Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chocolate Eggs, Rabbits, and Petit Fours--Oh My!

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

I can remember that when I was a little girl chocolate was a part of holidays in suburbia, where I grew up. Saint Patrick's Day was a big event because my mother was part Irish. And I can't forget the dark chocolate cupcakes with green icing.
During spring, for Easter, oversized baskets full of chocolate-covered rabbits and chocolate fruit-and-nut eggs were par for the course. Once I was grown up, these traditions tagged along with me and my family. I received a box of Godiva chocolates from a boyfriend paired with a big chocolate fruit-filled-egg for Easter.
These days, my taste for chocolate has soared to more sophisticated, creative creations. One of my favorite chocolate companies is Christopher Norman Chocolates which I praise in my book The Healing Powers of Chocolate. Last year, Chocolatier John Down's whimsical creations arrived on my doorstep. I loved the petit fours: hand-painted pastries that include dark chocolate and strawberry. When I spoke to John on the phone, I got a sense of his style, pasion, and an artist's touch that makes sense to me that his chocolates are an adventure.
The other day, I glanced at Christopher Norman's web site and I wasn't surprised. Their Easter collection is amazing. Here, take a look at their descriptions of two delights:
* Petit Fours Coupling: Sensuous and evocative, these hand crafted chocolate dipped petit fours are moist pieces of cake layered with flavored ganache...enveloped in soft chocolate, and topped with a hand-painted chocolate flower tile. Includes Dark Chocolate Strawberry and White Chocolate Coconut.
* Painted Egg: The eggs are crafted from mixing a range of colors with our blend of chocolates. It features a dark chocolate shell, topped with a layer of tinted white chocolate, which highlights their designs, piped in a spontaneous line drawing. The result is a deepily mystifying colored edible shell.
No doubt, these Easter treats are for chocolate lovers who love extraordinary chocolates. So much TLC is infused into Christopher Norman Chocolates. Yes, these chocolates are for both kids and grown ups who want chocolate that is a cut above. And yes, there is time to put your order in so you and yours, like me, can enjoy a colorful, chocolatey springtime Easter that is as unforgettable as life on the big screen in the wonderful world of The Wizard of Oz.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Let's Have a Chocolate Fest!

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

Yesterday, I was a radio guest on the Donna Seebo Program. This charming host read a poem I used in my new book The Healing Powers of Chocolate. The poem is moving and she read it with conviction. It was a good moment and it touched me...
The author of the chocolate poem is geologist Jim Berkland. Thus, I called him this morning and shared the news. After all, I am his biographer for the book The Man Who Predicts Earthquakes. And, he has been a dear friend and mentor to me (a surrogate father type of figure in my life) who I've known for more than 20 years. Our bond is dogs (this was a great link between my late dad and me), cats, quake predictions, earth changes--and more--including chocolate.
I recall during a past book tour, we were en route back to Lake Tahoe from Reno's Barnes and Noble bookstore, and we both wanted to stop at The Chocolate Factory. They closed their doors one minute before we got there and did not open them to us--two devout chocolate lovers. It was their loss--we would have spent a more than less. So, I want to share his timeless chocolate-related poem with you.

Chocolate Sampler

Dark chocolate I like a lot;
Milk chocolate's too tame.
It's not like when I was a tot
And ate sweets with no shame.

Then chocolate chips could pass my lips
As fondly as a kiss;
Hot cups of cocoa in sweet sips
Produced a state of bliss.

A scuffle for a truffle would
Endanger a loss of a friend.
I ncer could eschew a chew
Or carmelic blend.

They say The Olmecs harvested the bean
And treasured it to no end.
Columbus brought it to the Queen
To start a royal trend.

The nectar would be taxed so high
The peasants could not pay
Nobility would shut their tea
For cocoa every day.

Now Single-Origin's the prize
For devotees I've heard;
The Swiss and Swedes would say likewise
Since they have gotten word.

There's Baker, Hershey, Lindt and all
Competing with the best;
I savor competition's call...
Let's have a chocolate fest!

