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.
Glimpses of Spring
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).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.