Like Coffee For Chocolate…

Many contemporary chocolate dessert recipes recommend adding a bit of coffee to the recipe claiming it enhances the flavor of the cocoa or chocolate.  It is true.  But which kind to add was the dilemma I faced a couple months ago.  I had run out of the usual Italian espresso powder that I normally kept on hand, and not having time to run up to Claro’s Italian store (about a 30 minute drive from me), I shopped around my local markets and ended up with a freeze dried instant…not a great product.

In hindsight, what I should have done was brew a cup of espresso and add the actual coffee to my recipe.  The liquid would have blended in just fine.  And while my brownies came out beautifully and received raves from those consuming them; I was a little more critical and was put off a bit by the coffee flavor coming through.  The coffee flavor stood out too much for my taste…it’s supposed to “enhance” the chocolate, not overpower it.  So, I learned something. It DOES matter which coffee product I use in my chocolate recipes. It matters to me.

Since then, I have purchased King Arthur’s Espresso Powder and used it to make my decadent, dense, dark chocolate brownies for my writing buddy, Hilary’s, big birthday luncheon…the brownies were incredible (if I say so myself).  But Hilary did say so.  She has tested and made my brownie recipe dozens of times and she told me these were seriously the best ever.  I used really good butter in the recipe and really good chocolate and really good espresso powder…so they came out …guess ….  REALLY Good! 🙂

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King Arthur espresso powder

King Arthur espresso powder

Note this label making the point that a touch of espresso powder enhances chocolate’s flavor withOUT any coffee flavor of its own.  That was the problem with my substitute…it actually eeked out coffee flavor.

The aroma of King Arthur’s espresso powder was subtle and rich…the instant coffee granules was harsh and bitter – (three of us actually did a blind “smell” test and we were a bit stunned by the difference in the quality of the aroma)…it merely reinforced that ingredients do matter…but sometimes when in a pinch, you just do the best you can. I have now trashed the instant coffee….never to be used again in my brownie recipe..

My petite brownies were consumed with fervor and a few taken to go for the ride home.

Decadent Dark Chocolate Brownies

Decadent Dark Chocolate Brownies

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The French Laundry Winter Vegetable Garden

While recently relaxing in the small town of Yountville in Napa Valley, California…aka “Kellerville” by some funny foodies, we enjoyed watching the vegetables grow in Chef Thomas Keller’s gardens which are directly across the road from his famed French Laundry Restaurant.  While we did not go to the French Laundry for a meal, we did enjoy one of his other restaurants in town…Bouchon Bistro (twice)…He also has a fun restaurant called Ad Hoc too…we aim to go there on the Monday nights they serve their famous fried chicken.  We missed it this time…as it is served every other Monday (shucks).

His gardens are inspiring….simple and beautifully managed (of course, what else would you expect from this renowned chef).  I get a kick out of seeing what’s growing, then guessing how it will be served that night in the restaurants.  It seems Romanesco Cauliflower was certainly on the menu in some form as there were rows and rows of it, ready for picking.

The French Laundry Gardens...simple and stunning

The French Laundry Gardens…simple and stunning

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The produce in the Napa Valley is stunning, prevalent, and truly most flavorful.  We enjoyed the best salads on this trip.  Both my husband and I came home having lost a few pounds as we ordered fresh salads and fish at almost every meal which hit the spot for us with flavor and seasonality.  The produce takes prime location on most menus in the valley…it should as it is sooooooo good.

I came home to see how my little lettuces, baby kale, and fresh dill were doing in pots outside our back door…they looked pretty good too…

Most restaurants in this area have some kind of garden outside their building where they are able to grow their own herbs and more.  It’s nice knowing the source of the ingredients we consumed.

No problem getting your five fruits and veggies a day in this  “produce basket” geography…that and a little wine…then a finish with a nice cup of tea (which they do right!) is perfect.

Enjoy

Farewell…Willie The Wonder Wiener Dog

Willie Bocephus Jones 10-28-98 - 3-9-13

Willie Bocephus Jones
10-28-98 to  3-9-13

My kitchen helper, floor cleaner, taster, and expert tomato picker passed away yesterday after 14 1/2 years of bringing our family enormous joy.  What a good little dog, with an enormous personality, who “ruled our house”.

Willie was consistently and doggedly underfoot whenever we were in the kitchen.  He had intense interest in any food we were preparing and exhibited traits which epitomized the hound dog – he was truly a chow hound.

While working on our Tea With Betty recipes, he was there for every one we tested.  He was particularly fond of the savory section in the book.

Here’s a small photo journal of my kitchen helper….

Willie boy... with me at Domaine Chandon and our friend giving him some water...stealing tomatoes, underfoot and relaxing ...usually under a blanket and in his niche on the back of the couch

Willie boy… with me at Domaine Chandon and our friend giving him some water…stealing tomatoes, underfoot and relaxing …usually under a blanket and in his niche on the back of the couch

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We rarely fed Willie human food…but he sure never missed a chance to try to “score” some… and I am, at times,  a bit of a messy cook.

As a pup….sunning himself…

As a pup...regally sunning himself

As a pup…regally sunning himself

Willie made several trips to the Napa Valley with us…the first, when he was 12 weeks old, the last, two weeks ago….here he is at one year old enjoying Domaine Chandon with our dear friends…

An older boy…In one of his favorite positions (other than the kitchen), buried under a blanket on the back of the couch…

God Bless You Willie…you are sorely missed already.

Tea Is Good…Simple As That!

Life Is Good ... TEA shirt...It is as simple as that....

Life Is Good … TEA shirt…It is as simple as that….

Tea with friends, even better.

This shirt conveys such an optimistic thought.  You may be familiar with the Life is Good brand of casual clothes…their motto is simple and positive – their goal to “spread the word of optimism.”  Their product quality is excellent, each item themed to an activity you might be enthused about.   My BFF  (and I mean that, as we have been best friends for over 40 years…) cheered me with this shirt as part of my Christmas gift.

A few months before the Christmas holiday, I asked my dear and best friend, T., if she wanted to move away from exchanging Christmas gifts – as our families are extending… she exclaimed, “No!  I already have your gift…I saw something that I just had to get for you!”  Well, I just love it!  It fits perfectly, expresses my feelings perfectly, and reminds me of our friendship and how well we know each other and takes my heart home whenever I wear it.

Having a cup of tea with a friend is one of my favorite things to do in life.  I mean, really, have you ever had anyone say to you, “let’s get together and have a cup of tea” and not have it be some version of a meaningful, relaxing, positive, energizing, or healing, meditative, collaborative experience?

I read a quote once that said, “if someone offers you a mint, take it.”  I say, “if someone asks you to meet them for a cup of tea”…just do it!…go!…take them up on it!  Life’s great moments can be experienced over a simple cup of tea.  Really.  It is as simple as that.