Archive for the ‘Dessert’ Category

Have You Ever Had to Make Up Your Mind?

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
Auction Desserts 2010

Auction Desserts 2010

The text in the photo is hard to read, but it says “Not Your Mama’s Cupcakes… no offense to your mama!”. The cupcake flavors are “Jamaican Me Hungry” (chocolate cupcake, mocha mousse filling, chocolate frosting); “Color Me Caramel” (caramel cupcake / caramel mousse filling / vanilla buttercream); and “Lemony Entertain You” (lemon cupcake / cream cheese mousse / strawberry buttercream).

It was auction time again last weekend, and I agreed to donate a dessert. Pictures of the donated desserts are put out for silent auction, bidders bid for their table’s dessert that evening, and everyone wins. I couldn’t decide what to donate and I didn’t feel like I had a lot of time for the project. So, I decided on three kinds of cupcakes with three different fillings and three different frostings – apparently that’s what you do when you can’t make up your mind and don’t have too much time…

I actually came up with dessert concept and the “naming” of everything in a flash – my husband asks me where this stuff comes from and I just look at him, shrug, and say “It just pops out of my head.” I liked the concept (and the titles for everything) a lot more than I liked the idea of doing the work to make it happen – but happen it did. I was told that the three dozen cupcakes went for $250, which made me very happy and I decided it was worth it in the end!

As interesting as the cupcake project was, it’s not the only thing I wanted to write about today under the subject of having to make up my mind. I’ve made a few big decisions, and I wanted to share the latest. I’ve accepted an opportunity to work in marketing communications with a food-related company, and I’m really excited about it. It’s a full time position, which means I’ll be closing the doors of Just Specialties Fine Food and saying goodbye to our beautiful, easy, elegant chocolate kits and baking kits – five years after loving them into existence and shepherding them through the wily world of specialty foods. I’m really proud of what we built and how we operated – we were always quality driven and customer-oriented. I learned so much. We accomplished so much.

To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, to everything there is a season – food lovers can certainly relate to that. It was a very good season – thank you for being a part of it.

I will still be blogging here at Bake~Eat~Love – so please keep reading!

Have you ever had to make up your mind?

Best,

Cathy

Rosy Thoughts

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Rose's Heavenly Cakes

Rose's Heavenly Cakes - Ready for Duty!

Last week, I had the privilege of attending a Baker’s Dozen luncheon featuring cake maker and cookbook author extraordinaire, Rose Levy Beranbaum. This was Rose’s third visit with Baker’s Dozen, and it was really enjoyable. She is promoting her new book, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. I have two of her previous books – she’s written nine of them! – that are rather dog-eared and well-used, as they should be. The Cake Bible was the first one I acquired many years ago, followed by The Pie and Pastry Bible. And now, of course, a copy of Rose’s Heavenly Cakes is sitting on my counter waiting to be transformed from its pristine condition into another lovingly well-used resource in its own good time.

Rose talked about the “behind the scenes” of working with publishers and bringing a book like hers to the shelves – it sounded like this most recent one was about 6 years in the making. Her work is meticulous, and she takes her responsibilities as a recipe writer very seriously. She would never want to leave a fellow baker stranded in the kitchen because one of her recipes was not perfect. She told how she felt when she was about to publish one of her earlier books, only to see another book that covered similar material published first. She was reminded at the time that everyone has a voice, and she reminded each of us of that very same thing last week. It’s a good reminder.

What I most appreciated was the love Rose has for baking and for fellow bakers. It comes through like a beacon in every recipe she writes and in every way she shares her knowledge and carefully developed recipes.

She reminds me why I am a baker – for the love of it!

Happy Baking,
Cathy

Caramel Kick #2

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Caramel Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream

Homemade Caramel Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream (covered with leftover English toffee bits!)

