Girls’ Night at The Chocolate Lovers’ Club

I have three close girlfriends that I have been friends with since I met them when I came to their school in 5th grade. The three of them have know each other even longer.  They are the best!  We don’t see each other or talk as often as we would like, but every time we are together, we pick up right where we left off, nobody gets upset if you have dropped off the earth for a month or four two.  The conversation flows, often along with the adult beverages 😉  It is too much fun.

One day I got an email from Amy that she saw a Groupon for a four-course dinner and chocolate tasting at The Chocolate Lovers’ Club in Princeton, NJ.  We knew we had to go, and hoped we could get Tracy and Bethie on board.  And the hubbies/grandmas to watch the little ones.  I mean, what could be better than a Girls’ Night…  with food…  and wine…  and CHOCOLATE!

Unfortunately Tracy couldn’t make it, but Amy’s future sister-in-law, Megan, was happy to join us.

The Chocolate Lovers’ Club is a cute little shop in the Princeton Forrestal Village.  They sell their handmade, gourmet chocolates, offer chocolate classes, have dinners and tastings, host parties and showers, and more.

We had such a great time!  Truthfully, I think there are all couples there, other than us, so it definitely would be a unique date night with your significant other, too.  But definitely consider it for a night with the girls, too.  As we learned, it has been proven that women derive significantly more pleasure from chocolate than men do.  It really was a lot of fun!  The food was tasty, the chocolate was divine, and we even learned a lot of interesting chocolate trivia.  Plus, for my own benefit, I got some ideas for some new recipe creations.  So I had to tell you about the evening.  I will apologize in advance that these pictures are not the best display of my lack of photography skills.  But I was too busy trying to catch up with the girls to take stunning photos.  I’m just not good enough yet to get it perfect on the first or second try.

The theme when we attended was A Taste of Hawaii, so we were greeted with leis and a Pineapple Ginger Ale punch, which was so light and refreshing.

Pineapple Ginger Ale Punch

We started with a salad, where we had our first taste of chocolate in the form of cacao nibs crushed and sprinkled over a salad of mixed greens, pineapple, red onion and grated cheddar.  This is definitely a great idea for a summery salad, and, as we learned, cacao nibs are a superfood, high in antioxidants.

Pineapple Cacao Nib Salad

This was followed by a little appetizer of cream cheese on crackers with some mango jelly.  I love the combination of sweet and salty, so this would definitely be a yummy, quick party snack.

Mango Jelly and Cream Cheese on Crackers

Next was the main course, which was served small plates style.  We were free to take a few samples, and then return to the buffet as often as we liked.  I defintely had seconds of the creamy coconut shrimp rice, the savory pork patties, and the sweet and tasty sweet potato and banana casserole.  A pineapple chicken kabob and some steamed green beans rounded out the meal.

Chocolate Dinner Main Course

Then we had the pleasure of tasting some wonderful chocolates from craft producers in Hawaii who make their chocolate in small batches.  The dark chocolate was 60% cocoa, not milk or other added ingredients – just pure chocolate and sugar.  The slight bitterness to the chocolate was such a wonderful contrast to the Pineapple Ginger Ale punch.  The white chocolate was not the artificial tasting white chocolate that you see lining the aisles right now in the form of “chocolate” bunnies.  This was real cocoa butter with sugar, and it was so smooth and creamy, and provided just the right amount of sweetness to some mango iced black tea.

And of course you can’t go to a chocolate dinner without finishing up with dessert.  And we had two – both of which were delicious and simple enough to do at home.  In fact, I am thinking of turning both of these ideas into layer cakes.  I bet they would be fabulous!

The first was a Chocolate Kona Coffee Cake, which consisted of a simple sponge cake, drizzled with chocolate ganache made from the amazing Hawaiian chocolate and coconut milk instead of cream.  This was then sprinkled with crushed Kona coffee beans, lemon zest, and sea salt.  I don’t even really like coffee, but this was such an incredible contrast of flavors that somehow all worked together beautifully.

Chocolate Kona Coffee Cake

Then we finished simply with pineapple chunks drizzled with a white chocolate ganache, also made with coconut milk, macadamia nuts, and sea salt.  Delicious!

Pineapple with white chocolate ganache and macadamia nuts

Well, since The Hubby spent the night at home with The Bug, I thought he deserved a few treats, too.  And I got The Bug a white chocolate bunny for his Easter basket.  I might have also bought some for myself.

Bag of chocolates

We sampled the caramel truffles and sangria truffles, which were smooth and creamy.  The sangria truffle was so unique, with that delicious combination of chocolate and orange.  And we tried the dark chocolate bark with cacao nibs, and this was so well-balanced – bitter and sweet, creamy and crunchy.

Sangria truffle, caramel truffle, and dark chocolate cacao nib bark

Oh, and by the way, my choice of Cupcake Red Velvet wine was a perfect selection!

By being an email follower, I was also lucky enough to win a free ticket to a chocolate tasting.  So I will be heading back to sample some more of their wonderful treats at the end of April.  I am bringing The Hubby this time, though.  I love Girls’ Nights, but I also love Date Nights, too, and I think he will love it as much as I did.

So if you are in the area, stop in and check out their chocolates, try some drinks or desserts, or sign up for one of their fun Supper Club Nights!

Enjoy!

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Mexican Pineapple Black Bean Stuffed Baked Sweet Potatoes – No More ‘Mallows!

I have lots of dreams.  Strange Weird Crazy Stupid Lame Awesome as it sounds, many of those dreams have to do with food.  Things like open a bed & breakfast, become a sommelier, own a cafe/wine bar/bakery, be a waitress at a really fancy restaurant, meet Giada or Tyler or Michael or Tom or Mario (DiLaurentiis, Florence, Symon, Collicchio, and Batali for those of you who aren’t on a first name basis with them, as I am), write a cookbook…

One of those dreams is to win a recipe contest.  Now I have always been an overachiever, so I have my sights set on the $1 Million Pillsbury Bake-Off.  But I figure I should probably start a little smaller.  So when I saw Biz at My Bizzy Kitchen post her entry for the No More ‘Mallows! recipe contest, sponsored by the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, I knew I had to enter.  I had just made a sweet potato recipe a couple of weeks ago that I thought would be perfect for this contest.

No More 'Mallows!

The black bean filling for my spin on baked stuffed potatoes is based on this Black Bean & Mango Taco recipe from my friend, Michelle, at Find Your Balance.  She is a health coach, and has some awesome, healthy recipes.  Pinapple Black Bean Stuffed Baked Sweet Potatoes with ForkAnything that gets my husband to eat and love a dinner that does not include meat must be good.  And The Bug loves Mexican.  So her recipe has become one of our family favorites.  But I have switched it up some, and instead of tacos, I thought it would be awesome stuffed into some sweet potatoes.  And, just to make Michelle happy, I added in some dark, leafy greens and Greek yogurt (though the leafy greens could be optional, if you are not a fan, and you could use sour cream, if you prefer).

So give this a try for your Meatless Monday, Lent Friday, or any day, really.  It’s that good.  No need to reserve it for your vegetarian days (unless all of your days are vegetarian days).  It has a lot of ingredients, but most are probably already in your pantry.  Oooh, and it would probably also be good with some of this.

Pineapple Black Bean Stuffed Baked Sweet Potatoes with Limes and Avocado

Have you ever entered a recipe contest?  What are some of the random, seemingly silly goals you have?

Mexican Pineapple Black Bean Stuffed Baked Sweet Potatoes (serves 4)

Adapted from Black Bean & Mango Tacos from Find Your Balance

Ingredients

For Sweet Potatoes:

4 sweet potatoes

half of a lime

1/2 t kosher salt

1 T olive oil

For Monterey Jack Creamy Swiss Chard:

16 c Swiss chard (or other dark, leafy green of your choice) – I know this sounds like a lot, but it really cooks down

Monterey Jack Swiss Chard1/4 t salt

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 c milk (any kind will do, I used 1%)

1 c (about 4 oz.) shredded Monterey Jack cheese

For Pineapple Black Beans:

1 T olive oil

half of a large sweet onion, chopped

Black Beans1/4 t salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 red pepper, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed

1 lime

2 T chili powder

1 T cumin

1/2 c water

Pineapple Black Bean Stuffed Sweet Potatoes on plate1 c chopped fresh or canned pineapple

2 T chopped cilantro

For garnish (optional):

1/2 c Greek yogurt (I like Chobani) or sour cream

1/2 lime

chopped avocado

cilantro

Directions

1.  Preheat your oven to 400°F.

2.  Squeeze half of a lime into a bowl and add the salt.  Toss the sweet potatoes in the lime-salt mixture.

3.  Wrap each potato individually in aluminum foil, and bake for 45 minutes-1 hour, or until soft (alternatively, you could cook them in the microwave for about 10-15 minutes, but NOT with the aluminum foil)

4.  While the sweet potatoes are baking, prepare the fillings.  Start by spraying a large pan with olive oil or cooking spray, and putting over medium heat.

5.  Add the Swiss chard, salt and pepper, and cover with a lid.  Cook for about 5 minutes, or until wilted, stirring every couple of minutes.

6.  Remove the lid and add the milk and cheese.  Cook until thickened slightly and cream.  Set aside.

7.  In the same pan or in a clean pan, heat the olive and add the onions, salt, and pepper.  Cook until starting to turn translucent.

8.  Add the red pepper and cook until the onions and peppers are soft.

9.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add the black beans, juice of a lime, chili powder, cumin, and water, and simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until heated through.  You can keep covered over a low heat until the sweet potatoes are ready.

10.  Stir the pineapple and cilantro into the black bean mixture.

11.  Combine the Greek yogurt or sour cream and lime juice, and chop the avocado and cilantro, if using.

12.  Slice open the baked sweet potatoes, and fill with the swiss chard and black bean mixture.  Top with the desired garnishes.

Enjoy!

Pineapple Black Bean Stuffed Sweet Potatoes close up
This recipe was shared with:

Kelly the Kitchen Kop’sReal Food Wednesday 3/21/12

These Chicks Cooked Recipe Swap #44

The Countertop Confections’ What’s Cooking Thursday 3/22/12

A Little Nosh’s Tastetastic Thursday 3/22/12

Savannah’s Savory Bites Friday Feature Blog Hop 3/23/12

Amee’s Savory Dish Fit and Fabulous Friday 3/23/12

Blogger Awards

In college, my friends and I were not big party people.  Sure, sometimes we went out and did the “typical” college stuff, but our idea of an awesome party was to make a big pot of spaghetti (usually with vodka sauce, because that was our preferred way to use vodka), and watch the Emmys, Grammy, or Oscars.  One of the most upsetting moments for us was when we missed the big Ricky Martin performance at the Grammys when he first became popular because someone pulled the fire alarm.  These days I tend to watch just the pre-show or the recap on Fashion Police because I really just want to see how amazing or awful the celebs all look.  I usually don’t have much of an interest in the actual awards because I am not a huge music person, I watch more Food Network than network comedies and dramas (other than Glee), and I am lucky if I have seen one of the Oscar-nominated movies.

But now I have received some awards from my fellow bloggers, and I am so honored.  So I want to highlight these amazing ladies, and share the love with some other folks so that I can introduce all of you to some new and not-so-new blogs that you may not have seen before, but that have some incredible food and fun to offer.  I would love to tell you more about each of these, but that will take me so long that the orchestra will start playing in order to get me off the stage.  So now, without any further adieu…

The Beautiful Soul Award was presented to me by The Fountain Avenue Kitchen and The Foodie Physician.  Thank you, Ann & Sonali!  Ann has a bright, beautiful site with lots of great recipes, including a salad that inspired my lunch on Friday.  Sonali went to both medical school and culinary school, so she has lots of great, healthy recipes, and nutrition and health information.

The Beautiful Soul Award

I am presenting this to The PaperCup Kitchen, Confessions of a Cookbook Queen, Amee’s SavoryDish, Sugar and Spikes-Badassery in Baking, Lauren Kelly, Certified Nutritionist, and Zestuous.  (I know I received two, so should probably award it to 10 people, but I have a lot more awards to go).

Knead to Cook presented me with the Kreativ Blogger Award.  Robin has lots of tasty, healthy recipes, and some awesome-looking baked goods, usually featuring a great ingredient – Chobani Greek yogurt.

kreativbloggeraward

The Rules for the Kreativ Blogger Award

  1. List 10 random facts about yourself (see below)
  2. Give the award to 6 other bloggers

I already presented this award to  Sumptuous Spoonfuls, ChinDeep, Basilmomma: a busy mom that likes to cook, Pinch of Yum, Help! Mom’s on a Health Kick, And a glass of red wine.

Sumptuous Spoonfuls presented me with the Versatile Blogger Award.  Thank you, Ann!  Ann inspires me pretty much everyday with her photos and recipes, including an awesome salad and a breakfast idea, and many other recipes I want to try.

versatile-blogger-award

The RULES for the Versatile Blogger Award

  1. Add the award to your blog.
  2. Thank the blogger who gave it to you.
  3. Mention 7 random things about yourself. (see below)
  4. List the rules.
  5. Award to 15 bloggers.
  6. Inform each of those 15 by leaving a comment on their blog.

I would like to present this award to Little Mommy, Big Appetite, The Purple Carrot, The Novice Chef Blog, Recipes for my Boys, Cooking From a SAHM, Chocolate, Chocolate, and More Chocolate, Mia’s Domain, FoodThoughtsOfAChefWannabe, Decorate With Sprinkles, LaBelle CuisineMy Crazy Kitchen, My Kitchen Adventures, A Well-Seasoned Life, Hun, What’s For Dinner, and  Made From Scratch Recipes.

The Liebster Award was presented to me by Sweet Morris. She has some great recipes, and interesting little tidbits at the end of each post.

liebster_award

Here are the rules:

  1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog.
  2. Link back to the blogger who presented the award to you.
  3. Copy and paste the blog award on your blog.
  4. Present the Liebster Blog Award to 5 blogs of 200 followers or less who you feel deserves to be noticed.
  5. Let them know they have been chosen by leaving a comment on their blog.

I would like to present this to five new(-ish) bloggers who have some awesome recipes, nutrition advice and fitness inspiration to share:  And a glass of red wine, The Half-Baked Housewife, Countertop Confections, Tastefully Julie, and BananaOats.  Go check out their blogs and show some love.

So if you have hung in there this long, I would like to thank you, and the Academy.  And now, here are the 10 + 7 random facts about myself:

  1. I have a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, and worked for a major pharmaceutical company for almost 10 years.
  2. I am now a stay-at-home mom.
  3. I have a son named Tyler, who is almost 2, and keeps me on my toes.
  4. He was actually named after Tyler Florence.  I am kind of obsessed with chefs.
  5. I tweeted Michael Symon when he asked about food blogs he should check out, and he is now Following me on Twitter.  Score!!
  6. I actually hate Twitter, but know that it is a good way to connect with people, so I am trying to keep up.
  7. I have a wonderful husband, Bill, of almost 6 years, and he is so supportive of me, and an amazing daddy.
  8. I met my husband at work, and he was actually my boss for a short time on a rotational assignment, before we started dating.
  9. I have traveled to Italy multiple times for vacation and work, and I think it is my favorite place ever.  Mainly because of the food.  And the wine.  And the gelato.
  10. Ice cream is pretty much my favorite food in the world.  And peanut butter.
  11. I workout 3-4 days a week, plus chasing and going for walks with my toddler, all so that I can eat more ice cream and other yummy food.
  12. I hate raw onions, sauerkraut, and canned tuna.  Other than that, I’ll give most things a shot.
  13. I love the Yankees!
  14. I love the beach, and love that my mom lives just outside of Rehoboth Beach Delaware.
  15. I have lived between three adjacent towns in New Jersey for my entire life.
  16. My husband and I love to watch college football together, especially our alma maters, Rutgers and Penn State.
  17. Blogging about food and archiving the recipes has been an incredible creative outlet for me, and I have enjoyed interacting with lots of people as passionate about food as me.

Happy St. Patricks Day Green Smoothie – have a Shamrock Shake the healthy way!

So I have been dying to get myself a Shamrock Shake from McDonald’s. But then I realize that the last time I had one, I wasn’t thrilled.  I rarely indulge in a McDonald’s milkshake, but I don’t think they have been the same since they started putting whipped cream and a cherry on top.  I mean, this is McDonald’s, not an ice cream parlor, or even a diner.  Their food isn’t supposed to come with garnish.  Then I saw someone post the list of what is in a Shamrock Shake.  Not that I don’t ever consume those ingredients – I do loves me a McDonald’s Ice Cream Cone, and the ice cream is the main component of the shake – but it wasn’t worth the calories or chemicals for something I don’t really like.

Shamrock Shake Green Smoothie in sunlightBut it is St. Patrick’s Day, and for some reason, I still thought a Shamrock Shake for breakfast was the way to celebrate, since the rest of my plans for the day are decidedly NOT Irish.  I’ve seem a lot of versions posted on various blogs this week, but most involved ice cream.  So I decided to make one that was breakfast-worthy (but definitely still yummy enough for dessert).  And it does not involve any green food coloring.  Or added sugar. I think I will be making one for The Bug for snack.  Throw a banana in your freezer in chunks, and it’ll be ready to make this for an after dinner treat.

I am not a huge mint person.  I regularly think to myself that I wish they made peanut butter-flavored toothpaste.  So this is admittedly a little light on the mint.  If you like things really minty, go ahead and add more mint extract.  And no, you can’t taste the kale, and if you blend it up, you don’t even know it is there, other than the lovely green color it gives the smoothie.

What are you doing for St. Patrick’s Day?  Eating or drinking anything green?  Or Irish?

Shamrock Shake Green Smoothie from top

Shamrock Green Smoothie (serves 1)

Ingredients

Shamrock Shake Green Smoothie1 frozen, really ripe banana

1 c milk (I used Almond Breeze Almond Coconut Milk, but you can use any milk you choose)

1/2 c kale (or other dark, leafy green of your choice)

1/2 t vanilla extract

1/4 t mint extract

ice cubes – I used 4 regular-sized ones.  This was probably aboutn3/4 c.  Adjust accordingly based on the size of your ice cubes and how icy you want it.

Directions

1.  Put all ingredients into a blender (I used my trusty Magic Bullet), and blends until smooth.

2.  Pour into a glass to serve, and garnish with a strawberry, if you want to be all fancy.

Enjoy!

shamrock green smoothie from iphone

Shared with:

I Heart Nap Time

Friday Fun! March 16, 2012

Happy Friday again everyone!  I’m back for another edition of Friday Fun.  I’ll tell you what’s not so fun is that I am starting to write this at 2:50am.  Why, you ask?  Well, for some reason I m having a bout of insomnia tonight, and just as I was starting to wind down, The Bug decided to have a bit of a crying fit.  Well, he settled down, sort of, but now I can’t wind myself back down.  I’m sure staring at the glow of the computer screen is going to do wonders for helping to get me off to dreamland, but c’est la vie.  Gotta use the time somehow, especially since I’ll probably crash when The Bug goes down for his nap tomorrow, umm, I mean later today.  I’m sure I won’t finish this before I try to go to sleep, but at least I’ll get a start.

Last weekend, The Hubby and I got a date night, which was wonderful.  I’m actually hoping to do a little post about it, because we had yet another fabulous meal at The Frog & The Peach, in New Brunswick, NJ.  Every one in a while, we like to go out to somewhere REALLY good.  A lot of the time we try new places, but when we want a good meal with good service and a good atmosphere, without the wildcard aspect of trying a new place, we go to The Frog.

This weekend I am so excited for a Girls’ Night on Saturday with two good friends, Amy and Bethie, and Amy’s future sister-in-law, Megan.  Of course this has nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day, but we bought a Groupon for a Four-Course Chocolate Supper Club dinner at the Chocolate Lovers Club in Princeton, “celebrating cuisine from chocolate-producing countries,” and supposedly includes virgin choctails, three appetizers, four tasting-size entrees, dessert, a cooking demo, and a chocolate tasting.  We will be experiencing A Taste of Hawaii.  OMG!!!!  I also think I will be picking up a bottle of Cupcake Red Velvet to bring along, because it sounds like the perfect pairing to me.

And Sunday I’ll be heading to a birthday party for The Half-Baked Housewife‘s little guy.  She has a huge family and tons of friends, so parties at her house are always such happy chaos.

OK, I think I can go to sleep now.

