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Blackened Catfish

February 17, 2010

I’m already behind with this blog! I blame the huge amounts of snow that have been dumped on the east coast in the last few weeks. You’d think that would make for more time to cook and bake, but what it meant was that I spent much more time running herd on a stir-crazy toddler.

Although I’ve cooked often, I’ve only baked once.  But in the interest of posting something, here is one of my recent meals. This is blackened catfish with couscous and broccoli. The pictures are from it cooking, not from it plated (I forgot to take pictures before we’d already started eating), but you’ll get the idea.

This meal is incredibly simple to make, as many fish dishes are, and is very tasty, to boot! I will also give you a recipe for making homemade couscous from semolina and durum wheat, but this takes a little longer. Also not complicated, but it does take longer.

Couscous Ingredients:
3 C of water
6 C of wheat semolina
1 t of salt
1 1/2 T whole wheat flour
1 C olive oil (or other veg oil)

Important to making couscous from semolina instead of using the instant kind is “pre” steaming the durum grains. If you don’t have a steamer, I cannot recommend high enough getting one! I have a great big one, and also a rice cooker that has a steaming attachment. And of course making couscous from instant organic is fine, too, but the spirit of The DIY Kitchen is to do as much as possible yourself from scratch.

Directions:
Bring the 3 cups of water to a boil in a steamer. In a separate bowl, pour in the semolina, then add the flour and salt and 1 C of boiling water. Mix thoroughly, letting the ingredients cool just enough to touch with your hands. Press the mixture through a sieve, removing the excess water. Transfer the mixture to the top portion of the steamer and steam for 30 minutes. Remove from steamer and return to the bowl. Break up the semolina with a fork until fluffy. Add the oil and remaining water from the steamer. You may need to add additional water, because you want the semolina to be quite wet. Return mixture to the bottom part of the steamer (or a pot, at this point) and cook for another 20 minutes. Some people recommend not using a lid during the entire process, as it can make the couscous mushy. I like to leave the lid on during the first step and take it off during the second. But experiment and see what works for you.

Once the couscous is prepared, you can do anything with it that you would do with instant couscous. For this meal, I left it alone, because there was going to be plenty of spice with the catfish.

Blackened Catfish

This recipe is quite a bit simpler. You can pick your own mix of spices, but here’s what I used:

Catfish filets (obviously)
Paprika (2 T)
Chili pepper (1 T)
Cayenne pepper (1 t)
Garlic powder (1 t)
Cumin (1 t)
Salt (1/2 t)
Pepper (1/2 t)

I’ve listed them in descending order from how I used them, but definitely experiment until you find the taste sensation that matches your buds. Measurements given are suggestions, not requirements! Mix the spices in a bowl and coat one or both sides (your choice) of the catfish filets with the spices.

Cooking the catfish is incredibly simple. Coat a frying pan with olive oil or another vegetable oil and heat to medium-high. If you’ve only coated one side of the filets with spice, place the spice side down first to season the oil. Cook for three minutes, then flip and cook for another three minutes.

Pictures to be posted soon….

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Homemade Pizza Epic Fail

February 8, 2010

Sometimes when you’re making food you mess up. Something burns or separates, doesn’t rise, rises too much…you get the picture. So it was with the meal I chose for this week’s entry. I thought I’d picked something easy. A little labor-intensive, but not rocket science. Making pizza dough from scratch isn’t difficult, and I wanted something easy after a morning shoveling snow (if you are anywhere near the east coast right now, you’ll know about our record-breaking snowstorm—we have 25 or 26 inches out there, but some of my friends nearby have over 36).They’re calling for another 10-20 tomorrow…ugh.

I had to make a quick trip out on the still-snowy roads to pick up some groceries, so that meant I wasn’t back at my house until 2:30. By the time everything was away and the kitchen was cleaned up, I didn’t have time for the three hour dough recipe I normally use. Instead I pulled out an old recipe given to me by a friend that I’ve modified slightly to include more whole grains and spices.

