Recipe: Cinnamon Caramel Brownies

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I have been on the search for the perfect brownie recipe since I began baking three years ago. I’ve tried the one my mom swore by, I’ve tried all sorts of “classics” the internet raves about, but no luck. They’re always a tad too dry, lacking in flavor, too chewy, or just missing that special brownie spark. Perhaps my standards are too high, but I could not be stopped in my search.

So I decided to try a new strategy: I had to look for something different, something unique. Something unheard of, even.

And that’s how these Mexican style brownies happened. They’re halfway between cake and brownie, with a light, almost melt-in-your-mouth kind of texture. The main thing that had me hooked, however, was the flavor combination; I even threw in some chili and cayenne for good measure, and they turned out wonderfully.

Adapted from Epicurious.

Time: Active: 15-25 minutes

Inactive: 30-40 minutes

Ingredients:

  • For Brownies
    • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
    • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
    • 1 1/4 cups (packed) golden brown sugar
    • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 3 large eggs
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
    • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
    • *Optional: Ancho chili powder to taste (I’d start with no more than a pinch)
  • For Caramel Topping
    • 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
    • 1/4 cup whipping cream
    • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
    • 3/4 tablespoon vanilla extract
    • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
    • *Optional: Pinch of cayenne powder

Directions

For Brownies

1. Preheat oven to 325°F, and grease or line an 8″ pan with parchment paper.

2. In a large saucepan over low heat, melt the 4oz unsweetened chocolate with the butter until smooth, stirring to prevent burning. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.

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3. Stir in sugar, salt, and cinnamon, along with ancho chili powder if desired. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Stir until batter is smooth. Add flour and whisk in until just blended, then stir in chocolate chips.

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4. Pour batter into pan, and cook until a toothpick comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes. Make sure to check multiple spots with your toothpick, in case your first tries happen to get a melted chocolate chip stuck to it!

For Caramel Topping

5. Stir sugar, cream, and butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until the mixture is smooth and comes to a boil. Remove the pan from heat and mix in the vanilla. Let cool for 10 minutes, and then stir it until it thickens.

6. Spread over the brownies, and sprinkle with almond slices.

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I recommend them heated up and then paired with a scoop of vanilla ice cream–simply delicious!

Michelle

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Panko Substitution: Make your own Breadcrumbs

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When I was making my avocado fries the other day, I realized that I had no panko, also known as japanese breadcrumbs. (Okay, we actually had some hiding in the back of the cupboard, but I didn’t realize this until after the fact…)

Luckily, we did have some stale french bread, so I decided to share my way of making some breadcrumbs for recipes in a pinch.

Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • Thin bread slices, preferably slightly stale

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread your bread slices out on a sheet of tinfoil or a baking sheet.

2. Toast bread in oven until crispy on top, and flip to crisp up the other side too.

3. Once bread is crisped through, remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes.

4. You can turn the bread into crumbs in a variety of ways: my favorite ways are to use your hands to crumble it up, or wrap it up in tinfoil or a bag and pound it with a mallet/rolling pin until at your desired crumb consistency.

The resulting crumbs worked perfectly for my avocado fries; hope this substitution can prove useful to you too!

Thanks for stopping by,

Michelle

Recipe: Avocado Fries

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When I first saw this recipe for fried avocado strips, my first thought was that they could either be really strange, or really delicious. Luckily, it turned out they were the latter, and they even received a slew of compliments from people who usually find my ideas for avocado concoctions suspicious sounding! They can be eaten on their own, or served as a side with a variety of cuisines.

I decided to alter the recipe a bit and add some lime, but feel free to garnish it with whatever you like; I might try grated cheese or some kind of chili sauce with them next!

Recipe adapted from Sunset Magazine.

