Posts Tagged ‘Valentine’s Day’

I dunno. Surprise me.

Pavlova Sweet Heart

Pavlova Sweet Heart

If certain magazines are to be believed, true love is only an exercise / diet / new outfit / new attitude / new rule away. Yes, it’s that easy.

As I am a skeptic, I question whether love can be found by following someone else’s template, like learning to salsa by using one of those old home dance lessons where you put the footprints on the floor and followed them by number. Where’s the magic? Where’s the chemistry?

I know couples for whom love came in the blink of an eye. The late playwright Arthur Laurents agreed that it’s all about the dance, that look in the eye. “Some enchanted evening you may see a stranger across a crowded room. And somehow you’ll know…” was Oscar Hammerstein’s version, and depending on the singer, it has the breeze of truth.

Every February we celebrate love, or at least toast its possibility, by eating chocolate, drinking champagne, and sneezing over roses. I am on the fence with this one. Every year I see the line flowing out the door onto the sidewalk as the clerks at the Godiva store near me struggle to keep up with the desperate hordes. Every year I cannot decide whether I think that kind of predictable, clichéd behavior is really fun, or tragically lacking in imagination. That must mean it’s both, yes?

Here’s one side: some folks want—expect—to get that stuff on Valentine’s Day. To deviate from that checklist would be a cardinal sin. On the other side are the folks who couldn’t care less. For them the real hearts and flowers derive from using your imagination. “I dunno. Surprise me,” would be their credo. Who can say which is right and which is wrong?

Me? I dunno. Surprise me. Let nature take its course. As long as there’s chocolate involved I’m good.  I thought of that the other day while at the supermarket. Winter is not traditionally a fertile time for fruits and vegetables. Our bounty of year-round fruits and vegetables really only dates back to the beginning of the jet age. Berries used to be only a summertime treat. Now you can get strawberries in February from South America or Florida. Personally, I think Strawberries are often overlooked on Valentine’s Day—not forgotten mind you, just pushed to the bottom of the list.

Yes I know Godiva comes in the pretty gold ballotin, and a rose is a rose is a rose, but to me strawberries are like Gisele Bündchen. You can dress them in anything and they look amazing. Think about it. Put them in a brown paper bag and they retain the berry version of great cheekbones.

Dress them in something special and oo-la-la. Valentine’s Day is a special occasion, so Gisele had better throw on more than just a pair of blue jeans.

I’m not sure why Pavlovas aren’t as popular in the US as they are elsewhere—especially on Valentine’s Day. There’s something unexpectedly luxurious about Pavlovas—including the fact that the dessert was created as a tribute to a Russian ballerina during one of her world tours in Australia or New Zealand.

Essentially a big meringue topped with fruit, when executed just so, Pavlova has a rather ethereal appearance, mimicking the dancer’s tulle skirts. Where most people expect meringue to crunch away into powdery oblivion after a couple of bites, Pavlova stays gooey in the middle.

For Valentine’s Day I made the usually round or freeform Pavlova into a heart, by piping the meringue, but that is purely formality; shaping with a spoon will do the same duty, without the formality. If you’re ambitious but not feeling dexterous or confident with the piping bag, feel free to make a square basket.

After baking, I dipped the bottom of the Pavlova in chocolate then filled it with fruit, and dusted it with a puff of confectioner’s sugar. I used Star Fruit to give my big strawberries a color counterpoint, but use what looks good to you. An extra swoop or two of chocolate (made by sweeping melted chocolate on parchment paper, letting it set, then peeling it off) serves as anxiously amorous punctuation.

Or there’s always a box of Russell Stover from Duane Reade. I meant it when I said, “If there’s chocolate I’m good.”

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You can use the same meringue recipe I used to make Halloween ghosts to make these Valentine’s Day Pavlovas.

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Will you be my Tweet heart?

Love Is Messy (and so am I)

Frozen Chocolate Souffle

Messy? If you want...

I am terribly vain. My vanity is, however, at cross purposes with my manner of eating, which I self-consciously categorize as “voracious.” A friend has observed that when I eat, the rest of the world disappears. The problem with simultaneously being vain and Hoover-esque when one eats is that invariably one’s clothes suffer. I’m working on it.

It’s not that I’m a drooling mess; it’s not that you can look at my shirt and deduce what I had for lunch; no, it is far more subtle. The usual scenario plays out like this: I do my laundry. I iron a shirt. The shirt looks crisp and clean. I then don the shirt and look in the mirror only to spy a small oil stain (last Tuesday’s lemon vinaigrette perhaps?). My spotty history (as it were).

