by Alicia Lieu
Be sure to check out the recipes at the end of this post and check back every month as Alicia shares her adventures of How I Met My Dinner!
First, a follow-up to December’s column, Advent Calendars. To my surprise and delight, my good friend Molly presented me with a Valentine’s Day Advent Calendar. Shaped like a giant heart, it contains 14 small wrapped gifts with accompanying valentines for each day. It is a bold centerpiece to have in my apartment and it has been a ton of fun opening a present each day. A little bit of creativity goes a long way! It is the perfect segue into How I Met My Dinner’s February column.
I have to admit that when I was asked to write a piece around Valentine’s Day, I did roll my eyes a bit. Well, since I received this request over email, it was probably a rather large eye-roll. It was the same eye-roll that accompanied the moment when I got to the, “You complete me,” line in the movie Jerry Maguire. The story of Sara Bareilles also flashed through my mind because her No.1 hit tune, “Love Song” was a “very tongue-in-cheek” and “nasty in a passive-aggressive way,” response to her record label that was pressuring her to write “radio friendly songs” (according to the all-knowing Wikipedia). That thought was followed by a stream of unrelated ideas that I attempted to relate to Valentine’s Day but was rather unsuccessful at accomplishing.
So once I got past the artificial and Hallmark-saturated part of the holiday, I was able to think logically about Valentine’s Day and the integral part that chocolate plays in my life. The other day, a co-worker was lamenting that his work t-shirt was too snug. He attributed that to his beer belly. I said that I had a beer belly, too, but it wasn’t caused by beer. A third co-worker chimed in and asked what it was caused by. I answered, “Chocolate.” Recent studies suggest that chocolate in the diet can provide health benefits because cocoa is high in antioxidants. Luckily, I love the dark chocolate that is 70% cocoa, because once you add milk and tons of sugar, you can’t really justify any health benefits. Emotional benefits yes, health benefits no. Whether the craving for chocolate is physiological or psychological, chocolate is definitely a comfort food in my book.
The day I broke up with someone last year, my good friend, Rebecca, brought me homemade chocolate chip cookies made with extra dark chocolate, which I proceeded to eat about six in one sitting. The very next day, she happened to break up with her boyfriend and my response was to bring her dark chocolate covered almond and cherry clusters that I got at Costco. They did help. The only thing better than the comfort of a friend is the comfort of a friend bearing chocolate!
I do have my top picks for chocolate. Many of these are on the Upper West Side where I work:
Beard Papa’s: This Japanese based cream puff chain on Broadway and 74th has a molten chocolate cake that is the deal of the century. For less than three dollars, you can get a seriously rich chocolate fix. Be sure you ask them to heat it up for you so that the center gets melted.
Cafe Lalo: This is where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan had a meeting in the movie You’ve Got Mail. Romantic, yes, but it is also a really great café, and the desserts are out of this world, even a little bit overwhelming.Jacques Torres: On Amsterdam between 73rd and 74th is one of Jacque Torres’ iconic chocolate shops. The chocolate bark is always superb but I recently discovered his cookies. The Mudslide and the Peanut Butter chocolate chip ones are impressive but his chocolate chip cookie is pretty unique. He makes it using chocolate disks so that the cookie is crispy and has alternating layers of chocolate.
Levain Bakery: Just half a block up from Jacques Torres is a small but increasingly famous bakery that serves humongous, freshly baked and almost always warm cookies about the size of your face, and thicker than any brownie you have ever eaten. There is almost always a line formed outside of this tiny place. I often stop by after work after a rough day or on my lunch break if the work day is especially tough. In the words of Carrie Bradshaw with a friend at some food establishment in one of the Sex and the City episodes, “I’m going to need a giant cookie, too.”
Teuscher: My ultimate luxury brand of chocolate is a brand from Switzerland. I first came across Teuscher in San Francisco where Ghirardelli originates. Their chocolate is silky smooth. There are now two locations in New York. Even looking in the window of their stores is a rewarding experience. Located on Madison and Fifth Avenues, window shopping is about all I can afford to do on those streets.Max Brenner: Chocolate by the Bald Man. Located in Union Square (New York, not San Francisco), Max Brenner is a restaurant that specializes in novel and artistic desserts. There is a chocolate shop in the front of the restaurant with a huge vat of chocolate being pumped in from a giant pipe, coming from who knows where. They even sell a syringe filled with chocolate. The desserts are cleverly designed and presented, and it is probably impossible to get a reservation there on Valentine’s Day. Not just death by chocolate, but life by chocolate! To this day, my friend Chris says, “Hey Alicia, do you remember the time we went to Max Brenner and then went to Pommes Frites and had Belgian fries?” I do remember that delicious night; I am still working off those calories three years later. I have briefly thought about why I feel such retaliation against Valentine’s Day, which I have personally named “Singles Awareness Day,” which conveniently becomes the acronym SAD, by the way. It might be because there seems to be a misconception that being single equals being unhappy. Both the single life and tied down (is ball and chain too strong of a description?) life have their advantages and disadvantages, but I feel very strongly that I don’t need Tom Cruise to complete me. I admit that math is not my strongest subject, but I can provide proof for the equation single plus serotonin-level-raising-chocolate equals happy. There may, however, come a time when I seek to change my status away from single. In that case, my future February articles will have to be about super fat burning foods and how to eat like a rabbit and not be sad about it.
I know these fat burning foods exist, because the internet says so.
To come full circle and bring it back to Jerry Maguire, I shall leave you with this image that came up in my Facebook feed: “You had me at Chocolate.”
Starbucks recently changed their pastry selections over to La Boulange offerings. One of my coworkers gave me a cookie one day because his roommate brought him one of these dangerously addictive cookies but handed it to me after he saw the deep longing in my eyes. One time when I ordered it, the barista asked me if I wanted it warmed up. When I said yes, she warned me that the cookie falls apart when it is heated up. The cookie may fall apart, but it helps put my psyche back together. Turns out that it is called the Chewy Chocolate Meringue Cookie and I found a recipe that rivals it. I have tweaked it a bit for maximum punch. I may experiment with adding some espresso powder to it next.
The original recipe can be found here: http://www.recipegirl.com/2007/11/24/chewy-gooey-flourless-chocolate-cookies/#_a5y_p=1038866
Chocolate Fix Cookies
2 2/3 cups powdered sugar 1 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 3 large egg whites, at room temperature 1/2 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract 1 1/2 cups 60% cocoa (or higher) chocolate chips
1. In a large bowl, combine the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt.
2. Add in the egg whites and vanilla extract. Mix until the batter is moistened. It will be very thick. Gently fold in the chocolate chips.
3. Place rounded tablespoons of dough onto non-stick cookie sheets. Bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 14 minutes. Place on wire racks to cool.