Archive | September, 2009

In Which I Must Temporarily Forgo The Fun of the PMAT Blog to Deal with Some PCO Nuts and Bolts

22 Sep

Henri, I feel your pain.

Alas friends, I have been putting this off for Ever and Ever.  “Putting off what?” you ask.  Well, as you may already know, the Amazing Linda has designed a Super Duper Site pour moi, and now poor moi has to build 456,000 links.  Give or take.  As you can imagine, this falls under the category of Drudgery.  While it’s not technically Sisyphusian, the hill is Very steep and the boulder does scratch my delicate hands, and peering up from the bottom to the Top, where I should have been months ago, fills me with Ennui.

Finally, the time has come.  I cannot hide from the Link Purgatory any longer.  So, I shan’t be writing any more posts for a few days.  I have Promised myself and a friend who also plays the role of a Life Coach on occasion, that I will be finished with the Linking Process by the end of the week.  Sigh.  And sigh again.  The good news is that I will be done Soon.  The bad news is that I have to Do It.  But it must be done, and I can no longer shy away because I loathe the mind numbing boredom and repetition of Creating Links.  I have to be a Grown Up and just get all Nike on the site’s ass.

Once I’ve finished my assigned linking task, I shall beg the Amazing Linda to help me go over the Whole Deal with a fine toothed comb,  making sure all the links work and that I didn’t Screw Anything Up.  Once all the Eyes have been Dotted and Tees have been Crossed–when my Eyes are Crossed and my Tees are all dotted–I will re-launch Pastry Chef Online in all its new and shiny glory.  I will let you know when that happens.

Please send Fervent Wishes that my eyes don’t fall out of my head, that I don’t stab myself with a spoon, and that I maintain some semblance of Sanity during this, my self-imposed exile from PMAT fun.  I will see you all in a few days.  Thanks, friends!

Zombie Chickens

18 Sep
I'd like to thank The Academy....

I'd like to thank The Academy....

I have dreamt and dreamt and Dreamt of the day when the People of the Universe would Applaud my Efforts and spread word throughout the Cosmos of my Amazingness.  Friends, that day is finally here.  And it has come in the rather Unlikely Guise of the Zombie Chicken Award.  Speaking for the Universe as a whole, Svedie Pie has presented me with this rare and wonderful award.

So, what does this mean, exactly?  I mean, for me?  And for you, my Dear Readers?  Here are some possibilities:

  1. I am a Zombie Chicken.
  2. You are Zombie Chickens.
  3. We all have the power to turn chickens into zombies.
  4. The more I type zombie, the less it sounds like a Real Word.
  5. If you read this blog, you will slowly be turned into a Zombie Chicken.  You might even be one now and not realize it.
  6. I had no idea I am so Powerful.  Sorry about that.

Enough speculation.  According to Spokesperson for the Universe Svedie Pie, here’s what the award means:

The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken– excellence, grace, and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words.

Thanks, Svedie Pie and the Universe, for thinking my content is remarkable and that I am Excellent and Graceful and Persistent.  I choose to be the eye of the Zombie Chicken Hurricane.  Here you will find shelter.  Here you will find hope.  Here you will find PMAT.

The Rules of ZC state that I need to pass this on to at least 5 other bloggers or I shall be Pecked to Death.  Rudeness.  Rudeness has no place in the Eye of the Hurricane, however.  Plus, I’m not a fan of Rules.  So, I am going to write down Things I have Learned from other bloggers; things for which I would indeed weather a Zombie Apocalypse:

  1. A little fish sauce brings deep flavor without fishiness to so many things.  Thanks to Marc at No Recipes and to Todd and Diane over at White on Rice Couple for this amazing tip.
  2. Potatoes bear fruit.  They look kind of like little tomatoes.  Don’t eat them–they are poisonous.  Thanks to Aoife over at The Daily Spud for this tip.
  3. We can honor both globalization and eating locally by using local ingredients to reinterpret “exotic” fare.  Thanks to Tracey over at Tangled Noodle, for her insight, her research and her passion.
  4. There is no limit on interpretation when it comes to the Grilled Cheese Sandwich.  Just ask Shane over at Imagine a Different World of Grilled Cheese.
  5. Leftover pain au chocolat makes an excellent base for French Toast.  Camille from Croque Camille, who is Evil in the Best Way, gave me this little piece of information.
  6. There are more flavors of ice cream to be made than there are stars in the sky.  Go see Anna from Very Small Anna if you don’t believe me.  Browse through her ice cream and sorbet posts for inspiration.

