Spice It Up: Penzeys Spices

DSC_0006Almost 10 years ago, I married my wonderful husband. The months preceding the wedding contained beautiful gifts and well wishes from family and friends. It was an exciting time and I tried to relish every moment of it. One gift that was outstanding was a gift crate from Penzeys Spices. When I say crate, I mean crate. Wood and packing shreds. It seemed to be a bottomless pit; I just kept pulling out spice after spice, salad dressing bases, extracts and a wonderful pepper mill with our initial  on it.

I would love to say I jumped right in and started to experiment with my new seasonings. It took me a little while to get my groove in the kitchen. I had grown up in an Italian household where my grandmother and mom always manned (or woman-ed) the stove and I was not allowed near it. When it came time for me to have my own family, I had no choice but to get familiar with the kitchen. It was not always easy-going but in the last ten years, I have to say I have definitely come full circle. I love cooking as much as I love eating. Now, back to the spices.

Fast forward to this past weekend. We threw my mother in law’s 80th birthday party. A very kind aunt brought me a hostess gift: a small box of Penzeys Salad Dressing Bases. SQUEEEE! Seeing the familiar logo on the box brought back the excitement I felt when I received my wedding gift. I could not thank the aunt enough and am really excited to make some new dressing. While there is nothing wrong with bottled dressing, nothing beats one made from scratch with fresh herbs and spices.

I haven’t had an opportunity to use my dressings yet but I can vouch for Penzeys’ products. My wedding gift lasted me quite awhile and the spices stayed fresh. I love the packaging’s neutral colors – beige and black labels, black lids and clear containers. Penzeys makes great gifts for anyone who loves to cook or is learning (I speak from experience). I highly recommend you check out their site – Spices at Penzeys – for your cooking or baking needs.

As a disclaimer – I am not an affiliate of Penzeys and I get no compensation if you check them out. I am just a fan 🙂

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Holiday Twist on Summer Favorite:Hot Cocoa and Cookies Brownies

DSC_0010Ok – it’s not much of a twist, except for the change in name. Normally, these are S’mores brownies. My children can eat these at any time of the year and request them quite often. I feel like I am in the minority – I am really not a fan of marshmallows – so at least when I make these, the kids don’t have to worry about me eating the whole pan! In my former life, I owned a brownie business. I closed it two years ago or so. In that time, I avoided making brownies. Going back to the kitchen this time, really, was like riding a bike. I missed the smell of brownies baking and it brought back a bunch of really fab memories.

How do you make a fantastic brownie? It’s all in the chocolate and the cocoa powder. It does NOT need to be an expensive brand. I prefer to use Ghiardelli Semi Sweet Chocolate Bits and Premium Cocoa by saco. Both can be purchased at any grocery store, Target or Wal-Mart. The best pans I have used to bake my brownies are Nordic Ware 9 X 11 pans with covers. They travel well, keep the brownies fresh and are reasonably priced. I purchased most of mine from Amazon.com.

Well, lovelies – I will leave you with the recipe and a wish for Happy Holidays and a wonderful 2015. The next week will be busy so I am not sure when I will pop back on.

Holiday Hot Cocoa and Cookies Brownies

8 oz bittersweet chocolate (used Ghiardelli)

1.5 sticks of  unsalted butter

1 TBSP Cocoa Powder (Premium Cocoa by saco)

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup of mini marshmallows

1 to 3/4 cup crushed graham crackers

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp baking powder

2 TBSP made espresso or coffee extract or 1 TBSP espresso powder(available at King Arthur Flour)


Butter pan. Preheat oven to 350. Melt 3/4 stick of butter in double boiler. Mix flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder(if you use this instead of liquid or extract), baking, powder and baking soda in one bowl. Add 8 OZ of chocolate to melted butter in double boiler, stirring until smooth. Once smooth, add one egg. Stir in. Add sugar to chocolate mixture. Add chocolate mixture to flour/ powder mixture and stir until completely combined. Add made espresso or coffee extract to mixture(if you choose to do this instead of espresso powder). Add marshmallows to mixture and stir in.

Take remaining butter and melt in microwave in microwave safe container. I usually reduce the power to 70% for about a minute. Add completely melted butter to graham crackers and stir until all crumbs are moist. Add cracker mixture to greased pan, flattening with a spoon on the entire bottom of pan. Add brownie mixture on top of brownie mixture, smoothing it out.

Place pan in oven. I should take roughly 11-15 minutes to bake. Use a toothpick in the center to make sure brownies are baked. Toothpick should come out with very little chocolate or crumbs. Allow brownies to cool. Place in refrigerator to solidify even more. Use a brownie or biscuit cutter once brownies are firm. Additionally, you can add a chocolate ganache topping to the brownies by adding chocolate chips to boiled heavy cream(in a double boiler). Stir until completely smooth and pour on top of brownies(Usually 4 oz chocolate to 1/2 cup cream). Let the ganache cool, then add brownies back to the fridge for ganache to harden.