The Land of Chocolate

25 08 2009

It seems ironic that the day I finally sit down to post my chocolate ice cream recipe is the first rainy day in a couple of weeks.  Especially since I created it in Seattle, back in June when I was still on vacation, where we had nothing but beautiful sunny weather.

writing the recipe - photo by Nick

It was a chocolate-intensive day (and sandwich-intensive, too, I might add) that started with a tour of Theo Chocolate.  While I admire their commitment to organic and fair trade production, I though the presentation got a little preachy on those topics, to the detriment of explaining, say, how ganache is made.  Not for my benefit, mind you, I make the stuff for a living, but I doubt anyone on the tour with me that day left with any real understanding of the difference between the production of a bar of chocolate and the production of a chocolate confection.  Still, it wasn’t a total wash.  We got to taste several different chocolates, from single origin bars to novelty bars to the aforementioned ganaches.  I couldn’t leave without picking up some of the Ghost chile chocolate and a box of single-malt scotch ganaches.

You can't make ice cream without cream

One of my missions while in the USA was to gather up some American artisan chocolate bars.  I was looking in particular for Patric, which my former boss can’t praise highly enough, and Askinosie, which I was turned on to by David Lebovitz.  Upon hitting the ground in San Francisco, I was on the lookout for chocolate shops.  I found Bittersweet without much trouble, and they did carry a handful of chocolate bars.  I walked out of there about $35 poorer and four chocolate bars richer, but I was a little disappointed that it was more of a café/coffeeshop than a true chocolate shop.

Whisking the chocolate into the custard - photo by Nick

Fortunately, Pete, our host in Seattle, is a chocolate enthusiast.  He had spotted Chocolopolis and wanted to check it out.  Having a couple of chocolate-loving houseguests was the perfect excuse.  So following the Theo tour (with a little lunch break) we headed to Chocolopolis.

And it was there that I found what I was looking for:

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Brownies Are So Hot Right Now

10 02 2009

I know that the combination of chocolate and chili is old news.  (Hey, they were doing it in Mexico before the Europeans came along and insisted it be sweetened.)  But that doesn’t stop these from being some of the most seductive brownies I’ve ever made.  It was Super Bowl Sunday and I needed something Mexican to bring to the party we were attending.  Nick was busy stewing beef and making corn tortillas (!!!), and I perused the cupboards, looking for some inspiration.  I had quite a bit of chocolate, and four kinds of chili powder, and chocolate-chili brownies were starting to sound pretty good.

With a little help from Dorie Greenspan, Mark Bittman, and David Lebovitz, I figured out the basic proportions I wanted to use and went from there.  For the chili powder, I used half guajillo and half chile de arbol, which I thought would give a nice, mellow heat with distinctive chili flavor.  Once the brownies were baked and cooled, it was time for the taste test.  (You don’t think I’d serve something I hadn’t tasted, do you?)  The first bite was soft and deliciously chocolaty.  I was worried that I hadn’t put in enough chili powder, but then the spice stole up from behind a grain of salt, and I knew I had hit just the right balance.

In other chocolate-related news, I have finally found an artisan chocolate producer in France!  I’m talking small operation, with lots of single origin chocolate bars to choose from.

Single-origin chocolate bars, produced in Le Mans, France

Chocolaterie Béline is located in Le Mans, in the Loire Valley.  I found their stand at a salon a few months ago, and was excited about the high cacao percentages and single-origin bars.  Luckily, I was not disappointed.  The chocolate is smooth, with deep, nuanced chocolate flavor.  I hope to see them at a future salon, but in the meantime, I can order bars online when I run out.

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the brownie recipe!  Click through and do try this one at home.

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Food Fair!

18 03 2008

Over the weekend, Nick and I had the good fortune to be given free passes to the Salon Mer & Vigne et Gastronomie.  This turns out too be a major food and wine fair, where people come to taste and purchase artisanal products of the ingestable sort.  Their website being remarkably uninformative, we really had no idea what to expect, although soon after arriving we wished we had brought a shopping bag or two.

We walked into an unassuming suburban building and found a large room with many small booths.  We noticed a full bar set up in the corner, with beers on tap and an espresso machine (hey, this is France).  Near the bar some tables were set up for patrons of the few places that were serving full meals.  One such establishment had a huge oyster display with a guy shucking constantly behind it.

Oysters

Another employed a man who was making fresh, hot crêpes nonstop.

Crêpe guy

The first place we stopped was  the Domaine des Gravennes booth, where they were pouring Côtes du Rhône.  The woman there was very friendly.  Upon learning that we were from the United States, she told us how much she had learned from the wineries in California in regards to accommodating tourists.  The wines were quite good, and exceptional if you took the price into consideration.  Generally my expectations for Côtes du Rhône are pretty low, but I actually liked these a lot.

Next we went to Pierre Matayron’s Porc Noir de Bigorre stand.  Porc Noir is a breed of pig, believed to be the oldest in France.  It comes from the Pyrenées region and is raised in a free-range environment.  Monsieur Matayron was serving slices of cured ham (à la prosciutto or Serrano) cut right off a whole leg!  He was happy to pose for a picture, as I found many of the artisans there to be, and asked me to send him a copy if it turned out well.

Hamming it up

A whole leg, hoof and all!

Next we tasted some St. Emilion Grand Cru from a woman who was significantly less enthusiastic than her peers.  We moved on to a tea stand where we met Vijay, an Indian man who gave up his steady U.S. office job to pursue his passion: tea.  He explained the special qualities of each tea, including where it came from, what time of day is best to drink it, and how long to steep it.  (4 minutes for most, except the Darjeeling which should only steep 3 minutes.)  We learned that he is a supplier for Mariage Frères, one of the most famous and expensive Parisian tea houses.  As he was brewing fresh tea every 15 mintes or so, we got to try both the Nilgiri (from the south of India) and the Darjeeling.  For those of you who don’t know, I am a big tea drinker, so we bought a sampler (50 grams each of Assam, Darjeeling, Nilgiri, and Dooars) as well as a bag of Vijay’s own creation: Indian Dream.  A heady concoction made with ginger and orange peel, it still manages to enhance the flavor of the tea rather than masking it, as many flavored teas tend to do.

We passed up the bowls of pre-packaged aligot and went for the olive oil chocolates.  They were a little hokey, dyed green and shaped to look like olives.  What olive oil flavor there was was overwhelmed by flavors of candied orange peel and sugar.  Across the way, we tasted some jams and ogled the vanilla bean display.

More Vanilla beans than I have ever seen in one place!

And then there was the absinthe booth…

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