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I made this recipe all the way back in January and I can not believe that I have waited until now to post it. Do not let my dilly dallying rub off on you. Raid your cheese drawer and make this recipe a.s.a.p.

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Frugality is not something I excel in. Being a passionate foodie I hesitate to limit my food budget even during these tough financial times, but when being frugal includes an assortment of cheeses, wine, butter, herbs and garlic then I’m in.

ff3 Fromage Fort, meaning strong cheese, was created by the French as a way to use up all the little odds and ends of cheese that you may have hanging around in the fridge. You know those pieces I am talking about? After a trip to your favorite Fromagiere, (here’s mine) with a wide assortment ranging from a soft and tangy blue to a unctuous triple creme, you and some lucky guests (or just you) enjoy an evening of fine cheeses. What remains on the plate that once held your delicious array, are small chunks of each variety. It seems rather silly to wrap each piece individually to be put back into the fridge only to be left there uneaten for several days. Fromage Fort is the solution to such a dilemma.

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Toss the remaining pieces into your food processor with the aforementioned wine, butter, herbs and garlic. Pulse until smooth then you have an entirely new cheese perfect for spreading on bread and crackers. You can eat as is or place the bread with the spread under the broiler until brown and bubbly.

As with snowflakes and fingerprints, no two Fromage Forts are the same, because different cheeses are used each time. You may use any variety of hard, semi-soft, and soft cheeses.
Isn’t frugality delicious?

Ingredients

  • 1 pound left-over cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 small clove garlic

Directions

Remove any rinds from hard cheeses. Grate hard cheeses and cut others into 1/2-inch cubes. Place cheese, wine, butter, herbs, and garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth, approximately 2 minutes. Serve immediately or refrigerate for at least 1 hour for a firmer consistency. Fromage Fort can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Okay. Now. Go. Make it!!

Served with La Panzanella Croccantini and Raincoast Crisp crackers

Mattbites.com likes Fromage Fort too!!

Originally posted here.

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For the past couple of days I have walked around with a spring step and my head in the clouds. The Times Online selected Artisan Sweets as one of the top 50 food blogs in the world. I am so incredibly honored to be in the midst of blogs that I have admired and gleaned from for quite some time.

Thank you so much for this recognition. What an honor.

Check out the list here.

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Many thanks and praise belong to my dear husband as many of the photographs are his and the ones that I take…. well, he has taught me everything I know. I love you babe and couldn’t do this without your support!

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Many people suggest that the first year of marriage is the hardest (I’ve also heard the seventh is a tough one – we’ll see about that) but I look on that year with great fondness.

My husband and I made it our mission to try nearly every restaurant in Seattle. We kept a notebook about where we went, what we ate, what we loved and what disgusted us – luckily that didn’t happen very often as we did loads of research before picking our final destination. Every Friday night we would ready ourselves to hit the town, notebook in hand and an eager palette.

Those were the beginning days of my love affair with food. As with any new found love, everything was thrilling and new. Gabe and I were bursting with excitement and wanted to share our new love. We decided to host a tasting party.

A tasting party is the perfect way to compare, educate and truly savor whatever it is that you are tasting. I might also add that for a couple of debt ridden, minimum wage earners it was a very economical way for us to entertain. For us, well really I should say me, the choice of what to taste was easy. Chocolate.

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Recently at a chocolate class I taught I relived my fond memories and facilitated another chocolate tasting. It was just as fun and eye opening as the first.

On white plates I arranged six small-ish pieces of chocolate. (There was  a seventh but that was flavored so I opted to keep that separate.

1. Hershey’s Special Dark

2. Lindt 70%

3. Valrhona Guanja 70%

4. Scharffen Berger

5. Trader Joes Swiss 70%

6. Felchlin

7. (the wild card) Theo Chocolate’s Bread and Chocolate bar (tiny rye bread crumbs are coated in butter sprinkled with salt then toasted in the oven and blended with dark chocolate – reminiscent of a Crackle bar – but so much more.)

