Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Stuffed Baked Figs

Figs were one fruit almost never found in my house growing up.  I assumed it was due to most of my family being extremely picky eaters, especially when it came to healthier foods.  But when I saw packages of figs on sale at the grocery store last week, I grabbed a couple.  That night, my father (pickiest of them all) broke in to one of the packs and ate half of them.  Go figure.

But that wasn't my main reason for buying the figs.  I saw this recipe on The Purple Foodie's blog one week before and my curiosity was sparked by the simplicity and potential deliciousness.  You'll only need four ingredients for this, and it takes less than 20 minutes to prepare (and that's a generous estimate) - good for party snacks.

What you'll need:

-Figs (As many as you want.  I used Brown Turkey)
-Goat cheese (I used about 2 ounces for 9 figs)
-Honey (to taste, just to drizzle over the top)
-Black Pepper (what I used.  You can also play around with this ingredient and use whatever you want:  nuts, herbs, cayenne pepper.)

How to do it:

Preheat your oven to 350F/180C.

Take each fig and cut off the stem.  Cut 3/4 of the way down the fig, exposing the inside and making it look something like a hungry sandworm on Arrakis.  (Note:  Make sure to cut only 3/4 of the way down, and no more.  You'll see why later.)

Grab a pinch of goat cheese and stuff it inside:

Put them on a baking sheet and throw them in the oven for about 15 minutes.  (PF advises 10-12, but I liked them better when cooked longer)

And here is where the depth of your cuts comes in to play.  The figs will open while baking, and if you cut them too deep they will open completely.  After baking, a properly cut fig will look like this:

But if you got a little knife-happy at the start, your figs will look more like this:

They were still tasty, so it wasn't the end of the world, but it hurts your presentation.

Once out of the oven, drizzle each fig with honey. (I used orange blossom honey, but use whatever you like.  Whatever you use, a squeeze bottle makes things easier)  Top with the black pepper and serve warm.

And that's it!

(As you can see, I did get overexcited with the knife.  Don't make my mistake!)
The figs will ooze a sweet syrup after baking that goes well with the saltiness of the goat cheese and with the pepper.  They're not exactly the neatest food to eat, so either have napkins handy or use a knife and fork like civilized people do. (What's with them?)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sake Too - Port St Lucie, FL

I happened to be in town yesterday and decided to try something other than my usual lunch of pizza or sandwiches.  Despite the number of sushi/Thai places in the area, I don't often get a chance to eat at one, so I gave Sake Too a chance.

First I looked at the restaurant's menu and reviews online.  Overall I saw positive reviews with a few outliers, which are to be expected.  The menu showed a wide variety and a balance between Japanese and Thai menus.  I had an appointment immediately following lunch, so I decided to grab a quick lunch and run.

It was clear before walking in to the building that the restaurant would be small.  Tradition Square is full of tiny restaurants and office buildings due to the higher rent prices.  Sake Too occupies the end cap of a long line of stores, next to a frozen yogurt shop.

So I was unsurprised to see a small dining room with tables set close together.  A sushi bar dominates the room, and I must have come in at a slow point in the day because the two men occupying the bar were mostly focused on the television playing a news show above them.  Well, at least I wouldn't have to put up with a sports show or its fans.  Also in the dining room were a mother with two sons and one young couple.  Both parties kept to themselves and there was no problem of screaming kids as one review complained.

The decor is made up of clean lines and a black/white/bright green color scheme, apparently going for a more "modern" Asian style than the typical Chinese take-out restaurant.  This worked well with the small place and left me, as an uncultured American girl, feeling less intimidated.

I noticed a discrepancy between the website and the printed menu:  while the site listed red and green curry as lunch options, no mention was made of green curry in the printed menu.  This was nothing vital, and I ordered red curry, which came with miso soup, and a glass of plum wine.  The waitress warned me that the dish was fairly spicy, and I assured her that was not only fine but preferable.

