Picnic Brownies

 

I usually listen to audiobooks when I’m out on my morning walks. The  characters in each novel are like friends to share the joy with—mist over my neighbor’s field, the sound of sheep munching their breakfast, and the occasional deer or flock of turkeys crossing the road ahead. Today, I left my book friends―Prince Myshkin, Mrs. Ramsay, Reverand Ames and Lila―at home. I needed to clear my head and thought the silence would do me good. I have a number of projects that are pulling me in different directions, and our family suffered another loss this  week. My Aunt S. died. In her mid-eighties, she was my mother’s baby sister. She suffered a great deal toward the end of her life. While I’m glad she’s no longer in pain, I know my cousins―her children and grandchildren—are experiencing their own pain as they grieve. I’ve written about the bond I share with my cousins many times. Our connection goes to the core of who I am, to the core of who we each are. So when I think of them as feeling sad, it’s hard to focus on anything else.

Still, the beauty on my walk brought me great comfort. In the quiet I could hear bird songs. I could hear the sound of trees swaying in the wind and the flow of the stream. The fragrance of the wildflowers intensified, and by the time I got home I felt the calm I had been craving. With my mind quieted, I could send my love and support to my extended family. I could get back to work with renewed focus.

These Picnic Brownies are perfect for my mood today. A rich double layered brownie―a peanut butter cookie crust topped with a fudge layer and sprinkled with crushed honey roasted peanuts―they’re a lovely mixture of sweet and salty, smooth and crunchy. I’m calling them Picnic Brownies as I imagine the summer ahead. They’ll be wonderful for trips to the beach or in a backpack when out for a hike.

I look forward to seeing you in my kitchen, gathering flavors and wildflowers, soon.

Dena


Picnic Brownies

Yield: 24 Brownies

Ingredients:

For the bottom layer:

  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ¾ cup honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups peanut butter chips

For the brownie layer:

  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups dark chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ⅓ cup butter, at room temperature
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 large eggs

For the topping:

  • ¼ cup honey roasted peanuts, chopped coarsely
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line a 13 by nine-inch baking pan with parchment paper. Butter liberally.

To make the bottom layer:

  1. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  2. In another large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and honey until they are light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until they are well blended. Mix in the vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture until it is blended. Scraped down the sides of the bowl. Fold in the peanut butter chips.
  3. Spread the batter evenly over the bottom of the prepared pan.  Set aside.

To make the brownie layer:

  1. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the chocolate chips and vanilla.
  3. In a saucepan, combine the butter, sugar, and water. Bring the mixture just to a boil. Pour the hot mixture over the chops and stir them until they are melted. Add the eggs, one at a time, mix in well after each additions. Stir in the flour mixture and mix it till it is just combined.

To assemble and bake:

  1. Pour the brown layer over the bottom layer and spread it evenly.
  2. Sprinkle with the crushed honey roasted peanuts and sea salt.
  3. Place in the center of the oven for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out with a moist crumb.
  4. Allow to cool completely.
  5. Cut into 24 squares.
  6. Serve and enjoy.

Notes:

  1. This recipe is adapted from Tate’s Bake Shop Cookbook by Kathleen King. Her recipe has is called Kara’s Blondie Brownies. It has a traditional blondie as the bottom layer.
  2. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

One year ago: Banana Split Shortbread Bowls

Two years ago: Rice Salad with Shaved Radish Rounds

Three years ago: Rice Pilaf with Braised Greens

Four years ago: Market Morning Salad

 

Milk and Honey Custards

 

I’m fine. I had a health scare last week but I’m fine.

Every year since I was thirty-five, I’ve had a mammogram. The recommendations keep changing on how often is right when it comes to mammograms, but I know enough women whose lives were touched by breast cancer not to take chances. Anyone who has been through the process can tell you there’s always a touch of anxiety that goes with it. Will they find something this year? Until you get the note in the mail saying all is clear, there’s always a bit of uncertainty. This year, instead of an all-clear note, I got a callback. That is, the doctors saw something different so I needed a more sophisticated round of  x-rays. I’ve known enough women who have gotten this second call, as well, and nothing was the matter. Still, for the 48 hours I waited to be seen again, it was hard not to worry. I told very few people—only my husband who worried with me and accompanied me to the hospital―and a few close friends. It was an awful feeling to walk into the hospital that day not knowing if I’d be leaving with a clean bill of health or if this would be the beginning of a new, painful journey. The time I waited for the radiologist to read the x-rays was in reality fifteen minutes, but it felt like an eternity. When she walked into the exam room with a smile on her face, I knew everything was okay. I burst into tears and couldn’t wait to tell my husband.  We hugged in happiness.

At times like these, it’s the bond of friendship and family that sustains us. My husband’s calm strength. The concern and caring of friends. Everything’s felt more intensely  and  reminds me how very lucky I am to live in a community of loving people. I feel the sweetness in the air and the joy of living. Truly.

These last few days have felt like the beginning of summer in New England. With it will come the first berries of the season, and I’m ready. These Milk and Honey Custards are perfect to have on hand all summer  for dessert with your favorite fruits. They’re small and not overly sweet. Their creamy texture is a perfect complement to juicy berries or peaches or even some sliced apples and pears come early fall. We ate ours with the last of our blackberries held in the freezer since last summer. Now, we have room for more.

I look forward to seeing you in my kitchen, gathering flavors and fresh fruits, soon.


Dena


Milk and Honey Custard

Yield: 6 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups milk or 2 cups milk and 1 cup cream
  • ½ cup honey
  • Pins of salt
  • 2 star anise
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Fresh, seasonal fruit, for serving

Instructions: 

  1. Bring the milk to a boil with the honey, salt, and star anise. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes to reduce the milk. Taste and add more honey if you think it’s needed. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, taking care not to create too many bubbles.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bring water to a boil for water bath. Take out a large baking dish that is at least 4 inches deep and can hold 6 5-ounce ramekins.
  3. Stir the hot milk into the eggs gradually so as not to scramble the eggs. Pour the mixture through a strainer over a 4 cup liquid measuring cup.  Whisk in the vanilla extract. Set the ramequins in the baking dish and divide the milk mixture among them. Pour the heated water  into the baking dish to come at least an inch up the sides of the ramekins.
  4. Bake in the center of the oven until the custards are set except for a small spot in the center, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and lift the custards out of the water. Allow to cool.
  5. Chill for one hour, then serve garnished with fresh fruit.

Notes: 

  1. This recipe is closely adapted from Seasonal Fruit Desserts by Deborah Madison.
  2. Be sure to wear heat and waterproof protective oven minutes when handling the hot liquids and removing the custards from the oven and the water bath.

One year ago: Crispy Radish Salad

Two years ago: Savory Crepes with Fresh Corn Salsa

Three years ago: Spring Tartlets

Four years ago: Trail Mix Cookies