Thursday, October 28, 2010
After two days of craving hot coco, and complaining about my insatiable desire for it on Twitter, my husband took me to Kara’s Cupcakes at Santanna Row here in Northern California.
Let me tell you a bit about Kara’s Cupcakes. They are delicious. Incredible. Moist. Fluffy. Mighty competition for Sprinkles, which is also a chain. Something unique about Kara’s? They only use local products to create a locally-made cupcake and supporting their communities, and a business built on a sustainable model. They also use organic ingredients when possible, and try their best to be green in their building, recycling, and delivery.
My husband and I ate a S’mores cupcake that had a layer of graham crackers on the bottom and a toasted mallow on top, as well as a Chocolate Velvet cupcake along with a nice large glass of milk. It was divine.
One of the ingredients that Kara’s Cupcakes uses is Scharffen Berger. They host an annual chocolate contest that is really fun and has great prizes. But I did some research on Scharffen Berger to see where, oh where, do their cacao beans grow? And does it matter?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news of us food bloggers, especially on National Chocolate Day which also happens to fall right before Halloween- a holiday we are all passing out chocolate, or consuming it maybe more than usual. But shouldn’t these three factors be the very reason that we care where our chocolate comes from?
The bitter truth is that 60% of the world’s chocolate is from the Ivory Coast and Ghana, where pods are grown only 10 degrees from the equator, one of the only places in the world with the correct environment to grow such a product. One “pod” that is grown can make up to seven chocolate bars. Because of the demand for chocolate and the necessity for it to come from this region of South Africa, farmers will go to any length to produces these beans and export them.
Even child trafficking.
According to the ILO, the International Labor Organization, certain standards must be put into place to ensure fair treatment of workers. Of these standards, work must not interfere with children going to school, can not use harmful chemicals or weapons. In most farms in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, these rules do not apply. Some of these child workers are as young as 8 years old, and in a study done in 2002, 248,000 children were trapped in four South African countries in slave labor on cacao farms.
Things have been put in place to stop this terrible treatment of children, and the irony of it all is the sweet taste that comes from such bitter treatment. However, we are nowhere near stopping the trafficking, and big companies like Hershey’s chocolate, who is a favorite of the American market by 42.5%, are not certified slave-free.
What can we do? According to the Stop Chocolate Slavery website, both Fair Trade and Organic products have standards put into place that stop or diminish the chances of child slave labor in the production of their products. A list of these suppliers are here.
Writing a letter or calling Hershey will help. In addition, purchasing and baking with products that we know are fair trade or organic whenever we can will up the demand for these products and lessen the demand for the other.
Scharffen Berger is not organic or Fair Trade Certified. I ate a cupcake. I ate two. However, according to their website they pay a premium price for their cacao (something signature of most Fair Trade products) and are very aware of the issues. But, people like Kara’s Cupcakes endorse them because they are a local organization, which is a sustainable model for the environment and the economy.
And while I am not suggesting that we must choose the lesser of two evils here, when we purchase already baked goods where the chocolate is out of our hands, we still can choose wisely. We can bake with wise decisions, and we can alert big companies who have a big impact not only on the environment and the economy, but on the children who are growing these beans. And we can purchase wisely as well. If we purchase local products, supporting local businesses, the need for major exports will lessen and so will the need for child workers. I know it’s a small step, but it still is a step.
What are we doing to bake responsibly?
For more information please visit:
BBC World News Report
Stop Chocolate Slavery
Raise the Bar Hershey
International Labor Organization
Fair Trade USA
The National Organic Program
Monday, October 25, 2010
I can’t believe a year has passed since I started this little thing called a blog. 365 days. So many pictures. So much food. I wonder how many pounds of extra food I consumed in the past year….no. Just stop. Why go there? Because would I really trade any of it for that whole loaf of Sweet Potato Blueberry Bread that I ate in a single day? Not for a second.
Or the joys of testing many, full-sized Peanut Butter Creme Brulees until I got it just right? Never. Those brulees filled me with lots of joy.
And the Mac and Cheese. I have dreams about this still. I haven’t made it again, because, well I can’t eat just one…pot.
But it was dinners like this one, along with Beef Bourguignon, Malyasian Peach Chili, Bruschetta Cornbread Casserole…
… or a whole dinner of Mama’s Favorites that expanded my stomach just in time for a delicious breakfast.
Like Creme Brulee French Toast.
Or simple Blueberry Muffins.
Or perhaps you just would rather have Ice Cream. Me too.
It’s been a year of delicious food, getting better at photos, and meeting tons of new friends.
Thank you for a great first year, and I’m so excited for many more!
