Cocktail Recipes, Spirits, and Local Bars

Google Nose Lets You Search Scents, What Melted Chocolate Smells Like

Google Nose Lets You Search Scents, What Melted Chocolate Smells Like

We would search 'fresh baked cookies' every 30 minutes

Sometimes, we wish we could search for what brown butter smells like, or perhaps an unknown spice in a new recipe. Naturally, Google has a tool for that (or not).

In Google's latest April Fools prank, the team has launched a preview to Google Nose, beta. "Coming to your senses: go beyond type, talk, and touch for a new notation of sensation," their promo page says. With the Google Aromabase with 15 million scentibytes, and when you're scared of trying the scents? "Don't ask, don't smell: For when you're wary of your query — SafeSearch included."

This isn't the first time electronic scents have been a the heart of some April Fools pranks; back in 2008, a software engineer wrote a mock press release for electronic scratch-and-sniff Google Books, for titles like "The Cheese Companion," and "The Science of Chocolate."

Watch the promo below for a few laughs, then imagine the possibilities. Not sure when your butter is done browning to that toasty, nutty smell? Ask Google Search. Need a quick pick-me-up? Search "fresh chocolate chip cookies." Need a wake up call? Search "fresh coffee" or maybe "lemon zest." Imagine the possibilities for cheese and wine writeups. We're down. Make it happen, April Fool's joke or not.


How to Taste Chocolate Like a Connoisseur

This is delicious information that will help you appreciate every bite.

We get it: Sometimes, when there&aposs a bar of chocolate around, you just can&apost help it. Your inner Augustus Gloop comes out and scarfs it down in a matter of minutes. But there&aposs something to be said for mindful eating-that is, taking an approach similar to one that you might try with wine or cheese. Tasting chocolate-really tasting it-can be a wonderful experience and a discovery tool, too. It can help you understand the nuances between similar types of chocolates, and it could even turn you into a bit of a chocolate snob (life&aposs too short to eat bad chocolate, right?).


The ingredients for these cookies are just about as basic as basic gets for cookies. To make these cookies, you’ll need:

  • all-purpose flour
  • granulated sugar
  • dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • baking soda
  • salt
  • unsalted butter
  • milk
  • vanilla

If you have a gluten-free flour you like to use for baking, I’m sure that would work fine here too.


Safer alternatives

There are safer ways to scent the air. Here are some suggestions:

Use essential oils. Essential oils can be placed in an ultrasonic diffuser to create a wonderful aroma.

Be careful, many brands showing up in stores today are adulterated with chemicals.

Simmer spices. Place spices such as cinnamon sticks, cloves and nutmeg in a small pot of water on the stove and simmer.

Create potpourri. Use dried flowers, herbs, fruit rinds and spices to make potpourri. There are plenty of DIY recipes – just google!


Natural Bath Bomb Recipe

Bath bombs can use natural recipes for a natural effect on your skin as well. It’s very easy to make, non-toxic and quick.

Bath bombs only take seconds to produce, so it is important to have the ingredients on hand before you begin. Most of the ingredients are common in many households, so please make sure they are available:

  • Baking soda – the foundation of this recipe. Combined with citric acid it provokes the fizzing action.
  • Citric acid – the rarer ingredient in this recipe that many don’t have (you’ll have to buy some). The fizzy reaction is like swimming in champagne.
  • Cornstarch gives us the silky feeling that we all love in bath bombs. In this recipe, we typically use organic cornstarch powder. Arrowroot works as well but does not provide a finished product as silky.
  • Oil, salt, and liquid – these are all very flexible and you can choose any mix.
  • Oil – pick a basic olive oil, almond oil, or coconut oil.
  • Salt – stick to basic salt or add Epsom salt or another favorite salt choice.
  • Liquidsimple water works, but herbal witch hazel is also useful for extra skin soothing.
  • Add scents and colors with natural additives, colorants, and essential oils.

How much of the stuff you will need (the proportions):

  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1/2 cup citric acid
  • 3/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 tbsp water (you may need more if necessary)
  • natural additives by choice

How it’s done:

  1. Mix the oils with baking soda
  2. Mix hard ingredients with citric acid and the above mixture
  3. Mix it all together by adding water (spray bottle helps)
  4. Mix it all well with hands (using gloves) until the mixture holds together and doesn’t fall apart
  5. Add it to forms (such as greased muffin forms)
  6. Let it sit for 24-48 until it hardens completely.

You should use these bath bombs withing two weeks.


