Archive for the ‘Dessert’ Category

Queso Fresco

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

I withstood the rain today, meandering through the University farmers market in desparate hopes of a sign of a coming summer, and found it in two baskets of strawberries and a pound of cherries. The first of the year!

The cherries aren’t great, and let me tell you they certainly weren’t cheap! And I’ll bet if I counted, each strawberry ran me upwards of a quarter a piece. It wasn’t only my desperation for anything besides rhubarb that led me to these purchases.

Tomorrow, at noon, I will be the chef demonstrator at the farmers market on the street outside the pike place market. I have been a little nervous, you see. It’s really hard to demonstrate a dessert with out fruit! Last resort, I could have shown off my favorite rhubarb compote. But really, it’s June already, and rhubarb is like, so last season.

Thankfully I spied a table with my strawberries, which disappeared in a matter of minutes, myself taking two of the last four pints. The crates of cherries were going just as fast, but with a truck load carried over from Chellan I wasn’t at risk of missing out. They aren’t yet as sweet as I know they can be, bursting with the intense sunshine they absorb, so they will be treated to a pickle with balsamic and sugar , or a stewing of sorts with their pits.

Ironically, after all this hullabaloo over some fruit, that isn’t the focus of my demonstration tomorrow.

I will be demonstrating a technique for queso fresco. Nothing fancy, but this humble cheese is something I find incredibly impressive each time I do it. This cheese I have seen under many an alias. At Veil we call it Fromage Blanc on our menu, I have often seen it as Farmers Cheese, and the New York Times even featured a similar recipe under the name Ricotta. Press this cheese for a couple of hours, and you have Paneer.

This easy and quick cheese is a product of curdling milk at 170 degrees with an acid and straining the curds from the whey. This preparation varies from most other cheeses by using an acid rather than rennet to cut the casein’s, and break the curds from the whey, but that is a different post, waiting for myself to become better informed. Because an acid is so readily available, and this cheese is meant to be eaten as quickly as you can, it is the most accessible, and therefor humble of cheeses.

My introduction to this process was last summer at Veil, where we traded the milk for half and half laced with tarragon, rosemary, and thyme. This sat between a mascarpone enriched risotto and a veil of shaved parmesan surrounded by a thin drizzle of truffle oil. I have seen it stuffed into all manner of pastas, layered in lasagna’s, used in spreads, and of course in desserts like cheese cakes.

To apply this method to dessert, we will steep the milk with lemon balm before we break it, and serve it sweetened with a drizzle of honey, a scattering of toasted nuts. I chose this recipe because it is the perfect foil for summer fruit. While the New York Times called it bland in a good way, I prefer to think of it as subtle. Either way, it is definately a blank canvas, and can be dressed up or down, being paired with something simple like sliced strawberries tossed with a bit of sugar and black pepper, or something a bit more involved like peaches roasted with honey and chamomile. It could be scattered with fresh raspberries still warm from the sun they collected on the vines in your back yard minutes before, or pickled sour cherries. Sliced nectarines dusted with turbinado and burnt with a torch wouldn’t mind sharing the plate with this cheese, and a sautee of plums and cherry tomatoes a la Claudia Fleming would find a spot next to this cheese just as comfortable.

I am still formulating a dish to feature queso fresco at Veil, although I am sure we will call it Fromage Blanc as we always do. To take this simple summer dessert from the back yard to the white table cloth, I’ll add textural components, fruit components, force the cheese into an obedient shape with two spoons, and then design a beautiful plate to make this as much a feast for the eyes as the palate. Already I see a honey sauce stenciled on the plate, a proud white quenelle of queso fresco broken from sea breeze fresh raw milk, raspberries, crystallized ginger, shards of a cookie of some sort, and petite green leaves of lemon balm scattered.

But who knows where this dish will be by the time the rest of the fruit arrives. I do know that this delicious and amazing fresh cheese will help me and my menu welcome summer and her fruits into Veil.

