Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cliches for a reason

I don't celebrate Valentine's Day. It's a manufactured, consumerist holiday, meant to con us into buying things we don't need and feel things we don't feel... blah, blah, blah, all the things single people tell themselves. Rolls eyes. The truth is that I grew up in a fairly religious Jewish community, where Valentine's Day, just "wasn't done", and that's sort of stuck. Whether single, or in a relationship, it's just never really been a priority for me.This year though, single and all, I celebrated Valentine's Day. Sort of. I went to a party. A housewarming party on Valentine's Day. Most people brought wine. I brought salted caramel brownies, because if I'm going to be celebrating Valentine's Day, there will be chocolate. Cliches are cliches for a reason.

These brownies, man. These brownies are a rom-com in baked-good form. They will (should) win you a kiss in the rain; a run through the airport; a boombox under your window. They are rich with butter, and not too sweet-until you hit the burnt sugar taste of caramel, that is, and then there is so much sweetness it's almost bitter. And maybe that's a metaphor for love, or maybe it's just brownies.

Salted Caramel Cocoa Brownies

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, twice over

For the caramel:

1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons (56 grams) butter
1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt
3 tablespoons heavy cream

For the brownies:

10 tablespoons (140 grams) butter
1 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour

1) Start with the caramel. In a  dry saucepan, melt your sugar over medium heat, stirring occasionally. After about five minutes it should take on a beautiful, amber color. Remove from heat. Carefully stir in the butter. It will splatter, so stand back. Stir in salt and cream and return to heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until any solidified sugar has melted, and the caramel is a shade or two darker. This should take a few minutes. Remove from heat. Place a square of parchment paper over a plate. Lightly grease the paper and then pour the caramel onto the plate. Transfer the plate to the freezer and freeze until solidified-this can take anywhere from 20-40 minutes, depending on your freezer.

2) While the caramel is setting, make your brownies. Preheat the oven to 325. In a heatproof bowl, combine the butter, sugar, cocoa and salt. Place over a pan of barely simmer water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter has melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and cool. Stir in the vanilla and then beat in the eggs, one at a time. When the batter looks nice and smooth add the flour.

3) Remove caramel from the freezer and chop into 1- inch pieces. Stir most of the pieces into the batter. Pour the batter into a well-greased 8-inch baking pan. Scatter the rest of the caramel pieces on top. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

4) Declare your love.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Things that are not butter

Ladies and gentlemen, I have been sick. The great winter sickness of 2013 hath fallen upon me and I was felled for a week. Then, I got caught in an avalanche of work, which is what happens when you have been sick for a week and all your deadlines fall out pretty much at the same time. Mostly I feel a little bit like this right now. But, not all is lost for I have learned some important lessons in these past two weeks, and these are them:

 1) Hot water bottles are awesome.
 2) Hot toddies are awesome.
 3) Elementary- not so awesome.
 4) Happy Endings- amaaahzing.
 5) The Monday after the Super Bowl is probably the most unproductive Monday of the year.
 6) If you spend 9 hours of your day trying to turn a bad translation into a good translation, you will fry your brain.
 7) Broccoli is good.

On day three of my sick week, I rolled out of bed and realized I could no longer do the thing which I had been doing up until then- namely, roll out of bed, stumble to the refrigerator, grab blindly at whatever leftover something was closest, and roll back to bed to eat it in a semi-sitting position. For one, I was running out of leftovers and two, I was also beginning to feel quite guilty about all the lovely produce, bought almost a week before, sitting in my crisper, going to waste. So, when I next found myself with enough energy to stand, I pulled my once lovely, bright broccoli, now going yellowish at the edges, out of the refrigerator, chopped it into florets, doused it in olive oil, sprinkled it in salt, pepper, smoked paprika and some cayenne, covered it tightly and tossed it in a low over for 2.5 hours. Then, I stumbled back to bed.

I always forget, because I so much associate it with health and with things that are not butter, how rich olive oil is. Because that is the first word that came to mind when I bit into my first piece of broccoli- it was rich. The broccoli had sort of collapsed in on itself and become soft and silky in its bath of olive oil. And yet, yet, despite its richness it was still broccoli. It somehow still maintained that bright, grassy broccoli flavor- you know, the one that tells your brain that you are eating something with vitamins and minerals and all those things that will make you grow up strong and hearty. And that is what you need when you are sick- something that is simultaneously comforting and health inducing. Granted, most of the time that's chicken soup, but broccoli works in a pinch too.

I'm hoping that this is the last of the sick for this winter. I am not hoping it is the last of the broccoli.

Broccoli For a Sick Day

Adapted from Roy Finnamore's Broccoli Cooked Forever on Food52

1 medium bunch of broccoli
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
a good amount (oh, about 1/4 tsp) of coarse salt
freshly ground black pepper
a pinch of cayenne pepper
a healthy pinch of smoked paprika

1. Preheat the oven to 200 F.  Cut the broccoli into small florets. If you are using the stem, peel off the thick woody outer layer, and chop.

2. Combine the ingredients in a casserole or an a small oven-safe pot. Cover and cook for 2- 2.5 hours until the broccoli is soft. Eat. Be healthy.