Sometimes the only cure for the blahs is chocolate, so yesterday, I baked a batch of my favorite chocolate chip cookie bars.

The base of the batter smells like butterscotch, but it’s really only sugar, egg, and vanilla. (Some people actually measure the vanilla when they bake. I find this adorable.)

I don’t bother adding chocolate chips and walnuts as a separate step. Instead I measure them into the dry ingredients, mix them together, and add the whole thing to the wet ingredients, one-third at a time.

My house is redolent of the same chocolate that flavors my husband’s kisses.

Mixing it Up

Baking Cookies

From the time I was fourteen or fifteen years old, I’ve had this fantasy of owning a bookstore/cafe, only it wouldn’t be like the cafes nestled inside Barnes and Noble. Instead, it would be an old house, and each room would have a different theme, and matching menu. Sort of like that restaurant chain that I can’t remember the name of, where there was an African room and an Undersea room. Only in my fantasy cafe, there would be a mystery room and a science fiction room, and…well…you get the idea.

Fantasies are lovely, but the reality is that retail sucks, and the restaurant business is pretty thankless, and I prefer to let this dream remain in dreamland, indulging it, instead, by reading novels where recipes are prominent.

George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is an example of this, but for some reason, mysteries feature food a lot more than anything else (well, the Pern books had a lot of great dishes, and Melanie Rawn’s Ambrai series…but…) and one of my favorite series is Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mysteries.

I’ve been a fan of her work (and yes, I know “Cleo Coyle” isn’t really Cleo Coyle, but that’s not the point) since the first book, and have just finished the 13th, so you can imagine how tickled I was when she sent me an autographed copy of it after I contacted her about an interview for All Things Girl. I was even MORE tickled that she enclosed a bunch of recipe cards, one of which we’re making tonight.

Well, sort of.

The recipe card was for a candy cane frosting, but obviously if you’re making frosting, you must have something to, well, frost. Now, on her website, that frosting is paired with a standard brownie (from a mix) with a bit of ‘enhancement’ optional.

I don’t buy mixes.

And I have an excellent brownie mix, but it’s much more fun to go to the Source, Herself.

So I hopped on Facebook, and took a chance, asking if she had a scratch recipe that she’d recommend.

She did. And she sent me the link.

It’s a dark chocolate brownie with chocolate chips and espresso powder and…yeah.

I’ll post a follow up tomorrow afternoon when we put everything together (we’re making the brownies tonight, but will frost them tomorrow), and I’ll share the links at that time.

Meanwhile, y’all can go to bed imagining candy cane frosting on dark chocolate brownies.

Image credit: robynmac / 123RF Stock Photo

Wok’s It To Ya?

Spices from iStockPhoto

Pollen season has hit North Texas which means I either have itchy ears (yes, ears) and watery eyes, or I’m in a perpetual state of Benebriation (you know, that post-benadryl brain fog).

This means I sometimes have to schedule work around my need to sleep off the antihistamine haze.

It also means that quick and easy become the operative word for mealtimes.

Tonight? I cut two organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces, threw them into the wok-pan (it’s not a true wok) with a bit of heated olive oil, and tossed them around til they were browned. Then I added a liberal slug or two of my favorite teriyaki sauce, Soy Vey, and let them simmer another ten minutes.

I’m about to add a bag of frozen “Asian-style” veggies to the pan, stick the lid on, and let it all cook together for another few minutes. We’ll eat when the veggies are hot through.

Should I be using fresh veggies? Yes. But when it’s just the two of us, the frozen veggie combos are more cost effective because we can’t use large quantities of fresh veggies quickly enough.

Dessert, in a few hours when we need a snack, will be sliced fresh strawberries tossed with balsamic vinegar, a bit of granulated sugar (cane sugar, of course), and accented with a dash of ground black pepper.

What’s on YOUR table tonight?

Making Messes in the Kitchen

In the novel Little Men, one of Louisa May Alcott’s sequels to Little Women there is a scene where Jo takes her niece Daisy into a special “toy” kitchen, albeit with a real working stove, so that she can “make messes” and learn to cook. I always wanted to be Jo, never Daisy, but I always wanted that kitchen.

