Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


Mission: The Ice Cream Smore'wich

As the last big weekend for summer grilling approaches, what's the ultimate summer dessert? The ice cream sandwich? The s'more?

I had a thought this week... why not combine the two? Behold: The Ice Cream Smore'wich!

Ice Cream Smore'wich Blueprint
Click in for the full-size version

I've done a bit of (rich, tasty, chocolaty) experimentation, and I'm here to tell you, there's the fast and easy way, and then there's the longer (but rewarding) way. Your choice.

Ice Cream Smore'wich — The Easy Way

You'll need:
Graham crackers
Chocolate fudge sauce
Vanilla ice cream
Jumbo-size marshmallows
Plastic wrap or wax paper

1. Select two graham crackers and slather one side of one graham cracker with chocolate fudge sauce (or go crazy with Nutella, if you're so inclined).
2. Open a carton of your favorite vanilla ice cream and cut or portion a 1" slice of the ice cream to match the length and width of the remaining graham cracker base.
3. Place the ice cream slice/portion atop the remaining graham cracker base and move both graham crackers to a tray or plate in the freezer to chill.
4. Use a skewer/stick to toast the marshmallow to your liking.
5. To assemble, gently compress the cooled toasted marshmallow between the chocolate fudge and the ice cream-layered graham crackers. Return the completed smore'wich to the freezer for 15 minutes to firm, then wrap snugly in plastic wrap or wax paper and keep frozen until ready to consume.

ice cream smore'wich

Ice Cream Smore'wich — The Homemade Way

First, you'll need homemade graham crackers. Rather than repainting the Mona Lisa, I will merely refer you to Smitten Kitchen's Awesome Graham Cracker Post.

For the chocolate fudge sauce layer:
Simple Chocolate Fudge Sauce (Makes about 3 cups)

1 cup chopped 60% chocolate (or good quality chocolate chips)
1/2 cup butter
2 cups confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup milk or cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or brandy
1/8 teaspoon salt

Combine the chocolate and butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Melt over medium-low heat, stirring to blend. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Gradually blend in the milk (or cream). Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the vanilla (or brandy) and salt. Serve immediately or store, chilled. (Can be rewarmed in the microwave.)

Finally, the toasted marshmallow ice cream:

Although the Torani company makes a very exciting-looking Toasted Marshmallow Syrup, I wasn't able to secure any for this test. Instead, I've gone with a classic ice cream base with a toasted marshmallow swirl.

Toasted Marshmallow Swirl Ice Cream (Makes 1+ quart)

For the Toasted Marshmallow Swirl:
15 large-sized marshmallows
1/2 cup milk or water

Place the marshmallows and liquid in a heavy-bottomed sauce pot and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the marshmallows melt and the sauce attains a rich brown color (about 20 minutes). Add a little hot water if the mixture seems too thick and scrape the edges and bottom well to pick up the caramelized sugar.
When the sauce is thick and caramel colored, remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool.

For the Ice Cream Base:
2 free-range eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk

1. Whisk the eggs 1-2 minutes.
2. Whisk in the sugar.
3. When blended, pour in the cream and milk. Blend well.
4. Pour this blend into your ice cream machine and prepare as directed.
5. When the ice cream is very thick and nearly ready (about five to ten minutes before completion), fold in the toasted marshmallow sauce.
6. Pack the ice cream into pints and freeze overnight.

To assemble the homemade Smore'wich
1. Select two graham crackers and slather one side of one graham cracker with chocolate fudge sauce.
2. Slather a thick portion of the ice cream across the length and width of the remaining graham cracker base.
3. Gently compress the coated sides of both graham crackers together. Wrap the sandwich snugly in plastic wrap or wax paper and keep frozen until ready to consume.

While my toasted marshmallow swirl ice cream is pretty tasty, it's not quite as toasty as I'd like it to be.

I still want to try out the toasted marshmallow syrup, but in the meantime, if anyone knows a foolproof method for getting that rich caramelized flavor into ice cream, please let me know in the comments!

Have a lovely long weekend, and happy eating!
Miss Ginsu

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The Missing Tooth & The Red Velvet Pig

My boss, let's call him Dr. Bacon, completely missed out on his birthday cake this week.

If you're a longtime reader, you may recall that the one we did last year was the chocolate bacon cake. Well, this one wasn't half so crazy, but it was still sort of cute and appropriate to the recipient.

I blame the dentist. After a vicious morning root canal, Dr. Bacon wasn't up for work, or cake, or even consciousness, I'd wager. Too bad.

We ate up the red velvet pig on his behalf. Piggy wasn't willing to hang around waiting.

Red Velvet Pig

His frosting isn't perfect (but maybe that gives him character?), and yes... the eyes, hooves and snout are paper cut-outs, (which is kind of cheating), but I still think he's rather charming.

He certainly looked very cool after we divided him into pieces. Some gleefully went for pieces of the pork belly. Others claimed the ham, or the loin. I went after one of the tasty trotters.

I think my favorite aspect of red velvet cake is the cream cheese frosting, and since I use less sugar than most people, mine is still a bit more cream-cheese tangy and not eye-poppingly sweet. That said, if you love the super-sweet frosting, by all means... double or even triple the confectioners' sugar in this recipe.
Red Velvet Sheet Cake (Makes one 13" x 9" cake)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk (or 3/4 cup plain yogurt and 1/4 cup water or milk)
2 tbsp (1 oz) red food color
1 tsp white vinegar (raspberry vinegar is also nice)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp salt

For the frosting:
1 8oz package cream cheese, softened
4 tbsp butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup chopped pecans (optional, for garnish)

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 13" x 9" baking pan.
2. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add in the eggs and vanilla, beating well.
3. In a separate bowl, blend the buttermilk and food color.
4. Sift the flour, cocoa, salt and soda, then add this dry blend to the butter mixture, alternating with additions of the buttermilk mixture. Mix out any lumps, but don't over-beat.
5. Stir in the vinegar, and pour the batter into the prepared pan.
6. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center of the comes out clean. When done, remove the pan from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
7. Make the frosting by blending together the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar and vanilla extract. When smooth and creamy, smooth it across the surface of the cake. Top with chopped pecans, if desired.

To make the pig shape, I cut out a cardboard template and made a home-made pan by wrapping it with aluminum foil. And no, it didn't catch on fire in the oven, but you could just as easily (and probably more safely) get the same effect by cutting hooves, an ear and a snout out of the cake after it cools.

The lack of curly tail was noted, and if we'd been prepared, I think we might have inserted a twisted piece of ropey red liquorice or a slice of curly fried bacon.

Alas, the pig went without a tail, Mr. Bacon went without cake and the dentist ran away with the tooth.

But you know, that's how some days go down. At such times, all we can do is hope that tomorrow offers better prospects for healthy teeth, proud tails and tender slices of cake.

Miss Ginsu

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On Bulding a Bombe

At culinary school, we spent one whole class period making bombes, and it was a wonderful experience, although I've noticed it's not polite to talk about that sort of thing in public.

People can't hear the silent "e" at the end of bombe, so one risks being labeled a terrorist. Thus, it becomes necessary to modify the word on each utterance... "pastry bombe" or "ice cream bombe" or "bombe cake" or something of the sort.

The bombe glacée is a traditional French confection made with a cake dome that encloses a mousse or ice cream center.

You don't see them that often, and that's a shame, because it's fairly easy to construct a bombe.

I find that the mousse variety holds up a bit longer at room temperature, but the ice cream bombe seems to make people (particularly small people) squeal with delight.

To get started, you'll need a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with a raised edge and a large, deep metal or glass mixing bowl. (Mine is from K-Mart's affordable Martha Stewart line)

The construction of a basic bombe works like this:
1. Bake a flat, flexible cake layer. (I used the chocolate genoise recipe for this.)
2. Cool the cake and and cut into pieces/strips.
3. Line the metal mixing bowl with plastic wrap and then line with the cake pieces, cutting smaller shapes (as necessary) to fit in all the spaces and make a single, uniform layer. This process is like making a cake puzzle across the inside of the bowl.
4. Pack mousse or softened (but not melted) ice cream into the empty space atop the cake, cover the entire bowl with plastic wrap or parchment and freeze 5 hours (or overnight).
5. Optional: Cover exposed ice cream top (cake bottom) with a quick chocolate ganache and let harden for 30 minutes in the freezer. This is just to seal up the bottom, but it doesn't show, and it's not necessary.
6. Using the plastic wrap lining for leverage, invert the bombe on a platter and quickly frost or ice it and/or decorate it. Return the bombe the freezer until it's time to cut and serve.

