Cocoa Brownies

Cocoa Brownies

I love brownies. Cakey or fudgey, it doesn't matter. Just give me that dark chocolatey goodness and let me be happy. But the perfect brownie recipe was elusive. Some came out too flaky, others weren't very thick. There were always box mixes, but come on. It's not that hard to throw things in a stand mixer and a box mix always felt like cheating. (Plus, it's not as good as what I can make myself.)

Finally, I found it. I should have guessed it would be from Alton Brown, one of my favorite and most trusted chefs ever. Once I made this recipe, I decided further research was really no longer necessary: this became my go-to brownie recipe. I would periodically have affairs, trying out different brownie recipes because they sounded interesting, but I always came back to this one. It's decadent, fudgey and flakey, and definitely needs a cold glass of milk to wash it down.

So when I was asked to provide some desserts for my step-brother's wedding, this went on the list without question. I knew the bride had a serious thing for chocolate and this was the most decadent, fast dessert I knew I could pull off. I hoped I'd get to take some home, but the guests snapped them up to take with them.

I love these brownies, and I hope you love them too.

Cocoa Brownies [printable recipe]

From Alton Brown (<3)
Makes few, some, or a lot -- depending on how you slice it.

  • Soft butter, for greasing the pan
  • Flour, for dusting the buttered pan
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar, sifted
  • 1 cup brown sugar, sifted
  • 8 ounces melted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups cocoa, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup flour, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan or lay a sheet of parchment in the pan, leaving the sides high enough to grab as a handle.

In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the eggs at medium speed until fluffy and light yellow. Switch to the beating blade. Add both sugars. Add remaining ingredients, and mix to combine.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 45 minutes. Check for doneness with the tried-and-true toothpick method: a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan should come out clean. When it's done, remove to a rack to cool for about 5 minutes, then lift the parchment out of the pan and allow the brownies to cool on the rack. Resist the temptation to cut into it until it's mostly cool.

Burkānu salāti

Burkānu salāti

Burkānu salāti [printable recipe]

2 - 4 porcijas

  • 2 - 3 rīvēti burkāni
  • 2 sasmalcinātas ķiploku daiviņas
  • sāls
  • 2 daļas skābā krējuma
  • 1 daļa majonēzes

Mazā bļodā sajauc burkānus, ķiplokus un sāli. Pievieno krējumu un majonēzi līdz maisījums sasniedz vēlamo konsistenci. Atdzesē vismaz pusstundu.

Carrot Salad

Burkānu salāti

This week, I'm featuring a Latvian recipe that my husband's family introduced me to.

I admit, this is a strange one. It doesn't seem as if it'd be good, but that's where the assumption is wrong: this has become one of my favorite side salads. It's best paired with strong flavors, like red wine sausage or marinated pork tenderloin. I also try to make this first when preparing dinner so that it can rest in the fridge and blend the flavors.

Carrot Salad [printable recipe] [latviski]

Serves 2 to 4

2 - 3 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely grated 2 medium cloves garlic, crushed (to taste, this will make a mild salad) salt 2 part sour cream1 1 parts mayo1

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving.


  1. I can't give an accurate amount of how much sour cream and mayo I use since it's different depending on what I feel like and how juicy the carrots and garlic are. However, I almost always use a 2:1 ratio of sour cream to mayo. Make this like any other potato or pasta salad - add enough of the wet stuff to make it to your taste.

Wedding Cookies

Wedding Cookies

I've seen them called Mexican Wedding Cookies and Italian Wedding Cookies. Honestly, I don't really know how "traditional" these little cookies are, but I do know they came out quite well. It's an easy, basic recipe, but as with many recipes calling for only a few ingredients, the quality of the ingredients you use will stand out.

