If you take a New Orleans native and move her to Portland, what do you get? One seriously food-loving gal. Through her cooking, Brooke Bass personifies two of America’s all-time food cities – equal parts hearty, Southern food aficionado and local, seasonal, artisan advocate – and this mashup of urban culinary styles defines her beautiful blog, Chocolate + Marrow. Think homemade tagliatelle with roasted cabbage, sage and fromage blanc or a strawberry-cornmeal tart with ricotta cream.
Bass, who started blogging as a pastime to a sociology masters just last year, has rapidly amassed a large fan base for her big-flavoured fare and distinctive voice. We think you’ll love her witty prose and affable style, too. With July fourth coming up, the blogger shares a knockout Independence Day menu, from maple-brined smoked chicken and cheese-laden baked grits to bourbon butterscotch puddings and a retro New Orleans white cake. It’s American to a tee.
“Though I grew up in New Orleans, a city that seriously knows how to laissez les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll) now live in Portland, Oregon, where you can find me eating at one of the city’s 500-ish food carts, growing fresh vegetables in my garden, and exploring the lush trails of the Pacific Northwest.”
“While the two places are incredibly different, both have taught me one thing – there is always something to celebrate. And, to me, there is quite possibly no better way to do it than through food. It’s this kind of ideology (though I’m not sure if you can really call it that) that inspires the dishes I create. Whether I’m making something simple to kick off the weekend or something more complex to mark the start of a festive season, celebrating life through food, with the people I love, is at the centre of it all. In that spirit, and with the Fourth of July holiday coming up, I’ve chosen a few of my favourite celebration-worthy recipes to share with you here. Whether you choose to spend the holiday at a quiet daytime barbecue or at a firework-fuelled evening fête, I hope these dishes will be the perfect accompaniment to your gathering.”
I started my blog to… Introduce a bit more balance to my life. At the time, I was pursuing my PhD in Sociology and was deep into the writing of my dissertation. It was a rigorous program and after a few years, I realised I had been entirely neglecting my more creative side in order to focus on my research. It got to a point where that imbalance really started to wear on me, so I started Chocolate + Marrow as my little creative outlet, a place where I could indulge myself in things like lengthy cooking projects, photography and writing (about anything I wanted!) – three things that had always brought me great joy. I had no idea what would come of it and, truth be told, I still don’t. All I know is that it makes me happy every single day. And I guess that’s all that matters.
The must-cook recipe on my website is… Hands down, the maple-brined smoked fried chicken. It’s the perfect fried chicken for topping maple syrup-drenched waffles with or eating alongside sweet, buttery cornbread and collard greens.
I can’t wait to go back to… Tokyo, Japan to eat fresh tuna at 5am at the Tsukiji Market and to drink at as many of the bars in the Golden Gai as I possibly can without falling off of a barstool. (I’m secretly hoping that one day I’ll be able to call that a ‘work’ trip… A girl can always dream.)
My current food obsession is… Salmon. I’ve just returned from Alaska where I reeled in a gorgeous (and enormous) king salmon. I had it overnighted to my house in Portland, Oregon, so we’ve been eating salmon regularly, in pretty much any way I can dream up (smoked, cured, grilled, over butter-roasted potatoes, on bagels smeared with cream cheese, in creamy soups and tomato-flecked salads… You get the picture). I just can’t get enough of it!
Eating… Fresh pasta takes me back to learning to make it at an agriturismo in the small town of Agerola, Italy. There’s just something about fresh pasta that’s so sensual. I love the way it slithers so eloquently from fork to mouth, a sensation I’ve never really gotten from boxed pasta. Plus, it’s so much easier to make than people think! I frequently spend afternoons making homemade orecchiette, gnocchi and tagliatelle, which I stock in my freezer for quick dinners on busy work days.
Nugget of cooking wisdom… Always read the entire recipe in full before you start cooking. So many mistakes can be avoided that way. Plus, you know what you’re in for, which makes the cooking process much more relaxing and enjoyable. Oh, and do everything you possibly can to cook from scratch and use the freshest ingredients possible. Case in point: my husband and I harvested some oysters last year in Willapa Bay, Washington and shucked and ate them standing right where we’d plucked them from, in the murky bay waters. There was no hot sauce and no mignonette to accompany them, and yet, they were the best oysters I’ve ever eaten in my whole life. Things just taste better when they’re fresh.
