February 10, 2019

Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies

It's that time of year again: either you want to bake things to celebrate your significant other or you want to bake things to gorge on while you yell at the Bachelor to take out your anger for being single yet again. I'll be having a nice Galentine's Day dinner with friends and hanging with my cat, but that's no reason not to treat myself with some of my favorite recipes (and go crazy in the candy aisle on February 15). Although most people go with something elegant and/or chocolate-y (and I tend to follow suit), sometimes you just need an occasion to indulge in something red velvet. Red velvet cake is delicious but a bit too labor-intensive when you take into account all the frosting and decorating, and my red velvet crinkle cookies are a crowd favorite but a little messy. Enter these bars, which have all the flavor of red velvet and cream cheese frosting but in a portable bite and no decorating involved.

Red velvet is kind of a weird flavor. It's technically chocolate but doesn't really taste like it, and it almost always involves buttermilk. You know how I add buttermilk to pretty much everything even if it doesn't really need it? Today I did the opposite: these are bars not cake, so they don't need the extra liquid. There is some cocoa powder because it's a brownie and it's red velvet, and the splash of white vinegar really does enhance the cocoa's natural redness even if it does smell bad. However, just cocoa and vinegar would make a really sad-looking brownie, let alone a red velvet brownie, so I add a ton of red gel food coloring.

The bulk of the brownie is still a normal brownie. I mix a ton of melted butter and sugar together, then add vanilla, some cocoa, some vinegar to enhance the color, and all that food coloring. Eggs go in next, then just a bit of flour and salt to hold it all together. It doesn't need any leavening since you want that dense, fudgy texture. If you're unhappy with the color after you stir in the flour, you can stir in more dye; just be careful that you don't overmix the batter.

The cheesecake swirl is what really steps up these brownies. It's super easy: just beat some cream cheese and sugar together, add two egg yolks to help it set up during baking, and stir in some vanilla and salt for flavor. The key to that perfect marbled look is reserving some red velvet batter to dollop on top, since it's pretty hard to pull the batter up and over the cream cheese layer and still have it look pretty (and not just pink everywhere). A knife or offset spatula will give you more pronounced swirls, as opposed to just a toothpick. Once it's baked you're done, since any frosting or glaze would just cover up that gorgeous marbling. If you're feeling particularly romantic, you can skip the swirls and make some hearts instead. The great thing about red velvet is that it's perfect for any occasion, whether for Valentine's Day or just for your coworkers (as mine will experience when I bring these in for taste testing).

1 1/2 Cups Flour
1/2 tsp + Pinch Salt
2 Sticks Butter, Melted
2 1/2 Cups Sugar
1 T + 1 tsp Vanilla
1/3 Cup Cocoa Powder
Red Food Coloring
1 1/2 tsp White Vinegar
4 Eggs + 2 Egg Yolks
16 oz Cream Cheese, Softened

Heat oven to 350F and line a 9x13" pan with parchment.

Combine the flour and 1/2 tsp salt. Whisk the melted butter and 2 cups of sugar together. Add 1 T vanilla, then the cocoa powder, then the food coloring, then the vinegar. Whisk in the eggs one at a time. Fold in the flour mixture until just combined.

Beat the cream cheese and remaining 1/2 cup sugar together with a hand mixer or stand mixer until smooth. Add the egg yolks, remaining 1 tsp vanilla, and a pinch of salt.

Spread most of the brownie batter into the prepared pan. Dollop the cheesecake filling on top, then top with the remaining brownie batter. Swirl with a knife or toothpick and bake for 40-45 minutes or until cooked through.

Makes 24 Bars
Recipe Adapted from Sunny Anderson

January 31, 2019

Philly Cheesesteak Dip

It's time for another quick and easy dip recipe, just in case the everything bagel dip wasn't quite enough for you and your Superbowl party. This one may not be as simple as mixing three ingredients together, but it's hot and gooey and perfect for the 70% of you that had below-freezing temps this week. It's still way easier than making actual Philly cheesesteaks for a crowd since it's all the components mixed up into one skillet and baked until brown and bubbly. It also emphasizes the cheese part of cheesesteak, which is everyone's favorite part anyway.

Of course, you can't have a cheesesteak without the steak either. When I first started working on this recipe, I cut up some steak and seared it off like I would a real Philly cheesesteak (with the added bonus of tasty fat to cook the veggies in). However, even my attempt at thinly-sliced steak turned out chewy and rubbery after being cooked twice. Luckily there's a solution, and it makes your life even easier: the magic of your grocery store's deli counter. You can buy thinly-sliced roast beef like you would for sandwiches and throw it right into the dip.

