My Party Rock Anthem

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post and really this is going to be more of a free thought stream than a well thought out post.  It was mid week and having got home late, starving, with a ton of things to do, I stood in the middle of my kitchen not knowing what to tackle first.  My girls had all gone off to bed and as usual there was stuff to put away, things that could be cleaned, laundry to be done, not to mention school papers to go through, etc.  Selfishly, I turned on the radio and heard LFMAO’s “Party Rock Anthem“.  So, what did I do?  The only thing I could do.  I ‘Joey-danced’ in the middle of my kitchen all by myself.  What is ‘Joey-dancing’, you ask?  It’s how my daughter’s boyfriend dances when a techno rap song plays.  It’s kind of a head-n-hair shakin’ movement while swinging your forearms above your head sort of a thing.  It’s not complicated (‘cuz otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do it), but you really should see it to get the full flavor of the dance.  It’s Very liberating!

When Party Rock was over, I decided that despite the lateness of the hour, I would carry over this good stress relieving behavior and chose to do some baking.  Boy, did I need that!  I was reminded once again how therapeutic baking is for me.  My true gratification; however, came this morning when my girls each wanted to take half a dozen to school to share with friends, along with the oohs and aahs from co-workers.  The recipe was for Mocha Brownies, which is listed on the Featured Recipe page.  I posted the original recipe I found on some time ago.  If you were lucky enough to snag a piece or two, I did make a few substitutions and changes to the original recipe, which is not unusual for me.  If you are thinking of duplicating what you tasted, my alterations are listed at the end of this post.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned when baking, it’s that you shouldn’t be afraid to make substitutions and to switch out ingredients.  I really didn’t take any big risks with this recipe, but there are many times when I have made a recipe a third or fourth time and decided to switch it up.  There may be a time when it doesn’t turn out that great, but then there are other times when, SCORE!, what you come up with is better than the original.  Then you too can Joey-dance in your kitchen!

The Mechanics:

The only two ingredient changes I made were to substitute nonfat Greek yogurt (plain) for the sour cream and instant Nescafé Frappé for the espresso powder.  I also left out the walnuts.

In addition, I used a larger pan than the 13 x 9 asked for, because I found that this recipe bakes more evenly when the batter is spread out in a larger pan, the resulting brownie then is not as thick.  I also prefer using parchment paper to using waxed paper, especially in an oven with a temperature over 300ºF.  If you use parchment paper, there is really no need to spray nonstick vegetable oil spray on the pan or the overhanging edges of the paper.

My last alteration is partially for visual effect.  After sprinkling the top with powdered sugar, I like to sprinkle the top again with cocoa powder, for that extra rich chocolate kick.  Today I used Ghirardelli’s Sweet Ground Chocolate & Cocoa.

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Silver and Gold

There was a song from 4-H club, when I was in grade school, that was sung at the end of every club meeting.  (Yes, I was a member of the 4-H club!)  But one of my favorite memories is of the boiled egg competition.  What is a boiled egg competition you ask?  Basically, you boil eggs with extreme precision.  You intensely monitor the egg position during boiling time to ensure that the egg comes out perfectly. So, that when the judges crack open your egg and slice it in half lengthwise AT the competition, the yolk is the perfect color of yellow and located in the exact center of the egg white.  Trust me.  This is no easy task!  Feather in my cap:  I brought home a blue ribbon!

Ahhh, but I digress.  What I started to talk about in this post is friendship.  The lyrics to song we sang at the end of every meeting started out “Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver and the other is gold.” And if you’ve been reading all along, you may remember a bit or two about some of the gold ones.  Now I’d like to talk silver.

After several years of being acquaintances and running into each other at school functions and in the community, this new friend and I finally made time to get together when she invited me to her lunch at her home.  Luckily, none of my life stories frightened her off and we spent a very relaxing afternoon in her beautifully landscaped backyard enjoying a leisurely glass of wine and a light lunch. What does this have to do with chocolate?  Why, gelato, of course.  Chocolate Gelato!  She served fresh fruit with chocolate gelato to top of the afternoon.  Martha Stewart couldn’t have planned it better.