To illustrate, here's a bombe, still in the chilled bowl with the hardened ganache spread across the top.

Bombe in the Bowl

Observe the inverted, undecorated bombe here (you'll note the white ice cream crevices where the cake pieces fit together).

Bombe Cake (unfrosted)

And the frosted bombe here...

Bombe Cake (frosted)

The lovely Suzy Hotrod kindly documented the before and after bombe photos, so toques off to her for making this funny little cake look professional.

I do recommend avoiding the lowfat ice creams for this project. They're often very airy and whipped, making them melt too quickly for use here. But that aside, you can really use whatever ice cream you like. I went with plain old vanilla but most anything you enjoy will work fine.


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Dangerously Spicy Chocolate-Chili Fudge 2.0

Rich, dark and spicy. Is there a homemade treat for Valentine's Day that's more thematically appropriate than my Dangerously Spicy Chocolate-Chili Fudge?

I'm doubting it... especially now that I've gone through and improved the recipe.

I whipped up the first version of this fudge two years ago, but I thought the texture was slightly less than perfect. It was just a bit too chewy.

In this new & improved version, I've added more butter (which makes it creamier) and I've replaced the nutmeg with vanilla, which improves the overall flavor in a magical way.

chocolate fudge heart

It's still super-fast and very easy to make, and you can use dark chocolate (I do) or milk chocolate, as you prefer.
Dangerously Spicy Chocolate-Chili Fudge 2.0 (Makes about 16 pieces)

One (14oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper (or more, if you're bold)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 lb milk or dark chocolate (use chips, pastilles or pieces you've cut)

1. Butter the bottom of an 8-inch to 9-inch square baking pan, and line with a piece of parchment or wax paper.

2. In a metal or glass bowl, blend together the salt, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and vanilla with the sweetened condensed milk.

3. Set the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water (double boiler), add the butter and chocolate, stirring the mixture occasionally as it melts.

4. When everything is blended and smooth, spread the mixture into the prepared pan and chill in the refrigerator 2 to 3 hours, or until firm.

5. Run a warm knife around edges of pan to loosen the fudge block and flip it over onto a cutting board. Remove the parchment paper and cut the fudge into 1- to 2-inch squares. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container for up to a month.

Since I last posted on this topic, I've also discovered that some high-quality fudge tips exist at Allrecipes.com. Since I try to avoid using corn syrup, I went with the sweetened condensed milk, and yes, it's pretty fool-poof.

Miss Ginsu

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Chocolate Fondue the Lazy Way

Feeling rushed this week? Broke? Out of ideas for something special you might want to do for the Valentine's Day holiday?

Consider the Lazy Cook's Chocolate Fondue, a recipe that's easy, cheap, fun to do, a little out of the ordinary and supremely decadent — all at the same time.

Chocolate Fondue with Peeps

The nice thing about this recipe (other than the fact that it's dead simple, cheap and reliably tasty) is that it's so very flexible.

If the berries look ugly (February isn't exactly their best month), get dried fruit instead.

Don't like marshmallows? No problem: skip 'em.

Need a Valentine's Day treat for the whole family? Double the recipe. Kids love to dip things... especially in chocolate.

Prefer dark to milk? Go crazy.

Whatever your preferences, this is the chocolate treat for you and your valentine, because you can customize it perfectly to suit the occasion and the participants involved.

Chocolate Fondue with Peeps (Close Up)
Chocolate Fondue the Lazy Way (Serves 2-4)

For the sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
8oz (1/2 lb) chocolate chips, pastilles or small chunks (milk, dark or white)

For dipping (Choose one or more)
Fresh strawberries, raspberries or blackberries
Bananas, cut into 1" chunks
Pound cake, cut into 1" cubes
Dried fruit (apricots, figs, dried cherries, banana chips and pineapple work well)
Jumbo marshmallows
Graham crackers or shortbread cookies
Walnut or pecan halves
Fresh coconut, cut into 1" cubes

1. Count out forks or skewers and prepare a serving plate with the dipping items. (You'll want them at the ready so the sauce doesn't cool down completely while your fussing.)
2. Place the cream and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat. Whisk constantly until the chocolate melts and incorporates.
3. Pour the chocolate sauce into a pretty bowl and serve immediately alongside your prepared platter of dippers.

Totally easy, right? You can whip this up in less than 20 minutes.

I'm not a white chocolate person, but I must admit it looks particularly cool on the berries.

And feel free to use broken up chocolate bars, chocolate chips, one of those huge Hershey chocolate kisses hacked into little pieces... whatever chocolate you happen to have.


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Day 19: Cookie o' the Week... Peppermint Snowflakes

This post marks Day 19 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

I recently ran across the coolest snowflake cookie cutter set; It included tiny pieces to help cut out the decorative bits on the arms of the snowflakes. Pretty slick, but I had no real need to buy it.

Then it occurred to me that such a thing would be just the ticket for a new take on that stained glass cookie that's made with a basic cut-out recipe and crushed candy that melts into the open spaces. Voila! Peppermint Snowflakes!

Stained-Glass Snowflake

I've made these chocolate, because I really like the combination of chocolate and peppermint, but you could certainly skip the cocoa powder, use 1/2 cup more flour and make vanilla snowflakes.

Crushed Candy Canes and Chocolate Snowflakes

You can use candy canes, as I did, but I think they'd look pretty cool with those clear blue peppermint candies as well.
Peppermint Snowflakes (Makes about 4 dozen)
1 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Candy canes or peppermints
1 snowflake cookie cutter set

1. Heat oven to 350° F.
2. In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter together. Add the egg and the vanilla extract.
3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and the cocoa powder.
4. Blend the flour mixture into the butter mixture.
5. Flatten the dough into a disc or a square, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
6. Divide the dough, leave one portion in the refrigerator, and roll out the other portion between 1/4" and 1/8" thick on a floured surface.
7. Cut out large snowflakes, creating triangle-shaped openings in each. Move the snowflakes to the baking sheets.
8. Place hard candy or candy canes in a plastic bag, and pulverize the candy into tiny pieces/dust with the base of a jar or a meat mallet.
9. Fill the openings in the cookies with candy shards/dust. Stuff as much as you can into each opening. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes or until the cookie sets up and the candy is melted and bubbly.
10. Cool cookies for 3 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool fully.

Though you may be inspired to set these up in the windowsill and admire the stained-glass effect, the candy will melt with moisture of condensation. And since they're really tasty, that's a darn shame. Thus, I must insist you admire them only briefly before munching with a tall, cold glass of milk.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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FoodLink Roundup: 11.17.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was handily spotted in the grand hall of Grand Central Station. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Spam Spikes
Apparently, in hard times (like now) Spam production (the meat kind) goes into overdrive.

Talking chocolate with Damian Allsop
Man breaks back and morphs into modern Willy Wonka. Culinary magic ensues.

What the World Leaders Ate
Planet Money posts the White House menu for G-20 world leaders. Mmm... Lamb, Quinoa and Huckleberries.

The Math on the Starbucks Gold Card
Bottom line: you have to be an addict to make it pay.

Scientists turn tequila into diamonds
My high school chem class definitely didn't feature this experiment.

McDonald's sales rise 8.2 percent
"McDonald's is likely benefiting from diners who might ordinarily go to pricier sit-down restaurants but are gravitating to fast food to save money — a phenomenon called 'trading down.'"

New food links — and another postcard from Cupcake — every Monday morning on missginsu.com

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A Day for Goooools and Globins

I'd intended on making chocolate skulls with white chocolate and dark chocolate detailing. They were going to be So. Very. Cool.

Unfortunately, the white chocolate refused to come out of the plastic skull molds looking like little chocolate skulls. Instead, it looked like globby white chocolate messes.

I needed a Plan B. Stat.

White Chocolate Globins

Thanks to some handy pepitas, shredded coconut and chow mein noodles, Plan B was hatched... and out came these cute little globins. My roomie called 'em that.

I was thinking they should perhaps be called goooools, but they're just so globby and cute. She's right. Globins it is.

As you'll see in the photo below, these guys were perfectly happy to see and be seen at our lunchtime Halloween potluck at work this week.

We feasted on chocolate chip cookies, a delicious pumpkin bread, candied apples, coffee-braised beef ribs with spiced pumpkin, an addictive pumpkin dip with homemade tortilla chips and bottles of Orangina. You'll also see that Travis brought the burbling dry ice as his contribution in the back there.

Halloween Picnic

Clearly, as a fall-back plan, these little fellows were supremely easy to make. The white chocolate becomes both the molding material and the glaze on the outside, so I think you could make them with close to anything munch-able you happen to have around the house.

