Monday, November 24, 2008

Yep, last night I cooked my own dessert. Well I helped anyway.

That's right, recently I've been turning on my oven, placing things in there and rediscovering this whole thing called cooking. Last night, I expanded that into baking. Well, I wasn't alone in my cookie caper - M helped me out. I should say I helped her out - gave her tips as we went along. So what was the inspiration? Well, on my recent trip to Lake Champlain Chocolates, I won a couple things. I believe the prize pack may have been padded by the time I picked it up. Apparently it pays off to know the lovely Leann, who happens to be the resident blogger for LCC.

So here's the whole lot of booty (minus the Old World Hot Chocolate Leann got for me when I picked it up) in my lovely 'thanksgiving' bowl that I never seem to put anything in - until now!

So once I realized we had all the ingredients, we're off! Here's a closer look at the book '101 Things To Do With Chocolate' by Stephanie Ashcraft and all the 'wet' ingredients started as well.

Now M's go the dry ingredients all mixed together. She missed the bowl with some of them, but it's not home cooking if you don't make a little mess, right?

Let's combine the two.. this required dad's intervention after the first few scoops were introduced. The good news is, we're almost there! Just in time as dad's arm is getting tired, and Baby D is in the sling, trying to reach for the cookie dough too!

And (with a preheated oven ready to go) we're scooping them onto pan 1 of 2... we decided to skip the tiny teaspoon scoops and go full bore with a tablespoon.

Lookout - incoming hot stuff! The smell of these was deeeeelicious!

OK, I can't take any credit for these, but I don't feel I can give my normal review. Even though it was not my recipe, and my daughter made them, I did help. So there's a slight chance that my review could be seen as slanted, or biased in some way. Regardless, if you want to - keep on reading.

These were freaking amazing. What a party of chocolate chip cookies that was invited to my mouth. I am so making these again! We didn't have enough butter to make these the way I wanted, but they give you the butter/margarine/shortening options in the recipe. I chose to use half butter and half shortening to split the difference. I brought these into work to share a few and they were well received. Definitely a better than classic cookie. I will tell you , at the size we made them - they were almost too big. There's just so much great chocolate in these. Slightly crisp on the outside, nice and chewy insides. Just the way I love them!

I'm definitely making some of the other recipes in the book as well. I'll let you know how they turn out!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Chocolate sculpting

I don't know if you heard, but a little bird (who happens to work at Lake Champlain Chocolates) let me know about the Chocolate Sculpting Demo that was happening at the Lake Champlain Chocolates store on Pine Street in Burlington.

Emily Walton Jones and her buddy Rachel were the dynamic duo who showed us the basics... Emily is an artist for sure, and Rachel is as well, having just wrapped up performing in Cabaret. After they promised to teach each other their craft - they began. First, Emily started off just pouring loads of chocolate onto parchment paper to create the walls of the house. I don't know if you have ever seen someone pour out a gallon of chocolate, but a little voice inside me cried. Cried out that I didn't have a spoon to hold under the stream of liquid chocolate. Here you can see one of the large pitchers (but not the biggest one, and the smaller one used for white chocolate just after the first pour began:

While we waited for the first one to set up, some completed pieces were pulled off the shelf. Emily went through the process of making the various pieces needed, like the white chocolate windows. Soon it was really taking shape, and starting to look like a house, but there were many details that needed to be completed.

Really looks like a house now. Emily showed us how with some of the details. We had seen how to fill in the windows with some detailed 'stained glass' looking frames, and Rachel was also finishing off the roof with holiday colored Nonpareils. Now of course all of this looked relatively easy, but Emily Warned us to have lots of parchment paper available to make our bags to pipe the chocolate with. However, since she often set it down to review some steps, it frequently got cold on her, where as, at home, I could see this going much faster in the home - if you had your space set up properly.

Last steps - done! This was absolutely amazing, not only to see the work done, but as each step was progressing Emily grabbed a pre-made part (while the other ones were setting up) and gave pointers on how to make things flow smoothly, and

This was truly an amazing demo. I enjoyed every minute of it. Baby D slept through most of it, but was intrigued herself, if only partially, in what was taking place before her.