Now, mankind has historically explored for new sources of precious metals and stones. People have studied Alchemy throughout the ages.  Little did they know that all it takes is a great conversation, a glass of wine, a scoop of gelato and you can turn silver into gold.

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Margie’s Candies – A Ledgendary Chicago Chocolatier

Muse on the Move…

Walking through the door of Margie’s Candies, transports you back to another time when life was simpler, slower paced and inside of Margie’s, definitely sweeter.  The Chocolate Muse (TCM) visited Margie’s in Bucktown during the middle of the week after spending the morning at a Chicago art museum.  We sought out Margie’s specifically for the ice cream sundaes and because of its reputed old-fashioned candy store atmosphere.  And let me tell you, we were not disappointed.  Of course we wanted to have a bite to each for lunch and decided to give Margie’s a try for that too.  It wasn’t crowded and the service was pretty quick.

The menu offers an extensive variety of ice cream creations with a small space reserved for a few lunch options, but varied enough for even the pickiest of young goddesses like mine.  If you have a voracious appetite, I would suggest that you eat somewhere else and come to Margie’s for dessert.  If on the other hand, you just want a bite to eat to prepare your stomach for dessert, you should be satisfied with the meal options and portion sizes.

There’s a lot to look at, including dolls, tchotchkes, mementos and Beatles memorabilia.  The Beatles are reputed to have visited the Bucktown location in the 1960′s after playing at Comiskey Park.  My oldest, who happens to be quite the Beatles fan was thrilled with the idea that she walked through the same door the Beatles passed through, stood in the same aisles they stood and possibly even sat in the same booth.  The only thing that has really changed since then is the carpeting, which has replaced the classic 30′s-40′s black and white checkerboard tile flooring.

As for the ice cream, we all loved it!  The number of homemade ice cream creations seem to be unlimited with lots of delicious toppings and always a wafer cookie on the side.  The hot fudge, which accompanied each of the four orders at our table is served in its own gravy boat style serving piece, so it doesn’t melt the ice cream before it gets to you, not to mention that you can add as much as you like.  (There was no left over hot fudge at this table!)  The sundaes are all served in unique shell-shaped bowls, which just makes it extra special and something for the kids to always remember.  On our way out we picked up a box of assorted chocolates, because we just couldn’t stuff ourselves any more.  Needless to say, they were gone within 24 hours and now the little darlings are asking, “when are we going back?”

Substitutions are not a problem at Margie’s, so you can have your sundae exactly like you want it.  Awesome and fabulous!  Margie’s does not disappoint and is worth a trip to the North side from anywhere in the city or suburbs.

Margie’s Candies is located at 1813 West Montrose Avenue in the Lakeview neighborhood and the Bucktown location is at 1960 North Western Avenue.

Posted in Chocolate Makers, Dessert, Family, Greek, Muse on the Move, Review, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Muse on the Move

The Chocolate Muse (TCM) is excited to announce a segment called Muse on the Move.  TCM will venture out to local establishments in the Chicagoland area and post a review on the Muse on the Move” page.

I’m extremely proud to have visited the Wheeling location of Lynfred Winery as my first review.  Prompted by the spirit of Dionysus with chocolate as inspiration, I visited the winery about a week ago with a good friend.  This wine store is situated in a quaint area known as Sale Barn Square with the main winery located in Roselle, Illinois.  Upon entering you are immediately made comfortable by the staff.  The from the oak wood bar to the cellar rooms, the atmosphere is friendly and easygoing.

Our host, Matt, was extremely helpful and knowledgeable, not to mention patient as we pelted him with question after question.  The object of intrigue for me was a chocolate dipped bottle of wine.  At Lynfred Winery, you can select a bottle from their wine varieties and they will make it into a great piece which would make an excellent gift.  The bottle is first shrink wrapped and then dipped in dark chocolate seven times and drizzled with white chocolate.  A perfect gift for a vinophile or chocophile (or both)!

