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Fiore: Dark Chocolate Balsamic

24 Jul

I recently received this lovely bottle of Fiore Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar as a gift. During my recipe research I found that balsamic vinegar is often paired with strawberries. I took full advantage of this common pairing for the dessert I chose to make. I wanted to explore the full range of flavors that can be inspired by balsamic vinegar, so I also made a savory dish of penne with beef and arugula.

Dessert First!

Strawberries Over Vanilla Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar Reduction

Strawberry Topping:

2 pints strawberries chopped

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons dark chocolate balsamic vinegar

1/4 teaspoon to a few grinds black pepper

Balsamic reduction:

3/4 cup dark chocolate balsamic vinegar

Introducing our cast of characters!

1. Chop your strawberries.

2. Add your sugar, balsamic, and a few grinds of black pepper.

3. Mix well. Make sure the strawberries are well blended with the other ingredients. Place in the fridge to rest. Stir periodically while cooking your dinner. This also gives you an excellent opportunity to test out your new strawberry mixture.

4. Pour your 3/4 cup of  dark chocolate balsamic vinegar into a small sauce pan and simmer until reduced by half. It took me about 20 minutes. Keep stirring and make sure the vinegar doesn’t burn.

When it is done the reduction should coat the spatula. As it cools the density will increase. When I was done with the reduction process the chocolate content had all floated to the surface so I had to fold it back in. Move the reduction into a serving vessel and set aside.

And now for dinner…

    Penne with Beef and Arugula
 recipe by Giada de Laurentiis
1 (1 pound) New York Strip Steak
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons
1 pound penne pasta
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for steak and pasta water
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for steak
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 cups arugula
1. Season your meat. I used italian seasoning instead of herbs de Provence.
2. While the meat is cooking set a pot to boil for the pasta. When the meat is done to your liking set it aside to rest.
3. As the pasta boils, wash the arugula and set it aside to be tossed with other ingredients.
5. Chop your fresh herbs, 1/4 cup basil and 1/4 cup parsley and add ground pepper and salt.
Combine with 3/4 cup of olive oil plus 3 Tbs, 1/4 cup dark chocolate balsamic vinegar, and 2 Tbs if dijon mustard for the dressing.
6. Thinly slice beef and toss with pasta, arugula, and dressing.
7. Serve and eat. It was delicious. I liked it so much I made it again a week later. The dark chocolate in the vinegar definitely added another dimension to the dish. The second time I made it I had run out of my dark chocolate Fiore and had to make it with regular balsamic vinegar. The chocolate lends a savory balance to the sweetness and tart kick, characteristic of balsamic vinegars.
And don’t forget dessert. After you have savored your dinner and cleared the dishes away at a leisurely pace pull your strawberries out of the fridge. Give them a stir. Scoop some ice cream into bowls, smother it with strawberries, and drizzle with your dark chocolate balsamic reduction. A little goes a long way. Enjoy this little twist on an old classic.
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5th Annual International Chocolate Salon: San Francisco

21 Apr

When I first found out about the International Chocolate Salon I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I just like the word salon. In this case, because it implies that there is a conversation, an exchange of ideas and methods in the art of chocolate.

As I strolled down from the Marina to Fort Mason, I thought about how I was going to approach such an overwhelming situation. What does one do when they are surrounded by table after table of chocolate in all of its delicious reincarnations? What should I taste? Who should I talk to? How will I not get sick from eating too much chocolate? What will I do if I clean out my bank account after being seduced  by a particularly sumptuous looking bunch of truffles?

By the time I arrived at the Festival Building I had decided that I would focus on bars from single origin, bean to bar companies, I would pick three, and I would only taste dark chocolate. The only tasting dark chocolate idea lasted till the second table from the door. I saw salted caramel truffles.

The salon was in full swing when I got there at 11:30 am. The event was very well attended, but not so crowded that you couldn’t snag yourself a sample of whatever chocolate confection or creation may have caught your eye. Also, the exhibitors were generally very helpful and knowledgeable. In several cases I was able to speak to the chocolatiers and chocolate makers themselves.They were all happy to talk about their greatest passion: chocolate.

This is Neo Cocoa’s spread. The salted caramel truffles that were my downfall. I love the time the exhibitors took with their presentation.

And now for our feature presentation:

http://www.cacaoatlanta.com

Kristen Hard (above) is the owner, founder, and chocolate maker behind Cacao Atlanta. As  you may have guessed, the company’s boutique and production facility are located in Atlanta, Georgia, which is where Kristen hails from as well. She is also the first female chocolate maker in the United States. An important specification is that chocolate makers start with the unroasted bean, chocolatiers start with something called chocolate liqueur, after the beans have been roasted, shelled, and ground into a paste. The reason I was originally drawn to Cacao Atlanta was the bars, but one of the interesting things about Kristen, is that while most chocolate makers stick to making bars, she also uses the chocolate that she makes for her own line of truffles. She actually began her chocolate business by creating a variety of herbally infused truffles, which were  not only delicious, but also contained healing properties.She is now heavily involved in sourcing the beans for Cacao Atlanta. She has developed relationships with all of the growers that she works with and considers them to be her friends. Once she decides to buy from someone she goes and participates in the harvest. She is also focused on working with farmers to improve all aspects of the production process, such as fermentation. Recently, she has been assisting the University of the West Indies in developing a documented fermentation method.

Love Bar (Patanemo) Straight Up 75% from Venezuela is one of my new favorites. This bar has a smooth caramel intensity, cushioning your senses with just the right amount of sweetness, so that you only notice the rich cocoa flavor. I think it was Oscar de la Renta that said something to the effect of, “When  you make a dress for a woman, you want people to look and say, “What a beautiful woman!”  not “What a beautiful dress!”.”

The logo is a flying cocoa pod.

http://www.snakeandbutterfly.com

Caught in action, talking about bean to bar.

These are the owners of Snake and Butterfly. From left to right, Celeste Flores, her father Vince Flores, and the guy in the hat as Vince told me. It turns out his name is Ben Bulik and it turns out he does research and development for Snake and Butterfly. They are located in Campbell, CA and I fully intend to go and check it out at some point.

What initially caught my eye in this box of chocolate bars was the third one in from the left. I had never seen a bar from Belize before. However, I seem to be following a trend because I  tasted a Venezuela 75%. It was rich and savory in a way that I haven’t tasted in a chocolate before. There was just the slightest suggestion of citrus at the end. It was bold, yet soft around the edges.

http://www.madecasse.com

Brett (above) and  Tim, his friend in the New York office, started Madecasse after being Peace Corps Volunteers. Their term of service ended, but their lives had become intertwined with those of the people with whom they had been living and working. They knew that 85% of the worlds cocoa comes from Africa, but only 1% is made there. Brett and Tim decided to create a company that would produce in the beans country of origin, but still sell to consumers in the United States. As a result four times more income is generated for the workers in Madagascar than if beans were shipped for production.

I tasted their Madagascar 70% and it is one of the juiciest chocolates I have ever had. The taste of berries floods your mouth. I would say blackberries with a little cranberry tartness. The interesting thing is that the fruitiness doesn’t linger. It recedes and the flavor of pure cocoa lingers and cleanly fades away.

Here is a list of the exhibitors if you want to explore.

SLO Down Wines strikes a pose.

They featured their wine “Sexual Chocolate”, which also has one of the most entertaining wine labels you will ever read. Chip, in the hat, is one of the winemakers.

As it turns out there was also wine tasting! How do you make a good thing better?

There will be an International Chocolate Salon Part II

Chocolate tasting intro

27 Mar

Chocolate tasting ABCs. This is going to be a very basic of outline of how to have a chocolate tasting.

1. Have no more than 6 different chocolates or take 15 to 20 minute breaks in between. Your taste buds will lose the ability to detect subtle flavors and you won’t experience the full flavor of the chocolate which all include a beginning, middle, and end.

2. Make sure your chocolate is room temperature. 65-72 degrees F. Too warm = melty, too cold = the full flavor will not be realized.

3. Break chocolate into 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch pieces. A small amount should be sufficient to experience all of the flavors in a high quality bar of chocolate.

4. Cleanse your palate! Use room temperature water as cold water reduces the effectiveness of your taste buds. Unsalted crackers can also do the trick if you are doing a tasting with particularly strong flavors.

5. Taste from light to dark since the flavors will become more complex and you will be more prepared to appreciate them. Taste buds will be primed and ready for intensity!

6. Having separate little plates is an obvious one, but here it is in the list anyway. Presentation is key. Not really, but it can make it a lot more fun and set the tone of your event. You can have a regional theme: The Americas. And a flavor theme: Fruity. Be creative. Also an excellent excuse to buy dishware, for which I have an affection.

7. Keep a tasting journal. Or just some way of documenting your responses, so you can remember and go back to your favorites and avoid the ones you weren’t so keen on. In my humble opinion, don’t worry about being overly fancy in your descriptions if you don’t want to be. People get weird about this stuff. The whole point is to eat some delicious chocolate and find your favorites, not show off your poetic stylings. However, if you have the skills show them off all you like. I attempt to avoid the pretense of the gourmand. However, some people just know their stuff no matter how insufferable they are.

Response categories

Aroma: sweet, sour, floral…

Texture: smooth, velvety, waxy, grainy (generally working to avoid this one unless it have nibs mixed in), creamy…

Flavor: I like the flavor wheel below from http://www.allchocolate.com. The descriptive possibilities are endless. The flavors listed on the wheel are just the tip of the iceberg. Run with it.

Duration: How long does the flavor linger in your mouth from start to finish? Is there an initial burst of fruity flavor or does it then mellow into a caramel, fading into a nutty finish? Or is it a less complex, but no less tasty, full on, deep, consistent cocoa flavor that leaves as it came?

Have fun!