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Hazelnut Chocolate Brownies, the Old-Fashioned Way

5 Jun

And by old-fashioned way, I mean “from scratch.” Not from a box or from Wegmans. And, contrary to what everyone may say or think, a box of brownie mix is not equivalent to chocolate-filled brownies made with white sugar and butter. But it’s just the same ingredients, pre-mixed.

Erroneous. It’s not the same. It’s not like these.

White sugar and butter, people. It’s amazing.

Start by melting two sticks of butter. Yes, two. This is where it’s super handy to have a glass bowl for your mixer. Add in the sugar, vanilla and then the eggs. Butter + sugar + vanilla + eggs = yellow goodness.

Next, add in the chocolate.

Then flour, salt and baking powder.

Yum.

As if this mix didn’t look good enough, I decided to be especially gluttonous delicious and top the brownies with a hazelnut spread before baking. It helps to have a friend who works for a peanut butter company…who gives you things like hazelnut chocolate spread. Mix up with butter and confectioner’s sugar, and you’re good to go.

Serious chocolate goodness. And way better than anything out of the box.

Hazelnut-Topped Brownie Recipe

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup Hershey’s cocoa powder
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the topping:
  • 1 cup hazelnut spread
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

Heat the oven to 350F. Melt the butter in a microwave safe bowl. Add in the sugar, and stir until well-dissolved. Mix in the vanilla and then the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the cocoa and mix until the ingredients are throughly combined. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Slowly add to the chocolate mixture, until just blended. Pour into a greased 13 x 9 pan.

To make the topping, melt the butter and then mix in the hazelnut spread. Add in the vanilla and confectioner’s sugar. Evenly spread pour over the brownies and swirl a knife through the batter/topping to combine slightly.

Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes.

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I am a YES.

30 May

There is a saying in yoga, “I am a yes.” Not a no, not a maybe, not a possibly, not a perhaps.

Just a firm, definitive yes.

Over the last 40 days, I have been a yes.

And it’s a big deal.

Six weeks ago, I signed on for a 40 Days of Yoga challenge. The commitment was five 75-minute yoga classes a week, plus one 60-minute workshop. Which, when you work full-time and want to have something that resembles a social life, can be challenging.

I was trapped in “maybes” for a good two weeks before signing up. Maybe I’ll do 40 days. Maybe I won’t. 

But I hate grey areas, which means “maybe” doesn’t work for me. So I signed up. I decided to be a YES. If I can commit to shoes, I can commit to yoga.

Being a yes is hard. It meant I went to yoga at 3:30 p.m. on the first nice Sunday of the year. It meant that I went to yoga instead of going out with my friends. It meant that I went to yoga at 5:45 a.m. before work and that I went to yoga on a Saturday with a raging hangover when I would have rather been at home watching (and being) Bridget Jones.

The hardest part of being a yes, of making a commitment and sticking to it, was that I was making a commitment to myself. The only person I would be flaking out on if I dropped out of 40 days would be myself. This time, I needed to STICK TO IT. It’s easy to start out as a yes and then fade into a maybe and then slowly fade into a no, when the only person you report to is you.

For me, 40 Days was not about working out five times a week—it was about the commitment, about being a yes, about prioritizing and avoiding lame excuses like “not enough time” or “I have to do this other less important thing.” Sure, the workouts were great and my yoga practice has improved (bird of paradise anyone?). But more importantly, for the last 40 days, I was a yes.

So I challenge you—what do you need to commit to for 40 days? Where in your life do you need to be a yes?

If you’re interested in learning more, you can read about 40 Days to Personal Revolution, started by Baron Baptiste, here.

And if you think yoga isn’t an amazing workout for mind and body, you’re at the wrong yoga studio.

Pitcher-Perfect Margaritas

17 May

Do you ever have those moments where you just crave a good margarita? And not the kind that comes out of a giant bucket and guarantees you heartburn and a terrible hangover and not one of those watered down ones from TGIFridays…and no, I don’t need 37 pieces of flair either.

Just a good margarita. One like this.

I had one of these moments last night. It was awesome.

