Technically This Wouldn’t Be Cheating, Would It?

Okay, so here I am firmly set in my resolve to lose a few pounds (something like 15) and sitting on the kitchen counter are piles of baking supplies that I never found time to use back during the holidays. I have them sitting there as a reminder that any time is a good time for baking, not just the holidays. Well, that was before I walked that lonely mile to the bathroom scale.

Still, being that all these ingredients were bought prior to my epiphany that I needed to lose this weight, and being that all these ingredients were bought for holiday baking and treats, technically I don’t think it would be cheating if I were to indulge myself. Yep, any excuse and I’ll run with it.

Regardless, I am not going to just freeze or store all these ingredients until next year or wait eleven months to try all the recipes I wanted this past holiday season. What I am going to do is try to control myself and bake/create in moderation. What’s the saying? Everything in moderation, including moderation. So today I caught up on a holiday chocolate that although a bit pricey because of the macadamia nuts, is well worth it. Check out my post at Simply Grateful Cooking for https://simplygratefulcooking.wordpress.com/2016/01/26/chocolate-covered-macadamia-nuts/.

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The one saving grace with this particular recipe is I didn’t make them with my normal combination of chocolates. I love chocolate, but have far more restraint when it comes to milk chocolate than dark chocolate. This meant I ate one cluster and that pretty much satisfied me for another year, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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Strawberries & Chocolate – It Don’t Get Much Better

Trying to keep my head above water with all the summer harvesting and the overwhelming amount of canning that goes with it, has been especially challenging this year.

To break up the monotony of canning practically every waking moment, I took a day to have a barbecue with some family. Barbecues take little planning, so most of my effort went into the dessert. The Strawberry Truffle Cake I made (recipe can be found on the link to Simply Grateful Cooking that was posted today) was the perfect ending for a summer barbecue.

Strawberry Truffle Cake Blog-22

The fact that this dessert has chocolate cake, strawberries, and a chocolate topping, well that just made it even better. When isn’t chocolate appropriate for dessert — or breakfast, or dinner, or lunch, or snacking? Is there really anytime that chocolate isn’t appropriate? If there is, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.

Getting back into more cooking than just the day-in day-out making dinner, getting it over with, was really a treat. Making a dessert that was “TO DIE FOR” didn’t hurt either, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Triple Chocolate Cookie Bars

Six o’clock hit below the belt tonight, or is that above the belt?  In either case, at 6:00 this evening I got the worst craving for chocolate in at least the last 24 hours.  To my dismay there wasn’t a chocolate bar, chocolate cookie, chocolate cake, chocolate milk — or anything that even came close to chocolate in the kitchen.  Not made anyway.

To make matters worse, Grace wasn’t home to run up to the store or make me something.  She wouldn’t be home from class until after 9 p.m. and there was no way I could possibly wait that long.

The dilemma:  How could I make something super chocolately without having to spend a lot of time on my feet and thus aggravating my already aching knee?

The only plausible solution was to make something using a mix of some sort.  With all the mixes-in-jars I’ve been testing these past couple of months, surely I had to have something in the pantry.

Yes, yes I did!  But…

Well, I had several chocolately options to choose from, but cookies would require me to be on my knee longer than I wanted and after a month straight of weekly brownie experiments, I wasn’t in the mood to make a batch of those either.

So I did the next best thing, I took a cake mix and made a cookie bar.  One of my all-time favorite cookie recipes comes from a cake mix, see my post  , so a cookie bar would surely produce something just as decadent.

Unlike the my Chocolate Crinkle Cookie recipe, I had no Cool Whip to use, so I winged it.  Reducing the amount of liquid called for on the box, adding a box of instant pudding to make the batter denser, and mixing it by hand rather than using a mixer to put air into the batter, should do the trick.

Triple Chocolate Cookie Bar

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1 Box Dark Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix

1 Small Box Chocolate Instant Pudding

2 Eggs

1/4 Cup Water

3/4 Cup Oil

2/3 Cup Mini Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

1/2 Cup Milk Chocolate Chocolate Chips

Combine cake mix, pudding, eggs, water and oil in large bowl.  Stir until combined.

