Archive for Eat Your Vegetables

Yes, of course you can pair garlic with chocolate!

chocolate with garlic and chile powder

I say this as a half jest. Today I made garlic-flavored chocolate (no really, I made it from cocoa beans, sugar and vanilla), and incidentally Danielle at Habeas Brulee is hosting a one-time food blogging event, “Yes, of course you can pair garlic with that!” Danielle thinks garlic goes well with hazelnuts and wants to explore other combinations.

Why not chocolate and garlic, then? “…garlic tends to do very well, super well, with things that are oily (olive oil), fat (cream, pine nuts) or acidic (lemon),” writes a commenter on her blog. Chocolate is oily and fatty (and sometimes acidic), so this could work. Plus, Marianne’s in Santa Cruz, Calif., makes chocolate-garlic ice cream.

me making chocolate liquor

Today when I attended a chocolate-making seminar through the NY Metro Discover Chocolate Meetup, a brave soul put raw garlic in the finished candies. I didn’t dare try a piece — its pungency lingered in the room even after it was eaten — but why don’t you try some and let me know how it goes?

If you would like to make chocolate from the beans themselves, here’s the approximate recipe we used today.

Chocolate-Covered Garlic

Ingredients:
3 pounds whole cacao beans, in their shells
2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 cup dried whole milk powder
1/2 cup cocoa butter
A couple cloves minced garlic
A couple pinches chile powder

Special equipment:
Roasting pan
Crankandstein cocoa mill
Blow dryer
Broom and dustpan
Champion juicer
Food processor
Wet grinder
Chocolate molds

  1. Roast beans in a preheated 425F oven for 30-35 minutes, or until they become fragrant and reach an internal temperature of 260F.
  2. Crack the shells by running the beans through a Crankandstein. (If you don’t have this machinery, crack the beans by hand and discard the shells. Skip the next step.)
  3. Transfer the beans and the shells to a large roasting pan. Take the pan outside or in your bath tub. Hold a blow dryer a couple feet away and aim directly down, blowing away the shells. You will still have small pieces of shells left; that’s okay. Don’t forget to sweep the leftover shells on the floor.
  4. Liquefy the beans by running them through a juicer. You now have cocoa liquor.
  5. Combine the sugar and vanilla bean in a food processor and grind for a couple minutes, or until the sugar turn into a powder.
  6. Turn on the wet grinder and add the cocoa liquor. Add the sugar mixture, milk powder and crumbled cocoa butter. Let the machine run for 24 hours. This step is called conching, which will refine the texture and flavor of the chocolate.
  7. Temper the chocolate and fill the molds halfway full. Sprinkle garlic and chile powder over the melted chocolate and fill the remainder of the mold with the chocolate. Vigorously tap the molds on your counter to even out the surface and get rid of air bubbles.
  8. Refrigerate the chocolate for 10 min., or until set. To release the chocolate, flip the mold upside down and tap the surface with your fingers.

Variations:
Shortcut version: Sprinkle minced garlic on top of dark chocolate and eat.

View a photo tutorial on making chocolate at home.

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Breakfast Salad

spinach salad with strawberries, walnuts and granola
Graphic: created from my photos, Stemlit Growers, Cook Almost Anything, Second Breakfast

The other day, I had a great salad that blurred the boundaries between savory and sweet. It was for lunch, but it could fare equally well for breakfast. Upon a bed of baby spinach, there was crunchy candied walnuts, soft cheese, strawberries, blueberries and the real topper: granola.

A couple restaurants in New York, like Ceci-Cela, pair strawberries with spinach salad. It’s a natural progression of strawberries and balsamic vinegar. If it sounds weird, don’t think of it as strawberries and vinegar. Just think of it as strawberries and acid, like lemon juice. Acid brightens flavors, and balsamic vinegar adds another layer of richness.

The granola was ingenious, standing in for standard croutons. I want to give credit where it’s due, but I have no idea who catered the leftover salad that I stole ate. So, whoever ordered the 2nd floor Court TV lunch on July 25, please step forward!

Breakfast Salad

Serves 4
Adapted from an unknown catering company

If you’re supposed to eat breakfast like a king and dinner like a pauper, here’s an easy way to get your greens at the start of the day. You can make your own vinaigrette, buy Olde Cape Cod’s excellent raspberry dressing or just toss the salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil to taste.

Ingredients:

8 cups baby spinach
1/2 cup strawberry vinaigrette
1 cup sliced hulled strawberries
1/4 cup blueberries
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (4 ounces)
1/4 cup candied walnuts
1/2 cup granola clusters

Lazy directions: Toss all ingredients together and eat.

Meticulous directions: In a large bowl, toss the spinach, strawberries and blueberries with the salad dressing. Top each salad with the cheese, walnuts and granola.

