Seattle, con’t…

In case you’d like to read a first person account of my Holiday Chocolate Baking class in Seattle, Gluten-Free Girl came by to visit and posted about it at her site

And Sam posted about my class (and proposal) at Becks & Posh in San Francisco as well.

Seems like I’m leaving a few broken hearts in my wake!

The Best Chocolate Sauce Recipe

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I have to admit that this is my “Little Black Dress” that many women…and perhaps a few men (since I’m from San Francisco), consider their multi-purpose, never-fail-to-impress sexy black number hanging in their closet. I’m normally wary of recipes that call themselves “The Best” since often you make them, and they ain’t all that.

But of all the chocolate sauce recipes I’ve tasted over the years, this is the absolute favorite in my repertoire. I came up with it years ago when I was compelled to create a chocolate sauce that was rich, thick, glossy, and not loaded with butter or cream—this sauce has neither!)

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From golden profiteroles filled with vanilla ice cream, to a warm wedge of tender chocolate cake, I can’t imagine any chocolate dessert that wouldn’t be improved by being doused with a nice drizzle of this. I keep a container of chocolate sauce on hand, especially during the holidays, to dress up a simple dish of ice cream after an impromptu dinner or for a little treat in the afternoon when I crave something very chocolaty.

But often I just sneak a spoonful direct from the container.

The Best Chocolate Sauce
About 2 1/2 cups

  • 1 cup (250 ml) water
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (160 g) light corn syrup, agave nectar, or glucose
  • 3/4 cup (75 g) unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-processed)
  • 2 ounces (55 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the water, sugar, corn syrup (or agave or glucose), and cocoa powder.

2. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Once it’s just begun to simmer and boil, remove from heat and stir in the chopped chocolate until melted.

Serving: You should let the Chocolate Sauce stand for a few hours before serving, which will give it time to thicken a bit.

Storage: Store the chocolate sauce in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. Rewarm before serving.

(For those of you who have asked, the chocolate cake is the G√Ęteau Racines, from Ready for Dessert.)

Related Recipes and Links:

Chocolate FAQs

Cocoa Powder FAQs

Ingredients for American Baking in Paris

Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee

Chocolate Biscotti

Very Chocolate Cookies

Chocolate Scotcheroos

Coconut-Chocolate Macaroons

Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch

Chocolate-Dipped Florentines

Seattle

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Chicago Is My Kinda Town

I love Chicago.
Chicago is The Great American City. It’s a city that didn’t turn its back on it’s downtown, which is a modern, vibrant, and a beautiful metropolis marked by the great American invention: skyscrapers.

My favorite place to eat in Chicago is the Big Bowl. It was started by Bruce Cost, who I worked with several years ago as his pastry chef and I literally crave his food. (He’s cooked for me some of the most extraordinary Chinese food I’ve ever had. He’s perhaps the most naturally gifted chef I know.) I made sure to eat there at least once a day, chowing down on Kung Pao Chicken (which bears no resemblance to what’s served at your local Chinese place), slithery chow fun noodles, steamed dumplings stuffed with spicy chicken, and green tea mochi ice cream, a perfect little dessert, wrapped in a paste of rice flour.

I ate well no matter where I went and I met wonderful folks at the Sur La Table stores in Chicago and Naperville. One such wonderful folk-person/local I got to meet was Barrett of Too Many Chefs at the Bongo Room for a modern take on the great American hybrid; Sunday Brunch.
Crammed into this café with several hundred other people, we drank bottomless cups of Joe and I watched in awe as Mrs. Barrett polished off an astounding breakfast of French Toast with Toffee Butter, Creme Anglaise…topped with a scoop of ice cream!

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Later, of course, I paid a visit to the new Hershey chocolate store where I found the world’s largest Hershey’s Kiss….(which looked almost as dangerous as a giant M & M)…

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And there was some, er, yummy looking muffins which I, um, declined to sample…
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And tucked away in the corner of the store were bars of Scharffenberger chocolate, which was recently acquired by Hershey’s. It seems a bit out of place in this emporium of excess.

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I was very sad not to be able to get a bag of Garrett’s caramel corn.
The first time I stopped by, the line snaked out the door, and I said to myself, “No way!”

Then I sauntered around the neighborhood a bit, went to the Apple store, but the craving within me was growing to strong to ignore for a sack of their fabulous warm caramelized popcorn, so I got back in line. I waited 20 minutes, it moved very little, and when I heard the wait was over 2 hours, I decided to skip it and return back to my hotel, sad and empty-handed.

But the next day when I was across the street I noticed there was no line snaking out the door, just the people inside, and I practically got run over by a bus racing to get over there. Unfortunately after another 20 minute wait, I realized the line wasn’t moving this day either (they must employ French civil servants), and left empty-handed.

Coming back to America is always a bit of a culture shock. While I love going into Walgreen’s and finding everything from scrunchies to munchies, you come across something like this…

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…and as hard as I try, I’m unable to write about it.

Where does one begin?

