Entries from April 21st, 2010

Taste of the Nation San Francisco – Win a Ticket to Go!

April 21st, 2010 · 21 Comments · Events, Giveaways, Uncategorized


Besides creating the Great American Bake Sale (the San Francisco Food Bloggers' Bake Sale I just organized was part of this nationwide event), Share Our Strength also spearhears several other events to draw attention to the problem of childhood hunger. One of the these other events is Taste of the Nation, billed as "the nation's premier culinary event dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America."

Spread over 30 cities across the US, Taste of the Nation features nights of festivity with top chefs, winemakers, and mixologists serving up luscious dishes, delectable wines, and intriguing cocktails. Nibble and imbibe, participate in a wine toss, or bid in a silent auction on tempting food-related prizes. All the proceeds from ticket sales and the events go back to Share Our Strength, to help in the fight against childhood hunger.

Taste of the Nation San Francisco will happen next Thursday, April 29, and will spotlight food from some the Bay Area's brightest culinary luminaries, including Traci des Jardins of Jardiniere, Matthew Accarrino of SPQR, and Elizabeth Faulkner of Citizen Cake. I was lucky enough to score two tickets from Foodbuzz, to attend the event as one of their Featured Publishers! So expect to see a report on this event on Dessert First!

However, even more exciting it that one of you readers can experience it with me! Foodbuzz has given me an extra ticket to raffle off, and I need to give it away by this Friday!

The Taste of the Nation San Francisco event is Thursday, April 29, from 6:30 to 9:30 at AT&T Ballpark. Obviously you will have to be able to get yourself to the event. For all my readers who aren't in San Francisco, I'm very sorry and I promise I'll have another raffle that you can all enter very soon!

Since time is short, I'll make it simple to enter: simply follow my Twitter feed. Post your twitter handle in the comment box below so I can verify that you're following. If you're already following me, you can also post your twitter handle and enter!

I'll pick a winner at random on Friday at noon. So get a-typin!

Tickets for Taste of the Nation can also be purchased here. If you live outside of San Francisco, check the events page to see if there is another Taste of the Nation event near where you are. Events are happening from now through July.

Here's another chance to help in the fight against childhood hunger – and have some fun in the process!


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How to Have a Fabulous Bake Sale

April 20th, 2010 · 30 Comments · Personal, San Francisco, SF Events

Wow, what a weekend! The San Francisco Bloggers’ Bake Sale in support of Share Our Strength raised $1650! Gaby, the national organizer, has reported that the grand total raised by 23 food blogger bake sales around the country was $16,500 – meaning SF raised 10% of the total!! I am so proud of my team and their efforts – not only was it a lot of fun, but it was wildly successful!

So, what were the ingredients to our fabulous bake sale? I’ll list my tips and lessons learned in the recap below:

1. Find a great location.

Somewhere highly visible, with lots of foot traffic, where people who appreciate good food might frequent. Sounds like…Omnivore Books! The primo place for lovers of food literature also made the ideal location for the San Francisco Food Bloggers’ Bake Sale. We placed ourselves next to Omnivore Books, on the corner where we could be easily seen from all directions, right in the path of all the neighborhood residents out for a Saturday stroll.

Bake sale tips at dessertfirstgirl.com

Here’s our bake sale – already bustling at 11:30, a full half hour before scheduled start! Omnivore Books is to the left; the pet store we are in front of is also owned by Celia, and she graciously let us set up in front of it. Customers kept asking us if we were selling pet treats! Lesson learned: next time, make homemade doggie treats – given the number of people walking by with their dogs, we could have made twice as much! Photo courtesy of lisa is bossy.

I have spoken at Omnivore Books before when promoting my own cookbooks, and knew the store was a perfect fit for the bake sale. Celia, the owner of Omnivore, was wonderfully enthusiastic and supportive about letting us set up outside  – plus she promoted the bake sale on the store website and Twitter feed! I love the San Francisco food community so much!

