Chocolate Magic Shell

The kid in us loves this simple, crispy chocolate ice cream “sauce.” A little mysterious, the warm glossy chocolate hardens on contact with frozen scoops of ice cream, leaving a thin shell that breaks into shards as the spoon takes its first swipe at the cool creamy treat below. No matter the ice cream flavor, a drizzle of homemade chocolate shell is always a welcome addition.

So what’s the secret? How does liquid chocolate turn to a brittle shell on top of ice cream? Coconut oil! That’s right, pure, extra virgin coconut oil. This delicious tropical oil remains liquid at temperatures above 76 degrees, a not uncommon temperature in a busy kitchen. But once cooled, coconut oil gets very hard. And, like chocolate, the colder the coconut fat gets, the more brittle it becomes. The result of combining them is a delightfully crunchy ice cream topper.

The flavors of coconut and chocolate compliment one another perfectly. Beyond great flavor, their high saturated fat content protects them from oxidation. That means your batch of chocolate shell will last months at room temperature if kept tightly covered. We recommend using the best dark chocolate you can afford for this recipe. If you want to make a large batch to share with others, we’re fans of Trader Joe’s PoundPlus bars of 72% dark Belgian chocolate. Besides having great flavor, it offers a big bang for the buck. If a Trader Joe’s is not in your area, use the best chocolate you can find. The coconut oil used here is a cold-pressed, organic extra virgin coconut oil from Nutiva. It has a light taste and beautiful white color. When shopping for coconut oil, just remember to look for organic options and buy only non-hydrogenated virgin oil.

The chocolate shell on the shelf of the local grocery may be easy enough to grab, but if you can warm water on the stove, you can whip up your own batch of chocolate shell in minutes. We use the recipe written by the good folks at America’s Test Kitchen here. They know how to test a recipe and we’re happy to report this one is perfect.

Chocolate Ice Cream Shell
By America’s Test Kitchen*

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder
Pinch salt
4    ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (whatever dark chocolate you prefer)
1/3 cup coconut oil
1    teaspoon cocoa

Stir vanilla, espresso powder, and salt together in small bowl until espresso dissolves. Microwave chocolate and coconut oil in medium bowl at 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until melted, 2 to 4 minutes. Whisk in vanilla mixture and cocoa until combined. Let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes, before using. Chocolate shell can be stored at room temperature in airtight container for at least 2 months; microwave, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes, before using.

*We do not own a microwave (shocking, we know). Instead of nuking the ingredients here, we made a double boiler out of a sauce pan and a stainless steel bowl. It’s easy enough to melt the chocolate and coconut oil on the stove top over boiling water. It really doesn’t take much more time than a microwave. Remember, once cooled and stored, your magic shell may turn into a solid mass in the cupboard. To rewarm, loosen the lid, set the jar in a small saucepan and add enough water to come half way up the side of the jar and heat over a very low flam until the chocolate is liquid. This process takes less time than it takes your ice-cream to soften for scooping!

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Dark Chocolate: Chocolate Coconut Lava Cake

This Valentine’s Day do yourself and your loved ones a favor and vow to eat dark chocolate everyday. The health benefits of dark chocolate include improving cholesterol and blood sugar levels, helping blood flow to the brain, and hardening tooth enamel. It’s also full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. The reason we, and others, recommend dark chocolate over milk or white chocolate is because dark chocolate has less dairy and fat in it than milk; and white chocolate is absent of cocoa solids which is where all the antioxidants, vitamins and minerals are located. Essentially, there is a time and a place to eat milk and/or white chocolate, but it just shouldn’t be eaten daily. Actually, today, of all days, is the day to eat milk, white, or dark chocolate. Just eat chocolate!

What is dark chocolate? Dark chocolate is made with cocoa, or cacao, cocoa butter, and sugar. In the U.S. there is no formal definition of dark chocolate, but in Europe, it’s defined as having a minimum of 35% cocoa solids. There are two types of dark chocolate in the U.S., semisweet and bittersweet, both of which are used frequently in cooking and baking. Often the package will state the cocoa percentage. Dark chocolate can range from 70%-99% pure cocoa, with the high numbers indicating more cocoa and a more bitter taste.

Semisweet chocolate is the one dark chocolate that most people are familiar with. Just think of those Toll House Cookies made with Nestle’s semisweet chocolate chips. Semisweet chocolate has half as much sugar as the amount of cocoa.

Bittersweet chocolate has less sugar than semisweet chocolate. It’s made up of chocolate liquor, some sugar, cocoa butter, and often vanilla and soy lecithin.

There’s a third type of dark chocolate called Couverture chocolate. It’s a high quality chocolate with extra cocoa butter, 32%-39%, and the total percentage of cocoa butter and cocoa solids must be at least 54%. This type of chocolate is mostly used for dipping, coating, and molding chocolates. This would be the type of chocolate found mostly in the upper-end chocolatiers, like Godiva.

Chocolate doesn’t have to be eaten at the end of a meal as dessert. There are many recipes that call for chocolate as a main ingredient. If you like Mexican food, and who doesn’t, try chocolate mole. In the novel, Like Water for Chocolateit was served with turkey, it can also be served with  chicken or vegetables like hard shelled squashes. Chopped cocoa nibs can be sprinkled on a bitter winter green, like radicchio, as a substitution for nuts on a salad. We’ve even included cocoa powder in our favorite chili recipe, Chocolate Cherry Chili.

