Saturday, February 16, 2008

Truffles For SomeWateryTart

These are yours. I have a house full of family for the next few days. Even the Pool Girls have come out for the weekend. We are going to be doing a birthday party for the new niece, going to see Spiderwyke, which I hope isn't awful.

This is a half dozen each of the classic Bittersweets and a half dozen of the Sofia's Mexicali Spice. Also, on Tuesday, a dozen just like this go off to Trog69 and to Maheannu-Tane. Then, it's back to the grind for me. There are some wholesale orders that I'll be getting ready for a Palm Springs casino.

We'll figure out how to get these to you Tartness. Don't despair. Don't jones. If you must, grab some good bittersweet from Trader Joe's. It won't get you high like these truffles but it will take the edge off of your habit.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Snapshot from 40 Years Ago

Forty years ago, in February I was a young one (19) on my first tour at a small base in Phu Bai provence. I was getting ready to go on my first LRRP (lurp). I had done my homework to get the older salts in a place where they trusted my skills to the point of being included on a job like that. My woodcraft, learned growing up on the rez, was a point of great admiration for them. I was a tracker of what they considered to be almost supernatural skills, to my thinking, and my experience, I was below average. My shooting was also something they thought was beyond training. I did have a natural talent for it, and, I had grown up where skill with a rifle was often the difference between eating and going hungry. More than that though, I was, and still am a listener, a reader, and a learner. I knew that the guys who had been there, out in the boonies for a tour or more were the guys that I needed to watch and learn from. They had the skills that would keep me alive.

I was only two weeks out of being a cherry. In my unit, until you had been wounded to a point of requiring evacuation, and then returned, or, until you have a proven kill, your name was Cherry. I made my kill while on a routine patrol. Being the junior guy, and the cherry, I was sent to a spring to fill canteens. While there, a Viet Cong cherry had been sent to the same task. I shot first. I shot straight. I shot, and I immediately went to ground. I found some dense cover and made myself scarce. I knew that there were bound to be others in the black PJs who, hearing the crack of an M16 would be coming to investigate. I had no idea what direction they would be coming from, I also knew that my guys would be right in the mix soon too. That move of mine, that I had the presence of mind to get myself out of any sight lines, impressed the grizzly old Master Chief. He was the one who tapped me out for the LRRP to come. We were going to be moving out in two days. I was already packed, had run my kit past a couple of the older members of the team to make sure that I was bringing enough of the things I would need, and leaving behind anything that would be dead weight. Fully assembled my ruck displaced about 85 pounds. Most of it ammunition.

With my gear rucked up tight and nothing really to do, I was hanging out in the doper's hootch. There were a couple of "recreation" hootches and the choices were pretty cut and dried. The doper's hootch was integrated and they played a lot of Motown. The lifer's hootch was lily white (even the African American who hung with the lifers was from Oklahoma City and talked whiter than me) and they played a lot of Merle Haggard. I was sucking down some warm ass beer, and blowing some killer thai one of our guys had scored from the locals. I remember vividly that Sam the Sham and the Pharohs were singing "Wooly Bully."

Out of nowhere, the world suddenly changed. Sirens and explosions began to sound right about the same time. Then, the loudspeakers for the base began to blare with a young voice that had dropped all pretense of decorum or military discipline screaming into the microphone: "Gooks in the wire. Gooks in the wire. Everybody to the line. Gooks are everywhere in the wire."

I grabbed my rifle, my web belt and a couple cans of ammo and ran to the nearest sand bagged rifle pit. There was incredible sounds. Shots and explosions, screams, and random flashes. I was in the act of swapping out the magazine on my rifle when I realized that I still had half a joint dangling from my lips. Since I smoked Camels I didn't think that anybody would really notice anything. The excitement, the fear, and my reaction to it all had pretty much burned off any stone I had working. Thing was, I couldn't quit singing "Wooly Bully."

The rifle pit I had jumped into began to fill up with a mixture of Marines, whose base it was, and a couple of guys from my team. I kept singing. I had my rifle on single fire. It was a convention of the team. Often we would be working and moving completely out of sight of each other. If we heard automatic fire that wasn't an M60, an easily identified report signature, we knew it wasn't us. We rarely used our 16s on "rock and roll." I noticed that I was firing in rhythm with my singing. It struck me as pretty funny.

Some of the jarheads were starting to look at me a little strange. They had spent most of the last several days complaining loudly about the "squids" who had invaded their little base. They thought we were arrogant and spoiled brats who strutted around in our tiger cammies and thought that we were in this war alone, and that it had been all started for our amusement. They thought that seeing somebody singing "Wooly Bully" and firing his weapon in rhthym to the song was pretty strange. I figured I'd give them something to really chew on.

