The last Monday of the month is the much awaited Reveal Day for Group D of The Secret Recipe Club!  For those who don’t know about it,  The Secret Recipe is an event in which food bloggers from the same group are paired (in secret), and have about 3 weeks to choose a recipe from their assigned blog, cook it, and compose a blog.  Everyone publishes their post on reveal day at the exact same time. How cool is that?  If you want to become a member (beware, there is a waiting list), visit the site and get in touch with Amanda, the founder of this fun group.

For my sixth participation at the SRC I was paired with “The More than Occasional Baker”,  a virtual spot hosted by a very accomplished baker from London.   She defines herself as a “baking addict”, and as I browsed through her blog, it was clear she was not kidding!  What is a poor cake-o-phobe blogger to do when faced with such a Herculean task?  Knowing my limitations, I searched for something that wouldn’t involve creaming butter with sugar, preparing an Italian meringue, or handling icing bags.  Suddenly, three beautiful words comforted my soul:  triple chocolate brownies.   Anything with triple chocolate makes me go weak in the  knees, and I am quite fond of brownies because for the most part they are fuss-free.   Plus, once I read her post about the recipe,  I wanted to stop everything and go buy  the three kinds of chocolate (and a little extra of the white, just because… 😉 )

(from The More than Occasional Baker)

200g bittersweet chocolate (1 cup)
50g milk chocolate (1/4 cup)
225g butter (1 cup  or 2 sticks)
4 eggs
325g unrefined golden caster sugar (I used light brown sugar) (1 + 1/2 cups)
0.5 tbsp  vanilla essence
200g white chocolate (1 cup)
150g plain flour, sifted (1 + 1/2 cup)
pinch of salt

Heat the oven to 360 F (180 C).  Line a baking dish (11in x 7in x 2.5 in) with parchment paper.  Break the bittersweet and milk chocolate into pieces, and melt in the microwave with the butter.  Let the mixture cool slightly.
Chop the white chocolate not too finely. Reserve.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Whisk this mixture in the cooled chocolate/butter, then fold the flour, the salt, and finally the chunks of white chocolate.
Pour the mixture in the prepared baking dish, place in the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is dry and cracked, and the center still moist when tested with a toothpick.
Remove from the oven, cool over a rack, and when the brownie is at room temperature, remove from the pan and cut in squares.

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  If you are not too fond of white chocolate, MAKE THESE BROWNIES ANYWAY.  They are amazing!  We took them to the lab to celebrate one of our students passing his qualifying exam, and they disappeared in a few minutes!  The crumbs left on the serving plate were fought over with  considerable enthusiasm by two members of our group, normally quite well-mannered.

They are fudgy, dense, moist, sweet, decadent, with a nice crunchy surface that provides a perfect contrast with the creamy center.    The white chocolate, kept in chunks, is a superb touch, don’t skip it. I didn’t add nuts (macadamia would be the number 1 choice), because one of our students is allergic to them.

I couldn’t be happier with this month’s adventure!  Stop by “The More than Occasional Baker” to see all the goodies she makes on a regular basis.  Maybe I should become a more regular baker myself  😉

Check out all other posts from bloggers in my group, by clicking on the blue frog at the very end of this post…

ONE YEAR AGO: Springtime Salad

TWO YEARS AGO: Indonesian Delight

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It seems that every year, right when I get all excited that the cold weather is gone for good,  a few chilly nights pop up to say hello.  Chilly as 50F!   For a Brazilian, it’s the dreadful boundary between life and death.  So, faced with such adverse circumstances, I made soup. Complete improvisation from a few ingredients I had laying around in the fridge and the pantry.  I felt incredibly energized after dinner, and even won a wrestling match with Oscar!  It must have been the spinach. 😉

(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

1 Tbs olive oil
1 stalk of leek, finely sliced (white part only)
3 zucchinis, medium size, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/4 to 1/3 cup of canned white beans
4 cups vegetable stock or water (plus more if needed)
1 to 2 cups baby spinach leaves
salt and pepper
freshly squeezed lemon juice
low fat yogurt to taste for serving

Heat the olive oil and saute the sliced leeks, allow them to get golden.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Add the zucchini, cook the slices for a few minutes, stirring every once in a while, until they get a bit of color in some spots.  Add the white beans,  cook for a couple of minutes, add the vegetable stock (or water), bring the whole thing to a boil.   Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, covered, until the zucchini is tender (20 minutes).

