Friday, May 31, 2013

Peanut Butter Trail Mix Milkshake

Nearly everyone has their ideal bite of trail mix--what flavors they’d like each bite to embody.  Me? My perfect trail mix blend has at least one raisin & one M&M in each bite.  

In order to achieve my perfect blend, I’ve started making my own trail mix.  Plus, many of the pre-packaged trail mix varieties I’ve seen in stores are not gluten free.  After just a couple of batches, my trail mix has easily become one of my favorite snacks.

Trail mix is easily portable.  I pack large mason jars of it when we’re traveling; and I often recycle the nut containers from making the trail mix, filling each & carrying the small ones in my purse for an on-the-go snack.  I don’t always know what sorts of food will be available when I go different places, so having my own delicious, satisfying, portable gluten free snack is a must!

Even I was workshopping and visiting Birmingham, AL, I carried trail mix with me.  One day, after lunch, we had the most divine peanut butter milkshakes for dessert. On a whim, I added a handful of trail mix to my milkshake--oh, my goodness, what a great decision that was!

Since returning home, I’ve made yet another batch of trail mix & still have not been able to get the thought of that peanut butter milk shake with trail mix out of my head.  I thought I’d re-create it, only adding some trail mix during the actual milkshake production.

A few words of caution... Make sure your trail mix is fresh (or else the raisins will be especially rock hard).  Process the milkshake for long enough to ensure the ingredients are well blended--if you’re especially lucky, you’ll have a high speed blender like a Blendtec. Use a really creamy peanut butter (this is not the application for a more “natural” peanut butter.)  I like to use bubble tea straws, just in case there are any pieces of trail mix that don’t get properly chopped in the blender.  And make more than you think is necessary--it’s that delicious!

Homemade Trail Mix
This is my preferred ratio & is also based by how I have been able to find the ingredients packaged.  By all means, feel free to play with the amounts according to your taste preferences & ingredient packaging.  

14 oz bag/ 2 c  milk chocolate M&Ms
6 oz/ 1 heaping cup Whole Almonds (lightly salted) 
12 oz/ 2.5 cups Peanuts (roasted & salted) 
4 oz/1 c Pepitas
11 oz/ 2c Raisins
8 oz/ little less than 2c Cashews (halves & pieces) 

  1. In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients. 
  2. Store in airtight containers, like the actual nut containers or jars or plastic bags.  I like to re-use the nut containers & use large glass mason jars.  
  3. The mix will keep for several weeks, if it isn’t eaten already!  
Peanut Butter Trail Mix Milkshakes
yields 1 milkshake 

1/2 c Trail Mix, plus more for garnish
2 Tbl Creamy Peanut Butter
1 Tbl chocolate sauce
1 c Vanilla Ice Cream, slightly softened (120 g) 
1/4 to 1/2 c Milk  

  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender, with the trail mix on the bottom. 
  2. Blend until all the ingredients are smooth & have combined completely.
  3. Pour into a glass, add a straw & a little more trail mix as garnish.  Serve immediately! 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Pear Lime Jello

I’ve been a bit under the weather lately.  You know how it goes... You’re just starting to get over one sickness, when a second (or third) comes sweeping in & knocks you down again.  The latest of my maladies has included a wicked sore throat.  And when I have a sore throat, one of the foods I most want to eat is jello.  Preferably lime jello.

Usually plain lime jello, made straight from the box, is what I’m craving. However, this time, I kept thinking back to a pear lime jello salad we had over the Christmas holiday with my husband’s family in South Carolina.

The combination of pears, lime jello & cream cheese does not necessarily sound like it would go together, but I promise that it is quite tasty!  I may even attempt to make this into a boozy gelatin dessert sometime in the future (but in my opinion, sick people do NOT need alcoholic desserts....).

