Care and feeding of chocolate:
- Choose good quality chocolate. I cannot stress this point enough. Most products sold in the baking isle of your grocery store as "baking chocolate" are a sorry excuse for chocolate and their lack of quality will show through in your creations. Always bake with fine, dark chocolate. If it doesn't taste exquisite straight up, don't waste your time baking with it!
- "Chocolate chips" are good for use as, well, as chocolate chips. They are designed to remain intact within a baked product and not melted down and mixed into the batter. Most chocolate chips are poor quality "baking chocolate" -- although there are premium quality varieties available. It is worth your while (and the extra $) to choose a premium variety when chocolate chips are what you need.
- Do NOT refrigerate chocolate! Refrigeration spoils chocolate's taste, can cause a film of moisture to form on the chocolate (a problem if you intend to cook with the chocolate later and just plain icky if you plan to eat it without further cooking) and causes the chocolate to absorb the aromas of other things in your refrigerator.
- Chocolate should be stored in sealed packages in a cool, dry, dark environment, away from anything else that has a strong aroma.
- Goods baked with chocolate are best consumed on the day they were created, but, if you must store chocolate desserts, wrap them individually and freeze (do NOT refrigerate) them in air-tight containers.
- Frozen chocolate sponge cakes (cookies, brownies, etc.) can be thawed gently in a microwave. Cheesecakes, truffles and other chocolate creams are best thawed at room temperature.
- Chocolate burns easily and therefore must be melted GENTLY. Suggested methods include a double boiler or directly over LOW heat, stirring constantly. A microwave on 50% power is also suitable, provided that you pause the microwave frequently to stir the chocolate. (Chocolate will hold some of its shape, even when melted, so eyeballing melting chocolate is not a good reference. Stop the microwave, take the chocolate out, stir it as best you can -- this also helps to distribute the heat evenly -- and put it back in the microwave only if it really needs more time.) Whichever method of melting you choose, it is advisable to break the chocolate into small pieces before beginning. This will increase the surface area of the chocolate, thereby enabling it to melt more quickly and uniformly with less risk of scorching.
- Do not allow your chocolate to get wet! This is especially important when melting chocolate as any stray drops of water from a wet bowl or utensil or condensed steam (do NOT cover melting or melted chocolate) will cause the chocolate to stiffen and become unworkable.
- Enjoy your chocolate! While the health benefits of consuming chocolate may be limited, the health benefits of harbouring guilt are none. None of the chocolate recipes included in this blog are designed to be consumed everyday, but, when you do choose to indulge, do it with style!
This brings us to the next point in my cooking philosophies:
Most things in moderation:
There are a few things that have NO place in my life (cigarettes, hydrogenated oils, etc.) and some for which I feel there is no excess too great (my mother would tell you garlic and onions fall into this category, but I was thinking more along the lines of love, joy, intelligence, wisdom & knowledge). For the majority of foodstuffs, however, moderation is key.
A healthy, balanced diet requires some fat (the consumption of certain fats in particular, is necessary for good health). It also requires some salt and some carbohydrate.
Do a large percentage of north americans consume too much of these things?
I don't use salt to flavour my cooking and I don't eat a lot of prepackaged meals or other "fast foods" (the vast majority of which are high in salt) -- so I don't need to stress over the small quantities necessary to ensure success with pastries and quick breads.
I don't eat cheesecake everyday, so I have no need to water it down with weird ingredients such as "low fat cream cheese product". Cheesecake is high fat. Period. It is also an occasional indulgence meant to be enjoyed fully -- or there's no point to consuming it at all.
As for carbohydrates: None of my recipes are intended to be low carb or low calorie. I participate in a healthy amount of physical activity everyday, so I need to eat in order to maintain a healthy body weight. I do, however, ensure that the majority of carbs in my diet have a low GI.
Optimal human health requires regular consumption of a wide variety of nutrients, and a polyphagous diet is the best way to ensure that this need is met.
It's better with butter:
Sorry folks. There's just no way around this one. When a recipe calls for butter, I really do mean butter.
Please don't take this the wrong way. I am NOT advocating a diet high in saturated fats. I practice yoga, sleep eight hours a night, get a minimum of 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise daily and eat a diet high in whole grains and fresh fruits & vegetables. When I cook my food, it is most often stir-fried in healthy olive oil and I don't butter my bread, prefering instead to eat it dry or slathered with a healthy spread such as pesto.
The point to all of this healthful living, however, is to enjoy life. To that end, when I indulge in a treat that's not intended to be a staple ingredient of a healthy diet, it has to be something that I will enjoy thoroughly. Butter tastes better. Period. For many baked goods, there simply is no adequate alternative.
Having said all of that, you are, of course, the artist in your own kitchen and are free to modify any recipe you find to suit your own desires. All I ask is that, if you do modify one of my recipes to include margarine, don't tell people that it's my recipe -- it no longer is -- and please, PLEASE do NOT use a margarine that contains hydrogenated oils! Ick!
On garlic and quantity:
When I write "one garlic" I really mean the whole garlic. (NOT one clove!) Cooking with part-bulbs is for wusses. There are no vampires in my kitchen!
On garlic and friendship:
Garlic is for sharing! Trust me on this one. If you consume any of my garlic-containing recipes, you will NOT be able to mask the scent with a swig of mouthwash or a sprig of parsley. You will breath garlic and you will sweat garlic! The only way to enjoy garlic and to still have friends is to share your garlicky creations with all of your mates. Then you will all smell the same!
While baking does involve some chemistry, most culinary creations do not require chem lab titration techniques or the precision of a burette for measuring. You will find quantity measurements in my recipes given in metric, imperial and colloquial terms. These are generally the references most useful to me to provide reminders of ingredient ratios which have served my desires in the past. If you're not sure of the size of my "handful" or my local grocer's "bunch" please don't sweat it. Listed quantities are only ever guidelines and can be adjusted to suit individual tastes. If you would like help converting metric to imperial measurements or vice verse, check out this cool tool