I decided to try my hands at petit fours. You know, those little teeny tiny cute cakes that are just bite size. These are definitely a work in process, but I just wanted to get the concept of all the parts then try more advanced another day. For the first try, I have to say…not bad… They were definitely much more work than one would think. Lots of little steps. Making the cakes, baking them, cooling them, cutting them, assembling them, wrapping them, scoring and torching. But well worth it in the end. They were delicious. Looking forward to trying more of these in the future. They are such a great snack to bring to a party or event.
Éclair is the french word for lightening. It’s believed to have gotten that name because it glistens from the chocolate topping. Éclairs and cream puffs are made from a dough called éclair paste. Or the French name pate a choux. If I had known how easy these were to make, I definitely would have been eating these much more frequently. The challenge of these is getting the dryness perfect on the baked product for that hollow center.
The dough is a simple mix of water, butter, flour and eggs, blended in the mixer until desired consistency.
Once the dough is ready, fill a pasty bag and pipe out the dough on lined baking sheets. Bake at 400 degrees for the initial baking, then 350 degrees until it is well browned and very crisp. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Once cooled, fill the éclair shells with pastry cream, by making a small hole in each end and fill with a pastry bag until it fills plump. Dip the tops of the éclairs into chocolate ganache for that golden chocolate topping. Unfilled éclairs, if thoroughly dry, may be held in plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to one week. Re-crisp in the oven for a few minutes before use.
With all the excitement of the Oscars in the air, I thought I might try to jazz up my cocktail for the festivities. Nothing like taking an ordinary drink, and dressing it up for the occasion. A favorite drink of mine is the white chocolate martini. We all know what that is, but I was wondering how could I make it edible instead of drinkable. I can remember being at a party and having seen a jazzed up version of a jello shot. So heck, why not give this a try. The white chocolate martini was so easy to prepare this way. Amazing what a pack of Knox gelatin does. Now what could make this even more decadent? I decided to make a crumb to go with this. Chocolate, coffee, almond crumbs. It was starting to come along. But it needed a little moisture to complete the package. So why not try some bing cherry sauce?Oh my gosh, it hit the spot! Is it a dessert masterpiece? By no means. But it sure was fun and made for a great dessert to share during the Oscars.
Do you ever have those days when you just feel like baking? I think I was feeling sugar deprived and there were so many ideas swimming in my head I couldn’t even decide what to make. Saturday was a busy day of creating chocolate truffles, chocolate bouchons, chocolate heart cookies and chocolate mousse. By the end of the day, I thought I could do no more. Then Sunday rolled around and I was remembering how yummy the ganache base was for the truffles. And hey while I was thinking about it, a little red velvet cake was sounding delicious. So what the heck, I’ll make a red velvet cake with ganache topping and some cream cheese ice cream. So much for a lazy Sunday.
Total chocolate overload, right?
Since I had so much chocolate the day before, I figured I’d just work with a little bit of it. You know like a 3″ round piece of the cake and freeze the rest for another days idea. So I cut one for the presentation, and one for me to eat while cooking the other ingredients.
Next came the ganache. There is just something so wonderful about dark chocolate and heavy whipping cream.
That silky sweet smoothness.
At this point I poured the chocolate and plated as quick as I could before it started to set.
I snapped a few photographs, and then proudly walked it over to my neighbors and begged her to take it, declaring my surrender to chocolate for the weekend.
I’ve noticed over the last decade that desserts are becoming more and more of a work of art. The tastes are complex, and the presentation is nothing short of a culinary masterpiece. I recently ate at SWAY in Austin. Their Pastry Chef, Laura Sawicki, has made quite a name for herself. Food and Wine Magazine has named her as one of their top five pastry chefs for 2012. So when you have something this good in your backyard, why not check it out. Which is what I did. And she did not disappoint.
The name of my new favorite dessert is quite long and could take up an entire dessert menu with the description. But the benefit of that is I was able to fully understand what I should be getting. I selected the miso, white chocolate semifreddo. Served with sesame, crispy rice, coconut sticky rice, and a mango-calamansi sorbet. A lot of stuff going on with this complex dessert!
The flavor of this dessert just stood out. The salted caramel essence of the miso that blended perfectly with the sweet of the white chocolate in the semifreddo. The sesame had the flavor of peanuts. The sweet coconut sticky rice provided a beautiful backdrop for the perfect mixture of sweet and sour from the mango-calamansi sorbet.
She nailed it with the texture. The soft creaminess of the semifreddo with the silky smoothness of the sesame and the crunch from the crispy rice left your palate begging for more. Tender and crisp almost simultaneously!
The blend of room temperature items with cold elements made for a nice contrast.
Then to top it all off, I think Chef Sawicki was an artist before this career. This dessert was presented, and at first glance looked like a painter’s palette. An absolutely gorgeous presentation. They thought about line, shape, shading, negative space, and where the eye was led. This dessert was such a successful blend of each element. It was able to engage my attention, palate and senses. I’m defintely looking forward to my next trip to SWAY and trying another dessert masterpiece!
The creation of the brigade system is credited to Georges Auguste Escoffier. After serving in the French army, he brought his military hierarchy experience to a hotel kitchen in the 1800s. The goal of the system was to streamline the kitchen duties and facilitate in the prevention of chaos.
During the 1800s, grand sized hotels started to become popular. And with grand sized hotels, they needed grand sized kitchens to feed all the patrons. With such large kitchens a system of hierarchies had to be established to aid in the daily production of food. Every station in the restaurant was identified and cooks were put in each place.
Over the years, kitchens and budgets have gotten smaller, and labor prices are much more expensive. Modifications of the system have been made for modern times. The structure is capable of being adapted to whatever size staff available and is still used to this day.
When the brigade system was first developed the organization chart looked similar to this chart I found from Alan F Harrison, Gastronomy – Volume 2 – Chefs in 1967:
To make a comparison of this with today’s restaurants, I went to a local Austin restaurant. They had an open, theater style kitchen and I ate my meal at the chef’s counter seating, where I had a front row view to observe all the kitchen happenings. In today’s kitchens, it is quite difficult to determine who does what. We have definitely mastered the fine art of multiple jobs from one person. From what I could see, I knew they had an Executive Chef, a Chef de Cuisine, and a Chef Patissier. I could also guess they had a Sous Chef, Chef Garde Manger (pantry chef, in charge of cold salads, appetizers, etc), A Chef Poissonier (Fish Chef), A Chef Grillardin (Grilled foods) and possibly a Chef Friturier (Fried items). It also appeared they had a few Commis (apprentices) and kitchen assistants.
Even in an open kitchen where you can see what everyone is doing, it’s hard to tell exactly what is their specific job. If you just saw the photographs from the restaurant could you identify what each person does in their brigade?
The Onion…such an amazing vegetable. The layers of color, multiple flavors and beautiful texture are a great addition to any dish. Onions are very low in calories, a great source of chromium and quercetin. Raw onions are readily available all year long. Depending on variety they can be sharp, spicy, tangy, mild or sweet.
Onions can be prepared a number of ways for recipes, but the most common methods are: saute, caramelize, grill and roast.
Just for fun some random onion facts from the Swampy Acres Farm:
1. Eating fresh parsley can get rid of onion breath.
2. Americans eat 18.8 pounds of fresh onions per year.
3. Yellow onions make up more than 75% of the worlds onion production.
4. Onion ranks sixth in worlds leading vegetable crops in terms of overall production.
The most popular onions at a grocery store are the red, yellow and white varieties. The yellow onions are full flavored and a great standby for pretty much any recipe. French onion soup is one of my favorite uses for this onion. The white onion is often used in prepared salads and sauces, and a standby in traditional Mexican food. The red onion, one of my favorites, are great for grilling.
French onion soup is probably one of my all time favorite onion recipes. The food network has so many wonderful recipes for a little bit of variety on the soup. But this one is definitely one of my favorites! It’s hard to go wrong with butter, onions, cheese and a loaf of bread on the side for dipping of that soup base.
Onions – one of my most favorite edible art pieces.
Here are a few “show-off” tips:
No matter what type of venue, it is just as important to show off the views and exterior as it is the interiors and products.
Use photographs at various times of day, both indoors and out in natural AND created lighting.
And HIGHLIGHT the benefits. If your “claim to fame” is your ocean view, focus on that.
Or maybe it’s the serene fog that lays over the vineyard in the early morning viewable from your heated patio where you serve the most delicious coffee and a sampling of the grapes. You get the picture? Capture it!
