Archive for January, 2010

Coffee shop/cafe business update …

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

During the holiday get-together, a friend and I were talking about the lack of customer service that our local food businesses seem to have as a common trait. I learned an interesting update to my rant post about the coffee shop/cafe owner who didn’t seem to put their customers’ wants first :

Originally, this business opened as a franchise location of a well-known local cafe business. Obviously, it was easier to piggy-back off a well-known name and existing business infrastructure than trying to open as a new business, and I don’t fault the owner for taking this route.

However, it seems that the bad customer service issues that my husband & friends had experienced evidently were brought to light to the main corporate offices. Evidently we weren’t the only ones complaining about this franchise location – the cafe owner was told that she could no longer operate as one of their official franchises due to the customer complaints that they had received, and that the business had to remove all references to the franchise name.

My husband and I had wondered why about 2 years ago that the cafe has removed the franchise name from their business signs and were simply known by a portion of the original business name. So it looks like karma eventually caught up to this business owner after all.

Sugar Plums

Friday, January 8th, 2010

Count us as part of the majority of people today that never even knew that sugar plums existed beyond their brief mention in classic literature. However, this classic holiday treat is very easy to make and is completely natural and (dare we say it?) healthy! It will definitely garner a lot of attention at your next party.

The original sugar plum may have been a form of a comfit (sugar coated seeds) that was flavored with caraway or anise. However, in the Victorian era the term “plum” was often used to refer to any number of dried fruits. Sugar plums were a special way of preparing the preserved fruit for the festive season. It is this interpretation that we will be focusing on.

Nearly any dried fruit can be used to make a sugar plum, but we would recommend that at least two to three different types of fruit be used. Prunes are an ideal fruit to use as a base since the flavor is fairly neutral and will play well with any other fruit you mix in. Plus it seems appropriate since they started off in life as plums anyway!

For the second fruit, choose something that has a distinct and pronounced flavor. Cherries, apricots, or even blueberries are a great choice. Currants, raisins, or cranberries are also excellent candidates. Nearly every grocery store carries a wide range of dried fruit, so don’t be afraid to try different combinations!

A word of caution, some dried fruit (such as prunes and apricots) have a high level of residual moisture in them. If the fruit is wet to the touch, then it is possible that the final sugar plum will be a bit too soft to form into balls. If this happens, allow the sugar plum mixture to age a few days in the refrigerator and it should firm up. Otherwise, you may try and add an additional amount of powdered sugar to help bind the extra moisture.

Here is our recipe:

12 oz. total dried fruit (ie. 6 oz. prunes + 6 oz. blueberries or 4 oz. each of prunes, apricots, and cherries)

6 oz. roasted whole almonds or walnuts (nut allergists, substitute with toasted coconut flakes)

1/4 cup confectioner’s powdered sugar

2 oz. honey

1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground allspice

1/2 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp. ground cardamon

0.3 oz. candied ginger

3 tbsp. orange liquor (or sub. 2 tsp. orange zest and 1 tbsp. orange juice)

To prepare the sugar plums, you will need a couple of work bowls and a food processor.

Start by roasting the nuts in a 350 degree oven. Be sure to stir often! As soon as the color of the nuts starts to take on a nice toasted appearance, take them out of the oven and let cool completely. Grind the nuts in the food processor until fine. Add the powdered sugar and blend. Move mixture to a bowl.

Grind spices and candied ginger together until it fully blended.

Next, add all of the dried fruit to the food processor. Grind the fruit for a few seconds until coarse. Add orange liquor and spices. Continue to grind until everything is well blended into a paste.

In a work bowl, combine the blended fruit with the honey and nut mixture. Mix everything together until all ingredients are incorporated and forms a stiff ball. Refrigerate the sugar plum mixture overnight. This will allow all of the spices and flavors to meld together.

In a large zip lock bag, make a sugar sanding mixture by combining 1/2 cup of white sugar and 1 tbsp of colored sugar (red or green). Toss to mix together. Take the sugar plum mixture from the fridge (it should be very stiff and firm). Flatten down to 3/4 inch thick and cut into 3/4″ cubes. Roll into balls and then coat with the sugar sanding mixture.

Allow the sugar plums to warm before serving (about 1 hour).