After my last post about English toffee, I thought that caramel sauce should be next. Both English toffee and caramel sauce (and caramels too, for that matter) involve cooking sugar to a certain degree of caramelization. Plus, caramel sauce is yet another (!) simple treat where the homemade result is so much better than what we can buy in the store. The same caution about working with hot sugar applies here, too…

Caramel sauce is made in two simple steps:
1) cook sugar and water to a light to medium amber color; and
2) whisk in 1 cup heavy cream and a little butter

Yes, that’s it! And, unlike the English Toffee, you don’t even have to stir! So, details…

Steps to Making Caramel Sauce

Water and Sugar in the Pan; Sugar Completely Moistened; Cooked to Clear Syrup

1) Put 1/2 cup of water in a large saucepan and add 2 cups of sugar. Pour the sugar on top of the water carefully so stray sugar crystals don’t land on the sides of the pan. With a spoon, gently mix the sugar and water together until all of the sugar is moistened – and continue to keep the sugar off the sides of the pan. This attention to the sides of the pan will minimize the chance of the sugar crystallizing, i.e. turning chunky and grainy. And what if sugar lands on the sides of the pan? Just wash it down with a little fresh water on your (clean) fingertips.
Steps to Making Caramel Sauce

Sugar Syrup Just Starting to Caramelize; Medium Amber Color; Cream Added

Steps for Making Caramel Sauce

Whisking in the Cream; Finished Caramel Sauce; Really Finished Caramel Sauce!

2) Cover the pan and cook over medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture is clear and simmering (about 10 minutes – but you’ll have to watch it to know for sure). Remove the lid and continue to cook until the mixture is a light to medium amber color. Don’t stir the mixture at all! When it starts to color a little, you can slowly and carefully swirl the pan to help it color evenly, just don’t stir it – and be careful if you swirl it so you don’t splash yourself.

Once the mixture has cooked to a light to medium amber color, remove the pan from the heat and quickly pour in about ¼ of the cream. The sugar syrup will steam and boil fiercely when the cream is added, so don’t stand over the pan – stand back, continuing to pour the cream in ¼ increments until the cream is all in. Then, carefully whisk the sauce together, continuing to be careful because it will still be steaming. Finally, whisk in 2 tablespoons of butter (salted or unsalted is ok) and pour into a heat proof container. Cool, cover and store in the refrigerator.

The caramel sauce will thicken when it cools – just reheat it a little in the microwave to make it pourable. Serve over your favorite ice cream, on your favorite cake or with whatever else you like!

Let me know what you think!

Cathy

Oh, Sugar, Sugar…

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Finished English Toffee

English Toffee - Yum!


Oh, honey, honey… do you remember that song from decades ago by The Archies? Well, today I’m your candy girl and I’m serving up buttery English toffee with toasted almonds and chocolate. Making toffee is another recipe that is pretty easy with spectacular rewards for the effort – fresh, buttery toffee from your own kitchen and yet another way to impress your friends (how many of them are making toffee from scratch?!)

First, a cautionary note about toffee making: hot sugar can be very dangerous and must be handled carefully at all times, so this is not a recipe to make with little kids or even with little kids underfoot. They can eat it later though!

Making the toffee itself takes about 15 minutes then, once it’s cooled, about another 10 minutes to slather it with chocolate and more nuts. The basic steps are 1) melt butter and sugar together, add almonds or whatever nut you like; 2) cook to “hard crack” stage; 3) pour into a pan and cool; and 4) cover with chocolate and nuts. Without further delay… let’s make some toffee.

Steps for making English Toffee

Butter and Sugar in Saucepan; Stirring the Butter and Sugar Together as the Butter Melts; Puffy, Cream-colored, Cohesive mix


Steps for making English Toffee

Adding the Nuts; Cooking to Hard Crack Stage; Cooling in the Pan

1.) Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9×13 heat proof pan (I actually use Pam) and set aside.  Put 2 sticks of salted butter (that’s ½ pound) and 2 cups of sugar into a large saucepan. Cook on the stove-top on medium heat, stirring to blend the sugar and butter together, making sure to moisten all of the sugar with the butter. Continue to stir, also scraping the sides of the pan to remove sugar crystals there. The mixture will change from a loose blend of sugar and melted butter into a somewhat puffy, cream-colored cohesive mix. Keep stirring, and when the sides start to turn a little brown, add 1 cup of nuts. Keep stirring.