Queso Fresco

Queso Fresco, or farmers cheese

½ gallon whole milk

2 to 4 oz lemon juice

1 tsp sea salt or kosher salt, or ½ tsp table salt

A handful of lemon balm or lemon verbena, or other fresh herbs


A fine mesh strainer

Cheese cloth

A large bowl

A large slotted spoon or slotted utensil

A thermometer that reads up to 180 degrees Fahrenheit

A large pot

A whisk

1. Prepare the mesh strainer by lining it with 3 layers of cheese cloth large enough to drape over the sides, and set it over the bowl.

2. Place the milk and salt in the large pot with the herbs, and scald. Remove from heat and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Insert the thermometer. Bring the milk back to 170 degrees, and begin whisking in the lemon juice, starting with 2 oz and adding more if needed. Whisk until the milk curdles, let it sit undisturbed for a few minutes.

3. Carefully transfer the solid curds to the cheese cloth lined strainer, removing the herbs, and allow to drain for 10 minutes. Alternately, you can carefully pour the contents of the pot into the strainer, slowly and with much caution.

4. When the whey has drained from the curds, remove them from the cheese cloth and transfer to a storage container. Chill for an hour or two before serving.

The Easy Battle

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

Sometimes I forget myself. I forget that I am good at what I do, do it every day, and have a solid lump of experience under my belt.

Hmmm…. that’s not quite right.

Sometimes I forget you. I forget that you aren’t me and don’t have the experience and daily handling that I do.

I am reminded of this occasionally when I am teaching a class and say things like, “it should be the texture of pastry cream.” You blankly stare at me, and I remember that you came to a beginners baking class today and may not have even heard of pastry cream, let alone know what it’s texture is like.

Molly Moon laughed at me a couple of days ago, saying, “Dana, I just love that you talk to me like I know what the heck you are talking about.” I thought we were discussing the hydration properties of the pectin in her stabilizer, but she just asked if I had put it in yet.

But often, my forgetfulness shows most when I make the statement, “oh this recipe is really easy.”

Then proceed to rattle off a dish that is easy to me in the professional kitchen I work in, or even in my home kitchen that I have outfitted with everything that makes my professional kitchen easy to work in, like giant super clingy cling film that sticks to everything, a box of full sheet sized parchment, a bakers bench with drawers full of every tool I could want, full of every pan I could need, bowls, sieves, and a stack of boxes filled with every pantry item I think to need.

My super easy strawberry buttermilk panna cotta is a breeze to me. But I have to admit, that the process might seem overwhelming to the novice. The cream is heated with sugar and lemon zest (everyone has a microplane, right?). The gelatin is soaked (everyone stockpiles sheet gelatin right?). Then the gelatin is melted into the hot cream and cooled slowly to body temperature (you have an hour to wait, right?). Meanwhile the strawberries, which have been frozen and thawed half way to damage the cell walls for better flavor, pigment, and pectin release, are pureed in a blender and sieved to remove the seeds and kept as cold as possible (you have a blender, sieve, and froze those berries in a single layer last night, right?)

Now, after all this, strain the cream into the strawberry buttermilk mixture, and pour into pretty little serving dishes (you have pretty serving dishes, and the refrigerator space to chill them, right?)

Well, I made a cake this weekend for a back yard barbecue that finally, finally, made me see what I was battling against when I tell people something is easy.

This cake is popular the country over with your church pot luck, back yard barbecue, and family gathering. While my family never made it, (we would have if my mom had the recipe), I have tasted this cake at friends gatherings. It’s nothing a “foodie” would claim to enjoy, although I bet many of them secretly do. During a plated dessert class we discussed nostalgic desserts and 3 of the students claimed this cake as their favorite nostalgic childhood dessert.

It’s called a poke cake, and it’s made by baking a white cake mix, and poking holes all over it, to which you pour jell-o across. The jell-o (I used orange) soaks in, and makes a moist, sweet, and yes, yummy dessert. Cover the whole thing with whipped cream, or better yet, a frosting recipe made by mixing a box of instant vanilla pudding with one cup of milk, and a tub of cool whip.

The result was actually fairly tasty. It’s not going on my menu, but I understand how it can be considered a favorite and brought to various events.

But after all was said and done, this cake was EASY. I had opened 4 containers, used only 3 ingredients that would be in everyones kitchen (eggs, oil, milk), and spent a maximum of 15 minutes preparing it. I used only 4 dishes, a measuring cup, a whisk, a spatula, and a bowl.

