Thursday, June 12, 2014

Chocolate Unit Celebration

Even though our Chocolate Unit really ended a few weeks earlier, when we got back from our trip to Oregon, the children insisted that we have a final celebration of some sort. I was curious to see what kind of interesting chocolate recipes we could find, so we picked a day and set to work making a meal where every dish included chocolate!

Here was our menu:
  • Chocolate bacon appetizers (these were interesting; the bacon had a rub of cocoa powder, brown sugar, and chili powder on it and then got baked in the oven. The sugars kind of caramelized and gave an almost barbeque-sauce-y taste? We liked it.)
  • Savory cocoa dinner rolls (they had red onion and goat cheese in them, and then we put mustard and ham on them like sandwiches. They were really good—not at all what you’d expect. The cocoa powder didn’t really give them a chocolate taste, but more of a dark taste—like pumpernickel or rye or something. They would be really good with a dinner of cooked ham, I bet. But they weren’t as good for leftovers.)
  • Chocolate Molé Soup. (Inspired by Chili Ancho Sopa de Chocolate, but I changed the recipe so much I didn't feel I could in conscience call it the same dish.) This was quite good. Almost like tortilla soup, and we served it with avocado and sour cream and tortilla strips on top. Yum. My recipe is below.
  • Hot chocolate
  • Tiiiny little bowls of chocolate mousse
  • And our chocolate Sebby cake

The boys decorated with a banner (it's very detailed and you can't see all the elements, but it involves a Cacao Tree Titan growing in the Temperate Rainforest, and someone looking at it in astonishment, and a greenhouse with watering and humidity controls, and Ritter-sport chocolate bars, and banana slugs, and so forth. The usual.) They also placed various chocolate ingredients in little artistic vignettes around the house.

After dinner we watched "Willa Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (the old one, of course).
Savory Cocoa Dinner Rolls
Tiny Chocolate Mousse
Molé Soup

And here's how I made that soup:

Chocolate Molé Soup

1 onion
1 red sweet pepper
2 T. olive oil
4 roma tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can green chiles
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. cumin
5 pinches ? chili powder—you can make it spicier, of course
6 cups chicken stock (or water and bouillon cubes)
1 1/4 c. semisweet chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chips)
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional, for garnish: Sour cream, sliced avocado, cilantro, lime, cotija cheese, fried tortilla strips or crumbled tortilla chips

Cut the onion and pepper up and cook them in a pot in the olive oil until they are getting black.

Add the 4 Roma tomatoes, cut up in pieces, and 1 can diced tomatoes.

Sauté just a bit more, then add the chicken broth and scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen all the blackened bits (adds such great flavor, yum!). Then add the green chiles, cinnamon, sugar, cumin, and chile powder. Let it simmer for awhile (20 min?)

Blend it with the immersion blender, or in batches in the regular blender, until it’s smooth. Return to pot and turn heat on low.

Add chocolate and stir till melted; add salt and pepper and more chile powder to taste.

Serve with sliced avocados, cilantro, lime, cotija cheese, sour cream, and tortilla strips.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Chocolate-Covered Caramels

Emboldened by our truffle success, we decided to make chocolate-covered caramels for Sam for Father's Day. At the crucial moment (as the caramel was already bubbling away merrily) I couldn't find my candy thermometer (!) so I had to make the caramels just by eyeing the color and using the "firm ball stage" ice-water method (!!) and they turned out perfectly anyway (!!!). I was very impressed with myself. I love caramels but I must say, chocolate-covered caramels are even better.

Here is my good, faithful, tried-and-true caramel recipe. It never fails me (although I have sometimes failed it).


2 c. light karo syrup
2 c. sugar
½ t. salt

Stir well with wooden spoon and place on medium heat. Bring to a full rolling boil and add alternately but do not stop the boiling:

½ pt. (1 c.) whipping cream (unwhipped)
1 cube butter (cut in 5ths and dropped in separately)
½ c. + 1/3 c. evaporated milk

Add the above three things a little at a time. Put in a thermometer and cook to 233 degrees---this may take about half an hour. The caramel should be darkening but not too dark. You can put a small ball of caramel into ice water and then taste it to see if the chewiness is right. When caramels are done, remove pan from heat and add 1 t. vanilla. Pour into buttered 9x13 pan. Cool several hours or overnight, until caramel is set. 

For caramels, cut into squares and wrap individually in waxed paper.

For chocolate-covered caramels, dip squares into melted chocolate (make sure chocolate stays in temper while melting; that is, keep it under 88 degrees for milk chocolate or 90 degrees for dark chocolate) and place on parchment paper. Sprinkle with a few grains of sea salt, if desired.
The older boys helped do the dipping. They are getting really good at it!
We put a couple layers of these, sprinkled with a little sea salt, between waxed paper in a box for Sam and covered them with a sheet of tissue paper. They were every bit as good as any you'd buy at a fine chocolatier---if we do say so ourselves. :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Since we've learned about tempering, we've been wanting to make various things and dip them in chocolate! We tried making these truffles a little while ago. The centers were made with milk chocolate, and we dipped them in semisweet chocolate. We were quite proud of how pretty they looked!

