The last Monday of the month is here again, and with it comes the much anticipated  reveal day for the members of Group D in The Secret Recipe Club.  For those who don’t know,  each month we are assigned (in secret) a blog to cook from.  We “stalk” the blog, pick a recipe, cook it, write a blog about it, and set it to go live at exactly the same time on reveal day.  This month my blog was Sweetly Serendipity, hosted by the beautiful Taryn, a baking goddess who lives in Boston and dreams of opening her own bakery some day. Yeap, that’s how serious she is. Once I started browsing her site and noticing the profusion of cakes, some extremely involved, I felt a bit uneasy.  For instance, I was smitten by  this cake, but it will have to wait for a less chaotic time in my life.  I kept on browsing her recipes, until I got to “mascarpone brownies”.  Simply scrumptious.  This is what she had to say about them:

It’s kind of like eating a dense chocolate souffle — their texture is light and airy, but the flavors are deep and delicious. They satisfy every feeling, and shower your mouth with a tantalizing array of sensations. They are smooth and creamy and absolutely perfect.

I had to bake a batch! 😉

(from Sweetly Serendipity)

for the brownies
1 cup unsalted butter
3 ounces  semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder (sifted)
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
3 large eggs, at room-temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

for the ganache
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tablespoons whipping cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 325F and cover a 8 x 8 pan with parchment paper.

In glass mixing bowl melt butter in microwave on full power. Stir in chocolate and mix until combined. If the chocolate doesn’t fully melt, place it in the microwave again for a few seconds at a time.

Add sugar to the chocolate/butter mixture and mix until combined. Heat for an additional 30 seconds on high, remove and stir until it looks shiny. Don’t worry if it still seems a bit grainy.   Add marscarpone cheese, vanilla, eggs and mix until smooth.

Sift flour, salt and cocoa into the chocolate mixture and stir just until combined, making sure to scrape all sides of the bowl.  The batter will be rather light in texture, instead of dense and heavy like many brownie batters.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth top to ensure even baking. Bake for 40-50 minutes until tester comes out clean. If the surface seems uneven, use the flat end of a potato masher to lightly tamp down the surface of the brownies while they are still warm.   This will help the ganache coat evenly. Leave in pan and set on wire rack to cool.

While brownies are cooling, make the ganache to pour over the top, a step you should do before the brownies are cold.  Heat butter and cream on medium power (taking care not to boil) in the microwave and add chocolate. Stir until all lumps disappear. Immediately pour over brownies. Let cool completely.  It is a good idea to place the pan in the fridge to allow the ganache to set.  Once chilled a knife will cut through the brownies quite cleanly. Make sure to clean your blade for each cut for a more polished look.


to print the recipe, click here

These brownies were simply spectacular!  I never had a brownie with ganache on top, but it’s never too late to find new forms of decadence in life.  One piece of brownie will satisfy your chocolate craving for a while, so be the best person you can be and share!  😉
Taryn’s description for these brownies was perfect, I’ve got nothing to add!  They will be a hit at any party you take them to, and they are very easy to make, ganache included.   I actually made them in our almost completely bare kitchen in Oklahoma, using a couple of bowls, a baking dish, and a cheap whisk (bought for the occasion, as mine was 312 miles away, in Manhattan).

Taryn,  thanks for a great recipe!

Please visit my virtual buddies from Group D following the links provided by the blue frog at the end of the post, and have fun!

ONE YEAR AGO: Salmon Tacos

TWO YEARS AGO: Cinnamon Turban Bread

THREE YEARS AGO: Summertime Gratin


Long before I started my own site, I already followed Barbara’s blog, Winos end Foodies.  For a while I was unaware of her health problems, until one day I clicked on the “About” page and learned that she started blogging right after being diagnosed with cancer, in 2004.  She used Winos and Foodies to get her mind away from her illness, and through the years of blogging she touched many people’s lives.  A lot has been written about Barbara, you can read a particularly touching tribute  here 

A few months after I started the Bewitching, I wrote Barbara an email and was amazed by how kind and thoughtful she was, sending me advice and encouragement. She read, left comments, dropped me private emails, it was hard to imagine that she could do it all while fighting one of the toughest battles a person can face.  I feel fortunate to have known her, at least virtually.

If you’ve never stopped by Winos and Foodies, please do so. She wrote about art, photography, food, her relationship with her husband of so many years, and occasionally about her tough times with cancer.   You will notice that  contrary to what most bloggers do (myself included), she didn’t post a blogroll of websites she enjoyed.  Instead, she created a page called Blog Friends, and listed everyone by name.  A special, sweet gesture, so typical of her.

