E Z Brownies

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Years ago a friend and I started a charity event that focused on wine tasting, to benefit our local SPCA. We really had no budget, but wanted to offer foods to go along with the wines.

The first event was successful, with about 400 people attending. That’s considered pretty good in our town of about 50,000 people. Fortunately, it has grown in popularity over the last 20 years!

Back then, money was tight. We couldn’t donate money to our beloved SPCA, but over the years I fostered animals, and volunteered in other ways. And every year, I made food for the wine tasting event, its biggest fund raiser.

A few years in, one of the wine distributors wanted to do chocolate and wine pairings, and I created these E Z brownies for that purpose.

They are called E Z because, wait for it, a box mix is used. Do you think any other time in my life I’d use a box mix???!!! Hell no! But It was for such a good cause.

The brownie mix is enhanced with liqueur, and goodies are added like chocolate chips or toffee bits or dried fruits. It was always fun to mix and match the flavors.

Fortunately, a wonderfully generous beneficiary of the SPCA also owned a liquor store, so she gave me all of the liqueurs I needed for these brownies!

So, for $1.16 per box of brownie mix, I could make hundreds of brownies for not much money, and everyone loved them. I wanted to share the recipe, because you can create a fabulous, customized brownie, starting with a box mix. I still can’t believe I just wrote that 😬

To really make the brownies stretch, I make mini brownies. They’re bite-sized.

Faux Brownies
Makes 16 regular-sized brownies, or cut each into 6 pieces for 96!

1 – 18.3 ounce box brownie mix (brands are different weights)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, whisked
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon flour
1/3 cup liqueur, I used Amarula
1 cup bits and/or chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use a 9 x 13” baking pan with corners. These are non-stick, but I still add a little spray oil.

Place the brownie mix, the eggs, flour, and choice for liqueur and stir until the mix is fully incorporated.

Fold in the chips and bits and scrape into the prepared baking pan.

In these brownies I used Ghirardelli bittersweet chips and dried cranberries. Amarula is a fruity liqueur, so I thought this would be a nice combination.


Bake for 22 – 25 minutes.


For thicker brownies, smaller pans can be used, or you can use twice the amount of mix; of course baking times will vary.

You can adjust any box mix just by balancing the dry and wet ingredients. Liqueur is a wet ingredient, so compensate by adding a little flour or even cocoa.

See the cranberry bits and the chocolate chips?.

These brownies are thin, but extremely dense, chocolatey, and chewy.

Like I mentioned, a square pan would bake up thicker brownies, but for a crowd, these 9 x 13″ pans are perfect, especially when one recipe makes 96 mini brownies!

Try these combinations:
Dried tart cherries and Amarula
White chocolate chips and Framboise
Dark chocolate chips and Bailey’s
Toffee bits and Buttershots
White chocolate chips and Rumchata
Candied nuts and Amaretto
Freeze-dried raspberries and Grand Marnier
Caramel Corn and Kahlua
White chocolate chips and Chambord

Sweet Potato Gratin

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I wrote a post a couple of years ago when I started this blog, called “Please – No Marshmallows!” Of course, I was referring to the rampant use of marshmallows on sweet potatoes in the U.S. Now, if you love this combination – great! What I have to say will not deter you. But I’ve just never understood putting something so sweet on something sweet. I mean, for god’s sake, they’re called sweet potatoes for a reason. Do you put sugar on a slice of cake?

I remember the first time I had sweet potatoes with marshmallows. It was my second year of college and I wasn’t able to fly home just for Thanksgiving, so I went with a roommate to her parents’ home in Los Angeles. I was so excited about having a “normal” Thanksgiving meal because I’d always been so deprived of traditional dishes.

My mother was a chef in her own right. She’s French, and I think all French people must be fabulous cooks. We never knew how spoiled we were with her cooking. She only used fresh ingredients, and I don’t remember her ever opening a can. We certainly never ever ate fast food.

Being French, however, and the fact that she always disliked turkey, which I think a lot of French people do, she never embraced the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. The last Thanksgiving meal I had at her home was duck a l’orange. Okay, it’s good. But I yearned for turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes with those darn marshmallows.

So then I got my chance, in 1974. My friend’s family was very sweet and embraced me like one of their own. In fact, there was no yelling or throwing of pots, which was something else I wasn’t used to.

Then came dinner. Oh my. I guess my taste buds were quite sophisticated at my young age, and hopefully I didn’t show my reaction to the various dishes, but I was horrified. The turkey was dry, the stuffing was stove-top, which is a very popular American boxed brand, and the sweet potatoes were smothered in melted marshmallows. To make things even worse, the pumpkin pie was purchased and came in a litle foil pan. And then cool whip… I can’t go on.

