Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

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

Do You Speak “(La Cucina) Italiana”?

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010
La Cucina Italiana

Somewhere along the way, I wound up with a copy of “La Cucina Italiana” magazine. Then, I actually read it – that hooked me, and now I’m a subscriber. The magazine has been in print since 1929, and I can see why. Beautiful pictures, enticing recipes and, well, Italy! Apparently I have no Italian heritage, but I sure feel Italian when I eat pasta, slather the garlic around and drink Italian wine… I think something must be missing from the family tree.

For last Sunday’s dinner I made the cover recipe, Stufato di Vitello e Verdure (Veal Soup with Vegetables). The recipe is generously shared, along with many others, on the magazine’s website. The soup was hearty, flavorful and easy to make – even easier since I left out the last few steps of separating out the meat and vegetables, removing the broth to another pot, melting butter in the original pot and stirring flour into that, then adding the broth back to thicken and, finally, adding the meat and vegetables back to the thickened broth – phew! I was too lazy (and hungry), but I don’t think I suffered for it – in fact, it was so good I made a 2.5 times batch on Monday night for a group of 9 at the parish house.

This magazine will nudge me out of my regular patterns a bit – always a good thing. I’ve never cooked with veal stew meat before and I didn’t love the process of butchering it into smaller pieces. It was a lot like working with slippery chicken, only more slippery! Or like cutting silk fabric with a butter knife! Or like… well, nevermind. The veal was very tender in the soup, and I decided that the penance of butchering in the beginning had a nice reward in the end. My husband was ogling the Vellutata di Zucca con Cozze (Butternut Squash Puree with Mussels) picture, so I’ll have to try that soon. I also enjoyed the article about Brunello di Montalcino wines – except my husband now says the few Brunello bottles we have must age more before we can drink them. Hmmm… I may have to hide future issues until I can vet them properly – chopping the veal was penance enough!

Buon Appetito,
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

Pavlova

Monday, July 13th, 2009
Pavlova with summer fruit from the Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market

Pavlova with summer fruit from the Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market

A couple nights a week, I cook dinner at our church’s parish house. Last Saturday night, I made Chicken Paillard with fresh peaches from Tyler Florence’s cookbook, Tyler’s Ultimate. This is a pretty simple dish to make, and it gives big flavor and presentation; with pancetta, blue cheese, honey and peaches, you get the salty/sweet combination that’s so satisfying. Plus, a platter filled with sauteed chicken breasts topped with crispy pancetta, crumbled blue cheese and drizzled with vinaigrette is an eye-popper at the table. I can’t believe I forgot to take a picture of it!

For dessert, I made Pavlova from one of my favorite cookbooks, Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax. I first learned to make Pavlova in Australia, when I worked as a pastry cook at a hotel in Sydney. Wikipedia says there is debate about whether Pavlova originated in Australia or New Zealand; it is agreed, though, that the dessert was named for a Russian ballerina who was performing in those countries in the 1920s, and the dessert was created in her honor. I saw (and made) lots of Pavlova in Australia, but I don’t think I ever saw it in New Zealand when we lived there for several months after our year and half in Australia. We made Pavlova year round, and I don’t recall it being specific to any holiday period.

Pavlova is a meringue cake topped with sweetened whipped cream and lots of fresh fruit. It’s light, soft, sweet and satisfying. A great summertime treat . . . the fruit for this Pavlova came from the Pleasant Hill Farmers’ market. It’s not a fussy cake – I didn’t have my cake spatula when I put the whipped cream on the cake pictured above, so the finish is pretty “relaxed”; I just used a rubber spatula to spread the cream, and I don’t think the cake presentation suffered one bit. This cake would be very cute to do as little individual Pavlovas – one cake per person. I’ll have to try that some time!

The basic steps to make Pavlova are shown below. Enjoy!

Whip egg whites with sugar, vinegar and vanilla to stiff peak

Whip egg whites with sugar, vinegar and vanilla to stiff peak

Sift cornstarch on top, fold in

Sift cornstarch on top, fold in

Put the meringue on a baking sheet

Transfer the meringue to a baking sheet . . .

