Friday, April 4, 2014

A Kid In A Candy Store

"Be absolutely persistent in all attitudes regarding quality. Buy only the best ingredients obtainable. Offer the most delicious and interesting assortments of candies possible. Provide the highest level of customer service in all aspects of business." ~ The See's Candies Philosophy

What a great philosophy.  One that could be adapted to my job and many others. As a kid growing up in Northern California, See's candy was our normalcy.  Those black, white and gold boxes showed up at almost every holiday and special occasion in our house. I equate these chocolates to my childhood. We did not dare purchase a Whitman's sampler box, as my Grandma always reminded me that they did not have the same quality as See's. I don't know if that is truth, but I always listened to Grandma and if she said Mary See was the best, then I believed her. Over the years I've had my favorites. Our family was a "Nut and Chew" family so creams rarely made their way to our home.  A see's tradition is to offer a free sample candy with every visit, so naturally, I looked forwrd to going there and I always choose something unique. Scotchmallows were my first introduction to their signature honey marshmallow. Marshmints with their green jelly were a St. Patty's Day tradition until they took them off the market in the 80's for lack of sales. Always being true to the consumer, Chuck Huggins (the CEO) received a letter in the late 80's from a devoted Marshmint fan, respectfully asking for them to come back. Not only did he bring them back, he included a little Marshmint Club member card when you purchased them. (I have somehow lost mine over the years).

See's is a tradition, if you grew up with them then you likely also introduced your children to them at some point. My son used to love the scotch kisses (still does), and we loved that we could just go in and buy him a small box of those. Unfortunately, my daughter did not have much of an opportunity to fall in love with See's because we moved to Texas when she was two. She knows how good they taste (online purchases) but has not had the opportunity to experience the feeling of walking into a shop (that will change shortly).

You never realize what you miss until it's gone. I remember the first Christmas here in Texas I started missing my traditional nuts and chews, or the beloved molasses chips and sweet gourmet lolipops. I was quick to find them online and order them but it still lacked the tradition of walking in to that crystal clean white and black store-with the sales staff smiling at you and welcoming you with a free sample.
Jumping forward to now,  I saw an invite for a soft opening for the new Sees candy shop opening in North Austin on my Austin Bloggers page. I had not previously heard this news and was so excited! I jumped on that free ticket (and glad I did because they went fast). The event was sponsored by Orange Wall Collective and all the district managers and See's PR people were there to welcome us and give us a fun filled sweet night. Of course, now that I'm practicing a low glycemic lifestyle, I had to take into consideration that my body could only handle a few free samples. But needless to say on this special occasion, I decided to leave that lifestyle at the door and let my taste buds go so that I could go back to a sweeter time in life when customer service meant a warm smile and a free sample of delicious, quality made candy! I'm jus' sayin'!

*Disclaimer - For the record, I mean no disrespect to Austin's own candy store Lammes. They also make delicious candy and I am pretty certain that if you asked an Austinite that had to move to a new state they would miss Lammes just like I missed See's. It's all about tradition and what you are raised on.
I'm serious about the smiles in this place.
This uniform never gets old nor does the smile.
The uniform has not changed much from 1930's Still crisp and clean.
Candy Maps as a reference provided at candy counter.
Everyone has their favorite - this is one of my Tequila Guy's.
My Son's Favorite.
Plenty of Easter options.
Know a co-worker in need of a pick me up?
My Mom's Favorites.
One of my Favorites.
Can't decide - they've got that covered too.
Fun highlight of the night - we had to work on a candy line and it's much harder than it looks!. We were in some serious competition to get our box filled first. We tied with the other team.
Believe it or not, there is a method to the perfect candy placement in those boxes.

Fun night with fellow Austin Bloggers.
And the SWAG! Enough candy to last me for quite a while, but don't worry See's, I will be back soon!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

It's a Mad World...

“Have I gone mad? I'm afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.”
~Lewis Carroll - Alice in Wonderland

If you have ever read Alice in Wonderland (the book, not the movie) then you are aware of the extremely brilliant chaos around the Mad Hatter's tea party. There is something to be said about his quotes and how mad they truly are.

I recently had the pleasure to work with a team on a project of madness to help produce a "pinterest worthy" baby shower for my wonderful sweet niece. My task was to create the menu and cook it while my Sis-in-Love (Sue) was asked to do all of the items required by pinterest my niece to create a magical scene from the ceiling to the floor. As you can see in the pictures below, it came out pretty cool and it was certainly not a job for one person to tackle.

My first task was to create a menu of small bites for a tea party, but making them hearty enough for the men that would be attending since it was a coed shower. Keeping within the "mad" theme, I added bacon to several items and put some whimsy into others. All in all, I think we covered the first task.