If you have been Pecked or Scratched by a Zombie Chicken on your way over here, I sincerely apologize.

In the Commercial Kitchen: Meet Vollrath, The Destructor

16 Sep
Better than Gozer.

Better than Gozer.

And you thought it was Gozer.  Right.  Gozer’s got nothing on Vollrath.  Let me introduce you to him.  Vollrath is a brand name of commercial kitchen products, including steam tables, cookware and All Manner of Items for hot buffet service.  And Induction Burners.  At the restaurant, we named our induction burner Vollrath.  Because it came with a nametag that read Vollrath.  Initially, we feared him.  We were slow to learn his ways, his needs and his requirements, but once All was Made Clear, we adored Vollrath.

If you’re unfamiliar with Induction Cookery, in a nutshell, it uses big old magnets to excite ferrous molecules into heating up.  So, the burner itself doesn’t get hot, but the pan does.  It’s kind of freaky, but you can even put a towel under the pan on the burner and still cook.  What’s so cool about induction?  Well, it’s fast.  Really fast.  With Vollrath, we could bring 2-3 gallons of water to a boil in about 5 minutes.  Crazy, huh?  Also, it’s cool.  I don’t mean like Cool-Keen, although it is that.  I mean Temperature Cool.  Since the burner doesn’t heat up, there is no spillover heat.  No more spoon handles getting hot because the burner is bigger than the pan.  If your pan is only 6″ in diameter or if your pan is as big as the burner, it’s all the same–just the pan heats up.  This is a very Good Thing, especially in the pastry kitchen where we made a lot of delicate sauces.  If you’ve ever tried boiling sugar or making an Anglaise on a gas burner, you know how hard it is to control the heat so you don’t have Rabid Flames licking up the sides of your pans.  Inevitably, some sugar burns to the sides or you end up with a thick brown film of burned on Anglaise up the sides.  With induction, this doesn’t happen.  It’s Magical.

Vollrath needed a Special Outlet.  Because he was European and was unwilling to fully commit to our Brash American Ways.  Well, after we’d been open for a couple of weeks, a Bad Thing happened and Vollrath’s special outlet Died, killing poor Vollrath in the process.  We had to send him away for Fixing and were forced to share the big stupid hot gas stove with the Boys on the Hot Side.  Too many folks trying to work at one stove.  Not enough control over the heat (did I mention that Vollrath could be set between 1 and 100?).  Sugar burning up the sides of the pan.  We threw a party when Vollrath made his Victorious Return, let me tell you.  We used him for everything–from keeping a sauce warm to making dark caramel to blanching our pretzels to making bechamel to making pate a choux.  We used him on 5.  We used him on 48, on 69, on 100.

Now that Vollrath and I are Parted, I still miss him every day.  Making sabayon on Vollrath is foolproof.  Making sabayon on my dumb glass cooktop (DGC)  is Difficult.  At best.  Part of the plan for our Dream Kitchen is to have 2 wall ovens and no cook top.  We’d just have two, two-burner portable Vollraths that we could use and then put away, leaving us with a ton of counter space for prep.  Not practical until we’re in our dream house, because I doubt that subsequent buyers would be Keen on the idea of not having a stove.  Sillies.  Still, we can dream.  The Beloved even mentioned buying one or two of Vollrath’s cousins to use since Wally the Kitten burned his wee front pads on the DGC.  (Oh, I just now realized that my V is magically working again.  No more apostrophes, until another letter takes a short vacation, I guess.   Too bad.  With all my e’ens, I felt like a Romantic Poet).

Anyway, I just wanted to put in my plug for Induction Cookery.  If and when we buy a home model (a model who doesn’t mind fully committing to the US power grid), I’ll be sure to review it to see how it stacks up against the DGC and Vollrath.  That’s all.

