"Food: Science, Art, Passion, Pleasure, Adventure & Exploration"

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Look Into Cupcake Camp LA 2010

The closeup shot of the Cupcake Camp LA poster!

I finally attended my first local food event. Well not literally, but I mean in an industry-related sense -- an event totally related to food and for dessert lovers of the cupcake stripe.

There are so many food events going on annually but I haven't been able to afford some of them because many are out of state and even out of the country! The long distance of these events raises the financial investment of going where I'd be concerned about not only cost of admission, but hotel stay and airfare pricing. However, I am lucky in that Los Angeles, a food city in its own right, has so much going on food-wise.

Many of you have probably heard of Cupcake Camp, started by Ariel Waldman, Lynn, Marianne Masculino, and Cindy Li. The original and first Cupcake Camp started in San Francisco in 2009 (hard to believe it wasn't that long ago!). Since then, there are over 40 different locations that host Cupcake Camp events annually. Some of those hosting locations are even beyond North America.

Los Angeles finally had its first Cupcake Camp, produced by Bakespace.com and spearheaded by Babette Pepaj. I decided I was going to attend and I bought a VIP ticket through a club discount. I figured why not buy the best admission to get in and show my support for the sponsors and charities that helped make the event possible since it's charity-driven.

The sponsors and charities at the event were:
 The event took place at the Music Box

It was my first time going there, so I was excited about that, too. Just a few nights before, Blonde Redhead (a band I adore) was playing.

Although I know my way around LA reasonably well in various parts and I'm a native, sometimes I get tripped up with directions if I am looking out for a particular venue. As a result, my drive to the Music Box was kind of an adventure, driving all around West LA, and taking a sightseeing drive toward Hollywood. One I enjoyed and needed.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fitness and the Foodie

"Never trust a skinny chef."

I've heard this phrase a thousand times and up until recently, didn't give it much thought. I think it's a cute and amusing phrase (still) that simply implies that the best cooks, chefs, and/or bakers are those who LOVE food so much that there's no way they could be skinny. They need to bring this zealous, culinary spirit into the kitchen when preparing foods so that flavors pop and perform, smells intoxicate and arouse, and the profound presentation of plates dramatically kidnap breath from many throats that can barely muster "ahhhh!"

Basically, the phrase says skinny chefs are those who restrain themselves far too much to enjoy and make good food.


Let's be honest. There's some truth to that, but it's not completely true.

I do believe that foodies are people who naturally and avidly enjoy all things food and drink, even given each of our various approaches and distinctive leanings toward particular cuisines and flavors, and our specific areas of focus in the realm of  food mania.  It's hard to be a strict disciplinarian with one's waistline when there's so much love going on here.

The love of food naturally spells out passion. That's obvious. Foodies don't just eat to function and to satisfy hunger. And, we often know that passion, in any form, should be unbridled and uninhibited. At least, that's what most of us think about passion when pondering over the nature of it. Passion is not passion unless it's intense, deep, and obsessive...and free.

Passion, like anything else that's exhilarating, can become warped and darkly baroque and lead to irresponsibility and addiction. There always has to be a checks and balances on most things, right? I shall say that food is certainly no area exempt from this supposition.

So, when it comes to the phrase "never trust a skinny chef," I think some foodies do realize that unchecked passion with food can lead to bad health over time. The body has its limits and we each should know our own. Every person is different.

I believe strongly in the philosophy of HAES (Health at Every Size). This acronym means that what is healthy for one person weight-wise might not be so healthy for another and that intuitive eating is the best way to achieve and maintain good health. The goal should not be to become skinny, but simply healthy, and a person can be healthy with extra weight given their unique body dynamics and limitations. This is fact.

It's only been recent that North America's body ideals have related to being at the lowest end possible of BMI. And let's face it, that BMI system itself is not so accurate for some. I'm one of those people.

So some bona fide foodies can indeed be "skinny." I think some people either have very fast metabolisms (although most people are average this way) or they find ways to incorporate a good degree of physical activity and balance in their eating into their lives to where they work off any excess weight, whatever the motivations are behind their actions. They allow themselves to eat whatever they want, but in moderation and sometimes perhaps with substitutions.

I do think that women in the food industry are under even more pressure than average to remain visually appealing, conventionally, and still exude this orgasmic attitude about food. Food is everywhere in the food biz, so there's more to watch out for if one doesn't want to fall out of popularity, given what they are known for.

Over time, as I've observed some of the most conventionally attractive celebrity chefs on Food Network and The Cooking Channel, I've seen there have been periods where they were a bit pudgier or heavier. Giada De Laurentiis' weight can fluctuate at times, I've noticed. She is very petite but she's been chunkier during certain seasons of her shows. This wasn't just when she was pregnant. The woman enjoys food and if she didn't work out to maintain her weight, I can easily seeing her being naturally chubby. In my book, she'd certainly still be cute as I am not at all fat-phobic like I used to be and as the average person tends to be, but I know viewers would give her tons of criticism for "letting herself go."

Some others chefs have even been criticized for their weight gain (Nigella Lawson comes to mind), but I notice that in this industry there's still a bit more acceptance towards plus-sized bodies than in others, overall.

To name a few...
  • Guy Fieri
  • Sunny Anderson
  • Anne Burrell
  • Ina Garten
  • Paula Deen
  • Emeril Lagasse
  • Nigella Lawson
  • Jeffrey Steingarten
  • Mario Batali
  • Rachael Ray (her weight fluctuates)
  • Alex Guarnaschelli
 If you take a good look, all of the average-sized chefs have their chubby or pudgy moments as well. Not many are very thin naturally. You can tell most work out to keep up appearances. Even Bobby Flay has indeed been far more stockier than he is at the moment.

The reality and what viewers must realize is chefs and food hosts aren't on their shows showing America how to cook and how to masturbate at the same time. It's not meant to be any porn but food porn.

