Brownies Without The Box

July 16

For someone who has always shied away from box cakes (I can make my mom’s faster than I can go buy the box), I’ve always been deathly afraid to make brownies without a box.

I was scarred (not physically, thank goodness) very early in life by brownies.  One afternoon I was babysitting my younger sisters and brother and they asked for brownies.  Since we didn’t have a box on the shelf, I decided to start from scratch.  I was 14 at the time and more than a little overconfident about my cooking abilities.  I mean, if I could make Kraft Mac and Cheese (this was before the kind in the cups), surely brownies were not beyond my reach. 

I pulled out my mom’s copy of Celebrations on the Bayou and decided to go for the ambitious sounding “Swamp Bottom Brownies.” 

To this day, I’m not quite sure where I went wrong.  Maybe I substituted baking soda for baking powder, or a tablespoon for a teaspoon.  Or maybe both.  Or maybe my mom had TNT powder stored on a shelf in her pantry.  Whatever the cause, my creation exploded in the oven.  Literally.  There was baked-on, exploded brownie on every square inch of surface in my mom’s oven.

Needless to say, after 2 cans of Easy Off Oven Cleaner and almost an hour on my knees leaning in and scrubbing, I decided box brownies were all anyone every really needed.

That, and my oven was going to be at shoulder level – not down near the floor.

So why the change?  Well, we are approaching the one year anniversary of the start of this blog, and part of my goal was to challenge myself in the kitchen.  After all, this whole thing started because I had never made pickles before, either.  So I decided to tackle the beast – brownies.

Plus, there were some really cute boys around who spent an afternoon exhausting themselves – they needed some chocolate.

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 12 ounces plus another 1/4 cup of semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons hot brewed coffee
  • 3 extra large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup chopped, toasted pecans or walnuts (optional)

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Butter and flour (or Baker’s Joy) a 12″ casserole.
Melt butter and 12 ounces of chocolate chips over simmering water. Add the coffee.  Allow to cool slightly.

In a large bowl (not a mixer) stir together the eggs, vanilla, and sugar.  Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture.  Allow to cool to room temperature. 

Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add the remaining chocolate chips and nuts (if using).  Pour into the casserole and bake at 350°F for 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Do not over bake!

Enjoy!

Smoky Eggplant Dip (“Moutabbal”)

July 16

We have apparently reached the age of the insanely busy summer.  I seem to spend my life in the car, shuttling boys from Vacation Bible School, to tennis lessons, and then to baseball camp — and my kids don’t even do travel ball!  Or even more strangely, I find myself alone for whole chunks of time while the boys ride bikes with friends to the pool or the bayou.

My summer schedule has been crazier than usual, too, since ACT (in all their infinite wisdom) added a July test, in addition to the traditional June one.   So for the first time in almost a decade, I have worked for all but a few days. 

Luckily, though, we’ve been in town, and my husband has been working overtime in the garden, too.  The eggplants, in particular, have been amazing this summer.  

And this dip?  The perfect thing to enjoy on a back porch or dock, with a glass of cold white wine for contrast. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 large Black Beauty eggplants (may combine with Ichiban) (approximately 2 lbs by weight
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • 4 Tablespoons tahini paste
  • 2 Tablespoons minced garlic
  • Juice of 1 large lemon
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon Greek yogurt (optional)
  • 8-10 mint leaves
  • 8-10 basil leaves

Procedure:

Heat oven to 375°F. 

Prick eggplants with a fork and char the skin (on a grill or over a gas flame) until almost no purple remains.  This step is optional, but increases the smoky flavor. 

Brush a foil-lined baking sheet (for easy clean up) with one tablespon of the olive oil.  When the eggplants have cooled, trim the stem and cut in half lengthwise.  Sprinkle the cut side with salt and turn the eggplants cut side down on the baking sheet.  Bake for 30-35 minutes.  Let cool to room temperature. 

Using a spoon, scrape out the pulp into the bowl of a food processor (it’s ok if a little of the skin makes it into the food processor). Add tahini, lemon, cayenne, cumin, yogurt (if using), mint, and basil.  Pulse until combined. 

Add more salt and lemon, if needed. 

Garnish with olive oil, paprika, and chopped mint or basil, and serve with pita chips or pita bread cut into wedges. 

Enjoy! 

Chocolate Chip Cookies

August 31

One of the biggest perks of teaching is that we are off on school holidays.  My friends who actually use their law degrees? Not so much.  So sometimes they let me hang out with their kids… and sometimes, I get those kids to make cookies with me, since my kids (sigh) are kinda over it most of the time. 

These are our family’s favorite cookies.  Crisp on the edges, soft in the center, and filled with just the right mix of chocolate flecks, chips, and chunks. 

Speaking of flecks — this is going to seem a little high maintenance, and most of the time I do use plain old semi-sweet morsels… but for truly amazing cookies, I like to take the big Ghiradelli chips and coarsely chop them.  This ensures not only big chunks of melted chocolate, but those little random flecks scattered through the cookie.

It helps when you have a strong (notice the shirt) almost-sixth-grader to do the chopping.  As soon as I told the younger kids they couldn’t do the knife work, he stepped right up and was interested again (albeit briefly).

The best part of these cookies? I usually freeze them on a cookie sheet overnight.  Then the next morning, I scoop them into a gallon ziploc to store in the freezer.  We take out the frozen dough, a dozen at a time, and bake.  So on any given afternoon, they are just as easy as “storebought” — but soooo much better. 

Adapted from my favorite food blogger, Deb Perelman over at smitten kitchen

Ingredients: 

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cups melted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 cups chopped chocolate (or semi-sweet chips)

Procedure: 

Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (trust me, it’s worth it).  
In a stand mixer, cream the melted butter and both sugars.  Add the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk, and beat for at least 3 minutes.  

Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, and mix until just combined.  Add the chocolate chunks (or chips) and mix until just combined (a few seconds is all this will take).  

Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes OR (even better) scoop dough balls onto a cookie sheet that will fit into your freezer (oh, and turn off your oven, since you won’t be baking these until tomorrow).  

Depending on the size of your scoops, the cooking time will vary.  In my house, we use a small-ish ice cream scooper, and cookies typically bake in 8-10 minutes.  

Enjoy!

Turns out that even after you’re kinda over making cookies with your mom, you still show up to eat them 🙂 

And possibly the only thing that just might be better than warm-out-of-the-oven cookies?  According to some fans, getting to scrape the dough bowl: