Ooh, my favorite!


François Pralus Barre Infernale Lait
May 31, 2012, 10:25 am
Filed under: Chocolate, The Finer Things

François Pralus Barre Infernale

Like coffee, chocolate is a luxury item that’s become so easily accessible that it’s easy to forget that for about $20 we have access to the best the world has to offer. Seriously, this is mind blowing! In a time where faster, cheaper goods reign supreme we have the ability to reallocate a few dollars here and there to appreciate the finer things and indulge in excellence…like, for example, this epic bar of chocolate.

I use the term chocolate bar only in the most literal sense: it is in the shape of a bar, and it is made of chocolate. In terms of the conventional sense, trust me when I say that there is nothing conventional about this chocolate.

This is the François Pralus Barre Infernale Lait. I’ve been struggling to find the best way to characterize this, but it’s been really tough. In the classic sense (and according to François Pralus) it’s a praline, but I think it might help most people stateside to think of this as a bon bon of sorts, with a truffle-ish center. (Did you catch that?)

The progression of textures and tastes is euphoric. The outer chocolate shell boldly encases and yet blends into the most sumptuous, buttery, and decadent chocolate hazelnut center. In short it’s the perfect fat: as it hits your palate it’s one cohesive bite, but almost immediately it coats your tongue and oozes sexy hazelnut chocolate. The addition of the toasted whole hazelnuts is the perfect bit of tannic crunch.

This is NOT excessive-cocoa-butter-waxy-bland, just pure decadence. I’m not saying this is an exact comparison, but when talking about this with my guy the word foie gras did come up. So yeah…there’s that.

I purchased this from Cacao in Portland for $22. It’s worth every cent not just because of its artisan craftsmanship and quality (and size), but also because it’s so decadent it’s meant to be savored. You’ll just want to slice a few pieces off at a time and store it away from anything too warm or cold. If you’re looking for this in Seattle, check out Chocolopolis in Queen Anne, they also have it online for $19.

UPDATE [December, 12]: This guy is getting hard to find. Try here.

In case you’re curious here’s a cheeky little how-to:

If this wasn’t enough to convince you I’m not sure what else there is! All I can do is beg you to skip the chocolate from Trader Joe’s and indulge in something better every now and then. Trust me, the endorphins you’ll get from this are priceless!



Ginger Lemon Hot Toddy
May 30, 2012, 11:35 am
Filed under: Drinks, Recipes

Cold Buster: Lemon Ginger Hot Toddy

I’m dead sick. The worst kind of sick where your teeth ache and your eyes can’t open all the way. No matter how hard I try to look presentable it’s just not going to happen. So really, the only thing to do is booze it up.

Ok so, the truth is that I haven’t taken over-the-counter medicine in a few years, but really if you think about it, one of the active ingredients in Nyquil is alcohol (along with a ton of other crap you don’t really want). So here’s my version of a Hot Toddy that will soothe a sore a throat, ease a tough cough, and knock you out all while helping to kick the cold with the ginger, lemon, and local honey. So good for you!

Ginger Lemon Hot Toddy

–  1.5 oz whiskey

–  1 slice organic lemon

–  1 slice organic ginger

–  2 tsp local honey

–  hot, boiling water

Steep the lemon and ginger in the water for at least five minutes. Pour into a mug, add the shot of whiskey and honey. Stir. Drink up.

Note: I steep the lemon and ginger in my teapot and will refill with hot water a couple of times. It’s great to sip even without the whiskey. And since we’re focusing on helping our body heal, and ultimately steeping the ingredients in the boiling water, it’s best to use organic produce and local honey (not honey from China).



The Wedding Planner
May 29, 2012, 10:43 am
Filed under: Personal, Restaurants, Seattle | Tags:

I suppose I should start by saying that I have never been into weddings, never really wanted my own, and have only ever been to one or two that have been truly special and representative of the couple that was being celebrated. (Hey, I have a low cheesiness threshold.) But it was, however, a completely different story when my brother and Mari asked me to plan their wedding back in February. They were in the midst of moving down to San Francisco, and gave me free reign to do whatever I wanted! So yes, the best wedding I ever attended was the one I planned for my brother.

The only criteria we decided on was that it be small, meaningful, and very us…which essentially meant good food and hospitality for our friends and family. I was lucky enough to be able to use our restaurant as the venue for the reception, and the talents of our chef for the menu planning. Outside of that it was all about transforming the restaurant into a magical evening.

