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Tom’s got a body double (chin, that is) December 9, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies.
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At 5ft 7in, Tom Cruise has never been one of Hollywood’s most imposing leading men. But now, aged 44, the actor seems to have added an inch or two, in all the wrong places.

Arriving at the premiere of The Pursuit Of Happyness in Los Angeles, it was a decidedly fuller figured Cruise who worked the red carpet. Smiling broadly for the cameras, he revealed not one but two chins and a pair of chubby cheeks.

Even a well-tailored black suit could do little to hide his apparent weight gain. This is the second time in as many months that Cruise’s weight has become a topic of debate. Last month, before his wedding to Katie Holmes, he had to have his Giorgio Armani suit let out.

While his 27-year-old fiancee had lost weight in the build-up to the big day, she had to have her dress taken in six times, Cruise immediately put himself on a diet. Indeed, he ate only six mouthfuls of pasta during his joint stag and hen night and did daily 90-minute workouts at his hotel gym.

Cruise’s figure is in stark contrast to the physique which he displayed earlier in his career. In the 1988 movie Cocktail he flaunted toned, taut arms and a lithe, muscular body, and still looked in fine form two years ago at the premiere of the action movie Collateral.

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Chocolate makes a sweet career change December 9, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Chocolate.
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One day last winter, after having worked as a carpenter for 22 years, Jonathan Spillane came home and said to his wife, “I quit.” He had had enough of climbing ladders and working on rooftops in the freezing cold. He wanted to find another way to express himself creatively. And he thought he might do it through chocolate instead of wood.

Today the former carpenter is a chocolatier and the guiding force behind Cocoapelli Chocolates, the Natick-based company he founded in September. His wife, Cinda Corwin, handles the company’s accounting, and their 12-year-old daughter, Hayley, does all the packaging.

Cocoapelli chocolates, the name comes from the fertility god Kokopelli, is operating out of Spillane’s garage, which is no longer filled with ladders and table saws. And production is limited. He makes about 100 eight-ounce boxes of chocolates every other week. But he’s given up the carpentry business entirely.

Spillane, had never tried chocolate making. “I have always loved food,” says the entrepreneur. “Wherever I travel, I buy whatever chocolate I find.” He began his exploration, which led him to an online course offered by Ecole Chocolat in Vancouver, British Columbia. The course includes the basics of chocolate making and techniques, attributes of different chocolates, and equipment and supplies. It also provides resources, such as names of the school’s successful graduates and a list of all the chocolates sold throughout the world.

“We had assignments like, ‘Go buy as many different chocolates as you can find, taste them, and see if you can see a difference,’ ” Spillane recalls.

Another ongoing assignment was to make chocolates. Spillane started experimenting, and gave his sweet efforts to friends and family. “People loved it. They kept saying, ‘You should sell these,’ ” he says.

Last spring, Spillane applied to the city of Natick for a business license and began to build a 350-square-foot kitchen in the garage, this involved his carpentry skills. Today he turns out a selection of handmade chocolates. His ganache fillings range in flavors from raspberry and kona coffee to hazelnut and key lime.

The bon bons are covered in dark, milk, and white chocolate. Spillane uses high quality chocolate made from Madagascar cocoa beans, which he selected after experimenting with “300 pieces of chocolate,” he says. He also makes milk and dark-chocolate-covered caramels; milk and dark-chocolate turtles with cashews; dark chocolate-covered almonds and hazelnuts; and a dark chocolate candy bar with cocoa nibs. And he’s thinking of new ideas. “Whenever I eat something, my brain goes first to how do I make this taste good with chocolate?” he says.

Spillane starts work at around 8 every morning. Each day is devoted to a different kind of chocolate. He hand-cuts and hand-dips every caramel, ladles chocolates into their molds, and fills each one using a pastry bag. He decorates every piece of chocolate, spraying white chocolate hearts with colored cocoa butter or applying colored cocoa butter designs from acetate transfer sheets onto individual pieces.

The chocolate-maker is determined to remain a one-person operation, because, he says, “the quality goes down when other people get involved.” He is hoping, though, that his daughter “kicks it up and helps” with more than filling boxes.

Spillane does catered events, where he serves chocolates on silver trays, and near the end of the farmers’ market season, he began selling his confections there. “It’s really fun to be in front of people and talk about my chocolates,” he says. “I like being ‘the chocolatier.’ ” And the new job doesn’t involve ladders or roofs.

Cocoapelli Chocolates are available at Tilly & Salvy’s Bacon Street Farm, 100 Bacon St., Natick, 508-653-4851; Five Crows, 8 Court St., Natick, 508-653-2526; Fifth Ave Liquors, 235 Old Connecticut Path, Framingham, 508-872-7777 ; www.cocoapellichocolates.com

Good chocolate > is it in the numbers? December 9, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Chocolate.
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Chocolate used to be straightforward: dark or milk, sweet, semisweet and bittersweet.

But today, sorting out which bar belongs in your brownies can seem more like selecting a grade of gasoline than baking up a batch of Grandma’s best. Will it be 47 percent cacao, 61 percent or 73 percent? How about ultra-pure 99 percent? And what the heck is cacao?

With little fanfare, American chocolate companies have begun labeling their bars according to cacao content, that sinful blend of cocoa solids and cocoa butter that combine to make chocolate, and make it so irresistible.

Already common in Europe, this system brings to the industry a uniformity praised by bakers and chocolate experts. But they also worry that too few people understand it and are being misled by marketers pushing bigger-is-better attitudes.

Most chocolate is a simple confection, a blend of cacao products and sugar, and dairy in the case of milk chocolate. The ratio of the blend affects taste, texture and how it reacts in baking. The new labeling indicates how much of that ratio is cacao. But a higher percentage of cacao doesn’t guarantee a more intense chocolate.

That’s because cacao percentages represent a tally of cocoa solids, from which chocolate gets its flavor, and cocoa butter, which imparts chocolate’s lush mouth feel, but no real flavor. So while different chocolates may have the same percent of total cacao, they could contain different ratios of solids and butter, and that dramatically influences taste and texture.

Higher cacao percentages also don’t necessarily indicate higher quality. Taste is influenced more by the origin, blend and roasting of the beans. Better beans can produce better chocolate, even with lower cacao ratios. So much so that a professor of baking and pastry at the Culinary Institute of America, expects the next wave in chocolate marketing to focus on origin and variety of beans, much as coffee does now. Of course, it ultimately all comes down to taste. No label can ever tell anybody whether a chocolate is good or not, or whether they will like it or not.

For eating, stick to less than 70 percent cacao. Because sugar tempers and enhances the flavor and texture of chocolate, bars with higher ratios can taste bitter and chalky.

For baking, chocolates between 40 percent and 70 percent will work best in most conventional recipes. Chocolates above 70 percent may present textural problems in some recipes, such as a chocolate mousse cake. 

If you can’t resist high-cacao chocolate, use recipes specially formulated for it. Scharffen Berger, for example, has recipes on its Web site developed for its bars, including double-chocolate cookies that use the company’s 99 percent cacao chocolate.

Don’t want to think about numbers? Stick within the 40 percent to 50 percent range for a good all-purpose chocolate.

Drinking in the luxury December 9, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Chocolate, Drinks & Beverages.
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Drinking chocolates, a high-end name for hot chocolate made with high-end ingredients, blend convenience with indulgence: You just add milk, then heat and savor. This indulgence seems just right for holiday splurges.

We purchased eight similar drinking chocolates from specialty and department stores. The brands had varying ingredient lists and directions. We used whole milk and followed the manufacturer’s directions.

Ghirardelli was the hands-down winner for its decadent flavor and creamy texture. Following close behind was Godiva, then Germany’s Schokinag. Incidentally, of these three, Ghirardelli had the highest ratio of chocolate to milk. And the two that finished near the end had a much smaller ratio, and far fewer calories. The lesson here, as you probably know: With chocolate, more is usually better.

Here are the winners as well as tasters’ comments. The rest are listed in order of finish.

1. Ghirardelli > “Good, with a pleasing, earthy bitterness.” “The deepest chocolate hit.” “Wow. This is like a chocolate injection.”

2. Godiva Dark Chocolate Truffle > “Bright sweetness, brings balance to chocolate.” “Good chocolate; slight bitter ending is good.” “A little flat, too sweet.”

3. Schokinag Triple Chocolate > “Perfect balance of chocolate flavor and sweetness.” “Rich tasting but needs more choco-oomph!”

4. Hershey’s Cacao Reserve Classic Chocolate 

5. Archer Farms Triple Chocolate 

6. Lake Champlain New World 

7. Green & Black’s Organic 

8. Twinings Chocolate Indulgence