Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from Dish-Gracepoint Fellowship Church. Hope you're having a good time at home with family during this break.

Better Brownies

Quick Look_______________

One time when our group (acts2fellowship gold) went to Sierra Lodge last year, we made 20lbs of brownies for a late night snack! While making it in bulk, we stumbled upon the secret of making them really good. People liked it so much we finished it all (20lbs for 40 people or 5 servings each). Since then we made it a few more times and refined the process and made it for a few other events at Gracepoint Fellowship Church. The result is moist, fudgy brownies with a rich chocolate flavor. You can use whatever brand you like. I personally like Krusteaz, but Ghiradelli is good too.

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 1/2 - 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Labor Intensity: Could do by yourself, but 2-3 helpers would be good.
  • 30 servings, adjust by 1.5x if your group tends to eat multiple servings.


  • 3 boxes of brownie mix (about $2/box)
  • Water
  • Eggs (if needed)
  • Oil (if needed)
  • Powdered sugar (optional)
  • Total: about $5-10


  • Preheat the oven as directed on the box.
  • Grease a 13 by 9 by 2-inch pan(s) or whatever size pan you have.
  • Pour all the dry mix into a large bowl.
  • Pour the water, eggs, and oil into another container. Gently mix the liquids, but don't get it foamy. (I personally add a little less water than recommended, see end of post) Also use 1-2 eggs per 1lb box of mix. If it asks for more, add more yolk.
  • Add the mixed liquid to the dry mix and stir slowly and carefully. I like to go along the side walls and fold it into the center.
  • The mix should be to the point where there is very little dry powder. However, do not beat out the lumps. The mix should be very lumpy. It should look like a Nestle Crunch candy bar. Just mix the minimum amount to get it mostly hydrated.
  • Pour it into the pan and place it in the oven.
  • Check it 10 minutes before the recommended cooking time on the box. Put a toothpick in the center or a wooden chopstick and it should come out clean. In fact, I like it when it has a few moist chunks clinging onto the stick, just make sure it isn't watery.
  • Check it again 5 minutes before and pull it out when you feel it's ready. I would recommend pulling it out a little too early when it looks moist and gooey, but not liquid.
  • Allow it to cool and sprinkle powdered sugar on top (optional)

Tom's Tips and Tricks_______________

I spent a semester experimenting and thinking about how and what makes a good brownie. The 2 basic principles are (1) don't over mix it and (2) don't over cook it.

(1) We had a hard time mixing 20 lbs of brownie mix and decided to just cook what we had and it came out well. Another time we decided to beat out all the lumps and mix it for 30 minutes on an electric mixer. That was the complete opposite of what we ate. Through this experiment we determined that mixing it too much contribute to gluten formation which would make the brownie bread like. I like brownies to be fudgy.

(2) Most people overbake brownies. If you smell it from your living room, it's too late. The flavors are volatile and when you can smell them, they are released into the air and no longer in the brownie. That's why you should remove them early to keep the chocolate flavors in the brownie. That and you want to keep the brownie moist and overcooking would dry it out. The residual heat will continue to cook the brownie a little, so take it out just before it's ready. It will be ready by the time it cools down.

Manipulating the ingredients could also contribute to the quality of the brownies. Egg (particularly egg white) will make the brownie cake like (or more appropriately bread like). Yolk will not affect it. I like to withhold one egg white when I make brownies in bulk. Also, beating egg white will make it fluffy like angel food cake. I will post on this in the future. I would use 1-2 eggs for every pound of brownie mix. If the box calls for more, you can reduce the egg whites, but keep the total yolks count. For example some mixes call for 3 eggs, I use 1-2 egg whites and 3 yolks.

Next, I like to add a little less water. One time I accidentally added a little too much water and the mix became batter like. The result was a breadlike brownie. I think the excess water contributed to gluten formation. In addition, the excess water leaves in the form of steam. The steam is trapped (like the tiny pockets inside bread) in a process called "oven spring". If you add more water, you would need to leave it in longer to dry it out to the point where the toothpick is clean. This extra cooking time means more chocolate flavor is leaving the brownie.I like to reduce the water by about 10% give or take, judging by sight (this effectively means a spoonful or two) . I like to add the minimum amount of water to get it thick, hydrated, lumpy and then add a little more.

Just follow the guidelines on the box for the rest. You may need to adjust it for high altitude. Actually Sierra Lodge provides the best environment since it has a convection oven which allows it to cook quicker and high altitude which means you need to pull it out faster. The result is a deep chocolate flavor in a fudgy brownie.

I like a thicker brownie, which means more gooey soft insides, but a thinner brownie is good too if you like the chewy outside.

Variations: There are many ways to modify the basic brownie recipe.

You can add instant coffee to the mix for a richer flavor. If you substitute coffee instead of water, make sure it cools down. Don't add hot water.

