Wednesday, July 31, 2013
A few weeks ago, I had an email from Gaby Cadena at Kallari Chocolate, offering to send me some sample bars and asking if I’d be willing to review them here. You might imagine that my first response was “Free chocolate? Are you kidding? Yes, please!” But the truth of the matter is, I get a lot of emails of this sort. I don’t generally agree to review a product unless 1.) it’s a natural fit–and you’d be surprised how many people claim to have read and loved this blog, all the while asking me to feature their handmade jewelry or driver’s training course or some other product that, while it may be fabulous, has little or nothing to do with food–and 2.) it comes from a source that clearly needs free advertising. Once I receive the product, it has to 3.) receive a positive review from the Foodie family, because I don’t write negative reviews. I think stony silence is the most effective negative review on the market.
So you will be pleased to learn that Kallari Chocolate makes its appearance here today, both because 1.) it’s edible and 2.) it’s made by a small, farmer-owned cooperative in Ecuador that uses sustainable farming methods. And, I am happy to report, 3.) they produce a truly superior product. Seriously, this is chocolate worth the money.
Gaby sent me three bars of Kallari Chocolate–70% cacao, 75%, and 85%. You’ll note that the 70% bar isn’t pictured above, and that’s because we ate it immediately after it arrived. Sweet, creamy chocolate bliss. Gone in seconds. Then we decided we should have some sort of method to our review, so we agreed to eat the next two bars in order of cacao content. Yesterday, we shared the 75% bar and discovered that we liked it even more than the 70%, though none of us really believed that would be possible. Today, we tried out the 85% bar. Although it’s pleasantly creamy, not dry and mealy as some dark chocolate can be, we all agreed it was a little too bitter for snacking purposes. I’m going to buy additional bars and try out this recipe for Chocolate Tres Leches Cake from the Kallari website (although I’ll have to make a gluten-free version. Naturally, I’ll report back with my results.)
Chocolate is one of those products that many people take for granted–it’s right there at the checkout stand at your local grocery store, and it’s right there on the shelf in the baking aisle. Many of us don’t even think about the fact that chocolate starts with farmers. In this case, chocolate starts with 850 farming families who want to support themselves by charging a fair price for a product that tastes the way it should. We were all amazed that Kallari Chocolate (even the 85% bar) was so silky. That, apparently, is due to the use of cocoa butter as an emulsifier. Cocoa butter, you will be pleased to know, contains high levels of stearic acid, which helps to control the levels of cholesterol in your body. In other words, this is a snack you can feel good about eating for many, many reasons.
For the next month or so, Kallari is running a Kickstarter campaign in the hope of raising enough money to start producing chipped chocolate that will work in your favorite recipes. Take a moment to consider, if you will, your favorite chocolate chip cookies made with truly exceptional chocolate chips. Will you pay more for those chocolate chips? Of course. You always pay more for better quality. But in this case, you’re also paying more because you’re offering a fair wage to the farmers who put that chocolate in your hands. I’m hoping the Kallari chocolate chips will be available in time for the Christmas baking season, because they’ll make for some very special holiday treats.
I hope you’ll think about donating to the Kickstarter campaign–or, at the very least, try a bar of their chocolate for yourself, or buy a bar for a friend if you’re a crazy non-chocolate-loving person. (You can use this link to find a retailer near you or an online chocolate source.) I’m always in favor of buying straight from the farmer who raised your food . It’s important to remember that those farmers are involved with more than our fruits and veggies, though–they’re behind our favorite sweet treats, too.
Friday, July 12, 2013
Two years ago today, my dad died. He’d been in generally failing health for about five years, but his death wasn’t imminent when I went home to Idaho for what was supposed to be a short visit–in fact, for the first two days I was home, he seemed perfectly fine. But I wound up staying for almost two weeks, because my dad died on the day I was supposed to be heading back to the Foodie family.
It goes without saying that I miss my dad. But I’m at a point where I can think about his death and recognize that it happened, for the most part, exactly the way I would have wanted it to. He didn’t suffer. He was at home, in a familiar room, surrounded by people he loved. And I was with him. Standing beside his bed, holding his hand and rubbing his arm, telling him everything would be all right.
And it was. Parents aren’t meant to outlive their children–they’re supposed to go first. My dad lived longer than anyone might have expected, given his rough start in life and a military career that included three serious combat injuries (not to mention the fact that he was a smoker, and had been since the age of twelve.) He lived a mostly happy life, and when he died at 84 there was only love between us. He didn’t know me anymore, but when he did, I knew he loved me. And I loved him. And that, too, is exactly as it should be.
