Sunday, June 19, 2011

How to shop for chocolate like a cheapskate

Dear Tricia, When making chocolate cakes, what do you think gives you the most chocolate taste: melted chocolate chips, baking chocolate or powdered cocoa?  You know, the most bang for your buck?

Awesome question, with kind of a definite answer, and kind of not.  Let me back up for a moment and explain the difference between the 3 chocolates in question.

Chocolate chips are almost always semi sweet or bitter sweet.  Sweet is the operative word here: it means that sugar has been added.  Any time sugar has been added to chocolate, there is less cacao (not to be confused with cocoa- sorry all you Dyslexics), and cacao is what gives you that chocolate-y taste.

Unsweetened baker's chocolate is 100% cacao.  (Side note, remember what we all did as kids?  You mom would be using it in a recipe and you would insist on trying it, even though she warned you that you wouldn't like it.  And you'd try it anyways and be so surprised that it was awful?  Ok, back to chocolate now.)  By itself, bakers chocolate it gross, but once you add it to a recipe with lovely fat and delicious sugar, it gives you great chocolate flavor.

Cocoa powder, simply put, is roasted cocoa beans that have 75%-90% of the cocoa butter removed (cocoa butter is what gives chocolate that melty, buttery feel in your mouth), and then pressed and ground into powder.  It also gives you great chocolate flavor.  Some, but not all cocoa powders are 100% cacao.

The first thing I have to address is that the recipe used is a huge variable here.  A recipe made with a lot of egg whites is going to give you a lighter tasting chocolate cake than one with butter and sugar and loads of cocoa powder.  Knowing that, lets talk bang for your buck.  I'm always up for a bargain.  (Picture me shopping at Fiesta yesterday for produce- 20 limes for a dollar?  Hell yes.)  To try and be as accurate as possible, I have taken prices of chocolate from my local Fiesta Super Mercado (in Dallas, home of our national champions, The Dallas Mavericks, thankyouverymuch) and averaged them out with prices from a supermarket outside of Chicago and prices on  I do not recommend purchasing your chocolate off, by the way.  Its kind of overpriced.  Stick to Fiesta.  Plus, all those limes....

On the back of any box of Hershey's cocoa powder, there is a conversion chart for using cocoa powder instead of bakers chocolate or semi sweet chocolate chips.  Since I'm only on my first cup of coffee, I'm going to use their chart as an example to tell you which gives you the best deal.

Let's pretend you're using a recipe that calls for 2 ounces of bakers chocolate.   If an 8 oz box of bakers chocolate costs $6.84, then each 1 oz square costs about 86 cents.  That means you're using about $1.72 worth of chocolate for your recipe. 

Your average 8 oz can of cocoa powder costs $3.59.  It takes 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder to equal 1 ounces of bakers chocolate.  So for this recipe, if you substitute cocoa powder instead of baker's chocolate, you'll use 6 tablespoons of cocoa powder.  If there are about 45 tablespoons of cocoa powder in a can, that means each tablespoon costs about 8 cents.  So 6 tablespoons equals about 48 cents worth of cocoa powder.   (Are you listening, Mrs. Bilbrey?  I was paying attention in fifth grade math.)

Now let's talk chocolate chips.  Those guys, semi or bittersweet, have sugar in them- completely different than our sugar-free friends we just priced out.  If you use them in place of baker's chocolate, you want to make sure you take out about 3 tablespoons of sugar for every ounce you use.  Just a head's up.  But for consistency, let's price it too.  Chocolate chips weigh the same as baker's chocolate, they're just in little delicious kiss shapes.  The average price of a 12 ounce bag of chocolate chips is $3.36.  That means every ounce is about 28 cents.  This means your recipe will use about 56 cents of chocolate. 

It looks like cocoa powder is going to win here, but if you want to get really technical, chocolate chips and cocoa powder are actually going to come in pretty damn close because when you use the chocolate chips you have to take out some of the sugar.  Less sugar means less money, and every bit counts.  If you take the sugar variable out of the equation, cocoa powder is going to be your cheapest bet.
And here's a helpful hint- anytime you use chocolate in a recipe,  add a little bit of fresh-brewed coffee. It brings out the chocolate flavor and you'll never taste the coffee.  What else have we learned here?  That I has friends all over the country who can give her a heads up on regional chocolate prices, I totally love a bargain, and I'm a secret math genius.  I also clip coupons.  You heard it here first. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

This is why your friend's mom's cookies don't kick ass anymore

Dear Tricia, My friend's mom bakes awesome oatmeal cookies but, recently they have been coming out thinner than usual.  Why?

3 reasons, and I'll make this quick because I need you to fix that problem, make a new batch, and send them to me pronto.  Words can't describe my love of oatmeal cookies.  I can get seriously ugly on a batch of those suckers.

First, you know how when you bake, you always read to cream the sugar and butter until its light and fluffy, and the butter turns from yellow to almost white?  Well that's a prime example of what you don't want to do with cookies.  Cakes- yes.  Cookies- no.  Over creaming the butter and sugar just makes the cookies spread out more, and they get thinner and flat.  Picture the sugar granules punching little air pockets into the butter- its like watching one of the Kardashians, or Toddlers and Tiaras on TV, and slowly, your brain just gets filled with air.  This is great for cakes, because it makes the cake rise up, but with cookies, it just makes them spread out.  So keep those Kardashians and mini drag queen-looking lady babies away from your cookies. 

