Comfort Foods and Indulgences

minty-chocolate-avocado-shakeWell folks I hate to admit it, but this is the only type of "green" shake I can get behind. And look, it's not even green, even though it sounds like it should be. 

But really, for those of you who have not experienced the rich and creamy avocado as a substitute for ice cream, it's a must. My family was clueless I had used it in their dessert. They were happily sipping away on their luxuriously thick chocolate shake when I dropped the A-bomb on them. My youngest said, "We're drinking guacamole?" Ummm....no, you're not.

This shake is almost dairy free if that is important for you, but you would have to use non-dairy chocolate chips for it to truly fit that bill. And let's not forget the health benefits of the avocado; lots of potassium, fiber, vitamins C & K, B6 and folate. One whole avocado boasts lots of heart-healthy unsaturated fat, more than a 1/3 of your daily vitamin C needs and more than half of your daily requirement of vitamin K. What more could you ask for in a chocolate shake?

I wanted to satisfy my urge for a Shamrock Shake this month so out came the mint chocolate chips. They were the perfect addition and left behind these cute green specks in the shake after blending with my trusty Blendtec blender.

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chutneycheesepuffI'm a cheater, in the kitchen anyway. While I may not be a fan of mac and cheese from a box, I positively love using gourmet specialty products. What kinds of products? Jams, mustards, chutney, tapenade, Chinese sauces, so many things! Two of my favorite secret weapons are in the freezer--phyllo dough and puff pastry.

You could easily write a book on all the things you can make out of phyllo dough and puff pastry. I suggest the title "How to Succeed in Baking Without Really Trying". Once you learn how to handle them, the possibilities are endless. They even turn something mundane into something special.

For example you could make a stew into an elegant pot pie. You could turn a fruit compote into pastries. You could make fancy little appetizers to serve hot from the oven. How fancy? I suggest little napoleons or tartlets. It's really easy.

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cake_pumpkindelight.jpgFor many years, we had always hosted the neighborhood Halloween Party. On the night of Halloween, everyone showed up in costume attire to chow down on big vats of homemade chili, corn muffins, and slaw or large trays of baked ziti, Caesar salad, garlic balls, and some sort of festive cocktail. It really depended upon my mood and how many were expected to show up.

One year, a friend of mine brought over a huge tray with a pumpkin like cake on it. I couldn’t figure out what it was. A layer of pumpkin like mousse atop some sort of crust over a sprinkling of pecans.

I took one bite and I was addicted. I can’t really call it a cake, even though it is made with a cake mix. It is kind of like a pie, but not really. Her mom called it “Pumpkin Delight” and I have to say, it is delightful. For years, I followed the recipe. Would never have thought to have changed it. But with me being conscious about what I put in the food that I make, thus what ultimately goes into my kids bodies, I decided to test this recipe using more whole ingredients.

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lebongarconI lost my sweet tooth long ago. Except for one thing. Caramel. I just can't resist it. That doesn't mean I always love it though. Plenty of people are trying to capture my heart and tastebuds, but few rarely capture my imagination. Le Bon Garcon is one of them. Though apparently they captured Oprah's love first. I didn't know that when I got the opportunity to try Justin Chao's creations. Originally an architecture student, he traded in the drafting table for a kitchen one and found his passion in pastry. After studying in Paris and returning to Los Angeles, he formed Le Bon Garcon, which uses Plugra butter and no preservatives in their hand-crafted and wrapped caramels. You may think you've had amazing Salted Caramel. You'd be wrong. But I wasn't surprised I LOVED that one, I mean come on.  It's salt and butter, people.

I was intrigued by the Rosé (a seasonal flavor only available until 9/15), as I didn't know caramels came with other flavors and this blend of raspberry, lychee and rose essence just sounded so perfectly ethereal. And it is. Light and lingering, perfectly summery. I was going to skip the Mango, which is blended with cardamom and ginger. Even though I like all those things, I couldn't wrap my head around mango caramel; however, it is one of his signature flavors, so I gave it a shot. Holy cow! This one blew my mind. It's so intense, like a Starburst from my youth, but so much more classy and luscious and mangorific. The Macadamia was also good, but I like my caramel unadulterated by nuts. The Man thought it was great. To each their own. Even the packaging was lovely - simple yet colorful and fun. If you have a caramel lover in your life, they need to know about Le Bon Garcon. Excuse me while I go get another piece. http://www.lebongarcon.com

cake.moultonchoc.cake-open.sm -1The first time I ate a Chocolate Lava Cake was at Roy’s on Maui in 1990.  Roy was somewhat of a celebrity chef in Hawaii. Back then there were only a few celebrity chefs; Wolfgang Puck, Jonathan Waxman, Michael McCarty, and Alice Waters to name a few.

The food at Roy’s was good, but it was the dessert, the chcolate molten lava cake,  that I kept going back for. I wrote to the restaurant and asked for the recipe.  They obliged!  

Over the years I have tweeked the recipe a little here and a little there. But it just wasn’t right.  It wasn’t perfectly right until I found this recipe in the New York Times.

Valentine’s Day is around the corner. Along with an extra special dinner that night for my 4 favorite valentines, I plan on  adding this dessert to the menu.

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