Week Thirteen and Fourteen: Beer and Cheese and Chocolate. Oh My.

I’ve accepted the fact that a new recipe won’t get made every week. And instead of abandoning the project I’ve decided it’s okay to skip a week as long as I make up for it. Week thirteen and fourteen were thrown together at the last minute on the Sunday night before rehearsal for a new show. Had everyone over for beer and food….some of the beer going into Beer and Cheese Chowder which sounds kind of gross and awesome all at the same time. It turned out to be the second one, thankfully, my only regret being I hadn’t made it in January or February when St. John’s winter is at its very worst. Beginning of April, not so much. It was a warm and sunny evening (as warm and sunny as it can be in St. John’s in early April) and not quite right for one of the richest soups I’ve ever had. But I loved it. Right down in my bones. One of those recipes to make after a day of tobogganing or skiing or doing something cold.

Beer and Cheese Chowder (Makes 6 servings)

5 tbsp butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup chopped carrots
1 1/2 cups small broccoli florets
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups milk
3 oz cream cheese, cut into cubes and at room temperature
1/2 pound (8 oz) cooked Polish sausage, cubed
6 oz (1 1/2 cups) sharp cheddar, shredded
1/2 cup beer, such as lager or light beer

In a medium saucepan, melt one tablespoon of the butter. Add onion, carrots, and broccoli. Sauté over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Add the stock and reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 8 minutes. In a large saucepan, over medium-high heat, melt the remaining 4 tbsp of butter. Stir in the flour, mustard, and pepper. Add the milk, stirring until thickened. Stir for an additional 1-2 minutes. Add the cream cheese and stir until smooth. Stir in the vegetable mixture, sausage, 1 cup of the cheddar cheese, and beer. Heat to serving temperature. Top each serving with remaining cheese.
See what I mean? Ridiculous and decadent. But the beer almost made it lighter with just a hint of fizziness. Enough to make you believe you weren’t eating a pound of cheese. I couldn’t find any cooked Polish sausage at Sobey’s, okay, didn’t really look that hard because in my heart I knew the recipe would be better with Italian sausage that I roasted in the oven first. And it was. I used light beer…Keith’s Light I think? But I’d like to try it again (next winter, but let’s not think about that quite yet) with something a little darker, just to see what will happen. I put all the cheddar in the soup and didn’t save any to sprinkle on top. No need with this one. I doubled the recipe because I was afraid it would be really good and I wouldn’t have enough for everyone. Turns out with the recipe was more than enough and we had heaps of leftovers, even better the next day. Not a soup you’d eat two or three bowls of, but so so good with a big piece of corn bread. And a glass of beer.

A recipe from The Great Big Butter Cookbook (Running Press, 2007). A gift from mom a couple of Christmases ago. Unreal and not recommended by doctors everywhere. Compiled by the Wisconsin Dairy Board (I know, it gets better and better. Butter and butter. heh.) who claim that butter is fine for you in moderation. But we all know better. Only the French can do that.

Keeping with the rich theme, I went with Nigel Slater’s Chocolate Brownies for dessert. I have to give credit to my friend Nell for introducing me to Nigel (his book, not him). We used one of his cookbooks to make a huge meal when I was visiting her in England a couple of years back and I fell in love on the spot. If you love food or even have a mild interest in it, get his book The Kitchen Diaries (Fourth Estate 2005). It will change the way you look at food and make you feel like a chef.

300g golden caster sugar
250g butter
250g chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
3 large eggs, plus 1 extra yolk
60g plain flour
60g cocoa powder (best you can get)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

You will need a baking tin, about 23cm square, preferably non-stick, or a small roasting tin. Set the oven to 180 C. Line the bottom of the baking tin with baking parchment. Put the sugar and butter into the bowl of a food mixer and beat for several minutes, til white and fluffy. You can do this by hand if you have to, but you need to keep going until the mixture is really soft and creamy.

Meanwhile, break the chocolate into pieces, set 50g of it aside and melt the rest in a bowl suspended over, but not touching, a pan of simmering water. As soon as the chocolate is completely melted, remove it from the heat. Chop the remaining 50g into gravel-sized pieces.

Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat them lightly with a fork. Sift together the flour, cocoa, and baking powder and mix in a pinch of salt. With the machine running slowly, introduce the beaten egg a little at a time, speeding up between additions. remove the bowl from the mixer to the work surface and mix in the melted and the chopped chocolate with a large metal spoon. Lastly, fold in the flour and cocoa mixture, gently, firmly, without knocking any of the air out.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smooth the top and bake for thirty minutes. The top will have risen slightly and the cake will appear slightly softer in the middle than around the edges. Pierce the centre of the cake with a fork; it should come out sticky but not with raw mixture attached to it. If it does, then return the brownie to the oven for three more minutes. It is worth remembering that it will solidify a little on cooling, so if it appears a bit wet, don’t worry. Leave to cool for at least an hour before cutting into squares. Enough for twelve.

I’m prone to dramatics and exaggeration when it comes to talking about and writing about food. But I mean this when I say it…if you make these brownies, you will be ruined for life. You will never ever want another brownie. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, no golden caster sugar, no double boiler for the chocolate, no mixer, and god knows my grams to cups conversions were off, and the brownies were perfect. I can’t even fathom them if I did everything Nigel said. The dark chilli chocolate I used added just enough heat, and they were chewy, moist, rich, delicious, blah blah go make them. These do not need to wait for February.

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