(Long pause of silence)

At the airport, I found a Corner Bakery, which I’ve dubbed, “The Little Bakery That Should“. Scattered throughout America, these convenient ‘bakeries’ serve full meals, as well as coffee drinks and baked goods. Unfortunately the food isn’t very good and the pastries and baked items are sad reminders of what makes a true corner bakery so wonderful: fresh and wholesome treats, baked with pride.

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Just prior to take-off, on my way to Seattle, I spooned up their Swiss Yogurt Cup, which was the only thing on the menu that didn’t make my teeth chatter from excessive sweetness.

Time to put on my polarfleece and Teva’s and head to Seattle and Portland…

Thoughts From Richmond Airport, USA

-Does anyone really watch all the reruns of “Saved By The Bell” that run all morning on television?

-Why is the air-conditioning turned on full-blast, everywhere…in December?

-Why can’t they open a Rite Aid in Paris? I love a drugstore that sells yogurt, socks, and clocks with singing Bass.

-What insane person first decided to manufacture yogurt with gelatin in it?

-I am certain that Tyra Banks is a Vulcan.

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-I am certain that Larry King will one day peel off his head and reveal himself to be an alien intent on sucking the content from American minds.

-Does anyone actually finish one of those jumbo caramel-flavored coffees with a pile of whipped cream from Starbucks?

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My daily espresso, from Starbucks

-Does anyone actually buy a copy of USA Today or do the same copies float from person to person at airports?

-Why does Oprah appearing as a guest of David Letterman make national news headlines?

-It’s so easy to forget how vibrant and beautiful the colors of the changing leaves are when you drive around the east coast of America.

-Next year for Thanksgiving, I will give thanks there’s no French equivalent of Nancy Grace.

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-Thank goodness for Starbucks.
Say what you want, but before they came along, it was impossible to get a decent cup of coffee almost anywhere in America when on the road.

-Three arguments why Americans should be constitutionally prohibited from making “croissants”

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The Mexican Virginian

One of the greatest things about America is the cultural mix. Which often means that you can get great food in the unlikeliest of places. Like very good Mexican food in, um, Virginia!

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A previously satisfied customer?

Arlington, Virginia, is best known for the cemetary and a large, five-sided building called the Pentagon. (There’s lots of military people lurking in the Metro and on the streets, which feels somewhat disconcerting.)
It’s an unlikely place for good Mexican food, but I found it at Oyamel.

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It wouldn’t be Mexican without chips ‘n salsa verde
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Tacos stuffed with Carnitas ‘Cristina la Guera: Braised baby pig with tomatilla salsa, cilantro, and crispy-fried pork skin
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Corn puffs seasoned with chopped avocado leaves stuffed with…
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…guacamole!

Oyamel
2250-B Crystal Drive
Arlington, VA
Tel: 703-413-2288

Au Revoir Paris

Upon arrival at Paris’ Roissy airport, I notice that lots of people seem to be smiling and no one is trying to cut in front of me in line and many of the people are toting self-help bestsellers with semi-bald men grinning on the glossy front jackets.
Yes, I’m on my way back to the United States of America.

I got upgraded, which is like winning the lottery. I don’t know if those people at the airline check-in know how just tapping one extra key during their flurry of keystrokes can make my entire journey so much more pleasant, but there’s nothing better than sitting up in the front in the plane (instead of walking by, ruefully, on my slouch to economy). I’m able to stretch my long legs and have the possibility of a few treasured moments of real sleep (sans Ambien) before I arrive.

So here I sit, in United’s Red Carpet Club and I’m looking at a copy of USA Today. The headline reads, “Holiday sale dip, then they dazzle”. The International Herald Tribune, the paper of Europe, has the headline, “EU Warns Members of CIA Terror Camps”.
Inside USA Today, they’ve requested readers write about what they’re thankful for, and a woman writes, “….while I deeply resent the unchecked and increasing numbers of illegal immigrants streaming across our porous borders, I am thankful to live in a land of opportunity so sought after by those who don’t live in such a country.”

Note to Doris: Perhaps you might give thanks that you don’t live in a country where you live in fear for your life on a daily basis, where there’s plenty of food to go around, and you have a roof over your head, rather than using it as an opportunity to complain about immigration (something I’m sure her grandparents, like most of ours, benefited from.)

Since I wasn’t sure of my euphoria-inducing upgraded status, I packed a nifty lunch of two hard-boiled eggs from my local fromagerie, French yogurt (which I’ll dearly miss), salade de carrotte rapée (grated carrots with lemon juice, which is the national salad of France), and a split baguette smeared with butter and slices of silky jambon de Bayonne. I’m also fortified with a small packet of chocolate-covered coffee beans from Slitti, one of my favorite chocolate shops in Italy, which do double-duty for chocolate or coffee related urgencies.

On the plane, I flip through the airline magazine, which highlights some of Todays Hottest Young Chefs! Several of them have devised ways of using chemicals and stabilizers to create a celebrated new genre of cuisine.
Huh? Didn’t most of us spend the last few years trying to get people to stop adding chemicals and stabilizers to food?

