Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Deliciously Decadent Homemade Brownies

I haven't made a recipe with chocolate in awhile. A travesty, I know. I decided to end the no-chocolate streak with a classic! What can be more classic than some delicious ooey gooey brownies? I've made a homemade version before, but it was actually quite a bit more complicated than this one, and with what my memory is telling me, perhaps not quite as good. These are super easy to make, and you can do it all in one saucepan, which is always a plus in my book. The less dishes dirtied, the better!

I mean, who likes to clean a bunch of dishes? Honestly, being of the not-having-a-dishwasher group, less dishes are always on my "yes!" list. Yes, sometimes I can make doing the dishes into a little iPod-wearing dance party, but let's be real, it's not entirely ideal.

There is always the certain lure of the box mix at the grocery. It's so easy, all you do is mix in some eggs and perhaps some oil and/or water, and it's ready for the oven. Simple. But honestly, if you have these ingredients lying around (and you probably do), then you should say to heck with the box mix and go straight for homemade. Miles better than the box, for sure. Perhaps even called "the best brownies I've ever had" by a certain someone (no, the certain someone is not me!), which is quite a statement given that said someone rarely eats chocolate anything.

Brownies are interesting, right? They're like a cake and fudge got together and had a little baby. Because it's not cake, it's not fudge, it's somewhere in between - the brownie. Now don't get me wrong, I love a good chocolate cake and a good fudge as much as the next girl, but sometimes you just need that in between.

Deliciously Decadent Homemade Brownies

  • 8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Cooking Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 325F and line an 8x8 inch pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium saucepan, melt your butter and chocolate together over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar. Next up, the eggs and vanilla. Stir until smooth and you no longer see egg swirly bits.
  4. Add in the chocolate chips, flour and salt and stir until that flour is all gone.
  5. Pour into your prepared pan, tapping the edges to get rid of any air bubbles. Stick that in the oven, and bake for 35-45 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  6. Remove from the pan and cool on a rack.

Recipe thanks to Cravings of a Lunatic


Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Round Up

I'm not sure why, but I love seeing mashups and reimaginings of Disney things, particularly Disney princesses. Perhaps it's having grown up with them, there's that nostalgia factor, or perhaps a girl never truly grows out of her princess phase. In any case, this week we have Disney characters dressing up for Halloween and ultimate mashups including Disney Avengers. And for a trip in the way back machine, because this one is from a long time ago but I saved it because I liked it so much, Hipster Disney Princesses. Or even this one featuring the princesses in accurate period costume. Have you seen any fun ones around the web? If so, share them with me, because apparently I love them all!

Can you believe it's been 10 years since Lost premiered? That is just craziness! There are quite a few retrospectives around the web, but this (sorta kinda long) article articulates quite well why the show was great and why no one has been able to replicate it since then. Some have tried (The Event, FlashForward), but none have succeeded.

If Lost being 10 years old makes you feel old, then what about Friends debuting 20 years ago? That's right, Friends first hit the air 20 years ago! Can that be any longer ago? What's so great about Friends is that it actually holds up all these years later, aside from the fashion, perhaps. But the situations, particularly in the golden years of the show, are still relevant to today because they are so character-based. Anyway, this article explores some of the most memorable things from the show. Do you have a favorite episode? Off the top of my head I'd say The One Where Everybody Finds Out.

Science has come a long way since the days humans thought the Earth was the center of the universe, but there are still some things that scientists can't quite explain. The Top 10 Unsolved Mysteries of Science explores some of these things, including the whole dark matter deal (what the heck is dark matter, and why is there no real evidence of it?), similarly dark energy, which is really just the name for the unaccountable stuff in the universe, and, of course, why haven't we seen any real evidence of aliens despite the enormity of the universe? All valid questions. Will we find the answers in our lifetime? One can hope!

I don't often like to think about money, because it can be quite a depressing topic, but this article about some things we might believe about money that aren't true is interesting. Like sticking to a budget might not always be the best idea. I don't know that I really stick to a budget, per se, more like I have a vague idea in my head of how much money I have to wiggle with, and use that as a budget. But their point is that if you have a certain number in your head for a particular product, you will always go toward the high end of that budget. Interesting!

That's all for this week! Anything you've found interesting that I missed? Until next week!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Banana Crumb Cake

I know some people are already embracing the fall spices that are imminently upon us, but I want to hold out awhile longer. Sure, I may have just gone and bought new stocks of ginger, cloves, and all spice to make sure I'm ready to go for pumpkin season, but no! Not yet! It's not even October yet, for goodness sake. It seems like each year the holiday season starts earlier and earlier. Not that I don't like the holiday season, but it does invite early burnout. You don't want early burnout!

So. I made some Banana Crumb Cake. It's not exactly summer, it's not exactly fall, it's perhaps somewhere in between, which is right where we are here at the end of September.

I edited this recipe down a bit from the original on Cookies and Cups. It was a bit too much sugar for me, and reducing the sugar from 2 cups to 1 1/3 cups did not make the cake unsweet in any way. In fact, I would never have known it was meant to have more sugar if I didn't see the recipe. I also halved the crumb entirely. Three sticks of butter and another two cups of sugar in one cake just seemed on the high side to me, and even though I really do love me a crumb topping, I figured it would be fine with half. And it is! You can, of course, go ahead and double it to have a much higher percentage of crumb, but I'll leave that up to you.

There's something sort of magical that bananas do to baked goods. They just add so much extra moisture it makes cakes and quick breads all the more delicious. And even better, they get even more tasty on the second day, which is not something you can say for many baked goods. Maybe I'm just having a love affair with fruit of the banana/plantain variety lately, because I also can't seem to stop eating Plantain Chips. Which is funny because bananas by themselves are sometimes too much. Ah, taste buds, you are strange and wonderful.

