Let the chocolate chips fall where they may

Each year by this point in January, I’m getting mighty tired of all the commercials for gym memberships and advertisements for nutritional supplements.Instead of working out and eating steamed fish, it all makes me want to lie immobile on the couch and eat milk duds.

I might feel that way, but the truth is I do still try to move around some, and eat reasonably well.  But just because I consume fresh fruit and veg and whole grains doesn’t mean I never eat anything just because it tastes good.

And I really do sleep better when I have a few bites of something sweet before bed.  So last Friday night, when, because of the snow and ice I wasn’t sure if we’d have electricity in the morning, I made a pan of brownies.I started with a mix, which I usually do.  But this batch was the best batch I’ve turned out in years.  The Kid and I loved them, which isn’t very surprising.  But the shocker was that Petey really liked them as well.  Not being a self-indulgent choco-phile, he doesn’t usually eat my brownies anymore.  He says they’re “too much” (but where chocolate is concerned, please explain to me what is too much).

I think these were better received because I didn’t go overboard on any one ingredient.  I added espresso, but just enough to heighten the flavor, not give you a coffee-favored punch in the nose.  There were chocolates, but not a surfeit of any one type.  They were salted, but only enough to give each bite the tiniest little salty crunch.

As a woman I can testify to the fact that some days only a satisfying chocolate treat can keep me from committing mayhem on loved ones and strangers alike.  These mahogany-colored confections, accompanied with copious amounts of red wine, would be a huge hit when shared by a group of women.

Best.Book.Club.Night.Ever.Boxed up and tied with a pretty red silk ribbon, then handed over for Valentine’s Day would ensure extra credit (I actually started to write ‘brownie points’ here) for the next 364 days.

I call these “Golf Brownies” because there are 4 (fore, get it?) kinds of chocolate in them.  Unfortunately, Petey doesn’t appreciate the humor of the moniker.  But bless his heart, he’s got lots of other very good qualities.

*Recipe note-For chocolate extract, I use Nielsen-Massey.  It’s available online and at local fancy cooking stores.  Maldon salt, found at the same kind of places, and lately some mega-marts, is a very large, flaky finishing salt for sprinkling.

Golf brownies

golf brownies

1 13X9 family size package Pillsbury milk chocolate brownie mix

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder dissolved in ¼ cup very hot water

2/3 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

2 tablespoons Hershey Special Dark cocoa powder

1 teaspoon pure chocolate flavor

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1-11.5 ounce bag Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips

1-2 teaspoons Maldon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Put all the ingredients except Maldon salt into large bowl.  Mix well.  Pour into 9X13 pan sprayed with cooking spray.  Liberally sprinkle Maldon salt on batter and bake.

Bake 13 minutes, spin pan 180 degrees and bake for 14 more.

Remove to cooling rack and allow to cool completely.  This recipe makes 2 dozen reasonably-sized pieces, or 6 extra-large PMS pieces.

Truly, brownie mix is one of the greatest benefits of living in this great country of ours.

usa brownies

Mmmmm…America…

You can have them ready for the oven in minutes, and they will obediently bend to your will, mood, and pantry.

For texture, try adding broken pretzels, nuts, or Oreo pieces.  Before baking, drop dollops of dulce de leche, peanut butter, or Nutella on  top.  Then using a sharp knife, swirl it enough to produce a marble-like effect.  Go a little sideways, and mix in crispy bacon, cracked pink peppercorns, or diced, candied ginger.

My point is that sometimes, like when it’s day three of being trapped in in the house with your entire family by snowmageddan, there’s nothing in this word that will do but a freshly baked brownie.                                                       Thanks for your time.

A very special episode

Petey's plate

The finished dish.

Originally published in the Herald Sun 10/19/2011

October 11, 1:15PM-Okay, here’s the deal. You guys are on a real-time journey with me. Right now, in my oven, is the object and subject of this column. Last night I took a package of meat from the freezer that I wasn’t sure I would ever use. Hog jowls.
Ever heard of guanciale (gwon-choll-ay), a trendy Italian ingrediant? That’s hog jowls. Seen pork cheeks on Iron Chef? Hog Jowls.
It’s a traditional country food. The muscle is tough and fatty, with lots of collagen. Cooked correctly, it’s supposed to be a rich, unctuous meat, like ox tales, brisket, or NC Barbecue.
But yes, it does come from the face of the pig.
The meat I had looked like really thick, meaty slices of bacon, with a strip of skin on one side. They were smoked for flavor, but not cooked at all.
I decided I would slow cook them into carnitas (slow cooked spiced, shreddy pork) from the Mexican flavors I had in my pantry. That’s the other part of the challenge. I will be making this dish with only items that are already in my house.
First I browned the meat in Old Blue. I seasoned the slices, trimmed off the skin and threw the scraps back. When the slices were crusty and brown, I pulled them and put sliced onions and halved garlic cloves into the fat. From there I made a very mock mole sauce for a braise
I put them in the oven covered at 275 degrees. That’s where they are right now.
More to come.
2:00PM-I just checked it. It’s been in about an hour and feels very tender. It went back in for thirty more minutes.
Experimenting here, folks.
More soon.
2:45PM– I took the meat from the braise. It was falling apart tender. I chopped it up, crisped it in the same pot, and then put in the cooked rice, chicken stock, some chopped green olives, and the cheese. When the mixture had cooled and firmed up a little, I folded in three stiffly beaten egg whites to lighten the filling.
5:00PM-I put together the burritos and set them in the fridge to chill, so they hold their shape better while cooking.
6:15 PM-I will wrap this up after we eat. But I have an update. Petey picked up some salad greens for dinner. It will be a nice fresh compliment to the substantial and hearty puerco pocket.
I’ll let y’all know how it all turned out soon.
7:30PM-I succumbed to temptation and fried them chimi-style, drizzled a little sauce on them sprinkled a little grated colby-jack, and put them under a low broiler. I will photograph the results-good or bad.
8:45PM-Dinner’s over. Two words-O.M.G.
Thanks for your time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fresh out of the oven from the cheese melting portion of the program.

My Pantry Very, Very Mock Mole for Hog Jowls
Your pantry and mole may differ greatly
3/4 cup La Victoria mild Green salsa (mole traditionally has tons of chiles, this sauce replaced fresh and/or dried chiles)
1 tablespoons Bitter Orange Adobo
2 packets Safron Sazon
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt 
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
juice and zest of two limes
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon Chinese five spice
2 teaspoons fennel seed
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup small pimento stuffed olives
1 tablespoon olive brine
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
tiny pinch of both cayenne and red pepper flakes
1 cup sherry
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
small yellow onion rough slice
5 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
After browning meat, remove and add onion and garlic. When the onion starts to soften, add all the ingredients up to the sherry. Lower heat and stir. When the mixture gets tight and caramelized, pour in sherry and scrape all the stuff stuck to the bottom. When the sherry has almost completely reduced, add chicken stock. Return meat to pot, cover and bake low and slow.