Yes, the obvious answer would be to either disrobe while I eat (frowned upon in public), or to wear a bib (frowned  upon. Period.) The latter reminds me of a middle aged couple I waited on in a hotel restaurant many-something years ago. Mrs. was clothed (amply) in a gold metallic fabric. When her entrée arrived she reached into her (ample) handbag and withdrew a matching gold metallic bib. That picture burned into my vulnerable mind strikes bibs and metallic fabrics off the list of options. Aside from my spotty shirts, I have also become self-conscious (as any truly vain person would be) that I must look like a woodchuck gnawing at a tree when I eat. Again, I’m working on it: my pinkies are up.

Chocolate and roses are the old standbys of Valentine’s Day. Chocolate is dangerous enough, but dip a strawberry or two in it and my white shirts will cower at the back of the closet.

Good news fellow slobs enthusiastic eaters, Valentine’s Day is an occasion when messy food is welcome; you’re consuming it with someone who knows all your flaws, and still loves you anyway. If you get a little chocolate on your face, someone is there to help you figure out how to clean it off (ahem, this is a family blog.)

Yet, it occurs to me that there are a great many folks on whom these gifts would be lost. Countless women in my life have professed over the years to preferring daisies over roses. Another friend says she loves chocolate but it gives her a headache.

This begs the question: if you’ve been told that someone prefers daisies, but the tradition of the day calls for roses, what do you do? I consulted with a friend and fellow blogger, Jenny Beaudry, founder of the global lifestyle brand GiftLoveCharm.com. Very much an arbiter of trends, tastes, and proper gift giving, Jenny assured me in a flutter of tweets that tradition has its place, but if the gift recipient has expressed a preference, then that preference trumps all. Phew, that’s a relief.

By the way, if you’re wondering where all this discussion of my vanity and being a messy eater came from, I can lay the blame on Valentine’s Day. My plan was to write about Warm Chocolate Soufflé. It is the perfect romantic dessert: gooey, warm, and chocolate. I am a huge fan of all soufflé and I think they have gotten a bad rap. The truth is that they are easy to make, dramatic, yadda yadda yadda.

Alas, I’ll have to save Warm Chocolate Soufflé and the yadda yadda yadda for another day. I have been reminded that on Valentine’s Day many people eat out. Therefore I thought it would be a fun (and better) idea to create a little something that can be waiting at home, no oven required.

That’s not to say that the idea of soufflé has been banished. I have simply turned the temperature down. Way down. Cross out the word “Warm” and scribble in the word “Frozen.” While it seems a touch counterintuitive to make something frozen in the middle of winter, in actuality the frozen part is more about preparation than about temperature. Give me a minute and this will make sense.

Frozen soufflé is usually served in the summer, and is usually flavored with lemon or berries—the better to refresh you with a light touch, my dear. The dessert isn’t really served frozen, it is best when allowed to sit for a few minutes so that some of the chill dissipates. This is a preference that sits especially well with me—I don’t like food at either extreme: too hot or too cold. This is especially true of chocolate. I’ve been known to let chocolate ice cream sit out to the point I call “pre-soup.” I think any chocolate just tastes better closer to room temperature. For frozen soufflé the freezer takes the place of the oven; it is the mode of cooking. You’ll let the soufflé sit for a while, and the result will be supple, rich, très chocolat, and potentially très messy.

Fruit-based frozen soufflé often employ a bit of gelatin to pull everything together. I’m not a fan; I think that gelatin can lend a rubbery texture. This is especially out of place with chocolate. Instead, this recipe is based on a sturdy Italian meringue in which the sugar is cooked to the soft ball stage. The foamy meringue gives the whole package its rich airiness.

Yes, a touch of work is required, but the work can be done several days in advance and the result stashed lovingly in the freezer. You can dine out on the big day smirking with the self satisfied knowledge that something good is waiting at home.

Double entendre anyone?

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Click here for the recipe for Frozen Chocolate Soufflé.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Tiptoe Through the Tulipe

Tulipe Paste Hearts

How many hearts are too many?

As if I needed an excuse. February is here and that means Valentine’s Day is barreling down the road towards us; while many folks associate that with roses, for me it’s all about the chocolate.

I love tradition, and if the old fashioned heart-shaped box of chocolates is your preference, then I won’t quarrel with that.

Me? I think I straddle the fence between easygoing and annoyingly precise. My favorite chocolate (at the moment) is a simple, humble, chocolate bar. Tie two or three blocks of my beloved (and cheap) Damak chocolate together with a ribbon and I’m perfectly happy. Easy? Well, yes, except that Damak is imported from Turkey, is only available in a handful stores here in New York, and can be hard to find because it flies off the shelves. Weeks go by, and (poor me) there’s no Damak Chocolate to be found. (Hear me Nestlè?)

