Wednesday, February 11, 2015

For The Love of Chocolate

Chocolate: One of the more versatile and most loved foods in the world. We associate it with quality, social class, love, and romance. We use it to end a fine meal, and share as gifts with friends and family. So why do we have such a fascination with chocolate? One of the biggest reasons is obvious: its flavor. The rich aroma and taste of chocolate is identical, which is not true for many foods. Women may actually enjoy eating chocolate just a little bit more than men because they have a better sense of smell. Chocolate seems to pair well with anything from caramel to raspberries to habaneros. But it is best all by itself.

For centuries, chocolate has been a tried and true staple for lovers. Now there is actual proof from the scientific community that there are some benefits. Besides the jolt of caffeine served up in a piece of chocolate, this savory candy also contains PEA, or phenylethylamine, the very same molecule that courses through the veins of one who is in love. Combine our internal stores of the natural amphetamine with chocolate and it will serve to heighten that giddy sensation. Both dark and milk chocolate contain roughly the same amount of calories per gram, but dark chocolate contains more cocoa which is believed to have some additional health benefits. Eating chocolate one or two times a week may lead to a reduction in heart risk. There are also studies that suggest a regular intake of cocoa will improve mental function. Oddly enough, it seems there is a connection. It has been observed that the countries which have the most Nobel prize winners also enjoy the highest consumption of chocolate. But lets not kid ourselves. Were not eating it for those reasons. It simply makes us feel good.

Chocolate takes on many shapes and textures. It is amazing how many beautiful things are made with chocolate. We see it as lively bunnies or a lovely chocolate rose. It can be solid enough to create large statues. Or soft enough to dip into it, drink it, spread it, or roll it in nuts. Chocolate plays a part in most of the major holidays we hold dear: Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and Valentines Day. It has deeply woven its way into the fabric of our daily lives.

As with all foods, desserts have grown to become an artful and creative business. Since many of our favorite desserts are made with chocolate, Pastry Chefs are challenged to make fresh and unique items that one simply cannot resist, even after a fulfilling meal. That was how the Sin of the Inn was born. Pastry Chef, Joni Marty, wanted to create a delectable delight that people could not resist. The Sin of the Inn is just that: an amazing creation of pecan crust, layered with caramel, white satin, chocolate ganache, and topped with white chocolate mousse. It is truly exquisite! Ganache is another popular way chocolate is used. Ganache is made by simply heating cream, then mixing it into solid chocolate pieces. You may add liqueurs or flavors to this mixture as well. The result is a soft, rich chocolate substance that can be used in many different ways. Pastry Chef Joni also makes the most perfect chocolate dipped strawberries. She has made literally tens-of-thousands of them during her pastry career, making over 7000 last December alone. Joni suggests that if you are planning to dip your own strawberries, or any other items in chocolate, you need to use a high quality melting chocolate, heating it very slowly so it doesnt seize up or lose its smooth texture. Melting chocolate is superior for dipping as it hardens nicely when it cools and isnt sticky.

The many ways chocolate is used in desserts is endless: Decadent Chocolate Lava Cake, Chocolate Cheesecake, Chocolate and White Chocolate Mouse, Chocolate Tortes, Fudge, Turtles, Cakes, Cupcakes, and Cookies. This list goes on and on. But theres an old Midwest favorite that has made an appearance at almost every family reunion and graduation party for decades: the Brownie.

Pastry Chef Joni has been perfecting the art of bars and cookies for many years, and she shared her favorite Brownie recipe with us to try:

            Jonis Favorite Brownies

            3-1/4 cup Sugar
            13 oz. Butter
            Cream together, scrape bowl.
            Add 6 Eggs
            Blend well, scrape bowl.
            Add 1-1/3 cups Flour
            2 cups Cocoa
            1/8 cup Vanilla
            Blend well, scrape bowl.
            Add 8 oz. Chocolate Chips
            Spread in a Parchment Lined Pan 15-1/2 x 10-1/2
            You may use Foil Greased with Shortening
            Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
So, enjoy your chocolate, in moderation. Now you know, there are many reasons why you should. The marvelous flavor is only one of them.

-Christine Schiltz
Owner & Catering Director
Lake Elmo Inn Event Center

Monday, January 5, 2015

Wedding Trends Come and Go

 There is a current trend out there that has built slowly the last few years and hit the wedding scene hard in 2014. It is the rustic, whimsical, romantic, vintage theme with a dash of the unexpected. It really has been quite a year to see all the different versions and visions of this concept that were created. If you attended a wedding reception in a barn in the last year, you are not alone. Barns all across the Twin Cities are opening up to host grand receptions and parties, draped in linen fabrics and bare bulb lighting, and dont forget the mason jars at the bar. What backdrop is more beautiful than an apple orchard, a garden, or a vineyard?

As a caterer, this trend has had a great impact on how we serve our products as well. More and more, we require multiple and thorough planned walk-throughs of these unusual sites to carefully plan how we will execute multi-course plated meal services. We have also had a lot of fun designing stations and food displays that play into the whole rustic theme. Our cold stations, for instance, may be decorated with smooth stones, interesting succulents, rich moss, and lots of candles. Lots of candles! It seems the rule of the day is that anything from nature goes. From decorative wood slices to hay bails, youll see it all. Suddenly there is burlap everywhere! The thing I love most about this concept is that it is very easy to incorporate just about any meaningful family heirloom or items from dear loved ones into your reception to make it personal to you. Gather all the white glass vases you can find from your relatives and create multi-vase gatherings of garden flowers as centerpieces. Incorporate old wooden crates from Grandmas basement, suitcases from Aunties attic, or herbs from Dads garden.

