Chocolate Strawberry Pie Squares | Holiday Recipes: Desserts for Non-Bakers

Happy Sunday! It’s the week. The week where the holiday season officially kicks off with the first holiday...Thanksgiving! I celebrated Friendsgiving with my group of girlfriends from college this weekend and let’s just say I don’t want to eat for five days. Hopefully I’ll have deflated by the time Thursday comes around. We’re not doing any entertaining for Thanksgiving, our job is 100% Christmas. However, I can understand the need for quick and easy recipes this week. Lucky for you, we have our second Easy Dessert for Non-Bakers and coincidentally, it’s another that uses the amazing store-bought pie dough. These whip up pretty easy, although a little messy, and they’re super addictive. I wasn’t sure how this recipe would turn out while it was still an idea but man was it a hit…

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Spiced Baked Pears with Dark Chocolate | Farmers Market Series

Good Morning from Washington, DC! It’s been a whirlwind of a week. I started out in Syracuse, New York, fled to Boston for a mini escape and now I’m in the capitol until heading home. The weather has finally begun to cooperate and it’s no longer unbearably hot which means all the cozy sweaters I packed can finally be put to use. It’s a wonderful feeling. I’m starting to write recipes for the holiday season (yes, that time is coming up) but today I have a fall recipe for you that is a little different from what I usually share. Baking isn’t really my strength so desserts are hard for me to come up with but this particular recipe is a dessert that anyone can whip up…

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Grilled Pound Cake | BBQ Recipes

I may not be known for a sweet tooth but I can appreciate a great dessert. Baking in the summertime is the last thing on anyone’s mind. Something as simple as a store-bought pound cake has hundreds of possibilities and not one of them heats up the home. Inspired by BBQ month in May, I was inspired to come up with a grilled dessert. You may be familiar with my fail at remembering to check the propane tank before embarking on my grilling crusade so I’ve been using a standard grill pan instead. The results are still delightful.

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Grilling pound cake might seem a little out of the ordinary but I urge you to give it a shot. I knew that it would be toasty on the outside and give it a nice texture but I had no clue that it would improve the flavor as well! Grilling the pound cake somehow manages to give it a toastier flavor, and even a little more sweetness. It also warms it up which is the perfect bed for ice cream as it gets all melty on the bottom. Berries add a little tartness which cuts through all the sweet from the pound cake and the ice cream. In other words, this might just be the perfect dessert.

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My three ingredients for this recipe were vanilla pound cake, chocolate ice cream, and assorted fresh berries but you can use anything you want. Lemon pound cake would be fantastic and so would chocolate with vanilla ice cream instead. Strawberry ice cream would make a nice, summery touch or what about something like Cookies n’ Cream? It would make a nice build-your-own bar for partie as well. Grill up a bunch of slices of pound cake at once and place them on a warmed platter for guests to serve themselves and build their own. One of our local grocery stores sells sliced pound cake as well as whole loaves so if you’re running short on time or feeling lazy, those would make a nice short cut.

With all the parties you’ll be attending and/or hosting this summer, it’s nice to keep things fresh for everyone, yourself included! There are only so many times we can eat regular sponge cake (gross) before we can hardly look at it. I love brownies and s’mores but those can get tired too. What will you be whipping up for a treat this summer?

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Grilled Pound Cake with Fruit & Ice Cream
Ingredients:
4 slices Vanilla Pound Cake* (at least 1-inch thick)
2 cups Chocolate Ice Cream**
2 cups Fresh Berries

Directions - Outdoor Grill:
1 - Spray the grill grate with cooking spray. Preheat the grill over a low-medium heat.

2 - Place each slice of pound cake on the grill. Let warm 3-4 minutes on each side or until there are visible grill marks. The outside of the pound cake will become nice and toasty and the inside will be warm and fluffy.

3 - Place each slice of grilled pound cake on a small plate. Top with ½ cup-sized scoop of ice cream and top with ½ cup assorted fresh berries.

