Thursday, December 29, 2011

My DESSERT predictions for 2012

What a year 2011 was for The SC Team! Not only did I bake cupcakes and sweet stuff for: Microsoft FTEs, DList staffers, happily engaged AND married couples, at&t Hackathon-ers, and of course, my friends and family!
I met so many wonderful people and made connections at: Google Places, Girl Power Hour events, thinkspace networking events, Bellevue/Redmond Chambers events, and of course, the use of social media and blogs. Thank you readers!!!

Special kudos: To my very talented graphic designer, Jessica! She personally reached out to me and wanted to be a part of the SC Team. Without, I would not have my original logo or the ambition to reach out to other businesses, like how you did.
TO: Joanne and my dad for being the "business brains" S.C.O.R.E mentors for offering wonderful and savvy advice.
Also, to my supportive friends and family (Thanks mom and dad for being my taste testers!). And realizing the personal ambition, talent, and brains I never "had" until I started SC.

Not only do I bake sweet stuff, I love seeing what is out there in the pastry/dessert industry. Enjoying seeing what bakeries and catering companies offers lets me "in" on what consumers are demanding. Last year brought much change to the everyday cook and baker: The expansion of the farmers market is growing, not only in major cities, but in major/minor suburbs. The words "gluten-free" and "Celiac disease" is common in our everyday vocab. And, cupcakes are taking over a traditional wedding cake.

Here are my top 3 dessert predictions for 2012:

1) More ethnic desserts will be featured in major restaurants:

Especially in Seattle, ethnic cuisine is HUGE. There is a pho shop, sushi place, Italian joint, and Korean BBQ on almost every corner. Many American-based restaurants are already infusing ethnic-flavors in their menu because it is popular AND delicious! What is next: adding ethnic-inflused flavors to major desserts. Green tea poached pear? Indian-spiced nuts on top of burbon-vanilla ice-cream? Red bean rice pudding with sesame seed tuiles? YES, PLEASE.

2) Not only mini cupcakes, MINI COOKIES/BROWNIES/DESSERTS:
Why mini? People do not feel as guilty eating something small versus eating something big...no matter what it is, sweet or savory. Plus, ordering small amounts of small items saves money over buying large amounts of large items. With everyone's busy schedule, most people are in-and-out of events in less than one hour and have time to only grab a "bite or two," not a whole meal.

3) Beer-infused dishes/desserts:
Seattle has a large wine community thanks to our lovely wine country. Most foodies are also wine peeps, who are also coffee and beer peeps. Don't forget about Seattle's well-know local breweries and the impact they have in our food industry. Red wine buttercream? Yes, I have made it before and it turned out FANTASTIC. Beer-braised beef? Chocolate-stout cake? Beer-battered fish? Look for it this year.

Overall, trends come and go. Foodies come and go and come in all types. But what I have noticed from working in the food industry, people want one of two things:
1) Something fresh and different from the major.
2) Something original/familiar, but BETTER than before.

Happy cooking and baking in 2012.
-SC

Friday, December 16, 2011

TOP 3 GIFTS for FOODIES!

Holiday cheer is in the air! You are probably busy baking cookies, cooking holiday meals, attending swanky parties, and seeing Santa.
There is a foodie in your family or life: someone who enjoys a new restaurant, food blogs, cooks the Thanksgiving turkey, and is an avid Food Network watcher.
Take my top 3 tip ideas to buy something fantastic for your foodie friend. The best part: They are all budget-friendly.

1) Local Author/Restaurant Cookbook.
-Many local, well-known chefs are putting out cookbooks. OR, the restaurant the chef is famous for has a cookbook on the shelves. Pick one up, most are under $30!
-Also, look for autograph copies of cookbooks. Many chefs will pre-sign their cookbook before it hits the stores.
-My faves? Lisa Dupar, Tom Douglas, and Keren Brown (blogger)all have excellent, budget-friendly books.

2) Gift Card to your local coffee (or tea!) shop.
-NOT the mass-chain coffee shop found in every block. I am talking about a true, local cafe/coffee/tea shop.
-Who gives super popular coffee store gift cards? Everyone and their cousin! Giving a someone a trip to a new and fresh coffee shop will show you care about food as much as they do. Also, since it is Seattle, it is fairly easy to find a cozy and cute shop.
-My faves? Fonte Coffee (Seattle), Victor's (Redmond), Miro Tea (Ballard), and T'Latte (Bellevue).

3) Knife Sharpening.
-I bet your foodie has a great knife (or two). You know that steel? That actually only MAINTAINS a the sharpness. It does not truly sharpen the knife.
-To sharpen a knife, I recommend going to a cutley shop and having it professioanlly sharpen. Those little hand held "knife sharpeners" don't keep it sharp and could harm your blade.
-My faves? Epicurean Edge (Kirkland).

Even if you have someone who is not a big foodie, ANYONE will enjoy a new cookbook, a fun kitchen gadget, or a bright apron.

Food-related gifts are a great gift to give because you know the person will always use your present on a regular basis.

Happy Baking!
-SC

Monday, December 5, 2011

The FACTS on non-stick cookware!

I love baking. And I love cooking. I love helping people and informing people about cookware. At my position with Meyer Cookware, I inform people about the differences, pros/cons, and care of their cookware they are about to buy.
I have dedicated blog posts about cookware before, but this is post is for NON-STICK COOKWARE.

First off, cookware comes in three main materials:
1) Stainless Steel
2) Aluminium (with non-stick coating over it)
3) Cast Iron

Second, here are the steps a pot goes through to become a non-stick pan:
1) Aluminium Sheet (thick or thin sheet).
2) Molded into desired pot/pan shape.
3) The ENTIRE pan/pot is hard anodized (an electro-chemical process).
4) Non-stick coating over the hard anodized pan.
*Some (poor) cookware companies will only put non-stick coating on the inside. Leaving the exposed hard anodized aluminium on the outside.
*Some (good) cookware companies will put non-stick on the inside AND outside to protect the hard anodized aluminium.
*Some (decent) cookware companies will put non-stick on the inside and a colored enamel on the outside.

5) Handle is fitted and placed on pot/pan.

Thus, all non-stick cookware IS aluminium. WHY? Aluminium is good heat conductor, abundent, and easy to manufactuer. Remember, "hard anodized" is short for "hard anodized aluminium." You want the cookware package to say "hard anodized non-stick," NOT: lightly anodized, infused anodized, or just non-stick.

Answers to popular questions about non-stick cookware:

Q: So, is all aluminium the same?
A: Yes. There is no "better" or "worse." What you want is a THICK gauge of aluminium so it won't worp on the bottom. The heavier the pan, THE BETTER. Do you want a somewhat "light weight" pan? Look for one with heat safe silcone-handles, versus stainless steel handles.

Q: What is hard anodizing? And why is it important?
Hard anodizing is an electro-chemical PROCESS a pan goes through to BECOME STRONGER. A straight, pure aluminium pan is reactive with food and known to be toxic. Thus, hard anodizing is a STANDARD for all non-stick pan. Plus non-stick coating "sticks" to a hard anodized pan BETTER than a pan that was not hard anodized.

In geekie terms, : "Hard-anodization is an electro-chemical process that hardens aluminum. (Hard-Anodized aluminum is 30% harder than stainless steel.) During hard-anodization, aluminum is submerged in an acid bath, then subjected to electrical charges. The result is a chemical reaction wherein the surface of the aluminum combines with oxygen to become aluminum oxide. This reaction is also known as oxidation, a process which occurs spontaneously in nature. Hard-anodization is actually controlled, accelerated oxidation."

Q: So, do I always want to buy hard anodized non-stick cookware?
A: YES! You always, ALWAYS, want to buy a hard anodized pan. How do you if you did? Well, the package will always advertise it because hard anodizing is costly. Hard anodizing does a physical apperance: a light, grey, soft-textured surface. But non-stick coating will be over your anodized pan...so, how do you REALLY KNOW? Well, some cookware companies only put non-stick on the inside of the pan, not the outside, so you can look on the outside of the pan. Other companies will just put a colored-enamel coating on the outside of the pan, so you are unable to see the hard anodizing.

Q: When I am buying a hard anodized pan, I want non-stick on the outside...then what on the outside?
A: Buy a hard anodized pan with non-stick on the INSIDE and OUTSIDE. Even a straight hard anodized pan, with zero non-stick coating, chips, scratches, stains, reacts with food, and is VERY difficult to clean. It will be difficult to maintain a "nice" looking pot. Colored-enamel (on the outside only) on the outside on the pan also gives protecttion.