I will say that I had no problems whatsoever with the service.  My food came out in a timely manner and the waitress was friendly.

The miso soup came out first.  It was acceptable as an appetizer, but I thought the taste was weak.  Perhaps this batch was diluted?  Or was this the house recipe?

As someone who typically prefers sweeter wines, the plum wine was much too sweet, detracting from the flavor of the wine and hurting my teeth.  It tasted more like mead than anything else.  The wine did help to calm the fire from the red curry, but ultimately the sweetness was too much for me and I did not finish.

Out next was the red curry, with a scoop of sticky rise on the side and a spring roll with a hot and sweet dipping sauce.  The menu described the curry as a mix of "Thai curry paste, bamboo shoots, red bell pepper, pineapple, basil leaves and coconut milk."  That was exactly what I got and it was fantastic.  It struck a great balance between the spice of the curry paste and the flavor of the overall dish, and the pineapples lent their sweetness without being overpowering.  Mixing the sticky rice in with the bowl of curry, it was also a very filling lunch.

My apologies to the server for being in such a rush - I had to ask for my check when I was halfway through with the lunch.  But I would definitely return once given another chance.

Sake Too on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Review of

(Note:  This will be cross-posted to my other blog, Beth Rhodes.)

As previously mentioned, one of my resolutions for 2012 (and 2013) was to take on more freelance writing jobs.  I've had some success with this.  While I was able to find and produce some work, it was not exactly at the level that I was hoping for.

Being completely unfamiliar with the freelance world and unsure of where to start, I stumbled across and thought I found gold.  Unfortunately I found more hassle than I bargained for.

The site has an approval process in order to get in and I'm wary of privacy/trade secret regulations.  So I won't be posting any screenshots to illustrate.  Can't be too careful.

Bear in mind:  I have been a member for some time and the site has gone through major renovations since my induction.  But I made the cut with almost no experience under my belt, so their process isn't that rigorous.  If I can get in, you likely can too.

Once you're accepted as a writer, you'll have access to the rest of the interface.  (There is a separate interface for buyers, who use a different part of the site to log in.  I have not worked with this side personally.)  There are further steps you need to take in order to start claiming jobs, including filling out a profile, posting a W-9 to the site for tax purposes (US writers only), and applying for certain "specialties" in order to accept jobs in a certain field.  The latter step will ensure that you will wait at least a few days before taking any jobs, due to the time your application takes to be accepted or denied.

This comes to my first complaint:  The turnaround time for the Scripted staff is slow.  Not just for applying to specialties.  Once you are able to take a job, finish it and submit it, you can count on waiting at least a week for the content manager to look at your piece and send it back for edits before the buyer even sees it.  On a few occasions in the past, staff members would email you directly to let you know about certain big jobs you could take.  I would respond immediately for more information, only to wait hours for the staff member to reply and tell me the position was already filled.

Let's say you made it on the site, filled out your profile and gave them all the necessary information.  You even applied for a specialty in Food and Beverage, and were accepted.  Awesome!  Now you can start taking jobs.  Nine times out of ten, unfortunately, you won't see one available to you.  And when you do, it won't be available for at least two days.  What gives?  According to Scripted this has to do with your "writing score," an arbitrary number assigned to you based on the writing sample you gave when you applied and can be adjusted based on the quality of previous jobs you've filled.  Those with higher scores are given first priority at new jobs, and you'll find that many of the jobs will go away quickly.  This makes it very difficult for new writers to move up - how are you going to improve your score if you can't get any jobs?

Another option for new writers, and one where I've had most success, is with Pitches.  Buyers not looking for any specific topic will post a general idea in the Pitches section and writers will pitch their own ideas to write about.  If the buyer likes your pitch, congrats!  You've got yourself a job.  This is a popular avenue for blogs to find new content to post, because it will give them greater variety.  Unfortunately, the minimal information required of buyers to make posts in this section gives it a Craigslist feel, and the "ads" will be as vague and unprofessional as possible.  There seems to be very little quality control on part of the staff in this section, too.  More than once I've seen ads written in Korean, ads that said only "this is a joke/test, please don't pitch to me," or double postings.  (At the time of this writing, all of the aforementioned ads are still up.)  It wasn't as much of a problem in the past, but now navigating this section feels like navigating through a minefield.