No pepitas? Use some other nut or seed. No chow mein noodles? Substitute something else for the arms. Maybe black liquorice ropes. Easy. I think they'd be great with just granola in them.

Globins (Makes about 14 globins)
12 oz (1 bag) white chocolate chips
2 Tbsp milk + 1 Tbsp milk
1 cup pepitas (or some other seed or chopped nut)
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chow mein noodles + a few extras for arms
A small handful of dried currants or black sesame seeds (for eyes)

1. Over low heat in a saucepan, melt 3/4 of the bag of white chocolate with 2 Tbsp milk. Stir constantly.
2. Combine the nuts, coconut and chow mein noodles in a bowl.
3. Pour the melted white chocolate over the nut-noodle mixture. Blend well and place in the freezer to chill for about 20 minutes.
4. Line a baking sheet or cake pan with parchment paper.
5. When the mixture is cool, but still pliable, remove from the freezer and form 1 Tbsp portions into tall mounds.
6. Melt the remaining 1 Tbsp milk with the remaining white chocolate chips. This will become your glaze.
7. Carefully roll one the globin mounds in the glaze to coat. (You may want to use latex gloves for this task.) Stand the globin up on the parchment.
8. Push two currents or sesame seeds into the top of the globin for eyes and push chow mein noodles into both of its sides for arms (see photo, above). Repeat this glazing and decorating step with all the little naked globin mounds.
9. Allow your globins to cool on the parchment paper for a few hours or overnight. They're alive! Aliiiiive!

As party guests, I must say... the globins were perfect gentlemen and they were very popular with all the other guests. They mingle well and they're just so charming, they end up drawing a lot of attention. I'd certainly invite these little chaps along to another party.

All of which goes to show that sometimes Plan B is even better than Plan A. So that's my lesson of the day. Be open to Plan B, or whatever Plan B turns out to be.

Wishing you a spooooooky Halloween!
Miss Ginsu

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Egg Cream: No Egg, No Cream. Still Good.

"When I was a young man, no bigger than this
A chocolate egg cream was not to be missed
Some U-Bet's Chocolate Syrup, seltzer water mixed with milk
Stir it up into a heady fro', tasted just like silk
You scream, I scream, We all want Egg Cream"
— Lou Reed from Egg Cream

If you ever move to New York — and lots of folks do just that each year — you are bound to encounter the classic beverage that goes by the name Egg Cream.

My coworkers graciously provided egg cream-makin' supplies for my birthday fest. Ain't they sweet?

If you don't see the egg cream in some ironic "deconstructed" form at a schmantzy bar, you'll meet it at a luncheonette or deli (the 2nd Avenue Deli makes theirs in a dairy-free version). Or maybe you'll try one at the Lower East Side Egg Rolls & Egg Creams Festival that the Museum at Eldridge Street puts on every summer. No matter. You'll find it.

Of course, you could always cut out the middle-man and make your own. They're mighty tasty. And as Lou Reed reveals, it's truly simple process: all you'll need is a glass, a spoon, chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer water.

But first, what's the deal with the misleading name? An egg cream does taste creamy, so that part of the term isn't much of a stretch. But as it turns out, there's some contention about the "egg" in an egg cream.

It's possible that the "egg" came from the Yiddish word "echt" (good), as in "good cream," and that's a popular theory — but knowing how common raw eggs used to be in cocktails and in the drinks at soda fountains, I suspect that original versions of the egg cream used creamy, frothy eggs in the raw... Rocky Balboa style.

I can almost hear the vigilant souls at the New York Health Department shudder as I type that.

But the modern egg cream has not a drop of egg, so relax and follow the authentic directions conveniently provided by Fox's on every bottle of their famed U-Bet Chocolate Syrup:

* Take a tall, chilled, straight-sided, 8oz. glass
* Spoon 1 inch of U-bet Chocolate syrup into glass
* Add 1 inch whole milk
* Tilt the glass and spray seltzer (from a pressurized cylinder only) off a spoon, to make a big chocolate head
* Stir, Drink, Enjoy

Miss Ginsu

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FoodLink Roundup: 08.18.08

Last week, our sweet protagonist was sussed out by Mr. Hazard at the Coney Island Boardwalk. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Vin Mariani
the nonist makes a rare foray into the realm of food blogging with the bizarre history of Vin Mariani: a most intoxicating beverage...

Make your own "pop tarts"
I have absolute certainty that these are immeasurably better than those little pastry hunks in the silver foil pouches.

Grandma's Grain Recipe
Oh yeah... this one is looking like a likely candidate for the autumn/winter brekkie roster.

Bodega Party in a Box
Your guide to celebrating (and making food from) the friendly neighborhood bodega.

The Frownie
Make a whole plate, and you've got a pity party. Hilarious.

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FoodLink Roundup: 08.11.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
It's Cupcake's birthday! Hooray, and happy birthday, Cupcake! Last week, our exploratory pastry hero was located out in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Beijing breakfast of champions
Eggs and tomatoes... with ginger!

Sorting Out Coffee’s Contradictions
Contrary to popular mythology, coffee doesn't appear to cause cancer, send you to the loo or give you high blood pressure.

Cutting Calories and Saving D'oh
Very nicely done.

Consumers are raising cane over corn sweetener
Count me in among the wary. I'm a big label-reader and HFCS-avoider these days...

.: Jen's Chocolate Cake :.
Not a blog, but simplicity itself: a single chocolate cake recipe that Jen (and others) apparently adore. I made a peanut-butter glaze for it last week.

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Peanut-Butter Glazed Chocolate Cake

Now that we have an official MissGinsu.com Peanut Week theme around these parts, I realized I had to address one of the world's greatest flavor combinations: chocolate and peanut butter. (Thank you, Reese's. The world owes you a great debt.)

A recent commenter led me to Jen's Chocolate Cake... a brilliantly simple single-post blog that features a chocolate cake recipe. A chocolate bundt cake recipe, to be precise.

And as a side note, I'm honestly incapable of making a bundt cake anymore without thinking of the "parental conflict over bundt cake" scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

And as a side note to the side note, Bundt is actually a registered trademark of the Minnesota-based Nordic Ware company, the folks who've made these pans for sixty years. That's why so many cookbooks refer to "tube pans" instead of bundt pans these days.

But back to the chocolate cake. Jen's recipe makes a very moist, rich cake, and she recommends a couple of different accompanying glazes.

And I've got one more that complements this cake very nicely. (Just remember what we discussed on Tuesday and don't bring it into school for snacktime.)
Jen Kwok's Chocolate Cake
1.75 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
0.5 tsp salt
0.5+ cup (two heaped quarter cups) cocoa
2 cups brown sugar
0.75 cup vegetable oil
0.5 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
0.75 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a bundt or tube pan. Blend all dry ingredients. Blend in brown sugar. Whisk in remaining ingredients, except water. Add boiling water and whisk until smooth. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes (turning about halfway through,) until cake tester comes out clean. Cool ten minutes in pan. Turn out of pan and finish cooling on rack.

My Peanut Butter Glaze for Jen's Chocolate Cake (Makes about 2 cups)

1/2 cup peanut butter (preferably smooth)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp cream cheese
1/2 tsp salt (if you're using natural peanut butter)

1. Whisk together all the ingredients until the mixture is smooth and lump-free. Add a tablespoon or so more milk if it seems too thick to drizzle.

2. Drizzle over the chocolate cake. Use excess glaze to spoon over individual slices, if you wish. Or just save it and serve it over vanilla ice cream. Mmm...

As you can imagine, this cake + glaze combo was popular around the office.

One of the best things about Bundt, er... tube cakes is that they're great for sharing. I love how everyone can slice off just as much as they want. It offers more flexibility than the rigid squares/rectangles you get out of a 9"x13" pan.

Happy Eating!

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FoodLink Roundup: 07.14.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Happy Bastille Day! Last week, Cupcake was found lollygagging in London, scoring yet another win for Mr. Hazard. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Quest for the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie
A very nicely done piece breaking down the various elements of the perfect chocolate chip cookie.

Bacon mania
'People now wear bacon like it's a mark of status or tribal membership,' says a New York writer who blogs under the name Miss Ginsu and has garnered online attention for making her own bacon cake and bacon ice cream." Woo! I'm a bacon expert. :)

The best croissant in Paris
Pim thinks she's found it. And oh, how I'd love to follow up on this experiment personally...