My second task was to create cupcake toppers out of fondant to mimic the Alice in Wonderland characters. I first went online to try to purchase them.  The price was way too steep for my budget and after all, I thought to myself, it is part of my job as a recipe developer and food stylist to know how to make and do these things. So off I went to YouTube to research fondant and Alice characters. I settled on easy enough shapes that I could cut and paste together on round white disks of marshmallow fondant. What I did not figure in was the time it would take to make 30 of these toppers. After one day on my own, I asked my friend Lisa and my Mom to come over and help and I'm so thankful for that help as it allowed each of us to add our own artistic touch and style on each one that we made.

It was nice to have the fondant toppers made, dried and packed to take on the plane, but my job was easy compared to the countless hours Sue put in. From 9am Friday morning when she picked my daughter and I up at the airport until Sunday at 6pm, she did not sleep once. As an ER nurse, she may be used to those hours, but even if that's the case, I was still blown away by her energy. She led our collective team down a rabbit hole of crafts and turns and stores and ideas that only a Mad Hatter could dream up. So with the help of brothers, sisters, nieces, great nieces, nephews, future grandparents, daughters, and a handful of good friends, this party's atmosphere was formed and created within 48 hours. I often wonder how those people on pinterest create the functions that they do. Or how they pull off those amazing event themes they post. I am here to tell you that there is no way they do it by themselves.  I can honestly tell you it takes a Mad Mad team to pull off a Mad Hatter Tea Party without having to hear "Off with her Head"... I'm jus sayin!

The Main Dining room for the Tea!

The Amazing Centerpieces (such attention to detail & everything handmade)
Of course, no baby shower these days is complete without a "diaper cake". How clever is this topsy turvy cake made collectively by Mackenzie, Melissa & Kevin (I especially like the tea pouring half hazardly out of the pot into the cup.
Did I mention that every tea pot and tea cup and paper item was hand made and folded using a cricut?
We had guest participation too. How creative are you at painting a saying on a onesie?
Speaking of creative - my brother custom designed this croquet set. Now you know what I mean when I say my daughter got her artistic genes from him. This is so cool and the kids (and adults) had a great time playing. 
Yes my beautiful daughter stayed up to 3am designing and painting this photo booth. (I personally think she has her Uncle's artistic genes)

There was a sugar sweet candy bar that Sue's friend Delaney put together. As you can see, this is not her first time putting one of these objects of confections together. She has a great eye for detail.

One thing my niece had insisted on was pom poms and she wanted them hanging everywhere. Pom poms she made and they were beautiful hanging from the ceiling in her signature colors.
Behind the scenes making of the diaper cake. That's my sweet niece Melissa and she spent alot of time on finishing that cake.
This is my sweet little MackaRone (aka Mackenzie, aka soon-to-be big sister). I let her place all of the fondant toppers on the cupcakes. She has so much attention to detail with tasks that are given to her. Do I see Chef in her future????
Time to eat!
The buffet table almost filled
Bacon Wrapped Pretzel Rods.
Preheat oven to 350'
Line a cookie sheet with foil and then parchment paper.
Wrap one slice of bacon around a pretzel rod. Place in a row with as many as you prefer on a cookie sheet so that they are not touching. Sprinkle lightly with brown sugar and chili powder. Bake 20 minutes or until the bacon is cooked. Remove to a plate to dry. Rods will be soft and wiggly at first due to the heat and bacon drippings. When they cool the will become hard again to place in an upright vase to serve. ~Hint~ Make extras as they go fast.

Meatball Cupcakes
Preheat oven to 350'
Use foil/parchment lined cupcake liners.
Make your favorite meatloaf recipe. Using an ice cream scooper, scoop one ball into each liner in a muffin pan. Make a mixture of ketchup, brown sugar, and chili powder. Spoon a tablespoon on top of each meatball. Bake for 25 minutes in oven. Remove and when cool to touch, pick up each muffin and try to drain some of the fat out. This can be a little tedious but less fat means less splatters on the eaters. Make your favorite mashed potato recipe. Pipe it on the top of the meatball (frosting) and sprinkle with bacon bits (and shredded cheese if you prefer). Top with a cherry tomato if you like.  Refrigerate until serving where you can warm them in the oven at 200' for 15 min.

I had leftover mashed potatoes so I piped small rosettes on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and sprinkled with cheese and paprika. Baked until set, about 15 minutes in a 350' oven. They went fast with all those helpers.
A quick recipe I found here - I substituted large slices of pepperoni with these cute little minis. I doubled the batch as well.
My sweet niece and nephew - Can't wait to welcome baby Jayden!
Are you ready for Dessert?
We had red velvet and chocolate cupcakes. Topped with brilliant colored buttercream. And each had a topper on them and my signature "orange" pansy. We also purchased plenty of delicious tea cookies and I made a dozen chocolate dipped strawberries as a last minute request.

I used this recipe for the marshmallow fondant and this tutorial for help.

My Sister in Love Suzie