In 2007, fascinated by the performances of Lance Armstrong 0n the Tour de France, she launched the event “A Taste of Yellow”  ,  to coincide with LIVEstrong Day, and to raise awareness about cancer in the community of food bloggers.  Barbara passed away on June 29th, so this year’s event, hosted by Jeanne (Cook Sister), is dedicated to her.

For my participation in this series of Taste of Yellow, I chose to cook with beautiful ears of corn.

(adapted from Fine Cooking, Aug/Sep 2012)

1 + 1/2 Tbs butter
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
kernels of 2 ears of corn
2 scallions, finely sliced (white and light green parts)
3/4 cup couscous
1/2 tsp salt
black pepper to taste
1 cup boiling water

Melt the butter on medium-low heat and cook stirring occasionally,  until the butter gets a hint of golden color. Do not let it turn brown at this point because it will still cook a little further.  Add the thyme, and cook until fragrant.

Add the corn kernels, salt and pepper, cook for 2 minutes, increasing the heat slightly so they brown up.  Add the scallions, cook until they soften, another minute or so.  Add the boiling water all at once, close the pan and remove from the heat.  Let it rest 5 minutes, fluff with a fork, and serve.

to print the recipe, click here

My deepest condolences go to Barbara’s husband Bryan, their two sons,  family and friends in this difficult time. She will be missed.

(Comments are shutdown for this post)


Drum roll, please…  

This post officially inaugurates the new kitchen in The Little Apple!  What better than a loaf of bread to start things on a nice track?  So, let me share with you a golden bread perfumed with the special saffron I received as a gift from our friend Steve. The bread looked like a blast of sunshine sitting on the black granite, and it made nice cracking noises as it cooled, the promise of a nice crumb underneath a hearty crust.

(from the Bewitching Kitchen, inspired by Flo Makanai)

125 g  sourdough starter (at 100% hydration)
250 g water (divided)
large pinch of saffron
375 g bread flour
7 g salt
1 tsp fennel seeds

Heat 50 ml (no need to be precise) of water in a microwave until almost boiling, add the saffron and let it sit until it cools to almost room temperature, stirring every now and then.  Strain the saffron water through a fine mesh colander, and add to the rest of the water for a final volume of 250ml. Reserve.

Add the active starter to a large bowl, mix it with the water until it dissolves more or less smoothly. Add the flour and the fennel seeds, and briefly do a few kneading moves to form a shaggy mess.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle the salt over the dough and incorporate by kneading lightly and folding the dough on itself.  You can keep the dough in the bowl, or transfer to a surface.  After 20-30 seconds of kneading/folding, cover the dough again and let it sit for 40 minutes (total rising time up to this point: 1 hour).

Repeat cycles of quick kneading/folding two more times, spacing them 40 to 50 minutes.   After the third and final kneading cycle, let the dough sit for 20 to 30 minutes, shape it as a round or oval loaf, and leave it at room temperature  30 minutes longer.  Total rising time from beginning to end: about 3 and a half hours.  Place it in the fridge overnight.

Remove the dough from the fridge 2 hours before baking (see my comments). Heat the oven to 450F. If using a clay pot, place it in the cold oven as you turn it on. Bake the bread covered for 30 minutes, remove cover, and allow it to fully bake (reducing the temperature to 425F if the bread seems to be browning too fast) for 12 to 15 minutes longer.  Remove to a rack to cool completely before slicing.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  It’s been a while since I baked a loaf of bread that made me as happy as this one! I’d been refreshing my starter for weeks in a row, but placing it back in the fridge, unable to squeeze bread baking in our crazy schedule.  My cookbooks are not unpacked yet, so I decided to go with the simple but very efficient method devised by Flo Makanai years ago: her famous 1, 2, 3 recipe.   One part starter, 2 parts water, 3 parts flour.  You can adapt and use any liquid or flour, but that’s the basic formula.   I wanted to incorporate saffron in the dough, and fennel seemed like a good match too.  Considering that it was not a tried and true recipe, and that it would be my first time using the oven in our new home, I admit I was  pushing the envelope. Interesting expression, by the way, I learned its origin not too long ago, and was a bit surprised. No Post Office material was used in its making.  Live, and learn.

