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.

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Three ingredient Nutella “ice cream” bars.

pops
Smoke over the highway. Weird red sun.You can expect that it will rain here; it always does, sometimes for weeks on end. It hasn’t rained in a long time though, and forests are burning all over the province and the smoke has blanketed the city and surrounding areas, drifting across the mountains and over the prairies, making it as far east as Toronto, allegedly.

Even NASA has noticed.

Every time I see someone with a lit cigarette I think about following them to make sure they don’t toss the butt into the grass, which is basically just thin kindling now. We’re in a drought, officially, though that’s been obvious for a while. There was no snow on the mountains this year.

It’s weird. It’s hot. Everyone’s weather app is saying “smoke” instead of sun or clouds. All the lawns are dead and the leaves in the tree outside my living room window are crisp and brown. The sidewalks are like flypaper, sticky with aphid goop from the trees that drifts through the air like dew would if there was any.

Creepy yellow sky; smoke cover.You can’t blame a kid for only wanting watermelon, or ice cream. I mean, I’m right there with him, but at some point you have to be a role model. Or whatever. Or, at the very least, you have to look seriously at your budget and think about whether or not you can sustain a box-a-day habit of Fudgsicles for however long this summer will last.

This recipe is easy, and you can make it in a heat wave. It’s just overripe bananas, yogurt with a generous percentage of milk fat (I like Liberté or Krema, depending on what’s on sale), and a big glob of Nutella, which in this weather is practically liquid. You throw it in a blender, and then pour it into ice pop molds, and then you wait. No cooking, and not the worst thing for you if you’ve been living primarily on gin slurpees and handfuls of berries.

Nutella “ice cream” bars

Makes 6 to 8 pops, depending on the size of your molds.

  • 1 cup plain, full-fat yogurt
  • 3 medium over-ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup Nutella

Pour all ingredients into a blender, and blend until smooth. Pour into ice pop molds and freeze, minimum six hours or overnight.

To remove from the molds, run a little hot water over the base of the mold to loosen.

 

Blackberry frozen kefir

I keep thinking I’d like to take up embroidery (in the style of Judi Dench), because it seems like such a normal hobby to have. And because gut bacteria is starting to seem like a weird thing to dwell on and Nick thinks that “healthy poops for the whole world” is not a hobby, but the kind of thing I should talk to a mental health professional about. I think Nick is ungrateful.

Yes. Embroidery. That seems like something I could talk to people about. Because right now, I’m talking a lot about kefir and lacto-fermentation and gut flora and getting a lot more side-eye than even I’m used to. Every day, it seems, some study out of somewhere implicates intestinal bacteria in some seemingly unconnected disease or disorder, demonstrating that the relationship between our health and what we eat is increasingly complex.

A lot of nutrition information tries to sum up healthy eating in a few easily digestible tips and tricks. (Wink.) This is, I think, where phenomena like “super foods” come from – the idea that optimal nutrition is based on a simple formula, and if you just eat a carefully selected limited number of things, you will live forever. That’s a nice idea, and I can see why people are into it. Unfortunately, there is no simple one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition. Your best shot at a healthy diet is a diet that includes a little bit of everything and nothing to excess. Which is great, because I don’t think I could live a lifestyle that excluded a reasonable amount of Taco Bell.

Our weird health kick is kefir, which I make because making yogurt involves too many steps. You just fill a jar with some kefir grains and milk, then strain off the grains and start all over again with new milk, either refrigerating the kefir for consumption or secondarily fermenting it with citrus peels for even better taste. We drink kefir because it makes our bellies feel nice and because it’s easily blended into things I can drink for breakfast, since I’m bad at wanting or remembering to eat breakfast. Some kefir and some frozen berries blended and poured into a tall glass is something I can consume in a rush while doing ten other things.

Kefir

Kefir and yogurt are both full of good bacteria, but kefir contains roughly three times the amount of probiotic cultures. Whether that matters for long term health is unclear, but in the short term, it can be helpful; this week Toddler’s had an ear infection, and the amoxicillin the doctor prescribed can be hard on little bodies. The pharmacist’s advice was to load Toddler up with probiotics, either in the form of yogurt or supplements. And so, the kefir was useful once again.

Of course, he was unlikely to take a shot of kefir … especially not when the amoxicillin was bubblegum flavoured. So we came up with this frozen yogurt/sorbet-like thing, and he declared “it’s perfect, mum!” and ate enough to keep his little gut happy.

