St. Pat’s, Excess and Chocolate 2014

St PatrickThis year we are wrestling over what and how to celebrate with chocolate on St. Patrick’s Day. It has always been one of our favorite holidays, and we have long known that the American version embraces the ridiculous over the serious — with effect great enough to change how the holiday is observed in Ireland.

Part of why we love the holiday is aspirational. It would be great to be able [somehow] to  trace our roots to the out-of-work, immigrant Irish chocolate-maker John Hanan, who in 1765 imported cocoa beans from the West Indies into Dorchester, Mass., to refine them with the help of American Dr. James Baker (of BAKER’S ® chocolate). Another part of our feelings for the holiday is loving the idea of a guy who can chase the snakes away (even if some say there never were any), and who Arthurian scholar Norma Lorre Goodrich believes was also Merlin of the Round Table.

The issue we wrestle with is the level of our complicity in the whinge of the ever-increasing debasement of the holiday. In thinking it over, we assume the safe side of the issue includes adding chocolate stout to a slow-cooked corned beef. However, the line is likely nearer to being crossed when complementing the corned beef with a chocolate cabbage sheet cake.

It is even closer an unitdy linking of food and excess and St. Pat’s when fixing up Green Velvet Cupcakes. And most likely the line is in the rear view mirror when adding to the celebratory menu a drink/dessert like the Drunken Chocolate-Covered Grasshopper Tiramisu, where you soak the cookie crust in a grasshopper and then build a personal-sized tiramisu.

Finally, while the result is tasty and the name sounds safe, you should probably take our word for it that the demonstrators creating this Chocolate Guinness Cake are what puts total fear into the true believers

Anyway, whether or not you celebrate like us with a tinge of guilt, Happy [chocolate] St. Patrick’s Day!

Chocolating Mardi Gras

galette-rois-chocolat-02For too many people chocolate is only about excess. Even though they refuse to consider subtleties, we still feel compelled to dedicate to them a few words of advice on celebrating Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, and the IHOP co-oped National Pancake Day) with caloric cacao celebrations.

We note that many of this ilk also consider the Mardi Gras parade as an excuse for personal excess. They will do anything to collect a few more plastic beads. However, everyone will be much happier with focus on perfecting a holiday-appropriate Chocolate King Cake, perhaps whipping a fancier sounding (to American ears) Galette des rois au chocolat

Consideration can also be given alcohol infused chocolate covered strawberries, a bit more overt decadence idea courtesy comic/chef Donnie Stykes)

The point is, after midnight Tuesday, it’s forty days of religion-inspired deprivation, although you can spend that time looking forward to the treat of a Chocolate Jesus — a recipe we are avoiding controversy by not messing with — and a miraculous confection on Easter

PS — Remember to leave the chocolate coated drugs at home. Strangely, police are on the lookout.

The Outside Is Chocolate; the Inside …?

chocolate shreds balls sticksWhat goes into chocolate? Looking around we’ve recently seen inspiration … and, fortunately not as often, sometimes sadness.

Starting at the happy end of the scale, reading about the glories of Yerba mate led us to a couple bros chilling in a seemingly slightly dystopic bachelor pad and talking cocoa nib/shredded coconut yerba mate brew

And that got us thinking about and then moving down the path of nutritious, if unexpected, pairings. Recent news highlighted the new Exo protein-saturated, ground-cricket chocolate bar (with tweeted updates from @exo_protein) and the entrepreneurial, Kickstarted “dream” to mainstream insect consumption. [See also, the earlier Q&A with “Bug Chef” David George Gordon.

Following that trail dropped us on top of other news items and recipes, including chocolate beet ice cream, Jack Daniels whisky-filled chocolate bars and celeb chef Marcus Samuelson’s (more from @MarcusCooks) concoction of chocolate bark with quinoa and a dash of cayenne.

Toward the less-happy edge of the scale there is the virus causing frost pod rot that, theoretically, threatens the world’s chocolate supply at some point in the future if not dealt with, and in a bit of how evil can overshadow ecstasy, smugglers encased elephants tusks inside chocolate to sneak them past the law.

But to take the mind back to a happier place and the goodness that should be inherent and infused in chocolate, we also stumbled across chocolate-slathered jerky from Portland’s Shurky Jurky:

Anyway, time to stop thinking about what’s inside the chocolate, start baking and get back to the fun of nibbling at the outside.

