I’m only able to blog about chocolate because of the privilege that has always provided me with enough food to eat. In fact, I’ve always had so much food that I’ve been able to focus attention on a non-essential, luxury food like chocolate. Yet not everyone enjoys such comfortable food security.
The Boy and I will participate in Project Bread’s The Walk for Hunger on May 1st. The 20-mile pledge walk, which has been held in Boston each year since 1969, raises funds for Project Bread’s mission to alleviate local hunger. We feel an urgency to walk now, in particular, as the House budget bill, H.R. 1, threatens to cut vital funding to the United States’ Women, Infants, and Children program, food stamp welfare programs, and international food and health aid organizations. If this bill passes, it will become even more difficult for vulnerable populations to access enough food.
Mark Bittman of the New York Times posted a heartfelt statement against this bill’s attack on access to food just yesterday evening. He writes:
“In 2010, corporate profits grew at their fastest rate since 1950, and we set records in the number of Americans on food stamps. The richest 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all American households combined, the effective tax rate on the nation’s richest people has fallen by about half in the last 20 years…. Meanwhile, roughly 45 million Americans spend a third of their posttax income on food — and still run out monthly — and one in four kids goes to bed hungry at least some of the time.”
Problems of food access hit close to home; the good news is that we can do something to help. According to Project Bread, “In Massachusetts, more than 660,000 people do not have enough food to eat. The Walk for Hunger raises millions of dollars for the 400 emergency food programs that support families in crisis.”
We will walk in memory of our loved ones, Lena Bittenson and Evan Knight Martin, whom we lost in 2010. Many of our fondest memories of food come from experiences we shared with them, from Grandma Lee’s famous split pea soup, tuna croquettes, matzoh ball soup, macaroni and cheese, and latkes, to Evan’s generous candy-sharing, beer can chicken, smoked meats, campground gourmet, and experiments in beer brewing.
Keeping in mind Grandma Lee and Evan’s wordsmithery and/or love of pirates, we have dubbed our team Pirates of the Cantabrigian. We would be grateful if you would consider making a donation to our team, or forwarding this message to others who might be interested. Donations can be made online at our team page, here. Just click “Make a Gift” below the money-meter on the right side of the page, follow the donation instructions, and then watch the treasure multiply. Arrrrrrrr! (All donations go directly to Project Bread.)
Additionally, if you are in the area and would like to join our team and walk with us, you can do so at the link above. The more food-loving donation-generating walkers, the merrier. We’d love to have your company.
We are planning a number of fun jaunts through the Boston area in order to train for “the big one” and cure our hunger over the next month. These include: a walk along the Charles River (where we will visit important historic sites of cupcake consumption); a walk to and through the Mount Auburn Cemetery (how could we justify going right by Sofra Bakery and Cafe without stopping in for a bite?); and a walk around Walden Pond, where Thoreau’s pen found inspiration (and our bellies will find joy with a picnic at Verrill Farm). Our longest training walk will see the realization of one of my long-time walking dreams – we will walk from Cambridge to my parents’ home in the ‘burbs (where of course we will need to fortify with a meal at our favorite Thai joint). Don’t worry, moms, we plan to take the back roads instead of the highway.
We love food and we hate that not everyone has enough. So we’re ready to get moving and do something about it!
The Boy and I took a trip to New York City recently so that we could visit with good friends and experience their magical Manhattan lifestyles. (I also went to a totally fabulous and low-key bachelorette party for one of my beloved college roomies, which left me brimming over with both early-twenties nostalgia and a dreamy optimism for early-thirties futures.) As with so many of our trips out-of-town, we planned our food first and everything else second.
I consider it an obligation to visit Kee’s Chocolates when I’m in New York. The truffles and bonbons are among my favorites in the US. Kee Ling Tong, the chocolatier, specializes in using fresh ingredients in her chocolates. When a chocolate’s description says “fennel,” for example, you can expect to taste and feel the texture of real minced fennel. The Kee’s website explains “The available flavors change with availability of ingredients, and certain flavors remain seasonal.”
