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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Update to Tess' Cupcakes

I've had this post saved for a while and finally have the info to finish it!

Tess' mom told me that her daughter recently was diagnosed with a peanut allergy. I told her I don't use nuts in my recipes but the fine print on a lot of chocolate says something along the lines of "made in a facility that processes nuts." I use Valrhona cocoa powder for my chocolate cake but the bulk box I had didn't say anything about it. I bought it from Chocosphere (best price around, and I looked everywhere), so I called and spoke with Jerry Kryszek, owner of the company. He thought it was safe, but to be sure contacted his Valrhona contact in the US. That person wasn't completely positive so was going to contact the main office in France. Since I didn't have a lot of time, and wasn't 100% sure it was nut-free, I used Hershey's cocoa, which was ok to use (at least from an allergy standpoint). I was happy to see that they still turned out pretty good, they were just missing that deep dark chocolate taste that makes Valhrona and other premium brands so special.

I got this email today from Jerry:
Hello Sara,

Good news! I just received the following from Valrhona yesterday:

"As I mentioned to you last week by phone re. your inquiry on the cocoa powder, I received the confirmation from the QC dept. that the Valrhona cocoa powder is free from peanuts and product thereof. I hope that your customer will be satisfied by this information. "

I hope this helps. Let me know if I can assist further in any way!

With very best regards,
Jerry

So there you have it. If you need great chocolate, great prices, and more importantly, great customer service - go to Chocosphere!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Kitchen Update, pt. 1

All things baking are on a temporary halt while the kitchen gets renovated. Demo started Oct. 14 and it's been start and stop ever since. The cabinets are scheduled to be installed starting Nov. 6, so am hoping that things pick up pretty quickly!

At this point we've made all of our decisions in terms of appliances, flooring, cabinets, etc:
Appliances:
We went to the big box stores, the little box stores and everywhere in between, but eventually got the best prices and service from a local store in Yonkers - Curto's Appliances. We've been working with Linda and she's been part salesperson, part shrink, helping me/us figure out what we really wanted in this kitchen and how much we really wanted to spend on it!

In the end, have decided on:
Range: DCS 30" gas range - it has 5 burners, big oven and is beautiful:)
Hood: 30" Zephyr Venezia - love its simple shape, and has enough CFMs (715) for the stove
Oven: Bosch 500 30" electric convection - two ovens or one was our first dilemma, second was figuring out how to fit everything in our little kitchen! In in end realized that if I really want to start baking more I need another oven and this one was the hands down winner. (I found out after we decided that Consumer Reports agreed - rated this exact model tops in a recent review).
Fridge: HA - only decision left to make. Want a big side by side, non-counter depth but don't want to spend $2000! Thinking of going with a GE Profile, mainly because some models have a special section in the bottom of the fridge that cools things down super quickly. Perfect for baking, chocolates, and, um, beer and wine:)
Disposal: Have survived all of my adult life without a disposal, but figure if we're doing the kitchen, may as well add it. Bought one from Costco - so if we hate it, it's easy enough to return, and you can't beat Costco's return policy!
Dishwasher: Doug had the brilliant idea of keeping our old dishwasher as a way of keeping down costs. I was originally leery of the idea, but realized it made sense. It's not totally ugly, and still works pretty well (knock wood). Why replace it until we need to?

Cabinets:
Going with Ikea - Adel Birch. We had them before in our apt. in NYC and were really happy with them. I liked the simple lines and they're actually real wood, rather than some plasticky stuff. We worked with Bonnie and Ron at The Kitchen Couple. Read about them first on Apartment Therapy, and it's been a great experience so far. Bonnie handles all the consultations, planning, replanning, etc. and Ron does the installation. Installation begins November 6 and should take 3-4 days. I hope we're ready!

Countertop:
Soapstone. This is our big splurge. Have always liked them but never thought we'd take the plunge. Working with Jay at Garden State Soapstone -- recommended, again, by someone on Apartment Therapy. We took a trip to his stone yard a couple of weeks ago, picked out our slabs and make plans to have Jay come to template on or around November 11.
FYI - found this online about soapstone - good info if you're interested.

Flooring:
Slate. Like soapstone - it's not something that's going to look EXACTLY the same 10 years from now as the day we put it in, but we like that! I mean, what's wrong with a little aging? We're getting it from Stone Source in NYC. I read a lot about it online and lots of the cheaper slate from Home Depot, etc., is garbage and we'd end up buying double what we need just to get enough pieces that will work. Just placed the order for 250 sq. ft. of a style called Kashmere. Can't wait to see the results! Hopefully will look someting like this, but we're going with 12" squares instead of rectangles.

Sink/Faucet(s):
Made a rash decision the other day and bought this from Overstock.com. Most of their sinks don't have any customer reviews. This one had 20+, all positive, so we're taking a gamble. Originally we were going to get a matching soapstone sink but it came in at $1300! We decided we really didn't need the sink to be the showpiece of the room - it probably will be stacked high with dishes anyway!

Did more shopping at Costco.com from the faucets. Because they have free shipping and easy returns I bought two - this one and this one. Once they arrive we'll see which one we like best, if any.

Other great resources:
I've been spending a lot of time on the appliances forum at GardenWeb. People on there really know their stuff - good place to ask a question or just search their huge database.

AJ Madison is an online appliance store. I like the personalized attention I got at Curto's, but this site has all the big brands (and lots of smaller ones) and makes it really easy to compare different models of things.

Will post in progress demo photos as soon as I get my act together.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tess' cupcakes**

Big excitement - our kitchen renovation is happening soon, soon, soon - October 14 to be exact! This is the last job I'm taking until it's done, which should be right around Thanksgiving (fingers crossed, god willing, etc., etc.)

Tess' mother Brett first hired me last year to make Elmo cupcakes for Tess' 2nd birthday. (As an aside, this photo, taken with crappy light with my crappy camera, is far and beyond the most popular of all of our photos on Flickr, with 2200+ views to date. If you are a Flickr user and haven't checked out the stats section, you should - it's pretty cool.)

For her 3rd birthday, Tess wanted princess cupcakes - something similar to the cupcakes I made with leftover colored chocolate pieces from Lindsay's cake, but with crowns instead of doodads. The best thing about working with Brett is that she's not completely set on a design and gives me some freedom to make what I think would work best, so I decided to make teeny crowns out of gumpaste instead.

I tried a couple of different ways to make the crowns, using cutters, etc., but in the end came up with cutting long strips of gumpaste, notching the tops, and cutting those into little pieces. They dried overnight and I topped each crown with a dot of royal icing (normally I'd just use buttercream but I really wanted the dots to dry in place and royal's the best thing for that).

60 cupcakes in all, 1/2 chocolate, 1/2 vanilla bean, with an extra large one for the birthday girl. I just had enough batter to make 30 of each flavor and thought 1/2 a batch of my buttercream would be enough, but of course it wasn't - I was short at least 10 cupcakes. At 11pm the night before I made another 1/4 batch and finished them off. Good thing I usually have pounds and pounds of butter and powdered sugar as backup!

IMG_6282
Big one in the middle for the birthday girl

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IMG_6292
Thinking they look a tad more like a jester hat than a princess crown, but that's ok with me!

Making the gumpaste crowns
action shot - how the crowns were made (because I know everyone was wondering:)

Making the gumpaste crowns
crowns ready to be topped with royal icing



**BTW - I actually looked this up - when using an apostrophe to indicate possession after a proper noun, either ' or 's is acceptable, but I think less is more:)