Archive for May, 2008

L20

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

I know I haven’t had a terrible amount to say lately, save a little on one of the easiest Rhubarb preparations I know, and a blurb about cherries I worked with last year.  I’ve been BUSY!

I have multiple jobs you know.

Veil, I spend 20 hours a week split between two days preparing the desserts.  Then there is Molly Moons, you could have guessed that I could never just make toppings for that lovely girl, and I’d end up churning ice cream a couple days a week.  I just love it there.  It has the feel of hanging out with a friend, mixed with the ease of a high school summer job, and the exciting challenge of working with something completely new.  Ice cream certainly isn’t new to me.  But producing ice cream in large batches is a very different animal, and I am loving it.

So despite my best attempts at writing interesting things for you, I continue to come up empty.  This post is no different, I am instead pointing you to the blog I have been pouring over these past few weeks.

L20 is a blog following the opening of Laurent Gras new restaurant in Chicago.  It’s interesting to me because the chatter amongst chefs I know is that fine dining is dying, particularly in Seattle where the hottest new restaurants aren’t temples to cuisine, rather late night pasta joints, fried fish served under a club, small plates of every kind.  Even in New York, Stupak went on record about his future plans to open a cheap casual Mexican restaurant, and David Chang, it seems, is taking over the world.   But here is a restaurant resurrecting the guiredon, a cart used to heighten the tableside experience.  Where as other chefs are stripping the experience they offer, Laurent Gras is doing everything to add to his, like installing deck ovens to bake bread in house, and hiring a brigade of 25 cooks!

I am not saying there is a better or worse.  I myself spend far more time in casual restaurants, and abhor a mediocre fine dining experience.  It’s just nice to see someone creating what appears to be the real deal, fine dining with every detail thought out and pushed to excellence.

All Rhubarb, All The Time

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

In other parts of the world, fruit is in season. In places other than Seattle, pastry chefs are working with more than Rhubarb.

But no matter how many sunny Seattle weekends drive a burning desire to work with fruit, nothing but Rhubarb, which technically isn’t even a fruit, is available to me.

I know, I know. Soon I will be whining that there is so much fruit and so little time. You see, here in this great green city, our fruit seasons are compacted onto each other for 3 quick and furious months.

In two weeks strawberries will come, followed quickly by raspberries. Plums will begin the stone fruit season, and by the time I have a dish worked out for them, cherries will be piling up and the first of the peaches and nectarines will be coming in.

But until then it’s all rhubarb, all the time.

This year, I have been making a lot of my favorite rhubarb recipe, orange rhubarb compote. Aside from being a fixture in my refrigerator and being gifted to friends, this working girl of a compote has a healthy professional career. She wakes up early dressed in soft hues of pink, to work at Veil’s brunch, served with toasted Columbia City breads in the morning. Moving into evening, she slips into something sexy, and nests a quenelle of buttermilk sorbet. Across town, this lady changes into her jeans and t-shirt and spends each day covering scoops of Molly Moon’s fantastic ice cream and is featured in a sundae with lemon ice cream, Chukar cherries, and vanilla whipped cream.

In a near brush with fame, this compote was to be featured in a local magazine. However, it hit the cutting room floor, making it necessary to share the recipe here with you. Soft, luxurious, and intensely deep in flavor, this compote’s real attraction is the simplicity in which it is prepared.  I think you too will find yourself coming back to this recipe again and again, maybe even well into the onslaught of seasonal fruit.

Orange Rhubarb Compote

2 tbsp butter

1 lb rhubarb

3/4 cup sugar

2 tbsp orange liquor

zest of one orange

1. Trim the Rhubarb of the ends, and split it lengthwise down the center. Cut across in 1 cm. intervals, leaving you with rough cubes of rhubarb.

2. In a large bowl, toss the rhubarb with the sugar and orange liquor, and orange zest, and set aside.

3. Melt the butter in a medium heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted add the sugar coated rhubarb. Let this cook over a medium heat, undisturbed, for about 2 minutes. When the rhubarb has started to release juices, gently stir.

