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February 28, 2005

Valrhona Drinking Chocolate Recipe #1

I decided to experiment with drinking chocolates. Since I had a bar of Valrhona Dark Bittersweet Chocolate (Le Noir Amer: 71% cacao) around the house, I used that as the base.

2 squares (approx. 1 oz.) Valrhona Dark Bittersweet chocolate
1 glass milk (8 oz.)
1/4 tsp. sugar (optional)

Grate as much of the chocolate as you can without getting tired or shredding your fingers. Break up the reamining chocolate in small pieces (as much as you can break with your fingers assuming the bar has been residing in a cool place). Seperate the grated chocolate from the broken pieces.
Pour the milk into a pot and heat over medium low heat until vapors start to rise. Slowly mix in most of the grated chocolate, leaving aside some to sprinkle over the finished drinking chocolate. Change the heat to low. Keep stirring the milk until the chocolate has dissolved. Now slowly add the chocolate pieces one by one into the milk. Thoughout the process, keep stirring the milk making sure that it doesn't burn or boil. If desired, mix in the 1/4 teaspoon of sugar.
After all the chocolate has dissolved, pour into a mug and sprinkle the remaining grated chocolate over the drinking chocolate. Enjoy!

Just a note: Drinking chocolates traditionally have much more fat than hot chocolates. In the case of this recipe, you are getting almost 50% of your daily requirement of saturated fat from 1 glass of drinking chocolate. So be careful, or at least be aware :-)

February 20, 2005

Iron Chef America: Chocolate & Coconut Battle

I finally got around to watching the "Chocolate and Coconut" Battle on Iron Chef America. Normally I'm only a moderately interested ICA fan -- I vastly preferred the original -- however, the fact that chocolate was one of the secret ingredients had me hooked. Even more interesting was that the chefs (Batali and challenger Laiskonis) had to prepare at least 3 savoury dishes using chocolate andd coconut. Mmmmmm.
While watching the show I was just thinking to myself that mixing cocoa with non-traditional ingredients would be really interesting (I had just finished off another of Vosges Haut Chocolate's Exotic Chocolate Bars) when the judges were introduced, and Katrina Markhoff, founder of Vosges Haut Chocolate, turned out to be one of them. Katrina, who happens to be blessed with stunning looks, in addition to her incredible talent at combining chocolate with different flavors, makes some of the most interesting chocolate bars I've ever tasted. (Now, I just wish that she would use organic and FTC cacao). She seemed to be a very appropriate judge for tasting the savoury chocolate creations. Her comments during the judging phase were mostly focused on the combination and layering of various spices and flavors with the chocolate.
As for the battle itself, I was disappointed. Both chefs made these complex dishes in which it looked like the taste of chocolate and coconut was overwhelmed by other ingredients. Don't get me wrong: I would have been happy to eat any of those dishes, but they lacked focus on the secret ingredients. I was especially hoping for better from Laiskonis' performance since I expected him to show the flair and creativity worthy of Bon Apetit's Pastry Chef of the Year. He did make his signature eggshell dessert, though and did show more creativity than Batali (but the judges didn't think so).
Both chefs made a hot chocolate as part of one dish: Batali made a thick drinking chocolate from cream (a "dipping chocolate" -- you really don't want to try to drink it like a regular drinking chocolate or cocoa) to dip churros in. Laiskonis, on the other hand, made a more traditional hot chocolate but used Hawaiin red salt with it. His use of salt on the dishes was interesting -- wish I could have tasted the hot chocolates.

February 18, 2005

Ganache for Lips

So, a friend pointed me to Ganache for Lips, which makes lip balm with real Scharffen Berger chocolate in it. It amused me no end, especially considering that the fact that there's chocolate in it ("it stays on the lips, not the hips!") is their sole marketing spiel.

On one hand, I'm all for products using chocolate. On the other, products like this mean less cocoa being used in products I can eat/imbibe.

The icing on the cake is that my hair salon is one of a handful of locations that sells it. I can't wait for my next hair cut.

February 13, 2005

Fair Trade Certified Chocolate: Part 1

One of the things that kept showing up on my radar when I started exploring the world of chocolate (and hot chocolate) was the phrase "Fair Trade Certified". One of the chocolate vendors' sites even had a short blurb on it about how fair trade certified chocolate ensured that small cacao farmers earned a fair price for their product. That was enough for me initially, but the more I saw the phrase and logo, the more I wanted to know the details behind them. So, I decided to do a little digging.