Being a wine newbie, if I was hesitant about appearing ignorant about wine prior to visiting, I definitely wasn’t when I left.  Matt spent plenty of time explaining the types of wines available and assisted in selecting some for our tasting.  We each selected 3 wines according to our own taste.  They have a variety of options for wine tasting and the options change every month.  There is something for every palate, whites, reds and fruit varieties.  He then taught us some wine basics, and before I knew it I was swirling like a pro!

We spent a wonderful afternoon visit and really enjoyed the entire experience.  The winery also offers cheese plates and chocolates and is capable of hosting private parties.  TCM is thinking its a perfect place to start a girls’ night out.

We also got a peek at the next month’s options and TCM spotted an Ice Wine 2007 on the list.  Oooooo!  Well, look at the calendar, is it July already?

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I was quite surprised at the reaction of so many, to my Frappé picture on The Chocolate Muse’s Facebook page.  Frappé is a coffee drink that originated in Greece and is available at most cafes there.  Drinking Frappé has become a culture in and of itself and quite addicting to those who have had the pleasure of drinking it, especially in an outdoor cafe.  Just stirring the ice cubes around with the drinking straw gives off a distinctive sound that is quite pleasurable, even addicting and is unique simply because of the frothy characteristic of the Frappé.

I mentioned Frappé the other day to a couple of non-Greek friends of mine and they both exclaimed how much they miss their Frappés and lamented the fact that they no longer get to enjoy Frappé because their Greek neighbor who made it for them moved to a different suburb.  They described a frozen type drink that she made in a blender, which to me sounded like a sort of Frappé-frappuccino.  From what I understand Starbucks locations throughout Greece have both frappuccino and Starbucks Frappé on the menu.

So, I started to delve into this topic a bit more to see what I could find out about making a Frappé with variations.  Of course, you can vary the amount of coffee, sugar and milk used, but what about adding something else into the mix?  I only recently found out that some people add Coca-Cola to their Frappé.  At first, this kind of struck me as kind of funny, like the European version of milk and Pepsi, a la Lavern & Shirley.  And though I never gave Lavern’s favorite drink a try as a kid, I may get brave and give ‘Frappé-Cola’ a try.

I’m also thinking that we could kick it upscale, adults only, adding a bit of liqueur, such as Kahlúa or Baileys Irish Creme (satisfying the Greek and Irish in me).  But then my thoughts come back to where I started….. chocolate.  Let’s make one with chocolate!  Making Frappé with chocolate milk or even adding cocoa to the coffee before blending it could make a drink that is out of this world!

If you’ve never made Frappé before and would like to try it, make sure that you purchase the correct type of Nescafé.  Don’t buy Nescafe Taster’s Choice instant coffee.  Make sure it says Frappé on the can.  (Hint: it will usually have Greek writing on it too.)  You won’t find directions for making Frappé on the can, because it’s kind of a trial an error process to find out what suites your individual taste.  The basic recipe is 2 spoonfuls of coffee and 2 spoonfuls of sugar, mix with a bit of water, add small ice cubes or crushed ice to the top of the glass and then top off with milk.  Click this link for a short video on a pretty good demonstration on how to make Frappé.

Now, sit back, put your feet up (insert sigh) and relax…..Life is magnificent!

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Today, along with the errands I ran, I happened to get sidetracked in the world of social media.  Seriously, one can spend a lot of time working on tweets and Facebook posts and such.  Before you know it you’ll be neglecting your loved ones.  HA!  That doesn’t happen in this house.  My girls are all very capable of telling mom that her time is up on the computer and it’s their turn.

