real life test kitchen: jacques torres brownie mix

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Once again asked to test out a packaged product, I cast my food snobbery aside and allowed the box into my kitchen. This time it was the Jacques Torres Pure Bliss Fudge Brownie Mix ($12.95 at mrchocolate.com). Making brownies from scratch isn’t exactly rocket science so I was curious to see if this mix was even worth it. The brownies were super simple to make: some melting of chocolate, a bit of elbow grease, a couple of eggs and voila! The brownies turned out thick and fudgy and tasted great, and that was before they were even technically finished. I can’t say I saved much time with this mix (only cutting out the time it takes to measure the dry ingredients like flour, cocoa and sugar) because of the glazing step that occurs once the brownies have cooled. On top of a decadent fudgy brownie Mr. Torres has you apply a thick chocolate ganache layer (melted chocolate with whipping cream) that I’ll liken to the upscale cousin of the top of a hostess cupcake. All in all, I found it to be a delicious end result. I could taste the quality of the chocolate and the (very) few brownies that made it through the weekend stayed moist and delicious. While I’ll likely return to making brownies from scratch this mix is certainly OK in my book as a decadent once in a while sweet treat. — Erica P.

From our partners

want it now: fatboy hammock

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Let me tell ya, I am not keen on the burgeoning I-heart-trampolines trend. Lordy, lordy I am almost forty and that is just not copacetic yard candy in my guideline manual. I didn’t have a backyard “playstation” growing up. I used my imagination, loitered at other peoples’ swing sets and spent hours exploring the underdeveloped suburban back roads of Jersey (exotic stuff!). Now, what I do think is a great treat I wish I had, is a killer hammock. I’d be happy swaying for days in the Fatboy Headdemock. The colors are fun! Due to my desert lust I’d go with Sand. Do you like? $400 at designpublic.com — Allison R.

From our partners

al's windowsill garden — reap what ya sow

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I motivated myself to plant some seeds a few weeks back. Being a space challenged urban dweller, I found this cute little mini greenhouse at the local hardware store. Home Depot has one called stackable windowsill greenhouse for $7. Great for small spaces. I didn’t get to fussy about what to plant. I chose an assortment of seeds and started the process. Last week, I transplanted some of them into pots and water bottles. They’re spattered on my windowsills. Hopefully in a few weeks I can take what is thriving up to the country and put them into the ground. If my green thumb holds up, I’ll keep you posted. -Allison R.

From our partners

al’s windowsill garden — reap what ya sow

shelter_algarden307.jpgshelter_algarden07.jpgshelter_algarden207.jpg

I motivated myself to plant some seeds a few weeks back. Being a space challenged urban dweller, I found this cute little mini greenhouse at the local hardware store. Home Depot has one called stackable windowsill greenhouse for $7. Great for small spaces. I didn’t get to fussy about what to plant. I chose an assortment of seeds and started the process. Last week, I transplanted some of them into pots and water bottles. They’re spattered on my windowsills. Hopefully in a few weeks I can take what is thriving up to the country and put them into the ground. If my green thumb holds up, I’ll keep you posted. -Allison R.

From our partners

blooming plants for mom

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Still trying to decide what to give Mom for her special day (May 13)? One of our favorite gift ideas — for any occasion — is a flowering plant. They always last longer than cut flowers, and if Mom likes, she has the option for transplanting it to her outdoor garden, where she’ll be able to think of you every time she smells the lavender, mees, hydrangea or tulips. Here’s the best of the bunch we’ve seen in all the many Mom’s Day gift guides out there now.

We love Hydrangea and this plant from Smith & Hawkin comes in glazed terra cotta plant from Portugal. $70 at smithandhawken.com.

Real Simple magazine put a Calyx & Corolla Dutch Tulip Plant in their best bouquets online list last year. We like this new Spring Dutch Tulip Plant with its chic plaid ribbon. $40 at calyxandcorolla.com.

Over at Red Envelope, they have a bunch of well packaged plants, but this lavender plant is not only lovely, it is fresh and uplifting. Perfect for a stressed out Mom! $50 at redenvelope.com.

This Mees plant from Windowbox.com come in a glavinized champagne bucket. They last three weeks inside before moving to the garden. Give them lots of sunshine! $25 at windowbox.com.

From our partners