Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Success & Bloopers Alike

When my good friend, Marcia DePalma, owner of Laurel Run Cooking School in Vermilion, asked me to conduct a class at her school, I eagerly said yes. She knows I love to bake, so the class I created revolved around my love of dazzling desserts. I called it, appropriately enough, "Chocolate Showstopper Desserts." (Kinda makes your mouth water, doesn't it?)

Anyway, the class ended up being canceled due to low enrollment. (Now this kinda makes me shake my head. Aren't there millions, perhaps even zillions, of chocolate lovers out there?!) But before you start feeling sorry for me, this dynamic woman who had been one of the few to originally sign up called Marcia and asked if she would offer my class to her women's church group as a private lesson. Of course Marcia said yes. Of course I said yes too (again). And of course the class went on -- as scheduled!

On the Monday after a whirlwind Thanksgiving weekend, I geared up for this class by arriving at the school by noon (even though the class didn't start until 6:30pm). I got to work right away (as in, not a minute to spare). I prepped. Measured. Stirred. Whisked. Folded. Whipped. Poured. Baked. Baked. And baked some more.

You see, I wanted to have several desserts ready to serve while also doing a live demonstration on each dessert during the class. Now that's a lot of baking!

Three helpers showed up a few hours later. We all kept busy...until it was showtime.

Eighteen lovely, lively ladies showed up. In fact, one sweet thing said she had already attended one of my previous classes at Solari's (read all about it here) and really enjoyed it. Kiddingly, she added, "Now don't think I'm stalking you!" On the contrary, I took it as quite a compliment.

So I got to work on my first dessert, a Black Forest Kirsch-Soaked Cherry Torte (my oldest daughter's personal all-time favorite). It was a big hit with the ladies, if I say so myself.

Black Forest Cake

The second dessert I made (a Chocolate Truffle Decadence with Raspberry & Orange Coulis Duo) also wow'd the audience!

The Decadence before the sauces were served with it.
Then disaster struck. My third dessert (a 32-Layer Chocolate Crepe Cake with Hazelnut Cream Filling & Mirrored Glaze) just would not cooperate. Because of our time crunch, we didn't get a chance to chill the batter. As a result, the crepes kept sticking to the pan and falling apart. Marcia came to the rescue with her own traditional crepe recipe, which turned out fine after all. The saving grace, though, were the candied hazelnut garnishes. They turned out marvelous, and all the ladies ooh'd and ahh'd these beautiful creatures!

Creating the candied hazelnut garnishes
What the Crepe Cake should have looked like.

Then there was yet another fiasco. I was supposed to make my Chocolate Fantasy Sack with Grand Marnier Lava Cream & Medley of Fresh Fruits. But one thing went wrong after another. We didn't brush enough melted chocolate on the bags. We didn't chill them enough. The kitchen was really warm. And we couldn't peel the bags off easily. So we did what any crackerjack team would do: we improvised. Here's the result:

Chocolate Fantasy Sack patched together.

Although the ladies were all sugared out by this time, they seemed happy and impressed. I even got applause at the end of the class. My job was done...and I'll be forever grateful I didn't let them see me sweat (at least I hope I didn't)!

Thank you, ladies, for being so kind. For clapping and taking pictures when things went right. And for not booing me when things went wrong. You were a gracious bunch, and I hope you'll be able to recreate some of these delicacies on your own someday soon (without the bloopers, of course).

Yours sweetly,

Monday, November 19, 2012

May I Suggest...

I know Thanksgiving is only a few days away. So, of course, I'm not going to suggest you make anything other than what you were planning to make. Which is probably roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, some greens, and (without a doubt) pumpkin pie.

But may I suggest a really unusual but nothing-less-than-mouthwatering appetizer to start things off?

It's Nolan Konkoski's Bacon, Brie, & Peach Toasts from my book. To die for. Really.

It's simple to prepare (i.e., you can make it in a jiffy, right before your guests arrive, without even breaking a sweat). It's complex in nature (i.e., salty, sweet, crunchy, and creamy -- all in one bite). And it's impressive to serve (i.e., you'll wow everyone, including Aunt Martha!).

