I love beach reads. Every August Dan and I take a trip to his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, and my favorite part of preparing for that trip is selecting the stack of books I’ll read on the beach and, later when I’ve had enough of the sun, with a glass of sangria on the balcony. A very short list of my favorites includes Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Back When We Were Grownups, The Jane Austen Book Club, and of course, Harry Potter and even a Twilight novel or two. One of the most formative beach reads, however, was Julie & Julia. This book is the reason I began my first baking blog. It is the reason Dan bought me Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And, perhaps most importantly, it is the source of my favorite pizza ever.

Whenever one of Julie’s recipes just didn’t turn out–or when it was particularly inedible as were most of the aspics–she and her husband ordered a bacon and jalapeno pizza from Dominos. I don’t know why this detail stuck with me as it did, but I knew I had to try it. I put my own twist on it–my signature garlic oil and generous dollops of cream cheese (the tang tempers the heat of the jalapenos)–and the result is the most requested pizza in my house. I’m including several recipes below. One is my basic go-to homemade pizza dough. If you have two hours free on a weekend, make this dough, shape it into three balls, and freeze each in its own large ziploc bag. Then, when you want pizza during the week, place the bag of frozen dough in the fridge the night before to thaw. The second is my garlic oil, which I use instead of marinara on almost every pizza I make. It makes the dough far less soggy and adds so much flavor. And the third recipe is, of course, the general amounts and method for the best pizza ever.

Basic Pizza Dough

(adapted from Baking Illustrated)

1. Fill a 2 cup measuring cup with 1/2 cup warm tap water and add 1 envelope rapid-rise yeast and a pinch of sugar or 1 tsp. of honey. Let sit for five minutes.

2. Place 22 ounces of flour (around 6 cups) in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or a large mixing bowl. I use a combination of bread flour–for elasticity and structure–and all-purpose flour, usually about 11 ounces of each. Add 2 tsp. salt (kosher is fine) and mix until combined. Have extra flour on hand for dusting the counter or in case the dough is sticky–either kind will work.

3. To the yeast mixture, add 2 T olive oil and 1 1/4 cups room temperature tap water (fill to the 1 3/4 cup line) and add this to the flour slowly, mixing as you pour. (The machine, if you are using one, should be on low.) Mix until the liquid is incorporated and the dough begins to form a cohesive mass. Then switch from the paddle to the dough hook, or form the mixture into a ball and place on a lightly floured countertop to knead. Knead until the surface is smooth and springs back when pressed (this should take five minutes in the machine, and about 8 if kneading by hand). If kneading by machine, add flour by the spoonful if the dough is sticking to the bottom of the bowl. This might happen if the humidity is high or there was too much water in the dough–just pay attention. No worries–sometimes it just sticks. The pizza will be fine.

4. When you are finished kneading, place the dough in a large bowl that you drizzle with 1-2 T olive oil. Turn the dough ball over once and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Set in a warm place to rise. In the summer, this can be anywhere. In the winter, I like to put it in an “off” oven–this protects is from drafts and it is slightly warmer. Let rise for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, or until it is doubled in size and an indent remains if you poke it with your finger.

5. When the dough is risen, place it on a floured surface and cut into three equal pieces. Form each into a ball by folding the sides under, turning the dough a quarter turn, and repeating, until the top is smooth. Cover all three with a cloth is using immediately, or place each in its own large ziploc bag (since it will expand a bit before it freezes) to freeze. (The yeast will last, frozen, up to 1 month.) Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.

6. To use, I prefer to press the dough into a round with my hands, but you can also use a rolling pin if that is easier. It will create a more uniform circle, but, especially if the dough was frozen, it will prevent it from rising as much.

To bake: Preheat the oven to 450 F. If you’re using a pizza stone, allow it to heat up for about 30 minutes. (Hint: Even if you want to use a pizza pan, place that on the stone if you have one, and slide the pizza onto the stone after 8-10 minutes of baking. This will help the lower crust to crisp up.) Cover a pizza pan with a few tablespoons of cornmeal and place the dough on it. (Use a pizza peel and pizza stone if you have them.) Swirl the dough around to be sure it moves. Brush with the garlic oil–right to the edges–add the toppings, place the dough in the preheated oven, and check after 8 minutes. Add a few minutes more if you need to–you probably will–and remove the pizza when the cheese and crust are as brown as you wish them to be. Let cool for 2 minutes before cutting so the cheese doesn’t pull off.

