Transforming Box Mix Brownies: A Quick Guide to Elevating Low Cost Desserts

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There are a few things that people love to see when they eat food. First of all, presentation is key. They are willing to pay for the looks of it so they can seem up scale when the photo lands on their foodstagram or snapchat. How many times have you heard words among these lines: “Eh.. it wasn’t that great but I bought it for the aesthetics” ,”buy it for the insta”, “overpriced but aesthetic”…. sigh, it’s very telling. Food nowadays is all about show, especially in this generation where with the click of a button, the world of social media can see what you are currently eating right now.

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With that being said, aesthetic does not need to be expensive. I wanted to gift a nice dessert to a colleague but did not know what to make. I made a japanese fluffy cheesecake but didn’t love how it turned out, I made cream puffs and was annoyed that they weren’t the same size, I made a roll cake which I had accidentally overbaked… so my last resort was boxed brownies. I felt so defeated because I had really stooped this low, but I knew brownies, let alone boxed ones, were impossible to mess up. I had planned to make an extravagant dessert and ended up with my box of $2 Ghirardelli double chocolate brownie mix. At least I knew it’d be decadent and taste good. But then… I gathered up a few ingredients in my pantry while the brownies were in the oven and realized I could make these brownies look from $2 to $15. No JOKE. With sugar, butter, flour, chocolate chips, cream, and chocolate chip cookies, I elevated these brownies to the next level. “I’m on a new level” as A$AP Ferg may say.

Here are the simple tips that can elevate any dish:

  • A simple pattern or design: elegant, and shows an extra step of skill in baking.
  • Contrasting colors:  a light on dark or vice versa makes the food pop. Looks more 3D and is more enticing to the human eye.
  • Monochromatic colors: shades of a single color is very desirable as well. People love monochrome and explains why ombre is so pleasing to look at.
  • Texture: In terms of appearance and taste, people love texture. People love crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside, or smooth with a crunch. Ice cream with crushed cookies or gummies are appealing because it adds texture.
  • Layers of texture: This is a difficult one because too much can be overwhelming, but the right amount is perfect. I’m talking smooth on top of crunchy, on top of sharp on top of…. you know, the list could go on.
  • Packaging: This is key because it’s the first thing that is seen. Before opening a box, packaging gives the first impression. Of course they sayings goes “paying for packaging”..
  • Mini or bite size: Ever seen a bundt cake and thought you didn’t want it? Well what about bite size bundt cake… all of a sudden you do want it. It’s because it has become finger food and no plates or utensils are required, and it’s so adorable that it’s irresistible. This is exactly why cupcakes cost so much more than cakes and why donut holes are more desirable than donuts.

And with that being said, transformation of boxed desserts is rather simple once you know how to apply the rules.

With the supplies I had, I did the following:

  1. Made the cookie crumb topping from my Full-proof puffs recipe and let it set at room temperature to form a swirl for pattern and contrasting colors. [white on black]. Cookie crumb topping was reduced to about 1/4 since I didn’t need that much.
  2. Pour 3 tbsp hot heavy cream over 4 tbsp chocolate chips to form a ganache for layers of texture. Ganache was drizzled on brownies.
  3. Crush 1 chocolate chip cookie into coarse crumbs (large and small crumbs included for texture and monochromatic colors. Cookie crumbs will partially stick onto the ganache.
  4. Cut the brownies into small 1″ x 1″ squares and fit them into a box that already had squares in them for packaging and bite size. It’s difficult to find a box with square placements in them so this definitely isn’t required.
  5. Lastly, tie a bow on the box if it is a gift and leave a cute note.

Hopefully after reading the guide, you can elevate your next box or cake, dessert, or cookies. Wow your guests when in reality you probably only spent $2 and used whatever you had at home :’) Tricky huh?

 

Shrimp Ravioli w/ 10 Minute Tomato Blender Sauce

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Homemade pasta is quick and easy to make, and is seriously a game changer. Even without a pasta maker, one can simply make it utilizing a rolling pin and a few minutes of kneading! Keep in mind, pasta dough does not need nearly as much kneading as bread dough. Additionally, marinara sauce takes hours to cook, due to the necessary time needed to break down the fibers and sugars in the tomatoes. However, I have been testing for a quick tomato sauce and have found the perfect way to make homemade marinara sauce. It surely isn’t the same thing as stewed marinara sauce, but it is just as delicious, flavorful, and it’s difficult to even notice the difference. Now, let’s get down to the gist of it. The Ravioli dough can be found HERE and the shrimp filling and tomato blender sauce is down below:


Shrimp Ravioli

yield: 35-40 medium ravioli

ingredients:

ravioli filling:

  • 8 jumbo shrimp
  • 6 oz. ricotta
  • 1/4 c. packed frozen spinach (drained and water squeezed out)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp parsley
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp salt

NOTE: Garlic bread seasoning OR Italian seasoning mix + garlic powder can be substituted for garlic powder, oregano, parsley, and basil.

