brownies for grown-ups

Brownies remind me of being a little kid. I hate milk, so I have no nostalgic memories of enjoying a plate of brownies and a cold glass of milk. That sounds like a good way to ruin a plate of brownies. Even so, the crackly tops and chocolate-y interiors and fighting the good fight for a corner piece (this was before those all-corner brownie pans were around) reminds me of bake sales or classroom birthday parties.

These brownies have nothing to do with those brownies. These brownies grew up, got a job, and became productive members of society. Apparently, I’m expected to do the same at this point in my life. Fortunately, I believe that making brownies for friends does, in fact, make me a productive member of society.

There is no baking chocolate in my grocery store, but I found some unsweetened cocoa powder at Castroni, an international foods store. So began the search for a brownie recipe calling for cocoa powder in place of actual chocolate. I found a recipe over at Smitten Kitchen, but Deb’s pictures didn’t look like the brownies that I’m used to. I made it anyways, because the lady is never wrong, and wowww, I’m going to be making these again.

They are super dense, almost like fudge, but less sweet than any brownie I’ve ever had. In my mind, I have chocolate separated into two categories: sweet and bitter, so because I knew these wouldn’t be that sweet, I figured they would be a little bitter. Not the case. They are just…chocolate. There’s no other word for it.

To ease the transition from childhood to adulthood, I threw a couple of m&ms on top – baby steps, right? As you can see, the brownies have a wonderful dark chocolate color, so the m&ms give a nice splash of brightness, plus an added bit of sweetness to those of us who might still be jonesing for the brownies of yore. White chocolate chips might also make a good addition these, if you really can’t leave well enough alone. Better yet, throw in some liquor, make these really grown-up.

Now for the usual dose of Rome, this the view from Ponte Garibaldi, bridging the gap between the centro storico and the neighborhood of Trastevere. In the background is the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. More pictures of St. Peters to come soon!

I submitted this recipe to the My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats Holiday Recipe Swap sponsored by Scharffen Berger!

Cocoa Brownies recipe (adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet)

  • 9 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Lindt)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, cold
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • m&m candies for decorating

Preheat oven to 325° F. Grease an 8×8” baking pan and set aside.

Combine butter, sugar, cocoa and salt in a medium-sized saucepan. (Note: the original recipe called for heating these in a double-boiler arrangement, but because I had no heatproof bowl, I just heated these ingredients directly over low heat in a saucepan.) Stir until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot. Remove from heat and set aside.

Stir in the vanilla, then add the eggs to the mixture one by one, stirring vigorously upon each addition. Once batter looks smooth and well-blended, add flour and stir until fully incorporated. Transfer batter to baking pan. Top with m&ms.

Bake for 25 – 35 minutes, or until an inserted tester comes out clean. Allow to cool (or freeze) fully before cutting.

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Ferragosto

While its true that August is a general vacation time here, the 15th in particular is the day that Romans close up shop and head for the beach, leaving their fair city in the hands of the ever-present tourists. The 15th of August is called Ferragosto, or Assumption Day. The word “ferragosto” derives from the original name, feriae Augusti, meaning “holidays of [Emperor] Augustus”.

I knew that lots of places would be deserted this past Monday, but I still failed to stock up on Diet Coke (my drug of choice) in anticipation of the closed grocery store. Rookie mistake. Despite the crippling absence of my daily dose of caffeine, I headed out to see what Rome looks like without the Romans.

That is the emptiest you will ever see the Corso Vittorio Emanuele. I took this picture from the middle of the road (hence the looks that I’m choosing to interpret as admiration). Gone are the fashionable, well-dressed locals, and in their place is an abundance of backpack-wearing, camera-wielding tourists, frantically searching their maps, looking for all of the must-see historical attractions.

When confronted with a sign like this, how do you even begin to decide which way to go?

I headed for Piazza Navona, accidentally wound up at the Pantheon, then circled back to the Campo di Fiori, hoping but not really expecting to see the fruit and vegetable vendors. As I suspected, the Campo was similarly deserted and taken over by tourists. No strawberries for me.

When everything is closed, including grocery stores and bakeries, a girl still has to eat, right?

That’s lunch, folks.

p.s. Check out the Weeping Willards, they are kicking off their mini-tour today and I’m sad I can’t go to any of the shows, so I thought I would throw A Little Love their way!

basic lasagna

Rome is home to some of the best food, most beautiful art, and ballsiest pidgeons in the world. I’ve been trying really hard to act like a local, and not be such a tourist, and this involves making a few changes to my normal behavior. I no longer flip out when a pidgeon gets so close to me that I accidentally kick it. I now walk boldly into oncoming traffic, crossing my fingers that cars and scooters will screech to a halt. Roman drivers, if transplanted into some other part of the world, would probably be promptly admitted into a facility for treatment of the psychotic and sociopathic, but nevertheless, streets must be crossed.

