Looking back on Austin food in 2007
Looking back on Austin food in 2007, what stands out most in my mind are chocolates, desserts, and pastries. I know, I know – I'm a fat gal with a sweet tooth, what else would I notice? – but it really is more than that. This past year saw the creations of several fine chocolatiers enter a wider market – Chocolat, Fat Turkey Chocolate, Luxe Sweets, Bakerman's Patisserie and Chocolatier, and Tempt Chocolates, for example. A handful of talented pastry restaurant and hotel professionals changed jobs – Amanda Rockman left Asti for Chicago and Tony Sansalone took over at the Driskill; Judy Marts and Mark Chapman struck out on their own with new businesses, but everyone was working at the top of their game. Cupcakes were popping up all over – Babycakes, Kneaded Pleasures, and Hey Cupcake! New pastry shops opened, such as Dream Bakery, Sweet Tempered, and the Cookie Jar, and the new proprietors of Bakerman's Patisserie and Chocolatier switched from doughnuts to fine French pastries and handmade chocolates. Even home bakers got into the act, entering dozens of cookies in at Faraday's Kitchen Store holiday baking contest and also showing well in nationally sponsored contests. Foodwise, 2007 was a very sweet year... As a pastry cook by trade, I'm always interested when the creative folks at Nordic Ware in Minnesota come up with new additions to their distinctive line of bakeware. This year they produced a stamp-cutter that makes it possible for bakers to cut out a perfect lattice-top crust or one decorated with a circle of hearts. There is a new Star of David Bundt-type pan with a snazzy art-deco look to it and two new pans designed exclusively for Williams-Sonoma: a plaque of adorable classic cars and a three-dimensional stand-up Santa Claus. The big box of samples arrived just in time for me to use the pans while preparing my usual cookies, candies, and yule logs for our annual Chronicle holiday party. The cute little cars were decorated with colorful candies (a special kit also available at Williams-Sonoma) and placed on top of a sheet cake trimmed with crushed peppermints. I filled the Star of David pan with an orange-walnut butter cake with chocolate-covered cranberries and used that same batter minus the berries for Santa. Thanks to some expert decorating assistance from Kristie Sasser of All in One Bake Shop and Texas Culinary Academy pastry student Alejandro Torres, the cakes were a huge hit at the party. Lucky for me, photographer Todd V. Wolfson managed to get some shots before they were devoured. See more photos online with this column at austinchronicle.com... Now that we're one holiday celebration down with one more to go, it's time to consider food and drinks for New Year's Eve. I'll be going to the annual soiree thrown by some college friends, toting Champagne and a big ol' ham that was a gift from the Stubb's Legendary Bar-B-Q holiday mail-order catalog. At home, I'll make black-eyed peas and corn bread to eat for luck and prosperity. If you don't already have a private party lined up or reservations at one of the many restaurants, bars, or hotels eager to help you ring in the new year, here's a suggestion: Invite some friends over for party snacks and cocktails made with some of the new Texas distilled spirits (one of Wes' fellow tasters has provided recipes), and finish the evening with Champagne. For a wealth of good bar-food ideas, check out Great Bar Food at Home (Wiley & Sons, $17.95) by Wimberley author Kate Heyhoe. This slim volume offers inviting recipes for plenty of savory bar snacks plus anecdotes, history, and lore from some of the world's most famous watering holes. Who knows? Some Texas-flavored cocktails paired with quick and tasty dishes could make your house a famous holiday party venue, too.
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