Lean times


a treat for a cash-strapped era

Mexican Chocolate Brownies: a treat for a cash-strapped era

As if I needed more evidence of how times have changed, consider how I marked

Birmingham's Chef Frank Stitt is a god.

Birmingham's Chef Frank Stitt is a god.

a good friend’s birthday. Last year, I treated her to a lavish Champagne dinner created by Chef Frank Stitt of Bottega (and Highlands Bar & Grill and Chez Fon Fon)  fame in Birmingham, Ala., using spectacular selections from Champagnes Bruno Paillard. Bubbly and beef cheeks speak to richer times, at least for me. This year, it’s a different story. Cash-strapped, I opted to spoil her with homemade Mexican Chocolate Brownies and a pint of premium (I’m not that poor) dulce de leche ice cream. Here’s the recipe for the brownies (shown above):

Mexican Chocolate Brownies

Mexican chocolate is sweet, cinnamony, and nutty. The chile powder adds a touch of smoky heat, but you can omit it.

1/4 cup 1% low-fat milk

1/4 cup dark chocolate chips

6 3/4 ounces all-purpose flour (that’s about 1 1/2 cups)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder (optional)

1 1/3 cups sugar 6 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon almond extract

2 large eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch square baking pan with cooking spray.

2. Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat, and add chocolate chips, stirring until they melt and the mixture is smooth.

3. Whisk together the flour through cinnamon in a large bowl. Add vanilla, almond extract, and eggs; beat with a mixer. Add flour mixture and chocolate mixture; beat just until combined. Spread batter (it’s thick) into prepared pan. Bake 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack.

Yield: 16 brownies.

Aye carumba!



A giant sombrero points the way to a delightful lunch in Tucumcari, NM.

A giant sombrero points the way to a delightful lunch in Tucumcari, NM.

Yesterday, I wrote about my favorite fast-food chain burger. But today, my cross-country jaunt demanded local food. As in no chains. As in something I can’t get at any interstate-side stop.



Tucumcari, NM, would offer just what I craved for a late lunch. In other words, simple New Mexican fare. So, beckoned by a roadside billboard, I pulled off I-40 and headed toward historic Route 66 in search of La Cita (located on the corner of Route 66 and S. 1st St.). Imagine my delight when I was greeted by a giant sombrero.

For all its kitschy charm, the exterior of La Cita was, admittedly a bit shabby, but inside it was all bright, soft pink walls and the chummy buzz of locals enjoying a Sunday lunch. A single, friendly waitress jockeyed between tables, keeping all of us happy. She set down a basket of thick tortilla chips fried in lard (I think) and small bowl of salsa that boasted bright, zingy heat and a wonderful thick consistency that clung to chips. I hate it when a salsa is thin and just sort of dribbles of a chip. What’s the point?

I ordered a plate of cheese enchiladas, ’cause I was in the mood for something unfussy and satisfying. It was three corn tortillas wrapped around cheese and smothered in a sea of red chile sauce and topped with a bit more cheese–just what I wanted.

A plate of cheese enchiladas at La Cita is worth a short detour off the interstate.

A plate of cheese enchiladas at La Cita is worth a short detour off the interstate.