Apple cheddar and almond salad with balsamic maple dijon vinaigretteSo I am back, and having a salad for lunch inspired The Fountain Avenue Kitchen’s Apple Pecan Spring Greens with Maple Dijon Vinaigrette.  I only had romaine and cheddar, though I would much prefer spring greens and blue cheese.  Also, I used almonds instead of pecans, and left out the raw onion (yuck!).  Plus I fudged the dressing a little because I was only making a little for myself, and I used balsamic instead of apple cider vinegar, because I LOVE balsamic.  I also realized I forgot the dried cranberries.  Bummer!  But it was so tasty!

This week I also received several blogger awards from some of my new bloggie friends.  I am so honored, but it has been a busy week with attempting, unsuccessfully, to potty train The Bug, getting my Improv Cooking Challenge post completed, and pulling together my package for my Foodie Penpal, Jessica, that I haven’t had a chance to share the love.  So since the Oscars, Grammys, and Emmys are always on Sundays, I am thinking I will be doing a Sunday Awards Show post, so that I can highlight the lovely ladies who nominated me, and tell you all about some other awesome bloggers.

The Bug Planting SeedsThe Bug and I planted herbs this week from Growums.  Let’s see if my Black Thumb of Death rears its ugly head again.  Oh, and my random adorable Bug tidbit of the week is that when you ask him where something is, he points, and says “Right right there.”  Oh, and on the way home from pre-school the other day, he fell asleep in the car.  Usually he asks to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar when we get home, but since he was out cold, I just carried him up to his bed.  As I was laying down, he goes, “Hungry Caterpilaaaaa..zzzzzzzzzz” as he fell back to sleep.  So cute!  And one more thing – apparently at pre-school he is counting EVERYTHING.  He has no interest in letters, but he is all over the numbers.  Clearly the offspring of two engineers.

At Shop Rite I picked up a 5 lb box of Whole Wheat Matzoh.  I’m not Jewish and I have a wheat allergy, so don’t eat too many things like that.  But I thought I might be able to come up with some creative recipes.  And it was free.  And bonus, the only ingredients are whole wheat flour and water, so it’ll make a great whole grain, sugar/salt/preservative-free snack for The Bug.  Any other ideas what I can do with it?

The Bug and his car

Some things I came across this week:

  • In the early stages of tonight’s insomnia, I found this article about food bloggers posting recipes using “real food” versus packaged items and junk food to create visually appealing, drool-inducing recipes that don’t do wonders for the health of the nation.  I am all about balance and moderation.  So while I do try to focus on wholesome, nutritious, “real” food, I do think there is room in life for a little fun, like these Lucky Charms Cupcakes.  That being said, though, so far I think the most popular recipe on my blog is my Spaghetti Squash with Spicy Sausage Tomato Cream Sauce.
  • The Lean Green Bean put together a list of 60 Blogs You Should Be Reading.  There are a lot on there that I already read, and some that I have to add to my list.
  • Every year for Christmas, I make my dad Snickerdoodles.  He even says I now make them better than my grandma used to.  And The Hubby loves molasses gingersnaps.  These Snickercrinkles are like a combo of the two – I have to try them!
  • Ann at Sumptuous Spoonfuls had me hooked with this Double Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Banana Bread.  I mean, it has Nutella, and it is chock full of healthy things like flax, whole wheat flour, yogurt and applesauce.
  • Brown Sugar Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Brown Sugar Frosting and Snickers Cake – ’nuff said!
  • OK, I am not all about dessert.  I am always looking for some new vegetarian ideas for Meatless Mondays and Lent Fridays.  This week I found BBQ Chickpea Burgers and Black Bean Spaghetti Stir Fry.  I am very interested to try black bean pasta after my first venture into gluten-free pasta with brown rice spaghetti last week.  And I thing this Springtime Jasmine Rice Salad sounds amazing, with two of my favorites – asparagus and mushrooms – but I think I may have to add shrimp or chicken for The Hubby to consider it a meal.
  • How cute are these?!?!

I could go on, but I have towels to fold.  Ugh!

Remember, f you like what you see here, I’d love for you to subscribe to updates by email, “Like” me on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter.  And tell your friends…

And here is the weekly question:

What are your plans for the weekend?  Cooking up anything special?

Enjoy!