Piece O’ Cake

Photo by Daniel Dent

Wedding cakes.  Never did I ever think that I would be the go to person when it comes to wedding cakes, but so far I’ve been lucky enough to experience what its like be able to sweeten up two couples weddings.   My first attempt came about in May of 2009 when a statuesque blonde with bands of tattoos asked me to make her wedding cupcakes.  70 cupcakes, and a 4 tiered cake and a broken KitchenAid later the first special occasion cake was introduced to the world. The cake would be a fluffy Meyer Lemon cake with a lemon and orange blossom glaze slathered with whipped cream and garnished with slices of strawberries and candied kumquat.  FIRST TIME!  With some excellent help from my good friend Danielle, my roommate’s KitchenAid Appliance, and tips from my Pastry Chef Jen along with some last-minute necessities I was off for a bit of an adventure!

Danielle Patrice Arazaga - pastry assistant extraordinaire!

Armed and ready with butter, flour, sugar, eggs, honey, and garnishes within 3 hours I was able to whip out those lovely delicate cakes.  But of course something had to happen.  Dee (Danielle) dropped the kitchen aid on the LAST batch!  Whew I thought, it’s okay because that was the last batch, but what about the frosting??? Mixer = Broken. Fell to its death. “Ohhh no I don’t have the money to pay for another kitchen aid” said Dee. “STOP! We’ll worry about that later”.  With two whisk, A sunny San Francisco day, a back yard and some stairs we began to whisk the honeyed whipped cream into the light and airy frosting.  The cake came out beautifully for a Spring Wedding! And of course delicious!

Second came about early June 2009. A couple overheard that I did a wedding cake and they asked me if I would want to do theirs? Suuurree I thought…later  I received an email from the grooms mother asking me to make a grooms cake.  With some handy-dandy research tools I was able to find out that a groom’s cake was a very southern tradition.   Usually a very decadent or whimsical cake that is used to represent the groom.

Karl and Halo had a beautiful wedding on their family’s ranch July 4th 2009.  Needless to say there were insufficient modern-day tools to help me with this one.  I baked the vanilla cakes a day ahead and was able to pack everything in neat little containers so that the next day all I would need to do was assemble the 5 tiered cake.  The cake would consist of Vanilla cake, with layers of whipped cream, strawberries and a milk and honey concoction.  The outer would be slathered with whipped cream, bits of pecan praline, and shavings of chocolate.  IT WAS A SUCCESS!!! But of course mishaps occurred.

Photo by Daniel Dent

No…absolutely no kitchen aid, no whisk, and no bowls present at the ranch.  The local convenience store, and grocery store had only 2 1/2 pint containers of whipping cream.  We had to drive 30-45 minutes away to two different locations to buy 10 1/2 pint containers of heavy

whipping cream.  Daniel who was also photographing the wedding ended up also being my knight in shining armor and my driver.  The local breakfast joint/lunch and dinner spot was kind enough to let me borrow a giant whisk and a very large bowl to whisk the cream, a bowl that Paul Bunion must have used himself.  Assembling the cake was easssssssssy.  4- 8 inch round tiers of cake moistened with a milk and honey syrup (which I found was a symbol of long-lasting love in Persian culture), slices of fresh strawberries,  hand whipped honey cream and a top-tier about 5 inches in circumference was the cherry on top.  assembled 1.5 hours ahead of schedule I went off to take a shower and ready myself for the wedding.

Photo by Daniel Dent

Y’all better head back to the house I think something’s happened to the cake!!” So with whipped cream still in my hair,  my eyes bulged, and I took a gulp.   WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED!!!   I ran into the house.  It felt like I had just walked into a bad hospital scene.  All the nurses inside just bowed their heads down in silence as I walked through the archaic kitchen, walking through the sea of women in the kitchen to see my patient on its side 1/2 the body torn.  The tiny fridge which held the large cake was pretty much at room temp.    I faintly opened the refrigerator door only to find that half the cake had disastrously plunged to its sweet death.  WHAT WAS I TO DO? the chocolate shavings the praline, the cake!!! THE CAKE!!!  The electricity on the ranch was not up to par with modern-day standards. Daniel who by now was running around like a mad man shooting odds and ends of the wedding came to my side and offered me a suggestion as I went completely numb from shock.  1 hour till the wedding, no working oven, no supplies, no extra ANYTHING!

