Thursday, September 20, 2012

Putting it out there in the universe...

I am so lucky to have such a wonderful kitchen to work in with Just Call Us. I love the spaciousness, equipment, the ergonomics and the fact that there is a calendar where I know who will be there and when, and whenever there is a scheduling conflict I generally know way ahead of time. Julie and Phil manage the place wonderfully, nothing gets past them, so the kitchen is always taken care of, and any problems are addressed promptly. I also love meeting all the other people who work there and hearing about their products and learning from them.  Many of the amazing opportunities that have come my way are because of Julie and the people in the kitchen.

As always, there are downsides.

The place can get extremely warm, which can be troublesome for my cakes. The shared fridge is a worry too, I always have to wrap my cakes up to avoid smells, and the dampness of a walk in fridge plays havoc with fondant.

So I'm just imagining what my perfect kitchen would be like for fun!

-I would ideally be working there from 8-4 Tuesday-Saturday
-It would be in a convenient location to my house, and for deliveries and collection
-The rent would be affordable (!!)

The kitchen would be equipped with:
-large and medium sized Hobart mixers (50 and 30 qt?)
-speed racks filled with sheet pans
-convection oven
-large area for washing dishes and rack for drying
-stove with a couple of burners
-plenty of storage space for pans and dry goods, cake decorating equipment
-lots of cold storage space for frostings and fillings
-reach in dry fridge for finished cakes
-plenty of bench space, a wooden butchers block would be wonderful for doughs.
-freezer space -reach in dry fridge space for finished cakes
-an air conditioned area for decorating on hot summer days
-nice seating area for consults

Of course this is my dream for the future, my current arrangement is wonderful, I am still in school so I cant plan for anything until after December!  Once that comes along, maybe I should start looking for a partner to share a small space?  Or I'll see how the new space at the Public Market is coming along...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Crack crackers

We're embarking on week 2 of my bread class, and Chef James says we are sure to put on about 8lb.  I can well believe it!  So far we have baked zucchini bread, pumpkin muffins, cranberry scones with a honey orange glaze, beignets, white country bread, and these delicious crackers!

They were much easier to make than I thought, so I'm happy to make these any time I need to provide a little snack.

Cheddar Crackers  james foran
10oz AP flour
1tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp dry mustard powder
6oz butter, chilled and cubed
6oz grated cheddar
6 tablespoons cold water

Oven temp 325f convection.

Mix the salt, pepper and mustard into the flour, rub in the butter and then add the cheddar.  Mix the iced water in then form a patty and chill for at least 30 minutes.  Roll out as thin as you can, then cut, either with a cutter or a pizza wheel.  Spray with water, then sprinkle with spices and salt.  I used paprika.  Bake for 12-15 minutes until slightly browned.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A visit to Suzie's Farm

One of the things on my list when I gave up my job was that I wanted to become more connected with my food, and I wanted to tour some farms.  I finally had a chance to do this, thanks to the wonderful San Diego Foodbloggers network.  It was a wonderful morning out at the border in Chula Vista at Suzie's Farm.

Here is the entrance to their planned corn maze, which is also going to have a wedding in the center, how romantic!

The farm was filled with a bounty of incredible produce and beautiful flowers.  Suzies farm offers farm tours for anyone who would like to come, its just $10 and you get to bring a bag and fill it up!  I think they would start to get suspicious if you were to come every week, I think part of their goal as a farm is to educate the public on sustainable farming and the danger of heirloom breeds dying out.

We were all particularly captivated by this heirloom variety of tomatoes, which were actually black!  I was a bit put off by the similarity to deadly nightshade, which is actually a relative of the tomato.  

The tomatoes are ripe when they get a red bottom, I picked a few out of curiosity, and they were delicious tomatoes, tangy and sweet at the same time, I'd love to get these again!
I was also surprised to see an okra plant for the first time, what a pretty flower they have, along with a lovely red stalk. We werent allowed near these, Wholefoods have first dibs on them!

My friend Kristen came along, here she is picking some peppers.  I'm ashamed to admit I cant remember which pepper is which!  I know some were spicy and some werent, and some were 'roulette' peppers as they were sweet peppers which had been planted next to spicy peppers so some had been pollinated by the spicy peppers and some by sweet, you just didnt know what you were going to get!!

We all fell in love with the chickens, who were running around a penned area and generally causing chaos.  There were so many breeds.  Look at all the different colors of eggs they produce!  I love the thought of getting my own hens, but I don't think thats on the agenda for the moment, my poor husband would probably wind up having to help take care of them.
Here is one of the workers loading up some peppers, I guess they must work 7 days there, its a hard life running a farm...
Here is a quick salad I threw together when I got home, mozzarella, persian cucumbers and some of the wonderful tomatoes.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Food bloggers bake sale!

