Monday, July 27, 2009

Daring bakers tackle Chocolate covered marshmallows

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

What a fun challenge. This month has been totally insane crazy, so I very much appreciated a less technical challenge, but I did try something new with making marshmallows from scratch.

We started with a little cookie, I used my new vietnamese cinnamon in them from KA flour, which gave them quite a kick, very different to the regular cinnamon in the store, cant wait to give it a try in something chocolatey. I divided the recipe by 3 since I didnt have a specific destination for them.

Marshmallows were made by whipping up egg whites and adding a hot syrup that was mixed with gelatin. I found that they didnt set up as much as I expected, so I really worried I'd made a mistake, but in the finished product they were little pillows of soft goodness. They piped very nicely onto the cookies

The cookies were left to set for a couple of hours, then I melted some chocolate with a little coconut oil and then dipped them in.

The verdict on the finished product. Meh. Marshmallows are really not my thing, the cookies were a little soft and cakey. Although they dissapeared very quickly at work, my discerning friend told me they were like chewing on a soggy wagon wheel (a confection he remembers fondly from the UK). Ouch. Always brutally honest, I appreciate his opinion, but sometimes the critique hurts a little, even if its not my own recipe!!
After a few days in the fridge these improved a lot as the cookie had a little more crunch to it.
Thanks for the opportunity to try new things as always, daring bakers, and thanks, Nicole for the perfect bite sized treat! Also thanks to my lovely husband for the photos.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

How the other half live!

I was recently lucky enough to be invited to meet some other San Diego food bloggers and go down to Rancho La Puerto in Tecate for the day.
We were treated to a 'Saturday at the spa' where one can get a taste of the spa.

My day started with being met by Aida and Peter from the Spa at Old Town and being driven to the border. We learned about the interesting history of the spa and the various people that were attracted to it, including concientious objectors from Europe in the 2nd World War to Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis training for the movie 'Trapeze' before anyone had dreamed up personal trainers and wheat grass smoothies!

Strangely enough, eating lots of fruit and veggies, getting in the outdoors and exercising, and all that stuff is back in fashion! Maybe it will actually catch on this time. Who knows!

We crossed the border, applied for our Mexican Visas, then it was a new country. Tecate looked like a really cute little town that I hope to return to soon. It was nice to see another side of Mexico after visiting Tijuana a few years ago.

We were welcomed to Rancho La Puerta with juice, muffins and fruit. Taking a look around the ranch, it was enormous, and it extended as far as the eye could see with the majority of it a wilderness. It is apparently the first cross-border wildlife reserve.

Sadly, my pictures of the resort didnt come out very well, although I can assure you it was very picturesque! One of the highlights was coming across some hammocks hidden away in some trees and I felt like I was in a little disney film, watching the little birds at the feeders and the squirrels on the lawn!

I had a pedicure, and then a buffet lunch, followed by a quick swim, then we were whisked away to the farm where all the produce is grown for the ranch. They also have a beautiful kitchen where the cooking lessons are held.

We met Chef Michel Stroot, the former ranch chef, and he took us through the meal for the day.

People split into teams of 2 and chose a station to work on.

I've never made tortillas from scratch, so I decided to choose that station. They were pretty easy to make, if you have a tortilla press! So much tastier!
Our tortillas were a mixture of minced garlic and jalapenos, masa flour and water, very simple.
Our meal started with a delicious corn chowder. It was very rich and you'd never know its not full of cream and butter. Unfortunately it was a very involved process, so I'm not sure I'll be making it at home!

We were then treated to a very pretty moulded quinoa salad with crab and papaya.

My tortillas came out for the main course, where they complemented some tilapia with tomatillo sauce, baby potatoes and green beans

The dessert was a plum apple compote with orange meringue. This was a bit of a shame, the fruit seemed so delicious, I think it might have been nicer just as is with a crispy meringue on the side, the meringue was a little soft for my taste. I thought the edible flower garnish was really pretty, I'll definitely remember that for the future.
The food was all delicious, I think some people were used to a little more salt and much more meat in their cooking, so it was a bit of an adjustment although its the way I like to eat most of the time, so I was very happy!
I really enjoyed the setup of the lesson, it was very relaxed, but it was all hands-on, so I learned a lot. I'm definitely interested in trying lessons like this again, a fun way to spend an afternoon, definitely different from my lessons at college!

Finally, it was time to get back to San Diego, Peter had one more treat in store, churros! We stopped at the churro stand at the side of the road and had a delicious decadent treat. They were so much nicer than any that I've tried before, fried and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon!
I highly recommend visiting Rancho La Puerta. I'm hoping that one day I'll have the time/funds to be able to make it to the ranch, but maybe I'll buy the cookbook so I can dream a little!
I hope to bump into my new foodie friends along the road sometime on my culinary adventures. I was pretty nervous meeting new people, it turned out I didnt need to be, they were all fun, and very friendly and we had something in common straight away that we could discuss. It was particularly good learning more about 'slow food', something I'd like to get more involved in, since it makes me so sad how far away from real food we've got, particularly with cakes!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A very special day

I was very honored to be a part of a really wonderful wedding recently. I love weddings anyway, but this was so much fun. The day was really all about the couple, their family and friends and the love that they had for each other. It was very personal and the guests were having a whale of a time. Being on an incredible property in the beautiful Rancho Santa Fe area didnt hurt either!
Here I am with the cake!

The details were totally adorable, like these little succulent place cards/favors.

Delicious barbecue was served, and it reminded me of a recent NYT article about the backyard bbq being totally where its at these days
I also made my first proper wedding cake! As an amateur I got to really enjoy the process, have fun with the couple, go through lots of tastings and iterations of designs and come to what I hope was a great conclusion on their special day. I recently bought Martha Stewarts book on weddings, and her advice to try making the entire cake for a practice run is a good idea. I found a very nice girl who wanted a birthday cake, so it was good to try a 3 tier cake.

I definitely pushed my boundaries, doing a square cake was a little tricky, but I'm glad they insisted as it came out super cute.

I helped out with some goodies for their out of town guests, they were treated to a home made recycled bag containing some water, fruit, chocolate chip cookies, caramels and fruit and nut bars. As per the bride's wishes I managed to find some biodegradable bags for the snacks from clearbags.

On the wedding day itself, I brought a big jar of caramels, three types of cupcakes, and a square 3 tier wedding cake, which the couple asked to be off center.

The cake was carrot cake on the bottom and 'almond joy' on the top two tiers, a delicious fudge chocolate cake, filled with a layer of coconut mixed with cream cheese frosting, and a layer of chocolate ganache with almonds. mmmm! The cake was covered in fondant and decorated with the couples colors of choice, and topped with their hand made likeness, very cute.

I also made 3 flavors of cupcakes, 'sexy vegan' from Vegan Cupcakes takes over the world, banana choc chip with caramel and cream cheese frosting, and a lovely light 'berrylicious' cupcake with berry buttercream.

The cakes looked wonderful on the table, and the guests all seemed very excited! So my first wedding experience was a fantastic one!

For any other amateurs thinking of trying this kind of thing, I'd recommend giving yourself plenty of time, if you're planning on doing a tiered cake, make sure to have all the cakes ready and crumb coated at least the night before and thoroughly chilled before you cover in fondant. Cardboard isnt strong enough as a base, use poster board or something similar(and food safe) between the layers and use a proper dowel (available from michaels) for support.