Friday, January 30, 2015

Mocha Rum Brownie Bites

February is nearly upon us! With the season of love coming up, we here at Epic Food Quest have accepted the challenge of making and trying out various treats and meals that you can attempt. Be it for you to remind yourself that you are special or to create for your loved ones, stay tuned for some interesting things that we have lined up for this month. 

Do you have a chocolate lover in your life and want to kick it up a notch? Well we may have found a possible goody for you try. This one comes from Booze Cakes: Confections Spiked with Spirits, Wine, and Beer by Krystina Castella and Terry Lee Stone. Illustrated with images of the treats that each recipe is letting you make along with a notification at the top of the recipe which lets you know what type of occasion each one is good for, this is a comprehensive manual for those who enjoy baking. 

Mocha Rum Brownie Bites
1 (19.8 ounce) box brownie mix
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup half and half 
1/4 cup brewed espresso or strong coffee
1/2 cup dark rum 
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan
  2. Combine all brownie ingredients and mix well. Pour into prepared pan and bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let brownies cool completely before cutting into 24 equal pieces.
  3. Top with generous dollops of frosting and raspberries. Arrange on a platter and let everyone dig in, family-style. 

Mocha Rum Frosting
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
2/3 cup cocoa powder
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 teaspoons dark rum

Stir to combine butter and cocoa. Beat in confectioners' sugar and milk in three alternating additions, Add milk mixture to the butter and cocoa, along with vanilla and rum, stirring until smooth and creamy. Makes about 3 cups. 

~ The Artist ~
     This was one of most enjoyable brownie recipes that I've had a chance to play with. The only thing that I changed was choosing to make them in individual little pans so that the brownie came out as a little cake instead and switched the raspberries out for sliced strawberries and blackberries. My brownie mix of choice for this particular project was Ghiradelli Chocolate Supreme Brownie Mix. The mini cakes came out perfectly (save for some cracking on top which I wasn't worried about since they would be filled in by the frosting anyways). Just taking them out of the oven filled the kitchen up with an intense chocolate-floral aroma. Once cooled and decorated, it was time to indulge! The small brownie cake was soft and the frosting just intensified the richness. With the fruit on top, it just seemed to add to the indulgence of the experience. 

~ The Gamer ~
     When I was told that we were going to be having brownie bites, I wasn't quite expecting them to be turned into what can be best described as mini cakes. It certainly didn't take anything away from the experience though. The outer crust of a bit harder then appearances would have led one to believe, but once past that you get into the nice, soft center that's rich with chocolatey flavour. I believe there's rum in the recipe for the brownie bite itself, but you don't really notice it too much. That is more than made up for through the frosting that covers it. You get this lovely combination of rum and chocolate with neither overpowering the other. Overall it was a wonderful dessert, though one that some may wish to avoid due to how rich it can be. It's definitely worth a try by those that can handle it though.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Lemon Lavender Pound Cake

     Have you ever spotted a recipe online that the image of the dish or even the description made you want to try it? We're pretty sure that many of us have been there at least once or twice. Well we decided to go forth and try one of these recipes so you don't have to risk your kitchen. This one was originally posted by the blog Today's Nest for their Treat of the Week segment in April 2014. 

Lemon Lavender Pound Cake
For the cake:
1 cup self rising flour / 175g
3/4 cup sugar / 150g
11 tablespoons unsalted butter / 150g , at room temperature
3 eggs, beaten
zest of two lemons
1 teaspoon lavender
pinch salt
For the icing:
juice of one lemon
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar / 170g

The method:
Preheat oven to 350°. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper.
Sift flour and set aside. Add sugar and butter to a mixing bowl and beat on medium high speed until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Add eggs, zest, lavender, and salt. Beat until well combined. 
Add flour a quarter at a time mixing just until moistened.
Pour batter into lined loaf pan and smooth out the top with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 35-40 minutes. Check at 35 minutes with a toothpick. It should be clean with just a little moisture left behind when removed.
Cool completely on a wire rack.

While cake is cooling, mix lemon juice and sugar together. Stir until you get a good icing consistency. Pour icing over cooled cake and sprinkle with lavender, if desired. Store in an airtight container to retain moisture.

- The Gamer - 
     This dish turned out a little differently than I had expected. Part of that may have been due to the fact that we didn't have enough powdered sugar to make a regular glaze for it, but in the end it still turned out alright. Despite it being a pound cake, I found that it reminded me more of cornbread in taste and texture. It wasn't very sweet, although the lemon did come through without being overpowering. Unlike most of my experiences with cornbread, the cake wasn't overly dry or crumbly, but it was still nice and firm, with a nice bit of crust on the outside edge. Unfortunately, although there was lavender in it, you couldn't really taste it. Overall, it was a nice recipe that I would definitely enjoy having again, although perhaps with a proper glaze next time to see how that changes the texture and flavor.

