Fudgy brownies for a friend’s birthday

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When it comes to brownies, most people have a preference: cakey or fudgy. My co-worker, whose birthday is today, prefers the latter. Lucky for her, I have a great recipe for people who like fudgy brownies. I found it in the Spring 2008 edition of Cook’s Illustrated Light Recipes and have used it ever since. It’s also a great recipe to use when you want to experiment with flavors in brownies — whether that means adding mint flavoring, caramel streaks, or using it for a base layer of a more decadent bar.

The article that ran with this low-fat recipe said that the fudgy texture can be attributed to the sour cream used in the recipe — which, unlike many brownie recipes, doesn’t use much butter. In a couple instances where I didn’t have sour cream, I substituted Greek yogurt, which added a slight tang to the finished product. But, it will do in a pinch.

These decadent brownies really hit the spot when you’re particular about the consistency. You can also easily add nuts or chocolate chips. I hope you enjoy them as much as the birthday girl did.

Ingredients
Nonstick cooking spray
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons low-fat sour cream
1 tablespoon chocolate syrup (or light corn syrup)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg plus 1 large egg white
1 cup sugar

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Fold two 12-inch pieces of foil lengthwise so that each measures 7 inches wide. Fit one sheet into an 8-inch-square baking dish, pushing foil into corners and up sides of pan (overhang will help in removal of brownies). Repeat with second sheet, placing in pan perpendicular to first sheet. Coat foil with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Melt chocolate and butter together in bowl set oven pan of simmering water or in microwave set to medium power. Cool 2 to 3 minutes, then whisk in sour cream, chocolate syrup, vanilla, egg, egg white, and sugar. Using rubber spatula, fold dry ingredients into chocolate mixture until combined.

Pour batter into pan, spread into corners, and level surface with spatula. Bake until slightly puffed and toothpick inserted in center comes out with sticky crumbs attached, about 25 minutes. Cool brownies completely in pan on wire rack, at least one hour. Remove brownies from pan using foil handles. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.To keep brownies moist, do not cut until ready to serve.

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Apple-based soup is a refreshing change

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This soup isn’t your average, run-of-the-mill soup. It isn’t loaded with cheese, it’s not mellow like the butternut squash soup recipe I posted a few weeks ago, and it’s definitely more tart than the white bean-and-rosemary soup I made earlier this year.

While I usually tend to favor more mellow flavors for soups, the tartness in this Hungarian Apple Soup was a refreshing surprise. When I was preparing it, I thought the potato would cancel out the apple flavor, but that flavor was first and foremost in the end. It was a pleasant surprise.

I doubled the recipe because I had two apples I needed to use, but you can visit the original recipe if you only want to make three cups of soup.

If you’re looking for a soup that will awaken your tastebuds as we head into winter, this is it.

Next week I’ll begin my cookie countdown to Christmas. Get ready for some new favorites with great flavor.

Ingredients
1 1/3 tablespoons canola oil
2 medium tart apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2 cups diced peeled Yukon Gold potato
2/3 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery, plus leaves for garnish
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
Pinch of paprika, preferably hot Hungarian
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 14-ounce cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add apple, potato, onion and celery; cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in salt, sage, paprika and pepper; cook for 30 seconds. Pour in broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, cover, and gently simmer until the potato is tender when pierced with a fork, 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the soup to a large blender or food processor, add sour cream and process until smooth. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.) Garnish with celery leaves, if desired.

Sweet squash soup for cold nights

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Lake Tahoe got a light dusting of snow at lake level last week. Night temperatures are dipping into the high 20s and I’m thinking about turning my heater on for the first time since May.

My thoughts have turned to warm meals that are easy to put together. I made this Roasted Butternut Squash Soup to keep me warm last week. I cut the recipe in half — but used the same amount of apple, onion and cream — because I only had one squash. It still made enough soup for four meals.

I’ve used Granny Smith apples in soups before, and they lend a certain tartness to them. This time I used a Fuji apple because it’s all I had. I liked the mellower flavor and feel that a Granny Smith apple would have made the soup more tart than I wanted it to be. The soup is sweeter and thicker than many other kinds of soup, but I liked that.

If you roast the squash ahead of time, this soup can be made quickly on a weeknight, when most people tend to look for meals that are easy to make after a day of work. I enjoyed it with a slice of sourdough bread and a spoonful of sour cream.

Ingredients
1 medium butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeds removed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium Granny Smith or Fuji apple
1/2 medium yellow onion
1 1/2 teaspoons rubbed sage or 4 fresh sage leaves
1 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Dash of black pepper
1/3 cup heavy cream
Sour cream

Heat the oven to 425 degrees F and arrange a rack in the middle.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the squash pieces cut-side up on the baking sheet. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and brush all of it over the tops and insides of the squash halves (alternatively, you can rub it on evenly with your fingers). Season generously with salt and pepper. Roast until knife tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Meanwhile, peel, core, and dice the apple. Dice the onion. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the apple, onion and sage, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

When the squash is ready, set the baking sheet on a wire rack until the squash is cool enough to handle. Using a large spoon, scoop the flesh into the saucepan with the sautéed apples and onions; discard the skins.

Add the broth, water, and measured salt and pepper, stir to combine, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally and breaking up any large pieces of squash, until the flavors meld, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream.

Using an immersion blender or regular blender, purée the soup in batches until smooth. If using a regular blender, remove the small cap from the lid (the pour lid) and covering the space with a kitchen towel (this allows steam to escape and prevents the lid from popping off). Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve garnished with the sour cream, if using.