Archive for January 2006

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We went to the Scharffen Berger Factory Tour last Saturday in the drizzling rain. Their building is surprisingly small. The manufacturing facility consists of two large brick rooms converted from a turn-of-the-century sulfur factory; in one room was a big green metal winnower spitting out nibs and bits of hull, and one shiny red vintage roaster looking like a monstrous Le Creuset Dutch oven; a few melangeurs and round orange conchers in the other room, and their molding line with the shiny chocolate bars coming down the line to be sorted by middle-aged Asian ladies with hairnets, earmuffs, and embroidered cursive nametags on their suits. (The woman nearest to us was apparently named “Temp.”) They rejected any bars with visual defects or air bubbles (they weighed each bar on a digital scale). The good bars got picked up, placed in individual clear plastic bags, sealed with a sticker, and placed into boxes. The bad bars continued down the line to a big reject bin that would later be melted and re-tempered.

All around was the overpowering smell of chocolate and white plastic trash cans full of roasted nibs. Little labels dangled from the handles of the bins giving the origins and identification of each batch of nibs.

The lecture beforehand was pretty interesting. The only “waste” in the factory is the cocoa hulls, which get sold to chicken farmers as feed.

The cocoa fruits are grown in a band from 20 degrees north to 20 degrees south of the Equator. Scharffen Berger doesn’t buy from the Ivory Coast, and they pay above fair-trade prices for their beans. The fruits are knocked down from the trees and the white, tangy, mangosteen-like pulp is scooped into banana-leaf-lined baskets to ferment for a week or so, bringing out the cherry/berry/fruit flavors in the chocolate. There are 20-40 beans in each fruit. They handed around some lacquered fruits to look at–they were a bit like winter squashes or gourds. The color of the fruits naturally ranges from cream to red or purple. The fruits look like warty footballs and grow straight out of the trunks of the trees, growing from creamy, ornate, orchid-like flowers the size of a pinky fingernail.

Scharffen Berger has a “bean-to-bar” production facility. The beans are removed from the pulp (they passed around some raw beans), roasted to bring out the smoky/bitter notes in the chocolate (they passed around roasted beans and allowed us to crush the hulls with our fingers and remove them), winnowed and crushed into nibs, ground with the melangeur into cocoa liqueur, then conched (stirred) for hours to smooth and mellow the liqueur. They are tempered, and this is the process as I understand it: they start by raising the temperature to remove unstable crystal formations, then stir until thickened while the heat is lowered to encourage stable crystal formation, heat the mixture again to dissolve any remaining unstable crystals, and then let it cool, with the stable crystal network now acting to seed stable crystal growth and make the chocolate nice and shiny and crisp.

We sampled their 99% unsweetened chocolate, their 72% signature blend, the 60% chocolate used for confections, their milk chocolate, roasted cocoa nibs, and chocolate-coated cocoa nibs.

All pure chocolate production takes place in the nut-free Berkeley factory; some of their confections, such as their Gianduja bars, are created in another facility nearby–in Sonoma, I think.

There was a sign in the front room explaining that due to the use of white sugar (refined with animal bone charcoal), Scharffen Berger dark chocolates were vegan from a dietary point of view–you wouldn’t ingest any animal products–but not from a strict point of view, since they do indirectly cause harm to animals.


Written by orata

January 30, 2006 at 2:10 pm

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Cook’s Illustrated

Creamy baked 4-cheese pasta
4-6 as main course, 6-8 as side

3-4 slices white sandwich bread with crusts, torn into quarters
1/4 cup (1/2 oz.) grated Parmesan
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper

pasta and cheese
4 oz. Fontina (1 cup) shredded
3 oz. Gorgonzola, crumbled (3/4 cup)
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano (1 oz.)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (1/2 oz.)
1 lb. penne
1 Tbsp plus 1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp unsalted butter
2 tsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1. for topping: pulse bread in food processur to coarse crumbs, about 10 1-second pulses (you should have about 1 1/2 cups). stir in parmesan, salt, and pepper.

2. for pasta: put oven rack in middle, preheat to 500 degrees.
Bring 4 quarts water to boil. Mix cheeses in a large bowl. Add pasta and 1 Tbsp salt to water and stir.

Melt butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat; whisk flour into butter until no lumps remain (about 30 seconds); gradually whisk in cream, increase heat to medium, and bring heat to boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 1 minute to ensure that flour cooks. Stir in remaining 1/4 tsp salt and pepper. Cover to keep hot and set aside.

When pasta is very al dente, drain for about 5 seconds, leaving pasta slightly wet. Add pasta to bowl with cheeses, immediately pour cream mixture over, then cover bowl and let stand 3 minutes. Uncover and stir with spatula until cheeses are melted and sauce is combined with pasta.