While I know this cake isn’t the crowining glory of american cuisine, it is the median. It is a cake that represents the word “easy” to many many home cooks. Compared to my experience in the kitchen this weekend, my easiest of recipes is a handful.

This cake helped put me in my place, and remind me that when I teach and discuss food with people not as entrenched in cuisine as I am, I need to remember where they are coming from. I need to remember you.

For further reading on my panna cotta process link here

For further reading on my puree process read here

“Easy” Strawberry Buttermilk Panna Cotta

250 g. heavy cream

200 g. sugar

Zest of 1 lemon

5 sheets gelatin

250 g. buttermilk

250 g. strawberry puree

1. Soak the gelatin leaves in ice water until soft and hydrated.

2. Mix the cream, sugar, and lemon zest in a small pot, and bring to a boil, whisking until the sugar is disolved. REmove from heat.

3. Remove the gelatin from the ice water, squeeze the excess water from it, and add it to the hot cream, stirring until disolved and evenly distributed.

4. Let this sit on the counter away from heat and come down in temperature slowly, until it is just below body temperature.

5. Meanwhile, mix the buttermilk and strawberry puree well and keep cold.

6. When the cream has come down in temperature, strain it into the cold strawberry buttermilk, and whisk to combine.

7. Pour this into pretty serving dishes, and chill overnight, or at least 8 hours.

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.


* 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, 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.

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.

My kind of judge

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Top chef brings a parade of amazing guest judges each season. Most I know by name, many I know by sight, all make me nod with respect.

But last night I just about jumped when they brought out Johnny Iuzzini.

Iuzzini is on my team, the dessert team. He is the pastry chef at Jean George.

I have never met him, tasted his desserts, or come too close to any of his actual work, but what ever, I still admire him.  I have certainly worked with other cooks who have worked for and with him, and his reputation is formidable.

His website provides pictures to fill in the gaps in chatter I have shared with those who worked with him. It also provides pictures of him covered in some kind of white goo. Royal icing is my best guess, or liquid latex, but I think if that were the case it would be a different kind of site all together. Marshmallow fluff I’ve now been told, and I’ll resist the obvious urge to make fluffernut jokes.  His reel makes him look like a rock star, with clips ranging from winning the James Beard award to propositioning Martha Stewart.

Iuzzini’s first book, four play, cleverly nodding to the structure of his desserts at Jean Georges, 4 small compositions fitting together on one plate, is set for release this fall.

The quickfire challenge was the first in which all contestants were required to create a dessert. With only an hour and a half, even strong pastry chefs would be pressed to do anything to extravagant.

Richard, put up my favorite dessert, banana “scallops” with a sweet guacamole and chocolate ice cream. What made this my favorite was the acknowledgement that you don’t have to have a mastery of baking and pastry techniques to build a dessert. All savory chefs should figure this out.

Plated desserts in fine dining restaurants are so much closer to a savory course than they are to traditional pastry found in bakeries. However, once the lable, “pastry” gets put on something, most cooks begin to immediately disregard it. I call it the “not my problem” effect.

It was nice to see Richard bust out an amazing composition using the skills he had, rather than trying to fake skills and create a weak plate.

Cant make a souffle? Braise pineapple instead. Never made a custard? Whip up a sabayon with sweet wine. Don’t know how to balance a sorbet? Make a fruit soup. Don’t know how to bake? Make a gussied up french toast, or pain perdu, which when baked in bulk is really just bread pudding. Don’t have a tuille recipe? Fry wontons.

I know that all cooks can look deep in their skill set and compose a dessert. They just need to look at what they have, instead of what they don’t have, and know that a dessert in a restaurant to complete a meal, and an item from a bakery are not the same thing even though they both suffer the same title, “pastry.” Don’t hide behind the fact that you can’t bake.

You can do so many things, and bring to a dessert things a traditional pastry chef may never think of. While it took the pastry chef in me to make a great panna cotta, it took the cook in me to think of a sweet celery and strawberry relish to go with it. It was also the cook in me that made a killer braise of pineapple, or earthy chocolate and potato gnocchi.