Sunday Suppers: Thufferin’ Thuccotash, PMAT Style

13 Sep
Not your run of the mill anemic succotash.  With grudging apology to folks who like the anemic kind.

Not your run of the mill anemic succotash. With grudging apology to folks who like the anemic kind.

I am not a succotash purist.  Anemic stuff.  Corn and lima beans swimming in some white stuff.  Weee.  Nope, give me some depth of flavor; a little bite; a little meatiness from some tomatoes.  And creamy white stuff turns into a splash or two of heavy cream.  This is a wonderful fresh meal, born of the farmers’ market here.  One stand was selling shelled peas–I’m not sure what kind; there was no label.  If you know, please let me know.  Otherwise, I’m going with Field Peas.

Anyone recognize these pea guys?

Anyone recognize these pea guys?

Another stand had some lovely white corn.  Yes, please.  The rest fell into place.

PMAT Succotash

  • fresh Field Peas (or limas or pinto beans or whatever).  I think my cryo-vacced bag weighed a pound
  • three ears corn (more or less, depending on how much you Like Corn)
  • olive oil and butter
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • diced onion, to taste
  • pepper flake, to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock (only use if you’re using fresh peas/beans that need to be cooked.  If your beans are pre-cooked, you won’t need the stock)
  • 1 large can diced tomatoes (or about 2 cups worth of fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced)
  • any herbs you have lying about–fresh or dried
  • maybe 1/4 cup heavy cream

As you can see from Ye Olde Ingredient Liste, this is a pretty simple preparation.  You can add some meat to it to make it a little heartier.  You can serve it as a side.  You can season it however you like.  I think the Official Definition of succotash is something along the lines of a dish made from corn and beans.  The rest is up to you.  Here’s how I made ours:

Sweat onion in olie oil (okay, one of my letter keys isn’t working right now.  Guess which one.  How does this happen?  I blame the kittens.  From now on, an Apostrophe will play the part of That Letter). Anyway, with salt and pepper and pepper flake.  Until soft.

Butter hearts corn.  Corn hearts butter.  Why not let them both get what they want?

Butter hearts corn. Corn hearts butter. Why not let them both get what they want?

Cut kernels from the corn, thusly:

Step one: place ear firmly on upside down paper plate (or paper bowl)

Step one: place ear firmly on upside down paper plate (or paper bowl)

Slice kernels off with a sharp chef knife

Slice kernels off with a sharp chef knife

Scrape cob with back of knife to get all out all the pulp and milk

Scrape cob with back of knife to get all out all the pulp and milk

Toss the peas/beans into the pan with the onions.  Add the chicken stock and some herbs and simmer until mostly tender.  This took me about 30-ish minutes.

Once the peas/beans are mostly tender, add the tomatoes and corn.  Simmer to heat through.  Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt/pepper/herbs as necessary until you like it.

Splash in the cream and reduce by about 1/3.  Taste again.  Because it’s good.

And that’s really it.  It’s easy to make; it’s cheap to make; it’s wide open to personal interpretation.  It contains Cream.  What’s not to like?

A Personal Anecdote Regarding Succotash
Last Thanksgi’ing, The Belo’ed and I went to see his aunt and uncle in Delaware.  I helped Auntie to make the meal.  Auntie is Not Used to being helped, and does things Her Way.  At any rate, my parts:  creamed cauliflower and stuffing.  She made succotash, and I made some extra beschamel for her, since I needed it for the cauliflower, too.  I asked if she wanted to put some tomato in her succotash.  You know, to mix things up a bit?  She was Scandalized.  “That’s not how I make it.  Uncle wouldn’t like it.”  I thought to myself he would if he tries it, but I was Meek and said okay.  Uncle piped up and asked how I make my succotash.  I ga’e him the run down, and he said that perhaps he would like it that way after all and maybe Auntie could do it that way Next Time.  She looked a bit Nonplussed, and e’en though I’m generally a Nice Person, I quietly enjoyed The Moment.

September 11, 2001: Just Another Day at School?

