Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cookie Madness Mexican (Chipotle) Brownies

I'm immersing myself in Mexican brownies. Well, if two recipes within two days qualifies as immersion. The recipe for these brownies come courtesy of one of my favorite bloggers, Anna of Cookie Madness.

I don't recall ever eating Tex-Mex or Mexican-American food at home. The first time I ever had tacos was at the birthday pool party of a friend of mine in grammar school. Back then, everyone (and I do mean everyone) served either pizza or burgers and hot dogs at parties.  Instead, Carla served ground, simmering taco meat complete with a 'toppings bar.'  I was blown away by the fact that I could actually 'make my meal' by slipping the ground beef crumbles into the crispy yellow shell and top it with as much shredded cheese as I liked.

When I asked to go to Casa Comida, the local Mexican 'fine dining' restaurant in my area as a result of my mind-blowing Goya oh, boya experience, my mother obliged, ordered a plain steak and averted her eyes to gaze at the pinatas hanging on the ceiling as I ordered burritos.

She also agreed to dine 'in Mexico' (as they say at Epcot Center) when we visited Disney World when I was twelve but that was because I had strategically worn her down. I had visions of chicken enchiladas draped in Monterey Jack dancing in my head as I made her traipse through ALL the other nations in the 90F temperatures with 100 percent humidity that didn't bother me.

I know that I'm turning into my mother because I'm 'over' the type of Mexican-American cuisine that is really more like glorified Sloppy Joes than the Frontera Grill.  Truthfully, I can't stomach that much tomato-based acidity, fat, and spice in one fell swoop any more, much less jump into the pool afterward and top it all off with some Carvel ice cream cake.

However, I often find that a little bit of chili powder goes a long way to adding complexity of flavor to a dish.

Anna is from Texas, so her 'Tex-Mex' brownies are the 'real deal.'  Spicy and cinnamon-y.

No pinatas were harmed during the making of this recipe.

 Here is a link to her original creation.

I made a few small changes.  I used semisweet chocolate rather than unsweetened chocolate squares and semisweet chips rather than bittersweet chocolate chips, so I reduced the sugar overall. I used some dark brown sugar as well as granulated sugar.  I increased the cinnamon a teeny bit, and left out the nutmeg and pecans. These changes were based more on what I had on hand so please check out the original, check your pantry for what ingredient combo works for you, and start baking.  Arriba!  Er, or something like that.

 Cookie Madness Mexican (Chipotle) Brownies (my version)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon chipotle
1 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter 
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (I used this brand)
2 tablespoons brewed coffee (rather than make a pot, I used two tablespoons of LIQUID instant coffee--not granulated coffee) 

2 large, beaten eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (cold)


2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon


1. Preheat oven to 375F.  Line an 8X8 pan with foil, enough so that the sides are overlapping.

2. Sift flour, spices, and salt together.

3. Melt butter and chocolate over a double boiler, remove to cool.  Add coffee.

4. Incorporate eggs, sugar, and vanilla in another bowl.  Add to butter-chocolate mixture.  Slowly fold in flour-spice mixture, stirring just enough so there are no streaks of flour.

5. Fold in chips.

Note: Rather than bringing all the ingredients to room temperature, I kept the chips in the refrigerator so they didn't 'melt' fully when baking. 

6. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

7. Top with cinnamon-sugar mixture.

8. Cool and refrigerate for 1-2 hours before cutting.

Note: Anna suggested baking for 30 minutes and then using a 'ice-water bath' for the pan to prevent the brownies from over-baking due to residual heat.  I didn't use the ice-water bath  (I made these late at night and my energy had faded).  When I make them again, I think I will probably just take them out a few minutes earlier, since the ends were a bit crispy at the corners, as you can see from the photo below.  However, some people like crispy brownie ends!  Still, depending on your oven, if you don't feel like performing the extra step, I'd keep an eye on them after 25 minutes or so.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mexican Brownies: Grin and bear the spice

Some parents have to cattle-prod their children into a bunk and pry their children's fingers off of the rear bumper of the car before they can leave Camp Fake-Indian-Name-In-The-Woods, but I begged to go to camp when I was nine.

I was envious of my cool friend Amy, a raw-boned, athletic little girl who went to church camp annually. My mother was the type of mom who watched the local news every night, just in case there were potential hazards that could threaten my life if I rode my bike to McDonald's. She waited at the bus stop with me in curlers, even though none of the other moms did. She was not keen about camp, but I persisted and was sent away by my own free will.

