Suburban Pioneers

The Adventures and Misadventures of Homesteading in 21st-Century America

Sarah: Best Brownies Ever April 4, 2014

Nothing says decadent like a chocolate brownie with coffee ice cream!

Nothing says decadent like a chocolate brownie with coffee ice cream!

Our previous house had no dishwasher.  Oh, yes, it is definitely more eco-friendly to wash dishes by hand.  I know the statistics.  But I hate washing dishes.  On the other hand, I love eating, and I love cooking, which is why I’ve added another requirement to my test of a good dish:

  • Delicious taste   ×   
  • No processed food ingredients   ×   
  • Low dish to food quantity ratio  ×   

It’s quite difficult to achieve the last two in tandem, you see.  Dishes without many processed ingredients tend to require more measuring spoons, knives, cutting boards, prep bowls etc.  If I’m going to wash all those extra items, there had better be a large quantity of food to show for it–an entire crockpot of soup, for instance.

Here’s my homemade brownie recipe.  It meets all of the above criteria–no processed food and only as many dishes to wash as you would need for a boxed recipe (I figure if it’s not almost as easy and painless as a pre-made mix, no one will want to make it).  Also, this is the DOUBLED recipe for a 9×13 pan instead of 8×8, (remember, if you’re going to wash those dishes, you’d better get a lot of food to show for it!)  Here’s what you’ll need:


* 9×13 pan * a pot large enough to mix in * a 1/2 tsp. measuring spoon * 1 c. measuring cup *wooden spoon

***WARNING: these brownies aren’t “healthy”–they’re just not processed or prepackaged.  Personally, I’m okay with lots of butter!

1 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. white sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
4 eggs
1 c. flour
2/3 c. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 bag chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, mint chips or 1 c. nuts (optional)

The trick to making this with minimal dishes is doing it in the right order.  Here goes!

1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Melt butter in pot on stove over medium heat.

2.  While waiting for butter to melt, rub the wrapper of the butter over your 9×13 pan to grease it.  Use the 1/2 tsp. measuring spoon to spoon a little flour into the pan and tap the pan on all sides, shaking the flour around to coat evenly.

3.  As soon as butter is melted, remove pot immediately from the heat.  In 1 c. measuring cup, measure out brown then white sugar  and stir into the melted butter (you can use 2 c. brown or 2 c. white to make it easier, but I like the taste of half and half).

4. Measure out the salt in the 1/2 tsp. measuring spoon, then the baking powder, and mix into the pot.  Then add the c. of flour (best to do this after the baking powder and salt to make sure those two ingredients mix evenly into the liquid first).

5. Using 1/2 tsp. measuring spoon to help scoop, fill your 1 c. measuring cup almost all the way full of cocoa powder (there’s no need to use a different measuring cup to be exact for the 2/3 c. of cocoa powder…after all, who objects to a little extra chocolate?).  Stir in cocoa powder.

6. Add in eggs (the other ingredients will have cooled the warm butter down enough not to cook the eggs…egg particles in brownies = yuck!).  Stir in the vanilla, 1/2 a tsp. at a time so you don’t have to dirty another measuring spoon (you can substitute 1 tsp. of peppermint extract for one of the tsp. of vanilla if you’re making mint brownies).

7.  Stir in chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, mint chips, or nuts (optional).  Pour into floured and greased 9×13 pan and bake for ~20 minutes (until little cracks show on top).

Bake until slight cracks show in the top crust (I burned brownies until I learned this trick!).

Bake until slight cracks show in the top crust (I burned brownies until I learned this trick!).

Now that I’ve made this recipe a few times, it’s almost as fast for me as a box recipe would be.  The prep time takes less than 10 minutes, and the dish washing time is the same as it would be for a box.  I’m just washing a pot instead of a mixing bowl, and I can feel a lot better about the ingredients!


Lauren: Quick and Healthy Drop Biscuits (Five Ingredients!) March 18, 2013




2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup salted butter

1/4 cup vinegar

1/2 cup milk


1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine flour and baking soda. Cut in butter. Stir in vinegar and milk until dough is sticky. (Add additional milk if dough is not getting sticky.) Spoon onto greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until light golden brown.

2. Enjoy!


Lauren: Homemade Cinnamon Bread March 11, 2013

There’s just something about homemade bread that’s magical. I think the heavenly smell has something to do with it. And if the bread is slightly sweet with cinnamon? Even better.