The food bloggers bake sale is coming up again!  Lots of amazing baked goods will be on sale at Great News Cooking School on Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach.

I'm so excited to be involved again!  I'm bringing lots of cupcakes, of various flavors that I'm baking during that weekend.  I'm also bringing macarons, my new favorite little treat, they are fickle but fun!

I'm also offering a raffle prize of either a cake, or a dessert buffet to serve up to 50 people.  I hope you'll enter the raffle!!  Here's a little dessert buffet I did recently

Looking forward to seeing people down there, I hope I manage to make it down there for at least a few minutes.

Here is the website to learn more...

I gather you are able to pre-order treats too, please either email me(jennywennycakes at gmail dot com), or visit the website to find out more!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cake competitions, the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful!

I thought I'd share some thoughts on cake competitions.  As I mentioned, I had an impromptu trip back to the uk, so time got crunched severely.  I had high hopes for my competition cake.

I decided to 'go big or go home' and enter the grand wedding cake competition.  It required 4 tiers, they must be different shapes and heights.  The cake was to be based upon a song.  I decided on 'an english country garden' and set about making some flowers.

I knew grandma needed to be acknowledged, so the second tier was violets (her real name) with one white violet on the back for her.  I also made daffodils, roses, lily of the valley, ivy, gentian.  I wanted to do so much more, but didn't have time, with just one day to do what I could to enter a cake.  I thought as it was a wedding cake, it would be fun to have a gnome bride and groom, since they were mentioned in the song.

I knew straight away I wouldn't win anything, this is nowhere near the standard of the other entries, but I thought it important that I enter something, as the cake club would have empty spaces where cakes were supposed to be.

I was very disappointed to be 'called out' later by a member of the cake club for submitting a cake that wasn't quite up to scratch.  I know its catty, but this is my space, and I wanted to share how traumatizing the cake world can be.  I'm very lucky that this has been one of my only nasty experiences.  It really knocked the stuffing out of me, I was so embarrassed to be entering a sub-standard cake to the competition, and for being called out.  It was particularly difficult since none of the people had mentioned anything when I brought the cake, which would have been the appropriate time.  I'm just getting my mojo back, but I felt this should be a cautionary tale for anyone who gets into this kind of thing.  Competitions can be hard core and a world that should be full of sweetness and sugar can often be very sour at times.

Also, its very easy to take constant complements from well meaning family and friends and start to think that you are some kind of amazing genius.  I think its good to be reminded of ones place, I make little cakes, I try my best to make sure they are made with the best ingredients and taste wonderful, I love to make them pretty, but I'm not a prizewinning 'cake artist'.

Onto happier things, there were lots of other wonderful entries in the competition, I'm embarrassed that I forgot to get a photo, but congratulations to my dear friend, Jaqueline Butler for her wonderful spring entry, and her first prize rosette!

 Here's a lovely example of string work from my super talented friend, Chanisa.

A stunning succulent (I'd love to get a lesson!) and amazing piece of artwork from the lovely Sugarlump Cakery.

Another lovely piece of art from Hey there cupcake.  I love her unusual technique of using rice paper as a decoration, to produce etherial flowers and a beautiful canvas for patterns.

Here are a few other cakes that caught my eye, there were lots of stunning pieces, but here are a few highlights.  Some of the lighting was bad, so it was difficult to get great pictures of everything, and I missed out some wonderful artwork, but it was amazing to see what is possible with sugar!  And it was great to raise so much money for the Ronald Macdonald house, where families with children in hospital can stay so that they can be close by.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Goodbye Grandma

Grandma's Cake
I recently had a very sad journey back home to say goodbye to my dear grandma, Joyce Doughty.  Here she is blowing out the candles on her 90th birthday cake, watched carefully by her first great grandchild.

She was a true inspiration to me, a woman who brought sunshine into everyones lives that she touched, right up until her last days in the hospital.

The journey to celebrate her life became a joyful one, we were able to remember the vibrant and busy woman who fitted an unbelievable amount of stuff into her days.  From her younger days attending university when that wasn't quite the done thing, being evacuated out to Wales.  She then started a job with the London School of Hygeine and Tropical Medicine, who assigned her to the Gambia where she met my grandfather.

It was wonderful to hear stories of her work as a nutritionist, her books, her students and how many people she taught and kept in correspondence with over the years.

It was also great to remember the political woman, the person who delivered leaflets for the labor party, who was a member of the communist party at some point and had to tell a little white lie every time she came over to see me!

We had several wonderful holidays here in the west, along the california coast, and I promised I'd take her to the grand canyon.  We did it in style in a helicopter, she was the only one brave enough to take the front seat, me, my mum and my aunt were way too scared!!

