January 20, 2012

Sourcing: Chocolove

Chocolove Chocolate Bars

How do I love thee? Enough to share news about a delicious find I recently made in time that you can seek it out before Valentine's Day, that's how much.

It was instant attraction. Packages in a palette of pretty colors, a fancy stamp suggesting the chocolate enrobed botanicals, a "postmark" from the origin of the chocolate (Belgium), the clearly marked cocoa content of each variety, and the promise of a love poem inside. Aaaah. It was only then that I noticed the dazzling array of options: Chilies & Cherries in Dark Chocolate, Almonds & Sea Salt in Dark Chocolate, Ginger Crystallized in Dark Chocolate, Cherries & Almonds in Dark Chocolate, Raspberries in Dark Chocolate, and more. From the 33% cocoa (milk chocolate) with toffee, to the mid-ranged 55% cocoa with cherries and almonds, to the stout 77% extra strong dark chocolate, these wonderful and large chocolate bars from Chocolove in Boulder, Colorado have something for everyone.

Faeries Who Live in Faerie Houses Love Chocolate Too
(Faerie House by my Favorite Four-Year-Old, Cilla)

After an arduous and demanding research study I offer Chocolove the "Sticks Forks Seal of Approval." This is really nice chocolate. Smooth and melty on the tongue,  a nice clean snap along the score lines, and a rich, warm not-too-sweet flavor. I had wondered if the intense flavors were intended to mask an inferior chocolate, and all I can say is that these bars end up being greater than the sum of their pleasurable parts. The cherries are nicely chewy, just enough ancho and chipotle chili to warm and excite the palate, the sea salt creates an absolute playground in your mouth along with the toasted almonds, the crystallized ginger offers textural contrast, and all the add-ins are well balanced both in quantity and with the percentage of cocoa to which it is married.

Seek out the Chocolove bars for your Valentine this year. If you can't find them locally, you can order them by the dozen direct. A few of these for the Object of Your Desire (there are 23 varieties in the array) will easily replace the universal heart-shaped box to set you apart from the other suitors and win hearts for sure. The enchanting classic love poems inside the wrapper could even suffice as a card.
 A Few of My Favorite Varieties of Chocolove

January 17, 2012

Making Whey While the Sun Shines

 Curried Paneer Scramble with Oregano Oil 
and "Whey Good" Black Bread

I'm a Cheese Maker!

It's uncertain whether the second time a person does something might make him or her an addict, but I think I might be hooked.  Last week I made soft fresh cheese for the first time, and loved both the making and eating of it so much that I've already done it again.  By calling it soft fresh cheese rather than its other common name, paneer, it helps me think about many more useful applications for it beyond Indian food. Two or three easily available ingredients (milk, lemons and optional salt,) barely any skill, and just a few minutes and you, too, can become a novice cheese maker.

And where there's cheese, there's whey. You may be thinking, "No whey!" but I am saying yes whey, and lots of it. I'm learning that this protein-rich liquid has an independent role in your kitchen as well. More on that in a bit. First, the tutorial on the soft fresh cheese. Warning: You are about to become an addict.

Choose the Right Pot and You're Preference of Milk

 In a large heavy-bottomed pot, pour 1/2 gallon whole or 2% milk. Simple enough so far, mon petit fromager?

Two things I've already learned about the process so far:
  1. A non-stick pan isn't the best for this. A brown crust will form and when stirred, unsightly brown bits will slough off which you will have to pick out.
  2. 2% milk produces lean curds with more "squeak", more like the paneer I've had with Indian food. Delicious, easy to cut into cubes, and easy to brown up. Whole milk produces a creamier, stickier curd which can be cut into cubes, but is more adapted to crumbling. Both are wonderful; just decide which outcome you want when selecting your milk.

Bring the Milk to a Boil, Stirring Frequently

Next, heat the milk over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until it comes to a rolling boil. Whole milk creates more lush bubbles at this point than 2%, already giving you an idea of the difference in the resulting product.

Have the Juice of Two Lemons Strained and Ready

Have the juice of small two lemons ready. Once the milk is boiling, slowly add up to 2 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice, stirring constantly. Turn the heat off. If you like your cheese a little salted, add about 1 teaspoon of your favorite variety. (My favorite at the moment is pink Himalayan salt.)

Stir in Lemon Juice Until Curds Form and Separate from Whey

As you stir, yucky looking curds will magically form. If the curds are not forming, continue to add lemon juice a little at a time until they do.

Realize You Haven't Made a Mistake at This Stage

Be warned that this really isn't the most appetizing looking stuff at this point. You have not made a mistake; you've made curds and whey!

Allow Curds to Drain Through Cloth Until Cool Enough to Handle, 
Twist, Weight and Wait 

Line a strainer with a cotton dishtowel or double-layered cheesecloth and place it over another bowl to catch the whey if you plan to use it.

Let it drain about 10 or 15 minutes until cool enough to handle. Bundle up your soft fresh cheese in the cloth, give it a twist to squeeze out any remaining whey, and place it wrapped up on a plate. Top with another plate and a couple of large cans to weight it. Let sit for 30 minutes or so to disperse any remaining whey. Wrap and store in the refrigerator.

