Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dark Chocolate Sauce with Blueberries for Any Occasion

This post goes out to all chocolate lovers cruising the Web.  If at this moment, or at some point in the near future you get a chocolate craving.  I want to recommend that instead of purchasing your usual chocolate fix, you buy a block of broken Callebaut dark semi-sweet Belgium chocolate.  If you are in a tight spot and in desperate need of a quick fix of chocolate, then I probably wouldn't recommend this recipe.  If on the other hand you are willing to try a completely different way of both eating and drinking chocolate then I suggest you try buying your own block of chocolate the next time you shop.

Whether it's milk chocolate bars, chocolate syrup in our sundaes or cups of hot cocoa with marshmallows during the winter, most of us indulge in some type of chocolate on a regular basis.  What we may not realize is that the type of chocolate we buy here is not the same type of chocolate others purchase outside of the United States.  The quality of the ingredients in the United States, in my opinion, is simply sub par to other parts of the world.  With the exception of small businesses that really focus on the craft of creating chocolate.  Most of what you buy from name brands at most major stores barely passes for chocolate.   Whatever happened to milk & cocoa as the main ingredients?  We have become so accustomed to such a watered down version of chocolate that most of what we are getting are artificially flavored chocolates jammed packed with super sweet corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. 

I admit that I already have a biased opinion towards North American name brand chocolates.  Before coming to the United States I was already used to drinking hot cocoa made with blocks of chocolate de mesa or sweet dark baking chocolate and milk.  The hot cocoa comes out a little thicker and foamier, with a much darker and richer aroma.  In Europe, they tend to use cocoa powder and milk to make hot cocoa but the consistency is usually much ticker, like syrup, and served in smaller portions. According to wiki, and the various sources it quotes, it has a lot to do with the cocoa content of the chocolate used.  The United States only requires a 10% concentration of cocoa liquor to be present in milk chocolate and it mentions that most chocolate producers have lobbied to replace cocoa butter with other types of oils which include hydrogenated oils, and with sugars which include artificial sweeteners.  Yuck!  In other countries, the chocolate content is much higher and therefore you get a richer taste.  I don't know why Americans always end up with the short end of the stick when it comes to food products, but it's time for the blind fold to come off an for your life to get very chocolaty indeed.  

First, visit any large grocery chain.  You should find broken up blocks of Callebaut chocolate next to where they exhibit their imported cheese selection.  Don't buy the unsweetened dark chocolate.  It's great for baking but it's super bitter.  I don't want to you running for the hills just yet.  Make sure you buy the broken semi-sweet dark chocolate from Callebaut.  You should be able to find the Callebaut name engraved in the mix matched blocks of chocolate.  If you cant find Callebaut, look for baking chocolate that is semi-sweet.  I wouldn't buy chocolate chips, unless you find some that share similar ingredients with the Callebaut semi-sweet chocolate which contains 53.8% cocoa (sugar, unsweetened chocolate, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, salt, and pure vanilla extract)

Don't forget to buy some fruit.  I bough blueberries, which to me make the best chocolate pairing.  It also helps that they are super cheap during the summer months while they are in season.  Also, try buying New Jersey blueberries.  That's some very biased advise because I grew up in NJ, but NJ is one of the largest producers of blueberries in the country and at this time of year they are very fresh, sweet, and plump.

Let's get started!

block of broken Callebaut dark semi-sweet Belgium chocolate
Pint of blueberries
Your favorite type of nut or granola

TIP - Don't use a cutting board.  I find it easier to place a cloth kitchen towel on top of the kitchen counter, then place a large paper towel on top of the cloth towel.  It helps keep the shards of chocolate from spreading all over your kitchen counter, and it also muffles the sound from the cutting board.


