Monday, March 18, 2013

Gluten-Free Brownies

I've been playing around quite a bit with a brownie recipe that I found online recently, as I pointed out in our last post about brownies.  The recipe is credited to Katherine Hepburn, who is perhaps one of the most prolific movie stars of all time.  Well, was one of the most prolific movie stars of all time.  She passed away about ten years ago at the impressive age of 96.  She won four academy awards for best actress (a record that is still unbroken), and probably led the way for the 'modern woman' by way of being a strong and independent individual who dominated the public spotlight without conforming to the Hollywood standard for how a lady should act while simultaneously retaining her femininity.  Surely you must have heard of her, and even more likely you've seen her in one of her many roles.  So, what does this all have to do with brownies?

Absolutely nothing.  I liked the framework of the recipe because it uses simple, whole ingredients for the most part.  Real chocolate, butter, eggs, and not much else aside from sweetener.  The sweetener doesn't have to be processed sugar, as I established in my Jaggery Brownie experiments, and even the flour isn't a necessary component of the recipe.  You'll need some sort of flour-like substance, but given how little of the body of these brownies depend on the actual flour (1/4 cup for the whole recipe), the door is really opened for trying substitutions.

The substitutions that I made use of this time were of a granulated unrefined sugar (sucanat) for the prescribed sugar, and coconut "flour" and cocoa powder to replace the wheat flour.  This would also make the brownies free from gluten, which isn't an enormous concern of mine but is a very trendy food component to avoid these days as well as being an actual dietary concern for a small portion of the population.  More appealing to myself is the reduction or elimination of processed flour from our food.  I've been doing most of my roux with fresh spelt flour, which has a nice body and good flavor for that, but I didn't want any of that flavor to come out in these brownies.  I do use the term "coconut flour" rather loosely, as aside from being a fairly dry powder it does not perform admirably in any other format that I have tried it in thus far (thickening sauces, creating a roux, etc..)  I had heard that it was pretty decent for baking some quickbreads that don't need much body, so it seemed like a good choice here. 

So, gather up your ingredients.  The sucanat was a first for me.  It's not crystallized, but rather coarsely ground:
Much drier than jaggery, but still with a strong flavor of molasses.

 The chocolate was still some leftovers from my stash of unsweetened amazing chocolate brick, and the butter is grass fed from pastured cows milked during the summer months.
If I had a personal logo, this might be it.
The eggs, as always, are also pasture raised.  Let's just take a quick look at these gorgeous eggs.
Approaching the boundaries of food porn...I love it.
OK, enough with the somewhat unnecessary and almost completely gratuitous photos of my favorite ingredients.  Start off like before, by melting the chocolate with the butter (actual recipe is at the bottom of the page) and stirring the eggs, sucanat, and vanilla together.
Ingredient megaphoto...because I wasted all of that space earlier on egg pictures.

Also, be sure to preheat the oven and butter/flour your baking dish.  Ah, but these are gluten/flour free, so we don't want to actually flour the dish.  Coconut flour, right?  Heck no - I don't want the outside of these brownies to be covered in a chalky coating of dried out powdered coconut.  A much better idea is to dust the pan with some cocoa.
It's brilliant, really...more chocolate!
  Now, melt combine all of the ingredients (melted chocolate and butter, eggs/sucunat/vanilla, and coconut flour with a bit of sea salt) into a smooth velvety batter.  Again, use a small amount of the warm chocolate mixture to temper the eggs before combing completely to prevent a chocolate egg scramble.  (One of these days I'm just going to have to make chocolate scrambled eggs to see if they're even better than the brownies, and whether or not it pays to avoid making them at all.)
It's not completely melted yet if there's a chocolate island in your pan.
Chocolate mind began to wander.  So, pour it into the prepared baking dish, bake it, and then let cool completely before cutting up the brownies for service.  Service, and lots of brownie photos.
Milk is a natural addition to this party.

