Thursday, October 25, 2012


I had good intentions to share last week's treat with you when we made it, but alas, we're finding so many things to do here it is tough to sit inside when we want to be out exploring our new home.


While I will get back to those goodies another time, I felt compelled to sit my behind down this evening and talk about these outrageous "Brooksters" I made for the Weekly Wednesday Treat Day.

Think thick chocolate chip cookies, wrapped in a devilishly tight hug of decadent, dark brownies. Yes, beware - this hand-held treat may just blow your mind!

I made a few changes to the original recipe - it was supposed to be prepared in 6 individual pie tins. I had none of those and didn't feel the urge to run out and find them (though, if I happen to see them while we are out and about, I will pick them up now!), so instead we swapped those out for a regular muffin/cupcake tin. Next, the yield given says 6, with a generous amount of chocolate chip cookie dough leftover to bake off as, well, tasty cookies.

What I ended up doing was doubling the brownie recipe, then left the cookie dough amount the same - this gave me enough of the dense brownie batter for 28 Brooksters and I still had some leftover dough (HAD is the key word here... Jeff and I couldn't stop snacking on the raw dough, so sadly, it never made it into cookies). I also tossed in a tablespoon of black cocoa powder for an edgier depth to the brownies, but if you don't happen to have that handy, up the unsweetened cocoa powder to two tablespoons.

I do have one note - don't skimp on the chilling step of the dough and batter - they both need to be cold to give you even baking results. Also, if you only have 1 baking pan and want to keep the yield as-is, follow the recipe, yet keep the leftover brownie batter in the bowl and in the fridge. Allow the baked Brooksters to cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove them and wash the pan to both clean it and cool it down. Then fill with brownie batter and the cookie dough - as long as you've kept the leftovers in the fridge while you bake, you can just fill and bake.

You can end up with two results - if you slightly under-bake these, you'll have a slightly gooey core with a dangerously fudgy brownie barrier holding it all together. Fork worthy, for sure. With a few extra minutes tacked on the total bake time, the two will have married together into an irresistible portable package that can be taken behind closed doors and enjoyed alone. What, like you've never done that? If you're feeling especially naughty, warm one up slightly, then drop a rounded scoop of your favorite ice cream dead center on top.

Brooksters (Adapted from Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients)

For the cookie dough

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks or 1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chunks

For the brownie batter

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon black cocoa powder
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (look for a range in the 60 to 70%), coarsely chopped
16 tablespoons (2 sticks or 1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla

To prepare the cookie dough

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter and sugars until creamy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, mixing until well combined after each. Mix in vanilla.

Add dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Fold in chocolate chunks. Cover bowl and set in the refrigerator to chill for at least 3 hours.

To prepare brownie batter

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powders and salt.

Melt chopped bittersweet chocolate and butter together in in the bowl of a double boiler set over medium heat, stirring frequently. When melted and smooth, turn the heat off (but leave the bowl set over the steaming water) and whisk in granulated and brown sugars. When combined, remove bowl and set aside to cool to room temperature. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, mixing just until combined after each. Mix in vanilla. Scatter flour mixture over the top and gently fold the two together - do not overmix at this point. It is ok if a little of the flour mixture remains visible.

Butter or spray with nonstick spray each well of your muffin tins, then fill each with brownie batter until they are just shy of halfway full. Cover the pans and place into the refrigerator to chill for 3 hours.

When you are ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Scoop out cookie dough using a generous tablespoon cookie scoop (my dough balls ended up weighing about 38 grams each) and roll each into a ball. Flatten each slightly into a disk - you want each disk to be slightly smaller than the tops of the muffin wells. Remove one muffin tin containing the chilled brownie batter from the refrigerator and gently press one cookie dough disk into each well.

Place pan into the oven and bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until the cookie part is very golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Around 20 minutes gave us slightly gooey centers, while at 25 minutes, they were just baked through.

Makes about 28 Brooksters, with some leftover cookie dough.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Good Morning Sunshine Bars...

Now that we've had some time to settle in, remove a few trees worth of packing paper from several enormous boxes and gotten to know the neighborhood a bit, I think it is safe to say "Wow, I wish we could have moved here a lot sooner!".