For those who want to shake things up a bit, there are other paths to follow. Last year my Baby Niece hand decorated chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies for her young gentleman. (Okay, yes, I helped.) For others, Valentine’s Day can be symbolized by a special meal. I know one rather zesty young woman whose husband has been well trained: for her the hearts and flowers of Valentine’s Day are perfectly embodied in the guise of sliced filet mignon at Ben Benson’s Steakhouse. Rare please.

My Baby Niece, for one, is indifferent to flowers. Yeah, she likes chocolate—kinda, sorta, I guess. But if you really want to make her happy, something twinkly in a light blue box from the store where Holly Golightly ate breakfast is your best bet. I hate to be crass, but the price of roses on Valentine’s Day makes her preference a good deal. And it won’t wilt after a week.

If there is ever an occasion when it is the thought that counts, when you need to show someone that you’ve been listening, it is Valentine’s Day. The really important ingredient is to know your audience.

Sometimes just a little bit of fuss is all you need.

And if it’s fuss you want, my little Tulipe Paste hearts in the picture above are for you. These will dress up anything—even a Tofutti Cutie— on Valentine’s Day and make it something special. (Apologies to you if think Tofutti Cuties are already something special.)

Unfamiliar with Tulipe Paste? I understand. But if you’ve ever been given a can of those little rolled “cigarette” cookies (usually filled with chocolate cream), you’ve had Tulipe Paste. Pepperidge Farm sells them under the name “Pirouette.” Some pastry chefs refer to these as Tuile cookies.

Are they easy to make at home? Let me put it this way: if you can spackle a wall, you can make Tulipe Paste cookies. (That’s a “yes.”) The good news? The batter has only six ingredients. The bad news? You’ll need couple of items of easily obtained special equipment—some of which you can easily make yourself. (I did.) Hint: it’s worth the trouble.

Tuile Cookies are one of those things like blackened redfish: about fifteen or twenty years ago they were everywhere. Then they were heaped on the junk pile of culinary trendiness; the shag haircut of the pastry kitchen. Okay, maybe not that bad. They still show up swirling around a pile of mousse every now and then. You get my point though.

I like them, and they’re fun, so I’m putting on my rubber gloves and fishing them out of the junk pile. Conniving blogger that I am, I have an ulterior motive: they’re crunchy. But before they are crunchy, they are soft and mold-able—and I think this makes them an invaluable tool in the home baker’s…uh…tool belt. (I myself do not wear a tool belt when baking.)

The most common way 1990’s chefs used the latter phenomenon was to drape the hot-from-the-oven cookies over a bowl. As the cookies cooled they hardened into the shape of the bowl and were served filled with fresh berries and whipped cream—actually, not a bad idea for Valentine’s Day. Make a couple of Tuile Bowls, fill them with a few chocolate-dipped strawberries (make ‘em or buy ‘em at the Godiva store) and you’ve got something special.

Frozen Chocolate Souffle

Tulipe hearts and Chocolate Gelato

I mentioned that you’ll need a couple of pieces of special equipment to make these cookies. The first is a little offset spatula to spread the batter. The second is a stencil because the basic technique is that the Tulipe Paste is spread into a stencil secured firmly to a baking sheet. To make the bowls you’ll need a round stencil measuring approximately six to eight inches, or you can try making free hand rectangles without a stencil. This is actually a really great technique to get the feel of working with the paste. For my little heart shaped cookies, I made a heart-shaped stencil from the plastic top of a tub of almonds. Take that, Martha Stewart. (The hearts in the picture above are approximately actual size.)

The little heart cookies have approximately the same crunch as potato chips, so add these to some melting dark chocolate gelato or mousse and you get the happy play of sweet, chocolately, and crunchy.

Now, that’s something I can fall in love with.

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Click here for the recipe for Tulipe Heart Cookies and some tips on working with Tulipe Paste .

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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“La Vie, C’est Comme Une Boîte de Chocolats.”

Profiteroles

Profiteroles

“One nice thing eez, the game of love eez never called on account of darkness.” – Pepe Le Pew

Pepe Le Pew: now there’s a true romantic. He never gives up on love. He approaches it with a single-mindedness that could almost be enviable. And yes, you may have noticed that he is as French as une baguette. The last bit makes sense, given that Parisians, indeed all French, have had a reputation for romance grafted onto their identities like a tattoo. (That Pepe Le Pew happens to be a cartoon skunk is irrelevant to my thesis.)

