Tag Archives: romance

Chocolate, better than…

It’s Foodie Tuesday!  This week it’s all about chocolate for your Valentine.

Pierre Marcolini, one of the world's top chocolatiers, his violet chocolate truffle is easily the best thing I've ever tasted.

People, women especially, can be passionate about their chocolate.  Long considered an aphrodisiac, there’s mounting evidence that it is indeed a panacea for the heart and soul. So it’s no wonder chocolate has become part of the courtship ritual and a perfect food for Valentine’s Day, whether presented to your beloved,  or a sweet treat for your kids, office mates or your special self.

Here are some easy chocolate recipes, a few ideas to personalize store bought creations; and, as though you need more convincing, the good news science about chocolate’s health benefits thrown in.

No time to bake, but still want to lend your gift a personal touch?  Here are a few sweet ideas:

Make Your Own Chocolate Wrapper

The internet seems crazy for personalized candy bar wrappers.  You can order them singly or in bulk from places like WhimsyWraps.com, personalizing with your own note, even photos.

Or get in touch with the craftier you and go with Martha Stewart’s handmade version (she has a free template!), which includes your handwritten love note on the inside.  Sweet to send in your kid’s school lunch, for some lighthearted embarrassment (you know they secretly love it!)

Personalize a Box of Truffles

The only thing better than chocolate are the lovely notes you'll include beneath

Add a note of affection under each truffle.  Or make it a lottery: each truffle eaten will reveal a romantic promissory like, uh, “sleep in, I’ll get the baby”.

To Do:  Cut rounds (or squares) of a pretty card stock paper that can be hidden beneath each truffle and address as appropriate (hint: it you’re worried that the chocolate may melt and ruin your love notes, just top each note with the same shape cutout of wax or parchment paper).

Chocolate Ganache Layer Cake

Mmmm.... Photo via Grant Miller Media

This is a great no fail recipe from Epicurious. Doesn’t need altering, though some of the many reviewers comment an extra egg yolk gives you a moister end result.

For cake layers
3/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process, preferably Ghirardelli)
1 teaspoon instant-espresso powder
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs

For ganache filling and glaze
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
20 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped in a food processor

Make cake layers:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 3 (7- or 8-inch, 2-inch-deep) round cake pans and line bottoms with rounds of wax or parchment paper. Butter paper and dust pans with flour.

Whisk together water, cocoa, and espresso powder until smooth, then whisk in milk and vanilla.  In separate bowl sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.

Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until fluffy, then add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture and cocoa mixture in batches, beginning and ending with flour and mixing at low speed until just combined.

Divide batter among pans (about 2 1/3 cups per pan), smoothing tops. Bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes for 7-inch pans or 20 to 25 minutes for 8-inch. Cool in pans on a rack 30 minutes, then invert onto racks, remove paper, and cool completely.

Make ganache while cakes bake:
Bring cream to a simmer in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in chocolate until smooth. Transfer ganache to a bowl and chill, covered, stirring occasionally, until thickened but spreadable, about 4 hours. (If ganache becomes too thick, let stand at room temperature until slightly softened.)

Assemble cake:
Arrange 1 layer on a cake stand or plate and spread 2/3 cup ganache evenly over it. Top with another cake layer and 2/3 cup ganache, spreading evenly, then third cake layer. (Chill ganache if necessary to keep at a spreadable consistency.) Chill cake until ganache filling is firm, about 1 hour. Keep remaining ganache at a spreadable consistency, chilling when necessary.

Spread a thin layer of ganache over top and sides of cake to seal in crumbs, then chill 30 minutes. Spread remaining ganache evenly over top and sides of cake.

Mini Heart Shaped Chocolate Banana Cakes

Image via ThisNext.com

I love the marriage of chocolate and banana.  I’ve been turning a simple banana chocolate bread/cake recipe into mini layer cakes and topping it with a dark chocolate ganache.  This recipe will make 2 layer cakes (depends on the size of your heart pans though)  and the a banana loaf:

For the cake
3 cups flour – 2 cups unbleached all-purpose, 1 cup cake and pastry
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar
1 cup butter/vegetable oil (I usually do half of each)
2 1/2 cups coarsely mashed bananas (using a fork works well)
1/3 cup of sour cream (or creme fraiche)
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup dark chocolate – chips or baking chocolate chopped, fair trade preferred

Use the Dark Chocolate Ganache recipe from above.

Preheat oven to 350F and butter and dust your pans with flour.

Sift together flour, baking soda and salt.  With your electric mixer beat eggs and sugar on medium-high speed until thick and pale; reduce speed to low and add butter/oil, then bananas, sour cream and vanilla. Fold in chocolate gently.