Of course, I was miserable.   I had no idea how to interact with the other little girls, since I was raised an only child. I was assigned to a bunk with a wiry, tiny mean-mouthed girl from upstate New York that needed a project to make fun of the way most little girls need My Little Pony. She resembled Tatum O'Neal from Little Darlings, only rather than lusting to lose her virginity, she lusted for control over all she could see from her top bunk. My total incompetence at the athletic activities at which she excelled (diving, tennis) and the unwitting contempt I expressed on the first day for her favorite song, "Almost Paradise," combined with my frizzy pigtails and Pretty Plus shorts bought from Sears made me such a sitting duck I'm surprised she found it to be a challenge.  "Almost paradise/ How could we ask for more."  Indeed.

Oddly enough, there was a frail, first-time camper also in the bunk--named Abigail--with waist-length red hair in a long, thick braid. She looked like Anne of Green Gables and cried every night for her parents. But she found friends because she was as fragile and beautiful as an old-fashioned doll.

The camp counselor lived with us.  She was from England and had a charming accent. She hardly took notice of the children and was usually absorbed in a trashy romance novel. So long as we didn't touch The Flame and the Flower, we could have set one another on fire and she wouldn't have flinched.

On Sunday, a curious thing happened--every girl except myself and the one Jewish girl in camp got on a bus and went to church. My parents didn't raise me with a religion and I had no clue which bus to choose. The Jewish girl seemed ashamed to have been left behind with me, the camp pariah.  Tatum look-alike told everyone that I was going to hell because I didn't have a religion.  Even the Jewish girl said: "I'm not going to hell because I don't believe in hell, but if I were you, I'd be worried."

This was ironic, given that I prayed every night so hard that things would get better and that I would get better, suddenly become normal overnight.

The kids followed me around, imitating me, calling me fat and ugly, and made pig noises while I ate.

I lost a lot of (much-needed, at the time) weight. The other campers used to pour so much sugar in their cornflakes and Rice Krispies they made small, mountain-shaped pyramids in the middle of the bowl but I could barely choke down even a few bites of my favorite foods, like the center part of maple syrup-soaked pancakes slathered in butter.

As bad as I felt the entire three-week session of camp, though (and I had to stick it out that year, because my parents would never forget it if I didn't) I do recall that on several occasions the camp directors served buttered noodles for dinner.  I was always revolted by pasta and still don't like it, but this was particularly awful because the girls from upstate New York would slather the noodles with ketchup and happily slurp them down.  I lived in an area with many Italian-Americans, and had never even eaten Kraft Mac n' Cheese or Spaghetti-Os.

"What rubes," I thought, my only moral triumph that entire summer.  It was, although I didn't realize it at the time, my first exposure to the different food cultures of America.

More would soon come, especially after I became a food blogger and was exposed to pimento cheese, red velvet cake, tortilla soup, and barbeque sauces not made by Kraft.

A more pleasant encounter with a regional food-ism were these spicy Mexican brownies. I made two versions--one via Baked, and the other via Cookie Madness.  The recipe from Baked follows, but stay tuned for the next version and a comparison!

The 'Baked' Spicy Brownie--My Adaptation

--makes approximately 20 small, bite-sized brownies--

For the original, click here.


5 ounces semisweet chocolate (I used 52 percent cacao)
1 stick unsalted butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa Powder
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 large, beaten eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. Melt chocolate and butter on a double boiler at low-to-medium heat.  Turn off heat,  add sugars, and cool.

2. Preheat oven to 350F.  Line an 8X8 square pan with foil. Sift flour, salt, cocoa, chili and cinnamon together.

3. Add eggs to cooled chocolate-butter mixture, incorporate vanilla.  Add dry, sifted mixture, folding in but being careful not to over-mix.

4. Pour batter in pan.  Bake from 27-30 minutes. Brownies should still look moist upon their removal from the oven.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A link to an article I published on grilling

No recipe today, but instead I offer you a link to an article I published as the 'lead' story in the Asbury Park Press. The Press is one of New Jersey's major newspapers of record. It's all about the best steak cuts for grilling, and is chock full of quotes and tips from local butchers.   Enjoy!

