MY NEW FAVORITE BROWNIE RECIPE.

img_9825If you couldn’t tell yet, I’m a huge fan of traditions. Weekly rituals that provide stability and comfort to my family, and they mostly revolve around food. I remember these kinds of traditions growing up myself and I want my kids to have the same feelings when the look back on their own childhoods. 

In that vein – we’re starting a new tradition this year: Sunday Supper. We’re making a big cozy, shareable family meal like we always do on Sundays – think Shepherd’s Pie, Spaghetti, a big pot of soup with crusty bread – but inviting someone or several someones to come join us for an early dinner. It just seems like a really nice thing to start doing. We had our first Sunday Supper this past weekend, inviting over some friends that haven’t seen our new house yet. Mike made a gigantic batch of spaghetti, we joined forces to make a green salad, garlic bread, and I made the most amazing brownies for dessert. Our friends raved over them, texting later that they were still dreaming about the brownies. 

I much prefer to bake from scratch than from a box, but even I have to admit that boxed brownies are amazing. It gives me a sense of satisfaction to bake things from the ground up. These brownies are worth every speck of extra effort expended. I googled “best brownies”, and after reading about 10 of the some 9000 (!) rave reviews on AllRecipes, it was settled. These were the brownies I would be making for Sunday Supper. I adjusted a few things, and have reflected the changes in my recipe – such as doubling the whole recipe, and a few changes in the frosting. But if you would like the pure unadulterated original, just click here for Angie’s original, much smaller batch recipe. 

I know I’ll be making these again for Sunday Supper in the not too distant future, and I know that these are the brownies that my boys are going to remember that their mom made when they were growing up.   

Best Brownies
Adapted from this recipe. 

For the Brownies:
What you need: 

– 1 cup butter
– 2 cups white sugar
– 4 eggs, beaten
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

For the Frosting
What you need:

– 3 tablespoons butter, softened
– 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1 tablespoon maple syrup
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
– 2 tablespoons milk

What to do: 

+ Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

+ Grease and flour a 9-inch square pan.

+ In a large saucepan, melt 1/2 cup butter. Remove from heat

+ Add sugar, eggs, and vanilla. 

+ Add cocoa, flour, salt, and baking powder until no dry bits are left. Mix with a wooden spoon so as to not overmix the batter. 

+ Spread batter into prepared pan.

+ Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Do not overcook.

To Make Frosting:

+ Combine softened butter, cocoa, maple syrup, vanilla extract, confectioners’ sugar and milk. Stir until silky smooth.

+ Frost brownies while they are still warm.

Enjoy for the brief moments that they last before they’re all gobbled up!

OUR WEEK AT A GLANCE. {vol. 7}

img_5256ONE MORE WEEK! Five days. That’s it! That’s practically nothing. We can do this. Five little days stand between me and two whole weeks off with my boys at home. Lots of holiday events happening this week. The school concert, Charlie’s class party, Charlie’s school performance, school parties at my school. etc. etc. It’s going to go by soooo fast.

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As for meals, Mike made meat sauce tonight for spaghetti tomorrow night, so that’s super easy. He never uses a recipe, just wings it and does it by muscle memory and tasting along the way. It’s the best. We switched over to ground turkey years ago, and haven’t looked by, but he does throw in a link of italian sausage for seasoning. Tuesday is BLTs. I got sourdough bread to toast, Hellman’s mayo, thick bacon, beefsteak tomatoes, and a head of iceberg lettuce. One of my favorite meals. I always do the bacon in the oven instead of the stove. If you aren’t doing it that way, you need to switch. asap. Set your oven to 400, line a cookie sheet with foil, and bake for about 15 minutes, checking frequently. Transfer to paper towels as normal. Wednesday, I’m trying a new recipe for Tuscan White Bean Soup from No Spoon Necessary. Thursday – leftovers, always, and Pizza Friday is basically a weekly holiday for us. I made Cranberry Walnut Bread this weekend too. I’m going to share the recipe this weekend! Such a good holiday loaf.

Many things remain on my to do list this week. You get just a little taste here. There is much, much more not shown. Mike’s parents arrive on Sunday, so we’re trying to get things together for them to visit, and to make sure Santa visits our house on time next week! Can you believe it’s only ten days until Christmas? It really crept up on me. This weekend was lovely though. Charlie started saying one of my favorite phases on repeat -“oh gosh” (hilarious) and has taken to calling for us by saying “honey!” in the exact tone that Mike and I use call to each other. Ben is so into everything, laughs every time Charlie laughs, and is only getting faster at crawling (lots of “oh gosh” for that).