Friday, October 22, 2010
Who doesn’t love their birthday? I mean, it’s once a year, and yes it signifies that you are getting older, but isn’t that a fact of life? Everyone gets older. Everyone gets gray hair, and everyone has a birthday, every year. It’s the one day that you can choose the menu, the activity, the guests, all on your own.
This year is significant in many ways. But mostly, as pertaining to you-blog readers, its significant because it’s the one year anniversary of my blog. I know. A whole year! But that will be another post.
This, however, is my birthday post and my birthday would not be complete without some Spice Cake. Betty Crocker style. My mom makes a killer homemade Spice Cake, but each time I try it doesn’t taste like hers. And because we live in different states, I opt for Betty because you can’t really mess that up.
However, I did. Mess it up. Not the baking part. Or even the decorating. But the aftermath. After I decorated 18 of these cute little cupcake ice cream cones, I dropped them. 16 of them. On the way to the fridge. The photo you see here is one of the remaining two that I managed to save, and snap a quick photo before I had none left.
But these are such a cute idea, and I am determined to make these a success, so here are a few ice cream one holders that you can purchase so that my disaster does not become your disaster:
This one is kind of vintage, but only holds four. I guess four is better than two though.
This one looks more like an ice cream shop’s cone holder. And holds up to 9 cones.
Or, my personal favorite that I will try next time. Get a tupperware pan, about 13×9 or larger so that you can fit as many cones as you would like. Cover the outside with the fabric of your choice, perhaps your favorite color or the theme of the birthday party, so that it looks less like tupperware and more like a unique serving dish. Then fill the tupperware with sugar, almost to the top. Stick the cones in the sugar, which will hold the cones in place. Of course they still are not easily transportable this way, so if you need to take them somewhere, get there early and decorate there. If not, then place the cones into the sugar “serving dish” as you decorate them in the spot that you intend to serve them.
Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes
1 box of your favorite cake mix
1 jar of your favorite icing
2 plastic ziplock bags (or your own piping tools for icing)
18-22 cake cones
Duncan Hines “Amazing Glazes” (*coupon with this link!)
1 small jar of maraschino cherries
honey roasted peanuts
multi colored sprinkles
muffin tin holder
fabric for decorations
Follow the directions on box to mix cake. Stand cake cones upright in mini muffin tin holder. Fill each cake cone with 1/4 cup of batter. Place in preheated oven according to box cake instructions. Cook 20-22 minutes, insuring that stick or fork is clean when placed in the middle of the baked cake batter. Remove from oven and let cool. Once thoroughly cooled, place a few spoonfuls of icing into ziplock bag. Close the top of the bag completely, first allowing air to be released. Place 18-22 cherries into strainer so that the extra juice will run off naturally and not create a red puddle on your icing. Cut off the tip of the corner of the bag, less than a half an inch form the point of the bag. Pipe the icing onto each cone so that it billows up as whipped cream would do on an ice cream sundae. Only do about 4 at a time because you want your icing to remain moist to the other toppings will stick. Heat the Duncan Hines “Amazing Glaze” for 30 seconds and gently pour on top of the icing, making sure that it does not drip down the sides of the cone. Then, place sprinkles, peanuts, or other desired toppings onto icing. Place one cherry on top of each icing billow, not being afraid of pressing lightly to ensure that the cherry will hold in place. Place cones into chosen cone holder.
Serve 1-3 hours later, because if you wait too long, the cones will soak up the moisture from the cake and loose their crunchy texture. Enjoy!
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Let’s play a game of “I’ve never,” foodie version. Yes, it’s middle school, but it’s oh so fun.
eaten a macaroon
made a macaroon
not eaten the batter of something I was baking
cooked a lobster
And until yesterday, made scones.
I’m glad this has been scratched off my list. However, next time I will roll the dough a bit thicker, and watch the time in the oven a bit closer.
All in all, these are a win-win. The nutella surprises you by being sweet and moist yet the scone retains it’s flaky texture. Delicious! And super easy.
What are you crossing off your foodie “I’ve never” list?
Nutella Scones with Vanilla Frosting
adapted from Jan Miller’s recipe in Valley Life Community Church Cookbook
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 c butter
2 beaten eggs + enough milk to equal to 3/4 c
2 heaping spoonfuls of Nutella
1/4 c powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon milk, give or take depending on desired thickness of frosting
Place all dry ingredients into a medium to large mixing bowl. Cut butter into dry ingredients. Slightly beat two eggs in measuring bowl with a fork. Add milk until volume of eggs and milk reach 3/4 cup. Stir dough mixture with wooden spoon, and then fold in Nutella. Stir a bit more, until just combined, realizing that the Nutella is going to make these a bit sticky. Remove from bowl onto a moderately floured surface (about 1/4 cup). Roll dough 1/2 inch thick, and cut into 4 inch squares, then into triangles. Brush with milk. Bake at 425 degrees for 10-12 minutes on a greased cookie sheet. Let cool on cooling rack.
