Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Coco Cookies

One of the best things about sharing a kitchen is the wonderful people I meet, with such different products and interests. 

I have had the great pleasure of sharing the kitchen with these lovely ladies who are working extremely hard on their cookies to produce a healthy, gluten free, vegan, organic and fair trade product. 

Coco cookies are made without refined sugar too, so they are great for an afternoon snack that picks you up rather than give you a horrible sugar low.

They are definitely the kind of afternoon snack that I'm looking for, if you're expecting a sugary sweet, buttery cookie, you might be a little disappointed.

They got their FDA approval for wholesale and online orders, so expect coco cookies to be in the stores soon!  Meanwhile they are available online.

Disclosure: I got these cookies free from the coco girls, but I wasn't paid for my endorsement!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cowabunga for Icing smiles!!

This weekend, I had the honor of making a very special cake for a very special little boy. 
I learned about Icing Smiles when they first started, and one of the things I was really excited about when I finally got to a commercial setting was making cakes for their charity.

So when I got the call to action email for little trevor, I was so excited!  I was a little un-nerved as I wasnt sure that my cake would match up to the amazing works of art that some of the other cake artists have created, but I was very happy to take up the challenge.

It was a teenage mutant ninja turtle theme, and his favorite was Raphael.  I did my best to recreate his face on the cake, then decorated the cake with the weapons of the turtles. 

I was very sad to hear that poor Trevor was admitted to childrens hospital the day before the party, so it had to be postponed.  Since I'd already made the cake, I offered to deliver it to the hospital so he could have a little party there with his family.

It was so nice to meet him, he was such a cute kiddy, it was also sad to think of all he'd already been through in his few years with 3 open heart surgeries.

I hope that the family will get in touch once he's on the mend and we'll reschedule with an even more fun and elaborate cake for him!

If anyone would like to help Icing Smiles with a donation, or get on the directory for bakers, I'm sure they'd love to hear from you.  I know there are plenty of charities out there, but it is so nice to bring a kid such happiness when they have had so much to deal with.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


 I just wanted to take a moment to chat about Cake.  Not just cake in general, CAKE, the place that I was interning at.  I still pop in there a couple of days a week, I cant keep away.  There is a wonderful warm atmosphere there and there is still so much for me to learn!

Cake are the bakery that supplies wedding and party cakes to many of the major hotels and event venues in San Diego, including the Hotel Del Coronado.  Their cakes are instantly recognizable as they are over an inch taller than usual.  Jen doesnt like to short change people over cake, so they make sure there is more than enough!  The most popular flavor is banana truffle, and it is divine!  One thing to note is that they only make cakes for parties over 30 people, so keep that in mind when placing an order.

The cakes are also different in the fact that they never use fondant.  Cakes are baked from scratch and decorated in buttercream.  Modelling chocolate is used for amazing design elements.  I've seen princess castles, boats, tequila bottles, and all sorts of other crazy designs!  This is never at the expense of flavor.  It is so refreshing to meet another baker who feels so strongly that the flavors of the cake is paramount, then the decoration comes second.

The bakery is going to be opening its doors to people and hoping to be more of a neigborhood hangout and coffee bar.  They started on the right footing with the wonderful coffees from Cafe Calabria, and of course the baked goods are delicious!  Some signature items include the gooey brownies, soft cherry chocolate chip cookies and tangy lemon bars.

To announce their new project they will be holding an open house on Sunday December 4th  from 12-4pm.  Stop by to taste the coffee, sample some delights, and see the wonderful space down there.

Another place to catch up with the 'fabulous cake girls' is to pop into their stand at the December nights event in Balboa Park.

If you cant make it to these events, just stop into the shop!  Its always fun to see what they are working on, and to smell the delightful smells coming from the ovens!

Coffee will be served from 6am every morning.

3085 Reynard Way, San Diego 92103
Facebook page

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Pecan pies for mama's kitchen

Mama's kitchen is such a wonderful organization, I was so excited to finally be working in a commercial kitchen so that I could make some pies for their big 'pie in the sky' fundraiser!  Bakers all around San Diego craft delicious pies and donate them, and mama's kitchen sell them for $20 apiece to benefit their charity work.
I started by volunteering at the Just Call Us kitchen so that I could learn about making pecan pies from the pros!  They made 300 pies and I took charge melting butter.  The pie shells were ready made, which made it easier, but it still took all day with lots of experienced volunteers to make them.  Its always fun volunteering with Julie, she has a stellar crew of experienced chefs and you'll always meet someone interesting and pick up some wonderful tips in the kitchen while you are working there.  You generally find yourself thanking them instead of feeling like they should be thanking you after a day with the volunteers.

