Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Snowed In

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Those of you staring into computer screen in the Pacific Northwest are well aware of the snow that has bound us to our homes.  Those outside this region, possibly from area’s accustomed to regular snowfall, might scoff at the mere 9 inches that has kept me behind my front door for most of the past week.

You have to understand, we just don’t get much snow here.  So when we do, we let the soft blanket slow our lives to a calm pace, tuck ourselves indoors, and enjoy the few days in which we just couldn’t possibly be accountable for the daily fuss that is city life.

Some of us are going stir crazy.  I am not one of those people.  It’s been nothing short of a lovely vacation here in my little apartment, with nothing to deal with outside my doors.  I don’t have to go to the grocery store, I dont’ have to run any errands, I don’t have to bother.  Instead I have caught up on those rainy day things that not even a rainy day in Seattle can prompt me to do.

In particular, I have caught up on the stack of cookbooks that I have accumulated over the last 6 months, finding the most inspiration from Elizabeth Faulkner’s Demolition Desserts.  It’s an interesting process for me, that of reading cookbooks by other chefs.  It’s not just a look at the pretty pictures, or a few post-its flagging recipes I might try if I ever get around to it.  I have to find their frame of reference in order to process what they have put forth.

While this is hard to do without tasting anything, without the visual clues given by plating and the restaurant itself, the dialogue written in a book is often more revealing than the actual experience.   Every dish in a restaurant is the culmination of  personal internalization and interpretation.  Thus, a chef takes in inspiration from common sources, sources we are all familiar with; flavor (cherry), texture (cakey), shared cultural food memories (fluffernutter, pumpkin pie) , the work of other chefs (Pierre Herme), color (bright orange), mood (serene), season (winter).  These all whirl around in a chefs mind, where they are filtered through their own personal life experiences, knowledge base, persona, and are interpreted, internalized, and eventually spit back out into a dish.

You should immediately recognize the original inspiration.  Simply put, if the inspiration for the dessert was meyer lemon, you should darn well recognize meyer lemon.  More complex, if the chef is inspired by fall, the dessert should invoke the season.  On top of that you can hopefully recognize the personality that has been infused into the dish.  In other words, set side by side, a meyer lemon dessert made by my process should be recognizable against one of Faulkner’s making.

We all know this is not always the case.  It is a rare tallent that can imbibe their dishes with their true spirit.  Hokey, I know.  But after flipping through the pages of Demolition Desserts, it is clear that Faulkner has managed to know herself through her desserts.  She has been able to present the information to us in a way that lets us in, lets us crawl through her psyche and see the world of sweet things as she does.

This point is not easy to reach as a chef.  It is the mark of experience, maturity, mixed with a spark not everyone is lucky enough to have.  It’s a rare teenager that knows who they are, just as it is a rare fledgeling chef that has come to this point of self awareness.  It comes with time, takes it’s sweet time, demands more time, but comes, provided this crazy industry doesn’t break you first.

How do these demolition desserts taste?  I have no idea.  I can make assumptions based on the pictures, the way the flavors sound together, the way the recipe appears to put things together.  But that’s never really the point with cookbooks for me.

Instead, it’s the chance to climb inside someone elses head for an hour or two.  A chance to find their point of reference, and look at the same things I see every day from their view, to see things I have never seen before in things I see every day.

I would be foolish to say I have come close to finding this in myself.  It’s budding, I can see that.  I can see a few of the same things coming back to menu after menu.  I have begun to be able to say things like, “no this is how I do it.”  Or, “That’s just not my style.”

I have found a creative process that works for me, and have put it to practice a few times in a row now.  I choose simple flavors, clean, stripped down to their core being then magnified, pair them with other flavors I believe they taste good with, and build a structure of texture around these flavor profiles.  I take successful dishes rooted in tradition, strip them down to thier essence, their base identity, and use those building blocks to create something new and old at the same time.

I can see traces of those chefs I have been influenced by shining through the fabric of my desserts.  I can see thick ribbons of Scott Carsberg’s minimalism, isolating and heightening flavors and letting them speak for themselves.  I can Heston’s philosophy hemming my work, framing the bigger picture that is the entire process of the human interpretation of physical stimulus into flavor.  I can see Stupak’s deep knowlege of texture and control threading it’s way through what I do, the same thirst for deeper understanding fueled by Chris Young, weaving the fabric tigher every month.  Sequins of Shannon Galusha’s playful love of americana scatter, a pattern of Jerry Traunfields deep and lenghty bond with herbs and spices is begining to show through.