Also this weekend – after much hunting, we finally got a chair for our bedroom reading nook. Remember when I was looking for all my favorites? We got none of those, and wound up with something that’s even more perfect. We also made it to the Christmas village today at our church and all I can say is wow. They really went all out. There was even SNOW! I think I was more excited than Charlie.

I hope your weekend was lovely too! I’ve got a couple good little posts planned for this week, so I hope you come back by to see!

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THE VERY BEST GRANOLA RECIPE.

img_4633On school days, our morning are, in an understatement, hectic. As much as I try to prepare at night for the next day, there’s only so much you can do. Diaper changes, bottles, long snuggles, teeth brushing, throwing things into lunchboxes, turning on the crockpot, not to mention getting ready myself. These are the days though. I live for those morning snuggles before school, at the cost of eating breakfast myself. With the gift of forethought this weekend, I made my very favorite granola, cooking it low and slow this past Saturday in the oven while the boys took turns napping and pulling every toy off the shelves in the playroom. I’ve gotten in the habit of tucking a little jar of granola with yogurt into my lunchbox to eat when I get to school in that blissful half hour before students arrive at the library for my first class. 

Mornings are tinged at this time of year (in south florida!) with a cool breeze and it’s just the best time of year to make granola. I’m sure it’s an even better time for it in the cold and wintry north. Let’s be honest, who wants to leave their oven on for an hour during any other time of year? I’ve tried many recipes for granola over the years, and this is the one scrawled on an index card, but nearly memorized. It’s adapted from Alton Brown, and it’s just my favorite. This isn’t just any granola, but a hearty and satisfying mix that’s not too sweet (the failing of most granola), a little bit salty with a nice crunch that pairs perfectly with a bit of plain greek yogurt. It is, of course, highly adaptable. Choose your favorite dried fruit, variety of nut, extra mix ins. 

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Granola
adapted from Alton Brown

What you need:

– 3 cups oats
– 1 cup mixed nuts, chopped (this mix is my favorite from aldi)
– 3/4 cup shredded coconut, sweet or regular
– 1 tsp salt
– 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp brown sugar
– 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp maple syrup
– 1/4 cup neutral oil (I use canola)
– 1 cup dried fruit (this is my favorite)

What to do: 

+ Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

+ Mix oats, nuts, coconut, salt, and brown sugar in a large oven-safe dutch oven, or baking dish.

+ In a small bowl, stir together syrup and oil.

+ Pour oil and sugar over oat mixture and stir to combine.

+ Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.

+ Let cool, then mix in dried fruit.

+ Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to a week.

+ Enjoy over yogurt or milk!

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Do you eat breakfast? I’ve gone through phases this year of breakfasting and not, and I’m in a decidedly breakfasting phase.

TO BAKE: CHERRY BERRY BARS

I often, especially at that hour after my students leave, but can’t yet leave school to pick up my own little loves, find myself in need of something to munch on. I’ve gone through phases of handfuls of pretzels, tupperware-d muffins, little jars of plain yogurt with granola, tins of chex mix, baggies of graham crackers, or a simple, not overly sweet cake wrapped up in a napkin and tucked in my lunch box to enjoy with a steaming mug of peppermint tea in the afternoon.

But a couple weeks ago, it was after the boys had gone to bed, and I had in my mind these date bars that are a bit of a tradition for me to bake pre-anywhere travel. It had been a long school day, I had been making lists all week of things that needed to be remembered and packed before our trip. I typically double Smitten Kitchen’s recipe to fit in my 9×9 square baking pan, and to make more of a thick breakfast bar than the single recipe makes.

As you can probably see where I’m going where this, a few things went awry in my dark of night cooking. I was doubling all the ingredients in my head (always write them down. always!). I also didn’t have exactly all of the ingredients that the recipe called for – dried cherries rather than dates, frozen fruit to make up the difference, regular granulated sugar instead of raw, ginger instead of cloves, and the use of a whole cup instead of a half measuring cup. A few changes and mistakes that led to the greatness of a crumbly but chewy, sweet but tangy, sweet but also a little salt to take the edge off, homemade granola bar. The perfect after- school, or afternoon treat to enjoy with a hot cozy drink in a mug.

Homemade Cherry-Berry Granola Bars

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For the filling:

What you need: 

5 ounces dried cherries
1 cup frozen (or fresh) mixed berries
1/2 cup water

What to do: 

+ Combine cherries, berries and water in a small saucepan.

+ Simmer over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes until the liquid has absorbed and begun to thicken.

+ Set aside while you make the dough.

For the dough:

What you need: 

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup canola oil
1/2 cups oats, quick-cooking or old-fashioned, plus another 1/4 cup for topping
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

What to do: 

+ Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease sides and bottom of a 9×9 baking pan.

