Sunday, May 26, 2013

{Recipe} Root Beer "Floats"

I had a ball at this year's Earth Day Food and Wine Festival at Pomar Junction, and part of the fun was seeing people's reaction to a new take on a root beer float. They were amazed that the root beer gelée and vanilla bean panna cotta really did taste just like a root beer float (and, let's be honest here, I got a kick out of people trying to drink it like a Jell-O shot!). And my favorite part? The addition of a sprinkle of Unflavored popping sugar to give these floats their carbonated kick back!

This recipe is so simple, I'm almost embarrassed to share it! But, although it is simple, it is definitely not lacking a "wow" factor, and your party guests are sure to be delighted by this familiar treat in an unfamiliar form! Use your favorite brand of root beer (we like Central Coast Brewing Company or Pithy Little Soda Works), or even try orange cream soda, or your favorite stout or porter beer. **EDIT** When choosing a soda, choose something that has full flavor, is sweetened with real cane sugar, and (if you can find one) is made in small batches. Since this recipe is made up of simple components, quality of ingredients is essential!**

Root Beer Gelée Layer
Adapted from the Food Network

24 oz Root Beer
2 packets gelatin (1/4 oz each)

Pour half the root beer into a large measuring cup with a pouring spout and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let sit for 5 minutes.

While the gelatin blooms, pour the rest of the root beer into a saucepan and heat until just before boiling. Add the hot root beer to the root beer-gelatin mixture while you whisk gently to combine. Pour into your desired serving cups immediately, and place in the refrigerator to set (approximately 15-30 minutes). While the gelée is setting, make the vanilla bean panna cotta.

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta Layer
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated Classic Panna Cotta

1 cup whole milk
1 packet gelatin (1/4 oz)
3 cups heavy cream, very cold
1/2 vanilla bean (split it lengthwise, and scrape out seeds with back of knife)
6 T granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
Unflavored popping sugar (garnish)

Pour the milk into a saucepan, and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes until the gelatin is hydrated and softened. Pour cream into a large bowl, and add the vanilla bean and all the seeds.

Once the gelatin has softened, heat the milk in the saucepan over medium-high heat while stirring constantly. Your goal is to dissolve the gelatin, but do not boil the milk (this should take about 1-2 minutes). Remove from the heat and add the sugar and salt, and stir until dissolved. Add the milk to the cream mixture and stir to combine. 

Strain the milk/cream mixture into a large measuring cup (or other vessel with a pour spout), and then pour a layer on top of your root beer gelée. Place back in refrigerator until set (panna cotta layer will still have a little wobble to it when it is set, it should not be as firm as the gelée).

Immediately before serving, sprinkle with popping sugar, and enjoy!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

{Recipe} Stout Brownies with Bacon

When my dear friends, Ryan and Dana, told me they were engaged to be married, I was excited. When they asked me to cater the desserts for their reception, I was beyond thrilled! It's always an honor to be included in a couple's special day, but when they are your friends, it is even more so. The challenge here? They don't really like cake. But they love brownies. And they want the brownies to look like a wedding cake. Simple enough, right? Right.

The wedding is on St. Patrick's Day, and the bride and groom are beer aficionados. So, why not stout beer brownies? And they suggested bacon be added to the mix, because, well, bacon makes everything better! (And if you don't agree, you probably haven't had really good dark, bittersweet chocolate with bacon - it's heavenly!)

So I set to work... and then I failed. Nope. These brownies were too dense, but not at all fudgy (read: bricks). Nope. These ones are too cakey. Nope. These ones are thick and rich, but they're gummy. So, I set about scouring the internet looking for ways to add more liquid to brownies without ending up with one of the above scenarios. I was overwhelmed with choices. And what did I do? I decided to just wing it. I modified my regular recipe, and the result was perfection. They had that crackly layer on top, the brownies on the edges of the pan were firm and had a little crunch to them, and the middle was perfectly gooey and fudgy. They were so good, I decided I shouldn't keep this to myself. So, without further ado...