Photo by Daniel Dent

“JUSTICE LEAGUE” said Daniel “Lets just…do this…and that…and we’ll…and then…VOILA” the HALL OF JUSTICE was born.  Karl the groom wanted a cake that would show his love for comic books, so he presented me with a few Justice League characters in the form of Lego figurines.  This was to be the whimsical and decorative element of the cake.  The tippy top of the cake was salvaged from the wreck.  Somehow we jimmied the two leftover portions of the cake together.  I can’t really explain how we did it but we d

id.  With all the separate components now becoming one as the frosting suddenly the HALL OF JUSTICE appeared! No one was the wiser.  The cake was better than the original and in fact matched perfectly what a grooms cake was all about.

“Are you the young woman who made the cake?”  asked the grooms mother.  An angelic woman of magnificent grace and beauty. “Yes…but I have to admit the cake didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to so I won’t charge you anything for it.”  I braced her with what had happened, held her warm hand and led her into the kitchen.  Her eyes lit up and she seemed completely shocked.  I almost had to lift up her lower jaw from the floor!

She loved it, and she didn’t understand what was wrong with it in the first place! It was such a long SIGHHHHHHHHHHHHH of relief.

Both occasions I learned how important it is to roll with the punches and with downs always there is an upside to things. Nothin’ beats a little positive thinking, quick thinking and ingenuity.  Nothing beats teamwork.

And a little song:

A Message to you

Wack wack wack slice slice slice pound roll boil bake.

I’ve taken on a new task and it has reintroduced fresh new inspiration into my life.

For the past 4 weeks I have been volunteering my time and have been giving cooking lessons as well as providing a hearty and delicious meal at a local non-profit. Most the kids are middle school aged and I was almost intimidated by the thought of them saying “EW…WHATS THIS” or even worst not connecting with them and feeling completely outta tuned with today’s youth.    I have to tell you the best thing that I have heard in ages must have come out of a 13 year olds mouth …“YO THIS IS HELLLA GOOD.”  Other comments such as “I like you better than the other cooking teacher…she was mean.”  Not to mention I think she also cooked them bland food.  It feels really good to connect with these youth, and I also vowed NEVER to play cheesy world music while cooking with them.  It also helps that we can talk about Rihanna and Jay Z as well as how to Julienne, chiffonade, slice, dice, bake, boil, roast etc…

In this post  I have included a video of Sting’s daughter singing a lovely tune that accompanies me in the kitchen, as well as a quick version of my sloppy joes.  Of course if I made this for adults and had a better budget the list of the ingredients would be a little more complex but not much!  Including Orange juice and lemon zest for the coleslaw with cilantro and I would use a beer or a wine to help with additional flavor to the sloppy joe concoction. And yes, hey call me MS. TINA

I made this dish before using a cast iron skillet and carmelized the onions also using some smoked salt, and a nice hearty wine (or was it beer?) I think I also added a bit of orange juice or pineapple juice.  SO enjoy this one for today.

This is today’s recipe.  I have 1.5 hours to prep, cook, clean, instruct, and sit down and have a meal with the kids!  I also have to use what we find at the San Francisco Foodbank, the programs Pantry but also some money comes out of the program directors generous pocket.

This is a quick ingredient gathering/list that I emailed to the program director!

Apple & Cabbage Coleslaw

3 Apples 4 carrots 1 cabbage mayonnaise 1 Green Onion 3 tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar 1/2 Teaspoon Coriander or Cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

Apples:  Cut into slivers (please ask Ms. Tina)

Cabbage: Finely Julliened (Please ask Tina)

Green Onions : cuts into rounds.

Sauce: Add all other ingredients together but please ask and make sure all ingredients are present before you start to make the sauce.

Sloppy Joes – Keep in mind you might have some of these Items in the house

Hamburger Buns – enough for surprise guests and attendees.

Ground beef

1 Yellow Onion

2 carrots

1 red bell pepper

4 cloves garlic

1/2 cup Brown sugar

1 can chopped stewed tomatoes

1 can tomato paste ( I think you have this at the house)

1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar ( I think you have this at the house)

(as for spices I can work with what you have in your spice kitchen) So Dont worry about buying any of these I am just listing this for myself.)

Cumin, Coriander, bay leaves, Cloves, Thyme

If there is time for dessert then Lets buy some Vanilla IC. It would be VERY VERY easy.

Dessert?  Warmed Peaches with Vanilla IC.

