Grandma’s Brownies Recreated (as close as I’ve come yet)

These are the current closest version to my grandmother’s brownies.  (See the About section for why I’ve tried to recreate them.)

Grandma didn’t add the espresso powder; I doubt she even knew such a thing existed.  (I certainly didn’t, then.) But I feel these are somehow more chocolaty with it, without becoming bitter as more cocoa would make them.  I know; I’ve adjusted the cocoa, vanilla, butter and flour more than once.  I understand the chocolate chips, which are just barely noticeable, are what causes the crisp, thin, shiny crust.

But these are still about the easiest brownies I’ve ever made. One bowl, pour everything in, stir, one pan, bake and enjoy…

2/3 c all-purpose flour

1/3 c cocoa

1 1/3 c sugar

1/4 t baking powder

¼ t salt

¼ t espresso powder

2 eggs

½ c unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 ¼ t vanilla

½ c broken walnuts

½ c mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375o F.  Line a 8” or 9” square pan or a 7 ½” x 11” brownie pan with foil, leaving a 2″ overhang on at least two sides.  Spray the foil with cooking spray.

Put the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, salt and espresso powder in a medium bowl. Whisk or stir thoroughly, breaking up any lumps of cocoa, until mixture appears uniform. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and crack in the eggs. Add the melted butter and the vanilla and mix these ingredients in the well. Continue to stir, pulling in the dry ingredients until mixture is thoroughly moistened. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips.

Spread into the prepared pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Use the foil overhangs to lift the brownies out of the pan.  Let cool completely and cut into 9 – 12 rectangles.

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Gnocchi with Browned Butter and Caramelized Onions

I love to cook on week-ends, usually some sort of brunch.

This may have to do with my having had to be at work at 0-dark-30 during the week for years (I left home between 3:00 and 4:00 am), or just simply that I like the sort of things that one usually has for brunch.

Years ago, when I used to do a flight school’s books to help pay for my flying time, there was a terrific little bistro-ish restaurant just across the street from the airport. The guy who owned it had some sort of association with the flight school – I think his girlfriend was one of our pilots, but I don’t really remember – and the crowd started going there because of that. It was also convenient to my home, and I’d go there on Saturday mornings sometimes, just because.

My favorite dish was the Gnocchi With Browned Butter and Caramelized Onions. I would have it at the restaurant with a couple of lovely big sausages in natural casings, with fresh orange juice and hot black coffee. (This was way before we all started drinking cappuccinos and lattes, which I think would be excellent with it.) Over the years, I have remembered that breakfast/brunch fondly, but I moved away and don’t even know if the restaurant is still there – frankly I would guess it’s not; it’s been that long.

And somehow, in all that time, I never got around to trying to make it myself.

But I was in the store one Saturday morning, to pick up some stuff for what I was planning for dinner, and my eye fell upon a package of Whole-wheat Gnocchi in a vacuum pack, imported from Italy. I knew there were onions and butter at home, and I was hungry… (You know what they say about shopping when you’re hungry!)

So I grabbed a couple of packages and used one of them to make my version of that long-ago food memory.

And I nailed it! It was so good that the-college-kid-home-for-the-week-end-and-laundry insisted I make it again for Sunday supper so that a friend from high school, who was hanging out with her, could taste it.

We didn’t have the sausages, nor did I dig out the espresso machine, but ordinary drip coffee and fresh orange juice still complement it nicely. This makes small-adequate servings for three or ginormous ones for two, and neither batch had any leftovers.

Ingredients

2 large yellow onions, or 1 yellow and 1 red

about 1 oz thinly sliced pancetta (5 – 6 slices)

5 Tbsp unsalted butter

1 tsp kosher salt

2 – 3 large cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves

500g package gnocchi (about 1 lb, frozen or vacuum-sealed)

¼ cup pine nuts

Grated Parmesan cheese

Technique

Cut off the ends of the onions, peel them, halve them top to bottom, and slice thinly. It will look like a lot, but it cooks down.

Melt 1 Tbsp of the butter in a large, heavy skillet or sauté pan and add the pancetta. Cook until the meat is crisp. Remove the meat, drain on paper towels, and set aside. Leave the melted butter and rendered fat in the pan.

Add the sliced onions to the pan and toss to coat in the fat. Sprinkle with salt and cook slowly over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally. The onions should soften and release their moisture before even starting to brown. Stir more frequently as they cook down. When the onions are just starting to brown, sprinkle in the minced garlic. Continue to cook until the onions are a rich caramel brown. They will have developed an amazing sweetness from the concentration of their natural sugars, particularly if you have used a red onion. Remove them from the pot and set aside.

