Although it’s rare that I’ll walk past an opportunity for a lost chocolate weekend, let’s face it: I’m a grinch when it comes to Valentine’s Day. If only we could be spared the cheer-leading that so often wraps itself around all these ‘special occasions’, and which the masters of the consumers’ universe are attempting to hypnotize us with. This being the real world, we must take the banal with the sublime.
Romance in its natural state is a thing of beauty, and worthy enough. It is much bigger than courtship rituals and being ‘in love’. (It’s bigger than both of us.) It’s about the inspiring, the dreamy, the nostalgic, the idealistic, and perhaps, if one gets really lucky, the mystical. The brain chemicals and their activities that contribute to these states are what keep us interested and coming back for more. In “The Brain in Love” Daniel Amen offers lessons for the lovesick based on his own “cutting edge neuroscience research”. I confess that I haven’t read it. But I have been reading some inspiring and captivating books lately that have much to do with the workings of the mind. I feel a romantic notion coming on…………of a fabulous dinner date……………for a party of four men (I know!)….….
The guest list:
Daniel Kahneman, author of “Thinking, Fast and Slow”
Marc Lewis, author of “Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist Examines His Former Life on Drugs”
Dalai Lama, author of “How to Be Compassionate”
Morrie Schwartz, wise hero, rest his soul, of “Tuesdays With Morrie”
I’d happily be cook and server for the chance to audit, like a fly on the wall, the fascinating ideas and exchanges between these marvelous minds.
And the mundane matters…..
Recipe: Wild Mushroom Consommé
1 oz. dried wild mushrooms
1 c warm water
2 tbsp olive oil
12 oz. sliced fresh mushrooms
2 shallots, minced
4 c vegetable stock
Rinse dried mushrooms and place in bowl. Pour in 1 cup warm water; soak for 15 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth-lined sieve, reserving liquid. Rinse mushrooms again; chop coarsely. Set aside.
In saucepan, heat oil over medium heat; cook fresh mushrooms and shallots for about 5 minutes or until liquid has evaporated. Add stock and reserved dried mushrooms and liquid; bring to near-boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Strain out mushrooms and freeze the consommé. The mushrooms may be used in another recipe and/or frozen for later use. The purpose of freezing the consommé is to aid in clarification. This is only for appearance’s sake and can be skipped if you’d rather not bother. After freezing the liquid, invert it over a cheesecloth-lined sieve over a bowl and allow to drip-thaw. This can take a whole day. Any solids will be left behind in the cheesecloth. Reheat the consommé and garnish with mushrooms. In this case I was fortunate enough to have some ‘Velvet Shanks’, available through Forbes Wild Foods.
Recipe: Swiss Chard en Croute with Roasted Bi-Pepper Coulis
1 lge bunch Swiss chard, washed
2 to 3 leeks, washed and trimmed
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp fennel seed
4 oz. mushrooms, chopped and sautéed in 1 tbsp olive oil (or, if you are making the mushroom consommé, you may use 1 cup of the simmered mushrooms)
1 pkg frozen puff pastry (450 gms), thawed at room temp for 2 hrs, or overnight in fridge
a little bit of beaten egg
4 to 6 oz. mozzarella, grated or cut into strips
2 red sweet peppers
2 yellow sweet peppers
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp white balsamic vinegar
2 tsp minced garlic
Cut stalks off of chard and reserve for later use.
Heat oil in large heavy skillet on med-high.
Holding chard in small bunches on cutting board, chop into 1 inch strands.
Put into skillet (they will still be wet from washing).
Slice leeks in half lengthwise, and then crosswise in ½ inch pieces. Add to skillet with fennel seed.
Stir and cover. Lower heat to med-low and stir occasionally for the next 5 to 7 minutes. If they are still very wet, leave cover off, turn heat to high, and stir, to evaporate excess moisture. This might take 4 or 5 minutes. Turn off heat.
Add mushrooms to chard and leeks.
Roast peppers in 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Place in a bowl and cover for 15 minutes. Peel and remove seeds and membranes. For each of the two colors: buzz in a mini food processor along with 1 tbsp oil, 1tsp vinegar, and 1 tsp garlic, thus making a red batch and a yellow batch.
Unroll the two sheets of pastry on counter and place the chard filling in the center of each. Top with cheese and fold sides over centers. It helps the seams to adhere if you moisten them with a bit of water and press.
Place seam side down, on a baking sheet which is either lined w/ ‘parchment paper’ or greased with oil. Brush with beaten egg if you would like a nice golden effect.
Cut some vents in top in a decorative fashion.
In the meantime, heat the coulis and then ladle onto plates, leaving space for the pastry. Serves 4 to 6.
Recipe: Chocolate Heart Cakes with Chocolate Sauce
This is one of my ‘dairy-free and proud of it’ recipes. I suppose that those of you on high-animal-fat diets could substitute butter for the oil and add cream to the sauce, but I challenge you to try it as is, and see if you don’t love it.
For the cake:
1 and 1/3 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1/2 c packed brown sugar
½ c oil
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 c almond milk
Heat the oven to 350°F, first positioning a rack in the center of the oven. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.
Combine the brown sugar, oil and chocolate in a medium heavy saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally until almost completely melted. Remove from the heat and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the vanilla and set aside to cool.
When the chocolate mixture is about at room temperature, beat in the eggs until well combined. Alternately add the dry ingredients and the almond milk in three instalments, mixing well between each addition.
Pour the batter into a greased pan measuring roughly 9 ” x 11” and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a rack and then cut portions with a heart-shaped cookie cutter. Likely, the cake will be taller than the cutter; just use a sharp paring knife, tracing along the outside of the cutter to complete the cut. The odd-shaped leftover pieces can still be enjoyed with the sauce in a bowl the next day. (Sure, top with whipped cream.)
For the Chocolate Sauce:
2 tablespoons water
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp honey
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ tsp vanilla
Whisk water ,sugar and cocoa together in a saucepan and work out lumps. Heat, stirring, and add salt, oil, honey, and vanilla. Serve warm on warm cake.