I am a sucker for any cookbook with a good hook. For example, The Newlywed Cookbook, which I received as (naturally) a wedding gift, is full of recipes for two people to build their kitchen skills in tandem with each other. Betty Crocker’s Microwave Cookbook, meanwhile, has hundreds of ideas for building an entire dinner party around what was an exciting modern appliance at the time of the book’s publication in 1981. And BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts is all about the history of our favorite sweets, complete with copycat recipes for everything from Oreos to Nutter Butters. Each of these books aims to make us better cooks and bakers than we were before. But there are other cookbooks with less lofty ambitions, and those collections deserve their accolades, too.
I recently stumbled upon North Country Cabin Cooking at a vacation rental in Michiana Shores, Indiana. It sat on a shelf lined with with what appeared to be the kitchen’s original wallpaper, screaming “Midwestern summer” in a way that few other things can. The book, by Mary Brubacher and Margie Knoblauch, promises “More than 300 quick ‘n’ easy, sure-to-please recipes for your cabin kitchen.” What a concept! It’s a perfect collection for a vacation rental—because I think it’s safe to say that nobody heads to Michiana Shores for a weekend of ambitious culinary projects. You head down to the beach early in the morning wheeling a cooler full of basic snacks and canned beverages, then you stumble back up to the house in the late afternoon to wash up, play a board game, and submit your vote for either hamburgers or hot dogs for dinner. The most prep work anyone wants to do is plating s’mores ingredients for the fire pit later.
Knowing this, Brubacher and Knoblauch have curated recipes that can either be easily made ahead of your trip and carted to the cabin in the trunk of your car, or prepared in a cabin kitchen with basic ingredients you’re likely to find at the local general store that exists to service vacationers in the summertime. Simple assembly, short cook times, and holiday-appropriate levels of indulgence. What’s not to love?
This recipe for no-bake brownies caught my eye because I happened to have all the ingredients on hand. I was worried that these would come out too sweet—after all, they’re held together primarily by powdered sugar and chocolate glaze—but the semi-sweet chips and a small amount of coffee really lend a surprising richness to the overall dessert. You’ll want to slice these into small squares; they’re dense and filling, and a bite-size portion is easy to grab and pop into your mouth as you pass by the snack spread on your way to hose off your flip flops. Thanks to Mary and Margie for understanding exactly what these summer months at the lake call for.
From North Country Cabin Cooking by Mary Brubacher and Margie Knoblauch
Makes 32 bars
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 4 cups graham cracker crumbs
- ½ cup sifted powdered sugar
- 2 Tbsp. dry instant coffee
- 12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup evaporated milk
- 1 tsp. vanilla
Combine walnuts, graham cracker crumbs, and powdered sugar in large bowl. Heat the coffee, chocolate chips, and milk over low heat. Stir constantly until smoothly blended. Remove from heat. Add vanilla. Reserve ½ cup of chocolate mixture. Mix remaining chocolate with crumb mixture. Spread evenly in well-buttered 9-by-9-inch pan. Spread reserved chocolate mixture over top for glaze. Chill until ready to serve. Keep refrigerated.