Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Small Indulgences

This vegetarian has a sweet tooth. And despite her lack of cavities, it is a very big sweet tooth. So, in order for her to have any lasting happiness, it must be sated. If it is not, the result is a very frantic me in search of any sort of sugary something to stuff down my gullet. Hostess, fruit snacks, cakes, cookies... nothing escapes my ravenous wrath. So, I go for moderation.

Yesterday, I found a cookbook in the new section of the library: "The French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook." In this book, the madame authoress, though not condemning dessert, urged her reader (aka, me) that sometimes a good fruit should do for dessert, but that has never been the case for me. I love fruit, and it can be a meal all its own, but on its own, it can never be dessert. What can be dessert on its own is chocolate.

So here are a few recent chocolate finds to share with my as-yet lackluster readership. First and foremost is a read-worthy book I found in the clearance bin at Borders, "The Chocolate Connoissear," that really opened my eyes to the worth-while nature of a good chocolate. The authoress is a top expert on chocolate and she made the experience of eating good chocolate akin to a wine tasting. I decided I had to find some of what she would deem at least suitable chocolate to try out and see what the fuss was all about (I say suitable because good chocolate is expensive and I'm on a budget.) Well, that sort of chocolate is not easy to find. I'm not even talking Godiva or Lindt good. They don't make the cut.

To sum up a book's worth, there are three varieties of cocoa trees. The bottom rung, most hardy and least flavorful, is called forastero. That's what all the chocolate the average person eats, candy made from big batches of over-cooked and under-produced beans. That's why 90% Lindt has such a burnt after taste. It's made from burnt beans. The best tree is the criollo. This is the ancestor breed that was around back in the days of yore when Aztecs introduced the stuff to Spain. It is very flavorful but also fragile and for a very long time, was on the brink of extinction. The third variety is trinitario. This is a happy medium species that has a decent flavor and decent hardiness and is a splice created from mating criollo with the hardier forastero. "Good chocolate" bars will have perhaps a percentage on the front, but more importantly, the beans used to make the chocolate and a country or even plantation of origin, as well as tasting notes, as one would find on a wine bottle. You see, good chocolate has a unique flavor to it, unlike the sameness of your everyday Hersey bar.

I searched and searched for my illusive chocolate. And finally, I found some in Meijer of all places, in the greeting card section by the Whitman samplers. The brand is Cachet  limited edition and the bars are around $3 a pop. As a dark chocolate fan, I scored the 71% Costa Rica Bar, made with trinitario, if I recall, and the 64% Peru bar, made with criollo and trinitario. My boyfriend, a milk chocolate fan, scored the 32% Madagascar bar made with criollo, trinitario, and forastero. The tasting couldn't have been more of a shock to me. The dark chocolate was so smooth, it had all the toothiness of a milk chocolate  but the glorious taste of a dark. The milk chocolate was the milkiest chocolate I've ever tasted. It had the bitter taint of cocoa but over that was a sweet, sugary but very cream-filled milk chocolate taste that bordered on buttery with a clear hint of vanilla as an aftertaste. The tasting notes on the back of the bar, which I checked after tasting, were spot on. The Peru bar was surprisingly light for a dark chocolate, with a berry-ish hint to it and shock of shocks, no burnt aftertaste, just the delicate bitterness of cocoa.

The Costa Rica bar was very earthy tasting, definitely lacking some of the lightness of the Peru bar. When the choco-expert explained of mushroom tasting notes for chocolate, I didn't understand what that might possibly mean until I savored this bar. It was a hint of mushroom in the best way possible. I even took my 71% find, along with a dark Godiva bar, to my cousin, dear friend, and long-time Godiva fiend, Kristin, who tasted a square of each and announced herself a convert. An extra dark chocolate without the burnt aftertaste? Well worth the extra buck-fifty.

My other recent chocolate find is not a new one. Way back when I first discovered "Skinny Bitch," I made myself their recipe for hot chocolate. It turned out a bit too bitter with clumps of the cocoa powder all over. Less-than-fantastic. Tonight, I was in the mood for a little treat but a warm one, as there's been this oddly cold breeze all day that's put a chill in me I haven't been able to lose. I opened my recipe box and found the old Skinny Bitch cocoa recipe, decided to give it one last go. As you may recall, Art made me a from-scratch extra-dark chocolate cake for my birthday, so the only unsweetened cocoa powder in the apartment is Hersey's special dark, and the idea of special dark cocoa appealed to my inner dark chocolate fan. So I got out a small saucepan and got to work.

Hot Cocoa the Skinny Bitch Way (The Kate Version)
3/4 c. soy milk
1/4 c. water
2 T unsweetened cocoa
2 T sugar in the raw
1/8 t. vanilla extract
dash of cinnamon

Heat soymilk and water in saucepan. Add cocoa, sugar, and vanilla to pan. Stir until smooth. Transfer to cocoa mug. Sprinkle cinnamon and drink.

The dark dark cocoa was delightful. The powder dissolved just fine, making me wonder what I screwed up before. It was bitter but also very sweet with that hint of cinnamon that just made all the other flavors pop that much more. If I had a bad thing to say about the recipe now, it used too much sugar. Next time, I'll try half the sugar and add to taste. I drank half slowly and soothingly at the dinner table. Then, I reserved the other half for tomorrow. With it's oversweetness, I think it would be the perfect addition to a nice dark roast coffee for a morning pick-me-up.

On a related note, my favorite and only nephew turned one yesterday. His birthday party was on Saturday, though, a pool party with buffet. I brought the veggie platter and the dirt. Dirt was always one of my childhood favorites and to this day, is one of the most pleasurable of dessert comfort foods. Growing up, my Aunt Sharon always brought dirt to the family functions, and we kids gobbled it up. At one point, her and her daughter even invited me and my sister over to learn the much-guarded secret recipe. Her dirt recipe is still the one I use today. It is far superior to any other recipe I've found, but it's also something I don't have the right to broadcast to the internet. Here is an internet recipe for dirt I'm sure is very tasty, however, if you're curious to try it. Of course, I don't use the fake flowers or flower pot, though that is a cute idea, and I freeze mine, not refrigerate it. Other people add gummy worms to the top. Dirt, essentially is a frozen pudding cake with crushed oreos that resembles dirt. Other ideas include using peanut butter pudding and chocolate/pb cookies for mud and butterscotch pudding with pecan sandies for sand.

The dirt, as always, was a big hit, but I had my own little secret ingredients I added to Aunt Sharon's version. My sister had recently been battling high cholesterol, and, so she could partake of the dirt and so it would be a little better in general (dirt is not a health food), I used the fat-free/light versions of all the ingredients: reduced fat oreos, light butter, fat free cool whip, fat free cream cheese, etc. I did not use sugar free pudding, as sugar free pudding has a decidedly different taste to it from normal. That and really, those no-cal sweeteners are probably worse for you than normal sugar, unless you are diabetic. Everyone had a little bit, so no one had too much and no one noticed that the dirt was "lighter" than usual. Tips to know and tell.

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