Sunday, March 28, 2010

Caramel-Peanut Popcorn


The past two Saturday evenings, Mike and I have made the long trek from Manhattan to Harrison, NJ to watch the opening two games of the New York Red Bulls.

The MLS team is playing in their very own, brand new soccer arena.

© Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

Last weekend was lovely - a 75 degree spring day melted into a beautiful, warm evening.  No winter jacket, or any jacket for that matter, was required.

But yesterday, the temperature peaked at 43 degrees.  The evening promised to be a chilly one and I dreaded having to pull all of my winter gear out of the closet, the same gear I had so blissfully tucked away last weekend.

So, in order to make the cold, bundled-up night ahead just a bit more manageable, I decided to make a batch of caramel-peanut popcorn to take along for the game.

I detest the dry, stale, fake-butter popcorn at sporting events.  Even more, I think the $4 price tag for such popcorn is ridiculous.

Plus, this gave me the opportunity to whip up something Mike could potentially think was delicious.

And, in my mind, when I make something that makes Mike say, "Wow, honey, that's amazing!", I like to believe he is secretly thinking how he could never, ever possibly find someone to take my place.

In the ultra competitive dating market of Manhattan, I find it necessary to ensure I am not replaceable.  And I am not above using my sweet creations to achieve that status.  Sad but true.

Anywho, let's get started on that popcorn!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Orange Tian

Earlier this year, in my never ending quest to find new recipes and challenges in the kitchen, I joined the Daring Baker's team.  The team is comprised with food bloggers, with widely-varying skill levels, from all over the world.

This is how it works: after being approved as a Daring Baker, you are given a recipe assignment on the first day of the month.  You then have until the posting date, the last Saturday in that month, to create, photograph and write about that month's challenge.  All of the Daring Bakers post their work on the same, set date.

The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris.

I was excited to begin my very first Daring Baker's challenge.  I had never heard of a 'tian', but the recipe came from one of the best chefs in the world.  And, let's be honest, what's not to love about caramel-soaked citrus with whipped cream and a sweet cookie?

The only modification I made to the recipe was using blood orange and red grapefruit segments, in addition to the suggested orange segments, for the fruit on top of the tian.  I just adore that combination of citrus fruit.

The visual results were not quite as I had hoped.  The whipped cream did not stabilize quite enough and therefore was unable to hold the weight of the citrus segments without collapsing a bit.

But, the taste was wonderful!  Light, creamy and just the right touch of sweetness.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Cocktail Party Response

Upon meeting new acquaintances and exchanging tidbits about our personal and professional lives, one question never fails to be posed with an enthusiastic tone:

"So, how did you decide you wanted to pursue baking as a career?"  Or, sometimes, "Wow, finance to baking is a big change!  How did you make that decision?"

I love when people show an interest in the path I have chosen and how I got there, especially since I so very much love what I do.

But every single time this question is asked of me, I freeze.

My mouth fills with sand.

And I eloquently begin my response with, ""

This is not how I want to make my impression upon people.  I want to adequately convey my passion and my pursuits of that passion.

I just never know where to begin.

I've tried something along the lines of, "Oh, well, I have loved baking my entire life and just decided I wanted to turn it into a career."

But this doesn't really convey everything that went into my decision and my path to changing careers.  And it sounds a bit flaky.

I have also tried something like, "Well, after graduation, I moved to Manhattan, realized I hated my job in finance and enrolled in pastry school!"

Also a bit flaky.

I've realized that I'm not being completely honest in my response.  Like most conversations upon meeting someone new, I'm sugar-coating my words in an effort to appear friendly and happy-go-lucky.

But that's not the reality of the decision.  It's not realistic to assume people make life-altering decisions without suffering a few gloomy days and bruises along the way.

The truth of the matter is that, while I have never regretted my decision, it was mighty difficult to reach.

It is true that I have always loved baking.  My family is filled with amazing cooks and bakers, so I feel that my passion came naturally and was constantly nurtured during my childhood.

It is also true that I moved to Manhattan, less than a week after graduation to pursue my career in finance; to pursue the lucrative life that I just knew awaited me.

And then, do you know what happened?  I hated it.  I hated my job, the city.  I hated being more than an afternoon drive away from my family.  I hated that Mike left me all alone on the weekends in this crowded, unfriendly place.  And I hated that we fought constantly.