And what the heck, watch your pastry chef and cooks, and recognize the components and techniques that you could easily do without being trained in pastry. Ask questions, be interested in what you are plating on the pantry. You never know when you will rack your brain, searching for every bit of pastry know how you might possibly have.

The Flavor of Color

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

It is a fact that color has a drastic effect on your perception of flavor. The information received from our eyes will lead us to anticipate a flavor based on the color of a food or beverage, and that initial assumption can over ride the information we receive from our taste buds and olfactory system.

At The Fat Duck Heston served a disk of gelee, orange on one side, maroon on the other. The diner was instructed to taste each side of the gelee individually without being told the flavor. This little bite stopped people in their tracks. They were tasting orange and beets, but the red side was blood orange, and the orange side was golden beet. The recognition of the two familiar flavors opposing their expected colors teased the diner a bit, forcing them to recognize how strongly we associate a particular flavor with a color.

In Elementary school, our teacher gave us an experiment; blindfold our partner and give them two small cups, one filled with seven-up, the other filled with coca-cola. They were required to tell us which was which based simply on taste. In our youthful arrogance we laughed, positive we could tell. I mean come on, cola is like, so obviously a different flavor than lemon-lime. Duh. We tasted away, and our crumbling confidence became a new source of amusement as child after child was stumped. Without the dark color telling us what cola was, we couldn’t distinguish the sodas from each other.

Last week I was working on a bubble gum ice cream base for a dish coming out this spring. Not only am I flavoring the ice cream like bubble gum, but I am coloring it pink as well. As I had the cooks taste the nameless pink cream and tell me what flavor it was, all but one agreed it tasted just like they remembered bubble gum tasting. Ironically no one had tasted bubble gum in years, myself included.

Brian however, looked pained when I gave him a spoon of the pink fluid. He asked why I was giving him pepto bismol. After a little prodding and a promise that is was indeed something I made he put the spoon in his mouth.

He grimaced and said, “Yup, that tastes just like pepto bismol. It is, isn’t it. Why did you make me eat that.”

As soon as we stopped laughing and told him it was bubble gum, he relaxed his face and said, “Oh yeah, it is bubble gum.” His initial assumption that the spoonful was going to taste like the chalky pink fluid, based solely on color, was so strong that his olfactory gave in and agreed. It didn’t matter how strong the bubble gum flavor was, his eyes told him pepto bismol and that was that.

I will admit that the sauce was too brightly colored. A little color goes a looonnnnggg way. When diners do see my bubble gum ice cream, on a plate with strawberry covered bananas and a vanilla cream filled sponge cake, it will be shades lighter than what I was feeding my cooks. We wouldn’t want anyone tasting pepto bismol ice cream.

It sparked a conversation about the preconception of flavor based simply on color, and I told them about my own experiment I did earlier last year.

I made a fresh sour cherry sauce that while stunning in flavor, was an off brown color. I split the sauce into two batches, and colored one with a bit of red food coloring. Two drops changed the dull brown color into a bright, vibrant red, much the color of the unprocessed cherries themselves. I had the cooks I worked with taste both and tell me which one tasted better, citing a difference in method as the reason for the color variation.

Cook after cook named the bright red cherry sauce as the better of the two. Way better, hands down above and beyond, they all said in their own words. To them, the bright red was an indicator of real cherry flavor, a better product, better handling, thus the sauce tasted better.

This brings up a deeper question. If the two sauces were identical in flavor, one only varying by the addition of two drops of color, then could one possibly taste better than the other? In fact the sauces were the same composition of flavor and texture, but in perception they were different, so which one is true?

At WD-50 I was surprised to find bottles of coloring mixed in with the dry stores. But Alex’s argument was that people will perceive something to taste better if it is colored they way they expect it to be. Case in point was the sweet avocado sauce served with the soft chocolate dish. As the sauce was processed, it would begin to brown a bit, straying from our concept that avocados are green. One drop of color helped this sauce, made daily from fresh avocados, retain it’s identity as fresh avocado. No matter how fresh the sauce actually was, the faded color would lead the diner to assume it was passing it’s prime, and that information would change their perception of the flavor.

