Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chocolate and Sprits tasting at Ethereal Confections

I recently had the pleasure of going to my first official chocolate and liquor tasting. A group of twenty  curious chocolate lovers converged in the cooking area of Ethereal Confections, a chocolate shop in downtown Woodstock, IL. There were five chocolate truffles, each paired with a liquor from CH Distillery, which is based in Chicago. 
 The traditional truffles all had a chocolate coating that snapped when you bit into it. The thick outer casing gave the perfect amount of support for the smooth, velvety ganache underneath. I was surprised at the variety in texture amongst the truffles. The lavender honey truffle had a firmer ganache that melted at first touch, whereas the strawberry truffle's ganache was less compact, and more delicate. The outer coating of the strawberry basil truffle was made from dried powered strawberries- what a novel idea!
 There was a digestive liquor called amaro, which translates to "bitter" in Italian. It was paired with a dark yet sweet chocolate bar- an interesting play of chopped candied nuts, sea salt, and dark chocolate. The interplay of the sweet and salty cut through the amaro, making its intensity and bitterness slightly more palatable.
 The limoncello was mind-blowing- it had milk in it! I had never had limoncello with milk, and it made the limoncello more velvety and creamy, and elevated the drink to an even higher dessert status. It was like drinking cheesecake. It was truly a dessert in its own right, too sweet in my mind to be paired with the blueberry/violet/lemon truffle. I would have kept the truffle very simple to let the bright clean flavors of the limoncello shine through. However, the truffle was delicious, and the candied violet garnish was quite beautiful.
  Overall it was a fun evening of talking about spirits and chocolate- which is something I'd be happy to do more of any day! The pairings themselves were very interesting and well executed:
1. Key [lime] Gin with a lavender/honey truffle
2. Bourbon with a single origin Madagascar 88% chocolate bar 
3. Peppercorn Vodka with a Strawberry basil truffle
4. Amaro with a Sea Salt, candied almond chocolate bark 
5. Creamy limoncello with a blueberry, violet, lemon truffle. 

Check out Ethereal Confections, which is also a gluten free dedicated facility!
Ethereal Confections

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Obama Failed the Foodies

Interesting article about Obama's food policies and how they've changed from his 2008 Presidential Campaign to today. It's about so much more than food... it's about giant agriculture corporations like the beef and poultry industry, farming and seed companies like Monsanto (okay, really just Monsanto), and the fact that so much of energy (oil) goes into producing all of the grain and feed that go into cattle and meat production. It's a little slice of everything that is wrong with American politics, and the climate change today.

Photo credit: inkknife_2000 Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.comFoter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Chocolate covered strawberries

Chocolate covered strawberries are surprisingly easy to make. Grab a friend in the kitchen and it's twice as fast! I personally like to use dark chocolate, although these are milk chocolate, which works quite well ; ). 

It's a tad bit silly to post a "recipe" for these, but the tricky part is if you decide to temper the chocolate. Check out this article, written by the great David Lebovitz, for information about why to temper chocolate, and what "bloom" is. What's just as important, if not more, is that you need to dry the strawberries 100% thoroughly. The chocolate will stick to the strawberries better, and water will make the chocolate seize, keeping it from setting properly. 

2 pounds of strawberries, rinsed and dried
2 bags of chocolate (about 10-12 ounces per bag), melted
1 sheet of parchment paper (the strawberries release very well from parchment when set)
Optional: chopped toasted nuts of choice

Melt chocolate:
In microwave: put chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and microwave at 20 second intervals, stirring in between until the chocolate is melted. 
In double boiler: place chocolate in a heatproof glass over a pot of gently simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is smooth and melted. You can either take it off the heat and re-warm it if needed, or keep it on very low, stirring to keep the chocolate at the bottom from burning. 

Dip strawberries one a time, gently shaking to release any extra chocolate. Place on a parchment lined tray and sprinkle toppings on top, or gently roll in a bowl of toppings. Let set at room temperature, and then put in the refrigerator to chill. Take out a few minutes before serving and enjoy! 

Chocolate covered frozen banana slices

I am getting a little ahead of myself here, but these chocolate covered frozen banana slices are perfect for Summer. There is no baking here, no pre-heating the oven or creaming butter and sugar. The hardest thing to do is not to freeze the roof of your mouth when you eat these :). Oh yes and... don't burn the chocolate when you melt it!  
You have two options when melting the chocolate into silky ribbons of decadence: microwave, or double boiler. The microwave is very simple: nuke the chocolate at 20 second intervals and stir until melted. Again, be careful not to melt it longer than that because the chocolate will burn. Burned chocolate looks grainy, and slightly lumpy. It will not set, so be careful! 
If you are using a double boiler, place a large glass or ceramic bowl above a pot of gently simmering water, and the steam will heat the chocolate, melting it. Be careful to stir the chocolate with both methods, so you don't burn it! In regards to the bananas, small slices of banana (about half an inch thick) ensure a greater chocolate to banana ratio- which is pretty awesome. More chocolate, more toppings, more crunch. 
Also, anything "mini" is absolutely adorable. Call me crazy, but these are just cute! They're also the perfect "healthy" snack to have a stash of in your freezer for when you come back from the gym, or come inside from a hot summer's day. If you make them with dark chocolate, and toasted nuts they're pretty healthy- no added sugars other than the scant few grams in dark chocolate. 


