About a week ago, Tim and I made a quick stop at McKay’s, which, for the record, is the largest, cleanest used bookstore I’ve ever been to in my life. Set high up off Old Hickory Boulevard on Nashville’s west side, McKay’s exterior looks more like a bulk warehouse shopping center than a place that makes it easy for anyone to walk in and buy or sell old books any day of the week. You park your car in an eco-friendly brick parking lot and walk inside to a bright, high-ceilinged space filled with aisles and aisles of books, books on tape, CDs and DVDs. The inventory’s always changing, so even if you’ve just been in a week before, you still never know what you’ll find when you come. In December, I bought a Mexican cookbook that later had me Googling for information about its illustrator, a woman who loved beautiful buildings and architecture as much as I do. Last Monday, we came looking for a children’s book; we left instead with a hardcover Tim had been wanting and a $2 original copy of The Moosewood Cookbook, published in 1977, for me.
I’ll guess most of you are already familiar with Moosewood, the Ithaca, New York restaurant for which the cookbook is named, as well as Mollie Katzen, the author of the cookbook, who in the food world is something of a celebrity? Mollie is listed by the New York Times as one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time, is in the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame, today serves as a consultant to Harvard University Dining Services, and, in 1977, was already eating the way most people I know now consider revolutionary. The cookbook is filled with vegetable-focused meals (“hippie-style” or “mimi’s elegant” stuffed eggplant, spinach ricotta pie, cauliflower curry, zucchini-crusted pizza) and desserts that are many times sweetened with honey or maple syrup instead of sugar (apple krisp, fruited yogurt desserts, no-fault pumpkin pie, apricot almond bread, baked maple custards).
What I love most about The Moosewood Cookbook is the style, totally handmade from beginning to end. Instead of photographs, the book’s 227 pages showcase Mollie’s own hand-drawn illustrations and writing. The entire book, she compiled, edited, illustrated and hand-lettered herself; so flipping through sections feels like flipping through a cook’s private sketchpad.
The day after I bought the book, I propped it open to page 192, for Moosewood Fudge Brownies, and set to work. You may remember my mentioning that we’ve had some bad run-ins with brownie recipes recently (too cakey, too dry, not sweet enough, ho-hum), and I figured if anyone could steer me to a better option, it would be the woman who was making it cool to eat a produce-focused diet before the existence of Food, Inc. or Whole Foods.
And while there’s a lot more I could say about the below six-ingredient, super-simple brownie recipe and the dessert it produces–how start-to-finish the process took less than an hour, how finally (!) now I have a brownie recipe that works, how Moosewood might now be in my top five favorite cookbooks of all time—I’ll do you a favor and cut to the chase and say this: When I thought I could trust Mollie? I was right.
(QUICK ANNOUNCEMENT PS: On the subject of illustrations, we’ve just launched an Etsy shop, where we’re selling a limited selection of watercolor notecards featuring a Laura Ingalls Wilder quote. Please check it out—Etsy.com/shop/FoodLovesWritingShop.)
Adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook, which is now out of print and therefore a little pricey unless you happen upon a treasure in a used bookstore; there is also The New Moosewood Cookbook, however, which is similar but updated.
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter (FULLY SOFTENED, but not melted)
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate (not semisweet)
1 3/4 cups coconut sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup einkorn flour (or whatever all-purpose flour you prefer)
Optional additions (per Mollie): chopped nuts, 1 tablespoon instant coffee, 1 teaspoon grated fresh orange/lemon rind, 1/2 teaspoon allspice or cinnamon or a mashed overripe banana
Once the butter is fully softened to room temperature, preheat the oven to 350F and grease a 9X13″ baking pan. Melt the five ounces of chocolate on a double boiler on the stove. Set aside to let cool.
Cream the butter and sugar together and add the five eggs. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Add the melted chocolate and the one cup of einkorn flour to this mixture and beat together. Add any extras you’d like (see ideas in ingredients list). Spread mixture into a greased 9X13″ pan.
Bake 20-30 minutes at 350F.