Also, who wants to see someone completely anorexic-looking cooking? Not me. You know that just doesn't look and seem right. I understand we want people to look somewhat attractive while they cook, even if that for some people means thinner, but seriously, these food channels aren't substitutes for the Playboy channel so I often find it incredibly ridiculous when certain food celebs are put down for any weight gain or any change in their physical appearance. It's often female hosts, too.

In the everyday life of a chef, it is best for chefs to be in shape. I am aware of this. Cooking in commercial kitchens in food establishments is hard work. You stand on your feet all day without many breaks, you are moving about doing a variety of chores and tasks, you are lifting and cleaning a lot of large-scale commercial equipment, you endure repetitive movements, and you must be quick, efficient, and agile. If you are out of shape, I can't see this kind of career being anything one would endure for long, if at all.

But, all foodies aren't commercial chefs and there are such people as fat chefs, cooks, and bakers who make magic in the kitchen and manage to hold their own very well.

I hear that bakers tend to be less lean than their savory cook counterparts. Not sure why this is or if this is really true. In some bakeries, activity can be quite hectic, especially if there are long lines and lots of little tasks to do with a multitude of pastries and desserts. I think some people might think that because baking is more exact in nature than cooking, standing for a longer time concentrating on the precision of design or a technique is far more common than in a savory kitchen. Point taken.

As a foodie, I realize that I need to keep a watch on my personal obsession with food, especially desserts.

Recently, I've gotten back into a daily gym schedule because as I bake often, I know that being around so much decadence is tempting. I have such a high tolerance for sweets and if I don't control myself, that passion turns topsy-turvy and like any good carousel ride, it's fun for the time being and you want to come back intermittently for the thrill, but you never want to stay on forever nonstop or find yourself strapped down on a candy-colored faux horse as the carousel moves into surreal warp speed until you are violently sick and put out commission completely.

OK...that was rather disturbing...

Well, anyway, what are your thoughts on the phrase: "Never Trust a Skinny Chef"?

Do you feel it has truth or merit?
Are you a foodie or a cook in any manner and if so, how do you personally relate to this phrase?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Slow Roast Break

What a wonderful idea for a cake...
In a week or so (hopefully a little less than a week), I will be back to regular posting, but I wanted to give you guys an official notice about my decision in taking a break. Don't worry, it's just a short one! So stay tuned, I will be back soon.

There are some family issues that I must tend to among other a few other things. While I am on break, I will certainly be planning more entries and future activities for this blog such as:
  • more documented baking adventures (I have lots of recipes in mind, also feel free to send me any ideas)
  • some cooking adventures (savory foods which you haven't seen here yet)
  • changes in layout and a possible move to Wordpress format 
  • new site title and logo design (have a couple of names in mind)
  • creative, food-related info session and random thoughts entries
  • updates and reviews (ingredients, bakeries)
If you wish to contact me about anything, take a look at my contact page on my site menu, located on the left sidebar. :)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Paperless Literary World

Digital print: Completely replacing traditional publishing?
I've yet to get an iPad, a Kindle, or any of the other eBook readers or related gadgets that are out in stores. I don't have anything against them, personally, it's just a matter of what my fiances will allow nowadays, and not yet getting around to buying any of this stuff.

It's hard enough to keep track of the lightning fast changes happening in digital technology every minute, especially in the realm of publishing.

For dessert, food, and beverage magazines, I tend to prefer a traditional magazine format. Well, I tend to prefer a hard copy for most of my reading. There's something very rewarding and visceral about holding a copy of a book or magazine in one's hands. Additionally, I love the smell of the pages and the sounds of flipping them over.

In the last few years, more print magazines have either folded entirely or gone totally digital...or they continue to fund both digital and hard print format if they and their sponsors can continue to afford it and evolve with changing dynamics in their core audiences.

Gourmet Magazine comes to mind. Gourmet's print magazine was taken off the market by Conde Nast at the end of last year. Why did they fold? Rumor has it that they just could not compete well with a changing audience that reflected recent economic changes and with increasing digital print publishing demands. They simply became out of sync and a lot of their advertising support was also tied into newspaper publications, which were also going out of print.

I recently discovered that there is going to be a digital app called "Gourmet Live" for the now defunct print magazine. The application will be available for iPad and other mobile gadgets. These app will allow users to download digital content, view videos, read articles, browse menus, and look at tons of photos. So it seems that digital apps are another new tangent that magazines, both current and former, are looking into to transition from or broaden to hard print to soft.

So what do my purchasing trends reveal? Well let's just say I have such a huge collection of food and dessert magazines that it's mind-boggling. Stacks of magazines and books dominant a great deal of my closet space and book shelves. I especially love collecting special editions of select food and dessert magazines whenever they are released. I find them to be visual and text-laden treats to gawk at, study, savor, and share with others when I am out of the house and about. I also appreciate the combined technical skills, layout and editing artistry, and literary contributions that go into developing a print magazine. The process behind this creative mosaic of expressed efforts should not become a lost art. So, my purchasing power also reflects a personal desire to support.

One of the magazines I read is Desserts magazine, which is exclusively an online publication. It's a fascinating and very informative magazine with tons of eye candy featuring dessert trends and recipes from all over the world, but I wouldn't mind an actual hard print copy of each edition or certain ones that I've greatly enjoyed in particular. 

Making it so that hard print versions are available for purchase is great for building a physical collection of magazines to thumb through anytime I want without having to log onto the computer.

With that said, of course there certainly are benefits to being paperless, too. No byproducts or waste, no clutter or
ever-growing stacks of magazines taking up space in one's house or apartment, and magazines basically are non-destructible when they are in a virtual/digital format. You can get unlimited copies from an original soft copy source.  

So, what do you think?  

Do you prefer to read your culinary magazines or books on a Kindle, iPad or any other eReader?

Would you ever go out and buy any of those new apps for your mobile toy?

