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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Illicit Delights - Mini Boozy Cupcakes by Yours Truly

Once upon a time I had a few amazing boozy cupcake from a place in New York City called, Prohibition Bakery.  This trip was the same trip I went in search of a Robicelli's cupcake for the first time, back in July-ish of 2013.  The entire trip turned into a cupcake and sweets tour and I couldn't have been happier.  It's true that there are plenty of great cupcake and sweets shops all over San Francisco, but I had never tasted anything quite like the Prohibition Bakery cupcake "Pretzels and Beer."  The cupcake was everything it claimed to be and I was instantly in love.  I immediately sampled a "Dark and Stormy" as well as a "Car Bomb."  Suddenly I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to do what these two fabulously women were doing in NYC - I wanted to bake mini boozy cupcakes.

I started by trying out some of Prohibition's cupcakes at home.  Lucky for me they had shared some recipes online.  Then, I got a hold of the Robicelli's cupcake book and went on my cupcake adventure (which is still in progress, derailed slightly, but still in progress as of September 23rd, 2014), and then I started coming up with my own creations.  Finally I created my own cupcake base and butter cream mixture.  During this whole process I started culinary school at San Francisco Cooking School.  That's right, culinary school, not pastry school.  I wanted to better understand food science from all aspects of food, not just dessert.  I took in cupcakes every week to school for my classmates to enjoy, and after creating my own base and butter cream I decided it was time to take a leap.

I knew I didn't want a brick and mortar shop, and I liked the idea of being able to create cupcakes for people based on their flavor profiles so I looked into baking out of my house - catering style.  Lucky for me California has some awesome Cottage Industry Laws that allow me to do just that - within reason.  As of August 7th, 2014 I officially have Illicit Delights LLC, and am currently finishing up paperwork and permits with the city of San Francisco. 

I'm two more approvals away from being legitimate and cannot wait to share my delicious creations with you!


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Comparison Between Plated and Forage (ingredient/recipe delivery services)

Forage's tagline tells you everything you need to know, "Restaurants can cook any dish in 20 minutes. We prep ingredients so you can too."  I love it, and it's true.  Plated's tagline is "Eating Well Made Easy," and it's mostly true.  Both services have delicious recipes, and the convenience of getting exactly what you need to prepare a meal is luxurious.  (I always hate having to buy a giant bottle of something just because I need 2 teaspoons.)

Thai-style Pork Salad w/ Papaya & Mint - from Plated

One of the main reasons I originally wanted to subscribe to an ingredient/recipe delivery box was because I wanted to be able to quickly prepare dinner after a long day in culinary school.  I also wanted the option of just asking my husband, Bob, to put dinner together and know that he had everything he needed.  Both Forage and Plated provide instruction cards with a picture of the final meal so you know what you're working toward. 

The Plated boxes we've had were all pretty delicious, and there are definitely some recipes I've repeated, but my biggest issue is that their "easy" meals are not that easy.  When I see a recipe that's listed as easy call for more than two pots, then I know that it's not really easy.  I want straightforward and simple so that I know Bob can handle everything. 

Sockeye salmon w/ Farrotto and butternut squash - from Plated

This is where Forage comes into play.  Forage is essentially your prep kitchen.  In a restaurant you or the prep team work on getting things ready for service, this entails putting as much together as possible so you can put the finishing touches on or "fire" the food. (Look at me using restaurant language.)  The point is you're not going to make every dish from scratch as people are ordering it.

As an example here is how a lunch we made at home would look like if Plated had sent it to us:

Prawn Tikka Masala with Cocnut Rice and Green Salad

- chop all veggies
- make the tikka masala sauce
- make the coconut sauce
- cook rice
- cook prawns
- make salad dressing
- assemble

Here's how we made it with Forage:

- chop veggies
- cook rice with pre-made coconut sauce
- cook prawns with pre-made tikka masala sauce
- made salad dressing
- assemble

Yes, it's only two steps shorter, but guess what, it's also two pots cleaner!

While I can appreciate that many people will want to make the tikka masala sauce themselves, I don't.  I want an almost home cooked meal.  I want exactly what I said before: straightforward simplicity.  And so far, every meal we've made was cooked and ready to eat in 20 minutes.