+ In a large mixing bowl, or in a Kitchenaid mixer, combine the sugars and oil. Add the flour, 1/2 cup of the oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, baking soda and salt. The mixture will be the consistency of a cookie dough.

+ Press about 3/4 of the mixture into the bottom of your baking pan. Spread your filling on top.

+ To the remaining 1/4 of the dough, add 1/4 cup of oats and mix together. Sprinkle this on top of the fruit filling and press lightly to cover.

+ Bake for 30 minutes or until light brown at the edges. Cut into squares after cooled. Store at room temperature if eating soon, refrigerator for about a week, or freezer for longer.

OUR WEEK AT A GLANCE. {vol. 5}

img_0371We’re home after a whirlwind of a week in Indiana. Our parents’ houses were both packed with food, family, laughter and wine which is just how we like it. Days passed by in that busy mode of doing everything and nothing all at the same time. A walk down the street felt like  true achievement. Now that we’re home, we’re in vacation recovery mode, practically buried under piles of laundry and half empty bags with fingers crossed that our house doesn’t succumb to the flu bug that’s been going around the rest of the family.

week at a glance

This week looks to be pretty quiet. I’d like to get the Christmas decorations out, but have low expectations of getting anything up. The weather was so beautiful today that I took the boys to the park after school. Dinner, we pulled out that half gallon of mommy soup from a few weeks back and just had to heat it up and make a few peanut butter sandwiches to go with. Taco Tuesday follows, then sheet pan chicken with broccoli and potatoes on Wednesday. Thursday is a night without Mike, so I’ll heat up tacos for Charlie and I, and then Friday is, of course, pizza night. I also pulled out some frozen pumpkin muffins that I made a few weeks ago, there’s cheesecake ice cream in the freezer and Mike’s making popcorn for our snack tonight as we speak, and hot chocolate is in the pantry for another night, so those are some treats to look forward to this week.

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I’m hoping to get a couple runs (honestly, walk/runs) in during the week and then one night of yoga (I’ve been so stiff lately!), and this weekend we’ll get another couple runs in together if the boys allow it. Other than that, I started a new book today from school, and I can already tell it’s going to be so cute. We’ve got a hallmark Christmas movie on, and it’s supposed to get down into the 40’s tonight! Brr! We put the boys to bed in their flannels, and sweatshirts and long pants are laid out for the morning. I can’t wait to hear Charlie say “Brrrrr. Told.”

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CHARLIE (2 YEARS) AND BEN’S (8 MONTHS) FAVORITE FOODS.

img_3282Dinner time is a messy, chaotic affair these days, which on weeknights I can only get together by putting on a show (Daniel Tiger!) for Charlie and letting Ben eat puffs off of the ground while I run around getting things together before Mike gets home. Mike and I both feel really strongly about having family dinner together at the table. It’s something that we both grew up having, and it’s always been something we’ve said has to be one of our family traditions. Do we all eat the same thing? Not always.img_3366Charlie is getting to the point at two years old that he has an opinion about things. He doesn’t just eat whatever is put in front of him like he used to. For dinner, he generally has at least a little bit of what we’re eating, but I always try to make sure that he has a fruit, a veggie, a protein, a carb and some kind of cheese on his plate. Some of that might be in our meal, and some I might put on his plate separately. There are some meals that he won’t eat, so for right now, I try to plan things that I’m pretty sure he’ll like and that we will too.img_3355Ben on the other hand, is still (generally reluctantly) eating purees, and is getting into more and more finger foods. He prefers to feed himself from his tray than spoon feeding. I’m starting to give him little bites off of my plate if it’s soft enough. He’ll be sharing our meals before we know it though!

Ben loves:

  • canned carrots
  • applesauce
  • yogurt squeezys
  • puffs! puffs and more puffs!
  • graham crackers
  • puffs
  • white bread
  • canned peas
  • pears
  • shredded cheese
  • did I mention puffs?

Charlie loves (in no particular order):

  • lasagna
  • tacos
  • hot dogs
  • meatloaf
  • rice
  • bananas
  • frozen waffles with butter
  • cereal
  • blackberries
  • clementines
  • yogurt
  • cheese of all kinds – goat cheese, colby, cheddar, sticks, shredded, etc
  • ketchup
  • butter
  • sweets, obviously – cookies, cake, muffins. love.
  • anything Ben is eating (brother jealousy is becoming a thing! “mine. charlie’s. mine.)
  • anything in a pouch – applesauce, yogurt, baby food puree, literally anything in a squeezy pouch

Here are a few of our favorite products for baby and toddler feeding!