Stout Brownies with Bacon 
1 cup stout beer (I like Firestone Walker's Velvet Merlin)*
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 T dark cocoa powder
1 t kosher salt
1 cup butter
10 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (at least 60% cacao content, available from Mama Ganache)
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature
1 T pure vanilla extract
6 strips of bacon, cooked until crispy and chopped (optional)

Pour the beer in a saucepan, and set over medium-high heat. Bring to boil and reduce by half. Allow to cool while you assemble the other ingredients.

Butter a 9x13 baking dish, and line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat conventional oven to 350°F or convection oven to 325°F.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and salt together into a small bowl and set aside.

Melt the butter in a medium bowl (in the microwave or over a double boiler), and add the chocolate. Stir with a rubber spatula until all the chocolate has melted. Set over double boiler to re-warm the mixture if all the chocolate does not melt. Stir in the sugar and brown sugar.

Gently whisk in the eggs and vanilla (mixture will thicken considerably).

Mix in the flour mixture, then add the reduced stout and whisk gently until just combined. Fold in the chopped bacon.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it (about 30 minutes).

Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan and slicing.

*Want a little extra punch? Replace a tablespoon or two of the reduced stout with some Irish whiskey. Or, if you're not a beer fan, or don't like to cook with alcohol, you can replace the reduced stout with 1/2 cup strong-brewed coffee.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Starting a Small Food Business

*Disclaimer: this post is not meant to replace any information provided to you by your local or state health department; this is not legal advice, and some matters addressed are strictly opinion. Please do your research before starting any business!*

One of my first farmers' markets

As the owner of a small food company, I get asked a lot of questions about getting started in the industry, pricing products, laws and regulations - you name it, I've probably been asked! One of the most frequent questions I field is, "Do you make all these things in your home kitchen?" And many people are surprised at my answer, "No, it is illegal to sell food out of your home in the state of California." (This has changed as of January 1, 2012, but we'll get to that later.) Perhaps it is the food professional in me - the one who sat through food science classes in college, completed food handler training, had the concept of "wash, rinse, sanitize" pounded into my head... - but I was equally as surprised that people were so willing to purchase food from someone who was cooking out of their home, and had no idea it was illegal in the first place.

Don't get me wrong, I support the idea of a cottage food industry, but I also support the idea of having some sort of regulations to keep people safe and informed about their food sources. I think that California's law (AKA: California Homemade Food Act, AB 1616) has done a pretty good job of setting up guidelines, but I'm anxious to see how things really pan out. And to be honest, I'm a little frustrated by the fact that a cottage food business can sell their products wholesale to restaurants and other retailers, while I as a commercial food business (no matter how small) must pay roughly $400 per year and go through a rigorous (and nerve wracking) inspection to obtain a Packaged Food Registration (or wholesale license) from the state.

Exclusive of cottage food operations (they have their own set of rules), if you have decided you'd like to start a food business, there are a lot of things (read: expenses) that should be considered before taking the plunge. I have seen small food businesses fail simply because the owners "thought it would be fun" (and it can be!) but they haven't done their homework, haven't priced their products high enough to cover expenses, and haven't planned for rainy days.

Many of the expenses (overhead) associated with starting a food business (or any business, for that matter), are related to licensing, permits, equipment, marketing, and product development. Here is brief list of the expenses, fixed and variable, you'll encounter (and I'm sure I'll forget a few) when getting started:
  • Fictitious Business Name Statement - $50, renew every 5 years (incorporating or filing documents to become an LLC will run even more, and there is an $800 annual fee to operate an LLC in the state of California, regardless of business income)
  • Publish Fictitious Business Name Statement for 4 consecutive weeks - $100
  • County health permit - $200+ depending on specialization within the industry, paid yearly
  • Multiple Temporary Event Permit (if you plan to sell at farmers' markets or festivals) - $250+, paid yearly
  • State license for wholesale - $400, paid yearly
  • Business license - approximately $50 (varies depending on city), paid yearly
  • Commissary kitchen rent - this will vary greatly, but plan to spend an average of $200/month depending on your business specialty and projected sales volume
  • Business insurance - $500, paid yearly
Now, the aforementioned expenses can be simply considered as "the cost of doing business." On the flip side, there are quite a few other things to take into account. Will you need any special equipment to produce your product on a large scale? How will your product compete in a retail environment and how will you market it (branding, advertising, website, social media, etc)? What will it cost to package your product to meet government guidelines and consumer expectations? If you will be selling at farmers' markets or other temporary events, what type of things will you need to meet the promoter's booth requirements and comply with health code (ie: pop-up tent, tables, displays, hand and ware washing equipment)? Will you need employees? The list goes on. But one of the most important questions, and I believe it's one of the most often forgotten: What is your time worth?

