Apr 15 2013

Olive Toffee Brownies–A Kitchen Play Progressive Party #client

This month’s Kitchen PLAY Wild Card Progressive Party features Lindsay Olives. 5 courses have already been served–you can find them here–but the 6th is missing. That’s where I come in. Because those willing to accept the challenge of conceiving a 6th course, completing the meal, will be entered in a random drawing for $200. I accept that challenge!

Olive Toffee Brownies

The obvious thing missing from this Progressive Play party was dessert, but dessert is not the first thing you think of when considering olives. In fact, I can’t recall ever choosing olives when seeking dessert. With their unique flavor, it’s hard to imagine them working well with sweets–they’d clearly overpower them. This was a problem. But I was not to be dissuaded. If this would be a challenge, then let it be a real one and see if this could work!

My first thoughts centered around olive oil ice cream with a balsamic sauce, cooking chopped olives in the sauce. However, the olives I was hoping to use–California Green Ripe Naturals–could not be found despite making 4 stops in search of them. All I could locate were the Recloseable containers of pitted olives, more suited to snacking than ice cream. I would have to change my game plan.

The more I pondered my options, the more I fell back on purees. Pureed apples, prunes, and bananas sitting in for oil. Pureed black beans and garbanzo beans for flour. There had to be a keen way to use pureed olives in a dessert. This seemed like the best avenue to pursue.

Olive Toffee Brownies

So I whizzed a container of drained and rinsed olives around in my mini food processor, and I got to thinking. What kinds of desserts do you not mind a bit of a briny taste? Where do salty and sweet work well together? (Where don’t they work well would have been a more likely candidate for an answer!) And I settled on brownies. I would use these pureed olives to replace some of the butter and all of the salt, adding a dimension to this fudgey treat never before experienced! Eureka!

I’ll admit I skeptical. It took some courage to sample the batter. There were still some small chunks of olive despite meeting with the blade and I could see them there, a sharp reminder of the lunacy I was pursuing. A tentative lick. And then another. Before I knew it, I had licked the spatula clean. It was exactly that salty-sweet combo I sought, the kind that you just can’t get enough of. This would be it! This would be perfect!

Your best bet is to not tell tentative tasters what’s inside. An open mind is necessary, for preconceived notions will only ruin the experience. For the brave souls who venture forward on this quest, they will be rewarded with something special. A whole new way of eating olives that messes with the mind a bit, but presents such a strong case for including them that it’s difficult to imagine NOT having them in your brownies. Free your mind and give it a try–you won’t be sorry!

Olive Toffee Brownies

Olive Toffee Brownies
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 15
  • 8 Tablespoons (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut up
  • 5 ounces semi-sweet/bittersweet chocolate, cut up
  • 3 ounces unsweetened bakers chocolate, cut up
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped
  • 6⅕-ounce can Lindsay Olives Recloseables, large pitted olives, rinsed, drained, & pureed (comes out to about ¾ cup once pureed)
  • 1¼ cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup toffee bits
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and line a 9×13 baking dish with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler, or in a microwave at 50% power at 30-second intervals. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat together the eggs, sugars, and vanilla bean scrapings until lifting the paddle from the bowl produces ribbons.
  4. On low speed, mix in the pureed olives.
  5. Continuing on medium-low, mix in the chocolate in a constant stream.
  6. Add the flour and let it mix on low until just combined. Remove bowl from mixer.
  7. Stir in the toffee bits, then spread into the prepared baking dish.
  8. Bake for 45 minutes, or until there’s a nice crust on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out slightly moist.
  9. Cool completely before cutting and serving.
This is a sweet treat, for sure. If you’d like to reduce that, you can use more unsweetened chocolate and less semi-sweet/bittersweet chocolate, keeping it at a total of 8 ounces.
The toffee bits pretty much melt into the brownies, but that’s part of their charm. They create little pockets of moistness that are pretty awesome.

Dislosure: This post is sponsored by Lindsay Olives as part of a Kitchen Play Progressive Party. All opinions given are my own.

Apr 04 2013

Asian Flair Farro #client #EWR13

It’s no secret that I am more of a baker than a cook. I like having parameters, guidelines: I like having a formula. Not only is this comforting, but it is incredibly difficult for me to explain in a replicable manner what I’ve cooked, seeing as so much depends on individual tastes. Season to taste, as they say. The way you make a meal one time can be quite different than the last. Cooking is poetry. Baking is science.

