Courtney & Daniel's Big Adventure

No frills. Just delicious food.

Chocolate Espresso Black Bean Brownies

I’ve heard many good things about the WW Black Bean Brownies for a while, so I figured I’d make them myself.  Of course, my kitchen wasn’t stocked with all the ingredients, so I made my own adaptation!  These are ingredients I keep in my kitchen (and can usually be bought from my favorite place… Costco!)

Preheat your oven to 350ºF.  Prep your baking pan: 8×8″ with Pam with Flour (or Baker’s Joy, my preference, but you can’t find it on the shelves anymore!)

What’cha need:

  • ½ c canned black beans, rinsed & drained
  • ¼ c espresso* (or strong coffee)
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, melted**
  • 4 oz (by weight!) semisweet chocolate chips, melted**
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 c sugar
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 c AP flour

How’ya do it:

  1. Blend the beans and espresso together (using a blender or food processor) until smooth, pour into medium bowl.
  2. Add the melted chocolate-butter mixture to the bowl, then add vanilla.
  3. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until incorporated.
  4. Add dry ingredients gradually so that they incorporate before you have a flour disaster in your kitchen.
  5. Pour into your prepared dish and bake for 30-45 minutes, until your toothpick comes out clean.***


*I used one illy espresso pod, opened the pouch, dumped the grinds in a measuring cup, and added ¼ c boiling water; don’t worry about the grounds — they’re tiny and just a bit of extra fiber; really, why are you worried about coffee grounds when you just added beans to brownies?!

**I finally listened to Alton Brown and used my hair dryer to melt chocolate.  Brilliant.  I cut the butter into tablespoon-sized pieces and melted them with the chocolate.  Hair dryer on high heat, reduce to low heat if you find the liquid splashing out.  Finally have a good use for my hair dryer!

***Really, y’all, watch your brownies carefully towards the end; set your timer for 30 minutes and use your best judgment when they need to be baked longer.  Baking is not about setting a timer and walking away and forgetting that you have something in the oven!  Don’t be a victim of dried out brownies!!  (Or any other baked good, for that matter!!)


Baked pastaaaaaahhh!

Whoa.  Definitely the best thing I’ve made in a while.  I used the roasted tomato sauce and ricotta I made, and added a few extra ingredients and made my own baked pasta.  Bring your ingredients to room temperature before combining, and you have yourself a quick week night dinner.

Baked pastaaaaahhh (the extra aaaahhh is for the awesomeness.)

  • 3 cups homemade roasted tomato sauce
  • 2 cups homemade ricotta
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella,
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper (really, don’t use the pre-ground store bought mess!)
  • 1 pound pasta of your choice, cooked to tooth tender, not all the way cooked (unless you want a mushy final product!! I used wide flat egg noodles, but it’s your choice.)

Lightly brush a 9×13″ baking dish with olive oil.  Combine the cheeses, tomato sauce, egg, and pepper.  Gently fold in the pre-cooked pasta.  Pour into the oiled dish.  Bake at 375 degrees until nicely bubbly, about 12 minutes.

Roasted Tomato Sauce & Ricotta

One of my personal favorites to make, and it always receives rave reviews…

Roasted tomato sauce:

  • 4 pounds cherry tomatoes, halved (any combination or variety will do)
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 TBS minced garlic
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 TBS rosemary
  • 1 TBS thyme
  • 1 TBS oregano
  • 1 TBS kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup red wine (make sure it’s something you’d drink on its own…)

Toss all the ingredients together.  On two jelly roll pans, spread into a single layer.  Roast at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, stir, then turn down to 250 degrees for about 90-120 minutes.

You’re welcome to serve it as-is over pasta, or you can blend it to the texture and consistency you’d prefer.


Ina Garten brings such a graceful presence to the kitchen.  I watch her every day during my lunch hour.  She made herbed ricotta bruchettas last week, but I’ve chosen to make just the ricotta.  Not having white wine vinegar, I used 3 TBS lemon juice.  No, it didn’t taste lemony, you really just need 3 TBS of some sort of acid to curdle the milk.

  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1 pint cream
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 TBS lemon juice

Combine the milk and cream in a pot over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, remove from heat, then stir in the lemon juice.  Let stand for 1-2 minutes.  (Yes it will curdle and begin to look a bit unappetizing, but this is only a phase.)

