Goodbye 2011, Hello 2012

17 Jan

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged.  Everyone in the food industry knows that from Thanksgiving to the New Year, it’s super busy with company parties, private parties, and non-holiday celebrations.  I’m no exception with being super busy.  From working with Sweet Sisters Cakes, doing social media work for Whole Foods Cooking, I’ve managed to hit a few restaurants, attend holiday parties, bake some cakes and hit the Chocolate Show in NYC. Whew!

Melanie's Holiday Cookies!

I’ve seen more Christmas and Hanukah cookies in 2011 then I care to admit.  Sweet Sisters gets tons of cookie orders so I’ve become quite the master in cutting and decorating these goodies.  There is something about doing the Christmas trees that put me in the holiday spirit. Outside of those, did I mention I made over 1000 (yes, you heard me) on my own for my dogs’ doggie daycare, friends and family this year. They turned out great but clearly I’m not missing doing them. I love my cookies aka “cookie crack” since once you eat one, you’ll keep on going.  What makes them great is that they are dipped and decorated with chocolate. Serve them with tea or coffee is heaven!

You’ve been to one holiday party you’ve been to them all. The one I will highlight is from my former boss, Joe.  He is replacing famed Pastry Chef Johnny Iuzzini at Jean George.  The food and fellowship was great. And the flow of cucumber martinis…well I’ll plead the 5th!  Maria, my foodie bestie came along for the fun. My goal in 2012 is the hit Jean George and of course eat tons of desserts!

Charlotte Patisserie NYC

Nothing like a potluck brunch with FCI classmates who are also pastry chefs to stay on your game. Our brunch was a farewell to Leah who returned to Israel.  She’ll me missed but at least we have a new vacation spot! Another highlight was going to Charlotte Patisserie in NYC (Greenpoint).  A fellow FCI grad opened his own shop.  The desserts were cute and atmosphere very welcoming. Congrats Mike!

Every year the Chocolate Show hits New York City. This was my first time attending and it was awesome! Maria along with her son Jack met up to go. Highlights of the day were: the chocolate fashions, Jacques Torres’ hot chocolate with a chili kick, and of course sampling chocolates from around the world.  The Show is enough for a separate blog so look for a new one soon!

Jack and Florian

The grand highlight of the day was Jack meeting Chef Florian Bellanger from The Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. To top off the day we hit Jim Lahey’s Co. for pizza. Now I know why it is a top rated place for pizza.  Then to stuff ourselves more, we went to Billy’ Bakery for cupcakes.  I ended up trying their new flavor, orange dreamsicle. The cake was moist and dense with dreamy frosting.  A perfect ending to a great day.

Pastry Out!


2011 Chocolate Show in New York City!

9 Nov

Bon-Bons made with my fellow FCI classmates!

I L-O-V-E chocolate so it should be no surprise that I will be attending the 2011 Chocolate Show in New York City.  The event is international with shows being held in Paris, Shanghai, Lyon and many other cities in Europe.  What excites me is being able to sample chocolates from 65 fine chocolate vendors, meet fellow foodies, and check out demonstrations from some of the best chocolatiers in the business.  I feel a stomach ache coming on already!

Of course no adventure would be fun without a side-kick to eat our way through the show. So along for the adventure is my fellow foodie-bestie and the boys Jack & Paul who are foodies in training!  The beauty about kids is that if they don’t like something they will say it! Let the feedback begin!  : )

Get ready for a follow-up blog!

Pastry Out!

Best Restaurants in NJ Pilgrimages – Mockingbird Cafe

12 Oct

Mockingbird Cafe Photo Credit - Jen Olsen, Basking Ridge Patch

Every year New Jersey Monthly list the Best Restaurants in NJ.  This year I decided to buy it and take one of my favorite foodies along for the journey of hitting as many as we can until the next one comes out.  If you’re a regular reader, you know we have hit two restaurants on the list and understand why they are there.

Last week, Maria and I hit Mockingbird Cafe in downtown Basking Ridge.  I must admit, this was my second visit (sorry Maria)!  A few neighbors decided to have a girls’ breakfast and of course there was no doubt in my mind were to go.  The place definitely lived up to the Critics’ pick as one of the best places for Brunch.  It was delicious and inexpensive!  We all had different things to eat and everyone loved their meal.  I ordered “Clean Up on Aisle 3″ Rumble which they describe as” A bit like a messy omelette, or eggs scrambled with a lot of goodness”.  It was eggs with everything and the kitchen sink – sausage, ham, bacon, cheddar, swiss,tomatoes, onions, roasted peppers and herbs!   The eggs were perfectly cooked which I can say with 100% confidence is not my specialty.  Hey, we can’t be great at everything!  The Rumble and green tea wasn’t over $12.  Now that’s a bargain.