And because I am a firm believer that everyone needs a good margo recipe (especially now that it’s outdoor & day-drinking season), I’m willing to share.

CakeryPapery’s Pitcher Perfect Margaritas:

  • 1 part tequila
  • 1 part triple sec
  • 1 part orange juice
  • 1 part sour mix
  • Splash of lime juice

Mix everything together and pour over ice. It’s really that simple.

If you are like my Aunt Marie and are thinking stop watering down my booze with all this ice you can shake with ice and serve it up too. Or refrigerate beforehand and then you don’t need ice. Or if you like it frozen, blend with ice and then serve. Or add strawberry puree to make strawberry margaritas. These are great for day-drinking parties because you can whip up a pitcher and then just pour over ice when your guests arrive. The possibilities are endless. Word to the wise—drink these someplace where you can walk home.

How did I get so good at margaritas? Let’s just say…I have lots of practice making (let’s be honest—drinking) margaritas. And it helps to have a good margarita spot where you can chat up the bartender and learn some tricks.

And it doesn’t hurt to get a fancy pitcher and glasses to serve them in. It makes them look impressive. Mine are from Crate and Barrel. Love Crate and Barrel. I’m on the hunt for an antique martini pitcher, but until then, this one will do.

Cheers!

Five True Things I Learned From Mom

13 May

No matter how old I get, I will always believe that my mom has an answer for any question/situation/problem I encounter. Like what temperature you cook baked potatoes at. Or how you even make a baked potato..yeah, never can seem to get that one right.

There are a million things my mom has taught me—but these are my top five.

  1. Relationships are a two-way street. The emotion and the effort to make it successful has to go both ways. No one person is ever totally right or totally wrong, and a lot of times the term “compromise” means suck it up and deal. You will have times when you want the street to go both ways but you can’t force it to. And when you find yourself on the one-way street of a toxic relationship, just take the next right turn out of it.
  2. If you’re asking yourself “is this too short?” the answer is YES. You have to trust yourself enough to follow your instincts. They won’t steer you wrong. You already know the answer to most of the questions you have in your mind, but you might not like what the answers are. Trust yourself. It’s the getting in front of the mirror and looking at the outfit from a few different angles that will help you see what you already know—that dress is too short.
  3. You will not be adored by every person you meet, and that is okay. Because you are not going to like everyone either. You can spend a lot of time and energy trying to make everyone like you, or you can spend that time and energy figuring out how to love the person you already are. It’s better to be an imperfect version of yourself than a perfect version of somebody else.
  4. If you’re trapped in an outfit, just cross your arms and pull the dress off from the bottom up. There’s a solution for every situation and every problem. You might not see it at first, as you’re hyperventilating and sweating and imagining having to buy the dress because you can’t get out of it. But once you take a deep breath and take a few minutes to calm down, you’ll see that the solution was there all along. Go back to what you know, where you’ve been, and how you’ve gotten through. You’ll get out of the dress…eventually.
  5. Don’t eat ice cream flavors that you don’t like. There is a reason my mom keeps five different flavors of Italian Ice in her freezer. Life is too short to do something that you are not totally energized and excited about. Find your passions, and go for them. If its not worth putting 100% of your heart into it, just take yourself out of it. I eat watermelon (duh, it’s pink). Find what your flavor is.

Happy Mother’s Day. Love you Mom. ❤

The Lasagna Recipe

7 May

So I’ve gotten a few angry comments requests in for my eggplant lasagna recipe, that I featured here. I, apparently, did not share.

And, I just saw on FB that the lovely, smart, beautiful (and she’s my Hokie bff) VCM made her own version. Which LITERALLY made my day. As in, I was clicking the “like” button and commenting like a pre-teen on a Justin Bieber post.

Which means I need to share the love. Here’s the recipe.