The weather has been wonderful, the access we have to the different markets, produce and grocery products in general can't be beat and while the dogs may have missed their lovely fenced-in yard the first couple of days, they are sure eating up all the smells, walking trails and doggy parks (right on the water, no less) that they have been exploring! Look at them - all tuckered out after a day of new adventures. (PS - The photos should now be much larger when you click on them, compared to our older posts.)

I've even managed to get the Weekly Wednesday Treat Day started up at Jeff's new office. We decided to ease in with a fairly fuss-free recipe, making these decadent Good Morning Sunshine Bars out of the next book from the guys behind BakedNYC, Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients.

This decadent treat is made by tossing a crunchy combo of crispy rice cereal squares (use your favorite brand) and chunky nuggets of salted peanuts around a thick, warm syrup made from dark brown sugar, corn syrup, creamy peanut butter (I used homemade - so, natural style works fine), a generous glug of vanilla and to give additional balance to all that sugar, a couple pinches of coarse salt. If you have an aversion to corn syrup, you could try using Brown Rice Syrup or my favorite substitute for this, Golden Syrup - the burnt-sugar, caramel-esque syrup that I love drizzle over buttered toast or pancakes.

If you find it difficult to get the cereal and nuts coated evenly enough, don't be afraid to lightly grease your (clean) hands and dig on in - just make sure the syrup isn't too hot. After gently pressing the slightly sticky mess into a rectangular pan (use a light, but firm hand here - you don't want to crush the cereal too much), you'll want to wait until the mixture has solidified and begun to cool off before rushing off to the finale that completely takes these bars over the top.

Yes, these are drenched in haphazard lines of melted bittersweet chocolate that not only lures in the chocoholics, but adds just enough bite to tone down the inherit sweetness these intensely peanut-y squares have. The original recipe did call for milk chocolate, which I could see appealing to some, but we opted for the darker chocolate because, well, that's just what we like.

Good Morning Sunshine Bars (Adapted from  Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients)

6 cups plain rice cereal squares
1 1⁄4 cups salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup creamy peanut butter (homemade or natural works fine)
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 1⁄2 teaspoons coarse salt
5 to 6 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate, melted

In a large bowl, toss together cereal and peanuts.

In a medium saucepan, stir together sugar and corn syrup. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a full boil - allow mixture to boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in peanut butter, vanilla and salt.

Carefully pour mixture over the cereal and peanuts, then use a sturdy wooden spoon to toss the ingredients together until thoroughly coated.  Scoop the mixture out into a 9" x 13" baking pan coated with cooking spray (you can also line the pan with foil or parchment paper, if desired, to make removal of the bars easier). Using greased hands, gently press the mixture down until it forms an even layer, trying not to crush the mixture as you go along.

Set pan aside and allow to cool to room temperature. Drizzle melted chocolate all over the top, then set aside until the chocolate has just begin to solidify before cutting into bars.

Makes about 24 servings.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

We're here!

After a 4 day, 2850 mile drive through areas that were quite striking, very flat and monotonous, distractingly brown and salt-encrusted (with a few white-knuckled moments on crazy curves to keep the blood pumping), we've finally made it to our new place! We're out in the East Bay area of California now, which I've been told is the "last move", but you all know we have heard that before!

While we made it in one piece, all of our stuff won't be here for another week - ack! So, we're in our apartment with the pups, an air mattress and our computers until the truck comes with our belongings. It is going to be a l-o-n-g week, but we can't complain... the weather out here is gorgeous and we have plenty to do to keep us busy!

We took the dogs out this morning for their first adventure - I think they are very pleased with the new surroundings!

Hopefully once we get out things and have settled in, I will get my behind in gear and begin making more regular appearances on here!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Some news to spill...

Yikes, it has been several months since I've been able to post. Perhaps after you get done reading this, you'll understand why!

I don't have much news on the gut issue - the medication they've been toying my intestinal system with has done a little to improve my symptoms, but not as much as we've been hoping. They switched the type of medication once to a similar one that works in a slightly different way, but it hasn't made much of a difference either. They warned me this was the probable out come, but were giving it a chance that it may have a bigger impact. What to do now? Live with it, I guess - at least until we are settled down again.

