Category Archives: Cooking

Search for the Best Brownies


In the past few years I’ve developed a real disdain for anything pre-packaged and sold in the store that I can cook or bake at home. If anyone tells you a story about me yelling out “LITTLE DEBBIE!” in a demonic voice in the grocery store as if Twinkies were my lifeblood… well… that’s a lie.

YOU CAN’T MAKE A TWINKIE AT HOME PEOPLE IT’S HARD.

Ahem.

As I was saying, if I can make it from scratch, I try. Cakes, mayonnaise, salad dressing, pie crust, tomato sauce. But some things just don’t taste the same as store bought. Like brownies. Few things taste as ooey-gooey delicious as brownies from the box. “You had brownie mix?!” the BF exclaimed Sunday night. “No… I made these from scratch.” Crestfallen. “Oh.”

But it’s true. They are not the same. And it is my eternal challenge to find a homemade brownie that tastes the same (or dare I say, better?) than a boxed brownie. The below recipe is as close as I’ve ever gotten. While not quite Duncan Hines, these babies are gooooo-ood, and they disappeared into happy bellies in a matter of minutes.

On the menu:
Lauren’s Almost-from-a-box-but-not-quite brownies

1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together vegetable oil, white sugar, eggs and vanilla. Add cocoa powder, flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix well until incorporated. Pour batter into greased 8 x 8 baking dish.

Bake for 20 – 27 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting.

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Cacio e Pepe

Someone recently asked for more commentary in my posts. This person may or may not The BF. No matter. A reader’s wish is my command!

One Saturday night I met my friend Celeste for dinner and we had no reservations. I don’t know if people outside of New York City realize what this means, but here in the Big Apple, that is dinner suicide. So we popped from restaurant to restaurant, hoping for an opening somewhere and finding nothing, except for Matthew Broderick at Morandi in the West Village. I bet Ferris Bueller doesn’t need a rez.

So finally, both of us having later plans, we found a little Italian spot and sat at the bar with glasses of wine and bowls of pasta and I tasted, for the first time ever, cacio e pepe. Let me break it down for ya: it’s noodles with butter, cheese, and pepper. It’s not rocket science. But holy… holy mackerel. I became obsessed.

So tonight I needed a little bit of my favorite. That… and I’m poor and had all the ingredients in my fridge. Hey rustic Italian!

On the menu:
Cacio e pepe
Serves 2 (…or 1)

6 oz. thin spaghetti
3 Tbsp butter, divided
2 tsp fresh cracked pepper
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated (WARNING: do not use the already-grated cheese you buy in a green shaker – that’s gross)

Boil salted water for pasta. In a non-stick pan, melt 2 Tbsp of butter. Add pepper and stir constantly for one minute. Add half a cup of pasta water to the pan and bring heat to a simmer. Once at a simmer, reduce heat to low and add cooked pasta. Add remaining tablespoon of butter and cheese and toss together with tongs until a thick sauce is formed, about 7 minutes.

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Mishmash

My first thought for dinner last night was, “Takeout.” Then I remembered my withering bank account. And my waistline. And my cholesterol.

My second thought was leftovers! I rummaged through the refrigerator, and since I was only cooking for one, decided I’d throw what I had into a pan and see what happened. Turns out… not so bad.

[Editor’s note: have you guys noticed that I love bacon? And cream? And that I will literally find any way that I can to incorporate bacon and cream into everything I eat? So much for that cholesterol.]

Spinach with bacon

On the menu:
Couscous with spinach, bacon, and almonds
Serves 4 as a side, 2 as a meal

1 cup couscous
1 tsp salt
1 cup water
2 strips of turkey bacon, cooked to crispy
1 Tbsp butter
1 cup spinach, frozen or fresh
1 tsp garlic salt
1 Tbsp heavy cream
1/4 cup slivered almonds

Add water and salt to a medium saucepan and turn to high heat. While you’re waiting for the water to boil, add butter to the skillet you cooked the bacon in and turn the heat to medium/low. Once the butter is melted, add the spinach.

(This is the time you’ll want to add the couscous. Add couscous to boiling water, stir immediately, turn off heat and let sit covered for 4 minutes).

Cook spinach until it is wilted and warmed up. Add garlic salt. Add cream and mix until incorporated. Add spinach to the couscous and stir. Add almonds and serve.

