CHOCOLATE BUTTERSCOTCH BROWNIES

My baking crusade continued, working to try and find more ways to use up the bag of butterscotch chips that I had bought when prepping for the monster cookies that I had made a little while back. I’m not sure if my baking ideas just started to naturally progress towards brownies, since I had already done cookies, cornbread, and a banana bread during that span. It’s also very true that I hadn’t made brownies in quite some time, so I think multiple factors were pulling me in this direction.

With a nice balance of sweet flavors from the chocolate chips, M&M’s, and butterscotch chips, these decadent brownies will disappear from any storage container before you know it.

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Chocolate Butterscotch Brownies
Makes 24 – 26 squares

~ 1 cup butter
~ 1-1/2 cups white sugar
~ 1 cup brown sugar
~ 1 tbsp vanilla extract
~ 4 eggs
~ 1-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
~ 1 tsp baking soda
~ 1 tsp salt
~ 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
~ 2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
~ 1/3 cup butterscotch chips
~ 3 tbsp mini M&M’s

Mixing:

  • Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Take out a 9″ x 13″ casserole dish to use as your baking pan.
  • I wanted to emphasize the use of a casserole dish instead of a normal 8″ x 8″ baking dish (which is what I’m used to making brownies in). If you go with the smaller dish, the brownies might end up way too tall and not bake properly.
  • There’s two ways to approach using the casserole dish: either lightly grease up the inside or use parchment paper as a barrier. I opted for the parchment paper, since that would significantly reduce the clean-up effort.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt, using a whisk to ensure everything is distributed evenly. Set that dry mixture aside when complete.
  • In another bowl, combine your white sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla extract. Throw the butter into the microwave and soften it before adding it into the sugar mixture, creaming together well.
  • Beat the eggs into your sugar mixture one at a time until everything is well blended.
  • Gradually stir your dry mixture into the sugar mixture until everything starts to reach a batter-like consistency. Mine ended up turning out pretty thick, so you might need to put some elbow grease into it.
  • Stir in your chocolate chips and butterscotch chips until they are well distributed into the batter. Spread your batter evenly across the casserole dish before sprinkling your mini M&M’s on the top.

Baking:

  • Put the brownies into the oven for approximately 40 – 42 minutes. Because the baking medium is glass, it will transfer heat differently than if you had just a regular metal pan. That’s why there could be a little more uncertainty of the final baking time for the brownies, but 40 minutes was just about the right spot for me.

Cooling:

  • Once time is up and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out relatively clean (some of the melted chocolate chips could get on there), remove the dish from the oven and let cool on the stovetop for 5 minutes.
  • Transfer the brownies over to a wire rack to continue the cooling process. Here’s where you’ll have to restrain from cutting the brownies into squares too quickly; if the brownies are still too hot in the middle, they’ll be more of a batter consistency rather than the cake consistency you want. I think I let the brownies sit for 25 – 30 minutes before attempting to move them to the cutting board.
  • I put my individual squares onto the wire rack for an additional 15 minutes after that to let them fully cool down.

One of the downsides of using the parchment paper method with the casserole dish is that you won’t get those nice, even edges on the outside of the brownie squares. As you can also see from the photos, the final brownie squares might not be as picturesque as those you might buy from the store, but it’s the taste that counts. And these brownies deliver.

With a light, crisp shell on the top and moist, cake-like consistency in the middle, the brownies aren’t overbearingly sweet. It’s a balanced chocolate flavor (between the chocolate chips and M&M’s) with the occasional butterscotch flavor showing up as well. The brownies aren’t too rich either, but two squares was usually enough to tide me over for a little while. Give these brownies a try and I’m sure that your sweet tooth will be sure to thank you.

JALAPEÑO PEPPER JACK CORNBREAD

When I started getting into making pizza from scratch, I bought a bag of cornmeal to use when I would transfer my pizza from the peel onto the stone. Given that you don’t really use that much cornmeal for each pizza you make, and the bag of cornmeal was just as large as a bag of flour, that meant that I had plenty left over. When thinking of ideas on how to use up the extra cornmeal, the choice became readily apparent: cornbread.

I was accustomed to using those box mixes to make a batch of cornbread, so going from scratch would truly be a new experience. I decided to go more ambitious for this first attempt with a savory cornbread selection: jalapeño pepper jack. The jalapeño cornbread was something I had tried at a Tex-Mex restaurant a little while back, but I thought the addition of the pepper jack cheese would give it an even better kick.

Blending the flavors of sweet, savory, and spicy, this cornbread goes great as a side dish or standing on its own.

