Sunday, August 22, 2010

Weddings and Cookies

It seems these days I am all good intentions, but terrible follow through! I have so many photos to write blogs about but yet I always find the idea of sitting down and getting it done so daunting. Well, this Sunday afternoon I am feeling productive, so here I am, red velvet cupcake in tow as support!

I delved into the world of wedding cakes starting in June. The first cake I did was to decorate it only, which was far more challenging than it sounds. The second cake was a cupcake affair to remember, but went far smoother than I had anticipated. The cookies were for an extremely loyal customer, but gosh was I glad to see the back end of them at the end!

Below is the cake that I covered in almond paste/marzipan, fondant, and then ribbon.

In the end the cake turned out fine, but let me outline why sweat, blood, and tears went into this cake. First off, I didn't bother to ask what kind of cake (the mother of the bride made it) it was, and it turned out to be fruit cake, but a fruit with whole nuts. This becomes problematic because if the cake is not completely flat, and I have to tier it, then I usually like to shave down parts, but the whole nuts prevent me from doing this. If I tried to shave the whole nuts they'd probably just pop out and the cake would look like the moon, all covered in craters.

Second of all, the client wanted there to be a layer of almond paste underneath the fondant, which is traditional. What I failed to realize here is that for masking cakes marzipan is used, not almond paste. As soon as any kind of mauling happens to the almond paste the oils start coming out and go everywhere. The sound is like that of a wet sponge making 'squishy' noises. It wasn't very pliable either, so I basically had to patch it on. Also, 2.2lbs was not enough to cover an 8", 6", and 4" tier - it barely covered the 8". Thank god I had a reserve of marzipan hiding in the back of my cupboard.

Then the fondant. That went alright, but I made the mistake of not putting in the dowels immediately. I waited a day so that when I went to put them in, the fondant cracked. I tried caulking it with royal icing but that looked awful. I was panicking but then my mum suggested that I do an extra layer of fondant - problem solved! Stacking them was also a treat. Since they weren't completely flat there were small gaps and it didn't make a perfect 90 degree angle (oh, I should have mentioned, the client wanted it stacked off-centre). I did my best to use the ribbon to close the gaps.

I was very happy to have this (very heavy) cake delivered! I haven't received any e-mail complaints so I'm assuming all went well!

The cupcake wedding went much better!

Red Velvet with Vanilla Bean Buttercream

Marble with White Chocolate Ganache

Spice with Maple Buttercream

Red Velvet with Pistachio Buttercream and Fondant bees/flowers

The baking was pretty much completed in a day and seeing all of the cupcakes out on my dining room table made them seem less daunting! The only challenge was finding a good enough white chocolate ganache recipe that would allow me to pipe it on. The small cake was such a joy to work on and the bride and groom were very happy with it!

On to cookies!

Thomas the Tank Engine is one complex little guy. I had to make him in two parts - body and head. Then I had to do the blue portions, let that dry, then onto the red and black parts. The sides of the head had to be covered in black (which was a feat and was sometimes managed and other times not). Then I had to fill the face with grey, let that dry, and then the eyes and nose. He took many many hours and I got a little annoyed at his sweet little face looking at me all innocently!

Things I've learned with the cakes, cookies, and pies:

1) If someone wants you to only decorate their cake, make sure you find out what kind of cake it is first.
2) Almond paste is for baking and nom'ing on only, not covering cakes.
3) If you have old cupcake liners you WILL burn the bottom of your cupcakes, which is gross.
4) Maple is an extremely hard flavour to put into buttercream.
5) Cupcake holders in cake boxes are your best friend.
6) If you don't have matching cupcake pans, check the height - not all are created equal.
7) Although cookies are small and are devoured in mere seconds, the labour that can go into decorating them makes them very expensive, so I should never sell myself short (which I did).
8) If you have a good and easy tart shell recipe, stick with it. You don't need to get fancy and change it up each time, it's time consuming and not so economical sometimes. Buying a thing of cream to only use a teaspoon? Silly!
9) I still don't like make cupcakes. I can't explain it!
10) My new camera makes this camera look like crap.

And here are some other cakes that I did for sale:

Raspberry Mousse Tart with White Chocolate Ganache

Almond Dacquoise with Dark Chocolate Ganache and Raspberries

I hope to post every couple of days now, so you'll soon see a very belated review of a tasting menu/concert that I went to in July, the latest wedding cake I did (for 120 people!), and the results from the food photography course that I did last weekend, which was mind blowing. I also hope to do a review of L'Oven, an Ottawa-based home run bakery that I discovered at a Cherry Pie event. These women are making a phenomenal product and really, when they're making amazing cupcakes, why should I bother competing? I love their stuff more than mine.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Raw Food Adventures!

It's been quite a while since my last post, but that's because I have been very busy! The end of June brought my first wedding delivery of 90 cupcakes and a small tiered cake that was 6" and 4". It went very well and the bride and groom were most pleased!