I try to dice the roast beef and the veggies about the same size so it's easy to eat. For those classic Philly flavors, I cook off some onions and bell peppers, but sauteed mushrooms would also be delicious (and stretch the dip a bit more). You could also throw in some jalapenos for kick, or stir in some hot sauce. Garlic powder, onion powder, and a splash of Worcestershire round out the flavor profile.

The base is plenty of cheese: cream cheese, mozzarella, and provolone with a bit of mayo to thin it out and make it nice and gooey. The cream cheese adds bulk and a dippable texture, the mozzarella adds stretch for that classic cheese pull, and the provolone gives you the quintessential Philly flavor. Sorry Philadelphians, but I'm not about to add cheese whiz to this. Once it's all mixed up and baked, there's the matter of what vehicle you want to use to get it into your mouth. I tend to go for baguette slices or little crostinis, but pretzel chips or pita chips would work too. A regular old spoon would also work for leftovers after your Superbowl crew heads out.

2T Butter
1/2 lb Deli Roast Beef, Diced
1 Small Yellow Onion, Diced (3/4 Cup)
1 Small Bell Pepper, Diced (3/4 Cup)
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
8 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1/4 Cup Mayonnaise
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
1 tsp Worcestershire
1 1/2 Cups Shredded Mozzarella (6oz)
1 Cup Shredded Provolone (4oz)
Crostini, Pretzel Chips, Pita Chips, etc.

Heat oven to 350F and grease a 9" skillet or small baking dish.

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and bell pepper, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 4 minutes or until tender. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant. Set aside to cool.

Combine the cream cheese and mayonnaise and mix until smooth. Add the garlic powder, onion powder, Worcestershire, and salt and pepper. Stir in 1 cup of mozzarella and the provolone. Add the steak and cooled veggies.

Spread the mixture into the prepared dish. Bake for 20 minutes, sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella, and broil until browned and bubbly. Serve with the bread or chips.

January 23, 2019

Everything Bagel Dip

Apparently I'm a bit late to the party. Which party? The everything bagel seasoning one. Everyone has been raving about this stuff for months, and I finally caved and bought a jar of it. My main question was what was I going to use it on, since I'm not into the whole avocado toast fad and I didn't have a desperate need to spice up my other breakfast foods. Enter my sister and her need for dorm-friendly recipes for friends in college. This dip is only three ingredients: cream cheese, sour cream, and everything bagel seasoning and can be whipped up by hand (but a mixer does make it easier). You know what party you won't be late to with this dip? Your Superbowl party, since this takes all of 5 minutes to make but will be the star of the snack table.

The main ingredient here is the cream cheese. You can't have a good bagel without cream cheese, and you can't have a good dip without it either. Since this is a bagel-inspired dip, the cream cheese is pretty much non-negotiable. I use a brick of plain cream cheese (go for the full fat stuff here... I promise it's worth it) and make sure to bring it to room temperature. If it's still cold, you'll end up with lots of little lumps, which you want to avoid if at all possible. I mix the cream cheese with some sour cream to help loosen it up and get a dippable, spreadable texture. 

Once the cream cheese and sour cream are nice and smooth, it's time to add the everything bagel seasoning. You could make your own, but that would involve buying dried garlic, dried onions, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and flaky sea salt. I'd much rather buy the pre-mixed blend, plus it's not like making your own would cut out any preservatives. Side note: preservatives aren't typically a bad thing since they have to be approved by the FDA and it's not like we food scientists throw them in everything for funsies... they serve a real and important purpose and you shouldn't drive yourself crazy trying to avoid them. Soapbox aside, if you can find this seasoning at Trader Joe's or wherever else I say go for it since it makes your life so much easier.

Unfortunately, I think your Superbowl friends may judge you just a little if you go at this with a spoon, so you'll probably want to invest in something to dip with. The clear winner is bagel chips. This is everything bagel dip, after all. You can make them yourself by slicing up some bagels and toasting them in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil, or you can ask your local bagel place if they sell them pre-made. If bagels aren't your thing or you can't seem to find any, pretzel chips or pita chips would be pretty tasty too. If you're trying to be healthy, go with some baby carrots or celery sticks (or maybe find a salsa or something, since this is literally just cream cheese and sour cream). Of course, you also don't have to limit yourself with the occasion. The Superbowl may only happen once a year, but I'm hosting Bachelor watch parties every week, and you know this will be the main event.

8oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1 Cup Sour Cream
2 T Everything Bagel Seasoning
Bagel Chips, Pretzel Chips, etc. 

Beat the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer or whisk for 2 minutes or until smooth. Add the sour cream and beat for another 2 minutes until combined. Stir in the seasoning and serve with bagel chips and other dippables.

Makes 2 Cups