Extreme Brownies

Makes 24.

This is my favorite brownie recipe. I make it almost nonstop. I always top the brownies with chocolate ganache (see recipe) -- half of it poured on and the other half chilled, whipped and pooted out into rosettes. Between the brownies, which are very chocolatey, and the ganache, this is one intensely chocolate experience.

• 1 c. chopped pecans

2/3c. (102/3tbsp.) butter or margarine

• 2 (12-oz.) bags semisweet chocolate chips, divided

• 1 c. minus 2 tbsp. sugar

• 4 eggs

• 2 tsp. vanilla

• 1 c. plus 2 tbsp. flour

• 1 tsp. baking powder

1/2tsp. salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9- by 13-inch pan.

Toast the pecans in a heavy frying pan over low-medium heat, about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they become fragrant and begin to color. Set aside.

In a saucepan over low heat, melt together the butter and 1 bag (2 cups) of the chocolate chips, stirring constantly. Pour the mixture into the large bowl of an electric mixer. Beat in the sugar, then the eggs (two at a time), and the vanilla. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and briefly beat into the batter. Stir in the pecans and the remaining bag (2 cups) of chips. Bake about 30 to 35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center (try several places -- you might hit a chocolate chip) comes out clean.

Nutrition information per serving (using half the ganache to glaze):

Calories 340 Fat 23 g Sodium 130 mg

Carbohydrates 35 g Saturated fat 12 g Calcium 38 mg

Protein 4 g Cholesterol 60 mg Dietary fiber 3 g

Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 bread/starch, 1½ other carb, 4½ fat.

Chocolate Ganache

Enough to glaze and make rosettes for 1 pan of brownies.

This is wonderful stuff; save the recipe even if you don't want it for brownies. When warm, it's a wonderful glaze; chilled and whipped it's terrific cake frosting -- and excellent truffles. If you're using it for brownies and you don't have a pastry bag to make rosettes, make only half of this recipe and just pour it over the brownies.

• 11/2c. heavy cream

• 4 tbsp. (1/2stick) butter

• 1 (12-oz.) bag semisweet chocolate chips

Directions

Combine the cream and butter in a saucepan over medium heat and bring just to the boil, stirring occasionally to melt the butter. Pour into the small bowl of an electric mixer. Stir in the chocolate chips, stirring until they are largely melted. Beat on low speed until the mixture is smooth and uniform. Pour about half of the ganache over the pan of brownies. Cool completely, then cut and chill.

Chill the rest of the ganache in the mixer bowl with the beaters 30 minutes or more, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is cool and resembles thick cream.

Whip the chilled ganache until it is as stiff as whipped cream and pipe rosettes onto the chilled brownies. Wow. (You might have some left over; you'll figure out what to do with it.)

Quick barley stew

Serves 8.

Once the seasonings are adjusted to your tastes, this dense, filling barley mixture might well go onto your list of favorite comfort foods.

• 2 oz. (1/4c.) slivered almonds

• 2 tbsp. oil

• 1 large onion, chopped

• 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

• 1 lb. fresh mushrooms, quartered

• 11/2lb. lean ground beef

• 1 (28-oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained

• 1 (101/2-oz.) can condensed beef broth

• 1 soup can water

• 1 c. quick-cooking barley

• 1 tbsp. brown sugar

• 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

• 1 tbsp. paprika

• 2 tbsp. sherry, or to taste

• 1 tsp. salt, or to taste

• Pepper to taste

• Hot pepper sauce to taste

• 1 c. sour cream

Directions

Toast the almonds in an ungreased frying pan over low-medium heat for about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour out of pan and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven. Sauté the onions until they become translucent. Stir in the garlic and sauté 1 minute. Stir in the mushrooms and almonds and cook 1 minute.

Brown the ground beef in the frying pan; drain well and add the drained beef to the onion-mushroom mixture. Stir in the tomatoes and their juice, the broth, water, barley, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, sherry, salt, pepper and hot pepper sauce.

Bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes. Remove the cover, raise heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, 10 to 15 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed or cooked off and the barley is tender. Remove from heat.

Stir about half a cup of the hot mixture into the sour cream to temper it (just as with egg protein, to keep it from curdling), then stir the sour cream into the barley mixture. Serve immediately.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 395 Fat 20 g Sodium 660 mg

Carbohydrates 32 g Saturated fat 8 g Calcium 104 mg

Protein 23 g Cholesterol 72 mg Dietary fiber 7 g

Diabetic exchanges per serving: 2 bread/starch, 2 medium-fat meat, 2 fat.

COLD LIME CREAM SOUP

Serves 8.

This is a slight adaptation of one of my own recipes. It benefited nicely from the addition of some hot pepper sauce. Most soups do. On various occasions I have slimmed it down, using milk or fat-free half-and-half instead of most of the cream, and it's still pretty darn good -- and a lot less alarming nutritionally. But as a favorite, it should get the royal treatment.

• 2 ripe avocados

• 2 (10 1/2-oz.) cans condensed chicken broth

• 2 c. heavy cream

• 1 c. dry white wine or white vermouth

• 1 c. milk

• 1 tbsp. lemon juice

• Salt to taste

• Dash hot pepper sauce

• Juice of 4 fresh limes -- about 5/8c. -- or to taste

Directions

Peel and pit the avocados. In a blender or food processor (the blender will produce a smoother soup), purée the avocados in the broth until they have formed a smooth paste. Pour into a large container and stir in the cream, wine, milk, lemon juice, salt and hot pepper sauce. Then add the lime juice, tasting as you go. It will mellow somewhat as it chills, so you might go a little stronger than you're tempted to do at first. (Ain't it funny how the lime slips away?).

Chill at least several hours, covered.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 286 Fat 26 g Sodium 360 mg

Carbohydrates 10 g Saturated fat 13 g Calcium 91 mg

Protein 5 g Cholesterol 69 mg Dietary fiber 3 g

Diabetic exchanges per serving: ½ bread/starch, ½ medium-fat meat, 4½ fat.

SPINACH GRATIN

Serves 6 to 8.

This began life as a Julia Child recipe, which I like to think (blush) that I improved. At one point there were even little cubes of SPAM in it, but this is its best rendition.

• 2 oz. (about1/4c.) slivered almonds

1/4 c. golden raisins, optional

• 2 (10-oz.) pkg. frozen chopped spinach

• 7 tbsp. butter, divided

• 1 medium onion, chopped

• 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed

• Salt and pepper to taste

• 5 tbsp. flour

• 1 (101/2-oz.) can condensed consommé

• 11/2c. (6 oz.) grated Swiss cheese, divided

1/4c. dry bread crumbs

Directions

Toast the almonds in a large frying pan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until they begin to color and become fragrant, about 7 minutes. Remove from pan immediately and set aside to cool. Plump the raisins, if using, in a cup of hot water. Prepare the spinach according to package directions; rinse in cold water and drain very well -- squeezing to extract the water.

Heat 4 tablespoons of the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. Stir in the spinach, salt and pepper, increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring, 5 to 10 minutes, until moisture has almost evaporated and the spinach begins to stick to the pan.

Reduce heat to medium, sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Stir in the consommé, and cook, stirring and scraping the pan bottom occasionally, about 20 minutes until the mixture has some body and is no longer liquid. Remove from heat.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a two-quart (7- by 11-inch or 9- by 9-inch) baking dish. Drain the plumped raisins and stir into the spinach, along with the toasted almonds and half the cheese. Spread the mixture in the prepared pan. Mix the remaining cheese with the bread crumbs. Sprinkle this mixture over the spinach. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and drizzle over all.

Bake 30 minutes in upper third of oven, until the top is crisp and golden.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 272 Fat 20 g Sodium 378 mg

Carbohydrates 13 g Saturated fat 11 g Calcium 270 mg

Protein 12 g Cholesterol 46 mg Dietary fiber 3 g

Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 bread/starch, 1 medium-fat meat, 3 fat.

PEACHES AND CREAM CAKE

Serves 16.

This recipe is adapted from one in "The Cake Mix Doctor." The original version is an excellent cake, moist and delicious, but without any hint of peach flavor. I added the peach gelatin mix, producing an even better cake -- but still one that blindfold tasters probably would never identify as tasting peachy. Setting aside its lack of peach flavor (a problem only to the baker, who wanted it to taste like peaches), this was the hands-down favorite of two groups of people who tried a number of doctored-cake-mix cakes, and I've made it a lot since. The frosting of sweetened whipped cream is elegant -- and extremely rich.

Cake:

• 1 (29-oz.) can peach halves packed in heavy syrup

• 1 (181/4-oz.) pkg. butter-recipe yellow cake mix

• 1 (3-oz.) pkg. peach-flavor gelatin mix

1/2c. (1 stick) butter, melted

• 4 eggs

• 1 tsp. vanilla

Frosting:

• 11/2c. heavy cream

1/4c. plus 2 tbsp. powdered sugar

Directions

Prepare the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch-round cake pans.

Drain the peach halves, reserving ½ cup of the syrup. Purée the peach halves in a food processor until the mixture is smooth.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, combine the peach purée, cake mix, gelatin mix, butter, eggs and vanilla. Blend 1 minute at low speed, scraping the bowl occasionally. Beat 2 minutes or more at medium speed, until the mixture is smooth.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans, smooth the tops and bake 30 to 35 minutes, until the layers spring back when lightly touched with a finger and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Set the layers on wire racks for 10 minutes to cool slightly, loosen each from the side of its pan, invert onto a rack, then invert again to upright. While the layers are still warm, poke holes all over their tops with toothpicks. Pour the reserved syrup over the layers (1/4cup over each) being careful to get all the syrup to soak into the cake, not run off the sides. Let layers cool completely.

