Wednesday, December 31, 2003
The forms arrived yesterday. You did know everything psted here is always past tense, right?
Today, we get a catalog of yummy videos from the Health Department.
Are you thrilled by such gripping movies as Sanitation is not an Option? I knew you would be. And it's a steal at only $79.95 for a 12 minute VHS.
How about the riveting Safe and Sanitary Dishwashing? It's sure to become a family classic.
And who could miss the suspenseful Food Borne Illnesses? I'm sure you can't wait to see the end of this lengthy 35 minute VHS, just as we can't. Will those poor customers survive the ER after downing soup from an unsanitarily washed bowl? Why, oh why didn't we watch the Dish washing Movie first?
Knife Care and its sequel Knife Skills are old news to people who grew about and around knifesmiths. These videos don't go far enough for people who've made their own kitchen knives from auto springs. We could show them a few things they missed on proper knife care and sharpening. But we also realize not too many people can look at a piece of roadside debris and see a great chef's knife in it.
The other videos were pretty standard offerings - Kitchen safety, recipe costing, beverage service, bake stations, make soup stocks, running a restaurant, and a variety of menu videos. I think the menu ones should come on CD-ROM, but what do I know about marketing movies? I'm a baker....or I will be once Cracked Cauldron opens.
Well, it looks like we'll be starting the New year with a bit reading material sent courtesy of the Health Department, the Chamber of Commerce, and Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
That last has us puzzled, as we don't intend to sell any of those items at the Cracked Cauldron. Alcohol won't be served at all, and therefore any rules, regulations and laws pertaining to that won't apply to us. Smoking is now illegal in public places, so we also have no option on that. We have no intention of selling any form of tobacco or tobacco related supplies. Hello? This is a bakery! Oklahoma is a concealed carry state, though, so maybe they want to tell us what we have to do about privately owned firearms. OK, so we'll read what they have to say.
For the New Year, we have planned a snack collection of Penguin Cookies (they look soooo cute, and !yummy), tiny brie tartlettes with black plum butter or black caviar garnishes, mini courgettes stuffed with black eyed peas, tuna stuffed jalapenos, Texas Caviar with fresh tortilla chips, Wolf Chips (fresh made and hotly spiced potato chips), colored boiled eggs (what, you only enjoy them at Easter?), chocolate coins, Dollar Salad, fresh rabbit roast with carrot and parsnip coins, baby cabbages (you probably know them as Brussels sprouts), and confetti buns.
Those of you who stop in here from time to time to view our demented ravings about getting the bakery together - have a Happy New Year as commonly celebrated in the US.
Monday, December 29, 2003
We visited with our friendly local health inspectors.
And I do mean that in a kindly way. These people are phenominally helpful. They had all sorts of suggestions on which equipment was easiest to clean, what they looked for specifically in an inspection, and which companies were the best on pest control. They truly want businesses to succeed.
They were also a bit skeptical about our desire to keep peanut pans isolated from regular pans, and vegetarian from omnivorous. But they approved of it, and felt it would contribute to the overall health and cleanliness of the place.
We discussed the regulations involving the Sweet Bar, and our plans for our Coffee Monkeys.
All in all, it was a wonderfully productive meeting, and gives us some good ideas on what we're facing.
It's not near as complicated and difficult as it seems.
Now, we need to make friends with a realtor. And a CPA.
Cracked Cauldron is shaping up nicely.
And may I say the holidays gave us ample room to expand our cookie and holiday repertoire?
Wait until you can taste some of our yummy delicacies.
Tuesday, December 23, 2003
Yep, in one year, we will be dealing with the legalities of setting up the Cracked Cauldron. To that end, we've contacted the Department of Health and the Chamber of Commerce for rules and regulations so we can work them congenially into our plans.
You know, I think we'll be exceeding what the Health Department requires on cleanliness - simply because I am that paranoid about stuff.
OK - my house may not pass inspection - I'm not the only one who cooks or cleans there, and since the others are adults, it's their responsibility, too. If folks get sick because they don't clean up after themselves, it's their problem. But when it comes to providing food to others - I insist on as close to sterility and non-allergenic as possible.
The Department of Health does not require that we provide separate pans for those allergic to peanuts, but we plan to do that, as well as having a separate cleaning area. Peanut allergies are fierce. Soy and wheat and such aren't so bad, residual traces aren't going to set off allergic reactions, but with peanut allergies, even the barest trace can sometimes affect the people, so we're going to have those separate.
