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Saturday, December 31, 2011

"Baked" Brownie

Well, another year has come and gone. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't incredibly eager to welcome 2012.
I clicked on my New Year's Eve post from last year and laughed when I read through it. I was excited about 2010 and the prospects that were to come in 2011. After the new year began, I was all about the lucky foods that we would eat to ring in the New Year. Well, wow. We sure ate well but I'm 110% confidant that all of that stuff about foods bringing "luck" was a total crock of crap! 2010 was a good year. 2011, not so much. But... it has been a year of growth and lessons learned. So, that's a healthier way to look at it. And that is my New Year's resolution: to think more positively and to look forward. In regards to 2011, I will remember the positive things that did happen. My sister got engaged! Ron's career blew up. We traveled across the country, saw new places, and we vacationed in Whistler, B.C. and San Francisco. I managed to finally make my law school's Dean's List, a task I had been intent on doing since I began school but always fell short. Even more exciting, it was during my only full-time semester and when I had the hell that was Advocacy! So, bravo to me! (Toot toot.) We also grew: as people, as a couple... and we are stronger, so much stronger. So in every storm, there is sunshine. And most importantly, we closed out the year by getting married. After an eight year courtship, Ron and I finally became husband and wife. And it was such a happy occasion.

I wrote in last year's posting: "It will be interesting to read what this post says next year: Ironman, J.D. graduate, and a Reed!!" Oh boy. Hmm, I'm not an Ironman. I never got there. (Insert positive spin now.) But, I'd likely be dead if I had attempted it in the physical and mental state I was in. There will be other times and other events; it just wasn't in the cards this time around. So, cheers to being alive! Technically I'm not done with school. (Insert positive spin now.) But I only have one more week! That's right, only 5 days! And, I'm not even a Reed. (Insert positive spin now.) Well, okay. I am a Reed! I only say that I am technically not a Reed because: (1) our marriage pretty much just happened (7 days ago) so in terms of being all lawyerly like, the name change hasn't been filed, and (2) I don't intend to fully change my name (and Ron is okay with that so long as I am a 'Reed' on facebook :) ) so I'll be a hyphenated pseudo-Reed. But, we are married. I am a wife. Ron is my husband. And of all of the three things I thought I'd be on December 31, 2011, being a pseudo-Reed is the absolute best of the bunch. Truthfully, the fact that we closed out this year on such a high note takes away almost all of the pain that we experienced to get here.

I've long heard that phrase: "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." And I've since heard: "God does not give us anything we cannot handle." And when I look back at this year, I'll remember it as a year that we triumphed, pushed through, and made the most of what we had. We stuck together, put our heads down, and just barreled through a number of obstacles. I learned my lesson: I will not plan my life so meticulously. And when I stray, I will not feel so defeated when I end up needing to turn back because I hit a dead-end. Life is a bit crazy right now anyway with our future residence up in the air. So, I suppose 2012 will be a year of whatever the hell it wants to be. As the Cheshire Cat so wisely informed Alice, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there." So, so be it. I'm open to the future. But I do intend to stick with some of my New Year traditions. I've already baked the Neujahrspretzel. And, well, like 2008 and 2010's good fortune, Ron and I are going back to Orlando to participate in the Disney Marathon Weekend to kick-off the year. With any luck, I'll convince Ron that Disney Marathon Weekend is our best New Year's tradition. As it is, I've already locked us in to the 2013 event.

I close out this year with a treat that I've had on my mind to make for nearly one year, the amazing Baked brownie. It is a famous recipe. And for good reason. Fudgey in the middle and with a thin crust on the top, there is enough chocolate to curb your sweet tooth for a month (or immediately make you run to the platter and grab another one). My oh my, it's pretty damn delicious and incredibly decadent. Friends, thank you for reading my musings and for sticking by me when I fall off radar and vent about my daily struggles. This blog often serves as my therapy, so thank you for being my counselors. Cheers to turning the page on one chapter and starting the next. I wish you a peaceful, prosperous and safe journey throughout 2012. Happy New Year!
Baked Brownie
recipe on Brown-Eyed Baker who adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking
Yield: 24 brownies (or 12 if you make giant Ron sized brownies)
  • 1 1/4 cups AP flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 11 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 5 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9x13-inch glass or light-colored baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt and cocoa powder together.
  3. Put the chocolate, butter and instant espresso powder in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Turn off of the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be at room temperature.
  4. Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.
  5. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Let the brownies cool completely, then lift them out of the pan using the parchment paper. Cut into squares and serve. 
  7. Store at room temperature in an airtight container or wrap with plastic wrap for up to 3 days. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Double Chocolate Peppermint Patty Cookies

