December 2010 Chocolate of the Month: Homemade peppermint bark!

For posterity and record keeping, I’m making a blog post with each Chocolate of the Month as the month ends.   Here’s December!

First of all, the Facebook photo album with glorious photos of this month’s chocolate is here, check it out!

I had the idea for peppermint bark as the December Chocolate of the Month a while ago, and I knew right away the challenge was going to be finding good peppermints to crush into the chocolate.

I’m not against grabbing a Starlight mint here and there after a restaurant meal, but the Lagusta’s Luscious kitchen is not a place for artificial red dye and insanely refined sugar.

Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of all-natural peppermints. Every brand of organic, vegetable-based food coloring peppermint I’ve ever had has either not been pepperminty enough, or, horrifyingly, I swear I can taste the food coloring, which is often concentrated cabbage and/or beet juice.

What’s an all-natural chocolatier to do? Well, I decided to just make my own peppermints.

From scratch.

With sugar.

And heat.

And practice.

I bought some heavy duty kitchen gloves, did a bunch of tests, found a great source for organic and vegetable-derived food coloring that didn’t taste suspiciously cabbagey yet wasn’t made from terrifying chemicals (or bug bodies, as some red food coloring is), and I finally had it. Best of all, because I made the peppermints myself I can use my special chocolate mint flavoring–the same flavoring used in the peppermint patties. It has a glorious real minty flavor that is never overwhelming.

I was so excited about my entrance into the world of sugar work that my sweetheart, Jacob, and I made a video all about it. Click here for hot sugar action!

As a special bonus for our Chocolate of the Month Club members, we’re also including a small box (1/4 lb, the regular truffle box size) of White Chocolate Bark with Dried Cherries and Almonds only with Chocolate of the Month Club subscriptions.

Yes, my friends, vegan white chocolate. It doesn’t taste like wax, I promise you! I was able to procure some organic fair-trade cocoa butter from my chocolate suppliers, and from it I’ve made my own white chocolate–yep, from scratch. Don’t worry, white chocolate lovers, we have not seen the last of this magical ingredient!

Feijoada

My wonderful former client, Pam, asked if I would send her a few recipes from the meal delivery months and months ago. I thought it would be fun to put them on the blog, so I promised to do so, months and months ago.

And the list of them has pretty much sat there on my to-do list since then, months and months ago.

But lately I feel the need to remember that my life wasn’t always endless trips to the hardware store and clothes with paint stains all over them. Once upon a time I cooked!

In remembrance of things past, here’s a great dish from those days, feijoada.

You can see a not-great photo of feijoada from the meal delivery archives here. The next time I make it, I’ll plate it up nicely and take a photo to accompany this post.

Feijoada is a Brazilian rice and bean dish, almost always made with citrus and olives. It’s pronounced “feij-wada” with the “feij” sort of rhyming with “veg.” I first learned to make it at Bloodroot, and my recipe is based on theirs. Usually I’m no fan of citrus in savory foods, but the oranges in this dish really work. Like Bloodroot, I serve this dish with a homemade lemony hot sauce. The super simple recipe for it is below, and it will keep a few weeks in the fridge.

I’ve scaled both these recipes down from my gigantic meal delivery service-sized potions, so let me know if anything got lost in the math.

Feijoada

2 c black beans, cooked

2 onions, diced

3 red peppers, sliced

grape seed or canola oil

2 Tb. dried oregano or 3 Tb fresh oregano, chopped

1 Tb. freshly ground cumin

5-8 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 c red wine

1 (28 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped

sea salt

fresh pepper

3 Tb. lemon juice

1/4 c dark rum

3/4 c black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped

2 bunches kale or other leafy green or steamed vegetable, washed, coarsely chopped, steamed. This is pretty much optional, but nice.

zest from 1 orange

1 cup long grain brown rice, cooked

  1. Sauté onions and peppers in grape seed oil, adding spices and garlic in at end.
  2. Add cooked beans, wine, tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer 30 minutes.
  3. Stir in rum, olives, zest, kale, and lemon juice. Taste and adjust flavors if necessary.
  4. Serve over rice with hot sauce on the side.

lemon pepper hot sauce

1 c very finely chopped onion (resist the urge to chop it in the food processor unless you want a big watery mess)

1 clove garlic, made into a paste (chop it as finely as possible, adding a little salt and using the side of your knife to scrape everything together into a heap periodically, then chopping it and scraping it together and again until it becomes a paste.)

