Thursday, January 22, 2009

Winter Warmers: The Alice B. Toklas Fudge

It's the stuff of legend, at least in hippie-dippy Berkeley: the Alice B. Toklas brownies with the magic ingredient, hashish. I needed a treat for a dessert buffet, we had the book, James found the recipe, and the fudge sounded like a great winter snack, even without the active ingredient, that contained none of his food allergens.

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book was published in 1954 by friends to assist Alice financially in her later years. Her writings are quite interesting, especially those recounting the time she and Gertrude Stein spent in rural France under the Nazi occupation, and how people survived.

The infamous recipe is actually for fudge, which is not necessarily chocolate, as we think today. "Fudge" refers to things smooshed together, hence the expression "fudging it." Found in a late chapter added to Alice's own writings as "Recipes from Friends", it was contributed by one Brian Gysen, under the title "HASCHISCH FUDGE (which anyone could whip up on a rainy day)". There's an impish quality to the writing, with lines like "it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies' Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR".

Internet research points to Brion Gysin (1916-1986) as the artist who provided the puckish text. There's a wonderful website, Calligraffiti of Fire, showing his work over a long career, and a short biography. He moved from England to study at the Sorbonne in 1934, and lived in Morocco during the early 1950s. The fudge, he says, is based on a Moroccan recipe to ward off the cold in damp winter weather. It is heavily laden with two spices found in the Ayurvedic tea we are enjoying this winter: black pepper and cinnamon, plus coriander and nutmeg. Some internet accounts indicate that Gysin sent in the recipe as a prank and was surprised to have it included in the final book.

In a prankish spirit, I made up my own version of the fudge, minus the "active ingredient." It turned out to be quite tasty, getting better over time. It can be made in advance; it makes up in easily consumed pieces; and it's not likely to be brought to the buffet by anyone else.

Grind together (I use a dedicated coffee grinder for spices):
1 tsp. black peppercorns
4 sticks cinnamon
1 tsp. coriander seed
1 nutmeg.

Chop and mix together 3/4 cup each of dates, figs, peanuts, and almonds. (I set the food processor on chop and added the spice mixture).

Melt 1/4 cup butter or margerine over low heat, and add 1 cup sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the sugar mixture to the rest of the mix and blend until the mixture is slightly sticky. Turn the mixture out into an 8" square pan and press down. Let rest before cutting into small pieces. It can also be rolled into small balls, more the size of brandy balls than meat balls.

It's a fine treat for a winter evening, a good conversation starter, and an example of the great tastes that can be found without resorting to chocolate.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Another Great Gluten-Free Blog

My work is done. Just kidding; as long as I'm cooking for someone with food sensitivities, I'll be blogging about it.
But I would be sadly remiss not to share a wonderful treatise on food substitutions from Gluten-Free Goddess. And I'm adding her blog, which is a finalist for best food blog of 2008, to my rolling list of Foodie Favorites in the left hand column. Woops, better finish this before a blogger outage is scheduled today.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

We're enjoying what may be our new New Year's Breakfast. On a recent trip to Harley Farms in Pescadero, we scored some goat Fromage Blanc. As I suspected, it went superbly with smoked salmon, GF toast triangles, and capers. Divertimento had some chilled champagne -- LaCheteau (sic) Vouvrais from TJ -- about $10 -- with those Asti Spumante good-for-brunch qualities. Worth keeping in the fridge just in case. Next year, we hit the Coastside and pick up the local smoked salmon along with the local goat cheese.

While at Harley Farms, in the expanded gift shop and tasting room, we also picked up some goat ricotta. That went into some blintzes (using the rice crepe recipe from The Wheat Free Cook). Served with the Fromage Blanc and some lingonberry jelly -- mmmm!

Ricotta in hand, we made up the totally fake lasagne that's safe for James. He's allergic to cow's milk, tomatoes, and wheat, which renders normal lasagne completely off limits. We found a great rice pasta made as lasagne noodles, DeBoles Rice Lasagne. I followed the recipe on the package because you don't precook this pasta.

For the three-cheese mix of mozarella, ricotta, and parmesan, I substituted the goat ricotta, some fresh goat peccorino we purchased at Harley Farms, and some soy mozarella (think goat gouda would have been better). For spaghetti sauce, I substituted Avjar, a Middle Eastern blend of roasted red peppers and eggplant that we've found in glass jars at various places, including Trader Joe's and Long's Drugstores. (It could have been kicked up a notch with some simmering with leftover red wine, herbs and garlic. But we were hungry.) We threw in mushrooms and olives because James wanted them. It was good, and even better on subsequent days.

If you can't have cow's milk, and even if you can--check out the superb goat cheeses on the market now. Harley Farms makes some of the best and they are getting national and international recognition. We still are waiting to unwrap the goat cheese coated with chives that took international first in Dublin, and from my tasting room experience, deserved it! We'd planned to have it as a centerpiece of a goat tasting platter that would go to parties -- given my strategy of taking something safe for James and tasty for normals -- but have had to cancel due to a lingering cold. Perhaps it can go to a 12th Night party along next week with Andrew Weil's caponata that was such a hit at Thanksgiving.