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Chocolate Bliss Caramel Brownies

Contributed by reader Donna Budzban of Palatine, Illinois

Preheat oven to 350.

You'll need:

4 squares unsweetened baking chocolate
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup flour
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 pkg. (14 oz.) caramels, unwrapped
2 T. milk
1 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

 

Here's what you do:

  • Place chocolate squares and butter in a large bowl.  Microwave on high 2 minutes or until butter is melted. 
  • Stir until chocolate is completely melted.
  • Add sugar; stir until well blended.
  • Mix in eggs.
  • Add flour; mix well.
  • Stir in pecans.
  • Spread into 13x9 baking pan lined with greased foil.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudgy crumbs.  DO NOT OVERBAKE.

  • Place caramels and milk in a bowl.
  • Microwave on high 2 1/2 minutes, stirring after 1 minute.  Stir until caramels are completely melted and mixture is well blended. 
  • Gently pour mixture over brownie in pan; sprinkle with chocolate chips. 
  • Cool completely in pan on wire rack.  Lift out of pan onto cutting board.  Cut into squares.  Makes 2 dozen.  Enjoy!

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Lemon Bars

I always make these for company or family potlucks. It's a pretty standard recipe, but I've increased the amount of lemon juice which makes the cookies much tastier. I've also added chopped nuts to the cookie crust. Lemon Bars are always a big hit.

Preheat oven to 350.

To make the crust, in a bowl, mix:

2 c. flour
1/4 c. powdered sugar
1 c. melted butter

  • Use a fork (actually, your fingers work better) and mix this all together to make heavy, very flaky dough.
  • With a spoon (actually, your fingers work better), press the dough evenly into the bottom of a 9x12 pan. It should be about 1/4-1/2" thick.
  • Optional: Press chopped nuts onto the dough for a crunchier cookie. I've used chopped walnuts, almonds, and even macadamia nuts. You can also used chocolate chips, but only if you love the taste of chocolate and lemon together (I don't). Vanilla chips work, and so do certain dried fruits especially if you're going for a certain holiday touch.

==> Bake the crust for about 20 minutes. It's done when the top is slightly browned.

While the crust is baking, make the lemon curd. In a bowl, whisk together:

2 c. granulated sugar
1 t. baking powder
4 eggs
1 c. lemon juic (fresh or bottled)

  • When the crust is done, immediately remove the pan from the oven and pour the lemon mixture over the hot crust.
  • Return the pan to the oven and bake for another 25 minutes. Shake the pan a little. If the mixture is still liquidish, continue baking until the curd is solid and slightly browned. Make sure not to let it get burnt.
  • Remove from oven and let the pan sit until the bottom of the pan is cool to the touch.
  • Dust the top of the cookies with powdered sugar (the cookies will have to be cool enough at this point so the sugar doesn't melt).
  • With a sharp knife, cut into squares, remove from pan and place on a plate or serving dish. Or you can leave it all in the pan and just cut at much at a time as you want.
  • An alternative is to make this in a spring-form pan like a lemon pie, and top with whipped cream instead of the powdered sugar.

 

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Deviled Eggs

I got this recipe from my mom years ago. Of course, it wasn't written down, still isn't. It's only in my head. I add the amounts based on experience, look, feel, and taste, but I tried to estimate the amounts in order to pass along this great recipe to you.

I once took these deviled eggs a large pot luck where I knew few people. In the middle of the event, a handsome man I didn't know (I am so not kidding) stood up and asked for quiet. He then said, "Who made these deviled eggs?" Across the room, I raised my hand and smiled. He gave a slight bow and said, "Will you marry me?" Sadly, my deviled eggs were already spoken for, but the boost to my ego was something I'll never forget. It sure would be a cute premise for a romance novel, though . . .

You'll need:

A dozen hard-boiled eggs, still slightly warm, shells removed, clean and dry
1 T. apple cider vinegar
1 T. French's mustard (sorry, it just doesn't work with designer mustards)
1 T. curry (optional)
1/4 c. real mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip)
Salt
Pepper
Paprika

Here's what you do:

  • Slice the eggs in half and put the yolks in a small bowl.
  • Set the whites aside on a serving plate.

