Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Recap: Taste of the Nation 2011 and Food Bloggers Great American Bake Sale

What a whirlwind weekend I had last week! Team LaDue and Crew Food Blogger Bake Sale raised nearly $1200 for Share Our Strength- that's $600 more than last year! That was in 5 hours, with just a few items sold from home the following day.

We are blessed to have an amazing location at 5th and Wine, in Old Town Scottsdale. Scott Yanni, the establishments General Manager, graciously lets us utilize part of the restaurant, as well as promoting the bake sale from within. He is not only a fabulous host, but an accomplished Sommelier as well. Why not visit and let him suggest a pairing while you enjoy unique flavor combination's? His team of employees are a stellar group, willing to help (and partake in sweets!) in any way they can.

I am so very thankful to have had an amazing team of bakers, that created such amazing and sinful treats. My glucose levels have yet to recover!

One of whom I was blessed to meet, and now call a friend, is Camber of Food Snots. Camber is a new food blogger, whose confectionery creations not only look fabulous, but taste far superior to many a restaurant dessert. One of the many she contributed to the bake sale was this Bavarian Apple Torte, pictured below. She stepped into this bake sale with an open kitchen and a larger than life heart, rocking the socks off any recipe in her path. Camber, I can't thank you enough...

My dear friend, Janet Jorgensen, owner of the fabulous Dog Hotel and Obedience Center known as Starbarks, baked over 100 quick breads... blueberry, banana, lemon poppy seed and cinnamon nut. They were simply fabulous, and a much sought after item.

Janet and I met, and go way back, in a unique manner. While I didn't understand the significance of that meeting at the time, she has come to be one of my closest friends whom I just adore. She and her husband even landscaped and donated their fabulous back yard for my little Tuscan themed wedding. Janet has a big heart and it is evident in everything she touches.

My sister in law Lesley, and my niece Lexi, created the most adorable little pies and tarts! Cherry, apple, and blueberry, they were works of art that no one wanted to eat because of how perfect they looked. In addition, they baked the most delicious array of cookies that disappeared off the sale tables quickly.

I've heard from many people that they just don't understand Twitter, a social media site of which I am a confirmed junkie. All I have to say is, "hop on"! Twitter is where I've met one of my bestie foodie friends, Renee, of the rockin' food blog, Flamingo Musings. Renee graciously donated some of her handcrafted micro batch jams, from her fabulous jam company, the Freakin' Flamingo, to our bake sale. Quite a few lucky people left our bake sale with a bit of Miami in their bags!

My friend Sharon is quite the experimental baker, and for this years sale came up with green chili tomato cookies- an unusual combination that intrigued many people. I look forward to her unusual treats every year, knowing that as soon as one sale is over, ideas come pouring into her head for the next! Sharon also worked hard, finding fabulous raffle donations as well.

As we were setting up and getting ready to open, we had a surprise guest and first buyer of the day- April Warneke, Meteorologist, mom, and all around sweet gal from 3TV. I do have to confess that I did stalk her a bit on Twitter, and bribed her with the English Toffee that I had made for the sale. Hey, a food bloggers gotta do whatever it takes for her chosen charity!

I'd also like to thank gals named Marcia, and Yuna, who was referred via Share Our Strength, who baked an incredible array of cookies and cakes- a flavor for every craving, and a blessing to our team.. Thank you ladies!

I had wonderful help in my mom and my son. Mom cashiered while my son re-stocked and recommended treats to our wonderful guests.

We had wonderful raffles provided by Harris Dental, 5th and Wine Restaurant, Rock Star Boot Camp, Starbarks Dog Hotel and Obedience Center, Freakin' Flamingo Jams, and Baker Wee. Thank you all for your generosity!

Our weekend would not have been complete without Camber and I attending Share Our Strengths Taste Of The Nation 2011 Event at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. Every year, the nation’s hottest celebrity chefs and mixologists donate their time, talent and passion across the United States and Canada, with one goal in mind: to raise the critical funds needed to end childhood hunger. The event, co-chaired by Julie Zagars and Susie Timm, was an amazing evening filled with people passionate about ending what has become a nationwide epidemic. I was honored to be able to bake and provide cookies that were attached to every guests gift bag this year, and thank Julie Zagars for the opportunity to do so.