What do this list of expenses and all these questions come back to? The sales price of your product. The ingredients in your jar of jam may cost you $0.50 (and remember, this is a variable cost - did the price of sugar go up this week?), but how much does the jar you put it in cost? Did you have to drive to the store to buy the jars, or were they shipped to you? How much is the label? What percentage of each sale does your merchant processing company keep when you swipe a credit card, or when you key it in for a phone order? Is your head spinning yet? Don't forget that last item on the list: the value of your time! I can go on and on with this, but I think Karen Gunton from the "build a little biz" blog says it better than I can in her post on pricing. It's a long post, but completely worth the read from top to bottom. Bookmark it, you'll want to come back to it!

All this aside, I truly believe that to run a successful food business, you must have a passion for what you do. I worked an event recently, and I had a break where there was no one at my table. As I watched the guests enjoy their evening, a gentleman came up to me and said, "I bet you wish we'd all just go home so you could pack up and get out of here!" By that time, between shopping, baking, kitchen clean-up, loading up my car, setting up at the event, and serving, I had been working and on my feet for about 10 hours. But, my response to him was, "No, not at all, I love feeding people!" Do I get tired, stressed, and frustrated from time to time? Of course. But without a passion for what I do, I could not do it day to day, and I certainly could not do it well. 

Do you run a small food business? Share your experiences!


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

{Recipe} Meyer Lemon Semifreddo

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of participating in the Paso Robles Wineries of 46 East's annual Esprit Du Vin event. One of the items I brought with me for attendees to sample and purchase was our Meyer Lemon Curd. As they ate it by the spoonful, many said, "That's delicious! But what do I DO with it??"

If you've never had lemon curd before, it's a sweet-tart custard sauce made by stirring...and stirring...and stirring (you get the picture) a combination of eggs, sugar, butter, lemon juice, and lemon zest over very low heat until it has thickened into a silky sauce. It makes a delicious dip for ripe berries, you can spoon it over pound cake in a pretty glass to make a trifle or parfait, or even just spread it on your morning toast for a bright, citrusy change to your usual butter and jam. But one of my most recent discoveries is to use it to make semifreddo.

An Italian dessert, the word "semifreddo" loosely translates to "partially frozen." It is very light in texture, and the most common comparison I could give would be a frozen mousse. Using our Meyer Lemon Curd, this dessert is incredibly easy to make, and can be presented in a variety of ways: freeze it in individual ramekins for each of your guests, or in a loaf pan that's been lined with plastic wrap so you can un-mold it easily and slice it into individual portions. Top it with berries and whipped cream, toasted almonds, or crushed ginger snaps - or better yet, serve slices between two of our Chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies!

Just Baked SLO's Meyer Lemon Semifreddo
Yields approx. 3 cups
One 8oz tub Meyer Lemon Curd
1 cup heavy whipping cream, very cold
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Using a hand mixer, whip the cream in a medium sized bowl. When the cream begins to thicken, slowly add the sugar, and continue to whip until stiff peaks form and the cream has doubled in volume. Gently fold the lemon curd into the whipped cream, being careful not to deflate it too much in the process.

Spoon the mixture into your vessel(s) of choice, and cover with plastic wrap (if you are putting it in a loaf pan, line the pan with plastic wrap first to make it easy to unmold the finished dessert). Be sure the wrap touches the semifreddo so it does not form a skin. Place in the freezer, and allow to firm up.

Remove from freezer 5-10 minutes before serving. Pair with your choice of toppings, or serve plain.

Thank you!

Ah, the first blog post! Why do these always feel like a blind date?? I guess I will start by letting you know that this blog is intended to keep you up to date about all the things we are up to here at Just Baked SLO, and give you a little bit of insight to the things that inspire us, some tricks of the trade, and just generally help you to get to know what makes us tick!

Be sure to like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter and Pinterest for the most up-to-date happenings! Thanks for visiting, and I hope you enjoy reading.