Food trends for this type of reception have been equally as fun as the decor. We are finding high-end comfort foods, as well as, old family favorites are very popular. Since we are very comfortable creating custom menus of any kind, and really thrive on the challenge of making every event unique, it has opened up a lot of opportunity to create some fun dishes. Back to the basics with Fresh Garden Greens, Fried Chicken, Buttermilk Biscuits, and Mac and Cheese. But Mac and Cheese with a twist? Maybe Truffle Mac and Cheese. We are all Foodies these days. Three kinds of Chili with an assortment of amazing toppings on a cool September evening? These menus would not seem out of place in the least at even a more formal reception in a barn. They would seem creative and fun. Rustic chic. And how many chefs do you know who are happy to prepare moms favorite soup recipe for 250 guests! Ours will!

Interestingly enough, the top colors for receptions in 2015 are reminiscent of this rustic theme so we may be looking at seeing this trend continue to develop in upcoming years. Other popular trend predictions are that edible guest favors are a must, small sip or sample size beverages are being offered, family-style dining is coming back, and hors d’oeuvres or food station dining is still very much in vogue. Guest tables without linen, rustic wooden tables and chairs, and dining al fresco is still a desirable choice.
But interestingly enough, here in Minnesota, we still see the more traditional full-service, plated dinner and traditional bridal table more often than not. After all, a Minnesotans roots go pretty deep.

If you are set on having an outdoor or rustic wedding this year, change things up a bit. Maybe instead of using mason jars, use antique milk bottles. Upgrade from burlap to dyed muslin linens. Change up the photo booth to short-clip videos of all your guests. Remember, it is all about making it truly your own.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Home for the Holidays

Even though my husband is an amazing Chef and can serve a five course plated dinner for 20 guests with ease, I tend to shy away from hosting parties like this simply because I like to take the path of least resistance. Being so busy in December, I want my husband and I to be able to enjoy our parties as much as our guests. With plated dinners over 6 or 8 guests, someone has to spend much of the time in the kitchen plating and serving. Unless you want to hire help. I feel entertaining larger groups is about being together and enjoying each others company, especially if youre entertaining family or friends who dont often visit. So I limit my holiday gatherings to two different types of meals that allow this: a cocktail and hors doeuvres party in the evening, and a buffet style brunch mid-day on a Saturday or Sunday.

Last year, our family gathering during the holiday consisted of 35 guests. I researched many different types of fun cocktails and collected the supplies. Premixing as much as I could the day before, and assigning the bar tending duties during the party to a family member, we offered festive Peach Prosecco Bellinis, traditional Tom and Jerrys, Calvados Martini, and what turned out to be the most popular, a rich Ultra Alexander Martini. Our menu, as it turned out, did not follow any theme or nationality. We simply choose items that we loved. We placed platters and slow-cookers here and there instead of filling a single serving table. Entertaining like this encourages guests to eat slowly, taking time in-between items to enjoy every plate, and helps to create a pace of leisure. In our hectic lives these days, it is nice to actually be able to slow down a bit. Of course the menu choices are countless with this style of meal, which is what makes planning them so fun. This is what we prepared:

   Caviar with Egg Crumbles, Diced Onion, Creme Fresh, and Tiny Buckwheat Pancakes
   Seafood Platter: Shrimp Cocktail, Crab Claws, and Raw Oysters with Creamed Horseradish, Cocktail Sauce, Lemons, and Tabasco
   International Cheese Display including Smoked Salmon, Egg Crumbles, Chopped Onion, Cream Cheese, Relishes, Breads and Crackers
   Fresh Fruit and Berries Platter
   Butternut Squash Ravioli
   Mini Gyros: Sliced Lamb, Chopped Tomatoes and Onions, and Mini Pita Bread
   White Rice
   Duck & Wild Rice Soup
   Assortment of Christmas Cookies, ours mixed with several of our guests, I like to mix them together on one giant platter.

Although the menu took a couple hours to prepare earlier that day, the only last minute things that needed attention were assembling the Seafood Platter and cooking the Rice. Everything else was either placed on a platter and refrigerated or in a slow-cooker to warm hours before. We were able to enjoy a leisurely cocktail, watch the fire, and listen to holiday music for an hour or so before our guests started to arrive. It is a good place to be.

It is so easy to prepare much of the food in advance and hold it until dinner. Guests can graze on delectable items for a couple hours, sampling things here and there while enjoying other activities. The thing I most appreciate about this style of dining is that much of the clean up can be done after your guests have left.

For Brunch the next day, a buffet is the rule of the day for me. The only thing here that needed last minute attention was pulling the Quiche and Chicken Sausage out of the oven. The soup and cider took care of itself in the slow-cookers. Everything else was prepared the morning before. We served:

   Butternut Squash Soup
   Maple Bacon Quiche
   Chicken Sausage with Sun Dried Tomatoes
   Festival Salad
   Applesauce Coffee Cake
   Spiced Apple Cider

Parties during the day take on a whole new family feel and you can follow brunch with some fun winter activities like building a snow man or ice skating. Most of the time, however, we opt for the good, old-fashioned indoor activity of playing board games together.

Do yourself a favor and simplify your holiday entertaining. You dont have to skimp on the menu to enjoy your gathering as much as your guests!

   -Christine Schiltz
Owner & Catering Director
Lake Elmo Inn Event Center