Blondies with Caramel Sauce

I had never even heard of a blondie before last night.

Josh, PJ and I worked for a few hours in the backyard yesterday, 'un-rednecking it' as I like to say. The backyard is a steep upward slope, and of course most of the crap we needed to get rid of was near the top of the hill. Since it turned out to be such a good workout, I thought we all deserved a brownie after dinner. But I didn't have boxed brownies. So as I went in search of a from-scratch brownie recipe in my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, I stumbled upon an interesting recipe title: Blondies.

"Blondies?" I questioned Josh. "I've never heard of blondies." He said he'd heard that they were a cookie/brownie type of concoction, but that he'd never actually tried one himself. Reading on, I learned that blondies are a butterscotch-based cookie bar studded with chocolate chips. Oooh. Given my recent discovery of homemade caramel, and needing to utilize the jar of leftover homemade caramel in the fridge (before I ate one more cold spoonful), I went for it. Blessedly, I had everything in the pantry.

Oh. My. Goodness.

Blondies will make you sing. They had me so transfixed that I forgot to take several pictures during the baking process, and they were so incredibly rich and delicious that I had to send them with Josh to work just to get them out of my grasp.

You will need:

2 cups packed brown sugar
2/3 cup butter (1 stick plus all but 3 tbs from another stick)
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
1 cup chopped nuts (if you want, but I left them out)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 13x9 baking pan; set aside. In a medium saucepan heat brown sugar and butter over medium heat, until butter melts and the mixture is smooth, stirring constantly. You should just barely be able to taste the grit from the brown sugar, if you give it a (or many) taste as I did. Allow me to warn you of the molten temperature sugar can reach...and how much it hurts when it's too sticky to get off your finger. So use a spoon.

Remove from heat and cool slightly. Break an egg into a separate bowl and temper with a little bit of the sugar mixture. This means you will add a small amount of the hot liquid into the egg to raise its temperature while you beat it, so the egg won't immediately scramble when it meets the hot sugar. Stir in tempered eggs one at a time; add vanilla. Stir in flour, baking powder and baking soda.

Spread batter in prepared baking pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts.

Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. The blondies will more than likely puff up around the sides, appearing to sink in the middle. This is good; this is what you want.

Cool slightly in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars while warm. Die. Repeat.

For an even more terribly decadent treat, heat some caramel and pour it over blondies individually, right before serving.

Here's a quick homemade caramel:

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
Pinch sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, and stir it over medium heat until it begins to boil. Once it has begun boiling, let it bubble for three more minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and add the salt and vanilla, and then quickly pour it into a glass jar if storing, or onto a prepared dessert.


These are so much fun to make, monotony and initial complexity aside. We wonder now why we ever paid up to $9 for a 20-count box of the little suckers, when one evening at home stuffing and wrapping yields a good hundred potstickers, for about $7!

We tried making these with the kid, and while I think older kids would be pretty good at it, younger ones seem to have a hard time getting the right amount of filling inside, and a good seal on the wonton wrappers. And they must be sealed well! It did take a while at first to get the flavors and wrapping and cooking methods right, but I'm here to unlock the mystery for you. The great thing is, it's totally customizable based on your spice tolerance and meat preferences. The first time we used ground turkey, but this time we gave it a shot with ground pork.

It's very important to get uniform pieces of all the vegetables so nothing pokes through the wonton dough. This is why I recommend using a food processor. Grating with a hand grater is fine, aside from the fact that it'll take you forever to get through all the vegetables.

You will need:

1 pack wonton wrappers (usually found refrigerated in the produce section)
1 lb ground meat (turkey, pork, chicken, or a combination)
4 carrots, peeled, shredded in a food processor or grated
1 small to medium head of cabbage, shredded in a food processor or grated
1 medium onion, shredded in a food processor or grated
3 cloves garlic, grated (in my experience, garlic in a food processor is a bad idea)
Generous amount of salt
Generous amount of black pepper
3-4 tablespoons soy sauce (I use light soy to control the sodium)
1 tablespoon Sriracha or concentrated chili paste
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon garlic powder

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. At this point you can either cover the mixture well and refrigerate for 24 hours, or you can get to wrapping. If you do get to wrapping, I recommend cooking a "test patty" in a small skillet with hot vegetable oil to test your seasonings. Letting it sit in the refrigerator will enhance the flavors, and making a tester isn't quite as necessary. Stuffing the wontons will also be much easier when the filling is well-chilled.

Get to filling:

You'll need a small bowl of water, and 2 sheets of wax paper: one to fill and one to set finished potstickers aside.

Spoon out about a tablespoon of filling onto a wonton square.