3-5 bottled pickled jalapeño peppers, finely minced

2/3 c lemon juice

Salt

  1. Mix all ingredients.

making soup

Last week.

I don’t even know how to put into words how stressed out I was last week.

Easter rush plus building stresses had me living in that weird combination of not sleeping because I had too much to do to sleep and not sleeping because I had too many worries to actually turn my mind off. Bad combination. Then my sweetheart came home from tour (always a harbinger of sanity for me), Easter orders calmed down, and building renovations and money-pit woes seemed to turn a corner and were slowly replaced by excitement about the new shop. What a difference a week makes!

In the middle of the week was that VegNews photo scandal thing, which I, like most vegans I know, was disturbed by. I can’t imagine why a vegan would think publishing a vegan magazine full of stock images of meat would be an ethically acceptable choice. As so many people have pointed out, this choice is bizarre bordering on insane when you think about how the internet is bursting with vegan bloggers churning out amazing content accompanied with gorgeous photos. It’s never been easier to take professional-quality photos at home (or in a magazine office, or commercial kitchen), so their decision made me realize that they just must not be testing their recipes whatsoever, since they can’t even be bothered to take photos of the actual dish. I can’t imagine selling my handmade chocolates with stock photography of random bonbons, so….

Ok, I’m not going to get worked up about it again. They apologized and we’re all moving on.

The point I’m trying to make here is that last week I made some soup and it turned out gorgeously without me even trying because food is so dang beautiful and we need to honor it by taking photos of it! Real photos, not generic gross stock photos! 

The soup: it was just some Wednesday-afternoon, nothing-special soup with some leftover bits of this and that that were hanging around work. The earliest bit of spring can be a maddening time to cook—you’re craving fresh produce so intensely, and nature can be stingy with sun and warmth, like it is this year, and everything is slow to arrive. I want fiddleheads and morels and favas and ramps and asparagus, but the garden only has sorrel and wild weedy chives to offer and the farmer’s market only turns up hothouse mesclun and pea shoots….and…wait, what’s that in the corner booth, that little flash of green at Jay’s table, surrounded by overwintered carrots and beets? Green garlic? Yes! Green garlic!


So it’s spring after all. Garlic is coming back. It’s happening!! I got chills when I saw it, and then I got out my wallet. Green garlic is just the best, isn’t it? All the awesomeness of mature garlic, but fresher, younger, with no peeling necessary and absolutely no bite. Amazing.

I already had a pot of simmered white beans bursting with two heads of roasted garlic hanging out in the fridge, and I thought about how to introduce the roasted garlicky beans—from a stash of glorious local organic hardneck I’ve been working my way through since last fall—to this year’s green garlic. Usually local garlic is so expensive ($1 per head or more, wholesale) that heads of roasted garlic are a luxury I save for the organic Chinese garlic I sometimes break down and buy in deep winter when I’ve run out of good local fresh stuff. This year, however, shutting down the meal delivery left me with a glut of terrific, albeit rapidly aging, local heads, so I’ve been roasting with abandon.

I do this thing with beans a lot: cook them with some aromatics (rosemary/bay/thyme/roasted garlic/sea vegetables/hot chilies/dill/onion/leeks/whatever) and then toss them with lots of olive oil, good salt, and pepper, and maybe some vinegar or hot sauce or harissa or whatever. With whatever veggies are on hand, dinner is done.

Depending on what the bean seems to want, I sometimes cook up a nice carbohydrate too. Black beans seem to want a spicy tomatoey Spanish rice, white beans always ask for a good toothsome pasta like orecchiette (I haven’t made my own since last summer—sigh.), pinto beans like a nice plain brown rice. Of course, something nice makes the meal even nicer. In my world, “something nice” usually means something either pickled or fried or perfectly fresh—something bright that pops in your mouth. Fried sage is great on top of a white bean thing, perfectly fresh summery tomatoes and creamy-ripe avocado are good with black beans, and little quick-pickled radishes are nice on the side of a simmered pinto bean dish.

I don’t know, that’s just where my mind always goes, anyway.

I wonder what always leads me to always always always pair black beans with tomatoes? One part historical and cultural and geographical accuracy, maybe, and one part remembrance of things past, probably. Sloppy Tex-Mex meals from when I was a kid, learning to make authentic and amazingly mind-blowing refried beans with garden salsa at Bloodroot.