So last week I had a final Paris food blow-out when my pal DL 2 came from Switzerland. We took the opportunity to visit one of my favorite traditional restaurants in Paris: A la Biche Au Bois. I’ve been eating there for years and it’s a favorite, with a well priced menu for only 23 euros and lively dining room that offers a wonderful tour de force of rustic French cooking.

I began with the salade Perigordine; a memorable slab of foie gras with a big pile of haricots vertes (freshly cooked and still a bit crispy, trés americaine). I almost couldn’t make it through the whole slice. As you can see, it’s was e-n-o-r-m-o-u-s….

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I figured since was restaurant titled after la biche herself (deer), I should sample the namesake; tonight she’s offered in a casserole as a long-simmered stew with a dark, rich sauce. Alongside comes a smooth and excellent purée of celery root. My meal was excellent and hearty and I make a mental note to eat here more often.

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Distractingly, our waiter kept passing the table with platters heaped with homemade, and remarkable-looking, crispy French fries. They were deep-golden brown, with wisps of steam rising, served on metal platters. So naturally I wanted to get a plate, but in Paris when you become a waiter, they implant special lenses in your eyes that allow you to only look forward and block out customers who might make special requests…so we didn’t get any.

No matter.
The service was cheerful and accommodating and we drank a nice bottle of Burgundian Pinot Noir. I finished my meal with one of my favorite desserts: a towering mound of snow-white Ile Flottante, baked and caramelized meringue floating in icy cold creme Anglaise and a drizzle of dark caramel.
A complimentary glass of warming Armagnac was offered to fend off the frozen evening chill outside, and we made our way home.

The next day, we made a pilgrimage to Pierre Hermé, this time his large boutique on the rue de Vaugirard, which is less-hectic than the location on rue Bonaparte and has a tad more breathing room.

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Pierre Hermé’s newest ‘collection’ was on full display and we first chose a few macarons Plénitude, a mélange of chocolate ganache and caramel with fleur de sel fused together with disks of almondy meringue cookies.

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I’ve been looking for the opportunity to try Emotion Mahogany, but was scared of carrying the fragile little glass across Paris via the Metro (as regular readers to my blog know, I’ve had too many unfortunate experiences trying to navigate Paris, and Parisians in a hurry, while carrying a cake.)

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As you can see, I need not have worried. I guess the folks at Pierre Hermé are used to customers having to deal with Parisians walking right into them carrying a fragile cake or dessert.

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At the bottom of the glass were of coarsely chopped litchees. On top of that was a smooth layer of mango compote, then a bit of caramel mousse and topped with tender, tiny coconut marshmallows.

You’re meant to dig your spoon deep down into the glass and get a layer of each flavor in every mouthful, which is impossible without all the marshmallows tumbling off. (So don’t try to eat this on a park bench. The marshmallows are the best part!)
It was tasty, but I would have liked something a bit tangy to brighten the flavors. Perhaps a layer of dark rum or very dark caramel or citrusy lime mousse.

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The other dessert we tried was a masterpiece of engineering. Le Instant, a bittersweet chocolate shell enrobing chocolate mousse and a nugget of Earl Grey tea gelés buried within. While tasty, it was awfully sweet and after so much eating (we’d had fabulously filling savory and sweet crepes for lunch and dessert at my favorite creperie in Paris, near the Gare Montparnasse) neither one of us showed much interest in it Pierre Hermé doesn’t like very bitter chocolate desserts…but I do. So we the rest was, unfortunately, left.

It was hard to eat without making a mess.

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Sigh.
My last memories of Paris…

P√Ętisserie Arnaud Larher

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The worst thing about the pâtisserie of Arnaud Larher is that it’s too dang far away from where I live. Located on the northern fringes of Montmarte, it takes me 3 different métros to get there, and even then, it’s a hike from the métro station (which is buried very, very deep underground, since that quartier of Paris is mostly soft limestone, aka plaster of Paris, and building the métro stations at Montmarte required extremely deep digging into the earth to reach solid ground.)

The best thing, though, is once I arrive, I forget the arduous journey when I see all the terrific cakes and candies and treats waiting for me…

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I made my first trip ‘up the mountain’ a few years back to check out his Croq-Télé, round buttery cookies with roasted hazelnuts and a nice amount of salt, meant to be consumed while watching television. His macarons are a tad dense for my taste, but the chocolate-covered guimauve, or French marshmallows, are yummy.

And although they’re hard to spot tucked in between the riot of chocolates and bonbons tied in neat little bags on the shelves, the Pavés de Montmartre, golden squares of almond cake wrapped in a sheath of almond paste then briefly cooked, augmenting the almondy richness, are one of the most singularly (and simply) stunning cakes in Paris. No small feat, in a city with no lack of stunning desserts.

Arnaud Larher
53, rue Caulaincourt
Paris
Mètro: Lamark Caulaincourt