Fold in chocolate chips.

Spread batter in greased 13 x 9 pan and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Whenever I make something chocolate, I judge the chocolatiness (new word) by how many glasses of milk I need per portion.  This cookie bar required two glasses of ice-cold milk per serving – off the charts! The only thing that could possibly top this…wait for it…would be some bittersweet chocolate frosting.  (Get it?  Top this…frosting…I’ve got way too much time on my hands sitting here on the couch.) Maybe next time.  For now, this cookie bar was lighter than brownies and heavier than cake — oh yeah, just like a cookie.  Go figure.

With my chocolate craving squashed for at least the next couple of days, or as long as the cookie bar lasts, I can once again get back to sitting around and feeling useless.  At least this little recipe got me off the couch for a little while and should keep the family from getting restless for a new dessert at least until tomorrow, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

Chocolate Crackle Toffee Bars-Cheating My Way To Success

As much as I enjoy baking and cooking, there are still some aspects after 25 years in the kitchen that still cause me to hesitate. One of these is when a recipe requires me to boil something above 200 degrees.

Boiling juice concentrates to 180 or 190 isn’t a problem, but once the temperatures go above 200, everything burns too easily.  Because of this, I tend to cheat a little by bringing whatever I am cooking to between 190-200 degrees and then transferring it to the microwave to finish up.  This has worked pretty good for me, as long as I remember to put it in a large enough bowl, as it tends to boil over very quickly.

This recipe for Chocolate Crackle Toffee has been sitting in my recipe box for a long time.  Because of the 240 degree factor in it, I kept putting it off.  Finally, today I decided to see how my little trick or finishing the boiling process in the microwave would work on toffee.

Chocolate Crackle Toffee Bar

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Cooking Spray

1/4 Cup Unsalted Butter

2/3 Cup Sweetened Condensed Milk

1/2 Cup Packed Brown Sugar

1/4 Cup Honey

1/2 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. Vanilla Extract

1 1/2 Cups Rice Cereal

1 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

  1. Line 9″ square pan with foil and spray with cooking spray.
  2. Melt butter in heavy-bottom saucepan.  Add condensed milk, sugar and honey.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 200. Remove from heat and pour into a microwave safe bowl.
  3. Microwave on high in 45 second intervals until mixture reaches 240 degrees.
  4. Stir in salt and vanilla, then the cereal.
  5. Transfer to prepared pan and sprinkle with chocolate chips.  Let stand 5 minutes.  Spread melted chips evenly over the toffee.
  6. Let cool at room temperature until firm, about three hours. Remove from pan and cut into 1 1/2″ pieces.

Bringing the toffee to 240 degrees in the microwave  worked perfectly.  It did boil over a bit, but had I paid attention better, that never would have happened.

I might not have confronted the real issue of tending to burn recipes that require me to bring the ingredients to a temperature above 200 degrees, but for me the solution works and that’s good enough, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

The Perfect Brownie Quest – Mixes In Jars #9

For the past month I have been on a quest to develop a recipe for the perfect brownie.  Trouble is, there already is a perfect brownie — it’s out of a box.  Yep, confession time.  I love boxed brownies.  My grandmother made them; my mother made them; and I have been making them since I was 11 years old.  Up until this year, this month in fact, I had never tried making brownies from scratch.  I’d had homemade brownies at picnics, parties, and a few friends houses, and although very good, they weren’t what I was used to.  They were not boxed brownies.

I guess I was somewhat of a brownie snob in expecting a homemade version to be as moist, chewy, chocolatey and irresistible as what I’d been brought up on and come to love.  And being the closed-minded person I am when it comes to trying new foods, it was only natural in my quest for the perfect brownie mix that I would do my best to imitate what I was used to.

There are so many different recipes for brownies on the internet and deciding where to begin was a challenge in itself.  After hours upon hours of reading recipes, deciphering the differences between cake-like, fudgey, and chewy brownies, and comparing everything I’d learned to recipes I’d printed off through the years or collected from friends and neighbors, I began testing recipes.

