Savory Chocolate Insouciance

Frankenfood for the Rich and Fabulous

It’s been “Beet Week” around here at My Cooking Life and it’s coming to a close. That’s because I bought exactly three beets and made a commitment to try them three different ways despite the fact that I have never ever liked beets before.

I invited the always entertaining Tom Hanks to come over and coach me, I’m sure I kept you spellbound with the harrowing beet enforcement incident of my childhood, and we tuned in the unforgetable comedy and musical talent of Weird Al and Michael Jackson. I even risked eating raw beet salad and ventured into creating my own gourmet roasted beet salad.

But now it’s time to get totally un-serious.

What is the one ingredient that makes everything else taste much better? The one that changes our outlook on life and gives us the spiritual boost we need? What is the one thing that can and does make eating nearly any food a sensual, delectible experience?

It’s chocolate of course! And after all, it makes total sense that I would come up with a chocolate-themed beet recipe, does it not?

I created this recipe the way I do most of mine—I thought it up and then went to the kitchen and made it. I felt quite “saucy” doing this and hence the name of the dish!

Steamed Beets with Savory Chocolate Insouciance for Two

  • One or two beets 
  • Vegetable steamer
  • 1/4 cup aged dark balsamic vinegar (I used expresso flavored balsamic but you could add a shot of strong espresso to well-aged dark balsamic.
  • 1Teaspoon barley malt
  • 2 Teaspoons 100% pure cocoa powder
  • Salt
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Scallion garnish

Wash the beets and remove any little roots. Slice them about 1/4 inch thick. Steam the beets until they are as tender as you want them. I steamed mine for 20 minutes in a bamboo steamer

This wonderful bamboo steamer has a lid, of course, except when I'm taking a picture of the contents!

This wonderful bamboo steamer has a lid, of course, except when I’m taking a picture of the contents!

In a small sauce pan, combine the balsamic vinegar, espresso, barley malt, cocoa powder and salt.  When the beets were done steaming I removed them and put my pan over the steam heat. I heated the sauce until it was well combined and heated but not boiling (chocolate does not taste good burned or over-cooked!) The sauce will thicken as you stir. Add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper.

Serve the steamed beets with this lovely sauce over it.

Yes! When in doubt, add chocolate! Even beets taste okay with Savory Chocolate Insoucience! I finished the beets on my plate and then ate all the sauce from the plate and the sauce pan.

A hint of cayenne makes the sauce extra-insouciant.

A hint of cayenne makes the sauce extra-insouciant.

And for those of you who truly like beets even if they don’t have chocolate all over them, here’s a great blog about beets Italian style that I’m adding here: Jovina Cooks Italian

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I’m Smarter Than My Smartphone and Too Smart for My Own Good

Here I go again with another Daily Prompt Challenge:  Describe your relationship with your phone. Is it your lifeline, a buzzing nuisance, or something in between?

Half the fun of these challenges is to relate the topic to the theme of My Cooking Life. It’s not as tough as you might think.

I’m smarter than my smartphone. When I get up in the morning, my phone is infused with the idea that I’m not “open for business” yet. So it doesn’t ring. It never ceases to amaze me that the moment I get to work and sit at my desk, the phone starts ringing. And the funny thing is, that isn’t always at the same time every day. It’s not like my work day fits a pattern all the time. Work can continue on until various hours of the day and night too. But once I’m “closed for business” the phone again will not ring. Unless I forget to decide I am done with the phone for the day. No need, usually, to physically turn the ringer off.

There is this one exception–when I’m cooking.

Hands full of dishes and soap suds? The phone rings. In the middle of chopping up parsley with little green bits all over the hands? The phone rings. At a critical point during a stir fry? The phone rings. Chocolate all over my hands? I struggle to find a fingertip or elbow that can press the screen to answer a call which is usually from someone I want to talk to like my husband, my children, my sister or a dear friend.

making blackberry pie: licking fingers

This isn’t me, but it’s pretty close to what it looks like just when the phone is ringing! (Photo credit: cafemama)

Needless to say, those beautiful smartphone screens attract all the olive oil, fish juices, chocolate and soap suds!

Washing the dishes

“Damn! That phone’s ringing!” (Photo credit: Ozgurmulazimoglu)

I’ve thought about this phenomena of the phone ringing just when I’ve gotten to a point of no return at the stove or the cutting board. Do I turn the ringer off? No. Thank goodness my cooking life is not too sacred to interrupt with a call from someone I love even when they have an uncanny and sort of spooky sense of timing. Every time. When there’s no chance of catching that call without getting food on my phone.

They win over my phone juju every time!

P.S. I swear I usually know who is calling me without even looking. No kidding! I don’t have to look at the caller ID. Can’t sometimes anyway, since the screen is sometimes pretty blurred with oil, chocolate, fish juices, parsley and soap suds.

Seize the Chocolate!

My 2013 venture into Dark Chocolate Mousse has already taught me a few things! For instance, I had been wondering whether the texture of my first mousse, after it was chilled, was meant to be so firm.

