chewy ginger cookies

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generally, i'm a soft and chewy kind of cookie girl.  i have no time for biscotti.  why?  why would you double bake a cookie?  it's wrong, i tell you, just wrong!

but, when it comes to ginger cookies, i'm a snap kind of girl.  something about the hard crunch of a ginger snap just seems to fit the hard spicy flavor.

but then, i got sucked in by the magazine photo.

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so sparkly, so deep and warm looking.  that's a cookie that needed to enter my repertoire.

these cookies really are softer than they are chewy.  the mixture of butter and shortening makes them tender, and i think the molasses helps them down that path as well.

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molasses cookies are totally acceptable as soft cookies. 

but do not mistake these for molasses cookies.  they have a serious one-two-three ginger punch: powdered, fresh, and crystallized.

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crystallized ginger really is magical.  well, crystallized pretty much anything's pretty good.  foodie friends of my mother's from the big easy came to visit one summer and made crystallized citrus rind.  it totally blew my mind that you could MAKE that. like, from SCRATCH. 

they also kick started my obsession with squash blossoms, but that's a story for another time, and definitely another season.

but don't worry.  i didn't crystallize my own ginger, and really, neither should you.  it would ruin what is otherwise a super easy cookie recipe.

the ginger teams up here with some other nice holiday flavors.  nutmeg, cinnamon, obvious.

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it is the black pepper, though, that i think adds a nice, unexpected layer of spice to the mix.  i think i'm going to keep that in mind for future recipes. 

if i can ever find any of my spices again.  my ocd spice organization system seems to be rebelling on me.

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i guess i can't be that ocd since my kitchen counter's looked like that for a couple weeks now.  i just can't bring myself to address the situation.

ahem.

back to the cookies.  i might be failing in spice organization, but i finally did my math-hating self a huge favor and got a new app for my iphone that automatically converts cup amounts to ounces or grams.

i mean, seriously.  why have i been multiplying fractions for so long? 

and i wonder why i can never get the flour right.

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my iphone and ipad are seriously some of my most important kitchen tools.

they help save me from myself.  if only siri could see what i was actually doing, i'd really be rolling.

but, to be honest, these cookies came out great.  the turbinado sugar on the outside gives a great crunch, but the cookie is melt in your mouth soft, and the flavor is a wonderfully intense spice bomb. 

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bake them.  you won't be sorry.

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Chewy Ginger Cookies

Find the recipe at Bon Appetit

grandma lena’s chestnut stuffing

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to me, thanksgiving = stuffing.

and not just any stuffing.  porky, sagey, crumbly, chewy, chestnut stuffing.  stuffing made from a recipe passed down from my great grandmother lena, who brought some serious cooking skills with her when she emigrated from the french basque country. 

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every year – and i mean every year – thanksgiving is kicked off in my family with a semi-frantic text or call to my mom for the stuffing recipe.  which starts her semi-frantic search for the recipe, recorded neatly in grandma renee's spidery handwriting.

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it's totally freudian.  because it's totally not fair that grandma renee isn't still able to make the stuffing. 

that said, while her stuffing was better than mine, she never made enough.  the original recipe calls for two measly cups of bread cubes.

two cups.  we always had at least 20 people around the table.

this weekend, i made stuffing just for me and the somm . . . and basically tripled the recipe.  and we took most of that bad boy down in 24 hours.  none of that depression-era self-control around our house, no siree.

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grandma might have called this chestnut stuffing, but the critical ingredient is the sage.

one of the first years my mom and i were on stuffing duty, we couldn't find the recipe.  forgot the sage.  nearly ruined thanksgiving.

don't be stingy with the sage.

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i used all fresh, but i'd encourage you to go ahead and throw in some powdered sage.  it's old school, and this is definitely an old school recipe.

here's another piece of advice: don't get a manicure before roasting and peeling your chestnuts.  this is messy work.