3. Continue cooking the compote over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the juices are all released, then begin to thicken. Cooking time is about 10 to 15 minutes total, until the compote looks thick and the rhubarb is tender.

Notes:

* I set a timer last time I made it, just for you, and it took 13 minutes and 17 seconds until the desired texture and thickness was reached. This time will depend on the size of your rhubarb pieces, the particular heat of “medium” on your stove, etc, etc, etc. So use your intuition.

* Many of the cubes will break down from cooking, but some of the larger ones will remain as little tender lumps, offering bursts of tart rhubarb flavor in the mouth, and a pleasant texture on the tongue. If you like, you can break all the rhubarb apart with aggressive stirring, using the spoon to break the rhubarb up. You might even puree it and pass it through a sieve if you are looking for a smooth compote. But the less you stir, the more chunks you will leave intact.

Sour Cherries

Monday, May 12th, 2008

You may remember last summer, when I staged at WD-50.  What I didn’t tell you was that I rushed home for cherries.  Not just any cherries, Montmorency sour cherries, picked fresh from a tree in my neighborhood, by one of my favorite people on the planet, Iris.

Iris came over with the cherries, and her parents, she’s only 4 after all.  And her dad brought with him two more friends, Lara, and Neil.

We spent the afternoon making treats with the cherries, a goat cheese panna cotta with sweet pickled cherries, zeppolle with a sour cherry sauce for dipping, and a clafouti with an attempt at cherry pit ice cream.

The attempt failed when I took my chilled base out to churn, and looked in my freezer for the bowl to my counter top ice cream maker.  It was not frozen, and my base was not to be ice cream that day.  But all was not lost, we dipped zeppolle in the cherry pit infused custard as well.

I must argue for this clafouti batter.  This was the batter I learned clafouti with, blind to the fact that it is a bit nontraditional.  Where as most batters are just that, batters that sink a bit below the fruit, and bake into a custardy pancake, this batter contains whipped egg whites and cream, and soufflees above the fruit a bit, light and creamy, and unforgettable.   We kept it on the menu at Lampreia for as long as there was fresh fruit to sit below, which in Seattle means about 6 months out of the year.

The cherry pits ice cream, I must argue as well.  With trace amounts of cyanide, eating a handful of cherry pits is not something I would advise.  However, cracking them and infusing them into cream releases an amazing potent flavor, reliant on the flavor molecule benzaldahyde which is found in bitter almonds, apricot pits, peach pits, and regular cherry pits, and is responsible for what we consider, “fake” almond flavoring.  If you have ever wondered why an almond in no way tastes like almond flavor, it’s due to the fact that almond flavor is extracted from bitter almonds, not the kind we eat out of hand.

I didn’t write about it because Matthew, Iris’s dad did.  He wrote, Lara photographed, and finally Gourmet published it online!  So take a quick trip over to Gourmet.com, and read about our day in detail.  The clafouti recipe is published, along with the pickled sour cherries.  Following is the goat cheese panna cotta recipe, which is pictured covered with pickled sour cherries, and the cherry pit ice cream, which was replaced with vanilla for the day, delicious no doubt, but not quite the same.

Goat Cheese Panna Cotta

3 cups cream

8 oz goat cheese, at room temp

1 cup milk

½ cup sugar

Salt to taste

1 envelope powdered gelatin, bloomed in 3 tbsp water

  1. Bring the milk and sugar to a simmer and add the bloomed gelatin. Remove from heat and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
  2. Warm the goat cheese slightly to soften, and mix the cream and goat cheese in a blender until the mixture is smooth and even. Taste the mixture and add salt to your liking. Strain in the warm milk/gelatin, and spin until the mixture is even.
  3. Pour the panna cotta mixture into molds, ramekins, pyrex custard cups, or pretty little teacups you may also collect from rummage sales.
  4. Chill these for 6 hours.