When we lived in Minnesota, I LOVED going to the grocery store. Not just because I love grocery shopping, but also because I would treat myself at the check-out line. I'd grab an individual piece of candy (if at Kowalski's: it was a sea salt caramel, or if at Byerly's: it was a chocolate, pecan, caramel thing) and savor it when I got in the car. I never kept candy in the house so the grocery store was the only time I'd indulge. In fact, the candy was so traditional, that the one time I did not get a piece of candy, I was stopped by a police officer for speeding. Gasp! (In my defense, we had just moved into the neighborhood and I had no idea what the speed limit was. No no, that's not an excuse but it does play some relevance to the situation. It was my first ticket in years and I was not going very fast but I was crossing over an uphill bridge that apparently was 30 mph because I was in a residential area. Ooops. But I must put partial blame on Ron for this incident. I had asked him to grab me my candy as I ran elsewhere to finish another task. Apparently, the noob thought it was wise to buy his own piece of candy, never offering to share it and I was left without any candy, and I might have been upset about this and probably yelling about the fact that I had never left the Highland Park Lunds without a piece of Lunds chocolate.)

Nowadays, I've kicked it up a notch. Anytime I am at the Metropolitan Market, I leave with several dark chocolate miniature mint patties. Like my favorites from Minnesota, these candies are locally made and just delicious. I just can't get enough of them. I go on and off with my love for mint and mocha but when it is here, it is in full swing. As a kid, I always turned to Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream at the ice cream shop. I've been obsessed with Junior Mints ever since Kramer knocked one into that person's body cavity during that episode of Seinfeld where him and Jerry watch a surgery. I share my mom's love of York Peppermint Patties. I often indulge in peppermint hot chocolate. So when I first tried these mints after moving to Seattle, I was instantly hooked. And I have to leave with several because I don't have a car on most days. In Minnesota, I used to find reasons to go the grocery store "for groceries" just so I could get my candy. Now, I don't have that luxury as the grocery store is a 2 mile walk up a steep hill. Not terrible but also not pleasant in a downpour. Thankfully, I exercise restraint when it comes to the mints when they are in the house. They have a special place in the pantry.

On our recent trip back to Seattle, I picked up a copy of Every Day with Rachael Ray for reading pleasure on the plane. It's not very often that I find a recipe that appeals to me so much that I simply must make it as soon as I see it. But that's pretty much how I felt with these mint cookies. I had been craving thin mints and knew that this cookie would be off the hook! I decided against using my locally made peppermint patties. Reason being, they are a bit bigger than typically miniature York patties and they also cost about $.69 a piece! I cut the recipe in half to make 12 cookies but felt the York would work better here because it was an appropriate size. And they did. These cookies are the best cookies I've ever made. And that's saying something because I've made a buttload of cookies in the past several years. They are soft, chocolately, fudgey, minty, and incredible. If you like the chocolate and mint combination, you absolutely must try these! The recipe takes some planning because it needs to be chilled. The chocolates need to be chilled as well. I found that it worked best to press out the dough and have a helper stand near the fridge to take out a piece of chocolate one at a time.
Thanks, Mom and Dad for the external flash! I've been slowly learning how to take pictures with my new DSLR camera. The flash comes in handy during late night photo sessions!
Double Chocolate Peppermint Patty Cookies
from Every Day with Rachael Ray
Yield: about 24 delicious cookies
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 stick (6 ounces) unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 1 egg
  • 24 miniature (about 1 1/2 inch) peppermint patties, such as York, unwrapped and chilled
  • 6 oz. white chocolate (not chips), chopped (Note: I used chips here. Take that!)
  • peppermint candy canes, crushed, optional (I did not use these.)
  1. Using an electric mixer, beat the flour, cocoa powder, both sugars, salt and baking soda on low speed. Beat in the butter, then the egg. Turn out the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and flatten into a disk; seal. Refrigerates until firm, about 1 hour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment. Working with 1 Tbsp of dough at a time, use your fingers to evenly encase each peppermint patty with dough. Place on the prepared pans and smooth the dough with your fingers. Bake, switching the pans halfway through, until just firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and let cool slightly. Transfer the cookies on the parchment to a rack to cool completely.
  3. Melt the white chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler. Drizzle the white chocolate over the cooled cookies. If using, immediately sprinkle the crushed peppermint candies over the cookies. Let set completely before serving or storing.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Butternut Squash and Kale Wheatberry Salad

