Thursday, March 22, 2012

Planning the Second Annual Chocolate Dinner

It's appropriate that my last post was about the Chocolate Dinner I did last year and how I was thinking of making it an annual event, because now it's time to plan the next one. I figure to write a few posts about planning, then a couple about the actual dinner, and then I'll get back to actually keeping this blog up to date.

Right. I just found a rather long draft post about meals for Rosh Hashanah that I never published. Oh, well, it's a bit late now so I'll save it for next year. Maybe. In the meantime, I've decided to go ahead and put this out there as a reminder that I really do want to resume my life.

Because just having a dinner where everything on the menu includes some form of chocolate wasn't complicated enough, this year's Chocolate Dinner will also be a Passover Seder.

Passover imposes one level of complication -- everything has to be kosher for Passover. The short version of that is -- no wheat, oats, spelt, barley, or rye unless it has been prepared in a certain restricted way that insures the grains do not ferment. In addition, because we follow the Ashkenazic tradition, we also do not have certain other foods such as beans, rice, and corn.

The problem these restrictions place on chocolate is that most commercial chocolate includes soy lecithin, which we do not use during Passover. Therefore, all chocolate and chocolate products have to be certified as kosher for Passover.

Then there is the whole issue of having a Chocolate Dinner as a seder. There are certain ritual foods that must be included at a seder -- matzoh, green vegetables, a mixture known as charoset, bitter herbs, salt water for dipping -- and others that must at least be present on the table (a roasted lamb bone, a roasted egg). How do we include chocolate in these items? All will be revealed....

Two levels of complication is not enough, however. A six-year-old friend whose family generally joins us for our seders has recently been diagnosed as allergic to gluten and dairy.

You do remember, don't you, that this blog is about being ovo-lacto vegetarian Jews? So now our Chocolate Dinner cannot include grains, rice, legumes including soy, corn, or dairy products. And everything has to include chocolate.

This is going to be So Much Fun.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Chocolate Dinner -- Part the Second

I had so much fun planning and preparing this dinner that I am seriously considering making it an annual event.

We started with chocolate chip challah, which was delicious. I used the recipe from the book Chocolate Chip Challah and Other Twists on the Jewish Holiday Table, pretty much as it appears in the book. Not being a newbie to baking bread, I streamlined and used my own processes where applicable. The challah dough called for the addition of a sweet potato, which made the resulting bread a little moister and more colorful. I'm going to try this recipe again without the chocolate chips and will report more after that. The butter whipped with fudge sauce (1/2 cup butter to 2 Tablespoons fudge sauce)  was an excellent spread for this rich bread.
At my friend's request, we had Strawberry Soup. To give it a chocolate twist, I made chocolate garnishes to float on top. I tried to make some chocolate ducks (because zombies were too difficult), but most of the garnishes looked more like generic flowers or butterflies.
Or maybe bugs? Whatever, they tasted just fine.

For vegetables, there was a green salad, a Waldorf salad, and a carrot and onion dish.
The green salad included cacao nibs, the Waldorf salad had chocolate chips, and there was a cocoa glaze on the carrots and onions. I also put together a vinaigrette that included a little cocoa powder, just to continue the theme of the evening.

The green salad with cacao nibs and cocoa vinaigrette was the big winner in the vegetable department. I used Ghiardelli chocolate chips in the Waldorf salad and I think they were just a little too big to work well. Next time, I might try milk chocolate chips instead. The glazed carrots and onions were nice, but I think I will skip the onions next time. They were a lot of work to prepare and kind of overwhelmed the more subtle flavor of the carrots.

