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real life test kitchen: ina garten’s salted caramel brownies

This post was originally published in 2012 — but in honor of both Super Bowl Sunday and approaching Valentine’s Day, we thought we could use another dose of this yumminess.

I have a soft spot for things that are salty and sweet — especially things that are chocolately, salty and sweet (like my favorite Trader Joe’s candy). So when I spotted this recipe from Ina Garten in Food Network magazine, I couldn’t wait to give it a whirl. It’s from her new cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Foolproof Recipes, which could really be the title of all of her cookbooks. Her recipes never fail. This super rich, moist chocolate brownie would be outstanding on its own. It has a bit of instant coffee in it, which gives it a nice sophistication. Chocolate chips blended in the rich the batter give it a double wallop of goodness. Then, on the top of this magic, you drizzle caramel sauce finished off with a sprinkle of course, high quality sea salt. That touch propels these brownies into the stratosphere. The caramel and the salt are not every day pantry ingredients, but they are worth hunting down and using if you really want to make an impression. I promise you that everyone who you share these with (if you can force yourself to share them) will swoon. Use cautiously as they are hard to have in the house without devouring.

Here’s my take on Ina Garten’s Salted Caramel Brownie recipe. I highly recommend you buy her new book (I just did and will write about more of her dishes soon.).

What You Need:
2 sticks of unsalted butter
8 ounces plus 6 ounces Hershey’s semisweet chocolate chips (a little more than one bag)
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3 extra-large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee granules (I used decaf Nescafe)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 to 6 ounces good caramel sauce
2 to 3 teaspoons flaked sea salt

How to Make

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 x 12 x 1 1/2-inch baking pan.
2. Melt the butter, 8 ounces of the chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate together in a medium bowl set over simmering water. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature (very important!).
3. While that mixture is cooling, sift sift together the half cup of flour, the baking powder and salt in a separate bowl, and then add to the cooled down chocolate mixture. 4. In a separate bowl, stir the remaining 6 ounces of chocolate chips and the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour. Add the flour-coated chips to the chocolate mixture. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.
5. Bake for 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Don’t overbake!
6. As soon as the brownies are out of the oven, heat up the jar of caramel sauce (either in the microwave without the lid, or buy running really hot tap water over the whole thing). Make sure it is pourable. Use a spoon to drizzle the caramel evenly over the hot brownies.
7. Sprinkle with the sea salt. Cool completely and cut into 12 bars.

More Barefoot Contessa recipes we love:
Chinese Chicken Salad

Brunch Perfect Scones

Outrageously Good Brownies
Turkey Meatfloaf

real life test kitchen: old fashioned lasagna bolognese

Here’s something worthwhile to do during the next snowmageddon: make lasagna bolognese from scratch. It will occupy hours of your time, make your house smell wonderful, and please your family more than a cup of hot chocolate.

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I had been wanting to try Bon Appetit’s October cover story for some time, and actually decided that this was the perfect dish to serve at the Christmas pot luck we attended. I followed their instructions faithfully, but decided NOT to make my own noodles. Perhaps another year.  The results were outstanding, and tasted even better as leftovers the next day.

First, make the Bolognese sauce — which honestly is wonderful enough on its own to serve over pasta for a week.
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What you need:
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled, coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef chuck
1 pound ground pork
4 oz. pancetta (Italian bacon), finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup whole milk
1 14.5-oz. can crushed tomatoes
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided

How to Make:
1. Pulse onion, carrot, and celery in a food processor until finely chopped.
2. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add beef, pork, pancetta, and vegetables; cook, breaking up meat with a spoon, until moisture is almost completely evaporated and meat is well browned, 25–30 minutes; season with salt and pepper.
3. Add wine to pot and bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot, about 2 minutes. Add milk; bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until moisture is almost completely evaporated, 8–10 minutes.
4. Add tomatoes and 2 cups broth; bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, adding water by ½-cupfuls if sauce looks dry, until flavors meld and sauce thickens, 2½–3 hours.
5. Let sauce cool, then cover and chill at least 12 hours or up to 2 days.

Second, make the bechamel sauce — a good technique any home chef needs to know.
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What You Need:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk, warmed
pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
Kosher salt

How To Make:
1. Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until foaming. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute.
2. Whisk in warm milk, ½-cupful at a time. Bring sauce to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, whisking often, until the consistency of cream, 8–10 minutes; add nutmeg and season with salt.
3. Remove from heat, transfer to a medium bowl, and press plastic wrap directly onto surface; let cool slightly.

Third – Assemble the lasagna!

