Saturday, June 26, 2010

Pink meringue

Meringue. I love meringue. I mean come on... we've established this, right? One of the first things I baked with a vengeance back in early high school was lemon meringue pie. And I made TONS. What? You didn't like lemon meringue pie? Too bad - I was gonna make you one if you came to our house back then. I loved and still love meringue.

So it perhaps isn't too surprising to hear that as I flipped through my [February?] issue of Martha Stewart Living, and thumbed past this; my thumb basically screeched to a stop in its tracks. The first chance I had, I made it. And yes - it was February and I bought raspberries. Lots of raspberries. I think I spent $10 or more on 2 small boxes of raspberries. But anything for a fantastic new meringue dessert!

Tinting the egg whites - I like a bit more red than the recipe calls for

It's rather time consuming yet not overly difficult. But the time consuming factor was not great enough for me to only make it once. In fact, I've made these a couple times since February. Most recently of course, at the bridal shower. Each time to RAVE, RAVE reviews. I mean people almost die when they take their first bite. The combination of flavors is UHMAZING.

This is how it goes...
  • A "cupcake" made completely of sweet, soft meringue (yes it's solid meringue)
  • Spoonfuls of raspberry curd in and around the cupcake
  • A dollop of sweetened and whipped creme fraiche
  • Sprinkle with a few fresh raspberries

Each element can be made on its own: the meringue, the raspberry curd and one time I even made my own creme fraiche! It's so easy as long as you know you need it at least a couple days in advance!

Make your own, or... you can just buy some?

Ok and secretly - if you don't have time to make the meringue cupcakes... AT LEAST make the raspberry curd. After tasting it, I thought I'd died and floated up into the cumuli. I could drink that stuff. Or spread it on... anything.

At the *very* least - make the raspberry curd

Additionally, you learn something new every day: did you know creme fraiche whipped up to stiff peaks like whipping cream? Ok well maybe YOU did, but I didn't. Impressive stuff.

My "February batch"

The only aspect of the recipe I might change (though I have not tested this yet) is spraying the cupcake wrappers with non-stick spray. If the non-stick spray pools in any way in the bottom of the wrapper it puts a hole in the bottom of the cupcake and makes it extremely fragile. The next time I make these I'm not going to spray them and see if I can still get them out of the wrappers without breaking. It's also important to note that a regular ole serrated knife will not cut these babies in half without causing it to crumble in your hands. No joke - you MUST use a pumpkin carving knife. Like this one:

You MUST use a pumpkin carving knife to cut the cupcakes

Perhaps a fingernail file would work if you don't just happen to have one of these in your drawer in the middle of February or May, like I did.

Since mixing the meringue takes at least half an hour (LISTEN to the recipe where it says to add the sugar 1-2 T at a time and then beat for a minute - if you don't, the sugar will not dissolve and it will never be meringue) and baking these takes about 4 hours and you can't really fit more than 12 in the oven at once (unless your oven is AWESOME and HUGE) and many will break and crack as you peel the wrapper off and cut them in half... I would strongly recommend you NOT make 45 like I did for the shower. You can do the math - but it took me ALL day...

Mix each 1-2 T of sugar into the meringue and wait 1 minute before adding the next
Learn from my mistake and DO NOT rush this :)

Plating is also somewhat tedious since they should be assembled just before serving and plating each takes a bit of hand flourish. BUT: it is all worth it when your guest's jaw falls onto the placemat.
If this isn't girlie and perfect for a shower, what is?

It's kind of a hot mess when you dig in (well not literally "hot")
but it's so incredibly worth it

Meringue Freak like I? Got a day (or at least quite a few hours)? MAKE THESE. Oh God, make these. You will thank me later. But until then, you're welcome.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This is how we do it

"This is how my family does it". I say this a lot. I'm very proud of my family and I'm very much like my family (go figure). People often ask me where I get my interest in baking and cooking and planning events and photography and why I'm such a perfectionist. Well simply - I get it from my family. Last month, my cousin Robin threw a bridal shower for my other cousin's fiancée. Michelle will be joining our family in July when she marries Robin's sister's son, Scott (we are a complicated bunch). Well this was a shower like none other. It was FABULOUS. It felt like we were afternoon tea-ing in a fancy restaurant.

