Never have I ever actually celebrated valentines with one significant romantically inclined other... The valentines that I have known and loved all my life involves baking cute things and sharing them with my mother, my friends, and my coworkers. This year was no different. However this year for the first time I hosted a bunch of my grand old pals for a "Pal-entines" party. There was a LOT of snacks and wine, lots of laughs, and lots of valentines themed stuff... including these festive cupcakes!
What a fabulous treat to make for your pal's during this wonderful month of love! I used these cupcakes as an excuse to eat chocolate covered strawberries... one of my favourite little delicacies that I never ever seem to have, despite them being so incredibly simple! I suppose they take a little bit of effort... but there is something wonderfully festive about setting yourself up to dip a whole basket of bright red berries into a bowl of velvety chocolate. It's like making cookies at christmas. It helps to set the mood if you play some old-school love songs. Gosh I love Valentines!!!
Chocolate Strawberry Cupcakes
Recipe slightly adapted from Food Network Magazine
Do I really need to provide you with instructions for chocolate dipped strawberries? Probably not. But here you go.
**for the cupcakes pictured above, I used my favourite chocolate swiss buttercream recipe which you can find in this recipe post... just swap the white chocolate for dark chocolate as necessary. I did this because I had it on hand, so much of it, and it begs to be used, and how silly it would be to not use it! However if you do not have your favourite frosting kicking around in your freezer... maybe try the recipe below. It is the one that comes from Food Network Magazine, though I have not made it. If you do, let me know how it goes!
This sounds like a problem that no one has, ever... but have you ever found yourself with half a bottle of champagne that needs to be used? Perhaps it was from the night before, it was opened and tragically never finished, never realizing it's full destiny? Perhaps you worked as a bartender for your community's annual wine night and they let you take home the opened half-full bottle of sparkling wine that was on offer? This would be exactly the predicament I was in recently, and although this kind of issue is probably not a frequent one, if you ever find yourself in such a predicament, I do have a possible solution. CAKE! Yup, this is a bottle half-full situation my friends, bottle half-full.
I could envision these pale cuties at your next gals-night-in party, or a dessert offering at a cocktail party, or just to adorn your mid-winter kitchen counter with some much needed cuteness. These came about because my aunt sent me an article that gives a different cupcake for every month of the year, and this one of course is for January! And wouldn't you know it I was blessed with a (FREE) open bottle of champagne. So, it was meant to be, Wouldn't it be fun if I followed along all year? I'm really awful at following through with these sorts of things however... so the chances are low and certainly no promises. BUT, for now, a toast to January! The month of cold cold weather and leftover alcohol. In the form of tiny cakes.
Recipe from Food Network Magazine
1/2 cups leftover champagne or other sparkling wine
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
6 tbsp butter (3 ounces) at room temp
3/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean split lengthwise and seeds scraped out (reserve the pod for the frosting) (OR splash of vanilla extract or paste cuz times are tough and beans be expensive)
1 egg, separated.
Preheat your oven to 350˚F
Line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper liners.
If your champagne is still bubbly, pour it into a bowl and whisk until the bubbles dissapate. Although I might suggest that if it is still bubbly, it would be much more enjoyable to drink, and you should make these cupcakes with the flat-and-forgotten leftover wine.
combine 1/2 cup of the champagne with the vanilla extract in a small bowl and set aside. Reserve the remaining champagne for the frosting.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl, set aside. Cream the butter and sugar and vanilla seeds until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the egg yolk and beat until smooth. Reduce mixer speed to low and add in the dry ingredients in two batches, alternating with the champagne-vanilla mixture, beating until just combined, and no more. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg white to stiff peaks, then fold into the batter.
Divide the batter among the prepared tin, filling each paper about 2/3 full. Bake until the tops of the cupcakes spring back when gently pressed., about 20-25 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
Champagne Custard Frosting
1 cup champagne
2 tsp gelatin powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream
Put about 1 1/2 tbsp of the champagne in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top and leave to sit for 5 minutes to allow the gelatin to soften. Whisk the sugar, salt and yolks in a small saucepan until smooth. Whisk in the remaining champagne (and add the remaining vanilla bean pod if used from the cupcakes)
Cook over medium heat, stirring until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 3-4 minutes. Pour the hot custard through a fine mesh sieve into a large metal bowl. Discard the vanilla pod if it was used. Add the softened gelatin and stir until dissolved. Refrigerate the custard, stirring every 5 minutes until it is the consistency of soft whipped cream.
Whip the cream in a separate bowl until firm peaks form. Fold half of the whipped cream into the custard to lighten, then fold in the remaining whipped cream until fully combined. Chill again if it is too loose, stirring frequently until it is pipeable. (I didn't have to chill it any further) The custard will begin to set at this stage, so get it into a piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe big dollops of frosting onto each cupcake, and decorate with pearl sprinkles if desired. Allow the frosting to set on the cupcakes in the fridge. Share and enjoy these classy cupcakes.
When your old boss, the Japanese pastry chef of a fine dining restaurant who is known for making very unconventional desserts with strange ingredients, invites you over for dinner and asks you to bring dessert, maybe you will consider making these strange but deliciously indulgent brownies?
