Saturday, December 27, 2008

Chunks Have Returned!

Sam and I work for the same large corporation — albeit in different divisions — and we are both on the Foodies list. In a recent email thread about tempering chocolate and the chips one can buy for the purpose, she casually suggested the new Scharffen Berger chocolate chunks she was snacking on.

My breath caught, and I clicked the link. Could it be? It could.

Because these are not a new product. Scharffen Berger made these chunks a few years ago, but the process was too expensive given the demand. As I remember it, they had to stop their normal chocolate production, switch the factory over to a new mode, and then make chunks for a while before undoing all the effort to make normal chocolate again. I guess all that Hershey money has empowered them to start up again.

You can snack on these, as Sam was doing, or melt them down for tempering, as she suggested. But the baking chunks are perfect in the thick, chewy chocolate chip cookies I prefer. They become gooey pockets in the cakey mass, bigger (and better) than chocolate chips. They are also, it turns out, ideal for the “chocolate things” recipe in The Cheese Board Collective Works (a buttery yeast dough filled with chocolate bits). The recipe even calls for six ounces, which is the exact weight of one package of chocolate chunks.

So far, I've only seen them at the Scharffen Berger stores (at the factory and at the Ferry Building), but you can order them online. Here’s hoping they stay around this time so that I don’t have to go on another hoarding run when I hear they’re being discontinued.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Diminutive Dinner Party

We have begun to entertain again.

Not, I should add, in earnest. We are rusty at the dinner party game, and so we are swinging our foot along the surface of the water, pushing wavelets about before we jump in.

But nonetheless, some people other than us have sat at our dining room table. Some people other than us have eaten more than a course or two at that table. Some people other than us have sipped our wine.

The other night, we had some friends over. One was celebrating a birthday — like me, she is on some repeat of her 29th birthday — and the others were there to wish her well and catch up. I greeted everyone with a platter of salt-roasted chestnuts, radishes, and balsamic-roasted figs to nibble on while we poured glasses of Champagne.

Regular readers may be about to call me out. I recently claimed that I only peel chestnuts once a year. That’s true, but I have no problem letting my guests peel some, which is the presentation suggested in the original recipe. As it happens, these chestnuts peeled more easily than my tear-wrenching batch, but they still engaged our guests. I like a tactile appetizer platter. There is something immediately leveling and companionable about eating from a common plate, even when the guests are already good friends.

While our guests snacked, I plated a cauliflower panna cotta (mostly the recipe from The French Laundry Cookbook) with a spoonful of gremolata on top and a green salad on the side. I paired it with a 2002 Sherwood House Chardonnay from Long Island because I wanted a wine that was somewhat creamy and weighty with age for the panna cotta but also acidic enough for the salad dressing and gremolata.

Our main course — already we have arrived at the entrée, so you can tell this was casual — was a roast leg of lamb on a rosemary risotto garnished with small dice of root vegetables that had been blanched, shocked, and reheated in duck fat. I pulled a 2002 Ceja Cabernet Sauvignon, a rich, robust wine capable of standing up to the red-rare lamb, from our downstairs rack.

The course I fretted over the most, however, was dessert. Yes, you’re shocked: There was no cheese course. As I said, we are still regaining our stride. I called my dessert “Taste of December.” Eggnog ice cream garnished with nutmeg, pomegranate sorbet topped with ruby-red pomegranate seeds, and spiced cider sorbet, garnished with an apple slice. All served in tuile cups. I was eager to try the freeform sorbet recipes suggested by Harold McGee's The Curious Cook, a recent discovery at a local used book store. He offers proportions for scoopable sorbets of many kinds in tables that promise the ability to create wildly and still score. My first attempt was not exactly what I wanted: Scoopable, yes, but unevenly so, so I couldn’t make perfect little balls. Perhaps some alcohol would have done the trick. I didn’t serve a dessert wine because I feel that frozen desserts blunt the palate and remove the pleasure that a dessert wine can afford.