I’m in a book club. It’s a local group of ladies who invited me to join them last fall, and I’ve had the most fun getting to know them and reading books together. Last weekend, I hosted our Book Chat when we had just finished reading Jodi Picoult’s Leaving Time, a murder mystery that takes place at an elephant sanctuary, very similar to the impressive and incredible Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee (http://www.elephants.com/elecam/ ). Since I’m fairly enamored with elephants and their family bonds, human-like comprehension, and cognition, I was happy to host this one.
|Photo by Maggie Kapustin|
I love themes too, and a book about elephants afforded me the opportunity to center all of our book club snacks around stereotypical elephant favorites, like nuts and fruits. First, I needed wine, and I wanted a good wine with elephants on the label—a tall order, I knew. I fully recognized that this strange request was very possibly not available in local stores. Nevertheless, anytime I need a special bottle of anything, I call only one place: North Ridge Wine and Spirits, in Ellicott City, Maryland. Our good friend, Brad, is the co-owner of the family-operated business, and he knows his wine. I absolutely love the fact that I can call Brad with a question or request, and he always finds the answer I need. In fact, just to further prove the point to myself, after I called him and he recommended a red wine blend called Petite Petit, I called three other wine stores in the area. I asked the employees the same questions that I asked Brad, and not one of them knew their inventory or where to look for my obscure request. As a customer, I cannot praise Brad and the North Ridge Wine team enough. If you live in the area, it’s the only place you should be shopping.
With wine accounted-for, I moved on to the menu. We usually meet just before the supper hour, so hors-d’oeuvres are generally sufficient. Although the recipe I’m sharing here today is for peanut butter brownies, I chose to make the cucumber-watermelon-feta salad I showcased on Day 76 of this blog as well as tea sandwiches filled with the curry chicken salad from Day 35. If you’re interested in searching back, have a go; both additions to the table were successful. The peanut butter brownies are Ina Garten’s recipe, but I made them in two spring-form pans for a slightly fancier presentation. These brownies are incredible. That being said, I should add that, if in a pinch, you could always make a similar-but-not-quite-as-luxurious brownie by buying Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie mix and making it according to the package directions except to add 1 heaping teaspoon of instant coffee, one teaspoon of vanilla, and ½ tsp. of cinnamon to the batter. Bake as directed, allow to cool, then cover with chocolate peanut butter spread and chopped salted peanuts.
Ina’s is definitely better, though, so give it a try. Bon Appétit!
Here’s the link for the recipe I used, but, unlike Ina’s recipe, I chose to cover the top of the brownies with chocolate peanut butter spread (found on peanut butter aisle of market, next to Nutella) and to sprinkle them with salted and cocoa-dusted peanuts.
And, one last thing: if you’re interested in elephants and would like to watch the heart-warming story of an injured elephant named Shirley who was relocated to the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary years ago, click here. You’ll be glad you did. You’ll also get to meet her kind and gentle caretaker, Solomon James, whom you’ll adore right away. Have tissues at the ready. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0Z_vRYQ_Sg
Ina Garten’s Peanut Swirl Brownies
1 pound unsalted butter
1 pound plus 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips, divided
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons instant coffee granules
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 12 by 18 by 1½ -inch sheet pan.
Melt together the butter, 1 pound of chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water. Allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.
In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup of flour, the baking powder, and salt. Add to the cooled chocolate mixture. Toss the remaining 12 ounces of chocolate chips in a medium bowl with 1/4 cup of flour, then add them to the chocolate batter. Pour into the prepared sheet pan. Spoon the peanut butter over the top of the chocolate mixture and using a knife, swirl it through the chocolate mixture.
Bake for 20 minutes, then rap the baking sheet against the oven shelf to force the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes more or until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake! Allow to cool thoroughly, refrigerate, and cut into large squares.