- The Artist -
     Well I followed the recipe save for the fact that I didn't have enough confectioner's sugar for the icing. So instead I made a lemon juice based simple syrup and lightly drizzled a bit over the pound cake. The result? Soft but firm so it didn't crumble, cooked to a golden brown. The treat tasted wonderful, however unfortunately all I could taste was a light lemon flavor and nothing of the lavender. More then likely if I do this particular recipe again, I would be testing out how it would work if I omitted one of the eggs and replaced it with a 1/3 cup of lavender tea and in turn make the icing with lavender tea as well. Just little personal notes for the future that I get to keep in mind.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Corned Beef and Vegetable Casserole

Wanting to have something that could be made as a main course or a side dish? This is what we looked into when dusting off this book from our collection. The Spice Cookbook by Avanelle Day and Lillie Stuckey was originally published back in 1968 but don't let that
deter you. Filled with a history of various spices and their countries of origin, the book describes old uses for the spices then takes a look a large variety of recipes. Flipping through the slightly yellowed pages and looking at the different choices, we settle on Corned Beef and Vegetable Casserole. 

Corned Beef and Vegetable Casserole
2 cups cooked, diced potatoes
2 cups cooked, sliced carrots 
1 cup cooked, sliced celery
1/3 cup onion flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper 
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1 can (12 ounces) corned beef
1/4 cup vegetable cooking water (vegetable broth)
3/4 cup soft bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

Combine the first 8 ingredients and turn half into a 1 1/2 quart casserole. Break corned beef into small pieces over the vegetables. Cover with remaining vegetables. Add vegetable water. Combine bread crumbs and butter or margarine and sprinkle over the top. Bake in a pre-heated moderate oven (350° F). 45 minutes or until browned. 

- The Artist - 

There were a couple of slight differences to the recipe that I had done but was still thrilled with the results. Instead of using cooked vegetables, I used fresh raw vegetables. The other change I did was 2 cans of corned beef instead of one and not using extra salt, instead opting to rely on the saltiness of the meat to do the work instead. I assembled the casserole as the directions instructed but at the 45 minute point, I stirred everything then put it back into the oven for an additional 25 minutes to finish the cooking process of the potatoes. The end result was tender vegetables complimented by the texture of the salty corned beef. The best way to describe the experience of this is like eating a deconstructed pot roast dinner. In the future when making this particular dish, I will probably experiment with adding other vegetables such as corn or even turnips. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cabbage Smothered with Bacon

Wanting to use up some left over cabbage or just went on an impulse buy at the local farmer's market and not sure what to do with that sizable head? That was our dilemma on today's Food Quest installment. So what could you possibly do with this understated vegetable? We found an answer! This time we take a peek at an unlikely recipe book in our eclectic kitchen library which gives us a solution - Ideas for Entertaining from the African-American Kitchen by Angela Shelf Medearis. The book itself is filled with meal ideas set up as a menu then discusses how to make each item in order to celebrate various holidays throughout the year. Chapters are divided by month and celebration which are as follows: 

  • January
    • Emancipation day - Jubilee Dinner Party
    • An Afrocentric Baby Shower
    • Martin Luther King Day Celebration
  • February
    • African-American History Month Buffet
    • African-style Engagement Dinner for Two
  • March
    • Women in History Month - Sisters' Rejuvenation Brunch
  • April
    • Traditional Easter Dinner
    • Blue Monday Party
  • May
    • National Malcom X Day Dinner
    • Memorial Day Dinner on the Grounds Picnic
  • June
    • Junteenth Caribbean-Style Dinner
    • Jumping the Broom Rehearsal Dinner
  • July
    • Fourth of July Family Reunion Barbecue
  • August
    • Young Adult Rites of Passage Dinner
  • September
    • Honoring the Ancestors - Parents' Day Dinner
  • October
    • Heroes' Day Children's Party
  • November
    • Thanksgiving Harvest Celebration Dinner
  • December
    • An Old-Fashioned Christmas Dinner
    • Kwanzaa Karamu Feast
In the Martin Luther King Day Celebration section, one of the side dishes caught our attention which was perfect for our needs. 

Cabbage Smothered with Bacon
3 slices bacon, chopped
1 small head cabbage, washed and shredded
1 large green bell pepper, sliced
1 large yellow onion, sliced
1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
3 stalks celery, cut diagonally into thin slices

     Fry the bacon until crisp in a large skillet or Dutch oven. Remove the bacon and set aside, reserving the bacon drippings in the pan as they will add flavor and moisture to the cabbage. Add the cabbage, bell pepper, onion, tomato, and celery to the pan. Raise the heat to high and fry the vegetables, stirring constantly, for 5 to 8 minutes or until the vegetables are crisp-tender. Cover the pan, reduce the heat, and simmer the vegetables for another 5 minutes. Crumble the bacon and sprinkle it over the vegetables. 

