Sunday, December 18, 2005

Yesterday morning, in order to fill some last minute orders, I made approximately 100 dark chocolate candies in a variety of shapes with several different fillings. These are tiny, without fillings. Just solid, dark chocolate. The butterfly is one of my signature designs. That and anything that looks like a gift box.

This is the first time I made the peanut butter hearts in dark chocolate. They're very popular in milk chocolate, so I'm very interested in the feedback on them. A little over an inch in length, you could eat the heart in one or two bites, depending on how dainty you are.

The filling within these dark chocolate squares is a creme caramel, dulce de leche. A favorite with all caramel lovers.

Previously, I had made these in milk chocolate, but these dark chocolate candies hold two whole toasted hazelnuts each. 1.5 inches long and just under an inch wide, these are 1 inch tall. A sizeable treat to say the least. I ate a few of the toasted hazelnuts along the way. Probably too many.

These dark chocolate sweets are filled with a Kona coffee flavored center I made yesterday morning. I mixed fondant sugar with butter, vanilla, water and many teaspoons of the Kona flavor. They're pretty generously sized -- a two biter, definitely.

Catching up on Memes (The Cook Next Door)

This is a fun one at Delicious Days, called The Cook Next Door. From the map below the posting at the site, it appears that most everyone has participated. I'm such a latecomer. The original blog entry was in June.

Here are the questions and my responses:

What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?

Growing up at my Dad's house, we had a library of soft-cover cookbooks that I would page through to pick out new things to make or eat. I'm sure I cooked earlier than this, but I remember helping Dad make popcorn the old-fashioned way in a pot with oil at the bottom, shaking it back and forth, constantly. He had been a soda jerk a very long time ago, and knew how to cook "diner food," and taught me how to do the same. Not sure how old I was, but I couldn't have been more than 12.

Who had the most influence on your cooking?

The soft-cover cookbooks at Dad's, Mom's little recipe cards from the Temple, and Internet cooking/recipe sites.

Do you have an old photo as “evidence” of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?

People were lucky to get photos of me at all. :) You won't find many of me period.

Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?

In the Meme below, there's a culinary confession about animal food anatomy that answers this question. It's not so much a phobia as an aversion.

What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?

Great appliance: the immersion blender
Great gadget: OXO hand-wind can opener
Let-down gadget: the tool that's supposed to cut carrots into curls -- it didn't work, and it sliced the side of my index finger straight down to the knuckle.

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else!

Not sure how weird it is, but I add peanut butter to my hot oatmeal and museli.

What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don’t want to live without?

Cheese, most likely some swiss holey variety.
Guacamole -- my chunky version made with salsa verde
Carob coconut cashew squares

Three quickies:
Your favorite ice-cream…

I started making my own recently -- fat and sugar free. It's definitely not the same, but sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do for your health. I'm still developing flavors, but like the entry above, I favor the carob cashew flavor.

You will probably never eat…

Oysters (edit: forgot snails!) -- same as the original meme I mentioned above. Also, I won't eat scallops and poultry.

Your own signature dish…
Rice and beans

Culinary Confessions

I'm a bit behind the meme on this one, but I've been busy making chocolate for the season. My favorite was David Lebovitz' 23 Sept. entry. Here's my list of top 5 culinary confessions:
  1. I am a failed bread baker. Many years ago, a loaf I baked was so bad that my roomate at the time ran out into the middle of the street and threw the thing as if he was a Heisman Trophy winner. I have to dig it out of the attic, but there's a photo of the scene. Bits of the loaf traveled many miles in the treads of tires belonging to the multitude of cars that drove down Boulevard in front of our home in Passaic Park, NJ.
  2. Even though I create tons of chocolate candies, I cannot taste any of them. The sugar makes me moody, and I've been off caffeine for almost 10 years. I make the filling flavors strictly by smell and by feel. I am utterly dependent upon my host of picky testers, and I really miss tasting chocolate sometimes. When the scent is too much for me, I try to make guacamole or some other garlicky bit that satisfies.
  3. When I can discern the anatomy of animals prepared for food such as poultry or fish, it really freaks me out (that's the technical term). Just today, I opened a can of Bumble Bee's canned salmon and it had a chunk of vertebre in it (not to mention way too many other bones). I had to toss the thing in the trash. Did I mention I had been vegetarian (ovo-lacto) for 15 years until September this year?
  4. I cook and eat Kraft macaroni and cheese sometimes. Not terribly often, but enough to say I do. I add shaved cheese to it while mixing the crazy orange powder with the "pasta," and typically use less milk and butter to make it thicker. All this is not to say that I don't make my own baked mac n' cheese on occasion, but these are confessions. So, there it is.
  5. I'm very possessive of my kitchen (or anyone else's for that matter) space. While John and I cook together often, I'd like a much bigger kitchen so we could each have our own prep areas. Recently, with the help of my step-father, I ejected my mom from her kitchen so I could make our Channuka latkes in peace. Next house, bigger kitchen.

Monday, December 12, 2005

My new blogging by mail partner in Canada, Ana (see her site at sent me a big box of goodies, publications and great recipes. There are photos below on the items included, but just know that the cashew nut sticks in the container at the top of this photo are gone already. :) Thanks to Ana and her generous spirit. The kindness of the food blogging community never ceases to amaze me. Glad to be a part of it, even if it's on the fringe.

Ana called these "fruit leathers." They are far superior to what I've experienced as fruit leather here -- dried fruit flattened into a very chewy, almost jerky-like consitency. Kettle Valley's fruit snacks are soft and have so much flavor! What a welcome treat. I had a cherry one and was pleasantly surprised by the real flavor and ability to bite into it without a struggle. Mmmm. No sugar--just fruit juice. Great choice, Ana!

I'm sorry this photo isn't in focus, but it's close enough for you to have an idea of these cashew nut sticks, Ana sent along. From her letter, "In Portugal, we call 'sticks' any cake with little or no butter that is baked and then cut into 'sticks' and dried in the oven." They are similar to biscotti. Cashews are one of my favorite treats, so when I saw the container with these, I had a bite right away. Lucky me, Ana sent the recipe, too!

Ana was so generous and even included a stocking stuffer for me in the shape of this very cute, copper gingerbread man cookie cutter.

Although I cannot have caffeine, I was happy to see that some chai tea and fancy coffees were included. Mom will try these for me and let me know how she likes them. Ana's got great taste!

I'm always looking for new sugar-free fruit spreads to try on toast, so when Ana included the apricot and blueberry fruit spreads from Natur, I was excited. Apricot is my favorite, but blueberry is lovely on whole grain toast. Sometimes I add fruit spreads to plain, fat-free yogurt for a snack. The blueberry spread would be perfect for that.

Since she had a challenge with my dietary restrictions (no sugar or chocolate), Ana sent me a garlic dip mix and very fancy flatbread crackers from Loblaws. The packaging of the dip mix was impressive, and had a recipe included within a foldout portion. I'm looking forward to trying it since like Ana, I enjoy garlic anything.

Ana sent me a copy of the very festive Dec. 2005 issue of one of her favorite publications, "Canadian Living." I'm looking forward to diving into the cookie recipes. Her healthfood store, like our healthfood stores here, give away free publications like "Alive" seen here. Also included with the printed material were store flyers for Loblaws, a Canadian superstore, and Loeb, a 24-hr grocery store nearby Ana's house. I was amazed at how low the prices are, even with the exchange rate calculated into the figure. They also have better food stylists than our local Super Stop and Shop. The photos are tantalizing, and their colors are more accurate. But, I have a history in publishing, so I'm just picky about that kind of thing.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Home for the holidays

We were at John's parents' lovely home in Utah for Thanksgiving. I brought a big box of mixed chocolates, with plenty of white chocolates for his mom who, like my mom, doesn't eat milk or dark chocolate any more. Below are a few more of my newer creations this season. The white chocolate and lemon and/or Fiori Di Sicilia were the hands-down favorites. We'll see how they do at Christmas in the boxes dad ordered for his corporate gifts. No orders of Chanukah candy this year, but I'll bet that the peppermint snowflakes will suffice. Happy Holidays to all!

Like the white chocolate Coconut Fantasy candies below, the milk chocolate variety shown here are always a crowd pleaser. The size is impressive as well -- a two-biter, if you're not greedy. If you enjoy a good Mounds or Almond Joy for the coconut, you'll like these even better for the filling as well as the chocolate.

