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chocolatesauceHappy New Year, everyone! The Holidays may be on the wane but they’re not over yet. The kids are still out of school for a few more days and it is still easy to park pretty much anywhere in the city. It’s a pleasure to be here in San Francisco when so much of the populace has apparently cleared out. In all my years living in either Los Angeles and San Francisco, both towns get very quiet during the Christmas/ New Year stretch and it’s always made me wonder, where does everybody go? The ‘Old Country,’ I am guessing, whatever that represents to the many transplants to California, be it New York/New Jersey, Cheboygan or Podunk, Arkansas.

We had a nice, simple yet festive New Year’s Day dinner. Though I knew I was going to be making a boneless lamb roast that made its way here from Australia via Costco, I still went looking around on the internet to see what, if anything, was traditional for people to serve for a New Year’s Day dinner. I could see that Dungeness crab was selling like hotcakes at my local butcher shop on New Year’s eve. Cracked crab seems to be a popular Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve meal, which makes sense since it is the height of the crab season in the SF Bay area. The only dish that seemed to be noted on a national level as a good luck food was black eyed peas. Our household isn’t big into rice and beans, so this did not inspire me. I know the idea of New Year foods is to enhance luck or just start the year off in the manner that we would like it to continue. What are some of the traditions with which you all ring out the old and ring in the new? Please share, if you would.

Our family has one – and that’s hot fudge sundaes for New Year’s Eve. My mom made chocolate sauce from scratch and the sundaes would be eaten some time during the run up to midnight. Part of the lore around the development of this tradition comes from the incident when my big brother, at the age of about 12, admonished my parents one New Year’s Eve. He called them at the party they were attending, (the number had been left with the sitter, no doubt) got them on the line and said, “What? You’re staying out til past midnight? You’re not spending New Year’s Eve to see the new year in with your children?”

Well, it’s interesting that my brother has not pulled this sort of attitude much since that day – not that I know of, anyway – but on this occasion his bid to tug at their heart strings or guilt strings was successful and they beat it home to arrive before midnight. Henceforward from that day, they did stay at home with us on New Year’s Eve. If we wanted to have our friends come by, they got sundaes too. Or if we went out to a local party as teenagers, we made our excuses to take off and be home by midnight when the hot fudge would still be flowing.

Ice cream sundaes are a classic dessert and I suspect they will be making a bigger comeback as part of the retro rage. Customized milkshakes are certainly more prevalent these days. I’ve gotten so I don’t like to order sundaes in diners or restaurants unless I know the place makes a good sauce, because many diner-like or deli places with big menus that advertise their hot fudge sundaes often have chocolate sauce that tastes gummy and fake to me, and nothing is more disappointing than a sub-par ice cream sundae! (Ben and Jerry’s chocolate sauce does not disappoint, however.) Fridge door denizens Hershey’s and U-Bet syrups are mostly chocolate flavored HFCS, though the U-Bet label says that their chocolate sauce that ships out during Passover is made from cane sugar. (Good luck with catching that wave.) So I am not saying that a home made chocolate sauce is health food but I am rationalizing that if you’re going to go for a blow-out dessert experience that will have you reaching for the Lactaid Pills, you might as well ensure the quality and eliminate the corn syrup by doing it yourself.

To follow the family tradition, though my folks were having their sundaes back in New York, I made a batch of chocolate sauce for an ice cream sundae dessert with our New Year’s day dinner. It’s not a recipe I’ve written down before but I was urged to share it by our friend who took part. It’s easy to make, though since I usually wing it as far as proportions go it requires that I taste it a couple of times (waah!) and adjust it for taste before serving. We like it a little bittersweet. If I put in a little too much sugar, as I did last night, it works to toss in another square of unsweetened chocolate and milk. It’s a fully adjustable enterprise!

Home Made Chocolate Sauce for Ice Cream

2 squares Baker’s unsweetened chocolate
½ to ¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
½ stick butter
¼ cup whole milk
1-2 tablespoons brandy or kahlua (optional) or a tsp of vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a small saucepan, over medium to low heat. Add sugar, liqueur or vanilla if using, and most of the milk, saving a bit for the end when everything is melted and combined. Stir until all is melted and looks a little glossy. Taste. Add more sugar and milk (or just the milk) until the sauce hits your desired level of sweetness and smoothness. If you feel you need to add in a little more chocolate, a little more milk or butter can go in too. Keep stirring until the chocolate is melted. Pour into little creamer pitcher or pyrex measuring cup for ease of serving over ice cream.

Whatever’s left keeps well and microwaves well in the next few waves. Sorry in our rush to eat it we did not think to take pictures. Use your imagination or…. make a batch soon. I would say you will never regret keeping your kitchen perpetually stocked with Baker’s chocolate, confectioners sugar and butter because then a great dessert option is always at your fingertips!