Choosing The Best Scented Candles – The Ultimate Buying Guide

We all know how scent can affect our mood and perception. It’s one of the reasons why scented candles are so popular. We often use them to help us de-stress in the comfort of our home. In fact, certain aromas have been scientifically proven to reduce stress-induced muscle tension. Burning scented candles can help evoke memories of happier times, increase concentration and productivity, and even promote sexual attraction.

Obviously, you’re already convinced enough to go buy yourself some candles because you’re already reading this guide. But because there are so many brands to choose from and numerous scents, it’s easy enough to feel overwhelmed. So, how does one navigate the world of scented/smelling candles? We’ve compiled tips and tricks from different candle experts to help you find the perfect scent for you plus a little bit of Candle 101 so you’re not in the dark about wicks and wax and so much more.

Types of Wax

For most of us, the wax is just wax. But candles can be made using different types of wax.

Soy Wax

Soy wax is made from soybean oil. It is biodegradable and sustainable, making it the perfect choice for those who are environmentally conscious. It also burns longer, cleaner, and more evenly than other types of wax (more on this later). However, since soy wax is too soft, these are usually sold in glass containers. You may not find some that can fit your candleholder (if you already own one). Some candles are a blend of soy and paraffin wax to make them harder.

Paraffin Wax

It is not typically used in luxury candles though it is used in making scented candles. It is the least expensive material but it also tends to burn much faster. Some paraffin candles have other ingredients mixed in, such as cyber, to help the candle burn longer. You should take note that it produces more soot compared to other types of wax. Paraffin wax has also been said to emit toxic chemicals such as benzene. In addition, paraffin is an allergen for some individuals.

Beeswax

Beeswax isn’t used much in scented candles because it already has a honey-like scent that doesn’t blend well with other fragrances. When lit, beeswax candles emit a beautiful warm glow that makes dyeing it unnecessary. It burns the slowest and is drip-free which makes it the most expensive material for candles.

Vegetable wax

This wax is similar to soy wax in both consistency and appearance. Made from hydrogenated vegetable oil, it is a sustainable alternative to paraffin wax. This wax has a very luxurious color. Compared to paraffin wax, this material is less likely to soot. However, paraffin wax has a better scent throw. Scent throw, in case you didn’t know, is how far the candle’s fragrance is dispersed.

Scent

The scent is a very personal thing. It is linked to our memories and emotions. What we perceive as delicious, sweet, or cozy may smell nauseating or trigger negative emotions/memories in others. As someone once said, beauty is in the nose of the beholder. That being said, if you’re not sure where to start, experts recommend that you ask yourself what scents make you happy.

From there, you can check out the different fragrance families to find out which other scents have a higher likelihood of suiting you. You can choose fruity fragrances because it reminds you of summer vacation. If you like the smell of sandalwood, you may also like other wooded fragrances such as cedar, moss, and patchouli. The spicy fragrance family includes cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and saffron. You can also choose scents based on your mood or the vibe you want to project.

If you want to feel invigorated, you can choose orange, mint, lemon, and grapefruit. For serenity, choose scents that contain extracts of bamboo, vanilla, and lavender. Chocolate, amber, and patchouli are great at helping set the mood for some romance while bergamot and chamomile help create a restorative atmosphere.

Size and Shape

Smelling candles come in a variety of shapes and sizes. What you choose will depend on your preference and space. Obviously, a small room will only need a small candle while a large room will need a large one. However, preference is still going to reign supreme here.

Our only recommendation is to try buying small candles for scents that you have never tried. This way, you can test the scent as well as the candle’s performance (scent throw, capture, burn rate, etc.) before committing to a higher price and a larger candle.

Wicks

Yes, the scent of a smelling candle is going to be the most important aspect of the product you buy. But wicks always matter. A quality wick is one made out of cotton or linen which burns evenly and produces a strong scent.

Burn Time

This means what it says. Burn time is the amount of time your candle burns. Obviously, you want to get your money’s worth. Why spend so much money on a candle that’ll only last for a short while, right? Now, a candle’s burn time is affected by several things such as the ingredients used to create the wax, the quality of the wick, and the concentration of the fragrance.

If a wick wasn’t placed in a good position, the candle may burn unevenly. The wick can get clogged if there are too many additives that were used in making the candle. Of course, the size of the candle also affects the burn time. Also, the proper care and maintenance of a candle can lengthen its burn time.

Oh, and here’s one more tip: experiment until you find the scents that suit your space. You can mix two or more scents together. And once you find the right scents for you, stick with it. In time, it will become your signature scent – something that will always remind family and friends of you and your home.