The first site that you should visit for more information on the "Fair Trade Certified" (FTC) mark is that of Transfair USA. Transfair USA is the only independent certifier of fair trade products in the US. What does that mean? Transfair USA works with importers and manufacturers in the US to audit their business practices, their supply chain, etc to ensure that fair trade practices are being used all the way from the producer (cacao farmers or farmer cooperatives) to the organizations involved in importing and distributing the ingredients and final product.

Benefits of Fair Trade Certification

The certification for fair trade covers social, economic and environmental aspects of the global supply chain:

  • Farmers and farm cooperatives get a fair price for their product.
  • Decent living and working conditions are mandated for workers
  • Slave labor is not allowed on farms and organizations involved with fair trade. Also, child labor laws have to be followed
  • There is no middleman -- the producer is directly connected to the importer or manufacturer.
  • The farmers have better access to capital as well as credit when needed.
  • Farms must use sustainable agricultural practices

How does this affect you?

Chocolate, in our society, is a luxury item. This is not a staple like cacao tended to be for the Mayans and the Aztecs. It is not an integral part of survival for us, nor is it, in any way, shape or form, a necessity (though some of you might dispute that). You are spending discretionary money to buy chocolate and cocoa. Also, chocolate is usually associated with celebrations and a sense of happiness and well-being (and there's a chemical reason for that, but that is another blog entry). Now, how does it feel to know that it is very likely that the cacao in your chocolate was farmed and gathered through slave labor or substandard working conditions? Puts a little damper on the celebrations? Great! So, modify your purchasing habits just a little and try and buy FTC chocolate when you can. Baby steps. Baby steps.

Now, some of you are very likely to be thinking that 1. I'm preachy, and 2. FTC chocolate is bound to be more expensive. Well, the former is intentional and the latter is not necessarily so. Take the case of hot chocolate for example. My favorite hot chocolate is Dagoba hot chocolate (actually, the Dagoba Xocolatl). It costs approximately $8.50 for a can of the mix. A can of Xocolatl has 12 servings. Hence my per serving cost is about $0.71. Now consider a box of the mix from Vosges Haut Chocolate. specifically, the Vosges Aztec Elixir. It comes in a box that contains approximately 11 servings and costs $22.00. that comes to $2 per serving. Dagoba chocolate is not only FTC but also organic, while the costlier Vosges does not claim to be either.

So, FTC cacao is not only good for the producers, but also goes down easier, and it's not necessarily more expensive! In addition, it's better for the environment.

If that doesn't convince you, you hard-hearted facsimile of a human being, consider the purely selfish motivation: Subsistence economics and non-sustainable agricultural practices are going to result in less cacao farmers and less cacao. This would mean less chocolate and more expensive chocolate in the future. And none of us want this, right?

Well, where are these fabled FTC chocolates?

Well, you can always look at my FTC & Organic Chocolate Vendor List, which is something I'm going to maintain. You can also try http://www.transfairusa.org and http://www.ccof.org for Fair Trade Certified and Organic Certified chocolate products respectively.

Same Bat Channel

This was only a superficial introduction to FTC products, but, in an upcoming blog entry, I'll try to talk more about the underlying criteria for such certification and who decides on the criteria.

February 09, 2005

Easing the chocolate-induced guilt

So the Washington Post has an article in the Food section talking about the health benefits of cocoa due to the presence of flavanols. The interesting part of this to me is that dutch cocoa has less flavanols (and thus health benefits) due to its processing method. I've never been a big fan of dutch cocoa -- it tastes less flavorful and flatter to me. So this is just one more reason for me to ignore dutch cocoa.

Luckily for me, my favorite brand of hot chocolate (Dagoba) doesn't use dutch cocoa.

February 07, 2005

Chocolates Galore & More

The Loudoun County Branch of the YMCA is having their 17th Annual "Chocolates Galore & More" fundraiser at the Lansdowne Resort in Ashburn on Friday February 18 from 7-11pm. The cost is $40 in advance, and $50 at the door. The blurb on their site goes:

"Chocolates Galore & More is a wonderful event that allows residents from Loudoun County and beyond to gather in merriment while sampling some of the finest food - and, of course, chocolates - across the county."

I wish they would put up more information at their site about the event. Granted that it's a charity event, but I would still like to know who is participating in the event.

Anyone out there know more about this?

February 06, 2005

Fairfax Chocolate Festival 2005

It being a lovely day, we decided to go to the City of Fairfax Chocolate Festival. The festival usually happens on the first weekend in February -- no doubt making a good primer for all the Valentine's gifts.

