Sunday, June 30, 2013

Chocolate Class: Preparing to Dip

Thursday's class was about preparing centers to dip in tempered chocolate this coming Wednesday. We created three candies to dip. The first was a caramel. The second was a vanilla lemon white chocolate praline. The third had two layers, a raspberry pate de fruit and on top of that a raspberry milk chocolate ganache.

Next Wednesday we will cut and dip the candies in tempered chocolate. I will put up recipes and pictures after that.

Just a quick note to keep everyone abreast of progress.

Chocolate Class: Coffee Truffles

I'm a bit behind. Life has been crazy busy, haven't had a spare moment to blog.

In Wednesday's class, we learned how to make hand rolled truffles. The chocolate truffle is named after the fungus because of it's irregular roundish shape.

The simplest and traditional truffle is a thick ganache, rolled into a ball, and covered with a coat of tempered chocolate. The truffles we made are flavored with coffee, and garnished with some crushed coffee bean.

The procedure is fairly straight forward. The ganache is made by pouring hot cream over finely chopped chocolate, letting the heat of the cream melt the chocolate. That is whisked smooth, then a little butter is whisked in. The ganache needs to cool, and allow the fats to crystallize. That can be done by allowing the ganache to sit at room temperature for four to eight hours. The ganache can be cooled faster by tabling on marble in the manner of tempering chocolate. Place the thickened ganache into a piping bag with a large straight tip. Use the bag to pipe balls of chocolate about the diameter of a quarter onto parchment paper. Let solidify until stiff but moldable. This can be sped up by placing it is a refrigerator for a few minutes. While wearing food handlers gloves, roll the ganache pieces between your hands to make them closer to ball shaped. Do this quickly, the heat of your hands will melt, and possibly even break, the ganache. Have a towel handy to wipe your hands between truffles.

Once rounded, the tr8uffles can be let to stiffen completely. The truffles are finished by dipping twice in tempered chocolate. The procedure is reminiscent of the proper method of breading. One hand is kept clean, the other gets messy. You definitely want gloves for this.

With the dipping hand, pick up a little liquid tempered chocolate with the tips of the fingers. With the clean hand, pick up a truffle, and drop it into the dipping hand. Rub truffle with a thin coat of chocolate. Wipe any excess chocolate on the dipping hand off on the side of the bowl of chocolate, then carefully place the dipped truffle on clean parchment paper. Repeat for the rest of the chocolates. Once the first coat is set, repeat for a second coat. While second coat is still liquid, garnish with a few grains of crushed coffee bean.

All recipes courtesy of Chef James Foran.

Coffee Truffles

8 1.2 oz. heavy cream
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh ground coffee beans
1 1/2 oz. corn syrup
1 oz. salted butter (softened)
14 oz. + 2 lbs. bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup crushed roasted coffee beans

Finely chop 14 oz. chocolate, and place in a metal bowl.

Combine cream, coffee, and corn syrup in a sauce pan over medium  heat. Bring just to a boil. Remove from heat, let stand five minutes.

Return to heat, bring back to a boil. Remove from heat, strain mixture over chocolate. Cover chocolate, let stand for two minutes. Uncover, gently whisk until well combined. Gently whisk in butter until smooth. Allow to cool until thickened but pipeable.

Place ganache into a piping bag with a large straight tip. Pipe mounds of chocolate about the diameter of a quarter onto parchment paper. Let crystallize to stiff but moldable.

Wearing gloves, roll truffles quickly until round. Place on clean parchment paper. Allow to solidify completely.

Temper 2 lbs. of chocolate. Lightly coat truffles with chocolate, place on clean parchment paper to harden.

When hard, add a second coat of chocolate of tempered chocolate.  While second coat is still wet, garnish with a pinch of crushed coffee beans.

Happy eating!

One Year Blogaversary!

Hard to believe, but it was one year ago today that I put into action the plan to blog about food. A lot has changed in that year. I made the decision to pursue becoming a chef. The classes I've taken have only confirmed that I have found a path that fits me.

Thought I'd share some statistics. Including this one, I've made 142 posts, with more than 7,100 views. The busiest month has been this one, with already over 1,300 views. Which is cool, because it means my readership is still going up. The most viewed post was the one about last falls Black Hat Tea. Facebook had the largest number of referrals to my site, with Google close behind. While about 80% of my views are from the US, there are some countries with a fair number. Russia is the largest non-US country, but I am disqualifying it, because a significant portion of that is spam attempts. That leaves the UK as the number one non-US country, closely followed by Germany.

I can't begin to tell you how much I've appreciated everyone that has read my ramblings over the last year. I hope you have benefited from my experiments in food. I'd love to see more comments in the future, maybe get some real conversations going.

For the one year anniversary, I'd like to announce a contest. I'd love a spiffy banner to go over the top of the blog. I have no design skills whatsoever. I'm hoping my friends and readers out there can help. I'm offering a meal for four, to be negotiated, for the winning banner. You must be within a 3 hour drive of San Diego, or someplace like Las Vegas, where I visit regularly, to claim your prize. I'll do breakfast, lunch, tea, or dinner.

Thanks again for reading, it has been an incredible journey so far, and I expect it to only continue to get better from here!

Happy eating!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Summer Picnic Dinner

In the summer the San Diego Zoo is open late into the evening. A good friend offered to trade entrance to the Zoo for a picnic dinner. We thought that was more than fair, and a great way to enjoy her company.

I knew she was trying to eat healthy, so I made a couple of wraps with a multi-grain flat bread, a quinoa salad with fresh herbs and vegetables, and a nice fruit salad with a light honey poppy seed vinaigrette.

