Happy Monday, dear readers. For those of you following my madness on Twitter and/or The Facebooks, you might have already heard the latest from these parts over the weekend. WE GOT A PUPPY, OMG. He is delicious and high maintenance and we are drowning in a sea of cute and newspaper. I may become one of those bloggers that posts pictures of her puppy now, so just get prepared for some of that. To begin, let me justify such postings by offering proof of just how illegally adorable this puppy is. We’d been looking to add a pup to the family for a while, but have always looked at older dogs, and then we ran into this little guy at a sidewalk SPCA setup and BOOM–game over. His name is Jake, he’s a two month-old Spaniel mix and he’s TOO MUCH.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, it’s time to ask a big favor of all y’all. The other news is that I’ve teamed up with a really fabulous production company to produce a special baking-related project. It’s been in the works for a little while, and we’re finally close to shooting. Here’s where you come in, friends. If you happen to live in NYC or the surrounding area and are available Saturday, June 2nd (or the 3rd for a raindate), I’d for you to come visit for a couple hours and be part of the whole crazy experience, and round out a group activity that we’ll be shooting as part of the project. You may or may not be asked to bring a baked good as the date gets closer, but really, we just need some good people to come hang out for a couple hours who don’t mind appearing on camera. Selfishly, I also love that this could be an opportunity to finally meet some of you in real life and enthusiastically compliment each other’s skin and hair.
So what do ya think? If you’re into it, send me an e-mail at shauna (at) shaunasever (dot) com and I can provide you with more details. This is nuts, right?! I’m pretty pumped about it, and even more so having some of you be part of the action. I’ll be back soon with a cookie recipe that I loved so much, I ate the whole dang batch myself.
So. Last week was crazy up in here, guys. Lots of prep for the last two days of shooting for the cookbook, which involved a lot of sugar, running around and swearing. Then there was the actual shoot, which was as awe-inspiring as the first shooting day I spent with the dream team of photographer Leigh Beisch and prop styling queen Sara Slavin a while back. Seriously, these ladies are some of the most divinely creative people I have ever met. Leigh can make absolutely anything look lush and sexy and Sara brings the equivalent of an Anthropologie housewares section (and then some) with her to every shoot. Now that all the shots for the book are complete (we even sneaked a few of me in the mix–awkward and yet very exciting) and the first design proofs are being put together, this is all getting Really Real.
It’s quite a mind-blowing experience to go from playing mad scientist in one’s kitchen and forcing samples on your husband every half hour to being in a gorgeous photo studio with two incredibly experienced women who can turn your humble recipes into Food Supermodels. Everyday, I dorkily showed up with boxes of my confections, prepped them to my liking and then brought them to set where Leigh and Sara and their assistants (Hi Diana, Sean, Harrison, Cassie and Kari!) worked their magic. Bella the Pug brought canine cuteness and stood watch for wayward scraps. I was constantly thanking my lucky stars that they were the team chosen to bring all my treats to life. They all made it such a fun experience, and totally make me look like I know what I’m doing, which clearly is key. Since the shoot wrapped, I feel lost without my village. That’s the best kind of team you can hope for on a creative project, really.
I have to say thanks to so many of you who have sent sweet tweets, e-mails and notes on The Facebooks. It’s so nice to know that a few people besides my mom might buy a copy. Oh! And! I’m really excited to finally be able to reveal that the book is all about the fluffy, puffy art of homemade marshmallows. You can even pre-order it on Amazon now, people! This is all bananas-level surreal, I’m telling you. I sort of can’t believe that a tiny seed of an idea I had months and months ago has grown into a real, live book, and that my trusty editor Margaret at Quirk Books is as wacky as I am and so pumped about homemade mallows. For this, we will be soul sisters forever, I am sure of it.
Now that we’re really in crunch mode with proofing before we send everything to the printer and give you all the most fabulously sweet, puffy book of all time, I may be away from this space a little more than I’d like. But before you know it, mid-August will arrive and I’ll be all up in your area with a bunch of new recipes and stories and what not. And then, come next Spring, I’ll be begging you all to tell every single person you know about my crazy little marshmallow book. So just get ready for that, is all I’m saying. For now, I’m goin’ back in.
Have I ever got something wacky for you guys! So check this out. For the past couple months, I’ve been writing a real, live cookbook. And by “writing” I mean up to my eyelashes in granulated sugar. The book is scheduled for release next Spring, and will be published by the fun, creative and insanely talented folks over at Quirk Books. I can’t even begin to tell you how thrilled I am to be in the company of some bloggers/authors I have such mad admiration for, like Matt, Susan and my darling friend Anita. Wow, wow, wow.
I’ve been recipe testing and writing for quite a while already, and this week I am already preparing for the first shoot for the book, which will be shot by the extraordinary Leigh Beisch and styled by Sara Slavin. This dynamic duo has created some of the most incredible images from beloved cookbooks I have had on my shelves for years, so in a few days, you can find me showing up at a photo studio with boxes of painstakingly-made goodies, trying not to die from awkward excitement.
Cue the Dionne Warwick, people. This is a post with purpose.
See this awesomely humiliating photo, here? That’s me on the left, and Elizabeth, one of my dearest friends in the whole wide world, circa 1995, right before our junior prom in Barrington, Illinois. See how effortlessly Elizabeth pulls off the vintage look, with her high-waisted dress and perfectly waved bob? And see how I’m failing at my efforts to channel Winona Ryder in Reality Bites and instead resembling a pubescent drag queen? Yeah. That’s all you really need to know about our friendship. Well that, and I remember some douche-y jock-type once inferring that we were probably lesbians because we always hung out together and neither of us ever had boyfriends. But that is neither here nor there.
Elizabeth and I are the sort of friends who can always pick up right where we left off, no matter how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other. Maybe it has something to do with being so close during a period when my eyebrows looked like that. But anyway, after several years of not seeing each other and barely keeping in touch, we both ended up thousands of miles away from Illinois, in Northern California, me in San Francisco and her up in Napa. How funny is that? Total destiny, I’m telling you. A couple weeks ago, we bathed our toddlers in the same bathtub and almost died from disbelief as our 16-year-old selves clashed with the present.
We still have so much dorky fun together. Elizabeth is perfection, basically, and the best sort of friend a girl could ever ask for. I’ve always admired her for her intelligence, her humor, and now that we’re all grown up and married, her fabulous taste in husbands.
Now this handsome man right here—this is Brandon Sharp. I like to think of him as Mr. Elizabeth, but really he is an entity all his own. He’s the executive chef at Solbar, the phenomenal restaurant at the Solage resort in Calistoga, California. He’s a Michelin-starred chef with the most remarkable culinary sensibility. He also happens to be one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. Someone who can seamlessly put a shrimp and watercress salad with mint-thyme crema and bacon-cheddar sliders on the same menu probably deserves to be a little cocky. But not Brandon. He cooks his heart out for more hours a week than I can even fathom, and still manages to be a star husband and father to the two almost illegally adorable little boys he has with my dear Elizabeth.
Whenever I visit them and see that little family together, bonding over their love of food and feeding people, it’s nothing short of inspiring. As you can tell, I am a rabid Sharp Family Fan. Ergo, I’m not about to miss an opportunity to let the world know how spectacular Brandon Sharp is. And guess what? You, darling reader, can help me spread the word.
Brandon is currently in the running for Food & Wine‘s The People’s Best New Chef award in the Pacific region. Now, I personally don’t really know if you can call a guy who’s been working his tail off in kitchens for more than 15 years a “new chef”, but he certainly fits the description of a hot, young chef who deserves to get some serious attention in one of the most important food publications out there. And come on—LOOK AT THAT FACE. I’d much rather have that on my nightstand than another glossy photo of shortribs or something.
Here’s all you have to do to help promote one heck of a guy, and in turn credit me for sharing with you totally cringe-inducing photos of myself:
Get on over to CNN’s Eatocracy page for Food & Wine’s The People’s Best New Chef 2011: Pacific. Scroll down past the profiles (pausing to enjoy the photo and blurb for Brandon), and click the little button next to Brandon’s name. That’s it. No logging in, no e-mail sign up, nothing. Easy peasy. Vote for an excellent chef, an awesome husband and father, and one of the good guys. Especially one that’s married to the first person with whom I ever got totally, completely wasted. Thank you!
You know what most mothers of toddlers dream about? I mean, besides that their children will grow up healthy and strong and achieving all of their hearts’ desires? Multiple nights alone in a luxury hotel room with nary a sippy cup in sight, that’s what. Thank you, Sears Chef Challenge, for providing me with such a glorious experience. Oh, and getting the opportunity to help judge the actual competition–with its amazing energy, high drama and delectable food in the greatest city in the world–was pretty incredible, too.
I arrived in my hometown of Chicago the evening before the competition, and was whisked off in a fancy car to a fabulous downtown hotel. After checking in and rolling like a Labrador in wet grass all over the plush, pristine king-size bed that was to be mine alone for the next two nights, I made a quick change and set out in search of dinner. In what was probably the most boring first meal in Chicago choice ever, exhausted and bloated with airline carbohydrates, I went out in search of an enormous salad, and headed to a Whole Foods down the street, which so happened to be one I’d visited often during my days working at that job from which I’d asked to be fired. I took my time walking there, reminiscing about my old days as a free-wheeling Chicago single all the while.
With the warm fall breeze drifting about, the gorgeous urban landscape of my hometown hugging me all around, and those Chicago folks who are just so dang nice holding doors and offering smiles, it was hard to hold back my misty eyes, my heart bursting with Windy City love. I called up the husband and demanded we move back to Chicago. The husband reminded me that it was October, and had it been January, I’d be crying for the next plane back to California. Trivial matters.
The next day held a bit more lovely free time for me to roam about the city and buy completely unpractical shoes, and by late afternoon I was all dressed up and reporting to the Kenmore Studio for the main event. This place was seriously impressive—an enormous broadcast studio-meets-shiny-appliance-showroom. It was all decked out for the night’s competition with comfy lounge and bar areas, gleaming mini-kitchens for the chefs and a long, glossy table for the narrow-eyed, discerning judges.
Event co-host Michelle Alegria grills the judges and works the crowd
|The dynamic Chef Lovely presents her dishes to the judges|
All of the dishes were good, of course, but certain elements really wowed. For instance, I’m looking at you, bacon fat candle, lit by Chef Dino and drizzled over my Brussels sprouts. Chef Murphy‘s pork chop with pan-roasted apples was pure autmunal splendor, and I also loved the tangle of goodies in the dish made by Chef Friedman, a beautiful jumble of greens, vegetables and a smattering of pomegranate seeds with a few slices of perfectly cooked lamb on top.
It was an incredibly tough job to score the dishes—the pressure, I tell you!—but I tried my best to give fair scores in the few seconds we were given to make a decision, and suppress my urge to yell, “Can I change my answer?!” as the microphone passed by after I’d given my feedback. In the end, Chef Dino, with his innovative flavors and clean, creative plating, came out on top to win $10,000 for his charity and advance to the finals.
All the chefs cooked their hearts out and it was an incredible evening full of people who truly love food. Many, many thanks to the good people at Sears for allowing me to be a guest judge for the last round of the semi-finals. I felt so insanely lucky to be a part of the whole thing. I’m pumped to check out who will win at the finals, and hey, you should too! You can check out the competition on November 4th on the Sears Chef Challenge website.
Growing up, I wasn’t much of a summer camp kind of girl. Which is to say that I had an irrational fear of group activities and being away from my mother, plus an unnatural aversion to the outdoors. Despite my fierce protests, I was sent to summer camp on a few occasions anyway. Forced to live like a feral child, sweating in shared sleeping quarters by night and running my athletically-challenged foal-like figure through obstacle courses littered with MRSA-covered nets and tire swings by day, I was scarred by the whole thing. True story.
But after spending a week at Tante Marie Cooking School‘s week-long pastry intensive last week, I think I now realize what the problem was. Camp Minchindoh didn’t offer baking-related activities, that’s what. Perhaps if I had been given the option to make genoise instead of those godforsaken woven leather bracelets with my initials stamped in, I could have been a summer camp enthusiast. Perhaps then I would have been dragged away from the camp site, crying and begging to stay like all the other kids, pleading for one last shot at a batch of Swiss meringue, and then erroneously shouting “Hot pan behind you! Hot pan, ladies!” to no one in particular for weeks afterward, secretly wishing that I could be sent back to camp, like, every single week. You know, like how I feel right now writing this post. Are you there, God? It’s me, Shauna. Please, PLEASE send me back to pastry class.
Tante Marie’s is a Bay Area institution, and both their culinary and pastry programs have churned out countless successful chefs and business owners. I couldn’t have been more thrilled to snag a spot in their week-long pastry class. I can’t even begin to explain how awesome the whole experience was, so I’ll just tell you this: Five hours a day to practice baking without a tiny person clinging to my jeans. An arsenal of amazing recipes to dig into and make as many times as it took to get them right without worrying about the cost of butter. Access to every possible piece of kitchen and baking equipment you can possibly imagine. And–the clincher–A PERSON WHO WASHES EVERY SINGLE DIRTY DISH FOR YOU. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried, people.