Add the spinach, cook until the leaves are just wilted.  Puree the soup in a food processor, blender, or with an immersion blender until the consistency you like.  If too thick, add more water or vegetable broth.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, sprinkle lemon juice, and keep warm until serving.

Pour some into a bowl, and add a dollop of yogurt seasoned with a pinch of salt and pepper.


to print the recipe, click here

All amounts for this soup are quite flexible.  The spinach, added at the very end,  gives it a nice bright green color, and a strong herbal flavor, so add as little or as much as your palate appreciates.  I used an immersion blender because I like my soup to be a bit chunky and find that with other methods it’s harder to control the texture.  But, if you prefer a smoother soup,  use a blender.   The beans made it creamy without the addition of any fat, and also turned it into a more substantial soup.  A thick slice of rustic bread was all we needed.

A final note:  if you are in a daring mood, add a splash of Sriracha to the yogurt.   Takes the soup to a whole other level…  😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Cinco de Mayo Dinner Celebration

TWO YEARS AGO: Thom Leonard’s Country French Bread

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Recently, this post over at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial made all the 11 bread recipes on my “to make soon list” run away in a panic, as Celia’s sourdough demanded to be baked right away!   Walnuts, spelt flour, plus a very active sourdough starter.  I simply could not wait to try it. Celia is such an accomplished baker that she throws a recipe together as if it’s nothing, and her breads turn out spectacular every single time.  I am a lot more insecure, so I asked her to virtually hold my hand and guide me through my take on her method.  Success! We loved the bread, it is rich, dense but not to the point of feeling heavy.  Outstanding with Roquefort cheese,  confirming the magical combination of walnuts with blue type cheeses. Unbeatable! And, let’s not forget the many benefits of walnuts… read a nice article about it here.

(adapted from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial)

150 g sourdough starter (at 166% hydration)
300 g water
300 g bread flour
200 g whole wheat flour
100 g walnuts, lightly toasted
9 g sea salt

Toast the walnuts in a 400 F oven just until fragrant.  Cut in pieces, not too small. Reserve.

Place the water in a bowl, add the sourdough starter and mix to dissolve.  Add the flours, mix to form a shaggy mass, and let the dough rest for 20 minutes.  Add the salt and knead the dough in the bowl a few times to incorporate it.  Let the dough rest for 30 minutes, add the walnuts and incorporate them in the dough by gently kneading it.   Let the dough rise for 2 more hours, folding twice at 45 and 90 minutes.   Thirty minutes after the last folding cycle, form the bread in the shape of your choice, place in a floured banetton or other appropriate container, and let it rise for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature, depending on how active your sourdough starter is.  The dough is ready to bake when it is not quite doubled in size, but feels airy when you gently poke the surface.

Invert the dough on parchment paper, score the surface with a sharp blade, and place in a 450F oven to bake with initial steam.  Total baking time will be about 40 minutes, I baked my loaf under an inverted roasting pan previously filled with water and emptied, so that some water stays clinging to its sides.  I removed the roasting pan after 25 minutes, and bake the loaf uncovered until done.    Internal temperature should be higher than 200 F.

Allow the bread to completely cool before slicing through.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  In typical Sally-fashion, what I thought was a bag of spelt flour in my freezer turned out to be teff flour.  After frantically inspecting every single spot of the two freezers we own, I gave up and modified the recipe to use regular whole-wheat flour instead (triple sigh).  If you have spelt, use it 50/50 with the regular flour (for the amount of this recipe, that would be 250 g of each flour).

