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Friday, September 26th, 2008

I came here today to to tell all of you about the salted caramel ice cream we make at Molly Moon’s.  I had plans to describe exactly why it is such a dynamic flavor.  With a small reminder that on our tongue are the 5 cornerstones of taste, salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and umami, I was going to tell you that salted caramel is the only flavor that touches all five of those points, a rarity for any dessert, particularly a single scoop of ice cream.

I sat down to surf the web, in hopes of finding a factoids, particularly some backing on the statement, “the butter added to the caramelized sugar provides umami.”

I got lost along the way, however.  Or more accurately, found a road I had meant to travel down later this week; the path from cream to butter.

I was hired to teach two in home cooking classes, my only guideline being to center the menu around the farmers market.  Because the farmers markets have recently begun to include raw milk and cream from Sea Breeze farms, I knew immediately that we would make our own butter to top a loaf of Tall Grass Bakery’s superb bread, and use the buttermilk to flavor the soup the bread would be served with.

An article in the New York Times food section last year, written Daniel Patterson followed his path from cream to butter for the tables in his restaurant Coi, and provided a recipe.  Most of all, it reminded me that butter was in fact very simple to make.  I had made butter as a youngster many times with nothing more than a mason jar and a little cream.

But knowing that I can do something just because it works is never really enough for me, particularly when I am teaching the process to eager students.

With a simple google search of the phrase, “does butter have umami” I came across this site detailing the entire process of butter making, with everything my curious little head could want to know.  It would be an injustice to paraphrase the massive amount of information this website holds, so go ahead and read it yourself.  It’s worth every moment.

What got me thinking was the section about culturing the cream before making butter, a tradition still practiced heavily in Europe.  I recently learned that as cheese is all essentially the curd of milk separated from the whey with rennet, it is the culture added to the dairy that makes for the vast and varying flavors.  So the thought that culturing cream makes for varying flavors in butter also piqued my interest, and started me thinking about flavored butters.

I have certianly made flavored butters, or as we call them in the industry, compound butters.  These compound butters amount to nothing more than butter mixed with something like an herb, spice, or cheese.

But i wonder what would happen if rather than mixing in a whole spice or herb after the fact, we infused the cream itself then used the flavored cream to make butter.  Aroma molecules are incredibly fat soluble, so it stands to reason that the fat in cream which is to become the butter itself would absorb said flavor and make a nice flavored butter.

Would it work, would it taste nice?  How would we use it?  Banana’s caramelized in coffee butter?  Lavender butter smeared on toasted brioche?  Yellow cake made with rosemary butter?  Scallops basted in cumin butter?

How will the flavor carry through  to the final the application?

Tonight at Poppy……

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Poppy, Jerry Traunfeld’s restaurant of his very own (you didn’t think the Herbfarm was his did you?) opened for their 6th service tonight, with a menu titled, “A Thali to welcome Dana.”

You see, it was my first day as their pastry chef.  I know, I know.  Another job?  Another restaurant?  You think it’s hard to keep up, try living it!  But this is the nature of my industry; fickle, transient, fluid.  Sometimes we stick around a while to climb the ranks, sometimes we are expected to leave the nest, sometimes we leave because we don’t make enough money, sometimes we flee a kitchen the minute we realize it isn’t right, sometimes we stay 9 months after we realize it isn’t right because we love the guys we work with so much, and sometimes we leave because we are made an offer we can’t refuse.

6 days ago I had no idea I wanted to work anywhere else.  But after a single conversation with Jerry, it became clear to me that I wanted nothing but Poppy.

This week and next will find me in both the kitchens of Poppy and Molly Moon’s, and after that Poppy will be my home.  The menu won’t reflect my presence until I have come on full time and can begin to replace existing dishes with my own as needed.  But soon enough.  First settle, second change menu.  I finished my first service surrounded by the chatter of 7 cooks, spent from 10+ hours of work, talking about the dishes they put out, the food they cooked, and how they could make it better.  I went home a very happy girl.

You can still find a little Dana Cree at Molly Moon’s, as I will always make her toppings, and participate in the sundaes.  And you might find me on the other side of the kitchen door, waiting in line for a scoop and a little chat from the friends I made there.

