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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Winter ONEderland

There are so many things I've been wanting to blog about, and too little time to do so. My head feels like Fred, my popcorn machine. Thoughts and ideas pop up, transform themselves and then get all mixed in a large bowl of confusion and to-do lists (then... my children eat them). 

So, before my concentration flies elsewhere--which is about to do-- an announcement:
This upcoming weekend (Saturday and Sunday), the Kids Food Festival is taking place from 10am to 5pm at Citi Pond™ at Bryant Park. This event's goal is the fight against childhood obesity through fun and flavorful activities (my cup of tea). The festival includes kid's cooking classes, food samplings and product demonstrations, live music, a balanced plate scavenger hunt, giveaways, free-admission ice skating, and more!
I will be there on Sunday at 4:30 pm demonstrating how to prepare a fruit, veggie and chia rainbow trifle, and would love if you and your children could join me!
For more information, go to www.kidsfoodfestival.com

The other thing I want to share are the pictures of the best gig I've ever got! There was baking, crafting and creating. Plus, my client gave me plenty of time to plan and prepare; and most importantly, she trusted me and said yes to everything I proposed. It was just a dream! The theme was a Winter ONEderland to celebrate her daughter's first birthday. The palette was white and pale pink.
I wanted to make a buffet that was ethereal, very feminine, with a vintage feel and completely winter-y.
I started by touring and taking photos all over Manhattan. The holiday window displays were helpful, but as it always happens to me, Anthropologie ended up being the most inspiring place and a good source of materials. My Pinterest addiction started out of this job too, I joined craftgawker and spent hours at Paper Source and Michael's. I raided my dear friend (mentor, voice of reason and genius behind Confetti Cakes) Elisa Strauss' home for stands, vessels and advice; and invaded all the possible surfaces of my apartment with baking ingredients, paper, disco dust, and random materials (thank you my dear children for not eating them and thank you to my dear husband for not complaining...not that any of them read this blog anyway!).
I went for a combination of lace, ribbon, doilies, snow flakes, white feathers, the birthday girl's initial and a light touch of glitter (no girl should ever celebrate a birthday without sparkles!). I wanted it not to look too structured nor flashy, as I was going after softness, but I still wanted it to be cohesive (but not too matchy-matchy). 
I made lots of round paper fans and circles with paper of different textures and patterns within the color palette, I thought of them as snow (I'm sure I was the only one who did). I used all the craft supplies I had seen Martha Stewart using throughout the years and after 2 rolls of double sided tape, lots of floral ribbon, hundreds of glue dots, many hours in the kitchen, some online shopping and a car drive to Connecticut, it all came to be.
My client, a trained chef and a fabulous cook who really knows how to entertain (no pressure for me....), wanted the desserts to be delicious and not particularly healthy. I know she cooks wholesome meals at home always with fresh ingredients, but this was a very special occasion. I did use some white flour for the cake, and yes, refined sugar (although it was organic!). However, I did follow my own recipes that are less sweet than the typical baked good, I managed to bake the cookies with whole oat flour and didn't use any shortening or margarine. Please don't take this as an apology, as I've said in many occasions that I do believe in enjoying and celebrating all kinds of foods under special circumstances where the treats are seen as part of a whole, a meaningful gathering where we can feel positively about bonding with people, having fun, enjoying the aesthetics, the sounds, and the tasty food. It's all part of the balance of things and the pleasure of being at a party.
And since I'm mentioning this, please don't miss Mark Bittman's article in today's NYT's dining section. I'm printing it and keeping it taped to my desk! Read it here.  
Thanks to my friend, Three Tablespoons' very first customer, and everyone's favorite child photographer Shirley Serure for the following pics.



MASCARPONE-RASPBERRY MINI PAVLOVAS
This post's recipe, was inspired by one of the desserts I prepared for the sweet table for the party. It doesn't contain any refined sugar, although be warned that mascarpone cheese, which is a deliciously creamy Italian cream cheese, is more cream than cheese, but a luscious and easy ingredient to work with. I combine it in equal amounts with plain Greek yogurt (don't use low fat) and sweeten it with a touch of honey and some vanilla bean. I served it in push-up individual molds, that are fun and practical, but you can serve it in small jars or even disposable clear plastic cups. While preparing for the party, I was sure these "pavlovas" were going to fly due to the innovative containers. However, it seemed people went for the traditional goodies...Which only served to show me more about the Irony of Baking!
  

Ingredients:
      For maple meringues:
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) pure maple syrup
  • 4 egg whites (6 ounces)*
  •  1 teaspoon white vinegar
  •  pinch salt
      
      For mascarpone cream:
  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) mascarpone cheese
  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) plain full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons raw honey
  • Seeds of 1 vanilla bean

   For raspberry filling:
  • 5 ounces frozen raspberries, thawed
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest (preferably Meyer)
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup (or honey)       
*I use Organic Valley 100% Egg Whites 

Method
For maple meringues:



Preheat oven to 300 F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Place a saucepan filled with 2 inches of water over medium heat and bring water to a boil. 

In the meanwhile, wipe off the bowl of an electric mixer and the whisk attachment with a wipe moistened with vinegar.



Place all the ingredients in the clean bowl, and set the bowl on the saucepan with the water. 

Whisking by hand (using the mixer's attachment) constantly, heat up the ingredients until mix feels hot to the touch (with very clean hands!!), but not burning.

I Immediately, remove from heat and place the bowl and attachment in the mixer and mix on high speed until the meringue is formed (it might take between 5 to 10 minutes). NOTE:Don't forget to turn flame off. Yes...I've done it!!! 

Pipe (no need to get fancy, a zip top bag with a cut end works) or spoon out portions of the meringue (small enough to fit into the container you'll serve it in) onto the prepared baking sheets.  

Lower down the oven temperature to 250 F and bake meringues for 1 to 1:30 hours (time will depend on size). 

Turn oven off, but let meringues cool completely inside the oven (this will help with the drying process), you could leave them in the turned off oven overnight.

For mascarpone cream:

Whisk by hand all the ingredients in a bowl until soft peaks form. Keep cold.

For raspberry filling:
In a medium bowl, mash all the filling ingredients with a fork and add more sweetener if desired.

Assembly:
Layer each component in the serving vessel alternating each one. Although the components may be prepared ahead (2 days for mascarpone cream and raspberry filling, and 2 weeks for meringues) dessert must be assembled right before serving    

CRAFTY NOTE 

I'm very proud of myself for coming up with this idea for a dessert stand. It was easy, inexpensive and original.
I used a glass flower vase to which I glued on the outside doily confetti using glue dots. Then I placed more confetti and a bit of glitter into the bottom of the vase and I placed the wood monogram (that I bought at Michael's) standing inside the vase (I used lots of glue dots to secure it). Then I added even more glue dots on the top edges of the vase that I topped with a serving platter, and voila! A personalized stand.
PS: obviously I took this photo!