delicious discourse

chocolate transcendence

Posted in restaurants by delicious:discourse on February 24, 2009

A rare and dreary Monday about two weeks ago I found myself thankful to be inside my little car as the rain came down and I watched the outskirts of Austin turn into the somewhat green and definitely rolling Hill Country. Frankly, where I really wanted to be was back in bed, but there happens to be this little thing called work. And for some reason, it never goes away.

I was headed to a little, sleepy town, Northwest of Austin called Calvert, Texas. From door to door, Google Maps informed me I would drive 101 miles. Not too bad considering El Paso is closer to Los Angeles than it is to Houston. Calvert recently named itself the chocolate capital of Texas thanks for the recent opening of a cafe and chocolate factory by the name of Cocoa Moda. Opened by Houston-based chef Ken Wilkinson, who was born and breed in England and has a wonderful speech to prove it, Cocoa Moda sits in a restored 1874 former bank building on the historic Main Street in Calvert.

Ken who apparently is not only a genius in the kitchen, has an eye for carpentry and architecture and did the restoration work himself (and actually lost half finger to a saw in the process). The interior is simple, warm, inviting, and the perfect place to arrive on a cold and rainy day.

Leaning against the bar at the back of the restaurant and chatting with Ken about life, living, and the act of being alive, he looks up from fixing his coffee and says to me since I had politely declined a cup, “I know what you want.” I hesitantly replied, “Oh, you do?.” And he said, “Yes, hot chocolate.” When he said those two words, I knew he was right. As he headed back to the kitchen behind a swinging door he says, “I will be back in 2 minutes.” A few minutes later he reappears with a tray of a white teapot of hot chocolate, a bowl of fresh whipped cream, another bowl of sugar, and one teacup for me. A whole pot of hot chocolate? For me? I felt like royalty and after one sip, I knew it was going to take restraint from every cell in my body in order to prevent myself from finishing off the entire pot and begging for more. The thick, warm, rich liquid tasting of chocolate and cream, was unlike any hot chocolate I’d ever had. I felt sorry for myself and all those times I thought what I was drinking was hot chocolate and it was only a poor shadow of the real thing. When Ken later told me, and emphasized, that quality is never compromised, I didn’t think for a second not to believe him.

Quality and authenticity are what Cocoa Moda is made of. And of course, art. After studying and playing with chocolate for years, Ken says that he knew when he turned “blonde” he would start his chocolate business. For Ken, the chocolates, as he refers to them, are the highest expression of the arts.

Several cups of hot chocolate and many conversation topics later, Ken grabs a large plate, heads to the truffle counter, and proceeds to place one truffle of each flavor onto the Wedgewood porcelain plate. Twelve truffles, chocolate-covered candied ginger (that takes two weeks to make), and chocolate-covered orange peel are placed in front of me. Ken insists I try every flavor, even if it is just a bite. The first bite, white chocolate filled with a coconut confection and rolled in flaked coconut, takes me straight to the Caribbean, and the second bite secures me in the tropics – chocolate filled with key lime and dusted in a key lime sugar. White chocolate filled with passion fruit blissfully reminded me of my Hawaiian home. My favorite, was a dark chocolate filled with a white chocolate ganache with traces of anise – it was complex, unexpected, and divine. The others were a variety of truffles filled with caramel, espresso, praline, raspberry, orange, casis, a chocolate on chocolate made exotic with a pure cacao nib bit resting on top and one inside swimming among the creamy filling.

After the tasting, Chef Ken sent me on my way with a warm individual portion of his cassoulet. As I drove out of Calvert, I was almost surprised to find myself in still in Texas. For the past two hours I had been whisked worlds away to some small European town, sitting in a cozy cafe with a talented and enchanting patisseur.

When I finally arrived home and sat down to a bowl of cassoulet, the rich depth and flavor of the soup took me right back to Calvert. As it turns out, chocolate and cassoulet are the perfect antidote to a cold, rainy day—and I know just the place for both.

Cocoa Moda

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cowgirl cookies

Posted in recipe by delicious:discourse on February 18, 2009

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This past Sunday, per my Sunday baking itch, I found myself inspired by a sunny, warm winter day and an impending early afternoon picnic. I couldn’t think a more perfect picnic dessert than oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, but feeling adventurous and exploring uncharted waters, I wanted to give them a twist. That is when I remembered the organic cacao nibs given to me as a Christmas gift. In the strange way that memory works, the cacao nibs triggered a cookie recipe I had seen in Paula Disbrowe’s Cowgirl Cuisine: Rustic Recipes and Cowgirl Adventures from a Texas Ranch. In her book, Disbrowe, a New York City gal who falls in love with the Texas Hill Country and relocates to enjoy the simple life, chronicles her adventures in food and ranch life while sharing great rustic, simple recipes that incorporate the local flavors in the region. Signed, “When in doubt, squeeze limes. Love & Lassos, Paula Disbrowe,” my copy of Cowgirl Cuisine has not lead me astray. I don’t think cacao nibs are exactly a “regional” ingredient of the Texas Hill Country, but because cacao nibs are crushed roasted cacao beans, and chocolate is made from cacao, and cacao has some Latin roots, and Texas has some Latin roots, I get the connection.

The interesting thing about this recipe is that the dough is refrigerated for 30 minutes before formed into sphere-like shapes the size of golf balls and baked. The pre-baking refrigeration helps the cookies retain a nice, thick shape while baking, which results in chewy cookies—my fave.

Loaded with chocolate and oats, these cookies not only have unique flavor thanks to the cacao nibs, they have substance and textural presence. After eating one, you feel like you have eaten a cookie—happy in body and mind, with satisfied taste buds. By the way, they go great with a side of sun, a Hill Country lake, a nice cool breeze, and a handsome companion to rave about how good they are. Things are as they should be—at least in the Sunday kitchen.

