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Death by Brownie…and a special cause.

I would like to start off by saying that I have been given the amazing opportunity to team up with Share Our Strength South Florida! I am extremely excited to work with such an amazing organization and have the opportunity to join my passion with a very important cause. Not only that, but my readers can look forward to some fun features and opportunities in the coming weeks.

If you haven’t seen the PSAs usually shown on the Food Network, and you aren’t familiar with Share Our Strength, let me fill you in a bit. Share Our Strength® is the leading national organization working to end childhood hunger in America. They weave together a net of community groups, activists and food programs to catch every at-risk child and make sure no kid in America grows up hungry.

One of the many events that Share Our Strength hosts in order to raise funds for the nationwide program is Taste of the Nation. Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation® is the nation’s premier culinary benefit dedicated to making sure no kid in America grows up hungry. Each spring, the nation’s hottest chefs and mixologists donate their time, talent and passion at more than 40 Taste of the Nation events across the United States and Canada, with one goal in mind: to raise the critical funds needed to end childhood hunger.

I am lucky enough to have one of the events hosted in my local area, Fort Lauderdale, on May 13th. I am excited to have the opportunity to attend the event and can’t wait to share the experience with all of you.

If you live in South Florida (or want to pay a visit) and would rather experience this amazing event on your own, you can visit www.strengthsouthflorida.org to purchase tickets. Not only that, but I am offering my readers 10% off the ticket rate. Just enter discount code*: WEBFTL.

Okay, so what does all of this have to do with the blog you ask?? Well, in honor of the Fort Lauderdale Taste of the Nation, I am going to be doing a series of posts dedicated to the food served at past Taste of the Nation events, and the chefs who created it. So look for my weekly Taste of the Nation posts to see what dishes of the past have inspired me to make a version of my own.

To kick this series off, I was inspired by Chef Christine Najac, from Really Good Cookies in Boca Raton, FL.  What did she make??  Chocolate Fudge Brownies!  It’s a classic comfort food that most people can’t resist, especially kids.  We are doing this for the kids, right?

Since I don’t have Chef Christine’s personal recipe, I had to venture out to find a recipe of my own.  Thanks to the blog, The Piggly Wiggly, I didn’t have to venture too far.  She introduced me to a  brownie recipe that has been awarded best brownie honors from America’s Test Kitchen, The Today Show, and Oprah’s O Magazine.  I mean come on…Oprah wouldn’t lie!!  I must say that this was one incredible brownie.  If you have a chocolate craving, this will DEFINITELY fulfill it.  Richness….that would be the perfect word to describe it.

Okay, enough talking already!  You go check out Share Our Strength South Florida and Taste of the Nation, and I will get on with giving you this incredible recipe!

On second thought, jot down the recipe first and then go check out the sites while you wait for the brownies to bake in the oven.

*Discount code only good for the Fort Lauderdale  event.

Fudgy Brownies

courtesy of Baked: New Frontiers In Baking (Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito), via The Piggly Wiggly

1-1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoon dark cocoa powder
11-oz quality dark chocolate (60-72%), chopped coarsely (I used Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips)
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (I used instant coffee powder)
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or light colored metal pan 9x13x2 pan. I prefer to line my pan with parchment paper for easy release.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, the salt, and cocoa powder.

Configure a large sized double boiler. Place the chocolate, the butter, and the instant espresso powder in the bowl of the double boiler and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined.

Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water of the double boiler and add both the granulated and brown sugars. Whisk the sugars until completely combined and remove the bowl from the pan. Mixture should be room temperature.

Add 3 eggs to the chocolate/butter mixture and whisk until just combined. Be sure NOT to over-mix! Add the remaining 2 eggs and whisk until just combined, but don’t over mix.

Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not over beat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkle the flour/cocoa/salt mix over the chocolate. Using a spatula (DO NOT USE A WHISK), fold the dry into the wet until there is just a trace amount of the flour/cocoa mix visible.

Pour the mixture into the pan and smooth the top with your spatula.

Bake the brownies for 30 minutes (rotate the pan half-way through baking) and check to make sure the brownies are completely done by sticking a toothpick into the center of the pan. The brownies are done when the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Cool the brownies completely before cutting and serving.