For the wraps, I used Flatout Multi-Grain with Flax. It is a hearty and sturdy, but still soft, flat bread that is great for wraps. I made two kinds. I made a curried egg salad, and maple pomegranate glazed grilled chicken with a candied ginger aioli. The egg salad had a combination of mayonnaise and Greek yogurt, with some curry powder and hot curry paste, and some diced celery for crunch. For the chicken, I grilled the breasts, glazing them with the maple pomegranate glaze I used back at the chicken tasting party. When cool, I sliced them into strips across the grain. To go with the chicken, I made an aioli with apple and lingonberry vinegar and candied ginger. I added some fresh bronze leaf lettuce to the wrap.

The quinoa salad was cooked quinoa, with diced tomatoes, red bell pepper, onion, mint, cilantro, and a little cumin. I used a couple of small, ripe cluster tomatoes that had nice, firm flesh. The quinoa expands much more than rice or barley, so two cups of dry quinoa made two quarts of quinoa salad.

The fruit salad had nectarine, banana, strawberries, strawberry orange, and blueberries. I made a light honey poppy seed vinaigrette with orange muscat champagne vinegar. The fruity character of this vinegar really enhanced the flavors of the fruit in the salad. A touch of honey counterbalanced the acid in the fruit and vinegar nicely.

For dessert, I brought a selection of the chocolates I made the other day in class.

It was a lovely evening. The weather was perfect. We got to watch another friend perform on the didgeridoo, then wandered and chatted.


Curried Egg Salad

6 hard boiled eggs, chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. hot curry paste
salt to taste

In a bowl, mix mayonnaise, yogurt, curry powder, curry paste, and salt.

In another bowl, combine celery and egg. Add enough dressing to moisten and coat.

Candied Ginger Aioli

3 egg yolks
1 Tbsp. candied ginger, finely minced
2 Tbsp. apple and lingonberry vinegar
1 cup olive oil
salt to taste

Whisk together egg yolks, ginger, salt, and vinegar. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking vigorously, until emulsion thickens.

Quinoa Salad

2 cups dry quinoa
4 cups water
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
2 small ripe tomatoes, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup minced cilantro
1/4 cup chiffonade of mint
1 tsp. ground cumin
salt to taste

Place quinoa and water in a rice cooker. Cook until done. Remove from heat, allow to cool to room temperature. Mix in rest of ingredients, chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Fruit Salad with Honey Poppy Seed Vinaigrette

1 ripe banana, sliced
1 nectarine, peeled, pitted, and sliced
1 strawberry orange, cut into supremes
5 large strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/3 cup fresh blueberries
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
2 Tbsp. orange muscat champagne vinegar
1 Tbsp. poppy seeds
pinch of salt

In a bowl, mix together fruit, set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, honey, poppy seeds, and salt until an emulsion  forms. Poor over fruit, Chill until ready to serve.

Happy eating!


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Chocolate Class: Textbook Arrived

The textbook for my chocolate class arrived yesterday from Amazon. The book is Making Artisan Chocolates by Andrew Garrison Shotts. It wasn't expensive, which is a nice change in a textbook. I got it used on Amazon for about $14, including shipping.

It is very colorful, with lots of great color photography. It is written in a relatively light and breezy manner. It gives lots of good information, without having a dry technical manual feel.

I'm looking forward to reading more about making chocolates.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Asian Mushroom Chowder with Bacon Dry Jack Biscuits

As you might remember, I was given a variety of Asian mushrooms for my birthday. For dinner tonight, I used some of them to make a chowder. I used shiitake, maitake, and bunashimeii  mushrooms. It has chicken stock, a little milk, and it is flavored with rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf.

To go with the chowder, I made some biscuits with bacon and the Spring Hill Dry Jack

These went really well together. This was a meal that emphasized umami. Mushrooms, bacon, and aged cheese are high in it.


Asian Mushroom Chowder

1 1/2 cups sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 cup chopped maitake mushrooms
1 cup bunashimeii mushrooms
1 Tbsp. butter
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 cups chicken stock
2 small bay leaves
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 cup milk
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, sauté until tender. Add garlic, cook for 2 minutes. Add stock, bay, rosemary, and thyme. Simmer 20 minutes.

Sift cornstarch. Whisk into milk. Add mushrooms and milk. Bring back to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

Bacon Dry Jack Biscuits

1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
pinch salt
1/4 cup shortening
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup bacon bits
1/4 cup grated dry jack cheese

Pre-heat oven to 450 F.

Sift together flour, baking powder, sugar, cream of tartar, and salt. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles course crumbs. Stir in bacon and cheese, Add milk, mix until everything is just moistened. Turn onto a lightly floured board. Knead until dough just hangs together, two or three strokes. Pat or roll into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick. Cut into six pieces. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, until golden brown.

Happy eating!

Restaurant Review: The Counter

I was up in Fountain Valley Saturday for a medieval/renaissance tournament. After a hard day's fighting with swords, I need a good meal before traveling home. Some friends were going to a burger joint, and invited the friend I bummed a ride from and myself to join them.

Where we ended up is a place called The Counter. It's a small chain, mostly in Southern California. We were at the Newport Beach location. The Counter is a build your own burger place. The menu is basically a bunch of checklists. You pick your patty, cheese, toppings, sauces, and bun. The burger doesn't come with any sides, but you can get various fries, salad, or grilled veggies al a carte.

The possible permutations are astronomical. The basic plan gives you a choice of patty, cheese, up to four toppings, sauce, and bun. Patty choices include beef, chicken, turkey and vegan. For an extra cost, bison was also available. There are 11 choices of cheese, from yellow American to blue. There are 22 topping choices, from lettuce, to grilled pineapple, to marinated artichokes. There are also 22 sauce options, from plain mayonnaise, to peanut sauce, basil pesto, up to habanero salsa. Buns range from standard white, to English muffin, to gluten free.

