Archive for the ‘Zetired’ Category

Locavore, for your iPhone

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

(This post is being simulcast on the Seattle PI and Tastingmenu. I encourage readers of each to check out the other. End of announcement.)

I know our task is to write about great restaurants. But in the broadest sense, our job is to alert you to ways to get great food nearby. And in that respect, Locavore, a cute iPhone application is squarely on topic.

If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch you already know that there are tens of thousands of applications available to you. The countless recipe apps mostly bore me to tears. Urban Spoon’s random restaurant finder is cute, but more often than not points me somewhere meh. It’s not Urban Spoon’s fault. The people rating those restaurants are all over the map and the recommendations sometimes reflect that. And while Locavore doesn’t point you to restaurants, it does tell you what’s in season depending on where you are in the United States.

Finding out what’s in season is not only critical for cooking, but ultimately it’s key for eating. Imagine going into a restaurant and realizing that the dish you wanted is comprised of items that are not locally in season. That’s critical information that can help you pick the right dish, or (more likely) the right restaurant. In addition, there’s a guide to farmer’s markets near wherever you happen to be. Not only is this a great use of the iPhone’s GPS functionality, but it’s critical to helping you get fresh food. And for those of us who prefer finished goods to ingredients, nine out of ten farmers’ markets I’ve attended have somebody selling something you can eat right on the spot. And usually it’s something delicious.

Finally, Locavore lets you broadcast what fresh items you’re eating by connecting your Facebook account to the app. I’m not sure whether this feature is there to help tell me about local fresh finds, or to torture me when people talk about what great veggies they’re eating out of their garden. Perhaps in the future it could include their GPS location so I could go raid their pea patch.

There’s tons of things that could be even better about Locavore including — support for the whole world instead of just the U.S. and farmers’ market details formatted for the iPhone and not for a big computer screen. That said, it’s already pretty good, and I have no doubt the proprietor of Enjoymentland (Locavore’s creator) is hard at work on these improvements and others even as we speak. (Full disclosure: Buster, who runs Enjoymentland and writes Locavore is someone I have broken bread with and a general good guy. But I paid my $3.99 for Locavore like everyone else.)

Bottom line, for anyone who’s seeking out freshness, Locavore is indispensable. Back to writing about restaurants next week folks.

More Accolades for Dana

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

It seems like you can’t go more than a few days recently without having someone sing her praises. Of course, it’s all well deserved. Here at Tastingmenu, we’ve known how great Dana is for some time (even before she started writing here — in fact it’s why we wanted her to share her opinions on this site.) The latest praise is from the editor herself of Seattle Magazine. And since Dana would never post it, I will. Allison Austin Scheff writes:

“Dana Cree, the pastry chef at Poppy (and one of the Rebel Chefs from April’s Best Restaurants issue) is the thinking-diner’s pastry chef. She analyzes, tweeks, re-works (and Twitters about all of it @deensie) and all of her smarty-chef work really pays off.”

She goes on:

“The most intriguing thing I tasted was Cree’s sassafrass ice cream, made with anise hyssop and sassafrass root (plus spices). I kept taking small spoonfuls and catching intriguing tastes of this, no that. It didn’t quite taste like a rootbeer float, as our waiter had said, it was more like those little barrel-shaped rootbeer candies, with a strange, illusive heat somewhere that disappeared before you could nail exactly what it was. What a fantastic scoop of ice cream.”

And finally:

“…for a dessert that’ll make you think, that might leave you in awe or open your eyes to possibilities you might not have imagined, do yourself a favor and get to Poppy. Dana Cree’s a serious talent.”

Yay Dana! Go read the entire thing.

I now have a vegetable garden. Vegetables coming soon.

Monday, May 4th, 2009

I am a big fan of vegetables. Fresh, flavorful, crispy, juicy vegetables can’t be beat. One of my favorite meals of all time was almost entirely composed of vegetables. (The meal was prepared emphasizing the greatness of the vegetables themselves rather than trying to simulate some sort of meat-based dish.) I would eat a lot more vegetables at home if this country was better designed for fresh vegetable consumption (1. Americans need to demand vegetables that have great flavor, not just ones that look good and are cheap, 2. these mythical vegetables need to be available within walking distance from your house, so you can buy them fresh every day.)

