Tag Archives: Chocolate

Blood Beans

 

I work in the kitchen of a coffee shop, and my fellow coworker, Jess, (the primary baker at the Brew), and I tend to routinely talk about food while we busy ourselves making sandwiches for customers. A few months ago she brought up in conversation a fact that I knew but hadn’t really given great thought, or at least a place in my value system until recently.

We discussed how the majority of the chocolate we use in America is produced by slave children in the West Africa.

I won’t go into specifics of what is going on with the cocoa industry in Africa right now, because so many other people explain it better (links to valuable resources at the end of this post), but I will list a few major points:

  • 69% of the world’s cocoa is produced in West Africa; 35% in the Ivory Coast alone.
  • 2/3 of the American chocolate market is dominated by two companies – Hershey’s and Mars, both of which purchase a large majority of their chocolate from the Ivory Coast, where tens of thousands of children are enslaved on cocoa farms.
  • In 2001, the Harkin-Engel Protocol was established by the World Cocoa Foundation and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association as a commitment to end the problem of child slavery in cocoa-producing nations by 2005. Unfortunately, efforts and funding on this plan have since fizzled out.

So how does this affect me?

Well, first, I’m sharing this with you all. I’ve also decided to seek out and use only fair trade chocolate in my house. Unfortunately there is no fair trade baking chocolate in Plainview, so I’m limited to what I can find an hour away in Lubbock and the internet. I haven’t totally figured out white chocolate yet, but it will probably involve scouting out some cocoa butter and making my own (which would be healthier anyway).

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For me, I have decided that it isn’t worth it to knowingly perpetuate the concept of unfair labor practices for the sake of a confection addiction or a more flexible budget. As someone who regularly spends a few dollars extra for grass-fed, local, humanely-raised meat and poultry and touts the importance of buying local and organic for the ultimate good of the economy, the environment, and humankind, I cannot in a sound mind and heart continue to turn a blind eye to problem bigger than anything we face here in the United States. I cannot make sacrifices for animals that I am not willing to first make for mankind.

 

And chocolate isn’t the only problem. Coffee is another export that is known to use unfair labor practices in production. I am so proud that the Broadway Brew, my employer, serves only fair trade certified and organic coffee to our customers.

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Is There Slavery in Your Chocolate?

Global Exchange

Children in Cocoa Production

TED Case Study

Stop Chocolate Slavery <—Great list of slave-free brands!

Aztec Brownies

Living in Texas, Christmas often makes me think of…Mexican food. Yep. Not ham. Not green bean casserole. Not sweet potato pie. Mexican food.

Growing up it was not unusual to go to a Christmas party and be served tamales. I know many people who opt for a Mexican feast on Christmas day, rather than ham, dressing, and all the fixin’s. And no, these people are not of hispanic descent!

It’s a regional thing. Mexican cuisine is a major contributor to the overall Texan culture. And this love of comforting Southwestern cuisine is what led me to Kakawa, an artisan chocolate house, this past August in Santa Fe. And while I was there I tasted and was entranced by the “Aztec Brownie,” which is a gluten free variety that included spices, chilies, and a combination of authentic Mesoamerican flours. I thought the combination of whole food ingredients they used was very creative and inspired me to make a variety of mine own!

Well let me tell you, there is something of a trick to making something really good with a just a few quality ingredients. Technique is key. And technique is the reason I’m posting this week’s 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies & Sweets edition so late. I kept failing on this! Then I realized it was my technique that was all wrong. So several trials, tribulations, and trips to the grocery store later, I finally have a really amazing recipe for you all.

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What you get from this recipe is a dense, fudge-like, rich brownie that isn’t too ridiculously sweet, but leaves you with a lingering tickle of chile and spice on your tongue. No, it is not “hot” and it is gentle on even sensitive palettes. The combination of spice and heat work very well mixed with this deep chocolate. Just try it!

