Holiday Brownies

I work almost exclusively with engineers, and they’re a different lot. Please don’t mistake that for a knock. All I’m saying is that they process situations differently. Variety is the spice of life, right? I never knew how to explain that difference until a mechanical engineer summed it up.

As part of my Master’s program, I took an organizational behavior class. Think diversity in the workplace. Mech-E was presenting how she and her peers think … in 3D. She reads directions, looks at diagrams and her brain converts them into 3D schematics. This superpower allows them to foresee issues that won’t be realized until the future.  I’ll never forget her point: engineers aren’t obvious-problem solvers. Engineers invent problems to solve them.

With this in mind, backtrack to the most controversial recipe ever: Brownie Volcano Cookies.  It’s not necessary to read, but I highly suggest it for entertainment value. Bakers had a slight meltdown related to the fact that to make these cookies, a tray of brownies is needed, but you don’t use all the brownies.

Some were mystified what they should do with the leftover brownies. I’ve named them culinary engineers.  The vast majority of us, would probably conclude that we should eat the brownies or adjust the recipe for total consumption. But those Culinary-E’s looked at that recipe and instantly worried about 3/4 of a pan of brownies left to the birds. Waste not, want not is what my friend’s mother always said!

My friend (who was NOT my Secret Santa) gave these to me. I told the entire office and all on social media this was the best gift and it wasn’t even the big gift day!


In a story that is neither here, nor there, about workplace Secret Santa gone awry, I received a spectacular gift that is the seasonal solution to those leftover brownies.





Okay, so, I actually had to make brownies. I didn’t receive pre-made brownies as a gift. Because brownies as a Christmas gift is not a thing.


Easy Christmas Trees appeared in my Pinterest feed and the solution to the chocolate brownie chip volcano problem was apparent!

Notably, my brownies are rather plain. But I didn’t want to put anyone into a sugar induced coma by adding candy on top of a brownie filled with candy. If I had Culinary-E skills, I would’ve pulled the M&M’s out of the mix and used them to decorate my trees. In fact, all those “extras” made it difficult to get a clean cut and insert the pretzel. (I also had to take them out of my volcano cookies.) The great thing about this recipe is it can be used year round by substituting seasonal candy. You could use cookie cutters to create Valentine’s Day brownies, St Patrick’s Day Brownies, Easter Brownies. You get the idea.  Before you think I’m being wasteful, you can use the scraps for volcano cookies! What holiday do you plan on making these for?img_3450


  • 1 1/3 cup Sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1 1/2 cup All-Purpose Flour (for high altitude baking, add an extra 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 cup M&M’s (or any candy coated chocolate)
  • 1/2 cup Chocolate or White Chocolate Morsels
  • 1/2 cup Walnuts (optional)
  • 1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1/4 cup Water (for high altitude baking, add an 2 Tablespoons)
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • Green Frosting
  • Pretzel Rods

Special Tools

  • Brownie Spatula



  1. Preheat oven to 350*. (for high altitude baking, heat to 375*)
  2. Combine all dry  ingredients together in a bowl. Stir in oil, eggs, water, and vanilla until well mixed.
  3. Grease a square or rectangular cake pan. (Lining with parchment paper is an alternative)
  4. Pour the brownie mix into the pan. Ensure it’s evenly distributed.
  5. Bake 35 minutes or until inserted pick comes out clean. (for high altitude baking, cook for 25 minutes)
  6.  Remove from oven and run a brownie spatula between the sides of the pan and brownie.
  7. Cool completely before cutting.

Christmas Trees

  1. Cut brownie into thirds. (Can be done while still in pan)
  2. Cut each third into triangles
  3. Insert pretzel rod to create a tree trunk.
  4. Frost each tree and decorate as your heart desires. Don’t forget a star at the top!
*My gift tag said Holiday Brownies. The original recipe is Batter Bowl Brownies by Pampered Chef.


Please Define “Gift”

During my eye brow wax my esthetician wondered aloud “since when did cookies and cakes become Christmas gifts?” I giggled and she theorized why diets start at the new year.  It’s not that January is a time for a fresh start, she mused, but it’s that we’ve been eating since Halloween. Candy quickly turns into a Thanksgiving feast followed by a barrage of baked goodies.  All that food made her sluggish. She didn’t want to be cliche as she resolved that her family is going to eat healthy. Right after they finish all the biscochitos her neighbor gave them (as a gift I presume).

I give my family a cookie basket every year. I don’t know if that counts as a gift though. In the strictest sense of the definition, sure. I think of it as sharing.


