February 21, 2011, 4:54 pm
Filed under: Chocolate, Desserts | Tags: , ,

I’m fairly confident to state that everyone wants to be the best at something.  I could not imagine wanting to settle for second best or even average.  I’m not so confident as to why some seek that stardom.  For some, it’s solely financial while for others it’s the pure enjoyment in the subject matter and for others its the enjoyment of the competitive spirit of the pursuit of being the best.  Regardless of the motivation, it’s really important.  Our inherent desire to be the best is why scientific discoveries are made, lives are saved, excellent works of literature, theater and film are created, important laws are written and enacted, and great restaurants and food is made.  Without this desire and it’s subsequent product, we would most likely live in futility and eventually waste away into nonexistence.  This seems a bit harsh, but must hold some truth.  Philadelphia was recently recognized for a few of its culinary-related “bests,” including receiving numerous James Beard Award nominations in multiple categories, having one of the best public markets in the nation and even receiving recognition in the New York Times for it’s great dining scene.

This post shares what my neighbor, Ashley Cohen, calls the “best” brownies she has ever tasted.  Specifically, she said they were “astoundingly,  dangerously good.”  She enjoyed them so much she bugged me for a couple more and even considered returning from a dinner so that she could pick them up (she was afraid someone else would eat them if she did not do so).

Grasshoppers (Recipe from Baked Explorations)

I made these grasshoppers as a birthday treat for friend and fellow research coordinator, Laurie Doghramji, who works at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (which according to some is one of the “best” hospitals in the country…insert eye roll here).

The grasshoppers present with a very professional final look even after contributing an effort that errs on the side of Betty Crocker boxed brownies.  I realize I sound like a broken record, but this is a simple recipe.  To simplify the directions: 1. make brownie layer 2. make mint layer 3. make chocolate ganache layer.  In the future I might increase the mint layer by 50% and I will always cut the brownies when they are chilled.  Doing so avoids adding brownie crumbs to the mint layer which maintains that clean, professional look.


Chocolate Pomegranate Torte
December 26, 2010, 4:43 pm
Filed under: Cakes, Chocolate, Desserts | Tags: , , , , ,

Did you know that according to Greek mythology the seasons of the year are partly attributed to the goddess of the underworld, Persephone, and eating pomegranate seeds?  According to mythology, Hades kidnapped Persephone and forced her to live in the underworld and be his wife.  Persephone’s mother, Demeter (goddess of the harvest), went into mourning and caused all vegetation to stop growing.  Zeus, not wanting the earth to die, ordered Persephone’s return.  However, it was law that if anyone consumed food or drink in the underworld they were doomed to spend eternity there.  Because Persephone had no food, Hades tricked her into eating six pomegranate seeds and thus she was condemned to spending six months in the underworld every year.  During these six months, Demeter mourns and does not give fertility to the earth.  Thus, the reason why we have the fall and winter seasons.

In Philadelphia, Demeter must have really wanted us to suffer for Persephone’s mistake.  During the winter months, daylight is precious and the days are full of frigid temperatures and brutal winds sweeping between the tall buildings.  Depending upon who you ask, we are either blessed or cursed with plenty of snow as well.  Luckily, with the cold weather comes plenty of great things – holiday parties, hot chocolate, eating at one of the many fantastic Philly restaurants, running on the near-deserted Scuylkill River trail with my dog, skiing, movies, reading, and eating a variety of sweets. Combining the latter with a fruit that is in season this time of year, the pomegranate, can make some incredible desserts.  One such dessert, a chocolate pomegranate torte, is the focus of the post.

Chocolate Pomegranate Torte (From Fine Cooking)

This torte takes quite a bit of time to make and thus I suggest spreading its preparation out over a couple of days.  On the first day, I made the cake and jelly and then spread the jelly over the cake to allow the jelly to set.  According to the website where this recipe originates, it says this is the thing to do anyways as the cake has the best texture and flavor when allowed to set for a day or two.  After making this torte four times over the past few years I have one improvement to the recipe, double the jelly. When the torte is made exactly as directed, it is difficult to pick up the flavors of the pomegranate jelly over the chocolate cake and glaze.  I found the jelly much more prominent and flavorful when it’s recipe is doubled (as it should be), and overall, the torte much more extravagant.

After allowing the cake to set for a day or so, it’s time to glaze the cake and pomegranate gel.  The most important aspect of this step is to not try to make it perfect.  The more you touch it the rougher the glaze will look.  Minimal movements will give it a professional and shiny finish.  To glaze the cake, pour it over the middle of the cake and spread it to the edges, allowing it to fall over the edges.  Using a spatula, spread it evenly and quickly to give the edges a smooth, clean appearance.  Allow it to set over several hours and then serve.

Oreo “Truffles”
December 20, 2010, 8:47 pm
Filed under: Chocolate, Desserts | Tags: , , ,

The holidays are a busy time of the year (hence the delay between posts).  I’ve been lucky enough to go to a couple of Christmas parties recently.  I was invited to a party that was hosted at Lucky Strikes, a place where bowling meets lounge meets cool atmosphere.  The party offered fun people, unlimited bowling, cocktails, beer, wine as well as food.  It was an incredibly fun night.  Lucky Strikes in Philadelphia is one of 18 locations nationwide, originating in Hollywood where it once staged the movie “The Big Lebowski.”  Prior to  Lucky Strikes, a group of friends were getting together for drinks and appetizers and I was asked to bring something to share.  Since the days are quickly filled with work and other activities I needed something easy and fast to make.  I decided on Oreo truffles.  Aesthetically, they look outstanding relative to the time it take to make them.  I recommend making these the next time you’re short on time.

Oreo Truffles

This recipe has three ingredients – 1 lb Oreo’s (I used double stuffed Oreo’s), 8 oz cream cheese, and 1.5 lbs chocolate.  Additionally, I used chocolate sprinkles and ground almonds to provide a little variety.  This recipe makes about 95 truffles.

Grind the Oreo’s in a blender or food processor until it becomes a fine powder.  In a mixer, blend the cream cheese and Oreo powder until no cream cheese can be seen, about 2-3 minutes.  Roll into small or large balls and place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet (Note: I made 95 small balls since the final product is quite rich and I think a larger truffle would be delicious although slightly overwhelming).  Let chill for 45 minutes or even overnight.  After melting chocolate in a double-boiler, use a toothpick to dip each ball into the chocolate.  Be sure to allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the melted chocolate to ensure the truffles have a more neat look.  Place on a second cookie sheet to set.  Once the chocolate has set, decorate each truffle with white or dark chocolate, sprinkles or almonds.  I found using a baggie with a cut corner produced more aesthetically pleasing results than any pastry tip could offer.