Here’s the story of how, with some great help, I planned a wedding reception for 75 of the couple’s closest friends and family IN JUST 2 MONTHS:

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Poms and streamers

Decorations

The first thing we did was settle on colors and decorations. Since many of our friends (and us) come often to the restaurant I wanted to be sure they felt like they were walking into a party and not the dining room they were all so familiar with. The best way to achieve the biggest transformation was to create a series of tissue paper poms to be suspended from the ceiling. There are tons of shops on Etsy that sell them, but we settled on a peacock scheme and ordered 5 different colors of tissue paper so we could make our own. With an assembly line of people to fold and fluff it was not a bad undertaking. The hardest part was rigging a system with our high, open ceilings, but that’s what my guy was for. 270-ish poms later the ceiling was filled and the doorways were lined. I also created a cozy space in the bar with a crepe paper and tinsel curtain. The goal was to stay away from prom decor, and I admit there were times I was a bit nervous about this, but in the end I assure you the poms were anything but cheesy prom. They really are beautiful.

Update with more info on the poms:  We ordered high-quality tissue paper online from CrepePaperStore.com. Each bulk pack was about $28. FROM A SINGLE PACK we ended up with 30 large, 18 medium and 36 baby poms. (Our poms were made with 10 sheets each.) To fill our ceiling we ended up with 265 total poms and that cost about $200.

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The dining room just before guests arrived

Set-up

As a takeaway for the guests I ordered custom M&M’s and filled large candy tubes. The other finishing touches were huge white 36-inch balloons, large white tablecloths, and lots of candlelight from basic tea light holders.

I also rearranged the dining room and bought some small tables to create a more casual lounge seating area with the booths. So with some tall tables for standing and mingling there were also basic table settings and the cocktail tables to break-up the room, making it easy for people to mingle.

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Mari just before the ceremony and her bouquet I threw together. 

Flowers

I was probably most  apprehensive about doing the flowers. I’ve practiced arrangements here and there at home, but nothing like creating a cohesive set.  My strategy here was to buy as many of the most beautiful flowers I could find, so all I really had to do was place them together. We used mason jars as vases which is a sweet, inexpensive, and on-trend option. Also great because now I have lots of jars for canning this summer.

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Our flower cart and bouquets

I was actually getting nervous because my guy and I had this unbelievable collection of flowers and there were some other (legit) wedding planners that were eyeing our stash. I couldn’t really blame them though, we killed it with the shopping!

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Food

Of course the thing I was most excited about was planning the menu. I’m not afraid to say that I am an appetizer aficionado, seriously. So I set out to create a menu with a series of smaller bites that was substantial enough to serve as a full meal. My favorite part of any wedding are the appetizers as dinner is always short on execution. Here we had all of our favorite Thai dishes in smaller sizes.

After the menu was settled it was all about the flatware. I found Crate & Barrel to be the best spot for basic pieces. The key here was to plan: lots of post-its, lists, plating and arrangement testing, and multiple trips to the store.

Here are some of my favorite dishes from the reception:

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Noodles with crab and wontons in mini to-go boxes (duck pastry above)

Ba Mee Hang is an egg noodle dish that we served with crab and hand rolled won tons. It’s always hard to decide how to serve noodles so instead of trying to make a giant bowl look appetizing (and easy to serve) I decided to pre-serve them in mini Chinese take-away boxes with small chopsticks. The presentation was perfect, and so easy to grab and eat while mingling.

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Tom Kah shots with grilled prawns

Tom Kah soup is a popular Thai soup with lemongrass and coconut, which is another dish that can be difficult to serve to large groups, so instead of a heated tray I thought a small shot with a grilled prawn would be much better. These were a hit!

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Thai Iced Tea we bottled

A wine and Thai Iced Tea station was set up for people to serve themselves in the bar. We also had mini bottles of champagne on ice with striped straws which eliminated the need for a ton of champagne glasses.

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 The spread

Here’s a quick glance at the table with lots of familiar and more traditional Thai bites. The other end had some larger dishes (a curry station, pork belly salad, rice, etc).

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After the party had come and gone I came to realize the DIY aspect is what made the wedding for everyone, and really, there’s no need for over-the-top extravagances that can’t be afforded. For us, it was about planning the best party we could to celebrate with the closest of friends. So, restaurant resources aside, I hope you feel inspired to plan, decorate, flower, eat, and drink your way through your big celebration!

More fun party and entertaining help from my Lucky Valentine party.



These are a few …[PDX edition]
May 25, 2012, 6:11 am
Filed under: My favorite things, Portland

I have a new site! What do you think? My awesome brother @thanithani did this for me and I am so freakin’ excited! SO excited. We’re still finalizing some things here and there but I love it. After over three years and 372 posts I’m so glad you’re here with me. Thank you.

Aside from the excitement of the redesign I had a rough week, and just as I started to feel sorry for myself I decided to hop the train down to Portland to visit my guy. Again I had the day to bop around and find some great food and sweets. It’s kind of obvious by my favorites below that sugar and shopping were precisely the therapy I needed to kick my ass back into gear.

