Oh, (Pumpkin) Fudge.

pumpkin fudge

I mean this both literally, and figuratively.

I made fudge the other day – pumpkin fudge, to be specific. I was excited – I found the recipe on allrecipes.com, and it sounded amazing and looked pretty easy, especially with my pastry school background. Well, one can never be too confident.

As I moved through the stages of the recipe, things seemed to be going fine Рalthough each step took forever РI wondered if maybe I was doing something wrong Рbut I came to learn later that was actually the one thing I was doing right. The mixture finally reached 232 degrees, and I stirred in the spices. And here, is where I dropped the hubcap full of lug nuts Р instead of patiently waiting for the mixture to cool on its own to 110 (which seemed to be taking an ETERNITY, especially after already having waited and waited and waited for it to finally become hot enough), I decided to place the bowl over an ice bath. BIG MISTAKE. It sure did speed up the cooling process, but it made the end result more like pumpkin caramel than fudge.

soft and chewy pumpkin... caramel?

soft and chewy pumpkin… caramel?

So, in the end, it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. At the same time, it was still pretty good – good enough where I’d intentionally do this again to yield the same result. It tasted like concentrated pumpkin pie squares.

pumpkin pie bites.

pumpkin pie bites.

And seriously, who doesn’t love pumpkin pie? I’ll just have to keep the fact that it was supposed to be fudge a secret. ūüėČ

The Brussels Chocolate Shop Tour, Stop #8: Zaab√§r.

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Looking at my map upon exiting Stop #7 (Wittamer), I realized I had a bit of a walk ahead of me. Zaab√§r was the farthest of all the shops. It was on the other side of the business district. But I‚Äôm a walker by nature (not cause I hate ya), so I sucked it up, and strode onward. The walk was really quite nice. I got to glimpse another side of the city ‚Äď the city center ‚Äď full of old buildings and new towers, peacefully coexisting side by side, with hundreds of working folks and tourists passing by in a continuous stream. I walked with eyes wide open, taking it all in, including this random tree, in the middle of a city block.

an Ent, maybe?

an Ent, maybe?

I have no idea really what kind of tree it even was ‚Äď but it definitely struck my fancy. After a few more turns, I finally arrived at‚Ķ

Stop #8: Zaabär.

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Upon entering Zaabär, I was brought face to face with an area where the chocolate was being made, on display, behind a glass wall for tourists to see.  To the right, was a long corridor, with fun images of chocolate making on the wall.

diy chocolate.

diy chocolate.

At the end of the hall, was the shop itself. Zaabär was clean, and modern, and classy. It reminded me of IKEA. The only thing missing were Swedish meatballs.

affordable solutions for better living?

affordable solutions for better living?

There were people milling around, seriously discussing their pending purchases. This shop was no joke. I wondered around for a bit, poking my nose into all the displays.¬† They had a giant section devoted entirely to flavored chocolate, some on the rather exotic side. I spied a lavender chocolate, and I was sold. I purchased a cinnamon as well, along with a rose. ¬†It was a very tough decision ‚Äď they had an amazing selection of some pretty intense flavors. But I was able to eventually narrow it down.

craft chocolates.

craft chocolates.

I also couldn’t resist the truffles‚Ķso I picked up a two pack of them, too.

Well, needless to say, this was some good stuff.¬† It was different¬† – I’ve never really had chocolate quite like it.¬† It was like the craft beer of chocolate. Once you try it, you really can‚Äôt imagine drinking Coors again (not that I ever did…).

Next up, Stop #9, Laurent Gerbaud: The happiest chocolate shop on earth.

The Brussels Chocolate Shop Tour, Stop #4: Chocopolis.

DSC_0828I was starting to grow a tad weary after tour stop# 3, Leonidas, mainly due to the complete lack of sleep the night before, having arrived in Brussels at 6 am from New York, dropped my bags off at the hotel, had a coffee (or three) and breakfast, and dove right into the tour all before 9 am. It was now around 1, and I was quickly losing steam. I considered just returning the hotel at this point, taking a long overdue shower and nap, and heading back out afterwards, but as fate would have it, my proposed stop #4 just so happened to be on the way back to the hotel. And as I walked up to the entrance and was greeted by the large faux chocolate elephant, I realized there was no way I was just gonna walk on by. So, I decided to make one last stop for the day at:

Stop #4: Chocopolis.