It’s a very strong argument for using coloring in your food, a practice that once seemed blasphemous. Color won’t hide the fact that your food doesn’t taste good, but it can help you ensure that your diners are perceiving the flavors in your dishes as you intended them to be.

Easy Peasy Chocolate Chip

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Like Forrest said about those chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. This one size fits all bit of wisdom can stretch to fit anything, really. The sale rack at Urban Outfitters, that guy you started dating, the produce from your local grocery store. But when I feel this the most, when the bit of Gump philosophy rings so true that I find myself mumbling it audibly, is upon entering unfamiliar kitchens to cook.

You NEVER know what you are going to find, or not find.

I have been told by a well seasoned chef, that the kitchen I was to enter was, “totally hooked up.” only to walk in, a day early thank god, to a double hotplate and a plug in convection oven in what can only be described as a hallway. I have also walked into residential kitchens to find professional grade dishwashers, with 45 second wash cycles and an automatic soap feed. The rest are somewhere in-between, but take nothing for granted. A whisk seems like a kitchen essential, but my mother in law has never owned one. I have about 10 rubbers spatulas in my drawers, but have walked into kitchens that maybe have one. And small appliances are hit or miss, and I keep my fingers crossed for a food processor at the least.

Needless to say, you learn to be very flexible. One also begins to collect recipes that are fail safe, and those that can be made successfully with a minimal amount of equipment. I have a chocolate chip cookie recipe that I feel confident making just about anywhere with a couple of bowls and a spoon, a baking sheet, and an oven that works reasonably well. Don’t have a baking sheet? This recipe can be adjusted with a simple doubling of the eggs and baked like a blondie (in a pan like a brownie).

Today our group of cyclists, ravenous from a 3 hour ride up a mountain, were welcomed home to the smell of these cookies, baked blondie style, fresh from the oven.

Anywhere Cookies

6 oz. melted butter

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1 egg, 1 yolk

1 tsp salt

zest of one orange

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp baking powder (not soda)

2 cups chocolate chunks

1. Mix the melted. butter, sugars, orange zest, and vanilla until even. Whisk in the egg and yolk until even.

2. Toss the flour, baking powder, and salt with your hands until you are confident the tiny amounts of baking powder and salt are evenly distributed.

3. Mix the flour mixture into the wet mix and fold with a large spoon. Heck, if that wasn’t around I’d probably use my hand.

4. Fold in chocolate chips.

5. Shape into 2 inch balls and press slightly flat on a cookie sheet, spaced apart for a bit of growth. I usually put 6 on a pan. Bake at 325 for 10 to 12 minutes. These cookies do well to cool on the pan, as they are a bit chewy and soft.

If baking as a blondie, use two eggs and two yolks, and spread the batter in a 9 by 12 inch casserole dish. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes at 325. To should be golden and papery, and feel set to the touch.

Best Of

Monday, December 31st, 2007

It seems every publication is all lists this time of year. What to gifts buy for this person or that, what to wear for holiday gatherings here or there, and finally, the “best of” lists.

We all have them, and personally, I love talking about them. Do you agree, disagree, what would you add or detract. Can you guess what kind of “best of” lists most cooks discuss?

If you said food you are a bit off. That comes second. First and foremost we discuss music.

Then we talk about food. Today Jonathan Kauffman’s “best dishes” list was on the top of our minds at Veil, mostly because one of our own dishes was in the honorable mention section. A prawn dish with caramelized chard, a honey gastrique, and a sunflower seed/bacon condiment. This “best dishes” list gave us all an excuse to discuss the best things we had tasted this year. Just us, cook to cook, in our own kitchen where the influence of “the scene” doesn’t penetrate.

I was very very lucky this year to make a few rare trips out of the kitchen to New York, Chicago, San Fransisco, and Colorado. Along the way I tasted some pretty amazing things. Seattle’s provided a few herself, and this list is going to contain a taboo for me. I am going to include a dish I would normally NEVER put on my own list.

Dana’s ten best bites of 2007

1. Paprika Punch cocktail, Tailor, NYC.

Hands down this is the best thing I have tasted this entire year. The cocktail was made from red bell pepper infused vodka, was mixed with something sweet and sour, and if I remember correctly was muddled with jalapeno. My friend Rosio and I lost all manners and asked for “refills”, which we were given 3 times. I think about this drink at random at least once a day, cravings attached.

2. Ssam, Momofuku, NYC.

I only made it to the ssam bar, and only ever had the berkshire pork ssam. But I went back to have it multiple times both trips this last year, and will do exactly that next time I am in Manhattan. The Ssam is a kind of Asian burrito, this one made with braised Berkshire pork wrapped in a rice pancake with kim-chee puree, grilled onions, pickled mushrooms, chili sauce, rice, and edamame. This dish was so amazingly delicious that it makes me wish for a momofuku in Seattle so I could eat it all the time. Even though I know franchising would destroy what makes momofuku so delicious, I want it.

3. Yuzu curd with spruce yogurt, pistachio, liquid sablee, WD-50, NYC.

This was the first of Stupak’s desserts that I tasted, and still the most memorable. The pastry sous Rosio plated me the tiniest cutest version of the dish out of scraps while I watched the cooks in service. Yuzu is quite possibly the most amazing citrus flavor as is, but paired with the bitter greek yogurt and the essence of spruce it was transcendent.

4. Pork Belly with Miso Butterscotch, Tailor NYC.

Butterscotch never had it so good as it does in Sam Mason’s hands. What is for me one fiddle flavor, butterscotch becomes the entire band here with the simple addition of miso. Perhaps it’s because miso is actually alive. Perhaps the sugary sweet combination of caramelized sugar is the perfect platform for deep earthy flavors. What ever it is, the combination of miso and butterscotch was a revelation for me. The fact that it bathed pork belly didn’t hurt either.

5.  Meyer Lemons picked from my Uncle Tom’s tree, Santa Cruz, CA.

I feel ashamed that in this sustainable day and age, where we should be connected to the source of our food, I could be so shocked by something growing in my uncle’s yard. But the lemons I had always known were there blew me away. Warm from the sun, ripened on the tree, these yellow orbs turned out to be Meyer lemons rather than the standard variety. It was as much a taste revelation as a that of connection, this act of reaching my own hand, grasping the dimpled flesh and plucking fruit so rare to me in Seattle. Lemon-aid never tasted so good as it did that day.

6. Cauliflower soup, white chocolate foam, curried cauliflower puree, dark chocolate, Schwa, Chicago, IL

I scheduled a one day layover in Chicago to eat at this restaurant. I was very eager to see the restaurant with no front of the house staff, where clad in whites, cooks come out to your table, take your order, open the “bring your own bottle” of wine, and run the food. I was excited to taste the food I had heard so much about from cooks I knew in the city, pictures I had seen in Art Culinaire. So when I rushed from the airport, took my seat alone, I was bubbling with excitement, visibly so. I ordered the larger of the two set menu’s and was treated like a, well, like another cook! The third dish that came was this, creamy warm cauliflower soup with a sweetish white chocolate foam on top in a tiny mug, reminiscent of a winter cup of cocoa. The plate was scattered with random patches of deliciousness, furthering the combination of chocolate and cauliflower.  This flavor combination seems wacky, but comes out of Heston Blumenthal’s kitchen, a place the chef Michael Carlson had spent time as well.  I used to shave cauliflower stems for their chocolate and cauliflower risotto, and darn it they really did smell like chocolate.

7. Fried Mayonnaise, Pickled Tongue, onion strussell, romaine, WD-50, NYC.

This dish, one of Wylie’s most notorious, was familiar to me by way of media and word of mouth long before I entered the restaurant. I saw it go out the kitchen, I didn’t think much about it, and then I ate it. My first immediate thought was, “this tastes EXACTLY like a hamburger!” Exactly, folks, like a delicious perfect hamburger. It hadn’t occurred to me that this dish had such a gripping context. I was floored by the amazing texture of the warm fritter filled with thick “mayo.”, by the perfect texture of the pickled tongue, by the precise ratio of brunoised romaine hearts and onion strussell which made every bite into the american classic in your mouth. But the apparent thought that went into making this dish perfect was what stood out most. This dish isn’t something someone stumbled upon, it’s a labor of love, and I thank Wylie for every long hour he put into making it perfect.