The last thing I made for my dad was Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake. I had intended to mark this day by making it again. But then it occurred to me that maybe it was time to commemorate the fact that, although I still wish he were here, the fact that he’s gone is not a flaw in the universe. It’s just a natural part of life. And so I decided to create a new recipe–Rhubarb Right-Side-Up Cake–to reflect the fact that everything is as it should be. Everything is all right, just as I told my dad it would be.
This recipe works best with small, narrow stalks of rhubarb. I was pleasantly surprised to find some on sale at my grocery store this week, after resigning myself to using only frozen rhubarb. If you can’t find narrow rhubarb stalks, just dice up the larger pieces. And if you don’t have turbinado sugar for sprinkling on top, granulated sugar works too. Either way, your cake will be just fine.
Rhubarb Right-Side-Up Cake
1 1/8 cup flour (I used Pamela's Gluten-Free Artisan Blend)
2/3 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3 T. butter, melted and cooled
3 T. buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
2 cups rhubarb--sliced if using narrow stalks, diced if not
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling on top (granulated sugar will work too)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-inch round cake pan with non-stick spray and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Whisk to combine the dry ingredients, then set this bowl aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the eggs, melted butter, buttermilk, and extracts. Whisk to combine, then pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture. Use a spatula and stir just until the dry ingredients have been incorporated.
Pour the batter into your prepared cake pan. Evenly sprinkle the chopped rhubarb over the top, then sprinkle turbinado sugar over the rhubarb. The rhubarb will sink into the cake batter a little way, but that's fine.
Bake for about 35 minutes, until a knife inserted at the center comes out clean.
Saturday, July 6, 2013
On the same day I made strawberry rhubarb jam this week, I made these luscious Rhubarb Almond Bars. (The rhubarb was thawed, I had the kitchen heated up–it seemed like a logical decision. Also, I honestly can’t have too much rhubarb in my life.) I started with this recipe from Midwest Living, which sounded really delicious but needed a gluten-free treatment if I was going to be able to enjoy them.
Here’s the result:
Gooey, delicious rhubarb with a little crunch of almond. The original recipe called for pecans or walnuts, and I think those might be very tasty, but almond and rhubarb is a combination that’s hard to beat. I also added almond extract to the fruit filling, just for an extra layer of flavor, and used tapioca in place of flour for a thickener. Either one will work, and if you’re used to using flour as a thickener in pie filling, you might want to stick with that. I’ve always preferred the texture I get from tapioca.
This recipe does call for oats, and in the gluten-free community oats are somewhat controversial. It’s widely believed that certified gluten-free oats are safe for people who need to stay away from gluten completely, but some people choose to avoid them anyway because oats are often grown near wheat. Oats themselves do not contain gluten; the gluten-free designator is meant to signify that the oats in question have been grown apart from wheat and processed in a dedicated gluten-free facility. If you have celiac disease, you’ll definitely want to seek out gluten-free oats, if you choose to eat them at all. If, like me, your gluten sensitivity is less severe, you might be okay with regular oats. As with all things dietary, the key is to pay attention to your body. If regular oats make you feel bloated and nauseous, then try a gluten-free variety and see if that makes a difference.
I also used a gluten-free flour blend in place of regular all-purpose flour, and instead of mixing the almonds into the crust I sprinkled them over the top of the rhubarb filling before adding the second layer of crumb. I wanted the almonds to be visible and whole, not crunchy little bits that disappeared into the crust of these bars. As you can see from the photos, the sliced almonds are definitely visible. They add a really nice bit of contrast to the soft crumb and the gooey fruit filling.
What I love most about these bars is that they’re rustic and homey, which is what I think rhubarb is meant to be. They’re certainly not low-calorie, but a little indulgence is a good thing once in awhile. These are very tender fork-and-plate bars, not a dessert to eat out of hand, and they’re delicious warm or cold–although, like all gluten-free baked goods, they’ll be crumbly if you eat them while they’re warm.
Rhubarb Almond Bars
For the rhubarb filling:
3 cups of sliced rhubarb, fresh or frozen
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
2 T. tapioca
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
For the base and topping:
1 1/2 cups flour (I used Pamela's Artisan Blend)
1 1/2 cups oats
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into cubes and chilled
1/2 cup sliced almonds
In a large saucepan, combine the rhubarb, sugar, and water. Cook over medium-high heat until the rhubarb starts to release some its juices, then stir in the tapioca. Bring this mixture to a boil. Cover the saucepan and reduce the heat slightly. Let the rhubarb simmer for about 5 minutes, until the fruit falls apart and the mixture thickens. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and almond extracts. Let the filling cool while you're making the crumb.