Every week for the past month I have tried a different recipe.  Actually what I’ve been doing is closing in on the perfect brownie.  With each test, I tweaked the basic recipe I started with, adjusting proportions, changing ingredients, and inching bit by bit closer to my goal.

Tonight I made my fourth batch of brownies and think it’s almost there.  It is moist, chewy, chocolatey, homemade (not boxed), and the dry ingredients will fit in a quart mason jar for easy storage in the pantry.  One goal of this endeavor has been that the final product had to be as easy and convenient as pulling out a box of brownies, adding eggs, oil, and water, and baking.  I didn’t want making homemade brownies to be something I had to schedule into my day.  Being able to whip up a batch of brownies in a matter of minutes, during a commercial break or five minutes before my guests arrived, was essential.  Otherwise making brownies would become something I did only when I had time (which let’s be honest is hard to come by) or on special occasions.

Here are a few facts I picked up about making brownies/baking along the way:

  1. Substituting some brown sugar for a portion of the granulated sugar in a recipe will provide more moisture to the final product because of the molasses content.
  2. Molasses is acidic and as such will cause baking soda to react in a recipe.  Therefore switching out the baking powder for baking soda in brownie recipes is okay as long as you use some brown sugar.
  3. Adding a little extra flour makes for chewier brownies.
  4. The addition of more oil to brownie batter will make them heavier, thus chewier and more fudge-like.
  5. It is better to under-bake your brownies slightly if you want a chewy version.

So here’s the recipe I ended up with tonight:

Chewy Fudge Brownies

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  • 1 1/4 Cups Granulated Sugar
  • 3/4 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1 1/3 Cups Flour
  • 2/3 Cup Cocoa
  • 1 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Powder (if you do not have vanilla powder, add 2 tsp. vanilla extract with other liquid ingredients when preparing brownies)

Layer these in a quart mason jar and seal until ready to use.

To prepare brownies:

Dump brownie mix into a large bowl.  Stir to combine.  Make a well in center of mix and add:

  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 Cup Melted Butter
  • 1/4 Cup Peanut or Vegetable Oil
  • 1/4 Cup Water

Stir until combined.  Pour prepared brownie mix into a greased 13 x 9 pan.  Bake in 350 oven for 25-30 minutes.

These brownies are nearly perfect — at least in my attempt to make a brownie that is quick, easy, convenient, chewy, and reminiscent of boxed brownies.  In the end, when I compare my final recipe to the tons of recipes out there for homemade brownies, it is very similar.  Many of the differences are based in the type of brownies I’m comparing my recipe to.  Cake-like and  fudgey brownies seem to be more popular on the recipe sites.  Chewy versions were not as abundant.

I can’t say that I won’t continue to tweak my brownie recipe, because making brownies every week for the past month on the premise that I was in search of the perfect brownie was a great excuse to have brownies on the counter continually.  I’m not sick of them yet, and neither is the family, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Simple Things/Great Comfort – Mixes-In-Jars #4 Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Organizing and maintaining the pantry in our basement is one of my favorite and most rewarding tasks.  Last year I finally arranged our canning shelves so all five of them were in the same area and the shelves for bulk purchases were grouped together just a few feet away.  Being able to fit everything in one area helps me better keep track of everything I stock so I don’t run out of anything or buy things I already have on hand.

Once the grunt of my canning for 2014 was done, I began researching all the types of mixes-in-jars I could make and store in the pantry.  My research yielded me hundreds of mixes to try, but without a test run, I did not want to just start filling jars with mixes the family might not like or I wouldn’t use.  So began my venture into mixes-in-jars test kitchen trials.

By the time I had tried seven mix recipes I found five of them “shelf-worthy.”  The other two were okay, but not something I would necessarily want to make again or want to waste shelf space on.  Being a fairly high percentage, and with many more to try, I figured I’d better decide where these mixes were going to be stored.

