The Best Ultra Quick Beans and Rice Recipe

Over the holidays Mom came up with a quick healthy dish that she thought would be a side but Melanie and I ate as our main course.  It is so simple I don’t even need to write out a recipe card for it.  Wanna hear it?  Here it goes…

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Survivalist Mushroom Caraway Soup

I like Survival Lily on Youtube and a few weeks ago she showed how to make a soup from things that can either be found in the woods or can be stored easily for a long time.  Melanie and I look for ways to incorporate mushrooms into our diet since they are so healthy and we don’t eat them that often and this soup seemed like an easy way to do just that.

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Loquat Jam

If you live in the southern US you may have loquat trees somewhere nearby.  If you live in Jacksonville, FL, the fruit is ready to pick and eat now.  The tree itself is nice looking and so is the little orangey-yellow fruit.  I think most people have them for their ornamental value but the fruit is tasty.

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Best Homemade Chocolate Ice Cream Recipe

Feeling hot hot hot?  Well, then it’s time for homemade ice cream.  I’ve given you some of the very best homemade ice cream recipes I know of already – Vanilla, Oreo Mint, Peanut Butter Cup, and Peach.  You can get a printable version of all four here.  We worked on them until each was the tastiest we’d ever had.  The only complaint we got was that there was no chocolate recipe.  As you can see below, that situation has been rectified.

This recipe was easy to finalize since we had already tested different chocolate combos for the best brownies in the world.  All we had to do was modify the winner to pack that flavor into ice cream.  Just like the brownies, the challenge of chocolate ice cream is making it really chocolaty.  It is easy to turn the white cream brown but getting a strong flavor to match that dark color requires several kinds of concentrated chocolate and a little espresso. Both Melanie and I agree that it is the best chocolate ice cream we’ve ever eaten.

I think this ice cream could be a real winner with chocolate Oreos broken up in it.  If it didn’t melt so fast, it might be nice to add some cinnamon chocolate pudding right at the end of the mixing.  Of course duplicating Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk is never a bad idea.  You’d just need to mix in white and dark chocolate fudge pieces, pecans, walnuts, and chocolate-covered almonds.

Maximum Chocolate Ice Cream (Printable PDF version)
Makes about 5 cups

1-1/2 teaspoons instant espresso
1-1/2 teaspoons boiling water
2 oz Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups heavy cream

1.  Freeze freezer bowl according to manufacturer’s instructions (probably overnight).
2.  Bring water to a boil in a medium bowl.  Stir in espresso powder dissolving completely.
3.  Stir in chocolate chips dissolving completely.
4.  Heat milk until hot but not boiling then add to chocolate mixture.
5.  Stir in cocoa powder dissolving completely.
6.  Cool mixture in fridge until very cold.
7.  Add sugar and mix on low speed for about two minutes until all sugar is dissolved.
8.  Add cream and mix about one minute until evenly incorporated.
9. Pour immediately into ice cream maker and operate according to manufacturer’s instructions until ice cream is thick and frozen (probably 30 minutes).
10. Eat immediately for soft serve.  Transfer to container and place in freezer for about two hours for firmer ice cream.

After you give it a try, let us know how you like it.  If you send me a picture of you enjoying your batch of ice cream (in a G-rated way), I’ll be sure to append it to this post.  Let me know if you want me to include your name or not.

Ricotta-Filled Orange French Toast

In the second recipe post of the week I’m going to reveal a secret family recipe that my mom has been using to wow visitors for years.  It will be perfect for your overnight or early morning holiday guests.

This recipe is simple, delicious and impressive looking.  The best part is that you prep it the day before so the morning it is to be served it just needs to be popped in the oven.  So far we’ve never had anyone turn their nose up at it and, in fact, when it was prepared just a few weeks ago, one of our guests photographed it to show his wife.

There is very little to say about this recipe other than it is a good one to personalize.  Basically, you are cutting a loaf of french bread into slices, stuffing it with a flavored ricotta cheese filling and soaking it in a flavored egg mixture to make fancy pants french toast.  It calls for oranges but you could substitute your favorite citrus.  We’ve tried tangerines to great effect (I think I like the taste even better than orange).  You can top them with maple syrup, butter that has orange rind in it, confectioner’s sugar or nothing at all.  If you use confectioner’s sugar you can get really extreme and place a stencil or doily on the toast to create a pattern.

