This month Kate tries out new products, from a blender/food processor combo to silky smooth chocolate fudge truffles, both perfect as gifts for Mother's Day, and in What to Eat This Month Kate suggest some recipes for that new blender.
by Kate Heyhoe
Here are two products perfect as gifts for Mother's Day (second Sunday in May) or anytime you want to indulge your favorite foodie—and that includes yourself!
I'm scaling back on electric appliances these days, partly because I don't have the space, and most appliances are just too limited in their functions. So naturally a new product caught my eye: Oster's Fusion performs as a blender or as a food processor. It makes sense: one powerful motor, two main attachments.
Both the blender pitcher and the food processor bowl are clear and dishwasher safe. The blender is full size, and the food processor bowl is medium in size, so it's good for everyday chopping and comes with a grating blade (but it's not really made for mixing doughs). Pick from programmed or manual settings.
I noticed when grinding Parmesan chunks, the noise (partly from the motor itself, partly from the hard-as-ice chunks slamming against the sides of the work bowl) blotted out the television and any hope of conversation, but the end result was just what I wanted: soft, fine and consistent, in almost no time at all. The blade also auto-reverses, so it attacks chopping from two sides.
With gazpacho and margarita season approaching, this handy machine has a small enough countertop footprint to keep it plugged in and ready to go, instead of stashed deep in a cabinet with other appliances that rarely see the light of day. Consider an Oster Fusion for yourself or as a gift for Mother's Day or your favorite Dad or Grad.
Buy an Oster Fusion
For some blender recipe ideas see What to Eat This Month
In 2005, former marketing execs John Kelson and Kelly Green launched John Kelly Chocolates, based in Hollywood. They specialize in artisan fudge. Each bar has a silky-smooth, truffle fudge center and a semi-sweet chocolate coating, with the flavor ingredient hand-initialed in chocolate. The chocolates come in 12 flavors, some with nuts, and some without nuts. Flavors include chocolate, dark chocolate and vanilla, plus peanut butter and caramel, as well as aromatic flavors like cappuccino, orange, peppermint and raspberry.
Kosher certified, they come in generously-sized 8 oz. and 2 oz. bars, each wrapped in gold foil, and are packaged in luxury boxes, in eight different sizes, with the largest an assortment of all twelve flavors. They also offer gift baskets and towers, filled with fudge-filled boxes. One of the richest chocolates you'll ever experience, John Kelly Chocolates' gourmet truffle fudge can be purchased at up-scale gourmet food markets and elite retailers across the country (try Nieman-Marcus nationally, Bristol Farms in California, and Central Market in Texas). You can also buy them direct from the manufacturer: John Kelly Chocolates.
John Kelly Chocolates was kind enough to provide us with some interesting background on the origins of fudge:
The legendary appeal of chocolate began thousands of years ago, when ancient peoples believed it to be of divine origin. This conviction is easily understood when you see the cacao tree in its natural state, nestled under the canopy of lush tropical rain forests. The cacao tree is said to have originated in the Amazon, over 4,000 years ago, but later flourished in the heart of Mesoamerica. To early inhabitants, the umbrella-shaped tree must have appeared mystical, with its large glossy leaves and graceful limbs, laden with tiny orchids. It is on the moss-covered trunk of the tree that waxy pink and white blossoms mature into clusters of green, orange, yellow, and maroon colored fruit, called pods. Shaped like elongated melons, the pods ripen to a golden color, or sometimes a bright scarlet hue with multicolored flecks.
A mature pod contains up to fifty seeds, surrounded by a sweet, fruity pulp. Although chocolate is made from the seeds or cacao beans, monkeys and tropical birds flock to the trees in search of the prized sweet pulp.
Recent discoveries suggest that the Olmecs, the Mother Culture of Mesoamerica, were the first to venerate cacao and to cultivate it as a crop. Nevertheless, our current understanding of cacao's rich history begins with the Maya, who claimed that it was the actual food of gods. Believing that no other tree was worth naming, they simply called the cacao tree, cachuaquchtl, meaning "the tree." Maya royalty used cacao as a health elixir, consuming copious amounts in the form of a bitter, frothy liquid, flavored with spices and chile peppers. Following the Maya, the Aztecs held that the god Quetzalcoatl, the winged serpent, stole the cacao tree from paradise. After descending to earth on a beam from the Morning Star, Quetzalcoatl gave the treasure to humanity. A symbol of wisdom and power, the Aztecs thought cacao could rejuvenate the body, mind, spirit, and the libido. For this reason, women and the peasant-class were not allowed the blessed brew. It is said that the Aztec emperor Montezuma II drank more than fifty cups a day, each served in a goblet of pure gold, which was used once, then thrown away. After conquering the Aztec Empire in the early 1500s, Hernando Cortez returned to Spain with boatloads of gold and cacao beans.
Although Cortez found the concoction distasteful, he was intrigued by cacao's economic potential and eventually introduced it as a medicine to the Spanish aristocracy. Remarkably, Spain was able to keep their discovery secret for almost a century, while they experimented with different formulations, established several cacao plantations, and in 1580, opened the first cacao processing plant.
Controversy and innovation were chocolate's constant companions during the next 200 years. Still prepared as a drink, when chocolate first appeared in Europe it was considered a "noxious drug." However, things began to change in 1615, when the Spanish bride of Louis XIII decreed chocolate the drink of the French court. During the reign of Louis XIV, chocolate's reputation as an aphrodisiac flourished. Art and literature expressed erotic imagery inspired by chocolate, Casanova used chocolate to woo the ladies, and a perfume made from chocolate and ambergris was exceedingly popular. Chocolate's reputation became so outrageous that, in 1657, when the first chocolate house opened in London, King Charles II declared it a "hotbed of sedition."
As chocolate grew in popularity, technology and experimentation expanded its use. By 1674, English chefs were adding cacao to their baked goods, and in 1789, Joseph Fry & Son was the first to use a steam engine to grind cacao beans. The 1800s saw an explosion of chocolate innovation, bringing about the first solid eating chocolate in 1830 and the first melt-in-yourmouth fondant and ganache in 1879. In 1912, Jean Neuhaus, a Belgian chocolatier, invented the first hard chocolate shell, enabling fillings, such as ganache, to be enrobed in a chocolate coating.
Ganache is the velvety-smooth center of one of the most luxurious chocolates, the truffle. According to legend, an apprentice at a bakery in France accidentally dropped scalded cream into a bowl of chocolate. His superior called him un ganache, or imbecile, but upon tasting the result realized that something wonderful had happened. Originally, the truffle consisted of a round ganache center, rolled in a dusting of cacao powder and finely chopped nuts or chocolate strands, creating a visual similarity to its namesake, the delectable French fungus called the truffle. Chocolate truffles became extremely popular in the early 1900s, and one of the earliest known recipes, in 1919, transformed the truffle by coating the ganache center in a thin shell of tempered milk chocolate.
The name and origin of chocolate fudge is rather obscure. However, a body of evidence suggests that it was another happy accident. The word, fudge, is attributed to a 17th century mariner, Captain Fudge, who was an infamous bungler and liar. Early use of the term included "Oh, fudge," meaning you messed up. Since fudge is a drier version of fondant and ganache, it's entirely possible that someone exclaimed, "Oh, fudge!" before realizing they had created something special. Although the moment of discovery was not memorialized, the most documented reference comes to us from Vassar College. Though mentioned as early as 1886, Vassar's 1893 yearbook offers a delightful poem describing how long-skirted maidens balance on chairs over spluttering gas lamps, in order to make fudge. "What is it that we love the best, Of all the candies east or west, Although to make them is a pest? Fudges."
Copyright © 2008, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created May 2008
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