This also seemed to be the perfect time to try out the individual portion jello molds I’ve lately been acquiring (like at Round Top and in Birmingham).  While the original pear lime salad we had was not made into specific layers--it was made for a crowd in a giant serving bowl--I thought that trying to make it into layers for the individual portions might be a cute idea.

The top layer is the lime jello.  Once that layer is partially set, pear pieces are added.  Finally, an almost mousse-y layer of lime, cream cheese & pear, which have all been pureed together until they are silky-smooth, is added.  Nothing about this jello is remotely like the unfortunate firm jello squares sometimes seen at buffets.

Toughest part of this dessert? Waiting for everything to completely firm up.  Well, that and the actual unmolding process.  After the jello set, the molds were briefly dipped in warm water.  I literally held my breath as each mold was lifted off... some were prettier than others. But in the end, they all tasted wonderful and were just what my sore throat requested.

Pear Lime Jello 
heavily adapted from 
makes 8 to 10 small servings

1 1/2c Pear Juice or syrup (I used the liquid from a 29oz can of pears packed in light syrup) 
1 package Lime Jello
1 1/2 c cold water
4 pear halves (from a 29oz can of pears; there will be remaining, unused pears)
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature  

  1. Place 8 to 10 small jello molds onto a very flat baking pan or dish.  Small ramekins could also be used in place of jello molds. Set aside. 
  2. Boil the pear juice in a small sauce pan.  Pour the hot juice into a large bowl & whisk in the jello.  Stir for 2 minutes, or until the gelatin has completely dissolved. 
  3. Stir in the cold water. 
  4. Portion 2 to 3 tablespoons of the gelatin into the bottom of each mold.  Place into the refrigerator for 30 minutes or until slightly thickened.  
  5. While the molds are in the refrigerator, chop half of the the pears into small pieces, depending on the size(s) of your molds.  The smaller the molds, the smaller the pear pieces should be.  Once the lime layer has slightly thickened, arrange some of the pear pieces over that layer, pushing into the gelatin slightly, & return to the refrigerator.  
  6. In a blender, combine the remaining jello mixture with the cream cheese & the remaining pear halves. Combine completely until there are no lumps.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until the mixture is the consistency of unbeaten egg whites.  
  7. Fill the jello molds to the top. Refrigerate overnight or until completely set.  
  8. Unmold just prior to serving. Dip each mold, nearly to the top, in warm water.  Allow to rest in the warm water for approximately 10 seconds. Invert the serving plate onto the mold.  Flip & gently remove the mold. Enjoy immediately.  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

First Anniversary Coconut Cake

One year ago on Saturday (May 18th), we were married in Charleston, SC.  From the ceremony at First Baptist Church, to the reception at the William Aiken House, our wedding day was such an amazing, surreal day day! Seriously, I still have to pinch myself that it actually happened. Since I did not do a wedding-themed post last year, I figured our anniversary was the best time to look back...

Instead of one wedding cake, we had 7 individual cakes (and 5 other mini dessert options, like marshmallows, mini banana puddings, chocolate, pie pops & macarons), each made by one of my pastry colleague friends.  

The cake flavors ranged from apple spice, to lemon, to white chocolate raspberry, to strawberry champagne, to caramel, to chocolate stout, with the main large cake, made by Chef Kelly Wilson being coconut.

We didn’t freeze the top layer of our main wedding cake.  While I know that is the traditional thing to do, it just wasn’t feasible for us...

I knew I’d be moving half way across the country shortly after our honeymoon & I was not so sure the cake would survive the trip (or in hind sight, that there would have been room for it in the overpacked car).  

Plus, the idea of eating year-old frozen cake just does not sound appetizing....  

My paper-themed-first-anniversary-gift: beautiful purple paper carnations by Posh Studios

Instead, we’re starting our own tradition: eating coconut cake on our anniversary.

It can be store-bought cake, or I can make it, or we can make it together. No matter where it comes from, we’ll taste that delicious coconut-y flavor and remember.   

Ultimate Coconut cake
adapted from the Peninsula Grill Ultimate Coconut Cake,  found on  
Yield’s 8 to 10 servings 

I initially chose to make this cake 1) because we’ve eaten it before in Charleston at Peninsula Grill and 2) because Peninsula Grill ships this cake all over the US.  We were planning on taking an anniversary trip, I knew I needed a very sturdy cake to survive the airplane trip.  But, we ended up having to cancel the trip (I got sick last week, unfortunately).  I still had all the ingredients & decided to make the cake anyway.  Yes, it has many components & requires some advance planning, but it’s a winner :) 

1.25 c (10 oz) Heavy Cream
3/4 c (5.25 oz) Granulated Sugar
1 stick (4 oz) Unsalted Butter, cut into pieces
1 Tbl Cornstarch
1 Tbl Water
2 1/4 c (270 g) Sweetened Coconut 
1/2 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste
1/2 tsp Coconut Extract 

  1. In a heavy saucepan, combine the heavy cream, sugar, and butter.  Heat over medium high heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture boils & the sugar dissolves.  
  2. In a separate small bowl, combine the cornstarch & water to make a slurry.  Stir with your fingers to ensure there are no lumps.  Whisk the slurry into the cream/sugar/butter mixture.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low, and cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat.  
  3. In a food processor, pulse the coconut until it is very finely chopped.  Add to the saucepan & stir to combine.  Stir in the vanilla bean paste & coconut extract. 
  4. Pour into a shallow baking dish and allow to cool slightly at room temperature.  Then, cover with plastic wrap placed directly on the surface & chill in the refrigerator overnight.  

5.3 oz European-style Unsalted Butter (I used Kerrygold), room temperature
1 c (7 oz) Granulated Sugar
2 large Eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste
1 tsp Coconut Extract
1.5 c (216 g) Jeanne’s Gluten Free AP Flour (or substitute AP flour)
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
pinch Fine grain Sea Salt
1/2 c Heavy Cream, room temperature 

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Grease two 6” round baking pans--I prefer to use butter. Line the pans with a buttered parchment circle.  Set aside.  
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until the mixture is lightened in color, increased in volume & completely combined.  Scrape a couple of times to ensure everything is well combined. 
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating & scraping after each addition.  Add the Vanilla Bean Paste & Coconut Extract.  
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking power & sea salt.  
  5. Add the dry ingredients, alternating with the heavy cream, to the creamed mixture, mixing on low speed between each addition.  Begin and end with the dry ingredients.  Scrape down the bowl as needed. Mix just until combined. 
  6. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans.  Use an offset spatula to evenly level the top of the batter. 
  7. Bake the cake for approximately 30 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. 
  8. Remove from the oven & cool completely before removing from the pans.  
Simple Syrup
3 oz Water
3 oz Granulated Sugar
1/2 tsp Coconut Extract
  1. Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan.  Heat over medium high heat until boiling.  Remove from the heat & cool slightly.
  2. Stir in coconut extract. Refrigerate until ready to use.  
1 stick (4 oz) European-style Unsalted Butter (I used Kerrygold), room temperature
4 oz Cream Cheese, room temperature
2.5 c (300 g) Confectioners’ Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste
1 tsp Coconut Extract
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the butter & cream cheese on medium speed. Scrape down the bowl. 
  2. Sift the confectioners’ sugar & add it to the butter/cream cheese.  Mix on low speed until just combined, scraping down the bowl as necessary.  
  3. Add the extracts. 
  4. Transfer to the refrigerator until ready to assemble the cake.  
Simple Syrup 
1 to 2 c Coconut Flakes
  1. Remove the filling from the refrigerator.  Place into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix for 2 minutes on high speed or until fluffy.  Set aside. 
  2. Trim off the top layer of each cake, using a serrated knife, & cut each cake into two even layers.  
  3. Place the bottom of one layer onto a cake board.  Use a pastry brush to soak the top of the cake with the simple syrup.  Top with approximately one third of the coconut filling. Spread the filling in an even layer.  Place a second layer on top of the filling & repeat the syrup & filling process until all the cake layers have been used.  Finish by soaking the top layer with simple syrup. 
  4. Place the cake in the refrigerator to firm for 20 minutes.  
  5. Toast the coconut flakes: Preheat the oven to 375.  Line a rimmed baking pan with parchment paper.  Sprinkle 1 to 2 cups of coconut flakes over the parchment & toast in the oven until lightly golden, approximately 3-5 minutes.  Remove & let cool. 
  6. After the cake has been refrigerated for 20 minutes, give the cake a very thin coating of icing (a “crumb” coat), just to seal everything in--it’s ok if you can see still see the cake through the icing.  Refrigerate another 20 minutes. 
  7. Give the cake a second, thicker layer of frosting, this time making sure to fully cover the cake.  You may not need all of the icing.  
  8. Once the cake is iced, pat the toasted coconut on the sides of the cake.  
  9. Refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours to allow everything to set.  Slice the cake while cold & allow to come to room temperature before serving for optimum flavor. 
  10. Cover any exposed cake edges & store any leftovers in the refrigerator for up to a week. Or wrap leftovers & freeze them for up to 4 months. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Faux Marcona Almonds and workshops recapped

Faux Marcona Almonds 

What a fun privilege it is to interact with people who share a common interest not just in food, but in the styling & photography of food as well.

Meet & Greet food  

Meet & Greet 

I was able to spend the latter portion of April doing just that sort of interacting as I revived my role of kitchen manager for two food photography workshops in Georgia and Alabama.

Held in Atlanta, the first workshop was taught by Helene Dujardin, photographer; Tami Hardeman, food stylist; and Mindi Shapiro, prop stylist.

So many lovely props! 

While I have worked with Helene and Tami before, this workshop was the first time that I met Mindi & was exposed to what exactly a prop stylist does.   She collaborates with the photographer & food stylist & ultimately determins not only what all the props should look like in the images (china, silverware, glassware, linens, name it) but where each piece should go within the frame.  

Mindi sets up the props 

Mindi discusses how to choose props for the sandwich shoot 

All three of these ladies are SERIOUSLY amazing at what they do individually, but they also come together as an awesome, collaborative team.  It was completely fascinating to watch how they worked together on several group demos.

Helene, Tami & Mindi working on the beef stew shot

The sandwich shoot demo

As with other workshops, their goal is to help the workshop participants develop their own styles (instead of just copying the style of the photographer).

Leslie shoots salad ingredients 

Helene assists Amelia

Tami assists Scott

Antipasto Shoot

My role in this workshop, aside from being the queen of the color coded label & making insanely long grocery & prep lists, is to manage the kitchen during the workshops.

lists & labels 

I organize, prepare & display the food options the participants have for shooting--we did 5 shoots over 2 days.  I also help coordinate & do some prep work on the lunches & snacks we served.  And wash dishes.  Lots of dishes.

Options for the antipasto shoot, including faux marcona almonds

But I do end up with a little bit of time to listen in on, or (if I’m lucky and ahead of my prep schedule) observe some of the sessions.  Even as someone who has worked at several food photography workshops, I still glean information at each one.

Tami demonstrates how to build the perfect sandwich

Helene photographs the beef stew

This workshop especially, with the demos & instruction of photographer, food stylist & prop stylist left me a bit jealous that I was not an attendee!  Such a wealth of knowledge.

We also had a workshop dinner at The Shed.

Fabulous meal, made very dangerous by the neverending glass of wine (i.e. our server continuously topping of everyones’ glasses).

I should mention also that we had a very special guest at this workshop.  Miss Lola, the sweetest chihuahua ever, graced us with her presence.  And stole everyone's hearts (including mine).....  


