It’s that time of year once again; the pumpkins are popping up in every grocer and on neighbors' porches. Giant ones, orange ones, white ones, warty ones, multi-colored ones and, of course, the very versatile pie pumpkin ones. The pie pumpkin can be cleaned, roasted and pureed, then made into delicious pumpkin desserts. Alas, I don’t have the time to roast my own beautiful pumpkin puree, so I use the next best thing -- canned.
Imagine yourself driving down a curving mountain highway. The scenery is breathtaking, and the road treacherous. As you approach the base of the mountainous highway you look to your right and spy acres and acres of citrus groves. If you are lucky, it is early spring and the trees are blossoming. There is no more heavenly smell than citrus blossoms. You roll down your window, and breathe in the sweet and citrusy aroma of the blossoms. A farm stand approaches in the horizon, which prompts you to stop and procure a bag full of farm grown lemons and oranges.
I had the honor of co-hosting the rehearsal dinner for my brother and his beautiful wife-to-be this past weekend. While I enjoy the savory part of dinner, ultimately my passion lies with pastry. So, of course, I had to include a few desserts in the dinner. My brother and his fiancée love chocolate, particularly chocolate and peanut butter. I created a chocolate peanut butter cup cupcake in their honor; rich, delicious and not too sweet when you use bittersweet chocolate cocoa.
The leaves begin to fall, the weather starts to turn, and there is a crispness in the air. Fall has begun to show its colors, and my mind turns to baking. This time of year I bake with rich savory spices; spices that fill the house with their aroma. Cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves are a few that come to mind.
When I was little my grandmother always had a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies sitting on her kitchen counter. They weren’t the large cookies you see now days in bakeries. They were relatively small, perfectly round, two bite cookies. The cookies always had a soft interior, and were slightly crisp on the edges.
My grandmother would sit us down at the kitchen table, pour us a cold glass of milk (put into commemorative Snoopy glasses from a popular fast food chain), and hand us a plate of her delicious cookies. When my grandparents sold their home I remember thinking, “All I really want to have is the Snoopy glasses and my grandmother's chocolate chip cookie recipe.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get either one, but it started my search for the chocolate chip recipe of my childhood.
Food allergies are on the rise in the general public, and peanuts, dairy and gluten are the top offenders. In order to stay competitive and offer consumers a product they can consume without worry, many chefs are offering dishes that are free of peanuts, dairy and gluten.
As a working pastry chef, I have tested and offered these products in many of the businesses I have worked in. A few of my favorites include red velvet cupcakes, chocolate flourless cake (to die for) and my go-to 10 minute recipe of gluten-free rice crispy treats with callebaut chocolate.
I try to shop at local small businesses whenever I can. I enjoy the fact that I can support local while stimulating my hometown economy. As a former small business owner, and a current employee of a local small business, I know how hard it is to survive and make a profit without loyal consumers.
I have found that most small businesses provide unique products and goods that cannot be found in the big box stores. On a recent Sunday venture, I discovered a quaint bakery that provides unique handcrafted breads and pastries. Being a pastry chef I was thrilled to see beautiful bouclé, many varieties of foccacia, scratch-made chocolate croissants and beautiful black and white cookies. I felt like a kid in a candy store with so many choices. The baker asked what I needed..."Hmmmm, I can’t decide." She picked up a golden brown loaf of brioche bread. "I think you will like this," she declared. She handed me a lovely pancetta, jalapeño, Gouda brioche. Perfect for sweet-savory recipes or simply eaten toasted with butter.
I like unique flavor combinations. Any combination of flavors that remind me of being at the beach are even better. I have always dreamed of living near the ocean and was blessed to have had that opportunity recently. I am now near water again, Lake Michigan to be exact. The lake is beautiful, the sand is a pure white color and it is very calm and peaceful out there. But, there is nothing quite like the sounds, smells and tastes of the ocean! The fish tacos, the tropical drinks, the smell of the ocean air and of course coconut suntan lotion.
You know that I am a huge fan of Beanilla's baking extracts and flavors, I love the fresh unprocessed smell and flavor. But I must admit I was a little skeptical of the coconut extract. Most grocery store brands smell like, well.... coconut suntan lotion. I love the smell, but hesitate to put it into my desserts. Beanilla coconut extract does not smell like coconut suntan lotion, quite the opposite actually. I opened the bottle and was greeted by a pleasant waft of pure coconut, the kind you experience when you crack open a fresh coconut.
Sunday is family day in our family -- a time to relax and enjoy one another's company. While living in San Diego, Sundays meant we ventured out to explore places or attractions we had not enjoyed before; a new farmers market, Legoland, Disneyland, various dog parks and beaches. Living in So. California was one big adventure, however I love being back in the Midwest! The pace is slower, the people friendlier, I actually know my neighbor (and have spoken to them) and the cider is real!! I know you are probably thinking, "Has she lost it? The cider is real?!"
It’s Saturday morning, and you are awaken to the smell of freshly baked cinnamon rolls wafting down the hallway. You happily jump up out of your warm bed, and head to the kitchen in search of the comforting aroma. As you approach the kitchen, your significant other greets you with a kiss and a cup of piping hot coffee.
What a pretty picture I have painted; a picture that can be yours tomorrow morning. My orange ginger rolls are a twist on the traditional, and the flavors are familiar but unique. They are gooey, soft, fragrant and delicious on a lazy weekend morning!