Monday, February 9, 2015
I made breakfast in barely discernible dawn that would have been darkness a week ago, a waning gibbous moon to the west. Camellia petal snow covers our deck - a haze of pink out the dining room windows.
Alexi and I started dating at this time of year. He’d recently moved to Seattle from Minnesota, and every time we stepped outside he would exclaim, or say in wonderment, often under his breath: “This would never happen in Rochester in February.” The reference might be to crocuses pushing their heads hopefully through the soil, or the warmth of the sun. I’d pause to see what he was noticing and nod in agreement. I did like flowers. Still, I didn’t care much about the weather in my twenties. I didn’t notice the length of the day. The one thing I observed was when the tree in front of my building began to bud, making my view less visible.
Fairly early in our relationship Alexi and I began to set aside Sunday evenings for having dinner at my apartment; we’d cook together, or I’d make something beforehand. I loved spending the end of my weekend at home, and the apartment I lived in then. It had bay windows, crown molding, a clawfoot tub, and glass doorknobs. It was a studio, small but well-arranged, with a separate entryway where I set up my books and desk, a walk-in closet big enough to hold my bed, and another closet where I hung my clothes. No space was wasted. The Space Needle and Elliott Bay, beyond, were just visible through some of my windows; moreso in winter, when the tree out front was bare. Sometimes, I devoted the whole afternoon to preparing the meal; other times I’d start something soaking or braising or simmering and keep an eye on it as I took care of laundry, made phone calls, and did whatever else needed doing. I was also known for making a quick batch of spaghetti and calling it good. Two kids and many years later, my Sunday afternoons haven’t changed that much.
A beautiful new book just came out that reminds me of our Sundays. It’s called Date Night In, full of seasonal menus with accompanying cocktails (!). I’ve been cooking from the book since it came out (the chicken and pumpkin seed posole! The braised lentils!); yesterday I decided to make Ashley’s brownies with peanut butter frosting. You build layers of flavor by first browning the butter and then using a combination of chocolate and cocoa. I frosted the brownies as Alexi grilled steaks for our dinner. When I read Ashley’s stories of intentionality I step back and recognize how my relationship continues to be nourished around the table.
Bittersweet Brownies with Salted Peanut Butter Frosting
from Date Night In by Ashley Rodriguez
I have never tasted better brownies.
¾ cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
3 ounces (90 grams) unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 ½ (300 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup (40 grams) cocoa powder
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons (85 grams) butter, at room temperature
¾ cup (100 grams) smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup (40 grams) confectioners’ sugar
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Grease an 8-inch square pan. Line the pan with parchment paper so that a couple of inches hang over the edge, then grease the parchment.
Place the butter in a medium saucepan and melt it over medium-high heat. Allow the butter to cook until the milk solids bubble up and then settle into the pan and caramelize. Swirl the butter in the pan in order to see the color of the little bits on the bottom. As soon as the milk solids are golden and the butter smells nutty, about 3 to 5 minutes, remove the pan from the heat.
Pour the browned butter into a medium bowl and add the chopped chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute to melt, and then whisk together. Whisk in the sugar and vanilla while the butter mixture is still warm. Stir in the eggs and salt until well blended. Sift in the cocoa powder and flour. Fold the ingredients together until just combined using a spatula.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle pulls out clean. Let cool to room temperature.
For the frosting: With an electric mixer, whip together the butter, peanut butter, and confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl. Continue to mix until everything is well combined and the frosting has lightened in color. Frost the cooled brownies, cut into squares and serve. Brownies can be made 1 to 3 days in advance. The frosting can be made up to 1 week in advance.
Yield: 12 brownies