Archive for May, 2007

Cooking With Induction Heat

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Hillel has cleverly described the point of view I write from as behind the stove, which is kind of true. It’s not the kind of stove you’d think of. No, not even a large 12 burner industrial giant. The stove I stand behind day after day in the pastry department is an induction burner.

A one pot unit no more than 18 inches by 18 inches, standing just 6 inches off the counter, this stove of mine is more closely related to the single coil hot plate than anything. It is light enough to move at will, and can occupy any counter top with a standard outlet near by. Like the single coil hot plate, it relies on electricity for it’s power source, but delivers heat in a very different manner.

By using coils of magnetically charged materiel, the induction sends an electrical current through the coil creating an energy field. A pot placed on the induction cook top will absorb the energy, thus heating it. The food is cooked by the heat in the pan, not the transfer of heat through the pan from an external heat source. Because the glass cook top only transfers magnetic energy, not heat itself, it remains cool to the touch.

The induction cook top does require specific pots and pans made from a materiel that will absorb the magnetic energy. Pots with a large magnetic base plate are designed specifically for this purpose. The pans react to changes in the dial as if you were turning a gas flame up or down, and the surface is beyond easy to keep clean. These stove replacements have taken hold in comercial kitchens, partucularly with caterers needing to take cooking units off site, and it’s not unrealistic to think we will begin seeing these futuristic cook tops in even the most common of kitchen settings.

I, along with other cooks I know, being told over and over again that you must use specific pots and pans on the induction pan, led ourselves to believe that only those pans would conduct heat. I am here to tell you, if you don’t already know, any stainless steel or iron container will conduct heat from an induction burner. That includes a stainless steel container holding 3 pounds of flour. It also does not take long for the bottom of said container to get hot, just the time it takes you to reach for a drum sieve and piece of parchment is apparently pleanty of time to conduct enough heat to melt off part of your palm.

While my hand is very sore and will be for some time (it would have to be my right hand wouldn’t it?) nothing will stave my love for induction cooking.

Salty Lass

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

If I haven’t mentioned it yet, I am back working in pastry. Actually, for about a month and a half now, since Easter really. I had been working in Banquets, exposing myself to parts of the kitchen I never seen, making soups and stocks, butchering, and working with copius amount of salt.

A lot of what a cook does is tasting and adjusting the salt levels of the food they are serving, using the seasoning to bring out the flavors of the food without adding a salty quality. I spent years cooking before I took the plunge into the pastry department of the restaurant to follow my heart, and salting became ingrained in my inner chef.

“Dana! You need to salt and pepper your pillow before you go to sleep at night,” a chef early in my career told me to emphasize the importance of this.

So now that I am in the pastry department, why, oh why, is the salt missing? Hardly a recipe I come across calls for salt, hardly a pastry cook I see reaches for the small, tightly lidded container almost forgotton high on a shelf. Does salt loose it’s magic when sugar is involved?

NO!

Of course not.

Salt has the same value in sweets as it does on the savory line. A little hit of salt makes chocolate taste exceptional, a little in your caramel makes it memorable. While I don’t use nearly the amounts the savory cooks go through each day, I do apply salt to many, many, many of my recipes.

It makes such a remarkable difference in even the simplest of tart doughs, cookies, truffles, even rhubarb compote. I can’t help but wonder why the time honored tradition of using salt to bring out flavors is lost to the pastry department. We know never to buy salted butter, but seem to forget to add the salt back.

Don’t believe me? Try it! But please, use kosher or sea salt, and use it sparingly. You can always add a little more, but you can’t take it out. And remember, because there are no written rules, like “When adding salt to Rhubarb, use a diluted quantity blah blah blah” so it’s going to be trial and error on your part. Start with chocolate and caramel, move on to apple sauce and rhubarb compote, advance to buttercreams, custards, and ice creams, and always use a light hand.

San Francisco Treats

Monday, May 21st, 2007

It took Russell a while to grow accustomed to the way I shop for clothes. I go, I look, try on, talk about how much I love the clothes, and then I leave empty handed. “If you like it, why don’t you just get it and be done with it?” he would comment.

