There were, at one time, grand plans in place which involved me writing something to publish here during one of our 10+ hour flights back and forth across the pond last week. I had intended to share a few honorable mentions before our Christmas trip to London and Paris – pause for deep swooning sigh while the days-old memories of food, architecture, cappuccino, and wine-fueled feelings are still so freshly etched in my mind…[siiiiiigh]…thank you for your patience – so that when we returned, I’d be able to check in again and wrap up 2017 on much sweeter note than I found it.
But alas, an aborted flight takeoff attempt followed by hours of bouncy-house-like turbulence with an equally frightening actual takeoff in between caused the trip over to be less about writing and more about Xanax and beseeching mercy from all the deities ever discussed in the entire course of history. I knew better than to even try with the laptop on the return flight, which, of course, turned out to be entirely uneventful. And that brings us to today’s New Years Eve double feature – one part reflection, one part decadence, one hundred percent ready for a new year.
Let’s dive in! First up in honorable mentions we have a Chocolate Chip Loaf Cake that was almost exactly what I wanted, but needed some tweaking I never did get around to. My notes tell me it was a little dry with a weird crumb. I think what I was looking for was a chocolate chip yellow cake in loaf form (let’s not pretend that brunch isn’t pastries and booze, okay?), but the experimentation that would’ve entailed took a backseat to six months of wedding cake testing. It’s in the 2018 queue though, so stay tuned.
Zuni Cafe Chicken. This little herb stuffed chicken went on to become a deeply bronzed and lip-smackingly succulent Zuni Café Chicken ™ served, as tradition dictates, atop of a pile of their equally fame-worthy house bread salad – a scrappy dressing of croutons, collards, currants and pine nuts, dressed with a vinaigrette and, ultimately, roasted chicken drippings. Accompaniments included French fries (from scratch obvs and almost as shoe-string like as Zuni’s – a feat!), Caesar salad (also Zuni-style), and gratin-style ratatouille, with strawberry cheesecake fools for dessert.
All of this I served on the night I first learned that there are people in this world who do not think of Zuni Cafe as San Francisco food royalty (the Buckingham Palace of SF cuisine?) and they happened to be the ones I was serving. Oops. We kept it moving, as one should (along with all the dessert for ourselves). A do-over in 2018 is highly anticipated by yours truly because this meal might have actually been my favorite of this year. It was certainly my best attempt at Dining In (proper noun) to date, which makes me feel like YAY! because Dining In is my favorite thing.
Miss Candy's Sausage Balls. I’ve been lucky enough to share in the deliciousness of two family recipes – these biscuity sausage balls and classic southern cheese straws, both staples of southern hospitality – from my best friend Martin’s family. Namely his momma, Miss Candy, who once gifted me moonshine for Christmas, treated us to two striking bouquets of the most lovely purple flowers for our wedding reception, and drank bourbon with me in my kitchen while we made these sausage balls and cheese straws. (Martin and the rest of the fam graciously taste-tested, and with rave reviews!) Because she’s the best of the best, she gave me permission to share, so prepare to slay your appetizer game in 2018 courtesy of Miss Candy.
Experiments in Rabe Bread Pudding/Pasta. I tried my hand many many (like, too many actually) times to nail down the perfect way to mix juicy blanched broccoli rabe with various kinds of salty pork, cheese, and carbs (outside of the standard, pasta with sausage, rabe, and hecka parm). What I really wanted was a bread pudding, and then I got a bee in my bonnet and decided it needed to be equally good vegetarian-style with mushrooms, which was a distraction (albeit a delicious one), and while we always enjoyed the results of my experiments, none of them quite nailed it. All in due time, I suppose.