I'm including this image to tantalize you, although the butchers I interviewed would cry if they saw the ketchup.  I am going to give the photographer the benefit of the doubt and assume it was for the fries.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dark brown sugar swirl cinnamon muffins

I had a very slender, weight-conscious friend in high school who loved those large-as-a-baby, sticky rolls
 sold by Cinnabon in malls across America. "They are like, five hundred calories, but totally WORTH IT. Even if you eat nothing else for the rest of the day."

I've never had a Cinnabon and the few times I've had cinnamon rolls I wasn't blown away--the flavor profile of the pastry just isn't complex enough for me.  There is too much whiteness, not enough spice. Too much nothingness to counteract the sweetness.
Flickr: revrev (I do believe there is a bun somewhere beneath the icing)

I used to love cinnamon raisin bagels slathered in strawberry cream cheese, but even they are too sweet for me now.

As a kid, when I came home from school I could barely restrain myself from plowing through more than my fair share of a Pepperidge Farm cinnamon raisin loaf, toasted, with slabs of butter, peanut butter, jam, cream cheese, or honey...alternating different combinations on different slices.  A cinnamon sandwich artist for myself...

Flickr: B Tal

Besides the sweetness, I think one reason I don't long for cinnamon raisin bagels with strawberry cream cheese is the same reason I don't long for sugary cereals. The context in which I ate them has long gone away, as has the desire for the food.  Without Saturday morning cartoons on the television to watch, Lucky Charms are now incomplete.  Without Nickelodeon playing You Can't Do that On Television on the TV, I no longer need to slather butter and orange marmalade on cinnamon raisin toast. Without early morning high school activities to attend, I no longer need to steel myself with bagels...

These muffins are a very modest treat compared with Cinnabons.  They are quick and easy and great for a cinnamon 'fix' when you can't afford a several-hours carbohydrate and fat coma afterward.

 I think you should make them this weekend, particularly if you have a long and leisurely holiday weekend.

Do kids still watch Saturday morning cartoons?  I think they would pair well with them, too...just as much as Captain Crunch paired nicely with Dungeons and Dragons, Frankenberry with Tom & Jerry, and Lucky Charms with the Smurfs.  The evil cat Azreal was always my favorite character and I deeply resented the fact that the 'bad' Smurfette had short brown hair, while the 'good' one had long, blonde hair.  I felt sorry for Azreal and the bad Smurfette, just like I felt sorry for Tom the Cat and the Wild E. Coyote of Warner Brothers fame. I felt they couldn't help being bad and had been arbitrarily assigned that status by unkind fate.  They had their own stories, we just never knew them.

Dark Brown Sugar Swirl Cinnamon Muffins

--yields 12 muffins--

Ingredients (muffins)

1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 beaten, large egg
6 ounces of plain lowfat yogurt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt


1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon of cinnamon

Topping (optional)

1/4 cup chocolate chips (any kind of chip would work well)


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line 12 muffin tins with paper.

2. Mix the oil, sugar, egg, and yogurt together. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together, and incorporate the wet into the dry.

3. Sift together sugar and cinnamon for the swirl.

3. Spoon half of the muffin batter into muffin liners.  Top with half of sugar-cinnamon mixture.  Add the rest of the batter, then top each muffin with the remaining swirl mixture.  Garnish with chips, if desired.

4. Bake for approximately 17-20 minutes until a toothpick can be extracted clean.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Joy the Baker's Chocolate Avocado Cake: With a peanut butter option

These muffins have a secret ingredient.

Okay, it's not that secret. Joy the Baker's avocado cake has been making the blogging 'rounds for quite a while. And I've baked with avocado before. For some reason, though, I feel avocado still qualifies as a secret ingredient.

These muffins are a great option for omnivores cooking for vegan friends, as well as vegans. Unlike other vegan muffins, they don't require any special ingredients unlikely to be in a non-vegan's  pantry, like almond or soy milk, or Earth Balance margarine. And unlike substituting applesauce, banana, or pumpkin, the avocado contains some fat which gives the muffins additional heft. Avocado is also mild enough in taste to not impart too much additional fruity flavor.

But despite making these muffins, I've never liked secrets. I hate surprise parties. I hate most unexpected visitors. But most of all, I hated the secret, surprise, unexpected thing I had to deal with when I was involved in the Sandy Hook gifted and talented program when I was eleven.