The 166% hydration might sound strange, but  keep in mind that it’s the hydration you obtain when feeding your starter by volume instead of weight and using equal amounts of flour and water (for instance 1 cup of each).  Very convenient, many bakers adapt their recipes to this level of hydration because it makes it a lot easier to keep the starter, no  need to use a scale. I was more of a 100% hydration lady, but must say I loved the way the more liquid starter performed and was so easy to mix with the dough.

For this type of bread, I don’t like to cut the walnuts too small, but if you prefer them to be less obvious in the crumb, go ahead and finely dice them.   Toasting before incorporating in the dough is optional, but I usually go for it.

Celia, thanks for yet another inspiring recipe, and for your help with the method.   I am counting on you to hold my hand again as I take a walk on the dark side (aka cake baking ;-)). 

  I am submitting this post to Susan’s Yeastspotting.

ONE YEAR AGO: Thai Chicken Curry

TWO YEARS AGO: Zen and the Art of Risotto

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On my most recent adventure in The Secret Recipe Club,  I had a hard time deciding between two recipes from my assigned blog,  “A Taste of Home Cooking”.  I went with Orange and Rosemary Pork Tenderloin,  but couldn’t wait to make possibility number 2, a recipe that took me straight back to my California days.

This might surprise you, but when I arrived in the US for the first time in 1986,  both me and my former husband had zero experience with frozen dinners, as they didn’t exist in Brazil back then.  We were amazed!  Those cute little boxes ready to warm up and enjoy, so many options, so convenient!  We went TV-dinner-crazy, trying all sorts of brands and styles of cuisine.  Once the thrill of  the novelty passed,  we went back to our regular approach of home-cooked meals, but I never lost a soft spot for “Swedish Meatballs with Noodles”.  That little frozen box, and Velveeta (there, I said it!)  are a bit disturbing for a food blogger to love, but…  I am guilty on both counts. I’ve got nothing to say  in my defense about Velveeta, but I’m redeeming myself on frozen dinners with this home-cooked version of a favorite classic.

( from A Taste of Home Cooking, original recipe from Rachael Ray)

for the meatballs:
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
1 small onion, finely chopped  (I used 1 shallot)
A few drops Worcestershire sauce (I used 1 tsp)
Salt and pepper

for the sauce:
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 cup beef broth
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup sour cream (I reduced to 1/4 cup)

1 bag wide egg noodles (I used fettuccine)
1 tablespoon butter

Heat the oven to 400 F.

Mix all the ingredients for the meatballs in a bowl, and form bite-size balls, placing them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, turning them midway through cooking time.

As the meatballs bake,  boil water for the pasta and start preparing the sauce.  Melt the  butter over medium heat, sprinkle the flour over it, and cook for a couple of minutes,  whisking constantly.  Slowly add sherry and whisk until the sauce reduces by half. Add beef broth in a slow stream and continue stirring until the sauce thickens enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon. Turn off heat and add salt and pepper to taste,  Dijon mustard and sour cream.

Once the noodles are cooked, drain them and toss with butter.  Turn a low heat under the sauce to gently warm it,  add the baked meatballs to the sauce, stir to coat, and serve over pasta.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  This was a delicious meal, quick and simple to prepare.  Next time, I will make two small adjustments: bake the meatballs slightly less, so they will be lighter in color, and use the full amount of sour cream in the sauce.

Just as I expected, this meal brought memories of my first few months in the US, when I could barely communicate in English,  and struggled to adjust to a new environment.  I had no idea that 26  years later I’d be writing a blog about it, especially because the term blog didn’t exist.  😉

If A Taste of Home Cooking is not on your list of blogs to visit, jump right over, she’s got a ton of great recipes to share!

ONE YEAR AGO: Italian Easter Pie

TWO YEARS AGO: Black Olive Bialy

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June 2006: crossing the finish line in my first (and only) marathon…

March, 2009:  cutting a slice of my first (but not only) successful sourdough loaf,  and marveling at the open, airy crumb…

April 2012: making croissants that finally brought an important bit of Paris to our home!