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Oh, those college days!

As a mentioned in a previous post, I decided to make my husband’s cousin a little care package and send it off to her in college. This is her freshman year and of course she is living in the dorms and having the time of her life. It seems like just yesterday I was moving into my dorm and starting college, but it has actually been 8 years since that big move! It is crazy how time flies. I do remember though how nice it was to get packages of goodies from my mom and my Nana. I mean if she is anything like I was, I lived off of ramen noodles and rice, unless I ventured off to have some of the less than spectacular cafeteria food. Of course I had my occasional Subway, Taco Bell and Wendy’s, which is a splurge on a college budget, but there was nothing like getting that package of homemade goodies. I had suite-mates, but no roommate, so I didn’t have to share either.

Okay, enough reminiscing of days past, back to my care package for Juliann. I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be to come up with the contents of the package. The main problem being, the temperatures down here in Florida are well into the 90’s and I knew anything that contained too much chocolate was going to melt. So I needed things that weren’t only sturdy (to make it through the shipping process), but that would also get to her without being a complete and utter mess. So I decided on the Apple Cinnamon Scones I mentioned in a previous post and also went with a Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Blondie. I figured since the blondies were much more dense than a cookie the chocolate chips should hold up fairly well. I think my conclusion was correct, but Juliann will have to confirm that for me. Just an FYI, the scones didn’t do as well getting to her as I would have liked. They were more of a muffin consistency than a typical scone consistency, so by the time they got to her they were a bit on the soggy side. Once again, I believe the blondies were okay though, but Juliann will have to confirm.

I originally found this recipe on Martha Stewart’s website, but I did some modifications because honestly, they sounded a bit bland in their original form. The final product came out quite nice. My husband absolutely loved them! It’s a good thing he went out of town the day after I made them or else they probably would have never made it to you Julianne! This is a very simple recipe that is perfect for having around the house. With school just starting back this is a great treat for an after school snack or for the lunch boxes too. Not that I have children to test this theory on, but I am assuming. One day though, one day.

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Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Blondies

adapated from MarthaStewart.com

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet minis)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush an 8-inch (or 9 inch) square baking pan with butter. Line bottom and two sides with a strip of parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on both sides. Butter paper, and set pan aside.

Using a mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, and beat until combined. With mixer on low, gradually add the flour, granulated sugar and baking powder; mix just until combined. Mix in 3/4 cup oats. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Using a spatula or table knife, smooth batter evenly. Sprinkle with remaining oats, pressing gently to adhere. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, *30 to 35 minutes (see note below). Let cool in pan 30 minutes.

Using overhang, transfer blondie (still on paper) to a wire rack to cool completely. Place on a cutting board (peel off paper); using a serrated knife, cut into 16 squares. Store blondies in an airtight container at room temperature.

*Notes:

-If you are using a 9 inch pan, I suggest checking the blondies at 20-25 minutes (depending on your oven), otherwise they may get too dry.  I completely forgot that I used a larger pan than directed and left them in the full time; they were good but I would have liked them a bit more moist.

-According to Martha Stewart’s website, these will freeze for up to 2 months.

Yields: 16 bars

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A Last Summer Treat

That last couple weeks of summer are upon us and with them brings mixed emotions for all. People like me, who live in Florida, are suffering through the most brutal days of the summer and begging fall to get here as quickly as possible in hopes of seeing 70’s in the forecast. Our friends to the north are looking forward to the apple picking and beautiful foliage but are savoring the last few warm days of the year. On the other hand we are also battling with our cooking desires. We are counting down the days until we have the scents of pumpkin, cinnamon, apple and cranberry slithering through our homes, as well as pots of soups and stews simmering on the stove. At the same time we are also trying to fit in those last few summer dishes we haven’t gotten around to yet. Needless to say, our menus are probably a bit of a mix mosh these days.