I knew I wanted to try an experiment and make something kind of strange, because this was exactly the appropriate audience with which to do. I forgot however, how analytical he is because before tucking into the brownie he was examining it and smelling it far more intensely than one would like, making me fear what could he possibly be thinking about my weird, simple and, let's be honest, quite rustic dessert. (He is not exactly the simple and rustic type.) I suddenly had second thoughts about sharing such a frumpy treat to this pastry guru whom holds far higher standards than I could ever aspire to.
Nasu Dengaku is a Japanese side dish. It is eggplant that has been sliced in half, shmeared with a mixture of miso and mirin and roasted in the oven. I've never tried it. But when I saw a recipe for miso-eggplant-brownies that used this technique (and the accompanying photo looked dangerously fudgey and decadent) I had to give it a try. Miso is one of my favourite cooking ingredients, and I am sure intrigued by baking with it. It adds saltiness, but also such a depth of flavour that makes you go, "Dang what makes this taste sooo GOOOOOD?" It's satisfyingly savoury. So, can we add it to a dark and dense brownie batter? Stir in some roasted eggplant? Share it with some highly acclaimed chefs? (What the heck am I doing)
To my relief, he claimed it was good! Now, whether or not he was just saying that to be polite we'll never know. However I do know that he is the type to say it like it is, and regardless, I liked the brownie very much if I do say so myself. And if I needed more consolation, everyone else who I shared it with gave me wide-eyed praise. All in all I'd say it was a success! And so continues the experiments and the usage of unconventional ingredients in baked goods!
Nasu Dengaku Brownies
Recipe from "Sticky Fingers Green Thumb" by Hayley McKee
1- 2 long thin japanese eggplants (you will need about 1/3 cup of mashed roasted eggplant for the brownie batter)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup white miso paste
4 tsp honey
4 tsp mirin
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup cocoa powder
200g (7oz) butter
200g (7oz) dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup granulated sugar
Heat your oven to 350˚F. Grease and line a 8X8" baking dish with parchment.
Half the eggplants lengthwise and score the flesh deeply in a criss cross pattern. Soak the eggplant halves in cold salty water for 15 minutes. This step helps to remove any bitterness in the eggplant. Drain the eggplant halves and pat dry. Place cut side up (skin side down) on a parchment lined tray and brush with oil. Roast in the oven for about 45 minutes or until they begin to brown.
Stir 4 tsp of the miso with the honey and mirin together in a small bowl to form a paste. Spread the paste evenly over the cut side of the eggplant. Return to the oven for 10-20 minutes, or until the mixture starts to bubble and brown on top. Remove from the oven and let cool before scooping out the flesh, discarding any seeds which can be bitter tasting. Measure out 1/3 cup of eggplant flesh and mash it well. Any leftover eggplant is a treat for you, the chef.
Reduce the oven temp to 325˚F
Whisk the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder in a bowl and set aside. In another bowl, whisk the eggs with the remaining miso paste until smooth.
Gently melt the butter and chocolate together over a water bath, or very carefully in the microwave, stirring often. Pour the melted chocolate-butter mixture into a large bowl and stir in the brown sugar and white sugar. Gradually stir in the egg and miso mixture, then stir in the dry ingredients followed by the mashed eggplant. It's gonna be thick. It's gonna be delicious.
Pour the batter into the prepared 8X8 tin and bake for 30-35 minutes... it will appear not quite set in the middle, but this is good if you like a fudgey brownie (all hands raised). If you are one of those sad people who prefers cakey brownies, you can go ahead and bake it longer, maybe 45 minutes and it wont be jiggly in the centre. But I want nothing to do with that brownie. Fudgey all the way. Let cool completely before removing from tin and slicing. This is especially important if your brownie is fudgey. Trying to cut a warm fudgey brownie can cause frustration. It also makes for a mighty tasty snack though, if your not concerned about clean cut edges :)
Enjoy! And share with as many people as possible, because it's fun to watch reactions when you tell them what's inside. I promise most people will be stoked. And if they're not, they're wrong. (More for us!)
(soundtrack for this post)
And now here is the purely self-indulgent, ever so gushy sentimental post that was inevitably going to happen... the great YEAR END REFLECTION.
Here's a wee glimpse into the LIFE OF LAR during the year 2019:
I moved out! I said bye to ma and pa and hello to two wonderful friends and roomies in a cozy little home.
I worked full time at Higher Ground, baking cookies, preparing food, chatting with customers, making coffee, and loving the simplicity of having one job instead of two and being a part of a lovely, local, vibrant community.
I baked a cake with fancy buttercream to serve to my friends at our house warming party and vowed to bake more pretty cakes.
I continued to bake lots of cute and fun things for the cafe... some so cute that they almost looked fake...
I received an unexpected phone call from the head chef of The Deane House requesting my help with decorating a cake order while their pastry chef was on holiday! I was honoured to be the one that they thought to call...
I set up a studio space in my bedroom so I could start painting again...
I baked an apple crumble pie at home for a friend.
I was offered a terrifying but wonderfully exciting job of being a pastry sous chef at The Deane House and even though I did not feel qualified, I decided to JUST DO IT and I felt so proud that I made myself a faux business card.
I painted on a miniature skateboard for Tom Brown's art project.
I was finishing my last few days at Higher Ground, sneaking in all the cute baking that I could.
I was a guest speaker for Prospect Human Services in which I ran a workshop on how to make your own miniature pizza slice for a group of special-needs adults! That was wild.
I was invited back to sell my artwork and earrings at New Craft Coalition!
I started training at The Deane House and realized that it was gonna be very challenging but so good and if I worked really hard I could do it, and that I still remembered how to bake good bread.
Meanwhile I baked more cakes for friends at home.
I trained at Deane House for a short 3 days and before I could sign any sort of formal papers a very sharp twist in the road (which turned out to be a twist for the better) led me back to work full time at River Cafe, instead of Deane House. While this decision meant I lost the chance at a fancy title, I gained a wonderful position with an amazing pastry team back in Calgary's top restaurant, and it felt darn good.
Soon I was doing everything from baking bread to making wedding cakes, to plating desserts, opening the restaurant and staying until the last guests had ordered. I even got to do some recipe testing to create a chocolate chip cookie for the summer time "picnic baskets".
Back at home, I started a tiny garden!
I discovered the joy of creating custom ice cream flavours for special people in my life... such as "Oatmeal Raisin Cookie" ice cream for my dear papa.
I helped create weird, wonderful and whimsical desserts under the direction of an incredible pastry chef at River Cafe. I made danishes every weekend for Brunch service. I picked fresh marigold from the restaurant garden.
I went to the stampede with my Ma and ate mini donuts... even if they weren't from my favourite mini donut stand (which wasn't there this year!!! The HORROR!)
I baked more cakes for friends.
I went swing dancing! I was horrible at it. But it was fun. I did it to be brave and to maybe meet a boy... I was successful with the brave part.
I tried my best to enjoy the view every day even though work can be stresssssssfullll!
I went to shakespeare in the park with my family and bought a cute notebook that my talented friend made.
My roommate helped me feel better when I was feeling low. We enjoyed sitting out on our little patio when the weather was nice.
I rode my bike to outdoor concerts to see friends playing trumpets.
I started teaching myself hand embroidery.
When I worked nights at the restaurant, I would ride down early so that I could sit in the park before my shift started. Peace.
With the help of my amazing pastry chef, I got to create my very own tasting dessert for the restaurant! Something I never thought I could do. I made my own creative take on a hyper-local nanaimo bar... morphing a family recipe into something suitable for a fine dining plate up.
I took an indulgent four day vacation, which my boss was not super keen on. But life is meant to be lived and that's all there is too it. And I deserved a tiny vacation!!! I went to Invermere with my bestest pal of all time and we did all the things I was hoping we would do!!! It felt like we were back in grade 5.
I got out to the mountains! I hiked up to Agnes Lake Tea house... something I have been wanting to do for a long time!
I went for jogs around the dog park near my home and took photos and was grateful that these sorts of views were practically in my own backyard.
I grew two tiny tomatoes in my garden!!! ONE OF THEM WAS STOLEN but I am not one to mess with and I managed to catch the thief in the the act. Nobody messes with my tiny garden...
I started a new painting.
It remains unfinished.
I helped do the plate ups for the winter dessert menu. Feeling simultaneously excited for the new menu and also terribly and horribly sad that so many things were about to change... everything that I was just starting to feel comfortable and grounded with at work was quickly crumbling underneath my feet. But getting to help with the plating for this menu will undoubtedly be a highlight of my life!
I made birthday cakes for the restaurant owner's twins. No pressure.
I did what I like to do when I get a new job (yep, spoiler alert) and I treated myself to a new cookbook... Recipes from the best places to eat in Calgary. Side by side in the book (of course this would happen) is River Cafe and then Sidewalk Citizen... the place where I suddenly found myself applying for and getting a job at... I didn't really know what I was doing or if it would be a good idea but for many unknown reasons, it is what I did. I never felt like I wanted to leave River Cafe, but somehow it felt like the universe was pushing me away from it.
I tried to enjoy every day I worked at the restaurant, as I could see that the place that I knew and loved was changing more and more, whether I liked it or not.
I started my new job at Sidewalk Citizen, lucky enough to be able to work part time at both places until the year was over. I was also lucky enough to be a part of both the Bread team and the Pastry team. This means that I do a lot of bread-shaping and cookie-dough-scooping... among other things. I quickly discovered that they make A LOT of everything. But everything they do make is UHMAZING.
I made pumpkin-caramel-twix bars, just for fun.
I carved a pumpkin and make ghost cookies for halloween.
I dressed up as peter pan.
I got a hair cut to boost morale.
Winter arrived... so we decorated the bakery at River Cafe with string lights... despite the head chef's desires.
I continued to help make giant batches of things at Sidewalk.
As if enough things weren't already changing...
I MOVED AGAIN!!! My roomies and I found a new lovely home, this one even better than the last. Working and moving at the same time was not something I'd recommend... but I had no choice. After I had a few mental breakdowns and finally started getting settled... things were feeling cozier. SO MANY CHANGES.
I turned a year older!!! I sure don't feel 27... but here we are. I didn't plan a party which made me feel bummed but my family and roomies treated me well <3 bless them.
I helped decorate a few hundred Christmas cookies for the restaurant!