I like to add crushed pecans or walnuts to the mix. You can also spread on some peanut butter on top of the batter and swirl it into the wet mix. I particularly like a little of that.

Another variation is to add fresh cooked caramel or fudge to the top (I'm not talking about the ice cream syrups, though you can use that too) halfway through the baking process.

Another variation that some people like is to add crushed red pepper into the dry mix. I could go either way on it, but some people like it.

I like to add chocolate chips, or even white chocolate chips into the mix.

If you substitute butter for the oil, reduce water a little more. Butter has water in it and will increase the water content. I prefer oil as it doesn't mix into the batter too well and forms little micelle like packets.

[Possible side dish] Milk and ice cream!


This week's dish gracepoint food science lesson is about gluten. When you eat French bread, there is a chewy texture where the starches feel like they are made of long chewy strands.

There are two proteins in flour that interact when hydrated and form gluten. When you mix around the dough (in a process called kneading) you allow the gluten to interact with other gluten molecules and form an extensive network. CO2 gets trapped in this framework and that's the basic principle behind bread. The more you mix and move around the flour, the more the gluten network develops. This is desirable when making French bread, but bad when you don't want gluten as in pie crusts. Since gluten requires hydration, you can add fats to prevent this. Shortening (hydrogenated oil / crisco) gets it's name from it's ability to "shorten" the length of gluten strands. The fat gets between the gluten and doesn't allow the molecules to interact. It's particularly effective when you add fats first and mix it in. That way the flour gets coated with oil and is "water proofed" to prevent gluten formation.

Understanding these principles allows us to manipulate food to get the desired consistency. In my next post I will talk about how you can use this knowledge to make what I (and many others) feel is the BEST BROWNIES I've ever had.

Bread Pudding

Quick Look_______________

This recipe comes from Carlton Fong from Gracepoint Fellowship Church - Austin and he told me it was really popular there. I recently wrote a post on stale bread, but sometimes it's just beyond repair. In that situation you can turn it into bread pudding. Or another good situation is when you have too much leftover from a dinner or trip, you can allow it to go stale and use it for a future dessert. It fits perfectly into Dish-Gracepoint's philosophy on being creative and resourceful on a limited budget. If you use old bread, just make sure it isn't moldy.

*If you have fresh bread, you can cut bread into cubes and on baking pan/cookie sheet, just put in oven on low heat until the outside gets crunchy.

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 1/2 - 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Labor Intensity: Could do by yourself, but 2-3 helpers would be good.
  • 25 servings, adjust by 1.5x if your group tends to eat multiple servings.


Bread pudding

  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 10 large beaten eggs
  • 4 cups milk
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (I like to add a little more)
  • 6 cups cubed Italian bread, allow to stale overnight in a bowl*
  • 2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2 cup chopped pecans (optional, but adds a nice elegance)


  • 2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (2 stick) butter, melted
  • 2 egg, beaten
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13 by 9 by 2-inch pan(s).
  • Mix together granulated sugar, eggs, and milk in a bowl; add vanilla. Pour over cubed bread and let sit for 10 minutes.
  • In another bowl, mix and crumble together brown sugar, butter, and pecans.
  • Pour bread mixture into prepared pan(s). Sprinkle brown sugar mixture over the top (I don't use the whole thing if you want it to be a little less sweet and healthier) and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until set. Remove from oven.


  • Mix together the granulated sugar, butter, egg, and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat.
  • Stir together until the sugar is melted. Stir well.
  • Pour over bread pudding. Serve warm or cold.

You can also serve hot off the oven with a scoop of ice cream. I would imagine this would be good with a dash of cinnamon or possibly nutmeg.

Stale Bread

This week's dish gracepoint food science tip is about retrogradation or simply put the process which stale starchy foods become soft again.

Starches (amylose and amylopectin) bind to water when cooked and it's referred to as gelatinization. When hot, there is alot of free energy which allow the molecules to move around and the gel is in a disordered state. As the gel cools, it regains structure as it crystalizes and hardens resulting in the texture known as stale bread.

To make this easier to understand... for those of you who have made rock candy or have taken o-chem lab, imagine a sugar solution that is boiling. The solution flows easily when hot. As the solution cools, the molecules start clumping together and forms crystals. By the time it's room temp, the solution is hard, brittle, and jagged. On a microscopic level the starches are doing the same thing.

Bread that is fresh out of the oven have a moist, tender quality that quickly degrades the moment it is removed from heat. This is, to a certain extent, reversible. When a gel crystalizes, it can return to it's disordered state through reheating. The starches return to a gelatinized state and the process is called retrogradation. The result is a soft, moist food that is nearly the same quality as when fresh.

So what good is all this book knowledge if you can't apply it? If you bought french bread to serve with dinner or have old bread rolls you'd like to use, you can simply place in the oven at a low temp (I usually set it to 250F) and allow it to get warm. Just watch out that it doesn't toast too much. Once the internal temperature reaches 140F, or the temperature of a roast done "medium", the starches should have softened. Another way, which is quicker but not as good, is to place it in the microwave for about 10 seconds. I actually take french bread slices and do this and it comes out soft and chewy.