The canning shelves are full from last summer and fall’s canning.  Although we go through a minimum of six to 12 jars a week, I have been restocking the shelves with the winter canning I’ve been busy doing.  This leaves no room for mixes on these shelves. The bulk storage area of the pantry is also over-flowing, as I continually restock as I use up the inventory.  This meant finding a new area and shelving unit to dedicate to mixes-in-jars.  Granted an entire shelving unit dedicated to mixes-in-jars might be in excess, but this would be a good area to also store the flour, sugars, rice, and other staples that I have been sealing in 1/2 gallon canning jars.

Happiness is…an excuse to get a new canning shelving unit and stocking it full of jars!

The last time I ordered a metal canning shelving unit, it was a quick and easy process.  One of the home improvement stores nearby had it in stock.  Unfortunately when I began looking for these shelving units again a couple of months ago, there were no shelving units to be found locally and the shipping charges nearly doubled the cost.  Definitely not something I could afford.

Last night, I once again decided to check with the local home improvement stores in our area for the canning shelving unit I wanted.  To my surprise, I found one.  It wasn’t at the store, but they did offer free shipping to the store.  I ordered it and should have it in a week or two.  Christmas is coming early this year!

Isn’t it funny how something like a metal shelving unit can make one’s day.  I remember when I was a child, it seemed like I had unlimited wants.  I always wanted more toys, more clothes, more friends, more everything.  As I’ve gotten older, my wants have become simpler, fewer, and far less frivolous.  Having a place to call home, food on the table, my family with me, and our health are more important than any material things.  Still, on occasion there are those things that bring added comfort and something as simple as another shelving unit to store the food for me to prepare for my family is one of those things. It absolutely made my day when I hit that “Place Order” button.

Knowing a shelving unit is on the way, I was thrilled to try yet another mixes-in-jars recipe this afternoon.  Today’s choice was a chocolate peanut butter cookie.  The recipe as written produced a dry dough and the cookies turned out crumbly and not very chocolatey.  Thankfully, I only  baked a dozen like that.  In order to remedy the dough, I tweaked the recipe and ended up with a crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, chocolatey cookie — a keeper.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie

The cookie on the left was the original recipe - dry and brittle.  The cookie on the right was after I tweaked the recipe -- much better.

The cookie on the left was the original recipe – dry and brittle. The cookie on the right was after I tweaked the recipe — much better.

  • 1 Cup Packed Brown Sugar
  • 1 1/2 Cups Powdered Sugar
  • 3/4 Cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Espresso Powder or Instant Coffee
  • 1/2 Cup Butter Softened
  • 1/4 Cup Butter Melted
  • 1/2 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter
  • 1 Egg, Slightly Beaten
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 1/2 to 3/4 Cup Mini Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix to combine leaving a well in the center. Add softened butter, peanut butter, beaten egg, and vanilla to dry ingredients.  Blend with pastry blender, dough will be crumbly.  Add melted butter and chocolate chips and mix until dough is smooth.  This might be easiest done by hand as the dough is rather stiff.

Shape dough into walnut size balls and place on parchment lined cookie sheet.  Press balls down with fork.  Bake in 350 oven for 9 to 11 minutes.  Let cool on cookie sheet one minute then cool on wire rack.

This recipe yielded 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

To prepare mix for jars, layer dry ingredients in order listed above, packing down firmly as you go.  Vacuum seal and attach label that reads:

Empty contents of jar into mixing bowl.  Mix thoroughly.  Add 1/2 cup softened butter, 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter, beaten egg, and 1 tsp. vanilla to dry ingredients.  Blend with pastry blender.  Add 1/4 cup melted butter and 1/2 – 3/4 cup chocolate chips and mix until dough is smooth.  Shape dough into walnut size balls and place on parchment lined cookie sheet.  Press balls down with fork.  Bake in 350 oven for 9 to 11 minutes.  Let cool on cookie sheet one minute then cool on wire rack.

Another mix to get ready for the new shelving unit, another recipe trial success, another thing that’s makes me — Simply Grateful.