Ok, so there's no cheese in this entry (well, that's probably a matter of opinion), I'm just dropping a mention of my favourite Ween CD.

Whilst there’s not much left unsaid about chocolate, without a doubt it is not just the best friend of the Bridget Jones’ of the world. However, chocolate, if only temporarily, does makes you feel better, whatever incarnation you consume it in: hot chocolate, cookies, brownies, cake, liqueur or a kilo bar. As an example of this, whilst eating half a Snickers Bar (and, most cynical sales ploy of the week goes to Mars for producing the Duo Bar, a replacement for the banned King Size Bar), I was reading a recipe for giant chocolate chip cookies (which I plan to make tonight) and writing a shopping list down that noted, yes, chocolate. I was also thinking that tonight I might share the Aero Bar I have hidden away with my husband. Chocolate is time consuming - once you start to crave it nothing will shift it from your desire and certainly not a punnet of Blueberries - healthy though they may be. Food fascism is a real prison of the mind and, like smokers food fascists insist that there is nothing wrong or unhealthy with their lifestyle choices. This may or may not be true, but let’s face it, life is stressful enough these days and to deny yourself the pleasure of eating food is to deny yourself oxygen. Food and eating is the one thing that ties people, families, together. It is difficult to imagine any joy in sharing a Quinoa Stir-Fry or Broccoli smoothie (although my husband, the crazy American, would probably love a Broccoli smoothie!) whereas sharing a homemade chocolate cake or fresh batch of cookies is another matter altogether.

Like the capacian in chillies which lifts your emotion, chocolate contains Seratonin AND Phenylethylamine, mood enhancers that occur naturally in the human brain. In fact, the very idea of combining chilli and chocolate seems like a natural and delicious alternative to other mood enhancers, i.e. drugs, alcohol etc. and whilst the effects fade a lot quicker, it is certainly cheaper and not quite as bad for you (well, have you ever had a chocolate hangover?). Chocolate also gives you a real energy boost, the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more caffeine it will contain too, although much less than a cup of Espresso. Ironically, a square or two of chocolate before bed helps me sleep. I say ironic, but really it’s just that the Seratonin helps you relax, one of the main factors behind a good nights sleep.

Incidentally, you can buy ‘herbal’ pills that replicate Seratonin, which you take just before bed. They are supposed to be a sleep-aid. I have tried these because I have a life-long love affair with sleep and dreams. For many years I have experimented with what you can take or eat to make your dreams more vivid. I have always considered that a bad dream is a good way to ‘restart’ the heart, an adrenalin rush akin to falling down the stairs but considering one of my hobbies is reading about true crime, it is amazing that none of decaying corpses that I read about on a regular basis come back to haunt me when I’m asleep. The Seratonin pills are really an expensive way to give yourself vivid dreams. They don’t increase your sleeping hours or help you fall asleep straight away, a nice cup of hot chocolate made with milk can though.

But to be honest, who really cares about what chocolate can do for your well-being? It tastes good and that’s what matters. Like watching a video nasty, you know that nothing good will come of it if you indulge too often really but it seems like a good idea at the time. More importantly, to a cook, it is a versatile ingredient and can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes. I use a chunk of Mexican chocolate in Chilli Con Carne. The Mexican chocolate comes in round, segmented tablets and has a grainy texture. It is flavoured with Cinnamon and tastes quite unlike regular eating chocolate. It is perfect however for making hot chocolate as it has excellent melting qualities and a unique redolent warming taste, quite unlike that of British hot chocolates. In the Chilli however, a couple of chunks thrown in at the end and these qualities add a complex back-note to the spiciness of the other ingredients, a hidden depth that rounds the dish off perfectly, in the same way that prunes add a mysterious hint to less spicy (but no less tasty!) meat dishes.

Of course, the area where chocolate really shines is baked desserts: puddings, cakes, biscuits, muffins, soufflés etc. And because it is versatile, you can combine it with fruits for summer desserts or liqueurs for dinner parties and it has a wonderful affinity with garden herbs such as Rosemary or Lavender.