11 Sep

911On September 11, 2001, The Beloved and I had just closed on our first house four days before.  I was just starting my second year at Rock Lake Elementary School, Where Beavers Are Achievers.  As I drove to work in the dark, I was listening to NPR, as I always do.  I heard a very funny commentary about George W. Bush’s serious lack of grammar and pronunciation skills.  I remember that the commentator said that Bush pronounced Putin as Puddin’.  I laughed and laughed.

School started normally.  Circle time, singing the Friends song, the days of the week, the months of the year, picking our names out of flashcards (most of the kids were three-ish), etc.  When I took the kids down to the cafeteria for lunch–brunch, really:  we ate at 10:30am or some ridiculously early time like that, a teacher friend whispered to me that “someone flew planes into the Twin Towers and they’re bombing the Pentagon.”  Truly the fog of war.  All of you who are parents or teachers or who work with kids in any capacity know how hard it is to digest frightening information while carrying on business as usual for the kids.  We kept sneaking out to our cars during lunch to catch a few minutes of Bob Edwards’ coverage here and there.

At the time, The Beloved was working on one of the launch pads out at Kennedy Space Center.  I called to check on him; for all any of us knew, the world was ending.  He found out that something catastrophic had happened when military helicoptors started buzzing around the launch pads carrying a bunch of guys armed to the teeth.  He was out of work for two weeks and then had to get up at 4:30am every day so he could drive to a checkpoint, get sniffed by dogs and then shuttled in on a bus.

Back at school, nap time happened at around 1:00pm.   We’d turn out the lights, put everyone on their mats and turn on classical music.  On our local NPR station.  Needless to say, they weren’t playing music.  There was nonstop coverage of the unspeakable events on that day, and for days and weeks afterward.  The stories about recovering bodies, people frantically looking for family members, and speculation about who was to blame and how the US would respond.  And everywhere, everyone was scared.  Walking outside that day, at the head of my line of three-year-olds, I could feel a sniper with his rifle trained on my back.  Our world was turned upside down, and our American perception of security was proven to be sadly, tragically naive.  And before we responded as a nation, we responded individually–some with tears, some with fear, some with anger.

And through all of that, we had to keep to our schedule for the sake of our children.  We had to tell them that something very bad had happened and that many people had been hurt or killed.  We also had to look into their eyes and tell them that they were safe when none of us felt safe.  I brought in some classical CDs so we wouldn’t have to rely on the radio during nap time. I taught my kids to sing God Bless America as I tried to hold back tears.  Some of them used to sing it on the playground at the top of their lungs.  It was wonderful to hear–innocent little voices raised in song just for the joy of swinging.

Eight years later, I am not watching the news today.  I’m not reading the papers.  I’ve seen the towers crumble countless times, heard the names of the fallen, felt our lives irrevocably change.   The Beloved and I are quietly remembering, and we don’t need the help of the evening news.  I don’t want this to turn into a political or ideological treatise, so I’ll stop now.  Suffice to say, looking back, we remember.  Looking forward, we strive to live our lives in such a way that it might never happen again.

A Perfect Day: A Visit to Mayberry and RagApple Lassie

9 Sep

The Beloved planned a Day Trip for us last Saturday.  Last time we went, I took him to the beach, rememberAnd I drove the whole way.  Because it was His Day.  Since Saturday was My Day, he drove all the way.  That was the First Treat.  Here are some pictures from The Drive.LD trip driving1

LD trip driving2

LD trip driving4

Bucolic, n'est-ce pas?

Bucolic, n'est-ce pas?

We ended up driving to Mt. Airy, NC.  We thought it was Closer than it was, but it was 4 hours away.  Of course, we were Avoiding interstates so we could actually see some cool stuff along the way, but still.  Four hours is A Very Lot.

Mt. Airy is the home of Andy Griffith, one of our national treasures.  For those of you who might not be familiar with Andy Griffith, he has been acting for probably well over fifty years.  Arguably, his most notable role was as Small Town Sheriff Andy Taylor in The Andy Griffith Show.  And how to describe this show for the Uninitiated?  Kind of an idealized but very skewed snapshot of small town life in the US of the 1960s.  249 snapshots, to be precise.  What we didn’t see was The Civil Rights movement, the Peace Movement, Viet Nam protests or Anyone Being Assassinated.  What we did see was humor, the bonds of family and friendship, and wisdom wrapped in an Aw Shucks naivete.  If you’re not familiar, or even if you are, take a look:One of my favorite Barney Fife monologues–it doesn’t get much better than, “Men, here at The Rock…”

Busy businessman from Charlotte (yay!) learns to slow down

See?  Anyway, Mayberry was modeled after Mt. Airy.  Here’s what Mt. Airy looks like today.  If you’d like to listen to the Andy Griffith Show theme song, and I can’t imagine that you Don’t, click here.  It will open in a new window, because I am a Helper:

Note "Mayberry Consignment."