I will definitely go again! Now, as a person who used to do 'in your face marketing' the only thing I can think that the staff could have done to make this better, was to make it more interactive. Show us how to make the clever little parchment pastry bags that Emily made, grab people from the audience to 'glue' the Nonpareils onto the roof. Rachel could get them started, and then they could take over, give us some 'real life' experience so a project like this would seem a little less daunting.

Certainly - though - I didn't walk away from this empty, I walked away with my head swimming in Chocolate! Figuratively and literally as they had samples galore out, and then I also bought some Hot Chocolate, drank part of it, and added the rest to the coffee in my car to make a delicious mocha. Here are the samples I tried when I was int he store. Of course, each one was spectacular, especially the Chocolate Pecan Pie, which I grabbed the recipe for while I was there!

Evergreen Mints - Crunchy, bittersweet, minty!

Peanut Butter Leaves - Soft, pea nutty, yummy!

Chocolate Pecan Pie - Rich, decadent, nutty!

Finally - Carrot Cake from Chef's Corner!

So broken down cars and flu be damned! I got it, I finally got it. I went in on Saturday to the Chef's Corner and picked up a Carrot Cake. Now when I called on Friday to ask one be held for me they seemed to think I didn't need to hold one. Seems they always have at least a few on hand. But They did hold it, and good thing. When I went in on Saturday - the Carrot Cake Section of the cooler was empty.

But finally.. There is was..

My lovely Carrot Cake. It was all mine.. OK, I might share some with M, but otherwise mine, all mine!

So this was a hefty cake, it was only a 6" cake, but it felt like it weighed about twice what I expected. This was the first sign that it would be tasty. The second was the great smell that came wafting up from the box. It smelled tangy, spicy and just plain yummy. Like coming home or something ridiculously comfort food like that.

So I cut myself off a slice and dug in. Very good texture to this, it held up nicely, wasn't rubbery in any shape or form and it was moist enough that if some pieces crumbled off - they could easily be gathered by pressing the fork gently on top of them.

The frosting was very, very good. It was a bit tangy, but not just from a cream cheese taste, it was.. a bit citrus. I couldn't find any zest of lemon or orange, but it sure tasted like some was in there. There were walnut pieces in the mix too, but no pineapple. It's no love lost there as I'm not a huge fan of pineapple in general, fault my brother in Hawaii and the fresh ones he sends up for that, but it is acceptable in carrot cake. Never on a pizza though - just my own opinion, results may vary.

The bonus were the little carrots on top, they were done in a more traditional frosting, just a nice sweet blast of light and fluffy as the carrot cake frosting was a bit thicker and heavier, as it should be, to hold together on the carrot cake. This really is a great Carrot Cake, a classic version that is the bar against which other Carrot Cakes should, and probably will, be weighed. That and it gives me an excuse to keep tasting this cake every time I get another carrot cake. So bully for me - a carrot cake bonus!

Friday, November 14, 2008

It will happen, soon I hope.

Well, interesting events this week, working late, car issues and *GASP* stores closing on time have all prevented me and that (hopefully) delicious Carrot Cake from Chef's Corner from getting together. I'm hopeful that tomorrow will find me with a cake in my hand, and a review to post to my blog. I have some other reviews waiting in the wings, but those will be posted in the days following the promised posting for Chef's Corner.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Early one morning...(edit... broken promises)

So this morning I decided to stop in at Klingers for a Coffee and Croissant on the way to work, and guess what I learned? They're having Cake Tastings every weekday from 12-2, apparently until the end of this month! I couldn't believe it. Guess where you'll find me during my lunch hour today? You bet, I'll be at Klingers trying out some of the cakes they're offering for the holidays.

(EDIT)So I went to Klingers to try the cake tasting and there was no cake out. I stayed and waited for as long as I could, but no cake was brought out for the tasting. Very poor performance Klingers, very poor indeed.(EDIT)

Also, Just wanted to alert everyone that the last poll winner, the Chef's Corner, will be reviewed this week. I'm hoping to pick up the Cake Tuesday to be followed by a review on Wednesday. I had hoped to pick it up this weekend, but it was a busy weekend - with work, Pre-Thanksgiving parties and even some friends over for homemade pizza. Thankfully the pizza came out OK as I only had unbleached pastry flour, or I should say I thought I only had that. I discovered the 'all purpose flour' later that night. How it ended up underneath the couple bags of Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips is beyond me.

