Daily Outtake: A visit to the chocolate factory

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
Sometimes, Mariel thinks Francisco and I have the coolest jobs in the world.

Like when we’re invited to tour chocolate factories and eat lots of chocolate.

Yesterday, we headed down to Sunset Park to visit Li-Lac’s new chocolate factory and, of course, sample the wares.

We lost count after five. (Photo: @collazoprojects)
We lost count after five. (Photo: @collazoprojects)

Li-Lac’s an interesting hold-out in a world of artisanal bean-to-bar chocolatiers, among them other Brooklyn-based chocolate producers, Mast Brothers, Raaka, Tumbador, and Cacao Prieto, to name just a few. Li-Lac, which was founded in New York in 1923, prides itself on being “stubbornly old-fashioned” (in fact, that’s its tagline). While those other chocolatiers are dabbling in novel flavor combinations (I happen to love Raaka’s bourbon cask aged and vanilla rooibos raw chocolate bars), wrapping their bars up in fancy packaging that sometimes costs as much as the chocolate itself, and promoting the backstory of their beans and who produced them, Li-Lac is doing just fine with its handmade bestsellers. During a tour of the factory, we were told that customers won’t let Li-Lac “get all fancy.” “They like the flavors they tasted 20 years ago and they don’t want us to change them,” said Anthony Cirone, president and co-owner of Li-Lac. Nostalgia trumps innovation and it seems to be a business model that’s working just fine for them.

Our visit to Li-Lac was for a media preview, but the grand opening to the public will take place on Saturday, November 22, from 11am-5pm. There will be free chocolate, of course. Visitors will be able to see the production line, where chocolates are “enrobed” and finished off with a hand-drawn “signature.” And if they don’t get enough sweet treats during the visit, they can purchase some more in the on-site store.

Daily Outtake: Cleaning the Fridge, Making Wild Mushroom Risotto, and Remembering the Mushroom Man of Mexico City

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
When Orion, our one-year old, is awake, I get no writing done, save the shortest of emails, as in, “Thanks.”

This morning, I dropped our five-year old, Mariel, at school, and walked home, shuffling the order of assignments I needed to tackle today: a revision for GOOD; edits on an AFAR project; a new piece (my first) for VICE; two chef profiles for The Latin Kitchen; finalizing the transcription of my interview with Ruth Behar for Los Angeles Review of Books; and working on the text for the website of a friend. Plus, there are appointments for phone and in-person interviews to be made, published pieces to be promoted, and a couple ideas to pitch out to editors.

In short: a full work day.

I turned the key in the lock and heard “Ahhhh,” the “Good morning” sound Orion makes, and immediately started reshuffling. For four hours, at least, I wasn’t likely to get much of anything done- at least not in the writing department.

I could pack him up and head out to the library or I could go tackle something else on the “Rest of My Life” to-do list… something like doing a deep clean of the kitchen, Orion’s favorite place. He could pull pots and pans out of the cabinet while I scrubbed and consolidated and organized. And so it was settled: we would clean the kitchen while Francisco and Olivia slept and Mariel learned something, we hope, of value at school.
**
A few days ago, I’d spilled a cocktail shaker inside the fridge (of course) and in the process of cleaning up that mess, I’d found a package of dried wild mushrooms that have been taking up residence there since 2012. I put them in a bowl, poured hot water over them, and let them steep, moving the bowl from one place to another over the next two days while I decided what to do with them.

As we finished cleaning, I was confronted once again with the mushrooms. Either I had to use them or lose them, so I picked Orion up and headed to the computer. “Mushroom gravy,” I thought, but Google returned something better. Yes, wild mushroom risotto. Perfect for an overcast fall day.

Wild mushrooms and arborio rice. (Photo: @collazoprojects)
Wild mushrooms and arborio rice. (Photo: @collazoprojects)

We had all the ingredients (well, most of them; those we didn’t have could easily be substituted- red onion for shallots; two slices of bacon for pancetta) and so I set to chopping and stirring. Orion, hoisted over the stove, stirred enthusiastically. I felt accomplished: here we were, in the middle of a workday, making risotto for lunch. We even had a salad leftover from last night’s dinner and a Riesling from Long Island, picked up during Francisco’s visit there last week.

My little helper, enjoying the fruit of our shared labor. (Photo: @collazoprojects)
My little helper, enjoying the fruit of our shared labor. (Photo: @collazoprojects)

I served a bowl for us to share and Orion climbed atop the table, not willing to wait for spoon or fork to be lifted to his mouth. Hand dipped in the risotto, and then the wine, he grinned and laughed, and I was reminded again of how grateful I am to be able to work from home, even if it means continually reordering most of my days to shape themselves around my kids’ needs.
**
Making the risotto also reminded me of a curious encounter I had while walking with Mariel in Mexico City a few weeks ago.

Hurrying along from one appointment to the next, I was distracted by a sudden pop of sunset orange splayed on the sidewalk. Mushrooms! There was a blanket topped with gorgeous, damp mushrooms and a basket of beautiful, plump morels, the biggest I’ve ever seen. Leaning over them was a man whose face was wrinkled by years spent in the sun. Ever the writer (no off-switch, remember?), I started chatting him up, building up to the ask: his contact information. I was too busy to stand around and learn more about his mushrooms at that moment, but I wanted to know more… maybe even write a story about him and his wares, displayed humbly on a sidewalk in one of Mexico City’s ritziest neighborhoods (hey, the man is no dummy). But he rejected my request, as was only right. If I wanted to know more, I had to come back, he said. No website, no email, and no, he wouldn’t give me a phone number. Only his name: Francisco. Si, Don Francisco, I will be back. Back to learn all about your mushrooms.
**
If you’d like to make wild mushroom risotto, this is the recipe I used. As I said, I substituted bacon for pancetta and red onion for shallots. And the mushrooms I used were a mix– I don’t really think you have to use the specific ones she calls for here; whatever you have on hand will do just fine.