You also pick the weight of the patty. The smallest available is 1/3 lb. All weights are after cooking, which is a little unusual.

I chose a 1/3 lb. beef patty, with horseradish cheddar, roasted red pepper, roasted green chili, black olives, and marinated artichoke hearts, with ranch dressing on an onion bun.

The burger was cooked to a nice medium. Hot all the way through, still pink in the middle. The bun was fresh, with a nice chewy texture.  The horseradish was not as prominent as I'd hoped, but it was still good.

I ordered a single order of sweet potato fries to go with the burger. They came with a side of the chipotle aioli for dipping. The fries were hot and as crisp as sweet potato fries get, and the aioli was really good.

The burger, fries, and a drink cost around $14. Maybe a little high for a burger, but the quality and variety of the sides and sauces made it worth it to me.

Our waiter was fantastic. We're a group prone to banter, and he gave as well as he got on that front. Did a good job of keeping the drinks filled, and was very organized when it came to splitting the bill.

There are two locations in the San Diego area, Del Mar and Downtown. I may have to visit the Downtown one during Comic-con.

Happy Eating!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Dragon Party

So, it was the turn of the younger brother of the child we did the baseball party for to have his birthday party. He decided he wanted to have a dragon theme for his birthday. Now, the spouse and I are both life long fantasy fans, so we were totally cool with the theme. As always, the spouse had fun putting together goodie bags for the kids.

When we asked the young man what he wanted in a cake, some of it was pretty straight forward. A chocolate and vanilla marbled cake, which was easy, as I could use the same recipes as I did at the princess party. He wanted a cherry filling, so we used a commercial cherry pie filling. So far so good. Now comes the challenging part. For decoration, he wanted a water dragon, under the water. Now, I thought that was a pretty cool and unusual vision from a child his age.

The cake is mostly the spouse's creation.What we I baked the cake, and contributed some ideas on how it might be done, but all the creativity in the actual cake is hers. What we ended up creating wasn't exactly what he described, but given the time and technology limitations, I think it was pretty much within the intent. For the base, we made a half sheet sized chocolate marble cake with cherry filling. We used crisp rice and marshmallow treats to build up the terrain, and create a basin. The cake was then frosted green for grassy hills. A layer of blue frosting was put on the bottom of the basin to act as a moisture barrier, and to add to the apparent depth of the basin. The spouse had found a really nice figurine of a water dragon. We placed that in the basin, and added a mixture of blue raspberry gelatin and blue gel frosting to make the water. Chocolate rocks were used to create then shoreline.

I think this was a really cool cake. It was definitely non-standard, which made it a challenge. However, from all reports the child was delighted, and his face lit up when he saw the cake.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Chocolate Class: Three Simple Chocolates

Today was the day the spouse was looking forward to. This was the first class we made things that we got to take home. We made three fairly simple, but quite tasty, chocolates.

We made a chocolate bark. It was simply dark chocolate mixed with crisp rice cereal, toasted hazelnuts, and raisins. We rolled it out between two sheets of acetate. This produces a shiny finish, but a more matte finish can be achieved by rolling it between two layers of parchment paper.

We also used dark chocolate to make mendiants.  They are a traditional French confectionery with fruits and nuts. The original had four things whose color referred to the colors of the robes of the four mendicant orders of the catholic church. Modernly, any appealing combination is likely. They are fairly simple. You pipe a disk of tempered chocolate, then quickly place nuts and fruit pieces into the chocolate before it sets. You want to place them in  a pleasing pattern, so that all the colors are visible.

Finally, we used milk chocolate to make rochers. Rocher is French for 'rock'. I suppose they could look a little like a rock, assuming you'd never seen one (a rock, I mean). Anyway, these are slivered almonds, tossed with vanilla sugar and Grand Marnier, and toasted. When cool, they are tossed with orange zest, and lightly coated with milk chocolate. These are probably my favorites of the three.

While these are relatively simple to make, they are tasty, elegant, and very flexible. Any of these can be made with dark, milk, or white chocolate. The rochers can use just about any nut, flavored in whatever way you like. The mendiants can use just about any combination of dried fruits, nuts, candied peels, or seeds that works for you. The bark, too can be made with just about any combination you find appealing.

If you experiment, come back and tell us what you did. I'd love to hear what creative combinations you come up with.

All recipes courtesy of Chef James Foran.


Chocolate Bark

8 oz. by wt. tempered dark chocolate
¾ cup crisp rice cereal
½ cup chopped roasted hazelnuts
¼ cup raisins, chopped
pinch sea salt

In a bowl, thoroughly mix together rice cereal, nuts, raisins, and salt. Pour tempered chocolate over mixture. Toss well, so that everything gets covered in chocolate. Working quickly, place between two sheets of acetate, and carefully roll out to about 1/4 inch thick. Allow to cool and set completely before removing acetate. Break into pieces.


6 0z. by wt. tempered dark chocolate
30 cashew halves
30 pistachios
30 slivers of dried apricot
30 dried cherries

On a parchment lined baking sheet, pipe rounds of chocolate about the size of a silver dollar. Quickly place one of each nut and fruit in each round. Use the same pattern for each mendiant. You want part of the nut or fruit to be visible. Allow to set completely.

Makes 20 - 25 candies.



Almond Rochers

5.7 oz. Slivered almonds
2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier
1 Tbsp. vanilla sugar
pinch salt
4 oz. tempered milk chocolate
zest of 1/3 orange

Pre-heat oven to 350 F.

In a bowl, toss together almonds, liqueur, sugar, and salt. Spread out on a silicon mat lined baking sheet. Bake, tossing every 3 minutes, for 12 minutes, or until golden brown.

Spread on another baking sheet, let cool to room temperature.

