Overkill brownies.

I didn’t realize when I took this photo that there was a dry macaroni noodle in the shot, the sort of thing I’d usually try to notice and correct, and that remains in the frame partly because we were in a real big hurry to eat these brownies and my making everyone wait while I took photos was, I’ll admit, a little rude. I’ll crop it out for Instagram, but let the record show that these brownies are the kind of thing that inspire a sense of urgency.

And they are – as I have been told I am so many times – just “a bit much.” They’re show-offs, all fudgy and chewy, with a delicious secret buried beneath a smear of cream cheese frosting – nine whole, perfect Reese’s peanut butter cups. If you’re going to go to the trouble of making dessert for company, it should always be “a bit much,” or why bother? You can eat fruit and yogurt on your own time.

Overkill brownies

  • 1/2 lb. semisweet chocolate chips
  • 6 tbsp. butter + 2 tbsp. butter, cut into pieces, divided
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract, divided
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 9 Reese’s (or comparable) peanut butter cups (about three packages)
  • 4 oz. (1/2 package) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 cup cocoa, sifted

Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly grease an 8″x8″ baking pan, then line it with parchment paper.

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 six tablespoons of butter, stirring occasionally until smooth.

Beat the sugar, salt, and one teaspoon of vanilla into the melted chocolate, then add eggs eggs one at a time, beating continuously. Add the flour and stir until just moistened; batter should pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Pour batter into your prepared pan. Press peanut butter cups into the batter (three even rows of three).

Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out mostly clean. If in doubt, err on the side of under-baking these.

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

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese, remaining butter, confectioner’s sugar, cocoa, and remaining vanilla until smooth and spreadable. Frost cooled brownies.

Cut into 16 pieces.

Advertisements

Good chocolate for a better Easter

If a bunny is going to hop through your home this weekend and lay chocolate eggs in your living room (I think that’s how it works?), might I suggest you request better eggs made of better chocolate?

As busy, probably (definitely) tired people, it can be hard to find time to do a little extra, or to give a bit back. Our time is finite, and an infinite number of things will swell to fill what little we have.

For me, work and writing and wrangling Toddler and Nick are each their own full-time thing, and 24 hours is not always enough time to do all of everything I have to do. That’s why, for me, the simplest way to feel like I am making a difference in the world is to make responsible choices when I’m shopping by looking for and supporting better options for goods like chocolate, coffee, sugar, and produce, among other things.

According to World Vision Canada, “a recent Ipsos Reid poll revealed that more than half of Canadians believe they don’t consume any products made by children.” But, “there are literally dozens of household items that we buy daily that may ‘contain’ child labour.”

Fortunately, consumer demand for better products makes – and in many cases, has made – better products more widely available. Whether you’re shopping high end, or, like me, just hurriedly cramming chocolate bunnies in your basket at the drugstore while buying toilet paper (because adulthood is 80 per cent about buying more toilet paper), you have more Fair Trade, responsibly sourced options than ever.

According to World Vision, “currently about 95 per cent of chocolate sold around the world is not certified to be free from the use of forced, child or trafficked labour.” However. However! “Some of the largest chocolate manufacturers, including Mars, Ferrero and Lindt have already committed to sourcing only ethical, child-labour free chocolate by 2020.” That’s all you, by the way. And us. It’s people demanding better that’s pushing corporate interest in more ethical, more sustainable practices.

Chocolate is an easy place to start. Look for the Fair Trade logo – Camino’s on board, and some Cadbury products are too. I bought last year’s Camino bunnies at Shopper’s Drug Mart, and they were maybe a dollar more than competing, non-certified brands. Buying better consumer goods is an easy place to start; if you haven’t started, start this Easter.

For more information on good chocolate, check out World Vision Canada’s Good Chocolate Guide. The guide makes it easy to shop, highlighting specific brands whose products carry World Vision’s seal of approval. For more information on better products in general, check out GoodGuide.com.

And if you’re looking for other easy ways to support kids and keep them in school and out of the poverty cycle, consider child sponsorship. Sponsorship protects kids from getting into dangerous agricultural work in the first place, and guarantees them education, better nutrition and leadership opportunities in their communities.

This Easter, think of the children! Demand better for them, both at home and not-so-far away. You’ll feel good about your purchase, and the chocolate will definitely taste better.

View this post on Instagram

Easter.

A post shared by Emily Wight (@emvandee) on

This post was not sponsored. 

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.

 

Grandpa’s Radio Pudding.

Every so often I find myself going too easily from reflective to sentimental, especially at this time of year when it seems like every beverage is seasonally … uh, “enhanced.” It goes against my nature, which is perhaps why I find sentimentality embarrassing, and even more perhaps why I’ve avoided lengthy ramblings on the holidays and significance and touching heartfelt somethingorothers in general. But I have been thinking a lot about tradition, because it’s December and because I have reached a strange point in my existence, one where “tradition” is less the thing you do each year and more the thing you try to replicate now that key pieces are missing.

