Red Velvet Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies

I gotta tell ya. I would be COMPLETELY fine with winning the lottery.

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You always hear stories about past lottery winners and how it ruined their lives, and now they have no more money, and they just wish things were back to the way it used to be before they won.

Umm..what? I can’t speak from experience, but I’m preeeeetty sure I would rock that. Every time I have a day off, or a long weekend, or even better, a whole WEEK off, I am as happy as a clam. (btw: I just looked what the meaning of that phrase was because, while I use it all the time, I never understood why clams are always so happy. Apparently, the whole phrase is “happy as a clam at high tide.” Meaning: Hide tide is when clams are free from the attentions of predators; surely the happiest of times in the bivalve mollusc world). Surely.

Learn something new everyday. Just think of all the new things I could learn in my free time if I won the lottery!

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I have a wonderful 9-5 job that let’s me earn a paycheck while still allowing me to live the life I want to live. Once I leave work, I don’t check email, I don’t have people calling my cell phone, I don’t bring home work with me. Once I’m out of the office, I’m cut off. Nights and weekends are free to do what I please. The thing I’ve always said about myself is that I work to live. I don’t live to work. While I understand the importance of having a job, I’ve never had a true connection to it.

Growing up, I never knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. I still don’t. I never had that career ambition that some of my friends have. I’m more than happy going to my job, coming home, and not having it control my life. Some may find that a bit off-putting or not very ambitious, but I never want my job to define me.  My job is what I do, not who I am.

However, it’s things I do outside of work that I find I’m most passionate and ambitious about. There is nothing I love more than being home and having the whole day to bake and cook. That’s where I’m truly happy and passionate. My brain starts churning and I can’t wait to create delicious and decadent meals and treats. Instead of having a corner office on the 50th floor of a high rise, I consider my kitchen my own little corner office.

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I could literally be the quintessential 1950’s housewife. Minus the whole birthing and raising of the children thing, I could totally be happy staying home all day cooking and baking.* I’m not saying this is ideal for every woman but I could do this and be completely happy. It would also give me more time to turn this blog into something bigger and better, which is a top goal I have.

But the connection to work is important, because without that steady paycheck, I wouldn’t be able to do the things I’m passionate about. (Umm..baking is expensive! I can’t even [nor would I want to] fathom the amount of money I constantly spend on flours, sugars, eggs, butter, etc.)

So, obviously, the only solution that allows me quit my job, but still earn money so that I can stay home and cook and bake all day? LOTTERY.

Need proof that I would use all my time off wisely? Well, you’re looking at it. The last time I was home all day, I made these brownies. Enough said.

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Besides my chocolate chip cookies, this has been one of the most constant desserts to come out of my kitchen. They are my boyfriend’s favorite and I just recently made these for him for Valentine’s Day. I mean, what’s not to love here?

In this dessert there is a delicious, chewy, moist (#sorryimnotsorry), fudgy red velvet brownie that has a wonderfully tasty and simple cream cheese swirl mixed throughout. Want some brownies but are also in the mood for cheesecake? BOOM. Here you have both. No need to choose.

In the mood for a red velvet cake with cream cheese icing but don’t want to be bothered with making a nice, tall, layer cake? BOOM. All the flavors of that cake here in an easy brownie form.

There is a reason that the cream cheese icing and red velvet combination works so well. The tangyness (is that a word? probably not being that I have the red squiggly line underneath it as I type this) from the cream cheese pairs beautifully with the sweetness of the red velvet brownie.

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This recipe is quickly becoming one of my favorites as well. And while it has 2 different components, it couldn’t be simpler. The brownies come together quickly in one bowl and the cream cheese swirl just takes a quick mix in your mixer. (“mix in your mixer”? Ugh, I need a thesaurus)

Once your brownie mixture is done, place 3/4 of the batter into your prepared pan. Pour the cream cheese mixture on top, and finally dollop the remaining brownie batter on top of the cream cheese mixture. Take a butter knife and swirl the layers together. Try not to over-do the swirling. I like to have big swirls of cream cheese throughout the brownies. No fuss. No complicated technique. Simple ingredients and techniques that end up creating a more than extraordinary dessert.