2.) Cook to “hard crack” stage – this is somewhat fussy to describe, but it’s really critical to the outcome. Continue to stir the toffee. Although there’s no need to constantly stir, don’t walk away – keep watching what’s happening in the pan. Hard crack stage is technically about 300 – 305 degrees and there a few ways to tell when the toffee is there. Two of the best ways are 1) use a candy thermometer; or 2) carefully watch the mixture for the magic few seconds when it changes from a somewhat grainy, puffy looking “coffee with cream” color to a smooth, glossy, medium brown toffee color. If the toffee continues to cook much beyond 305 degrees, it won’t look too different at first but it will start to take on a burned flavor – so, the toffee will look great, but it might taste slightly burned. If it really cooks beyond this stage, it will start to smoke and turn black – and this can happen in about 1 minute.

But, it’s also really important to not cook it less than 300 – 305 degrees. If it’s not cooked to hard crack stage, the toffee will be grainy and soft – very un-toffee-like! Like I said, it’s fussy to describe “hard crack”, but the concept is pretty easy!

So, once the toffee is at 300 – 305 degrees or has just arrived at the smooth-glossy-medium-brown-toffee-colored stage, immediately remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour the toffee into the prepared 9×13 pan. Cool on the counter or in the refrigerator. If it’s going in the refrigerator to cool, don’t put it in there right away – the toffee and the pan are very hot at this stage, so let it cool down a little on the counter at first. Once it goes in the refrigerator, it takes about 30 minutes to completely cool down.

3.) While the toffee is cooling, put about ½ – ¾ cups of nuts on a sheet pan and put them in the oven to toast. The nuts are done when they just start to become fragrant – this will take 10 minutes or less, depending on the oven. When the nuts have cooled, chop them and set aside for sprinkling on the toffee later.

4.) When it’s time to finish the toffee, melt your favorite chocolate chips in the microwave – milk or dark chocolate, whatever you like. For the best way to melt chocolate in the microwave, check out our instructions for chocolate ganache.

Spread a layer of chocolate on one side of the toffee and sprinkle with the chopped nuts. Return the toffee to the refrigerator for a few minutes to set the chocolate, then invert the toffee onto a sheet of wax paper or parchment and coat the other side with chocolate and more nuts. The toffee may start to break at this point, but it’s going to be broken into pieces anyway.

Break into pieces – I use the handle end of a heavy knife – and store in an airtight container at room temperature. Some nuts and chocolate bits will fall off when the toffee is broken into pieces – save those for ice cream topping or eat them just as they are.

Bowl of Finished English Toffee

Buttery, Crunchy, Chocolatey, Toasted Nutty

The toffee will be crunchy, but it shouldn’t be breaking any teeth – another benefit of cooking it to proper hard crack stage. It will definitely be buttery and sweet. And chocolatey. And toasted nutty.

Maybe next, we’ll do caramel sauce…

Enjoy!

Cathy

Strawberries Romanoff… mmmm

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Strawberries Romanoff

Strawberries Romanoff - Ready for Strawberry Season


Happy belated Valentine’s Day! While this recipe is a little too late for Valentine’s Day – I decided to write this post as I was making Strawberries Romanoff for our Valentine’s Day dessert last night – it’s in plenty of time for strawberry season. Strawberries Romanoff is a simple dessert, quick and easy, with big results. It’s made with fresh strawberries, orange juice, orange liqueur, sugar and cream, and its origins are uncertain – maybe it was created by French chef extraordinaire Marie Antoine Careme (1784 – 1833), or perhaps it was French chef Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846 – 1935). I’m just glad one of them thought of it, and that I learned about it during my Australia cheffing days. I don’t have exact measurements for this “recipe” – it’s really up to you and your tastebuds, and how many people you are serving. There are three simple steps – first, marinate the strawberries; second, whip the cream; and finally, assemble – oh, then take the credit!

1. Marinate the Strawberries: quarter some strawberries into a bowl and add a little sugar, depending on the sweetness of the berries. Add a few splashes of orange liqueur (I use Grand Marnier), and then enough orange juice to almost cover the berries. Taste the mixture and make adjustments – if there is too much liqueur, add more orange juice, etc. Let the berries marinate for an hour or two.

