29 Jan 2014

Pop goes the cake pop

I've seen dozens of pretty pics of them all over foodie Facebook sites. I somehow missed trying them on a cruise ship last September. I was so hypnotised by the chocolate fountain on the dessert island that I lost the will to focus on anything else. Then I noticed a cake pop mould in a recent Lakeland kitchen catalogue. It seems that cake pops are the new black in the baking world. And now I have met them up close and personal, thanks to a baker from Delray Beach, Florida.

A baker with passion. A baker who sparkles with delight as she tells me about her Halloween cupcakes: vanilla cake, chocolate frosting and caramel drizzle. A baker whose mise en place is meticulously organised. An offset spatula? Never heard of one.

This is evidently a learning curve for me. And cake pops are our goal. I'm a little flummoxed when she tells me that while her cakes are cooking she likes to do a little dance around the kitchen. But hey, if it helps them rise, I'll join in! 

Meet Amanda, aged 10, who says that when she's not doing her homework she's watching baking videos on-line. 'It's like hooking myself up to the computer and scanning my brain!' she says. She's hoping to attend a middle school in Boca Raton next year that offers a culinary programme as part of its syllabus. And if enthusiasm and dedication are the required qualifications then Amanda deserves to be at the top of their intake list.

But in the meantime, back to the cake pops.
I must admit to being a little suspect when Amanda told me we were going to use cake crumbs to make them but it seems that cake crumbs are where cake pops originated. You can read more about their (alleged) origins here. 

So, off we popped with cake mix, oil and egg whites.

And in less time than it took to dance three of four jigs around the kitchen we had our cake, cooling on a tray over a bag of ice, ready to crumb and mix with the frosting.  

Perhaps it was the dancing. Perhaps our brains were sugar-addled by eating too much left-over cake mixture. Perhaps we... let's make that 'I'... should have read the recipe. At least once. 

Our cake pops, even after an hour in the freezer, were less pops and more booms. Not the little lovelies of lightness we'd expected to balance perkily at the top of their sticks but moody heavy bruisers that persisted on sliding down them. Oh. 

Ah! (The sugar-police should look away now.) Half a cup of frosting. Not the whole tub (nearly two cups) of Creamy Supreme that we added to our bowl of crumbs.

But all cooks know that mistakes are only a milestone on the road towards future successes and luckily we had a secret weapon in the next room, something, or rather someone, who could make us laugh. And do something with the, now useless, cups of coloured chocolate coatings lined up along the kitchen counter. 
Not that we expected him to eat it. But he did!
I'm pleased to say that Amanda's passion for baking is undiminished. And I am sure her future cake pops will be cushions of sweet delight. 

At 10 she has started to map out her future. She'd like to have her own bakery, like Carlo's of Cake Boss fame, an American reality TV series. And I also sure she'll achieve that. 

One day she'll be laughing with her customers about her first cake pop experience. I really hope I'm still around to laugh with her.

Hungry Writing Prompt
Write about an ambition, lost or achieved.


21 Jan 2014

Pizza. And other words that can change your life.

Okay, a little bit of headline exaggeration going on there. Pizza is more about changing your waistline than your life but... it all knocks on. However, I did have a small life-changing hope for this plate of potential deliciousness at Brewzzi in Boca Raton. It was a siren calling to me from the menu:

Fig, bacon and caramelised onion pizza scattered with arugula (rocket)
But a little asterisk introduced some doubt: *seasonal availability. And this is January: fresh figs aren't available at this time of the year in South Florida, are they? But it was available. Yay! And no they aren't. Oh dear. 

As every cook knows any equivalent dry ingredient has to be cut by half, at least, to replace the fresh version. But the preserved black figs topping my pizza, and my lunch partner's, had been scattered with unadulterated enthusiasm which turned a main course into a very large dessert. When I did manage to detect a sliver of caramelised onion or snippet of bacon through the fructose rush I felt like shouting 'Hallelujah!' with relief. 

Roll on the summertime when I can experiment with fresh figs myself.

Available on Amazon
In the meantime I do have a word that I believe will change my life in the year to come and it's thanks to this little book I read in Barnes & Noble (it's short enough to do that, cover to cover, in about 40 minutes). 

The book's premise is to find one specific word through reflection and questioning and use that word for a year to help achieve your goals, or remind you of your path. 

I love the idea. I was less enamoured by Step 2 in the three step 'find-your-word' process (Looking Up to God) but I decided to skip over that and adapt the steps to suit me.

'What do I need? What's in my way? What needs to go?' are the questions in Step 1. Questions you're supposed to reflect on without the interruption of phones, computers, TV, people, even to-do lists. Not surprisingly (probably for me and for a lot of you) phones, computers and TV cropped up in response to what's in my way and what needs to go! 

There's also a back-up website for the book if you want to know more. 

After a couple of days of letting those questions run through my mind, after recognising the things that I'd like to see happen in my life, and identifying the obstacles (generally self-inflicted) in my way... I have my word. 