In The Healing Powers of Chocolate, accepted by The Good Cook Book Club (I include more than 50 recipes from well-known chocolatiers, chefs, cookbook authors, and Hershey's.) Today, I made homemade fudge and used Ghirardelli chocolate chips (60% cocoa content). Instead of walnuts I chose almonds, almond extract, and European style butter, and fresh half and half organic milk. It is a spin-off of the French Silk Fudge created by the National Confectioners Association. Yes, I am happy with the different taste with fresh changes. It's made my day complete.
Today, after a to die for swim (the pool was empty) and a rejuvenating private hot tub (again), I sold a chocolate book to a chocolate lover. And, I found the complete Healing Powers series in the gift shop at the resort hotel. (It sold out before Valentine's Day.) All in all, it is a good day for a dedicated chocolatarian at heart.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I'm Feeling Good Vibrations with Good Chocolate

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

So it's Sunday evening and I was feeling kind of seasick as the song goes in the film The Net (when stay-at-home workaholic Bullock finishes her day and we see her life is linked to the computer). It's been one of those days where I've been weighing the pros and cons in my real life. Fun? Not so much. So, rather than hit the kitchen (I did that yesterday for the What's Cookin' at Callie's Cabin column in the Tahoe Daily Tribune)--I just savored a piece of dark chocolate. Did it make me feel good? Oh yeah...
As I wrote in my book The Healing Powers of Chocolate: "Stress can be caused by many factors, whether it is due to the ebb and flow of life's emotional, financial, physical, or mental stressors, which can affect your general well-being (at any age). Today, I'm feeling a bit of all the above. But chocolate created with good intentions may help more than you know.
Here's proof: One study found that 1 ounce of Intentional Chocolate (a premium chocolate embedded with focused good intentions by experienced meditators) eaten over three days increased test subjects' well-being, vigor, and energy by an average of 67 percent, and, in some cases, even more. Researchers discovered that those who ate chocolate reaped health benefits, including decreased stress, increased energy, less fatigue, greater calmness, and enhanced focus."
These findings do not surprise me. At all. While dark chocolate did give me a feel-good boost, so did eating a bowl of fresh strawberries which I enjoyed this morning. Both foods are rich in anti-stress antioxidants which we need when life tosses us a curve ball (or two). And that's not all.
Dark chocolate boasts mood enhancers, including endorphins, PEA which has been called the "love drug" because it can mimic feelings of falling in love, serotonin, the brain chemical that can make you feel happier and improve brain power, and others I discuss in the chocolate book.
For me, chocolate is like the great swimmer's feel-good high I get after a workout. And you know, enjoying good chocolate-the good stuff--is just like tuning into that classic boomers' fave Beach Boys song Good Vibrations. No kidding. I'm feeling good vibes. "Good good vibrations..."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Swimming in Bagel Land

By Cal Orey,

The Writing Gourmet

Yesterday I lost one family member: one of my dear goldfish passed and is likely swimming in fish Shangri-la. It was an odd accident and I prefer not to give you the fishy details but it made me sad. I remember after the Angora Fire at South Lake Tahoe, I lost Romeo and Juliet (two goldfish I had for five years) to a well-meaning neighbor who took care of them. (Note: Do not change fish water daily.) And I cried for three days at least. It was a Shakespearean tragedy of sorts. Anyhow, the orange and white no-name fish is gone (when you moniker your fish they will break your heart when they go to utopia). So, today I adopted two more multi-colored goldfish when I purchased my Brittanys' dog food. Those two fun-loving, carefree 40 pounders eat more than I do. Okay, that was the sad news. Looking at the lox made me think of my lost fish like in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea...
Enter bagels. On the upside, life does go on and I'm currently in bagel nirvana. On the weekend, I brought home a dozen of a bagels, including whole grain, onion, plain, and sesame seed types. I had forgotten how wonderful bagels are and how versatile they can be.
Back in my starving college days (similar to the ongoing Great Recession) I lived on bagels fixed in many ways, which I bought in the student union. It was a great treat to have a server dress up the bagel of your dreams. It was an on-the-go student's meal in itself. This past memory is a reminder for me to do go to Bagel Land for the week. Here's today's easy does it bagel recipe followed by a bowl of fresh strawberries that I enjoyed for my post-swim. My mantra: I wish I was a fish.
* * *
Fishless Bagelwich