Pending a major restructuring of this country’s priorities when it comes to fresh vegetables, I had been resigned to mediocre veggies once a week from the supermarket, and eating expensive quality veggies from Wholefoods once every two weeks. But, I still yearn for better. The econapocolypse and the inevitable crumbling of society has brought all this into focus for me — I need to grow my own vegetables. Unfortunately, if I gauged my ability to nurture living things based on my history with plants then I never would have had children. Past performance would have indicated that they never would have made it to their first birthdays. In addition, the pacific northwest is not exactly prime vegetable growing territory.

Enter Seattle Farm.

For a minimum of $250 they’ll come set up a raised bed in a sunny spot in your yard, fill it with good dirt, run automatic drip irrigation lines so you don’t have to water it every day (this is key for me!!!). And then, even better, for $35 a week they’ll come and maintain your vegetable garden, pick the vegetables, plant new ones, and then walk the freshly picked veggies the 10 feet from the garden to the door to our kitchen. This is my kind of vegetable gardening!!! As for the $35, I spend that much on vegetables just driving by Wholefoods.

Here’s a shot of our new garden:

Over the next few weeks/months we’ll be swimming in: cucumbers, tomatoes, golden beets, sugar snap peas, red cabbage, arugula, ratte potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, purple carrots, scallions, radishes, shallots, cilantro, basil, garlic, and kohlrabi (Dana’s request). Be nice and you might get some.

This company is adorable. They’re providing an awesome and convenient service. While it’s too early to tell you about the quality of my veggies, so far they’ve been doing a great job. I hope they become a huge success.

A-Game

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Hey you. Whatcha doin?

Surfing your collection of food blogs daily? Thinking about food? Maybe thinking about ice cream?

Snacking?

Maybe snacking on ice cream?

You like ice cream, I can tell. I do too!

Didn’t I just see you waiting in an obscenely long line for a scoop or two at Full Tilt, or Mollly Moons, or Humphry Slocombes, or Bi Rite, or Ici? In the rain?

It was you! You were the person eagerly asking for just one more sample, juggling 10 dirty paddle spoons as you reached to take the teensy bite from the scooper, promising the people behind you, “the last one, I swear.”

I’ll bet you have some pretty good ideas for ice cream flavors.

I’ll even bet you could win a competition with some of your original ideas.

Maybe you could even win this competition.

Winner not only gets to brag that their ice cream flavor is on Spur’s summer menu, but gets to do so at Spur, with 5 friends all eating your ice cream at an ice cream social.

And hey, I’m curious. What flavor did you make up?

Oh, I feel ya. Don’t wanna give the competition any ideas. Yeah, that’s cool. I get it. But I’ll just put this out there. I do moderate comments, you know. And I could, if need be, delete any comment that was super duper top secret after reading it.

Hmmmmmm, understood. I see where you are coming from. Well, I wasn’t going to enter the competition myself, that’s not really fair. Those guys are my friends, and I’ve already got my ice cream inventions on a menu. This is about your unsung creative genius. But you’re smart, intellectual property is valuable. In that case, just go ahead and email your ideas strait over to this guy…..

spellmans@spurseattle.com

And put “Spur Ice Cream Idea” in the subject box.

Now get out there and show them what you are made of!

Ice Cream for Sandwiches

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

With summer coming, I have been working on ice cream sandwiches. The format of the sandwich works well for the high volume Poppy, simple to plate, texturally interesting, nostalgic, and focused on a minimal amount of flavors; that of the cookie, the ice cream, and the dish of something or other to dip it in.

Currently, as per the relentless nagging request of one of the line cooks, Abby, I have vanilla ice cream sandwiched between gingersnaps, with lemon curd to dip it in.

However, one of my huge pet peeves in eating ice cream sandwiches, is that of the drippy soft ice cream that often inhabits the space between the cookie. I disdain the ice cream squirting out as I sink my teeth into the mixture, rushing to the back of my throat and covering my fingers.