Toss almonds with zest. Add chocolate, toss to coat completely. Spoon into miniature paper cups. Allow to set completely.

Makes about 15 candies.

Happy Eating!


Chocolate Class: Assorted Garnishes

Yesterday we practiced using chocolate to make a number of kinds of garnishes. Unfortunately, I forgot to charge my phone, and it died, so I have no pictures.

We did a number of items using acetate sheets. Acetate is great for chocolate work, because it sticks to melted chocolate, but releases quickly when the chocolate hardens. Once the chocolate is spread on the acetate, it can be manipulated to make loops, spirals, teardrops, etc. The chocolate will then harden in the shape you made. Timing is tricky. The chocolate needs to set up a little, but not too much. Dark chocolate sets up considerably faster than milk or white chocolate. We used the acetate to make spirals of chocolate, as well as teardrops that were stuck together with chocolate to make a bow.

We used a number of hardware tools to get effects. We used a wood graining tool to get a wood grain look. We used the tool to put down a thin layer of white chocolate with a wood grained pattern on an acetate sheet. When that hardened, we covered it with a layer of dark chocolate. That gave a two toned wood grained look. We also used a square notched adhesive spreader to make thin lines of chocolate.

We used a cheap plastic box as a mold to make a square box of chocolate. That involved filling the box with chocolate, draining out the excess, and letting it harden. We did the same again, to make two coats. The box was refrigerated briefly, to encourage the chocolate to set, but not long enough for condensation to form. Water is anathema to chocolate. Properly tempered chocolate will contract slightly when set. This makes it possible to get out of the mold.

Finally, we made chocolate cigarettes. Those are long, thin, tight rolls of chocolate. For a single color, the chocolate is spread in an about 1/8 inch thick layer on the marble, and, at just the right consistency, use essentially a paint scraper with a sharp thrust at a 45 degree angle to get the chocolate to roll. The window is very narrow. Too soon, and the chocolate just sticks to the scraper. Too late, and it just scrapes off the marble. Just right, and you get cool tightly rolled tubes of chocolate. To get two colored rolls, first put a thin layer of one color, and use the adhesive spreader to make thin parallel stripes. Let that set, then spread the 1/8 inch layer of chocolate over the stripes. I got a cool effect by using the scraper to make a sine wave in white chocolate..

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mushroom Medley Stir Fry with Sesame Rice

I recently celebrated my 50th birthday. My friends, knowing me, all gave me food related gifts. One of those gifts was a selection of Asian fresh mushrooms. I decided to use many of them in a stir fry. I used fresh shiitake, king oyster, seafood, and enoki mushrooms. The shiitake and oyster mushrooms when cooked have a very meaty texture. The enoki mushrooms have almost the texture of noodles.

I added fresh asparagus tips, and some thinly cut white onions. I wanted the sauce to really emphasize the umami of the mushrooms. It contains soy sauce, fish sauce, liquid smoke, rice wine vinegar, cinnamon, chili powder, black pepper, and corn starch.

I served it on a bed of brown rice with sesame seeds. I put 1 1/2 cups brown rice, 1/4 cup of sesame seeds, and a pinch of salt in my rice cooker with 3 cups of water.

Mushroom Medley Stir Fry

1 cup sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms
3 king oyster mushrooms, sliced
1 package seafood mushrooms, trimmed
1 package enoki mushrooms, trimmed
1 cup fresh asparagus tips
1/2 medium white onion, sliced
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. liquid smoke
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. cornstarch, sifted
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Whisk together soy, fish sauce, vinegar, liquid smoke, cinnamon, chili powder, pepper and cornstarch. Set aside.

Heat a wok over high heat. Add oil, stir fry onions until soft.

Add asparagus tips. Stir fry for one minute.

Add shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Stir fry until mushrooms start to release moisture.

Add seafood and enoki mushrooms. Stir fry briefly, until hot.

Add sauce, toss until thickened and everything is well coated.

Serve immediately over rice.

Happy eating!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Summer Steak Salad

While we aren't quite officially to summer yet, it is starting to warm up, so we thought a nice, cool salad would be just the ticket for dinner.

I had some grilled medium rare steak left over from the other night. I diced that, mixed with capers, and dressed with a mixture of mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, horseradish, prepared brown mustard, cumin, salt and pepper.

It is served on a bed of mixed baby greens, and I added some raw Bunapi mushrooms. They look like little champignon mushrooms. I found them to have a strong, earthy aftertaste, the spouse found them a little plastic tasting, and didn't like them. The company that developed them claims the bitterness goes away when cooked. Now I know. They were a birthday present, I have never used them before.

I microplaned some dry jack over the top, to add a little salt and umami. Parmesan would work just fine.

Summer Steak Salad

1/2 cup diced grilled steak
2 Tbsp. pickled capers
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 tsp. prepared spicy brown mustard
1/2 tsp. prepared horse radish
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste

In a bowl, mix steak and capers, set aside.

In another bowl, mix together the rest of the ingredients to make a dressing.

Add enough dressing to coat steak, without making it too wet.

Happy eating!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Chocolate Class: Tempering Chocolate and Modeling Chocolate

A baseline skill needed to be able to work with chocolate is the art of tempering. The fats in cocoa butter can crystallize in a number of forms. If you can get it to crystallize in the right form, you get a glossy chocolate with a clean snap when broken, and a relatively high melting point, so that it can be handled without immediately melting. If you get one of the wrong forms, you end up with dull, crumbly chocolate that melts as soon as you touch it.

Tempering chocolate isn't difficult, but it does require patience and precision. You need an accurate, fast reacting thermometer. The basic procedure is simple. Heat the chocolate hot enough to melt all forms of crystals. Lower the temperature just until you would mostly have the crystals you want, then raise it just slightly.

