I’m Back!

Stress: Some people indulge on chocolate and high carb foods. Some people avoid food all together. Some manically exercise. As for me…I become paralyzed. Like a deer in headlights. Stress has a crazy effect on me. I become completely one tracked. I can’t move. Creativity Zapped.

That’s what happened this fall. The imaginitive spirit inside me was temporarily frozen. Between the final details on our house, a speaking engagement in Singapore, a major project at work and the other family demands that the holidays brings, the stress was overwhelming. I had to let something go.

Each day, it became harder and harder to find the creativity to keep up this blog and try something new. And one night, as I sat down to write, C. said,”please spend time with me. Surely I am more important than your blog.” Imagine the pain in my heart. Of course C. is most important. So at that moment I walked away from blogging and told myself I wouldn’t return until I felt the “muse”.

I’M BACK!!!!  Holidays OVER.      House FINISHED.    Work Project LAUNCHED.

I’ve missed you friends. Give me a few days…and I’ll soon have my creative groove back!

Everything but the kitchen sink

Crazy cookie craving. Can’t seem to get enough carbs. I tried an “everything but the kitchen sink” cookie from the Fresh Market today. I wonder if they have a recipe or if they really just throw a bunch of leftover stuff together. So this cookie had white chocolate, milk chocolate, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, raisins, oatmeal and maybe other things I didn’t recognize. Very interesting. It was quite tasty. I loved the combo of nuts. How often do we get cookies with all kinds of nuts? Love the savory and the sweet. Stop by the Fresh Market for a sweet treat and an unexpected surprise!

Semi-homemade

There is a trend here. VERY busy. Little time for extras. Welcome to the rat race. It’s so frustrating not to have the time I need to do all that I have on my agenda. This week we planned a surprise party for a very, very special friend. Our friend has a had a really hard year and really deserves a special time and celebration in her honor. And in my book, nothing is more fun than a birthday celebration…no matter how many candles are on the cake.

When we began the planning, I had big plans to make a gourmet cake. I even purchased a birthday cake cook book. I had narrowed the recipes down to either a carrot cake or an elvis cake (chocolate and peanut butter). The only problem with my little plan was time. Let’s be real here- Putting in 10 hour days at the office, squeezing in a work out here and there and trying to make the final decisions on our construction project, has left me with very little time. I have learned a thing or two in my yoga practice…and number one is….taking care of number one…ME. I knew that baking a cake was out of the question.  Must keep my sanity in tact!

So I had to be creative. I needed something special. Not your average grocery store cake with happy birthday scribbled on the top. Unfortunately, my time only yielded a birthday store cake. So I stopped by and ordered a chocolate cake with a smooth white icing. Nothing else on it. No colored icing…no ugly icing flowers, no confetti, no scribbled writing. Just plain white. Then I purchased some BEAUTIFUL bright cheerful sunflowers that all but screamed Happy Birthday. I cut the sunflowers and put them carefully on the top to create a truly cheerful cake. Placed on a pedestal…the cake was marvelous!  No one could believe it was a grocery store cake. It looked like a gourmet treat from a fab bakery!

Sometimes, we just need to figure out how to maximize the hours and minutes we have rather than become discouraged by the lack of time to do all that we want to do.

Happy Birthday KT!

Do you wonder if I weigh a million pounds?

I just realized that my new thing blog seems to be taking on a food slant…everything seems to come back to food. I do love food. All kinds. I could easily weigh a million pounds, but I am constantly on a diet of sorts. It’s a curse to like everything…and I really do love to cook and eat. oh well. I’ll work on expanding my horizons a bit in the coming week. The problem is that it is too hot to do much else.

So today I decided to try a chocolate bar with a little Asian slant…to continue on my Asian theme. If you remember from “Chocolate Week”, Vosges is my favorite kind of chocolate. My dear mil bought this for me…guess I am not driving her too crazy yet! This dark chocolate bar contained ginger, wasabi and black sesame seed. It didn’t appear to look different from your average joe dark chocolate. It didn’t smell different either…and quite frankly, it didn’t taste very different either. I could definitely taste a hint of the ginger, but not the sesame seeds or wasabi. I was not too excited about the wasabi…couldn’t figure out how that would complement chocolate. I followed the correct chocolate method…to smell, to let it melt on my tongue, to savor. But I have to tell you, this was not one of my favorites. Go for the bacon flavor! It’s to die for.

Sin Pots

If you live in Gville, then you know what I am talking about. Sin Pots are an Augusta Road tradition found at the Augusta Grill. Rich warm chocolate cake baked on demand in a little pot (ramekin)…but not fully cooked so that the center is still gooey. Ok so my mouth is watering just thinking about these “sinful” treats. Skip the dinner and head straight for the sin pot.