The chocolate chip kugel was a big success.
As was the salmon with mole rub. (For the uninitiated, "mole" is a Mexican word that mostly indicates a mixture of things, but has come to mean a sauce or spice mixture that includes unsweetened chocolate as a flavor intensifier.) Actually, the salmon was delicious even though I didn't cook it on a grill like the original recipe suggested. I don't own a grill, so I baked it at 400 degrees Farenheit for about 15 minutes and then warmed it up again before serving. The salmon was definitely one of the high points of the meal.
The other mole entree was less well received. I had made a tortilla and black bean casserole with a mole sauce, but the sauce was a little overwhelming, probably because I used the hottest chili powder I had. I'm going to try again before going into great detail over that casserole.
Last, but not least, we had five chocolate desserts to end up the evening. Between the main meal and the desserts, however, we decided to play Apples to Apples to give our food time to settle.
Starting with the bowl at the top left and moving clockwise, we had Chocolate Orange Mousse, Chocolate Nut Pie, Chocolate Mint Pound Cake, Chocolate Ice Cream Pie, and Death by Chocolate cookies. The "yum" factor was enormous.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Chocolate Dinner -- Part the First

Before I get back to my schedule, which was interrupted last summer and never resurrected, there will be a Chocolate Dinner.

The Chocolate Dinner deserves a little bit of explanation. About 5 years ago, while I was the Youth Director at my synagogue, I was looking for a new and exciting fundraising idea. Somewhere in the course of discussions with various people, we came up with the idea to have a Chocolate Shabbat Dinner where every dish would contain chocolate in some form.

The dinner was not wildly successful from a fund-raising point of view, possibly because people thought that everything on the menu would be sweet and candy-like. Considering we had a green salad whose concession to chocolate was cacao nibs and the main dish was chicken mole, I was baffled by this reaction. But whatever. Those of us who planned and prepared the meal had fun testing recipes and the vast quantities of leftover food went to a family in need.

Fast forward several years and one of my good friends here is leaving to return to the East Coast. Good for her. I hope to follow her East as soon as I can sell my house and all that stuff. She asked if I would be willing to make a chocolate dinner for her before she leaves. Not a fundraiser this time, obviously, and all the people at the dinner will be good friends. How could I turn this down?

The actual dinner will be on March 25, but I have finalized the menu and already made the soup (the ingredients were on sale this week and I have lots of room in the freezer). So tonight I'm going to post the menu, and over the next two weeks you will see more about the various dishes that will make up the meal.

Chocolate Chip Challah
Rich Chocolate Butter

Strawberry soup with chocolate garnishes

Green salad with cacao nibs
Cocoa vinaigrette
Waldorf Salad with chocolate chips

Cocoa-glazed carrots and onions

Chocolate-chip kugel
Black Bean & tortilla casserole* with mole sauce
Salmon fillets with Mole Rub

*This one deserves a bit of explanation. Paula Deen has published a recipe for chicken mole enchiladas. I made the casserole more-or-less as she described, using fake chicken strips instead of chicken. The mole sauce was delicious, but the layer with the "chicken" called for 2 packages of cream cheese and a pound of sour cream. The combination was a little much in my family's opinion, so we decided to keep the mole sauce but use a filling of seasoned black beans and cheese.

Chocolate Mint Cream Cheese Cake (from Chocolate Cake Mix Doctor book)
Chocolate Rum balls
Death by Chocolate cookies (aka Baker's One Bowl Chocolate Bliss Cookies)
Chocolate nut pie
Chocolate mousse
Chocolate ice cream

It is just possible that I will not make ALL of those desserts for this dinner. But there's a good chance that anything I don't make for the dinner, I will make at some other point in the future. Except for the ice cream. That I will purchase. The only flavor of ice cream that I make at home is vanilla.

Chocolate milk
Hot chocolate
Chocolate teas (both hot and iced)
Sabra chocolate-orange liqueur

Now that the menu is set, I'm kind of looking forward to preparing this meal.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cantelope-Peach Soup -- Another Soup for Summer

I know that summer is technically over, but I sort of lost the summer this year thanks to outside events. Then offspring went back to school and the Tishrei holidays attacked. So I never posted this in the hot weather. But peaches and cantelope are both still plentiful, so you can make this now. Or wait until next year.

