I love whole grains and I love chocolate.
So when I saw this curious Muzzi chocolate bar in a terrific Italian traiteur and grocer, Au Village Italien, I had to add it to my shopping basket. Inside the bar was little bits of puffed farro, or spelt as one would say in English.
(It’s épautre in French, dinkel in German and for the brainiacs out there, it’s triticum dicoccum in Latin.)
I was curious to taste how the dark Italian chocolate would meet up with the earthy, crispy little bits of whole grains and I was not disappointed. Boy…I took one bite of this and stopped in my tracks.
What a great bar of chocolate!
Speaking of not being disappointed, did you ever correspond with someone online, then meet up with them to find out they’re nothing like you think?
Okay, you don’t need to admit to that.
But I will.
But instead of being disappointed, I’ll admit to being thrilled when I first met Heidi Swanson, of 101Cookbooks.com. Heidi was just as lovely in person as she is on her gorgeous web site, which for me sets the standard for how excellent a food blog can be.
So I was floored when I received her new book: Super Natural Cooking. The first thing I noticed about this generous volume was the heft and quality of the book: a lot of care was put into it. From the top-quality paper to the sublime photos, the care that was taken to create this book is more than clear and really pays off to the reader.
Without being preachy, Heidi’s book has re-defined natural cooking for our generation, creating a brand-new cuisine based on whole grains and intriguing flavor combinations. This isn’t hippy-dippy cooking. Instead the recipes are sophisticated but not complex; all fit in with the way most of us cook today, or should be cooking. And this book is one of the rare instances where style doesn’t overwhelm substance: Super Natural Cooking has equal measures of both.
As I l tore off the packaging, I immediately got comfy on the sofa and leafed though the pages. Flipping through it I felt like I was sitting there with Heidi while she reawakened me to a world of cooking and eating natural foods. That, to me, is the sign of excellence in a cookbook. When the author’s voice jumps out and feels like they’re talking to you, I know the book’s a winner.
The book is also full of superb tips on ingredients.
Did you know you can make your own baking powder? Yes, you can. See page 202. And if you love whole grains as much as I do, the Wheat Berry Salad with Citrus, Toasted Pine Nuts, Feta, and Spinach on page 52, you’ll be happy to know, is the next recipe in my kitchen’s ‘batter-box’ of dishes to try. I’m also going to haul back a sack of mesquite flour from my upcoming trip to Texas to make her now-famous Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies (page 182).
Spiced Caramel Corn
Adapted from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson (Celestial Press)
Of course, when flipping through the book, trying to pick a recipe that I’d make for the site, my fingers came to a screeching halt on Spiced Caramel Corn. It probably wasn’t the ideal thing to make that day, since I just had dental work that morning. Nevertheless, I’ve been hoarding a jar of Orville Redenbacker’s (which are 100% whole grain, bien sûr…) and made a dash to the store for rice syrup, which is not something one finds everywhere in Paris (which may be the understatement of 2007). I was going to cheat and use honey, but didn’t want to risk failure, especially when my precious Orville was at stake.
I knew exactly where to go: a terrific natural foods store, biocoop, conveniently located nearby. Aside from the excitement I alwasys feel when I get to do some shopping, which is especially acute when there’s food involved, I love that place since it’s the only place in Paris I know where they have those help-yourself bins full of nuts and seeds, as well as goofy stuff like organic tampons and seaweed tapenade.
And confit de canard.
Really, you gotta love a place where duck confit is considered a health food.
1/2 cup unpopped popcorn
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon pure chili powder (I used pimento d'Espelette, which I sniffed to make sure it was still fresh. It was. And made me sneeze the nuts out I was munching all over my book. So I hereby consider my copy christened.)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup mixed toasted nuts and seeds (I used cashews and almonds, sunflower and sesame seeds)
1. Pop the corn in a large, covered saucepan with the oil.
2. When the popcorn is done, remove the pan from the heat, uncover, and set aside.
3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
In another large pot, I recommend one that holds at least 8 qts, bring to a boil the syrups, spices and salt. Cook over medium heat, at a steady boil, avoiding the urge to stir. (Heidi recommends tilting the pot instead). After 5 minutes, when the syrup is reduced and deeply-fragrant (smells good, doesn’t it?…), stir in the nuts and seeds and popcorn. Mix gently until everything’s well-coated.
Only stop if you have a blog and need to take a picture.
4. Turn out onto the prepared baking sheet and let cool.
Note: If you didn’t cook the syrup long enough and as it cools the popcorn isn’t quite crisp, you can toast it in a 325 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. As it cools, it’ll crisp right up and can be broken into pieces.
*Heidi subscribes to the ‘Nancy Silverton School of Popping Corn’ that theorizes that 1 teaspoon of oil (although she uses clarified butter) is perfectly adequate for popping ½ cup of popcorn and I know a lot of people swear by that ratio. But I think it’s a chick-thing since mine always burns, so I add more oil that she recommends. I stick with my man Orville’s directions.
Au Village Italien
50, boulevard du Temple (11th)
Tél: 01 47 00 81 52
33, boulevard Voltaire (11th)
Tél: 01 48 05 02 09