Then, just because we feel it would be proper (and cleaner), we're going to have separate pans for vegetarian and non-vegetarian.
Yes, yes, that means threeseparate sets of pans and sinks. Are we too anal? Is that unrealistic?
Monday, December 22, 2003
Yesterday was all day baking for fruit and nut breads of a wide variety: pumpkin pecan, tropical fruit, pecan sweeties, cranberry orange, double chocolate almond, chocolate haze - lenut, country apple spice, spotted loaf, cherry almond streusel, peary pecan, dense chocolate walnut with lemon sauce, hidden treasures (chocolate dipped dried fruits and alcohol - frangelico or amaretto - in the batter), and more.
Co-workers are the lucky recipients of the extras.
And for a decorative touch, we dipped the ends of Nutter Butters in white chocolate. One end was then dipped into red sugar and a white chip added for a pompom. Beneath it, we added micro chocolate chips for eyes, and a dot of red gel for the nose. The bottom coat of white chocolate, we dipped in flaked coconut. End result - a cute "santa" to decorate the plates of sliced nut breads we handed out.
This "santa" isn't somethign we could sell in the bakery as is, because we used commercial cookies. But - if we make our own hourglass shaped sandwich cookies, we could. I'm thinking Katzen zungen molds, or perhaps lady finger molds to make the cookies...
And maybe a more delicate cookie - say a lemon spritzer type?
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
We started doing surveys and looking at properties and locations for the bakery, since the product end seems to be doing quite well.
Yes, we know it's early to be doing this. The landlords and salespeople are very unhappy that we are still 14-16 months from opening. They want us to be less than 3 months from opening. We feel that would kind of rush us, and we'd end up taking just any old place, instead of the best possible place we can afford.
OK, a plus for us is that the business building market is a bit depressed right now, so some really good places are on the market in really good locations. In some ways, it's a pity we aren't at the point to open in 3 months instead of 15, because these locations will probably not be available then.
On the other hand, they may still be.
See, there's this one place we've been considering for the last 3 years. It's been on the market all those years. What's wrong with it? Lots. But nothing that we feel would be insurmountable. The foundation is sound, the roof is good, the walls are solid, the plumbing is above par. The wiring will need to be re-done, but that may be true where-ever we go. It's got decent parking in a high traffic area, easy to access, and easy to see. There's room to make an outdoor area, a big plus for our eventual goals.
The downsides are: it's in a borderline area, hovering between older, established upper middle class and Section 8 housing in a mixed ethnicity area - lots of recent immigrants, mostly Asian and Hispanic. For most businesses, this could be a negative. For us, I think it would work as a plus, particularly the Hispanic population - they like having a good local bakery and we (not to brag or anything) are good. The Asians appreciate and support local businesses, and will love our version of bear claws, since they usually import something similar from California bakeries. They would probably like have a closer, fresher source. We're already familiar with their business owners, since we are partial to Asian foods and shop there often.
The building was once a church, which means it's large. Most of it has been blocked off and is not in use. The huge stained glass windows were removed and replaced with plywood. That will have to go, and replacing the windows as windows will be an expensive proposition, but worth it, we're sure.
The entire building has been spray painted a neutral medium gray and that will definitely have to change. Manager and I have been discussing color themes and signage. We have discovered a hidden talent in my youngest son - he is an outstanding graphic artist. It shouldn't have been a surprise, given his penchant and skill at drawing engineering diagrams. He's agreed to design the logo and advertising art (for money, of course), and is willing to help with the exterior design of the Cracked Cauldron.
Another downside is the interior. The last three businesses there were bars with a penchant for black walls. That is going to be expensive to re-do in the lighter style we have in mind. It's also filthy inside - sticky floors, thick cigarette smoke build-up, inadequate ventilation. And we'll have to put in the kitchen area from scratch.
Once we actually examine the property, I'm sure we'll find more wrong with it. What is wrong now almost outweighs the positives. What the landlord will ask may swing it out of our reach. On the other hand, it's been standing empty and costing him taxes for the last 3 years...
If it's still available when we're serious about renting/buying in a year, we'll take a better look at it.
Winter is a good time to look at properties, actually, because the worst problems usually appear during a thaw.
Monday, December 15, 2003
Well, frangelico in carrot cake makes a tremendous difference in the flavor and texture.
Yes, we were experimenting with booze cakes of all sorts. After all, fruit cakes are boozy, and this is the Season of the Fruit Cake.
