Have you ever gone through a period of time where you just don’t feel like cooking? You get stuck in a rut and find yourself going out to dinner, driving thru or ordering takeout way too much than you care to admit. I know I have been there. People assume that as a professional chef I must eat gourmet meals all of the time or cook non-stop at home regularly but to be honest, sometimes I just don’t want to cook for myself and would much rather have someone else do the work for me. Yes, even I lack motivation, inspiration and the will to cook at home sometimes!
I have definitely been in that place over the past few weeks. My food spending was out of control, I wasn't feeling like myself, and it was hard to even muster up enough strength to get out of bed, let alone feed myself some days. So how do you break the vicious cycle? For me, it was going to my happy place of my favorite ingredient: chocolate! I knew that if I could just make something tasty and simple, yet elegant on a plate, maybe I would be able to make dinner for myself while chocolate treats were baking.
They say taking the first step is the hardest, but I knew if I just got going, I would pick up momentum and keep going. So, first things first, I put on a fun playlist, then I poured a glass of wine, preheated my oven and finally I broke out my most favorite brownie recipe. I was doing it!
Measuring ingredients cleared my brain fog and the smell of chocolate was in the air creating a great atmosphere for me to want to keep at it. This brownie recipe has been with me for as long as I can remember. All it takes is one bowl, one spatula and your preferred baking pan. They are so fudgy and delicious and are just so comforting to me, and that is exactly what I needed.
Pretty soon, I was feeling creative and thought to myself why not make a brownie sandwich of some sort? I decided to bake the brownies in what we call a quarter sheet tray so they would be thin and flat. The most important tip I can give you when baking these brownies is to not overbake them! Mine only took about nine minutes until they were done.
While the brownies baked, I thought of different filling ideas for this sandwich: pudding, panna cotta, mousse…then it hit me, we had just made Chocolate Pot de Crème in class the week before so the recipe was fresh in my mind. What if I baked the custard on a quarter sheet tray instead of in ramekins? I had never tried it before because usually you want to bake custards like Crème Brulee or Pot de Crème in a water bath for even cooking, but I love a good experiment and was hopeful that it would turn out as long as I didn’t overbake it.
Yield: 9 servings
Active time: 15 minutes
Start to finish: 25 minutes
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt leave out if using salted butter
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a quarter sheet pan or 8x8 pan
- In a medium bowl combine melted butter and cocoa and sugar stir until fully dissolved. You can do this in the microwave or a double boiler
- Add eggs one at a time then vanilla and stir until well combined.
- Stir in flour and salt until the flour is fully combine. Be careful not to overmix mix.
- (optional) Fold in 1 cup of nuts, raisins, chocolate chips or anything you desire.
- Spread in pan and bake for approximately 10 minutes or until the center is slightly set. Be careful not to overbake!
- Cool completely then cut into 9 large squares or 16 small squares or you can use a biscuit cutter like me to make round sandwiches
Chocolate Pot de Crème
Yield: 4 servings
Active time: 15 minutes
Start to finish: 2 hours, 40 minutes
2 cups half and half
1/2 vanilla bean
6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350° degrees using the conventional setting on your oven, not convection.
- Place the half and half in a small saucepan. Scrape the pulp from the vanilla bean adding both the pulp and the pod to the half and half. Heat until steaming. Remove from the heat, and discard the vanilla bean pod.
- Add the chocolate to the saucepan, and whisk until completely melted and smooth.
- While the half and half is heating, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and salt in a medium-size bowl.
- Slowly temper the warm half and half mixture into the eggs.
- Carefully pour the custard into a greased quarter sheet tray and bake in the center rack for 10 minutes.
Alternatively, this recipe can be made in individual ramekins:
- Place the cocottes in a baking dish, and pour in the custard until they are 3/4 full. Fill the baking dish halfway up the sides with hot water.
- Cover with foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until jiggly but firm.
- Remove from the water bath, and allow to chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or until cold. (May be refrigerated overnight and can stay refrigerated for up to 4 days.)
- While the custards are chilling, prepare the whipped cream. In a large bowl, measure together the heavy cream and powdered sugar. Using a whisk or an electric mixer, beat the cream until you have soft peaks.
- To serve the pot de crème, place a dollop of the whipped cream on top of the custard, and top with chocolate shavings.
One of the biggest things I miss about working in restaurants is the plating. I try and make pretty, composed plates for my meals at home, but it never really is the same. These brownie sandwiches may not be the best illustration of plating, but I had fun with it. I am usually really good at taking a ton of pictures of my food especially for my blogs, but like I said it’s been hard enough just getting food on a plate let alone taking pictures. But after making this dish, I was back in the game!
The dopamine hit of trying new things and the anticipation of eating chocolate was all I needed to catapult me into production mode. I brainstormed what I could make with what I had in my house. I can tell you it wasn't a whole lot because if it wasn’t apparent, I hadn’t gone grocery shopping in well over a month either! I tend to always have baking ingredients on hand so it was no problem to throw together my dessert idea but what about dinner?
Luckily another chore on my list that I have been neglecting is tending to my garden, which fortunately for me was overrun with tomatoes and peppers of all kinds, plus I just so happened to have a cucumber, chicken thighs and pita in the freezer so my mind went immediately to Mediterranean chicken salad pitas. I quickly defrosted the thighs in the microwave( not usually recommended but because I was cooking them right away I was not too worried) and marinated them with grapeseed oil and shawarma seasoning mix that I had in my pantry. Once all of the baked goods were out of the oven, I switched to the broiler and cooked the chicken for about 10 minutes. I cut up the tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, drizzled some red wine vinegar, lemon juice, dried oregano and plenty of salt and pepper over the top of the veggies and let the flavors meld before finishing with some olive oil and feta. Once the chicken was out of the oven and resting, I microwaved the pita pockets until they were just softened and charred them directly on my burner until both sides were lightly crisped. To assemble, I smeared some tahini on the pita, sliced the chicken and then topped it with the garden salad.
Since then, I have been on a roll cooking and meal prepping like I normally do. Above is a really awesome seafood boil I just made, but that will be a blog for next time! Food and cooking have always been my comfort zone and eating, of course, always makes me happy. I know it can be hard to get yourself out of a funk sometimes, so how do you break the cycle? What are some of your comfort foods that immediately put you in a better mood? For me, it will always be chocolate!
Hopefully this recipe for brownie crème sandwiches puts a smile on your face like it did for me. If you are looking for new skills, new inspiration, or just need to get out of that same old same old routine, Culinary Boot Camp is for you. It will give you the necessary skills to go to your kitchen and figure out a meal using what you have on hand just like I did.