{Cookbook Review} Everyone’s French Fairy Godmother

November 9th, 2010 · 13 Comments · Cakes, Cookbooks, Recipes, Reviews, San Francisco, SF Events, Sweet Spots

Dorieomnivore

There aren’t many more accolades to heap upon Dorie that haven’t been already given. At BlogHer Food, the universal sentiments floating around seemed to be, “I can’t believe Dorie is actually here!” and, “Isn’t she the sweetest person in the world?”

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{SF} A Foodie Weekend in Three Acts

October 14th, 2010 · 8 Comments · Events, San Francisco, SF Events

Act I. “Pour Yourself a Stiff Drink, There’s a Lot More to Come.”

The kickoff party for Scharffen Berger’s annual Chocolate Adventure Contest has become an Orson tradition. Exotic drinks, whimsical nibbles, and a whole lot of chocolate cupcakes. The theme this year for the Chocolate Adventure Contest is cupcakes – devise a cupcake made with one or as many of the 14 “adventure ingredients”, including beets, adzuki beans, stout beer, and bee pollen. Elizabeth Falkner, one of the judges, led the way with a bartop full of cupcakes.

Orsoncupcakes

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{SF} A Soy and Chocolate Pairing with Michael Recchiuti

September 9th, 2010 · 18 Comments · Events, San Francisco, SF Events, Sweet Spots

MRsoymenu

A week ago I got the opportunity to attend a most intriguing presentation and I'm eager to share the experience with you! The event was a Soy and Chocolate pairing, part of Michael Recchiuti's Taste Project where he combines his renowned chocolate with another unexpected ingredient, such as cheese, beer, or salt. As Michael explained to us, he loves learning about other food artisans and he enjoys the challenge of turning his master chocolatier's skills to a new and unknown product.

His latest discovery was Hodo Soy Beanery, an Oakland-based company dedicated to making fresh tofu. This tofu is completely different from the chalky white slabs you see in stores – its shelf life is only days long, and it tastes astonishingly rich and fresh. I've grown up eating tofu, but even I was surprised at how much of a difference there was in the flavor of fresh tofu, and how little I actually knew about the making of tofu! The founder of Hodo Soy, Minh Tsai, was also on hand at the the tasting to talk about his product.

We arrived at the Recchiuti kitchens in San Francisco to a candlelit table scattered with soybeans – elegant but whimsical, the tone of the whole event. As the guests chatted, a steady drumming we initially took to be background music grew louder and louder until we realized it was live drumming – by Michael! Michael Recchiuti is a drummer! With a guitarist husband and drummer brother-in-law, I could totally appreciate this!

I think everyone at the tasting was curious to see what Michael and Minh would do with soy and chocolate. Tofu is not an easy product to pair with chocolate, because of its high water content. Tofu will shed water as you work with it, and of course water is the natural enemy of chocolate. Michael admitted he did a lot of experimenting to discover how best to use all of Hodo Soy's soy products – tofu, soy milk, and even the rarer side products like okara and yuba (which I'll discuss below). The following is the tasting menu we experienced that day:

MRsoydragees

Soy beans given the Michael Recchiuti treatment: lightly caramelized, then dusted with wasabi and matcha. Devilishly poppable.

 MRokaracustard

This was my favorite of the tasting: a custard made with soy milk, topped with a financier and fresh cherries. The financier was actually created with a "flour" of the dried pulp from pureed soybeans, called okara. It had a nutty flavor and lovely pillowy texture – all in all a really tasty combination. The custard was so silky too – reminded me a little of Japanese chawanmushi.

MRsoyfrappe

This appears to be a shot glass of chocolate milk, but in fact is a more complicated concoction – a mixture of hot soy milk and chilled chocolate milk swirled with caramel. The soy milk was poured over the chocolate milk right before it was served to us, resulting in an interesting ever-evolving layering of flavors. Very fun.

MRfactorytour 

We then got to visit the room where Michael's chocolates are created. The majority of the space is occupied by the enrobing machine: you can see Michael and the rest of us gathered around it and a portion of the conveyor belt. A veritable yellow brick road, upon which chocolates travel, to be covered in chocolate and blow-dried to a perfect shiny finish.

MRtofuchocos 

Squares of tofu topped with a marzipan made from okara (who knew it was so versatile?) and ground almonds, ready to be enrobed. I think this is so emblematic of Michael's approach: he doesn't just dip tofu in chocolate, he thought of a multi-component concept that used several soy products. The soft, mild tofu against the richer, denser marizpan. Reminiscent of the chocolates with pate de fruit on top of ganache – a nice play of textures and flavors.

MRdippedchocos 

The tofu squares, now covered in dark chocolate and topped with a nougatine disk. Gilding the lily indeed.

MRminhtsai 

This is Minh Tsai, founder of Hodo Soy Beanery, talking about the process of making tofu. He then proceeded to demonstrate how to make tofu, an eye opening process that took just minutes.

He combined a coagulant (calcium sulfate) with water and then carefully poured hot soymilk over the mix. Tsai likened the process to pouring tea – you need to pour the milk from the proper height so the force of the milk hitting the water will properly disperse the coagulant.

 MRmakingtofu 

The mixture is stirred for a while until it begins to clump up.

MRtofumaking 

The mixture is poured into a box lined with cheesecloth and covered. Then Minh pressed down on top to push out the excess water and get the tofu to consolidate. Here's the excess water coming out of the box.

MRfreshtofu 

In a few more minutes, a b lock of still-warm, very fresh tofu is unwrapped from the cheesecloth. Minh cut it up and we all got to have a piece – an experience very similar to eating freshly made mozzarella. I had never seen tofu made before so this was a really fascinating demonstration.

MRcrepeflambe 

Back in the dining room, Michael enlisted the help of pastry chef William Werner to make his next dish, a take on crepes Suzette with sheets of yuba standing in for the crepes. Yuba, or tofu skin, is a soft, pliable skin that forms on top of steaming soymilk – I know it may sound strange to the Western palate but it's a delicacy – soft and richly creamy. It can be eaten fresh, as is, or cooked – often it's used as a meat substitute just like regular tofu. 

MRyubacrepe 

Here is the yuba "crepe" wrapped around late summer peaches with a scoop of soy milk ice cream – yum! MIchael admitted this was one of his favorite dishes of the day.

MRtomato 

I guess this tasting truly had a "Dessert First" philosophy since the savory course was served last! I really loved it though – a slice of fresh Purple Cherokee tomato topped with some silken tofu and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with cacao nibs. Very fresh and summery.

We were also sent home with some of Michael Recchiuti's burnt caramel hazelnuts and Hodo Soy's tofu as treats; so generous!

It was a thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable afternoon. I just really loved being able to hear two food enthusiasts talk about the passions that move them  – the depth of their dedication and mastery of their craft was evident in every bite we took of their creations. My next post will be about my visit to the Hodo Soy Beanery, so I want to mention how amazing I think Michael Recchiuti is for creating these Taste Projects; they are truly wonderful experiences. If you get a chance to attend one, I highly recommend it – Michael is a great guy with so much knowledge to share. Another reason to go is that all of these dishes are one-offs for the tasting and you can't get them at his retail store – although I'm hoping for a reappearance of those wasabi-and-matcha soybeans in the future!

If you're looking to try some of Michael's Recchiuti's chocolates, I highly recommend anything with burnt caramel – one of his signature flavors, or one his takes on classic favorites, like his whoopie pies or peanut butter pucks. San Francisco is a great place for the chocolate lover!

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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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