The holidays are my favorite time for baking but often one needs an appetizer recipe for a party to whip up quickly and without the fuss of turning on the stove or oven. The Palo Alto Weekly asked me to participate in their “Holiday Spirit” booklet this year with this type of recipe. Bon Apetit and my friend, Michelle, were the inspirations behind my discovery of this delightful fig recipe. Since they introduced it to me I’ve served it at many parties and incorporated it into classes. I remember a special class I taught for the Stanford Dermatology department. That class was a feast of appetizers to teach but held in a conference room without a stove or oven. I did some quick thinking of recipes I could teach the student chefs with limited heat sources. Here is the article and the recipe the Palo Alto Weekly printed. Enjoy!
Each year I fill the holiday season with Christmas baking. An annual Buche de Noel with my son is always on the list for Christmas Eve, sometimes I teach Christmas cookie classes, often Buche de Noel classes, participate in cookie exchanges and for years made gingerbread houses with my children and an extra one for their pre school and elementary school classes. This year the holidays took a bit of a baking twist as I was thinking how best to be charitable with my baking skills. For days leading up to Thanksgiving we lived with dangerous air quality in the San Francisco Bay Area while those in Bute County suffered directly from the Campfire. I was so horrified by the fire I felt I must find something unique to be charitable this holiday season. The timing was perfect when the Palo Alto High School choir boosters asked me to help with their Madrigal Feast Fundraiser. I readily raised my hand and baked more than 200 of Sarabeths’s Bakery Chocolate Marmalade cookies.
When in Hungary eat marzipan. That was one key item I hunted for while in Budapest a few years back. I was delighted to find some in a grocery store in Budapest but that is rather standard fare for Hungary as was the paprika I snapped up at the same store. While dashing through Malibu to soak up the summer sun and a glimpse at one of the top surfers crossing the street, sun and surfers came to mind as the main commodities Malibu has to offer. You can imagine my surprise on my quest for the best chocolate around the world to find a boutique chocolate store in the heart of Malibu. They were nice enough to let me sample each and every chocolate they offered. I honed in on one of my favorite bites, marzipan. My favorite sample was their chocolate covered marzipan. Marzipan in Malibu? How did that happen? It just so happens that Krohn has a Hungarian background as you’ll see by their truffles. The marzipan is labeled Viennese but, to me, it’s oh so Hungarian.
This store is called the Rolls Royce of chocolates by some. I found their chocolate to be good but not the best I ever sampled. Their prices put them in the Rolls Royce category as a small bag of their delightful chocolates will put you back a pretty penny. While they highlight their chocolate covered bears, liquor chocolates and darling bouquets, I recommend heading right for the marzipan.
Read what the Huffington Post has to say about this unique store
I was amazed two of my students competed on Chopped Junior in the same month. With pride I’m happy to announce that Bram made it to the dessert round.
Bram cooked and plated like a master chef every step of the way and I personally think he should have won the entire competition. Being a fan of baking and making desserts myself I was especially impressed by his raspberry fool and plan to make a chocolate sauce for the dessert round. It’s tough to make a dessert in less than 30 minutes yet Bram was brave enough to make two sauces. We use small torches in our dessert classes at La Toque but watch Bram with the large one supplied on the set. He toasted the marshmallows beautifully and it would have been so easy to over cook their exterior and torch those marshmallows to a crisp.
Probably one of the most important skills to learn while honing one’s cooking techniques is to learn how to “fix” the product you’re making if something goes awry. Bram was a master of this during his competition. Not everything went as planned but he was quick on his feet and transformed some issues into a brilliant alternative. You can see this when his corn dog batter stuck to the fry basket, when a piece of beef hopped out of his skillet and then when his chocolate sauce didn’t have the ideal viscosity. It’s great for everyone to learn how to do turnarounds in their home kitchen but takes nerves of steel to do this while been filmed for a tv show. As I always tell my students, a recipe is a guideline and not a set of hard and fast rules.
To see the full episode and see how Bran created all of the courses on a stick go here.
Hats off to young Palo Alto chef Anna Ghai. We are so proud of her. Anna attended La Toque de Cindy’s Cooking camps in 2016 and 2017. She was a delight to have in class and we hope we taught her a few tricks and techniques she used on the show. I would have to say that Anna came to class armed with amazing cooking skills she learned before coming to class. She triumphed on Chopped Junior with her mastery in the kitchen. Her family was behind her every step of the way from numerous practice sessions, strategizing recipes, handling the logistics of the New York trip to film the show and crunching through the pile of forms and admin which go along with being on a TV show.
See what the Palo Alto Weekly has to say about her victory. To see the full episode, go here.
It takes nerves of steel and a lot of ingenuity to compete on a Food Network show. Anna did such a spectacular job and was adorably so full of smiles in every camera angle. The toughest challenge is the dessert round on Chopped Junior. Although the clock ticks away for a half hour, once one brainstorms a recipe and runs around the kitchen to gather ingredients only a scant 15 minutes are left to pull it off. Anna’s brainchild of clafouti was excellent as this only takes a few minutes to bake. Using the individual ramekins made cooking even faster. The crumble on top with extra lime to bump up the flavor was a great idea. Check out her presentation of a caramel sauce ladled into a spoon on the side of the plate. What an excellent idea. A lot of chefs are using this technique for appetizers but what a wow as a concept for a dessert side sauce.
I spent some time coaching Anna in advance of the competition as did some of my other students. If you would like to audition for a Food Network competition and want some advice or would like to get in touch with the casting agents just write to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to prepare you for a show.
“The Food Lab” has been a darling of cooks and foodies alike recently. This is a wonderful book and one that will boost your knowledge of the chemistry behind everything you eat. It’s a fascinating read and I recommend it for a good reference. Better yet, open the pages of Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking”. A lesser known gem about the science of cooking, this book has some wonderful charts and illustrations. Check out the photo viewed via a microscope of tempered and untempered chocolate to see how the molecular structure changes. It’s a book I reference so often. In class I ask the chefs to stump the chef. If they ask me a question I don’t know, I head right to this reference book to research it and build to my knowledge base. For a more “hands on” approach to learning the chemistry of cooking, young chefs can sign up for “Science in the Kitchen” camp this summer.
Every blue moon I happen upon a restaurant or a bakery which blows my mind. Mademoiselle Colette’s in Menlo Park at 816 Santa Cruz Avenue, California, is one of those. Their mastery of the fine art of pastry goes way beyond my know how and certainly way beyond my advanced baking camp this summer based on the Great British Baking Show. Their croissants have layer upon layer of light delicate butter and pastry and sell out quickly each day. I lean towards the dessert side of the counter each time I visit. Recently I devoured their lemon meringue tart which was to die for. Each bit of meringue was delicately piped with spiky tips on top a tart yet sweet layer of lemon curd.
Rumor has it that Colette’s will soon open in Palo Alto and I hope the rumor will become reality. It would be a treasure to have Colette’s right down the street from La Toque.