It’s very simple:

1 T yeast

1 t sugar

1 C warm water less 2 T

1 C whole wheat flour (or white whole wheat)

1 C + 5 T all purpose flour

1 t salt

1 T basil

1 T oregano

1 t paprika

1 T olive oil

Dissolve yeast & sugar in warm water. Let proof for 5-10 minutes. Then add flour, spices, salt, and oil. Knead until you form a smooth ball. Cover and let rise for approximately 1 hour. On a floured work surface, roll out the dough until it is about ¼ inch thick, then transfer to a baking stone or lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake at 425 for 25 minutes OR UNTIL CRUST IS BROWNED & CHEESE IS BUBBLY.

The toppings I had were mushrooms, spinach, and mozzarella. Because I was using fresh spinach I decided not to have tomato sauce. The proofing went well—lots of very active yeast in this batch—and the dough itself came together nicely. During the hour it needed to rise, I made a coffeecake for dessert. The coffeecake ended up needing an extra ten minutes in the oven (ironic, considering what would happen later), so I finished the whole prep of the pizza, including browning the mushrooms in olive oil and wilting the spinach, before the cake came out of the oven.

I set the oven timer, put the cake on a rack to cool, and went into the living room to see what my guys were up to. My husband was playing a video game and my son (who is two) was running around being his normal hyperactive-toddler self. I got caught up with them and stopped paying attention to the kitchen. Eventually I smelled the burning and ran in to check the oven.

The timer still had three or four minutes left, but the pizza should have come out of the oven at least 5 or maybe 10 minutes before. I can’t remember if I discovered that about this crust recipe last time and just forgot to write it down, or if this is a fluke, but the crust was very well-done, crispy, and a little dry. The cheese was blackened. It wasn’t a ruin- I still cut it up and we all ate it, even my two-year-old, but it wasn’t as good as it could have been. I recommend modifying the time on the recipe to 15 to 20 minutes, and keeping a good eye on your oven while it’s baking. For obvious reasons, there are no pictures of the pizza. I actually took some, but all they do is illustrate how yucky it looks, not how good it surprisingly still tasted.

Fortunately the coffee cake turned out like a dream. Moist, with a crunchy cinnamon topping and a delicious ribbon of filling, I couldn’t have asked for a better cake. I used this recipe for their favorite sour cream coffee cake from King Arthur Flour with some minor alterations, specifically in the topping/filling and also by using white whole wheat flour for one of the two cups of flour. Delicious!

My husband has requested to give his ratings on the meals, so here we go. Ratings out of 10:

Pizza- 6.1

Coffeecake- 8.8

Coffee Cake

Moist and delicious coffee cake

Coffee Cake Topping

The crunchy sweet topping

Beer Bread

February 3, 2010

Beer Bread

Beer Bread made with Blue Moon Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale

I try to bake a loaf of bread every weekend. It isn’t always sandwich bread. Sometimes it’s a sweet quickbread, like pumpkin or cinnamon. Sometimes it’s something savory like when I made rosemary ciabatta. I try to bake with whole grains, because the added fiber and nutrients of the germ and bran is good for the digestion, but sometimes my husband requests white bread. I try to humor him occasionally, or go halves with unbleached all-purpose and white whole wheat. This week’s bread is nearly half and half, although it also has rolled oats.

A friend gave me a beer bread recipe for Christmas along with a bottle of Blue Moon’s Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale. We don’t drink beer in this house (we’re not against alcohol, we just don’t like beer), so beer bread doesn’t get made often here. But I didn’t want the beer to go to waste, so I decided to make a loaf of the bread. Her recipe was extremely simple- beer, self-rising flour, sugar, and butter. Mix and bake. Ok, a little more complicated than mix and bake, but that’s the basic gist. I wanted something with a little more texture and flavor than that, though, so I pulled out my trusty King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking and found a “quick” beer bread recipe. By quick I mean it doesn’t have a pre-ferment that you have to make the night before. You still have a total prep and rise time of at least 4-5 hours.