Directions - Grill Pan:
1 - Lightly butter the grill pan and set heat to low-medium. Heat the pan.

2 - Place each slice of pound cake on the grill. Let warm 4-5 minutes on the first side and 2-3 on the flip side or until you see grill marks. The grill pan will get much hotter by the time you flip the pound cake. The outside of the pound cake will become nice and toasty and the inside will be warm and fluffy.

3 - Place each slice of grilled pound cake on a small plate. Top with ½ cup-sized scoop of ice cream and top with ½ cup assorted fresh berries.

*Vanilla Pound Cake is what I used but any flavor you prefer would work just as well. Lemon would be a great option or even chocolate.

**Chocolate is the obvious pairing for vanilla and works really well with the assorted berries but just like the pound cake, you can use any flavor you’d like. Vanilla ice cream would go wonderfully with chocolate pound cake and strawberry ice cream would go well with any flavor pound cake. Maybe even get a little creative with all the fun flavors you can find in the ice cream aisle.

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My Father's Daughter | Cookbooks By Lovely Ladies

My Father’s Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow is one of the many cookbooks I received for Christmas this past year. It’s one of the almost two dozen cookbooks currently sitting on my bookshelf. This cookbook has gotten the least amount of attention from me since Christmas but the recipes I have made are quite tasty. Today’s menu to highlight the cookbook is a simple and quick pasta with salad. I made this on a Friday night for only me but it’s a great weeknight meal when you need to get dinner on the table quick.

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I put My Father’s Daughter on my wish list with apprehension. Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t someone who you’d think would have approachable recipes. She’s always talking about these crazy ingredients that are hard to find and freakishly expensive. All the reviews I’d read and previews I saw made it see like this particular cookbook was applicable to anyone. I’m not shy to new ingredients, I did cook through A Kitchen In France which had me using things I didn’t even know existed. However, I’m not fond of spending a thousand dollars for one week’s worth of groceries. Flipping through My Father’s Daughter, I realized that not only did Gwyneth share recipes for the everyday home cook, she shared options.

The beginning of the cookbook shares essential tools Gwyneth always has in her kitchen, directions for any kind of special technique, and my favorite...a substitution chart. There’s nothing worse than finding a recipe that looks divine and realizing you need a specialty flour or sugar for it. This chart includes common substitutions for things like spelt, barley and buckwheat flour, non-dairy milks, and meat alternatives. It’s handy for someone like me that might not have a ton of experience with those ingredients and doesn’t feel confident make the switch without guidance. I’ve taken a photo of this chart on my phone and saved it so I can use it with recipes in other cookbooks! It’s such a useful tool.

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Besides the special tools, My Father’s Daughter includes a personal note from Gwyneth, recipes for soups, salads, burgers & sandwiches, pastas, main courses, side dishes, breakfast and desserts, tips on how to use the book, and more. Many of the recipes include little notes from Gwyneth sharing tips, experiences or memories. Many of them also have substitution suggestions and recommendations for cooking like prepping the sauce ahead of time. I chose a few of her simpler recipes to spotlight for this post. I hope you like them!

The Menu:
Italian Chopped Salad
Penne Puttanesca
Fudgy Chocolate Brownies

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Fun Fact: Italians do not eat their salad as a starter or appetizer like Americans do. The salad is instead more of an in between course or final dish after the heavier meat course is served. Personal Fact: My (Italian) family has always served salad as an optional add-on to whatever meal we’re having. I enjoy having it alongside the main dinner course. Case in point, today’s menu! The Italian Chopped Salad from My Father’s Daughter is a light and veggie packed recipe that is both easy to prepare and a treat to eat. Leafy greens are tossed with scallions, tomatoes, tiny balls of Mozzarella (bocconcini or pearl Mozz - whatever you can find), green beans, and a light vinaigrette. Gwyneth’s recipe also calls for preserved artichoke hearts, roasted bell peppers and anchovies but I left them out for various reasons. It took no time to pull this salad together and it was the perfect accompaniment to the Penne Puttanesca.