The original recipe called for fresh peaches, so I'm going to show you how to deal with fresh peaches in making this soup. But to be honest, I have used both canned peaches (in juice or light syrup) and frozen peaches (both commercial and from my own peach tree) with equally good results.
When I use frozen or canned peaches, I aim for about a quart of peaches. When using fresh peaches, select six beautiful ripe peaches.
The peaches need to be peeled and pitted. The easiest way to get the peels off without losing lots of fruit is to parboil the peaches. Parboiling involves cooking the peaches briefly in boiling water and then immediately transferring them to ice water to stop the cooking.
Have the iced water prepared before dropping the peaches into the boiling water. I drop them in and let them boil for 90 seconds to 2 minutes. Then I dip them out:
And drop them into the ice water.
Leave them in the ice water for 10 minutes or so for best results. Then pick them out, one at a time, and make a cut around the middle, cutting all the way down to the pit.
As you do this, the peel should start slipping off the peach. Just pull it off until the peach is naked:
Once the peel is off, cut wedges off the peach and put them into a saucepan. When you've finished all six peaches, you will have a pile of peach skins and peach pits to discard:
And a pan full of peach slices just waiting to be made into soup:
Add 1/4 cup white wine (dry or sweet, as you wish -- or leave it out altogether), 6 Tablespoons lemon juice (fresh or bottled), about 1 Tablespoon of honey, 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, and a dash or two of nutmeg to the peaches in the saucepan. Each of these ingredients can be increased or decreased to fit your family's taste.
Heat the peach mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and let the peaches stew for about 10 minutes, then take off the heat and let the peaches cool to room temperature.
The cooling process can be speeded up by placing the pan of peaches in the refrigerator or freezer. Just make sure that it doesn't start to freeze.
When cool enough, pour the peach mixture into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth:
The blended peach mixture can now be poured into a serving dish. I have a soup tureen, so I pour the peaches directly into the tureen:
The soup can be refrigerated until the next step is completed, or you can keep it out since the next step doesn't take much time.

Having taken care of the peach part of the cantelope-peach soup, it's now time to tackle the cantelope part. Pick a nice ripe cantelope, cut it in half, and scoop out the seeds:
You will be cutting about 3/4 of the cantelope (minus the skin) into chunks and placing those chunks into your blender or food processor. There's no real need to clean the blender between the peaches and the cantelope, since it will all end up in the same soup bowl:
Save that last quarter of the cantelope for a bit. Add 1 cup of orange juice to the cantelope and blend until smooth.
Then add the cantelope mixture to the peach mixture that is already in your serving dish:
Stir the two mixtures together well and then return to the last quarter of the cantelope:
Cut up this last piece of cantelope into fairly small pieces -- small enough to pick up on a soup spoon.
Add the chunks to the soup:
Chill the soup for several hours. (I have been known to put the soup into the freezer for short periods of time, if it doesn't seem cold enough.)

And enjoy!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I know I'm Behind

But I'll catch up soon. I have all the pictures and text. I just need to put it all together. In the meantime, I've been baking:

Monday, June 28, 2010

Guacamole -- Make it now while avocadoes are cheap

I don't know whether this is a traditional guacamole recipe or not. It's the one that I have developed over the years and my family likes it. Summer is a great time of year for guacamole because avocadoes are cheap and plentiful. Not as cheap as they were in my childhood, when I remember avocadoes at a dime a dozen on more than one occasion, but still inexpensive enough that it's worth buying up a bunch.
Ripe avocadoes tend to be on the darker side. They should "give" slightly when gently squeezed at the stem end. Firmer avocadoes can also be used, but rock-hard avocadoes are not a good idea. Let them ripen in a paper bag in a warm place for a few days instead. It's worth taking the extra time.

