Archive for the ‘Cookies and Bars’ Category

Valentine Chocolate-Chip Blondies

14 February 2009


A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.
I seldom suffer from writer’s block. On the rare occasions on which it strikes my brain and fingers there is only one foolproof solution: chocolate. I pop a truffle or a chocolate kiss into my mouth. Suddenly I can write.


Why and how does chocolate affect our brains? Scientists have a number of theories about its chemical properties. Here are a few possibilities: It stimulates us. It soothes us. It is good for our hearts. It prevents cancer. It is an aphrodisiac or mimics the feeling of being in love. It resembles certain drugs in its effect on our psyches.


None of these theories has been proven. Perhaps the scientists studying chocolate want to take their time. Certainly it is difficult to imagine a more appealing substance to keep under the microscope for years on end.


I believe that much of chocolate’s effect is psychological and cultural rather than physiological. One of my first memories of chocolate is the heart-shaped box of chocolates my father presented to my mother on Valentine’s Day when I was three. Chocolate represents love in our culture. When we receive it as a gift or pop a piece into our mouths we experience the feeling of being cherished.


This Valentine’s Day I’m giving quite a few people that feeling. I’m following my own taste, however, in presenting a chocolate treat that is not too chocolaty. I’m not a girl who is easily wooed by triple chocolate cookies or chocolate lava cake. I prefer my chocolate tempered with other flavors.


Consequently, the chocolate in these blondies is really a co-star. Their easy, tasty recipe comes courtesy of La Prima Catering. La Prima is a business-oriented catering company in the Washington, D.C., area. General manager Graham McCulloch brought some of these blondies to a party at my nephew’s school. When I raved the company kindly shared the formula.


Of course, La Prima president Dave Evans first had to cut down the proportions since he usually makes enough blondies to serve several hundred people! I am grateful for his perseverance.


You may change the recipe a bit if you like. The blondies are chewier and sweeter if you firmly pack the brown sugar, add another half stick of butter, and cut back to 2-1/2 cups of flour. My sister-in-law Leigh likes them this way. I’m fond of them just the way La Prima makes them, however—pretty and sweet but not too sweet.


Happy Valentine’s Day!



La Prima Chocolate-Chip Blondies




1/4 pound (1 stick) sweet butter

2 cups dark brown sugar lightly packed

2 eggs, beaten

2-3/4 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1- 3/4 cups chocolate chunks or chips




Grease a 9-by-13-inch pan. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.


Combine the butter, sugar, and eggs together.  Beat until smooth.


Combine the dry ingredients, and stir them into the butter mixture. Add the chocolate chips, and stir until you have a stiff batter.


Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. You will need to press it down with the palm of your hand in order to get it to hold together and fill the pan. Bake the blondies until they are a very light brown and not wet (25 to 30 minutes).


Cool the blondies on a wire rack. Cut them into 12 rectangles, and cut each rectangle diagonally into two triangles. Makes 24 triangles.



Happy Valentine's Day!

Be mine!




A Snappy Christmas (or New Year’s!) Menu

25 December 2008


A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.

          A few years ago I taught a recipe-writing workshop during reunion weekend at my college, Mount Holyoke. The participants worked during the workshop on linking memories to recipes. After the workshop ended, they were all supposed to e-mail me their finished recipes so that I could share them with the whole group.

          The weekend (and life!) got busy, and hardly anyone sent in the recipes. One exception to this rule was Mary McDowell of the Class of 1971. (Mary, I hope you don’t mind my giving away your graduation year!) I fell in love with her brisket recipe, possibly the easiest dish I’ve ever made! Chop onions, pour some stuff into a pan, and you’re done.

          Of course, I tinkered with it a bit. I do have trouble making recipes without tinkering. Mary bakes her brisket, covered, in a 250-degree oven for 8 to 10 hours (or more!). My sister-in-law Leigh and I were anxious to try out the All-Clad slow cooker, and the brisket seemed an ideal recipe for that pot. It was! We also cut back on the recipe. Mary originally called for a 10-pound cut of meat, but we have a small family. We used the full amount of beer and barbecue sauce she called for, although we might cut back on those a bit in future; the brisket was strongly flavored!

Mary wrote that this dish is a Christmas Eve tradition for her family. She caps it off with brownies topped with peppermint-stick ice cream, hot fudge, and crushed peppermint. We stopped after the ice cream, but the brownies à la mode did make an ideal (and snappy) finish. Add some noodles and a little green salad or vegetable, and the meal is just the thing for busy cooks who are tired from shopping, baking, partying, wrapping presents, and trying to be extra good for Santa!

I know I’m posting this too late for readers to prepare my menu on Christmas. I recommend it for New Year’s Eve as well, however. The tangy brisket and extra chocolaty brownies will keep you warm and start your year off deliciously.

Merry Christmas!


Mary’s Cousin’s Overnight Brisket (Adapted by Tinky and Leigh)

1 3-pound slab beef brisket

2 onions, sliced into rings

12 ounces beer

12 ounces high-quality barbecue sauce

1 pound carrots, cleaned and sliced in half


          The evening before you wish to eat the brisket, place it in the bottom of a slow cooker. Throw the onions on top, and top with the beer and barbecue sauce. Cook on the low setting overnight.

          The next morning, stir the carrots into the stew. Continue to cook all day, still on low. Two hours before you want to eat, turn the heat up to high. Serve with noodles.

          Serves 6 to 8. 


Fabulous Fudgy Brownies (Adapted from King Arthur Flour)

1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter

2 cups sugar

2/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon vanilla

4 eggs

1 -1/2 cups flour

12 ounces (2 cups) chocolate chips


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with foil, and grease the foil.

