Friday, November 24, 2006

Chocolate Cremé Brulée

Here's how most of my family time went "Hi, so good to see you, did you bring truffles?"

I had to admit that with the still warm temperatures, the recent move back to Arizona, the fact that parts of my kitchen are still awaiting some guys to finish off the drywall process (tape, mud, mountains of dust) and the fact that I've been working on a lot more music projects than I anticipated (which is not a complaint just a statement) I haven't gotten the truffle operation going this year. I had to promise that there will be truffles for Christmas, and Valentine's, and Mother's Day. But we are talking batches made at home and not the full on industrial operation that they've become so reliant on over the years. I will still be running the "Win a Dozen Truffles" contest in December.

So, to keep peace in the family, and to please my own palate, before the relatives scatter hither and yon, I am making Chocolate Cremé Brulée for the final send off dinner.

This is not that tricky a dish. The main technique that is required is tempering. This is where you take a hot liquid and slowly merge it into eggs or chocolate. To do this without scrambling the eggs or breaking the chocolate is a critical step. Plus, right before serving you get to whip out the blowtorch and go to town. That's always fun.


(for six)

6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped (Trader Joe's® Pound Plus 70% Cocoa mass bars simply rock, but if you have a particular favorite bittersweet brand, by all means serve to your own Jones)
1-1/3 cups whipping cream (Smart & Final® Manufacturing Cream)
5 large egg yolks
3 Tablespoons Baker's sugar
1-1/2 cups raspberries, chilled (frozen works just fine here)
1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon Baker's Sugar (very fine ganulated for an even crusting on the Brulée)
For garnish: whipped cream & 18 whole rasperries (Fresh only, if you can't get fresh raspberries use a sprig of mint)

Melt the chocolate, either over simmering water or in the microwave. For the microwave melt (which is what I do because chocolate hates water of all kinds) put it on high for 30 seconds, stir, high for 20 seconds, stir, then 10 seconds at a time until completely melted and smooth. Set aside and allow to cool slowly.

In a heavy saucepan (I have a copper clad cast iron monster) scald the cream. This means to bring it right to the edge of boiling, where there are small bubbles beginning to form around the edges. Whisk the egg yolks in a medium mixing bowl until they are smooth and lemon colored, then whisk in the 3 tablespoons of baker's sugar until well blended. Now it's time to temper. Using a standard size kitchen ladle whisk the hot cream gradually into the egg yolk/sugar mixture. Do this a little at a time, mixing thoroughly each ladle full. Keep at this until the cream and the egg yolk/sugar/cream mixture are roughly the same temperature then you can put the egg/sugar/cream mixture all into the saucepan at once and mix it completely. Cook this over a low flame, stirring constantly, taking care to scrape the bottoms and sides with a wooden spoon. Cook for around five minutes until the custard is 160° or, if you're so barbaric that you don't have an instant read thermometer handy, until the custard begins to evenly coat the back of the wooden spoon.

Now it's time to temper into the chocolate. Transfer the custard to a bowl, stir it gently for about 30 seconds to help cool it down. Then allow it to cool another five full minutes. You do not want the custard to be hotter than 120° (are you about ready to hit the cooking supply store for your instant read thermometer yet?) when you mix it into chocolate. For you brave luddites out there who resist sensible technology I will now describe the "ouch" test. If you stick your finger (your clean and dry finger) into the custard and you pull it out saying "Ouch" before 15 seconds, your custard is too hot. If you sucked the custard off of your finger, wash your hands again, dry completely with a cloth towel and repeat the process. Once you can hold your finger, one knuckle deep in the custard for a full fifteen seconds either the custard is below 120° or you are trying to prove to everybody how tough you are. If it's the latter condition you deserve to have the chocolate break and the recipe fail. You should have gotten yourself a thermometer.

Transfer the custard about a 1/2 cup at a time into the chocolate. Stirring until completely mixed. Again, once the two mixtures are roughly the same temperature you can then mix in the rest of the custard. The resulting chocolate custard should be glossy, silky, and voluptuously aromatic, be prepared to defend your kitchen from assault here. They will come after it right now, but stand firm. What you need to do now is to allow the custard to cool to room temperature while stirring it every few minutes to prevent it forming a skin.

Once it is at room temperature you can transfer it into the individual ramekins. Put the raspberries and their juice evenly around the bottom of the six ramekins. Carefully spoon about 1/3 cup of custard over this and smooth it with a spatula. Cover this closely with plastic. That means to get the plastic wrap right on the surface of the custard. Any air pockets will skin up. Small little defects of this type won't hurt anything but a skin across the top is just gross. Refrigerate the ramekins four to six hours before serving.

When it's time to serve, put around a tablespoon and a half of baker's sugar evenly over the custard and torch it until the sugar melts and begins to brown and bubble.

Garnish with whipped cream and fresh raspberries. (or a mint sprig if there aren't any raspberries available) Serve this immediately to rapturous accolades, enthusiastic applause followed by blessed silence as they dig into it. Be gracious in your acceptance of this acclaim, you truly earned it this time. The best companion beverages for this are espresso (in a demitasse with a twist of lemon---this is not cappuchino time, not latté this is time for full on unflavored espresso in the proper, petite cup), brandy, or calvados. Stay away from liqueurs or (ugh!) dessert wines. This is a dessert of strong flavors and deserves to be alongside something with teeth.

crossposted at 3B's

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Better Than A Stupid Ribbon On Your SUV

Last night I got an email from tata about a thing that's being done by Coalition of the Swilling. It seems that they are "adopting" a unit of Marines that are stationed on the Syria/Iraq border. Go read their posts.

