Monthly Archives: April 2011

Thank-you-for-looking-for-my-lost-cat-brownies

How do you say thank you to somebody who was critical in reuniting me with Puck? My downstairs neighbor went above and beyond her neighborly duty to help me out when the Puckster went missing. She was the one to suggest posting an ad on Craigslist and checked in on me throughout the day to see how things were going. I cannot thank her enough for all of her help.

It probably comes as no surprise that I decided to express my gratitude through food. For this occasion I made a batch of brownies. Mexican chocolate brownies topped with a brown sugar glaze and sliced almonds. I am pretty sure that nothing says Thank You like something featuring chocolate.

Mexican Chocolate Brownies with Brown Sugar Glaze

From Bon Appetit

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Mexican Brownies
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour
1 cup milk chocolate chips
 
Brown Sugar Glaze
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sliced almonds
**********

Melt butter in a pan over low heat.

Chop the unsweetened chocolate.

And melt it with the butter.

Whisk until smooth.

Take off heat, cool for 5 minutes. Continue to whisk in:

Brown sugar

Cinnamon

Salt

Eggs, one at a time

Followed by the vanilla. Whisk until batter is smooth, about 2 minutes.

Stir in flour, mixing until just blended.

Fold in milk chocolate chips.

Pour into a aluminum foil lined 8 x 8 square baking dish.

Bake at 325º for 35 minutes.

For the brown sugar glaze, bring the whipping cream, brown sugar and butter to a boil over low heat.

Once boiling, take off heat and stir in vanilla extract.

Spread over cooled brownies and top with sliced almonds.

Let sit for at least an hour.

Note: I love the aluminum foil trick. I was able to life the brownies right out of the pan. Not only did it save me one more dish to wash, it made cutting apart the brownies about a hundred times easier.

So thank you, dear neighbor for your help in finding Puck.

One good turn deserves another.

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Country Cat in the Big City

Puck is a most special cat. He is simultaneously entirely and not at all cat-like. To say he is intelligent is an understatement. And let’s not forget independent. He demands your respect but acts like a gentleman. But don’t think that he is stuck-up or fussy, because he might be the most good-natured and friendly cat I’ve have had the good fortune to meet. He has definitely been my co-host at parties while Kudzu hid underneath the bed. Most all the people who meet him tend to adore him. This cat has charisma.

And then on Monday, Puck, the first Southern gentleman in my life, went missing.

My heart stopped.

It’s my fault really – I left my bedroom window open without realizing there wasn’t a screen on it. Puck seized his opportunity and jumped the 10-plus feet to the ground below. I have been a cruel mistress, keeping him locked inside the entire year that I’ve been in Minneapolis.

Puck is the longest male relationship I’ve had in my adult life. I got him when I was a second-year grad student and he was just a wee little kitten, no bigger than my hand. He was rescued by my good friend Dave who affectionately named him something wildly inappropriate and eventually came under my care, love and affection. I re-named him Puck, after the Shakespearean imp in A Midsummer’s Night Dream and he has stuck with me through thick and thin. From the get-go he has almost always been an inside-outside cat.

I mean, there is so much to do outside.

Explore.

Stand guard.

Prowl the yard.

Find sunny spots to nap.

And try and fool the birds.

All of this outside fun came to a screeching halt when I moved to Minneapolis. I live in a very busy part of town, in an apartment building, with limited access to the outside. So I decided that the cats would become inside cats, knowing that Puck would hate me for it, but also knowing it was for his own good.

It wasn’t so bad during the winter, Puck is, after all, a Southern gentleman, and has very little interest in snow. But the snow has finally melted and the outside world has been testing Puck’s patience with being stuck inside. So when the opportunity presented itself, he pounced on it.

And gave me a fright.

Now, I don’t think that I am one of those crazy pet-owners. My cats eat plain old dry cat food and drink tap water. They tend to themselves while I spend long weekends in Florida. I don’t take them to therapy and I don’t schedule my life around their routine. I think that they are pretty well-adjusted animals, perfectly housebroken with minimal neuroses. And they get along, well, like brothers. Signs of affection followed by roughhousing.

But I was beyond worried when Puck went missing. At some level I knew he was just enjoying his newfound freedom, basking in a perfect, sunny spring day, likely close by. But by heart and my brain went to the worst possible scenarios. You might imagine what they were. Wandering too far away and getting lost. Not knowing what my building looks like from the outside. Having a run-in with another neighborhood cat, or worse, a car. But what I was most fearful of was that some family would come across him, become utterly charmed and take him into their lives and I would never see him again. Because he is that awesome of a cat.

Perhaps I am biased.

So I walked around the neighborhood in all directions. I made a frantic call to Scott and then to my mother. And I sat on my stoop with my coffee and a bottle of Puck’s favorite treats and waited, occasionally calling out and rattling the treats, hoping that he would hear me and come back home.

Even Kudzu would call out for him. (Or so I like to think).

It attracted the attention of my downstairs neighbor (who, incidentally has two cats, one of which named Puck). She helped me out more than I could have asked for. She walked around the neighborhood looking for him, went to the vets office behind our building and suggested that I post a “Lost Pet” ad on Craigslist. I cannot thank her enough for all of her help. So I posted an ad on Craigslist, skeptical that it would bear anything, but I thought I should cover all of my bases.

And amazingly, I got a call at 11:30 Monday night from a woman who thought she had come across Puck, a black cat with white patches on his neck and tummy. She had seen Puck, looked him up on Craigslist and gave me a call. Did I mention that she lived less than a block away? I now believe in the power of Craigslist and you should too.

So now Puck is back home, safe and sound.

And sitting in my favorite spot, on my lap.

Just a little bit irked that he isn’t back outside.