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As with tasting wine there are many factors that come into play when tasting chocolate. There are five categories to examine, three of which happen before the chocolate even touches your lips.

Each chocolate sample was tasted separately while examining all five of the following categories.

Appearance – What does is look like? Sheen, bloom, even texture, color. Color should be even with a nice gloss, no discoloration, spots or cloudiness.

Snap – What does it sound like when you break it or bite into it? Should sound clear, crisp – this is a sign of a proper temper. The chocolate should not bend or crumble.

Aroma – Similar to tasting wine. This is a matter of subjectivity. Fruity, spicy, floral, etc. Anything goes. Do you smell leather, tobacco, dirty socks? Say it.

Mouthfeel – Smooth, not grainy or gritty. It can feel velvety or creamy, or it can be waxy or greasy.

Taste – Descriptors similar to aroma. Allow the chocolate to slowly melt on the tongue. Different tastes will emerge at different stages of consumption.

We discussed each sample separately then compared them to the others.

The results are always quite entertaining. Many people knew right away what number one was and if they didn’t know they did pick up the fact that there was no snap, the texture was gritty and the appearance was lackluster.

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Often tasters are surprised and impressed with their ability to discern the distinctions between each sample. To many chocolate eaters dark chocolate is dark chocolate, so to be able to compare seven samples side by side the differences become quite clear.

I was happy to hear that among the favorites of many were #3 and #6 (Valrhona and Felchlin). One lady said that she has been baking with Scharffen Berger for some time but failed to taste it on its own. When she did she realized that she did not much care for it and then proceeded to buy one pound of the Valrhona.

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In no way are these tastings meant to trick the participants. If #1 is truly their favorite that’s great. When trying wine, many sommeliers will tell you that you need to trust your own instincts and don’t let experts and a price tag tell you what you do and do not like. A tasting is a very entertaining way to exercise your taste buds and to figure out what chocolate suits you.

To learn more about hosting tasting parties check out this great book.

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Hosting and being a part of a tasting club is a great experience. It can be as formal or relaxed as you like. I hope you try it and if you do let me know how it goes!

My Valentine’s dessert. Check out the complete recipe here.

 

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I know a lot of people who are sickened by Valentine’s day. They shrug it off as an attempt for the candy and card industry to make a few bucks. But for me, any excuse to eat chocolate and tell someone you love how much you love them and then to hear it in return (hopefully) is reason enough for me to enjoy this holiday. 

Whether you love or hate V-day I know for a fact you will love to sip some chocolate. This sinfully rich dessert is heaven in a cup and can be made in under ten minutes. What’s not to love?

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Drinking Chocolate 
six servings – if you are willing to share
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped in 1/2 inch pieces – The best quality you can afford. My personal favorite is Valrhona Guanaja 70%, available from Trader Joe’s.
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp fleur de sel (regular salt is fine in a pinch 🙂 )
1/4 tsp cinnamon

1 cup heavy whipping cream for serving

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Place chocolate in a medium bowl.
Bring milk, cream and salt to a slow boil. Watch this closely as it can scald and boil over very quickly. Add the milk and cream to the chocolate. Let sit for 1-2 minutes. Add the cinnamon. Whisk the chocolate mixture until completely combined. The resulting liquid should be smooth, creamy and about the thickness of full fat cream. If for some reason the mixture doesn’t come together through it into a blender or food process and blend until completely smooth.

Serve with lightly whipped cream.

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In all my years of consuming all things sweet this dessert continues to be number one on my list. This sophisticated dessert can be thrown together in minutes and makes a perfect treat for this time of the year. You can also add to it to make it your own. One of my personal favorite additions is cayenne and cinnamon, giving this chocolate treat a spicy kick the way it was intended to be consumed. I would also encourage you to try peppermint, vanilla and coffee. 
  

