Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I've Decided to Write a Cookbook!

It's going to be full of easy recipes for novice home chefs who love sophisticated food.

My goal is to create tasty and kind of fancy looking and/or sounding food with just a handful of ingredients. I want real people in the real world to be able to whip up a recipe without feeling stressed out that they have to collect 24 ingredients, that it will be too complicated or cost prohibitive. I'm going to create really great food for everyday people to make at home.

For me, creating a recipe comes from two sources:

1. Sometimes I think about foods I've eaten and certain flavor combinations pair up in my mind. I can imagine exactly how they will taste and go together so well that when I try creating a new recipe it usually works.

2. Other times I want to not just make a recipe I know, I want to create a new recipe combining elements of one or more existing recipes, personalizing them into something fresh and original.

My inspiration to create a cookbook comes from The Daring Kitchen. Being part of the Daring Bakers has made me realize that even newbies can create awesome dishes. Since joining in January earlier this year I've discovered I seem to have a natural ability to create good flavor combinations and visual presentations.

Add to that my affinity (aka total obsession) with Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. I've learned so many really cool cooking techniques watching his tv show that I've started testing out on recipes I already make and new recipes I'm creating and they're taking the food to a whole new level.

This is my first recipe still in the works. It's a savory, breakfast-for-dinner French toast. While there are other savory French toast recipes out there this one came truly from a place of inspiration because I love, love, love Acme Bread Company's Olive Bread so much and wanted to create a new way to use it. I've made it twice and it's delicious! For those of you who don't have access to Acme's bread, I'll create an alternative suggestion so you can end up with the same results using what's available to you locally.

Here are some photos... You'll have to wait for the book for the recipe :) Whether for brunch or a breakfast for dinner kind of meal it's a winner morning, noon or night:

Acme Olive Bread

French Toast'ed Bread

Oven Roasted Asparagus

A Savory (Surprise) Sabayon Sauce. . . I'll reveal the surprise in the book!

Topped Off with a Fried Egg

I'll keep posting similar prototypes of ideas here on the blog in the coming months just to keep you in the loop of how things are coming along.

Want to know when the book will be available? If you all think it's a great idea and want it sooner than later I'll work harder to finish it sooner. Just click on this link "YAY I'm Going to Publish a Cookbook" to be added to the mailing list I'll use to keep you posted when a pre-sell or release date has been set :D

Right now I'm thinking I'll self publish but if a publisher is interested I'd love to chat with you.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Double Recipe Disaster: Failed Peanut Butter Fudge and Pate de Fruit

While I successfully did make two tempered chocolate candies for the August Daring Bakers' Challenge, they were only half the story. I also had two flops. But I refused to surrender to defeat and took my two failures and turned them into a delicious success!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Ice Cream with Fudge Crumb Topping

That's what you make when your peanut butter fudge fails. I think the recipe I used forgot to mention to remove the pot from the heat source after reaching the proper temperature so I overcooked it.

The fudge literally turned into a fairly soft brick that I had to chip and chisel to release from the pan.

The thing is, while it looked awful it tasted great and I hated to throw it out.

So I used a strainer and separated the crumbs from the chunks.

Like many of the other Daring Bakers my Pate de Fruit was undercooked and didn't set. Pate de Fruit (pronounced pat-de-fwee) is a gumdrop like confection but it's made using pure fruit puree so the flavor of the fruit is natural and it's softer and less chewy than a gumdrop.

I wasn't really surprised. Everything was working against me. First I couldn't find liquid pectin that the recipe shared on the Daring Bakers website called for so I found a different recipe online that used powdered pectin.

But then my kitchen scale broke. Problematic because the only powdered recipe I could find was in grams and my back up scale was in ounces only. This is a problem because you can't convert all gram measurements to ounces because volume measurement and weight measurement can vary by density, blah, blah, blah.

So in short: The odds were against me.

So I emptied out my paper cups of jelly like Pate de Fruit into a bowl and chilled it in the fridge.

Then I made a fresh batch of Ben and Jerry's French vanilla ice cream. It takes about 20 minutes.

When the ice cream was done I dumped it in a casserole and threw in the chunks of peanut butter fudge.

I mixed them in and put in the freezer for a few minutes. I did this because my ice cream was pretty soft and I didn't want the fudge to all settle on the bottom.

After the ice cream had set for about 15 minutes I took it out and dumped the strawberry jelly on top.

I swirled it into the ice cream with a spoon and put back in fridge to set a bit more. Later I scooped it out into a plastic tub when the fudge was suspended in the ice cream.

The end result was pretty good. While the fudge is just a bit grainy the peanut flavor is great and the sweet strawberry jelly reminded me of those little plastic parfait cups you had as a kid that come with the little wooden spoon.

