Fudge brownies.

Okay. So I was totally going to take artful photos of these brownies that I made and then share with you some delightful tale of how they came to be. But it didn’t work out. Because these brownies are a visceral experience, and I got carried away.

Ordinarily I don’t care about brownies because the only good brownies are the ones my Dad makes but he hardly ever makes them, so I forget about them most of the time. Last year someone told me to try the vegan brownies at the food co-op across the concourse from my office, and they tasted like the sadness you’d feel if someone told you your baked goods could never have butter in them ever again. I am pretty sure they contained legumes. I am pretty sure they were baked by a raging misanthropist.

There are some things that I cannot be open-minded about. Since then, I haven’t thought much about brownies.

That is, until my parents were going to come over to drop off the baby’s new crib. We were going to have lunch, which I had hoped would make their 90-minute roundtrip with a car full of huge boxes worthwhile. I made butter chicken meatballs, and that New York Times no-knead bread, and the timing of the meal – and this new thing I’m trying where I “clean as I go,” which has reduced the number of times Nick threatens divorce in a day by nearly half – made it so that I didn’t have a lot of time to invest in dessert.

Enter the recipe for these brownies. The recipe comes from The Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook, but I noticed a few things wrong with it, so this is an update (I fixed the cooking time, and added frosting which is something all brownies need, no exceptions).

They are a miracle of butter, chocolate, flour, and eggs, in that they almost lack structural integrity. They are chewy. Perfectly moist, even at the edges. They are rich, but the slight sourness of the cream cheese frosting makes them totally snarfable. The recipe makes sixteen; I ate nine all by myself.

You probably have everything you need to make them just sitting in your cupboards or fridge, possibly except for the maple extract, which you can swap for vanilla in a pinch. They do not contain a single legume.

Fudge Brownies

Brownies:

  • 1/2 lb. semisweet chocolate chips
  • 6 tbsp. butter, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. maple extract
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Frosting:

  • 4 oz. (1/2 package) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp. butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 cup cocoa, sifted
  • 1 tsp. maple extract

Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly grease an 8″x8″ baking pan, then line it with parchment paper, which has also been lightly greased on both sides.

Using a double boiler, a glass bowl over just-simmering water, or a microwave (three rounds of 30 seconds, stirring each time), gently melt chocolate chips and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth.

Beat the sugar, salt, and maple extract into the melted chocolate, then beat the eggs in one at a time. Add the flour and stir until just moistened; batter should pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Pour batter into your prepared pan, and bake 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out mostly clean; you want a few moist crumbs to cling to the toothpick, not batter.

Let brownies rest in the pan 10 minutes before removing to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before frosting.

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese, butter, confectioner’s sugar, cocoa, and maple extract together until smooth and spreadable. Frost cooled brownies.

Cut into 16 pieces.

 

Advertisements

Fish and chips.

Vancouver is the sort of place you kind of want to run away from for about eight months of the year. When the clouds are low and the rain never really lets up, it’s awfully dark and everything is just so … moist. The smell of the city in this weather is distinctive, and in places where a lot of bodies are crammed together, the scent is reminiscent of a herd of damp sheep.

(Either we’re comfortable and we’re the third-worst-dressed city in the world, or we’re stylish and we smell like fusty wet livestock.)

It’s sort of weird then that the place I’ve been fantasizing about lately is London. Rainy London with its fish and chip shops and dark beers and the possibility that one might trip over Clive Owen and somehow get to keep him. If I’m going to have to bundle up for the rain, I’d rather do it someplace with good fried fish to eat when I come in from the cold.

This recipe is based on one from the Billingsgate Market Cookbook, which is an excellent guide to British seafood and seafood cookery. I used a local cod, but you can use whatever white fish you prefer.

Tip: Use any remaining batter to coat thin slices of dill pickle. Fry in oil heated to 350°F until crisp and golden, about two minutes. Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with sea salt to serve. (Fried pickles are also amazing with hot sauce.)

Fish and Chips

(Adapted from the Billingsgate Market Cookbook. Serves four.)

  • 2 lbs. white fish, cut into eight pieces
  • 1 1/2 lbs. russet potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning or curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 12 oz./341 mL bottle of your favourite beer

Sprinkle fish pieces with 1/4 cup of flour. Set aside.

Cut potatoes into pieces about 1/2-inch thick, to the length you prefer. Shorter pieces means more fries, and I like more fries. Soak in cold water for five minutes, then remove to a wire rack lined with paper towels and pat thoroughly dry.

If you have a deep-fryer, heat your oil to 325°F. If you don’t, then pour oil to a depth of two inches into a heavy-bottomed pot such as a Dutch oven. Using a candy thermometer to monitor the heat, bring the oil to 325°F. Blanch potatoes in batches for 3 to 5 minutes each (unless you’re extremely daring/stupid like me, in which case blanch them all at once while wearing oven mitts and instructing whoever’s close by to stay near and hold a large box of baking soda for the scary grease fire that will surely break out when all that oil boils over into the burner). Place blanched potatoes back on wire rack. Pat dry with paper towel.

You’ll spend a lot of time patting stuff dry. I might not have mentioned that.

Combine flour, Old Bay or curry powder, baking powder, cayenne pepper (if using), and salt. Whisk in beer until a thin batter forms; add water to thin as needed. Increase the heat of the oil to 340°F.

