Friday, April 29, 2011

Chocolate Biscuit Cake (Prince William's Favorite)

Just like two billion people all over the world, I watched much of the royal wedding today.  I loved it.  It was a perfect ceremony.  Breathtaking dress.  Stunning diamond earrings ["new" from her parents].  Elegant tiara ["borrowed" from the Queen].  And that was just the bride.

William and Catherine seem lovely; Harry, a fun-loving and likable best man.  Nice in-laws too.  Now, if only the press will leave them alone for a while.

Here's the recipe for Prince William's groom's cake, which we can easily make at home:

Didn't get invited to the wedding?  Eat the cake.
Chocolate Biscuit Cake
(recipe by Darren McGrady, the royal chef)

½ teaspoon butter , for greasing
8 ounces rich tea biscuits
4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces granulated sugar
4 ounces dark chocolate, for the cake
1 egg
8 ounces dark chocolate, for coating
1 ounce dark chocolate, for decorating

1. Lightly butter a 6" by 2 ½ " cake ring and and place on a tray with a sheet of parchment paper
2. Break the tea biscuits into ½ inch pieces by hand and set aside.
3. Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until the mixture starts to lighten.
4. Melt 4 ounces of dark chocolate and add to the butter mixture while constantly stirring.
5. Beat the egg into the mixture.
6. Fold in the biscuit pieces until they are coated with the chocolate mixture.
6. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake ring. Be sure to fill all of the gaps on the bottom of the ring because this will be the top when it is done.
7. Chill the cake in the refrigerator for 3 hours.

Next decorate: 
1) Remove the cake from the refrigerator and let it stand while you melt 8 ounces of dark chocolate.
2) Slide the ring off the cake and turn it upside down onto a cake wire.
3) Pour melted chocolate over the cake and smooth the top and sides with a knife.
4) Allow the chocolate to set at room temperature.
5) Carefully run a knife around the bottom of the cake where the chocolate has stuck it to the cake wire and lift it onto a tea plate.
6) Melt the remaining 1 ounce of chocolate and use to decorate the top of the cake.
Makes 8 - 10 servings.

Click here for Wedding photos in big, beautiful digital color.  To watch it on YouTube, go here.  I don't believe in fairy tales.  But with wealth, privilege and supportive families, if this couple can't be happy, who can?  They seem right for each other.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Voice Premieres On NBC

A new reality show is about to hit the airwaves tonight.  The Voice, a singing competition, looks promising ... and for all the right reasons.  It's based on talent.

Allow me to digress momentarily:  Most reality shows are dreadful.  Just as processed foods are food-like substances, a show such as Kate Plus 8 is a show-like substance.  I have zero interest in it, or in pseudo-celebrities like Kate Gosselin.  She seems perfectly nice, but I don't need to know about her life.  When I see her being interviewed on The Today Show, I use that time to blow-dry my hair.

I am amazed by how much time legitimate journalists spend on scandals and meaningless news.  Everyday a barely recognizable name is speaking out about fluff.  Fine.  But why are Meredith and Matt and Barbara interviewing them?

It's not like we're short of issues that could be examined on the air.  Aren't we wondering how to extricate ourselves from a war in Iraq?  What about the popular uprisings against tyranny in the Middle East?  What's going on with that oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?  Oh, and how are the Tea Partiers faring in Congress?  Has anybody on Capitol Hill solved our economic woes yet?

Now back to The Voice.  Of course, not everything on the small screen has to be hardcore.  There are times when we watch television for the pure joy of it.  Entertainment has its place, and we need it to unwind.  But please, no more banal show-like substances.  Personally, I'm a sucker for shows that provide spotlights for someone with a God-given talent to be discovered.  Even after years of hard work, it's an uphill battle for any singer to get a lucky break.  And it's exciting when a gorgeous, but totally unknown voice, steps up to a mike and SHINES!  That's the kind of reality show I want to watch.