(I’m in love with my new teapot and cups – check them out here.)

You better believe me when I tell you that you have just found the last Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe you will ever need. I know. I am not the first person to claim this weighty statement. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that this recipe was spreading as quickly as that nasty stomach virus that infected our entire family over Christmas.

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In actuality everyone’s definition of the perfect chocolate chip cookie is different. Asking 20 people what qualities define their perfect cookie and I am sure you are going to get as many different responses. I will say however that I have converted many followers to my recipe. In fact, just recently I was told that I had ruined someone from ever eating another cookie that wasn’t this one. And for that I am not sorry and I am not surprised.

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My perfect cookie is varied in texture. The exterior rim, the color of golden brown sugar, is perfectly crisp. Beyond the crunch there lies varying levels of chewy gooey-ness. I remove the cookies from the oven just when the edges start to brown. People think I’m crazy and question my timing as the cookies appear under baked. But I assure them that I am a professional I have done this thousands of times. The cookies continue to bake on the tray and as they cool the gooey center transforms to a perfectly chewy interior. Cookie eaters question no longer.

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The dough, although perfectly flavored with salt and a high proportion of brown sugar, exists to hold the chunks of chocolate in place. That’s right I said chunks and not chips. The funny, (more sad than funny) thing about chocolate chips is that they are filled with substance similar to wax. I don’t know about you but I don’t really enjoy eating wax. The reason for the wax in the chips is so that they do not melt – they hold their shape, which is quite cute but I’ll take taste over cuteness any day. Using couverture (fancy name for quality chocolate that is used for coating truffles and such) allows the chocolate to melt and pool. If you were to break these cookies in half you would see layers of chocolate and dough – similar to the layers in puff pastry, and you all know how crazy I am about those layers.

ccc5 Look how much Roman loves cookies (actually he wasn’t eating the cookies he just always looks that happy)

I use large chunks of bittersweet chocolate, lots of brown sugar, a touch of Turbinado sugar, and sprinkle of pink salt on top – making these this the last chocolate chip cookie recipe you will ever need.

THE Chocolate Chip Cookie

8 oz.         2 sticks butter

2 oz          1/4 cup white sugar

2 oz          1/4 cup Turbinado sugar

12 oz        1 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

2  eggs

1/4 oz       2 tsp vanilla

1 lb.          3 1/2 cup All Purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp Baking soda

3/4 tsp salt

1 lb. chocolate (use the best quality chocolate you can afford. With a serrated knife cut chocolate chunks roughly 1/2 inch)

Cream the butter and the sugars until light. Scrape down the side of the bowl. Continue mixing while adding the eggs one at time. Make sure each egg is incorporated before adding the next. Add the vanilla. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula. Combine the flour, soda and salt in another bowl. With a whisk, stir to combine. With the machine on low, slowly add the flour. Mix until just combined, taking care not to over mix. With a spatula fold in the chocolate.

If you so choose, and I do recommend that you do, sprinkle a very fine dusting of good quality sea salt. Fleur de Sel or Murray River Pink Salt are my recommendations.

Bake at 360* for 12 minutes. They should be lightly golden on the outside but still look gooey on the inside.

Happy PIE DAY!!

I like pie. Which is quite evident by the amount of times I have talked about it here.

In honor of the holiday I’ve compiled a list of my pie resources.

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Chocolate Pecan Pie

My Favorite Crust Recipes

Pie Science

More Pie

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Pregnancy and Chocolate Cream Pie

And still more

Pumpkin Pie

The Ultimate Pie maker

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My Great Aunt Abe loves to play Uno and evidently she loves to bake as well. Recently I went through some of my Aunt Abe’s things that were gathered from her home as she is now moving to assisted living.

In the box of miscellaneous items I chose a set of hand stitched pillowcases that belonged to my Great Grandmother, a little cleaver (I have no idea what she was doing with a mini cleaver but I plan on using it for cheese platters as it will be easily able to hack through hard cheeses), and a book filled with her hand written recipes.