Cherry Pit Ice Cream

3 cups cream

1 cup milk

1 cup sugar

6 egg yolks

The pits 50 to 70 cherries

  1. Crack the pits open and extract the kernel inside, discarding the hard shell. I do this by folding them inside a dishtowel and hitting them with a hammer, or the back of a small heavy pot.
  2. In a food processor, pulse the sugar with the kernels until the kernels are fine. Alternately, chop them with a knife, then mix with the sugar.
  3. In a medium saucepan with a heavy bottom, bring the cream and milk to a boil and stir in the cherry pit sugar. Remove the cream from the heat and allow to steep for an hour, longer if you want a more intense flavor, and bring it back up to temperature before adding to the eggs. Strain this mixture through a fine mesh strainer before adding to the eggs.
  4. Whisk one third of the hot cherry pit cream into the eggs, and return this mixture to the pot of cream, stirring with a heatproof rubber spatula.
  5. Cook this over a medium heat stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and reaches 170 degrees and thickens.
  6. Immediately chill this over an ice bath. When the ice cream base is cooled, transfer to a storage container and refrigerate over night, allowing the flavors to marry.
  7. Churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturers directions.

Balthazar, New York City, New York

Monday, May 12th, 2008

My love for Balthazar is not a secret. I always question how much of my enjoyment of their food is connected to their warm, well worn, perfect environment. I try so hard to not let things like decor affect my enjoyment of the food, but I admit with Balthazar it’s a difficult web to untangle. So, with my admittedly possibly biased viewpoint, onto breakfast.

It was a quick meal. Perfectly cooked bacon, scrambled eggs and asparagus in pastry dough, and buckwheat crepes with ham and gruyere. As usual the food matches the decor. It’s very well executed and completely coherent with the French bistro identity. The ham and gruyere were a lovely combination, salt, smoke, tangy cheese, against the slightly rustic crepe texture. The scrambled eggs were seasoned a little unevenly, but in the spots where they were right, they were quite yummy.

And as nice as the atmosphere is at Balthazar, I am still convinced that if you fed me their food in my garage, I’d enjoy it just as much.

Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

For everyone in the Seattle area, Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream shop is opening today.

I am making the toppings for sundaes and splits, including hot fudge, butterscotch, vanilla bean caramel, and a rotating seasonal fruit compote, currently a luscious orange rhubarb.

Molly has sourced everything as locally as possible, with the cream itself coming from Snoqualmie Gourmet in Maltby, berries from Carnation, Hazelnuts from Holmquist, everything being organic.  IF you decide against a cone, no worries, cups and spoons are completely compostable.

As far as toppings are concerned, I recommend the orange rhubarb on a scoop of strawberry, made with Remlinger farms strawberries.  Although the strawberry with a balsamic ribbon is hard to argue away, especially if you ask for an extra drizzle of the balsamic reduction over the top.

I wouldn’t turn down a scoop of scout mint, mint ice cream with crushed thin mint cookies, doused in hot fudge either.

The vanilla bean caramel would do nicely with the vivace coffee, or over a plain jane scoop of chocolate.  And would it be gilding the lilly to ask for caramel sauce over the tres chic salted caramel ice cream?

But where to put the butterscotch?

Certainly not on the honey lavender, my absolute favorite of molly’s flavors.

Definitely not on the bubble gum ice cream, studded with confetti bits of gum, the most popular with the little ones.

Not on the creamy lemon ice cream, or the local raspberry sorbet.

No way on the creamy thai iced tea ice cream, or the cardamom.

Maybe over the maple walnut, an old fashioned flavor that tempts the old woman that lives inside me.

I’ve got it!  Nothing could be a better foil for my bu-bu-buttery butterscotch than the queen of all flavors, vanilla.

Come down today for the party, free scoops from 3 to 5 for the kids, and a little treat for us older kids,  a series of DJ’s, friends of Molly’s from her former career in the music biz, including a member of the Shins!

If you can’t make it today, no worries, the shop is open from noon until 11 from now on.

Supermac, New York City, New York

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

I am a big big believer in focus leading to quality. (Note: not just a big believer. That’s TWO bigs!) I enjoy all sorts of restaurants that focus on one item — chocolate, hot dogs, bagels, etc. But one of my favorite foods is macaroni and cheese. It’s a perfect food item in my opinion. And honestly, I grew up eating a lot of orange powder on my elbows. It didn’t ruin me though. Over the years I have experimented often with finding just the right combination of the right shape of not-overcooked pasta, non-rubbery cheese, just the right amount of crunchy topping, and flavor with a capital F. In my kitchen I am still an infinite distance from my goal.

(I will claim a small victory here in that my children have been trained carefully to categorically reject the orange stuff and prefer freshly grated high quality cheese and butter on their pasta. Anyone with small kids knows that this is just a baby step, but an important one nonetheless.)

Wandering by Supermac in Manhattan today I wondered if there was a break in the clouds. True, it’s not something that I was able to make myself, but I’m a big believer in relying on professionals to do their jobs — especially when it comes to food. I’m also a big fan of single purpose restaurants. I don’t want to eat somewhere that makes sushi, steak, pasta, and “gourmet” ice cream. I’d rather stop at a variety of small establishments each doing their best at one thing. My perfect world is a bunch of stalls – think of them as slightly bigger than street food carts.

Supermac has some variety on the menu but it’s all fundamentally macaroni and cheese. I got a small serving of the basic. And honestly, I loved it. The topping was the special house blend of toasted and seasoned breadcrumbs. They had a nice uneven texture to them almost like the fancy sea salt flakes you buy. The seasoning was nice, and they weren’t too baked in to the top. They weren’t quite resting on top either. They were somewhere in between. Most importantly there was just the right amount. You don’t want to run out of crunchy stuff while you still have a bunch of noodles and cheese to eat. Should part of your experience be crunchless? I say no!

The noodles were cooked nicely. And the cheese? I got the four cheese mix. Getting the cheese right is very difficult. Not only does it need to be cream and flavorful, but it has to mix completely with the noodles. And it also needs to stay pretty liquidy. I’m not a fan of gelatinous cheese. I spied the Supermac folks using a saute pan to prepare my noodle cheese mixture. Excellent work. No pre-done stuff for them. Everything was to order.

All in all, I can’t wait for Supermac to open up a branch in Seattle. Next time, I’ll have to try some of the variations they serve.

Piece of Chicken, New York City, New York

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

Living in Seattle my choice for fried chicken is a place called Ezell’s. Honestly, it’s not as good as everyone claims. The texture of the coating is nice and crunchy, but the non-spicy chicken I had there was essentially flavorless. The spicy was, well, spicy, but not much else.

But this week, I’m in Manhattan. My friend has been bugging me to try his favorite fried chicken place, but we haven’t stopped there yet. Instead, today we found ourselves outside Piece of Chicken in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. Tucked down a sidestreet (W 45th between 8th and 9th). To her credit, Jenny spotted it out of the corner of her eye and said “let’s go”.

A large kitchen sits behind a rectangle cut into the wall. That’s where you order, that’s where you pay, that’s where you get your food. Where you eat is your problem. We chose to eat a few feet away on a stoop, ignoring the sign that disallowed us from sitting there. Luckily we didn’t get caught.

The menu is not small, but the star is of course the chicken. You can get a piece of fried chicken for a dollar. Yep. A dollar. Jenny being from the south ordered Chicken and Waffles for us. Despite how many places I’ve eaten I’m still really dumb about lots of culinary traditions. Southern food is no exception. I don’t know what I thought chicken and waffles would be. Maybe a drumstick wrapped in a waffle? (McDonalds I expect royalties if you follow through on that.) Nope. It’s exactly what it says, three pieces of golden fried chicken and four waffles (and two tubs of syrup).