I love it!! I love working with limited ingredients and making something delicious and comforting.  The past 4 (going on 5) classes were great! They were a bit hectic and many many surprise elements were thrown in, like having no time or the oven was at the wrong temp, extra kids to feed.  Most these meals become impromptu cooking lessons with the kids having some of the most awesome skills and initiative and having some of the greatest palates to boot! Fresh turkey meatballs with homemade marinara accompanied by a salad of fresh greens, to Shepherd’s Pie with fresh made buttery biscuits, to Smoked turkey legs with winter vegetable soup and a cinnamon apple crumble.   Today its Sloppy Joes!  I hope to put up pictures of the evenings. So until then …<3

Alexander McQueeeeeeeeeeeeen

I was inspired to draw a connection with the recent Spring/ Summer 2010 Alexander McQueen runway.

sp-about-mainimageHE IS AMAZING.  His conceptual response to fashion and the runway is major with it’s Avante Garde staging as an installation.   Going through his archival of runway shows I find myself saying over and over again “WOW” or “Oh my GOD!” even “WOWIE” was proclaimed.   Each show is  a meeting of massive multi dimensional morphing! Pure visual imagery and pleasure.  MY GOAL is to go through each runway show and create a multi faceted menu:

Just read the didactics from Fall/Winter 08: “

Based on the British Empire, the Queens of England, the Duke of Wellington, toy soldiers and punk princesses, this fashion fairy tale is dominated by an ancient tulle-wrapped tree referencing the work of the artist, Christo. For the first half of the show our heroine is dressed in beautiful rags: nipped waisted jackets, Victorian-line dresses with S-bend corseted tops, textured, hand-knitted mohair and washed tweeds all in dark or neutral colours lend a make-do-and-mend feel to the proceedings. It isn’t long, though, before our Princess meets her Prince Charming, at which point she descends from her treetop habitat and finds all the riches of the world at her disposal. Her clothing duly explodes into colour and references everything from the wardrobe of the young Princess Elizabeth –crimson velvet New Look dresses, ermine wraps and a bastardised Union Jack print – to the palaces of the Maharajas – a draped, predominantly empire-line silhouette finished with paper-flat embroidered slippers, each pair bespoke and created to complement its own outfit.”

Brilliant!  Is there a possibility that food and the runway can go hand in hand?  Of course!  The dark into bright juxtaposition of layers and layers evolves and just conjures up so many ideas that I could play with.  But with my food knowledge being only so modest what will I conjure up?  His details and his thoughtful selection of staging is just so inspiring.  The other day at work someone offered me a taste of Vietnamese yogurt to which I replied “It tastes like Hello Kitty…Theres that artificial sweetness” . I often times will taste and see food, which is why I have to close my eyes from other distractions and to focus on my palate…

In this link is McQueen’s 2010 line titled PLATO”S ATLANTIS I find playful inspiration sparking up inside me again. Haunting and awe inspiring, it revives my imagination so that it doesn’t relocate to a less creative space…and that BUILDUP!

YUMM.  This futuristic, reptilian, aquatic and hedonistic, fetish bound concept of this particular line sparked a vision of what I would be able to do with food.  Most the time food at its purist form is the most attractive and this connection with wildly exotic can conjure up rich stews, pastas, bountiful and beautiful greens layers of flavor, seafood game meats…It’s beautiful really, it evokes a playful passion that imparts the same attraction when viewed, and surely enough thats relevant with food.

Spellbound. WOW

VIETALIAN

I fell in love with Italian cuisine when my father used to take me to this small family owned and operated restaurant in our hometown.  Now granted I didn’t venture far from home at the time so my experience with Italian food was very limited. A saucy and tangy tomato sauce topped with 2 large and moist meatballs. Yum yum yum…

I endlessly watched Lydia Bastianich when I was growing up with all those old and classic PBS cooking series.  I love love loved making pasta at home for my brothers, and experimented constantly with different ways to wrap flavor around and through strands of pasta.  I dreamed of studying Italian food with an old Italian grandmother.

One day I discovered risotto and I slowly expanded my repertoire.  What I definitely like about this recipe is its warm and rich characteristics.  The root vegetables lends a wonderful sweetness and the butter and parmesan add another level of flavor and richness. I wanted to marry the idea of Italian and Vietnamese cooking.  So on a cold and foggy San Francisco summer I decided to make an Aborio Rice Porridge.   In Vietnamese we call it a Chao…Here is the rough recipe.

Root Vegetable Chao

For the Stock:

1/2 Left Over Roasted chicken
1 Large yellow Onion
1 cup stalks of celery
1 cup  carrots
1 cup rutabagas
1 cup turnips
a good size rind of parmesan Cheese
olive oil, Salt & Pepper,
1 1/2  cup Aborio Rice
4 cloves Garlic
The rest of the reserved Root Vegetables.
4  cups Chicken stock
1/2  cup White wine
1 T Marjoram
4 T butter
olive oil, Salt & Pepper,
Garnish-Cilantro, Scallions, limes.

Directions:

Season chicken well and roast bones/scraps with salt and pepper, roast on high.

Dice: Onions, Carrots, rutabaga, turnip and celery (reserve 1/2 of each for later).  Smash your Cloves Garlic.

Saute onions (sweat) add 2 cloves smashed garlic, add the diced rutabaga and carrots and add your rough minced marjoram as well as butter.

Add stock and a bit of water, now add the roasted chicken, and parm rind.   Deglaze the pan with white wine to release the drippings add all the goodness to the stock pot.  Season with salt.  Simmer for 1-2 hours.  Deeper flavors will form when you simmer for longer.

When the hour has past, and flavors have started to mingle, in a soup pot heat your olive oil,  Add the 4 cloves of smashed garlic infuse the pan with garlic oil, now add the Aborio rice coat well with oil  add a bit of oil and toast lightly.  Add your vegetable medley that was saved from earlier and continue to stir cook till onions are slightly transluscent.

Photo by Daniel Dent

While that rice is toasting  begin to strain your stock.  Remove your chicken pieces and cool.

Add a good heaping amount of stock to your toasted (not burnt) Aborio rice.  You want to add about triple the amount of water at once and let simmer. Remember you want a porridge not a risotto so add all liquids at once, but more stock can be added as the process thickens.   I think it’s s

o pretty with those sweet root vegetables floating with the Aborio rice.  Add more stock depending on how brothy you would like your porridge.

Season well with salt and pepper.  When chicken bones are cooled pick apart the meat, and leave some ski

n for a nice richness. Add scraps of meat into the porridge.  Stir and let simmer for another 30 minutes. Total give for take an hour or an hour plus+. What about those large chunks of garlic?  By this time they have melted and can be smashed down some more to give the porridge a bit of a buttery soft & savory richness. It just adds to the all around wonderful quality of the dish.

By this time the broth has becomes rich and glutenous but still slightly brothy.  Garnish with chopped cilantro, green onions, and a wedge of lime.

Let me show you my Cast Iron Skill(z)et

I love love love love love a good cast iron skillet.  It’s a great heat conductor, a great flavor inducer and an all around great apparatus for cooking.  From stove to oven, I find this heavy  item an ideal tool for ANY kitchen.

Here is an old article in the NY Times about the beautiful and versatile skillet:

Such pretty writing about such a manly and dark underdog of kitchen tools.  I think a smaller skillet is perfect for a fritatta too!

When I am at my boyfriend’s house I tend to gravitate towards his heavy and very well seasoned cast iron skillet.  I also gravitate towards it because he has an electric stove, and I find that when I use any other pan the heat to surface ratio is never balanced.  Example…when I boil water I find that rings form and bubbles rise where the bottom of the pan and the electric range meet, so to avoid that entirely I lean towards the handy-dandy skillet. Not that I boil water in the skillet.

One of my favorite recipes involves using short ribs and cherries.  Summer is almost over and the peak of cherry season has vanished. Before this happens I pulled out the cork from the bottle of Rose and celebrated the change with a BBQ version of Rose macerated short ribs in a smokey sweet tomato bath.  It starts on the stove and finishes in the oven.  It’s tender, sweet savory and smokey.

4 Short ribs (cut in half in order to fit the perimeter of the Cast iron Skillet), 1 1/2 cup Bing Cherries, 2 cups Rose, 1 whole large yellow onion, 2 cloves garlic, 1 tablespoon Alderwood smoked salt, black pepper,1 stalk fresh rosemary, 1/2 cup IPA, 1/4 cup tomato purée, 1/4 cup tomato paste, flour, olive oil.

Prep: Cut the short ribs in half.  Do this because 4 good-sized short ribs would not fit a 12 inch skillet.  Cut whole onion in 1/4″ rings, Pit and halve your cherries, now lets slice the garlic into slivers.

Overnight: Macerate the pitted and halved cherries with Rose wine.  I find that even a bubbly rose would do well (beer or white wine would be a fine substitute.).  Pour just till the liquids cover the cherries.  If you don’t have the time to do this overnight then please at least an hour.

