Tuesday, February 19, 2013

better than duncan's crocker

What?  Did I say that?  Why, yes.  Yes I did.  These brownies are better than Duncan's and Crocker's put together.

I absolutely love Duncan Hines brownies.  And I love them even more than ever, because some varieties are dairy free.  I never thought I would appreciate a boxed, pre-fabricated food but then allergies entered the equation, and I found first hand how difficult it can be to take the easy route...

So we always have a box in the pantry, just in case we need brownies in a hurry.  But the last few times I have made them, there was just something not quite right.  They weren't like I remembered them.  They tasted a little too eggy and a bit chemically.

I, like many others before me, have toiled away trying to find the secret that makes these brownies so dense, chewy, and chocolatey, but with that impossibly flaky top.  So many of us, it seems, are on a quest for that perfect brownie.  And who has set that standard that so many of us strive to duplicate?  That's right.  Duncan Hines.


These brownies are about to give them a run for their money.  I have tried so many of the "best brownies ever" only to find that they were not, in fact, the best brownies ever.  So I am not about to claim that I have come up with the best brownies ever, because obviously that's all subjective anyway.  

Oh who am I kidding.  These are the best brownies ever!!  I have solved my very own Duncan Hines challenge!! 

I really love this recipe because it is just so easy.  And the amounts are not accidental.  I worked the proportions so that they are straight up.  A stick of this, a cup of that.  Straight.  Up.

Since I am not one who particularly likes to follow rules, recipes, or knitting patterns, I fight the "baking has to be exact" idea.  If you want these brownies to be more gooey, add less flour.  If you want them to be less gooey, add more flour or less butter.  If you don't want them to be too sweet, add less sugar.  No sweat.

And the best part is that they take less time to prepare than it takes for the oven to preheat. 

the best brownies ever

8 oz enjoy life chocolate chips or chunks (I use a slightly rounded to overflowing cup of chips)
8 tbs earth balance butter or unsalted (dairy free) margarine
2 eggs
1 c. sugar
1 tsp vanilla
very scant 1 c. all purpose flour
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

Line an 8x8" baking dish with two strips of foil or parchment paper.  To do this, take one strip that is the width of the dish, and line the dish with it, letting the overhang.. well.. overhang.  These overhanging parts will be very useful handles later, when it's time to cut.  Repeat in the other direction.  Spray the foil or parchment with cooking spray.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  Once melted, add the chocolate, give it a good stir, and take it off the heat.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the flour and salt and set aside.

In a bowl, mix the eggs and sugar until light and slightly fluffy.  Once the chocolate mixture has cooled a little, add to the egg mixture, very slowly at first, to avoid cooking the eggs.  Once you have thoroughly whisked in about a tablespoon, you can add the chocolate with a little more abandon.  Once all of the chocolate is incorporated, add the vanilla, and then mix in the flour.

Pour into the prepared baking dish and bake for about 30 minutes.  Wait until the brownies have cooled (this is definitely the hardest, yet most important step), and pull out of the pan using the foil or parchment liner.  Once you have the whole thing out of the dish, it is much easier to cut.  I like to cut using a rolling pizza cutter.  

Now you may eat one.  Or four.  Go ahead, no one's watching...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

my lovely little valentines

Both of my kids have been sick, alternating turns, for about three weeks now.  My daughter was the originator of disease, passing it on to my son, and then in grand splendor, picking it up again as a re-manifestation from her chest to her ears, considerately keeping the fever at just below panic levels for way too long now.  Because she has had to miss so much school right before Valentine's Day, I wanted to do something really special.

And what's more special than a heart filled hallway?  The hallway of love.....

Very fun to make.  I painted large sheets of paper, and then cut out a lot of hearts!

First I painted....... 

......then I cut!!!

And then I took out some twine and taped it all together.  This was kind of a last minute project, and after I had it all taped up, I wished I had done something to the backside of the hearts, but no matter.  The kids didn't even notice.  They loved it!

And then there was the something special #2....  