I came across a recipe recently that I thought sounded very similar to these Augusta Road favorites. To celebrate my MIL’s birthday, I thought we would give it a shot. I was entranced in cooking a gourmet meal, recapping my day with C and enjoying a little Friday cocktail while pulling together the ingredients for this little dessert. In the chaos of the kitchen, I misread the recipe. I thought when I was assembling that it looked a little runny. But hey, I had never made this before and I am not really an experienced baker.

What cooked up were really delicious light fluffy sin pots. Not nearly as dense as  those I had grown to love from the Augusta Grill. But the centers were gooey, rich and delicious. We all agreed this was a keeper recipe. I went to bed thinking about the recipe…dreaming of another sin pot…and I woke up thinking about them. First thing  in the morning I ran down stairs and revisited the recipe. Bingo. I figured out the difference. I had substituted the three egg YOLKS for three egg WHITES!!! Guess I created my own little not so sinful  sin pot recipe! 

Sin Pots
51/2 ounces of really good bittersweet chocolate in small pieces
1/2 cup + 1 TBS butter
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks (or egg whites!)
1/3 cup of sugar
5 TBS of all purpose flower

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease six small ramekins (pots). Melt butter and chocolate in a double boiler. Allow it to cool a bit. Combine eggs, egg yolks (or egg whites…for less sinful sin pots) and sugar. Beat on medium for 5 minutes. Add flour- beat until combined. Add chocolate. Fill the prepared ramekins half full. Bake 11-12 minutes. Outside edges should be set, but center should shake when ramekin is moved. Be careful NOT to over bake. You want the inside to remain gooey. Dust with confectioners sugar. Serve with strawberries on the side, ice cream or whipped cream.

Enjoy this little sinful taste of heaven!

150 million hotdogs

According to a report on NBC, Americans consumed 150 million hotdogs to during the July 4th holiday. How did they come up with that number? Is it by hotdogs purchased? We did our part…eight for the H fam. Dogs for lunch…dogs for supper. YUMMY. Thank goodness we only eat them once a year.

I love July 4th. So many wonderful memories. As kids, we spent the 4th at the beach. We had to drive across the border to SC to purchase the fireworks…I loved roman candles and the little tanks that scooted when lit…oh and of course sparklers. We always had a little competition with our across the street neighbors. Really not sure how we decided who the winner was. Then there were many July 4ths spent at Camp Seafarer. Talk about amazing fireworks over the Neuse River. And I can’t forget, July 4th in DC. We only went down to the mall  once. It is mad crazy. People everywhere. Once is enough.

This year, in celebration of July fourth and the 150 million hotdogs which I am certain will greatly contribute to America’s obesity…I made a whole wheat chocolate blueberry cake with a fudge topping. Before you say gross…it was really quite tasty and had only 6 grams of fat per serving. The recipe called for dutch press chocolate…I chose the dark kind. I should have made the topping with dark chocolate rather than semi-sweet. Nonetheless, this festive little cake was almost as good as a fab fireworks display…we were in bed by nine. Happy Birthday America.

My Summer Reading List

I kinda wish that work gave us a summer reading list the way that school did. Of course it would be great if they gave us work hours to read the books on our list and even better to be able to discuss with colleagues. Guess it would be like a business related book club. Sounds like a good idea…maybe I should start one.

I was the nerd in high school who always looked forward to seeing which books were selected for the summer reading list. I don’t know why I thought summer reading was so much better than regular school year reading. The books were more sexy…but they were still homework and who wants to deal with that – especially in the summer. I even looked forward to the discussion groups during the first week of school. I may have been the only one who actually did the reading. Don’t you think it’s so interesting how perceptions and interpretations can vary from person to person? There is nothing better than breaking down a book to it’s most simple elements and even then the interpretations can vary wildly.

My junior year of highschool, I had a hippy teacher who was going through a divorce and she taught us about falic symbols…that year I searched for falic symbols in all that read. How bizarre…or maybe not for a 16 year old girl! I digress.

I have a million books on my  “for fun” summer reading list. I’ll never get to all of them so here are my top five:

1. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
2. Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle
3. Little Bee by Chris Clee
4. The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood
5. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Today I started The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo. I’ve heard mixed reviews on this one and I’ve heard the translation is a little weird at points. Apparently it’s a real page turner. I’m not normally a thriller girl, but I’ll give it a shot. I always like to read the NY Times Best sellers for conversation purposes. It’s always good to have a conversation starter in your back pocket. And I have vaca next week and plan to blow through a couple of books sitting by the pool and the beach.

I am so happy that I love to read. There is nothing better than flipping the pages in a great book(besides noshing on some great chocolate while flipping the pages!). And what could be better than to be transported to places you’ve never been, meeting characters that make you laugh and discovering a world quite different from your own?

What’s on your summer reading list?

Happy Birthday- a special cake for a special friend.

Despite having a Christmas Eve birthday, there hasn’t been a single birthday that I didn’t enjoy a special birthday cake- most years, a decadent ten layer chocolate cake from Sherry’s Bakery in Dunn. Some years a special message adorned the cake- Happy Birthday Alice Grey & Jesus! I always felt special- I mean really, how many people share a birthday party with Jesus? Birthdays are special. period.

I guess not everyone feels the same as I do about birthdays. Some would just as soon forget, some think of it as just another day and some are happy with a simple cupcake. But for me…birthdays call for a big ol SPECIAL cake. When I received an invitation to my dear friends30th birthday party, I knew right away a new thing to add to my list…baking a birthday cake from scratch for a special friend.

No I am not a baker. No I have never baked a cake from scratch. No I don’t have the tools. And how the heck do you ice a cake to make it look so smooth? Oh dear. I was in over my head with this one. First on the list- deciding what type of cake. Chocolate- too predictable. Vanilla- too plain. Strawberry- yuck, artificial flavoring. Pound Cake- too easy……RED VELVET- PEFECT!! 

Bet you didn’t know that red velevet cake actually got its name because of the chemical reaction between the chocolate and other ingredients…today we add red food coloring because we use a dutch process chocolate that does not cause the reaction…and really…I must admit, I had no idea that red velvet cake was really chocolate cake until I began to study recipes. Nothing says celebration better than red velvet. I searched the internet for the perfect recipe and looked to the boss…the cake boss that is… for the right recipe Buddy Valastro’s Red Velvet Cale with Cream Cheese Frosting (as seen in O mag May 2010).

Next- purchase and collect all the pieces needed to bake a cake….cake pans, flour sifter, long serrated knife, frosting spreader. Done. But how do I put it all together? There is something really intimidating about a layered cake…and add a little icing…and we are way way on another level of challenge. So I turned to YouTube. There are tons of videos on how to ice a cake. I also tried to find some interesting designs…but I felt like they were all a little cheesy. I’m just not a rose icing kinda girl nor is my friend JH.

I began the process early on Saturday morning (just in case of fiasco…more than 24 hours to get it right). First bake the layers. Cool. Cut layers. Build cake with icing between layers. Next- Crumb coating(this is when you put a light layer of frosting all over the cake to “set” the crumbs so that when you finish the icing, crumbs don’t get in the icing). Refrigerate to set. Finish icing. Decorate.

When you try a new recipe, you just never know how it might turn out. The pressure was on. JH was counting on me. Worst case scenerio…Publix was on standby. The unfortunate part about baking a cake is that you can’t sample to make sure it is tasty before serving. All we can do is cross our fingers and hope for the best…but just in case…I assembled some brownie bites (a trick I learned from my m-i-l: purchase Brownie bites from costco- sprinkle powder sugar on top…a small dollop of chocolate syrup and top with a rasberry- a festive easy dessert)!

DRUM ROLL PLEASE:

YEAH! The cake was beautiful. I did learn a few things for next time, but honestly, it was much easier and less intimidating than I thought it would be. And now that I have the tools, there may be quite a few cakes in the future. Any special request?

C. ate my new thing!

I didn’t set out to become a chocoate connoiseur…but trying new chocolates from different countries and artisans is really fun. I am learning out how the textures seem to effect the flavors and how the origin really impacts the taste.

I bought this really interesting German dark chocolate bar filled the mascarpone cheese. I am not sure how the cheese did not spoil..but anyway. It was not the best chocolate I have ever tasted but the creamy cheese with a little coconut was a nice complement. The chocolate shell had a really waxy taste. Not really tastey on its own.

After I tasted a small bite. I carefully placed it in plastic bag to save for later, photograph and share with you. Tonight I went to get it out of the cupboard…GONE. Nothing. Not a trace. C. ate my chocolate. I have no idea what the name of this chocolate was…oh well…I wouldn’t buy it again. So I guess it really doesn’t matter!

Almost to Marrakech…with a touch of Carribean

Tonight was truly a commingle…C. caught fresh mahi over the weekend and we invited friends over to enjoy the catch. I had in my mind that I wanted to try a new recipe by Paula Wolfert which imitates a dish she tasted in Morocco. I thought C. and I communicated on this side dish, so imagine my surprise when I arrived home to a fresh mango puree sauce for the fish (which was a replica of this great sauce we tried at Pete’s Pub in the Abacco’s). Interesting. So let me tell you about the meal- We had fresh mahi with a mango puree sauce; pot roasted eggplant with tomatoes and cumin, roasted french green beans, strawberry shortcake and truffles!  What a mess. I would never in a million years have created this pairing, but actually it worked quite well. The mango sauce was very mild and had a bit of a kick. As for my side dish, the Moroccan eggplant- it was just ok considering the production it took to make it (roast the eggplant, scoop out innards, drain out all water, mash to puree, and then cook for a while). Overall it was a really acidic dish and probably would have paired better with something a little different.