Shifting Gears

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

I suppose I should fess up to something.  It’s not that it’s a secret, or something I don’t want to talk about.  It’s just been a little hard to have to do, and sad to talk about.  I put my notice in at Veil.

It’s not really a surprising move, to those that know me well.  My schedule at Veil had been minimized from a salaried full time position to an hourly paid two days a week, and my focus had begun to shift to my internship and the ice cream shop.

My internship, I have been hesitant to write about at all, due to some threatening non-disclosure agreements and stern warnings not to write about it.  But I believe I am safe in mentioning that the powers that be are putting together a comprehensive cookbook on modern techniques.  I am beyond lucky to have been brought on as the first of many interns, to see the lab form, and watch the project grow.  So when people ask, “Is there a textbook, or some kind of guide to molecular gastronomy?”  I smile and say all I am allowed to, “soon….”

As for the ice cream shop, it’s a shift I never expected to make.  I have focused on plated desserts so long, made choices in my career to foster my growth in that area, and always worked in small artisanal restaurants.  I pushed everything out of the way that distracted me from developing creatively, including learning the business side of things.  One can only add so much to their life at once, only hold so much in their brains.  (I heard a professor once say, “for every students name I have to remember, there goes the Latin name for a butterfly.”)

But as I come of age in the kitchen, and watch friends launch their own endeavors, it has become clear that the time to begin learning about business is here.  Without this knowledge, I am powerless.  I used to say that I never wanted to worry about owning a restaurant.  I just wanted to cook.  While this still holds true, it’s become clear that if I ever want to make my expression, free from any restriction, I have to build myself a forum.  What that is, I don’t yet know.  I think about little treat shops, dessert only restaurants, tiny 6 table dinner houses, wholesaling dessert components and complete menu’s to restaurants that can’t afford full time pastry chefs, custom cakes, a culinary retreat with classes build on my in law’s amazing deep forest property in Oregon, little coffee shops with baked yummies, taking over The Frontier, (a real country restaurant on the outskirts of the Willamette Valley decorated with John Wayne posters and past members of the live exotic bird exhibit housed at the restaurant,) and reviving the 1950′s drive-in I worked at in high school.

But it’s become clear for the first time in my life, that knowing how to make perfect food won’t keep a business alive.  My innocent and naive belief over the years has been, “If I make perfect food, every day, people will come and I’ll be successful, the business will fall into place.”  But watching friends and employers struggle it’s become clear that my lack of business knowledge could take any dream of mine down quickly, breaking my heart with it.

Working for Molly, I am in part exchanging my culinary know how for her business knowledge.  This lady has put as much effort into developing herself as a businesswoman, owner, and employer, as I have into developing myself creatively.  Just as I would take a stage, she took a seasonal job at J-Crew because she wanted to learn their reputable motivational tactics to better lead her own staff one day.

As I help develop new flavors, and standardize the production as the company grows from one store to many and possibly into the wholesale market, she will mentor me through the process of opening a business and running it successfully.  I am proud to be a part of Molly Moon’s, as I look up to her business ethics and practices, leadership qualities, and believe in her and her company wholeheartedly.

As I was plating my new and last menu last week I felt a great sadness.  I love plated desserts with everything in me, and being in a small intimate restaurant like Veil.  Giving them up is painful, especially just as fruit comes into season!  But if I ever want something of my own, it’s a sacrifice I need to make.

Besides, making ice cream all day sure does make me happy.  You wouldn’t think it, but ice cream is pure science, and I look forward the years of learning attached to this discipline.

My last day at Veil is this coming Tuesday, and my final menu should run for at least another week or two.  If you have been meaning to come in and try my desserts, hesitate no longer.  Otherwise, come find me at Molly Moon’s ice cream shop in Wallingford, and try our flavors and some of my hand crafted toppings!

Balthazar, New York City, New York

Monday, May 12th, 2008

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

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

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

Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

But where to put the butterscotch?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supermac, New York City, New York

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Chef

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

It’s no secret to those around me, I am hooked on Top Chef.