  • If you kept your chocolate in the fridge after you bought it, make sure you leave it out for at least a half an hour so that it's easier to shave.
  • With a large non-serrated knife, start to shave the chocolate off the block.  Look at the images I posted. The chocolate can be cut into chunky pieces.  It looks like you are cutting shards off chocolate. 
  • Please be careful with your fingers.  You are using force when you cut.  This is a block of something hard, it's not as easy as cutting a strawberry.  I certainly don't recommend kids doing this without parental supervision. 
  • As you shave the chocolate you will notice that you will have to turn and flip your block of chocolate to get a better angle.  The more you cut, the more you run out of cutting real estate, so you just have to keep looking for the best edge to cut off. 
  • Cut as much as you like, but if it's just for you, cut about enough to yield 3 tablespoons.
  • Put the remainder of the block in the fridge in a sealed Ziploc bag.  I do this because the kitchen I use doesn't have AC and it tends to get very hot very quickly.
  • Make sure your fruit is cleaned and chopped up into chunks.  If you use blueberries you don't have to do anything but wash them and remove any stems.
  • * In a ceramic coffee cup, place your three tablespoons of shaved chocolate and put in the microwave for 30 seconds.  If you have a super strong microwave, make it 20 seconds.
  • Take it out and stir with a spoon.  You will see that it hasn't really melted, all you have done is melted a little around the edges.
  • If you are making 3 tablespoons of chocolate, then add one to one and a half tablespoons of milk to the same cup.  Try one tablespoon first, it's preferable to have a thicker consistency than to get something that resembles hot chocolate.  You want this to have a syrupy texture.
  • * Add to the the microwave for 20 to 30 more seconds.  As with before, it depends on your microwave's heat settings. 
  • * Take it out and then stir with a spoon.  It might look watery at first, but keep stirring until you see a chocolate colored texture.
Add your blueberries, mix, and then pour on top of some waffles, pancakes, dessert, but best of all ON TOP OF SOME ICE CREAM!  Just imagine how amazing this melted chocolate syrup will taste in a sundae.  If you have granola, then add granola.  You can pretty much add anything to this chocolate mixture. What's even better is that you can also pour it over anything too.

Instead of buying chocolate at the store, I have now become addicted with doing this exact procedure every time I'm craving chocolate.  It's just SO GOOD!  The difference is that I don't add the mixture to anything. I just eat the chocolate and the blueberries straight out of the cup.  For a quick, I put the blueberries in the freezer for a couple of minutes until they start to get really cold and frosty.  Then I proceed to add the hot chocolate syrup on top. I also mix the chocolate syrup with the blueberries and freeze the combined mixture together. I use cupcake paper as a mold and then I end up eating a delicious and cool dark chocolate blueberry bar.  And to think that all I added to the chocolate shavings was some milk.  It certainly has enough cocoa butter so don't go adding more butter.  It's also super fresh, without any preservatives or artificial sugars.  It's the way chocolate was intended to be eaten.

It might be more work than just buying a bar of chocolate at the store, but the flexibility you get in terms of ingredients, and to top it off the taste...It's really worth the wait.

I really hope you enjoy it alone and with the family.

Buen Provecho! =)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Summer Virgin Mango Mojitos

I love mojitos, they are hands down one of my favorite summer and all year round drinks.  The ingredients are simple, and you can easily make one with any type of fruit or vegetable imaginable.  I love my Cubans for this invention.  The combination of mint and lime is simply genius!

I know in most Latin American countries yerba buena or spearmint (a mint variety) is readily available.  You often find it growing wild like a weed, but because of winter and colder temperatures we don't get the privilege of year round access here in the United States.  Well, certainly not in the North East of the United States.  If you plant some in your backyard though you will find that the plant loves to reproduce.  When my sister, who lives in NJ, bought a house it came with its own supply of yerba buena in the backyard.  During the winter it was completely dead but the moment it got a whiff of spring it started to overpopulate her backyard.  She never has to replant it, it's just always there.  And the smell is divine.  Definitely a plant that everyone should grow in their backyard, it will reward you ten fold during the hot summer months.