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Aztec Brownie
Inspired by Kakawa

Makes 8-12 brownies

4 ounces butter
8 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, coarsely chopped
8 ounces agave nectar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 ounces almond milk
1.5 ounces almond meal/flour *
1 ounce blue corn meal
1/2 ounce quinoa flour **
1/2 ounce millet flour ***
1/2 ounce amaranth flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground ancho chile powder ****
1/2 tsp ground arbol chile powder
4 tbsp cocoa nibs, divided (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

In a double-broiler (or a glass bowl sitting on top of a pot of simmering water), melt butter over medium heat. Once melted (don’t rush this), add the chocolate pieces and stir until just melted. Do NOT turn up the heat. Allow it to take as much time as it needs. Once melted, take the chocolate off the heat and add in the agave nectar, eggs, vanilla, and almond milk.

In a separate, medium sized bowl, combine the flours, cinnamon, allspice, and chile powders together and mix thoroughly.

Pour the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet ingredients and stir well. Fold in half the cocoa nibs.

Pour the batter into a baking pan (11×7 or 10×10 may work best). Sprinkle the remaining cocoa nibs on top of the batter and lightly press them in. Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.

Allow to cool completely. Then cut into 2-inch square servings.

Tastes amazing served with cold homemade almond milk. Smile

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* I like to make my own almond milk, and I repurpose the leftover grounds into almond meal/flour by dehydrating them in the oven for several hours at the lowest temp possible with the oven door ajar and quickly grinding them finer in a coffee grinder. Worked like a charm in this recipe!

** I grind quinoa in my coffee grinder, as I cannot find quinoa flour within an hour of my house. Plus, it’s cheaper.

*** You may use any combination of flours you have on hand, as long as you substitute one-for-one BY WEIGHT. The original Kakawa recipe contained mesquite flour, which I do not own, so I omitted it and used more of a different flour. I ground my quinoa, millet, and amaranth in my coffee grinder I dedicate exclusively to spices, grains, and chilies.

**** I’m sure somewhere you can find distinct “ancho chile powder,” but I actually buy dry ancho chilies, roast them a few minutes in a hot oven, pour out the seeds, and grind them in my coffee grinder. Same for arbol chilies. And for the love of all that is holy, do NOT use “chili powder!” That stuff has onions, garlic, and mystery ingredients in there that you do not want in your brownies!

Also, check out the other great recipes for this week’s blog hop!

Nutella Cookies!

Sorry this is a day late for my weekly Thursday editions of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies & Sweets, but I was sick with the plague on Wednesday and Thursday, but today I am better and I have a real treat for you!

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This recipe takes the flourless peanut butter cookie to a whole new level! These are flourless Nutella cookies! And they are so simple to make!

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Toss all the ingredients in a bowl…

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…stir well…

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Portion out onto a cookie sheet and smoosh with a fork al la peanut butter cookie.

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And bake!

Allow to cool and enjoy!

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I also love that because they are flourless, they are naturally gluten-free! My tummy thanks me tremendously! Smile

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Flourless Nutella Cookies
Recipe from St Petersburg Times

1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread, like Nutella (you could use Justin’s brand of chocolate hazelnut butter, but it probably wouldn’t be as sweet)
1/2 cup natural peanut butter (I’ve used “peanut butter spread” types like Peter Pan. OMG. Stay away unless you want fail cookies that taste totally off!)
1 heaping tablespoon natural cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Then portion out dough into 1 tbsp-size balls and place on a cookie sheet. Mash lightly with the prongs of a fork in a criss-cross fashion. Bake for about 10-12 minutes. Don’t overbake! You want them to still be soft when you take them out, because they will set outside the oven.

Allow to cool/set.

Enjoy!

Makes about two dozen cookies

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Vegan Baking Adventures

Next week my office is hosting a going-away brunch for a fellow coworker who is leaving to go work in the Metroplex, and we’ve all been asked to bring a dish to share. I love baking quick-breads, and I recently found out that another coworker is vegan. I love vegan baking! I consider it some sort of challenge and an art form in itself. It defies conventional logic and pushes my thinking out of the box.

I decided to test out a muffin to share.

I started out with the idea of almond butter muffins. Then I found a recipe that included bananas. What a great idea! I have overripe bananas, and they contribute a good amount of moisture and natural sweetness while cutting down on excessive fat! Plus that gives it an upscale Elvis feel, y’know. Almond butter and bananas?