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From the archives: Zucchini Pancakes

zucchini pancakes

Squash season is here, and what better way to start off the day than zucchini pancakes? There’s plenty of savory versions a la potato cakes or mock crab cakes. Mine are traditional flapjacks that go with maple syrup. Vegetables actually make pretty good “dessert,” kind of like carrot cake. Try these sweet zucchini pancakes that can easily be veganized.

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Mason of Chocolate

Pushing Chocolate Forward sign

Butter, sugar, flour and eggs are the building blocks of dessert. These four simple ingredients can create cakes, cookies and meringues. Now, thanks to restaurants such as New York’s wd-50, locust bean gum and carrageenan are the new staples.wd-50 is a play on words alluding to its owner, location, and the chemical compound, WD-40. Unlike the cleaning product though, everything at wd-50 is edible, all the way down to the fried mayonnaise and chocolate consomme (broth).On Oct. 7, wd-50’s former pastry chef, Sam Mason, made chocolate desserts at the French Culinary Institute’s Pushing Chocolate Forward event. Mason, who will open his own yet unnamed dessert bar at 525 Broome St. in SoHo in November, made his “classic” gelled desserts. Gelatin is typically used to set desserts, but there’s a myriad of other agents.

Agar (most commonly used in Chinese and Japanese custards/jellies), for example, sets at room temperature. However, it can also get crumbly and brittle, as I witnessed when I made vegan cashew cheddar “cheese.” Locust bean gum (derived from carob treas) and carrageenan (from red algae) are creamier. These ingredients sound scary, but they’re no more unnatural than gelatin. (You already eat locust bean gum and carrageenan if you eat commercial ice cream.) The only difference is that gelatin is widely available to home cooks.

It takes an experimental chef like Mason to figure out their applications. He takes into account flavor release, rigidity and tolerance to temperature. He even developed an eggless lemon curd with gellan so the eggs don’t get in the way of flavor.
Now that Mason has conquered gels, the next frontier is starches. Just like with gels, the Asians have already made good use of starches, specifically potato, tapioca, wheat and corn. They’re usually not used in Western desserts though. Mason is also excited about the new vacuum dryers, which allow cooks to fry food at 100 F. This device makes it possible to fry chocolate, which burns at 120F. Also, fried skittles turn into puffs.

Hopefully we’ll see these experiments at Mason’s new dessert bar, which will feature eight savory and eight dessert plates, a la carte. There will also be three or four five-course tasting menus.

During the Pushing Chocolate Forward event, Mason made soft chocolate gel with chocolate soil and bitter chocolate consomme with butternut squash gel. The chocolate was provided by E. Guittard, the artisan division of a family-owned San Francisco chocolate company.

E. Guittard is not to be confused with Guittard. The latter is the mass-market line available as chocolate chips and bulk bars (with cheap butterfat added). See’s Candy in California uses Guittard for their couverture (chocolate covering). It’s a workhorse chocolate but not artisan. E. Guittard, on the other hand, makes single-origin chocolates. My favorite is the Ambanja 65% from Madagascar, which tastes like sour cherries. Suprisingly, I didn’t like the 65% Sur del Lago from Venezuela as much. So much for my chocolate tasting map. E. Guittard makes tasty chocolate (Christopher Norman in New York uses their couverture), but I find the flavor to be one-noted and short, a common problem amongst lower end single-origin chocolates.

Below are the recipes from the demo. They are in grams and mililiters, since they’re more exact than cups. I’ll work on converting the measurements. Check out Foodite’s primer on molecular gastronomy (the innovative method that Mason uses) for more info on the space age-sounding ingredients.

Soft Chocolate Gel with Chocolate Soil

chocolate gel

by Sam Mason

The gel is magically creamy and solid at the same time. A topping that resembles crushed Oreo cookies provides a textural contrast. If you really want to walk on the wild side, sprinkle the top with salted pumpkin seeds. I’m not a fan of salty chocolate, but Mason believes that dessert should border on savory.

For the gel:

530 g cream
500 g 64% chocolate, chopped into small pieces
120 g sugar
600 ml water
1.6 g locust bean gum
1.6 g kappa carrageenan

Scald the cream and pour it over the chocolate and sugar. Whisk to combine. Set aside.

In another bowl, add the water, locust bean gum and carrageenan. Use a hand blender to combine thoroughly. Boil the mixture.

Whisk the hot gel and chocolate mixture together. Pour it into an 8″x8″ pan lined with plastic. Refrigerate for at least two hours to set.