For all those looking to surprise your chocoholic loved one who is also an avid reader, we suggest the perfect book, Chocolate–A bittersweet saga of dark and light, by Mort Rosenblum. Had we discovered the book sooner, and had a bit more time to read it before Valentine’s Day, we would have included references to the history of chocolate; from the Swiss to the French, and all around the world. With only a small dive into the book, we’re already hooked. Maybe a sequel to the Chocolate blog is in order, with an exploration of white and milk chocolate, just in time for Easter.





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Chocolate Coconut Lava Cakes

The original epicurious recipe is by far the best Molten Lava Cake we have tried, and we have tried many. We’ve altered this recipe to include coconut sugar and coconut oil to make it healthier-ish. Should you choose to use the unadulterated version, we suggest not making the Mint Fudge Sauce. A few fresh raspberries and maybe some vanilla ice cream is all this dessert needs.

5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 cup coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 450°F. Butter six 3/4-cup soufflé dishes or custard cups. Stir chocolate, butter, and coconut sugar in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted. Cool slightly and add vanilla. Whisk eggs and egg yolks in large bowl to blend. Whisk in chocolate mixture, then powdered sugar, salt and flour. Pour batter into dishes, dividing equally. (Can be made 2-3 days ahead, cover and chill in the refrigerator.)

Bake cakes until sides are set but center remains soft and runny, about 11 minutes or up to 14 minutes for batter that was refrigerated. Run small knife around cakes to loosen. Immediately turn cakes out onto plates. Serve with coconut gelato or vanilla ice cream, if desired, or fresh raspberries.

Toaster Oven Method: These cakes are perfect for a toaster oven. Add the cakes to a cold oven and bake at 400°F or 425°F, ovens will vary, until slightly set on sides, and top, about 12-14 minutes. The cakes may rise in the center and if the temperature is too high may even explode and ooze out of the top, like a volcano. If this starts to happen, reduce the temperature and continue to bake another minute or two.

A couple notes on Coconut Sugar and Coconut Oil: Many of our recipes call for coconut sugar and/or coconut oil. From the information we can find, both products are better than their alternatives – refined white sugar and most vegetable oils. Their flavor and coloring may be slightly different, and often times better, in our opinion – they taste like coconut.

The coconut sugar is a low glycemic product and is high in potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron, as well as vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6. The only downside is the price: it’s about 5 times more expensive than regular white sugar and about two to three times more expensive as brown. That is why we often combine coconut sugar with white or brown sugar.

Coconut Oil has begun to resurge on the market after years of being vilified as a “bad” oil because of its high levels of saturated fats. The studies done on coconut oil used partially hydrogenated coconut oil and not virgin coconut oil. We’ll be exploring more about these two products in later posts.




Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem Artichoke: Jerusalem Artichoke Chips w/ Rosemary Salt

The Mariquita Farms “Mystery Boxes” (actually, they’re really big bags) we buy twice a month are always filled with beautiful, in-season veggies in an extraordinary variety. The fun of the mystery is that you really don’t know what you’re going to get before you show up to grab the bag off the back of the farm’s delivery truck. And from time to time, we get something that we’ve never considered buying but have always been curious to try.

Such was the case with a recent bag that included a lot of Jerusalem Artichokes. We’ve seen them around. They’re knobby little tubers that look sort of like ginger root or galangal, have the texture of apple or Jíca

ma when raw and make for a delicious puree when boiled like a potato. Cooked, they have an earthier, sweeter flavor than potato, which is to say you get more of the mineral flavor of the soil they’re grown in. They aren’t a starchy veggie, so you don’t get the same fluffy, dry mouth feel you get from potato. Instead, they’re a bit waxy when cooked through. Eaten raw, they’re crisp and a little sweet thanks to their high fructose content. They’re delicious as an addition to your dinner salad.

Nobody knows how the plant got its name. This member of the sunflower family (hence the alternative name ‘sunchoke’ or ‘sun choke’) isn’t an artichoke, and it doesn’t come from the Middle East (it’s a North American native species). Aboriginal North Americans were cultivating and eating it when the first Europeans landed on our shores. It made its way to Europe in the early 1600’s and was quickly adopted on the continent. That’s about all we know about its earliest culinary uses. The bulbs are loaded with potassium and iron and they’re low carb/low glycemic diet-friendly thanks to their high inulin content.

We adapted a bon appétit recipe for Fried Sunchoke Chips with Rosemary Salt by toasting thin slices of Jerusalem Artichoke in the oven on an oiled sheet pan before sprinkling them with the herbaceous salt. We recommend getting them as thin as possible so that they dry as they brown. Our first go at oven roasting produced a softer chip because of the thickness of the slices, but they were sweet and delici

ous all the same.

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Oven Roasted Jerusalem Artichoke Chips sprinkled with Rosemary Salt

1 lemon

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

1 pound Jerusalem artichokes

3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with aluminum foil. Mix the salt and rosemary together in a small bowl, set aside. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze one half of it in a bowl filled with fresh water. Scrub the Jerusalem artichokes until very clean; place them in the bowl of acidulated water. Thinly slice each tuber, about 1/8 to 1/16 inch thick, or as thin as possible. Empty the water from the bowl and dry. Add the sliced tubers to the bowl and squeeze the other half of lemon over the top. Add the olive oil and toss to coat. Evenly place the slices on the baking sheets in one layer, do not over lap. Lightly sprinkle the rosemary salt over the slices and place in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes; then pull the pans out of the oven and begin to remove the browned and crispy ones from the pan. Rotate the pans and place them back in the over for 3-5 minutes. Continue to check the tuber slices and remove the crispier ones and place the lighter colored ones back in the oven. This will take up to 30-40 minutes. Consolidate the slices to one pan when there is room available. Sprinkle more rosemary salt over the top. Serve warm or at room temperature.