8. Lemon Cucumbers, Sitka and Spruce, Seattle, WA

Finally, something in Seattle, right? This dish couldn’t be more opposite from that at number 7. Lemon Cucumbers, picked up by Matt Dillon at the farmers market a few hours before his restaurant opened, sliced and briefly cooked with fresh dill and trempeti olive oil. Served all by themselves, on a plate his roommate picked up for him at the goodwill, in the tiny restaurant habitating a stripmall storefront. These lemon cukes were tenderly selected from their source, and with as much respect as the farmer grew them with, this chef cooked them. It may have been the only day they were on Matt’s Chalkboard menu which changes as rapidly as the farmers markets, but lucky me for stumbling in. It was a dish I’ll never forget.

9. Moroccan spiced Lamb Burgers, Veil, Seattle, WA.

Sliders have been more than trendy these past years, but Shannon’s version made as a bar snack for his cocktail lounge standout from the pack. Made with fresh lamb shoulder ground with garam masalla, they are topped with a rich cows milk feta and balsamic pickled shallots. Sandwiched between little brioche buns dressed with a house made harissa aoili, I could eat these all day. The flavor combination adds up to much more than the sum of it’s parts. I often find myself or another cook making little meatless sandwiches out of the feta, pickled onions, and harissa aioli for a quick pick me up snack durring service.

10. Mixed Citrus Creamsicle, Veil, Seattle, WA.

This is the dish I said was way out of bounds for me, because it’s one of my own. Normally I would NEVER put something of mine on a list like this. It goes against all humility I strive for, and breaks the deep criticism I view everything I make with. But this dessert is amazing. It’s everything I want all my desserts to be, and it’s the only dessert I have made that I want to sit down and eat. A uber light and airy tahitian vanilla bean bavarian, is made with an italian meringue rather than the usual custard base. By cutting out the rich custard base and substituting something very lean, the floral nuances of the tahitian vanilla bean really shine. It sits aside a mandarin sorbet, puckery, icy, and paired with the bavarian makes the orange/vanilla base for a creamsicle. Under these two components is this amazing bitter, acidic, fragrant passionfruit yogurt sauce pooled in a swoosh of brioche pudding. The broiche pudding, similar to a stovetop pudding rather than a baked bread pudding is a dense texture completely unexpected, and the yeasty rich butteriness is surprisingly delicious with the dessert. Little candied kumquats and confited meyer lemon add to the plate, which has received the same unsolicited compliment from nearly everyone I have fed it to, “this is one of the best things I have ever tasted.” And for once I can whole heartedly agree with them. This dessert is one of the best things I too have tasted, and every time I do I am stunned that it came out of me.

Enough about me, what are your favorite tastes this year???

Farmers Market Finale #4; Butternut Cream Chiffon

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

I know there are many of you, like myself, who drag ourselves through the stalls of the farmers market rain or shine. As the season turns from summer to autumn and finally into winter, it takes a real effort to patronize the farmers markets this time of the year. Especially here in Seattle where the perpetual drizzle begins in September and ends in June.

The effort is needed not just in motivating yourself to get there and waltz around in the rain, but also in envisioning the dish hidden in the markets offerings. The produce available takes an additional effort once in your kitchen. No longer is the food ready to eat out of hand, rather we are seeing vegetables that need a lot of heat to be rendered edible, hearty greens, earthy potatoes, and plenty of root vegetables. This leaves a pastry chef with few choices.

Oh sure, there’s honey and hazelnuts, they’re always there, and the apples and pears we have been waiting for all year. But we are looking at a long stretch, and one can begin to tire of these things quickly. This leaves us to wonder, “what else can we make dessert with?” Pumpkin is nice, but what of the other squashes they tumble around the oversized bins with? Is the long necked butternut that much different than our pie pumpkins in flavor?

Not much, but just enough to make a classic thanksgiving pie better.