Second, make sure your oven is fully pre heated.  Get that oven entirely up to temperature before you even start making the cookies.  If you put a tray of cookie dough into an oven that's not hot enough, the butter just starts to slowly melt out and the texture of your cookies will suck.  If you put your oven into a primed and hot oven, the water inside of the butter evaporates and the steam helps the cookie rise.  Pair that with the baking soda, and your cookies are doing the job they were meant to do.  So give them a nice office to do their job in.  Cookies like heat.  They're like those iguanas, laying out on a scorching hot rock Mexico, soaking it all up, the crazy bastards.

Third, baking soda is what makes cookies spread.  This is important- you need your cookies to spread out a little.  But make sure you're measuring correctly, because extra baking soda means extra spreadage.  And double check that you're using baking soda, not baking powder.  Don't get those 2 confused because they do things totally different.  Read this blog from a billion years ago to find out why.

Ok, suggest those things to your friends mom.  Tactfully, I hope.  You don't want to be all "Your cookies aren't awesome anymore and Tricia said this is why."  And let me know how it turns out!  (After you send me a batch, of course.  Thank you.)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cook this Tonight

Dear Tricia, Cod: what the heck can I do with it?  Preferably easy.  Preferably so easy my husband can grill it.  Thanks.

Unless you have a fish grilling basket (that wire contraption that protects the fish while it's grilling so that it doesn't fall apart on the grates), cod isn't the best thing to grill because its super delicate and thin.  However, the technique and kind-of-a-recipe that I'm about to share can be done in an oven or on a grill.  Ready?  Grab your fish.  (Wash your hands first, you grossy mcgrosserstein.)   I made this last night with halibut because it was on sale and I had just finished another day of work on a weekend, so I wanted to cook something fast and easy.  Here we go!

Pre heat your oven to 375 degrees.  Take a big piece of foil (big enough to wrap your fish entirely) and spread it out.  Put your fish on the foil and season it with salt and pepper and a clove of chopped garlic.  Then take whole sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme and put them on top of the fish.  For a 3/4 pound filet, you'll want to use about 3 sprigs of thyme and 2 sprigs of rosemary.  Then take a couple of pats of butter and place those on top of the fish.  Wrap the fish in foil and put it on a sheet pan.  Throw that sucker in the oven for about 12-15 minutes, or until its fully cooked.   "But Tricia, how will I know when it's done?"  Fish is done cooking when its no longer translucent (meaning it's solid white), and definitely done if you start to see little solid white globs of protein start to seep out of it.  This is called albumin- you'll see it when you cook chicken and pork too.  Its totally fine if you see it and eat it; that just means it's done cooking.  The reason why this recipe works so well is because its a) not messy, b) the herbs and garlic basically steam with the fish and you get that yummy, herby flavor with pretty much zero effort.  You can make this with any thinner, white fish, like tilapia, halibut, or turbot.

As I said before, you can "grill" this too- just put the foil on the hot grill instead of in the oven and close the lid.   Having this on the side while you're grilling burgers, etc, totally ups your fancy factor.  Then when you open up the foil for your guests, all "ooh la la" style, they'll think you really know what you're doing, and you can just smile and pull one of those "What, this simple thing?" reactions.  I love those.

Cod, huh?  Did you know that cod has been a super duper traded fish since the Viking days?  That's the year 800 if you've ever read a history book.  Cod was like corn is to us- it was a huge staple that survived all kinds of plagues and kept money rolling back and forth between countries.  And then in the 1400's when Portugal got all into the cod trading scene, they found out about the killer profitable cod fishing in North America, way before Columbus even came around.  Suck on that, Columbus.

We're moving on up...

Hey all!  I was featured as a guest blogger on (a)musing foodie yesterday!  It's a super fancy-looking blog that touches on all things food with really gorgeous photos, to boot.  (And its approved by yours truly, as I've made it plain and clear that I hate most food blogs.)   I talk some more about eggs, the most commonly emailed topic I receive in my inbox.  Head on over and get your daily dose of irreverent cooking know-how! 
As always, thanks for supporting my blog, and don't forget to enter to win a gorgeous bottle of Syrah from Flat Creek Estate Winery and Vineyard.  Hurry up!  The giveaway ends Tuesday!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Flat Creek Estate away a bottle of heaven!

In partnership with Flat Creek Estate and our dedicated drones at RAW Marketing, we will be giving away a bottle of Flat Creek Estates Syrah to one lucky fan who we draw from the combined entries.  I tasted this bottle of heaven at the Buffalo Gap Food and Wine Summit back in April and, even in my vino-induced haze, knew that this was by far the best of all the wines there.  (And there were a lot.  I tasted ALL of them.  And then I went back for refills just to be sure.)  It turns out that that these Texans at Flat Creek know what the heck they're doing with grapes and a barrel. 

Just enter your name and email address below to enter! The contest will run from 8:00am Saturday, June 4th to midnight Tuesday, June 7th. One lucky winner will be drawn from the entries at random and will be declared   "THE WINNER!"  The winner will then be announced Thursday afternoon on our Facebook page and by email.

"This wine is 100% Syrah & 100% harvested from Flat Creek Estate vineyards that are a decade old this year. Syrah is one of the best reds for Texas and this Syrah just keeps getting better. Starting two years ago, the vineyard training method was changed to the Smart-Dyson method allowing greater fruit production while improving already excellent fruit quality. This training method is visually very attractive as it produces a "curtain" of vines extending to the vineyard floor & reaching toward the sun. The Syrah vineyard welcomes you when you enter the Estate."

  • Fill out the form below (your info will be kept confidential and I promise not to sell it to naughty websites or flood your email with spam about black market pharmaceuticals).  I need your contact info if you win!

    Oh, and if you would like to know more about Flat Creek Estate, and follow everything they have going on, you can find their Facebook page here: Flat Creek Estate.

    Good Luck! go my pets, and spread the word!  Who doesn't like free wine?  And GOOD free wine, at that!?