For the soil:

250 g sugar
250 g almond flour (very finely ground blanched almonds)
150 g all-purpose flour
102 g cocoa (can substitute coffee or freeze-dried corn powder)
5 g salt
125 g butter, melted

Whisk the dry ingredients together. Then stir in the melted butter and till the mixture looks mealy. Bake in a greased or parchment-lined 12″x8″ pan (also known as a half-sheet size pan) in a preheated 300 F oven for 15 min.

For the chocolate oil:

100 g dark chocolate
100 ml oil
15 g cocoa powder

Melt the chocolate and oil over low heat. Stir in the cocoa.

For the garnish:

Deep-fried or toasted pumpkin seeds
Salt to taste

To assemble:

Slice a piece of gel that’s 2 1/2″ x 1″ large and about 1/3″ thick. Sprinkle the top with chocolate soil, pumpkin seeds and a couple grains of salt. Garnish the edges with chocolate oil.

Bitter Chocolate Consomme with Butternut Squash Gel

chocolate consomme with butternut squash jelly

by Sam Mason

Chocolate consomme is chocolate-flavored water that has had its solids removed, resulting in a clear drink. Whisked egg whites draw up the “impurities.” After long simmering, the eggs whites are scooped away and the end product can be sipped like tea or used as a base for translucent sorbet.

clear chocolate consomme

For the consomme:

6 L water
1 kg chocolate
60 g cocoa
650 g egg whites
65 g cacao nibs

In a large pot (allow for at least 2″ of head space, or the mixture will boil over), whisk the water, chocolate and cocoa over low heat. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites and cacao nibs till frothy. Temper the whites by pouring a little of the hot chocolate mixture over the egg whites and whisk vigorously. Add the egg white mixture into the pot and heat it so it’s just hot enough to hold your finger in there, and it barely bubbles around the edges.

Sam Mason about to boil over the consomme

simmering chocolate consomme

The egg whites will set and bring impurities to the surface. Continue cooking for 2 hours. Strain through a cheese cloth or coffee filter. Then ladle off any remaining fat.

For the butternut squash gel:

600 g water
200 g rum
3.8 g low acyl gellan
5.7 g high acyl gellan
1620 g squash puree (Roast a squash in the oven and sweeten with maple syrup and cinnamon to taste)

Add all the ingredients except the puree in a pot. Use a handblender to mix thoroughly and boil. It will get really thick and then become more liquidy again. Then add the squash puree. Pour the mixture into an 8″x8″ pan lined with plastic. Refrigerate for at least two hours to set.

For the garnish:

Toasted hazelnuts
Fresh taragon

To assemble:

Invert the squash gel onto a cutting board and cut into 3/4″-cubes.

Sam Mason slicing the jelly

Place in a small bowl and ladle in 1/4 cup of the consomme. Garnish with a hazelnut and sprig of taragon.

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Bean in there brownies

bean brownies

How fine fat is! The same ingredient that makes dessert delicious goes straight to my wannabe six-pack. I want to make my cake and eat it too, so I experiment with ways to make dessert healthier.

The oldest trick in low-fat baking is to replace half of the fat with applesauce. Besides being moist, applesauce contains sugar, which tenderizes dough. It works beautifully in quick breads and spice cakes but not so well in pound cakes and pie crusts, where butter is crucial for the flavor and flakiness. Applesauce also doesn’t fare as well in cookies. It contains too much moisture, so cookies get cakey and lose their crisp edges.

There are a couple ways to get around the applesauce conundrum. For cookies, you can omit up to half the butter because they’re so rich already. I usually leave out 1/3 or 1/4 just to be safe. Or, you can use a different fat substitute.

Other cultures have long valued puréed beans for their smooth texture. Good Israeli hummus, for example, is as rich as butter. (I’d take The Hummus Place‘s signature dish over foie gras any day.)  The Chinese and Japanese add sugar to puréed beans and put it inside pastries.

As seen in black-eyed susan cake, puréed beans are actually a good fat substitute. If you don’t believe me, scientific experiments have shown that puréed white beans can replace up to half the fat (by weight) in cookies and brownies. To take advantage of the beans’ smooth texture, I used them in a fudgy brownie recipe.

I generally prefer chewy brownies, especially Alice Medrich’s divine, low-fat ones in Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts and Cookies and Brownies.  While chewy brownies have great flavor, they lack that melt-in-your-mouth texture. For the richest brownies, you need lots of chocolate, butter, and just enough flour to hold it together. Don’t even think about adding baking powder or soda.

My favorite fudgy recipe has a whopping 12 ounces of chocolate, three sticks of butter, three cups of sugar, six eggs and just over a cup of flour. If there was ever a poster child to use bean purée, this was it. The tinkered brownies were moist, smooth and delicate. They were so delicate, in fact, that you could probably get away with using all-purpose flour. They didn’t taste beany or like they were reduced fat. I noticed less butteriness, but only because I had eaten the regular brownies before. Anyone else won’t detect the secret ingredient.