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there are a couple of ways to roast chestnuts, but all of them start with scoring an x on top.  make sure you actually get through the shell.  don't worry about cutting into the meat of the nut.  you're going to chop it up anyway.  i went stove top roasting, but 15 minutes in a 500 degree oven works well too.

the absence of an actual turkey meant the absence of giblets in my stuffing this weekend, which totally wouldn't fly for my sweetbread loving momma, but was not a problem for me.  i just bumped the flavor up with sausage.

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sage sausage.  that's right. there's no going back to boring ground pork from here.

this year, we're heading north instead of west for turkey day, and my mother-in-law sets out a pretty mean spread . . . including the BEST pumpkin pie i've ever had.  but i'm still going to miss my family, who will be gathered around my mother's beautiful table. 

luckily, i'm not also going to have to have missed the stuffing.

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Grandma Lena's Chestnut Stuffing

Back in the day, recipes had very little information . . . they just assumed you knew what to do.  Here's the recipe verbatim, and my updated version is below. A note about bread crumbs.  Grandma always used the stuff out of the bag from the grocery store.  This year, I followed the Serious Eats Food Lab's advice and made my own from high quality white sandwich bread.  Next year, I'm going to go back to homemade bread crumbs made from bread with a good chewy crust, because that's how I like it.

For an 8 lb bird.

  • 1/2 lb chestnuts
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 lb pork meat ground
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • giblets
  • celery
  • 2 cups toasted bread crumbs
  • 1 tbsp sherry wine
  • 2 tbsp parsley
  • 1 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1 tbsp powdered sage
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

Wash chestnuts and make long slits on both sides. 

Bake 500 degree oven, 15 min, remove and take off shells.

Boil 20 min.

Saute meat, onions and butter, 10 min.

Updated Variation:

  • 1 lb chestnuts
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 lb pork sage sausage, not in casings
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • giblets
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cupish chopped sage
  • 2 tbsp powdered sage
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 4-6 cups toasted bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp sherry wine
  • 1 1/2 cup chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wash your chestnuts (Grandma knows best).  Score an x through each chestnut, making sure to get through the skin.  Toss with the oil.  Heat a large skillet (that you have a lid for) on the stove, add the chestnuts and roast, covered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Then add 1/4 cup of water and cover and roast until water is gone, about 5 minutes.

Let your chestnuts cool, then good luck shelling those bad boys.  Then give them a nice rough chop.

Wash your skillet, return to the stove.  Add the onions and sausage (and giblets if you've got them), and saute until the sausage looses most of the pink.  Add the celery and continue to saute until soft.  Add your herbs and salt and pepper.  Don't be shy with the salt – there's a lot of bread to season!

Whisk your egg in a medium bowl, then stir in 1 cup broth and sherry.  If you're my uncle Maurice, you probably would have also added a little milk.

Combine your chopped chestnuts, bread crumbs and meat mixture in a very very large bowl.  Toss.  Transfer into a large casserole dish – you'll need at least a 9×13 dish. 

Pour the egg mixture over the bread mixture and press the bread down.  If you like a more custardy stuffing, add more liquid.  If you like a chewier, crumblier stuffing add less and think about omitting the egg. 

Bake for 30 minutes, covered with foil.  Remove foil and bake for another 15-30 minutes until set and golden brown on top.

Try not to eat it all before you make it to your aunt's house.  Or be thankful that even if you aren't with your family, you have the whole thing to yourself, to eat with a fork, standing at the counter, straight out of the casserole dish.

Happy Thanksgiving!

spicy turkey chili & bacon zucchini cornbread

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it’s chilly in dc.  time for some chili!

sorry.  couldn’t resist.  but good night, it is cold here today.  completely unacceptable.

this chili would be the opposite of that.  healthy AND tasty.  and if you have a half-eaten can of chipotle from last week’s chicken, you’re in luck.

little known fact – not only was i born in texas, i spent my fair share of time at chili-cook-offs. i’m pretty sure i was wearing gingham, cause my mom knows what’s what.

but really, chili is my dad’s thing.  this is one of two culinary gifts from my father, the mad scientist.  the first is peanut butter on waffles with pancake syrup.  i have yet to be able to convince anyone of the amazingness of that combination, so maybe you have to grow up with it?

anyway.  that man is serious about his chili.  he got his recipe down to a very precise combination of spices.  when i asked him for it a while back, he asserted that the ratios require that you create a very large quantity of chili spice, making it useless for the home cook.  pre-katrina, his local nola restaurant used his crazy spice mix, and i think he used to give baggies of it away to the worthy few.

not screwing around here folks, not screwing around.

anyway, we’re moving ahead without you here, dad, with what i’m sure would be a pretty solid contender for the blue ribbon.