Maybe embroidery would be more socially acceptable. But probiotic ice cream is worth telling people about. Healthy poops for the whole world, indeed!

If you make kefir, let it ferment twice. To do this, make the kefir first, then strain out the kefir grains and let the kefir continue to sit at room temperature for an additional 24 hours, either as it is or with a strip of orange or lemon peel.

You can buy kefir grains online, or at some natural health food stores. In Vancouver, you can get them at Homesteader’s Emporium. Or, if you’re lucky, you know my friend Grace and can get them for free after a lengthy conversation about your microbiome at dinner. (I’m a bit much to be around.)

Blackberry frozen kefir

  • 2 cups twice fermented kefir, store-bought plain kefir or plain 2% yogurt
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen (and defrosted) blackberries, mashed and then passed through a fine mesh sieve
  • 2/3 cup honey or cane sugar syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Whisk kefir, blackberries, honey, and vanilla in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes, then process through an ice cream machine as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Freeze for at least one hour before serving. If freezing for more than four hours, let the dessert sit on the counter for ten minutes before serving.

Serve with an additional drizzle of honey, if desired.

Blackberry frozen kefir

Coconut caramel pound cake.

pound cake

This was one of those weeks that really makes one appreciate the simple things; the kind of week where at the end of it, my salvation came from the basics – eggs and butter and sugar and flour, a bit of pasta, a bag of onions, and a few frozen sausages. The week started with some debit card fraud that cost me most of what was in my bank account, and an unavoidable trip to the local mechanic that threatened to eat up the rest.

It is also December, as you might have noticed – on top of everything, I’ve got places to go and potlucks to participate in and when you’ve got a cookbook pending, it is poor form to show up at these things with a two-liter bottle of store-brand pop and a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. If you’re not going to bother washing your hair or dressing like an adult, you should at least show up with a salad, I guess.

But I haven’t been to a grocery store all week, which is silly because there’s one half a block away and I’ve managed to hit up the liquor store in the same vicinity twice. I am a caricature of a woman unraveling. Imagine a lot of leggings and cat hair.

December is reason enough to unravel and as a good a time as any. ‘Tis the season for demands on top of demands and far more debits than credits. And it’s so easy to fall into an exasperated funk and find yourself yelling at everyone; this is not what the season is all about, I’m told. I know it’s hard advice to take sometimes, but we need to go easy on ourselves. Take breaks. Take shortcuts. Make pound cake.

Pound cake will solve a great many of your December problems. It’s cheap – at its most basic it is literally just butter, sugar, flour and eggs – and it benefits from sitting around a while, so it’s best to make it a day ahead. It’s cake, so people will think that you tried. It’s cake, so everyone will like it.

This is grandma-level stuff right here, the kind of thing that will stand the test of time. A glazed pound cake recipe in your back pocket will get you through all kinds of things, and up to 98 per cent of what December can throw at you.

This is not one of those Bundt-pan pound cakes; make this in a loaf pan. Make it the night before you want to serve it, and then plop it out onto a plate or into a container and take it wherever you need to go. This is not fancy. Let someone else handle fancy – your job is to get through the holidays, deliciously.

Coconut caramel pound cake

Cake:

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Sauce:

  • 1 14-oz. (398 mL) can coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan, then line it with parchment paper so that the paper peeks over the sides by a couple of inches.

Using either a stand mixer or an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy and pale. Pause occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the eggs one at a time while continuing to beat the mixture. Once you’ve added your last egg, add the vanilla and salt, and continue to beat until thoroughly mixed.

Using a spatula, fold the flour into the butter-sugar-egg mixture, a third of a cup at a time until just moistened. Pour the batter into your loaf pan, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Meanwhile, simmer coconut milk over medium heat with brown sugar until the mixture reduces by half. Add the vanilla and the salt, and set aside.

Using a toothpick, poke many holes into the top of the still-hot cake. Pour the coconut milk mixture over top, and let sit until cool. Cover, and let rest at room temperature for at least eight (up to 24) hours before serving.

To serve, reheat in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes. Invert onto a plate, peel away the parchment, and cut into slices. Serve as is, or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Peanut butter marshmallow bars.

Sploosh.