I also realized my oven decided to start cooking about 50º lower than it should be. Thankfully I have my nice thermometer hanging in there to tell me, and cranked it up a bit to get it up to the right temp. Glad I checked, as I plan to cook a pie of my own very soon. I may also have to make my own Carrot Cake as I was informed about a great recipe using Maple Syrup in the frosting that can be found in Dishing Up Vermont a great book, so I'm told, by Tracy Medeiros who is, apparently, practically my neighbor. Here's a nice pic of her book:

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Time for Pie!

Healthy Living seemed to have a great turnout at their Pie Tasting last night on Dorset Street in South Burlington. I'm definitely glad Shannon got word to me about it. Before I get you the rundown, here's a smattering of pictures of the event:

The entire place was filled, with a line out the door of the room the were serving the pie in. May I congratulate the entire staff of Healthy Living on a job well done. Eli, the General Manager, greeted people as they walked in, collecting info about where they heard of it. He was surprised when I handed him my card and said, 'One of my readers let me know.' So what did they have there? Well - they offered a couple different coffees, serving them with the standard cream or soy milk,, sugar and, best of all, Maple Syrup. In my opinion, the best way to sweeten coffee. Next there were some local ciders, Lake Champlain Chocolates' Hot Chocolate was freshly ladled into cups as people approached as they were stirring it up right there. Yum! Next I saw a great selection of Teas. I heard they had mulled cider, though I'm not sure if that was true. I may have missed it while I snapped my pics. They also had Cinnamon Ice Cream, though I missed the name of who it was from. Very tasty!

And then... then there were the pies!

In the foreground is the 'Perfect Pumpkin Pie', directly behind that is a slice of 'Pecan Pie' (it's partially hidden), to the left we have 'Classic Apple Pie' and then at the far left is 'Gluten-Free Blueberry Pie'.

I was quite impressed that they had two gluten-free pies available there (the other was an un-tasted Pumpkin Pie), and I believe at least one of the pies was entirely vegan, though it's likely a few of them were. A number of the pies represented promoted organic ingredients and, I believe, all of them were made of a considerable amount f local ingredients. Some were entirely locally organic! Best of all - they were all delicious.

So how did they taste? Here's the ranking from great to best. There wasn't a 'worst', which made it even more difficult to consider ranking them, but two did really stand out, so I decided I must. There were no losers in this bunch though, these are nearly the Olympic athletes of the pie world, battling it out in South Burlington.

The fourth position was held by the 'Perfect Pumpkin Pie' and there's really not a big reason for this. All I can say is - it was darn near perfect. The texture was spot on with none of the grainy or fibrous texture you can get from fresh made pie. That means they selected the right sized pumpkins for their pies. It's an important lesson I've learned - don't use carving pumpkins for pie. The taste, texture and fibrous nature of the right pumpkin is worth being choosy. Obviously someone was with this pie, it was velvety smooth, but with enough of a texture to know it was in fact pumpkin pie. If there's one thing I would have added, it would have been a touch more of the standard spices. That's it. However, that's also why this one hit fourth.

The third was the 'Classic Apple Pie'. Now, I love Apple Pie. In fact, behind Pumpkin Pie, it's my favorite to cook. The apples were perfect, not overdone to the point of being a melted pile of unrecognizable mushy applesauce. They also weren't too hard. The cinnamon and sugar were represented well and there were some other flavors that teased the pallet, perhaps lemon juice? Something Citrus perhaps. However, there was a bit of a crust issue. It was a good flaky crust, but amazingly while the apples were done well, the crust tasted like it was covered the entire time and never got the nice browned color. It tasted *almost* like it wasn't fully cooked at the thickest point. Because of that 'almost' is hit number three. Five minutes of baking was what made this fall from the next spot.