Pork Ramen - from Forage

Again, both services provide great recipes.  I've just decided that if I'm going to take my time to make a more complex recipes I'll make it on my own.  Forage is kind of like our healthy fast food.

Bob did point out to me that Plated does excel at preparing you for what you'll need a better than Forage.  On the recipe cards Plated includes not only the ingredients list, and the steps for making the meal but they also include a list of all the tools you'll need to make the meal.  Yes, you should always read a recipe all the way through at the beginning so you know what you're going to need on hand but it's still nice to have a little list.  Forage does state that it assumes you have the following at home: skillet/frying pan, pot, baking sheet, and knives and a cutting board.  That said, you don't really know what you'll need until your read through the entire recipe. 

 Tikka Masala - from Forage

Overall, I just love Forage a bit more than Plated.  I like that 20 minute prep, it seems less daunting and even if I'm tired I know it's gonna get done fast.  Bob has done an awesome job with the recipes so I know he can handle anything Forage sends us.  What can I say, I'm just a huge fan of Forage!  (Of course, Plated is still a wonderful option.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

San Francisco Baking Institute - Fancy Cakes!

The San Francisco Baking Institute, "is a world-renowned leader in artisan bread and pastry education."(from SFBI) They specialize in artisan bread making and pastry education.  They school runs a really yummy bakery in San Francisco called Thorough Bread and Pastry, and I've bought plenty of delicious treats from them.  They have a professional program as well as one off classes to help amateurs and professionals expand their knowledge of the baking industry.  Their school is not only a classroom/kitchen but also where many of the pastries and breads that go to their shop are made.  It's a massive building, with a great kitchen set up.

I signed up to take the SFBI "Cake Bases, Creams, and Composition" because I thought it would be a great way to expand my knowledge of cakes and improve my decorating skills.  It's a week long class with 8 hour days.  So I essentially worked a full time job of cake learning, making, and decorating.  I was pumped to learn about all the different buttercreams, custards and cakes, and I was not disappointed.

The instructor for my class was Miyuki Togi, who has been working with SFBI since 2006.  Miyuki started the class off in a little classroom going over the syllabus and various kinds of cake methods and buttercreams.  She was really nice, and super patient.  After the class did little introductions - there were sixteen of us, a full class - we headed down to the kitchen to forms teams to get our bakin' on!  I was really surprised by how diverse the class was, in the sense that there were people from the professional program in the class, some people who own their own shops, as well as people like me who just wanted to learn more.  There were people from all over the place in class as well! A couple of people flew down from Seattle, there were a couple of people from Mexico and a gal from Barbados! I had no idea the school was so awesome that it drew the attention of students from outside the Bay Area.

My team consisted of Amy, Deb, Heather and myself - each team had four people.  Amy had taken some classes with SFBI before and was happy to be back.  Deb was there for the first time and is an avid cook.  Heather has a background in engineering but wants to bake, she was absolutely wonderful.  Heather asked really great questions that I never would have thought of but that were good to know. 

 My awesome team! (from the left: Me, Amy, Heather, Deb)

We were all stationed at our own large granite topped baking areas.  Every person got a little kit with offset spatulas, a paring knife, straight spatula and a serrated knife.  Each team had a little electric cook-top, and two kitchen aid mixers.  The classroom was very well equipped and everything was pretty easy to find.  Also, so much light! The kitchen was wonderfully bright and open.  Even though we were in teams of 4 every single person made their own cake.  You might work with your team, or just in sets of two to mix batter but every person ended up making their own cake.  I was really surprised by this because I'm more familiar with having to split a creation at the end of class so you can share, which is sad because it destroys the beautiful food you made.

And speaking of food, omg we made so much cake!  I expected a few things but I took home 8 cakes and 8 cupcakes in a week class.  Other than the first day we made two cakes every day of class, and not just ho-hum cakes, beautiful finished masterpieces!  I took home cakes that looked like I'd been baking fancy cakes for years. 

 Chocolate Peanutbutter Cake and Carrot Cake

 Inakati Roll and the Black Forest Cake


 Le Fraisier

Princess Cake

 Not my Opera Cake (I don't seem to have any picture of it, but this is very similar.)

As you can see, many wonderful things were made in class. The cupcakes were not photographed as they were devoured ravenously but I assure you they were delicious.

In short, I had a wonderful time at SFBI.  The cake class more than met my expectations and I honestly cannot wait to take another class.

