“The Romance of Chocolate.”

_79911679_chocflorentinePapillotes are a popular Christmas treat in France – the specially wrapped chocolates have romantic origins dating back to the 18th Century.
I tracked down some of the best in a small shop in Paris.
If Willy Wonka was real and a Frenchman, his name would be Philippe Bernachon.
Bernachon is a master chocolate maker. His Lyon kitchen creates the most mouth-watering delicacies – not least, his chocolate bars. Roll over, Wonka’s Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight.
Smooth, very dark or creamy milk – Bernachon bars are oozing with rich, salted caramel or stuffed with pistachio, roasted almonds, candied pineapple and kirsch, marzipan, or bitter orange and crystallised fruits soaked in Grand Marnier.
They’re usually found in only two places in the world – in Lyon or 400km (248 miles) north at a small sweet shop near Montmartre, A L’Etoile d’Or – At the Golden Star.
But last February, The Golden Star blew up, sending the exquisite 19th Century decor, the trays and jars of divine sweetmeats – and Bernachon’s incredible chocolate bars – sky-high.
A gas explosion smashed it all to smithereens.
The proprietor, shocked but unscathed, has been without her shop for months – and Paris is bereft of Bernachon.
Read on via BBC News – The most romantic chocolate ever made?.

The Hottest Pizza, Saltdean, England.

The world’s hottest pizza was created by Paul Brayshaw, of Paul’s Pizza, in Saltdean, England, a self-confessed spicy food fanatic and fan of the Man vs Food TV show.
After opening his own pizza place, Paul decided to include a challenge on the menu, and stared working on the hottest pizza he could make. He used one of the strongest chilies on the planet – the ghost chili – and spiced it up even more with a special chili paste with chili extract.
The 32-year-old father of two says the Saltdean Sizzler starts out as a regular pizza, with a homemade dough base, regular Italian tomato and herb sauce and fresh mozzarella, but turns into a world of pain after he adds his killer sauce.
Apparently it even changes from a nice “red tomato color” to an “evil black/red”.
Ever since he put it on the menu last year, Paul has sold over 1,300 Saltdean Sizzlers, but only eight men and one woman have managed to eat all six slices of the 10-inch pizza.
Saltdean-Sizzler
Saltdean-Sizzler – Photo: Paul’s Pizza/Facebook
Word of the Saltdean Sizzler’s hotness spread like wild fire, and Paul was even contacted by the Guinness Book of Records, who told him that if it would score more than 1 million units on the Scoville scale, it would be awarded the title of world’s hottest pizza.
After a series of tests, scientists at Warwick University rated Brayshaw’s creation at over 3.2 million on the Scoville scale, which makes it three times spicier than the world’s strongest chili and police pepper spray.
Paul himself has only been able to finish two slices of his hot delicacy, and says the after effects are much worse than eating the pizza.
“There was no pleasure. Just pain. It was unbearable. I was scared about swallowing it.
The pain subsided after 20 minutes but then the relentless stomach ache started. I would never do it again. I would not wish it on anyone,” said 28-year-old Christopher Barnard, one of the brave souls that dared take on the Saltdean Sizzler challenge.
via World’s Hottest Pizza Is Three Times Stronger than Police Pepper Spray | Oddity Central – Collecting Oddities.

Bread in the Middle Ages.

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Kings, knights, monks, peasants – everyone in the Middle Ages ate bread. It was also the food that caused bitter religious disputes and could make you go insane.
The history of bread dates back as far as 22,500 years ago – it was the staple of life for the ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians, and was eaten throughout the Roman Empire.
It was made by grinding cereal grains, such as wheat, millet or barley, into flour, then kneading it with a liquid, perhaps adding yeast to make the dough rise and lighten, and finally baking.
Bread comes in all shapes and sizes, but in his book Bread: A Global History, William Rubel notes that Europe has had a “loaf-bread culture” for the last 2,000 years, while flat bread remained popular in the Middle East and Africa.
By the beginning of the Middle Ages the preference was to eat white bread made from wheat – medieval physicians also recommended it as being the healthiest – but poorer peoples would bake darker breads with oats or rye.
If one needed too, people could also add rice, peas, lentils, chestnuts, acorns or other foods into the mixture.
In medieval France, most people would eat a type of bread known as meslin, which was made from a mixture of wheat and rye.
Terrence Scully notes “that bread was the basis of the medieval diet” and the amount that people ate throughout Europe was remarkably similar. He finds that records from England, France and Italy that workmen, soldiers and even patients in hospitals were supposed to get about two pounds of bread per day.
Besides using bread just for food, medieval people often used it as their plates: known as trenchers, these were breads that were cut into thick flat slices.
Then others foods like meats or thick sauces would be served on top of them. Once the meal was finished, the bread could then be eaten.
via Bread in the Middle Ages.

“Eat, Drink and be Merry” by Rebecca Rupp.