Using powdered or confectioners' sugar always reminds me of this night in Liepāja. I wanted to use powdered sugar to sift over some cookies, but it's not available there. My husband asked me to explain what is is: fluffy, extremely finely ground sugar, often mixed with a bit of cornstarch (to prevent caking), then suggested running some sugar through his coffee grinder. Et voila! Powdered sugar! As fine as I could want and as much as I needed. So if you don't have some in the cupboard, don't despair. Just pulverize some regular sugar in a coffee grinder and enjoy.

Someone's Traditional Wedding Cookies, Maybe [printable recipe]

Adapted from Paula Deen
Makes approximately 30 cookies

  • 2 sticks (1/2 pound, 1 cup) butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup powdered or confectioners sugar, plus 1 cup for coating
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt2
  • 1 cup toasted pecans3, finely chopped

Cream butter and 1/2 cup sugar together until smooth and fluffy. Add vanilla and begin adding the flour gradually. Once flour is fully incorporated, add toasted pecan bits on the lowest speed of your mixer or use a spatula.

The dough should be very stiff and not very sticky. Begin preheating oven to 275F. Chill for 30 minutes.

Shape about a tablespoon's worth of dough into a crescent moon shape and place onto a lined cookie sheet. These don't spread very much, so they can be placed about one inch apart. Bake for 40 minutes.

Remove to a rack and as soon as they are cool enough to handle, roll them around in the remaining cup of confectioners' sugar. Alternatively, put the sugar into a baggie and toss the cookies in. Fast and easy! Replace them on the racks and continue to cool. Store in an airtight container or freeze.


  1. I made these for my step-brother's wedding. They were the most popular dessert item!
  2. The original recipe I used didn't have any salt whatsoever in it. It tasted flat to me, so I added a scant teaspoon of kosher salt, which perked it up.
  3. To toast nuts quickly, place a handful into a small microwave-safe bowl and zap em for about 2 - 3 minutes total, stirring and checking every 30 - 45 seconds. Toasted nuts will darken a bit and smell lovely, so it's easy to know they're done.

Make-Your-Own Taco Seasoning (Hot and Mild From Scratch)

Taco Seasoning - Ready to use

Now that we have a freezer, we can finally buy meat in bulk when it goes on sale and freeze it in quantities appropriate for individual meals. We froze most of it plain, cooked some up with grated carrot and onion for fast marinara sauces and stuffings, and turned the rest into taco meat.

While you can buy a packet of taco seasoning at the store, it's really a shame because of how cheap and easy it is to make your own at home, provided you have a well-stocked spice cabinet. (I, er, tend to collect spices. It's sad.)

This is one we put together today for some of our beef. I've written our version up as the Hot and Spicy! but I've also included a Mild and Tasty! version that uses spices most common to the average cupboard.

Taco Seasoning

Spicy Taco Seasoning [printable recipe]

Makes enough to season 1 pound of ground meat (or, the same as 1 packet)

  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp onion powder or granulated onion
  • 1 tsp garlic powder or granulated garlic
  • 1 tsp pasilla chile powder
  • 1 tsp ancho chile powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp Hungarian hot paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Combine all in a small dish.

To use: Brown one pound of ground meat and drain off any fat. Stir in spice mix and 3/4 cup water. Cook until liquid is mostly gone.

Mild Taco Seasoning [printable recipe]

Makes enough to season 1 pound of ground meat (or, the same as 1 packet)

  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp onion powder or granulated onion
  • 1 tsp garlic powder or granulated garlic
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp chile powder
  • 2 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (optional, leave out for mild)

Combine all in a small dish.

To use: Brown one pound of ground meat and drain off any fat. Stir in spice mix and 3/4 cup water. Cook until liquid is mostly gone.


  1. I happened to pick up a couple of different chile powders at the local Mexican grocery, which is why I used both ancho and pasilla. (Always, always look in the Mexican section of your grocery, if they have one, for cheap, fresh, and good spices!)
  2. We love paprika. We have four different types in the cupboard! My favorite is the smoked paprika because it's so mellow and tasty.