Part of being a local also involves cooking for myself in my “kitchen” (pictures to come soon). I think it will be a long time before I tire of eating pasta (if ever), but so far I had been going the easy route, boiling pasta and using store-bought sauce. A few nights ago I decided to step up my game, and tackle something new while still satisfying my pasta craving. I was in the store and noticed lasagna sheets, and I grabbed them. I also picked up some fresh mozzarella, and headed for the canned tomatoes. After scowling at all the various forms of canned tomatoes on the shelf for 10 minutes, I decided on the whole, peeled tomatoes. I think that next time I would use the canned, diced tomatoes, because that would probably speed up the sauce-making process a little bit, but anything would probably work. One white onion completed the list, and I had everything I needed for a delicious, simple lasagna.

The key to really delicious tomato sauce is simplicity – this is something the Italians really understand. There is no need to overload a sauce with spices, however tempting it may be. In this sauce, I started by melting a teaspoon or so of butter, sprinkling in a tiny pinch of crushed red peppers, and a tiny pinch of dried rosemary. Next, I added a quarter of the onion – there is no need to chop the onion further, because its only job is to give flavor while the sauce is cooking, then it gets thrown out. Then the tomatoes get thrown in, along with salt to taste, and from here on out its a waiting game. Because I used whole tomatoes, it took a while for them to break down completely. All you have to do is stir occasionally, and listen to the sauce gurgling happily on the stove while you clean your room for the love of god, your mother would be horrified.

Once the sauce is ready, just start layering. Oh, a note about the cheese. I don’t like really cheesy lasagna, because there is probably something wrong with me, so I nixed the ricotta and decided to use only mozzarella instead. Like I said earlier, I bought fresh mozzarella. Once I opened it up, I realized that the heavy moisture content of the cheese might result in a watery finished product, so I sliced it up and pressed it between two paper towels. This worked really well, and I think the fresh mozzarella adds a nicer taste than the pre-shredded stuff we use at home. Layer the lasagna however you like; I usually start and end with a sauce layer (and then cheese on top), but whatever you do in between is your own business. Like I said, I opted to keep this simple, but next time I’m going to throw in some spinach and maybe some zucchini too.

I am submitting this recipe to Presto Pasta Nights, hosted this week by Simona of Briciole!

Tomato Sauce Recipe

  • 2 cans whole, peeled tomatoes
  • 1-2 tsp butter
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 pinch dried rosemary
  • 1 quarter of a white onion
  • Salt to taste

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add spices and onion and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Add tomatoes and stir. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. The longer you let the sauce simmer, the thicker it will get. 

Lasagna Assembly

Start with a light layer of sauce. Add lasagna noodle. More sauce. Some cheese. Another noodle. Continue in this fashion, ending with a layer of sauce and cheese. Bake at 325° for 30 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling.

Tucci on Piazza Navona

One of the most popular tourist spots in Rome, Piazza Navona is an elliptical square that is home to street artists, painters, a breakdance crew (is that the right word? posse??), and Gianlorenzo Bernini’s towering homage to four rivers that gave rise to widespread civilizations. The Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) was designed in 1651, and represents the Nile, the Danube, the Ganges and the Plate. A little wikipedia-ing will tell you that these four rivers were chosen because they represented the four continents through which the papacy had spread at that time (Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas). The fountain is pretty magnificent itself, but the Italians do nothing subtly, and thus the whole thing is topped off with huge Egyptian obelisk.

All along the perimeter of the piazza are a variety of restaurants and gelaterias, with plenty of outdoor seating so that no one need choose between feasting their eyes or their stomach. We sat down at a place called Tucci, and spent our meal watching the people passing by, a little girl chasing a pidgeon, and listening to a woman singing a barely audible succession of popular American songs.

I’m a little bit behind in posting about this restaurant, and unfortunately I don’t remember exactly what kind of fish my mom ordered, only that it came with potatoes, artichokes and cherry tomatoes, and that it was so very delicious. Our waiter brought the entire fish to our table and proceeded to remove the head and scales, and then (using only a spoon and a fork) delicately pulled out the skeleton and presented the dish with a little extra drizzle of olive oil.

And as far as seasonings go, this fish had some salt, some olive oil, and that was it. Completely simple, but so fresh and so yummy – perfect with all the trimmings on the side.

This is not a good picture of my shrimp risotto. I was way too hungry to take a decent picture. I committed it to film, and at the time that was good enough. I really love risotto, and this one was full of shrimpy goodness, and creamy without being too rich. The rice was also perfectly cooked – overcooked risotto is always a disappointing, mushy situation. There isn’t a whole lot else to say about this dish, except that I would definitely order it again.

As I said earlier, Piazza Navona is a popular tourist spot, and as a result, police cars frequently patrol the area. Since I was already in tourist-mode, taking a thousand pictures of my mom’s fish dinner, I decided to snap some shots of the police cars as they drove by. This is how I wound up with these two pictures: