Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking back on 2009

Well, this has been a really busy year for me, I've learned so much about food and about cake making and decorating, I thought I'd do a quick recap of the great year I've had!

It started with a bang, in Australia, a wonderful new year, spent with my adorable niece, Poppy and my brother, sister in law and Mum.

I then zipped home to find a very cute 2 year old wanted a birthday cake, so I tried for a 2 tier cake, and was really happy with the results!

I was lucky enough to get on the cake decorating class at grossmont college, so we baked our way through all kinds of delicious confections, including Black Forest Gateau, Opera Cake and Princess Cakes, learning countless important techniques.

I continued practicing my skills, had fun making a couple of cakes with dinosaurs on.

I was lucky enough to find myself in New York City, with Elise Strauss, learning lots more about cake decorating. She taught me that I needed to be extremely thorough and careful in preparation, and although we made a very plain cake, I learned so much that day, I am eternally grateful!

I was honored to be involved in the wedding of a really sweet cycling couple and I made many little cupcakes to share among the guests, as well as a big cake for their wedding day.

Another really fun wedding came up in July, and I was happy to make a fun, 3 tiered cake, with lots of cupcakes to go with it, it was very elegantly presented on an antique table in the garden of a beautiful house in Rancho Santa Fe!

I spent several weeks of summer evenings learning how professional bakeries work, I learned an awful lot, and was very happy to actually be able to help to finish one large cake entirely,

We then took a rest and made our way to wine country, for a nice break in Santa Rosa, with a stop off in San Francisco, it was really fun to ride around the wineries on a bike and check out the local scenery.

My jet-setting niece then made her way over from Australia, via the UK, with her parents in tow, and I spent a great week with my brother, sister in law and Poppy. She was a bit confused about the beach, but loved the water! I think her favorite thing in San Diego was probably my cat, who was always at least a room away!

I had a really fun vacation in the UK, managing to fit in an afternoon with Beas of Bloomsbury, and then made it over to Wales, for a wonderful wedding, in which I was most honored to be involved by preparing several wedding cakes for the happy couple.

The highlight of the year had to be in November, where I was forced to celebrate my husband's birthday on the wonderful resort, Kona Village, on the big island of Hawaii. What an amazing experience! We didnt see the lava flow, so that means we have to return!!
My last fun cake of the year was a delightful princess cake, for a 3 year old, I was very happy with how it came out. Maybe not the most original, but I was very happy with the execution, and the progress I have made this year.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Daring bakers build a gingerbread house!

This month I actually had time to have a go at the challenge twice! I foolishly offered to make a gingerbread house for one of my colleagues, so I decided I definitely needed a trial run to make sure I was up to the challenge!

I tried using anna's recipe and it worked very well, I think the first time I rolled it out it was a little thick, so there were cracks in the gingerbread as it cooled. I also needed to bake twice, the first time it was a little bit soft, so I put it back in the oven until it was harder and more sturdy.

On the second attempt, I decided to follow martha stewarts recipe, and unfortunately I measured the roof wrong, so I had to make some extra pieces to make it large enough. I think it came out pretty well for my first attempts at gingerbread houses, although I'm not sure this is really something I'll be becoming an expert at! We'll see how I feel next year when I'm ready to tackle it again!

It does make a lovely christmas decoration though, since ours are a bit sparse, it was nice to have something festive in the house. I found it really great that any mistakes can be covered up with copious amounts of candy and icing!

One thing I did find useful was to re-cut the gingerbread when its still warm out of the oven, I found it did spread a little.

I added a couple of sugar-cone trees which were piped with royal icing with a leaf tip.

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cycling Nutrition-my take

I've been cycling seriously for nearly 6 years now, I'm not the speediest of cyclists, but I've done lots of centuries (100 mile rides) and I've managed a crazy ridiculous ride called the death ride, which was a fun experience. Unfortunately I've let this go by the wayside while I've made confections and treats, and its time to get back into the training, I've really missed my bike. I also need a goal to keep me riding decent distances again. I'm signed up for the Solvang Century in March 2010. Its a beautiful ride in Central California and even better, I'll be raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

I thought I'd share a little about what I've learned about nutrition, and a couple of recipes which I like to use for snacks on the road. I've been studying nutrition at the UCSD extension and also as part of my studies at Grossmont college.

One of the most important things I've learned is that everyone is different. Everyones stomach is different and tolerates different foods/drinks, and their metabolisms respond differently too.

When involved in endurance training, one can burn several thousand calories, our entire glycogen store, so it is important to replace this before, during and after riding, otherwise you will experience a 'bonk' where you get really dizzy, angry and strange because your fuel tank is empty.

One of the secrets that not everyone knows is that many of the expensive sports supplements you can buy are a waste of money, and often taste awful, you can do much better with everyday foods. Arnie Baker, an amazing cyclist and cycling coach swears by pop tarts and bagels! One of the exceptions is maltodextrin, a useful supplement to add to your drinks, if you need a lot of calories, especially if you have trouble controlling your glucose levels in your blood, this doesnt have to be expensive if you know someone in the food/science industry.

Most cyclists stock up a little with a decent meal the night before(we call this carb loading), maybe a few extra complex carbohydrates. A good breakfast is very useful too, my favourite is oatmeal (not the instant kind). This keeps me warm for ages on a cool day, and it seems to be metabolized slowly enough to keep me going. Once on the road, a combination of snacks, and a source of glucose in your drink are a good idea. I sometimes put some brown sugar, juice and a pinch of salt in my water bottle, then have some dry gatorade mix to add later. I also have snack bars, usually home made granola bars and protein bars. When things start getting really intense, things like sports gels can be an easy way to get some calories, and some of them have a much needed caffeine boost, although I've found myself chugging a starbucks doubleshot to much the same effect!

Upon finishing a ride, its a good idea to have a snack ready for less than 30 minutes after riding, a decent amount of protein is also useful at this stage. Some people have a burger, a turkey sandwich or chocolate milk. I like to have a slice of cold home-made pizza in a cooler in the car!

Two of my favorite snack recipes are from the foodnetwork. A favorite, which I've photographed here is ellie krieger's energy bars. Tons of nutrition but not too much fat. Maple syrup is really expensive these days so feel free to sub with honey or any other syrup, and this recipe is really easily adapted too!
I also love alton browns protein bars, I usually switch the dried fruit around, and you can switch around the nut butter used, and even add a bit of cocoa powder to make it all chocolatey!
If anyone has any nutrition tips, I'd be happy to hear about them! Please share your wisdom in the comments!

Also, this kicks off my new efforts in getting healthy for the new year. Recipe Girl is starting a project in January, which I'm very happy to get involved in, '10 in 10' where we get together and try and get healthier in the first 10 weeks of 2010.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Following my intuition

I wanted to make some christmassy cupcakes, so I turned to Martha, her cupcake cookbook is very comprehensive, so I knew she'd have something great for me to try.
I decided on Mint Chocolate and Gingerbread cupcakes. Upon reading the recipe, I had a few qualms, but I thought 'that martha, she knows what she's doing, I wish I'd trusted my instincts a little more. There is plenty of talk about following ones guts, for instance in Malcom Gladwell's Blink, and in a blog post I read recently on a favorite blog.
The mint cupcakes only had 3 tablespoons of oil, they came out a bit chewy, not to my taste, and the gingerbread cupcakes had a whole 3 sticks of butter in, not surprisingly they were a bit greasy, and a bit dense too. I need to trust myself a little more when I'm looking at recipes like this...
They did come out cute, especially the mini ones, with a little bit of vanilla peppermint frosting with a red stripe for the mint chocolate, and some lemon cream cheese frosting and gingerbread man sprinkles, they were very festive. Back to the drawing board for festive ideas though!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Daring bakers-cannoli

I have to admit that I just couldnt face trying to get the cannoli moulds, or trying to deep fry in a vat of oil, so I tried making these in muffin pans in the oven. They came out a little on the rock hard side, but it was a fun thanksgiving snack. The dough was quite difficult to work with, it didnt really like to be rolled out thin, and it tore easily, but I managed to roll it out into little shells.

