Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Guinness Brownies with Butterscotch Fudge Frosting

These brownies are the ultimate in chocolatey ooey gooey richness and the frosting makes them just over the top delicious. These sweet bites make for a great change up to your normal brownie and are great for anyone who loves Guinness (ahem, the Captain).

Now, you may be thinking - Guinness in brownies? Is she crazy? I may be a little crazy, but the Guinness in these brownies is a must. Remember the birthday cake I made for the Captain earlier this year, Guinness Chocolate Layer Cake? Guinness + chocolate = love. The Guinness adds this nutty, deep richness that makes the chocolate really pop. Much like when you add coffee or espresso to chocolate dishes. It just makes you go, "hmm, what is that?". But in a good way of course. Not to worry if you are not a big beer fan though. The alcohol cooks off during the baking and the flavor is really mild. Plus, with the butterscotch fudge frosting and chocolate coated pretzels on top, you will be in love. They somehow all just work together. The sweetness of the chocolate, the saltiness of the pretzel and the subtle bite of the Guinness.  It's perfection. Just be warned, the Captain ate one of these at night and he was up until the wee hours of the morning. I am not sure why seeing as there is no coffee in the recipe, but I am willing to bet he was on a sugar high. That or getting the chocolate sweats. Does anyone else get those?

mmm, guinness

melting the chocolate and butter


add in each egg separately

look at all that guinness!

the best part = chocolate chips

let the brownies cool while you made the butterscotch fudge

adding the butterscotch to the mixer. be careful!

cooling brownies! YUM!

Guinness Brownies with Butterscotch Fudge Frosting

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

8 oz dark chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed

3 extra large eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 1/4 cup (10 oz) Guinness or any stout beer

1 cup mini chocolate chips (I used regular because that's what I had on hand)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line sheet tray with parchment paper.  Grease pan extenders and place above sheet tray.  Or, use any 9'' x 13'' baking pan.

In a large saucepan, melt butter and chocolate over medium-low heat.  Once melted, add sugar and brown sugar.  Stir to combine.  Remove from heat. Transfer batter to a big bowl. Add eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt.  Alternate adding dry mixture and Guinness to the batter.  Starting and ending with the dry mixture.  Fold in chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until toothpick inserted in the center of the brownie comes out clean.  Let cool on rack.

Butterscotch Fudge

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1/8 tsp salt

2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted

3 Tablespoons heavy cream

1/2 tsp vanilla paste

chocolate covered pretzels or salted pretzels, as needed


In a medium sauce pan, melted butter and brown sugar.  Heat over medium heat until sugar mixture starts to boil.  Let simmer for a 1-2 minutes.  Then remove from heat.  Add salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, mix confectioners sugar, cream and vanilla. Once mixture is paste like, slowly add the slightly cooled butter-sugar mix.  Beat at low-medium speed until thoroughly combined. Immediately pour over cooled brownies and level with an offset spatula.  If desired, place pretzels on top of fudge.  Let fudge set before cutting (the fridge helps this go faster!)

Serve same day (salted pretzels will get stale overtime!).  If the brownies are going to sit out awhile, I suggest chocolate covered pretzels.

 These brownies are super rich, so make sure to cut them into bite size (one pretzel on each piece!). If you don't, you may really go into a sugar coma with chocolate sweats!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Favorite Things - Round Two

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the past several weeks (and months)!

receiving new baking tools in the mail makes any day better!

organic cherry tomatoes from the garden at work

sushi dates with my sister

I don't think the captain knows I took this picture. There is just something about this photo that I really love.

happy sunflowers

friday night champange with some of my favorite people

friday night bocce ball - italian girls always win.

foggy sf mornings

cowboy boots & line dancing

I LOVE hydrangeas. These ones lasted for three weeks!

5am morning walks.

cool down. on the left, the heat in Sacramento. one the right, the cooling temps of the bay area.

mini poly reunion in Sausalito with two amazing people at Poggio

pool time + my new guilty pleasure addiction. have you read it?