The Richest Fudgy Brownies, Lightened

Inspired by The Farm of Beverly Hills recipe, as printed in Gourmet

Makes 36 small but very intense brownies

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
12 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
3/4 cup (six ounces) white bean purée
6 large eggs
1 1/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
3 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350° F with a rack in the middle. Grease and flour a 13- by 9- by 2-inch metal baking pan.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a large metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water (aka a double boiler). When smooth, take the chocolate mixture off the heat. Whisk in the white bean purée and the eggs.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, sugar and salt in a separate bowl and stir thoroughly. Combine with the chocolate mixture.

Pour batter into pan and bake until the top is firm and a toothpick inserted into center comes out with crumbs attached, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 2 hours, before cutting.

How to Make White Bean Purée:

If starting from scratch, soak dry cannellini, great northern, or white kidney beans with water by at least two inches. Cover and let stand for up to 24 hours; refrigerate if the kitchen is very warm. Soaking is optional, but it can save anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour of cooking time. To cook the beans, drain them and cover with water to cover by two inches. Bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off the foam that rises to the surface. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally until they are very soft. Unsoaked cannellinis take about 30 minutes; great northerns and white kidney beans take one to 1 1/2 hours. The beans will swell to about three times their original size.

Measure out six ounces, or about 1 1/3 cup of cooked beans. If using canned beans, rinse them thoroughly to get rid of excess salt. Purée in a blender or food processor until smooth. You should have 3/4 cup of purée.

Notes/tips:

  • The salt is very important to give off that buttery flavor.
  • Whisk the eggs in just to combine. Don’t beat them, as the extra air will make the brownies cakey (which is fine if you like cakey brownies, but there are lower calorie recipes for that!).
  • To make one cup of cake flour, subtract 2 Tbsp from one cup of all-purpose flour. Then add 2 Tbsp of cornstarch. Some say that cornstarch makes baked goods taste chalky, but I can’t detect it in small quanities. If you despise cornstarch, just subtract the 2 Tbsp of all-purpose flour and don’t add anything else. In this recipe, you can get away with not doing any substitutions, if you like.
  • These brownies will only be as good as the chocolate you use. Save your chocolate chips for cookies, and do not under any circumstances use Hershey’s. You don’t have to go all out with Valrhona, but I used a mid-range chocolate from Jacques Torres.
  • Silicone pans are stick resistant but not non-stick. You’ll need to grease them.

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Fancy Food Show 2006: Best in Show, Continued

Since the Fancy Food Show was a treasure trove of good products, here is the remaining Best in Show.

Condiments

Molino Real Chocolate CreamMolino Real
Best healthy Nutella: Chocolate Cream

This chocolate spread tastes so good it must be bad, but it’s just cocoa powder, milk, cinnamon and agave nectar. The sweetener is a natural derivation from the blue agave plant, the same plant that gives us tequila. It’s great for diabetics, vegans or people who want to venture beyond white sugar. Agave is similar to honey, except it is runnier and has a more neutral taste.
Photo: Molino Real

Barefoot Contessa lemon curd

Barefoot Contessa
Best lemon curd

I usually do not buy dessert sauces because they are so easy and cheap to make (if you can dissolve sugar in hot liquid, you can make a sweet sauce), but the lemon curd from celebrity chef Ina Garten tastes like the real deal. It contains just sugar, eggs, butter, lemon juice, lemon peel, and salt. Other brands were slimy (due to artificial gelling agents) or bitter (due to too much rind).
Photo: Straub’s Fine Grocers

Dalmatia fig spread

Dalmatia
Best fig spread

If you could bottle up the freshest figs, this would be it. The Adriatic figs are hand picked on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia and then sun dried. The spread is not too sweet, not too sticky and not too fermented. The orange version took first place at the Fancy Food Show in 2004, but I like the plain one best.
Photo: FoodMatch Inc.

Elsa's Story Mandarin & Orange Preserved

Elsa’s Story
Best orange preserves

Orange marmalade is often plagued with sour and bitter notes, but Elsa’s Story is delicious. Good preserves like this one taste like fruit, not corn syrup. Elsa’s Story also makes fine cookies.
Photo: Elsa’s Story

School House Kitchen mustard

School House Kitchen
Best mustard

This mustard has remarkable smoothness and body, unlike French’s neon yellow variety. If you like the sweetness of honey mustard and the richness of Grey Poupon, School House Kitchen manages to put them together. They also donate 100% of their profits towards education.
Photo: School House Kitchen

