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.

The Chocolate Factory- Willy Wonka’s Big Adventure Ends

LAST DAY! LAST DAY! LAST DAY! WOOP WOOP

What a week. I can honestly say I have never consumed so much chocolate in all of my life. Too much of a good thing is just THAT- too much of a good thing. I always look forward to dessert and especially chocolate dessert…but by Friday, I really just wanted to skip dessert. Amazing how perspectives change when a treat becomes a necessity. What was once a flavor I dreamed about….something that once whispered  sweet nothings to me  had become a whiney naggy voice that I wanted to go away (note to self- don’t ever become that voice).

This is not a bad thing. Now that I have had my fix…I can get back to my diet to get ready for summer sun dresses. But..not without one last piece of dark chocolate. And I think I may have saved the BEST for last. Rainy saturday afternoon. Perfect day to sit around, catch up on the week’s soaps and eat a few bon bons (just to rest up for a pedicure). After a warm up of chocolate kisses…it was time to go in for the good stuff (kind of like a wine flight). I chose a nice rectangle piece with a GREEN decorative top. What could possible be the flavor inside? Lime? Pistachios?  You’ll never guess- the filling was DILL! Never in a million years would I have paired dill with chocolate. And the funny thing is…I really liked it. It added a really fresh flavor to comliment the oaky flavor of the drak chocolate. If it could be painted it would be a huge old mossy oak tree in a field of bright green grass. I shared a nibble with C just to confirm that it was indeed dill- it just seemed too bizarre. We both agreed that the flavor was quite nice.

 

I always knew two of my favorite foods paired well with dill, potato salad and cucumbers. Now I can add chocolate to the list. Dill might just be my favorite herb.

 

And so I conclude SEVEN days following in the footsteps of Willy Wonka. The Chocolate Factory is officially closed!

Chocolate Factory – Italy

We’ve experienced the tastes and sensual flavors of french chocolate…now time for Italy. There are only a couple of really good Italian restaurants in Gville- one being on main street (very expensive)- the other, one of those great hole in the wall inexpensive places with a charming Italian owner who manages the restaurant, cooks and waits on tables. 10 tables- NO RESERVATIONS.

I saved up all day for a decadent chocolate dessert…or at least a great dessert like tiramisu with a touch of rich chocolate. Before I even ordered my entree, I had to get the dessert line up. Starving, after a long day topped off with a hard hot yoga class, I was ready to chow down. But I wanted to get the dessert line up so I could gage how decadent I could go with dinner (could I “afford” that rich vodka cream sauce?)

Imagine my sadness to learn that there was NO CHOCOLATE on the menu. No reservations and no chocolate. What kind of place is this? I explained my terrible dilemma. I NEEDED chocolate. Mr. Giovanni must have felt really sorry for me (and lets just say….C was mortified) because he promised to make some cannoli with chocolate for me. whew. Promise to you kept.

A great dinner with great friends-we shared several types of mussels for an appetizer, fresh brushetta with smooth olive oil and chicken piccata for me (I decided I couldn’t “afford” cream sauce after 5 days of chocolate). Now time for the cannoli and a photo with Mr. Giovanni! Photo gets a ten!  What a great host. But the makeshift dessert…not so much. It was not meant to have chocolate. The creamy filling had a lemon/citrus flavor which didn’t pair well with the chocolate chips and chocolate topping. Oh well….I tried…something new!

The Chocolate Factory- A Visit to The Fresh Market

Back on track. A focus on chocolate as the highlight of my day. While visiting with a friend at lunch today, she suggested that I try the Fresh Market’s chocolate eclair. Perfect. That sounds delish. I love eclairs-especially with chocolate. Just the thought takes me back to Provence. Like a child, I loved to have a little bon bon after school. I didn’t really have a favorite bakery, so I tried whatever came along my walking path. I never had a bad sweet treat while studying abroad…and believe you me, I tried a good 30lbs worth!

I approached the bakery section of the market with grand expectations. Afterall I don’t think I have had an eclair since my France days. The word eclair in french means lightning- perhaps because they are like a little lightening for your tastebud. No one really know how they came to be referred to as “lightning”.

Imagine my surprise when I came upon this…It looked totally processed. The chocolate on top looked like it had been combed on (notice the lines…like a well raked sand trap on the golf course) and I was appalled to see a jared cherry on top with the red syrup oozing onto the whipped cream. The first eclair the baker pulled out was atrocious. I asked her to put it back and get a better looking one- I couldn’t let my fans down with a dowdy looking eclair.  (Note- I did try to help its appearance by taking it out of the grocery store plastic container and put in on a nice silver tray for the “photo shoot”.

I rushed through dinner to get to my sweet treat.  Surely it would taste better than it looked. Oh the disappointment. The pastry tasted like cardboard. The texture was dense  and my pallette screamed “this is stale”. It’s suppose to be crispy not dense. The cream filling tasted like jello instant pudding and the chocolate on top tasted like Publix cupcake frosting (don’t get me wrong- I love a Publix cupcake, but I expected something more from a french eclair from the Fresh Market). To top it off, the whipped cream on top was TOTALLY processed. Reality check…We are not in France. Definitely not worth $2.99. I could have gotten six eclairs of equal quality if I had just gone to Bi Lo. Perhaps I caught them on a bad day. The good news…I only ate two bits. It never hurts to save a few calories.

Now for the good news. I couldn’t help but make a stop at the chocolate section of the store. After all, it was on my way to the bakery section. Imagine my surprise when I saw Vosge Haute Chocolates! www.vosgeschocolate.com  This is the chocolatier from Chicago I mentioned on Sunday’s post. My favorite chocolate. Oh I couldn’t resist. And in the spirit of Commingle, I tried a new “flavor”. The Red Fire Bar: Mexican ancho y chipotle chillies, Ceylon cinnamon and drak chocolate. So- I like Mexican food; I love cinnamon (take two cinnamon vitamins everyday) and of course we all know I love chocolate.

Get this- the bar comes with instructions on how to eat it in order to maximize the experience:  “How to enjoy an exoctic candy bar”.  It looks to be an almost yogic experience. Oh my- all of my favorite things rolled up in one and for the value price of $5.99.

First you breathe- put on soothing music and breathe in (Yes- just like Yoga. I can do this.). Then you observe- dark glossy shine (got it) and you should see some red flecks of chili embedded in the chocolate (not so much…just brown); Smell- I rubbed my finger over the bar to release the aromas- well I didn’t really smell anything. Maybe because the smell of the processed eclair was overpowering.

Dig in- nibble on the chocolate and let it melt to the roof of your mouth. The melting part was a bit of a challenge. You know how easily a Hershey’s kiss melts in your mouth…it’s because of the cream. Dark chocolate melting is a bit more challenging.

Now for the taste- First flavor was bit like sweet tobacco- then for the spice- wowsers. You can feel the pepper flakes as it melts and then my eyes started to water. This is really hot..but sweet at the same time. It almost burned a little as it went down. Ah cinnamon-the final flavor- like cinnaburst gum with the “flavor crystals”.

The finish was more cinamon than chocolate so your mouth is left with a fresh cinnamon clean feeling (rather than that chocolatey coated feeling)- but with some remanent of the tobacco flavor.

What an experience. It was almost like the spiciness lit a fire while the rich chocolate cooled and soothed. This one goes on the keeps list. This bar brings chocolate to a whole new level.

Tomorrow I will be participating in Oprah’s No Phone Zone Day. One day without using the phone while driving. That means no talking or texting. Any one else up for the challenge?

A Detour from the Chocolate Factory

I took a little detour from the Chocolate Factory…a slight deviation. I did enjoy a strawberry flavored piece of dark chocolate after dinner. It was a perfect rectangle with deep red, pink and white sprinkles on top. I think it’s quite intriguing how nicely strawberries complement dark chocolate. The sweet but tart flavor of strawberry is a nice finish to chocolate. And this piece had a nice combo-the strawberry flavor was not overwhelming but rather a sensual complement.

OK- now for the detour. I had the opportunity to travel to a new part of town to a friend’s house for a jewelry show. I drove straight from work-only five miles- but it seemed like a world away. It almost felt like a drive through the country but the landscape was speckled with new developments with huge mc mansions. I’ve always heard about this part of town, but never visited. It’s quite nice. Huge old trees. Rolling pastures. I guess at some point it really was the country and at some point, it will be nothing but developments.

Now for the jewelry. I received the invitation and immediately took a look at the website. The website did not even begin to showcase how cute the pieces are. Interesting chunky necklaces, great long necklaces with large stones pendants (loved one with an amethyst) and lariats with many different types of stones. Definitely check out the website if you need something cute to perk up a last season sundress. It Fitz – www.itfitzjewelry.com