1) I'm simply awful at keeping my fish tank clean.
A few years ago when I brazenly declared I wanted a 20 gallon fish tank for Christmas, I knew what I was getting into. There's a reason Freecycle and Craig's List are overrun with ads for slightly used aquariums--they are frankly a pain in the ass to maintain. But I wanted what I wanted, and I got what I asked for. A few years later and at least 3 total and complete aquarium break-down-and-re-builds later (not to mention countless minor algae blooms), I can say with full confidence,
I. SUCK. AT. THIS.
But, here I am, not yet ready to give up on my aquatic kingdom. So, for about 4 hours on Sunday, I was mired in boggy bucketfuls of brackish water while my 5 tiny fishy friends swam happily in the 2 gallon temporary home on my desk. I drained, I scrubbed, I ruined an old toothbrush and covered my countertop in a faint green slime of algae. Oh, but you guys, now that all is said and done, I can proclaim it all TOTALLY WORHT IT. The tank is gorgeous. It glows, it shines, it bubbles in crystal clear glory. I'm letting it cycle for a few more days so the bacteria colony (a good and necessary bacteria) can re-establish itself before I bring the fish back in, but if their teensy fishy brains can process that much information, I know they're going to be grateful. Spring cleaning continues....
2) I don't ever make brownies from scratch.
Does anyone? I'm sure they do, some of you probably do and I'm sure they are magnificent, but for whatever reason I never deemed it necessary. Mixes are far from perfect, but come on, I've never had a *bad* brownie (except that one time I was in a hurry and forgot to add the eggs, and those weren't that bad, if you like chocolate flavored roof shingles). Cook's Illustrated had a cream cheese brownie recipe I liked about 10 years ago, and they were good, but not so much better than boxed mixes that they warranted making more than a few times, being mildy labor intensive. But for whatever reason I found my last batch of from-a-mix brownies less satisfying some how--too thin, too chewy, just not enough body. Perhaps it's the fault of the inch-thick fudge frosted brownies we make at the bakery, an unfair comparison to make but one that couldn't be helped. I haven't exactly worn myself out looking for a brownie recipe to try though. I guess I needed a bolt of inspiration and just the right day. Well, guess what today turned out to be?
Today, my friends, I have toyed around with a brownie recipe to beat all. A rich, decadent, homemade brownie worthy of the time and effort required to do more than stir and pour a box mix. These are a marbled cream cheese brownie, they make a full 13x9 pan's worth, and with the addition of some yummy cherries they are fancy enough to impress just about anyone. Food of the gods, my friends. The brownie batter is a play on a recipe I found online today. The original got it's chocolate flavor from melted chocolate, I've added a bit of dark chocolate cocoa powder, some salt and vanilla to bring out the flavor, and a bit of instant coffee--a trick I learned at the bakery--to make the flavor even deeper and richer. The cream cheese batter is simply the most basic of cheesecake ingredients. For this recipe I flavored it with a tiny bit of almond because I'm using cherries--they compliment each other really well. If you want to use a different frozen berry (I'd reccomend raspberries, and would have used them if I didn't already have frozen cherries on hand), you can just use vanilla.
Cortney's Cherry Cream Cheese Brownies
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
2 pkgs softened cream cheese
2 cups sugar (divided)
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (divided)
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1/4 cup cocoa
2 tsp instant coffee dissolved in 1 Tbsp water
1 bag frozen dark sweet cherries
Pre-heat oven to 35o degrees. Grease a 13x9x2 pan and set aside. In a medium bowl, cream the butter and 1 cup of the sugar until light and fluffy. Add 1 tsp vanilla, the instant coffee, and 3 of the eggs (one at a time, beating well after each addition). Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave, stir until completely melted and slightly cooled, and add to the mixture, beating well. Slowly blend in the flour, salt, and cocoa. This is the brownie portion of the recipe. Set aside.
In another bowl, beat the cream cheese with the remaining cup of sugar, the remaining 2 eggs, and 1/2 tsp each of vanilla and almond extract. This is your cream cheese batter.
Spread about half the chocolate batter on the bottom of your greased pan. The batter will be very stiff, and the layer might seem thin--just be sure to completely cover the bottom of the pan. Pour the cream cheese batter on top of this layer--there should be plenty and it should spread into a nice thick layer. Take a spoon and plop the remaining chocolate batter in large spoonfuls across the cream cheese layer. Using a knife, spread the chocolate into the cream cheese and swirl randomly with the knife blade to achieve a marbled effect. Open the bag of frozen cherries (or raspberries, whatever you're using), and one by one push the cherries into the batter every inch or so. You may not use all the cherries--save the rest, you can cook them down with a little sugar to make a fantastic sauce for these brownies, or ice cream, cheesecake, pound cake, etc. Once the brownies are completely dotted with the frozen fruit, pop the pan in the pre-heated oven and bake at 350 for approximately 1 hour, or until completely puffed and set. I particularly dislike over cooked brownies, so I tested with a skewer in the center of the pan--after 45 minutes the center was still batter-y, after an hour I had a few sticky crumbs. Let the brownies cool COMPLETELY (the hardest part) before you cut and serve. Absorb all the compliments, and email me later to tell me how good they turned out. If they didn't turn out at all, tell your guests it was all my fault and never speak of it again ;) Mine turned out beautifully...