I sold some more tiny things at a New Craft Coalition pop up sale!!
I set up a NEW STUDIO space in my NEW HOME!
I finally went to River Cafe as a guest, not an employee, with my mama bear <3 We shared two desserts and spent the whole afternoon talking and laughing and enjoying ourselves and reflecting over my time working there...
Meanwhile back at Sidewalk Citizen we continued to make and bake SO MUCH BREAD.
At home I made more christmas treats and cookies and was actually able to enjoy a tiny bit of the holiday season... despite getting no extra time off. Such is the life of a baker I suppose!
What a wild ride this year has been. It's probably been the most twisty-turny of a year that I have ever had. It's been emotionally challenging to say the least. (I have never shed so many tears in a public setting) BUT, I'm trying my best to not feel sad anymore for the things that are no longer there, and instead to look forward to the future. More importantly than that even, being grateful for where I am RIGHT NOW. I never could have guessed that this is where I would be... but I am grateful for where I have been and for where I am now. Who knows what this next year will bring! I do know that it will be good. Sorry/not sorry for all the sentimental cheesy stuff. But this is what I must do.
Here's to 2019, thank you for it all.
Because every swanky cocktail party needs good cookies.
If you know me you know that I LOVE GINGER which is hilarious because as a kid I was very adamant that I was not a fan of ginger. It was too strong, too assertive, too spicy. I'm glad to say my tastebuds have outgrown this nonsense, and I find it hard to imagine a life without ginger. One of my favourite treats is ginger beer... either the boozy version or just a nice spicy soda. My mom and I have a favourite brand that is so spicy it is almost difficult to drink, and we know better than to inhale before taking a sip. What ensues if we are not careful is a coughing fit and, to the average person, this might seem quite unpleasant and simply, not worth it. However there is something so incredibly and crave-ably pleasant about that spicy-sweet tingle that you get from a good ginger beer.
A Moscow Mule is a fancy cocktail (so fancy that it has it's own specific copper mug) which contains ginger beer, lime and vodka. I think that cocktails are so very cool, and so very fun... but if I'm honest, I don't drink them very often. I'm just not a hard-booze type of gal. If I'm going to have a drink, I'm more likely to reach for a beer. (Or ginger beer, I suppose)
What I do like to do, is take creative inspiration from these mixed marvels and apply their flavours and concepts to things I am much more suited to make and enjoy... COOKIES! What else?
This recipe spoke to me from the pages of the most recent Chatelaine magazine... so I had to give it a whirl. I love the texture of these soft and chewy cookies! And the flavour was nice... but now that I have tasted them I have a few idea for how I'd like to make them next time. The spice from the ginger is nice, however I'd like the cookie to be a bit stronger and darker on the molasses front, and more lime! Next time I make these, I think I'll use all brown sugar instead of half-brown-half-white... and I'll add lime zest to the dough itself. Also... a little fresh ginger grated in neeeever hurt anyone... Though these little guys are plenty tasty just as is too :)
Now that I'm scheming... it could be awfully fun to make these changes to the cookie and add a splash of dark rum... and then we have a DARK AND STORMY cookie!! The wheels are turning... until that day, please enjoy these cuties!
"Moscow Mule" Cookies with Ginger and Lime
Recipe from Chatelaine December 2019
Every year when the grocery stores suddenly stack their shelves high with tiny bite size versions of everyone's favourite chocolates and candies in preparation for spooky season I get STOKED. What a wonderful time to be alive! It seems that public establishments everywhere suddenly have not only a reason but perhaps an obligation to stick out bowls of free candy. And the public has not only a reason but an obligation to do their part by taking and indulging in such free tiny delicacies. I set all self control and logic on the shelf when it comes to halloween time. I normally wouldn't be eating candy bars everyday, but TIS THE SEASON and they are so small so just one can't hurt right? But just one never really seems to be thing. Oh well. THIS IS MY CHANCE.
This time of year is also terribly inspiring for me as a baker because I've had a looooong time dream of making my own homemade versions of halloween candy. Yet year after year passes and I somehow never set aside the time to do this. Well this year I changed that and I MADE the time. Twix bars were never my favourite halloween candy as a kid, but as an adult they have snuck right up there and I've realized that they are like tiny versions of "millionaire's shortbread"... which is one of my favourite treats to bake/eat!!! So I knew I had to make homemade Twix bars a reality! But once I get the ball rolling it's hard to stop and suddenly I'm thinking, what if we somehow incorporated PUMPKIN into this candy classic... and soon with a bit of research and recipe mish-mashing and kitchen tinkering I have successfully created the "Pumpkin Twix Bar" that I am proud to share with you today!! Don't let your dreams be dreams!
I quite like these little guys. They feature a shortbread-cookie base that is spiced with the all familiar "pumpkin pie spice" (use a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger if you don't have a pumpkin pie spice blend kicking around). The filling is just as I was hoping for... a chewy caramel that is not rock hard and impossible to bite, but not too soft so that it oozes everywhere and looks messy. No, this caramel holds its shape but gives way when your teeth sink into it. For best results though, serve this at room temperature.
I especially love to sprinkle the top with toasted pumpkin seeds and flaky sea salt... to show that these ain't your ordinary twix bar... and also to balance out the sweetness from the caramel. Enjoy!!