Using tongs, dip each piece of fish in batter to coat, then dredge for 10 seconds in the oil before releasing. If you just drop the fish into the pot, it’ll stick to the bottom. Fry for five to seven minutes, or until crispy and golden.

Set fish on paper towel to drain, and sprinkle with sea salt.

Heat oil to 350°F. Return potatoes to the pot in batches, cooking until golden (another five minutes or so). Remove from oil to paper towel, sprinkle with salt, and then serve.

Serve fish and chips hot, with slices of lemon, malt vinegar, and tartar sauce.

Roasted grapes.

Four o’clock in the morning is cold even when all the windows are closed and you’re wearing flannel jammies and slipper socks. 4:00 a.m. used to be different, maybe because anytime I found myself there it was because I had been having too much fun, and my veins were warmed by the coursing of so much rum through them. I remember dancing until my clothes were soaked through with sweat, then packing into the always-busy 24-hour pho place on Broadway for a bowl of rice noodles and beef wontons. It is less fun to be awake now than it used to be.

At four there is no traffic on the street outside. There is little activity on Facebook or Twitter to serve as a distraction. Even the cat will not be coaxed awake.

The baby sleeps long hours through the night now, waking only briefly every now and then – he sighs heavily and his eyes flutter, but his fussiness is mostly gone. He’s a bottle baby, so he gets to sleep while I wake every three hours to pump his meals. I keep a lamp on in the living room at night, so when I wake up I can see Nick’s face and the baby’s in the shadows, both of their mouths wide as they breathe deeply, right arms at ninety-degree angles above their heads, snarfling and snoring in their separate beds.

When I sleep I dream about sleeping.

On the one hand, I am very tired. On the other, these moments alone in the lamplight are mine, and I savour the time on my own. Also, four o’clock is a peckish hour, and I always need a snack.

Roasted grapes

This idea comes from Fine Cooking, with some adaptation. I prefer to use seedless red globe grapes, and to roast them longer than the original recipe calls for. Some olive oil, some maple syrup, and a pinch of salt are all you need. They will take on a jammy, almost molasses taste. Serve these over ice cream.

  • 1 large handful of seedless red globe grapes
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. maple syrup
  • Pinch salt

Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a small baking dish, toss grapes with oil, maple syrup, and salt.

Roast 20 to 25 minutes, turning the grapes occasionally, until they are soft and their skins have ruptured.

Serve hot, over ice cream.

These are easy to make ahead and reheat, if you’d prefer. They are great as they are, or as a side for roast pork, or as part of a fancier dessert that you might serve to company. But in those cold hours before dawn when you’re wearing flannel pants, they are at their best.

Canadian Pudding.

Our 2011 was a busy year, and many of its outcomes were unexpected. Nick was diagnosed with late-onset Type 1 diabetes. I found myself pregnant and then had a baby. We needed a bigger apartment, and a  two-bedroom opened up across the hall. Nick and I agreed on paint colours and the apartment got painted and nobody cried. I didn’t gain weight over Christmas. There were surprises at every turn, and we handled them surprisingly well – I’m impressed with us.

How was your year? I hear grumblings every now and then, and read them in blogs and on Facebook, about how 2011 was a hard year for a lot of people. It was a year of change and no money and tumult and bad weather, and the overwhelming sentiment last night and this morning seemed to be “Good grief, it’s finally over.” (We didn’t all go to Paris. We all deserved to, though.)

Maybe 2012 will be easier. My hope is that it’s a year of creativity and learning to do more with less – I hope this for me, and for all of us, because it doesn’t seem like life is going to get cheaper or easier for anyone anytime soon. I want to write more. I want to spend fewer dollars. I have to do both, but it’s becoming woefully apparent that I am unable to do either without serious focus and discipline. I want to find opportunities to write for money, which would solve both of my problems.

I want to fit into a smaller dress size without eating less cheese. I want to expand my repertoire of home-cured meats. I want the baby’s first word to be guanciale. These are lesser goals, perhaps, but smaller challenges make the bigger ones seem less daunting. Lara at Food. Soil. Thread. has a great take on resolution-making, and is in the process of achieving 101 of her own personal goals – I encourage you to check out what she’s doing and find your own inspiration.

And in the meantime, a goal that’s totally doable: eat more bacon. Let me help you with that.

Canadian Pudding

If this seems weird, I promise you that it is but in the most worthwhile way. It’s sweet and salty and maple and bacon and bourbon all play so nicely together, and when I served it to my friend Tracy she said that the bacon was a pleasant surprise, because she didn’t know what the taste was at first, and she liked it. You can scrap the bacon if your guests aren’t daring, I suppose.

(Serves four to six.)

Cake:

  • 2 strips thick-sliced smoked bacon
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tsp. melted butter
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Sauce:

  • 2 tbsp. melted butter
  • 2 tbsp. bourbon
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup hot water

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a pan over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towel, and then chop into bits.

In a 1 1/2 quart casserole or baking dish, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, pecans, bacon bits, and nutmeg. Stir in milk and butter until dry ingredients are just moistened.

In a separate bowl, mix butter, bourbon, maple syrup, and water. Pour over cake mixture. Do not stir.

Bake for one hour. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream.

Happy New Year. I hope 2012 is good to you.