Another great thing about mojitos is that you can use various ingredients to develop your own distinct signature.  I once worked near a restaurant where I used to buy cucumber mojitos.  They were amazing!   I still haven't come up with my own signature, but I want to tinker with making a ginger honey mojito, or a lychee mojito.  I'll figure something out eventually.  On the other hand, one thing I don't like about mojitos is how expensive they can be.  I usually find mojito's in the $8 to $15 range per drink!  That's New York City for you though.  So instead of paying up we can just as easily make our own virgin or regular mojitos at home.  All of the ingredients, except for the blue agave nectar which will run you about $5, will cost less than $8.  In total that's about $13 spent on ingredients that will yield more than enough for probably a group of 8.  This of course does not include the cost of alcohol...maybe you can get a friend to buy you some white rum as a gift! ::wink:: 

The key to this recipe is that we are not making individual mojitos.  The recipe below will help you if that's what you seek, but I was looking at making something that would be easy to prepare and serve as a concentrated mojito mixture.  You can then take the concentrated mixture to make a glass or a pitcher of mojito that you can serve at your next BBQ.  Whatever you have left over you can freeze into ice cubes that you can later drop in your seltzer water or you can save the mixture in a container and thaw it to make a pitcher at a later date.  What's great about this concentrated mixture is that it really lends itself to various recipes without having to make individual servings of mojito.

TIP 1 - If you want to make a different flavor mojito all you have to do is find all natural juice to substitute the mango juice in the recipe.  Try to find juice with no high fructose corn syrup or other ingredients that you don't understand.  If you can't find them, then I have an even better suggestion, make your own juice!  For example, if you want to make a lychee, strawberry, cucumber, or coconut mojito all you have to do is buy the fruit or vegetable and blend it with some ice cubes.  You want the mixture to be a little thick so just play with the fruit and ice combination. Make enough of the mixture so that you get about 4 ounces or half a cup per person. 

Mint Leaves (10 leaves per drink)
Limes (4 lime wedges per drink)
Blue Agave Nectar - Light or Dark (half a tablespoon per drink)
White Rum (1 1/2 ounces per drink)
2 Liters of Lemon Lime Seltzer - (half cup or 4 ounces per drink)
All Natural Mango Nectar Juice (4 ounces per drink)
Muddler if you have one if not a large wooden spoon
Ice (to your liking)
Mango (Not required, but if you have some laying around they can be used in this recipe)

TIP 2A standard bar pitcher in the US will hold about 32 ounces.  A liter container will hold about 34 ounces of liquid.  So on average you are getting about 4 eight ounce drinks per pitcher.  Keep this in mind before you buy your ingredients.  

  • Before you begin, make sure you keep the seltzer water and the mango nectar refrigerated so that you get a nice and refreshing drink, even without the ice.
  • Roll the lime with the palm of your hand to release some of the juice before you cut.  Cut each lime into 8 slices.  Estimate that you will use about 4 slices per drink.
  • Buy a bunch of mint leaves and just strip the leaves.  If for example you want to make enough for 4 people then strip 40 leaves.
  • In a container, squeeze half of the limes and drop the wedges in the container.  Add the remaining lime wedges into the container as well.  Break apart the mint leaves with your hands before adding them in the container.  This is a very helpful step in the case that you have to use a wooden spoon.
  • Add half a tablespoon of Blue Agave Nectar per drink.  The reason you only add half a tablespoon per drink is because Agave nectar is sweeter than sugar.
  • Add only 2 ounces of mango nectar per drink to the mixture.  
  • If you have mangoes laying around the house first remove the skin, cut up the mango into smaller cubes, then add to the mixture.  A lot of stores now sell frozen mango chunks that can be thawed.  Go with your gut, if you want a lot of mango pulp in your drink then go crazy.  If you need a number then add 2 to 3 cubes.
  • With your muddler or wooden spoon start to crush and mix your ingredients together.
  • You will discover that you just made a big mush of all of the ingredients.
  • If you think the mush is not too sweet then you can add a little bit more of the agave syrup. Remember that the mango nectar will tend to be on the sweet side so you don't over do it. 
TIP 3 - Buy some Wholesome Organic Blue Agave Sweetener or other type of agave syrup  and use it to replace your supply of white or brown table sugar.  Agave is a great substitute for table sugar because it's low in the glycemic index.  This means that the body will take longer to absorb the sugar into your bloodstream.  On the other hand table sugar is much higher in the glycemic index and will quickly absorb the sugar into your bloodstream causing spikes in your sugar levels.  Agave nectar is also sweeter than table sugar so you need less of it to sweeten you coffee or mojito.  I'll be writing a post devoted to Blue Agave Nectar very shortly.  It really tastes amazing with coffee.

