My best friend, Paisha, just got back from France, and brought quite a haul with her. As usual, our Christmas gift exchange comprised of a lot of little food items. This year was a particularly wonderful sampling of pate, chocolate, salt, and some very strange pig gummies.
The pate was excellent. Subtle hints of the port and other flavorings only added to the enjoyment. It was perfectly rich and creamy, but still light enough to have more of it thank I probably should’ve. It plays especially well with a nice loaf of bread. The salt level is perfect, the flavors are exceptionally well balanced, and the little pieces of fat laced throughout the pate make for an extra treat. Even though it comes in a can, you can tell this is some quality pate.
The fleur de sel is a perfect finishing salt. The flaky, small grains make for a very elegant looking piece of food. It has a bite that elevates whatever you put it on, and it even has a bit of acidity that brightens on the tip of the tongue. Every time I open that bag, I can almost smell the sea. It’s not as round and warm of a flavor like Kosher salt, or even as sharp and earthy as rock salt, but more mild and briny. I used some fleur de sel on top of a fillet of pan seared tilapia the other night, which was a brilliant pairing. Another instant hit. And the bag is big enough that I’ll have enough for the foreseeable future.
Pig gummies are an interesting addition to this year’s bag. I noticed that pork gelatin was listed in with the ingredients, which makes it even more fitting that the gummies were in the shape of pigs. A nice consistency combined with a measured fruity flavor makes these perfect for an idle snack. And they’re so cute! Woah, did I just call something cute? Of all the things in the world that are deserving of the cuteness moniker, pig gummies only take backseat to golden retriever puppies, babies wearing stylish clothes, bears on unicycles, and Congress’ attempt to fixing the debt problem, all of which are insanely cute.
But I’ve saved the best for last. When Paisha asked me what I wanted her to bring back from France, I remembered reading Jeffrey Steingarten’s praise for Valrhona chocolate and reading in various other sources how wonderful Valrhona is. So on a whim, I asked her to bring back some Valrhona, half expecting her to not bring any back in light of the amount of suggestions I was giving her. But Paisha latched onto the idea, and within a week, she told me she had bought my bar a Valrhona. The moment of truth came a few days ago as I opened the package for the first time. It smelled like the most chocolaty chocolate I’ve ever smelled. If there’s any food I would point to as evidence of God, it would be that bar of chocolate. That bar of chocolate is the best I’ve ever had. To be honest, I debated with myself whether to put that last sentence in past or present tense for about a half hour. I’m still eating it, and very slowly too. I intend to savor every bite. Valrhona does an amazing job balancing all the flavors. There’s the bitter chocolate bite balanced with the creaminess, the floral and herbal notes, a deep earthy undertone, a hint of acid, and the very pleasing taste of pure chocolate. I just let the piece of chocolate sit on my tongue and melt, picking up all the notes of every flavor as I went. That chocolate is the most complex and most pleasing chocolate I’ve ever had. It’s very apparent that Valrhona knows their chocolate on a level that few can actually hope to achieve.
Thank you, Paisha, for bringing back of of these delicious treats from France. It’s really a test of a friendship to see if your friend is willing to smuggle in food from another country for your Christmas gift, and Paisha has once again proven herself.
My mum is a baking mastermind. She makes the most amazing pies, the moistest brownies, the richest coffee cakes, and occasionally she makes cookies as well. As a baker’s son, I’ve always viewed cookies as a mundane thing that everyone does; I guess that’s just because the only baking I do consists of a batch or two of cookies. This time, her cookies ascended to a level of deliciousness I had only thought possible in meat products. No they weren’t sirloin cookies, unfortunately; they were oatmeal cookies, modified to contain orange zest, cranberries, chocolate, and almonds, with a delightful orange glaze over the top. It’s one of the most interesting cookies I’ve eaten, and that’s saying a lot considering the amount of cookies I’ve shoved in my mouth in my 19 years of existence on this planet. Yeah, I know you’re probably skipping most of this text to get to the recipe to bake the delicious looking cookies you see above, but I don’t blame you.
-1/2 cup butter, unsalted -1/2 cup shortening -2 eggs -1 3/4 teaspoons vanilla -zest of 2 oranges -1 1/2 cup all purpose flour -1 teaspoon baking soda -1 teaspoon cinnamon -3/4 teaspoon kosher salt -3 cups rolled oats, not instant -1 cup dried cranberries -1 cup chopped almonds -1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips -2 cups powdered sugar -juice of about half an orange
Cream together the butter, shortening, eggs, vanilla, and orange zest. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add the dry to the creamed mixture, stirring constantly. Stir in the rolled oats, cranberries, almonds, and chocolate. Chill the dough overnight.
Use a ice cream scoop to form the dough. Place the dough balls on a parchment lined baking sheet. Use the palm of your hand to push the dough down into the shape of a thick hockey puck. Bake at 350 for about 11 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through. Let them sit on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.
Make a glaze by stirring together the powdered sugar and the orange juice. Modify the amount of juice depending on how thick it is. Ideally, the glaze should fall back on itself in ribbons if suspended in the air on a spoon. After the cookies have cooled for 10 minutes on the cooling rack, glaze the top. Make sure to put some foil under the cooling rack to catch the drips. Let the glaze set for 20 minutes.
Despite it being the beginning of summer, I’ve really had a craving for some hot chocolate. Of course, we all know the story: Moctezuma and the Aztecs just crushed the beans and frothed the mixture to make a chocolate drink. What people don’t know is that only Moctezuma liked it: it was so sour and spicy that most Aztecs hated it, except for their King. When Cortez came to conquer them, he sat with Moctezuma as he drank his daily dose of chocolate drink. Cortez was offered some, probably as a joke to see his reaction, and he actually liked it. If it wasn’t for Moctezuma’s love of the drink, and Cortez’s as well, the western world would never have had hot chocolate. Of course, most people felt like the Aztecs and hated the unsweetened drink, so for us westerners, sugar and milk were added. And thus, we end up with a drink that we know and love. My favorite version is the modern Mexican version, which has a spicy kick and an amazing froth on the top. Here’s how I did mine.
- 1 cup whole milk - 1/4 cup sugar - 2 tablespoons shaved dark chocolate (I used 100% cacao. Use the darkest you can find) - 1 tablespoon cocoa powder (use a nice cocoa powder) - 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon - 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg - 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract - pinch of ground cayenne - pinch of salt
With a serrated knife, shave the dark chocolate into very small strips, or even into dust. This should use about 1/5 of your bar of chocolate.
In a small saucepan of medium low heat, add the milk and stir occasionally until it is very hot, but not quite boiling. You’ll know when it begins to steam a bit. Then, add the sugar and stir until incorporated with a whisk. Then add the cinnamon, cayenne, vanilla, and nutmeg, stirring constantly. Slowly incorporate the two chocolates. When the chocolate is nicely incorporated, add the salt.
The frothing is the next step. I chose to use a blender, as my culinary exemplar Jeffrey Steingarten suggests in “It Must Have Been Something I Ate”. After pouring the hot chocolate into the blender, I promptly turned it to “frappe”. The lid was not as secure as it should have been, which made my glasses, shirt, jeans, and floor more chocolaty than they should have been. After a hasty cleanup, I repeated the process and repeated the results. Fortunately, I was able to achieve a wonderful froth that I enjoyed as I cleaned the counters and floor. I probably should have used a whisk, but that would’ve been tedious. If you use a blender, you won’t need to blend for more than a few seconds, and make sure your lid is on securely. If you decide to play it safe and go with a vigorous whisking, make sure you leave the hot chocolate on low heat as you go so it will stay hot.
Serve in a wide mug that allows for even froth distribution. Makes one big serving, or two smaller ones. By the way, this is a really romantic end to a date.
As a food writer, I firmly believe that my audience should understand where I’m coming from in terms of my tastes in food. To account for this, I have compiled a short list of foods that I have craved within the past week. Mind you, if I listed everything I craved in the past week you’d probably get bored of reading because the wall of text would be more intimidating than the one they tore down in Berlin.
-Caprese -Apples -Grapefruit -Steak with mushrooms and horseradish -Tuna nigiri -Duck confit -Sprite -Cucumber soda -Watermelon -Bacon -Chocolate -Bacon dipped in chocolate -Strawberries dipped in chocolate -Ayran (a sour, peppery yogurt drink from the Middle East) -Potato chips -Beet salad -Fried okra -Ginger beer -Scotch -Anything with garlic -Anything with lamb -Garlic lamb -Peaches -Wilted spinach with nutmeg -Etouffee -Cantonese duck -Thai duck curry (as pictured below) -Potatoes fried in duck fat -French fries fried in duck fat -My leather shoes fried in duck fat -Pancetta -Sundried tomatoes -Pork buns -Any of my mother’s baked goods (especially berry pie, pictured above)
That should give you some idea of what you’re dealing with. By the way, I will be trying to coerce my mother to give me a few of her baking recipes to post on this blog, since I’m a terrible baker and I feel like I should have some baking recipes on a blog that’s supposed to be about all types of food.
If you ask most people what foods are aphrodisiacs (foods that make you feel like you’re in love), chocolate is commonly cited. I have no qualms with chocolate, in fact, it’s one of the few foods I regiment my intake of: one square of dark chocolate every other day. Dark chocolate especially is quite nutritious and contains a lot of healthy components. But does it contain elements that produce a sensation of amor?
Let’s review some basic chocolate facts. Chocolate is a naturally occurring bean indigenous to South America. It was consumed for medicinal and recreational purposes by the natives, and not until it was taken back to Europe and given to some candy makers did milk and sugar make it into the bar of chocolate we know and love today. The chocolate tree is actually named “Theobroma”, or “Food of the Gods”. Chocolate became very popular in Europe and has always been associated with health benefits, but it hasn’t been known to be an aphrodisiac until relatively recently in the history of chocolate.
A standard bar of dark chocolate contains the following:
Of these ingredients, we may start by discounting sugar, caffeine, minerals, and saturated fat. These have no aphrodisiac effects.
Theobromine is a good place to start. It is named specifically after a chocolate plant and is found significant quantities in most good dark chocolates. However, it’s effects are almost identical to caffeine and have no measurable aphrodisiac effects.
On to Flavanols, which are the same as those found in red wine. Sadly, these have no aphrodisiac qualities either. It does help keep your heart and circulatory system healthy, making blood flow easier, but last time I checked, blood flow is not directly associated with love.
Phenylethylamine is an interesting one. It is classified as an amphetamine, which does nothing for the feeling of love inherently, but when it is coupled with other chemicals it can increase the potency and decrease the speed at which we metabolize. This could be a promising lead, given we have other chemicals to mix it with. Maybe it’s a combination of Phenylethylamine and something else that gives chocolate its fabled effects! We can continue to discount Theobromine and Flavanols, but our next two chemicals are promising.
Anandamide mimics the effects of a less potent version of THC. Yes, that’s right, chocolate can help extend your high. Maybe that’s why fortified brownies are always so appealing. This could be a breakthrough in stoner-science (a field of study I just made up), especially if chocolate contained enough Anandamide to have a noticeable effect. But alas it doesn’t. The amount of Anandamide in chocolate is such that you would have to eat about 20 pounds of chocolate to feel high. While this was a tempting prospect, I could not afford 20 pounds of good dark chocolate. This experiment, however, is going on my list of things to do once I’m rich and famous, right under “spit roast an entire cow”. Trust me, it will happen. Even though Anandamide can’t do anything on its own, can it possibly react with the Phenylethylamine to give us that chocolate love buzz? No. Not all all. The effects are only a calming sensation and possibly the urge to philosophize about everything.
Tryptophan is our last hope. Essentially, this chemical releases serotonin in your brain, and serotonin makes you feel jubilant and happy. If Tryptophan were to be combined with Phenylethylamine and Anandamine, it may just make the mixture we’re looking for. In theory, it works: Phenylethylamine and Anandamine relax you and make you more susceptible to other chemical changes, and Tryptophan provides that change in the form of serotonin. This gives you all the emotional components necessary for a feeling of love. But is it actually love? Not really. It just gets everything set in the optimal position for love.
The sad truth is that the chemical amounts needed for this theory to work are much greater quantities than actually exist in chocolate. Chocolate has all of the right starter materials, but not enough, and the combination only prefaces a feeling of love. In reality, chocolate is not an aphrodisiac.
This shouldn’t stop you from eating chocolate though. It hasn’t stopped me. Chocolate is a delicious food, as well as being very healthy. But please, have some class: don’t buy a bag of Hershey’s Kisses. Do what I did and get yourself a bar of quality dark chocolate. I’m currently working my way through a bar of Divine 70% Dark Chocolate with Orange and Ginger. The packaging doesn’t lie either: it’s divine. One might even say that it’s “food of the gods”, or “Theobroma”.
Combine sugar, cocoa mix, and butter in the top of a double boiler that is set over gently boiling water. Stir often until melted and a smooth paste forms. Add semi-sweet & white chocolate chips; stir. When chips begin to melt, slowly stir in 1/2 cup of evaporated milk. Stir until smooth. Cool to room temperature.
Combine the chocolate base mixture, the remaining evaporated milk and ice in a blender (you can do this in batches) and cover. Blend until smooth. Pour into frosty glasses. Top each with whipped cream. Sprinkle with additional chopped chocolate chips & mini marshmallows, if desired.
The other day, my friend Alex and I were making cookies, and she suggested we use on of her recipes. I happily obliged, and I was astounded by the end result. They’re not the easiest to make, but they’re amazing cookies.
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature 1 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 whole egg 1 egg yolk 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 2 1/2 cups flour (plus extra for rolling) 1/2 cup shredded coconut 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Cream the butter, sugar, and salt at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add yolk, beat well, then add whole egg and vanilla and continue beating until well incorporated. Add flour and beat at low speed until flour is just mixed. Divide dough in half.
In one half, add the shredded coconut and mix gently until incorporated. Melt the chocolate chips and add to the other half, mixing gently until incorporated. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, preferably overnight.
Take the dough out and divide each half in half again. Roll out each piece of dough so they are thin and all the same rectangular size. Place the chocolate dough on top of the coconut dough and roll them tightly like a cigar. Wrap and refrigerate for a few minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Take the dough out and cut (with unflavored dental floss or string) at about 3/4 inch increments. Place on a parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Bake for about 6 to 8 minutes. Makes about 4 dozen.