Color: Blond, black, chestnut, oxblood—every dark chocolate has its own color. Darker brown can indicate longer roast or higher temperature roast. The color of the bar is also a reflection of the type of cacao bean used. The same goes for artisan milk chocolate bars, but the colors here is effected the amount of powdered milk used in the blend.

Finish: The mirror of the bar, that gloss or matte finish that tells you about the condition of the bar and the mouth feel of that style of chocolate. The coloring and texture should be uniform. If the chocolate is dull with grayish spots and/or streaks, it may have bloomed. Storing chocolate at the wrong temperatures (above 70 degrees) can create sugar and/or fat bloom. Bloomed chocolate is edible, just not very pretty or tasty.

Break your bar. How hard, how soft? Snap is sort of a feel-sound, a moment in time that your ears and the fine-tuned motors of your fingers muscles give you immense amounts of information about how homogeneously interlaced are the cocoa butter crystals, how finely ground the particle size of the cocoa solids. The snap will teach you about how the chocolate will behave in your mouth. And the snap of good chocolate is a lovely sound oscillating between the reassuring solid thump of a Mercedes Benz door and the tinny crackling of a sheet of ice on a frozen pond.

Raise the newly broken chocolate to your nose and take in the chocolate’s entire aroma. What comes up to your nose and to your mind before you even put it in your mouth? Chocolate can smell fruity, nutty, smoky, bitter, spicy, earthy/vegetal, floral and more.


Tasting Chocolate

Like wine experts, professional chocolate makers and connoisseurs use a simple but systematic procedure to unlock all the nuances in a bite of chocolate.

With a few tips and tricks, you can learn to taste chocolate like a pro—just by slowing down, savoring, and focusing your attention on taste and texture. You’ll be amazed at what you discover.

How To Taste And Appreciate Chocolate

While our guidelines may enhance your experience, there's no "right, or wrong" way to taste chocolate. Remember, the best chocolate is the one you like the most. No two people perceive aroma or taste flavors exactly the same way, and even texture can differ from one palate to another. Your individual chocolate palate evolves and sharpens over time with experience. When tasting, look for, notice, and describe what pleases you in the chocolates you taste as well as what you find less appealing about a specific chocolate.

Read on for expert insight on setting off on a journey of culinary discovery.

How To Get Started

Professional tasters usually taste one type of chocolate at a time, focusing on milk chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, or white chocolate, ideally tasting no more than six samples at one sitting. Feel free to set your own rules, and focus on chocolates from a single manufacturer, or from several, tasting across different types of chocolate, or from one type at a time.

Create a pleasant space for tasting without too many sensory distractions. Limit noise, bright lights, and strong scents so that your senses are filled with the aromas, flavor nuances, and varied textures in the chocolate you taste. Break or cut the chocolate into small pieces for sampling, offer water and unflavored crackers for palate cleansing, and provide paper and pens or pencils to make notes.

What To Notice

What color is the chocolate? Is it glossy, matte, dark, light? Bring the chocolate up to your nose and inhale deeply. What aromas do you pick up? Break the piece of chocolate in half. Does it snap? How does the chocolate feel as it melts on your tongue—creamy, velvety, or chalky? Finally, how does it taste?

We eat with our eyes. Appearance is part of the initial pleasure and attraction of chocolate, but not itself a measure of quality. The color of chocolate varies. It may be ivory, golden, shades of copper brown, deep reddish, or charcoal brown depending on the type of chocolate, the percentage of cacao in the chocolate, the presence and quantity of milk or cream, and the source of the beans from which the chocolate was made.

An attractive gloss on the surface of chocolate with a tight, fine grain and even-colored showing at cut or broken edges indicates that the chocolate was well-tempered, and properly cooled and stored. Scuffed or scraped samples are not necessarily of poor quality, but they are less pleasing to the eye.

Smell

As with wine, some of the first clues to flavor are in the nose. Before even tasting, rub the piece of chocolate with your thumb to warm and release its aroma. Hold the chocolate to your nose in cupped hands, like a brandy snifter, to capture and hold the aroma close. Sniff or draw slow breaths. At first chocolate may simply smell “chocolaty.” But as you compare one piece with another you will notice general differences in richness, intensity, sweetness and earthiness. You'll pick up on lower notes and higher notes. The aroma of some chocolates is faint, while that of others is intense. You may then detect even more specific differences.