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Jalapeño Pepper Jack Cornbread
Makes 9″ x 9″ pan

~ 1 cup yellow cornmeal
~ 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
~ 1 tsp salt
~ 1/8 tsp black pepper
~ 1 tbsp baking powder
~ 1/2 tsp baking soda
~ 1 cup buttermilk
~ 1/2 cup milk
~ 1/2 cup cubed pepper jack cheese
~ 1/4 cup diced jalapeños
~ 1/4 cup butter
~ Honey

Prep Work:

  • The only two ingredients that require any special prep would be the jalapeños and the pepper jack cheese.
  • If you bought a block of pepper jack cheese, cut it up until you have cubes that are anywhere from 1/4″ – 1/2″ all the way around.
  • I found that two to three medium-sized jalapeño peppers gave me just the right amount to put into the cornbread. I was aiming for the jalapeños to not be an overbearing presence within the cornbread, so I opted to take the seeds out of the peppers before dicing them up.
  • To up the heat, next time I might leave the seeds in one of the peppers when dicing it.

Mixing:

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • In a large bowl, combine together the cornmeal, flour, salt, pepper, baking powder, and baking soda. Use a whisk to stir it up and ensure everything is well combined.
  • In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, milk, and egg until combined well.
  • Gradually combine the cornmeal mixture into the liquid mixture, making sure that the end result is a nice, smooth batter. Take your butter and melt that down in either the microwave or over the stove before adding that into the batter and combining.
  • For the final step, add in your jalapeños and diced pepper jack cheese, distributing evenly within the batter.

Baking:

  • Pour the completed batter into a pre-greased 9″ x 9″ baking pan and spread evenly.
  • Bake the cornbread for approximately 25 minutes, checking the middle with a toothpick to verify that it is done. Another visual indicator you might get is that as the cornbread rises, it will become cracked in some areas and start to turn a more golden color.

Cooling:

  • Let the cornbread cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring it over to a wire rack to finish the job.
  • Here is where I tried to add in one more subtle flavor to the finished product. I’ve found that honey is a flavor that compliments jalapeños pretty well (also known as the “sweet heat”), so I did a drizzle of honey over the top of the whole cornbread right after I had transferred it over to the wire rack.

  • After about another 5 – 10 minutes on the rack, the cornbread should be ready to be cut. With the square pan, I found that dividing the cornbread up into 12 portions gave a good amount for each piece.

For me growing up in New Jersey, I had gotten very used to the sweet cornbread that’s commonly served up in that region. Taking the first bite and getting no sweet flavor out of the bread definitely messed with my head a little bit, even though I had eaten savory cornbread before. But that didn’t stop me from continuing and polishing off that first piece, second piece, and even start moving onto a third.

The cornbread really turned out nice and moist on the inside, aided by the pockets of melted pepper jack cheese that were scattered around the remainder of the bread as well. The heat from the jalapeño was not an overpowering one, but rather a gradual build-up as you ate more and more of the cornbread. That honey drizzle that I mentioned above didn’t impart the amount of sweetness I wanted to add to the cornbread, as it was almost like an aftertaste when you’d recognize it. I did a zig-zag pattern across the top while it was cooling; I think next time I’ll rotate the bread 90 degrees and do another layer to help boost that flavor.

If you don’t believe my word on how good the cornbread was, ask my friends at work that polished off the remaining pieces that I brought with me in just a few hours after I opened the container. If you’re looking for a good savory cornbread that would go well as a side dish to something like chili, or even stand on its own, give this jalapeño pepper jack cornbread a shot.

MONSTER COOKIES

My cookie crusade continued last week as I set my sights onto another baking project: the monster cookie. I was first introduced to monster cookies when I went to college, and the dining courts would periodically rotate them into the desserts section. With chocolate chips, M&Ms, peanut butter, and oats all mixing together to provide such an exciting melding of flavors, it quickly became something I would keep an eye out for. The idea to attempt these cookies came up when talking to my friends at work, and I happily accepted the suggestion.

Chocolate chips, M&Ms, peanut butter, and butterscotch chips all combine to pack a flavor punch.

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Monster Cookies
Makes 14 – 16 cookies

~ 1-1/2 eggs
~ 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
~ 1/4 cup white sugar
~ 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
~ 1/4 cup butter
~ 3/8 cup flour
~ 1 tsp baking soda
~ 1/2 tsp salt
~ 3/4 cup peanut butter
~ 1-7/8 cups oats
~ 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
~ 1/4 cup butterscotch chips
~ 1/2 cup mini M&Ms

Mixing:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs before adding in the sugars and vanilla extract, combining well. Soften your butter inside the microwave before adding it into the mixture as well.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt with a whisk to ensure everything is well combined. Gradually add this into the sugar mixture. At this point, things should start to be looking more like cookie dough.
  • Drop in your peanut butter and mix that up with the dough before also combining the oats. Finish things off by throwing in the chocolate chips, mini M&Ms, and butterscotch chips.

