Chile-Chocolate Brownies

September 19, 2011

My 10 year old daughter Clara has become quite the baker. She’s always surprising me with cookies, breads, muffins, and lately, even pies. But one of her favorite things to bake is also one of the easiest: brownies. She’s been making brownies for years, and she occasionally looks for a new variation on the tried and true standard chewy chocolate version that our family prefers.

Well, do I have a great variation for you: Chile-Chocolate Brownies from Sandra Gutierrez’s new cookbook, The New Southern-Latino Table. (It’s funny, but I’ve never met Sandra, but I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told, “Oh, you two should really meet!” Even now, after receiving a complementary copy of her new book, we still haven’t met. Time to fix that!)

But back to these brownies. I recently read a local magazine’s take on this rich, dense and moist brownies, which combines two different types of chile powder, one in the brownie itself and a spicier, smokier chipotle for the glaze. This magazine said that if you’re making these brownies for kids, leave out the chile powder. Leave out the chile powder? Are you completely out of your mind??? Yes, this recipe would make a very nice brownie without the spice, but it would still be relatively ordinary. It’s the chile powder that makes this dish something special, something unusual, something truly memorable. And the amount of heat is really not that great. We had a bunch of kids trying these brownies, and they all loved them. Were they a bit spicy? Yup. But combined with the sweetness and all that chocolatey richness, it was a perfect combination. So please, try making these brownies, just the way Sandra intended you to (although you can leave out the nuts, if so desired — we did). But do not leave out the chile powders — it’s all the difference between a good brownie and a kick-ass one.

And the recipe is so simple, even a 10-year old can make it!

The recipe below comes directly from Sandra’s cookbook. We made just two minor variations. First, we did not include the pecans. We wanted a nut-free version. Second, rather than melting chocolate in a double boiler, we did our standard operation of combining the butter and the chocolate in a large Pyrex measuring cup, and melting it in a microwave, thirty seconds at a time, stirring after each cycle. If you’re wondering where to find the chile powders, check out a Latino store, but I was lucky enough to find both types at my neighborhood Whole Foods.

Chile-Chocolate Brownies

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ancho chile powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped and toasted pecans (optional)

For the glaze:

  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon coffee-flavored liqueur
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter a 9x9x2-inch baking pan.

Place the butter and chocolate in the top of a double boiler and heat over low heat, stirring occasionally, until they have melted and are well combined. Lift the bowl carefully from the pan so no water droplets come into contact with the chocolate mixture; let cool for 5 minutes and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the sugar; add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; stir in the vanilla. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ancho chile powder, and salt; gradually add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture, beating well until fully combined. Add the pecans. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the center is set and the brownies begin to pull back from the sides of the pan. Cool brownies for 1 hour in the pan.

To make the glaze: in a medium bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, butter, liqueur, vanilla, and chile powder; blend until smooth. Place the glaze in a pastry bag (or zip-top bag with a snipped corner), and drizzle back and forth over the brownies.

Cut them into 20 bars.

Makes 20 brownies


Note: This post is part of the New Southern-Latino Table Dinner Party!


Cookbook Etiquette

December 10, 2010

Let me preface this post by saying that it is not a rant.  I am not complaining.  I’m just somewhat confused.

Here’s the story.

In November of 2008, I received an email from a friend who’s in the food industry.  Here’s what the email said:

I’m working on a project and am asking my food savvy friends for help. I am
searching for recipes for a few specific dishes, with these caveats:

1. the recipes must be authentically Southern, although appropriate updates
and variations are fine
2. they must be from unsung cooking hero home cooks, although recipes that
wound up in restaurants and diners are fine if they originated at home
3. the cook must be willing to talk to me and share the recipe and the back

I responded that I might be able to help, and she later wrote that she was working for Molly O’Neill on a “big cookbook project.”  Frankly, I didn’t even notice that comment.  I talked to my friend for about 15 minutes, and then I gave her links to two recipes on my blog, recipes that I had made many times and which were well-received.  That’s the last I heard of this; in fact, I totally forgot about it.

In early November, Andrea Weigl of the News & Observer posted this on Twitter: “Congrats to @VarmintBites, Kavanah and Gabe for their recipes appearing in @onebigtable.”  I had no idea what she was talking about.  I didn’t know what @onebigtable was.  After a couple of messages back and forth, I learned that I had two recipes prominently featured in Molly O’Neill’s new cookbook, “One Big Table.”  Needless to say, I was excited, but I had no clue what those recipes were and how they made it into Ms. O’Neill’s book.  I learned that the recipes were for my Strawberry Shortcake for a Crowd and for the Four Berry Cobbler that I’ve made many times.  Through the power of Gmail archiving, I realized then that it was through my friend, two years earlier, that these recipes made it into Ms. O’Neill’s book.  When Andrea Weigl showed me the book, and how well done it was, I was extremely proud and tickled.