Butter Chicken and Cucumber Salad with Crushed Ginger and Pickled Onion. These two recipes are both ones I’m dying to make again – just not, you know, enough to actually make them again. The butter chicken was a mash-up of three similar but different recipes and a reminder both that if I want to do this right I need to be taking notes on every recipe, especially ones where I freehand, and that I need to work on my low-light shooting capabilities, i.e., I need to acquire some. The cucumber salad was this one from Ottolenghi's Plenty, and so as usual, finicky AF but full of palate-expanding yumminess wow factor. It keeps coming up again and again because we eat cucumber salad at least once a week; only we’ve settled on a much simpler one that is almost as tasty (though not quite because sometimes extra steps do equal extra flavor and that’s fine, just not on a busy Wednesday night) from Jessica Seinfeld’s Food Swings, released earlier this year.
Strawberry Clafoutis. Speaking of Food Swings, remember that time it turned out a better clafoutis than Mastering the Art of French cooking even though I followed both recipes to the letter? That was the first recipe I have ever really wanted to call “foolproof,” and certainly a milestone in home-cooking for me.
And now that we’ve cleaned out the junk drawer and folded all the linens, let’s seal it with a kiss. A fudgy, brown butter frosted, dark chocolate topped kiss. These brownies are almost difficult to write about because their appeal is so straightfoward. Brownies are delicious. Frosted brownies are extra delicious, and these are clearly exceedingly decadent to boot. Nobody you’d want to share them with will be mad about it.
The brownie layer runs on the fudgier side and isn’t really cakey at all, but let me tell you as someone who is 100% Team Cakey Brownies, a fudge consistency feels right here, especially since they’re so nice when served cold, which usually makes cake-textured goodies too hard. The brown butter frosting layer is where the real magic happens, not least of all because it takes only a couple minutes to make. And it’s my vote that you go with a dark bittersweet chocolate (but not necessarily fancy, I used Ghirardelli chips) for the ganache layer because the bitterness is such a nice counterbalance to all the sweetness and keeps them just on the right side of too much.
Because they are so decadent, you can cut them into tiny squares to share with lots of people, say an NYE party tonight; or you can do as we did and hoard them in your freezer for a first-rate splurge during the clean-eating frenzy that January always is. We have our work cut out for us in 2018, but we can still treat ourselves along the way too.
Brown Butter Layered Brownies, adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe
Serves like a bajillion, they are super rich.
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate (see here for subbing bittersweet chocolate)
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Brown Butter Frosting
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons butter
4 ounces bittersweet, chopped
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9X13-inch aluminum pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Prepare the brownies. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly. In a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the sugar, eggs and salt and mix for 3-4 minutes, until the mixture has lightened in color and is very thick. Fold in the warm (but not hot(!) – test with your pinkie finger) chocolate/butter mixture. Stir in the flour and vanilla extract and mix until well combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth evenly. Rinse and dry the bowl of your stand mixer (or whatever bowl you're using) to use again for the frosting.
Bake the brownies for 25-30 minutes until the sides pull away from the pan just slightly. Remove the from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack (about 1 1/2 hours) or in the fridge (way less time).
Make the browned butter frosting. It is best to not use a non-stick or dark coated pan in this step because it will be difficult to tell when the butter has turned brown. Place the stick of butter in a small saucepan and set it over low heat. Let the butter melt over low heat and turn a caramel brown color, about 15 minutes. Watch carefully so the butter doesn’t burn. Once the little bits have separated from the liquid and have turned a nice medium-brown color, and you can smell the nuttiness when you hover above the pan, remove the pan from the heat. Pour the butter into a medium bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer. Immediately add the powdered sugar, heavy cream and vanilla. Mix until the frosting is smooth and thick. Then, spread the frosting over the cooled brownies.
For the glaze, melt the butter and chocolate together in the microwave or on the stovetop until it is smooth. Let it cool just for a second, long enough that it's no longer piping hot but not long enough to solidify. Pour the glaze over the frosted brownies. Tip the pan from side to side to even out the glaze over the frosting (or carefully spread with a knife or offset spatula). Chill the brownies until the glaze is set and the brownies are chilled through, about 1-2 hours. The brownies are perfect served anywhere from cold to slightly chilled, but are a mess at room temp or warmer.