I'm not going to pretend that finding jobs in the freelance world is easy, especially for a beginner.  But these are obstacles that are unnecessary and could  be done away with on part of the staff, but for whatever reason this did not happen.

So while is a good idea in theory, the execution seems to be lacking and the quality slipping.  Because of the learning curve, I would not recommend this to beginning writers.  If you are more established and skilled in the field, this may be of more use to you.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Browned Butter Pumpkin Soup

My first recipe contribution to this blog is ridiculously simple and also fantastic.  Just as promised, this post contains pumpkin and is out of season.

I have a love for all things pumpkin, and it is well known in my family.  They mocked my look of delight late last year when pumpkin started hitting the shelves, and thought it funny when they hid a can of pumpkin in my Christmas stocking.  I live in south Florida, where access to fresh pumpkin is limited, so often the canned stuff is easier and all I have to come by.  Surprisingly enough, I found myself with a surplus by the time Thanksgiving and Christmas were through.

It was also around this time that I came down with a horrible toothache, and was only willing to eat soft foods.  (The tooth has since been pulled.) So while my family enjoyed sandwiches on crusty bread for dinner, I decided to make use of one of my pumpkin cans.

 Browned Butter Pumpkin Soup
Serves 2-4 

2 T butter
1 clove garlic, minced
½ medium yellow onion, small diced
1 16 oz can pumpkin puree
1 16 oz can chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Melt butter in the bottom of a medium saucepan.  Add onions and garlic, keep heat on high and stir frequently.  After a few minutes the butter will turn brown, and the garlic and onions will be well caramelized.

Add the pumpkin puree and stock, reduce heat to medium high until the mix is hot.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

You can strain the soup here, or run it through a blender to smooth out the chunks of onion and garlic.  I chose not to and the soup was still tasty.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Opinion: Employer Relations

I've been planning to write this for a long time now, but recent events have finally pushed me to do so.

Any employment situation should be win-win.  Both the employer and employee should be getting something out of the agreement.  The employer has someone to do work and carry the load to help out a team.  The employee gets pay and work experience that will help him in years to come.

In my experience, it seems that a lot of employers forget it isn't all about them.  Perhaps with the recession and so many people looking for a job, it's forgotten that good help isn't as replaceable as they think.  But if your employee finds that they aren't going to benefit from working for you, they'll be gone at the first opportunity.

While in college I've had my share of absentee bosses.  They would hire me, train me, and then spend days at a time being anywhere but the place of business, leaving me (and occasionally others) to run the place in their absence.  The work wasn't hard, but it was frustrating to try and keep up with the demand with no help.  Even if I did the best I could, my bosses would balk at having to come in and help when things were busy.

I couldn't learn from jobs like this, because I was stuck on the front lines helping customers.  The only thing I learned how to do was run in a cramped space.  So when I saw the writing on the wall, I didn't look back.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with an employer in this area about a weekend job.  One of the first things he brought up, and would not negotiate on, was that I sign a non-compete agreement prior to working.  This, on its own, is understandable.  I wouldn't mind doing that as long as I knew that the job I would be taking is beneficial.  I want to get a cake decorating business of my own off the ground someday, and could use the experience.  So I told him that I would think about it, and ask him more about the workplace.  He didn't answer my questions and went back to stressing the non-compete.

What's wrong with this picture?  While it's perfectly acceptable to want to cover your ass legally, if you're not going to negotiate the terms of the agreement you should at least work to convince a prospective employee that signing their name will help them in the long run.  Owning a business willing to hire them isn't enough.  I don't care how bad the recession is, nobody will be willing to shoot themselves in the foot for minimum wage and a poor work environment.