Kee’s is a fascinating study in what can be done in a big city full of cash-hearty food lovers that cannot necessarily be done elsewhere. The chocolates are not cheap but, given their quality and the cost of ingredients, they should not be. Most often, Kee makes the chocolates fresh throughout the day in the kitchen next door to her SoHo shopfront, and the shop closes down as soon as the stock is sold out. There is no mail order business – the company will not compromise on freshness of the chocolates – and customers are told that chocolates should be eaten within a few days of purchasing and refrigerated for safe-keeping. Everything else is simple. The chocolate is packaged in plain, crisp cardboard, the shop is sparse and clean. The chocolates speak for themselves. This is all done to great success. Not long ago, Zagat.com readers voted Kee’s the best place to get chocolate in NYC.
Some of my menu favorites? The Balsamic (dark chocolate ganache with balsamic vinegar and pecans), the Black Rose (dark chocolate truffle with black tea infused with rose petals), the Coconut (dark chocolate truffle coated with shredded toasted coconut), and the Lemongrass Mint (a layer of dark chocolate lemongrass ganache with a touch of mint). For a really wild flavor experience, the Passion Fruit (bonbon chocolate filled with dark chocolate ganache) can’t be beat. It makes my taste buds go “Woaaaaaah!”
The Boy is known for buying ALL of the Crème brûlée (dark chocolate bonbon filled with crème brûlée) available in one visit, then carefully spreading out consumption over the next twenty-four hours. A quick perusal of online reviews suggests that he may not be the only chocolate lover with this habit. Neither of us would turn down any Kee’s chocolate, however. On this visit we bought one of each, which worked out perfectly for a box of twenty-four delicious treats. YUM!
Kee’s has two locations:
Kee’s Chocolates SoHo
80 Thompson Street
New York, NY 10012
Monday through Friday, 9am to 7pm
Saturday and Sunday, 11am to 7pm
Kee’s Chocolates Midtown
452 Fifth Avenue (inside HSBC)
New York, NY 10018
Tuesday through Friday, 11:00am to 5:30pm
Last week, The Boy and I had dinner at Ten Tables Cambridge, a neighborhood restaurant and bar that specializes in seasonal, local foods in an elegant but unpretentious setting.
The occasion was special for a few reasons – we were treated to the dinner thanks to a gift certificate from a friend, we were celebrating milestones in our work lives, and, just that afternoon, we had seen the first crocus and daffodil buds beginning to sprout. It has been a long, cold winter here in New England and even though I know that, come summertime, I will feel nostalgia for the reflective peace of quiet evenings when snow floats down by moonlight, our friendly neighborhood iceberg/enduring snow bank has really started to bring our spirits down. It’s gone from pretty to ugly and now spends its days shvitzing dirty puddle water onto our feet. Those plucky baby flowers poking out of the cold earth are so very welcome. (I still squeal “Ooooh!” every time I catch sight of a patch while walking around the city.)
The food at Ten Tables was lovely (a 4-course vegetarian tasting menu for $30/person) and the service was absolutely excellent. I was most excited to try the dessert, of course, something that I have had my eye on for some time now:
The dessert was a study in flavor contrasts and complements. The chocolate was dark, heavy, and rich. The Thai basil ice cream was sweet, fresh, and peppy; the basil’s flavor hints of anise and mint just peeked through. I also noted the occasional crunch and flavor of the sea salt, a nice contrast to the sweetness of the dish. Many thanks go to Alison Hearn, Ten Tables’ Dining Room and Pastry Chef, for this fabulous dessert, which delighted our palettes and inspired this post!
It was the dessert’s somewhat unusual flavor pairing that got me thinking about the combination of chocolate and basil more generally. The two flavors really work well together, much like chocolate and mint seem to do so naturally. And the flavor possibilities are almost endless, with so many varieties of chocolate and basil to choose from. For example, what might the chocolate terrine have tasted like with a darker, earthier chocolate flavor? Or a brighter, fruitier one? What might an Italian sweet basil in the ice cream have done for the flavor of the dish?
I’ve been plotting a first attempt at urban container gardening for a while now and, with spring and summer just around the corner, the notion of having fresh grown basil to experiment with is almost irresistible. Naturally, I turned to the interwebs to see where other folks’ imaginations have led them in the kitchen.