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Simple Dish

Sometimes you find yourself with too much squash. Don’t you hate that? It’s what some might call a “First World Problem.” Along the same lines as, “Someone scratched my Porsche in the parking lot of Nobu” and “The Pellegrino is flat.” Well, kids, I am really good at turning lemons into lemonade. Seriously, it’s just juice, sugar, and water… it’s not hard. I’m also really good at turning a surplus of something into a delicious dish!

On the menu:
Zucchini (or Mexican squash!) with Ricotta
Serves 2

1 large squash (yellow squash, green squash, zucchini, Mexican squash, whatever your heart desires)
2 Tbsp ricotta
1/4 cup mozzarella, shredded
2 Tbsp parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp Panko breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Slice squash in half and scrape out seeds with a spoon. Lay skin side down on a baking dish. Mix together cheeses, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Fill each half of the squash with ricotta mixture and top with breadcrumbs. Bake for 20 minutes.

This dish is perfect as a side dish, appetizer, or snack. And it’s as easy as pie. I literally whipped this together in 5 minutes before I ran out to get my laundry. And then I ate it alongside half a pizza. Don’t judge. K thanks.

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Squash Your Fears

So, this one time I got it in my brain to make zucchini bread and then I got to the grocery store and there was none. Huh. No zucchini. In a season when gardens all across the northeast are overflowing with zucchini, my grocery store had none. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Sometimes you kill me, Queens. So I plucked up some Mexican squash and hoped for the best.

On the menu:
Mexican squash bread (but you can call it zucchini bread if it makes you feel better)

2 cups flour
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups shredded carrot
1 cup shredded apple (no skin)
1 cup shredded Mexican squash (or zucchini!)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix together flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Beat together eggs and oil with an electric mixer until mixture is frothy. Add carrot, apple, and zucchini in with the eggs. Add vanilla to egg mixture. Add liquids to dry ingredients and mix until completely incorporated.

Fill one large greased loaf pan with mixture. Bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

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Just Chill and Lay Back Cause It’s…

Oh hey! Remember me? I missed you guys. So I’m back. With a couple basic recipes, but stuff you’ll want to make over and over again. And ain’t it pretty?

On the menu:
Cranberry, almond chicken salad
BTM Salad
Serves 4 

Chicken salad

2 chicken breasts
1 sprig fresh dill
1/4 cup cucumber, chopped
1/4 cup celery, chopped
1/4 cup craisins
1/4 cup slivered almonds
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste

Place chicken breasts in a medium sized pot and cover with water for poaching. Turn heat to high and let water come to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover pot for 10 minutes. Turn heat off and let chicken sit in hot water for 15 – 20 minutes. Once chicken is cool, shred with fingers and toss with remaining ingredients. Refrigerate chicken salad for at least 30 minutes before serving.

BTM Salad

1 medium sized tomato, sliced to 1/4 inch slices
1 ball of mozzarella (approximately the same size as the tomato), sliced to 1/4 inch slices
1/4 cup basil, roughly chopped
1 cup of fresh corn, boiled on the cob and then sliced off the cob

Dressing:
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Plate slices of tomato alternately with mozzarella. Mix corn together with balsamic/oil dressing. Top slices of tomato and mozzarella with corn mixture.

This meal is so basic, is best served cold, and is super light and refreshing for summer. The subtle change in the classic BTM salad is really unexpected and delicious… and led this “meal for 4” to turn into a “meal for 2” when The BF had seconds. And then thirds. I thought I’d have leftovers but the “This is SO GOOD!”s were way more gratifying.

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Sunday Sauce

A few weeks ago I pretended like I was a good Italian housewife and made sauce on Sunday. I have my go-to, easy-peasy red sauce, but I didn’t have a nailed-down creamy vodka sauce recipe that I really loved. I figured this was a good opportunity to concoct one.

Vodka sauce shown here with breaded chicken cutlets and penne pasta

On the menu:
Vodka sauce

1/4 cup butter
1/2 white onion, diced
1/2 cup vodka (or 3/4 cup if you’re feeling particularly boozey)
1 (28 0z.) can tomatoes, crushed
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste

Over medium heat, sautee onion in butter until translucent. Add vodka and cook for 8 minutes. Add tomatoes and reduce heat to low. Simmer for around 35 minutes. Add heavy cream and cook over low heat for another 35 minutes. Add half of the parmesan cheese, and add salt and pepper to taste. Add cooked pasta to sauce, toss until coated, and garnish with remaining grated parmesan.

*Note: this sauce is good the day you make it, but it is KILLER after it sits in the fridge for a few days. You could easily double this recipe and freeze half for a rainy day. It’ll be even better when you rediscover it.

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