 Then the next day I started on mine!  I had already made all the pastry, which was a huge workout using Rachel's method!

Despite the fact that I'd tested the recipe and I was confident my pies would be good, I did have some trouble.  Hand made dough plays all kinds of tricks, it seemed a little thick to cut through on my first batch, so the second time, I made it thinner and it shrank into the shell.

So my contribution was considerably more rustic than the one from the other bakeries.  I was very happy to have been a part of this great endeavor and I'm eternally grateful to Darlene for helping me out on a rainy Sunday evening. 

Its funny to work with someone who doesnt normally work in an industrial kitchen, she was tasked with breaking 60 eggs into a bowl and it was a mind bogglingly large batch of filling we ended up making!

Thanks also to vintage sugar cube and gemini desserts for contributing towards the ingredients, this made the burden somewhat easier to bear.

Thanks also to Just call us kitchen and Cake for allowing me to use their kitchens and ovens for production!

I hope you all had a nice thanksgiving.  After all this baking, I was very happy to allow someone else to cook for us! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My first proper halloween!

My halloween evenings since moving to this country have generally been spent hiding away with the lights off, we really didn't understand!

The holiday is a little confusing in the UK, there is a lot more 'tricking' than treating, I distinctly remember my mum cleaning silly string off the porch on November 1st.

This year, I decided I would participate.  I know people are super paranoid about not giving their children 'home baked' treats, which seems terribly sad to me.  I decided to go ahead and bake sugar cookies, and I took advantage of the fact that I rent commercial kitchen space to make them, so they were fully legitimate, and I packaged them up, so hopefully they didnt get thrown straight in the trash.  They were sugar cookies, some sandwiched around chocolate ganache and some simply covered in royal icing.

I then tried to make use of my new vegetable carving skills with some pumpkin carving!  I didnt go totally crazy, but I wanted something fun, so I went traditional with one, and made a cute kitty with the other.

It was really fun answering the door and checking out the cute costumes!  I think my favorite was the little kiddies who were dressed up as a zoo ranger, a chicken and Anne of Green Gables!  The kiddies loved the kitty pumpkin, and they were really excited about the cookies, so I'm glad I didn't go the safe route and buy candy!  They started calling at 6.30 and they were all gone by 7.30!  Next year I need to bake double!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Detour to Freed's

On the return from the trip to Las Vegas, I popped into Freed's Bakery.  Through some lucky connections, I was able to have a tour of the facilities, and it was truly mind boggling to see the size of production here!

Freed's is a Las Vegas institution, making cakes for many of the big hotels and weddings and with a line out of the door for their famous cookies.

It seemed that in years past there was a small bakery owned by the Freid family on every corner, but in recent times, they have decided to consolidate to one large operation.

Any bakery tour starts with a good look at what is on offer, and the case is just a beauty to behold!

We bought some of the yummy cookies to savor on our long drive back home, and they were wonderful, I especially remember the pecan shortbread and the magic bars!

We started by looking at the consultation suite, where up to 6 couples could discuss their wedding cakes at any one time.  Amazing! 

The tour continued to an entirely separate area where cakes are 'built', torted, filling added and a crumb coat of icing added.

It was good to see all the fresh ingredients in the fridge, so many bakeries these days rely on shelf stable fake ingredients these days.

We took a look at where the decorators sit, the bakery has 7 talented artists who finish the cakes off with their amazing designs. 

We also took a look at the giant rotating convection oven, which just boggles the mind!

The giant hobart mixers all in a line were stunning, it took a moment for me to realize that they were more than twice the size of even the largest mixer I've ever used, and they dwarfed the teeny little hobart mixers that I normally use to make the mousse filling at my internship!

For me it was a window into another world.  My dream was that I made cakes for people, which I do now, I dont have aspirations past maybe having my own small kitchen and studio with small fridges that hold beautiful custom cakes that I have created for people, but we'll see what the future holds...

So if you're passing through Henderson on your way back to San Diego, pick up some cookies here to make your journey that much sweeter.

Bakery Hours: Monday - Saturday 8:00am -8:00pm PST
Sunday 9:00am-6:00pm

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Viva Bike Vegas!

Wow!  What an adventure!  Im afraid its not all about food today, unless you like hearing about gatorade, energy bars, bananas, oranges and miller lite, which is most of what I ended up eating yesterday! My courageous bike team completed what was my 10th program with Team in Training, and my 9th century bike ride to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

This was by far the hardest bike program, the 'Viva Bike Vegas' was a really gruelling 103 miles and between 4500 and 5100 ft of climbing, the toughest part being a relentless 30 mile slog up into the Red Rock Canyon preserve.  Whilst it was beautiful, it was painful continually climbing for that distance.

