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We make all our own fruit purees for use in our chocolates and pate de fruit. Fresh fruits are abundant and cheap in Ecuador, and it’s only a short walk over to the local market where the fruits and vegetables overflow in abundance. One of my favorite fruits here is Passion Fruit-instead of paying something upwards of $50 per kilo for a frozen puree, I can go over and buy the fresh fruit, process it myself, and for under $10 have at least 2 to 3 kilos of fresh puree.

It starts with a brief jaunt over to the market. The fruit usually comes in bags of 5 or 6 Passion Fruits already bagged up. I’ll ask for half a dozen bags, which is about as much as I can carry, and head back to the workshop. Passion Fruits begin to get wrinkly when really ripe, and it has more natural sweetness at that point. They’re usually pretty firm when you buy them fresh, so a day or two in the kitchen ripening helps develop the best flavor for the puree.

Once a Passion Fruit is ripe, you cut it in half and scoop out the insides with a spoon. They are full of black seeds and the fruit itself is basically a liquid with some mucilage surrounding the beans. It’s not very sweet and not something you’d eat fresh right out of the pod. Most of the time it’s used for juices or mousse, juice being the most frequent use.

We gather up the juice and seeds in a bucket, then hit it with a large immersion blender for a minute or two. It’s better not to grind it up too long or the seeds get broken into tiny black specks that are hard to remove even with the finest strainer. At this point, the kitchen is redolent with a fruity, tangy smell that is unmistakably delicious. Once it’s been ground up, we strain it through a small tamis to remove all the seeds and are left with a bright orange liquid.

Immediately we freeze the unadulterated pulp, and then pull out what’s needed on a per recipe basis. Some of our items with Passion Fruit are the Pate de Fruits, Passion Fruit Caramels in Milk Chocolate, and Dark Chocolate Passion Fruit Ganache Pralines. But the only way you can learn about how those taste are to stop by the shop! So please, come by when you can. And if you’re lucky, we’ll be making the puree fresh that day-and you too can be transported with the heady smell of fresh Passion Fruit!

When  I was in culinary school back in 2000, and we spent barely a few hours learning how to temper chocolate, I really had no idea what it was all about. This was my first introduction to chocolate and despite our instructor’s explanation, I left school with little to no understanding of how to work with chocolate. It was a total mystery. We used a bain marie to melt the chocolate and an ice bath to cool it. There was a brief explanation of the temperature curve and the need to cool and then rewarm it, but no explanation of the science behind it. I left the class feeling baffled and sure that I was missing a whole lot.

Nonetheless, chocolate had grabbed my attention and a few years out of school, the chance came up to work part-time in a chocolate shop. The only way you can really develop the intuition and ability needed to temper chocolate quickly and easily is by working with it day in and day out on a constant basis. That’s how I got to know it. But there wasn’t much room for experimentation at the chocolate shop, so I got myself a small warming unit and began to play around at home. I also got myself a couple of molds and started making filled chocolates at home. Sometimes there would be problems with the chocolate where I worked, and I often knew the cause of the problem, but couldn’t implement the solution because the owner or the store manager had their own ideas and wouldn’t risk allowing me to implement a different procedure. So in addition to seeing problems with tempering where I worked, I had a chance to fool around at home and figure out exactly what was going on.

I also got myself a cheap airbrush on eBay, and began to play around with coloring molds. Numerous books and hundreds of hours later, I had taught myself just about as much as one possibly can about the science of chocolate. Airbrushing, decorative pieces, butter vs. cream ganaches, percentages-I learned all these two and developed a decent command of the various techniques and methods for making different kinds of chocolates. I made chocolates one year and delivered them to several clients of the personal chef business I was running at the time, and my start as a chocolatier had begun.

It wasn’t until I got to Ecuador and learned more about Ecuadorian chocolate, Nacional and Arriba, CCN-51 and the little bit of Trinitario and Criollo beans the grow here, that I delved into learning about chocolate making from bean to bar, the cacao trade, and other aspects of the cacao and chocolate industry. I’ve visited most of Ecuador’s mainly chocolate production facilities, been to several farms and brokers’/traders’ patios, and toured the country learning about beans, fermentation, and Ecuadorian cacao and the chocolate industry in general.

As my business has grown here, we invested in a small enrobing unit. That alone was a whole new universe of learning-it’s a simple machine, but takes skill and practice to operate. Since I painstakingly agonize over ever piece that rolls of the belt, it took me several thousand pieces before I was able to consistently and constantly achieve the results I am looking for.

Learning about every aspect of chocolate-from the farm to the bar and beyond-has been one of my most rewarding pursuits, and my knowledge is something I enjoy sharing with anyone who’s willing to listen. I always look forward to meeting people who share my interest, so please, stop by the workshop next time you are in Quito!

Chocolate continues to head into uncharted territory in 2011, both in flavor combinations and in sales numbers. We’re seeing a continuation of trends already visible in many other food areas-especially the application of nutritional supplements or nutraceuticals to foods in the form of “functional chocolates,” and the addition of exotic spices and flavors like blood orange, hibiscus, and olive oils. Driven by consumers’ increasing demand for convenience, some semblance of nutrition (or a weak excuse to indulge in something not usually considered healthy but now not only somewhat healthy but “enhanced”), and a growing demand from niche markets, chocolates that are vegan, non-dairy, kosher, or with other specific characteristics are becoming increasingly common.