Note the attractive hanging baskets.

Schema for Small Southern Town.

Schema for Small Southern Town.

So, did The Beloved just throw a dart at the map of NC and head out for Mt. Airy?  Did he take me there because I am such an Avid Fan of the Andy Griffith Show?  No and no.  We made a pilgrimage to Mt. Airy to eat a world famous pork chop sammich at Snappy Lunch.  We heard about this sammich several years ago–maybe on The Food Network, or maybe in an article by Jane and Michael Stern.  Maybe both.  We’ve been dreaming about this sammich for at least ten years, and we finally had one.  I’m not sure about you guys, but when I’ve been anticipating something that I’ve read about or seen on TV and then I finally get to experience it For Real, I get very emotional.  So there we were, in line outside of Snappy Lunch, and I was all Welled Up.  I welled up again when I saw the menu, and then again when the sammich came.  I am a Weller and a Sap, I admit it freely.  Please, enjoy this Photo Montage of our visit to Snappy Lunch.

The joy.  The joy!

The joy. The joy!

SL is open from 5:45am-1:15pm.  If you're late, you're out of luck.

SL is open from 5:45am-1:15pm. If you're late, you're out of luck.

The Beloved checking out Snappy Lunch's Wall o' Fame.  We didn't recognize anyone except Donna Fargo.  She sang "The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA."

The Beloved checking out Snappy Lunch's Wall o' Fame. We didn't recognize anyone except Donna Fargo. She sang "The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA."

The front counter

The front counter

The view from out table in the back room.

The view from our table in the back room.

Four bucks for a pork chop sandwich, and I didn't have to eat the rest of the day.

Four bucks for a pork chop sandwich, and I didn't have to eat the rest of the day.

Nothing fancy about the trappings at Snappy Lunch.

Nothing fancy about the trappings at Snappy Lunch.

I thought it would be deep fried, but it was batter-dipped and then pan fried.  I had mine with chili, mustard and onions.

I thought it would be deep fried, but it was batter-dipped and then pan fried. I had mine with chili, mustard and onions.

See?  Here are my "fixin's."  The chili was very sweet--kind of like baked beans.  Unexpected, but nice with the pork.

See? Here are my "fixin's." The chili was very sweet--kind of like baked beans. Unexpected, but nice with the pork.

They have a crazy machine at Snappy Lunch that tenderizes the meat.  It's called the Tenderator.  Seriously.  It cuts wee parallel slits in both sides of the pork.  See!

They have a crazy machine at Snappy Lunch that tenderizes the meat. It's called the Tenderator. Seriously. It cuts wee parallel slits in both sides of the pork. See!

Very, very, very tasty, but it needed a little something...

Very, very, very tasty, but it needed a little something...

Okay, I felt like the sammich needed some crunch and tang, so it was Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips to the rescue.  Nice!

Okay, I felt like the sammich needed some crunch and tang, so it was Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips to the rescue. Nice!

There we go!

There we go!

The Beloved was Quite Pleased with his sammich even without the chips.

The Beloved was Quite Pleased with his sammich even without the chips.

After the excitement of the pork chop sandwich, it was time to go to a local winery.  The majority of wineries in North Carolina make muscadine wine.  It is, shall we say, an acquired taste.  We are working on acquiring the taste, but we’re not quite there.  Yet.  In the Yadkin Valley and in the Appalachians, there are a few wineries that make wines from Vinifera grapes.  So, we went to one.  I got to pick it, so of course I picked the one with the most Whacked Out Name:  RagApple Lassie Vineyards.  Apparently, RagApple Lassie was the NC State Grand Champion bovine one year back when all they had was black and white film.  Here’s a picture of RagApple Lassie the second.

