Or, as I wanted to call it…the 3rd annual valentine’s-day-is-silly bake-off!

Now playing: Pitch Perfect‘s Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

A few years ago, I had a few girlfriends over for Valentine’s Day. I’ve always thought that this is the stupidest “holiday” in the year, boyfriend or no, and I don’t really buy into all the commercialization of it, but I also have nothing against a reason to get together with my boyfriend (or in this case, single girlfriends) and share a great meal or something. (I just don’t need Hallmark to tell me to do so, or dictate stupid stuffed animals, candy hearts, or any flower that doesn’t happen to be my favorite and/or for a good reason. But, that’s another blog post…)

Anyway, this particular year I’d just started getting into cooking, and I’ve been into cocktail creations for a long time, so the plan was to have the girls over for a movie or two and drinks. I baked some red velvet mini cupcakes and put out all kinds of stuff for us to use to decorate (frosting, edible glitter, red hots, etc), and voila! A new tradition was born. Last year, it was just my friend & I in the kitchen with the The Biggest Loser Dessert Cookbook, and I don’t think we ever even got around to cocktails, what with all the other goings-on (try the hazelnut-ricotta whole wheat empenadas). This year, though, we scaled it down a little and picked two classics to focus on: simply the best chocolate chip cookie recipe** I’ve ever tried, hands down (thanks, Tender Crumb)! The other we chose was this decadent brownie filled with peanut butter as well as a sprinkling of peanut butter & chocolate chips, courtesy of Baked Perfection.

Even with all this gluttony goodness going on, I wanted to do anything I could to keep from binging on an all-out fat-fest, so I asked Steph if she was game to try something that sounded a little strange. Over the years, I’ve tried many weird things in the interest of lightening recipes, especially brownies. I’ve tried applesauce, which tends to come out too “cakey,” zucchini which wasn’t properly obliterated so you could see and still taste it…gross. I’ve heard of mashed banana, and I’ve heard of using pumpkin. I’ve tried neither. This year, I wanted to try one that was perhaps even scarier than either of those: black beans. That’s right. Allegedly, people can’t tell the difference if you do it right. Happily, Steph said what the hell, and we gave it a shot. It’s a really easy switch, too: all you have to do is buy your favorite brownie mix (I usually prefer to make things from scratch, but in this instance I wasn’t going to waste any time/effort on what could end up a botched batch), rinse & drain a 15 oz. can of black beans, put them back in the can & fill it up with water, and then puree it until it’s completely smooth, then blend it into your mix & bake as instructed.

Black beans in brownies?  You're gonna have to trust me on this one.

Black beans in brownies? You’re gonna have to trust me on this one.

The result was, once the beans were pureed & mixed in, neither Steph nor I could taste anything “off” about our brownie batter.

Brownies: before

Black bean brownies: before

Black bean brownies: mid-point

Black bean brownies: after

As you can see, they look perfectly normal. Typically, they’d “fall” a bit in the center, as the recipe describes – they didn’t, so I used a teaspoon to make an indent for the peanut butter. They were a bit firmer than I like my brownies to be, so next time I’d try altering the time in hopes of getting a fudgier texture, but here’s what Steph & I agreed on: if you’re craving something sweet, or even specifically brownies, and don’t want to ruin your diet, these will do. If you absolutely have to have the real thing, or can handle the splurge, make them as you normally would. Having said all that, these really are pretty good, and I didn’t even tell everyone that tasted them about the switch at all…

Not all of them could be heart-shaped (pardon the stained muffin tin)

Not all of them could be heart-shaped (pardon the stained muffin tin)

I liked to bake brownies in muffin tins, as it’s such a perfect little presentation and portion-controlled size all in one.

Brownies filled with PB & chips, cooling

Brownies filled with PB & chips, cooling

After melting the peanut butter, this part gets a little messy, especially with the heart-shaped brownies, but eventually the PB will set again and anyway, it’s worth the effort, and they’re as good as they look!

When Stephanie & I put our grocery list together, I thought it was a little strange that the cookie recipe asked for a little more than six cups of flour total, but since it was supposed to yield something like two dozen cookies, I shrugged: that was enough. We’d each get a dozen or so and it would be good not to have too many extras around to tempt me. Suffice it to say, my instinct was right: this makes a ton of cookies! If you’re making them for a bake sale, an event, or a small army/large family, it’s perfect. Otherwise, I’d recommend halving the recipe, at least the first time you make it. I didn’t count, or remember to take an “after” shot once we were finally done baking ever last dough ball, but I honestly think we ended up with around 8-9 dozen good sized cookies when it was all said and done. But honestly…this is the best chocolate chip cookie dough recipe I’ve ever used, and I don’t know why I’d try another one…

BEST chocolate chip cookie dough: before (notice how MUCH there is!)

BEST chocolate chip cookie dough: before (notice how MUCH there is!)

Steph and I kept teasing each other for our typical methods: she’s always used her Kitchenaid mixer to bake cookies, and I never had before. I’ve always been a “by hand” homemade amateur kind of baker: I’d also never lined my cookie sheets with parchment paper. We used both, and while I still have nothing against making cookie dough without the “fancy” mixer, I will definitely use parchment from this point on.