I am not sure how many times I’ve tried to make croissants, perhaps five or six, but each and every occasion left me disappointed and  frustrated.  I didn’t  throw in the towel, though, and you may remember that I included croissants as one of my cooking projects for this year.   Since January,  I assembled all the recipes, tips (thanks once more, Gary!), and blog posts on the subject, finally settling on the recipe from Peter Reinhart‘s Artisan Breads Every Day. I couldn’t be happier, aren’t they cute?

Without further ado, here’s the full recipe, with photos that walk you through  the process.

(published with permission from Peter Reinhart,
recipe from  his book Artisan Bread Every Day)

for the “detrempe
4 + 2/3 cup all purpose flour (21 oz / 595 g)
1  + 3/4 tsp. salt (0.4 oz / 11 g)
1/4 cup sugar (2 oz / 56.5 g)
1 Tbs  instant yeast (0.33 oz / 9 g)
3/4 cup + 2 Tbs milk (7 oz / 198 g)
1 cup cool water (8 oz / 227 g)
2 Tbs melted butter (1 oz / 28.5 g)

for the butter block:
1 + 1/2 cups cold butter (12 oz / 340 g)
2 Tbs flour (0.57 oz / 16 g)

Make the dough (detempre) by whisking the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a mixing bowl. Pour in the milk and water, then add the butter. Mix with the paddle attachment on the lowest speed for about 1 minute, stop, and check that the dough is shaggy.  It should not be too firm as you’d expect from a bread dough.  Adjust with a little water or a little flour if too wet.  Mix again for a couple of minutes, transfer to a board, form into a ball  and refrigerate overnight (or up to 2 days) inside an oiled bowl.

Make the butter block on baking day.  Cut the cold butter in 16 pieces, and place them in the bowl of an electric mixer together with the flour. Use the paddle attachment for 1 minute to incorporate the flour into the butter, without allowing it to melt.  Transfer the butter/flour to a piece of parchment paper (spray the surface of the paper with a little oil), and form into a 6 x 6 in square, about 1/2 inch thick.  Be as precise as you can with the measurement, and try to form it into a neat, straight-edged little package.  Cover the square with a plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 minutes (or longer, if convenient).

Transfer the dough from the fridge to a floured work surface, sprinkle more flour on top, and roll the dough to a rectangle 12.5 inches wide and 6.5 inches long.  Square off the edges, try to keep it all straight.   The dough should be about 1/2 inch thick.  Place the butter block on the left side of the rolled out dough, check that only a border of 1/4 inch is left between the butter and the edge of the dough.  If necessary, roll the dough out a little more.  Lift the right side of the dough and cover the butter, stretch the dough to cover it all well, and pinch the edges to fully enclose the butter.

Lift each side of the package of dough/butter gently, toss more flour underneath, flour the top again, and gently tap the surface of the package with a rolling pin, to distribute the butter evenly into the four corners.  Roll the dough to a rectangle 16 inches wide and 9 inches long.  Again you should aim for a 1/2 inch thick dough.   Square off the edges as nicely as possible, and fold the dough as a letter in an envelope: fold the right one-third to the left, and the left one-third of the dough to the right.  Transfer the dough to a floured baking sheet, and place in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Place the dough again on a floured surface, with the open seam facing away from you and the closed side facing you.  Gently roll the dough again to the same dimensions (16 x 9 inches).  Fold again in thirds.  Let it rest in the fridge for another 20 minutes, and repeat this exact rolling and folding procedure one more time.  Let the dough rest 20 minutes more, and get ready for the final rolling and cutting of croissants.

If working the full dough at once, you will need to roll it as a rectangle 24 to 28 inches wide, and 9 inches long. If you prefer, cut the dough in half, and roll it to 12 to 14 inches wide, 9 inches long.  Once the dough is fully rolled (about 1/4 inch thick), make marks starting at the left side of the bottom part of the dough, placing a small notch at 4-inch intervals. Repeat the same on the top part of the dough, but start at the 2 inch mark from the left.  Use a pizza cutter to cut a line from the left bottom corner of the dough to first notch on the top part of the dough (at the 2 inch point).  Go on connecting the marks to cut triangles.  When all pieces are separated, cut a 1 inch notch into the bottom center of the triangle base of each piece (that helps the croissant get its curved shape).  Spread the bottom as wide as the notch will allow to create wing-like flaps. Start with the flaps and begin rolling up the dough as you would roll a rug.  Stretch the pointed end of the triangle as you roll, trying to elongate the dough.  Make sure the end of the croissant stretches all the way under it, so that it remains rolled as it rises and bakes.