2. Whip the cream: when it’s time to serve, add a little sugar and vanilla to heavy cream and whip to very soft peaks – in fact, they’re not even really peaks, they’re sort of pillowy, rolling hills. This step can be done at the same time the berries are cut to marinate – just keep the cream in the refrigerator until service and, if necessary, give it a few whisks right before using it.

3. Assemble: add a little of the cream to the bottom of a serving dish, top with strawberries and a little of the marinating liquid, then top with more of the cream and finish with strawberries and a little more marinating liquid.

This is a delicate, light (in taste and texture!) dessert that finishes off a meal with elegance.

I think all of February is the month of love, so make Strawberries Romanoff even if it’s not Valentine’s Day, and enjoy!

Cathy

Cakes I’ve Known and Loved (for the most part)

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Bountiful Life

Bountiful Life Wedding Cake

To commemorate my birthday (today!), I thought I would put up a gallery of cakes I’ve made over the years. Some are better than others and there’s a little bit of everything – buttercream, fondant, gum paste flowers, fresh flowers, marzipan teddy bears, marzipan fruits, chocolate cakes, wedding cakes and birthday cakes for little ones and big ones. Many of these were done before I had a digital camera, so the pictures had to be scanned into digital format. And, once I got better at making these cakes and owned a digital camera, I apparently decided to stop taking photos of them. I mean where are Gracie’s butterfly cake, and my mom’s 80th birthday cake, and Vi’s 90th birthday cake, and Maddie’s life-size 3D soccer ball cake?! Maybe they’re just legends in my own mind, but I recall that those were all pretty special.

Christmas Cakes

Christmas Cakes

The poinsettia cakes were made the Christmas after we moved home from Australia and New Zealand. All of my specialty cake making equipment and books had been stolen with the rest of our sea shipment. Yes, the shipment made it from the shores of New Zealand to California and onto the delivery truck, and then the truck was stolen about 30 miles from my house. After I stopped crying, I thought that making the poinsettia cakes for my neighbors at Christmas would be a good way to start re-collecting what I had lost. Can you imagine the looks on the faces of the shipment stealers, their mouths watering over dreams of stereo equipment and TVs, only to find baking dishes, cookbooks and gum paste flower-making equipment? Serves ‘em right, but I’m over it – I swear (well, it’s only been about 13 years – I might need just a little more time).

Wedding Cakes

Wedding Cakes!

I guess there was a purple and pink phase in wedding cake couture. The Bountiful Life wedding cake with marzipan fruits pictured at the top of this post was an original I first made in pastry school. I entered it into competition at the Sydney Salon Culinaire – a massive food show in Australia. The executive chef I worked for at the time was a big German man, and he couldn’t really feel the California vibe of that cake. Much to the surprise of lots of people, that cake won the silver medal going up against very traditional British-style (and beautifully executed) wedding cakes. Winning that silver medal was fun, but getting the cake to the competition in the back of a cab almost killed me.

Kid's Birthday Cakes

Cakes for the Little Kiddies


Birthday Cakes

... And Cakes for the Big Kiddies

For the record, I only spent a short time of my career (about 1 year) actually working as a cake decorator. These cakes were all made for friends and family. If you want to be inspired, check out the book Cakes in Bloom by Anna von Marburg – it’s incredible.

One last thought about that stolen sea shipment – we were still in New Zealand when we got word that the shipment was “gone”. My husband, knowing I was crushed, arranged for us to fly home via Sydney (that’s the opposite direction from California when you’re leaving from Wellington, New Zealand!). We had one day in Sydney to visit a few book shops and replace some of the special (to me) items I had lost. I didn’t have the Bountiful Life cake at my wedding – I was married before the “official” pastry phase of my life. But, as I take this birthday to reflect on the name of that cake, it fits.

Happy Birthday to all of you February babies out there!

Cathy

I Ate It…

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake


I wanted to take a picture of the last remaining piece of the Triple Chocolate Mousse cake I made to show you but, well… I ate it. So, I’m showing you the cover of the new 2010 America’s Test Kitchen cookbook that recently showed up in the mail and inspired me to make this not-too-original but oh-so-good mousse cake. Mine looked very similar (really!), but I garnished with chocolate marbles instead of chocolate shavings because that’s what I had around from my Chocolate Mousse Kit.