Gluten-Free Brownies

  • 1 cup Sucanat
  • 2 eggs
  • 8 ounces of butter
  • 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour flour
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt (fine dry)
  • Cocoa powder for dusting
  1. Melt chocolate and butter in saucepan that is large enough for all ingredients.  Remove from heat.
  2. Combine eggs, jaggery, and vanilla.  Temper and then incorporate into the chocolate and butter pan.  Whisk in the coconut flour and salt.  Stir thoroughly to combine all ingredients.
  3. Pour into a buttered and cocoa-ed 8" x 8" baking dish and bake at 325F for 40 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool completely before serving.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Everyday Meals: Liver and Eggs

To begin by stating the obvious, it seems as though liver and other organ meats are no longer popular least not in the circles that I frequent.  I guess that's because something like liver is a serious piece of meat.  That is, it tastes like meat, and not like some bland carrier component for the other flavors in a dish (ahem, boneless chicken breasts).  It doesn't respond well to cooking for too long.  It can be a bit more temperamental than a roast or hamburger, and it certainly doesn't stay fresh nearly as long nor does it make particularly good leftovers.

It is extremely easy to cook, though, and it cooks up very fast.  It stores well frozen, it's less expensive than most other muscular meats (even 'ground meat'), and if you take the time to look at the vitamin content of even a meager 4 ounce piece of beef liver, it might just blow your mind.  This is a serious superfood.

The trick to thinking about liver preparation, if there is in fact a trick at all, is that you really have to accept the liver as the key player...the primary ingredient.  Even a small amount added to a sauce and served over pasta will make the flavor of the sauce liver-dominant.  That's fine - liver is also delicious if prepared well and served hot. 

My favorite preparation is to simply pan-sear the liver in some butter or tallow, plate over whatever greens we happen to have handy, and top with a pasture raised egg or two.  The egg yolk provides extra healthy fats to aid in the assimilation of the fat soluble vitamins from the liver (and also adds protein and nutrients of its own). 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jaggery Brownies

Rich, chocolatey brownies...and eventually we're going to get to them.

A little while ago, Christa mentioned that she had a particular craving for some baked goods...not bread, though, something more along the lines of a pastry.  As I try my best to oblige her, the very next week I had baked some personal venison pies.
Swing and a miss...

This, apparently, was not what she had in mind. She wanted something like a cookie, or a cake, or maybe even a sweet puff pastry, but not a savory meat pie.  OK, back to the drawing board.  I will admit that I'm not much of a dessert aficionado.  I like chocolate, and I do like ice cream on occasion, but I don't really like cake or sweet pastry (with the rare exception of some pies) or cookies or brownies.

Then, inspiration came in the form of a one pound block of very fine unsweetened chocolate from my good friend, Tricia.  She's a fine artist with her own webpage that I recommend you check out while you're here.  Go ahead; I'll be here when you're done.  She needs to update it, right?

Anyway, she picked up a luscious block of rich dark goodness while she was at the store recently, and was kind enough to gift it to me on my return from a recent vacation weekend.  She's cool like that.  I decided that this was a good opportunity to try making brownies.  I was going to kill four birds with one stone:  make a baked dessert for my love without any questionable ingredients, try out the chocolate, test out the jaggery that I had recently received from Pure Indian Foods,  and attempt making brownies from scratch (something that I have never been inclined to do in the past).

I found the simplest recipe for brownies that I could which utilized real chocolate and also roughly conformed to the types of food that I prefer to prepare (no vegetable fats, etc...).  I came across this recipe and decided to run with it.  It's mostly just chocolate, butter, eggs, a minute amount of flour, sugar, and salt.  I would replace the sugar with jaggery as I try to avoid refined sugars in anything that I make.  There's a certain level of compromise inherent between the culinary preferences of Christa and myself, and sweeteners is one place where I need to get creative on occasion.  My baby does love to have her sweet tooth satisfied, whereas I could easily not keep anything sweet in the house.  Maple syrup, raw honey, dates, and (hopefully) jaggery help me to bridge the gap between satisfying her desires and providing food that I can feel good about.  This is supposed to be a dessert, anyway.

Finally, we can get on to the brownies themselves.  No, actually we need to take a look at the jaggery.  It's unlike anything that I have used before in baking.  Baking sometimes give me grief, as unlike cooking in general, baking often requires a certain level of exactness in the ratio of ingredients in order to succeed.  I was chartering new territory with a recipe that I had never tested on a dish I had never made and was already planning to substitute one of the main ingredients with something that I had only recently heard of.  Great plan.  Here's the jaggery:
 It came vacuum sealed in a plastic bag, which was a fine way to ship it.  I cut open the bag to get a closer look.

The smell was sweet and rich with molasses.  It was a little bit sticky, and not at all inclined to come out of the pouch, so I set about dumping/scraping it out with a spoon onto a plate.
The website for the product shows that jaggery as a firm block that can be grated by hand and used like a very coarse granulated sugar.  This was not a firm block.  Some of it was firmer and drier than other parts, and the moisture content obviously varied throughout the jaggery.  My kitchen was no warmer than 65F, so I don't feel like that should have been an issue regarding the consistency.
I decided to treat it more like a really moist brown sugar, and rather than attempt to grate it or use it in a 1:1 ratio of replacement for the cup of white sugar that the original recipe called for, that I would loosely pack it into a measuring cup and cut the amount down to 3/4 of a cup.
Here's my little lump of jaggery.  Sugar puck.

The jaggery is very sweet and also extremely rich, so I didn't want it to overpower the chocolate.  I just decided to go with my intuition, which was somehow at odds with my inner baking voice (IT NEEDS TO BE EXACT!  DON'T MESS WITH THE INGREDIENT RATIOS!).  I was now the Christopher Columbus of brownies; charting unknown waters of dessert baking that had actually been charted by thousands of people before me.

Now that that ordeal was over, I preheated to oven to 325 and started baking.  First thing first was to butter and then flour a 8x8" baking dish.  I wanted it to be ready when I needed it, and not the other way around.
rubbed with plenty of butter, and whatever flour sticks

The next two ingredients are something that I know a thing or six about.  I shaved two ounces of chocolate and combined them with a full stick of pastured butter.
Oh yes.
 These I melted in a saucepan over very low heat, taking care not to actually cook them.  Once melted I removed the saucepan from the heat.

 I then combined the jaggery and two pastured chicken eggs in a glass bowl and whisked them together as best as I could.  The jaggery resisted the eggs, but ultimately its resistance was futile (sorry, I had to).
still a little bit chunky, but mostly combined
  To the sugar and eggs I added some vanilla.  Real vanilla, please.  A little bit goes a long way, so there's really no need to go for an artificially vanilla-flavored product.  You'll be letting yourself down, you'll be letting me down, and you should probably feel bad about both of those things.
the good stuff
I tempered the egg/sugar/vanilla mixture by adding a little bit of the hot butter/chocolate and stirring thoroughly.  This step will prevent the formation of chocolaty scrambled eggs.

I then poured the tempered mixture into the saucepan with the remaining chocolate and butter.
To this, I added 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 teaspoon of fine dry sea salt.
Whisk the hell out of that to combine until everything is really smooth....
...and then pour the batter into the baking dish.
Place the dish into the hot oven for 40 minutes, and then let cool completely.  The bubbles are indicative of the fact that it is indeed cooked.  You won't be able to use a toothpick test on these as they are very fudgy (as opposed to cake-like brownies, which I really don't like as a function of not liking cake).  
One they are cool, all you have to do is slice them, stack them, and then take unrealistically presented photographs of brownies stacked on your kitchen table.  So fancy!