I never had a functioning toy stove, but I always had adults around who were happy enough to let me make messes (of a sort) in their kitchens. One such person was my mother, who made aglia e olio every Christmas Eve when I was little, and taught me to measure the milk into her coffee by color.

Another kitchen supervisor was my grandfather, who loved to bake, and was a fan of James Beard. I remember watching him consult the volume Beard on Bread one summer morning, and then walking me through the steps of making the best raisin bread ever (and even better when paired with his homemade apple butter). It is his recipe, posted here last month, that defines Thanksgiving for me, and his voice in my head when I read recipes.

My grandmother, I am told, used to bake as well (by the time I came along she would stir herself to make meatballs or lasagne once in a while, but that’s about it), and had a tradition of baking date-nut bread for the holidays. I asked my mother and my aunts if they had her recipe, and none of them did, so I’ve spent the afternoon making date-nut messes in my own kitchen. I’ve found several recipes, and will be trying a few over the next week.

I also have a bunch of cookies to make. My grandmother taught us all that “a gift of the hand is a gift of the heart,” and while I’m not much for fiber arts, I love baking, so most of my friends – at least those I typically exchange gifts with – are getting edible gifts this year.

Of course, I also have a Super Sekrit Project, but I can’t talk about it.

And I really shouldn’t be writing this right now. Why? Because the oven timer is about to go off, and I smell dates and pecans wafting through my house, and I think it’s time to see how this first batch worked out.

Coffee’s on, if anyone wants a slice.

‘Twas Grillig

It’s weird but having a grill is like having a shiny new toy, and I’m suddenly inspired to cook again.

Sunday night, we had grilled top sirloin with steamed broccoli, and roasted potatoes. (The secret to roasting potatoes on the grill? Put some olive oil and garlic salt on a square of aluminum foil. Coat the outside of the potato (after stabbing it several times so it won’t explode), wrap the foil around it, and then let it sit on the grill for about 45 minutes before you put the meat on.)

Monday night, I made bratwurst, baked beans, and sliced tomatoes seasoned with a little bit of lemon and salt.

Yesterday I coated chicken breasts in a mixture of olive oil, kosher salt, lemon juice, and herbs de Provence, and let them come to room temperature while I roasted sweet potatoes on the grill, and tossed some sliced zucchini in a similar oil/herb/lemon mixture. Then we grilled it all.

As I write this, I’m eating a grilled steak salad (made a basic lettuce salad, poured over it the leftover tomatoes, and then warmed leftover steak and some mushrooms and put that over the cool veggies.) It’s a wonderful blend of tangy and smokey, cool and hot.

Tonight, I plan to make penne al pesto and slice the leftover chicken breast (they come in packages of three and there’s only two of us) into it. Tomorrow we’ll do something with hamburger or turkey, ditto Friday.

I’m only using really light seasoning on all this stuff – garlic, salt and pepper, mostly, but it all tastes so good, and it’s so satisfying, and while, yes, I did succumb to the lure of chocolate and make a batch of brownies last night, they were made from scratch, with half the sugar the recipe calls for, and zero trans-fats.

Stay tuned for more adventures in outdoor cookery, or share with me your favorite grill recipes.


Right now, there is a whole chicken roasting in my oven.

I have never actually roasted an entire chicken, and am not a particular fan of chicken, but I’ve been completely craving it lately, and even though it’s still summery outside, the calendar says it’s fall, so (Rana, don’t read this part) I have no problem with cranking up the a/c a little bit so I can use the oven.

Anyway, inspired by Cynthia’s A Week in Food project, I decided to roast a chicken. I took a before shot, with it all covered in herbs, it’s just been through its first 20 minutes in the oven. The recipe I’m using said to do 20 mins at 400 and then an hour or so at 325, and so I am.

This is a no-baste recipe.

I should add that while I’ve never roasted a chicken before, I’m an expert on roasting turkeys.

Sorry, photos are being held for Cynthia’s project.

But the house smells amazing, all garlicky and herby, and…

Well, you get the idea.