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Hand written recipes are so precious to me. Someones personal collection of favorite recipes is more intimate than a journal and more revealing than dirty laundry. I long to find the cook’s notes in beautifully written script on the edge of a yellowed page in a used cookbook.

I just really love old recipes. Today we are bombarded by the precision required in baking. I can not dispute the fact that baking is a science but recipes given to me by those in my grandparent’s generation focus on the art and feel of it rather than the technicality required.

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In the few but precious moments of baking instruction given to me by my grandmother she did not recite a recipe accurate down to the 1/8 teaspoon. Rather she taught me what to look for and what it should feel like. Similarly as I skim through this newly acquired treasury of retro recipes, the notes on the method are simple and brief. There are no sweat inducing introductions to the recipe that demand that every ingredient be 97.2 degrees. They are simple, delicious and memory-evoking dishes.

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When I saw, “Crunchy Chocolate Cookies” in her collection I just knew I had to try them. With corn flakes as an ingredient I was intrigued. And with two sticks of butter and one cup of vegetable oil I knew they couldn’t be that bad. It turns out my intuition was correct. These cookies are truly delicious. One bite and I was flooded with memories of snagging these cookies off the potluck table in the basement of my Grandmother’s church.

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They are as the recipe suggests, “crunchy”. But it is not the kind of crunchiness you taste from and over baked cookie. It is the addition of the oil that gives it a tender crispness that shatters in your mouth. The oats in the recipe give the cookie some bulk and chew, which I find very enjoyable. Although the cornflakes are not very easy to detect in the finished product, every once and a while you get a slightly salt crunch that reminds of you scarfing down a bowl of the flakes in the morning before jetting off to first period.

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Don’t be to scared of the amount of fat in the recipe. This batch makes a very large quantity. However it is still early in the evening and I have already eaten six.

I hope you enjoy them as much as my Aunt Abe and I do.

Crunchy Chocolate Cookies

Bake at 350* for 12 min.

3 1/2 cups All-purpose flour

3 tsp. Baking Soda

1 tsp. Salt

1 cup butter

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 tablespoon milk

2 tsp. vanilla

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup corn flakes

1 cup quick oats

1 (12 oz) pkg. chocolate chips

Sift the flour, salt and soda onto wax paper. Beat butter and sugars until well creamed. Combine egg, vanilla and oil in a small bowl. Alternately add the oil mixture and the flour mixture to the creamed sugars. Mix until just combined. Stir in the corn flakes, oats and chocolate. Drop by heaping teaspoons onto cookie sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake until golden.

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I am so excited about the current issue of Seattle Metroplitan Bride and Groom that I just had to share with all of you. My little chocolates made lovely models.

Seattle Metropolitan Bride and Groom

Seattle Metropolitan Bride and Groom

Photos taken by Angie Norwood Browne

ciao_img_8299_blogRemember these little beauties I pointed you to? I finally made them.

I am such a sucker for conventional products that I realize can be easily made myself. A few examples to make my point… I make my own laundry soap and dishwashing detergent. And of course you all remember the marshmallows and the kettle corn. Pancakes, waffles, scones, soups, muffins, cakes and cookies do not usually appear in box, can, log or bag form before they hit our hungry mouths.

My sister-in-law is even more diligent about making many of her own food and household items. Her reasoning? Budget. Mine? I love the feeling of being self-sufficient. I am a do-er and whatever I can do for myself without having to depend on something or someone makes me feel strong, independent and like the women who appears in that classic illustration where she is showing off her less than lady-like biceps and telling the world she is in control and can do it herself.