Bake sale tips at dessertfirstgirl.com

Clockwise from top left: Celia, the super-fun owner of Omnivore Books; beautiful spring-like lemon drizzle cake; happy bake sale visitors (the lady in the orange scarf is Daphne, one of the bake sale volunteers, and in the back right you can see me – a rare moment when I’m not running around like a maniac); adorable miniature blueberry tarts. Photos courtesy of cookingsf.

And, in a stroke of sweet serendipity, when I spoke to Celia, I found out that Rose Levy Barenbaum was speaking the same day at Omnivore! Piggybacking on top of another event – another surefire way to increase visitors to your bake sale! I’d have to say the pastry gods were certainly smiling on our event!

Bake sale tips at dessertfirstgirl.com

The lady of the hour at Omnivore Books, speaking to a very packed house. She was extraordinarily generous with her knowledge – quite an inspiration! Photo courtesy of lisa is bossy.


2. Recruit early.

The sooner you advertise for help, the sooner you’ll be able to delegate! Wait, that sounds awful, but really, food bloggers are some of the most generous and giving people I know. Planning with others is much more fun and less stressful than taking the whole burden on yourself, and people will come up with ideas you wouldn’t have thought of on your own. Come up with a list of tasks and create a sign up sheet  – I found Google spreadsheets worked really well for real-time planning and sharing. I had people volunteer to bring needed items like tables, napkins, and coolers, to make flyers and signage, to advertise the bake sale through their own social circles.Combining and pooling resources is what bake sales are all about.

One of the happiest things I took away from this bake sale was all the new friendships I made – fellow baking enthusiasts, all eager to talk pastry and make sweet treats. Having the bake sale gave us the opportunity to all connect while doing something good for the community at the same time. Truly, when you help others you really end up helping yourself. I was overwhelmed by the positivity and happiness that practically radiated from our bake sale tables! A list of all the participants is at the end of this post – without them, this bake sale would not have been the wonderful success it was!

Bake sale tips at dessertfirstgirl.com

Top: Shauna and Katie, having a great time and charming the customers. Photo courtesy of eatthelove.
Bottom: Penni, bread maker extraordinaire, also charming the customers. Notice how happy all the volunteers are? We had a fabulous group of bakers – a huge thank you to all of them!
Photo courtesy ofPiece of Cake.


3. Package to sell.

I dithered about making bakers go to the extra expense of packaging their products, but on the day of the bake sale I am SO GLAD I asked everyone to come with their items packaged to sell. First of all, it cuts an enormous amount of effort out of the setup – everything comes ready to place on the table. Second, it eliminates any sanitation issues with food sitting out in the open being handled by dozens of people. Third, and most importantly, it gives you a chance to present your food in a professional and enticing way. The photos speak for themselves – how gorgeous and appealing does everything look? It’s prettier than some retail bakeries!

Bake sale tips at dessertfirstgirl.com

Left: Did you think a bake sale in SF wouldn’t have macarons? Why bother with a trip to Paris when you can get some here? Sandwiched between the macarons are some swoonworthy Meyer Lemon and sea salt chocolate tarts. Seriously, what Paris? Right: And again, no need for a transatlantic plane flight to pick up some truly beautiful fruit tartlets. I almost teared up when Ray brought these tartlets – how amazing is the food blogger talent? Photos courtesy of lisa is bossy.

Also, I should have realized that food bloggers would be all about presentation and would jump on the chance to show off their products in the best possible light. Look at the detail and care on the packaging!

Bake sale tips at dessertfirstgirl.com

San Francisco food bloggers are serious when it comes to presentation! Another lesson learned: bloggers, put your blog info on the packaging! Many customers wanted to know the participating blogs and unfortunately we didn’t have a printed list! The bake sale is your chance to publicize your blog and show off your talents! Photo courtesy of Piece of Cake.