When I say I've been cooking and baking again, I guess I should embellish on that a bit more. I've been... largely baking, somewhat cooking. I guess I'm making up for the fact that I barely baked this entire holiday season. A large part of that was due to the fact that I needed to look pleasant (and not pleasantly plump) in my wedding photos. But it was also because I wasn't feeling very festive. Apparently now I am making up for it. However, given the fact that Ron has lost a significant amount of weight from his own job-related stress, a cookie now and then is totally fine.
Today I planned to blog about the most amazing cookies known to man but decided to post about those tomorrow. Instead, I've decided that my blog could use some healthy food. Some actual food. Some food that didn't include butter, sugar, or flour in the ingredient list! I've been eating a lot of root vegetables lately but I've been lacking in the greens and grain department. I suppose to chomping down on squash and carrots isn't terrible but I rather enjoy eating the colors of a rainbow each day. This salad is like Christmas in a bowl! I saw it posted on Joanne's blog the other day and absolutely had to try it. I love Joanne's blog and read it every single day. Any time I need some good vegetarian recipes and some serious humor, I turn to her blog because her recipes never fail me. This one was no different. It's so good. It's extremely filling and has a chewy texture from the wheatberries with the sweet tartness from the cranberries. The original recipe called for pomegranate arils but given my history with those buggers, I opted for something a little less frustrating. This would be the perfect dish to bring to a winter potluck. It makes a ton, it's packed full of nutrients, and is hearty enough to be served as a meal.
Butternut Squash and Kale Wheatberry Salad
adapted from Eats Well with Others
Yield: 8-10 servings
  • 1 medium butternut squash, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt
  • 1 bunch kale, thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice (from one lemon)
  • sea salt
  • 1 cup dried cranberries (or 1 pomegranate's worth of pomegranate arils)
  • 1 lb brussel sprouts, halved and roasted at 400 degrees for 15 minutes
  • 1 cup wheatberries, soaked overnight and simmered for 1 hour
  • 1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and simmered for 30-40 minutes or until tender
  • 6 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp lemon juice (from one lemon)
  • 3 Tbsp cherry balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tsp dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine butternut squash cubes with the oil, minced garlic and sprinkle with a few pinches of sea salt. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and spread into a single layer. Roast until fork-tender, but not falling apart (about 30-40 minutes). Once done, roast the brussel sprouts, if not already done.
  3. Meanwhile, mix the kale, lemon juice and salt with your hands, massaging it together. It should wilt into half of its volume after 3 minutes or so.
  4. Make dressing by whisking olive oil, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and dijon together. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. When the squash and sprouts are done roasting, remove from the oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Then, add to the kale, along with the cranberries, brussel sprouts, wheat berries, and chickpeas. Gently toss together then coat with dressing; toss until evenly coated. Season to taste. Enjoy!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Oreo Peanut Butter Pie