I’m hoping these will help you seek out some fun the next time you’re able to sneak away to PDX. Kiss!

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Chocolate goodies from Cacao. This is what a $50 bag of gourmet chocolate looks like. The Claudio Corallo is my guy’s favorite, the big orange bar in the back is the Francois Pralus Barre Infernale Lait for mom and is the most decadent, buttery hazelnut chocolate bar ever. The jar is for me and is Askinosie (I’ve posted on his chocolate before) chocolate hazelnut spread. Seriously, worth every penny.

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Pebble Vases by Sugahara Glassworks, Japan. I got two of these in orange for mom on Mother’s Day and she loved them so much she asked about adding a few more. I stopped back by Canoe to grab a couple, and at $24 each it’s a great deal. They’re handcrafted by one of Japan’s oldest and most respected glass artisans and are meant to  hold a single flower or blade of grass to symbolize the importance of a simple gesture. 

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Ice cream flight at Salt & Straw. A farm-to-cone ice cream shop that’s a must-do in PDX. 17% butterfat, little air from the churn process, and is light  on sugar so you can actually taste the ingredients. Front to back: Stumptown Coffee and Cacao Nibs, Almond Brittle with Salted Ganache, (local) Olive Oil, Banana with Spicy Monkey Caramel and Walnuts. 



Underwater Hotel – Dubai
May 24, 2012, 8:32 am
Filed under: Art and Design, Travel

These concept designs are for Deep Ocean Technology‘s soon-to-be luxury hotel in Dubai. The hotel consists of a series of discs above and below the surface of the water. Below the surface there are 21 rooms, an underwater dive center, and a bar. Above are the lobby, restaurant, spa, and recreation areas.

Anyone else have visions of Louis Gossett Jr. and a giant shark? Regardless though, it’s a really cool concept.

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Seems they’ve also seen Jaws 3 so the plans call for a safety system that’s integrated with international weather and earthquake warning systems, cameras, and remotely operated underwater vehicles stationed around the underwater discs.

[via]



2-in-1 LBD
May 23, 2012, 6:13 am
Filed under: Fashion

I came across this Katie Ermilio dress on Shopbop the other day and I still haven’t been able to shake it from my thoughts. Not only is it taffeta (squeal!), but that lovely full A-line skirt you see is detachable, and when removed it gives way to an elegant and fitted cocktail dress.

I’m sorry, but I could rock the hell out this dress, and that’s without ever removing the outer skirt. I’m also really taken with how the deep V bustline and the same shape of the thin straps at the back exposes a lot of skin, but with such an elegant shape overall the look is pure class.

The price is quite high at $1,600 but as a fan of all of Ermilio’s past designs, and with all of the attention she’s gotten lately, I can only see investing in a piece from her as a wise one. Right about now I’m wondering how much I have saved in my coin jar….

If you’re interested in a quick rundown on Ermilio, here’s a great article. (Oh yeah, and by the way, she’s 26 years old.)



Rosé d’Orfeuilles Touraine
May 22, 2012, 6:35 am
Filed under: Bubbly, Drinks, Yes please

Domaine d’Orfeuilles Sparkling Touraine Rosé

I don’t much care for liquor, I’m not sure I’ve ever finished a beer, wine makes me sleepy…but oh how I love bubbles. Forget the pretentious stigma (it’s not about looks) it’s about effervescent bubbly bliss in a bottle, and for the perfect one I introduce you to Domaine d’Orfeuilles Sparkling Touraine Rosé.

My guy and I have had a blast tasting and profiling this, and here’s what we’ve got:

With divine hints of wild strawberry and freshly baked shortbread, this 100% Malbec wine sparkles with a dry, crisp taste and a perfect texture that tickles your mouth and nose. I mean, check out those sexy streams of bubbles. It’s a hand-crafted artisan wine that uses the traditional method of fermentation called méthode champenoise where the wine is aged (this one in a limestone cave called a tuffeau) for 2-3 years allowing the traditional second fermentation in the bottle to happen, ultimately creating a more complex wine.

Making the bubbles even more enjoyable are the vineyards sustainable farming methods while also working to transition to organic farming. I’d gladly pay 3x as much for this lovely bottle, but the bubble gods are shining down and luckily the price point is between $15 and $17.

No special occasion needed. Just pop a bottle and à la vôtre (cheers)!

Quick tip for serving: Try serving this particular rosé in a coupe glass rather than a flute. Considering the texture and quality of the bubbles I think it’s best served with more surface area allowing the bubbles to expand outward and not just up. And let’s be honest here, there’s just something magical about a coupe.




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