* * *
1 onion bagel, sliced, toasted
2 tablespoons cream cheese
2 sliced roma tomatoes
2 slices avocado
1 tablespoon black olives
mixed dark green lettuce
alfalfa sprouts

I decided to forego eating fish for a few days. I enjoyed this bagelwich in front of the aquarium in my study/dining room. Images of the beautiful beta (I almost brought him/her home) lingered in my mind as I ate the vegan sandwich, bite by bite. I'm glad I left out the lox this time around. I swear I was a mermaid in my former life--and there better be an infinity pool in heaven. (I'm Catholic.) Today, tourists (plenty of 'em young ones) were amid me in the water but it was doable. I pretended they were man eating sharks and still got a good swim. No matter about the kid who did a cannonball about 6 inches from my head and his parent who behaved oblivious. The private hot tub with an awesome relaxing ambiance made up for the challenge of getting my laps in--and it was my reward.
So, I leave you today with the word that I'm now sliding into my bagel phase and will probably provide a few more bagel delights in the upcoming days. I wonder how I'll incorporate chocolate into a bagel--a crossiant, yes. I'm sure if there is a will there is a way. I miss my fish with no name.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

How to Be a Happy 'n' Healthy Chocolatarian

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

Ah, sweet Valentine's Day! It's one of the most romantic times of a chocolate lover's year. This morning at 7:30 A.M., chocolatier Michael Recchiuti and I were guests on the San Francisco Bay Area's KSFO radio show. We talked about chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. And it was today that I announced that I am a "chocolatarian." In other words, I simply incorporate quality chocolate (all different forms from hot cocoa to hot mole) into my daily diet at least five days per week...
For a half hour we dished out factoids about the history, grades, types, from bean to bar, health improvements and home cures--all wrapped around chocolate. Yes, it was fun. Not an early bird but it was doable. Host Bob Tanem is fun. Michael is savvy. I am, well I am Callie and love to talk about chocolate.
Later, I made scrambled eggs with four types of cheese. It's so easy and here, take a peek.

Callie's Eggs

* * *
2 large brown eggs
1/2 cup low-fat organic milk
1/4 cup cheese, shredded
fresh parsley, pepper to taste

I paired the eggs with a chocolate zucchini muffin (made with unsweetened cocoa and gourmet dark chocolate chips), fresh unconcentrated orange juice, and a cup of Italian Roast with a splash of organic milk.
I froze these muffins I baked a while ago. You know, the veggie is growing on me. Anyhow, the point of sharing my breakfast with you is to show you how easy it is to include chocolate in your daily regime.
In my book, The Healing Powers of Chocolate, I weave dozens of heart healthy and yummy recipes--chocolatey ones from scones to muffins and French toast to a torte. They're all created by well-known pros from chefs to chocolatiers. And that's just breakfast I'm talking about.

BTW: The way you stay a happy 'n' healthy chocolatarian is by including plenty of fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, some fish, eggs, legumes, and olive oil into your diet. It's the balance plan. And chocolate can be your friend year round--not just on V-Day. One more thing: Getting a move on is another secret, too. It's the Mediterranean way to staying lean and fit so you can have your chocolate and eat it, too.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Good Grief! I Am a Fussy Chocolate Lover!