Form the meringue into a cake shape

. . . and form into a cake shape

Bake the Pavlova

Bake the Pavlova

Pavlova with Fruit from Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market

Cover the Pavlova with plenty of sweetened whipped cream and top with your favorite fruits

Paris Spice Market

Sunday, July 12th, 2009
Spice Market at Galleries Lafayette

Spice Market at Galleries Lafayette in Paris

I recently discovered an enjoyable food blog called Cannelle et Vanille, written by Aran who is a food stylist and pastry chef – her pictures are extra special. One of her posts about French style macarons and pink peppercorns caught my eye, because I had just returned from France where I had enjoyed French macarons and bought some pink peppercorns! This is the comment I made on Aran’s post:

Hi Aran,

Your blog on pink peppercorns and French macarons really struck me. I just returned from a trip to France and loved the macarons in every flavor at the very special store Fauchon; plus, I bought some pink peppercorns! I knew I could get them in the U.S., but I wanted to buy them in Paris as a reminder of the beautiful spice market we saw on the second floor of the Galleries Lafayette department store in the Opera district. Since I’m a “foodie” by profession and passion, we tend to visit food spots when we travel.

At Galleries Lafayette, we headed past the perfume counters and clothes and made a beeline to the food emporium on the second floor. Beautiful produce, cheese, ice cream, chocolates, pastries, meats, etc., etc. That was very delightful, and there was also a spice market with fragrant spices piled high on trays so you could order whatever quantity you wanted – they weighed it and packaged it up for you. They had all kinds of peppercorns, but I got some of the pink ones. They’re in a clear pepper grinder on my kitchen counter, and when I see them they take me back to Galleries Lafayette in Paris! I also got a few chunks of crystallized ginger that also just make me feel good when I see them in my cupboard!!

As so many others have noted, your pictures are beautiful – they are noticably special and unique.

Cheers, Cathy
Posted on Cannelle et Vanille, July 10, 2009

I thought my own readers might be interested in the spice market at Galleries Lafayette . . . and below are the crystallized ginger and pink peppercorns on my counter at home in California.

My Pink Peppercorns

My Pink Peppercorns


Sweet Hot Crystallized Ginger from Galleries Lafayette

My Sweet Hot Crystallized Ginger

Paris Outdoor Market

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009
Marche d'Aligre

Marche d'Aligre

In my last post I wrote about Fauchon, the specialty food store we recently visited in Paris. Another great stop in our meanderings through that incredible city was the Marche d’Aligre, an outdoor farmers’ market in the eastern part of the city. I’m from California and, like lots of places around the country, we have some pretty great farmers’ markets – Marche d’Aligre could more than hold its own against our outdoor market line-up.

Like most outdoor markets, it’s not the beauty of the market stalls themselves but rather what’s sold from those stalls that makes it so great. Fresh flowers, perfectly ripe vegetables and fruits and freshly caught fish lined the outdoor area of this market; in the adjacent market building there were specialty meats, charcuterie, cheeses, beer, olive oils . . . if only I could have packed them all in my suitcase and brought them home!

I hope you enjoy the pictures. I thought the radishes (above) were especially colorful and looked like a bouquet of flowers.

Best,
Cathy

Marche d'Aligre - Paris

Marche d'Aligre - Paris


Marche d'Aligre - Paris

Marche d'Aligre - Paris


Marche d'Aligre - Paris

Marche d'Aligre - Paris


Marche d'Aligre - Paris

Marche d'Aligre - Paris


Marche d'Aligre - Paris

Marche d'Aligre - Paris


Marche D'Aligre - Paris

Marche D'Aligre


Marche d'Aligre - Paris

Marche d'Aligre - Paris

Fauchon in Paris

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009
Cakes and Macaroons - Fauchon, Paris

Cakes and Macaroons - Fauchon, Paris

My husband and I, along with two sisters-in-law and a brother-in-law, recently returned from two weeks in France. It’s been several years since we’ve taken an honest-to-goodness two week vacation like that. The trip was planned last year before the economy got so bad; we decided we better go and enjoy ourselves since it might be another very long time before we do something like it again! So, go we did. . .