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Penne Puttanesca originated in Naples, not far where part of my family is from. It consists of ingredients that are strong in flavor like anchovies, capers and olives. These three ingredients in particular can have a briney, salty flavor. The sweetness of a basic tomato sauce balances that acidity and saltiness well. Gwyneth’s recipe calls for her Basic Tomato Sauce recipe which I have not tried my hand at yet. But I did buy a jar of marinara from the grocery store. I know most people who are Italian cringe at the thought but I am not above convenience. A batch of gravy takes a day to make and lots of freezer space to store. The only tweak I made to this recipe was leave out the anchovies. I don’t mind using anchovies in cooking because they do add a great depth of flavor but if I’m not going to use the entire can or jar, I won’t do it. I feel like it’s a waste to open up a package for one or two. Not to mention they start to smell if you save them.

The Penne Puttanesca was in one word, delightful. I made this entire meal for myself one night. It was late, I hadn’t eaten a real meal in days and I needed to make the recipes for this blog post. I ignored my lazy - “It’s Friday night”- mentality and got to cooking. I don’t know what I was waiting for because the salad and the pasta together took hardly any time. It was a comforting, yet still light dinner and it reminded me of home (I was living in the city at the time). Another reason this meal was so great...the leftovers lasted for days!

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Finally, Gwyneth has this recipe for Fudgy Chocolate Brownies. They're as healthy as you can possibly get them without sacrificing flavor. Let me tell you, no flavor was sacrificed in the making of these brownies. One requires a giant glass of milk alongside it and they are crazy rich. Little confession, her recipe uses spelt flour and soy milk but I used regular white flour and lactose-free milk. So hers, in hindsight, are probably a bit healthier. I did not make these to go alongside my pasta and salad dinner but I did make them for Tapas Night with the girls and they were the perfect finish.

French Country Cooking | Around the World with Cookbooks

Remember French Cooking Fridays? It was my journey cooking through A Kitchen In France by Mimi Thorisson - my first true experience working with French recipes. While it had its frustrations, it also had its accomplishments. It was rewarding making it through some of those harder recipes and eye opening to whiz through the easier ones. For example, there was a chicken recipe that took hardly any time at all and was one of the best chicken recipes I’d ever made in my life. Who knew French food could be so easy? I’ll tell you, no one who is familiar with stereotypical French cuisine.

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As I continue reading Julie & Julia, I’m seeing that the majority of the recipes included, or at least the ones she writes about, are expert level recipes. Is that the truth about any cuisine though? Regardless of the country, everyone needs easy weeknight recipes every once in a while. I mean, what about a croque madame or croque monsieur? That’s hardly a major time commitment. A Kitchen In France did more than expand my cooking skills, it expanded my mind when it came to French Food. Not only does it have the traditional laborious dishes that are decadent and rich, it also has dishes that are light, simple and come together in no time. That was one of the reasons I loved sharing my experiences cooking through A Kitchen In France. I wanted to open the definition of French cuisine and show that it’s not all 8 hour cooking sessions and heavy meals. It’s versatile and seasonal like any other cuisine.

When I found out Mimi had come out with a second cookbook, I knew that I needed it for my cookbook shelf (now shelves). French Country Cooking is organized a little different than A Kitchen In France. While AKIF was organized by season, FCC is organized by course: sides, starters, main courses, staff meals, Sunday suppers, desserts, gouter (snacks), and drinks. Mimi was inspired by the pop-up restaurant her and her husband had taken over in the Medoc region of France. Main courses are dishes you’d see in the restaurant. Staff meals are less complicated, quicker options to feed workers on breaks. Sunday supper dishes are meals you’d cook for your family, something very important to Mimi and her family. The others explain themselves except gouter. A little background info...the French do not eat between meals. They hardly even drink. Because dinner is so late (no earlier than 7:30pm and as late as 10pm), to keep hunger at bay they’ll have a little gouter in the late afternoon to tide them over until dinnertime. A gouter is sweet or savory, sometimes a little of both!