Whether I make them in dark, milk or white chocolate, these new shapes for single almonds do a great job in filling boxes. I use almonds from Trader Joe's for these. Most of the time, I'll buy them raw and toast them to my preferred crunchiness myself. The house smells wonderful when I'm toasting a few bags of them. They keep well in the fridge or freezer.

Remember back in September (see the archives on the right navigation bar) when John and I drove up to Maine and returned through Vermont? At the Vermont Country Store, I picked up a jar of their lemon marmalade. I thought it would be something I would have on toast, but was otherwise inspired by a new candy for Deb's Delectables (also on the left nav bar, near the top). I mixed a batch of redi-fondant with several tablespoons of the lemon marmalade and a light dose of pure lemon oil. It smelled as fresh as that first warm spring day. In a shell of white chocolate with a yellow-tinted (but not lemon flavored) design, the new candy was a hit with John's mom and sister. My mom also declared it a winner. The filling has a slight flow to it, in contrast with the density of the filling described below.

One of my favorite catalogs is the King Arthur Flour Baker's Catalog. What does that have to do with these princely pretties, you ask? These newly created chocolates have a fantastic filling flavored with a product from that very catalog -- Fiori Di Sicilia. Fiori Di Sicilia smells and tastes a lot like a creamsickle. For those who may not know, creamsickles are frozen confections of vanilla and orange flavored ice cream. The result is a uniquely yummy combination. I did not flavor the orange colored tops in the candy, but I may in future versions, then wrap them in orange foil so as not to flavor the other chocolates in the box. Below, you'll see my mother's exclamation when I filled other fancy molds with the fancy new filling.

Purely an experiment with cinnamon oil, these swirlybirds are not quite ready for prime time. Senior White Chocolate Taste Tester Mom agrees. At least I've got the look down. To make the filling, I mixed my own redi-fondant with cinnamon oil and some red oil-based candy colors from Wilton. The pink-looking stripe, is not flavored, but colored white chocolate. Next time, I'm flavoring the stripe as well and wrapping the candy in red foil.

Anyone with a soft spot for coconut will enjoy this sweetie. John's mom and sister gobbled up a few of these Coconut Fantasy candies during the Thanksgiving holiday. Creamy white chocolate surrounding a densely coconut filling.

"They taste like summer!" said Mom.

This grouping of unique shapes displays some of my latest work in white chocolate. They are filled with a fluffy, sweetly orange and vanilla flavored fondant. In my mother's words, "they taste like summer!"

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Before I left for California, I had time to spend a day making a gallon zip bag full of these beauties. I like to call them the Peppermint Snowflakes. Yes, a lot of originality there. The top portion is a thick layer of peppermint-flavored white chocolate. Beneath the snowy cover is a dark chocolate layer with a peppermint filling. It's like a sophisticated Peppermint Patty. I wrap them individually in blue or green foil so that the rest of the box of chocolate doesn't wind up mint-flavored. If you're dainty, it will take you about 4 bites to savor this sweet. If you're not, 2 to 3 bites will do it. Makes me wish I could eat them.

This is my Uncle Hy. He turned 100 years old in October, but he's very spry. He walks about a mile each day, eats very carefully, and boasts about his time as a strict vegetarian. Hy attributes his longevity 50% to heredity and 50% to clean living, exercise and strict diet. He still calls me Debelah and Dalink in his Russian accent. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to visit Uncle Hy on my recent trip to southern California for work. The afternoon visit was by far, one of the memories I will cherish the rest of my life. Some of the photos below tell a little bit more, but I do want to keep some of it to myself, selfish as that may be.

There are several copies of this classic black and white photo hung around Uncle Hy's home. Although their expressions are stoic, I have many memories of Aunt Anna and Uncle Hy sharing laughs and kind words. They were married and deeply in love for more years than most people have the chance to live. Uncle Hy was probably in his 70s in this photo. He hasn't changed much, has he?

OK. This classic poster of Karl Marx has been hanging across from the hall bathroom in Uncle Hy's house for as long as I can remember. My tiny Uncle was born in Russia, speaks multiple languages and considers himself a Marxist. Although he actually is a capitalist, he hasn't raised the rents on the people who rent his apartments in Long Beach in many years. They must love him. Unbelievably low cost living in a nice area.

The far end of Uncle Hy's backyard is much more of garden these days than just a yard. In the center of the photo is a twisted lemon tree. It could use some of Chuck's magic, but it still produces fruit. Surrounding the lemon tree is a circle of clivia (or Clive - ia, depending on your home country).