Garlic Oil:

For one pizza: Heat 1 T olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add 1-2 cloves minced garlic and 1/4 tsp. each: dried basil, oregano, thyme, crushed red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. (Vary the spices as you wish.) Heat, swirling or stirring occasionally, until the garlic just begins to brown. Don’t let it go too far or it will burn–it will continue to cook after the heat is off. Let cool, and brush on the dough.

Jalapeno and Bacon Pizza:

Brush the dough with the garlic oil, and add a handful of italian blend cheese. Add 3-4 slices of chopped cooked bacon, a couple of tablespoons of jarred pickled jalapeno slices (drain them on a paper towel before adding them to the pizza), about 3 ounces of cream cheese (just dollop it), and some more italian blend cheese (this keeps the toppings from burning). Bake as directed above. Enjoy!

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This simple dish comes by way of my friend (and newest Alabama law student!) Ellie. She made it years ago for a casual dinner party and I’ve remembered it ever since. When she gave me the cookbook it came from–Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone–as a housewarming gift a few weeks ago, I knew this would be the first thing I made. Little did I know, however, that I would not whip it up for a festive tapas night, to be served with Spanish wine and candlelight. Nor would it be a first course to an elegant date night alongside Dan’s favorite mussels in white wine sauce. No, as life is ever-surprising, I made it one night while Waco was under a boil-water alert due to a broken water main near campus, while Dan’s leg hurt from running and my neck hurt from reading and the two of us limped and whined our way around a crowded grocery store at 5 pm trying to get beer and bottled water. Hardly elegant. But once the beer was chilled and the bread was warmed and we felt a little more human again, I realized that even on a busy, tired night like this, the vibrant orangey-red dip still retained a bit of the elegance I’d remembered at Ellie’s apartment. I don’t know if it was because I associated it with friends, or maybe just because it wasn’t leftovers, but it made the evening seem a little more special.

Note: This recipe only makes a small amount, enough for 2-3 people. It’s great to whip up using pantry items or that last bell pepper before you buy a new jar. But if you’re serving a crowd, double or even triple the recipe.

Roasted Red Pepper Spread

(adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

1. In a food processor, blender, or mini-chopper, place one roasted red bell pepper (either from a jar or freshly roasted, skin removed–see below), one small clove of garlic (smashed), and about a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil. Process these until chopped, and add a pinch of salt, some ground black pepper, and a few drops of red wine vinegar. Process until coarsely blended. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with warm bread and enjoy!

Variation: This could also be an excellent sauce over linguine or fish, or even chicken. Try it out in different ways!

To roast a bell pepper: Place on a foil-lined baking sheet in the broiler, a few inches from the flames. Keep an eye on it; don’t leave the kitchen. When the skins get black–you should hear some popping–turn the pepper to blacken another side. Continue until all sides are darkened, then place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 15 minutes. This will help to loosen the skins. After 15 minutes, peel and discard the skins and seeds, and you’re ready to use the pepper!

Apparently it’s fall in some parts of the world. I hear that some states are actually experiencing a slight chill in the air, and I see beautiful wools and tweeds beginning to appear in magazines. I even enjoyed my favorite thing–a pumpkin spice latte–while writing a few days ago. And yet here in central Texas, we’re still dealing with regular 100+ temperatures and no sign of relief. At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was wearing shorts into December!

But for those of you lucky enough to be in increasingly chilly temperatures, here is a recipe that’s perfect for the crisp air I wish you would send my way. This recipe makes an excellent loaf of spicy-sweet bread or a dozen muffins. A few tips: Freeze any leftover muffins immediately. Then each morning or whenever you want a snack, wrap it in a napkin and microwave it for about 30 seconds–it’ll taste far closer to fresh than it will if it sits on your counter for a few days. And they’ll keep frozen for months. Also, about this particular recipe–it is very spicy, almost closer to gingerbread or spice cake than pumpkin bread. Cut down on the cloves if you prefer a stronger pumpkin taste. I hope you enjoy it!