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tomatoes.  green chile and chipotle chilies.  white beans.  freshly ground cumin.  hard to go wrong here.

and hey, look!  i grew those peppers!  last gasp of summer, there you go.

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this chili is seriously good.  it is nicely spicy and smoky from the chipotle and paprika, has a brightness from the green chile and tomatoes.  the ground turkey gives it heft without heaviness.  and the white beans, especially on day two, are just pillowy soft.  i caught the somm fishing them out of the leftovers, the sneak!

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and . . . because i can’t leave well enough alone, i also made cornbread.  the sweetness balances the chili’s spice, and the smoky bacon brings it all together.

the zucchini?  well, i was just intrigued to see if it would turn out as a proper cornbread or more like a quick bread.  happily, this is a true cornbread, maybe just a tad moister, with lots of green goodness tucked inside.

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this is a hearty bread, between the whole wheat flour, bacon and zucchini.

it also has buttermilk – and i cheated and added a bit of lemon juice to milk for a DIY solution – and browned butter.  yum.

i baked it in a cast-iron skillet coated with the bacon (ok it was pancetta, but how girly girly does zucchini pancetta cornbread sound!!) drippings so it was infused with bacon flavor.

legit.

Spicy Turkey Chili

Adapted from Epicurious

  • 2 canned whole chipotle chilies in adobo, finely chopped or pureed with a little water
  • 2 18-ounce cans tomatoes, whole or diced (you may not use them all)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon smoky Spanish paprika
  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 bell pepper, chopped
  • two 4-ounce cans mild green chilies, drained and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons cornmeal
  • 1 can white beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • sour cream
  • Shredded cheese
Warm oil in a large pot.  Add onions and garlic and saute for a few minutes until softened and fragrant.  Add cumin and paprika and cook for another minute or so.  Add the turkey and cook until no longer pink.
Add the chipotles, broth, seasonings, and tomatoes.  Let simmer for about an hour.  Add more broth if it gets too thick.  Then add your bell pepper and green chiles and cornmeal and simmer for half an hour.  Then add your beans.  Continue to add more broth or tomatoes to keep the consistency as you like it.
Discard bay leaf.  Serve with cilantro, sour cream and cheese on top.
This keeps well for a few days in the fridge.
Bacon Zucchini Cornbread
Adapted from Epicurious
  • 6 slices (or more!) of bacon
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large zucchini (about 10 ounces)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup medium-grind cornmeal

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan until it gets a nutty brown, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Transfer to a medium bowl and let cool before adding eggs and buttermilk.

While butter is cooling, you can:

Crisp your bacon in an oven-safe skillet (cast iron will work really well, but you can use any type, or just use a baking pan greased with your bacon drippings).  Remove and roughly chop bacon.  Swirl drippings around to coat pan, discard excess.

Cut a few thin slices from your zucchini and reserve; shred the rest with a grater or cuisinart.  Add to bowl with butter mixture and stir until well blended.

Mix the flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda and cornmeal into a large bowl.

Add zucchini mixture; fold just to blend (mixture will be very thick).

Transfer batter to skillet and decorate with your saved zucchini slices.

Bake bread until golden and a tester inserted into center comes out clean, 30-40 minutes.