If you are a fan of the traditional red velvet cake with cream cheese icing, this recipe is sure to please. Still on the fence about the whole red cake thing? Give this recipe a shot. It may just be the recipe to sway you to red velvet love.

(That sounds dirty)

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*along with, of course, vacations around the world. I’m not that out of my mind..

*****

RED VELVET CREAM CHEESE SWIRL BROWNIES

(Recipe by: Sally’s Baking Addiction)

INGREDIENTS:

Red Velvet Brownies

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon liquid or gel red food coloring
  • 3/4 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Cheesecake Swirl

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line an 8×8 baking pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Make the brownie layer first. In a small bowl, beat the 2 eggs together. Set aside. Melt the butter in a large microwave safe bowl in 30 second increments until melted. Stir in 1 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, cocoa powder, salt, food coloring, and vinegar. Mix each of those ingredients into the batter in that order. Whisk in the eggs, then fold in the flour until completely incorporated. Do not overmix. Pour 3/4 of the brownie batter into prepared baking pan, leaving the remainder for the top.
  3. Make the cheesecake swirl. In a mixer on medium speed, beat the softened cream cheese, 1/4 cup sugar, egg yolk, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla in a medium bowl until completely smooth – about 1 minute. Dollop spoonfuls of the cream cheese mixture on top of the prepared brownie batter. Cover with the remaing brownie batter. Slide a knife through the layers, creating a swirl pattern.
  4. Bake the brownies for 28-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow the brownies to cool completely before cutting into squares. Cover brownies and store at room temperature for 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 6 days. Brownies will freeze well, up to 2 months.
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Trail Mix Cookies

So umm..really winter?

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This is how it’s gonna be? Look, I understand that winter is supposed to be cold and snowy. But, I mean, REALLY?! Just stop. I can only take so much. I’m so over winter that I don’t even care if I don’t get another snow day from work. I’ll gladly work my usual 5 days a week if that means spring and warmer weather is coming. I’m throwing my white flag into the pile of white snow and forfeiting.

Oh, and take your “polar vortex” and shove it.

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These cold, snowy, wintry days have me looking forward to the warmer spring and summer weather. Where we all can all enjoy the outdoors and nature with long walks and hikes and truly embrace the end of winter. I actually am a big fan of hiking. I like that feeling of being connected with nature. I like how being surrounded by trees and hills and mountains can make me feel so small. I like being reminded that there is a big, big world out there. It’s very peaceful and I love taking a time out from my hectic life and just chilling out for a couple hours.

Being outdoors is also a great way to get exercise without the monotony of running on a treadmill. Seriously, I hate working out at a gym. My brand new gym membership? Poor thing. I’ve been paying each and every month, and barely (and I mean barely) use it. It’s just that I get so bored running on a treadmill. I literally can have a TV on while listening to my iPod and I still can’t fight my way through it. I’d much rather be walking outside. There are a lot more things to focus on than the mile counter on the treadmill.

And if I’m being completely honest, the people watching is great. It’s like my all-time favorite past-time. And, I don’t mean to brag, but I’m GREAT at it. Can I sometimes be borderline creepy with it? Sure. Sometimes. But I take pride in my creepiness. People are so fascinating!! 

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Anywho, while I do love enjoying nature and going on the occasional hike, the truth is, I don’t really hike very often. It’s hard to go on many hikes while living in a metropolitan area. But if the opportunity presents itself, I’m totally game.

But if we’re being completely honest here, another thing I really love about hiking is what people EAT while hiking. Because, as usual, it’s all about the food for me. Trail mix, granola, granola bars, dried fruits, nuts, and the occasional handful of chocolate. Some of my favorite snackies! I’d climb Mt. Everest if that meant I could munch on that the whole time.