Asian Flair Farro

I’m willing to work outside of my comfort zone, however. Especially when there’s a chance to attend Eat Write Retreat on the line. Which is exactly what Tuscan Fields is giving away to one lucky blogger who writes a recipe utilizing their farro. I am certainly game for that!

What is farro? Until this challenge, I wasn’t really sure. I knew it was an alternative grain–something to eat instead of rice–but I had no other notions. It simply wasn’t part of my diet.

According to Tuscan Fields, farro is an ancient grain. It is high in fiber and protein, low on the glycemic index, and non-GMO. The last bit is pretty important to me–it’s getting harder and harder to figure out what is GMO and what isn’t, and we do try to avoid GMO when possible. Eating Tuscan Fields farro would make this much easier!

Asian Flair Farro

Farro is cooked much in the same manner that rice is. You add water in a 1:2 ratio (farro:water) and boil until the water is entirely absorbed. You can use other liquids, like chicken or vegetable broth, too. I even toyed with making a rice pudding by cooking it in milk and/or coconut milk. Farro is pretty flexible.

Farro isn’t an Asian staple, but it stands in well for rice. In this recipe, I combined teriyaki sauce with fresh pineapple, red bell pepper, and teriyaki ginger chicken meatballs for a bit of an Asian flair to an otherwise Italian grain. It worked fabulously. I intended for the sauce be a bit thin so the farro could absorb some of it, and I think this would help with reheating it for lunch, as well. The end result is a multicultural symphony deserving of accolades. Plus it’s really quick and easy to prepare, making it an excellent option for weeknight dinners when you’re on the run. Nutritious and delicious without the microwave or the frozen foods aisle! Fantastic!

Asian Flair Farro

I want to know: Will you track down some farro so you can try this? Are there any other grain alternatives you enjoy?

Asian Flair Farro
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A quick weeknight meal that is full of good stuff!
Recipe type: Dinner
Serves: 4
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 cup Tuscan Fields Farro Perlato
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 Tablespoon EVOO
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 12 ounces Teriyaki Ginger Chicken Meatballs
  • 1½ cups fresh pineapple, cubed
  • ½ cup Teriyaki sauce (the kind I used had minced garlic in it)
  1. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium high heat.
  2. Add the farro and toss it in the butter, stirring and heating until fragrant.
  3. Add the water, stir, and set the timer for 18 minutes, watching the farro. It will be done when all the water is absorbed, which should be around 18-20 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, get a skillet out and heat 1 Tablespoon of EVOO in it.
  5. Add the bell pepper and saute for 1-2 minutes.
  6. Add the chicken meatballs and saute for 4 minutes.
  7. Add the pineapple and Teriyaki sauce, heating for a total of 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
  8. Take out 4 bowls and divide the farro between them.
  9. Place 4 meatballs in each bowl and then spoon the sauce and fruits over the meatballs and farro. Serve immediately.

Disclosure: Tuscan Fields sent me 2 samples of farro to cook with to enter their contest to win an Eat Write Retreat registration. All opinions and photos remain my own, unless otherwise noted.

Apr 03 2013

King Arthur Flour Helps You Go Sour…dough #client

Money can’t buy the feeling you get when something you’ve struggled with finally comes together and exceeds your expectations. But $8.95 can help you get a little bit closer.

Sourdough Starter Kit

You may recall that Kate of Food Babbles and I, in our first year of First on the First, attempted sourdough, with quite abysmal results. It was absolutely heartbreaking. I intended to give it another go, but the project had been pushed aside so many times that eventually I forgot about it. Until now.

When the King Arthur Flour catalog arrives in the mail, it’s almost like Christmas. I grab a glass of wine and a ball point pen, ready to start making my wish list. Ink soon fills the catalog, plans forming of what I could do with all this baking booty. Now all I need is Santa Claus to make those dreams come true… or a sugar daddy.

Sourdough Starter

In a recent edition, I noticed something… different. It may have been there before, but I must not have been paying attention. Regardless, King Arthur Flour had the answer to my prayers… my long forgotten prayers. There, so innocently nestled on the page, was a simple little plastic container filled with what could change my life–sourdough starter. Fresh, no less. I was aware of powdered varieties that could be mail ordered, but this was the first time I saw live, thriving, juicy, wet starter that could be delivered directly to my door. This surely would be the solution to my sourdough problems!

