Archive for September, 2008

A Perfect Fig

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Just felt like sharing. I got a whole bag of them from the Brentwood Farmers Market on Sunday.

The “Pumpkin” Candy Bar Problem

Monday, September 8th, 2008

I often have scraps of caramel, ganache, cookies, and such leftover at the end of my candy bar making, and I sometimes mismatch elements from different bars out of curiosity. For instance, my orange caramel with my Single Malt Scotch ganache is yummy, but I probably couldn’t sell that bar anytime soon b/c it would just be too confusing for everyone… I already have enough explaining to do for my customers at, say, farmers markets.

But a couple weeks ago, I tried some orange caramel on top of a piece of shortbread… and I remembered why the Twix bar was always my favorite mass-market candy bar — the textural combination of chewy caramel and crunchy cookie is spectacular. I didn’t want to create a knockoff of a Twix bar, but shortly after, I was also thinking about holiday offerings and how much I like pumpkin… and the idea of a Pumpkin Bar came to me – Spiced Pumpkin Caramel on top of Shortbread. It’d be like a Pumpkin Twix, BUT it’d also like a pumpkin pie — creamy pumpkin-y goodness on top of a “crust”… and then enrobed in chocolate

The problem is that pumpkin only purees so much and it has kind of a weak flavor. So, my pumpkin caramel experiments have been turning out ok, but with a pate de fruit-like bent — coarse-textured.

So, I turned to what a little voice inside my head has been whispering to me since the beginning of this endeavor: butternut squash. It makes a caramel that has a brighter flavor and a finer texture. I want to pursue it more.

But.. what could I call the candy bar? The Butternut Squash Bar? Even this punk chocolatier couldn’t do it — esoteric, and too long. My naming strategy has been to call bars according what they are — Malt, Orange, Caramel Nut, Scotch. Part of it is my lack of faith that I could consistently think of absolutely brilliant names like Snickers, but the major part of it has to do with the honesty of the company and its ingredients — I call those bars by those names because that’s what they’re made from and that’s what they taste like — not chemicals or anything artificial.

So… what to do with Butternut Squash? If it doesn’t contain pumpkin, I can’t call it The Pumpkin Bar… Or the “Pumpkin” Bar… Or the Pumpkin Pie Bar…. or even The Squash Bar (ha, just trying saying “I’ll take two Squash Bars” or “I can’t decide between the Squash Bar and the Caramel Nut Bar”). The Holiday Bar or Holiday Pie would be too vague — and quickly defeat itself — customers’ first question: “What is it?” Me: “Butternut squash caramel and shortbread.” Them: “That’s disgusting.” Me: “D’oh!” Awkward pause. Me: “But it’s great!”

Pumpkins and butternut squashes are both squashes. A cruel irony is that I remember butternut squash being called pumpkin when I lived in the UK. But I do not live in the UK now.

The only solution that I can think of is to call it the Pumpkin Bar (or Pumpkin Pie Bar?) and use a small percentage of pumpkin, just for the name’s sake, in addition to the butternut squash. It’s not all that evil, but I don’t know… Anyone have a better idea?

I should also mention, though, that this bar isn’t definite… I have to make sure that I have the production time and resources to make it (cookie-based bars take the most time to make)… and perfect the recipe… but it sure is tempting…

BonBonBar in Bon Appétit

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

My Malt Candy Bar is part of Bon Appétit’s “Haute Halloween” feature on page 44 in the October issue, and it can also be found online here. It’s one of the updated Halloween favorites “that’ll satisfy the most sophisticated sweet tooth.”

Mora Iced Creamery – Bainbridge, WA

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

The Blueberry Ice Cream was phenomenal, so full of flavor, at Mora. I lasered in on blackberry dishes while in WA, but the blackberry ice cream I sampled was a little subdued. The blueberry was intense while still being creamy. I finished the whole thing, which is rare.

The 30-minute ferry to Bainbridge island was only about $6.75 roundtrip — a small price to pay for access to ice cream excellence.

Salumi Cured Meats – Seattle

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

I’d been dying to get out of town for quite some time, so in classic Nina-style, Chad and I took an extremely last minute flight to Seattle earlier this week. I’ve never done less planning for a trip to a place that I’d never been before, which was fine because I wanted to be in a new environment and was certain that we could find entertainment one way or another. I just brainstormed potential places to visit while on the plane there and then looked around a little online and in Seattle magazine once at our hotel.

Salumi popped up second on my list, and I was instantly relieved that I thought of it. What if I’d missed my chance to try their meats??? Salumi is owned by Armandino Batali (also Chief Salumist), who has a chef son named Mario.

Salumi is in the Pioneer Sqaure district, and upon approaching its narrow storefront, you may confuse it for an LA cupcake shop — the line out the door is that long. But of course, this is a line for meat, glorious meat. Once you get inside the shop, you get to look at hanging cured meats until it’s your turn to order. Chad and I both got the Porchetta, their “tribute to the Pig.”

This photo doesn’t do justice to what is perhaps the best (and biggest) sandwich that I’ve ever had. Perfect pork shoulder perfectly braised, and garnished with onions and peppers. The bread was spread with a kind of garlic-studded oil. In fact, the whole sandwich was bathed in a kind of oily sheen, and while I’d normally try to get rid of that sort of thing, it was so full of flavor that I ate all of it that I could. I’d also normally want to know everything that was in the sandwich — there were SO many flavors — but I just wanted to eat and enjoy.

Despite the long line, there was no problem getting seats at the communal table (where there were open bottles of wine for $4.50 a glass!). Chad not only finished his sandwich, but also finished the last quarter of mine. Oddly, for all of the lovely pork, bread, and oil that I consumed, I didn’t really feel uncomfortably full afterwards… I felt just right….

Except that I regretted that I hadn’t actually tried cured meats or salami. Since their lunch is so busy, they recommend calling in sliced meat orders in advance, and it’s not like I could have bought a lot anyway..

Luckily, on our last day in Seattle, we happened into DeLaurenti Specialty Food & Wine in Pike Place Market. On top of a cured meats case, I noticed a basket full of 4 kinds of Salumi salami. I went on to make one of the best purchases I’ve made in my life. I asked the counterperson if he could just cut a few slices of each kind as a sort of sampler. I realized that it was a slightly fussy (and um, cheap) order, but the counterperson — I believe that his name was John — was SO nice and more than happy to fulfill the request. He carefully wrapped up about 4 slices of each one separately, and even labeled each one. He also gave me a (fantastic) taste of the Rosemary salami that is only available to buy in whole logs.

We walked out the wooden tables overlooking the water, and I opened my $3.29, .15# love letter of Salumi salami….


Clockwise from top left, Mole, Finocchiona, Hot Sopressata, and Dario. Texture-wise, they seemed a little looser to me than other salami — like all of the bits of meat were comfortably kicking back together, not painfully shoved next to each other. The mole was “uniquely spiced with chocolate, cinnamon, ancho and chipotle peppers;” the finocchiona with cracked fennel, black pepper, and a touch of curry; the sopressata spicy and garlicky; the dario with nutmeg and mace. They were all delicious, though my absolute favorites were the mole and hot sopressata… but all that means is that I like their flavors the most, not that the others were in any way lacking…

Want. More. Now.