How do you feel about the changes that the publishing industry is going through? Should all reading eventually become paperless?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Baking Adventure 19: Nomtastic Chocolate Eclairs

Photo of some of my chocolate eclairs with vanilla pastry cream

Who dares to say they don't like eclairs?

Not me!

I've totally developed a new-found appreciation for eclairs. I've always seen and had these lush French treats at gourmet bakeries, once in a blue moon.  For that reason, up until recently, I regarded them as an exclusive treat, something I didn't get to have anytime I wanted, unless I was wiling to go out and search high and low for the best offerings of them around town.

So I thought to myself, how cool would it be to make these sweet pastry logs of decadence at home!
Eclair in French means "lightning," although no one is quite sure how the meaning ties into the dessert. (Maybe because they don't last very long on a platter or they always light up faces in a room when finally presented in full glory on a dessert tray? Just sayin'. LOL)
Eclairs are heavenly French pastries made with a choux pastry dough and are the cousins of cream puffs, beignets (which are fried rather than baked) and profiteroles, also made with choux paste. Choux paste is usually made with eggs, flour, butter, water and sugar (if it is for a dessert as choux pastries can be savory, too). The choux paste is piped out, through a pastry bag affixed with a large round tip, in long 4-6 inch strips on a baking sheet to make the characteristic hot dog bun shape of the eclairs. Eclairs are split in half lengthwise, hollowed out, or punctured at the end to make a filling hole and then they can be filled with puddings, custards, pastry creams, fruit preserves, whipped cream, mousses, curds and icings. *exhales* The tops of eclairs are usually dressed with a coat of chocolate ganache, chocolate glazes, chocolate poured fondant, chocolate icing and sometimes alternative toppings like caramel and butterscotch sauces. Yum! 
Through my research, I found that eclairs are rather easy to make, but you must set them up in 3 stages or what I like to call "dessert scenes."
Little Pink Dictionary: Desserts scenes are distinctive parts or stages in a dessert recipe. They are different than merely steps. For example, basic butter cakes often have 2 dessert scenes -- the cake batter-making scene and the icing-making scene: two parts that come together as a whole to create an exhilarating dessert "cinematic" experience on the taste buds and in the mind. When you think of dessert scenes think of a movie totally made out of sugar, sweet spices, and sprinkles comprised of fun and sparkly dessert scenes.
The three dessert scenes for an eclair are the scene for the dough, a scene for the filling, traditionally a pastry cream, and a scene for the topping.

I began my chocolate eclair adventure by doing the dessert scenes in this order and I gathered up the initial ingredients for my choux paste.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Concepts: Pop-Up Bakeries & Bakery Crawls

Bake sales have been going on for quite some time, so they are nothing new, but along with the recent explosion of food truck eateries and secret, closed-door restaurants, pop-up bakeries have become quite the trend.

What is a pop-up bakery?

A pop-up bakery is a temporary bakery, often featured as a scheduled "bake sale" event by an established bakery that either has a dedicated storefront (otherwise) or only presently caters and offers its products in various shops or online.

Some bakeries will host pop-up bakery events in random places to keep customers and fans guessing where the next bake sale will be. Others will host pop-up bakeries at special events, in a temporary space for an extended period of time, or at other eateries, such as restaurants or delis.

In LA, bakeries such as Cake Monkey Bakery and Platine Cookies have participated in pop-up bakery events. Cake Monkey opened up a pop-up bakery in Silver Lake a few months ago and scheduled bake sales on the weekend. Platine Cookies hosted a pop-up bakery with British fashion designer, Anya Hindmarch for a fund-raising benefit.

Although bake sales aren't known to rake in big bucks, they are great for cross-promoting and networking with other businesses, increasing exposure for bakeries, and expanding a shop's fan base by bringing in a larger local target audience. Overall, they bring excitement, engagement, and adventure to a company's profile.

As for bakery crawls, I'd like to think of bakery crawls as a gathering of pop-up bakeries, where various bakeries will show up at a mutually agreed upon spot or space (indoor or outdoor), within a collaboration, and all participate in offering their sugary wares to voraciously, sweet-toothed customers. Bakeries will sell for a few hours or until everything runs out. If a bakery has a dedicated storefront or a website, this is the best time for businesses to pass out business cards and stylish take-home menus (usually showing other goods that are for sale online or in their usual shop), and spread awareness in general.

Some people might consider bakery crawls in the exact same context they view pub crawls, which means that a bakery crawl can also simply be a themed outing for a group of people, in an area around a city where there's likely to be a string of bakeries in close proximity to one another that everyone can visit back to back. A lively social day out, basically.

That definitely sounds like my kind of fun.
Little Pink Dictionary: I have this term that I coined for a day filled with adventure and fun from very early in the day to late in the night: Candy Day. A candy day is a day where one continuously delights the senses by partaking in enriching, often soul-warming, and spirited, pleasurable activities. A candy day can be had alone, with a like-minded and equally enthusiastic romantic partner (my favorite), or a group of fun-loving friends and acquaintances.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Baking Adventure 18: Extreme Chocolate Cheesecake

Half-view of Extreme Chocolate Cheesecake (click on all photos to enlarge)

How often do you book time for a chocolate vacation?

What's a chocolate vacation, you wonder?

A chocolate vacation can be literal, as there are many exotic and brilliant places to travel to in order to research and explore pure fine chocolates and fantastic chocolate dessert creations, but a chocolate vacation can certainly be a traveling-without-moving experience, too...and often is.

For those lucky people, chocolate induces a lush and addictive state of euphoria when consumed, placing them into a lulling chocolate coma which can last for hours. That's a chocolate vacation, my cacao cohorts.