Lightly coat a 9 x 13 inch pan with non-stick spray and set it aside. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, oats, brown sugar, and baking soda. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the cold butter into the dry mixture until you have pea-sized crumbs. Reserve 1 cup of this crumb mixture for the topping.
Pour the remaining crumb mixture into your prepared 9 x 13 pan. Spread it evenly across the bottom of the pan, then press down firmly to make the base. Spread the rhubarb mixture evenly over the top of this layer. Sprinkle the rhubarb with the almonds. Finally, sprinkle the reserved crumb mixture over everything.
Bake for about 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the fruit is bubbly. (My bars took more like 35 minutes. Your mileage may vary.) Cool and cut into bars.
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
I love rhubarb. It’s one of my favorite flavors of summer, but fresh rhubarb is really hard to find in Texas. I was lucky enough to find some fresh rhubarb at my favorite farmer’s market last year . . .
But this year, no such luck. I imagine it must be hard to produce in the kind of heat that’s common to our area, because I know it isn’t hard to grow. In the Northwest, rhubarb literally grows like a weed. My dad’s large garden featured a single rhubarb plant, which always provided more than enough rhubarb stalks for pie, torte, jam, and anything else my mom wanted to make with it.
Meanwhile, in South Texas, fresh rhubarb sells for $6.99 a pound at the grocery store. I love rhubarb, but not that much.
Fortunately, I was able to find frozen rhubarb for $2.99 a bag at my local Sprouts grocery store. (If you have a Sprouts in your area, I highly recommend it for its selection of gluten-free flours and frozen foods.) I’d had enough trouble locating rhubarb that I was tempted to buy every bag they had in the freezer case. I didn’t want to be a rhubarb hog, though, so I bought four bags and left the rest behind. But I may well make another trip to Sprouts later this week, now that I’ve used up all four bags, and if there’s still rhubarb available at this point, it’s every Foodie for him or herself.
This morning, I made two rhubarb recipes: Rhubarb-Almond Bars (recipe forthcoming) and this small-batch recipe for Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam.
This stuff is beyond delicious and right on into sublime. It’s slightly tart–the strawberries add a bit of sweetness that rhubarb lacks, but the rhubarb keeps this jam from being overly sweet, which is my objection to most store-bought varieties of jam. Because this is a small batch recipe, you’ll need only a pound of strawberries and one 12-ounce bag of frozen rhubarb–or about 2 1/2 cups sliced, if you’re lucky enough to have fresh rhubarb available in your area. Just slice the rhubarb stalks crosswise, the way you’d slice celery. It will break apart while you’re cooking it, so don’t worry about the uniformity of pieces.
Although this recipe calls for pectin (available at your local grocery store, on the same aisle where you’ll find canning jars and other cooking equipment), it isn’t absolutely necessary–cooking the fruit long enough will yield the thick consistency you’re looking for. Pectin just speeds up the time by which you’ll reach this consistency. Before you start making jam, put a small plate in your freezer and use it to test the consistency of your cooked fruit. A drop of the hot jam should solidify after running a little way on a tipped plate. If it keeps on running to the edge of the plate, it’s not done. Wipe off the plate, put it back in the freezer, and give your jam a few more minutes on the stove before testing it again.
This recipe yields about four pints of jam. Store it in the freezer and save a jar for the deep midwinter, when you’re craving a bright taste of summery goodness.
Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
1 pound strawberries, quartered
1 12-oz. bag of frozen rhubarb, or 2 1/2 cups fresh, sliced rhubarb
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 T. pectin
Before you start cooking the jam, put a small plate in your freezer. You'll use this to test the consistency of your jam.
In a large saucepan, stir together the strawberries, rhubarb, and sugar. Cook the fruit mixture over medium-high heat until it begins to release some of its juice; then sprinkle the pectin over everything and stir to combine. Bring this mixture to a boil, then turn the heat down slightly. Mash the fruit to whatever consistency you prefer (very chunky or relatively smooth) using a potato masher or the back of your spoon.
Continue stirring the fruit mixture once in awhile. The jam will splatter as it thickens, so use a spoon with a long handle and stand back from the stove. When the mixture is thick enough to coat your spoon, retrieve your plate from the freezer. Place a drop of the hot fruit mixture at the center of the plate and tip it sideways. If the jam stops running halfway between the center and edge of the plate, it's done. If it keeps running, wipe off the plate and put it back the in the freezer. Allow the jam to cook for two more minutes, then test it again.
When the jam is done, allow it to cool just slightly before you transfer the hot mixture to jars. After the jars cool to room temperature, store them in the refrigerator or, for long-term storage, in the freezer. Jam stored in the refrigerator should be used within a week.
