Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Oh, Hey, 2014!

Wow! Here we are, ready to ring in a new year (and blog after about a month)! 

As 2013 comes to an end, I have been finding myself in a very reflective state of mind. I haven't really thought about new goals and resolutions for 2014; rather, I have been in awe of what an incredible year this past one has been. This last year has been a definite journey filled with a great deal of laughter and celebrations as well as heavy hearts and tears. It's easy to go through such life journeys and miss taking a look around to soak in what's really happening along the way. However, once the trip comes to a halt, the meaning and purpose behind every turn seems to bring more clarity. 

I may not have truly realized along the way, but this year was one in which I saw the greatest change in myself, learned the most about my capabilities (as well as inabilities), grew closer and fell more in love than ever to my sweetheart, and opened my heart, faith, and trust to God the most. 

This January, it will be one year since I took a leap of faith and resigned my teaching position of six years. Since then, I have been at the entrance of many doors that God has opened for me and been blessed with all the opportunities and learning experiences-- one of them being my journey in Pastry School. 

I am not sure what 2014 will bring. I have some plans and hopes for the year, but this year I have learned that sometimes our plans are not his plans. Whatever comes my way, it will be a blessing-- provided as a an opportunity to be humbled and thankful. 

Cheers to 2014! May you be safe, merry, and in good company. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

November Weddings

I can't believe it's been almost a month since my last post.
I can't believe it's already December, tomorrow!
I can't believe how BLESSED and busy I have been (explains the month hiatus and my inability to track dates)!

I can't believe how much I love working on rustic weddings! This month I had the opportunity to provide desserts and/or cake for two weddings-- one last weekend and one yesterday! Both were unique in their own gorgeous way.

I'm about ready to call it a night, but I am too impatient and can hardly wait to share these on the blog. :)

November 23, 2013
Details: Peach, and navy accented 4-tier buttercream cake with a sugar lace border.
Flavors: Alternating tiers of salted caramel and vanilla latte cake.

This wedding was at a local vineyard that my husband and I took photos the day after we got married. Providing a cake for this lovely couple's sweet wedding was extra nostalgic and special! Congrats Chuong and Kim. :)

November 29, 2013
Cakes: 2-tier ombre ruffle cake with handmade and painted sugar peony (carrot cake and snickerdoodle cake); firefighter themed groom's cake (salted caramel); princess carriage cake (vanilla "funfetti"... this was the sweetest surprise cake from the bride's parents!)

Petite Desserts: Salted caramel and red velvet cupcakes; berry and caramel apple mini pies

Okay. This wedding venue was incredible! As soon as I walked into the barn that it was held in to set up, I think my heart skipped a beat! I have a special spot in my heart for rustic and vintage style anything-- so being in this beautiful old barn that was all glammed up for a magical day was so amazing. I loved how the sunlight filtered in through all of the beams of wood, how high up the ceiling went, and how romantic the setting was. This bride put a lot of love filled work into this day and I was so happy to be a part of it with desser! Congratulations Nicole and Brian!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

How to Get More Dates in Your Life

Before I met my husband, I would have loved knowing the truth behind getting more dates. I just never had any luck.

Maybe it was me-- I blame myself. I kept looking for the wrong kind of dates.

Some girls sought after dates just for their looks. Others wanted dates that made them laugh and yet were still mature. What did I want? 

I just wanted my dates to be pitted and easy to eat! They are loaded with fantastic nutrients and taste delicious. I especially love when they are in natural and wholesome energy snack bars, such as Larabars. In fact, the Larabar is the inspiration behind these homemade Lemon and Coconut Date Bars. When they're cut into little bit-size pieces, they are so easy and great for healthy snacking! The perfect way to get more dates in your life!
 Wait...what kind of dates were you talking about? 

Lemon and Coconut Date Bars
makes about four 4" x 1" bars or 16 1" square bites

3 cups whole pitted and dried dates
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup dry old-fashioned oats
2 tsp natural lemon extract (or lemon zest)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt

1. Put everything into a food processor and process the mixture until a thick paste-like mass has formed. The dates won't become completely smooth.
2. Transfer the mixture onto a flat surface lined with plastic wrap. Use your hands to flatten and compact the mixture until it's a square about  4" x 4" x 1". Make sure that everything is as tightly compacted as possible and then wrap the square well. You can use a baking sheet or pan to press the square down so that both sides are flat and smooth. Also, by pushing the square into the corner of a baking pan/sheet, you can attain nicer and more even corners. Let this rest for at least 2-3 hours before cutting the square into bars or smaller bite size pieces.
3. To store, keep them in a sealed container or wrap them up well.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Little General's Birthday Cake

Last weekend I had the privilege of making a cake for one of the many young cousins on my husband's side of the family. This particular boy is growing so fast and we celebrated his 5th birthday! The theme of the birthday was all things related to the Army. I thought the theme was quite fitting since he did lots of army and body crawling during our wedding rehearsal while practicing how to be a ring bearer. :) 

This fun 8" camouflage cake is complete with a hard hat (also cake), tags, and soldiers armed and ready in trenches! 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Fuji Apple & Caramel Bread Pudding

November is here! In case you missed its grand entrance of new brisk autumn air and warm colored leaves filling up your sidewalks, don't worry-- there's still plenty of pie to go around for this month to remind you of its presence and glory.

