The Forgotten Food Group

Anyone who knows me well also knows that I consider chocolate to be a food group unto itself.

And as many of you also know, I live near Cape May, New Jersey. Each December, Cape May’s Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC) sponsors a spectacular array of events including everything from a Christmas traditions lecture – to evening Yuletide trolley tours to see the lights on the Victorian homes and inns in Cape May – to walking tours of historic Cape May inns – to something called a “Dickens Christmas Extravaganza” – to various and unforgettable food and wine events. If you want to see some of the things the MAC has to offer during the holiday season, you can check out their website here.

For many of the past years, we haven’t had the time to enjoy MAC holiday events. But my husband and I were finally able to attend the Chocolate Lovers’ Feast at The Blue Rose Inn about a week and a half ago. For about 90 minutes, we sat in one of the small Victorian dining rooms at the Inn and enjoyed learning about chocolate and sampling gourmet treats made with chocolate the restaurant sources from Europe.

I thought the menu would make a good blog post, so I’m sharing it with you here. Most of the seven courses featured a different type of chocolate, classified by both cocoa content and the plantation where the chocolate originated in France.

First, a look at the menu:

So here’s what the first course looked like:

It was one of the most unusual ways I’ve ever seen chocolate presented–with both sweet and savory elements included. Each of two crispy pieces of Honey & Chocolate Porter crostini were topped with a drizzle of Concord grape jam, watercress, three dollops of mascarpone, duck prosciutto, and dark (72% cocoa) chocolate shavings.

In a thousand years I would never think to put those ingredients together, but somehow they worked. I was impressed.

Second course:

Of the seven courses, this was my favorite. It was a white chocolate and Bailey’s Irish Cream pot de creme with a frothy topping of milk and tiny crumbles of dark chocolate cookies. We ate it with dainty little spoons that forced us to take small bites to savor and enjoy the dessert. If I had been at home, I’m embarrassed to say that I would have eaten the pot de creme in two bites, licked out the bowl, and gone for seconds.

Third course:

The mascarpone at The Blue Rose Inn is made in-house, as is everything else in the scratch kitchen. On its own, it is sublime. When combined with milk chocolate (47% cocoa) and made into a cheesecake that is paired with Bourbon cherries and a creme Anglaise, it is nothing short of heavenly. There was a kerfuffle at a nearby table because one of the guests didn’t want cherries soaked in alcohol; I would gladly have eaten her portion. Those little crumbles you see in the photo are bits of the cocoa Amaretti crust.

Fourth course:

Palate cleansers are not a thing at my house. If someone asked for a palate cleanser, I would laugh at them. But as part of a chocolatey Victorian experience, it is a must. And this sorbet, made with white chocolate and citrus, was perfect. It was tangy and not too sweet. I don’t know why I expected a sorbet to be room temperature, but it wasn’t. The rest of you probably would have known that already, but I can be a bit dense sometimes.

Fifth course:

This is going to sound like Francophobic vitriol and I hereby apologize to everyone in France, but I do not care for macarons. I know, Mon dieu! But it is the truth. This was one course I did not enjoy. The macarons I have tasted lack strength of flavor, and this one was no different (please note, these should not be confused with macaroons, which I could eat all day). And of all the nuts on earth, peanuts are perhaps my least favorite, so the macaron paired with frozen peanut semifreddo was lackluster. I could see, though, that I was one of the only ones in the room who did not find the dish delectable. P.S. the cranberry coulis was delicious and I would top every Thanksgiving food with it if I could.

Sixth course:

This was an interesting addition to the feast. I know coffee and chocolate are traditional pairings, and I also know that a bit of strong coffee or espresso will bring out the chocolate flavor of a dessert. But I don’t add coffee to my chocolate desserts for a reason: I do not like the taste of strong coffee (I have coffee on most days, and I add enough sugar and half-and-half so that it tastes something like ice cream). This offering was not what I would have chosen, as the coffee was pretty strong. But the cake itself was dense and tasty and the mascarpone, as I already mentioned, was wonderful.

Seventh and final course:

The Blue Rose Inn was brilliant to send us off with a holiday classic–hot chocolate. It was the perfect way to fend off the afternoon chill and the wind that greeted us when we left to return to our normal lives. And this hot chocolate was something special. Made with dark (72% cocoa) chocolate and topped with Chantilly cream, it wasn’t too hot, too cold, too sweet, or too strong. It was, in a word, perfect. I have used sweetened whipped cream a million times in my own kitchen and never knew there was another name for it. From now on I shall call it “Chantilly Cream” and make people think I was trained in Paris. And the meringue and ginger cookie that accompanied the drink? Magnifique.

I should note that on the way home, my husband and I each got a free Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup from the gas station/convenience store down the road from our house. We didn’t eat them that day, but they’re gone now and they were delicious, too. To be honest, they’re really more our speed. But our afternoon in Cape May was a great memory and we’re glad we experienced it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about my brief culinary adventure. Next week I’m going to take you on a vicarious wine dinner that we also enjoyed as part of the Cape May MAC festivities.

Until next time,

Amy

Spring is Coming…Eventually…and a Correction

First, I must correct some information I gave out last week about the Hattie Davish mystery series by Anna Loan-Wilsey. You all read how much I enjoyed Anything But Civil, the second book in the series. The third book is actually called A Sense of Entitlement and it was released last June. The fourth book in the series is A Deceptive Homecoming.  I’m so sorry to have caused any confusion about this! I’m looking forward to reading the other three books in the series!

