Monday, August 28, 2006

Best Ever Brownies

If you choc-o-holics loved Chocolate Cake to "Dah" For, you are going to eat these "Best Ever" Chocolate Brownies up! This recipe is, of course, from the Food Network and if they are calling these the "Best Ever Brownies," you know you've got a winner!

My days of staying with the Wheatleys are numbered, as Mike and I are moving into our new apartment in Arlington this weekend, so I've only got a few more days of having lots of people to cook for, especially delicious desserts. As much as I love to bake, it's harder to make treats for just Mike and me and then have them stare at me from the counter for the next few days until my will power completely gives out and I eat the rest just to get rid of the them. These brownies were a BIG hit, and they are very easy to make!

This is what you'll need:
1 cup unsalted butter
3 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup best quality cocoa powder
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, softened
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine salt

6 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 8-inch square pan and set aside.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter and bring it to just below a boil. Place the chopped chocolate in a large bowl. Pour in the hot butter and let stand for 30 seconds. Stir until completely melted. Sift in the sugar and cocoa powder. Beat in the mascarpone, eggs, and vanilla, mixing until smooth. Gently fold the flour and salt into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and spread evenly. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

While the brownies are cooling, make the ganache. Place the chocolate (6 oz.) in a mixing bowl and set aside. Bring the cream and butter to just below boiling point in a small saucepan over medium heat. Pour the hot mixture over the chocolate and let stand for 30 seconds. Stir the mixture until smooth. Spread the ganache over the brownies while it is still warm. Allow the ganache to set completely before cutting into squares. (We couldn't quite wait that long!)

These brownies, with the ganache, are like velvet! You can serve with ice cream, or just go at them with a glass of milk. Mike's comment was, "Ooh, these are really good! I got a corner piece and it is not harder or cooked more than the brownies in the middle," a good indicator of a fabulous batch!


Monday, August 21, 2006

Nightmare at Salon Nordine

It's hard to believe that a day that starts out with such promise can end in shambles. And what's more difficult to understand is that it can turn in the snap of your fingers...or for me, in the time it took my dye to set.

For our first anniversary, my thoughtful husband got me a mini-day at the spa at this seemingly posh salon and day spa close to my office. I decided to add a haircut and color to the end of my day of pampering, and figured that anyone who worked at this beautiful salon could do what I was looking for. (or maybe I just wasn't thinking) But, boy, was I wrong!

After I enjoyed a wonderful pedicure, a relaxing massage, and a cleansing facial, my day went from one of the best of the summer to one of the worst I've had in years!

Maybe I only have myself to blame. I mean, I should've seen the signs. First, my stylist asked me, while sitting in her chair, what I was going to do about my, excuse me? What did she mean, "what was [I] going to do"? That's why I went to see her, duh, so that she could fix them. She asked me if I planned to do my own roots...are you kidding? Isn't that against the cardinal rules of hair care and maintenance? After living with an incredibly talented stylist, I don't use grocery store products--not shampoo, not conditioner, and CERTAINLY not color. I should've stopped her right there, and bolted for the door, but I told her I wanted her to do what she needed to blend them. I told her I wanted highlights (think Jessica Alba--natural and not too light) and a cut like Sandra Bullock (angled to the front and pretty short...but not too short that my face would look chubby). I told her before we began that I was on a time crunch and asked if we would have time to both cut and color my hair, but she assured me we would have time to do both.