Last week, or maybe the week before, it rained and rained and rained one night (I can’t remember which night because that sort of thing happens a lot here), and it was dark out and nearly bedtime, and I had a lot to do, book-wise, and I was dead tired after work and we all could have just endured a few more episodes of Octonauts, but there were big puddles outside. In Vancouver, if you don’t look at a puddle as an opportunity, the time between summers can be pretty bleak. So I had Nick shove Toddler’s feet into his boots and button his raincoat while I shoved my own feet into my own boots, and we clomped outside to splash around in the water under the orange glow of our street lamps. We rounded the block twice, and on the second go-round, Toddler announced that he’d like hot chocolate, “with march-mellos.” Who am I to refuse such a request? I can never say no to a marshmallow.

So we splashed our way to the grocery store just down the street, and we marched to the back of the store where the marshmallows are kept beside the ice cream freezers and sundae toppings, bought a big bag of white mini marshmallows, then came home to make hot chocolate. By the time Toddler was in his jammies, I had his hot chocolate in his dinosaur mug, heaping with marshmallows. We drank our drinks and read some books and we all went to bed pretty pleased with ourselves and our sound decision-making.

Fast forward a few days or weeks, and I still have a huge bag of mini marshmallows. And Nick, with his diabetes, has gone off to the woods outside of Princeton to shoot our year’s supply of meat. So Toddler and I are alone, free to raise our blood sugar and rot our teeth unencumbered. I’m using up the marshmallows. Toddler’s pretty pumped.

This is a spin on a bake-sale classic, improved by substituting white chocolate chips for butterscotch chips. The result is kind of like tiger butter, only with marshmallows. I used the microwave for this because it somehow felt wrong not to. Toddler and I are going to spend our weekend together eating these in a blanket fort while watching the whale shark episode of Octonauts over and over and over until the sugar knocks us out. You should definitely lick the spoon.

peanutbutterbars

Peanut butter marshmallow bars

  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into about eight equal pieces
  • 12 oz. white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 cups white mini marshmallows

Put the butter and the chocolate chips in a large glass bowl. Microwave the whole thing for 30 seconds. Remove the bowl from the microwave, stirring the mixture well, then return it to the microwave and repeat this process.

Add the peanut butter, stirring well. Microwave for another 30 seconds, before removing the bowl stirring well, and repeating the process once more.

When the chocolate chips have melted and the mixture is smooth and creamy, add the salt and vanilla, stir again, then set the bowl aside and let it rest for a minute.

Lightly grease a 9″x9″ baking dish and line it with parchment paper.

Stir the marshmallows into the peanut butter mixture, and then pour the whole thing into your prepared pan. Refrigerate the mixture until it’s firm enough to slice, at least two hours.

Cut into small squares and serve. This is great for bake-sales, treat tables at holiday events, and on plastic Buzz Lightyear plates under a fort made of blankets.

 

Something to Read: The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook

30days

Williams-Sonoma is ridiculous and I love it.

Our last apartment was about half a block off Granville Street, and three blocks away from Vancouver’s only Williams-Sonoma. It was a weird place to live, because the rent was very affordable and many of the apartment buildings were very old, but all the stores were for the fancy rich people who lived up the hill in Shaughnessy. There was a Restoration Hardware, an Anthropologie, and a lot of expensive art galleries. Occasionally I would see an outfit I liked in a shop window and wander inside to look, discreetly search for a price tag, and then high-tail it out of there because who can afford $800 jeans?! Also most of the restaurants in the neighbourhood sold only bland food because rich people don’t like to taste flavours.

But I’d go into Williams-Sonoma a lot, mostly to fondle the expensive enameled cast-iron and copper pots. I rarely bought anything, though occasionally some of their cookbooks would be on sale, and once I bought this great vinaigrette mixer-spritzer that I later broke because I am not gentle with things.

When we were first married, I didn’t have the impressive cookbook collection I now fill an obtrusive shelf in our dining room with, and I wanted to have a few reliable books I could refer to. I happened to be in Williams-Sonoma, and was delighted to discover that The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook (you can buy it for less here) was actually very reasonably priced for a big, fat, hardcover cookbook. The cover price was $40, but it was (miraculously) on sale for only $20. The recipes are easy to follow, even for a beginner cook, and they don’t call for unusual or expensive ingredients. I later acquired a copy of Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of French Cooking (I think when my aunt was thinning out her cookbook collection), which has also turned out to be pretty good.

wscookbook

It’s been well used, and certainly worth more than what I paid. One recipe in particular has proven itself invaluable, as it turned out to be Nick’s favourite dessert. Nick doesn’t eat much dessert, and didn’t eat much dessert even pre-diabetes (I do not understand this). But this one pleased him so much that he insisted I bring it to his parents’ for his birthday one year, and his family loved it and now it’s in the family cookbook and we have it almost anytime there’s an occasion that calls for dessert.

Panna Cotta

  • Butter (for greasing six ramekins)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 packages, or four teaspoons, unflavoured powdered gelatin
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean (you can use 1 tsp. vanilla extract if that’s what you have in your pantry)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (whipping cream)

Lightly grease six ramekins with butter. Set the cups on a small baking sheet.

Pour one third, or 1/2 cup of the milk into a small pot. Sprinkle the gelatin over top, and let sit for about three minutes.

Add the rest of the milk and the sugar and heat it until the sugar and gelatin is dissolved, then take the pot off the stove and stir in the cream and vanilla bean. Whisk everything together, then pour the mixture into ramekins. Cover ramekins with plastic wrap, then place in the fridge to set, which should take four to six hours.

To serve, remove the panna cotta from the ramekins by sliding a knife gently around the circumference. It should come out easily, but you can serve it in the ramekins too if you want. It saves dirtying more dishes, which counts for a lot around here.

Serve with fresh berries and whipped cream. In the winter, I warm frozen blueberries with a bit of maple syrup, then let the compote cool to just about room temperature before spooning over the panna cotta.

Something to Read: The Perfect Scoop

30days

Well, I did it. I had my teeth out, and it sucked and apparently I cried. I think I only heard the “sedation” part when I attended my consultation with the surgeon; I did not hear the part about consciousness.

‘It will be like you have had a few too many glasses of wine, Ms. Wight,” they said.

“I have a few too many glasses of wine often enough to know that won’t be sufficient for this procedure,” I said. And then they stabbed a needle into my forearm and took out my teeth and weren’t delicate about it.

And to top if off, they gave me what amounts to strong ibuprofen as part of my recovery goodie bag. It may not need to be said, but I’m not great with pain. I am, in fact, one of the worst whiners in the history of the world and if something serious and prolonged ever afflicts me, I think Nick will take me to an amoral veterinarian and have me put down. I wouldn’t blame him for it either.

So, I have spent the majority of the day in and out of sleep and in and out of gallons of ice cream. Nick, kind man that he is, spent what would ordinarily be our bi-weekly daycare lunches budget on peanut butter-chocolate Häagen-Dazs ice cream and then bought me a Blizzard for dinner. I will not have Nick put down, as he provides a level of service I do not deserve and would not find anywhere else. It may be worth injuring him to prevent him from leaving.

DQ

Anyway, I am swollen and pained and eating thousands of calories of frozen dairy and while I have many complaints I’ll have to admit that from where I sit, I have it pretty good. My parents took Toddler overnight, and I am sitting around in my old maternity clothes and some Pajama Jeans while Nick queues up all my favourite bad movies.

This has been a lot of preamble and I meant to tell you about a book. So, The Perfect Scoop.

PerfectScoop

I think everyone who bakes probably knows about David Lebovitz by now, and if you don’t I won’t bore you with a lot of background which you can easily discover on his eponymous and highly regarded blog. He is very good at what he does.

I have made a great many of his recipes over the past few years, and his basic vanilla ice cream recipe has come to be the base upon which I build almost every ice cream I make. I’ve made it so many times I don’t even need the book anymore; it’s committed to my memory which means that it is something important, and that it probably pushed something I might have really needed out.

In my current (pathetic) state I have been longing for a bite of his salted butter caramel ice cream, which is as close as you’ll get in North America to the salted butter caramel ice cream at Berthillon in Paris, which everyone must experience at least once in their life even if you have to sell an organ to get there. Do you need a kidney? I’d very much like to go back.

perfectscoopberthillon

The ice cream in question is sweet – but not too sweet – and slightly bitter, as the caramel is slightly over-cooked, so that it has just a whisper of burnt taste. If you’re wary, trust me; it’s perfect. To have some right now …

The cookbook has a lot in it that’s useful; I’ve even made his vegan ice cream recipe and found it delightful (I used coconut milk in place of rice milk, as it’s what I had). If you like making ice cream, or if you have an ice cream maker and are looking for an excuse to put it to use, The Perfect Scoop is an invaluable resource, and I think you’ll really love it.

My face hurts, and I’m too lazy to type out David’s recipe … fortunately it already exists on his blog. Go to it. Make it. Mail me some?

We’ll be back on track tomorrow, I hope. Think anti-inflammatory thoughts for me, will you? I’ve got to go pass out in an ice cream coma.

photo (4)