Yes, you read that right... "settled down again". Another two plus year stint has left Jeff with a larger scratch that he couldn't itch anymore, leaving us with one option... another move! That would be one of the reasons this place has quieted down so much - we've been getting the house and yard all gussied up to put on the market. The house not only went up on the market a few weeks ago, but we had a solid offer within 6 days - thanks to our ridiculously brilliant Realtor®, Melissa Brown! Craziness!

Of course, it couldn't be an easy two or three-state-away move, but a complete cross-country trip. So, where are we off to?

We're heading to the Easy Bay area, just minutes (well several, depending on that crazy California traffic...) away from San Francisco. Hello gorgeous!

Does this mean I'm closing up shop here? That is still up in the air as we won't know how long this whole process is going to take. We close on this house at the end of September, but we may be leaving earlier if everything works out. With quite the mountain of tasks ahead of us (we will have to downsize quite a bit this time, which is actually a good thing - however, this means we need to sell/donate/deal with quite a few of our household goods), free time will be at a minimum as we wrap and pack anything coming with, prepare the pups for the long haul and finish up any lingering details before we can ship off.

This is going to be an exciting journey, with several ups and downs I'm sure, but the spectacular location we are headed to this time is sure to light an inspirational spark under my lazy blogging behind. Perhaps we'll be able to fire this thing up again once we have completed this adventure.

See you soon from the other side of the coast!

Friday, March 09, 2012

Peanut Butter-Pretzel Shortbread Bars...

It's been just over two months since our last post - I think this is the longest delay we've ever had! I wish I had lots of news to share with you, but frankly, life has not been all that exciting. You know I've been dealing with this darn gut issue for a long time, but for whatever reason it had gotten worse last year. I've been through a barrage of tests (one doc called it the million dollar medical spree! Not quite, but it felt like it), food allergy testing and celiac testing, along with several months of heavily restricted diets to look and see if this may be a dietary issue. That is the main reason for the inactivity here - not much to talk about when you can't eat the majority of the food you used to!

What do we have to show for this? Sadly, not a whole heck of a lot. After being sent to the gastroenterology specialists at the University of NC, the conclusion so far is that my issue is most likely not dietary related and may be a problem of hypersensitivity of the nerves in my gut and a problem with how the muscles in my abdomen react when food is introduced. Where we go from here is not all that clear - I'm not big on taking medication, but we've decided to give their recommendation a go. It'll take 4-6 weeks to see if it works, but we figured I might as well - I've already done everything else!

The dogs have been doing well through all of this though. Here's Gus in his favorite spot - smack dab in the middle of the yard where the sun shines the most.

Dora, on the other hand, would rather explore every nook and cranny the great outdoors holds, rather than be lazy like her pal.

I've occasionally taken pictures of foods we've made for the Weekly Wednesday Treat Day, which I have diligently continued to keep up. It has been tough not being able to sample the majority of goodies Jeff would bring into the office, but I was still able to enjoy the process of making them! One of those were these killer Peanut Butter-Pretzel Shortbread Bars.

While the combo sounded astounding, I admit the main reason I wanted to make these was to give my rectangular tart pan some love. The pan is a favorite, but I don't use it nearly enough!

Salty-sweet snacks are an irresistible downfall for me and thought it was ridiculous that I kept having to remind myself I wasn't allowed even a nibble. Thankfully, I knew they were transported into the office the next morning and wouldn't be sitting on the counter teasing me for the next few days.

The crunchy pretzel is introduced in three ways into this buttery shortbread cookie - ground into a pretzel powder to cut the flour-y base, chunky pieces mixed into the stuff dough and a handful pressed onto the top let you know exactly what you'll be diving into. The original recipe did not call for the peanut portion, but I had the refinements of an already opened bag of peanut butter chips languishing in the pantry, last used to make that layered two-toned fudge over Christmas.

Jeff nodded in agreement when I asked if I should toss a scoopful into the dough - mainly, I think, because I've caught him more than once sticking pretzel sticks into a jar of peanut butter before dinner! Another change I made was to use half brown sugar and half regular granulated, along with a splash of vanilla for good measure. Use entirely granulated if you like, but I fancy the mellow molasses undertones from brown sugar.