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Happy Hannukah! Happy Christmas! I hope that you all had a wonderfully, beautiful holiday with your loved ones. I know I certainly did.
It has been a crazy, crazy few months. But I can honestly say that my recent trip back to Pittsburgh was the absolute best holiday and happiest that I have ever been. I was still stuck in finals mode upon arriving in Pittsburgh (small moment to again apologize to my parents for getting a glimpse of "Finals Ashley" who exploded into a combustion of tears, shouts, and total insanity. . . and small moment to again commend my now-husband for patiently putting up with all of those tears, shouts, and total insanity for 3.5 years) so the trip didn't quite start off on the right foot. But then we had a wonderful day at the spa and when the big day finally arrived, I was happy. Truly, truly happy. And that's how a bride should feel on her wedding day! After 8 years, you'd think that I wouldn't have been as emotional as I was. But I was. Ron is the most amazing person. I am incredibly blessed and I thank my lucky stars every day that I found such a wonderful man to spend my life with. We spent Friday, December 23 celebrating the 8 years we've shared together (complete with a few jokes, like the Minister who began the ceremony "We are gathered here today to celebrate the love of two people who have clearly rushed into things") in the most magical, Disney-princess like celebration of all time. But most importantly, we spent the evening with our families, the people who matter most to us in this world.

Then we spent Christmas Eve with our families combined, watching the Steelers with the family and some friends, and eating fantastic food. My mom works tirelessly to make our lives amazing and she pulls out all of the stops for the holidays. The entire family hadn't been together for Christmas in five years. And she had a household full of her family and two new sons. It was a wonderful trip... and I have to thank her for the majority of it! Yesterday, Ron and I flew back to Seattle with a calm feeling of comfort. And now, I have a few days to hang out in Seattle - doing things involving minimal brain activity - before I depart to Minnesota for a one-week J-Term course. Then, I get to fly down to Orlando immediately after it ends to participate in Disney marathon weekend with Ron and to spend a week drinking Butterbeer on Universal property and running from ride to ride over at the Disney parks.

Another positive, I've been cooking and baking again. And it feels good. I never realized the pressure I put on myself to find new recipes until these past few months, when I lost some interest and stopped tagging 100 recipes per day. Fortunately, I think I've found a healthy medium so I'm back to happily cooking and baking. I made this pie for our Christmas Eve dessert... and I think people were pretty happy with it. I first saw posts for Peanut Butter Pie several months ago, after the blogging community united to make one in remembrance of a friend's husband had recently passed away. It was such a sweet touch and it was remarkable to see hundreds of people from across the country - many only friends through the Internet - help Jennifer in her time of need. I heard again about Peanut Butter Pie from my friend, Jamie, who made one shortly after trying it during their Thanksgiving dinner. I was intrigued by said Peanut Butter Pie so I decided that it would be served for our dessert this Christmas. And wow. It is incredible. It tastes like a creamy Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. If you really want to impress, buy all of these super healthy-for-you ingredients and mix this up before your next gathering.
Oreo Peanut Butter Pie
from Lighter and Local made "For Mikey"
Yield: 1 pie
  • 8 ounces Oreo cookies
  • 4 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
  • 1/4 cup chopped peanuts
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • crumbled oreos, chopped peanuts, chopped pretzels for garnish, optional
  1. Pulverize the Oreos in a food process until fine.
  2. Combine melted butter and finely ground Oreos in a small bowl; stir with a fork to mix well and press mixture into the bottom of a buttered springform pan.
  3. Pour the melted chocolate over the bottom of the cookie crust. Sprinkle the chopped peanut on top. Put pan in the fridge while you make the filling.
  4. Pour the heavy cream into a large bowl and beat until stiff peaks form. Transfer to a smaller bowl and place in fridge while you prepare the rest of the filling.
  5. In bowl, beat cream cheese and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Reduce mixer to low and gradually beat in confectioners' sugar. Add the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract, and lemon juice. Beat until all ingredients are combined and filling is smooth.
  6. Take 1/3rd of the whipped cream into the filling mixture. Once filling is light, fold in remaining whipped cream. 
  7. Pour the mixture into the springform pan. Sprinkle garnish over top, if using. Cover and place pie in fridge for three hours or overnight before serving. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies

I'm here. And I'm hanging in there. I've been wanting to blog. When Ron mentioned to me this morning that he recently saw my previous post - and said no one would ever read my blog again because it was so sad - it made me realize that I miss cooking, and food, and blogging! I wanted to take the time to thank everyone who reached out to me over the past few weeks. I appreciate your kind, heartfelt words and I cannot begin to tell you how much your support means to me. Thank you.
We're adjusting to a household without Salem... but it's been a little bit tricky. This is the first semester of finals that I haven't had her on my desk, kicking me and spilling coffee all over my books. I attribute most of my law school success to Salem. :) Before a final, I used to teach her everything there was to know about a subject. What the heck am I going to do come January when it's time to start studying for the bar exam? Cali tends to swat at me when I'm being too loud around here... so I suppose its back to studying like a "normal" person.