From Scratch: Vegetable Stock

Rosemary Vegetable Stock

The latest issue of Cuisine at Home had some great recipes for different stocks, including a vegetable version. Veggie stocks are one stock I almost never have on-hand because I so rarely use them, but a recipe I would be making called for a few cups of the stuff. Besides, we just bought ourselves a chest freezer and it's still mostly empty! It needs some good homemade stock to help fill it up.

Bowls of Veggie Stock

Veggie stock is a fast stock to throw together with a cooking time of no more than 2 hours (for this recipe, anyway). It will work with a multitude of combinations of different vegetables, so take my pick with a grain of salt. It freezes well, especially if you portion it into ice cube trays or 1 cup containers for easy defrosting later.

Having a large fine sieve and a container big enough to hold the quantity of stock is essential here. I use a large handled sieve I picked up at Ikea and a 4 qt food service bin I found at a restaurant supply house. (You can see this in the photo below. I love these, they're expensive but incredibly sturdy.)

Straining Stock

I can't believe I haven't done this sooner! It's strong and full of flavor. Plus I only spent about 10 minutes chopping up some veggies and about 90 minutes simmering (with only occasional checks). Now I'm seriously considering making other stocks and there was this post that I saw on veal reductions that looked seriously yummy. Winter's coming up, after all, and having a pot of soup on the burner is never a bad thing then.

Rosemary Vegetable Stock [printable recipe]

Adapted from Cuisine at Home, October 2009
Makes about 12 cups

  • 1 large white onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large leek, white and green parts both, washed well and coarsely chopped
  • 1 small turnip, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 - 3 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, with or without leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into halves
  • 1/2 bunch fresh parsley
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp whole peppercorns
  • cold water

Put everything into a stockpot (at least 6 qt) and add water to cover veggies by 1 inch. Bring to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes to an hour. Skim off any impurities.

Strain stock through a large, fine-mesh sieve into a large container and discard vegetables. Cool and refrigerate or freeze.


  1. I recommend not salting the stock since it can throw off the balance of the meal you use it in. For instance, you might want to reduce a cup for a sauce which would result in an over-salted sauce.

Maltās gaļas mērce

Maltās gaļas mērce

Maltās gaļas mērce [printable recipe]

Adaptēts no "Latviešu ēdieni" receptes
2 porcijas

  • 140 g sakapātu sīpolu
  • 3 - 4 sasmalcinātas ķiploku daiviņas
  • 100 g rīvētu burkānu
  • 200 g maltas liellopu gaļas
  • 2.5 ml paprikas pulvera
  • 1.25 ml čili pulvera
  • 15 ml sojas mērce
  • 45 ml sarkanvīna
  • 250 ml liellopu buljona
  • 15 ml miltu
  • 60 g skāba krējuma
  • sāls un pipari
  • eļļa

Viegli apbrūnini sīpolus, burkānus un ķiplokus. Pievieno liellopu gaļu, paprikas pulveri, čili pulveri, kā arī sāli un piparus pēc garšas. Cep līdz gaļa ir gatava.

Pārkaisi ar kviešu miltiem un labi samaisi. Pievieno sarkanvīnu, sojas mērci, buljonu un krējumu. Vāri apmēram 10 - 15 minūtes, līdz mērce sabiezē.

Pēc vēlēšanās pārkaisi ar pētersīļiem vai sasmalcinātiem lokiem. Pasniedz ar vārītiem kartupeļiem, griķiem vai rīsiem.

Minced-meat sauce

Maltās gaļas mērce

Every week I make one recipe from Latviešu ēdieni.

When I was in Latvia in 2008, I came down with the flu just a couple of days prior to our flying back to the States (about a 36 hour trip involving three connections). Not just any flu, as far as I was concerned, but the Worst Flu In the World.