So, here you go, folks. Enjoy! And Happy Thanksgiving.

Nolan Konkoski, chef/owner of SOHO Kitchen & Bar

8 slices center-cut bacon
1/2 cup peach preserves
8 (1/4-inch-thick) slices French baguette, cut crosswise
5 ounces mild Brie cheese (such as D'Affinois), cut into 8 thin pieces, rind removed if desired 
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. 
  2. Saute the bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat until just beginning to crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain. (Discard the bacon grease.)
  3. Spread 1 tablespoon of the preserves over one of the baguette slices. Top with a piece of bacon, add a piece of Brie, and place on a baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the baguette slices.
  4. Bake for about 4 minutes, or until the Brie begins to melt and the bread is just toasted. Serve warm.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fabulous Indeed

I both looked forward to it and dreaded it at the same time. The Fabulous Food Show. An annual extravaganza of all things food...and a wonderful venue to showcase my book and the talented chefs within.

The events director of the I-X Center graciously set up three shows for me. But there was just one problem: I have stage fright. Pretty bad.

So I kept saying to myself, "You can do this. You can do this." And in a way, after all is said and done and I reflect back on it now, I suppose I did do it. Especially since I didn't faint...or throw up.

For anyone who's interested, here's a quick rundown of my weekend.

DAY 1: I had Dante Boccuzzi and Nolan Konkoski with me on the Giant Eagle Stage. The chefs were great. The demos were even greater. And the crowd was the greatest!

Dante doing a demo of his "Mustard-Crusted Lamb Cutlets with Garbanzo Beans & Frisee"

Nolan explaining how to make his "Crab-Topped Arctic Char with Wilted Watercress & Tabasco Butter"

Day 2: Ok, I survived the first day. This might not be so bad after all, I thought to myself. I started the morning judging a cooking contest sponsored by Sugardale Bacon. I loved every minute of it. Then again, what's not to love about bacon? Seriously.

That's me conferring with fellow judge, Steve Schimoler

Then later in the day, Jonathan Bennett and Shawn Cline joined me on the Sweet Stage where they made some extra delectable, mouthwatering desserts from my book.

Jonathan preparing his "Gingered Apple Tarte Tatin"

Shawn whipping up his "Strawberry Shortcake in a Jar"

Day 3: It's finally the last day. I'm really on a roll. Maybe I will survive. This day brings  Zack Bruell and Ben Bebenroth back to the Giant Eagle Stage with me to demonstrate their dishes in my book.

Zack discussing secret tips for his "Seared Sea Scallops with Thai Curry Coconut Sauce"
Ben whisking up his "Savory Killbuck Mushroom Buckwheat Crepes"

I made it. I think. Actually, I'm pretty sure I did. And if you were there with me, I thank you for not making fun of me.

Till next time,

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Tacos and More

All the appearances I have scheduled for my book signings are entirely open to the public -- with one exception. The Shoreby Club.

This private club graciously agreed to host a book signing for me this past Monday during one of their Neighbor Nights. Members only. Because you see, their chef, Paul Courtwright, is in my book. And man, is he good!

The reception room of the mansion
Book display

Paul showing off the cover of my book!
In the interest of full disclosure, my dear readers, I must make a confession at this point. During all my testings of the 120+ recipes in my book, my husband's hands-down favorite was Paul's meal! (And Joe is very, very, very, very, very, very picky. Did I say "very" enough? Maybe not.)

FYI, Paul's meal in my book is:
  • Chunky Guacamole with Feta
  • Smokin' Chicken Tacos with Roasted Vegetables & Cilantro Slaw
  • Mexican Rice
  • Mexican Hot Fudge Sundae

Paul was kind enough to make a few of these dishes for members to sample that evening.

Chunky Guacamole with Feta
Smokin' Chicken Tacos

I think everyone really enjoyed themselves. Great food. Great chef. Great night together. What else does anyone need?

Me and Paul

Monday, November 5, 2012


Acronyms. They can sometimes drive you crazy. But they also come in handy when they represent a mouthful and you use it frequently. Like BBF -- which stands for Buckeye Book Fair.