Meanwhile, prepare the frosting: Beat the cream in the small bowl of an electric mixer until it has begun to thicken. Add the sugar and beat at high speed until stiff peaks form. Fill and frost the cooled cake..

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 344 Fat 17 g Sodium 320 mg

Carbohydrates 45 g Saturated fat 9 g Calcium 63 mg

Protein 4 g Cholesterol 93 mg Dietary fiber 1 g

Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 bread/starch, 2 other carb, 3½ fat.

Rhubarb Pudding Cake

Serves 18 to 24.

A delightfully crispy top and gooey rhubarb pudding underneath.

• 41/2c. 1/2-inch slices rhubarb (about 11/2lb. frozen, thawed and drained)

• 2 c. flour

• 11/2c. sugar

• 2 tsp. baking powder

1/2tsp. salt

• 6 tbsp. melted butter

2/3c. milk

• 1 tsp. vanilla

• 1 egg

Topping:

• 1 c. sugar

• 1 tbsp. cornstarch

1/2tsp. cinnamon

• 11/4c. boiling water

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees; lightly grease a 9- by 13-inch pan. Scatter the rhubarb evenly into the prepared pan.

Sift together flour, 11/2 cups of sugar, baking powder and salt and transfer to the large bowl of an electric mixer. Beat in the melted butter, milk and vanilla, scraping down bowl and beaters. Beat in the egg, scraping down bowl and beaters. Batter will be thick.

Drop batter over rhubarb by heaping tablespoons, then gently spread to fill the pan edge to edge, completely covering the rhubarb.

For the topping, combine the 1 cup of sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly over batter. Gently pour the boiling water over all.

Bake about 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle (but not all the way down -- the rhubarb layer will be gooey) comes out clean.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 154 Fat 3 g Sodium 116 mg

Carbohydrates 30 g Saturated fat 2 g Calcium 79 mg

Protein 2 g Cholesterol 17 mg Dietary fiber 1 g

Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 bread/starch, 1 other carb. and ½ fat.

CARROT AND ORANGE SOUP

Serves 8 to 10.

A really wonderful flavor combination, worth buying anise seed if you don't have any. Make plenty; you'll want leftovers.

• 4 tbsp. (1/2stick) butter

• 1 lb. carrots, sliced

• 2 shallots, chopped

• 1 medium onion, chopped

• 1 tsp. anise seeds

• 2 (10 1/2-oz.) cans condensed chicken broth

• 1 soup can water

• 4 large navel or Valencia oranges

• 1 c. fat-free half-and-half

1/2tsp. salt

1/2tsp. pepper

1/2tsp. hot pepper sauce, or to taste

Directions

In a Dutch oven over medium heat, melt the butter and add the carrots, shallots, onions and anise seeds. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover the pot and cook 15 minutes.

Add the broth and water, bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Working in batches if necessary, purée the mixture with a blender or food processor (a blender will do a much better job). Return the purée to the pot.

Grate the zest of one orange and add it to the soup, along with the juice of all four oranges. Add the half-and-half, salt, pepper and hot pepper sauce, gently heat through -- do not boil -- and serve.

Nutrition information per serving of 10:

Calories 126 Fat 6 g Sodium 590 mg

Carbohydrates 15 g Saturated fat 3 g Calcium 54 mg

Protein 4 g Cholesterol 14 mg Dietary fiber 2 g

Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 bread/starch, 1 fat.

Chocolate soufflÉ

Serves 4 to 6.

Soufflés can collapse pretty quickly once they're out of the oven, so if you're going to serve it at the table and appearance is important, move right along. If that's going to be a problem, just dish it up in the kitchen.

• 9 tbsp. sugar, divided

• 1 tbsp. cornstarch

2/3c. whole milk

• 3 (1-oz.) squares unsweetened chocolate

• 3 tbsp. coffee liqueur (or 3 tbsp. strong, sweet black coffee)

• 4 eggs, separated

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 1 1/2-quart soufflé dish.

In a medium saucepan, mix 6 tablespoons of the sugar with the cornstarch. Add a very small amount of the milk and stir to make a paste. Slowly, and stirring to avoid lumps, add the rest of the milk.

Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and cook, stirring one more minute. Remove from heat, add the chocolate and stir until it is melted. Stir in the coffee liqueur or coffee. Allow the mixture to cool for 5 minutes.

In a small dish, lightly beat the egg yolks. Stir in a few tablespoons of the chocolate mixture. Thoroughly stir this diluted yolk mixture into the pan of chocolate. Set aside.

In the small bowl of an electric mixture, whip the egg whites, gradually adding the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar, until the whites are firm but not dry.

Gently fold the whites into the chocolate mixture and pour into the soufflé dish. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Yum!

Nutrition information per serving of 6:

Calories 238 Fat 12 g Sodium 56 mg

Carbohydrates 30 g Saturated fat 6 g Calcium 62 mg

Protein 7 g Cholesterol 144 mg Dietary fiber 2 g

Diabetic exchanges per serving: 2 bread/starch, 2½ fat.