This is how my family throws a tea party

Michelle and my cousin, Scott
Flanked by her parents, sister and brother-in-law

When Robin started planning this shower, she KNEW she wanted to do it "Tea Party" style. Add in there that Auntie Betty and I have been talking for MONTHS about throwing a tea party for our family and it really couldn't have been a better situation.

I get my love of afternoon tea from my family too. Namely these two cousins:
Bride's future mother-in-law, Lorie and her sister, the hostess, Robin

I played but a small part in the hostess duties. I was in charge of dessert. However I don't take this responsibility lightly. I made Martha's meringue cupcakes with raspberry curd. They are SO fabulous I can't even begin to explain... But I'll save talking about those for a future post. Seriously you CAN'T wait for it... so I'll try to hurry.

A sneak peek at the dessert I served - coming soon in a future blog post!

The shower was at my auntie's home in Half Moon Bay. Remember this? I told you I spend a lot of time out there! We got very lucky with the weather though. HMB is typically *very* overcast and cool. But shower weekend the weather was PERFECT (which meant it was like 90 in the rest of the Bay Area).

If there's ever a great reason to have nice china and silver, it's if you entertain a lot... or throw a lot of tea parties! And you'll never believe how many teapots we owned collectively. I think there were 13 fancy teapots there that day!

I think 3 people in my family collectively own this many teapots
We might obsess a little

Our menu for the tea:
  • Mixed baby greens, blueberries, pears and glazed walnut salad with balsamic vinaigrette
  • Chocolate covered strawberries
  • Mixed fresh fruit
  • Assortment of four tea breads: date nut, banana nut, carrot and lemon served with lemon curd, jam and butter
  • Various tea sandwiches: egg salad, cucumber and butter, smoked salmon and cream cheese, and roast beef with horseradish
  • Chicken salad filled puffs
  • And a selection of Bigelow Teas: English Breakfast, Constant Comment and Herbal
These cucumber sandwiches were the most amazing and flavorful I've ever had
Gimme MORE!!

Let's not forget that there was a bellini bar on the patio. With no, not purchased flavorings - but homemade: strawberry, peach and blueberry! And finally - favors of white and dark chocolate covered pretzels... YES also handmade!! OK, not the pretzels, but Robin dipped and sprinkled them!

The bellini bar on the deck: strawberry, peach or blueberry purees
mixed with prosecco or ginger ale

Actually, I don't think I need to tell you that EVERYTHING was homemade. Auntie Betty's task was to make a couple breads and she made FOUR. Not to mention she was still sewing cushions for her patio furniture (so that they would match the bride's colors) the DAY before the shower. She made the lemon curd and strawberry jam and the clotted cream - but um, it didn't really "work" so we skipped it and hoped no one noticed.

Chocolate covered pretzel favors ~~ Homemade tea breads in various flavors

Robin did most of the planning and cooking and preparations for the shower - and she did it FLAWLESSLY. The table settings, almost all the food, the planning, the setup, the cleanup, the sewing her own tablecloths so that they too would match Michelle's wedding colors. And let's not forget to mention: the shower ended up being a much larger event than we originally thought it'd be. We had around 35 guests which meant 5 tables in Auntie's dining room and living room. Robin adjusted as the numbers grew and shrank a few times over. And the craziest part? She did all this with not one hair out of place. I would have been sweating and frantic and frazzled and yelling at everyone (a wonderful picture to paint, yes?)

Auntie Betty's living room and dining room transformed into a gorgeous tea room

Gals who won the games got their prizes in these fancy little gift "cups".
Which, by the way PERFECTLY matched the invitations. Robin's touch again!