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Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • Canola oil for frying
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten to blend
  • 1 1/4 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • 2 firm-ripe medium avocados, pitted, peeled, and sliced into 1/2-in. wedges
  • Optional: Lime or lime juice

Directions

1. Put flour and 1/2 tsp salt in a plate. Place eggs and panko in their own separate plates.

2. Heat about an inch of oil in a skillet.

3. Sprinkle the avocado slices with the remaining ½ tsp salt.  Dip each slice in flour, then dip in egg, then coat with panko. Set on plates or wax paper.

3. Fry as many avocado slices as you’d like at a time (that you can fit in a single layer in the skillet) until both sides are deep golden, 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer slices to a plate lined with paper towels. Keep warm in oven while cooking remaining avocados. Sprinkle with salt and lime juice if desired.

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I hope you’ll like them as much as we did!

Thanks for reading,

Michelle

Recipe: Wild Mushroom and Leek Tarts

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I’ll start off with a bit of a confession: these were originally supposed to be galettes. As my dinner plan grew more and more complicated, however–due to my soupsquash, and poached pear I’ll be uploading soon–I realized I couldn’t afford the potential catastrophe that the uncertain edges of a galette could introduce. So, I decided to dust off my neglected tart pans for some added security!

Serves: 6 – 4″ tarts tarts

Time: Active: about 30 minutes

Inactive: 15-20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1/2 cup minced leek (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • 6 ounces portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed, caps finely chopped
  • 3 ounces cremini mushrooms, stems removed, caps finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used pinot grigio)
  • 6 tablespoons fresh soft goat cheese (such as Montrachet)
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

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Directions

1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add leek and shallot and sauté  for 2 minutes. Add 2 more tablespoons butter, then add the mushrooms; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.

2. Add wine and simmer until liquid is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of goat cheese and stir until slightly thickened, about a minute. Season with salt and pepper, stir in 2 tablespoons parsley, and remove from heat.

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3. Preheat oven to 375°F. Roll out your pastry dough to about 1/2″, and line the tart pans with the dough. If desired, use cookie or fondant cutters to cut out decorative shapes to top your tarts with.

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4. Spread about a tablespoon of goat cheese across the bottom of each tart, and then fill them to the top with the mushroom mixture.

5. Put decorative cutouts on baking sheet or parchment paper and put them in the oven along with the tarts. Bake the cutouts until golden (8-15 minutes), and remove them from the oven to cool.

6. Continue baking the tarts until the pastry is puffed and golden, 30-40 minutes. Remove them from the tart pan once slightly cooled by sliding a knife between the metal and the tart.

7. Decorate them with your baked cutouts,  sprinkle with chopped parsley, and enjoy!

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Recipe: Butternut Squash Gratin with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts

There’s something irresistible about butternut squash on a cold day. Although I could have gone with your typical brown sugar buttery concoction, I decided to whip up a more savory dish adapted from Epicurious that incorporated one of my favorite foods: goat cheese.

I served it with my cream of red bell pepper soup and mushroom leek galettes (which I’ll be posting the recipe for shortly!), and it made for a wonderfully warm winter feast.

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Serves: 10+

Time: Active: depends on starting ingredients (30 mins – an hour)
Inactive: About an hour

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 pounds butternut squash (about 2 medium), peeled, seeded, cut into 3/4- to 1-inch cubes (8 cups)  [Timesaving tip: many stores sell pre-cubed squash, and the difference isn’t noticeable!]
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided
  • 3 cups sliced leeks (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1 5.5-ounce log soft fresh goat cheese
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream (can also use half-and-half to cut down calorie count!)
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, husked, coarsely chopped

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Directions

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Put butternut squash cubes in a bowl and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread them out in a rimmed baking sheet or glass pan. Roast until tender and beginning to brown, stirring occasionally, about 35 minutes.

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2. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add chopped leeks and sage, season with salt and pepper, and saute until tender and brown for about 15 minutes.

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3. Coat a 13×9 glass pan with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Spread half of the leek mixture over the bottom of the pan, sprinkle with half of squash and half of goat cheese, and repeat the layering. (The dish can be chilled and stored in the refrigerator for up to one day at this point)

4. Preheat oven to 375°F. Pour cream evenly over gratin, and sprinkle with toasted chopped hazelnuts. Bake, uncovered, until it is heated through and the cream is bubbling, about 30-40 minutes.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy!

