Monday, November 29, 2010

Whole Wheat Banana Bread

I can't tell you how many metric tons of Bananas I've thrown out over the years. I buy a bunch, with best intentions, eat a few when I get home, watch over the course of a few days as they get spotty, and then one day, I notice that they're too soft to eat, and the fruit flies have noticed. The irony inherent in this is, the bananas are almost ready to be made into banana bread at this point... and I've been throwing them away. They're black gold! (ew)

I've been saving over-ripe bananas in the freezer. It's really the best place for it. Right before they're pretty much gone, I freeze them. We came home from the grocery store last night, and I ran out of room in the freezer. So today, I decided, was banana bread day. I pulled the bananas out... and woke up to a puddle of slime on the counter, under some truly black and gnarly ugliness. One of the bananas was so soft inside, the peel had kinked a bit under its own weight, and started to ooze all over the top of the kitchen island. Not exactly what I'd call appetizing. And far beyond what I'd ever considered keeping.

This is a picture of the bowl with most of the ingredients. Note the presence of a buttery yellow. This is the color of the bananas. Kinda gross, right?

This recipe is adapted from the King Arthur Whole Grain Baking cookbook:

The ingredient list:

-3-4 way over-ripe bananas
-1/2 stick of butter
-1/2 cup packed brown sugar
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-1/2 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
-1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
-2 eggs
-3/4 tsp baking soda
-1/4 cup honey
-2 Cup whole wheat flour

The recipe calls for 1/2 cup of walnuts. But I hate walnuts. And the last time I had this bread, it was made by my then-roommate with chocolate chips and craisins. (Seth is clearly a genius) Good enough for me... so I added a fistful of each, as well as a little bit of black strap molasses. (yum)

The recipe calls for a 5x9 loaf pan. I used 2, 5x7 casserole dishes.  Whatever your vessel of choice, it needs to be greased. And the oven needs to be pre-heated to 350.

Mix all the liquid and soft ingredients with the sugar and spices until smooth. Then add the flour, chips and craisins. Pour into the dish/ pans/ whatever, and let it sit at 10 minutes at room temperature. Then put into the oven.

After 50 minutes, cover the loaf/ loaves loosely with aluminum foil. 10-12 minutes later, check with a fork, toothpick, whatever. If the cake-checker-outer comes out clean, the banana bread is done. And if I sound a little punchy, it's because the chocolate has entered my system, and I'm a little giddy.

This is some tasty banana bread. I don't know who came up with the idea of making banana bread. But somebody somewhere decided to fly in the face of all logic and slime-nasty bananas, and at this particular moment, I love this person.

As I write this, the loaves have been out for just under an hour. One of the two is almost gone... two pieces to me, two to Ariel, and one into A's lunch bag.

Kielbasa and Eggs for breakfast!

Ariel and I both like to eat eggs for breakfast. Recently, we've been eating them with kielbasa. Ariel has found that it carries her through more of her day than just having eggs for breakfast. And given her grueling schedule of late, that's been really helpful.

The procedure is pretty simple... I take a hunk of frozen kielbasa from the freezer, and slice it into very thin (1mm-ish) slices. That goes into a pre-heated skillet on medium-low, and it starts sizzling right away. And then I cook my eggs. I happened on the idea of using kielbasa after I'd sliced some up and cooked it for another dish. One piece was left in the pan by accident, and burned. Being the kind of guy I am, I picked up the burned piece and stuck it in my mouth. The crispy burned slice tasted just like bacon.

But is it healthy?

Like most Americans, I'm still pretty confused about whether or not eggs are good for you. Good or bad cholesterol, high protein, and so on. There was a recent study at Harvard that noted that men who ate up to 6 eggs per week did fine, but that those who ate 7 or more eggs per week had an increased risk for dying of anything in general. There are a lot of weird things going on in the study, and it's not very conclusive about why or how eggs would be a factor. But, Harvard gives a 6 egg limit, and the Mediterranean diet has a guideline of 4 or fewer eggs per week, so the message I'm taking away is that eggs should be eaten in moderation.

