Welcome to Naomi Kooker's blog.

At age 6 my mother let me into the kitchen, alone. By seventh grade I was feigning sick to stay home from school, "miraculously" feeling good enough to make baked-stuffed pork chops for dinner. My passion for cooking led me to a job as a sous chef in a Manhattan restaurant and, later, to stand quietly in the corner of (and eventually do one thing in) Restaurant Guy Savoy's kitchen in Paris. I overcame the ultimate cooking challenge when I made butter cream icing over a Bunsen burner at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. It was for a friend's wedding cake, the centerpiece at the reception the next day. It was midnight. With just hours to go, I managed to whip up the icing, then carefully place the last few candied violets onto the cake before the reception. Oh, how grateful I was for that Bunsen burner and the corner bodega that was open 24 hours.

It all worked out in the end. It always does.

Food, cooking and eating are inextricably linked to life. Life is better when good food is involved, and even better when good company is part of the eating.

Thank you for stopping in and being part of a growing dinner party of readers.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Secrets to Heavenly Hot Chocolate with M. Jacques Torres

If there’s anyone who knows how to make exceptional hot chocolate, it’s master pastry chef Jacques Torres—Mr. Chocolate himself.

A few years ago I took my teenage nephews (all three of them) on a Christmas jaunt to New York City. The weekend included a Knicks vs. Bulls game at Madison Square Garden; dinner at Blue Smoke; a stroll down 7th Avenue in Brooklyn (We stayed with a friend there); and a pit stop at Jacques Torres Chocolate in DUMBO before hitting the highway home to Boston.

The last stop made the most lasting impression. The hot chocolate was how I recalled it at Angelina in Paris (sorry, M. Torres, if you find the comparison unfavorable). For an impressionable American, taken there by a Parisian, it was a culinary “Aha!” moment: thick silky creamy chocolate—not cocoa—poured from a pitcher with a bowl of whipped cream to do with what I wanted. It was heaven.

The chocolat chaud at M. Torres’ cozy shop “down under the Brooklyn Bridge” brought me back to Paris and opened my nephews’ eyes to what good chocolate could do if you let it. Truth is, they were so taken aback by its richness they couldn’t finish it. Me? I happily drank the leftovers and zinged eastbound on Interstate 278 toward home.

M. Torres graciously spoke to PressureKooker, recently, imparting the three most important elements in making great hot chocolate:

1. Use good chocolate. “The quality of chocolate is very important,” he says in a lovely French accent. “Do not use cocoa powder—cocoa is a byproduct of chocolate. …It’s not a finished product.” (He special orders chocolate from Belcolade in Belgium.)

2. Boil the milk twice. While there’s no need for cream or anything richer than milk, M. Torres does recommend boiling the milk twice: once before you add the chocolate, then again after you’ve added the chocolate.

3. "Forget the marshmallows—I love marshmallows, but not in hot chocolate,” he says. “I think people put in marshmallows because they’re too lazy to make whipped cream. …Not Chantilly. Chantilly has sugar.” In fact, he prefers unsweetened whipped cream, softly whipped. “The cold cream on the top, once it starts to melt and the hot chocolate, together it’s heaven.”

Heavenly Hot Chocolate for Two

Time: About 5 to 10 minutes to make the whipped cream; five minutes to make the hot chocolate

12 ounces whole milk

4 heaping tablespoons good quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (for this recipe, I used Ghirardelli, 60 % cacao bittersweet chocolate

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons water

1 pinch kosher salt

1 pint whole cream, lightly whipped by hand with a whisk

In a medium-sized, thick-bottom saucepan, heat the milk over medium-high heat until it softly comes to a boil.

Once the milk gets frothy, remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate, whisking quickly until it’s completely melted.

Put the mixture back on the heat and slowly bring to a soft boil. Keep whisking. Add the sugar, water and salt. Whisk for a minute while softly boiling.

Remove saucepan from heat. Pour hot chocolate into pre-warmed mugs (a good way to keep the chocolate hot). Top with whipped cream. Serve immediately, savor slowly.

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