And that’s exactly what these cookies are all about. All those great hiking snacks in one cookie! In this jam-packed cookie, we have oats, walnuts, sunflower seeds, dried cherries, raisins, and chocolate. All wonderful energizing snacks that, will not only help give you the energy to push through your hike, but taste great in cookie form.

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I love the texture of these cookies. The chewyness from the oats, the crunch of the walnuts and sunflower seeds, as well as the softness of the raisins and dried cherries. Perfection. I love a chewy cookie, and while the are somewhat on the thin side (to me), don’t let that fool you. There is chewyness for DAYS. And the flavor combinations?! UGH. Delish. Sweet, salty, tart.

The one thing I would do differently next time? Chill the dough. I like chilling cookie dough because it keeps cookies from spreading out and keeps them nice and thick. Chilling the dough also lets the ingredients meld together, allowing the cookie to really develop its flavors. While this cookie was completely chewy, I would have preferred it a little thicker. So next time? I’m chilling the dough. I usually chill my cookie dough overnight, but if you’re in a rush, 1-2 hours will work as well.

I sent these cookies with my boyfriend for him to bring to work. By 11:00am they were all gone. I think that speaks for itself 🙂

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And while it may not be proper weather to go for a nice hike, you all still deserve these cookies. Because climbing these giant piles of snow is pretty much the same thing. It’s hiking. Winter style.

*****

TRAIL MIX COOKIES

(Recipe by: Annie’s Eats)

INGREDIENTS:

  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup (8 tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 6 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1¼ cup old-fashioned oats
  • ¼ cup golden raisins
  • ¼ cup dried cherries, chopped
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tbsp. sunflower seeds

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon; whisk to blend, and set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugars and beat on medium-high speed until light and smooth, about 1-2 minutes.
  4. Blend in the egg.  Mix in the vanilla.
  5. With the mixer on low speed, beat in the dry ingredients just until incorporated.
  6. Stir in the oats until evenly combined.
  7. Use a spatula to fold in the raisins, cherries, walnuts, chocolate and sunflower seeds, mixing just until evenly incorporated.
  8. Scoop about 2 tablespoons of dough at a time onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies at least a couple of inches apart.
  9. Bake  until golden brown and just set, about 10-12 minutes total.
  10. Let cool on the baking sheets about 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.

Brown Butter Red Velvet Brownies

Ok, enough with the (semi) healthy blog items. Just give me the butter and sugar.

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Full disclosure: this recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups of sugar, 4 eggs, and 2 1/2 sticks of butter. There. I said it. Out loud. Let’s just put our stretchy pants on and march forward.

I’m all about the classic desserts. We live in a world filled with fancy French macaroons, cronuts, tortes, and crazy pastries. But give me a classic chocolate chip cookie (think and chewy!) or a brownie (thick and fudgy!) and I’m one happy girl.

I also live with my boyfriend who has a deep and true love for anything and everything red velvet. Whenever I ask him what I should make next, about 95% of the time, his response is “red velvet cheesecake brownies!”

What should I make for breakfast? “Red velvet pancakes!”

What kind of cookies should I make? “Red velvet cookies!”

What should I make for dinner? “Red velvet chicken!” You get the idea.

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His favorite thing I’ve ever made are the previously mentioned Red Velvet Cheesecake Swirl Brownies. The man L-O-V-E-S them. But I wanted to do something a little more classic. None of the extra’s. So how do I fulfill his need for red velvet, while satisfying my need for a classic dessert?

Red Velvet Brownies.

Naturally brown butter is in there as well, because the love I have for brown butter runs deeper than my boyfriend’s love of red velvet. Can’t fight a love quite like ours. If you have not yet baked with brown butter, stop reading right now and get to it. The smell is one of my favorite things. It’s so intoxicating! I wish someone (a lot less lazy than me) would bottle that up. I’d buy it.