Eat with lots of butter and chili!

challah

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life's full of scary stuff, you know? 

changing jobs.  moving cross country.  trying a new yoga instructor.  working late and coming home to ravenous kittens.

know what isn't scary?  yeast bread!  i know!  counterintuitive!

yeast feels complicated.  active dry, instant, proofing.  bread seems so onerous to make.  so much kneading and rising and kneading and rising.

but let me tell you . . . it just ain't that hard.  and the smell of fresh baked bread in your house? 

unparalleled. 

PLUS, a slice of fresh-baked bread?  makes the rest of the scary-ass world that much easier to take on.

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let's talk yeast.  unless you go hard-core baker on me, you're really only going to need to know about two types of yeast: active dry and instant.

as the name might imply, you don't need to do anything to instant yeast to make it work.  you can just add it to your flour, water, etc and be good to go.

active dry yeast requires proofing – that's because the little granules of dried yeast have a coating that needs to be dissolved.  all this means is that it should sit with some warm water and sugar to get nice and foamy before you add it to your flour.

but do you want to know a secret?

i've TOTALLY just added active dry yeast to my water at the SAME time as the flour.  no waiting, no foaming.  and you know what?  my pizza dough turned out just fine.  all 15 hundred million times i did it.

but proofing your yeast can be pretty cool.  check this out:

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right!?!  so foamy!

here's a few other yeast-related tips.  if you're going to bake more than once, don't but the yeast packets.  buy the cute little jar of yeast.  do it!  just store it in the fridge.  because at some point i'm going to introduce you to jim lahey's no knead bread and this book and it will change your life just like it changed mine, and you need way less yeast per loaf than comes in the packet.

got it?  good.  let's move on to why this bread is different than all other breads.

(did you get that reference?  i know jhill should have!)

the short answer is eggs.  eggs and honey.  both inside, and a nice coating of egg wash on the top to make it shiny and brown.  mmm.

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i could have (slash did) eat this dough with a spoon.  it was, erm, spoon-able, because i was using my iphone for the recipe and apparently i need new glasses cause i put in four cups of flour instead of six.

and then, honest to god, dumped it out onto my silpat and thought about kneading it.  before i realized.  i. am. a. moron.

what is my problem with flour??

after some successful detective work and assistance from my able sous chef, the creeper, i got back on track.  there are few kitchen mishaps you can't solve, folks.

this is what challah dough should look like in your kitchenaid, should you happen to have a kitchenaid.  if you don't, no biggie.  you probably (hopefully?) already have equally effective kitchen tools: a wooden spoon and your hands.

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this is what challah dough should look like after you've kneaded it.  not forever.  just give it a little love.  let it loosen up and get a little smooth.  fold it in half and knead it out with the heels of your hands, maybe 20 times.

why do you knead dough?  you're developing the gluten – the protein that lets the dough get elastic.  you want elastic dough because that will allow the gas bubbles to develop during the baking process, giving you a light fluffy loaf of bread. 

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this is what challah dough will look like after you've gone off to that scary yoga class for a few hours.

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why do we let dough rise?  well, it helps continue to develop the gluten, but it also helps develop flavor in the bread as the yeast gets busy.  it develops gases that stretch and flavor the dough.  which sounds, frankly, disgusting, but let's all just remember how yummy bread is.

nom nom.

now we're going to braid the dough.  this also isn't as scary as you think it is.

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the link below offers easy instructions on how to do this, but i used the smitten kitchen method for a round loaf because it felt more intuitive to me.

are you ready to go conquer some yeast bread?  it's totally worth it.  i made two loaves, and each was eaten straight up by friends and coworkers.  i had enough dignity to at least cover some of my slices in butter and jam.  but if i make it again, this is destined for some top-notch french toast, maybe even like this.

enjoy!

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Ima's Challah Bread

I changed nothing, so find the recipe here.

