Posts Tagged ‘chocolate’

Chocolate around the clock in Madrid

late-night chocolate in Madrid
Chocolate seems to have its “day” several times a year, with October 28 being named as National Chocolate Day, courtesy of the National Confectioners Association (“Making Life Sweeter Since 1884”).

Pouring chocolate in MadridTruthfully, we think chocolate is worthy of international celebration. Our favorite place for hot chocolate, especially during what Spaniards call the “madrugada” (between midnight and dawn) is Madrid’s Chocolatería San Ginés (Pasadizo San Ginés 5; tel 91-365-6546; Here’s what we have to say about it in our new edition of Frommer’s Spain:

“At some point, all of Madrid comes into Chocolatería San Ginés for a cup of the almost fudgy hot chocolate and the fried dough sticks known as churros. When the music stops in the wee hours of the morning, disco queens from Joy Eslava next door pop in for a cup [see above], and later on, before they head to the office, bankers in three-piece suits order breakfast. There’s sugar spilled everywhere on the tables, yet the marble counters are an impeccable tableau of cups lined up with the handles all facing at the same angle and a tiny spoon on each saucer. Dipping the sugar-dusted churros into the hot chocolate is de rigeur, and, yes, it’s OK to have the snack in the afternoon.”

FYI, Chocolatería San Ginés closes briefly in the early morning for cleaning. Cash only.


10 2014

What to bring home from a British grocery store

British groceries Whenever I visit a British grocery store I scour the shelves for the most unusual items. But it’s really the comfort foods that define a cuisine — or at least taste like home. That’s the lesson I learned from a lovely woman in Leeds who had lived and worked in Taiwan for 15 years. When I asked her what I might want to buy in the city’s big Sainsbury grocery store, she immediately rattled off the items that she had most craved during her years abroad.

At the end of every visit home, she would pack herself a big care package for her return trip to Taiwan. Here are the foods she couldn’t do without:

Heinz Tomato Soup. It’s ultimate comfort food.

Heinz Baked Beanz. Brits consider this version superior to the American version.

Heinz Salad Cream. This tangy dressing has a consistency like mayonnaise. Dubbed “pourable sunshine,” it’s as popular on sandwiches or baked potatoes as it is on salads.

Marmite. This yeast extract with a strong, salty flavor is equally loved and hated, even in Great Britain. The dark brown paste is usually spread on toast, with or without a little butter.

Walkers Salt & Vinegar Crisps (potato chips, to Americans). Walkers is the favorite brand in the UK and the salt and vinegar variation has a tangy, salty flavor that is quite addictive.

Cadbury Dairy Milk Whole Nut Bars. Introduced in 1933, this bar pairs Cadbury’s creamy, high milk content chocolate with whole hazelnuts.

And here are a few more items that I like to throw into my grocery cart:

HP Sauce. This secret-recipe brown sauce has been manufactured since 1899 and is a favored accompaniment for beef. The original version is available in many U.S. grocery stores, but it’s worth seeking out some of the other flavor options, including the blend of HP and Guinness.

Branston Rich & Fruity Sauce. This mix of tomatoes, apples, and dates is blended with herbs, spices, sugar, vinegar, and molasses to make a sweet but tangy brown sauce. It’s good on scrambled eggs.

Cadbury Flake. The crumbly bar of thin sheets of milk chocolate is the classic adornment to a scoop of ice cream.

Chocolate: Going to the source

Ecuador has been famous since at least the 19th century for its “fine aroma” cacao from the Arriba strain of beans. Only about 5 percent of the world’s cacao production meets the “fine aroma” standards as an enhancer of more plebian beans in fine chocolates. Nearly two-thirds of those “fine aroma” beans come from Ecuador.

The 8-year-old República de Cacao company aims to highlight the qualities of the Arriba bean with a line of single-origin dark chocolates from different growing areas within the country. The bars are available in Ecuador and are beginning to show up in the U.S. (We discovered them in the Guayaquil airport when we were en route to a Galápagos Islands cruise, but more about that later….)

It was enlightening to taste the chocolates side by side and get a feel for how terroir can affect the expression of a single cacao variety. If you run across these fine chocolates, here’s a guide to what to expect.

El Oro: Made as a 67% cacao dark chocolate, El Oro is the lightest of the Républica group, with nicely rounded almost blueberry overtones and a lightly toasted quality. It hails from the southern part of the country in a banana-growing zone adjacent to Peru. Good with a late-harvest white wine.

Los Rios: This 75% cacao dark chocolate is brassier than the other Républica offerings, starting with pronounced sweet spice overtones and finishing with a slightly more alkaline harshness than the others. The region lies in the heart of coastal Ecuador, but removed from the coast. Perfectly balanced by a glass of port.

Manabi: Also produced as a 75% cacao dark chocolate, this is the most complex of the Républica chocolates, starting soft and fruity and deepening to a rich mocha flavor. More acidic than the others, it has has strong floral notes. Manabi province, in northwest Ecuador, is also a large producer of coffee and bananas. Amontillado sherry makes the perfect complement.

Las Esmeraldas: The least distinctive, this 75% cacao dark chocolate is perhaps the best eating chocolate of the group because it is rich in chocolate flavors with a good balance of fruity and spicy notes. Like all the Républica de Cacao chocolates, it is “dry,” and benefits from letting it melt in the front of your mouth. We like it in the afternoon with a cup of rooibos herbal tea.



02 2012

What to buy in a Paris grocery store

It is funny that France is such a fantastic country for eating but we rarely discover as many finds in French grocery stores as we do in other countries. Part of the problem is that most of the good stuff (like the sausages and the fresh produce and seafood) can’t be brought home. The other factor is that many French foods are available in our local groceries, so we have learned to be restrained. We have also found that the fancy stores like Bon Marché and Galeries de Lafayette are big on stocking what they consider exotic delicacies-like American ketchup. There are a few things we just cannot pass up. Here’s our shopping list when we visit Paris:

Herbes de Provence. We’ve been told that this blend of dried herbs typical of the Provençal countryside was invented as a marketing ploy in the 1970s. We don’t care. The blend is handy to toss into almost everything from a stew to a vinaigrette. Why bother to bring it all the way home from Paris? Because, unlike American manufacturers, the French don’t muddy up the flavors by putting lavender flowers and leaves in the mix of savory, fennel, basil, and thyme. And the herbs are cheap if you skip the fancy crockware packaging.

Cassis mustard. Talking with French mustard makers, we learned that even in Dijon, much of the mustard seed comes from Canada, even though it is processed in France. And we are fortunate that some good French mustards (usually Maille) are fairly available in our local stores. But we never see cassis mustard in the U.S., so we always try to pick some up. Its sweet-savory flavor makes it the perfect spread for a sandwich made with leftover charcoal-grilled chicken.

Dried morel mushrooms. Again, they’re available in the U.S., but here in New England they tend to cost an arm and a leg. In France they are relatively cheap, and 3 ounces of dried mushrooms yield about the same volume as a pound of fresh morels. The flavor is intense and meaty. We think the simplest treatment-a morel mushroom omelette-is the best. Rehydrate them by soaking about 5 minutes in warm water and sauté lightly in butter before adding them to the eggs.

Tinned foie gras. Tout le monde makes preserved foie gras, but only the French seem to do it really well. Or, more specifically, the Alsatians. We like the goose foie gras from Strasbourg, which is poached and packed in tins. Once in a while we’ll use some in a sauce, but it’s really best lightly chilled and cut in thin slices spread on a plate and served with a sweet wine. The French prefer Sauternes, but it’s also nice with an intense gewürztraminer from any of the Rhine regions (preferably an auslese).

Crème de marrons de l’Ardeche. This sweetened chestnut cream is France’s answer to Nutella. It’s used in cookies and making millefeuille pastries, as an additive to whipped cream, or just spread on a buttery croissant. The French also like to squirt some from the tube on a crepe and roll it up to serve. It makes a pretty impressive dessert with very little effort. This is one French fast food we heartily endorse.

Drinking chocolate. Every culture does hot chocolate (chocolate chaud) a little differently. In Paris you usually get a little pitcher of hot milk and a little pitcher of concentrated chocolate to mix to taste in your cup. The next best thing to ducking into Angelina (226 rue de Rivoli, (0)1 42 60 82 00) on a chilly Paris day is mixing up a pot of thick hot chocolate at home. The fancier grocery stores in Paris tend to stock Angelina’s mix along with several others. We often pick up extras for the folks who have been feeding the cat or picking up the mail.


06 2010

French Chocolate Mousse for Valentine’s Day

We have been racking our brains for something special to conclude our Valentine’s Day dinner. We simply lack the skills to reproduce our all-time favorite dessert from Fauchon, the amazing gourmet shop, tea house, and patisserie on Place de Madeleine in Paris. That would be Megève cake—perfect thin layers of crisp meringue with chocolate ganache and chocolate mousse.

But we did recall a dynamite, foolproof version of chocolate mousse given to us by a French housewife, Madame Picavet. Given that Monsieur Picavet was very fond of Burgundy, it made the perfect companion to the last glass in the bottle. She used dark chocolate, but we’ve had good luck using an American bittersweet chocolate like Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips.