So I set to the task of making an ice cream that would stay firm through the entire process of eating. This would require a hard ice cream, and one that has a slow melt down. The texture needed to endure the entire time it takes for the cook to pull it from the freezer, cut it and plate it, flag down a food runner, run the plate to the table, and then stand up to the 5 or 10 minutes it takes to eat the dessert.

I found my answer in cocoa butter.  Because cocoa butter has a high melting point, around 90 degrees, it stays very firm at cold temperatures, and is slow to melt. Those who have made an ice cream or two will recognize that chocolate ice creams are always hardest to scoop. This is exactly the quality I wanted to present inside the sandwich. By using deodorized cocoa butter, Mycryo, I have been able to give this quality to ice creams without chocolate flavor.

I have been substituting 3 percent of the total fat, which is at a high 16 percent, for cocoa butter, which hardens the texture just the way I wanted.  It also allows me to use a crisp cookie for the sandwich.  Because the ice cream offers enough resistance to the pressure of your teeth, they are able to cut through a crisp gingersnap.

The flavor combos of possible ice cream sandwiches have been discussed highly in the kitchen, as the sun has made it’s first appearance in Seattle in what feels like 6 months. Any requests?

Follow Through

Monday, March 30th, 2009

In my previous life, the one I lived before I became an adult, I played softball. “Played” isn’t really the right word, though. I lived softball. Fast pitch softball, not the slow underhanded game old men play. I was on a very competitive regional team. I spend every day at 2 practices, at the least. I tournament every weekend. I went home at night and watched training videos on throwing technique, or batting stances, or how to increase sprinting speed within the first 5 steps. I went to every “clinic” within reasonable parental driving distance. Then I grew up, and went to cooking school.

While I make every attempt to subdue the sports analogies in the kitchen, it’s very hard for me to divorce myself from the similarities.

At the moment, a batters box philosophy has been replaying in my head as I collect my thoughts on serving desserts to a diner. This concept is follow through.

Baseball is the great American pastime, so I can make a safe bet that you know the drill. A person with a bat stands in a little box next to home plate, preparing themselves, completing their tiny ritual, and waiting for a ball to be thrown towards them. This is the most exciting part of the game, really, especially for the spectator. The point of contact. When the ball reaches home plate, the bat strikes it, and the game springs into motion. And that point of contact is what the whole game is built around.

However, the fraction of a second that the bat strikes the ball is such a small part of what makes successful contact. You are taught very early on as a batter, that if you only think about the bat hitting the ball, you will fail. You think very little about the point of contact. Rather you train yourself to think of the followthrough.  That is, for you, the bat swings from your back shoulder, past your front shoulder.  That is your main consideration, using a complete motion that strikes through the point of contact, landing the bat firmly on your back, your body twisted forward.

If done correctly, the point of contact is inevitable. But it’s the entire process that achieves it, not the idea of hitting the ball with the bat.

In desserts, I think about this a lot. The point of contact is that of the dessert being set on the table in front of the diner. And if we stop our thought process there, I believe we fail.

Because once the dessert is on the table, just like the ball being struck with the bat, the infinate variables begin. Where the ball goes, who fields it, the errors and brilliance that the other players inflect, this is where the game gets exciting.

But rather than players reacting a ball, we have people reacting to a dessert. When the dessert is set on the table before them, the diner is beginning a very complex process of flavor perception.

To make this long and perhaps cumbersome analogy complete, we have to understand that flavor is a mental construct that does not exist outside the brain. This mental construct is built with the information we recieve from our 5 senses while dining, first sight, then smell, taste, touch and sound. Once the information is provided from our 5 senses, it mingles with mood, memories, and anything else floating around in the diners head.

And what’s in your head, those are the exciting variables. Those are the things I have no control over. Once my dessert, which I have used my hands to physically create perfectly, consistently, day after day, is set on the table, I have absolutely no more control over what happens. I am out there running the bases, and the diner has the ball. Your mood is in the outfield, your memories are fielding 3rd base, and I have just hit the ball somewhere out there. A very good batter has some control over where the ball goes, but still, no control over what happens to the ball once it’s on the field.

