Over the holidays we went to my brother-in-law's house for dinner. He's a pretty good cook for a guy, but I always feel kind of guilty the way the whole family just converges on him. It's a lot of work, having the whole crew to dinner, so I always offer to help. He usually turns me down, but this year he relented and said I could bring a side dish.
A side dish? I know side dishes are a key part of any holiday meal, but they're side dishes. That means they're to the side of the main course, and, of course, they're to the side of the dessert too.
Not to worry. I made my side dish and it was delicious. What could be bad when you combine potatoes, fennel and a whole lot of gruyere cheese? In fact, my potato fennel gratin was downright decadent, in a side dishy kind of way. It was so good that I've included the recipe just as an added bonus.
I had been longing (okay, longing is probably an overstatement), to make sea salt brownies. I had initially planned to play around with Ina's Outrageous Brownies, but a stop at Mon Aimee Chocolat yielded more than just chocolate.
The lovely ladies of Mon Aimee gave me their favorite brownie recipe, one that features the use of 100% dutch process cocoa. What could be better? I left the shop with a boat load of chocolate and a plan.
The great thing about brownies is that they're easy and really just rely on using delicious ingredients. This recipe for sea salt brownies is no exception. They mix up in a jiffy, and they're so easy to make you could throw a batch into the oven in just a couple of minutes. In fact, besides using top notch ingredients, the hardest part of this recipe is making sure you cut them into equal sized squares.
So, while you may all be battling through your New year's resolution to lose 5 pounds, tuck this recipe away for Valentine's Day. It's not that far off and by then you may be in the mood to show off.
Recipe: Mon Aimee Chocolat Sea Salt Brownies
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped (suggested Oban chocolate)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened dutch process cocoa (suggested Cacao Rouge cocoa)
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoons flaked sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Line a 9 inch metal pan with foil draping over the edges. Lightly butter the foil.
In a saucepan, melt the butter with the unsweetened chocolate. Pour the chocolate mixture into a large bowl. One ingredient at a time, whisk in the cocoa powder, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and flour. Combine until smooth and shiny.
Pour into the prepared pan and sprinkle the sea salt evenly over the mixture.
Bake in the center of the oven for 35 minutes. Center will be a bit soft. Let the brownies cool in the pan for at least an hour. Then refrigerate for at least another hour, until the center is firm. Peel off the foil and cut into 16 equal sized squares.
Recipe: Potato-Fennel Gratin
(The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, 1999)
2 small fennel bulbs
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 pounds russet potatoes (4 large potatoes)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 1/2 cups grated Gruyère cheese (1/2 pound)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter the inside of a 10-by-15-by-2-inch (10-cup) baking dish.
Remove the stalks from the fennel and cut the bulbs in half lengthwise. Remove the cores and thinly slice the bulbs crosswise, making approximately 4 cups of sliced fennel. Saute the fennel and onions in the olive oil and butter on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, until tender.
Peel the potatoes, then thinly slice them by hand or with a mandoline. Mix the sliced potatoes in a large bowl with 2 cups of cream, 2 cups of Gruyère, salt, and pepper. Add the sauteed fennel and onion and mix well.
Pour the potatoes into the baking dish. Press down to smooth the potatoes. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream and 1/2 cup of Gruyère and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned and bubbly. Allow to set for 10 minutes and serve.