N. Renee Brown

Part-time Author, Full-time Book Junkie

Nate’s Lovely (Just Like Him and His Wife) Peanut Sauce with Tofu

I have done nothing to change this recipe, nothing at all…it is perfect the way it is!
You can also bake the tofu with a little corn starch sprinkled on it and it will give you a nice crispy mouth-feel.  And don’t worry about the sugar on the fried tofu, it will work itself out, seriously…it makes tofu into something completely new and amazing.  (I am so happy Nate shared this with me, I’m actually going to make it today — Christmas — because cooking and Christmas go hand in hand.)

Swimming Rama Tofu

Peanut Sauce:
1 can coconut milk (14 oz)
1 cup fresh ground peanuts (I use peanut butter because I am lazy. — nrb)
1/4 cup fish sauce (Tiparos is my favorite)
2 TB red curry paste (Mae Ploy brand is good)
3 TB palm sugar or brown sugar

Combine ingredients in saucepan and simmer over medium heat until thickened.

Cut non-silken extra firm tofu into 1/8″ to 1/4″ strips. Dry off the
strips with a paper towel.
Sprinkle tofu with sugar so they will caramelize . Heat pan with 2 TB
oil and pan fry the tofu until golden.

Serve over wilted spinach (I just microwave for a few minutes) with peanut sauce.

Italian Drinking Chocolate or Pudding in a Cup

When I went to Italy I saw a man putting Nutella in a cup with warm milk. I tried it and liked it, but I overheard him bemoaning the fact that there was no real Italian Drinking Chocolate (IDC) on hand.
I was thinking that IDC must be just like hot chocolate but with a hazelnut flavoring added…so I went questing for hot chocolate in the middle of August. I was frustrated until I stumbled up on this little packet of stuff called Cioban.
It looks like pudding on the front, and I was a little dubious, but I tried it anyway (Italy made me adventurous).
It did indeed come out thick, as in coat the back of the spoon thick – stick to your mouth thick – OMG I NEED MORE NOW thick. It was delicious – it didn’t have much of a hazelnut flavor but the mouthfeel. OMG the mouthfeel!!!!!!! Like drinking velvet.
So, I snagged a few extra packets from our breakfast nook and tucked them in my luggage.
Fast-forward 2 years – I am long out of Cioban, but I have found it on Amazon. It is incredibly expensive (12 packages for $30!!!!!), but I am longing for it so much I ask my wife to purchase it for me for Christmas.
And she did. (I love her, she is the best.)
And guess what…I sat on that package for nearly a year before opening it, because I KNEW that once I started drinking it I would NOT stop. Once I had a taste of that liquid velvet dream again, I would not stop till they were all gone.
And I wasn’t sure I could ask for them again…remember, expensive?
So I went looking for an IDC recipe, and I found some! Yet, over and over they were for ONE CUP of hot chocolate…now who in their right mind is only going to make one cup? No, this chocolate is an experience! You need to SHARE it, to DISPERSE it, to SPREAD THE JOY that is this chocolate – thus, you need a MIX not a cup! Something you can keep on hand to break out when company comes over and you really want to impress them.

All you need for this recipe is a blender and an air-tight container. You don’t even have to worry if there are lumps, because you are going to melt it anyway! And feel free to switch out the chocolate flavors, if you like dark get some nice dark chocolate (lower % of cocoa makes sweeter IDC, higher % means more bitter but complex flavors) or mix the milk and dark (my favorite) or mix in some white chocolate with either milk or dark to get an interesting mix.

4 to 6 – 1.55 oz bars of milk chocolate (depending on your level of chocolate need)
¾ cup unsweetened chocolate powder
½ cup sugar
¼ to ½ cup of cornstarch (depending on the level of thickness you want)

Put the chocolate powder, sugar, and cornstarch in the blender and blend until mixed, then add chunks of chocolate bar until completely powdery (about 2 minutes). Transfer to an air-tight container.
1 cup of milk
3 HEAPING TB of chocolate mix
Wisk together the milk and chocolate in a saucepan over medium heat until well combined. Heat until the mixture thickens and is hot, then pour into a mug and go directly to heaven.
Feel free to riff on this recipe in every way, shape and size!
OPTIONAL MIX ADDITIONS (if you want a whole bunch of a specific flavor):
Add crushed candy canes for peppermint IDC.
Add crushed red hot candies for Cinnamon IDC.
Add expresso powder for mocha IDC.

OPTIONAL CUP ADDITIONS (for one mug of more than amazingness):
Add flavor essence (like orange or coconut or almond) to give yourself a flavor boost (add this while the milk is warming).
Add Irish Cream or any alcohol for ADULT IDC (add this after you’ve heated the milk, but before you drink it)!

Enjoy, and drink up!

Mom’s “Holy Hot Fudge, Batman!”

Some times you come across something that makes everything else pale in comparison…sometimes, the world is a brighter place for having had something in it…

For me, that is my mom’s hot fudge.