However, on this first day of the month, pie is the last thing on my mind. Sorry, pie, but bread has taken over my life (and pants if I don't do something about it fast). I've made plenty of bread in October, in school and at home for practice. Things have started to get pretty doughy around here and all I have been craving is a big, big, bowl of greens!
This morning I was about to toss the leftovers of soft yeast dinner rolls I made to prepare for my baking midterm. However, in the land of bread, this would have been unheard of. To say farewell to the bread making in my kitchen for awhile, and ring in this new month, I turned my little bread buddies into a very simple, but elegant and delicious plated dessert.
A few months ago, Henry and I had the most delightful caramel apple bread pudding at the Bouchon Bistro in Las Vegas (Ceasar's Palace). This not only served as an instant bond between my food and I, but it also became the inspiration behind this Fuji Apple and Caramel Bread Pudding.

The original dish was soaked in maple syrup, but since I wanted something a little more tart and fresh, I left that out.  However, if you plan to make this at home, you could certainly drizzle some over the top for another flavor component (yum!).

Caramel and apple are such classic flavor pairings, but this particular version really stands out to me. Usually, Granny Smith takes the stage with baked desserts; since this doesn't have any cooked apples, the fresh Fuji slices can hang out with the big kids. The sweet and more floral apple notes are a lovely change to the more tart green apples.

I hope you try these, because I know you'll enjoy them, too!

Fuji Apple & Caramel Bread Pudding
serves 4

4 cups of leftover bread rolls (1/2" dice)
1/2 cup egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp grated apple (use a micro grater and grate the flesh of an apple wedge)
1 medium sized Fuji apple, cored and thinly sliced (1/8")
caramel sauce (to drizzle as desired)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
2. Grease a 9x13" baking pan or dish with cooking spray or butter.
3. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, whipping cream, almond milk, sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, lemon zest, and grated apple.
4. Add the diced bread into the milk and egg mixture; use a spatula to gently fold and combine everything together.
5. Pour the bread pudding mixture into the baking pan. Spread everything out evenly (the layer should be no more than 1" high).
6. Bake for about 45 minutes - 1 hour, or until the sides and edges are crisp and golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool for a few minutes before assembling.

To Assemble:
1. Use a 3" biscuit cutter to cut out 12 circles out of the bread pudding-- you will need 3 circles for each portion.
2. Place one circle on a plate, add a little drizzle of caramel, and 2 thin slices of apple. Repeat this layering. On the final circle (the top), fan out 3 slices of apple. Drizzle caramel sauce around the plate as desired. Serve immediately.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Life Lately

I'm taking a moment, on this Halloween Thursday, to count the many ways I have been oh-so fortunate and blessed this month.  You may have noticed that my last post was over one month ago! Well, schedule has been filling up and I have been staying busy with pastry school, online classes, jet setting across California for LOTS of friends' weddings, tutoring, completing dessert orders for events, the launching of a new church service, and my new role as a high school counselor for the youth at my church! Often, when I am so busy, I find myself grunting about how little time I have or how exhausted I am. Although these things are true, I forget to remember how blessed I am to be able to have all these activities and commitments going on in my life-- especially when they bring me such joy!

Before I enter November, come take a mini trip with me down memory lane as I recap my life lately-- the good, the bad, and the moderately amusing. :)

My first challah loaf!
Puff pastry pinwheels with a little bit of raspberry jam.

A freshly made pita pocket...where's the falafel when you need it?

Vol au vents with a savory mushroom sauce

The perfect little brunch after driving through the night across the state

More wedding photo booth pictures to add to our collection

When visiting my folks, I found this tee! Can you believe it? I got this shirt in 1993 when I was a little kindergartner.

We found a Yogurtland on the way back from our roadtrip!

Keeping this dog in style-- someone's got to do it.

Harlin's new bed and toy hoarding adventures

Some of the production from cookie week in lab

Soup week in my savory class!

No manners here-- we drink from the bowl! ;)

A decadent chocolate ganache cake for a charity event

Pistachio macarons for a charity event

Hungry and happy hubby

Feed the wife and you'll have a good life

Brunch at our favorite restaurant after 6 busy Saturdays in a row

Good beer and good ice cream

Eggs Benedict

Pie monster

The most recent wedding cake that was made for my cousin

Just a picture at our umpteenth wedding of the season

My production from my pastry midterm

The cutest little braided dinner roll