This recipe uses honey and orange juice instead of refined sugar, and a mix of all purpose and white wheat flours as well as some rolled oats. I ended up using their recipe almost exactly, although I did add a little flour because the dough was very very wet. Whole grain recipes tend to make stickier doughs than white bread recipes, so if you’re an experienced white bread baker don’t get too flour-happy– you’ll just end up with a dry, heavy loaf. But in this case it really needed the extra flour, although not much. Maybe two tablespoons– not even a quarter cup.

This is a good place to mention that when baking with the King Arthur Flour books I use weight measures instead of volume. Many cookbooks give weight alternatives instead of volume, and these are far more accurate. If you have more than one set of measuring cups and spoons you’ll understand what I mean: no two sets are exactly alike. I recommend that all serious bakers buy a kitchen scale. You can get a good “cheap” one for about $30-$50 in most department stores with a kitchenware section, or a more expensive one in a kitchen store or online. The tiny spring-based scales you can buy in the grocery store work in a pinch, but aren’t good for large quantities.

Knowing that whole grain doughs want to be sticky, I left the recipe alone for the first rise. But the rise was only so-so, so I went ahead and added the extra flour I mentioned above. The dough felt much better then, and the second rise in the pan was much more productive than the first. It crowned the pan nicely, although the dough became denser during the baking process and ended up about even with the rim of the pan.

Close up showing the bread texture

Nice, nearly close-crumb, with the warm golden-brown of whole grain

The first slice, while still warm from the oven, was moist, sweet, and had a dense, semi-closed crumb. It was also still very reminiscent of the pumpkin ale. After a few days the hops flavor has actually intensified, to the point where my husband won’t eat any more “because it tastes too much like beer.” I solve this problem by toasting it and spreading it with honey or the apple butter I canned last summer. As you can see from the picture above, there are only a few slices left and it’s only Wednesday. I doubt this bread will last until the end of the week!

Apricot Glazed Pork Tenderloin

February 1, 2010

Apricot-glazed pork tenderloin

Pork Tenderloin, Brown Rice, and Steamed Carrots in Apricot Glaze

To begin this blog, I will mention that I have been sick and I deliberately chose something easy and not very labor-intensive for my “debut” post. So although the focus of this blog is going to be on food that does not fit into the Rachel Ray “30 Minute Meals” category, this one almost does.

The focus of this entry, for me, is the apricot sauce. The rest of the meal was chosen for ease of preparation, and the sweet-tangy apricot makes a perfect companion for the sweet-salty pork loin. In an ideal world, I would have my own apricot preserves from last summer to use in making apricot glazes. I didn’t put up any last year, though, and apricots are out of season, so I went with sun-dried apricots instead. You can get organic and non-sulfate sun-dried apricots at a natural foods store or by mail order.

Because dried fruit is (haha) dry, you have to start by rehydrating the apricots. If you are lucky enough to be making this recipe when apricots are in season, instead of rehydrating, you can quarter the apricots and cook them down over medium heat in water or apple juice until they are soft and mushy. Use only a tiny bit of liquid- they will provide plenty of their own.

For rehydrating, use 4 oz of apricots per pound of meat you will be glazing. This will make enough for both your meat and your side dishes. About ¾ C apple juice to every 4 oz of apricots to rehydrate. Cover the apricots with the apple juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes. Be sure to stir occasionally so that none of the apricots stick or burn. Remove from heat and allow to cool, then strain. Reserve the cooking liquid. Chop the rehydrated apricots and set aside. I recommend using a food chopper for this and most other chopping where you don’t need the pieces to be even and regular. Doing things from scratch doesn’t mean we can’t take shortcuts, just that we choose the shortcuts that don’t compromise our food ethics.

The rest of the ingredients are based on one 4 oz batch of apricots. Double or triple as necessary.

½ C orange juice

¼ C honey (I used blueberry honey)

2 T water

2 t cornstarch/cream of tartar/another thickening agent

Ground ginger and cinnamon (and other spices) to taste

In a saucepan (size depends on how much glaze you plan to make, but at least 2 qt), combine orange juice, honey, water, cornstarch, and spices. Heat, stirring constantly, until thickened slightly. If you want to add another flavor note to your glaze, try ½ tsp ground mustard or 3 tbsp vinegar. Remove from heat and stir in apricots and cooking liquid.