Round three - coming soon!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How to Make the Perfect Brown Rice

This is seriously the best and most perfect way to make brown rice. I'll be honest, I was a little hesitant at first, but let me just say, the rice came out light, fluffy and perfectly cooked. Once you try this technique, you won't go back to your old ways (a rice cooker is great, but it takes almost two hours to make brown rice in it! Who has two hours to wait for rice? Not me.).

Brown rice is a great grain. If you are eating white rice, stop, and switch to brown! I know it sounds scary, especially if you love white rice, but I promise you will love brown just as much once you try it. Brown rice is a whole grain rice with a slightly nutty taste and the best part, it's has more fiber than white rice, contains essential fatty acids and is the only grain with vitamin E.  Brown rice does take a bit longer to cook, but with the following technique, you won't even notice. Here's how you do it.

It's simple - rinse rice, boil water, place rice in water, stir, cover and boil for 30 minutes, drain and then place in the pot (no heat) and let steam for another 20 minutes. Fluff and enjoy! The regular way of cooking brown rice often turns out mushy rice or event burn rice (gross!). This method will always give you perfect brown rice, guaranteed! It's great to make a big batch of this rice and keep it on stock for the week. One 1/2 cup of brown rice is 110 calories and has 3 grams of fiber - it's a great addition to any meal. Plus, just wait til I show you how I use the left over rice to make a healthy salmon fried rice. It's to die for delicious!

rinsing the rice

I accidentally added the rice right to the 8 cups of water before boiling. It still turned out just perfect!

be careful, it may boil over!

about to drain

the rice up close and personal

draining the rice

perfectly cooked rice!

 The Perfect Brown Rice (

1 cup natural brown rice (I used long grain)
8 cups cold water
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Rinse the rice with cold water for 30 seconds and then drain the water. Bring the 8 cups of water and salt to a boil over high heat in a large heavy pot with a tight fitting lid. When the water is boiling add the rice, stir and partially cover (don't cover complete or it will spill over) and cook on medium-high heat for 30 minutes. 
Drain the rice in strainer, then quickly return to the pot and cover tightly for 20 minutes so the steam finishes cooking the rice. Uncover the rice and fluff with a fork.

Makes about 3 1/2 cups, cooked. 

Move over rice cooker, there is a new method in town!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hand & Body Scrubs

This post is a little something different. I need to spice it up once in awhile to keep you on your toes and to keep you guessing about what's coming next. Just don't try to eat these scrubs, okay? Not that any of you will, but I just have to put it out there. 

These scrubs are great. One is a salt body scrub made with almond oil and citrus zest. The other is a sugar scrub made with brown sugar, almond oil, almond meal and oatmeal. See, I told you they sound good enough to eat! These scrubs are both excellent for exfoliation and are great moisturizers for your body. Plus, it's even amazing to use on your hands and feet (hello mani/pedi!). Just be careful to not use them on your face. For one, there is almond oil in them and I can't imagine that would be good if you are trying to avoid breakouts. Secondly, the scrub might be just a little rough on your sensitive face skin. 

Keep a jar of scrub in your shower or even by your kitchen sink. After few days of washing dishes, your hands will thank you for this! Even better, these scrubs take minutes to put together and they make great homemade gifts too. What person wouldn't like a homemade body scrub? I know I would!

almond oil + salt + zest

if you don't have a microplane, get one.

all mixed together and ready for a jar!

Citrus Salt Scrub (a Paula Deen recipe)

1/2 cup sea salt
1/2 cup sweet almond oil (can substitute light olive oil or vegetable oil)
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon orange zest

In a medium dry bowl, combine all ingredients making sure to not let any water touch them as it will dissolve the salt. Pour mixture into an airtight container and store in a cool dry place. 

