Sunday, December 19, 2010

Killer Hot Fudge Sauce

I dream about food constantly.

At least two nights a month I dream about an incredibly messy, incredibly amazing chili cheeseburger that I ate ten years ago at the All Star Cafe in Pittsboro, North Carolina. They served it Carolina style, which means it was topped with cole slaw.  And it came with a basket of fresh, hot onion rings -- the better to mop up all of the chili, melted cheese and cole slaw that spilled out.  I also dream a lot about the mouth-watering pancetta and caramelized onion pizza that they make at a place on East 20th Street called Pizza Fresca.  Diana and I like to go there.

Mostly I dream about chocolate.  And not just while I'm asleep.  Chocolate occupies my mind day and night.  It's my greatest passion in life.  I'm really not a complicated person at all.  If my mind isn't occupied with figuring out how to murder someone, then the chances are very good that I'm thinking about chocolate.  If I'm sitting in the dentist's chair I'm wondering why it is they have mint-flavored toothpaste but not chocolate.  Or dental floss.  Wouldn't you floss more often if they made chocolate floss? I would. If I'm sipping my late morning herbal tea I'm thinking how much better it would taste with one of Maida Heatter's chocolate peanut cookies, and how I ought to bake a batch.

But nothing occupies my thoughts quite like my yearning for the hot fudge sauce that I give to friends and loved ones every year for Christmas.  Diana and I have jarred up two batches so far this season and are about to make a third today.  It is absolutely killer.  The best.  Once you've tasted it you'll never go back.  It's great on ice cream, of course.  And we find it to be the height of sin on Diana's warm, fresh-baked bread.  In the spirit of the season I've decided to share the recipe, which comes from the March 1997 issue of Saveur magazine.  The late, great journalist R.W. Apple uncovered it in Belfast, Northern Ireland, at a restaurant called Rostoff.  He thought it was the best he'd ever tasted and I don't disagree.  It's not that hard to make.  All you need is a stainless steel double boiler and a bit of patience.  Chocolate does NOT like to be rushed.

Here's what you'll need:

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
7 tablespoons sweet butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of kosher salt

Break up the chocolate into pieces.  Melt the chocolate and all of the other ingredients (except for the vanilla and salt) together in the top of your double boiler over water that's at a LOW simmer.  Like I said, don't rush this.  Chocolate will seize up if it gets too hot.   It'll take a few minutes for everything to melt. Use a wooden spoon to stir it together.  When it becomes nice and smooth keep stirring it with your wooden spoon for an additional five minutes.  Remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla and the pinch of salt.  Then pig out.

It'll keep for a couple of weeks in a jar in the refrigerator, not that it'll ever last that long.  You can re-heat it in a microwave or by placing the jar in a saucepan of simmering water.

Enjoy.  And, hey, happy holidays.



Saturday, December 4, 2010

Who I'm Listening To

My bud Rick Koster of the New London Day stopped by the other day to chat with me about "The Shimmering Blond Sister." After we got done with our weighty talk about the role of crime fiction in modern American society Rick, who has spent a healthy portion of his life playing in rock and roll bands, put aside his notepad, sat back on the sofa and asked me the same question he always asks when we get together:

"Who are you listening to these days?"

And so I told him.  I'm listening to Sam and Dave.  And Otis Redding.  There's just something about the energy of the Stax sounds that gets me going no matter how shitty a day I'm having. I'm listening to "The Road to Escondido," an Eric Clapton-J.J. Cale collaboration from a couple of years ago that I keep coming back to again and again.  I'm listening to, well, I'm listening to pretty much the same gnarly old white guys whom I've always listened to: Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty.  Also a lot of my same dead guitar heroes like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Duane Allman and Jeff Healey.  In fact, I find I'm listening to the same bands I used to listen to in high school and college.  The Grateful Dead.  The Rolling Stones.  The Beatles.  Traffic.  Cream.  To my ears, most of their music sounds so fresh and alive that it could have been recorded last week.

Rick nodded sagely and said, "So you don't listen to anybody new?"

Not so, dude, I said defensively.  I like  a lot of new people.  I like Green Day and The Dave Matthews Band. I love Eddie Vedder.  I was just about to say I love U2, too, when Rick broke into hysterical laughter.  We both did.  Because, of course, those are contemporary performers but they're not new.   Not even close. They've been around for, what, 20 years?

Which got me to thinking long and hard about my taste in rock and roll.  Up until a few years ago I used to feel I had to keep up with everything new that was coming out.  If a college freshman was listening to it then I wanted to be there.  Hell, I even tried listening to rap music, which I finally realized I just plain didn't like.  I was terribly bothered by this realization.  Positive that it meant I'd become paleo, uncool, old.  I was ashamed to admit that I still enjoyed listening to music that had been recorded more than 40 years ago.

You want to know something? That''s not where I am anymore.  I've moved on.  I've decided that from now on I'm going to put rock and roll in the same cultural category as movies and jazz.  I happily enjoy watching old Cary Grant screwball comedies and Robert Mitchum noir thrillers.  I can never get enough of Bogart.  I can watch a Preston Sturges farce any time, day or night.  Does it bother me that a lot of my favorite movies are 60, 70, even 80 years old? Not at all.  I don't care when a movie was made.  A good movie is a good movie, period.  I happily listen to Miles Davis and John Coltrane all of the time.  I've never stop listening to "Kind of Blue."  Every time I hear it I swear it's as if I've never heard it before.  Does the fact that it was recorded more than 50 years ago somehow invalidate it? Of course not.  So why should I feel guilty because I still like to listen to Hendrix and the Dead? The answer is I don't.   Good music is good music and it doesn't matter when the hell it came out.  I refuse to feel guilty anymore when I find myself getting down with an old Buffalo Springfield album.  

I don't know what any of this means.  I don't know if I've just achieved a new level of inner rock and roll peace or if I've simply reached a state of self-justifying old fartdom.  But here's the good part: I don't care.  I'm cool with it.