Friday, April 23, 2010

Russian Cream

The summer of 1988 was for me a wild and crazy time. That was when I spent three months working in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a small western touristy town just south of Yellowstone National Park. Since my goal was to earn enough money to put me through another year of college, I worked five jobs. Beginning each day at 4:30 a.m., I was a waiter at a restaurant catering to busloads of tourists. When breakfast ended, I headed to another restaurant for the lunch shift. Then at 6 p.m., I was an actor in a wild west shoot out show in the town square. Next, I performed in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" at the Jackson Hole Playhouse. And finally, I finished the day serving the late night crowd at yet another restaurant. Looking back, I honestly don't know how I did it. Just writing about it has worn me out. I think I'll go take a nap.  


I'm back from my nap and feeling much better for it. 

The reason for reminiscing about my Jackson Hole days is that this recipe for Russian Cream reminds me of those days. For the lunch shift, I worked at the Cadillac Grille. I did a quick search on the Internet and was happy to see it's still open. Looking around their Web site, I noticed the restaurant has been remodeled and they have a completely different menu. 

Throughout my summer at the Cadillac Grille, they had two weekly contests awarding prizes to the waiters who had the highest dollar amounts in alcohol sales and overall food sales. Unfortunately, I had two strikes against me. First of all, the daytime waiters didn't stand a chance in overall food sales against the evening waiters. And secondly, as a Mormon, I didn't feel good about pushing the alcohol. One day, I was called into the manager's office who showed me my sales compared to the other waiters. My sales were the lowest of everyone's. I was told I needed to sell more alcohol or look for another job elsewhere. After standing there for a moment in shocked silence, inspiration came. I asked, "What if I made up the difference with dessert sales?" My manager thought it over and finally decided we could give it a try. A third contest was added—highest dollar amount in dessert sales.

I was determined to win, and that's when I made friends with the dessert chef. I can't remember her name, but she taught me all about her creations, the methods of making them, and the ingredients. She even helped me come up with great ways to describe the desserts. And best yet, she let me eat anything that didn't meet her high standards (a cheesecake that developed a crack, a piece of cake not cut with laser precision, etc.).

And it worked! I won the dessert contest each week for the remainder of the summer.

Of all the desserts, Russian Cream is probably the one that almost exclusively saved my job. Whenever a ladies lunch bunch came into the restaurant, I knew it was time to pull out the secret weapon. As they finished their lunch, I would bring the dessert tray by. I could always tell by the looks on the women's faces they really wanted to order something but didn't dare. That's when I would describe the Russian Cream, a wonderfully smooth and creamy dessert with fresh local raspberries. I then would add that I had all the calories taken out. And before you could say, "Howdy Partner" it was Russian Cream all around!

And what I love about this recipe is that for all it's deliciousness, it's incredibly simple to make. Give it a try. It saved my job. Who knows what it may do for you.

Cool bowls, eh?
With fresh fruit, it has to be good for you, right?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Chocolate Macaroon Bird’s Nest Cookies

Here are my favorite Easter candies in no particular order:
  1. Yellow or orange jelly beans (and never, ever black)
  2. Chocolate bunnies (solid not hollow)
  3. Reese's peanut butter eggs (I like anything with peanut butter.)
  4. Marshmallow Peeps (I like them stale and chewy.)
  5. Cadbury mini-eggs (I have to be very careful not to eat the whole bag at once.)
Easter only comes around once a year, I had to stock up.  And since it's so close to Easter, all of it was on sale at the grocery store. Lucky me!

However, I decided to use some self restraint. I would buy only one thing now, and then raid the kids' Easter baskets in a few days. I also decided to justify my purchase by finding some way to use the candy in a recipe and post it on my blog. I thought it was a great idea, but I knew Katie would give me the one eyebrow raised look.

I pondered over the candy trying to decide which would work in a recipe. The Reese's peanut butter eggs could work well in a cookie or cheesecake, but after cutting them up, they wouldn't be very Easter-y. Same with the chocolate bunnies. And, I couldn't think of anything to do with a Peep chick or bunny.

So, there I was contemplating between the jelly beans and the Cadbury mini-eggs. Hmm... Then, I remembered seeing something somewhere long ago–little nests made from coconut with jelly bean eggs inside. That was it, but I was in the mood for chocolate, so I grabbed a bag of the mini-eggs.

I used a chocolate macaroon recipe for the nests. My five year-old, Tomas, was my sous chef. He did exceptionally well except for when I tried teaching him how to crack an egg. We had a couple of casualties. Tomas was an expert in shaping the nests and making sure each nest had three different colored eggs.

Tomas also helped me deliver the treats to coworkers and students at the office. He was very proud of his creations as he received many "oohs" and "aahs." And, I was very proud of my little baking buddy.

I think they turned out rather well, don't you?

I just wish I had a stale Peeps chick to sit on the nest.