We followed the recipe for the centers here, and it was really good, but I think I like my old recipe a little bit better! The one we made this time was just slightly too sweet, or something. It's been a couple years since I've made the old ones, though, so I'll have to make them again soon to make sure I remember. :) Here is my usual recipe for truffle centers:


1 c. heavy cream
2 T. butter
2 tsp. light corn syrup
1 pound finely chopped semisweet chocolate, plus 12 oz for dipping

Bring cream, butter, and corn syrup to a boil over medium heat. Turn off heat. Add 1 pound chocolate; gently swirl pan to cover chocolate with cream, but do not stir. Let stand 5 minutes.

Slowly whisk until combined. Refrigerate, stirring every 16 minutes.

After 45 minutes, mixture will thicken quickly, so stir every 3-5 min until thick enough to scoop, 10-20 min more. Form into one-inch balls and place on parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Chill centers until firm, but not hard (about 15 min). 

Dip into melted, tempered milk chocolate, and if desired, roll in cocoa powder to finish.

This is a (very bad) picture of a time when we made the old kind of truffles (from 2008!)---you can see that I didn't know what I was doing with the dipping at all, and the chocolate wasn't tempered---though that cocoa powder covers a multitude of sins! :)---but the taste was very good.
Back in the present day . . . the boys roll truffle centers
We dip with great seriousness
Truffles drying!

Bonneville Dam, Oregon

To break up the drive a bit on our way home, we stopped at Bonneville Dam. We do love a good dam in this family, and we seek them out whenever possible. We feel we are getting quite a good series of dams under our belts! :) This dam is quite interesting because of the changes made in it over the years. We went on a tour of the powerhouse and enjoyed it immensely!
Huge generators (turbines are below, with the orange stripe)
Junie by one of the stator coils
Our tour guide told us that a huge chunk fell off of this mountain and dammed the Columbia River in Prehistoric times. Much of that landslide later eroded away, but that's what gave the river its distinctive shape and two-channel flow pattern.
We loved watching fish jump up the fish ladders
And Daisy also loved this huge turbine, evidently.
Fish ladder from below
Lampreys! If there's one piece of information I know in this world, it's what a lamprey has: a round sucking mouth with rasping teeth. I learned it in 10th-grade biology and I have repeated it frequently ever since (ask anyone). So you can imagine my pleasure and delight at seeing one in the flesh. Round sucking mouth! Rasping teeth! It's all there.
Seb poses precariously on a hill

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Oregon Steam Train

When we went to Oregon, I was excited to see there was a steam train that ran through Rockaway Beach, because the children have always wanted to see a working steam locomotive! The Heber Valley Railway was fun, but its steam locomotive isn't running right now, and they were quite disappointed about that. I wanted them to ride this one so much that I specifically made sure we were staying through a weekend because the train only runs on Saturdays and Sundays (this time of year, anyway). It's a pretty short train ride, it just goes down the coast for a few miles and then back up, about an hour and a half total. But it's beautiful and even if it hadn't been, we were riding a train! Automatic fun.
We made sure to get there early so we could look the train over and see all the pistons and cylinders up close. We heard the train whistle from our cottage as the train came by, and I've never seen the kids get their shoes on and ready to go so fast! They were so excited.
The fireman was so nice! He saw how interested all the kids were in the train, and let them come up into the cab and look around at all the valves and pipes. We could feel the heat, and see the fire glowing yellow in the firebox! This steam locomotive runs on oil, the man told us.
Junie got all sooty in the cab, which seemed right somehow.
We walked through the indoor car, but decided we'd rather sit outside in the roofless car. It was cloudy and kind of misty, but not cold.
When the train started up, it was so loud and exciting! Whooshing and hissing and clouds of steam everywhere.
Such pretty scenery along the coast! I could never get tired of it.
At Garibaldi you can get off and look around at some of the other old trains. There's a little playground to play on, and boats in a harbor.
These little ones were always picking daisies and buttercups, everywhere we went!
Daisy was very impressed by the conductor and asked me to take her picture with him.
Marigold enjoyed the ride SO much! Lots of cars and people waved at the train as it went by, and Goldie just waved and waved back at them grandly, like she was royalty.
Every time the steam whistle blew, she laughed and laughed and laughed, and she loved the wind blowing through her hair (fuzz). She seemed to think everything had been arranged specifically for her personal enjoyment. It was so cute!
We just loved watching the steam drift up over the beautiful green forests. Oregon is such a great place!
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