Moderation? I've heard for years that even unhealthy things can be eaten in moderation, and it won't be so bad. I take this with a grain of salt (in moderation) because I've heard for most of my life that some of the best things are REALLY unhealthy. And given what many Americans think of as an acceptable portion, a moderated portion may still be way too much. And given the way our news media functions, I'm waiting for them to come out with a study somewhere that says moderation causes a really ugly, flammable cancer of the sort that would condemn you to the stopped-up bowels of hell.

Thanks to the recent bacon mania, recipes from Bacon Explosion to numerous chocolate-bacon recipes, and even bacon recipes published by a cardiologist in Israel (WTF!!??!!) are running well beyond the bounds of what would be considered even marginally healthy. Bacon dipped in Chocolate is now being served at the same state fairs that made deep-fried twinkies popular. How such an evil coexists so peaceably with Bible Belt baptists is almost beyond me. Holy crap.

Restricting myself to 4-6 eggs a week sounds a lot healthier than a moderated portion of deep fried twinkies and chocolate covered bacon. But I'm not really in a position to point fingers when it comes to my love of fried swine. 

Like any other person who's been exposed, I do have a thing for bacon. And it's hard to wrap the mind around combining 'bacon' in a sentence with 'moderation.' Part of the reason I'm talking about kielbasa and eggs is that I find that kielbasa is a lot easier to use in moderation. The flavor is fantastic. But a little goes a long way, so it's easy to use a small amount. And I don't get the same cravings for kielbasa that I do for bacon.

Kielbasa is the polish word for sausage. It's not a specific recipe. But most of us in the US have a pretty specific flavor in mind when someone says Kielbasa. It's a pork-, or pork and beef- based sausage that's flavored with garlic and marjoram. I've been using regular, full-fat pork or pork/beef kielbasa, because I've found that it just tastes the best. I've tried turkey kielbasa. It smells great while cooking, but has no real flavor. And lite kielbasa's not bad, but it doesn't cook up as well without adding more oil (fat) to the pan. Full fat kielbasa tastes a little better, cooks easier, and it does leave some grease in the pan, so it's clear that some of the fat content is cooking off in the process. But it's not the oil-slick tidal pool of greasiness that you get when cooking bacon.

There are 3 real dietary health issues involved in bacon and its substitutes: Fat, Nitrates and Sodium.


I looked up some of the basic nutrition info for this entry, and compared it with bacon.

2oz of bacon (around 4-5 slices): 302 Calories.
Calories from fat: 106: 4g saturated fat.
647 mg of Sodium.

2oz of Hillshire Farm Polish Kielbasa: 100 Calories.
Calories from fat: 140: 0g saturated fat, 6g monounsaturated fat.
570 mg Sodium

(other alternatives, for comparison)

2oz Butterball turkey bacon (4 slices): 140 calories
Calories from fat: 60: 2g saturated fat
540 Mg of Sodium.

2oz (7 strips) morningstar vegetarian strips: 210 calories
Calories from fat:140: 1.75g saturated fat, 3.5g monounsaturated fat, 10.5g polyunsaturated fat
805 mg of Sodium.

Clearly kielbasa isn't the healthiest meat in the world. But it's much better than bacon. (Both are healthier than anything labeled 'breakfast sausage,' but that's a whole other topic. ) And ounce-for-ounce, it's has fewer calories than turkey- or veggie- 'bacon'. Given the vegetarian reputation for being a healthier diet, I was surprised to find that the sodium in the vegetarian option was so much worse than any of the other options.(That said, I don't think it's loaded up with nitrates, so maybe it all balances out.)


Meat products need to be cured in something to protect us from all kinds of microbial nastiness, and to keep the meat from rotting. And in the case of pork products, it also helps protect us from things like roundworms. Historically speaking, the discovery of how to cure meat was really important. Lacking the option to refrigerate, the ability to preserve meat for a long time enabled people to travel greater distances and explore areas of the globe that had been previously inaccessible.