And I'll give you links to some of Smitten Kitchen's loaves here and here.

chipotle roasted chicken

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fact: i am that boring girl who goes to fancy restaurants and just wants to order the chicken.

steak?  so . . . meaty.  duck?  eh, gamy.  i mean, you know my love of pork.

but, man, a good roasted chicken?  juicy, flavorful, gets me every time.  and the skin . . . might just be the best part.  and i know i’m not alone here.

lucky for us, fall is a great time for roasting chickens!

and this recipe is a real winner.  it starts with this:

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chipotle peppers and i have been having a bit of a love affair recently.  i keep some in the sauce in my fridge.  mix it up with plan, non-fat greek yogurt and you have an amazing taco salad dressing.  or dip for veggies.  or spread for a quesadilla.  i’m not sure what it wouldn’t be good on.

try it.  do it.  get spicy.

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first, you mash the chipotle up with softened butter and lots of chopped herbs.

second, you rub it all over your bird.  this is not a time to get squeamish, folks.  get up under the skin.  pretend the bird’s had a tough day and needs some deep tissue lovin’.

the result? both the bird and the chicken skin get infused with a softly spicy, smoky, herby deliciousness.

i went ahead and butterflied my bird, and roasted it with onions, carrots and winter squash.  tasty, and much faster than when you leave the bird intact.  but, really, you just can’t lose with this one.

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Chipotle Roasted Chicken

Adapted from Bon Appetit

  • 1 4-5 lb chicken
  • 1/2 stick butter, softened
  • 2-4 tsp chopped chipotle in adobo sauce, depending on how spicy you want to get
  • 3 tbsp chopped herbs, I used parsley, thyme, and rosemary because that’s what I had, but cilantro would be good if you have it
  • 4-6 herb sprigs
  • Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse your chicken, pat dry and bring chicken to room temperature.  This will help create crisp skin and help the bird cook evenly.

If you’re going to butterfly the bird, do it now.  Using good kitchen shears, snip your way through the bird along each side of the backbone.  Open the bird up, pressing on it’s shoulders.  You’ll see the keel or breastbone in the center.  Cut through the membrane above the bone, and you should be able to snap the bird open to release the top of the bone, then use your fingers or a knife to remove it.  See, that was easy!

Combine the butter with chipotle, herbs, salt and pepper to taste.

Gently loosen the skin from the bird with your fingers.  Try not to break the skin.  Rub that butter under and on top of the skin – including the thighs and drumsticks.

If you didn’t butterfly the bird, place the herb sprigs inside.

If you’re roasting veggies with your chicken put them in your roasting pan and season with salt and pepper.  Top with your bird and roast for about an hour or a little longer, depending on if the bird is butterflied or not.  Take it out when your meat thermometer reaches 165 or 170 in the thigh.

Let cool and dig in!

 

 

 

caramel pretzel brownies

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i have a brownie confession.  i really, really, really prefer the kind from a box. 

i know, right?   the texture is just so much better.  chewier and gooey-er.  they get that amazing edge. 

from scratch brownies just always seem more like cake to me.  and my cake confession?  chocolate isn't my favorite type of cake.  chocolate frosting: yes.  chocolate cake: eh.

and then . . . america's test kitchen, the people who brought you cooks illustrated, sent me an email promising chewy, like from a box, brownies made from scratch.

these people know what they're talking about.  they're thorough.  scientific.  if you ever need advice about the best ingredients, the best techniques, the best cookware, they are going to have the answer.

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i assembled my ingredients . . . iphone, callebaut, you know, the basics.  plus, cocoa powder. 

do you know the difference between dutch process cocoa and regular old cocoa?  dutched cocoa goes through extra processing, which apparently strips out some of the harsher flavors and let's more of the pure chocolaty flavor shine through, according to our cooks illustrated friends. 

i'd always heard that the dutch process also takes out all the acid from cocoa powder, so that it won't activate baking soda – and since baking soda needs to be activated by an acid in a batter, using dutched cocoa in a baking soda only recipe will keep your baked goods from rising.  following me?  baking powder is different from baking soda in that it includes the acidifying agent it needs to be activated as a leavener, so the thinking went that you can only use dutch process cocoa in recipes with baking powder.

whew.  that's a lot of science for a tuesday.

especially since cooks illustrated said it's basically a bunch of hooey.  and you can trust them because they baked at least eight cakes testing different leavener and cocoa combinations.  so much cake in the name of accuracy.  it must be rough maintaining one's figure over there.

i bet you're even more excited about this diversion considering that most brownie recipes don't even include baking soda or baking powder.  leavening is diametrically opposed to the whole POINT of brownies – dense, fudgey, chewy goodness.

also, i ended up using plain old hershey's – a natural, non-dutched cocoa – even though i know it isn't as deeply darkly chocolaty.  but that's what they sell at the local drug store, and you know how lazy lazy lazy i am.

the verdict on the brownies? 

