Food Column: Are you all about chocolate? So is this


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It's a brand-new event for Butler County -- a Celebration of Chocolate, with chocolate cooking demos, chocolate tastings, chocolate beer, chocolate pasta and sauces, chocolate candles and even a chocolate-colored fashion show.

Although it's the weekend after Valentine's weekend, you still could make it a belated celebration with your date because it sounds like aphrodisiac heaven.

Or make it a family day -- Butler County Community College students will run a children's area with hands-on activities such as building log cabins out of Twix bars.

More than 20 Butler County businesses will have exhibits at the event, which runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Feb. 22 and noon to 5 p.m. Feb. 23 at Pittsburgh Marriott North in Cranberry.

One of the vendors on hand will be Shirley Mahr, working the Cranberry Township Historical Society booth. Ms. Mahr, "The Fudge Lady," runs a fudge stand along Freedom Road. She says former owner Vesta Breckenridge sold the stand to her for "a dollar and a handshake" 25 years ago, and ever since, she's been making and selling a variety of fudge flavors. Her most popular are chocolate-peanut butter and chocolate-walnut, but she also makes orange creme, pistachio, turtle, mixed nut, Oreo and anything a customer requests.

Her stand is open weekends from around Mother's Day to Christmas, but if you're in fudge withdrawal during these months when her stand is closed, you can buy some of her fudge at the Celebration of Chocolate.

Willy Wonka also will stroll the event, selling raffle tickets for a chance to win a trip to Hershey spa or theme park.

Cooking demos, scheduled both days, will include:

• A fashion show of chocolate-colored clothing by Eye Kandy, a boutique in Harmony.

• A chocolate-baking competition amongst members of the Freedom Farms team of "Farm Kings" fame, with the audience voting for the best chocolate creation.

• Demos by restaurant chefs Bill Atkinson of The Chop Shop, Butler, and Brian Hammond of Restaurant ECHO, Cranberry.

• Chocolate-chip pancake demo by Zanella Milling, a West Sunbury flour mill.

Vendors will display and sell chocolate candy, protein shakes, soaps, fudge, brownies, chocolate alpaca lollipops and more.

Many vendors will offer free chocolate samples, too.

In some cases, businesses and nonprofits have thought up creative ways to participate even if there wasn't an intuitive chocolate connection inherent in their day-to-day work. Cranberry's Battery Giant will hold charity chocolate-basket raffles for Treasure House Fashions, a nonprofit promoting the dignity of women in crisis, and Be the Match, a charity supporting patients with leukemia, lymphoma and blood disorders. Butler County libraries will distribute lists of chocolate-related titles and treat bags as well as sell cookbooks. Butler County Humane Society will sell chocolate paw-print lollipops and showcase chocolate-colored adoptable animals.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children, and guests are encouraged to bring nonperishable food items to support Butler County food banks. Information: visitbutlercounty.com.

Meanwhile, if you need a chocolate dessert sooner -- for Valentine's Day Friday -- see the Chocolate Pudding recipe from the recent "Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook" at post-gazette.com/food.

Diner dream comes true

Sierra Smith, a 12-year-old battling a lifelong illness, has a dream of owning her own diner, and Jamie's Dream Team, a nonprofit serving those suffering illness and other trauma, is going to make her dream reality.

Kelly O's Diner's two locations in the North Hills and the Strip District will become "Pudd's Diner" Friday. "Pudd" is the girl's nickname. She will have complete control of the menu, and even the signs outside will be transformed.

She will be on hand from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at the Ross location and then from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Strip location.

For reservations to dine at Pudd's, call 412-979-0470 or go to jamiesdreamteam.org.

Classes/demos

Aphrodisiacs: In the spirit of Valentine's Day, learn both the Greek myths and the science behind aphrodisiacs, and learn to make oysters on a half shell, chili-poached salmon, Chambord ganache with almond crust and chantilly cream, and more. 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, at Crate, Scott. $50. cratecook.com.

Caroline Shannon-Karasik: The local author of "The Gluten-Free Revolution" reads from her book, does a question-and-answer session and signs copies. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19, at the University of Pittsburgh's University Store on Fifth Avenue, Oakland. Free. sincerelycaroline.com.

Tastings

Winter Wallow of Small Plates: Slow Food Pittsburgh celebrates Chef Kevin Costa's second national Good Food Award with a tasting dinner of cured salmon, curried cauliflower, lamb tartare, pork confit, vanilla-star anise panna cotta and more; BYOB. 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, at Crested Duck, Beechview. $49 per person. For an invitation, e-mail stbarclay13@verizon.net.

In Good Spirits: Beer and fine spirits tastings, appetizers, vendors and Chinese auction to benefit Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. 7 p.m. Feb. 22 at Sbar, South Side. $20 in advance or $30 at the door. showclix.com/event/ingoodspirits.

Chocolate pudding

PG tested

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

21/4 cups whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 egg yolks

1 egg

6 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

5 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

Mix cocoa powder, cornstarch and salt in a bowl.

In a medium saucepan, combine milk and vanilla and bring to a boil. Take off heat.

In a medium bowl, mix egg yolks with egg and sugar and whisk until fluffy.

Incorporate all three mixtures together in the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Add butter and chocolate and mix well until smooth and shiny.

Pour pudding into small bowls or ramekins. Let cool in refrigerator for 2 hours before serving. Serves 8.

-- "Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook" by Rick Mast and Michael Mast (Little, Brown; $35)


Rebecca Sodergren: pgfoodevents@hotmail.com or on Twitter @pgfoodevents.

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