Sigh. I really love beans.

And cooking.

And, as I was saying before 1,000 other words interrupted: making soup.

So after I make my simmered whole-bean thingie, I usually turn it into soup the next day or so. I never make stocks for my soups, unless I’m doing so much cooking that carrot peels and celery tops and onion skins are overflowing in the compost bin. Usually i concentrate on flavoring the soup, not the stock, and I always add a stick of kombu (I get this amazing kombu). Kombu helps you digest the beans, adds rich umami flavor, and can apparently help prevent radiation sickness—so bring it on.

Like most dishes, making a good soup is about balance. Richness + acid + salt + good vegetables/beans/etc = a good soup, in my world. Airy broths have their place, I suppose, but when I’m cooking for myself I want something with depth. And by depth, I mean: fat. And in order for a nice fatty soup not to taste too fatty, it needs to be balanced with acid, which usually means vinegar.

I took my roasted garlic white beans and added them to a soup pot (my mentor Selma always says “soup kettle.” I love her.) with some kombu, a glug of oil, and salt and water just barely to cover. I cooked them until they were super extra tender while I slowly sautéed the minced green garlic bottoms in more olive oil with some red pepper flakes (actually it was aleppo pepper–so flowery/spicy/bright/great.). When the garlic was aromatic and cooked I blended the beans and garlic mixtures together. I added some homemade garlic vinegar to taste, seriously thought about adding some black garlic just to make it a four-garlic soup!!! but I’m secretly saving the black garlic to make a garlic truffle (shhhh), so I just added more salt and some shoyu too. Beans always need so much salt, you know? Salt and shoyu contribute slightly different things, so I sometimes use them together. Salt = a nice clean salty flavor, but shoyu = salt + depth. Does that make sense?

So far my soup consisted of last year’s garlic + this year’s garlic + 2009’s garlic vinegar + beans + salt + shoyu + aleppo pepper + kombu (actually I took out the kombu once the beans were done cooking). What kind of soup is that? Certainly not one I’d be OK serving my clients back when I was selling soup for a living. Too simple, too plain. But I was working 18 hours that day and plain was just fine, as long as it tasted good.

I foraged around in the fridge for something green, and found pea shoots from the farmer’s market, along with the forgotten top half of the green garlic. I minced the green garlic and quickly fried it in yet more olive oil and added yet more salt. Seriously–when I’m working really hard and tasting chocolate all day, I need hearty food to balance out my diet or I will float away on a cloud of chocolate-caffeine, and so I really don’t hold back with the old e.v.o.

I put the soup in a big bowl, added the fried green garlic and pea shoots, and drizzled it with….more olive oil.

So simple, but look what a showstopper this little soup became in the bowl!

Hot damn I love food.

the white devil

So the NYT says sugar is evil.

Yeah, so did the cooking school I went to. They preached the gospel of brown rice syrup (it’s great in coco pyramids, I’ll give it that!) and made us read books with titles like The White Devil. I was young and impressionable, and I read the books and I stopped eating sugar for about six months.

And guess what?

I hated the world and everyone in it.

Then I went back to gum and candy and loved life again. These days I love my local organic maple syrup as much as the next locavore (for that matter, fruit is my best friend in the entire world), but I also love my organic, fair-trade 50-lb bags of minimally processed evaporated cane juice sugar, a few cups of which are in that pistachio praline up there.
So. I wish the Gray Lady had also published a companion piece about how ***everyone*** I’ve ever met who doesn’t eat sugar is a sad sack sourpuss who doesn’t love life.

Also, I fail to see how the article refutes the “everything in moderation” rule that all sane people already live with. (I’m a fan of the Oscar Wilde variation, myself.) I’m around sugar 18 hours a day and eat a lot more kale than sugar, because I know that large quantities of kale make me feel good, and small quantities of (very unsweet) truffles make me feel great. Reverse the proportions, and a stomach ache is the only result.

Why is it so hard for so many of us to listen to our bodies? For a lot of women, I know this has to do with feminism (and the lack thereof). We’re so inculcated to hate our bodies that sometimes our natural signals from them get lost in the mixed messages our culture is constantly pushing at us.