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still not chewy enough.  still not gooey enough. 

i mean, it's hard to critique a brownie . . . chocolate, butter, sugar . . . you really can't go too wrong.  i just don't know if it was a good use of my fancy pants callebaut chocolate.  i think i'd much rather put it in these if i'm making something from scratch.

luckily, i don't know when to leave good enough alone and topped this bad boy with lots of sea salt, crushed up pretzels and caramel bits.

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i used the regular cubed caramels you can buy in your baking aisle.  they were soft and gooey when the brownies were warm out of the oven, but firmed up overnight – just as the pretzels softened up from their extended exposure to the moist brownie.

the result?  not bad, but not perfect.  the caramel led to some awkward moments at the office as people tried to find the least embarrassing way to pry it from their teeth.

don't you wish you worked with me?!

so, i'm going to tell you how i made the brownies, and how i'd do it next time.  either way, your coworkers are unlikely to turn them down.

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Caramel Pretzel Brownies

  • Brownie batter: The from scratch recipe is here.  Otherwise, buy a box of Ghirardelli and spend the extra 10-15 minutes you saved yourself playing with your cat. 
  • About 20 caramels, like these
  • 1  cup crushed pretzels, I'd recommend NOT using the honey wheat kind I had on hand, but try something with a harder shell and more salt
  • Sea salt
  • Optional: 3 tbsp milk

Preheat your oven according to brownie instructions.

Assemble your brownie batter – pour into a 13×9 pan prepared according to your brownie instructions.

Chewy Caramel Version: Chop each caramel into 4 pieces.  Seriously, you don't want them any smaller.  Clean your knife frequently cause it's gonna get sticky.  Sprinkle caramel pieces over brownie batter.

Soft Caramel Version: Melt caramels with the milk in a double boiler (or sauce pan – just watch the heat), stirring.  Drizzle on your brownie batter, and maybe run through it with a Pam-greased knife to give it a little swirl pattern.

Sprinkle with sea salt to taste.  Top with crushed pretzels.

Bake according to brownie recipe.

chocolate banana oat bars

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this is kind of a cop-out post.  i'll be honest. 

there are lots of photos on my camera for lots of yummy recipes.  short ribs.  brownies.  cauliflower.  (yes, cauliflower.  trust me.)

there are even more recipes on my weekend to do list.  pumpkin apple cake.  more short ribs. 

plus, i have things i want to tell you.  about dutch-processed cocoa and chili sauce.  and frosting.

but this week, i was distracted.  by margaritas and tequila shots and, well, what it feels like to be nearly thirty the morning after you have a bit too much fun on a school night.  plus, there was giggling and vampires and new extracurricular activities.  oh, and after months of running jail, i'm totally supposed to be training for some crazy half-marathon that is exactly one month away. 

whew.  no wonder i'm sleepy!

next week . . . i promise awesomeness.

in the mean time, these bars are pretty darn good.

i found this recipe on a great blog.  cookies masquerading as breakfast bars.

they might be vegan and vaguely healthyish.  they might contain two tried and true breakfast foods – banana and oats – but don't be deceived.

they are rich and gooey and wholly satisfying.  the banana chips are such a value add – giving each bite a soft crunch.   and the edges have that perfect, brownie-like chew.  mmm.

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Enjoy!

Chocolate Banana Oat Bars

I didn't change anything about this recipe except rename it for accuracy, dammit, accuracy!  Go visit Eat, Live, Run for her recipe!