Instructions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and dollop 1 tsp of mix onto ravioli dough.
  2. Form the ravioli and allow it to set out at room temperature for 45 min. to dry.
  3. Once ravioli has been set out for 45 min, boil a pot of water with 1/2 tsp salt. When the water is boiling, throw in the ravioli and let them cook for approx. 6-8 min, or until dough becomes see through.
  4. Serve the ravioli fresh with a delicious pasta sauce! My 10 minute tomato blender pasta sauce is a savory sauce blasting full of flavor.

Tomato Blender Sauce

yield: 2 c. sauce

ingredients:

  • 4 roma tomatoes cut into chunks
  • 8 fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 3 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt

Directions:

  1. In a blender, blend the tomatoes and basil leaves until smooth.
  2. In a pot, melt the butter and sautee the garlic until lightly browned. Add in the blender mixture, and allow it to simmer on low for 5 minutes.
  3. Pour in all the other ingredients and stir. Cover the pot with a lid and allow to simmer for an additional 4 minutes. Turn the heat off, and serve over the pasta or let the sauce sit in the pot, as it will thicken up.

Green Goddess Salad (Vegan)

food, Healthy Lunch Idea

Kale is a difficult vegetable to enjoy due to its rough texture and odd flavor that resembles the dollar weeds thriving in my back yard. Sauteeing or transforming them into kale chips are great alternatives, but nutrients for kale are at its peak when eaten raw, but the problem lies there… I’ve eaten kale salads but the plethora of toppings and dressing to mask the weed-like flavor defeat the purpose of eating kale in the first place. However, healthy fats, vegetables, and dressings can can easily turn the high fiber vegetable into a decadent, protein-packed meal that’ll have you wanting for more. I experimented with ingredients I had at home and whipped up a delicious kale salad that is definitely one for the books. Topped with avocado, pumpkin seeds, roasted brussels sprouts, soy protein, and an almond butter dressing, I seriously think even non-salad lovers would enjoy the flavors and health benefits of this magnificent bowl.


Green Goddess Salad (Vegan)

yield: 2 servings/bowls

Ingredients:

For the salad:

  • 1/2 stalk kale, stems removed, leaves roughly chopped
  • 1 small avocado
  • 3 tbsp. pumpkin seeds
  • 8 large brussels sprouts, each one vertically cut into threes
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper to taste
  • 1 oz. soy protein like tempeh or tofu, I used a homemade soy product

For the dressing:

  • 1/4 c. almond butter
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 c. unsweetened warm almond milk OR warm water
  • 1 tsp honey
  • salt to taste

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  2. Toss the brussels sprouts with oil, salt, and pepper and bake in the oven for 30 min, turning the sprouts every 5-7 min.
  3. Pan fry the soy protein with salt or soy sauce.
  4. Whisk the dressing ingredients together and pour on top of the kale in a large bowl. Use bare hands to massage the kale for approx. 2 minutes to soften the kale and infuse the flavors.
  5. Toss the pumpkin seeds into the salad and combine.
  6. After the brussels sprouts have been baked, top them onto the salad or toss them in, along with avocado and soy protein.
green bowl

Green Goddess bowl

brussel sprouts

raw brussels sprouts

kale

dressed kale

On my journey to consuming less meat, this salad makes it difficult to not consume meat. While I know that I will never become full vegetarian since my parents do not permit it, it has been 2 weeks since I have eaten meat and it feels great. Additionally, kale is packed with fiber, iron, and has anti-inflammatory agents, so am definitely now a promoter of kale!

Creamy Spinach Pot Pie

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The perfect Winter dish to battle the unforgiving cold outdoors is one that pipes clouds of steam and consists of rich, creamy sauces. With a dearth of fresh ingredients at home, I had to cleverly improvise a recipe to finish off all the perishable products in the fridge so that I could head out for a trip without coming home to spoiled food.