In a good-sized saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. (The saucepan should be big enough so that it can double as your mixing bowl.) Add the sugar, and stir to combine.  Return the mixture to the heat briefly—until hot but not bubbling.  (It will become shiny looking as you stir it.)  Remove it from the heat, and let it cool briefly while you assemble the other ingredients.

Stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, and vanilla.  Add the eggs, beating until smooth; then add the flour and chocolate, beating well until combined.  Spoon the batter into your pan.

Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry (it may have a few crumbs). Remove them from the oven.  After 5 to 10 minutes, loosen the edges of the foil.  Cool completely before cutting and serving.

Makes about 2 dozen brownies, depending on how large you cut them.


Michael REALLY likes these brownies!
Michael REALLY likes these brownies!




Melanie’s Super Rich Pecan Plus Bars

19 December 2008
Ray and Melanie Poudrier with Melanie's Bars

Ray and Melanie Poudrier with Melanie's Bars

         A note to readers:  This blog has moved! For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (including this one!), please visit the new IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.


          Melanie Poudrier of East Hawley brought these treats to our Illumination party on December 7. She told me that everyone to whom she serves them asks for the recipe, and I understood why as soon as I tasted them. They’re lovely and extremely buttery; slice them very small! I had a little trouble extracting them so next time I make them I plan to line the pan with aluminum foil.

for the crust:

2 cups flour

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter, softened

for the filling:

1 to 1-1/2 cups pecan or walnut halves

2/3 cup sweet butter

1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

for the topping:
1 cup chocolate chips (or half chocolate and half butterscotch chips)


          Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the crust ingredients, beating them at low speed until you have fine particles. Press the crust into the bottom of an ungreased 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

          Sprinkle the pecans over the crust.

          Next, make the remainder of the filling. In a 1-quart saucepan, combine the butter and brown sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a full boil (4 to 5 minutes). Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Pour over the pecans.

         Bake the bars for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly. Remove the pan from the oven, and immediately sprinkle the chips over the bars. Allow them to melt for a minute or two; then swirl the chips a bit as they melt. Cool the bars completely; then remove them from the pan, and slice them into bars. Makes about 3 dozen, depending on how large your slices are.

Illumination Cookies

19 December 2008


A note to readers:  This blog has moved!  For new posts plus copies of the old ones (including this one!) please visit me at the new IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS. See you there………


I invented these cookies for my town’s recent illumination party. Just be sure to use homemade or high-quality eggnog when you make them! 


for the cookies:

3/4 cup sweet butter (1-1/2 sticks) at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar plus sugar as needed for rolling

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1/4 cup eggnog

2 cups flour

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

for the icing:

1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter at room temperature

1/4 cup eggnog

confectioner’s sugar as needed (probably about 2 cups)

1 teaspoon vanilla

holiday sprinkles if desired

          Start with the cookies. Cream together the butter, 3/4 cup sugar, and vanilla. Add the egg and eggnog, and beat until light and fluffy. Blend the dry ingredients and stir them into the creamed mixture. Wrap the dough in wax paper, and chill it for at least an hour.

          Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll small balls of the chilled dough in sugar, and place them on greased (or parchment-covered) cookie sheets. Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, until the bottoms brown lightly. Let them cool for a minute or two on the sheets; then remove them to a wire rack to finish cooling.

          Next, make the icing. Beat together the butter and eggnog. Beat in confectioner’s sugar until you have a smooth but not wet icing. Add the vanilla, and spread the icing on the cookies. If you like, throw on some sprinkles for color.

          Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies.


Cooking with Sugar

30 November 2008


          A note to readers: This blog has moved! For new posts plus copies of older ones (including this one!) please visit the new IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS. See you there……..


          My nephew Michael loves having my mother and me in the house. Although I’d like to attribute his joy to our adorable personalities, I’m afraid that the real lure is, in Michael’s words, “cooking with sugar.” We tend to make delicious sweet things for and with him, particularly during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season.

          As far as I’m concerned, the sugar we cook with is really our boy. If you haven’t cooked with children lately, grab yours or go out and borrow one and head right into the kitchen. Kids remind us that sifting, kneading, and stirring can all be forms of play. Young cooks tend to make a bit of a mess in the kitchen, but grownups almost always end up smiling as they mop up. Moreover, the junior chefs are usually game to help erase the marks of their work in the kitchen, especially if bribed with a home-made treat.

          Last Monday, Michael, his mom Leigh, my mother Jan, and I all got together to work on one of Michael’s cub-scout tasks, reading and following through on a recipe. Naturally, he chose to make something sweet–butterscotch brownies. This recipe is a great starter for kids because it takes only 15 to 20 minutes to get into the oven, and all of the prep work can be done in the saucepan with which you melt butter at the very beginning.

          Michael proudly took the brownies to his scout meeting that evening. He did save one or two for home consumption, however!


Butterscotch Brownies

1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter

1 pound light brown sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 cups flour

1 tablespoon vanilla

          Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with aluminum foil, and grease the foil as well as you can (it’s a little awkward to work with).

In a 2-quart saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter, stirring frequently to keep it from burning. Remove it from the heat.

          Using a wooden spoon, stir in the brown sugar, being careful to crush any lumps in the sugar. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, and then stir in the baking powder and salt. Stir in the flour, followed by the vanilla.

         Spoon the batter into the prepared pan (the batter will be thick so you’ll need a spatula), and bake the brownies for 25 to 30 minutes, or until they are ALMOST firm to the touch. Allow them to cool on a rack; then slice them into squares. Makes about 32 squares (depending on how big you cut them!).


Nana's Birthday Cake

MORE Cooking with Sugar: Nana's Birthday Cake