4. Establish pricing and payment system beforehand.

Another issue I mulled over until fellow baker Robyn said, “You need to make things as easy as possible for you and the customers.” Exactly! K.I.S.S. principle. The solution that worked for me was to come up with three to four price points ($1, $3, $6, $12), and ask bakers to bake and package their items based on these categories (e.g. one big individual cookie for $3, a small fruit pie for $6.). The morning of the bake sale, we set up tables and designated each one with a price, and all items with that price went on the table. It made for fast set up – no need to stick a price tag on each item, AND it made it easy to sell to customers (“Everything on this table is $6″), AND easy to sum up purchase totals.

Bake sale tips at dessertfirstgirl.com

The $6 table. *sigh*, still swooning over the packaging. Photo courtesy of lisa is bossy.

Also, I preferred to have all money transactions in one corner, to make it easier to keep track of the money. I gave the staff restaurant-style check books and had them write down what the customers wanted. Then the customers took the receipt, went to the cashier’s table to pay, and then could go back and pick up their items.

I liked this system because it prevented having ten people descending on the cash box at once to make change, and the receipts provided a way to verify what was sold (if you’re really nerdy like me, you can use the receipts to determine which items were most popular – valuable data for the next bake sale!) Of course there are many different ways to run your event, but the point is to come up with a method beforehand – one that will be easy for you and everyone else to understand and follow.

Bake sale tips at dessertfirstgirl.com

Left: Gluten-free mint chocolate brownies! Right: “Uh, what do we have that’s vegan?” I swear I didn’t have that clueless look on my face all day. If you can, including gluten-free, nut-free, and/or vegan options will make the special-diet customers happy – and be prepared to know where they are, unlike me! By the way, we did have vegan cookies! Photos courtesy of eatthelove.


5. Think big.

Of course you want the classics at your bake sale – cookies, brownies, cupcakes. But think about bigger-ticket items: after all, the higher you can price your items, the more you’ll make! And they make stunning centerpieces for the table that will catch the eyes of passerby. We had about four big cakes brought in; each time one arrived, we put at the corner table as the centerpiece. Each time, the cake sold in minutes. Literally!

Bake sale tips at dessertfirstgirl.com

Left: A stunning chocolate and coffee buttercream cake. Photos courtesy of cookingsf. Right: We had the cake out for about ten minutes when this gentleman snapped it up. As we didn’t have a cake box, Pat generously walked it back to his place a few blocks away! Talk about service! Photo courtesy of One Domestic Diva.



6. Think small.

You know why grocery stores put the candy bars and mints right next to the checkout stand, right? Same principle works here! Have a bunch of small $1 items, like individually wrapped cookies or brownies, or mini cupcakes, next to the cashier. You’ll be surprised how often people will “add on” while they’re paying for their original purchases! Robyn made caramel corn and packed them in adorable little paper cones, and we put them at the cashier’s table – they vanished within the first hour! Not only does everyone love caramel corn, but at $1, who could resist?

Bake sale tips at dessertfirstgirl.com

Left: Caramel corn, in salty (regular) and spicy varieties. Right: The most precious display of chocolate-dipped banana cake pops. Photos courtesy of cookingsf.



7. Have a donations jar at the register.

People want to help out – give them every opportunity to do so. It’s surprising – and gratifying – after you explain your cause to customers, how many of them put their extra bills into the donations jar. I’ll also let you in on a little secret: Notice how we priced the items at $3, $6, and $12 – all prices that are likely to require making change?:) I know, it’s sneaky, but see how there are all these chances to create openings for people to further cont ribute to your cause? All these little things add up!

Bake sale tips at dessertfirstgirl.com

Left: Note pink donation can in the corner, and money headed towards it! Bonus tip: Having a reliable, hardworking, cheerful person – like, say a significant other – working the cash table is a great help! Photo courtesy of lisa is bossy. Right: Breads are an impressive addition to the bake sale table – look at these fabulous pretzels! Photo courtesy of cookingsf.

