In a recent post, I mentioned that I’d just gone up to my family’s Tahoe cabin for a few days with my dad. I mentioned ice cream and lounging by the lake. What I didn’t mention is the grand renovation that’s taken place this past year making our humble, rather tiny cabin into something a bit less humble and much less tiny. When I really think about it, our Tahoe cabin is the one stable house in my life. My folks are divorced and live in different houses than the one I grew up in, and if you’ve been around the blog for any period of time, you know I’m a serial mover. So the Tahoe cabin is it. It’s where I’ve been coming at least twice a year since I was two years old. Same little town, same street.
During the renovation this year, my dad just kept saying how I wouldn’t believe it–how much different it was. I’d overheard conversations about reclaimed barnwood and tile, about a courtyard breezeway and flat screen TV’s. So when I drove up, I’ll be honest: I expected to be a little sad. I braced myself to put on a big happy face for my dad and thought of all the ways I could tell him how great it was. I figured I’d miss our funky little cabin and all its quirks. After a record breaking personal best of 3 hours and 15 minutes, I pulled up, parked, and saw a totally new house. The funny thing? I wasn’t at all sad or nostalgic or disappointed. Don’t get me wrong: it was different. But it was great, too. The sleeping loft was still there, the windows looking out onto the lake were still the center of the house, and the stools at the kitchen counter–all there. It just got a face life. A fancy face lift.
Kind of like these brownies. Now if you’re anything like me, you have your go-to brownie recipe and probably aren’t interested in hearing all about someone else’s. And up until just a few days ago, I was like you: married to the brownie recipe I’ve been making for years. But I was encouraged by some friends who love this new recipe I’m about to share with you, so I gave in. The thing I like about these brownies is their insanely dark flavor and the way the gently straddle the line between fudgey and cakey (although they definitely err on the fudgey side). They’re studded with bits of dark chocolate, have some definite heft, cut beautifully, and would be the perfect brownie to serve with ice cream. Or alone. Like the Tahoe house, they’re a little fancier. A little different. But no less fabulous for it.
So it turns out brownies and vacation homes share a little something. Who knew? They’re both a good lesson in not anticipating your reaction to something before it happens. Allow yourself to be surprised. Allow yourself to feel (or taste) in the moment. I so often try to prepare for new situations by anticipating what it’ll be like, who will be there, how it’ll all go down. Pre-judging. I’m all about pre-judging–it’s how we Capricorns navigate our way through the world. But the truth of the matter? You can’t always plan for everything. You can’t always anticipate how it’ll all go down, how you’ll feel as you pull up to a new house, sit down next to a new acquaintence, or cut into a brand new brownie recipe. Be open to surprises…and whatever may come. Because of this, I’m looking forward to new memories in a new house and many, many more batches of these brownies.
After making countless brownies in my lifetime, I’ve come to realize there are a few important considerations that honestly make a ho-hum brownie kind of amazing. Here they are, along with the much anticipated recipe. Oh, and if you’d like to share your very favorite brownie recipe in the comments, I’d love to hear about it. I’m on a little bit of a brownie kick these days.
A Few Brownie Tips:
-Use room temperature eggs. Just do it. I won’t go into the chemistry of it all, but it helps immensely when mixing them evenly into the batter.
– Buy the absolute best chocolate you can afford. I know people say that a lot with baked goods, but with brownies you really should because chocolate’s the star here. Splurge. For this recipe, I used Scharffen Berger 62 % for the chopped chocolate and Valrhona 100% cocoa powder.
-A note on cocoa powder: it’s important to pay attention to whether your recipe calls for natural or Dutch-process (also known as alkalized) cocoa powder. Natural cocoa powder is quite bitter and acidic on its own, but in baked goods imparts a deep fudgey flavor. The recipe below calls for alkalized cocoa powder. This cocoa powder has been treated with a tiny bit of alkaline to reduce its natural acidity, giving it a smoother flavor. Read your recipe carefully; don’t swap one out for the other.
-Let those suckers cool. The composition of the brownie changes so much after cooling. So while I’m not going to lie and say I never cut off a little square warm, you really should let them cool all the way before slicing or doing any heavy sampling.
-How to make your brownies look a little more professional and a little less ‘my-kid-sister-hacked-into-the-brownies’? Get a hot cup of water, dunk a sharp knife in it, and wipe away the water each time you slice through a row. This will allow for clean, easy cutting. To be honest, with this recipe I haven’t needed to use this trick. They slice beautifully.
Adapted from: Ad Hoc
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter and flour the bottom of a 9 X 9 inch glass or metal baking pan and set aside.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt and set aside.
Melt half the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally so that it won’t burn. Put the remaining butter in a heat-resistant bowl. Pour the melted butter over the bowl of butter and stir to melt. After a minute or so, the butter should have a creamy appearance and should be close to room temperature. Don’t worry if there are bits of unmelted butter.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, mix together the eggs and sugar on medium speed for 3-4 minutes or until it’s thick and very pale. Mix in the vanilla. Then, on low speed rotate adding in 1/3 of the dry ingredients and 1/3 of butter. Continue until both have been incorporated. Don’t overmix here–just combine. Add in the chopped chocolate and quickly mix to combine (This batter can be refrigerated for up to 1 week).
Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. If it comes out wet and chocolaty, you may have hit a chip so try again. You don’t want to overbake these brownies. Cool until the brownies are at room temperature, run a knife around the edges of the pan, and invert onto a cutting board. But into 9 large 3″ brownies or 12 smaller brownies. They can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days although they’re best eaten the same day.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.