The program itself was way cool. Members of my school's Academically Talented program (known as A.T., to make us seem less obnoxious) got to ride down to the Hook every week to conduct science experiments and learn about the wildlife there firsthand. I'm ashamed to say I remember little of what we studied--tides, salinity, wave patterns--and only the more tactile aspects of the experience remain emblazoned on my brain. Getting close to the gulls, who were lulled into friendliness in hopes of nabbing a slow kid's sandwich. Going fishing off of a boat and touching a live catch's slimy scales (we threw it back, incidentally). Touching a hermit crab, a butterfly.

I admit I am not one of those people's whose heart is only content when she lives near the sea, although I was brought up near the Jersey Shore.
Flickr: Temari 09

I firmly believe that every heart has a single, interior palette of landscape to which it cleaves: for some, it is the blueness of the sea and the white and brown of driftwood and sand. For me it is green--I remember when I caught my first sight of England, through a train window at thirteen and being struck dumb by the beauty of the greenness and the grazing animals on the small farms we passed. For others it is the hot-baked red and gold of the desert or the prairie; for still others it is the white of snow and ice. 

But although I have a green-loving, murky Irish soul at my core, I like the ocean, and I liked feeling free, running around on the sand, rather than strapped to a chair in the classroom.

There was only one problem--we frequently had to wear our bathing suits for the activities, and I did not want to on some weeks.  Not because I didn't love to swim--I did. And I had no fear of the water.  No, there was another reason.

For women, something changes when you leave middle school and become an adolescent. At sixteen, I had no problem talking about my period.  I'd talk about how it was okay to have a chocolate chocolate muffin for breakfast in study hall in mixed company, because you know, once a month...But at eleven, I felt not only like the only girl in my class who had her period, but probably the only girl in the world.  On the days I had my period and was scheduled to go to Sandy Hook, I wore shorts and a big shirt to cover up those shorts, which made some of the activities difficult, and made me feel incredibly awkward. 

I was terrified that someone would see--something, what with all of the water, splashing, and bending down.  I was terrified with the intensity of an adult with a legitimate fear about being discovered cheating on a spouse.

The final day of the program was a fun day--the group was to go to a swimming pool, I believe, climb up a lighthouse, and then go to the Clam Hut to eat.  The Clam Hut is now a rather dreadful, dingy place where university students go to get wasted on beers, but back then it was a lovely family restaurant that served masses of fried clams with ice cream for dessert.  How I loved the Clam Hut!  It was like eating the essence of fried things, without the pesky nutritional protein to slow you down.

Flickr: herzogbr

But of course I couldn't go, I realized a day or two before.  Bathing suit.  Swimming. Danger.

I feigned illness and cried.  I was ashamed of having my period. I was ashamed of being ashamed of having my period.  But most of all, I was bitter about missing swimming and eating fried clams and ice cream, which, when I was eleven was right up there with My Little Pony, snow days, and Snoopy holiday specials on TV in my pantheon of Favorite Things.

I've actually made these muffins twice (lots of overripe avocados), once with oil, and once with peanut butter. They worked both times and you couldn't taste the avocado. Using peanut butter conveys a pleasantly nutty flavor, and is a relatively 'healthy' peanut butter chocolate muffin, as peanut butter chocolate muffins go...

While they aren't going to replace my regular chocolate muffins, they garnered good reviews from my friends. One caveat--make sure to mash the avocado well.  I am less self-conscious than I was at eleven, and failed to pulverize the avocado sufficiently, and one person I served this to found a chunk of green in his muffin.  He survived and said he still liked the muffin, which just goes to prove that acting without concern about what others may think is always best and the surer prescription for happiness.

Joy the Baker's Vegan Chocolate Avocado Cake (as muffins)


 --yields 12 muffins--

3 cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Dark)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar  (Joy used two, I reduced it slightly)
1/4 cup vegetable oil (for vegan chocolate peanut butter muffins, substitute 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter instead)
1 mashed Hass avocado
2 cups water
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup of dark chocolate chips (vegan, if making muffins for vegans)


1. Preheat oven to 350. Line or grease the muffin tins.
2.  Sift flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar together.
3.  Mash oil (or peanut butter) and avocado. Mix vinegar and water, add to avocado mixture. Add vanilla.
4.  Incorporate dry ingredients into the wet. Fold in the chocolate chips, pour into the liners.
5. Bake for 20-22 minutes until a toothpick can be extracted 'clean.'