What a gift it is to learn to listen to what our bodies want and need. And, also, how it simplifies our lives: we already know everything the New York Times does, in our bones. We only need to listen.

January 2011 Chocolate of the Month: White Chocolate Yuzu Truffles

For posterity and record keeping, I’m making a blog post with each Chocolate of the Month as the month ends.   Here’s January!

First of all, the Facebook photo album with glorious photos of this month’s chocolate is here, check it out!

White Chocolate Yuzu Truffles
Citrus in January–it just feels right. A purification, a cleansing, ultimate freshness. Focusing, clarifying, toning and awakening. All that good stuff. Everything citrus does for us is just what we need in a brand-new year. I’m a citrus fiend, and yuzu is my favorite citrus fruit of all. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus about the size of a small grapefruit. It’s intensely aromatic and flowery–basically the best lemony flavor imaginable, with a floral undertone. Amazing.

I knew I wanted to make a yuzu truffle, but how best to showcase its complex flavor? Pairing yuzu and dark chocolate is nice, but some of yuzu’s fabulous subtleties get lost in the darkness. Serendipitously, I’d just received a shipment of organic, fair-trade fresh cocoa butter from my chocolate distributor for the white chocolate bark from last month (yep, I’m making white chocolate from scratch–from cocoa butter!). Why not a white chocolate yuzu truffle? Snowy (dairy-free!) white chocolate in January! Why not, indeed. I know I shouldn’t play favorites, but confidentially I have to admit that, with the Rosemary Sea Salt Caramels, this little newborn is my favorite thing I’ve ever made. Sweet-tart, creamy but not cloying, and smooth, smooth, smooth, with a thin hand-dipped 60% chocolate shell and a garnish of candied yuzu peel. Happy New Year, everyone.

2011 is going to be amazing.

things that happened today.

My life is so weird right now—usually I just work and work, and try to squeeze in gossiping with my friends, squeezing my cats until they meow, and reading The New Yorker when I can. But in addition to the work I’ve now got all this building renovation/chocolate shop-building stuff, and man–it’s making for some packed days. I might collapse from exhaustion soon, but right now I’m really enjoying the newness of overseeing renovations and dreaming of how the shop will look.

Because I happen to have photos to illustrate this particular packed day, I thought I’d write a little blog post about it. Here goes.

(Post-publication update: this post turned out to have a lot of parenthetical notes, this being the first [yet, also the last, due to the miracle of editing.

Um.

I am suddenly realizing I am almost hallucinatorily {????!!!!} exhausted]. If that sort of thing annoys you, maybe you can catch up with us tomorrow.)

First of all, I woke up at the UNBELIEVABLY EARLY hour of 8:45 am, completely refreshed and ready to start the day.

This never happens.

I’m the night-est of the night owls. Partially it’s because my rock n’ roll boyfriend stays up until 3 or so every night, but even when he’s gone I’m usually doing paperwork until 1 or 2 AM.

Even more amazingly, I actually made myself breakfast—another thing that never happens. It was just some fresh-squeezed oj and a soy yogurt, but it was something. Usually I just jet out of bed and tear into the world, stopping to eat only when the dizziness interferes with work. I’ve been trying really hard to change this lately, because the days when there was delicious savory food around all day at work are over, and caramel for breakfast is not a mistake you make twice.

Once groomed and fed, I delivered these gorgeousnesses to The Cheese Plate in Water Street Market, then went to the building to check things out.

Everyone was buzzing around like crazy in the two apartments that need renovating—the dumpster had just been delivered and half-rotting walls (um. We got a good deal on the building for a reason, OK?) and sheet rock were being tossed into it with abandon.

I started scraping letters off the front door window, and in a minute our friendly contractor, John, asked me to come by and look at something.

“What’s up?”

“We just found a little pistol in the rafters. I don’t think it’s loaded, but you probably want to call the police.”

The pistol was pretty tiny, but it was also real, so I called the police and got to fill out a report and everything. Pretty exciting!

After the CSI part of the day was done, I finished scraping the window and ran a million errands that culminated in me eating Pringles for lunch as I drove to work. Wow.

You know what I could really use right now? A vegetarian home meal delivery service!

At work I fired up the tempering machines and made bunnies and matzo toffee all afternoon.

Then I packed ’em up, dropped them off at the PO, chatted with a friend I ran into (told her the pistol story, of course) and zipped home for an early night in order to catch up with some computer work.