Anyway. I knew that I was entirely out of sucanat and had no desire to run to the store, so I figured a liquid sweetener would suffice. I got half-way through decrystallizing my honey when I realized—duh—honey isn’t vegan. I’m all out of agave (figures), so the next best option was grade B maple syrup. Yes, I knew almond butter and maple syrup go together beautifully. I’m sure most foodies have discovered Justin’s maple almond butter packets in the grocery store, but grade B maple doesn’t normally have a very subtle flavor! But it totally worked in these and did not overpower at all.

 

Here’s what you need!

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Whole wheat pastry flour is the secret to successful 100% whole wheat muffins that everyone will love. The texture is very, very close to that of regular white flour. I use it in practically everything. In fact, I’ve only found two recipes where it didn’t really work out as well as white flour. But that’s another post.

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Conventional baking recipes use milk/yogurt and eggs. I used soy milk (but I plan on using rice milk next week) and a “flax egg.” I love using flax eggs because it’s cheaper than actual eggs, plus it keeps me from using my expensive local, pastured eggs in recipes I can’t even taste them in.

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The beauty of quickbread recipes is that the instructions are simple. Combine all the dry ingredients in one bowl, all the wet ingredients in another bowl, and then combine the contents of both bowls until gently combined (but don’t over-stir!). Sometimes you can get away with using just one bowl—combining all your dry, then adding your wet ingredients individually and then mixing, but since this recipe involves some chunky and sticky wet ingredients in all different textures and viscosities, I don’t recommend the one-bowl route.

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And if you’re feelin’ frisky, you can add some non-dairy chocolate chips!

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Has anyone else used these chlorine-free baking liners? I had some issues with my foil liners back in January with them pulling apart from my cupcakes. I never have that issue with muffins, so I don’t know if it’s the quality of the tin or the recipes themselves. I decided to pick these up when I saw them at Sun Harvest Sprouts last week. Any ideas on how to keep my liners from pulling apart from my cupcakes?!

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Anyway.

If there’s one baking supply you absolutely MUST HAVE in your kitchen, it’s this rounded bowl scraper. I got this as a graduation gift from my aunt. It came from the Container Store and it’s pretty nifty with conversion charts on both sides of it. I know Walmart sells cheaper, simpler varieties. But like I said, it’s an absolute must. If you don’t have one, I beseech you to go out and get one now! There’s a whole world of raw batter to be discovered! And whether that batter ends up in your muffin tins or in your mouth is entirely not my business.

But even if you did eat this batter raw, it’s okay! No eggs! Winking smile

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Where was I? Oh yeah!

 

Fill your muffins with about 2 ounces of batter. I used a nifty one-ounce disher, but most-the-way full is about right.

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Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until edges brown, clean toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, gentle tap on the top shows muffin to be reasonably firm, the weather radar in your trick knee goes off, or the cows come home. Whatever works for you.

Allow muffins to cool entirely on a cooling rack before consuming.

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These muffins are subtle in flavor and in sweetness with a mild and slightly complexed banana flavor, like somewhere between banana bread and the feeling you get after eating an almond-butter-banana sandwich. And another thing, they’re not too sweet! One of my biggest pet peeves is muffins that taste like frosting-less cupcakes. Called me old-fashioned but I don’t think cake is an appropriate breakfast food.

So enjoy!

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Vegan Almond Butter-Banana Muffins

Adapted from CC Recipe
Makes 6-8 muffins

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp melted coconut oil
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup natural almond butter
1 large overripe banana, mashed
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1/2 cup non-dairy milk
~1/4 cup non-dairy chocolate chips (optional)

First, in a small bowl, combine ground flax with 3 tbsp hot water. Stir and allow to sit for 10 minutes so it can congeal.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon together in a medium bowl.

In another bowl, combine coconut oil, maple syrup, almon butter, banana, “flax egg”, vanilla, and non-dairy milk togther and stir until well-combined.

Add the wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Do not overmix!

Fold in chocolate chips.

Dish out about 2 oz of batter per muffin into a muffin pan filled with liners.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in muffin comes out clean.

What’s in the bag?

Have I mentioned that I have been sick for the past week?