Tasmanian spiced cherries

34 Degrees
Best preserved fruit products

This Australian company has unusual, great tasting fruits. The dried muscats (floral flavored grapes) come still attached to their branches. They also have a selection of fruit pastes to spread on cheese, toast or ice cream. The most unique items are the Tasmanian spiced cherries. They are sweet, slightly acidic from the vinegar marinade, and peppery. Think of them as sweet versions of cured olives.
Photo: 34 Degrees

Miscellaneous

Luxe green tea

Luxe
Best tea: Traditional Japanese genmaicha

Green tea leaves are combined with toasted brown rice in this strong yet refreshing tea. It was so bold and rounded that I could not believe it came from a bag. The silken bags are completely biodegradable: no glue, no staples.
Photo: Luxe

Skotidakis Greek yogurt

Skotidakis Goat Farm
Best yogurt

Their Greek yogurt tastes just like sour cream, but it is healthier because it is only made from milk. Once you try the plain yogurt with a dollop of honey, you may never go back to the watery, grainy commercial brands. They may have distribution problems because they are a small farm from Canada, but do beg your supermarket to carry them.
Photo: Skotidakis Goat Farm

Kind Fruit + Nut bar

KIND Fruit + Nut
Best energy bar that tastes like candy: Sesame & peanuts with chocolate

KIND Fruit + Nut bars satisfy my sweet tooth, but they are healthier and more natural than most other energy bars. Other bars are laboratory engineered (mmm, textured vegetable protein and partially hydrogenated fat!) and taste like it. KIND is a mixture of toasted nuts, fruit and honey. My favorite is the sesame-chocolate bar, which tastes like halvah, but the macadamia-apricot is very good too. KIND lives up to its name, donating 5% of its proceeds to charity.

Keep in mind that these bars are nutrient and calorie dense. Sure there’s plenty of wholesome ingredients, but nuts are high in fat. Still, if you’re going to splurge, it’s much healthier and tastier (in my opinion) than a candy bar. Also, these bars are not meant to be meal replacements; they are low in complex carbohydrates.
Photo: KIND

chocolate Maya bar

Larabar
Best chocolate energy bar: Mayabar

These gooey chocolatey bars are even less processed than the KIND bars. They consist of dates, cocoa powder and chunks of nuts. There is no added sugar! Like the KIND bars, these are high in “good” calories. They are satisfying but will not keep you full for long: they have no grains (complex carbs).
Photo: Larabar

Bubbie's mochi ice cream

Bubbies
Best ice cream novelty: Mochi ice cream

Asians are the pioneers of chewy desserts. The Taiwanese brought bubble tea, a sweet drink accompanied by extra-large tapioca pearls. The Japanese and Chinese brought mochi, a sticky rice cake filled with sweetened beans, peanuts or sesame. In 2001, a genius in California replaced the traditional fillings with ice cream. My goodness! A drink that you eat? An ice cream that you chew? What is the world coming to?

Bubbies is an upscale (read: pricier) competitor to Mikawaya, the company that created this frozen treat. Although Mikawaya is ubiquitous in Chinatown and American supermarkets, Bubbies tastes more natural. You can’t beat their selection of unusual flavors: strawberry chocolate chip, lychee, passion fruit, guava and peanut butter.
Photo: Bubbies

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Fancy Food Show 2006

Fancy Food Show logo

Before food makes it to the supermarket, it’s displayed at the Fancy Food Show, an annual convention with endless tables of specialty foods. From July 9-11, the Jacob Javits Center in New York showcased 160,000 products from 2,200 exhibitors. An estimated 24,000 attendees, including retail store decision makers, distributors, caterers, chefs and media (yours truly) sought out the best gourmet products.

From the moment I saw the floorplan, I knew that this foodie’s paradise and dieter’s nightmare would be overwhelming. Booths are not grouped by category, so you can eat a chocolate truffle before you get a bowl of pasta and bump into a mascot handing out hot sauce. (For all of you who make meals out of Costco samples, you can can do the same here, but you’ll hear from your stomach later.) If you’re lucky, booths were organized by country and state, but most were randomly strewn throughout 300,000 square feet.

I don’t mean to stereotype, but Italy focused on olive oil, cured meat and cheese; Germany had sausage and bulky grain products; England had shortbread and greasy food; Texas had lots of beef and spices; China had dehydrated vegetables to make your own cup-o-Noodles; and middle Eastern countries had dates.

As for general food trends, there were lots of fruit pastes (like sliceable jam) with nuts, gourmet bake-at-home mixes for molten chocolate cake and creme brulee (It’s ironic that anyone who makes creme brulee needs a blow torch or a broiler. Anyone that serious about food probably wouldn’t bake with mixes.), alternative natural sweeteners (Mostly in the form of agave nectar and honey. I was disappointed that molasses, date sugar, evaporated cane juice, stevia, and fruit juice concentrate, etc. didn’t make a mark.)