So like my shortened time on the iMac today, I’m also faced with limited time to make a chocolate dessert due solely to my self imposed deadline.  What to make… what to make?  Fudge has been on my mind lately.  I’m not sure why because I usually make fudge only at Christmas time and although it’s pretty close to July, I’m not from Australia or New Zealand so I’m not really into Christmas in July celebrations.  Perhaps my Southern forebears are sending their energies my way.

Normally fudge takes a bit of time to prepare.  You can always find it in a tourist town that sells fudge, from a confectionery on Mackinac Island in Michigan to a tchotchke shop in Florida.  Anyway, I searched around for a simple fudge recipe that was a quick make.  The recipe can be found on the Featured Recipe page.

One of the things I really don’t understand is the market for fudge that is not chocolate.  Vanilla fudge.  Really?  I thought by definition that fudge was chocolate and that was that.  I might give a little leeway for a marble fudge, which would necessitate the use of white chocolate (another contradiction in terms, may I point out).  But really? Vanilla fudge?  Unfortunately, or fortunately, time does not permit the experimentation with vanilla fudge on this summer evening.

In deference to TCM fans who steer clear of nuts for one reason or another, this fudge was made without nuts.  But feel free to throw some in.  Remember, lightly toasting the nuts will bring out the favor of the nut and enhance the taste of the fudge.

Hmmmmm….. you know, the more I think about it, the more I’m thinking that non-chocolate fudge may not be such a bad idea after all.  For some reason I’m feeling the need to make a batch maple walnut fudge calling to me like a Siren song.  Accompanied, of course, by a mocha latte.

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You say Potato, I say Patera

“There are two kinds of people in this world…. People who are Greek, and those who wish they were!”

You probably think that this is a line from the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  But nope, it’s not.  This is something that we heard from our dad a lot as kids.  I think every Greek-American heard this growing up.

I call my dad “patera” meaning “father” in Greek, but all my friends thought/think I call him potato.  On this Father’s Day, I would like to dispel the impression that I am calling him any type of spud and I would like to share one or two snip-its out of my Greek-American life as a kid.  Being the second oldest of four (and a girl), there really wasn’t anything that special about me– I wasn’t the oldest or the baby and not the beloved “boy” able to carry on the family name.  But looking back, I can say that I was pretty d@mn spoiled.

I don’t want to repeat any cliches about growing up Greek in America.  Like how I used to open my lunchbox and the stench of feta cheese wafted through the lunchroom. Or, how my dad used to try to convince every friend I ever had that the Greeks invented everything.  Or how on Easter we roast a whole lamb on a spit outside and eat everything, including the eyeballs and make soup out of the insides.  I’ll leave that to the movies and stand up comics.

What I know about my dad is that he worked hard to give and provide his family with the best of everything he could, in the best way he knew how.  He shared stories of his life growing up in Greece and how it was different than ours here.  He provided a perspective on life that when hearing it at the time, it didn’t mean much because we had no way to measure what he was talking about.  And when he did, it sometimes sounded like preaching, not teaching.  “You should be PROUD to be Greek!” He taught us that there was something special about us, being Greek; we were different.  Maybe it comes from deep within the soul or maybe it’s just in the DNA.  I don’t know, but it’s there.  I mean, how could it not be?  We gave the world democracy, philosophy and architecture to name a few.

He made sure that we didn’t want for anything.  He set out to provide his family with a better life than he had, and he did.  We attended Sunday school and church every week, sang in the choir (my brothers served as altar boys-they can’t sing worth a darn), went to Greek school, private elementary school and graduated college.  And through it all he was there, usually stoic in the background, but there providing whatever was needed.  In college, it was a Manganese Brown Diesel Two-door Coupe.  Boy did I love that car!

I think what he tried to do was live by example, instilling in us the values he grew up with and by doing as much as he thought he could, putting the rest in God’s hands while still hoping that we grow to our full potential and lead full, meaningful lives with axios.

So now, we carry within us the spirit of what it means to be Greek, our passion for life, commitment to family, love of country and never forgetting our past and where we came from.  And we share this spirit and richness of culture with everyone we come in contact with.