She also was very creative, but wouldn't admit it, she did wonderful wood carvings, I have a green man smiling down on me from the back door that she carved as a wedding gift for me, and we all have birthday cards that she painted.

At the funeral I was able to make a small tribute based on the input of friends and family, and it was wonderful to read all the wonderful things that people said, about how welcoming her home was, about how caring she was, about her cooking, how hard it was to keep up with her on walks, and her travel.

Since this is a food blog, maybe I should focus on the food, which was a great part of grandmas life, she always worried about my nutrition as a vegetarian, one memorable meal she made for me was a peanut butter lasagna which my husband was also able to enjoy!  All the grandchildren remember her wonderful breakfasts, especially the eggy bread.  She made a yummy rice pudding, and wonderful shortbread caramel bars.  I found her old recipe cards, so I hope to replicate those soon.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Jennywennycakes open house!

I just wanted to let everyone know that I'm having a little open house next Saturday to showcase some of the things I bake for my customers.  I'm getting lots of enquiries from recently engaged couples, so I thought this would be the ideal opportunity to show people what I do.

If you're free then I'd love to see you!  Stop by anytime between around 12-2pm to sample cakes, cookies and cupcakes with a cup of tea or coffee!

I'm also looking for people to share my kitchen space.  Just call us is a great place to start a small catering business, there is everything you might need in a commercial kitchen.  I'm specifically interested in people to share on Saturdays, and maybe Friday afternoons.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

More Sugar Flowers with PME

I recently managed to take a quick trip back home.  December is a great time to visit as everyone is so excited about Christmas!! 

My primary reason for this trip was to learn more about sugar flowers at PME cake decorating school in Enfield, near London.  It was a very affordable 4 day intensive course, which was only 250 pounds, which included lunch and as much coffee and tea as we could drink.  I didnt realize at the time, but it was part 3 of a 'master sugar artist' course.  I may return for the other parts in the future.

 We covered so many flowers! 

Starting with some unwired flowers we made gerbera with ivy, a rose, and a Christmas rose and poinsettia. They were all on plaques, which could be prepared ahead and then would finish any cake very nicely.

We then started on some more difficult wired flowers.  We made 'filler flowers' and buds, then fuschias.

Carnations were next.  Apparently the instructor doesnt like carnations, but I really loved them.  I'd love to design a cake with some enormous carnation type fantasy flowers dotting the front of it!

We then made some lily of the valley.  This was the instructors work, I thought they were so delicate and pretty, and actually not that hard to do, I hope to be making more of these in the future.  So cute!

This picture also shows some calla lilies.  They were nice and simple to do too.

We also made rose leaves and ivy.  I was disappointed that this was one of the last things we got started on, leaves are very important in the design of bouquets, so it was very frustrating that there wasn't much time for these because everyone got so caught up with their other projects.  If we'd been taught these early, we could have been working on these in any downtime we had.

This is the display that the instructor made,with a very pretty lily, which was one of the other flowers we worked on.

The other flower we made was, of course, a rose.  This is one of the most used flowers in cake design so it was good to have another try at it.  I didn't quite get mine perfect, but hopefully with a bit more work I can get the hang of them!

 This is one of my sprays of flowers, you can see I'd have been better off had I had some extra ivy to fill it out, and my coloring of my lily left a little to be desired, but its a good start!

My other spray had the prettier flowers, but 'lacked focus'.  You can see that my next project will need to be a flower arranging class!  It was amazing to see the sheer volume of flowers we managed to produce in 4 days!!
Previous classes I've taken leave you with two flowers over two days, so this was definitely more intense and productive!  PME designed this class to help people produce sugar flowers that were actually commercially viable, so they may not always be perfectly correct looking, but good enough for most people. 

The other downside with the PME classes is that the only equipment and supplies used are ones that PME sell, so they were either JEM, Wilton or PME.  Even if there was a better product, we werent able to use it.  This was particularly frustrating when making leaves as I'm used to using a grooved board to roll them out on, which leaves a groove for the wire to be put into.

I've taken a few pictures of other examples from the other students and instructors.  It was interesting to see the different color schemes. 

Every student on the class went away with something beautiful, so it was a testament to a great instructor that such a complex skill was so well taught. 

Having been to many classes with Jacqueline Butler at Petalsweet Cakes, and also a class with Tami Utley, I'd say this was much more intense, and the students were not there to have fun, they were there to learn.  Everyone seemed to be feeling the pressure, even though maybe half of us werent professionals.  I had to wonder about why they were taking time off work to do something that seemed to be stressing them out so much!

Overall this was a great experience.  I got experience of making a ton of different flowers.  I feel a lot more confident about trying new sugar flowers, and I already was asked to make some orchids for a cake that they were making at CAKE, so they already came in handy!  Here are the bright vibrant flowers they asked for!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011, What a whirlwind of a year!!