The Second was the no frills named 'Blueberry pie'. OK, this was nearly perfection. In fact, it was so good, I considered this for the top spot. The gluten-free crust did not distract or detract from the taste of the perfectly sized blueberries. Again, it's god to get the right size. By right size it means none of those gargantuan South American grown blueberries. Nope, you need those flavor packed slow grown northern berries to get the proper blueberry pie. This was more than a proper Blueberry pie, and kudos to West Meadow Farm Bakery for serving it warm. I really enjoyed this pie, and am enjoying just thinking about it. This one will most definitely be on my table soon. Soon, but not as soon as the next one!

Number one at this event was the modestly named 'Pecan Pie'. What?! Not 'Amazing Pecan Pie'? Not 'Kick You In The Pallet Pecan Pie'? Nope. It didn't need it. This was delicious. Make that DELICIOUS! The Pecans that were placed atop the pie weren't overdone. They were nice and crispy - crunchy. The crust was great, the filling was just an explosion of flavor with every bite. My mouth didn't tire from too many nuts arguing over who was next. They just complied with me and my desire to slowly savor them. When I was done this slice, I wanted to get more. I wanted an entire pie right then. But, after thinking about it, after considering it, I decided that it wasn't right for me of the pie. It would be too gluttonous. I decided I would visit this one again tonight. Yes, you heard me - the Pecan Pie and I will cozy up shortly. Well, no not the entire pie. That would do a disservice to the pie and to me as well. I will have only one slice. OK, maybe two - but I'll take a nice breather in between. This Pie is so deserving of the number one spot and may I say, "Well Done" to the bakers at Red Door Bakery in Marshfield, Vermont. I looked, but they don't have a website that I could find - so call them at (802) 426-3469, or just go to
Healthy Living and get one of your own. Or, better yet, pick up any one of these pies and come over to my place. I'll have spoons and delicious ice cream waiting.

Friday, November 7, 2008

My God it's full of Pies! (and Election night treats too)

I have plans tonight. Oh yes, yes I do. Tonight I will make my way to Healthy Living where there is a Pie Tasting! Here's the excerpt from the Healthy Living website:

NOVEMBER 7th 2008

Our Café makes some fabulous pies for
Thanksgiving. Come sample some of our favorites at our FIRST ANNUAL PIE TASTING on NOVEMBER 7th from 5-7pm! Drink coffee, sip cider, or indulge in a cup of hot chocolate — all while tasting some of our delicious PIES! Order yours today! Classic Apple, Perfect Pumpkin, Wild Blueberry and our amazing Gluten-Free Pumpkin"

So yes, you know where you can find me. I'll be on Dorset Street in South Burlington swimming in Pies. Thanks to Shannon for making sure I was in the know! Hopefully I'll see some of you there too!

As to something I tasted a few days ago - I have to back track to Election night! I was working late at my day job, making sure I did my part to get the word out when Barack.. err I mean in case Barack won. Ok - he did, we all know it. I think it's safe to say I was confident he would win, though it's still somewhat surprising that it was by as wide a margin as it was. My employer was very kind and treated us to Juniors Italian dishes and desserts, and later even called in some Leonardo's Pizza for the troops. However, as delicious as they were, I'm only here to talk about the dessert!

There were many to choose from, and I did choose many. However as I was working, it was tricky to take pictures of them all.

They were quite delicious. Interestingly enough - there was a flavor of Almond extract and nutmeg to two of the three I had. I didn't mind, they were tasty and delicious!

The first Cookie had a heavy dusting of powdered sugar sprinkled across the top, and a nice little chocolate chunk nestled in it. It was a bit cakey, seemed to pick up some of the almond flavor from its neighbors and had something like nutmeg about it. I didn't get the chance to savor it as phones began ringing and I had to run, so into the mouth it went, and off to my desk I did go.

The second one I had is picture less, unfortunately. It was chockablock full of almond slivers, perhaps even Marzipan, for such a tiny little treat. Though it was very sugary, it was not sickly sweet. Were it bigger then that may have been a problem, but it was the right size for what it was. The top of it was a sugar glaze, and that's likely where much of the sweetness came from. This dessert was actually tricky to eat as it was less solid than fluid and stuck to the mini waxed paper cup that held it a bit. Certainly not anything to be held against it.