1 cup milk

3/4 cup water

1/3 cup butter

6 1/2 – 7 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or white whole wheat flour for a “wheatier” taste)

6 tbsp brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

2 packages active dry yeast

3 eggs, at room temperature

1/3 cup honey (or more or less to taste)

2 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp butter, melted


*This recipe assumes the use of a Stand Mixer.

1. Combine milk, water, and 1/3 cup butter in small saucepan. Heat on low until 120-130 F (butter probably won’t be all the way melted).

2. Place 6 cups flour, 6 tbsp sugar, salt, and yeast in mixing bowl. Attach bowl and dough hook. Turn to Speed 2 and mix 15 seconds. Gradually add eggs, liquids from pan, about 1 min. Mix on speed 2 for 1 more minute.

3. Continue on speed 2, add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until dough clings to hook and cleans side of bowl, about 2 min. Kneed on speed 2 for 2 more minutes.

4. Place in greased bowl, turn to grease top. Cover; let rise in warm place (I put a bowl of hot water in my oven with the dough bowl and keep the door shut) until doubled in bulk (about 35 min.).

5. Punch dough down and divide in half. Roll each half to a 9 x 14 rectangle. Brush each half with melted butter. Sprinkle with cinnamon and then drizzle with honey. Roll dough (tightly!) and shape into loaves. Place in two 9 x 5 x 3 in. loaf pans.

6. Cover; let rise in warm place (back in the oven!) until doubled in bulk, about 35 minutes. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes (but check sooner). Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks.

7. Spread with jam or peanut butter, or turn into French Toast. . . delicious!


*This recipe was adapted from the Kitchen Aid recipe book.


Lauren: Top Eight Easy, Healthy, Less-Processed Substitutions Anyone Can Make December 18, 2012

1. Coconut Oil or Olive Oil instead of Canola or Vegetable Oil


According to, coconut oil’s health benefits include:  “hair care, skin care, stress relief, maintaining cholesterol levels, weight loss, increased immunity, proper digestion and metabolism, relief from kidney problems, heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV and cancer, dental care, and bone strength. These benefits of oil can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, and its properties such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial and soothing properties.”

Now that’s good stuff.

Tips: Coconut oil is usually solid unless it’s kept in a really warm place. Use as a solid to saute or place the jar in warm water to turn it into a liquid.

You can also massage the oil onto your body as a moisturizer or into your hair to help combat dandruff.

2. Whole Wheat Flour instead of regular white flour


Regular white flour is often bleached as well as highly refined (a.k.a. processed), which causes it to loose nutrients. I use regular whole wheat for breads, white whole wheat for muffins, roux, pancakes, etc, and whole wheat pastry flour for cookies and desserts (Seriously! You can’t even taste the difference!).

See this article for more information on whole wheat.

3. Honey, Molasses, or 100% Maple Syrup instead of white granulated sugar


I mostly use honey as my white or brown sugar substitute since molasses has a distinct taste and real maple syrup is pricey. Here’s more info on honey.

Tips: When using honey in baking, use 1/2 a cup of honey for each cup of sugar called for in a recipe, reduce the liquid in the recipe by 1/4 of a cup, and set your oven 25 degrees lower than the directions say.

4. Whole Grain Pasta


This is a super easy switch to make and you get used to the more wholesome taste.

Tips: Look for 100% whole grain.

5. Natural Peanut Butter


A lot of the peanut butter on the market has hydrogenated vegetable oils, sugar or dextrose, and salt. All you really need is peanuts!

Tips: Steer clear of ones that say “Natural” and then add more ingredients like palm oil, etc.

6. Recognizable-ingredient (five or less) snack foods


Let’s be honest. Sometimes you just need an easy go-to snack. The ingredients for Triscuit Thin Crisps are: whole grain soft white winter wheat, soybean oil, salt. And the Unique Pretzel Shells include: Unbleached Wheat Flour, Canola Oil, Salt, Yeast, and Soda. These break some rules (the oils) but are a lot healthier than most other snacks on the market.

7. Real Butter


Real butter doesn’t have all that hydrogenated fat. Go organic if you can. And if you’re able to find butter from grass-fed non-hormone-treated cows, that’s even better.

Here’s more on butter versus margarine.

8. Brown Rice in place of White Rice


White rice undergoes a process that removes most of its nutrients. Brown rice has only had the hull removed so most of the good stuff is still there. And we like the good stuff:)

Here’s some more info if you’re interested.

That’s it. Most of these substitutions don’t cost all that much more, if at all. And your body will thank you. It’ll be like getting a massage. . . on the inside. . . sort of. . .


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