Peppermint Patty Brownies


Do you ever have one of those moments when you realize that it is very possible that you are someone else’s crazy? Like, when you have to dig deep and say, “Self, you are about to become the punchline in someone’s ‘Oh my god, I used to know this crazy girl who…’ story if you don’t stop acting so, well, crazy.” ? I was (am?) there yesterday.  I asked someone a question that as the words were coming out of my mouth, the logical, non-Sybil side of me was screaming, “STOP TALKING!!! STOP. TALKING. RIGHT. NOW!!” but it was out and there was nothing I could do but own it and try to move on.  Yikes.

What this has to do with food is really nothing other than I decided to bake some brownies to occupy my mind (because I’ve never made brownies from scratch before so I thought it would be a good project) and try to bring myself back to a place that’s a little more Zen and a little less whirling dervish.  Baking has a calming effect on me mainly because I have to concentrate on measuring ingredients out and setting up bowls and not overmixing or underbaking and it’s hard to think about random acts of nuttiness as you are trying to get egg whites to reach a perfect peak.  For a very long time I’ve wanted to make brownies with Peppermint Patties in them because I love brownies and I love Peppermint Patties and so, why not?  I realized that putting them at the bottom of the pan would likely not be a good idea, so I decided to do a layer of brownie batter followed by a layer of Peppermint Patties and then topped by a layer of batter.  Keep in mind that I was watching the end of Kings of Pastry while I was thinking about this, so inspiration was running high.

It’s doing this–making up recipes–that makes me realize that I really have no idea what I’m doing in a kitchen, despite having taken classes and made my way through boot camp.  So when the original recipe called for 2 cups of sugar, I had to pause and try to figure out how to account for the fact that I was adding Peppermint Patties to the mix.  And then would that change the consistency of the brownies? And would the middle of the patties melt and harden and become inedible? And should I cut back on the chocolate? AND……! And before you knew it, I’d forgotten all about my moment of crazy the day before since I had now spiralled down into an abyss of culinary kookiness.  But unlike my other bout of WTF?, I was the only witness and could easily conceal all evidence if need be.

After a bit of tweaking and doubling the baking time, I have to admit to being pretty happy with my experiment.  They’re a little crisper on top than I’d normally like, but the center is moist and fudgy and I cut them so there’s a Peppermint Patty in each square.  The sides (which are usually my fave part of a brownie) were much too crunchy, so I had to cut them off.  I’m not sure if that had to do with lining the pan with foil or that I had to bake much longer than recommended (I think the suggested pan size is too small).  But the absolute best part is that I was completely distracted, which is exactly what I wanted (more than I wanted a whole pan of warm brownies, which says a lot).  I feel better, I can think back on what was said without cringing and calm has returned to my world.  But…there’s one lingering thing nagging at me.  If being in a kitchen can make me this happy so quickly, what the *$)#%& am I doing sitting in an office all day….?

Peppermint Patty Brownies (adapted from Gourmet, October 2003)

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Chocolate Chip Crisps


I always think that the worst part about the holidays being over, other than my credit card statement, is that the treats just end.  And there’s no weaning period, either.  You leave work in December slightly overwhelmed by the chocolate and candy on every desk and come back in January and there is nary a goody to be found.  Not even a Lifesaver or a broken candy cane.  After being on a sugar high since Halloween, it’s kind of harsh to give up the sweets so suddenly.  And it adds to the winter blahs, too, no?

I’d planned to whip up another Hawaiian treat for you so you’d forget that the forecast is cold, followed by frigid and rounded out with a little dear-lord-I-think-the-inside-of-my-nose-has-frozen for the next 7 weeks, but I was craving something comforting and chocolate laden and not too terribly bad for me (as hard as it is to imagine, that combination does exist!) to ease me into the new year.  Luckily, one of Santa’s elves delivered these crisps in my stocking and it took every ounce of self-control I had not to eat the whole bag in one sitting.  Twenty minutes later I said to myself, “Self, it is Christmas and you have suffered in overheated stores and ruined new boots in the snow in order to spread holiday cheer to others, so if eating an entire large Ziploc bag of crisps would warm your soul, go for it.” And so I did.  With a glass of milk that may or may not have had a shot of Kahlua in it.  Why do I admit these things to you?! 

Anyhoo, they are as easy as they are delicious and the hint of curry is a nice addition to the standard cookie happiness.  I think I would up the curry a bit more next time, but I like a little spice.  The original recipe called for pistachios, which I obviously avoided, but I think just about any nut would work here.  Get creative! What’s the worst thing that could happen? You have to eat a tray of test crisps all by yourself?  If that’s the low point of winter, I’d say we’re off to a good start…

Chocolate Chip Crisps (adapted from Paul Grimes’ Pistachio Dark-Chocolate Crisps in Gourmet, December 2007)

  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Nestle semi-sweet chips)
  • [1/2 cup of chopped nuts of your choice]

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Line a large baking sheet with parchment.