Inside Info: Unfortunately, as much as I LOVE chocolate, I don't enjoy the effect it often has on my system. The darker and more concentrated the chocolate is with cacao, the stronger those effects are for me. There are others like myself who experience the same averse reactions from consuming chocolate and more research is coming out on this as I type. The rewarding, drug-like, euphoric effects only last a brief time for me, regardless of how much I adore the flavors of chocolate. After chocolate consumption, that short spurt of joy passes for me and my moods crash and send me into the land of chocolate nightmares or perhaps a down state worthy of being called "chocolate psychosis." I'll allow myself to have chocolate on a rare occasion knowing they'll be consequences, but that doesn't stop me from experimenting with chocolate desserts and recipes. OK, I am lying, those consumptive occasions aren't so rare. I can be hardheaded at times, you know...
So, let's move onto cheesecake and how it all ties in with the talk of chocolate...

For starters, I'll mention that I've had a weird love affair with cheesecake over the years. I used to be absolutely bonkers about cheesecake when I was a little girl. It was one of my favorite desserts, then by the time I entered my teenage years, my love for cheesecake waned. I could take it or leave it but, of course, never hated it. I just became picky.

I began to think that most cheesecake batters either created a peculiar flavor in the mouth the longer I kept a forkful on the tongue or left a weird aftertaste in the mouth that I didn't care for. As my mid-twenties approached, my love for cheesecake picked up again because I began exploring a variety of cheesecake flavors and styles in restaurants and deli bakeries and found types and batters I preferred more. Some cheesecakes definitely taste better than others depending on what is used in the batter.

♥ I'll have to do a info-focused cheesecake entry someday because there are so many different ways to make a traditional cheesecake according to custom and region and it's tremendously fascinating to learn about.

I've made cheesecakes before, but my play was limited and they were mostly no-bake cheesecakes or those made in pie crust pans without a really stable batter.

Vanilla Peach Cheesecake with fresh peach preserves
In the last couple of weeks, I've been busy experimenting with cheesecake-making again and after making a tasty vanilla peach cheesecake, I moved on to visions of "Cheesecake in Chocolate! Now playing at your local theatre!"

I love that cheesecakes can come in so many different colors and flavor profiles other than the traditional, plain, cream-colored variety. A hyper chocolate cheesecake made from chocolate through and through sounded superb and I couldn't wait to try it out.

I took it upon myself to research a lot of different recipes and come up with what I think is a good cheesecake recipe to experiment with as a base batter. Most of my research finds recommended baking cheesecakes in water baths for a smooth, evenly-baked, creamy consistency that didn't crack. This is something else I'd never done when making cheesecakes.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Business of Breakfast

"Pancakes & Juice" Allyson N. Jason © 2010

I've never been much of a breakfast foods person, but I do love that there is a distinct category of foods deemed ideal for early morn eating.

The tradition of breakfast has been around for a long time all across the globe and each culture has their own brand of established "breakfast foods." Over time, I think each culture has come to see certain foods as customary for breakfast based on influences such as physical labor patterns, accessible native ingredients and crops, nutrition beliefs, and family customs. Breakfast is still considered the most important meal of the day, second to dinner, because it's a starter to a full day which usually involves a work schedule and some form of long-standing labor in most societies. In the past, fueling up during breakfast was far more crucial because a lot of work consisted of physical labor over modernity's trend of desk/office labor.

For North America, our breakfast culture is hugely inspired by English traditions. Yes, we have a mosaic of other cultural influences on breakfast eating, but by large, the influence seems to be English. The English would traditionally eat full meals (meaning involving several courses in one) during mornings (in some regions, meaning only weekend mornings) consisting of foods and drinks such as biscuits, porridge, tea, bacon, potatoes, grilled tomatoes, sausage, eggs, toast, black pudding and even baked beans. Occasionally, fish would be on the morning menu. This could possibly explain the tradition of fish and grits developing in southern U.S. states over time, although I am not entirely sure of the origins of eating grits with some type of fish (shrimp and grits is popular, too!).  Grits and fish together might also have mixed influences from African and Native American cultures, since grits (similar to English porridge) are Native American in origin.

"Eggs & Sausages" (part of "Full Breakfast" illustration) Allyson N. Jason © 2010

Breakfast, regardless of cultural variation and style, universally brings about tradition, community and...memories.

I might not care for the typical breakfast sausage, side of bacon, bowl of grits or fried egg saucer/plate-display, but the smell of breakfast undeniably reminds me of my childhood -- of being young, being around my family, and simplicity.

I remember those times when my mom would wake me up to get ready for school and she'd have a plate of grits, bacon. and fried eggs ready for breakfast with a large, tall, glass of pulpy orange juice. I would always arrive to school either smelling like a mix of peppered and salted fried eggs and fried cured meats or the sweet smell of faux-maple syrup (because most American syrups are really corn syrup concoctions with little to no actual maple syrup in it) and pancakes. On luckier days, I'd see a fresh plate of waffles and I'd douse them generously with butter, syrup and whipped cream. Sometimes, I'd show up to school with faint oatmeal breath and some overlooked drops of brightly colored fruit juice splattered on my school dress or shirt. The smell of breakfast was always tied to routine, starting the day,  morning, and family.

Other nostalgic mornings, usually weekends or weekdays I'd stay home from school sick, would involve waking up early to catch my favorite morning cartoons. Saturday morning cartoons were the best, in particular. I loved cartoons back then and I love them madly today, but watching them during my childhood brought about the most special and cherished moments. You just can't mimic those times --true innocence, the world seeming larger than ever, and hopes and dreams totally laden with charming, sweet, and quixotic naïveté.

The smell of breakfast foods brings all of that back for me. This is why I cherish continually cultivating the tradition of breakfast, although I find myself being quite picky over what I'll have, especially given my mood. I sometimes go "maverick" and have foods normally considered proper for lunch or dinner, such as salads, hot and savory soups, noodle dishes and stir fry meals. I occasionally get comments from others telling me how strange my choices of foods are for mornings. I mean who eats a spicy, three-cheese burrito for breakfast? Who considers sushi and sashimi in the morning? Who wants that leftover penne pasta with homemade pesto sauce from last night for breakfast? Who in their right mind eats a heavy slice of cheesecake drenched in caramel sauce for breakfast?

