The Best Brownies

Baking is my form of relaxation. It is therapeutic and temporarily relieves me of stress because my focus shifts from my daily dilemmas, to measuring cups of flour and watching my goodies while they bake. I think of nothing but my cookies, loaves or brownies during the entire process.

Back home, I have a complete set of baking equipments- a stand mixer, gas oven, baking pans in all sizes and shapes- but here in Taiwan, I am deprived of a proper kitchen. Thank God for good friends and kind aunties, I usually go to their places and "borrow" their kitchen. They know I'm stressed out when I spend a whole afternoon or an evening baking away.

For this entry, I'll share with you a wonderful easy to follow brownie recipe. My friends Abby and Kuya Ronald have been requesting for brownies for the longest time since Kuya bought an electric oven. Costco ran out of the boxed Ghirardelli brownie mix (my favorite- just add oil, water and egg) so I thought why not try making one from scratch? I Googled various recipes and found this highly-rated one from Allrecipes.com. It turned out really good, I think I'm not buying the boxed brownie mix anymore. Here's the recipe. I modified it a bit, see the parts with asterisks.

Fudgy Brownies
Ingredients:
1 cup butter, melted
3 cups white sugar* 
1 tbsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
1.5 cups all purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
1 tsp. salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips**

*The recipe calls for 3 cups sugar, but I only used 2. Ummm diabetes runs in my blood.
**Dredge chocolate chips in some amount of flour to avoid the morsels from sinking at the bottom of the pan. You can also add a cup of chopped walnuts, if you like.

1. Preheat oven to 350F or 175C. Line pan with oven paper or foil. 
2. Combine melted butter, sugar, and vanilla. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well blended.
3. Sift flour, cocoa, and salt in a bowl- this is to ensure that you will have a smooth lump-free batter. Fold in the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients (butter-sugar-vanilla-egg mixture). Stir in chocolate chips, and walnuts if you have. 



4. Bake for 30-35 minutes. (The original recipe calls for 35-40 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out clean. But since I want a chewy moist brownie, I baked it for only 30 minutes. The brownie will set and continue to cook through once pulled out from the oven. Cool before slicing.)


We had these brownies while they were nice and warm and topped it with vanilla ice cream for our dessert the previous day. Ohhhh my. It exceeded my expectations. I thought it'd be one of those cake-like brownies that I'll end up throwing in the bin, but noooo. The top was flaky and the base was fudgy. I brought some for my colleagues to try and they loved it. I highly recommend this recipe even for a first time baker. I cant wait to post my favorite chocolate chip cookie and banana loaf recipes. I'll share it next time. It's Friday tomorrow! Hooray for the weekend! 

Taipei Series: Dreamy Nantou

Ahhhh weekend... It was a tough week at work, and I assume it'll be even tougher this coming week... so I'm bracing myself and currently on a self-imposed house arrest. I just finished doing two loads of laundry and threw in my beddings at the last minute. In between loads, I was watching "Still Alice". Gosh I cant remember when was the last time I entered a movie house. I'm such a cheapskate these days that I download whatever I can download online. A movie here costs NT$300+ (that's around Php500 without your big bag of popcorn), so I'd rather watch in the comfort of my room, with lights out and socks on- apparently it still is winter in this island and even with the windows closed, I still have to turn on my mini heater for some warmth. 

Anyhoooo, after bawling my eyes out in one of the most heart-wrenching films I've watched to date, I'd like to take some time  off and blog about our weekend trip to Nantou (南投). We had to plan it ahead of time because bus tickets get sold out very fast, especially on long weekend holidays. I was in charge of looking for a minsu (hostel or homestay) and booking for bus tickets. I was able to finalize everything as early as the first week of January and my friends Kimji, Hana and Kuya Ronald were my travel companions. 