Blend butter, brown sugar, flour, vanilla, salt, curry powder, and egg white in a food processor until smooth.

Glue parchment down with a dab of batter in each corner, then spread remaining batter evenly into a 14- by 10-inch rectangle (1/8-inch-thick) on parchment with spatula. Scatter chocolate and nuts evenly over batter, then bake until firm and golden-brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer, still on parchment, to a rack to cool completely. Remove from paper, breaking into pieces.

Devil’s Food Cake


I’m tempted to just give you the recipe and say Happy Wednesday because, sweet baby Buddha, it is hard updating this blog when people are expecting me to do actual work and for some reason telling stories about food doesn’t count.  But since Procrastination and I have started up again, here you go.

This is how it started: I recently met a charming man, Q, who loves cake, frosting and chocolate.  As I’ve come to learn, charming men who like baked goods abound, but I’ve also learned that that does not necessarily mean I should whip out my cookbooks and mixing bowls at the mere mention of red velvet.  Q, however, did tell me about his favorite bakery—and I’d like to pause here to say that he has many admirable attributes, but having a favorite bakery is rather swoon worthy, don’t you think?—and I thought that the vow to hold off on baking for potential suitors would not be broken if I actually purchased a cake.  So I called said bakery in anticipation of Q’s birthday to find out if they could deliver this yellow layer cake with butter cream frosting in the middle and fudge frosting on top that he had described to me.  And they said that for a fee of $40 they thought they could deliver a $13 cake, but they needed to check.  Check on what exactly? Extortion laws in Illinois? I will say that a lovely woman called me back and said that they couldn’t do it but that they’d be happy to do a sheet cake for me, but Q had made it clear in one of our many cake confabs that sheet cakes were not on the list of his favorite things.

So now I had the dilemma of either finding another bakery—a surprisingly hard thing to do in Chicago (another reason I need to win the lottery)—and hoping for the best, or making a cake myself.  And you all know I couldn’t pass this up, right? I mean, come now, who am I kidding?  I tried to rationalize the fact that I was yet again baking for someone well before my granny would approve by saying it was for the sake of the blog. And that I’d never actually made a chocolate cake from scratch, so it would be a fun challenge.  And that I’d post it in February in time for Valentine’s Day.  And…and…and…what it boils down to is that I am a baking slut, as I was called by my friends (?) last week. 

I thought that I would whip up a devil’s food cake and some chocolate frosting and be done with it.  How hard could it be?  And that—that cocky baking attitude—is what had me standing in my kitchen three nights before the actual birthday celebration cursing Mark Bittman (I seriously thought of doing one of those public record searches for his home phone number so I could call and ask him what the *%^(&# he was thinking when he included this terrible sour cream substituting/folding in egg whites/who has time for this crazy? recipe in his “How to Cook Everything [except a chocolate cake]” cookbook) and checking my moral compass on how bad it would be to make a Duncan Hines cake and pass it off as my own (verdict: bad, but not totally unforgiveable). 

I brought my sad little test cake to work and people were kind enough to say it was good, but deep down I knew that it had no chocolate flavor, it was dry and dense and the frosting tasted like spoonfuls of butter followed by a powdered sugar chaser and nothing like actual fudge frosting.  This was the moment where I was met with a fork in the road:  I could give up completely and buy a cake somewhere, because really, the whole point was to give Q a cake on his birthday, not to have me sitting on my kitchen floor rocking back and forth surrounded by cookbooks and melted chocolate.  Or, I could pick a random recipe off the internet, recognize that it may not work, and hope that he fell into the category of people who believe it truly is the thought that counts.  One fork would spell defeat; the other would cause me to have to be adult and rational… Neither particularly appealed to me, but this wouldn’t be much of a story if I went with the store bought.

I decided to play it safe with epicurious.com, because they give Bon Appétit recipes, which haven’t let me down yet.  By this time I’d run out of time to do a test version; I had to just go for it. This was the perfect time for my procrastination to kick in, because I was paralyzed by nerves about starting the cake.  So I organized all of my ingredients on the counter; I rinsed out all of my bowls; I lined up all of my utensils; I read the recipe 20 times so I knew everything step by step; I put on happy, positive music and visualized a perfect cake. 

And guess what?  It worked! No, I really didn’t see that one coming, either.  I mean, by this point I was pretty sure that Failure was going to come stand in my kitchen and laugh at me, but I knew as soon as I took the cakes out of the oven that I had success, because they looked exactly like cakes made from mixes. 

And the frosting! The frosting was the kind of thing that you could just eat a bowl of while watching The Real Housewives of Orange County, because it tasted like a melted dark chocolate bar (my one suggestion here is to not taste too much of it before you finish your cake, because you may not have enough to actually frost the cake. Not that that happened to me.).

So lessons learned: Mark Bittman should not be trusted unless you have time to experiment.  Epicurious.com can save you from any disaster. A homemade cake is much better and says a lot more than a bakery one, even if said bakery is a favorite and the homemade cake is slightly lopsided.  And potential suitors who are still talking about delicious birthday cakes days later are almost as hard to find—and just as essential—as the perfect recipe…

Devil’s Food Cake (courtesy of Bon Appétit/epicurious.com)

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Chocolate Covered Oreos


I had a really good story to go along with this little recipe, and I swear I cannot remember what it was.  No, seriously. I’ve been sitting here for five minutes trying to remember the story that came to mind while I was making these on Saturday and, thank god my life does not depend on it, because I’d have an easier time telling you the square root of 72 than I would remembering the story right now (and if you know me at all, you know that it would be impossible for me to tell you the square root of 72.  I don’t even know if 72 has a square root).  Yikes.  Mama needs to lay off the eggnog

At any rate, suffice it to say that I love Oreos and adding a bit of milk chocolate and sprinkles (or crushed candy canes) takes them from happy to euphoric in about an hour (the time it takes to melt the chocolate, dip the cookies and let them set).  

These aren’t just for holidays, but come in handy when you need a quick dessert to take along to a party or have a sick friend or really just need some comfort food because you realize that you can’t remember as far back as two days ago. 

I’m going to let the pictures do the talking for me while I go looking for my sanity…

Chocolate Covered Oreos

  • 1 bag Hershey’s milk chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening
  • Oreos

In a stainless steel bowl set over a saucepan of boiling water, combine chocolate chips and shortening (you don’t necessarily need the shortening, but I find it helps the chocolate to spread more easily).   Stir until melted; remove from heat.

Using two spoons, dip Oreos (a couple at a time, depending on the size of your bowl) in the melted chocolate and coat both sides.  Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment or wax paper.  Decorate top of cookie with sprinkles or crushed candy canes. 

Let set in refrigerate for about 45 minutes to an hour.

Comfort Food 101


Even though summer never really started, fall totally snuck up and scared me half to death.  And I didn’t really expect it to pull up a chair and get comfy so quickly, you know?  One day I’m in a cute sundress and flippies, the next I’m seeing 48 degrees on the weather channel.  Give a girl a minute to transition the wardrobe and shoes, ok? 

At any rate, this is my favorite season and not just for the boots and sweaters and Halloween candy.  I love that after months of eating salads and fruit and everything else that screams summer (ok, ice cream and hotdogs, too), I can switch out the teeny outfits for comfy clothes and make soups and stews and breads and pies to keep me warm from the inside out.  I don’t have a fireplace, but if I did it would be blazing at all times so that I could burn leaves (is that legal?) and curl up with a glass of wine and a book.  Fall definitely speaks to my Cancer-esque homebody tendencies.  

Last year, a good friend gave me a crock pot for my birthday (she was a good friend before, but that really upped things!) and although I was a little wary of leaving it on all day, when I learned about all of the happiness that slowed cooked meat can bring to my life, I was a quick convert.  Crock pot

 

Just as belted cardigans are the “it” fashion item for the season (really?), a crock pot is a definite accessory (really!).  I do lamb and chicken and beef stew and soups in it and most recently, pulled pork. 

I’m a little sad about the pulled pork discovery, because (1) I missed out on a whole year of it and (2) I doubt it’s something I could eat every day—regardless of it being the other white meat—even though I really, really, really want to. 

Pulled pork 1

I also made s’mores in my oven. 

Smores 3And while there is nothing quite like sitting around a campfire singing songs or telling scary stories while you roast marshmallows on a stick, making s’mores in your oven avoids that whole sitting-outside-in-the-cold-and-getting-splinters-in-your-unmentionables-and-then-having-to-sleep-in-a-tent-with-people-you-don’t-really-like thing (not that that’s a true story from Girl Scout camp or anything). Smores 1

So, while I would have liked a bit more summer sun and warm breezes, I am happy that fall is here, with all of the goodness it brings.  Now if we can just get winter to maybe take a little sabbatical…

 

 

Pulled Pork Sandwiches (adapted from Good Housekeeping) and S’mores

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Chocolate Chip Cookies


I have a favor to ask: let’s forget that it’s been almost 3 months since this little food blog was updated.  Let’s start clean and fresh and full of hope and promise, ok?

