Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies

I need to clarify. These brownies, a.k.a. heaven squares, also have caramel in them. It’s a trick I learned from a chef on the Food Network. If you mix the peanut butter with caramel, it has this amazing texture and literally makes you weak in the knees. Especially when combined with chocolate.

Quite seriously they are the epitome of ridiculousness in the brownie world. They combine several awesome flavors: caramel, chocolate, and peanut butter, which really means they have no choice but to be outstanding. It’s in their DNA (er…their ingredients).

I made myself give them away to friends because they were out of control in my house and would have suddenly disappeared. However, they are not to be missed so get baking!

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies Adapted from Bobby Flay

Ingredients:

for the peanut butter caramel

  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the brownies

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 5 ounces high-quality unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee crystals
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

How To:

Pour cream into a small saucepan and heat to a simmer over low heat. In a separate saucepan (small or medium), combine the sugar and water. Cook over high heat without stirring until deep brown. This takes about 10 minutes, but watch the mixture so it doesn’t burn. It is a short time between colors. Once you acheive the right color, whisk in the warm cream until smooth and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat to whisk in the peanut butter, corn syrup, salt and vanilla extract until smooth. Pour into a clean bowl and let cool until thickened at room temperature, about 1 hour/ You can also place it in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes. Mixture will turn to caramel.

For the brownies, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchement, leaving an overhang on two sides. Spray parchement with non-stick spray.

Combine the butter, unsweetened chocolate, bittersweet chocolate and instant coffee crystals in a double boiler (or place a glass bowl over a saucepan of simmering water) over low heat to melt. Stir mixture until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool for several minutes.

In a large bowl whisk eggs, both sugars, vanilla extract and salt until smooth. Add in the melted chocolate mixture while whisking until smooth, making sure to scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the flour in two additions (the batter will be thick). Stir in the semisweet chocolate chunks.

Place half of the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Drop tablespoons of the peanut butter caramel mixture every few inches over the top of the batter. Add remaining batter on top and smooth over the caramel dollops. Dot remaining caramel over the top. Using a knife, swirl the caramel into the batter to get the marbled effect. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. The top should be set but still soft; a cake tester will come out a bit gooey. Cool in pan for a few hours.

The brownies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 days or can be frozen for a few weeks.

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Mediterranean Tuna Noodle Salad

Just like people who wear shorts when it hits 50 degrees for the first time since last fall, I excitedly make summery meals of pasta and a dressing- this past week’s fix- when it was 60 degrees (now its 30 and snowing..its March 20, the “first day of spring.” Right.)- was a Mediterranean spin on traditional tuna noodle salad. May I just say it got me enthusiastically hoping for spring and summer, which I am certain is right around the corner. And to clarify, I was not dressed in summery attire while cooking or at any point of the day.

My mother makes her tuna noodle salad with seashell pasta or conchiglie. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but I prefer to use a less themed approach in my version. I use rotini because it grabs onto sauce and also looks lovely while doing so. This post was written as a celebration, but is now a plea to mother nature to bring back spring. Pretty please? Look at what a fantastic salad I can make with a little warm weather inspiration.

Mediterranean Tuna Noodle Salad

Ingredients:

  •  10 ounces pasta
  • 3 cans tuna (in spring water), drained
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup finely diced green pepper
  • 1 to 2 roasted sweet red peppers, finely diced (from a jar)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta
  • 1 can sliced black olives (or olive of your choice, kalamata could be amazing)
  • 1/2 cup finely diced sweet onion
  • juice from a lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
  • ground black pepper

How To:

Boil 6 cups water in a large saucepan. Add pasta and a pinch of salt. Cook 8-10 minutes or until it has a slight bite. Drain and set aside.

Mix together tuna, mayonnaise, sour cream, and rest of ingredients until well blended. Add pasta and stir to coat. Chill for about 30 minutes to 1 hour – or up to a day. Serve on leaves of romaine.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Happy March everyone! I’m here to celebrate with cupcakes – the very best vanilla cupcake recipe, all buttery and sweet with chocolate buttercream made using cocoa, which gives it the best flavor.  It’s almost milk chocolatey but just a bit richer. And what’s better than a cupcake? A cupcake with a flower on it.

Hopefully we will be seeing some real flowers soon. But for now, the sugary kind will do. For instructions on how to make lovely icing flowers, I recommend this video. There are so many instruction videos on buttercream roses on youtube. You can become a pro in no time.
I really have to stress the deliciousness of the chocolate buttercream frosting. It’s amazing to the point where you will wonder how you are ever going to frost all the cupcakes you’ve made without licking the bowl clean. Just keep in mind the thought that frosting “makes me so sick if I eat too much.” Hopefully that will keep you in line…who are we kidding. Just enjoy it.
Vanilla Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Ingredients:
for the vanilla cupcakes:
  • 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds only or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract  

for the Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons milk

How To:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Line two muffin tins with cupcake papers.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.  Continue to beat until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well after each addition. Add the flour in three parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla, ending with the milk. Do not overbeat. Scrape down the batter in the bowl with a rubber spatula, making sure all batter is incorporated. Carefully spoon battter into the cupcake liners, filling them about 2/3 full. Bake for about 20–25 minutes- insert a  cake tester, and if it comes out clean cupcakes are done. Do not overbake! Cool the cupcakes in the muffin tins for 10 minutes. Remove and let cupcakes cool completely on a wire rack before frosting. 

For the frosting, cream the butter on low to medium speed in a medium bowl. Combine the sugar and cocoa and add to butter. Whip until combined. Starting with about 2 tablespoons, add milk to butter mixture slowly, until you reach desired spreading consistency.  Add by tablespoons. Spread onto cooled cupcakes. You can also use a pastry bag to frost cupcakes.