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.

 

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.

A perfect day for pickle-making.

Today we made 47 jars of pickles with Nick’s sister and brother-in-law. I haven’t had homemade pickles since my grandmother made them – it’s been too many years. And I hadn’t made them in the meantime because they are a lot of work, and because I had somehow elevated pickle-making to an “I’m a grown-up!” status symbol and I hadn’t felt competent enough with my canning pot to do that yet.

We brought home 12 jars of pickles, which should just about get me through the year if Nick only has one per jar.

This feels like an achievement, especially after buying so many disappointing jars of commercial dill pickles for so many years. I am crossing “make pickles!” off my life’s to-do list, and making plans for next year’s batch.

This was a pretty thrilling sight. I don’t think I would have enjoyed doing it alone, but four people made quick work of 40 pounds of pickling cukes – we took the afternoon, and there was plenty of time for a leisurely dinner and a bowl of ice cream afterward. It was easier than I thought it would be, and I recommend you try it, especially with an eager group to help.

Oh! Pretty!

It’s a very good day when I arrive home to find elegant gift bags stuffed with individually wrapped homemade baked goods.

I suppose that’s stating the obvious. But it’s true, because a gift of baked goods is a gift just for me, because Nick can’t sneak bites when I’m not looking or, as I’ve convinced him to believe, he will lapse into a diabetic coma and die before ever finishing his video game or seeing the Canucks win the Stanley Cup. Marriage has given me a chance to really shine.

The cookies are from my friend Amber (pictured in this post here), who lives in Victoria which is inconvenient as she is all kinds of fun (especially as a shopping buddy) and a highly skilled baker – I would like to see her more. Someone needs to give her a donation to start up a bakery, as you can clearly see (preferably a tall, olive-skinned benefactor with his own plane and a villa in Provence). She has endless patience and apparently a fabulous collection of cookie cutters. And she has excellent timing, as I have been wanting homemade cookies but not wanting to make them myself. When I bit into these I discovered that they’re better than I can make anyway.

Thanks, Amber! The lobster is my favourite, but I am going to eat him last.

Choucroute garnie à l’Alsacienne.

It’s our anniversary! Our second one, but Mondays are boring and also our laundry day, and for some reason I was awake at 4:00 this morning, so to celebrate we did a load of towels, had a nap, and Nick brought me orange flowers, and we went for sushi, which was delicious, though convenient.

But last night I wanted to do something kind of special, because we spent our first anniversary pushing Paul’s car across the border, which was as romantic as pushing a Honda Civic across the Canadian border in the dark and then standing under an orange street light for an hour waiting for a tow truck on the other side in November after frost has fallen and taking public transit back to the city can be.To make up for last year, this year I brought my A-game. Sometimes I like making food that takes all day, and I wanted to do something distinct to mark Sunday as separate from the rest of the weekend, during which we also celebrated Nick’s birthday. I invited Grace and Paul over to celebrate our anniversary with us, and we had so much food. Come to think of it, it makes sense now that I was up at 4:00 a.m.; there is only so much pork that one can cram into her maw and still expect to sleep through the night.

The recipe that follows is based on Jeffrey Steingarten’s recipe for Choucroute Garnie à L’Alsacienne, from his book The Man Who Ate Everything. Because I am paid considerably less than Mr. Steingarten and am routinely accosted by Nick over how much I spend on special-occasion meals (not much, by the way, but he feels that all the dollars I spend on fancy ingredients could be spent far more enjoyably on beer), there are some adjustments. Much as it saddens me, I simply do not have an elaborate collection of specialty meats on hand. One day. Perhaps with the next husband?

Choucroute garnie à l’Alsacienne

(Serves six, generously)

  • 2 smoked pig’s feet
  • 3.5 lbs. sauerkraut
  • 2 lb. bratwurst
  • 1 lb. kielbasa
  • 2 lb. other sausage (such as pork and apple)
  • 1/2 lb. bacon
  • 3/4 cup gin
  • 2 tbsp. butter or duck fat
  • 2 lbs. onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 lbs. apples, grated
  • 1 1/2 cup dry Riesling (preferably from Alsace)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 25 black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 tsp. caraway seeds
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 4 branches fresh thyme
  • 6 sprigs parsley
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic
  • 2 tsp. coarse salt

Place pig’s feet in a medium-size pot, and cover with water to about an inch above the feet. Simmer for one hour, then remove feet, and reduce until about two cups remain, an additional 15 minutes. Set aside.

Drain sauerkraut in a large strainer, squeezing out liquid periodically. Rinse, then continue to drain, about an hour.

Cook all three sausages and bacon. Set aside.

Simmer gin in a small pot until reduced by about two thirds. Set aside.

In a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, melt butter, then cook onions until softened but not golden, about ten minutes. Add apples and sauerkraut. Stir to combine. Add gin reduction and bay leaves.

Add reserved stock, and Riesling, and two cups of cold water. In a piece of twice- or thrice-folded cheesecloth, combine peppercorns, caraway, cloves, thyme, and parsley. Tie tightly with kitchen twine and let sit in sauerkraut mixture.

Place meat on top of mixture, then scatter garlic over top, and then sprinkle salt over top. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium low. Cover, and simmer for 90 minutes, stirring approximately every 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 250°F. When choucroute has finished cooking, remove meat to a plate and let rest, covered in tin foil, in a warm oven. Let choucroute rest, covered and off the heat, for 30 minutes.

To serve, drain choucroute and place in the centre of a platter. Place meat on top, and scatter side dishes around, such as spaetzle or fried potatoes. Serve with sweet mustard, sour cream, and cornichons. To eat, ensure you are wearing something with an elastic waistband.

Guest post: On being raised by hippies

I invited Lara from Food. Soil. Thread. to do a guest post here while I’m supposed to be frantically assembling the last of my MFA application (not taking Facebook quizzes about which “drunk writer” I’m most like … Ernest Hemingway, FYI, which I think means I deserve an MFA and that I should never own guns).

I read Lara’s blog regularly, where she posts recipes for delicious, different things like West African Chicken Stew and squash with peanuts and tofu. We have a lot in common, I think, except that I am maniacal and probably a degenerate, and she is calm and quilts and seems reasonably responsible. We might both be Pacific Northwesterly hippies, or yuppies, but you can definitely find us both at or near farms. Go visit Lara, and be sure to say hello!

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Hippie credentials

By Lara of Food. Soil. Thread.

My husband and I have been arguing for years about whether or not he is married to a hippie. He insists, rather urgently, that he is most definitely not married to a hippie despite such evidence as my frequent trips to hot springs, the eating of tofu and hummus, an aversion to chemical cleaning products (“What’s that smell? Is that air freshener? Are you trying to kill me?!“), and an intense dislike of Hummers and all that they represent. I continue to insist that I am a hippie, mostly because I like any attention from him even if it is negative.

But now I am starting to wonder … what is a hippie nowadays? Does being a hippie in the 21st century require that you wear patchouli and not shave your armpits even when you have access to a razor? Do non-hippies dress their babies in tie-dyed onesies and shirts that say “locally produced” too?

The indoctrination begins early: vaguely political onesies.

Maybe the modern hippie is just a yuppie-hipster. Some of the things hippies and yuppie-hipsters have in common include recycling, organic food, and shopping at farmers markets. They think the Prius is cool, and the yuppie can afford one.

Being a modern hippie is of course all my mother’s fault. To read about my hippie origins, hop on over to my blog where I have provided my evidence, along with a recipe for granola.