So, several months ago, I met a charming man we’ll call X.  Our first conversation, over dinner with a group of people, centered around food and the things I like to make, wish I could make and know that I’m good at making.  Bread, cakes, pies and cookies fall into all of those categories.  X promptly invited himself to my house to sample my bread, but I was raised to be a lady and taught never to bake for just anyone.  Now, I’m going to pause here to say that I have a hard time not cooking or baking for people I like.  Once I like you, as a friend or otherwise, I want to feed you.  But, I’ve learned to be a little discriminating.  I try not to give up the goodies too soon, just to make sure you actually like me and not my ability to follow a recipe.

X became fixated on me making him chocolate chip cookies.  Many a late night texting session was spent discussing my reasons why I wasn’t going to bake for him immediately, but how it would be worth the wait.  One Saturday evening with nothing to do, I decided I was ready to invite him over to watch me bake and eat cookies straight from the oven.  I texted my invitation.  The response? “Sorry, hanging out with the guys tonight.”  This was likely sign #17 that things weren’t working, but I am not easily discouraged.

Weeks later, after much back and forth between us for myriad reasons, I decided that either I was going to bake for this man now or I never would.  I mean, at some point you have to take the leap of faith and say that while the situation is not perfect, you’ve invested enough time and energy that you need to push the envelope a bit to see if things can go to the next level.  So on the first 85 degree day of the summer, I went to 5 different stores to find brown sugar.  I bought Ghirardelli chocolate chips and sifted flour.  I cranked my oven up to 350 degrees.  I baked 3 batches of cookies so I could pick a baker’s dozen of the most perfect ones.   I put them in a container and carted them off to X, hiding them in the bottom of my bag so the burning sun wouldn’t melt them. 

You know where this story is going, right?

Oh, don’t get me wrong, he said he loved them.  Said they were amazing and awesome and I inferred from his words that my cookies may rate up there with some of the best he’s had.  But not a week went by before he looked me dead in the eye and said, “I never promised you anything” and turned his attention to another girl in the bar (and to be completely fair to X, I am sure that he would tell you a different version of what transpired prior to him saying this, but this is (1/2) my blog, so whatever).

chocolate-chip-cookies2

The recipe is easy and the cookies are impressive, no matter the outcome of your efforts.  Just, you know, hold out for the right person like your mama taught you…

Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies (from Food & Wine, Feb. 2009)

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Truffle Goodness


I have this thing about having to pay huge amounts of money for food that I think I can make myself.  This presents a lot of problems, obviously.  I have no culinary training, so even though I do a lot of experiments in my kitchen, it’s about a 45% chance things turn out the way they’re supposed to.  And who really has the time to make all of the things that you can easily walk into a bakery and buy?  I mean, that’s the whole point of other people going to culinary school and opening their own shops and doing all the work: so I don’t have to.  But paying $5 for a cupcake makes me crazy, especially since the cupcakes at these places that have popped up over the last few years are never quite as good as the Betty Crocker ones I’ve been making since I was 7.

 

Last Christmas, after going to a chocolate shop and putting down half a mortgage payment for four tiny truffles, I decided I would make my own.  Who in their right mind, you may ask, makes their own truffles?  Well, someone with too much time on their hands and who doesn’t think that biting into velvety chocolate covered in cocoa powder should be only for the independently wealthy on special occasions.  When you realize how easy they are, you may start a protest outside of Godiva.  I’ll join you; just let me know when.

 

Chocolate Truffles (my tweaks in red)

 

 

 

 From Joy of Cooking

 Ø       3 ounces unsweetened chocolate

Ø       ¼ cup butter

Ø       2 tablespoons heavy cream

Ø       7 tablespoons sifted confectioners’ sugar

Ø       ground peppermint candies

Ø       cocoa powder

 

Coarsely grate the chocolate and melt it with butter.  Add the cream.  Gradually stir in until lump-free the confectioners’ sugar.  Cover and refrigerate 12 to 24 hours.  Make individual balls by rolling about a teaspoonful of the mixture in the palm of your hand.  This friction and warmth will cause the chocolate to melt slightly, so that the final coating will adhere.  Roll balls in cocoa powder.  Keep refrigerated, but for best flavor remove 2 hours before serving.

 

You can also make a hard chocolate coating by melting chocolate in the microwave or on the stove.  Dip each truffle in the chocolate and then sprinkle them with ground peppermint (I just took those starbright mints and ground some in the blender).  Let harden on wax paper in the refrigerator.

 

You can also decide to get fancy like these chocolate shops and add curry, cayenne pepper or liqueurs to your mixture.

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