On The Voice, the singers will do their auditions blind and be judged solely on their voice.  Nice.  The Voice will have four “coaches” all currently successful in the music industry, namely: Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton.  The music pros will mentor the amateurs through all the phases of the competition until America selects a winner.  If the show lives up to it's potential, everyone wins.  Viewers get a show featuring real talent and the best performance.  And the contestants will have a chance to gain experience and confidence in front of a national audience.  I like the concept.  Let's hope America, along with a few TV execs, take notice.  We need a reality with beautiful voices, genuine talent and a few goosebumps. Hosted by Carson Daily, tune in tonight at 9pm for the two-hour premiere.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

It's Easter Sunday

The custom of giving eggs began as a pagan practice, but was adopted by early Christians.  Easter eggs are used as symbols of new life, the arrival of spring and the resurrection of Jesus.  Plus, kids love dyeing them.
Michelangelo's Pieta, which depicts the body of Jesus on his mother's lap after the Crucifixion, is poignant, equally human and divine.  Easter remembers this, but more importantly, celebrates the resurrection of Jesus -- a miracle in the Christian faith -- showing how it is possible for good to conquer evil and life to overcome death.
Happy Easter Everyone!  Enjoy your Easter egg hunt, basket of treats and family dinner. And take a moment to remember ...
Life is good.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Booking Cheap Airfares Like A Pro

With the sun peeking out, is it time to book your summer getaway?  Pauline Frommer, a budget travel writer (and daughter of Arthur Frommer) thinks it's the perfect time for June.  As for July or August, you should watch and wait.  Her tips for finding the best airfares include:

1) Book on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the lowest fares.
2) Include a Saturday night stay for the best deals.  Business travelers don't want to stay the extra night.  Airlines know this, and charge accordingly.
3) To get the cheapest fares, book from 24 days up to 2 months in advanced.  If you book too far in advanced, for example, 10 months before a trip, you are less likely to get a discount.
4) Avoid booking on weekends.  Prices can be slightly higher, and since decision-makers are off, fares rarely drop on Saturdays and Sundays.
5) Some hotels will reimburse your “checked baggage fees,” so remember to ask.
6) You pay an extra $25 for booking over the phone, therefore go online to save $25, instantly.
7) Usually you get lower fares by booking on aggregator sites versus the individual websites of airlines, or 3rd parties.  Aggregator sites search for cheap fares on multiple travel sites simultaneously -- including airline and third party sites -- without charging booking fees.

Travel experts stress:  Compare several aggregator sites for deals.  And be persistent.  Check back often for drops in ticket prices.

Here is a consensus of reliable aggregator sites to check.  The following 3 appear on everybody's list:

Other websites give you great budget travel advice:
AirplaneBing Travel – Tries to predict the best time to book airline tickets.
AirplaneTrip Advisor – Is user-generated content; fellow travelers post information and reviews.
AirplanePauline Frommer's “Spend, less, see more”page – Is an overview of helpful hints.

Armed with tips from the pros and the ease of the internet, you can book your flight and still have money left to spend on vacation.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

What I Like About Mad Men And The 60s

I enjoy watching Mad Men and wish its season ran longer.  It's interesting how few of the other characters know anything about Don Draper, the show's lead ... and how the themes of identity and trust run through the series.

Another aspect of the show I like is, it takes place in the 1960s, a time when Camelot and excellence were admired.  Celebrities and successful people rarely left home without looking glamorous.  Everybody dressed up for an outing, and most tried to be on their best behavior.  Airing your dirty laundry in public was scandalous, not rewarded.

At the time, there were no reality stars.  Entertainers were famous for their talents, not their antics; and one was distinct from another.  Not only were Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante and Elizabeth Taylor at the top of their game, but they were all one-of-a-kind.  When you think about other actors, singers and comedians of the era, no two were alike.

 As much as appearances mattered back in the 60s, there was an authenticity about it, that also runs through the fictional television show.  And ignorance was bliss.  Wouldn't we all like to drink and smoke like the characters do on the show and not think anything of it?Cocktail Oh, go ahead, admit it ... flicking ashes off of a cigarette, with experienced fingers, looks debonair and grown-up.  Mad Men's fifth season is set to premiere on AMC in March, 2012, but that's a longtime to wait.