With good reason, I assure you. Using my system, I leave empty handed, and if I am still thinking about the article of clothing a week later, then I go back and get it. It’s too easy to get caught up in the shopping, the newness of shiny new clothes, too easy to make purchases in the heat of the moment that fall flat once in your closet. So if a week goes by, and the article still calls to me, then I know it’s meant to be.

This system also works well for evaluating my dining experiences. I find it easy to like what is on my plate in front of me at any given time. I’m hungry, we are out enjoying ourselves with friends, in a nice setting enjoying the ambiance, and I am being satisfied on various levels. But after a week or so goes by, if I am still thinking about my meal, then I know it was excellent.

Three weeks after my trip to San Francisco, there are 3 stand out experiences still lingering in my memory.

The first is a trip to Farallon for dessert. My first real stop in the city, I went to pay a visit to Emily Luchetti, the pastry chef I hosted last summer at Eva. She was releasing her 4th book, A Passion For Ice Cream, and to celebrate we hosted an ice cream social. I created a 5 course menu using recipes in her book, she came, ate, mingled, and signed books for her Seattle fans.

Russell and I, joined by an old friend of mine Mike, took our seats in what appeared to be the belly of a whale that was the bar. Mike was thrilled to see his favorite beverage, the Dark ‘n Stormy on the menu, while I made dessert choices for the three of us.

First came the warm chocolate pudding cake, made with El Rey chocolate. It’s hard to argue with warm, melty chocolate desserts, especially when they are paired with an icy cold orb of ice cream. Another great contrast was delivered by the ice cream in it’s salty peanut flavor. Cracked peanut brittle was scattered across the top along with a few grains of sea salt, making this dessert the first to be cleaned out of it’s dish.

A meyer lemon cream tart was served in an ultra crispy puff pastry shell, the edges scalloped to resemble a flower. The tart was set in a bed of sweet candied coconut shavings, and crowned by a nest of oven roasted strawberries. Early season strawberries can be made exceptional by slicing them thin, tossing them with sugar, and roasting them in a hot oven for about half an hour.

Not letting the servers “favorite” suggestion go unnoticed, we ordered the Ricotta fritters. Three unassuming little fried dumplings arrived next to a dish of anglaise with a compote of fresh citrus. But not to be fooled by their humble appearance, one bite assured me that these fritters were nothing short of heaven. Served warm, the fritters were sturdy enough to be eaten with a fork, but a thin crispy shell on the outside that gave way to a delicate filling that melted in your mouth. The flavor was light and dairy sweet, made with Bellwether Farms Ricotta (and paneer for structure the working pastry chef Terri told me). This was hands down the most memorable bite I had the entire trip, one that has haunted me with both the desire to eat it again and to someday create something like it.

Being the pastry chef that I am, I often see components of dishes I very much want to try, even if I am not going to order the entire plate. This was the case with a Rhubarb-Gewurtztraminer jam. I requested a small taste of this curious condiment, and was spoiled with the entire dessert. The jam came as requested, accompanied by two warm, flaky pastry wrapped apple and rhubarb turnovers. They were paired with a scoop of creme fraiche ice cream studded with bits of candied ginger. A delicious combination playing with many light and lean flavors just right for spring.

The next morning Russell and I took our breakfast at Citizen Cake, dubbed “the pastry chef’s restaurant.” With a slogan like that, how could I resist? Because of our morning arrival, the regular menu wasn’t available, but two pastry cases filled with a variety of offerings kept us satisfied. They held a collection representing the various outlets of this establishment, miniature versions of their signature cakes, small tarts representing their plated desserts, cookies, candies, and breakfast pastries.

Russell’s first choice was an individual sized portion of their Mocha Mi Su cake. Layered with cocoa cake, mocha mousse and creme fraiche, and dark chocolate, we failed to see the connection to the original tirimisu, but found it tasty none the less.