To use: Just before showering, swirl ingredients together with your fingertips to mix. Clean body completely and just before exiting shower, apply Citrus Salt Body Scrub to body in a firm circular scrubbing motion with hands or a soft washcloth. Rinse off the mixture and pat body dry with a clean towel.

If you can't find almond meal, just grind up some almonds until they are almost powder like.

grind up the oats

that looks about right

mix everything together. see, I told you this was easy.

use any jars you have to store them. I like mason jars!

Brown Sugar Body Scrub (

1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup ground oatmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup almond oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Small containers with lids

Combine all ingredients using a spatula in a large bowl until well blended. Mix should have a paste like texture. If it is too dry add more oil a few drops at a time. Conversely, if it is too oily add more dry ingredients until you reach the desired consistency. Keep stored in tightly sealed jars. May need to mix before use if ingredients settle.

To use, apply to wet skin in a circular motion concentrating on dry patches and rough areas of your skin. Avoid using the scrub on sensitive areas, in cuts or on skin that is irritated or sunburned. Thoroughly rinse with warm water.

 Bet you didn't know it was that easy to make a homemade scrub, now did you?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Skinny Sausage Stuffed Zucchini

I know what you are thinking - how can something be called skinny if it's 1. stuffed and 2. stuffed with sausage. You are right. Most things you think of that are stuffed with sausage are usually loaded with calories and fat, but this recipe will knock that theory out of the park. Let me tell you why. Are you ready? Let's go!

With all the summer produce available this time of the year, it's hard to not want to make something fresh, with veggies and make it taste totally delicious. I ran across this recipe a couple of weeks ago and knew it was something I just had to make - sausage stuffed zucchini coated in fresh tomato sauce and ooey gooey cheese. Is your mouth watering yet? Mine is. As good as they sound, want to guess how many calories are in one fully loaded zucchini boat? Just guess. Bet you will be way wrong. Waaaaay wrong. Did you guess yet? 175! Can you believe it? I sure couldn't, especially after I tasted them. They are so ooberly delicious. I don't use ooberly that often, so you know it must be good.

The two things that make this skinny dish "skinny" and out of this world delicious is Italian chicken sausage and not using rice as filler and using the scooped out zucchini as part of the filling instead! How did I never think of finding a way to use the scooped out zucchini? Seems like such a waste to throw it away, doesn't it? Plus, you get all the added vegetable goodness right in the middle (and no one will ever know!). Fresh zucchini + lean Italian chicken sausage + covered in marinara sauce & cheese. How can you go wrong?

ps. you can even make this a day or two ahead of time. Just prep everything and then cover and place in the fridge until you are ready to bake. It couldn't get easier to have an amazingly delicious and healthy meal on your table!

delicious ingredients

my mom's tip - scoring zucchini like in the picture makes it much easier to scoop (you don't scoop too much!)

scooped zuchs

browning the sausage and waiting for the water to boil


don't forget to add in the zucchini innards!

stuffed zucchini

cover with sauce and cheese!

ooey gooey

dinner is served

Skinny Sausage Stuffed Zucchini (slightly adapted

2 cups marinara sauce (I used the kind from Trader Joes in a big can -see ingredient picture above)
4 medium zucchini
1 tsp oil
1/2 small onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
14 oz lean Italian chicken sausage, removed from casing (I used the chicken sausage from Trader Joes)
1/2 cup part skim shredded mozzarella
8 tsp grated Parmesan cheese


Bring a large pot of water to boil. Preheat oven to 400°. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise and using a spoon or melon baller, scoop out flesh, leaving 1/4" thick. Chop the scooped out flesh of the zucchini in small pieces and set aside.

Drop zucchini halves in boiling water and cook 1 minute. Remove from water. Place 1/4 cup of sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 12" baking dish, and place zucchini halves cut side up.

