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Posts Tagged ‘chocolate’

While browsing through the current issue of the Whole Living magazine, I came across an article about snacks. Avocado with Black Bean Salsa, Sharp Cheddar, Hummus, and Sprouts, Dry-Roasted Edamame with Cranberries, Chocolate Apricot Nut Bars… I don’t know if I was hungry at that particular time, but all of them sounded super tasty. No?!? I decided to make the Chocolate Apricot Nut Bars.

The recipe is super simple. You pulse 1½ cups of apricots with ½ cup toasted almonds, 2 teaspoons of toasted coconut flakes (I used a lot more since I had shredded coconut), and a pinch of salt until finely ground. You then add the mixture into a dish lined with parchment paper, and spread it pressing firmly to form it into a block.

Lastly, you remove the formed bar from the dish, drizzle it with 2 ounces of melted chocolate (I used unsweetened chocolate), and sprinkle it with a bit of toasted coconut flakes. Before cutting it into bars, refrigerate it until firm, about 15 minutes. That’s it! So simple, but so delicious!

As I was making the bars, I thought of other different dried fruits that I can experiment with. Dates, figs, raisins… the possibilities are endless!

If you are looking for a good snack, I highly recommend these bars. I look forward to eating them throughout the week. (Except that Joel informed me that they will be gone in 2 days. HA!)

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I am very excited to tell you about my Passover dinner. It was just delicious! Every year I find myself asking the same question… “What should I make for Passover dinner??”. Of course the traditional dish is brisket, but I cannot get myself to make it. After searching a few of my trusted food related sites, the menu was set:

The Seder plate was the easiest and simplest item to create. It contained horseradish, hard boiled egg, parsley, and ḥărōset, which are all traditional items. A shank bone is also traditional, but I omitted it. Also, I used grape juice instead of wine for the ḥărōset and it worked just as well.

The kugel is the traditional recipe, which Joel’s mom shared with me a long time ago. It is super simple to make. It contains dried prunes, dried apricots, raisins (I used currants since I like them more), diced apple, matzo (of course), which is soaked and squeezed dry, fresh orange juice, eggs, a bit of sugar, and cinnamon. You simply mix all the ingredients and then bake it. YUM!

When I was questioning Joel what to make for dinner, he requested matzah ball soup, so I could not let him down. I usually make his mom’s traditional soup, which is super delicious but the recipe requires lots of vegetable chopping, so I did not feel up to making it. Also, cooking onion and garlic still smells appalling due to my food aversion, so that was another reason why I did not want to make it. I opted for a simple soup, which included broth, matzah balls, thinly sliced carrots, and fresh dill. The matzah balls were from Joel’s mom’s soup, except that I omitted the sautéed scallions. For the broth, I used my favorite stock called Better Than Bouillon Organic Chicken Base. This is the best stock that I have ever used! They also make a vegetable stock, which is just as delicious. The soup was super! I am excited that I now have a more simple soup recipe.

And then there were the Salmon Cakes. Oh my! These are the best fish related dish that I have ever made! And the best thing about it is that the cakes were super easy to make! You simply sauté some carrots and leeks. You cube the salmon and whirl it in the food processor. You then combine the salmon and the sautéed vegetables with eggs, matzo meal, salt, and pepper, form them in a bunch of small patties, and pan-fry them for about 3 minutes on each side. That’s it! Aside from the actual cakes, the accompanying sauce was also super! The sauce includes cucumber, mayo, horseradish, fresh parsley, fresh chives, and salt and pepper. The two together created a delicious mélange! I served them with a side of simple salad. The recipe is definitely a keeper!

Chocolate Cake with Espresso Glaze… need I say more?? I found the cake on the Martha Stewart web site. Passover dishes cannot contain flour, so the cake was flourless. This was also a simple recipe. You melt the butter and chocolate chips in a double boiler. You then beat the egg yolks with some sugar until fluffy and thick and then add instant espresso, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture. Then you beat the egg whites with a bit more sugar until stiff peaks form. Lastly, you fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. That’s it.

The accompanying sauce also made this dish even more delicious. The sauce was just as easy to make. You simply boil some milk (I used almond milk), with a bit of sugar, instant espresso, and salt and then pour the milk mixture over some chocolate chips and butter, whisking until the chocolate and butter are melted. And voilà, you have a super delicious chocolate sauce! We ate ¾ of the cake and almost the entire bowl of sauce. Yes… it was that good!

Happy Passover!

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I am always searching for desserts that are made with oil versus butter. As I was looking through my new cookbook Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours by Kimberly Boyce, I came across the Olive Oil Cake recipe. “Perfect!”, I thought. Aside from the olive oil, the recipe also includes spelt flour, rosemary, and chocolate chips. I was very excited to try the cake. I did try chocolate and rosemary together before. Kristin gave me a chocolate bar a few months ago that included rosemary in it. It worked beautifully!

The cake was very easy to make. You mix the dry ingredients, you mix the wet ingredients, then you mix the dry and wet ingredients together and voilà… you have the cake batter. Oh, and don’t forget about mixing in the chocolate chips. They are a must!