The entire family loves it. The grandkids have been known to call grandma and ask for a jar of their very on to take home (or be mailed). As a matter of fact, when my wife and I get a shipment of this precious stuff my mother has to send 2 jars and LABEL each one so we don’t fight over it. And that, dear friends, is not a single spoonful of an over exaggeration.

So, here is how you bring some of this loveliness into your own home for 4th of July (or any other time you’re having ice cream).

Holy Hot Fudge

1 stick butter
1/4th cup brown sugar
pinch of salt
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 bag of dark chocolate chips
1 TBL of vanilla extract
(here’s the secret to this amazing recipe!)
1/4 cup creamed rum (or any cream liquor really)
1/4 cup Kahlua (or any coffee flavored liquor)

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the brown sugar. Then grab a stool and sit in front of the stove for a while…play on your phone if you want, but be sure to stir more often than not. When the brown sugar is melted (and yeah, it takes a while — and momma says DON’T RUSH IT! And if she says that, she means it.)
Once the sugar is melted add the pinch of salt and the sweetened condensed milk. Stir until well combined.
Add the bag of chocolate chips and mix until they are melted. (I took it off the heat here, but if you want to cook out some of the booziness leave that sucker on the heat.)
Mix in the vanilla and liquor, stirring until well incorporated and some of the alcohol has cooked off (it won’t take long).
Eat directly from the pan. Or if you can force yourself, put some over ice cream. Don’t share the pan with anyone you don’t like! EVER!

Also, yeah, you can put this in a jar and stick it in the fridge…I’m sure it keeps a good long while with all the booze in it, but I’m sure I wouldn’t know, because most of it is gone in a few days or less.


A little taste: Momma Colene’s Year Round AMAZING Aloo Gobhi

My wife’s mother makes a lot of dishes from all over the Middle East, and one of my favorites is a little dish called Aloo Gobhi. Basically, it is curried cauliflower and potatoes…and delicious!  It is amazing served warm over Basmati rice (with some saffron thrown in for good measure), but it is just as good piled on a paper plate cold for a picnic.  Eat it year around and thank my mother in law every time you do!

Here is the recipe:

Aloo Gobhi (Potatoes with Cauliflower)

The potato is called the king of vegetables in India.  Potatoes are often added to many meat, vegetable, and rice dishes.  Aloo Gobhi is a wonderful combination and it tastes great hot or cold.  The cauliflower is ofent fried to maintain its texture.  Here is a lower fat and my favorite Aloo Gobhi recipe.

1 medium cauliflower

2 medium potatoes

2 Tablespoons oil (I use olive oil.)

1 pinch asafeteda (optional) [thank god it is optional!  I don’t know what it is! -nrb]

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger

1/4 teaspoon tumeric

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional) [but preferred! It doesn’t make it as hot as you might suspect. – nrb]

1 teaspoons coriander powder

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala

1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro (optional)

Trim and divide the cauliflower into 1-inch florets (about 4 cups).  Wash and drain well.  Set aside.

Peel and wash the potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces.  Set aide.

Heat 1 Tablespoon oil in a nonstick skillet over mediaum heat.  Add asafelida [not sure of the spelling here -nrb] (if using) and cumin seeds.

Fry until seeds are golden brown, a few seconds.  Add the onion and fry until it is transparent, 3 to 5 minutes, stirring ocassionally.  Add the cauliflower, potatoes, and ginger.  Stir to combine.

(I usually microwave the potatoes to cook all faster.) [I put them in for 3 minutes, but they could have gone longer. Next time I’ll try 5. – nrb]

Sprinkle turmeric, salt and cayenne pepper over vegetables.  Stir thoroughly to coat vegetables.

Cover with lid, heat through and then reduce heat.  Simmer until vegetables are tender but firm, 8 to 10 minutes.

Sprinkle coriander powder, lemon juice, and garam masala, stir to combine.  Increase heat to medium and pour remaining 1 Tablespoon oil around sides.  Fry 3-5 minutes, stirring until done.  Garnish with with cilantro!! [Those are HER exclamation points, so I’d suggest doing it!! – nrb]

I usually increase amounts and keep adding oil as needed until done.  ENJOY!

[I DO, TRUST ME! – nrb]

A Little Taste: Grandma Howard’s Cure-All Cinnamon Rolls

Here is the recipe I was talking about in my previous post:


The actual hand-written recipe in all its glory. And also the dough.

It says:

They cure any illness: mumps, cramps, head colds, flu, earache.  We should know because Mom (her mom, my grandma) fixed these when we were sick. Serve with hot tea, per Aunt Jan (my aunt, her sister).

So here it is, in all its glory (and I added bits to further explain what she means in certain places).


OMG, don’t they look amazing? Even the one peeking up in the back isn’t horrible! (These have pecans on them, btw.)