This process is not just limited to bread but explains why leftover rice becomes hard once it gets old (and cold) as well as doughnuts, bagels, pastries and why pizza fresh from the oven is always better. In all of these cases, you can simply reheat in the microwave and it will be (partially) restored

It works reasonably well and gives good results, but it is limited. Every time it is heated and reheated, there is loss of moisture as it evaporates. Without water to rehydrate the food, it will not properly retrograde. That's why many people add a little water to a bowl of rice, cover it and microwave.


Quick Look_______________

This recipe comes from Dung Tran. Our group (acts2fellowship gold) actually used a similar recipe when we went to Yosemite and alot of people liked it. It's a fairly basic sauce and it's easy to make. Use whatever noodles you like, the picture above is penne.
  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 1/2 - 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Labor Intensity: Could do by yourself, but 3-4 helpers would be good.
  • 25 servings, adjust by 1.5x if your group tends to eat multiple servings.


  • 1.5 cups extra virgin olive oil (I like Berkeley Bowl's Organic olive oil at $10 for a 3 cup bottle)
  • 3 bunches of garlic (about $1.50 at safeway)
  • 1 large can (6.5lbs) of diced or crushed tomatos (about $4 at costco, $5-6 at smart and final)
  • any herbs (I like sweet basil)
  • pinch of salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 6lbs of pasta (I like linguine for this, but any will do, about $5 for a 4lb pack at smart and final)
  • Total: about $25


  • You will need a large stock pot.
  • Crush garlic with the side of your knife using palm of your hand.
  • Chop garlic into coarse pieces.
  • Add all the garlic to the pot
  • On low to low/medium heat add a little oil and stir until light brown.
  • Add can of tomatos and remaining oil and turn heat up to medium.
  • Add some herbs, whatever you like, to taste. I like sweet basil and a little rosemary.
  • Cook the sauce until it starts bubbling a little and turn down heat to just below bubbling, stir for about 10-20 minutes or until desired taste.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste
  • Serve with cooked pasta noodles

Tom's Tips and Tricks_______________

Use fresh garlic. I wrote a post on why it is better than pre-processed garlic. If you use the pre-peeled garlic, use about 50% more.

Make sure the oil isn't too hot, it will destroy the delicate flavors in the oil and burn the garlic.

You can use dried herbs, but fresh is better. Use what you have. Season it however you want, my personal recommendation is to make it a little salty, don't be afraid to add it, just don't go overboard. Salt tends to bring out other flavors and can make the herbs taste more intense.

The tomato sauce will be acidic, when you boil it, the acid boils off or breaks down and it becomes smoother as time goes on. Cook until it isn't sour. You could add sugar to make it less sour, but that's not as good as cooking it longer under low heat.

[Possible side dish] some kind of salad/vegetable dish, bread rolls

Meat Grades

Finals is just around the corner and I know grades are something on the minds of many students. Well this is a different kind of grade that is equally important. Beef is graded on 2 criteria: age of meat and marbling.
As the cow ages, the muscles become more developed and tougher. Also there is a change in the arrangement of fat within the animal. The fat is between the muscle fibers in a younger cow. As the cow ages, there is less fat within the muscles and all of it is stored on the outside of the muscle. The degree of fat within the muscle is called marbling. When you shop for a steak, look for speckled, spotty streaks of fat in the meat. Avoid huge chunks of fat around the perimeter. The fat melts during cooking and make the meat juicy and flavorful from the inside.

There are 8 categories of beef grade (ordered from the best)
  • Prime (young meat, very well marbled)
  • Choice (young meat, well marbled)
  • Select (young meat, lean)
  • Standard (older meat, somewhat marbled)
  • Commerical (older meat, less marbled)
  • Utility (older meat, lean)
  • Cutter (processed meat snack)
  • Canner (other dog food)
Prime, choice, and select all come from young cows (about 3 years old or younger). The other grades come from older cows and will be tougher and less marbled. Prime accounts for about 2% of all meat and is expensive and hard to find. Choice is less marbled than prime, but still very good. Select is the leanest cut of the 3, but still from a young cow.

When you shop at Safeway, if it is not explicitly labeled then it is usually "commercial" or "utility" grade. Don't be tricked by the "rancher's reserve: tender beef" sticker. It doesn't mean anything.

Personal recommendations: Costco only sells USDA Choice beef as well as Nob Hill. When the prices are competitive or on sale, I would recommend getting meat from these 2 locations; it's usually about 3 grades higher than Safeway meat. "Select" is still good and usually about 10%-20% cheaper when you can find it.

Chicken and Pork have different grading systems, but they aren't as extensive or as critical to meat quality.