For a project that encompasses every aspect of a venue from the expansive views to the petite hors d’oeuvres, from bright sunlight to sultry candlelight, a smartphone, iPhone or off-the-shelf digital camera just won’t cut it. The equipment should be professional quality if you want to portray a professional image. Plus, the composition of the image needs to be perfect and to be perfect, the one pushing the button needs to be a perfectionist… and a professional.
One of the best ways to grab attention is for a photograph to actually show “movement”.
Wine pouring into a glass… steam rising from a hot spring (or hot tub)… wisps of sand blowing off the dunes… flames on the grill cooking your chefs masterpiece… With photos of these types of “special effects” the viewer is drawn in by the “action” which increases their desire for the “real life” experience.
It seems I have been on the road for the last three weeks straight. This last week had me in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A place I have been to many times but never seem to have free time to explore. This trip I had two full days to play. What to do? Where to go? So instead of running all over trying to see everything Santa Fe had to offer, I decided to take a cooking class.
There were about 16 pupils in this class ran by Santa Fe School of Cooking. It was a three hour culinary journey to make the following:
Southern Mexico Style Chicken Tamales in Banana Leaves
Red Chile and Pork Tamales
Blue Corn Tamales with Calabacitas Filling
Tamales de Anis
Aggressive task for three hours, right? So upon arrival, some of the basics had been prepared already for us. Chicken and pork were already cooked and shredded, which really did help with the time crunch. So we broke up into four groups and each was assigned a tamale recipe.
While creating these tamales I couldn’t help but notice all the love of food in that room. What I observed, would lead me to say that food, at it’s essence, is love, life and the heart of a community. Food brought us together that day. Sure, some of us knew others in the room, but one could clearly see that we all enjoyed the tastes and the textures of the food while sharing the flavors with new friends. I think this is one of the reasons I love to do these Food Friday posts. To me, food means love. It doesn’t matter if I’m growing it, cooking it, eating it, sharing it, or photographing it. Without it, we wouldn’t exist.
My groups tamales were the Southern Mexico Style Chicken Tamales in the Banana Leaves. Anyone that has ever made tamales knows that there is a lot of work that goes into this food. There is the sauce, and the masa, and the filling. And lets not forget about the rolling of those tamales into a perfect little package of food for your loved ones.
The masa is on the left image above as it was cooking in the pot. The image above on the right is the ingredients for the sauce being put into the blender. The images below are the filling for the blue corn tamales with calabacitas (squash)
So by the end of the three hours, we had made new friends, and were enjoying the foods of our labor while celebrating the indigenous ingredients of the region like corn, chiles, and squash. I’m so glad I spent the time taking the class. Through this shared experience, I will always have the memory of making tamales, meeting new friends, and a stronger connection to others through our shared love of food.
They say you eat with your eyes first. And for me, there probably isn’t a more factual statement. So we decided to pull out an old favorite that pretty much anyone can relate to. The Chocolate Chip Cookie.
Cookies, cookies and more cookies. No matter how they look I still love them. So we just went with this idea and had fun with the cookies. All the while thinking what is the most important part of the cookie. For me, it’s all about the chips and just an abundance of cookies.
Stacking food creates the dimension of height. In the case of these cookies it was quite simple. One cookie right on top of the bottom one until you have the desired height. We photographed these cookies at a few different angles to provide a different look and feel. Although we experimented with a few different angles, the focus was always on the cookie.
We did a lot with eye level photography for these cookies. At eye level they tended to look approachable and inviting. Chocolate chip cookies are something that almost anyone can relate to and have tried at least one time in their life with usually a pleasant memory attached.
With the above image the focus is on the main stack of cookies. The milk is far behind and out of focus and really a secondary part of the image. Using depth of field, we guided your eyes to go straight to the cookies.
With the next two images we wanted to focus on the chocolate chips in the cookies. You can see with the image on the left that there was some uneven chocolate chips in the mix during the baking. The hero cookie that is up front has almost no chips in the left image. The image on the right has a different cookie as the main image with lots more chips. People love the chips in those cookies. So may as well give it to them to evoke the desire for them to want the cookies.
And this last image, it is just all about the cookie. We have a broken cookie leaning against the plate of a stack of more cookies. The cookie is broken in half, looking inviting and appetizing. Makes me almost want to go to the fridge and grab a glass of milk to go with that plate of yumminess.