What did I find? 16 mouthwatering recipes that feature chocolate and basil. (To be clear: none of these are my creations, I have simply linked to them here.)
Thinking back, I remember that I once sampled another approach to the chocolate and basil combination at Kee’s Chocolates in Manhattan. Kee’s Lemon Basil bonbon (photo here) features dark and white chocolate combined with fresh lemon and basil.
No doubt there are many other options out there. (For example, it looks like Theo Chocolate did a seasonal basil bonbon in the past.) I would love to hear about more treats like these, so please do send any recommendations on over.
An urban myth suggests that there exists a type of basil that smells like chocolate (not true, though that’d be very cool), and dozens of gardener’s forum posts are devoted to the impossible-to-find herb. These two fabulous flavors have even found musical expression in French punk rock/indie band The CHOCOLATE’s song “Basil” (ha!).
As a side note, I should point out that almost none of the recipes listed above turned up when I searched using Google’s new Recipe View, which has been in the news quite a bit lately, and which many are, understandably, excited about. The search function has great potential to help in weeding through dense web results. Unfortunately, a search on Recipe View brings up a limited number of recipes that are not nearly as inventive as those I found through a standard Google search. The problem: for now, at least, Google’s Recipe View algorithm searches mostly big name recipe sites, neglecting the many high-quality food blogs out there. Techies and food bloggers can learn more about the plusses and pitfalls of Google Recipe view via two incredibly helpful posts from Food Blog Alliance and foodblogforum. This is definitely something to keep in mind when recipe searching online – chocoholics shall not be limited by search engine snafus!
Looks like I’m in for a busy summer of pairing basil with chocolate. YUM!
Well before starting this blog, when it was still just an unrealized idea, I debated long and hard about whether I would include recipes and/or chocolate cooking tips. I am not by any stretch of the imagination a kitchen professional or a nutritionist (an extra big HA! to the latter). My formal training is limited to a series of baking classes taken at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and an introductory chocolatier class taken at the online institution Ecole Chocolat. My informal training, however, has been rich and full of fun.
I fell in love with cooking thanks to my grandmother, an exceptional former professional baker, who very early in my life taught me to use her flour sifter when we put together pancake or cookie batter. I can remember watching the flour float down into the bowl (and probably all over the counter, come to think of it…) with wonder, holding onto a wooden spoon and mixing with all my might, then watching excitedly as heat turned the batter into something else altogether, something magical.
The magic of baking continues to amaze me. Today, many of my favorite activities involve sharing food with friends and family. I am thrilled, for example, when someone invites me to an event and, remembering my love of sweets, charges me with bringing the dessert (I always bring dessert!). I spend days in advance reading through cookbooks, watching TV programs, internet surfing, and hands-on experimenting for inspiration and practice.
I’m actually a bit of a baking snob now, and I regularly do things like weigh my ingredients for accuracy and alter recipes when I think the suggested techniques are inadequate. I mean, if you’re going to do it, why not do it right and make the most fabulous and sweet treat that you can? Of course, this only goes so far. The girl might vociferously critique mass corporate baking, but if you offer her a Twinkie, she’s not about to turn it down.
So here we go, for better or worse, with a first recipe post. I can’t promise not to give bad instructions or provide incorrect information from time to time. Nor can I guarantee that my opinions on food politics and ethics are set in stone. They’re quite the opposite, in fact, and I expect that they will morph along with this blog as I learn and write more.
I can promise, however, to do my darnedest to find a special recipe each time and to write it up carefully and thoughtfully. The recipes that I choose will be either stellar examples of classic chocolate dishes or recipes that feature unique ingredients or techniques. I hope that they will prove of interest to you fellow chocolate lovers and contribute to our discussions here. Enjoy!
Black Bean Brownies
I happened upon this recipe completely by accident, while searching through a series of articles about chocolate. The recipe was printed in an article in the Columbia Daily Tribune, entitled “Black beans abound in these high-fiber, low-fat brownies.” I was drawn to these brownies because of the originality of one of the main ingredients – black beans. The use of black beans instead of flour seemed to promise a moist heaviness, something I typically feel is essential to a successful brownie. The result is really wonderful – the brownies are moist and not too sweet, with a light fudge-yness to them (to get heavy fudge-yness, I think one would simply have to add more fat). I used dark chocolate and it shined through. There was a slight flavor of black bean hiding in the background, but neither I nor my two helpful taste testers deemed it to be in any way a problem. These brownies are an interesting alternative, especially for folks looking for something without processed flour or with somewhat less fat and sugar and somewhat more fiber and protein than the average brownie.