There are two methods to get the crystals you want to form; seeding and tabling.

In seeding, as the temperature of the chocolate starts to decrease, add already tempered chocolate to provide seed crystals to encourage the proper crystals to grow. In the tabling method, about two thirds of the mass is worked on a heat conductive surface (a large slab of marble is ideal) until it cools and thickens (about 79 F), then it is added back to the original chocolate. Seeding takes a bit longer, but is fairly fool proof. Tabling is faster, but requires a bit more skill. To test the chocolate, spread a thin layer on parchment paper, and let cool on a conductive surface, like granite. It should harden relatively quickly, be firm and break with a snap, and be shiny.

So for dark chocolate:
  • Melt to 120 F
  • Cool to 84 F
  • Warm to 88 - 90 F
And for milk or white chocolate:
  • Melt to 115 F
  • Cool to 82 F
  • Warm to 85 - 87 F
If you are holding the chocolate at temp to be able to work with it for awhile, keep it to the low end of the range, that is, closer to 88 or 85 F.

After practicing both methods, we tried our hand at making roses with modeling chocolate. We did
not get to make the modeling chocolate, as it takes a few hours to set up. The chocolate we used was made with white chocolate, thus the ivory color.

The modeling chocolate works a lot like playdoh or polymer clay (Fimo or Sculpty). It needs to be worked a little to warm it up and make it plastic. It can get sticky if it gets too warm, so be aware if, like me, your hands run warm. In that case work quickly with minimum contact, or wear gloves.

To make a rose, first make a small cone, this will serve as the base. Make a short rope, and cut nine equal sized pieces from it. Roll the pieces into balls, and place them, well spaced apart, between two layers of plastic wrap. Flatten the rolls out, and work the edge for the top very thin. Take one petal, and wrap it tightly around the cone, with the thing edge just above the top of the cone. The next layer will use three petals. Place the middle of the first petal of the second layer over the overlap of the first layer petal. Press one side down, then slide the second petal to about the halfway point under the first petal. Place the third petal under the second, and overlapping the first. The third layer is done the same way, but with the remaining five petals. Once all the petals are in place, gently shape the edges to resemble a real rose.

Modeling Chocolate

(recipe courtesy Chef James Foran)

10 oz. b wt. chocolate – melt to 100 F
1/3 cup light corn syrup

Combine with rubber spatula until smooth and shiny. Let sit 4 hours to over night.

Good for one month.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Chocolate Class: Introduction and Chocolate Tasting

Yesterday was the first day of my chocolate class. As usual, we started with the basics of going over the syllabus, discussing grading and class/school policies.

Because it is a short semester, we didn't have much time to waste. We started with a chocolate tasting. We tasted 28 kinds of chocolate, starting with several types of white chocolate, then working our way up through milk, semi-sweet, and bittersweet. We ended by tasting a number of flavored chocolates. We tried a number of interesting combinations, like white chocolate with lemon and pink peppercorns, milk chocolate with rooibos tea and cherries, and dark chocolate with smokehouse BBQ potato chips.

It was interesting to look at the parallels between chocolate, wine, and tea. They all depend on numerous factors to determine the final taste, including variety, terroir, processing, and blending.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

World Tea Expo: World Origin Tasting Tour Part 2, the afternoon

For the teas we tasted in the morning, go here.

After a morning of tasting many interesting teas, they fed us a nice lunch. As a bonus, I got to have an extended and very interesting conversation with my new tea guru crush, Jane Pettigrew. Once we were fed, we returned to the tasting rooms.

Our first country of the day was Japan. The presenter for Japan was Rona Tison of ITO EN. When we got to our table, there was the additional little gift of a can of Sencha Shot. It is a little can of ready to drink green tea. I did not drink it at the time. In fact, I only got around to trying it yesterday, with my breakfast. Now, I am probably not the target audience for the product, but, in my opinion, it was awful. It had a decent front flavor of green tea, but it had a terrible way over brewed aftertaste. It was incredibly bitter. Anyway, Japan is all about the green tea. They don't make any oxidized teas at all, apparently. The first tea we sampled was a Megami Sencha. I found it to be a pale green gold in color, with a strong asparagus nose, a light clean attack, a moderately herbaceous middle with a hint of honey, and a clean, lightly tannic finish. The spouse found it to have a vegetable nose rich in umami, gentle and fresh on the tongue. The second tea was a Genmaicha. This tea blends green tea with roasted rice. I found it to be a very pale green gold color, with a nose reminiscent of popcorn, a mildly nutty attack, and a mildly lingering finish. The spouse found it to have a toasted scent and taste. The third tea was a Hojicha.
 This is a green tea that has been roasted. I found it to be a bright orange color, with a mildly smoky nose, and a smoky attack, with a strong taste of umami in the middle. The spouse found it to have a mildly vegetable and woodsy nose, with some astringency on the attack, and a sense of umami on the tongue. The last tea we tasted was the quintessential Japanese tea, Matcha.  Matcha is the finely powdered green tea used in the tea ceremony. It produces a cloudy, dark green tea. I found it to have a strong vegetable nose and attack, with a bitter finish. The spouse found it to have a strong green vegetable/grassy nose, and an astringent attack with a bitter finish.

The next to last country of the day was Nepal. The presenters were Chandra Bhushan and Rob Burnett of Nepali Tea Traders. Similar to Ajiri Tea, a significant part of the profits for Nepali Tea Traders are used to improve conditions for the children of Nepal. The first tea we tasted was a Dhulagiri Spring White Tea. This was a first flush tea, meaning it was made from the earliest new shoots of spring. It was a pale gold tinged green. I found it to have a strong nose of steamed edemame, with a mildly floral attack, a mildly edemame middle, and a clean, slightly lingering finish. The spouse found it to have a light edemame nose, with an edemame flavor and a mildly astringent finish. The second tea was a Half Moon Pearl Green Tea. It was a bright gold color, and I found it to have a cooked green bean nose, with a clean attack and slightly tannic finish. The spouse noted that it had a light vegetable nose, and that it was more astringent and tannic than the white tea. The third and final tea from Nepal was a Wild Yeti oolong. It was a red brown amber color. I found it to have a mildly caramel nose, with a lightly caramel attack and a clean finish with some lightly lingering tannins. I noted that it would match well with a crème brulee. The spouse found it to have a nose with a bit of burned caramel or molasses, and found the finish a bit faint. She felt a little sweetener might bring out this tea's best qualities.

Our last country was Taiwan. The presenter was Thomas Shu of ABC Tea. The focus of this presentation was on oolong teas. Mr. Shu's wife got things going with a rousing cheerleader style chant about Taiwan oolong tea. At that point, we probably needed the infusion of energy. The first tea we tasted was a Taiwan Pouchong. This was a lightly oxidized oolong. It was a bright green gold color. It had a strongly floral nose with notes of yeast, a clean attack, subtle middle, and a lingering jasmine finish. The spouse found it to have a floral nose, with a floral attack and a clean, slightly astringent, finish. She notes it would pair well with a light dessert, or dim sum. The second tea was a Taiwan Jade oolong. This too was a lightly oxidized oolong, with a bright green gold color. I found that it had a roasted green pepper nose, with a crisp attack, a strong taste of edemame in the middle, and a clean, slightly tannic lingering finish, with notes of kalamata olive. I thought it would pair well with a tapenade. The spouse found it a little smoky, with a light edemame taste, and found it to leave a little astringency in the back of her throat. Our penultimate tea of the day was an Amber oolong. This was a more heavily oxidized oolong, and produce an orange brown amber liquor. I found it to have roasted nut and grass notes on the nose, with a light attack, a malty middle, and a strongly tannic lingering finish. The spouse found it to have roasted nose and attack, with a malty middle and a lightly astringent finish. She suggests it would be good brewed strong and poured over ice. With the last tea of the day, we definitely finished on a high note. The final tea was an Oriental Beauty Formosa Oolong. We were told it went at auction in Hong Kong for 100,000 Hong Kong dollars for 600 g. That translates to just under $700 an ounce. This was a more heavily oxidized oolong, and produced a bright orange amber liquor. I found citrus and orange blossom on the nose, with a strong attack, notes of citrus, honey, and leather in the middle, and a mildly tannic floral lingering finish. The spouse found it to be lightly floral, with a light astringency on the finish.

After the tea, we were treated to dinner, and they had certificates of completion waiting for us. It was
a last chance to bond and chat, and they had us all sign a big poster destined for their office. It was a great, if full, day.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

World Tea Expo: World Origin Tasting Tour Part 1, the morning

Friday of the World Tea Expo we attended the World Origin Tasting Tour as part of the New Business Boot Camp. The set up was very well done from a logistics stand point. They set it up so that there were two rooms. We would be in one room tasting one countries teas, as they set up the other for the next country. When we finished tasting a country, we would have a short break, then move to the other room. The staff of volunteers did an excellent job of keeping things moving. Over the course of the day, I calculate they brewed between 500 and 600 pots of tea. With each pot of tea, they also brought out both dry and wet leaves, in properly labeled containers, so you could see/smell them. They provided alternately banana pieces or bland crackers to help clear the palate. I might suggest for the future to also provide water, but I've done wine tastings, so knew to bring my own.

They provided notebooks and a great little passport book listing all the teas by country that we would be tasting, with space for notes for each. A neat bit in the passports was that next to each tea was an annotation for how much tea per 18 oz. water to use, how long to steep each tea, and the proper temperature water to use for each tea. Each country had an expert to guide us, and the whole thing was MC'd by Jane Pettigrew.

Logistically, this was a very well run event. They kept things moving, got tea delivered in a timely manner, kept everyone supplied with cups, and generally kept things informative and fun. The individual experts were all enthusiastic about their country's products, and were informative and lively.

The first country we visited was China. This was appropriate, since China is the birthplace of tea cultivation. The presenter for China was Austin Hodge of Seven Cups. We tasted six teas from China, the most of any country. Our first tea was a Silver Needle white tea. My notes say it was a golden yellow color, grassy, mildly smoky, with a vegetable taste reminiscent of cooked broccoli stem. The spouse's notes call it a particularly flavorful white tea with a spinachy smell and a sharp flavor. She notes it should pair well with rich savory foods. Our second tea was an Anji Bai Cha green tea. My notes say it was a very pale yellow, with a strong smell of asparagus on the nose, a mildly sweet attack, and bitter finish with a hint of lilac. The spouse's notes call it slightly floral, with an asparagus smell and taste, lightly sweet(lilac) on the finish. She feels it would pair nicely with foods rich in umami, like mushrooms or braised beef. The third Chinese tea was a Golden Guan Yin oolong. My notes say it was a light golden yellow with a light vegetable nose, a floral attack with notes of rose, and a mild finish. The spouse's notes say it had a mildly sharp attack, with a lightly floral finish. She thinks it would work best with more subtly flavored savory foods. Our fourth Chinese tea was a Zheng Yan Da Hong Po oolong. My  notes say it had a reddish orange amber color, with a fruity nose with a smoky under note.  It had a mildly fruity attack, a smoky middle, and a bitter finish, The spouse found it to have a light vegetable(green) nose with an astringent, bold flavor with a toasted effect.. She felt it would match well with either savory or sweet foods. The penultimate Chinese tea was a Snow Mountain Sheng Puerh. I found it to be a pale orange amber in color, with a smoky nose with notes of tobacco, and a smoky attack with a bitter green finish reminiscent of kale. The spouse found it to have a smoky nose, with a kale like bitterness on the finish.. Our last Chinese tea was a Gong Fu Dian Hong black tea. This was the one reasonably priced Chinese tea we tasted. I found it to be a dark red amber color, with a minimal nose with a hint of smoke. I called it a solid, not complex tea, with a mildly bitter finish. The spouse called it a standard tea flavor stronger than Lipton, with a sweet finish.