Milk chocolates often give off aromas of milk or cream, or caramel or malt. Dark chocolate aromas may be characterized by toasted nuts, roasted coffee, dried fruit or wine. Some chocolates have floral or fruity qualities others smell more roasted or nutty. As with flavor, each chocolate brand has a signature aroma. This comes from the blend or selection of beans and their quality, as well as the manufacturer's roasting and conching methods. There is no end to the specific notes that you can pick up with practice and no limit to the words that you may use to describe them.

Seriously accomplished tasters are adept at drawing from their own experience and memory, choosing words accordingly to describe what they smell and taste. Practice!

Snap It

Texture is enormously important to the chocolate experience. A smooth and creamy melt-in-your-mouth texture is so seductive, that many people are more influenced by texture than by flavor.

Begin by listening for the snap! It's the first clue to texture. Snap is the feel and sound of a piece of chocolate when you first break it or bite into it. Snap is easier to appreciate in a thin bar than a thick chunk of chocolate. Snap is a function of the amount and quality of the cocoa butter in the chocolate, how finely ground the chocolate particles are, and how well the chocolate was tempered.

White and milk chocolate bars have a gentler snap than dark or semi-sweet chocolate because their milk and butter fat content make them naturally softer.

Savor the Melt

Mouthfeel is another word for texture. After looking, smelling, and snapping, place the chocolate in your mouth. But, resist the urge to chew and eat. Instead, hold the chocolate against the roof of your mouth and pass your tongue over the bottom of it, noticing first how it melts and then how it feels. Does it melt readily and feel smooth and creamy, or greasy and slimy? Maybe it resists melting and seems hard or waxy? Does it feel grainy or gritty, powdery, harsh, or drying?

No two palates have the same perception of these textures. it is even possible for the same piece of chocolate to seem smooth and silky to one taster and dry and powdery to the next!

If the piece of chocolate has melted completely, take another piece so that you can now notice how the chocolate feels to chew. Is it gummy, sticky, cake-like, fudgy, fast-dissolving, etc.?

Taste

Flavor is the ultimate criterion for quality in chocolate. Because texture is so distracting some tasters focus on flavor first, before considering texture. Either way, flavor begins to fill your mouth from the moment the chocolate begins to melt on your tongue.

At first there is so much pleasure in tasting the chocolate, it may be difficult to focus on the specifics of flavor. As with aroma, your first perception may be simply described as “chocolaty” or even just “yummy”! As you begin to focus, notice several things:

Does the flavor come on quickly or slowly?

Does the flavor build and peak or remain constant?

Does the flavor change character from the beginning to the middle to the end?

How long does the flavor last in your mouth? Professional chocolate tasters often look for a “long finish.” This is simply flavor that lasts a long time in your mouth.

Describing flavor is the most fun and most challenging aspect of chocolate tasting. Everyone gets better with practice.

Want to extend your experience? Pair It Up

The complex flavors in chocolate only increase when paired with wine, beer, coffee, tea, cheese, dried fruit, salty snacks, and nuts. The only limit to what makes a great pairing is your imagination!


ERICA BAUERMEISTER

Many readers have written and asked for recipes. Although I have often wondered what Lillian would think, I have had a great deal of fun posting recipes as guest posts on blogs around the internet and now am collecting them here. My hope is that you will use these as springboards, as the start of your own experimentation process. Change ingredients and amounts as your nose and taste buds tell you to. Trust yourself and the food. Have fun. Lillian would approve of that, I know.

Tom’s Pasta Sauce
(originally a guest post on Books on the Brain, lisamm.wordpress.com)

The idea for The School of Essential Ingredients came from a cooking class I took in Seattle, but the approach that Lillian, the chef/teacher in the novel, has toward food came from my experience of living in Italy for two years. While I was there I learned to see food as a conversation between ingredients rather than a lock-step set of rules I needed to follow. At first, that dialogue between ingredients felt as if it, too, was in a foreign language along with the Italian, but over time I learned to relax, to immerse myself in the flavors and textures of the ingredients, to worry less about using recipes. In short, I learned to play with my food.
And what I learned is that cooking is a very forgiving activity. Switching out one ingredient for another is a creative act, not a destructive one. Coming out from behind the protective wall of a recipe allows us to come into closer contact with the food itself. Thinking of a recipe as the start of a conversation opens up endless possibilities.
I offer the following recipe with the hope that you will feel invited/directed/inspired to experiment. What would happen, for example, if you grated some orange peel into your sauce? Or used chicken sausage, or ground lamb with a bit of fresh rosemary? How might those bursts of creativity affect the life of someone you love?

