Friday, November 12, 2010

Sinfully Rich Scharffen Berger Brownies

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker is the first U.S. bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer established in the past fifty years. Its founding goal was to "create the richest, most flavorful chocolate by sourcing the best cacao in the world and using artisan chocolate-making methods." I remember clearly taking my son to a Scharffen Berger factory tour in Berkeley many years ago, our own little home grown version of Willy Wonka's. Things change: the company has since been acquired by Hershey's and closed its local factory, but we can still enjoy the chocolate which is obviously the most important thing.

I also clearly remember enjoying an unbelievable Scharffen Berger Chocolate dinner with my husband at Google's Cafe 7 featuring recipes inspired from 'The Essence of Chocolate' cookbook by company co-founders John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg. I enjoy poring over my cookbook autographed there by John Scharffenberger, remembering the fireworks of flavor from that choco-gastronomic meal. I kept the menu, not knowing that almost four years later I would use it for this blog:

- Goat Cheese Crostini and Nibs: Grilled pain levain, Laura Chenel Boursin cheese, candied orange zest, cocoa nibs

- Tortilla Soup Espumoso: Light puree of chipotle peppers, mirepois of vegetables, Latin spices, tomato, Scharffen Berger Chocolate, crisp tortilla, avocado, lime and sweet corn foam

- Grilled Scallop with Mild Thai Flavors: Mini local scallop brochette with coconut-chile and cocoa glaze

- Chocolate Martini

- Bread with Chocolate Butter

- Spinach and Almond Salad with Pears and Nib Vinaigrette: Organic field greens tossed with cocoa glazed almonds, dressed in a light balsamic-shallot dressing

- Chile-Marinated Harris Ranch Flank Steak with Mole Flavors: Served over baked navy beans with Applewood smoked bacon and unsweetened Scharffen Berger Chocolate

- Grilled Tofu Scallops and Roasted Squash: Three grain pilaf, vegetable medley and cocoa nib vinaigrette

- Chocolate Souffle: Bittersweet chocolate souffle, brandy liquor, sweet meringue, and chocolate cinnamon ganache center

- Petit Sirah Swirled Ice Cream: Housemade vanilla bean ice cream, swirled with Petit Sirah syrup, fresh blueberries and fresh raspberries

As I read this menu I can't believe we ate all of this at one meal! And now a link to the coup de grace, a sinfully rich New Classic Brownie recipe using unsweetened 99% cacao chocolate. I discovered this recipe on the Scharffen Berger website, written by Alice Medrich and featured in her book 'Cookies and Brownies'.  Company staff taste tasters liked this recipe best of three brownie recipes.

Fair warning:  These brownies are INTENSE. Brace yourself before taking a bite. These are not your everyday brownies, not the kind to bring to a potluck on the 4th of July or the school's bake sale.  These are grown-up, rated R, only for those strong enough to imbibe. They should be served with a warning that they may cause a temporary cocoa-induced stupor, and chocolate hallucinations for the weak-willed and knock-kneed. Eat at your own risk.

We made the brownies without nuts but I'm sure the toasted walnuts would provide a delicious balance to the extreme chocolate flavor. Also, I'd recommend using parchment paper instead of foil in the pan, as our brownies got stubbornly stuck to parts of the foil. Be patient while the brownies cool in the ice bath. And don't forget to share. You could possibly overdose on these if you don't.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Stanford Kitchen Confidential

I love heading back to the Stanford University campus every five years for my reunion activities. Besides parties, round table discussions, and the architectural sea of red, I enjoy taking classes and learning what's new. This year I took a fun and informative tour called 'Stanford Kitchen Confidential: Dorm Dining Today'. I was curious to find out how meal service has changed since my years of dorm eating so very long ago. I will never forget the California Surprise: a casserole composed of eggs and all the leftovers from the week, a concoction that kept us guessing each time it was served.  I will also not soon forget how the meals during critical finals weeks seemed to be the least tasty and nutritious.  The rumor was that the meal service staff had to use up all the leftovers each quarter before breaks, resulting in the worst meals just when we needed the best.

How things have changed! Stanford Dining supports the academic mission of the university in serving great tasting, healthy, sustainable food in a fiscally responsible manner. Its vision is nothing less than being the best in the industry. From all indications they are achieving this mission. I'm all the more grateful since my son Jacob is a freshman there now. Stanford Dining sees its role as food providers for students, which has a direct effect on quality of life, physical well being, and mental performance.  Some interesting facts about Stanford Dining, a nonprofit department of the university:

- They serve 12,000 meals a day in 10 dining halls
- Food includes grass-fed beef, wild Alaskan salmon, and locally, organic grown produce
- They figured out how to pay for cage-free eggs by turning on fewer lights during meals
- Besides the typical pizza and American fare, they offer Indian, Thai, vegan, and Mexican food every day
- One dorm is completely nut-free for those with allergies
- They have a no garbage policy; everything is compostable
- They've gone practically trayless which results in less labor, water, and energy to wash trays, in addition to cutting on food waste
- Smaller plates mean less food eaten and wasted
- Leftover food is donated to the homeless, and leftover oil is used for biodiesel fuel
- They collaborate with the Medical School and Center for Society & Ethics to provide programs on wellness, nutrition, and sustainability
- Student liaison Dining Ambassadors help the dining staff make changes
- Late night food is available from 9 pm to 2 am for night owls
- The football team has a special menu since the players eat four types of protein at every meal and LOTS of berries
- Summer camps and conferences don't provide the same menus, but subsidize much of the school year programs
- All dining halls are open to the public; you can pay cash and try out the meals
- A year of 19 meals a week costs students $5600, not at all cheap but IMHO worth it to ensure my son's nutritional needs are met

The many restaurants on campus are not run by Stanford Dining but provide a nice alternative for students, faculty, staff, and visitors. I was surprised to find out that the Subway sandwich restaurant in Tresidder Union is the highest grossing Subway in California. Tresidder also houses a Fraiche frozen yogurt shop, Peet's Coffee, Jamba Juice, and the CoHo (Coffee House).

Our tour ended with a nice breakfast. I had steel-cut oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins, while other reunion attendees enjoyed fresh Belgian waffles, egg scrambles, bagels and muffins, cereal, or yogurt and fruit. This isn't your typical institutional food, and Stanford Dining leads the way in innovating and transforming college meal service. Go Cardinal!