Labor Day was probably the last of the big summer get togethers and barbecues for most. So while I was thinking of sweet treats to bring to the BBQ I attended, I kept the traditions of summer in mind. I knew I had to make the banana bars I had found a recipe for, but I wanted one more thing. What is more of a summer treat than s’mores?? We weren’t going to have a campfire handy, so I needed to think along other lines. I decided to go with a s’mores brownie. That is a combination that most wouldn’t turn down!

I went to work looking to see if I could find a tried and true recipe, but to my dismay they all came back with mixed reviews. I really didn’t want to take the chance of them coming out sub-par. So I decided to take a brownie recipe that I knew was a winner and then add the s’more elements on my own. While trying to decide on what brownie recipe I wanted to go with, I remembered that I had bookmarked a Cook’s Illustrated version that Annie from Annie’s Eats had made recently and raved about. It was simple and chocolatey, so I went with that one.

I added a graham cracker crust and “roasted” some marshmallows on top. In the end I had a yummy s’more-like concoction without the campfire and flaming marshmallows. They were a perfect end of summer treat!

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S’mores Brownies

brownies adapted from Baking Illustrated as seen on Annie’s Eat’s
crust courtesy of The Bon Appetit Cookbook

Crust:
6 whole graham crackers, broken into small pieces
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces

Brownies:
5 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used chocolate chips)
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into quarters
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1¼ cups (8¾ oz.) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (5 oz.) all-purpose flour

Topping:
1/2 bag mini-marshmallows

Position oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line a 8×8 or 9×9 inch pan with parchment paper (allowing edges to extend over sides). Blend graham crackers, sugar, and butter in a food processor until moist crumbs form. Press crumbs evenly onto the parchment paper in the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake crust until light golden brown, about 7-10 minutes. Place to the side.

Move the oven rack to the lower-middle position.

In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth. Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt; whisk until combined, about 15 seconds. Whisk in the warm chocolate mixture until incorporated. Then stir in the flour with a wooden spoon until just combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread with a spatula to make an even layer. Bake until slightly puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a small amount of sticky crumbs clinging to it, 35-40 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven. Carefully move the rack to about 6 inches from the broiler and preheat to broil. Top the brownies with the marshmallows, making an even layer. Place the pan on the rack and watch carefully with the oven door cracked. Make sure to stay by the oven and watch because the marshmallows will smoke a bit and brown VERY quickly (if you aren’t careful they could potentially catch on fire). As soon as the marshmallows have a nice brown crust, remove them from the oven. Let cool completely before attempting to remove from pan and cutting. You may want to butter your knife a bit to prevent the marshmallow from sticking.

Cut to your desired serving size.

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Heavenly Banana Bars

I try and pull inspiration for recipes and cooking techniques from all different sources. I watch my fair share of Food Network, subscribe to a ton of magazines, own quite a few cook books and frequent some cooking boards online. Those are the places that I probably get most of my inspiration from. Although those are all wonderful resources, I am always looking for something new to change things up a bit. I recently started visiting Tastespotting and Food Gawker, and they have become wonderful resources. Not only do you get to look at beautiful food photography, but all of those photos are linked to great recipes and ideas. I love these sites too because there is such a variety of information.

During one of my recent visits I saw a photo of delicious looking cake slices. They looked yummy enough for me to click and see where they led to. The photo took me to an adorable blog called My Baking Addiction, which is put out by Jamie. Not only did I find a fabulous sounding recipe, but I also found a wonderful new site for sweet treats! After reading over the recipe and seeing that I had two sad looking bananas hanging in my kitchen, I knew I had to make this for the Labor Day get together we would be attending.

Oh, and did I mention that this cake is topped with cream cheese icing?? This little recipe was just winning my heart over more and more by the minute. And win my heart over it did! Not only my heart, but the hearts of just about everyone who tried it. My uncle, who never eats desserts, came over and took three pieces on a plate to hide away for himself for later. Thank goodness I made the last minute decision to cut the larger pieces I made in half in order to create more, haha.

I should also mention that this is a very easy, fuss free recipe. How could you go wrong with an amazingly delicious cake that that doesn’t take a whole lot of effort? I suggest you go out and make this as soon as possible!