I flipped my selector to "Full Auto." I kept singing, but much more loudly now. I reached the part of the song, right before the guitar solo where the singer shouts "Now Watch Him, Now Watch Him Now, Here It Comes!" I stood and emptied an entire magazine out into the perimeter. Then I dropped into a sitting position howling with laughter. The jarheads were saucer eyed and speechless. The two guys from my team who were there started to sing "Wooly Buuuuulllllly! Wooly Bully. dum da dudda dum da dut dut da da dumpa dum"

After about half an hour the assault was broken off. The closest they had come to our lines was about 150 yards. Quickly after they broke contact the mortars and rockets started to slam into us. Master Chief Norr came around to check on who was where and was making deployments. The first thing he said was "You kids need to quit smoking that shit, it makes you stupid." Then he looked at me and said "I want you on the CP hootch with the .308. Take Barney with you on the big eyes (high power binoculars). When they come again, it will be right behind a break in the shelling, we're going to pop some star shells (illumination rounds) and I want you with the rifle and Barney spotting, you see anybody looks like a sergeant, or an officer drop them fast. If they look like a leader, take his fucking head off. Got that Tonto?" I said "You betchum Red Ryder."

The siege lasted a little over a day and a half. We finally were able to be resupplied and covered from the air.

Tet, had begun.


Treacle Pudding

Treacle (molasses) is one of my all time favorite cooking ingredients. This is also one of the few honest to god British foods that won't send you reaching for a barf bag.


1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
A few drops of vanilla extract
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 cups Tate & Lyle Golden Syrup (a little extra will do no harm).

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, along with the vanilla.
With a spatula, fold in the flour and baking powder and mix until smooth. Take care not to overmix here.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Butter and flour a 10-inch round Bundt pan.
Pour the syrup into the pan, then spoon in the sponge batter, gently smoothing the top with a spatula.
Bake for about 30 minutes; the sponge should be golden on top.
Remove the pudding from the oven and let it cool for 2-3 minutes. Place a plate on top of the Bundt pan, then quickly but firmly turn the plate and pan upside down to release the cake onto the plate.. You may need to loosen the edges very slightly with a knife before you flip it.
Serve with hot custard.


3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 egg yolks

Heat cream, milk, sugar, and vanilla until hot but not boiling. Remove from heat, whisk the egg yolks, then whisk in the hot liquid 1/4 cup at a time to avoid scrambling.

big brass blog

Friday Random Ten

Whew! What a week. Lots of chocolate work. Now, I'm getting ready for a home invasion over the weekend. My new niece, a couple of my kids, the Pool Girls, an aunt and an uncle are all converging. We are going to celebrate a ninth birthday, and go see the high school production of "High School Musical" that features another niece. Today is a full on top to bottom, fore to aft house scrubbing, with a carpet shampoo to boot.

Here's the soundtrack.

Nevertheless - - - Count Basie
Misty - - - Sarah Vaughn
Manhattan - - - Bobby Short
Girl From the North Country - - - Leo Kottke
Don't Take it Too Bad - - - Townes Van Zandt
It Must Have Been Something I Loved - - - Lee Hazelwood
Rock and Roll Crazies - - - Stephen Stills
Low Spark of High Heeled Boys - - - Traffic
Fire On The Mountain - - - Grateful Dead
3rd Man in - - - Dropkick Murpheys


Live Again (the fall of man) - - - Bad Religion

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Writers Vote Back To Work (i decide to be a slacker)

The WGA appears to have gotten a very satisfactory deal. They were more concerned with no allowing any rollbacks than gaining any ground, and they got that. Plus some extras. They got past a group of producers who were intent on breaking the union, they held together.

Bravo Writers!

The next question I get asked is "Does this mean you'll be back in the jingle stroll?" Probably not. While observing me making this last batch of truffles, my mother, and my friend April both commented that they were seeing me operate with a passion and a joy that is mostly missing from my music. It felt good. It felt right. I will probably still keep my hand in by playing with my folk/blues gig. But, the main focus for the next year or so will be finishing up my health stuff. There's still some major work to be done on the hip, knee, and feet. Beyond that, I will be a truffle maker.

It feels good. I'm liking it.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Shipping Day

I have been tallying up the truffles and am going to be putting up a half batch of Raspberry and Bittersweets just in case.

Damn. You'd have thought 16 dozen would have been adequate. I will publish the folks who are shipped today. If you are missed scream loud and I'll get it handled.


From the just when you thought you had shit handled department when the phone rings and the day disappears from your grasp.

Shipping will be first thing in the morning tomorrow. The flavors are hereby adjusted to be spice and bittersweet.

Sheesh. Gotta shut this down and get out of the house before the phone rings again.
big brass blog

Monday, February 11, 2008

Live Truffle Blogging: Raspberry

There really aren't many combinations more perfect than the marriage of raspberries and dark chocolate. I haven't had a sip of alcohol in fifteen years, but I can still taste the exquisite combination of a raspberry truffle and some dry champagne.