Live, learn, and bake!  😉

To add a bit more emotion to the adventure, I could not find my banettons to proof the dough after shaping.  I actually have two, one round, and one oval, but they are both MIA, probably hidden inside one of the unpacked boxes.  I ended up using a copper colander, lined with a white cloth.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

I pushed the envelope once more by removing the dough from the fridge only 30 minutes before placing it in the 450F oven, trying to minimize the time our kitchen would be exposed to such insanely high temperature. Still, the bread had an impressive oven spring, and the beautiful, golden open crumb I hoped for.  It would be amazing with paella or a bowl of bouillabaisse, but until the weather cools enough for those dishes, we’ll enjoy it with fresh, juicy tomatoes and a sprinkle of Maldon salt.   Simple pleasures. Golden pleasures.

A final remark: I wish I could take credit for the title of this post, but my beloved husband was the genius behind it…  Sorry, ladies, he’s mine, all mine!

I am submitting this post to Susan’s Yeastspotting.

ONE YEAR AGO: In My Kitchen, July 2011

TWO YEARS AGO: Heavenly Homemade Fromage Blanc

THREE YEARS AGO: A Perfect Sunday Dinner


And the food snob strikes again!  😉

What can I say?  Once we tasted the tortillas made in the coziness of our (former) own home, we were shocked by how much better than the store-bought version they are!   Get yourself a good quality tortilla press, one that feels heavy and powerful like this one I found for a bargain at ebay.
All you’ll need is a bowl, the masa harina, some water and a little salt.  No need to knead, no need to wait. Amazing tortillas will be yours in less than 10 minutes!
(from the back of Masa Harina’s bag)

2 cups masa harina
1/2 tsp salt
1 to  1 + 1/4 cups hot water

Mix together the masa harina, salt, and water in a bowl.  Add the smaller amount of water, form a dough. If too rough, add the rest of the water, a little at a time.  The dough must stick together, but it should not be too wet, so that when you roll a portion on your hand it will turn out smooth.

Form golf ball-sized chunk of dough and  place into a tortilla press protected on both sides by plastic wrap (I cut open a large ziplock type bag).  Press, open, peel the tortilla off the plastic, reserve. When all tortillas are made, cook them for 45 seconds to 1 minute per side on a hot skillet, preferably cast iron. Set the cooked tortillas over a inside a folded towel to keep them warm and moist.

For added flavor, right before serving, set each over an open flame until you get small brown blisters on the surface, flip and do the same on the other side.


to print the recipe, click here

Now, for the sad news…  I was holding this post for publication at a later time, when I could include a special recipe made with the tortillas.  But, the stove in our new home is electric and I’m having a bit of a hard time adjusting to it.  The lack of a flame prevents me from finishing the tortillas the way I like, so I am not sure when I’ll be able to make tortillas at home again.  It might take a while.. 😦

  To compensate, I share a link to the type of recipe I’d like to make using homemade corn tortillas.  It comes from a great blog I visit often, called Taste Food.  Ready?  Click here, and ENJOY!  

ONE YEAR AGO: Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Vegetables and Peanut Sauce

TWO YEARS AGO: Brigadeiros: A Brazilian Party!

THREE YEARS AGO: Lemony Asparagus


Perhaps you’ve noticed on my last post that our pickup truck had quite a bit of stuff packed behind the dog’s cages?  If not, go quick back and take a look.  Two bikes, an upside down table, and a few large boxes ready to go.  How could it be possible, when we’d already moved?    Well,  that’s because “there are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”   Sometimes a person needs to vent.  My time has come.  😉
Moving is never easy, no matter the distance or the size of the house. The fact that we face moving a home and a laboratory within weeks of each other makes it a more serious challenge.  Expecting a lot of stress and a ton of work, we made sure to hire a reputable, time-tested company to help us.   The company we selected, Continental Van Lines, is well-known for many years of service in this country.  Their estimate included packing and moving all our delicate stuff (crystal glasses, china, etc), and our furniture. We finalized the negotiations and made a down-payment 45 days before the move.