The true highlight of the day was riding down the Las Vegas strip, which was closed to traffic, and having a 5am cheering crew made up of drunks, and various random people who were still up from the night before!

I was so happy to have finished the ride, but I'm also proud of my team-mates, one of which had only ridden a beach cruiser many years ago and was around my mothers age!

I'm pictured here at the finish with my wonderful mentor, Will, who taught me about the 'goldilocks' method of trying to find a rider who is a similar pace to you and then hanging on to dear life on their wheel so they block the wind for you!

The hill climbing around San Diego paid off, and we continued our tradition of even the fastest riders going back out to near the finish line and riding in together, which was especially gracious when they finished several hours before and were dying for a shower and clean clothes!
I normally sneer at Outback Steakhouse, but the post ride meal provided as part of the registration was a true step up from most organized bike ride, a plate of perfectly seared mahi-mahi, delicious rice and cesar salad was most welcome to recharge my batteries, along with a cold beer!
I think this ride might be one I only try once, the fun start on the strip, the beautiful climb through red rocks, the fun bike path in the middle were great, but the relentless burning heat, and the rather boring middle section through uninspiring neighborhoods was quite tough.

Oh and I should mention the skull on our helmets.  Every week, the coaches awarded a team member a purple skull for their bravery the previous week.  They wanted to honor everyone on the team for being a warrior so we all had them!  It drew quite a lot of attention on the course, with a bloke nicknaming me 'skully' for half of the ride!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On 'not working' ....

I thought I should check in and discuss how the last two months have been since I gave up my job.  I think its pretty obvious that I havent had much time for blogging!!  I'm hoping to share a little more of what I've been up to, but first I'll just chat about how life seems to be. 

The first week or two back from my trip I really struggled with the stress, and all the stuff I was juggling, but I managed to figure it out a bit and its getting better.  I realized that booking kitchen times was stressing me out, so I made the decision to book regular time slots every week and just hope I would have cakes to work on.  It turns out 'if you book it they will come'!  I get quite a lot of last minute orders, and I'm definitely not resting on my laurels!

I also dropped a dreadful class that was making me miserable.  That helps too.  I figured out that since I was working for free, my internship could be on my terms, and that has been such a wonderful experience.  Cake is a wonderful bakery, and they make truly spectacular looking and tasting cakes.  I've been in awe of the wonderful creations, and I've learned so much.

I've also been working on my Etsy shop.  I dont get a ton of business, although I wouldnt be able to cope if I did, here are some hamsters for a birthday party that I made! 
I entered the carlsbad art splash cake competition, I didnt have time for an elaborate cake, but I did want to create a colorful and large piece to fill out the table with colorful work.  The americans probably didnt get this little play on words, but the theme is 'rock around the beach' so I created some sticks of rock around a beach scene.  I was hoping to finish a beach theme with a chap on a deck chair with a knotted hanky snoozing under a newspaper, but that fell by the wayside at 10pm when I had to get up at 5am to deliver the 350 cupcakes I had made the previous day!
Something that is a major struggle is the fact that I am 'working' for most of the weekend, so come Monday morning I'm exhausted, and ready for a break, and I do actually deserve one, since most people have been relaxing all weekend and are going back to work, and I've been working. 

I'm not sure if there will be whole days off much, but I do need to take some time for myself otherwise I'll just get burnt out.  That is something I'm still figuring out!

If you work for yourself, do you have any tips about this?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fruit and Veg Carving-first class

I was so happy to finally make it back to classes at Grossmont College. I thought I'd share some of my experiences.

This is from the first carving class.   I figured that this would be useful for general dexterity, and may give me cake decorating ideas too.  It was a lot of fun, although it can be very frustrating, as Chef Joe is very skilled and makes the whole thing look super easy! 
Here he is cutting a chrysanthemum out of a turnip.

We were then taught a simple technique of cutting small flowers out of carrots.  I found this infuriating, hopefully I'll get the hang of it with some practice.  I can tell we'll be eating a lot of carrots this week!
 Chef then showed us a technique with a potato where you carve a straight line, then a diagonal to meet it, resulting in a striped pattern.  This looks to be one of the techniques which will be very important.
 Thankfully I found this technique a little easier than the carrot one, here's my potato!
 Chef then showed off a bit with some more ornate carving of a melon.
 The flowers were all combined together to form a bouquet.
 Here is the chef's handiwork
And our team's work.  I thought it came out very nicely, and it was lucky for me that this was a team project, so my pathetic looking carrots were hidden amongst some much prettier ones!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Aussie Rules?