Historically, meat was cured with salt and sugar. but more modern processes use nitrates, which have been linked with a whole host of health issues, including various kinds of cancer. Bacon is cured. So is Kielbasa. But uncured options have been appearing as people began to understand the health issues. Trader Joe's, of all places, has one of the best-rated uncured bacon options. (I've tried it... it tastes wonderful.) They also have an uncured pork kielbasa that I haven't tried yet... but it's on the list. Given TJ's reputation for quality, affordable food, and my experiences with their bacon, I'm pretty confident.

Sodium is another issue when eating kielbasa. 2oz, or 1/8 of a pound, has around 25% of the daily recommended dose of sodium. This is better by half than bacon, on par with turkey bacon, and definitely better than the morningstar strips... but still not ideal. But a little kielbasa can go a long way if it's sliced thinly. So we don't typically eat 2oz worth with our eggs.


So, kielbasa is a healthier substitute for bacon. And nutrition-wise, it's pretty comparable to some of the other bacon substitutes. After doing the research and reading everything I just wrote, I'm almost ready to give a hearty, demoralized 'whoop-de-doo.'

But at the end of all of this, we're still talking about bacon and eggs. And bacon is not exactly the gold standard when it comes to healthy eating. So, take that statement without any grains of salt, since there's already enough salt in the sausage. The health issues aren't new to anyone, and this is still something that people do enjoy once in a while. Some people have turned to turkey bacon or a vegetarian equivalent. I'm just trying to offer something tastier.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Date night! Soup in bread bowls, part 2

So, this was originally going to be cream of sweet potato and peanut soup, but we made a last-minute switch, and made cream of broccoli, instead.

We were also going to do date night on Saturday. We ended up doing it on Monday, instead.

So, part 2: Cream of broccoli soup, to go in the bread bowls!

The recipe is taken from a soup cookbook that I've had for a while.

-2 pounds (around  4-5 stalks) chopped broccoli. Separate the thick stems, peel them and chop them.
-1 medium onion, chopped.
-1 leek, sliced lengthwise and chopped
-2 celery stalks, chopped
-.25 Cup olive oil.
-1/4 Cup all-purpose flour
-1.5 Qt chicken broth
-.5 cup cream
-.5 tsp dill
-Lemon juice, salt, pepper, to taste

Chop up the vegetables. Don't be too fussy about it, they're all going to go into the blender later, and then get strained. For this reason, it's actually preferable to chop the celery as coarsely as possible... that way the fibers will be strained out more easily. Otherwise, they can get through the straining process, and end up in the final soup. I know, it's just celery. But fibers in a cream soup is really not a good texture. Good cream soup will coat the mouth, and be very comforting. A celery fiber in that context feels almost like a hair. 

Cook the vegetables in the olive oil on medium heat, stirring frequently until the onions start to become translucent. (~8 minutes) Then add the flour, and cook for another 4 minutes, still stirring frequently.

Add the broth slowly, and add the dill. Bring to a simmer, and cook for 45 minutes.

The recipe says to strain the liquids. I'm not too fussy about this step. Scoop the vegetables into the blender, hold the lid down, and puree. I typically fill the blender cup half-way, because if the cup is too full, the stirring hot liquid heats up the remaining air, and the pressure pops the lid off a little bit. It's messy.

Puree the soup, and then strain into a new bowl or pot. Season to taste.

And, the money shot: cream of broccoli served in the bread bowls:

The experience was similar to last time. The soup itself is great. So, we each had seconds. And then we started working on the bowls, and felt almost immediately full. My theory is that the dough for the bread bowls is so full of whole grain goodness (oat flour, oatmeal, and oat bran, in particular) that it all swells up almost immediately in the stomach. Neither of us could finish eating the bowls. So, if you're planning a nice dinner for two, my suggestion is to scoop out more of the bread bowls, and leave dinner as a single-serving kind of meal. Alternately, if you're feeding a crowd, use regular bowls for the soup, and serve the bread, cut up into pieces, or crumbled, to put into the soup. The dough will soak up the soup very well, and turn it into a stew-like texture that is very, very filling.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Date night! Soup in bread bowls, part 1

Once in a while, we like to have a quiet date night at home. It's a good excuse for me to pull out some more involved, or fancier recipes. This entry is the first of what will be an ongoing segment on date night meals.

I've been making cream of sweet potato and peanut soup for years. Last week I got ambitious, and decided to serve this soup in home-made bread bowls. It turned out very well, and I was very sorry that I hadn't documented any of it. So, I'm making it again. : )

Edit, 11/27/10: So, I was going to make cream of sweet potato. I'll make that another time. We ended up making cream of broccoli soup instead. 

It's important to remember that bread bowls must be made at least a day in advance. The reason for this is that you want the crust to dry out a little bit. Fresh out of the oven bread is still a little soft, and adding soup to a soft bread bowl is a recipe for disaster, as it will soak right through the outer layer of bread, and the bowl will fall apart.

The bread I used for the bowls was a loaded up variant of the basic honey-wheat bread I wrote about a few weeks ago. This is one of the great things about bread... it's really easy to successfully improvise. The nutmeg was an inspired touch, and it worked very well with the soup. That said, it did make for an odd-taste when used in sandwiches.

 Date night is tomorrow night, so I'm baking these today.

Nutmeg-Multigrain Bread Bowls:

This bread has the following ingredients:
-3 Cups all purpose flour
-2 Cups Whole Wheat flour
-2 Cups Oat Flour
-A handful of oat bran
-A handful of wheat bran
-A handful of quaker oatmeal
-Peel from one lemon, grated
-1 Tsp salt
-1 Tsp Nutmeg
-1/4 Cup or more of honey
-a little bit ( 1Tbsp? I didn't measure) of black strap molasses*
-3 Tbsp melted butter
-around 2.5 cups of warm water.

It's a nice, dense dough, full of all kinds of wholesome stuff. It's a little sticky at first, because there's a lot of water. Oat flour and oatmeal are known for being absorbent, so this does go away.

Follow normal bread-making recipe procedure. But instead of forming two big loaf, form the dough into 4 ball shapes. Then let them rise, and put them into the oven.

To be continued...


*Black strap molasses is not to be confused with regular molasses. The first time I ever heard of black strap molasses, no kidding, was in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. This pretty much guaranteed that I would end up seeking it out. I'm glad I did: Black Strap is really healthy. It's basically the by-product of making sugar, and it's loaded with nutrients and minerals. Only 2 tsp of Black strap provides 13.3% of the recommended daily dose of iron, 12% of calcium, 14% of copper, 18% of manganese, 9.7% of potassium, and 7.3% of magnesium. All of these things are important and good for you. If White sugar is pure calories that's been stripped of anything healthy, Black strap is the dumping ground for sugar's missing nutritional value. And it tastes great in morning coffee.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A few of my favorite things

I just wanted to make a quick post, to sing the praises of a few things that have made this kitchen a pleasure to cook in, instead of the nightmare that it could have been. 

Pot racks. I don't know how I would have survived this kitchen without them. I bought them simply because I have too many pots and pans to store easily. I still have too many, but this floating row of hooks also shines in keeping frequently used tools close at hand. A utensil holding jug or other contraption would have taken up counter space that we don't have, and not been as easy to use. (I know, we used to use one.) The usual suspects are also not in the drawer at the other end of the kitchen, where they'd be less accessible in a hurry. Instead, they're within arm's reach of the stove, where they're most useful.

Similar argument for my magnetic knife block. This particular model is made by a company named Bench Crafted. I like this particular knife holder for two reasons: It's not a big block that takes up counter space, and the surface is made of wood... so it's not going to beat the crap out of my nice, sharp knives when the magnets take hold and slam the blades in.

The food processor. It's amazing how much I'd forgotten how useful this thing was. I think I'd kept it in the cabinet for most of the last 7 or 8 years. I bought it 13 years ago when I lived in Houston, and put it away when I moved up here. I think I really started putting it back to use when I started this blog, and I gave it a designated home on the kitchen island. I'm not sure if I'm cooking more new recipes because I have the food processor at hand, of if I'm using the food processor more because I'm cooking more new recipes. Lately it's been put to use with chick pea burgers, chopping and slicing and mixing ingredients for spaghetti sauce, numerous kinds of hummus, batter for German Apple Pancakes, cabbage and onion dishes, and on and on. It's been a reliable workhorse. Don't get me wrong, I love using my kitchen knives. But the truth is, the food processor does the same job, in less time, using less space, and without needing to transfer the ingredients from board to bowl. My only real complaint is that it's not a full sized, 14 cup model. If I was regularly cooking for more than just the 2 of us, it might be more of an issue. But for now, it's just fine.

And last but not least, the unsung hero that I've been able to take for granted for years. The kitchen island. I originally found it abandoned in the basement of an apartment that I was living in a few years ago. I added wheels, I think. And I definitely added the butcher block top.  24x30 is pretty much all the room I really need for most food prep, bread making, and so on. If I'm cooking for 9 or 10 people, I'll need a little more space, but not much. There's enough storage in the bottom to hold a lot of pots and pans and 'stuff.'  I've been using this thing for almost 8 years now, and I haven't really felt the need for something bigger. After almost a decade, something newer and a little bit nicer might be nice. That notion was put in my head while building a much nicer one (sans cabinet) for my in-laws over the summer... but that's not the same thing as actually needing one. This particular detail in my kitchen is like any other well-executed detail: it serves its purpose cleanly, without calling attention to itself. It works well enough that I never notice it. In my mind, that's the ideal when you're working in the kitchen: Usually when you notice something, it's because it's not working, or not as well as it should.

One small detail about all of these things... they're all within arm's reach of the stove. In essence, I have everything I normally need, right where I need it. That makes a huge difference in everything.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Primer for cast iron skillets (and other cast iron cookware)

We got a cast iron skillet as a wedding present. There was a short learning curve about proper care and handling, but I'm wishing now that I'd looked into cast iron sooner.

Reading up on proper handling of cast iron proved to be a seriously dark, deep rabbit hole, and I was down there for a while. There was a lot of conflicting and half-baked information. With all of the recommendations I found for using crisco, bacon fat, or lard for cooking and seasoning, I was convinced that there was no way that using these pans was going to be healthy, kosher, or vegetarian-friendly. I found my way to the truth of it, though, and I'm finally out of the rabbit hole.

The best all-around primer I found was written by a guy named Paul Wheaton. There's a lot of information there about how to properly use cast iron. The egg frying video shows just how non-stick cast iron is: it was eye-opening. The tip on putting pepper in the pan before frying an egg is worth the price of admission alone. But for all the work that he's done to show that cast iron is robust and easy to use, Paul is also very insistent on using bacon grease for almost all of his cooking. And the pictures of his seasoning process had me pretty well convinced that he was missing something, somewhere.

Thankfully, Paul also referenced a blog entry by Sheryl Canter, on the chemistry of seasoning cast iron. Paul mentions that a lot of Sheryl's science is over his head. Some of it's over mine, too. But even though I haven't read up on the formation of polymers, she thoroughly spells out her logic and process, and details her results. Her explanation of her choice of oil to use when seasoning a pan made a lot of sense to me. And the photos of her seasoned pans convinced me that her scientific approach was far superior to the dogmatic, my-grandpa-said, "it's always done this way" approach of some of the other sources I found online. Sheryl's use of flax seed oil (Food-quality linseed oil, sold as an Omega-3 supplement), solved the kosher/vegetarian issue for me. And as a nice counterpoint to Paul's methods, Sheryl makes a good, if scary point about cooking with bacon grease:

"Since lard is traditional but no longer readily available, many people substitute bacon drippings, but this is a bad idea. If it’s conventional bacon, you’re baking in carcinogenic nitrates. But even organic bacon is not good for an initial seasoning because it’s filled with salt."

It's worth the time to go read the pages I mentioned above. Paul's for day to day use, and Sheryl's for seasoning and restoration. But these are what I consider to be the high points for restoring cast iron cookware:

-When stripping vintage cast iron cookware, use oven cleaner that contains lye, and bag the thing up while the lye goes to work. 24 hours later, put gloves on, take the pan out, and scrub off all of the black that you can. Repeat this process until the whole pan is down to bare, gray iron. Some of the professional resellers simply keep a lye bath in a plastic tub in their garage, and soak the pans for a few days. I'm not that fanatical or dedicated.

-Pre-heat the skillet before adding ANY oil.  If there is any water left in the pores of the skillet (and cast iron is very porous) the oil will not adhere. Once the pan is hotter than the boiling point of water, it will be absolutely bone dry. Since I'm already going to be seasoning the pan in the oven, I simply put the pan in while the oven is pre-heating.

-Season with flax seed oil. Heat the oven to 450-500 degrees. (whatever your max temp is) Wipe a very thin coat of oil on the pan, and then wipe off as much oil as possible. Then put the pan in the oven to basically burn the oil onto the pan. I left the skillet in the 500 degree oven for an hour, and then left it in there to cool after I turned the oven off.

---My experiences so far---

When I first got my little Griswold #3 in the mail, it was a mess. I scrubbed it down and tried to re-season the bare spots. I had a hard time. I tried olive oil, canola oil, crisco... all without any success. (I was also applying heavy coats to freshly washed, wet iron, which is not a recipe for success.) So, I finally took the whole thing to the sink and scrubbed out the black mess. And this is more or less the way it looked when I got it. I have a quiet suspicion that the reason it looked like this is because the previous owner had given up on trying to figure out how to properly season it. The bottom of the pan in particular was very thickly layered with caked on black stuff, and I could barely make out the Griswold logo.

After several failed attempts, and after reading Sheryl's blog entry, I decided to strip the whole thing down and start from scratch. I sprayed the pan down with oven cleaner and put it in a plastic bag. 24 hours later, I scrubbed it down, and decided it needed another round, so I sprayed it down again, with a heavier coat, bagged it up, and left it.

I was still left with a small patch or two of the original seasoning. I've given it a good scrubbing with some abrasive powders, and scraped at it with a table knife. It came off. Next step was to dry and bake the pan, which I did while pre-heating the oven for seasoning. It came out of the oven looking a little orangey in spots, which is to be expected. Water on cast iron results in rust. Oil gets rid of rust, so as soon as I gave it a good coating, all the orange disappeared.

This is what the pan looks like after the first coat getting baked on. It's a clean, matte finish. There are a few surface blemishes, but the coating is hard, and has a nice, even color to it.

After 5 coats, it's a nice brownish-black color. It's not glassy smooth just yet. I'm guessing that time and use will get it there. That's one of the nice things about cast iron: ongoing use will improve the non-stick quality of the pan. With all of the made-to-break cookware out there, it's nice to finally have something that has the potential to age gracefully, and the option to be user-repairable if it doesn't.

Update, 11/15/10

I realized a few weeks ago that smaller skillets don't seem proportioned for full-on cooking jobs. My reasoning... there's really not much room to move a skillet around in there. Rather, they seem proportioned for cooking up a single serving of a particular recipe, such as the German Apple Pancake recipe I discovered recently. So, my logic being what it is, this seemed like a good reason to pick up a second #3 sized skillet... so I could cook for two. This time I got an even older Griswold.

One of the things I'd read while I was down in the rabbit hole was that older skillets had a much better surface finish, and that the older Griswolds were superior in this regard. This seems to be true. Not only is the surface cleanly machined, but it lacks the concentric machining circles that are visible in the skillet above. Instead, it looks nicely sanded. And while the pan definitely needs to be reseasoned (it's in the oven now) it was glossy enough in spots when I got it that I have high hopes for this little skillet.

More later, this entry is long enough as it is.

Morning Muesli

I can't speak for everyone else, but I get stuck in a vicious cycle sometimes when it comes to thinking about things like the Mediterranean diet. I agree that it sounds great, I don't dispute the data that indicates that it's a healthier way to eat. But when it comes to thinking about actual meals, I completely come off the tracks.

7AM, coffee is brewing, this is not the time to try to think about what somebody on a whole other continent would eat for breakfast. How the hell do I know what they eat in the morning? Do they even drink coffee that early? I ran to Google, and one of the first links that came up explained that it was normal for Italians to eat cake and cookies for breakfast, and bacon and eggs for dinner. On the one hand, this is a meal plan I can get behind. On the other hand, even the demon on my shoulder is spouting a truly rich blend of profanity at the idea that this is being passed off as a healthy diet.

(Granted, the angel on my other shoulder has a foul mouth, too. I'm a complicated man.)

I don't think that regular Bircher-Benner Muesli is something I'd consider to be Mediterranean. I tend to think this because it's actually Scandinavian. But the basics are all there... whole grains, fruits, and yogurt. So, it's a stretch, but a comfortable one for me. My typical instinct these days is just to fry up a couple of eggs and some Kielbasa. Or eat processed cereal. Once in a while I'll go for oatmeal. Muesli seems like a healthier option.

Oatmeal, dried fruits and nuts, seeds, and so forth, is a good base. Chopped up apples adds a little more to the mix, and a few sliced grapes. The traditional version, according to the Mob-o-cratic internet, has a lot more fresh fruit than dried fruit, and the yogurt is just there to hold everything together, and soften up the grains.

The typical Swiss method of preparing muesli is to make it the night before, mix it in with some yogurt, and let it soak overnight. I'm in a much better mood in the evening, and all cylinders are firing. So I'm more likely to choose a healthier recipe. The concept of preparing the morning's meal when I'm actually awake (and not waking up) has proven to have a lot of merit.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Cold Weather... time for Cocoa

November's here. Daylight Savings is here. And at this very moment, it's raining outside. Cold, Dark, and Rainy. And few things make such days bearable like good cocoa.

I've done a lot of experimenting with making cocoa... what to mix in, what to leave out. I've even managed to make a really good cocoa using soy milk... but that's another story. I've settled on a few basics.

-Cocoa powder. I've used instant cocoa, I've used valrhona powdered bittersweet chocolate. There is a difference. But there's more to good cocoa than just the powder that's used. If you have the money, and you're a serious chocolate fiend, feel free to spend the extra cash.

-Use whole milk. Lowfat milk is acceptable skim will do, and even soy milk can be remarkably not bad, in a pinch. Don't make cocoa with water if you can help it.

-Sweeten with honey, not sugar. It's thicker, which helps, and the flavor is a lot mellower, and richer. Honey is the key ingredient for those of you who can't stomach milk, as it will even make soy milk work in this recipe.

-A splash of vanilla extract, if you have it. Coffee Liqueur is even better.

-A dash of chili powder. I know, I know, it sounds downright blasphemous. But chili-cocoa is a reason to Believe. The flavors blend in truly unexpected ways, and I, for one, have been unable to go back to regular cocoa. Use a small amount, and add carefully.

I've had some success with other additives in moderation, such as:

-raspberry jam (I think this is one of the things that helped the soymilk recipe work)
-black pepper
-red pepper

Last, and most important ingredient: Time.

Good cocoa is like a good hug. It's not something that's properly savored or enjoyed on the fly, or while working.