January 28, 2010

City Bakery announces Hot Chocolate Festival flavors!

Here I am enjoying a cup of last year's offerings at City Bakery's annual Hot Chocolate Festival

Even though it's been around for ages, I only discovered City Bakery last year, and holy bananas - this place is amazing. Their hot chocolate is a famous New York treat and I'm excited that January is winding down as this signals that City Bakery's annual Hot Chocolate Festival is about to kick off.

During the entire month of February, City Bakery features a different flavor of hot chocolate every day (see the full calendar here). Lemon Hot Chocolate? Yes please! Hi Ho Pistachio Hot Chocolate? You better believe it! Beer + Brown Sugar Hot Chocolate? Why am I not already drinking this?!

Last year, I only tried two flavors (Bourbon Hot Chocolate and Banana Hot Chocolate). This year, I'm going all out - I'll be visiting City Bakery every single day of February and tasting the goods. You'll be able to track my progress and read my reviews right here at Puff and Choux.

If New Yorkers (or people visiting NYC during the month of February) want to hang out and chat over hot chocolate, get in touch. Hot chocolate is always more fun with good company. Also, after eating City Bakery's bad ass chocolate chip cookies and drinking a cup of hot chocolate for an entire month, I might need someone to roll me out into the street and to the L train towards the end of February.

January 27, 2010

An electronic thank you note

For some reason, Blogger won't let me leave comments on my own posts, so I wanted to let you all know that your support and encouragement over the past week has been incredible. Getting laid off has served as a nice reminder on why I'm happy I have my food friends - the culinary community is full of the kindest people you'll ever meet. Thanks dudes:)

January 25, 2010

Chocolate truffles = My experience in Corporate America

Almost a year ago, I was laid off from my job. It was around that same time that I discovered my love of baking and the result was the birth of Puff and Choux. The feeling that I had finally found my path in life washed over me. My destiny was in food - I knew that much for sure.

In 2009, several really amazing things happened. CupcakeCamp NYC was a massive success. I joined the team at Cupcakes Take the Cake. I was one of only 25 bloggers invited to the Bon Appetit Blogger Party (and my cake won second place). Puff and Choux's readership improved, and things started to feel like they were finally starting to fall into place.

However, there was one problem: I live in New York, and unfortunately, obligations such as paying rent, utilities and simply having money to survive don't wait for a steady paycheck to roll in. I took another technology-related job, and here I am, almost a year after my food writing odyssey began, once again unemployed.

I don't remember a single time in my life where I consciously thought about being at a crossroads. Obviously, I've had many crossroads in my almost 29 years of existence on this planet. It's just that I never thought of those moments as anything special.

There was the time I had to make the decision to finally leave Scotland for good. As hard as it was to actually leave, mainly because it involved leaving someone I loved behind, I don't remember the actual act of buying the plane ticket to New York or the drive to the airport being momentous.

And then there was the decision to move to New York. I love telling people it was a decision that took about less than 30 seconds to make. No one believes me, but it's the truth.

There have been many others, but most of them I can't recall clearly so they aren't worth mentioning. I think these memories are fuzzy because I used to be adventurous. I used to take risks, but at the time, they didn't feel like risks. I've lost this personality trait in the last 6 years, sadly.

This time, this current crossroads, well...it's tough. I'm staring down two paths and I have absolutely no idea which one to take.

Enter the chocolate truffle recipe.

I tried making chocolate truffles the same week I was laid off (i.e. last week). I had never made anything like this before, but I figured what the hell? I had a ton of bittersweet chocolate and I needed to use it.

The recipe was a bumpy one. It was smooth sailing at first. I mixed the cream, salt and Grand Marnier. Easy. I poured it over the chopped chocolate. Simple.

Then I stuck it in the fridge for the suggested 20 minutes. That's when the off roading started.

First off, the recipe I was using says one can scoop the chocolate with a tablespoon. It only took about 3 seconds to learn that this wasn't going to work. Luckily, my impulse shopping finally paid off and I remembered the melon baller I bought years ago was tucked inside the utensil drawer.

The melon baller helped, but as a perfectionist, I still didn't think the truffles were round enough. However, I learned very quickly that the chocolate would rather melt in my hands than be formed into perfectly round orbs.

I refused to be defeated by these truffles, so I soldiered through the task of making the truffles as round as possible before dumping them into a bowl of unsweetened cocoa powder.

Lastly, I decided to use the sea salt I had recently acquired. Hey, who doesn't like salt and chocolate?

I didn't wrap up the truffles until close to midnight, and since I had to work the next day (had I known I was going to get the axe three days later, I would have just slept in), I stuck the truffles in the fridge without sampling the final product.

In the morning, I decided to turn my colleagues into guinea pigs and packaged up the truffles for my commute into work. Before tucking them inside my tote bag, I nabbed one from the pan.

Before I go on, I must admit that I am not a fan of dark chocolate. I can't stand the taste and avoid it at all costs. So why did I decide to make dark chocolate truffles? I don't know. That's the only answer I have.

As my brain began to register what I had just eaten, the familiar distaste for dark chocolate came rushing back and I kept my fingers crossed that my co-workers wouldn't spit them out in disgust.

I was so nervous about the taste of these truffles that I left them in the office kitchen with only the ingredients listed. I didn't want to put my name on the dish in case people felt the urge to talk gossip on the cringe-worthy truffles.

Luckily, two of my co-workers tasted the goods and promised that they enjoyed them. Later in the day, I stopped by the kitchen to see what was left of my creation and only 5 out of the 15 were left. To be safe, I checked the trash can in the kitchen and didn't see any obvious signs of vomiting or regurgitated truffles. Huzzah!

But here's my point: I made those truffles simply because I had the ingredients and the recipe looked simple. It wasn't challenging. It turned out to simply be a pain in the ass. My career path thus far can be described the same way.

Since I graduated from college, I've taken job after job just for the sake of it. Up until the first time I got laid off, I never really thought about what it was I was really passionate about. And even then when I did know that my life was meant to be spent in the food world, I still took a job similar to my previous ones.

What do I have to show for all this? Unemployment, that's what.

So back to the fork in the road. Which path do I take? Do I suck it up and pursue my dreams of working in the food world in some sort of capacity, facing the hardship and possibilities such as living at my parents' house when I'm 30, growing further in debt and in the end, failing just as hard as I have in Corporate America, or do I accept the fact that I peaked around the age of 23 years old and am now relegated to being a working stiff behind a desk where I will most likely get fired/laid off again?

Or maybe I should stop being a perfectionist and worrying about what other people think and instead follow my dreams without questioning every single move I make?

In the meantime, here is the chocolate truffle recipe. Perhaps it will answer some of life's burning questions for you (as long as you're a fan of dark chocolate). I'm going to give it another go, but perhaps with some tweaked ingredients, it will be something I enjoy eating. Is this the perspective I need on my career too? Only time will tell.

Grand Marnier Chocolate Truffles
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate (at least 61% cacao), chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
Unsweetened cocoa powder, for rolling
Sea salt, for sprinkling

Place chocolate in a bowl. Bring cream, Grand Marnier, and salt to a simmer in a small saucepan. Pour over chocolate, and let stand for 2 minutes. Whisk until smooth.

Pour chocolate mixture into and 8-inch square baking dish, and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Scoop balls of mixture using a melon baller. Roll balls in cocoa powder, tossing until fully coated. Shake off excess. Then, sprinkle with sea salt. You may have to tap the sea salt into the truffles to make it stick.

Makes 28 truffles.
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