The first clouds in the horizon:  they gave us a window of three days (June 19th through 21st) to park their huge truck in front of our home and start working.  We were assured to have the precise time by June 16, three days in in advance of the earliest moving date, but June 16 came and went without any phone calls, emails or lightning bolts from the iCloud, despite our numerous electronic inquiries.  Finally, three days later they answered their phone and although the  information wasn’t easy to obtain, they assured us that their moving van would arrive mid-morning on the final day of the guaranteed window, June 21st.  We were ready for them since the 19th, and unwilling to sit and wait for 3 more days, so we began the packing ourselves, aided by U-Haul moving boxes.  One hundred and five boxes later, as June 21 dawned we awakened with excitement and the expectation of getting our show on the road.  But, we waited and waited and waited some more.  The truck did not arrive.  Then, after countless phone calls and left messages, we received a call from the Continental dispatcher informing us that our appointment with the movers had “slipped through the cracks.”   It’s an interesting English expression, and  I’d say that those must be some huge cracks. 😉  They’d forgotten about us, apparently for at least a week, while we were busy packing the 105 boxes.  It reminded us of Seinfeld’s “Reservations“…   Except that we were laughing when we watched the show. In real life it was not funny.
Facing this fiasco, Continental arranged for an alternative truck to pick our stuff next day, Friday, June 22nd.  It was a company from St. Louis.   I went to the internet and was shocked  by the horrible reviews I read,  some even included the word “criminals.”  Phil again got busy on the  phone to Continental to find out whether they did business regularly with that company.  The representative told us not to worry because “reviews online are for the most part very negative, and do not reflect the overall performance of a company”.  Yeah, right. But, one must admit,  failing to to find a single positive review was not a good sign!  We had no other option but to trust Continental’s arrangements.

The replacement movers:   Two guys in their mid-twenties arrived around 11:30am with a truck that didn’t seem large enough for the job. They looked at our stuff, and gave us a bunch of paperwork to fill out on the exact inventory of everything for relocation.  We offered to make them a sandwich before they started packing the few things left unpacked, but they declined and said they were going to get a quick bite to eat, grab some drinks and return to begin packing and loading.  An hour and a half passed with no sign of the movers, at which time we weren’t surprised when they would not answer our phone calls. They had no intentions of ever coming back, they were on their way back to St. Louis.  That’s when I broke down a little bit, sat down and cried.  Not for long, though.  Ain’t no rest for the wicked.

By then it was almost 4pm on a Friday.  We were distressed and exhausted. Countless more phone calls were made and messages were left on answering machines. When Phil ultimately got to talk to a supervisor, Continental arranged another company to come next day, on Saturday, June 23rd. At that point, we had packed all our stuff ourselves, and were beyond anxious to move, as Phil had meetings scheduled for Monday morning at KSU.
The company that came to our rescue, Quick Moves, is based in Dallas, and we could not have been more pleased.  The two guys, Mark and his helper Mike,  worked tirelessly and did their best to fit our stuff in a truck that clearly was not big enough for the job (through no fault of their own).  They had to rent a small trailer (the only one available on short notice at the U-Haul in town), and also helped us pack our pick up truck to capacity. Still, we had to leave quite a bit behind.  We finally arrived in Manhattan that night at 23:45hs.
The upshot of the saga is that Continental Van Lines never actually moved any of our stuff, but kept the $1,800.00 deposit we paid in advance.  We were relieved and delighted  by the outstanding work by  Quick Moves, and happy to pay them in full, but we still had about 800 pounds of items remaining in our home.  Some of it you can see in the bottom two pictures of the composite photo. Continental at first would not return our phone calls and emails, but after a “little pressure” from American Express, we hope they will refund our money and the saga will have a reasonably happy ending….

Obviously, they will not be moving our laboratory materials in August, we are negotiating with another company recommended from KSU.  As to our stuff remaining in Oklahoma, we are lucky to have a pickup truck and a crazy self-imposed schedule that takes us back and forth, living one week in our almost empty home in Norman, then one week in The Little Apple.  So every trip we make until the end of August we’ll pack the truck and face the road, with as much enthusiasm (and music) as possible!

This was a long post, unrelated to cooking, but one of the reasons to put it all in writing is to help get all facts straight in our struggle to get some money back.   If you made it this far, I might as well close the post on a lighter note.  In one of my many visits to U-Haul to buy packing supplies, I was standing in a long line, together with folks looking as tired and bored as me, all dealing with their own unexpected moving problems. An employee was having a hard time with a client.  Apparently, the man reserved a truck, but his reservation had “slipped through the cracks.”  Here’s what the guy said to make his case (and you must read this with the strongest possible Oklahoman accent):

Listen, sir… here’s the deal:  I’ve got a wife back home, she is 50% German and 75% crazy.  She is waiting to move today. You gotta find me a truck, and you gotta find me one now, or I’ll be in a whole lotta trouble….

He quickly got his truck, and the whole crowd in U-Haul had the best laugh of that day, me included!  😉

Moving: not for sissies!

ONE YEAR AGO:  Hoegaarden Beer Bread

TWO YEARS AGO: Ancho-Chile Marinade: Pleased to Meat you!

THREE YEARS AGO: Shrimp Moqueca