Secret report: biofuel caused food crisis
Uh oh... Study says "plant fuels have played a 'significant' part in pushing up food prices to record levels"

Do You Know Where Your Mushrooms Come From?
European countries have been labeling their produce sources for years... it's about time the US quit stalling.

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Seis de Mayo: Brownie Tamales

So, Seis de Mayo. You might be thinking: Why not Cinco de Mayo? It's a perfectly reasonable question. As it turns out, Cuatro de Mayo was unreasonably busy for my coworkers and I, but we still really wanted an excuse to cook and eat a Mexican-themed potluck.

As far as potluck themes go, you really can't go wrong with Cinco de Mayo. I mean, c'mon... it's got the tasty built right in. Mexican and Tex-Mex foods are some of the most popular dishes in the nation. Salsa has surpassed ketchup as our national condiment of choice (judged via per-capita consumption). And nearly every American city now features excellent Mexican and Central American specialty foods.

Here in NYC, it's a cinch to walk into the Essex Street Market and pick up a stack of soft corn tortillas for practically nothing. Corn husks for making tamales are just a couple of dollars for a hearty fistful. There's baffling varieties of dried chilies. There's exotic sauce brands. The papayas, fresh tomatillos and cactus paddles await your salad-making pleasure.

Cheese quesadillas done up on the George Foreman grill seemed like a quick-and-easy winner for our slightly belated department holiday picnic this week, but I also wanted to try out something a little more ambitious.

Tamale in the Steamer

I found a delicious-sounding candidate in Rosa's New Mexican Table by Chef Roberto Santibañez, formerly of NYC's Rosa Mexicano restaurant... Brownie Tamales.

Having been burned by an unfortunate barbecue sauce recipe over the weekend, I was a little recipe-shy, but this one was actually created by Nick Malgieri, the many-times-published pastry chef who created the curriculum at my cooking school. Since I love Santibañez's instincts and I've had great success with all of Malgieri's recipes, I figured I couldn't lose.

Steam Bath Full of Tamales

I've doubled the recipe and made a few tweaks — I just can't leave anything alone — but it's pretty close to the original. You might want to plan for a little loss. I had a couple of blowouts. The failed tamales were still edible... just not very pretty.

Speaking of which, I highly recommend a sauce or ice cream to serve with these. They're quite tasty, but they're sort of homely on their own. Cinnamon ice cream would make an outstanding addition.
Brownie Tamales (Makes 12-14)
6 6-inch corn tortillas
3/4 cup butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
13 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
8 large eggs, at room temperature
2 2/3 cups ground pecans (8 oz)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
12 large dried corn husks, soaked (7" across the bottom by 7" long)

1. Tear each tortilla into small pieces and grind them in a food processor (you may have to do this in batches). The texture should resemble coarse cornmeal. Set aside.
2. Beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add in the melted chocolate.
3. Beat in four eggs, then blend in half the pecans and half the ground tortillas.
4. Add the remaining eggs, followed by the rest of the pecans, tortillas, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange zest. Fold in the chocolate chips.
5. Drain the corn husks. While they're still damp, flatten out a husk on the surface before you and stuff with 1/2 cup of the brownie filling in the center of the husk. Fold the sides over the filling. I find it helpful to gather up the bottoms and tie them with a few inches of twine. (The top end will remain open. Just fold it over.) Repeat to form 12 tamales.
6. Place two or three dimes in the bottom of a large pot (while it boils, they'll jingle, letting you know there's still water in the pot) fitted with a steamer basket and water that meets the basket's base, but doesn't rise above it.
7. Stand the filled husks (open-end up) in the basket, keeping them upright, but not cramped.
8. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to keep the water simmering gently. Steam the tamales this way for about 30 minutes, carefully adding more water if the level runs low.
9. After 30 minutes, carefully remove a tamale, unwrap it and cut into it. It should be moist and semi-firm. If the tamale is still overly soft, return it to the basket and steam a bit more. If it's done, turn off the heat and let the tamales stand for 5 minutes.
10. Serve hot in opened husks with a scoop of ice cream, caramel sauce or whipped cream.


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Bacon + Cake = Yay!

"It's totally weird. I've never had anything like it before. And I want one for my birthday in November." — Marc

My boss is one of those people who considers the onion and the potato his favorite vegetables (all the better if they're fried). A meal just isn't a meal without meat, and practically any meal can be made better with the addition of a pork product. Not to mention that he's the only person I know who has three enormous barbecue grills on his Brooklyn patio roof-space.

So when his birthday rolled around, the email conversation naturally turned to bacon. There's been a lot of bacon sweets in the blog press lately. Bacon Brittle. Bacon Lollypops. The Vosges Bacon Chocolate Bar.

Could we really do a bacon cake? With real bacon? And how would that work?

Bacon Cake

Tomi bravely took the plunge (she says she was actually rather terrified by the whole prospect), going for a simple rectangular chocolate layer cake. She discovered a plastic pig at the dollar store to drive home the whole piggy point and topped her cake off with a pretty pink version of Paula Deen's Brown Butter Icing, crunchy pink sugar sprinkles aaaaand.... BACON!

Now, before you say "eeeew!" remember that sweet and salty tastes are often pretty great together. Chocolate covered pretzels, say. Or salted butter caramels. Or peanut-butter cookies. Sweet plus salty makes them multi-dimensional and more exciting to the tongue. And crunchy bacon bits on a chocolate cake offer a third dimension... sweet + salty + savory. Very exciting!

Some approached cautiously, but everyone who tried the chocolate bacon cake proclaimed enjoyment. Some went back for seconds. In the end, not a single slice went unclaimed. The boss man was pleased, and the whole thing was an enormous success. I was left wondering why bacon bits aren't a standard topping for cakes in the same way they are for salads, casseroles and omelettes.

Bacon Cake Slice

The assembly couldn't be easier. (Bake cake. Make icing. Ice cake. Top with bacon bits.) The chocolate cake itself is ultra-basic. The icing's a snap. The key to this recipe is in the bacon. It must be crispy, and it must be broken into bits. Long, limp slices won't do at all.

A Simple Chocolate Cake

3 oz semisweet (or bittersweet) chocolate, chopped
1 cup hot black coffee
2 cups all-purpose flour (or pastry flour)
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.

2. Combine hot coffee and chocolate pieces in a bowl. Let stand 5 minutes before whisking smooth.

3. Butter and flour the bottom of a 9- x 13-inch cake pan. (Or butter the bottom of the pan and lay in a piece of parchment.)

4. In a separate bowl, blend together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

5. In another bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until slightly thickened and pale, about 3 minutes. Gradually add yogurt (or buttermilk), vegetable oil, vanilla and coffee-chocolate mixture to eggs. Stir to combine well.

6. Add the dry ingredients into the moist ingredients and continue to beat until just combined.

7. Pour cake batter into the prepared pan and bake about 40-45 minutes (or until the cake springs back lightly when touched and a tester inserted in center comes out clean).

8. Place cake pan on a rack and cool completely in the pan. To remove, run a knife around edge of the pan and invert cake onto a rack. (May be wrapped tightly and kept at room temperature for up to 2 days or frozen for 3 weeks.)

Paula Deen's Browned Butter Icing (in a Pretty Piggy Pink)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup confectioners' sugar
Red food color (optional)

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, or until butter is lightly browned. Whisk in confectioners' sugar until smooth. Stir in 2-3 (or more) drops red food color to achieve your own perfect piggy pink.


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FoodLink Roundup: 03.10.08

Cupcake Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was romping through Sabino Canyon near Tucson, Arizona. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post in the comments if you think you know...

The Psychology Of Commerce
A quick lesson in commodity exchange... demonstrated with the aid of vegetables and chickens.

Free the Grapes!
Wine lovers unite to do battle against the evil forces of distribution blue laws (via WineHazard)

A Brief History of Chocolate
"Who would have thought, looking at this, that you can eat it?"

Self-control consumes real energy
Why your deprivation dieting plans fail every time...

Thomas Heatherwick East Beach Cafe
The most expensive chippy you've ever seen. Hope those chips are tasty.

Coffee Prices Skyrocket
Horrors! Time to stockpile those vacuum packs.

Chinese Food: America's National Cuisine
Exploring the march of the ubiquitous "Chinese" restaurant across America.

Make Coca-Cola at home
DIY Coke... A great skill to have after the apocalypse.