Now onto lunch at Mockingbird Cafe.  I was very curious if lunch could stand up to the excellence of breakfast.  My vote is in and it’s a resounding yes!  Maria had the Griggstown turkey burger and I had the Bar Harbor which is lobster blt salad with basil mayo on brioche toast.  Both meals came with hand cut fries and a small container of coleslaw.  The lobster was good and not too much mayo and nicely seasoned.  The food was good and a meal wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t have dessert.  We shared the brownie al a mode and I must say it was the BEST brownie I’ve ever eaten.  We could not stop talking about this brownie while eating it.  It was so good that a few were taken as take out but we’re pleading the 5th!

Mockingbird Cafe Inside Credit Jen Olsen Basking Ridge Patch

I can’t wait to go back and check out the dinner menu.  The Cafe is small but charming and homey but not pretentious or overly fussy.  Whether you are wearing your Birkinstocks or carrying a Birkin, you will feel at home.  The restaurant seats about 30 people at a time so be prepared to wait if you hit it on the weekend. Oh, and they don’t have a website so you’ll just have to trust me on this one.  Urbanspoon does have their menu online so check it out (  I should have taken pictures of my meal but clearly I was focused on one thing…eating!

Pastry Out!

Burgers & Dessert

30 Aug

I love eating dessert and always looking for fellow foodies to join me on the food quest.  So on my recent adventure, my buddy Lissa (yes, that’s Lissa with two s’s because she’s that cool) joined me for another great dinner at The Pluckemin Inn. Located in Bedminster, NJ it is looks like a charming unassuming home on the outside but inside, there are a few culinary geniuses at work. When you’re walking towards the entrance, you will see they have a lovely garden that looks like it’s own little island near the building.

There is nothing I love more than eating something that keeps me thinking about it long after it’s gone and days after I’ve left the restaurant.  If you feel like I do, then check out “The Plucky” as us locals call it. Well Lissa and I ordered the exact same thing for dinner.  Great minds think alike if I must say so myself.  We started our meal with the corn and cucumber gazpacho with summer crostini. All I can say is OMG.  The texture and presentation were perfect.  For our entree we decided on burgers.  Yep, we ate burgers in a fine dining restaurant and they were tasty.  Everyone can’t make a great burger. Just envision your “special” relative, more likely a granddad, dad, uncle, brother, cousin, etc. who ambushes the grill for all family functions only to deliver a burger that looks and taste like a hockey puck. The sirloin burgers are served with homemade pickles and no hockey pucks either.

Onto my favorite part of the meal…dessert.  The milk chocolate mousse was divine.  Tons of element and textures.  The dessert moved between smooth, crunchy and cold with each bite.  On the plate was not only the mousse but inside a macadamia nut dacquoise alongside coffee opaline & milk gelato.  I must admit this is the second time I ordered this dessert.  It was superb the first time and superb the second time as well.  I had to take a picture and share with everyone. I also took a picture of the entire dessert menu but here is the link so you can check it out yourself!

Valrhona 'Caramelia' Milk Chocolate Mousse

So cheers to the mousse!  And yes, we finished everything on the plate!

Pastry Out!

I Love Movie Popcorn!

3 Aug

Not all movie popcorn is created equally.  I love going to the movies (every week!) and part of my ritual is having a bag of popcorn with a beverage.  However, some places just don’t get it consistently right.  It’s popcorn not making creme brulees here.  All I want is a nice warm bag of crunchy goodness without the butter. I have no scientific evidence but I think the “butter” is canola or vegetable oil flavored with butter so I pass on the stuff.  Call me crazy but who knows!

If I was ranking movie popcorn regarding taste and consistency, there is only one that comes to mind.  It’s AMC Movie!  I love, love, love it!  For me it has always been warm, not too salty and has the perfect crunch.  There is nothing more annoying than a stale, cold and over salted popcorn.  When I know I’m going to an AMC theatre, my lunch meal is popcorn.  My second place vote is for Clearview Cinemas.  Pretty good and a solid second.  I’ll eat it but if I had leftover AMC popcorn I would probably sneak it into the theatre.   And yes, I’ve read the no outside food policy too.