So all in all I turned my two flops into a pretty darn good success. Just goes to show there's always hope and you should never give up on things that look bad but taste good :D

If you liked this post you'll enjoy these Bakers' Challenges too:

• January 2011: Fancy Joconde Imprime Entremet
• February 2011: Panna Cotta and Florentine Cookies
• March 2011: Meringue Coffee Cakes
• April 2011: Maple Mousse in an Edible Container
• May 2011: Chocolate, Tequila and a Blow Torch!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Daring Bakers' Challenge: Tempered Chocolates and Sweet Confections

This month I learned how to temper chocolate. It was part of the Daring Bakers' Challenge, an international, online group of novice bakers. You may have noticed I'd skipped a couple of months. It's allowed and though I'd planned on making each challenge I just couldn't get into June's Baklava challenge because I just don't care for Baklava. July I was really busy and was starting to feel like a deadbeat daring baker. So I was excited when August's challenge was "candylicious!"

Tempering chocolate is intimidating, messy and delicious!

The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at http://www.chocoley.com offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!

For my first candy I made Nanaimo Truffles. I'd just recently made the classic, Canadian, no-bake cookie bars for my hubby's Birthday after finding this recipe on Allrecipes.com. When I sampled one I thought to myself because it was sooooo sweet it was more like candy. Think along the lines of a really rich fudge. It was too sweet for me.

When I read the this month's challenge I thought to myself Nanaimo truffles could be great. The whitish cream center is the sweetest part so using less would make them better. In the cookie it's an even layer over the chocolate base. By making only a small center for the truffle it would cut down on the sweetness by 2/3 or more. Dipping the truffle in bittersweet chocolate would also cut down on the sweetness of the flavor profile.

I knew what I wanted them to look like. . . And it worked! I took them to a BBQ we attended on Sunday that a lot of Canadian's attended. They were a big, nostalgic hit and even the non-Canadians loved them.

The funny thing was as I made them I thought to myself I'm never doing this again. Working with melted chocolate is so messy! After I ate one I realized I have to make them again because there is nowhere to purchase Nanaimo Truffles. LOL. They're just sweet enough with an amazing texture combination: The smoothness of the cream filling, the crunch in the chocolate base and the thin coating of tempered chocolate that snaps as you bite into it.

The Ingredients include custard and cocoa powder, graham crackers, shredded coconut, walnuts and semisweet chocolate.

The sweet cream center was made of milk, custard powder (I used Birds purchased at World Market), room temperature butter and powdered sugar.

Whipped together with an electric hand mixer. I chilled the mixture in the fridge for a few minutes to make it easier to roll.

Once chilled I rolled the small centers, placed them all on a cookie sheet then put them back in the fridge to chill more.

The chocolate base is made of crushed graham crackers, shredded coconut and chopped walnuts. I actually chopped the coconut smaller than you see here. These were the pics I took of when I made the full sized Nanaimo Bar cookies. For the truffles the bites would be smaller so I knew I'd have to chop the ingredients smaller so I minced both the coconut and walnuts.

Mix the dry ingredients together.

In a Bain Marie (double boiler) I mixed together the cocoa powder, sugar, more room temp butter an egg and vanilla.

Stir ingredients together.


Combine with the dry ingredients.

Mix together. The mixture cooled to room temperature fairly quickly. I made small balls of the chocolate base, flattened into a pancake shape, inserted a cream center then sealed the chocolate base around it.

The finished chocolate balls looked like meatballs!

Before dipping them into the tempered chocolate I sampled one. They were good!

Tempering dark chocolate is a messy but not too difficult process. It entails heating the couvecture chocolate which is made with between 32% to 39% cocoa butter (and the total percentage of the combined cocoa butter plus cocoa solids must be at least 54%) to 113º. Cooling it to 80º then rewarming it back up to 89.6º. I heated it in a bain marie making certain not to let any water drops touch the chocolate or it will "sieze" and be ruined.

Once the chocolate is hot enough you turn it out onto a marble slab to cool down.

I used a pastry scraper to smear the chocolate back and forth. When it's cooled to the correct temperature, I had to guess based on consistency because I don't own a laser thermometer, you put it back over the double boiler and rewarm it back to between 88º and 89.6º.

When the chocolate was tempered and still liquid I dropped the truffles in one by one lifting them out with a small fork, there are special chocolate dipping forks but unfortunately I didn't own one, and placed them on a drying rack to allow the excess chocolate to drop off to the tray below.

It was important not to touch the chocolates with my fingers at this point because I wanted the surface to be pristine so I continued to use the small fork and a small spatula to lift them off the drying rack to finish cooling on a non-stick Silpat mat. Once the chocolate set I used the fork and spatula to lift them into small paper cups to keep them from sticking together.


I continued to store them in the fridge as Nanaimo Bars are always served chilled. Because I kept them covered and in the fridge they were the perfect, cool, summertime treat.

Dark Chocolate Dipped Caramel Crispys with Fleur de Sel

Because I'd transformed a classic Candian cookie into a bite sized candy I wanted to do the same for a classic American cookie. My choice was to elevate the humble Rice Krispies Treat into a true confection. I did this by mixing in caramel made from scratch into the melted marshmallows, enrobing each brick with tempered semisweet chocolate and topping each bite with flakes of sea salt. Yum.

I took them to a friend's BBQ a few nights ago and the crowd loved them. Everyone agreed they needed a fancier name than Chocolate Covered Caramel Krispy Treats so I called them "Le Krispy Treats." You know, so they sounded fancy and French. LOL. I guess I'll have to continue to work on a name.

Making the caramel, adding it to the melted marshmallows and adding the Rice Krispies

I found the Salted Caramel Rice Krispie Treats recipe over on the A Cozy Kitchen Blog and while everyone loved them, I think I'll look for an even more caramel recipe the next time I make them. Or maybe double her recipe for caramel and make less marshmallow. The salt in the recipe I couldn't taste at all but adding the flakes on top made the flavor pop!

 My friends Loretta and Maureen had made large cookie sized versions of chocolate covered Rice Krispie Treats last Christmas so that's where I got the idea to coat my tiny bites in chocolate.

I also tried to make Peanut Butter Fudge and Strawberry Pate de Fruit but they were both flops. One overcooked and the other undercooked. They tasted great but their consistencies were off so I whipped up a batch of Ben and Jerry's French Vanilla and made Peanut Butter and Jelly Ice Cream!

My thanks to Lisa and Mandy! This was a really fun challenge and I'm glad I'm back in the spirit of the group. I'm looking forward to making the Nanaimo Truffles again. They were a big success and I'm really glad I gave tempering chocolate a try!

If you want to give candy making a try CLICK HERE for the downloadable PDF (26 pages long) for this challenge

The August Daring Baker's Challenge Results!

And here are just some of the gorgeous confections my fellow bakers made! Visit their blogs to see bigger and better images and to read tips about how they made their scrumptious candies.

Row 1
Testado Provado & Aprovado - Kahlua Bon Bons
Gourmande in Osaka - Mango Jellies with Coconut
I Can Do That - Peanut Butter and Jelly Cups

Row 2
Simple Math Bakery - Peanut Butter Cups
Catalina Bakes - Chocolate Truffles
Mini Cuisine - White Chocolate Ganache Flavoured with Eau-de-fleur-d'oranger and Orange Zest

Row 3
Cookin' For My Captain - Candied Orange & Pistachio Marzipan Bonbons
Taste of Youth - White Chocolate with Rose Water and Rose Water Caramel
I Can Do That - Chocolate Covered Meringue with Salted Honey Caramel

Row 4
Inspired to Bake - Chocolate Bark
Marcellina in Cucina - Dark Chocolate Covered Honeycomb
Mary Mary Culinary - Coronation Grape Pate de Fruit

Row 5
Rachel Dana - Blueberry Caramels (no blog)
Koko Cooks - Gummy Frogs
Audax Artifex - Mixed Chocolates

If you liked this post you'll enjoy these Bakers' Challenges too:

• January 2011: Fancy Joconde Imprime Entremet
• February 2011: Panna Cotta and Florentine Cookies
• March 2011: Meringue Coffee Cakes
• April 2011: Maple Mousse in an Edible Container
• May 2011: Chocolate, Tequila and a Blow Torch!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The End of an Era and a New Beginning for Apple Inc.

Since around 4:00 pm yesterday the resignation of Steve Jobs' has been headline news. Particularly here in Silicon Valley where I live. Of course his resignation is news because his career path has been as public as it is inspiring. That he is staying on as Chairman of the Board and has spent many years developing a trusted and capable team to carry on the company makes me feel assured that there is little to fear in Apple Inc.'s future.

As a Mac fangirl I have to say that while I was sad to hear he's resigning I'm more sad if it means his resignation comes because his health is failing. I truly hope this isn't the case but his words "... I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s C.E.O., I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come. ...” have led most to speculate it is a serious health issue that has precipated his resignation.

If it is a health issue I hope he once again overcomes whatever challenge he is facing quickly and completely so that he can either spend more time with his family and friends enjoying each day doing the things he loves most or one day returning to the helm of Apple Inc. Or heck, why not both?

I took this photo three days ago and by chance went to Wikipedia this morning to see if it would say what religion Mr. Jobs practices. I don't know why but even as I typed his name into Google something told me Wiki would say Buddhism, and it did. It feels fitting to include this peaceful and serene image in this post as I say to Mr. Jobs I hope you enjoy both happiness and good health in your future.