Onto our third. A lovely twist on the Italian Flag cookie. Nice little stack of cakes in fun colors, jam between the cake layers and topped with chocolate, and the sweet green almond sugar on the bottom. I almost thought it should be Red white and Blue on the bottom as this was Election day, even though this is a traditional Italian dessert and so it's the Red white and green colors of Italy's flag. I actually think I liked this one the best. The presentation, the colors, the balance of flavor, and the chocolate on top - it all seemed to work well. Thanks to my employer for the supply, and Juniors for the baking!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Starbucks Chocolate Cream Cheese Muffin

So today, thanks to the Queen City Ghostwalk lady, I am eating a Chocolate Cream Cheese muffin from Starbucks. I have to say, it's kind of tasty - though it reminds me of an upscale Hostess Chocolate Cupcake.

So here's our dessert du jour:

One of the best parts of this dessert, and least represented, were a few obligatory chocolate chips. They were very yummy! The Cream Cheese center was good when eaten with the chocolaty and cakey muffin, but tasted a bit bitter on its own. The muffin itself was rather good, though it didn't have quick as solid a texture as I would like. Very fluffy, but I found it didn't hold up all the way through and started to fall apart as I got toward the end. I'm sure this muffin recipe is a bit of a chameleon and is likely seen without the cream cheese center and other various fillings or toppings. Overall, it's not bad. I'd give it a 3.5 out of five.

I have to admit, I don't spend much time in Starbucks, and when I do it's typically just for a Grande Latte. I'm not into flavors, or toppings in my coffee products. If they can't stand on their own, then they fall flat for me. Something I picked up when working in a little Gourmet Coffee Shop called Uncommon Grounds on the Church Street Marketplace in Burlington. I learned to appreciate many desserts through a lady called the Queen of Tarts. Sadly, her business didn't survive and closed up shop many years back. I also learned to drink coffee, including espresso, black. It was part of the job. You can't describe the subtleties of a coffee with cream or sugar in it, and have to drink at the proper temperature as well. Something not every Barista is taught, but thanks to the persistence of Skip and Bev at Uncommon Grounds, they insure everyone there knows, and knows well.

It's part of why I die inside a little every day when I drink the coffee at work. It just isn't on par with a good cup of Joe.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Helping celebrate a Happy 15th...

It's 15th anniversary of a co-worker. Congrats RedHed! So how to celebrate? With cake of course. Today's dessert comes from Price Chopper. Hey - it was the 15th Anniversary - so nothing was held back for this celebration. There were even Plastic Spider rings.. though those may have been there because it was also Halloween, but I digress.

So today's dessert, Raspberry Filled Chocolate Chocolate Cake - looks like this...

I was pretty excited - partially because I had raspberries on the brain. Yesterday I was watching 'Americas Test Kitchen' where I get a lot of good, no GREAT, recipes from. I happen to like the product testing, like knives, as well. However they were making a wonderful raspberry dessert - Raspberry Chiffon Pie - one off their Exclusive 'top ten' list in fact. So yeah, raspberries on the brain. So how could I not partake in this? It was a Chocolate Cake with a layer of Raspberry Filling and topped with a solid chocolate layer. Yum! Well, close to it anyway.

The big word I would attach to this cake is 'rubbery'. Yep, everything kind of sprang back at me or my fork when I was partaking of it. The chocolate topping was pretty darn good, though it had that taste of fatty fakeness to it, but it went well with my coffee for sure. The frosting wasn't that bad - it's one of the areas store bought cakes have really improved in recent years. I used to just scrape most of it off, but I ate most of this. Oh, and there were also chocolate shavings embedded in the back of this - so kudos for that. This tasted better then the hard layer of chocolate. This layer, by the way, made the cake break apart a bit. If the cake was cold, I'm sure this would have been even more difficult for the cake staying together. A good tasting idea, but not a good idea in practice as I lost about half of the filling breaking through the top layer.

So this is a passable dessert, though definitely room for improvement. I'm very much looking forward to picking up the winner of the poll to the left, which at last count was Carrot Cake from the Chef's Corner in Williston Vermont. Can't wait!