One last thing about my dad.  He’s the kind of man who will give you his last dollar if you are in need and he will give you the best of anything he has in order to demonstrate his love for you.  Of course, he doesn’t hesitate to remind you of that, if it will get him a laugh and bring up some good memories.  To this day he will tell the same story to my kids every time we visit, about how when “your mauther was leettle I yousd to give herr thee best parrt of my sta-ik.  I yousd to cut herr a bite fram the meat that is close to thee bone.” (Please excuse my phonetic Greek accent.)  They all laugh of course because they’ve heard this bit hundreds of times and I usually roll my eyes for affect.  But it’s true.  He did.  And I loved it!  (Still do.)

Posted in Dad, Father, Father's Day, Greek, Greek Culture, Patera | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

People are like Seven Layer Bars

Another weekend has passed and another wonderful weekend filled with enjoyment of my daughters and time with friends.  Life has a way of presenting challenges and unexpected situations and this last week and weekend was no exception.  A close friend and I have been holding a continued discussion on personality and character over several conversations recently.  Sounds philosophical, huh?  Not really, just sharing opinions and experiences.  We each come away with ideas to think about and a perspective on things that our own myopic viewpoint does not allow.

This time the big question was, ‘Can we ever truly know another person?’ We would like to think so, and the romantic in us wants to believe we can.  But there can be many layers to a person’s character, and it’s difficult to truly get to know them, if they only let you see what they want to you see.  D.L. Moody said, “Character is what you are in the dark.”  As we move through life and deal with events and situations that happen to us, we develop character.  We add layers.  We remove layers.

My opinion is that when you get to know a person over time and they begin to change, they are just removing another layer.  So really, what you are seeing isn’t something new, it’s been there all along and they are just now letting you see their true self.  How you deal with what is revealed is up to you.

We may question whether or not we are strong enough to cope with what is presented to us.  This is where we discover the layers of our own self and what we are made of.  We reach down into the depths of our soul, the core of our very being, where we find the strength and the ability to handle what is going on.

I am lucky to have many people in my life who serve as examples of this strength of character and I am astounded at their ability to overcome obstacles in their lives.  These are some awe-inspiring people!

This week’s dessert is in honor of these amazing people.  It was chosen by one of my biggest fans (though quite small in size and age).  This little muse has taste tested many of my creations, even before The Chocolate Muse came to be.  The first recipe is the classic Seven Layer Bar, which I’m told is at the top of her favorite list.

Emma's Candy Layer Bar

The second recipe is something I created just for her.  I call them “Emma’s Candy Layer Bars”.  I’m hoping they’ll make the list too!

Note to my trainer: Given the goddess’ interest in health and fitness, anticipate a future recipe for a more healthy layer bar.  The testing kitchen is open!

Baker’s Notes: Most recipes for Seven Layer Bars call for you to pour the milk over the chips, then spread the coconut on top.  I pour the milk on after the coconut. Sweetened condensed milk is what binds all the dry ingredients together in these bars. It is made from a mixture of whole milk and sugar that has had about 60 percent of its water removed. Its consistency is thick and sticky (like honey) and it is very sweet tasting. It is most often used in baked goods and it takes on a lovely caramel flavor and color when baked.  Then on top for decorative purposes I throw on a handful of mini chocolate chips.  The classic recipe calls for butterscotch chips, but you can substitute peanut butter or white chocolate chips.

For Emma’s Candy Layer Bars, I used lightly salted pretzels, then added a bit of sea salt, to give it just the right amount of salty vs. sweet taste, again pouring the milk on after all other ingredients have been layered and throwing a handful of mini-chips on the top for a nice presentation.  For this recipe I used lightly salted pretzels and cocoa, but next time, I might just try crushing up chocolate covered pretzels to get an even more rich, chocolaty bar.  Also, crack the candy shells of the m & m’s and Reese’s Pieces candies before layering.