Transfer to 9 x 13″ baking dish, then sprinkle with breadcrumbs, pressing down lightly. Bake about 7 mins, until topping is golden brown.

variation: Add 1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained, to pasta with cream mixture and stir in 1/4 cup coarsely chopped basil leaves just before transferring pasta to baking dish.

variation: add 1 cup frozen peas along with cream mixture.

Oven fries
3 russet potatoes (about 8 oz each), peeled, cut lengthwise into 10-12 evenly sized wedges
5 Tbsp. veg or peanut oil
salt and pepper

– dark, nonstick, heavy duty baking sheet is best
1. adjust rack to lowest position; preheat oven to 475 degrees. Place potatoes in large bowl and soak in hot tap water for 10 mins. Meanwhile, coat 18 x 12″ heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with 4 Tbsp. oil and sprinkle evenly with 3/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.
2. Drain potatoes. Spread out on paper towels and pat dry. Rinse and wipe out bowl; toss with last Tbsp oil. Arrange in single layer on baking sheet. Cover with foil and bake 5 mins. Remove foil and bake until bottoms of potatoes are spotty golden brown, 15-20 mins, rotating baking sheet after 10 mins. Using metal spatula and tongs, scrape to loosen potatoes from pan, then flip each wedge, keeping in single layer. Continue baking 5-15 mins until fries are golden and crisp, rotating pan as necessary.
3. Transfer fries to second baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Written by orata

January 26, 2006 at 4:54 pm

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Crackly golden phyllo pockets stuffed with cubed butternut squash, feta cheese, and caramelized onions.

Written by orata

January 26, 2006 at 3:38 pm

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Recipes From My 88-Year-Old Grandma

Coconut (or date) cake
1 16-ounce package glutinous rice flour
1 7-ounce can coconut milk
1 1/2 c. white sugar (or less, to taste)
1/3 cup oil (use canola, vegetable, or other mild-tasting oils)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients together and bake for 45-55 minutes.

Variation: If making date cake, follow the recipe above, but replace the coconut milk with an equivalent amount of canned date paste, reduce the sugar by 1/2 cup, add up to 3/4 cup more milk, and add 1/2 cup walnut pieces.

Red bean cake
1 lb. glutinous rice flour
2 c. cooked red beans (soak overnight before cooking)
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. oil
1 tsp. baking soda
2 1/2 c. milk or milk mixed with bean soaking liquid
Walnut pieces or date pieces (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix all ingredients and bake for 45-50 minutes. Don’t pour the mixture more than 1 1/2-1 3/4″ thick or it won’t cook well.

Daikon cake (“loh bak go”)
All quantities are approximate–measured by eye.
8 large daikons
1 16-ounce package glutinous rice flour
3 slices fresh ginger
2 tsp. Salt
2 tsp. Pepper
2 tsp. MSG
1 Tbsp. rock sugar
1-2 Tbsp. Vegetable oil
The following four ingredients should come to maybe 2 cups total:
Chopped shiitake mushrooms
Shredded, rehydrated dried scallops
Dried tiny shrimp (“ha mai”)
Chopped Chinese sweet sausage (“laap cheung”)

Peel and grate the daikon. Add the rock sugar (taste a bit of the daikon to see how bitter it is, and add sugar accordingly) and the slices of ginger to the daikon. Place it in a large pan over medium-low to medium heat and cook, stirring, until the volume is greatly reduced, the daikon is tender but still has some texture, and the mixture is boiling. No need to add any water–the daikon will let out its own liquid and this should keep it from burning/sticking, assuming the heat is not too high.

Remove from heat and pick out and discard the ginger. Stir in the rice flour until the mixture becomes a very thick paste/dough. Stir in the rest of the ingredients.

Line some metal pans–my grandma uses a mixture of metal cake-style pans and Danish butter cookie tins–with Saran wrap, or oil them. Press the daikon cake dough firmly into the tins with a spatula. Steam for about one hour.

Remove from heat and cool. The daikon cakes should firm up enough to be lifted out of the tins. They are now ready to slice and pan-fry (this is the most delicious way to eat them; the slices develop a crunchy, savory brown crust).

Notes: We tried microwaving some of the daikon, but didn’t finish cooking it that way. I think using some parchment paper would be preferable to the Saran wrap, but we didn’t try that.

Written by orata

January 23, 2006 at 2:59 pm

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I made moussaka and a potato casserole this weekend. The moussaka was more or less from a Joy of Cooking recipe. We also bought a Microplane box grater and a rabbit-ear pepper grinder! I’m pleased with both.

It was a diner-y weekend:
Friday: we ate hash browns and eggs at Carrows and watched the Shawshank Redemption at home.
Saturday: we ate hash browns and eggs at Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe. In the evening,we saw Russell Peters with Atsushi, Jameel, and John An. We ate at Lori’s Diner afterwards and I had hash browns yet again.
Sunday: We went to Trader Joe’s and I bought Jak and Daxter and We Love Katamari. I played We Love Katamari and cooked.