And the flavor? GAH. I can’t even stand it. The depth and richness it gives to whatever you are making it with is unreal. Nutty and almost caramely. It’s insanely addictive and luscious. (Did I just describe butter as luscious?)

In conclusion: Brown Butter Red Velvet Brownies are the perfect compromise in our household.

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I kept debating about putting white chocolate chips in these. I put white chocolate chips in my red velvet cookies to mimic the cream cheese frosting that goes so well with red velvet. But, I eventually decided against it. I wanted something pure. I’ll save the chips for next time. Because there will definitely be a next time.

These red velvet brownies were based off one of my FAVORITEEEEE brownies (which I will share. Eventually.). The thickness and fudgyness that I absolutely adore in those brownies, truly comes through in these. I hate hate hate cakey brownies. If I want cakey brownies, I’d make a chocolate cake. But even then, I like some denseness to my cakes. I can’t help it.

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As always with red velvet, the slight flavor of the cocoa powder comes through without overpowering the sweet vanilla flavor. Red velvet is the perfect flavor for indecisive people like myself. Can’t decide between chocolate or vanilla? Make some red velvet. It’s the best of both worlds.

I used a full 2 tablespoons of liquid red food coloring, but feel free to add more or less. I know people get weird when it comes to using liquid red food dye, but I’ve never thought twice about. If you would like to use gel food coloring instead of the liquid kind, go crazy 🙂

I made these before heading to dinner with a dear, dear friend of mine. I gave her and her fiance a box of them and I received this message shortly after I got home: “I couldn’t resist (even on a fully belly of Greek food) and had a few bites of one. They are dynamite!”

Can’t argue with that 🙂

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Whoops 😉

…..

BROWN BUTTER RED VELVET BROWNIES

(Recipe by: Something Swanky)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 1/2 sticks salted butter (I used unsalted)
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp red food coloring
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Prepare a 9×13 baking dish by spraying with non-stick cooking spray and lining with parchment paper (important so they don’t stick!).
  3. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Stir constantly until butter has reached a light brown color and little “bits” have formed. It can be difficult to see the color of the butter as it foams a bit, so you can also go by smell (it will be very fragrant, smelling almost like caramel).
  4. Pour the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer (no need to cool). Add the sugar and cocoa powder and beat until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing in between each addition until almost creamy.
  5. Add the salt, buttermilk, red food coloring, and vanilla.
  6. Add the flour mix well. Batter will be thick.
  7. Spread batter in the 9×13 pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes until toothpick inserted comes out clean, or with a few moist crumbs on it.
  8. Let cool, then cut into squares to serve.

Skinny Peanut Butter Banana Muffins

You know what’s the worst?

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Having to take NJ Transit whenever there is a snow storm. The wind can blow in the wrong direction and it’s like they throw their arms up in the air and surrender. My job throws me curve balls every now and again, but you know what? I adjust and don’t PREVENT PEOPLE FROM GETTING TO WORK.

I work at Montclair State University. The one train line that travels there does not run any trains on a weekend schedule. So here is what I deal with during the snow: Snow storm = weekend schedule. Weekend schedule = no trains to MSU. No trains to MSU = not able to get to work. Not able to get to work = having to unnecessarily waste a vacation/personal day.

Oh, but because it’s a major snow storm, MSU will close right? Ha! No. MSU is pretty notorious for not closing during severe weather. And coming from a private university where they closed at the sight of one snow flake, this has been an adjustment.

And it’s not like this weather is going anywhere anytime soon. We are supposed to have three storms this week. Three. Moving to Key West keeps sounding better and better.

I keep telling myself that as one day passes, we’re one day closer to warmer weather. But as I look at the forecast, warmer weather seems so far, far away.