I have been trying to find out why Paris is considered the most romantic city in the world. No matter who I ask or where I look on the internet, the closest answer I can get is that “it just is.” Songs have been written about it, movies have been made, and books have been published. So who am I to argue?

Perhaps you are familiar with the famous “French Paradox.” This is the observation that the French suffer a relatively low incidence of heart disease, despite having a diet relatively rich in saturated fats.

Pepe Le Pew

Pepe Le Pew

But herein lies my French paradox: how can it be that a place and a people so famous for being romantic can also be famous for rudeness? (Not like New Yorkers, who are sooooo nice.) It reminds me somehow of what Socrates said about love, “The hottest love has the coldest end.” So perhaps my paradox is explained by twisting Socratic reason: French passion burns white hot, but is icy cold when you ask for your vin ordinaire to be refilled. They may be rude, but they’re rude with style.

(Quoting Pepe Le Pew and Socrates in the same story must be some kind of journalistic breakthrough.)

The following bit of news is unlikely to come as a surprise: for me all roads lead to food, and any place where your visit isn’t considered complete unless you’ve partaken of an éclair or two (or three) gets a gold star on my map. So if the people are rude, I figure I can always drown my sorrows at les patisseries, non?

Valentine’s Day is this weekend. Last week I described baking Valentine Heart cookies. They are a sweet and wonderful thing to make for your special someone, but if something more transcendent is called for then may I suggest a really cheap trip to romantic Paris?

No, I am not saying that you should fly to Paris for a day in the middle of winter (although if you want to that’s good too.) But the Butter Flour Eggs Travel Bureau would like you to know that Paris can be as close as your kitchen, and just as romantic as the real thing. All that is needed is a touch of atmosphere, and, yes, some butter, flour, and a few eggs. Oh, and a big hunk of chocolate. Okay, two big hunks of chocolate.

Here’s the bottom line: if Paris is the most romantic city in the world, then why not toss out the flowers and the candy, and instead serve something typically Parisian? Life may be a box of chocolates, but for me, Valentine’s Day is all about Profiteroles.

Profiteroles are a staple of Parisian patisseries. In simplest terms, they are small cream puffs filled with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. Such an underwhelming description, yes, but like Paris, it’s more about the experience and the sum of the parts than about the mere bricks and mortar.

I don’t remember the first time I had Profiteroles, but it wasn’t in Paris. I’ve had them through the years here in New York at the venerable Café Un Deux Trois. While I was preparing to write this article I Googled, “Who serves the best Profiteroles in Paris?” Number one on someone’s list was a patisserie named Carette. (Warning to office dwellers, their website site plays music.) If you’ve been to Paris it is likely you are familiar with Carette as it is hardly an undiscovered secret. For several days I have been fixated on their website, specifically the pictures. Looks like a place I could spend an afternoon, eating.

You may be thinking, “Are you crazy? You want me to make cream puffs?” I’m not crazy (at least not measurably), the effort is all in the name of romance, and cream puffs – Pâte à Choux – are ridiculously easy to make. Really. Meatloaf is harder, I swear.

There’s also a dirty little secret about Profiteroles: they can be made a day or two ahead and stashed in the freezer until you need them. Just thaw them for a fleeting twenty minutes or so – long enough to unwrap jewelry (hint hint) – glaze with the intense, oozing gloss of a special chocolate sauce and l’amour is alive in your kitchen. Feel free to eat them with a spoon, but they’re small, so why not pull a “Mickey Rourke” and feed each other with your hands? Messy? Ah, you’ll figure it out.

If your kitchen isn’t especially atmospheric, light a few candles and fire up some classic French love songs on your iPod; anything by Charles Aznavour, Edit Piaf, or Yves Montand will do the job, and they’re all available on iTunes.

As one of those songs says, “C’est si bon / Lovers say that in France / To the tune of romance / It means it’s oh so good.” I think that is as true for romance as it is for Profiteroles.

Of course on Valentine’s Day, I know a few folks who may prefer a little ditty sung by Beyoncé that beseeches the listener to, “put a ring on it.”

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Click here for my recipe for Profiteroles.

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Write to me at the email address below with any thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

Hearts And Flowers

Valentine's Day Cookies

Valentine's Day Cookies

A couple of classmates from elementary school “friended” me recently on Facebook. To protect the innocent I won’t say how many years have gone by since I’ve seen them. As happy as I was to hear from them after all these years, I also found that it raised some strange emotions for me. I think the passage of time has always had an ineffable quality for me; I can count the time passed in numbers but I can’t quite wrap my head around what it means.