The curriculum for the week was intense and extremely well-rounded. I was amazed how much mad knowledge was dropped in just five days. And depending on what each student wanted out of the class, we could pick whatever recipe we wanted to work on using the featured fundamentals of the day. It all started with pies and tarts on Day 1, also known as The Day I Didn’t Plate because I let my pate sucree walk all over me and underestimated my baking time. But with so many gorgeous, glistening tarts ready for the oogling and tasting, I couldn’t kick my Type A self for too long. And as a testament to how awesome my classmates were, they still threw a few appreciative oohs and ahhs my way when I set my piping hot apple tart on the table as they were packing up and walking out the door. Good people, I tell ya.
After that first crazy day of getting acquainted with the kitchen and the class structure, everyone settled into a nice groove on Day 2 for cakes and buttercreams. Pastry Zen was flowing all day long, even when I realized I was precariously close to not plating again. But I showed that behemoth of a Gateau L’Orange who was boss and slid it onto the table just as presentation began. And then promptly collapsed in a heap into the compost bin.
In the following days, I turned out so many things I’ve read about and dreamed about, but never had the time or counter space to work on. And of course I can’t go one word further without mentioning the mad skills and admirable patience of our incredible instructor Christa Resing, who I basically want to be. Having her there to walk us through the nitty-gritty of classic recipes, those little adjustments in technique that make all the difference between Suck and Greatness, was totally invaluable.
I couldn’t believe how well things came out using Christa’s smart little tips and tricks, even with the tough stuff, like the ever-elusive French macarons. See also Praline Cream Roulade (complete with jazzy hard-crack caramel-hazelnut discs for garnish–see the first photo of this post–fancy, fancy!), lemon eclairs, espresso-truffle ice cream. I was sort dying from it all. I mean, my genoise was moist! My macarons had FEET, guys (and real strawberry-rose French buttercream, y’all)! Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize we were riding the Awesome Train all the way through Pastry Town. So, so great.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday breezed by, so many of us commenting that we never wanted the week to end. As someone who has been a solid B-minus student most of my life, never wanting to leave something that fits into the category of “school” is pretty major for me. I mean, imagine if I’d gotten to take Ice Creams and Sorbets instead of Western Civilization! Hindsight, people. Hind. Sight. Luckily, eating insane amounts of desserts everyday sort of softened the blow of that realization.
If you want to read up on Tante Marie’s amazing schedule of classes, pastry and beyond, check out their website.
Oh, you guys. This past week has just been complete insanity. So unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how badly you like to peer into the insanity of others, which, to be totally honest, sometimes I find quite delicious), this won’t be your typical POC post. Rather, just a pop-in and a bit of an update so you don’t think I’ve really gone off the deep end or something. Also, a word about birthday cupcakes.
First and foremost, we MUST talk about the fact that my sweet Little C officially turned the big 0-2 over the weekend. My baby girl. TWO, people! So. Not. Okay. Seemingly overnight, she speaks in short sentences and has kneecaps. It’s been a bit emotional for me. But Little C is thrilled about the whole thing. And depending on the moment at which you ask her how old she is, she might say, “Ummm…I’m-a TWO.” Or perhaps, “Eleventeen!”, further evidence that with a little kid, you never know what you’re gonna get.
And despite the spotty recipe posts that may be occurring around here for the next couple weeks, I should let you know that the baking has still been in overdrive in the POC kitchen as of late, another source of that aforementioned insanity. Most of this hot butter-on-sugar action is because of a seed of an idea that’s been slowly cracking open and sprouting, and I hope to share more details with you about all of that in the coming months.
But some of that baking was for Little C’s big day. We threw a little party here at the house with my go-to crowd pleaser of the world’s easiest and most succulent pulled pork, lots of cold drinks, and a birthday classic–yellow cupcakes with (mostly) milk chocolate frosting. If you’re looking for the perfect combination for parties of all sorts, you can’t go wrong with this one. And they’re even better when made all adorable with one of these sweet cupcake kits by Meri Meri. Love.
So tell me, what recipes of the classic yellow cake/chocolate icing pairing do you swear by? Here’s my picks:
Hope everyone is doing great! I’ll be back on track with a new recipe for ya soon.
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