The perfect brownie

I’m going to admit right now that this blog exists because this week’s recipe exists. I am not usually one to hop on food fads — sorry, cronuts — but sheet pans have become a thing, and at first I was meh, then I saw sheet pan brownies and I have now become a convert.

See, brownies are great, except when they aren’t. You know when they aren’t? When they’re cake-y and heavy and not gooey goodness. This recipe was billed as full of the gooey good stuff, and frankly, there’s not room for it to be a cake brownie. So, I gave it a shot.

Sheet pan brownie ingredients.

And oh my god, you guys, it worked.

This brownie took 5 to 10 minutes of prep, 15 minutes in the oven, a little cooling off time, and then perfection in a square.

Thanks to the goofy Epicurious video that led me down this path. I will be forever grateful to have found the perfect brownie recipe. I straight up followed the directions on this one, because they’re as perfect as the brownie tastes.

Nom nom noms.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 ¼ c. sugar
  • ¾ c. unsweetened cocoa powder (I used the good stuff)
  • ¾ t. vanilla extract
  • ¼ t. salt
  • 2 large eggs, straight from the fridge
  • ½ c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. finely chopped walnuts, preferred (or mini chocolate chips are recommended too)

Directions

Heat oven to 325, and position a rack in the center of the oven.

Generously butter a rimmed baking sheet. (The recipe calls for 18 x 13, but I just used my standard that I think is a little different sized.)

In a small bowl, melt the remaining amount of butter. In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and salt. Pour melted butter over the mixture and stir. Add eggs one at a time, and stir well with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula after each addition. Stir in the flour until well mixed, and then beat as well as you can by hand. (The recipe calls for 30 to 40 strokes; I didn’t measure, just kept going until it looked right and then beat a little bit longer by hand.)

Stir in nuts (or chocolate chips).

Use a spatula to spread batter into a thin, even layer, pushing the edges into the corners of the prepared baking sheet. It will look scant, but it will be fine by the time the brownies rise in the oven.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool completely (a long agonizing wait of an hour or so), and enjoy!

Keepin’ it simple with steak fajitas

In an effort to keep building up my confidence, I found another nearly impossible-to-fail, easy-peasy sheet pan recipe. This week, it’s steak fajitas.

Aside from the ease, it was also a rare treat in this household. I almost never eat beef anymore (I know, blasphemy in Iowa … but fear not, I love pork), so I wasn’t even sure how easy it would be to find flank steak, or even how to cut it if I did find it.

I forgot my fancy compiling of ingredients, but you can see almost all of them here, steak, a variety of peppers, onion, garlic, chili powder. I’ll do better next time.

Thankfully, the local co-op had a nice big slab that allowed me to make this meal with another night of leftovers, and I have a wonderful sweetie who researches things so I accidentally learn things like to cut against the grain with flank steak.

And I have to say, it was quite delightful to bring beef back into my world. If I’m honest, it’d have been nice to do a lime-based marinade ahead of time if I’d thought of it (maybe next time!), but for ease, this can’t be beat.

There’s about five ingredients involved in baking, not counting the staples oil and salt. Frankly, the hardest part was cutting the beef, and all those peppers.

While I got the recipe from the unlikely source of Williams Sonoma, a fancy cookware store, I may just have to add it to my list of places to scour when I’m short on recipes.

Steak fajitas, fresh out of the oven.

In the meantime, here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lb. flank steak, cut into half-inch slices
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 orange bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced (or 2 medium)
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 T. canola oil
  • 1.5 T. chili powder
  • 1-2 t. salt (I don’t measure, just add a couple of pinchfuls)
  • 6 to 8 flour tortillas
  • Guacamole, for serving(optional)
  • Sour cream, for serving (optional)
  • Hot sauce, for serving (optional)

Directions

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix together the steak, peppers, onion, garlic, oil, chili powder and salt until coated. Spread the steak and vegetables on a nonstick sheet pan (I used aluminum foil for easier cleanup on an aging pan). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring halfway through, until the steak is cooked through.

If desired, in the last five minutes, wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil and bake in oven so it’s nice and warm to serve with the fajita mix. Then, assemble the fajitas as you desire, and enjoy!

Impossible to fail pasta dinner

After last week’s miserable failure (twice!), I was looking for something a wee bit easier this week, so I turned to the New York Times Cooking page and found a spicy roasted broccoli pasta recipe.

It was perfect for our little family. My sweetie loves broccoli (which I like fine), and I love carbs and cheese (which he likes fine), and this dinner has plenty of all of that. Plus, it’s hearty for these cold Iowa winter nights, and it’s none too difficult to boot.

Broccoli pasta ingredients

But what really helped make this such a gem was that I completely fiddled with the recipe to make things easier on myself, and it turned out just fine. It was impossible to fail!

It was hard to judge the what the recipe meant when it called for “2 ½ lbs. broccoli, cut into bite-size florets.” Did that mean 2 ½ lbs. of broccoli, and then cut the florets from that? Did it mean I should have 2 ½ lbs. of just florets? If I didn’t have enough florets, could I skim the rough edges from the stem and chop that too? It turns out, who knows and who cares? It worked fine.