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Banana Bars with Vanilla Cream Cheese Icing

adapted from My Baking Addiction, originally seen on allrecipes.com

Cake:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I actually mixed a little plain with a bit of vanilla flavored that I had on hand)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 large bananas)

Icing:
2 (8) ounce package cream cheese, softened (I used 1/3 less fat)
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 lbs. confectioners’ sugar ( adjust sugar for desired thickness and sweetness)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13 inch pan.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the yogurt and vanilla.

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon; stir into the batter. Finally, mix in the mashed banana. Spread evenly into the prepared pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes in the preheated oven, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow bars to cool completely before frosting with the cream cheese icing.

In the bowl of your mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix cream cheese and butter until smooth. Gradually add in the confectioners’ sugar and mix until smooth and creamy. Stir in vanilla extract. Spread on cooled cake.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

*This recipe creates a large amount of icing.  You could probably get away with making half of the recipe to ice this cake.  Although, there is nothing wrong with having leftover cream cheese icing hanging out in your refrigerator!

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A Grandma Approved Treat

When we go to family gatherings I always try to bring a sweet treat. I love to bake but I don’t do as much as I would like because it is just Greg and I. So I jump at any opportunity I can find to make some yummy baked goods.

I always try to make an array of things that I know most people will like. Not only that, but if it is a casual gathering I also try and make something that is simple to grab and munch on at each guest’s leisure. While searching for a new recipe for one of the many gatherings we attended this summer, I found a delicious recipe from The Baking Blonde. Oatmeal Fudge Bars! That is a combination that most people would not snub their nose at. Not only that, but it was a recipe from her grandma, so how could you go wrong with that??

These bars were rich and delicious. They were a definite hit at the barbeque we attended. So if you are looking for a sweet treat that is finger friendly, I would definitely give this a shot.

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Oatmeal Fudge Bars

Courtesy of The Baking Blonde

2 1/2 cups flour
1 teasponn baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups quick cooking oatmeal.

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk (15 oz.)
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 325.
Grease and flour a 10×15 jelly roll pan.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together softened butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.
Add eggs, one at a time and beat until combined. Add vanilla and mix well.
Slowly add the sifted flour mixture and mix until combined. Stir in oatmeal.
Gently spread 2/3 of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Reserve the rest for topping.

Making the filling:
Over Medium-Low heat, melt together chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, 2 tablespoons butter, and salt. Stir until smooth. Remove mixture from heat and stir in vanilla.
Evenly pour filling mixture over the crust but keep the filling about a 1/4 inch away from the side of the pan so it does not stick to the pan while baking. Evenly dollup the remaining oat mixture on top of filling. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until topping is light brown and fudge layer is set but not solid. Don’t overbake these bars or they can become dry.

Cool in pan on rack until set. You can chill them if you need them to set up faster.

Keep stored in an airtight container either room temp or in the fridge.

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Bring on the Cheesecake Bars!

Raspberry and cheesecake combined…it doesn’t get much better than that! Or does it? How about adding a shortbread crust into the mix. All I can say is, YUM. This is a great dessert for Spring and Summer, or any time of the year for that matter. It’s simple, easy to transport and it tastes great. Sounds like my kind of dessert.

cheesecake

Raspberry Cheesecake Bars

adapted from Food Network
16 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup raspberry preserves (you can switch this out with your favorite flavor)
hot shortbread base (recipe follows)

Preheat oven 350 degrees.

In a bowl whisk cream cheese until smooth then whisk in eggs, sugar and vanilla. Evenly spread preservers over hot shortbread and pour cream cheese mixture over it. You may also choose to melt a small amount of the preserves in the microwave and drizzle over the top for a little extra visual. Bake in the center of oven until slightly puffed, about 30 minutes. Cool completely in pan and then cut into 24 bars.
*Note: I lined my pan with parchment paper to make for easy removal.

Shortbread Base

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed like brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven 350 degrees.

Cut butter into 1/2 inch pieces. In a food processor, process all ingredients until mixture begins to form small lumps. Sprinkle mixture into a 13 by 9 by 2 inch baking pan, press evenly onto bottom. Bake shortbread in the center of the oven until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

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