Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mom's Picnic Brownies

This is one of my mom's classics. Growing up whenever we'd have a picnic, camping trip or day at the beach she made these brownies. The smell of opening up the tupperware container of brownies is definitely one of my favorites. Oh, and these are good if you need something for a crowd. You could make them in a 9 x 13 pan, but my mom has always done it in a 10 x 15 pan. You can serve quite a few friends that way, and I promise everyone will enjoy!

I think these are best described as a cake-like brownie with delicious chocolatey frosting. I love that such simple ingredients like butter, powdered sugar, cocoa and a little milk can make such a finger licking frosting treat. On my mom's original recipe, she doesn't give any measurements for the frosting, so I'm giving you approximate amounts. It all depends on how much frosting you want on your brownies. But if you have extra, might I make a suggestion? Have some graham crackers on hand and spread some frosting on them to make little sandwiches. You can even put them in the freezer (you can do that with the brownies too!) to have as a sweet snack some other time!

Picnic Brownies
courtesy of my mom

2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cubes butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup shortening
6 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup walnuts or pecans (optional, of course -- but I say add them in!)

Heat oven to 350. Grease a 10 x 15 pan. Cream sugar, butter and shortening. Add eggs one at a time and vanilla. Mix in flour cocoa and salt. Fold in the nuts.
Pour into greased pan and bake for 25 - 30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting.

16 oz. (1 box) powdered sugar
1/2 cube butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup cocoa powder

Mix together the powdered sugar, butter and vanilla. Add in cocoa powder and start with 2-3 tablespoons of milk. Add in more milk 1 tablespoon at a time until frosting has reached desired consistency. You can also add in a little more cocoa if you want your frosting to be more chocolately. Mix all ingredients completely. (One thing my mom taught me is the longer you beat the frosting the lighter and more whipped it will be. I usually let it mix in the Kitchenaid for about 5 minutes.) Once the frosting is finished, spread onto cooled brownies.
Don't discard the extra frosting! Get out those graham crackers and make some dessert sandwiches!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Adding a little flavor...

It's pretty warm around here. What am I saying? It's ridiculously hot. No baking for me the past few days, but our grill is getting some use. It would be so nice if the contents ON the grill would cook, turn over and deliver themselves to my kitchen so I didn't have to go out IN the heat at all to check up on the stuff. No luck there.

If you're wanting to use your oven a little less, your grill a little more and want to flavor up the meat you're throwing on there, I've got a few suggestions:

Rosemary Balsamic Marinade for chicken or pork
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. (or more if you like it) Dijon mustard
3-4 Tbsp. brown sugar or honey
1-2 cloves minced garlic
Fresh or dried rosemary, about 1 Tablespoon

Mix the vinegar, mustard, sugar, garlic, and herbs in a bowl or large ziploc bag. Add the chicken or pork. Refrigerate 30 minutes, a few hours, or my personal favorite -- overnight.

No fancy name for this one, I just use it with chicken or pork. Hmmm....might be good with shrimp too.

1/2 cup lime juice
6 tablespoons soy sauce
1/3 cup oil
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper.

Stir ingredients together and pour over the meat or put in a ziploc bag. Marinade as long as you like, but not longer than overnight of course!

This one is a long time family favorite. It's my mom's marinade for beef kabobs. Try it with flank steak, tri-tip, London broil, a steak -- any cut of beef will do. It's got such a savory, distinct flavor.

1 cup oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Mix all ingredients well. Use a food processor or blender to mix even more thoroughly, if desired.

So get grilling and if you've got any flavor tips of your own -- SHARE!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Checca Sauce

Despite what I may blog about, we really do eat real food -- not just dessert for every meal.

Here's proof:

I didn't really care much about tomatoes until a few years ago when I was in Zambia and one of our very talented volunteers made me a tomato sandwich. No turkey, no lettuce... just bread, a little mayo and lots of sliced tomatoes. Loving and devouring it probably had a little something to do with the three weeks of peanut butter sandwiches I'd had every day for lunch, but still...it was SO good. Since then, I've been hooked. And when tomato season rolls around I always think of (and thank!) Pam for enlightening me.
(Picked, washed and cut in half. Delicious already!)

My mom picked the first tomatoes from her garden, and I couldn't wait to make up a little something with what she shared. I can't wait for ours to be ready. Just another week or so I think. Don't you love tomato season? It's brings with it fresh bruschetta and salsa, BLT's (with LOTS of T), and the best salads of the year.

(Love the colors! Ready to be pulsed in the food processor.)

This recipe is a winner from Giada who says that it's made all over Italy in the summer time, but only in Rome is it called 'alla Checca'. It did not disappoint. It's a great way to use those tomatoes, NOT use your oven and put a meal together pretty quickly. I added in three sliced chicken sausages but you could throw in any protein -- italian sausage, shrimp, or ground turkey are just a few ideas. Any pasta will work, but it sure looks good with a thin spaghetti -- probably about 12 ounces of it, maybe a little more. It's up to you. Mangia and enjoy!

(Ready to eat!)
Checca Sauce
adapted from Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentis

16 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
3 green onions (white and green parts only), coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 ounce parmesan cheese
10-12 fresh basil leaves
2-3 tablespoons olive ooil
4 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the cherry tomatoes, scallions, garlic, Parmesan, basil, and oil just until the tomatoes are coarsely chopped. Do not puree. Transfer the sauce to a large bowl. Stir in the mozzarella cheese and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Season the sauce with more salt and pepper to taste. Toss the sauce immediately with your choice of freshly cooked pasta or serve over the top of pasta.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A little festive for the Fourth

I made this recipe a while back and thought I'd try it again for tonight's family barbecue. Again, not the fastest, but definitely worth the work. I'm no perfect star maker...it took a few tries, but I think as a finished product this little sweetie will make for a suitable decoration AND dessert. I made a few alterations to the recipe, mostly in the amount of ganache to use (and some ridiculous spelling errors!). Maybe tonight I'll actually get a picture of the inside layers this time. Hope you're having fun celebrating today too!
What did you make for the Fourth?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Can I make a suggestion?

So Fourth of July is just days away. Chances are your having a little barbecue with family or friends. If you're bringing dessert, might I recommend this easy, almost no-bake, tasty treat?

My mom has been making this for years -- long before I was born. The story goes that she and some friends once called it 'Better than Robert Redford,' but she decided once she had kids it needed a more kid-friendly name. Thus, I present to you Chocolate Cloud.

Every layer in this is simple, but makes for a delicious combination. The crust is three basic ingredients, but so full of flavor, especially with the layers of sweetness.

If you're a little tentative about baking or don't have a lot of time, this is a good one. Just don't try to make it an hour before you need it. It will need a little time to set up. Enjoy and hopefully this will become a favorite of your family as well!

Chocolate Cloud

1 cup flour
1 cube butter, chilled
1 cup finely chopped nuts (I use walnuts)

Preheat oven at 350. Combine ingredients like you are making a pie crust. I like to use my food processor and pulse the flour and butter until combined and then mix in the nuts and pulse a few more times.
Press into a 9x13 pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Let cool.

Mix together:
8 oz. cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1/2 of a large container of Cool Whip

Spread on cooled crust. (A large off-set spatula works great for this!)

Mix together:
1 large package instant vanilla pudding
1 large package instant chocolate pudding
3 cups milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Beat until smooth. Spread on top of cream cheese/Cool Whip mixture. Top the pudding layer with remaining cool whip. Garnish with chocolate shavings (get out your vegetable peeler and a chocolate bar!) if desired. Refrigerate until ready to serve.