I was depressed, lonely, miserable, confused.  I cried every night when I got home from work.  This sitting behind a computer all day and being a middle man - this couldn't be what awaited me in my adult years?  Could it?

This wallowing continued for about six weeks.  Then, I woke up one morning,  and decided enough was enough, "Get it together girl.  It's time to figure some things out."

In the quest of deciding what I would chose to pursue as a career, I looked at a lot of different parts of my life and asked myself a lot of questions. 

What do you read in your free time?  Cookbooks, food blogs, food magazines, restaurant reviews.

Where do you love to go on the weekends?  Bakeries, bistros, Sur la Table, Williams-Sonoma, Union Square Farmer's Market

When you wake up in the morning, what do you wish you could do all day?  Bake.

If money wasn't an issue, what do you wish your job could be?  Pastry chef.

When you're 90 and looking back on your life, what will be the one thing you wish you had tried?  Pursing a career in baking.

The answer was blindingly right in front of me.  Still, it took me another six months to research culinary schools, figure out how I would pay for culinary school, draft up multiple budgets to account for the big pay cut I would inevitably take, announce my decision to my family and wholeheartedly convince myself that I wasn't making a huge mistake.

And after making the decision to actually pursue this craziness, I was still facing a year of culinary school and an externship, all while keeping my full-time job in finance.

So, you can see how "Oh, well, I have loved baking my entire life and just decided I wanted to turn it into a career," and "Well, after graduation, I moved to Manhattan, realized I hated my job in finance and enrolled in pastry school!"don't adequately express my path to choosing a career in pasty.

But the entirety of the story is kind of lengthy and, honestly, a bit depressing.

So now, I just need to figure out how to craft a cocktail-party appropriate response that will not make me appear as either a flake or a self-absorbed wind bag.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Macaron Day NYC


Happy Weekend!  Happy Spring!  Happy Macaron Day!

That's right - macarons now receive their very own day of celebration, thanks to Francois Payard.  This is the first Macaron Day in New York City, which coincides with the 5th annual 'Jour du Macaron' in France.

If you live in NYC, you can make this sunny, 70 degree day even sweeter with a free macaron!

And, if you live outside the NYC area, why not whip up a batch of your own to celebrate?

Or, if you are like me, you can make a batch of strawberry jam macarons and then pick up a free macaron anyway!  Hey, it's been a long winter.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Almond Turtle Bark with Fleur de Sel

Almond Turtle Bark

For the birthdays of family members and close friends, I love gifting sweet treats created specifically with the tastes of that person in mind.

In my dessert-obsessed world, I think a personalized dessert is a pretty cool gift.  And it's edible.  Big plus.

When my grandmother's birthday came around this month, I already knew what I wanted to make for her big day.

I was inspired by one of her letters to me earlier in the year, where she described how much she loved walking the streets of Bar Harbor in the summertime and indulging in a chunk of turtle candy.

Easy enough.

Or so I thought.

I lost count after the eighth trial, but I had the hardest time achieving the consistancy I desired in the caramel.

After work, every night last week, there were multiple attempts to perfect the caramel.  And there were multiple failures.

Too hard.  Too soft.  Too runny.  Too burnt.

Saturday morning arrived with torrential downpours and hurricane-force winds.  I was fresh out of pecans and, lacking a canoe, there was no way I could safely run to the grocery store.

But I remained calm.  Just because I didn't have one of the three main ingredients of turtle candy was no reason to panic.  Some of my favorite recipes come to me when I am forced to work with only the ingredients I have on hand.

Shortly thereafter, a tray of gooey, chewey caramel encased in almonds and decident semisweet chocolate was sitting on my counter.  A sprinkle of fleur de sel and an extra drizzle of chocolate topped it off.

When the chocolate set completely, I cut the candy into diamond shaped pieces and packaged them in a little tin with a twine bow.  And was sure to apologize profusely for the late arrival of the candy.

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But hopefully it was worth it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Irish Stout Gingerbread


Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Bring on the corned beef dinner, green beer and green cupcakes!

Just one teeny, tiny problem.

Mike, the only Irish descendant in the relationship, has forbidden me from making a corned beef dinner.  We like our beer dye-free.  And, without even tasting one, I've had my fill of green cupcakes with white frosting.