Bubbling Sourdough Starter

Bubbling Sourdough Starter

The folks at King Arthur Flour so generously hooked me up with some and I got to work. I have a history of issues with keeping things alive that do not vocalize their needs, but I was determined this time would be different. I could handle a little water and flour once or twice a day, right? I even had a nifty little sourdough crock in which to store it, so it wouldn’t get lost in the refrigerator. The logo would remind me of the contents, and therefore reduce the likelihood of it withering away in neglect. Piece of cake.

getting ready to bake

King Arthur Flour takes their customers seriously. Their relationship doesn’t end when the order is in your hands. They include instructions to help you get off to the right start, and their website hosts a plethora of additional information to help you along the way. There are even videos, in case you’re a more visual learner. If all else fails, you can always utilize live chat support or a quick telephone call–it’s that simple. They’re there to guarantee your success.

I kept my handy-dandy sourdough starter instructions on the counter during the 3 weeks I worked with my starter, just to be sure I was following protocol. For the first couple of days, I only fed it (and dumped, as directed–which I hate doing, as it seems so wasteful, but you must do it in the beginning). Once my starter was thriving, I was able to refrigerate it between feedings. This is a necessity for the busy person working full-time outside the home. While I love baking, I don’t have as much time during the week to indulge in it. Luckily, my sourdough starter was there waiting for me when I was ready, only asking for a bit of flour and water and a little bit of time to be at its best.

Rustic Sourdough Bread

Rustic Sourdough Bread

I started with the Rustic Sourdough Bread recipe, which is included in the instructions that come with the starter. This could not have been easier! Since I already possessed a baguette pan, I lined it with parchment paper and let the shaped loaves rise in it before baking them in the same pan. They weren’t quite so rustic in shape, but with 3 of them to share, they were eagerly eaten. Many commented that this was the kind of sourdough bread you share with those who are put off by the sourness; that it’s a great introduction to sourdough with a much milder tang.

Classic Sourdough Waffles

Classic Sourdough Waffles

Next I moved on to recipes utilizing what you’d normally discard when feeding. I hate throwing away anything that’s perfectly good. If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy the Classic Sourdough Waffles or Pancakes. You need to start it the night before you plan on baking, but there is no waste. The waffles bake up light and fluffy with a satisfying crunchy exterior–I’ve never had anything quite like them. A little bit of tang so you know they’re sourdough, but not overpowering. And they freeze and reheat well (which is excellent because I ended up with 22 of them!). The kids enjoyed the leftovers as breakfast on school days, a rare treat.

Sourdough Pizza Crust

Sourdough Pizza Crust

Sourdough Pizza Crust is another way to use discarded sourdough starter. We had enough dough for 2 thin-crusted rectangle pizzas and it was a dream to work with. I’ve always had problems working with pizza dough, having it tear before I could work it to the right thickness. I learned that you need to give it a couple rest periods to let the gluten relax, and then it will be so much more cooperative when you’re stretching the dough. The verdict? Crispy, crunchy, with a pleasant mild tang. Probably the best pizza dough I’ve had yet.

Bread Machine Sourdough Bread

One of the times I fed my starter, I took the discarded portion and used it to produce a second starter. I’ll admit it was due to a fear of messing up my initial starter, but this turned out to be most fortuitous. I fed it with rye flour for the first feeding, then switched back to all-purpose flour. The rye starter developed a much more potent tang, much like what I’d expect from traditional sourdough bakery bread. I used this starter to make the Bread Machine Sourdough Bread and it was amazing! It was only supposed to be a 1.5-pound loaf without any doming, but it rose to fill the pan completely and even domed. Both times I made it. The second time I prepared it was after work. I removed my starter from its slumber in the fridge in the morning, fed it, and left it on the counter, so it would be ready when I returned home. Upon arrival home, I threw the ingredients into the bread machine and was well on my way to fresh bread. Nothing like the smell of baking bread to ease the stress of a long work day.