Here in New Jersey we’re expecting another snowstorm to blow in by Tuesday morning. No surprise there. What would surprise me is if we actually got some snow. It’s been way too cold, but really that’s nothing compared to the temperatures they’re experiencing in northern and central New York, where I know many of you, dear readers, live and wait anxiously for spring.

Spring–that’s where my thoughts are headed this week. It’s only a little over a month away, you know, at least by the calendar. Sometimes I think Mother Nature gets the memo a bit late, but we know it’ll be here eventually.

I thought I’d share with you some of the ideas I have for my yard and flower beds. I am always afraid of running afoul of the copyright laws, so I only post pictures on this blog that I take myself or that my family members take; therefore, I don’t have pictures of the things I want to plant this year, but I will provide links for you to look at them if you’d like.

As anyone who has ever been to my house will tell you, the front of my house needs some landscaping work, to say the least (it sports a look now that I like to call “haunted”). Currently there are two beds full of scraggly azaleas that do not thrive in full sun (they bloom for one day, get sunburned, and die), poison ivy, those wild onions (are they ramps? I have no idea), one wayward cedar tree that we swear we’re going to transplant one of these days (it’s about 8 feet tall now and we’ve been saying that since it was knee-high), two obnoxious holly bushes, and a euonymous that is completely out of control.

My dream is to have two raised beds full of things that like full sun and don’t require much fuss. Sure, poison ivy fits the bill, but that’s not really what I have in mind. I’m thinking seagrass, the kind that looks like Fraggle hair. Google “Fraggles” if you’re too young to remember what they are. But not just seagrass- I’d also like some flowers, and I almost always go with perennials because I don’t have the time or the patience to deal with annuals (well, that’s not completely true. I do hang four baskets filled with annuals on my porch, and I have a bunch of containers that I use for annuals on the patio out back…almost everything is dead by August). I might try Shasta daisies and Stella de Oro daylilies. I think I’d like some Russian Sage, too. See http://www.hgtvgardens.com/perennials/15-perennials-you-cant-kill and http://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/perennials/top-perennials-for-your-garden/#page=20 for some photos of the plants I’ve mentioned.

Under our trees, I plant almost exclusively hostas. They literally require no care. I do have a spot in the backyard that is perfect for a couple shade-loving plants. I hear that Lily-of-the-Valley is impossible to kill, but I have done it. Maybe I’ll try it again (planting it, not killing it). HGTV recommends the unfortunately-named Toadlily as a plant that will withstand shade, but I think I’ll plant something else with my Lilies-of-the-Valley.

Do you have any ideas for me? My criteria are as follows: easy, Zone 7. I’m looking for things mainly to plant in the sunny spots.

Until next week, stay warm!

Amy

Summer’s Almost Here!

I know I said I’d be participating in a blog hop this week, but I got my dates mixed up. So stay tuned for the blog hop next week.

In the meantime, summer is fast approaching. Can you believe June is just a few days away? I spent about fifteen minutes at the beach this afternoon with my middle child, taking a quick walk before we picked up my eldest from work. The beach was a little crowded (but beautiful, as always) and I wished we could have spent more time there. The beach got me thinking of summer travel destinations. Today’s walk notwithstanding, my kids don’t generally like the beach and I have to come up with other activities during the summer. Though we spend lots of time reading, we can’t do that all the time, so I thought I’d share with you some of the websites I like to peruse when it’s time to do something fun in the summertime.

The first one is http://annettesnyder.blogspot.com. Annette’s blog is called “Fifty Authors from Fifty States” and features a different author from a different state each week. Full disclosure: Annette has invited me to participate in next week’s blog hop and I will be appearing as a sidelight on her blog in July, as one of the authors from New Jersey. Anyway, each week is a virtual tour of an author’s home or adopted state (the states proceed throughout the year in alphabetical order) and there are some amazing travel tips in many of the blog posts.

For example, did you know that Pizza Hut opened its first store in Wichita, Kansas?

Did you know that you can find the world’s largest Cheeto in Algona, Iowa?

Did you know you can learn about pigeon racing in Moline, Illinois, at the Fall Flemish Fest? If you’re not interested in pigeons, try a Belgian beer or a 12.5-inch Belgian pie while you’re there.

Visit Annette’s blog to find out what an author from your state suggests for fun.

The second one is http://www.nps.gov. This is the website for the U.S. National Park Service. Here you can find information about the national parks in all fifty states plus the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Visiting a national park can be a very inexpensive alternative to other activities, and you’ll almost certainly learn something during your visit.

The third one is http://www.traillink.com. This is the website of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. You simply put in a zip code and it gives you a list of nearby trails for biking, walking, running, and hiking. It gives you the length of each trail and what comprises its surface (e.g., sand and asphalt or ballast and cinder). I’m planning at least one or two day trips this summer to try out some of the trails I’ve found on the site.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to visit the websites I’ve offered and maybe plan to try something new this summer. You don’t have to spend a lot of money and you might find something in your own neck of the woods that you didn’t know was there.

And don’t forget to take a good book. (I have a suggestion: it’s called Secrets of Hallstead House and I hope you’ll read it and enjoy it!)

Until next week,

Amy