Our second country was Sri Lanka, and the presenter was Royce Van Twest of QTrade Teas &  Herbs. Our first tea was a Super Pekoe black tea. My notes call it a red amber color with a mildly mineral nose, a lightly fruity attack, not complex middle, and a mildly bitter finish. The spouse found it to have a very slightly vegetable nose, mildly astringent with a clean finish, but leaving an astringency in the back of the throat. Our second tea was a Idulgashinna Green Orange Pekoe 1. I found it to be a pale greenish gold color, with a vegetable nose with notes of asparagus, a mildly vegetable taste with no bitterness on the finish. The spouse found it to have a mild flavor with a neutral astringent finish. She suggests it would pair best with delicate flavors. Our third tea from Sri Lanka was a Kirkoswald Silver Needle white tea. It was a pale yellow gold color. I found it to have a sweet floral nose, with notes of violets, a mildly vegetable attack with notes of celery, and a clean finish. The spouse found it to have a pleasant aroma with a very floral nose and a smooth violet flavor. She suggests pairing it with light flavors. Our last tea was a Low Country black tea. It had a red amber color. I found it to be robust, not complex, with a clean finish with very little bitterness. The spouse notes it to have a  mild nose with nothing distinctive, and to be robust. She notes it should pair with anything.

From Sri Lanka we moved on to Kenya. The presenter here was Sara Holby of Ajiri Teas. The presentation here was significantly different than the others. First, the focus of the presentation was the company,  not the teas. Ajiri Tea is a not for profit, whose main goal is employment of women, and uses any profits towards the education of local children. The passport section for Kenya is the only one with out brewing instructions. Also, this is the only country whose teas were produced by the Cut Tear Curl (CTC) method, which is a machine harvesting and production method.  This results in lower labor costs, but also less precision in the quality control of the tea. The first tea was a Momul black tea. I found it to be medium orange amber, with artichoke notes on the nose, a light attack, bright flavor, and a clean finish with a hint of berry. The spouse notes it as artichoke with more pungency, with a bit of bitterness in the back of the throat, and would pair well with sweet scones. The second tea was a Gacharage black tea. I note it as a dark orange amber color, light asparagus nose, with a stronger attack and a mildly bitter finish. The spouse notes an artichoke nose, and more flavor than the Momul. The last was a Nyansiongo black tea. I found it to be a medium orange amber, with a mild asparagus nose, light attack, and mild finish. The spouse also noted a hint of asparagus on the nose.

Our last country before lunch was India. The presenter here was Devan Shah of International Tea Importers. Our first tea was a Malty Assam black tea from the Mangalam Estate. I found it to be a light orange amber in color, with a mild nose, a light attack with a light malt middle with a moderately tannic finish with notes of leather. The spouse found it to have a light flavor, a little malty, with a hint of artichoke on the finish. She found it a bit rough, and felt it would be best with milk and sugar. The second Indian tea was an organic First Flush Darjeeling DJ-1 black tea from Risheehat. I found it to be a light orange gold color, with a strong artichoke nose, light clean attack, floral middle with notes of rose and lavender, and a mildly tannic finish. The spouse found it have a clean attack with a lightly floral and spicy middle with a hint of lavender. The third tea was a Second Flush Darjeeling Muscatel black tea from Singbulli. I found it to be an orange amber color reminiscent of an aged scotch. I found it to have a lemon grassy nose, with a  light clean attack, a bright floral middle with notes of violet, and a moderately tannic finish. The spouse found it to have a light lemon grass scent, with an astringent attack, and a kale like flavor. She felt it would pair well with a fatty dessert like a shortbread, to help cut the fat. The last tea before lunch was  a High Grown Nilgiri black tea from the Tigerhill Estate. I found it to be a medium orange amber color, with a floral lilac nose, a moderate attack, notes of chocolate and menthol in the middle, and a lightly tannic, lingering finish. The spouse found it lightly astringent, the least tannic of the Indian teas, pleasant to sip. She notes it would make a very good ice tea.

From here we went to a very nice lunch, where I got to have a very pleasant extended chat with Jane Pettigrew. As this has gotten long, I will make another post discussing the afternoon session.

Monday, June 10, 2013

World Tea Expo: New Business Boot Camp

The spouse and I drove up to Las Vegas Tuesday after she got off work. We got there late, and crashed at a friend's house. There was a strict 'no photos or recordings' policy, which is why I have none to go with the post. The boot camp started bright and early, with a check-in at 7 AM.

 We did get a light breakfast, including some good tea from one of the sponsors. There was the inevitable welcome lecture. They had everyone in the boot camp stand up and say a little about themselves and why they were there. This did let us find some other people from the San Diego area to network with.

The first session was titled Tea 101 - The basics of Tea Business. This was a useful class, discussing financing options, pros and cons of specialization vs. diversification, to compete or not against other businesses, and top five mistakes and five keys to success.

The next session was Basic Legal for Tea Room Owners. Another useful class, touching on financing, taxes, contracts, partnership agreements, government filings, permits, licenses, and insurance. Way too much to go into great detail in class, but included a thick workbook to go through at home.

