Falling from the tree

Twenty-five years ago, I gave birth to a mini-me.The Kid and I both love dogs, to complete and utter distraction.  Our favorite movie is The Big Chill, but we adore those awful chimera movies (think of the walking abomination of a horse/wasp hybrid) on SyFy.  My child and I are big fans of Chap Hop; a musical genre wherein polite, anachronistic British gentlemen rap about things like tea, robots, and orangutan valets.  Clean sheet night is our favorite night of the week.  We talk to strangers, probably way more than we should.And our hearts reside in the kitchen.

As soon as my toddler was tall enough to stand on a step stool and reach the kitchen counter, I had a partner-in-crime.  I taught The Kid, and later, after attending summer cooking classes, and then culinary school, the tables were turned, and I became the student.   This means, that just like the rest of our Southern-fried psyches, in cooking and food, we have many similarities.

Thanks to my mother we’re rabid about cleaning as we go along.  We constantly throw away and wash up because we’re completely twitchy when faced with kitchen untidiness.  We both have the ability to create and actually taste recipes in our heads, and possess uncanny senses of smell. And, I honestly don’t think we’ve ever cooked from a recipe without changing something.  It’s usually the addition, subtraction, or tweaking of an ingredient.

As the one in the social group who went to culinary school, my little chef is often called upon to bring home-baked treats to gatherings of friends.Recently The Kid tried out a new recipe from a website called, Smitten Kitchen.  It’s for blondies; the moist and gooey love child of chocolate chip cookies and brownies.

And true to form, my child tinkered.

Below is the email I received when I asked for the recipe.  I got the naming rights:

The Kid’s buffed-up blondiesblondies8 tablespoons butter, melted

1 cup brown sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Pinch salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

Butter 8×8 pan

Mix melted butter with brown sugar – beat until smooth. Beat in egg and then vanilla.

Add salt, stir in flour. Mix in any additions*.Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 350°F 20-25 minutes, or until set in the middle. I always err on the side of caution with baking times — nobody ever complained about a gooey-middled cookie. Cool on rack before cutting them.

*I made these changes- I browned my butter (decently dark too, like the brown of an old dictionary, so flavor comes through), replaced a pinch of salt with a full quarter teaspoon (or so), added 1/3 cup salted caramel chips, added a SCANT quarter cup of sprinkles, and topped with Maldon salt. The dough turns out way stiffer than you’d think, but it all works out happily—The Kid.

Even though my homemade mimeograph and I are very much alike, there are some stark differences.

This is a room made of cake.  I want to be there unsupervised.

To me, frosting is a food group; my child has a severely underdeveloped sweet tooth.  I wear my volatile emotions on my sleeve.  My little stoic?  Not so much.  Although my spawn’s a huge fan of Getty Lee’s Canadian band, I think Rush has all the pretentiousness of Pink Floyd but the talent of the Bay City Rollers.

And, although a wholly committed bookworm like me, no matter what I said, or which volume I produced, I never could get The Kid to crack open even one Trixie Belden mystery.Thanks for your time.

Brunette bombshell

It’s the singer-dancer-actor Gene Kelly of the kitchen.  A triple threat.

Beurre noisette.

It literally means hazelnut butter.  But it’s actually just butter cooked until the solids turn a deep, burnished, amber brown, and emits a rich, nutty aroma.  It’s then seasoned and a squidge of is lemon added.  This simple sauce can be used on meats, veggies, and starches.

But even more adaptable is its root—browned butter.One of the favorite meals in our family is roadkill.  It’s not what you think, though.  I have never served flattened possum, or sunbaked squirrel.  Roadkill is our name for porcupine meatballs.  But because I have trouble making meat spheres, I make patties.  And years ago The Kid decided the pressed shape with bits of rice poking out resemble the result of animal versus auto.The best, nay, the only side dish allowed when we dine on road kill is steamed cauliflower tossed with plenty of slowly cooked, chestnut-colored butter.

In another quick change act, brown butter imbues baked goods with nutty depth.

You can replace the fat in desserts with brown butter.  For oil or melted butter, brown it and use once it’s cooled enough to not interfere with the chemistry of the recipe.For softened butter, just brown the butter and let it re-solidify, stirring occasionally to keep the browned solids dispersed.

To brown butter, melt it over medium-low.  Watching constantly, allow it to keep cooking until it foams and brown solids rise to the top.  Let them deepen to the color of bourbon.

The brown butter in the following recipe adds an almost umami-like nutty warmth to an already delicious confection.

Orange brownies

Cook Time: 30 minutes

2 cups buttered vanilla nuts

Ingredients:sugared nuts2 cups nut pieces of your choice

2 tablespoons butter

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon sugar

Empty vanilla bean pod

Put all ingredients into skillet and cook on medium-low until nuts are toasted.  Let cool.

Cake ingredients:orange brownies

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup vanilla bean brown butter, cooled to softened

4 eggs

1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, reduced to 1 tablespoon of syrup

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

Innards from 1 vanilla bean

1 ½ cup prepared nuts

 Glaze:orange glaze2 cups confectioners’ sugar

¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

2 teaspoon grated orange zest

½ cup prepared nuts

Preheat oven to 350.

Grease 13X9 pan and set aside. In mixing bowl or bowl of stand mixer, stir together flour, sugar, and salt.  Add butter, eggs, orange syrup, and orange zest and beat with electric mixer until well blended. Fold in 1 1/2 cups nuts. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 25-28 minutes, or until light golden brown and just set. Remove from oven and pierce top of entire cake with fork.


Combine all ingredients except nuts in bowl, whisking until smooth. Pour half the glaze over hot cake. Cool cake completely then pour on rest of glaze, adding a bit more orange juice if needed to loosen. Sprinkle on the rest of the nuts. When glaze sets, cut into squares. orange glazed browniesAs good as these bars are, The Kid has a real problem with them.  It has nothing to do with flavor; they are bright, moist, and sweet, but thanks to the brown butter, not too sweet.

No, they taste great.  But The Kid cannot abide the name.  In my child’s opinion, any food called brownies have to contain chocolate and they must actually be brown.

But orangies just sounds silly, dontcha think?Thanks for your time.