So, if I, the pastry chef, only ever think the process through to the point of contact, the moment at which the dessert hits the table, or worse, the point at which the dessert leaves my kitchen, I fail. It’s up to me to understand where the dessert is going, how perception is created, and what, if anything, I can do to encourage that perception to be pleasant.

Lets just forget about the physical dessert itself, the ingredients I have manipulated and put on a plate. The dessert has been built for maximum success, texture spot on, flavors matched perfectly, plated beautifully. Now it’s on the table, the point of contact has been made.

Lets consider follow through, and consider the perception that is beginning, and what’s already floating around in the diners head.

First and foremost is the mood they are in, which is very effected by the service, and the atmosphere of the dining room. This, a restaurant has the power to influence. But what if they have suffered loss within the past week, a pet being sick, a broken relationship, a fight with a sibling, trouble at work. This portion of their mood I have absolutely no control over, yet it still mingles with perception.

And what of the memories of food already implanted in the diner. How can I tap into these, making a dessert they’ve never seen before feel familiar? I can make safe guesses working within the framework of american nostalgia. I grew up eating American food, and so did you, so I bet we share some of the same memories. But what of the diner that grew up in Germany?

The follow through, the consideration of the perception of my desserts is the most fascinating part to me. Maybe because it’s the truly challenging part, the part I could spend a lifetime attempting to effect, yet would be different every day, every year, every city, every restaurant, and especially every person.

I can take the same amount of flour, sugar, butter, chocolate, and eggs, and make the same brownie every day, for 50 years. But it becomes something unique, and individual every time I put it in a different pair of hands, and that to me is amazing.

I once read that in cuisine texture is the final frontier. But for me, the final frontier is perception. The frontier of texture is that of the American west, wild for quite some time, but eventually just part of our country. For me, it seems the frontier of perception is that of outer space. Infinite and ever changing, and there whether you look up to see it or not.

Rest In Peace

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

This is the sad state of the first scale to be brought into the poppy kitchen.  It was part of the opening team, and it’s faithfully helped us measure every batch of naan, every dessert that’s made it to the tables in the short 6 months we’ve been open.

As you can see, it’s on it’s very last leg, but still pulling us through.  New scales come tomorow, and this little helper will finally be laid to rest.

The Sweet Chemist

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

Amidst the avalanche of press that my co-blogger is getting you might have missed the latest from Seattle Magazine calling her “The Sweet Chemist” and a “Rebel Chef”. I though she just liked trying to make excellent desserts, I didn’t realize she was rebelling. ;)

Check it out.

(Note for Seattle Magazine: how about posting the picture of the rebel chefs on your website so it’s bigger than a thumbnail. I promise it won’t cost you extra money, and it might actually make the picture informative cause you’d be able to see the people in it. OK. Sorry. Done ranting.)

taking back the slight…..

Friday, March 13th, 2009

Under no circumstances will I open the number 10 can of worms that is all that we in the industry think of Yelp.

However, nearly every establishment has received reviews that are unnecessarily negative/rude/absurd. No matter how unreal untrue unbelievable they are, they eat at us. So we do the only thing we really can. We take them back, turn them into jokes, and quote them to each other in our daily routine of kitchen jokes.

A pizza joint in the bay area has done us one more. They have printed these outrageous statements on T-Shirts. At Poppy we too have joked about having T-Shirts made with our own yelp slights.

On the list…

“Poppy hates children, and Poppy hates cake.”

“I would never classify the menu as New American………EVER!”

“If Ikea and a Tootsie pop had a baby it would be Poppy”

“Poppy isn’t even seasonal (oranges in winter!)”

“FAIL”

And on the list for Veil…..

“This is the worst asian fusion restaurant I’ve ever been to.”

“Veil is, umm, skanky.”

In my head

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Wanna get inside my head?  Tune into the steady stream of constant thoughts of food that flood my world each day?

Then follow me on twitter!  @Deensie

I can’t promise it’s all food.  But since i think about food 90 percent of the time, it’s a good bet it’s mostly about food.  And a small taste of the life I lead outside the kitchen!