6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup of whole milk


Place ingredients through vanilla extract in blender jar.

Heat milk until nearly boiling. Add to blender jar and blend two minutes. Pour into six cups and chill for at least three hours. Serve topped with sweetened whipped cream.

Serves 6.


02 2010

Sonoma Christmas cookie

I like California’s Sonoma County because viticulture and winemaking haven’t yet overwhelmed traditional farming. Almost everything seems to grow there, and one great place to sample the agricultural traditions is Kozlowski Farms (5566 Gravenstein Highway 116, Forestville, California, 707-887-1587), one of the oldest family farms in the county. The farm store is open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

When Carol Kozlowski’s parents bought the farm nearly 60 years ago, they began growing apples and then branched out into raspberries. “We had an overabundance and began to make jam,” she says. “So we put a sign on the side of the road and that launched our business.” The family still grows apples and makes cider, but concentrates on developing new products and operating a farm stand stocked with about 100 different jams, jellies, salad dressings, chutneys, vinegars, fruit butters, mustards, barbecue sauces, and honeys. You can almost make a meal just from the samples. A bakery on the premises offers one of the Kozlowski family’s most inspired raspberry concoctions: a raspberry chocolate chip cookie that, while not quite as decorative as some seasonal cookies, is a big hit around our house at Christmas.

Kozlowski Farms Classic Raspberry Chocolate Chip Cookies


1/2 lb. butter or margarine, softened
2 cups (packed) brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 10-ounce jar red raspberry jam


In large mixing bowl, blend butter with brown and white sugars. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking soda. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture and blend together well. Add chocolate chips.

Roll a rounded teaspoon of dough in a ball and set onto a greased cookie sheet. Flatten cookie slightly and push down center to create a small indentation. Fill these indentations with a dab of jam. Space cookies about 2 inches apart.

Bake 8-10 minutes in preheated 375 degree oven.


12 2009

What to buy in a Spanish grocery store

SpanishpimentonWe love visiting fresh markets when we travel. But except for dried herbs and spices, most of the goods won’t make it through US Customs. Once we’ve snapped dozens of photos of mounds of vegetables and tables of glistening fish on ice, we head to a neighborhood grocery store (the kind where homemakers, not tourists, shop) to stock up on food essentials to bring home.

Here’s our Spanish grocery list:


Spaniards claim their saffron is the world’s best and price it accordingly. The larger the container, the better the deal. We usually purchase saffron in 20-gram boxes or larger. (A half gram is sufficient for a 15-inch paella.) Stored in an airtight container out of the light, it will keep up to seven years—or so we have been told. It never lasts that long for us.

Pimentón de la Vera

It’s hard to resist the colorful tins holding smoked paprika from Extremadura. The earthy red spice with a mild hint of smoke seasons chorizo and most forms of paella. It’s most commonly available as dulce (sweet) or picante (hot). Dulce, which is slightly hot, adds a touch of warmth and deep coloring to rice dishes and soups. It is the main paprika used in Spanish sauces (including Bravas). Use the picante sparingly. It heat approaches as most Mexican chile peppers. If we plan to make a barbecue dry rub, we look for the less common ahumado, which has a strong smoky component.

Sea Salt

Flaked sea salt is a current foodie favorite, but we prefer the coarser Spanish sea salt sold for roasting fish or fowl. It can be ground in a salt grinder to use at the table or tossed into liquids as a seasoning. Our favorite brand, Sal Costa from the Costa Brava, costs less than a half euro per kilo.


Canned fish

Spaniards are canning geniuses. Their tinned anchovies, oysters, squid, octopus, clams, and sardines supply half the tapas served in the bars. White anchovies, in particular, taste so good that the Italians import them.

Olive oil

Olive oil is a matter of personal taste. But Spaniards concur that the best in Spain comes from Andalucía—either from Núñez del Prado, or from hill towns around Úbeda. Best bet is “bionatur” oil packaged in tins rather than bottles.

Bomba rice

This heritage strain of rice introduced to the Valencia area from North Africa around 800AD is the premium rice for paella. It’s twice as expensive as “Valencia” rice, and worth every cent for its ability to absorb flavor and maintain its toothy texture.

Manchego cheese

This aged ewe’s milk cheese is the pride of Spanish cheeses. We sometimes bring an entire three-kilo wheel home, but big vacuum-sealed wedges are also available in most grocery stores. It keeps fine for several days without refrigeration.


Valor chocolate

Anyone who visits in cool weather soon discovers the soothing pleasures of Spain’s unusually thick hot chocolate. Valor is a common supermarket brand for recreating the treat at home. It’s even good without the accompanying churros.


12 2009