First, mow the lawn. Don't have a lawn? Walk for an hour, go to the gym, work in the garden. You need to bank a lot of worked-off calories before you bake these chocolate chunk brownies, because once they come out of the oven and cool down enough, you're going to want to taste. And once you taste, you're going to eat more than one. (I know. I ate two. I mowed a lot.) One thing you need to know: when these brownies first come out of the oven, they look soft, undercooked, and just plain unattractive. Let them cool completely, however eager you are to taste. The top will get crusty and the bottom blissfully chewy. Just be patient, and keep mowing.
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On one of those days when silly little things were going wrong -- the bank machine was out of cash, and the office where I need to get my dump sticker was closed at 11 a.m. for no reason at all -- I absolutely, positively needed chocolate to restore my equilibrium. With no stash of candy or brownies in the house, I pulled out a recipe I've been saving for months from Ingredient, a cooking magazine for children. Chocolate cake in a mug (or an old glass measuring cup), made in less than two minutes. Almost like a brownie, the cake, kicked up from the original recipe with grown-up pantry items (walnuts, cinnamon, crystallized ginger, sea salt), delivered nearly instant gratification. The dump sticker could wait.
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Wrap the most humble pantry ingredients in a sheet of puff pastry, and what comes out of the oven will look as glamorous as a movie star. And if, like me, you don't make your puff pastry from scratch, the most difficult part of creating a great dessert will be waiting for the pastry to defrost. My husband Ted and I raided the pantry one Sunday afternoon to put together a filling for these flaky brown sugar and walnut puff pastry swirls. A bit of lemon zest balances the sweetness, and if you have almonds or pecans in your freezer, go and ahead substitute for the walnuts. Figure on two or three per person. Really fun to make with kids, these sweet puff pastries are dressy enough for any dinner party, yet easy enough for weeknight treats, too.
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What I love about snickerdoodles: even if you're not a baker, and I am not, you always have all of the ingredients you need to bake these cookies right in your pantry. Cream of tartar might not be in constant rotation, but you know you have it somewhere in the rear of your spice rack, and even if it's almost ancient, like mine, it will give these cookies the bit of puff they need. The cardamom in this recipe lends the cookies a grown-up air, but kids will love them, too. We sprinkled ours with a pinch of extra cardamom after they came out of the oven. If you like your cookies sweeter, top the cookies before baking with demerara or another large-crystal sugar.
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