Archive for August, 2007

Sitka and Matt

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

For those of you, and I know you are many, who have read the recent issue of Food and Wine, you are aware of this years Top Ten New Chefs. Therefor it will be no surprise when I write of Seattle’s own Matt Dillon’s honor in being included.

His restaurant, Sitka and Spruce has barely been open a year in a strip mall on eastlake avenue. The restaurant includes the bare minimum of required front of the house attributes, a mere 5 tables, a menu on the chalkboard, and a handful of wines. Matt and his cooks run the food, the single waitperson hashes out the rest, and the line stretches out the door at all times.

I myself have stood in this line many times eager for what ever Matt has to offer. Sometimes I have to be happy with what ever Matt has left, as my friends and I wait and watch the dishes we had hoped for being erased from the fleeting menu as they run out. More often than not, forcing us to make different decisions we are treated to something delicious we would have missed. Case in point, the head cheese I had no plans on ordering.  The offerings come in two sizes so you can customize your meal, sharing with friends and maxamizing on your enjoyment.  I dream of the day when I can walk in with enough people to just order the entire menu.

I take into account when ranking a restaurant how well I remember my dinner as time passes.  From Sitka and Matt I distinctly remember tender squash filled ravioli with simple sage leaves in butter to coat, pork belly cooked crisp with Yakima cherries and a sweet vinegar redux.  I haven’t forgotten the squab with winter root vegetable studded farotto, the tuna with a sweet onion and fennel slaw and cardamom granita.

I recall cooing at a warm chocolate cake with elderflower cream, made from elderflower foraged by Matt’s roommate.  Often most critical of desserts, I found myself swooning over Matt’s simple olive oil gelato served with what else but vinegar, a trio of sweet fruit scented vinegars to be precise to drizzle at will.

But the most distinct and lasting impression left upon me by this restaurant came from slices of yellow cucumber, cooked lightly, tossed with fresh dill and drizzled with Trempetti olive oil.  Deceptively simple, but remarkably memorable.

To me, not only is Matt’s cuisine incredible, it’s quintessentially Seattle. The space is unassuming, come as you are, where folks feel as comfortable in their fleece pullovers as the hipsters at the next table. Matt uses more local purveyors than any restaurant in this city, which prides itself on it’s farm to table mentality. And Matt himself can be found in the kitchen, looking charmingly rugged with his beard and T-shirt, pouring himself into each plate.

If you do decide to go, go early and be prepared to stand in line.

Behind The Scenes (and what’s Hillel up to?)

Monday, August 27th, 2007

My lovely and talented blog buddy Dana has pointed out that I have not been around much lately. She is of course correct. This blog is supposed to be about the kitchen AND the front of the house, not just the kitchen (as interesting as it may be). For the last month I was on vacation for a month. Dana and I discussed putting the blog on vacation for the month (as I usually do each summer) but Dana wanted to keep posting. And she’s been kicking ass at it. But now that I’m back I still haven’t done my blogging duty. Believe it or not there is work happening behind the scenes.

We are feverishly working on a blog redesign as well as a new way to post photos. When we moved the blog to wordpress we put together a hastily designed template that looks ok, but is not at the level we really want. Additionally, we moved to the temporary method of posting our photos to flickr and embedding slideshows. That’s been pretty unsatisfying for most people. In addition to the new design work that’s happening, we’re writing our own WordPress plug-in (because literally none of the 200 available do the simple thing we want) to post photos. You may point out that to sacrifice blogging to write our own plug-in is insane. And that may be true. But it’s the path we’re on nonetheless. ;)

I promise I have collected a whole series of cool posts with accompanying pictures from my month in Israel and can’t wait to share all the delicious food finds. To make this post not totally devoid of culinary content I will include this lovely shot of a gorgeous plate of hummus at the Aboulafia restaurant in Jaffa, Israel. I promise it tasted as good as (if not better than) it looks.

hummus at aboulafia

Thanks everyone for your patience (and thanks to Dana for keeping things moving along so interestingly). :)

Veil

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

veil outside

A lack of posting on my part can only mean one thing. I am working my butt off in a kitchen far away from computers and the internet. Yes folks, I have found a new home in a small, intimate fine dining restaurant in Seattle called Veil.