Place the croissants on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and let them rise at room temperature for 2 and a half to 3 hours. Brush the surface with egg wash if desired.  Heat the oven to 450 F F (232 C), place the croissants inside, and reduce the temperature immediately to 375 F (190 C). Bake for 15 minutes, rotate the pans, and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown on all sides.

Allow the croissants to cool on a rack for 45 minutes to 1 hour.


to print the recipe, click here

Now, allow me to show you a few photos of the process, which seems intimidating at first, but if you pay attention to a few details, it will be quite doable.
Use good quality butter, I recommend getting Plugra if you can find it, and measure the amount with a scale, no eye-balling here.  We are talking croissants, let’s make them pretty!   😉

After its rest in the fridge overnight, the dough will have risen quite a bit, and will be all puffy and nice to work with.  Working with it straight from the fridge will make it much easier to handle.

Be as precise as possible with the measurement,  each step matters, a little liberty here, a little liberty there, and your croissants will suffer.  Let’s make them pretty!   😉

The dough is rolled out  and the butter square is placed on one side, then all you have to do is fold the dough over it and pinch the edges, enclosing the butter completely inside the dough.

And the fun begins, rolling the dough to the right dimension (16 x 9 inch rectangle), then folding it in three, like a letter to be mailed to a dear  long-distance friend…  The package goes to rest in the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes, and the whole thing is repeated two more times (two additional series of rolling and folding in three).  Please notice my rolling pin, a gift Phil gave me for my Birthday. It is an antique piece that handles any dough extremely well.  Plus, I find it  very beautiful!

If you have a loooooong surface to roll the final dough out, go ahead and do the whole thing in one step.  I found it easier to cut the dough in half,  roll it, mark the spots to cut the triangles, and form the croissants from that half.  Place them on a baking sheet for the final rise, and move to the second portion of the dough.  Easy as pie!  One telling sign of the quality of your dough is how much can you stretch it without tearing it.  In my previous attempts, I could barely stretch it at all, but this recipe made the most elastic and forgiving dough ever!

Once they rise for a couple of hours, they will be noticeably bigger and plumper.

Brush them with egg wash (I think it makes for  beautiful croissants, with a nice shinny surface), and place in the oven, resisting the temptation to peek too often.  A little peek every once in a while is ok, particularly if you are a food blogger overly excited by your first good looking batch of croissants and anxious to get just one more photo…

And then, once they are all baked, allow them to cool for 45 minutes minimum. One full hour is even better, so that the butter sets in and gives you the best texture as you bite through the croissant.

In the end, all your hard work will be rewarded, I promise!

With all that in mind, is it feasible to have freshly baked croissants for breakfast?  Honestly, I find that a bit tricky.  Even if you retard the final proofing in the fridge, you will still have to let them come to room temperature to bake, and that will take about 1 hour, half an hour more to bake, and the gruesome wait of 45 minutes to attack them.  Maybe it would be possible to bake a batch for an 11am brunch,  but other than that, I think it’s much better to bake them, let them cool, and wrap each one individually to freeze.  You can see  here the results of my labor, ready to be enjoyed in the near future. Once you wake up with that unstoppable urge to have a warm-from-the-oven croissant,  simply unwrap them, leave at room temperature 10 minutes, and place in a 300 F oven for 5 minutes.  Voila’, mes amis:  great croissants whenever you feel like it!

I am grateful to Peter Reinhart for writing a great tutorial for croissants in his book, and of course for allowing me to publish his recipe on my blog. Thank you!

I am submitting this post to Susan’s Yeastpotting event…

ONE YEAR AGO: Maple-Oatmeal Sourdough Bread

TWO YEARS AGO: Pork Trinity: Coffee, Mushrooms, and Curry

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