Note: For best results, use Knorr’s extra-large soft chicken bouillon cubes.

Crush the whole tomatoes in a food processor, or chop them finely by hand.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 extra-large soft chicken bouillon cube (see note)
1 cup onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground Italian sausage
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup red wine
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and crushed (see note)
1 cup tomato sauce (more if you want)
Salt and pepper

1 pound penne pasta
Grated parmesan cheese (optional)
1. In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil on medium-low heat until bubbles form. Crush the half bouillon cube into the oil and mix thoroughly. Add onion and sauté for 2 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until translucent.

2. Add ground sausage, increase heat to medium, and cook until meat is no longer pink. Add milk and simmer until absorbed. (Don’t worry if it looks strange at first the milk will mellow the wine and make for a wonderful, lush sauce.) Add wine, reduce heat to low, and simmer until wine is absorbed. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil over high heat.

3. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1-3 hours, covered if you want a rich, but slightly thinner sauce, uncovered if you want a thicker sauce and the smell to roam through your house.

4. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook penne pasta according to package directions, until al dente. Drain pasta and place in a large serving bowl. Ladle sauce over pasta top with grated parmesan cheese if desired, and serve immediately.
Yield: 6-8 servings

Carl’s White Cake
(originally a guest post on Bookingmama.blogspot.com)

When I was writing The School of Essential Ingredients, my idea was to pair each character with a food that would help them – evoke a memory, spur a life change, heal a sorrow. Sometimes this match was obvious, easy, but for a long time I didn’t know what Carl’s food should be. I tried bread, omelettes, salt – nothing quite fit. And then I thought of cake and I heard the click, the sound in your head that lets you know you have put just the right pieces together in a work of fiction.

The only problem was that at the time I could have easily won a prize as the worst cake baker in the world. In that regard, Helen and I were soul-mates. I have a sister-in-law who makes extraordinary cakes – lofty, light, sculptural in their decoration – but mine were more like those scrawled cards a toddler gives you, full of love but cringe-worthy in production.

But Carl needed a cake – and a white one at that, when everyone in my family is a chocolate fanatic – so I had to figure it out. In the process I learned chemistry and patience and magic. And if I may say so, this cake is delicious. Even the chocolate lovers agreed.

I’m including the recipe below, but Lillian wants to make sure I say that you should mess with it. If you are in a book club, consider trying this for your next get-together….

2 2/3 cups sifted cake flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup unsalted butter (room temp)
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
3 tsp vanilla extract

4 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 3 8″ cake pans.
Separate eggs, set aside.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Beat butter until soft. Add sugar beat several minutes (until fluffy!). Add vanilla. Add one egg yolk at a time, beating after.
Add flour mixture alternately with milk. Flour-milk-flour-milk-flour.
Beat egg whites. When peaks are soft, add sugar. Beat until peaks are stiff, but don’t over beat!
Fold egg whites into flour mixture. Pour batter into cake pans.

Cook 20-25 minutes. Cake is done when a toothpick comes out clean.

Frosting:
1 cup unsalted butter
4 cups confectioner’s sugar (plus more if necessary)
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla

Beat butter until soft. Add sugar gradually, along with vanilla and milk/whipping cream.

Claire’s Roasted Crabs
(originally a guest post on readersrespite.blogspot.com)

Some fifteen years ago now, my husband and I bought a slim bit of land on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state. The property rose up some 250 feet, but technically it was waterfront and we bushwhacked our way through poison oak and clambered down ladders and ropes and stood, triumphant, on our beach. The view down the bay was endless the seals poked their heads up from the water and looked at us with soft brown eyes. We fell in love.

Our beach is rocky and when the tide goes out it leaves behind a vast expanse of oysters. For some of our friends, the bounty is overwhelming and they sit on the rocks in a kind of stunned bliss for hours, oyster knife in hand. Alas, neither my husband nor I like oysters. We’ve tried. We’ve barbequed and baked, lemoned and hot sauced and stewed. Nothing doing.

We do, however, love crab, and there are crabs down in the deep, cold water just off our beach. So every summer we drag our canoe over the utterly offended mollusks and set out in search of crustaceans.

As a cautionary note, I’d like to say that crabbing by canoe is a highly questionable proposition. Still, my husband likes adventure, so we bought a lovely orange canoe that looked just like something you would put Girl Scouts in at summer camp. It lasted a few years until a big winter storm caved its side in while it lay tied up on the beach.