You’ll have to keep an eye on these in the oven.  The loaf bakes in about an hour (tester should come out clean, save for the melted chocolate); the mini cakes will take much less time given smaller pan size.  Check on these periodically after 25 minutes.

Once they are ready, let cool completely.  Remove heart shaped cakes from pan and shave flat using a knife or dandy cake shaver.  Layer cakes using thin layer of ganache as glue and then cover entire cake with a layer of ganache. Voila!

My Chocolate Oatmeal Coconut Cookies

Photo courtesy Tim Bourgette

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar (I mix half each of granulated and brown)
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup dark chocolate chips, fair trade preferred
1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened)

Preheat oven to 350F. Whisk dry ingredients together.  With your electric mixer cream butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Add flour mixture and beat till just combined.  Add oats, chocolate, and coconut and mix till just combined.

Drop dough rounds onto prepared baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between cookies and bake about 15  minutes (check them at 15 minutes.  Time will vary based on cookie size and your oven).

And Finally the Science

While the recipes above aren’t exactly diet foods, you can feel great about the fact chocolate’s good for the heart – studies show that it may lower cholesterol and blood pressure and decreases your chances of developing heart disease generally.

So evidence is stacking up that chocolate – the dark unprocessed stuff – can be part of a healthy diet, thanks to the antioxidant properties of its flavonoids (also found in red wine and berries and green tea)

Additionally, the BBC recently reported on a study that melting chocolate in your mouth produced an increase in brain activity and heart rate that was more intense than that associated with passionate kissing.  The effects also lasted four times longer once the activity ended.  So if you’re away from your valentine this year, sending along a box of chocolate can be an intimate act itself.

Falling in Llove in Daikanyama

LLove, the exhibition where you can stay for the night.

The Llove hotel and cafe in Daikanyama, Tokyo is part art installation, part hotel, and features the design work of over fifty Japanese and Dutch designers. Throughout the hotel evidence of the blending of Dutch and Japanese aesthetics is evident and the project itself is meant as a celebration of 400 years of trade and cultural relations between Japan and the Netherlands.

Reception at Llove hotel

The hotel opened on October 22nd to coincide with Tokyo Designers Week. Llove was dreamed up and curated by the director of the Lloyd hotel and Cultural Embassy in Amsterdam, Suzanne Oxenaar after being inspired by the more infamous love hotels in Japan where pretty much any fantasy you can imagine can be indulged in for a night. Sex and fantasy are flirted with at the Llove hotel but with an artistic sensibility that explores what it means to be “Still in Llove”. Guests can book one of the fourteen themed rooms but only until November 23rd, so time is quickly running out on this fantastic exhibition of love, art and design.

The lobby of the Llove mimics other themed hotels in the region where pictures display each of the rooms allowing you to pick the one that best suits your mood or desires. The pink Plexiglas and surveillance screens give a slight edge while still maintaining the playfulness of the rest of the hotel.

“Llayers” - Room 307 by Richard HuttonRoom 307, designed by Richard Hutton feels like a mash-up between Bladerunner and the Princess and the Pea. The room is named “Llayers”. What’s not visible in this photo are the exterior areas of this room which are painted the colour of flesh. Stepping into the sleeping area is like entering the inner layers of the epidermis. The strips of message-laden tape covering the walls and a stack of mattresses is also supposed to convey a sense of multiplicity and layering.

 “BURIED” by Yuko Nagayama

Three unassuming wooden steps bring the guest up to an oasis complete with trees and countless stones. This stunning room is called “BURIED” and is the design work of Yuko Nagayama where the boundaries between the outdoors and indoors are endlessly blurred. Nagayama wants her room to be an environment you immerse yourself in, she says, “The space does not adapt itself to you, but you adapt to it. The space awakens a latent natural instinct that everybody appears to carry within but is normally not activated.” One imagines that staying here would be akin to spending the night in a Zen garden.

"Rotating bed" room by Jo Nagasaka

The rotating bed is obviously the showpiece of this room by Jo Nagasaka named simply “ROTATING BED.” A more modern rotating bed than the one’s that no doubt grace the Playboy mansion, this one has exposed gears and was inspired by the Edo period of Japan. I love the way the bed is sunk into the floor giving the illusion that you are descending into the workings of a machine.

Room by Pieke Bergmans

The most romantic of the fourteen, room 308 designed by Pieke Bergmans, is simply called “in Llove”. The cascading bed and kissing lamps and light fixtures really epitomize the spirit of this wonderful exhibit, a place where intimacy is nurtured and the evidence of love is everywhere.

The Llove hotel is only open for another few days, so unless you are in Tokyo and lucky enough to snag a reservation, the exhibit will be gone before most of us will get a chance to see it in person. It’s too bad – I would have loved to spend a night in one of these incredible rooms.

All photos by Takumi Ota