Bechamel Sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 5/8 cups whole milk
  • Pinch of nutmeg
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Whisk in the whole milk and increase heat to medium-high. Continue whisking until sauce has thickened, about 6-10 minutes. Add in nutmeg and remove from heat. When sauce has cooled slightly, use it to coat the bottom of a 9 x 9 baking dish.
Red Sauce:
  • 28 ounces San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • Garlic, chopped
  • Tomato paste
  • Olive oil
  • Italian seasoning
  • Dried basil
  • Fennel
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper
In a large saute/saucepan, heat up the olive oil (about two turns of the pan) on medium heat. Add in the chopped onion and mix until the onion begins to soften, about 5-7 minutes. Add in good-sized scoops of chopped garlic, and the seasonings/spices (start with about a teaspoon of each). If you crush the dried spices in your hand before adding to the pan, it will open up the flavor. Next, mix in two tablespoons of tomato paste and the San Marzano tomatoes. If the tomatoes aren’t chopped (which they probably aren’t, as San Marzano tomatoes come whole), chop the entire can of tomatoes in a blender first. Adjust seasonings and add salt & pepper to taste. When the sauce bubbles, remove from heat.
It should be noted that I am going out on a SERIOUS LIMB and risking getting ostracized from the Italian community by releasing my sauce recipe. But, I really, really, feel for the people who don’t have a good sauce recipe. So I’m sharing.
Lasagna:
  • 1 large eggplant, sliced lengthwise into 9 pieces
  • 15 ounces whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and pressed dry
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 9 slices of good prosciutto
  • Whole-milk mozzarella, grated
  • Olive oil

On a rimmed cookie sheet, coat both sides of the eggplant slices with olive oil and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Bake for 15 minutes at 450F until the eggplant has softened.

To make the lasagna filling, mix together the ricotta, eggs, parmesan, and spinach. Top each slice of eggplant with a piece of prosciutto, then filling, and top with some grated mozz.

Roll up, and place in the bechamel-coated pan.

It looks a bit like this.

Top with the red sauce, and grated mozz. Cover with foil, and bake at 400F for 15 minutes. Uncover, and bake for 10-15 minutes more.

The best part? You can make this recipe in advance/in pieces. Make the marinara the day (or week, months, etc) before. The sauce freezes well. The filling keeps, without separating, for about five hours, so you can prep the eggplant part a few hours before and throw in the fridge. Top with the sauce just before baking. Be sure to add 10-15 minutes to cook time if you’ve refrigerated the eggplant part.

A special bit of cakerypapery goes out to VCM. You’re more than just my Hokie bff—you were the one of the reasons I got up and out of the pitch-dark places after April 16, because you were there to help pull me up and out. I love you always.

Buckeye Brownie Cupcakes

3 May

Some days, I’m just too cool for frosting.

Don’t get me wrong—I love, love, love frosting. But some days, it’s nice to pull a cupcake out of the oven and not have to worry about piping bags and couplers and which size star tip I should use.

Which is why you always need a good frosting-less recipe. I prefer the ones that involve, you know, multiple bags of chocolate chips and peanut butter…

The other good thing about this recipe? It’s great for days when you are too lazy to haul out just don’t have the counter space for a KitchenAid mixer. If you find me a kitchen with room to store a KitchenAid mixer near a plug and out in the open ready for use, you’ve found the Moby Dick of kitchens. And quite possibly my next house…

So just pull out a good-sized microwave safe bowl and let’s get this party started. First, melt together butter and sugar in the lazy-girls’ stove, aka the microwave.

Then mix in some chocolate chips. They’ll melt into the hot butter-sugar mixture and become just…nice.

Add in eggs and vanilla, mixing until well combined.

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Then slowly stir these into the aforementioned chocolate mixture.

Let everything cool down for a few minutes, and then add in some more chocolate chips. Because, why not?

Get out a cookie scoop (have I raved about my Oxo large cookie scoop lately? AMAZESAUCE.) and portion out into lined muffin cups. Bake for 13-15 minutes at 350F.

If you have noticed that I never use an unlined muffin tin, you’re correct. IMHO, unlined muffin cups are just a mistake. Hard to get cupcakes out of and hard to clean. And we all know I hate cleaning.

When you pull the brownie cupcakes out, you need to let the centers fall as they cool. If this doesn’t happen, help them along by giving a couple taps with the back of a spoon.

When the brownie centers have all sunk in a bit, it’s time for peanut butter.