I raise my hand and casually answer "me" to all of those questions amid bewildered looks of distaste and odd gag-enriched reactions. In an effort to defend myself, while still holding pride in my choice to be so "unique and daring," I must say I don't eat those things often for breakfast, but yes I do jump off the breakfast foods train once in awhile to go and "explore the wild bustling city." Sometimes, I don't board any train at all and I just stay inside my lone, quaint cabin with a growling protesting stomach until evening sets. Yes, I know, I can be very bad and *gasp* skip breakfast.

I think skipping breakfast naturally comes with being such a night owl. I know breakfast is important to start the day and it is never my intention to not eat a good starter meal, but if you're nocturnal, nothing about your schedule (and the details involved in defining it) is normal to begin with.

With all of this breakfast talk, I am actually inspired to go and get a new waffle iron . My old one is long gone and even if I knew where it was, its condition would be too far gone for proper use. I hear that pizzelles are all the rage now, so someday I'll try my hand at preparing those. Pizzelles seem like a sophisticated way to have waffles for those romantic, European-inspired bed and breakfast goers who want something special. As with so many things, they are on my culinary to-do list, too.

What do you enjoy having for breakfast and what kind of associations does breakfast bring about for you?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Are the Cameras Rolling Yet?"

A set of cooking utensils in a commercial kitchen at Surfas

What does it take to have one's own cooking show? Would it be an easy thing to do? Have you ever thought about it?

I sure have! I've always wondered what it would be like to have my own cooking show. Online media has expanded and developed so much, that now it's very possible for just about anyone to build an online presence in so many ways. Video presentation is exploding and the trend is not one that seems like any fad. I think sites like YouTube have truly revolutionized the way that people browse, socialize, and tune in online. Anyone can have a voice.

I've daydreamed about having a cooking show for a long time. I think  if I were to really analyze my strengths and weaknesses objectively, with the right resources and much practice, I'd be great at such a venture.

In workshop with Clemence teaching her baking workshop with macarons and being filmed for a local Asian channel

The reality? I don't feel I am in any current position to start such a venture, at least not adequately, but as inferred, it's long been on my to-do list. The steps I am taking now are all building up to that particular plan. I started an entry a while back on wanting to set up a food-based site with all things I do related to food featured on the site. Well, I am still working on that behind the scenes and it will take awhile because, at times, it can actually feel like a daunting task. Doable, but lots of work. The vision is there but there's so much content that I have to build and work on in order to make sure the site has substance. It might be that I'll have my site up with everything else and plan to incorporate the video section later, when I am ready.

I haven't even come up with a title for the site or even my persona. Do I go by my own name or do I create something very catchy and stylish? If it's the latter, then it must be something that captures the essence of my voice and personality. That's one of the harder things to do.

So where does a cooking show fit in with all of this? Well, it's one section I'd be thrilled to have on my food site. I'd want viewers to be able to learn from things I discover and feel passionate about. I'd want viewers to be able to get to know me in an intimate but professionally down-to-earth sense. When you put an actual voice and face to an online presence, you get multidimensionality and that's what I'd like to offer eventually.

So what would be needed to start my own cooking show? I've taken time to think about this and these are some necessities that stand out right away:
  1. First and foremost, a solid plan which addresses cooking show angle and theme, title of the show,  filming schedules, recipe line up, tutorial set-ups, target audience, budget, and so forth; basically the entire vision detailed in all of its glory.
  2. A reasonably authoritative knowledge in food (whether it is with desserts or savory cooking or some subset of either of these two broad categories or both. One doesn't need to be Alton Brown, but a cook show host should certainly know what they are doing and talking about in order to build plausibility and a good reputation)
  3. An authentic personal style in front of the camera; a unique voice and point of view
  4. A dedicated kitchen or any other related filming location that will be steadily used for filming of the show
  5. Video recording equipment and film editing software (definitely something like Final Cut Pro), props, and lighting. (Good thing I do know Final Cut Pro, After Effects, Flash, LiveType and the like; a bit rusty in some of these, but the knowledge foundation is there)
  6. Weekly rehearsals and practice sessions in front of the camera before final filming
  7. Good short scriptwriting or storyboard skills
  8. A lack of inhibition, or a willingness to overcome performance and social inhibitions over time.
  9. Assistants and small, accessible work crew; people who can help film, set up, prep during cooking edits, and cue (can't do everything on one's own; well maybe, but why make things harder?)
  10. A marketing and social platform to upload videos and promote the show online in a viral fashion
  11. Friends who enjoy food, both cooking and eating it. (It's great to have people on the show as guests or as other personalities to mix the viewing platform up a bit)
These are just some of the things I can think of that are must-haves for starting a cooking show.

As for the inhibition item, I think that's quite important to consider. I certainly have my own inhibitions and I look forward to a chance to overcome them and to grow. It's part of getting to know yourself and to see how you thrive. I feel you can't truly find your place and footing unless you stick your neck out there like a turtle and take a risk. All of those cooking personalities we see on TV had to overcome a lot of uncertainties and shyness.

I think it is also good to network with a bunch of people in the food industry. The more people I know, the more I'd be able to do video interviews, which people love watching. I naturally enjoy asking people questions about their motivations, their backgrounds, their passions, and their interests. I would certainly have fun doing some videos like that.

Not all of the videos would have to be cooking show tutorials or how-to's. Some of them, as already mentioned, could be interview sessions with various restaurants owners or bakeshop entrepreneurs. Some videos could be simple info-sessions about the nature of a particular ingredient or culinary travel location. I think it would be quite entertaining to feature and film a small dinner party or get-together around a table. Everyone could bring food they've cooked to feature on the show. The video would capture comments on food around the table, entertaining chit-chat, lively interaction and basic interpersonal chemistry between everyone at the food gathering. We see a bit of this in Giada at Home, and with certain episodes from Barefoot Contessa when Ina cooks for friends and her husband.