I paired them with a little whipped marscapone cream. I whipped some cream to a soft peak, then whisked together marscapone with a little cream, marsala and sugar. Some shaved chocolate on top made for a tasty garnish, plus some delicious persimmons. Marscapone cream was also a delicious accompaniment to our dessert of apple pie!

To read more about the recipe and the daring bakers, please visit the daring kitchen!

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here is a quick snap of the thanksgiving cakes I did for a friend!
Hope everyone has a wonderful thanksgiving with the people they love.
As usual, mine will be small but fun, we'll crack open a bottle of wine at midday, I have a mushroom and seitan pie, there is duck, roasted veggies, mashed potatoes, creamed leeks, stuffing, and apple pie! I might even have time for the daring bakers challenge as a little bonus!
Dont forget to donate to the food4kids, or bring your donations to the little italy mercado on the 12th!

Monday, November 23, 2009

San Diego Food Bloggers Food 4 Kids Holiday Fundraiser

Just a quick one to say that I'm very happy to be participating in the San Diego Food Bloggers Food 4 Kids Holiday Fundraiser. It breaks my heart that so many people are really struggling in this recession. I always hope that I can help somehow and thanks to Alice Q and Caren, I can. I'll be donating a prize for the raffle to raise money for this great cause.

There are many ways you can help

1. Donate online and participate in the raffle at first giving and make sure to give your email, so that you are eligible for a prize!

2. Collect donations for the backpacks, and drop them off with the stand at the Little Italy Mercado on Saturday, 12th December between 9-12. Donations can include:
A medium-sized neutral design backpack, preferably red in color.
Toothbrush and kids toothpaste
Coloring books
School supplies (pencils, paper, pencil sharpeners, markers, crayons)
Nutritious kid-friendly foods, such as fruit roll ups, granola bars, boxed packaged food items like cereal, crackers, nutrition bars, pop top canned goods such as applesauce or other fruit, ready made macaroni and cheese and other easy convenient items.

3. Donate a prize for the raffle

I will be donating a cake/cupcakes for the raffle, so if you do donate you could be eligible to win one of my 9" cakes, a dozen cupcakes, or if you're out of town then I'll make up a gourmet gift basket with cookies, caramels and other goodies that I can ship! Here are some recent cakes for ideas of what you could win!!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wild welsh wedding cakes!

Part of the fun of attending the wedding was that I got to make the cakes! So fun, especially since I didnt feel too much pressure. Sean and Phil just love good food, so I knew that as long as I nailed some awesome recipes then it could look like a dogs breakfast and they'd still be happy.

It was a bit ambitious to attempt an enormous cake, so I decided on making a few different cakes, which also offered variety and wasnt too demanding on me, in a different country, with different ingredients, and my poor, long suffering mum's kitchen.I got all that I could done at mum's, then jumped in the car and brought everything to the house.

I was so relieved to find a Costco in Birmingham, they sold lovely free range eggs, delicious anchor butter, demerera sugar and very pretty cake stands, which were cheaper than the crappy cardboard ones I'd seen in fancy cooking shops! It was interesting that there was a much larger interest in cake decorating in the UK, I found some lovely tools and bits and pieces just in the supermarket, and also in the wonderful Lakeland store.

The next day, I set to work finishing off the cakes to show. I managed a two tier almond cake with cherry buttercream and a marzipan covering, covering with hand made cherries and leaves. I also made several batches of Molly's 'hearts and minds' chocolate cake(notice the dresser behind me, identical to the one on the book!). They were decidedly on the rustic side, even after putting whipped chocolate ganache on, so I dressed them up with fresh fruit. I also made some vegan, gluten free 'freedom' cupcakes which were topped with a soy chocolate ganache. Vegan cupcakes take over the world to the rescue!!

I was also lucky enough to have lots of helpers, people to chop up the fruit, kiddies to help make the cherries and leaf decorations for the cake.

Another really fun aspect of the cake was the topper. I found these little munny dolls and thought it would be excellent fun to decorate them in Seany and Phil's likenesses. Seany has a penchant for tweed, and phil recently volunteered on a steam train, so my friends decorated them to show that. They were ridiculously cute! We had them so that one way there were all cute and lovey, then the other way they were looking away and 'in a mood'! Super fun memento of the day too!!