BBF is the largest author-signing book fair in Ohio. It's a by-invitation-only event that draws both authors and buyers from near and far. I was one of the lucky ones. I got an invitation.

This year's fair was held on November 3. But as a new author, I had no idea what to expect. I only knew it was going to be a long day: from 9am-4pm, not including drive time (which was 1 hour each way to and from Wooster, Ohio).

So I packed up my things, left early Saturday morning with my lovely assistant (aka my daughter, Andrea), and headed to BBF.

What a surprise! The auditorium was filled with talented authors and illustrators of all genres. Everyone had their own table and display. Beautiful, colorful books adorned their rightful places. There was a long line of people starting to form outside, just waiting for the doors to pop open. The excitement was building, and the atmosphere was pulse-riveting. I was finally starting to get into it.

I was assigned to table number 15.

My table is all set up, just waiting for the masses to come.

As buyers started spilling into the building, the fun began. People stopped by my table out of curiosity. People sought me out. People actually decided they wanted to plunk down their hard-earned money to buy my book -- either for themselves or for family and friends as gifts. (One woman even said she was mailing my book to an ex-pat friend in England. Imagine that!)

One curious reader

A few more onlookers (and buyers!)

By noon, I ran out of all the books BFF bought from my publisher. Good thing I had a reserve of extra books in my car (which BFF had encouraged us to do). I had enough for the rest of the day.


Bottom line: I had a really wonderful time! I made friends with the absolute nicest authors on either side of me (their books were Samuel's Mission and The Heart's Journey Home). I got to meet the genteel Jeni Britton Bauer, author of one my all-time favorite cookbooks, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home. I bought a wonderful children's book about a little bird in New York City for the future, still-unconceived baby of my oldest daughter (who lives in NYC), called When Blue Met Egg by the talented Lindsay Ward. And I got free lunch.

My new author buddies, Jen Stephens and John Henkels
Jeni Britton Bauer (of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams) with Andrea

The one and only disappointment of the day for me was not getting to meet the incomparable Michael Ruhlman, who was supposed to be there but unfortunately couldn't make it. You see, he so graciously wrote the foreword for my book, but because of today's modern technology, all our correspondence has been via e-mail. I wanted to finally meet "the man" in person. Oh well, I guess that'll have to wait for another day.

By the time I got home, I was exhausted. But my day wasn't quite done yet. I got changed into my "little black dress" (but please don't take the word "little" literally) and went right back out with my husband to attend the wedding reception of a friend's daughter at the Old Courthouse downtown. We even got in a slow dance. Life is good.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Reader Shares

I want...need...even beg all my readers to write to me (via blog, website, or e-mail) about their experiences with the recipes in my book. Alas, Bonnie did -- and I love her for it!

Here's what she had to say.
"My son loves to cook but is not particularly fond of seafood. So when we decided to try a recipe from In the Kitchen with Cleveland's Favorite Chefs, we chose something pretty and light--or so we thought. Savory Killbuck Mushroom Buckwheat Crepes is a very rich dish.
Bonnie's photo of her finished dish
"A pound of shiitake mushrooms is needed for the recipe. That got pricey, so we substituted shiitake mushrooms with portabellos. Instead of shallots, which we couldn't find except for the dried variety, we used a medium onion and a dash of garlic powder. We used Marsala instead of Madeira wine because that's what we had, and instead of buckwheat flour we used all-purpose. Other than that, we followed the recipe.
"When creating the filling, it took longer than 1 or 2 minutes to get the liquid out of the mushrooms. In the end, the filling was rich and wonderful.

"When making the crepes, we sprayed the pan with vegetable spray AND used butter. That prevented the crepes from sticking.

"The carrot puree is way more than needed. You could cut that part in half because although it is tasty, it mostly beautifies the dish.

"The recipe was fun and tasty, but the mushroom filling was VERY rich and way too much. Next time, I'd double the crepe recipe and make twice as many. That way I could put less filling into each crepe so that we'd crave more instead of being stuffed after one crepe. I think I would not use sage as a garnish, either. We used fresh sage and it was quite pungent."
So there you have it, folks! My first feedback (thanks, Bonnie!)...and I hope only the first of many more. Keep 'em coming, everyone!