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Bread or Muffins

(adapted from King Arthur Flour’s Whole-Grain Baking)

You will need to set a stick of butter to soften on the counter about an hour before you begin. Take it out of its wrapper and slice it according to the tablespoon markers (on the wrapper) to speed up the process. You want it to just give if you press on it–it should be slightly soft but not runny or melted.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F for the bread, 375 F for the muffins. Spray a 9 x 5 loaf pan with cooking spray or line a muffin tin with paper liners. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups of whole-wheat flour (white whole wheat or traditional), 1 tsp. baking soda, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt (use table salt rather than kosher salt for baking), and 1/2 tsp. each: cinnamon, ground cloves, freshly ground nutmeg. (Feel free to vary the amounts of spices or add some, like ginger, that you might prefer.)

3. Cream 1/2 cup (1 stick) room temperature butter with 1 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark) and 1/4 cup granulated sugar until light and fluffy. (I prefer to do this in the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, but a hand mixer works fine as well. Beat in 3 large room temperature eggs, 1 at a time, until well-incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in 1 tsp. vanilla extract and 1 cup canned pumpkin (pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie filling).

4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, folding by hand until just incorporated–do not overmix. Add any extras you like when there are still a few streaks of flour in the batter: 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips, nuts, dried fruits–whatever screams “fall” to you. I love this with chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan or cups (fill them 3/4 full) and bake: 55 minutes for the loaf, 22-24 for the muffins. Cool each for 15 minutes in the pan, then remove to a cooling rack. Let the bread cool completely before slicing or it will fall apart. The muffins can be eaten warm. These would be great with a little more butter for serving, though that is certainly not necessary.

I wrote this post for my first blog, Flour on the Floor, on blogspot. This is a great pumpkin recipe and Rachel, I’ll be sure to follow it up with more!
Along with working through the various baking books on my shelves, I am also trying out magazine recipes, like the Carrot Cake and the Chocolate-Cherry brownies. This one comes from an issue of Everyday Food that I bought in 2006. I only have one issue of this magazine, which means one thing: I must have bought it in an airport. I am convinced it is my inalienable right to buy at least three magazines whenever I fly anywhere–no matter how short the flight. If I fly around the holidays, all the better–November and December are hands-down the best months for food magazines. Dan and I figured out that I must have bought this one when we flew to Waco, Texas, for a Baylor Homecoming reunion. How much fun that was–sleeping bags on the floor of the condo I lived in my senior year of college, the condo my friend owned but which, since it was not being rented at the time, had no working power or water. If you think it’s bad having 8 people sharing one bathroom, imagine 8 people and no bathroom–it was a weekend to remember. But of course, like all college reunions, it was the best–like no time had passed.
So I bought this magazine, but I never used it until last week when I was cleaning. A friend had asked me to bring a dessert to a potluck, and somewhere in the recesses of my mind I remembered him saying he liked pumpkin pie. This seemed like a natural choice, and it gave me a chance to use the big food processor I bought to make pie crust but never use since it turns out I make pie crust better by hand. Call me frugal.
This turned out to be such an easy cheesecake–no water bath or foil-wrapped springform pan–and yet it was so beautiful and pleasurable to make. Something about the marbling just makes me feel so competent and skilled, even though it’s just dragging a butter knife through batter. It’s like getting compliments from your rich cousins on the sweater you bought at Target–a satisfying feeling of tricking the world.
First, crush up chocolate graham crackers or wafers in the food processor (you get to use it twice in this recipe!) then drizzle in some melted butter. Press the crust into the pan and try to use the sides and heel of your hand to make it level, especially against the sides. I’m hyper aware of this. I’ll never forget my first-ever homemade cheesecake. The edges of the crust were so thick you could barely bite through them. God bless him, Louis was so kind about it.

While the crust is baking, make the filling. You don’t need to even soften the cream cheese–just be sure to scrape down the sides of the processor if you don’t. Once everything’s in, the filling should look like this.
Once you’ve melted the chocolate and mixed in some of the pumpkin mixture, you pour the rest of the pumpkin onto the slightly cooled crust, then dollop on the chocolate. Then you play–sweep a butter knife up and down the pan, then side to side, until it looks perfect to you. Don’t overdo it or it will get all mixed and the marbling will be ill-defined. Not that this is the worst thing in the world, but it will detract from your sense of smug satisfaction.

Looks like stationery.
To cut the bars–once they have cooled and are completely chilled in the fridge–fill a glass with warm water and get a large knife and a clean dishtowel or paper towel. Lift the parchment out of the pan and place it on a cutting board. Dip the knife in the water, cut lengthwise in as few strokes as possible, and wipe off the knife. Dip it in the water again, and repeat this process until all of the bars are cut.
Arrange them on a plate, admire, and enjoy.

Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Bars

(adapted from Everyday Food, November 2006)
For the crust:
1 sleeve chocolate graham crackers (8 full crackers)
2 T sugar
4 T unsalted butter, melted
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line bottom and sides of an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on all sides. Spritz with cooking spray and set aside.
2. In a food processor, blend crackers with sugar until finely ground. Add butter and pulse until moistened.
3. Pour crumb mixture into prepared pan and press gently into the bottom, working the crumbs into an even thickness. Bake until fragrant and slightly firm, 12-15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
4. Wipe out food processor to use for filling.
For the filling:
2 packages (8-oz. each) cream cheese (not fat free)
1 cup sugar
1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
3 T all purpose flour
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. salt
3 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
1. Place the cream cheese in food processor; blend until smooth (it helps to let is soften at room temp. a bit first). Add sugar, pumpkin puree, eggs, flour, spice, and salt. Process until combined, scraping down the sides with a spatula if necessary. Set aside.
2. Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl; microwave in 30-second increments, stirring between each, until melted. (It took me three rounds. The residual heat will help melt a few small pieces if it’s not totally smooth). Add 1/2-3/4 cup pumpkin mixture; stir to combine.
3. Pour remaining pumpkin mixture into prepared pan (with cooled crust). Drop dollops of chocolate mixture onto pumpkin mixture. Swirl using a butter knife (a spatula is too thick and the marbling will not be as pretty). Bake at 350 until cheesecake is set but jiggles slightly in the middle, 40-45 minutes.
4. Cool in pan. Cover, chill until firm, at least 2 hours (and up to 2 days). Using overhang, transfer cake to work surface. With a knife dipped in warm water, cut into 20 squares. Serve, or cover and chill up to 2 days.

There’s something about dessert that turns any meal into a special occasion. When I’ve labored over a meal for hours, the actual dining never seems to last long enough. It might be an excellent meal, accompanied by satisfied groans with ever bite and a  chorus of, “You must make this again,” but when it’s over I always feel a little sad. Not so, however, when there’s dessert. Dinner’s postlude, dessert allows the meal to end gracefully, relaxing me to enter the real world once again.

This dessert is just such a dessert. Warm and comforting–with plenty of leftovers!–means I will look forward to it all week. It was inspired by a recipe from Food Network’s new show, Aarti Party, but I changed a few things. The original recipe claims you need to use full-fat ingredients, and I just don’t find that to be the case. I’m sure it would taste much richer if I’d used whole milk, but it’s perfectly soothing and full-flavored with 1%, and I just don’t think I could ask any more of a recipe than to be comforting and healthy. It’s basic bread pudding with a twist–a few small pinches of Indian-inspired spices, ginger and cardamom–that makes this my new standard by which all future bread puddings will be judged. So here’s my version, and I hope you enjoy it very soon.

Coconut-Fig Bread Pudding

1. Place 6 dried figs in a small bowl of hot water; let sit for 15 minutes. (This step rehydrates them and makes them much easier to slice later.) Remove them from the water, de-stem, and slice thinly. Set aside.

2. If you have a day-old loaf of French bread, cut it into 1-inch (or slightly larger) cubes. If you don’t think that far ahead (I don’t) cut a fresh loaf into cubes, place them on a baking sheet, and put it in the over at 200 F for 20 minutes to dry out the cubes. Let them cool, and proceed with the recipe. (As always, cover the sheet with foil for easy cleanup.)

3. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Optional: Melt 1-2 T unsalted butter in the microwave; set aside to cool.

4. In a large mixing bowl, whisk 1 cup granulated sugar with 3 large eggs. Beat until smooth, then add 1 (14-oz.) can light coconut milk, 3 cups low-fat milk (or whatever you prefer), and 1/4 (or slightly more) each: ground cardamom and ground ginger, a 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Optional: While whisking, slowly pour in the melted butter. Whisk everything until well-combined. Add the bread and figs and toss well to coat, pushing the bread down to make sure it is covered. Let sit for 15 minutes.

5. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with cinnamon. At this point, you can bake it, or you can cover it and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours. This is my preferred method. I bake it when I serve dinner so it’s hot in time for dessert. Bake for 35 minutes (40-45 if cold from the fridge) or until the middle is not jiggly and the sides begin to pull away from the pan. (This will be slight–I prefer the “poke the middle” method of testing doneness.)

6. Serve the hot pudding with vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt. Don’t skip this step–it makes this dessert perfect.

Enjoy!

First, let me apologize for missing my first Tuesday post. After a terrible workday on Monday–not a bad day in the least, but by dissertation standards, it was the least productive so far–I decided that Tuesday really needed to be all about the books. Not to make up for lost time so much as for my psychological well-being. It really does amaze me how much of writing a dissertation is psychological. I’ve never run a marathon, but I assume pushing through that “wall” they always talk about is similar. It all seems so fragile, despite the fact that the process of writing is anything but delicate. You slog away, day after day, word after word, page after page, and it takes a long time before you really feel like you’re getting anywhere. And unlike seminar papers, there’s not a rush of energy at the end of the day when you can finally turn it in and go out for a beer to celebrate, looking forward to the next class on a new topic. No, for a dissertation you work 8-5 and at the end of the day, you’re just done. You stop, to begin again the next day. There’s not usually a sense of great accomplishment. In fact, writing a dissertation is far more like an actual job than anything I’ve done before–it is ongoing, you must keep regular hours whether or not you feel like working–and for academics, this is a tough reality. When laundry starts to sound like a welcome change of pace, …well, you get my meaning. I’m just waiting for the day I look forward to cleaning the toilets. I’m not there yet, but I know it’s coming.

One way I’ve found to break up the long days is a quick trip to the gym and a good lunch. While it may not be an evening feast during which you can relax from the daily grind, a good lunch keeps me from hating myself for eating everything in the house come 3:30 pm. And these Muffaletta Calzones are the best lunch I know. They’re a New Orleans Muffaletta in a pizza crust, so they’re every but as tasty but not as messy. They can be eaten at room temperature or warm, so a microwave isn’t necessary. And they’re not bad for you, as they don’t have nearly the amount of oil you find in typical olive salads, the classic condiment of the muffaletta. I like to make two large calzones and slice them–one for dinner, one for lunch. Each will serve 2-3 people.

I make my own pizza dough (a future post), but you can certainly buy a frozen dough at the grocery store and thaw it. I do not recommend the tubes of dough near the biscuits in the refrigerated section, however–they have far too much sugar and the sweetness tends to overpower the dish. And remember, this is just a method–use any fillings you like to create great handheld lunches. I love broccoli and anchovies, but for those of you who are gagging right now, try any leftovers. Beef or vegetable stew, fajita or taco fillings–any of these are great baked into a calzone. Just add marinara or salsa and sour cream for a dipping sauce and you’ll be looking forward to lunch even more!

Muffaletta Calzones

(adapted from a recipe in Southern Living Magazine)

1. Preheat the oven to 450 F, and move the oven racks to the lower half of the oven. Depending on the number of calzones you plan to make, line one or two large baking sheets with foil and spray with cooking spray–set aside. I use one sheet per calzone, just to make sure they have enough room to crisp up without sticking to one another or steaming because they are too close together.

2. Sprinkle a clean flat surface with flour, and roll out one softball-sized piece of dough into an oval using a rolling pin (I usually don’t recommend using a rolling pin for pizza dough, but it works for calzones), to a little over 1/4″ thickness. Mine usually end up about 9 x 13, if you want to use a familiar-sized baking pan as a guide. Place on the baking sheet and press dough out to make the shape roughly symmetrical.

3. Chop 1/2 cup gardiniera (Italian pickled vegetables, you can find them with the jarred olives and pepperoncini in the grocery store), 1/4 cup green olives with pimientos, and 1 large slice of thick-cut ham. Sprinkle these over one-half of the dough (lengthwise) and add one handful (about 3 oz.) of shredded provolone or italian cheese blend. Optional: Sprinkle with a little more parmesan if you’d like, and some italian seasoning.

4. Now to close: Take the half of the dough without filling and fold it over the filling. Turn the baking sheet so the seam faces away from you (this makes it easier to work with) and, beginning at the right corner, pinch the dough together and fold it under, pinching it again. Repeat all the way around the edge of the calzone. (Think about the motion you make when you roll down a bag of cereal before closing the box, or what you do with foil or parchment when you cook something en papillote, or in a paper pouch.) Press the pinched edges down to the baking sheet to ensure that they’re closed. Brush the top with some olive oil, sprinkle with parmesan cheese if you like, and cut a few small slits with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape, and bake for 20-25 minutes. (Start with the shorter time and add a few minutes if it needs to brown more.) Remove from the pans to cool on wire racks, then slice and serve–or portion out for tomorrow’s lunch.

Note: If you are making more than one, bake them at the same time, placing one on the middle rack and one on the lower rack. Rotate the pans after about 15 minutes.

Repeat after me: Just because you like to read about a certain fictional character doesn’t mean you should eat like one. Did you repeat it? Memorize it? Internalize it? Well, then you’re one up on me. I’ve recently been rereading Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels as a break from Civil War history, and I find it sad that the part of her main character I wish most to emulate is not her shooting accuracy or even her somewhat ignorant bravery–no, I want to eat pizza, beer, and doughnuts with reckless abandon and still not gain a pound. I keep telling myself it’s fiction, but paired with an evening of Man v. Food or Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and we have a boiling cauldron of feasting disaster on our hands. After an evening of attempting to eat out in Waco on move-in day (and get our meal, say, before 10 pm!) we finally gave up, ordered a pizza, sat in the middle of the living room floor and ate all of it. Well, not all–we saved two tiny pieces and with them a shred of our dignity. Then we brought out my chocolate chip bars, a dessert I’d made that afternoon to complement our planned healthy dinner of sauteed fish and broccoli slaw. Where did we go wrong?

At least the chocolate chip bars were (somewhat) healthy. This is one of my favorite recipes from one of my favorite cookbooks: One Smart Cookie, by Julie Van Rosendaal. Crisp on top, gooey in the middle (even after they’ve cooled!)–these are pretty much perfect. They’re only about 150 calories per bar, and trust me, they’re so sweet, you probably won’t want more than one. I honestly prefer them to their cookie counterpart. Heresy, I know. And the best part: Even if you don’t bake regularly, you probably have all of these things sitting around in the fridge or pantry. What an easy (albeit dangerous) indulgence.

So here’s the recipe:

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bars

(adapted from One Smart Cookie by Julie Van Rosendaal)

1. Preheat the oven (or a large toaster oven–my choice) to 350 F. Spray an 8 x 8 baking pan with cooking spray. (If you’re using a toaster oven, make sure the pan fits!)

2. Wet: In one bowl, whisk 2 T melted butter, 1 cup brown sugar (any kind), and 1 tsp. vanilla until well blended. Add 1 large egg and whisk until smooth.

3. Dry: In another bowl, stir together 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and fold until almost combined (you should still see some flour). Add 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I recommend semi-sweet) and fold until just blended.

4. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan You may need to spray a spatula with cooking spray and ease the stiff batter into the corners. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the sides just begin to pull away from the edges of a the pan. For these, seriously, don’t overbake.

5. Cool for at least an hour before cutting them into bars. The top will fall after they’ve cooled for awhile, and it will break a bit as you cut them. This is part of what makes these bars the comfort food treat that they are.

Enjoy!