Form it into a ball, and then press into an oblong shape, diagonally. Slightly dampen the outside edges of the square with water, being sure not to oversaturate the dough.

Fold one end of the square diagonally over the filling.

Press the dough down where the edges meet to seal well.

Place the filled side of the wonton down onto wax paper or a cookie sheet; apply a slight bit of pressure to flatten the bottom of the potsticker.

Repeat for eternity.

You can freeze as many as you want in plastic baggies at this point, BEFORE you cook them. When you're ready for them, just cook them from frozen as you would from thawed.

To cook:

The cooking method for potstickers seems to defy all laws of cooking, but it actually works. Oil and water mix in a skillet in an effort to simultaneously fry the bottoms and steam the tops of the potstickers.

Coat the bottom of a skillet with oil. We used extra virgin olive oil here, but vegetable or canola would be fine also.

Allow to heat, then add potstickers flat side down.

SLOWLY add a tiny bit of water (just a few tablespoons) around the potstickers.

And quickly cover with a lid. Allow the potstickers to both steam and fry; you will know they're ready to come out when the edges turn golden brown.

Drain quickly on paper towels. Too long and the potstickers will stick to the paper towels, and potstickers should really only...stick to a pot. I guess?


If you want, you can make your own dipping sauce. If not, bottled stuff is fine.

Dipping Sauce

I do not have measurements for the sauce - I threw it together without thinking. The best I can do until it's time to make more sauce is list the ingredients from biggest portion to smallest portion.

You will need:

Soy sauce
Grated ginger
Chopped garlic
Orange juice
Sliced green onions (white and green parts)
Sriracha or concentrated chili paste
Brown sugar
Black pepper

Add all ingredients to a small saucepan and simmer over low-medium heat for 5-10 minutes. Transfer to a cruet or glass jar. Serve hot.

And there you have it! Totally customized, made with love, inexpensive Chinese takeout, with plenty more in the freezer for another potsticker craving.

By the way, you can also use wonton wrappers to make homemade ravioli. But that's another post for another day.  

Shrimp with Black Pepper and Sesame Chili Oil

Simple. Spicy. Inexpensive.

These are some of my favorite adjectives when discussing food. This recipe is the epitome of all three, plus delcious and very satisfying. I use frozen, pre-cooked, tail-on fish, which work quite well, but I'm sure the deliciousness could be cranked up by replacing with raw jumbo or tiger shrimp. Using cooked shrimp saves money (mine were less than $4 a bag at Aldi), and though shrimp are quick cookers anyway, saves time. Cooked shrimp will produce nice grill marks in less than 30 seconds on a hot grill.

A note about sesame chili oil

Josh and I stopped in at the Asian market on the way home from work last night. What a find! Between frozen fish and fresh herbs, not to mention, of course, the rows and rows of spices and sauces, I'll be changing the way I shop for groceries from here on in. Very surprisingly though, I couldn't find sesame chili oil (surprising as I have easily found it in the past at Target), so I bought both chili oil and sesame oil, figuring I could just mix them in an empty bottle one to one. I poured the chili oil over the shrimp without tasting it first, and as an afterthought poured a little on my finger for a taste.

It was the taste of pure evil.

My eyes watered as my tongue burst into flames, and I flailed frantically around the kitchen for something to squelch the heat. Luckily my side dish for the evening called for fresh bread crumbs, so I had a slice of bread within easy reach. I digress. The point is, I had to add sesame oil to the shrimp I'd already splashed with chili oil, hoping the whole time that it wouldn't turn out too oily. There was just no way I could serve it undiluted.

Bottling my own chili sesame oil, I wound up using a two to one mixture in favor of sesame oil. Pure Asian chili oil is simply too hot for a one to one ratio with sesame oil. Trust me.

On with the recipe! You will need:

Bamboo or metal skewers for grilling
One bag frozen cooked/raw shrimp, thawed, or one pound raw shrimp from the seafood counter (about 25 count), peeled and deveined
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
3 tablespoons chili sesame oil (bottled, or mixed at home as previously mentioned)
1 tsp lime zest or lime juice, optional

Soak skewers in water while preparing if using wooden skewers, to prevent scorching on the grill.

Place shrimp in a mixing bowl. Toss with garlic, salt and pepper. If using cooked shrimp, taste one to check seasonings and adjust as per your preference. Toss with oil, add lime zest or juice if using, and set in the refrigerator to marinate for 30 minutes to an hour. No worries if you don't have time to marinate; it will still be plenty flavorful.

Thread 4-5 shrimp on a skewer and cook on a preheated grill for 30-45 seconds per side for cooked shrimp, or for 1-2 minutes for raw shrimp.