Monday, June 17, 2013
Back at the beginning of my days as The Family Foodie, I told the story of my nemesis, Jell-o. I have no idea why something as simply as Jell-o gives me so much trouble, and neither does anyone else in the Foodie family–especially when you consider that I’m capable of making fairly complex things. Jell-o is powder dissolved in hot water, with a splash of cold water added to the mix. Once refrigerated, you have the finished product. Simple, no?
No. Not for me.
In all honesty, I think my trouble with Jell-o comes down to two things I lack: patience and precision. Jell-o requires hot water: not boiling water, which will prevent gelatin from solidifying, and not tepid water, which will prevent it from dissolving. Jell-o also requires precise measurements of water or ice, and I freely confess that I’m not big on measurement. Given the fact that no one else has the same trouble with Jell-o, I can only conclude that the problem is mine and not the product’s.
In that same early post, I conceded defeat to Jello-o and to The Hubs’ family recipe for Lemon Whip, one of his favorite desserts. But anyone who knows me also knows that I don’t deal well with defeat. Especially not in the kitchen. So I decided to give the recipe another try this year, for Father’s Day again. He remembers this dessert from the family gatherings of his childhood, and he remembers helping his mom crush the graham crackers that make up the crust, and he especially remembers that it wasn’t hard to make, because his mother was not a skilled kitchenista. “If it were difficult to make,” he said, “she wouldn’t even have tried to make it.”
Still, I was afraid my Lemon Whip would pale by comparison, so I decided to take this recipe in a slightly different direction and make it Raspberry Whip, using raspberry Jell-o rather than lemon–although I did keep the lemon juice from the original recipe. It adds a tart edge to a dessert that I suspect would be too sweet otherwise. That neon pink color you see in the photo above? That’s the raspberry Jell-o, in all its glory. This isn’t meant to be a fresh and fruity dessert but, rather, a visit to the convenience foods of our childhood. The Hubs and I were both born in the 60′s, raised in the 70′s. Convenience foods were the staples of our lives, and although we don’t eat them much anymore, we can’t deny that it’s a comfort to return to them once in awhile.
I made this recipe gluten-free by using Kinnikinnick Graham Style Crumbs. I was really pleased with both the taste and texture, which are essentially indistinguishable from regular graham cracker crumbs. I learned through trial and much, much error that you need to use full-fat evaporated milk in this recipe; fresh cream would probably be easier, but it also has a higher fat content and would give the dessert a heavier texture. The evaporated milk also needs to be very well chilled in order to be dense enough to whip. (Evaporated milk was often used in place of fresh cream during World War II, with a little bit of gelatin thrown in to give the milk more body. Once fresh cream was readily available again, no one took the time to chill and whip evaporated milk. But learning how to do this will save you a few fat grams, if you’re counting calories.)
My version of Raspberry Whip came out a little less fluffy than what The Hubs remembers, but I was pleased with any result that didn’t resemble soup–that’s where I’ve been in the past, when it came to Lemon Whip. And of course, wonderful man that he is, The Hubs said he liked my Raspberry Whip even better than the lemony original. The Girl tried a piece and, because she didn’t know the graham cracker crumbs were gluten-free, couldn’t taste any difference at all; she liked the raspberry flavor, even though she isn’t a fan of Jell-o in general. The Boy was very hesitant to try anything as unnaturally pink as Raspberry Whip, but once I convinced him to take a small bite, he admitted “That’s actually pretty tasty.”
And so we call a truce, Jell-o and I. It doesn’t seem likely that I’ll be whipping out many jiggly desserts in the near future, but I’m pleased that I was able to recreate something that made Father’s Day a little more special for The Hubs.
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 can evaporated milk (not 2% or fat free)
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup hot (not boiling) water
1 small package raspberry Jell-o
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Reserve a half cup of the graham cracker crumbs. Spread the rest evenly across the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch pan. Set the pan aside.
Pour the evaporated milk into a metal mixing bowl and add the sugar; stir to dissolve. Place the bowl, and the beaters from your mixer, in the freezer until ice crystals begin to form around the edges. This will take at least 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how cold your freezer is.
Meanwhile, dissolve the Jell-o in hot water. Let this mixture cool completely and thicken slightly, until it's the consistency of egg whites. Stir in the lemon juice.
Retrieve the mixing bowl and beaters from your freezer. Whip the evaporated milk until it's thick and foamy. Slowly add in the Jell-o mixture and continue whipping. Pour the filling over the graham cracker crumbs in the prepared pan; sprinkle the reserved crumbs over the top. Refrigerate until set.