Monday, March 29, 2010

Easter Candy Workshop

This past Sunday a handful of (fascinating!) students joined me in the workshop space of The Road Less Traveled for what has now become my favorite workshop- Easter Candy! We made egg-shaped truffles, with colorful coatings, and reinterpreted the mendiant, a traditional Christmas candy, as truly Spring-inspired confections.

Chambord was the flavor of the day for our truffles- a real Spring time classic. Forming them into little eggs, we tumbled them in pistachio crumbs, powdered sugar, cocoa rouge and toasted almonds—kind of like dying Easter eggs, only less stinky. And probably more fattening.

And then there were the mendiants! Mendiants are part of the 13 desserts of a proper Provencal Christmas, a tradition steeped in religious symbolism. Though I’m neither French nor Catholic, I love mendiants! And I want to eat them more than once a year.

Dried figs, Raisins, Almonds and Hazelnuts are the wintery goodies usually found on a mendiant- each topping symbolizing a particular monastic order (the word ‘mendiant’ means beggar-- the mendicant orders survived completely on alms). By keeping their origin story alive, I’m hoping to be forgiven for shaking this tradition up a bit. First to go is the Christmasy context, and with it go the wintery flavors.

In their place…thin slivers of chili mango, tart petals of dried hibiscus flowers, spicy candied ginger, and locally foraged pink peppercorns … Keep Preserves’ Pink Chili Salt, brilliant green pistachios, and sunny strips of dried apricot… huge crunchy Brazil nuts, aromatic tangerine zest, and- of course- a smattering of sea salt.

The results were surprising, Spring-y and quite modern. And addictively delicious. No bite is the same as the one before and even the very bite you have in your mouth changes as the chocolate warms on your tongue.
The C Salt Mendiant is here to stay, folks.

Since its getting warmer, and chocolate is such a delicate flower, this may have been my last workshop until after summer- but I’ll keep you posted!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cage Fighter Caramel Sauce

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with a group of young Criminal Justice students at Westwood College in Anaheim, as a guest lecturer in their 1st Semester course ‘Success Skills.’ We were there to discuss goals- how powerful they can be, how illuminating-- and ultimately, how unpredictable the outcome can be, despite our plans.

I shared with them my own unlikely experience as a Women’s Studies major, Make-A-Wish Foundation Wish Coordinator and…chocolatier!

They shared with me their surprising exuberance for cooking! Among the questions about my business, college years, and time at Make-A-Wish were enthusiastic (and very specific) questions about recipes. So. This is for Nick, a dedicated student, cage fighter, and all around cutie pie, who wanted to know how to make caramel sauce for two. Lucky girl!

Cage Fighter Caramel Sauce

• 1 cup of organic sugar
• 5 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
• 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
• ½ tsp real, good quality vanilla extract
• Big pinch sea salt

In a heavy-bottomed pot with high sides, place your butter and sugar. Over low heat, allow butter to melt into the sugar until you have a homogenous, sandy mixture, stirring occasionally. Once butter is melted, turn heat up to medium and prepare to stay put! Using a high heat spatula, lift darkening spots along the bottom of the pot onto top of mixture. Don’t stir the entire mixture, because you’ll lose all the heat building in your soon-to-be caramel. Look for bubbles as a clue to where the hot spots are!

After a few minutes, the mixture will once again be the same color throughout- a light/medium amber color. You’re in the home stretch, now it’s a waiting game. Bubbles should be coming up all over the mixture’s surface now. You can stir, now, and when you do, look at the mixture as it drips off your spatula. Is it still grainy and stiff? Keep heating.

When it’s a deep amber color (not black, not brown- looking for warm, orangey tones, here) and the mixture streams off your spatula smoothly and doesn’t look grainy- DON”T TOUCH! DON’T TASTE! HOT!- just look at it- it is ready for the cream. (If you have a candy thermometer, it will be at hard crack.) Stir in the cream and pinch of salt and know that this mess is going to bubble up like crazy- keep stirring. Once everything settles down, add the vanilla extract and keep on stirring through the bubbling mess again.

Your caramel sauce just needs to cool down a bit, now. Take the pot off the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a canning jar and store in the fridge. It will be good for a couple of weeks, maybe more.

Super good on coffee ice cream with toasted almonds and a smidge of sea salt…

Friday, March 5, 2010

“Since Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit” –William Shakespeare, Hamlet

I used to call myself a poet. Poetry brought my husband to me. It was the filter through which I lived my life. Its been years now since I’ve written a poem-they used to come so readily, I couldn’t imagine my life without them…

And somewhat sadly, here it is. I live my life attempting to fill this poem-shaped hole. Reading Audre Lorde and e.e. cummings helps. So does listening to This American Life, and spending time in the kitchen creating wild flavors of truffles. This week I spent an evening with poetry of a different sort—The 2009 Animated & Live Action Short Film Nominees for the Academy Award, thanks to the generosity of a friend who is a member of the academy.

Dylan Thomas defined poetry this way: "Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing." Twinkling toenails, indeed! Some of these films were laugh-out-loud funny...

Granny O'Grimms Sleeping Beauty

Some had moments of such pure, quiet solemn beauty...

Dama y la Muerte

a few were politically incisive, even devastating… some were all of this and more. None exceeded 30 minutes. Most were 20 minutes or shorter.

These are the films we rarely get to see, swept into the dank corner of the Oscars Ceremony most don’t watch, and yet this screening was completely packed. According to Peter Riegert, the evening’s host, The Academy’s screening of the Shorts is always the first to sell out- this year every last ticket was gone within 15 minutes. I know why. I’m already scheming to get my hands on tickets for next year!

For the last 5 years, the Short Film Nominees have been shown in limited release, but for most of us they were still out of reach. This year, for the first time ever, these films are going to be On Demand, for (almost) all to see! I audibly squealed when Mr. Riegert announced this! According to

“The nation’s leading MOD distributor, iN DEMAND L.L.C., will make the films available to U. S. digital cable audiences through Movies On Demand (MOD) starting March 3rd in both standard and high definition. Nominees in both the Live Action and Animated categories will be available on Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks systems around the country.
Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, and Bright House Networks will host the films within MOD in an “Award Nominees” category. Comcast customers will find the films within MOD and its “Top Picks” category under the subcategory “Oscar Nominees.” Comcast will also be presenting the top live action short film titles from 2009. The cost for these programs varies from $2.99 to $5.99.”

My Faves? For Best Animated Short, I have to bypass the silly new Wallace and Gromit bit and vote for ‘Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty’ hands down! This hilarious 6 minute treat from Ireland is a love note to storytelling, that favorite of Irish traditions. This one's on Youtube, in full, for free!

As for the Live Action Shorts I feel compelled to name a runner up in addition to my big winner. ‘Instead of Abracadabra’ was charming, awkward and oh-so-funny (in that Napoleon Dynamite kind of way)

Instead of Abracadabra

but ‘The New Tenants’ was transcendent. David Rakoff’s horrifying/hysterical opening monologue is followed by a parade of cameos, who shall remain nameless so as not to spoil the surprise. Hubba hubba is all I have to say about that. And yet, this dark and absurd tale ends so whimsically, so (yes) poetically the final image hasn’t yet stopped twirling around in my head.

So rain-check your big Friday night plans and treat yourself to a heavenly little slice of humanity. And then vote for your favorite eye-poem here!

In the red-carpet spirit of the Academy Awards, I'll be posting the recipes of some swanky cocktails to sip on as you watch. And, yes, its okay to sip fancy drinks in not-so-fancy PJ's.