I’m a strong advocate of eating healthy, but I’m not a firm believer in getting your nutrients through highly processed and concentrated and intensely purified powder or liquid. Too little is known (and unknown) about meeting your nutritional needs through concentrated substances and vitamins, so I say eat more fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, healthy fish and poultry, and high cocoa percentage chocolates in reasonable quantities. You’ll get all around better nourishment in more ways than one by eating right and preparing your own food as much as possible, and still be able to indulge in the real thing-pure chocolate or a rich ganache made with cream and butter, not some synthetic or processed filler.

Traditional favorites are also seeking a new twist to get in on the chocolate craze; case in point-chocolate covered Jelly Bellys. While I’m not confident this is a winning combination, at least they are sticking to tried-and-true flavor combinations such as cherry, coconut, raspberry, orange, and strawberry.

And while consumers are increasingly interested in origin and authenticity, it doesn’t seem to be on the radar of the food writers and sites I have surveyed in putting this together. It’s too difficult for any of the big manufacturers and well-known names that set many of the trends to source single origin cacao. It’s also cost-prohibitive and logistically complicated to ensure a steady supply of beans from a single origin for the mass markets they serve.

These trends will come and go, as they all do. I’m surprised I haven’t seen some new molecular gastronomy technique applied to chocolates; perhaps using the calcium chloride spherication technique to encapsulate some new funky flavor-and if it the spheres can be made sturdy enough, then panning them in chocolate. Personally, I prefer the classic flavors such as caramel, coffee, or nuts combined with or used in a ganache, properly subdued, and combined with good chocolate. If you are looking for a more healthy way to consume chocolate, look for dried fruits and/or nuts combined with chocolate via dipping or in bars. There will be new flavors, combinations, and “enhanced”chocolates, but if you are looking for real chocolate flavor you can always fall back on the classics.

While I have come and gone many times from the United States, and had many new realizations upon each of the comings and goings, I don’t know how I let this one slip by, it’s so blatantly obvious. With a fresh perspective after another year living abroad, I never realized just how pervasive tomatoes, potatoes, beef, and oil are in the diet of this country.

Tomatoes-the preferred form of eating them here seems to be in the liquid form-ketchup. Maybe it’s because so many of them have to be gassed first and shipped over the border from Mexico, making the “fresh” tomatoes here (unless you’re willing to pay top dollar for locally grown good ones, preferably of the heirloom variety) something akin to a slice of cardboard soaked in water, both in taste and appearance. I find jars of ketchup and ketchup pumps (a new thing, and probably a good one since those disposable foil envelopes are so messy) just about everywhere. Alas, the pumps do make it easier to eat more of the stuff, and it would be even easier if they didn’t give you those tiny “condiment cups”; but I’m not worried, I’m sure they’ll supersize those before too long so that you can bring a whole cup of the stuff to your table, instead of the tablespoon or so you can fit in the current size.

I’m not sure which goes with which; is that I’ll have some french fries with my ketchup, or some ketchup with my french fries? I can’t find a snack bar, deli, or casual eating place that doesn’t serve french fries or potato chips with just about everything. No wonder there’s an obesity epidemic going on! The oil doesn’t need mentioning.

And then of course the ubiquitous hamburger. Again, every snack bar/deli/casual eatery menu throughout at least the southern half of the state of California, and I’m sure a whole lot more of the territory, must have the same items on the menu. All I find are hamburgers, cheeseburgers, turkey sandwiches, turkey and swiss, ham and swiss, and combinations thereof. Pay a little more and you might find salmon, roast beef, fish and chips, and a few other menu items but most of them consist of something fried, something with potatoes, and a lot, a whole lot, of protein. Seems like McDonald’s might actually have more healthy choices than most of the places I have visited; at least you can get apple slices or salad-skip the dressing.

If there’s one thing I must admire about Ecuador is the ease with which one can eat a healthy meal and the low cost of produce. While eating “out” in Ecuador and dining on the standard fare of rice, potatoes, pork and corn is not exactly a nutritionist’s paradise, at least it’s all fresh and local and mostly not fried. I miss my pineapple, banana, mango, strawberry, blackberry or some combination thereof smoothy every morning, fresh vegetables and fish for lunch, hand-made fruit sorbets and ice creams which can be found in nearly every town in Ecuador, and avocados, fresh cheeses, fruits and chocolate for my evening snack. It’s hard to eat like this in the US if you don’t have an extremely generous budget and/or someone to help you do the shopping-but in the long run it will save you a lot in health and health care costs. Unfortunately, as this recent article points out, it will cost you more. Wake up America, and let’s put something else on the plate!

This is a true story. Our pediatrician is driving along one of Quito’s main avenues a few months ago. A motorcyclist runs a red light, the doctor hits him, he flies something like 30 feet (as described by the doctor). Doctor stops car-as a doctor he didn’t see any other alternative, checks to make sure the man is ok. Police arrive.

Police tell the doctor “You are under arrest, you must come with us.” Cop tells the doctor “You should have fled the scene, parked your car a few blocks away, and called it in as stolen.” Doctor is arrested and put in jail for three days, released on bail because he has a friend high up in the police. Man he hit is barely hurt and walks off.

Moral of the story-don’t get in an accident in Ecuador, especially if someone ends up injured.

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Welcome to Destination Ecuador!

Welcome to Destination Ecuador! My family and I have been living in Ecuador for the last four and a half years. We’ve dealt with the worst kinds of red-tape, searched out or ended up making hard-to-find ingredients ourselves, imported equipment for making chocolate confections, learned the import-export business...Continue >>

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