Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Turtle Mold

Turtle Mold
Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

This is the turtle mold. It's about 3.5 inches long and 2.5 inches wide at the widest part. A sizeable chocolate to say the least.

Painting the Turtle Shell

Painting the Turtle Shell
Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

It's a time-consuming process, but well worth it when it's done. Although it looks like bright green, it's not as bright in real life. Mixing the green with the milk chocolate gives a much more realistic color to the shell.

Caramel Inside Turtle

Caramel Inside Turtle
Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

Next, I place a whole pecan half snuggly into the caramel so that it will be flat when the rest of the chocolate fills the turtle. People really love this particular caramel.

Pecan Inside Turtle

Pecan Inside Turtle
Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

Next, I place a whole pecan half snuggly into the caramel so that it will be flat when the rest of the chocolate fills the turtle.

Finished Turtle

Finished Turtle
Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

He may look small in the photo, but he is quite large for a chocolate. He measures 3.5 in. long by 2.5 in. wide. I had to buy special candy cups to put each turtle in within the gift boxes.

Turtles On The Move

Turtles On The Move
Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

These guys took a long time to make, but were well worth the effort. Their shells looked realistic and attractive. I hope they impress their new owners!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Peppermint Snowflake

Peppermint Snowflake
Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

I make these hefty chocolates every year, but only during winter. The top slab of white chocolate (really white, not the ivory stuff) is flavored with peppermint oil. The dark chocolate below is filled with a peppermint buttercream filling.

Just a note on buttercream: I make a real buttercream. There's been quite a bit of discussion lately about "real" versus fake buttercream. Mine contains real butter, not shortening or anything scary. Just the good stuff.

I wrap these in a colored foil so as not to mint up the whole box. They measure 2 inches in diameter. A definite two-biter, more if you're dainty.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Cinnamon Fudge Jewel

Cinnamon Fudge Jewel, originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

This is my first time using flickr as my photo posting device. Blogger's been so klugy lately that I thought it was time to try something different.

I made a boatload of these cinnamon fudge jewels last week. First, I flavor red-colored white chocolate with organic oil of cinnamon. Then, I paint the mold with the cinnamon chocolate and set it in the fridge. Next, I add the fudge filling to the mold and top it off with more cinnamon chocolate and finish it in the fridge. Here's how it looks right out of the mold.

There are three shapes, this square, a diamond, and an oblong jewel. They're all pretty spiffy and look pretty in their matching ruby red foil wrappers. More soon!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A couple of weeks ago, Mom and I went to the Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown, NJ, to see their annual Chrysanthemum show. Mom's a member, so she and Dave (and sometimes I) visit the arboretum pretty regularly to walk the grounds or see various exhibitions.

Below are a few photos from the day, including a cameo appearance from Mom.

FYI, I used my new Fuji FinePix 30 for the photos, on the museum setting for lighting, and the macro setting for the focus.


P.S. I promise to start uploading the Christmas chocolate photos next week!

The grounds in front of the main building. It really is a lovely place. If you're in the Morristown, NJ area, or want to take a quick train ride in from NYC, it's worth it.

Here is just a sampling of the gorgeous flowers we saw at the show.

Just for some perspective, here's Mom standing directly in back of a white chrysanthemum. We encountered a fellow walking out of the display area, who said some of the blossoms were as big as wigs. No exaggeration there.

And, as always, a stop in the gift shop is in the plan. I admired so many things, but walked out with a small stuffed gray squirrel for John. Last time I bought a stuffed animal for John there, it was Roly Poly the hedgehog. Surrounding the gift shop are several other gardens, including the rock garden you see here, a project garden for young students, and an edible garden.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Bobolink Dairy makes a variety of different cheeses, but the ones I tried were drumm, foret and cheddar. I tasted the drumm straight, in eggs, and melted into a few dishes. Each time, I was satisfied with the rich, mellow flavor.

My favorite is actually a cheese not produced there, but made by Pennsylvania Dutch farmers who trade it for farming secrets. Bobolink cave-ages the cheese at the farm. It's a very sharp cheddar with loads of flavor.

My last posting on the Bobolink Dairy showed the process of cheesemaking, but here is a photo of some of the cheese produced at the dairy. This is some of their Foret.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Field Trip: Deb Visits the Bobolink Dairy and Bakeyard

On 4 October, I had the privilege of experiencing a day-long internship at the artisnal and sustainable Bobolink Dairy and Bakeyard in Vernon, NJ. Ordinarily, the fee is $100 a day, but I bartered with Jonathan and Nina White (the owners) for two large boxes of Deb's Delectables chocolates. It was a nice trade.

It took me almost 2 hours to drive up there from my house, but I plugged in my brick of a GPS (a hand-me-down from Mom and Dave that has proven to be more than handy), and watched the sun rise as I drove to the farm. When I arrived at Bobolink, I met B, the baker first. B previously was a baker at Balthazar, but I didn't find that out until much later in the day, but I'll get to that.

