Cake Mix Brownies…an experiment

  
I’m prepping for Sunday’s dinner party. Menu is set (don’t want to share it all as it’s a surprise for my guests), groceries have been purchased, and I decided to start on the dessert tonight. I want to make ice cream cake because not only is it summer, I probably haven’t made one in about 2 years. Looking back on my own recipe, I swore it was Oreo-bottomed, but turns out it is brownie-bottomed. 

Thinking I had all the ingredients for brownies, I sought out to make it, but alas, I’m out of sugar. Since I don’t feel like bugging any of my neighbors (I don’t really know them), I figured surely I have a mix somewhere in my pantry. I was stoked when I saw a box of No Pudge!, but alas, it was open as I was making a serving at a time.

I saw a box of chocolate cake mix and looked to see if there was a recipe for brownies. Alas, there was not. So I googled….I prefer chewy brownies so I did a search and settled on a recipe that sounded super easy – just an egg, some oil, and water.

I put the mix together and the texture was super thick and gooey – almost like peanut or almond butter. It also tasted a bit off, so I added a tinge more oil, some salt, and some vanilla extract.

  
I had some trouble spreading it in my springform pan. It is baking as I write this….wish me luck! 

Update – it came out looking right, but rose more than regular brownies. I hope it shrinks down a bit because I want a thinner base. Worst case, I’ll saw some off the top.

  

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Have Potatoes, Will Focaccia

 
I have this tendency to buy potatoes and not use them before they get gross.

Even though we’ve been experiencing 80+ degree days here in New Jersey, I was feeling the urge to bake.

  
One of my go-tos that I don’t do often enough is focaccia. It’s a pretty easy pantry staple because all you really need is flour, oil, salt, sugar, and yeast. It’s a quick bread to make – about two hours to do, and about 90 minutes of that is just hanging out and waiting.

For a moister, fluffier center and chewy-crunch crust, potatoes are also used. My inspiration for this focaccia came from a Bon Appetit recipe from a few years ago. I modified it this time around, omitting the seasonings/toppings. I opted for a Rosemary-rich Italian seasoning blend and Parmesan cheese. 

Focaccia also makes a great Accidental Pantry Project Recipe – you do not need potatoes, but they do make a better bread. The rest is pretty much stuff you have around – flour, yeast packets, sugar or honey, oil, and water. 

Follow the rest of the recipe accordingly.

Late Night Snack – Pretzels and Cheese Sauce

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While I work on my on-hand food inventory and cost, I’m also doing the fun part of this project, which is getting creative with what I have to make some yummy food!

The latest experiment was making Auntie Anne’s Pretzels from a kit I bought at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. For years, an Auntie Anne’s pretzel has been my favorite mall fare – a quick snack to refuel on shopping excursions. Plus with cheese being my favorite food, I would also get a packet of cheese sauce to go with the pretzel. Granted, that cheese sauce was more of a chemically processed cheese food that could survive nuclear holocaust and will probably be sitting in my system years after I am dead, but it really was a satisfying snack.

On my own, I make a good cheese sauce because I love Bechamel, cheese, mac and cheese, etc. Depending on my needs I am not as diligent in the classic mother sauce preparation as I was in my youth. I still love the whole pomp and circumstance of an onion cloute and straining the milk mixture before blending it with the roux. But tonight was about snack time and pantry depletion, so shortcuts happened and the results (in my opinion) were still quite scrumptious.

I followed the instructions that came with the baking mix. It was pretty easy to follow, but the process was definitely time consuming, as is any sort of bread baking. From when I started to when I was snacking was probably about an hour and a half to two hours, and it yields a hefty number of pretzels. Much of that time is active time, too. Other than the half hour you allow the dough to rest so the yeast can do its thing, you are working a lot and quickly. I made the mistake of wanting to make my cheese sauce while the pretzels were baking, but the baking time was short and active, and I do not have the counter space to work around that.

Overall lesson learned – making the pretzels at home was fun and cost saving, but DEFINITELY not convenient and time saving.

Here’s my adventure, followed by the cheese sauce recipe

CHEESE SAUCE

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups nonfat milk (can use any milk, nonfat is what I had on hand), ideally warmed to room temperature
3 cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash each of nutmeg, white pepper, onion powder, Worchestershire sauce
1 teaspoon maple sugar (any natural sweetener works, again, what I had on hand and I love maple)
1 cup shredded cheese (I used Clothbound Cheddar and Landaff that were going to go bad if I didn’t use them)

  1. Over low heat, whisk the flour and butter together, cooking about 5 minutes until roux is blonde in color – do not overcook
  2. Slowly whisk in milk, continue to cook over low flame, whisking constantly. Mixture will thicken within a couple of minutes
  3. Add seasonings, cook about three more minutes to incorporate flavor. The sugar is used to balance out the saltiness of the cheeses
  4. Whisk in cheese and continue to stir until fully melted and incorporated. Sauce should be smooth and creamy, not stringy
  5. Serve immediately, but be sure to pick out the cloves so not to choke or get an intense hit of spice. Sauce can be cooled and reheated, but best to reheat over slow heat and mix in extra milk to prevent curdling
  6. Recipe yields about 2 cups of sauce, about 4 servings

RECIPE COST (for me based off my pantry items):
$9.85 for 10 pretzel servings and 4 sauce servings
$8, pretzel mix
$.40, butter
$.75, seasonings, sugar, flour
$.70, milk
$0, cheese (was from a gift basket)

Vegan Chocolate Caramel Truffles

Leave it to post-Easter to continue on the meat free and dairy free crusade. I was asked to do a coffee tasting for a work meeting and I cannot do a coffee tasting without epic treats. It’s just my MO.

