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In my family, like many, we show love through food.  My dad always has big plans for dinner anytime one of us kids come home.  My sister and brother and I swap food as gifts usually.  My brother gives me  home canned tuna, frozen salmon, and elk jerky – all of which he has caught himself and done the processing.  I bring my sister gluten-free treats from Portland, and she gives me tea or apple butter or something gluten-filled that she can enjoy vicariously through me.

I’ve carried on this tradition, so that a holiday or birthday for me is about the food.  What should I make you?  Where should we go out to eat?  One of my Valentine’s traditions has become this recipe – Grace Neill’s Chocolate and Guinness Brownies.  I began making this recipe when I first started dating my fellow, after he pointed it out to me in that week’s Food Day (2003 by the way, wow, how time flies!).

What else could say love like chocolate + beer?

Wanting to please him,  I decided to surprise him with this treat one night.  After eagerly pulling them from the oven, I thought they needed a prettier presentation, so I proceeded to turn the pan out onto a plate.  Uh, yeah, I wouldn’t try that with this recipe.  The brownies split open and a thick stream of chocolate oozed over the plate, like a volcanic eruption.  Luckily my fellow pointed out they were still chocolate and still perfectly edible, despite appearances.

So, since V-Day has come and gone, I thought what could be more perfect than to share my favorite Irish-themed recipe in honor of St Patrick’s Day, the day when everyone gets to be Irish.  Who knows, maybe this weekend, you’ll find yourself with a leftover can or bottle of Guinness knocking around the fridge?

The name of this recipe, too, is a little inaccurate.  It creates what technically is a brownie, but (as my explosion incident may illustrate), they are more like a cross between fudge and a flourless chocolate cake.  Very moist, and they may still slightly quiver softly in the middle upon removal from the oven.  Don’t even start to add up how much chocolate is in this – it’s a lot.  Drown out that noise by finishing off the remainder of the bottle of Guinness (1 1/4 cups is about 1/2 a bottle).  Oh, and vanilla ice cream is highly recommended as a partner.

Grace Neill’s Chocolate and Guinness Brownies
*Adapted from Food Day in the Oregonian,Best Recipes of  2003 – a note on the recipe says the recipe comes from Grace Neill’s, listed in the Guinness (appropriately!) Book of World Records as the oldest bar in Ireland.
4 eggs
3/4 cup superfine sugar (regular sugar has always worked)
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/4 cup of Guinness stout

Preheat oven to 375, and grease an 8-inch square pan.

Beat eggs and sugar with a mixer till light and fluffy.  In a medium saucepan on medium heat, melt chocolates and butter, stirring until smooth.  Remove from heat and beat into egg mix.

Sift flour and cocoa together, then add to chocolate mix.  Whisk in Guinness – it may look funny at first, but hang tight.

Pour into pan,  and bake 20-25 minutes (I think it’s closer to 25 min in my oven).  The recipe claims till a skewer comes out clean.  I generally go by when the center has very little wiggle left and the edges are done & pulling away.  It will firm up a teeny bit as it cools.

Sorry no photo, but they were distractedly devoured over the Valentine weekend last month in a mad rush of deliciousness.

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In early December, a piece in the Oregonian’s A & E section about places in Portland serving fancy hot chocolate drinks caught my eye.  It named a few places I was familiar with already such as Cacao (great chocolate drinks & addictive 50 cent salted caramels by their register – hello, storefront by the Heathman!) and Pix Patisserie.  I noted one I had to yet to try – Alma Chocolate – located in one of my favorite neighborhoods I’ve lived in Portland along the restaurant row of NE 28th and Burnside.   Mmm… fancy hot chocolate on a gray Portland winter day, yes please!

I had the luck to enter a drawing while waiting for my drink, and the even better luck to actually win!  I was quite shocked to get a message on my cell phone one Sunday in January summoning me to pick up my prize bag, with the instructions that today was best to claim my prize, as something about “fresh cookies being baked.”

Needless to say, we fit that into our errands for the day and arrived at Alma at the same time as the other drawing winner.   We went through swift negotiations that would impress the U.N. as we determined that I would take the “salty/smoky” bag and she would take the “spicy” bag.  Okay, there wasn’t much to negotiate over – either way, we were going home with a bag of loot, chocolate loot.

Alma bag contents

Contents of my bag from Alma Chocolate

I was quite stunned actually at my winnings and mumbling something that hopefully sounded like “thanks” as I high-tailed it out of there, before they could decide they’d made a mistake.  Once safely in the car, I delved into my findings and felt giddy like a contestant on the Price is Right.  I had about a 1/2 dozen fresh cookies (one of each kind offered that day), 3 packages of various chocolate barks, a small bag of tea, and a jar of Alma’s housemade caramel sauce, all with a salty or smoky tea theme.

Alma cookies

My share of the Alma cookies

Once home, cookies were sampled with our afternoon tea.  It gets a little fuzzy here as let’s be honest, we basically gobbled them up, but let’s just say they were good!  In particular, I believe it was a salted peanut butter chunk one that made me especially pleased.  The size of the cookies was just right – I split each with my fellow and still had a good taste of each.  They weren’t over-sized either – which means you can easily try a few at a time, an option I always like as I like to try everything!

Over the next few weeks, I rationed out my prize, nibbling little chunks of the various bars:

*Salted Nutty Toffee Mini Bar – a small candy bar of dark chocolate speckled on top with crunchy chunks of nuts & toffee & sea salt

*Pistachio Toffee – a layer of thin dark chocolate sandwiched onto crunchy toffee thick with pistachios

*Salted Peanut Milk Chocolate Bark – my favorite of all three – the chocolate in this one had a slight peanut buttery taste, like a really excellent Reese’s Peanut Butter cup

So I’m trying to be critical here, but I really found little fault in any of the items.  To me, there are few combos more divine than chocolate + salt. This bag of treats has only made me more excited to return and sample more of their items, especially their truffles.  Some of their goods like the chocolate icons gilded in 23k edible gold leaf are amazing to look at, and they also do fun seasonal shapes like owls or Day of the Dead skeletons.

As an added bonus, my Chinook book (I keep mentioning this book, as it’s got some awesome deals at local businesses) has a coupon for a free truffle with purchase of a drink.  Uh, twist my arm?

I have two items left in my bag o’goodies – a small baggie of bulk lapsang souchong tea and lapsang souchong caramel sauce.  The sauce’s first ingredient is cream, followed by sweeteners and butter — I think this will be to my liking!

The only dilemma is what to serve it on, besides spooning it straight of the jar.  Vanilla ice cream seems obvious, but I am also think it might be nice drizzled over some roasted pears or a simple cake of some sort.  Ideas, anyone?

I’ll share in my next post a surprising use for the lapsang souchong tea.

Essential Details:

Alma Chocolate
140 NE 28th Ave
Portland, OR 97232
www.almachocolate.com
There is an online store if you don’t live in PDX, but if you are one of the lucky ones, current hours of their shop are Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11am-4pm

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