The best brownie mix?

At my new job, unlike my old job, there is no coffee cart that comes by at 2:10 every afternoon to sell gigantic and perfect chocolate-chip cookies for 75¢. So I bring brownies to make up for it. Making brownies at home has turned out to be a cool mother-daughter activity on Sunday afternoons--it's not hard for a kindergartener to help crack an egg, measure and pour oil and water, stir it all together and scrape into a baking pan. Here are some tasting notes I scribbled on torn box-fronts in search of the perfect brownie mix.

Duncan Hines Chewy Fudge Brownies, 13x9 family size
Touted as "extra thick and fudgy!" these did not deliver.
"Not very chocolatey or chewy. Plain."

Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie mix
Has "Chocolate chips in the mix." This was "very moist & fudgy.
Good. Maybe too moist--got clumpy."

Pillsbury Dark Chocolate 13x9 Family Size
"Dark color & moist texture, but not very chocolate-y tasting"

Betty Crocker Ultimate Fudge (8x8 only)
with "Hershey's Fudge Pouch & Melt Away Chips"
"Wow, very dense & moist & chocolate-y. Not cake-y. Almost like underdone but not--just moist!" It appears that I liked these, but they were actually so rich & sweet they became a chore to eat. They were still around the following week, and we took a break from brownie-baking for a few more weeks just to recover.

Ghirardelli Chocolate Supreme (8x8 only)
"Chocolate Syrup pouch included"
By this point I was wary of add-ins like a pouch or chips, but I think this mix is a winner! "Chewy, chocolate-y, but not too much of either. Could be the one?!"

Are you a brownie-holic? What's your favorite recipe? Do you believe in from-the-box, or insist on from-scratch? Any secrets? I have a friend who places walnut halves on top of the batter before baking for the total illusion of homemade. Yum.

Braised Turkey

Look at that gravy. It sparkles.

With the days getting darker (read this good post about it at Door Number 8), the evenings are getting really long. It seems natural to make the best of things by cooking up nice Sunday dinners. Here's another one where we actually invited guests over—first time in a long time! The main dish: braised turkey. This happened earlier in November, but since it's Turkey Day I'd like to share it now!

Personal trivia: I had never cooked my own turkey before this.
My whole life, female relatives have
always done all turkey cooking.
For my first turkey dinner I even bought a roasting pan!

The idea of braising a turkey is from a Cook's Illustrated recipe that, for a CI recipe, was actually quite doable and simple. The basic premise is that you brine the turkey (of course! It's Cook's Illustrated!) and then chop it into 3 main pieces, then cook it in flavorful liquid for a couple of hours until it's completely moist and tender.

I like when there's a secret ingredient that makes a recipe go from pretty good to amazing, and this recipe definitely had one. Dried porcini mushrooms. $49 a pound. This selection cost less than $2 though.

These get mixed with a mirepoix on the bottom of the roasting pan, then the turkey is browned in a hot oven.

Here's the bird basted and ready for browning. One of my favorite parts was getting to butcher (as in "cut up") the turkey the night before--cutting off the wings, carefully carving off the drumsticks so I don't 1. miss the chef's oysters and 2. injure myself. I made a slow-cooker stock with the pieces I cut off, plus giblets. I used to love dissecting things in anatomy class. Sorry Alicia Silverstone.

After browning, the recipe says to add wine and chicken broth for the braising, cover, and turn the oven down for 2 hours.

Another fabulous part of this recipe was the amazing gravy. Here's where the power of the porcini really blossomed forth. It was savory, and because I bothered to strain it, also silken.

The braising liquid, strained and ready to gravy-fy.

The gravy hardly needed any salt either. (The turkey probably contributed enough, since I rubbed it with salt the night before in lieu of brining. Why? It was self-basting, and the recipe said that's what I should do.)

To serve I cut dark meat and breast meat onto a platter, and gave the drumsticks to the people who like that sort of thing. Since it was 2 weeks before Thanksgiving, I was trying to ignore the usual conventions, and served with roasted fingerling potatoes and buttered kale. No stuffing, no cranberry sauce. Our guests brought an amazing bread.

Do you always roast turkey, or have you tried other methods? I've heard of the mysterious deep-fried turkey, but I don't know anybody who's invested in the equipment. I'd eat it though!

I started using Pinterest

This is all your fault ACB! I do find Pinterest quite soothing actually. It's social, but I can show instead of telling. Nice relief for a professional tell-er. I also found that "liking" things makes a whole new board/list for me, without me having to actually repin and claim these things as my "own." If that makes sense. Anyway, join up! Follow me or someone cool! It's fun! I'm at

(Mom, Pinterest is like an online bulletin board where you can "pin" just about any image that you find on the Internet. Then you can go admire your collection of pins, and look at other people's too. It's kind of like the wall of postcards taped over my bed in college, except easier to look at.)

New England Boiled Dinner

I bought a big head of cabbage at the farmer's market and a bunch of little potatoes at the coop, planning on a dinner party. But the week turned out to be too busy for guests, so the cabbage and potatoes were still around. I was thinking of making my milk-braised pork chops or maybe frikadellen, and ran these ideas by my life-partner. Basically, tell me what kind of pork you want. His response was "My favorite kind of pork is... corned beef."

Oh no. I don't think I like corned beef. But I figured it would be easy. I could throw it in the slow cooker. What is it called when you put potatoes, corned beef, and cabbage in a slow cooker? Oh. It's called New England Boiled Dinner.

Here's part of my problem with corned beef. It is funny looking. It has a lurid reddish color that doesn't go away when it's cooked. It has disturbing fatty bits and quivering connective stuff. It looks like it should be inside of something alive, not glistening on my counter. The guy at Price Chopper kindly halved a $19 piece of corned beef so I didn't have to deal with a gigantic piece, just a big piece.

So I plopped this in the slow cooker with the cabbage, 2 large chopped carrots and about 5 potatoes. It was already past noon, so I cranked it to "high." I also added a bay leaf, about 10 peppercorns, and enough water to cover the meat so it could really braise.

Six hours later it was done. I only had to intervene once, to push the cabbage down into the liquid so it could get all properly floppy.

To serve, I spooned out all the vegetables, then put the corned beef on its own plate. LOOK AT THIS. This is what I'm talking about with the weird grossness of corned beef. What is that tripey bit???

I bravely scraped off the fat and gaggy stuff, then sliced what remained. It started to look normal. Even edible.

So we ate it. And guess what, New England Boiled Dinner is really good! This truly is a boiled dinner, nothing else was needed except maybe mustard. One kid loved the meat the best, the other only wanted to eat the potatoes.

For dessert we had a half-recipe of yummy apple crisp, liberally squirted with whipped cream.

I'm not from New England, but I guess this is a regular thing that people's moms make, kind of an eye-roller of a dish like meatloaf. But I recommend it! Have you ever had it or made it?

Roasted Vegetables

It seemed like a good idea for a Sunday evening.
Slow-roasted vegetables. Two hours in a low oven.

Look at this tangle of autumn goodness.

Spaghetti squash buttered up, delicata squash with maple syrup & cinnamon

I put olive oil & Bragg's all over the rutabaga, carrots, & parsnips. Then I chickened out and also put spice rub on the rutabaga, and honey all over the carrots & parsnips. They were lush.

Dinnertime! Just squashes and roasted roots people. Enjoy!