My first thought was to make a heart shaped cake with a lovely fondant encasement, all pink and velvety smooth, with the rolling landscape of a baby's bottom, sprinkled with an array of fondant babies and hearts and anything else you can imagine, none of which I would ever have the time to make.

So instead I decided to make a giant cookie.  With the kids' help, of course.

I used my basic chocolate chip cookie recipe, but since it was a larger cookie, I baked it at a lower temp for a longer period of time.  It turned out perfectly.  Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside....  And of course, anything slathered in frosting can't be too bad, right?

Chocolate Chip Cookies 
*I adapted this recipe to make a giant cookie

1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon (wonderful for an added warmth, but the cookies are just as good without it)
1 stick Earth Balance butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. packed brown sugar, light or dark
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 c. dairy free chocolate chips or chocolate cut into chunks (I use Enjoy Life)

Preheat oven to 325˚F
Combine flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon (if using) in bowl.  Mix well.
On medium speed, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla and continue to beat until well mixed.

On low speed, stir in the flour mixture until blended.  Add the chocolate chips and stir to integrate them into the batter.

Grease a cookie sheet and dump the whole load of dough in the middle.  Spread the mound into whatever shape you like, making sure that it is no more than 1/2" thick.  Bake for about 25-30 minutes. I started checking on mine at 20 minutes, and pulled it out after 30.  Let sit for a couple of minutes, and move to a cool surface or rack to cool completely before you add the frosting.

vanilla frosting

5 tbs softened earth balance butter or unsalted margarine
2 c. powdered sugar
2-3 tbs soy milk
few drops of vanilla

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium low speed.  I usually drape a dish towel over top to keep the sugar from blizzarding all over the counter and on my person..  Once a ball is formed (this should take a few minutes), turn the mixer to low, and add the soy milk/vanilla a little bit at a time.  Mix until thoroughly combined, turn the mixer to high, and whip it up for about 10 minutes, stopping to scrape the bowl if needed.  Then add coloring, a drop at a time, until the desired color is reached.  Wait until desired food item is fully cooled and slather, slather, slather... mmmm...

Thursday, February 7, 2013

chocolate chip banana pancakes

I'm on a breakfast kick these days.  Breakfast for lunch, breakfast for dinner, breakfast for... well.. breakfast..

And I have been really into pancakes.  Flap jacks.  Hot cakes.  Hot flips...  Vegan pancakes, eggy pancakes, wheat-y pancakes, crepey pancakes, apple pie pancakes, pancakes, pancakes, pancakes.  There was a point where my kids actually almost started to get sick of pancakes.  


Then I pulled out these babies.

And that's really all I have to say about that.  I mean, come on!  Bananas, chocolate, and cinnamon!  In a pancake!!  With syrup!!!!!  Oh, and did I mention that they are dairy free?  Magical....

Yeah, ok, I'll see you later, I'm off to make some more of these....

chocolate chip banana pancakes

1 1/4 c. flour, whichever kind you like
2 tbs granulated sugar or coconut palm sugar (if you like, you can also substitute honey or maple syrup for the sugar, but if you do so, add it to the wet ingredients)
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
big pinch of cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 1/4 c. oat milk
1 egg (if you want to make this vegan, substitute the egg with 1 tbs flax seed and 2 tbs water, or 1 tbs or so of vegetable oil)
1 banana, smashed
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 tbs melted earth balance butter

1/4 c. enjoy life chocolate chips
1 tbs flour

Heat your skillet over low heat. 

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl, and mix well.  In another bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, smashed banana, and vanilla.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix until just combined.  Let the melted butter sit for a minute or so and then very slowly, while whisking the batter, drizzle in the butter.  To avoid cooking the egg, don't add the butter in all at once.

Turn the heat up to medium low.

Meanwhile, combine the chocolate chips with 1 tbs flour.  Make sure the chips are all nicely dusted.  I never really realized how effective this technique is in preventing the chips from sinking to the bottom of the batter.  Adding a bit of flour keeps those chips afloat in the sea of my soul....  

Hm, what?  Oh yeah, the pancakes.