- The Artist - 

The recipe was rather easy to follow, the cooking of the bacon taking most of the time to cook. The only item in the ingredients list that I changed for this was instead of a green bell pepper, I used a yellow one instead since I'm not personally a fan of the bitterness that the green has. Since I was working with a massive amount of cabbage, I put a lid over the whole pan of vegetables for them to sweat down a minute or two before I was able to actually stir the entire mixture. Flavor-wise, it was very reminiscent of something I had in my use when I lived in Germany for a few years. Though simple, the butteryness of the cabbage was brought out by the drippings of the bacon. This went perfectly with the sweetness of the bell pepper and tomato which was itself balanced out by the salty bacon. Since this was a side dish, I had made a herb seasoned pot roast and jasmine rice to go along with it. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Greek Almond Crescents

This time around, we bring to you a recipe from The Afternoon Tea Collection published by Metro Books. Full of colorful pictures of decedent snacks along with their easy to understand recipes, there are so many goodies to choose from to make and enjoy with a perfect cup of tea. Flipping through the pages, trying to narrow down just one to try out could be a bit difficult. Chapters in the book include:

  • Sandwiches
  • Scones
  • Friands
  • Little Tarts
  • Little Cakes
  • Big Cakes 
  • Biscuits
  • Slices
Today we take a look at one of the options in the Biscuit category called Greek Almond Crescents. 

Greek Almond Crescents
250 g (8 ounces) butter, softened 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1 cup (220g) caster (superfine) sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup (60ml) brandy
3/4 cup (120g) roasted blanched almonds, chopped finely
2 1/2 cups (375g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (225g) self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup (60ml) rosewater
1/2 cup (125ml) water
3 cups (480g) confectioners' sugar 

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Grease oven trays.
  2. Beat butter, extract and caster sugar in small bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and brandy; transfer to large bowl. Stir in nuts and sifted flours and nutmeg, in two batches
  3. Turn dough onto floured surface; knead lightly until smooth. Shape tablespoons of dough into crescent shapes; place about 2.5 cm (1 inch) apart on trays.
  4. Bake about 15 minutes or until browned lightly. Lift hot crescents onto wire racks; brush with combined rosewater and water. Coat thickly with sifted icing sugar; cool 
prep + cook time 50 minutes      makes 50

- The Gamer - 

I wasn't quite sure what to be expecting when I first got my little plate full of crescents, as I hadn't been informed yet as to what had been used as ingredients. What I did notice shortly after taking a bite was a slight tartness to it, which I would assume came from the rosewater, as it was accompanied by the faint scent of roses. The pastry is fairly well balanced, not too dry that it just crumples in your mouth, but also not so moist that it's just a soggy mess in your hand. The dusting of powdered sugar also compliments it well, giving it a bit of sweetness that wouldn't be present otherwise. There was a slight background flavor of almonds that could almost be missed if a person wasn't looking for it. Overall, it was a rather tasty treat and somewhat reminiscent of things that my grandmother and/or mother would make when I was a child.

- The Artist - 

Having been looking forward to trying this recipe out for some time, I gathered up the ingredients that I needed and set about following the instructions. Since I didn't have any caster sugar, I went about and used one of my mortar and pestles to manually grind white sugar into the superfine consistency that I needed. The only alteration that I made to the recipe was the size of the crescents, making them just a little larger in size. This only added an additional 10-12 minutes to the cooking time. Pulling them out of the oven, the kitchen was filled with the subtle scent of the chopped almonds and vanilla from the little tidbits. This was soon accompanied by the wonderful floral notes from the rosewater as I brushed them with the mixture and gave them all a good snow fall of powdered sugar. Finally having a chance to taste my hard work, I was pleasantly surprised and rewarded by how all of the scents and flavors worked together in harmony in my mouth. I ended up pairing the treats up with a nice cup of peach green tea which worked wonderfully. The only thing I would probably do differently to my process would be chopping the almonds a bit smaller then I had done or use a food processor to make sure they were small enough. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Lavender Rose Tea

      2015 is finally here and we are dusting this little foodie haven. After a bit of a discussion, we agreed that it would be a good idea to also include recipes that we will try out which will range from meals and desserts to beverages. With a small library of cookbooks at our disposal and friends who suggest things to us via Facebook, there is no lack of inspiration. So what are we starting off the new year with? Tea!

Lavender Rose Tea
- The Artist -

     There are so many types of tea out on the market but for those who are more on the DIY stance of things, there's always the option to make your own which gives you more freedom to try various flavor combinations. One popular option is floral teas. If you have your own edible/herbal use flowers, you are able to harvest and dry your own. For  this particular combination, use English Lavender and Autumn Damask Rose. If you are unable to grow your own, check your local ethnic grocery stores or online. Mix equal parts (of course feel free to play around with the ratio of the combination to find out what you like) dried rose and dried lavender and brew like you would a standard loose leaf tea.

     Your nose will be greeted by a wonderful aroma of lavender and rose harmonizing together. The color itself is a lovely golden hue which shimmers just slightly from the essential oils that had come off of the flowers during the steeping process. The reason I chose to add rose to the lavender in the first place was that I wanted to see how it would work with the strong flavor of the lavender. I was not disappointed in the results. Yes, the lavender was dominant, but the rose seemed to tone it down just a bit and add a subtle sweetness to it. On another note, if you choose to add sweetness to your tea, try only 1/2 Tbsp of honey.