So, we played around with adding frangelico to carrot cake, and amaretto to spice cake, and elderberry wine to chocolate cake.
All were successes. Light, melt-in-your mouth with a dense sponge that held up well under the glazing. We did not frost these delicious beauties, but instead used fancy cake molds and glazes. These are your mother's coffee cakes, the hidden treats that were brought out for Ladies' Day, when the men were at work, the kids off playing or in school, and the women gathered to discuss politics, religion, sex, and economics.
These were the cakes we kids used to try to sneak and our moms would slap our hands and tell us we weren't old enough for them.
We still snuck crumbs. When we washed the dishes, we'd lick that cake plate to get all the yummy goodness from "grown-up" cake.
I hadn't had cake like that in decades. I'd almost forgotten how wonderful they were.
It's a tradition I hope to see return via the Cracked Cauldron.
Sunday, December 14, 2003
Yesterday, we celebrated Cookie Day. I know, it was a day late, but the brake lights went out on my car, and it was more than a fuse or bulbs. So, instead of spending the 12th day of the 12th month baking and sharing cookies, we had to postpone it until Saturday, the 13th.
However, because we also got snow (5 inches, thank you for asking, it's practically gone now), we decided to do a little extra for the homeless people we feed on Sandwich Saturdays.
That old cracked cauldron (big enough to comfortably hold 2 small children), holds heat very well, so we heated it up, filled it with porridge (cause porridge is too thick to leak through the crack), and settled it into the back of the little station wagon. From there, we were able to ladle out hot bowls of porridge to the homeless people who survived the snowy cold night.
Then, we baked hundreds and hundreds of cookies in a home oven (we're getting all excited about the space commercial ovens will provide when we do Cookie Day). A quarter of the cookies were boxed up and taken to a senior living center, half the cookies went into our Sandwich Saturday bags along with the usual sandwiches, the rest we shared among ourselves and neighbors and college kids for their Finals week.
With how well the old caudron did for the porridge, we made a cauldron full of thick stew, and delivered that to homeless people along with the sandwiches and cookies. And because we lucked into a bid for several hundred emergency space blankets for really really cheap, we included a blanket with each sandwich bag we gave away.
It will be so nice when we have the Cracked Cauldron open and can offer more.
all of the leftover soups and stews, all the leftover breads and cakes and pies and such will go to feed the homeless and the hungry.
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
I've seen several articles about bakers losing their business because too many customers were on low-carb diets.
There was one in the local weekly this week.
Now, setting aside how I personally feel about diets, I feel these bakeries have lost their customer focus.
We bake bread because we love it. That doesn't mean we can't adapt to our customers' changing needs and tastes.
That's one of the reasons we developed our low-carb line of tasty breads. And why we will have breads that work for those with special food allergies and sensitivities.
We've also noticed that while loaf bread sales are down, the pastries and desserts sales are up.
We plan to have a good mix: family loaves, individual loaves, pies, cakes, cookies, pastries, soups, coffees, teas, cocoas, juices. Because we will be a "scratch" bakery, we can quickly follow our individual customer trends. Rapid adapting and personalized baking will give us an advantage over other bakeries and win us loyal customers. If their diet changes, we can change with them. If their tastes change (and mine certainly does), we can adapt.
Add in the live entertainers and our charity focus, and we can easily earn what we need to keep the bakery not only alive, but profitable.
This makes me very happy.
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
We ate at several local competitors recently.
I think we can honestly say that our Cracked Cauldron will be substantially different, and will be filling niches which are unaddressed at this time.
One bakery - a German based one - offers live musicians on Saturdays, and a small dance floor. The food was pretty good. Last time I'd visited this bakery, they had pumpernickel, rye, leinsamen, fruited breads, and crisp white rolls as well as a variety of German and French style pastries. Now, their line-up consisted of French bread, Italian white bread, a whole wheat loaf, the whitened Farmer's bread, and a Mediterranean olive loaf. No rye. No pumpernickel. No leinsamen (flax seed). Their lineup of cookies and pastries had declined, but maybe it was just the day we were there.
They looked to be refocusing to become a deli/restaurant instead of a bakery and were phasing out most of their baked goods. That's sad, because I used to buy their bread all the time when I lived near by.
I suppose next we travel to other states to see what their bakeries are like.
Monday, December 08, 2003
Who would have thought cranberries would go so well with sweet cherries?