The Why Not Men and Chocolate FD Rant

chocolate necktiesFather’s Day couldn’t possibly be the wrong day to ask when did common sense die and leave chocolate to the ladies? Moms get chocolate (and flowers, but that whinge is for a different site), but on “his” day, dad gets a handshake and left alone while he grills the FD dinner. Or, maybe as a joke he is handed a necktie of chocolate — really, is there a dad alive made gleeful with receipt of a silk or silk/polyester work noose — that is often crap chocolate poured in a necktie mold that will be eaten by non-discriminating kids or tossed after only a few good will bites?

If men could talk about the pleasure they take in chocolate (and we know from experience and talk every day in the store they do) as women can, perhaps shopping for dad on “his” day wouldn’t be such a trial? We aren’t ready to rail from a soapbox — in our case more of an overturned milk carton — but something definitely went wrong in the culture a long time ago. Where are the claques of men who society lets be connoisseurs of chocolate in the way it is socially acceptable to be of wines, beers or cigars (and, no, we’re not talking  chocolate cigars)?

Whatever one may think of a sensory pleasure comparison, none of those vices offers the health benefits dark chocolate gives to men. In addition to mouth pleasures, dark chocolate can help prevent heart attacks, lower risks from stroke, lower bad cholesterol and even reduce blood sugar levels.

And yet it is rare and often sad when man and chocolate are juxtaposed. Results are often something like Lazy Man’s Chocolate Lava Cake, where you dump ingredients in a crock pot and walk away

Or Poor Man’s Chocolate Cake, with its provenance tracking back to at least the happy gustatory days of The Great Depression, which admittedly did introduce the chocolate chip cookie to the world.

With men and chocolate it’s almost always how to buy it in satisfaction of a distaff yearning … or maybe how to make it for the to-be-honored her.

Why can’t America steal the Japanese custom of giri-choco, the “obligation chocolate” women buy men on Valentine’s Day, even if it is a custom based on a mistranslation of a chocolate company employee just trying to juice sales? And why must an unscientific search turn up very few ways to honor a dad with chocolate other than the widely syndicated recipe to mix, chocolate chips, maple and bacon as elements of a dad-themed cookie recipe? And, finally, why must the most famous celebration of men and chocolate be the cartoon character “Chef” singing out joy at his own chocolate salty balls

Okay, we got a bit off track: stop by to pick up something chocolate and delicious for dad or just flout all tradition and offer him a seat at an all-gourmet taste test of the best dark chocolate bars you can buy or make take care of the grilling.

St. Pat’s Celebratory Liquor/Chocolate Brown/Brown Cake

St PatrickWe probably should think about snakes or the wonders of religious belief or most anything else that would abet our soul’s salvation … or even business. Instead, our attention during the annual celebration of St. Patrick turns to chocolate and liquor. This doesn’t mean “chocolate liquor,” cacao transmogrified into a pure, liquid mode. It means specifically considering interesting ways to combine chocolate and liquor — explored this year, as every year by assistant baker Theo Pandero (see discussion and recipe below).

Not wholly coincidentally, the internet recently coughed up a post by Belgian Chef Eddy Van Damme (tri-author of the college text, On Baking).

It is an easy to follow primer on creating little chocolate cups of liquor with the potential for double pleasure as chocolate affects many people in the same pleasurable way as alcohol. Turns out,chocolate is sometimes even used by alcoholics in recovery as a replacement for the more damaging vice.

All of which is a long path back to what we are actually doing to combine chocolate and liquor in the store. Basically, we’re constricted by law from offering something too thoroughly alcoholically infused, although Theo tried again (as he did in 2012, recipe here to change hearts and minds. In the spirit of his 2012 St. Pat’s black/white cake, he shared with the back room his black/black (and recommended white ice cream) cake, which is heavily infused with chocolate in the cake and icing — making it more factually a brown/brown (and recommended vanilla ice cream, which could also be an Irish liqueur infused vanilla frozen yogurt).