Cut the avocadoes in half along the long axis:
And scoop out the innards into a bowl (discard the avocado seeds unless you want to try sprouting one):
After all your avocado innards are scooped out, mash them up:
I like to use a pastry blender, but a fork works just as well. You want to have a relatively homogenous mixture when you are done, with no big lumps.

I chop onions very, very fine (in little itty-bitty pieces) for my guacamole:

I also use a garlic press to add some fresh garlic:
The amount of onions and garlic I add varies depending on how many avocadoes I have used or how I'm feeling about onion and garlic on the particular day I make guacamole. So I guess that's an "add to taste". As is the salsa. Salsa is essential -- in fact, I used to make guacamole just from smashed up avocadoes and salsa. The onions and garlic were a later addition.
The salsa we use right now is a local organic product that we are very fond of and use for all kind of things, including just to dip corn chips into.
I can't give you quantities on the salsa, either. My advice is to add some salsa and then taste.
Repeat this process until you have the degree of spiciness that makes you happy. No matter how much salsa I add to the guacamole, by the way, my husband always says that it could use a little more.

And that's it. Very simple and very good. If you have to store the guacamole for a while before serving, cover it with plastic wrap that is pressed down onto the surface of the dip to prevent any air from getting in. Some people recommend keeping an avocado pit in the salsa, but I only do that for leftovers -- which I also cover with plastic wrap pressed right down onto the dip, even if it's stored in something like Tupperware. Air is the enemy of fresh food.

I would have included pictures of how to store the leftovers, but....
There really wasn't enough to store. Instead, we just grabbed some chips and finished it off.

Next week -- another cold fruit soup for summer.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ice Cream the Old-Fashioned Way

I am actually not a big fan of ice cream, but I really love home-made hand-cranked ice cream, if only because it brings back memories of long hot summer days when I was a child.

This is the ice cream recipe that I got from my mother. It contains raw eggs and I know that some people are leery of using raw eggs. I've done a fair amount of research on this issue over the years and the potential dangers using raw eggs simply don't worry me very much. If you are concerned about raw eggs, there are plenty of recipes for ice cream in which the eggs are cooked before freezing -- just use one of them.

Start with six whole eggs:
Beat them really well in a mixer and then add sugar:
And canned milk:
This is not sweetened condensed milk, but evaporated milk. This is a very important distinction. I add three cups of sugar and 3 cans of milk, alternating additions and mixing well after each. I also add 1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract:
It's very important to make sure that the ice cream ingredients are thoroughly mixed, so check the beaters and the bottom of the mixing bowl to make sure there's no eggs or sugar that did not get blended in.

I then add whole milk -- not skim, not 1 per cent, not 2 per cent -- whole milk.
I usually add an entire quart of milk, but I only pour in about half a carton to start with, mixing it in thoroughly:
At this point, I pour the ice cream mix into the canister of the ice cream maker. This is usually a tall metal canister that has a removal mixing beater:
The ice cream mix will not fill the canister:
And here's where I have to insert a small confession. Our current ice cream maker is a 6-quart machine and the recipe my mother gave me is for only 4 quarts of ice cream. I just haven't gotten around to increasing the amounts yet to fit the new machine -- but I'll do it at the end so that you can make either 4-quarts or 6 quarts of ice cream, depending on the size of your ice cream maker.

Now I take the rest of that whole milk and rinse out the mixing bowl with it to make sure I've gotten all the good stuff out of the bowl.
The rest of the quart of milk is used to rinse out the bowl (and is then added to the ice cream canister) or goes directly into the canister.
Even in a 4-quart canister, this amount of ice cream mix will not fill the canister. The mixture will expand as it freezes, so there needs to be room for the finished product.

Put the top on the canister and place it inside the ice cream maker bucket. There is usually a depression on the bottom of the canister that fits into a space on the bottom of the bucket to make sure that the canister is seated properly.
Add ice around the canister:
And put salt on the ice. My mother used to use coarse salt or kosher salt until she realized that table salt works just as well. Use whatever salt you have.
The salt lowers the freezing point of the water, making the ice colder and the ice cream freeze faster. So use salt!