Over the weekend, we bottled our cranberry barbecue sauce. When we ran out of barbecue ingredients, we made cranberry orange sauce to pour over cakes. And when we ran out of oranges, we floundered.
But, hey, wait - we had cherry pie filling left over from Thanksgiving. Not enought for a pie, but maybe, if we filled it up with the cranberries?
And, of course, cinnamon had to go in, with a touch of cloves and some black pepper, and a pinch of cardamom. That made a yummy filling, but it was the finish that really made the pie - a hazelnut glaze.
While hte pie was still quite hot - fresh out of the oven, we mixed up a glaze flavored with powdered hazelnuts. The hazelnuts took some of the tartness out of the cranberry cherry filling, complementing it with a subtlety that the more forceful almond lacks.
sure, most people associate cherry with almonds, but we're here to say - try hazelnut.
For the holiday party at work, I'm going to bring this pie, the top decorated with 4 cut out swans and 3 pastry swans, and a "wavy" edge, and call it a "Seven Swans a Swimming Pie".
Then, it's home to bake cookies for Cookie Day, which will have started an hour before I get there.
We will make sugar cookies, gingerbreads, chocolate chips (with and without chocolate chips - have you ever had a chipless chocolate chip cookie? I love the flavor, with a hint of cardamom and chopped pecans...), spritz wonders, peanut butter, oatmeal, billy goats, pfeffernuesse, zimt sterne, merry makers, spice drops, nussecken, and more. Wonderful, yummy cookies. I'm glad the weather will be cold because the ovens will heat the house.
Ack! I will have to clean off all the tables - the 8 foot baquet table in hte library, the round breakfast nook table, the 5 foot buffet table, and borrow another 8 foot banquet table, not to mention all four card tables. That should be enough room to decorate all the cookes.
And hten the Cookie Frenzy will be over - until the Cracked Cauldron opens, and we'll be baking cookies daily.
Friday, December 05, 2003
We celebrate Cookie Day - the 12th day of the 12th month - by baking massive amounts of cookies and decorating them to give to those who wouldn't otherwise have yummy cookies. It also stocks our holiday larders, so we can concentrate on other holiday foods, and always have little treats available for drop-in guests
Since it's on a Friday this year, we will be extending Cookie Day throughout the weekend.
Because we will be baking these in small batches at the Cracked Cauldron - and there are so many hundreds of cookie recipes - we don't feel the overwhelming need to taste test them.
But I think we will continue the tradition of Cookie Day at the Cracked Cauldron
Right now, we box up cookies to deliver to seniors who have no local families, and we give other boxfuls to the people we give sandwiches to on Sandwich Saturdays.
Tuesday, December 02, 2003
I think we already covered provisions for losing power - acquiring generators to run things long enough to get us to restored power.
Still, the kitchen at the school has a back-up generator, adn it did no good over fall break when there was faulty wiring. See, even if there's juice going to the wires, it does no good if the wires are bad.
They didn't catch it in time, and lost an entire freezer and fridge full of food.
We may have to contemplate insurance for this sort of event.
Then again, we aren't likely to leave the Cracked Cauldron unoccupied for 9 straight days.
Monday, December 01, 2003
We must remember that a really great pecan pie depends on the freshest ingredients. That includes syrup. After many years of testing syrups, we have decided that Karo clear syrup makes the best tasting pecan pie, but it works best fresh.
A local baker's supply shop is now open on Saturdays, making it possible to visit and shop there. I'm very pleased to note that they have a number of the cake molds we've been planning on acquiring for the Cracked Cauldron at exceptionally reasonable prices, plus a few we haven't seen before that we absolutely must get. Unfortunately, they seem rather skimpy on bread pans and pie tins. Most likely, we will be using lots and lots of aluminum foil pie tins for selling whole pies, but for those by-the-slice pies, we want better presentation tins. Pretty ones.
We made a few gallettes (pies made without the support of a tin) and made the interesting discovery that the filling must be more solid. The recipes we were working from had very moist fillings, and the pies made from them came out limp and runny. By adjusting the liquids and increasing the fruits, we made lovely gallettes. We can be more creative with the appearance of the crust - dagging the edges, crenellating them, and making them into lovely shapes. Some of the pies were shaped like swans and turkeys, and these were a smash hit at Thanksgiving, when we baked 40 of them for a local Soup Kitchen. We made smaller, individual sized ones to give out with the sandwiches on Sandwich Saturday, and the eyes of the people who got them made the extra effort worth it.
These will definitely be a part of the Cracked Cauldron menu.