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The meal I chose to showcase French food for our “Around the World” series is classically French. From onion soup to pears with chocolate, these dishes showcase the finesse of French cuisine, the decadence of French cuisine, and the simplicity. Each dish has a different level of work involved and each dish has a different number of ingredients required. I was hoping to show the versatility of the culture. You tell me if I did it justice.

Plantia’s Onion Soup
French Onion Soup is one of those dishes that are without question French. Mimi’s recipe, by coincidence, mimics the same recipe the woman who owned the restaurant before her used to serve. Her name was Plantia so Mimi named the recipe after her. The secret to both of their soups is duck fat and using comte or gruyere cheese on the toasts. I did not use duck fat but I did use gruyere cheese! Onion Soup is super simple to make. Onions cook down until soft before chicken stock, wine and a few other ingredients get thrown in the pot. Everything simmers for a bit before placing cheese toasts on top for a delightful bowl of soup. This recipe may lack ingredients but it lacks no flavor. It’s a recipes that feeds the soul.

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Poule au Pot
I recently read the part in Julie & Julia where Julie makes Pot au Feu for a group of friends. Pot au Feu and Poule au Pot are similar in that they’re both boiled dishes. Pot au Feu is several types of meat all boiled in a large pot with veggies. Poule au Pot is a stuffed whole chicken boiled in a pot with vegetables. Similar, right? Another thing they have in common is that they are not visually satisfactory. They’re actually kind of gross. I wanted to share a photo of the Poule au Pot once it finished cooking to show the stuffing and all that but it was gag worthy. I was not putting a photo of that on the blog.

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Poule au Pot is one of those traditional go-to French dishes made for comfort. It’s also one of those dishes that can be made a million different ways. The prep is a little intense for this one with the stuffing but other than that, it’s not too bad. A creamy mushroom sauce finishes the dish using some of the homemade stock from the pot. That’s the biggest pro for this recipe. The water that the chicken and veggies boil in transitions into a beautiful, rich stock that you can use later in the week. I had about 3-4 quarts of stock leftover that I used all week long. So while Poule au Pot may not be visually stunning and translated to English (boiled chicken) might not sound scrumptious, it’s actually a very tasty dish and it’s also comforting. Whip it up on the weekends when you have a little extra time on your hands.

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Baked Pears with Chocolate
What comes to mind when you think of French desserts? Macarons? Souffle? Chocolate Mousse? How about a baked fruit drizzled in dark chocolate? Because that’s exactly what this is. Four (five if you use mint) ingredients come together for an indulgent dessert that tastes more sinful than it actually is. Melted butter drizzles over halved pears followed by a hint of honey. They’re baked until tender before finished with a healthy drizzle of melted dark chocolate. It’s a dish where the fruit shines but does not taste one bit healthy. The best part is that you don’t feel guilty or gross after indulging. You feel satisfied, satiated and ready for a glass of bubbles. Might we suggest strawberries in prosecco??

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We have a one recipe and one cookbook feature to go! In case you missed the others, see our stops around the world cooking in ItalyThailandGreeceNorth Africa and Mexico.

 

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Brownies | Pumpkin Recipes

It may be December but I’m not over pumpkin season yet! With this recipe, you won’t be either. While the pumpkin pancakes a few weeks ago were pretty unbeatable, these brownies will cure even the strongest sweet tooth. Moist, dense and satisfying, pumpkin and chocolate come together for an unstoppable combination. Even better, they whip up in one bowl with a handful of ingredients that are most likely already in the pantry. It’s hard for even the most challenged bakers to mess this one up.

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These pumpkin chocolate chip brownies follow a standard blondie recipe with a small twist of pumpkin. While you could just add in the pumpkin pie spice for a subtle pumpkin flavor, adding in canned pumpkin adds depth to the flavor and also keeps these brownies super moist. With that said, trust your gut when you think they’re done. Since the color is different than a typical brownie and there’s extra moisture from the pumpkin, they may not seem like they’re done but they are. Use the toothpick or knife trick where you stick it in the center to see if it comes out clean. If there is a lot of batter, put them back in. If you get a few specks and chocolate, they’re good to go. Also remember that they will continue to cook sitting in the baking dish so if it seems a teeny bit under cooked, turn off the oven and let it sit for a few extra minutes.