While I made Chocolate Chip Caramel Cheesecake Bars for the rest of the crew, one of my fellow managers is vegan, so I wanted to prepare a treat that he could eat as well. The coffee we were tasting, Starbucks Caffe Verona, goes great with chocolate and caramelized sugar. Most caramel recipes contain dairy, so I went on a hunt to find a caramel flavoring that was vegan. I could have just purchased Starbucks caramel syrup, but I was not thinking when I was at the grocery store. Instead, I found this product, Walden Farms Caramel Syrup. It was fat free, sugar free, calorie free, gluten free, etc….and more importantly for my purpose, dairy-free and vegan.

I wasn’t sure what to do with my caramel sauce, all I knew is that I had to come up with something vegan which included chocolate and caramel.

Racking my brains for a little while, it hit me. Modify an Oreo truffle recipe. Oreo truffles were a huge hit with my staff back at Christmas time, and they are super easy to make – oreos mixed with cream cheese and dipped in chocolate. At my disposal, I had vegan dark chocolate for melting, Nabisco Famous Wafer Cookies (which are essentially oreo cookies without the filling), and the caramel syrup. I decided to mix the cookies, sauce, and some margarine to create my truffle filling. The margarine and caramel sauce became my cream cheese substitute. Caramel was used for flavor and the margarine was used as a creamy fat which would solidify at room temperature.

So…here’s my on the fly recipe:

  • 20 Nabisco Famous Wafer Cookies
  • 1/4 cup Walden Farms Caramel Syrup
  • 1/4 cup Margarine, melted
  • 4 ounces Vegan Dark Chocolate (more or less may be needed), for dipping
  • 1 tablespoon Vegetable Shortening, for dipping mixture
  1. In a food processor, process cookies, syrup, and margarine until mixture is smooth. Transfer truffle filling to a bowl and refrigerate for at least two hours, but preferably overnight.
  2. Remove the bowl from the refrigerator. Using a teaspoon or tablespoon (your preference depending on what size you’d like the truffles), scoop out filling and roll into balls and place on waxed paper. Place the balls back in the refrigerator while you work on the next step, or until you’re ready to dip.
  3. When you’re ready to dip, melt chocolate and shortening over a double boiler until smooth. The addition of the shortening is a short cut so you don’t have to spend the time tempering the chocolate. Remove from heat.
  4. Dip the cookie balls into the chocolate, roll around using two forks or two spoons. As each ball is coated, transfer to waxed paper. When all the balls have been dipped, you can move the truffles to the refrigerator to cool and harden.
  5. Truffles can be served immediately after the chocolate is hardened. To store, keep refrigerated in an air tight container.

Mold Baking Part 2 – Lamby Boy becomes a Cake

The Lamby Boy saga continued….

For the cake itself, I used this recipe from All Recipes. I chose this particular recipe because it called out going well with cream cheese frosting. Since that was the type of frosting I wanted to make for my cake, I was sold. I omitted the orange juice mainly because I do not like citrus flavored pound cakes. I added a little more vanilla extract for flavor. The cake was definitely dense and a little dry; I think it would make an amazing strawberry shortcake base if I was to use the recipe in another facet (in other words, not for cake decorating). That being said, it was still quite tasty.

More importantly, it held up! I made the cream cheese frosting using cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract. This time I did not need my food processor, I had a hand held mixer.

I chilled the frosting overnight, for no other reason than I wanted to decorate the next day from my mom’s house so I wouldn’t have to transport the decorated cake and risk ruining it. Since I am no longer employed as a professional caterer, I do not have the appropriate vehicle or materials necessary for transport the way I would when I would transport wedding cakes.

As for decorating itself…I took about a half cup of icing and dyed it with green food coloring for grass. I used a rubber spatula to spread a layer of green icing on my oval platter. This also worked as “glue” to keep the lamb from tipping over. I piped some extra green icing to give the illusion of textured grass. For the lamb, I spread one layer of white frosting to act as base – he needs a lot of frosting! I started out this first layer on a cutting board and then transferred him onto the “grass.” For the second layer, I piped the frosting row by row to give the illusion of a curly fleece. Some other recipes call for shredded coconut flakes. I love coconut but did not want that flavor and texture for this particular cake, so I stuck to hand decorating with the piping bag. I piped extra frosting on the top of his head and on his rear to make a tail. For his eyes, I cut a little bit of chocolate. His nose I used a tiny speck of frosting that I had dyed red. Finally, to complete the look, I put some spring colored M&Ms down on the plate to represent flowers, and I tied a colorful spring bow around his neck. Voila!

Sadly or not, no one cut into him on Easter. He was too pretty to mutilate.

Mold Baking


Baking cakes has never been my forte. It is essentially my Achilles heel in the culinary world. Add a mold, decorating, and shapes, and well, I should maybe talk to HBO or Food Network for a comedy pilot. This week, however, I was put up to the challenge by one of my employees to create “Lamby Boy,” also known as an Easter Lamb Cake. Most recipes call for a pound cake recipe because of its density and ability to hold the shape, and my beloved favorite, cream cheese frosting.

What’s the worst that could happen, right? More to follow soon…

Feeble attempt at baking. Note the kitchen covered in powdered sugar and flour...

Here goes nothing!