I ate at the restaurant durring its first few months of operation in december 2005, and found myself quite taken with the restaurant. The dinner was polished, well thought out, refined, beautiful, and everything tasted perfect. The dining room is one of the most beautiful I had ever seen. It quickly became my dream restaurant, with an aesthetic close to my own, and a type of cuisine to aspire to.

When I put things into perspective, that I was leaving a job because I was unhappy and didn’t want to feel that sting again any time soon, that I was not leaving Seattle anytime soon, and that I wanted to build off the inspiration found at WD-50 and recreate the environment of passion I thrived in at Lampreia, my path was clear. I wanted Veil.

When I use the fact that I am arriving at 8 in the morning and staying until late in the evening as evidence of my pure joy, you might think I am a bit crazy. But to have a place you can pour your heart out to, that inspires and drives you to give 100 percent, well that’s my dream.

I have been working on new desserts, plating them with the chef and then tearing them down. Again, you might think I am crazy to find joy in someone tearing my work apart daily. But each day I go back in, and work on making the dish stronger.

Which is where I am going right now, back into the fire to try a few things again, to recreate a few that I have found success in, and to work my butt off.

Modern Roots

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

While looking for a new position and spending countless hours talking to various people, I am beginning to feel a bit like a broken record. The same questions are pressed to me at each stop, the same words string from my mouth in answer.

Hearing something for the third time, I realized how ingrained into my philosophy this truth was. I was describing my experiences interning in two very modern kitchens, The Fat Duck and WD-50, and this conclusion.

Modern cuisine is as rooted in classic cuisine as any other kitchen. I feel like the attention grabbing modern methods and techniques are simply the tip of the iceberg. The top peeking out of a massive structure of very grounded classic cooking.

Heston made the point of perception, saying that something modern will look much more so when seen next to something traditional, and vice versa. The tradition of a dish shines when playfully paired with something highly modern.

I used one of my favorite dishes at WD-50 to make my example. The dish was a bowl filled with a crystal clear steaming broth with 3 white orbs bobbing about at the bottom. The orbs contained a warm liquid encapsulated in a thin and tender pectin membrane that burst in the mouth with a little pressure from the tongue to the mouths roof. A wafer thin toast cracker rested on the rim of the bowl holding another capsule and creating a visual aesthetic in the vain of ikea’s minimalistic clean lines.

But the flavors were that of french onion soup, as classic as it comes. The broth, a roasted onion consume was rooted in traditional flavor and made with a classic raft, albeit I seem to remember the protein of the traditional egg white was traded for something from the shelf, meat glue perhaps? The orbs contained intense bursts of roasted Gruyere, and the wafer thin toasts represented the toasted bread that usually sogs above the soup. The modern presentation needed to be set over a deep understanding of the classic dish, just as modern cooking comes from chefs who have a deep understanding of cuisine as a whole.

I often think starting my awareness of this modern movement at The Fat Duck was a stroke of luck. I say this because their use of molecular gastronomy is so subtle that much of it goes unnoticed. Hestons cuisine showed his attachment to the traditions of British food as much as his research into molecular gastronomy.

His dish of bacon and egg ice cream certainly garnered media attention, but it’s placement in a dessert replicating a plate of full English, the traditional British breakfast of bacon, eggs, beans, and tomatoes grounded it and gave the odd flavored ice cream context. The bacon and egg ice cream may have been the media darling of this dish, but it sat aside an outstanding baton of “pain perdu” or french toast. This traditional element to the dish was made from a piece of brioche soaked in a traditional custard and cooked in a series of classic techniques. It was this traditional component, along with a roasted tomato jam, candied bacon bits, and dots of maple syrup that rooted the unusually modern bacon and egg ice cream in place.

It seems to me that modern kitchens are often dismissed as only that. But honestly, they seem just as, if not more grounded in tradition than many kitchens claiming to be traditional. My conclusion and the words that have been stringing again and again from my mouth are that tradition holds modern cuisine in context, therefor its just as important to me to look back as it is to look forward.

Modern Roots

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

While looking for a new position and spending countless hours talking to various people, I am beginning to feel a bit like a broken record. The same questions are pressed to me at each stop, the same words string from my mouth in answer.

Hearing something for the third time, I realized how ingrained into my philosophy this truth was. I was describing my experiences interning in two very modern kitchens, The Fat Duck and WD-50, and this conclusion.

Modern cuisine is as rooted in classic cuisine as any other kitchen. I feel like the attention grabbing modern methods and techniques are simply the tip of the iceberg. The top peeking out of a massive structure of very grounded classic cooking.

Heston made the point of perception, saying that something modern will look much more so when seen next to something traditional, and vice versa. The tradition of a dish shines when playfully paired with something highly modern.

I used one of my favorite dishes at WD-50 to make my example. The dish was a bowl filled with a crystal clear steaming broth with 3 white orbs bobbing about at the bottom. The orbs contained a warm liquid encapsulated in a thin and tender pectin membrane that burst in the mouth with a little pressure from the tongue to the mouths roof. A wafer thin toast cracker rested on the rim of the bowl holding another capsule and creating a visual aesthetic in the vain of ikea’s minimalistic clean lines.

But the flavors were that of french onion soup, as classic as it comes. The broth, a roasted onion consume was rooted in traditional flavor and made with a classic raft, albeit I seem to remember the protein of the traditional egg white was traded for something from the shelf, meat glue perhaps? The orbs contained intense bursts of roasted Gruyere, and the wafer thin toasts represented the toasted bread that usually sogs above the soup. The modern presentation needed to be set over a deep understanding of the classic dish, just as modern cooking comes from chefs who have a deep understanding of cuisine as a whole.

I often think starting my awareness of this modern movement at The Fat Duck was a stroke of luck. I say this because their use of molecular gastronomy is so subtle that much of it goes unnoticed. Hestons cuisine showed his attachment to the traditions of British food as much as his research into molecular gastronomy.

His dish of bacon and egg ice cream certainly garnered media attention, but it’s placement in a dessert replicating a plate of full English, the traditional British breakfast of bacon, eggs, beans, and tomatoes grounded it and gave the odd flavored ice cream context. The bacon and egg ice cream may have been the media darling of this dish, but it sat aside an outstanding baton of “pain perdu” or french toast. This traditional element to the dish was made from a piece of brioche soaked in a traditional custard and cooked in a series of classic techniques. It was this traditional component, along with a roasted tomato jam, candied bacon bits, and dots of maple syrup that rooted the unusually modern bacon and egg ice cream in place.

It seems to me that modern kitchens are often dismissed as only that. But honestly, they seem just as, if not more grounded in tradition than many kitchens claiming to be traditional. My conclusion and the words that have been stringing again and again from my mouth are that tradition holds modern cuisine in context, therefor its just as important to me to look back as it is to look forward.

Farmers Market Finale #3; Apricot Crumble

Friday, August 3rd, 2007

I called my sister yesterday looking for a coffee house companion, only to find she was working, as she does 4 days a week selling fruit at the local farmers markets. I was mentally preparing for solitude with an afternoon cup of joe when she changed my plans with a single phrase.

“It’s the last week for apricots.”

It hit me all at once. One of my favorite fruits, the tangy apricot had nearly passed me by. How did this happen? Could it be that without Merv, our favorite farmer at Eva delivering boxes strait from his Yakima farm/orchard directly to my arms, I am unable to keep the seasons strait? What else have I lost my chance at this year?

