Ah, to be dead and in love. Sounds strange but why can’t love transcend dimensions as seems to be the curious case at Idyllwild’s Strawberry Creek Inn. The proprietor and chef, Rodney Williams, sometimes felt a warmth, a caress, an alarming brush of passion when alone in one particular room. He ignored it at first but as the sensations continued and he found himself oddly aroused, his curiosity grew. Finally, he called on a group of psychic experts and discovered that in fact, (for those who believe that parapsychology is fact), there was someone or something swooning about the place. Further investigation led to a ghost named Jade. According to the psychics, and there were several in concurrence, Jade, was the spirit of an ancient indigenous woman who occupied the land in life, and she was hanging around because she had fallen madly in love with the handsome Williams. It’s a strange romance that he finds comforting.
“She’s here to help,” he says, “I believe she may be responsible for our extraordinary success.”
Jade’s infatuated spirit seems to infuse the inn with romance. The award-winning bed and breakfast is a labor of love for Williams and his life-partner, Ian Scott. “So far Jade has not shown any signs of jealousy,” laughs Williams, “she seems happy to share me.”
The Superbowl is over! Thanks goodness. Frankly if I saw one more post about recipes for half time snacks I was going to go long and never come back. Not that I haven't been busy. I've been eating chocolate, consider it a warm up for Valentine's Day. There is a lot of not so good chocolate out there, and I'd hate to think you'd end up with some by mistake. What you need is someone you can trust to try before you buy. In this regard, let me be of service. Without further ado, here are my chocolate picks for Valentine's Day.
1st–New and Notable
Art Pollard of Amano Chocolate is a mad genius when it comes to chocolate and while a bit wacky, under the surface he is a true perfectionist. He's won just about every award there is to win for his chocolate bars, and his latest introduction are boxes of chocolate confections. They are insanely good. They have a wonderfully delicate texture. Each flavor I tried was better than the next. The flavors are elegant and include ingredients like honey, cardamom, black pepper, key lime, and tangerine. Oh so good! But unfortunately in very limited production. If you can get your hands on a box, they are truly for a chocolate connoisseur. Do not waste them on anyone undeserving. While one chocolate is very rich and satisfying, you will find it hard to keep your hands of the rest. Only the highest quality ingredients are used, not even lecithin makes it into these gems. The 12 piece box is $24.99.
I broke up with my boyfriend the night before I took off for Ohio to canvass for Obama. Well really, I broke up with him three nights later, but I knew in my head that I would do it the night before I left. What I did that night before was tell him I could not talk to him for three days. Three days of: landing in Ohio the morning after the red-eye; having breakfast with Carol Ogline (my 84 year old host) at the fanciest restaurant in Alliance; Ohio (where the side salad is $3.00 extra); driving to the Alliance, Ohio campaign office (the first national campaign office to ever exist there); taking off from the office to canvass down the street; getting chased down that same street by a rabid dog, finding out the owner was an Obama supporter and recruiting him to volunteer; returning to the office to make phone calls; going back to Carol Ogline's house and eating peanut butter sandwiches with her at 1am while her 1 month old puppy rolled around on the floor; getting back to the campaign office the next day to canvass some more; promising a man I would show up at 6am the day after election day and chop the wood piled in his yard if he voted; taking a picture at the end of that street; returning to the office to make phone calls; going to Applebee's with my volunteer coordinator; returning to the office the next day to canvass, swaying a voter, swaying another voter, going to another county to meet the 20 new volunteers that had just arrived; jumping on a conference call to hear Obama give us all an amazing half time speech; and going into the backyard after that phone call to sit by the empty pool and have that final phone conversation with my boyfriend.
Chocolate molten cake is my personal weakness. I cannot go without ordering it when I see it on a restaurant menu. Fairly common on many menus, it is a dessert that is not always created euqal. I can attest to this because I've tried pretty much all of them. But the best molten chocolate cake I've ever had is the one served at Jean Georges Restaurant; it's a signature dish of the restaurant and is on the menu at practically all of Jean Georges's establishments. For me it is an unforgettable dish. And I convince all my friends to try it too; I rarely have to force them. As the saying goes, dessert is served last, but don't let it be least, especially not this one.
This dessert is probably one of the easiest to make at home. So if you're unable to have dinner at Jean Georges or are on a budget like I am, why not try making it at home. It's a simple yet highly rewarding dessert. It's perfect for a dinner party because it can be made ahead, refrigerated, and baked just minutes before it's time to eat dessert. The first spoonful of lava-like chocolate oozing out from the center of the cake is so seductive that guests won't soon forget it. I think any holiday meal would benefit greatly with this molten cake served as dessert. It's a little bit unexpected and will add that touch of gourmet to the evening.
All couples have the story of how they met. Ours comes with a small bit of fate – if you even believe in that sort of thing. It was Christmas-time and the charity I worked for was throwing a small bash to thank our local volunteers and meet some of our vendors. It even included an uptight board member or two. My future husband-to-be was not officially invited. He had other plans that night; however, his date canceled at the last minute to finish her holiday shopping. So, he called his good friends, Peter and Jo, to see what they were up to. Jo, being Jo, invited him to join them at my party. They were only about 15 minutes ahead of him and, she cajoled, the charity was chock-full of single women. She was not lying about that. Ten of the eleven employees were young women. Of course, since she had never met any of us, she did not vouch for our attractiveness.
I got their side of the story from them at a later date. Apparently, they had scoped me out and then engaged me in witty repartee until the unknown man of my dreams arrived. We were already fast friends by the time Dave turned up – aided a bit by some very strong margaritas – and in no time we were all chatting as if we'd known each other for years. It goes without saying, I gave him my card – though it was the first time in my life I had agreed to go on a date with a man who until moments before was a total stranger.