Honibe Honey Drop
Solid honey drops. A nifty innovation for tea-drinking travelers. (via
The Food Section)

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Food Quote Friday: Madame d'Arestel

Hot Chocolate with fresh-whipped cream at Angelina in Paris

" 'Monsieur,' Madame d'Arestel, Superior of the convent of the Visitation at Belley, once said to me more than fifty years ago, "whenever you want to have a really good cup of chocolate, make it the day before, in a porcelain coffeepot, and let it set. The night's rest will concentrate it and give it a velvety quality which will make it better. Our good God cannot possibly take offense at this little refinement, since he himself is everything that is most perfect.' "

— as quoted by Brillat-Savarin from The Physiology of Taste, 1825

Sip up more decadent food quotes here.

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The Food FEMA Forgets

Two years ago, in the midst of Avian Flu scares, I typed up a quick Foodie's Apocalypse Kit... a nice grouping of emergency preparedness items I felt (and still feel) FEMA and the Red Cross really missed the boat on.

Now that two years have passed and the flu scare headlines have been replaced with the terror du jour, folks may have forgotten their annual apocalypse kit freshness review. So... How're those expiration dates looking? National holidays ought to correspond to the practical needs of the citizenry, so shouldn't the second Thursday of January always be Check Your Apocalypse Kit Day?

As we all take a moment to take stock of our stockpiles, I think it's particularly appropriate to plan for a very practical emergency preparedness component that FEMA forgets: Vice.

Tucked in alongside the 10 Essentials, addicts of every stripe need to lay in stock for their needs. Stressful times are not the right moments to quit smoking or try to kick the caffeine.

There's three underrated bug-out bag essentials I'm thinking about at the moment: Coffee, Chocolate and Hard Liquor.

apple martini

Coffee is a no-brainer for bean-worshipers like me. It's le soma quotidien. I feel ooky without it. Ooky is most certainly not what I want to feel if there's anything that's required of me.

Chocolate isn't much of a mental stretch, either. If there's a disaster, you're probably going to feel very unhappy and uncomfortable. For most people, chocolate is something soothing and pleasant. A staple diet of brown rice and canned beans might keep the body working, but a nip of good chocolate is food for the spirit.

I've already mentioned the liquor in brief, but as it's still not on any emergency preparedness list I've ever seen, I'm pressed to make my case with more persuasive detail.

Even if — like me — you're no fan of clear liquors like vodka (or whiskey, or rum), said fluid should be de rigueur for nearly anyone's go-bag. Aside from obvious benefits as a mental balm during hard times, liquor is endlessly useful:

  • It sterilizes wounds and cleans tools.

  • Liquor preserves foods.

  • It's a local anesthetic and disinfectant. Use it on cuts and broken blisters.

  • For painless bandage removal, rub a vodka-soaked cloth on the bandage to dissolve the adhesive.

  • Liquor can be used as an accelerant.

  • I've not tried it, but vodka's rumored to take the sting out of jellyfish encounters and poison ivy incidents

  • Liquor is a commodity that maintains its value. Trade it to the neighbors for something you want or need.

I was around for the Northeast Blackout of 2003, and I can tell you with great certainty that in the sudden absence of electricity, people become very interested in clean water, long-burning candles and a good, stiff drink.

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It's Log! It's Log!

"So it's like a giant Yodel." My boss was watching me glaze the yule log cake as he said this. I really couldn't argue with the assessment.

For those who don't know the Yodel, fret not. It's an East Coast thing. As it turns out, Yodels or Ding Dongs or whathaveyou, are essentially tiny yule logs.

One of my exceedingly cool coworkers is a punk rock guitar goddess, the captain of a multi-championship roller derby team and the proud owner of one of those cursed right-around-Christmas birthdays.

But she also has a great sense of humor, and this year, she requested a yule log birthday cake to complete her fest.

I'd never made one, so I was happy to take on the challenge. There were some moments of terror (Gah! Cracks in the cake!) but as you can see, it turned out pretty great. As she's also a talented food photographer, she snapped a quick studio shot of the final product for me. Pretty rad, no?

Yule Log, with Garden Gnome

Though actual Yule Logs — sometimes known as Ashen Faggots — and their copycat cakes might be considered quaint (and yes, maybe even tacky) to our modern sensibilities, there's a venerated tradition in there. The log-based cake even has a fancy French name with lots of diacritical marks: Bûche de Noël

There's piles of recipes for log cakes, some including complicated marzipan holly and all kinds of faux greenery. I evaluated a few and decided to base my bûche de noël off Martha Stewart's recipe. I'm a big fan of the meringue mushrooms. So cute!

I'm here to tell you the yule log cake isn't supremely difficult, but it is fairly time-consuming. You can make the whole project seem more achievable if you break the steps into four smaller recipes plus one assembly project. I did the four recipes the night before and then finished up with assembling the mushrooms and frosting the cake the next day while I was on-site.

Before you get started, know that you will need a candy thermometer, a 10 1/2 by 15 1/2 by 1" pan and a pastry bag (preferably one with a large-sized tip). I've added a few other usage notes and tips between the recipes *within the asterisks.*

Yule log on fire

Bûche de Noël (Serves about 12)

Step 1: Chocolate Genoise Cake

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for parchment and pan
2/3 cup sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
1/3 cup sifted cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
Pinch of baking soda
6 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Heat oven to 350°. Butter a 10 1/2-by-15 1/2-by-1-inch pan. Line with parchment; butter and flour paper, tapping out the excess flour.
2. Sift flour, cocoa, and baking soda together twice into a medium bowl. Set aside. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Skim off white foam, and pour clear yellow butter into a bowl, discarding white liquid at the bottom. Set aside in a warm place.
3. In a medium-size heat-proof bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar. Set bowl over a pan of simmering water; stir until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, and beat on high speed until mixture is thick and pale and has tripled in bulk. Reduce speed to medium, add vanilla, and beat 2 to 3 minutes more.
4. In three additions, sift flour mixture over egg mixture, folding in gently with a spatula. While folding in last addition, dribble melted butter over batter and fold in.
5. Spread batter evenly in pan, leaving behind any unincorporated butter in the bottom of the bowl. Tap pan on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake until cake springs back when touched in center, 15 to 20 minutes. Don't overbake or cake will crack. Let sit in pan on a wire rack until cool enough to handle.
6. Dust surface with cocoa powder. To make rolling easier, trim edges of cake, and cover with a sheet of waxed paper and a damp dish towel. Invert onto a work surface, and peel off parchment; dust with cocoa. Starting from the long side, carefully roll up cake in towel. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate until ready to use.
7. To assemble cake, carefully unroll genoise on the back side of a baking sheet (discard the plastic wrap and waxed paper, but keep the towel). Spread chocolate mousse evenly on cake to within 1 to 2 inches of one long end. Reroll cake, starting from other long end, using towel to help roll it. Cover with plastic wrap; chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

*Don't worry if the cake cracks a little when you're rolling. You can usually frost over the crevasses pretty successfully.*

Rolled yule log
Step 2: Chocolate Mousse

4 ounces semisweet chocolate
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large eggs, separated
Pinch of cream tartar
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. In a double boiler, melt together chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat, and transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in egg yolks, stirring well. Let cool to room temperature.
2. In a large bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff. Whisk a third of the whites into chocolate mixture; gently fold in remainder of the egg whites.
3. Whip cream until it holds soft peaks, and fold into chocolate mixture. Chill until set, about 1 hour.

*Chocolate mousse is delicious as a simple dessert on its own, so if you have extra, save it!*

spreading the chocolate mousse
Step 3: Chocolate Ganache (Makes 1 1/2 cups)

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream

1. Chop chocolate into small pieces, and place in a medium bowl.
2. Heat cream until bubbles begin to appear around the edges (scalding).
3. Pour cream over chocolate. Let stand 5 minutes, then stir until smooth.
4. Refrigerate until cold but not solid, stirring occasionally.

*This ganache is easy, delicious and makes a great all-purpose frosting recipe to keep in your personal arsenal.*

meringue mushrooms, ready to be baked
Step 4: Meringue Mushrooms

1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
3 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

1. Heat oven to 225°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, heat sugar and 1/2 cup water over low heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil; cook until liquid reaches 248°F.(hard-ball stage) on a candy thermometer.
3. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric beater fitted with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on low speed until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high, and add hot syrup in a steady stream, beating constantly. Continue beating until cool and stiff, about 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Fold in cocoa powder.
4. Spoon meringue into a large pastry bag fitted with a coupler and large plain tip. Pipe meringue onto prepared baking sheet to form 2-inch domes. Pipe a separate stem shape for each dome.
5. Bake until dry, about 2 hours. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
6. To assemble mushrooms, melt chocolate in a double boiler or in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Trim off points from tops of stems. With a small offset spatula, spread chocolate on underside of a cap and place trimmed end of stem into center of cap. Place mushroom, stem side up, in an egg carton to harden. Repeat with remaining mushrooms; refrigerate until set.