Luckily for me, my sister came to the rescue, sparing me a year without apricots. Once I drove across town to the farmers market she was working at, she gave me a paper sack full of a large, more acidic variety that fits my liking best. More acidic is a relative term as these beauties were so perfectly ripe that their sugar content trumped any trace of pucker.

I ate as many as I could before getting home, where the sack was placed on my kitchen counter for further consumption. However, when I reached in the bag this morning to add an apricot to my Greek yogurt, a treat I had been longing for since the night before, it became evident by my now gooey fingertips that these apricots needed to be dealt with promptly. And a girl can only eat so many apricots.

I began brainstorming, contemplating the best use for ripe, ripe, ripe apricots. One thought of crumble and I looked no further. The apricots would melt beautifully under the cinnamon streusel, textured with a hand full of oats.

As I slipped the flesh from the apricot stones, I tucked the stones aside in a bowl. You see, apricot stones are like gold to me. Inside the thick, brittle stone is an “almond.” A kernel really, with the same intense flavor of a bitter almond. This unique flavor extracted from bitter almonds to make almond flavoring is owed to a single flavor molecule; Benzaldahyde. This flavor is present in bitter almonds, the pits of apricots which are responsible for the liquor Amaretto, and the hearts of all stone fruits. In France, this flavor is given the heading Noyaux, a name that refers to stone fruits. While the flavor of almond is very clear, when extracted from the pit of an apricot, it mingles with apricot essence. Likewise, when extracted from cherry stones, the flavor of almond mingles with a distinct cherry quality.

This diamond in the rough is never spared in my kitchens, every pit saved for use somewhere. For this simple crumble, I chopped the apricot kernels finely and tossed it with the apricots and sugar. In the professional kitchen, these kernels are often steeped with cream and used to make ice cream to top the crumble, or a bavarian or panna cotta to serve with a stone fruit accompaniment. I may also grind the kernels with sugar in a food processor to save for later use in peach pie, nectarine crostada, apricot crumble, or cherry turnovers.

You get the idea. And to Michael and all those who asked of my last post, “what is cherry stone ice cream?” it’s this that I speak of, steeping cream for ice cream with the kernels found inside the hearts of stone fruits to release their almondy flavor.

This is my all purpose crumble topping recipe, developed over time from one my mom handed down to me. She took it from Laurels Kitchen, but as we looked over it together years ago, she followed each ingredient with the alteration she makes. “So you need ¼ cup sugar, well I always double that and use brown sugar. It calls for bran but I always skip that and add more oats. Then I melt extra butter and just add what ever it needs. Oh, and I always double the recipe.”

This recipe can be altered in many ways for use all season. You can play around by changing the sugar to all brown or all white depending on the delicacy of the fruit you choose. The oats can be withheld, replaced by nuts, and the cinnamon can be omitted or changed to any spice you feel fits the bill.

I am topping my own crumble with a healthy dollop of the greek yogurt I spoke of. I have never been a whipped cream kind of girl. Sweetened with a little honey, I use greek yogurt in place of whipped cream nearly everywhere I can.

Apricot Crumble

Roughly 20 to 30 apricots, depending on size

1/3 cup sugar, more if the apricots are tart

2 tbsp. Cornstarch

10 kernels broken free from the apricot pits

 

  1. Half the apricots and remove the pits, setting them aside. Cut the apricot halves into 4 pieces and set them in a large bowl.
  2. With a dishtowel covering the pits, crack them open with a blow from a heavy bottomed pot or pan, or a hammer. Alternately, use a nut cracker. Extract the “almond” like kernels from the center of each fruit, reserving 10 that are of nice size and healthy looking.
  3. Pulse the sugar and apricot “almonds” in a food processor until the “almonds” are finely ground. Alternately, chop them very fine with a knife and toss with the sugar.
  4. Add the sugar and cornstarch to the apricots and toss until evenly coated. Fill the desired shallow ovenproof baking dish or individual ramekins with the apricots and set aside while you make the topping.

