Saturday, December 20, 2008
It's that time of year again - oversocialising, panic-present-buying, frantically wrapping up work deadlines. Oh, and there are good bits, too. (The free-flowing amount of chocolate! The widespread sampling of finger food! The fact everyone is excited to see the cliff-edge of 2008.)
I hope everyone is having an awesome wind-up of the year.
If you've still got things to tick off your Christmas list and are looking for some foodie ideas, how about getting someone...
-into a cooking class (where you can learn everything from how to make gelato to sushi to fancy artisan pastries).
-A charity gift such as food for a child in East Timor, a veggie garden that can feed close to 2000 people in Mozambique, or a multi-tasking duck that'll provides eggs and keep pests under control in a rice field in Bali. Or send someone a gift certificate to Kiva, an organisation fuelled by a great, life-changing idea.
-And, on the other side of the spectrum, splash out on a gift certificate for a fancypants restaurant such as Longrain, Rockpool and pretty much anywhere you like. (Just ask - Oscillate Wildly don't advertise it, but they do gift certificates, so you can treat someone to a degustation.) Or buy someone high tea for two at The Tea Room or a Tea Appreciation class at the Observatory.
-Or resolve the fake-tree-vs-pine-tree argument by opting for a hand-made chocolate Christmas tree from Boon Chocolates. How beautiful do they look? Of course, they might not last til Christmas if there are hardcore chocoholics around (even mild-mannered choc fans might not be able to resist).
-Or you can make/bake/cook something, dash it off in a pretty jar or box, and wrap it up in ribbon. Sometimes the hand-made presents are the ones that linger the longest.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Some people will use any excuse to throw a party. My reasons are (probably) weirder than most.
The idea of a chocolate-tasting party has been fizzing away in my head for a while. The inspiration behind it? A shiitake-mushroom block of chocolate I bought in Berlin. (Bet you saw that ever-predictable answer coming a mile away.)
Something as loopy as mushroom-flecked chocolate seems wrong to consume on your own - anything strange needs to be eaten in the company of others: so you can make faces, trade verdicts and erase the hype and curiosity, one bite at a time.
Of course, one measly block of weird-ass chocolate isn't enough to headline any kind of event, so I thought if I did a chocolatier-crawl (to Boon and David Jones Foodhall), stockpiled some fine cocoa treats and made Lindt-flavoured ice cream, that could lure a curious friend or two.
That's how the Choc Party came about.
It ended up being a lot of choc-dipped fun. I asked everyone to bring a small but shareable amount of chocolate and boy, were there some goodies to pick from. Beth and Jeff brought handmade truffles from Adora, which were truly awesome. (I especially liked the lush coffee-esque wattleseed truffle. I'm rewinding that first-bite moment in my head as I type.) Any vegans may be intrigued to know Adora also do handmade dairy-free chocs as well.
Speaking of dairy-free, it was a bit of an adventure finding fancy chocolate for the vegan friends I'd invited. It is amazing how often you'll get excited scanning the ingredients list of something tempting - getting all keyed up that it might pass the animal-product-free test - only to get dumped by a last-line mention of milk solids or 'may contain traces of egg'. In the end, I bought some Cardamom & Orange dark chocolate and made some chocs to serve - in butterfly moulds, I melted a dark mint block with Sweet William white chocolate (yes, white vegan choc does exist and it's so freakishly like the real thing that you wonder if the label might be a factory mistake). They were pretty on the eye and not too bad on the tastebuds.
My lazy-ass DIY choc was deservedly trumped by Tabitha and Nathan's offerings - they made vegan chocolate entirely from scratch, using cocoa butter and other raw ingredients, all hand-shaped into cute geometric patterns. Half the batch was tripwired with the strong kick of fondant.
And Eliza went for the classic but always brilliant choc-dipped strawberries. (All the more lethal because they were made of dynamite strawberries the size of your hand.)
Just in case anyone was feeling sugar or cocoa deficient, I also made ice cream with recipes from the reliably great Chocolate and Zucchini food blog: Dark Chocolate Sorbet and Chocolate Frozen Yogurt. The sorbet is one of those magical things that's suspiciously easy to make yet attracts a deluge of praise when you bring it to the table. (The last time I handed a frosty bowl of it to Eliza, she actually had a dream about it the next day.) Also, double points for it being vegan. The frozen yogurt isn't, but I am a mighty big fan of it still. The tang of creme fraiche adds an unforgettable zing to the sweet choc - I want to live off that buzz forever, but will have to make do with nightly pilgrimages to my freezer instead.
To make sure I wouldn't need any paramedics turning up at my flat, I also laid out plates of summery fruit around the table, just so no one went into a cocoa coma.
As for that mysterious shiitake chocolate which kick-started the whole event - funnily enough, it didn't taste weird at all. In fact, the mushroom was impossible to detect. After all that hype, it was like any block of plain dark chocolate.
That letdown aside, the party was a lot of fun and so easy. There was fine company and I got to sample so many fine treats - I was 80 per cent cocoa content but 100 per cent sugar-rushed and happy.