Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Next Level Brownies

       This month's goodie is a multi-layered fudgy brownie bar cookie that takes a bit of work despite a convenience ingredient in the form of a box of brownies. It is completely coincidental that I had planned to share this recipe for something I call Next Level Brownies while also sharing my own personal upward hike.




   The month of March came roaring in like a devil snatching at my heels. I was getting ready to leave for Holmes County, Ohio to support and volunteer at a seminar. I volunteered to work the check-in table for my friend's ministry, A Better Way. The seminar for A Better Way was an opportunity to connect people who aim to recognize, prevent, and heal from sexual abuse. Yes, I wanted to help with this effort but I must admit that could not wait to go someplace grown up, see and talk to other grown-ups, and do grown-up things. The better part of this school year has been spent climbing a mountain with my Little Mister and using every trick in the book to get his unique mind to learn the fundamentals of reading. The mountain has loomed so largely this year, that it feels like my interactions with others are limited to educators, reading specialists, and speech therapists. I needed a break from climbing that mountain. Like I always say, if you want to take the focus off of your own problems, go help someone else. Somewhere in me, buried under laundry and menu planning, there is still a librarian who has a passion for connecting people with accurate information and life-changing resources. 

    As I was packing, I felt a cold bony hand at my heel again. Less than 24 hours before departure, an emergency weather warning was issued for the entire northeast, a charming mixture of snow, rain, and 85 mile per hour winds. Seriously? 


    I consulted a map and saw there was no way to drive around the storm. The only way to beat it was to plow straight through and maybe outrun the worst of it by the time I get to central Pennsylvania. That morning, with prayers around me, I placed Little Mister on the school bus and hit the road. The plan to beat the storm went amazingly well and soon snow flurries and rain gave way to sun glare. The winds, however, were beyond formidable. I'm not dainty by any standard, but for the first time in my life, the fear of becoming airborne was real. Those 85 mph winds fought you at every step as you struggled in slow motion to exit your vehicle and walk at the rest stop. 

This was where the heel-nipping started again.

    It had been so long since I drove this route that I had forgotten the high mountain ranges with spectacular views of an endless drop just outside of your passenger side door. There I was, clinging to the side of a mountain in a slow crawl while the wind would randomly blow a large truck slightly out of the middle lane. You had to be ready to compensate for it on less than a moment's notice and calm enough to not let it scare you. I'm not a fan of heights, and the threat of the wind pushing me off the edge into a deep canyon in the no man's land of western PA was an actual mountain I had not intended to climb. I had left behind a different kind of mountain at home and now found myself climbing a real live actual mountain under less than ideal circumstances. Was I equipped? 

    I prayed that the Lord would guide me to Ohio safely and that the seminar would be a blessing to all who would be able to attend. I prayed that everyone who would be able to make it would be exactly who needed to be there to benefit from the information given by the presenters. I prayed for all the drivers on the road, and for God's will. 

    By the time I reached Wheeling for my next break, the winds had subsided. I was well on my way and in the clear. The Lord had equipped me to come over and through those mountains.

    Now, weeks later I am back to my original mountain of school meetings and reading specialists. My cleats dig into slippery ice at every step and if I glance back, the devil's bony claw takes another swipe at my heel. He makes idle threats about my kid never being able to measure up. I kick at him and stick a cleat in his eye. It might be daunting if I hadn't already gotten over and through a fair bit of the Appalachian mountains. I might be worried if the Lord hadn't shown me that I am ready to be a mountaineer. 


    As in Psalm 121, I will lift my eyes up to the hills and know where my help comes from. 

   Now, here's some trivia: Many times, the dessert recipes I share here are not eaten only by our small family. As a member of the hospitality committee at church, my baked goods often end up on the snack table for after the service. This is how I can justify baking a sheet pan or two or five of something delicious. These brownies were somewhat unique though in that they were so good, they never made it to the snack table. That's right, we ate them all! 




Although the recipe uses a brownie mix for the middle level, don't think this is an easy convenience recipe. It takes a while to put this together. 

Next Level Brownies

Cookie level:
3/4 cup softened butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 and 1 half cups all-purpose flour

Brownie level:
1 package fudge brownie mix (13x9 pan size)

1/3 cup water
1/3 cup canola oil
1 egg

Topping:
1 package (11 and 1/2 ounces) semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips, melted 

3/4 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla. Add the flour a little at a time and mix well. Spread the mixture onto a 15x10x1 inch baking pan lined with parchment paper. Bake until golden brown, 12-24 minutes.

While the cookie layer is baking, combine the brownie mix, water, oil, and egg until fully blended. 

Spread the brownie batter over the hot cookie crust and bake for another 14-16 minutes until the brownies are set. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Melt the chocolate chips. I used a saucepan over low heat. If the chocolate starts to harden up on you, add a little milk and that will get it back to the perfect consistency. Spread the melted chocolate over the brownies and sprinkle with nuts while the chocolate is still warm. I used roasted pistachios, but any nuts would taste great. Let the brownies stand until the chocolate has set and cut into bars. 

Yield: 3 dozen (That's right, we ate 3 dozen. Guilt and shame serve no one.)

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