I made this dessert for the second – and final (yippee!) – auction dinner of the year. My last post – lo those many weeks ago – was about the first auction dinner this year. The most recent auction dinner was a study in good menu planning – all tranquility and calm in the kitchen during service – and I don’t think it was just because I was drinking port this time! I did a lot of cooking in advance, which I typically do but it paid off extra well for this dinner.

For appetizers, I served Italian sausage stuffed mushrooms (The Silver Palate Cookbook), brie-en-croute (America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook) and smoked salmon mousse on endive (and crackers – those endive don’t have as many leaves on them as you might think! Also from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook). The day before the dinner, I made the mushroom filling and stuffed the mushrooms; wrapped the brie in puff pastry and refrigerated; and made the smoked salmon mousse. A note about the mushroom stuffing – the recipe called for 1/3 cup Bechamel sauce and some chopped black olives. I didn’t bother making the Bechamel sauce, instead I just added a little cream and reduced it down in the filling. I also omitted the olives because they didn’t appeal to me with the Italian sausage. For service, I just got the brie and mushrooms in the oven at the right times and spread the mousse on endive and crackers, and appetizers were done.

For the first course, I served shrimp cocktail (from Sara’s Secrets/Food Network) and a green salad with baked goat cheese rounds (The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2010). The day before, I made the shrimp cocktail sauce, the vinaigrette for the salad and the goat cheese rounds. The morning of the dinner, I brined and cooked the shrimp and put them in the refrigerator until service. One note about the shrimp cocktail sauce – don’t buy the Thai Hot Chili Sauce like I inadvertently did, just get a “normal” chili sauce and your ears won’t catch fire once the wasabi is added. My second batch was much better! For the baked goat cheese rounds, I didn’t add the herbs to the goat cheese as the recipe called for – I felt there were enough flavors going on with the vinaigrette, shrimp and cocktail sauce, so I just wanted the plain goat cheese flavor coming through. Plating this course was easy, and we had it on the table when the guests came in for dinner.

The main course was New York steak with herb butter (The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2008), scalloped potatoes (The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2008), peas and fennel braised with white wine and garlic (Jamie Oliver/Return of the Naked Chef). I made the scalloped potatoes and herb butter the day before. The morning of the dinner, I trimmed the steaks, and cut the fennel and put it in a casserole dish so everything was ready to go at service. A note about the steaks – I decided to do New York steak because it’s a steak’s steak – it doesn’t need a lot to go with it to bring out that rich steak flavor. I bought USDA Prime grade steaks. I could have done perfectly well with USDA Choice grade – the most common grade in the supermarkets – for half the price, but my meat consultant (aka my husband, Terry) was in a meeting and couldn’t be reached at decision time. They were beautiful steaks, though!

With everything prepped, it was a matter of following my time schedule – written out in advance – and executing the plan. Easy-peasy, as Jamie Oliver likes to say. You know, for the most part.

You already know about dessert – Triple Chocolate Mousse cake that I made the day before. Once the main course went out, I cut, plated and garnished the cake, and it was at a nice temperature and ready to go at dessert time.

While I was serving dessert, one guest asked incredulously, “So, you made this cake?!” Yes, yes I did – now, your turn.

Happy cooking (and eating)!

Cathy

Auction Dinner Review and… Lemon Tart?

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Lovely Lemon Tart in Chartres, France

Lovely Lemon Tart in Chartres, France

This post isn’t really about the lemon tart I had in Chartres, France – but I don’t have any pictures showing what this post is really about, and I do mention lemon tart later. Let me start at the beginning…

I’ve written before about the annual auction and festival at our parish school that raises funds to offset the cost of tuition. “Dinner with the Pastor” is one of the auction items – the winning bidder brings up to six people to the parish house for a special dinner with the pastor and priests that live at the parish house, and our pastoral associate. Two of these dinners are auctioned off each year, and the first one was held last Saturday for nine people. Yours truly was the cook, and when all was over I had some reflections about menu planning and execution that I thought my readers might find useful as well.

