Amazing Chocolate Buttercream Caramel Hazelnut Cake!

Super Sweet! (Literally)

This was the cake to end all cakes!! A family friend and pastry chef made this bad-boy for my graduation party from law school. The intense chocolate buttercream frosting paired with the crushed hazelnuts on the outside made it taste like Ferrer Rocher truffles. And can you believe how beautiful it is!? Such a sweet sweet celebratory treat!!

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Birthday Afternoon Tea at the Brown Palace

How did I spend my birthday? Doing my favorite thing in the world – partaking in the hallowed tradition of afternoon tea at one of the nicest and most traditional hotels in Denver, the Brown Palace. The afternoon tea at the Brown Palace is exactly what you would expect from a good hotel: live piano music, beautiful lobby, three-tiered platter with scones, coddled cream, jam, finger sandwiches, and divine chocolates and pastries. Drooling yet? Here’s the picture:

Brown Palace Afternoon Tea Platter

Yes, that is a glass of champagne. Naturally I opted for the “royal” tea. Cheers.

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Caribbean Fare in Costa Rica

I recently took a fabulous spring break vacation to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. We stayed in a fun little surf town called Puerto Viejo, which was filled with surprisingly good restaurants and bars. Unlike most of Costa Rica, the cuisine on the Caribbean coast is more Afro-Caribbean than Latin American. YUM. We also found they substitute yucca for potatoes in a lot of dishes – a fantastic switch. Snapper is the go-to fish, and it was fresh and delicious. If you happen to find yourself in Puerto Viejo, my top recommendation for food and drink is Koki Beach. For lunch on the beach, go to Salsa Brava, and for a nice hotel meal, try Le Cameleon. Enough talk, here are the photos:

Yucca chips with pico de gayo and guacamole from Salsa Brava


Caribbean-style snapper with mashed potatoes and vegetables from Koki Beach


Watermelon "mojito" from Lazy Mon


Cheers!

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Back in the Kitchen!!

After being abroad for seven months I am finally back in my beautiful Boulder kitchen, equipped with all the gadgets necessary to get my bake on.  So what was my first dinner back? Feeling inspired by this glorious fall weather, I made “Roasted Chicken and Vegetables” from Great Food Fast (a Martha Stewart Living cookbook).  I really enjoyed buying all the vegetables for the dish at the Farmer’s Market.  Here is the recipe:

1 acorn squash, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced (the thinner, the softer)

1 lb cremini mushrooms, halved

1 lg red onion, sliced

8 cloves of garlic (I used a garlic press, worked really well)

1 tbs olive oil (I used way more)

salt and pepper

4 bone-in chicken breast halves

1 tbs dry crushed rosemary

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Mix all the veggies with oil, salt, and pepper into a roasting pan and toss.  Roast for 15-20 mins.  Meanwhile, rub the chicken with rosemary, salt, and pepper under the skin.  Put the chicken on top of the veggies and roast for another 35-40 mins.

My chicken didn’t brown like the picture in the cookbook, but it did stay delightfully moist.

 

For dessert (of course there was a dessert) I made these delicious moist and uber chocolaty/fudgy flourless brownies from The Essential Best Foods Cookbook.  They were actually pretty healthy, which is surprising because they were REALLY good, and even more surprising is the fact that one of the ingredients was black beans! Couldn’t tell at all, which I think is a good thing.

Here is the recipe for the “Black Bean Brownies”:

1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained (I accidentally only used 1/4 cup and it worked out just fine)

3/4 cup unsalted butter

3 oz unsweetened chocolate

3 lg eggs

1 cup sugar

pinch of salt

1 tsp vanilla

(the recipe called for walnuts, but I omitted them)

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Coast a muffin tin with cooking spray.  Puree beans.  Melt butter and chocolate (I used the microwave).  In a separate bowl, beat eggs, sugar, and salt until glossy.  Beat in the chocolate mixture, then the bean puree and vanilla.  Fill the muffin tin (recipe said to the brim, but I wish I had left more room in each cup.  I only filled 10 cups and the tops spread out a little too much and sunk in the middle.)  Bake for 20 mins.  Cool completely (very important step, I tore apart a few brownies due to my impatience).  Refrigerate overnight and served chilled.

 

Interesting Ingredients

Yummmm batter

They tasted better than they looked

 

 

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Best Chocolatier in the World

They say Belgium has the best chocolate in the world, but which Belgian chocolatier is the best?  Hands down, the title goes to Pierre Marcolini.  Visiting the flagship store on the Place du Grand Sablon is Brussels can be likened to going to a high-end fashion retailer like Louis Vitton.  The two-level shop is extremely chic with multi-lingual choco-experts to help you navigate the many varieties of chocolate available.  I also came across satellite shops below the Conrad Hotel on Avenue Louise and in the EuroStar concourse at Midi Station.  I cannot put the exquisiteness of this chocolate into words – you will just have to try it for yourself.  If only photos could convey an iota of the taste:

Storefront on Place du Grand Sablon

Scrumptous Truffles

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Speculoos = Belgian Crack

Think Nutella on steroids but instead of hazelnut, the flavor is a mix of gingersnap and toffee. Yes, it is better than Nutella. I had to try it to believe it. Speculoos spread is used like Nutella, but once you’ve tried it, you will never be the same. It has little ginger/sugar crystals in it that have the perfect texture and add that extra omph. Belgians are very proud of Speculoos, as it is one of their many fattening traditional foods. Every time you order a coffee drink in this country, it comes with a Speculoos cookie (which is like a lame gingersnap – they should really just stick to the cookie paste). Speculoos might even be worth a trip to Belgium itself. Why is this not an export?

On display at Del Haize

Also see Wikipedia’s explanation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speculaas

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WAFFLE TRUCKS!!

No, that’s not the sweet sweet music of an ice cream truck serenading my neighborhood – it’s a freaking waffle truck!! I have recently moved to the food capitol of Europe: Belgium. Known for it’s exquisite French-quality in enormous Dutch-sized portions, Belgian food is delightful. How can you have a bad culinary experience in a country best known for chocolate, frites, waffles, and beer? I will get to the chocolate and frites later, but first let’s talk about these ADORABLE waffle trucks. They are quite ubiquitous in Brussels and are always painted in a quaint retro-fashion. Here are three examples of trucks I came across in the Place du Grand Sablon, Koudenberg, and Place Flagey, respectively:

Gaufres truck in the Place du Grand Sablon


Truck on Rue Montagne de la Cour


Waffle truck on Flagey

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