I'm looking at this vest right now, and I cant believe that I kicked off the year with a half marathon!  I hate running!  It was a fun experience, but one foot in front of the other, and I did it.  Maybe not the fastest (I finished with the speed walkers!!) but I did it!  I dont plan on running further than a couple of miles in the future, but you never know!!

February was my grandma's 90th birthday, I was very honored to be able to travel home and create a huge birthday cake for her.  I'm so glad she had such a wonderful day, her memory is a little fuzzy sometimes but she was crystal clear and happy that day.  Everyone loved the tiramisu flavored chocolate cake too!!

Another treat was a week spent with my brother, mum and niece.  We don't get a lot of time together living so far apart, it was very special.

In March, I attended another great class at Roz's Sweet Art Studio with Petalsweet Cakes.  I entered a relaxing zen atmosphere for 2 days, and created an anemone and a fuchsia.  It was very relaxing, as well as wonderful to learn a new beautiful flower!

April, I did a crazy thing and went to the UK for a long weekend to celebrate my friend's wedding.  It basically felt like a ridiculous dream, I stayed in a lovely cottage with all my friends around me, and we celebrated with incredible food and drinks, and just amazing warm weather!  I was so glad I got to be there, it was totally worth the jetlag!

We realized we'd not been away as a couple for over a year, so I planned a weekend in Vegas in May for us to relax and enjoy ourselves!  We stayed in luxury at the Wynn, and it was really fun to escape from normal life for a weekend!

June I was making more and more cakes, this being one of the bigger weddings, catering for 150 people at Tom Ham's Lighthouse.  The event went smoothly and I started to get into my stride.  I finally started to feel a little more confident planning weddings and larger events.


 July was when I started in the 'Just Call Us' kitchen.  This has been a great experience for me.  It has been stressful paying for time in advance, trying to work out when I'll need the kitchen and also panicking sometimes to get done in time if someone needs the kitchen after me.  But on the whole the experience has been very positive, I've made lots of friends in the kitchen, learned a lot, and its a great kitchen to work in, I seem to get my work done really quickly in there, which helps me to save money!  I'm hoping that a few more people decide to use the kitchen, as I prefer to share time, so I hope there are a few more folks with new food ventures in 2012!

August was a very special month, spending time with my lovely niece and celebrating her 3rd birthday.  I managed to fit in a trip to Sydney to meet Handi and learn a new technique.  I wanted a great cake for my niece too.  I actually carried this on the plane as hand luggage and I dont recommend this to anyone.  It was a nightmare and I thought my arms would fall off!!

Of course the really huge event in my life was that I gave up my job on August 9th.  It was terrifying, but I had a lot of support and I'd made lots of plans, and saved up some money, so I hoped it would work out.  So far so good!  I haven't really looked back!  I still miss some of my colleagues, but I don't miss the work.

September I got my teeth into fruit and vegetable carving.  I found myself really enjoying this class, I'd highly recommend it.

October is always a special month, its our wedding anniversary, and my husband announced he'd been invited to speak up in Berkeley, so I decided to make the most of it and go there with him.  We had a wonderful few days, the highlight of which was a last minute trip to Chez Panisse for lunch on our anniversary.  It was a very special meal.

Of course I cant forget October without mentioning this doozy of a cake!  My wonderful customer wanted a 'wow' cake for his halloween party, I knew I needed to step up and practice a new technique I'd learned in Australia and make him a 'mad hatter'  I was so happy with how it turned out, although it was extremely nervewracking!!

November came with lots of volunteering opportunities!  I was happy to be a part of the Mamas Kitchen Pie in the Sky event, where I made 25 pecan pies to sell.  I also helped out the Just Call Us volunteers make another 300.  I was ready to say goodbye to pastry for a little while after that!!

I managed to fit a trip to London in December to visit the PME headquarters and do a crash course in sugar flowers.  I also earned a posh looking diploma!  I dont know about my flower arranging skills, but I'm certainly very happy with all the new flowers I tried making, and the old ones that I practiced!  I'll try to blog about this a little more soon!

The year ended on a beautiful note with another wedding.  I got to showcase the lovely peonies that Jaqueline taught me, I just loved the vibrant colorscheme, and I was very happy to see some of my friends sharing the kitchen as I built the cake were unable to stop themselves from picking at the offcuts!

Its been a wonderful year, I'm very excited for 2012 and whatever that might bring!  Don't ask me whether I'm 'living the dream' when I'm in the middle of a pile of washing up, or someone has just complained on the phone that my prices are too high, but I do have to pinch myself sometimes when I'm whipping up a delicious cake, or making a beautiful cake decoration!