First, no matter how much advance planning and preparation is done, there’s always a crunch time – that’s just the nature of fancy dinner parties, especially ones that aren’t given in your own kitchen! The best way to handle crunch time is to roll with it and keep focused on each step that needs doing, and to remember that eventually it will all pass! Some things can be done to minimize crunch time, and I neglected to do at least one of them . . . planning the stove top time and space.

I served a first course of French onion soup gratinee from Tyler Florence’s book Tyler’s Ultimate, and Coquillles St. Jacques (sea scallops in a mushroom cream sauce) from a Buena Vista Winery recipe. I made the soup the day before and re-heated it on the stove while the scallops were in progress. Much to my very helpful (and long suffering?) husband’s surprise, he was given the task of making the scallops while I scurried around on other things. I had prepped all the ingredients and knew he could do it – and I was right, the scallops were perfect.

So far, so good… the problem was that the one stove was taken over with making the soup and scallops, so the main course couldn’t be started until the first course was served and the leftover pans shuttled out of the way. My take-away… consider chilled dishes for the first course so the main course isn’t held up because the first course hogged the stove. Next time (in October), I’m thinking shrimp cocktail (I have a lovely recipe for cocktail sauce, and I’ll cook some beautiful shrimp in advance) along with an iceberg lettuce wedge, housemade blue cheese dressing and a few toasted spiced nuts. These dishes are kind of retro – I’d call them classics – and they’re also “in” right now. Besides, any dish that is made well is always “in”!

Some things that worked well with this first course were presentation, portion size and “user-friendliness”! I served the French onion soup in a small ramekin on the same plate as the scallops, which were served in a shell, and added a little flower for color. Instead of a solid slice of toasted bread and cheese on top of the soup, I made croutons covered with Gruyere which made eating the soup out of the smaller ramekins more manageable. I did small portions of everything so guests could enjoy a variety of dishes without exploding in overstuffed pain.

The main course was bacon-wrapped filet mignon served with a red wine reduction from the Michael Mina cookbook; scalloped potatoes from The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2008 (they’re called smokey scalloped potatoes and call for smoked Gouda, which I can never find, so I just use regular Gouda – and they are great potatoes); roasted carrots; and tomato salad (cherry tomatoes and pear tomatoes halved and served with a little salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar). This is where the stove top planning issue raised its ugly head – I first seared the bacon that was wrapped around the filets, and then seared each side of the filets – tapping my fingers on the counter, waiting for the electric stove top to do its thing to all 12 of my filets (I could count how many sides of bacon and filet searing that adds up to, but why?). Starting the searing 10 minutes earlier would have made the timing between the first and main courses better – but, those darn scallops and that blasted soup pot!

Surely, some things worked well with the main course? Yes – the red wine reduction was made the day before and then re-heated on the stove top, the scalloped potatoes were made the day before so they just had to heat up in the oven, the tomato salad was tossed an hour or so in advance and the roasted carrots took care of themselves in the oven as they roasted. In other words, these were basically “passive” cooking dishes – no one had to stand over them and baby sit them the whole time – and they could be prepped well in advance. We just had to remember at what time to put dishes in and take them out of the oven! That left us to focus on getting the filets seared on the stove top and then finished in the oven, while also clearing first course dishes and getting ready to plate the main course!

Once the main course was on the table, we could breathe for one minute before getting the coffee and tea going, and plating the dessert. Finally – the lemon tart I mentioned earlier! I served individual lemon tarts (The World’s Best Lemon Tart from Richard Sax’s Classic Home Desserts) with a dollop of whipped cream, along with two-bite sized dark chocolate truffles from The Truffle Kit (of course!). While I was glaring at the filets and waiting for them to develop a beautiful seared outside, I should have thought to take the lemon tarts and truffles out of the refrigerator to give them a little more time at room temperature. Plating them was a cinch, and we were basically home free.

One last thing I usually do is to make a timeline for everything that has to happen during “service”. That way, nothing gets fogotten in the heat of battle and you won’t reach to serve the hot potatoes that never actually made it into the oven an hour before!

The final good news – I don’t think the guests noticed or minded that we lagged a little between the first and main courses. They were enjoying good wine and good company, and seemed to think the food was worth the wait.