Pumpkin Twix Bars
It's hard to believe, but it's been just over one full year since I started working at River Cafe Restaurant in Calgary. For some reason, which I can't even really explain to myself, I have had my sights set on working here for years... way back when I just needed a summer job to get me through art school and I wanted to be a server (I would have been awful at it I now see), to when I needed an internship during my time at baking school, to finally when I applied after graduating from baking school, hoping to find a job that felt "legit". Well let me tell you it's legit alright. I shall attempt to sum up my experience so far, which is a task so immense that it is difficult to start! But let's start at the beginning, shall we?
I don't know what it is that kept drawing my to this place to apply time after time, knowing slightly in my head that this whole place is WAY COOLER than me...
Perhaps it's that giant wooden entry door that just makes the whole experience of walking up to it very intimidating yet also full of excitement and wonder...
Perhaps it's the location, in the middle of the city, yet stranded on an island, surrounded by green grass and towering trees and the most beautiful river view and so many ducks!!! *(I will later decide that the ducks are more annoying than cute, and at times, terrifying in their defensiveness)
Perhaps because it is not only biking distance for me to get there, (what I look for first in a job, lol) but a rather gorgeous bike ride along the river pathway at that.
Perhaps because it is one of Calgary's top restaurants (if not number 1) AND it is ranked 28 on the list of top restaurants in CANADA which is mighty impressive for little old Cow Town. Not that I need to work in "the best" restaurant, rather River Cafe is not just any ordinary restaurant, and that appealed to me. I want to work in interesting places and to me, this was a very interesting place, even though really at the time I didn't actually know much about it. I knew that they celebrated local/Canadian cuisine, but oh boy I didn't even know what that really meant. So like, lots of saskatoons and maple syrup? and Bacon? Yes, all of these things, but there's also a heck of a lot more to it.
Upon my third application I was invited to come in for a stage, which is a lovely opportunity for both employee and employer, to see how everything jives. You basically come in a volunteer for a day, so you can see how the kitchen runs and the kitchen can see how you run (almost literally) and if you will be a good fit or not. That day it was pouring rain and miserable out yet the restaurant was still buzzing and busy and wild. The executive chef met with me (#oneofthemostintimidatingmomentsofmylife) and very coldly straight up warned me that restaurant life is hard and the hours are long and basically encouraged me not to take the job. I have never worked in a restaurant before. But turning down the job because someone tells me it is difficult was not my plan and so I just smiled and nodded and said I understood even if I didn't understand and I said "That's okay" even though inside I was saying "is it though??" But through my trepidations I remained persistent. Even if the job was hard I wanted to at least try. I wanted to say for myself that it was too hard. I wanted the experience. Kind of like running a marathon, yes it might hurt and be difficult and you KNOW this... but it is also a goal to accomplish, a life experience to gain, and a sense of pride on the horizon. And I have a hard time saying no.
My stage was mostly a blur of a very hectic stressful kitchen which included at one point water flooding in from outside into the basement and a very busy/pre-occupied but trying his best to accommodate me pastry chef. His assistant kept giving me tasks to do while juggling her own important to-do lists for the day. At the end, I was asked, "What do you think?" and apparently I replied with just a wide-eyed "Wow". I left feeling all the feelings. In the future I will look back on this day and laugh because not ALL days were like this at the restaurant, I just happened to pick a very crazy day. But if one can survive that...
I was hired (a miracle!) on the basis that I would be a part time pastry cook, there to assist the workload of the Pastry Chef and his assistant. I was able to still work part time at my other job (Higher Ground Cafe) which suited me just fine because I wasn't ready to leave the safety of that place just yet. Also, I thought, if working in a fine dining restaurant is intimidating and difficult and stressful, it's a wise plan to just start as part time, to dip my toes in the water you know? Not diving in head first, full time. Well, this worked for sure, I did dip my toes in. However once I did, it was a rather quick SWOOSH and I found myself entirely submerged.
After my first real shift, in which I worked 9 hours with no break (which I am now entirely accustomed to however at the time I had never done such a thing) I was EXHAUSTED and overwhelemed and quite frankly terrified about the situation I had gotten myself into and downright worried that I had made the wrong choice and is this the place for me and what have I done and I am not cut out for this and the standards are too high and everything is too fancy and the people are unfamiliar and I don't know if I will ever fit in and what have I done. The run-on sentence is necessary to emphasize how my brain was functioning at the time. I honestly felt like I had made some kind of mistake. But I was more horrified by the thought of quitting. I am not a quitter. I did not want to be a person who gets such an awesome job that many of my classmates would strive for and then work like one week and give up and say its too hard. Most of all, I was embarrassed that I was even having these thoughts. AND SO with the help of a good tear-filled heart to heart with my dear mother, I consoled myself by thinking: "I just have to get through this summer" and when even that felt daunting, I consoled myself by saying: "I just have to get through one month, and then I can re-assess things" Surely, things would settle by then and I could see things a little more clearly.