Because my visit to Bobolink happened in early fall, they were still making cheese. The Whites only make cheese from the milk given by the cows from April through November, when they happily eat the grass and clover grown in the fields. In fact, Jonathan sprinkled clover seeds on the backs of the cows when they were out in the pasture earlier in the season to spread the cheese in an organic way. Just as an aside, Jonathan has made goat's milk cheese as well. And, he may be the only man in America able to produce human milk cheese (done as part of an art installation).

The farm was started in 1989 as a hobby farm. In 1993, Jonathan quit his job as an software engineer to run the 200-acre farm full-time. I met Jonathan through my friend Richard Factor and his friend Barbara. Bobolink's dairy makes 12 different cheeses, but while I was there they were making Jean-Louis, a 22-lb wheel named for chef Jean-Louis Palladin, "who encouraged food artisans to aim for bolder, earthier flavors," says the Bobolink site.

My first task (which wound up taking all morning) was to help the full-time interns escort the cows from the pasture about a mile up the road back down to the dairy where they would be milked, then escorted back up the road and into their pasture. The interns were an international mix of young people who decided to do something completely different with their time than what they studied at school, with one exception, the chef Sara, who was the chief intern.

I followed the small group of interns to the pasture, past another field filled with calves from the Bobolink cows. Most of them were Kerry calves, since Jonathan and Nina are in the process of breeding Kerrys at the farm. Arriving down in the pasture, I noticed that there was clover everywhere. I wonder if this leads to sweet milk from the cows. Since I know very little about cows or farming, that's only a guess.

We drove the cows from the pasture by raising our voices "A-yup!" I mainly clapped my hands in back of the cows I needed to move, and that seemed to work. We walked the cows down the road to the farm, staying out of the way of big cow poo, pee, and the amorous bull, Seamus, who seemed to want to mount one particular cow in heat. Nearly all the cows were pregnant except for a couple who had recently calved and that one coming into heat. Seamus appeared to be responsible for all the pregancies, the busy guy.

When we moved the cows into the portion of the road near the other pasture with the calves, there was such a chorus of mooing! The cows also wanted to socialize with the calves, so it took a bit of doing to move the cows down into the main farm area and to the corral where they would be moved into the milking barn.

The first thing I noticed when I stepped into the milking area was that it was clean and didn't smell like cow poo/pee. I noticed this because after the cows had been corralled for a minute or two, they really let loose and emptied out. I don't want to focus on this, but it was a big part of the morning. Because the milking took over two hours (28 cows and only 4 milking hook-ups -- and 3 new interns), I was pretty well nauseated and had to vacate the milking area frequently. I guess if I lived on grass and clover, I'd probably be "regular" too. Just that part alone convinced me that owning a cow was not for me. I didn't stick around for the cleaning out process, choosing instead to visit the bakery (see that portion a bit later in this story). Jonathan said, "Cheesemaking is part-time. Cleaning is full-time."

Jonathan told me that he is planning to rebuild the milking area, as well as purchase more milkers to streamline the process. He'll also need to build because he plans to grow the herd to 50 head. Right now, it's about 28.

As the cows are milked, the milk travels down a tube and is heated in a large vat at 93 degrees F. Whey from the previous day's cheesemaking as well as rennet are added to the vat to make the cheese form. After the cheese forms, they pull out whey for the following day, and use a long cutting device (looks like it's strung with piano wire) to slice through the cheese in the vat, to make the curds. Then, there's some stirring, and finally, the curds are scooped up and placed in a mold to settle and drain. The whey drains into a large milk can, and is later fed to the Bobolink pigs. These are the happiest and healthiest looking pigs I've ever seen. Bobolink sells their pork as well as beef at their web site. They also sell their cheese, but not their bread there.

As the molded cheeses harden, they are salted, and eventually moved to the cave (which I didn't see) to age.

The cheese itself varies from week to week as the cows are moved from pasture to pasture. Jonathan told me that in cheesemaking, weather is everything. Cooler udders produce less of the good bacteria needed for better cheese, hence his seasonal style. He absolutely will not make cheese from milk produced when the cows are eating hay.

I was fortunate enough to sample some Baudolino that had not been aged long at all. They call it the "brie of Barbarossa," but I found it to be immensely buttery, sweet and creamy. I wanted to buy it as is, but I'll have to wait.

After the forms were filled, I went into the bakeyard to learn more about the famous brick oven designed by Alan Scott. They start the fire at 6 pm, the night before they plan to use it, and rake out the embers of the wood at 7 am. They bake their breads quickly at high temperatures, moving to larger loaves as the temperature in the oven falls.

The day I was there, the oven was too hot in the morning to do any baking. When B arrived at 7 am, he saw "fire still shimmering with blue flame." The rhythm of the day is based on the oven -- the degree of heat as well as the space within the oven.
They don't use the milk from the dairy since it's too precious, however, they do use Bobolink cheese on their cheese ciabattas. They use soaked oats in all their breads, and no added sugar. Interestingly, they work without refrigeration within a converted trucking container cooled to temperatures conducive to producing the delicious breads.