See:  it's RALII.  And her trainer, young Jim.  Okay, I made that part up.

See: it's RALII. And her trainer, young Jim. Okay, I made that part up.

These guys have 30 acres under cultivation, and they must grow about ten different varieties of grapes.  While we found their drier wines to be a little on the petroleum-y side, their off-dry and sweeter wines, of which we are usually Not Fans, were quite good.  We got to taste about fifteen wines for twelve dollars, plus we got to keep the glass.  And here’s a Very Cool Thing they did.  They had unfermented grape juice for us to taste:  pinot gris and chardonnay.  I can’t tell you how many wine tastings and winery tours we’ve been on, and nobody has ever let us taste the “raw” juice.  Very, very cool.  Neither were what we expected.  The pinot gris tasted much like pear nectar, and the chardonnay was a bit brighter and more complex with a bit of a citrus note at the end.

Anyway, here are some pictures from the vineyards.

Seriously, how can you say no to a place that has this lady in the front yard?

Seriously, how can you say no to a place that has this lady in the front yard?

And here she is up close.  She's on springs, too, so she bobs when the wind blows.  Yay.

And here she is up close. She's on springs, too, so she bobs when the wind blows. Yay.

Cases and cases of wine.  Call me crazy, but I detected a distinct Dairy Theme.

Cases and cases of wine. Call me crazy, but I detected a distinct Dairy Theme.

Not only did the original RagApple Lassie the cow win an award, but their wines win a lot, too.

Not only did the original RagApple Lassie the cow win an award, but their wines win a lot, too.

RAL was selling four-packs of pints of wine while we were there.  The story is that they were supposed to have gotten in a shipment of skinny bottles for their sweet dessert wine (think a less syrupy eiswein).  They opened the boxes and realized that the bottle folks had sent the wrong bottles.  Oops.  One by one, everyone looked in the boxes and said, “Oh my God, there are the wrong bottles.”  Rather than sending them back or recycling them, they came up with a new, one-time-only, red blend and called it “Oh My God.”  We bought a four pack, both because it was tasty and because the story is priceless.

Is it wine?  Is it beer?  It's Oh, my God!

Is it wine? Is it beer? It's Oh, my God!

Gotta love a winery with a sense of humor!

Gotta love a winery with a sense of humor!

So, that’s pretty much it for our trip–we had a wonderful time.  The weather was perfect, and The Beloved and I like hanging out and driving around, so it was a Great Day.  Here are some more pictures that I took because the subjects Amused Me.  Enjoy!

I've never heard of this grocery store.  I'm sure it's lovely.

I've never heard of this grocery store. I'm sure it's lovely.

Okay, maybe a cemetary isn't so much amusing, but we saw a Very Lot of cemetaries.  This one is representative of the rest.

Okay, maybe a cemetery isn't so much amusing, but we saw a Very Lot of cemeteries. This one is representative of the rest.

This is blurry a little, so let me narrate.  That cross over on the right side says "Jesus Christ."  That thing in the middle is a decal of a machine gun.  WWJD?

This is blurry a little, so let me narrate. That cross over on the right side says "Jesus Christ." That thing in the middle is a decal of a machine gun. WWJD?

A prize for anyone who can tell me what vacuums have to do with gold.  Or vice versa.

A prize for anyone who can tell me what vacuums have to do with gold. Or vice versa.

Awesome.

Awesome.

BlankBlank

Product Review: Kaka’Wa Cocoa Beans, Round II

4 Sep
Here are the Cocoa Puro Kaka'Wa Cocoa Beans in all their glory.

Here are the Cocoa Puro Kaka'Wa Cocoa Beans in all their glory.

Please read my inital review here.  Let me tell you about the customer service and commitment to product integrity over at Cocoa Puro.  After I posted my review, Tom Pedersen from Cocoa Puro emailed, saying he was extremely embarrassed that my sample of Kaka’Wa Cocoa Beans were melted.  I emailed back and basically said, “No worries.”  After all, they were very tasty, and they were Free.  In the next email, he said he was sending another sample, because he wanted me to taste the product as they are meant to be tasted:  whole and unmelted.  He shipped them with a large cold pack, and they arrived in perfect shape.  So, I am adding this codicil, along with some pictures of the new shipment, to let you know more about Kaka’Wa Cocoa Beans and the folks over at Cocoa Puro.