8. Find a place to donate the leftovers after the bake sale.

Of course, in a perfect bake sale world, all your beautiful goodies would be gone in a twinkling! Well, just in case there’s some items left at the end of the day, be sure to research beforehand and find local donation centers to drop off leftovers. Keep the good karma going and make sure every cookie and cupcake finds a happy hungry stomach to fill.

Bake sale tips at dessertfirstgirl.com

More beauty shots – hard to believe anything was left, huh? That little sweetie in the bottom right corner belongs to Robyn, one of the bakers! Photos courtesy of Bake Your Heart Out.

Again, a huge thank you to Omnivore Books for hosting our bake sale, to everyone who came and supported us, and of course to all the fabulous baking bloggers who lent their spatulas to the cause!

Here are all the bloggers who participated:


Allison: http://bakeyourheartout.wordpress.com

Annelies: http://anneliesz.tumblr.com/

Daphne: www.cookingsf.com

Faith: www.clickblogappetit.blogspot.com

Irwin: www.eatthelove.com

Katie: http://www.idhavebakedacake.blogspot.com/

Kerrie: www.cookingsf.com

Lisa: http://lisa-is-bossy.blogspot.com/

Liz: www.delvious.com

Marisol : www.onedomesticateddiva.com

Nina: ninascupcakes@blogspot.com

Pat: ringalings.blogspot.com

Penni: www.penniwisner.com

Rachel:  http://scratch.typepad.com

Sam: http://becksposhnosh.blogspot.com/

Shauna: http://pieceofcakeblog.blogspot.com

Shelly: anopencupboard.com

Stephanie: dessertsforbreakfast.blogspot.com

And a big thank you to Ariel, Catrina, Carlo, Diana, Kelly, Lili, Ray, Robyn, and Shila, who also contributed their goodies to the sale.

A sweet success indeed!

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San Francisco Food Bloggers' Bake Sale – This Saturday!

April 15th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Events, San Francisco


I know, where have I been? Preparing for the first San Francisco Food Bloggers' Bake Sale, this Saturday!

As a reminder, I and over 25 wonderful food bloggers will be selling our homemade cakes, cookies, tarts, pies. breads, and much more to raise funds for Share Our Strength, a national organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger! If you are near San Francisco this Saturday, please stop by to say hi and support us!

For an example of what we'll be selling, see my fellow food blogger Lisa's fab macarons!! I must state now, the food blogger community in the San Francisco Bay Area is amazing. I am truly astonished and grateful for how many bloggers and bakers, many whom I've never met before, responded to my call and offered to bake up goodies and help out. Food really does bring people together!

As a double bonus, we are holding the bake sale at Omnivore Books, the most fabulous bookstore in San Francisco for food lovers, and Rose Levy Barenbaum will be speaking at 3 PM! How can you miss it?

And a last-minute enticement! Chicago Metallic has generously donated some bakeware that we will be auctioning off! Need a new brownie pan or cupcake tin? Come by for your chance to win!

San Francisco Food Bloggers' Bake Sale

This Saturday, April 17, 12-3 PM

Omnivore Books

3885 Cesar Chavez St.

San Francisco, CA 94131

And if you can't make it, may I humbly suggest a contribution at our team page? Just click on "Make a Gift" to donate! I and all the food bloggers of the bake sale thank you!

Thanks all for your support! After this weekend, it'll be back to regularly scheduled programming – I have a report on Pebble Beach Food and Wine and a visit to Driscoll's Berry Farms I can't wait to share!

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{SF} San Francisco Chocolate Salon – A Second Go Around

April 1st, 2010 · 14 Comments · Events, San Francisco


Remember the San Francisco Chocolate Salon I attended last year? A gathering of some of best artisan chocolatiers from near and far, and all the chocolate you could handle? Well, I was lucky enough to be invited back this year as a judge. Which meant that for about three weeks I had regular deliveries of chocolate samples showing up at my door. I felt like I'd inadvertently subscribed to about 50 chocolate-of-the-month clubs by mistake – a very delicious mistake, mind you. And no need for jealousy: tickets were readily available to the salon, and when we went a weekend ago, there were plenty of chocoholics tasting some of the best chocolatiers from around the country. I am constantly astonished at the continued rise in quality and innovation in the chocolate/confection industry – and how happy everyone gets around chocolate. How can you not smile when you have someone offering you a tray of chocolate?