Now we have a new canoe – Tank Girl. Tank Girl is big and strong and so heavy that I truly do not understand how she floats. When the tide is out and the beach looks like a battleground littered with sharp-edged grenades… well, let’s just say you have to like crabs to drag Tank Girl across all that to the water.

Which we do. And wanting to learn how to prepare our catch well led me to take a cooking class, where we were taught how to kill them with our bare hands. Which led to The School of Essential Ingredients.

People have asked for the recipe for roasted crab from Claire’s chapter in the book, so here ‘tis. And Claire and Helen want you to know that if you can only find already cooked crabs (or you don’t relish the idea of killing them), you can also use this as a truly decadent dipping sauce. Or a pasta sauce. Or…

2 live crabs
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup onion, chopped
2 T ginger, minced
2 T garlic, minced
1 t salt
1/2 t red pepper flakes

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup dry white wine

Lay live crab belly side down and hold from the rear with one hand (avoiding the big claws!). With the other hand, grip the edge of the back shell with your fingers. Pull up sharply to remove the shell, then cut the crab into two halves with a large knife. Wash the body cavity, removing lungs and guts. With large knife, cut between each of the legs and crack the shells with the side of the knife, to allow openings for the roasting sauce to enter. (for more extended description, you can go to pages 46-47 of The School of Essential Ingredients).

Melt butter in sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add ginger, garlic, salt, & red pepper flakes and saute about a minute until garlic becomes translucent but not browned.

Put crabs in a roasting pan & coat well with sauce. Roast for 15-20 minutes in 375 degree oven. Stir 2-3 times.

Warm lemon juice & white wine. Add to crab before serving.

Supply your guests with many, many napkins, baskets of crunchy french bread and a fresh green salad. Utensils for getting the meat from the shells are handy as well….

Helen’s Fondue
(originally a guest post on Redladyreadingroom-redlady.blogspot.com)

People often ask me where they can find a restaurant or a cooking class like Lillian’s in The School of Essential Ingredients – a place where needs that you didn’t even know you had are met, where you realize that life can be beautiful or sad, but in any case is meant to be lived. My response is that Lillian’s is fictional, but that magical restaurants exist. Sometimes you just stumble across them.

Which leads me to fondue. In The School of Essential Ingredients, fondue is a way for Lillian’s cooking class to celebrate Valentine’s Day, so it was with a feeling of serendipity that I found myself on Valentine’s Day weekend this year in New York City with my 21-year-old daughter, trying to track down a fondue restaurant in the East Village that a friend had told her we HAD to find. It was called The Bourgeois Pig.

We decided to locate it while we were out exploring in the afternoon, just so we would know where to go that evening. We walked right by the address – no restaurant. We asked at a shop two doors down the clerk had never heard of the place. We asked people on the street. Nothing. Finally, while getting our lunch order at a (fabulous) porchetta sandwich shop we mentioned it. Oh yes, they had heard about it. They pointed across the street to a blank building facade, its windows closed with wooden shutters. We went and found “The Bourgeois Pig” painted in small, curling letters on the door frame.

We came back at 7 pm to find magic – Paris in another century. The shutters open, candle-light flickering inside the windows. A man with a delicious resemblance to Johnny Depp standing at the door, dressed in cape and cravat, letting people in two at a time. We entered to find dim lighting, red flocked wallpaper, the tables pressed up against each other like lovers. The fondue was lush and warm and into it we dipped an incredible array of crusty bread and grapes, apple slices and roasted rosemary potatoes. The wine was cold we talked about everything and nothing for hours a (real) frenchman sitting at the bar sent my daughter a glass of champagne. Oh my.

So here is Helen’s fondue, with some variations as suggested by a magical evening in New York City.

garlic clove, cut in half
1 1/2 cup white wine
2-3 T kirsch
1/2 lb Emmenthaler
1/2 lb Gruyere
1-2 T cornstarch
a pinch of nutmeg
Rub fondue pot with garlic clove. Add white wine and kirsch and heat. Grate cheese and put in plastic bag with cornstarch shake until cornstarch covers cheese. Add cheese slowly to pot, stirring in a figure-8 motion. Add a small pinch of nutmeg at the end…

What shall you dip in your fondue? Try:

crusty french bread, cut in cubes
grapes
apple slices
roasted rosemary potatoes (cut new red potatoes in chunks, brush with olive oil, toss with a bit of salt and pepper and rosemary, then roast in a 375 degree oven until as soft as you like them – figure 30-45 minutes).