In my search for future recipes, I came across the term “seize.”

I shouted, “Seize the Chocolate!” (Or in Latin thanks to Google Translate, “Carpe Socolate!) ” My definition: “Seize” is what one does immediately after it is cool enough to eat.

Or perhaps this is something the Red Queen said at Easter when she spied a chocolate bunny.  She said, “Seize the Chocolate and bite off his head!”

(Photo credit: http://www.candyblog.net)

(Photo credit: http://www.candyblog.net)

No, that can’t be what they mean. Honestly, I had not heard “seize” used like this before and didn’t know what it meant as a cooking term. Hmmm . . . maybe I ought to know since it seems to be about chocolate.

Here’s what I found on www.recipetips.com:

As a culinary term, it refers to chocolate that becomes a stiff thick mass when being melted. It is a result of just a tiny amount of liquid or steam coming in contact with the chocolate when it is being melted, causing it to harden and become clumpy. The seized chocolate can be salvaged by adding a very small amount of cocoa butter, clarified butter or vegetable oil and stirring until the stiff mass smooths out. Do not add more than one tablespoon of the butters or oil per six ounces of chocolate. If the salvaged chocolate is going to be combined with other ingredients, realize that the texture of the finished product may be affected.
On another site, dinnerwithjulie.com, I read:

If the mixture starts to seize or break down, immediately stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of the whipped cream to smooth out the mixture.

I had a feeling that seizing chocolate was undesirable. I don’t recall if my dark chocolate came in contact with any steam or water, but you can be sure future melted chocolate will be protected from seizing at all costs!

This is a very handy tip, don’t you think? What is your advice on cooking with chocolate? (I need all the help I can get!)

And here’s another question:  If your chocolate seizes, do you say it had a seizure?

Classic French: January’s Dark Chocolate Mousse

It’s time to try my very first dark chocolate mousse recipe ever!

I gave a lot of thought to how I would start my monthly mousse adventure in which I will try a different dark chocolate mousse recipe each month during 2013.  Do I want to start off with a vegan recipe or some kind of alternative ingredients?  Start with whatever looks the simplest and later get into something more complex?  Try to invent the recipe right off the bat? If not, then whose recipe do I use?

I started my search and found a handful of “to die for” dark chocolate mousse recipes and chose to begin with a classic recipe as rendered by one of the most famous french cooking teachers of all time–Julia Child!

No one would be better to learn from–she a Paris-trained chef who wanted to help American women learn the art of french cooking–teaching me, a neophyte mousse maker venturing into the deep end of desserts.  I got the idea while doing a Google search for recipes and came across a David Lebovitz adaptation from Julia’s famous book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I was all set to use this adaptation but decided to get the recipe from the source herself.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking

“Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck

After looking at several likely cookbook teachers (Betty Kettlebottom Crocker, Mark Bittman, the editor of Cook’s Illustrated, Rachael Ray and others) I decided that Julia’s Chocolate Mousse recipe will set an excellent standard for comparison with others I will make for the rest of the series. In fact, I was so impressed with this book and the way it instructs, I bought it.

She states:

Among all the recipes for chocolate mousse this is one of the best, we think;

I shopped for all my ingredients and I embarked upon my first ever Dark Chocolate Mousse!

This mousse consists of semi-sweet dark chocolate, sugar, egg yolks, unsalted butter, a couple spoonfuls of strong coffee and orange liqueur. That’s it! I did alter the recipe a bit by substituting organic, unrefined cane sugar in place of the extra fine white sugar called for. This is still sugar–there’s no way to deny that–but at least it is less refined and retains some of its minerals. (I will definitely get into sugar-free versions later in the series.)

The instructions in this book were so easy to follow! Once I had all the ingredients ready, such as the butter softened and the chocolate weighed out, it only took my husband and me about 20 minutes to make this mousse.

The first step says:

Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until mixture is thick, pale yellow, and falls back upon itself forming a slowly dissolving ribbon.

That turned out to be a perfect description of how this first mixture would look. We used a handheld electric mixer but you can also use a wire whisk. We continued beating this yolk mixture after moving it to the stove and putting the bowl over a pot of not-quite-simmering water. Then it was off the stove and putting the yellow mixture over a bowl of ice water until the mixture cooled again and we achieved the desired “ribbons.”

“How did they figure out all these steps?” my husband asked.

“Just three women playing around with eggs and things,” I said.

Next we melted the chocolate and beat the butter into it. This is when I really understood that this dessert should be served in pettite portions.  Thank goodness we already cut the recipe in half! No use tempting ourselves with five cups of butter, sugar and chocolate at one time!

Freshly made, this dessert was very smooth and mousse-like. Excellent for a first attempt! We did our little photo shoot before putting the rest of the mousse in the refrigerator. Here is Miss January!

We used a color wheel to determine that Miss January would look smashing dressed in purple silk with a touch of mint green bling.

We used a color wheel to determine that Miss January would look smashing dressed in purple silk with a touch of mint green bling.