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet

It's late in the afternoon and I'm gazing out the kitchen windows. Take away the pine trees and it looks and feels like S.F. Bay Area--my real home without a winter. It's no secret. The East Coast is getting all of our snow. I don't mind the lack of shoveling, black ice, high utility bills, and getting the Brittanys' nails trimmed less than more. But I do miss the oncoming surprise snowstorm, the silver dollar sized snowflakes, peeking out the door every hour on the hour to see how high the berms get (pondering if I'll be snowed in), and that clean, fresh powder for my dog duo to romp in. But it's not happening. So, as the famous lyrics go, you can't always get what you want, but you get what you need...
Enter chocolate. Today I received pre-Valentine's gifts from one of my fave chocolatiers--San Francisco's Michael Recchiuti's Fine Chocolates. The photo of chocolates are exactly what welcomed me. I am in chocolate heaven (again). The deal is, when you have tasted as much chocolate as I have (during the research of my new book The Healing Powers of Chocolate), it's easy to decode prestige chocolate from mass market chocolate. Don't get me wrong. I have enjoyed a dark chocolate bar purchased at my friendly Safeway. But the right chocolate for me is the chocolate to die for. Yes, I am a fussy chocolate lover.
And that's where Recchiuti's chocolates come in. When I opened the first box of Valentine's chocolates I felt like a kid at an amusement park. Actually, I'm still there. Here, take a look at the chocolates that won my attention from the first look and taste:
* Ginger Heart: I simply adore ginger. Recently I made a batch of ginger scones and used crystalized ginger (it calls for an acquired taste) and fresh ground ginger. So, this ginger infused into extra-bitter chocolate ganache? Ah, it doesn't get better than this. As described in an elegant "cheat sheet": "Cast in a white chocolate couverture, flecked with chocolate and finished with gold leaf." I broke it up into a few pieces and savored it, bite by bite.
* Candied Orange Peel: I love citrus--lemon, grapefruit and orange--paired with chocolate in all forms. As the description reads: "The most flavorful part of select orange peels are blanched, candied and dipped in extra-bitter chocolate." Yes, this won my heart and palate. I am anticipating my indulgence with the Tarrgon Grapefruit chocolate. Note to self: I wish there were two.
* Sesame Nougat: Now this little gem is unforgettable. The crunch (yes, I do crunch from carrots to popcorn) was(past tense, all gone) a nice surprise as was the sesame seeds flavor. The sheet describes it best: "A crunchy nougat disk of toasted sesame seeds topped with chocolate ganache. Enrobed in bittersweet chocolate." An editor at Woman's World once told me, a former diet and nutrition columnist for the national mag, that if a reader recalls an anecdote--it works. I believe this concept works for a box of chocolates, too.

I have 13 more pieces to enjoy, one by one. The thing is, the way you stay petite, lean, and fit is to enjoy each chocolate for its uniqueness, eat veggies, fruits, whole grains and swim, swim, swim. No, you do not sit down and eat a box of gourmet chocolates in one period. Michael was generous with a captial G. I have another box of chocolates and two chocolate bars to try and share the tasty details with you this weekend. Ah, I am in chocolate nirvana.

* * *

A few weeks ago, I was on a radio show to chat it up about chocolate. The host asked me if I, like countless women, prefer chocolate to sex. My answer: "It depends on the quality of chocolate and quality of lovemaking." I hold my ground--snow or no snow in the Sierra. This Valentine's Day weekend I believe Michael Recchiuti's Confections will keep me in the feel-good zone. It's chocolate's compounds, mood enhancers which include--anandamide (touted as the bliss chemical) to PEA (the love drug because it can mimic feelings of falling in love).
So, I leave you with a famous quotation: "My momma always said, Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." -- Forrest Gump