Before I add to my description of the candy itself, I must tell you how impressed I am with Tom and the gang over at Cocoa Puro.  Of course Tom wants his product to be reviewed in the best light possible, but more than that, he wanted to be sure that I was able to taste his chocolate covered cocoa beans at their best.  He absolutely did not have to send me another sample.  After all, I had loved them and my review was positive.  Regardless, he wanted to send them, and he took this little melting episode as a learning opportunity.  Now, he knows that he needs to use a large cold pack to ship samples.  So, thank you Tom, both for your commitment to your product and for sending out a second shipment.

kakawa2And now, on to the Tasting.  Although the melted and re-cooled beans were good, the texture was off on the chocolate since it was out of temper.  In the new shipment, the chocolate was firm and creamy.  I was also able to enjoy the bitter dusting of cocoa powder on the outside of each bean–a nice contrast that was lacking in the melted shipment.  I tasted the new batch of beans in several different ways.  Because I love you.  First, I just put one in my mouth and chewed it up.  Then, I ate half of one.  Then, I let the layers of chocolate melt in my mouth before chewing.  I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on these little guys now.

Chocolate to the 5th power.

Chocolate to the 5th power.

I don’t know what brand of couverture Tom uses to dip the cocoa beans, but it is of high quality.  As I let the candy melt, I was able to distinguish all three chocolates, like Violet Beauregard was able to in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  Except I didn’t turn into a blueberry at the end.  First up was the dusting of bitter cocoa powder.  The dark chocolate is smooth and well-rounded.  I didn’t detect any serious fruitiness or deep coffee or tobacco flavors–just rich chocolate.  The milk chocolate is incredibly creamy.  While I generally don’t choose milk chocolate for eating out of hand, this particular one was also well-rounded, milky and rich.  The white chocolate lives closest to the bean, which is lovely, since its sweetness contrasts nicely with the unsweetened bean.  The white chocolate tastes like milk and cocoa butter, without that artificial flavor that many white candy coatings have.  The bean itself tastes of coffee tinged chocolate, but is in no way bitter, at least not to my palate.  And speaking of the bean, I paid special attention (for Marc) to the way it crunched.  I would say that the crunch is the sharp crunch of an almond as opposed to the creamy crunch of a walnut.  The bean does crumble when you chew, but it’s not gritty, especially if you start chewing before all the chocolates have melted away.

Try the melting method once, but these candies are meant to be eaten all at once, so all the chocolates can blend together into one incredibly complex and satisfying chocolate bite.

These snacks are pricey–$28 for 12 ounces, not including shipping.  They are also pure chocolate indulgence.  I suggest you find a reason to treat yourself and then make your stash last as long as you can.

To recap, highest marks go to Kaka’Wa Cocoa Beans and to Cocoa Puro for great customer service.

How to Improve Van Halen Pound Cake: Use Even More Fat Than Before

1 Sep

Please don’t hold me responsible for the lyrics.  Thank you.

Guys, you remember good old Van Halen pound cake, right?  My friend Cindy got the original recipe from Miss Patsy, the switchboard operator at our college (yes, we had a switchboard.  That is how Old I Am).  Miss Patsy made Cindy swear not to Reveal the Secret recipe to anyone.  Ever.  But Cindy revealed it to me, because I glamored her.  No wait, that’s True Blood.  She revealed it to me because she is a Nice Person.  ‘Cept for I had to promise that I would not Reveal the Secret, either.  So, what did I do?  I tweaked it a bit and Revealed that.  And Miss Patsy’s pound cake turned into Van Halen Pound Cake, courtesy of my friend Mary Lou.