This year’s basket was filled with love and

Not 10 minutes after my eyebrows were cleaned up, I heard officially that without a doubt, new gym memberships soar on January 2. New Year’s resolutions, ya know? Freakonomics pinpointed the exact day that gym attendance falls off. Based on my observation, it’s Presidents’ Day. By the end of the third week in January, my gym is back to normal. Are you ready for the official answer? Do you even want to know? Stop reading if you don’t. This is your last chance. The day people quit the gym is the first Thursday in February! Do you know what day people return to fast food chains in droves? The second Friday in February. I’m not sure if there’s a correlation between that week and Mardi Gras.

Do Christmas cookies count as a gift? What are your favorite items in a holiday basket?

Get (Whiskey) Smashed: A Food Fight Over ‘Cheesecake Factory’

If you read Like The Cheesecake Factory, you may be wondering why it was 2015 before The Cheesecake Factory set up shop in Albuquerque. This is America, right? How does the largest city in New Mexico not have a Cheesecake Factory?

Grab yourself a drink. May I suggest a whiskey smash? I’ll share a corporate food fight. Minus the food. Only words were hurled.

This tale opens in Albuquerque with the picturesque Sandia Mountains as backdrop. It’s 1973 and Dee’s Cheesecake Factory is founded as both an eatery and dessert distributor. The restaurant served locals an array of soups, salads, sandwiches, cookies, pies, and cheesecakes for 41 years.

Cut scene to opulent Beverly Hills, 1978. The Cheesecake Factory opened its first restaurant, successfully serving sandwiches and cheesecakes. The 1980’s ushered 2 more locations in SoCal and each restaurant (including the menu) was grander than the previous. By the mid-90’s, The Cheesecake Factory was plating everything from steak & lobster to cheeseburgers in 7 states. That’s when Dee’s Cheesecake Factory, and its one restaurant, had enough!

1997 rolled around and Dee’s Cheesecake Factory filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against The Cheesecake Factory. [Cue the legal jargon and drab details.] The court found that Dee’s held rights to “Cheesecake Factory” in certain parts of the country. It also found that the companies’ names were confusingly similar. Thanks Captain Obvious.

Afterwards, Dee’s Cheesecake Factory and The Cheesecake Factory came to settlement that was a win-win for both parties but a loss for all New Mexicans. Dee’s sold its rights to “Cheesecake Factory” to The Cheesecake Factory. Dee’s would remain named Dee’s Cheesecake Factory. The Cheesecake Factory agreed it would stay out of New Mexico.

Imagine the confusion of young Albuquerqueans as The Cheesecake Factory increased in social relevance. The only Cheesecake Factory they’d ever known was akin to a diner. How exciting it must’ve been to think that a local business could achieve national fame! How crushing it must’ve been to realize those were two different restaurants.


In 2014, Dee’s Cheesecake Factory retired. It’s final gift to Albuquerque was forging another agreement with The Cheesecake Factory. This time the famous restaurant was allowed to enter the market, if it wanted. And it wanted. About 12 months later, The Cheesecake Factory was open for business.

At Dee’s, I always ordered the same meal: ham sandwich and key lime pie. Don’t judge. That pie was magical– like a slice of summer available year round. Dee’s Cheesecake Factory’s key lime pie is the reason key lime pie is one of my favorite desserts.

There’s only 1 item that I order from The Cheesecake Factory EVERY SINGLE VISIT. No surprise, it’s not a cheesecake, although I order a different cheesecake every time. It’s not a meal. It’s the whiskey smash. I loved it so much, I made my own. If you like whiskey or if you like citrusy drinks, give my copycat recipe a try:


  • 1/2 fresh lemon
  • 1/2 fresh lime
  • 1 ounce simple syrup
  • 1 ounce aperol
  • 2 ounces Bulliet bourbon
  • ice

Special Tools

  • Cocktail Shaker


  1. Add freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice to cocktail shaker. Throw in the squeezed lemon and lime halves.
  2. Add simple syrup, aperol, and bourbon to shaker.
  3. Add enough ice to fill 2/3 of the shaker.
  4. Shake, shake, shake.
  5. Add ice to an old fashioned glass or rocks glass (or short glass, if you don’t speak Bartender)
  6. Strain the contents of the shaker into the glass and enjoy!

Ironically in 2008, The Cheesecake Factory filed a trademark infringement suit against the Philadelphia Cheesesteak Factory aka Cheesesteak Factory. Either the lawsuit didn’t go as planned or the two companies also came to an agreement because The Cheesesteak Factory has many locations to feed your pizza or cheesesteak cravings. But only in Virginia.