In a large saute pan, brown sausage, breaking up as it cooks into smaller pieces until browned; set aside. Heat oil and add onion, garlic and bell pepper. Cook on a medium-low heat for about 2-3 minutes, until onions are translucent. Add chopped zucchini, season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes and cook about 2-3 minutes. Combine with sausage and cook a few more minutes. Using a spoon, fill each hollowed zucchini with 1/3 cup cooked sausage, pressing firmly. Cover all of the zucchini with the remaining sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese. Cover with foil and bake 35 minutes until cheese is melted and zucchini is cooked through. 

Serving suggestion - one stuffed zucchini (175 calories) , 1/2 cup brown rice (100 calories)  and a small side salad!


Monday, August 6, 2012

Tomato & Avocado Salad

This salad is simple, fresh and is a great use of homegrown or farm fresh tomatoes. My mom and I were craving a fresh and healthy dinner a couple of weeks ago and this was just something that came to mind at the last minute. I am glad it did though. It was the perfect side dish to accompany our light crab cakes from Whole Foods. Have you ever had them? If not, you are missing out. They are a bit pricy (I think they even went up a bit since I last bought them), but totally worth the $7 a crab cake. Bonus  - they are about 300 calories each and cooking them at home limits the oil that most restaurants use to fry them in! Check them out.

Enough about crabby cakes. Back to tomato and avocado. I found the best local tomatoes at a little farm stand on the way to Davis, CA and have been obsessed with them ever since. They come in a pack of three or four for under $2. Total bargain and if you ask me, they are almost as good as the muy expensive heirlooms at Whole Foods. Sorry Whole Foods. These farm stand tomatoes actually taste like tomatoes! You know how some tomatoes don't taste like anything? Ya, those are not very good. Every time I drive by the little fruit and veggie stand, I have to stop and get some. They are good in salad, good for sandwiches, and good straight up with a little salt and pepper. With a few of these sitting on the counter and with avocados staring at me in the face, I knew I had to make something. I first thought caprese salad (tomato, mozzarella cheese and basil), but that wouldn't work. I wanted avocado too. Then I though, why not a layered salad with salt and pepper and fresh lemon.  Sounds delish, right? Then, I rummaged through the fridge and found some fresh crumbled goat cheese and said, why not. I put goat cheese on my normal salads, why not this one. If you don't like it, you can leave it off. You should really try it though. It just adds that little something something.

so fresh, so delicious!
Tomato & Avocado Salad 

Feeds about 3 people

2 medium tomatoes, sliced
1 avocado (ripe), slice
Salt & Pepper to taste
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese

Slice tomato and avocado in about the same thickness. Layer tomato, avocado, tomato, and avocado until no slices remain. Top with lemon juice and then salt and pepper to taste. Add goat cheese on top and enjoy!

If you are really anti goat cheese, try some fresh grated parmesan. I bet that would be great too!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Toasted Almond & Candied Cherry Ice Cream

Candied cherries + toasted almonds + cream = the most addictive ice cream ever.  I am not going to lie, this ice cream does take some work, but it's not hard. The only bad thing is that it just means it will take a little longer for you to enjoy. But, don't let that scare you away from trying this, okay? It's so worth the wait and the flavor is unlike anything you've ever had. You can do everything in steps, so it won't be overwhelming. That's what I did and it was a piece of cake. Or a scoop of ice cream. That was a bad joke. Sorry.

Let me tell you how to do this step by step.

Step One - Candy cherries. Take fresh or frozen cherries (if fresh, make sure to pit them!) and boil them in a lemon, water and sugar mixture for about 25 minutes. Stir a few times to make sure it's not sticking ensuring that once they are done, the syrup is like maple syrup -sticky and thick. Once they are ready, drain the cherries for an hour and then chop and place in the fridge until ready to use. You can do this up to a few days before (even up to a week or so!). See that wasn't so bad. Just don't try to taste the candied cherries right out of the pan. You will burn your mouth. I don't speak from experience, but I know someone out there won't be willing to resist trying them. I don't want you to go to the ER. I've been there, it's not fun. Not for a burn tongue though.

