Okay, okay, I planned an update much sooner than this. So very much has happened, and I'm happy to say a lot of really great things have developed. First and foremost, I finished my Master's thesis and officially graduated! Hooray!
I cannot describe in words how amazing it feels to have the thesis monkey off of my back. Although the project will continue following some lessons learned along the way, it feels amazing to know that I have something tangible from my efforts and that I could go out there and get a job. I will be continuing on in the PhD program, so I will not be seeking employment for another two years... but at least I know call center work is no longer in my future.
Why did it take so long again? Oh yeah, it weighs 2 lbs 10 oz (that's over 140 pages)!
I also had the opportunity to teach my very own course this summer, which was a great experience. In my field, a bit more than half of us work "in the field" and the rest remain within academia. I have not decided for sure which way I will go, but teaching a course gave me a good dose of what to expect as an academic. We also had some restructuring in the lab and some really exciting new projects have come my way post-thesis.
Of course, all work and no play makes Jill a dull girl and you can be sure I have been cooking, baking, thrift store-scouring, reading, etc. these last few months, too! Why haven't I shared these adventures with you? Well, back in March our camera decided that from here on out, it would only take pictures like this:
Which would be amazing if I kept a surreal horror blog. We tried a few things to get it working again, but the long and short of it is our camera bit the dust. Unfortunately, our grad student budget doesn't really allow for a new camera and after some unexpected expenses popped up (as they always do, at the worst possible time) a camera just wasn't in the cards in the foreseeable future. I frowned, but decided to be patient... like maybe-after-Christmas-patient.
Then recently, I realized I still had my old camera from college. It is clunky, only holds 32 photos, uses regular batteries, has been around for nearly a decade, and is devoid of most bells and whistles. But it works!
In celebration, I am giving you the culinary equivalent of a sigh of relief. This is comfort food, yes, but the kind you can whip up then stash in the fridge or the freezer to give you a little pick-me-up for many dreary or draining days to come. I am talking about classic American brownies.
These brownies are wonderful the way they are-- fudgy with a crinkly top and full of rich, chocolate flavor, just the way my husband likes them. However, they are also a great base for adding nuts and chocolate bits to add plenty of interest and texture, just the way I like my brownies.
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, March & April 2004
Makes 24 two-inch square brownies
Note:At the end of step 3, feel free to fold in 1 cup of chopped, toasted walnuts and/or 1 cup of chocolate chips, dusted lightly with flour (if you skip the flour dusting, the chips will sink). Also, be sure to really test the brownies. Mine required about 45 minutes until I had just a few moist crumbs on my tester, but do start checking early and really make sure just a few crumbs cling! The goal is fudgy, not gummy or cakey.
1 1/4 cups (5 oz) cake flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped (use the good stuff here, I like Valrhona)
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
2 1/4 cups (15 3/4 oz) sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1.Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and place a rack in the middle position. Line a 9"x13" baking dish like so: cut an 18" piece of foil, fold lengthwise to 8" width and fit it into the length of the pan; cut a 14" length of foil and fit it into the with of the pan, perpendicular to the first sheet. Be sure to press the foil down into the corners and spray the pan with nonstick spray. This is your insurance against sticking, so don't skip this step! You'll be glad you did it when it's time to cut the brownies.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
3.Set a large, heatproof bowl over a pan of just barely simmering water. Melt the chocolate and butter together in the bowl, stirring occasionally until it is completely smooth. Remove the bowl from the pan and slowly whisk in the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking thoroughly after each addition. Whisk in the vanilla. In three additions, fold in the flour mixture until the batter is completely smooth (i.e. no little pockets or lumps of flour).
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading the batter into the corners and smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center has just a few moist crumbs attached, rotating the pan halfway through, 35-45 minutes. Start checking at 30 minutes to be sure you do not overbake the brownies. Cool on a wire rack for 2 hours (about room temperature). Once cooled, lift the brownies out of the pan using the foil overhang. Cut the brownies into two-inch squares and serve (alternately, keep them in the fridge for about a week or the freezer up to 3 months).
Be warned: they are extra delicious with a cup of strong coffee. I've had this french press for a few years, courtesy of my father-in-law who knows I love a good cup of coffee, but only taught myself how to use it recently. If you have one languishing in your closet, I highly encourage you to dig it out and give it a try-- it makes a perfect coffee break for one on a hectic afternoon.