Monday, February 8, 2010

I Love Chocolate Carrot Cake with a Heart

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

It's February and I'm feeling the vibe of Valentine's Day and Heart Health Month. At Lake Tahoe we have snow covered ground but it doesn't feel like a harsh winter. It's a time for romance and staying heart healthy. Today, after swimming (yes, I love the Mediterranean-type atmosphere of the resort pool) and a treat of the private women's bubbly hot tub, I came home. The change came asap as I put on my winter garb and walked the Brittanys. Very odd going from warm temperatures to a colder climate. But it's good for the body and soul...
Tonight, as an author-intuitive I've got love on my mind. I realize, though, that love comes in many forms: pets, family, friends, lovers, places--and chocolate.
So, glancing through my book The Healing Powers of Chocolate, my eyes keep going back to the chocolate cake with a heart. In other words, the ingredients in this recipe--wheat germ, cocoa, olive oil, and vegetables--are all heart healthy. And, one of my fave bakeress friends Gemma Sciabica created the sweet cake--and it's in her cookbook Sensational Sweets and California Olive Oil. I love this book--and her other ones, too.
Also, last week I baked a batch of Chocolate Zucchini Muffins after I had a fun and dangling phone converstation with Gemma. I told her I wanted to try my hands at using little chunks of the veggie rather than keep 'em shredded. Caution: That idea works with apples but zucchini? Not so much. I ended up doing a redo and bananas did the trick. In retrospect, I should have followed this Chocolate Zucchini Cake recipe--but better late than never. FYI: It's carrots this time for me.

Chocolate Carrot Cake
* * *
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/3 cup Dutch cocoa
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup buttermilk, nonfat
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Danish Pastry Extract (Watkins)
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups zucchini or carrots, shredded
1 cup cake flour
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons baking powder
Confectioner's sugar
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; grease a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan or coat it with cooking spray. Combine dry ingredients in mixing bow; make well in center.Add remaining ingredients; blend; pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean from center. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. [I am going to frost it with my Cream Cheese Frosting and sprinkle it with dark chocolate shavings topped with cinnamon sticks (I found them a local gourmet shop in town.] Serves 16.

Cream Cheese Frosting
* * *
1/2 cup European Style butter
1/2 cup whipped cream cheese
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract.

Melt butter. Stir in cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla.
* * *
This version of Gemma's heart-healthy recipe makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside because it's good for you. (Plus, it reminds me of the romantic scene in When a Man Loves a Woman.) Gemma's dishes are made with the heart in mind. Her latest cookbook is chock-full of heart healthy recipes. I love her sweet creations. This cake is a perfect cake to bake this week--for the heart's sake.
Meanwhile, I sit here working at my computer. Both lovable pooches (and devoted dog-loving black cat) are sleeping side by side under my feet as I sit in my warm study. I wish I was out in the kitchen baking this lovely Chocolate Carrot Cake. Tommorow is another day. A small snowstorm is on its way and this cake with frosting, chocolate and cinnamon will be a warm welcome paired with the new Italian Roast.
P.S. I miss San Francisco, a city to love (with past pets, family, friends, lovers, and chocolate spots) and that has a place in my heart year round.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

You Can Have Your Wine 'n' Chocolate and Enjoy It, Too!