ETA on 8/26/11: IMO this is the best article "Steve Jobs' Apple resignation offers a chance to reflect" I've read about Steve Jobs' resignation. It points out that whatever his accomplishments Steve Jobs is first and foremost a human being. When reading many stories the past few days his accomplishments seem to have (for many) eclipsed his humanity and the comments that equate his resignation to his death make me sad for his family and friends who know and love him. Undoubtedly his contributions to the world of technology have been great, but they are not all that he is.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Work for a Company that Cares: LYFE Kitchen is Hiring in Palo Alto

For approximately the next two weeks (at least through Sept. 2nd, 2011) LYFE Kitchen is conducting walk-in interviews from 9:00 AM through 5:00 PM for the many positions that need to be filled at the soon to be opened LYFE Kitchen restaurant in Palo Alto, CA.

Yesterday I was in Palo Alto and wandered over to see how things are coming along on finishing the restaurant in time for its October opening. Immediately I spotted a sign that said LYFE Kitchen is now hiring. Cool!

From their website:

We are looking for highly motivated energetic people who embrace the LYFE Kitchen LYFEstyle.
  • It's not a career, it's a LYFEstyle…
  • Embracing Diversity, Mutual Respect and the Affirmation of Each Employee's Worth as a Member of the LYFE Team
  • Personal health, fitness and wellness
  • Empowerment to make good decisions
  • Career development opportunities for existing employees
  • Personal development and community outreach opportunities
On the map below "A" is the location of LYFE Kitchen and "B" is the Stanford Florists' shop where the in-person interviews are being held.

To learn more about LYFE Kitchen and its mission please visit the previous blog posts:

LYFE Kitchen: The Evolution of Delicious, Affordable, Healthy Restaurant Food
• LYFE Kitchen's Tal Ronnen Taught Me How to Cook!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Bone Marrow Transplant with a Happy Ending

Wedding bells are ringing but this story begins over twenty years ago when Donna Megino was just nine years and had been diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia.

I had the pleasure of meeting Donna and her family at an AADP Volunteer Appreciation Day Bowling Party two years ago. Her mom told me that at one point her doctors sent her home to die but her mother refused to give up hope. She tended to Donna and slowly she got better.

Donna's last hope was a bone marrow transplant but nobody in her family was a match.

Miraculously a match was found through an anonymous donor in the National Marrow Donor Program Registry. A second miracle was that it only took three months to find her a match. Many patients have to wait up to two years to locate a match. Most never find one. A third miracle was that Sanjay joined the registry at a marrow donor drive held on Donna's behalf. That almost never happens. I've heard of only three instances where this has happened. The fourth miracle was finding a matching donor who was from a completely different ethnic group than Donna. Sanjay is Indian and Donna is Fillipina. Because bone marrow is matched by tissue type and not blood, matches are almost always found within the same ethnic group.

Sanjay and Donna finally met years after her transplant.

Donna's mom told me that Sanjay Yadav was simply walking down a street in San Francisco when he saw a donor drive taking place. He decided to stop and register and shortly after was contacted and told he was a match. He donated and gave Donna a second chance to grow up and live a life longer than nine short years.

Donna now works for the Asian American Donor Program, the same recruitment group that helped her to find Sanjay by hosting donor drives on her behalf around the Bay Area more than 20 years ago.

And today, today Donna is a marrying the love of her life. Here's a video of the two about-to-be-newlyweds talking about Donna's survival and their love.

Congratulations to Donna and Leo! Wishing you both every happiness that life has to offer :D

For more stories about Donna visit these links:

Newark Woman Finds Her Match — Twice

20-Year Leukemia Survivor to Wed; Bay Area Woman Gives Back to Others Facing Similar Plight


As a Certified SMART (Social Media Active Response Team) Volunteer for Be The Match I'd like to encourage anyone who hasn't joined the National Marrow Donor Registry to do so.

If you're already a registered donor I can only say thank you and ask you to please encourage your family and friends to join as well. Also if you've moved since joining please make sure your contact info is up to date at this LINK.

If you aren't a registered donor please consider becoming one. Registering is pain free and takes just a few minutes whether at a live donor drive or if you order a test kit through the mail. Donating is most often done through a process called PBSC similar to donating plasma. For a few days you are given a medicine that overproduces stem cells so they are released into your blood stream. A week later the cells are collected by taking the blood from one arm and putting it back in your other arm minus the stem cells. It looks like this:

Peripheral  Blood Stem Cell Donation also known as PBSC

If you have any questions about donating please let me know. If I don't know the answer I will find it out for you through my contact at Be The Match (aka The National Marrow Donor Program.)