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Cowgirl Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies (originally Milk Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies)

Courtesy of Cowgirl Cuisine: Rustic Recipes and Cowgirl Adventures from a Texas Ranch by Paula Disbrowe.

Yields 36 cookies.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Scant 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup cacao nibs

Note: If you are like me, and only have one type of chocolate on hand, in this case semisweet chocolate chips, it works to do 3 cups of one kind of chocolate versus half of each. But you cannot substitute for the cacao nibs, they are key to the unique flavor of these cookies.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Whisk together flour, oats, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg.

In another goal, with an electric mixer, cream butter and sugars at medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture and mix at low-speed just until blended. Add remaining dry ingredients and mix until no dry crumbs remain. Add chocolate chips and cacao nibs and stir until combined.

Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to several hours. Use a spoon to scoop golf ball-sized rounds of dough and roll between fingers to briefly shape. Place on a buttered cookie sheet and bake for 12 to 14 minutes until lightly golden.

Cool on baking sheets for five minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack. Apparently they freeze beautifully. I wouldn’t know, they are all gone:)

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chocolate & zucchini

Posted in recipe, Uncategorized by delicious:discourse on September 9, 2008

Look very closely. Can you identify my secret ingredient? The tiny green flecks floating within the sea of cookie and chocolate chunks??? Zucchini! Now I understand the brilliance of the unusual combination. I have long wondered how Clotilde Dusoulier’s blog Chocolate & Zucchini came to be named. However, after reading her About page, the name combination came together completely by accident, both chocolate and zucchini meaning entirely different things to her, but together representing her approach to food and food things.

The goodness of chocoalate and zucchini in the same dish would have to come together quite by accident because (I am making an assumption based on my average brain here) you normally would not think to put the two together. To state the obvious, one is a vegetable and the other is commonly treated as a dessert. How they could come together in unison only a highly dangerous and volatile chemistry experiment could determine. One of the brave souls turned out to be Camille, Barbara Kingsolver’s oldest daughter, as documented in my latest read Animal Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Deep into the chapter titled “Zucchini Larceny,” in a effort to get rid of an overabundance of zucchini, Camille devises shredding fresh zucchini and adding it to chocolate chip cookie batter and then devilishly serving them to her younger sister and all her friends, while toying with them to guess the secret ingredient she never would tell. Her cookies were a wild success with only one or two remaining.

Inspired by the zucchini at my local farmer’s market and the lip-licking memory of my zucchini bread of last weekend, I decided to give the combination a go. A sweet, soft, and spongy summer emerged with pockets of earthy chocolate. I strongly recommend serving them with a side of sunny Saturday afternoon, preferably in early September when you are mourning the loss of an endless summer, but there is still an abundance of fresh, local zucchini.

ZUCCHINI CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES (courtesy of Animal Vegetable Miracle)
(Makes about two dozen)
1 egg, beaten
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 T vanilla extract
Combine in large bowl.
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ t baking soda
¼ t salt
¼ t cinnamon
¼ t nutmeg
Combine in a separate, small bowl and blend into liquid mixture
1 cup finely shredded zucchini
12 oz chocolate chips
Stir these into other ingredients, mix well. Drop by spoonful onto greased baking sheet, and flatten with the back of a spoon. Bake at 350°, 10 to 15 minutes.

Note: I accidentally used bittersweet chocolate, silly me, which was slightly overpowering to the subtle but present zucchini. My recommendation would be for semi-sweet chocolate chips for the sake of very importantbalance.

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Giant Chocolate-Toffee Cookies

Posted in recipe by delicious:discourse on March 3, 2008

One of the jobs I daydream about at my current job is working in a test kitchen at Bon Appetit or Gourmet Magazine. One of the reasons is for recipes like their Giant Chocolate-Toffee cookies, which have rustic simplicity but are so delicious they almost stopped me in my tracks. I took some into work today and the general consensus was I should open a bakery…just what I want to hear. My boss said “your cookies taste like brownies”, and they do have the brownie chocolate-ness, but they are crispy on the outside with a soft middle full of walnuts and chopped up Heath Bar. The only word Jason in billing could get out of his mouth was “phenomenal” when he came back for more. I like to think they rendered him speechless. Oh, the power of food. I cannot help but think they would be even more mind-blowing, if that is even possible, warmed up with a scoop of gelato (my choice would be peanut butter and nutella) plopped on top. Here is a picture, courtesy of Bon Appetit. My food photography is not up to par and I would not want to deter you from making this recipe!

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Giant Chocolate-Toffee Cookies (Bon Appetit)

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 lb. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
13/4 cups (packed) brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 T vanilla extract
5 1.4-ounce chocolate-covered English toffee bars (such as Heath), coarsely chopped
1 cup walnuts, chopped (you can toast them if you like)Notes: I bought one chunk of bittersweet chocolate from my local gourmet grocery store and chopped it into pieces small enough to put in the food processor and chopped it up that way. It makes for very quick melting too.

Also, I do not own a double broiler, so I brought a saucepan of water to a simmer and placed a heat safe bowl, big enough to rest on the edges of the pan, into the pan and stirred as the chocolate melted.
Directions: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or butter the pans.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl to blend. Stir chocolate and butter in top of double boiler set (if you do not have a double broiler, look at notes) over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Cool mixture to lukewarm.

Using a mixer, beat sugar and eggs in bowl until thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in chocolate mixture and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture. Then add toffee and nuts. Chill batter until firm, about 45 minutes.

Drop batter by 1/4 cupfuls (I used an ice cream scoop) onto sheets, spacing 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake just until tops are dry and cracked but cookies are still soft to touch, about 15 minutes.

Enjoy!!!!

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