Brownie Points

If you are not feeling well, if you have not slept, chocolate will revive you. But you have no chocolate! I think of that again and again! My dear, how will you ever manage?
- Marquise de Sévigné

Before I got pregnant, I was never much of a sweets eater. My tendency to eat sugary snacks didn't extend much further than fruit, popsicles, the occasional milkshake. I rarely eat my own birthday cake, and at my wedding, the only cake that passed my lips was a result of the obligatory shot of my husband and I feeding it to each other.

However, dessert has been a routine for me since I've been pregnant, and my cravings for sweet things overcomes me at times. I've tried to keep it in check, but the desire for donuts, ice cream, cookies, cupcakes, and candy bars has become much stronger than my willpower. These days, the casual question "You know what sounds good?" is immediately followed by my announcement of whatever craving has popped up, combined with an impatient frustration that it's not right in front of me yet, why am I not eating it yet, where is it?

When I got hit with the need for brownies, mixed with a strong urge for a cupcake, I decided to take matters into my own hands and combine the two. I used a mini-muffin tin to make bite-sized brownie "cupcakes" - and they were amazing. I didn't put any frosting on them, in an effort to keep the sugar intake a bit lower, but these didn't need frosting anyway - they were rich and decadent, chewy and soft with just a bit of a crispy edge.

Brownie Bites

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, melted
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

- Heat oven to 350°F. Grease muffin tin (or preferred pan).

- Stir together butter, sugar and vanilla in bowl. Add eggs; beat well with spoon. Stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; gradually add to egg mixture, beating until well blended. Stir in nuts, if desired. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.

- Bake until brownies begin to pull away from sides of pan and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. (Cooking times will vary depending on size pan used) Cool completely in pan on wire rack.


An Apple a Day

Did perpetual happiness in the Garden of Eden maybe get so boring that eating the apple was justified?
- Chuck Palahniuk

I found this recipe for an apple cheese crisp, and even though it was listed as a dessert recipe, I decided to make it for breakfast instead. The verdict? Eh. It would be better if it were baked (this recipe called for microwave preparation, which I didn't realize at the time) but I don't know that I liked it enough to try it again differently. I will say the flavors were good, and the apples were tender. The topping wasn't nearly crunchy enough, but the filling was creamy and sweet. At any rate, it wasn't a bad way to spend a drab Saturday morning.

Apple Cheese Crisp

6 cups sliced peeled apples
1/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp. flour
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp. flour
1 tbsp. milk

3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
5 tbsp. butter

- In a 2 qt. microwave-safe dish, toss the first six ingredients. Microwave uncovered for 8 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
- In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar, then add egg, flour & milk, mix well and spread evenly over apples.
- In another bowl, combine oats, flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. Add butter and mix until crumbly. Sprinkle over filling and microwave, uncovered, for 6 minutes or until apples are tender.


Such a Goober

No man in the world has more courage than the man who can stop after eating one peanut.
- Channing Pollock

When I was little, we'd take annual family vacations to the beach - usually Southern Florida, where my dad had family. This meant long drives through desolate highways in Georgia, past numerous produce stands with hand-painted signs hawking fresh peaches, ripe tomatoes, and hot boiled peanuts.

My dad got me hooked on boiled peanuts at a very early age. They are an aquired taste, and from what I've learned, you either love them or hate them. Loving peanuts is not even a requirement, as they taste more like salty beans. Peanut boils date back to the early 19th century, when they were done as a social gathering. They were also known then as "goober peas", as it was typically the unsold and surplus peanuts that were used for boiling.

A few weeks ago, I was craving peanuts (these pregnancy cravings know no bounds) and so my husband went to the store to grab a bag. He came home with a sheepish look on his face, and timidly held out a bag of unsalted peanuts with the apology that it was the only thing the store had in stock. While my reaction at the time was a bit dramatic (think tears and a weak attempt to reassure him it was fiiiiiine, I can SO totally eat these - followed by a vehement refusal to do so once I tried one), I decided to stop staring at them in our pantry and do something with them.

I soaked the peanuts overnight in a Dutch oven, then drained and rinsed them the following morning. I then added fresh water to the pan (enough to cover them), 1/2 cup of salt and a tablespoon or so of Cajun seasoning, and brought them to a boil. Once they began boiling, I reduced the heat to medium low and let them simmer for about 6 hours. We ended up with tender peanuts, salty and spicy - the perfect solution to a near disaster.


Kiss My Grits

True grits, more grits, fish, grits, and collards. Life is good where grits are swallered.
- Roy Blount, Jr.

As someone who grew up in the South, eating Southern food and learning to cook from a very Southern grandmother, I am very familiar with grits and am accustomed to having them served many different ways. When I began sharing meals on a regular basis with my husband, it alarmed me that he had rarely eaten grits - and more so, didn't enjoy them at all. I can certainly relate to that, as grits can be incredibly dull and bland. However, given the proper care and attention, they can certainly add to and enhance a meal.

Three years after that conversation, shrimp & grits is one of my husband's favorite meals. I guess it's the combination of crispy bacon, cheesy grits and spicy shrimp - a medley far too good to resist. The key is cooking the bacon until extra crisp, then sauteeing mushrooms, shrimp and garlic in the pan drippings, along with cajun seasoning and a dash of tobasco. Grits swirled with butter and shredded white cheddar serve as the creamy foundation to plump shrimp, tender mushrooms, and smoky bacon pieces. I usually finish this dish with chopped green onions but didn't have any on hand this time around. Nonetheless, this is a simple and comforting meal that shows grits as much more than an accompaniment to a traditional Southern breakfast.