I have beliefs about what my desserts are and aren’t.  I take in the entire experience the restaurant I work at offers, what it feels like to be in the dining room, what the diner feels like after their meal, what the decor says to them, the neighborhood, the chef’s work, how hard was it to park, wether or not they dress up or down for this experience.  I build the desserts to be the culmination of this experience, not just a sweet nothing to say goodbye with, an afterthought.

Thus, the dessert built of the flavor profile inspired by the nostalgic american treat, the creamsicle, vanilla, citrus, creamy, tangy, will be very different when built for a diner who has just spent three hours in a Phillip Stark plastic chair in the near steril, white, closely veiled dining room at Veil, than for a diner that has spent one and a half hours on the woven seat of the danish modern chairs hand crafted by a local cabinet maker in the booming, cavernous, racous dining room at Poppy.

I can see all this showing, I do hope, that above all, a small glimpse of myself is becoming present in the desserts too.  Hopefully those of you who have had desserts at all the restaurants I have worked at can recognize a twinkle of Dana coming through someday too.  But I am a patient girl, and this is something only time will show.

Asian Thanksgiving, Seattle, Washington

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

This year we had a totally Asian thanksgiving. No turkey… shocked???? Jealous?

Large and in charge

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Summer pulls everyone this way and that. I myself have two more out of town trips planned, all the while balancing a schedule of classes to teach, demonstrations, and my 3 jobs.

At Veil, we are running on a skeleton crew with our sous chef working “off site” on a yacht for two weeks, and our owner/executive chef at home these past weeks with Jack, the newest member to his family. Tonight our chef de cuisine is also off site.

This leaves no one above me in the pecking order, thus I am in charge. I have had a management title for some time now, “pastry chef”, but never has there been anyone but myself in my department. Save the rare intern under my wing, like the outstanding Jasmine, I am really only in charge of myself.

Sure, I holler at the boys when I find things out of place, and offer guidance when applicable. But it’s been since the day I left Lampreia that I have managed the kitchen.

My reign begins tonight, and runs through the two brunch services this weekend. With all the authority of a substitute teacher, I am using it to do just one thing, run a brunch special.

I tested this dish a while ago, and it’s absolutely delicious. It needed but one thing, strawberries to be in season. This dish could have made it to the dessert menu, but here in the States, where we like to start our day off sweet, it is perfect for a summer brunch.

The dish is composed of warmed disks of cream of wheat, little patties that behave much like polenta. Once warmed, they are served with a mound of fresh strawberries, strawberry sauce, and a billowy cloud of malted whipped cream.

When testing recipes, the plates are left for the staff to taste, who usually pick at it, and leave some politely for those busy with other things. When we put this dish up, I made it 3 times, watching the staff devour it each time. This was fine with me, I improved the pick up and plating each time, and took the compliment.

(The “Pick up” is the steps a cook takes to prepare the food for your dish, from the moment the order is called to them to the time the food is completely plated. This covers everything from how you store the prepared components, to the manner in which you cook and hold them, and the process of putting the food on the plate. A good line cook will constantly watch their pick-up techniques looking for ways to streamline the process and improve quality.)

If you cant make it into Veil this weekend for the first of the season strawberries, and one of our stellar bloody mary’s or my preference the dirty caesar, then try making it at home.

Cream of wheat

3 cups milk

3/4 cups cream of wheat

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tbsp butter

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1. Bring the milk and brown sugar to a simmer and whisk in cream of wheat. Whisk constantly to avoid lumps, and cook over low heat.

2. Stirring constantly, cook until the cream of wheat is thickened, about 5 to 8 minutes. When the mixture has thickened, stir in the butter, cinnamon, and salt. Pour this into a greased or plastic lined pan, roughly 9 by 9 inches. You can use any pan you have around, it will effect only the thickness of the patties.

3. Allow the cream of wheat to cool and set, and cut it into your desired shape. At Veil we will cut disks, which produces a little waste. To avoid this you can cut squares or triangles that utilize every bit of your cream of wheat.

Malted Whipped cream

2 cups cream

1/2 cup malted milk powder

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla

1. Whisk the malted milk and sugar together, until even. Add the cream and vanilla and whip to medium peaks

Strawberries….