It's a combination not to be missed. Again, I had to improvise on the decoration today. The normal way I do these is to sprinkle with some bright red sugar crystals and then stripe with white. Since I couldn't find my sugars I just striped with red and white.

I think it came out OK.

This concludes the live truffle blogging portion of the show. I figured nobody much would be interested in the live cleaning up the bloody kitchen part. The machine needs to be broken down and thoroughly cleaned, then the counters, then the floors.

But Look!

I think it was worth the effort made and the effort to come. I'll be packing up tomorrow morning and shipping. I'm excited. How about you?


Live Truffle Blogging: Jenna's Crystallized Ginger

These are the truffles that take the longest to make. The first part is to spend the five days it takes to crystalize the ginger. Store bought stuff is pale and tame compared to the home made version.

After that, it is merely a case of adding in little, tiny, chunks of diced crystallized ginger to the ganache. Then dip and decorate. Normally I use a dusting of yellow sugar crystals in the decorations but when I went looking for them they were not to be found. So, we have to make do with simple yellow stripes.

The flavors are delicious. I'm a huge chocolate purist, my favorite truffle is the one that is chocolate and nothing else. I make an exception for these. They are superb.


Live Truffle Blogging: Sofia's Mexicali Spice

These are special. I started a thing several years ago where I named truffles after kids in the family. The grand daughter of a close friend is a totally charming nine year old. She gets her issue of truffles from every batch. Her name is Sofia. Two years ago she demanded that I create a flavor that would be named after her, and reflect the heritage of Mexico.

I first tried using already prepared Mexican chocolate, Ibarra and Arbeulita. I had zero success using them for ganache. After much wonderful experimentation I finally hit upon the correct proportions of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger which accurately reflected the Aztec and Mayan beginnings of chocolate. These are much less sweet, the taste of the spices, all of which are psychoactive in one way or another jumps and lingers. It's not bullying though. The flavors are pronounced but still quite polite.

There is a whole raft of chocolatiers who are doing things like using cayenne and habaneros in chocolate. There's even a couple of crackheads in L.A. that uses cumin and garlic in their chocolates. I am far more restrained with the flavorings and less inhibited with throwing out monster doses of dark, high quality chocolate.

These are special though. Eating one of these will harken back to the days where the making and consuming of chocolate was wrapped up in strong voodoo, with human sacrifice thrown in for good measure.

I promise no republicans were harmed in the making of these truffles. I thought about it, but I did not. After all, the Aztec and Maya insisted on Human sacrifices. Most republicans don't qualify there.

Soundtrack for this phase of dipping was Bruce Springsteen singing Jersey Girl, sha-la-la-la, indeed. In the time it took to write that the song changed to Tom Waits singing Bad Liver and a Broken Heart.


Live Truffle Blogging

Since I am being sent into fits of giddy delight by the overpowering smell of chocolate and the joy of working equipment I declare this to be the day of Live Truffle Blogging.

Especially for the folks who have been so patient with my breakdowns and the amount of time it took to get the stuff out. If you have a claim on some of these be prepared to feast your eyes. It will be no time at all before you are feasting for real.


12:30 Pacific Time: The Bittersweets are all dipped and trimmed. There are four boxes that look just like this. In solidarity with your patience I haven't even scarfed one yet.


Dipping Day

The first step with dipping is to melt the 70% cocoa mass bittersweet chocolate. Here's three pounds just starting.

Pretty cool. To temper chocolate the first step is to melt it to a temperature of 99°. While the chocolate is being stirred (where a tempering machine really proves its worth with a rotating bowl and a scraper) it is slowly cooled to 92° while tempered chocolate is added in. This aligns the molecules of fat which will result in a tight, shiny, tempered chocolate shell.

The above is ready to begin dipping. It's about 2 1/2 pounds that has been held at 92° for ten minutes while tempered chocolate is added in as the bowl spins. The smell in the kitchen is intoxicating.

I forgot to add that the temperature in the room is just below 65°. That's where good chocolate sets up right.

Pretty cool huh? The soundtrack for writing this while more chocolate melts has been Mistral Gagnat by the sublime Lara Fabien.

More to come as the day progresses.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Rolling With My Homies

Today is truffle rolling day. Made even more exquisite by the unannounced arrival of the lovely April late last night. One of the best improvements in my life the move to California has brought me is that April is now free to just show up. The downside is that her cell phone goes off and sometimes she has to leave. It didn't happen last night.

We have four large batches of ganache chilled and set to be rolled. There should be about four dozen truffles from each. For those who have forgotten while I dithered and slacked off, the flavors for the Valentine's batch are

Crystallized Ginger
Bittersweet (nothing but chocolate, my personal favorite)
Mexican Spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger - seductive and sensual)

I will keep you apprised. Shipping could be as early as Tuesday.


The truffles are rolled and setting in the refrigerator. Dipping will commmence tomorrow. I am negotiating for my niece to be here to help with photos.