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Chocolate Musings + Lamb with Dark Chocolate Pepper Sauce #FoodieReads #CooktheBooks

For the February-March edition of Cook the Books, hostess Simona of Briciole invited us to read The Discovery of Chocolate by James Runcie.* I packed the book in my backpack on one of our Sunday morning hikes and breezed through the first half up there on top of the hill. Then I polished off the rest of the book that afternoon in my living room.

On the Page
I would actually give this 2.5 stars...out of 5. It was a little more than okay, but I can't say I'm wholly in the 'like it' camp either. I enjoy a good story with time travel and fantastical elements, but this was not a satisfying read for me. 

It started off well, then descended into silliness as, over the course of his chocolate elixir-extended lifespan, Diego encounters the Marquis de Sade, meets the inventors of the Sacher Torte, works for Hershey's, and comes full circle with Ignacia. It's a fanciful narrative about one man's history with chocolate wrapped around a contrived love story with some bizarre twists of fate. I didn't hate it, but I wouldn't read it again. And I would only recommend it with massive caveats.

A Molinillo
Diego receives a silver molinillo from Ignacia. "When I returned, Ignacia held out each ingredient for me to savor before she included them in her mixture, grinding nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper, adding chilies, aniseed, and honey. She stirred the paste by rolling a carved silver whisk between her palms at speed. ...I drank and felt that I need never taste anything else again" (pg. 36).

I dug out our molinillo and let R make a batch of hot chocolate. I didn't take a current photo, but he's been our molinillo-master since day one! See above.

molinillo is a traditional Mexican whisk that includes a wand part and one or two wooden rings that spin on that want. A molinillo is also used in Colombia and the Philippines, where it is also called a batirol or batidor. It is held between the palms of your hands and rotated by rubbing the palms together. The rotation creates a frothy chocolate drink.

Magical Mole
I did love Diego's description of introducing mole to dinner guests back in Spain. "Here at last was the food which I had prepared, its sauce as rich and dark as molasses. ...The room was hushed at last. Every guest was beguiled by the taste of the sauce; at first smooth and reassuring, then fiery, and at last explosing in the mouth, softened by the sweet flavor of the turkey beneath. It was, one man pronounced, the original ambrosia, a dish so alluring that all previous delicacies they had enjoyed were dismissably ordinary. The guest fell to, unable to speak, concentrating only upon their food, as if the sauce were nothing less than the lost elixir of silence and delight" (pg. 65).

I recently posted a recipe for Roasted Monkfish Over Mole Negro, but I'll have to try a version with turkey in Diego's honor.

Our Chocolate Obsession
Before I get to the recipe I'm sharing for this post, I wanted to share a little about my chocolate obsession. It's funny for me to think that sixteen years ago, I didn't eat chocolate. One of my best friends from high school was floored when she saw me eat chocolate for the first time. In all the years she'd known me, I couldn't stand chocolate. But, as soon as I got pregnant with R, I began to enjoy it. Really enjoy it. 

Now, we've done chocolate tastings at boutique chocolatiers all over California's central coast; we've participated in chocolate walking tours (read about our Chocolate Walking Tour in San Francisco); I've taught an entire class about chocolate; and we've even curated our own chocolate pairings for dinner parties.

At a chocolate tastings at Alegio in Palo Alto, D really wanted to take one of the cacao pods home. I offered to buy it. No dice. "They're just for our display. They're not for sale," they apologized.

Then, a couple of Decembers later, we visited Dandelion Chocolate in the Mission District in San Francisco and D spotted pods. For sale. "Mom," he gushed, "I want to use some of my birthday money to buy a pod!" That's a strange purchase for a 12-year-old, don't you think? But it's not strange considering he's my 12-year-old. He painstakingly went through the entire basket of cacao pods, shook them all, and finally made his selection.

Lamb with Dark Chocolate Pepper Sauce

Ingredients serves 4 as an appetizer (2 ribs per person)
  • rack of lamb with 8 ribs, sliced into lollipops
  • freshly ground salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • olive oil
  • sixteen 1/2 t minced garlic
  • sixteen 1/2 t smoked paprika
  • sixteen 1/2 t espresso-ground coffee
  • sixteen 1/2 t unsweetened cocoa powder

Chocolate Pepper Sauce
  • 1 C lamb (or beef) stock
  • 1/4 C red wine
  • 1/4 C unsweetened chocolate (I used a 100% cacao solids bar), chopped
  • 1 t freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • pinch of cayenne

Season each side of lamb liberally with salt and pepper. Spoon 1/2 t minced garlic, 1/2 t coffee grounds, 1/2 t smoked paprika, and 1/2 t unsweetened cocoa powder on each lollipop. Flip over and repeat. Let meat stand for at least 10 minutes, longer, if you have time.

Heat olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. Once hot, add the lamb and sear for 1 minute and flip it over. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes on the second side. Flip over again. This time cook for 3 to 4 minutes. At a total of 4 to 5 minutes per side, these were medium done.

Adjust cooking time to your preferred doneness. While the lamb rests, make your sauce.

Chocolate Pepper Sauce
Pour stock and wine into a large skillet. Whisk in garlic, black pepper, smoked paprika, and cayenne. Bring to a boil. Add in chocolate and remove from heat. Let stand for 3 minutes, then whisk until smooth. Return to heat and reduce until desired thickness.

To Serve
Place lollipops on a serving platter and drizzle with sauce.

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the item of your choice.

I am also linking this post to the Foodie Reads Challenge. 
Here's what everyone else read in February 2018: here.


  1. I wasn't crazy about the book either, but then I decided to just enjoy it for what it was....complete silly nonsense with some great chocolate history included, and ended up having fun with it. I like this club because it forces me to think outside of my reading box. Love the creativity of this chocolate and pepper sauce. YUM

    1. Thanks. I definitely read books with this group that I wouldn't normally. Grateful for that.

  2. I understand R's desire to have a cacao pod. The first time I saw one, I had the same reaction. I have now seen them on a tree, but have yet to see one opened in front of my eyes. It is amazing how chocolate works its magic in savory recipes, isn't it. Thank you for your contribution to this edition of Cook the Books :)

    1. Thanks for hosting and for making me stretch to read something outside of my usual.

  3. I love that photo of the book on the camping trip. That sauce looks amazing. I really loved portions of the book and truly skimmed major portions (like the Austrian section).

    1. Thanks! Yes, that Austrian section was so skimmable, wasn't it?

  4. Funny that I skimmed portions of the book too. Parts were really quite interesting. Others not so much. But it got me thinking about chocolate as it's used in Mexico Mole. Your sauce over lamb lollipops seems quite like that and MUCH simpler than the usual mole. Thanks for sharing

    1. Yes, I have made authentic mole after taking two different all-day classes. I like mirroring the flavor with a more simple process.

  5. I so enjoyed reading about your own discovery of chocolate! That cacao pod is very cool - and this lamb recipe is going straight on my 'to try' list. yum!

  6. I love your recipe & I love your pictures even more! How cool to actually have a molinillo (and a resident expert!) This book wasn't my cup of tea either - at least we were inspired to make fantastic recipes!

    1. Yes. Inspiration into the kitchen is always a good thing.

  7. We are lucky in Hawaii that cacao is grown here. I took a fun chocolate class a couple of years ago from a local producer and loved getting to see, touch and taste (the pulp inside) the cacao pods.

    Your chocolate-pepper sauce looks so decadent and delicious!

  8. I'm with Wendy, and put the book aside for a few weeks, then just got into the absolute silliness of it and finished to a better than expected ending. Strange after all these years of growing cacao, not to have a molinillo. That will be remedied soon. You have a great sous chef there.


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