Next we tried a small sandwich cookie made of lemon shortbread and lemon filling, packed with plenty of tart lemon flavor. A lychee and sesame pate de fruit caught my attention because of the addition of a textural layer of black and white sesame layered in the jelly candy. This was the only disappointment of the visit, the lychee falling short, the sesame being only mildly chewy, offering no detectable flavor.

My favorite dessert of the day was the small tart I ordered, partially due to it’s fantastic title, “Misconception of a Banana Cream Pie.” The entire tart was fantastic offering all the lovable qualities of the original, a delicious chocolate crumb crust square, banana custard, vanilla cream, and candied coconut strips.

After milling about the ferry building one last time, feeding my new found addiction to Michael Rechutti’s remarkable chocolates, Russell and I headed over the Bay Bridge for one last stop in Berkeley. Working with a tip from one of my favorite blogs, Eggbeater, we went in search of Ice Cream.

Berkley was a welcome change from the bustle of urban San Francisco, and we parked our car (easily!) and began wandering around the cute little downtown strip. Taking our time, we finally came to our destination, the little shop ICI.

The shop, tiled with white ceramic felt cool and sterile, like a laboratory built for perfecting the frozen desserts. A scattering of blossoming branches and ribbon bound placards announcing the daily offerings, and a few well placed vintage ice cream molds gave ICI irresistible charm. I tasted a variety of ice creams, remembering distinctly the fantastic lightly spiced pink peppercorn, the fragrant soothing lavender, and finally settling on a sorbet offering the best presentation of the classic combination of Rhubarb Rose I have ever tasted. Russell, full from our breakfast ordered one little chocolate covered ice cream bon-bon from their selection.

Before resuming our leisurely walk I gazed at the cold case a little more, admiring the beautiful molded ice cream and sorbet bombes, a Victorian era creation that was the predecessor to our ice cream cakes.

Russell and I strolled the lush Berkley, eating our treats and agreeing that if we moved to the Bay area Berkeley would be our choice, preparing for the final drive to San Jose to catch our flight home.

Bee Cake for Mother’s Day

Sunday, May 13th, 2007

My friend Leslie, when she’s not busy doing her Sammamish massage thing, likes to bake. With the help of a kit from Williams Sonoma, here’s her latest creation. Super adorable (and I have it on good word, delicious as well).

Bee Cake

Not sure if this is a strategy for shoring up the beehive population we’re losing due to Colony Collapse Disorder. (BTW, I would have prefered “Beepocalypse Now” as the title of Jordan’s post but to each his own.)

Pastis, New York, New York

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

It’s been way too long since we’ve spent decent eating time in New York and we have a blog backlog when it comes to posts about New York City. I always say that I don’t give much weight to service and decor at restaurants cause ultimately i’ll put up with crappy renditions of each if the food is good enough. That said, nobody who writes opinion pieces can be completely objective. And this particular brunch was set in a particularly inviting location — Pastis, in New York City. The decor is dripping with time, care, and detail. At one point I was taking pictures and the staff asked me not to shoot the restaurant. At least they didn’t stop me from shooting the food which is what I really cared about anyway.

Brunch is a funny meal to write about because it’s so laden with expectaions that only the most established of establishments really has the guts to veer significantly off course. Pastis is pretty well established but they’re definitely doing a variation on a theme. And that’s fine. Cause although I enjoy experimentation, sometimes I also like to eat a really nice brunch. Pastis did a decent job fulfilling that goal.

I make it a habit to try and eat as little bread as possible at restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, I love bread. But if I ate all the bread that was put in front of me I’d weigh 450 pounds, and I’d have no room to eat any of the other food. The bread at Pastis was particularly difficult to ignore, all crusty on the outside and spongy soft inside. When the kickass mustard showed up all tangy and smooth (but not overly so) I really was aunable to restrain myself. The bread was good, but with the mustard it was excellent. Luckily Alex (who grew up for a time in Belgium where mustard had the prevalence that ketchup does here) asked what it was — Maille mustard (I’m guessing their Fine Dijon). (And yes, those are Alex’ fingers dipping the bread into the mustard.)