Spring Risotto
(originally a guest post on BermudaOnion.wordpress.com)

For a long time I thought of risotto as a winter dish. I love the idea of coming home after a cold and hectic day and standing at the stove, stirring chicken broth into the softly sizzling rice while listening to my children talking at the kitchen table. The dark outside the windows, the lights above the table and the stove. It feels safe and comforting, and the risotto when you eat it feels that way, too.

But then spring comes along, with its crazy combination of hope and green shoots coming up in the yard, but cool weather when you least expect it. I want to get excited and run out there among all that green, but I still want to feel safe and warm.

Which leads us straight to asparagus risotto, and if I can convince you to find the freshest and most local asparagus you can to make this dish, I will sleep easier tonight. Because once you eat asparagus that has been freshly picked, not shipped from who-knows-where until it toughens into spears that yes, indeed, could be used for swords at the table just as every child instinctively wants to do – well, once you eat the good stuff, you will never go back. You will be willing to wait all the rest of the year until asparagus season comes around again. And you will be reminded that waiting and anticipation are not bad things – and that the rewards for doing so can be incredible.

So here’s a recipe for Lillian’s asparagus risotto, with the hope that you will feel inspired to play with it yourself, as Lillian would want you to do. What other fresh vegetables might you use in another season? How about adding some lemon zest? Grilled shrimp? The possibilities are as infinite as spring…

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 lb asparagus
3 T butter
3 T olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 1/3 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper (to taste)
lemon zest (optional)
shaved parmesan

Cut asparagus tips into 1 1/2 inch pieces. Cut half of the stocks into finely chopped pieces cut the other half into 1 inch pieces.

Heat broth in a heavy saucepan. When boiling, add asparagus and cook until just tender (3-5 minutes). Take out asparagus with a slotted spoon and set aside in a bowl. Turn down heat under broth to a low simmer.

In a different heavy saucepan, melt butter and add olive oil. Add chopped onions and saute until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add rice and bay leaf and stir until well coated with the butter. Add wine and cook, stirring, until liquid has evaporated.

Add a ladleful of heated broth to the rice, stirring until liquid is absorbed. Continue adding a ladleful at a time, until broth is gone and rice is creamy but grains are still firm.

Add the asparagus and a pinch of lemon zest (optional). Add salt and pepper to taste. Put in a serving bowl and top with Parmesan shavings.

Prep time: 45-50 minutes (with much contemplative stirring)
Serves 6.

Thanksgiving Stuffed Turkey Breast

(originally a blog post on abookbloggersdiary.blogspot.com)

Our second year in Italy, we decided to have a Thanksgiving feast and invite our Italian friends so they could experience an American holiday. We knew it wouldn’t be completely traditional we’d have to use chutney instead of cranberry sauce and get a turkey from our American friend who had access to the store at the local U.S. military base – but it could be done.

The day of Thanksgiving dawned. In honor of our guests I had decided to polish the wood floors of our apartment. But as the polish spread across the floor and the wood began to glisten I noticed a horrifying smell rising up. Think pink. Think your grandmother’s floral perfume mixed with that thick, gritty pink bathroom soap that used to come out of public dispensers.

My husband ran out to buy scented candles, which we lit, to no avail.

Our friend arrived with our Butterball turkey, which landed plump and steroid-filled on our kitchen counter. We shoved it in our tiny oven and soon the smell of roasting turkey wafted out to the living room, where it was met with a wall of pink scent. You could almost see the battle lines.

But the Italians were sweet, carrying flowers as they arrived, and we sat down at the table, filled from stem to stern with mashed potatoes and turkey and stuffing and chutney and salad and vegetables and…

And suddenly, I saw it all through their eyes. Our table looked like the playing field after the ending whistle of the Super Bowl. Nothing like the five-hour lunches we had experienced at their houses, where one dish followed the next, each given attention and admiration, their flavors finding their way, slowly and luxuriously, into your soul.

But the Italians were polite they were lovely, in fact. Maurizio especially loved the chutney that he said, with utter delight, reminded him of the sweet and sour sauce at McDonald’s. And at the end of the evening, when the last guest was gone and the last dish was dried, I sat in the lingering pink scent of my living room and realized that perhaps I was the one who had learned about tradition that evening.

Antonia’s chapter in The School of Essential Ingredients, and its different approach to Thanksgiving, grew out of that experience and out of all the interesting things we see and learn when we look at ourselves through the perspective of a different culture.

1 whole turkey breast
4 slices of pancetta
2-3 garlic cloves
1-2 T rosemary
salt and pepper
handful of dried cranberries
sherry (enough to cover cranberries)
olive oil

Soak cranberries in sherry (15 minutes), drain.