At this point you have two options you can either freeze the mixture or serve it to your guests.
  • If you want to freeze the mixture into ice cubes or in a container go ahead and save it for a later day.  Make sure you remove the limes if you want to make ice cubes.  If you are preserving the entire mixture just leave the limes in the mixture.
  • If you want to make individual servings, fill a cup with about 2 to 3 ounces of the mixture.   Pour the remaining 2 ounces of mango nectar and mix.  Add two or three ice cubes.  Then add the 4 ounces of seltzer water.  Mix with a spoon and serve.  Try using a larger glass so that you don't have to fight to mix all of the ingredients together.  It's also helpful so that the drink doesn't overflow.
  • If you want to make a pitcher we are under the assumption that you will be preparing enough for four people.  If that's the case pour the mixture until it covers 1/3rd of the pitcher.  That's around 8 to 12 ounces of the mixture or 2 to 3 ounces per drink.  Follow the same concept with the remaining ingredients.  Add 8 ounces of mango nectar and 16 ounces of the seltzer water.  
  • If you want to use alcohol, just add 1 1/2 ounces of run to your cup, or 5 ounces to your pitcher then serve.
  • Mix all of the ingredients and it is now ready to serve.
TIP 4 - I would personally refrain from adding ice to your pitcher.  I don't like it when ice dilutes my drink before it's even served. The same goes for Sangria.  I recommend that you instead add ice to your guest's cup and then pour the mojito mixture.  You might even find that by doing that you'll get more than 4 cups out of your pitcher.

I really hope you enjoy your virgin or alcoholic mango mojito with friends and family during your next BBQ, or random hot summer day.

Buen Provecho! =)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Family Camping Reunion - Breakfast Campestre

This past weekend I got to celebrate our annual camping reunion with my family.  My cousins have been planning it since March and to see it finally come together and everyone having a great time was well worth the wait.  I have been counting down the days waiting for the craziness to begin and the festivities did not disappoint.  It was by far the largest turnout we've had since we began our annual reunions a couple of years ago.  We had about 60 people show up, mostly cousins and a few close family friends. When my boyfriend, my mom, my aunt arrived at the campsite on Friday night it was already 11:30pm and my family had already taken up an entire section of the campsite.  I called my sister, who arrived a little before we did, to figure out where exactly we were located.  All she told me to do was follow the road and the noise, and sure enough we arrived at our camping location.

By the time we unpacked and set up our tents it was probably close to 1am, that's when I started to hear my mom, aunt, and cousins clamoring for some fresh coffee (Yes, at 1am they were going crazy asking for fresh coffee).  We are not talking about a cup of some highly caffeinated coffee that makes you jittery.  We are talking about a very small cup of smooth, sweet, and hot tinto, just the way Colombians like it.  Very slowly, everyone started to settle around the biggest fire, drinking coffee, beers, and liquor.  The conversations lasted until the wee hours of the morning.  As the morning slowly started to catch up to everyone in the campsite you started to see those with kids drifting off to their tents, while the bunch that was drinking got louder and rowdier.  You have to love camping with the family! =)

When I got up the next morning I was ready to eat!  I woke to the sound of my nieces asking for their tetero or bottle, the rattling of pots and grilling grates, and the smell of logs and coal, burning in preparation for breakfast.  If there is one thing I love about camping with my family is that it's always a food fest.  Breakfast isn't your typical PB&J (peanut butter & jelly) or ham and cheese sandwich.  We are talking about a full out home cooked meal over an open fire.  That's why I love being the bystander, photographer, and part-time flame blower, I get to enjoy every minute of the experience knowing that what I am about to eat is going to be ridiculously amazing!