Instead, while trying to plan the food portion of the holiday, I decided I wanted to serve a dessert with a bit of personality.  Perhaps with beer as my secret ingredient?

This is where my amazing, handsome, beer-brewing boyfriend comes in rather handy.  That's right - he brews beer in our tiny apartment.  Lots and lots of beer.

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His "Breakfast Stout", a dry Irish stout, would be the perfect complement to a spicy, warm gingerbread.  I knew it.  Mike knew it.  And he handed over one of the last bottles with a sigh.

No pressure here.  I stole one of the last bottles of this brew for an experiential dessert.  This dessert will be served after a dinner of corned beef paninis, because I love corned beef.  And I don't think it's very Irish-like of Mike to forbid me to serve it.

But I do promise to leave the green dye out of the beer.  Just to be safe.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Happy Pi Day!


Today is March 14th. 3.14 = pi. And, in baking world, pi = pie!

For my pie, I was hoping to incorporate some of the plump blackberries which have recently graced the shelves at the corner grocery store.

But a monsoon hit Manhattan yesterday and I absolutely refused to go outside and risk being swept away by the rain and wind. This left me to the mercy of whatever I could scrounge from my pantry, the refrigerator and the freezer.

I created an apple-cranberry filling, sweetened by sugar, cinnamon and minced crystallized ginger. Instead of making a traditional 9" pie, half of which would have gone to waste, I created heart-shaped pocket pies.

I plan on serving these after dinner this evening with a scoop of homemade cinnamon ice cream.

Are you whipping up a pie to "celebrate" the day?  What filling did you choose?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Éclair Birthday Cake


The day has arrived.  I turn 24 today.

Remember, as we were making resolutions with the ringing in of the New Year, how I shared that I felt a little strange about my upcoming birthday?

I couldn't put how I was feeling into words, making me restless and annoyed.

But the words finally came to me Sunday morning, in the kitchen with the sun beaming through my lovely yellow café curtains.

I realized, standing there with a cup of coffee in my hand, for the first time in my entire life, I am no longer terrified of being an adult.

I no longer fear moving to a strange city and building a life and a home.  Paying bills doesn't scare me.  Finding my niché and developing my career is no longer a distant dream.  The thought of marriage no longer turns my stomach with fear.  And the idea of, one day, having my own little family no longer makes my throat involuntarily close up in a panic.

And knowing I was no longer terrified of these things scared the bejesus out of me.

At this time last year, I really had no idea who I was, what I wanted or where I was headed.  I was a transplant Manhattan-ite who had just decided to pursue a somewhat crazy dream of making a career out of my passion for baking.

So it's really no surprise that the thought of others being, in some form, dependent on me, was terrifying.

Today, one year older and a little wiser, many things are still uncertain about my future.  But I feel like I am chasing my dream and enjoying the adventures and obstacles along the way.  I know I will never look back with any regrets for the path I have chosen.

So I welcome 24 with open arms and a big slice of birthday cake.  The butterflies in my stomach are not there because I am scared of being a year older, but because I feel like the best is yet to come.

Of course, if Mike stopped saying it's time to trade me in for another, younger model, that would help too.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Jordan Pond House Popovers


When I was younger, my family returned to Maine each summer to visit family and friends during whatever two week period we could all align our schedules.  Even little girls have busy lives!

On one of the days during our vacation, we would drive to Acadia National Park, enjoy the views and the serenity followed by afternoon tea and popovers at Jordan Pond House.

This tradition was surely one of our classier ones and I always felt like Samantha from our American Girl books - sitting-up perfectly straight, surrounded by the rich and middle-class alike and sticking out my pinkie finger as I sipped my raspberry lemonade.

Even today, when I return to Maine in the summer, my only request is to visit Jordan Pond House.

As I have grown older, the raspberry lemonade has been replaced with coffee.  Although, if my sister happens to be visiting as well, I usually steal a few glorious sips of her raspberry lemonade.  And since she misses me, she lets me get away with it.  It's good being the older sister.

But my popover order has not changed in the least.  With just a smear of strawberry jam, I am in heaven, surrounded by mountains, trees, water and sunshine.  And it must be strawberry jam.  Other flavors just don't cut it.

I have resisted making popovers because I do not have a popover pan.  I don't have a popover pan because it won't fit in my tiny counter-top oven.  Whimper.