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet

It's winter and I'm feeling like it is spring at Lake Tahoe. Yes, this mermaid wannabe enjoyed swimming infinite laps this afternoon in the pool. It was total bliss--probably like the perfect glass of red wine and dark chocolate. This morning I was interviewed on a radio show with William Clower, Ph.D., a wizard of the Mediterranean way of life. We talked chocolate with a savvy East Coast chocolatier who knows chocolate. Tomorrow at 8:30 A.M., I'll be a guest on L.A.'s What's Cookin' radio program for another helping of chocolate chat and joined by West Coast chocolatier Michael Recchiuti. After all, it is the month for amazing chocolate power and Heart Health Month...
Speaking of chocolate, wine, and hearts, in my book The Healing Powers of Chocolate, I discuss the health benefits of both red wine and chocolate. While I do not drink, I do know that red wine--in moderation--is good for your heart and spirit and is included in the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle.
Wine gura Anita L. LaRaia, author of Pick a Perfect Wine in No Time, knows the perks of wine, and chocolate, too. "For over a century, European chocolate makers from the Mediterranean countries such as France, Italy, and Spain have known how to indulge in Grand Cru Chocolat without getting fat or clogging their arteries. Their secret is portion control, and the double dose of antioxidants from dark chocolate and red wine."
Pairing Chocolate and Wine
Here are a few wine and chocolate marriages made in heaven, according to our wine gal.
* Zinfandel (California): Perfect Chocolate Partner: "Zinfandel is a good match for semi-sweet dark chocolate--and there is a sweet Zinfandel chocolat port that's made as a chocolate sauce for pouring on ice cream, or for dipping strawberries," says LaRaia.
* Shiraz: Perfect Chocolate Partner: "Australia makes a sparkling Shiraz with a deep red color and very grapey flavor that is great with milk chocolates [the red wine will give you your health fix] or dark chocolate truffles," says LaRaia, who adds that there's another grape spin-off wine popular in California called Petite Sirah that is a perfect partner for "big, bold, single-origin dark chocolates--with or without spicey chile peppers or berries added."
* Ruby or Vintage Porto: Perfect Chocolate Partner: The wine instructor recommends a ruby or vintage Porto would go well with a dark chocolate mousse cake.
The bottom line: Some days and nights, it's okay to stay out of the kitchen. No recipes. No cooking. No baking. Simply go out to a hot spot for wine and dessert or fetch 'em at a gourmet shop and indulge in these flavonoid-rich to-live-for superfoods at home. And yes, you can treat yourself to a glass of wine and chocolate truffle or small slice of chocolate cake. Just do it in moderation. In other words, savor the moment and seize the day.

Monday, February 1, 2010

French Silk Fudge with a Touch of TLC for V-Day

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet

On January 30th, I felt the Full Moon (aka Wolf Moon) in its full effect. Emotions and love--looking for it or frustrated with the lack of it paid me a social visit during the weekend. It was a work-related author-intuitive's assignment. And yes, it was fun and not so fun. I learned "on the job" that true love should feel good, right? If not, it's better to go solo, tune out Noah's Ark's twosomes, and practice self love for self preservation. Both women and men (of all ages) need to get that...
So, now I'm sensing the intensity of love gestures and Valentine's Day-- a romantic month. It's a time to pamper you (and yours if you are in love). Sure, dark chocolates and truffles are oh so delicious 'n' heart healthy, and easy to purchase at your local store or online. But hold the phone. There is an alternative route if you're living life on a shoestring or want to give that special someone chocolate made with tender loving care by you. What better way to show your devoted love than to whip up a batch of DIY fresh homemade French fudge?
In my book The Healing Powers of Chocolate, I include the following recipe that is easy to make and failproof. It doesn't get much better than that. Once done, simply use your imagination and put it in a standout Valentine's box or on a white plate or clear plastic container or decorative round tin pan wrapped with red, white, or pink ribbons. Here's the recipe.

French Silk Fudge
* * *
2 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup cream or 1 small can (5 fl. ounces) evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter
2 cups miniature marshmallows
3 cups (18 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts

In a large glass bowl, combine sugar and milk. Microwave on full power for 3 minutes; remove and stir. Return and cook an additional 3 minutes on full power. Add butter, marshmallows, chocolate, and vanilla. Mix well. Stir in nuts. Pour into a buttered 8" x 11" pan. Chill and cut into small pieces. Makes 2 pounds.

Conventional Method: Combine powdered sugar and milk in a heavy bottom pan. Stir constantly and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in butter, marshmallows, chocolate chips, and vanilla. Mix well. Stir in nuts.
(Source: National Confectioners Association)

When I make this recipe, I'll use dark chocolate chips (60% to 70% cocoa), fresh cream, and European style butter. Keep in mind, while V-Day is on its way, all month long its Heart Health Month. To me, that means, yes, you can eat food that contains good fats--like chocolate fudge in moderation--but small portions, and getting a move on regularly before and after are part of the sweet package that works to keep you lean and fit whether you reside in Europe or America. (Yes, today I did get my swim and hot tub fix. And the Brittanys--with French roots--got their walk.) Tender loving care comes in all forms, and for me it's dogs, exercise, and French Silk Fudge.