I seem to have some sort of cold, and every day I have a different exhausting symptom. Last week I took two sick days off work, and this morning I came into work late because I woke up with this nasty mucus on top of being completely wiped out. My supervisor asked me at work if I needed to go home, but I said I was functional, plus I have a lot of work to finish before leaving for Europe…. NEXT WEEK!

Going to work later this morning did allow me to get my “lunchbox” compiled in some sort of conscious manner.

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On the menu:

Black beans (canned, unsalted) and roasted sweet potatoes, sprinkled with kosher salt, cinnamon, and red curry powder (YUM!)

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I roasted the potatoes after spraying it with this new product I found at Walmart the other day:

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I know, it’s basically fancy Pam, but unlike Pam, it has NO PROPELLANTS and NO CHEMICALS, which I’ve come to be able to detect in my food. Even though I have a reuseable spritz bottle that I normally fill with oil, it only works correctly some of the time, so I figured I’d give this a good try.

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To go with my beans and sweet potatoes, I sauteed the rest of my organic swiss chard in some bacon fat reside from breakfast and some honey balsamic vinegar. Yum!

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For a snack, I also packed plain, Greek, nonfat yogurt with blackberries, pomegranate arils, and a drizzle of raw honey. This is that Straus brand yogurt I picked up at Sun Harvest a few weekends back. I have to be honest and say that it’s not my favorite. It’s too tangy for my taste. Like, almost sour. So far I think Stonyfield may still be my favorite, though Athenos is also good. I won’t even talk about Siggi’s because of the price tag….. ohgoodheavens….

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Also tossed in a banana and an orange. And I must say, just moments after I packed all this in my bag, I realized I was hungry and pulled out the banana and ate it.

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And some organic 70% dark chocolate, for good measure. Winking smile

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30 Day Challenge
Day 6: Your zodiac sign and if you think it fits your personality (obviously I don’t consider these consecutive 30 days!)

My sign is virgo.

I don’t care about this whole idea that the zodiacs “changed.”

I don’t care enough about astrology to give it much thought.

But for the sake of the challenge, I looked up what “virgo” is supposed to mean.

With an acute attention to detail, the Virgo is the sign in the zodiac most dedicated to serving. Their deep sense of the humane leads them to caregiving like no other, while their methodical approach to life ensures that nothing is missed. The Virgo is often gentle and delicate, preferring to step back and analyze before moving ahead

Strengths:
Practical, loyal, hardworking, analytical, kind.

Weaknesses:
Worry, shyness, overly critical of self and others, all work and no play.

Charismatic marks:
A certain, reserved manner marks the classic Virgo. Virgos are generally medium to slight in build.

Likes:
Cleanliness, animals, healthy foods, books, nature.

Dislikes:
Taking center stage, rudeness, asking for help.

Best environment:
Virgo is most at home in the company of animals and close to nature. Virgo likes power and enjoys being the sidekick or indispensable assistant

I would say that the first paragraph is more or less like me. I’m very detail oriented, and I enjoy serving others. I do often think before I act.

As for the strengths, I would say they are all pretty descriptive of me, that is if you keep a loose interpretation of the term “hardworking.” Winking smile

As for weaknesses, I can be pretty critical at times, but at other times I’m not critical at all, so I’d say that’s 50/50. However, the all work and no play idea is definitely NOT an idea I subscribe to! I am pretty shy, though. I used to be more worrisome than I am now…

Charismatic marks? Reserved manner? I ‘m reserved (ie. quiet, keep to myself, etc.) around those with whom I am not close. I’m very NOT reserved (ie. LOUD, OPEN, and sometimes OBNOXIOUS) around those with whom I am close. I have no idea what this medium-to-slight-in-build thing is supposed to mean. I have a large body frame…

Likes? I like cleanliness, I do. I don’t typically live clean, though. Hah! Animals, healthy foods, books, nature, YES!

Dislikes? All true.

The best environment thing is pretty accurate, though I don’t feel the need to be close to animals.

 

Meh, so I guess they are pretty accurate, at least in this special case. I don’t believe it has anything to do with astrology being reliable. I think it’s just because all these attributes are fairly general and are applicable enough to a great number of people. I’m also a first-born, so that may be part of it.

 

 

 

What did you eat for lunch today?

What would your ideal packed lunch contain?

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