Some things you can do with your cheese:
  • Cube it up and brown it in hot oil. Serve as a appetizer with marinara sauce or any other delicious sauce or chutney.
  • Saute leeks, peppers, and any other diced vegetables you wish. Add crumbled or cubed cheese, curry powder to taste, and serve drizzled with this amazing oregano stuff for a fantastic scramble. (See lead photo.)
  • Browned cubes or crumbles would be nice in a mixed vegetable roast or saute at the last minute. 
  • Crumble on top of salads, enchiladas, casseroles, tacos, etc. Treat it as you would Mexican Queso Fresco.
  • Make this most delicious chana masala and mustard green/spinach saag. Add browned cubes to the saag.
  • If made the creamy way with whole milk, add chopped herbs and schmear it on bruschetta, bread or toast. Or leave your schmear plain and top with honey and chopped nuts.
  • Stuff a date for a healthy snack.
Some things you can do with your whey:
  • Use it in place of the water in baking recipes. The acidity adds tenderness to baked goods similar to buttermilk or yogurt. The black bread in the above photo was made with whey, and it was wonderful. (Thank you, Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks for this great recipe, and that of the Oregano Oil.)
  • Use it in soups. It will add a subtle tang.
  • Boil your pasta or rice in it.
  • Feed a little to your kitties. They will smile at you.
  • Water your acid-loving plants.

January 9, 2012

Ten Things I've Learned by Food Blogging

Huevos Rancheros
Dear Me,
You've been blogging about food, wine, life and love for two years now. You've shared and overshared. At times, you've worked some things out in a self-psychoanalytic catharsis, at times you've been a goofball; at times you've tapped some great hidden memories of people you have loved; you've celebrated, grieved, and been racy, and sometimes you've taken the role of teacher on these pages. You've had a ball, but you've also learned a couple things. Why don't you share some of that with your readers?
Okay, Dear Readers, and especially other food blogging Dear Readers! In two years as a food and wine blogger a few things have come to my attention. I've learned that:
Delicious But Ugly Blood Orange Cake
  1. People blog for different reasons. Be clear what your particular reasons are. Don't judge the reasons of others.
  2. An inspired but infrequently-posted blog is worth following, but not insipid daily drivel. Sometimes I just need to get out and live in order to have something compelling to post about, and I make no apologies for my irregular posting schedule. Likewise, I invite you to expand me with your posts. Make me miss you and wonder what fun you're cooking up without me while you're out there living it up. 
  3. If you wouldn't serve it to guests, don't post it. For example, this green cake (above.) While the green cake was time consuming and delicious, it was supposed to be the lovely shade of blood-orange pink. Green cake doesn't sell unless it's St. Patrick's Day. If the cake was supposed to be pink but turned out green, don't post it. Instead, research why the cake turned green (in this case a chemical reaction caused by the imbalance of baking soda and chopped citrus) and learn to fix that mistake so that in the future you can share that info with your readers, if you are so inspired, because... 
  4. Photos are everything. No one reads your words if the photos aren't captivating. I've written some really nice pieces that didn't get noticed because my photos were uninspiring. Or worse than uninspiring.
  5. Attribution is an important subject. Be fair. Give credit where it is due. Link. Name your inspirational sources. Don't say "adapted from..." if the only thing you did was up the salt 1/2 teaspoon. Just because we self-publish doesn't mean we shouldn't follow the most basic of journalistic standards. By raising all ships, we sail at a higher level ourselves. I was very guilty of breaking this guideline in my earlier blogging career, but have committed to giving proper attribution after coming to understand how important it is to the bona fide recipe authors and publishers.  And, it's the law, even if there aren't interweb coppers to enforce it.
  6. This experience teaches me that I do not want to be a cookbook author. Writing out and testing an original and proper recipe is tedious work. What I want is to be an inn keeper and have some detail-oriented person follow me around with a notepad for a month as I create wonderful dishes for my guests, catching each ingredient I intuitively plop into the pot in order to quantify it, codify it, test it, question it, and make sure it is properly organized for our little inn cookbook which visitors can purchase to take home with them. That's what I want.
    • In addition, our inn would be open only during Oregon high season, would serve breakfast Thursday through Sunday, would pack wine-tasting picnics (at a small additional charge) complete with winery recommendations and maps on request for our guest's day excursions. We would serve Saturday night dinner for inn guests and locals with reservations. At these dinners, we'd pair local wines and foods, highlight local artists and musicians. We would be closed December through March, when My Baby and I would travel, rest, prune the orchard and garner inspiration.
      • If I can't be an inn owner, I'd like to be an astronautess.  An astronautess is someone who doesn't possess the usual aeroscience competencies, but who could do special assignment outer-space research like testing to see if Pinot Noir tastes the same in orbit, if the freshness of a baguette is extended in zero-gravity, and if toenail polish lasts longer wearing moon-boots rather than high heels.
  7. It would sure be nice to have an editor smarter and more intuitive than spell-check.
  8. If you want to boost your readership, post a dessert. We just can't resist photos of gorgeous sweet treats. 
  9. Had I gone the ad/featured publisher route I would have made somewhere in the neighborhood of  $97.62 over the last two years. Woo. Even with zippy visitor traffic, that's not even enough to pay for my Site Meter and Feed Blitz subscriptions. My most favorite sites of all time haven't succumbed to distracting ads or featured publisher buttons and retain a clean visual aesthetic and voice. If they make more than parking meter change, it's because their site has launched them into some ancillary money-making venture, not from the site itself. (The exceptions are the trail blazing niche-makers, who created their market share early on and have deservedly parlayed it into big cash, including that generated by ads.) After nearly two years, SSF remains intentionally ad-free.
  10. Two years is ancient for the average food blog. Dog years; 7:1. Blog years; 40:1.
        Thanks, Readers, for your time and attention these past two years. Look forward to some exciting changes from Sticks Forks Fingers in 2012 !
        A special dedication to my dear, sweet husband and forever boyfriend, who lured me out into the country and gave me something to write about. He shall remain "My Baby" forever on these pages and in my heart. He does have a respectable real name, but prefers to have his innocence and professional online demeanor protected with this cute little alias. He is the source of just about anything humorous on these pages, and exhibits his support and long suffering by eating far too many cold meals after waiting for the perfect photo to be snapped of his dinner.
        Thank you, Baby.

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