Grandma Howard’s World Famous Cinnamon Rolls

2 cups milk

1 stick of butter or margarine

1 cup of sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Put 2 cups in a pan on medium [I’m assuming milk – nrb] heat then add: butter, sugar and salt.  When the butter has almost melted remove pan from heat.  Set aside to cool, about 10 minutes.  [It is going to take longer than 10 minutes…I had to move it to a bowl and put it in the fridge about 7 minutes. – nrb]

Put 2 packages of yeast [A package has about 2 and 1/4 teaspoons of yeast in it – nrb] in 1/4 c. water [I made it warm water…and stirred it and then stopped, I’ll get clarification later. – nrb]

[OH, I’d also pause here…you are waiting for the yeast to activate and the milk to COOL DAMNIT! – nrb]

Beat 3 eggs in mixer and combine with cooled liquid [and the yeast, I’m assuming. – nrb].  Then add 6 to 8 cups of flour [At cup 4, don’t worry, it will come together.  At cup 5, unless you have a stand mixer, put the mixer aside!  Trust me, or it will start to crawl up your arm, the dough, not the mixer. I used a spoon, it was fine.  By cup 7, I had to switch to hands. – nrb]

Move the dough to an oiled bowl and turn to coat with oil.  Cover with a warm damp cloth until bulk doubles, about 1 hour.


The dough…she LIVES!!

From here you can make these in to regular dinner rolls or you can make cinnamon rolls.

For cinnamon rolls, take half the dough [she never tells me what to do with the other half, I just made more cinnamon rolls, HA! – nrb]  and roll it into a rectangle shape about 10×14 or there about [I think mine was bigger…much bigger. – nrb].

Yes, that is a wine bottle in the background...I don't have a rolling pin.

Yes, that is a wine bottle in the background…I don’t have a rolling pin.

Brush with melted butter 1/4 to 1/2 cup and sprinkle with one half of following: 1 and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon to 1/2 cup sugar, mixed well.

Grandma Howard always cut her cinnamon rolls with a string.  I use dental floss.

Put in a 13×9 pan [I oiled mine with cooking spray. – nrb].

Bake at 350, 15 or 20 min.

Serve with honey butter or icing [I gotta get her icing recipe!!! – nrb].  Makes a big batch, cut in half for a smaller batch.

Enjoy we love both of you.

Mom and Dad


My siblings and I love ours a little under done…so these are for me. Trust me, the sides are a lovely golden brown color.

Go home mom, you’re drunk.

Okay, so my mom sent me some recipes…This is so wonderful and awesome, because in my house growing up the kitchen was filled with love.  It was THE place to be, and my mom encouraged me to experiment (I even have the old cookbook that I used to flip through when I was a kid, and later used to get my feet wet with cooking).

BUT my mom is blessed two-fold being both a born cook and a born baker…I am not.  While we both can eyeball ingredients and adjust on the fly…and we can both SMELL when something is done…she can FEEL when dough is ready.  I can’t.

I’ve always been too impatient for yeast based breads and cakes.  I’m a “what IS cool?”, “what IS lukewarm?” kinda gal, and I always err on the side of “OH GET ON WITH IT ALREADY” rather than making sure my yeast is safe and warm (not hot and dead or cold and asleep).

So this morning, CHRISTMAS MORNING, I decide to make my grandmother’s cinnamon rolls…a recipe passed down from my mom.  I used to make it with her, and she let me shape the dough remainders into little men and flowers and such, and she let me help sprinkle on the cinnamon and sugar.

It looked so easy.

I was mistaken.

Like I said, mom is a natural born baker…so when she says things like, “put 2 packages of yeast in 1/4 cup of water”  I start hyperventilating.  I don’t HAVE packages, I have a jar of yeast!  HOT WATER?  COLD WATER?  LUKEWARM???  Do I stir in the yeast?  Do I just let it sit?  BAH!!!!!

Then it gets better, she tells me to stir in the milk mixture that has cooled (okay, cool-ish, I just couldn’t wait any more) in with the eggs…and add flour (6 to 8 cups?  That is like 2 cups of failure waiting for me right there!) but never once mentions the yeast again!


Thankfully, the dough came together at cup number 7, after it nearly took out my mixer by crawling UP the beaters and almost getting into the machinery at cup 5.  Now it is perched on top of my stove waiting for me to roll it out into a sheet and sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar.

Wish me luck!

Happy Holidays!

I thought I would share my favorite short Christmas cartoon.  It was created in 1936, and it is adorable!  It puts me in mind of my many steampunk friends.  Enjoy!

Christmas Eve fun…

I love how this one says “Santy”, instead of Santa…it’s very Mid-Western and reminds me of my grandparents. 😀

Also, brushing reindeer teeth! And drilling rocking horse butts! lol  This one gets better when you’ve got an adult (aka dirty) mind.

Dog Holiday Fun!

This is for my pair of very bad dogs!  The “ear wave” is the very best part.

Surprise Holiday Fun!

Here’s “Santa’s Surprise” from 1947: