12.31.2010

Another Year, Another Truffle

Happy New Year!

When I wrote of Life in Black and White, I made it sound as if there were only two types of truffles. But there is a third - with many variations - that is actually somewhat better known to the general public. The chocolate truffle.

The chocolate truffle was invented in Chambery, France, in 1895 by a man named Dufour. They were so named because of their resemblance to the tuberous truffle - a delicious fungus discussed in two previous postings - Life in Black and White and The Sequel. These days, most chocolate truffles we see in shops and confectionery boutiques bear no resemblance whatsoever to Dufour's original, which was hand molded and then rolled in cocoa powder, truly looking like the little black tubers from the PĂ©rigord region of France.

In learning a bit about truffles, I discovered that, for all the years I have been making them, I have been making Swiss truffles. Who knew? Sometime back in the late 1980s, in Albany, New York, there was a "truffle-off" between me and Marie-Lise, a friend from Grenoble, France, who swore that her truffles were better than mine. We discovered that our methods and ingredients were very different - hers with cocoa powder, sugar and cream (the ingredients for French truffles), and mine with bittersweet chocolate, butter and cream (the Swiss ingredients). More than 30 friends tasted our truffles at a New Year's brunch. It was a tie until one final person tried, tasted and tipped the scales in ML's favor. I was crushed. But, if (almost) half the room liked my version, I had to believe that my recipe was a success as well. And, in the end, isn't it really just a matter of personal taste?

12.08.2010

From Mom's Kitchen

Well, it is finally done.  The reissue of my mother's cookbook (the original created 22 years ago for my family after she passed away) was a true labor of love.  When I started the project, it was a chance to have my own personal "Julie and Julia" journey using my mother's recipes.  This is not Mastering the Art of French Cooking, although Mom, like Julia Child, was liberal with her butter usage.  I have to say that I dreaded that particular tally; in the end, I went through at least 62 sticks of butter (15.5 pounds) in testing all these recipes in a very short period of time - and that is only if I tested them once.  Frightening.  When I share that statistic, some friends are appalled at how much butter we consumed, while others are surprised (saddened? disappointed?) that it wasn't four times that amount.

But, it didn't matter. It was so much fun for me to test, photograph and remember.  There were times when my memories took my by surprise - I found myself in my mother's kitchen, hearing her voice through the aromas and tastes from my kitchen.  There were dishes I didn't recall that I liked or even how they tasted until I cooked them for the book.  The memories of taste and smell are so powerful.  As soon as I bit into the Barbecued Pork Tenderloin (pictured above) or the Blueberry Pie, I was transported back to my childhood.

What an adventure Mark and I had trying all these culinary creations.  There were certain ones that I didn't like as a child, like the Apple Squire (pictured above), that I enjoyed very much as an adult.  I remember loving some dishes that, in general, I would not make now - out of culinary snobbery - because they use a can of (gasp!) vegetable soup (see the photo of the Meat Ball Soup below).  But I had to test each recipe and found the ones with 'cans of soup' pretty amazing, even as a food-snob adult.  With all the recipes, I continually second-guessed myself, asking, "Do I like this because it is really good?  Or, is it because Mom made it and, thus, I love it?"  The true test would be how Mark reacted.

Mark was my culinary Switzerland.  Sadly, he never met my mother but that did put him at the advantage of being neutral about the results.  Everything that I made, he tried.  And, other than the recipe I mention in the next paragraph, he liked them all and enjoyed every bite of his own personal 7.75 pounds of butter.