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Appropriately named, Chocopolis was big – a chocolate metropolis for sure. I walked in and immediately to the right, were a few gentlemen around a hot chocolate station, sipping cups and chatting away in french. Behind the giant counter in the center, two women were actually making some chocolates, and encouraging folks to gather ’round and watch while they demonstrated their craft.

chocolate theatre?

chocolate theatre?

I grazed around the counter, while a third woman flitted about, tending to customers and asking me if I needed help (in french). Nothing had been calling out my name as of yet, so I declined politely and continued my perusal. It wasn’t until I began cruising the perimeter that I saw it – glowing like a full moon on a dark winter’s night, beckoning me to come closer. As the gravitational pull of awesomeness drew me, I reached up for it, the perfect combination of Belgium’s two greatest natural resources: Chocolate Beer.

the dream we all dream of.

the dream we all dream of.

Now I’ve had chocolate beer before, but it was a chocolate flavored beer – not a beer made out of chocolate. As I picked one up off the shelf, I was momentarily disheartened as I discovered these chocolate bottles were not actually filled with beer. I still thought I’d buy one, just because they were way cool. But as I began walking away from the shelf with bottle in hand, I started having second thoughts. There was no way I was going to eat this entire beer bottle in two days, especially with 6 more chocolate shops to sample! And carting it around Europe for the rest of the week or even eventually back to the states just seemed unrealistic. So, I placed the bottle back on the shelf, and hung my head. While looking down, I happened to notice a shelf of mendiants just below and to the left. I never see mendiants at home, and I loved them when we made them in pastry school, so…I picked out a mixed bag (white, milk, and dark chocolate) and was on my way.

it's in the bag.

it’s in the bag.

There was ¬†even one super cool one that looked all outer spacey. I ate that one first, but all three varieties were slammin’. I just wish I could find mendiants more easily at home in New Jersey. I guess I’ll just have to start making them. I could start the next big dessert craze.

i got this.

i got this.

At this point, not even the best chocolate in the world could keep me awake. As I laid in bed, I drifted off to sleep while visions of fine Belgian chocolates danced in my head. Sweet Dreams, indeed.

Stay tuned for Day 2, which begins relaxed and refreshed at Stop #5: Pierre Marcolini – three floors of “club chocolate”.

Recipe Wednesday: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cookies.

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So before I get into the Chocolate Shop Tour of Brussels, I really wanted to share this recipe for the cookies I made last night, not only because they turned out so good, but also because I feel I’ve been neglecting the kitchen lately, having not baked anything for almost 3 weeks, and neglecting the kitchen means neglecting sharing recipes; and as we all know sharing is caring. So because I care, I made Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cookies.

The only problem was that I couldn’t decide if i should use regular Reese’s cups or the Reese’s hearts. Valentine’s Day is not so far off, so the hearts seemed appropriate, however, I wanted to make sure that upon first glance, one could tell these were peanut butter cup cookies. So, when in doubt, use both and just make more cookies.

When all was said and done, I had about half of them that were the classic “cup”…

the cup we all know and love.

the cup we all know and love.

….and half that were a chocolate and peanut butter homage to love.

melt my heart.

melt my heart.

I started with a recipe from¬†The Hershey’s Cookbook¬†for those peanut butter Hershey’s Kiss Cookies. I made a few minor adjustments, swapped the kiss with the cup (or heart), and created a cookie masterpiece for peanut butter cup lovers everywhere. ¬†Beware: the dough is a little bit TOO good. I believe I may have eaten about 4 cookies worth of dough before I even started baking them. Hopefully, you’ll have a bit more restraint than I. ūüôā

 

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

What you’ll need:

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

1/2 cup shortening

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1 egg

2 tablespoons half and half

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

48 mini Reese’s cups or Reese’s hearts (or some combo of the two totaling 48)

What you’ll do:

Preheat oven to 375. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the peanut butter and shortening. Add in the sugar and brown sugar, and beat until smooth and fluffy. Add egg, half and half, and vanilla, and mix well. In a ¬†separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the peanut butter mixture, 1/3 at a time, beating well between each addition. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and using a small ice-cream scoop, scoop and shape the dough into one inch balls. Bake for 8 – 10 minutes, or until they start to brown around the edges. While they are baking unwrap your chocolates, so you have them on hand and ready to go. As soon as you remove the cookies from the oven, start pressing the cups/hearts into the cookies (they will crack around the edges – that’s ok). Remove them from the baking sheet, and let them cool completely.

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xoxo

Choco Peeps.