We spent one week in Paris, taking our time to re-visit the city highlights and enjoy the incredible breads and pastries at arms reach no matter where you go! For the second week, we based ourselves about 30 miles east of Paris and took day trips to places like Reims (champagne capital of the world), Chablis and the Burgundy region. We had a great dinner in Dijon – one of the distinguished cities of food in France – that was worth the three hour drive.

I thought readers of the Just Specialties Fine Food blog would be particularly interested in a store in Paris called Fauchon. It’s really two stores right next to each other at the Place de la Madeleine – right across the street from the Madeleine Church. With its neoclassic architecture, the church looks more like an imposing ancient Greek temple than a Christian church – it’s beautiful and distinctive. A street called Rue Royale runs from the Place de la Concorde right up to the front steps of the Madeleine Church. You can stand on those steps and look up Rue Royale to the Place de la Concorde, about 1/4 mile away, where Marie Antoinette lost her head in the French Revolution – but I digress. . .

The Madeleine Church sits in the center of the Place de la Madeleine, sort of like sitting in the middle of a very large roundabout, and is ringed by unique specialty shops like Maison de la Truffe (the fungus kind), Maille (specialty mustards), Caviar Kaspia and. . . Fauchon, the specialty food store to end all specialty food stores.

Everything at Fauchon is “just so” – their windows are full of incredibly artistic desserts and savory food. Their idea of “canned” food is large attractive tins of Coq au Vin and specialty duck preparations. Even their “fast food” is remarkable in both presentation and taste.

I mentioned there are two Fauchon stores right next to each other. One store is primarily geared towards foods to buy and eat right away – the French version of “take-away”, although there are seats inside and out where you can enjoy your food, along with wine (the French have a very civilized idea of “take away”) or coffee from the coffee bar. Their baguette sandwiches are in little zipper pouches – no cellophane wrap here – and the fresh salads are packed in crystal clear pyramid-shaped plastic containers. This first store also has a full bread and pastry bar, complete with all flavors of French macaroons, and deli counters with foie gras and other specialty meats, cheeses and fish.

The second Fauchon store has mostly packaged products, including gift items, chocolates, teas and coffee, tins of coq au vin and escargots, and a wine cellar below. We didn’t bring a lot of souvenirs back from France, but most of what we did bring back came from this store! The tin of escargots made the U.S. customs person a little concerned, but we made it home with them and I’m sure my husband will enjoy them at some point (when I get around to fixing them up). As with all of their goods, the products in this store are also beautifully presented. It was really enjoyable checking everything out and appreciating how well done it all was.

Below are several pictures from Fauchon and Place de la Madeleine. I felt very rusty with my camera, so these pictures aren’t the best – but I hope you enjoy them.

Best,
Cathy

Cakes - Fauchon, Paris

Cakes - Fauchon, Paris

Cakes - Fauchon, Paris

Cakes - Fauchon, Paris

Filled raspberries atop chocolate cake - Fauchon, Paris

Filled raspberries atop chocolate cake - Fauchon, Paris

Chocolate Bars - Fauchon, Paris

Chocolate Bars - Fauchon, Paris

Purses with chocolates - Fauchon, Paris

Purses with chocolates - Fauchon, Paris

Escargots - Fauchon, Paris

Escargots - Fauchon, Paris

Looking up Rue Royale to Madeleine Church at the Place de la Madeleine

Looking up Rue Royale to Madeleine Church at the Place de la Madeleine

Fauchon

Fauchon

Maison de la Truffe

Maison de la Truffe

Caviar Kaspia

Caviar Kaspia

Maille specialty mustards

Maille specialty mustards

Maille window display

Maille window display