In the yolk bowl:

  • Mash the warm yolks until they are like a chunky yellow paste.
  • Sprinkle the vinegar over the yolks and mix with a fork. Doing this while the yolks are warm helps them absorb the vinegar as they cool. The vinegar is the secret ingredient that gives the deviled eggs a bit of a snap and elevates them above everybody else's bland deviled eggs.
  • Add the mustard and mix again. You'll have a very yellow paste.
  • Add the curry now, if desired, and mix in.
  • Then sprinkle with the salt and pepper - maybe a half-a-teaspoon of each. Mix again. Taste it, and adjust seasonings if necessary.
  • Add the mayonnaise and mix with a spoon until well blended. The mixture should be pastel yellow and thick enough to hold its shape in the white halves. If it's too thin, next time, adjust down the amount of mustard and mayonnaise you use to get just the right consistency you want. If the mixture is too thin, it'll still taste good, it'll just be too messy to eat except with a spoon.
  • Take a small spoon and fill each egg half with the yolk mixture. You should have just enough to fill all the eggs.
  • Set them on the serving tray, and sprinkle them with the paprika for a pretty presentation.

Enjoy - and if you get a marriage proposal out of this recipe, please let me know!

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Chili Beans

My mom used to make wonderful chili beans, so I took her basic recipe - which I got by watching her make it since she never kept a recipe box - and I built on it. The "secret" ingredient (if there is one) and the one I came up with, is the liquid I use to give the beans a unique flavor. This recipe makes enough for maybe a dozen medium-sized bowls of chili. You can half the recipe or double it, depending on how much you need (makes a great left-over).

This recipe is simple to make, but you need to start cooking about 3 hours before you plan to eat. I've never measured anything when I make this chili, so my amounts are guesses, but I think they're pretty close. This recipe is so easy, you really can't go wrong, however. If you prefer more or less meat or beans, next time you make it, adjust the amounts.

You'll need:

1 lb. bulk pork sausage (hickory smoked is a good choice)
--- You can substitute the same amount of your favorite bacon instead of the sausage, or use equal quantities of each. Cut the bacon into 1" chunks before cooking.

2-3 lbs. cubed stew meat (about 1" cubes is a good size as it cooks down in size)

Worchestershercershorshire Sauce

4 c. Mexican or Italian style stewed tomatoes (I use 2 of the about-16 oz. size cans)

Shhh! SECRET INGREDIENT:
2 c. beer or wine (red or white)(the alcohol cooks away, leaving only the flavor)

6 c. cooked pinto beans with juice (kidney beans and black beans work, too, and you can mix types for a nice variety of color and texture in the chili) (I use 2 of the about-29 oz. size cans)

Salt
Pepper
Chili powder (1/4 cup, or to taste)
Cumin (if you like)

Here's what you do:

  • Get out your big chili pot, with lid.
  • Brown the sausage (and/or bacon pieces) until it's about half cooked.
  • Add the stew meat. Keep the heat a little high because all that cold meat is going to lower the temp for a few minutes and you want it to brown, not sit there and bubble.
  • Splash on some Worchestershire Sauce (I don't know, maybe a tablespoon or two).
  • Add about a T. of salt and a few dashes of pepper.
  • Let this stuff cook on medium heat until all the meat is browned and much of the liquid has evaporated (maybe 30 minutes).
  • Add the wine or beer, and stir the pot. Lower heat a bit, cover and let simmer for about 15 minutes. It should be getting all bubbly now. At this point, your kitchen should be smelling great and attracting a lot of attention.
  • Add the stewed tomatoes (mash or chop the tomatoes with your wooden spoon - you don't want big chunks of tomato), stir, and cover again. Let cook for a while (maybe 60 minutes; you want the meat to be pretty tender before you add the beans).
  • Add the 2 cans of beans, including the juice. Stir.
  • Add 1/4 c. chili powder (or more, if you like it with more bite). If you're going to add cumin, now's the time.
  • Stir, set the lid on top of the pot at a tilt, lower the heat to slow simmer, and go do something else.
  • Check on the chili and stir every 15-20 minutes or so to make sure it's not burning. Keep the heat low enough to finish cooking the meat without scorching the pan.
  • This chili has more juice than most, and it's very flavorful. If the liquid cooks away too much, add a little more beer or wine.
  • Cook about 3 hours total, or until the meat chunks are very, very tender. Adjust S&P to taste.

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The Gallery of Regrettable Foods
(a hysterical compilation of cookbooks from the not-too-distant past):
http://www.lileks.com/institute/gallery/index.html

 

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