This season I have been invited by Leslie Seaton a writer for Buddy TV to comment on each episode for their website.  It was particularly fun this week as Wylie was the guest judge.

“Once again, Dana Cree, pastry chef at Seattle’s Veil restaurant, took some time out to chat with us about the most recent episode of Top Chef 4. It was an especially great episode to talk about with Dana, since she’s actually completed an internship at WD-50, the restaurant of this episode’s guest judge and chef Wylie Dufresne.”

Click here to read the full article on Buddy TV’s website.

critics choice

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

I have been in the public eye long enough to have met my critics.  Those individuals for whom my work does not only displease, but offends.

My first year at Eva, my use of huckleberries in February sent a customer into a snit.  “These taste as if they had been frozen, and that’s disgusting in and of itself.  I can’t say anything more for this dessert.”  The offending dessert, a huckleberry trifle with layers of huckleberry soaked genoise, a thick huckleberry compote, and none other than pierre herme’s lemon cream layered in a highball glass was on the Valentines Day menu.  The comment was delivered to me along with the picked at dessert, and it sent me reeling.

Of course my huckleberries were frozen, it was February.  Jeremy, our forager had picked them himself, frozen them properly during season, and stored them in his deep freezer for us.  Sure, we were on our last of the stock, but they were still absolutely delicious.

I dropped everything I was doing, pulled another trifle from the reach in, and started tasting.  A slight relief came when it tasted exactly as I wanted it to, exactly as it had when I made them, exactly right.  But then I wondered, was it me?  I made everyone taste it until the owner started laughing.  He reminded me in his way that you set your own standards and live up to them, because no matter what you are going to have critics.  Like the huckleberry hater.

Teaching is yet another avenue for me to collect critics.  My first class, called “Tips from a pro” had an outright heckler.  You see, I am young for a chef, 28 now and this was 2 years ago.  So I was standing up there professing knowledge at a mere 26, and I tend to look even younger than I am.  This older woman had clearly been baking longer than I had been alive, and was vocally skeptical of my tips and tweaks to the recipes.  It was really starting to get to me, but I pushed on.  And after the class, when we tasted everything, her face brightened and she said, “Well, I’ll be.  This really is the best lemon tart I have ever had.  And that pie crust is flakier than mine!  I am going to freeze my flour every time now.”

It doesn’t always end that way.  One woman wrote down every word of mine that she didn’t agree with, and called a culinary school to prove that how blatantly wrong I was.  She then provided the school I teach at with a list of my offensive quotes and her contradicting information.  She said I was a terrible teacher and was hampering the education of the students in my class by giving them false information.  She also wrote a paragraph about my hygiene, with a hand washing count, and focused on my coffee cup I had been drinking from while lecturing.  She thought the class was a failure because I had to bake a cake in a sheet pan instead of a tall pan to save time.

When this email was passed along to me I knew how to handle it.  I screamed in my head, vented to my husband, and simply wrote, “I have had critics before and will have them in the future.  I stand behind every word I said, and will take from this what I can.”

What offended her most was my method of measuring dry ingredients with a cup measurer.  She was taught to sift the flour before measuring, I never do and told the students so.  But that isn’t the problem.  The real problem is the fact that we are using the cups in the first place.

This is such a perfect example of why the professional pastry chef employees a scale to weigh all their ingredients.  My cup of flour will never be exactly the same as your cup of flour, but 6 ounces will always be 6 ounces.

Now I will do you one better.  Not only have I completely converted to the exclusive use of a scale to measure my ingredients, I have also converted all my recipes into metric measures.  So my cup of all purpose flour is 150 grams.

Why would I do this, when I live in a culture of cups and spoons?  It is a million times easier to increase and decrease recipes based on grams.  It is also much easier to understand what percentage of the bulk of a recipe an ingredient occupies.  When a recipe needs tweaking, it is much easier to think about adding 30 grams of sugar to 100 grams of sugar than it is to add 1/8th of a cup to 1/3 of a cup.

My work is much more accurate now, and as a baker that is something we all strive for.  It’s not enough to know how to make an amazing brownie, you have to make it equally amazing every time, in any size.