She proceeds to put foils in my hair--not as many as I'd planned, but I thought it would be fine. She said, when she was taking them out, that she didn't think they even needed a toner--weird, because they usually do need a toner, but I'm still going along with it. She cuts my hair, but says that I wouldn't want to go any shorter than she cuts because I wouldn't be able to pull it back...whatever. When she starts blow drying my hair, she starts at my chin-length bangs and almost immediately says, "Oh, yeah, I thought this might happen--see how your natural color at the roots picked up the bleach differently than the ends? You will need to come back tonight or tomorrow and get that fixed." I think it might not be as bad once it's all dry and styled...but she just keeps on reminding me of how bad it looks..."at least I'm honest," she says. Then she tells me that I can just color my roots a darker brown and that will cover it...COLOR MY OWN ROOTS? WHAT IS SHE SMOKING? SHE ENCOURAGES HER CLIENTS TO RUIN THEIR HAIR WITH GROCERY STORE COLOR? Now, as she is blow drying my hair, she is not doing it sections, like I usually have to; she is not using a big round brush, like I usually have to; she is not lifting up at the roots, like I usually have to. She is blow drying my hair like I used to in the eighth grade before I knew what I was doing. She stops drying at about 7:25, so that I can get to my appt. at 7:30, like I told her--but my "appt." is at least 30 minutes away. I was supposed to meet Mike at a bbq at George Mason in Arlington--at least 35 miles from where I am getting my hair makeup is all off because of my facial, my hair looks like trailer trash, it's not dry all the way, which means it is fuzzy in the back, it's flat on top, except in the front, where she has poofed my long bang, and it's not nearly as short as I wanted. (I can't believe I'm saying that, but I somehow got really brave and wanted short hair.) And she tells me to call her tomorrow and let her know what I want to do. Uh, I don't think so. I paid $135 for the nightmare she did to my hair and called Lauren immediately, IN HYSTERICS, to complain. AHH! And, can you believe this lady actually had the nerve to say, "isn't it the worst to try to find a new hair stylist when you move?" I have never felt that horribly when I walked out of the salon in my whole life!

The next morning, after speaking with my mother in law and having a new stylist at the same salon recommended to me, I called her to ask her advice. Marissa, the new stylist, told me that she would fix my hair for free and that if I didn't feel uncomfortable at the prospect of seeing the stylist that ruined me the day before, I could come in that very afternoon. So, naturally, I went strait to the salon and three hours later, I had a the hair-do I wanted...or at least a lot closer.

I think next time, I will just book a flight to Utah every 6-8 weeks for an appointment with my REAL would've saved me time, headache, and money, I'm sure.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Chocolate Cake to "Dah" For

If you or anyone you know is a chocolate lover, you've GOT to try this recipe. I got it from my mom--my inspiration, and the Queen of cakes--and both she and I have made it for many a party and it is ALWAYS a hit.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together:

1 box chocolate cake mix (it's best with a chocolate cake mix, but you could also use a Butter or Yellow cake mix as well)
1 small box milk chocolate instant pudding (3.9 oz)
1 cup sour cream
1 cup oil
1/2 cup water
3 eggs

Beat for 2-3 minutes at medium speed
Stir in 9 oz chocolate chips (semi-sweet or milk chocolate)
Bake at 350 for one hour, but check after 50 minutes. I have used two 9-inch round pans to make a layer cake, and I have also used a bundt cake pan and that works too. If you make a layer cake, use any frosting you choose and put goodies both in between the layers and on top. For a bundt cake, mix your goodies with your frosting and pour over a completely cooled cake.

**Goodies can be whatever you choose. A couple of yummy ones are Cracklin' Oat Bran, crushed Snickers, crushed Heath Bar, Hershey's Hugs (save some to sprinkle on top of the frosted cake), candy bars, etc.

Note: If you use muffin tins, bake 24 muffin liners for 23-27 minutes.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Garlic and Sapphires

On a recent trip to Tower Records--a lame excuse for a book store, but the only one nearby--I picked up this book. The cover immediately caught my eye--and, let's be honest, I always judge books by their covers. I think people who say they don't are lying. The cover is the first thing to catch your eye; if you think the cover looks interesting, then you read the title and if that appeals to you, then you read the back cover...isn't that the natural progression? Where did the phrase, "Don't judge a book by it's cover" come from anyway? How else are you supposed to pick books--are you supposed to go down the ailes looking only at the titles? Wouldn't the colors and illustrations on the covers catch your eye before you could even get to the titles? I digress.

