The thing about impulse decisions is that you never really know where they're going to lead you. Sometimes they take you into situations that you never really thought yourself being in. They can be absolutely terrifying and horrid situations where you realize you've gambled everything away on a lark and that, in fact, following that impulse was one of the greatest mistakes of your life. Of course, other times, these decisions can lead to the grandest adventures that fill your days with excitement. On these decisions you realize that you would need infinite notebooks and a never-empty pen in order to chronicle each colorful detail and exquisite memory.
Then there are simply those delightful times where you simply taste something really great and get to share it with friends. This is the one I plan to focus on today.
During a recent blogging conference Casey, Sarah, and I found ourselves all crashing together with our food blog buddy, Stephanie, whom many of you know as Wasabimon. We had all met in Mexico and during a week of sand, surf, and more tequila that is normally proper before 10 AM we had bonded and become quite close friends. This conference was a chance for us all to come back together and have a small reunion
It was our first big night together and we wanted to go out and spend it having fabulous food. As we were in Oakland, Stephanie's stomping ground, we relied on her to be our guide. Now, contrary to belief, Oakland really isn't all that bad. Some of the food there is absolutely amazing. Its Farmer's Market is lush and expansive with more protein and produce that you can count or identify. Plus, hot food trucks and stands line the entrances so the intense perfumes of potatoes and chilies from piping hot samosas mingle with the cinnamon-sugar scent of freshly made kettle corn. The restaurants here are ethnic and intense. Many immigrant groups gather in Oakland and they don't pull any punches when it comes to their food. If you want to find cuisines that haven't been Americanized, well, Oakland is a good place to go.
Our original plan was to have lamb burgers and poutine, but sadly the woodworked restaurant we dropped in on had taken them off the menu. Never ones to admit defeat, especially when it came to our dinner, we all piled back into Stephanie's car and looked for something else appetizing. We peeled around a few quarters of the city before seeing out of the corners of our eyes a place called I Squared. It looked sleek and modern, and it was open at 8:30 on a Thursday night, so it was already leading the pack for choices.
"It's fusion Iranian and Italian food," said Stephanie. "I've heard that it's really good."
As none of us had ever experience Iranian food - let alone Iranian-fusion - we all eagerly voted yes for I Squared. A quick, slightly illegal U-Turn and we parked a block up. We piled out and began to meander over to the restaurant. Immediately, suddenly, we were enticed by the muted smell of chocolate under the crisp Bay Area air.
"Oh my God," moaned Stephanie, "I love Bittersweet."
"What's Bittersweet?" I asked.
"It's a local chocolate shop in Oakland. They make the most amazing peanut butter hot chocolate."
"We're stopping in," I said. Before anyone could protest, and regardless if the restaurant might close soon, I opened the door to Bittersweet and went in. Homey and winsome, it smelled of chocolate and baked goods. The curtains were hand made, and the floor was a bit beaten, which only added to the charm. The menu consisted of various pastries, chocolates, and holy-crap-the-special-of-the-day-is-salted-caramel-hot-chocolate!
I'm pretty sure I said that out loud at the time, too.
As I'm a huge hot chocolate fan I immediately made an impulse decision to buy some and share it with the girls. There were other options such as the peanut butter hot chocolate or hot white chocolate, but hot salted caramel sounded just right on a cold night.
The hot chocolate was warm with the taste of good salt and burnt sugar. The flavors just enrobed your tongue in thick ribbons of chocolate. Truly epic stuff.
We left the store and made our way to I Squared where we had a truly delicious meal. We learned about Iranian food, got a lesson from the chef about preserved black limes, and discovered the most amazing dish called fessenjoon. (However, that is a different post.)
As we waited for our order to come though we continued to pass and sip the hot chocolate. "I don't think this would be hard to make," noted Casey.
"No, it would be easy. Just make a wet caramel, add some fleur de sel or sel gris, and then add it to some bubbling milk and melted chocolate. Done." I took my sip and passed the cup to Sarah.
Sarah put her nose over the cup and inhaled deeply. "Oooh!" she perked up suddenly, "We should all try to make this at home and each make a post about it!"
"That would be great," Stephanie said impulsively.
"I would!" said Casey eagerly.
"It would be boring if we all did the same recipe," I said. Not intending to be too much of a wet blanket I clarified, "I mean we should all do a hot chocolate post, yes. I think, though, that each of us should do a different recipe and only one of us do salted caramel."
And, so, we all agreed. It was an impulsive decision for sure. I agreed to post a day early. I'm breaking my routine here, people! This is huge for me. Impulsive and crazy we are here at Vanilla Garlic. This blog likes to spice things up, and because of that we spiced up some hot cocoa.
This recipe comes from Michael Turback's book, Hot Chocolate. It is one of my favorite cookbooks. While I'm normally not a fan of such narrowly focused cookbooks I do love hot chocolate and Turback has done an excellent job of collecting recipes from famous chefs world wide in this one. All types of hot chocolates are here: classic, modern, spiced, boozey, frozen, baked, white, dark, bittersweet; it's all contained in this little book. Turback also did one better by adding plenty of recipes for various cookies, marshmallows, and whipped creams to enhance the hot chocolate experience. It's a fabulous little text that you can buy cheaply and love forever. (I found mine for $6 at Borders. One of the best scores ever.)
This recipe, Hungarian Heat hot chocolate, comes from Joanne Morgridge, a chocolatier from Bowen Island, British Columbia, Canada. It's a bit odd that she didn't call it Canadian Heat as all the spices involved in this recipe are loved by Canadians. (Seriously, the Canadian side of my mom's family loves their paprika and cloves. Still, Hungarian Heat has a pleasant alliteration to it.) If you want to try a hot chocolate recipe that's vigorous with spice and wholly different from any hot chocolate you've had before than this is a recipe for you. Be impulsive and give it a try.
Hungarian Heat Hot Chocolate
adapted from Joanne Morgridge, via Michael Turback from Hot Chocolate
4 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon smoked paprika or Hungarian hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon finely ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
7 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
In a saucepan over medium-low heat combine the milk, paprika, white pepper, and cloves together and heat until almost boiling. Add chocolate and stir in with a wooden spoon and continue to stir until the chocolate is fully melted. Whisk to a froth and serve immediately.
Here are everyone else's hot chocolate recipes. Be sure to check them out.
Gingerbread Hot Chocolate with White Pepper by Sarah Olson, A Beach Home Companion
Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate by Casey Barber, Good. Food. Stories.
Peanut Butter Curry Hot Chocolate by Stephanie Stiavetti, Wasabimon
Hot Chocolate Primer, over at Simply Recipes