Line a strainer with a cheese cloth dampened with water.  Put the entire operation into a larger bowl.  Pour the curds and whey through the strainer.  Let stand for 20-25 minutes, occasionally pouring away the whey.  (Save the whey!  You can basically use it in another recipe as a water substitute.  Here are “16 Ways to Use Your Whey.”)

Makes about 2 cups.  Finish cooling, then store for up to a week.  I guarantee it’ll be gone.  Use in any recipe you’d normally use store-bought ricotta, but way better x10.

Here’s my recipe for baked pasta I used both the ricotta and tomato sauce: baked pastaaaaahhhh.

Accidentally-on-Purpose Apple Sauce

It’s accidentally-on-purpose because I started out making one recipe, then deviated per normal and made my own variation.  Thanks to Ina Garten for getting me started, and luck for having this one work out.

  • Juice of 2 oranges
  • 3 lbs apples, cored and chopped (I think I used Jonathan apples for their sweet-tart balance)
  • 1/4 c. dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (I like the Saigon variety for its spiciness, and as always, please use fresh spices!)
  • 4 TBS butter, cubed

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Toss apple chunks in the orange juice, then transfer to baking dish.  Sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon across the top.  Place butter cubes on top.  Cover tightly with lid or aluminum foil.

Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until apples are fork tender.

Let cool momentarily.  Whisk or mash until apples reach desired consistency.

Chocolate Brownies & Caramel Sauce

In celebration of Daniel’s new job, I whipped out a special dessert with the few ingredients in my cabinet.  I managed to put together chocolate brownies and caramel sauce.  Simple, quick, and not too much of anything required.

For the brownies:

Combine in the top of a double boiler, stirring occasionally until homogenous –

  • 1 stick of butter (8 TBS)
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 TBS vanilla

Remove from heat and add:

  • 1/2 cup AP flour (fresh!!)
  • 2 large eggs

Stir a few times until just mixed.

Bake at 325 degrees in a 9×9″ pan (or cupcake pan, whatever shape you choose, really) until a toothpick comes out clean and surface is firm to touch.  (Check the surface firmness before you go stabbing wood into your brownies… they’ll fall a little bit and won’t be right…)

For the caramel sauce, combine in a large glass microwaveable bowl:

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, preferably dark
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 TBS salt
  • 1/2 cup milk (or cream, but milk works just fine)

Microwave for 3 minute intervals at half-power until desired consistency is reached (thick enough to coat the back of a spoon) removing from microwave and whisking momentarily.  It takes 15-20 minutes total, but be patient, it’s simple and worth the wait.

Serve warm brownies with warm caramel sauce for a simple indulgence.

Southwest Chicken Salad

Tired of making your grandmother’s chicken salad?  Then stop.  Make this one instead.  It’s smoky, spicy and fresh (minus the canned chicken, but grilled chicken breasts would work just as well, if not better.  Tell my HOA that they should allow me to grill at my condo.)

If you’re counting Weight Watchers points, it’s 3 points, enjoy, but divide it up into 10 servings.  If not, you should still enjoy this salad.  (BTW, Weight Watchers is totally not a diet.)

  • 2 – 12.5 oz cans of chicken, drained3 ribs of celery, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, finely chopped (it’s about 1 cup)
  • ½ cup green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 TBS sour cream (I go for the regular, real stuff)
  • 4 TBS mayo (again, go big or go home)
  • 2 TBS minced garlic
  • 4 tsp unsweetened lime juice
  • ¾ tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  Let marinate for at least 30 minutes, but it’s better to wait overnight if you can.  Serve with Triscuits (my personal favorite) or your favorite cracker or bread.

Eggplant Tian Gratin Thingy

Sorry for the bad title, but it’s somewhere halfway in between a tian and a gratin.  It’s darn tasty, that’s for sure though.  And, it’s a good way to get your man to eat eggplant!

For this, you’ll need:

  • 1 medium eggplant, peeled, prepared (see below), and sliced about ¼” thick
  • 2 tomatoes, just larger than egg-size, also sliced to about ¼” thick
  • 1 medium onion, sliced into thinner rings
  • olive oil
  • rosemary
  • thyme
  • oregano
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup shredded mozzarella

I used a tall-sided ceramic pie baker (plus it’s orange with wavy edges to make this dish look pretty, thanks Pier 1!).  Don’t use a glass pan!  When you add the cold cream, the pan will shatter!