I was thinking a few months ago that if I had the means, I'd fancy having a get-together that involved a few people in a mock-Chopped competition. The rest of the gathering would be a mix of judging and watching but two to three guests would be chosen for competition in the kitchen with randomly matched ingredients in a box. I guess the challenge of such a video would be that, unlike on the set for Chopped, each competitor wouldn't experience the luxury of having their own cooking station, so that everyone could cook simultaneously and effectively.

There are a bunch of platforms for uploading videos and creating viewing channels for them. Vimeo is still going strong, but YouTube is most popular. I really dig iTunes because of the video podcast (or vodcast) sphere it provides. There's an insane amount to discover in podcasting. I think once you get used to video subscriptions for anything food-related, you just don't go back to simple voice. I think it makes sense, in most cases, to provide something visual for the audience for a podcast cooking show.

Who wants to learn about roasting a turkey without seeing anything? Doesn't make much sense and I bid any subscriber trying to painstakingly learn from that, a hefty dose of good luck. LOL

But if someone were to provide a show merely about food triva, food-related commentary, or food facts, video might not be so necessary. It still never hurts, though.

I am not sure when I'll be able to accomplish such a goal: creating my own cooking show. But I'm working on it and building up to that point. I am getting all of my ducks in a row so they can begin quacking in harmony and in beautiful rounds.

        Monday, August 16, 2010

        Baking Adventure 17: Chocolate Cream Tart with Rum

        Ebony and ivory, black and white, yin and yang, dark and light...

        Sounds like the beginning of some arcane magical spell being chanted out in a fragrant, misty forest amid a dark,  indigo-blue, midnight sky full of bright, pulsating stars and a surrounding crowd of tall, wondrous trees...

        OK, you get the picture here. What can I say? Cream goes wonderfully well with chocolate. They're not opposites, but together they honor the dark and light contrasting theme in a sentimental way.

        I originally wanted to do a salted chocolate tart. We often see salted tarts with caramel fillings (which are mighty good, too), but salt, in the right amount can add so much to the flavor of certain chocolate-based desserts whether you are adding the salt granules themselves or using salted butter...

        Since I was on a self-learning tart kick recently, I included making a chocolate tart on my agenda using salted butter, although it veered from the original plan. I concocted my own recipe from a couple of recipes I saw online, with lots of tweaking here and there through innovation, and came out with something decadent, unique, and tasty.

        I will be providing links to both recipes as well as talking about what I did differently to make a custom recipe overall.

        The first step was in making a chocolate crust for the tart. I was excited about this part because I've never made a rich, dark-brown chocolate crust from scratch and it just reminds me of the fact that there are so many intriguing ways to prepare and flavor crusts for tarts, pies, cobblers, buckles, brambles, crunches, crisps, and grunts (to name a few in the crusted dessert family).

        I began by taking butter that I browned and chilled in the refrigerator and added it to brown sugar to begin creaming both together. Then, I beat a large egg and added that to the creamed sugar and butter. The recipe calls for white sugar, but I felt that brown sugar, as well as the brown butter, would enrich the crust with a wealthy flavor. The brown sugar changed things up a bit, but I'll explain that a bit later...

        After preparing the base of the chocolate crust mixture (I know some people hate this word, but it applies so well here because we have a composite blend), I added it to a waiting container of dry ingredients which consisted of:
        • All purpose flour
        • Valrhona unsweetened cocoa powder
        • Baking powder
        Whisking dry ingredients

        Adding creamed mixture to dry ingredients

        Texture of crust batter after dry and wet are combined a bit more

        When I merged the dry and wet ingredients, I found that the combination was a little dry. By substituting brown sugar for white sugar in the creaming process, I think I missed out on carefully packing in the brown sugar within the measuring cup. I might have had less brown sugar than needed. Brown sugar adds more moisture to recipes than white sugar, so you'd think I wouldn't have this problem with dryness, but I can't think of any other reason why the crust batter came out so dry.

        I had to find a way to alleviate this problem. I had already creamed my sugar and butter and added an egg. This aerating process was done, so I thought, "Why not add a bit of heavy cream to the batter?"  This is exactly what I did. I loosely added about 1/8 cup of heavy cream and at that point I begin to see the dough come into place so I could sort it out into a pliable, round mound of deep, dark, chocolate dough:

        Beautiful chocolate mound
        At this point, I flattened the dough mound into a round disc, embraced it with plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for an hour and a half.

        After 90 minutes, it was time to take out the cold, chocolate dough and roll it out so that I could crust my tart pan.

        I should have snapped more photos of the process here, but I didn't, since I had so many pensive but good thoughts on my mind while making this crust. I guess this is where absentmindedness is not so criminal.

        Anyway, I was able to get a very good fit of the crust into the pan as you can see below:

        This pie crust certainly needed to be pre-baked because the filling I used was not a cooked filling. It just needed to set and chilled in the refrigerator atop the crust.

        Info: For pies with ready-fillings that do not require any cooking, such as custards, mousses, firm puddings, cream cheeses and the like, you need to have a fully baked pie crust before adding your filling. Some fruit pies are also best prepared with a crust that is pre-baked but not necessarily fully baked. Sometimes, if the crust is not pre-baked in a fruit pie, the bottom crust will come out slightly raw, while the top crust is baked all the way through. This incongruity will prevent the option of placing the pie back into the oven so that the bottom crust can bake all the way through, without burning the top crust. If the bottom crust is slightly raw in a pie with two crusts, it can still be eaten but you won't have a crust recipe that was executed very well.