As do many strong personality traits this can be a great asset but it can also be my downfall. Somehow I manage to bury myself in work, life, kids, house and carry all that weight on my shoulders refusing to ask for help. Or when I do it is often late in the process giving me plenty of time to feel guilty, tired, worn down and thinking that I am the only woman in the world who simply can not manage to do it all myself.  I know this isn’t a unique problem I have. More and more I am realizing that it is a woman thing. We want to do all and be all to everybody.

I don’t really know how I got on this tangent that seeks to uncover the truth that lies in most women. I simply wanted to tell you more about this fantastic recipe. Seriously, just the other day I was admiring the deliciousness that is Junior Mints. As Gabe and I sat in the movie theater watching “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (great movie by the way), eating our chocolate covered mints that we risked our lives to smuggle in. I savored the harmony that is chocolate and mint. The creamy chocolate melts away on your tongue revealing a refreshing mint filled interior leaving your mouth feeling as if you have just brushed your teeth (except that you haven’t and you really should after you consume these because they are laden with sugar, your dentist should thank me). On this occasion we ate them straight from the box, however I enjoy them the most straight from the freezer.

On New Year’s Eve I created a dessert smorgasboard for a room full of lucky diners. Apple sorbet with a meringe cap, a banana chocolate soufflee with a warm chocolate sauce and a cookie plate filled with Macarons, honey-spiced nuts, caramels and Peppermint Patties.

Like most things you make from scratch these ones tasted better than their convential cousins. I used Valrhona 70% chocolate to enrobe the creamy interior creating a slightly less sweet confection. The tempered dark chocolate snapped flawlessly under the weight of my teeth giving way to the aroma of mint.

I am telling you, these little candies are a sure way of impressing your friends and neighbors. People are so fascinated by the thought of being able to make something that we have so grown accostumed to seeing in a shiny package at the grocery store.

I hope you will find it in your hearts to forgive me for I do not have an image to show you the beauty that little treats hold. Let this be more encouragement to make this recipe as they were so delicious there was not a single one left to photograph My sweet husband, Gabe, found an image. It may not be the prettiest but this was the only photo taken before they were devoured.

I know I showed you this recipe but I actually used an adapted version of one I found on epicurious.com.

Peppermint Patties

from epicurious.com

  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar (less than 1 pound), divided
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening (preferably trans-fat-free)
  • 10 ounces 70%-cacao bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (Valrhona, Guanaja)
  • Equipment: a 1-inch round cookie cutter; a digital instant-read thermometer

Filling:
Beat 2 1/4 cups confectioners sugar with corn syrup, water, peppermint extract, shortening, and salt using an electric mixer (with paddle attachment if using a stand mixer) at medium speed until just combined. Knead on a work surface dusted with remaining 1/4 cup confectioners sugar until smooth. Roll out between sheets of parchment paper on a large baking sheet into a 7- to 8-inch round (less than 1/4 inch thick). Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. Remove top sheet of paper and sprinkle round with confectioners sugar. Replace top sheet, then flip round over and repeat sprinkling on other side.

Cut out as many rounds as possible with cutter, transferring to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze until firm, at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, gather scraps, reroll, and freeze, then cut out more rounds, freezing them.

Temper chocolate and coat filling: (Here is another great tutorial for tempering chocolate – Don’t be scared just try it).
Melt three fourths of chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Remove bowl from pan and add remaining chocolate, stirring until smooth. Cool until thermometer inserted at least 1/2 inch into chocolate registers 80°F.

Return water in pan to a boil and remove from heat. Set bowl with cooled chocolate over pan and reheat, stirring, until thermometer registers 88 to 91°F. Remove bowl from pan.

Balance 1 peppermint round on a fork and submerge in melted chocolate, letting excess drip off and scraping back of fork against rim of bowl if necessary, then return patty to sheet. Coat remaining rounds, rewarming chocolate to 88 to 91°F as necessary. Let patties stand until chocolate is set, about 1 hour.

Cooks’ note: Patties keep, layered between sheets of parchment in an airtight container, chilled, 1 month. Bring to room temperature before serving.

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