The third session was titled Marketing and Capturing Customers. This was less on actually marketing, and more on how to establish and use a searchable database of customers, and market to those. As part of the exercise, we were broken into groups, and had to design a direct mail post card to sell the product they gave us. Our group was given an apricot, and we came up with a postcard selling an apricot honey iced tea. The spouse did most of the drawing, and another woman in the group most of the writing, while everyone contributed ideas. We were one of three winning teams, and everyone on the team got a cold tea travel bottle from the instructor, later on the exhibit floor.

At this point we the fed us a very nice lunch. We got to chat with other attendees, and it was very informative. It's nice to be in a group of strangers with a passion in common. It makes starting a conversation a lot easier.

The first session after lunch was probably the most directly practical. It was titled Accepting Credit/Debit Cards. It went over all the hidden ways that banks and credit card companies turn a low nominal rate into a high actual rate. It then went over Square, which allows you to use an iPhone or android for point of sale, and charges a relatively low per swipe fee with no other fees or charges.

The second session after lunch was What do I Charge? This was one we were looking forward to. It didn't answer the question directly. The session covered how to do a break even analysis. Figuring out what how to break even was the first step. once you can do that, you can look at profits. If you can't even break even, profits are a moot point.

The third session was Intro to the World Tasting Tour. Jane Pettigrew gave us a quick and dirty intro to tea. Explaining what exactly the various types were. Teas are divided into categories by style of manufacture. The categories are white, yellow, green, oolong, black, dark (puerh), and flavored. This was a fascinating lecture, and Ms. Pettigrew is an engaging and lively speaker. I'd never really understood the differences before.

The final session was the Business Plan Round table. This was one that I had high hopes for, but was the least inspirational session of the day. I'd really hoped for a practical approach, maybe show some good examples. I figured a round table meant a number of experts all commenting. No, in this case it meant one guy taking questions, with no presentation or handout. He didn't keep on topic, was all over the place, and was out of date on information. This was made clear when it became obvious that not only did he not know what crowd sourcing was, but that he didn't know he didn't know what crowd sourcing was.

Still, only one disappointing session out of the day isn't bad. We then had a reception, with some good heavy duty noshes, and a chance to chat with more people getting into the business. Not only were there people from all over the US, but we spoke to people from Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Israel, Lebanon, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

We checked into a hotel and got a good night's sleep to prepare for the tasting tour on Thursday.

Culinary Class: Final Grade

Checked my posted grade for my culinary class. I did in fact pull off the A+! OK, so there is no functional difference between the A and the A+. I don't care. It makes me happy.

World Tea Expo: Introduction

Most of last week the spouse and I spent at the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas. This is a professionals only trade show for all aspects of the tea business; wholesale, retail, or food service.

It was a whirlwind of activity. We took a number of classes, met a lot of great people, drank a lot of good tea, and generally came away overwhelmed and in desperate need of letting all the information process.

We attended the New Business Boot Camp on Wednesday, spent Thursday at the World Origin Tasting Tour, Friday was just to see the exhibit hall, finally Saturday was a couple of classes and followups on the exhibit floor.

I'm making several posts on this subject, otherwise it will become a teal deer of epic proportions.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Armenian Lamb with Sauteed Peppers and Onions on Walnut Couscous

A couple of weekends ago, I was out camping at a large historical re-creation event. I camp with a group that of people that are mostly enthusiastic cooks. At this event, however, we are all busy with the myriad activities available, and so meals tend toward simple and quick to prepare. Another reason to keep it simple is that sometime this site has an abundance of wasps. The less time raw meat is sitting around, the easier it is to avoid attracting their attention.

This is not to suggest, however, that the food is less than tasty. We are all kinda picky that way. Simple and fast can still be good.

One of our go to meals is something we dubbed Armenian burritos. Basically, it is an Armenian style sautéed ground lamb, served with spiced, sautéed onions and peppers, wrapped in pita bread or lavash (a soft flat bread). It is served with various condiments and add-ons, including diced green chilies, sliced black olives, minced cilantro, parsley, and/or mint, sliced pepperoncini, feta cheese, and home made yogurt cheeses (this year I made roasted garlic, and cucumber). Both the lamb and peppers are seasoned with garlic, parsley, allspice, paprika, and black pepper.

Well, the spouse did not get to camp this year, so I claimed some of the left over lamb (which is awesome in an omelet, but that's another post) for her. We had a giant bell pepper that needed used, so I sliced it up and sautéed it with onion, and spiced it up with cumin, fresh thyme, and cayenne. The couscous is a simplified version of the walnut butter couscous I've made before. I served it with some of the cucumber lebni.


Armenian Lamb

2 lbs. ground lamb
1/2 cup fresh parsley
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp. paprika
2 tsp.  allspice
2 tsp. black pepper
salt to taste
3 Tbsp. olive oil

Mix all ingredients except olive oil. Add oil to a hot wok, then cook lamb quickly, stirring constantly.

Spiced Bell Peppers and Onions

1 large ripe bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2 medium yellow onion, cut into thin strips
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne powder
salt to taste

In a large skillet over medium to medium high heat, sauté onions in olive oil for two minutes. Add peppers, spices, and salt. Cook until vegetables are tender.

Walnut Couscous

1 cup dried couscous
1/2 cup ground walnuts
pinch salt
hot water as needed

Place couscous in a bowl. Stir in walnuts and salt. Pour over couscous enough water to cover. Mix well, let stand five minutes.

Cucumber Cheese

1 lb. lebni
3 small Persian cucumbers
1 tsp. coarse sea salt

Peel and shred cucumbers. Place in a colander over a bowl, sprinkle with salt. Let stand 30 minutes to allow cucumbers to release most of their moisture.

Stir cucumbers into lebni. Best if refrigerated for at least a day before use.

Happy Eating!