 That's a Flat Stanly, helping Heather and me make the Opera cake.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Foodily - My New Favorite Food Site

I stumbled upon a food site the other day, which I'd never heard of but turned out to be a great resource.  Foodily!  It's kind of like a giant library of various cooking blogs and home cooks who share recipes.  What's really great about it is that I can find everything I want in one place, and all the food bloggers I followed were already on the site.  I can choose to follow the bloggers I like and get updates about new recipes they post, or I can just search the whole system based on almost any key word.  There are so many options that I truly believe I could find a recipe for anything I'd like to try making.

The site has also done a really great job of directing people back to the Blogger's actual sites.  You can search for recipes and view a list of ingredients for the dish you want to make, but in order to get the instructions you follow a link back to the source of the recipe.  It's really smart, at least I think it's really smart.

And like any good site today you can connect your Facebook account so that if you have friends on the site you can see what they've made and recommend.  I find this feature to be really helpful because if a friend of mine has liked or even disliked a recipe I have a better chance of knowing if I'll like the recipe.

I gave Foodily a shot last night and had a small dinner party.  Everything I made was from recipes found on the site.  We had:

 Pork Belly Roast - From The British Larder

Sichuan Green Beans - From Sunset

Tomato and Watermelon Salad with Feta - From Steamy Kitchen

Everything was so good that I unfortunately forgot to take pictures - these pictures are directly from the recipe pages.

And last but not least, another reason I really like Foodily is because I can save the recipes to various lists that I've made myself.  If I want to make a new side dish I can look in my "side dish" list, or if I want to be fancy I can look at my "entertaining" list.  Recipes can be saved to multiple lists and it's really easy to use.  Foodily also has an app, which works very well - at least on my iphone - which means if I have to pop into the store I can easily pull up a recipe I was interested in and get my ingredient list.

If you want to connect to me on Foodily, or check out the stuff I'm making here's my profile, and if we're friends on Facebook it's even easier to find me.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My San Francisco Cooking School Externship and Graduation

So, this post may get a little ranty, you've been warned.

When I initially submitted my application to go to culinary school I made sure to be up front and tell them that I had no desire to work in a restaurant.  I understood that an externship with a restaurant was required to complete the course, but I was pretty clear that I did not want to work in a kitchen.  I kept an open mind through out school, and every time externships were brought up I listened.  My class was told to keep our minds open, and to be flexible.

I decided to do as they said, and go with the flow, after all; these people knew me!  I'd been going to school and seeing them for 16 weeks.  I'd taken about 10 of their recreational classes.  I felt like they were going to help place me in a great spot.  I'd also been vocal about my love of baking - I took a batch of cupcakes to class with me once a week.  So in my first meeting to discuss my placement we talked about the possibility of me working somewhere with a good chance to work with pastry.  I made sure to let them know that I could work any day of the week, any time of the week but that I didn't want to work really long hours (I can get irate when tired.) and I didn't really want/care about making Italian food, and I didn't want froufrou.  

I was surprised to say the least when I was told I'd be working with Flour + Water/Central Kitchen.  Don't get me wrong, these are both great restaurants but I hadn't even considered them because Flour + Water is all Italian pastas/pizzas, and Central Kitchen has some pretty froufrou food. I stewed about it all weekend, as we'd been told on a Friday.  I was angry, confused, and felt like I'd been betrayed by the school and the people who were suppose to be taking care of me and looking out for my best interests.  I went in early that next Monday so I could talk about the choice.  I wanted to know why they thought these restaurants would be the place for me.  I was told that I was placed there because I could do whatever I wanted there.  This was appealing to me, but at the same time I was sad that I wasn't going to be playing with a place known for their desserts.  I talked myself into the externship and continued on with school.

On May 7th I started at Central Kitchen.  No one knew I was starting that day, despite my having worked it out in advance.  Even the guy in charge of me had no idea I was even starting at all.  (That's always a great feeling.)  I butchered 25 chickens on my first day of my externship.  I butchered another 25 that Friday.