I'm writing this on my penultimate day of 'employment' as I start to clean up my bench, hand over my notebooks and start to get ready for my new life.

As I previously mentioned, I'm flying off to Australia to do a class in Sydney and then spend some time with my brother, sister-in-law and niece.  So things are pretty crazy!

If anyone has any ideas about stuff I should be doing in Sydney and Melbourne then please give me a shout out!

I'll be back, hopefully a little rested, having learned a topsy turvy cake, and having made a very important 3 year old's birthday cake!

Meanwhile, my thoughts go to the future.  Its pretty terrifying not knowing exactly what I'll be doing in 3 weeks time.  My college schedule is far from settled, so I cant make any definite plans.   This is very unusual and pretty scary for me, but I try to buoy myself with the messages and words of friends and strangers.   Everyone has been so supportive, and believing in me, I have to believe in myself.  Working for myself is going to be really strange, I can already tell I need to cut myself a little slack, but also learn from my mistakes!

I'm also thinking about this blog, and maybe hoping to invest a little more time in discussing opinions, and maybe not just food.  I'll probably move the cake stuff to another blog, where its all rainbows and happiness, and I can be a bit more gritty and honest here.  I had a little banter with the wonderful @beasofbloomsbury on twitter, I admire her so much for being so honest and up front and I'd like to see more of that here.  Check back and see if I actually have the balls to do it!

Oh and isnt this an awesome sign!  I saw it on UCSD campus on a little bike ride recently and had to stop and snap a picture!!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Dollar a dish

I just wanted to share a great program that will be going on for the month of August, many of our favorite restaurants in San Diego will be participating.  All you need to do is eat there, choose the participating dish, and a dollar will be donated to this fantastic program!  I'm salivating as I go down the list, there are some really delicious offerings!

The Food 4 Kids Backpack Program at the San Diego Food Bank provides weekend food to elementary school children who receive free school meals during the week, but are going hungry over the weekends when school meals are unavailable. Some of these children are returning to school on Monday having eaten little or nothing since Friday lunch. The program currently serves 800 children in 22 schools. With the continued support of the community we will serve 1050 children in 26 schools in the 2011-2012 school year.
Here are the restaurants participating!  Click on the link above for a more detailed descriptions of the dishes involved.
Chop Sooey choptruck
Corner Cupcakes
Food Farm
Mangia Mangia
Ms. Patty Melt
Two for the Road
Blueprint Café
Cowboy Star
Croce's Restaurant and Bar
Cucina Urbana
Flavor Del Mar
Flippin Pizza
Kensington Grill
Prep Kitchen
Ritual Tavern
The Red Door
Whisk n'Ladle

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Opera Cafe

I just thought I'd do a little experiment and try that new fangled instagram for my iPhone.  You see I had this lovely lunch, and we brought back some delicious macarons, and I wanted to share my little snaps and my thoughts.
I had a ratatouille crepe with salad, and it was a little on the greasy side, but still delicious.  My companions both chose sandwiches which they had with Parmesan truffle fries, an extremely generous portion which was gobbled down with gusto!

We took some desserts and macarons back to the office but they didn't last long!  A dulce de leche opera slice was consumed before even checking email, and we all tried the macarons, which I thought were very good.   I found them to have a pleasing chew and not to be tooth-achingly sweet.  I managed to save my mini chocolate desserts until 3, but they were quickly eaten too.  Just a wonderful selection.

I'd say get yourself down there asap.  Get there a little early to get a nice seat before the lunch crowd shows up or try a Friday evening.  I cant imagine anything lovelier than a nice glass of pinot and some beautiful dessert to start my weekend off just perfectly!

Opera is in the Sorrento Valley area of San Diego

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Quick Tart

I whipped up this super quick tart in a matter of minutes this week and I thought I'd share it. 

I didnt have time for baking, and I didnt want to heat up my kitchen, so I just made a quick crust out of chocolate graham crackers, then filled with whipped cream and marscapone and topped with fresh figs, pears and honey.

I was feeling slightly guilty about the pears, they looked so yummy but came all the way from South Africa!  I figured that since they were languishing in the cut price section of  Fresh & Easy, they would be better eaten than disposed of!