The recipe’s authors are celebrity chef Amanda Freitag (known to many for her work as a judge on the Food Network’s Chopped) and dietitian (and fellow Massachusetts local) Julie Barto, MS, and it was designed for the Multiple Sclerosis Active Wellness Program.
The ingredients list below comes directly from Freitag and Barto’s recipe – I’ve only tweaked the chocolate quantity. I have also rewritten the instructions to clarify techniques and added some of my own suggestions about how to customize the chocolate content to your own tastes.
- 1 15 oz can black beans
- 1/4 C water
- 3 whole eggs
- 3 T canola oil
- 1 t vanilla extract
- 1/2 C unsweetened 100% cocoa powder*
- 2/3 C packed brown sugar or 3/4 C white granulated sugar
- 1/2 t baking powder
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 C semi sweet chocolate chips (or chopped dark chocolate, percentage of your choosing)*
- cooking spray (to coat baking dish)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Spray an 8”x8” baking dish with cooking spray and set aside. (Alternatively, you could fully line the baking dish with parchment paper, both bottom and sides.)
- Rinse and drain black beans well.
- If using dark chocolate in place of chocolate chips, chop into small ¼”-½” chunks and set aside.
- Place black beans and water in a food processor or blender and process until smooth.
- Add eggs, oil, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, and sugar to the food processor or blender, and again process until smooth, making sure that batter is mixed thoroughly.
- Next, add approximately ½ of the chocolate and pulse quickly to mix into the batter.
- Pour the batter and spread evenly into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate over the top.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes. Indicators of doneness: A toothpick inserted at the center of the baking dish will come out clean. The top of the brownies will appear somewhat dry and the edges will start to pull away from sides of the baking dish.
- Let brownies cool thoroughly, preferably by placing the pan on a cooling rack.
- Once brownies are thoroughly cooled, cut and carefully remove from pan. Depending on how you cut these, you can end up with anywhere from 9 large-ish brownies to 16-18 small-ish ones.
- Serve and enjoy!
- Storage: I tend toward caution when eggs are involved, so I recommend storing these brownies in an airtight container in the fridge. Before eating refrigerated brownies, just let them sit out until they return to room temperature.
* Chocolate content suggestions:
If you prefer a more toned down chocolate flavor (more for milk chocolate lovers, or folks who dislike the bitterness of dark chocolate), I recommend using a high quality Dutch-processed/alkalized unsweetened cocoa powder. Semi sweet chocolate chips will also keep the intensity of the chocolate flavor in check.
If you are a hardcore chocoholic (e.g. the type to scoff at chocolate with measly percentage numbers), then I recommend substituting a dark chocolate with a percentage of your choosing for the semi sweet chocolate chips. A high quality Dutch-processed/alkalized unsweetened cocoa powder will nicely complement the dark chocolate. Or, if you prefer the bitter notes of dark chocolate, using a high quality natural unsweetened cocoa powder could help to ensure a deep chocolate flavor.
Note: For an interesting comparison of Dutch-processed and natural cocoa powder, see this article from Cook’s Illustrated.
Like these brownies? There are more Black Bean Brownie recipes to be tried!
While searching for more instances of black bean use in brownie recipes, I came across this lovely recipe by Ania Catalano, from her book Baking with Agave Nectar. Blogger and author Heidi Swanson posted the recipe on her site 101cookbooks. The recipe has some interesting ingredient differences (butter, agave nectar, coffee) from the one that I tested for this post – I can’t wait to try it.
Those looking for a vegan black bean brownie recipe can find one already out there in the blogosphere. Happy Herbivore has a recipe described as “dense, fudge-y, and ultra-healthy” that incorporates agave nectar, rolled oats, and cinnamon (a nice spice twist, for sure). It looks fantastic.
