Seven spoons

It is arguably an understatement to say that Joe Beef, Surviving the Apocalypse , was highly-anticipated. The second book from Fréderic Morin, David McMillan, and writer Meredith Erickson ( The Claridges Cookbook, Olympia Provisions, and more), was the subject of an buzz that electrically hummed to the corners of discussions across the country — both online and in restaurants and, considering the survivalist leanings of the title, surely Canadian Tires as well. After the impact of their first book, nobody knew what to expect.

For the Globe and Mail, I was able to talk to these three, and a sliver of those conversations was published this week.

Their thoughts ranged far more expansively than column inches would allow: the wastefulness inherent, almost required in the standards of fine dining; arguing essential life skills; the race factor in many restaurant reviews; the constraints and perspective-changing realities of parenting; the qualities of a good host; not being an asshole in a social-media and food-obsessed culture; Martha Stewart’s badassery; thoughts of retirement, and finding personal utopia.

What is remarkable, is that all those subjects are in the book as well. It is encompassing, and far reaching. It is the start of a conversation and a plotted action towards what lies ahead — for our families, and for our society. It looks in a million directions yet at the same time, it’s an amazingly cohesive thing unto itself. With details considered with the eye of makers. It is convivial, intimate, and wildly sentimental.

Start at the endpapers. They’re a wallpaper of fleur-de-lis designed by Patrick Theibault (aka Pat the Gardener, the restaurant’s master jack-of-all-trades, depicted in the book making soap). Look closely. The flower is made up of two chef’s knives, back-to-back; a seashell; and twin meat hooks. Against that blooming field are a set paintings. On the left, a canoe painted by McMillan. To its right, from Morin, a Rousseau-esque reclining man on a green couch, with stereo speakers, a houseplant, and with a framed tiger above. The pantry section has a map-like foldout of recipes, even though, as Morin laughed “it fucked with the binding.”

My freezer storage is divided into three distinct, but unequal zones. The largest is ingredient storage. It’s where I keep nuts and grains, plus seeds and cacao nibs, and things like wheat germ and bran. Flours and shredded coconut. There’s fruit from the summer stacked in flat packs, and bananas black-ripe and ready for bread. Ginger root I grate while still rock hard, chiles, and lime leaves. I am rarely without frozen spinach and sweet peas.

Between the two are the prepared leftovers. There is enough tomato sauce for one pizza, cooked rice, some savoury hand pies, Julia’s turkey meatballs, and cakes. A lot of cake. It’s not just that the pace of our consumption rarely keeps up with the celebrations around here. It’s also one of those rarely-discussed byproducts of recipe testing. The spoils are regularly parcelled for giving away, but a small stash is always kept behind. Right now, my inventory includes the thinnest slice of walnut cake from Divali, a quarter of a vanilla bean cheesecake, bagged muffins, a coffeecake that’s a work in progress, and s’mores brownies.

Those brownies though, they’re celebratory through and through. Benjamin turned 11 in January. He’s all knees and elbows now, and has strong opinions. He’s had a thing for s’mores for years, and this birthday wasn’t any different. He asked for a repeat of last year, brownies with chocolate ganache and a seven-minute frosting to billow on top. When I’ve made s’mores cupcakes in the past, the inclusion of graham crackers added essential contrast against all the dense-chocolate-marshmallowyness going on. I like them as rebar in the ganache rather than rubble in the brownie itself. Somehow they make more of an impact that way. Toasting the grahams in the oven crisps them up, the process and effect amped up with a sugar syrup glaze.

I use my own brownie recipe, but as it was included as a preorder inclusive for my book, I made the squares this week with another favourite, from King Arthur Flour. As advertised, their brownies exist ideally between squidge and cake. You can use my recipe, if you have it, or theirs, or your preferred. One thing I’ll say though, is resist the urge to use an intensely fudgey one. When combined with the ganache and the meringue frosting, it is a combination that can careen into headache-inducing real quick.

The brownies are over the top. They bring out the childlike and exuberant, and are the antithesis of refined. They are unbridled and unrestrained, and remind me of the happiest days. Don’t let the fact that there were leftovers steer you into thinking they went unloved. Sometimes, you want to make the good things last. And, as brownies never fully freeze, a skinny slice on a Monday midmorning with coffee, falls into that category.

While that bakes, make the graham crunch and ganache. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small, heavy bottomed saucepan, dissolve the sugar into the water. Bring to a boil over medium heat then simmer for 5 minutes. Brush both sides of the graham crackers with the syrup then arrange on the prepared baking sheet (there will be syrup left over. Save it as a sweetener for coffee, oatmeal, or fruit). Bake the crackers until toasted, 8 to 10 minutes, flipping once. Set aside to cool then snap into pieces, some small, some large bite-sized.

Tumble the chopped chocolate, espresso powder, and salt in a large heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Once steaming, pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand 5 minutes, undisturbed. After the time is up, stir until smooth, starting at the centre of the bowl and working outwards. Fold in the graham crunch. Pour the rubbled ganache over the brownies and spread to an even layer. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until set.

Finally, make the frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, and salt. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure that the bowl has some clearance. Heat, stirring attentively and scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically with a silicone spatula, until the mixture reaches 175°F | 80°C on a candy thermometer, about 8 minutes. Transfer the whites to the stand mixer with the wire whisk attached. Beat, starting slow and increasing the speed steadily, until the mixer is on full. Whip until the stiff, glossy peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the vanilla.

Retrieve the brownies from the fridge. Spoon the frosting onto the ganache layer. Use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to swoop and swirl it to your liking. Toast the frosting with a culinary torch or under a hot broiler—watching it all the while. Let cool and set, then use the cross of parchment to lift the brownies from the pan, then slice and serve. Extras can be refrigerated in their pan, loosely covered with cling film, for 2 days. Or, frozen until firm and then transferred to an airtight container for freezer storage up to a month.

• I also really like Jenny Rosenstrach’s brownies from her book How to Celebrate Everyting: Recipes and Rituals for Birthdays, Holidays, Family Dinners, and Every Day In Between(Ballantine, 2016). You’ll find them on page 95. They are one of me most-perfectly textured brownies I’ve ever had. They are slightly thinner than my brownies, which is why I went for the King Arthur for those looking to replicate the look of the photo.