I have such fond memories of days playing in Uncle Hy's backyard. Many citrus trees -- right in the center is an ancient grapefruit tree. Not seen here are several lemon trees and a very healthy avocado tree. Unfortunately, I was not visiting during avocado season. Otherwise, I would have filled the blog with photos of my famous guacamole. Sigh. Past the grapefruit tree is a covered two-seater swing in the patio outside the kitchen. The kitchen window is partially covered by grapefruit tree branches. Beyond the swing is the picture window inside the living room. The carpet is the same avocado green shag I remember from my childhood (about 30 years ago).

The last time I stood on the lush green lawn of Uncle Hy's house was the summer of 1990. Other than the new houses across the street and the suburban sprawl taking over Long Beach, the only difference is that the garden has more blooming plants and is cared for with a great deal of attention to detail. Linda, who is Hy's caretaker (and who also cared for Anna during her last years), is also the tender gardener behind the varied blooms. Hy told me that he is leaving Linda the house. He is very fond of her and she truly cares for him in a daughterly way. It made me happy to hear that she would get the house--it's clear she already loves it and the garden. It's comforting to know that it will be well cared for and its previous owners honored appropriately.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Not many candymaking days left before the holidays

The weather has been perfect for making chocolate. Chilly and dry. However, the behemoth green fridge pumps out a lot of heat, and cranked up the temperature to almost 69 degrees F. In this house, with the chocolate I use, it's best to keep the temperature around 67, but I was able to produce quite a few nice batches yesterday. The photos below are a representative sample of what I created. Further down, you can read about (and see the evidence of) John's and my adventure making shrimp scampi with an Emeril Lagasse recipe. We should have titled it "When recipes go awry." Enjoy!

Here's a close up of some of the nicer marbeling. I swirl the chocolates together in a bowl over hot water before spooning the mixture into the molds and spreading it with a small, food-friendly paintbrush.

I have so much fun making the marbley starfish and seahorses. The big challenge is getting both chocolates to be the same temperature so that when I chill the molds, the white doesn't crystalize. It's weird, the dark never crystalizes--only the white. It took a couple of runs at it, but then they started working out just fine. These have a chocolate hazelnut filling -- not a lot, but enough to make a difference.

When I started making candy, these were among the first shapes I tried. The blue should be familar to any woman worth her salt. I'll give you a hint--the song "Moon River" was the theme to the Audrey Hepburn classic film that includes the name of the store that uses the famous boxes of the same color. These are filled with a gooey marshmallow creme. They measure about 1 cubic inch.

Dark chocolate filled with a cherry filling that includes real cherries. I like the fun shapes.

This was my first shrimp dish after welcoming seafood into my life after 15 years of vegetarianism. Below the main recipe is the recipe for the Essence. It really should have been written in the portions needed for the scampi, but it wasn't. That was a problem because we used the entire 3/4 of a cup instead of the 3 teaspoons needed for doubling this recipe. It could have been worse--I could have used all the salt called for in the recipe and we both could have had heart attacks instead of just really racing hearts. Oh well. The photos that follow show how we made it.

Thawed, frozen shrimp, prior to our peeling off the tails. I got a little squirmish about it (hey, I'm only newly unvegetarian), so John did the honors while I busied myself with other preparation.

These were the only uncooked, peeled and deveined shrimp we could find. Two pounds for US$26.99. We thought they were on sale and nearly bought two bags. Not a rip off, though. They were big shrimp in great shape that tasted very good.

Way too much Essence of Emeril for this dish. Note to self: buy ground pepper. Grinding enough black pepper for a doubled amount of Essence can irritate your throat and nose. It's orange comes from all the cayanne pepper and the paprika. I used the sweet, hungarian kind.

Ronzoni rotini in my wonderful All-Clad saucepan (courtesy of John's mom, who was super generous with gift-certificates to Williams-Sonoma last Christmas. Connie, this pot always cooks everything perfectly!

Along with the shrimp, garlic and a few other yummy items, we picked up some curly leaf parsley at Wegman's in Bridgewater. The smell was fantastic. The bunch was way more than we needed for this dish, so I'm going to share some with Mom.