Anyway! You should definitely try out this banana crumb cake, especially if you like any kind of banana baked good at all. You will not be disappointed!

Banana Crumb Cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk
  • For the crumb mixture: 
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cubed
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
Cooking Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Spray your 9x13 baking dish with some cooking spray and set aside for now.
  2. I recommend making your crumb first. Combine the butter, brown sugar and flour in a medium bowl until a coarse crumb forms. You can use a pastry blender or cutter, or a fork, or even your hands. Set that aside for the moment.
  3. In a large bowl, mash the bananas until liquidy. Beat in the butter until combined, then mix in the sugar, eggs and vanilla.
  4. Stir in the milk and flour until just combined.
  5. Pour 1/2 of the batter into your prepared pan. Top with 1/3 of the crumb mixture, then pour the remaining batter on top, and the rest of the crumb mixture on top of that.
  6. Bake for 50-55 minutes until the center is set and a tester comes out clean.
  7. Cool for 10 minutes, then chow down. It's good warm and at room temperature.

Adapted from Cookies and Cups

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Round Up

It's already time for another Friday Round Up! This week somehow went by both incredibly slowly and incredibly quickly.

It has been incredibly hot here in Los Angeles this week, making the apartment living situation quite unbearable. Of course, we can't afford to have a nice apartment that has air conditioning and whatnot, because the rent is too dang high. This site has a bunch of graphs displaying the sad situation. People are paying too much of their paychecks toward rent, and the paychecks aren't getting any higher, but the rent sure is. It's depressing, for real.

My boyfriend and I live in quite close quarters right now thanks to that rent issue, making the subject of this video about weird things all couples fight about even more hilarious to me. Some of those things hit close to home for sure!

Writing is one of my passions, as hopefully most of you who read this know. I've written stories since I was a little kid, but have also kept a journal since I was really young as well. Now a study is showing that writing helps both your emotional and physical health. Like, wounds physically heal faster if you write about your thoughts and feelings! I've been telling a certain someone they should try writing in a journal for a while, and you can bet I used this article as further proof that it would be a big help.

We live in a world now full of screens - TV, Movie, Phone, iPad, Computer.. now even watches are going to have screens. But are they so great for our health? Not so much, though I'm not sure this is a huge surprise. But basically, this article talks about the effect of the blueish light that emanates from said screens interfering with proper sleep, but also hurting our eyes as well. I write this, of course, from a computer, but I do try to not look at a screen other than my Kindle Paperwhite, which I think is one of the okay ones (I hope!), before going to bed.

I know I've featured creepy places before, but this time I've got a link for you that focuses solely on places in the United States. Some feature some quite mysterious stories. I'm not sure I would want to ever actually visit some of these places, other than the Winchester Mystery House which I find interesting.

Have you seen the lip synch battles that Jimmy Fallon hosts on The Tonight Show? I think they are pretty hilarious, especially the one he had with Emma Stone. But this week was another funny battle featuring Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani. I'm not sure it tops the Emma Stone one, but it's still pretty fun.

And for my last feature this week, have you ever wondered what some old timey black and white photos would look like if they were in color? Well, wonder no more, because this site has a bunch of colorized old photos. Some look more realistic than others (some look like they were painted rather than a real photo), but some are pretty cool.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Vanilla Blondie Bars

You guys, it has been HOT here in Los Angeles the last few days. Normally, since I live pretty near the beach, the heat isn't as much of an issue, as it is at least 20 degrees cooler than going inland, but damn man, it's been hot even here! Which makes baking a bit of an issue, as you might imagine, in a small apartment with no air conditioning. During the winter? Sure, it heats the whole apartment right up! In the dregs of summer when it always seems to get super hot in SoCal? No thank you.

Luckily, I made these bars just one or two days before the heat wave really hit, so they didn't heat up the apartment too heinously. I also was able to use this fancy ground vanilla a coworker brought back from Mauritius for me, so that was fun as well! I've never used ground vanilla, and it took me a little bit to figure out that's what it actually was in the first place too! But really, you just use it in place of vanilla bean or vanilla extract. I can't compare these bars when using the other two, but feel free to scrape a full bean into the batter or just put in a couple teaspoons of vanilla extract and I'm sure they will still taste great!

These bars are super easy and take only a handful of ingredients, making them a great little bar for when you want something fresh-baked, but don't want it to take ages, and especially if you aren't in the mood for brownies. They keep pretty moist for a couple days afterward if you store them properly wrapped away from the air, and are especially delicious if slightly warmed, or straight from the oven. The ground vanilla gives these an extra something as compared to just vanilla extract, but if you can't get ground vanilla (or vanilla paste as it may be called), then I would recommend scraping one 1 vanilla bean rather than using extract if possible. Who doesn't love the sight of the little brown-black flecks?!

Vanilla Blondie Bars

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
Cooking Directions
  1. Preheat your oven to 350F. Line an 8x8 inch pan with foil.
  2. Cream together your butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in your vanilla paste. You can also substitute the beans out of 1 vanilla bean if you so desire. Beat that in with the egg and salt until well combined.
  3. Finally, slowly stir in the flour until it is just mixed. Your dough will be thick, but try your best to get it into your prepared pan and smooth the top into an even layer.
  4. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the bars a tester comes out clean and the edges are just slightly browned. Let cool in the pan, then lift out your foil and slice 'em up! 
Recipe via Baking Bites

No step-by-step photos this time around, as they really weren't very exciting. I may stop doing the step-by-step photos on a general basis unless the recipe is particularly difficult, as most of the time, the steps are very similar in most baking recipes.