        I poked a few holes with a fork into my crust after fitting the crust in the tart pan.  Because the crust was dark, I knew it was going to be hard to tell whether or not it was done. Furthermore, I was using a pile of pinto beans as my pie weights. I fitted the crust with a sheet of parchment paper and poured in a lot of pinto beans. This was going to make checking on the crust's "doneness" a little more "wild-style." LOL

        "A little help from my friends..."
        I figured I'd just keep checking on the crust after 20 minutes. I didn't want a burnt crust after all of this work and time. I prodded my pie crust a few times with a fork during the baking. Each time I had to remove the beans and parchment paper carefully in order to prod underneath. My cerebral, curious-induced brand of neuroticism paid off and my crust came out perfectly as a result. It was very much like a chocolate cookie crust and I could see that it was also flaky. The smell emanating from the tart pan was deliciously provocative. I removed my bean pals and parchment paper, which now had a beige tint to it, resembling an old and worn book page from an ancient book.

        Fully baked chocolate pie crust with proper fork holes
        I let the pie crust completely cool before adding in my fillings. The main filling was a chocolate ganache infused with a bit of dark rum and the top layer (slightly thinner) was a sweet cream cheese filling.

        To prepare the chocolate ganache I used these ingredients:
        • Callebaut bittersweet chocolate callets
        • Callebaut milk chocolate pistoles 
        • Salted butter
        • Brown rice syrup (I learned this is best for replacing corn syrup)
        • Rum
        • Heavy cream

        I didn't get a shot of the heavy cream heating on the stove, but after including everything into the glass bowl, I poured the hot heavy cream over the ingredients and stirred very steadily but not too fast. I wanted the ingredients to blend nicely and for the chocolate ganache to be smooth rather than clumpy.

        The ganache was poured over my cooled chocolate crust.

        I let the tart set in the refrigerator for an hour so that the chocolate ganache filling could firm up in order to bear the top cream cheese layer.

        The cream cheese layer simply consisted of:

        cream cheese
        white sugar
        a few capfuls of rum
        heavy cream
        a dash of cocoa powder for a slight marbling effect, visually

        I blended the first four ingredients well and spread the cream cheese filling over the firm chocolate ganache filling. I then added the cocoa powder and begin to marble the cocoa powder into the whiteness of the cream cheese blend. I let the entire tart set in the refrigerator for 3 hours before trying out a slice.

        This first slice below was mine and I enjoyed every bit of it. Truly indulgent. The recipes that inspired this baking adventure can be found through the links I've listed below. 

        Crust inspiration (find the crust section of the recipe): LINK
        Filling inspiration (check out the section for filling): LINK 

        As you can see, although I really get a kick of learning a recipe that's already been established, I tremendously enjoy innovating and throwing in my own ideas. This makes me feel a lot more involved  and expressive with the experimentation. It gives me a creative voice while I happily learn.

        Please, feel free to ask me any questions about this adventure or any other, for that matter. I'm always happy to hear any feedback!

        Monday, August 9, 2010

        The Future Tastes Good

        Some examples of food illustrations I've done

        It is often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I agree with this statement in some instances and one of those is through the art of illustration, particularly food illustration.

        I have a background in illustration and graphic design and a long love affair with anything art-related. As I've worked on developing my skills in the areas of baking and cooking, food writing, and food knowledge, lately, I'll admit to neglecting keeping up with illustration projects and continuous skill development. And it certainly is time to update and expand my design and illustration portfolio.

        Faux ad for bowl of mashed potatoes
        Faux ad for a dessert deli
        One realm of illustration that I've always enjoyed working in is drawing food. It only seems natural that I would, because of my intense passion for anything involving food. I feel so excited and carefree when I illustrate food whether I am doing something very realistic or completely from my imagination. Drawing food allows me to become intimate in the visual acknowledgment with food. Drawing food is a sensual act in itself. I think even the most enthused of foodies might have a hard to recalling the details of what exactly makes honey look viscous and shiny in that unique way that such liquids often look, no matter how often they cook with, see or use this ingredient. The average person takes for granted what they see so frequently. We know objects when we see it. We understand the quality of what we see, but we rarely need or have to recall it visually in the form of art. This requires a constant application of skill and development of what I call the "visual third eye".

        Maybe food photographers are a bit more keen with the details most people take for granted in food. They need to understand how food appears in a photo because, although they are literally drawing the scene, they have to be able to recognize what makes a great food scene and which food objects are best in a particular visual scenario in certain compositions. Light hitting directly on thick hot fudge sauce atop a sundae from a certain angle might be the best way to capture that distinctive shine of the decadent chocolate sauce so many people lust over. So a keen artistic eye is crucial to have and to continuously develop.

        At some point, I'll be expanding this blog and part of that is to develop a website that is completely dedicated to all things I do further, professional and personally, with food . My website will contain the usual parts such as an about me, contact and reference section, but I'll have areas such as a recipe box (collection of favorite and signature recipes), a link to my online bakery (Sweet Curiosities), a large gallery of all food-oriented design work (menu design food illustration, business promo stuff), a seamless integration of my blog, a description of my writing services professionally, and eventually (hopefully) videos and a podcast link.

        Some tentative promo work for my online bakery

        As for what the name of my site will be? I don't know yet. I'll either use my name to reference the site and domain or I'll come up with a catchy title that clicks perfectly...and that hasn't happened yet. The name must be something that completely captures my sense of style and way of seeing things.

        Some menu designs from the past

        So, yes, I'd like to bring my design and illustration skills into my plans and activities with food. I want food to be a big part of my future in a creative and innovative way. Integrating these skills into the world of food would be ideal and perfect, truly allowing me to work with so many things that excite me and fill my life with passion!

        Saturday, August 7, 2010

        Baking Adventure 16: Golden Velvet Tart

          A slice of my golden velvet tart

        You're probably wondering, "What the heck is a golden velvet tart?"