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For Charlie

1// OXO Grippy plate for kids who throw their plates 

2// Fork and spoon for a kiddo learning to use silverware

3// A sippy cup for milk at meals for a boy who uses an open cup for water at school, but is definitely not there yet for milk at home. 

4// A sippy cup on the go for car rides, dragging around the house and taking outside. We recently left ours behind somewhere, but it’s my favorite for Charlie.

5// Little containers for snacks, fruit, and storing mini sized leftovers.

For Ben:

1// A seat that has kept both boys contained and happy for little munching meals.

2// The best spoons for feeding drippy purees to wandering mouths

3// Forever our favorite bottles.

4// Puffs, because puffs make the baby world go round.

TO BAKE: CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES.

img_2535Chocolate chip cookies are a little bit of a hobby of mine. I try recipes, decide they’re the best, then see another one I want to try, and decide its the best, and so on and so forth until eternity. I had some extra time yesterday while home with my sicky baby Ben, so of course, the urge for a cookie set in. I had, in times past, decided the recipe on the bag of chocolate chips was the best, but then I thought this was the best recipe, then I switched to this one for a little bit (lard! so good!), but yesterday, I cracked open my Betty Crocker and her Chocolate Chip cookie may be my new favorite. Soft! Crisp edges! Chewy! Crinkly! No extra steps! What’s not to love?img_2543Recipe from Betty Crocker

Ingredients: 

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bag (12 oz) semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)

Instructions: 

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, beat sugars, butter, vanilla and egg in a mixer with the paddle attachment.
  3. Stir in flour, baking soda, and salt.
  4. Gently stir in chocolate chips with a wooden spoon.
  5. On ungreased cookie sheets, drop dough by rounded tablespoon about 2 inches apart.
  6. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until light brown. Cool for 1-2 minutes then move to cooling racks to cool completely.

Some notes:

  • I like to only bake a few for us to eat, and then I freeze the rest of the dough in rounded tablespoons on a cookie sheet and transfer to ziplock bag. Store in the freezer until ready to bake. Add on a minute or two of cooking time if cooking from frozen.
  • This is my favorite cookie sheet. 
  • I like to cool on foil. I think it keeps the cookies chewier than if cooled on a rack.

Do you have a favorite chocolate chip cookie? It’s almost time to look at Christmas cookies!!! I’ve already got my eye on a few that I want to try this year!

img_2560In other news – I’m still home with this sweet boy, but back to work tomorrow and Mike’s staying home with him. Soaking up these moments!

 

TO COOK: MIREPOIX.

Mike and I took an Italian cooking class from a professional chef a few years ago in the days when whole days would stretch out in front of us with nowhere we needed to be and nothing we needed to do. It was a Christmas gift from his mom that taught us some great tricks in the kitchen to take our cooking up a level. We love to cook together, so this was a perfect date for us. I still make the Pasta e Fagioli a couple times a month that we learned that day, and we also learned the tip of keeping a mason jar of fresh garlic that’s been finely minced in the food processor and topped with olive oil. And we learned how to make mirepoix, which I always have in the freezer, ready to be thrown into soups and sauces as a thickener or a flavor enhancer.

French mirepoix is a combination of onion, carrot and celery. If you’ve cooked any kind of soup, you’ve probably used this combination and cooked it down in a couple tablespoons of butter as your base. But Chef Baba taught us a new, easier way to use mirepoix in our cooking. You simply throw a combination (usually 50% onion, 25% celery and 25% carrot) into a food processor and blend it into a sort of chunky paste. Freeze it in ice cube trays or in mason jars to throw into your cooking whenever you need it. And I use it alllllll the time now. I make a gigantic batch and freeze bunches of it at once so it’s always there for me to use at the drop of a hat. I sometimes freeze it in ice cube trays so I can have it in smaller units too.  To cook it, I just saute the mirepoix with a couple tablespoons of butter and/or olive oil on medium high heat until nice and pasty, then continue on with the recipe. I use it when recipes call for it, and when it doesn’t. I just always use it as the base of my soups, no matter what kind I’m making. I can tell the difference, and I think you’ll be able to too.

Ingredients: 

  • 2-3 onions (red or white, I usually use red)
  • 2 carrots, scrubbed clean and trimmed
  • 2-3 celery stalks, trimmed

Instructions: 

  1. Roughly chop veggies.
  2. Add to food processor.
  3. Blend on high until it turns into a uniform paste.
  4. Store in small mason jars or smear into ice cube trays and freeze, or refrigerate until ready to use.
  5. When ready to use, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and saute until soft.