I really enjoyed everyone I worked with at Central Kitchen/Salumeria - I never made it over to Flour + Water but that was my choice.  I reported to Travis Day, the resident butcher and one of the sous chefs, who is pretty fantastic and let me plan my own schedule.  Pat Evans, the other Sous Chef, was always awesome and helped me with anything I needed.  Together Pat and I pickled a bunch of beets and various other vegetables.  I think one of my favorite things Pat said to me, which happened to be while we were pickling was, "We're just going to punch it down until it pisses out all the liquid."  That statement was in regards to a batch of "Spring-chi" or a weird mash-up of kimchi if-you-will.

 Chicken feet! These get boiled and then added to stock. 

 This is a pig heart. Every Wednesday Travis would break down a pig.

 I got to help with Off The Grid in the Presidio!

Emily, Aly, Brian, Bryan, Nate, Garrett, Armando, Eric, Kevin, Chad, Freedom, Alex, Andrew, and a whole raft of other wonderful people helped me finish my externship, and make it through relatively unscathed.  The people at Central Kitchen are great and were very happy to be working in such a great place.  It was the people who made my externship enjoyable.  It was the people who kept me going back and actually finishing my program. I respect anyone who works in the food industry, it's a labor intensive long haul; that said, I didn't need to work in a restaurant to know that.  I'm glad that I went in honest and let Chef Ryan know that I was there to get the job done, and then be on my way.

I finished my 240 hours of externship in five and a half weeks and on Sunday June 29th I graduated from San Francisco Cooking School.

 In the beginning.

 Six months later.

Since the end of school I've helped with a couple of classes at the school, and have been trying to finish up my extracurricular classes.  Each student is/was suppose to complete 30 hours outside of class whether it be TAing, Volunteering, or taking other "approved" classes.  (This is where things get really ranty.)  I have no idea how many hours I've completed, I have an idea but am still not sure if everything is done.  I have a sneaking suspicion I have more hours, but honestly no one has let me know what classes I could take, or if there's a spot available.

I desperately tried to take the "Summer Preserves" class, as it would really go great with my cupcake baking, but I was told that it would not count as we had pickled vegetables in class and it's the same thing.  It is absolutely NOT the same thing, yes it's about preserving but pickling and canning are two completely different techniques.  It was really disappointing to not be able to take a class like that as a credit.  Don't worry, I took the class anyway and it was great, taught by Kim Laidlaw, and learned so many things.  It's mostly disappointing that classmates of mine were able to take an ice cream class that counts for credit when we made ice cream on a regular basis during our program, but that I couldn't take the preserves class.

In retrospect I wish I had been more pushy before graduation to learn what was available for me in the future as a class credit option.  I understand that the school is not only a school but also a business and that they need to make money, but I feel as a student that as soon as I was done with graduation I was no longer any of their concern.  I don't expect hand holding, but I do respect honestly and reasonable answers.

I'm happy I went to culinary school.  I had a wonderful time in class with all my classmates and the great Chef Catherine Pantsios.  I was able to expand my culinary knowledge and technique, and every day was a food adventure.

Currently I'm in the final stages of setting up my own cupcake catering business.  Thanks to California's Cottage Industry laws I can bake out of my home.  I'll keep you posted on how things are going.


Week 15/16 at San Francisco Cooking School

The last two weeks of school were spent preparing for our last exam/practical, and then deciding what we'd make for restaurant week.  Good news, I passed the exam and practical with only a couple of small snafus here and there, mostly on the practical.

The restaurant week menu was pretty easily decided.  We'd all liked many of the dishes we made in class but there were some definite hits in our minds and we came up with an easily executable and delicious menu.  We had Annie Stoll, from Delfina come in and teach us about working the front of the house, or in other words waiting tables, and preparing tables. 

The class was split into two teams.  On the first restaurant day half of us were front of house, and the other half cooked the food and then it flipped for the second day.  I worked front of house the first day, and I got to be the hostess with the mostess.  The next day I was in charge of the soup appetizer, and two desserts.  It was very straight forward and I managed to get everything up and ready with out a problem.  I did throw a bunch of shaved chocolate on the ground, but that only slowed me down a moment.

Bob, Mary, Mary's Dad, and our friend Katie came to restaurant week the day I was cooking in the back.  I wanted them to know I was touching their food.  I was in charge of plating our cold soup, and two different desserts - the affogato, and a chocolate hazelnut mousse.  Over all the two days of feeding people was a success.

When everything was said and done we enjoyed some well deserved pizza and drinks and then headed off in our different directions to begin our externships.