Chocolate is often in the news, offering more evidence that it has captured our society’s interest and imagination. Over the past several weeks, a few stories have stood out and have the potential to significantly impact the chocolate world. Below, I’ve compiled links to some of the big headlines, along with my own commentary.
Increases in cocoa prices
In mid-February, cocoa prices reached a 32 year high, prompting a flurry of news articles, hedge fund activity, and speculation about what this might mean for the chocolate industry and consumers. The price fluctuation has been caused by a number of factors, especially serious political unrest in Ivory Coast, where 60% of the world’s cacao cultivation takes place. Sugar prices have also fluctuated toward higher prices as of late, although most recently they have dropped slightly.
- NPR’s coverage of changes in cocoa prices provides basic sociohistorical context. You can listen and read here: Rising Cocoa Prices May Leave Chocolate Fans Bitter.
- This article, from Inside Futures, summarizes various bullish and bearish factors (phew! how animalistic!) in the price changes of these commodities. It includes charts that illustrate price fluctuations. Foods and Softs Outlook – February 18, 2011.
Political Upheaval in the Ivory Coast
In the fall of 2010, the Ivory Coast held a presidential election, the results of which are still in dispute. Laurent Gbagbo held the office of President until the election, when he likely was defeated by opponent Alassare Ouattara. Gbagbo steadfastly refuses to leave office, however, and has gone so far as to unleash violent, often ethnically and religiously based attacks on protesters and to order UN peacekeepers to leave the country (they have refused). Other countries have imposed increasingly severe sanctions on Ivory Coast, and the sale and export of cocoa is in jeopardy.
This article, and the following video from Voice of America, offer more information, especially in relation to cocoa: Ivory Coast Economy Drops Amid Political Impasse.
BAMCO switches to Fair Trade chocolate
On February 7, 2011, Bon Appétit Management Co., a large food provider for colleges, corporations, and special events, announced that it would begin using Fair Trade chocolate in all of its 400 plus kitchens. The baking chocolate will be sourced from Cordillera Chocolate, a Fair Trade Certified company.
Numerous articles about this decision are available on the web. I recommend the following:
- Bon Appétit Management Co.’s Press Release, with details on the decision and Cordillera Chocolate: For Immediate Release.
- A thoughtful article about chocolate, taste, and trade policy, written by Helene York, director of strategic initiatives for BAMCO, via The Atlantic online: Chocolate Is Sweet, But Chocolate Policy Would Be Sweeter.
- An article from Change.org, which celebrates BAMCO’s decision and questions why other companies have yet to do the same: Bon Appétit: Enjoy Fair Trade Chocolate!
Blommer Chocolate Co.’s Huge Cocoa Shipment
North America-based Blommer Chocolate Co. recently received the largest cacao bean shipment ever after purchasing 18,400 metric tons of the stuff. Blommer is no stranger to large quantities – the company’s website states: “Blommer Chocolate is the largest cocoa bean processor in North America (145,000 Metric Tons); 5% of World Cocoa Crop.” Perhaps even more remarkable than the size of the shipment is the fact that this cocoa was Rainforest Alliance certified and purchased in accordance with Blommer Chocolate Co.’s commitment to sustainability. Read more here: Blommer Gets Major Cocoa Shipment.
Chocolate melts, whether we want it to or not
Chocolate manufacturers have, for many years, tried to produce chocolate that does not so easily melt when exposed to heat. Just imagine the possibilities! A number of ingredient additions can help to prevent melting – sugar, oat flour, gelatin, or cornstarch, for example – though these things can significantly affect taste. This article gives a brief summary of some of the results from research and suggests that manufacturers still have a ways to go before they are able to produce a magical non-melting chocolate: Hot Chocolate: No Heat Resistant Solution Says Review.
Just for fun: Chocolate Chemistry
2011 has been named the International Year of Chemistry (IYC2011) by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and the United Nations Educational, Cultural, and Scientific Organization (UNESCO). In honor of IYC2011, Scientific American has partnered with NBC Learn’s ChemistryNOW (which arose out of a partnership with the National Science Foundation). All of this is to say that these formal proclamations and initiatives around chemistry have led, in part, to this article and the following short video about the chemistry of chocolate. The video shows that science is part of why chocolate tastes so darn good. Enjoy!