It has occurred to me that I’m now on my third post and have not yet given you a recipe that I learned by my grandmother’s side. I shall remedy that in the coming days but until then, I want to talk about cookbooks and give you something yummy to munch on while reading.
My grandmother had a zillion cookbooks. She had a whole cabinet of them and each one had notes in it. She’d mark recipes as “good” or “didn’t like” or “less salt, cook for 5 min. longer”, all in her tight, neat cursive. Later, after she died, my grandfather added his own notes, for those who were left to cook for him. His notes tended towards, “don’t make this again” and “not enough meat.”
Whenever I would cook, I would call my grandmother to ask her cooking questions. You know, “how long do I boil an egg for egg salad?”, “how can I tell if the cake is done?”, “what should I add to the chicken?”- that kind of thing. She always knew the answer, regardless of the question and never once did she tell me to hold on while she looked it up in her cookbooks. When I turned twelve, she gave me a copy of The Joy of Cooking. I still have it and it’s falling apart from me thumbing through it over the years.
Now that I live in my grandmother’s house and I cook often enough that I no longer have to look up my answers (when I do, I tend to google them anyway- what did we do before google?), I understand how she just knew all the tricks. There’s a rhythm and pattern to cooking and as you develop, it develops. Things just make sense.
Which is not to say that I have no cookbooks. Because I do. I have lots of cookbooks- some from when I was little and some from this year. I try to be selective when buying them but I finally understand my grandmother’s vast collection- there’s always something else to learn about food and how to put dishes together. But I do still fall back on oldies-but-goodies.
One such recipe is this one, for brownies. It comes from a cookbook called The Fun of Cooking, which was purchased for me by- who else?- my grandmother and which featured children and young adult who cooked for their families. I committed it to memory early, causing a high school friend of mine to be in awed disbelief when I whipped these up at her house without having to reference a cookbook or make a phone call (this was before google). I think it’s a recipe my grandmother would have liked- sweet, very chocolate and pretty quick to make.
And in coming full circle, I made them this week for the day-care potluck we attended. I have a four and a half month old daughter, our first, and she’s headed to daycare in the coming weeks. I think it’s fitting that I made this for that gathering- something about making these when I was a young girl and now making them for my young girl. Circle of life, hakuna matata, kumbaya and all that.
Memorized Brownies, adapted slightly from The Fun of Cooking
1 stick (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter plus a tablespoon or two extra for the pan
2 squares (2 oz) unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate (depends on your taste)
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup flour
pinch of salt
Pre-heat oven to 350. In a double boiler over medium-low heat, melt the chocolate and the butter until smooth. I have a nifty double boiler my husband bought me but you can just as easily use a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Just don’t let the bowl actually touch the water as it’ll be too hot for the butter and chocolate.
Once the chocolate and butter have melted take the pot or bowl off the heat (i.e. off the pan with water) and let it cool for a few minutes. While it’s cooling, melt the extra butter in the microwave. Make a foil insert for your brownie pan- I generally make these in an 8×8 square pan but they could be made in a cake pan as well. Don’t go bigger than 8 inches, though, because the brownies will be too thin if you do. Make the foil insert by tearing off a piece of foil, turning the pan upside down and molding the foil on the back. Lift if off and turn the pan over, placing the foil insert inside. It should be the exact shape of the pan. Neat trick, huh? Pour the melted butter into the foil in the pan and spread it around, making sure to get the corners and sides. Feel free to dump out any extra butter.
Then add the flour and a pinch of salt. Mix until all the flour is combined and everything looks thick and yummy. Make sure to scrape down the sides and the bottom of the pan as you do this, you don’t want to leave out any of the chocolate goodness. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for 20-25 minutes. Keep an eye on these since when overbaked they become dry and icky. You’ll know they’re done when the edges start to pull away from the sides of the pan and the middle is dry-looking. I’d err on the side of underbaked. Let them cool on a rack before attempting to slice them. When they’re cool, you can lift them out of the pan via the foil insert (makes for easy clean-up too!). I tend to cut them small since they’re pretty rich.
And here they are, served up on a monkey plate, ready to join the other dishes at the pot-luck. You many notice there are more in the photo above than in the photo below. Well, we had to try them, right? Can’t serve something you haven’t tasted!