Late Summer Tart
1/2 Box Graham Crackers (I used chocolate flavor)
2 oz melted butter
2tsp honey
1 oz water

4 oz marscapone
4 oz whipping cream
Powdered sugar to taste
1 tbsp marsala wine

3 pears, cored and sliced
6 figs, sliced

Whizz the graham crackers in a food processor with the melted butter, water and honey.  Press into a tart pan (one with a removable base) and pop in the freezer.

Meanwhile, stir the marsala into the marscapone and whip the cream to soft peaks.  Fold the marscapone into the cream.

Remove the base from the freezer, put the cream into it and arrange the fruit on top.  Drizzle with honey and serve.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cake Decorating Challenge

I recently noticed a fun challenge on the wonderful 'miso bakes' blog and I had to throw my hat into the ring!  I think what will be happening is that she will be announcing a cake decorating challenge each month and people will post their take on it.  This is just the sort of thing I need, it is really easy to get trapped in the same boring cake designs and this helps to develop technique, and also to get used to using tools that arent in my standard repertoire.

This was the challenge for this month:
A 6 or 8-inch cake iced with white (or off white) buttercream decorated with pink piping using the Ateco / Wilton #104 rose tip.
Unfortunately I didnt read the instructions very carefully, so my cake is all white!  I quickly iced a mango chiffon cake that I was planning to serve for a tasting, and then went about making a pretty design on it.  This is swiss meringue buttercream, which is so wonderful for cake decorating as it is silky smooth.   You'll notice that the cake is showing through a little, I would have needed to add another coat of buttercream to hide that. 

The benefit for me is that this comes out looking very cute, and is a very fast technique, so I can offer people a more affordable option than my usual cakes, since time is money!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dining around San Diego and a new cake stand!

I always like to have a picture for my blog posts, so let me introduce my latest cake stand, a square one this time!  My husband knocked it together over a weekend and I think it will be a lovely addition to my collection and a very stylish way to display cupcakes! 

I also tried a few new (to me) restaurants and was a little underwhelmed.  I went to searsucker with some local food bloggers, and the food was ok, but the service wasnt great, they kind of forgot about us, and I found the atmosphere wasnt quite as warm and friendly as some of the more cosy neighbourhood joints I've become accustomed to.

We also tried whisknladle in La Jolla and we had high hopes with some great cocktails, and there was a really nice buzz about the place.  We started with a cheese and meat plate, which was fantastic, and way too big for two.  My husband chose the burger, which was impossible to eat as a burger was intended, even with his table manners he had to resort to a knife and fork.  I tried the scallops, but was a little disappointed at the balance of the dish.  There was a sweet porcini sauce on the top and an extremely salty cabbage underneath, and even trying to get a bit of each component didnt save the dish for me.  I found this to be another place to 'be seen' and everyone was craning their necks to see all the other diners, and it just wasnt a relaxing experience, especially with a huge batchelorette party going on next door in Karl Strauss.  I'd be prepared to give it another try, especially since I've enjoyed lunch at their Del Mar location.

We also recently tried georges again and decided to go all out and experience their dining room and I have to say, it is one of the most memorable dining experiences I've ever had.  The plates were like works of art, and each plate was surprising and just delicious at the same time.  A truly magical experience, with a price tag to match!  We enjoyed a few fun cocktails, then shared the deconstructed fish tacos, a wonderful carrot salad, and some kind of foie gras dish.  I think my main was gnocci and my dining partners enjoyed duck and pork, then the dessert was a peach cobbler and a chocolate cake.  Full marks!

We continue to enjoy Starlite Lounge the best, a nice combination of good food, with an ever changing menu, fun cocktails and interesting banter with the staff, who put up with our terrible jokes and quips!  I never feel like its a competition to see who is best dressed or who is there with who, its just a friendly bar with great food and drinks. 

I'm so sorry, I have a few photos, but I'm just not a food blogger who likes to snap away in restaurants, so you'll have to be satisfied with a picture of a cake stand!! 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dessert Buffet

 My friend had a fundraiser for charity, raising money for Crohn's disease, and I offered to make some desserts for it.

The event was held at the recently refurbished Courtyard Marriot in Mission Valley, San Diego. 

I included a mixture of desserts for all tastes. 

Cherry trifles, a cherry and liqueur soaked vanilla sponge with morello cherries and whipped cream, topped with slivered almonds,

 Mocha mudcakes with a whipped kahlua ganache.

'Smores'- handmade graham crackers, chocolate ganache and a torched meringue.

Lemon meringue tarts.

Peach pies with whipped cream
 These dessert bars are becoming popular and its always fun for me to 'think outside the cakebox' and make some different treats for people.  I hope people order them in the future, I had a lot of fun making them!