The rest went into the refrigerator and I took a little taste the next day. It was firmer than I expected. My solution was to bring it out of the refrigerator a short while before serving it and the mousse quickly became creamy again.

I note here that David L’s adaptation includes folding in beaten egg whites. This would definitely affect the density and is one of the options given in MTAOFC. I am considering making the original Juila Child recipe again using her egg white option and if I do, I will let you know how that turns out.

And what did our Dark Chocolate Mousse Aficionado think of this month’s classic french dessert? He liked it better after it had been chilled:

Great texture–really creamy even right out of the refrigerator. Thick, but not sticky. If I chew it, I detect a slight graininess from the type of sugar we used, but overall it is very creamy. The orange flavor is more developed and the color is darker now, like you would expect.  I’m tasting layers of flavors–creamy chocolatiness followed by the orange. A little cognac poured over this would be good!

~~~

The idea here was to duplicate this recipe and I did that except for the type of sugar. For this reason, I cannot include the entire recipe here because it isn’t mine. I didn’t “adapt” it, I followed it almost exactly.  This is a point of personal integrity as well as legal copyright and I’m sure you understand.

If you don’t want to purchase the entire cookbook, check with your local library to see if they have copies, browse the local bookstore to find the exact recipe or try the David Lebovitz adaptation.

I have never made this dessert before and usually don’t work with sugar, egg yolks and this much butter. This is foreign territory for me which is what makes it fun, even if risky!  How much will the outcome of these 2013 mousse recipes be determined by the composition of the recipes themselves and how much by the fact that they are being prepared by me–a novice?

Now that I have my first dark chocolate mousse classic under my belt (Literally. No doubt this experiment will go straight to my waist and continue south), I will forge ahead on my Quest and perhaps I will create a fabulous dark chocolate mousse recipe of my own or come up with the cleverest of adaptations to give you.

Do you have a favorite dark chocolate mousse recipe to recommend or have you got one of your own? Let us know and send us your link!

Southwest Coffee and Chocolate Fest

Chocolate Eating Contest

We were looking for something different to do on Sunday and we wound up at the 2nd Annual Southwest Coffee and Chocolate Fest in Albuquerque.  And when I say “wound up,” that’s exactly what I mean.  Within 45 minutes of arriving I was rapidly nearing my limit of tolerance for caffeine–mainly from the chocolate samples.

We started out visiting the Kakawa Chocolate House Booth.  Kakawa is located in Santa Fe and we’ve visited this establishment before.  They have little special cups and saucers to serve their hot chocolate in.  They call the hot chocolate drink “elixir” and that is a very apt name because it is so thick and so intense you truly should drink it in a quantity similar to a shot of espresso rather than a big mug.  This is high-quality stuff!  No marshmallows needed.  (Well, unless you really want marshmallows.)

A sample of their “1775 Marie Antoinette” blend was heavenly.  Named after the famous French queen, this blend is recreated from her preferred recipe using dark chocolate, steamed almond milk, cinnamon and orange blossoms which was popular in the 18th century French Court of Versailles.  We couldn’t resist purchasing some of this.

Next came the Nestle’s Toll House chocolate eating contest.  I am not a fan of the conglomerate chocolate company or their common and sugary products but the contest was really fun!  About a dozen kids sat down to gorge chocolate products and here’s the winner, still working on her last mouthful while accepting her prize.

There was a baking contest for young bakers, too.  This was run just like something from the Food Network with professional bakers and chefs judging.  The winner had a three layer cupcake with chocolate cake, chocolate mousse and cream topping drizzled with raspberry sauce.

I had no idea there were so many sources of organic and high-quality chocolate and coffee products in my own backyard!  Many of the vendors were from New Mexico and in case you didn’t know, adding chili and other spices to chocolate is very traditional to this region. We met with some wonderful chocolatiers and eco-conscious coffee roasters and importers.  There is even a non-profit corporation called Seventh Generation Institute marketing coffee to fund local projects in the Pecos Mountains such as the New Mexico Pika Monitoring Project.  

A pika is a cute furry little creature related to the rabbit and it lives at elevations above 8,000 feet charming passing hikers.  Regional studies predict the ecosystem of the Southwest mountains could change significantly in the future and the pika population may be at risk.  I agree with the basic concept of conservation and with hiking around and seeing pikas with their flowers in their mouths and hearing them make their cute little “eeek” sounds and if that is something forwarded by buying good-quality coffee, that is okay with me!

North American Pika

We also learned about the Black Mesa Winery near Taos that makes an unbelieveably decadent syrup made with dark chocolate and their very popular Black Beauty dessert wine.  We sampled that and the wine itself which is a dark red flavored with a touch of dark chocolate.

The Southwest Coffee and Chocolate Fest made for a delicious afternoon just right for chocoholics and coffee connoisseurs!  The 3rd Annual will be March 15-17, 2013.

Chocolatier from Choco Canyon Artisan Chocolate

Elixir Boutique Chocolates