Thanks so much to andrew miller for the great photos!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Welsh Wedding

I had the enormous honor of being invited to my dear friends, Sean and Phil's wedding recently. It was a truly magical event, in the rolling welsh hills, at a manor house, Treowen. Since I was coming from so far away, I was also lucky enough to be able to snag one of the guest rooms in the house.

I arrived the day before the wedding, driving up the enormous drive to the house, I knew we'd be in for a treat of a weekend. This is the kind of place that americans dream of when they visit the uk. I found myself just speechless with the beauty of it all.

After running up and down the stairs (featured in Dr Who!) we all went for a curry, I guess an equivalent of the rehearsal dinner. One of the highlights of the evening was a reunion of old friends in the Somerfield aisles as we chose our alcoholic beverages for the evening!!!

The next day people were milling around, fussing, rehearsing, but we all got dolled up and ready for a 3pm ceremony. It was truly magical to see my two dear friends tie the knot. It was a really beautiful ceremony, and it was really wonderful to see a room full of people overflowing with love and support of the union of my two dear friends. It was particularly poignant since I met my husband at the same time as Sean and Phil got together, so this 10 year anniversary marked a change in both of our lives, bringing me back to the time when Sean and I shared a rather strange(but cheap!) flat in East London.

The food was just outstanding, Sean and Phil love good hearty food, so we had delicious canapes on the lawn with our champagne, then later were treated to a scrummy pumpkin soup, bangers and mash, then the most amazing sticky toffee which was sitting in a lovely caramelly sauce. I had to restrain myself not to lick the plate! We were later treated to bacon butties and chips, and cake (which I'll discuss in another post!!). The caterers, Charlotte Roskill and her crew were amazing, and very friendly, it really boggled my mind how they work such long hours and are still so sprightly! They worked all day feeding us, then returned the next day to make us a full english brekkie!!

Its hard for me to understand why this isnt legal in so many parts of the United States, and the world. It breaks my heart that two people who love and care for each other arent allowed to show that commitment to the world. I hope people can see this post and all the love and positivity of this wonderful occasion and maybe think it through a little more carefully.

Most of the photos on this post were by andrew miller. He did a fantastic job, and had a great sense of humour, which is really important when you're a wedding photographer! I was particularly taken with his portrait photography.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Beas of Bloomsbury

One of the really fun things I got to do while in London was to check out Beas of Bloomsbury
I took my dear friend John there for lunch, and we snagged a great table at the back where I could watch all that was going on in the pastry kitchen as we munched on our lunch.

We chose to share a sandwich and a couple of salads, which were both totally delicious. I think it was a cheese and roasted veggie sandwich, and a pasta salad with a really tasty broccoli salad.

We saved room for some cake, which we had to sample! I chose an amaretto cheesecake and a chocolate cupcake with praline buttercream. The buttercream was to die for, and I really loved the oaty crust on the cheesecake.

I then ended up saying hello to the chef, Bea, and I'm so glad I did as they were nice enough to offer me an afternoon of work experience. So I dashed off to the Burkenstock store and snapped up some chef shoes and showed up the next afternoon.

Despite her formidable reputation, she was an amazing teacher, and incredibly patient with me. My first test was to quickly weigh out eggwhites and sugar for meringues. I didnt take too long to do that, so it was on to the next task, whipping up some gluten free orange cakes. These were a snap to make, and totally delicious, I was lucky enough to taste one. It was a simple mixture, which didnt even need any frosting, totally delicious and moist.

I then set to work piping meringues, which I found really tricky, but after being corrected several times, I managed to get it right, and set about piping tray after tray of meringue, which eventually winged their way to selfridges (oooh!!).

Even though it was just an afternoon, I had a fantastic time, Bea had created a really great atmosphere with the people working there, I met two people, Naomi and James, who were both really nice, and it felt like fun to work, which is important as its often a very long day in this kind of business.

I would love to think that this could be my job one day, although its so much better paid being a chemist than a cook/pastry cook/cake artist! Its lovely to visit a bakery like Beas, where quality ingredients are of the greatest importance and attention to detail is impeccable.