I did make a few adjustments to the recipe. Perhaps I should not have done that, since it was my first time making it. But I could not get myself to use 1 cup of oil. I cut it down to 3/4 of cups. I felt the same about the sugar. I understand that it is a dessert, but I don’t like overly sweet desserts. I only omitted a 1/4 of a cup, so that was not so bad. :) Since I cut down on the oil, I decided to compensate it with an additional 1/4 cup of milk. Lastly, I am not a huge fan of rosemary. I know what you are thinking… “Why would you make a cake with rosemary in it if you do not like it?”. Well, I like it ok, but just not in huge quantities. So I cut down the rosemary to only 1 Tablespoon versus the required 1 1/2 Tablespoons.

Well, even after all my adjustments, the cake turned out pretty tasty! The cake is somewhat dense, but still spongy. Also, the rosemary flavor was very prominent, which made the cake a bit savory. I really do like the chocolate and rosemary flavors together. In this recipe, the spelt flour is more for healthiness than flavor, since it has the benefits that are common with all the whole grains. It does have a slightly nutty flavor, but since the recipe does not use very much of it, it is not very apparent. (If you want to try other baked goods with spelt flour, you should give Newman’s Own Spelt pretzels a try. They are great! I like them more than regular pretzels.) My only disappointment was the olive oil flavor. I could not taste it too much. I guess I should have used the full cup of olive oil. HA!

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My oven went on strike the day before Thanksgiving. It was in the middle of baking my favorite chocolate pecan pie, when suddenly the temperature rose from 350 degrees to broil temperature. A perfectly good-looking pie burnt to a crisp. “How can it do that to me?”, I thought. After all, I always give it really good things to bake… pizzas, cookies, quesadillas, just to name a few things. Perhaps it was tired. It did bake a pumpkin pie prior to baking the chocolate pecan pie.

I was faced with a dilemma. I still had to roast sweet potatoes, bake the sweet potato casserole, and most importantly, I had to roast the turkey. After a few hours of negotiating, it was decided that I would give it a rest in between baking/roasting.

The oven behaved nicely the rest of the day. My dishes came out perfect. I even baked another chocolate pecan pie. Apparently, just like with anything in life, you have to show your oven some love from time to time. What have you done for your oven lately? :)

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Last week I was lucky enough to spend 5 days (yes… 5 days!!) on the beach. My friend Kristin and I were talking about vacations, when she mentioned that she was thinking about visiting her parents who live in Jacksonville, Florida. She suggested that I should join her. How can you say no to such an offer?!?

We of course went straight to the beach as soon as we arrived in Jacksonville. I had forgotten how much I like the beach and the ocean. I have not been near the ocean in a very long time. I did go to the Black Sea a little over 3 years ago, so that kind of counts. :) I really love the sound of the waves. If it were not for my fair skin, I would have spent the entire 5 days simply laying on the beach.

Don’t get me wrong… we did spend a fair amount of time on the beach. We went to the beach every morning, and spent about 2 hours laying on the beach, chatting, playing Frisbee, reading, playing in the water, searching for shells, doing cartwheels, and just laying in the water near the shore.

Cartwheels on the beach!

My shell collection.

As some of you might already know, I have a fear of water and I don’t know how to swim. So my water experience is limited. Simply laying in the water is heaven for me. I did go in the water up to my stomach once. That was a little unnerving though. I don’t like the feel of the current grabbing my legs. I felt safer near the shore.

While planning our trip, Kristin mentioned a few places that we should visit. We spent one afternoon in St Augustine. My favorite part of the visit was our late lunch at The Present Moment Café. It’s an organic raw food place.

The food was just amazing!! Who would have thought that raw food can taste so good! I ordered the Land and Sea Salad Plate, which was their own rendition of a Tuna salad. The unTuna was made from sunflower and almond pate and it was topped with a lemon caper sauce. The dish also included a seaweed salad as well a mixed green salad with a citrus dressing. I loved it! The unTuna and sauce were just delicious! I did have lunch envy, however. Kristin ordered the Sunlight Burger, which was made from walnut, sunflower, almond, carrot, and zucchini. It was served open faced and topped with a tomato slice, cashew “Provolone” cheese, and caramelized onions. It was just heaven!! Kristin’s mom ordered the pizza special. I cannot remember all the ingredients, but it was topped with olives, peppers, spinach, and maybe artichokes. The pizza was equally delicious.

Sunlight Burger

Pizza special

Oh, but there is more… I do have to mention the desserts. Kristin’s mom and I ordered the Chocolate Marble Torte with Drunken Banana. The torte was made from raw cacao with a bit of chili and spice and it was served with sliced bananas that were drizzled with rum. Kristin mentioned the dessert prior to our visit and it lived up to her praise. It was just delicious!!

Chocolate Marble Torte with Drunken Banana

But I once again had lunch envy! Kristin ordered the Brownie Sundae, which included a few pieces of cacao brownies, cashew vanilla ice cream (yes… ice cream made from cashews!), and it was topped with dark cherries and candied pecans. It was out of this world!! If you are ever in Jacksonville, you should definitely take a drive to St Augustine and go to the café. You will not be disappointed!