Crumble Topping

1 cup butter

2 ½ cups flour

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp salt

(Optional ½ cup old fashioned rolled oats or chopped nuts)

 

  1. Melt the butter and set aside to cool. You are just cooling it enough that you can mix it into the other ingredients with your hands and not burn yourself.
  2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and toss with your hands, breaking the brown sugar up with your fingers while you mix.
  3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the cooled butter in.
  4. Mix with your hands, breaking up any large lumps while tossing until the entire mixture is moist and crumbly.
  5. Top your apricots with this mixture and bake in a 375 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes. It will be done when the juices bubble and the top looks lightly browned.

Officially unemployed and working hard

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

It’s my second day of unemployment, a state I haven’t been in since 2001. Sure, I’ve transitioned from job to job, but rarely with more than a weekend in between. Even my vacations have been used to stage, or work for free, harder and with much longer hours than most of my paid positions. So here I sit, my second cup of coffee going down with ease, lingering in my pajamas.

So what am I doing with my days of no purpose?

Working of course.

I may not be punching a clock, but I can’t keep myself away from the kitchen. With my “free time” I am planning the menu for a barbecue party I was hired to cook for this weekend, complete with a birthday cake at the end. This kind of work seems like play though. Yesterday I visited the Columbia City farmers market researching what exactly I could build a menu from.

My time consisted of strolling through the crowd, petting two Alpaca’s (so cute!), and visiting my sister who sells stone fruits each year. I tasted, purchased a few irresistible tomatoes and flowers, and adjusted my radar for this weeks crop. And here I sit, no whites and checks in sight, sans shoes, and I am “working”.

However, there is a more serious side to this day, and that is in developing dishes for a tasting. This tasting, taking place next week, is comprised of desserts, and makes up the physical portion of a pastry chefs interview. Gaining a new pastry chef job is time consuming, full of various meetings and stages of inquiry.

It begins with the initial introduction, resume in hand. Then there is the get to know you chat, where you talk about yourself endlessly. It feels much like a first date, selling yourself, accentuating your high points in history while showing your individuality. Then comes the in kitchen walk through, where you interview them. Is this a kitchen you can function in? How big is the walk in? Where would the pastries be produced, plated, stored? Who do you order from, and how much freedom do I have in ordering? What kind of ice cream machine do you have, and would you be open to getting a different one?

Finally, provided that they like you, and you like them, it’s time to put the proof in the pudding, so to speak. Sure, you worked in some great places, you talk like a pro, and you are well versed in desserts. But what really counts, what makes or breaks you, is what everything tastes like. When everyone mouths stop talking, and take in that first bite, your job is either secured or lost.

So I am working on a tasting, showing a little bit of each side of me, custom fit to the restaurants profile. Me plus them.

I have been talking with 3 restaurants over the course of the last month, and all of them offer the same unique opportunity. Two restaurants in one position. Each operation has both a fine dining restaurant, and a casual restaurant that would function with one pastry chef. While I have narrowed the search down to just two, rejecting one restaurant because of a hefty commute across a 2 mile floating bridge that often takes an hour, I am still between two.

Luckily for me, both restaurants would be a great fit for me, and I can use the same tasting for both. Here’s the menu so far, consisting of two desserts for the casual restaurant, two for the fine dining, and a trio of petite fours, the final bite, an added touch that is delivered with your check.

Vietnamese coffee ice cream; espresso granite, cocoa sable

Apricot and cherry crumble; brown butter and toasted almond streusel, cherry stone ice cream

Peanut Butter and Jelly Tart; Raspberry pate de fruites, peanut butter powder, frozen milk, carnation raspberries, salted peanut sauce, candied rice crispies

Tahuya River Honey Parfait; Bruleed stone fruits, toasted financier, late harvest Riesling fluid gel, crisp honey leaves

Petite Fours; Coconut haystack cookie, white chocolate coconut truffle dipped in dark chocolate, chocolate caramel chew.

I’ll be working for the man soon enough, meanwhile I’m loving every moment of being unemployed.