But then, the lawyer part of me started thinking, and this is what this post is about.  Yes, I shared those recipes with my friend, but that’s all I did.  Ms. O’Neill never contacted me.  No one from the publisher contacted me.  No release.  No forms.  Not even a “head’s up” or a thank you.  This may simply be a type of journalism where authorization is not needed, but shouldn’t there be some approval process prior to publication?  If not, shouldn’t there at least be some form of acknowledgment?

I am not complaining, as once again, I’m very appreciative of having not one, but two, recipes included in this marvelous book (yes, I’ll be giving copies for Christmas, although Amazon only let me buy 3 copies).  It’s cool to have your name and recipes featured in such a work.  And let me be clear, this was not a case of Ms. O’Neill lifting these recipes from my blog without my permission.  I readily suggested these two recipes to my friend two years ago, but I certainly didn’t think they were worthy of publication.  Was that act on my part sufficient to move forward with publishing the recipes and my comments?

In the end, what is the appropriate process here?  If not legally required, should etiquette have demanded some follow-up from the publisher?  Help me here, those of you in the cookbook industry!

Creamed Corn: Simplest Recipe in the World

December 7, 2010

Damn iPhone images stink!

One of the favorite dishes in the McCord residence is creamed corn.  No, not that crap from a can — freshly made creamed corn, with kernels freshly cut from the cob.  It’s a dish I make fairly frequently, and it’s good in the summer with local corn and in the winter with Florida corn.  The corn infuses the cream with its sweetness, and the cream holds it all together.  It goes well with just about anything.

And the best part of all is that  it’s so damn simple!  It’s so easy that I’m not going to give you a real recipe; I’m just going to tell you what to do.

  1. Shuck the corn and cut kernels from cob.  Scrape cobs with back of knife into corn dish.  (TIP: Put a clean kitchen towel over your cutting board.  The kernels won’t bounce away as much with a naked cutting board.)
  2. Melt some unsalted butter in a skillet.
  3. Add corn and the goodness scraped.
  4. Cook over medium heat until it starts to brown.
  5. Add some cream to bring it together.  You want enough cream so the corn cooks in the cream, rather than the cream just evaporating away.
  6. Cook until somewhat thick.  There will still be some residual cream, but it’s all good.
  7. Salt and pepper to taste.  Some freshly ground nutmeg is killer.
  8. Devour.

Really, that’s a lot of steps for something that’s as simple as this:  Brown corn in melted butter.  Add cream, cook, season.

You’ll thank me for this dish, and you can even add it to your Christmas dinner.  And for you lazy folks out there, Whole Foods often sells corn that has been freshly cut from the cob.  It’s not as good, as you don’t get the cob scrapings, but it’s still pretty damn tasty.  Regardless, you’ll put thoughts of the Del Monte Creamed Corn far behind you — just where it belongs.

I Could Like this High-Tech Stovetop

August 27, 2010

The William Stovetop has just about all the features, and the control, that any home cook would want.  If this thing could crank out the BTUs and is easy to clean, I could see having this in my home.  The data that the unit offers is very cool, as it the basic concept.  It’s just a prototype right now, unfortunately.

Interactive Dinner Party — Southern Style

August 6, 2010

As I’ve previously written, my wife and I host an interactive dinner party for my law firm each summer.  The primary purpose of this party is to ensure that everyone in attendance plays some role in the production of the dinner, whether it’s prepping, plating, busing, or shaking cocktails.  That way, we put people in situations that are a bit different from our office environment, such as when a first year associate is telling our managing partner that he’s screwing up the composition of the plate.  It’s a multi-course affair, and with the exception of one year when I did Louisiana-inspired food, I’ve made Italian fare.  That’s because Italian is easy, particularly for a big crowd.

This year, however, I’m doing something different — Southern food.  Some of my chef friends gave me some ideas for dishes, and then I got other inspirations from items that are fresh at the market.  Here’s my tentative menu (the dinner is on the 14th), listing who provided or inspired the idea.  If no one is listed, then I’ve sort of pulled that one together from multiple sources.  I’d appreciate comments and suggestions, particularly if there’s a way to make it easier on myself.  There will be 34 guests this year.  Eek!


Blackberry Collins –Vodka infused with Lyon Farms Blackberries, House-made Sour, Club Soda  (inspired by Karen Barker of Magnolia Grill, but I’m likely using this for the SFA Potluck on Monday) -OR-

Whiskey Barrel Punch — Bourbon, pomegranate, lemon, Angostora bitters, sparkling wine

Hors d’Ouevres

Smoked deviled eggs with trout caviar – Ashley Christensen, Poole’s Diner, Raleigh, NC

Country ham and cheddar pretzel bites – Edward Lee, 610 Magnolia, Louisville, KY


Roasted Figs, Celebrity Dairy Goat Cheese, Allan Benton’s aged country ham

Green tomato soup with lump crab, Benton’s bacon and tomato relish – Ben Barker, Magnolia Grill, Durham, NC

Creamed Collard and goat cheese ravioli with smoked turkey consommé– John Currence, City Grocery, Oxford, MS

Shrimp n’ corn – NC Shrimp with creamed corn, duck cracklins, okra

Lamb Loin, Pink Eye Pea and Zucchini Salad, Tomato-mint jam


Brown sugar pound cake with roasted peaches and molasses crème fraiche – Karen Barker, Magnolia Grill, Durham, NC

I may throw in an intermezzo course of a slice of watermelon with heirloom tomato and some Pheta from Chapel Hill Creamery, inspired by Bill Smith’s great salad at Crook’s Corner.