This cover looked particularly appealing, so I moved on to the title and then--still intrigued--I read the back cover. It looked like a very entertaining read, so I bought it. What a find! Ruth Reichl, now the editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, writes about her adventures as food critic for the NY Times. In order to maintain anonymity while reviewing some of the biggest restaurants in NYC, she takes on the guise of a series of eccentric personalities. The only rule that Reichl uses when she goes to any given restaurant is that her guests can order as much as they can eat, but she gets to try everything--my kind of rule! The way she describes the food in this book just makes your mouth water. And, she even includes some of her favorite recipes, which I fully intend to try. This is the first break from fiction I've taken in a while, and I was very pleased with this selection. Even if you are not as obsessed with food as I am, you would probably still really enjoy this book. It's interesting, it's funny, it's very well written and it gives an insight into the theater and politics of eating out.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

My day as a Judge on Iron Chef America

Last week, I went on a trip with the Wheatley family to Philadelphia, Martha's Vineyard, and Boston. Being the self-proclaimed Food Network Queen that I am, I was in charge of finding yummy places for us to eat in our travels.
As soon as I found out we would be in Philadelphia, I knew we just had to eat at Masaharu Morimoto's restauarant--morimoto. It was unbelievable! Scott, my father in law, was kind enough to tell me I could get the Chef's Selection (a multi-course tasting tasting menu designed to allow you to experience the essence of Morimotos's cuisine), something that I hadn't even considered. He told me that the reason we went there was to try Morimoto's cuisine and if I wanted to get Omakase, as they call it, I should. With that, how could I refuse?! It was unreal--it was honestly as though I was a judge on Iron Chef America--my dream come true! The first course that I sampled was a yellowtail tartare w/ cruchy shallots sitting in a yummy broth with caviar on top and served with a japanese peach and freshly grates wasabi...ohmigosh. With each course, the server told me what the dish was, what it was served with, and how the chef recommends you each it. For example, with the first course, Morimoto recommends that you mix some of the wasabi into the broth and dip the yellowtail before savoring each morsel. The little japanese peach is about the size of a grape and looks like a fury little redish ball and tastes like a strawberry/peach smoothie. I had a smile from ear to ear!

The next course was red snapper sashimi served with microgreens and a japanese twist on a cesar dressing, with also a carrot reduction sauce (that didn't tast like much, but sure made the plate look pretty!) on the side. The sashimi had been torched on the top, so the skin was a little crunchy (I am only guessing, but I have seen him do this on Iron Chef didn't look like it had been seared, but it had been cooked a little on the top.) So Yummy!

The third course came out with everyone else's main course, and was a chilean sea bass with a black bean paste that was served in a little bit of hot peanut oil with shaved scallions on top. Oh, wow. The fish was steamed perfectly and ever bite seemed to melt instantly in my mouth. The black bean paste was just enough to add a little salt, without being overpowering, and the oil was so like that it just make everything slide down almost too fast.

The fourth course was a platter of nigiri--tuna, AJI--or jackfish, yellowtail, needlefish and salmon. I have seen Alton Brown's episode on sushi, so I knew exactly how to dip the nigiri in soy sause fish side first in a sweeping motion. Apparently, if you dip the rice side in first, it is a complete insult. The fish was so fresh and so colorful and something about the soy sause was so tasty! (definitely not of the kikoman variety)

The fifth and final course was a pistachio dessert with a little scoop of cherry sorbet and a thin piece of peanut brittle on top, served with mascerated cherries and crushed pistachios. I didn't think I was crazy about pistachios, but this was so delicious! I can't remember exactly what it was called--and it wasn't on the menu, so I couldn't look it up--but it was a little bit like a tart with an almost granular texture that melted as soon as it touched my tongue. There was a very thin layer of sliced almonds on top to add a little bit of a crunch and the sorbet was the perfect compliment.

The whole meal took almost two hours--what could be better than enjoying some of the best food you've ever tasted for two whole hours?! Not to mention, it was two hours out of the hot, humid afternoon. It was an experience that I know I will not soon forget.