Cook the gnocchi according to package directions (generally just until they float). Drain but don’t rinse.

Melt the remaining butter in the same pan you used for the onions. Watch – and sniff – carefully and cook until the butter is lightly browned and smells deliciously nutty. It is perilously easy to burn butter instead of browning it, so constant attention is essential. When the butter is ready, throw in the thyme leaves (stand back – they’ll spatter!) and cook for just a moment. Add the pine nuts and toast for a moment more; watch carefully, as they also are easy to burn.

Add the cooked gnocchi to the pan and toss them in the browned butter sauce. Add the onions. Crumble the crisp pancetta into the mess. Cook over low heat just until everything is evenly warmed.

Serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese to taste. (Personally, I don’t think it needs much.)

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End-of-Summer American Southwest ‘Ratatouille’

Serves 6 – 8

I’m not a vegetarian, nor do I play one on TV, but sometimes I cook like one.

This is the recipe for my end-of-summer casserole, product of discussion between me and some of my internet acquaintances.  It’s my personal take on the Southwestern staple calabacitas (‘little squashes’) and turned out seriously yummy.  Not necessarily the healthiest dinner in captivity (cheese is about 100 calories an ounce, most of it from fat), but with all those veggies, I think we can get away with it.

One of the other netizens suggested adding Andouille sausage and serving with some wine. Even with the sausage (which, if you’re not familiar, can be quite spicy), it still feels like white.  Gewürztraminer is good with spice, but a little sweet for this; somehow I’m thinking something fuller, maybe a not-too-oaky Chardonnay…  Or beer…  Or (oh, yeah!) prosecco, sparkling wine or champagne…

If I’d had a few more tomatoes, I might have made some of my ‘Salsa Bruschetta’ (just what it sounds like:  spread homemade salsa on crunchy toasted artisanal bread) to go along with it.

Ingredients

5 ears fresh corn

3 large fresh tomatoes (preferably home grown, but heirlooms from the farmer’s market work great)

3 smallish fresh zucchini

1 large onion

3 cloves garlic

2 pasilla peppers (the blockish but pointed very dark green Mexican peppers I originally learned to call poblanos – they’re anchos when they’re dried – very mild, but with a much more pronounced flavor than bells)

1 orange bell pepper (’cause it was there the first time and looks pretty; red works fine, too)

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

fresh basil, herbs de Provence, Italian herb blend or other herbs of your choice, to taste (optional)

1 pound grated cheese (your choice; I use a mixture of five California cheeses, including some Mexican-style ones, mostly pretty dry and salty, but about 1/3 essentially mild cheddar)

a couple of handfuls of crushed tortilla chips.

Technique

Using your preferred tool, remove the corn kernels from the cob.  (I have the Oxo corn stripper, but you can just use a chef’s knife.) Use a table knife to scrape any remaining pulp and juices from the corn cobs into a bowl.

Peel the tomatoes if you like; I never bother. Cut the tomatoes in half across the ‘waist’, and squeeze and use your finger tips to remove all the gel and seeds from the interior.  (This keeps them from making the dish too wet.)  Chop the tomatoes into about 1/4-inch dice.

Trim the zucchini, cut them in half lengthwise, and then into about 1/4-inch half-rounds.

Chop the onion into about 1/4-inch dice.  Mince the garlic.  Cut all the peppers into about the same 1/4-inch dice.

Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a pre-heated pan.  Sauté the onions until they start to get translucent.  (You may add salt, pepper, and fresh basil if you have it, or any other herbs you fancy at any time in the following process.  Put dried herbs in early, since they need to absorb some of the juices from the veggies to reconstitute.)  Add the garlic and sauté another couple of minutes.  Add all the peppers, and sweat about 5 minutes.  Throw in the zucchini and tomatoes, and stir until about half-cooked.  Add the corn and all the juice, and stir until warm (but not really hot).  Taste and season, remembering that all that cheese will likely be pretty salty.

Spray a big oven-safe pan or casserole with olive oil.  Spread about 1/3 of the veggies in the bottom, then spread a little more than 1/3 of the cheese.  Repeat the layers, ending with the last a-little-less-than-1/3 of the cheese.  Bake about 30 minutes at 375 degrees F.  When everything is hot through, crunch up the tortilla chips and spread them over the casserole.  Put back in the oven until the chips are lightly browned and crisp.

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