Not all of my time in Atlanta was spent in the studio space.  

Hello, Atlanta! 

I flew in a day before the workshop and Tami & her fiance Mike (and their pug, Mingus, and kitty,  Grizelda) graciously opened their home to me.

Mingus, who also doubles as a shark 

And Tami introduced me to the most magical food shopping location I have ever experienced!  Seriously, I wanted to move in or move to Atlanta, just to be closer to it.  Sadly, no pictures though because they do not allow photography inside their building :(

Following the Atlanta workshop, I traveled to Birmingham with Helene to prepare for workshop number two!

This second workshop was taught by Helene & Clare Barboza at a glorious beach house in Gulf Shores, AL.

The giant house where we stayed for the duration of the workshop was aptly named “Dream Big.”

And it even came equipped with an elevator, which proved especially useful considering the kitchens (yep, there were TWO of them) were on the third floor.

Utilizing the elevator to take out the trash

I did not think I would be able to find an assistant for the workshop (sadly, I did not have access to amazing CIC student volunteers like I did last time). Miraculously, the always hilarious, two-time-workshop-veteran Libby Stephens was able to join us as my kitchen assistant!  I do not know what I would have done without her...  Not only is she excellent in the kitchen & so hardworking, but she’s also constantly joking & laughing, which is totally welcome during some stressful, crazy-busy times in the kitchen where you are preparing all the meals AND all the shoot food.

For some of the meals, I was too busy with actual meal preparations to take pictures, but I did manage to get a few...  

Butterflied Roast Chicken with red onion & thyme 

Red Lentil Chili, possibly my new favorite soup, created by Tami Hardeman

Roasted Pineapple with Vanilla Ice Cream, Pineapple Butterscotch & Toasted Coconut 

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumbles, ready for the oven. 

Trout Provincale with Herb Roasted Potatoes & Green Salad

We had a great crop of participants, with people coming Washington, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Iowa, Texas, Florida, Virginia, even Canada & Germany!  

Tiffani & Marilyn during the dessert shoot

Helene assists students during a photo assignment 

Helene and Clare concocted several new photo assignment challenges for this workshop, but by far my favorite was final shoot: "The Can Challenge" also known as "how to take ugly canned soup and make it pretty".  

Literally, we got cans of soup from the grocery store and a plethora of garnishing items.   

Nancy styles the veggies for her beef stew shot

And it was absolutely amazing to see the beautiful photos that everyone created, especially knowing that they all started with canned soup.  

To read other recaps of the Gulf Shores Workshop, visit Clare's blog, Jerry's blog, Paola's blog, and Karen's blog

...and now back to the Faux Marcona Almonds!  

Traditional Marcona almonds are a particular variety of almond from Spain.  They're a little shorter than traditional almonds (almost so short that they're round) and a little more delicate & sweet in flavor.  Typically, they are found in more specialty stores (often in the deli section). Unfortunately, Marcona almonds are also quite a bit more expensive than their traditional almond siblings....  

But, have no fear!  You can make your own "faux" Marcona at home! In fact, I made these almonds twice at the workshops, both times for the antipasto photo shoot, and no one could even tell the difference. 

I just took regular blanched almonds (naked, as my sister would say), coated them with a little olive oil & salt, and roasted them briefly in the oven.  Super simple (and rather sneaky). 

Whether you fake your own marcona almonds or are fortunate enough to find the real thing, they make a wonderful addition to a cheese plate.  Or just in a bowl for snacking alongside a good cocktail.  

Faux Marcona Almonds

1 cup blanched whole almonds
1 tsp Olive Oil
1/2 tsp Sea Salt (or Kosher, if you have it.... I was out) + additional for serving
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. 
  2. In a small bowl, toss the almonds with the olive oil and salt until they are evenly coated
  3. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a parchment (or foil) lined baking pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the nuts are lightly toasted. 
  4. Cool & serve.  Sprinkle with additional salt, if desired.