Michelle

Recipe: Simple Tart Crust

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When a recipe I was making called for frozen puff pastry dough, I knew it simply wouldn’t do; as always, I had to make my own from scratch! This tart crust is ideal for savory dishes, but is also a solid option for just about any type of dessert tart due to its minimal flavorings; it gets rave reviews whenever it’s served. You could always throw in some flavors, too–such as a bit of sugar or cinnamon–to complement whatever filling you choose to put in it!

This dough also functions as a galette (freeform pastry) base.

Time: Active: 15-25 minutes

Inactive: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 4 tablespoons (or more) ice water

Directions

1. Whisk flour and salt in bowl.

2. Using fingers or a pastry cutter, rub/cut the butter into the flour mixture until coarse crumbs form and there are no more chunks of butter.

3. Add the ice water one tablespoon at a time, stirring slightly, until the dough begins to clump together. Continue adding extra water by the teaspoonful if too dry (I had to add about 2 more tablespoons–it really depends on how dry the air is where you are!) until a workable dough forms.

4. Form dough into 2 disks, cover in saran wrap, and store in fridge for at least 30 minutes. (These can then be stored for two or so days before being rolled out and used.)

5. Take dough out of fridge and let it sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Roll out dough–mine was ideal at about 1/2″ thickness, though it depends on your personal preferences–and line tart pan.

Note: Make sure the dough is still somewhat chilled in the tart pan when you put it in the oven, or else the edges could slump down and join the bottom crust! If necessary, put the whole tart pan in the fridge after you’ve lined it with dough to prevent this from happening.

I’ll soon be posting some of my own recipes using this tart crust, so stay tuned!

Michelle

Recipe: Guilt-Free Single Ingredient Ice Cream

Ingredients: 1. Junk-food induced guilt: 0. Could ice cream get much better?

When my friend showed me this recipe, I knew I had to try it. All it takes is a banana, a freezer, and a food processor. I always like to explore a little bit further, though, so I’ll include different flavoring ideas I’ve come up with!

(All photos and instructions are my own)

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Serves: 1

Time: 10 minutes active, 1 hour inactive

Ingredients:

  • Banana

Optional flavoring choices:

  • Chocolate chips or cocoa powder
  • Peanut butter
  • Strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries
  • Cinnamon
  • Honey
  • Acai (I love my banana-acai smoothies!)

(Just to clarify: each flavor is intended for separate batches. Except I personally love the peanut butter and chocolate together!)

Directions

1. Slice the banana into discs, put in a bowl in the freezer until they are frozen solid, about an hour.

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2. Put the frozen slices into the food processor and pulse them, scraping down sides regularly. It will start out coarse, but don’t worry! Just keep pulsing and it will magically transform into a lovely ice cream texture at some point.

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3. Blend in your flavorings, if any. So far I’ve tried a peanut butter and chocolate chip combo, as well as a cinnamon batch. They’ve both tasted great!

4. Remove mixture from food processor once smooth and blended. At this point, it could be depressingly sludgy and/or melty. (My sad little photo looks like pudding, doesn’t it?) Not to worry, though! Just pop the bowl back in the freezer for 10-15 minutes or until frozen to your liking.

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5. Top it however you’d like, and enjoy it with the knowledge that you’re essentially just eating fruit!

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Let me know what you think!

Thanks for reading,

Michelle

Recipe: Cream of Red Bell Pepper Soup

Red bell pepper soup: sounds strange, but tastes oh so good. It’s a light, versatile recipe that can be spiced up to your liking and served with a variety of cuisines!

Recipe adapted from Epicurious; photos and instructions are my own.