At some point, either earlier when the apricot hydration batch was cooking or cooling, or now, trim any visible fat from the tenderloin. You can keep it if you really want it- it will make a juicy tenderloin, although mine was pretty juicy anyway- but if you are being health and diet conscious, I suggest getting rid of the excess fat. Use salt and pepper or your own choice of herbs to rub into the loin, then place it in a baking dish or on a broiling pan.

Separate apricot mixture in half. Depending on your cooking plans, separate one half into its own halves. Use one for your initial coat/covering, then if you plan to broil the loin, you can use the other to periodically brush the tenderloin as it cooks. I baked mine, so I just dumped it all in a baking dish, stuck the lid on, and slid that thing into the oven. Bake the tenderloin at 350. 30 minutes for about a pound, 45 for 2 pounds, 60 minutes for 2.5 pounds. Or until internal temperature reads 150 degrees. Broiling times may vary- I didn’t broil mine. But if you choose to broil you’ll be glazing frequently anyway, so just take periodic measurements.

Pork glazed with apricot sauce

While the pork baked, I made steamed rice and carrots. I have a rice cooker with a veggie steaming bowl, so I did it all at once. I cannot highly enough recommend getting a food steamer/rice cooker. They work very well, and are much more efficient at reserving nutrients than boiling. Once the rice and veggies are done and plated, coat liberally with the reserved half of your apricot glaze. In hindsight, I should have picked a different colored vegetable for this meal. Everything was too orange!

Carrots glazed with apricot sauce

Prior to the meal, I baked a cake. I used the King Arthur Flour Favorite Fudge Cake recipe, which is available online here.

In the future, I’ll go through some of my own dessert recipes, but I already posted two of those and this one was quick and easy and very tasty. I did make some slight alterations, like adding some salt and vanilla to the icing and using black cocoa in the cake, but otherwise I just followed the same recipe.

Thick fudgey icing and rich chocolate cake. Mmmm.

I’m still a little sick and I keep falling asleep writing this, so I guess that means it’s time to post. Good night, all.

The husband rating:

Pork Tenderloin- 9.1

Chocolate Cake- 7.0

Cranberry Lemon Ginger Bars

January 30, 2010

Cranberry lemon ginger bars

Ingredients

Cookie base:

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup oat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup cranberries, chopped, fresh, frozen or dried

Cream-cheese mixture:

2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cream or milk
1 egg (for a fluffier mixture, separate and beat white before adding)
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Topping:

1/2 cup cranberries
2 tablespoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly grease a 13x9x2-inch brownie pan or two 10x5x1-inch jelly roll pans. I used butter spray. For easier bar removal, line with parchment paper and add another light coat of spray.

To make the cookie base:

In a medium bowl sift together the flours, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars. Add eggs one at a time, blending after each. Add lemon zest, and vanilla and lemon extracts. Blend well. Add oats and cranberries and mix until just blended. Spread mixture into pan, evening out the top as much as possible.

To make the cream cheese mix:

In another bowl blend cream cheese and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and milk (or cream), mixing after each. (For fluffier texture, separate the egg and beat the white a little before adding it to the mixture). Add flour and mix well. Add lemon zest and both extracts. Blend well. Spread mixture over cookie batter.

To make the topping:

In a small bowl mix cranberries, lemon zest and sugar. Sprinkle mixture over cream cheese.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.

Cool and refrigerate cookies after baking. Yields either one large tray with thick bars or two smaller trays with thin bars. If making two trays, you might want to double the cranberry-lemon topping.

Makes 24 to 48 bars.

~***~

The joy of these bars is the combination of flavors. You have the rich, almost gingerbread flavor of the cookie base, studded with cranberries and giving just the hint of tangy lemon. The next layer is like a lemon cheesecake, creamy sweet and citrusy. Then you top it all off with more cranberries and lemon. They make a perfect holiday treat, which is why I submitted them to the holiday cookie contest at my local paper.