Bon Appetit!
Cathy

Summertime BBQ

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

SFPFS BBQ 2009 at the Sunnyvale Heritage Museum

SFPFS BBQ 2009 at the Sunnyvale Heritage Museum


I’m a member of the San Francisco Professional Food Society . Actually, I’m a board member – Incoming President – which means next year I’ll be president of the San Francisco Professional Food Society! That’s sure to be source material for lots of blogging which may or may not ever see the light of day (on my blog anyway!), but for this year it means I get to enjoy the incredible people and events that make up the wonderful Food Society without huge responsibility for any of it – a free ride!

The most recent treat was our annual BBQ last Saturday at the Sunnyvale Heritage Park Museum, a unique new facility and setting in Sunnyvale, CA. The museum is a replica of the original Martin Murphy family home and showcases displays about the Martin family and their significant involvement in the early history of California. In the very large courtyard in front of the museum, we sold new and used cookbooks and raffle tickets to raise money for important food-related organizations in the Bay Area (like Urban Tilth, Food Runners, CHEFS, and a scholarship for a Bay Area culinary student), listened to groovin’ music from The Blue Riders (“Rock & Blues & Classic Tunes”), tasted artisan foods from many special Savor California companies, ate BBQ, drank wine and enjoyed each others’ company.

The Blue Riders - Rock, Blues and Classic Tunes

The Blue Riders - Rock, Blues and Classic Tunes

There were so many incredible products to taste from the Savor California companies that I can’t cover them all here. I’ve highlighted just a few below, but check out Savor California for a more complete picture of the people and their creative products that are available online.

Sartain's Sauce and Marinade - Bright and Zesty

Sartain's Sauce and Marinade - Bright and Zesty

Sartain’s Sauce and Marinade: if you’ve shopped the supermarket shelves recently looking for a truly flavorful, well made sauce or marinade, then you know that many of the products have corn syrup/high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient – in fact, sometimes the very first ingredient! I’m not on a crusade against corn syrup – it has its place in the pantry – but not necessarily in my sauces. The Sartain’s sauce and marinade I tasted were wonderful. Full of bright flavor, with a nice balance between heat and tang – and no corn syrup!

Terra Sonoma SABA - Sweet Winegrape Syrup

Terra Sonoma SABA - Sweet Winegrape Syrup

Terra Sonoma Verjus and SABA: Verjus is similar to vinegar, but not quite as sharp. It can be used in place of vinegar or lemon juice for salad dressings or marinades – wherever you might use an “acid”. It was mellow and tangy, all at the same time. It’s created from wine grapes that are thinned from the vine during the growing season. SABA is a sweet winegrape syrup that can be used to flavor all kinds of foods – drinks, ice cream, breads, yogurt. I’m interested in trying it as Terra Sonoma suggests – in my spaghetti sauce in place of sugar to add a little sweetness.

Graziano Family of Wines - Bellisimo

Graziano Family of Wines - Bellisimo

Graziano Family of Wines: We tasted about five wines from the winemaker Gregory Graziano of Mendocino County. I enjoyed every one, but the Graziano Chenin Blanc was especially refreshing for a sunny summer afternoon; and the Graziano Zinfandel was especially good, too.

Fentimans Adult Sodas - Very Refreshing!

Fentimans Adult Sodas - Very Refreshing!

Fentiman’s Botanically Brewed All Natural Sodas: So many interesting flavors that actually taste like the real thing – because they are! Fentimans calls their beverages “adult” soft drinks, I suppose because they have a very slight amount of alcohol (less than 0.5%), but maybe also because the flavors are pretty sophisticated and more suited to an adult palate. They also make a Tonic Water mixer which I’m curious to try (in a mixed drink, I mean!).

Sweet Centerpiece with Cherries from C.J. Olson Cherries!

Sweet Centerpiece with Cherries from C.J. Olson Cherries!

As with any big event, the people behind the scenes did yeoman’s work so the rest of us could enjoy a fantastic day. In the San Francisco Professional Food Society, we are graced with many talented catering professionals, chefs, growers, marketers, producers and educators. For this year’s BBQ, Fred and Jennifer Martin of Fred Martin Events in Marin County, Deb Olson from C.J. Olson Cherries (they grow the plumpest, sweetest cherries you’ve ever seen or tasted right in Sunnyvale – their chocolate covered cherries are out of sight), and Rodger Helwig of Rodger Helwig Communications in San Francisco were the band leaders, and we were delighted to dance to their tune.