  Oh, wait, actually there's the big blob of sticky jaggery that you must figure out how to contain (I put it into a ziploc freezer bag and stuck it on the shelf until next time) and a sink that is now filled with dirty dishes because you made brownies from scratch instead of opening a packet.
It's cool, I got this.
The verdict?  They seem to be pretty good.  I tried a couple of them, and Trish gave her seal of approval in the gym today.  The jaggery increases the depth of flavor, and the amount that I used definitely produced a sweet brownie but it was not cloyingly so.  The real test will be when Christa tries them out this week, as she has been very busy this weekend away obtaining her AASI instructor certification.  I'm very proud of her for that, so I want to have something baked for her when she returns...and not a meat pie.

Jaggery Brownies

  • 3/4 cup jaggery
  • 2 eggs
  • 8 ounces of butter
  • 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt (fine dry)
  1. Melt chocolate and butter in saucepan that is large enough for all ingredients.  Remove from heat.
  2. Combine eggs, jaggery, and vanilla.  Temper and then incorporate into the chocolate and butter pan.  Whisk in the flour and salt.  Stir thoroughly to combine all ingredients.
  3. Pour into a buttered and floured 8" x 8" baking dish and bake at 325F for 40 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool completely before serving.
  4. Wash all of those dishes.  

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Everyday Meals: Soured Oats and Eggs

While we normally post the highlights of our culinary endeavors, I feel like it serves to reason that we can share the kinds of meals that we eat with regularity - dishes that we have in between the venison pot pies and the more extravagant creations such as buffalo chicken calzones and braised oxtail. 

Christa can attest that when I make food for her and for myself that I make it from scratch, but we don't always have time for elaborate meals that take 6+ hours to prepare.  There are two ways that I ensure that we always have good homemade food during the week even when we are both crunched for time:  batch cooking and quick go-to meals.

Batch cooking is very useful, because it allows me to spend the same amount of time that I might otherwise use to make 2 meals and instead prepare 8 meals.  It doesn't necessarily take any longer to increase the amount of food prepped in one recipe, and in the long run it saves time as I am only cooking for two.  By cooking a whole roast, several quarts of soup, or entire roasted chickens, we can then get many meals out of that one recipe by eating leftovers during the week and also by freezing portions for use in the future.  Freezing and storage is particularly handy as it allows for us to have a variety of meals, rather than eating the same thing all week (which can get boring no matter how good it tasted at first).  I'll get more into ways to maximize the efforts of freezing and storage of batch cooking in the future, but let's talk about the other simple way to always have fresh, real food at hand.

Quick go-to meals are more the focus of this post.  These are things that can be thrown together quickly, and often times do not benefit from longer cooking at all.  This are the kind of meals that we make for breakfast while getting packed for work; the kind of meals that we'll make on a rushed evening when there's nothing cooked in the fridge (like this week after returning from a 4-day weekend vacation).  They're also usually cheap...much cheaper than prepackaged convenient foods, and more importantly, they're health real food.

Most mornings, I put together oatmeal for Christa.  She prefers the cracked oats as opposed to the rolled, and we both prefer to sour our grains before cooking (unless they're sprouted).  Soaking the oats to sour them makes cooking much faster in the morning.  Just put them in a put or a jar, add three times as much water as oats, add a splash of raw vinegar, and leave them covered on the counter at room temperature for 1-2 days.  Put them on the stove in the morning and the soaked oats will cook up in less than 5 minutes into a creamy and exquisitely flavored porridge.  Add butter and/or maple syrup to taste, and serve them with a glass of whole creamline milk and a pair of gently cooked pastured chicken eggs for a really excellent start to the day that costs less than a "fast-food" breakfast and is infinitely more nourishing.

15 minutes of actual cook time for something that we could eat every morning

So, for those of you that are more curious about what it is that we're eating, and want a closer look at the philosophy and reasoning behind it, stay tuned for updates on everyday meals.  When we slow down enough to take a picture, we'll be sure to write about them.