Happy Veterans' Day!
It could just be a side effect of a bonkers presidential election season, but Facebook and the rest of the internet would seem to suggest that we aren't able to celebrate holidays anymore without fighting about how to do it. My cheap Halloween costume wings are probably offensive to the butterflies they depict, my Thanksgiving stuffing is poison, and the red cup that holds my favorite seasonal tea is an arrow into the heart of Santa. It’s too depressing when I really think about it and there are better ways to celebrate holidays than arguing, so today, instead of some grand statement about why I think it's important to celebrate the military or a long meditation on my own conflicted views on patriotism, I’d rather tell a fun story about sending a care package to one of my favorite veterans.
My dad will tell you that his biggest regret from his military career was that he never got the chance to “soldier”. He’s legitimately disappointed by this, but the fact that he never got deployed to a war was probably my favorite part of his military career, and especially now I recognize how lucky we were. The only time he was deployed for any real length of time was to Kuwait when I was ten, and considering he came back obsessed with the Spice Girls and that “How Bizarre” song*, it’s probably better for all of us that he never spent more than three months in the desert.
*To this day, it is just delightful to be in a car with him when that song comes on the radio. Or Backstreet Boys, but that’s another matter entirely.
My sister and I dedicated ourselves to baking treats for care packages. There were cookies and brownies, and whatever else came out of a box or a roll of dough (we hadn't discovered Food Network yet). Well, we had been baking so many things to send away that by the time we got to the brownies we ran out of vegetable oil, and since that’s one of two ingredients that goes into a box of brownies, we were pretty sure it was important to include. The mix and eggs were already in the bowl, so we needed to come up with a substitute, fast. We never had butter in the house, because it was evil/terrible/saturated fat/bad for you, and I guess we didn’t consider margarine to be an option, so we went for the only other source of vegetable oil we had in the pantry, olive oil. Now, this was 1996, before the rise of the Mediterranean diet, and olive oil seemed like an exotic, daring choice. But we reasoned that olives were vegetables, so really, what was the difference? And what kind of vegetables did vegetable oil come from anyway? So we poured our olive oil into the brownie batter, hoping the chocolate would cover up any difference in flavor and agreed to NEVER TELL what we had done. Fast forward two months to when our Dad came home and we immediately, giddily admitted to our wild culinary experiment, expecting horror and disbelief at our trickery. Much to our surprise, our dad assured us that no one could tell the difference or would even have cared, they were so happy to have treats from home.
That is probably true, and it made us feel better, but based on my own experience bringing failed baking experiments to work, I’ve learned that people will literally eat anything you bring for them as long as it’s free and it has sugar in it. So I had always wondered about those brownies until a few years ago, when I read a recipe in the New York Times that intentionally used olive oil in brownies. On purpose! In baking! I decided once again to be daring and try it out immediately.
So three years later, I got around to it. And you know what? These brownies were amazing! They are gooey, triply full of chocolate, and the olive oil gives them a little extra something, although if you didn't know it was there you probably wouldn't even notice the subtle difference in flavor.
I brought them to work, where they disappeared fast, and they would be a perfect addition to any care package.
But seriously. To my Dad and Grandpa especially and all the other veterans in my family, but also to all the other veterans who sacrificed family time and volunteered to do the hard and dangerous work so the rest of us can stay safe at home and put weird stuff in our baked goods, THANK YOU.
(I hope that wasn't too grand.)
I made a video! I can't describe how mortifying it is for me to watch but you should check it out for my best Melissa Clark impression. Don't miss the thrilling climax where I struggle to open the oven door!
Olive Oil Brownies
¾ cup olive oil
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 large eggs
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
2 ¼ cup sugar
1 ¾ cups flour
¾ tsp kosher salt
2 ½ oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13x9 inch pan with olive oil.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp boiling water into the cocoa, then add the unsweetened chocolate and whisk together until completely melted. Add in the olive oil, eggs, vanilla and sugar and whist to combine.
- Fold in the flour and salt and then mix in the bittersweet chocolate.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top with sea salt.
- Bake 25-30 minutes until the middle is set. Let cool completely, then cut into squares and serve.