Probably one of the more colorful cookie dough you’ll see.

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Baking:

  • Using an ice cream scoop, drop the rounded cookie dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Since I wasn’t sure how much the cookies were going to spread, I kept it to six cookies per sheet, but there’s probably enough room to stretch it to eight on the sheet.
  • Bake the cookies for 13 – 15 minutes, leaning probably more towards the high side. Now when you take the cookies out, do not be alarmed if the cookies still look semi-raw on the inside. I certainly was and had to resist every urge in my body to throw them back into the oven to cook longer.

Cooling:

  • Let the cookies cool for two minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring them over to a cooling rack to finish the process. Handle them carefully during the transfer, since they are still soft in the middle.
  • I think I let my cookies sit for about 30 minutes before I was satisfied that they were fully cooled down. You could, however, start to pick them up after 15 minutes or so without the fear of them breaking apart on you.

Pictured: one healthy serving.

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I applied that same technique of doing one batch in the oven at a time to keep the cooking temperature consistent. This actually allowed me to experiment around with the cooking time to see what would yield a fully-cooked cookie, but also meant that I was trying one from each batch. By the time all the cookies had cooled down, I think I had already tucked away four of the cookies and, in the process, ruined my appetite for dinner.

Overall, the peanut butter, chocolate, and oat flavors were very prevalent throughout the cookie. The butterscotch flavor would occasionally pop in, but never be too overwhelming. I think the salt also helped to balance out the cookie to make sure it wasn’t overly sweet. To help me avoid temptation, I brought the rest of the cookies into work with me, and they were gone in no time. One bite, and it’s easy to see why.

OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

When I was younger, oatmeal raisin cookies were perhaps one of my favorite treats to have. It might have been an “oatmeal” phase, because I remember being obsessed with the Quaker Oats maple & brown sugar oatmeal packets around the same time as well. I’ve only recently started to pick up baking again, and oatmeal raisin cookies made it onto the list of projects to tackle.

My first rendition was a little rough, with the cookies coming out flat and rather crunchy. The taste was good, but the final product was definitely lacking from what I envisioned it to be. I attributed it to my first baking project in well over a year, so I had some rust I needed to knock off. A little after the first attempt of cookies, I bought a new KitchenAid stand mixer; what better way to break it in than with another round of cookies? This time, at the special request of my friend Catherine, I switched it over to oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

These oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are soft and chewy, with each one leaving you reaching back to the container for more.

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Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 26 – 30 cookies

~ 1/2 cup butter
~ 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
~ 1/4 cup white sugar
~ 1 egg
~ 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
~ 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
~ 1/2 tsp baking soda
~ 1/2 tsp cinnamon
~ 1/2 tsp nutmeg
~ 1/4 tsp salt
~ 1-1/2 cup oats
~ 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Mixing:

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Soften your butter in the microwave before adding it into a large bowl. Cream the butter with the brown and white sugars until everything is a nice, even consistency. Add in your egg and vanilla extract, combining well.
  • In a separate bowl, combine your flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Use a whisk to get everything nice and evenly distributed in the mixture. Progressively stir this dry mixture into the sugar mixture.
  • Stir in your oats and chocolate chips to finish off the cookie dough mixture.

Baking:

  • Drop your cookie dough onto ungreased cookie sheets by rounded teaspoons. I was able to space mine apart to fit 12 cookies on a sheet.

  • The baking window is 10 – 12 minutes, but I found mine to come out just right at the 11 minute mark. The cookies should have a light and golden color to them when you take them out for cooling. I alternated my batches between two cookie sheets (i.e. only baking one sheet at a time) to keep the cooking time consistent.

Cooling:

  • Let the cookies sit on the baking sheet for 2 minutes after you take them out of the oven before transferring them over to a wire rack to finish cooling.
  • I let my cookies sit for about 20 minutes before moving them into a container to store. It’s amazing that they were still all there by the end and I hadn’t eaten all of them.

This second batch turned out a lot better than the first time around. The cookies kept their shape and didn’t collapse during the cooling process. I was also glad about how the chocolate chips had that melted texture when you took a bite into the cookie. If you’re looking to make oatmeal raisin cookies instead, an easy substitution you could do is a swap of the 1/2 cup chocolate chips for a 1/2 cup raisins instead. Either way, make sure that you set some aside for yourself, because these will be gone in no time.