Things I Don’t Get

July 1, 2010

I’m about to lose some credibility as a foodie/gourmet/gastronome/whatevertermiscurrentlyinvogue, but I have a confession to make: There are a small number of foods that I really don’t love or fully appreciate.  Foods that some people think are the best in the world, but to me, they’re just OK.  This came to me last night when I had two gorgeous green tomatoes that just came off the vine.  I sliced them thickly, soaked them in buttermilk with some green Tabasco, then dredged in cornmeal with salt and pepper.  I fried them quickly in a skillet until a rich golden brown.  I dug in and, just like every single fried green tomato I’ve previously eaten, they were fine.  Just fine.  Nothing all that special to me, and certainly nothing close to an “Oh my god, this is so good” moment.

I don’t get fried green tomatoes.  And before you tell me, “Oh, you haven’t had mine” or “You need to try so-and-so’s,” let me remind you that I’ve had fried green tomatoes dozens of times from dozens of places.  I always allowed to get myself excited by the hype, and I tried to convince myself that they were fantastic.  But they were just OK.  Nothing all that special, but certainly a good way to get rid of the end-of-season green tomatoes (although making soup out of them is a far better thing to do).

And then I realized that there are other food items that I enjoy just fine, but they’re nowhere nearly as exciting as what others proclaim.

Exhibit B: Soft shell crab.  I first have to admit that I am a soft shell crab neophyte.  I’ve had it before, but I hadn’t even eaten an entire soft shell crab until about a month ago.  It was cooked by Ashley Christensen, whom you all know as my favorite chef in the area.  And I enjoyed it.  But as I was eating it, I was also thinking, “Boy, I would love to have some blue crab or dungeness. ”  I understand that  soft shell crabs are different, in flavor, texture and how they’re cooked, and they’re more sought after because they’re available for only a limited time.  But to me, they’re not so good to cause me to groan in a food-gasm.

Exhibit C:  Fiddlehead ferns.  They have a fine flavor, but again, I suspect these are so desirable because they’re available only for a limited amount of time and they are a harbinger of spring.

Now there are some transient foods that I do get, and how.  Morels are at the top of the list.  As are truffles.  I really like ramps.  And the first of the season’s asparagus.  The height of the summer peach season sees me looking like a fool, with peach juices constantly dripping down my chin.

I obviously haven’t thought long enough to come up with other foods I don’t get, but I’m sure there are plenty.  I just don’t like calf liver, but that’s another story altogether.  What don’t you get?

Beurre Fondue — The Medium for Spring

April 27, 2010

When spring rolls around, I think of asparagus and ramps and morels.  But I also think of butter.  Lots and lots of wonderful butter, but not in the way you might suspect.  I think of beurre fondue, the butter and water emulsion that I prefer to use to cook these wonderful spring goodies.

You may not have heard of beurre fondue unless you’re a culinary school grad or a food geek, but you know about it if you’ve ever heard the term “butter poached.”  This is what Thomas Keller uses to butter poach his lobster, although I think he uses a slightly more concentrated form of emulsion.  He calls it beurre monte’, but I really can’t figure out if there’s any difference between these butter sauces.

Regardless, I first learned about beurre fondue 10 years ago when Tom Colicchio’s first book, Think Like a Chef, came out.  This is one of my all-time favorite cooking books, as so much of it focuses on technique, flavor profiles, and other culinary basics.  Beurre fondue is just butter that has been emulsified into boiling water.  The technique is simple: Get about half to 3/4 of an inch of water boiling in a small saucepan. Whisk in unsalted butter about a tablespoon at a time. Continue adding the butter until you’ve added anywhere from 12 to 16 tablespoons. If droplets begin to form, add a bit more water, as that’s a sign you’ve evaporated too much water.

Now, take some asparagus, peas, fish, mushrooms, whatever and poach it at a very gentle simmer in this ultra-rich sauce (transfer it to a wider skillet). You’ll end up with the most delicious, decadent (but seemingly light) dish you can imagine.

Some folks par-cook their food first and finish it in the beurre fondue, but I love to cook it from beginning to end.   I particularly like to cook morels in this sauce, as the final flavor is heavenly.  I recently made a dish of mahi-mahi with morels, shallots and local asparagus, with all the vegetables cooked in the beurre fondue.  I served the dish in shallow bowls, making sure there was plenty of the butter sauce to go around.  It was spring on a plate and one of the best tasting things I’ve ever made.