A few years back, probably about 5 years ago, I decided that I was going to bring chocolate covered Peeps to Easter dinner. In theory, it sounded fantastic – two of my all time favorite things combined into one yummy treat. Well, it didn’t go so well. The chocolate was cheap, didn’t melt smoothly and didn’t taste all that great, and not to mention, they no longer even looked Peep-shaped. If i¬†had brought them to dinner with no explanation, everyone would have assumed they were just odd-shaped bumpy chocolates. Bah.

Anyway, one thing I learned in pastry school was how to work with chocolate. I’m by no means a master chocolatier¬†at this point, however, I once again attempted chocolate covered Peeps, and this time with great success! I sprinkled them with some shimmery sugar crystals, to give them that extra glow.

sparkly choco peeps.

They’ve retained their peep-like shape, and if one were to be presented with a box of these, I do believe they would be easily identifiable. The bad news is that because I wasn’t sure how they’d turn out, I only made a few. The Choco Peep is an endangered species; eat them wisely.

On a side note, I had extra chocolate that I didn’t want to just throw away, so I covered two chocolate chip cookies with it. Now that’s what I call conservation.

why didn’t i think of this years ago??

You say Potato, I say…Candy?

I didn’t realize how easy Irish Potatoes were to make. I also didn’t realize that they were pretty much just a ball of coconut icing covered in cinnamon. I didn’t realize how much I love them. Funny what you don’t realize.

Anyway, I decided to make these this year for the first time. I had imagined they were difficult – not sure why, but possibly because no one I know ever seemed to make them, or discuss making them, so that just led me to subconsciously place them in the “hard to make” category. I was completely wrong. I admit it. I’m wrong sometimes.

Anyway, I had no recipe for these anywhere in any of my books at home, so I googled it, and found this recipe – http://allrecipes.com/recipe/irish-potato-candy/. I thought, “Gee, that sounds too easy. Let me make sure it’s actually the real deal.” So I checked out a few other links, and the recipes were all basically the same. So, I gave it a whirl.

They looked and tasted great. Better than I remembered even the ones in the box tasting! Not only were they super simple to make, they were fun too.

Simple. like Love.

Really good things don’t have to be complicated. We just often think they need to be.

Two great tastes.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter.

You might say these two were made for each other. There’s really no better pairing – the sweet, seductiveness of the chocolate compliments the salty, smoothness of the peanut butter perfectly. When someone asks me what my favorite candy is, to this day¬†I still say Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

But in reality, as wonderful as chocolate and peanut butter are together, it’s just not something one can eat all the time. It’s almost too good – and as people, we are taught that we can’t have what’s too good for too long or too often. That’s not the way the world is, baby.¬†

Peanut butter finds a nice relationship with jelly – one that can be enjoyed every day forever. A PB&J sandwich makes perfect sense as a daily lunch choice. Not too overpowering, yet still quite tasty. As for chocolate, it’s a sexy snack all on its own. It pretty much pleases everyone most of the time, and can be fully enjoyed by itself, and often.

But, every so often, the two collide, causing a delicious taste explosion, like no other. We all need chocolate and peanut butter now and then. We all deserve it. Be thankful for the truly great experiences in your lives – they make it all worthwhile, even if they can’t be enjoyed all the time.¬†We always know that it’s there.

I was made for you.

just shoot me.

So, yesterday, I took part in a photo shoot for my book (which you can buy¬†in print or as an ebook, here). Let me just say that I am no stranger when it comes to the camera. I absolutely love having my picture taken, I love looking at my picture after it’s been taken, and I’ve been this way since I was able to recognize¬†myself in pictures. I guess you could call it vanity – but I don’t think anyone would really consider me vain (ok, maybe a little), but I feel it’s more a byproduct of just being flat-out fabulous.

Merriam-Webster defines “fabulous” as¬†¬†“resembling or suggesting a fable; of an incredible, astonishing, or exaggerated nature.”¬† As children, we often view the entire world as fabulous – everything is so new to us that it’s all incredible and astonishing, and who knows what lurks around the corner or in the woods.¬†

Sadly, as some of us age, we lose that sense of wonder; that belief that the world can be and is already fabulous. I have chosen to never lose my sense of “fabulous.” And although I can’t prevent aging, and I certainly don’t feel I’m immature by any means, I make a conscious effort every single day to observe and relish in all that is fabulous, as a child would. I’ll always love¬†sugar and candy. I’ll always swing on the swings. I’ll always wear pink and ruffles. I believe dessert IS the best part of every meal.¬† I bake, sing, run, and dress up everyday because these are fabulous things, yet all so simple in nature. So quit shying away from your inner fabulous. You were all kids once – you’ve definitely got it in you.