Sunday, we had Mary Lou and the rest of the gang over for dinner.  Naturally, Van Halen pound cake was to be for dessert.  The first time I made it, someone said Van Halen pound cake is the Best Effing Pound Cake They’ve Ever Eaten.  I’d have to agree, until now.  Never one to leave Well Enough alone, I was thinking of ways to tweak Van Halen again, and I remembered that Shirley Corriher told me in Bakewise that I really should use some softly whipped cream in my pound cake to make it Achingly Tender and Moistly Meltingly Decadent.  Who am I to say no to that, right?  So, I purchased heavy cream on Saturday.  When I got ready to Bake, I was assembling all my ingredients and realized that the cupboard was suffering from a dearth of white sugar.  Great, says I.  And then, in a twinkling, I recovered.  I decided to use all the white sugar and then use light brown sugar to make up the difference.  So, then, my brain went, “I’m not feeling lemon zest and lemon flavoring with the molasses note from the brown sugar.”  Right then–away went the lemon zest and lemon extract, to be replaced with all vanilla extract.  Y’all know I’ve been using that Sonoma Syrups Vanilla Bean Crush vanilla extract, right?  Well, that stuff rocks.  You can get it at King Arthur, if you want some.

I experienced a Moment of Indecision when it came to using the cream.  I wondered if I shouldn’t just use straight cream for part of the liquid and only whip some of it.  Or maybe I should just use a mixture of half and half and whipped cream.  But in the end, I decided to throw Caution to the wind and whip the Whole Lot.  By hand.  You can, too.  You don’t need peaks–you just want to whip it enough so that it gets thick enough for the whisk to leave tracks.

I also changed up the mixing method just a bit–it’s still basically the creaming method, but go ahead and read through these steps.  I was Very Pleased with the results.

Here it is:
Van Halen Pound Cake, Iteration The Second (Mary Lou said to call it Van Haggar Pound Cake, but that would imply that VH w/Haggar was better than VH w/Roth.  I do not subscribe to this belief, even though it’s obviously Sammy singing up there.  My head hurts).

  • 13 oz. cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 12 oz. sugar
  • 8 oz. soft brown sugar–no lumps, please
  • 8 oz. cool butter
  • 4 oz. butter flavored shortening (or just go ahead and use 12 oz. butter.  I use the shortening to keep it from being so dry when I refrigerate it)
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup heavy cream, very softly whipped

Whisk together the flour and baking powder.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream butter and shortening along with the salt until smooth.  Add the sugars and cream on medium until light and fluffy.  Scrape bowl often.  Add the extracts and cream until all is well combined.

Add the eggs one at a time, scraping between additions and beating until completely incorporated.

At this point, I would normally add the dry and wet ingredients alternately:  dry-wet-dry-wet-dry.  I didn’t want to deflate the whipped cream, though, so I slowly mixed in all the dry in two additions, scraping the bowl and folding a few times just to make sure all the dry was moistened.  I felt comfortable adding this amount of dry ingredients without additional liquid because there were already 5 whole eggs beaten in, and I knew there would be enough liquid to keep the batter from turning into dough.

Whisk cold cream until the whisk leaves tracks and the cream begins to thicken.

Mix in on low, folding with a spatula a couple of times to make sure that it all gets incorporated.

Put in a well-greased and floured Bundt pan or tube pan and bake at 350F until deeply golden brown on top and firm to the touch.  This took about an hour in my oven, although I started Checking at about 45 minutes.  I also ended up putting a piece of foil over the cake for the last 15 minutes so it wouldn’t get too dark.

Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack for 20 minutes or so.  Make sure the sides are loosened, and then Turn Out onto a rack to cool completely.

Glaze.  Put in face.

Van Halen Glaze

  • 10x powdered sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • heavy cream and half and half
  • a few drops of vanilla

No measurements here.  I just dumped some 10x into a bowl and drizzled in enough cream (and then half and half when I started feeling too guilty) to get a good thick drizzling consistency.  Then, I whisked in a bit of salt and some vanilla.  The end.

No, I don’t have a picture of the New and Improved Van Halen Pound Cake.  I’m sorry, but the camera was up 16 stairs and I Just. Couldn’t. Make it.  At any rate, I waited to taste it along with the rest of the gang.  The crumb is tight and velvety.  It smells like butter and vanilla.  It slices extremely well.  It starts out firm in the mouth and literally just melts when you start to chew.  Bliss.  Pure bliss.

Make some.  Make some now.  Just do it.

%d bloggers like this: