Friday, February 14, 2020

A Perfect Recipe: Chocolate Truffles with Coconut Milk

Delicious recipes often sacrifice health for flavor. And "healthy" recipes often sacrifice flavor for perceived health benefits. Can you maximize flavor and health? I believe so. The "perfect" recipe series explores the recipes I've developed over twenty years as a passionate home cook, personal caterer, and recipe developer. 

Alchemy is remembered as a medieval chemical philosophy having as its asserted aims the transmutation of base metals into gold, the discovery of a panacea, and the preparation of an elixir of longevity.

Carl Jung, among others, saw alchemy as something more: a symbolic system for spiritual transformation. The great alchemists, he noted, were not really working to transforms metals, but to transform their own souls, from a lead-like state of ignorance to one of golden enlightenment.

The preparation of chocolate can be compared to alchemy: the astringent, bitter and otherwise bland seeds of a tropical tree are transformed into a dense, smooth, and somewhat sweet food, with an unrivaled, complex taste—a golden food.

Chocolate is a transformative food, capable of igniting passion and romance and fervor. When we work with chocolate, we embody Jung’s idea of the ancient alchemists. In this case, the asserted aim of our work is to transmute the raw ingredients into food, but the real aim of our work is to inspire romance and bravado.

I first encountered chocolate bravado in Barcelona; now that I am back in the states I find myself dreaming of a return to that city, to the famous pastry shop, Escriba, where, one morning I saw two gorgeous women sharing a chocolate cake with a beast of a man. The beast was clad in black leather from head to toe. The trio looked as if they were on the tail end of a long night, and they smoked while they ate, purposefully, as if they were battling for a last chance at recognition. It was my first day in Barcelona and it was my first sight of a Catalan. I couldn’t explain to myself why I felt so amazed. Nor could I tear my eyes away from the enormity of the piece of chocolate cake the beast was eating.

He stopped and returned my gaze. Then, with the odd braggadocio of someone who is still drunk, he pointed at my plate and laughed.

I was eating a granola bar.

I was not so interested in chocolate back then.

Still, even then, I had the impression, looking upon this monster in leather, that I was witnessing a stellar engagement—the same engagement that hits me now, every evening, after eating my final meal of the day, when I sit down to eat a truffle, lovingly made, and I sense the absurd affinity that humankind has developed for chocolate--a relationship initiated by an Aztec king and propagated ever since, by kings and lovers alike.

Montezuma reputedly had an absurd affinity for chocolate According to reports left by the Spanish conquistadors, he drank as many as 50 cups of chocolate a day. Apparently, he needed the chocolate. Montezuma had hundreds of lovers. Chocolate was his Viagra.

Chocolate is the food of the sensual monster.

Picasso, the monster, reputedly fed his children dinners made entirely of chocolate desserts.

Coconut Chocolate Truffles

Chocolate truffles are easy to make; they are also shockingly delicious. Here, I replace the traditional heavy cream with coconut cream, a healthy source of fat and another source of sensual allure. You can also roll the truffles in cocoa powder or chopped nuts, like pistachios.

½ c. coconut milk (coconut milk must be full-fat; try Thai Kitchen's)
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (For truffles, I prefer Chocolove Chocolate; or Endangered Species' Supreme Dark Bar)
1/2 cup dried coconut

Place chopped chocolate in a medium-sized bowl. Create a double boiler by placing bowl over a simmering pot of water. Gently melt the chocolate.

Pour coconut milk into a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat. Remove from heat, let cool slightly, and pour over chocolate. Gently stir until smooth, chocolate is completely melted, and coconut milk is incorporated.

Rest until firm, 1-3 hours.

Place coconut into a bowl. Using a measuring spoon, scoop up 1 teaspoon of chocolate, and quickly roll into a ball about 3/4 inch across. Drop into coconut; roll each truffle to coat.

Let rest until firm, 30 minutes.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

"Wanna get drunk and fool around?"

"Wanna get drunk and fool around."
- Ellen Brody  (Lorrain Grey), JAWS

Thursday, January 16, 2020

"There seems no reason except mere habit why...we should not go barefoot"

"As to the feet, which have been condemned to their leathern coffins so long that we are almost ashamed to look at them, there is still surely a resurrection possible for them. There seems to be no reason except mere habit why, for a large part of the year, at least, we should not go barefoot, as the Irish do, or at least with sandals. [Democracy, which redeems the lowest and most despised of the people, must redeem also the most menial and despised members and organs of the body.]"
~Edward Carpenter, 19th century English progressive writer (repost from the wonderful menswear blog, Die Workwear!)

Monday, August 19, 2019

Infinite Possibilities

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

A Perfect Recipe: Roast Potatoes

Delicious recipes often sacrifice health for flavor. And "healthy" recipes often sacrifice flavor for perceived health benefits. Can you maximize flavor and health? I believe so. The "perfect" recipe series explores the recipes I've developed over twenty years as a passionate home cook, personal caterer, and recipe developer. 

The perfect roast potato begins with baking soda. As far as I know, Cook's Illustrated introduced this idea in 2012, in its home fries recipe, which follows a simple premise: parboiling peeled and cut russet potatoes in water with baking soda creates the necessary alkaline conditions to break down the surface area of the potato. The more surface area, the more oil can later adhere to the potato; when cooked at a high temperature, the abundant oiled surface area creates a crispy exterior.

Kenji of Serious Eats also suggests baking soda (though he originally suggested vinegar, which produced sketchy results) in his "crispy roast potatoes" recipe.

The recipe below, for perfect roast potatoes, is essentially an amalgam of the Cooks Illustrated and Serious Eats recipes with my own (somewhat healthy) tweaks.

Simple ingredients: organic russet potatoes, baking soda, and Celtic sea salt. We cut our potatoes in wedges to make the best oven-roasted potatoes you've ever tasted.
The Best High Heat Cooking Oil?

To make a truly excellent, crispy home fry, roasted potato, or oven-baked French fry recipe, you need abundant fat and high heat. Many of my recipes try to reduce the impact of high heat on fats--especially extra virgin olive oil or butter. But there's no getting around the need for high heat in this recipe.

Heat oxidizes fats, creating harmful free radicals, and conventional wisdom associates an oil's "smoke point" with the production of harmful free radicals. When a fat is heated past its smoke point, the wisdom goes, the fat will become unstable, releasing free radicals into your food.

Conventional wisdom has also classified the best "high heat" oils based on the oil's composition. Saturated fats, like coconut oil, are thought to be more stable than polyunsaturated fats, like sunflower oil, or monounsaturated fats, like extra virgin olive oil.

EVOO, especially, has been classified as a poor high heat oil due to its low smoke point. As the Bulletproof Blog notes:

"Saturated fats are super stable because their tails don’t have an opening where a free radical can grab an electron and oxidize the fat – the tails are already filled up (“saturated”). That’s not to say that monounsaturated (MUFA; one opening) and polyunsaturated (PUFA; many openings) fats are bad for you. These fats can be a great addition to your cooking arsenal too. Just be gentler with them so you don’t oxidize the more fragile MUFAs and PUFAs."

This "conventional wisdom" is not supported by science.

A recent study out of Australia, for example, found that smoke point "does not predict oil performance," and that extra virgin olive oil yielded  the lowest levels of harmful compounds when heated and compared to other common oils, like canola, grapeseed, and even coconut oil. The study posits that extra virgin olive oil is stable due to its high levels of antioxidants and polyphenols.

To this last point, too, conventional wisdom states that extra virgin olive oil loses its antioxidants and polyphenols when heated to high temperatures. But this myth was dispelled by another, older study, which found "that despite the heating conditions, [EVOO] maintained most of its minor compounds and, therefore, most of its nutritional properties."

I remember reading this study when I worked at Whole Foods, during a time when I was experimenting with coconut oil for high heat. Unfortunately, unlike coconut milk (which I use in my mashed potatoes and mashed sweet potato recipes), coconut oil can appreciably (and negatively, I think) influence the taste of a dish. So I decided on the spot: No more. I'll only use extra virgin olive oil.

My recommendation today: Use extra virgin olive oil for high heat cooking.

In the recipe below, I use grassfed butter and extra virgin olive oil. Again, since smoke point does not necessarily determine fat degradation, I think extra virgin olive oil and grassfed butter make the best one-two punch for cooking.

Acrylamides and the Maillard Rection

Is this a "healthy" recipe? Not necessarily. Eating traditional high heat cooked potato recipes (like French fries) may double the risk of early death. And any starchy food cooked at high heat--in pursuit of the cook's beloved "Maillard reaction"--creates acrylamides, a known human nuerotoxin linked to cancer.

However, although people like Dr. Mercola talk about acrylamides in French fries as if they're a veritable poison, the evidence so far has failed to find a link between acrylamide exposure in food and cancer.

I do try to reduce my family's exposure to acrylamides by cooking most recipes low and slow, or by simply minimizing cooking, when possible. That said, the point of this recipe is to eat a healthier version of high-heat cooked potatoes. Make this recipe once or twice a month, on days that you exercise very hard--and enjoy it.