The festival is held in Old Town Fairfax near the intersection of Rte 236 and Chain Bridge Rd. The actual events take place in several government buildings: The Old Town Hall, City Hall, the Regional Library, and the Court House. All the venues are within easy walking distance of each other as well as the designated parking lots. I love the fact that the festival is held in these old buildings, which have a charm all their own.

We got there about 11:45 on Saturday, which was the first day of the festival. Initially, I was concerned that parking was going to be a problem, and after passing by the Old town Hall (where the Taste of Chocolate was taking place) and seeing a long line of people waiting to get in, I was sure that parking was going to be a hassle. However, much to my surprise, parking was easy to find, especially with the helpful parking map on the chocolate festival website.

After parking, we decided that the Taste of Chocolate had to be our first stop, seeing as it was the star attraction. We joined the long line of people waiting to get in, but the line was moving fast so we didn't mind waiting. It helped that the weather was gorgeous: sunny and 50. By the time we got in (about 15 mins of waiting), we were eagerly anticipating the chocolate.

The tables inside the Old Town Hall were on two floors. Even with that, the number of vendors seemed a mite disappointing to me. I was expecting a bigger turnout and a lot more variety. There were just over a dozen vendors there and the place was packed with people. However, there was still room to move around and buying something never took more than a minute or two.

After sampling a bunch of different items, I decided that my favorite vendors were Victoria's Cakery and the Watergate Pastry Shop. The former had a great chocolate cake and a white chocolate with rasberries. You must try them especially the pure chocolate one! Watergate pastries has delicious tarts and pastries: the kiwi fruit tart was awesome.

After the Taste of Chocolate, we went to the Chocolate Challenge (at the City Hall) which had some nice chocolate art there, but once again the number of entries were disappointing. One of the poor chocolate sculptures (which won the 1st prize in "Professional Sculpture" had broken down by the time we got there. What seemed strange was that they charged admission to enter the Chocolate Challenge -- it was only $1 but still.

One of the more surprising events was the Chocolate Capers in the Old Courthouse. We went there 'cause my nephews were along and though they would enjoy it. It turned out to be entertaining for the adults as well. The plays are put on by the Fairfax Bar Association. Apparently they do this pretty regularly, especially for elementary schools. The play was a twist on Jack and the Beanstalk: a criminal trial against Jack for stealing various items from the giant. The play was well done and the actors certainly were having fun doing them. All in all, worth going to if you have kids along.

From what I heard, some of the vendors at the Taste of Chocolate were running out of items late afternoon on Saturday. So, it seems like the best time to go is early on the first day of the festival. Remember that for next year.

February 04, 2005

Fair Trade Certified and Organic Chocolate List

[Last Updated: 4 March, 2005] This is intended to be a continuously maintained list of fair trade certified (FTC) and organic chocolate vendors. It is important to note that FTC certification is given to products and not vendors. Thus, some vendors have multiple FTC prodcuts while others have only one or two FTC products.
Manufacturer Fair Trade Certified Organic Practices Hot Chocolate? Where to buy
Art Bars (Ithaca Fine Chocolates) FTC Yes No www.ithacafinechocolates.com
Cocoavino Chocolates [1] FTC CCOF Yes www.cocoavino.com
Dagoba FTC Yes Yes www.dagobachocolate.com
www.chocosphere.com
Divine Chocolates FTC No? Yes www.divinechocolate.com
Equal Exchange FTC Yes Yes store.yahoo.com/eeretail/index.html
Green & Black's FTC CCOF Yes www.chocosphere.com
Lake Champlain Chocolates [2] FTC Yes Yes www.lakechamplainchocolates.com/
Newman's Own Organics No Yes No www.newmansownorganics.com/
Rapunzel Yes Yes Cocoa powder www.rapunzel.com/
Shaman Chocolates FTC CCOF No www.shamanchocolates.com
  • FTC = Fair Trade Certified by FLO standards
  • CCOF = Organic certified by CCOF standards

If you do know of other vendors/manufacturers, that are FTC or certified organic, please let me know. I'll add them to the list.

Footnotes

  1. Cocoavino uses Green & Black's chocolate which is FTC and CCOF certified. It also tries to use other organic ingredients when it can. It sells Green & Black's Hot Chocolate.
  2. As far as I know Lake Champlain only makes one product that is fair trade & organic: a hot chocolate. None of their other products seem to be either organic or fair trade.