In chocolate trends, cacao nibs were popular. Nibs are plain cacao beans; once sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla and lecithin are blended in, it becomes chocolate. In the words of chocolate expert David Lebovitz, “The term ‘cacao’ refers to the beans used to make chocolate, and ‘cocoa’ usually refers to the powder made from the beans after they’re roasted and pulverized.” Also, prominently labeled single-origin chocolate was abundant. It’s not enough to know about cocoa percentage anymore; the country of the beans can indicate their taste. To see how Venezuelan v. Santo Domingo beans taste different, check out my Michel Cluizel chocolate review.

There was a dismal attempt at whole-grain products. Most were rock hard and tasted like medicine that your doctor would prescribe. Others, like Milton’s multi-grain cracker squares, were tasty but relied on enriched wheat flour (a euphemism for bleached white flour—you don’t need to enrich something if its nutrients are intact) and had the same nutrition as Cheez-its. As a whole, the grains didn’t fall far from the tree. Familiar grains like whole-wheat flour, oats, corn, rice, sesame and flax were staples, but kamut, spelt, millet and quinoa were virtually non-existent from the show.

samples

After sampling hundreds of products to the point where everything tasted the same and I could no longer talk in straight sentences, the best products became apparent. If you ever go, pace yourself and be selective before tasting the overabundant olive oils, olives, sauces, cheese, and preserves. It helps if you bring a friend or randomly bump into one, such as Gerald from Foodite.

Following 101 Cookbooks’ lead, here’s my personal Best in Show. Look for these products in specialty food stores like Whole Foods, Dean & Deluca, Zabar’s and Fairway.

Chocolate

I’m breaking products down by category, so why not start with my favorite food?

valrhona chocolate
Photo: Foodite

Valrhona
Best chocolate

Every time I try a different brand of chocolate, I always come back to Valrhona. The flavor is unparalleled: complex, rich but never bitter. Out of all the flavors at the show, I liked the Manjari the best, which Valrhona describes as “A highly aromatic bouquet, 64% cocoa. Made from Criollos and Trinitarios beans from Madagascar. A distinctive chocolate flavour with an intense bouquet of red berries.” The 72% Araguani and 85% Abinao were perfectly palatable, but I prefer a little more sugar in my chocolate.

Dolfin chocolate

Dolfin
Best chocolate runner-up

Dolfin comes at a close second behind Valrhona. I usually associate Belgian chocolate with mildness. Pure Belgian chocolate, like Callebaut, has a weak aroma and bland taste. Begian-style truffles from Neuhaus and Leonida’s are heavy on the dairy. Dolfin, however, is wonderfully nuanced. I love their dark chocolate bars with crunchy cacao nibs.

Margaux chocolate twigs
Photo: Mademoiselle de Margaux

Mademoiselle de Margaux
Best shaped chocolate: Sarments du medoc

Elegant packaging and presentation aside, Mademoiselle de Margaux makes tasty chocolate twigs that are perfect for nibbling. They come in natural tasting dark chocolate, orange, lemon, mint, raspberry, coffee, toffee and hazelnut flavors.

Monbana cocoa

Monbana
Best cocoa

When I visited France two years ago, I smuggled their hot cocoa mix so I could savor it back home. From the looks of it, the Chocolate Powder mix contains natural cocoa and raw sugar. Even if mixed with water instead of milk, it tastes as rich as hot chocolate. They had distribution problems in the U.S. before, but they plan to get off the ground soon.

Photo: Monbana

Chocolats Olivier
Most potential

The oldest chocolatier in France (open since in 1780 during King Louis XVI’s rein), Chocolats Olivier recently acquired new ownership. They feature single-origin chocolate and truffles. The chocolate in their chocolate-covered raspberry jelly was forgettable, but the jelly tasted fresh and was full of seeds. When they sort things out, I think they’ll be really promising.

Chocolat modern

Chocolat Moderne
Best truffles

Chocolat Moderne is a nouveau chocolatier that gets its flavors right. Even under the melting heat of the display, the chocolate-covered grapefruit caramels and lychee truffle with crunchy pralines tasted bright. These chocolates were just as delicious as they looked. They were much better than their more famous competitor, Vosges Haut Chocolate, whose chocolate didn’t taste anything like its advertised flavors of curry or pandan. However, it is with great reservation that I recommend Chocolat Moderne, since the gentleman at the booth snubbed me. He tried to convince me that he had no samples available, although I saw the people before and after me grab from the prominent tray of truffles. Later on, I discovered samples at the Focused Tasting area.