First, B does his mixing, then, the doughs ferment. Next, the loaves are pre-shaped and left to rise, then they have their final shaping before they are loaded into the oven with a bread/pizza peel.

I tried quite a few of the different breads: a kalamata olive ciabatta made with olive brine instead of water, the cheese ciabatta, a cranberry-walnut stick (divine!), and their classic epi (my favorite).

Overall, it was a refreshing and different experience. If I were to do it again, I'd skip the morning with the cows, and spend the time in the bakeyard instead. Then, I'd come for the cheesemaking experience, which didn't take that long, and go see the cave.

On my way out, I stopped in the store and bought some of their Drumm and Foret cheeses, along with a cheddar made by Pennsylvania Dutch farmers that Bobolink ages in its cave. I brought those along with a host of breads to Mom and Dave's house for a little sampling dinner on my way home. They were fond of the cheeses and the breads as was I.

Bobolink does several farmer's markets in New York City: on Fridays at Union Square Greenmarket (Bwy and 16th St.), and on Thursdays and Saturdays at Lincoln Center Greenmarket (66th and Bwy). Go visit Nina there and try their cheeses and breads!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Makin' Chocolate

Long time, no see, I know. But, this entire week, I'll be working on some very special chocolates. These will no doubt be my swansong for the year. I'm pulling out all the stops and going VERY fancy indeed.

This morning, when I plugged in the giant fridge (used for setting chocolates), I went through all my chocolate molds. I'm definitely going to count them all at some point. I must have close to 200 by now, albeit some are duplicates for large orders (remember the 300 butterflies I did for that wedding in 2005?).

Well, one of the molds I haven't used in a few years is my turtle mold. They're large and in charge. I don't simply pour the chocolate into the mold and fill it with caramel and pecans. I paint the inside of what would be the turtle shell in colors befitting a stylish turtle. They're so large that I call them my Galapago Turtles. This year, I'll be making them for a big corporate gift order for the holidays. Be assured that I'll be snapping photos the whole time.

The weather has a definitive snap in the air (it was 31 degrees F outside at 7 am) and I've got the heat set to chocolate-making temperature.

Fall is the time of year when I feel like I awaken from the sluggishness of the hot months. Some folks are affected by the sun's disappearance, but I'm not one of them. I enjoy sweater weather and the crunch of leaves beneath my feet. I also eagerly await making new chocolate fillings and the surprise of how the chocolates look when they're unmolded.

A tall fan of my chocolate is my dear friend Richard Factor. He's immortalized me and the chocolates once again in his blog about the venerable Tom Lehrer. If you don't know who Tom Lehrer is, you might want to ask your parents. My step-dad, Dave, is a big fan of the incredibly witty singing comedian from Harvard. This is a lightweight Wikipedia entry of the legendary satirist.

Off I go, to paint chocolate molds in the most artistic ways. Have a lovely Fall day (in this hemisphere, otherwise, have a lovely seasonal day wherever you might be!).

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Samosas! Sorry for not posting these sooner. It's been a busy time lately, between the Jewish High Holy Days, painting the house and a really interesting internship. I will post about that separately since it involves cheesemaking and bread baking. In the meantime, this blog has been patiently waiting for me to resume writing. As you can can see from the collage above, this is a recipe from the Sanjeen Kapoor cookbook that Shammi sent me in our blogging by mail trade. John and I also pulled from the Samosas recipe at Epicurious.com, so it's a mixture of both. Going from right to left, top to bottom, here's what's in each photo: 1. Sanjeen's recipe for Samosa; 2. Cover of his book; 3. John peeling some organic russet potatoes (we typically don't peel potatoes, but we didn't know if it would affect the recipe, so we did it just this once); 4. Cooking the frozen organic peas; 5. Peas, chopped green onions and fresh cilantro; 6. Chopped jalepenos; 7. The oil we used for the recipe (I got a great deal on Amazon.com on four cans of grapeseed oil for $16.00); 8 and 9. John doing his magic on the potatoes.

Again, going left to right, top to bottom (excepting the repeated photo in the top left corner): 1. The dough sat patiently, waiting for us to divide it up into portions and roll it out; 2. The yummy filling gently sauteing in the 12-in non-stick pan John's Mom sent us from QVC (pretty nice); 3. Almost done cooking the filling; 4. John using the long end of a steel spatula to divide the dough equally into eight parts; 5. Finished filling; 6. John's perfectly divided dough (sorry no photos of rolling out the samosa dough or our stuffing and folding process); 7. Freshly baked samosas on a small plate; 8. Innards for Robyn. The final product was much blander than we thought it would be, however we left out a few ingredients, so it serves us right. We were satisfied with the baked taste rather than deep frying them like authentic samosas. On the other hand, Shammi's homemade gram masala powder was the best part. Really tasty and made the house smell fantastic. Now that we have all the ingredients required, we will make these again, but probably use more the Epicurious recipe than Sanjeen Kapoor's just for comparison. Finally, I wish Sanjeen had mentioned the length of time it takes to make these. It took a couple of hours, and we were pretty hungry by the time they were done.