I’d never submitted anything I made to a contest before, so imagine my surprise when I won on the first try! The reviews vindicated all of my choices, too. My husband isn’t a fan of texture in his desserts, so whole grain baking doesn’t always go over well at our house.  But one of the reviewers actually cited the different flours as one of the best qualities of the bar. Another reviewer commented on how refreshing it was to have a cookie without chocolate! In any case, with 14 reviewers giving the bars scores out of five, they only missed a perfect score by 1 point. Not too shabby for something I made up the weekend before the contest.

And I did make these bars up, almost entirely. I started with a recipe for apple bars from a Land-O-Lakes butter box, then proceeded to alter it so much that not a single ingredient matches anymore. The flavor combination I settled on was inspired by one of the layers of my wedding cake. We had a three layer cake: the bottom layer was pumpkin spice, the middle apple spice, and the top was lemon ginger. All of the layers had cream cheese filling and buttercream icing. We didn’t even touch the top layer during the wedding reception, so my husband and housemates (at the time we shared a townhouse with another couple) and I ate wedding cake for a month. By the time it was gone we were all a little sick of lemon-ginger-cream cheese, but by December of 2008 when I created this recipe, all I could think about was how tasty the combination had been.

I felt a little like a mad scientist when I started pulling down spices from my brand-new spice cabinet and mixing them up in the bowl with the flour. I knew I wanted to go a little heavier with ginger than the wedding cake, because these bars were meant to evoke Christmas and gingerbread cookies, with the citrus as an accent rather than the focus. I knew I wanted a complete cheesecake layer, so I had thought about doing these like black bottoms in tiny muffin wrappers, but because of the constraints of the contest I decided to do them as bars instead. I tossed in cranberries because they are quintessential holiday food items. I even use them in my decorating. And that gave me the idea to use the cranberries to stud the tops of the bars along with lemon zest. The color combo of red and yellow against the white background of the cream cheese gave the bars that extra zing of presentation.

photo taken by Joe Crocetta, staff photographer for the paper

If you just wanted to make these as oatmeal cranberry drop cookies, that would work too. Just remove about 1/2 to 3/4 C of the flours from the “cookie base” recipe and cut out the cream cheese and topping. Start with 10 minutes as a bake time, but I haven’t tested these as drop cookies so they may need more time than that, or less if you make them small. The black bottom idea would work, too, if you want to make these as fingerfoods for a party. You’ll have to experiment with the bake time. Start low, then add time until your tester comes out clean. If anyone tries either of these variations, please comment with your successful time or if you changed the oven temp.

A Dark Alchemy

January 30, 2010

This entry was originally posted to my personal journal in November 09. I’m reposting it here as a kind of “warm-up” entry to the blog. I may also post the recipe and blog to my Cranberry Lemon Ginger Bars that won last year’s cookie contest through our local newspaper.

A Dark Alchemy.

That is the name I’ve given this pie. It started off its life as the “Midnight Mocha Pie with Cafe Au Lait Crust” in the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Book, but that is just too boring a name for the pie that resulted from their recipe + my alterations. Unlike most of my recipes, I will suggest that you follow these ingredients exactly. I don’t know what alterations would do to the amazing alchemy that occurred.

Ingredients

Crust:
1/2 C old fashioned rolled oats (not oatmeal, not quick oats)
1/2 C whole barley flour (can substitute whole wheat)
1/3 C whole wheat pastry flour (can substitute unbleached all purpose)
1/4 C confectioner’s sugar
heaping 1/4 t salt
6 T (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter
1/4 t espresso powder (you can use any instant espresso powder, though I used the KAF brand).
2 1/2 – 3 T milk or cream, divided (I used heavy whipping cream)

