Saturday, November 16, 2013


Have you ever agreed to bring a dessert to a potluck? Of course you have, but have you also had to get your daughter to ballet rehearsal for Nutcracker and your son to a speech competition before that potluck? When you don't have time to prepare a homemade dish, you need a trustworthy recipe to fall back on. You need a highly successful recipe.

Ghirardelli brownies can be your saving grace. Yes, it is a boxed brownie mix, but it is the most amazing dessert from a box ever! I would love to have a truly homemade brownie mix that can compete with this dessert, so if you think your brownies are the best, then leave your comments pointing me to your tried & true. Maybe we should have a brownie showdown.

This is a fantastic dessert and super easy to make. I am going to point out a few tips & tricks I have learned help to make the brownies so good.

The box does not require very much from you.
  • A packet
  • An egg
  • 1/3 C oil
  • 1/3 C water
Unfortunately, the box instructions are too simplistic. Admittedly, I am complicating the instructions. I trust the complication / details are going to help you and not harm you.

There are 2 big things I suggest. First, as illustrated here, start with your egg and beat it. As you are beating it, slowly drizzle in your oil. Beat fast enough to make sure the oil & egg are mixed. Now beat in the water. Again, beat fast enough to mix in the liquid. The goal is to have a homogeneous solution.
The next tip is about how you combine this egg mixture with your brownie dry mix. You will pour the egg mixture on top of the dry brownie mix and gently fold them together. Don't beat the tar out of this stuff. Hopefully, you burnt all your energy working the egg together with the oil & water. Remember, you are just mixing enough to bring the dry together with the wet.
You should still see some dry mix. That is okay. It takes me about 20 - 30 seconds to fold these together.
Pour the batter in the pan. If you are like us, you will lick the bowl clean.
I like to try different containers for my brownies. Here I'm re-using a pie tin. Actually, here is another tip, but I don't have any pictures to illustrate. I love using parchment paper to line my pans. It is not waxed paper, but, specifically, parchment. This paper will not melt in the high temperatures of the oven.
Here I cut the parchment paper into squares and shoved them into cupcake holes and filled them with the brownie mix. Doing this gives the brownies the ease of individually selling them and a little cool factor.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Butter Popcorn

Popcorn is one of my families' favorite snacks. We love this simple treat. I think we started with popcorn like most people -- microwave popcorn. The final product was good, but you don't realize how good it can be until you've made popcorn at home on your stove.With a little care and the right equipment, we have moved popcorn to a top-notch favorite.

We prefer white popcorn, but it is not easy to find. Albertsons and Wal-Mart are the main stores selling it, so we will usually pick up several bags and pour them into a zip-top freezer bag to keep frozen away in the freezer. It stays there until time to cook. A fun mistake was mixing the white & yellow kernels together. The final popcorn was mix of yellow & white where the yellow popcorn was in a bed of white making it look like it was dripping with butter.

Clarified butter is probably the key to really good popcorn. Butter would normally smoke and burn at the high temperature needed to pop the kernels. To get around this, I clarify the butter, but that is for another posting. The final product is a frozen puck of clarified butter ready for you use in my next batch of popcorn. By following portion control techniques, I create (and freeze) the right amount of clarified butter.

This is our third popper. The first two were Whirly Pops. They were not as well built as this Back to Basics model. A feature I really like is the dense bottom to conduct the heat and hold it for the corn to pop.

Once you feel comfortable making popcorn at home, you can use this ability to create a huge variety of popcorn snacks. I'll write up posts about this individually later like the very popular kettle corn. I really like (and Leslie really does not like) chile popcorn made with chile powder & garlic.

A stove top popper
  • 42 g clarified butter
  • 90 g popcorn
  • salt, to taste

  1. Before you start popping, get a big bowl where you will put your popped popcorn. 
  2. Now that you have a bowl ready, put your amazing popcorn popper over high heat and drop in the clarified butter puck. Once it is melted, pour in the popcorn. 
  3. Sprinkle in a little salt and mix together. I like to make sure the corn is laying in an even layer to it heats up evenly. Simply mix occasionally until you get a few kernels to explode.
  4. When the pop corn begins to pop, mix the pop consonantly until the popping nearly stops. This takes some practice, so make popcorn every night or weekend to refine your skills. Once the popping nearly stops, just pour it into your waiting big bowl. Shake on a little more salt and toss the popped corn. We shake on more salt at this point, but we like it salty. You can do what you and your doctor think is right.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Chai Latte Mix

This is a super favorite at our house. Leslie found this originally on SeeMomRun, so swing over there to visit some of her awesome posts and how she makes this mix. I have increased the spices in my copy of her recipe. We wanted a little more kick.

I want to point out the tip to make it into a cold drink, because of all the powdered ingredients in the recipe we found it really grainy when you just mixed it with cold water. Thanks to Trader Joe Chai Latte we came up with this new approach. Basically, you start with just enough boiling water to dissolve the mix in your cup and then add ice to cool the drink down and dilute it. Once the ice is no longer melting, add enough water to taste.
  •   1 cup nonfat dry milk powder
  •   1 cup powdered non-dairy creamer
  •   1 cup French vanilla flavored powdered non-dairy creamer
  •   2 1/2 cups sugar
  •   1 1/2 cups unsweetened instant tea
  •   1 tablespoon ground ginger
  •   1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  •   2 teaspoons ground clove
  •   1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  1. Dump everything into a huge bowl and stir it with a whisk until it's all blended. To ensure the mix is truly blended, work in batches using a blender or food processor to thoroughly combine the  mix into a single color fine mixture. It will dissolve better in the drinking cup.
  2. To make a hot cup of Chai Latte, add 2 Tb of the mix into your cup. Boil 8 oz of water. Add a splash of the boiled water into the cup and mix to moisten completely. Add another splash and mix. Keep adding water until the entire mix is dissolved.
  3. To make an iced cup of Chai Latte, add 2 Tb of the mix into your cup. Boil a scant 1 oz of water. Add boiled water into the cup and mix thoroughly. Once it is dissolved, add cubes of ice and stir to chill the drink down. Add more water & ice to your taste.
  4. Whether you like it hot or cold, consider adding a splash of almond or coconut milk. For the cold version, another option is to use almond or coconut milk instead of water

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Hand Pies

Thank you to Chef John for these 2 videos on hand pies and, specifically, the pie crust. Now it is my turn to play with these recipes. I recommend that you check out the videos yourself and come back here to see how I have tweaked the recipes.

I made 2 double batches of Chef John's crust. The first was with no modifications, but the second batch used half all-purpose flour and half whole wheat flour. You'll see the recipes calls for 2 C of flour. I like to weigh out my flour, which is 250 g.

Buttercrust Pastry Dough - Flaky Butter Pie Crust Recipe
Apple Hand Pies - Apple Turnovers Recipe - How to Make Hand Pies 

 Just as Chef John says in the video, the dough is very crumbly. I almost thought I messed it up and needed to add more water. Have confidence in the recipe. Dump out the dough on a floured surface.
 Placing the filling in the dough was a little more difficult than I expected. You will figure it out too. Just remember the advice about folding the dough to cover the filling -- leave an inch to allow the dough to be pinched together.
 Crimping the pies takes practice. Here is my best one, but trust me, they all did not look like this one.

In the end, I made 27 individual pies from my 2 double batches. I used pumpkin, apple, and cherry fillings.

Oh, I made 2 savory pies: whole wheat crusts filled with homemade chili. I sprinkled Parmesan cheese on them.