*Essentially, you want flatter little domes for the mushroom caps and taller columns for stems, but even when they're lopsided the stems look good, so don't freak out too much about making them vertical.*

meringue mushrooms, setting up
Step 5: Assemble the Log

1. Place cake, seam side down, on a serving platter; tuck parchment around it to keep platter clean while decorating.
2. Whip ganache at medium speed until it has the consistency of soft butter. Cut one wedge off an end of the cake at a 45° angle; set aside. Ice log with a thin layer of ganache. Attach wedge to the side of the log. Spread ganache all over log, using a small spatula or a the back of a knife to form barklike ridges. Chill until ganache is firm, about 30 minutes.
3. When ready to serve, arrange meringue mushrooms around and on cake, and dust lightly with confectioners' sugar to create "snow." Add garden gnomes and tinsel. Serve with panache.

*I also used some pulverized chocolate cookies to make "dirt" that sat around the log on the platter. This had the added benefit of covering any accidental ganache drips.*

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Day 16: When Cake Imitates Life

This post marks Day 16 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

I don't know about you, but I enjoy the notion of novelty cakes. I've always been entertained by the idea of the Coca-Cola Cake, the Orange Dreamsicle Cake, the Daim Cake and the Wacky Cake.

My boss loves to talk about his girlfriend's orange cake, which is actually pretty tasty. Whenever he explains this cake of wonders to someone, he inevitably exclaims, "It's got pudding in it!" as if the notion of pudding mix in a cake brings some kind of magic to the whole enterprise.

One of my dad's favorite cakes is simply a dark chocolate boxed cake mix that he pours into the pan over a 14oz can's worth of pitted dark cherries (and the syrup, presumably). It's then frosted like a standard chocolate cake. Dad's chocolate-cherry cake is fruity and gooey at the bottom... I suppose it's sort of a lazy man's German Chocolate Cake. A bit rich for my taste, but people always rave and ask him for the recipe.

Maybe it's some kind of kitchen alchemy, this combination of manufactured items and home-cooked goods. Or maybe the use of grocery products offers an element of adventure (will it work?) and an aspect of surprise (you'll never guess what's in it!).

Perhaps we've all just been brainwashed by generations of recipes produced and published by food manufacturers. (Try these easy, delicious Spamwiches!)

hot chocolate cake

Regardless of the psychology burbling in the brain, I found myself taken with a Hot Chocolate Cake I recently found through the aid of Real Simple magazine.

The Hot Chocolate Cake is essentially a (nearly) flourless chocolate cake that's topped with marshmallows and browned to perfection just before serving. You can do individual portions in teacups or cocoa mugs with mini-marshmallows (a terrific presentation) or one larger round cake with the big marshmallows (as seen herein).

I think I'd recommend the individual cakes in oven-safe teacups. Presentation is key for a novelty cake. You want to hear the round of "oohs" and "aahs" as the desserts are presented. They'd be fab for cold-weather entertaining (Christmas dinner, anyone?)

The cakes (or cake, if you're doing an individual one) are truly tastiest if they're still a bit soft and underdone in the middle, so take care not to overbake.
Hot Chocolate Cake (Makes 8 servings)

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for coating
10 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for dusting
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup mini marshmallows (Or 1 bag large marshmallows for a full-size cake)

Heat oven to 375°F. Generously butter, flour, and sugar eight 6-ounce ramekins or ovenproof coffee cups or mugs, tapping out any excess coatings. Wipe the rims clean and place on a baking sheet.

Place the butter and chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (the bowl should not touch the water). Heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter and chocolate are melted and smooth. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium-high, beat the eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, salt, and sugar until the mixture doubles in volume, about 5 minutes; set aside. Stir the flour into the chocolate mixture.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Fill each ramekin or cup with batter until it's 1/2 inch from the rim.

Bake until the cakes puff and crack on the surface but are still slightly liquid in the center, 13 to 17 minutes, depending on the size of the cups. Remove from oven.

Sprinkle with the marshmallows. Return to oven until the marshmallows begin to crisp, 2 to 4 minutes. Let cool for at least 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tip: You could make a single hot chocolate cake instead of individual ones. To do this, you'll need a 10-inch springform pan and enough regular-size marshmallows to cover the surface. You'll also need to increase the initial baking time to 22 to 25 minutes or, if you prefer a more gooey center, to 17 to 20 minutes.

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Day 4: A Hot Chocolate Field Guide

This post marks Day 4 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate. Also: Happy Hanukkah!

When it comes to cocoa, there are distinct camps. I think of them as the Swiss Misstics and the Chocovores.

Identifying the Parties

The Swiss Misstic thinks the Chocovore is a pompous twit. The Chocovore sees the Swiss Misstic as a philistine. It's a war over definition.

What nobody understands is the very simple difference at hand. The classic Swiss Misstic is looking for something like warmed milk with chocolate in it. The Chocovore is looking for something like warmed chocolate with milk in it.

It's a difference of ratio, decoration and price vs. quality.

Epistrophy Cocoa
Epistrophy (on Mott Street) serves up a cream-covered hedonist treat for Swiss Misstics

The Swiss Misstics

The classic Misstic is looking for a warm cup of comfort. If it comes with whipped cream, chocolate drizzles, flavored syrups, mini marshmallows or cookies for dipping, that's all the better, but the Misstic is easy to please. Just serve up a powdered mix and hot water or chocolate syrup mixed into warmed milk.

Here's a quick recipe for homemade cocoa mix. Mix up a packet and give it to your favorite Misstic along with instructions and a cute mug.

Homemade Cocoa Mix (Makes about 7 1/2 cups of mix)

Basic Ingredients
5 cups dry milk
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Optional Add-Ins:
1/2 cup crushed candy canes
1 cup mini marshmallows
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

1. Blend ingredients.

2. Store in an airtight container or plastic bag.

3. To make a single serving, combine 1/4 cup mix and 3/4 cup hot water in a mug. Stir well to blend.

Epistrophy Cocoa
The chocolate at St. Helen Cafe (in Brooklyn) is dark and rich under all that foam.

The Chocovores

A Chocovore insists on splendor. It's high-quality chocolate or none at all. You'll rarely see ornamentation on the chocovore's cuppa, and if you do, it's probably something simple, like chocolate shavings. Give the chocovore something made with whole milk and melted dark chocolate nibs (at least 70%). Chocovores also enjoy name dropping. Give them packs of Jacques Torres, MarieBelle, Schokinag Drinking Chocolate or Vosges Couture Cocoa.

To each, his own (cup)

I think we can all get along. Mutual understanding is the key to peace between the factions this holiday season.

If you're mixing up hot chocolate at a holiday party, you can easily please Misstics and Chocovores alike.

Adjustable Hot Chocolate

Add a cup of milk for each cocoa drinker to a saucepan and heat on medium, incorporating pieces of bittersweet chocolate with a whisk until the liquid matches the correct color scheme (see below).

You'll stop early for the Misstics, offering up mugs of lighter-colored liquid topped with marshmallows or whipped cream and chocolate drizzles.

Keep whisking in chocolate for the chocovores. Offer decorations, but don't be offended if they just want their fix straight up.

Use the following chart for color reference:

hot chocolate chart

However you drink your cocoa, I wish good cheer to all, and to all, a good cup!

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Gelato Throwdown

il laboratorio del gelato: Avocado Gelato
The avocado gelato at Il Laboratorio del Gelato

Sometimes the food is about more than just the food.

Flavor is a factor, of course, but given food experience is also influenced by the ambiance, the price, the service, the level of love involved in the operation and the convenience factor (not to mention the quality level when compared to other available options).

Recently caught the grip of a sultry spring evening, and J and I trekked up to Grom, the first US outpost of an Italian chain that's fast become the Upper West Side's must-have sweet fix. Not surprisingly, so did hundreds of other New Yorkers.

Milling about in a line that stretched down to 76th street, we compared notes with our fellow line lizards. The couple ahead were true believers, back for another fix. The couple behind questioned the collective intelligence of sixty people who would wait in line upwards of 30 minutes for pricey cups of gelato.

The verdict? Grom is good. Their menu promising seasonal change is appealing. Their Slow Food-approved flavors are compelling. And their rich, dark Ecuadorian Extranoir Chocolate was probably the best flavor of the sampling we tried.