That morning's breakfast consisted of fresh Colombian coffee, agua panela con limon y canela or a whole cane sugar block with limes and cinnamon sticks, arepas con queso Colombiano or corn cakes with Colombian cheese, and huevos pericos or scrambled eggs with tomatoes and scallions, all made over burning logs and coal.  That's what you call a typical Colombian desayuno campero or a camper's breakfast.  When it came time to cook, no one really assigned tasks, everyone just volunteered to participate in preparing some aspect of the breakfast. While mom made fresh coffee using a reusable cloth filter or what we call a colador, my cousin boiled water in a giant pot and mixed the panelas with lime juice and cinnamon cloves.  At the same time, another cousin and a family friend where busy cracking and beating the eggs in constant harmony.  As the assembly line progressed more people joined in.  They were tasked with keeping the flames from burning out, stirring the huevos pericos so they don't dry out, flipping the arepas so they don't completely burn.  Let's not forget about our hungry bystanders, who huddled around the flames watching and waiting to get the first batch of food from the fire.

To make things simpler, the tomatoes and the scallions were cut ahead of time.  Cutting anything while you camp can be arduous, so making some aspects of the meal ahead of time is simply a lot less messy and a time saver.  As for the arepas, we bought them in bulk from the store and froze them.  Though my mom did prepare some arepas from scratch, she was only able to make enough so that a few of us could enjoy them for lunch.  It is possible to make them ahead of time and preserve them in the freezer.  You just need to be realistic about the amount of time you want to spend preparing enough for everyone.  My great aunt, who was one of the last living matriarchs of the family, might have balked at our new found laziness, but in today's day and age sometimes there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done.  I'm sure she would have still been proud at our attempt of keeping our cooking traditions alive.

At the end, the eggs, the coffee, and the corn cakes had that beautiful smokiness that you get when you cook outdoors over an open fire.  The agua panela turned out to be a sweet and refreshing treat that served as a breakfast dessert.  Everything was made in batches and all in all we must have used more than 8 dozen eggs.  The first batch of eggs dried out a little too much because of how close the pot was to the flames but that was corrected in later batches.  Never serve a Colombian dried eggs, I don't know how many times I heard someone pass by reminding whoever was stirring the eggs not to dry them out.

Once everyone was served, there were a couple of folk that went out looking for seconds.  Even after having seconds, we still had a pot full of leftover eggs that someone ended up eating for lunch, lol.  All in all, we had an amazing breakfast, and most importantly we ate as a family.  There were no fights and no arguments, only great food, great friends, and great times!

I really hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about my Colombian family and our breakfast cooking traditions.  Stay tuned as I'll be writing more about some of the other foods we prepared during my family's camping reunion.

Buen provecho! =)

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About This Blog

I started this blog because I want to introduce new and healthy ingredients into my everyday meals. Living in the NY, NJ, CT tri-state area you find a plethora of local grocery stores that service a number of diverse neighborhoods. Every time I visit one of these stores I find fruits, vegetables, and ingredients that I have never used, or that I am afraid to use. I want to incorporate these ingredients to create new and healthier ways to experience Latin food, as well as other types of cuisines. I think it's important to love and continue our cooking traditions while also testing and incorporating new and healthier ingredients and techniques.

One of the most distinct ingredients that I know is not widely used in Latin cuisine is tofu, and it’s a shame. I have had tofu at Chinese and Thai restaurants before, but I never gave the ingredient a second thought. Tofu is such an amazing alternative to meats and it’s super healthy and cheap! This one ingredient got me thinking about all of the other healthy and fresh ingredients I could be using to develop Latin infused dishes that everyone in my family will love. That’s why I decided to name this blog Tofu con Saz√≥n!