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!"