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Serves: 4-6

Time: about an hour

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 pounds red bell peppers
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped shallots
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 3 cups (or more) canned vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Sliced fresh basil
  • (Optional) Crushed red pepper flakes

Directions

1. Prepare the peppers. There are a variety of methods for doing this, but my favorite strategy for large amounts of peppers is to use the oven. You can also char them individually over an open stove flame if the oven isn’t an option.  Cut the tops out of the peppers, deseed and devein them, cut them in half, and lay them out on a baking sheet. Crush them down with your palm so they lay flat (some breaking will occur).

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2. Position the oven rack towards the top of the oven, and set it to broil. Once preheating is done, put the peppers in the oven, leaving the oven door cracked so steam can escape. Broil until the skins are black and wrinkled, about 30 minutes.

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3. Once blackened, remove from oven, enclose in paper bags, and let them sit for 10 minutes. Remove peppers, and peel and slice them into strips.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add chopped shallots, garlic and thyme and sauté 3 minutes. Add 3 cups broth and all but 4 slices of roasted pepper. Simmer uncovered until peppers are very soft, about 20 minutes.

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5. Puree the soup until smooth. I prefer to use a stick blender by simply submerging it into the pot; this method only takes about 10 seconds. However, a normal blender can also be used by ladling the soup into the blender, pureeing it in batches, and returning it to the pot.

6. Add half and half, vinegar, cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper to taste. For extra spiciness, I added crushed red pepper flakes and extra cayenne.

7. Rewarm the soup when ready to serve, thinning with additional broth, if desired. Ladle soup into bowls, and garnish with reserved pepper strips and basil.

I hope your eaters will be as happy as mine were! Feel free to leave feedback, good or bad.

Thanks for stopping by,

Michelle

Recipe: Chocolate Caramel Turtle Bars

DISCLAIMER: No turtles were harmed in the making of this dessert.

However, be warned: these bars tend to disappear quickly.

Years ago, before I had even begun my baking career, my dad bought me a book called “Baked Explorations.” At the time, I thought it was weird. He must have had a vision of some sort or simply a healthy dose of fatherly intuition, however, because I’ve managed to dig up all sorts of quirky and surprisingly tasty concoctions from that strange little book since that fateful day.

One of my favorites, these buttery Heartland Turtle Bars are a delicious combination of chocolate, oats, homemade caramel, and pecans. They’re quick and simple to make, and are sure to please chocolate-lovers everywhere!

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1.75 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
  • 1.5 cups chocolate chips

Caramel ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 tbs heavy cream

Directions

1. Set your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and butter the bottom of a 13×9 inch pan. You can also line the bottom with parchment paper if you’re worried about the bars sticking.

2. Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda in a medium-size bowl.

3. Rub the brown sugar into the flour mixture with your (clean!) hands, and then stir in the oats until evenly combined.

4. Using a wooden spoon, make a well–or an indent–in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour in the melted butter. Stir until wet and evenly combined.

5. Spread 2/3 of the oat mixture into the bottom of the 13×9 pan, and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

6. Remove the pan from the oven. If you bought whole instead of pre-chopped pecans, chop them (I prefer them chopped fine) and spread them on a baking sheet. Put the baking sheet in the oven for 4-5 minutes, or until the pecans become aromatic. Be careful not to scorch them!

7. Spread the pecans and chocolate chips over the oat mixture in the 13×9 pan.

8. Now, make the caramel. Cut the butter in the “caramel ingredients” section into cubes and melt it with brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Let boil for 1 minute while stirring occasionally. It should foam up, so make sure it doesn’t overflow!

9. Remove saucepan from heat, and stir in the heavy cream. Pour caramel over the pecans and chocolate on the oat mixture.

10. Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 of the oat mixture on top, and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

11. Remove from oven, and allow to cool. I personally like to put it in the fridge after it’s cooled down a bit, because it tends to set better that way. Once it’s set, cut into bars and serve, and prepare for them to disappear quickly.

Let me know what you think! I always love to hear your reviews and/or modifications to the recipe.

Thanks for stopping by,

Michelle