And I am left imagining how I will react to my future children …

Breakfast Scramble

It’s a tough call, but I am pretty sure that weekend breakfast/brunch is my absolute favorite kind of meal. Whether its with girlfriends at a favorite restaurant, with Scott in his screened-in porch or when it’s just me by myself sitting at my dining room table, bathed in the springtime sunshine – there is something about the simplicity and the casualness of the meal that I adore.

When it’s just me here in Minneapolis I might make french toast or more often, a breakfast scramble. When I was a kid my family would go to our cabin in the Cascades on the weekends to go skiing or hiking, depending on the season and more often then not we would have a scramble for breakfast, or “ranch breakfast” as we called it then. (Don’t ask me where the name came from – I have no idea.)

It’s not a pretty dish, I might even venture to call it homely. But it is cozy, comforting and reminds me of home and my childhood weekends at our mountain cabin. It’s not as sophisticated as an omelet nor as cumbersome as cooking all of the components separately. What it is – is versatile. At its base are onions, potatoes and eggs and whatever else you may have in your refrigerator.  Meat, veggies, greens and cheese can all be incorporated in any kind of combination. And it always works.

Breakfast Scramble with Ham, Cheddar and Arugula

Start by sauteing some diced onions over medium-low heat.

Add some diced potatoes (frozen hashbrowns will also work well).

Season liberally with your favorites – mine are salt, pepper and Tony’s.

Add some chopped ham.

(If using bacon or sausage I would suggest cooking it first, transferring it to plate and cooking the onions and potatoes in the leftover grease.)

Next, take a couple of eggs.

And scramble them.

Cook until mostly done. Add some arugula and cook until wilted.

And top with some shredded cheddar cheese. Heat until cheese is melted.

And that’s it. I think it takes about 20 minutes.

Now to take advantage of this rare spring sunshine …

Thai Red Curry

The transition into springtime here in the Twin Cities has been a slow and painful process. There will be one or two days of beautiful weather and then it will be cold, windy and gray. The whole thing has put me in a cooking funk. I don’t want the hearty soups or carb-heavy pastas with super cheesy sauce but it’s not quite the time for summer salads and meals revolving around the grill.

So what to make?

This girl decided that Thai Red Curry is the most delicious compromise. Full of vibrant vegetables swimming in coconut milk served with a bowl of fluffy white rice. Bright and fresh yet still substantial.

This dish has evolved over the years, inspired by my favorite Thai restaurant in Durham, Twisted Noodles. I think I have it just about right now. I’ve tried to estimate the ingredient measurements this last time, but to be honest, I usually just eyeball it.

Thai Red Curry

**********
3-4 cups cooked white rice
 
3/4 cup cut green beans
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4-5 carrots, peeled and julienned
1 can coconut milk (~14 oz)
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons red curry paste
2 teaspoons roasted red chili paste
1 1/2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
 
3-4 sprigs of thai basil, for garnish
 
**********

Start by cooking your rice!

(I have many times in the past, started chopping and cooking my curry without starting my rice and by the time the rice has finished cooking I am starving.)

Meanwhile, chop  the vegetables.

I like:

Green beans.

Red bell pepper

Carrots

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, deep-sided pan.

Add the chopped vegetables and cook over high heat, 5-7 minutes.

Add coconut milk and water.

Stir in:

Red curry paste

Roasted red chili paste

Fish sauce

Dark brown sugar

Let simmer over med-low heat, about 10 minutes.

Serve over rice.

What really makes this dish is Thai basil, but I wasn’t quite willing to shell out the $3 at the store for a single ounce of the stuff. You can often find these plants at the farmer’s market and I would encourage all to add it to their herb gardens. It will definitely be in mine. But, even without the basil this is a fantastic dish. I often make it with chicken – cooking the chicken and then adding the vegetables and proceeding as described above.

But really Minneapolis – I am begging you to show your nicer side.

Lonely Girl Cheesecake

Scott mentioned that he had a slice of lemon raspberry cheesecake for his birthday and I haven’t been able to get the idea out of my mind. It seems like the perfect combination of decadence and freshness. (Note: I am trying very hard not to mention the snow I woke up to yesterday morning.)

I had to make something along the same lines.

There are usually two things that prevent me from making cheesecake.

1) It takes forever – the baking and the cooling. You really do need to make it a day before you want to eat it. And I am just not that patient.

2) A single 9-inch cake is a LOT of cheesecake. It really is intended to feed a party – not a single person (or even a couple for that matter).

Hence, the Lonely Girl Cheesecake. I baked these mini-cheesecakes in a muffin tin marbled with lemon curd and raspberry jam. Mini-cheesecakes accomplish several things. Like allow me to make a fraction of a normal recipe. They both cook and cool faster. And they are the perfect size – three wonderfully awesome bites. Not to mention the ratio of graham cracker crust to cool creamy filling is just about perfect for my tastes.

Lemon Curd and Raspberry Mini-Cheesecakes

Makes 8.

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The Crust 
2/3 cup crushed graham crackers (~6 whole crackers)
2 teaspoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted
 
The Filling
1 – 8 ounce package cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

 

Lemon Curd
Raspberry-Rhubarb Jam
**********

Mix together:

Crushed graham crackers

Brown sugar

Melted butter

Press down in lined muffin tins.

Refrigerate while making the cheesecake filling.

Beat together:

Cream cheese

Sugar

An egg.

Sour cream.

Vanilla extract.

And just a little bit of lemon juice.

Beat until smooth.

Fill muffin cups 3/4 full with filling.

Now top with some swirls of lemon curd and raspberry-rhubarb jam.

Bake at 300º for 20 minutes.

Cool completely and then transfer to the refrigerator to chill through.

I ate one for breakfast.

And then I at another.

I must admit, I am glad that I am not under any obligation to share these treats.

They are all for my lonesome.