The flesh of the butternut is a little easier to deal with, and provides a creamier and more flavorful puree for pie. Now I doubt any who eat this pie will be able to differentiate between the squashes. Our palates are so accustomed to the trio of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove spicing pumpkin pie, that it is common to associate those flavors more with pumpkin that the flavor of pumpkin itself. Have you ever had a pumpkin pie latte? No pumpkin there, but it sure tastes like it.

I once read in a magazine that there is absolutely no reason to extract your own pumpkin rather than using canned squash. This statement, said with too much authority, really rubbed me the wrong way. Anyone who walks the farmers market can give you a reason for each beautiful squash spilling out of the cardboard bins. They were correct, however, in assessing the difficulty of making your own puree by comparison to opening a can.

However, roasting the squash makes this task a bit easier. Simply quarter your butternut, rub it with a little neutral flavored oil to prevent the skin from drying, and pop it in a 400 degree oven. Now, walk away for about an hour. When the squash is nice and tender, allow it to cool to a temperature your hands can tolerate, and scrape the flesh from the skin. If you have a food processor, puree the squash for a minute or two, or do your best job with a potato masher. Now, freeze the squash overnight.

This step will add another day to your pie making, but your pie will be better for it. Drawing from a previous post, this additional step is a perfect example of controlling water. When freezing, the water molecules expand, and loosen themselves from the starchy puree. As they thaw and contract, they seperate and bleed out of the puree. If thawed over a strainer, the liquid drips away, leaving us with a thicker, denser, richer puree.

A benefit to taking this extra step in a restaurant, is that I can process a large amount of squash at once, store the puree in the freezer, and take what I need out over the season, ready to thaw.

This puree is going to make our chiffon more intense. A classic American pie, the family of chiffon is lightened with an egg white meringue, giving it the delicate texture it takes it’s name for. While i love the delicate texture, the flavor of the egg white isn’t quite right for me, so I have exchanged the meringue for a light, whipped cream. A caloric increase to be sure, but this pie is a rare treat, coming to us in a season of celebration and reward buffets and gluttony.

A chocolate crumb crust laden with ground hazelnuts holds this chiffon in place, offering a deep, bittersweet balance to the richness of the pie. While on Veil’s menu the dish is accompanied by two sauces, a vanilla bean anglaise and a swipe of nutella sauce, along with hazelnut praline, pie spiced whipped cream, and nutella powder. However, when it makes it to my own thanksgiving table as it has for 3 years now, a simple vanilla whipped cream will be served aside the pie, along with dare I admit, coolwhip, a family favorite with my inlaws.

All in all, this pie should be started the two days before you want to eat it. I know it’s quite a time frame to ask of you, but most of it is wait time. It’s just that time of year, when an effort has to be made for everything from going outside to cooking the seasons offerings. I suppose this pie is a good excuse to stay in!

Butternut Chiffon Pie

One chocolate crumb crust, home made or purchased

One butternut squash, roasted, pureed, frozen, and thawed as described above

1 1/2 cups cream, kept cold to whip

2 cups butternut puree

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp clove

3/4 cup brown sugar

3 eggs

1 cup whole milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

5 sheets of gelatin, re-hydrated in ice water. (approximately 4 tsp granulated gelatin sprinkled over 1/2 cup water until hydrated, and melted over low heat.)

1. In a medium saucepan, cook the squash puree, brown sugar, and spices over low heat. Stir to avoid scorching for about 2 minutes, until the puree is glossy.

2. Transfer the puree to a food processor, and turn it on. Spin the puree for 2 minutes.

3. Add the milk and spin for 1 minute. Scrape the sides of the work bowl down and add the eggs. Pulse until the eggs are evenly distributed.

4. Transfer the pie filling back to a medium sauce pan, and cook over low heat, stirring constantly. Continue cooking until the mixture thickens a bit, as a custard would, about 3-5 minutes. Add the softened gelatin and cook until it is completely dissolved evenly distributed.

5. Transfer the squash filling to a bowl, and cool it on the counter until it is cool enough to fold in whipped cream without melting it, about room temperature.

6. When the squash filling is cool, whip the cream to soft peaks. Fold the whipped cream into the squash in 3 additions. Transfer the chiffon to the prepared pie crust and chill for 4 hours, or overnight.