I learnt to cook from… A lot of places. I learned that cooking could be an enjoyable experience from my grandmother, who also happens to be the former narrator of the Great Chefs series (a bit of family history I’m quite proud of, actually.) But I learned to really create in the kitchen by reading anything I could get my hands on, travelling, and, more recently, by talking to local Portland chefs during some of my freelance work. There is some serious talent floating around Portland’s chef crowd… I feel lucky to call it my (new) hometown.
When I go back to my real home town… New Orleans, Louisiana, the first thing I eat is hot boiled crawfish (crayfish) in the spring/summer and raw oysters on saltine crackers with hot sauce in autumn/winter. Both accompanied by a chilled New Orleans’ Abita Amber. That last part is non-negotiable.
Favourite Fourth of July food memory… Fourth of July is a touchy subject for me, actually. True story: when I was around the age of six or seven, I lit my dress on fire with a sparkler at a Fourth of July party. I’ve been pretty terrified of them ever since and always get a bit nervous when the holiday rolls around, less someone passes me one of those sparkling fire sticks. But, if I had to pick a favourite memory, it would probably be last year, when we had our first party in our brand new house in Portland. Some friends and our new neighbours came over to celebrate the holiday and we snacked, played games and drank beer the entire day. It wasn’t until 11pm, though, that we realised we still hadn’t eaten dinner! So we fired up the grill, threw on some veggies and burgers, and scarfed them down, all the while laughing about how we’d gotten so carried away with everything that we’d entirely lost track of time. My friends told me afterwards that they were the best burgers they’d ever eaten… I think they were just really hungry. (Pro tip: Make your dinner guests wait all night to eat and it will magically taste 10 times better.)
Friends always ask me to cook my… Burgers, gumbo and baked cheese grits. In grad school, I made the grits regularly for my (mostly broke) fellow students. It was a cheap way to make a little go a long way. They still ask me for the dish every time I see them. Lucky for them, the recipe is now on my blog so they can make it whenever they want.
The one thing I can’t cook is… Fudge. We had a ‘resident fudge maker’, so to speak, in my family who made the most perfect silky, smooth fudge. She passed away a few years ago, sadly, and fudge has just never been the same since. I keep trying to master it, but I find it incredibly difficult to get the texture just right. (Tips/advice welcome from any of you fudge pros out there!)
If I ever met… Anthony Bourdain, I would ask him to cook (and eat) bone marrow with me, or his favourite dish from Southeast Asia – I’ll let him choose. And then I’d ask him to be my new best friend. Actually, he’s coming to Portland on July 28. Maybe if we rally, we can make this actually happen! #brookeandtonybff
I always have… Truffle oil, coconut milk and fish sauce in my pantry; butter, spinach and eggs (preferably from my neighbours’ chickens) in my fridge; and homemade gumbo and nests of fresh pasta in my freezer.
My favourite biscuit to dunk in a cup of tea is… I generally don’t like tea (sorry, tea!), but I’d happily eat a few warm chocolate chip cookies dunked in milk if that offer is on the table.
My most sauce-splattered cookbook is… My family cookbook, which my mum gave to me the week I left home for university. I have to use it gently now because the pages are stuck together with the remnants of old cooking projects. But I love how it houses some of my favourite recipes from my childhood. They’re not fancy and they certainly wouldn’t be considered ‘en vogue’ by today’s culinary standards, but they’re meaningful to me and that’s what makes the book so special.
The most difficult food to shoot/style and make look tasty is… Probably blinis. There are just so many different coloured/textured toppings, which, in theory, sounds like a food stylist’s dream. But, in my experience, it actually makes it really difficult to style without looking sloppy.
Beyond my own blog, some of my favourite reads are… Not Without Salt, Orangette, Two Red Bowls, Crepes of Wrath, Dash and Bella, With Food and Love, and Southern Soufflé. They are all so different, but the authors really let their personalities shine through in their writing, photos and recipes, which makes them fun to visit each week and see what they’ve dreamed up. I’m also a big fan of magazines. My favourites include major publications like SAVEUR, Bon Appétit, Food and Wine, and Portland Monthly, as well as some newer ones like Life and Thyme and RENDER: Feminist Food and Culture Quarterly.
Top picks from Chocolate + Marrow
Blog Appétit Editor Yasmin Newman
Blog Appétit is our curated list of go-to food blogs we love, with a focus on high-quality photography, trusted recipes, strong editorial themes and a unique voice and personality. View previous Blog Appétit entries.