It's been rather busy around here. Recently, I finished a 71 page paper. Yep, 71 pages. Honestly, if you were a professor and you saw a 71 page paper in your inbox, what would you think? It was quite a project. But it's complete. Phew. I also finished up an externship with a local attorney who opened his own Immigration Firm in Seattle. He is a Mitchell grad, extremely down to earth, very successful, and working with him saved me from me over these past few months. I felt bad for him; he was the only social interaction I had apart from Ron, so some days I was likely a bit too amped for work. Now I'm studying for finals... annnddd getting ready for our wedding!! It's so crazy that our wedding day is almost finally here. 15 days to be exact. Ron and I have been together for nearly 8 years. We already feel married, obviously, but there's something to be said about a formal ceremony surrounded by your family. We're having a small, intimate ceremony on the evening of December 23rd. Honestly, I would have loved to have planned a big gathering with all of our family and friends. But we plan to have a lovely dinner with my parents, Ron's parents, our siblings and their significant others. Christmas in Pittsburgh with some wonderful holiday music and wine. Naturally, we're a bit behind the ball when it comes to our planning, so thank goodness this is untraditional. Ron just got his suit... his alterations are supposed to be done a few days before we leave. And I think he ordered his cufflinks too late so they probably won't arrive before the wedding. And me? Well, dress #1 became X-rated when it fell off of me. After realizing I lost some unplanned weight and realizing that dress #1 looked like I was draped in a really pretty garbage bag, dress #2 fits beautifully.

I haven't been doing a whole ton of cooking lately. I'm still dealing with that pesky stomach thing so my appetite has been a bit off. But, I'm also avoiding the kitchen for big meals because I'm burning everything! I remember back in 2007, when I was studying for the LSAT, and I was a bit preoccupied. I messed up boxed mashed potatoes three times before I finally got it right. So, you can imagine what happened when I tried to cook something for Thanksgiving dinner this year... oh my. Think kitchen disasters. I'm not exaggerating. I did decide to bake the other day. I was rummaging through some recipes that I had saved a while back and stumbled upon these sugar cookies. I have to admit that while sugar cookies are not my ultimate favorite, I do enjoy them... particularly those ones that you can get from the grocery store that are just so sweet that your teeth hurt. I don't think I'd choose a sugar cookie over another type of cookie but sometimes you are just in the mood for a specific type of cookie. And on this particular day, I was in the mood for a really good sugar cookie. Have no mistake. These cookies are not healthy cookies. But they are really quite good. They are as soft and fluffy as sugar cookies get. So if you are a sugar cookie fan, I highly suggest you add these to your holiday cookie spread. Note: the recipe calls to chill the dough for one hour, so plan accordingly. Enjoy!
Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies
Annie's Eats
Yield: about 2 dozen large cookies
For the Cookies
  • 4 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 4 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 5 tsp. vanilla extract
For the Frosting
  • 5 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1/3 cup (5 1/3 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 7-8 Tbsp milk (plus more, as needed)
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Sprinkles (optional)
  1. To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking power and salt, and whisk together to blend. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar; beat together on medium-high speed until soft and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Blend in the vanilla. With the mixer on low, add in the dry ingredients just until incorporated and evenly mixed. Cover and chill the dough for one hour.
  2. When you are ready to bake the cookies, scoop a scant quarter cup of dough and roll it into a ball. Flatten the ball slightly and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the cookies at least 2-3 inches apart. Bake about 10-12 minutes or just until set. (Do not overbake. The edges should be no more than very lightly browned, if at all.) Let cool on the baking sheet for several minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
  3. To frost the cookies, place the confectioners' sugar in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and milk and whisk until smooth. Add additional milk as necessary, 1 tsp at a time, until you reach your desired consistency. If desired, tint with food coloring. Frost the cookies and top with sprinkles if desired. Enjoy!