Next up was the Onion Soup Gratinee. Using his best descriptors from the onion soup ontology Alex warded this rendition the bronze medal in the New York city Onion Soup “Off” (with Balthazar and Blue Ribbon winning the gold and silver respectively). My take was that it was thinner than the others, but not necessarily in a bad way. Actually, it gave it a light quality that I enjoyed. I especially enjoyed the savory tangy deliciousness that was the flavor of the broth. Yummy.

A whole host of dishes arrived including Eggs Benedict, Eggs Hussard, French Toast, and Steak Frites with Bearnaise. The French Toast was the least impressive of the group. Overly thick without much interesting going on. Eh. But things got better from there. The Hussard was a touch heavy, but the flavors were super present. The steak frites was excellent. And the eggs benedict was definitely the champion of the bunch. It’s not that it was particularly creative, but it was what you would taste when you looked up “Eggs Benedict” if food dictionaries came with samples.

Pastis was a pleasure for brunch. And how often can you try very well executed examples of Bearnaise, Hollandaise, and Bordelaise all in one meal? This is the place for such experiences.

The Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA

Monday, May 7th, 2007

After a wonderful family filled weekend in Santa Cruz, attending my first Bat Mitzvah, discovering further joys in my uncle’s lemon tree, and riding the wooden roller coaster on the Boardwalk until my voice was horse from screaming, Russell and I headed north. A short and scenic drive up the coast took us into San Fransisco to spend the remaining 36 hours of our short vacation.

We didn’t have any touristy plans per se, but I had big plans for us, and our stomach’s.

Our first stop was, well, 5 minutes into town. I made Russell go to first In-n-out we could find. For years now, I have heard the buzz about the one fast food chain who was doing it right, and I was ready to experience this. I had a cheeseburger, and some fries, and it was good. It wasn’t mind blowing, but it was good. However, what really did blow my mind, was how far fast food has sunk away from this simple, good burger, to make In-n-Out such an anomaly. It’s true, In-N-Out is leagues above it’s competition, McDonald’s, Burger King, Jack in the box, etc. But nothing I tasted blew me away. It tasted like what your average, standard burger/fries should, nothing more, nothing less. A little shocking to realize that this simple standard is so hard to find. My burger award still goes to the local chain out of Oregon, Burgerville for their Tillimook Burger.

The first morning we were there, I took tips from every foodie website written in the bay area and headed strait for the Ferry Building. I don’t know what I expected to find. A food court, maybe a farmers market, but with every step I took further into the cavernous mall, my delight grew.

“Look Russell!!! There’s the Gelato we buy! and the Cowgirl Creamery!!! I can only get 3 kind of cheese from them in Seattle!!” I said, practically skipping

“OOH, this bakery is the cutest thing I have ever seen!” I gushed as I passed Miette

But I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the sign for Micheal Rechutti.

“No way. I didn’t even know he had a retail outlet.”

I approached the tiny store front with caution, slipping in the back side, looking at the jars of sauce and books, shuffling slowly up to the counter. I took my place, looking at each small chocolate under the glass as if it were a jewelery counter. The names alone took my breath away.

Cassis Stratta
Lemon Verbena
Star Anise and Pink Peppercorn
Cardamom Nougat
Force Noire
Tarragon Grapefruit
Honeycomb Malt
Spring Jasmine Tea

And then there were sparkling Pates de fruits, glistening like diamonds.

I purchased 6 different bites, and with Russell began to stroll the corridor, nibbling as we went. It was a mere 5 minutes before the uncontrollable desire for more had me standing at the counter again, ready to try everything else. The flavors were perfect. Rarely do I use absolute statements, but these chocolates here have made me do unexpected things. Like call them perfect, and revisit the shop 3 more times, once on the way out of town to purchase the complete collection “for the road”.

What makes these chocolate perfect to me? Balance. Each flavor was infused in perfect harmony with the chocolate. Not just any chocolate, but a carefully selected percentage of cocoa mass to best present the flavor.

Those fleeting tastes have left indelible flavor memories in me, and are something I will strive to replicate my entire journey through pastry. To recreate a singular taste that is nothing short of perfect.