Mom had given me the Alaska Cutlery Mezzaluna quite some time ago, but the new wooden bowl was from our recent trip to Vermont. John and I picked it out at the original Vermont Country Store in Weston. Oh, that's minced garlic in the bowl. :)

This is not what it's supposed to look like. We used the entire Essence sub-recipe. It's only supposed to be around 3 tablespoons of the stuff. This is equivalent to about 3/4 of a cup. Yikes! By the way, for those of you who love to know the tools cooks use, this is a large Emile Henry bowl in green (not bright green, but more of an avocado green). The large silicone spoonula is from Williams Sonoma. Now everyone's got these branded kitchen instruments with the brand burned into the wood. They say that the silicone part can be pulled off and placed in the dishwasher. I don't bother, just handwash them.

We had two skillets going during the cook time. The recipe called for too much butter for us, so we cut it by a third. The fresh parsley smelled great.

The plated pasta and shrimp. Joann had brought us these lovely pasta dishes a couple of years ago, and we use them all the time.

Don't let the photo fool you, due to our over-cautiousness about overcooking the shrimp, we botched the recipe. BAM! is pretty much the understatement of the year. It wasn't the cayanne pepper that was the killer, it was the freshly ground black pepper. John had ground two tablespoons of the stuff to match the recipe for the Essence. Note to the Food Network: when you provide a subrecipe for a portion of the larger recipe, ensure that the portions are specific to the larger recipe, and emphasize the difference prominently. We later rinsed the shrimp with cold water (since we couldn't eat them as is) and chilled them for a day. Last night, we tried the shrimp without the sauce. I ate one cold and John heated his over some plain rotini. Very garlicky and somewhat salty. A big learning experience for both of us.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The view from my window at the Marriott Waterside, Tampa, FL.

Directly across from my little balcony on the 21st floor, was the structure-in-progress shown in the snapshot on the left of this collage. The photo on the left is of the Tampa Convention Center. It takes up the lion's share of a city block, with scenic walkways on the water. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 09, 2005

More candy

Today I spent much more time making chocolate than I would have liked. However, it was a productive day in preparation for the holiday season. I also needed to fill a small order. Below is a selection of photos that show two boxes I put together (a small and a medium) and some close-ups of the ones I made today. Enjoy!

We forgot to leave a tip at the place we stayed in Freeport, Maine, so we're sending them a special box of my chocolates. This is the middle layer, left to right and top to bottom: Dark Chocolate Toffee Crunchie, Milk Chocolate Fruit Creme, Dark Chocolate Strawberry, Milk Chocolate Crisp Rice Jewel, Dark Chocolate Fruit Creme, Oh Canada!, White Chocolate Toffee Crunchie, Milk Chocolate Crisp Rice Jewel, Milk Chocolate Almond, Butterscotch Dreamy, Dark Chocolate Almond Treasure, Classic Caramel, Dark Chocolate Solid Mini Butterfly.

This is the bottom layer of the box I prepared for the James Place Inn, the lovely place we stay when we go to Freeport, Maine. From left to right and top to bottom: Dark Chocolate Ganache Peanut Butter Cup, Milk Chocolate Marzipan Wonderbow, Solid Dark Chocolate Sunburst, Dark Chocolate Almond Treasure, Milk Chocolate Fruit Creme, Dark Chocolate Marzipan Wonderbow, Milk Chocolate Crisp Rice Jewel, White Chocolate Toffee Crunchie, Dark Chocolate Coconut Fantasy, Fudge Mintie, Dark Chocolate Solid Butterfly.

I have a few different designs for the small box, this plaid in a variety of color combinations and a nice range of solids. I prefer anything in purple. That's my logo designed by Drew Diskin, my cousin. Didn't he do a lovely job? Sometime next year, John will re-do my web site to include the theme of the logo.

This is the bottom layer of the small box: Classic Caramel, Dark Chocolate Almond Treasure, Butterscotch Dreamy, Dark Chocolate Strawberry, White Chocolate Toffee Crunchie, Make Mine Buttercreme.

This is the top layer of a small box I put together this afternoon. From left to right and top to bottom: Mom's Cameo, Dark Chocolate Coconut Fantasy, Fudge Mintie, Dark Chocolate Solid Mini Butterfly, Milk Chocolate Almond, Dark Chocolate Toffee Crunchie.

Close-up of Make Mine Buttercreme. This one is made of white chocolate, milk chocolate and smooth buttercreme filling.