4 pints of berries, or what the heck, get the half flat!

Separate the best of the strawberries, reserving them for slicing. If you are short on time, take the B-list berries and immediately puree them with a little sugar in the blender, using as much or as little sweetener as you like. Strain the puree of seeds and serve in a pitcher or bowl with ladle. Slice the remaining berries and toss them with just enough sugar to gloss them.

If you have a little more time on your hands, follow the following process for making strawberry puree.  It is worth every extra step you take, and makes for a remarkable puree.

Strawberry puree

To Serve

Reheat the cream of wheat by frying them in a thin layer of butter, or alternately warm them on a greased cookie sheet in the oven. You can serve this family style, but the patties are delicate, and do better the less they move, so you might want to take them directly from reheating to the individuals plates.

Serve the berries and whipped cream family style, so each person can take as much or as little as they like

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

Equipment:

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.

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.

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.

Taste vs. Flavor; Splitting Hairs

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

A student of writing learns early on to avoid using the same word too many times in a paragraph. Thus when writing about food, we look for various words to describe taste.

For example, I could write, “The strawberries I picked yesterday at Berringer farm tasted exactly like I remember them.”

The second sentence would avoid saying, “After one bite the strawberries’ taste transported me……” Instead I might write, “After one bite the red berries flavor transported me to childhood, and I was ten again following my grandmother through row after row.” To avoid sounding clumsy, I would substitute red berry for strawberry, and change taste to flavor.

Having written about cooking and food here for tasting menu, and before that Phatduck, my old blog, for nearly 4 years, I used taste and flavor interchangeably to avoid this clumsy repetition in my writing. I did this without a thought to the true meaning of these two words. But the more I talk about food, and most importantly, listen to people more educated than me about food, I hear these words used with more exacting definition. It may seem like splitting hairs, but it’s important to understand the fundamental difference between taste and flavor.

Taste is physical. Taste is one of our 5 senses. It is a sensory function, in which receptors, or taste buds, found mostly on our tongue receive chemical information. This chemical stimuli received by our taste buds is transduced into electrical signals that are sent to the brain. Once in the brain these electric signals are interpreted into information which we use to gain perception.

We can only taste 5 things; bitter, sour, salty, sweet, umami.

Flavor however, is the combined perception of food using all information received from all five of our senses. During the process of eating, we use all five of our senses to receive physical information from food. Once in our brain, this information becomes the perception. Thus flavor is cognitive, meaning that the recognition of flavor happens post-sensory.

It would be logical, that because we put food in our mouth, the sensory receptor for taste, that taste is the sense we use the most in perceiving flavor. But instead we rely most heavily on our sense of smell. While our sense of taste can only give us 5 pieces of information about a food, our sense of smell can give us a seemingly limitless amount of information.

Both taste and smell receptors receive chemical information. Our sense of touch receives pressure, which is detected by nerve endings in our skin that respond to variations in pressure. The sense of sound is received by a membrane in our ears that vibrates in reaction to sound waves (our ear drum.) Our sense of sight depends on our eyes to detect electromagnetic waves of light, which is transduced into information that we use to interpret images.

Taste is a mere 5 pieces of information, but flavor is infinite. Taste is chemical, while flavor is a mental construct that doesn’t exist outside our mind.

We can grow as cooks if we think beyond taste and recognize how influenced flavor is by the stimulation of all five of the senses. We can remember this not only when creating a dish, but when reproducing it on the line night after night. If a crisp element becomes soggy from improper storage, aural sensation will be diminished, and the crunch that makes the dish exciting will be missing. Without the increased stimulation of our sense of sound, the flavor of that particular dish isn’t as exciting. The diner may never know that they were missing this crunchy stimuli, but they will recognize better flavor, which we know we can manipulate by understanding how food stimulates all five senses.

Likewise, hot food tends to release more aroma, increasing the amount of odor compounds our nose detects, thus increasing the perception of flavor. So taking the proper steps to ensure that the food arives at the table hot, not just warm, will ensure that we excite the nose as well as we can.

When we practice our craft as cooks, particularly working on a line, it’s easy to become isolated from fact that the process of cooking is only half of an equation. Another person, a seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, tasting body awaits our product, prepared to begin their own individual process of flavor perception.