While cooling, add powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and milk into mixing bowl. Mix on medium speed adding more sugar or milk until desired thickness is reached and sugar is mixed completely, with no lumps present. Once scones are cooled drizzle scones with this frosting using a spoon, placing as much or as little as you would like.
Let frosting dry and enjoy!
Saturday, October 16, 2010
I’ve had two moments since I’ve been pregnant that I have felt totally and completely out of the loop, super old, and just plain behind the times. I always heard people say this about themselves, but twice in the past 8 months I’ve had experiences where I felt like in an instant I was the person that everyone was staring at. And wondering what in the heck I was doing. Someone who is so totally clueless to social norms, etiquette, or fashion in general.
I can’t tell you of the second venture because it’s too fresh form happening (just last night), but the first, I am delighted to let you in on.
Fourth of July.
Everyone is having their margaritas. I am having water.
Everyone is in bikinis, looking toned and tanned. I am in a bikini bigger than any size I’ve ever purchased thanks to the baby that resides inside of me.
People are laying by the pool. I am sitting awkwardly trying to be comfortable while not being able to lie on my back or on my stomach and trying to make sure that any and all excess weight on my thighs are “held in” and not taking over the entire back yard.
So what, though, right? At some point everyone will go in for lunch, put on their clothes and it wont be that bad. I put on my pregnancy jeans and a shirt that was a bit too tight, brushed up on my eye liner and mascara and came back downstairs, feeling all sorts of new confidence that the realm of clothes was a world I was way more comfortable in.
No one put on jeans. No one put on clothes, per se. Instead, everyone and I mean everyone (excluding boys) had on cute bathing suit cover ups. Bright colors. Short dresses with ruffles, polka dots, ties, beads, the works. And as I looked down at my pregnancy jeans and my shirt that didn’t fit, I. felt. so. out. of. it. Of course no one is wearing jeans, it’s a pool party. But there I was. Jeans. The only person pregnant in a room of people that pregnancy seemed like a foreign concept, in my jeans, sipping good ol’ H2O. And the worst part was that I thought I was with it, I thought I was on the cusp of fashion. Wrong again.
Since this moment I’ve tried my best to be on top of things, you know to really fool people into thinking that I am a functioning part of society that does more than eat, sleep, and watch Cake Boss on my instant queue.
Pumpkin Flan says “with it”, “classy”, and “together” like no other dessert.
You have to make your own caramel (which, I burned my finger doing). It’s a twist on a classic fall flavor, and it’s so very exotic of you.
Give it a whirl. Bring it to a dinner party.
I don’t think you will regret it. And it’s fall, so no one will be wearing a cute, short, beach coverup.
Pumpkin Flan (adapted from Bitchin’ Camero)
For the Caramel
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
For the Flan
1 cup sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin (un sweetened)
5 eggs at room temp
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup marscarpone cheese
Dish: 8 or 9 inch metal cake pan
To begin, set up what is called a bain marie (don’t you feel super sophisticated and “with it” already?) Get a 13×9 casserole dish and fill it with water, about 1-2 inches from the top. You want your pie pan to sit in the water, resting a bit on the rim of the cake pan, and for the water to come up about half way up the pie pan, but not overflow over the sides of the large cake pan. Go ahead, test it out.
Preheat the oven to 350, and place the bain marie in the oven while the oven preheats. While it’s preheating, whisk together all the ingredients for the flan into a large bowl and set aside. Make sure that it’s well combined, but try to not let too many air bubbles form. If they do, slow down the whisking, and many will disappear while it’s resting.
Now it’s time for the caramel.
Put the sugar and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir frequently, making sure that the sugar is being moved around while it’s melting. It will melt rather quickly, so keep your eye on it. Warning: if some hot caramel flows over the side of the pan, do not, DO NOT touch it with your finger. It hurts. You will swear. and hate yourself for the rest of the week.)
As soon as the sugar is melted, the caramel will be clear. Remove from the heat and immediately pour into pie pan. Swirl the pie pan around so that the caramel covers the bottom. Pour the flan mixture on top of caramel. Cover pie pan tightly with aluminum foil.
Carefully place the pie pan into the bain marie that has been heated in the oven. Cook between 40-55 minutes, checking every 5 minutes, until the middle is just set. Remove from oven and place into fridge for at least 8 hours before serving.
To serve, you can cut as you would a piece of pie and drizzle extra caramel on top of each piece, or invert entire flan on a large plate and allow caramel to form a pond around the flan.