One of the lessons of my first married Christmas is that I do not cope well with change. It would be marvellous if every holiday went exactly as I’d like it to, but the annoying thing about traditions is that they tend to involve other people. Now that Nick is one of my people, I have to care about him too, even though he doesn’t do Christmas the way I want him to. One year real soon I am going to have to get over the fact that he never believed in Santa Claus. What do I care if he’s on the naughty list? I’m on the nice list, so I’ll be getting a gift this year. And maybe it’s still possible to stab some magic into his heart.

This year we lost my Grandpa. Grandpa was funny, a veteran of the Korean war, a proud Canadian, and probably the only good dancer in the gene pool. When he was young he looked like James Garner and was just as cool as Jim Rockford, at least to me. Every time I visited, he was just about to head off on some grand adventure, often driving. And making him proud was something I very much wanted to do; I won a scholarship from the Korean Veteran’s Association when I was 18, and he was literally pink with delight. I remember the rum drinks, and thinking about how I would have to walk to collect my award deliberately, without stumbling, because there were a lot of old men there, and cameras. When Grandpa poured the drinks the Coke was just for colour.

I adapted reluctantly to changes over the course of nearly a decade of Christmases, where one grandparent or the other was sick or had passed away; I remember cooking holiday feasts while my parents visited my mom’s dad in the hospital, or cramming shortbread in my mouth as Cuddles and Auntie Lynn and I snorted with laughter at the kitchen table over three decades of holiday gossip, remembering Grampa with humour. When my grandma Cuddles died, we adapted again. But as long as there was Grandpa, my dad’s dad, a piece of my smaller self’s Christmas remained intact.

This is the year when all the things are officially different – no grandparents will be at our dinner table. That doesn’t mean that Christmas will be any less magical (except it won’t be for Nick because he doesn’t believe in flying reindeer either), but it does mean that I am at a temporary loss for describing the traditions I’ve held for my whole life so far. I’ve celebrated a few this year and they have been as joyous as always, and I’ve made quite a few new ones.

Many of these new traditions are due in large part to the fact that there are small children around now, and because none of them are mine I don’t have to be an adult. Some are because of Nick and Nick’s family, where there are many more small children and where I am also not required (or expected?) to act my age.

And there is still Sandi, who I think of as Grandma and who is very much family, who was good to my Grandpa until the last, and who I will still make a trip out Pitt Meadows in the coming week to visit. I believe she’s spending Christmas with her kids this year.

So even though there is lots to look forward to this year, I’d like to also think about Grandpa and the past. And because I do most of my thinking in the kitchen, I’d like to share with you a recipe of his, the origins of which are “the radio.” He heard the recipe on the radio at some point a very long time ago, but as far as anyone’s concerned it’s his. It’s his like Continental Chicken and garlic sausage and cheese on crackers. It’s called, quite simply, “Grandpa’s Radio Pudding.” Make it for yourself if you could use a warm hug or a bit of holiday cheer.

Grandpa’s Radio Pudding

Cake:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. cocoa
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (or chocolate chips)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tsp. melted butter or shortening
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Sauce:

  • 4 tbsp. cocoa
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups hot water

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a 1 1/2 quart casserole or baking dish, whisk together flour, salt, cocoa, baking powder, sugar, and nuts or chocolate chips. Stir in milk, butter or shortening, and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, mix cocoa, brown sugar, and water. Pour over cake mixture. Do not stir.

Bake for one hour.

Serve hot, with ice cream or whipped cream.

Stout hot chocolate.

We put up the tree a week or so ago, and the cat is just thrilled. It was cute at first, the way she’d clamber up the middle and make a nest of her own legs and tail in the branches. We didn’t put ornaments on at first, because we thought that we could get her used to the tree so she’d ignore it, but it turns out she intends to do no such thing.

Irritating as she is about the tree, the cat has had a calming effect on our holiday season. This will be our third Christmas married to each other, and so far it has not been marked with the usual bickering, moping, or scrambling to get everything done once we’ve decided we can save the fighting for February because we’re bored then anyway. It’s still early, but I’m optimistic. We’ve committed to fewer events this year, and we’re not spending so many evenings and weekends running around. We’re spending our time eating comfort food and entertaining friends and petting the cat, and it’s working out pretty well so far.

And with the exception of the dinner I ruined tonight, which was not salvageable and which I and subsequently pouted about for an hour and a half, this evening was fairly relaxing. We watched a holiday movie, and I made hot chocolate.

I love hot chocolate, but don’t make it very often – it’s a treat, and the last time I made it was this time last year. Tonight’s batch was made with stout,  just enough melted dark chocolate, a bit of milk, and cream to fill the whole thing out. It was rich and dark like coffee, and its effect verged on sedation. Nick was in bed by 9:45, suddenly overcome by feelings of warm snuggliness and a desperate need for his pillow.