I've had stomach flu before (who hasn't?) and I've had some bad times, but this time was different. I became very, very sick. My mother-in-law, a doctor, became very, very concerned and decided, after 24 hours passed with my getting steadily worse, it was time to pull out the big guns if I was going to have any chance of making my flight -- she had me hospitalized at the main hospital just outside the Liepāja city limits.

After I'd been given a few rounds of saline, a few painkillers and some anti-nausea medication, the nurse came around with the dinner cart. Would I like to try? The drugs were slowly taking effect and I was hungry enough to eat a horse. I nodded eagerly and the nurse handed me a plate mounded high with mashed potatoes and a minced meat sauce.

I looked at it in confusion; traditional American sick food consists of stuff like jello and broth, maybe toast or a little bit of noodles if you're really good, not mashed potatoes and gravy. My stomach rumbled as I inhaled the heavenly scent of sauteed beef. I took a bite tentatively, expecting the worst; this was a hospital, after all. Surprisingly, it tasted great! But the only way I can describe it was that it tasted like comfort. Soft, warm, beefy and oh-so-good. I had to be careful, not eat too fast, nor too much. I managed half, then laid back, satiated and happy.

I'll spare you the details of what happened afterwards. Suffice it to say, the drugs hadn't kicked in enough and it would be another 18 hours before I could eat solid food again. I could also talk your ear off about the fantastic care I received from Latvia's socialised medical system, the caring staff, all for less that I would have spent on one office visit as one of the many uninsured Americans in my country. But this is a food blog, not a political blog.

At long last, we had this sauce again. This version is considerably heartier than what I had in the hospital, but that's not really a surprise, now is it? Once again, it tasted like comfort. To me, its like eating the feeling of my favorite foods; if the essence of what makes a food a comfort was distilled, it would taste like this.

It's not a dish for summer, but for fall through spring, it's divine. I served it over potatoes, but it'll go well with nearly anything from rice to buckwheat to couscous. Serve it with a salad for a complete meal.

Maltās gaļas mērce -- Minced-meat sauce [printable recipe] [latviski]

Adapted from Latviešu ēdieni
Serves 2

  • 140 g onion, minced
  • 3 - 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 100 g carrot, grated
  • 200 g ground beef
  • 50 g bacon (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 chile powder
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp red wine
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 1/4 c (60 g) sour cream
  • salt, pepper

Saute bacon in a large pan over moderate heat, if using, until fat renders, otherwise, use 1 tbsp olive oil and proceed. Saute onion, carrot and garlic until lightly browned. Add ground beef, paprika, chile powder, salt and pepper. cooking until the beef is nicely browned. (If you're using a particularly fatty meat, you might need to drain off some fat.)

Clear a space in the middle and add flour, cooking it in the fat (as in making a golden roux). Pour in the wine, soy sauce and stock, mixing everything up well. Add sour cream and stir well. Let simmer for 10 - 15 minutes, until it's as thick as you want it and the flavors have combined. Taste, adjust seasoning if needed.


  1. The original recipe called for smoked bacon which was rendered down and the rest of the ingredients sauteed in the fat, but I forgot to buy some bacon ends at the store today. Add some if you wish, though it doesn't really require it.

Veggie Burgers

Veggie Burger

One day, I happened by a selection of Boca's garlic veggie burgers on clearance at the grocery. I'd always wanted to try a veggie or bean burger, so this seemed like a good way to start off. It wasn't bad, fairly flat and bland and much like any other fully-cooked, heat-and-eat burger you'd find in the freezer. Clearly, my best bet for a good veggie burger would be to make it myself.

But time passed, as time does, until I got a batch of veggie burgers from a friend who decided to try making Guy Fieri's recipe. She didn't like them very much (muttering something about too much bean) but asked if I wanted to try them anyway. Never one to turn down free food, I fried one up for dinner that night and was immediately hooked.

For an easy, fast vegetarian dinner, these can't be beat. I doubled the recipe so I didn't have random half cans of beans hanging around the fridge and so I'd get about four dinners for two out of 20 minutes work. This is one of my "emergency" meals -- meals I can pull out of the freezer and get dinner on the table in under 30 minutes with a minimum of fuss and muss. And if you've got a diehard carnivore in your life, don't worry -- these puppies taste great and even better with a couple of slices of bacon on top.

Veggie Burgers [printable recipe]

Adapted from "Morgan's Veggie Patties" by Guy Fieri, Food Network
Makes 8 1/4 lb patties

  • 2 ounces olive oil
  • 1/3 medium red onion, minced
  • 1/4 cup minced black olives
  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced (fresh or roasted)
  • 1/2 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 5 - 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 14 oz can black beans, drained
  • 1 14 oz can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
  • 1 14 oz can white cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 tsp crushed red chili flakes
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 egg, beaten

Over moderate heat, saute raw vegetables (not beans) in 1 oz olive oil until browned on the edges.

In a large bowl, mix cooked veggies with beans and spices. Add in dry ingredients and egg, mixing thoroughly. Form into patties and chill for 30 minutes before cooking. Patties can be wrapped in plastic and frozen too, just defrost them in the fridge first.

To cook, add an ounce of olive oil and fry patties for 2 - 3 minutes per side.

My favorite way to serve these: Top with a generous sprinkling of crumbled feta or chevre and sliced red onion, place on a toasted foccacia or ciabatta bun with a schmear of garlic sauce or garlic aioli.


  1. I'm always varying the beans I use for this recipe. If I have enough beans from the pot I cooked up earlier in the week, I often use those. Otherwise, I pick out whatever looks good in cans at the store -- you can't go wrong, really.
  2. If you want to use dried beans, use 1 1/2 cups total of dried beans.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

I love chocolate chip cookies, they're my favorite cookie. I grew up making batches of these, reading the recipe right off the Nestle bag for Toll House cookies. But it wasn't until I watched Alton Brown's Good Eats episode on these popular cookies that I discovered there was an entire world of chemistry behind my favorite little indulgence. Whether or not you melt the butter, use butter-flavored shortening, adjust the ratio of brown to white sugar, even the protein count of the flour you choose.. all of it can change this cookie from thin and crispy to puffy or chewy.

I wanted a thick, chewy cookie for the cookie plate at the wedding, so I went with a slightly modified version of Alton's "The Chewy". I'm out of bread flour, which he included because the higher protein count of bread flour contributes to the texture, so instead I used a blend of whole wheat and all-purpose to bring the protein count up. (And also because I thought it might contribute an interesting flavor.)

I found that adding the whole wheat gave the cookie more body and decreased some of the sweetness. This made my husband happy since many American desserts are much too sweet for him. I liked the thick, chewy texture and the subtler flavor -- this is the perfect cookie for dunking in cold milk.

Cookie with Milk

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies [printable recipe]

Adapted from Alton Brown, Food Network
Makes approximately 40 cookies

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Melt butter and add to the work bowl of your mixer. Add sugar and brown sugar, cream together1 on medium speed. Add egg, egg yolk, milk and vanilla, mixing until thoroughly combined. Slowly add flour, salt and baking soda2 at a low speed and continue to mix until everything is thoroughly combined. Scrape down sides as needed. Stir in chocolate chips (or dump them in while on the lowest speed).

Chill dough for an hour or two, then preheat oven to 375F. Portion out 1 ounce cookie balls onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, placing cookies about 2" apart. Bake for 12 - 14 minutes until the edges turn golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool completely before storing in an air-tight container.


  1. "Cream together" means to beat the sugars and butter at moderate speed until the mixture is fluffy.
  2. I know all the cookie recipes lately call for sifting together the dry ingredients. I still don't do it, instead adding dry ingredients periodically and relying on my mixer to do the heavy lifting. While sifting is fast and easy in a food processor, I still have to wash an extra appliance, and if not, an extra sieve -- too much for this cook.