Favorite Things: Summer 2008

Taza Stone Ground Organic Chocolate – The concept of stone ground chocolate is an ancient one, though not one that most eaters get to experience today. Traditionally, the way to process cocoa pods was to grind them through stone burrs. Most mass-produced chocolate is not processed this way, so the texture of the finished bar is completely smooth. While a smooth texture can be wonderful, the novelty of texture in a chocolate bar should not be underrated. And while Taza bars have a delightful mouth feel, they also have an incredible flavor profile. Taza’s founders explain why their chocolate is so unique in the most succinct way: “1. We keep the bean in the bar – By minimally processing our chocolate, we are able to maintain all of the incredible flavors that are inherent in cacao beans. A great range of fruity and nutty flavors can be found in every bean and in every one of our chocolate bars .2. This chocolate is food, not candy – Taza Chocolate’s unique texture comes from our antique Mexican stone mills. Each millstone is hand dressed to bring out the maximum flavor potential from the cacao beans giving our chocolate the appeal of real food, not just candy. 3. Full Flavor Roasting – The light color of Taza chocolate is indicative of our gentle roasting and high quality beans. Our roasting process preserves the beans natural flavor and healthful properties.” Taza also operates on principles you can feel good about – they source their cocoa beans from fair trade small farm cooperatives in line with Slow Food sourcing principles, are committed to organic sustainability and are source verifiable. This is a chocolate bar meant to be savored—one or two squares are sufficient for a serving size because of the rich flavor and filling nature of the bar. While fantastic alone, the bars pair nicely with red wine or espresso – two squares and a glass of cabernet recently made a nice dessert for me one evening while I watched the sun set outside my window. The company is located in Somerville, MA and is the only artisinal producer of stone ground chocolate in the United States. While not exactly located in my Chicagoland food shed, this is a sustainable producer I feel good about supporting on an occasional basis for my chocolate treat. I prefer the 60% Dark bar, but they also offer 70% and 80% Dark. I’m lucky enough that my locally-owned grocer carries it, but you can also order online at www.tazachocolate.com Oh – and it’s worth mentioning – if you store your chocolate in the refrigerator so that it doesn’t melt in the hot summer weather, let it come up to room temperature before serving – you’ll appreciate the texture and flavor more if it’s not thoroughly chilled.

Charcuterie by Brian Polcyn – As far as meats are concerned, there is nothing better than the art of charcuterie – traditionally limited to pork preservation, but more widely accepted as the preservation of meat in general. If you’re looking for a beginner to advanced primer on creating your own sausages, terrines, confits, hams, etc., Charcuterie is the guide you’re looking for. It’s a lovely hard cover book with detailed, easy to understand instructions and diagrams. Personally, I’m looking forward to making my own pancetta, bacon and boudin noir this fall on the instructions found within.

Tupelo Honey – Mmmm- as regular readers know, I’m a honey addict. The complexity of flavor and the health benefits are the two main reasons I prefer honey to refined sugars. But I’m sure a lot of you think honey is just honey – and I used to as well. But there are many different varieties that can be had – orange blossom honey, lavender honey, and tupelo honey are just a few of the varieties available. Honey created from one type of blossom is created when hives are placed within reach of a primary type of flower at the right time of year – in a field of lavender or a grove of tupelo trees, for example. Tupelo honey is very special in that the blossoms of the tupelo gum tree are only in bloom for about a week or two every year, and they grow only in the bayou areas of the American south. But the flavor of this honey is really what makes it special. This will sound ridiculous, but tupelo honey tastes like spun gold. It’s rich yet light, with a spicy undertone that sparkles on your tongue. I like it in my tea, but it would truly shine spread on a piece of home made toast.

French Saveur – I’m just as committed to the French-language version as to the English-language edition. The photography is stunning, the articles are comprehensive and interesting and the recipes are solid. A nice feature is that the main recipes featured in each issue are printed on tear-out recipe cards at the back of the magazine, with photographs of the finished dish. If you’re fluent in French you’ll jump right out of the gate and into the kitchen, and if you’re (re)learning your French, this magazine will assist you in a practical way – just note that the measurements are in the metric system (so it will help you learn that as you go to!). I get my copies once a month at our local foreign-language bookstores, but I’ve also seen it on newsstands at places like Barnes & Noble as well.

Piedmontese Beef – Summer is the season of burgers on the grill, and when I have a burger, I want it to have serious beef flavor – we’ve all had burgers that don’t taste like anything, and we end up at the close of our meal unsatisfied and disappointed. With a Piedmontese burger, your palate will end up delighted – there’s no better way to describe it other than to say that it tastes like beef and it’s tender and lean. It’s not a meat dripping with tasteless fat. This breed of beef originally hails from the alpine region of Piedmont, Italy and was introduced to the United States back in the 1980s. It cooks up quick while at the same time being hard to overcook – a burger left on the grill a few minutes longer than it should be will still end up juicy and tender, never dry. I purchase mine at the Evanston farmer’s market from Heartland Meats. In addition to burger patties (we can purchase 3 for $6.00; they also sell four-packs), you can buy several cuts of steak, roasts, ribs and stew/stir fry meat as well as “exotic” items such as tongue, liver, ox tail and soup bones. If you can’t make it up to the market, check out Heartland’s website at www.heartlandmeats.com (where you can order online). And Chicago locals will be interested to know that the restaurants Flying Saucer, Rodan, Ida’s and Wishbone feature Heartland Meats on their menus!

Strawberry Pots – Have I mentioned this one before? Yes probably, but it’s worth mentioning again. Strawberry pots are fantastic for strawberries, and even better for herbs. It’s the way I grow my kitchen herbs – it’s compact in the windowsill and they really thrive – I’ve currently got rosemary, basil, lemon thyme and English thyme in mine. It would be equally fetching planted with flowers or succulents as well. And strawberry pots lend themselves well to theme plantings – medicinal herbs, a collection of thymes, plants with red flowers or a variety of different strawberries. If you’ve only got room in your garden or window or office for one planter, maximize your planting space with a strawberry pot – they range in size from a cute one-foot-tall model (like the one I have) to gargantuan models that take a bevy of friends to move across the patio.

Armchair Travel – there is nothing better than donning a backpack and hitting the road. Diner food on road trips, bistros in Europe, s’mores on a campfire… ah, the delights of travel. Unfortunately, money and time are not in overt abundance in my life, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the delights the world has to offer. Planning is half the fun, and sitting down with a library of travel guides to outline a fantasy trip allow the grounded traveler stuck inside us to find an outlet. Suddenly the road trip down Highway 1 on the West Coast or that 2 month backpacking tour of Western Europe can come to fruition right before your eyes. And it’s fun to challenge yourself with a budget – what would you splurge on if you only had a $1000 to hit the road with? And call me a dork (otherwise known as obsessive compulsive or anal retentive), but writing down a packing list has it highlights as well. And once you get your fill planning your own forays into the world, there’s always reading up on the adventures and misadventures of others – there are no shortage of travel narratives and memoirs in your local bookstore. One of my personal favorites is No Touch Monkey by Ayun Halliday. It’ll have you cracking up with stories that are too outrageous to possibly be made up two pages in.



One thought on “Favorite Things: Summer 2008

Comments are closed.