Tuesday, July 15, 2008

treasure island

Picnics are one of my favorite types of dinner parties. Anthony Bourdain always says food tastes better when you're barefoot. I think food tastes better when you're barefoot and sitting underneath a big tree on a blanket. Really, what could be better? On Saturday, we did just that, joining Audrey and David (of the rendeng) and a bunch of their friends for a picnic on Governor's Island to celebrate Audrey's birthday. It was my first time on the island and I really loved it, from the totally free ferry ride to the rambling, almost empty fields of grass. Although the Manhattan skyline (and Olafur Eliasson's waterfalls) loomed right before us, it felt totally removed from the city in the best possible way.

But onto the food. Sharing a picnic with people you don't know can be risky business. Everyone might have a laundry list of food allergies, or someone might bring a gross, gloppy dip you feel forced to eat, or maybe people will slack and bring nothing at all. Luckily, none of these things occurred and everyone contributed something, creating a truly impressive spread. We had watermelon-goat cheese-thyme salad (brought by Ilana, a lovely Social Eats host–more on that later), homemade guacamole, orzo and feta salad, green beans with walnuts, celery sticks stuffed with chopped cashews and coriander, berries from the greenmarket, spiked mint lemonade–and lots and lots more.

I volunteered to bring dessert, thinking it would be an easy thing to transport not only on the subway, but also on a boat. But immediately after I emailed everyone to let them know, I was stumped. Not knowing who you're feeding makes choosing a recipe tough. Do you go predictable and classic (brownies, chocolate chip cookies, blueberry pie) or do you go surprising and different (chocolate stout cupcakes, dulce de leche dip and fruit, salted caramel cupcakes)? Sometimes it's fun to do something unusual and a bit showoffy, but I tend to lean toward the classics.

I decided on a bar cookie, and after scanning Epicurious and some other food blogs, I decided to go with peanut butter brownies and oatmeal coconut raspberry bars (above). Two options would offer a little variety and a back-up in case disaster struck and one totally didn't turn out, because I had never tried either recipe before. In the end, both were pretty successful; I'd even venture to say they were cookie smackdown-worthy. The peanut butter brownies were more like Reese's Cups, with a chocolate ganache topping and dense chocolate-chip studded peanut butter cake. I always assume chocolate desserts are the most popular with people, but the coconut raspberry bars, a lovely combination of buttery crust, toasted coconut, and sticky jam, went even faster than the brownies.

Oatmeal coconut raspberry bars
I used a lot more jam than called for in the original recipe, from Gourmet. Like an entire jar. But I also cut back the sugar, so it balanced everything out and added more raspberry flavor. Obviously, you could substitute any other fruit jam but I think raspberry complements the coconut especially well.
(Makes approximately 24 small bars)

1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 jar seedless raspberry jam (like AllFruit)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread 3/4 cup coconut on a baking sheet and toast in middle of oven, stirring once, until golden, about 8 minutes, then cool.

Blend together flour, sugars, and salt in a food processor, then add butter and blend until a dough begins to form. Transfer to a bowl and knead in oats and toasted coconut until combined well.

Reserve 3/4 cup dough, then press remainder evenly into bottom of a buttered 13- by 9-inch metal baking pan and spread the jam over it. Crumble reserved dough evenly over jam, then sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup untoasted coconut.

Bake in middle of oven until golden, 20 to 25 minutes, then cool completely in pan. The cut bars can be stored in an airtight container. I recommend using cupcake liners to keep them from sticking together.

Peanut butter brownies
I found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen awhile ago and it looked so fantastically decadent I filed it away for future use. While my brownies didn't turn out quite as bakery-case perfect as hers, I'm sure they tasted just as good.
(Makes about 32 small brownies)

For brownies:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 eggs plus 1 large yolk
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 tsp. salt

For ganache:
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (9 oz.)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking pan.

Beat together butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, then add peanut butter and beat until incorporated. Beat in whole eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla. Reduce mixer sped to low, then mix in flour until just combined.

Mix in chocolate chips (1 cup) then spread the batter in the baking pan, smoothing the top with a knife. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes, until brownies are deep golden, and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with some crumbs adhering. Cool completely in pan for about an hour.

To make the ganache, put chocolate chips (1 1/2 cups) in a heatproof bowl. Bring cream to a boil in a small saucepan, add the butter, then pour over the chocolate chips. Stir until the chocolate is completely smooth.

Spread the ganache on cooled brownies and let stand until set, about 15 minutes. Store the brownies in an airtight container.


Daniel said...

You know what makes a really good accompaniment to the sight of Danish water art? Stroopwafels!

Good looking out, Audrey and David!

Lisa said...

oh yes, there were also stroopwafels!

ilana said...

thanks for the mention! i loved the oatmeal coconut raspberry bars, they rocked (and until now, i didn't realize there was oatmeal in them)! yum.

Anonymous said...

Made your peanut butter brownies, and they are insanely good. Keep giving us the awesome recipes that you do!!!!!!


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