But with all the rain and gloom of last week, I needed to be transported somewhere sunny and warm, with just a slight breeze blowing through.  I needed to go there even if it was just through my breakfast plate.

I prepared the batter the night before so it had time to properly age before baking on Sunday morning.

The recipe was easy enough and it whipped up in no time.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Lesson: Basic Macarons

Remember a couple weeks ago when I couldn't stop blabbing about how much I love macarons?  After being assigned the task of making macarons at the restaurant, I fell deeply in love with creating, eating, researching and dreaming about macarons.

And it turns out, I'm not alone.

Since then, I have received several requests from people, trying to perfect the art of macaron-ing, to give step-by-step instructions for making macarons.

Let's begin with a few important notes.  Pour yourself a cup of coffee and join me.

First and absolutely most importantly - you need to muster up every ounce of patience possible as you practice creating these treats.  There is a lot of room for error and some things, like humidity in the air, are completely out of your control.

Did you just get home from a stressful day at work?  Do you feel fed up and at the end of your rope for the day?  Today is not the time to try making macarons for the first time.  Seriously.  Pour yourself a glass of wine, relax and try it some other time.

When you are feeling as though you have some patience to spare, make sure you also allot yourself enough time to read the instructions thoroughly, prepare everything and slowly and carefully go through all the steps.

Macarons are not the easiest of desserts, but once you become comfortable with the techniques, the creation process is actually quite enjoyable.

Feeling patient?  Have some free time?  Me too.  Tie on an apron and join me in the kitchen!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Meyer Lemon Curd


We are officially in those tough few weeks between the dead of winter and seeing the first sprouts of green life appear again on the bare tree branches.

The sky is overcast, giving off a slight mist and making it especially difficult to chose which thickness of coat is appropriate for the commute to the office.

I miss the sunshine on my face.

Wednesday's weather was particularly sullen; I longed to be laying on a beach somewhere with a margarita in my hand.

After a frustrating morning at the office, I decided to escape on my lunch hour to the Whole Foods.  Holding a pineapple was about as close as I was going to get to paradise today.

And then I saw a small barrel of sunshine.  Or at least, something that was so blindingly yellow that, in my depressed mood, it might as well have been the sunshine.


I was drawn in.  A slight squeeze gave way to the flesh, just a bit, of these beautiful, juicy, tender meyer lemons.


I stood in awe.  And then I bought a pound of them.

After much thought and consideration, I concluded the best use of these delightful fruits would be to make them into a sweet Meyer lemon curd.

Curd.  What an awful name.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chocolate Caramel Bars

DSCN2220Every month, I look forward to the evening when I return home to find next month's fresh copy of Martha Stewart Living on my doorstep.  I immediately break it's fresh, crisp binding to rip open the very back page of the magazine.

I cannot even contain my excitement long enough to fish my keys out of my pocket and open the front door.  I need to know what the cookie of the month is - now!

I stand in the hallway, allowing a cookie recipe to serve as my horoscope of the month ahead.  Date and Walnut Sandwich Cookies?  Heavy sigh.  Head drops.  Long month ahead.

Chocolate Caramel Cookie Bars?  All is right in the world.

This recipe actually appeared in MSL last November and I carefully placed it in my recipe binder for some future date.  And then I forgot about it.

It sat there, neglected, until this past weekend when I was attempting to restore some order to my life through my recipe binder, which was laying open on the coffee table with this recipe accidentally (or subconsciously on purpose) exposed.

I heard a loud gasp behind me.  Mike had emerged from his studying for a coffee refill.  I turned around to see him staring, wide-eyed, mouth open at the recipe photo.

"Those...those look like really fancy Twix bars!"

And that was all I needed.  You don't deprive fancy candy bars from your guy.

Reading through the recipe, I noticed the yield of 16 bars from a 9x9 cake pan.  I held up my 9x9 cake pan and raised an eyebrow.  This seemed like a lot of bars for two people.

Since they had to be served straight from the refrigerator, I wouldn't even be able to pawn the extras off to my friends.

I knew I could easily half the recipe, but what vessel could I use that would be half the size of the recommended cake pan?  My trusty, much loved bread loaf pan!

Revelling in my genius, coffee in tow, I sinched my apron just a bit tighter and set about creating these chocoalte caramel bars on an unexpectedly sunny Sunday morning.

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