Brownie Fix

caramel brownies side view

My caramel brownies are not the only reason TheRoomDad wanted to marry me, but the chocolatey, gooey goodness is definitely a contributing factor. This is the best Valentine’s Day sweet treat I know, and in the early years of our courtship, I baked a batch of these brownies every Valentine’s Day and some birthdays too. Until yesterday, it had been many years since I served them. My kids don’t remember ever eating them! What was I thinking?

I got the recipe from one of my mom’s friends when I was about nine years old. For years, I have been under the impression that we were a privileged few who had access to the secret. Then, I did a Google search. Damn. It is not a secret. Since my recipe (and many spin offs) are available online, I am going to go ahead and share the version I use.

caramel brownies ingredients

Ingredients

  • 1 11-oz. bag light caramels, unwrapped
  • 2/3 c. evaporated milk, divided
  • 1 box German chocolate cake mix
  • 2/3 c. margarine, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 c. chocolate chips (~6 oz.)

Directions

  • Combine caramels and 1/3 c. evaporated milk in a double boiler. Stir until melted and set aside.

caramel brownies melted caramel

  • In a medium bowl, combine cake mix, melted margarine, and 1/3 c. evaporated milk.

caramel brownies batter mixed

  • Press 1/2 of the dough in a greased 9″ x 13″ pan. Bake at 350 degrees for ~6 minutes and remove from oven.

caramel brownies bottom layer

  • Sprinkle the partially baked dough with chocolate chips.

caramel brownies w choc chips

  • Spread the melted caramel over the chocolate chips and gently spread evenly with a spatula.

caramel brownies spread caramel

  • Crumple the remaining dough over the caramel layer.

caramel brownies top layer

  • Bake an additional 15-18 minutes.
  • Remove from oven. Let cool and cut into squares to serve.

caramel brownies finished in pan

Notes

  • If you don’t have a double boiler to melt the caramels,  use a metal mixing bowl on the top of a pan of water as a double boiler. The caramels can also be melted with the evaporated milk in a microwave. Heat in 45 second increments stirring at the end of each time until the caramels are melted completely.

caramel brownies stack

Nuts for Christmas (and I don’t mean crazy)

rosemary mixed nuts

It is only December 2, and I already feel like a crazy person. Every year, I decide to make all kinds of Martha Stewart-ish holiday treats (cocoa kits, reindeer food bags, gingerbread houses…) and then get testy with everyone in my house because they interrupt my projects when they want something– like dinner. Even though I had about 6 loads of laundry to do, several sets of school papers to grade, and various other weekend chores, I chose to mix up a batch of Buttered Nuts with Rosemary and Orange, print cutesy labels, and bag them using one of the clear gift bags I have in my vast collection.

This morning’s project is super fast and will be going to some of my husband’s co-workers or given as a thank you sirsee to the hosts at the (few) holiday parties we are attending if I run out of cocoa kits.

rosemary and orange mixed nuts

Ingredients

  • 2 cups lightly salted roasted mixed nuts can (an 11.5 oz can)
  • 1 T. unsalted butter
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1 T. fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 T. thinly sliced orange zest

Directions

  • Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the nuts, sugar, rosemary, and zest. Cook, tossing, until the sugar is melted and the mixture is fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes.  Let cool on a baking sheet.

NOTE: Recipe can be doubled easily. I added an additional 1/2 c. of pecan halves and 1/2 c. of plain almonds and a few extra mixed nuts, then doubled the seasonings and butter.

Bitty Birthday Cupcakes

We are sending itty bitty cupcakes (recipe below) to my son’s class at school in honor of his birthday this year. As a teacher, I spend more time on the distribution side of class birthday treats, and I have some guidelines for any newbies to the school birthday treat circuit. Sending birthday treats for the class starts in nursery school, and the rules don’t change too much no matter how old you are.

  1. If possible, let the teacher know ahead of time about the type of treat you will be sending and what day. It helps teachers plan for a special snack time and anticipate any food allergy alerts (always send nut-free items just in case).
  2. Send enough for the whole class AND the teachers. Let me repeat– send enough for the teachers.
  3. Send small treats. Rather than a whole donut for each child, send donut holes (two to three Munchkins per child). Rather than regular cupcakes, send mini versions.
  4. Send items that are pre-cut, pre-packaged, or individually wrapped to make sharing the snack easier.
  5. Don’t forget paper napkins, paper plates, and plastic utensils if needed.
  6. You do not have to send an edible treat. Kids love fun pencils, Japanese erasers, crazy straws, stickers, etc.
  7. In my experience, sending birthday treats begins to taper off around the 4th grade. By 5th and 6th grade, maybe a quarter of the students send in birthday snacks.