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Not having a car in this weather does have its advantages, however. I don’t have to clean off my car when it snows. I don’t need to worry about finding a parking spot. I don’t have to worry about blocking off that parking spot once I leave. I don’t have to sit in the car for 30 minutes before it becomes warm enough. I don’t have to travel on slippery highways.

But there are times, like this, when NJ Transit becomes so difficult that I really miss having a car where I can just get from Point A to Point B without too much of a headache.

While I try and get through winter, at least I have these amazing peanut butter muffins to brighten my day. And have I mentioned they are SKINNY?! Oh yeah. That’s just Deanna math that proves you can have more than 1 and not feel guilty.

Peanut butter and banana. They’re such a fantastic partnership!

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Peanut butter is such a trigger food for me. As soon as I so much as smell it, I just want to eat all the things with it. I can’t stop. My favorite thing to do? Take a spoon of peanut butter and then put some jelly on the same spoon and BOOM! Instant peanut butter and jelly. However, when I start doing that, before I realize what’s going on, I’ve have like 7 spoon-fulls of peanut butter and jelly. Ehh. There’s no bread, so it’s basically diet friendly. Can’t stop won’t stop.

And you all know my love of bananas, so when I saw I had 2 bananas on the counter that were just screaming for me to make something with them, I took one look at my jar of peanut butter and knew muffins were in my future.

So what makes these muffins skinny? Well, first of all, there is no butter in the recipe. What the what? Yeah, I know. In place of the butter, Greek yogurt is used. It helps the muffins stay tender and moist without the added fat. Plus it adds a nice amount of protein. Minimal sugar is also used, with only 1/4 cup of brown sugar being added to the batter. To help add more sweetness without more sugar, honey is just the ticket! If you don’t want to use honey, maple syrup is a great substitute.

Also, instead of using whole milk, unsweetened almond milk is used. I used sweetened because that’s all I had, and they came out great. So use whatever is available to you.

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Another trick that lightens these muffins up? Using white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour. This kind of ties in with my last post about whole grains. Whenever I can add whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose, I do. It’s a little healthier and doesn’t weigh everything down.

Simple changes like these can help lighten up any recipe without sacrificing flavor. And speaking of flavor? While I made 12 muffins with this batter, I could have probably made 14. But I won’t comment on what happened with all that extra batter. Let’s just say that a friend of a friend could not stop eating it. That friend was quite embarrassing… 🙂

Bake up these muffins, and store them in the freezer. After a quick zap in the microwave, you have another great breakfast that will not only cure your peanut butter craving, but will keep you full until lunch without feeling guilty. Or have them for lunch. Or dinner. Or dessert. I won’t tell anyone.

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Want to add chocolate chips to the muffins? First: YES. Second: well, we’ll just have to be best friends.

…..

Skinny Peanut Butter Banana Muffins

(Adapted recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 ripe large bananas, mashed with no chunks
  • 1/4 cup honey (or pure maple syrup)
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup 0% Plain Chobani Greek Yogurt (or regular yogurt, any flavor/fat content)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened almond milk (or cow’s milk, soy milk, rice milk)
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (non-oily natural style is OK)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 and 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour (or an even mix of whole wheat + all-purpose)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

DIRECTIONS:

  • Preheat oven to 425F degrees. Spray 12-count muffin pan with nonstick spray. Set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk the mashed bananas, honey, brown sugar, yogurt, egg, and milk together until combined.  Whisk in the peanut butter and vanilla extract until smooth and thick. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, whisk the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and chocolate chips together (if using).  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and lightly whisk until combined.  Try not to overstir the muffin batter or your muffins will have a tough (not soft) texture. Stir as little as possible until no flour pockets remain.
  • Fill the muffin cups all the way to the top. Between 3/4 full and all the way full.  Bake for 5 minutes at 425F degrees. Keeping the muffins in the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 350F and continue to bake for 12 more minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Muffins stay fresh at room temperature for 3 days. Muffins without peanut butter on top freeze well, up to 3 months.