What do piquant and risqué, chocolatey, gooey, dark, spicy brownies have to do with Gloria's glamour shot?
(Other than the fact that, yes, I do believe the subsequent scrumptious morsels would be even further enhanced with the addition of BACON)... which reminds me that we don't currently own any bacon (well, in its un-alive form anyway) and furthermore, my Sunday swine-shooting (photos not bullets) session with these hilarious characters may have seriously compromised my long-term (passionate) entanglement with said second-favorite meat product.
Oh, meet Gloria. Hi, Gloria! She has 21 children... all born in the same year... did you know a sow's gestation period is only 3 months, 3 weeks & 3 days... whew, efficiency is definitely her middle name.
She clearly has a handle on the whole indoctrinating manners thing as well – note the door man... and to the left, the "safety first" lesson has clearly been addressed as well, with the buddy system in practice when venturing to greet a strange visitor... but...
Something went awry... and why is it always the gingers that take the heat!? (I googled it, of course).
On the subject of heat, these brownies have a bit of heat to them
in the form of chipotle powder. They also have a bit of ricotta to them, which brings me back to the pigs. Still not seeing the connection? Well our piggies do not eat twinkies or "slop" (I have however heard tell of a unique breed of twinkie-eating hogs out there (probably more of a south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-Line-sort-of-breed). This eclectic bunch (we believe in hybrid vigor!!) however, dine on fresh whey, the by-product of cheesemaking.
In fact, these piggies are participating in our wicked cool new venture, Vermont Whey-fed Pigs...
We don't save any whey for any Miss Muffett-type characters. Whey-fed pork products are too important for the welfare of culinary advancement AND creating an agricultural system that makes sense...ie: cows eat grass, cows make milk, we "liberate" milk, we make cheese, cheese leaves behind loads of whey, whey goes to the pigs and makes them taste delicious, we someone not participating in piggy portraiture session slaughters pigs, pigs get butchered locally at the Mad River Food Hub... and then delicious things happen––currently VT Meat Company is turning our fine product into another fine product in the form of sausages... and I'm supposed to be talking about brownies. More on meat-based Valentines later.
Ricotta (as far as I know the quickest and easiest cheese to make in your kitchen in a few minutes) can be made from whey or milk. To make it with milk, all you need is a dash of lemon juice and/or white vinegar and a pinch of salt and about 10-15 minutes. I'll get back to you with the details! Clearly, since the whey is spoken for around here
I opted to go with milk this time...
"Pig-Pile" is not a fictitious term.
They tend to be ravenous little units...which luckily steers them rapidly toward adulthood aka not-so-cute-hood aka bacon-hood, very quickly, almost before one gets attached...
The grown-ups are still pretty cool though
These guys and gals here are actually teenagers. They do exude that sort of tough and melodramatic attitude don't you think?
But then there's these guys...
So goofy and curious.
AHH I need to stop. I have a running list of future bacon based recipes, at the top of which is bacon-maple-rosemary popcorn.
No more pig-chas.
Yes I like cute food.
And heart-shaped food. And I guarantee your Valentine will like these cute heart-shaped food-lets. Unless they are someone who claims to "not like chocolate"... and in that case you have a Valentine on your hands whose overall character you should be weary of...!
Did I mention these can be made in 30 minutes? (allow a little extra assembly time if you are opting for the heart action)
So, we are going to use my original Brownies with Flair recipe from last May, as it is the best brownie recipe of all time. And we'll make some tweaks in the spicy and alluring department.
Spicy & Alluring Valentine Brownies (Originally inspired by Alice Medrich's "Best Cocoa Brownies")
1 1/4 sticks butter (I like salted)
1 1/4 cups sugar (I like raw, organic cane sugar)
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp nice cocoa powder (I prefer Dutch process)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract (I sometimes use whiskey instead)
2 cold eggs
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp chipotle or cayenne powder (taste batter and adjust depending on how spicy you like it)
1/2 - 3/4 cup toasted walnuts (drizzle walnuts with a little maple syrup and a pinch of salt and toast in your preheated 325 oven, watching carefully, for about 5 minutes)
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (semi-sweet works fine too if you like things a bit sweeter)
3/4 cup Ricotta cheese (or more if you are into it!)
Sel Gris or other large crystal sea salt for garnish
1. Line the bottom and sides of an 8x8 square baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
2. Combine 1 1/4 sticks butter, 1 1/4 cups sugar, 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp cocoa, and pinch of salt in a double boiler or a heat-proof bowl set over a sauce pan of simmering water. Stir with a wooden spoon and when the mixture is hot but not scorching (you can still touch it and lick your finger) and the butter is melted and stirred in, turn off the heat and move the bowl to the counter to cool to a warm (not hot) temp. It does not look good at this point -- you might think you’ve made a mistake or that sand somehow got into your mixture, but it all gets better in a hot second, not to worry.
3. Add the 1 tsp vanilla or whiskey and then one egg. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until combined. Repeat with the other egg. Your batter should now look shiny and gorgeous. Add 1/2 cup flour. Beat with a wooden spoon for about a minute.
4. Make sure your mixture is cool enough that your chocolate chips won't completely melt. Add your walnuts and chocolate chips.
5. Evenly distribute the 3/4 cup ricotta onto the surface of the brownie layer as if you were frosting a cake. Be gentle as not to make a milkshakey looking mess. After you have a smooth, even white layer, push a butter knife through the ricotta about half-way down the chocolate layer and swirl to make a marbly pattern... or make some wild pattern and send me a photo.
6. Place sea salt crystals sporadically all over the top.
7. Bake 25-30 minutes until your toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, but just barely clean (don’t overcook!) **Note: the cooking time really depends on your oven! In my many renditions of these, 30 mins has always been perfect but I have heard reports of longer cooking time needed so heed the toothpick rather than the ticker!
8. Find your cookie-cutters if you're going the Valentine route.
9. Let them cool completely and take a mouse nibble from the corner of the pan while they are still hot and enjoy with a shot of cold milk.
10. When they are totally cooled, cut out your hearts...or piggies? Does anyone have a piglet cookie-cutter?
11. Serve to your Sweetheart.
xoxo Happy Valentines Day!
p.s. Do you like heart-shaped food? Or do you think it is lame? Please leave a comment below!
p.s.s. The majority of you know how we roll over here, and that piggies did live at Bliss Ridge before our wedding... (and then I was banned from hanging out with them for fear that I was inching precipitously close to vegetarianism) but for those of you who are new to saucy; these guys live over the hill at the other family farm (you know, the dairy farm where my woodsman and my bro-in-law have the cheese company!) where the VT Whey-fed Pigs team (the boys and our friend Ignacio 'Nacho') can keep a close eye on their antics... (this is beneficial for the longevity of my bacon-centric bucket list.)