I am beyond brand loyal to Peter Pan. I highly suggest you try it.

Heat a couple scoops in the microwave for 30 seconds, and then spoon into each of the brownie cupcake tops.

Give the peanut butter a minute or two to cool, and then (surprise, surprise) top each with more chocolate chips. I like to use a mix of semi-sweet and milk chocolate for the topping.

If this was a cooking show, this would be the part where I show the buckeye brownie cupcakes with an ice-cold glass of milk.

Buckeye Brownie Cupcakes Recipe:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, plus 1/3 cup for topping
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup milk chocolate chips, plus 1/3 cup for topping
  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

Combine butter, sugar, and water in a microwave-safe bowl. Melt together in microwave for 30-60 seconds. Stir until sugar is combined with butter. Mix in 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips while butter is still warm. Chips will melt as mixture combines. Stir in egg and vanilla. Add flour and baking soda, mixing until just combined. Mix in 3/4 cup milk chocolate chips and scoop into cupcake tin. Bake at 350F for 13-15 minutes. After brownie centers fall, melt peanut butter in microwave. Spoon onto top of cupcake brownies and garnish with remaining chips. Finish cooling in pan.

Delish-spo: Streusel Topped Blueberry Muffins

30 Apr

Living in the tundra that is Upstate NY (yes, it did snow last week), one of my favorite things about spring (besides that fact that it’s here) is that Wegmans starts to get in fresh fruits and vegetables and they aren’t ungodly expensive any more. Which means I get to bake delicious things. Like these muffins.

The recipe for these is from Cook’s Illustrated, which is the magazine of America’s Test KitchenIf you’ve never had the amazing opportunity to catch an episode of ATK on PBS—run to your DVR and set it up to record.

Unlike ordinary cooking shows, ATK actually teaches you useful things, like “what exactly is emulsification” and how to avoid common kitchen problems like overcooked meats. The show also tests an insane amount of cookware products—everything from cutting boards to meat grinders. And ATK taste-tests products, so you know helpful things like which type of semi-sweet chocolate chips you should buy. Did I mention that ATK is recipe science? Each recipe gets tested with a mix of ingredients and cooked multiple ways, until it’s pretty much awesome sauce.

Like these muffins. Which come with instructions for using fresh or frozen blueberries, and four different toppings.

To start, you make a blueberry jam, which is what makes these extra great. Blueberries + sugar.

You might think adding more blueberries would be the trick to upping the awesome factor, but as ATK found out, this just makes the muffins heavy and the berries sink to the bottom. So make the jam. It’s worth it.

While the jam cools, whisk together the wet ingredients. Eggs and sugar first. Then buttermilk, vegetable oil, butter and maple syrup.

Sift the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, and you’ll need one more cup blueberries.

Slowly fold the wet ingredients into the dry and then add in the blueberries. Be careful not to over mix the batter. It will be slightly lumpy.

Use a cookie scoop to divide evenly among muffin tins. My batch made 18 muffins.

Scoop a bit of the cooled jam on top of each muffin, and swirl with a toothpick to mix it up a bit.

Next is the really good part. Make a streusel topping and crumble this over the muffins.

Bake for 15-18 minutes and you’ll end up with these.

Thank you America’s Test Kitchen. I’ll just file these under delish-spo.

Recipe:

Jam:

  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 tsp sugar

Muffins:

  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 1/8 cups (8 oz) sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons maple syrup

Streusel topping:

  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons (3.5 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 5 tablespoons melted butter

Make the jam by cooking blueberries and teaspoon of sugar over medium heat, mashing the blueberries. Cook until the mixture has thickened, about six minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until well mixed. Add in the butter and oil, followed by the buttermilk and maple syrup, whisking until combined after each addition. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry, and mix until just moistened. Carefully fold in the remaining blueberries. Scoop into muffin tins and top each with a teaspoon of jam. Swirl the jam into the muffins with a toothpick. To make the streusel, mix the dry ingredients together. Drizzle the melted butter over the dry ingredients and mix with a fork until sticky. Sprinkle the streusel over the muffins and bake for 15-18 minutes at 425F.