Monday, June 22, 2009

Chocolate and Beer, a toast to Fathers.

Celebrating Fathers Day this year was bitter sweet. Literally. An event hosted by Slow Food NYC at Jimmy's No 43 was event that paired chocolate with beer. The former is my favorite, the later is usually avoided.

At first I thought this ad hoc combination was an attempt to please the mothers and children of the celebrated father. Instead, I was informed that beer and chocolate pairing actually makes more sense than wine and chocolate pairing, since chocolate can over power wine.

The event wasn't just about gobbling up chocolate. We were lucky enough to have Nate Bletter, who has studied and made chocolate for five years, explain the history of chocolate. Bletter plans to open a chocolate bar company soon with two partners called Pure Origins and they will source their ingredients from local farmers. Besides having the knowledge and ample experience, he showed us how simple it was to make chocolate using a double boiler, Cuisinart, and raw ingredients. One bar was made with roasted cocoa nibs, the other bar with "raw" nibs. Although, Bletter loathes to use the term raw because technically the nibs must undergo fermentation for about a week, meaning the temperature exceeds the qualifications of "raw".

The trickiest part he warned us, is tempering the chocolate. Having a thermometer is imperative, better still, one that beeps when temperature is reached.

Dark Chocolate Bar
(makes 4 bars)
Source: Nate Bletter

1/4 cup cocoa butter
5 oz ground raw or roasted cocoa beans or nibs
1.9 oz or 6 TBSP of ground sugar (take regular sugar for a spin the food processor)
1 tsp of lecithin ground
1/4 tsp vanilla or 1 bean
1 square of existing dark chocolate
optional flavorings: a few drops of essential oils (nothing water based!), dried chili peppers, spices (all spice is traditional), chopped fruit or nuts.

1)Over a double boiler add cocoa butter and melt. Put in food processor and then add cocoa nibs, sugar, lecithin, and vanilla.
2)Let your food processor spin for 1hr (yes, 1 hr) the chocolate with be liquid at the end of the hour.
3)Take temperature of the mixture, it should be around 116F-120F otherwise heat it up until it reaches that temperature range. Pour chocolate into a bowl and throw in your 1 square of existing chocolate and whatever optional ingredient you decide to use, unless your a chocolate purist, and stir. Don't worry if the added chocolate doesn't melt all the way, its only purpose is to help with crystallization.
4)Place your chocolate mixture on top of the ice bath and cool the mixture down to 80F. Be careful not to get any water on the chocolate, it will seize up.
5)Then, using a double boiler, re-heat the chocolate mixture to 85F-91F.
6)Pour chocolate into molds or use ramekins and place in the fridge to cool, about 1hr.

Don't expect that smooth creamy mouth feel you get from store bought chocolate, there is still a bit of crunchiness and grittiness leftover from the nibs. However, this is probably the closet you will get to a real bar of chocolate, the kind the Mayans and Aztecs would be proud of, and a far cry from the crap you find in stores.

Thanks to Bletter, I was also explained the whole concept of percentages. When a bar of chocolate says 70% dark chocolate, it's not really saying how much of cocoa is in there. Because that 70% is made up of cocoa butter and cocoa. Meaning lower end chocolate bar manufactureres A.K.A Hersheys "dark" 70% could be totally different from Lindt 70% in respect to actual cocoa content and that is why no two 70% dark chocolate bars taste the same.

Clearly, I have a penchant for chocolate, but what about the beer? Well I have to say that the five glasses I tried were not bad, and they really did go well with the chocolate. Especially the last beer, the stout, was very smoky and complimented the chocolate well. The raspberry beer was my favorite. A beer truly meant for people like me, who want nothing to do with the bitter after taste. I think my dad would have enjoyed this. Cheers men!

Jimmy's No 43
Beer List
Avril Saisson Dupont, Bier de garde, subtle spicing 3.5%

Mahris, Weissboch 7% Dark chocolate and nutty

Lindemans Framboise, Raspberry Lambic (Whole foods)

Green Flash, Triple Beligium style

Nogne O Imperial Stout ,smoky

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I Heart my Local CSA

After stuffing my face with the most scrumptious rhubarb and strawberry cake, which looks like a plain white pound cake with a river of molten red running through it- I can't help but feel satiated. There is something else- besides my newly expanded gut and labored breathing- feeling the effects of my meal, it's as though my conscious feels full too.