You may want to half the recipe if you don’t have guests to feed.  One batch (as shown in the recipe below) makes about 16 pieces of toast and, depending on what else you serve, an adult can eat two pieces.

One last note, I use three tablespoons of sugar in the eggs and six in the filling but the original calls for two and four respectively.  I have a sweet tooth.  What can I say?  I also like eating them plain so that may be part of the reason.  Oh, and I also prefer two teaspoons of orange rind but the original recipe calls for one.

Ricotta-Filled Orange French Toast (Printable PDF)
Makes about 16 pieces of toast – about 8 servings

(2) 10oz loaves french bread
FILLING
6 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups ricotta cheese

EGG MIXTURE
6 eggs
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 Tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons grated orange rind
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon Grand Marnier, Triple Sec or Brandy (optional)

Cut bread in thick slices (about 2″).  Placing a slice on its side on a cutting board and supporting it from the edges where your hand won’t get cut, cut a pocket into one side of the bread.  Repeat for all other slices.  Mix sugar, vanilla and ricotta cheese to make filling and stuff slices with filling.  Place stuffed toast in (2) 9″ x 13″ pans.  Mix together ingredients for egg mixture and pour over stuffed toast.  Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours but preferably overnight flipping toast over halfway through the soak.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Wrap a cookie sheet in aluminum foil and spray liberally with cooking spray.  Place toast on cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until golden making sure to flip toast halfway through cooking.  If you do not coat the foil with enough spray, the toast will stick.

Simple Delicious Homemade Ice Cream

There is a light bulb moment the time you make your first dessert.  Things that look complicated are really simple.  Cookies seem complex until you find out they are little more than butter and sugar.  Frosting is even simpler.  You can literally make it from just butter and sugar.  In this pantheon of simple but sweet, we should include ice cream.  It tastes great but what is it?  “I know there is a loud machine and a lot of ice involved.  It must be too hard to make.  Please pass the Häagen-Dazs.”

Hold on!  Ice cream is simple.  With the right equipment and the recipes I’m about to give you, you can have soft serve sitting in your lap in about an hour.

Step One – Get the right kind of ice cream maker.  Unless you really love ice cream or have a large family, sell that giant beast of an ice cream maker lurking in the corner of the garage.  You want a smaller, quicker and easier machine.  We received the Cuisinart ICE-20 as a gift one year and it works great.  It is such a simple device that I’m sure you can find something comparable for about $50 (example).

“Can’t I just mix the ingredients together and stick them in my freezer?  Then I don’t need an ice cream maker.”  Only if you want a solid ice brick instead of ice cream.  The ice cream maker freezes the concoction while it is whipping air into it.

Preferred Ice Cream Maker Specifications
1. 1-1/2 to 2 quart capacity
2. Reusable freezer bowl (liquid core freezes so no ice used)
3. Simple to set up, operate and clean.

From Left to Right: Cover, Paddle, Freezer Bowl, Motorized Base

Step Two – Develop your base recipe.
The first ice cream aha moment came when we made our first batch of vanilla.  You freeze milk, cream, sugar and vanilla extract while whipping air into it.  That’s all there is to it.  Simple!

My second aha moment was when I realized that pretty much every flavor of ice cream uses the same base and adds in different flavorings and those flavorings are usually in about the same proportions.  Wow!  That means you can get new flavors pretty true to what you want with very little experimenting.

So let’s develop our base recipe first.  Everyone has slightly different ideas about what ice cream should taste and feel like.  Almost all of this is controlled by the amount of butterfat that is used.  You can get butterfat from a number of dairy ingredients like whipping cream, 2% milk and so on.  To keep things simple I recommend that you work with two sources:  heavy cream (it has the highest concentration at 36%) and whole milk (3 to 4%).

Try this recipe for vanilla first.