SLOW COOKER RIBS

For the longest time, I’ve toyed around with the idea of making some barbecue ribs. The only reason I’d put it on the backburner was my thinking that I’d need to make them on the grill, something which I didn’t have. It was two weeks ago, however, that I randomly stumbled across a recipe that talked about making ribs in the slow cooker. That’s when the lightbulb went on and I started pursuing the idea once again.

It was a process that spanned over the course of two weekends. My first attempt last weekend was good, with the rib meat falling off the bone like I wanted. The drawback, however, was that with most bites, all you could taste was barbecue sauce. It was almost like the rib meat wasn’t even there! Determined to balance out the flavors, I did a little bit of research over the course of the week and adjusted both my ingredient proportions and cooking technique. So yesterday, when it was time to put the tweaked recipe to the test, it passed with flying colors.

These ribs are slow cooked for 6-1/2 hours until moist and tender, finished off with a session in the oven to lock in the barbecue flavor.

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Slow Cooker Ribs
Makes 2 – 3 servings

~ 2-1/2 lbs. ribs (spare or baby back)
~ 1-2/3 cups barbecue sauce
~ 3-1/3 tbsp brown sugar
~ 2-1/2 tsp oregano
~ 2-1/2 tsp chili powder
~ 3-1/3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
~ 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
~ Salt
~ Pepper
~ Garlic powder

Optional:
~ 2-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Prep Work:

  • To make the barbecue sauce mixture, take out a large bowl and measure out the barbecue sauce. I’d recommend using a glass bowl to prevent staining any plasticware.
  • Add in your brown sugar, oregano, and chili powder, whisking in between each addition to get everything distributed evenly. Once that’s complete, combine the apple cider vinegar and Worcestershire sauce as well. With the sauce mixture complete, set that aside.
  • (As kind of a quick side note, I put the cayenne pepper above in the “optional” section, since spice heat tolerance varies for everyone. I like to eat spicy foods, and I thought that the added cayenne pepper gave the ribs a nice, lingering heat. It wasn’t overpowering at all, but if you’re on the fence about it, maybe stay on the safe side and leave it out.)
  • Take your rack of ribs and cut them down to size to fit inside of your slow cooker. Since my slow cooker is round, I cut my set of ribs down into three smaller racks, each the width of four bones.
  • Season each side of the ribs with an even layer of salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Give the surface a light rub to get the seasoning into the meat.

Slow Cooker:

  • As you’re laying each rack of ribs into the slow cooker, pour a portion of the barbecue sauce mixture on top. Lightly spread the sauce to ensure the top surface gets covered. Repeat this process until all of your ribs and sauce have made it into the slow cooker.
  • This is where the agonizing part begins. Set your slow cooker to low and cook the ribs for 6-1/2 hours. After a little while, the kitchen will start to smell a bit like barbecue sauce.
  • (I also realized that in my excitement and oversight, I forgot to take a picture of the ribs actually in the slow cooker. I’ve got it on my to-do list for next time.)

Oven:

  • Fast forward to about half hour before the slow cooker is finished cooking. You’ve been waiting all day for this moment, so is it time to eat the ribs when you pull them out of the slow cooker? Not so fast! You’ll have to find a way to put off the growling stomach for just a little while longer, because there are a few more steps to complete before you’re at the finish line.
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. We’ll use the dry heat to bake the sauce into the meat before finishing it off with a glaze.
  • Take out an oven pan and cover it with some aluminum foil to make to easy clean-up later. Use a light coating of nonstick spray onto the foil to ensure the ribs don’t stick onto it after baking.
  • Once the ribs have hit the 6-1/2 hour mark, carefully transfer the ribs over to the oven pan. The meat is probably tender enough at this point to fall off the bone, so I found the best ways for transferring were either to take a set of tongs and grab the top and bottom sides or use a wide spatula and slip it underneath the ribs.
  • If there were any ribs that were sitting at the top of the pot with little sauce remaining after the cooking process, spoon out a little bit of the sauce mixture from the slow cooker and evenly spread it out over the top.
  • Put the ribs into the oven, uncovered, for about 10 – 12 minutes on the middle rack. When that cycle is done, switch the oven over to “broil” mode.
  • Take out some of the stock barbecue sauce and lightly brush the top surface of the ribs. A thin layer is key here to get the sauce caramelizing to the meat. Broil that on high for about 4 – 5 minutes.
  • Once the ribs are back out from the broiler, let the meat rest for about 2 minutes before digging in to the long-awaited finished product.