One of these long lost school mates reminded me that when we were kids I always gave everyone in our classroom a Valentine’s Day card. I admit I found this a bit disconcerting:  you mean everyone DIDN’T give everyone in class a Valentine’s Day card?? What was going on there? Were they raised by wolves?

I remember vividly that every year there was the ceremonial carving of the shoe box: everyone decorated a shoe box with a slot cut in the top. Everyone placed them on their desks to serve as a Valentine’s Day mailbox. I remember a flurry of activity as everyone ran around the classroom delivering their cards. I do not remember why I was so generous with my little paper hearts and cupids. Was I sentimental or romantic? Was my Mom teaching me some early lesson about etiquette and letter writing? Maybe it was the simple math of me observing that there were twenty-something cards in the pack, and assuming that I was supposed to use them all?

Whatever the reason, it is a relief to know that for once, I had it covered. Phew.

Living here in New York, I am a witness every year to the adult version of this ritual. I always get a laugh out of seeing the long line of quietly panicked men at the florist and at the Godiva store much too late on Valentine’s Day. I never see women in those lines. I’m not sure why, but I got a hint the other day when my Baby Niece (or “B.N.”) called me – more than two weeks before Valentine’s Day – and asked if I would help her make a special treat for her boyfriend (lower case.) I think she’s trying to make him her Boyfriend (upper case.)

She wants to surprise him with cookies (he doesn’t read this blog so this won’t ruin the surprise.) I think this is a great idea. Anyone can go out and buy chocolate, but the extra step of making something or planning something is what makes a gift romantic on Valentine’s Day. It says, “I was thinking of you, and you mean enough to me that I took the time and planned something special.” I am not advocating stalking, rather, I am merely suggesting consensual obsession.

Nor am I advocating that you should forego including jewelry as part of your Valentine’s Day gift. If I did that I would likely be disinherited by my Mother and have to endure the scorn of the other women in my family, as well as countless others. Jewelers everywhere can now breathe a sigh of relief.

I was more than willing to bake the cookies for her and let boyfriend (lower case) operate under the delusion that she baked them – the sugary equivalent of Cyrano de Bergerac. (How’s that for romantic?)

But no, B.N., an intrepid young woman, insisted that she needed to do it herself under my supervision. My only concern was that my kitchen is a bit snug for two adults to comfortably work. Also, we were planning on dipping the cookies in chocolate; to bake them, wait for them to cool, and then dip ‘n decorate (can I trademark that term?) would mean perhaps a longer day than either of us was willing to give to the project.

In the past I have described my usual division of labor for projects of this type. To be brief, I prefer to break the work into pieces. For these Valentine cookies I decided that the pieces should be: A) I’ll make the cookie dough B) I’ll bake the cookie dough C) B.N. will decorate the cookies.

That weighty decision done, I unearthed a very simple, not too sweet, shortbread recipe I had cobbled together. This is one of those “double duty” recipes I always like. You can use it for cookies, but if you omit the egg it makes a great crust for lemon bars, or pecan bars. As B.N.’s boyfriend (lower case) prefers milk chocolate (I approve!), I thought this humble cookie would be the best delivery system for the milk chocolate.

We had a bit of time between “cookie day” and Valentine’s Day, so I knew I needed to be extra careful with the chocolate. During that time the chocolate could become streaky or discolored – especially if refrigerated. Tempering chocolate is a process that allows you to melt it and let it set again without streaking or discoloring. Tempering chocolate requires raising it to a particular temperature, then cooling it slowly by folding it over on itself on a cool marble slab. It requires a bit of skill, patience, and space. I’m one for three. Barely.

Instead, I found a shortcut technique in a really beautiful book titled, “Baking At Home with The Culinary Institute of America.” Their shortcut involves simply melting two thirds of the chocolate on top of a double boiler, then adding the remaining un-melted chocolate and allowing it to melt while stirring until the chocolate reaches 84˚F to 87˚F. Sounds convoluted? The fault is in my description, it is really very simple.

B.N. and I had a blast. This is a really low stress project. One of the reasons for the lower stress is the sheer scale of the project: at Christmas you feel compelled to bake enough cookies to feed a small country. On Valentine’s Day you can get away with as few as three or four and as many as a dozen. Unless you’re baking enough for the whole class.

You can see samples of our collaboration in the picture above. The question remains: will boyfriend (lower case) be promoted to Boyfriend (uppercase)?

We’ll see. But for now I’ve got another Valentine’s Day covered. Phew.

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Click here for my recipe for chocolate dipped shortbread cookies.

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Write to me at the email address below with any thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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