<3 At First Bite


“Just made brownies.” 

This fb post set off a string of comments (not to mention a couple dozen “Likes”)



–On my way over…

–Wish I were there

–Need to make some NOW too!


— <3

So what is it about brownies that make them so evocative?  Let’s start with the smell.   If you’ve ever baked brownies (or been in the kitchen of someone who has) the aroma is unmistakable and almost universally appreciated.  That sweet smell of cocoa lingers in your mind long after the last brownie has been gobbled up.  In fact, the smell is so appealing that in some ways, it surpasses the actual brownies themselves! (in some ways!)

Then there is texture and style.  Brownies can be cakelike or chewy!  They can be loaded with nuts, m&m’s, caramels, marshmallows, coconut, chocolate chips, toffee, butterscotch and/or vanilla morsels, to name a few.  They can be served frosted, double frosted, powdered sugared or straight from the pan.

And they can be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion.

Take Valentine’s Day.  Brownies are a perfect alternative to the traditional box of chocolates.

Why?  Because they are delicious and because presumably, someone went out of their way to make them. 

Ironically, it doesn’t take an expert baker to produce good brownies.  The best advice for novices – buy a box mix!  Pillsbury, Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker haven’t spent decades perfecting their recipes for nothing!   A couple of eggs, half cup of oil, quarter cup of water – good to go.  How easy is that?

Their recipes are so fool proof that even accidentally switching the measurements for oil and water still yielded tasty (not to mention low fat) brownies! (hey – not necessarily recommending it – just sayin’!)

Load them up with goodies; suddenly they become “gourmet.”  Decorate them with colorful candies, like hearts for Valentine’s Day, and voila – instant holiday fare.  Get creative: avant garde artiste.   Few foods offer so much opportunity for this kind of freedom and still come out delicious.

Given the assignment to “bring something to share” to a party or picnic, brownies are a sure winner!  Unlike cookies, they are quick and easy to make – throw them in a pan and bake for half hour and you’re done.  And unlike their close cousin – cake – they are easy to eat. They don’t require silverware, leave many crumbs, or make fingers sticky. Even if several other people show up with brownies in hand, by the end of the night, no one is taking them home.  Plus they don’t spoil, so if by some chance they are left over after sitting out for hours, that’s just a bonus because they only get better with age (at least for the first few days after they’re baked).

That’s not to say  they can’t be served formally.  Decorate them in the pan and throw on a few candles; you’ve got a birthday cake!  Add a scoop of ice cream, a spoonful of hot fudge, caramel and/or chocolate sauce and a dollop of whipped cream, toss on a few slivered almonds and you have now created a gourmet dessert worthy of the finest restaurants.   Talk about versatile!



decorated oreos on red

Dipping Delectable Delights

It all started when we were in Kindergarten.  Our mom wanted us to feel like we were part of the gift giving process, but she didn’t want our teachers to end up with something they had absolutely no interest in.  Someone suggested to her that dipping strawberries was really very easy and the next thing you know, a tradition (a hobby?) had started.

The beauty of dipping strawberries is that it is really the easiest thing in the world, but everyone feels they are receiving something very special.  Of course, it is critical to mention that this is only a universal truth if you use good chocolate and decent strawberries.  We say decent because the chocolate will hide some imperfections.   But if you use bad chocolate or a rotten strawberry, you can be sure that the whole bunch will be tossed in the trash, (this year and in subsequent years), because nobody is going take that risk twice! 

We were told to “only buy Merckens” because it was the best.  Everyone seems to love it and it is easy to use, so we continue to buy it.  There may be other good alternatives – we just don’t know them!

Anyway, that first year, the strawberries were such a big hit with the teachers, we decided to do it again the following Christmas.

By then, since strawberries were in short supply, we had seen some beautiful pretzels in an expensive catalog and we decided to branch out.  During our first foray into the chocolate mess, we discovered that after you dip the strawberry in the chocolate, it takes awhile for it to stop dripping.

So, if you are not careful, you will drizzle chocolate all over the other strawberries on the tray.  Not a big deal when you are using the same kind of chocolate, but if you decide to start dipping in say, white chocolate, you have suddenly created a slightly modified concoction.  No worries, we discovered…it actually transforms them from ordinary to extraordinary!  We now purposely drizzle in white, dark and milk!

And we’ve branched out beyond strawberries and pretzels.  We’ve dipped Oreo cookies (we like double stuffed), grapes, raisins, miniature marshmallows, caramel squares, peanuts, roasted pecans and almonds (salted are best), potato chips, peanut butter stuffed pretzels…honestly, if it appeals to you, give it a try.  You may end up inventing your own delectable delight.

Then, if you’re feeling like you want to add a few creative touches, not only can you drizzle more chocolate, you can also cover them in colorful sprinkles, chopped nuts, chopped toffee, other crushed candy, and little candy decorations, to name a few. Once again, imagination is key, and if it appeals to you, it will probably appeal to others too.  Lately we’ve seen advertisements for chocolates sprinkled with sea salt.  We haven’t tried it, but it is probably good.

The complements and comments over the years have been amazing.  We are now in our twenties, but when we run into former teachers and friends from the past, they still tell us they remember those hand-dipped chocolates and they ask if we’re still making them. When we say yes, they sigh and give a big smile.

So would you call this a hobby?  While not something we do all the time, it is something we like to do now and again, particularly at Christmas.  For us, it is a nice alternative (or complement) to traditional cookies.  Both are good and have their place, but if you are looking for a fool proof, easy recipe, you can’t beat dipping chocolates for a fabulous change of pace.  Our melting process calls for putting the chocolate disks in a microwave safe bowl and melting on high for one (1) minute.  Take out the bowl, stir and then return for shorter intervals (30 seconds, then 15 seconds, then 10 seconds).  You do not want to over heat the chocolate because that changes the consistency and ruins the flavor (learned that the hard way).  So don’t get impatient and try to heat for longer intervals.  (If you ask at the store where you buy the chocolate, you’ll no doubt find an expert there that will be happy to give you all kinds of advice).  And if you don’t use all the chocolate that you’ve bought, it can be frozen for another time.    Video of Dipping Strawberries (note: glass of wine and music are optional!)

Our only problem:  they have become so popular that we end up making what feels like thousands.  So be prepared to find a place to store them (you want to keep them cool) and to package them so they stay fresh.  Or just make enough for yourself and ENJOY!  You really can’t go wrong.

Short Video of Dipping