Photo: Chocolat Moderne

Dagoba nibsDagoba
Outstanding organic chocolate

If you’re into conscientious eating, check out Dagoba’s certified organic chocolate. Other organic brands, like Divine Chocolate, are crumbly, and Endangered Species has a lingering malty sweetness. Dagoba chocolate doesn’t suffer from these pitfalls, and it comes in unique flavors such as xocolatl (with chilies, spices and cacao nibs). Having things labeled organic and fair trade is a plus, but I think they can be redundant if you already seek out artisan chocolate. Good cacao beans come from small farmers who care about the crop and already take care of their land. Some chocolate makers, such as El Rey and Jacques Torres, deliberately avoid becoming certified because they think the system is flawed. Big corporations can afford certification, which defeats the purpose of supporting the small artisans.

Dagoba also makes one of my favorite chocolate-covered cacao nibs. They resemble rice krispies in size and texture, and each one tastes slightly different, keeping your tastebuds guessing. There is actually one brand that makes better nibs, but I had such a bad personal experience with the owner that I want to boycott their products.

Photo: Dagoba

Blanxart chocolate

Blanxart
Best rustic chocolate

This Barcelona chocolatier leaves the cacao beans chunky and uses coarse sugar. The chocolate-covered hazelnut nougat is also very good.

Photo: Blanxart

Coming up in parts two and three: the remaining Best in Show and behind the scenes at the Fancy Food Show.

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24-Karat Cake

 

carrot cake

I’m only 24 years old, but I’ve already inherited an heirloom. An heirloom recipe, that is. Last year, I praised my grandmother’s carrot cake as one of the best desserts ever. That’s saying a lot because chocolate is my favorite food. I have fond memories of that cake because it accompanied me since I was four, from birthdays to holidays to “every day.” Like I said before, it was the standard by which I compared all other carrot cakes. Sadly, my grandmother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and stopped cooking several years ago.

Up until that post, I was afraid that the cake would be a distant part of my memory. No one knew the recipe except for my grandmother. Thanks to my readers’ comments, I mustered enough courage to ask for the recipe. It seemed like such horrible timing; my grandmother was in and out of the hospital.

Finally, my aunt tracked down the recipe. My grandmother hid it in her purse for 15-20 years! Although she was frail, my grandmother laughed when she heard that I wanted the recipe. “I can still make the best carrot cake,” she said. About a month later, she fell into a coma and died.

When I made this cake, I was not disappointed. It was just spicy enough and had lots of carrot flavor. Trust me, I’ve exhausted all the variables for the best carrot cake (Nuts or no nuts? Pineapples or raisins? Cinnamon AND nutmeg? Coconut?), but this one is worth its weight in gold.

Here it is, as my mother translated it from Chinese.

Grandma’s Carrot Cake

This receipt is from Jessica Su’s Grandma. She used to bake this cake for the family and it’s enjoyed by everyone.

Ingredients:

2 Cups Flour
2 Teaspoons Banking Powder
2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Teaspoon Cinnamon Powder
2 Cups Sugar
1 ½ Cups Oil (may reduce a ¼ cup)
4 Eggs (in room temperature)
½ Cup Crashed Walnuts
3 Cups Shredded Carrots
1 Cup Minced Pineapple
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Direction:

  1. Shift the flour, banking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar.
  2. Beat the egg
  3. Mix the dry ingredients, beaten egg, oil, carrot, pineapple, walnuts, and vanilla
  4. Pour the mix in a bundt cake pan (don’t need to oil the pan)
  5. Preheat the oven to 375 degree, and bake for 1 hour.

Notes/tips:

  • For cupcakes, bake for 20 minutes. Yields about 2 dozen.
  • I used 1/2 cup of oil and 1 cup of applesauce. It still yielded a moist and airy crumb. Actually, maybe a little too airy! I like carrot cakes that are denser. To combat this “problem,” I recommend using half whole-wheat flour. You may also use 100% whole-wheat pastry flour or white whole-wheat flour.

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A green breakfast: Zucchini pancakes

zucchini pancakes

My sweet tooth has convinced me that virtually any food can be dessert. Olive oil potato chips, for example, are excellent in chocolate fondue. The fruity/floral flavors go so well with chocolate that I’m surprised olive oil truffles aren’t out on the market. Nutella pizza from Pie (“pie” is New York-speak for a whole pizza) is a novel idea, although it can be replicated by spreading Nutella on any white pizza (with ricotta cheese and no tomato sauce).

So when I had a leftover zucchini, my immediate thought was to make it into something sweet. Zucchini bread is a well-known option, but I wanted something acceptable for breakfast. So I took a pancake recipe and added some zucchini and slightly reduced the liquid to compensate.

I also substituted the milk and eggs with vegan ingredients for health and environmental reasons. I generally avoid meat, dairy, and eggs because their plant-based counterparts have the same proteins but more antioxidants and fiber. However, the amount of animal products in baked goods is so negligible that I don’t obsess over them. I also make exceptions for treats, like ice cream/gelato and Shake Shack burgers.