Of course, just because you won’t find it in our front of the store cases do we want to keep the pleasure all to our selves. For those playing along at home, this is what Theo is willing to share in terms of recipe:

The St. Pat’s Black/Black

For the Cake

  • 1 ½ cup stout
  • 1 cup (two sticks) butter
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa power
  • 1 ½ cups blue agave nectar
  • 2 ¼ cups flour
  • ½ cup stevia
  • 1 ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¾ cup tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

For the Icing

  • 7 oz. dark chocolate
  • 2 tbsp. light (or light whipping) cream
  • 4 tbsp. Irish cream liqueur
  • 1 tsp. espresso

1) Preheat over to 350 degrees and butter/spray bundt pan.
2) Simmer stout and butter. Add cocoa and agave when simmering.
3) Whisk together flour, stevia, baking soda, salt.
4) Beat eggs.
5) Slowly mix dry ingredients, wet ingredients, eggs and sour cream in one large bowl.
6) Pour into bundt pan and heat 35-40 minutes or until inserted knife comes out clean.
7) Transfer to cooling rack and await icing.
8) Use double boiler to melt chocolate.
9) Stir in cream and liqueur and, when blended, espresso.
10) Drizzle, pour or spread over cake.

If by chance you should also require a melancholy song to add to the chocolate and liquor buzz peer pressure often requires in celebration of the day, there’s always Tom Lehrer’s Irish Ballad.

Not So Special Delivery

chocolate trainAPPARENTLY, someone got the midwinter blahs and so a new company, Good Cacao, threatens to take all the fun out of chocolate by selling le gran cacao as just a delivery system for other nutritional products. The basic pitch is that they throw a lot of healthy crap into some good chocolate and all bites are super-wonderful-food-functional chocolates. Consider yourself warned.

We’re not knocking chocolate as a delivery system. It’s raison d’être, after all, is to deliver mouth pleasure. We also have recently found ourselves pleased that ye olde brewmaster Samuel Smith brought the buzz with his Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout a valuable contribution to both the beer and chocolate families. Still, there is something cynical about using chocolate to deliver an eyelid jolting dash of caffeine in Awake Caffeinated Chocolate or even as a tourist delivery system to York, England.

We get it. Chocolate is a marketing tool (another word for delivery system) and that is why there is going to be a flood of chocolate-themed junk in the run-up to Valentines Day showing up on tv, in the email inbox, throughout social media and on screens everywhere in between). It just shouldn’t get out of hand.

Although it probably already has.

2013 Welcome with Traditional (?) Feast of Many Chocolates

chocolate pudding cookingShould you have an interest in what goes on when the doors are locked, we’re celebrating the onset of 2013 with our Feast of Many Chocolates Techno Chocolate Baby Style.

Actually, we’re not going all TCBS even as it sparks our imagination somewhere. Family and friends will be gathering in a tradition started a few years ago in the spirit of the pre-Christmas Feast of the Seven Fishes. The idea is to create something similar and chocolate-themed as a great way to begin a new year. It’s all young enough an idea that there are no hardened traditions — other than trying to make sure the meal is filling, fulfilling and fantastic. In case you want to follow us (in the prehistoric, non-social media way), here’s the outline for this year’s shopping list (fortunately, almost complete).

The aperitif will be Mozart Dry Chocolate Spirit (vodka with cacao lilt) and our dinner imbibes will include champagne (no red wines with chocolate notes this year) and stores of beer from the local gourmet distributor (a few lighter ones for those who will be focusing on the fish, and bottles of stout or maybe Sam Adams Chocolate Bock if nothing else looks right for those taking on the chicken mole). ur reference in store is the crowdbrained Beer Advocate.

Surprisingly, we found our source for the meal’s beginning while poking around the Hershey site, stumbling onto Cocoa Seared Scallops. With much to come, we recommend to everyone at the table they start with just one or two.

Similarly, we’ll scoop out smallish portions of a Chocolate Pasta with a Light Cream and Chiles Sauce (h/t to the Healthy. Delicious. Blog), although as with every course, there is always a willingness to let the interested partake in seconds while others gab, sip, digest and prepare for the next course and new year. (For simplicity of serving we will make the sauce the day prior and swirl it in the pan once the pasta has been heated and water drained.)

More and more of the gathered are choosing fish over meat most days, so there will be more portions available of a Tilapia with Macadamia Nuts and White Chocolate adapted and improved from a Red Lobster concept we found a while ago at Emily’s Gourmet Recipes. Also, early in the day we’ll be doing most of the work, leaving just the final broiling until just before serving of an easy to follow chicken chocolate mole (although in year’s past it also worked on pork chops) recipe.

Spicy Spinach Salad with Chocolate Dressing
The palate cleanser, digestion improver and healthy-thoughts inspirer is a salad we credit to a cruise on Anna’s Cool Finds a few years ago.

Before the usual festive meal intermission that includes the split of the gathered into those who do and don’t work the dishwashing crew, we’ll serve a Sambuca with three floating cacao beans. The procedure is to set it aflame for two or three seconds and then sip or slurp, followed by slowly chewing the beans.