One evening some organic chocolate cocoa powder saved, if not my life, then my cooking reputation. My husband had a work colleague over for supper and I, not really knowing the correct protocol for such events, hadn’t prepared a dessert although I had spent a good hour preparing a chocolate bread and butter pudding (more on that later) which needed 48 hours chilling in the fridge before baking. Later on that evening, I mentioned to our guest if he liked desserts – the question was really meant innocently enough as I was flipping through a cookbook of puddings at the time – to which he replied ‘well, if you’re offering I’m not going to say no, seeing as you’re kind enough...’ I cast my husband an aghast look and quickly scanned a Meals in Under Thirty Minutes cookbook. Only one recipe could be used in accordance with our pantry status (pretty scant at the time) and that was Self-Saucing Chocolate Puddings. Great! I gave my husband a triumphant wink and headed, cookbook in hand, towards the kitchen, wondering why on earth I hadn’t just said to our guest that ‘well, we don’t actually have any dessert, I was just making conversation...’ I guess I must enjoy a challenge. The recipe is painfully easy. Grease four ramekin dishes. In a mixing bowl combine some melted unsalted butter, good quality (I used Green and Blacks) cocoa powder, baking powder, self-raising flour, pinch of salt and a couple of eggs. Oh and some caster sugar. Divide this mixture into the ramekins. Boil a kettle at this point. Now, sprinkle a dessertspoon each of Demerara sugar and cocoa powder onto the top of each pudding, followed by a quarter of a cup of boiling water. This seems like a lot of water but melts with the sugar to make your sauce. Place ramekins (actually before you add the ‘sauce’ mixture) into a roasting tin and bake in a hot oven, about 180c for 15 minutes or so. The puddings puff up over the top of the ramekins, soufflĂ©-like but an inserted skewer will not come out clean as the sauce that was poured on the top, will have sunk to the bottom of the pudding. Dust with some icing sugar and serve as is. The sponge has a delicate chocolate flavour, not cloying at all, which is fortunate when you consider that the sticky sauce is incredibly rich. You could easily gussy up this dessert with some fresh raspberries or other soft fruit of your choice or a ball of good vanilla ice cream. And best of all, it was, literally, thrown together in less than 10 minutes, ready to eat in less than 30. I don’t see that there would be a problem with preparing the pudding mixture in advance and then adding the ‘sauce’ mixture when you’re ready to cook them.
On the other end of the scale we have the altogether more luxurious and (initially) time consuming chocolate bread and butter pudding from Delia Smith's Winter Collection. If you use the best quality dark chocolate you can afford (I tend to use either Green and Blacks or Lindt 75%. Vahlrona Italian chocolate is the one to aspire to but to be honest, unless it’s a particularly special occasion, at £4.00 a bar, it is really, really expensive), it is the most decadent chocolate dessert you could possibly imagine, and all under the homely, unsophisticated title of bread and butter pudding.
It is simple to make but a bit fiddly. Use a loaf of good quality stale white broad, sliced thinly (1/2”), crusts removed and then cut into four triangles. Break some good quality chocolate up into pieces, put in a bain-marie (or if like me, you’re not as posh, a small mixing bowl over the top of a pan of barely simmering water), with some single cream, a tablespoon or so of rum (although I used Brandy), cinnamon, butter, caster sugar, warm slowly until the chocolate has melted into the cream. Pour chocolate mixture over some beaten eggs (basically you’re making a custard here but without the tears that come with making proper custard. A cautionary tale: I once made my own custard to serve with a homemade Jam Roly Poly, and because I’m horribly impatient, instead of slowly stirring the egg and cream mixture over an incredibly low heat, I whumped the heat up a bit (well, quite a lot) until it started to boil, the custard thickened up a treat – that is until I came to pour it over the Jam Roly Poly and the custard had split into a sort of watery scrambled egg mess – let that be a lesson to us all), stir until combined. Pour some of the custard into the buttered baking dish so it coats the bottom quite thickly, then add a layer of the bread, then cover the layer thickly with the custard, then another layer, then finish up the custard. Cling film, leave to cool then retire pudding to the fridge for at least the next 24 hours. When you are ready to cook said dish, heat oven to 180c, remove cling-film, bung it in the oven for maybe 30 minutes, or until the top is deliciously crisp and you can feel the tremor of bubbling custard beneath that top layer. Serve with some single cream. My granddad said this was the best chocolate dessert he ever tasted and believe me when I say that he is my most fervent critic. He relishes in critiquing my food. For example, I once prepared an old fashioned Scottish dessert, the name of which escapes me, but it involves soaking oatmeal in cream and whiskey and sugar then serving with some raspberries. It’s extremely yummy I think but his words to me, as he churned the oatmeal mix over in his mouth with all the enthusiasm of a cow chewing the same old cud: “well Miss P, I don’t think much to this!” and then proceeded to finish the dessert off! Furthermore, we have the time when I made the aforementioned sausage and lentil dish, made extra especially for my grandparents, grandly displayed to my grandmother who will try anything once, left them to it, and half an hour later got a phone call from my grandmother telling me that my granddad has said “I came racing down from my bath, thinking I had something nice for my tea and I get this....this muck!” referring to the ‘hippy’ lentils. Ah well. He said the bread and butter pud tasted like Death by Chocolate. This may be the case if I should be on the receiving end of anymore non-constructive criticisms!
Anyway, one is growing weary of all this chocolate speak. I shall post this today with the promise that with the four day Easter weekend ahead, I have a cooking marathon ahead of me: Chick Pie Filo Pie, Baklava Muffins, Pistachio Macaroons, Carrot Cupcakes and Easy Almond Cake. Yes, I’m turning the whole family diabetic!

1 comment:

Shu said...

Went to an all night party and friends were passing around a euphoric enhancer to help us stay in the mood and party all night into the wee hours of the morning. And that it did! I tried other mood enhancers but they were not very effective. Trip2night is a great euphoric enhancer and worked wonders for me. It comes in a powdered form and mixes easily.