When I graduated, I made a promise to myself not to allow an employer to take advantage of my skills.  To make sure that any job I take will benefit me as well as my employer.  It's important for employers to step back and think of what they're offering to their employees, and not always the other way around.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Advertising, and its Difficulty.

Anyone who reads this should know about my fledgling company, 17th Street Cakes.  I've sold a few cakes through here, given out some goods and promoted it a bit to the outside world.  As I'd expected, advertising is the hardest part.

I started out with a Facebook page and put a few dollars toward advertising credits.  Those few dollars became even more when I noticed how many people were looking at the ads and finding that page.  I got a $50 ad credit from Facebook, and put that toward more ads.  Before I knew it, my credit ran out and I spent about $50 more on more ads before I pulled the plug.

What I found was disappointing.  The ads drove traffic to my page, but nobody was participating.  Nobody put in an order with me.  They only liked the page and moved on.  I decided to run a few promotions, in which the nth person to "Like" would receive a free box of cookies.  Again, I got more and more likes but no participation.  One winner never managed to see my messages asking her to step up and claim her prize, and because her privacy settings prevented me from messaging her directly, she lost her chance.  I'm sure very few actually saw my page, but instead clicked the link on the ad and moved on to play Farmville.  (Or is Farmville out of style now?)

Lesson learned:  Facebook does not work.  It might for established businesses, but not for someone like me.  Nobody has the attention span for it.

I'm pursuing another avenue.  My job at an insurance agency puts me in touch with a lot of people who have parties.  Especially a few of my coworkers.  I plan on using these connections to get my name out there.  It's going well so far.  I made a birthday cake for my boss, based on Butterfinger candy.  The restaurant where he went for dinner was so impressed with the end result that they wanted my contact information.  I've got a few more orders under my belt from coworkers.  And finally, the agency is sponsoring their first-ever kid's fishing tournament, and I will be one of the sponsors.  It'll be a small contribution based on what I can afford to donate, but there will be cake pops at the event.

My calendar's filling up slowly but surely with orders.  Some pro-bono, some paid.  Let's see how this goes.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

ACF National Convention + Cake + Nightlife

I've been terribly neglectful, I realize.  But it wasn't as if I had nothing to write about.  There have been a few developments.  I think I've just been subconsciously avoiding the topic.

To be honest, I felt for a while like I was losing my identity as a chef.  I graduated, I moved back home, and I missed any chances of finding employment in my field.  I got a job in an office, and remembered how draining office work can be.  After realizing how dry the job pool is here and now, I gave up looking for the time being.  Despite my education I started to see myself more as a receptionist than a pastry chef.  That wasn't where I wanted to be.

This was the main reason why, when I saw that the ACF National Convention was being held in Orlando this year, I jumped at the opportunity to go.  It's been expensive staying here for the weekend, but I think it's worth it.  I got the validation I'd somehow lost and needed back.  I've been surrounded by people who have been in my situation and encouraged me to keep swimming.  I saw my former instructors, who remembered me fondly.  This is exactly what I needed.

So excuse me for a moment while I make my way to the top floor of this hotel.  I need to get to the rooftop and shout:  "I am a chef!"

Well, that was cheesy.  But you get the idea.

So when I get back home tonight, I'm going to start looking for restaurant jobs again.  I can't start too soon.  I'm going to practice my skills more.  I'm going to take on more cake orders, promote myself and be proud of what I've accomplished.

Speaking of orders, I have a small side business that I've been running for some time, since I moved back home.  I specialize in birthday cakes and, apparently, cookie giveaways.  Check out the website and follow the Facebook page:  I've got a couple of orders for the near future, and always looking for more.

And as I've said, I have plenty more to write about.  Both for here and for Pussy Whipped Magazine.  The magazine's been dead for some time.  I'm determined to put some life back into it with what I have coming up.  So stay tuned.