Butterfly turkey breast — lay open.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, garlic, rosemary, and cranberries. Drizzle with olive oil. Add pancetta slices.

Roll up turkey, season outside with rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper. Tie with string. Wrap in foil. Cook at 400 degrees for 40-55 minutes (internal temp 140 degrees).

Abuelita’s Hot Chocolate

(originally a blog post on www.devourerofbooks.com)

We’re moving deeply into winter, Thanksgiving handing the holiday baton over to the festivities of December. Kitchens are filled with the smells of rosemary and turkey, pumpkin and cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. And hot chocolate, the way that luxurious smell comes floating up to your nose, the first sensation of whipped cream meeting your lips as you sip your way to the molten chocolate underneath.

It’s magic, really, which makes it only natural that Lillian used hot chocolate to tempt her mother back into the real world in The School of Essential Ingredients. But I realized pretty quickly when I was writing Lillian’s story that it couldn’t be just any hot chocolate. It had to be a version that would remind you of the hot chocolate you drank after playing all day in the snow, yet would also be full of the sensuality that only comes with adulthood. A recipe that would remind Lillian’s mother of the world she had given up.

As I was writing Lillian’s story I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, playing with ingredients. I loved the idea of adding orange and cinnamon, the combination of summer and autumn they create. Coffee and chocolate played off each other in an equally satisfactory way. But something was missing, and I couldn’t think of what it would be.

I went to the Mexican grocery store in the Pike Place market in Seattle and I asked the woman there for something special. She humored me, suggesting cinnamon, and sent me on my way. But as I was going up to the counter with a red and yellow box of Mexican chocolate in my hands, she came around the end of the aisle, a small bag in her hands.

“Perhaps a bit of anise,” she said.

It’s in there, with the proviso that a little bit of anise goes a very long way….

1 cup milk
5 curls orange rind
1/2 stick cinnamon
4 T Mexican chocolate
anise
1 cup coffee
whipping cream

Put milk, orange rind, cinnamon and chocolate in a saucepan and warm through. Add a touch of anise. Add to coffee and top with whipping cream.


Grilled S&rsquomores Nachos Recipe

For this recipe, you need foil and a foil pan, along with your traditional s&rsquomore fixings.

These grilled s&rsquomores are cooked over the campfire, on the grill, or in an oven at home.

If you are making these out at the campground and the fire pit does not come with a grate, use a portable one.

We make these dessert nachos in an 8&Primex8&Prime foil pan. If you have a large family, you will want to make more in a larger pan. Everyone will want more, so maybe even two large pans.

We discovered that this recipe is just as good at home on the grill or in the oven.

Grilling Instructions: We recommend that you make this recipe in a cast iron skillet when cooking on a grill. We do not top it with foil when we use this skillet. We grilled these for about 7 minutes on our cast iron gas grill, but it could take longer depending on how hot your grill is. Keep a close eye on it to make sure it does not burn.

Oven Baking Instructions: Like with the grill, we recommend that you make this in a heavy skillet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10+ minutes. You can get the marshmallows extra crispy by moving them to a rack high in the oven for a minute or two after it has baked. Keep a very close eye on the oven so that the marshmallows do not burn.

Camping Dessert Nachos

The fun thing about this recipe is that is very adaptable, not only in how it is prepared but also with the ingredients. We love to have a Deluxe S&rsquomores Nacho bar with a variety of toppings. All the different options are set out and we let everyone customize their own pan of nachos. We love to use caramel bits, mint chips, bananas, peanut butter, strawberry jam, and sprinkles in addition to the marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers. Just layer the ingredients you want. Can you think of an ingredient that we left out?

Diana&rsquos very favorite way to enjoy these nachos is with pretzel chips, strawberry jam, and caramel bits. Strawberry and caramel are such an amazing combination that goes so well with the chocolate. These amazing tastes are enhanced with the salt on the pretzels. Look at that gooey goodness!

By now you are sure to be salivating. We hope that you enjoy this great camping dessert as much as we do!

Vegan S&rsquomores Nachos

If you are vegan, you can still enjoy this tasty camping treat. Instead of regular marshmallows use Dandies. You can usually find vegan chocolate chips at or your local market. A few popular graham crackers are vegan, but check the ingredients to make sure.

Happy Campers will also enjoy these other chocolatey camping treats: Cherry Chocolate Lava Cake, Turtle Lava Cake, and Campfire Chocolate Chip Cookies.