2 large eggplants
1 large russet potato, peeled
1 yellow onion, chopped fine
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large can crushed tomatoes with basil
1 container extra-firm tofu, frozen
1 handful golden raisins
Chopped fresh ginger
Red pepper flakes
Balsamic vinegar
Fresh oregano
Fresh parsley
Yogurt bechamel (see recipe below)

Defrost the tofu in a pan of hot water. To make it defrost faster, crumble it into a strainer once it’s no longer rock-hard and continue soaking in changes of water. It should have a nice, firm, spongy feel to it.

Fry the potatoes and eggplant until brown; grill other eggplant slices in another pan (I used my cast-iron grill pan on high heat).

Fry the onion and garlic in olive oil in a pan with a dab of fresh ginger. Add the crumbled tofu and raisins. Season with the dried spices. Add the tomato sauce and the balsamic vinegar, mirin, and sugar. Stir in the fresh herbs/greens.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Oil a casserole and layer in the potatoes and a layer of eggplant. Pour the tomato sauce on top. Layer in more eggplant and tomato sauce. Top with the yogurt bechamel.

Bake for one hour. The bechamel should be browned and bubbly.

Yogurt bechamel: (my ingredients/recipe ingredients)
4 Tablespoons olive oil
4 Tablespoons flour
2 cups milk (1%/full fat)
1 cup yogurt (nonfat/full fat)
2/3 cup grated cheese (mozzarella/Gruyere)

Potato casserole:
I made this to use up the rest of the yogurt bechamel sauce.
2 russet potatoes, peeled and sliced very thin
About 8 shallots, sliced
5 or 6 stems Parsley, chopped
5 or 6 leaves of sage, snipped

Oil the pan and layer into it: potatoes, mozzarella cheese, herbs, shallots, and spices. Pour the bechamel over. Bake at 400 degrees for an hour.

Written by orata

January 16, 2006 at 2:05 pm

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We had a few people over for New Year’s Eve: Mike, Robert, Sara, Willis and his friend Patrick, and James. We cleaned the house and made some food and had some drinks and saw 311 and Three Doors Down and Dick Clark and the robo-Bangles on TV.

1 pkg spinach potsticker wrappers (the round kind)

About 1 cup pea sprouts (about 1/3 of a bag)
3 cloves garlic
1/2 bunch chives
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp mirin
1 Tbsp sugar
Salt and pepper
1 Tbsp cornstarch, dissolved in a little water
1 egg

1/2 bag frozen Morningstar Farms veggie meat crumbles

Chop all filling ingredients except the meat crumbles in a food processor. Stir in the crumbles. Drain the filling in a strainer, then use it to fill the wrappers, sealing the edge of each dumpling with water. Deep-fry in batches in about 1/2 inch oil. We had a few wrappers left over; we filled these with cream cheese.

Dipping Sauce
Add a bit of each, to taste:
Sesame oil
Soy sauce
Sriracha sauce
Rice wine vinegar
Hot chili flakes

Bhel puri
Mix together:
2 cups or so puffed rice (not Rice Krispies)
1 medium Roma tomato, seeded and chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped very finely
1 small sprig mint, chopped
About 1/2 tsp cumin
Hot chili flakes

About 1 Tbsp tamarind molasses
About 2-3 Tbsp sugar
About 3 Tbsp water
Mix together until the mixture is tangy but not overpoweringly sour or strong.

Pour the dressing over the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Eat right away or it will get soggy. If it does get soggy, mix with some more fresh puffed rice just before eating, so you have something crunchy in the mixture.

We also made some pizzas with TJ’s pizza dough and pizza sauce, fresh herbs (basil and oregano), mozzarella, and toppings including caramelized onions, black olives, and fake Italian sausage.

As for store-bought foods, we also served grapes, chocolate chip meringues, broccoli and baby carrots with hummus, and crackers with brie and chevre. Robert brought some wonderful ice cream, Willis brought some wonderful chocolates. We had lots of drinks. I made batter for mustard seed dosas, but Rahul said I shouldn’t make them for the party, so I guess I’ll have them later.

Mustard Seed Dosas (from Madhur Jaffrey)
1 cup rice flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup plain yogurt (sour is better)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup fresh grated coconut (we used frozen)
1 tsp salt (I don’t remember the exact amount)
1 tsp pepper (ditto)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (ditto)
some hot pepper flakes or fresh hot pepper

Blend the above ingredients in the food processor until completely smooth.

Fry 1 tsp mustard seeds (?) in 4 Tbsp (?) oil until they pop, then stir them into the batter.

Fry the dosas in a pan, smoothing them down with the back of a spoon until they are very thin.

Written by orata

January 2, 2006 at 4:50 pm

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