Posted in Character, Dessert, Muse, Personality, Philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Red Velvet For My Soul Mate

Imagine a creature with human characteristics that is round in shape with four legs, four arms, two faces, four ears, etc. This human-like being would be a powerful creature with mighty abilities and able to undertake great feats of strength.  It would have both male and female halves, thus allowing it to accomplish anything, solve complex problems with it’s great mind and show amazing compassion with it’s sensitive and solicitous heart.  Such a creature would be able to conquer the world, nay even the heavens.  But this could not be allowed.  This type of a creature would be too powerful, and so, would have to be split into two beings, one male and one female.  Which is exactly what Zeus did.  He split them into two beings and condemned them to wander the earth in search of their matching half, their Soul Mate.

A kindred spirit and I were discussing the topic of Soul Mates just the other day.  The conversation included an examination of our lives and relationships, and the time spent together that afternoon was gratifying and pleasurable.  Although no specific conclusions were drawn at the end of the afternoon, we did agree with the following quote from Richard Bach, American writer, “Our soul mate is the one who makes life come to life.”  Surely, Zeus would not begrudge us this joyfulness in life.  And so, the wandering search continues.

In tribute to the Soul Mate, The Chocolate Muse offers the Red Velvet Whoopie Pie.  Two similar halves joined together by a creamy frosting middle.  The beautiful, bright red cake symbolizing love and passion.  A sinfully decadent dessert befitting the interconnection of soul mates.

Baking Notes:  The goddess was tempted to try a lemon mascarpone frosting, but opted to stick with the traditional cream cheese version instead.  If you are tempted (and I hope you are), let me know how it turns out.  Also, don’t over mix the batter, the cakes will turn out flat.  The recipes I used for the cake and frosting can be found on the ‘Featured Recipe’ page.  I did double the cake recipe.  Yield, approximately 20 Whoopie Pies.Historical Notes:  You can read the entire Soul Mate mythology as presented by Aristophanes in The Symposium by Plato.  There are also many other references to soul mate theories from other historical viewpoints, e.g. the Bashert.  Your comments and theories are most welcome!

Posted in Dessert, Mythology, Romance | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Chocolate Covered Yoga?

Someone jokingly asked me recently if there was anything I haven’t tried to cover or coat in chocolate.  I actually had to stop and think about it.  And a funny thought popped into my head.  Yoga.  I’ve never really combined the two.  Then another thought occurred to me, drawing similarities between the two.  Where many yogis believe there is a dichotomy of commitment to yoga vs. love of food, I suppose I tend to look at things a bit differently than most.  Why shouldn’t it be possible to truly enjoy a yoga practice and indulge in eating chocolate?  The Chocolate Muse has inspired an answer.

I’ve practiced yoga for about 9 years now.  Practicing yoga has taught me many things.  It has taught me patience and brought me inner peace.  It has taught me to not be judgmental and critical of myself.  It has taught me how to clear my mind and focus on what is important.  All of this I have learned slowly, while learning poses, trying to focus and maintaining good breathing technique.  Yoga is a very spiritual experience and helps to develop awareness of your body and become more in tune with it’s sensations.  For me, yoga has become a ritual.

To many “yogier than thou” yogis, chocolate may be seen to be an indulgence of sorts, an almost sinful pleasure.  But chocolate is well known for it’s abilities to affect mood.  Chocolate contains compounds similar to those found in many drugs that are used to elevate mood.  Slowly eating chocolate and savoring the taste of each bite can heighten the body’s experience and eating chocolate in this manner demands that you slow down and enjoy the ritual experience of eating.

Eating chocolate can literally make you happy, in much the same way that yoga does.  Both practicing yoga and eating chocolate allow you to explore the mind body connection and find deeper ways to tap into your senses. Both activities take every day actions like eating and moving and slow them down so you can appreciate them, and I’m proud to say that I have passion for both.  Namaste.

Posted in Decisions, Dessert | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment