It's cold here in Michigan, but that won’t stop me from bringing a bit of sunshine inside! Last year at this time, we were on our way from sunny southern California to live in snowy Western Michigan. Although I love living closer to family and friends, there are parts of California that I do miss, especially when the snow falls here and the temperatures hover near freezing.
Living in Southern California bring days full of sun and warmth, palm trees, the smell of the ocean and shaved ice! Shaved ice carts are abundant near the boardwalks of the ocean. You can choose from a multitude of syrups and holding the snow cone in your hand brings you back to the days of the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine.
You have spent all day shopping for the perfect gifts to give to love ones and family. Upon arriving at home you have to create a perfect dinner for your guests, make the house presentable and, oh yes, you need to end your perfect dinner with a delectable dessert!
My husband is not a dessert fan, which always bewilders friends and acquaintances when they learn I am a pastry chef. He would happily eat pizza in place of dessert any day. Me, on the other hand, I could live on sweets and vegetables. One of the few desserts that he loves is chocolate cream pie; I can see the allure that it has for him. Rich creamy chocolate mousse, sweet flaky pie dough topped with sweet whipped cream. What a perfect dessert!
Today I received an email from one of my favorite retailers. It stated that they will not be decking the halls until November 27th. They stated that the Thanksgiving holiday is a time for their employees and customers to give thanks for all they are blessed with, and that decking the halls takes away from the holiday. I have to agree. As a child I have wonderful memories of gathering around the thanksgiving table with family. Each family member was blessed with the task of bringing one dish to pass. Our family was so big that we had to set up dinner in my grandparents' basement on the biggest table they owned -- the ping pong table. There was nothing extraordinary about the table until Thanksgiving Day. It was beautifully transformed with white linens, fine china, flowers and candles. A buffet table of saw horses and boards was constructed close to the table and expertly transformed into an elegant buffet with table linens and silver platters. As we gathered around the table, I remember thinking that it seemed as though no time had passed since the last Thanksgiving. I silently gave thanks for having such a great extended family and family traditions.
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.
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?!"
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.