Sourdough English Muffins

Sourdough English Muffins

I could go on and on about all the successes I’ve had–Buttery Sourdough Buns, Sourdough English Muffins, Sourdough Cinnamon Buns–but I think I’m going to give you a chance to reap the same rewards at home instead. Because I’m sure you’re chomping at the bit by now, wondering when you can get started on your own sourdough success. And this sourdough starter will ensure that you have it!

King Arthur Flour has graciously offered to send one of my readers their very own Sourdough Starter, King Arthur Flour Stoneware Crock, and a coupon for a free bag of flour–a starter sourdough kit, if you will. Then you, too, can see how easy sourdough can be!! This is a fantastic set that will set you up for a lifetime of sourdough happiness.

The giveaway will be open from today, April 3, 2013, through 12 midnight on April 10, 2013 (the start of the day) and is open to US residents only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Okay, now that we have that squared away, how about those Sourdough English Muffins? Have you never had homemade English muffins? Then you’re in for a treat! They freeze quite well, so you can make a big batch and have breakfast ready for the family for the week…or two. And, like I said, you won’t have to discard your discard (ha!) because this will let you use it up nicely. Perhaps this will be the first recipe you make when you win? Good luck!

Sourdough English Muffins

4.6 from 5 reviews

Sourdough English Muffins
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Breakfast
Serves: 30
  • 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 cups warm water (110°F-115°F)
  • 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast or instant yeast
  • 1 cup sourdough starter, fed or unfed; fed will give you a more vigorous rise
  • 7 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • ½ cup Baker’s Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
  • ¼ cup (4 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 Tablespoon Himalayan pink salt
  • semolina for coating
  1. Combine all of the dough ingredients, except the semolina, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.
  2. Mix to form a smooth dough, but watch your electric mixer carefully; it was a tough load on mine. The dough should be soft and elastic, but not particularly sticky; add additional flour if necessary.
  3. Remove the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover, and set it aside to rise for about 1½ hours, or until it’s noticeably puffy. (I use my enameled cast iron for this; the lid is a perfect cover and it conducts heat well, so if you rise in a warm oven, it works even better.)
  4. For most pronounced sour flavor, cover the bowl, and immediately place it in the refrigerator (without rising first), allowing the dough to chill for 24 hours; this will develop a more intense sour flavor.
  5. After the dough has risen, gently deflate it, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface, and cover it, letting it sit for a few minutes to relax the gluten.
  6. Using a sharp knife, divide the dough in half.
  7. Working with one piece at a time, roll it out to ½” thickness and cut in 3″ rounds. (If you don’t have biscuit cutters, you can use a drinking glass dipped in flour.) Re-roll and cut any remaining scraps. Repeat with the remaining half of dough.
  8. Line a rimmed baking sheet with semolina and evenly place the rounds on it (12 per sheet). Sprinkle them with additional semolina, cover with plastic wrap, and let them rise until light and puffy, about 45 to 60 minutes. If the dough has been refrigerated overnight, the rise time will be about 2 hours.
  9. Heat an ungreased skillet (cast iron works great for this!) on the stove over medium heat and carefully transfer the rounds (as many as will fit without crowding) right-side up (small rounds allowed for 5 to cook at a time; larger ones limited me to 4).
  10. Cook the muffins for about 5-7 minutes on each side. The edges may feel a bit soft, but that’s OK. Be sure to flatten with a pancake turner after each side has cooked for 1-2 minutes, to keep them from puffing up too much.
  11. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store tightly wrapped at room temperature for 4 or 5 days; freeze for longer storage.
It took nowhere nearly as long to cook the English muffins as noted in the original recipe (10 minutes per side); I would guess more like 5 minutes per side.


Disclosure: King Arthur Flour provided me with a sourdough starter, stoneware crock, and coupon for a free bag of flour for review. They will be providing the same to the winner of the giveaway. All opinions and photos remain mine, unless otherwise noted.

Apr 01 2013

#FirstOnTheFirst: Banana Pudding

Ever since I had my first bite of banana pudding from the famed Buttercup Bake Shop in NYC, I knew one day I’d have to make it at home. And now, I have.

Banana Toffee Pudding

Bananas and I don’t always agree. The texture leaves much to be desired, and while I do eat them because of the ease of preparation and health benefits, sometimes I have to gag them down. It’s not the most pleasant of experiences. I prefer baking with bananas to eating them au natural.