As summer winds down, I hope you’re able to gather in your favorite spot with a little food and drink to savor life’s simple pleasures – like time with family and friends on a warm afternoon.

Cheers,
Cathy

Chocolate Caramel Tart, Cheesecake and Lemon Meringue Pie – Oh My!

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Chocolate Caramel Tart, Cheesecake, Lemon Meringue Pie - good enough to eat!

Chocolate Caramel Tart, Cheesecake, Lemon Meringue Pie - good enough to eat!

Every year, our parish school at Christ the King (www.ctkph.org) has an auction and festival to raise funds to offset the cost of school tuition. The auction is a major event, with dinner, dancing and silent and live bidding. One of the bid items is dessert for your table that night; a donator makes a dessert, writes a description and provides a photo to be displayed on the bid table – then, at dessert time, the winning bid takes the cake (or pie, or tart . . . ) for their table.

This year I donated a dessert for auction – actually three kinds of dessert, but all for one table. I applied my menu planning skills learned at pastry school and on the job, and covered all my bases. Knowing that some of us are “chocolate people”, some are “lemon/fruit people” and some are “custard” people, I did a little something for everyone. I figured if you can entice everyone at the table with something for each of them, then the WHOLE table REALLY wants your dessert and will bid accordingly. Plus, if you have a little bit of all of those “types” in you (like me), you’re especially happy because you get a little of everything! I made a lemon meringue pie, cheesecake with graham cracker crust (what other kind is there for cheesecake?) and a chocolate caramel tart.

For the lemon meringue pie, I used the Flaky Vegetable Shortening Pie Crust (the half butter, half shortening variation) from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s book, The Pie and Pastry Bible; the lemon pie filling from the Kingsford’s Cornstarch box – the one my mother and probably grandmother used, and I see no reason to change – the texture is great and it’s lemony perfect; and an Italian meringue recipe, also from The Pie and Pastry Bible, but I use 5 egg whites instead of 4 because the Kingsford’s lemon filling calls for 5 yolks!

There are 3 styles of meringue – Swiss meringue, Italian meringue and French meringue. I use Italian meringue because it’s very stable – sugar syrup is cooked to 236F degrees and then slowly poured onto whipping egg whites. This also heats the egg whites enough to pasteurize them, so I don’t worry about serving or eating raw eggs.

The filling for the chocolate caramel tart is a recipe from Good Housekeeping, with the modification of almonds instead of walnuts – plus, I’m careful to not make the caramel too dark. The crust for this recipe is another from – you guessed it – The Pie and Pastry Bible! This time, the Sweet Cookie Tart Crust, because I like my tart crusts to have a little sweetness to them.

And finally – the cheesecake. Both the crust and filling are from Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax, which I’ve written about before. Okay, so I admit to a few little modifications on the cheesecake recipe: I use 1 teaspoon each of lemon juice and vanilla extract, and no zest – I don’t like the texture that the lemon zest adds to the otherwise super smooth cheesecake filling.

When I’m planning a party and dreaming about the dessert menu, I go through the same process of considering different desserts in the lemon/fruit, custard and chocolate categories. If I pick from each category, I’m sure to have a little something that every guest will enjoy.

So . . . back to the dessert auction . . . this is the way I described the selection:

Gourmet Dessert Trio – something for everyone, all made from scratch using the best of everything . . .
- Lemon Meringue Pie: flaky, buttery pie crust filled with perfectly tart lemon curd and topped with toasted sweet meringue
- Chocolate Caramel Almond Tart: sweet tart crust filled with a chocolate caramel ganache and roasted almonds
- Classic New York Style Cheesecake: graham cracker crust filled with creamy cheesecake made with a little sour cream

There were competing bids with some last minute back and forth, and the winners walked away happy. The losers? Well, let’s just say they walked away. There’s always next year!

What dessert “type” are you??

Sweet dreams,
Cathy