We boarded the bus in Taipei Main Station early Friday morning, at 7:00am and reached Nantou around 11:30am. The son of our minsu owner, Mr. Lee, came to pick us up and brought us to our first destination, Cingjing Farm (清境農場). Mr. Lee took care of our overnight bags and told us to take our lunch first before heading to the farm. We walked around the farm and cooled down with yummy goat's milk ice cream. The weather in Nantou is 100x better than in Taipei... cool breeze with a burst of spring sunshine. Here are some snaps I took at the farm. 





Mr. Lee fetched us at a nearby 7-Eleven around 5:30pm, just in time for our scheduled hotpot dinner at the minsu. We were surprised when he brought us to our "room" because we all thought it was just going to be a "room". This, my friends, is our dreamy minsu, with a breathtaking view. We stayed at the lower "cabin" with two double beds and an ensuite bath, with free wifi and drinks. I highly recommend this minsu. The minsu's name is Starry House. The website is in Chinese, so if you need help in booking, do let me know :) 



After we settled in, we took a walk and breathed in all the fresh air that we can. We walked over to the dinner area and feasted on the sumptuous hotpot meal prepared by Mr. Lee and his staff. This is the main building of the minsu, and the little girl on a bike is Mr. Lee's darling daughter. The most talkative 5-year old I've met, she asked her dad, "Can I stay here with them and have a chat?" So adorable!!! 



After dinner, we checked-in and confirmed with Mr Lee our plan to have a Hehuanshan Sunrise Tour the next day. We were instructed to be ready by 4:45 am and wait at the minsu's main entrance. There will be a van with a driver-guide who will take us to Hehuanshan (Mount Hehuan). We went back to our cabin, took a long hot shower and slept soundly at past 9:00pm. When the alarm went off at 3:30am, we changed to our super winter outfits with several layers on. It was pitch black when we headed out, and arrived Mt. Hehuan at 5:30am. Sunrise at the time was expected at 6:18am so we had several minutes to shoot some photos. We braved the cold, went out of the van at freaking 3-degreeC weather. After 5 minutes of shivering in the cold, we decided to get back in and waited for a couple more minutes. We went out at 6:10am and witnessed God's glorious sunrise. The world was awaking, and greeting everyone a very good morning.



Seeing the sunrise felt very magical. My heavy heart lightened up, and I realized there is God showing His love to me once again... God always has His ways to take away my pain. Feeling the rays of sun kiss my face amid the biting cold weather, was just immensely beautiful. I'm glad we planned this trip. With happy smiles, our driver took all of us back to the hostel to grab breakfast. We were served a very healthy and filling meal, with a perfect cup of hot mellow milk tea. Here's our meal with a very pretty view. 


We packed up and took a short nap before leaving. Mr. Lee drove us to the bus stop and we had enough time to take some light lunch, and kill time in Starbucks (Yes they have Starbucks in Nantou!). We left Nantou at 1:00pm and arrived in Taipei Main Station at 5-ish pm. I will never forget this trip. If you are to ask me which places are my favorite here in Taiwan, I'd say Nantou and Hualien. So if you are visiting Taiwan anytime soon, I hope you'll include this in your travel plans. It is soooo worth the 4-hour bus ride. And of course, visit in spring when lovely flowers and cherry blossoms are blooming!


Short Break

Hello, world! I went on a short break for the Chinese New Year holidays. I spent 10 days home- tried my best to squeeze in a 3days 2nights Panglao vacation for my mom's birthday, 5 days in our ancestral home in Cagayan to be with father dear, and the remaining days in Manila to catch up with friends. It was a crazy schedule... I flew 6 times in total in the span of 10 days. I was so tired when I got back to Taipei last Monday Feb 23rd, but boy was I glad that I had the whole day to unpack, sleep and rest. We had another long weekend from Feb. 27 to March 1 and we did a quick trip down south to Nantou City (what a beautiful place, more on that on my next post).

Here are some photos taken during my short stay home. I went back to work on the 24th and already had a pile of papers to work on. I hope you'll all have a great start of the week, and an even better month of March! Happy New Year of the Sheep! 羊年快樂,恭喜發財!