Yeah, so add the chips to the batter and gently fold them in.  When the skillet is nice and hot, pour about 1/4 cup size circles.  Let them cook for about 4 minutes, or until little bubbles start to form and pop on the surface.  Flip the flips and cook for another 2-3 minutes, and you are that much closer to yummmm.....

Sunday, February 3, 2013

skillet baked french toast

Wow, I haven't posted in quite a while.  I wish I had some exciting reason for being so absent, but, alas, I do not.  I have been tired and, quite frankly, lazy.  For some reason, the kids have decided to wake up anywhere between 2 and 4 almost every morning, alternating between the two.  It's almost as if they have coordinated their schedules..  Bad dreams, puke, wind, no clothes, twisted clothes, too many clothes, and my personal favorite "I just love you so much I need to be closer to you".  At 3 in the morning....

It has been cold, and then warm, and then cold, and then VERY cold.  I have been cold weather nesting (which is code for sitting in front of the fireplace and playing games with the fam), and if that's not enough to keep me from posting, get this:  my tripod has been ALL the way in the other part of the house.  A whole THREE rooms away, if you can imagine..

So I'm sure that you understand my not being able to post.  I am happy to say though, that I have indeed made some stellar meals: sushi, beef barley stew, chicken noodle soup, asparagus and mushroom risotto, chicken and waffles, roasted chicken and veg...  The list goes on and on.  And last night, all of this culinary deliciousness culminated in my grandest, most adventurous masterpiece of all time:  buttered egg noodles, with sides of bacon and peas.

Too bad I didn't take pictures of that one, huh.

But fret not, this is well worth the wait.  Skillet baked french toast.

I wanted to use up the last of an almost stale challah loaf and an almost stale whole wheat loaf and baked french toast seemed like a great answer.  The problem though, is that almost every recipe I found asked that the bread be soaked overnight.  I am not an overnight soaker kind of person.

Let me rephrase that.  I am not that organized, to have breakfast planned the night before.

My other concern was that I didn't want to spend 45 minutes making breakfast, since many of those recipes took that long to cook.  My answer?  Pull out the skillet.

I absolutely love my skillet.  And I mean L O V E.  My skillet is a permanent fixture on the stovetop.  I use it almost every day, making everything from pancakes to filets to chicken tenders to lamb to fried eggs to fish to croutons to anything that needs a beautiful sear.  I use it on the stove, I use it in the oven.  I use it on the stove and THEN in the oven.  I love my skillet.

So back to the french toast....  

I decided to put that skillet to good use, and what good use it was!!!  It gave the bottom a delicate, delicious, golden crust which was exactly what I was looking for.  And the best part?  It only took 15 minutes in the oven.  Perfect.

skillet baked french toast

4-6 pieces of bread, cut or torn into bite size pieces
4-6 eggs (I usually use one egg per piece of bread, if that wasn't obvious...)
1/2 c. vanilla almond milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbs Earth balance dairy free butter


1/4 c. oats (not quick cooking or steel cut)
1/4 c. flour, whichever kind you like
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 tbs Earth balance dairy free butter

Preheat the oven to 400˚F.

In a bowl or large plate, combine the eggs, milk, and vanilla extract.  Dump in the bread, and stir to coat.  Leave the bread in the bowl, stirring every once in a while, so the bread really soaks up the liquid.

Heat the skillet over medium to medium high heat.  While the skillet is heating, combine the topping ingredients in another bowl until crumbly, and set aside.

When the skillet is hot, melt 1 tbs of butter.  Once the butter is melted and has stopped sizzling, swirl it around the pan to coat.  Pour the bread into the skillet, and spread it around so that the bottom of the skillet is covered.  Sprinkle the topping on the bread, and at this point, the oven should be preheated, so stick the skillet in. If the oven is not yet to temp, turn off the skillet heat after you sprinkle on the topping.  The skillet will still be hot, but it won't have that added heat which may burn the bottom of the bread.

Bake, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, or until the top is bubbling and golden.

Bon appetit!