Fresh from the oven: this  really is the tastiest recipe I've tried!

Fresh from the oven: this really is the tastiest recipe I’ve tried!

Now that I’ve found this recipe & fallen in love, I’m excited to play with it in the future by adding oatmeal, peanut butter, dried fruit (I’m especially excited to make it as is but add dried cherries), etc. Because the recipe yielded so very many cookies, we spent the afternoon watching Pitch Perfect and taking turns getting up to put cookies on the cooling rack and ready the next batch for the oven before the timer went off (again).

Everything's cooling - who's ready for a cocktail?

Everything’s cooling – who’s ready for a cocktail?

I typically pride myself on “mixology,” however pretentious it sounds. There’s a difference between someone who creates a hand-crafted cocktail with real/natural ingredients, and a bartender who “cheats” by using stuff like flavored liqueurs and artificial colorings that do the work and creativity for you. If it doesn’t require any imagination and doesn’t come from just a few ingredients, I’m typically not interested. One exception: I’m a huge lover of (most) flavored vodkas. I especially love Absolut’s line, and I really like that Skyy’s are a natural infusion. Vodkas that are full of sugar and artificial flavors gross me out (think whipped cream, marshmallow, bubble gum, and those along the lines of all that), but I couldn’t resist tasting one I found a few years ago and admittedly love. (It’s a guilty pleasure: The Bachelor of flavored vodkas, if you’re still with me.) Three Olives Chocolate vodka is pretty damn good. It’s quite chocolate-y, it isn’t sweet, and it blends nicely for a variety of dessert-inspired cocktails. The first year I played with it was the first year my girls came over for Valentine’s Day, and I made a very simple cocktail that I now make every year for the same occasion. For those that don’t know, I name all of my cocktail recipes after song lyrics/titles, so this one I’ve dubbed “Bad Romance.” It’s the simplest recipe I can think of that I’ve ever created, because all it consists of is a twist on a screwdriver in a prettier glass with an elegantly dripping chocolate sauce rim.

It’s easy: squirt some chocolate sauce onto a saucer, and then turn a martini glass upside down and dip the rim into it all the way around. Get enough on it so that it’ll drip down a bit, but not so much as will make a huge mess. Pour about 2 oz. chocolate vodka into your glass and finish with some gorgeous blood orange juice. A note about that: I absolutely recommend this (and any) drink with fresh-squeezed juice, but I know that’s not always an option. If you can’t find blood oranges (I get mine at Whole Foods Market), see if you can’t find Perfect Puree’s Blood Orange Juice Concentrate in a freezer near you: it’s a bit pricey because of it’s fantastic quality, and I’ve used it and been very happy with the results.

REAL blood OJ is the absolute best, but... in a pinch, this'll do.

REAL blood OJ is the absolute best, but… in a pinch, this’ll do.

Worst case scenario: do what Steph & I did this year: “cheat” with the Tropicana version. They call it “red orange,” and it’s very much not the same, but it has reduced sugar and you can probably find it in any supermarket. You’ll sacrifice quality and taste, but that doesn’t matter as much to everyone as it does to me…

My standard Valentine's cocktail: Bad Romance.

My standard Valentine’s cocktail: Bad Romance.

And there you have it: a successful day in the kitchen with a good friend, and several days after of happy bellies full of delicious cookies! What’s happening in your kitchen?

**A few things of note:This recipe calls for half pastry flour and half bread flour, which I couldn’t find in the store I went grocery shopping in. Even though the instructions warn against doing so, we used unbleached AP flour, and they still turned out great. (We did use organic pastry flour, though, which I think is probably a good idea.) We used Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips, even though (again), the blog post suggests using chunks instead. I can’t say I’d notice the difference. Also, we didn’t notice that it suggests refrigerating the dough for 24 hours, and I’ve made it since – both times, they’re fine. Two last tips: I have an old oven that seems hotter than it’s supposed to be, so I run it a little lower than recipes call for. I baked my cookies at 325′ for 13 minutes, and they came out exactly the texture I prefer. And if you’ve tried this recipe & are ready for some kind of something special, might I suggest dried Montmorency cherries? I just did this, and they’re fantastic!

  1. Jacque says:

    I remember that the Napa Valley has camilla bushes. Camilla leaves are waxy & great for melting chocolate onto so you have a chocolate leaf. What about a drink that has a chocolate leaf & use a mint sprig. Your chocolate edge Valentine drink got me to thinking. Let me know if you try the chocolate leaf/mint sprig in a Rockinthiskitchen drink.

    • Stace says:

      Jacque, the idea of a chocolate-covered camilla leaf is an interesting garnish. It does sound a little labor-intensive, but obviously that doesn’t rule it out completely if I’m in the mood to go all out. As for the mint sprig with it, I’d probably skip that part. I feel like mint’s gotten a LOT of play in drinks in the past decade, and I’d probably opt for something strange, like opal basil, instead. Wonder how that might taste with dark chocolate…

      Anyway, thanks for the idea! If I use it here, I’ll definitely give you a shout!

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