While I could’ve written this piece solely on local knowledge, it would’ve been vague. In addition to Wikipedia, information was sourced from A Trademark Dispute Over Cheesecake‘Cheese’ stands alone, and Dee’s to close.

Brownie Volcano Cookies

The comment section always has the potential to become a volcano. Words spill out of people’s minds and onto the Internet like hot gases escaping the inner chambers of Earth. Those first gassy comments are harbingers of destruction to come! People respond  with volcanic ash and before long, the thread is a stream of magma scorching everyone involved.

Pillsbury emailed me a new cookie recipe. It was so new there weren’t any reviews. When I made the cookies a week later, I saw it was rated 3.25 stars (out of 5). I wasn’t prepared to find turmoil. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive. Maybe I’m being overly dramatic. Maybe I simply underestimated my fellow bakers’ passion.

The key to 3-Ingredient Brownie Batter Cookies wrapping a brownie inside a chocolate chip cookie. Not sure why the recipe is called brownie batter because you need cooked brownies. Herein lies the source of conflict. An entire batch of brownies must be made but only 1/4 are needed.

Sharkcuterie innocuously said “I don’t know if I’d ever make a whole pan of brownies just to make these cookies, but I will totally keep this recipe handy to upgrade leftover brownies when they start to get dry.” Great idea! Chellybell13 was probably just being helpful in replying “Just buy another roll of the cookie dough and double the recipe.” This comment is perplexing. By my math, The Shark needs to quadruple the recipe. Anyhoo.

Crafter404 chimed in “… and personally with that much prep needed I would have enough cookie dough to do all the brownies.” When the recipe initially went up, it said 20 hours of prep time. Crafter’s subtext: get enough cookie dough to make 32 cookies, not 8.

In my opinion, Sweetthhth01’s thought was unnecessary. “The prep time on these cookie is 20 min. not 20 Hrs.” The very first comment and replies establish the prep time was changed. And that capital H … I felt like we all got reprimanded.

The last 2 comments are classic!

Grandmaknits10 gave the recipe 1 star because “Would have preferred a be able to make these cookies using the entire pan of brownie!  All this for ONLY 8 cookie? No deal!” To which Brutie responded “Just make more! It’s not rocket science” And you know what, Grandma has a point — haven’t decided if this recipe was a lot of work. I choked trying not to spit out my coffee when I read Brutie’s assessment of difficulty level.

Mnmsmom9498 finishes the thread with “What is the other purpose for the remaining brownies?” Pizzarolchick obviously had enough and snapped “How about to eat? Honestly, I’ve never seen such silly comments on a recipe thread.” (15 people found this helpful.) Brutie wasn’t about to let Pizza Chick have the last word and closed the conversation with “Ummm, eating?” Mic drop. Pillsbury members out.

Want to stir up drama in your kitchen with your very own brownie volcano cookies?31374085352_943a8b26da_o


  • Brownie Mix
  • 1 Ounce Cream Cheese (softened)
  • 1 Roll (16.5 oz) Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Special Tools

  • 1-Tablespoon Cookie Scoop
  • Brownie Spatula



  1. Make the brownies according to directions. [For high altitude baking, add 1/4 cup flour and 2 tablespoons water]
  2. Bake the brownies according to package directions. [For high altitude baking, bake at 325* for 15-20 minutes]
  3. Remove from oven and run a brownie spatula between the sides of the pan and brownie. You could also cut the brownies now.
  4. After 10 minutes, remove from pan and allow to cool completely.


  1. Crumble 1/4 of the brownies into a mixing bowl. Add the cream cheese and use your hands to combine thoroughly.30711490083_dfb0c2c4a5_m
  2. Use cookie scoop to create 8 brownie balls.31482544396_fed9bdb01f_z
  3. Cut cookie dough roll into 16 slices. Flatten the slices slightly.31405142071_f1b4193bde_q
  4. Place brownie roll between 2 slices to create a cookie ball. Make sure the brownie is completely covered by cookie dough and all edges are sealed together.
  5. Repeat to create 8 cookies. Place on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart.31482552516_547e097650_z
  6. Preheat oven to 350*.
  7. Chill cookies in freezer until oven is ready.
  8. Bake 17-20 minutes, or until cookies are golden. [For high altitude baking, bake 11-15 minutes].
  9. Cool on cookie sheet for 20 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

    Don’t these look like volcanoes?


What is the best comment (good or bad) you’ve ever read online? Got any ideas how to make these cookies less controversial?