Vegan Zucchini Pancakes

Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

If five-grain flapjacks sound more like a five-pound rock in your stomach, don’t worry. You won’t taste the zucchini (just like you don’t taste carrots in carrot cake). Try these with grated carrots or apples, too.

Whisk together in a large bowl:

1 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornmeal, preferably stone ground
1/4 cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking rolled oats
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
pinch of freshly grated or ground nutmeg

Whisk together in another bowl:

1 3/4 cups + 1 Tbsp plain soy milk
3 Tbsp oil
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup ground flax seeds

Add to the wet ingredients:

1 packed cup (about 1 large) grated zucchini

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and gently whisk them together, mixing just until combined. Spoon 1/4 cup batter onto a heated (medium heat or 350 F), greased griddle for each pancake, nudging the batter into rounds. Cook until the top of each bancake is speckled with bubbles and some bubbles have popped, then turn and cook until the underside is lightly browned. Serve immediately or keep warm in a 200 F oven while you finish cooking the rest. Serve with pure maple syrup or honey.

Makes about 24 4-inch pancakes.

Notes/tips:
The batter is thick, so it will puff up but not spread.

Soy milk and flax seed brown quickly, so turn down the heat if the insides are taking a relatively long time to cook.

For traditional pancakes, use 1 1/4 cup milk, 3 Tbsp melted unsalted butter, and 3 large eggs (instead of the flax seed).

To completely veganize the recipe, substitute the honey with an equal amount of agave nectar or golden syrup. Or, use a scant 1/3 cup of vegan granulated sugar and reduce the soy milk by 3/4 Tbsp.

Pancakes freeze beautifully. Wrap cooled pancakes in plastic and re-heat (no need to defrost) in a toaster. The edges will re-crisp, giving you a fresh-off-the-griddle sensation.

Vegan Resources:
The Post Punk Kitchen’s guide to veganizing baked goods

Vegan food pyramid-how to plan your diet accordingly

Why go vegan? Read The China Study for a compelling argument.

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Terra Chip Cookies

I’m always disappointed when I open a new bag of potato chips, hear the air rush out, and discover that it’s only half full. Once I finish the few unblemished chips, I’m left with a pool of crumbs on the bottom. Most often I shake the bag and spitefully throw it away.

Not anymore. Crushed chips actually make tasty cookies! The promise of sweet and salty, plus a hint of the bizarre prompted me to try a potato chip cookie recipe from Real Simple magazine. These cookies are reminiscent of pecan sandies and snickerdoodles. When fresh, they’re delicately crisp like shortbread. After a couple days, they get chewy but remain delicious for weeks.

I upgraded these cookies by using leftover Terra chips, a mixture of taro, sweet potato, yuca, batata and parsnips. I imagine tortilla chips would work too. Any nut can also be used; I substituted hazelnuts. I also omitted about 1/3 of the butter (the original recipe called for two sticks) to no ill effect.

potato chip cookies

Terra Chip Cookies
Inspired by Nancy Myers’ recipe in Real Simple, May 2005

1 stick plus 3 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup more for coating
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup Terra, potato or tortilla chips, crushed
1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt (only add if using low-sodium chips)

Preheat oven to 375° F. Cream the butter and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed. Lower to medium speed and add the vanilla. Add the flour, cinnamon and salt (if using) to the butter mixture. Beat on low speed until incorporated. Fold in the chips and nuts. Form into approximately 1 1/2-inch balls. Dredge in the remaining sugar. Flatten with the bottom of a glass cup. Place on foil-lined baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake until golden brown around the edges, about 13 minutes. Cool completely on sheets.

Yield: Makes 2 1/2 dozen

NUTRITION PER SERVING (from full fat recipe)
CALORIES 138(54% from fat); FAT 8g (sat 4g); PROTEIN 1mg; CHOLESTEROL 16mg; CALCIUM 6mg; SODIUM 18mg; FIBER 1g; CARBOHYDRATE 15g; IRON 1mg

Notes:
When lightening a cookie recipe, you may remove up to half of the fat. Because cookies depend on butter for crispness and chewiness, I don’t recommend replacing the fat with anything. Fruit purées like applesauce will make the cookie cakey and gummy. Just leave out the fat: most recipes have plenty already!

This recipe is a variant of the Earl Grey tea cookies that have popped up in IMBB 17: Taste Tea and Blogging by Mail 2. The Earl Grey cookies use 1/2 cup each of granulated and powdered sugar, 2 Tbsp tea leaves pulverized with the dry ingredients, and no cinnamon. They are the slice-and-bake variety.

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