With about 20 categories ranging from best dark chocolate to best comfort food product, there was a lot of tasting and a lot of decision-making to do. Fortunately we had a few weeks to taste the samples, which was a good thing or even I might have passed out from chocolate overdose! On the plus side, I now have a new list of favorites and plenty of recommendations to give to anyone looking for a chocolate fix! I'm not going to reveal my choices for the salon, but I do want to share some of my personal favorites from the long, extensive, and intensive tasting. Warning: plenty of theobroma cacao ahead!


Alter Eco Chocolate, dedicated to developing and distributing fair trade food products from across the globe. They have an intriguing lineup of bars, and I got to sample three. The cacao used in these chocolate bars is harvested from a small, traditional-farming cooperative in the Bolivian Amazon.

The Dark Chocolate Blackout (85%) is Alter Eco's darkest, purest bar for those dark chocolate fanatics. The bar is beautifully made, just on the thicker side for bars(for my preference), the with a clean,crisp snap – as Alter Eco bars are made in Switzerland, they've got the imprint of the Swiss expertise with chocolate-making all over them. The chocolate is very pleasantly smooth, with a dry, slightly fruity finish. An excellent choice for anyone who's a dark chocolate purist.

If you a fan of "crunchies" in chocolate (Nestle Crunch was always one of my favorites when I was little), the Dark Chocolate Quinoa (61%) is a must-try. Quinoa mixed into the chocolate(you can see the generous proportioning in the photo above) gives it a nice crunch while you can still taste the rich chocolate – for 61%, it's still surprisingly robust. Although it's clearly of a higher class than a Nestle bar(i.e. meant to be savored slowly), I could still eat this whole bar in one sitting.

I really, really like the Dark Chocolate Velvet – it may be the elusive detente between dark and milk chocolate. Personally I am not a fan of most milk chocolate, but this bar, a mix of dark chocolate and a "touch of milk", captures the wonderful creaminess of milk chocolate while muting the dairy flavor to a sweet undercurrent. The mouthfeel is amazingly buttery. Definitely a standout – I would say whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to milk chocolate you should still give this a try!


I feel a little redundant including Amano, since it's been a heavy favorite at chocolate shows; however, it's just such great chocolate that I can't help but gush about it to anyone who will listen. Their original Ocumare bar was one of my favorite bars at the old chocolate shop/bakery cafe I used to work at. Amano has been steadily expanding its line, and I wanted to mention the highlights: Dos Rios (70%), with cacao from the Dominican Republic, is a gorgeous spicy orchard in your mouth, very fruity, tasting of bergamot oranges and cloves, and luxurious full finish. It's the orange-striped one in the top left corner if you're looking for it. Montanya(70%) is a limited edition bar made with beans from small family plantations in Northern Venezuela (the light green one in the bottom left corner). This is just a fantastic bar. The flavors are delicate but concentrated, a complex mix of apricot, nuts, and marshmallow, sweet and with a dry finish that hits you in roof of your mouth, near the back. It makes me think of fruit trees just starting to blossom in the first flush of spring. I suggest if you want to try Amano, get three or four of their different bars – it'll be pricey but worth it. It's really eye-opening to see how different all their bars are, and how they've crafted each one to express the individual notes of their bean origins. Amano also includes tasting notes with their bars, so you can tell how serious they are about their chocolate. Taste one of their bars and you'll realize that "dark" and "bitter" describe nothing about a really well-made chocolate bar. I can't love this company enough.