Continue adding layers of ice and salt until the bucket is full:
If you have an electric ice cream maker, add the motor unit and turn it on:
If you don't have a motor unit or if -- like us on the day we took these pictures -- your motor unit isn't working, add the hand-crank attachment and find some enthusiastic children to turn the crank:
At first the crank turns very easily. This is a good time to let children work. They are usually eager to get to the ice cream and don't mind the effort. Eventually, however, the crank will become harder and harder to turn. That's when you need to get teenage boys or adults involved.
When there's a lot of resistance to the cranking (about 30 minutes on a hot sunny day), you can check the ice cream to see whether it is done.
As I mentioned, the recipe I made isn't enough to feel this particular freezer. In a 4-quart freezer (or if I'd increased the recipe amount), sometimes the ice cream will expand enough to start coming out of the top. Stop cranking at that point.

Regardless of your method for determining doneness, the ice cream will resemble heavy cream at this point. It needs to be "packed" for further freezing.

Packing Homemade Ice Cream in the Ice Cream Freezer
Carefully remove the top of the freezer assembly, then the top of the canister. Gently remove the paddle/turner from the canister and give it to someone to lick (this is a messy treat). Put some foil around the top of the freezer canister, rinse off the top (it may have some salt and ice on it), and replace the top on the canister over the foil. Add additional ice up to the top of the freezer canister, cover the freezer with a towel folded up nicely so that you can sit on it, and leave the freezer in a shady area until you are ready to eat the ice cream.

Packing Homemade Ice Cream in Your Electric Freezer
Carefully remove the top of the freezer, then the entire freezer canister. You will need to take the top off, remove the paddle and give it to someone to lick, and then replace the top. I strongly recommend rinsing off the outside of the freezer canister as well as the top and using some foil to cover the ice cream as described above. Then stick the entire freezer canister into your freezer or refrigerator freezer compartment until you are ready to eat the ice cream.
We had to leave ours in the freezer, but one of these days I'll take pictures of packing the ice cream the other way. I check the ice cream every 30 minutes or so and stir it up really well to prevent it from separating:
The ice cream on the sides of the canister needs to be stirred in as well. I usually wait at least 2 hours before actually eating the ice cream (though some people can't wait that long). The ice cream will still be very soft, almost soupy at this stage:
But it tastes yummy and is great with fruit or chocolate sauce, if you are so inclined.

The leftovers from the first rush to ice cream are frozen until they are much more solid. Unless I continue to stir it up every hour or so, some separation will take place:
It's hard to see in this picture, but the bottom of the ice cream (I put it into a shallow container to freeze overnight) is slightly darker. When this happens, I just scrape it all out and put the frozen stuff into my mixer:
And then beat it until it is mostly smooth and homogenous:
The ice cream is still soft-serve at this point, but also still delicious:
After I've mixed up the frozen ice cream, it almost never separates again, so I put it into containers and freeze it yet again:
There's not often much left at this point, but after several hours more of freezing, the ice cream is still somewhat softer than commercial ice cream, but it also looks more frozen:
And yes, it still tastes delicious. Especially for breakfast with some Grape Nuts on top.

Ice Cream -- 4 quarts (6 quarts)

6 eggs (9 eggs)
3 cups sugar (4-1/2 cups sugar)
3 cans evaporated milk (4-1/2 cans evaporated milk)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract (1-1/2 Tablespoons vanilla extract)
1 quart whole milk (6 cups whole milk)

Beat eggs thoroughly, then add sugar and canned milk alternately, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla and about half of whole milk. Pour mix into the freezer canister of your ice cream freezer, then use whole milk to rinse out your mixing bowl, adding this to the freezer canister until it is about 2/3 full (or as full as your manufacturer suggests). Refrigerate for at least one hour before transferring to the ice cream maker and freezing.