But truthfully, my perennial favorite, Il Laboratorio del Gelato, is still better. A spoon-to-spoon comparison of Grom's pistachio vs. Laboratorio's pistachio revealed more richness and more ka-pow pistachio flavor for a significantly lower price. (A small cup runs $3.50 at LdG vs. $4.75 (plus 8.375% tax) at Grom.)

For some, Grom's uptown location and conveniently late-night hours (Laboratorio closes around six — unbearably early for those with impulsive post-dinner cravings) may outweigh the benefits of Laboratorio's creamy superiority. I respect that. But for my purposes, I'll make the effort to stock the freezer with Laboratorio in those few sweet hours when they're open.

Grom's not bad, but thankfully, there are better options. This girl does not live on Grom alone.

three spoons
GROM (Gelato Come Una Volta)
Grom on Urbanspoon
2165 Broadway (betwn 76th & 77th)
Manhattan, NY

four spoons
Il Laboratorio del Gelato
Laboratorio Del Gelato on Urbanspoon
95 Orchard St (below Delancey)
Manhattan, NY

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Dangerously Spicy Hot Chocolate Chili Fudge

Warning! Dangerously Spicy Chocolate-Chili Fudge

I'm an introvert. My coworkers probably wouldn't describe me as a particularly demonstrative individual (except when I'm outrageously caffeinated). Therefore, I bake. It's a display of affection with a side bonus; I have a built-in audience on which to offload my extra sweets.

Really... nobody needs more than one slice of banana bread, one muffin, one brownie, one sliver of cake or one piece of fudge. But it's also impossible to make a single square of fudge without making a dozen more in the process.

Thus, it was a wicked combination of altruism and personal craving that drove me to bring in a pan of fudge to the office on a particularly cold morning last week.

It was my first fudge — which is actually surprising, since the Upper Midwest (where I was reared) is covered in a dark, thick layer of the stuff. I was terribly pleased when it went over well. An officemate who claimed to hate fudge ate two pieces. Said one victim, "It rocks. It reminds me of Jacque T.'s ancho chocolate. Give up the day job and sell this."

I shared the recipe, of course, as I will with you. But be warned: This fudge is not supremely sweet or crystalline, like some I've tried. It's almost... chewy. It's dark, bittersweet, brownie-esque and not for those of tender palate.

Dangerously Spicy Chocolate-Chili Fudge (Delights about 15 coworkers)
1 lb high-quality dark chocolate, chopped (I used Lindt Excellence 70%)
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cayenne
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk

Butter the bottom of an 8-inch to 9-inch square baking pan, and line with a square of parchment or wax paper.

Put ingredients into a metal bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water, and stir the mixture occasionally to melt. It's going to be very thick. Spread mixture into the pan and chill until firm (or overnight).

Run a warm knife around edges of pan to loosen the fudge block and flip it over onto a cutting board. Remove the paper, and cut the fudge into 1-inch squares.

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Is that your message on my medium?

In case you were wondering...

'Tis the season for candy conversation hearts, so I'm just now mulling over a practice that I find a bit mystifying: verbose food.

I've known for some time that it's possible to print up custom M&Ms that exclaim very short messages. And I'd bet that anyone who's attended a few trade shows or weddings may have encountered personalized candy bars or chocolate coins, but I'm still not sure that I fully understand what drives the custom candy urge.

Marketers will throw a logo on anything, but what are Robert and Barbara really trying to say when they offer me a commemorative Bob&Barb chocolate-almond slab at their reception? Does a mass-produced novelty represent their union? Am I supposed to keep it until their first anniversary? Do I munch it, dreamily, after the party, thinking all the while of how sweet and nutty my friends are? What if I only eat dark chocolate? Am I symbolically shunning their symbolic generosity with my food snobbery? Should I feel guilty about that?

Etiquette complications aside, if one thinks of sweets as more like inexpensive blank surfaces than tasty delights, using them as inexpensive signage becomes understandable. Those who savor higher-quality bonbons don't generally scrawl "Happy Birthday, Marge!" across La Maison du Chocolate treats or the cache of treasures snagged at Richard Donnelly's shop of tasties.

By comparison, chalky little pastel Valentine's hearts are fair game for proclamations. The practice reminds me of restaurants that boast killer views. In my experience, if the scenery is stunning, the food surely won't be. (Though rest assured, the tab generally matches the view in its breathtaking qualities.)

So perhaps candy communiqués really deliver two messages... one spelled out across the sweet and a quieter, less savory tale told by the presence of the former.

I'll think I'll take my candy messages in virtual form. Those undisturbed by chatty sweets can follow these links to find DIY candy bar wrapper templates and more information on customized candy.

Late-Breaking Newsflash: Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories not only sports an irresistable name, they've also done an investigation of a pen with food-safe ink, for yes, yet more scribbling on food. At least they have the good sense to question whether the valentine hearts on which they write are actually food.

Though it might be a little late in the game to secure a food-safe pen for your Valentine's Day doodles, you can always fall back on my favorite 2nd grade trick... ballpoint pen messages/drawings across the skin of an unpeeled banana. Cheap. Fun. Nutritious. Apply allusion of choice here.

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For the love of Chocolate-Almond Daim Cakes

chocolate almond daim cake
The Chocolate-Almond Daim Cake

Long, long, ago (well, in 2005, actually...), I wrote up a little review on that most refreshing shopping oasis: the IKEA snack bar. Since then, hundreds of interested souls have traveled to this very website in search of a recipe for the Daim Cake I mentioned. Although that wasn't the intention of the original article, who am I to turn away a gang of hungry travelers?

To that end, I bring you: the homemade Daim Cake.

And now for a quick disclaimer.... IKEA's official website propaganda describes their Daim Cake as: "An original cake made out of Daim candy and almond cake."

For my Daim Cake (well, cakelets, really), I make almond cakes with crushed Daim bars and a simple chocolate ganache. If you've eaten the IKEA original, you can't help but notice that my version is less a thin, flat torte and more an individual snack cake. In fact, I think my version is more like what snack cakes should be... small, cute and made without industrial preservatives.

But yes... this Daim Cake is different. If you need thin tortes, go to IKEA. If you want something that ranks high in the "tasty" category, is simple to whip up and fun to assemble and eat (not to mention something that will probably impress the hell out of your neighborhood coffee klatch), give this recipe a whirl.

chocolate almond daim cake
Daim bars in their natural habitat... my kitchen.

Now then: The first step (and this may be the hardest part of the process) is locating the Daim bars. I found mine at The Sweet Life on the Lower East Side, but if you're not a Manhattanite, you can probably search for them at your local IKEA food shop or a neighborhood candy store that cares. Barring that, substitute the Skor bar, which is awfully similar to the Daim and much, much easier to find here in the states.

You'll need one Daim bar to accommodate three mini-cakes. Making the full recipe (six cakes)? Get two bars. Get three if you're snacky. Put them in the freezer when you get them home.

almond cakes
Unadorned mini almond cakes
For the almond cakes, you'll need a standard-size muffin tin and:
Flour and butter (to grease and flour the muffin tin)
8oz sweetened almond paste (often sold in a can or tube)
3 fresh eggs, separated
2 Tbsp cream
3 Tbsp pastry flour/cake flour
1 tsp powdered sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour six cups in a standard-size muffin tin.
2. Blend together the almond paste, egg yolks and cream until they form a smooth, thick, almond-scented mixture. Incorporate the flour.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with the teaspoon of powdered sugar until you achieve firm, white peaks.
4. Scoop about half of the whipped egg whites into the almond mixture and fold it in until all the white is incorporated.
5. Scoop the remaining half of the whipped whites into the almond mixture and fold it in. Don't overwork the mixture at this point.
6. Fill six cups in the muffin tin with the batter. (In a 12-cup tin, I usually alternate filled cups with empty cups so it's balanced.)
7. Cook for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the cakes comes out without batter stuck to it.
8. Cool 5-10 minutes in the tin, then run a butter knife around the edge of each cake to help release them from the pan. Be free, little cakes!

assembling chocolate almond daim cakes
Assembling the Chocolate-Almond Daim Cakes

Once you have cooled cakes, use a serrated knife to cut the rounded tops off. These are tasty. Eat one now, and save the rest for later snacking... maybe with berries and whipped cream. Yum.

Bisect each cake so you have two equally-sized tiers to work with.

Take the Daim bars out of the freezer. Don't unwrap them. Immediately throw them down onto the kitchen floor as hard as you can. Pick them up and throw them again. Do this again if it makes you feel good. You're trying to shatter them as much as possible without sending chunks of chocolate flying across your kitchen. Once those bars are appropriately pummeled, open up the packages and pour out the pieces onto your cutting board. Chop up any large hunks so you have a nicely uniform "crumb."