Like many non-obvious food combinations, to me chicken and waffles is evidence of evolution at work. When you have diversity (lots of different food combinations), reproduction (lots of different restaurants making dishes over and over), and selection (customers going to restaurants they like) you get evolution. And I’m sure there were countless combinations tried, but chicken and waffles stuck. And it works.

The waffles had corn meal in them. They had sort of a rustic quality about them. And the fake maple syrup (a guilty pleasure of mine) was perfect on top. The chicken was super flavorful. We had white meat. To me, white meat is the true test of fried chicken. It’s not hard to make dark meat juicy. Unfortunately, here Piece of Chicken was a little more mixed. Of our three pieces, one was dry, one was juicy, and one was in the middle. In some cases the juicy factor was different in different bites of the same piece. I will say though that the savory flavorfulness of the crispy skin did a lot to compensate.

Juiciness inconsistency aside, we quite enjoyed Piece of Chicken. Maybe we’ll get to compare it to the Korean fried chicken place my friend raves about before the week is up.

Bread Pudding

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

I once read that concerning haute cuisine, texture is the final frontier. The showiest developments in cuisine lately have certainly been textural. While many of the new textures are coming from knowledge of hydrocolloids, old (like corn starch) and new, we can still be attentive and creative with our textures without specialty ingredients.

My latest favorite texture is bread pudding. Our chef de cuisine Johnny was introduced to it at Alinea, and shared it with me last fall, when I was looking for a way to incorporate gingerbread into a dish. A far cry from the rustic custard soaked bread cubes, these bread puddings resemble the texture of a stove top pudding. By pouring hot sweet cream over chopped breads and spinning for two minutes in a food processor, I can turn a loaf of brioche into a dense, savory sweet smear for my plates, thick or thin depending on the cream addition.

These puddings can have an unexpected “chew” to them if left thicker, or be as delicate as a dish of “jell-o” style pudding. Currently on my menu is a brioche pudding, which sits under a puddle of passion fruit yogurt sauce on my creamsicle plate. It adds a rich, salty, yeasty addition to the flavor profile, which is built around orange, vanilla, and passion fruit.

This winter I was producing a pudding from a dark spicy gingerbread, with a depth that came from molasses, cocoa powder, and espresso. This pudding first found a home under my treacle tart, which spun the classic British tart by incorporating gingersnap crumbs instead of bread, and a dark treacle syrup.

As dishes came and went the gingerbread pudding stayed, finding homes on a few plates. It grounded a chocolate terrine to it’s spicy garnishes, a cinnamon brown butter marshmallow, candied ginger, and vanilla shortbread.

The pudding even found a savory home, served with foie gras and preserved sour cherries.

The most addictive use of this pudding method came from an extra box of krispy kream donuts. After we had eaten ourselves sick, we placed the remaining donuts in the robot coupe, and made ourselves some pudding. We devoured the first batch, making ourselves quite sick. Since then, this puree has been put through development, borrowing from WD-50′s fried cubes of creaminess, i.e. mayonnaise, hollandaise, and butterscotch, to become, “donut holes”. Little fried cubes of donut pudding, with jam for dipping. It’s not quite there, but the gap between my reality and the perfection I know is out there is getting smaller.

This bread pudding method is highly versatile, with the texture range as dense or creamy as you make it. You could puree almost anything bread or cake like. I imagine a dark rye pudding, or sourdough pudding would be quite nice, or pumpernickel!

Here is my recipe for brioche pudding. It satisfies a need to be smeared on a plate cold in a silky manner, but offer enough “chew” to contrast the thinner passion fruit and greek yogurt sauce that pools inside the pudding.

Brioche Pudding

200 g. brioche, trimmed of crust and cut in one inch cubes

500 g. heavy cream

150 g. sugar

10 g. kosher salt

1. Place the cubes of brioche in the food processor.

2. Bring cream, sugar, and salt to a boil. Pour over brioche and let stand for one minute. Process the mixture for two minutes, until perfectly smooth.

3. Pass through a fine mesh strainer while still very warm.