I've recently had about 3 weeks off because my boss was in Spain. Having the time off was really great for relaxing, reflecting, and general taking care of myself. I've been incorporating more raw food into my diet. For the last few weeks I've made pretty much all of my breakfasts raw. I used to like alternating between an egg breakfast and a cereal breakfast, but I've since found much better alternatives!

For my "cereal" I puree steamed or soaked buckwheat (I know purists will say that steaming is not "raw" but I'm sure it's not all bad) with a frozen and ripe banana (I have SO many in my fridge) with some peanut butter. Right now I'm still using grocery store Kraft chunky but I'm hoping to get some natural peanut butter soon. It's so hot here in Ottawa these days that a nice cold breakfast really hits the spot! No picture as it's not the prettiest dish.

Now, for my "egg" dish I found this wonderful video by Ani Phyo - Spanish Scramble, or a variation on I Love the Chicks pate. The first time I made it I added tomatoes and basil, but this morning I made it with ground coriander and mushrooms. So delicious and filling - I felt great for almost 5 hours!

Months ago I made raw tacos - still working on the presentation as the Boston lettuce leaves weren't really doing it for me. They also bring back bad memories as when I was making the guacamole I was trying to take out the pit with a small knife and it slipped and went into my hand instead D:. I have a bruised nerve, which is not really fun, but for the most part I don't notice it - the side of my left index finger feels like it's "asleep" but that's the extent of the damage.

The walnut "meat" was really delicious! They're not very filling though, especially when presented in those small leaves, so I'm going to try and find a bigger leaf so that this can be more of a meal than an appetizer.

Around that same time I also made a walnut chocolate cake from Ani Phyo's dessert book. It was so filling! I put strawberries in the middle which ended up cutting its shelf life in half as they went bad pretty quickly. Still delicious though. I sometimes find that all that cacao powder leaves a very powdery taste, but if you wait a couple of days it disappears. Anyone else notice this?

In the middle of June there was Ottawa's annual Raw Fest. There were a lot of neat stalls and I bought some delicious fruit, raw chocolate bars by Olivia Chocolat, and seed bars and snow balls from Rawsome Food. I also had my first taste of coconut water and I'm also a big fan of that. I unfortunately let it sit for too long in the fridge so when I went to crack it open to get the meat it was all soggy.

Because the weather is extremely warm right now I thought I'd make nature my own personal dehydrator. I attempted to make raw burgers - the bun was made out of soaked buckwheat (I tried to sprout, but failed), ground flax, sesame seeds, garlic, salt, pepper, water, and dates. The burgers were made out of walnuts (soaked and dried), wheat germ as "bread crumbs" to help it dry out faster, spices, onion, and chilis from our balcony garden. Here are a few thing that I've learned from DIY dehydrating:

1) NEVER put paper towel on top of the food in attempts to keep bugs off. You end up ripping the entire top layer of the bun off to get rid of the bits of towel. Yum? Bleh.

2) It takes forever. I had them out for about 5 hours and the insides were still goopy. You can't just whip up a raw meal sometimes, you have to plan ahead.

3) I really REALLY need a proper dehydrator!

I eventually got impatient and baked them at a high temperature so that they were edible before the next day :P. Not so pure according to raw standards, but still healthy nonetheless! I topped it with spring mix, sprouts, mushrooms, and chipotle mayo (kind of raw?). Ryan wasn't as into the buns but he really liked the burger portion, as did I! I had a few buns left over so I use them in my lunches. The garlic has really mellowed over the days making it for a much subtler tasting bun.

I also want to share with you my favourite new snack - raw popcorn. I found this video courtesy of Renegade Health. Here are the ingredients:

Here are the instructions:

1) Chop up and crumble a head of cauliflower so that it resembles "kernels". Place in plastic bag.
2) Liberally add nutritional yeast, then a pinch of cayenne (or two if you're like me and like it spicy!), and a pinch of sea salt (I like Maldon)
3) Close bag and "massage" all the ingredients together!
4) Inhale the deliciousness

Hmmm, so why do I like it? It's crunchy, it's a little salty, a little spicy, and it tastes cheesy! You can dehydrate this but I don't like waiting and I love how crunchy and fresh raw cauliflower is. I find that, because of the water content, it soaks everything up very fast and gets a little soggy, but if you add more nutritional yeast you can bring some life back to it. I wouldn't let it sit for more than 4 days though. But really, how can you not devour the whole bag in one sitting? I actually like this more than real popcorn!

The last raw thing I made was chocolate bark, which I made yesterday. I occasionally get huge chocolate cravings around that time of the month, and after devouring huge amounts of non-raw chocolate last week and feeling gross afterwards, I figured I should try and make a better alternative. I again consulted Ani Phyo's dessert book and made her liquid chocolate recipe and mixed in pumpkin seeds, almonds, and goji berries. I spread it out over a silpat and froze it for about 10 minutes. It had a strong flavour! Sometimes my body has trouble digesting pure fats so eating all that coconut oil was a bit of an adjustment. However, today seems to be better. The cocoa (I didn't have enough pure cacao so I used my Cocoa Barry powder instead) was intense so a little went a long way and it definitely satiated the chocolate craving! I even had some in my yoghurt this morning, haha.