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by Rebecca Rupp
We all know what food is for. Biologically, food is fuel, the stuff that provides us with the energy to do all the things we do.
Like every other animal on the planet-from protozoa to panda bears-we eat in order to live.
For us alone, however, out of all the animal kingdom, food plays a far greater role. Shared food promotes friendship, fellowship, and communication, and functions as social glue.
Food is an integral part of life’s transitions: we have wedding and birthday cakes, funeral casseroles, celebratory champagne, and that rite-of-passage first legal beer.
Food is symbolic: on New Year’s Day, for example, depending where and who we are, we eat grapes, lentils, black-eyed peas, or soba noodles for luck.
Christians celebrate Shrove Tuesday with pancakes and Good Friday with hot cross buns; Jews commemorate Passover with bitter herbs and unleavened bread; and Muslims, after Ramadan, traditionally break their long fast with dates.
Food forges our national and cultural identities. Almost every family has its special dishes that—collectively partaken of—solidify the sense of belonging to a tribe.
There’s a good argument that many of the characteristics that define us as human evolved from our peculiar custom of sitting down together for dinner.
Among these are kinship systems, spoken language, technology, and a sense of right and wrong—all of which may have their roots in food, brought home and divvied up among people gathered together around a primitive communal hearth.
Researchers guess that we (and our distant ancestors) have been sharing meals in this way for nearly two million years.
sustenance_NGM_1214_002Afghan women share a meal of flatbread, goat, lamb, and fruit in the Women’s Garden, a refuge for conversation and confidences outside the city of Bamian.
The garden and surrounding park were created to promote leisure activities for women and families­. For this group it includes the chance to bond over food.  Lynsey Addario, Reportage by Getty Images/National Geographic
Continue the article via Eat, Drink, and Be Merry – The Plate: Rebecca Rupp.

Sadie Stein’s Family Wine Cake.

winecakeby Sadie Stein
The beloved family wine cake
Back in 2011, I wrote a paean to my family’s one and only signature recipe: the wine cake. I hadn’t read it since it went up, and recently ran across the post while searching for a recipe for the cake; I was craving one for my own birthday.
At the time, I described wine cake as the sole edible thing to emerge from my grandparents’ kitchen, and explained that it was a constant at all family birthdays. It wasn’t too galling, so far as rereads go.
But I worry that I failed, in 2011, to express the most important thing: wine cake is amazing.
Is it made of cake mix, instant pudding, oil, and the cheapest Bristol Cream sherry money can buy? You bet. But it’s not good in spite of this; rather, these same chemical components are what make it delicious.
Although I admit to a fierce sentimental attachment to the flavor of wine cake, I will happily go on the record in saying that it is objectively delicious. The flavor is rich, buttery, refined but accessible.
The cake, rich with oil and pudding and soaked in glaze, is almost unbelievably moist. To add to its charms, it’s easy to make, hard to screw up, and travels and slices like a dream. Oh, and it’s cheap—especially if, in family tradition, you use only past-sale ingredients from a discount commissary.
At the time of publishing, one commenter kindly pointed me towards John Thorne’s essay “Truly Awful Recipes,” in which that great food writer includes a receipt for a mix-based chocolate cake. Of such concoctions, Thorne writes,
They increase in appeal when exchanged hand to hand with a glowing personal recommendation. It was an officemate who first got me to try the cake recipe, creating in the tension between the intensity of her praise and the humdrum ingredients a sense of complicity, like getting a spell from a witch.
It is with great pride and pleasure, then, that I pass along, for the second time, this particular bit of alchemy. As Thorne says, “any unbiased observer would have to admit the direct line between these dishes and the living pulse of American cooking,” but its appeal is not theoretical. It is not Proustian. It is obvious.
Wine Cake
1 box yellow cake mix (we always used generic; as a fancy-schmancy adult I have switched to Duncan Hines)
1 lg. instant vanilla pudding (if you can’t find a big package, you can do a small plus 2 T or so)
1 c. oil (my grandpa liked to strain and reuse oil for years but this is not strictly necessary.)
3/4 c. sherry wine (If you paid more than a dollar for this, my grandfather would have labeled you a “wine snob.”)
5 eggs (past sell-by date is customary, but not necessary.)
Mix all ingredients well. Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for fifty minutes. Cool for five minutes.
Glaze
About 1 c. powdered sugar
Enough sherry to make a thinnish glaze—start with about 4 Tblsp.
Here is the important part! Without turning out of the pan, poke the bottom of the cake all over with a skewer, or a chopstick, and pour some glaze over so it soaks into the cake.
Let this stand for about ten minutes, so it hardens a bit and won’t drip out.
Turn the cake out, poke the cake all over, and pour the rest of the glaze over it. Sometimes I make more glaze to really soak it.
Squat pink candle and flowers are optional, but recommended.
via Sadie Stein’s Wine Cake Recipe.

Science of Sriracha’s Good Burn.

srirachaby Julie Beck
In many of our kitchens, there sits a red bottle with a green cap. In the upper echelons of hot sauce, there is room for only a few, and sitting pretty next to Tabasco and Cholula is the red rooster that adorns the Sriracha bottle.
And as it happens, there are chemical reasons why people find the hot sauce so delicious.
Spicy peppers, like the red chili, contain two chemicals called capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin, which affect our mouths’ TPRV1 receptor proteins. These receptors typically serve as a warning system when we eat something way too hot—more than 109 degrees Fahrenheit, the video says.
Because capsicum hits those receptors, too, we feel the “heat” of peppers in much the same way we would actual heat.
To counteract that, the body releases pain-killing endorphins (similar to a runner’s high), which is why spicy foods can make you feel happy, and at least part of why some fanatics grow and seek out peppers that are higher and higher on the Scoville scale, which measures chili pepper heat. (One contender for world’s hottest pepper averages around 1.5 million Scoville units.
A regular jalapeño, for comparison, clocks in at about 4000.)
NPR reports that the power of peppers may even have some applications for pain relief—Qutenza is a capsaicin pain relief patch that the FDA approved a few years ago.
via The Science of Sriracha’s Good Burn – Julie Beck – The Atlantic.