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Midnight chocolate brownie bites

Midnight chocolate brownie bites
Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times

Southern fried chicken, coleslaw, biscuits and ham, brownies -- it's the iconic July 4th picnic, so popular (once upon a time) that it became a cliche of the culture, pictured in classic cartoons, nostalgic children's books -- and, of course, in ads for takeout versions of these all-American dishes.

But don't relegate this menu of deeply delicious, eminently packable and wonderfully satisfying foods to history. A few smart cooking techniques and updated ingredients can bring the joys of a homemade picnic back to the holiday -- and out to the beach, park or mountainside.

The beautifully puffed-up golden brown crust of the double-dipped fried chicken is made with buttermilk. It's so special that our recipe calls for cutting the chicken into 12 pieces rather than the usual six or eight. Not only is it easier to evenly fry the smaller pieces, they're also more finger-friendly and there's crisp crust in each bite.

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Made ahead of time

Soaking the pieces overnight in brine makes them juicy and tender when fried. And, of course, the whole process, from brining to frying, can be accomplished ahead of time so when it's time to party you can simply pack your picnic and head out the door.

Bring along lemon wedges and hot sauce, so each picnicker can add a quick squeeze of brightness and a drizzle of spice.

Times readers so love making coleslaw that the Food section often receives requests for recipes. All styles -- sweet and creamy, crisp and spicy, nutty and tangy -- have their fans.

So this recipe has been designed as a flexible master version with variations. Three kinds of cabbage -- red and green for body and color, savoy for a light surprise and contrast -- along with chopped onion and cilantro form the slaw. You decide, by selecting dressing add-ins, whether to make your slaw a California-herbal version with fresh tarragon, a nutty Asian-inspired style with toasted sesame seeds, or one spiced with celery and mustard seeds.

Feeding a crowd? Order a country ham online and bring along some biscuits. Presto! Impromptu sandwiches (yes, of course you'll want to put coleslaw on that ham slice) are on hand throughout the afternoon's softball game.

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Rich and citrusy

The combination of orange and chocolate in our "midnight chocolate" (that's how dark they are) brownies is not only festive but also, as befits a historic commemoration like the Fourth, a reminder of our region's past, when H.L. Mencken observed, "The whole place stank of orange blossoms."

Sweet citrusy notes from orange liqueur and peel sparkle in the deliciously dense combination of bittersweet chocolate, dark cocoa and mini dark-chocolate chips.

Line the pan with foil so the brownies can be easily lifted out and cut them into the smaller bite-sized portions so many people appreciate these days. You'll get 25 instead of a dozen -- enough to carry you through to fireworks time.

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Total time: 1 hour | Makes 25 brownies
Note: From Times test kitchen director Donna Deane.
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter plus more to butter the dish
  • 1/2 pound bittersweet chocolate
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lightly packed grated orange peel
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup best-quality cocoa
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Step 1Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch-square baking dish with aluminum foil, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of the foil.

Step 2Melt the butter and bittersweet chocolate in a medium metal bowl set over simmering water until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the brown sugar until dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and Grand Marnier, then the grated orange peel.

Step 3Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until completely blended and the mixture is shiny and smooth; the mixture will be thickened at this point.

Step 4Sift together the cocoa, flour and salt, then stir the flour mixture into the batter until blended. Fold in the mini chocolate chips.

Step 5Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until puffed and almost set. Do not overbake. Cool while still in the pan, on a wire rack.

Step 6Lift the brownies out of the pan, using the foil as a handle, and invert the brownies onto the cooling rack. Gently peel off the foil, then return the brownies to their original position. Cool completely. Cut into 25 squares, trimming off the edges if desired.

Each serving
134 calories; 2 grams protein; 15 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 9 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 27 mg. cholesterol; 21 mg. sodium.
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