Wednesday, December 22, 2010

HOLIDAY MEMORIES

When the Season Tugs on Your Heartstrings

There is a difference between the kind of nostalgia that brings a quiet smile to your face and the slippery slope of teary sentimentality.  This is the time of the year when celebrating traditions can be really happy for some and rather dark and sad for others.

Recently, as my wife and I unpacked our fabulous stash of Christmas decorations, I was reminded just how real the emotions associated with the trappings of the season can be.  These items range from almost 70 year old handmade lace tablecloths created by my grandmother and my mother’s wedding crystal to little ornaments identified with family and friends. Of course, many of these folks are long since gone or at least all grown up which in some ways is the same thing.

I think that there is a definite line between particular memories that one keeps private in one’s heart (happy or sad) and certain stories and experiences that deserve to be shared again and again.  I believe my Christmas Pudding story is firmly in the category of deserving to be shared.

The characters and events depicted in Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol” are a familiar iconic image in our culture.  Almost everyone is familiar with the Mr. Scrooge, Tiny Tim, the Christmas ghosts and of course Mrs. Cratchit serving the Christmas pudding.  However, there are not many Americans that know what Christmas Plum Pudding really is and even fewer that have eaten one, much less made one.

This lack of appreciation was part of my motivation recently to offer a cooking class at La Cucina at Avanti Savoia entitled Classy Holiday Desserts.  The menu included A French Yule Log Cake or Buche de Noel and a traditional English Plum Pudding.  We prepared puddings from scratch for the class and then served two that were ready to be steamed, flambĂ©ed and served.

The response from all the attendees was enthusiastic and appreciative, but none more so than that of the author of one of our favorite food blogs, The Food Hound.  Read her latest post about our class and the connection to Charles Dickens himself. We heartily encourage you to follow this fun blog and we promise that you won’t be disappointed.  This lady really knows her stuff.

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”  Keep Smiling and Merry Christmas!
Cedric Charles Dickens, December 1987

Friday, December 10, 2010

CRAVING CHOCOLATE

… And not just any chocolate, either!

To be truthful, unlike many people, chocolate is not something that I need to indulge in everyday.  “Regular” chocolate candy usually seems to me to be a waste of my daily allotment of carbs and calories.  Believe it or not, I couldn’t even stand the taste of chocolate until I was practically grown.

All that is ancient history now, of course, but I am still picky in my taste for chocolate.  I am especially partial to the pure sensations of robust, full-bodied high cocoa content varieties.  However, I do enjoy interesting complex concoctions and desserts where chocolate are only one of the components.

Now that the holidays are well upon us and chocolate delights of some kind or another are everywhere, I’ve been thinking about just what goodies really do ring my Christmas bells.  The answer: truffles, truffles, and more truffles.  Like any other fine recipe, truffles are only as good as the ingredients that go into them.  For my taste, truffles are just about the perfect indulgence for my occasional craving.  Intense dark chocolate with deep complex flavors all tied together in a neat little package that I can knock back in one or two bites… yes, please!

My current truffle favorite is the version that my friend and food-styling partner, Linda Ullian Schmid, and I created for Sheri Lee’s beautiful cookbook, Under the Fig Leaf.  The recipe is for Fig Hazelnut Chocolate Truffles and includes several of my favorite flavors… dried figs, Frangelico Liqueur, toasted hazelnuts, and 85% Cocoa Extra Dark Lindt Excellence.  The four ingredients combine for a stellar truffle!  We are including the recipe as a teaser to the rest of the scrumptious recipes in this book, which really does make a great present.  We also want to invite you to check out the other beautiful and unique chocolates on our website.

FIG HAZELNUT CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES
Makes 25 to 30 pieces
Ingredients:
½ cup whipping cream
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
9 ounces (approximately 2 ½ bars) 85% Cocoa Extra Dark Lindt Excellence Chocolate
¼ cup dried figs, finely chopped, stems removed
2 Tablespoons Frangelico Liqueur
2 cups hazelnuts, toasted, finely chopped
Instructions:
  1. Combine the cream, butter, and corn syrup in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Remove from the heat and cool for 5 minutes.
  2. Break the chocolate into pieces and stir into the partially cooled cream mixture.  Stir until melted and blend in dried figs.  Add the Frangelico and blend well.
  3. Cool for 2 hours at room temperature.
  4. Using an electric mixer, whip on medium speed for 1 minute.
  5. Shape the mixture into 1-inch balls.
  6. Place the truffles on a parchment paper-lined tray and chill for 1 hour.
  7. Roll in the hazelnuts.

Chocoholics rejoice; Avanti Savoia is here for you!  Find a wealth of information on the history and production of chocolate on a previous post entitled Food of the Gods.