But now that the excitement and festivities are over, let us not forget that hunger never takes a break. It isn't seasonal. It's not restricted to Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any holiday. It is a real problem affecting many children 365 days a year, 24/7.

Part of the reason I love to cook and bake is being able to share my creations and to please others. Knowing that I can actually help to feed hungry children here in Arizona (and across America), through my passions, makes the floury cloud of dust in my kitchen worth the while. But I realize not all of you enjoy it as much as I do. There are many ways you can help. Please, go to Share Our Strength and find a way you can become involved today.

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

English Toffee and the 2nd Annual Food Bloggers Great American Bake Sale

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a single mom. At that point in time, I had two children (I now have 4). Life. Was. Hard. It was the late 80's, beginning 90's, and while the nation spoke of abundant living, I was trying to figure out how to stretch a $6 an hour full time wage into the next month. Rent was $450 and daycare was $100 per week. Naturally, there were other bills. Yet surprisingly, my income "exceeded the maximum allowable income for assistance."

Yeah. That's what I said.

Life has changed. I have a pantry that seems to go on forever, with the ability and passion to create a meal out of ingredients, others seem confused by. I have a dislike of fast food, and an even greater, intense, dislike of food waste. I love the creation of gourmet tastes that come from simple, wholesome, homemade ingredients. My passion is sharing food from my kitchen with others, who don't have that ability.

The Share Our Strength Organization is dedicated to children who struggle to eat day to day. They provide reliable access to healthy food for families across the nation, in your neighborhoods, via support from everyday people like you and me. They teach low income families how to select and prepare nutritious, low cost, ingredients in ways that will encourage healthy eating habits and stretch their food dollars.

One of the ways I am able to help, is by forming a team of bakers and hosting a Food Bloggers Great American Bake Sale. Food Bloggers are an amazing community of passionate people, who always seem to use their talents in the kitchen, banding together to help those in need. My team is partnering with Taste of The Nation Scottsdale 2011, an extraordinary evening of delicious dining to also benefit Share Our Strength’s efforts to end childhood hunger, providing baked goods and encouraging guests to visit our bake sale the following day.

English Toffee has always been a favorite, indulgent treat of mine. It reminds me of abundant, happy, and hopeful times. It is a recipe I have made for over 20 years, given to me by a dental lab known as "Sweet Tooth", back when I was in dentistry. This will be only one of the many treats I contribute to my bake sale... will you please, save the date- Saturday, May 14th, and find one in your neighborhood? Let us all end childhood hunger in America by 2015.

English Toffee

2 sticks unsalted butter, cubed
1 c sugar
1/2 tsp good vanilla- I use my own, homemade Bourbon Vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
6 oz dark chocolate chips
1/2 c chopped walnuts

Place a large sheet of aluminum foil onto a large cookie sheet. Lightly coat foil with butter. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan add butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Over medium heat, bring mixture to a bubbly boil, stirring VIGOROUSLY with a flat bottom whisk. Constantly stir until a hard crack stage is reached, approximately 295F on a candy thermometer (Sugar can burn easily and rapidly, so constant stirring is essential!). Mixture will start out a pale yellow, and will be at the right temperature once a deep, golden caramel color is achieved.

Immediately pour mixture out onto prepared cookie sheet. Carefully tip pan to spread the mixture, keeping about an 1/8" to 1/4" thickness. Let mixture set about 10 minutes, then evenly sprinkle dark chocolate chips over the top. Be careful as mixture is still very hot.

Wait about 10 minutes, and then with an offset spatula, evenly spread chocolate over the top of the toffee. Immediately, evenly sprinkle the chopped walnuts over the chocolate.

Let Toffee set for about an hour, or until chocolate has hardened (or if you are desperate, such as myself, stick in the freezer for 5 minutes for an immediate craving). Once hardened, break toffee in to bite sized pieces. What are you waiting for..? Eat it already!!

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