It only took me one bite of this rendition of the ribs to know that no more tweaks were needed. The meat retained a ton of moisture through the oven process, but yet had that glazed layer on the top that I was looking for. I also liked the fact that while the meat fell off the bone, I could take a knife and still cut through it a little bit, as opposed to instantly caving in. I’d say that these ribs are a little lighter on the sauce, but if you feel like adding some more before you dig in, that’s certainly a flexible option. Even though it’s a bit of a drawn out process, I think these ribs well worth the wait. As a great combo of flavor and tenderness, you’ll be hard-pressed to not devour everything in one sitting. I know I certainly had to restrain myself.

CHICKEN PARMESAN

Ah, chicken parmesan: one of my favorite Italian dishes that I ate plenty of growing up. Every time my parents took us out to an Italian restaurant, for some reason I always just gravitated towards this particular dish. I mean, with crispy chicken combined with a savory tomato sauce and topped off with melted cheese, what’s not to love?

I’ve been long overdue to try cooking a new dish (my last recipe post was in July 2015!), so I thought chicken parmesan was a prime candidate to break me out of my normal dish routine.

Chicken Parmesan, Photo 1

My version of chicken parmesan is briefly pan-fried and then finished off in the oven, giving the chicken more of a crunch.

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Chicken Parmesan
Makes 1 – 2 servings

~ 2 boneless chicken breast halves
~ 1 egg
~ 1/3 cup flour
~ 1 tsp garlic powder
~ 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
~ 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
~ 4 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
~ 1/3 cup olive oil
~ 1 cup tomato sauce
~ 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
~ 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil

Prep Work:

  • The only ingredient that you’ll need to prep using the cutting board is the fresh basil. Chop up two or three good-sized leaves to give you what you need later.
  • If you have a thicker cut of chicken breast, cut it down where you’ll have two halves that are about a 1/2″ thick. An alternative would be to take a meat tenderizer and flatten out the chicken until it got to the same 1/2″ thickness.
  • In order to help organize the chicken breading process, take out three containers, two of which would be long enough to lay the chicken breast flat in.
  • Combine the flour, pepper, and garlic powder in one container, and then use a fork to stir it up to distribute the spices.
  • Combine the panko bread crumbs and half the parmesan cheese in the second container, also blending with a fork to distribute.
  • Beat the egg in the remaining container and set all three containers aside.
  • Take each chicken breast piece and place it first into the flour container, evenly coating both sides. Then transfer the piece over to the egg container, followed by the breadcrumb container. I strongly prefer the “double-coating” option, since the flour + egg initial coat helps to get a lot more breadcrumbs to stick to the chicken. After both pieces are done, set them aside.

Stovetop / Oven:

  • Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Since I was cooking a smaller portion, I ended using my toaster oven to bake both pieces, which worked out great.
  • Take a large skillet and heat up the olive oil on medium-high heat. (A little trick I learned to test if oil is ready for frying is to flick a little bit of flour in there and see if it bubbles.) Once the pan is ready to go, lay the two pieces in and cook them until both sides are golden brown (about 1-1/2 to 2 minutes per side).
  • Use some non-stick spray on your oven tray before you transfer over the chicken breast pieces from the skillet. This will help for getting the chicken off after baking. Top the chicken with a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce, but not so much that it overflows on the side.
  • Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on both pieces, followed by another dusting of parmesan cheese. Crack some fresh black pepper over that, along with a slight drizzling of olive oil.
  • Throw them into the oven for about 16 – 20 minutes, keeping a watchful eye to ensure the cheese is getting browned and not burnt. At about five minutes remaining for cooking time, add the chopped basil onto the chicken.
  • Once time’s up, take the oven tray out and let the chicken sit for a minute or two before moving to plate. (This will let the chicken cook a bit longer on the hot tray.)

Plating:

  • You could definitely serve the chicken by itself with side dishes, or combo it with some pasta (like I did on the bed of spaghetti).

I really liked the crunchiness of the chicken, with the parmesan flavor embedding itself in the breading. The fresh basil garnish gave some bites an aromatic flavor, and the tomato sauce was just the right amount for the chicken (although that left the pasta a little dry). Next time I think I’ll toss the pasta in a splash of olive oil and add in some pepper, dried basil, and parmesan cheese before plating.

I devoured my piece of chicken before I knew it, and I had to exert a lot of self-control to not gobble up the second piece as well. As a dish that’s relatively straightforward to prepare and doesn’t overload on a ton of ingredients, chicken parm is a great go-to meal option. I know my stomach’s already looking forward to the next time I’m making it.