Now on Bookshelves: Charcutería: The Soul of Spain

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photo: Courtesy of Artisan Books
**

I read cookbooks the way most people read novels.

The problem with this is that most cookbooks are too big and bulky to toss in my backpack for casual subway reading or in my carry-on to get me through a long flight.

Too meaty for a carry-on.
Too meaty for a carry-on.

I received Jeffrey Weiss’ Charcutería: The Soul of Spain the day before our recent Utah trip and I was so bummed I couldn’t haul it along with me.

When I got home, though, the shiny, meaty book was waiting for me and I jumped right in; it was an invaluable resource to consult as I worked on an article about Spanish hams for The Latin Kitchen.

That article was published earlier this week in English on TLK and in Spanish on Francisco’s blog, LatinListUSA. Even if you don’t read Spanish, I hope you’ll check that one out, too, as it has some delectable photos from the US and Spain.

And I hope you’ll check out Weiss’ book as well. It’s excellent, not only because of what you’ll learn about hams and chorizos and other types of charcuterie, but because of all you’ll learn about Spanish culture. Weiss’ enthusiasm for both subjects is unrestrained, and the book is an excellent addition to a cook’s, food lover’s, or traveler’s library.

From the Kitchen: Homemade Coconut Walnut Affogato

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photo: Breville USA (via Flickr Creative Commons)
**
If there’s an after-dinner treat better than affogato, that wonderful Italian creation that blends two of life’s greatest pleasures–coffee and ice cream–I don’t really know what it is. It’s a simple concoction: you place a scoop of ice cream or gelato (usually vanilla) in an espresso cup and pour hot espresso over the top. At my favorite place for affogato, L’Arte del Gelato, the lily is gilded with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and dark chocolate shavings.

Simple, delicious affogato. (Photo by Breville USA).
Simple, delicious affogato. (Photo by Breville USA).

As easy as it is to make and as satisfying as it is, I rarely think, “Oh, let’s make an affogato.” For some reason, it never occurs to me. But over the weekend, I made an ice cream that was a little too sweet for my taste, and while I was waiting for the espresso to brew after dinner, I stood with my head in the freezer, wondering what to do with the ice cream when it occurred to me: affogato.

If you want to make the whole sweet treat from scratch (it’s not hard!), here are the directions. I took a basic vanilla ice cream recipe and adapted it for the fresh coconut and preserved walnuts. You can trade those ingredients out for nearly any other combination that suits you. As for the ice cream machine, we have a Cuisinart Ice-25, an automatic machine. I don’t think Cuisinart makes this model anymore, but it has a comparable line of automatic ice cream and gelato machines and this recipe will work just fine for them, too. Be sure, if your machine requires it, to freeze the bowl of the ice cream maker for at least 24 hours (48 or longer are even better) before churning.

Coconut and Preserved Walnut Ice Cream
YIELD:
Two quarts

INGREDIENTS:
-2 cups of milk
-2 cups of heavy cream
-3/4 cup of sugar (The original recipe calls for 1 cup, but I find it’s too sweet, especially if you’re adding in sweet ingredients, so adjust your measurements according to the other ingredients and your own taste).
-1/2 teaspoon of salt
-1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
-1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon extract
-1/2 cup of fresh, shredded coconut
-1/4 to 1/2 cup of grated preserved walnuts (Note: We happened to find a jar of preserved walnuts for sale at a winery on Long Island last fall. We’ve experimented with them in all sorts of recipes, from banana bread to cocktails, and haven’t been disappointed yet. You can order them online directly from Harvest Song, the producer.)

DIRECTIONS:
-Put the milk, cream, sugar, salt, and extracts in a mixing bowl and stir well until the sugar has dissolved.

-Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and churn for about 25 minutes. During the last five minutes of churning, add the shredded coconut and the preserved walnuts.

-Remove the ice cream from the churn and put in a freezer-safe container; give it an hour or so to harden a bit.

FOR AFFOGATO:
-Take an espresso cup and place a scoop of the ice cream inside it.
-Pour freshly made espresso over the ice cream.
-Top, if desired, with whipped cream and freshly shaved chocolate or nutmeg.
-Serve right away.

Coming Soon: Puerto Rico Restaurant Week

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo
**
UPDATED ON MAY 21, 2014: RESTAURANT WEEK HAS BEEN EXTENDED UNTIL SATURDAY, MAY 24!
**
The dates for the third annual Puerto Rico Restaurant Week have just been announced, and this year’s line up of participating restaurants promises to be the best yet. The event will take place May 14-20, and will feature prix fixe lunches ($14 or $19) and dinners ($28 or $38) at some of San Juan’s top restaurants.

Organizers have also partnered with some new, big-time sponsors, including JetBlue and several local hotels, so keep an eye on the event’s website for announcements of special accommodation deals.

Santaella, one of the restaurants participating in the third annual Puerto Rico Restaurant Week, May 14-20.
Santaella, one of the restaurants participating in the third annual Puerto Rico Restaurant Week, May 14-20.

Francisco and I have been writing about and photographing food and culinary culture in Puerto Rico since 2005. If you want to know more about what’s in store for you as you eat your way around San Juan, the island’s capital, check out some of our recent articles about Puerto Rico’s current food scene:

Puerto Rico in 10 Plates: Bespoke Magazine

Puerto Rico Farm to Table: Bespoke Magazine

Puerto Rico’s New Culinary Superstars: The Latin Kitchen

Puerto Rico’s New Cheese Movement: The Latin Kitchen

And while you’re there, check out the recently protected Northeastern Corridor, which I wrote about for National Geographic Traveler.