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1. Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a 13×9” baking dish with butter.
2 Cook your noodles — don’t use the no-boil kind. Be sure to make them al dente. When finished, lay them out on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. Try not to overlap them, or they will stick together.
3. Reheat the sauces if needed. Combine Bolognese sauce and remaining 1 cup broth in a large saucepan over medium heat, and heat until sauce is warmed through.
4. Meanwhile, if you made the béchamel ahead of time, heat in a medium saucepan over low heat just until warmed through (don’t let it boil).
5. Spread 1/4 cup béchamel in the prepared baking dish. Top with a layer of noodles, spread over a scant 3/4 cup Bolognese sauce, then 1/2 cup béchamel, and top with 1/4 cup Parmesan.
6. Repeat process 5 to 7 more times, starting with noodles and ending with Parmesan.
7. Place baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake lasagna until bubbling and beginning to brown on top, 50–60 minutes.
8. Let lasagna sit 45 minutes before serving.

More Shelterrific lasagna recipes can be found here!

toasting marshmellows sundance style? you need some rustic roasters

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This weekend, tens of thousands of people will be descending on the snowy little ski town of Park City Utah, to schmooze, deal, gawk and watch hours of movies in dark theaters at the Sundance Film Festival. I’ve been lucky enough to attend more than once, and whenever I come home I want to add a little mountain cabin style to home — perhaps a Navajo rug or maybe something sheepskin. This year I’m observing from afar, but I have my eye on these antler roasters from Rustic Roasters. Made by Steven Wymer out of either reclaimed branches or naturally shed antlers, they are selected, then lovingly shaped and stained, cured and crafted. Handles are colored and coated with non-synthetic finishes and the toasting rods are food-grade stainless steel. They’ll bring your s’mores to the next level — even if they’re being made on the back of your deck in a suburban firepit. $129 for a set of four. See more at rusticroasters.com.

is this STILL the best chocolate chip cookie recipe, ever?

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When we first started this blog, back in 2007, this recipe caused a great deal of debate. We still make it all time, and realized it had been years since we shared with you. Here it is fresh for 2014, with a nice photo. The recipe came from Wendy Gaynor, who started the bakery Ruby & Violette years ago. The shop is now run by different, industrious women and the cookies they sell on West 50th Street are still beyond delicious. Below is Wendy’s original recipe. We suggest serving them warm with a tall glass of cold milk.


Wendy Gaynor’s ‘Perfect’ Chocolate Chunk Cookies

What You Need:
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 cups semisweet chunks (preferably imported).

How to Make
1. Place the butter in a large bowl and cream at high speed until fluffy. Add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until completely mixed.
2. In a separate bowl, mix flour, salt and baking soda. Add to the butter mixture at low speed until just combined and add vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed, scraping bowl down, until blended. Do not overmix.
3. Add chocolate chunks and mix till thoroughly combined. Refrigerate batter until cold, preferably overnight.
4. Preheat a conventional oven to 350 degrees or a convection oven to 300 degrees, and line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop heaping spoonfuls of batter 2 inches apart on the lined baking sheets and bake, turning tray once, until golden brown around edges and soft (but not bubbly), about 9 minutes in a convection oven or 12 in a conventional one. Cool on a wire rack. Yield: 36 to 72 cookies, depending on size.

*This recipe appeared in The New York Times on October 27, 2002. Click here to read our original post with all the comments and tell us: Is this the best chocolate chip cookie recipe?

tea & crumpets anyone? we’re gearing up for downton abbey’s return!

It seems like ages since we’ve visited the regal halls of Downton Abbey. We’ve gotten over the devastation of last season‘s tragic ending, and are ready to don our long white gloves and lift our pinky fingers with the Crawley clan once more: Season four kicks off on PBS this Sunday, January 5th. To celebrate, we thought it might nice to add a little faded Edwardian charm to our homes — or menus. Here are a few ways you can give your own abbey a bit of Downton-ness.

1. Have a proper cup of tea like Lady Mary.

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It amazes us how many people in America don’t know how to make a proper cup of tea. Restaurants are the worst culprits when they bring the teapot full of water and a cup with unopened tea bag on the side. You have to pour the boiling water directly onto the teabag, people! In the teapot! Also, as recommended at Yorkshire Tea‘s site, you should use two teabags per four cup pot. Let the tea brew about five minutes before serving. Having a dainty little cup like Mary’s to sip out of is nice as well. This Noritake Crestwood Gold China set has a very similar elegance.

2. Bake yourself a Bundt cake in a beautiful vintage pan.

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The wall of copper cake and tart molds on display in the Downton Kitchen is enviable, but you can start your own today but doing a simple seplace on Etsy. Acquiring the pan is only half the step. Next you need to whip a lovely cake like Daisy, above. We have some favorites, like this peaches and cream cake, but this ginger one made with molasses and stout by Melissa Clark has been on our bake-soon list for sometime. How very, very British!

 3. Dine by candelabra light.

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Few things could transport us to post-War England more than dining table lit by candelabra’s. This set from Hawksworth Eyres & Co are heirloom quality. But for a quick fix that won’t break the bank, try this one from Food Service Warehouse for less than $60.

Are you having a Downton viewing party at your home? Tell us how you are celebrating and what you’re looking forward to in the next season. For more inspiration, see our previous Downton posts here.