To prepare eggplant, slice into ¼” discs.  On a jelly roll pan, put a double layer of paper towels down, a single layer of eggplant, then sprinkle with about a teaspoon of salt for the entire pan.  Top with another double layer of paper towels; you can do another layer of eggplant, if necessary.  Place something flat and heavy across the pan– it could be a sheet pan, or a large skillet– then put other heavy things in the pan– a box of Kosher salt, a jar of salsa, just heavy things!  Let the eggplant sit for about 20-30 minutes, then put them into the pan.  This pulls out all the bitterness and makes the darn things edible!

Preheat oven to 250°F.

Brush the bottom of the pan with olive oil, then spiral-stack a layer of eggplant, tomatoes, and onions.  Drizzle with olive oil and a generous sprinkling of pepper and herbs (no salt really necessary, the eggplants are salty from their preparation!)  Do a second layering of vegetables, then spices.

Roast in the oven for about an hour.

Remove the pan from the oven; crank the oven up to 375.  Pour the cream over, then sprinkle the cheese on top.  Bake until bubbly, about 15-20 minutes.

Project Pad Thai

It’s a project because I’m still learning.  As a matter of fact, I welcome your constructive feedback.  It’s a work in progress.

Here’s what I have so far:

  • ½ lb wide rice noodles
  • 1 TBS minced garlic
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ lb boneless/skinless chicken thighs, cubed
  • ¼ cup fish sauce
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • ½ cup palm sugar
  • 1 TBS red pepper flakes (more or less, depending on your tolerance)
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ½ lb mung bean sprouts
  • 1 bunch green onions, roots removed, cut into 1-inch segments
  • ½ cup peanuts, chopped, toasted and unsalted
  • 1 lime, washed and cut into 8 wedges

Bring water to boil in medium-sized pot.  Add rice noodles then remove from heat.  Allow to steep until ready to add to the dish later.  Ignore them.

In a large skillet (or large wok, if you’ve got one), sauté garlic.  Add carrots and onion.  Allow to sauté for about two minutes then remove from skillet and set aside.

Scramble two eggs in one half of the pan.  Cook the chicken in the other half.  Once the eggs are coagulating, you can toss with chicken.  Cook chicken until nearly done, then add fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, pepper, and paprika.

Drain and toss in the noodles, bean spouts, cooked vegetables, and green onions (you can save a few for garnish).  Only toss until the ingredients are well combined.

Makes 3-4 plates.  Top with green onions and peanuts.  Serve with lime wedge to be squeezed over before immediately enjoying.

Courtney’s Signature Meatballs (and shortcut sauce)

I’m not going to lie.  I grew up as that kid who didn’t want anything on my noodles.  It wasn’t until I went to college and met Daniel that I started eating sauce (or anything else besides cheese) on my pasta, mostly because I was too embarrassed to admit I didn’t like tomato sauce on my pasta.  (Once we get into fresh tomato season, I’ll share my recipe for roasted tomato sauce and vodka sauce.  In the meantime, enjoy my “semi-homemade version!)

For the meatballs, you’ll need:

  • 1¼ pound ground beef (I use 90/10, or you can use turkey.)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 TBS garlic
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • ¼ tsp crushed rep pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp dried parsley
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • 1 TBS worcestershire sauce
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese, ground or finely grated
  • ¼ cup plain bread crumbs

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup red wine (shiraz and merlot work well)
  • 1 jar of quality store-bought sauce

Combine all the meatball ingredients and let sit for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator (I usually make mine just after lunch to prepare for dinner).  Form into 1.5 oz. balls just before cooking.

In a skillet preheated to medium heat, add olive oil.  Add the meatballs to the pan, but don’t overcrowd, do them in a few batches.  You’ll just want to brown them, not cook them through.

Once all the meatballs are browned, put them all in the pan and add the wine.  Cover the pan quickly to catch all the steam.  After about 30 seconds, pour the entire jar of sauce all over the meatballs.  Recover the pan and turn heat to medium-low.  After about 15-20 minutes, the meatballs should be cooked through and ready to serve.

Serve over tortellini or your favorite pasta shape.

Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

This might be my new favorite flavor of ice cream.

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tbs lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup good-quality cream
  • 1 cup frozen raspberries, chopped (or frozen berry of your choice)

In your mixer with wire whisk attachment, blend together cream cheese and sugar until soft and fluffy.  Slowly add milk and lemon juice, then add salt.  Whisk together on high for about one minute.  Turn to “stir” then add cream, only “stirring” until cream has combined.

Pour into freezer and spin according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  When ice cream is near finished, add the raspberries, spinning only until combined (and your ice cream turns pink!)

Quickly move to a container and freezer, until hard.  Serve!