 Meanwhile, let's salute the show with a Mad Men-like drink, a whisky sour … in moderation of course ... since we don't live in the 60s anymore:

Whiskey Sour
2 ounces bourbon (whiskey)
½ oz fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon sugar
1 cherry
½ lemon slice

Directions:  Put all ingredients in mixing glass and add ice cubes. Strain into highball glass. Add lemon slice and cherry to garnish.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Cooking Tagines In A Tagine

Recently I walked into Williams-Sonoma and was intrigued by a Tunisian tagine.  It's the name of a hand-painted and glazed terra-cotta pot, as well as, the spicy dishes that are slowly simmered in it.  Tagines are at the heart of Moroccan cooking and are characterized by their rich, complex sauces.

The clay pot has two parts, a flat, circular base and a dome-shaped cover that fits inside the base during cooking.  When placed in an oven, the top is designed to return all the juices to the bottom, continually basting the food to moisten and tenderize it, intensifying its favors.  You end up with a hearty medley of meat, vegetables and savory tastes.  Comfort food, North African style!

In addition to traditional Moroccan stews [recipes here], you can use a tagine to prepare seriously, succulent beef shot ribs.  The tagine can be used on a stovetop with a heat diffuser.  Here's a mouthwatering recipe from William-Sonoma:

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs
3 tablespoon olive oil
3 ¾ pounds bone-in beef short ribs (6-8 pieces)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 celery stalk, diced
2 carrots, diced
¾ cup finely diced shallot
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 tablespoon tomato paste
¾ teaspoon crushed Aleppo chili
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
½ cup beef broth
¾ cup red wine
Mashed potatoes for serving

1)  Soak the tagine according to manufacturer's instructions.  Place the tagine on a diffuser over medium-high heat; warm 1 tablespoon oil.  Season the ribs with salt and pepper.  Dredge in flour; shake off excess.  Brown half of the ribs on all sides, about 10 minutes total; transfer to a plate.  Repeat with 1 tablespoon oil and the rest of the ribs.

2)  Reduce heat to medium; warm 1 tablespoon oil.  Cook the celery, carrots and shallot for 7-8 minutes.  Add garlic and tomato paste; cook 1 minute.  Add the Aleppo chili, thyme, broth, wine, salt and pepper; bring to simmer.  Return the ribs to the tagine.  Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and cook, turning ribs occasionally, until tender, about 4 ½-5 hours.  Makes 4 servings.

Now the base becomes a platter.  Serve with mashed potatoes, a bold Grenache and enjoy!

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Your Spring Wardrobe

It still feels like winter, but we have definitely moved into Spring , the time to start thinking about a more colorful, transitional wardrobe.  Taking stock of what's hanging in your closets, you may need to add a few basics like lighter sweaters and accessories, which you can wear now … and later.  Here are three retailers where you can go for fashion and value.  Each offers simple, yet elegant, ladylike style at very affordable prices:  

Newport News – Sign up for their emails to get unbeatable discounts on already low price points, plus previews of their latest collections.  Newport News is always in step with the latest trends and is known for their affordable and large selection of cute clothing.  Check out their New Spring 2011 Boutique for romantic lace dresses; urban denim jackets; or crochet and tapestry floral tops.

NorthStyle – Features versatile pullover and cardigan sweaters, with long and short sleeves; rose lace tops; open-stitched shrugs with scalloped edges; charming, retro floral dresses; ruffle-trimmed shirts; and crinkle swirl skirts.  There is also a wide selection of adorable, sterling silver jewelry embellished with genuine stones and fresh water pearls.

Elaine Turner – She designs a full array of handbags, shoes and leather goods.  You get glam, smart design, much of it for under $100.  Everything in her line is inspired by the family trips she took as a child to the Caribbean.   Her collection captures the casual sophistication of the islands.

Lace and florals are big this season.  Now you can get your Spring fashion fix, or simply update your wardrobe at prices you will like.
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