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While I love pumpkin season and I will continue to celebrate well through winter...most likely into spring...I’m also looking forward to all the holiday themed dinners, desserts and drinks. I already got my first peppermint mocha and I can promise you it won’t be my last. Tell me in the comments your thoughts on pumpkin and what seasonal flavors you look forward to most.

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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Brownies
Ingredients:
¾ cup Butter
¾ cup Brown Sugar
1 Egg
½ tsp. Vanilla
1 cup Flour
½ tsp. Salt
½ tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice
½ cup Canned Pumpkin
1 cup Mini Chocolate Chips

Directions:
1 - Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small saucepan, prepare to brown the butter. Melt it over a low heat and slowly swirl for about 8-10 minutes until it turns a rich brown color and has a nutty aroma. You will be swirling for a few minutes without seeing any results until around the six minute mark. Keep the butter moving or it will burn! Set the butter aside to cool once browned.

2 - Once the butter has cooled, add it to a mixing bowl with the brown sugar and mix until smooth. Add in the egg and vanilla, mixing again until smooth. Slowly add in the flour, salt and pumpkin pie spice and mix until just combined. Fold in the pumpkin followed by the chocolate chips.

3 - Add the batter to a greased square baking dish (9x9 inches). Smooth the batter over the top for even cooking throughout the whole batch of brownies. Bake 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool just enough to cut into neatly and serve.

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French Cooking: Pork Cheek Raviolis & Chocolate Meringue Swirls

We’re going for a double whammy this week with our French Cooking series. Two comforting dishes and a decadent dessert are coming for your Saturday. Maybe it will share a little inspiration for a weekend family dinner. French cooking, like Italian cooking, is food for the soul. It’s food that is scrumptious but also beautiful and seasonal. These dishes are no different. From a hearty soup to elegant raviolis to a pillowy, rich dessert, today’s menu will not disappoint.

STARTER: Harvest Soup
Harvest Soup is what I like to call an “everything but the kitchen sink” soup. It’s a simple meat and veggie soup that simmers all day for a tender, flavorful dish later. It’s so simple to prepare as well. Place a beef roast in a pot and cover it with water. Bring it to a boil and add the vegetables and let it simmer low for a few hours. Once the beef is cooked and tender, remove it for a few minutes to pull the meat apart and add back into the soup. It’s a simple, comforting dish anyone will enjoy.

MAIN: Pork Cheek Ravioli with Cepes
These raviolis are a lot of work but they are worth every second. If there’s one piece of advice I can offer after making these, it’s to have patience. The ravioli dough needs precision and patience. Too much flour and it will be too tough. Not enough flour and it will end up too sticky. It’s a fine line to manage. The pork cheek filling isn’t particularly difficult to make but it has a few steps that take time. The end result is this decadent and rich ravioli that will blow your mind. The filling is packed with flavor and has an almost creamy consistency. The red wine gravy is beautiful in color, so different from any traditional ravioli.

Cepes are mushrooms found seasonally in Europe. I have never seen a cepe in the midwest before so I look for whatever wild mushroom the store has in stock. If wild mushrooms are still tricky to find, a meaty portobello mushroom will work or shiitake. Pork cheeks are supposedly super affordable. At least from what I’ve read online. Even though my butcher mentioned someone else had recently asked for pork cheeks, they didn’t have any to sell. So improvisation led me to purchasing thin cut pork chops which cooked for a few hours before getting blended together with the wild mushrooms for the ravioli filling. It is divine. I cannot say enough good things about the filling for these raviolis. The flavor is off the wall and the red wine sauce that gets spooned over the top tastes like something that is served in a Michelin rated restaurant.