So if that woman every sat in my class again, I would start the lecture with a little bit I do every time, that if you ask 100 chefs how to cook an egg, you will get 100 different answers.  I simply give the information I use to achieve my best results, and why.  And I would tell her to forget what her grandma told her about sifting the flour and buy a scale.


Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

I have a question I haven’t been able to answer.

Is there anyone out there making their own bubble gum?  I can’t find any.

The closer it is to Seattle the better.

Is there a mom and pop  candy store out there with home made bubble gum?

A small family run producer mixing batches?

A tiny taffy shop hidden in your little touristy town with the Z-arm mixer to mix gum base need I ask?


The Cheese Truck

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

I manage the dessert menu in it’s entirety.  This means not only creating the desserts and producing the components on a daily basis, but developing their replacements as the seasons change, and managing the inventory and ordering of my ingredients, and producing extras like the little amaretti cookies that come with each cup of coffee.

But vying for my favorite aspect of my job is managing the cheese plate.  This entails creating garnishes, and keeping 4 different cheese on hand at any given time, all up to my own discretion.

This job is made easier and more enjoyable with the help of Ed and the Peterson Company, who have given Ed a large white truck packed with cheeses.  Ed arrives after a prompting phone call, cheese in tow, to help me choose.

This kind of face to face interaction is priceless to me.  My own cheese monger, who knows me and my taste, the requirements of my cheese plate.

Ed knows that I love to celebrate American artisan cheeses, and am a sucker for anything Basque.  He knows that my triple creams may spend a month in my walk in, and any tendency to ooze or further ripen during that period is a deterrent for me.  He knows my price point and helps me balance costs.  He knows that our chef loves Blue D’Auverne, and I love to try different blues every time.  He tells me that the Rouge Creamery smokey blue is incredibly popular, but has a flavor profile like cheeses we haven’t liked in the past.

Sometimes when the truck arrives there are new things to taste, like the Knights Vail, a buttercup orange washed rind cows milk cheese from a small creamery in Wisconsin.  A cheese I added to my purchase before I swallowed my first bite.

Sometimes there are cheese makers on the truck, like the fellow from Cypress Grove, a cheese producer from northern California who’s Humbolt Fog cheese has been a favorite of mine for years.  This day, I had no intention of purchasing another Cypress Grove cheese, as there had been two in my rotations over the previous months, and I like to share the love.  But since the cheese maker was standing there, I chose a third.

I was justly rewarded with what is my new favorite Cypress Grove cheese, their Midnight Moon.  This black waxed wheel, an impressive 18 inches across, holds a goat cheese made in the fashion of Gouda.  Each bite yields intense flavor and a much sought after “crunch” of salty crystals which are formed as moisture evaporates and calcium lactate crystallizes.  Thank goodness there is so much, because I can’t keep my fingers out of this beauty.

It’s a rarity to have this kind of face to face interaction with purveyors anymore.  Eva sought out the few individuals like this left in our world.  Like Merv, who brought produce from Yakima in his pick up once a week.  Merv who did this in his retirement from dairy farming, who stayed with his daughter here in the city, who took his wife to Branson once a year for vacation.

Or Tian, who brought produce collected from small farmers just north of the Canadian Border.  An Asian immigrant working hard to succeed, who had wild mushrooms she was delivering held at the border.  An aging woman we consoled as we helped translate a needlessly cruel letter describing the infested state of the mushrooms, which were held in a warehouse and inspected 30 days after being taken from her.

But it takes a huge effort to keep purveyors like these.  Large companies not only have unbeatable prices on most items, but they have delivery minimums upwards of two hundred dollars.  As a small business, this is a hard minimum to make at times.  We need a delivery to arrive with things we are out of, but when it’s not enough to make our minimum, you get creative and start tacking on extras, like dairy from the produce company, or eggs from the meat company.

What this does to people like Merv, and Tian, is limit a small business’s ability to order from many purveyors.  If you have consolidated all your purchases just to make a minimum, then Merv is out of luck, and out of business.

It’s infuriating, really.  Because face to face interaction with purveyors like Ed and his cheese truck, Merv, Tian, and the many others that I met working at Eva, is invaluable to me.  And I see how fragile it is, how quickly we can loose these amazing people.