These take about a half hour to bake, rendering them a pale golden around the edges, with the center being firm to the touch, but not hard. You'll be left with cookies that have a crisp perimeter, yet are still melting-ly tender as you munch your way through the groovy individual rectangles. Can you still make this if you don't have this type of pan? Sure - I encourage you to do so because you shouldn't miss these! I would have to guess an 8" square pan would be just about right - you'll just have to watch the total bake time.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Looking forward to 2012!

Happy New Year! 2012 has rolled in fast and I can't tell you how much Jeff and I are looking forward to clearing out 2011. Some of you may know, Jeff had to have yet another surgery the Wednesday before Christmas - this was on his knee, the same one they operated on this summer. This makes the 4th surgery he's had within a year - his neck, shoulder and twice on the knee.

The surgery went fine and he's on the mend, with plenty of physical therapy coming up to get him back in business. It was very last minute and tossed a wrench into our holiday plans, but we are both glad we got it done and out of the way. My on-going issues are not so easy, but there may be a glimmer of hope with an appointment at the Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders at the University of NC. This won't be happening until March, so sadly there are a few more weeks to go. I've mentioned that I've been having to follow dietary restrictions and we've gotten a few e-mails as to what that entails. My doctor has me following something called the "low-FODMAP" diet.

You can read more about it here if you fancy - this is a diet based from a researcher in Australia that is gaining in popularity here in the US. It can be fairly complicated, convoluted and confusing, especially because many of the websites out there have conflicting information about what you can and cannot eat. The research is constantly changing, based on the details obtained as they test different foods. Many of my most coveted, favorite foods were on the list to avoid and it was difficult to get started, but I've been doing my best to follow it. However I haven't seen much, if any, improvement yet and it has been several weeks. We're looking forward to seeing what the specialists at UNC have to say, though I can't say I will be getting my hopes up.

So, here's to 2012 - the year with minimal doctor appointments (hopefully!), answers to those unanswered questions and leading a healthy, happy life!

With that news out of the way and you know what we've been up to the past few weeks, I can catch you up on some of the recipes I've been making for Jeff. He is able to enjoy eating a variety of foods and at least I can gain some pleasure by making it - that's something, right? It's the small things in life.

This Roasted Broccoli and Farro Salad with Feta was one dish that I almost cheated with, but I held out with a sad frown and a bowl of rice.

What I liked about this dish was that it can easily hang out at room temperature for awhile without worry - no rush to make certain it is served pipping hot. I used to only be able to find those earthy, lightly nutty grains of farro in either ginormous bags at Costco or tiny ones at a local market marked up ridiculously high in price. Thankfully, one of our favorite shops has started carrying it in the bulk bins, making in a snap to grab just what we need.

Cooking time for the farro can vary depending on what you pick up - pearled farro (hull removed) can be done in as little as 20 minutes, where "whole" farro (hull retained) will take closer to 45. While the farro takes its time in a hot bath of bubbly, salted water, it was refreshing to see that the recipe calls for using the entire stalk of broccoli, rather than just the brilliant florets. With the florets cut into bite-sized pieces, the beefy stalk is peeled to remove the fibrous outer layer, revealing its sweet, crisp and under-appreciated stem. Sliced into coins, both the florets and stem are simply tossed with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and fresh ground black pepper, to be roasted in the searing cavern of our oven.

You'll know the broccoli has been cooked enough when there is a slight char and the stem rings give under pressure with a knife. The duo are slid into a large bowl, to be tossed with the plumped, pleasantly chewy farro, creamy nubs of salty feta, sliced scallions, fresh parsley and crushed red pepper for a hint of spice. Salt and fresh ground pepper are sprinkled on to taste (be sure to take a small bite first just to see first before you add anything), along with a drizzle of red wine vinegar for an acidic punch. To give a bit of glisten, and of course, a fruity finish, just a tablespoon more of your favorite virgin olive oil rounds out the dish.

Just before you serve, take another greedy taste for yourself - you may want a dash more vinegar as it may have mellowed out as it married with the rest of the ingredients. For variety, think about using half, or even all, cauliflower instead of the broccoli, or go wild and nix it all together for another vegetable like asparagus.