Sweet potatoes are a fabulous vegetable, and to me, they shine with the addition of garlic. And butter and cream. And cheese. They’re also fabulous mashed, but today I’m making them into a gratin. And I’m using Reblochon, one of my favorite stinky cow cheeses.
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There are so many ways to make a potato gratin from scratch, but I’m par-boiling the sweet potato slices in order to speed up the baking process. It’s an extra step, but sometimes it seems like it takes forever for sliced potatoes to bake in cream. And you end up with dish of milky, uncooked potatoes. So I’m just helping their cooking along, and that way less cream is required as well. So here’s what I did.

Sweet Potato and Reblochon Gratin

4 medium-sized sweet potatoes
2 ounces butter
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup 1/2 & 1/2 or heavy cream
16 ounces Reblochon, or Gruyere, or Fontina
Butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
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Peel the potatoes and slice them using a mandoline or a food processor.
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Bring pasta pot filled with salted water to a boil on the stove over high heat.

Add the sweet potatoes and cook them for 5 minutes. The cooking time will depend on how thinly you sliced them. Mine are approximately 1/8″ thick.
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Remove the potatoes and let them drain in the sink. I prefer to use a pasta pot with the insert, so the slices don’t break apart when they’re poured into a colander. Let them cool.
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In a small pot, melt the butter and add the garlic. Stir for just a few seconds, then pour in the cream.


Reduce the mixture to approximately 1/3 cup.

Slice the cheese however way you can. I kept the cheese chilled to facilitate slicing, but soft cheeses are always a little more challenging.
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Using an appropriately sized oven-proof baking dish, well buttered, place one layer of sweet potatoes into the dish. Add cheese, then continue, alternating sweet potatoes and cheese.

Make sure to season the sweet potatoes with salt and pepper.
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Then carefully pour the cream mixture over the top.


Bake until the cheese has melted and is golden brown, approximately 25 minutes.
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Let the gratin cool slightly and set. It’s easier to slice that way.
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Because of the Reblochon in this gratin, it takes a pretty strong protein like a filet mignon or lamb chop to pair well with this gratin. Tomorrow I’m serving it with ham.
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It will also keep well in the refrigerator, and can be heated in the oven or microwave.
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So try sweet potatoes once without the marshmallows. Only that way you can truly taste their sweet goodness.
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And by the way, I deleted my post called, “Please – No Marshmallows!” I wrote the post before I realized that posts should contain decent photos! Now, white balance is my friend!

Christmas Rocky Road

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I happen to really admire and idolize Nigella Lawson. And if you do, too, you know she loves Christmas.

This rocky road recipe is a Nigella recipe that she adapted for her Christmas cookbook, in order to make it more Christmassy! I’ve made it a few times now, and it’s become a holiday favorite for my family.

My favorite Nigella cookbooks are Nigella Kitchen, Feast, and Nigella Christmas. I can’t narrow those down any further. They’re all so unique and wonderfully entertaining, and packed full of hearty and satisfying recipes. Nothing too fancy and fussy. Or fiddly, in British speak.

Nigella had a tv show in the U.S. at one time that I loved to watch. She’s extremely funny, irreverent, and quite a hoot. Nigella embraces just about all food and drink, loves her children, and loves parties. We should really be friends.

So I’m not sure why I made this rocky road recipe the first time, actually. I don’t love candied fruit, marshmallows are strange, I don’t like rocky road ice cream, and we’re not really a sweets family. But am I glad I took a chance on this recipe.

In the past I’ve followed it almost exactly, except for the fact that I’ve always substituted other cookies for the Amaretti, because I could never find them. I used shortbread once, and gingersnaps another time; both turned out fabulous.

But this year I ordered Amaretti in the fall, so I was prepared! Plus I made a few changes to enhance the Christmas theme of these fudgey bars. I used pistachios for their green color, and I added some dried cranberries for their scarlet color. So here’s this year’s version of Nigella’s Christmas Rocky Road:

Christmas Rocky Road

1 bag Amaretti cookies, 7 ounces
1 cup whole pistachios
1 cup whole candied cherries, plus a few extra
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
15 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1/4 cup Lyle’s golden syrup
Powdered sugar

In a food processor, pulse the amaretti cookies until they are a coarse crumble. Place them in a large bowl.

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Add the pistachios, candied cherries, dried cranberries, and mini marshmallows, and set aside.

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To the top pan of a double boiler, place the chocolate, butter, and golden syrup. Heat about 2” of water in the pot below until it is gently simmering; the water should not boil, and should not touch the pan on top. We are melting the chocolate, not cooking it. Then, place the pan with the chocolate mixture on top. Using a spatula, occasionally stir the mixture as it melts. This should take about 10 minutes.

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Have a 9 x 13” pan ready.

When the chocolate and butter have melted, pour this into the cookie mixture in the large bowl. Using the spatula, fold everything together until completely incorporated. Then pour this mixture into the pan, using the spatula. Push it all around so it fills the corners, and is relative smooth on top. Using any extra cherries, if you wish, push them into the bars in random locations.

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Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

When you are ready to serve the bars, slice them into big squares and remove them from the pan. If you wish to cut them smaller, it’s easier to do on a cutting board. If desired, sprinkle the Christmas Rocky Road with sifted powdered sugar.