I came across this quote today, which pretty much sums up my principle of living:

There are two types of people: those who come into a room and say, ‘Well, here I am!’ and those who come in and say, ‘Ah, there you are.’

Well, here I am. And I’m fabulous.

super bon bon.

 

Yesterday, I had an intimate gathering of friends over for some grilling and chilling. There wound up being much more chilling than grilling, but that’s¬†another story (btw¬†– can someone teach me how to start up a gas grill, please?). Anyway, in lieu of this pending gathering, I thought it would be swell if I prepared a little dessert. I had chocolate on the brain, so I thought ice cream bon bons would be perfect! I had just recently seen a recipe for these in Food and Wine Magazine, and they looked tasty, and pretty simple, especially for someone who just completed a class solely dedicated to artisan chocolates. This recipe didn’t even call for the chocolate to be tempered, so there was no way to screw it up! Au contraire.

The guests were scheduled to arrive at 7. I figured these would take no time to prepare, so I began the bon bon¬†adventure around 6:30. The first batch of chocolate, I somehow ruined. I was able to squeak out one average-looking bon bon, but had to chuck the rest. Ok, sh*t happens, maybe I was rushing and got ahead of myself. Lets try this again. The problem was I didn’t have any of the high-quality chocolate left, and I assumed that because it didn’t have to be tempered anyway, I could just use the cheap crap.¬† My teacher would revoke my good grade if he only knew what I’d done. The chocolate melted unevenly, barely coated the bon bons, and wound up all over the counter, and myself.¬†I managed to make two more bon bons (if you could even dare to call them bon bons) with this mess.

sh*tty sh*tty bon bon.

At this point, is was about 7:20, and thankfully, all my guests were late. I decided to try one more time, with a random piece of chocolate I found in a bag. I was desperate. I don’t even know if what I was using was actual chocolate at this point. I mean, it tasted good, but it melted into a big blob, and was virtually unusable for all intents and purposes. That’s not to say to say I threw it out – like I said, it tasted good. I could use it for filling or mixed into a cake or something. I bagged it, and put in the fridge. At this point the doorbell rang, I had 3 barely bon bons, and everything was covered in chocolate. Awesome. The first thing my friend said when I let him in – “it smells really good in here – like chocolate!” At least some good came out of this.

I would not let these bon bons beat me, however. So we didn’t have them at the gathering. I still had something to prove. I know how to use chocolate. These easy ice cream bon bons will not crush my spirit! So, the next day, I tried again.

move aside, and let the man go through.

I had conquered the bon bon. Of course, it was when I was baking for no one. And now I have a freezer full of bon bons. So, yeah, if anyone can come teach me how to use a gas grill, there’s¬†bon bons in it for you. ūüėČ

marshmallow: the food of the gods.

Oh man, I love me some marshmallow. I always have. I also love the movie Ghostbusters, possibly to some degree because of its soft, white, billowy antagonist, Mr. Stay Puft.¬† (Truthfully, I have always been in love with Dr. Venkman.¬† If Dr. Venkman was a real dude, I’d…well, lets just say he’d be a very happy man.)

my first love.

¬†Back to marshmallows. So, yeah, I’ve always loved them. At the same time, all I knew of marshmallows were those odd tubular-shaped jawns¬†you buy in bags at the store.¬† Pretty good, right? Even better when roasted on a stick (I used to try to catch mine on fire – there’s just something about a flaming marshmallow that always appealed to me – go figure).

whats with the tube shape?

 

So, I’m plugging along, thinking tubular-shaped store-bought marshmallows are just the bees knees. Until May 9, 2011 – a day that will live in infamy. On that day, my friends, I learned how to make my own marshmallow.

if someone asks you if you're a god, you say YES!

I was elated and crushed all at the same time. This was better than that tube-shaped junk – a thousand times better! I’d been duped! Why, god, why??? I spent 35 years thinking marshmallow was already perfect, and then my romantic notion of soft white perfection was completely blown to pieces (just like Mr. Stay Puft).¬† However, sometimes, we need our lives shaken up a little – we need to cross the streams. Boring old marshmallows were great, sure, and I’ll never regret my 35 year addiction to them. But, sorry guys —¬†I’ve found my confectionery Dr. Venkman. ūüėČ