Vanilla Ice Cream (Printable PDF version)
Makes about 5 cups

1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.  Freeze freezer bowl according to manufacturer’s instructions (probably overnight).
2. Keep all ingredients cold – store in refrigerator until just before using.
3. Mix milk and sugar in medium bowl on low speed for about two minutes until all sugar is dissolved.
4.  Add cream and vanilla and mix about one minute until evenly incorporated.
5. Pour immediately into ice cream maker and operate according to manufacturer’s instructions until ice cream is thick and frozen (probably 30 minutes).
6. Eat immediately for soft serve.  Transfer to container and place in freezer for about two hours for firmer ice cream.

Next, modify the recipe to suit your tastes.  Most recipes call for two cups of heavy cream and one cup of whole milk.  We thought that tasted great and was very smooth but it leaves a greasy feeling in your mouth.  One cup of heavy cream and two cups of whole milk is acceptable but the ice cream begins to get a little more crunchy and I wouldn’t reduce the butterfat below this level.  As you can see with our recipe above, we settled right in the middle.

A note about eggs.  The very best ice creams use eggs.  Look on the side of Ben & Jerry’s and you’ll see them listed.  Why are they there?  Well, they serve as an emulsifier suspending all those little butterfat particles.  They also impart a nice texture, increase the shelf life and aid in whipping air into the mixture.  We don’t include them here because they are either added raw or really add complexity to the recipe when you cook them into a custard.  You can make great tasting ice cream without them so we leave them out.

Step Three – Go crazy with the combo moves.
You have your base tweaked just the way you like it.  Now comes the fun part.  Get creative and mix tasty stuff into it.

I’ve found that usually one teaspoon of liquids and two cups of chopped up or small solids works well so use this as a starting point.  Here are three recipes that we really like:

Oreo Mint Ice Cream (Printable PDF version)
Makes about 5 cups

1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 cups coarsely chopped Oreos

1.  Freeze freezer bowl according to manufacturer’s instructions (probably overnight).
2. Keep all ingredients cold – store in refrigerator until just before using.
3. Mix milk and sugar in medium bowl on low speed for about two minutes until all sugar is dissolved.
4.  Add cream and peppermint and mix about one minute until evenly incorporated.
5. Pour immediately into ice cream maker and operate according to manufacturer’s instructions until ice cream is relatively thick but not completely frozen (probably 28 minutes).
6. Add Oreos and mix for two minutes until ice cream is thick and frozen.  NOTE:  You may need to remove a little of the base before adding the Oreos if your machine is small and whips in a lot of air.
7. Eat immediately for soft serve.  Transfer to container and place in freezer for about two hours for firmer ice cream.

Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream (Printable PDF version)
Makes about 6 cups

1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups Reece’s Peanut Butter Minis (1 bag – the tiny unwrapped ones)

1.  Freeze freezer bowl according to manufacturer’s instructions (probably overnight).
2. Keep all ingredients cold – store in refrigerator until just before using.
3. Mix milk, sugar and peanut butter in medium bowl on low speed for about two minutes until mixture is smooth.
4.  Add cream and vanilla and mix about one minute until evenly incorporated.
5. Pour immediately into ice cream maker and operate according to manufacturer’s instructions until ice cream is relatively thick but not completely frozen (probably 28 minutes).
6. Add PB minis and mix for two minutes until ice cream is thick and frozen.  NOTE:  You may need to remove a little of the base before adding the PB minis if your machine is small and whips in a lot of air.
7. Eat immediately for soft serve.  Transfer to container and place in freezer for about two hours for firmer ice cream.

Peach Ice Cream (Printable PDF version)
Makes about 5 cups

2 cups finely chopped peaches (about 4 small peaches – small have less water & better taste)
½ juice of a lemon
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1-1/2 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups heavy cream

1.  Freeze freezer bowl according to manufacturer’s instructions (probably overnight).
2. Keep all ingredients cold – store in refrigerator until just before using.
3. Combine peaches, lemon juice and ½ cup of sugar in a medium bowl.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.  Stir mixture occasionally (if desired).
4. Stir mixture and strain liquid into a separate bowl.  Return peaches to refrigerator.
5. Mix peach juice, milk and remaining 1 cup of sugar in medium bowl on low speed for about two minutes until all sugar is dissolved.
6.  Add cream and mix about one minute until evenly incorporated.
7. Pour immediately into ice cream maker and operate according to manufacturer’s instructions until ice cream is relatively thick but not completely frozen (probably 28 minutes).
8. Add peaches and mix for two minutes until ice cream is thick and frozen.  NOTE:  You may need to remove a little of the base before adding the peaches if your machine is small and whips in a lot of air.
9. Eat immediately for soft serve.  Transfer to container and place in freezer for about two hours for firmer ice cream.