        Yeah, I know. You've most likely never heard the name as any established dessert title. Sure, there's red velvet cake and many creative spins on that traditional recipe such as blue velvet and the like, but the title of my dessert is not only a tart, but a custom cute nickname that I felt was appropriate.

        My dessert is a butternut squash tart but with extra ingredients that give it a distinctive flavor presence. So, it's not a simple and plain butternut squash filling...although that's still good :p

        I've enjoyed butternut squash for years and it's one of my favorite vegetables. In the past, I've made creamy, aromatic soups with it, but I never used it for cakes, pies or anything else sweet. This doesn't mean that the idea didn't cross my mind...many times. Like with many culinary projects, I just never got around to it.

        So...finally...I have. *confetti and balloons suddenly appear with a cheesy baritone-voiced interviewer*

        Info: Butternut squashes come in two shapes: vase and bell.  It is a one of the best squashes to use in recipes because it can be found year round in most supermarkets, so it's rather accessible and affordable. The flesh is sweet, creamy and non-stringy when baked. The skin is sturdy and not so easy to peel away when the squash is raw, which is why most people find it easier to bake or steam the squash and then remove the tenderized skin, which comes off easily. This squash can be baked, grilled, fried, boiled, or steamed. To get the best flavor out of the vegetable, baking or toasting (in the oven) is best. Butternut squash is ripe when it feels heavy for it's size and when tapping on the squash produces a hollow sound. Make sure the stem of the squash is  intact, the skin looks matte and smooth, and avoid squash with lots of blemishes, dark spots and slashed skin. As mentioned before, the skin is known to be tough when raw, so a healthy squash should not be easy to scar with a fingernail alone.

        This would also be the first time I am using a tart pan I recently purchased from Surfas. I've been waiting to break it in. Originally, my first tart dessert was going to be a salted chocolate tart (although I've since made a chocolate rum tart I'll be blogging about soon). I am in love with bake ware, especially tart pans. The traditional shape and size is round and 9 inches in diameter, but there are so many shapes and sizes. I've seen rectangles, huge circles, small circles, equilateral squares, non-crinkle, and even custom shapes like hearts, wide apples, and wavy rectangles. I get googly-eyed when I see tart pans on store shelves in what seems like endless stacks of different heights.

        So, let's talk about what I did, shall we?

        For starters, I halved (with careful effort) a butternut squash and removed the seeds and strings around them. The smell of the vegetable was intensely dewy, sweet, and pungent with a deep buttery note. The odor was reminiscent of a melon, yam, and a pumpkin, but in fusion. The flesh was very orange and lively in color

        I baked it in the oven until the flesh was very tender and the skin easily slipped away.  The next step was taking the flesh and blending it into a beautiful puree.

        As you can see, I was able to puree the pulp into a lush blend. I can see why so many people find it ideal for baby food or soups. Once you get it to this state, you can do so many cool things with it. I tasted the puree and found that it was quite sweet on its own, and I don't mean in that acquired sense. Most people would agree that ripe squash puree is very sweet, making it a great base for desserts...or perhaps even a dessert on its own.

        I referred to the ingredients I had arranged on the counter, and began adding them in to convert the squash puree into velvet gold.

        In this order, I enriched the puree by adding, while still very warm: butter, brown sugar, vanilla bean paste, spices (nutmeg, ginger and clove), heavy cream, cream cheese, one egg and some flour.

        The flavor of the batter was opulent, to say the least. Very decadent and flavorful. The color turned from vivid orange to a matte gold. The texture was indeed velvety and creamy.

        Now that my filling was complete, it was time to begin making the dough for my tart crust. I've described this process a bit in my entry for my cherry pie. However, I took more photos of the dough-making for this baking adventure.

        The first step was taking the butter, browning it and infusing it with a vanilla bean. After the butter browned, I placed it in a glass prep bowl, with vanilla bean still intact, for chilling in the refrigerator. Below, I've included some photos of the brown butter while hot in both the saucepan and in a Pyrex prep bowl and after it solidified in the fridge.

        The smell of the butter would drive anyone into a state of mad euphoria. It truly is exhilarating. Seriously, there should be a gourmand perfume based on the smell of brown butter and vanilla. I'd buy that in a heartbeat and add it to my collection of edible scents. If there ever is a scent like this released, remember, you heard it here first, people! LOL

        So after my butter was set, I began the flour work.

        Laying out flour

         Adding in the cold browned butter and breaking it down in the flour

        Added water, shaped the dough into a round clump and wrapped it for half hour refrigeration

        After refrigeration, it was time to take the dough out and begin what truly is the magical part - the stage that gives the pie the defining texture once it has baked, and allows the butter to do what it does best in the flour.

        Rolling out

        I call this process "layering and stacking" and I do it many times over. I roll the dough out, stack the edges on both sides, roll it out again and restack. As I do this, I build layers within the foundation of the dough -- layers of butter that will create a very flaky pie crust when the dough is baked. Take a look and see what I mean by the layers that are created within. I snapped a good photo of the result when I cut the stacked dough in half to get a cross section view, once I was done with several rounds of layering and stacking.

        The dough was placed back in the fridge (I halved the dough as I doubled up the recipe for leftover) and after another half hour, rolled out for fitting into a tart pan.

        Nice and smooth but with layers of butter within
        Filling poured in and "dressed" with light sprinkles of nutmeg

        Final result (including the slice presented in the entry)

        What I'd like to do is buy more tart pans...but in different sizes and shapes. A square tart would be so cute. I can see making a strawberry tart of some kind in a square or heart pan. That's certainly on my baking to-do list.

        I hope you enjoyed peeking into the process of making this golden velvet tart. I had a great deal of fun making it, enjoying the experience from beginning to end. The taste results were exquisite. Somewhat similar to sweet potato pie and pumpkin pie but with a style all its own that deserves distinction. This would be an ideal dessert for the holiday season because of the spiced flavor, but for me, it's good anytime!