This is an excerpt from the email I got from Coalition of the Swilling (egad, I love that name!).
It is our second year taking care of this unit as best we can. Lemme tell you a little about our kids ~ we took care of them last year through the holidays (and by that i mean from before Thanksgiving until the mail cut off end of Feb) and we're adopting again this year. Yep ~ you heard that right ~ SAME Marines, same station. They run the unmanned drones and, since there's only two units PERIOD, they rotate in and out of country every 6 months. (one of their young captains is on his FOURTH tour.) So they left Iraq in March and got back there mid-September. That's a LOT to ask of anybody, but they just pack up and go, bless their hearts. (And NOW our Sara is being transferred to a camp a mile from the Syrian border ~ absolute nasty, back of beyond real estate ~ and we'll be looking for more friends for the half dozen or so Marines stuck out there.)

Our aim is to get everyone's name called at mail call at least once in a while. We try to shoot for at least a couple names per leatherneck, that way cards and packages get pretty evenly distributed.

Please don't hesitate to ask any questions if I've forgotten something. I'd be delighted to send you a Marine ( or two or three if you can hook some friends up {8^P) if you're sure you'd like to sign on. I look forward to hearing from you!

They are assembling packages that contain little things to make life in the boonies a bit easier for the kids. I have told many "I support the troops" folks about something that happened while I was in Viet Nam. One year, out of the blue, my unit received a big package from Clover Valley Elementary School, Oak Harbor, Washington, Mrs. Grove's 4th grade class. It contained hundreds and hundreds of packages of Pre-Sweetened Kool-Aid®. That was big stuff for us boonie rats. Better than dope (actually the dope over there was way better than stateside but I digress). The pills (Halzone) that we used to "purify" the water we drank (and there was some totally funkatized water over there) made it taste very bad. The Kool-Aid helped a lot. Along with that was the reminder that somebody back in the world knew where we were and was thinking about us. We wrote them letters of thanks. They wrote us back. It was a little bit of sweetness from home that touched parts of us we had buried deep inside during our little vacation in hell's half-assed acre.

I'm getting me a couple of Marines, I'm encouraging everybody I know to do the same. Something like this only takes a moment and will give a homesick, scared kid a little bit of home and hope.

You have your mission troops, carry the fuck on and stuff.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Hi Jolly

The anticipation of a date shake at the mid point of a long drive had me singing an old song from my youth.

Hadji Ali was a real person. While Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis imported camels and drivers to traverse the distances of the Sonoran and Mojave deserts. After the experiement was abandoned Hadji Ali (Hi Jolly is a fair enough approximation for pronouncing his name) kept his train running. Miners, desert rats and the Indian Nations all benefitted from his service.

There were reports of feral camel sightings in the Arizona desert well into the 1970's. The Apache called them ga'an libah or "grey ghosts."

From the singing of the New Christy Minstrels as far as my memory can recall.

Hi Jolly
Hi Jolly, Hey Jolly, twenty miles today by golly
Twenty miles before the morning light
Hi Jolly Hey! I gotta be on my way I
Told my gal I'd be home Sunday night

Hi Jolly was a camel driver long years ago
Followed Mr. Greyson way out west
He didn't mind the burning sand
In that God-forsaken land
And he loved the pretty girls the best


There's pretty girls in Albequerque
Least that's what I hear
Pretty girls in Tucumcari too
Hush honey, I ain't blind
I don't pay them any mind
I'm savin' all my loving just for you


Old timers out in Arizona tell you that it's true
You can see Hi Jolly's ghost a riding still
When the desert moon is bright
He'll come riding through the night
Leading four and twenty camels down the hill


I loves me a good ol' singalong on a road trip.

humming off into the sunset

Travel Notice

I'm headed off to my mother's for the holiday. The only real news to report is that, in the absence of myself and two of my children, the lovely Pool Girls have agreed to both care for the critters and hang out at the house. In exchange for Suns tickets and a cash stipend of course.

A small, but not unsurprising little tidbit came about when I made the offer initially as being open to one or the other. They told me that in business and in life they are "a package deal." I told them that this was totally fine with me. I think they make a fine couple. They told me that they had considered "coming out" to me in the past but they decided that since they assumed it would make no difference to me anyway that they should just allow events to unfold naturally. The mere fact that I have needle tracks and gunshot scars older than these girls precluded any "hitting" on them alone, to say nothing of my not being willing to risk losing them on a business level. My son will have to adjust the scenarios of his fantasy life accordingly. In honor of the road trip I will offer up an unscheduled Random Ten for the highway. I've chosen the Big Bill Broonzy to start us off, everything to follow is the result of "shuffle."

Key to the Highway - - - Big Bill Broonzy
Big River - - - Johnny Cash
Safety Dance - - - Men Without Hats
The Mighty Quinn - - - Grateful Dead (live bootleg)
Sweet Home Chicago - - - Robert Johnson
Shame Shame Shame - - - Jimmy Reed
Whistlin' Past The Graveyard - - - Tom Waits
Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone - - - Billie Holiday
I Can't Get Next To You - - - Temptations
This Is the Sea - - - Waterboys

Bonus Track

WAR - - - Edwin Starr

Bonus Bonus

Shelter From the Storm - - - Joan Armitrading

Date Shakes in Quartzite will be consumed at the tomb of Hadji Ali and the proper respects will be paid to one of our true Arizona heroes.

cross cultured