The new Grand Rapids Farmers market officially opened here in Michigan this past weekend! I love the farmers market; the sights, the smells and the people that gather to purchase fresh picked fruits and vegetables and baked goods. I love that small business owners, local farmers and the occasional home cook are given the opportunity to support themselves and grow their businesses. I even love the crowds.... But what I love most of all is the inspiration I gather from wandering the different vendors. It's magical.
There are moments in our lives that are defined by the food that we share. It may be a special occasion, helping a relative create their signature dish, or a favorite restaurant. As a chef, most of my life has been defined by food; cuisines that are unique to the regions that we have resided in, and the friendships we have formed. The Midwest evokes memories of barbecues and Sunday dinners with beloved friends. The Pacific Northwest brings back memories of Thai cuisine at Thanksgiving, lovingly crafted by our friend’s elderly mother. A picnic lunch of fresh raspberries and French cheese/baguette spread out on a park bench in Paris, or a favorite breakfast with a close friend in sunny San Diego are also memories that I have.
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.
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 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.
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!
The original scone was round and flat, usually the size of a medium size plate. It was made with unleavened oats and baked on a griddle, then cut into triangle-like quadrants for serving.
Scones sold commercially are usually round in shape, although some brands are hexagonal as this shape may be tessellated for space-efficiency. When prepared at home, they take various shapes including triangles, rounds and squares. The baking of scones at home is often closely tied to heritage baking. They tend to be made from family recipes rather than recipe books, since it is often a family member who holds the "best" and most-treasured recipe.
As a chef, I am often reminded that what I think is easy and uncomplicated, is not necessarily. Chocolate ganache is often thought of as fussy and complicated, and I want to tell you it as simple as 1...2...3. Chocolate ganache originated in France. Ganache is a French term referring to a smooth and velvety mixture of chocolate and cream. Its origin is a little unclear, but it is believed to have been invented around 1850. Some say it originated in Switzerland where it was used as a base for truffles. Others say it was invented in Paris at the Patisserie Siravdin.
Ganache is a simple mixture of hot cream and good quality chocolate. As much as we all love Hershey's, this is not the place for it. I recommend Callebaut, Valhrona or any other high quality dark chocolate. Look for chocolate that contains cocoa butter as the primary ingredient. The higher the quality of chocolate used, the better the flavor and texture your ganache will have in the end.
Italian soda is light, crisp and fruity. A refreshing change from sugary sodas, they can be made with all natural products in any flavor you desire. The most popular flavors are fruit-based, but these drinks can be made with botanicals and even savory herbs. I prefer the fruity version, so when I pulled out my Beanilla Raspberry extract I knew that it belonged in a crisp Italian soda.