Thus, this isn’t your traditional pot pie. It’s simply a mix of things cooked together to form a beautiful product. I was pleased with the outcome, and I served it to a few friends who thankfully all enjoyed the “pot pie”! It is simple, cheap, quick, and easy to make and could be the star of an elegant Winter dinner.


Creamy Spinach Pot Pie

yield: 4 pies

Ingredients:

  • 1 8 oz. can pillsbury crescent rolls
  • 2 large carrots
  • 7 oz. frozen spinach
  • 1 pkg. cream cheese
  • 3 tbsp. milk
  • 5 oz. frozen peas
  • 1/2 c. shredded cheese (optional; use for extra goodness)
  • 3 strips bacon (I used turkey bacon)
  • 1 egg (for egg wash)

Directions (photos below!):

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F.
  2. Thinly slice the carrots into circles and dice the bacon into cubes.
  3. Cook the bacon in a pan until the fat is rendered and drain the bacon and set aside. Using the bacon grease, saute the carrots for about 5 minutes and then toss in the frozen peas and spinach until all the vegetables are completely cooked and combined.
  4. Add the cream cheese into the vegetables and stir slowly until the cream cheese is completely melted. Add the 3 tbsp. of milk to thin the mixture. Add in the bacon and stir until mixture is completely combined.
  5. Let the mixture simmer for a couple minutes until a rich, thick consistency is reached.
  6. Roll out the chilled crescent dough and using the ramekin as the template, cut 1 cm. around the ramekin to form the circle of dough that will cover the pot pie. You can also use a mini cookie cutter to cut out a shape to garnish the top of the pie. I used a mini star cookie cutter.
  7. Once the dough shapes are cut out, take the ramekins and spray the insides with non-stick cooking spray. Spoon in the ramekins about 1/2 c. of the vegetable, cream mixture, sprinkle with shredded cheese, and top with the crescent dough. Using a fork, press down the outsides of the dough against the ramekin rim.
  8. Beat an egg in a small bowl, and using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash onto the crescent dough.
  9. Repeat until all ramekins are complete. Bake at 350 °F for 10 min.

 

Spoon the vegetables into the ramekins

cut the dough

Use a fork to press down the edges of the crescent dough

covered pies

brush

egg wash

fresh out the oven

perfect winter meal

Forget about the gym at the moment and make these pot pies! I promise you that they will be a huge hit among the dinner table!

1 Ingredient Almond Butter

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Homemade almond butter

If only almond butter were as cheap as peanut butter, I would have jars after jars of almond butter orderly lined up on my pantry shelves. But unfortunately, a typical 12 oz. jar costs at least $7 and at the rate that I consume almond butter, I’ll be exceptionally broke in no time. However, I recently whipped up a batch of homemade almond butter at home, resulting in a jar made at a fraction of the cost of store-bought AND the recipe requires 1 ingredient ONLY. You heard that right, 1 ingredient almond butter? I was utterly shocked as well, but through experimenting, I found that the natural oils in the almonds is enough to make the spread creamy. No added sweeteners, fats, or preservatives. Need I say more?


 

1 Ingredient Almond Butter

yield: 12 oz.

Ingredients:

  • 3 c. unsalted almonds ( roasted or raw, doesn’t matter)

Directions:

  1. Spread the almonds out on a baking sheet and bake at 300°C for around 8 minutes. This activates the oils in the almonds and gives the almond butter a deep, decadent roasted flavor. Once baked, remove the almonds from the oven and allow them to cool for 10 minutes to prevent heat from touching the plastic food processor.
  2. Pour the almonds into a food processor with a blade and process for 15-20 minutes. I used the “chop” mode and kept the processor running consistently. After every 2-3 minutes, I scraped down the sides with a spatula so that the mixture would all be on the bottom of the food processor. side note: the almonds will become a coarse texture, like almond butter. After more processing, the almonds start to look like a thick paste, and you’ll be tempted to add oil because it’ll look too dry, but DON’T, just continue to process for about 5 additional minutes. 
  3. After 20 minutes, the almonds should have become almond butter: thick and creamy, and your entire kitchen will smell like almond paradise.
  4. Store the almond in an airtight jar and store at room temperature. Because the almond butter is literally almonds, the butter can last for up to a year.

If you had enough patience to finally see the almonds transform to almond butter, I want to congratulate you!! It’ll be difficult for me to ever buy almond butter, knowing that I can save money by making it at home as well knowing that it is only made with 1 ingredient.

Enjoy you almond butter with toast, make cookies, or muffins, or simply eat it out of the jar!

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Processed almond butter after 20 minutes

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Store in an airtight container