We got our first delivery from our local Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) last Thursday, and boy were we excited. After months of abstaining from eating salads that belong on life support or mushy grainy tasteless tomatoes in the winter, the time time has come for fresh local produce. It's not like I have become puritanical about eating locally, but I do see benefits both from a foodie and an environmentalist perspective. First, they just taste better when they are grown locally. Why? Because they are usually picked when they're ripe, they're not stored for long periods of time and carted across the country, and because they don't need to be bread for hardiness, they can be bred for, gasp, taste. And of course local usually means less fuel needed to get those veggies to you.

A CSA works by purchasing a share before the growing season starts -thereby becoming a shareholder- and when the season begins, you get a weekly share of the bounty. You are asked to pay upfront because it allows the farmer to buy his/her supplies, pay for labor, or anything else needed to get going, thus negating the need for high interest loans. There is of course one little catch, if the whether sucks, or pests ravage the crops, there are no refunds. You are in for the good times or bad times. Either way, you usually come out ahead, and will always get something for your money.

Having said this, it is only our second time signing up with a CSA. The first time was in Quebec three years ago, which was a really great experience. At first we would get these vegetables I had never cooked or eaten before and it would be slightly intimidating. But, I just started browsing for recipes in books and on the web. I was making stuff with my kholarbhi and celeriac in no time. When we moved to New York two years ago we desperately wanted to get a plot in the community garden. That was pretty darn impossible to do since there was a wait list of a few years. We didn't know of any CSAs in the area so in the end with stuck with the Union Square Market and the local market on our island on Saturdays.

This year, we have signed up with Astoria CSA and from June until November we will receive a share of vegetables for only $550. After elaborate and fancy calculations with the help of my husbands brain, it turns out to be $20/week which is absolutely nothing (talking New York City here) for fresh, local, and organic produce.

It's only the first week of June and we received lettuce, beets, French breakfast radish, Japanese white salad turnip, rhubarb, strawberries and bok choi.

After I unpacked our goodies, I started searching for a way to use the rhubarb and found Rhubarb and Strawberry Pudding at Darien, my husband, usually does not like any dessert with fruit and don't even mention custard. The desert was more like a cake then a custard, and he could not resist helping me finish off a whole 8x8 pan of fruity goodness, in one night.

Tonight I made us some home made pita bread to go with a nice big salad made up of mescaline, arugula, butter lettuce, roasted beets and thinly sliced radish. For dessert, I just had to make the rhubarb and strawberry pudding.

Somewhere in North Fork, Long Island, a farmer is working hard to provide me with fresh quality produce, and I am working hard to enjoy every bit of it. His labor need not be in vain.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Picnic Time!

My favorite summer past-time is having my meals alfresco. Regardless if the star of the meal is a hunk of grilled meat or a simple salad made from locally grown lettuce. I just love any excuse to eat doors. I come from a place where as soon as the snow begins to melt away (around April or May) us Quebecers are out in tank tops and shorts; and the temperature hasn't even reached 50F yet. Just as quickly as we shed our winter layers, restaurants and cafes are setting up both elaborate terraces, or even one or two tables, on the sidewalks. We appreciate what little sun and warmth we can get in the summer months and want nothing more than to sit outside and drink our sangria (or Labatt) with some aged cheddar (or poutine).

Living in New York, I am longer afforded the luxury of sitting out on my deck and drinking and eating with mes amis (my friends). Because the police look down upon conspicuous containers of liquor in public, my outdoor eating has become somewhat more tame.

Alas, I have come across a product that is brilliant in more ways than one. Alice White, an Australian wine brand, has both affordable and good quality wines. Has recently introduced three of it's award winning varietals -Chardonnay, Lexia, and Shiraz- in 1/2L Tetra Pak cartons. The price? only $4.99. So, now instead of toting around a bottle and bottle opener and trying to slyly conceal your bottle of wine, you can throw in your Tetra Pak carton with it's easy twist off cap and drink to your hearts content. The cops will not be the wiser for it, unless they read my blog of course.
My favorite of the three was Lexia, which is sweeter than a Riesling and a bit fruity. Perfect for a nice refreshing drink on it's own. The containers hold about three glasses of wine, and you can easily store it open in the fridge for a week.

When it comes to glassware for your wine, forget those crappy beer cups and check out govino glasses. They are washable, reusable (up to a certain point, then you must replace them), cheap and stylish. Most importantly, there is a little thumb groove, so you will never accidentally drop your glass when your motor skills start lapsing.

Happy Eating!