I haven't felt this good in a long time! I know the time off has really helped, but my insides have just been so much happier since I've been incorporating more raw food into my diet. My energy levels have also been great, something I seem to always struggle with. My skin has been fantastic and all around I'm really benefiting from eating this way. I've also staring doing yoga and I went for a run for the first time in 3 years and although I have a ways to go the endorphins made me feel great.

More and more I'm moving away from my traditional way of cooking and baking in favour of raw. If it weren't for my family and Ryan wanting to still eat cooked food (and a lot of meat!) I would be raw I'd say about 80%-90%. I will admit that when I go out if I see a delicious sounding meat dish I will get it, but for the last few months I've really been treating meat as a special occasion treat and I try to eat only well fed and well cared for meat. For example, there is a butcher near my parent's cottage that sells Belgium Blue meat. They graze through a huge field and all of them are tagged, meaning that you can trace your steak all the way back to that cow! Also it means that only one cow (and only the best parts) are used in sausages. I know a lot of restaurants are moving towards using local and well cared for meat so I don't feel as bad eating out.

Today I became the proud owner of a Nikon D5000, and I am also going to be taking a 2 day food photography course which I am SO excited for. Hopefully this means my blog will take on a new and more professional look!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Crazy Mad Hatter tea party bridal shower cake!

Wow, what a mouthful of a title! This cake was done about a month ago, and is my first proper tiered fondant cake. I spent a long time planning it out and made sure that I was organized enough to execute all my ideas properly (something I had struggled with in the past). It's funny though, sometimes you will be faced with a challenge and a totally different solution will present itself and you'll realize that it is much better! What I mean by this is originally I wanted to create a few large fondant roses to go on top of the cake, but I was having trouble creating them as my mind saw them. Instead I made a stack of small roses and leaves to give the illusion of a full potted plant, if that makes sense! I hoped to make it taller, but I have ideas as to how I can do that for next time. Every cake is a learning curve!

I'm quite surprised that I'm so pleased with this cake. As a "tortured artist" I'm never quite satisfied with my work, whether it be a cake, drawing, or a musical piece I'm composing. It's a really great feeling knowing that you accomplished what you set out to do and executed it well.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Playing catch-up!

Warning: this is a very photo-heavy post! Those with dial-up beware!

I'm going to be playing food catch-up with this post. The last couple of months have been very hectic and despite the best of intentions I still haven't achieved my goal of posting more regularly. I feel as though once I get over this one big food blogging hump then we're smooth sailing!

But first, something totally unrelated to food - I cut off all of my hair.



I really wanted a change, and my hair was completely fried having dyed it blonde for 9 months straight. I got great feelings of instant gratification but now I desperately miss my ponytail! I can now pull it back into the tiniest of stubs but it will be a few months before I can fully pull it back. I will never cut my hair again! Which is a lie, as I'll probably want to do the exact same thing two years from now. Vicious cycle.

Back now to food! Ryan and I have been attempting to eat more healthy. In addition to adding raw food to our diet, we also are obsessed with rice paper wraps! So easy and so versatile.

I discovered a recipe from Happy Little Bento, and while my own version didn't turn out nearly as cute as the photo, nor did I have all of the proper ingredients amounts, it was still one of the most surprisingly delightful dishes I've ever eaten! Despite it's slop-like appearance, of course.

As some of you may have read, awhile ago I e-mailed a food stylist/specialist in Ottawa and we met and hit it off right away. I did some part-time work with her before being offered a more full-time position, and one of my projects was to pick some recipes from her website and to make them and take photos of each step. Later these will be on her blog (when I get around to doing that... oh dear...). For now though the final product pictures are here!

Egg-free and Gluten-free chicken fingers. Dipped in a honey-dijon mixture and rolled in spelt crumbs.

Tuna and asparagus salad with avocado.

Peanut butter energy balls.

I also had one week where I made a lot of cakes!

Double chocolate cheesecake

Chocolate brownie cake with caramel buttercream and pecans

Chocolate cake with chocolate ganache

Vanilla cake with chocolate icing (this felt like such a grocery store cake!)

Chocolate almond dacquoise with strawberry cream and caramel

Lastly, Ryan and I had a dinner party a few weeks back for some friends from cooking school. We felt slightly rushed to get everything prepared but it turned out to be a roaring success.

Dinner party attire!

Stuffed sea trout. Recipe found at The Delicious Miss Dahl.

Vegan chocolate cake with not-so-vegan chocolate caramel ganache

More photos and stories to come! Here a teaser list for you - raw tacos, tales from the ER, homemade pizza, raw cakes, and more!