Step Two - Make the almond milk. Combine milk, sugar, cream and chopped almonds and bring to a medium heat. Turn off the heat and then let steep for an hour. After an hour, strain the milk and squeeze the almonds to get out as much of that flavor as you can. I know it sounds strange, but make sure you don't forget to squeeze them! You can do this ahead too. Just make sure to keep in the fridge after.

Step Three - Make the custard. Warm up the almond milk and place the remaining cream in a bowl (this is where the custard mixture will go to cool). While you are warming up the milk, whisk together the eggs and then slowly add them to the milk, making sure you continue to stir. You do not want scrambled egg ice cream. Keep whisking until the mixture is nice and thick - about 10 minutes give or take. Once cool, strain over the cream (if there are scrambled eggs in there, this will get rid of them). Add in the extract and amaretto (optional, but I think it's a must and it's my special ingredient!) and then let cool in fridge overnight. You can do this ahead a day or two too. 

All of that wasn't so bad, right? I know there are a lot of steps, but stay with me here. We are almost there. Promise!

Step Four - Make the ice cream! Freeze ice cream in an ice cream maker until nice and thick (about 8-10 minutes, but keep an eye on it, every ice cream machine is a bit different). During the last few minutes, add in the additional chopped almonds. Once the ice cream is ready, take out of the machine and fold in the chopped cherries. Place in a freezer-safe container and freeze overnight or for at least six hours.

Phew, that was a lot of steps, but like I said earlier, this ice cream is SO worth it. The cherries give it this sweet and tangy bite, the almonds give it great crunch and the almond extract and amaretto give it this sweet and nutty flavor that just can not be beat. You must try it. It's the perfect summer scoop.

yummy ingredients

candying the cherries

heating up the almond milk

ready to add in the yolks to the warmed milk

straining the custard into the cream

churning ice cream

adding in the almonds

folding in the cherries!

we had our ice cream with berry cornbread cobbler. YUM.

Toasted Almond and Candied Cherry Ice Cream (slightly adapted from

Yield: 1½ quarts
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2 cups heavy cream, divided
2 cups whole almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped, divided
5 large egg yolks
¼ teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup amaretto, optional. (I used 1/4 cup, but you can use as little or as much as you want. Just not too much or the mixture will not freeze properly).
1 cup Candied Cherries (recipe follows), coarsely chopped

Warm the milk, sugar, salt and 1 cup of the cream in a medium saucepan. Finely chop 1 cup of the almonds and add them to the warm milk. Cover, remove from the heat, and let steep at room temperature for 1 hour. 

Strain the almond-infused milk into a separate medium saucepan. Press with a spatula or squeeze with your hands to extract as much flavor from the almonds as possible. Discard the almonds. Rewarm the almond-infused milk. Pour the remaining 1 cup cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Stir in the almond extract and amaretto and cool in fridge overnight or until fully chilled. Once completely cooled, freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, add the remaining 1 cup chopped almonds. When you remove the ice cream from the machine, fold in the chopped cherries.

Candied Cherries
1 pound cherries, fresh or frozen
1½ cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 drop almond extract

Remove the stems and pit the cherries. Heat the cherries, water, sugar and lemon juice in a large, nonreactive saucepan or skillet until the liquid starts to boil. Turn down the heat to a low boil and cook the cherries for 25 minutes, stirring frequently during the last 10 minutes of cooking to make sure they are cooking evenly and not sticking. Once the syrup is reduced to the consistency of maple syrup, remove the pan from the heat, add the almond extract, and let the cherries cool in their syrup. Drain the cherries in a strainer for about 1 hour. Coarsely chop the drained cherries and fold them into the ice cream as you remove it from the machine. 

Warning - this ice cream may be addictive. My mom tried one bite and then immediately asked for more. I am not saying how much she ate, but let's just say, she loved it. There is something about cherries and almonds together.