I bought two bundles of fresh broccoli (about seven pieces in total), because I couldn’t find a scale at the store and figured that *had* to be enough. Well, when I cut the florets, at home I learned with my scale I only had 1 ½ lbs. of florets. I added some pared stems, but didn’t want to overwhelm it with them so I added enough to get to nearly 2 lbs. And, it turned out, I’m sure it would have been fine either way, just depending on how much you like broccoli.

Then, I totally changed the amounts of ricotta and pasta, because I didn’t want to be left with scant-ish amounts of both. So, extra pasta and extra cheese, it all fit on the baking sheet and turned out fine.

It’s one of those great recipes where you can kind of bend it to your tastes. If you want more broccoli to carb ratio, go for it; if you love cheese, toss on a little more.

All in all, it is well worth the (limited effort) to make.

Nom nom noms. I’m hungry just looking at it again.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 2 bunches of broccoli, cut into bite-size florets and some stem if desired (or whatever)
  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil (I estimated), plus at least as much for drizzle
  • 1 T. cumin seeds, optional (more than it called for but I love cumin)
  • ¾ t. kosher salt (again, I estimated)
  • ½ t. red pepper flakes (I’m sure I used more)
  • 16 oz. tube shaped or shell pasta (more than it called for but I wanted to use the whole box)
  • ⅓ c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • ⅓ c. panko bread crumbs
  • Zest from one lemon
  • ½ t. ground black pepper (I didn’t measure)
  • 15 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese (more than it called for but I wanted to use the whole tub)
  • Fresh lemon juice, optional (hey, I already zested the lemon, may as well use the juice)

Directions

Heat oven to 425 degrees. On a 15 ½ x 12 inch sheet pan (or so) toss together the cut broccoli, the oil, the salt, red pepper flakes, and cumin, if using. Roast until tender and browned, 18 to 25 minutes, and tossing while halfway through. Remove from oven, set aside, and turn the oven up to broil.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of (salted) water to boil, and cook the pasta according to package instructions and then drain. Separately, in a small bowl, mix together the Parmesan, panko, lemon zest, and salt and black pepper.

Toss the pasta together with the broccoli, and then dollop with the ricotta. Sprinkle with the Parmesan mix, top with salt and black pepper, and drizzle with (a good amount of) oil. Broil the mixture until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Sprinkle with lemon juice, if desired, and enjoy!

In with a fizzle

Happy 2018!

I’ve been blogging about food for a decade now, but this is the first time my platform has been my own. If you’re a follower of my work the past few years, the format is going to be mostly the same. If you’re new here, my blogging habits are a weekly adventure in a common theme for a year.

In the past I’ve done pies, breads, casseroles, and soups and salads. This year I’m taking Mom’s advice, and I’m going to start doing a year using a common kitchen item. Starting with my underutilized sheet pan. (Still taking suggestions for 2019.)

The point of the exercise, aside from enjoying good food and filling my body with nutrients, is to show the versatility of the cookware already lurking in most kitchens.

I thought I’d start off with something easy — peanut brittle — and managed to bungle it both times. Alas.

Peanut brittle ingredients

It made me think some about failure, which I might address in a future blog post. But for now, it’s best to just quote the man from Indiana, John Mellencamp: “What is there to be afraid of? The worst thing that can happen is you fail. So what? I failed at a lot of things. My first record was horrible.”

I feel the same way about cooking, and in particular about this week’s failure. If I had given up making candy the first time I failed at it, I would have stopped trying in about 7th grade, when I determinedly failed to make taffy. And I’ve totally successfully made peanut brittle before; it just didn’t work out that way this time.

This picture, while not great, shows not-quite-right peanut brittle. You can see bending of the candy rather than the brittleness implied in the name.

Impatience and inattention have been my downfalls, but you know what, I’ve got a whole year to keep succeeding at sheet pan recipes. Or getting up off the mat and trying again.

In the meantime, here’s what I should have done with peanut brittle and actually listened to Betty Crocker’s sage advice:

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ t. baking soda
  • 1 t. water
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1 ½ c. sugar
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 c. light corn syrup
  • 3 T. butter
  • 1 lb. shelled unroasted peanuts

Directions:  

Heat oven to 200 degrees, and butter 2 sheet pans measuring 15 ½ x 12 inches (or so) and keep them warm in the oven.

Mix together the baking soda, 1 teaspoon water, and vanilla in a small bowl. Set aside.

Mix together sugar (1st attempt mistake, leaving out the sugar!), 1 cup water and the corn syrup in a 3-quart saucepan (or so). Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, to 240 degrees on a candy thermometer (2nd attempt mistake, it wouldn’t budge from 225 degrees, so I tossed in next ingredients anyway!).

Once at 240 degrees, stir in the butter and peanuts. Cook, stirring constantly, to 300 degrees. Immediately remove from heat and quickly stir in the baking soda mixture until light and foamy.

Quickly pour about half the candy mixture onto each sheet pan and spread until about ¼ inch thick. Cool for at least one hour; then break into pieces, and enjoy!