Q: How does the non-stick coating making a difference?
A: First off, EVERY COOKWARE COMPANY either makes their own non-stick coating OR they have another company that makes it. This is what makes every non-stick pan different from one another. This seperates the GOOD from the BAD. How do you know what cookware line makes their non-stick? Some (good) cookware companies will advertise who makes their non-stick coating. Others (poor) will not. Thus, you will have to personally call the company to find out who makes it. Then, do research to find out if the company who makes the non-stick coating has a decent reputation. Poor cookware companies will use an outdated and/or patent non-stick.
Also, the cookware company can apply 1-3 "layers" of the non-stick coating to the pan. The more layers = the better! How do you know? Once again, you would have to personally call the cookware company. (Most have a customer support line.)

Q: My non-stick pan constantly chips and flakes. Thus, my food is sticking! Help!
A: You pan was either: 1) NOT hard anodized 2)A poor non-stick coating was applied to you pan AND/OR 3) You did not maintain/clean your pan correctly.
Non-stick coating goes on a hard anodized pan better than a pan that was not hard anodized or hard anodized properly. If it was not hard anodized, then the non-stick coating has a very good chance of chipping.
If a company used a cheap non-stick patent and only put one layer of it on the pan, it is very likely to scratch and die away.

Q: Then, how do you properly take care/maintain/clean a non-stick pan?
A: First, hand-wash your non-stick pan ALWAYS. For a non-stick pan to be dishwasher safe, the entire pan must be protect by non-stick and a metal on the bottom (like stainless steel).
Second, constant high heat kills all non-stick pans, good or bad. Use medium-high heat as your highest setting. A well-constructed pan won't need the burner to be blasted on high. You will probably only need medium heat. Poorly made pans conduct heat slowly, thus you are always blasting the heat on your cooking range.
Third, aresol sprays like PAM-brand. Why? The propellent itself is so strong, it leaves a caramel-color GUNK on top of your non-stick coating. Now, you are cooking on that gunk instead of that pan. There is no need for aresol sprays. Instead, use a "mist-o" spray or just use measuring spoons. A good non-stick pan will require very little, or zero, REAL oil/butter.

Q: I heard non-stick coatings causes cancer and can make you ill! Really?
A: Nope. There has been NO PROVEN case with cancer, or any other diease, and non-stick coatings. The synthetic chemical: Perflourooctanoaic acid (PFOA) are present, in VERY TRACE amounts in the non-stick coating. There are such a little amount that the FDA banned a petition that required ALL non-stick coatings to have a warming label. FYI, PFOA are also "found" (in trace amounts) in pizza delivery boxes and microwave popcorn bags. So, what is the best way to avoid the very little PFOA in non-stick cookware: Properly maintain, clean, and take care of your cookware! With all cookware, do not let it "die" on high heat, on the cooking range.

Q: SO, overall what do I need to look for in a good non-stick pan?
-Only buy hard anodized non-stick pans.
-A pan with some "weight" to it!
-A non-stick coating company with a decent reputation.
-A pan that is covered 100% with non-stick coating in the inside.
-A pan that is covered with either non-stick coating or enamel on the outside.
-The bottom on the pan can be left exposed, that is OK and safe. OR, some companies will put a disk of stainless steel on the bottom for better heat conduction.
-Heat safe silicone or stainless steel handles.
-Tempered glass or stainless steel lids.
-A cookware company with a great reputation.

I always advise people to do personal research when buying good pots and pans. Read consumer reports. Ask your friends and family. Look to see what is online. See what fits YOUR cooking lifestyle.

Yes, there are some "pricey" cookware out there. Is it really worth it? Well, if you do cook gourmet meals on a daily basis. I believe there are decently priced, well-made and constructed cookware for ANYONE. There are some cookware lines designed for restaurant cooking...and restaurant cooking is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from everyday, domestic cooking. Just like professional driving is different from driving your car on a daily basis.

Any more questions? Please ask. Wondering what brands I like? (You know I am going to support Meyer Cookware Company!) For a great value, I like: Anolon Nouvelle Cooper, Anolon Advanced, Circulon Symmetry, and Circulon Espree. All have the specifc features of a well-made non-stick pan.

Happy Baking!
-SC