Before things could have a chance to settle however, our lovely assistant to our fearless and crazy Pastry Chef got in a terrible horrible car accident which forced her out of the kitchen for 9 months (!) and to keep this story from rambling on too much, I can sum it up by saying aside from the shock of this tragedy, my help was needed more than originally planned and my hours increased. I was soon being trained on the bread shift so that I could cover our bread baker on her days off. Still not wanting to let go of Higher Ground, I was working much more than I had originally bargained for, but I didn't know how to avoid that. So I just kept nodding and smiling. Surely, things would settle soon enough.
Meanwhile, as I was forwarned, work was indeed difficult, but in a way that I could not have predicted or prepared for. I made so many mistakes that hurt me to my core because I felt stupid and guilty. I felt small and weak. I felt dumb. I felt like I didn't belong, I felt like maybe I was simply not nearly good enough for a place with such high standards... Perhaps a sign from the universe demonstrating my stress levels, it would also become known to me as the summer in which I discovered my first grey hair.
But also, I was learning, and dare I say improving! Slowly but surely gaining more confidence, even if I didn't realize it at the time. Working 9-10 hours a day and working 6 days a week slowly became my normal. I was tired and sore most of the time. But along with all of this, I was also inspired and was in the middle of awesomeness that kept me coming back. And my mother kept telling me, "Don't worry, things will settle into routine soon".
And although the lows were low, the highs were high. I considered myself incredibly lucky to be working with a pastry chef who was incredibly talented, ridiculously creative, straightforward and tough but not "yell-y", and who loved vinatge jazz music as much as I did. How lucky am I to have a boss who is a creative, artistic genius and takes me under his wing like a mentor, looks out for me, and cooks me the most delicious food I have ever tasted... all while playing the best music in the background (Decemberists, Fiest, Frank Sinatra, oh my!) I was also remarkably lucky to work in a bakery in a fancy restaurant that actually had it's own space and respect from the rest of the restaurant, AND A WINDOW!! Most bakeries are tucked away into small corners and basements and you never see the light of day. But ours? We had a DECENTLY SIZED WINDOW and could look out onto the island :D Unreal. We could look outside and see people walking in the park, and in the early mornings when I came in at 6am to bake off the bread, I could see the most beautiful lighting linger over the park as the sun was rising. This always made me pause for just a second and smile, even during a very busy morning. I am so grateful for that little window.
I was also lucky that I had the opportunity to do some pretty fun jobs...
In the pastry kitchen there are so many weird and wonderful tasks and very creative uses of ingredients... I ate things that I have never tasted before (seabuckthorn, tangerine marigold, sorrel, edible flowers! pine mushrooms, goose! morrels, sunchokes, quince!), I used ingredients and techniques that I had never used. I made things I was always afraid to try making. I made plenty of mistakes, but I would try my best to forget the awful feeling of making the mistake and instead remember the lesson from it I had learned. I discovered how to use ingredients in magical ways that I had never thought of before. And although it is odd, many of the most tedious jobs were my favourite. Picking loads of tiny currants off the stems, pitting cherries, piping tiny dots of strawberry-rhubarb curd onto little golden bars of brown-butter blondie, making and forming literally hundreds of miniature waffle cones... very repetitive and daunting, but also meditative. I wasn't very good to start but I kept at it and slowly saw improvements. I was trying my best and generally succeeding and keeping a positive attitude and finding the joy in what I was doing. Compliments are not handed out often in the kitchen, but it also means that when they are, you know they are genuine. And boy that feels good. I realized that I was very lucky to be in the position I was in. I became less intimidated by the other staff and had now learned most of their names and work was feeling more friendly. We played good music and opened the window and had a lot of fun in the bakery. Many of the other staff often come into our space just because it's a nice place to be. In short, work was hard and demanding, but it was also fulfilling and rewarding. AND FUN. I was working in a kitchen, but most of the time I felt like I was part of some strange artist studio, and the work we were creating also happened to be edible. And also, delicious. Seriously living the dream!
I was asked if I wanted to stay and continue working in the fall. By now I was too curious to see what kind of whimsical desserts we would make next and excited for the learning opportunity. I wanted to see how the restaurant changed with the changing of the seasons. And, I was told, Fall would be much less busy, and things will slow down. "Things might even settle!"
I can tell you that right up until we shut the place down after New Years Eve, things never did settle as promised. I've learned to expect the unexpected, and know that there is always going to be something crazy that pops up out of nowhere, juuuuuust when you think things are starting to feel "normal". You can try to prepare yourself as best you can, however every single day is different, and you really never know exactly what is going to happen. This is difficult for someone like myself who really likes to plan ahead and be prepared and know what is going on. As much as I would like to be, I am NOT a spontaneous person. However, I contradict myself because I also love it, and the randomness can be fun, it keeps things interesting. I certainly have never, and do not understand the meaning of the word bored. Boredom is not in my vocabulary. I believe if you think you are bored YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.
I have always wanted the experience of working in a restaurant, and even though I am not really the best at it and don't always fit in, I have learned and grown so much and I can't believe how much more comfortable everything feels. I am stronger (both mentally and physically, thank you 22kg bags of rolled oats and constant running up and down stairs with immensely hefty trays of sourdough bread dough), and I have learned ways to be more efficient and how to function/survive in a restaurant. Don't get me wrong, I still make plenty of mistakes and still consider myself very inexperienced, but I have certainly grown and learned a ton. If I have one thing going for me it is my positive attitude and I was determined to keep that alive no matter what. It has helped me in so many ways.