Make the chocolate ganache in a small saucepan with:

2 cups chocolate pieces (I believe IKEA uses milk chocolate, but I prefer semi-sweet or dark, myself)
1/3 cup cream
1 Tbsp butter

Combine the chocolate, cream and butter in a saucepan over very, very low heat. Whisk all the lumpy chocolate bits until the sauce is smooth and shiny. Don't let it burble. Burbling is bad in this case.

Take apart the bisected cakes and lay them out on across a sheet pan you've covered in a protective layer of parchment, wax paper or plastic.

Use a small rubber spatula or a butter knife to spread a thin layer of chocolate ganache over the tops of the lower layers and the bottoms of the uppper layers. Evenly sprinkle about a half-teaspoon of the Daim bar crumbs on each ganache-coated bottom layer (like the middle cake in the photo above), then put the tops on 'em (like the cake in the foreground).

Cover each cake with a smooth layer of ganache, sprinkle another half-teaspoon or so of crumbs on the tops, and finish the cakes by spreading another teaspoon or so of ganache across the Daim-crumb-topped cakes.

You should be able to smooth out most irregularities in the ganache with a butter knife that you've warmed in a glass of hot water... but don't get crazy about it. They should look a little irregular. It's better that way.

See? Tasty, simple and fun to make.

Cool the cakes at room temperature until the chocolate firms up, and serve 'em with hot coffee. Spare yourself the mad IKEA crowds, and dream of furniture-assembly instructions that make sense.

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Nothing says gratitude like a slaughtered lamb

the lamb and the wolf
Symbols of gratitude and danger living in perfect harmony. Image: NYPL digital library.

My boss asked me to track down a traditional "thank you" food.

He wanted to give that unknown thing as a gift of appreciation to our best customers. It seemed like a good idea. I'd just do some research, discover that flash-frozen steaks were a universally acknowledged symbol of goodwill and esteem, and out they'd go. Boss happy. Customers happy. Easy-peasy, right?

On the ensuing search for consumables as symbols of appreciation, I discovered... well, it's not so easy. I should have known. Symbolic meaning is relative. More than that, it's local. So there's not a lot in the way of universally recognizable representations. Particularly not in the way of food items, which have traditionally tended to be very local.

Oh sure, you'll find quite a few quasi-universal symbols out there. There are flags to represent nations, the white cross, which generally symbolizes medical help, the golden arches, which symbolize heart failure and the swoosh, which means I'm about to pay a surcharge for a piece of clothing. But the great efforts used to make those symbols into something globally recognizable was intentional. And, generally, well financed.

The more organically occurring symbolic representations tend to be "readable" only by those in certain groups, or regions.

When I grew up in the Dakotas, I attended pow wows, sweats and other events at which tobacco was a gift that demonstrated respect and appreciation. Presenting someone in Manhattan with a nice pouch of fresh tobacco probably wouldn't read the same way. Particularly in this "tobacco as symbol of death and/or decadence" era.

So back in the frustrating realm of my food symbol quest, it seems that a pineapple might say "hospitality" to me (this fellow has a nice rundown of why the pineapple has historically been recognized in that capacity... I love the bit about how pineapples used to be rented short-term for parties in order to demonstrate one's status and taste), but it might just suggest "Hawaiian cocktails" (or even worse, "Williams-Sonoma") to our customers.

The slaughtered lamb was once pretty widely used as a dramatic "thanks a lot" gesture, but again... it's all about location, location, location. And context. Symbols are language, meaning, of course, that the recipient of the symbol has to speak your language.

I submitted my findings. He ended up sending out boxes of chocolate.

But now that I think about it, considering our best customers are high-spending NYC food buyers, maybe a box of steaks wasn't such a bad idea as a symbol of appreciation after all. It's extravagant and not really not that far afield from the slaughtered lamb. And isn't extravagance nearly always recognized as symbolic of appreciation?

In no particular order, some of my findings on food symbols and their meanings:
Apple = appreciation (generally of teachers), temptation, New York
Peach = longevity, marriage
Pear = affection
Olive = peace, healing
Garlic = strength
Gourds = good health, longevity
Chocolate = devotion, love
Fish = faith (Christian faith in particular)
Rabbit = fertility
Lotus Root = unconditional love
Lamb = faith (again, it's about Jesus)
Maple Syrup = Canada, eh
Pineapple = hospitality, welcome
Pumpkin = prosperity, festivity, harvest
Pomelo, basket/cornucopia, sheaf of wheat = bounty
Slaughtered lamb, tobacco = appreciation, gratitude
Rosemary = fidelity, remembrance
Pomegranate = fertility
Lavender = good luck
Salt = wealth, loyalty, incorruptibility, immortality
Honey = wealth, happiness
Turnips = charity
Pepper = lust, spice
Fig, bamboo, pig = prosperity
Banana = hey... sometimes a banana is just a banana, okay?

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Food Quote Friday: Hot Chocolate Season Opener

"If any man has drunk a little too deeply from the cup of physical pleasure; if he has spent too much time at his desk that should have been spent asleep; if his fine spirits have become temporarily dulled; if he finds the air too damp, the minutes too slow, and the atmosphere too heavy to withstand; if he is obsessed by a fixed idea which bars him from any freedom of thought: if he is any of these poor creatures, we say, let him be given a good pint of amber-flavored chocolate... and marvels will be performed."

- Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)

Drink in more rich, smooth food quotes here.

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Food Quote Friday: George Bernard Shaw

"What use are cartridges in battle? I always carry chocolate instead."

- George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

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I (heart) Hot Chocolate

Zucco dishes it up schnazzy.

I realize this is one of those far-from-controversial opinions.

Proclaiming a passion for hot chocolate falls in along the lines of revealing a long-held affection for large-eyed puppies.

That said... wouldn't you agree that it's still about the best thing winter has to offer?

Ice Skating and Hot Chocolate
Courtesy of this week's Manhattan User's Guide:

Skate: Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers
Hot Chocolate: Le Gamin, 183 9th [21st] 212.243.8864

Skate: The Pond at Bryant Park
Hot Chocolate: The Pond Snack Bar

Skate: Rock Center Rink
Hot Chocolate: Cafe SFA at Saks.

Skate: Wollman Rink
Hot Chocolate: Serendipity

Skate: Lasker Rink
Hot Chocolate: Hungarian Pastry Shop, 1030 Amst [110th/111th]

Skate: Riverbank State Park
Hot Chocolate: You’ll have to fill your thermos for this one – Jacques Torres perhaps...350 Hudson [King] 212.414.2462

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Pete: Gastronomic Overachiever

chocolate chart
Barkeep, serve it up hard and bitter!

You've probably tried one of Pete's beers. A longtime homebrewer, Pete Slosberg's now ubiquitous Pete's Wicked Ale launched out of the basement in 1986 and has since bubbled up into a whole hoppy, happy family of award-winning brews.

You'd think Pete would be happy with being a well-known national brand. You'd think Pete would kick back and pop a cap, admiring a job well done.

Apparently, you'd be wrong. Waiting on line at the checkout last night I discovered beer-brewin' Pete's been moonlighting. Doing what? you ask. A pizza shop? Nope. Hot dogs? Nope. High-end vodka? Nope.

The wicked one left the brewery to ferment on its own and went to culinary school to start up a second career as a chocolatier. Under the pseudonym
Cocoa Pete, the intrepid everyman's gourmet tries his hand at crowd pleasin' chocolate products in an attempt to stock America's shelves with something better than the waxy packs they pump out of Pennsylvania.

I was sucked in by the Caramel Knowledge bar, a dark chocolate (joy!), caramel and coffee confection that fuses three of my favorite vices in one four-mounded "bar." The pieces conveniently break off into dome-like chunks reminiscent of a quartet of caramel-filled dark chocolate igloos.

I had one of the sections last night (one rich, sweet chunk was about as much as I could take at a go) and it was, indeed far more satisfying for a dark chocolate lover than its closest comparison, the Cadbury Caramello.

If you really, truly prefer milk chocolate, I'm sorry, and this may not be the bar for you, but Pete's site allows you to download a groovy chocolate 101 flavor chart, so you can compare what you already know you like to what you might possibly like.

My favorite aspect of Pete's new venture, however, is the "Bill of Rights" under the Chocolate Rights section of his website. That document that should be required reading for anyone stepping close to the rack of nasty chocolate bars at the convenience store. At the very least, it should be posted on the sides of waxy chocolate bars like the Surgeon General's warning.

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