On the way home, I bit the bullet and called this guy who runs a mega warehouse of wholesale kitchen goods where I’d seen a vintage chocolate display case. It was the kind of thing I knew I would regret not buying my entire life if I passed it up. I first spied it last week, in the flashlight-light of the unheated (and unelectrified) warehouse, shining beautifully despite a thick dusty patina, and I hadn’t been able to get it out of my head. I’m a sucker for vintage crap—that sturdy elegance gets me every time.

It needs to have refrigeration put into it, which doubles the cost, but I decided I had to splurge on just one thing, and this was going to be it. I negotiated a price for it and tossed in a brand-new three-bay sink with a drain board (word the wise: don’t buy a used commercial sink. You will regret it. I speak from experience.) too.

Both came in over-budget by a couple hundred dollars, but I consoled myself with two thoughts:

1) I made up the budget without actually researching any costs, and

2) I budgeted $100 for a fire extinguisher and only paid $60.

(I’m an amazing rationalizer, what can I say.)

At home I defrosted some homemade udon noodles (I’m mostly eating food from the freezer these days because there’s not much local produce yet and, more urgently, I’m trying to eat up lots of meal delivery leftovers in order to sell a chest freezer I no longer need. This project has been resulting in me doing things like eating Caesar salad dressing 10 times a week because I defrosted four cups of it, or finding amazing, inventive uses for three quarts of glorious smoky olive oil-refried beans [soup, with rice, with veggies, with kimchi, made into burgers, made into croquettes, a dip, with avocado, etc. Endless!]), tackled the giant pile of mail (when you start an LLC, unsolicited offers of amazingly high APR credit cards come in by the truckload, it’s truly astonishing.), and eyed a pile of receipts warily and wearily. Entering receipts into my accounting spreadsheet is a task I can usually only slog though with a glass of wine and extremely mindless TV shows in the background. Tonight I wasn’t feeling it.

But, the mail! It held a surprise.

The other day, I went by the building to drop some stuff off (I have a terrible idea that if I just bring a carful of crap from one kitchen to the next every time I drive by, the move will be painless and smooth. Needless to say, the contractor who’s going to be building the kitchen, my sweet pal Aaron—who can’t start work on the kitchen/shop until I get a building permit, which is contingent on the Planning Board granting me a Special Use Permit (hooray, red tape!)—is heavily against the idea of me filling up the space with endless boxes when he will soon be doing space-taking-up things like resurfacing a ton of concrete flooring. Not to mention that I am planning on doing all of the painting, including painting all the ceiling tiles, myself, and should probably not cram the place too much until that’s done, lest I trip over a pile of X-rated chocolate molds (oh, I have more than the vulvas, you better believe it.) while craning my neck to put a final coat on the ol’ ceiling. But the lure of the smooth move is so alluring—I can’t stop myself.

Anyway, I was finished unloading the car and was literally just staring at the building and daydreaming when the mailman came up and said “Are you Lagusta?”

“Yep–how’d you know?”

“It says so on your license plate. Oh, and on this really fancy letter you just got. I’m Steve, your mailman. Are you opening a chocolate shop??”

“Yep–how’d you know?”

“Ah, you know: small town. Wait–are you in Rosendale now, in B&S Plaza?”

“Yep–how’d you know???”

“I live right around there.”

So either I live in the cutest, quaintest small town ever, or…my new mailman is a major stalker.

Anyway, the letter was the cutest thing ever. Remember in this blog post when I asked people to write me letters to the new address? Someone did! And it was the sparkliest, most adorable letter ever. (The theme of the past two paragraphs is: “ever.”) Such a treat, among a pile of credit card offers, bills, receipts (grrrr) and insurance papers.

So there we are. A busy, rushing-around sort of day, but a good one.

Now: do I skip out on email and accounting to go watch salamanders cross the road, or not?

 

signage (+ top secret new logo preview)

Jacob and I just got this email from a college friend of ours wishing us luck with the building:

I envision a giant neon bust of Lagusta on the outside of the building, like Gusteau’s:

 

Close, Ivan! It might be a bit more like this:

This isn’t final, but I couldn’t resist sharing anyway. My brilliant graphic designer pals Kate and Kevin are working on a new logo for the old LL!

Is it narcissistic to say I’m in love with it?