When people ask me how I like my job I tell them the truth: that it is very hard, but also very rewarding. I think back to after my first day and how terrified I was and I am SO GLAD that I stuck with it and kept trying. Yes it is hard, yes it is difficult, yes I am physically drained at the end of every shift. But I do not regret any of it, rather I am incredibly grateful for this experience. My boss has often joked with me that of all the places to work for my first restaurant experience, I sure picked a wild one (one of the busiest in town with the highest standards) and "if you can survive here then you can work anywhere".
Now I know how to make and bake all sorts of breads, pastries, desserts, chocolates, sauces, garnishes, and more. Making wedding cakes feels (dare I say it) easy (okay no, easier) instead of daunting, I know how to tell when croissants are proofed (something that remained a mystery to me throughout baking school).
I've plated desserts and yelled "SERVICE PLEASE!" (a very thrilling thing to do, yet for a soft-spoken someone like me is also incredibly challenging)
I can use a both a paco jet and a vac machine with some kind of confidence and I know how to make "fluid gels" and I finally understand all the settings on the fancy-thousand-dollar-ovens we use.
I (unfortunately) say "CORNER" almost everytime I turn a blind corner (even in public and on the bike path). I've also gained the habit of knocking on doors everytime I go to open them, as if to warn whoever might be on the other side that I'm opening the door. An important move in the kitchen, kind of ridiculous to do in the outside world,
I've made friends with the people who intimidated me at first, and I've mastered (well, gotten better at) jobs that I once failed horribly at.
I've made steam buns, mousses, chocolate garnishes, curd, cookies, brownies, butterscotch, buttercream and countless cakes. I've rolled out dough, processed fruit, picked herbs and rhubarb from the garden, scrubbed flour bins and racks, mopped floors, rounded a million buns, peeled parsnips, HECK I have even cut thin slices of bread to turn into crostinis to feed none other than our very own prime minister!
This has been the longest post in the universe, so if you are still reading, congratulations and thank you... reflecting about all this is mostly a selfish act so please excuse me as I give myself a pat on the back. (sorry/not sorry) But it feels darn good to sit here right now and look back on all I've accomplished and know that I can and will handle whatever crazy curve balls are thrown at us this year... The most important thing I've learned is the powder of a positive attitude. It is SO IMPORTANT to be able to make mistakes and learn from them without taking things personally and getting down on yourself. There's a quote that I think about often that says "Forget the mistake, remember the lesson." It can be so easy in a busy restaurant to get caught up in the stress and let stuff get to you. I have learned how to still work hard and aspire to be my best, but not go crazy. I want to do a good job but if I mess up I will not let it destroy me. I have to remain positive and keep appearing happy because that defines who I am and it's what I am best at. In the words of my inspiring coworker, "nothing's gonna bring me down". Everyday might not be good, but there is good in everyday. Focus on that.
In the meantime, it's summer and I am still here! Trying to enjoy every minute and finding the joy in every task and every day. Which is easy right now because a new summer menu change is HAPPENING and GET THIS: I have the task of coming up with a "Tasting Dessert" feature soon after! Excuse me as I pick my jaw up off the floor. I never thought I'd be here. I am so happy I am.
Thank you, River Cafe, for everything.
This is a custom invention, created for none other than my very own father, my papa bear, also often known among friends as Pablo. My papa (and I'm sure many other papas out there) dearly adores oatmeal raisin cookies... Anytime I bake cookies, he wishes aloud and quite clearly that they will be oatmeal raisin cookies, which unfortunately for him they usually are not. Another thing he often requests is my homemade ice cream. Since I moved out, he has had to resort to STORE BOUGHT ICE CREAM heaven forbid. Seeing as it's not only FATHERS DAY but also his BIRTHDAY this past weekend... I figured I owed it to him to whip up a special treat!
In the spirit of "why or when you can and" I decided not to make cookies or ice cream, but to instead make an ice cream INSPIRED by cookies! This flavour is designed specifically with my dad in mind, however I am fairly confident that this concoction would suit many a father on Father's day. Or any hot summer weekend for that matter, of which I'm sure there will be plenty. And worst case scenario it suits me juuuuust fine.
Oatmeal Raisin Ice cream begins humbly with whole milk, heavy cream and all the usual custard-culprits. However I'm twisting things up by infusing the milk with toasted oats, hoping to squeeze out any extra nutty-oat-flavour that I can to make this ice cream special.
While we wait for things to chill, we're still busy in the kitchen, baking up oat streusel to crumble into the ice cream at the end. We're also soaking raisins in RUM because YUM.
Layers of flavour, layers of love.
Kinda like an oatmeal ice cream sandwich, all blended into one bowl. To my papa and to all the DADs out there... this scoop's for you!
What makes this ice cream as special as my papa? I've toasted oats to bring out their nutty flavour, then steeped them in the ice cream base. I've used three varieties of raisins just for fun and colour and partially due to my curiosity... (The bulk bins have three different kinds, and so I'm like, LETS TRY THEM ALL) and soaked them in a spiced-rum simple syrup. The spiced flavour of the rum will pair nicely with everything here, however any old rum will do. By soaking our raisins in syrup, this will plump them up and ensure that they stay soft even when frozen into the ice cream. If you don't have rum you can always soak the raisins in a simple syrup without the rum instead.