Filling:
4 T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 C granulated sugar
3/4 C dark brown sugar
1/4 t salt
4 large eggs (I used cage-free vegetarian-fed brown eggs)
1/3 C Dutch process cocoa (I used Hershey’s because it’s what I had here at the house, but I’d love to try the recipe again with this. Have I mentioned I ADORE King Arthur Flour??)
2 1/2 T coffee liqueur (or equal amt strong brewed coffee- I used Kahlua)
1 T cold milk or cream (once again, I used heavy whipping cream)
2 1/2 t espresso powder (same as above)
1 t vanilla extract
2 T cornmeal
2/3 C chocolate chips or chipped chocolate. I STRONGLY recommend chipping your own chocolate from a bittersweet bar. I used Green & Blacks Dark 85% cacao. AMAZING

Directions

To prepare the crust:

Grind oats in a food processor for 30 seconds. Transfer ground oats to a medium bowl and stir in flours, sugar, and salt. Work butter into dry ingredients using fingers, pastry blender, or a fork until evenly crumbly. Dissolve espresso powder in 1 tablespoon of cream and sprinkle liquid into dry ingredients. Add remaining cream 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture is cohesive (when you pick it up, it tends to retain its shape). Shape dough into a disk and roll on its edge on a floured work surface to smooth the edges. Pat until 1 inch thick, then wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour, but preferably 1 to 3 days. You heard me right. 3 DAYS. True alchemy takes time.

30 minutes prior to preparing the pie, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Allow the dough to warm for 15-30 minutes so it will become flexible. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly flour a work surface and roll dough into a 12 inch circle. (If you plan to make pie dough often, I cannot recommend highly enough purchasing a pie mat. They show you exactly how big to roll out your dough for whatever size pie you are making. Some of the all-purpose mats give you a grid for rolling out just about anything you want). Transfer dough to a regular (not deep dish, but at least 1 1/4 inches deep) 9 inch pie pan. (Another neat tool to have for this is a large kitchen scraper). Trim dough and crimp edges. Put prepared pan back in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

To prepare the filling:

Beat butter, sugars, and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating slowly but thoroughly. You want to combine the ingredients without adding too much air. Stir in cocoa, liqueur, cream, espresso powder, and vanilla. In a food processor, grind cornmeal and chipped chocolate. Stir chocolate mixture into batter. Pour batter into prepared crust.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes, shielding the crust after 20 minutes. (For the love of all the gods, if you are a pie baker, get a pie shield. I finally got one *after* I made this recipe, and taking the pie out of the oven to carefully place foil around the edges is a pain in the patootie. Just sayin). Remove from oven and cool to room temperature before refrigerating overnight. The pie will look liquidy when removed from the oven, but will set up after being refrigerated.

Depending on how you slice it, this recipe yields 8-10 servings.
~*~*~*~

Prior to making this pie, the only chocolate pie I’d ever eaten (other than Boston Creme, but that’s not really a pie…) was the one some of you may have been unfortunate enough to experience at a family gathering at some point in your holiday past. That “pie” is basically just chocolate pudding inside of a tasteless white flour crust. In fact, if the crust were to have any flavor notes at all, I would call them bitter/acrid/a little like feet. Sometimes people put the chocolate pudding into a graham cracker crust, and that’s a little better, but still basically just thick pudding.

This is not that pie. For one thing, this crust has flavor. Allowing the dough to rest in your refrigerator for a few days makes the tiny hint of espresso powder you add to the crust just SING. The texture of the crust is dense and chewy, like an apple or pumpkin pie crust, not phyllo-y like the evil chocolate pie of my childhood.

But the crust is just the beginning (that is, if you eat your pie like I do. I always eat the crust end first). The filling is where the truly dark alchemy happens.

I do not know how or why (possibly because of my alterations to the recipe), but the “setting up” the King Arthur Flour book claims will occur with refrigeration never quite happened with my pie. And let me tell you that was a very, very good thing. The top of the pie formed a crust, as advertised in the book, a little like the thin crispy layer on the top of fudge brownies. As a matter of fact much of the pie was a similar consistency to a very dense, wet, and intense chocolate brownie. But the true joy of this pie revealed itself within the first slice.