Creamy Parmesan Chicken


This is a standby. I’ve made it for my parents, my grandparents, college roommates, my brother, Italian-food-hating friends, and picky children. I have yet to feed it to a person whose eyes haven’t rolled back in their head while asking for more sauce, and one ex-boyfriend went so far as to pour some leftover sauce over his popcorn. I don't recommend that, by the way, but it is a testimony to its decadence. It’s unexpected, and it’s so easy I could do it blindfolded.

My parents moved to Wisconsin in 2004. They stumbled upon a darling Italian restaurant in a nearby town called the Mississippi Belle, owned by Chef Frank Amendola, and brought us there one year for Christmas Eve dinner. My life as a home cook changed forever when I ordered the Chicken Bianco...I had to have that chicken in my life, but I would soon be far away from Wisconsin come the end of Christmas break. So I went back to school, and in my tiny dorm room kitchen practiced and perfected my own version of Chef Amendola’s recipe. And it’s a good thing, too – the restaurant is since under new ownership, and Chicken Bianco was removed from the menu. In fact, it's not even an Italian restaurant anymore.

I usually serve this with some broccoli sautéed in olive oil and garlic, and with a big loaf of toasted Italian bread. The sauce goes far, but it doesn’t reheat very well. If you must reheat it, do it in a saucepan over low heat, and add a little extra cream to keep the liquids from separating.

You will need:

4 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 slices deli ham
4 slices Mozzarella cheese (sandwich sliced)
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 pint heavy whipping cream, or a combination of heavy cream and half-and-half, equal parts of each
½ cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (or any bagged/jarred/container of Parmesan will do)
1 teaspoon chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste
    Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a skillet.

    Pound the chicken breasts to flatten just slightly. Salt and pepper liberally on both sides.

    Add the chicken to the hot oil and brown on both sides, until cooked most of the way through (you will later finish the chicken in the oven). It should bounce back a bit when pressed with a finger. Remove chicken from the pan and drain off oil on paper towels.

    To make the sauce:
    While the chicken is cooking, melt butter in a separate skillet over low heat. Once butter is melted, add minced garlic and raise heat slightly. Cook until soft (do not allow garlic to brown).
    Pour in heavy cream and reduce heat. Once the cream starts to bubble/froth, add in Parmesan cheese and stir quickly to prevent it from sticking to the pan. Add chopped parsley and stir. Allow mixture to thicken, coating the back of a spoon; it should be slightly thinner than an Alfredo sauce. Add salt depending on the saltiness of your Parmesan cheese. Add cheese until sauce is sufficiently thick, and drop heat as low as possible to keep warm.

    To assemble the chicken:
    Cut 2 slices of ham in half, or into whatever size will cover your chicken breasts. Place one slice of ham and one slice of mozzarella on top of each breast and place into a glass baking dish. Top chicken breasts with the entire pan of sauce and place in a 400-degree oven. Cook for about 15 minutes, until the cheese browns slightly and the sauce bubbles.

    About My Purple Kitchen

    Hello! I’m Vicki.

    And this is my purple kitchen.

    Last September, my boyfriend and I took on a huge remodeling project, in which we would take a mostly-unfinished basement and turn it into our home: a place to build our life together, entertain friends, and do a lot of cooking.

    And inevitably, to do a lot of dishes.

    Our vision for the place included lots of bright colors and fun prints, while at the same time, keeping a bit of sophistication and the sense that the apartment is inhabited by adults. Stuffy or minimal was never part of the plan, but it may attest to how wonderful my boyfriend is that he willingly accepted my vision of a purple kitchen, and even painstakingly mixed different cans of purple paints together for me to arrive at the perfect purple: a dusty, smoky, grown-up crocus.

    But I digress. The important thing, of course, is what comes out of the kitchen! I love to experiment. I wait anxiously for the reaction on people’s faces after they take their first bite, and keep that in mind while I’m creating. I always say I got really lucky as far as my culinary influences are concerned: I’m of Italian and Spanish descent, both my parents loved to cook, I grew up in Texas, and I spent some time in New England during college. My tastes are far-reaching and I’ll try anything once.

    That said, my favorites will always be cheesy, garlicky, and/or creamy, and lately I’m loving the spicy/sweet combo. I try (try) to stick to a low-carb diet, but occasionally I falter and give in to something decadent. My food, much like my kitchen, is always fun, never stuffy, and frequently crowd-pleasing. My boyfriend has a finicky 7-year old, so I’m still working on kid-pleasing...

    …which is quite the challenge in and of itself.

    Come join me in my purple kitchen!