THE RESULT: A creamy smooth ice cream, reminiscent of vanilla but dare I say creamier in flavour due to the oats. Soft & sweet fruity raisins swirled throughout, (not the rock hard pellets of disappointment that raisins sometimes can be...) and a crunchy, salty oat-cookie crumb in every bite. I give you: The Papa Bear Ice Cream!
Oatmeal Raisin Ice Cream (AKA Papa Bear Ice Cream)
Recipe adapted from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, inspired by my Dad
ice cream base:
March 14th is one of my favourite days to celebrate! If you haven't heard of Pi Day before... here you go:
March 14 = the 14th day of the 3rd month = 3.14 = Pi = Pie
My kind of math.
I have been wanting to try my hand at making an apple crumble pie for a while now... we sell one such pie at the cafe where I work and it is a thing of beauty. Or at least, it looks like a thing of beauty. I confess I've never actually had a whole slice but I have tried broken bits and pieces that were not fit enough to sell. I'm no pie connoisseur, but it looks picture perfect and that crumble topping is all I ever want to eat ever. I always hope that a big chunk will fall off as we are cutting it to serve, so that I can snatch it up and have a taste for myself :)
You might say, "Why don't you just buy a slice?"
But, if you know me, my style response is more along the lines of, "Let's go home and figure out how to make this myself"
Here is my attempt to re-create that pie, mashing together a few recipes from one of my most trusted baking mentors... that's right I'm talking about Martha. She usually doesn't let me down, and in this case, she pulled through once again. I believe the pie was a success!! For two reasons:
I added a few of my own twists to make the pie of my apple-crumble-dreams by throwing in some chopped walnuts and toasted oats into the crumble mixture. I also made sure there was a good pinch of salt in there too, as the slight salt in the crumb is what keeps me hoping a big chunk will decide to stray from the pie and make for easy snacking ;)
The apple filling uses both fuji and granny smith apples for a nice balance of sweet/tart, and the filling itself is not overly wet but still juicy. I highly encourage you to serve this with a big scoop of ice cream... a good quality vanilla OR if you are feeling sassy, salted caramel is my weapon of choice. (High five that a Village Ice Cream store is just a few blocks up the street from where I live)
Happy Pi Day!
Apple Crumble Pie
recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
Roses are red,
Velvet is too,
This cake is made with beets,
So it must be good for you.
We all know that a cake for February, AKA Valentines MONTH (not sorry) was gonna be a red/pink deal. For me, that means whipping up one of my favourite recipes: BEET red velvet.
That's right, BEET! This is a historically correct red velvet cake, in that the colour comes entirely from the magical power of beets, not a trace of food colouring. ALTHOUGH I confess that food colouring was used in the frosting. But I'm in charge here, so, it's okay.
Did you know that back in the day Red Velvet was named thusly due to the velvety texture imparted by beets? It's true. If you're like, "for real, beets in cake?" then I say hey, if carrot cake is so common then why not beet cake! You've gotta try it, I've converted a lot of non beet-lievers. (Yikes that was bad)
But seriously even the skeptics loved the flavour of this cake! Even a friend who says he "doesn't like beets". The beets add flavour, colour, texture, and a little drama. Nice and tangy, especially good with cream cheese frosting...
I made this recipe in cupcake form for Higher Ground Cafe for some valentine-themed treats. I always get so stoked to see how vibrant the colour is! I called these "Heart-Beet Cupcakes" heh heh
As this is part of my monthly cake challenge, I needed to try something new. This month I attempted the technique of painting with frosting! It turned out not exactly as I envisioned in my mind... to be honest my first thought was "WOW epic fail" like when you see something on pinterest and then in reality it just is laughably awful? But after walking away and coming back with fresh eyes, I actually liked what I created! Like so many of my art experiments, really! This one really felt like painting. FUN.
Perhaps painting with buttercream might yield better results as opposed to cream cheese frosting... But this cake really requires cream cheese frosting. It's just non-negotiable.
This bowl here contains the liquid ingredients for our beet-cake-batter. WOW amiright? I swear I didn't edit this! Life is this magical! I love veggies.
And here is our cake batter, all trayed up and ready for the oven. But first, a glamour shot. This batter deserves it.
You may notice that I often bake cakes as a flat sheet tray, and then cut them into circles for stacking. This way the layers bake flat and evenly, the baking time shortens, you can cut them into any size you want, and it gives you lots of scraps for snacking :)
Also, if you just moved and don't currently own a round cake pan, this technique really comes in handy...
Garnished with toasted red-velvet crumbs (good use of those cake scraps!), beet chips (store bought from costco!), and gold sprinkles because oooh lala.
To February! The short but sweet month of love, cold weather, and chocolate that goes on sale. What a grand time of year. Time to sneak some veggies into dessert! It's practically health food! Right?
All-Natural Red Velvet Cake
Recipe barely adapted from Yossy Arefi
Cream Cheese Frosting
Tiny Tea Party
It's about celebrating the tiny things.
© 2015 Larissa Costella
All Rights Reserved
(All images and content are my own unless otherwise noted)