As I cut into the pie for the first time, I had no idea what lay within its dark depths. But when I pulled the slice away from the pie, out spilled a rich black syrup. It was a surprise, like cutting into one of those chocolate lava cakes thinking you’ve just got a regular old mini-Bundt cake. Placing my slice on the waiting plate, I could not resist swiping up some of the syrup with my finger. And ah, my taste buds! I’ve never tasted anything quite like it. Far more than the sum of its parts, it still resonated with hints of Kahlua and espresso, bittersweet Green & Blacks, and Hershey’s Dutch process cocoa. I have no idea how the syrup formed in the center of the pie- above and below the syrup layer the filling formed denser brownie-like layers. Most pies are wet by nature (think of the rich fruity syrup formed in blueberry pie, for example), so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but whatever strange alchemy occurred truly did produce dessert gold.

This syrup would make an excellent topping for vanilla ice cream, and I would have jumped at a chance to pair the two had I any in the house at the time. If you make this recipe for a gathering, be sure to buy a half gallon of vanilla bean Breyers to serve with it. And although you need to keep the pie refrigerated, I’d recommend heating the slices for just a few seconds in the microwave, then adding a scoop of ice cream on top before serving.

The dark alchemy: chocolate sauce within the pie

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A new cooking blog

January 29, 2010

Why “The DIY Kitchen?”

DIY, as a cultural phenomenon, is about individual creativity and expression.  It’s about proving that you can do what you’ve always paid someone else to do.  It’s about taking the time, putting forth the effort, and getting a rewarding result.  Getting back to basics and doing things from scratch gives you a deeper sense of fulfillment than buying a ready-made product.  You can always and forever say, “I made this,” and take well-earned pleasure in the compliments your work produces.   It also gives you a much greater appreciation for the process of creation, whether you are making a scarf or putting in your own bathroom vanity.

So what do you mean by DIY Kitchen?  Isn’t cooking anything for yourself inherently DIY?

Well, yes.  But I don’t mean heating up a frozen dinner or even cooking spaghetti from a box of noodles and a jar of pre-spiced sauce.  I mean doing everything (within reason) for yourself.  Make your own spaghetti noodles.  Start your sauce from fresh tomatoes.

When we apply DIY to the kitchen, it also means taking control of what you are eating.  When you do it yourself you can cut out preservatives, choose products grown using sustainable farming practices, and plan your eating habits around seasonal fruits and vegetables.  You can’t do everything yourself, of course.  Some allowances must be made for basic ingredients like flour– I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a grist mill in my backyard.

What I do have in my backyard is a small vegetable and herb garden.  The DIY kitchen is often also the DIY garden.  Having my own is convenient for me, but organic produce markets and farmer’s markets are a great substitute if you don’t have the space or time to keep up with a garden.   Consider also buying or working a share in a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm.   I do recommend growing your own herbs if you can– a sunny spot in a windowsill is usually enough– and that way you have easy access to the most commonly used herbs year-round.

DIY is a challenge.  Making your own spaghetti sauce from fresh tomatoes takes time.  But the effort is part of the experience, and the marinara you create will be so far beyond anything you can buy in a jar that you will wonder why you ever spent your money on that preservative-ridden, salt-laden red goo.

DIY is also about having fun.  I’m not going to preach to you about the way you “have” to cook something.  My biggest enjoyment in cooking is changing the recipe to suit my own (and my family’s) taste.  Recipes are like oral history– the stories change with every bard and for every audience.  I’ll spend part of each blog talking about the basic building blocks of creating a meal from scratch (meats, sauces, starches, fruits&veggies), and then I’ll write about my own meals to show you my particular spin on the basics.  But after that, the choices are up to you.

My schedule for the blog is as follows:

I will blog once a week on Mondays about one complete meal, including dessert.

Once a week on Wednesday I will blog about that week’s loaf of bread.  The bread will be baked on Sunday, so I’ll be able to comment about how well the loaf holds up over the course of a few days.

If I find I have more time, I will put up a third post on Fridays about another meal.  Generally the main post will be dinner, so this would be a breakfast or lunch.  Sometimes the main post will be about breakfast foods, though, just for variety.

Coming up this week: Chicken, rice, & steamed veggies in an apricot sauce; chocolate cake; and whole wheat sandwich bread.