Banana Toffee Pudding

Banana pudding is an exception. With layers of vanilla wafer cookie, banana pudding, whipped cream, and, in this case, toffee bits, what’s not to love? It’s a great mushy mess, but it’s one that’s worth facing texture fears for. You will be greatly rewarded for your effort!

Banana Toffee Pudding

There are a variety of manners in which to pay homage to this traditionally Southern treat–Nutter Butter Banana Pudding Trifle, Banana Pudding Pie, Banana Pudding Cheesecake–but I decided to go with a trifle-ish version, adding my own little twist. I was thinking Banoffee Pie when I sprinkled toffee bits into my pudding, and it worked wonderfully. A little bit of sweet, buttery crunch in a treat that otherwise lacks definition: it’s like they were made for each other.

Banana Toffee Pudding

Many use Nilla wafers in their banana pudding, but I wanted to take it to the next level. I adapted Ezra Pound Cake’s Vanilla Wafer Cookies, which formed the perfect base for a variation on Emeril Lagasse’s Deep Dish Banana Pudding. There are no shortcuts here, but your time investment will pay off. There’s nothing better than a truly, completely homemade dessert. Your guests will thank you for it. So will your stomach.

Banana Toffee Pudding

Now there’s no need to go to New York for banana pudding anymore. I’ve got this covered. At home.

Vanilla Wafer Cookies
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Cookie
Serves: 65
  • 1 cup (16 Tablespoons, 2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup + 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ⅜ teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, and salt, beating until light and fluffy.
  2. Beat in the egg yolks, then the vanilla extract.
  3. Add the flour gradually with the mixer on low, beating until well incorporated.
  4. Divide the dough into 4 sections and roll each out into a 6- or 7-inch log. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line your cookie sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
  6. Remove 1 log from the fridge and cut into quarter-inch slices. Place on cookie sheet at least 1 inch apart and bake for 12-14 minutes, or until golden brown.
  7. Let sit on cookie sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
  8. Repeat with the remaining logs until it is all baked.
  9. You can also freeze the logs for up to 2 months, thawing in the refrigerator before slicing and baking.
Banana Pudding
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 12
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup + 2 Tablespoons light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • ¼ cup + 2 Tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ teaspoon banana bakery emulsion
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 Tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 dash ground cinnamon
  • 24 vanilla wafer cookies (from previous recipe)
  • ¼ cup toffee bits
  • 4 ripe bananas, sliced crosswise, then in half
  1. In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs until the whites and yolks are well combined. Set aside.
  2. In a medium heavy-bottomed pan, whisk together the brown sugar and flour.
  3. Add the milk and heat over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until it starts to boil. Lower heat and simmer for 3 minutes, whisking the whole time, until thickened.
  4. Remove from heat.
  5. Remove 1 cup of the pudding and slowly pour it into the eggs, whisking the whole time, to temper them. Beat until well combined.
  6. Pour the egg mixture into the pudding, whisk it together, and return to the heat.
  7. Bring it to a boil again and then lower the heat, simmering for 2 minutes, whisking the whole time.
  8. Remove from heat and add the butter, vanilla, and banana bakery emulsion (it may bubble up–be careful not to get burned). Whisk until the butter is melted completely and all ingredients are incorporated.
  9. Transfer to a clean bowl to cool to room temperature. If not assembling right away, after it has cooled, cover with plastic wrap (being sure the plastic wrap is touching the surface of the pudding) and refrigerate until ready to assemble.
  10. When ready to assemble, using an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, beat together the heavy whipping cream, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon until you get soft peaks. Set aside.
  11. Get out 12 small dessert cups and crumble 1 vanilla wafer cookie in each cup.
  12. Sprinkle some toffee bits into each cup.
  13. Sprinkle some banana over the top.
  14. Scoop about 2 generous spoonfuls (I used the large spoons for eating, not to be confused with a measuring Tablespoon) into each cup.
  15. Repeat with the vanilla wafer cookies, toffee bits, and bananas.
  16. Dollop some whipped cream on top and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.

Banana Toffee Pudding

Next month, we’ll be making Sfogliatelle Pastry. I had no clue what this was when Kate suggested it, but it sounds divine–all those layers of flaky pastry with a ricotta filling. This will definitely be a challenge! For more details on how to participate, click on the First on the First tab above–we’d love to have you join us!

Now for more banana pudding…

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