Caramel Brownies

Brownies.

I love brownies.

I’m not much of a sweet tooth person, but I am a total sucker for a good brownie. Tell me I can make brownies  in a small batch and you’ve won me completely.

Most of my brownie recipes call for an 8×8 pan, so to me these aren’t really small batch, but still totally worth it.

I am totally addicted to Dessert for Two … not just desserts, but dinners for two as well. With just the Dear One and I at home these days, I always have a hard time cooking for just two people. Christina is the solution for everything … desserts, mains, drinks, cookies! It’s all there!

We invited our dear friend Dave for dinner and while dessert isn’t usually on the menu, one of the dear daughters brought chocolates, lots of chocolates to the house. One of the selections was Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt Caramel squares. The stars aligned. Tonight we needed dessert and this had to be the one.

  • 10 T unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 1/4 C granulated sugar
  • 3/4 C + 2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 t vanilla extract
  • 1/2 t espresso powder
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 C all-purpose flour
  • 9 caramel-filled chocolates

NOTE: I used Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate & Salted Caramel squares.

Preheat the oven to 325, and make sure an oven rack is in the lower third of the oven.

Line a 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper in two directions, overlapping. Leave enough excess to make handles so it’s easier to pull the brownies out once they’re baked.

NOTE: My parchment paper is really wide, so I just used one piece and tucked it in. I always find it hard to keep the paper in place and those large metal clips do the trick.

Next, in a large bowl, combine the butter, sugar and cocoa powder.

Microwave for 30 seconds, stop and stir, and microwave for another 30 seconds. The mixture will be quite hot.

NOTE: So we don’t have a microwave. I know. I know. I’ve been living int he woods for far too long. But when someone who will remain nameless put something with metal in the microwave, she did us a favor. We really only use it to start potatoes and melt butter. Why take up all the cabinet or counter space? I did this on the stove top and it was fine.

Let the mixture rest on the counter for a few minutes to cool, stirring occasionally.

When the mixture feels warm, not hot, stir in the vanilla, espresso powder and salt. Finally, stir in the eggs.

Add the flour to the batter, and using a spatula, vigorously stir the mixture for 50 strokes. This activates the gluten and makes for a rich, chewy brownies.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan evenly.

Bake for 23-26 minutes, until the top is dry.

Unwrap the squares while the brownies are still hot, and press into the top of the brownies evenly. Slice and serve.

Cannoli

 

One of the best things about the job I started last summer are all the new friends I have made. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some real clunkers, but that happens everywhere, every day, with any job. We won’t dwell on them.

But, take M&J. Starts off just silly giggles while working to take some of the stress away, a lot of guidance and support and suddenly … BAMMO … you’ve realized just how much you like these folks, realized that this should be more than just a work friendship.

Dinner invitations go back and forth … lots of laughs … lots of wine … lots of good food.

One last dinner before we all take off for the holidays? Oh, yes, please! M&J were heading to Viet Nam (so jealous!), the Dear One to Antarctica and me to New York to see my dearly missed parents, siblings and friends.

What to make, though? I need to show off my culinary chops a little bit, right? The rub is, the Dear One and I were flying out the next morning, not returning – well, me the beginning of the New Year and the Dear One WAY TOO LONG AFTER THAT!!

One pot, easy cleanup, great to freeze if there are leftovers – Iron Skillet Roasted Chicken with White Beans and Tomatoes, a favorite easy go-to of mine.

With a really easy dinner, I wanted to get a little nutty with dessert. It can’t be a lot – no leftovers, and no one has a huge sweet tooth. I needed inspiration. None was forthcoming.

Suddenly, while walking around Hanford’s, there in front of my was my answer! Ferrara cannoli shells! All cooked and ready for filling with whatever your heart desired! This was the answer!

I buy them and bring them home. I stood staring at them, slightly disappointed. They were perfectly fine. But … well, they just looked too plain to me. If you’re going to go through all the trouble of making a fabulous filling, why not dress up the shells a bit!

I melted some chocolate, dipped the edges on each end in the chocolate and then dipped them in chopped pistachios.

The result, was pretty elegant! Well, at least I thought so!

And before we get to the recipe, just a little pet peeve of mine – and the pet peeve of most Italians I know. Cannoli is plural. Cannolis is not a word. The singular would be Cannolo, not that anybody would know what you were talking about in most places. You wouldn’t say mooses, or mouses, or shrimps, or sheeps … you get the picture. Just remember the Godfather, “leave the gun, take the cannoli.”

Now that my shells are fabulous, I need a fabulous cream.

  • 2 C fresh ricotta
  • 2/3 C granulated sugar
  • 1/4 t ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 C mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

NOTE: No time? Buy the best ricotta you can find and drain it a bit. I also added a tiny bit or lemon zest to just brighten it up.

I tried to be fancy and use a star tip to pipe in the cream. The chips kept getting stuck. Into a ziplock the filling went, cut off the tip, and off we went. You want to try and fill them halfway on each side so there isn’t a space in the middle with cannoli shell and no filling.

Fill them just before sitting down to dinner. Much before that and the shells will begin to get soggy.

Delizioso! Divertiti!

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookeis

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

I should start this with … these are THE BEST vegan chocolate chip cookies EVER. And quite nearly the best chocolate chip cookies. But …

I am a carnivore. A carnivore through and through. A believer in a well balanced diet being far better for you than one completing omitting a food group.

I now find myself surrounded by vegetarians and vegans, many of whom consider themselves foodies (?). Always hungry. Always looking for snacks. I need a cookie that would work for everyone and this is the one.

I have found most homemade vegan cookies to be either tasteless, ridiculously complicated to make, way too many ingredients and ending up with a crumbling, sandy cookie like substance.

Try these once and you’ll be hooked. It’s all in the mixing.

  • ½ C coconut oil
  • 1 C brown sugar
  • ¼ C almond milk
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 2 C flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t baking powder
  • ½ t salt
  • 1 C vegan chocolate chips (I love ‘Enjoy Life Mini Chips” for this)

 

Preheat oven to 350

Cream coconut oil and brown sugar. Best to use stand mixer, second best a hand mixed.

NOTE: The key to this cookie is the length of time you spend combining the ingredients. This should look like butter and sugar having creamed before you continue. It’s not always quick.

Add almond milk and vanilla. Mixture may be a little liquidy.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Combine the wet and dry ingredients using a hand mixer or stand mixer. Fold in chocolate chips.

Scoop tablespoon sized balls and place on cookie sheet. Flatten the balls a bit with your hand.

Bake 7 – 10 minutes

NOTE: You want the dough to be the consistency of cookie dough and not crumbly or sandy as many vegan recipes tend to be.

NOTE NOTE: I have varied the size of the cookie from half-dollar sized to 3 inches around. It holds up no matter the size. Just vary the cooking time.