2 bananas, sliced as you wish 
1 bag of dark chocolate chips (12 ounces)
Chopped toasted nuts of choice 
Optional toppings: coconut flakes, sprinkles


1. Slice bananas and arrange on a tray. Freeze for about one hour. 

2. Prep your toppings: coarsely chop nuts, and put in bowl. Arrange other toppings in bowls. 

3. Place the chocolate chips in a medium sized glass or ceramic bowl. If using a double boiler, place the bowl over a pot with gently simmering water (heat on low). Stir until the chocolate is melted. Keep the burner on low, and stir to keep the chocolate on the bottom from burning. 

4. Using forks, dip one piece of banana at a time into the chocolate, pausing to let the excess drip off. You can scrape the fork against the edge of the bowl to release the dripping chocolate. Carefully place the banana slice in the bowl of toppings, turning to coat. Alternatively, you can place the slice on a tray covered with parchment paper, and then sprinkle the toppings on top. 

5. Keep going until the tray is filled and everything is dipped. 

6. Put the tray in the freezer until frozen (a couple of hours). You can transfer them to a container, where they will keep for... well they never seem to last more than a few days before they're gone ; ). 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Chocolate Caramel Matzoh

 I came across this recipe on David Lebovitz's blog, and was drawn to it insantly. Besides looking fairly straightforward to make, I was intrigued by the idea of using matzoh for a sweet recipe. It's essentially a homemade candy bar in fun, bite-sized pieces. The richness of the caramel and all the calories therein proclaim loudly to a primal part of your brain, "Delicious calories have ARRIVED- stuff your face!". Other reactions include giggling like a schoolgirl, and resisting the urge to fight people (or alternatively, high five them).  
I've made them for friends, and most recently for a Passover Seder. Jordana, my violinist, hosted her first seder at her house with her husband, and it was a lovely affair. Also, when substituted with Kosher ingredients, these are perfect for Passover! You can sprinkle slivered almonds, toasted coconut, or anything your heart desires on the chocolate before it sets. 
 David Lebovitz made the interesting point that for this recipe, it would be better to use chocolate chips rather than chopping up a nice chocolate bar. The reason is that chocolate chips are made to hold their shape after melting, and would have a better snap to them than bars of chocolate.

Adapted from the marvelous blog of David Lebovitz
8 to 12 sheets unsalted matzoh
2 cups unsalted butter, sliced up
2 cups firmly-packed light brown sugar
big pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips 
2 cups toasted sliced almonds (optional)
2 cups lightly toasted coconut (optional)
light sprinkling of fleur de sel (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F. Line two baking sheets with foil (make sure you wrap it up and over the edges of the baking sheet). Cover the foil with a sheet of parchment paper, and then cover a layer of matzoh, breaking up pieces of matzoh to fill in the pan.

In a medium sized saucepan put the butter cubes and sugar and cook over medium heat, stirring until the butter melts and the mixture boils. Boil for three minutes, stirring constantly. Take off the heat, add the vanilla extract and salt, stir. Pour over the matzoh, one tray at a time, spreading it over the matzoh with an offset spatula, or other heat-proof utinsel.

Put back in the oven, and reduce the heat to 350F. Bake for fifteen minutes. Keep an eye on it to make sure that the caramel isn't burning. If it looks like it is browning too quickly, lower the heat to 325F.

Take out of the oven after fifteen minutes, and immediately sprinkle with chocolate chips. Wait patiently for five minutes, and then spread to coat the matzoh/caramel with an offset spatula. This is the fun part. Now you can add any toppings your heart desires- flaky sea salt, toasted almonds, toasted other-nuts, roasted cocoa nibs...

Leave at room temperature until the chocolate sets, before breaking into pieces. Store in an airtight container until ready to serve. It should keep for one week, but I wouldn't know anything about that. Sometimes when you put the chocolate in the refrigerator, it might "bloom" from the temperature change. This means that the milk solids in the chocolate separate and float to the top of the chocolate. Is it still delicious? You bet! It is just an aesthetic. This article describes bloom in more detail, with suggestions on how to prevent/minimize bloom.