Tony's the only person I've told so far so I guess I'm still at the cop-out stage. But once I make it public, here, then it's all about forward motion and living it. Which I have been doing in small ways for the last four or five days. 

practice

practice: placing myself again and again in the path of possibility
practice: a verbal smoothie of discipline, activity and patience

When I get home I'll be sticking it on my fridge. It'll be my desk-top screen saver. A desk-top that's going to be free of the internet. I've already been saying it to myself, out loud, when I recognise that I need to be more patient, less critical, wanting to be right. 

What would your word be? 'Be': that's a good word. We usually make New Year resolutions to 'do'. A single word that helps us 'be' makes much more sense to me.

Hungry Writing Prompt (courtesy of the 'one word' book)
What do you need? What's in your way? What needs to go?

14 Jan 2014

An edible BFG. And big, blowsy and irresistible Tom Wolfe.

BFG has always been Roald Dahl for me: The Big Friendly Giant. Here in south Florida it's another thing entirely: a chain of restaurants called Bonefish Grill. But I never complain when there's food involved. And neither do their customers if the majority of reviews are anything to go by. But apart from seafood all-ways, a whole net of fresh fish seared, baked and farcie-d, as well as Kobe and US beef, and serving staff that are professional and funny and courteous (Gina with the red hair: you rock) it was something on their dessert menu that made the meal unforgettably different for me. 

The Espresso Martini
at Bonefish Grill
And this is for all you non-dessert eaters who'd still like a little something sweet and tantalising after dinner: the Espresso Martini made from Svedka Vanilla Vodka, Kahlua, crème de cacao and espresso and served in a glass whose rim is encrusted with chipped cane sugar and chocolate. 

The only complaint I do have is that the (enjoyably) dim light in the restaurant made it almost impossible for me to get a good photo with my little digital camera. I guess you're just going to have to take my word for it. Or try BFG yourself. Unfortunately the UK is yet to see them open within its shores. 

The other treat of holidaying here is the proximity of big book stores: namely Barnes & Noble now that Borders has fallen off the map of the world. And because I always try and read a novel related to the place I'm staying in I picked up a remaindered copy of Tom Wolfe's Back to Blood, a larger than life, roller-coastering, ironic and cynical take on Miami's elite, its immigrant population, its posturing and its unforgiving heat. 

The New Yorker was equally unforgiving in its review when the book was first published in 2012. (Reviews on Amazon tend to be more positive.) 

But I enjoyed it: enjoyed the exaggerated, almost caricatured, main protagonists, the 'in your face' style of some the prose, how the narrative jumped between the multiple points of view and led me from irritation to empathy for the Cuban-American cop who finds himself unable to please anyone, his family and neighbours, and the police force, after he rescues/arrests (depending on your political stance) a Cuban refugee from the top of an 80 foot mast. 

Yes, it's extreme. But it also feels very real, a melting pot of isolation, self-indulgence, excess, desire, anger, drunkenness, regret, humour, violence, vulnerability, the search for identity. 

Hungry Writing Prompt
Write about what identifies you as you.
Who are you?

The exaggeration that Wolfe employs probably means that it's not an accurate reflection of Miami. But it's still a reflection, a glint of how the city works politically and racially. The book-jacket states that Miami is the only city in the world where people from a different country, with a different language and a different culture have taken over at the ballot box. Wiki calls it a multicultural mosaic.

And it is exciting. Intimidating too. Unnerving and enervating. And a damn side warmer than anywhere in the UK right now! And now, if you'll excuse me, happy hour at BFG is calling: half price appetisers. And I'm told that the Bang Bang shrimp are not to be missed.

Enjoy.
Bon appetit.
Buen provecho.

7 Jan 2014

The taste of place

I've landed in Miami and I want a filet mignon. Not any filet mignon but a Victoria's filet mignon from Outback: 'Pittsburgh' (heavily seared) medium rare, heavy on the classic seasoning (a kicking blend of peppers and salt). It doesn't matter that it's 2am UK time. Or that after eating it I'm going to crash out with over half a pound of undigested protein in my stomach! Outback's filet is part of what makes me feel I've arrived in South Florida. No steak anywhere else in the world tastes like this one. This is where my holiday begins. Add a large glass of J Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon to that order, would you? 

Hungry Writing Prompt
Write about a particular food that anchors you to a place.

If I had to choose a food that anchored me to my home in Kent it would be roast chicken: a 'Sunday dinner' roast chicken with home-made gravy and sausage-meat stuffing. And the culinary comfort attached to my hometown, Port Talbot, In South Wales? That's easy: Mam's vegetable soup. 

And now I have a dessert that will always be my New Year's Eve dessert. 


Perhaps it's stuck because it was spontaneous, unplanned. Perhaps because Tony and I were at home alone, curled up watching a movie in front of a log fire, with no expectations, anticipation. 


Perhaps because ice and heat were the perfect ingredients to watch one year melt away and another ignite.


Try it and let me know what you think. All you need is a carton of frozen summer berries, a tub of Elmlea Double 'Cream' and a bar of white cooking chocolate.

Share the berries between dishes, melt the chocolate, gently, in a saucepan with the Elmlea until it's comfortably warm then pour it over the frozen berries. Winter meets Summer. Good enough to melt the heart of the Snow Queen.