PEANUT BUTTER SWIRL BROWNIES

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This past week was pretty eventful due to the fact that Alex and I took care of my mom’s two dogs while she was away on vacation. Lily and Oliver are like my babies and are the cutest pups in the world, but they require a lot of attention. Not having any pets of our own at the moment, mostly because we live in an apartment, we realized just how much work and responsibility goes into taking care of dogs, and by the end of the week, we joked that the dogs were our children because they were all we talked and thought about every day. Even though I barely slept (the dogs are used to sleeping on beds and will give you hell if you don’t oblige), I’m honestly so sad that they’re gone and back at my mom’s. The apartment is so quiet and lonely and I’m counting down the days until we can get a cat (no dogs until we own a house with a yard!).

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I don’t know how today’s recipe - peanut butter swirl brownies - is my first one featuring peanut butter, considering I eat the stuff every single day. I got my love for peanut butter from my mom at a young age when I’d see her walking around the house with a spoonful of it as a snack (ahem, dinner). Of course back then, it was all about commercial brand peanut butters like Jif or Skippy, but I’ve grown up since then by upgrading to the natural varieties from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Although these kinds are much healthier for you, using the commercial brands that have the added sugars and whatnot are usually the norm to use when it comes to making peanut butter desserts, and therefore the type of PB I want you to buy for this recipe. This is so we don’t have to worry about the natural oils or lack of sodium/sugar that is found in the natural types of PB.

The only other brownie recipe on my site, my forever go-to chewy and fudgy brownies, is quite different from the jazzed up brownies in today’s post. These peanut butter swirl brownies are anything-but-basic, muuuch thicker, and filled with crunchy peanuts. I am normally not a fan of nuts in my brownies, but I really think the peanuts work well in these because you get double the peanut flavor and a nice added texture. To put it plainly: today’s PB brownies are very decadent, but that doesn’t mean it’ll stop you from having more than one piece at a time.

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Looking at the recipe itself, I’m sure you’ll notice how I am also giving metric measurements (grams, milliliters) for the ingredients. When working with something messy like peanut butter, it’s so much easier weighing it out in a bowl set over a scale than with measuring cups which can be a pain to clean. Furthermore, I’ve made the recipe both ways, and although the consistency of the batters were a bit different, I could barely notice a difference after they came out of the oven. So if you can weigh your ingredients, certainly do it, and if not, don’t worry about it.

I hope everyone has a great Memorial Day Weekend! Alex and I are going to our first Cinespia screening of the year at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (aka my favorite summer activity to do) and I cannot wait! The movie we’re seeing is Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window so it should be a pretty mixed crowd. I’m very excited to be sipping on a cocktail and snacking on these brownies, while surrounded by other cinephiles come Sunday.

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Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies

Recipe slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

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For the peanut butter batter:

  • 3/4 cup (190 grams) smooth peanut butter

  • 2/3 cup (135 grams) granulated sugar

  • 1 large egg

  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

  • A good pinch of coarse sea salt

For the brownie batter:

  • 1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter

  • 3 oz. (85 grams) unsweetened chocolate (like this one), roughly chopped

  • 1 1/4 cup (250 grams) granulated sugar

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 tsp. (5 ml) vanilla extract

  • 1/4 tsp. espresso powder (optional but recommended - it helps intensify the chocolate flavor)

  • 1/4 tsp. coarse sea salt

  • 2/3 cup (85 grams) all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 cup (60 grams) chopped toasted peanuts

  • 1/4 cup (40 grams) chocolate chips, semisweet or bitter

  • Flaky sea salt or confectioners’ sugar, to finish

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 8in. square baking pan with parchment paper and then grease the pan (bottom and sides) with cooking spray or butter. Set aside.

  2. Make the peanut butter batter: In a medium bowl, whisk all ingredients together until well combined and smooth.

  3. Make the brownie batter: In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate together. Do this in 30 second intervals, stirring well after each time, being careful not to burn the mixture. Once melted, transfer the mixture into a large bowl. To this, add the eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Then add the vanilla extract, espresso powder (if using) and salt. Whisk until combined. Using a spatula, fold in the all-purpose flour until no dry ingredients remain. Stir in the chopped peanuts.

  4. Pour a thin layer (about a 1/3 of the batter) of the brownie batter into the baking dish and spread evenly. Take the peanut butter batter and drop big spoonfuls of it in a random fashion over the thin layer of brownie batter. Use the rest of the brownie batter and fill in the spaces between the peanut butter batter so that it looks like image #2 above. Using a butterknife or wooden skewer, start to swirl the brownie and peanut butter batters together. Don’t worry if you don’t get perfect swirls, the flavor will still be there. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top.

  5. Pop the baking dish in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out fairly clean (a few crumbs are okay). Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and/or confectioners’ sugar. Allow the brownies to cool completely before cutting - this makes it much easier and gives you cleaner pieces.

FRESH MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP ICE CREAM

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And just like that, it’s springtime. Even though in my last post I was craving summer and all the flavors and desserts that come with it, I of course wasn’t going to brush over spring! It’s a time when everything is blooming and coming back to life, and I’ll never get over how beautiful it is. Living in an apartment, I so look forward to the day when I’ll have my own house with a huge backyard (a girl can dream, ok?) where I’ll harvest my own fruits and veggies, and have flowers everywhere. Until that day, I’ll settle on having little flower pots dedicated to certain herbs and random house plants in my living room that brighten up the place.

One herb plant that I keep in my kitchen window is mint, which if you’re a gardener, you know is a plant that is nearly impossible to kill. It thrives in sun and shade perennially and has the tendency to spread and conquer as much territory as it can. To combat this weed-like herb, you must pick and trim it, and what better way to use up that mint than making homemade ice cream!

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I’ve always been a huge fan of mint chocolate chip ice cream, but over the years, I’ve honed in on what to me “mint ice cream” means. When I was younger, store-bought neon colored and artificially flavored mint versions reigned supreme in my house. It’s what most people in America are used to when they think of mint ice cream - the color has to be that greenish blue. When I got a little older, I remember my mom coming home with a tub of Breyers mint chip and I was seriously skeptical of it because it wasn’t a green color, but rather a creamy white. The moment I took a bite, I was blown away and vouched to never touch any brand that added dyes to their ice cream. FYI, to this day, if I’m ever too lazy to make my own, Breyers ice cream is still the winner for me in that department.

And then once again, a couple years later, I had another epiphany with mint ice cream. My dad and I went to Sweet Rose Creamery at the Brentwood Country Mart in LA for the first time because we both share a love of ice cream and wanted to check out the shop. My dad ordered a brownie ice cream sundae with vanilla ice cream and I opted to try a scoop of their “fresh” mint ice cream. I was completely taken aback by the taste of it - after years of artificially flavored mint ice cream and added dyes, I could not believe that I had been missing out on the real thing for so long. Fresh mint ice cream is truly a different experience than what you can find at the grocery store and really tastes light, fresh, and worlds better than the fake stuff.

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So when I eventually got an ice cream maker for Christmas later that year (2012), I chose to make mint chocolate chip ice cream for my first ever homemade batch. And let me tell you: it was a struggle. I of course chose a recipe (the one below!) that probably wasn’t best for a beginner and I remember having my mom help me along every step of the way. To be clear, this was not only marking the beginning of me making ice cream, but also when I was just getting into baking and was less than an amateur. So for example, I had no idea how to temper eggs when making the custard-based ice cream, whereas today, it’s something that doesn't even phase me. Anyway, somehow my mom and I figured out how to make the mint ice cream and I’m pretty sure I cried tears of joy after my first bite. I think I’ve said this before, but making homemade ice cream is quite the accomplishment and something to be proud of. I still get giddy with excitement after every batch I make.

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This recipe requires a little more than 2 cups of fresh mint, which is a lot, so chances are that your garden may not have enough for this recipe. And that’s fine! You can use a mixture of store bought fresh mint and some of your own (or all store bought if you don’t have a garden, of course). Trader Joe’s sells organic fresh mint for a great price. As for the “chocolate chip” aspect of this ice cream, I’m finally able to give my trick for getting those evenly distributed chocolate flecks that you see in my pictures. Instead of chopping up a chocolate bar or adding chocolate chips to the finished ice cream, I melt my chocolate and slowly pour it into the ice cream maker while it’s churning, but almost done. This allows the chocolate to break up into tiny pieces and therefore gives a creamier texture without having bites with big pieces of chocolate in it. If you’re familiar with Thrifty’s chocolate chip and mint chip ice creams, the texture is most similar to theirs (aka the best!).

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Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

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Yields about 1 quart

Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk

  • 2 cups heavy cream, divided

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar

  • Pinch of salt

  • 2 cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves

  • 5 large egg yolks

  • 5 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (in chip or bar form)

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, warm up the milk, 1 cup of the heavy cream, granulated sugar and salt over medium heat. Do not let it come to a simmer. Add the mint leaves to the pan and stir until every leaf is immersed in the liquid. Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a lid, and let it sit at room temperature for an hour.

  2. Place a strainer over a medium/large saucepan, and pour the mint/milk mixture through (the mint leaves will be left in the strainer). Using a spatula, press down firmly on the mint leaves, making sure to get any and all liquid out of them. In a large bowl, add the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream and set a strainer over the top (use a bowl that will be able to fit over an ice bath for later).

  3. Over medium-low heat, rewarm the mint-infused mixture. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Just as the milk mixture is beginning to simmer, gradually add some of it to the bowl of egg yolks, whisking constantly as to not scramble the eggs (this is called tempering). Once the egg yolk mixture temperature has raised, pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Stir constantly over medium-low heat until the mixture thickens and coats the back of your spatula or spoon.

  4. Pour the mixture over the strainer-lined bowl and stir the mint-custard in with the heavy cream that is already in the bowl. Let the ice cream base sit over an ice bath for about an hour before moving to the refrigerator. Chill for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

  5. Churn the ice cream in your maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. When the ice cream is almost finished churning, melt the chocolate in a microwave and slowly pour it into the ice cream maker (while it’s still on). This will create tiny chocolate flecks all through out the ice cream. If big globs are created, simply use a spatula to help break it up. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until solid.

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I’d like to dedicate this post to my dog niece, Dolce. This beautiful girl had to be put down on Wednesday (the first day of spring), and to say that I’m devastated is a severe understatement. I have a million pictures of her goofy, expressive face and it was hard to choose just one. Here she is with her bone looking crazy happy, and sitting on her mom and dad’s bed.

I love you babygirl and I’ll miss giving you tons of kisses, which you always let me do. You made a lot of people smile, but made your mom and dad the happiest.

JUMBO SALTED TAHINI CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

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Since last Monday, I’ve been out of commission due to pulling my lower back while I was working out. I was in the middle of a fitness class and pushed myself a little too hard and wound up severely hurting my back. I left the gym so upset with myself for allowing that to happen and the worst part is that I didn’t even feel like going to class that day! You know those inspirational posters in gyms that say something along the lines that no one ever regrets a work out after they’re done… that’s a lie! I should have listened to my body and stayed home and went for a walk instead.

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Anyway, I took healing my back seriously and spent the next couple of days icing it properly and relied on Aleve to alleviate the pain. Simply walking was just about the hardest task to accomplish and every step I took was painful. BUT here I am 9 days later, and I’m just about good as new. I haven’t gone back to my normal routine of exercises, but I instead have been doing low-impact cardio (walking, elliptical, recumbent bike) and I’ve actually been enjoying the low intensity.

I’m telling you guys all of this because I didn’t mean to take a week off from the blog! I attempted baking and photographing these cookies last week when I could finally walk around with less pain, but the act of hunching over to take pictures was not helping out my situation in any way. This led to all of my photos coming out subpar and there was no way I was going to post them without liking them. I waited til Monday when I was feeling much better, baked and reshot the cookies, and now I’m much happier with the outcome.

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Recently, it had occurred to me that I haven’t posted a “standard” chocolate chip cookie recipe yet. And I’ve given much thought as to why I haven’t done this and it could be because all of my personal favorite cookies are a step-up from the original cookie that everyone loves. Whether it’s adding toasted pistachios, or a big sprinkling of flaky sea salt, or using olive oil in place of butter, my taste for cookies aren’t what’s usually found at a local bakery. Of the six total cookie recipes that The Vivid Kitchen has to offer - including olive oil brownie cookies, toffee brown sugar cookies, and ginger molasses cookies - it apears that I’ve been focusing on giving cookie recipes that are not only amazingly delicious, but a little unique.

So once again, I’m giving another cookie recipe that has one aspect to it that sets it apart from other chocolate chip cookies. This comes from the addition of tahini: a paste made from ground sesame seeds that is a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine. In America, we’re mostly accustomed to eating tahini via hummus, where tahini is a vital ingredient. Because of this, the idea of putting tahini in sweets is a bit mind-boggling to most, but tahini is actually a very popular component in an array of desserts like tarts, ice cream, and cookies.

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When I first tried tahini on its own, I wasn’t in love with the taste or texture and of course, this made me hesitant to add it to my cookie dough. The texture is akin to a natural nut butter in that you have to stir it well before eating it in order to incorporate the oils. As for the taste, it’s pretty unique with a roasted and bitter flavor, and just something you wouldn’t think would work well in desserts. BUT IT TOTALLY DOES. The tahini isn’t exactly prominent in the cookies but gives it a bit of a nutty flavor and even accentuates the chocolate. Seriously, these are up there as one of my favorite chocolate chip cookies. Ever.

If you want your cookies to have pools of chocolate much like the ones you see in my photos, this is done by roughly chopping up bars of chocolate and then sifting the chocolate in order to discard the powder that is created from chopping. You’ll be left with a variety of chocolate chunk sizes, which is key to getting those pockets of chocolate-y goodness. And to further the savory/sweet relationship that we have going on with adding tahini to the cookie dough, finishing the baked cookies with a healthy sprinkling of flaky sea salt is a must.

One last thing: I decided to make these cookies huuuuge, which is something I normally opt not to do. I wanted them to be bakery-style aka big, and in the end I was super happy with the results. If you want to make normal-sized cookies, just make sure to adjust the baking time by about 5 minutes, or keep a good eye on them around the 8 minute mark.

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Jumbo Salted Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yields about a dozen large cookies

Recipe slightly adapted from David Lebovitz

Ingredients

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  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda

  • 1 tsp. kosher salt

  • 4 oz. (8 tbsp., 1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 1/2 cup tahini, well stirred

  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 large egg, room temperature

  • 1 large egg yolk, room temperature

  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 10 oz. (about 2 cups) bittersweet/dark or semisweet chocolate chunks or chips

  • flaky sea salt

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a bowl large enough for a hand mixer, beat the butter, tahini and both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

  3. Add in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract. Mix until well incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  4. All at once, add in the flour mixture and carefully mix on low speed for about 10 seconds before turning the speed up to medium until everything is just combined. Do not over mix. Using a spatula, fold in the chocolate chunks or chips. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12 hours. Note: if you cannot simply wait that long, wait at least 1 hour before baking off the cookies.

  5. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper, and using a spoon or an ice cream scoop, scoop out 4-5 tablespoons of dough for each cookie (about 2.5oz each). Bake 6 cookies at a time because they will spread significantly. Allow the cookies to bake for 14-15 minutes or until the cookies are golden brown on the edges and slightly pale in the center.

  6. Once out of the oven, immediately sprinkle each cookie with flaky sea salt. Allow the cookies to sit on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Enjoy!