That man is going to drive me mad some day.
What did you just say? ‘Perhaps he already has?’ If it wasn’t so close to the truth I’d swat you for that.
Honestly, Mr. E. is a fine man to work with most of the time, but he has his peculiar ideas. ‘Mrs. Ware,’ he says, ‘have you ever thought about how versatile chocolate is? Savory or sweet, main course or dessert – but always heavenly. I’m sure a fine chef like yourself could make us a whole meal where every dish contained some chocolate.’
And me nodding along like a ninny. The first thing I knew, I was thinking of recipes I’d eaten or heard of or dreamt up. The sly boots had me hooked on the challenge.
Then again, feeding the inhabitants here at the estate which houses Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog is a challenge any day, and thank all the Powers I have such a good staff. Access to the best of ingredients, too, and a reference collection of recipes going back centuries. There are advantages to working for such a place as this one.
Of course, I work for Kinrowan Hall. Did you think Mr. E., or anyone else, could own the Kinrowan Hall? Not in the slightest. It brings people (and others) here to serve it in various roles. Some stay for a few days or months, some for years without number. Liath our Archivist has been around, off and on, for centuries, they tell me. And who are ‘they’? Why, house elves and brownies who’ve been here even longer than she has. Anyway, I’ve been here a long time. When I arrived here as a sous-sous-chef I promised Kinrowan Hall I’d stick around till I got bored, and I’ve never been bored. I’ve worked my way up through the ranks, met and married Mr. Ware (may he rest in peace), raised three daughters and a son and dozens of bouvier des Flandres puppies, trained chefs who now work in the best establishments on both sides of the Border – and never been bored.
Yes, I suppose little challenges like Mr. E.’s must contribute something to the lack of boredom.
Anyway, I suspected he was really dreaming of endless desserts when he set my mind thinking on his little challenge, so I drew up my menu with care. Simplicity and quality were my watchwords.
We started with a mixed green salad drizzled with raspberry vinaigrette, made with the finest in produce from Gus’s gardens and raspberries from a little patch in a clearing just inside Oberon’s Wood. Where was the chocolate? Infused in the vinaigrette. I make my own, of course, and I soaked some cocoa beans in it overnight.
Then we had a hearty, all-in-one main course – tamale pie. It’s basically a thick chili (I had to make a batch each of con and sin carne) cooked under a cornbread crust. Plenty of peppers, plenty of meat (or plenty of beans), plenty of tomatoes – and a healthy dose of powdered cocoa. I found a container in the back of the east pantry that looked like it may have come from an artisanal co-op in Aztec territory (possibly pre-Conquest, though I wouldn’t like to say for sure). I told you Kinrowan Hall gives me access to the best of ingredients.
For dessert, I kept it simple. People had a choice between Mrs. Cormier’s dark chocolate cake with fudge icing, made the day before so that the fudge could melt just a little everywhere it met the cake, and homemade chocolate ice cream. Every staff member I could get my hands on had to take a turn at the churn. I promised those who did that they could have both cake and ice cream if they so chose.
When it came to the beverages, the other obsession around here besides chocolate, I consulted with Reynard. I needed cold and hot, alcoholic and not. Dear Reynard! I can always count on him. He found me a couple of barrels of Sam Adams’ Chocolate Bock and Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, and a selection of chocolate liqueurs (including every sort of Godiva under the sun) to add to coffee or pour over the ice cream. I had hot and cold chocolate milk, too, of course – must fight osteoporosis whenever we can.
Was it a success? That comment I will swat you for! What meal of mine has ever been less than a success? Kinrowan Hall wouldn’t allow it, and neither would I!