Perfect Roasted Potatoes

Pre-heating the baking sheet in the oven is a crucial step hereAnd don't crowd the potatoes on the pan. If necessary (and possible) use two pans (adding additional oil to the second pan, as necessary)The timing of this recipe can be dramatically different, depending on your oven. In my oven, the recipe takes about 25 minutes from start to finish. You may need to adjust the timing for your oven. 

3.5 pounds organic russet potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters or eighths, depending on size
Celtic Sea Salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons grassfed butter
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (to coat pan)

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and preheat oven to 450°F (or 400-425°F for convection, depending on your oven's convection settings). Place a large rimmed baking sheet on the rack.

Combine peeled and cut potatoes, baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon Celtic sea salt, and 2 quarts water in a large pot. Heat over high until simmering. (Warning: the baking soda may cause the water to overflow, so watch the pot). Simmer for two minutes. Drain potatoes carefully in the pot (by straining water through the lid).

Place the potatoes in the pot back on the stove over low heat. Add the butter and 1/2 teaspoon Celtic sea salt. Stir until the butter is melted and the potatoes develop a thick mashed-like paste.

Carefully remove pre-heated baking sheet from oven. Add oil to coat the pan (make sure entire surface area is coated with oil). Add potatoes to pan, spreading evenly without overcrowding.

Transfer to oven and roast, without moving, for 10 (or more) minutes. With tongs or a fine metal spatula, check to see if potatoes are browned and can easily be flipped. When you can easily dislodge the potatoes, flip, and place the pan back in the oven, roasting until all potatoes are golden brown, 10-20 additional minutes (or more).

Keep the potatoes on the pan, and sprinkle with more sea salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Nietzsche: "Madness, that I may only at last believe in myself!"

I came across the following quote in Sue Prideaux's wonderful new Nietzsche biography, I am Dynamite! It's a selection from Nietzsche's book Daybreak, which Prideaux presents as the beginning of his mature philosophy. It reads to me like a credo (from a man who has experienced pain).
"All superior men who were irresistibly drawn to throw off the yoke of any kind of morality and to frame new laws had, if they were not actually mad, no alternative but to make themselves or pretend to be mad...How can one make oneself mad when one is not mad and does not dare to appear so?...Ah, give me madness, you heavenly powers! Madness, that I may only at last believe in myself! Give deliriums and convulsions, sudden lights and darkness, terrify me with frost and fire such as no mortal has ever felt, with deafening din and prowling figures, make me howl and whine and crawl like a beast: so that I may come to believe myself! I am consumed by doubt, I have killed the law, the law anguishes me as a corpse does a living man; if I am not more than the law I am the vilest of all men."

Friday, August 17, 2018

Knausgård: "The easy life is nothing to aspire to."

Two companionable quotes from Karl Ove Knausgård's wonderful book, Spring, which I've read three times this summer--twice in succession, and one more time a month later.

I'm only now emerging from a two-year Knausgård binge, when I read the first five books of his My Struggle series each at least twice, and some three or four times. I'll officially end the binge this September, around my birthday, when I read book six.

The following quote is a good example of what I like about Knausgård, comma splices and all. He is honest and vulnerable, I think, and I can easily share his sentiment--I've had these same thoughts without precisely articulating them to myself.

That said, I don't need to post another picture of Knausgård on the Internet. So I'll post a picture of the kids.

This passage, in essence, is written for Knausgård's own children, and specifically to his youngest daughter, who he addresses directly throughout Spring.

"But maybe these were just excuses, something I said to comfort myself. For that’s how it is, we cover up our mistakes and failings, we invent stories that put ourselves in a more favorable light. Self-deception is perhaps the most human thing of all."
"Self-deception isn’t a lie, it’s a survival mechanism. You too will deceive yourself, it’s just a question of to what degree, and the only advice I can give you is to try to remember that others may see and experience the same things as you in an entirely different way, and that they have as much right to their viewpoint as you do.
"But it is difficult. It may be the most difficult thing of all. Because it is just as important to be true to yourself, to hold on to your beliefs and think your own thoughts, not other people’s. It’s so easy to walk into one picture of reality and then let that picture sway you, even though on certain points it goes against what you really feel, experience, and believe. What do you do then? The easiest thing is to adjust your feelings, experiences, and thoughts, for a picture of reality is both simpler and more pleasant to relate to than reality itself. This brings us back to self deception, the most human thing of all.
"And perhaps the following is nothing but self deception: the easy life is nothing to aspire to, the easy choice is never the worthiest solution, only the difficult life is worth living. I don’t know. But I think that’s how it is. What would seem to contradict this, is that I wish you and your siblings simple, easy, long and happy lives."