Be sure to let me know about your fantastic cream creations.  I’m always looking for an excuse to eat more ice cream.

Update:  Here are all four ice cream recipes on a one-page layout.

Heavyweight Brownie Champs

If you don’t have an aversion to chocolate, you like brownies.  That’s just nutritional science.  If you are like most American families, your brownies come from a box.  Have you ever tried homemade brownies?  The difference is incredible.  Don’t get me wrong, I do not dislike box brownies but homemade brownies pack more chocolate punch.

On top of that, brownies are super easy to make from scratch.  You dump stuff together in one bowl, mix it, pour it into a pan and cook it.

There are some things you should know about brownies up front:
1.  They are allergic to nuts.  If you want a healthy snack, eat a handful of pecans or walnuts.  Leave them off brownies.  You are ruining them.
2.  They like to be a flat chewy black shingle of barely-cooked batter.  You cakesters can take your pan and go home.  If we wanted a fluffy chocolate dessert we would have made chocolate cake.
3.  Like any sane person, they will never turn away frosting.  However, the non-frosted recipes below lack nothing.

After years of personal tasting and trying different recipes, here are the three ways I’d recommend that you go depending on your objective:

Best Box – Fastest

Best Box Mix

Most box recipes are really quite bland.  You’ll wolf them down and like them, but to get a close-to-homemade flavor, I recommend Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate with Chocolate Chips.  They take about 2-3 minutes to prepare.  Cooking and cooling time is the same as homemade.

My one suggestion is to use a cooking-sprayed aluminum foil sling in your pan for easy removal.  If you don’t know how to make one, check out the video or read the recipe for Chewy Brownies below.

Ultimate Fudgy Brownies (Also Titled Chewy, Fudgy Triple Chocolate Brownies Sometimes) – Most Chocolate Flavor

I believe these brownies pack the most chocolate flavor, but that is up for debate in our household.  My wife contends that they offer nothing more than the Chewy Brownies discussed below.  Whoever is right, these brownies and the Chewy Brownies are a close #1 and #2.

The only issue is that these are drier than box mixes, which can be a bonus for brownies n’ ice cream.

You can find the recipe here.  I’m sorry it is behind America’s Test Kitchen’s pay wall (14 days for free).

Chewy Brownies – The Winner

Chewy Brownies

These brownies are the best all-around brownies you can make.  They have great chocolate taste and great texture.  There are chunks of chocolate hidden inside and if you really pay attention there is a complementary shot of espresso flavor.

The secret to the texture is a mixture of saturated fat (butter) and unsaturated fat (veggie oil).  The unsaturated fat stays liquid at room temp giving the brownies a more gooey fudgy texture that has been the hallmark of box brownies since time began.

The biggest disadvantages of these brownies are that they take more time to prepare (not much – maybe 15 minutes?) and are the most expensive because they use lots of different kinds of chocolate.  One thing to keep in mind price-wise is that these make about 1/3 more brownies than the Ghirardelli boxed version.

You can find the recipe for free here where you can watch an instructional video or download the recipe.  To get the written recipe you do have to provide an email address.

NOTE:  For whatever reason they make two measurement errors in the video (written recipe is correct).  Use 4 tablespoons of melted butter and 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons vegetable oil NOT 4-1/2 tablespoons of melted butter and 1-1/2 cups vegetable oil.  1-1/2 cups of oil would have these things swimming.  Yuk!

Taste Test

Last night at a Super Bowl party I decided to put the Chewy Brownies to the test.  We pitted them against the Ghirardelli brownies and results were unanimous.  Chewy Brownies are better.  One attendee described the difference between them best when he said that they were “Sweeter, more chocolaty and also more bitter all at the same time”.

If you think you can beat these recipes, please post your thoughts in the comments below.