Heat your skillet on high.  Oil the pan. Flour and dust off  shortribs and add to hot skillet (the flour also acts as a natural thickening agent for the sauce). brown lightly and turn over do the same…about 1 minute on both sides.  Since we aren’t on the grill, I wanted the richness of a BBQ without the long coals and embers, I find that the rendered meat juices and browned goodness that are released during this process really give this sauce the meaty body that I want.  After the browning process remove and let rest

5560_1142693301271_1645623560_383438_4954955_n

Add the onions and brown a till they have picked up the color and the juices of the meat drippings, and until they have carmelized a bit themselves (you don’t want them fully carmelized, because you still want some crunch.  Add the slivers of garlic.  Add  1/2 the cherries without the juices and saute a bit longer (give or take 6 minutes total).

Add the smoked salt, pepper now add 1/2 the liquid from the macerated cherries into the pan and add the half bottle of beer, and the rest of the cherries (I do

n’t like all my cherries to be smooshed so I add 1/2 before for more concentrated flavor and the other half later for the texture).  I like using an IPA because of the hoppyness (SP?)  it’s floral and simple delicious when adding flavor and to deglaze the pan.  Now add the tomato paste, and tomato purée.  Here I use the combination of the two because the paste cuts the acidity of the purée and adds a bit more body to the dish, i.e a bit more sweetness.

Add the WHOLE rosemary (Optional). At t

his point simmer for a bit longer till everything has reduced to half.  Salt to taste and pepper to taste.  If Aleppo or Marash pepper is available I highly recommend you add a dash if you want a bit more peppery but not spicy notes to this dish, the Aleppo is super fruity so it really melds together well with the acidic and sweet characteristics of this dish.

About 15-20 minutes have now past, please now is the time to add your short ribs and all of the rested juicy bits back into the pan.  Make sure they are well covered in the mixture, add to the oven. Because you are using  skillet you can actually braise these short ribs on the stove top but be sure to turn down the heat to med so it’s still bubbling but not boiling.  If finishing on the stove cover and simmer 20 minutes.  If finishing in the oven cover and simmer at 375º for 20 minutes.

There are plenty of layers to this dish which is why there is the option for the Aleppo, and the Rosemary. Without them this dish is still great!  It revives the feelings of a delicious and thick BBQ sauce from an outdoorsy summer. It is sticky and gooey but a bit more classic but still rustic.  The meat is tender and fall apart and has really soaked up all the savory smokey bits of the browned onions and smoked salt.  The cherries have melted a bit but still parts and bits are meaty.  I love this dish for the many layers and how the personal perks of each ingredient complement one another.

If this lovely dark smoked salt is not available, green peppercorns would be pretty awesome with this dish, or simply salt and a good dose of black pepper.  Chomp Chomp Chomp!

Question of the day.

Waiting for the bus, heading home…the bus’ arrival.  I was in front of the San Francisco Public Library when someone stopped with the question…”ARE YOU A CHEF?”  I didn’t know what to answer…but nearly nanoseconds before he appeared I was watching a novelty bus line for tourists slow down; it wasn’t the #19. I wanted it to be but it wasn’t.  I instinctually ran towards the slow-moving bus in hopes of avoiding more prying questions.

When the bus kept on going I was left in this off and odd feeling. “Wait Waittt!” How do you answer that?  Are you a chef? I quickly turned around to try to see if the man was still there.  Maybe even give him an answer but, he was gone as fast as he had

-1
Birthday Dinner

appeared.  The guy looked like Joe Pesci.  Slicked back black hair with a NY Giants jacket, that’s how I remembered him.  My bus finally came. The whole time I was on the actual #19 bus I felt this nauseous feeling, riddled with anxiety wondering how the hell do I answer that.

I talked to my chef about it and he had a very abstract way of looking at the question.  COOK it’s what all chefs are.  CHEF is only a title of a person that would be the one higher grander scheme of control.  ‘ simplifying it…I can’t begin to write in detail about how he explained it.  It was a bit abstract actually.  Here, so that I won’t continue fumble over the whole brigade Wikipedia answers this question:

brigade system (Brigade de cuisine), documented by Georges Auguste Escoffier

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigade_de_cuisine

or this

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chef

That answers MY question but, the majority of people who see someone in a kitchen or carrying a knife bag will automatically associate you with the word CHEF.  The hierarchs creates a sense of accomplishment  like a notch on your belt.  Without worrying about the regal hierarchy of it all, my friends and loved ones consider me a chef, I consider myself a cook and my title is Garde Manger/Pantry. Nothing too complicated with that.