The recipe will make enough for two to four people, depending on how big your mugs are. It’s rich, so you will not need a lot. It’s not too sweet, but pleasantly  bitter with that dark chocolate and beer. We drank it as dessert after Nick finally made grilled cheese sandwiches to make up for dinner.

Stout hot chocolate

  • 1 1/2 cups stout or your favourite dark beer, at room temperature
  • 4 oz. chopped dark chocolate
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Put chocolate into a saucepan over medium-high heat, and pour over stout, whisking briskly to knock out any bubbles and to ensure the chocolate melts without burning. When chocolate appears to have melted, add milk. Stir occasionally until the whole thing comes just to a simmer – you don’t want it to boil, but it doesn’t hurt to have it come close.

Taste. Depending on the beer you use, you may find this a touch too bitter. If that’s the case, add a tablespoon of granulated sugar (or to taste).

Whisk in cream and vanilla. Serve in mugs, with a dollop of whipped cream if you’re feeling saucy (or sulky).

Chocolate zucchini cake: It’s outrageous!

Sometime around the advent of cool fonts and colour printing, my mom brought home a recipe for something called “Outrageous Zucchini Cake,” and the recipe was fantastic (cinnamon! Chocolate! A fat-free variation!) but hand-written (by whom? I still don’t know) so I typed it up in magenta and cyan with MS Word’s “Party” font and thus the recipe was saved for a decade or more in a tattered binder that lives in my parents’ kitchen. It looked so pretty. It still sort of does. Which is why I absconded with it this past weekend.

The cake it produced was delicious, but I forgot about it because I moved out and didn’t take a copy with me, because even then I suspected that making and eating cakes all on my own would turn out to be a bad idea, fat-free variation or not.

I still remember how fat-free was appealing at 17. It is less so at 27.

I’ve revised the recipe, and it’s now somewhere in between really fattening and fat-free – that sane middle ground at which a cake can almost pass for healthy. Also I now rationalize my cake-baking by telling myself that there’s two of us now. I pretend as if Nick ever eats more than a single slice of cake, and it’s a lie I can live with.

“Outrageous” zucchini cake

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose or whole-wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup chopped semi-sweet chocolate or chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F, and grease a 9″x13″ baking pan.

Beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, yogurt, vanilla, and zucchini, and beat until thoroughly combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Stir dry mixture into wet mixture, stirring to moisten.

Pour batter into baking pan, spreading batter to the edges and corners of the pan. Sprinkle evenly with chopped chocolate or chocolate chips, and bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Serve warm, with a tall glass of cold milk.

Bribe Santa and warm your little bones with Mexican hot chocolate.

There was fog this morning, and I almost thought it was snowing. It was dense in parts, but clear in others, and maybe it wasn’t fog as much as it was the fluff of a low-slung cloud, but for the whole rest of the day I felt a chill in my bones. Especially the little ones in my feet, to where the heat of the office never seems to creep.

Tonight was the first night in a long stretch of nights where there wasn’t talk of holiday logistics, empty bank accounts, frustrating jobs, or family pressure. No leaving the apartment, nothing frantic. This evening, with a stack of toys and two rolls of paper to bring together, I ate this for dinner, and there was frothy chocolate and I felt warmth and cheer, as far down as the tiniest bones in the tips of my toes.

Please make this right now.

Mexican hot chocolate

For each big mug of hot chocolate, you will need:

  • 2 oz. dark chocolate (70% cocoa), chopped
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. Mexican chili powder (or to taste)
  • 1.5 oz. Kahlua (or coffee liqueur)

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt dark chocolate into the milk, whisking as you do so that the chocolate doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pan. Once the chocolate is melted, stir in the vanilla, cinnamon, and chile powder, then whisk continuously until the mixture comes to just a boil. It’s got to be frothy, with a dense layer of bubbles on top.

Measure Kahlua into your mug, and then pour the hot chocolate mixture in. Stir to combine, and then drink right away. You can top it with whipped cream or marshmallows if you like, or on its own, with a side of sugar cookies for dunking.

This is rich stuff, and can work all on its own as dessert. It’s sweet, but not too sweet, and layered with spicy, robust flavours – dark chocolate, coffee, vanilla, and spice. It’s robust. It’s infinitely better than any seasonal hot chocolate that you’ll find at Starbucks or its ilk. And it goes well with the smell of wrapping paper, cookies, and tree.

Three more sleeps (that’s it!) and Santa’ll be here! I’ll bet if you leave a mug of this out for him, he’ll leave you something equally special. It’s caffeinated, so if you make yourself a mug too, maybe you’ll even stay up late enough to greet him?

Happy holidays!