My husband, David, and I are both chefs, so we are always busy working in our respective kitchens on Valentine’s Day. Cooking for hundreds of people while miles apart is a bit romantically challenging. So we try to capture and share the spirit of the day through our food, like this classic dessert, which has a few distinct twists to make it worthy of this special day.
We use wild flower honey to give an exotic flavor to the panna cotta and then we top it with deep-red blood orange granita. I love the texture of the granita – instead of being smooth like a sorbet – it's actually crunchy and icy (in a good way). I love the combination of rich and creamy with icy and tart, which makes it like a grown-up creamsicle, so refreshing, but also so beautiful to look at.
Kumquats are another of my favorite ingredients that I can't get enough of when they are in season. I seriously find myself trying to think of new ways to use them! In this case they are tossed with the wildflower honey and become rather “fresh-candied.” It’s an elegant and colorful dish, which is just perfect for Valentine’s Day. In our kitchen, it is executed by our pastry chef Breanne Varela who started at Lucques and A.O.C and because of her skill with sweets of all types, is now in charge of all bakery duties at our newest place,Tavern.
No Valentine’s Day meal is complete without a fantastic dessert, perhaps enjoyed after some champagne and caviar, which we rush home to indulge in – if Dave remembers to buy them, which happens about 50% of the time.
When you stumble upon a private chef who bakes intricately designed chocolate boxes in the finest quality ingredients- you know it’s an excellent day. Chef Connie Mullins knew she was destined be a chef at a very young age. She started to bake when she was just 5 years old and decorated her first cake at the age of 10. At 12 years old, she began to play around with food and since then, she’s worked in an array of roles within the culinary industry. “I had an aunt that sewed for Victor Costa,” said Connie, “She really inspired me. She was a cake artist and baked beautiful wedding cakes- any type of dessert really.” Her aunt passed down a book to her from the School of Wilton and that’s how Connie learned to decorate cakes. She decorated them all through high school and sold them on the side.
And, how did Chef Connie Bakes come to be? After cooking on her own for so long, Connie enrolled in professional classes at El Centro college in the food and hospitality program. “At that time, there wasn’t a bakery pastry program,” she said, “But, while I was there, one was approved and I went back through the baking and pastry program as well.” In fact, it was through this program, that Connie was able to choose her favorite dish she’s ever made. “It was vanilla puddin’ and I started making it in 1973 for my brother,” she said, “When I did enter culinary school and was admitted into the pastry program, it was one of the recipes the chef went over that all pastry chef’s must learn how to master: pastry cream (because it’s used throughout the bake shop). And, it’s funny because what I had always called my vanilla pudding had been pastry cream all along- and I’d been making it since I was 12 years old just by feel and sight!”
Admit it, no one has gotten to this point in their life having had one gleeful Valentine's celebration after another. Unlike the envelope of dime store Valentines from everyone in your fifth grade class things have probably changed over the years. Perhaps there is no one "special" in your life except for some close friends or co-workers or maybe this is the year that you can't wait for that solid red holiday of love and chocolate! What do I fantasize about, what would rock my world?
A romantic evening with my sweetheart ...I think of Valentine's day as a fragrant smelling celebration of love. The scent of chocolate cooking, Stargazer lilies, or perhaps long stem deep red roses, a familiar aftershave, saffron, rack of lamb with overtones of rosemary and garlic, long stem strawberries and the smell of bee's wax candles lighting up the whole house. No electric lights just the soft volume of Diana Krall's love songs playing as we sit in front of the yellow flamed fire sipping good champagne, talking and smiling, smooching and dancing. The night is ours, not to be rush but savored, enjoyed and repeated....
Poached oyster stew with saffron
Rack of lamb
Tomato goat cheese gratin
Watercress maple salad
Chocolate Dipped Strawberries
Let's just admit to ourselves right now: if you're single on Valentine's Day, it may make you feel bitter. And not in the really good, bitter chocolate kind of way. Valentine's is so heavily commercialized nowadays that it can be difficult to avoid all the signs pointing to the fact that you're alone. The cutesy, overly-decorated cards with sayings you'll never actually say? Check. The restaurants that cater to couples who'll pay for overpriced meals just because everyone else is? Double check.
I don't know about you, but as a single woman on Valentine's Day, I say heck no to that. Just because you may not have someone to make goo-goo eyes at (does anyone still use that phrase?), why should this occasion mean any less for you? What do you have to feel bitter about, when you're already such an amazing, confident and live-life-to-it's-fullest kind of woman? Valentine's Day is just like any other day you'll be single on – although, you'll be more aware of it thanks to the aforementioned signs. Instead of beating ourselves up over such a ridiculous standard, I say it's time we turn that bitterness into the really good, chocolatey goodness kind. You know that bag of candy, piece of cake or heart-shaped cookie you've been eyeing? Go for it. Don't mind the fact that you're buying it for yourself; rather, revel in that.
Yesterday I asked my son Sam the question I have asked him every February since he started kindergarten. “Is there somebody you want to get a special Valentine for? We could make one, if you want, or we can pick one out when we buy the regular ones….” This year, he embellished on the six-year tradition of polite refusal by rolling his eyes and saying “no” in a tone that translated clearly into “derrrrrr.”
I am not anxious for my twelve-year-old to be in love, or even smitten. In a twisted knot of irony of the type found only in motherhood, I am simultaneously delighted that he is not interested in girls, and worried that he should be. All around him crushes are blooming, complete with third-party intercession, texting after bedtime, and group movie “dates.” Sam finds the sixth grade romance scene ridiculous, in a benign and pragmatic sort of way. His best friend is a girl, and he listens kindly and without comment to her lengthy, high-volume and rapid-fire proclamations of love for various boys. He is waiting for her to stop talking so that they can do something interesting, like making a video or playing Xbox.