Be sure to check the bakery out if you're in London, and also try a lesson with Bea, she's a great teacher!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

British Invasion!!

As I look back over my photos, I see that I really didnt take any photos of food on my trip home! I did of course eat lots, but I didnt have a camera handy to take piccies, so you'll have to be content with a little bit of scenery!
I started off paying my dear grandma a visit. She lives pretty close to Teddington Lock now, so I stretched my legs and wandered over there. So pretty. I really loved the weeping willow trees over the river, and the fact that fall was starting.
We had a pretty unmemorable meal at a french restaurant. I often find it a little stressful eating with her as she always feels she ought to leave a clean plate, and doesnt really have much of an appetite, so she has a big stress about being too full and feels ill. Its sad to think that food sometimes isnt so much of a pleasure any more as one gets older.

I then set off to Central London and was given a delicious healthy tofu dish for dinner, its wierd how they have really embraced flavoring tofu and making it much more palatable there.
I had a lovely day in central London with my friend, John, we enjoyed wandering around the British Museum, and also a delicious lunch at Beas of Bloomsbury (more about that later!)
After a couple of days in London, I made my way to my home town of Birmingham. I had a tasty curry with my friends, but we lamented the fact that the curry houses are trying too hard, and that maybe we should have gone back to the homeplace of the balti, Ladypool Road.
I also started on 'project wedding cake', which was
quite a challenge. I baked cakes for 70 people to take to the wedding I was attending at the weekend. My mum served as my sous chef, and we managed to do pretty well, despite a small oven that cooked a little unevenly, and limited resources. Costco came to the rescue, it was great to see that the butter and eggs are all free range. I wish America would follow suit a little more in this regard, after all, theres much more space here to give the animals!! It was also fascinating to see what they had to offer, giant sacks of tea bags and enormous jars of pickled eggs (who really eats those?!!)
I then made my way to a fantasic country house, Treowen in the Monmouthshire countryside, it was a truly beautiful place, and I really enjoyed reconnecting with old friends over a really fun
weekend. We enjoyed fantastic food all weekend, but highlights included the wedding dinner of bangers and mash, with a wonderful sticky toffee pudding for desert, and then a great big full english breakfast the following morning, to mop up all the alcohol that we'd had the night before!
I still believe that the overall quality of food in the UK is often better, although I think its sad that the farmers market concept isnt quite as widespread. I would say that in California we are blessed with an abundance of wonderful fruit all year round, but the dairy produce in the UK is just exceptional.
One of the things that makes me happiest is to see the faces of my favourite farmers when I pick up my eggs and sometimes produce. I was really happy to be back in San Diego and see my favourite farmers stand, schaener farm at the Little Italy Mercado.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone!
I must admit, I'm not really in the mood, making these cupcakes got me feeling a bit more festive.
Hopefully I'll have more to say soon, I've got so much to talk about, a great trip to the UK, fun times at a bakery, a wedding, plus lots of fun in San Diego...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Daring bakers and macarons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Like most of the daring bakers, I've been meaning to tackle macarons. I've tried them once, they didnt go so well, so I was happy to experiment again.

This could be the holy grail of pastry, I've been trying to work out why, and I think it could be the variation in ingredients, and the importance of the consistency of the batter. The almond meal could be more finely ground or less, and the egg whites could be more or less aged and can vary in size. Of course the technique is also very tricky, whipping the egg whites to a soft peak, not too hard, then carefully folding the nut meal and powdered sugar in.

I'm going to blame this on the fact that my macarons were a little runny. I think I needed more nut flour. Also, I didnt use my common sense and I piped them too close together. The macarons also stuck to the silpat, so it was difficult to release them. I've heard you can put water underneath the silpat to help to release the cookies.

As you can see, my macarons are woefully thin too, although they did seem to develop the 'feet'. One day I'll spend a week perfecting them, but I just dont seem to have the time to commit to it.

A happy accident happened, I realised I didnt have enough almond meal, so I ground up some hazelnuts to mix in, and then filled the macarons with nutella. Delicious!!!

Please check on amy's blog for the recipe!