We mingled outside sipping bellinis, then dined on afternoon tea and stuffed ourselves silly full of chicken salad puffs and lemon pound cake. We played a few obligatory games and then watched Michelle open her plenitude of gifts while I quietly escaped to the garage to assemble my desserts (assembly takes a lot of counter space and diligence). Good thing I brought my own 6 foot table. Ha!!

The day was perfect. The shower was exquisite. Seriously.

Michelle with her hostesses: Auntie Betty, Bossy Lisa and Robin

I joked with my family that I think the few of us together could rule the world. Or at least event-plan the heck out of it!!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Happy Birthday

Am I allowed to talk about my birthday on my blog? Isn't that almost like fishing for birthday wishes? Well like I've said many times before... this is my blog so I get to write about whatever I wish! And today - I'm going to talk about my birthday! OK not really specifically my birthday, but one of the things I did for my birthday! Brunch at Navio at the Ritz Carlton, Half Moon Bay.

Navio gave me a little gift of chocolates!

My appetizer plate - ♥ all the seafood!

Not 1, not 2, but 3 types of caviar!!
Trout roe, Paddlefish caviar and Whitefish caviar...

My Auntie Betty and Uncle Bruce started me down the road to Foodie-ville when I was but a wee baby of 20 years old. They took me to a "fancy shmancy" dinner at Charles Nob Hill which at the time prided itself on claiming Ron Siegel - the first American chef to win on the Japanese Iron Chef. Needless to say, I was hooked. We have since made our way down the very extensive San Francisco Michelin Star list as it has grown and changed over the years.

My "entree" plate. I was already stuffed by this point!
Duck breast, fruit, prime rib and even dim sum

Various ways to eat your caviar - here's my way:
blinis topped with crème fraiche, caviar and chives

Navio at the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay isn't on the list, but that didn't stop me. I'd been hearing about the brunches at Navio for years now. And we all know that dining at just about any Ritz is always a sublime experience.

Walking lunch off ~~~ Gorgeous sushi!

My auntie and uncle live in Half Moon Bay, so I'm out there fairly frequently and *LOVE* visiting the Ritz. Not to mention the hotel boasts my very favorite New England shingle-style architecture. It sits up on a small bluff over the ocean. And let's not forget - it's frequently cool and overcast, which to me - adds to the charm.

SO many little desserts!

My dessert plate: pana cotta, tropical tapioca, mango pavlova,
tiramisu, chocolates and macs!

I was already stuffed and Auntie brought me this freshly
made crepe with apricots and cream

I decided I'd treat myself to Navio's famous brunch for my birthday this year. And lucky me, Auntie and Uncle are always willing to partake! We had high expectations of course, but the Ritz somehow managed to surpass even our expectations! I guess I wasn't prepared for even a buffet to be so amazing and top notch.

Beautiful breads and pastries!!

Carving it up! I ♥ prime rib.

From the sushi, freshly shucked oysters and three kinds of caviar... the table filled with imported cheeses and shelves of breads and pastries...
...and the dim sum, ceviche, crab salad and ahi tuna salad... roasted lamb, prime rib and roast duck breast...
...and that's just on TOP of the regular breakfast foods...
...not to forget the desserts... OH THE DESSERTS...

Macarons! The cookie was great. The flavor could have been better...
(but I'm so critical of macarons)

This chocolate was filled with peanut butter and jelly!

It was a fabulous birthday brunch, only made better by fabulous birthday brunch companions.

And then after stuffing oneself silly, you can stroll the STUNNING grounds. Nap by a firepit. Smell the sea air and gaze over the golf course grounds. Or even walk the coastal trail which runs along the ocean.

It was a foggy day - as it usually is in Half Moon Bay

These two are like second parents to me

I love it here

This brunch was yesterday. My birthday was today. And it was all fabulous. I love my friends and my family - everyone made me feel so loved. And this being a *tough* year - it was all I could have asked for and more.