Posts Tagged ‘Chocolate’

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?



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…



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)!


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.


Chocolate Mousse Cake for Jackie

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

14 inch Round Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cake

14 inch Round Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cake

My friend and neighbor, Beth, is a great seamstress ( When I was growing up, Mrs. McCool was the seamstress my mom would take us to for sewing needs that were outside of my mom’s interest or ability. I don’t think it was all that often – with seven kids and goodness knows how many versions of cheerleading/drill team/dance team and school uniforms, I suspect my mom would have loved to use her lots more . . .

Beth made two skirts and hemmed two pairs of pants for me just before our recent trip to France (and I mean JUST before). I’m pretty good about getting rid of clothes that I don’t wear for whatever reasons – like “it doesn’t fit anymore”, “never really liked it but needed something RIGHT NOW”, “what was I thinking when I got this?” – but I’m not so good at adding clothes to my collection and clothes shopping is never high on my list of ways to spend free time. It was so great to pick the material and style I wanted, and then have everything fit just like it was made for me (because it was!). Good quality clothing that I will get lots of use out of equals a great value.

So, what does this have to do with gourmet desserts made easy? Well, Beth’s mom just turned 80 and Beth and her sister, Kelly, gave her a big Hawaiian-themed party. In exchange for a beautiful new sundress that Beth made for me with great fabric I found on sale, I made the birthday cake for about 70 people.

Beth’s mom, Jackie, wanted chocolate cake with chocolate and raspberry filling, finished with whipped cream. I make a chocolate cake filled with the chocolate mousse from our Chocolate Mousse Kit, studded with raspberries. You can see the steps to make this cake here – although this version has a poured chocolate glaze on top instead of whipped cream (scroll down the page for all the details). Jackie’s cake had purple orchids flown over from Hawaii to go with the Aloha theme. I made one 14″ cake, shown above, and one 10″ cake for back up – each had 3 layers of chocolate cake and two layers of chocolate mousse stuffed with raspberries.

Whipped cream can be a little tricky when it’s 100 degrees outside in July – but the cake stayed refrigerated until it was presented and served, and it sounds like everyone loved it.

I have a new sundress that I love, and Jackie, Beth, Kelly and their friends have an evening of memories with a chocolate raspberry mousse cake on top.