ken Haedrich’s Maple Syrup Cookbook.

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup real maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons powdered instant coffee
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 2 cups finely chopped walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with kitchen parchment.

In bowl, cream butter with electric mixer, slowly drizzling in maple syrup. In small bowl, dissolve instant coffee in hot water; beat coffee and vanilla into butter mixture.

In separate bowl, toss together whole wheat and all-purpose flours, walnuts, baking soda, and salt. Stir into butter mixture, in several batches, until flour is just incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips by hand. Let batter stand several minutes to allow whole wheat flour to absorb moisture in syrup.

Drop dough by tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until edges begin to brown. Transfer to rack to cool. Makes 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

we got the beet (brownies)

Confession: Reading food blogs was never my original intent. As a food writer, I felt it was important to have a blog. But because my livelihood involves working with recipes–both in the kitchen and in print–my plate was already figuratively (and often literally ;-)) full. I didn’t see the appeal in poring over even more food prose than I was already reading.

Yet growing a blog is easier when there’s connection between writer and reader. And that means going out into that blogosphere and seeing what other folks have to say. In doing this, I’ve found myself repeatedly inspired by the gifted writers and talented cooks who put their culinary finds out there. Case in point: today’s recipe. Foods For the Soul recently ran a series about sneaking veggies into unexpected dishes. Carrot cake oatmeal, pumpkin custard, onion muffins, beet brownies–all intriguing. But a recently acquired can of beets meant that the brownies would get the first shot.

So I did it–I made beet brownies.

beet brownie ingredients reporting in

beet brownie ingredients reporting for duty

beet puree--it's pretty

beet puree is pretty

ready for the pureed beetsx

ready for the pureed beets

ready for mixing

ready, set, mix

It was a pretty enough process–ruby-red beets pureed to jewel-like brilliance. Fudgy melted dark chocolate. Golden and powdery ground oats. But even with all of the goodness, I had my doubts. Though I wanted to like these brownies, I wasn’t sure that FFtS’s claims of their being “dense, moist, rich, and fudgy — everything a brownie should be” would play out.

One tablespoon of fat (I used butter, though the recipe asked for margarine or shortening) seemed paltry. Subbing beet and applesauce in for eggs, using ground oats instead of wheat flour–none of it boded well for a sweet treat as all-American as the brownie. While the cocoa powder and melted chocolate were promising, I hedged my bets by chopping up a Mast chocolate bar with dried cranberries–high-end craft chocolate from Brooklyn, NY’s bean-to-bar shop–to stir into the batter.

And…

beet brownies

beet brownies?

Pretty, yes, and also plenty moist, but I wouldn’t call them “brownies.” Chocolate-beet cake seems a better descriptor. I might appreciate these for what they are–a healthier version of a higher-fat baked good–if it weren’t for my biggest objection: these “brownies” tasted like beets. And while tasty roasted and topped with crumbled blue cheese, beets just don’t work (for me) in brownies. I’ve never liked canned beets and just couldn’t get past the astringent tangy aftertaste of these cakes. (Taste is a subjective thing, though, so you might like these. FFtS had high praise!)

While technically this was a fail (the brownies ended up in the trash–yikes), I still count it as success: I tried something new and now know how beets work in brownies. (Not so well.) FFtS’s carrot cake oatmeal still beckons and I’ll continue to seek out food blogs–both old favorites and new discoveries. Its been a fun and delicious community to join.

brownies and beans

A friend gave me an intriguing recipe today and because I had the time as well as all of the ingredients, I gave it a go. Black Bean Brownies appealed to me not so much as a healthy alternative to an otherwise decadent dessert, but because I wondered if the full, rich flavor of black beans would intensify the chocolate-ness of it all.

The brownies took only minutes to throw together and put in the oven and I was surprised to see them puff up as they contain no baking powder or baking soda. (Though whipping the eggs in a blender would add air.) The original recipe was heralded as gluten-free, but this wasn’t entirely true as most oats contain traces of gluten. Leaving out the oats (which I would do next time as they didn’t serve much of a purpose flavor- or texture-wise) would make them truly gluten-free.

I’d eat them regardless of nutrient content or health claim, though, as they’re sweet and melt-in-your mouth chocolatey. With no flour, they’ll get thumbs-down from anyone who enjoys cakey brownies–these are more moist, dense, and pudding-like. I ran nutrition numbers and each brownie clocks in at 170 calories. Use nuts instead of chocolate and the number goes down a bit; omit the chocolate or nut topping and you’re down to 130. That’s not oodles lower than a standard brownie (though far lower than some of the ultra-decadent versions), but you also get 3 grams of fiber and 4 of protein, which is better than what you’d find in most baked goods.

These brownies are more of a novelty for me as I very much enjoy using butter, white flour, and sugar in dessert-like baked goods. That said, this was a fun recipe to try and these intensely chocolate brownies will disappear quickly in my house. Next time I have a can of black beans on my shelf, I might just whip up another pan of brownies!

black bean brownies in a Christmas tree pan

black bean brownies in a Christmas tree pan

black.bean. brownie.

black. bean. brownie.

Black Bean Brownies

  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoon rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped chocolate or nuts

Heat oven to 350°F. Coat 9×9-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

In blender container (or in bowl using immersion blender), combine all ingredients except oats and chopped chocolate or nuts. Blend until smooth. Stir in oats. Pour batter into pan. Sprinkle with chocolate or nuts. Bake 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out almost clean. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired. Cool on wire rack. Makes 12 brownies.