My least favorite so far is Regal Cinemas. For example, this weekend I went to see the Smufs with my movie BF.  Yes, a grown chick with another grown chick seeing a kiddie movie.  Her mom said I must be a good friend.  I told my BF, I think you invited me so that no one in the theatre would think you were a pedofile.  For the record, she is not!  I was so disappointed in the popcorn.  It was so salty that I finished my 33 oz. water and only 10% of my medium bag of popcorn.  Movie food is so expensive anyway and who is going to get up once the movie starts, wait in a long line to ask for new popcorn which may be salty as well.  Not me I say.  Movie vs. Popcorn Return – the movie wins!

So next time you go to the movie theatre, just remember not all popcorn is created equally!  Oh and the Smurf movie was cute if you’re wondering.  : )

Pastry Out!

The Last Course REALLY – Biscuit Success! Pt. 3

29 Jul

Melanie's Adventure in making desserts from The Last Course by Claudia Fleming

Over the past few days I’ve been obsessed with the cookbook, The Last Course by Pastry Chef Claudia Fleming who by the way is the currently at The North Fork Table & Inn in Southhold, NY.  I have convinced my dinner bestie Maria that we must go for a visit.  There is nothing like fab food and great fellowship with a few cocktails along the way!

So my obsession is how can I get my biscuits to be tall and perky vs. flat and round.  I figured it out late last night.  After thinking about how to get the perfect biscuit, it dawned on me that I had a recipe from another Chef and he baked his biscuits in stainless steel rings.  The end result were tall and evenly sized biscuits. Could it work here and is the solution that simple?   Well with rings in hand, I got two sizes and went to baking.

And voilà…Success!

The biscuits were tall and perfect.  So I quickly pulled out my tarragon cream and macerated strawberries and went to work.  With surgical precision, I plated the dessert and took these pics.

If you are wondering if I ate all three biscuits, I hate to disappoint you but no.  My rule about being in the food industry is to take a bit, nibble or taste but don’t eat it all up!  I bake and nibble along the way  but rules are meant to be broken too!

Pastry Out!

The Last Course Part 2 – Battle of the Biscuits

29 Jul Melanie's Tarragon Photo

So today was the big day.  I was making Claudia Fleming’s Tarragon-Macerated Strawberry Shortcakes with Tarragon Cream. I read and reread the recipe so I was ready to take the plunge and get to it.  Tarragon is quite the intriguing herb.  I ate it raw just to better understand what I was working with and I must say it really does have a licorice flavor.  It lingered on my taste buds well after you I consumed it.

I start off with the “easy” stuff first -macerating the strawberries with tarragon.  Just hull and slice the berries in half , add some sugar and tarragon and wait.  Gotta crawl before you can walk and run I say!

Now it was on to the tarragon cream.  Now I’ve made cream before.  I make whipped cream, Chantilly cream and stabilized whip cream all the time so why not make some with tarragon.  Well, it called for blanching the tarragon in boiling water, quickly submerging it into an ice bath, then blending it with corn syrup in a blender.  Whew, this is some cream!  I haven’t even whipped it up yet.  The recipe worked as stated but I did a little modification (shhh- I’m the queen of tweaking).  I stabilized mine with bloomed gelatin by holding back a few teaspoons of  heavy cream, heating it up, and dissolving the gelatin while it was at a soft peak.  Why? I hate when whipped cream started to “weep” and get running or watery.  The end result looked like light green clouds sitting in my mixing bowl.  I could eat it alone with some berries any day.  The recipe rocks!

Now on to the biscuits.  The dough had few ingredients and was very simple to put together.  Make dough, dough rest for an hour, cut dough into shapes and bake off.  Sounds simple?!  Well that’s only if your biscuits looked like the picture at the end.  I see a food stylist at work here because it just can’t be me!  : ) And my biscuits? Well let just say mine didn’t seem to rise to the occasion. More like a ranch house vs. a high rise condo.  The taste and texture was perfect.

Perfect macerated strawberries – check; perfect tarragon cream – check; perfect biscuits – I’ll be trying again tomorrow but check out my pics in the meantime.

Pastry out!