Kristin and her mom.

St Augustine was fun! The main “downtown” area is filled with narrow cobblestone streets, which also include lots of small shops and restaurants. We stopped in a few shops. My favorite was a skateboarding/surf shop. I managed to find a mini jean skirt there, which was perfect for the warm Florida weather. :) It was a fun shop! We also managed to find the best chocolatier in Florida. The shop is called Claude’s Chocolate. Aside from their chocolates, they had the best chocolate covered orange slices! YUM! Joel was happy that I brought some back for him to enjoy.

Building in downtown Fernandina Beach.

We spent another afternoon in Fernandina Beach. Kristin grew up in Fernandina Beach, so I was excited to visit. The drive from Jacksonville was pretty. Kristin’s parents took the most scenic route. We drove over a few bridges and on the scenic roads near Fort Clinch State Park. Kristin showed me around the area, including the street where she used to live, the schools that she went to, the place where she took tennis lessons, as well as the 1st few places where she worked.

Kristin's 2nd job. Her favorite task was making the waffle cones. :)

It was fun to experience her childhood. I told her that I would love to show her where I spent my childhood, but that would be an expensive trip down memory lane. :) Maybe someday! Kristin also took me to a true surf shop, which I loved! It was called Driftwood Surf Shop.

Palm trees in downtown St Augustine.

Our last day in Florida included one last trip to the beach as well as a quest for fish tacos. I have this thing for fish tacos. :) We scoped out a place that received great reviews in a local paper. We drove to the noted address to find out that the place was no longer in business. I guess we did not think to call to make sure that they were still there. “So what did you do?” you ask. We went to this great place where we enjoyed some freshly caught grouper. YUM! Throughout the entire trip, I kept asking Kristin about going to what I called “a shack”. You know… a place where the locals gather to eat fresh fish. Well, Kristin’s dad had the best place in mind. The place was called Chowder Ted’s. They apparently are well known for their chowder, hence the name. This place is also a must if you are ever in Jacksonville.

Kristin and her dad.

I truly enjoyed my trip! I felt so lucky to be able to spend 5 days on the beach with such wonderful company. It was also really nice to meet Kristin’s parents. They were so nice to me, which I am very grateful for.

I look forward to our next trip!

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On Friday night, Joel and I along with our friend Kristin went to the new wine and chocolate place called Chocolate and Vines. It is located on University Avenue near Craft Company No. 6. I saw the sign for it as I was walking back to my car after attending the Clothesline Festival in September. I was excited, since I love chocolate and wine. :)

The place is a cross between a wine bar and a coffee shop, and is located in an old Victorian house. The house is beautiful, but the atmosphere was so-so. The “dining” area is separated into two rooms with stark white tables and dark comfy dining chairs (a nice touch). The walls were stenciled with gold Fleur-de-Lis emblems and crystal chandeliers were hanging from the ceiling. I was kind of put off by the still-lingering fresh paint odor as well as the men/women’s bathroom signs. They stuck out like a sore thumb. :( Both Kristin and I thought that they could have done better as far as the signs go. Also, it was a little too bright in there. Perhaps they should add a dimmer switch so they can make it cozier. Lastly, the pool table in an adjoining room was a little odd. I suppose it could be fun to play pool and have some wine and chocolate. Although, I am not sure that the rest of the guests would appreciate the noise.

Now on to the menu. The menu contained a few pages dedicated to wine, a small section dedicated to beer and desserts, and a fairly large section dedicated to chocolates. The prices for the chocolates range from $1.50 to $2.25 (I think) per piece. Also, according to our waitress, the chocolates are crafted by a chocolatier from Miami and the desserts, including the cheesecakes, are flown in from Italy.

After a long wait (I don’t think that they were expecting a full house), we finally ordered. We decided to share a bottle of red wine, a Merlot to be exact, which was very tasty and fairly priced, considering that it is a restaurant. Joel and I both picked 3 dark chocolates and Kristin picked 2 dark and 1 “non-dark” chocolate with hazelnuts (I can’t recall its name). The chocolates were pretty good. I would not rave about them though. The chocolates that I had at David Bacco Chocolats in Madison, WI were memorable. If you are ever in Madison, it is a must!! :) Also, Kristin read in The City that they are supposed to “focus on pairing wines and micro-brews with cheese, truffles, mousses, and other desserts”. The menu did not suggest any pairings for the drinks and desserts or chocolates. Asking our waitress for pairing suggestions was not very helpful. She did say that the red wine that we picked pairs nicely with the dark chocolates that we selected. That was not a big surprise. Any red wine pairs nicely with chocolate. Perhaps next time we should pick a beer and see what they suggest as far as the chocolate goes. Also, 4 out of the 7 desserts that they offered were cheesecakes. I was very surprised that they did not offer a chocolate cake. We mentioned to our waitress that it would be nice if they offered more cakes and less cheesecake. She was happy to listen to our feedback, which was nice. I guess they are still working out the kinks, since they have only been opened for a week. Perhaps I should give them another chance.

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