DESSERT: Chocolate Meringue Swirls with Chocolate Sauce
These meringues are the epitome of light decadence. They’re little mounds of pure heaven. Light enough to make you feel good about yourself but rich enough to feel like an indulgence. The chocolate sauce on top is an added treat with the Chantilly Cream. I was hesitant to tackle this recipe at first but I am so thankful I did. Mimi doesn’t have the exact recipe for these on her website but she does have one close to it. Click the link above to try them for yourself.

Catch up on our French Cooking Series HERE. In case you’re new or haven’t had a chance to read about our journey cooking through A Kitchen In France by Mimi Thorrisson, read our very first post HERE.

Peppermint Chocolate Brownies For Brownie Day!

Happy National Brownie Day! This is one of the best food holidays of the year. Nothing beats a warm fudgey brownie with a cold glass of milk. Am I right? Since we're getting close to Christmas, we went a little more festive with this recipe. I mean, it is a day of celebration. These dense, rich brownies are the perfect finish to any meal and even great for snacking. The peppermint candies throughout the brownies add a little extra touch for Christmas and you know what? They're actually pretty low calorie for a brownie!

I am not a registered nutrition. I don't know how to expertly lighten up recipes. But I do know how to add the ingredients into MyFitnessPal and get the nutrition contents! My friend and I are doing an accountability program together so we only have so many calories we can take in each day. We both wanted a brownie one day and decided to plug it into MyFitnessPal to see how much damage it would actually do. The answer...not much at all! And if you cut each brownie in half, one serving comes out to under 200 calories. Scroll to the bottom of this post for full details on calories, sugar, etc. 

Brownies are a non-baker's dream. They're simple to make and hard to mess up. The biggest challenge is to not eat the batter. This particular recipe uses bittersweet chocolate that needs to be melted down. This is a bit more challenging than just mixing traditional ingredients into the bowl but it's completely worth it. This will give the brownies an extra depth of richness and fudginess that is irresistible. Just be careful while melting the chocolate and butter because it's easy to burn yourself. Fill one saucepan just under halfway with water so it doesn't overflow. Bring it to a boil and turn the heat down to low. Add another saucepan or heat-proof bowl on top of the water and this is where you'll melt your butter and chocolate. Keep it moving so that neither ingredient burns. It will melt pretty quick. 

Serve the brownies as is or garnish them with mini candy canes and broken peppermint pieces. I did a mixture of both so people who might not want to eat the candies can easily take off the whole candy cane rather than a bunch of small pieces. These will make a great addition to your sweets table at Christmas. 

PEPPERMINT CHOCOLATE BROWNIES
Ingredients:
1/4 cup Cocoa Powder
2/3 cup Flour
1/2 Salt
1 stick Butter, melted
4 ounces Bittersweet Chocolate
3/4 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla
1/4 tsp. Peppermint Extract
3 Eggs
1/4 cup Crushed Peppermint Candies

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square baking dish with butter or cooking spray. 

2. Mix together cocoa powder, flour and salt. Set aside. Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Using another sauce pan or a heat-proof bowl, melt the butter and chocolate over the saucepan with boiling water and stir constantly to prevent burning. Once melted, remove from the heat.

3. To the butter and chocolate mix, add the granulated sugar, brown sugar, vanilla and peppermint extract. Whisk until well-combined. Add eggs one at a time until all of the ingredients are mixed together completely. Using a rubber spatula, add the dry ingredients into the chocolate mixture. Once the batter is smooth, fold in the crushed peppermint candies.

4. Transfer the batter to the baking dish, using the spatula to spread it evenly. Bake 40-45 minutes until a toothpick comes out slightly fudgey. Remove from the pan and cool on a cooling rack. Add peppermint candies on top for garnish and serve.

Yields 9 Large Brownies

Nutritional Information per serving (calculated through MyFitnessPal):
Calories: 346
Total Fat: 15g
Cholesterol: 89mg
Sodium: 235mg
Total Carbohydrate: 46g
Sugars: 35g
Protein: 4g