I worked for Central Kitchen/Salumeria since May 7th to June 13th (240 hours), but that's another post.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Cupcakes! Nine New Cupcakes From My Personal Cooking Challenge

Oh man, it's been a while since I've updated you on my personal cooking challenge.  I've baked 9 new flavors from the Robicelli's Cupcake book!  That's 33 of 50 cupcake recipes so far, and I'm really pumped to tell you all about "El Melocoton de la Muerte" because it's definitely my favorite so far.  

Let's get this show on the road!

 Red Wine and Peaches - Peach Cake, Mascarpone Buttercream and Peaches soaked in red wine.
The Rue McClanahan - Peach Cake, Cheesecake Buttercream, Peach Compote

So, I wasn't blown away by either of these cupcakes.  They were good not great.  I didn't feel like the peach flavor really came through in cupcakes.  The soaked peaches in red wine were pretty good on their own, and the peach compote was really nice.  I added slivered almonds to The Rue McClanahan because I felt like it needed something.

 The Estelle Getty - Amaretto Cake, Cheesecake Buttercream, Amaretti Cookies

It's worth making this recipe just to have extra amaretti cookies around your house.  Super delicious, and if you happen to have any gluten-free friends these cookies will delight them beyond belief.  Serious, make this cupcake.   I added some amaretto to the buttercream as well just because I like my cupcakes extra boozy.

The North Fork - Chocolate Cabernet Cake, Blackberry Cabernet Buttercream, Blackberry Cabernet Compote

My husband says these are the best "fridge to mouth" cupcakes so far.  In other words you can take one of these bad boys right out of the refrigerator and it tastes perfect.  I typically like to let my cupcakes come to room temperature before eating them, but these were perfection whether cold or room temp.  I pureed the Blackberry Cabernet Compote and added it into the cake batter, and found it was easier to use in the frosting and as a syrup in that form.  

Butterbrew - Vanilla Cake, Butterscotch Bourbon Buttercream, Butterscotch Bourbon Sauce (added sea salt, more bourbon)

YUMMMY!  Did you know the difference between butterscotch and caramel is brown sugar vs white sugar?  Yup, it's true.  I added a bit more salt, and bourbon to the butterscotch.  I also topped the final product with some extra salt. 

The Julia - Pear Cake, Brown Butter Buttercream, Brandy Snaps

This is another recipe that's worth making if only for the Brandy Snap cookies.  Man, those are good.  I had so much leftover that we just crumbled it up and ate it by the handful.  This is a fairly refreshing cupcake, light, buttery and not too sweet.

The Duckwalk - Vanilla Cake, Blueberry Port Mascarpone Buttercream

The blueberries from this recipe were sooooo good after being soaked/cooked in port.  I actually used the remainder blueberries to make some faux butter cream for a vegan cupcake later in the week.  I pureed the blueberries and whipped them in with the faux-cream.  I added a bit of uncooked port to the frosting for an extra boozy finish. 

 The Laurenzano - Fig Cake, Goat Cheese Buttercream, Fig Balsamic Gastrique and Proscuitto

I seriously just finished baking these bad boys an hour ago.  The cake is super moist and delicate.  This is definitely a more savory cupcake but still hits the spot.  Forget having a cheese plate, this is the way to go for my next party.  I ended up having to strain out some big clumps of fig jam from my gastrique (syrup/sauce) as the jam just wouldn't finish dissolving.

El Melocoton de la Muerte - Peach-Ghost Chile Cake, Peach-Ghost Chile Compote Buttercream

I waited and waited for peach season just to make this cupcake!  My husband and I love spice!  The more spice the better.  We already had ghost chiles at the house, and the ghost chile powder so we knew this recipe was going to be right up our alley.  The compote is to die for!  I made an extra large batch and we ended up using it as a marinade for pork chops, soooo yummy.  I followed the directions to the letter on this recipe because I didn't want to burn anyone's face off.  It was the perfect amount of spice.  Everyone who tried it loved it!  BEST CUPCAKE EVER!!!!!  I'm going to make more of the compote and freeze it so I can continue to enjoy it's fiery awesomeness.

Whew, now we're all caught up!  I plan on making two different kinds of cupcakes this next weekend so keep your eyes peeled for deliciousness!