I love this recipe for Perfect Cake-Mix Cupcakes courtesy of Hello, Cupcake!. I like the frosting recipes in the Hello, Cupcake! book too, but I totally cheated this time and used the pre-made Betty Crocker Cupcake Icing in the squeeze cans with the decorative tips. I used gelatin shot cups to make the super mini size. I found the tiny cups in the paper product aisle at my grocery store.

Ingredients

  • 1 box (18.25 oz) cake mix (French vanilla or yellow)
  • 1 c. buttermilk (in place of the water called for on the box)
  • vegetable oil (the amount on the box, usually 1/3 c. for yellow cakes)
  • 4 large eggs (in place of the number called for on the box)

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Set out paper gelatin shot cups on a tray with a lip. The gelatin cups stand on their own, but they will also fit into mini muffin cups if you are worried about them tipping over. The recipe makes 24 regular sized cupcakes, so you should get ~48 mini cupcakes.
  • Follow the box instructions, putting all of the ingredients in a large bowl and using the buttermilk in place of the water specified, using the amount of vegetable oil that is called for, and adding the eggs. Beat with an electric mixer until moistened, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to high and beat until thick, about 2 minutes longer.
  • Fill gelatin cups a little less than 2/3 full. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Cinnamon Breakfast Puffs

Since the puppy arrived at our house about a month ago, I have had a little extra time on my hands in the morning. After the 5:45 am wake up call, the puppy wants to play. By 6:15, the puppy wants to rest, and I am in the kitchen by myself. This morning I made these little Cinnamon Puffs for breakfast (recipe below). Unlike the pizza from a few nights ago, I baked these without the help of my children. Now, do not be fooled. Most mornings I sit at the kitchen table with an iced coffee and alternate looking at my US magazine and staring out of the window until someone else from my household arrives in the kitchen, and I can go lie down in my bed again. Anybody else gone above and beyond for a tasty breakfast treat lately?

Ingredients

  • 1/3 c. shortening (Crisco)
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1 c. butter, melted (I never use all of this– start with 1/2 c. melted butter)

Directions

  • Beat the shortening and 1/2 c. sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; add egg, beating well.
  • Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.
  • Add flour mixture to sugar mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition. Spoon batter into lightly greased miniature muffin pan cups. The batter should yield ~24 mini puffs. I can’t ever spoon evenly into the muffin pans, so I get ~20 puffs.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Combine 1 c. sugar and cinnamon in a shallow dish.
  • Remove puffs from pans and dip in melted butter. Give the puff tops a good bath in the butter, so they soak up enough buttery goodness. Then, dredge in cinnamon mixture.

Nutritional Information

  • The puffs contain egg and milk (protein) and sugar (energy).

Better Than a Brown Bag Lunch

Bring your child’s teacher a really good lunch the first week of school! In fact, this is a great little sirsee for a teacher’s birthday, teacher appreciation week, standardized testing week, or any random day. As mentioned in the Teacher Emergency Kit post, teachers are trapped in the school building all day.  Unless a planning period aligns with the moon on a Tuesday in January, they are not getting out of that building to go pick up a lunch. Most teachers (read: me) hastily pack a half of a peanut butter sandwich along with their kids’ lunches as they are racing out the door in the morning. What a treat it would to receive a good lunch one day.

The Bag: I sewed the bag in the picture above modifying a pattern I had for an art bag. I would not recommend sewing your own lunch tote. After 7 hours at the sewing machine, I decided I do not like my children’s teachers THAT much. Pick up a lunch bag at any store where you purchase school supplies or even your local grocery store.  A cute disposable gift bag would work well too. I really like the neoprene lunch totes if you want to upgrade the gift. Almost all teachers have access to refrigerators, so you should not need an insulated lunch bag.

The Food: I made a really good pesto chicken salad and put it on a squishy roll with arugula. I included pretzel crisps, raw veggies, and a small container of cashews, almonds, and dried fruit. I added a bottle of water too. Teachers usually have a microwave available, so you could send something yummy in a tupperware with re-heating instructions instead of a sandwich.

You can click on Fancy Sandwiches for the pesto chicken salad recipe and a few others. I realized after I decided to post these recipes, they probably have a bad breath factor to them. No problem– include a mint with the lunch OR make sure your child’s teacher has the Emergency Kit, so he/she has a toothbrush.

The Extras: Do not forget to add a paper plate, napkin, and any plasticware that is needed.