Monday, October 11, 2010
I’ve never made anything with Marscarpone before and this weekend I have now made three recipes that contain this wonderful cheese. But before we get to two of these recipes that I made, let me tell you that they tasted even better because of how I obtained the Marscarpone cheese.
Yesterday was a day that just didn’t go right. Down was up, up was down and everything in between did not make sense. I’m on bed rest from pre-term labor contractions that happened about 2 weeks ago. It came suddenly, obviously, but the resulting consequences of not being able to work for the next 18 weeks was the real shocker. My job consists mostly of standing on my feet, or being out in the community and with the up and down heat here in Southern California, the doctor prohibited work until baby Lewis makes his debut, hopefully on-time and not early.
I can recall the days that I worked at a desk, and how little walking and standing that required. This type of job, my doctor concluded, would have been fine. So here I am, creating my own sort of desk job at home. Learning more about blogging, social networking, and of course the impending world of breast feeding, getting zero night’s rest, and still contemplating how in the world it took me hours to put together a Graco swing. That thing better save my life as everyone professes, because it almost took mine putting it together.
So yesterday, I met with my current boss and went over projects that we had been working on for the past year and the transition of turning them over to the rest of the team. It was like the cake that you made all weekend that is awaiting your arrival and as you walk in the house after a long day’s work, contemplating just which of the many teas that you have in your pantry will pair perfectly, you walk in to find that the cake has been devoured and there are no slices left for you. All work and no play. I must see the results of things that I work on, or I feel helpless and out of control. I miss my team and I’ll miss watching the year come to an end, but this is the hand I’ve been dealt right now.
And so, this was the state of mind that my husband was met with as I met him for lunch. After breaking down in tears in the middle of the mall food court, he was caught off guard so much that he responded to me in the way anyone on their 60 minute lunch break would: proactively. Solutions, next steps, and suggestions began flying out of his mouth and what didn’t happen were hugs, a shoulder to cry on, or just empathy with my despair. My husband is the most sensitive, loving, and caring man you will ever meet. He is also a fierce leader, proactive, and ready for action. At this moment of his day, he was interrupted from being the professional leader and forced into a whole new realm that requires the switching of gears to cuddly husband to an over emotional 31 week pregnant lady, and it just didn’t flow as much as we both had hoped. And so was lunch.
I ventured to Trader Joes to purchase some Marscarpone to make pumpkin flan as I promised my Facebook and Twitter friends, and found myself weepy-eyed in the grocery line. The sweet lady that helped me proceeded to only charge me for the salsa and green chili salsa for the easiest enchiladas in the world, and gave me the two tubs of Marscapone free of charge. ”How’s your day?” she asked cautiously. ”You know, it’s not that good,” I say and being to weep, right there in the line at Trader Joes. ”Can I give you a hug?” ”Yes! I would love that.” And just like that, with a grocery bag in hand, a line full of impatient customers behind me, she came over and gave me the biggest most genuine hug. “It will be ok. Please take care of yourself. It’s going to be ok.”
And this, gave me the gumption and hope to stir up a few new recipes.
Citrus Marscarpone Sauces
1/2 cup marscarpone cheese at room temperature
1 large lemon or orange
a bit of zest from said lemon or oranges
Combine Marscarpone and juice from chosen fruit. Make sure to not get any seeds in the mixture. Use a zester to add a bit of zest to the sauce. Whisk with a fork until combined.
Easy right? It’s in the pairing that these sauces will really come alive. Like that hug from the Trader Joes clerk, this sauce has to be in the right place at the right time, and when it is it will make a huge difference.
If you go the lemon route for your citrus choice, then add this mixture to some homemade chicken noodle soup. This particular recipe had whole wheat noodles, celery, onions, grilled chicken and chicken broth. Once soup is prepared, turn heat to low and mix in Marscapone lemon sauce and broth will no longer be clear but instead a milky color.
This tastes like the perfect remedy for a sore throat or a winter day. It’s a bit of cream and zest that is both comforting and light. Delicious!
If you choose to go the orange route, then picture number two (and the top photo) will be your dinner. For this dish, cook lemon pepper linguine, and after straining the pasta (save about 1/4 cup of pasta water and set aside), return the pasta back to the pan over low heat. Add about 2-3 cups of fresh spinach, pasta water, and orange Marscarpone sauce. Stir until sauce is mixed and spinach is just cooked. Serve hot.
Both of these are delightful, and a bit of citrus seems to be the perfect comforting combination. All photos were taken with an iPhone because, well frankly, it’s more doable when you are making recipes to cook away your sorrows.
And, as always, thanks for listening to my day. You too, can hear these daily updates in 140 characters or less if you follow me on Twitter. Or Facebook.