Amella's Cocoa Butter Caramels get my vote for one of the most unique products at the salon. Soft caramels made from cocoa butter and flavored with fruits and vegetables, then dipped in chocolate. I admit I was a little overwhelmed by the melange of concepts when I first saw them – what would they taste like? But they turned out to be wonderful little caramels with deep flavors and great texture. I admit there were a lot of caramels at the salon – at one point it seemed I had tried so many sea salt caramels I felt like I'd eaten a salt lick! Preferences for caramels can vary widely – do you like your firm, chewy, gooey, sticky? Amella's caramels are a lovely compromise – firm but not so hard you have to yank with your teeth to get a bite, with embarrassing threads of caramel trailing off. You can bite through these caramels quite easily, and they soften up quickly in the mouth, releasing a medley flavors.

I included these caramels mostly because I was fascinated by the carrot cake caramel. It seemed like such a odd idea – plus, dipped in white chocolate, I was afraid it would be a too-sweet confection. However, it tastes like a really good carrot cake: a mix of carrots, pecans, and cinnamon in a vanilla-scented caramel. Again, I like the caramel texture – firm enough to hold its shape, pleasingly chewy in the mouth. Excellent, highly recommended. The other flavors are more conventional but equally flavorful: a black forest with tangy cherries mixed into dark chocolate, and passion fruit, with the intense fruit tucked into milk chocolate. Congrats to Amella for creating such lovely caramels!


I also noticed a trend of homemade gourmet marshmallows at the salon – and a far cry from the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man they are! The prettiest marshmallows I saw had to be Gateau et Ganache's – adorable blossoms in pastel hues with a chocolate button in the center. Charmingly named "guimauves de printemps" (Spring marshmallows), they are flavored lemon, passion fruit, and strawberry and a loevely addition to the Easter table! They were pleasingly thick and springy, swooningly fluffy to the bite, and sweet without being cloying. The head pastry chef of Gateau et Ganache, Anni Golding, studied at L'École Lenôtre and L'École du Grand Chocolat Valrhona in France, and it really shows in her darling confections and perfectly formed chocolates. Shown in the box are, from top to bottom and left to right, milk chocolate cinnamon, white chocolate passion fruit(yum), dark chocolate caramel, and lavender earl grey (sweet and smoky). Beautiful boutique chocolates.  


My prize for sexiest packaging would go to Vice Chocolates for their sophisticated purple and black scheme and the beautiful reptile-patterned boxes tied with purple ribbon. I love the high, narrow design: it's truly like opening a jewel box to discover treasures hidden in the layers of tissue paper. The chocolates are flat out gorgeous as well: impeccably enrobed and decorated with luster dust and gold leaf. The flavors are offbeat but intriguing – I particularly liked the Scarlet (strawberry in dark chocolate), the Empress (jasmine and lychee), and the Salty Dog (salted caramel, done to gooey perfection). They also had a very unusual but very delicious fig and anise chocolate bar – I really love when these unexpected chocolate pairings work out so well!


William Dean was another stunner – his box of chocolates looked like a rainbow paintbox. The chocolates are so perfectly formed, with perfect swoops and rounded corners, the decorations brushed on just so. William Dean Chocolates is based in Florida, which might help explain the tropical-fantasy colors and flavors: Key Lime (the parrot-green round one, second from right on top), Cherry-Cranberry Pie (the red flowers, top right corner), Cassis Crunch (purple floral, top left corner, and Mexican Mango (leopard spots, bottom left) were among my favorites. The top half of the photo shows the true work-of-art matcha bar – I wasn't sure whether to bite into it or to frame it!

Other chocolates that tickled my tastebuds:

Divine 70% Dark Chocolate with Raspberries

Malie Kai Dark Chocolate Nibby Bar

Saratoga Chocolates -raspberry truffle(with Bonny Doon Framboise!) and valencia orange truffle

Thanks to all the chocolatiers that participated in the San Francisco Chocolate Salon and sent tasting samples to me and all the other judges.

So next time you need a chocolate recommendation, let me know! Or maybe I'll throw a chocolate-tasting party next year…

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