For the boring-among-us we’ll have chocolate-dipped strawberries, but most favored (we expect) will be a take on the traditional holiday Turrón recipe featuring chocolate nibs we’re working the end of this year in preparation when we get it right for next year:

1 3/4 cup almonds
1 1/4 cup honey
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
4 egg whites
1/2 cup cacao nibs
1/4 cup stevia

Soak almonds in water (although we are toying with the idea of using orange liqueur)for about 10 minutes.
Roast almonds at 325F for 15 minutes mixing them up at about 10 minutes.
Process almonds, cacao nibs and stevia into a crunchy blend.
In a medium sized saucepan; gently heat honey to a slow boil; remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
Whisk egg whites to a meringue and fold the meringue into the honey. Add vanilla. Return mixture to medium heat constantly stirring for about 15 minutes or until thoroughly mixed and perhaps a burnt orange color … try not to let anything roast on pan’s bottom, but don’t panic if it does.
Cool in the refrigerator for a few hours.

Beans medium roasted, malty and with hints of cacao, and then mixed with Kahlua or another coffee liqueur, for those who continue to partake.

All of which will be accompanied by a discussion of how in 2013 we resolve to eat more, ever better tasting, and healthier chocolate and take us pretty close to the final countdown and chocolate-flavored kisses to welcome the (hopefully) healthy, happy and prosperous new year.

And that is what we wish for you as well. Thank you for your patronage this year and (with your feedback) we so much look forward to finding ways to please palates even more in 2013 and beyond.


Make/Buy/Drink Chocolate With a Holiday Kick

We’ve never checked the legality — so please don’t rat him out — but every year around now Grumps uses his little corner of one of the back rooms, his “lab/office,” to create his own holiday chocolate cheer. We mention this not just because of the season (and the beginning of the annual squabble over the subject between Grumps and Grammia, or more recent tradition of needing to keep an eye on Hans to see if he might be sneaking into the fluid stash), but because of a customer coming in with a question about chocolate liquor.

For bakers, chocolate liquor is not alcoholic, just the pure chocolate melted into its liquid form.

We’re not fooling ourselves or anyone. For most people chocolate liquor is the delectable combination resulting in a sweet buzz. In that spirit(s) — and we’re not endorsing any of these or promoting drinking and driving or drinking in general or suggesting to you anything that could upset our attorney (or yours) — we mention that we recently came across and recommend for your consideration and possible consumption in the spirit of the season an 86-proof Double Chocolate Bourbon; a Top 10 Chocolate Beer List; and the scintillating DuClaw X-1 chocolate porter (14th on Draft Magazine‘s non-ranked list).

Anyway, back to Grumps. Each year the result is a bit different (and he’s not sharing any secrets) based on whims and what he finds, but having done a bit of online searching, we can say that the foundation of his holiday cocoagrog is similar to the Serious Eats DIY Chocolate Liqueur.

DIY Chocolate Liqueur Recipe

• 2/3 cup cacao nibs
• 1 1/3 cup vodka
• 1 1/2 cups sugar
• 1 cup water
• 2 teaspoons real vanilla extract

1. Combine the cacao nibs and vodka in a sealable glass jar. Shake and then let steep for 8 days.
2. After the initial steeping period, bring the sugar and water to a boil. Let this syrup cool, then add to the jar along with the vanilla extract. Let steep for an additional day.
3. Strain out the nibs through a sieve and then filter through a coffee filter into the bottle or jar you’ll use for storage.

Of course, if you don’t want to wait or want something a bit heavier on the chocolate or needs to give a gift with a lower liquor to chocolate ratio there are always

or or

for you to liven up your season.

Let’s Drink to Chocolate Prices

You like chocolate. Why not run a business based on it? It’s the perfect job … assuming you aren’t the type who might be kept up all night by the news that prices are going up, going down or remaining stable.

Which is absolutely true as prediction, at least according to news reports on how the threat of weather is sending prices up, and how a decrease of European demand is sending prices down, both of which, no doubt, lead to prices “definitely” remaining stable for the foreseeable future. We haven’t been sleeping that well recently.

Maybe it’s time for a drink before bedtime (reduce water by a 1:2 ratio if you add liquor):

Anyway, if you do stop by soon for a taste — and, really, there is no better time than the present to do so — don’t be surprised to see that our prices have gone up or down or have remained the same.